Flourishing in Life, Fearless in Death


In our pluralistic culture, it’s truly difficult to find much common ground between different groups of people. For example, in what ways are right wing fundamentalists, libertarians, and left wing socialists the same? Is there any common ground between religious hate groups and the people they hate? With the number of polarizing issues and worldviews marking the cultural landscape of America, it really is tough to find relatable common ground between you and someone you disagree with on every conceivable and important idea.

However, in my recent experience leading a non-Christian family through a funeral service and counseling them through the early days of the death of their loved one, it has become clear to me that we all relate to one another through four given expectations.

  1. We all want to live a reasonably pleasant, comfortable, and enjoyable life. We want to flourish in work, play, and home.
  2. None of us wants to die. But we all know death is coming. And none of us knows when it’s coming. True, some of us believe death is nothing more than a channel to an abyss of utter nothingness. Others believe death is a channel to true gain and lasting joy. But none of us wants to die, though we all know we will.
  3. We all want our lives to count. We want to matter. We want people to remember us with affection and miss our presence when we’re gone. We want to leave the world a better place than when we were born. We want to make our mark on the world through the things we believe, say, and do.

Because of these four things, the way you live your life and the way you view your death are absolutely crucial! So much so, that I tremble as I approach this topic. It is no small thing to talk about the way you live your life and the way you view your death. Both of these topics are offensive to think about and offensive to talk about. It is offensive to presume to tell someone how to live his or her life and it is offensive to tell someone how to view his or her death.

In fact, if there are two topics that are most uncomfortable for us to discuss with our families and friends, they are life and death. This is why we excel at small talk. This is why we make excuses for those we care about when they live recklessly. This is why we avoid visiting cemeteries and gloss over the reality of death by reminiscing good memories of the deceased. But the truth is, the most important realities in your life and my life are the way we live and the way we die.

And the pressing questions that come from this consideration are these: Can you find lasting joy and satisfaction in life and death? And, will you waste your life? I believe there is no other worldview, no other religion, and no other philosophy that probes these issues, which can provide an adequate answer to these questions. But, in the Christian faith we find answers to these questions that surpass all of our desires and fulfill all of our deepest longings.

The way we live and the way we die are directly impacted by whether or not Jesus was raised from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus informs us on what a wasted and unwasted life looks like. It also shows us where lasting joy can be found.

The way we live and the way we die must center on Christ. A Christ-centered perspective of life and death is the perspective that brings joy to the heart and purpose to life in the midst of tragedy and turmoil. True human flourishing in life and human conquering in death are only possible if it is true that a man named Jesus from Nazareth actually died and actually came back from the dead.

Lasting joy and satisfaction in life and death are only found in an empty tomb and in a risen Savior. The resurrection of Jesus directly impacts the way we live our lives and the way we approach our deaths. God glorifies himself and brings his people joy in the death and resurrection of his Son.

It is an endless quest to seek to find fulfillment in those three basic desires in anything other than Christ. And that’s not just smug, my-way-is-best-so-deal-with-it talk. That’s real talk. Consider where you find most happiness in life. If you are trying to fabricate or manufacture happiness, or flourish by working yourself to death to prove yourself to others, you will be both exhausted and unfulfilled. And no matter how hard you try to convince yourself otherwise, thinking about your death scares the life out of you. You know death is coming. But the fact you don’t know when you die and you have no control over how you die scares you to death. Only in Jesus can we find certainties in and beyond death. Only in Jesus can we face death with hope.


19149367_2014653971893374_3834793165439186257_nMathew Gilbert is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew and his wife, Erica, live in Tupelo with their two boys, Jude and Jack.

When God Shatters Your Weekly Routine: Reflections On a Full Week of Ministry


The past two weeks have probably been the most full weeks of gospel ministry in my life to this point. I’ve only been serving as a pastor in full-time ministry for a few years now, so I don’t have a ton of ministry mileage logged. Most of my weeks in ministry have been pretty predictable. Aside from the occasional unplanned meeting, lunch, or phone call, I’ve more or less been in control of much of my ministry experience.

As a pastor, I love to plan ahead. I enjoy thinking about where our people will be in the coming months and years, and planning accordingly. Because of this propensity to think three steps ahead, I’ve had to slowly learn how to be in the moment. I’ve learned that a blown plan isn’t the end of the world, and fulfilled plans can sometimes be sinful if they neglect the hearts of the plans’ subjects.

My lead pastor and brother in ministry has taught me that shepherding the flock takes time, patience, endurance, perseverance, and any other word that requires sitting, waiting, thinking, trusting. As important as planning ahead in ministry is for the advancement of the gospel in and through your people, sometimes it’s best to blow up our plans for the sake of being present with our people in their time of need. And nothing has caused me to lean on the ever strong and able arms of God than when my week doesn’t go as planned.

This past week I had the privilege of ministering to a local family who lost a loved one in a sudden and tragic way. I didn’t know them and they had never heard of me. Many of them are not members of a church. They were simply a hurting, grieving family in need of a minister to officiate a funeral service for their loved one. I count it a privilege now, even though I initially recoiled at the prospect of having the end of my week interrupted by an unforeseen need in my community. I had originally planned to work on lessons for a children’s biblical theology class I’ll be teaching this Fall. So, when I was asked to officiate this funeral, my mind first rushed to an unholy place. I thought about how I could rework my schedule to both minister to this family and get ahead.

On top of having to officiate a funeral, I was called on to fill in to preach for our lead pastor, who had become ill. So, a normal week for many pastors became a first for me, and one filled with unexpected twists and turns. In the midst of all my last minute preparation, I was faced with a tough question–do i care more about making and fulfilling personal plans and goals than I do the people these plans and goals are meant to serve?

