Tim Brister

Tim Brister
Pastor, Author, and Blogger

Gospel-Centered Expectations

What expectations do you bring to hearing God's Word preached? 

The preaching of the gospel is a powerful means of grace for the Christian, but is that your expectation? What is the nature of your expectations every time you hear the Word of God preached? A gospel-centered church will have a congregation full of Christians with gospel-centered expectations every time the Word of God is proclaimed. Their commentary (and lifestyle) post-preaching will show the nature of their expectations, whether they are God-honoring or not.

When it comes to the preaching of God’s Word (or gospel) . . .

» If you expect to come away with intellectual insights, you will find something to satisfy knowledge cravings.

» If you expect the preacher will say something debatable, you will find something to blog about.

» If you expect to judge the quality of the preacher’s message, you will find something he said wrong or could have said differently.

» If you expect to have a to-do list for moral improvement, you will find opportunity for behavioral modification to try harder and do better.


» If you expect life transformation, you will discover the Spirit exposing sin and fostering greater desire for repentance.

» If you expect to become like Jesus, you will be granted fresh eyes of faith to behold Jesus.

» If you expect to be used in the service of the kingdom, you will find the Word empowering and enabling you to bear fruit disproportionate to your abilities.

» If you expect to meet with God, you will find God will not pass you by without glimpses of His glory and grace.

The question is... what are you expecting whenever you come under the authority and power of God’s living and active, faith-engendering, sin-exposing, Christ-exalting, gospel-centered Word?

Luke 8:8. – Jesus


Tim Brister has served as a pastor and elder at grace baptist church since June 2008. Tim's passion is to demonstrate a life that trusts God, treasures Christ, and triumphs the gospel. Tim is the Director of plntd, a church planting network in association with Founders Ministries. He's also the director of the haiti collective, organizer for Band of Bloggers, and creator of P2R (Partnering to Remember) and the Memory Moleskine.

You can read more about Tim on his blog at biblestudytools.com,

Disciple-Making and the Promises of God

Every Christian is a disciple of Jesus. It’s our new identity. Our calling is to make disciples of Jesus. It’s our purpose and mission. When we live in our identity and live out our purpose, we are disciples of Jesus who make more disciples of Jesus. In short, we are disciple-making disciples.

One of the great encouragements we have to live as disciple-making disciples is the powerful promises of God. They are God’s provision to keep us from living in unbelief. Have you ever considered how the Great Commission is sandwiched with the power and promise of Jesus?

Jesus begins, “All authority (power) in heaven and earth has been given to me.” In other words, Jesus is saying, “Everything that ever existed or will exist is subject to Me. Nothing is too hard for me.” Therefore (“because I’ve made this provision FOR YOU”), go and make disciples. The power of Jesus entails a promise in making disciples that no heart is too hard, no sinners is so enslaved, no eyes are so blind that Jesus can, with a word, utterly and entirely save and transform their life. Let Saul of Tarsus enter your mind, or Lydia, or Matthew, or perhaps even your own life.

Jesus ends, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” There will be moments in living for Jesus that you feel all alone. Taking up your cross may mean laying down everything and losing everyone that liked the old you (not the one that makes much of Jesus). But Jesus, knowing the challenges we will face, gives us greater comfort to overcome those challenges. Internally, we experience the promise of Jesus through the witness of the Spirit who again and again testifies of our adoption into the family of God. When we proclaim the good news to sinners and face being ostracized, the same Spirit who empowers us to witness is the same one who comforts us with the adoption love of God, crying out “Abba, Father!” Externally, we experience the promise of Jesus through the good hand of our providential God. We know that God does all things well and orchestrates the events and circumstances of our lives for His glory and our good. Therefore, we can enter the unknown not having to know what the future beholds, but rather risk our lives in making disciples because the One who holds the future knows my name.

Let me give one other example of the promises of God for making disciples.

Think of the kindness of God that He would illustrate His promises through ordinary things we see every day. How often do you see birds in the air? How often do you see grass on the ground? Did you know that birds and grass are ours to see the promises of God? How different would our lives be if every time we say a bird or blade of grass, what came to our mind was, “Promise! Promise! Promise!”?

Yet when we are living with eyes of faith, we will indeed see it the way Jesus taught us. Could it be the reason we are not making disciples of Jesus is because we fail to believe the promises and power of God? Why were they given to us? According to Jesus, they were given so that we would not get preoccupied with our lives but rather the kingdom of God. Unbelievers worry about daily provisions of what they will eat and what they will wear. Disciples of Jesus have a heavenly Father who makes provision for these things, and His promise is that “all these things will be added unto you” when you “seek first the kingdom of God.” The promise that “all these things (the legitimate stuff that often keeps us from making disciples) will be added unto you” should liberate us to live sacrificially and single-mindedly in pursuit of the kingdom of God. And how often do we need to believe that promise? Every time we see a bird flapping in the air or a blade of grass blowing in the wind.

A failure to make disciples isn’t just disobedience to Jesus, but it is unbelief in the power and promises of God. The purpose of God for our lives (making disciples) was sandwiched between these two realities because they were intended to press down on our purpose and smother us with Jesus’ omnipotence and nearness. May God give us eyes of faith to see the world the way Jesus intended it and cause to join Him in the mission of seeing His kingdom come through the making of disciples through the power of His promises.

Philemon, the Refresher

For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother,
because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.
Philemon 1:7

He’s got one of the shortest books of the Bible named after him, but even Paul’s letter has more to do with Onesimus than him. I’m talking about Philemon, someone heaven knows, and we should know as well. The substance of the letter is basically a plea to embrace someone (Onesimus) formerly useless and unprofitable in gospel ministry and receive him on account of Paul’s personal investment. Paul knew a thing or two about learning to embrace folks formerly useless. Traveling with him at the time was John Mark, the central fella in the sharp disagreement between Paul and Barnabas. At the time of the Jerusalem Council, Paul say John Mark as useless to the gospel mission, but some time between then and this letter to Philemon, he had learned to receive him as a co-laborer and partner. Now, Paul is encouraging Philemon to do the same with Onesimus.

We don’t know too much about Philemon, but we learn about him from Paul is striking. Paul says “the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.” Later in the letter, Paul himself requests that Philemon would “refresh my heart in Christ” (20). Sometimes you encounter a Christian, and they can feel like they dumped a wagon of anxiety, stress, worry, fear, and sadness. It is not that they are experiencing the worst possible life, but they want you to feel like they are. Then you can encounter Christians who are facing incredible trials, difficulties, and adversities, and they have the glow of heaven about them. It is not superficial giddiness but a profound confidence, abiding contentment, and enduring peace flowing from the realized promises of God.

You know what I’m talking about. The Philemons’ are those who, after spending five minutes with them, make you want to love Jesus more, know God better, and live for the glory of God with greater passion. They not only bring a word in season, but they bring comfort to the afflicted, hope to the discouraged, and joy to the downcast. They are the cup of cold water that refreshes the barren soul, a refuge for the weary where words are not necessary. They are the ones you turn to when you need a hand, a prayer, a promise from Scripture as a means of perseverance in the journey gets hard, the valley gets low, and the light grows dim.

The hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you. If there was only one person and one comment that could be made about you and me, could it be any more significant? The saints knew of Philemon’s refreshment, and heaven knows as well. May God raise up an army of Philemons in the church today who, filled with the Spirit of God, serve as agents of refreshment to the body of Christ!

Blind to Our Blindness

Paul Tripp, in his book Sex & Money, says the following:

“We would all like to think that no one knows our hearts better than we do. We would like to believe that others may be self-deceived, but we are not. It’s simply not true. Since sin is in its essence deceptive, as long as sin lives in our hearts, we will tend to be blind to the true condition of our hearts. But more must be said. Not only will we be blind to our hearts; we will be blind to our blindness, thinking we see when we really don’t. To add to this, we will participate in our own blindness. Because of self-righteousness of sin, we will work to make ourselves feel good about what is not good or believe that the problem is not, in fact, us.”

When I came across this paragraph this morning, I was struck by the need for gospel-centered community–a truly counter-cultural community. The worldly culture tells us that the center of our problems are out there, but the gospel tells us that the problem lies in our hearts. Only the gospel can bring transformation from within, and as long as wrongly diagnose the location of the disease, we will fail to access the cure.

Only a true grasp of the gospel can liberate us from the lies we have told ourselves. Not only are we  dishonest about our sin and neediness, but we are not fearful or closed off from inviting others to being honest with themselves and ourselves as well. Tripp is right. We participate in “the blind leading the blind” when we refuse to see sin rightly and live as a community that makes self-atonement by pretending and performing in attempts to circumvent the power of the gospel to change our lives. How blind are we? We would rather live in the chains of self-deception through the lens of pride than the freedom of self-discovery through the lens of Scripture.

A gospel-centered community is counter-cultural because it identifies the real problem (our hearts) and has the only, lasting cure to solve it (the gospel). Instead of pretending to be self-righteous, we give permission and invite others to help us change by exposing self-deception and blind spots in a community radically shaped by grace and governed by truth. I am not who I am in my pride and self-deception. I am who I am in Christ and my acceptance through his imputed righteousness and substitutionary death on the cross. The challenge is to live in latter through repenting of the former, and the counter-cultural community changed by the gospel will serve as the canvas upon which the sunrise of God’s Word illuminates our lives.

