Paul Madson


Month: July 2010

(Part 3) The Cross-Centered Life: Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”(Galatians 5:1)

Last week I mentioned that there are three main tendencies that can draw our hearts away from “gospel-centered living.” They are…

  1. Legalism: Basing our relationship with God on our own performance.
  2. Condemnation: Being more focused on our sin than on God’s grace.
  3. Subjectivism: Basing our view of God on our changing feelings and emotions.

I want to focus our attention again this week on the first of these three tendencies: legalism.

I want to begin by answering the question:

Why is legalism so dangerous? Legalism claims that the death of Jesus on the cross was either unnecessary or insufficient. It essentially says to God, “Your plan didn’t work. The cross wasn’t enough and I need to add my good works to it to be saved!”

Back in the early 1990’s I preached verse by verse through the book of Galatians. We spent almost a year an a half studying this very important and profound book. The theme of the book of Galatians is found in chapter five and verse one…

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)

In other words, what Paul was trying to communicate so clearly to these believers was…

We are saved from our sins by faith alone in the finished work of Christ, not by obeying God’s laws!

Paul makes it crystal clear in Galatians 2:15-16

“…a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.”

Why was Paul having to emphasize this so strongly to these early believers? There were some false teachers in Galatia called “Judaizers.” Judaizers were “legalistic Jewish Christians.” They believed and taught that in addition to faith in Christ, a person also had to keep certain Old Testament ceremonial laws (circumcision in particular).

These Judaizers were saying to Paul, “We know what you are doing. You’re trying to make the message of the gospel more appealing to people by removing certain legal requirements. Paul, you are diluting the Gospel!”

The reality was…it was the Judaizers who were preaching a “false gospel.” Paul was preaching the pure, true Gospel of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

Paul makes this bold point very clear right out of the gate in Galatians 1:8-9

“But even if we are an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”

(Side note: the Greek word for “contrary” is “heteron” from which we get our English word “heretical”)

Strong words! And appropriately so. Why? Read carefully: Anyone, no matter how seemingly moral they may be, if they are adding anything to the free gift of salvation found only in Jesus Christ, they are teaching a false gospel! And therefore, they are not saved and are leading others astray! That is what Paul is saying very clearly in the book of Galatians.

This is why the Protestant Reformation needed to happen. Because the church at that time had been adding to the salvation message. They would say things like, “In order to be saved, you must place your faith in Christ and you need to observe these certain sacraments, and you must pay these indulgences, and you must…, etc.”

The gospel message that the church was preaching was no longer the true gospel message.

Always be very wary of anyone who comes along and tries to add something to the pure Gospel message of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone! Many times these are some of the most sincere, dedicated people who end up leading others astray. They are the ones who end up starting cults (Joseph Smith, Ellen G. White, etc.).

A few weeks ago I saw a PBS special on Seventh Day Adventists. The focus of the program was on their highly rated medical hospitals (which are good things). But if you know anything about the doctrinal beliefs of Seventh Day Adventists, you know that they add “works of obedience” to the salvation message.

Almost every cult that comes along adds works of obedience to being “saved.” Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, etc. all have a “faith plus something” in order to be saved. Why is this? Mankind wants to feel like they deserve what they get. Mankind naturally wants to feel like they “earned their way to heaven.”

As the well known ancient hymn of the faith (Rock of Ages) says,…

“nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling.”

Until next week, Soli Deo Gloria!

(Part 2) The Cross-Centered Life

“I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you. For I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins.” (1 Corinthians 15:1,3)

There are many good, profitable and honorable causes in life that can occupy our attention. But what is the main thing?

The Apostle Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15 what is to be of first importance.

“The Bible tells us that, while there are many different callings and many possible areas of service in the kingdom of God, one transcendent truth should define our lives. One simple truth should motivate our work and affect every part of who we are: Christ died for our sins!”  (C. J. Mahaney)

The words “of first importance” point to the quintessence (i.e. the heart & soul, the center, the core) of the gospel which Paul preached. That is, while Paul’s preaching and teaching touched upon many themes, not all of these themes were of equal weight and centrality to his message.

