"I went to Jerusalem to become acquainted (Gk. istoria) with Cephas" - Paul's words from Galatians 1:18.

Patterson, Pressler, Cole, and SBC Fundamentalism

I am the son of a Southern Baptist pastor, grandson of an SBC evangelist, and have pastored the same SBC church for over a quarter of a century. I'm an SBC insider.

And I feel like the Southern Baptist Convention has dodged a bullet. 

Fundamentalism.

In 1979, at the beginning of the SBC Conservative Resurgence, I was about to enter my senior year of high school in Fort Worth, Texas, but I remember my parents coming home from Houston ecstatic that Adrian Rogers had been elected President of the SBC. My family was friends with the Rogers' family, and Adrian's election was "a surprise" to many. 

1979 was the first time I heard Paige Patterson's and Paul Pressler's names mentioned.

During my time at Baylor University (1980-1982), I was called to be on staff at a small SBC church just north and west of Waco, Texas. By the time I was 22 and living in Oklahoma, I spent eight years pastoring two churches (Holdenville and Tulsa) before being called to Emmanuel Enid, Oklahoma in 1992 at the age of 30.

I've been in Enid since.

When Paul Pressler came to Oklahoma in the mid-1980's rallying support for the Conservative Resurgence, I drove him around Tulsa and introduced him to pastors. When SBC Conventions convened every summer, I was part of "platform security." 

I truly thought the SBC was in a fight "for the Bible."

I thought that through the time I was elected Vice-President of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma in 1994/1995. I served on the Search Committee that nominated Dr. Anthony Jordan to be the next Executive Director of the BGCO.

In 1995 I served as the last Chairman of the Denominational Calendar Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, giving the denominational report at the 150th annual Southern Baptist Convention in Atlanta, Georgia.

After the Southern Baptist Convention in 1995, I took a break from denominational service for seven years. I would sporadically attend Southern Baptist Conventions, but I didn't serve on any state or denominational boards for those seven years.  

There was one occasion when I spoke out during that time. When Southern Baptist leaders proposed the Family Amendment (1998) to the Baptist Faith in Message, I wrote a letter that the Oklahoma State Baptist paper published, a letter in opposition to that amendment. I explained it was "unwise to add tertiary statements of faith and practice to a primary doctrinal document."

Privately, I told people that the Family Amendment was poor doctrine, ignoring the text of Ephesians 5 and the command for "mutual submission" in a marriage. 

Then in 2004, I was the surprisingly elected as the President of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. After two years of service on the state level, I was nominated and elected at the Nashville Southern Baptist Convention to serve as a trustee of the International Mission Board.

I began my IMB service in the fall of 2005. 

Ugh. 

My how things had changed in the Southern Baptist Convention.

I had not been active during the years Paige Patterson was President of the SBC (1998-2000). I had not been around during the time of forced signatures of missionaries and faculty on amendments, new doctrinal standards, and a host of other demands. 

But I saw it with my own eyes in 2005 at the International Mission Board. I won't repeat the story, you can read it for yourself.

In early 2006, I received a call from a man named Ben Cole. I'd never heard of him, but Ben wanted to fly to OKC so we could meet. It was the beginning of a friendship that has lasted to this day, through thick and thin. 

We met at a local restaurant not far from Will Rogers International Airport, and Ben showed me a very thick file of astonishing things that had been done and were being done in the Southern Baptist Convention, things that were harmful to the cause of Christ.

Everything began to make sense. 

The reason I was considered a "troublemaker" at the IMB is that I was thwarting a secret agenda to remove any conservative, Bible-believing Christians who dared disagree with the direction and demands of two power brokers in the SBC.

Paige Patterson and Paul Pressler. 

Ben Cole knew them both intimately. 

These two men had been my heroes. Paige Patterson and Paul Pressler deemed friends. I couldn't figure out why I was in trouble at the IMB. I was just following my conscience and the Scriptures.

But I was in the way of an attempt to remove President Jerry Rankin, women from positions of IMB leadership, and anyone else who dared to speak a word of disapproval or disagreement with the power brokers of the SBC. 

