Category Archives: Mentoring

Can you have eternal life with God by being sincere and doing good things?

Bible study that hits the spot
Theology that hits the spot

Here’s an article from Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason.

He answers the question “Am I going to Hell if I don’t believe in Jesus?”.


Sometimes we have to reframe a critic’s question in order to give an accurate answer. The questions, Am I going to Hell if I don’t believe in Jesus?, is an example. As it is asked, it makes it sounds as though Jesus were the problem, not the answer. As though failing a theology quiz sends us to Hell. Instead, we need to reframe the question to answer accurately and show that sin is the problem, and Jesus is the only way because He alone has solved that problem. Sinners don’t go to Hell for failing petty theology quizzes.

While giving a talk at a local Barnes & Noble, someone asked why it was necessary for him to believe in Jesus. He was Jewish, believed in God, and was living a moral life. Those were the important things, it seemed—how you lived, not what you believed.

To him the Christian message depicted a narrow-minded God pitching people into Hell because of an arcane detail of Christian theology. How should I answer?

Remember that the first responsibility of an ambassador is knowledge—an accurately informed message. What is our message?

One way to say it is, “If you don’t believe in Jesus, you’ll go to Hell. If you do believe, you’ll go to Heaven.”

That’s certainly true, as far as it goes. The problem is it’s not clear. Since it doesn’t give an accurate sense of why Jesus is necessary, it makes God sound petty.

So how do we fix this? Here’s how I responded to my Jewish questioner. I asked him two simple questions.

Read the rest of the article.

Christians all need to understand how to explain why sincere beliefs and good works are not enough to satisfy God’s moral demands on us. God is more concerned that we understand the truth about his existence and character – that is the whole point of sending Jesus to die as an atonement for our rebellion. The problem isn’t just that we lie, cheat, steal and murder. The problem is that we want to get our own happiness apart from God, without wanting to know him as he is, and without having to care about his goals and his character in the relationship.

Here’s what God wants us to know about ourselves:

  • we have to realize that what we really are is rebels against God
  • rebels don’t want God to be there
  • rebels don’t want God to have any goals or character different from their goals and character
  • rebels don’t want God to place any demands on them
  • rebels don’t want to have any awareness that God is real or that he is morally perfect
  • rebels want to be liked as they are now – they don’t want to change as part of a relationship
  • rebels want to conceive of their own way to happiness, and to use other people and God for their own ends
  • rebels don’t want there to be a mind-independent objective reality, they want to invent their own reality that allows them to be praised and celebrated for doing whatever makes them happy at every point along their lives
  • rebels would rather die that put their pursuit of happiness second
  • rebels have no interest in rules, judgments, accountability or punishments

Here’s what God wants for us to be saved from our rebelling:

  • we have to know his real character so we have a genuine relationship with him
  • the best way to know his character is by taking time to study what Jesus did in history
  • what the incarnation tells us is that God is willing to humiliate himself by taking on a human nature
  • what the crucifixion tells us is that God is willing to die in our place even though we’re rebelling against him (Jesus is Savior)
  • part of being saved is to trust God by allowing his character to transform our desires and actions (Jesus is Lord)
  • as we grow in letting the character of Jesus inform our actions, we build a set of experiences that are like Jesus’ experiences – i.e. – we obey God rather than men, and we suffer for our obedience – just like Jesus

So don’t Christians have to do good things? Yes. But a Christian’s good deeds are the result of identifying Jesus as Savior and Lord, and then following him by making decisions that respect his character. God doesn’t need you to solve all the world’s problems – he could do that himself. It’s not what you do, it’s who you know and trust that counts. The good deeds are just your way of trying to be like him and trying to feel the same thing he felt when he gave his life for you. You have a friend and you want to be like him in order to know what he feels so you have sympathy with him.

The main point is that knowing Jesus as the revelation of God’s character, and then following Jesus, is more important than doing “good things”.

The first commandment, according to Jesus, is found in Matthew 22:34-38:

34Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together.

35One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:

36“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’

38This is the first and greatest commandment.

The second commandment which comes after that one has to do with loving your neighbor. But the second one is not the greatest commandment. You can’t love God unless you know God. That it, unless you make knowing about his existence and character a priority in your life to the point where you find out the truth about his existence and character. And not as your own opinion, or as the opinion of the people around you, or as the faith-tradition you were raised in. No. You have to value God enough to respond to his overtures to you. You have to know him in truth, not as a quick checkbox that you check off for an hour on Sundays to make your life “easier” because you are happier and the people around you like you. You have to know him before you can act to love him – who he is and what he’s done.

