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.

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.

Thank You, Lord: Short Gospel Reflections on Psalm 138:1-3


Psalm 138Many families have a special tradition on Thanksgiving Day. Before digging into the delicious turkey, corn, potatoes, dressing, and pumpkin pie, they take time to share what they are thankful for. Some things are big and important. Others are just small and fun. But all have one thing in common: they came from someone else.

Thankfulness is an expression given when we receive something from someone else. If someone hands us a spoon to eat our cereal, we thank him or her. We have many chances throughout the day to say, “Thank you.” But there are some cases when we must be thankful. Thankfulness is the only right way to respond in certain situations. When we receive something we don’t deserve, it would be wrong to not say, “Thank you.” And, when we receive something someone doesn’t have to give, it would be wrong to not say, “Thank you.” Because of this, our lives must be lived in constant gratitude to God for what he has done.

Psalm 138 is a “Thank You” psalm. King David wrote this psalm after God answered one of his prayers (v. 3). We don’t know what the prayer was, and we don’t even know exactly what God did. We do know that God answered David’s prayer, and the result is this beautiful song of thanks.

In verse one David says, “I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing your praises.” David isn’t just thanking God with his words. David thanks God with his whole heart. Everything that is in him is offering thanks to God. God does so many things for you every day. We usually don’t thank him for little things like waking up or having food, friends, and family. But every good gift is from God, so we need to thank him and him alone with our whole heart. David says he praises God “before the gods.” He’s saying his praise his for the one true God alone. False idols don’t deserve his praise, nor will they receive it. We must reserve our praise and thanksgiving for the one who deserves them.

Why is David thanking God with his whole heart? He thanks God because of his “steadfast love and faithfulness” (v. 2). Nothing creates thankfulness in our hearts more than God’s free mercy, grace, and truth. When you realize every gift you receive from God is undeserved, your heart will sing with thanks to God for his grace.

David’s heart was overwhelmed by God’s grace. He was filled with thanks because whatever he received he knew he didn’t deserve. The greatest gift God has given is the gift of Jesus. God sent his Son to take the punishment we deserved so we could receive what we don’t deserve. Be thankful today for the mercy and grace of God to save sinners like us through Jesus.


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.

Morning Mashup 09/02


coffee-newspaper

Kentucky Clerk Not Issuing Marriage Licenses – A Rowan County clerk has stood her ground and continues to refuse to issue marriage licenses. She is at war with her employer, the Kentucky state government. But Ryan Anderson shows there is a better way for protecting religious liberty rights of county clerks as well as civil rights of citizens. If you are at all plugged into this unfolding drama, please consider this piece.

When Jesus Got the Bible Wrong – Uh oh! Don’t you just love clickbait? Nevertheless, this is a fantastic piece about hermeneutics and biblical tensions.

Should We Go Down the Ashley Madison Rabbit Hole? – “Our media-saturated lives offer regular opportunities to make private details public. How do we know when to feed our hunger and when to starve it?”

Tullian Tchividjian Files for Divorce – I don’t know how I missed this news. I’m saddened to see Tchividjian fall. Praying for God’s grace in his life.

Judgment and Grace – Another sad loss in the Reformed Christian community as Ligonier’s R.C. Sproul Jr. was suspended by Ligonier based on his confession that he had signed up with Ashley Madison.

6 Joys and Perils of Full Time Ministry – I think most pastors can identify with these.

The End of the RGIII Era in Washington? – It’s kind of hard to believe, but Robert Griffin III’s tenure in the nation’s capital may be short lived. The former NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year has already been passed over in favor of Kirk Cousins for the starting gig in Washington. Now the question will be, What’s next for RGIII?

Why All Christians Should Care About Systematic Theology – A helpful excerpt from a book partly written by my current Systematic Theology professor, Stephen Wellum.

Fully to enjoy is to glorify. In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him. –C.S. Lewis

Morning Mashup 08/28


coffee-newspaper

IMB to Make Cuts – The International Mission Board (IMB) of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is planning to cut as many as 800 positions “for the sake of short-term financial responsibility and long-term stability.”

Donald Trump Plans Meeting with “Evangelical Leaders” – I am seriously starting to wonder just how fluid the term “evangelical” actually is. One of the evangelical leaders to meet with Trump is Paula White. Paula White…an evangelical. My head is spinning.