Plans are good, but when they are held so tightly that you are unable to move them aside for the sake of others, they have ceased being a helpful tool and become a dangerous idol. No one enjoys being confronted with sin, but it is always a grace to us when God stops us in our sin. The Lord has worked mightily in me over the past 48 hours to help me see that while plans are important, people matter more. Thinking about how to love and serve both God and neighbor has alleviated my anxiety over my plans. As I planned the funeral service, I found myself more concerned about the hearts of those I was ministering to than how I would be received and perceived by those who would hear me lead and preach. I found myself with a radically God-centered and others-centered mindset, which empowered me to do what God has called me to do as a minister–love and lead those entrusted to my care as well.

Even though my sermon prep last week was much shorter than my three-steps-ahead mentality would have liked, it was much more fruitful because I was acutely aware of my limitations and weakness. I genuinely called out to God for help. And he answered. I worked to understand the text in its original context, make gospel connections and applications to the people I help shepherd. With every passing week, I’m continually blown away by God’s grace in choosing to use me to proclaim and minister his gospel.

Brother pastor, it’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of ministry planning. We are used to thinking months and years down the road. Is there ever an accomplished task? One finished sermon or lesson only means a new one must be written. Seeing one person conquer a sin-battle is met with seeing another walk in a dark valley of loneliness and depression. We see the highs and lows, the best and worst, the brightest and darkest points of humanity. But we are warrior shepherds wielding a piercing weapon of good news. We bring hope everlasting, joy incomparable, and love unconditional through the gospel of Jesus Christ. We don’t have all the answers, but we know the guy that does.

Last week, I was caught in a whirlwind of planning, but through God’s providence and kindness, I was given a unique opportunity to truly and deeply depend on God’s grace. I needed the gospel last week. But what is so easy to forget is that I will need it this week and the week after that. My need will never cease, but praise God neither will his sufficiency to provide for my need. I’m thankful when my plans fail, his plans are greater. May the Lord continue to shatter my plans if it brings more weekends like the one I just experienced.

Two Books on Believer’s Baptism


Last night, I taught children at Trace Crossing what Baptists believe about baptism. Using a catechism I have written specifically for children, I explained three important truths about baptism:

  1. Baptism is a command, not a choice
  2. Baptism is a picture, not a performance
  3. Baptism is a sign, not a saving act

The doctrine of baptism has been debated by Christians for centuries and will continue to be debated until we learn in the New Earth just how wrong all the Presbys were! But for now, I’m content to continue learning from those with whom I disagree and from those who are right. *wink wink*

In all seriousness, while my view of baptism is firmly planted in Baptist soil because I believe the Baptist position makes the most sense of the Bible’s teachings on baptism, I do not presume to have the upper hand on my Presbyterian brothers and sisters. I’ll admit that as Baptists, we could be wrong. However, for now I’ll stick with the view of baptism that teaches it as a command and picture of the gospel in which being immersed in water shows we belong to Christ and his Church.

I love recommending resources, so here are a few helpful books I used in preparation to teach baptism to kids. Consider grabbing both of these resources to increase your understanding of what Baptists believe about baptism.

Understanding Baptism (Bobby Jamieson)

Understanding Baptism Book

Jamieson’s short book on the basics of a Baptist view of baptism is well worth your money and time. It’s perfect for those of you looking for a brief and concise description of the what, why, and how of baptism.

Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ (Tom Schreiner & Shawn Wright)

Believer's Baptism Book

Schreiner and Wright pack a heavy punch in their book on baptism. I believe their exegesis is convincing as they deal extensively with each biblical text relating to baptism. They even have a chapter on infant baptism, which helps with perspective.


17498999_1870940272931412_6999370580315029592_nMathew Gilbert is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew and his wife, Erica, live in Tupelo with their two boys, Jude and Jack.

God Provided A Way: Why Christians Need the Gospel


pexels-photo1.jpgWithout the gospel there are no Christians. It goes without saying that Christians need the gospel. Despite this truth, many Christians act as if they have no need for the gospel after the point of conversion. How often have you been sitting in a church service and tuned out a pastor who begins to explain the content of the gospel? Christians are tempted to think that once they have trusted Christ, there is no need to hear the gospel again. They think, “That’s not for me.” The job is done. What is the point of hearing the gospel week in and week out after one has already repented and believed? However, to cave to these tempting thoughts is spiritual suicide because of the sinfully seductive world we live in.

We live in a world filled with seductive sinful passions that entice our lingering flesh. Everything from television, books, magazines, and various websites tempt us to treasure pleasures that are fleeting at best and destructively damning at worst. We are also tempted with everyday social sins such as gossip. We all know the dangers of a prayer meeting gone awry, as too often we are left with a smorgasbord of gossip topics when we return home or head to work the next day. The destructive yet alluring “he said, she said” conversations can lure us in to the point that we are numb to the hurtful words that we speak.

These temptations and the rest are readily available to us everywhere we look on any given day. Facebook, Twitter, TV programs, newspapers, and casual conversations provide temptations to fall into sin at any moment. And if we are honest, we sometimes actively seek these venues in order to satisfy our sinful passions. Christians are called to holiness and to conform to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29). So then, how is a Christian to live in a world filled with sinful seductions? How is a Christ-follower, a child of the Holy One of Israel, to survive in this daily battle of (or for) the heart?