The way that Protestants like me draw the line is as follows – justification (how your rebellion is canceled) is God’s job. He draws you to him while you are still in rebellion, but you have a choice to resist him or not. If you resist his action to save you, then you are responsible for rejecting him. Sanctification (about doing good works) is not about canceling your rebellion, it’s about the later step of re-prioritizing your life, so that you make decisions that reflect the character of Jesus, so that you become more like him. Even your desires change as the relationship progresses. It is something you work at – you study and experience, study and experience. The whole point of studying apologetics is to build yourself into a love machine that fears nothing and holds up under fire, because you know the truth and the truth makes you free to do what you ought to do regardless of the consequences (e.g. – failure to be recognized and requited by someone you loved well).

The most important relationship is not the horizontal relationship with your neighbor, it’s the vertical relationship with God himself. And when you know God as he really revealed himself in history, then your desires – and consequently your actions – will change naturally. When you know God as a person, you freely make all kinds of sacrifices for him. You put yourself second because you want to work on the relationship. You start to believe that your own happiness isn’t as as important as working on the relationship. It’s like building a house. You don’t notice the sacrifices.

Sometimes, I think that the whole point of Christianity and that vertical relationship is so that we know God better. We sympathize more with him than we do with ourselves, because of how unfairly people treat him, how good and loving he is, and how right his goals are. It’s not that he needs help, because he’s God – he’s sovereign. But the relationship gets to the point where it becomes reasonable for you to put yourself second with God, and to let his goals become your goals – you want the relationship with a loving God more than you want to be happy. You get tired of ignoring the person who loves you most – you start to wonder what it would be like to actually respond to him. For Christians, the demands of this other being eventually seem to be not so terrible after all – and we try to put aside our own desires and to give him gifts and respect instead of worrying so much about being happy all the time.

It’s not irrational to be kind to the person who loves you the most – who sacrificed the most for you.

Should you marry a woman who is pro-choice, pro-divorce or pro-gay-marriage?

Young, unmarried women celebrate gay pride
Young women celebrate gay pride: do they understand marriage? are they safe to marry?

Let’s take a closer look at what these three views mean for you as a future husband.


Let’s start by talking about sex, because you can’t have an abortion without sex. So, the right way to view sex is that it’s something that should be confined to marriage. Sex is so non-trivial that it should only be done after a couple has committed to each other for life. Feelings of being “in love” cannot ground sex, because feelings come and go, but marriage is for life.  The function that sex provides in a married home is that it relieves stress, affirms the unity of the marriage, and communicates love to the man in particular. Sex is not to be used before marriage as a way of getting what you want without having to promise to love the other person for a lifetime, no matter what.

Again, it’s not how you feel about the other person that matters, because feelings change. What matters is whether you are willing to make that commitment to take responsibility for another person’s needs, regardless of how you feel. Sex makes sense in a relationship where both people have promised to do that. And both people should have some kind of track record at doing that in their past, since accepting responsibilities, expectations and obligations is not something that just gets turned on and off by a wedding.

When a woman says that she is pro-choice, what she means is that sex is something completely different than what I just described. A pro-choice woman thinks it should be OK for a woman to have pre-marital sex for recreation – outside of the boundaries of a lifelong, exclusive commitment to marry. Since people don’t usually have pre-marital sex when they are sober, this is probably going to mean drinking a lot to break down her judgment, and to give her a way of getting out of the responsibility and feelings of guilt – “that wasn’t me, it was the alcohol that I freely chose to drink”. Premarital sex is about a woman choosing a man apart from his ability to commit to performing the roles of husband and father for her. She is not giving sex to a man who committed to her, she’s giving sex to a man who is hot and fun and will give her thrills and tingles and will make her friends so envious.

So what happens when this recreational sex results in a pregnancy? A pro-choice woman believes that it’s OK to murder another innocent human being in order to escape the normal, natural consequences of her own choices. Is this view of sex as recreational and commitment-free compatible with the needs and goals of a marriage-minded man?