Darryl Dawkins Dies at 58 – Sad to see the passing of this great basketball legend.

Ashley Madison and the Death of Monogamy – Albert Mohler: ““Life is short,” said Ashley Madison. “Have an affair.” The Sexual Revolution continues, aided and abetted by modern technology. And with that revolution comes hurt and pain beyond calculation, but our sex-obsessed culture proudly denies the obvious, and moves on.”

“My Pastor is on the Ashley Madison List” – For some churches across the world, this will be a true statement. Where are these pastors and churches to go from here? Ed Stetzer offers helpful advice.

A Coalition of Dust Bunnies – Once again, Douglas Wilson does the job of challenging my thinking. Like, this article really challenged my thinking.

Congregationalism Doesn’t Stop at 8 PM – Sam Emadi: “One of the great benefits of congregational polity is that it forces congregations to remember that taking responsibility for other Christians isn’t just something good for you like eating your vegetables—it’s what makes you a church. Congregationalism means the whole congregation oversees the whole life of the church, all the time.”

The Shrug that Scares Me to Death – I stand in full agreement with Trevin Wax’s horror at the apathy of so many with regard to the Planned Parenthood videos.

Organic Food, Essential Oils, and the Gospel of Grace – “If we find our conversations continually revolving around our current pet issue, it’s time to ask whether that issue has become too important in our lives. If we’re constantly passing others information about the way we eat, treat illness, or school our kids, a red flag should be raised in our minds about what we’re really putting our hope in.”

The most valuable thing the Psalms do for me is to express that same delight in God which made David dance. –C.S. Lewis

J.I. Packer and Justification


The-Structure-of-JustificationsIn prepping to teach on justification this Wednesday night in my church’s children’s catechism ministry, I have spent some time in J.I. Packer’s 18 Words. I recommend this book to new believers more than any other. Yesterday, I re-read his chapter on justification and was reminded of Packer’s great insight and clarity.

I am so eager to introduce the doctrine of  justification to the kids of First Baptist Church in East Bernstadt tomorrow night because of the peace and joy that accompany it. Justification is the path to joy in the face of suffering. Justification is the door to freedom from guilt. Justification is the road to peace amidst worry and fear.

I wanted to take some time here to share Packer’s thoughts on the meaning of justification. He later unfolds the groundmeans, and centrality of justification. What follows are some of the most complete and thorough statements on the meaning of this precious doctrine. So, if you do not know what the doctrine of justification is or are not sure how to communicate it, this post is for you.

1. Justification means to Paul God’s act of remitting the sins of, and reckoning righteousness to, ungodly sinners freely, by his grace, through faith in Christ, on the ground, not of their own works, but of the representative righteousness and redemptive, propitiatory, substitutionary blood-shedding of Jesus Christ on their behalf.

2. To ‘justify’ in the Bible means to ‘declare righteous’; to declare, that is, of a man on trial, that he is not liable to any penalty, but is entitled to all the privileges due to those who have kept the law.

3. Justification is a judgment passed on man, and a work wrought within man; God’s gift of a status and a relationship to Himself.

4. Justification is God’s fundamental act of blessing, for it saves from the past and secures for the future.

5. Justification brings peace with God (because sin is pardoned) and also hope of the glory of God (because the rights of the righteous are bestowed on the believer).

6. The gospel which proclaims God’s apparent violation of his justice is really a revelation of his justice.

7. The gospel shows a just God can justly justify believing sinners.

8. The only way in which justification can be just is for the law to be satisfied so far as the justified are concerned.

9. Sinners are justly justified on account of the obedient law-keeping and blood-shedding of Jesus Christ; and it is on this that their assurance of present and future salvation must rest.

10. Faith is not the ground of justification…Faith is rather the outstretched empty hand which received righteousness by receiving Christ.

11. Certainly, faith is the occasion and means of our justification, but Christ’s obedience, His righteousness, His propitiation for our sins, is its ground.