When I know my Sin-bearer drank the bitter cup and atoned for every last one of my sins, why should I hide? What could be known about me that is not already covered in the blood? When I know that God’s righteous judgment of my sin was carried out on His Son in my place on that cursed tree, I live in the fact that there is no condemnation for me, and no accusation of the enemy can silence the Advocate whose precious blood speaks for me. If these truths are ruling the affections of our hearts, then we can live as a people who invite truth in the place of deception, believing that the truth will set us free.

Me and My Ninety-Nine

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
(Luke 15:1–7 ESV)

One of the challenges I face when it comes to maturing as a disciple of Jesus is working through passages familiar to my head (knowledge) but unengaged in my heart (life change). The parable in Luke 15:1–7 is a classic example, and one where I am learning to grow in joy-inspired repentance.

We know how the story goes. A man loses one of his sheep and does whatever it takes to find that sheep. But when I dwell on this passage a little more and the unaddressed realities in my heart, a couple of things come to my mind. First, am I the kind of person who is not even aware of when a sheep is lost? Do I pay enough attention to the “sheep who are not of this fold” (John 10:16) to acknowledge when one is lost? Second, am I the kind of person who secretly tells myself, “Well, I only lost one. At least I still have the other ninety-nine. Why make the effort to go after the one who is lost anyway? Is that not a bad stewardship of my time and energy?”

In the past, I made it easy to identify with the man in this story who acts heroically to find the lost sheep. A big reason for that has to do with the superficial allowance I give myself in engaging the text merely in an intellectual manner. I agree to the truths that are communicated in the text, but I fail to discover whether my life is in line with the truth of the gospel (Gal. 2:14). To my own embarrassment, I am far more competent in exegeting a text of Scripture than exegeting the subtext of my own heart.

Let’s face it. Me and my ninety-nine is not bad after all, if we are playing the numbers game. From a pragmatic standpoint, I am efficient with my time and energy. I am leveraging my limited resources and stewarding them for the maximum outcome possible. The only problem with this thinking is the point Jesus makes in this story (and with His life). There is joy to be had for finding the lost. There is joy to be shared in inviting others to enter into that celebration. There is repentance to be remembered when the story of the good news of the sheep being found becomes greater than the sheep being lost. And all of this because in the one, the man found a mission to embrace that caused him to leave everything behind until the rescue was made. Too often, I am comfortable with the ritual of remaining with the righteous ninety-nine than the risk of rescuing the one needing repentance and the reward of joy that comes as the fruit of that risk.

Would you join me in learning to be faithful to the one by taking ownership of the rescue mission therein? I long to be able to say, “Rejoice with me.” But before that, I need to believe the joy in finding the one that was lost is of far greater value than the comforting of remaining with me and my ninety-nine.

Read more about Tim on his blog, Provocations and Pantings.

The Startling Truth about Our Identity in Christ

Today was the start of baseball season in Southwest Florida. After opening ceremonies, my two boys played a double header as part of the festivities. It was the first time for my 5-year-old son to go head-to-head with the pitching machine. At his first at-bat, he surprised himself with a line drive past the third baseman, and I was super excited and proud of him. The following three at-bats did not fare too well, as he struck out all three times.

As someone who has always been highly competitive, I always want my boys to do excel in whatever they do, including playing baseball. The downside to that, and the temptation I have struggled to avoid, is responding to them based on their performance. If they perform well, they see the pleasure of their dad. If they make mistakes and struggle, they hear the disappointment of their dad (“C’mon son!”).

As a Christian who believes the gospel should permeate every area of my life, there are more and more blind spots that I’m learning to see more clearly. When it comes to baseball, I realized that my sincere attempts to make them better players was not honoring the gospel. My response to them was based on their performance (good works), and their identity as a baseball player was more dominant in their thinking than being my sons.

Today, I started to make a change and repent of this legalistic approach to coaching my boys. I want my boys to know, more than anything else, that they are my sons, and I love them. And that love is not based on what they do or do not do, but because of who they are. They are mine. So every time they get ready to play the game, I pull them aside and have a talk with them. Before when I stressed a litany of techniques, I am learning to look them eye-to-eye and tell them, “Son, I am so proud of you. No matter what happens, how well you play today does not change how much I love you and delight in being your dad. I just want you to have fun and enjoy the game.” After a kiss on the forehead, I sent them off to do their best, and the smile that began on my face transferred to a shy grin on theirs.

I reflected more this evening on how this relates to the Christian life in general. Paul is not afraid to tell Christians to fight the good fight, to run the race so as to win, and use other similar illustrations of going hard and excelling to your very best. But the performance of the Christian was not the source of Paul’s understanding of the Christian life. Rather, it was the fruit of an identify firmly rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Salvation is not won by your good performance or lost by your bad performance; therefore, God’s approval and acceptance is not determined by what you do or do not do. Rather, salvation is based on Jesus’ righteousness and His good works that speaks on your behalf. Because of Jesus you are unconditionally accepted and loved with an everlasting love. God has given you His Spirit to remind you with every breath that you are a son (or daughter) of God, and He delights in you because of Jesus. And this is precisely what I want my kids to have mirrored before them in how I coach them in playing baseball.

Imagine how difficult growth in the Christian life would be if the foundation of our spirituality was based on our performance? When we think we do well, we feel loved; when we fail, we feel shamed. This kind of spiritual instability is not only debilitating; it is deadly.

But imagine if your Christian growth is grounded in your identity as a son of God, unconditionally loved and accepted because of Jesus? The pressures off to hit the home run everyday. Jesus did that for you. It’s okay to strike out, because God is not basing your relationship with Him on your batting average. You can grow as a Christian and excel in spiritual maturity, not out of fear that God may look down on you in shame and embarrassment, but because God looks on you with sheer delight and unconditional love. What I need every morning I wake is to know that I am a son of God, and my identity is forever secured because of who Jesus is and what Jesus did for me.

I believe my boys will enjoy the game more and play better, not because of increased pressure, fear of failure, or letting their dad down. No. They will play better because they know they are not merely baseball players; they are my sons, and I love them. They can run, play, strike out, and win the game, but the good performances and bad performances are not going to dictate how I treat them. How much differently would they treat the game of baseball if that was drilled into their thoughts and consciences?

The free grace and unconditional love of God is not a license to sin so that they may increase. Rather, they are the fuel and motivation to strive for holiness and godliness with all that is within me. True sanctification springs from the depths of gospel realities. And it is those gospel realities that should give form and function to every aspect of the Christian life, including when we say, “Play ball.”

Tim Brister is a pastor and elder at Grace Baptist Church. Find out more on his blog: Provocations and Pantings.

What We Can Learn from the Transfiguration

I’ve been slowly working through the Gospel of Luke, reading, and rereading chapters and focusing on various sections at a time. This morning, I focused on Luke 9:28-36, the passage on the transfiguration of Jesus. As I reflected on this text, I realized that what was happening was a heavenly form of gospel community, with God the Father, God the Son, Moses, Elijah, and Peter, James, and John.

What I found particularly impacting to me in this text was the topic of the community discussion. Verse 30 says that Moses and Elijah were talking with Jesus, and the centerpiece of that discussion was “his departure” or exodus through the cross. Moses (representing the Law) and Elijah (representing the Prophets) are figureheads of redemptive history up until the time of Jesus, and much like all of the Scriptures, they made the conversation about Jesus and His work on the cross.

Gospel communities can learn much from this conversation. We can learn from Moses and Elijah that all of Scripture testifies about Jesus (Luke 24:27). Moses and Elijah knew this. They were not interested in talking about types and shadows; they were interested in what those types and shadows pointed to–Jesus. This in no way diminishes Old Testament Scripture or the role Moses and Elijah played in redemptive history. In fact, it heightens it, knowing their stories are interwoven in the bigger story of God’s redemptive purposes in history culminating in Christ.

But not only does it culminate in Christ, it climaxes in Christ. When the cloud overtook the disciples, and God chose to speak, the Father declared that it is all about His beloved Son. And when God spoke, Jesus was all alone–alone because there is no one else like Him. Alone because Jesus has supremacy over all things and superior to all prophets, kings, and priests. Alone because Jesus is preeminent and holds a place in history that demands our unconditional loyalty and submission as Lord and King.

Moses spoke about Jesus. Elijah spoke about Jesus. The Father spoke about Jesus and gave a heavenly charge to everyone else to listen to Jesus. At no other point in the earthly life of Jesus was there a more heavenly moment, and it is evident to everyone that this community was all about Jesus. In fact, when Peter wanted to make tents for Elijah and Moses was when they disappeared, leaving them with no one but Jesus.

As simple as it may sound, what we can learn from the Transfiguration is this: Christian community that pleases the Father and honors His Word is all about Jesus–who He is, what He has done, and what that matters. Christian community is preoccupied with Jesus because heaven is preoccupied with Jesus. We don’t get over Jesus. We are never bored with Jesus. We don’t keep silent about Jesus. We don’t change the channel or turn it down. Instead, we rediscover again and again by the Spirit’s work in our lives more and more the beauty and brilliance of our Savior. To the degree that our conversations center on Jesus, we can say we functionally have a gospel community. To the degree that we adore and treasure Jesus, we can keep our community from lesser lovers and broken cisterns.