Not only is this recreational, me-first, fun and thrills view of sex not compatible with marriage, but it’s not compatible with having children either. A woman who thinks that murdering an innocent child is an acceptable way to insulate herself from obligations and responsibilities is not a good woman to marry. A pro-choice woman will not be able to handle the needs of  a child, because she thinks that her happiness comes above self-sacrificial service to others.


The first redefinition of marriage before gay marriage was the enactment of no-fault divorce, which allows one spouse (the woman, 70% of the time) to exit the marriage for any reason, or no reason at all. These no-fault divorce laws were pushed through by two groups on the left: feminists and trial lawyers. They both stood to gain from no-fault divorce. Trial lawyers stood to make a ton of money from the divorce trials. Feminists objected to the traditional marital roles: sole male provider and stay-at-home wife and mother. By making it easier to divorce, they basically encouraged women to not think through who they were choosing to marry, since they could easily get out of it now. A woman who can get out of a marriage easily does not think rationally about whether the man can perform the traditional male roles. It enables her to reject her father’s guidance and just marry based on her feelings – the man’s appearance, peer-approval, cultural standards of what men ought to be, etc. No-fault divorce is like winning the lottery for a woman: she gets alimony AND child support.

If a woman supports no-fault divorce, it means that she does not want to be roped into responsibilities, expectations and obligations that require self-denial, self-control and self-sacrifice. Women who support no-fault divorce typically have the view that life is too unpredictable to logically connect causes and effects. They think that the most reliable way to choose a man is through their feelings, not by measuring his abilities against objective criteria like the traditional set of {provider, protector, moral leader, spiritual leader}. What this means for you is that if their feelings change, then they will divorce you. A woman who thinks that her feelings can predict whether an enterprise like marriage is likely to succeed or fail is a divorce risk. She will rely on her feelings to motivate her to perform in the marriage, and will expect you to make her feel like doing her jobs. You can’t get involved with that. Your job as a man is to protect, provide, and lead on moral and spiritual issues, not to make her do her job by making sure she always feels like doing it.

What if a woman says she opposes divorce – can she still be a divorce risk? Yes. If she has an overriding desire to be happy in other areas of her life that is so strong that it causes her to avoid hard things. If she studies easy subjects, prefers easy jobs, spends more on vacations than investments, etc. Avoid women who prioritize thrill-seeking behavior, like going out, getting drunk, hooking up, or doing pointless, expensive activities like sky-diving, zip-lining or surfing. They are not going to be content with married life, because they don’t value the end result of a good marriage over their own desire to be free of constraints and to have happy feelings. Whatever duties they have in the marriage will never get done, because they are not used to committing to do hard things, and then doing them, regardless of how they feel. Prefer women with a history of doing the right thing, even if they don’t feel like it.


What does it mean to be in favor of removing the requirement for two complementary genders in marriage? Well, what it means is that there is no design to marriage such that the male and female nature need to balance each other out. Same-sex relationships tend to exhibit characteristics that not favorable for the needs of children, e.g. – higher rates of domestic violence, non-monogamy, etc. I don’t think it’s a good idea to redefine marriage in a way that undermines the norms of natural marriage, e.g. – pre-marital chastity, exclusivity, permanence, and focusing on stability for the sake of the children. If your candidate thinks that raising children without a father or without a mother is “marriage”, they don’t understand marriage.

Any children who are raised by a same-sex couple will be automatically deprived of either their biological mother, their biological father, or both. Biological parents are naturally going to have an additional interest in the child, since the child contains their genetic material. And of course children do better when they are raised in a stable home. Anyone one can see that children of divorce do worse without their father. And orphans who go without a mother during their childhood – especially the first 5 years – do much worse than children raised by stay-at-home moms. So, either way, same-sex unions impose a lot of stress and strain on kids.

So should should marry a woman who thinks that it is OK to put the needs of selfish adults over the needs of vulnerable children? The answer is no. Any woman who puts the needs of selfish adults over the needs of innocent, vulnerable children is certainly not going to treat YOU well as a man. You are much less adorable and cute than any child. You’re big and hairy, and most women think you can take care of yourself. So naturally, a woman who thinks that children shouldn’t get their needs met is certainly going to think that you shouldn’t get your needs met, either. You want a woman who is prepared to put aside her own selfishness desires for the sake of the children. She has to believe in adults sacrificing their own desires for the sake of the children. Otherwise, not only will your children suffer, but you will as well.


