Faith Isn’t a Way of Knowing; It’s a Way of Trusting

There are different ways we gain knowledge of God. For instance, we can know God through the created world (general revelation) and through the inspired word (special revelation). We can also know God through the inner witness of the Holy Spirit apart from external evidences.
Whatever the means by which someone comes to know God, the order is always the same: knowledge of God precedes faith in God. That is, knowledge leads people to put their faith in God. Let’s look at one example from the Old Testament.
At a pivotal time in Israel’s history, God appears to Moses in the burning bush. God instructs Moses to go to the king of Egypt and say to him, “The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us; and now, please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God” (Ex. 3:18). Uncertain as to why anyone would listen to him, Moses says, “But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you’” (Ex. 4:1). God’s response is pertinent to the biblical relationship of knowledge and belief:
The Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand?” He said, “A staff.” And he said, “Throw it on the ground.” So he threw it on the ground, and it became a serpent, and Moses ran from it. But the Lord said to Moses, “Put out your hand and catch it by the tail”—so he put out his hand and caught it, and it became a staff in his hand—“that they may believe that the Lord, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.” (Ex. 4:2–5)
God gives Moses powerful miracles to perform as evidence that God appeared to him. Greg Koukl notes in “Faith Is Not Wishing,” “What God didn’t say in response is as important as what He did say. He didn’t say, ‘Tell Pharaoh he’s just going to have to take this on blind faith.’” Instead, God gives Pharaoh and the people good evidence to believe. So belief follows from what we have good reason to think we know.
Here’s another way of putting it: biblical faith is trust based on knowledge grounded in evidence.

Given the clear teaching of Scripture, it’s astonishing that some atheists mischaracterize the relationship between faith and knowledge. For example, philosopher Peter Boghossian defines faith as “pretending to know what you don’t know” in his book A Manual for Creating Atheists. For Boghossian—and many other so-called “street epistemologists”—faith is a way of knowing. In philosophy, this is called epistemology.
However, faith is not an epistemology.

Responding to Boghossian in his weekly podcast, Reasonable Faith, philosopher William Lane Craig said,
This is so fundamental. This is a watershed. He [Boghossian] says that faith is an unreliable epistemology. He wants to make faith an epistemological category instead of a moral virtue. It is right there that we need to dig in our heels and say this is a misunderstanding of faith. Faith is not an epistemological category…. Faith is a way of trusting something. Faith is trusting in that which you have reason to believe is true. So it is once you have come to believe that something is true using reliable epistemological means that you can then place your faith or trust in that thing. To do so is a virtue.
So faith and knowledge are connected, but they are not the same thing. They are in completely different categories. Faith is not a way of knowing. Rather, faith is a way of trusting in what you know to be true.