If we could have a conversation today with the greatest figures in the history of redemption, they would be talking about Jesus–His life, death, and resurrection. But if people could have a conversation today with you and me, what would we what we want to talk about?

Tim Brister is a pastor and elder at Grace Baptist Church. Find out more on his blog: Provocations and Pantings.

Politics, Patriotism, and Making Disciples of Jesus

For the past couple months, I have been teaching a class on Disciples Making Disciples at Grace. I was prepared yesterday morning to teach on the importance of law and gospel in the Christian life, but I decided to make a last minute change to address what I called “Politics, Patriotism, and Making Disciples of Jesus.” I figured in light of Independence Day (prospect) and the Supreme Court ruling on Obamacare (retrospect), it would be timely to address this issue.  Needless to say, it was lively, fun, and one of the most engaging hour-long discussions we’ve ever had.

I decided to address this topic not only because of the timeliness of the issue but also the need to have a formative, proactive approach to addressing politics from a gospel-centered framework. No new Christian trusts Christ without a past, without presuppositions or convictions, and this includes politics, culture, and view of God and country. Of the potential things that can drive a person’s identity, politics ranks among the top, so a church committed to disciple-making cannot be ignorant or indifferent in helping new Christians (and old!) understand civil responsibilities and political involvement.

Matthew and Simon: Traitor and Terrorist

Without any formal, prepared thoughts on the matter, I began with Jesus’ selection of disciples. After all, we want to make disciples the way Jesus did. The culture of Second Temple Judaism was as politically charged as ever. The spectrum of political parties was wide and multifaceted, including the Pharisees, Essenes, Zealots, Saducees, and even tax collectors. When Jesus established His kingdom on earth, he entered into this political fray.  Who would He choose? What would be their view of Israel? Of the Roman Empire? Of their involvement in culture and government?

Interestingly enough, two of the characters Jesus chose were on complete opposite sides of the political spectrum. Simon was a Zealot – a political party that worked to incite violence and rebellion against the Roman Empire, to expel them from Holy Land by military might. Some have even gone so far as to say that the Zealots were the among the first expressions of terrorism. Anyone who sided with the Roman Empire where therefore enemies and targets of their violent attacks.

And yet, from among them, Jesus chose Simon to be his disciple.

Then there’s Matthew. He’s a tax collector. For those who are not up on the tax collecting business, it’s the job that no Israelite wanted. Signing up for the job made you the most despised and hated person in your community because it was your responsibility to exact taxes from your own people to pay the Roman government. It is widely held that tax collectors abused the tax system, demanding more money and making away with great profit. They were not only unethical cheaters; they were traitors to their homeland and kinsmen. A tax collector may have had money, but that was just about all they had. They were pawns of the Roman government and objects of scorn among their own people.

And yet, from among them, Jesus chose Matthew to be his disciple.

Now imagine with me for a minute what it must have been like to see that Simon the Zealot and Matthew the tax collector are now on the same team! How is that possible? Left to himself, Simon wanted Matthew dead. Left to himself, Matthew demanded Simon to submit to Roman taxation. What were their first conversations like? What was Jesus doing in putting these two together? Did he not factor in their drastic positions? Their strong political affiliations? Their seemingly irreconcilable differences?

We don’t know what happened between Matthew and Simon. In fact, they don’t come across as key players like Peter, James, and John. But the fact that they are included among the original 12 apostles is striking, is it not? Jesus intentionally made disciples of people who, outside his reign and rule, were enemies of one another. He put them together, commissioned them in His name to call people to repentance. By this, Jesus said, the world will know you are my disciples by the love you have for one another (John 13:35). Can you imagine what it must have looked like for Simon to love Matthew, and vice-versa?

Jesus took a terrorist and a traitor and made them His disciples.

Here’s the question I posed to those in my class:

“Can you, a committed Republican disciple a new believer who is a committed Democrat?” 

Where I grew up, and the churches I’ve been involved with through the years, this is a critical question. To what degree has politics defined the culture of our churches? Have we allowed our churches to primarily (if not exclusively) be comprised of white, middle-class suburban Republicans? Has our Great Commission focus become marginalized to those who are of a certain political persuasion or fit our personal preferences? Does not an honest look at the makeup of our churches reveal that our disciple-making looks different than that of Jesus?

Here’s my point.

In preaching the gospel, we are to call all men everywhere to repent. Republicans, Democrats, Independents, and everyone in between. From among the masses, God will save some, and we don’t get to pick and choose whom God saves and whom He doesn’t. So what if he chooses to save sinners who happen to all be die-hard Democrats? What if you, being Simon, were provided with a dozen Matthews to disciple? What is the default response?

Well, I’ve exhausted my space for this blogpost, so I will return later. But I’d like to hear your thoughts on this. In the meantime, I will continue to ponder the implications that Jesus put a terrorist and a traitor together and made them world changing ambassadors of His kingdom.

Christ the Builder, Christ the Perfecter

The church is a people who are called out and set apart from the world who are also called and sent into the world. The goal of the Christian life is complete conformity to Christ, and such conformity is both in character and in mission. In other words, the church is to be both a holy people (set apart) and missionary people (sent) at the same time, all the time.

I come away with this when considering the promise that Jesus will build His church and the purchased goal that Jesus will perfect His church.

Christ the Builder:

18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
Matthew 16:18

Christ the Perfecter:

25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
Ephesians 5:25-27

Jesus, the head of the church, is very committed to His bride, that is His people. He has determined that His church will be built and that His bride would be pure. Given that these promises are “yes” and “amen” and are sealed in His blood, we should consider the implications on who we are and how we should function as His people.

For instance, Jesus went deep into the world without becoming “worldly.” His mission was not sanitized or limited to the moral boundaries of cultural normativity. And yet there was never a point when He was not the sinless Savior, the lamb of God without spot of blemish. His active obedience to the Father was not only the fulfillment of the law’s demand but also the fulfillment of the Father’s redemptive mission.

For the Christian, the sanctified lifestyle and sent lifestyle go hand in hand. To pursue holiness apart from mission or to pursue mission apart from holiness is to pursue a path contrary to the way of Christ. On the one hand, too much cultural adaptation misses the call to holiness (Christ the perfecter); on the other hand, too much cultural isolation misses the call to mission (Christ the builder). The promise of Christ’s building through mission and the purchase of Christ’s bride for purity should be held together.

Questions that arise from these truths should challenge us all: Are we living as God’s sent people? Are we available and reliable tools for the Master to build His church? Are we pursuing holiness through repentance and faith? Are we committed to being a pure church, addressing sin both through formative and corrective discipline? Is our desire to reach the world leading us to compromise in areas of holiness that doesn’t reflect or honor the character of Christ?

As you can imagine, the challenge is to embrace the promise of Christ as builder as participants in His mission while embracing the purchased goal to have a pure church. A church that is distinctively formed by the gospel and functions to spread that gospel in word and deed will be both attractive and offensive. We are not offensive by being “holier than thou” with an “us vs. them” mentality; rather the gospel that transforms us exposes their idols and confronts the folly of futility of life alienated from God.

What encouragement do we have in knowing that Jesus has promised to build His church and perfect his bride?! May God help us to be a missionary people, renewed by the gospel to behold, believe, and become like Christ who has sent us in His name for the advance of His church and spread of His fame.

Christians without a Tribe

“Achan the son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah”

As I came across Joshua 7 in my devotional studies, there was something particular that stuck out to me in how God dealt with His people. The story has to do with the sin of Achan who took the items devotion for destruction and made them his own. God made it known to Joshua that there was sin in the camp, but the way it was discovered says something about how God’s people lived in community.

According to Joshua 7:16–18, the people of Israel was addressed on a tribal basis. From within the tribe, the various clans were evaluated. From within the clans, the families were accounted for. And from within the family, the individual (Achan) was discovered to be the one who had sinned.

According to Joshua 7:11, God says “Israel had sinned,” and all the references were in third person plural (they/them). But it was the sin of Achan alone, right? But God saw Achan in the context of His covenant people, Israel. And the way God was going to deal with the individual was through the fabric of Old Testament community. In the Old Testament, it was impossible to be a person without a family, without a clan, without a tribe, and without a nation. People knew you in reference to who you belonged to. You were known by your heritage and tradition, by your roots. Your past was a vivid remembrance and present reality every time they mentioned your name “Achan the son of Carmi, son of Zabdi (family), son of Zerah (clan), of the tribe of Judah (tribe).”

I have reflected on that in the context of Christianity today in the West. It appears that we are living in a culture where that identity in community is just the opposite. Today, you can be a Christian without a family, without a clan, and without a tribe while still claiming to be a part of the nation. Identity is related to the individual alone to the point that little to nothing transcends a unique blend of a la carte spirituality. When someone covets or lies or steals, that individual Christian has no accountability or authority for their lives. Whether they live worthy of the gospel or completely out of step, who knows? It’s their life, and it is lived without mutual submission or any degree of nearness so that blind spots, patterns of disobedience, or idols of the heart can be exposed. And somehow this has not only become acceptable, but the norm today. There is sin in the camp, but the Achan’s are without a tribe.