12. The reason why the doctrine of justification is central to the gospel is that God’s basic relationship to us as His rational creatures is that of Lawgiver and Judge, so that our standing before Him is always determined by his holy law. The sinner’s first problem, therefore, is to get right with God’s law, for until he is right with the law he cannot be right with the God whose law it is. As long as the law condemns him, true worship and fellowship with God are impossible for him. The gospel of justification, however, solves this problem by showing him how, through faith in Christ, the condemning voice of the law against him may be silenced for ever. Now he may draw near, unafraid, to worship his Maker.

–All quotes taken from Packer, 18 Words, pp. 135-142


396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church East Bernstadt. He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their son, Jude Adoniram.

Fishing With Jesus: Why Did Jesus Perform So Many Miracles?


Catch Have you ever thought about the reasons why Jesus performed his miracles? Many of us take the purpose of the miracles for granted. I think I see more pastors and Christians miss the point of Jesus’ miracles than anything else in the Gospels. Its like they turn to the Gospels and forget how to draw out the intended meaning from a text. Is the healing of a blind man really an example that Jesus provides for us to follow? Am I really supposed to walk up to people who are blind or sick and heal them? Maybe. Maybe not. But was that the primary purpose of Jesus’ healing miracles? What about Jesus’ miracle of turning water to wine? How about his divine food pantry he developed from a few fish and loaves of bread? And what about all of those fish he caught in Peter’s boat? What is the purpose in all of these miracles? Each miracle deserves its own answer, but they all carry one overarching message: Jesus Christ is the Lord God. Miracles are an attestation to God. John Frame argues that miracles attest to God’s control, authority, and covenant presence (all following quotations taken from Frame’s Systematic Theology pp. 129-131). He writes that miracles are “the result of enormous power, the power of God.” They attest to God’s total control over the world. Miracles are also “signs” that bear God’s “supreme authority.” Frame continues, “Miracles are revelation. They show the character of God, the person and work of Jesus, the blessings of redemption, and its fulfillment in the messianic banquet.” Finally, miracles are “wonders” that communicate the covenant presence of God. It creates a “religious awe, arising from the sense that God is present.” Frame concludes, “As displays of God’s control, authority, and presence, miracles may be defined as extraordinary manifestations of God’s lordship.” So, while there may be specific purposes in each miracle of Jesus, there is one overarching purpose, namely, to communicate the divine nature of Christ. Let’s take a look at one particular miracle to see this ultimate purpose. In Luke 5, Luke tells us the crowds were surrounding Jesus to “hear the word of God” (v. 1). As four fishermen were washing their nets, Jesus stepped into one of their boats to use it as a platform from which to teach the people. He sat in Simon Peter’s boat and taught the people for a while. Then, he asked Peter to do something crazy.

“And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch’” (v. 4).

Can you imagine the look on Peter’s face? Peter was an expert fisherman. Jesus was a carpenter. In Peter’s eyes, Jesus was a gifted teacher and maybe a prophet, but he was definitely a carpenter. In other words, he was not a fisherman, yet he was telling a fisherman to take his boat to a certain spot on the lake to catch some fish. Jesus was asking a man who had spent all night on the sea without catching one fish, who probably hadn’t gotten much sleep, to take him out to sea and throw out his newly cleaned nets to catch fish that probably were not there. Insane, right?! But something about Jesus must have caught Peter’s attention. He replied, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets” (v. 5). Peter is saying, “Look, we are expert fishermen and we didn’t catch anything all night. But, out of respect to you, I will take you out to see what we can do.” When Jesus took Peter and Andrew out to sea, he gives them the fishing tale of a lifetime.

“And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink” (vv. 6-7).