So we have seen 3 character traits in women that marriage-minded men should avoid. I just want to tell you that I have seen all 3 of these beliefs in women who claimed to be Christians. You cannot take the words “I am pro-life” to be a sign that she is really pro-life. You have to go deeper, and look for an understanding of the logic of the pro-life case, and pro-life activism. You cannot take the words “I oppose divorce” as a sign that she really opposes no-fault divorce. If her life is focused on pursuing pleasure by relying on her emotions, and then breaking promises and dismissing obligations that don’t feel good, then she is a divorce waiting to happen. You cannot take the words “I oppose same-sex marriage” as proof that she opposes same-sex marriage. If her view of relationships is that adults should do what they want, and the kids just have to adjust, then the risk that she will put herself above the children’s needs – and your needs – is there, regardless of what she says.

Watch out for women who say that their emotions are “God speaking to them”. That is a huge red flag, especially if their past shows evidence of poor decision making, e.g. – debt, abortion, unemployment,  drunkenness, sexual promiscuity, etc. You are looking for a past that shows long-term commitment that overrides feelings. This is not something that can be decided by will or emotions, it has to be a habit cultivated over a lifetime.

Three thoughts on forgiveness and reconciliation in Luke 15

Note: I am re-posting a series of five Bible studies this week that I wrote last year. Every 2 PM post Monday to Friday this week will be a Bible study.

The Bible passage for this post – the last in the series of five – is in Luke 15.

Luke 15:1-10:

1 Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him.

Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

So He told them this parable, saying,

“What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it?

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 which was lost!’

I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

“Or what woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?

When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost!’

10 In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

And now we go to C.S. Lewis for this quote:

“It may be possible for each [person] to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would strongly be tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another…. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal…. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”

— C.S. Lewis “The Weight of Glory”

And then there is this from the biography of J. Warner Wallace:

J. Warner Wallace was an atheist for 35 years. He was passionate in his opposition to Christianity, and he enjoyed debating his Christian friends. In debating his friends, J. Warner seldom found them prepared to defend what they believed. He became a Police Officer and eventually advanced to Detective. Along the way, he developed a healthy respect for the role of evidence in discerning truth, and his profession gave him ample opportunity to press into action what he had learned about the nature and power of evidence. Throughout all of this, he remained an “angry atheist”, hostile to Christianity and largely dismissive of Christians.

When J. Warner took time to be honest with himself, he had to admit that he never took the time to examine the evidence for the Christian Worldview without the bias and presupposition of naturalism. He never gave the case for Christianity a fair shake. When he finally examined the evidence fairly, he found it difficult to deny, especially if he hoped to retain his respect for the way evidence is utilized to determine truth. J. Warner found the evidence for Christianity to be convincing.

J. Warner founded as a transparent resource that tracks his own spiritual journey. From angry atheist, to skeptic, to believer, to seminarian, to pastor, to author and podcaster, his journey has been assisted by his experience as a Detective. J. Warner wrote, “Cold-Case Christianity” with a desire to share those experiences with you, It’s J. Warner’s hope that his own efforts to detect and articulate the truth will help you to become a better Christian Case Maker.

In a recent podcast, I heard Wallace mention that he is now an adjunct professor in the apologetics program at Biola University. Adjunct professor.

And this from the biography of the fighting pastor, Pastor Matt Rawlings:

Matt Rawlings is a Teaching Pastor at Christ’s Community Church in Portsmouth, OH and State Director of Development for a Christian legal ministry.

Matt has been married since 1998 to Emily Bennington and they have a son, Jackson who was born in 2003.

Matt is a prodigal preacher’s kid who ran away from home at 15, ended up in Hollywood at 17 where, among other things, he directed music videos for Latin MTV. He returned to his home town of Portsmouth, OH in 1991 and after a wasted year of college, he entered politics (which is just Hollywood for ugly people). Matt worked for 2 Congressional campaigns and spent 2 years working on Capitol Hill as a legislative aide during the “Gingrich Years” of 1995-1997.

It was during this time that Matt was diagnosed with cancer and was saved. After graduating from Shawnee State University in 1998 with a B.A. in History, Matt studied New Testament Greek at Kentucky Christian University and then the Graduate School of Theology at Abilene Christian University where he earned a Master of Divinity.