What Ben Cole showed me convinced me that Fundamentalism was the real enemy. 

Then I watched the video below. It made me sick to my stomach. The video, made in 1999 when Dr. Paige Patterson was President of the Southern Baptist Convention, gives Southern Baptists a peek into where Patterson and Pressler wished to take the SBC.

The only sane people in the video are those formerly called liberals, the very people Patterson and Pressler called the devil.

Now Paul Pressler is going on trial in Houston, Texas. Paige Patterson has been fired and stripped of all benefits as President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. 

What is it you are looking to see in the video below? 

A cock-surety about formulaic Christianity, which is the tell-tale sign of Fundamentalism; a tone-deafness to relational Christianity, and a rule-born religion more interested in numbers than people, laws than love, and a spirit of Fundamentalism that will make the skin crawl.

I told Ben Cole he once out-Fundamentalized the Fundamentalists.

If Ben can change, so can you. 

The SBC has dodged a bullet. If only that stray bullet had shattered some stained glass windows in Fort Worth, Texas.



(Note: Ben Cole feels this post needs clarifying. Specifically, Ben feels I conflate his views of Pressler and Patterson instead of keeping them distinct. "Pressler was always courteous and kind (to me), and didn't allow my critique of Patterson to end our relationship. Pressler wasn't an ongoing militant."  I felt it necessary to add this edit to prevent readers from wrongly believing that Ben Cole has a similar view of both men. Others might feel Patterson and Pressler are similar methodologically and theologically, but Ben does not). 

Criticism Willingly Given and Freely Received

A few years ago I came across an article in the National Review called The Duty of Harsh Criticism.

The National Review has a tagline "Where intellects collide," so most National Review articles are intended to be read by intellectuals.

The Duty of Harsh Criticism was written in 1914 by a twenty-one-year-old woman named Cicely Isabel Fairfield (picture left), who wrote under the pen name Rebecca West.

Rebecca believed that was the duty of free-thinkers to listen in a disrespectful manner.

In her mind,  criticism should be the norm.

And, according to West, critical thinking has become a lost art which is in need of recovery. Listen to just one paragraph from her 1914 article:
"There is a serious duty before us, the duty of listening to our geniuses in a disrespectful manner. Criticism matters as it never did in the past, because of the present pride of great writers. They take all life as their province to-day. Formerly they sat in their studies, and thinking only of the emotional life of mankind—thinking therefore with comparative ease, of the color of life and not of its form—devised a score or so of stories before death came. Now, their pride telling them that if time would but stand still they could explain all life, they start on a breakneck journey across the world. They are tormented by the thought of time; they halt by no event, but look down upon it as they pass, cry out their impressions, and gallop on. Often it happens that because of their haste they receive a blurred impression or transmit it to their readers roughly and without precision. And just as it was the duty of the students of Kelvin the mathematician to correct his errors in arithmetic, so it is the duty of critics to rebuke these hastinesses of these writers, lest the blurred impressions weaken the surrounding mental fabric and their rough transmissions frustrate the mission of genius on earth."
It may take two or three times to comprehend the paragraph above.

I will summarize it:
"Critical readers and listeners are needed to keep professional writers and speakers sharp. Prideful, self-absorbed people despise criticism, but those who treasure receiving it and freely give it become the genuine experts." 
Could it be that one of the reasons Christian writers, speakers, and leaders are often puerile, vague, and formulaic is because we have wrongly associated criticism with evil?

Criticism must begin at the house of God.

It is to be given willingly and it is to be received freely.

Practicing the lost art of criticism is the only way to prevent "blurred impressions" of the truth of Christ.

Baptist Blues and the Interior Life of Chuck Kelley

Dr. Chuck Kelley speaking at NOBTS, August 21, 2018
In the first fall chapel service for the fall of 2018 at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Dr. Chuck Kelley, Jr., President of NOBTS, spoke to seminary students.

Dr. Kelley's words can be heard for yourself in the video posted below. Dr. Kelley, who has been president of NOBTS since 1996, began working at NOBTS as professor of evangelism in 1983. Thirty-five years of service to the SBC and NOBTS.