Not only did they catch a few fish, but they caught so many fish that the fishermen’s boats began to sink from the weight of the fish in the nets. Now these boats were not small. They were likely around seven feet wide and twenty-seven feet long. This was a catch that even Peter and his partners had never seen before. It just wasn’t natural. It was a miracle. Now what is the purpose in this miracle? Why did Jesus do this? Later, we will see a specific purpose, that Jesus was teaching them about the nature of salvation and what he is going to empower them to do. But the ultimate purpose found in this and every other miracle is that Jesus is shouting with full clarity: “I am God!” Jesus had just demonstrated his great power and authority. He showed that he is in control of nature and creatures. While professional fishermen could not catch one fish, Jesus goes to basically the same spot and caught thousands of fish. He was able to do this not because he was a gifted fisherman, but because he is God! Only God could show this kind of power over nature. When God rescued his people from Egypt, he sent ten plagues. All of them showed that he was in control over nature, life, and even death. He sent swarms of frogs, gnats, and locusts. Jesus was not just showing himself to be a carpenter who was a good teacher. He was showing himself to be God in the flesh who has power and authority over nature. The problem with many pastors’ hermeneutics is that they are to self-centered. They focus the point of the story or miracle on the people they are preaching to. Instead of seeking to communicate what the passage communicates about God, they use the passage to say, “This is about you!” What typically follows is some bland and disingenuous call for service in this-or-that project or ministry. The point of Jesus’ miracle catch is not, “We need to go where the fish are!” but, “This Jesus is the Lord God who rescues us from sin and death!” We should see in Jesus’ fishing miracle that he is God in the flesh, the Lord over all creation. If even the frogs and fish obey his command, then surely his people should do whatever it takes to obey his command as well. The catching of fish depended on Jesus’ word. Obeying Jesus, pleasing God, and leading others to salvation in Christ all depend on Jesus’ word too. Even better than a phony fishing tale or a Christian’s poor interpretation, Luke tells us the true story of Jesus catching thousands of fish to show us that this Fisherman is God.


396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church East Bernstadt. He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their dog, Simba.

Does God Love All Sinners?


ask-question-1-ff9bc6fa5eaa0d7667ae7a5a4c61330cThis question originated from a young Christian girl in the children’s ministry I lead. At First Baptist Church, East Bernstadt, we encourage our children to ask difficult questions. Then, we answer them as best we can. The last thing we want is to limit the heart and mind of a child. Doubts only slip into unbelief when they are ignored. So, instead of shunning doubts, we welcome them. We do not have all the answers, but our desire is to be open about any concern about life, death, Christianity, the Bible, God, Jesus, or whatever else.

The girl that asked this question has been thinking a lot about eternity, and she has taught me to think more about eternity than I currently do. Her question comes from this conundrum in her mind: “If God loves everybody exactly the same way, then why do some people go to heaven, but others go to hell?” If God does love everyone in exactly the same way, then his love is no good for those in hell. So, if there is a difference in the result of the love, isn’t it possible that there is a difference in the way God loves. This girl is questioning the nature of God’s love (in a good and healthy way). Is it as simple as we present it to children–“God loves all the children of the earth!” Or, is God’s love a little more complex than that?

From Hate to Love

First, before we can fully appreciate and grasp the nature of God’s love for us, we must first realize another biblical truth. The Bible tells us that God hates sinners. What?! Yes, you read that right. God hates sinners. Don’t take my word for it. Take God’s: “The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers” (Ps. 5:5). The Bible doesn’t say that God just hates evil, he hates the one who does evil as well. Psalm 11:5 says, “The Lord tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.” God doesn’t just hate wickedness, he hates the wicked one as well.

You see, it is not just my sin that God hates, it is me that God hates. This makes us uncomfortable. In fact, it was a little hard to write. But is this because it is an unfair treatment of God’s nature, or is it because we are so filled with pride that we cannot begin to see ourselves as deserving of hate? We have done evil by elevating ourselves above God. We have done wickedly by breaking God’s law and seeking satisfaction in everything but him.

It is so, so important to know that God hates you first, so that you can begin to understand his great love for you. If God did not hate you in your sin, his love for you in Christ would mean nothing. Jesus did not die for sin. He died for sinners! The tremendous hatred of God for sinners and the tremendous love of God for sinners collide in the cross of Christ. So, God hates all sinners in this sense.

God’s General Love for Sinners

But thank God the Bible does not stop there. The Bible also teaches us that God loves all sinners in a general way. Jesus puts it this way: “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:45). In James we see that “every good and perfect gift comes down from above . . . from the father of lights” (Jam. 1:17). Historically and theologically, this has been called common grace. Theologian John Calvin once said in The Institutes of the Christian Religion,

“[L]et that admirable light of truth shining in them teach us that the mind of man, though fallen and perverted from its wholeness, is nevertheless clothed and ornamented with God’s excellent gifts” (Book II.2.15).