Your Tribe, Clan, and Family

It is my conviction that a gospel-centered Christian cannot function without their own tribe, clan, and family. It is not enough that you belong to the Christian “nation” (the body of Christ universal). Christians grounded in the gospel will have their roots nourished in the life-giving community God intends for them to flourish in grace. If you were to be identified today, could it be said that your existence as a Christian is defined by who you belong to? Who’s your family? Who’s your clan? Who’s your tribe?

I contend that a contemporary expression of this kind of Christian-in-community could be expressed in the following way:

  • Family – your immediate circle of accountability (or life-transformation group)
  • Clan – your gospel community (or alternative form of “small group” life)
  • Tribe – your local church (where your covenant commitments reside)
  • Nation – your life in the body of Christ at large

This may sound like cumbersome Christianity, but I would push back by saying that we have allowed for compartmentalizing of the Christian faith to the extent that we don’t expect it to have a present reality in the context of everyday relationships where repentance and faith should most naturally be expressed. For example, do my children and my wife see me live out my faith in our family? When I sin against my children, do I humble myself, acknowledge my sin, and ask for their forgiveness? Does my wife see me growing in grace? Am I loving her as my sister in Christ and pursuing her joy in Jesus?

Expand that to my gospel community. We are committed to each other in prayer, and committed to our neighbors in mission. Do they see me as a disciple who is making disciples of Jesus? Is the gospel being shared in everyday conversations? Are we engaging each other, speaking the truth in love, so that we might be a community of light and love?

And then life in the local church. Is my church commitment summed up in a few Sunday morning services a month? Research shows that churchgoers used to attend 3 times a week. Now the average is 3 times a month. This is entirely unacceptable. Maybe for maverick professions, but not biblical Christians. We must orient our lives with the church at the center—not the building or even the programs, but rather the people and the mission we mutually share together to represent Christ to the world as His called-out covenant people.

Does our Christian faith find a home in our family, clan, and tribe? Do these venues of community shape our personhood so that our being “in Christ” (gospel) also mean being “in one another” (community)? That’s what I want for me.

My name is Tim, of the Brister family, of the NWCC gospel community, of Grace Baptist Church, of the people of God in SWFL desiring the invisible kingdom to become visible in word and deed so that our world would come to taste and see the beauty of knowing Jesus Christ.

Tim Brister is a pastor and elder at Grace Baptist Church. Find out more on his blog: Provocations and Pantings.

To Be Gospel-Centered, You Need the Holy Spirit

If you believe in the centrality of the gospel, you know that the good news of Jesus Christ is not just the door to the Christian faith, but it is the entire house. It is not only the entrance point but the pathway on which we walk our entire Christian life. Therefore, the journey of the Christian experience is growing more and more in the gospel.

There has been some discussion and even debate as to whether all the talk about the power and centrality of the gospel is neglecting the power and necessity of being filled with the Spirit. Are we talking about the gospel to the neglect of the Spirit’s working in our lives? Are we substituting the gospel for the Spirit when explaining how we operate as Christians in the world? I think those are valid questions, and I want to briefly attempt to answer the question in this post.

I am convinced that the overarching purpose of the Holy Spirit in the world is to magnify Jesus Christ. One of the most fundamental ways to know if you are filled with the Spirit is whether Jesus is being magnified and glorified in your life. That’s what the Spirit does. Jesus is magnified in the Gospel–because it is all about who He is and what He has done for sinners. Therefore, it stands to reason that the Spirit’s magnification of Jesus will be through sinners reveling more and more in the glorious gospel of our Lord.

That’s the logic I see in Scripture, but how does it work out practically?

God’s gospel is robustly Trinitarian. God the Father administrates salvation; God the Son accomplishes salvation; God the Spirit applies salvation. In His application of the gospel, the Holy Spirit brings us a true understanding of and genuine experience in the grace of Jesus Christ. Without the Spirit’s application, the gospel would not only be theoretical but our treatment would be at best superficial.

The components of a true understanding of the gospel is generally (and rightly) laid out as God, man/sin, Christ, and concludes with right response. How does the Spirit apply the gospel to magnify Christ in each of these areas?


The gospel begins with God. But how do we know who God is, what He is like, and what He expects from us? God has given us His Word, inspired and authored by the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21). In the Bible, God’s thoughts are communicated to us by His Spirit who also enables us to understand and appreciate them as such (1 Corinthians 2:9-13). The Spirit’s agency takes the Word’s instrumentality through inspiration, illumination, and conviction to give sinners true knowledge of who God is and what He requires of us.


In light of God’s holiness, we understand man’s sinfulness. The Holy Spirit brings conviction of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8-11) so that the sinner is made aware of the sinfulness of sin. Apart from the Spirit’s application of the Word, we would not know ourselves accurately and recognize our need for salvation desperately.


As the Holy Spirit gives us true knowledge of God’s holiness and our sinfulness, we are left undone. Apart from Christ, it’s bad news because God’s holiness demands perfection and our sinfulness destroys any hope of salvation through self-righteousness and justification by our good works. The good news is that the same Holy Spirit who magnifies God’s holiness and our sinfulness also magnifies the riches of grace and mercy in Jesus Christ for sinners. He sheds abroad the love of God (Romans 5:5). The Holy Spirit calls sinners and draws them to Jesus (John 6:44). He opens deaf ears to hear the voice of Jesus who calls His own by name (John 10:4). He opens blind eyes to see the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4-6). He is the one who unites us to Christ!


The only biblical response to the gospel is repentance of sin and faith in Jesus Christ. These are inseparable acts of a sinner who has been regenerated by the Holy Spirit. What God requires of us, He provides for us by His Spirit. We are responsible to turn from sin (repentance) and turn to Christ (faith), and we are granted such ability by the Spirit who enables us.

How the Spirit Drives Gospel Centrality

This work of the Spirit does not only take place at the point a sinner is converted to Christ. Indeed, this is the operation of the Spirit throughout the entire Christian experience! How do you know that you are growing in grace? You have a greater understanding and appreciation of God’s character and work. God does not become more holy in His essence, but your understanding and awareness of His holiness increases as you grow in your experience, led by the Spirit. Additionally, you grow in recognizing the sinfulness of sin and dealing with it biblically. You don’t make excuses for sin, rationalize it, manage it, ignore it, or attempt to cover it up with self-atonement measures. You own it because Christ owns you.

What happens when you are increasingly aware of God’s holiness and your sinfulness? You then become aware of how desperate and need you are for Christ’s righteousness and His grace. The reality of His life, death, and resurrection becomes increasingly dominant as your identity rests more and more securely in Christ. This is what the cross chart or gospel grid is all about.

Cross chart

Remember, the Holy Spirit applies the gospel–the accomplishments of Christ. By doing so, He magnifies Christ. If you were not increasing in conviction of the glorious excellencies of God’s character and ways as well as your sinfulness, then the need to revel and glory in the finished work of the cross would be marginalized and Jesus would not be magnified.

When the gospel is central, repentance and faith will be normal. In order for them to be normal, we need the Spirit working in us with the renewing work of the gospel to breed a life that is characterized by turning from sin and turning to Jesus all the time, more and more, until our faith becomes sight.

If you want to be gospel-centered, you need the Holy Spirit. He will magnify Christ through you because you can’t. He will magnify Christ through you because is very good at applying the gospel in your life so that you treasure and adore Jesus. May God lead us to enjoy the Spirit-filled, Gospel-centered life we were redeemed to experience!

Someone Will Sin Against You Today, Are You Ready?

Growing up in North Alabama, I remember going through specific routines in the event of an emergency. I doubt there was a kid who did not know why or when you need to stop, drop, and roll. We were trained in protocols in the event of a tornado, calmly lining up in the hallway and securing our heads from potential debris. We knew how to exit the buildings in case of a fire in a single-file line to safe zones outside. All of these procedures were responses to various kinds of potential disasters we could encounter while in school.

Now what, do you think, are the possibilities that I as a kid in elementary school would actually need to follow through on those drills? How often would a tornado tear through our building? How often would a fire consume the classrooms? Hardly ever, if at all, right? But we were still trained in how to respond in the very unlikely event that they might occur.

What if I told you that on a daily basis you are going to be faced with potential crises or disasters that required a response from you? What if it was not a distant potentiality but an eminent reality? How would you prepare yourself for such situations? Would you be trained to know how to respond?

Let me break this down and make the case why every follower of Jesus must have a gospel response plan (GRP).

  • Have you ever been hurt by someone else?
  • Have you ever been criticized?
  • Have you ever been offended?
  • Has someone ever sinned against you?
  • Have you sinned against someone else?
  • Has your day ever taken one unexpected turn after another?
  • Have other people let you down or betrayed your trust?
  • Have you faced days of disappointment and despair?
  • Have you experienced frustration and anger at the failure of others or yourself?