The gospel of Jesus Christ is the primary means by which we fight and kill sin. If you want to overcome the temptation that is vying for your heart’s worship, look to Christ and his gospel. One tremendous benefit of these dangerous temptations is the fact that they remind us of our dreadfully sinful condition and the pre-grace predicament all of humanity is in from birth (Ps. 51:5). All the more reason why our eyes should gaze upon the glory of God’s grace in the gospel—the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that provided the only way for us to be legally justified and paternally adopted by our holy and sovereign God.

Paul realized the necessity of reminding Christians of the gospel when he wrote to the church at Corinth, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain” (1 Cor. 15:1-2). Paul directly connects sanctification to reminding these believers of the gospel. Gospel reminders serve our sanctification.

The gospel is a sanctifying means of grace that we need on a daily basis. So as you take in your daily dose of sinful temptations through your conversations and mouse clicks, consider how to combat this satanic onslaught with the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, and most pointedly, the gospel. God provided a way for you to be made right with him and for you to be made like his Son. Your holiness was achieved on the cross, but it is being worked out in you every second of every day (Phil. 2:12-13). One means for you to grow into this blood-bought and Spirit-wrought holiness is to meditate on the glory of God’s grace in the gospel.

Do you find yourself neglecting your need for the gospel? Do you yawn when your pastor preaches the content of the gospel? If so, know that this kind of thinking is perilous to your faith. According to pastor and author Mitch Chase, “leaving the gospel behind in pursuit of Christian growth is actually the abandonment of the path to Christian growth.”

One way to remedy this gospel neglect is to remind yourself of the undeserved gift of grace of the gospel often. One exercise that I have found helpful is to put the gospel into words from time to time. Take a sheet of paper or open a blank document on your computer and simply write out the content and benefits of the gospel. Focusing on the power of God in the gospel will allow your eyes to gaze upon pleasures that are unending in Christ (Ps. 16:11) and provide the assurance that your battle for holiness is indeed being worked out by God in you and will be achieved in the last day (Rom. 8:30; Phil. 1:6).

God provided a way for you to be made right with him, and he is still providing a way for you to flee and fight sin. The means in both cases is the same—the gospel of Jesus Christ—for your justification and your sanctification. Jesus died to cancel the debt of your sin, absorb the wrath of God against your sin, and free you from the slavery of sin.

Here is just one example of an articulation of the gospel by K. Scott Oliphint that may help you fight sin this week or this month:

Man fell from his original state and consequently lost the ability and the will to worship and serve the Creator. The covenant relationship that, prior to the fall, existed in harmony with the Creator’s will was, after the fall a relationship of animosity and rebellion on our side and was one of wrath on the side of the Creator.

But there was still a relationship. It is not that man ceased to be a covenant creature after the fall. He was still responsible to God to obey and worship him. He turned this responsibility, however, into occasions for rebellion. Instead of walking with God in the cool of the day, man began to try to hide from God, to fight with God, to run from him, to use the abilities and gifts he had been given to attempt to thwart the plan of God and to construe for himself a possible world in which he was not dependent on God at all.

So God provided a way in which the obedience owed him and the worship due his name could be accomplished. He sent his own Son, who alone obeyed the spirit and letter of the law, and who also went to the cross to take the penalty we deserve in order that those who would come to him in faith would be declared not guilty before the tribunal of the covenant Judge.


*This post first appeared as a chapter in my book, Come to the Well. You can purchase a copy from Amazon, CBD, and other book retailers.


17498999_1870940272931412_6999370580315029592_nMathew Gilbert is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew and his wife, Erica, live in Tupelo with their two boys, Jude and Jack.

Loving Delay: God’s Love and Glory in Your Suffering


mountains-nature-man-personChristian, have you ever prayed for something over and over again that resulted in no apparent answer from God, so much so, that it led you to question his love for you?

Battle of the Heart

This question is like a hardcore game of tug-of-war in your heart and mind. You know that God’s love for you is uninhibited, unbound, and unmerited. You know that he loved you despite your deliberate rebellion against him in sending Christ Jesus to die for you (Rom. 5:8). You know that God loves you because he adopted you; you are his child, and he is your Father. You know he loves you as the Holy Spirit sanctifies you and reorients your desires toward God. And you know he loves you because by his preserving grace you wake up each morning saying, “I believe in Jesus.”

Yet, at the same time, your heart is breaking at the sound of bad news; your faith is shaking with doubt, or your world has been completely turned upside down by tragedy, suffering, or some raging consequences of sin. You cry yourself to sleep at night. No one can say anything that can ease the pain. Broken relationships. Broken bodies. Broken health. Broken hearts. Just sheer brokenness fills your life. And so you pray. You pray, and you pray, and you pray. Each morning and afternoon, evening and night, you pray for God to lift the pain, cure the disease, mend the broken relationship. The cry of your heart could not be clearer. With the psalmist you cry:

I am weary with my moaning
every night I flood my bed with tears;
I drench my couch with my weeping.
My eye wastes away because of grief;
it grows weak because of all my foes (Ps. 6:6-7).

 Deafening Silence

But what comes out of these heart-wrenching prayers? What is the response of the God of the universe in whom you have trusted and to whom you belong to your humble, desperate cries?

…Nothing…

Silence. Piercing silence. Deafening silence. The suffering and the tragedy persist. The night will not end. You wonder, “Is God ignoring me? Does he even hear me?” This silence or delay from God seems surprising and uncharacteristic of his love. Can God truly claim to love us with the intensity that he says he does if he delays in answering our prayers?

I want you to see that in delaying, God is loving you. He loves you when you cry, “My soul also is greatly troubled. But you, O Lord—how long?” (Ps. 6:3). The basis from which all of this flows is the truth that God is love (1 John 4:8, 16). His love for you is not something that must be learned or acquired; it is crucial to his character.