God even loves those who will never repent and believe in Jesus in this general way. He cares for their basic needs by allowing even the most evil people to have families, friends, food, and shelter. He gives them abilities to play beautiful music. He gives them knowledge to discover mathematical and scientific truths about the world. This means that even though some people clearly do not believe in Jesus, they are still loved by God in his provision for them and allowance of good gifts. No one can claim that their abilities originated with them. Every good thing that anyone has is the gift of God’s general love or common grace.

Special Love for Not-So-Special People

However, the Bible also does not stop there, thank God. God also loves some sinners in a special way. This is not because they are more special themselves. Quite the contrary. The testimony of the Bible is that “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). In spite of how not-so-special we are, God loves some sinners in a special way. It is because he is especially gracious in sending his Son to die. For those sinners who repent and believe in Jesus, God loves in a special way.

This means that he not only gives them good gifts like family, friends, and food, he gives them the greatest gift of all, himself. It is from this special love that sinners are adopted as sons and daughters of the King of the universe. “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirsheirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:16-17). God loves his children in a special way, which is more than the general love that he shows to all sinners. We are not only given the ability to create or write or play music, we are given the eternal kingdom of God.

Certainly God’s love for those who are in Christ is greater and more special and specific than for those who are dead in their sin. The pivotal question here becomes, “What is the key to eternal destination? Grace or ability?” If we answer with “grace,” then we can see God’s love in both general and special terms. If we answer with “ability,” then we can see that God’s love is the same for all, but eternal destiny is up to our own abilities. I praise God the Bible seems to indicate the former. God loves some sinners in a special way, not as a result of their ability, but as a demonstration of his grace.

Here is a simple and imperfect illustration I hope helps you understand. I love all children. I would do anything I could to care for a child in need. However, I will love my child in a special way. I will do more for him than I would for children that are not my own. It is the same with God. God loves his children in a special way and will do for them eternally more than he will for those that are not his own in Christ.


396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church East Bernstadt. He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their dog, Simba.

Throwback Thursday: Jonathan Edwards on the Suffering of Christ


christ-on-crossI have often heard fellow Christians say that when they need a good reminder of God’s love or the sacrifice of Christ, they watch a movie like The Passion of the Christ. “Whenever I watch Jesus suffer the way he did, it reminds me of just how much God loves me,” they say. Reenactments of the crucifixion are graphic and realistic (as realistic as possible) depictions of the means of the salvation of the world. When we see the blood and the brutality, we have before our eyes a semblance of the physical suffering of Christ.

I will not deny that watching The Passion of the Christ is emotionally moving. I will also agree that Christians need to be reminded of God’s love for sinners often. However, watching a movie will not even begin to scratch the surface on the sufferings of Christ.

There is a common error in the minds of many Christians regarding the suffering of Christ. They think that Jesus’ physical death was far worse than any other death in the history of the world. It is said that no one physically suffered the way Jesus did on the cross. And so, when they need a reminder of God’s love, they reflect on the physical sufferings of Christ.

But the reality is that there have been deaths in the history of the world that were worse than the death of Christ, physically speaking. Countless believers throughout history have been burned at the stake, drowned, and mutilated. Even recently we have seen 21 Egyptian Christians beheaded for their faith in Christ. So, Jesus’ death was not necessarily the most brutal or worst death in history. Tim Keller even makes the point that “there have been far more excruciating and horrible deaths that martyrs have faced with far greater confidence and calmness” (The Reason for God, 28). But why is this the case?

The physical sufferings of the cross, while great, pale in comparison to the spiritual suffering of the cross. It was not the physical pain of whips and nails that led Jesus to weep and groan in the garden of Gethsemane. Instead it was anticipation of a far greater suffering that was to come. Jesus, the Son of God, was not only about to bear the wrath of man through crucifixion, he was about to bear the wrath of God through taking the punishment we deserve. Keller observes, “Jesus’ sufferings would have been eternally unbearable” because in his death he lost the “infinite love of the Father that Jesus had from all eternity” (The Reason for God, 29).

The physical pain and suffering of Christ was nothing compared to his experience of his Father’s abandonment. No one captures this better than the great theologian Jonathan Edwards. He is abundantly clear on the importance on distinguishing between the physical and spiritual sufferings of Christ on the cross.