Grace Arrives When You Need It

John Piper

Grace in the New Testament is not only God’s disposition to do good to us when we don’t deserve it, often defined as unmerited favor — totally right definition — but it’s more. The grace of God is not just God’s disposition to do good to the undeserving. It is that, but now we’ve seen it’s power. Grace is power. Grace moves in and enables me to fulfill a resolve.
If you want to see this confirmed, look at 1 Corinthians 15:10: “By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked . . .” Many of Paul’s resolves to suffer for Christ, and plant the church, and get imprisoned and endure beatings, they came to reality by grace. Grace did that. “I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10).
So I would base my whole sermon and life on that verse insofar as life is a dependence on the power of grace to be what we ought to be and do what we ought to do. By the grace of God, I am what I am. His grace toward me was not in vain, but I worked. But when I worked, it wasn’t I; it was grace with me. That’s pretty clear, I think.
Grace is the key: the power of grace, moving into our lives, turning our resolves into hard work that’s free and joyful and satisfying and far from legalistic. Grace doesn’t produce legalism. It’s grace; it produces hard work. Christians aren’t lazy, because grace is powerful.
Here’s another thing we need to know about grace: not only is it a power, but it is past and future. Grace has been in this room since you got here; otherwise, you would be in hell — sustaining your faith, sustaining your breath. I’m talking about both unbelievers and believers when I say that. No bomb blew up, no poisonous gas has come, nobody has yet, to my knowledge, had a heart attack, and on and on and on the blessings would go. We have been in an ocean of grace in this room for the last hour or so. I call that past grace. That already happened.
And we have a little time to go yet in the service. And my guess is that most of us will live to the end. Maybe not, but we will probably live to the end of the service and maybe some more good will be done. So grace is coming to us in the next five minutes and all the rest of today. All morning long grace is coming.
So I have in my head a picture of a river. So there’s this river of promises, and the water that’s flowing to me with such power is the grace of God. It’s coming from the future, flowing into my life. It falls over the waterfall of the present into a reservoir called past grace. And therefore, the past grace reservoir is getting bigger every day. It’s getting bigger every minute, which means you’ve got more to thank God for every minute of your life than you did before, because the right response of the heart towards past grace is thankfulness, and the right response toward future grace is faith.
This is really fundamental and so simple. As grace is coming to you by promises from the future, what should you do with that? Trust them. Trust it’s going to come. He’s going to help you. He’s saying, “Believe me. Trust me. Every hour of your life, trust me. I will help you. I will strengthen you. I’ll hold you up. I’ve got an avalanche of promises for you. Trust me.”
And as those promises turn resolves into work, and flow into the history of your life, and the history of the church, you look back with an ever-increasing sense of, “You are amazing. I’m so thankful for 33 years of faithfulness at this church.” You would see that as amazing too if you knew how many sins are in my life. How did I survive 33 years? Grace. Total grace.
So the reservoir just keeps getting bigger and bigger and bigger, and this is inexhaustible. This fountain, this spring where the river of grace flows to us from the future, it will never ever run dry because Jesus bought infinite grace for us.
Now, let me clarify: it is not wrong to say we trust in past grace. That’s not a meaningless sentence. But I’ll tell you what I mean by that sentence. And when I say past grace, I mean truths like, Jesus died for me. There’s never been a greater demonstration of free grace toward John Piper than when the Son of God died on my behalf. And then about sixty years ago now, I was born again. That’s another stunning grace that’s way back there sixty years, and way back there two thousand years
I said gratitude is the main response to that, but if I say, “I trust that Jesus died for me,” what do I mean by that? What does it mean to use faith language backward? Everybody knows what faith language is for the future: “I promise you I’ll be there.” “I trust you.” And you build your whole day around it. But you would never say to somebody, “I trust that you would be on time yesterday.” But you can say, “I trust that Jesus, when he died, he died for me.” But what do I mean when I say that? I mean that when he died for me, he secured for me infallibly that there will be a river of grace flowing into me forever. I cannot fail.
Power is going to keep arriving in my life forever. His death guarantees my everlasting life, and my moment-by-moment perseverance to get there was also bought back there. So when I say I trust him back there doing that, I mean all of that was perfectly sufficient to secure this where I’ll live my life moment by moment. That’s what I mean.
It’s no abstract historical thing just to affirm that Jesus did something. If he didn’t do what I’m trusting him to have done, I have nothing in the future but trouble on my way eternally. But if he did what he promised he did, namely, die in my place, then maybe somebody in the next ten minutes will be saved in this service, and other wonderful things might happen — and all of it for our good.
One more clarification on what we mean by faith in future grace. It’s power. It’s past and future — faith toward the future, gratitude toward the past, but also a kind of faith in the past because of what it purchased for the future. And now one more clarification: when we say we trust God or believe his promise that he will work for us in the next five minutes or five decades, we mean we are satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus through those promises.
When Paul said, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:8), he meant, “I embrace Christ as a treasure that is so satisfying by comparison, everything else is loss.” That’s what faith is when it receives Jesus as a treasure.
Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). And he means soul thirst, heart thirst. Which means that believing is an eating or drinking of the beauties and glories and truth and wisdom and love and goodness and justice of Christ so that the soul is satisfied. Whoever believes in me will not thirst. Believing means coming to him and drinking so that our soul thirst is satisfied. So, faith in future grace means trusting in all that God promises to be for us in Jesus Christ in any one of his promises.
Here’s what Paul said: “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Philippians 4:11). Would you accept that content is another word for satisfied? I’m using them that way.
I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11–13)
And those all things include hungering and being brought low. And so, what’s the secret he’s learned? The secret he’s learned is to trust the ever-arriving, strengthening power of Jesus because he says, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Paul is saying the secret of contentment, the secret of satisfaction, is trusting the promises, “I’m going to strengthen you. You’re mine. I love you.”
And we believe that truth moment by moment as we walk through life and form our resolves and then trust that promise to come in and empower us to do them. “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

Read, watch, or listen to the full message:

Don’t Trust the Peace in Your Heart

by Matt Rogers

It’s become a go-to answer to justify our actions.
Sarah is a high-school senior trying to determine where she will go to college. After four campus tours, she tells her parents that she “just feels a peace” about a certain school. Or a businessman considering a new career venture might quip, “I know it’s risky, but I just feel a peace that this is what I should do.”
When an internal sense of peace becomes the ultimate rationale for decision-making, no one can question you. It’s the ultimate mic drop—akin to saying God told you to do something.
Who’s gonna say God didn’t, or that your sense of peace is wrong?
Important Decisions
This might not be a big deal in morally neutral decisions, like selecting a college or our next entrepreneurial venture. But it’s a massive issue when it bleeds over to choices in other areas of life—which it almost always does.
What about when a sense of peace serves as the basis for choosing a church, even if the church preaches an impoverished gospel or lacks godly leadership?
Or when we justify a decision to end a contentious marriage because we simply “feel peace” when we’re apart?
Or when we assume a homosexual relationship must be God’s design because we have peace?
It sounds like a virtuous practice. After all, doesn’t God want us to experience peace? Isn’t internal clarity a sign of his blessing? Would he really want us to make a decision that didn’t yield immediate peace? Surely not.
Broken Compass
Unfortunately, our internal compass is fundamentally broken due to the fall. Apart from Christ, our feelings are wildly deceptive (Jer. 17:9). Our depraved natures can align feelings of peace with actions that betray God’s good design. We feel peace when we embrace our fallen nature, because we are acting consistent with that nature when we sin.
Responding to the gospel through the power of the Spirit, our nature is transformed. We are given new hearts that long to obey God and worship him rightly. When believers sin, then, they are acting against their new nature. Sin will increasingly feel grotesque and will fail to bring peace.
So, does this mean that those of us who claim to be Christians can trust our sense of peace? Maybe. But maybe not—for at least two reasons.
1. We may not actually have a new heart.
A sense of peace about ungodly actions may reveal that a person hasn’t undergone the radical heart reorientation that comes through genuine conversion. Regardless of someone’s religious pedigree, if they remain dead in sin, their internal compulsion won’t be in the direction of righteousness. Peace, then, becomes an ungodly fruit that unmasks a person as a false believer.
2. Christians may be deceived by sin that clings closely.
Regenerate believers should find a distaste for the sins that once brought joy and peace. Yes, they will remain susceptible to sin, and will often fall prey to its lure, but they will also respond differently. Sin will bring pain where it once brought pleasure. It will produce genuine repentance where it once brought mere momentary change.
Imagine a true Christian who rationalizes a certain sinful practice. At first the sin may bring conviction, but over time this inner sense of disquiet begins to wane. Sin may even seem justifiable, particularly if obeying God brings discomfort or pain.
Take the classic case of a Christian teenager dating an unbeliever. She knows the relationship is doomed—he doesn’t love God, and he’s leading her down the wrong path. But to not date him is to be alone, and who wants to be alone? The pain of loneliness outweighs the pain of an ungodly relationship, so she travels down the path so many have walked before her. Over time, she sears her conscience to the Spirit’s urging, and trains her heart to feel peace in an unhealthy relationship. We all know how that story ends.
There must be a better foundation for the decisions we make. Two questions are far more helpful in decision-making than simply “Do I feel peace?”
1. Does God’s Word Speak to This Issue?
If the Bible authoritatively speaks to an issue, then it doesn’t matter how we feel—the Bible is always right. Certainly, those who desire to pursue aberrant behavior will seek to reinterpret Scripture to justify their situation and the moral uprightness of their actions. But God’s Word must trump every sense of exceptionalism we feel.
For example, since Scripture speaks clearly on issues of sexuality, we must heed its counsel, deny our longings, and repent of our sin—even if embracing sin gives us peace. Since the Bible speaks clearly on issues of Christian love, we must seek our enemy’s best interests and love them as Christ loved us—even if doing so brings heartache and pain.
2. Do God’s People Speak to This Issue?
Christian community is a second checkpoint to help clarify our actions. We must be careful here, though. Just as we can always twist and distort the Bible to rationalize our actions, so we can always find a professing Christian or two who will justify our actions. Ironically, such support may come from those seeking greater comfort for their own sin.
If mature believers challenge our actions, we should heed their warning—even if doing so doesn’t bring peace to our hearts.
And yet the church is where believers train their hearts to find joy, peace, and contentment through obedience to Christ, where they can walk alongside one another to encourage holiness and discourage sin. In the church, we should find others who love us enough to point us to the forgiveness found in Jesus. If mature believers challenge our actions, we should heed their warning—even if doing so doesn’t bring peace to our hearts.
Right Order, Right Peace
This is where our internal compass may come into play. If the Bible encourages our choice (or at least doesn’t forbid it), and if fellow believers say it’s in our best interest, then we can ask, “Do I have a sense of peace about this decision?” or perhaps better, “Does God’s Spirit within me confirm this is the right thing to do?”
The problem isn’t the question, then; it’s the order. If we first ask what brings us peace, then we will make Scripture say what we want and find other people who agree with us. But, if we first ask what God’s Word says, then what his people support, we can put our sense of peace in its proper place—and walk confidently into decisions that will shape our lives.

We Don’t Have to Kill Ourselves

Don’t you often hope that maybe this book, idea, course, trip, job, country or relationship will fulfill your deepest desire. But as long as you are waiting for that mysterious moment, you will go on running, always anxious, always restless, always lustful and angry but never fully satisfied. You know that this is the compulsiveness that keeps us going and busy, but at the same time makes us wonder whether we’re getting anywhere in the process. This is the way to spiritual exhaustion. This is the way to spiritual death.

Well, you and I don’t have to kill ourselves. We are the beloved. We are intimately loved long before our parents, teachers, spouses, children and friends loved forwarded us. That’s the truth of our lives. That’s the truth I want you to claim for yourself. That’s the truth spoken by that voice which says, “You are my beloved.”