Matt then graduated from Cornell Law School in 2004 while pastoring a small church in Ithaca, New York. After a few years working in a large corporate law firm in West Virginia while serving as an interim pastor for small churches, Matt became a Teaching Pastor at Christ’s Community Church in 2006. He then helped launch and lead Revolution, a Gen-X & Gen-Y ministry from 2008 to 2013.

Matt earned a certificate in apologetics from BIOLA University. He also launched Free Seminary to train lay Christians to become disciple makers. When Matt isn’t preaching or teaching, he is hanging out with his family or reading theology or detective novels, watching old movies or listening to really loud music.

Pastor Matt spent a period of time as an atheist, and he wrote about it candidly in several posts on his blog. But look at him now.

So here’s what I want to say about all this.

The first point I want to make is that it’s important to understand what human beings are in Christianity. We are not just lumps of meat who evolved by accident in an eternal, undesigned universe. Every single one of us is made in the image of God. We are embodied minds. When we die, our body stops working, but the mind/soul survives. God loves each of us equally and wants us all to come to know him and to have eternal life with him. Those who resist his loving but non-coercive drawing of us to him will spend eternity separated from him. Our lives do not end at the grave. Every single person you speak to was made to live on beyond the grave. And every moment you spend with them, (as a Christian operator, working as God’s ambassador), is leading them to one eternal destination or another. It’s part of God’s plan for your santification that you participate in leading other people to Christ, and building them up once they’ve been led to Christ.

The second point I want to make is that you can know precisely nothing about what a person can accomplish for God from their present state of rebellion against God. Wallace and Rawlings were bold and determined atheists. To every prim and proper church Christian looking on then, they must have looked as if they would never come to faith in Christ, and certainly that they would never make contributions to the Kingdom like the ones they have. It would have been exactly the wrong thing to do, at that time, to count them out and to refuse to engage them. I meet Christians all the time who are regular church-attenders and Bible-readers who I ask to engage with me to grow some of these lost-sheep or newly-found sheep, and I am so surprised to hear the pride in their voice as they dismiss these people as lost causes. Don’t do that! You are not in a position to know what these people are capable of. And I can guarantee you that God hasn’t given you so many people to mentor that you can just be cavalier about throwing some of them out that you deem to be unworthy of your time. Be careful about having your sins forgiven and then refusing to forgive someone else’s sins. If someone needs your mentoring, you better put in the same effort that God put into rescuing you. God uses people to save other people, and God help the “Christian” who makes excuses for not being faithful when they are called. This is not optional.

The third point I want to make is that in the real world, we have to understand what works in order to convince someone to become a Christian or to return to the faith. Christianity is a truth-centered faith. It has certain propositions that must be affirmed as true. In order for those propositions to be affirmed as true, they have to be demonstrated to be true. The way the founder of the religion did this is by providing miracles to authenticate his claims, (just read the gospel of John). Jesus offered these miracles to unbelievers as evidence for them to then freely choose to believe his statements about himself. Here in this time and place, it falls to us to use logical arguments and evidence from nature and history to prove out these same propositions to unbelievers. If you want to be the one who is able to leave the 99 found sheep and save the 1 lost sheep, then you study apologetics and invest in relationships with people. If you want to be the one who is able to leave the 9 silver coins and save the 1 lost silver coin, then you study apologetics and invest in relationships with people. Christianity is an evidential faith. If you want to share your faith with the lost, you have to study the evidence for it.

Love another Christian just because of the fellowship of the gospel

Note: I am re-posting a series of five Bible studies this week that I wrote last year. Every 2 PM post Monday to Friday this week will be a Bible study.

Philippians is my favorite book of the Bible. When I study Philippians 1, I use D. A. Carson’s “Basics for Believers” commentary.

Here is the part I want to talk about today:

Philippians 1:1-11:

Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you,

always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all,

in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now.

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.

For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me.

For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.

And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment,

10 so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ;

11 having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

Now just read that and reflect on how passionate, and even unstable and emotional Paul sounds about this love he has for this church. Ask yourself this: what is the basis for these feelings? Read it again, and write your answer down. I’ll tell you mine in a minute.

Now here is D. A. Carson.

He writes:

As often in his letters, Paul begins with a warm expression of thanks to God for something in the lives of his readers. Here the grounds of his thanksgiving to God are three in number, though all three are tied to the same theme.