The sufferings which Christ endured in his body on the cross…were yet the least part of his last sufferings…If it had been only the sufferings which he endured in his body, though they were very dreadful, we cannot conceive that the mere anticipation of them would have such an effect on Christ. Many of the martyrs have endured as severe tortures in their bodies as Christ did…yet their souls have not been so overwhelmed (“Christ’s Agony” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 2).

While it is possible for people to suffer the way Christ suffered physically, it is impossible for any of us to suffer as much as Christ did spiritually. He essentially experienced hell for all who would believe in him.

So, if you are a Christian who needs reminded of God’s love, look to the cross. If you are struggling to reconcile God’s love with your own suffering, look to the cross. In the cross, God himself suffered in the place of sinners like you and me. This puts his tremendous love and experience of suffering on full display, not because he died the most gruesome physical death of all time, but because in his death he bore the full wrath of God, which is the most excruciating form of suffering.


396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church East Bernstadt. He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their dog, Simba.

Remembering the Gospel with Machen


Gospel-Title-Slide-960x5461Last Sunday I emphasized in my sermon to the children of our church the fact that in order to stand in defense of the gospel, we must treasure the gospel. We guard most what we treasure most. I attempted to portray the gospel in words that show how truly satisfying the message of God’s salvation of sinners is.

We also discussed how we lose sight of everything in our lives when we lose sight of the gospel. This is why Paul wrote his first letter to Timothy. In order to guard the gospel, we must keep our gaze on the Christ and his gospel. One way to do that is to remind yourself of the gospel. I gave the kids a basic outline of the gospel and challenged them to read it throughout the week.

One of the many things I love about preaching is that through the proclamation of the Word, the Holy Spirit applies it even to the heart of the one preaching. As I continue to read through J. Gresham Machen’s What is Faith?, I came across an eloquent and beautiful explanation of the gospel. It stirred my heart and has compelled me to more intentionally apply the gospel to my life. Sometimes just sitting and seeing the good news play out before your eyes can cause your heart to sore in worship of Jesus.

Machen, in the tradition of Luther and Calvin, has a unique gift for showing just how dreadful the condition as sinners really is before God, which he uses to display the glory of God’s grace in the gospel. Machen had a high view of the law and he emphasized the necessity of not only the existential reality of Jesus of Nazareth, but also the biblical message of what his life, death, and resurrection actually mean. You will see all of this and more in Machen’s extensive and beautiful exposition of the gospel. It is a bit lengthy, but well worth the effort to work through. The last paragraph is just a straight gospel-bomb that will rock your world. Be encouraged by the gospel in the words of Machen today.

“How shall we become right with God? The most obvious answer is: ‘By obeying the law of God, by being what God wants us to be.’ There is absolutely nothing wrong in theory about that answer; the only trouble is that for us it does not work. If we had obeyed the law of God, if we were what God wants us to be, all would no doubt be well; we could approach the judgment seat of God and rely simply upon His just recognition of the facts. But, alas, we have not obeyed God’s law, but have transgressed it in thought, word and deed; and far from being what God wants us to be, we are stained and soiled with sin.

The stain is not merely on the surface; it is not a thing that can easily be wiped off; but it permeates the recesses of our souls. And the clearer be our understanding of God’s law, the deeper becomes our despair. Some men seek a refuge from condemnation in a low view of the law of God; they limit the law to external commands, and by obeying those commands they hope to buy God’s favour. But the moment a man gains a vision of the law as it is—especially as it is revealed in the words and example of Jesus—at that moment he knows that he is undone. If our being right with God depends upon anything that is in us, we are without hope.

Another way, however, has been opened into God’s presence; and the opening of that way is set forth in the gospel. We deserved eternal death; we deserved exclusion from the household of God; but the Lord Jesus took upon Himself all the guilt of our sins and died instead of us on the cross. Henceforth the law’s demands have been satisfied for us by Christ, its terror for us is gone, and clothed no longer in our righteousness but in the righteousness of Christ we stand without fear, as Christ would stand without fear, before the judgment seat of God” (What is Faith?, 163-165).


396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church East Bernstadt. He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their dog, Simba. You can follow him on Twitter @Mat_Gilbert.