Loving by Delay: Example from John 11

An example of this can be found in John 11, which begins with a request for help from Mary and Martha. Their brother Lazarus had fallen ill. It is clear that Jesus loved this family, for Lazarus’ sisters refer to their brother as “he whom you love” (John 11:3). The one whom Jesus loves is sick and dying, and the ones who Jesus loves are pleading with him to help. Mary and Martha call upon Jesus to demonstrate his love for them by doing something about the illness. Just to be clear here, a family that Jesus loves deeply has been struck with tragedy. A brother is dying, and his sisters are crying. His love for them is real and deep, and this is how he responds:

But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (John 11:4).

The NASB uses the phrase: “This sickness is not to end in death…” Though Lazarus’ sickness would definitely lead to death in one sense (Lazarus does die), this illness does not end in death. In other words, the story does not end with Lazarus’ death. The sickness does not have the last word—Jesus does. But it may also be that Jesus says this with emphasis on the event’s purpose. The true end or purpose of what is about to happen is not death but rather the glorification of God in Jesus Christ. “It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” So, the one central thing to Lazarus’ and his sisters’ suffering is the glory of God in Jesus Christ.

Two things are clear so far: (1) Jesus loves Lazarus and his sisters, and (2) the suffering of this family (Lazarus’ illness) has its end or purpose as the glory of God in Jesus Christ.

John now moves to focus on Jesus’ love. “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus” (John 11:5). What John is about to write must be taken with this knowledge fresh on our minds. He then writes something shocking, surprising, and seemingly scandalous. What we might expect from John in verse six would be something like this: “As a result of this love, Jesus immediately went to Lazarus and healed him from this illness.” This is what we would expect from the love of Christ poured out on those whom he loves. This is what we expect from him when we are suffering: immediate response and immediate healing. However, the story goes much differently.

So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was (John 11:6).

John reminds us of Jesus’ love for Martha, Mary, and Lazarus and then proceeds to tell us that the way he demonstrates this love is by staying two days longer where he was. He does not rush to Lazarus’ rescue; he delays.  In response to a desperate plea from the ones he loves, Jesus demonstrates his love by delay. The original Greek is much clearer than the English translation in verses 5-6. John essentially says that because Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, he delayed in coming to his rescue. Delay was Jesus’ way of demonstrating his love for his friends.

Reasons to Love by Delay

But why the delay? Doesn’t Peter clearly teach that God does not delay? “The Lord does not delay His promise, as some understand delay” (2 Pt. 3:9). If Jesus loved this family, why would he wait two (what ended up being four) days to come to them? I believe there are two main reasons.

  1. To Magnify His Glory

Remember, the end or purpose of Lazarus’ sickness is that God may be glorified in the glorification of Jesus Christ. When Jesus and his disciples finally arrived, Lazarus had been dead and in the tomb for four days. This is highly significant because of Jewish thought. At that time, there was a Jewish superstition that when someone died, the spirit of that person hovers over their body for up to three days, after which no resurrection or resuscitation would be possible. When Jesus arrives at Lazarus’ tomb after four days, there would be no question that any resurrection would be nothing short of divine. Nothing would be able to explain a resurrection at this point, and Jesus’ deity and glory would be on full display. Death does not have the last word. Jesus does. And he has the final word on your suffering as well. In the end, he will magnify his glory.

  1. To Magnify His Love 

How does Jesus show his love for this family in his delay? We have already seen that he shows his love for them by glorifying himself in Lazarus’ resurrection, which was magnified through delay. However, there is something more personally significant that happens when Jesus demonstrates love by way of delay. In his book Scandalous, D.A. Carson observes that oftentimes Christians act like immature children when we pray. He says this:

Sadly, many of us act like very young and immature children when we deal with God. We, too, want specific blessings now, now, now. But God takes the long view, and he understands that sometimes delay is what is best for us.

Our view of God is too often far too small. We view him, speak of him, and deal with him in human terms—and as Carson has demonstrated, childish human terms at that. Peter writes that the Lord does not delay “as some understand delay” (2 Pt. 3:9). Even though he is specifically referring to the second coming of Christ in this passage, it is clear that God’s delay is intentional and is not the result of some limitation of his power or love. Delay from God is evidence of his patience to accomplish his purposes in perfect timing.

Our view of God’s love is also too small. We feel that God does not love us if he does not answer or bless us immediately, but what we see in John 11 refutes that thinking. Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, and yet he delayed in coming to them. He did not immediately relieve their suffering. God does not always immediately relieve the suffering of his children, and it isn’t always the case that he relieves our suffering at all. In these cases, with Paul we must submit to the truth that God’s grace is sufficient (2 Cor. 12:9).

Suffering to the Glory of God

Jesus showed his love for Lazarus and his sisters by delaying in relieving their suffering. Therefore, delay does not imply lack of love or neglect but rather it implies a higher wisdom and grander purpose.

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Rom. 5:3-5).

God is glorified in the joy of his people, and when his people find joy in him amidst tremendous suffering, the worth of God radiates from his suffering people. The vision of God that we must take up in order to accurately view personal suffering is that of Romans 5:3-5. This vision is that the increase of character, perseverance, and future hope is more important than relief from suffering. Paul would later write, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18). One means that God uses to work this joy out in us is delay. God’s love through delay produces perseverance, character, and hope—hope that will never fail us and hope that vanquishes all need for relief.