These are just a few questions addressing realities you and I face on a daily basis, and with every question/situation, a response will manifest from your life. But what kind of response will it be? We have a choice to respond out of our sinful nature (Gen. 3) or out of our new identity in Christ. Will our response be driven by guilt and shame, hiding and pretending, blaming and fearing like Adam and Eve in Genesis 3? Or will our response arise from repentance and faith out of a heart resting in God’s acceptance of you in Christ?

You are a sinner living among sinners. You are a desperately needy person rubbing shoulders with desperately needy people. What weak, needy sinners need in every moment is to look to a strong, sufficient Savior. That’s what we do when we respond to the gospel–we turn from looking to ourselves (whether out of self-pity or self-righteousness) in repentance and we look to Christ in renewed faith and trust.

The problem we have today, I fear, is that most Christians do not have a developed gospel response plan and, therefore, there is no functional repentance and faith response when things happen (internally or externally) in their lives. The default, then, is to look somewhere other than Jesus in our response. And this, I find, is a massive discipleship breakdown for believers.

Someone is going to sin against you. Will you handle that situation with a response that honors the gospel? Will you pursue reconciliation through forgiveness and view that person through the lens of grace? Or will you come across self-righteous and force that person to make atonement for their sin by working their way back into a right relationship with you based on their efforts?

You are going to sin against someone else. Will you handle that situation with a response that honors the gospel? Will you make excuses for your sin? Rationalize it? Blame others for it? Or will you own it, humbly confessing it to God and those whom you sinned against, seeking forgiveness? Will you hide away playing the victim card in self-pity, sulking in your failure, or will you take your sin to the throne of grace to your merciful High Priest?

Paul said, “As you received Christ Jesus the Lord so walk in him…” (Col. 2:6). You receive Jesus by repentance and faith, and you walk in that same repentance and faith. That is to say, this is how we “learn Christ” (Eph. 5:20) and “put on our new self” (i.e., our new identity in Christ). I think the most practically and helpful tool that Christians have today is to be trained to know how to respond to various situations they will encounter in a way that commends the gospel and flows out of a heart fully resting and secure in Jesus. We are not talking about potential dangers here. We’re talking about actual, real-life situations happening every day where Christians will either act out the old man of Genesis 3 or the new man being renewed by the Holy Spirit.

Think back in your life where sin has impacted your relationship with God and others. Are there people that are no longer in your life because of the functional absence of a gospel-driven response? Sadly, I can say that is true for me, and I suspect that if we are cognizant enough, nearly everyone would consent to that reality. But we don’t have to continue that way!

So what is your Gospel Response Plan?

You are sinner living in a fallen world. You are going to be hurt, betrayed, frustrated, prideful, annoyed, judgmental, pitiful, and so much more. It’s going to happen. But are you going to be trained as a follower of Jesus Christ to know, almost instinctively, how to respond with the gospel through premeditated prescriptions of specific ways to walk in repentance and faith?

Perhaps what we need to do each morning is prepare ourselves with some “gospel drills.” Think about one possible situation a gospel response will be required of you. For example, you are at a restaurant and your server is extremely slow and the food is cold. The server asks you if there is anything else you need, and you are tempted to treat her like her actions deserve. But instead, you respond by saying, “Thank you for serving me today, and by the way, as I pray over my food I would like to know if there is anything I can pray for you about?” Who knows? The server may already be feeling guilty and embarrassed by their service and surprised by your gracious response. They could be going through a terrible crisis in their lives, and they open up to you and provide an opportunity for you to minister to them (and perhaps introduce them to Jesus).

Why that gospel drill? Because you will get bad service and cold food. You will be tempted to act out of the old Adam and not out of the risen Christ. And this is one of countless other ways we need to “learn Christ” and “put on the new self” with a strategy to approach whatever comes our way to walk in repentance and faith and show the transforming power of Christ’s abundant grace actively working in our lives.

Tim Brister is a pastor and elder at Grace Baptist Church. Find out more on his blog: Provocations and Pantings.

6 Destructive Ways We Minimize Our Own Sin

I found these six ways of minimizing sin to be very instructive regarding gospel-centered sanctification/mortification of sin. Take a moment and examine your fight against sin, the ways you are prone to minimize sin, and develop an intentional strategy to renounce them.


I find it difficult to receive feedback about weaknesses or sin. When confronted, my tendency is to explain things away, talk about my successes, or to justify my decisions. As a result, I rarely have conversations about difficult things in my life.


I strive to keep up appearances, maintain a respectable image. My behavior, to some degree, is driven by what I think others think of me. I also do not like to think reflectively about my life. As a result, not very many people know the real me (I may not even know the real me).


I tend to conceal as much as I can about my life, especially the “bad stuff”. This is different than pretending in that pretending is about impressing. Hiding is more about shame. I don’t think people will accept the real me.


I am quick to blame others for sin or circumstances. I have a difficult time “owning” my contributions to sin or conflict. There is an element of pride that assumes it’s not my fault AND/OR an element of fear of rejection if it is my fault.


I tend to downplay sin or circumstances in my life, as if they are “normal” or “not that bad. As a result, things often don’t get the attention they deserve, and have a way of mounting up to the point of being overwhelming.


I tend to think (and talk) more highly of myself than I ought to. I make things (good and bad) out to be much bigger than they are (usually to get attention). As a result, things often get more attention than they deserve, and have a way of making me stressed or anxious.

This excerpt is taken from the excellent study called The Gospel-Centered Life

Tim Brister has served as a pastor and elder at Grace Baptist Church since June 2008. You can read more about Tim on his blog, Provocations and Pantings.

Triperspectivalism in the Psalms

While working through the Psalms devotionally, I began to see a triperspectival pattern (to no one’s surprise) worth mentioning. A great example of this would be Psalms 71.

The psalmist begins with an emphasis on the Lord being his refuge. Starting with his present circumstance and situation, he describes the difficulties surrounding him and how the nearness of the Lord (his refuge, rock, fortress, etc.) governs how he responds and operates in such circumstances. Though the circumstances are big, serious, and grave, the psalmist kept going back to God as the King of his life and declaring He is bigger, stronger, and nearer.

The second focus of the psalmist is the Lord’s righteousness. In his situation, he pleads for God to respond on the basis of his righteousness (“in your righteousness deliver me and rescue me”). In summary form, the righteousness of God describes God’s unique character and sovereign work (“your righteousness, O God, reaches the high heavens. You who have done great things, O God, who is like you?”). When the psalmist remembers and declares the character and work of the Lord, it becomes normative and defines his life.

The third focus of the psalmist is the Lord’s redemption. Having seen and heard of the Lord’s righteous character and ways (righteousness), he longs to experience that in the ongoing redemptive work of the Lord in his life. He writes, “My lips will shout for joy, when I sing praises to you; my soul also, which you have redeemed. And my tongue will talk of your righteous help all the day long….” When you experience redemption from the Lord, you cannot but respond with shouts of joy and songs of praise.

Together then, the Christian experience is learning to find hope and trust in God who is our refuge (situational), remembering the righteousness of God to experience renewal and revival (normative), and joyfully singing, praising, and telling of God’s redemptive work in your life (existential). The psalmist begins with his situation and says, because Christ is King, my circumstances does not have to rule his life. Jesus does. Knowing the temptation to default to unbelief where God becomes functionally non-existent in his life, the psalmist remembers the character and work of God. Because God reveals Himself through His Word, the true Prophet, we can orient our lives around the revelation of who God is and what He has done. Finally, the redemption of God brought through Christ the High Priest, not only can we know of the ways of God, we can experience it ourselves through the redemption He brings. Those who have entered into the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus are wrecked to a life of praising, shouting, and telling of all that God is for you in His Son Jesus. So, the flow looks like this:

Who God is » God’s self-revelation (righteousness) » normative
(prophet who defines our lives)
What God has done » God���s saving work (redemption) » existential
(priest who redeems our lives)
Why that matters » God’s presence and promises (refuge) » situational
(king who rules our lives)

I am not trying to impose a philosophical or epistemological construct over the text of Scripture; rather, I am simply trying to draw out what is there with a Christocentric hermeneutic in both form and substance. At least for me, it has helped me see Jesus and rejoice in the God who is altogether righteous, whose redemption makes my heart sing, and whose presence causes me to trust and hope no matter the situation.

3 Phases of Christianity in Culture and How to Respond

Christendom and Culture

Christendom is dead. For some, this is a time of lament. For others, it is a time of renewal and revival. I want to offer my reflections on the three different phases of Christianity and culture and the corresponding posture for Christian cultural engagement.

Christendom: Synced with Culture

Syncretism is the blending or assimilation of two belief systems into one. There was a time when Christianity enjoyed cultural approval and widespread recognition. When someone spoke of religion, it was rare that anyone thought of another faith beside Christianity. Monuments to the Ten Commandments were erected in the public square. Prayers were offered by teachers in public schools. Love for God and country were seen in churches who displayed a Christian flag on one side of the pulpit and an American flag on the other. Christianity was synced with American culture.

This syncretism took three primary manifestations: nominalism, moralism, and zionism. Because of its popularity and being somewhat normative in American culture, people identified as being Christian without ever actually becoming a Christian. There were Christian in name only. Identifying with being a Christian without actually becoming one afforded people goodwill in society as they would be seen as virtuous, upstanding, and respectable.