 Dr. Kelley is the brother of Dorothy Patterson, Dr. Paige Patterson, former President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, is Dr. Kelley's brother-in-law.

This has been a tough summer for Dr. Kelley.

In his opening remarks, Dr. Kelley said he was going to do something he's never done before in his tenure at NOBTS. "I am going to invite you into my interior life. I am going to read from my journal." 

It seems that Dr. Kelley's heart has been stricken with "Baptist Blues." Since this summer's Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas, Texas, June 12-13, 2018, Dr. Kelley has been processing "what in the world is going on with the Southern Baptist Convention."  According to Dr. Kelley, Southern Baptists across the nation have been saying to him this summer:
"I don't even recognize the Southern Baptist Convention anymore."
Dr. Kelley is blue about what has happened in the SBC. He wants people to hear how blue he is, so he read from his journal to allow people to peer into his interior life.

For 40 minutes, Dr. Kelley reads from his journal. It was my privilege to meet and get to know Dr. Kelley's parents at FBC Beaumont where I spent a week teaching at an annual Bible Conference.  I know Dr. Kelley's heritage. I believe that Dr. Kelley is a genuine man. He has a passion for the lost. He wants people to know Christ. I was interested in hearing his personal thoughts about the condition of the SBC.

But before I summarize a few of the main points Dr. Kelley made, I'd like to offer a reflection on Dr. Kelley's journal.  I've read many journals of Baptist leaders. In fact, I collect antiquarian journals of 18th-century Baptist missionaries and pastors. I'm accustomed to journals that are personal, not professional; private, not public; and passionate, not principled.

Dr. Kelley has the unusual practice of writing a personal journal in the third person as if it's written more for a lecture and the benefit of a future researcher. For example, Dr. Kelley's presumably writes this in his journal:
"This is now year 17 in the longest decline in baptisms in the history of the SBC. Unprecedented. And that decline in baptisms shows absolutely no sign it is slowing down. But what about our massive efforts in church planting? Since 2009 we have started an average of 871 new church plants a year. But, since 2009 we have lost an average of 772 churches a year, closing their doors or leaving the SBC." 
Hmmm.

Intimacy can be defined as in-to-me-you-see. 

When Presidents of SBC institutions give us "a peek into their interior lives" and we see a statistical report instead of personal self-revelation,  maybe the problem with transparency in the SBC begins with institutional leadership. That is an observation, not necessarily a judgment.

Southern Baptist leaders may have focused so much these last forty years on creating a public and artificial persona of evangelical perfection that private self-reflection doesn't occur. We seem to no longer understand that Christ's gospel shines with power through one's weaknesses, not strengths.

When we're more concerned about stained-glass window tributes than we are acknowledging our stains and troubles and exalting a Savior for sinners, we won't ever reveal our clay-jar weaknesses.

I will point out just three statements by Dr. Kelley for your perusal, but would ask that you listen to his speech for yourself:

Dr. Kelley said:
(This summer) the #MeToo movement's focus on sexual abuse became a dominant national conversation. Driven by efforts of two gay activists with Southern Baptist roots it became a dominant conversation in the SBC as well, leading to the biggest mess the SBC has seen in a very long time, the internal controversy at Southwestern Seminary.
Wow.

Dr. Kelley, has it crossed your mind that maybe people in the Southern Baptist Convention are actually concerned for people who've been intimated, abused, and cast aside by those in power?

Dr. Kelley continues:
The increasing tensions over the advance of Calvinism in the SBC, bubbled over a bit in the SBC in the Presidential election at the Dallas Convention. Although neither nominee for the presidency promoted the election as such, the election became in the eyes of many a choice between younger reformed leadership or older traditional Baptist leadership. The younger reformed candidate won, adding to the concern of many on the future of the traditional convention emphasis on evangelism and missions, and the traditional theological focus on the Bible as the centerpiece of theological conversation and discussion.
Wow, again.