When You’re Weary and Exhausted From Life

Timothy W. Massaro

Weariness and exhaustion in life are all too common. We go to work day after day, drive forty minutes plus, pick up the kids from soccer practice after work, drive home, make dinner, help with homework, and maybe live with someone we barely talk to (the list could go on), only to start it all again tomorrow. We can get to a point in life where we are almost on auto-pilot, going through a routine without much hope of something more.
Questions and doubts can easily flood our minds. Is this all that we were made for? Where did the joy of life go? How does this happen? What is this weariness in doing good? In The Everlasting Man, G. K. Chesterton has his finger on our problem:
Pessimism is not in being tired of evil but in being tired of good. Despair does not lie in being weary of suffering, but in being weary of joy. It is when for some reason or other good things in a society no longer work… when its food does not feed, when its cures do not cure, when its blessings refuse to bless.
This quiet life of desperation describes too many of us. We don’t know what to do to shake the feeling. The world doesn’t seem to work. Nothing seems to help. We’re bored by all the things that once gave us joy.
Our Clue to Joy
A duty in doing what is right—without any sense of delight—often drives us. Fear and doubt gnaw at us from the back of the minds. We fear that what we do has no meaning and our lives have no purpose. We fear letting go. We fear receiving from others what we ourselves cannot provide. Yet, it is in such weariness that God calls out to us to give ourselves again to Jesus who gave all he had for our sake. This is the only way that we can again have joy.
Our clue to joy can be found in Jesus. In God’s Son, we find someone whose strength was spent to the last, whose work looked meaningless, and whose despair was the weight of the world (Heb. 5:8). Darkness descended upon him on the cross, but the strength of the Lord upheld him and did not let him see his work as empty or meaningless (Matt 27:45–46; Acts 2:22–27). He was willing to suffer the horrors of the cross—physical and psychological.
But why was Jesus willing to suffer like this? Why did he spend his days in such sorrow? The prophet Isaiah went so far as to call him, “The Man of Sorrows.”
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted (Isaiah 52:2-4).
Jesus willingly endured this great evil out of his great love for you and me. He endured it all, despising the shame, so we might share in God’s eternal joy forever (Heb. 12:2; John 3:16). That is what love does. It sees all things through hope. It looks upon shame and evil in this world with pity. This is how Jesus restores to us the joy of our salvation.
Let Us Not Grow Weary
Love looks upon us in meekness and joy for what will be, even though shame and despair often fill us. This love that God has for us clothes us with joy and removes that desperation from our hearts. God not only removes our guilt and shame. He brings new life to us even now. God’s love has been shed abroad in our hearts.
Jesus brings a new way of life for us, one that has never existed before. This is our bright hope today. The joy that comes from the Lord and that is in the Lord is our strength (Neh. 8:10). We can have joy even in our suffering. For what we do has meaning and value because of Jesus. Everyone we come into contact with is someone in need of this joy. Because we have been given that joy, we can now give it to others. God’s love overcomes our fears so that we can sacrificially give ourselves away.
Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith (Gal. 6:9–10).
The Joy of the Lord
God has moved heaven and earth to bring us to himself. He renews our joy by his presence and salvation, so that nothing can steal faith from our hearts. We do not need to grow weary but we can go out like a mighty eagle, tirelessly flying the skies with the wind of the gospel under our wings (Isa. 40:31).
In Jesus, who was raised from despair and death, we have become more than conquerors through his love. Nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:37–39). That is why joy is the peculiar virtue of the Christian. We have a salvation that cannot be overcome by present distress or despair. Joy is that virtue which includes in its arms all the peculiarities, sins, follies, and beauties of life for it is the arms of resurrection.
All the tasks before us each day are God’s tools to help others in their journey to him. He feeds children through us and instructs them in goodness and joy through our sacrifices. God uses us to help all of our neighbors and our enemies. Goodness, joy, hope—these gifts are ours to give freely to others.
Our actions, therefore, have great significance. We can persevere in the midst of despair by looking to God and embracing the joy that he has for us even now. We can endure when we see how we are now God’s instruments of righteousness, helping others persevere in his love that he sheds abroad in our hearts (Rom. 5:5).
What we sow in the ground of this world—if it is by faith—has an eternal consequence (1 Cor. 15:58). This is why Paul can say to us “let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap if we do not give up.”
With the great hymn, we can sing at the end of the day,
Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!
(“Great Is Thy Faithfulness”)

My Aplogies, Not

I am writing this as I sit in a Marriot while attending the wedding of my sister’s granddaughter.  While I love to curate, edit and write posts for the blog, there are priorities that must be honored.  First is the spent with God alone.  Enjoyed that this morning as I walked a mile to a Starbuck’s and no, I did not have any sweet treats.  Second belongs to the family and friends that God affords to you in this life.  To fail to love and invest in them is to be no more than those without faith.

I will return to posting on Monday but am taking this weekend to be with this family celebration.  Just a few observations and comments before I close.

Kindness goes a long way in this life.  My wife and I stopped at a favorite restaurant on the drive here and waited almost 45 minutes to be seated.  It is an excellent restaurant but as I waited, I heard all sorts of complaints about the wait, the price of the food on the menu and a few I dare not include.  I fail to understand how you can go to a favorite place that has good memories and spend your time fretting and grousing about almost everything.

We were seated in the time promised and a young lady came with a smile and a pleasant southern accent.  It wasn’t shrill or peckish.  It was genuine pleasure to hear her speak.  I required speech therapy as a child and any hint of accent was lost in the process, so I appreciate the nuances of speech.   I smiled and complimented her voice in a way that was not condescending.  She seemed appreciative of the remarks.  I watched as the other tables she served pressured her for more service and added their indifferent comments that bordered on rudeness.

A dessert came with my meal but since I have to limit my sugar intake, I first declined.  She kindly insisted that I try one, so I chose a cobbler.  I figured to take a small bite and move on.  She brought our desserts and my cobbler was literally buried under some of the best vanilla bean ice cream I have tasted.  I confess to you that I ate more that I should but the tip came easily for her service.

The wedding was both beautiful and touching.  One of the cousins who is attending a Christian college officiated the service.  You could tell he was nervous but when they looked into his eyes, all tension melted and he was speaking to them as a friend to friend and family to family.  I appreciate that the wedding was personalized in a beautiful setting and not outlandish.  It is not a compliment to our society that we engage in a battle of weddings to see who can top the next one.  I have attended some that were rather sinful in their extravagance.  It is refreshing to share in the union of a couple where the memories most cherished are the words they shared and not the decor or the food.

While I am typing this note in the hotel business room, they are doing construction just to the side. A day worker is here  and apparently had to bring his young son since it is Saturday.  The boy is quiet and obedient.  He sits watching his father work.  What a pleasant surprise to see one of the hotel clerks approach the father and child and ask if her would like some cereal from the breakfast room.  It was not sought but offered out of kindness.  Such speaks well not only for the hotel but for the character of those who work here.

I also had the pleasure of conversing with a New York fireman who is in the area considering retirement.  He was only 54 but had hit the magic number of years for retirement and was definitely not satisfied with the current administration in New York.  Again, I loved the Brookly accent and found him respectful in his comments.  He said he was tired of people being hired not for the qualifications but by some political bias.  There were people hired who he knew were not adequately trained and he feared having to depend on them with his life in a burning building.  He also regretted that New York was returning the behaviors he witnessed as a young man.  Peep shows in Times Square and the return of drugs being used in plain sight.

