Discipling New Believers – what to read first

For new believers with little exposure to the Bible, it can be one overwhelming book. I recently came across this ordered list of suggestions for reading the four gospels. It has much good reasoning.

Start reading the Gospels ONLY… preferably in this order:

(1) Luke, (2) Mark, (3) Matthew, (4) John

Why that order?

Luke, (like that new believer), never met or saw Jesus in the flesh. His account is “closest” to where that new believer’s feet are. Luke is like a “reporter”, repeating the events witnessed by the disciples and (according to a number of scholars), Jesus’ mother, Mary and John (the Apostle) her companion. The Gospel of Luke is descriptive and truthful in the telling of what Jesus did, what He said, and how He taught. Everything is there… the teachings, the parables, the private conversations, the healing, the triumphs and horrors. But there is little “sophisticated theology” or “flights of divine intimacy” in it. Like the Goldilocks/Three Bears story, Luke is a great start because it is neither “too shallow” nor “too deep” for the beginning swimmer.

Mark next. Why? Mark’s Gospel was once described to me as “the travelogue of Jesus”. There is a hurried, breathless quality to it. An excitement to it. “And then we went there, and then He said this, and then He met them, and then this miracle happened….. And then we went there, and then He said this, and then they came, and then He did this…” repeat, repeat, repeat. The divinity of Christ comes to the fore, the authority and Godhead of Christ is made observable… along with a repeated theme of “but Jesus said, ‘don’t tell anybody about Me, yet!’” (which was consistently disobeyed). The water runs a bit faster with this Gospel… skills, balance, breath control, and strength are built swimming in this stream.

Matthew next. Why? Matthew has ever been special to me. No one, but Paul later, deals so well with integrating the New Testament Jesus with the Old Testament Messiah. Matthew, as a tax-collector, was a pariah to his community. “Respectable folk” wouldn’t walk on the same side of the street as he, nor eat where he was eating, nor even sit on a chair he had occupied. And yet, when he wrote his Gospel, he did it in Hebrew! (All the others in Greek). His love for Israel, his dedication to the good news of their Redeemer, their Messiah, the fulfillment of ALL the prophecies, cries out from every page of this Gospel.

Matthew misses no opportunity to integrate the prophets with Jesus’ ministry. I suspect no heart in Israel knew more joy ever, than the day Matthew was called into the Company of the Savior… for I believe he loved Israel, and the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob… with all his heart. The water gets deeper here, the Old Testament, the prophets, the history, begin to weave into the threads of Jesus’ day to day life. The new believer watches the Old Testament light up in its foreshadowing and preparation for the coming of Jesus. Deeper water, yet manageable currents.

And LAST, let us come to the Gospel of John! He was the youngest of the disciples. He had the “least to unlearn” as Jesus taught him. He went everywhere (nearly) with Jesus, and he was one of the “faith choir” Jesus took with Him when a miracle required much faith. John’s experience of Jesus, the intimacy of it, the depth of it, the understanding of it… was unlike anything we can imagine. John puts the reader on notice from the very first line… that they’d best strap in, ’cause it’s gonna be quite a ride… John’s head was far more Greek than Israeli! He flows with concepts of “essence”, “ideal”, “accident”… with the mutability of words as essence and essence as words, like a tadpole in a pond!  I mean, seriously… look at the very FIRST PARAGRAPH!

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. 5 The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.”

Seriously? SERIOUSLY? Scholars are STILL debating how to understand all that, and it’s been two millennia!

John saw directly into the Divine! Jesus got to him young enough that when Jesus said “here’s how you do this… here’s how you SEE… here’s how you PRAY…”, John didn’t have to shake his head, walk away, and say… “Gosh, that’s not what Rabbi Nicodemus said… I wonder which is right?” John just believed Jesus, tried it, and found that it WORKED! Hoorah! John learned meditation and contemplation before he could probably SHAVE! So… the Gospel he wrote, is filled with the insight, the recollections, the perspectives he recalls from his embrace as the “disciple most loved” (i.e. the disciple most capable of experiencing love)… Therefore, his Gospel is the most “ethereal”, the most “contemplative”, the most “mystical”.