Dr. Kelley, it was my privilege to hear J.D. Greear preach at his Summit Church this August. Greear, the new President of the Southern Baptist Convention,  focused his message from Ecclesiastes 3. The biblical text was central -  even the original Hebrew acrostic that probably 1% of the audience understood - and God used J.D. to move the hearts of close to 15,000 people over the course of that weekend.

Sure, J.D. Greear, like all of us, has faults; but there's no danger of the Bible losing its place as the centerpiece of theological conversation in the SBC with J.D. Greear as SBC President.

I wonder if maybe the reason there's been a decline in evangelism and missions over the past two decades is because SBC Fundamentalists focus on non-essentials of the faith. While proclaiming "We believe the Bible," it seems the Bible may have become a background prop for SBC denominational theater.

Dr. Kelley also said:
What in the world is going on? The best phrase I could use is "(I'm) bothered and bewildered about who we are, where we are going, and how in the world we will be dealing with all these things that are happening." 
Dr. Kelley does acknowledge that his "Baptist blues" may come from the knowledge that his family members are at the center of some of these controversies (e.g. Paige and Dorothy Patterson).

However, taking from the well-worn Conservative Resurgence playbook, Dr. Kelley attributes the real trouble in the SBC to "gay activism, liberalism, Calvinism, and a lack of evangelism" - and of course, nothing to do with his family.

I and others disagree with Dr. Kelley.

The stained glass windows at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary multi-million dollar chapel "immortalize Baptists who helped effect the culture change to more conservative attitudes in the Southern Baptist Convention." That is how Dr. Kelley's brother-in-law, Dr. Paige Patterson, described the stained glass windows to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in December of 2013.

The 69 stained glass windows at Southwestern's chapel include images of many of Dr. Kelley's family members.

Before we Southern Baptists criticize our Roman Catholic friends, we should remember we Southern Baptists have a tendency to canonize saints faster than Catholics do. It's never smart to make your heroes iconic and place them in stained glass before they're dead.

All of God's people have clay feet.

Roman Catholic historian Lord Acton (1834-1902) once wrote, "Power tends to corrupt. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men." Few realize that Lord Acton made this statement in an attempt to defeat the doctrine of Roman Catholic papal infallibility.

Southern Baptists don't have a pope. But for a number of years, Paige Patterson and his family and friends have been given immunity for their actions.

It was Paige Patterson, who with the help of David Allen,  orchestrated the removal of Dr. Kenneth Hemphill (my source: David Allen's office personnel at the time). After Paige Patterson was hired as President, he made David Allen dean of the School of Theology. When Dr. Patterson fired Hebrew professor Sheri Klouda, this blog came to Sheri's defense. When Dr. Patterson removed John Cornish for his wife's previous divorce, this blog came to Dr. Cornish's defense.  On more than one occasion, I have been able to prevent Dr. Patterson from removing those he desired gone. Several people have been harmed by decisions the Pattersons have made, with no recourse to appeal.

I've been told Dr. Kelley will be stepping down from NOBTS this October after 35 years of service to NOBTS.  It is possible that Dr. Kelley's blues have been caused by the realization that his family is no longer in power at the SBC.

Contrary to Dr. Kelley, I believe the best days of the Southern Baptist Convention's are ahead.

That's what I've written in my journal.

Reasons Church Staff Stop Attending after Leading

Carey Nieuhof writes an interesting blog about leadership. Cary is an author, motivational speaker, and former pastor. He recently wrote an article on why vocational church pastors and staff (e.g. "those who once drew a salary from the church) have a hard time attending church once they've been involved in leading one. I found his points interesting and replicate his post in full below: 



9 Reasons It’s Hard To Attend A Church

 Once You’ve Been Involved In Leading One

Carey Nieuhof


Kind of a strange to even say it, isn’t it?

Why on earth would pastors and church leaders have a hard time attending church of all things?

After all, wouldn’t leaders who have led churches be the most anxious to attend them?

Strangely, not always. You can talk to thousands of people who used to volunteer or lead at a church who will tell you they no longer attend. Or maybe they attend, but it’s just ‘not the same’.

Why?

That’s a great question.

I want to offer up some reasons I think pastors and church leaders struggle to attend a local church once they’ve led in ministry.