The last 24 hours have been a harvest of people and life.  All one has to do is look around, speak politely and listen.  People are hungering to talk, to say nice things and even to speak of our Lord.  They just hesistate to do so for fear of some blow back from a scoffer.  My Lord gave some good advice for dealing with such people.  Knock the dust off my shoes and leave them behind.  God is in the rescuing business, not you or me.  We are in the loving business, the sharing business and the serving business.

This world is rich with His handprint and blessings if you just care to look.  I remember one night at seminary, I was walking to the dorm with my head down and full of thoughts.  The dean of the school saw me coming as I did he and I nodded.  He simply said, “Aren’t the stars beautiful tonight?”  I came to halt and looked up.  They were astounding.  My entire demeanor changed.  I had spent the entire evening and never looked up once.

Do me a favor.  Look up tonight.  Listen to those around you.  Speak kind words and be grateful for what God has given you and what He has saved you from.  See you Monday.

God Sends You Back to School

I taught biblical studies for six years at Bethel College before becoming pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church in 1980. In virtually every class, students brought up the issue of the sovereignty of God. The question was unavoidable, no matter what the class was about.
If you’re embarking on a new year of study, I hope this question — this reality of God’s utter sovereignty — will follow you all the way through your studies in every class. It is an all-comprehending, all-influencing, Bible-pervading reality.
James 4:13–17 shows just how relevant the meaning of the sovereignty of God is for the life of students who are beginning an academic year of rigorous study.
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit” — yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
James has just confronted men and women who are spiritual adulteresses (James 4:1–10). They claim that God is the love of their lives, their husband, but they keep a prostitute on the side for what really satisfies them. This prostitute is called “the world” (James 4:4). James sees this as a form of pride and says in verse 6, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble,” and in verse 10, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.”
“God is absolutely sovereign over all the causes of life and death, and over everything everyone does.”
Then in verses 11 and 12, he deals with another form of pride, namely, standing in judgment over your neighbor and over the very law of God, and he says in verse 12, “But who are you to judge your neighbor?” In other words, again it is arrogance that is behind this sin of self-exalting judgment.
Then after James 4:13–17, he excoriates the rich landowners (James 5:1–6) who hold back the wages of their workers (verse 4) and even murder the weak who offer them no resistance (verse 6). In other words, their wealth has gone to their heads and made them feel above the law like petty tyrants.
Now in James 4:13–17 we have another form of arrogance. Alongside the arrogance that extorts money from a naïve divine husband to pay for a prostitute, and arrogance that stands in judgment over the law of God, and arrogance that exploits the poor, there is now in 4:13–17 the arrogance that lives in the dreamworld of ordinary life that denies the sovereignty of God. You can see the point in James 4:16: “As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.” Indeed, as verse 17 shows, since you know what’s true about your life as a mist, and God’s governance of the world, your God-ignoring presumption is sin.
So, what does this sin, this arrogance and boasting, look like? It looks pretty ordinary, pretty common, pretty innocent — pretty much like 98 percent of the people in the world. Verse 13: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit.’”
“Today or tomorrow” — We’ll decide on this one, or that one. When we go is our choice.
“Today or tomorrow we will go” — Or stay. Our choice. This or that, stay or go.
“Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town” — This town or that one. We’ll choose.
“And spend a year” — Or two. Or six months. Our choice. This duration, that duration. We’ll decide.
“We’ll spend a year there” — Or move around from town to town. Different business strategies. This kind or that kind. We’ll choose.
“We’ll spend a year there and trade” — Or take some time off. We’ll decide how much we work. This amount or that.
“We’ll spend a year there and trade and make a profit” — We know how to turn a profit. This much or that much. We’ll make it happen.
What’s the problem here? Verse 13 seems like a pretty ordinary way of talking. Doesn’t everybody talk like this? Here is James’s response, first in verse 14: “Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” The first thing James does is focus on the fact that they are utterly ignorant about everything they just asserted. “You do not know what tomorrow will bring.”
You don’t know when you will leave for such and such a town.
And if you leave, you don’t know if you will get there.
And if you get there, you don’t know if you will spend a year or a minute.
And if you spend a year, you don’t know if you will trade, or be flat on your back paralyzed from a fall.
And if you do trade, you don’t know if you will make a profit or fail completely.
“You do not know what tomorrow will bring.”
And then James zeros in on one of the reasons they don’t know what tomorrow may bring. “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (verse 14). They are as tenuous and as temporary as the vapor that comes out of your mouth on a cold morning. They can’t control it. And they can’t make it stay. It’s not in their power, and before they can try to shape it or guide it, it’s gone.
So behind the words of verse 13 (“Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”), there is an operating belief that life is controllable and durable, and future action is predictable. James says: all three of those beliefs are false. Life is a vapor. Tomorrow is unknown. And you don’t have decisive control over anything.
Is James saying, then, that the world and all this human action is simply random, the product of blind materialistic processes — call it fate or chance? No. He’s not. Verse 15 takes us to the heart of what he believes and what is missing from the minds and mouths of these ordinary folks.
Verse 15: “Instead [that is, instead of what you said in verse 13] you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’” “If the Lord wills, we will live.” So what is your life — this fragile, ephemeral vapor? It is as solid, and unshakable, and durable as God wills it to be. If he wills it, your heart keeps on beating. If he wills it, your heart stops. You do not live one second beyond the time God wills for you to live. And you do not die one second before God’s will for you to die.