The first is their faithful memory of him. The NIV reads, “I thank my God every time I remember you” (1: 3). But others suggest “I thank my God every time you remember me,” or something similar. The original is ambiguous. For reasons I shall not go into, I think Paul is referring to their remembrance of him. Later on he will thank the Philippians for remembering him so warmly that they sent funds to support him in his ministry. But here the vision is broader: he perceives that their interest in him is a reflection of their continued commitment to the gospel, and that is why he thanks God for them.

The point becomes explicit in the second cause of his thanksgiving: “In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now . . .” (1: 4– 5). Their “partnership in the gospel” injects joy into Paul’s prayers of thanksgiving: “I always pray with joy,” he writes. The word rendered “partnership” is more commonly translated “fellowship” in the New Testament. What precisely does the word mean? In common use “fellowship” has become somewhat debased. If you invite a pagan neighbor to your home for a cup of tea, it is friendship; if you invite a Christian neighbor, it is fellowship. If you attend a meeting at church and leave as soon as it is over, you have participated in a service; if you stay for coffee afterward, you have enjoyed some fellowship. In modern use, then, fellowship has come to mean something like warm friendship with believers.

In the first century, however, the word commonly had commercial overtones. If John and Harry buy a boat and start a fishing business, they have entered into a fellowship, a partnership. Intriguingly, even in the New Testament the word is often tied to financial matters. Thus, when the Macedonian Christians send money to help the poor Christians in Jerusalem, they are entering into fellowship with them (Rom. 15: 26).

The heart of true fellowship is self-sacrificing conformity to a shared vision. Both John and Harry put their savings into the fishing boat. Now they share the vision that will put the fledgling company on its feet. Christian fellowship, then, is self-sacrificing conformity to the gospel. There may be overtones of warmth and intimacy, but the heart of the matter is this shared vision of what is of transcendent importance, a vision that calls forth our commitment. So when Paul gives thanks, with joy, because of the Philippians’ “partnership in the gospel” or “fellowship in the gospel,” he is thanking God that these brothers and sisters in Christ— from the moment of their conversion (“ from the first day until now,” Paul writes)— rolled up their sleeves and got involved in the advance of the gospel. They continued their witness in Philippi, they persevered in their prayers for Paul, they sent money to support him in his ministry— all testifying to their shared vision of the importance and priority of the gospel. That is more than enough reason for thanking God.

[..]Implicitly, such an apostolic stance asks us what gives us our greatest joy. Is it personal success? Some victory for our children? Acquisition of material things? “I have no greater joy,” John writes, “than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” Paul reflects exactly the same attitude. Paul adds, “It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart . . .” (Phil. 1: 7). Probably this was written against the background of Stoic influence that was cautious about whole-life commitments, especially if they involved the “passions.” Be cool; do not be vulnerable; do not get hurt. But that was not Paul’s way. “It is right for me to feel this way about all of you,” Paul insists, regardless of what the contemporary culture says. “I have you in my heart”: my whole life and thought are bound up with you.


So strongly does he want the Philippians to recognize his devotion to them that Paul puts himself under an oath: “God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus” (1: 8). The significance of the oath is not that without it he might lie. Rather, he puts himself under an oath so that the Philippians might feel the passion of his truthfulness, in exactly the same way that God puts himself under an oath in the Epistle to the Hebrews. There the point is not that otherwise God might lie, but that God wants to be believed (Heb. 7: 20– 25). So Paul: God is my witness “how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.”

Here is no mere professionalism. Nor is this an act, a bit of showmanship to “turn them on” to the apostle. Rather, it is something that repeatedly bubbles through Paul’s arguments. It recurs, for example, in chapter 4: “Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!” (4: 1).

Both from Paul’s example and from that of the Philippians, then, we must learn this first point: the fellowship of the gospel, the partnership of the gospel, must be put at the center of our relationships with other believers. That is the burden of these opening verses. Paul does not commend them for the fine times they had shared watching games in the arena. He doesn’t mention their literature discussion groups or the excellent meals they had, although undoubtedly they had enjoyed some fine times together. What lies at the center of all his ties with them, doubtless including meals and discussion, is this passion for the gospel, this partnership in the gospel.