D.A. Carson is poignant on this point: “God is sovereign. He is wise. He is unqualifiedly good. Part of Christian maturation is understanding that even his delays are not foolish or stupid or mistakes or exercises in whimsy. He is to be trusted, and even the delays are to be improved upon by the way we respond to them.”

Likewise, John Piper exhorts, “We can draw no deadlines for God. He hastens or he delays as he sees fit. And his timing is all-loving toward his children. Oh, that we might learn to be patient in the hour of darkness.”

Christian, when your suffering will not cease, when the darkness over your soul will not lift, and when you feel your prayers are going unanswered, know that this is one of the innumerably glorious and mysterious ways that your God loves you. His glory and love are magnified in his delay. You can rest assured knowing that the grand purpose in suffering is the glory of God in the satisfaction of his suffering saint. Find solace and identification through suffering in these words from Christian poet, George Herbert:

Ah my dear angry Lord,
Since thou dost love, yet strike;
Cast down, yet help afford;
Sure I will do the like.
I will complain, yet praise;
I will bewail, approve:
And all my sour-sweet days
I will lament, and love.

*This post first appeared as a chapter in my book, Come to the Well. You can purchase a copy from Amazon, CBD, and from many other book retailers.


Mathew Gilbert is Associate Pastor of Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God and founder of Grace Satisfies. He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their two sons, Jude and Jack. You can follow Mathew on Twitter @Mat_Gilbert.

Delighting in a Difficult Doctrine: Four Reasons to Find Joy in Election


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The doctrine of election is without a doubt one of the most central yet most misunderstood doctrines in the entire Bible. Wayne Grudem defines the doctrine of unconditional election like this: “Election is an act of God before creation in which he chooses some people to be saved, not on account of any foreseen merit in them, but only because of his sovereign good pleasure.”

Election is God’s free choice in eternity past of certain sinners that he would save based on his sovereign grace and according to the purpose of his will. Paul gives a biblical example of our election in God’s choice of Jacob over Esau (see Rom. 9). He concludes that God chooses to save some sinners to exalt the glory of God’s grace. “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who has mercy…So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills” (Rom. 9:16).

This doctrine is a hot topic. In fact, your blood might be boiling even now as you read this! Election can split churches and has split denominations. J.I. Packer sees this very thing when he writes, “Texts from Paul are waived like banners; the words ‘Calvinist’ and ‘Arminian’ fly like bullets; people blink and go red; everyone ends up fluttered and hot under the collar. Sometimes, looking back on these unhappy exchanges, we find ourselves resenting the very existence of the doctrine which occasions such high feelings.”

As a result of such heated discussions over the doctrine of election and the prospect for church division and angered congregants, many pastors ignore this doctrine altogether. This hostility is often the result of ignorance, as many rioters understand the doctrine of unconditional election in terms of its various caricatures. Still yet, there are those who object to this doctrine with more serious concerns.

Grudem gives six objections to the doctrine of election that are typically proposed: (1) Election mean ave no choice to trust Christ, (2) Election means our choices are not real, (3) Election means we are merely robots or puppets in the hands of God, (4) Election means unbelievers never had a chance, (5) Election is unfair, (6) Election denies that God wills to save everyone.

While we will not look at these objections in fuller detail here, it is important to note them so that we are clear that the objections and accusations against those who hold to this doctrine are serious. It has even been argued that according to a Reformed understanding of salvation, especially the doctrine of election, God is conveyed as a moral monster with little difference between him and the devil. One of Calvin’s earliest opponents, Frenchman, Sebastian Castellio, wrote in a letter to Calvin, “But the God of Calvin is the father of lies.”

Objections to God’s unconditional election of sinners to salvation shoot arrows directly to the heart of God’s character. As a result, any pastor who casually addresses this doctrine with a lighthearted attitude from the pulpit is only setting himself up for possible disaster.

In other words, the stakes are high for the pastor who preaches this doctrine. In biblical exposition, debate, and discussion, there comes a kind of warfare within Christianity, one in which there will be casualties. And so, we must approach it with extreme delicacy, humility, and tact. It is easy to understand why a pastor would choose to avoid ever mentioning this doctrine in his pulpit ministry. Nevertheless, a doctrine that is so central to God’s saving work in Christ and so abundantly clear in the Bible cannot simply be swept under the rug.

The path to avoiding uproar among congregants with regard to controversial topics in Scripture must be blazed with tact, not total ignorance. This doctrine must be probed carefully with theological and biblical precision. Still yet, it would be easy to write this doctrine off as a nuisance or unnecessar for the church. I mean, why create a tension that could so easily be avoided? I think Scripture provides us with four key motivational reasons that we can and should not only discuss the doctrine of election, but find true and lasting joy in it.

1. Divine Election Is Biblical

It first needs to be established that this doctrine must be preached, taught, and discussed because it is found in Holy Scripture. In Acts 20, Luke records Paul testifying to the elders in Ephesus, “For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27, emphasis added). Paul held nothing back from them. He did not skip over anything because it was difficult or did not fit into the Ephesians’ little Hellenistic box. Neither should pastors today ignore portions of our doctrines within God’s word simply because they might cause some to get “hot under the collar.” James Montgomery Boice was adamant about the necessity to preach the whole counsel of God, especially the doctrine of election.

Commenting on John 10, Boice writes, “This is the doctrine of election which we have already seen many times in John’s Gospel and which we will see many times again. It is not liked, it is not often preached. But it is in Scripture and it must be preached, above all, by anyone who is serious about expounding the gospel.”

These are strong words. Boice is saying that the doctrine of election must be preached, especially by those who are serious about exposing the depths of the gospel, because at the heart of the gospel, and truly at its very origin, is an eternal plan and decree from God to have a people for himself.