Also, as an interesting aside, his “recall” of Jesus’ words… his specificity on key discourses, is often the most detailed. (For a “mystic”, the words spoken by God Himself, are often “graven into” the mind in a way that remains crystal clear for decades. Folks often think it’s a “memory thing”. It’s not… it’s a “prayer thing”.)

Anyway, John’s Gospel is deep water, whirlpools, waterspouts, and a good bit of flying thrown in. Only when a believer has anchored him/herself securely into their relationship with Jesus… will these celestial contemplative sections of John sort themselves out. (Of course, no one comes to “harm” reading in any part of the Gospels! Jesus’ Spirit is so there, all the time, to take them in hand. But they’ll just be “confused” when they’re way over their heads.)

https://churchsetfree.wordpress.com/2016/02/06/discipling-and-new-believers/

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The blessed and God-breathed Book (2 Timothy 3:16)

GodBreathed_slide1x_365_y_273This is one of the most breath-taking Three Sixteens, one which you may have already committed to memory. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 is that great statement of assurance about the Bible, the God-breathed book we build our faith upon.

“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 competent, equipped for every good work.” (ESV)

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.” (NLT)

I recently read through 2 Timothy with a friend, over several weeks and many great coffees! The whole letter is a call to persevere in the faith, despite persecutions and difficult people. These are (possibly) Paul’s parting and most important words. He wants Timothy to stick to the truth of the Scriptures, which he’d been taught from his earliest days. (For Timothy this would mean the Old Testament scriptures as well as the teachings of the apostles.) There are so many treasures in this 3:16 (and 17), but I’ll focus on just three points:

1. The Word is God-breathed:  Just as we speak with our actual breath, which forms and carries the sounds of our words, so it is with God’s breath. He has exhaled these words, he has breathed them into the minds and hearts of people who have faithfully written them down, carried along by the Holy Spirit who always does the Father’s will. How else could this extraordinary book, penned by so many authors across millenia, have such consistency and unity of message? This is His Word to us and he has ensured that his breath, his voice, will continue to be heard as we await the return of Christ, the Word of God.

I love what Peter Blowes says about the way the words of the omnipresent and eternal God apply across all time and space:
“. . . God had every reader of Holy Scripture in mind at the time of its ‘exhalation’. This means not only that God’s word is inspired and universally applicable, but also that, in it, God is speaking presently to every particular reader (or hearer) of his Word.”
(2011, “Reading the Bible”, Matthias Minizine). 

This leads to my second point.

2. Reading the Word is the most profitable thing we can do.
More than the early morning coffee, jog, paper, news update, more than crossing things off our to do list, more than any amount of television viewing, study or social media, more than relaxing with the family, more than making money .  . . investing in the Word of God is THE most profitable thing we can do. The world shouts at us, calling for our attention, telling us that those ancient words are dead, irrelevant and useless. But as we immerse ourselves more and more in his Word we understand why reading it is the most profitable thing we can do. By reading we come to know our immortal, invisible, all wise, good and gracious God. The Spirit works in us and we grow in confidence of his power, his might and the reality of his work in our world and hearts. We grow in the certainty of our salvation won in Christ.

3. The Word is wonderfully sufficient, equipping us for every good work.
The Bible equips us not by containing enough lists of do’s and don’ts to train us how to do good in every situation. This is the world’s view of the “good book”, but it shouldn’t be ours. Christ has fulfilled the law. Instead the Word of God equips us by making us more like Christ – who is entirely and always about the Father’s good work. The Word changes us from the inside out and drives our behaviour. This behaviour becomes good work, good fruit (like those good works prepared in advance for us, which Paul described in Ephesians 2:8-10). John Piper explains well:
Bearing fruit in “every good work” (see Colossians 1:10 ) means that it comes out on the branches of your life naturally from something that has changed inside. And what has changed is that you are dead to the law as a set of lists to constrain from the outside, and are now united to Jesus Christ in a relationship of joyful trust so that when he speaks—even speaks some of that same law—it comes from within as the desire of your heart. . . .The Scripture, day after day, reveals to us the greatness and the beauty and the power and the wisdom and the mercy of all that God is for us in Christ so that by the power of the Spirit we find our joy in him, and the ways of sin become distasteful—indeed ugly and repugnant. Yes the Bible gives us many specifics as pointers how to live. But most deeply the way the Bible equips us for every good work is by changing what we find satisfaction in so that our obedience comes from within freely, not by coercion from without. It does this when we read it and meditate on it and memorize it and meditate over it every day.” (John Piper from Desiring God)