A.T Robertson in his classic five volume set Word Pictures in the New Testament, mentions that the phrase “first of all” (ἐν πρωτοις in Greek), refers to importance, not time. In other words, Paul isn’t saying, “The first thing I shared with you was Christ died for your sins…, and then the second thing I shared with you…”. No, instead he is saying “The most important thing I shared with you…”

There are three main tendencies that can draw our hearts away from “gospel-centered living.” They are…

  1. Legalism: Basing our relationship with God on our own performance.
  2. Condemnation: Being more focused on our sin than on God’s grace.
  3. Subjectivism: Basing our view of God on our changing feelings and emotions.

Today I want to focus briefly on the first of the three tendencies, legalism.

What is legalism?

Legalism is seeking to achieve forgiveness from God and acceptance by God through obedience to God.

In other words, a legalist is anyone who behaves as if they can earn God’s approval and forgiveness through personal performance.

“Legalism has its origin in self-worship. If people are justified through their obedience to the law then they merit praise, honor, and glory. Legalism, in other words, means the glory goes to people rather than God.”

(Thomas Schreiner)

Theologian and Bible Scholar Dr. Lewis Johnson writes this about the insidious poison of legalism:

“One of the most serious problems facing the Christian church today is the problem of legalism. One of the most serious problems facing the church in Paul’s day was the problem of legalism. In every day it is the same.

Legalism wrenches the joy of the Lord from the Christian believer, and with the joy of the Lord goes his power for vital worship and vibrant service. Nothing is left but cramped, somber, dull, and listless profession. The truth is betrayed, and the glorious name of the Lord becomes a synonym for a gloomy kill-joy. The Christian under law is a miserable parody of the real thing.”

Next week we’re going to look at why legalism is so dangerous to our spiritual health and why it is so important that we understand the difference between living “from” acceptance rather than “for” acceptance.

Until next week, Soli Deo Gloria!

(Part 1) The Cross (i.e. Gospel) Centered Life: Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing

“At the cross, the love of God and the wrath of God shake hands; the mercy of God and the justice of God embrace; and the holiness of God and the sinfulness of humanity appear in stark contrast.”

(William P. Farley, from Outrageous Mercy)

One of my concerns as I view Christianity in America today is that many Christians and churches seem to be more concerned with being culturally relevant than being cross-centered. We must never compromise the message of the cross on the altar of cultural relevance.

Over the next few weeks, I want to share with you a few thoughts on living a “Gospel-centered” (or cross-centered) life. Satan loves nothing more than to get Christians and churches to focus their primary attention on anything other than the “main thing.”

I hope these Scriptures, quotes and thoughts will uplift and encourage your heart.

The Apostle Paul, in writing to the Galatian believers, said…

“As for me, may I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 6:14)

C. J. Mahaney, in his excellent book entitled The Cross-Centered Life: Keeping the Gospel the Main Thing, writes, “The Apostle Paul recognized the universal danger of forgetting what is most important. He refused to be pulled away from the gospel. The cross was the centerpiece of Paul’s theology. It wasn’t merely one of Paul’s messages; it was the message. He taught about other things as well, but whatever he taught was always derived from, and related to, the foundational reality that Jesus Christ died so that sinners would be reconciled to God and forgiven by God.”

Theologian D. A. Carson writes of Paul, “He cannot long talk about Christian joy, or Christian ethics, or Christian fellowship, or the Christian doctrine of God, or anything else, without finally tying it to the cross. Paul is Gospel-centered; he is cross-centered.”

In writing to the church in Corinth, Paul said, “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2)

Jerry Bridges, in his excellent book entitled The Discipline of Grace: God’s Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness, writes, “The Gospel is not only the most important message in all of history; it is the only essential message in all of history. Yet we allow thousands of professing Christians to live their entire lives without clearly understanding it and experiencing the joy of living by it.”

Most Christians, when they think of the Gospel, they think of John 3:16 and say to themselves, “been there, done that – now let’s move on to ‘other’ spiritual truths.” Because of this, we forget and lose sight of the life-changing, heart-transforming, mind-renewing power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

George Orwell once noted that, “sometimes the first duty of intelligent men is the restatement of the obvious.”

I have found in my own life that it is very easy to begin to lose sight of and appreciation for “the Gospel.” The Gospel is our anchor. It is our center-point.

So what does a “cross-centered” or “Gospel-centered” life look like? Mahaney mentions these…

The symptoms that arise from not being cross-centered are easy to spot. Do any of these describe you?