We as Christians should not avoid the doctrine of election for the simple reason that it is in the Bible. There is no avoiding it. When Paul wrote to his young protégé, Timothy, he taught him, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). All Scripture? Yes. Even passages on election? Of course! We should read, teach, preach, and discuss this doctrine simply because it is in the Bible, and we trust that God has inspired it for our good (Rom. 8:28).

2. Divine Election is a Great Comfort to Christians

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified (Rom. 8:28-30).

The great comfort of Romans 8:28 is rooted in the eternal prerogative of God to save sinners in Christ (Rom. 8:29-30). Christians find great comfort in the fact that our salvation is not based on any good or bad work. He foreknew us and chose us from eternity past according to his divine goodness, grace, and wisdom. The election of Jacob gives great insight into God’s elective purpose in salvation: “[T]hough they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated’” (Rom. 9:11-13).

Take comfort in knowing that your salvation is based on the work of God in his divine election, not in your work to become worthy of being saved. You can rest in the fact that God did not base your salvation on your performance or anything he saw in you. In hose you in spite of knowing how sinful you would be, according to the purpose of his will.

3. Divine Election is Uniquely God-Glorifying

[H]e predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved…In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to he purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory (Eph. 1:5-6, 11-12).

But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth (2 Thess. 2:13).

Divine election is a tremendous reason to praise God. Sam Storms writes, “In brief, election evokes gratitude. It is God’s gracious and loving action to which we contribute nothing and for which, therefore, God receives all the glory.”

The unconditional election of sinners presents us with a humble view of man and a high view of God. All praise and honor are due the one who chose us in Christ from before the world began.

4. Divine Election is an Encouragement to Evangelize

Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory (2 Tim. 2:10).

And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd (John 10:16).

The source of courage to evangelize and the hope of all global missions is the truth that God has chosen a people for himself in Jesus. We can go to the nations with the gospel with the assurance that some will believe. No questions asked. We can risk all for the sake of the elect because we know with certainty that God has chosen persons from every tribe and every tongue (Rev. 7:9). May the divine election of God encourage you to boldly proclaim the gospel in your neighborhood and in all nations, knowing that success has been determined in eternity past through God’s tremendously gracious electing love.

Delight in Election

For these four reasons (and more) we should delight to read, preach, study, teach, and share the doctrine of election. Because of election’s appearance and highly practical function in Scripture, it cannot be ignored. J.I. Packer writes, “[W]e can hardly be right in treating the doctrine of election as an unedifying encumbrance when in Paul’s hands it becomes a motive and mainspring of worship and assurance and holy living.” The doctrine of unconditional election is a difficult doctrine for some, but it is without a doubt a delightful doctrine for all who embrace it, because it provides the greatest hope for dreadful sinners, the greatest glory to the lone worthy God, and the deepest joy for those in Christ.

*This post first appeared as a chapter in my book, Come to the Well. You can purchase a copy from Amazon, CBD, and from many other book retailers.

 


Mathew Gilbert is Associate Pastor of Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their two sons, Jude and Jack. You can follow Mathew on Twitter @Mat_Gilbert.

Leaning on the Promises of God: 3 Ways to Apply God’s Promises to Your Life


rainbow-god-promisesHow many of us believe the promises of God are true, but see no fruit of this belief in our lives? I think there is a common disconnect between assenting to the promises of God and trusting the promises of God. Trust or belief in the biblical sense of the words are inextricably tied to action. We believe, so we act on that belief. Any faith that does not result in a changed life where actions and works are altered is worthless.

While the promises of God are far from empty, I wonder if our belief in them is. American Christians are far better off than the majority of people who have ever lived, and yet we probably worry more than any other society in the history of the world. Worry, discontent, and fear of losing our comforts mark many Americans today, Christians included. What would happen if Christians truly trusted the promises of God?

Puritan William Spurstowe (1605-1666), an English pastor and member of the Westminster Assembly, wrote a beautiful work entitled, The Wells of Salvation Opened. In it, he discusses the promises of God and our response to them. He warns that we should not rest in “a general faith, which goes no further than to give a naked assent unto the promises of the Gospel as true; but does not put forth itself to receive and embrace them as good.” True faith works. It doesn’t just mentally assent to the truth of something. It receives and embraces the truth or reality or Person as good. True faith is a work of the heart. Yes, our minds are definitely (crucially) involved. But without the heart’s affections being moved to delight in a thing as good, faith is absent or false.

Why is it crucial then for a Christian to truly trust the promises of God with his whole being and not just mentally assent to their truth? In the gospel, God has promised to rescue, redeem, and secure sinners from death unto life in Christ. We receive this promise through faith in Christ, but there are many who only assent with their minds without ever acting on their faith in Christ (See Acts 8:13, 23; John 2:23; Matt. 25:11). In each of these examples, God’s promises are believed to be true, but not embraced as good.

Trusting the promises of God produces sweet fruit. Mere assent to the truth of the promises of God produces a bitter and barren life. Trusting God’s promises is the building blocks for a solid and firm stance in the face of sin and suffering. Mere assent to the promises of God is like standing on shifting sand on the brink of a storm. When it comes, you will be swept away in its floods.

How do we practically trust the promises of God? How do we apply them to the messiness of every day life? What do the promises of God in the gospel mean for the stay-at-home mom, the CEO, the teacher, the 5th grader, the college student, and the pastor? How can each of these people apply God’s promises on a daily basis?