What ties us together? What do we talk about when we meet, even after a church service? Mere civilities? The weather? Sports? Our careers and our children? Our aches and pains? None of these topics should be excluded from the conversation of Christians, of course. In sharing all of life, these things will inevitably come up. But what must tie us together as Christians is this passion for the gospel, this fellowship in the gospel. On the face of it, nothing else is strong enough to hold together the extraordinary diversity of people who constitute many churches: men and women, young and old, blue collar and white, healthy and ill, fit and flabby, different races, different incomes, different levels of education, different personalities. What holds us together? It is the gospel, the good news that in Jesus, God himself has reconciled us to himself. This brings about a precious God-centeredness that we share with other believers.

Does what Carson writes make you think of the Lord of the Rings book 1? (“The Fellowship of the Ring”) It sounds like Christians are supposed to band together in common purpose in order to complete a quest. They are not supposed to just be hanging out to pass the time. There is planning. There is cooperation. There is danger. There is achievement. There is adventure. I think that he loves the church in Philippi because they have entered into this fellowship of the gospel with him.


Already in verse 4 Paul has insisted that whenever he prays for the Philippians, he does so with joy and thanksgiving. Now he gives us the content of his prayers for them: “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ— to the glory and praise of God” (1: 9– 11).

[…]Second, what Paul has in mind is not mere sentimentalism or the rush of pleasure spawned, for example, by a large conference. “I pray,” Paul writes, “that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.” The kind of love that Paul has in mind is the love that becomes more knowledgeable. Of course, Paul is not thinking of just any kind of knowledge. He is not hoping they will learn more and more about nuclear physics or sea turtles. He has in mind the knowledge of God; he wants them to enjoy insight into God’s words and ways, and thus to know how to live in light of them.

[…]Third, for Paul this prayer has a further end in view. He lifts these petitions to God, he tells the Philippians, “so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ” (1: 10). Clearly, Paul does not want the Philippian believers to be satisfied with mediocrity. He cannot be satisfied, in a fallen world, with the status quo. He wants these believers to move on, to become more and more discerning, proving in their own experience “what is best.” He wants them to pursue what is best in the knowledge of God, what is best in their relationships with other believers, what is best in joyful obedience. For ultimately what he wants from them is perfection: he prays that they “may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ.”

Now for my thoughts.

I want all of you reading this to do one thing for me. I want you to completely abandon the criteria you are currently using for who you will be friends with and adopt Paul’s criteria. I want you to put your gospel-related activities at the center of your life. Do not neglect your other practical duties like making money and saving money and so on, but when it comes to your passion, where you take risks, where your long-term goals are – I want you to put the gospel at the center. And I do not mean mere proclamation of simple statements, I mean apologetics and Christian worldview – including politics, economics, etc.

Now, that’s not my main point. My main point is that I further want you to stop choosing who you will associate with based on worldly criteria. I want you to think about the people around you who are the most willing to put the gospel first and I want you to take up those people as friends. I want you to talk to them, to share with them, to encourage them, to confide in them, to listen to their confessions and to generally love them in the traditional ways that Christians love, e.g. – 1 Corinthians 13:1-13. You need to fellowship with them – invest in their enterprises, and let them invest in yours, too. This is real love according to the Bible.

We need to stop looking at other people on the surface level – age, skin color, wealth, clothes, etc. – and start to dig deeper underneath to find out where each person stands with respect to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our criteria should not be present ability. We should choose those with desire, intensity, and willingness to learn hard things. The first person you should invest in is the person who wants to learn to defend their faith to non-Christians using the best available evidence. If that person can demonstrate their desire to do grow in knowledge and depth of insight, you should be spending your time, money and effort with that person first.

Three ways that generosity makes sense in the Christian worldview

Note: I am re-posting a series of five Bible studies this week that I wrote last year. Every 2 PM post Monday to Friday this week will be a Bible study.

First, let’s look at a few passages from the Bible that show the importance of sharing generously with others. I also want to emphasize the need to work and to not be a burden to others, and to emphasize that the goal of sharing with others is to build them up.

2 Thessalonians 3:10-11: (Paul speaking)

10 For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either.

11 For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies.

Acts 20:32-35: (Paul speaking)

32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

33 I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes.

34 You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me.

35 In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said,‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’

Philippians 4:14-18: (Paul speaking)

14 Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction.

15 You yourselves also know, Philippians, that at the first preaching of the gospel, after I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone;

16 for even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs.