  • You often lack joy.
  • You’re not consistently growing in spiritual maturity.
  • Your love for God lacks passion.
  • You’re always looking for some new technique, some “new truth” or new experience that will pull all the pieces of your faith together.

A cross-centered life helps us to…

  • Break free from joy-robbing, legalistic thinking and living.
  • Leave behind the crippling effects of guilt and condemnation.
  • Stop basing your faith on your emotions and circumstances.
  • Grow in gratefulness, joy and holiness.

Next week, I’ll share some more thoughts that, I pray, will help all of us to live and experience true “cross-centered, God-glorifying, joy-filled” lives.

Until then, remember the profound words found in Romans 5:8

“…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

We are not only saved by grace, but we also live the Christian life by grace!

Milk Cows, Worldview and the Transformation of Cultures

This week, I wanted to pass on to you a few thoughts from Gary Brumbelow of the Disciple Nations Alliance. Over the past few years, I have learned a great deal (through books and missions periodicals, as well as many conversations with Christian leaders from around the world) about what it takes to bring true, lasting, godly transformation to people and nations. Listen to Brumbelow’s brief story entitled Milk Cows Can Change the World:

“In his remarkable book, Truth and Transformation, native Indian Vishal Mangalwadi writes about visiting a dairy in Holland.

I had never seen such a dairy! It had a hundred cows, there were no staff on site, and it seemed amazingly clean and orderly. In India we had a small dairy of our own, but our dairy had two workers and it was filthy and smelly.

Book cover

Vishal was introduced to mechanized milking, but something else was a bigger surprise: the honor system of paying for milk.

We walked into the milk room, and no one was there to sell the milk. I expected Jan to ring a bell, but instead he just opened the tap, put his jug under it, and filled the jug.

His host paid for the milk by making change from the open money bowl on the window sill, and the transaction was done!

Vishal was astonished at such a system and observed that it could only work in a culture of trust and honor.

Beyond that, he points out how such virtues build economic growth.

In a different culture, the milk would be diluted-requiring inspectors, and the money bowl would be pilfered-requiring employees. Hiring employees and paying inspectors would increase the price of milk for everyone.

His takeaway: Moral integrity is a huge factor behind the unique socioeconomic/sociopolitical success of the West.

Virtues grounded in biblical values have benefited the world more profoundly, and in more ways, than many people recognize.”

After I read this post by Brumbelow, it reminded me again of the strategic importance of the power of God’s Truth to transform entire cultures!

Until a person’s worldview is changed so that it is in line with godly values, ethics and morals (which all flow from a proper understanding of the nature of God, i.e. good theology), nothing substantial is going to change. Poverty will continue unabated. The reason why so much poverty continues in many of these countries is because their worldview (belief system) is not in line with Scriptural principles.

When a person has a biblical worldview and lives it out in their day-to-day life, the impact is astounding! Like the example above, when people begin to value and live out honesty and integrity, business tends to flourish. When people begin to value women and children as human beings made in God’s image, they are no longer treated as second-class citizens.

If we want to create lasting change and transformation within the poorest countries of the world, the place to begin is with God’s Truth (i.e. Scripture). Teaching, educating and training indigenous people in the principles of God’s Word is at the root. As they begin to develop a biblical worldview and live it out as followers of Christ, transformation begins to happen in every socioeconomic and sociopolitical area! I have personally witnessed this in the villages and communities of northeast India where we have been involved for over 12 years.

Here is a list of recommended resources that deal with the above issues which I have found extremely helpful…

  • Discipling Nations: The Power of Truth to Transform Cultures, by Darrow L. Miller (with Stan Guthrie), copyright 1998.
  • Truth and Transformation: A Manifesto for Ailing Nations, by Vishal Mangalwadi, copyright 2009.
  • When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor and Yourself, by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, copyright 2009.
  • Giving Wisely: Killing with Kindness or Empowering Lasting Transformation?, by Jonathan Martin, copyright 2008.
  • African Friends and Money Matters, by David Maranz, copyright 2001.
  • The Aid Trap: Hard Truths about Ending Poverty, by R. Glenn Hubbard and William Duggan, copyright 2009.
  • The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good, by William Easterly, copyright 2006.

(Important Note: just because I recommend a particular book does not mean that I endorse every single thing that the author says or believes. I always encourage people to read critically [i.e. discerningly] and learn to take the “good” and leave the “not so good”)

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