A critical word from Spurstowe is helpful here:

When a Christian first turns his thoughts towards the promises, the appearances of light and comfort which shine from them do oft-times seem to be as weak and imperfect rays which neither scatter fears nor darkness; [but] when again he sets himself to ripen and improve his thoughts upon them, then the evidence and comfort which they yield to the soul, is both more clear and distinct but when the heart and affections are fully fixed in the meditation of a promise, Oh! what a bright mirror is the promise then to the eye of faith! What legions of beauties do then appear from every part of it which both ravish and fill the soul of a believer with delight!

Spurstowe beautifully describes the Christian’s experience with the promises of God. At first they seem too good to be true, so distant they can do us no good. But spending more time with them, like sitting by the fireplace, will warm our hearts with indescribable comfort. To think, that when I sin against God even after being found in Christ, condemnation is not consigned to me because God promised “Therefore, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). To think, when I am abandoned by everyone around me finding enemies on every side, love everlasting kisses my face and embraces my soul because God promised nothing will separate me from his love (Rom. 8:31-39).

What if we truly trusted the promises of God? Our lives would be radically impacted. Our view of the world would gain much needed perspective. We would never look at our circumstances the same. We wouldn’t fall into despair, because leaning on his promises means a Pauline sorrowful joy is existentially possible. Don’t live life independently from the promises of God. Take them with you wherever you go. Where them around your neck and cling to them when the waves of life crash against you. Don’t just know the promises of God are true, apply the promises to your life.

How can we practically trust and apply the promises of God on a daily basis? I believe there are three ways we can do this:

1. Know the Promises of God

While we can’t end with mental assent, we must begin there. Know the promises of God. This requires pointed and intentional Bible reading. Read the Bible every day and you will encounter many direct and indirect promises to wield in the daily fight for joy.

2. Meditate on the Promises of God

It isn’t enough to have a list of Bible verses of God’s promises. In order to know how to apply them in your particular life setting you must meditate on them. Think deeply about these promises. What are their implications? What are you going through that requires dependence on this or that promise? Fix your mind on God’s promises in such a way that the promise is turned into “a strengthening and reviving cordial.”

3. Memorize the Promises of God

A very practical way to apply the promises is not only to know and meditate on them but to commit them to memory. According to Spurstowe, we should commit specific passages to memory for specific trials we may face. Scripture memory isn’t just an activity for children’s ministry. It is a weapon used to attack the powers of darkness in this world. It is a means of grace to fight for joy in the midst of sorrow.

When life creates hunger, feeding on the Word will provide satisfaction and spiritual nourishment unlike anything else. Act with faith in the promises of God and you will be radically transformed and freed to live and love to the glory of God in all circumstances.

Oh! how securely and contentedly then may a believer, who acts with faith in such promises, lay himself down in the bosom of the Almighty in the worst of all his extremities! Not much unlike the infant that sleeps in the arms of his tender mother with the breast in his mouth, from which, as soon as ever it wakes, it draws a fresh supply that satisfies his hunger, and prevents its unquietness.


11751958_1209158262442953_3486622930933138849_nMathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor of Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. They have one son, Jude Adoniram.

The Sovereign Giver: Brief Reflections on 1 Thessalonians 1:1-3


giftsWe all have received gifts on special occasions, like birthdays and Christmas. When we receive special gifts it is easy for us to focus on the gift, but forget the giver of the gift. Too many times we forget to say, “Thank you.” When you were a kid, how many times did your parents have to remind you, “Say thank you” when you receive a gift from a friend? While it isn’t polite to just receive a gift without saying thank you, think about how crazy it is for us to receive so much from God and forget to say, “Thank you, Lord.”

Paul opens his letter to the Thessalonians by thanking God for them. He says that he prays for them constantly or without ceasing (v. 2). This means he makes a habit of praying, and when he prays he always mentions this church in his prayers. He then gives his reasons for why he is thankful to God in verse 3. He says he prays for them always “remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 3). Paul is saying, “I thank God for you because of your faith, love, and hope.”

Why is Paul thanking God if it is the Thessalonian Christians who are the ones doing the work? They are the ones with the “work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope.” Yet, Paul gives thanks to God in his prayers for what these Christians are doing. Why? He does this because the faith, love, and hope of the Thessalonian Christians were gifts from God. It is impossible for us to have true faith, love, or hope without God working in our hearts first.

Without Christ being faithful to God in his life, we could not have faith. Without the Father first loving us, we could not truly love God and others. Without the Spirit giving life to our dead hearts, we would have no hope. When we trust Jesus for salvation, we need to see it as a gift from God and thank him for it. When we grow in love for God and others, we need to see it as a gift from God and thank him. When we have confidence in God even when bad things happen, we need to see it as a gift from God and thank him for it.

Faith, love, and hope are not just marks of a Christian. They are gifts for the Christian. What did we do to deserve these gifts? This is the crazy part. We did nothing to deserve these gifts. Absolutely nothing! In fact, we deserve the opposite of these gifts because of our sin. If God were like Santa Claus, giving us gifts based on who is naughty or nice, we wouldn’t receive anything because we are all naughty. But God is better than Santa Claus. In Christ, he offers us unbelievable gifts not based on how good we are, but on how good he is.


11751958_1209158262442953_3486622930933138849_nMathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church in East Bernstadt, KY. He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their son, Jude Adoniram.

The God Who Suffers to Set Things Right


Question-About-Suffering1One of the biggest questions that we all must face in life is the meaning of suffering, if any meaning even exists at all. No one can escape the clutches of suffering. It is a mutual enemy we all must face in one form or another at one time or another. The presence of evil and suffering remains one of the primary philosophical reasons people reject Christianity. Theism doesn’t necessarily have to be rejected, because in Deism, God is not personal, so it is likely he could create a world of chaos and step back to let it destroy itself. This just wouldn’t be a god anyone would want to know.