The common issue? Current and former church leaders who struggle with attending a local church.


Many Of Us Have Been There


If you attend church but aren’t involved, or if you’re serving right now and love it (which if you are, I’m glad!), you might not even understand why a post like this would be written.

But if you’ve ever served at a local church as a dedicated volunteer or a paid staff member, you likely have an idea of what I’m talking about.

Not attending church after you’ve led in a church is actually quite a widespread phenomenon. Just browse the comments on this blog and it won’t take you more than 5 minutes to hear from someone who used to lead in a church and now isn’t engaged at all anymore.

How does this trend of non-attending former leaders show up?

Pastors who used to lead a church who now just sleep in on Sundays and have given up on all forms of the local church.

People who only attend when they’re ‘on’ the music team, the greeting team, serving in student ministry, or speaking.

People who stop attending the moment they stop serving.

Every time I hear of it, my heart breaks a little more.

Please understand, I know the local church is not perfect. But I honestly do believe the promise of the local church is greater than the problems of the local church. And I realize the Church (as Christ sees it) is bigger than any local church. But to pretend the local church in all its forms around the world isn’t a part of the Church is, well, just not accurate.

And a little disclosure here. Everything I’m writing about in this post, I have felt. Sometimes just a twinge, but I’ve gone there in my mind.

For the record, I intend to be part of the local church as long as I live, whether I’m paid to lead or not. But when I’m on vacation or out of town, I often slip into a local church for a service (or sometimes even the one I lead) and it’s…different. I wonder:

Could I attend here?

Why do I feel so different?

What’s going on?

Once you’ve been involved, it’s just different.

So I’m just wondering if maybe some of the things that go on inside of me might the same as what’s going on inside you or someone you know and care about.

If not, just give thanks. (Seriously.)

If you’ve struggled with this feeling before, ask yourself whether any of these 9 reasons might be part of your struggle:


1. Your Identity Is Tied To What You Do, Not Who You Are


So who are you really? A preacher? A musician? A worship leader? A student director? An elders? An usher? A group leader? A staff member?

No you’re not.

You’re a child of God redeemed by a Saviour who came for you.

So many of us define who we are by what we do. I struggle against this every day.

Before you dismiss this, do this simple test that Tim Keller offers.

“If work [or ministry] is your idol, if you are successful it goes to your head, if you are a failure it goes to your heart.”

Boom. Maybe your identity is more tied up in what you do than you think.


2. You Like Being The Center Of Attention


As Andy Stanley says, anyone who’s ever strapped on a microphone is a little like Lady Gaga; we all live for the applause. Come to think of us, many of us don’t need a mic for that.

Could it be that you’ve grown accustomed to being the center of attention, no matter how small your audience might be?

Often my decision that something doesn’t fit ‘me’ is far more a statement about me than it is about whatever I’m uncomfortable with.



3. You’ve Seen How The Sausage Is Made And Have Lost Your Appetite


Yep. Church is messy, flawed, disappointing and at times deeply hurtful.

Largely because people are messy, flawed, disappointing and at times deeply hurtful. And we live on this side of heaven.

Hurt, unresolved, breeds cynicism. And there are so many cynical former church attenders who simply haven’t addressed their unresolved issues.

Part of maturity involves realizing that I contribute to messy sausage making. I am part of the problem. And so is almost every leader who has abandoned church.

Jesus never said we would be known for our perfection. But he did say we would be known by our love.

Love owns my share. Love forgives. Love says I’m sorry. Love reconciles. Love works toward a better tomorrow.

Love sees who you really are and stays anyway.


4. You’ve Become More Of A Critic Than A Worshipper


This one’s hard. Once you’ve been on the inside, you listen ‘at’ a sermon as much as you listen ‘to’ a message.

You ask “What’s he doing here? Why did he make that transition this way? What’s up with his body language?”

Musicians critique the music. Guest services people criticize greeters. Graphic design people laugh at other designs.

And lead pastors critique everything.

What’s missing in this picture?

Humility. Submission. Grace. That’s all.



5. You Think You’re Better Or Smarter Than The People Who Merely Attend


This one’s ugly.