Make sure you see this in verse 15: “You ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live.’” This profound, conscious awareness of our absolute dependence on the sovereign will of God was not part of the mindset of those who spoke in verse 13. And it is not part of the mindset of most of the people in the world. Is it part of your mindset? I hope so.
Then James reveals the absolute sovereignty of God not only over how long we live, but in everything we do. Verse 15: “Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’” If the Lord wills, we will do this, or that.
“Today or tomorrow” — God decides whether you leave today or tomorrow.
“Today or tomorrow we will go” — Or not. And God decides.
“Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town” — This one or that one. God decides.
“And spend a year” — Or two, or none. God decides.
“We’ll spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— Maybe there. Maybe somewhere else. Maybe trade. Maybe lie paralyzed from a fall. Maybe turn a profit. Maybe fail. At every turn. God will decide.
So we ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that,” because God is absolutely sovereign over all the causes of life and death, and over everything everyone does. Not to live with this conviction and this mindset, James says, is arrogant. Verse 16: “As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.”
As you go back to school this fall, I encourage you to press into this reality of God’s utter sovereignty with all your heart and all your mind. Believing that God decides ultimately whether you live, and whether you do this or that, is as practical as your plans for tomorrow, this semester, and the rest of your life.
And to help you embrace God’s sovereignty, I want to give you four glimpses of how relevant this is for your life as you begin an academic year of rigorous study.
As you launch into the new academic year, you will need the gospel every day. You will need continual reassurance that your sins are forgiven for Jesus’s sake, and that God is for you and not against you because of Christ. You are not destined for wrath, but for everlasting joy, because of the death and resurrection of Jesus.
In other words, you will need deep and ever-renewed confidence that the crucifixion of Jesus under Pontius Pilate was not a random fluke, but the sovereign plan and work of Almighty God to save your soul. And that is exactly what Luke reports in Acts 4:27–28.
Truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.
In other words, God planned and predestined — he was in absolute sovereign control of — everything that Pilate and Herod and the Jews and the soldiers did to bring about the death of Jesus. Therefore, we ought to say, “Since the Lord willed, they lived and did this or that.” The death of my Jesus was not random. It was a sovereign plan to save your soul. You will need that this year. Your survival and your joy will depend on the gospel, which depends on the sovereignty of God.
You will be called on this year at some point to love someone — some family member, some classmate, some unbeliever — and the love will be costly. It will require sacrifice. Time. Inconvenience. Effort. Money. Risk of reputation, or your very life. And it may be for someone you don’t even like, and who has treated you badly.
Over and over in the New Testament, especially in 1 Peter, we are told to do good to people who have not been good to us — to love people even if it requires suffering. How are we to do this? Peter’s answer — and he says it twice — is that we must remember God’s sovereignty over our suffering as we do good. Whatever suffering love may require, we accept as the sovereign will of our faithful Creator.
Let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. (1 Peter 4:19)
It is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. (1 Peter 3:17)
Suffering will come, especially for those committed to doing good — to loving their enemies. But take heart because God is sovereign over your suffering. No suffering befalls you apart from the will of God. He is your Father (1 Peter 1:17) and your Maker (1 Peter 4:19). He is faithful. This school year, entrust your soul to a sovereign, faithful Creator in doing good.
As you enter this year of studies, things are going to happen that make you afraid. Some of those fears may be small, like looking foolish in class. Others may be huge — a malignant tumor, a city blown to pieces with racial hatred, being kidnapped by terrorists.
In all of this, Jesus calls you not to shrink back into security, but to step forward in fearless witness. How does he support and motivate that?
“Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. . . . Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. . . . Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:28–29, 31)
The absolute sovereignty of God apart from which no bird falls dead to the forest floor is the foundation of your fearlessness. You are precious to him, and he is sovereign over you. Whatever happens in the world, whatever happens in your family, fear not.
One of the implications of being a student is that you are planning something. Your plan may not be clear, but you did not come to study so that you could waste the rest of your life. You have come because you believe that these studies will make you more fruitful. And as your plan for a life of fruitfulness takes shape, which would you rather say, “If I’m lucky, I will live and do this or that. By chance, I may live and do this or that. As fate may have it, I will live and do this or that”? Or would you rather say, “If the Lord wills, I will live and do this or that” (James 4:15)?
Luck and chance and fate are nothing. They are not a foundation for any plans. They can do nothing because they are nothing. They are simply words that describe emptiness and meaninglessness. But when you make a plan and say, “I plan to do this, not that, if the Lord wills,” you build your life on an unshakable foundation: the sovereign will of God.
The wise man says, “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand” (Proverbs 19:21). It is right to plan. Little of enduring value is accomplished without a plan. But the Christian plan, the humble plan, always includes, “If the Lord wills.” That’s part of the plan.
If you rest in the wise and good sovereignty of God in all your plans, you will be a confident person and a peaceful person. You will know that whatever details of your plans don’t happen, God’s will happens. And that was part of your plan. In fact, that was the most important part of any of your plans.
As you continue in your studies, may God make you joyful in his gospel, sacrificial in your love, fearless in your witness, and confident and peaceful in your planning, because you love his sovereignty, and say, “If the Lord wills, I will live and do this or that.”