In my conversations with non-Christian friends, particularly millennials, I am more and more hearing things like this: “Sure, God may exist, but if he creates a world where such horrible suffering is possible, then I want no part of him.” So, adopting Christian presuppositions, they are saying they don’t want God on his terms. Of course, the problem is they are only seeing half of the story.

We can all admit there is something horribly wrong with this world. But many of us fail to see that much of what is wrong with the world is found within our own hearts. So when we sneer at God for not just eliminating suffering and evil once and for all, we fail to see two things.

First, we fail to see that in order for God to completely wipe out suffering and evil, he would have to wipe all of us out! The sad and scary truth is that we are naïve if we think we are not capable of committing horrible atrocities.

Second, we fail to see that God in fact has acted to completely wipe out suffering and evil through the life, death, and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ. In fact, he used suffering and evil to eliminate suffering and evil. But no, he goes even further. God doesn’t just use suffering and evil. God absorbs suffering and evil in order to eliminate suffering and evil. A God who suffers for you is a God you can trust in the mystery of suffering and evil.

There is something horribly wrong with the world. How can we reconcile the existence of a personal, good, and sovereign God with senseless evil and suffering? The Christian worldview, otherwise known as the gospel, teaches that God comes into this messed up world and suffers at the hands of evil men in order to set things right.

There is a great scene in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s classic novel The Brothers Karamazov in which two of the characters are talking about the dreaded and pervasive reality of suffering. Dostoyevsky was a Christian, and he uses this conversation and the words of Ivan specifically to communicate how Christianity speaks to suffering:

I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small Euclidean mind of man, that in the world’s finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, of all the blood that they’ve shed; that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened.

Only the Christian worldview can communicate such real, vivid, and existential hope in the face of great suffering. Suffering is only justifiable if, in the words of Tolkien, “every sad thing comes untrue.” Because of Christ, every sad thing will come untrue. Every evil will be swallowed up in the goodness of Christ. Every suffering will be eclipsed by the satisfaction of Christ.


11751958_1209158262442953_3486622930933138849_nMathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church in East Bernstadt, KY. He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their son, Jude Adoniram.

Like Shakespeare to Hamlet


Photo Credit | Shakespeare MIT
Photo Credit | Shakespeare MIT

Many times we are frustrated when God doesn’t interact with or respond to us the way we expect. The problem though is not with God, it is with us, or more specifically, the problem is with our expectations. We expect our relationship with God to be like our relationship with our best friend. Maybe more accurately, we expect our relationship with God to be like our relationship with ourselves. I wouldn’t do this to me, so why does God do it?

Others may require empirical evidence to believe in God. They do so because they require empirical evidence to believe in anything. The problem is they are applying the nature of their relationship with the world to their relationship with God. They expect to relate to God on the same terms as they relate to everything else. But God is unlike anything else in the world. He is beyond the world. He is before the world. And, lest we forget, he is the maker of the world. As children at First Baptist Church in East Bernstadt, KY will be learning tomorrow: God is the first and best of beings.

So we should not expect to relate to this God the way we would relate to anyone else. It is like traveling to space, not seeing God, and then concluding that he must not exist. It is like create an absolute assertion, such as “God would not let suffering and evil exist,” observing suffering and evil, and then concluding God mustn’t exist. C.S. Lewis argued that if God exists, we shouldn’t expect to relate to him the way a person on the first story of a house relates to a person on the second story. God isn’t just someone who lives “up there.” He isn’t merely “the man upstairs.” So, everything we know or could know about God isn’t left up to our empirical devices or investigative abilities. Our relationship with God is entirely dependent on God’s desire to relate to us–something he has no obligation to do.

We know as much about God as God wants us to know. My brother, Michael, has gained much insight from Tim Keller’s teaching that we are on need-to-know terms with God. So, questions that require information or explanation that we have not been given should be approached with humility and shouldn’t be a stumbling block to our faith. We are on a need-to-know basis with God. But what we need to know is fully supplanted and revealed by God in his Word.

If we do not relate to God empirically or in a way similar to our human-human interactions, how do we relate to him? Working from C.S. Lewis’s essay, “The Seeing Eye,” Tim Keller believes we relate to God the way Hamlet relates to Shakespeare.

Our relationship to God…is more like Shakespeare’s relationship to Hamlet. How much will Hamlet know about Shakespeare? Only what Shakespeare writes about himself into the play. Hamlet will never be able to find out anything about his author any other way. In the same way…we can’t find God just by going to higher altitudes. We’ll only know about God if God has written something about himself into our life, into our world. And he has (Encounters with Jesus, 55-56).

Keller then moves to show how the gospel works out of this relationship.

God looked into our world–the world he made–and saw us destroying ourselves and the world by turning away from him. It filled his heart with pain (Genesis 6:6). He loved us. He saw us struggling to extricate ourselves from the traps and misery we created for ourselves. And so he wrote himself in. Jesus Christ, the God-man, born in a manger, born to die on a cross for us (56-57).

Your relationship with God is not determined by your ability to discover him. It is based on God’s desire, resolve, and action to discover you. He writes himself into the story of the world. Without this initiative, we would know nothing about God. And worse, we would not know God. Praise God that though we could never find him no matter how hard we looked, he came and found us to bring us back to him.


11751958_1209158262442953_3486622930933138849_nMathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church in East Bernstadt, KY. He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their son, Jude Adoniram.