I don’t know what else to say about it except stop it. Really.

Okay one more thing. So maybe you are smart. Or more successful. Got that.

If you think you’re too important to help someone, stop fooling yourself. You’re not that important.



6. Somewhere In The Process, Your Personal Walk With God Tanked


Leadership is best when it springs from the overflow of our personal walk with God.

There are many ways unusual church leader struggle with God (I wrote about 5 of them here), but just because you lost your closeness to God while leading in a church doesn’t mean church is bad.

He loves you, and He loves the church in all of its weakness.



7. You’ve Forgotten You’re A Follower, Not Just A Leader


Originally all of us got into ministry after we decided to become followers of Jesus. That following should never stop.

The best leaders are actually the best followers.

A leader who can only lead but not follow is actually not a great leader. And certainly not a godly leader.



8. You’re Neglecting The Fact That You Still Have A Role To Play


I know it’s cliche, but the goal is not to attend church or go to church. You are the church.

But, for reasons outlined here, I think the church is so much stronger when we are together, not when we are apart.

While we can all use some rehab in a back row of a church somewhere from season to season, ultimately, every follower of Christ has a role to play in the local church. Even if it’s not your favourite role or a role you’re used to.

Being involved is one of the best ways to stay engaged, even if it’s not what you used to do or want to do.


9. ‘Why’ Has Died On The Altar Of ‘What’ And ‘How’


Church leadership is a lot of ‘what’ and ‘how’. I find I have to remind myself daily of the ‘why’ of church.

Why?

Because God is good.

Because he loves us.

Because Jesus gave his life for a world he desperately loves.

Because our cities are full of people who don’t know the love of Christ.

Because my life is not my own.

Because the church was Jesus’ idea.

Because grace ultimately makes all things new.

So does that help? I realize these reasons will not address every issue, and that some will flail against any organized church no matter what is said.

But so many leave unnecessarily. Maybe you’re one of them. If any of these reasons are true, what will you do about them?

I know that working through them has kept my passion and hope for the local church strong, even if it flickers in the wind some days.

Now it’s your turn. Why do you think it’s hard to attend a church once you’ve been involved in leading one? Please leave a comment.

The Path to Happiness In Life May Surprise You

A person whose life has 'crashed and burned' because of poor choices made told my wife and me that they'd just finished reading my book Happiness Doesn't Just Happen.

"I never understood the gospel," this person said.

"I've been in church all my life and never comprehended who I am by God's grace. I've been looking for something from other people. Truth is, I've had what I've needed from my heavenly Father all along, but I made other people my source, looking for happiness from them. I've now realized that what I was looking I had all along in my relationship with God."

Pretty powerful stuff.

One of the truths this person came to understand through reading my book is this:

"I am justified."


What Is Justification?


Justification is a big word almost better described than defined. Let me give you some descriptive ideas to help understand the concept of justification. 

The word itself carries as its root the word "just" or "justified." If you type on the computer you have an option that allows you to "justify" the margin --- this means to make straight.

To be justified means to be straight as opposed to crooked (see Phil. 4:15 for the use of "crooked" in terms of evil).

To be justified also means to be right. If I were to say to you that the Dallas Cowboys will win the Super Bowl because of their deep talent, you might say I was dreaming. But if the Cowboys actually won the Super Bowl next January you would say I was "justified" in what I said last October.

So again, when I am justified, I am right and straight instead of wrong and crooked.

Justification carries with it the idea of being as you ought to be. The Puritans would use "oughtness" as a synonym for "righteousness." So, when I am justified, I am declared by God to be righteous or as "I ought to be."

So, combining all the descriptive ideas from above, let's give a working definition for justification.
Justification --- is the declaration of God that I am as I ought to be; that I am considered by my Creator as "right, straight, and perfectly rightteous."

 How Can I Be Justified? 


The problem with justification is that truly honest people know that they aren't as they are never as they ought to be.

I will never be one-hundred percent the best pastor, the best father, the best man I could be. Ever. "There is no one righteous (e.g. "as they ought to be"), no not one" (Romans 3:10).