Christians Should Care About Human Dignity

Instinctively we all feel that human life matters. We cringe when we hear of a new act of violence. We are horrified when we read of crippling poverty. We want to help the least fortunate. But why? What is it about humanity that matters?
I believe the Christian story gives us the richest, fullest expression of what it means to be human. This is especially important in an age when people are asking what this means and, in an age, when human dignity is assaulted through war, famine, violence, abortion, racism and other sins. Christians should care about human dignity. Here are five reasons why:
The Bible gives a rich description of what it means to be human. The opening pages of Scripture make the radical declaration that, of all of God’s beautiful creation, we are his most prized creation. Moses takes great care to describe the way God crafted humans from the dust of the ground and breathed into humans the breath of life. And David, in Psalm 139, describes the intricate way in which God’s crafts every human life in the womb.
God has created each human in his image for his glory. Genesis tells us that humans reflect God. We were created after his image. This means humans have intrinsic value and worth. Humans were made by God with purpose, to both imitate him by ruling over creation and filling the earth with his glory.
God loved humans so much he sent Jesus to rescue us from sin, death, and Satan. When Adam and Eve, the first humans, rejected God’s rule and listened to the serpent, sin corrupted our humanity and caused humans to turn violently against each other and against God. But God sent Jesus as the Second Adam to redeem our humanity and restore us to our image-bearing purposes.
Jesus came to earth as a human, in the most vulnerable way possible, showing us that being human is good. Jesus is both fully God and fully human. His incarnation tells us that God’s creation of humans was good. In his life, he showed us what it means to be fully human. In his death, he exemplified sacrifice and surrender, and in his resurrection he defeated, sin, death and the grave.
God calls his redeemed image-bearers to glorify him by standing up for the dignity of the most vulnerable. If we are to obey Jesus, who call us to love our neighbor as ourselves, we must speak up for our neighbors whose dignity and humanity is often violently assaulted. Every generation faces attacks on dignity and this time is no different, from abortion to euthanasia to the way in which we dehumanize immigrants and refugees.
Daniel Darling is the author of the new book, The Dignity Revolution: Reclaiming God’s Rich Vision for Humanity.

Social Injustice and the Gospel

Scripture says earthly governments are ordained by God to administer justice, and believers are to be subject to their authority. The civil magistrate is “a minister of God to you for good . . . an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil” (Romans 13:1–4). But it is also true that no government in the history of the world has managed to be consistently just. In fact, when Paul wrote that command, the Roman Emperor was Nero, one of the most grossly unjust, unprincipled, cruel-hearted men ever to wield power on the world stage.
As believers, “we know . . . that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19), so worldly power structures are—and always have been—systemically unjust to one degree or another.
Even the United States, though founded on the precept that all members of the human race “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” incongruously maintained a system of forced slavery that withheld the full benefits of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness from multitudes. Many generations of people from African ethnicities were thus legally (but immorally) relegated to subhuman status. According to the 1860 census, there were about four million in the generation of slaves who were being held in servitude when Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
The Civil War and the abolishment of slavery did not automatically end the injustice. A hundred years passed before the federal government banned segregation in public places and began in earnest to pass legislation safeguarding the civil rights of all people equally. Until then, freed slaves and their descendants in Southern states were literally relegated by law to the back of the bus and frequently treated with scorn or incivility because of the color of their skin.
I got a small taste of what it felt like to be bullied and discriminated against in the American South in the 1960s. I spent a lot of time traveling through rural Mississippi with my good friend John Perkins, a well-known black evangelical leader, preaching the gospel in segregated black high schools. During one of those trips, as we drove down a dirt road, a local sheriff—an openly bigoted character straight out of In the Heat of the Night—took me into custody, held me in his jail, and accused me of disturbing the peace. He also confiscated (and kept) all my money. He ultimately released me without filing charges. I suppose he considered the money he took from me an adequate fine for doing something he disapproved of.
In those days any appeal to higher authorities would have been fruitless and possibly counterproductive. All I could do was try not to antagonize him further.
I was again ministering in Mississippi with John Perkins and a group of black church leaders in April 1968 when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis. One of the men leading our group was Charles Evers, head of the Mississippi NAACP. (His brother Medgar had been killed in 1963 by the KKK.) When news of Dr. King’s murder broke, we drove to Memphis—and literally within hours after Dr. King was assassinated, we were at the Lorraine Motel, standing on the balcony where he was shot. We were also shown the place where James Earl Ray stood on a toilet to fire the fatal shot.
I deplore racism and all the cruelty and strife it breeds. I am convinced the only long-term solution to every brand of ethnic animus is the gospel of Jesus Christ. In Christ alone are the barriers and dividing walls between people groups broken down, the enmity abolished, and differing cultures and ethnic groups bound together in one new people (Ephesians 2:14–15). The black leaders with whom I ministered during the civil rights movement shared that conviction.
The evangelicals who are saying the most and talking the loudest these days about what’s referred to as “social justice” seem to have a very different perspective. Their rhetoric certainly points a different direction, demanding repentance and reparations from one ethnic group for the sins of its ancestors against another. It’s the language of law, not gospel—and worse, it mirrors the jargon of worldly politics, not the message of Christ. It is a startling irony that believers from different ethnic groups, now one in Christ, have chosen to divide over ethnicity. They have a true spiritual unity in Christ, which they seem to disdain in favor of fleshly factions.
Evangelicalism’s newfound obsession with the notion of “social justice” is a significant shift—and I’m convinced it’s a shift that is moving many people (including some key evangelical leaders) off message, and onto a trajectory that many other movements and denominations have taken before, always with spiritually disastrous results.
Over the years, I’ve fought a number of polemical battles against ideas that threaten the gospel. This recent (and surprisingly sudden) detour in quest of “social justice” is, I believe, the most subtle and dangerous threat so far. In a series of blog posts over the next couple of weeks, I want to explain why. I’ll review some of the battles we have fought to keep the gospel clear, precise, and at the center of our focus. We’ll see why biblical justice has little in common with the secular, liberal idea of “social justice.” And we’ll analyze why the current campaign to move social issues like ethnic conflicts and economic inequality to the top of the evangelical agenda poses such a significant threat to the real message of gospel reconciliation.
I hope you’ll see that “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:25)—and that’s never more true than when we are talking about the strategy God has chosen for the spread of the gospel and the growth of Christ’s kingdom.