Christianity also assimilated with moralism because many of the identity markers of Christianity were what you did or did not do. Christians do not drink or smoke. Christians did not dance. Christians were dedicated to religious activity. Christianity was not so much defined by what you believed but by how you lived. Christianity was in a way moral gatekeepers for the culture and enjoyed relative success in advocating the law, even when unable to keep it themselves entirely.

Then, there was zionism. There is a blending of the American dream with Christianity. This is where it became popular to drape the cross in the American flag. The United States was considered to some degree God’s great gift to the world, the last great hope for humanity. Verses with promises tied to Israel in the Old Testament easily found a home in sermons from American pulpits. Christianity was depicted in particularly American imagery, and American culture was governed by particularly Christian values.

Dying Christendom: Fight Against Culture

Then came the time when Christendom began to fade away as American culture began a shift away from Christianity. This is the birth of the culture warriors, the silent majority, and the religious right. This was the time when the lamenting prophets would cry out, “Let’s take back America,” and due to the contrarian posture, Christians were known more for what they were against than what they were for.

As culture went from bad to worse, increasing in lawlessness, dying Christendom took a bunker mentality from which to fight. Most notable in this battle plan was the rise of the “one-stop-shop megachurch.” Megachurches were great because you could do everything you wanted to do in the world without ever having go into the world. Dads had their softball leagues. Kids had their own basketball and soccer leagues. Moms had their “mom’s day outs” and aerobics classes. Aside from the cultural commodities in the church, there were many more religious goods and services to occupy the time and energy of Christians, effectively keeping them busy and safely removed from the wicked world out there. The megachurch became a breeding ground for religious consumerism in the supermarket of the religious ghettos that protected Christians from the rampant wickedness increasingly on display in the culture now fought by the religious/political special forces.

Another aspect of dying Christendom was the underpinnings of pluralism and postmodernism in both high culture (academia) and low culture (pop culture). Morality that was once standardized by the Ten Commandments had been replaced by “it is not wrong if I don’t hurt myself or anyone else” kind of ambiguity. What was once considered true for all was no longer considered true for anyone. The objective was replaced with the subjective. The universal was replaced with the relative. And John 3:16 was replaced with Matthew 7:1. When you refer to “God” or religion, you no longer had the cultural reference point of Christianity. And the idea that there was only one way to God was considered intolerant and full of bigotry.

Post-Christendom: Re-enters Culture

I believe we are now living in a culture of Post-Christendom. While it may be the death of Christendom, I believe it is also the rebirth of Christianity. All cultural assumptions are now gone. Nominalism is dying off because Christianity now only has value to those who value Christ above all things. Moralism is dying off because Christians are returning to the message of Christianity (the gospel). Zionism is dying off, because we are more globally aware of what God is doing in the world and how we play a small part in it.

In Post-Christendom, we have an opportunity to be known for what we are for rather than what we are against. We have an opportunity to bring clarity to our identity as disciples of Jesus Christ, to come out of the sub-cultures and ghettos we have created in the past to live, work, and play to a world where we are called to shine as a city on a hill. We can reintroduce ourselves to our neighbors, coworkers, and playmates with compassion and conviction. We don’t have to seek cultural approval and acceptance because the gospel tells us the only approval and acceptance we need has already been given to us and is sitting at the right hand of God the Father.

The posture in Post-Christendom is to enter in culture in ordinary ways by ordinary people and demonstrate the extraordinary love of God by laying our lives down for the sake of the gospel. It is a posture that recognizes we are dealing with a world where John 3:16 does not make sense to them because Genesis 1:1 does not make sense to them. We enter in with humility and kindness, understanding the posture of our Savior towards us who were once hostile in mind and rebels to His cause of redemption.

Perhaps there has never been a time more exciting and opportunistic for Christians in the United States than right now. May God be so kind to bring renewal and revival to the apostolic faith once for all handed down to the saints as we live, move, and have our being in Him—exiles proclaiming the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness and into his marvelous light!

Tim Brister is a pastor, writer, and church planting specialist. Find out more on his blog: Provocations and Pantings.

Why Preach from a Manuscript?

...As one of those young and inexperienced preachers, one of the best gifts God has given me is men who are committed to making me a better preacher of the gospel. Every sermon I preach is evaluated. Everything is considered: thesis, exegesis, illustrations, application, eye contact, speech, grammar, length, etc. In the beginning, I dreaded that one hour in our weekly elder meetings; however, as I sought to apply the fraternal criticism to my preaching, I began to anticipate those meetings, knowing I was benefiting from an experience in true pastoral training that many, if not most, in my generation are not afforded. The opportunity to receive real, significant preaching instruction and help is a stewardship I hope not only benefits my hearers but also those I may have opportunity to help in the future.

One of the most significant helps I received at the beginning was writing out a full manuscript of my message. I have taken some time in recent days in light of some Twitter conversations to reflect on the lessons I’ve learned and benefits I’ve received from using a full manuscript in my preaching, and I thought I share them here for what it’s worth.

10 Benefits I’ve Received from Using a Full Manuscript (MSS)

1.  Clarity – The exercise of writing out what you are going to say before you say it provides you the opportunity of being clear in your communication. Cluttered, confusing statements do not serve preaching well. The discipline of writing a full MSS helps you address not only what you say but how you say it in ways that are clearly understandable to the hearer.

2.  Brevity – When my first sermon was transcribed, it was over 7,000 words(!). Since writing a full MSS (and I mean full), I have whittled down my word count to roughly 4,000-4,500 words. The most effective preachers I know have an amazing ability to say a lot in a short amount of time. Length of preaching does not necessarily mean you cover the text well. It could be you are just rambling.

3.  Precision – I was taught in seminary by professors that every paragraph in a research paper should contribute to your thesis. The same is true in preaching. If I have 45 minutes to preach, I cannot afford to waste 5 minutes on something that does not illuminate the text or apply it to my people. Make every paragraph count by making every sentence count. Don’t waste people’s attention by wasting your words.

Additionally, using a MSS has forced me to be more precise in my grammar. Things like subject-verb agreement, using the active voice, pronouns and antecedents may sound technical and geared toward an academic audience, but they are important to your delivery. You are a public speaker, but more than that, you are a herald of God’s Gospel, and we should of all people be careful not to unnecessarily provide a stumbling block to receiving the message through being imprecise.

4.  Simplicity – One of things most impressed upon me by Tom Ascol has been simplicity in preaching. Coming from an academic environment, I tended to use long, complex sentences and theological terms I took for granted, assuming my hearers fully understood them as well. And writing a MSS allows me to evaluate areas where my thoughts are too complex or my word choice could better serve my audience. The simpler, the better, and a MSS is a great tool to help make that happen.

5.  Coherence – Do the points of my MSS argue and explain my thesis? Is my thesis the point of the text? Like precision, coherence makes the flow of your message easy for your listeners to follow. A choppy, disconnected message makes listeners struggle to follow what you are saying. Writing a full MSS helps you detect disjunctions and evaluate points or sub-points in your message that either don’t fit or need to be communicated differently.

6.  Macro – A full MSS allows you to see the big picture to your sermon. Is there a way you could illustrate a point better. Are you missing application at key points? Are your transitions helpful in reviewing? A full MSS is like an executed storyboard. Is your story compelling? Are you engaging the mind, the heart, and the will? What do you want to accomplish at the conclusion of your message? A full MSS can help answer those questions, as you have time to consider all these matters from a macro viewpoint.

7.  Retrieval/Preservation - You may preach a passage/message in the past that you may want to preach again in a different context. I recently did this while in Haiti. If all you have is a few bullet points or annotations, you may struggle in retrieval. But a full MSS has everything you said, including illustrations, transitions, applications, etc.

8. Discipleship – I have made the habit of making my MSS available on Sundays, and here recently I have had non-Christians and newly converted Christians asking for my MSS to take home with them. When the MSS is available to them, they are less worried about taking notes feverishly and can be more engaged then and there for the Spirit to apply the Word to them, knowing they could get my full MSS later. The MSS also becomes a tool I could use with guys I’m mentoring and training as future pastors or church planters in helping them in their craft.

9.  Personal Application/Enjoyment - Exegetical/expository preaching is hard work. Writing a full MSS can make it even harder. But I can say that after doing it a while, God has used that exercise to convict me in areas where I’m not living where I’m preaching. Not only that, but God has also encouraged me in the process by the leadership and assistance of the Holy Spirit. For those who preach more extemporaneously and prepare little, God bless them. I’m not that guy. But here’s another thing to consider. God is with you in your preparation as much as He is with you in your presentation. Writing the full MSS and praying over it is an opportunity to experience the blessing of God’s Spirit owning His Word in my life. Those hours of preparation are when heaven enters your soul. Savor it.

10.  Preparation – Even though I write a full MSS, that does not mean I preach from it or force myself to stick to it exactly. Some argue that it makes you more wooden or boring. I can certainly see that happening. But what about reading and praying over your MSS several times in the day or hours before you preach so that you are not only going to the pulpit with a hot heart but with a lot of light as well?

I hope that something here might encourage young preachers to cultivate their craft. I am one who is far from where I want to be as a preacher, but thanks to God’s kindness in the gifts of godly examples and their constructive help, I don’t think I’m where I used to be.