So how does God declare me something I'm not?

Here is the key:
“Abram believed in the Lord; and God counted it to him for righteousness”  (Genesis 15:6). 
This one verse is repeated several times throughout the Bible “Therefore, it [faith] was credited to him [Abraham] as righteousness” (Romans 4:22). “Abraham believed God and it [his believing] was credited to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:3), and “faith is credited as righteousness” (Romans 5:3). What does this verse, repeated several times in Scripture, mean?

Abram is called by the Apostle Paul "the father of all them that believe" (Romans 4:11).

What happened to Abram when he believed God, is exactly the same thing that happens to us when we believe what God says about us in Christ.

Listen to what Paul says:
"Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more I consider everthing a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ, and be found in him, not have a righteousness of my own that comes from my obedience to the law, but a righteousness that comes from God and is by the faith of Christ. . . " (Phil. 3:7-9 NIV).
Does it mean my faith in God becomes my righteousness? 

Absolutely not. Our righteousness is Christ's righteousness credited to us by God. We have no righteousness of our own.

Does it mean the kind of faith you have in God determines the amount of your righteousness?

Heaven's no. Then you would have different levels of "spirituality" in the church (by the way, this is exactly what happens in 'works' oriented congregations).

The verse "Abram believed in the Lord and he credited it to him for righteousness" means that my faith in God is my connection to God’s righteousness which is in Christ.
"My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus name.
On Christ the solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand."

What Happens When I Understand "I am justified"? 


 Dr. John Gill used to say, "God sees no sin in His people because of the righteousness of Christ." 

Dr. Gill did not mean that God's people have no sin experientially because we all do. He that says he does not sin deceives himself (I John 1:8). 

Dr. Gill also was also not saying that God doesn't see sin with His omniscient eyes and takes disciplinary steps to correct or discipline His children because of it. 

In fact, if any person is without this chastening from God, that person is not God's child. 

But according to Gill, the discipline of God's children has not one ounce of God's judicial or righteous wrath in it --- His discipline is laced with love and joy, is always corrective and compassionate in nature, and is never punitive, hateful or condemning.

Gill was simply saying that a holy God absolutely delights and enjoys the presence of His people because they have been connected to the righteousness of Christ by faith.

The wrath of God has been propitiated, and for those who are "in Christ," a righteousness that is outside of them (Christ's righteousness) is given to them as a gift. This is what enables God to declare them "justified;" believing sinners are "righteous" in the eyes of God, and He relates to them with the same joy and acceptance as He relates to His eternal Son.

Until people can come to the place that they give up ALL HOPE of being right with God by their own personal obedience, they will never fully enjoy the benefits of being justified by God

Here are a few of the delights of justification:

1. The understanding that "I am justified"  gives me incredible PEACE.

Luther said understanding justification was like entering a paradise of peace with God. He called it the foundational doctrine of the church. Paul said, "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God” (Romans 8:1).

2. The understanding that "I am justified" gives me SECURITY.

"He [God] made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (II Corinthians 5:21).

My righteousness does not shift like the sands of the seashore. It is not dependent upon my temperament, my faithfulness, or my good works. It is found "in Christ."

Some ridicule justification by the imputed righteousness of Christ by calling it "imputed nonsense" (John Wesley), and come up with "methods" or "methodical" ways (methodism) that people can become more righteous.

The great Methodist George Whitefield opposed Wesley's method of progressive righteousness and preached the gospel of the righteousness of Christ and the doctrine of justification by God's grace all along the colonial seaboard in the 18th Century. His preaching led to what we know as The Great Awakening.

We need another awakening in evangelicalism.