6 Realities to Reinvigorate Your Prayer Life

In 1845 preacher William Walford introduced to the world a new hymn. In the second stanza, he wrote,
“Sweet hour of prayer! Sweet hour of prayer! The joys I feel, the bliss I share, of those whose anxious spirits burn with strong desires for thy return! With such I hasten to the place where God my Savior shows his face and gladly take my station there and wait for thee, sweet hour of prayer!”
After reading those words some of us might wonder if we’ve ever actually prayed! Let’s be honest: Prayer is not always bliss. We don’t hasten to it gladly. We don’t pray for an hour. We don’t even know what to pray for (Rom. 8:26–27).
We’re not the first people to make these confessions. In the mid-seventeenth century, a group of British church leaders met to develop instructional materials for the Christians under their care. One of the products of that meeting was the Westminster Shorter Catechism (1647). This document offers 107 simple and timeless questions and answers (Q/A) about the Christian life. The catechism’s two questions introducing the Lord’s Prayer can help breathe life into our sometimes-arid prayer habits.
What is prayer? (Q/A 98)
“Prayer Is Offering Our Desires to God”
“Desires” should not be misunderstood as “stuff we want.” God is a Father who delights in giving good gifts to those who ask (Luke 11:13). However, prayer is not like writing a Christmas wish-list. In prayer, we pour out before God the deepest yearnings of our hearts (Ps. 62:8). Far from a mere religious habit or crass shopping list, prayer is a heartfelt response to God’s promise to hear our inmost desires.
Prayer Is Requesting “Things Agreeable to God’s Will”
John writes, “This is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us” (1 John 5:14). To pray rightly we have to know God and what he wants for us. My children know it is useless to ask for cotton candy at the fair—I’ll say no every time. They’ve learned it will be far more fruitful to ask me to read them a book. With God, things are not quite so simple. He operates on a different plane of wisdom than we do, but he has revealed his will to us. Prayers that are ignorant of God’s will (“Help me win the lottery;” “help me get revenge against my wife,” etc.) do not honor him and are a waste of energy.
Prayer Is Asking “In the Name of Christ”
At least five times in John 14–16, Jesus teaches his children to pray to the Father in his name. “If you ask anything in my name, I will do it” (John 14:14). This does not mean that every Christian prayer has to end the same way: “In Jesus’ name, Amen.” The names of God’s Son are not passwords that unlock heaven’s plunder. Jesus means that we must pray to the Father from a vital relationship with God’s Son. This is how “in my name” operates in Scripture. In the Old Testament, true prophets always spoke in his name, that is, in concert with him (e.g. Deut. 18:19). Prayer in Jesus’ name means coming before God in profound dependence on Christ’s finished work.
Prayer Includes “Confessing our Sins, and Thankfully Recognizing His Mercies”
Both penitence and thankfulness are necessary postures of prayer because they reflect the genuine experience of every believer. We ask for forgiveness because we know we are sinners and that only God can pardon. Penitence doesn’t put believers back into God’s favor; those who are his can’t diminish his love (John 17:23). We acknowledge our sins because a posture of humility is the only appropriate way to approach a holy God (cf. Ps. 32:5-6; Dan. 9:4-19; 1 John 1:9). Assured of his mercies, we thank him for accepting us and blessing us with his kindness (Ps. 103:1-5, 136:1-26; Phil. 4:6).
How Should We Pray? (Q/A 99)
“The Whole Word of God…Directs Our Prayers”
In the school of prayer, the Bible is our textbook. Our prayers often indicate how long and how deeply we have drunk from the Scriptures. This doesn’t mean that the best prayers are fancy; many of the prayers in the Bible are simple pleas for help (e.g. Neh. 13:22) or outbursts of praise (e.g. Ps. 117), but when we immerse ourselves in God’s word, our hearts begin to learn the Bible’s prayer language.
Many Christians have found it helpful to distill their daily Bible reading into prayer points. Sometimes we can pray the word of God directly. When read through the lens of fulfillment in Christ, the Psalms especially can serve as a beautiful prayer book.
“Especially the Lord’s Prayer…Directs Our Prayers”
Jesus spoke his famous prayer (Luke 11:2–4) in answer to his disciples’ request, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). Ever since believers have used the Lord’s Prayer as a prayer. Some people feel uneasy using a form prayer, as if doing so is an example of “vain and heathenish repetition” (Matt. 6:7). It is possible to use even the Lord’s Prayer in vain, but surely there is a difference between empty repetition and good repetition (Phil. 3:1). In Psalm 136, for example, twenty-six times worshippers repeat the phrase “For His mercy endures forever!” The Westminster Larger Catechism helpfully suggests that the Lord’s Prayer is to be used not only as a template for making other prayers, “but [it] may also be used as a prayer” (Q/A 187).
In his prayer, Jesus models what godly prayer is like: prayer should be God-centered and kingdom-focused. It must include confession of sin and thanksgiving for his provision. Through prayer we must seek what we need for body and soul so that we can live as children of heaven in a fallen world. Jesus’ preface, six petitions, and conclusion provide us with a rich template for growing in prayer.
Prayer isn’t always easy (why should it be?). But as we grow in the discipline of prayer, it can be a rich experience of sharing our heart with God’s.

Related Resources