If there are any questions about preaching, fraternal critique, or developing a sermon MSS, let me know.  If it would be any help to you, I am providing you four sermon MSSs from last month where I preached a mini-series on God’s grace.

Grasping the Grandeur of God’s Grace (Sermon Series)

Tim Brister is a pastor, writer, and church planting specialist. Find out more on his blog here.

For the full version of Tim's article, check out Preaching, Manuscripts, and Fraternal Critique.

How Christians Live in Post-Christian Culture

The news is out. Christendom is dead. Christians are no longer the moral majority but the missional minority. How should respond? How shall we live? I want to begin a series of articles where I attempt to answer some of these questions. To begin, I want to focus on the words of Jesus near the end of His earthly ministry as He prayed to the Father on behalf of His disciples (John 17). When we consider the content of His High Priestly prayer, we discover both indicatives regarding the state of His followers in the world as well as imperatives on how they should walk in the world. In the midst of these two aspects of our Lord’s teaching about the relationship between His people and the world, we learn that there is one over-arching purpose for Christians and our relationship with the world.


Christians are in the world (John 17:11).

While this might be obvious to the reader, the point is that Christians are not physically separate from the world. Christians are in the world in the sense that they occupy the same space, go to the same markets, and interact in the same society as non-Christians. They are not people who form their own sub-cultures or ghettos to avoid the world. They recognize where God has placed them and do not run from that reality. They are relatable, accessible, and approachable to those in the world in normal, ordinary ways (e.g., friend, neighbor, coworker, classmate, teammate, etc.).

Christians are not of the world (John 17:16).

Christians do not belong to the world. They are not longer conformed to the values and ways of living common in the culture and society around them. They belong to the kingdom of God and, therefore, have a new identity and loyalty to the King and his kingdom. Therefore, while they are in the world, they do not belong to our embrace the world as those who do not belong to Jesus Christ.

Christians are hated by the world (John 17:14).

It stands to reason that if Christians are not conforming to the world and its ways, the world would mock, ridicule, detest, and hate the counter-cultural ways of Christians. Therefore, as Jesus says, His followers should not be surprised that the world hates us. The world hated Him first and crucified Him for who He was. In a later epistle, John wrote that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one (1 John 5:19). The strong distinction of being in the world and not of the world causes Christians to be hated by the world who does not accept the King in whose kingdom we gladly live.


Christians are called to remain in the world (John 17:15).

Jesus knew His followers would be hated by the world. He knew there would be consequences and a high cost to identifying with Him, and yet Jesus asks the Father that His disciples would remain in the world that has a predisposition of hatred and contempt. Christians do not compromise or conform to the world due to this hatred because that would be a denial of our identity. We do not retaliate with violence or acts of force, because that would be a denial of His sovereignty. Rather, we respond like Jesus and suffer the hatred and mocking and contempt as the glory of God is put on display in our trials. By remaining in the world, we love those who hate us, bless those who curse us, and give our lives away for those who have not given their lives to Jesus Christ.

Christians are sent into the world (John 17:18).

There is a temptation that every Christian will experience when faced with the reality that they are called to remain in a world that hates them. Should I embrace this suffering? Can I just retreat and retrench and wait for His return? The answer is clearly no. Jesus has sent His disciples into the world, and this speaks of a mission. The suffering Christian is sent to present Christ through their witness as an offense without being offensive. We do not shrink back due to the forces of hatred but press with greater, more powerful forces of love and compassion. In the same way that darkness cannot overcome light, even death cannot overcome His disciples because Christ has taken away its sting and no longer has victory of us.

Overarching Purpose

Christians walk in the world so that the world may believe in Jesus Christ (John 17:21).

In and through all that Christians are and do in the world is the fundamental purpose of seeing people come to repent and believe in Jesus Christ. Jesus indicated in His prayer that there will be those who believe in Him through the gospel proclamation of His disciples sent into the world to be hated and suffer for His name’s sake. Christians do not exist to mark time. We exist to see His kingdom come, and our existence is laced with a passion for seeking first that kingdom in all things and with all people, knowing we have a king so worthy of having worshippers from every generation and every nation, tongue, and tribe gathering around his throne.

Every Christian needs to know who they are, what they are called to do, and why they live in this particular way in the world. In this conversation of the Son with the Father, we get a clear picture that should become the mirror in our morning to remind us of these realities and responsibilities. The great assurance we have in this life is knowing these realities and responsibilities are comprised in a prayer that will never go unanswered; so, let us so live, move, and have our being in Christ until the world sees, hears, and believes in Jesus as Lord!

Tim Brister is a pastor, writer, and church planting specialist. Find out more on his blog: Provocations and Pantings.

I Am a Great Witness… of Lesser Things

We are hardwired to talk to other people about what impresses us the most. Unfortunately, too often our conversation indicates we are far too easily impressed by trivial things.

I have two toddler boys (aged 3 and 5) who love to share with me exciting happenings in their little world. My three-year old, for instance will come running into my office out of breath, telling me of his first successful attempt of buttoning up his own pants. My five-year old is learning to read and cannot wait to share with me the new words he has learned to spell. Those regular occurrences remind me that from our earliest years of talking, we were made to bear witness to others about what makes the biggest impression on us.

I must confess that I am a great witness of lesser things. I find it rather natural for me to talk with others about things like college football dynasty like Alabama football, or the latest political controversy, or the most interesting moment that recently occurred in my life. We want to have something to say, something to contribute to the lives of others around us, and in the end, the offerings of our daily witness have less weight and significance than we bill them to be in our conversation.

God has made me to be a witness of the biggest drama in all of history. The event that interprets history and delineates time is meant to explode off my lips. Nothing is to be more profoundly impacting for the purpose of natural overflowing than a bloody cross, empty tomb, and occupied throne. The scandal of the cross, the innocent for the guilty, the righteous for the unrighteous, the perfect Son for the rebellious traitor, the sacrifice for the scoffer–this scandal should sober my senses, awaken my affections, and transfix my thoughts that I am stunned by the greatness of such grace. Nothing in the world should get me sweetly talking like Him who remained silent and drank the bitter cup of God’s wrath for me.

Tragically, I find myself far too easily impressed with lesser things. I bear witness of things that cannot satisfy, of idols that cannot save, of moments that are quickly forgotten. I want my words and witness to count for the biggest event in all of history performed by the greatest person who ever lived. I am not as impressed in the law-fulfilling life of Jesus as I should be. I am far more gospel inoculated than I admit. I am not as awakened to the majesty of sovereign mercy in the sacrificial death fo Jesus. I suffer more from gospel amnesia than I realize. And I am not conscious of the fact that Jesus right now has all authority over all things in heaven and earth, including every person I will ever encounter and every heart He has yet to conquer through the gospel. And yet I am succeeding in bearing witness in matters that do not matter in the scales of eternity.

When I behold the majestic mountaintops, the expanse of the wide oceans, the enormity of the universe, I am daily reminded I was made to speak of awesome realities. But nothing is more awesome than sins forgiven, washed in blood, nailed to the cross, taking away all condemnation and curse! Nothing is more awesome than divine favor and acceptance that comes from being dressed in the righteousness of Jesus, hidden in His embrace, and loved because of His merits. Nothing is more awesome than fellowship with the Father who is for me, the Son who is with me, and Holy Spirit who is in me. I was made to tell the world of this. To bear witness of His majesty and mercy, of His greatness and grace, of His unapproachable light and never-ending love.

I am a witness. You are witness. The question is what are we witnesses of? What is making the biggest impression and evoking the great commentary and reaction? I am, you are, made to bear witness of glory. Not just any glory. The glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Let’s behold Him with fresh eyes of faith, and then respond with Spirit-led, grace-laced, jaw-dropping, life-transforming testimony of the beauty and power of King Jesus.

Please Teach Disciples How to Live

I grew up in a churched culture. From the time I left the hospital until I graduated high school, I was put through every program, participated in every activity, and was faithful to every event our local church had to offer. Children’s church, R.A.’s (Royal Ambassadors), Bible Drill, Children’s & Youth Choir, Puppet Ministry, Youth Group/Ministry, Sunday School, Discipleship Training, Christmas/Easter Dramas… you name it, I was in it.

I was converted at the early age of 8, right in the middle of all the busy life a committed church-goer. Looking back, however, one of the most glaring (and I would add scandalous) omissions is that my church never taught me how to live. I knew how to do a ton of religious things, not the least of which was checking off the boxes on my tithe envelope, but when it came to living out my faith as a disciple of Jesus, I really had no clue. I just knew how to get in the system and let the system do its thing.

The System and Spirit Within Christendom

What this system has produced, rather unintentionally I might add, is a spirit of consumerism through the culture of Christendom. In this system, who you are (identity) is defined by what you do (performance). I am a Christian because I go to church, and the fruit of my faith is manifested in my participation and religious performances. This system works within Christendom because Christianity and culture has been syncretized so that being religious or good is tantamount to being a disciple of Jesus.