3. The understanding that "I am justified" gives me FREEDOM.
“You will not need the approval of others. You will not need the ego-supports of wealth or power or revenge. You will be free. You will overflow with love. You will lay down your life in the cause of Christ for the joy that is set for you. Look to Christ and trust him for your righteousness” John Piper.
John Bunyan, the writer of Pilgrim's Progress, struggled terribly before he came to a settled faith in Christ. Here's what he wrote:
"One day as I was passing into the field . . . this sentence fell upon my soul. Thy righteousness is in heaven. And methought, withal, I saw with the eyes of my soul Jesus Christ at God's right hand; there, I say, was my righteousness; so that wherever I was, or whatever I was doing, God could not say of me, he wants [lacks] my righteousness, for that was just before [in front of] him. I also saw, moreover, that it was not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse, for my righteousness was Jesus Christ himself, "The same yesterday, today and, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8).
"Now did my chains fall off my legs indeed. I was loosed from my afflictions and irons; my temptations also fled away; so that from that time those dreadful scriptures of God left off to trouble me; now went I also home rejoicing for the grace and love of God." (John Bunyan, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, [Hertfordshire: Evangelical Press, 1978, orig. 1666], pp. 90-91)

4. The understanding that "I am justified" allows me to FORGIVE. 

The reason forgiveness is so difficult for many is because there's not a sense within of being forgiven and fully justified.

If I know God has wiped my slate clean, then I can freely wipe the slate clean of the one I love.

God warmly embraces the sinner who trusts Him. God enjoys the presence of the ungodly who are clothed in the righteousness of Christ. As my father loves to say, "God has your picture on His refrigerator door." You are as you ought to be in His eyes.

The evidence of how much you believe in God's warm embrace of you is how warmly you embrace other sinners who express that their faith and their hope is in Christ.

But some will surely object by saying, "God hates SIN, and so do I."

The Bible tells us God loves sinners and embraces those who embrace Him. This is a faithful saying and worthy of your full acceptance (I Timothy 1:15).

God embraces you. Yes, He will always gently, efficiently and eventually remove you from your sin with Divine tenderness --- because sin is a destructive and deadening influence in your life --- but He warmly embraces you and sings over you with joy.

Your sin has already been dealt with by Him.

"If I believed what you just taught, I'd live like the devil."

No. Just the opposite.

No person ever fully grasps the eternal love of God for His people in Christ Jesus and comes away unmoved. It is the love of God for us through Christ which constrains from sin internally.

Rather than trust the work of God in the justification, the legalist will place emphasis on extrabiblical and external rules out of fear.

But the graced believer who enjoys his justification by God's grace is quite comfortable in the righteousness of Christ and will resist any attempt to add duties or laws to be "holy," or maintain "righteousness" in the eyes of God.

I am a child of Abraham.

My faith in Christ "is credited to me as righteousness."

I rest in Him.


Fear Is Removed When Great Joy Squeezes It Out

Fear is an emotion that cannot be removed by logic.

Fear must be displaced by another emotion to be removed. 

And there's only one emotion that guarantees the removal of fear in your life. 

Great joy. 

Let me show you evidence of this from Scripture. 

When Jesus rode into Jerusalem as "King of kings" the apostle John tells us that He took possession of a donkey, sat upon it, and then said to the inhabitants of Jerusalem: 
"Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion, your king is coming, seated on a donkey's colt" (John 12:15)
Jesus was quoting Zechariah 9:9. But Jesus makes an important change from what the prophet said. Zechariah declared:
"Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! Youur king comes to you... riding on a colt, the foal of a donkey."
Which is it? Should the people of Jerusalem "be not afraid"? or should they "Rejoice greatly"?

Answer: Both.

Fear is only displaced by the presence of joy.

The next time you begin to feel fear creeping into your life, remember the only remedy is to find something over which you can truly rejoice.

Tip: Finding joy in the things of this life is a guarantee that fear will return, but finding joy in the eternal God who created you and loves you is a permanent panacea for fear within.
"Rejoice in the Lord, and again, I say, Rejoice!" (Philippians 4:4). 
Next time you are afraid about the future, rejoice in the goodness of the Lord your God who is sovereign over the future.

Next time you are afraid of rejection, rejoice in the Lord your God who promised He would never leave you or forsake you.

Next time you are afraid of failure, rejoice in the Lord your God who directs the steps of His people and even uses our failures for His glory and our good.

Next time you are afraid of being unable and incapable, rejoice in the Lord your God who enables you to do all things.

Next time you are afraid of anything, rejoice in the Lord who is over everything.