17 Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account.

18 But I have received everything in full and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God.

Luke 21:1-4: (Jesus speaking)

1 And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury.

And He saw a poor widow putting in two small copper coins.

And He said, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all of them;

for they all out of their surplus put into the offering; but she out of her poverty put in all that she had to live on.”

So in an effort to keep this post small, I’m going to be brief. And practical.

Make as much money as you can

The first point I want to make is that it is impossible to share with anyone else unless you have your own financial house in order. Don’t borrow money. Don’t ask for money.  Study hard things (STEM and useful trades) so that you always have work and are always earning money. In the 2 Thessalonians 3:10-11 passage, we learn that able-bodied people need to be working. That is a practical pre-condition of sharing with others. The more money you make the more you have to share. If you want to advance the gospel and build up others, money is absolutely vital. Don’t study crap subjects in school, don’t take useless jobs, don’t neglect the need to build a gapless resume of increasingly more challenging work, don’t get tied down by worldly goods and recreational dating early – so you can finish your education as much as you can. Be practical – charitable giving doesn’t come from nowhere. It comes from a person who is ordered and disciplined. Unless you are some sort of skilled Christian scholar, don’t be flying all over the world willy-nilly on expensive mission trips, either – there is plenty of work to do right where God planted you. Be a good steward of your money, and the donations of other Christians.

Partnering with others for the gospel

The second point I want to contrast is the giving I prefer with the giving I do not prefer. The giving I prefer is to give to another Christian who I know personally who is involved in ministry that advances the gospel by arguing for the truth of the gospel using apologetics. So, I like to give to groups like Ratio Christi and to Christian scholars who have ministries or who are doing useful degrees. My goal is to spread the gospel in the only way it can be spread – by demonstrating the truth of it using arguments and evidence. I do not give money to anti-poverty groups like World Vision or to unskilled missionaries who just want an extended vacation in order to satisfy some childhood fancy animated by pride and/or vanity. When I give money to another Christian, my goal is to partner with them, not to feel good about myself. I am trying to get something done for the Lord, not to feel better or to make people think I am nice or to “balance the books” with God (which is heretical).

Building your rewards in Heaven

The third point I want to make is to emphasize that this is not a pointless exercise. Everyone who is a Christian accepts that reconciliation with God is achieved not by human efforts to be good, but by acknowledging and conforming your life to a free gift that was offered by Jesus Christ. Christ died in order to pay the penalty for every individual person’s rebellion against God the Father. That atoning death is the basis for our reconciliation with God, and our eternal life with him. However, the passage in Philippians makes clear that our experience of Heaven after we have been saved by grace is affected by what we do here and now. So often, what you hear in church is do this, do that, and there is never any rationality to it, no emphasis on long-term planning or wisdom in decision-making. It’s all just ad hoc emotivism. But I am telling you something different today. You have a few years on Earth to understand the example of Christ, to follow him, and share in his sufferings as you imitate his obedience. You better have some sort of plan to produce a return on God’s investment in you, and it has to be a good plan. Not one that makes you feel good, but one that is likely to achieve results. Plan your charitable giving like your life were an episode of Mission Impossible, and focus on outcomes, not feelings. That doesn’t mean that results are the measure of success, because that’s God’s job. But it does mean that you should prefer the Thomas Sowell approach to the Disney Princess approach.

The soul-making theodicy

The fourth point I want to make is that one of the reasons why God allows evil and suffering in this world is to allow us the opportunity to be active partners with him in demonstrating the love of Christ to others. God’s goal for us is not to make us safe and happy. God’s goal for us is to get us to freely enter into and sustain a relationship with him – a relationship that includes an accurate knowledge of who he is, and a free response of love and obedience to him. With respect to that goal, God is fully justified in permitting all kinds of evil and suffering, which in turn provide opportunities for us to 1) enter in to his plan of love and redemption for others and 2) demonstrate his character to the watching world through our actions as his agents. The situation is identical to what parents do in allowing their children to be hurt while learning – God holds back from annihilating some evil and suffering so that we have an opportunity to step into the breach. This advances our relationships with him through shared purpose and shared experiences. This is fellowship with God – not just reading devotional, pious-sounding bilge, but active partnering and dangerous action in some non-trivial enterprise. Give him your best – the same best you bring to your work or anything else in your life that really matters.