The metrics for this appraisal of religious devotion are the church’s programs, activities, and events (think gatherings and special services). Instead of teaching disciples of Jesus how to live in the world, we take them out of the world and teach them how to be busy in the church building/campus. The centralizing effect made the church like the indoor shopping mall, servicing the needs, wants, and preferences of all within Christendom. The consumer was in control, and the church was there to make sure their product was good enough to have them buy into their church.

But just like the indoor mall has seen its day, so has Christendom. There has been a great divorce between Christianity and culture in recent years, and fewer and fewer people are attracted to this religious marketplace mentality. Ironically, many proponents in this system are lamenting the lack of enduring fruit from this well-oiled, efficient system.

Why is it that around 1% of Christians ever share their faith? Could it be that they do not know any unbelievers? Could it be that they have never been taught how to love their neighbor? Could it be that their understanding of evangelism is exceptionally gifted leaders using an extraordinary platform rather than ordinary people doing ordinary things with gospel intentionality?

Why is it that there is little qualitative distinctiveness between disciples of Jesus and those in the world around them? Could it be that we have assumed the gospel and replaced it with behavioral modification? Could it be we have substituted repentance and faith with try harder and do better? Could it be that we have trained people to value programs and activities in place of authentic community and missional living? Could it be that we have measured religious activity and assumed that is the same thing as pursuing holiness?

The Bottom Line for Living Now

Here’s the bottom line: Jesus has called all who believe in Him to be His disciples. Our goal is to become like Him and represent Him in the world. Our identity is not defined by what we do but what He has done on our behalf. Our identity as a disciple does not turn on when we are in a “house of worship.” It is on all the time because “this is my Father’s world.”

Disciples of Jesus need a biblical metric for evaluating their lives, and church programs, activities, and events do not meet that standard. One of the roles I lead in during our gatherings is connecting with new people who attend for the first time. Occasionally, new people will ask the question, “What kind of programs do you offer? What kind of activities can we get involved in?” These are the questions of consumers from the culture of Christendom. Churches do them no service by giving them a way to be busy and yet experience no life change. Churches do themselves no favor by thinking they need to “sell their church” to such people. What these people need is to be taught how to live by a church who are committed to living out their identity as “a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession”.

When churches replace activities, programs, and events with gospel, community, and mission, the efficient system will be replaced with a glorious mess where Christ is in control, not the consumer. Instead of feeling the need to be the “best show” in town, churches are freed to offer the best grace of our beautiful Savior. Religious people in the system of Christendom know that it is a safe place to hide, a sure place of never truly being known. Disciples who live by repentance and faith have no fear of being known for who they truly are because they are living in the good of the gospel, not the shaky goodness of their religious checklist. For the church, we are not so concerned about disciples attending our stuff as much as we seeing them live their lives in the world around them. Let’s get rid of celebrating the props of religious performance and celebrate a life well lived through humble praxis!

Show Them How to Live

I am convinced that most churches are missing the point at the most fundamental level of Christian living. For most of my life, I was never taught how to live as a disciple of Jesus. Perhaps that is because no one else around me was taught that either. We just did what everyone else did and got busy at it. But it does not have to be this way! Christians learn to live by living out their lives in light of the gospel with a gospel community on mission in the world around them. Enough with teaching Christians how to act as Christians on Sunday. We need a view of disciple-making that trains Christians how to walk “in his steps” wherever and whenever that journey takes them.

Consider the questions that are being asked, especially about what is not being asked or talked about. How much of our lives are “off the table” because we have divorced everyday living from our identity as a disciple of Jesus? Consider the content of Christian conversation, especially if people are talking about how they are discovering new areas in their lives that are being brought under the Lordship of Jesus Christ as they grow in repentance and faith. Consider the subject of people’s prayer requests, especially if they are about matters tangential at best to their life, relationships, and involvement in the world. And consider what followers of Jesus are satisfied with, especially if they are more comfortable with being a consumer of religious activities than a disciples consumed with Jesus.

There are teenagers right now in your life who need to know how to live in a world full of temptation, peer pressure, and acceptance. There are young professionals in your life who need to know how to live in a world telling them life is about making a living, being successful, and moving up the ladder. There are young families in your life who need to know how to raise their children not to be Pharisees, but disciplined and trained in a gospel-formative way. I could go on. But this kind of living does not get accessed by taking the pill or checking in once a week on Sunday. They need to be shown how to live by people who are living it out. It’s messy. It’s hard. But it’s glorious. Jesus came that we might have life, and that we might have it in full (John 10:10). Let us teach disciples to know what that means and live that out!

Tim Brister is a pastor and elder at Grace Baptist Church. Find out more on his blog: Provocations and Pantings.

Do You Truly Understand the Power of the Gospel?

The Bible is living and active (Heb. 4:12), inspired by God (2 Tim. 3:16), and given for the purposes of teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. The Bible is all about God’s story of redemption centered on the person and work of Jesus Christ. In the church where I serve, we say the gospel is all about (1) who Jesus is, (2) what Jesus has done, and (3) why that matters.

The gospel is the power of God (Rom. 1:16), and that power is demonstrated not only in our past rescue, reconciliation, and redemption, but also in our present faith, hope, and love. Christians who truly get the gospel discover its power again and again on a daily basis. They get it in all three areas of text, context, and subtext because the gospel changes everything. The “living and active” nature of the Word is doing its effectual work as the Spirit convicts, renews, and reforms our lives in ways that demonstrate the transforming power of Jesus.

Text • Context • Subtext

The text addresses biblical revelation. God reveals Himself through His written Word and in His Son, the Word made flesh. The gospel is the message, the text above all texts, that reveals God’s sovereign purposes in history to unite all things in Christ. Truly getting the gospel means we understand that the gospel is normative and supreme in God’s dealings with us, and we humbly submit to the authority of God’s Word and what it says about us and our need for Him. We are committed to knowing the gospel truly and articulating it clearly because God has spoken on the issue definitively.

The context addresses life orientation. These are matters pertaining to what lies outside of us and how our lives relate to them and orient around them. Context includes our relationships to other people, daily circumstances, seasons of life, spheres of existence, etc. Truly getting the gospel means we recognize that context is the place where the gospel is applied. Living in light of the gospel is learning to work out our new identity in Christ in specific places, in specific situations, and with specific people so that the reign and rule of King Jesus is manifested in His Lordship through the context of our existence.

The subtext addresses heart motivation. If context addresses what lies outside of us, subtext deals with what lies inside of us–our hearts. Subtext matters include motivation for actions, pursuit of pleasure, and aim in personal ambition. Subtext reveals the areas where unbelief remains in the life of a Christian, showing where functional idolatry and other forms of god-replacements are substituted for happiness, joy, peace, and contentment. Subtext is the canvas of our life story, and when we truly get the gospel, we see how the story of the gospel rewrites the story of our lives as we move from unbelief to belief in all matters of the heart.

Failing to Get the Gospel

One of the greatest dangers for Christians today is to be content with getting the gospel merely with biblical revelation (text). In my (Reformed) tribe, a great deal of energy is expended on getting the gospel right here, and rightfully so. The best books available on “what is the gospel message?” are coming from theologically-astute pastors and scholars. Nevertheless, if we fail to get the gospel message from our heads to our hearts and lives, then we are failing to truly get the gospel.

The normative nature of the text should have direct application for the context and personal implication for the subtext of our lives. Maturing gospel-centered Christians are discontent to correctly know the doctrinal aspect of the gospel; they are driven to a life dominated by the gospel. Those who love the gospel will not only find it a message to contend for, but also a message to live by. That means theological conversations are not enough. Bible studies are not enough. Books and commentaries are not enough. Superb head knowledge and theological acumen are not enough.

We simply cannot cut off the gospel’s power from the very places it intends to work – ongoing life-transformation. Those who truly get the gospel are those who confess how little of the gospel they truly get – and how much more they desire to embrace. They know that confessing Jesus is Lord means something in the context of their lives and subtext of their life story, and they want a congruency with what the gospel reveals, what their heart desires, and what their life demonstrates.

Those who truly get the gospel have gotten the most use out of the gospel. They have wrestled with how to apply the gospel to marriage or parenting, to adversity or success, to loneliness or stress-filled days. They are not afraid to deal openly and aggressively with areas of unbelief in their heart–doubts, fears, and all the ways the brokenness of the fall has caused them to look elsewhere to find hope, healing, and happiness. There’s an honesty that is refreshing because the gospel is so gripping. When you get it, it won’t let you get off believing a glossy, artificial, photoshopped version of you, because Jesus did not die for fake sinners who dress in fig leaves. He came for real sinners who have real need for real power from a really risen Savior.

The question I have to keep asking myself is, “What areas of my life in the context (externally) and subtext (internally) that I am cornering off or building a fortress around so that the text of God’s gospel is not actively working? How is this not revealing how I am ashamed of the gospel?” A gospel community presses one another into the context and subtext, as messy as it is, because of the mercy we have found at the cross. A gospel community that truly gets the gospel will celebrate faith and repentance in the ongoing renewal that comes from Spirit who graciously magnifies Christ in our hearts.

I want to be numbered among those who truly get the gospel so that the world may know how glorious Jesus is and how amazing I’ve discovered His grace to be.

Tim Brister is a pastor and elder at Grace Baptist Church. Find out more on his blog: Provocations and Pantings.