You may also enjoy:
Sharing the rich, indwelling Word               Sharing the perspicuity of God’s gracious Word
bible-28

Wake up and See the Glory

Recently I posted my thoughts on the problem I see with people so addicted to the small screen that they almost miss the wonder of living in a wonderful world full of amazing 3D people! (Is your Smart phone making you dumb?) Steven Curtis Chapman wrote in a similar vein in the song “See the Glory” except that he speaks of the tragedy of missing God’s amazing grace: “The wonder of his grace should take my breath away, I miss so many things when I’m content with playing gameboy sitting in the middle of the grandcanyon. . . “

steven-curtis-chapman-declaration-lyrics-4a1cNow while it would seem ridiculous to literally play your gameboy in the grand canyon, I’m sure it has been reality for some parents with bored kids on holiday. But figuratively speaking we all have plenty of distractions and thoughts and habits that prevent us from being truly in awe at the grace of a loving God who would lay down His life for us!  Sometimes I have ‘awoken’ with a start as I realised that I was treating the grace of God so lightly! Though I have the privilege of reading the bible in my language, of sharing with Christ’s Body and witnessing the work of the Spirit transforming the lives of people around me – I sometimes forget the AMAZING nature of what I see. I almost forget the wonder of my own salvation, that I am a citizen of heaven, a co-heir with Christ. Only by the renewing of my mind in His word can I come back to that point of wonder once more. (Romans 12:2) Oh, that we would let God’s word wake us up, daily, to see the glory of His work in the world, and in us.

SEE THE GLORY

I never did like the word mediocre, I never wanted it to be said of me, oh, no
Just point me to the job and I’d go over, over, Looking for the very best that could be

So what is this thing I see going on inside of me?
When it comes to the grace of God sometimes it’s like

I’m playing Gameboy standing in the middle of the Grand Canyon
I’m eating candy sittin’ at a gourmet feast
I’m wading in a puddle when I could be swimming in the ocean
Tell me what’s the deal with me, wake up and see the glory

Ever star in the sky tells his story, And every breeze is singing his song
All of creation is imploring: Hey, come see this grand phenomenon
The wonder of his grace should take my breath away
I miss so many things when I’m content with playing

Gameboy standing in the middle of the Grand Canyon
Or eating candy sittin’ at a gourmet feast
Or wading in a puddle when I could be swimming in the ocean
I know the time has come for me to, wake up and see the glory
Wake up and see the glory

How could I trivialize it
This awesome gift of Gods grace?
Once I have come to realize it
I should be speechless and amazed

Wake up and see the glory
Open your eyes and take it in
Wake up and be amazed
Over and over again

Songwriters Caleb Chapman;Steven Curtis Chapman [Ephesians 1: 18; 2 Corinthians 4: 6, 6: 1]
Album: “Declaration” (2001)

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Angels long to understand the story of grace           An unwasted life makes much of Jesus
angel starall things new

Love affair with the secular worldview?

Christ has wonPlanning today for songs to share with those who attend the intensive CMS Summer School at Mt Tamborine in January 2014. The theme is Christ’s Victory, specifically in the book of Revelation. I have been having a meeting with myself at a coffee shop and the level of agreement is quite remarkable!

One of the speakers for the conference is federal Secretary of CMS Australia, Peter Rodgers. At a recent speaking engagement, he shared some words which stand as a challenge to my comfortable, middle-class Aussie, Christian outlook. He suggests that Christians have a love affair with the secular worldview: “Australian Christians often value exactly the same things non-Christians value. They prioritise their own comforts over the gospel and consequently have a low commitment to global mission. The antidote to this is to help people develop a biblical worldview. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the central message of the bible. If people put Jesus and the gospel at the centre of their lives then mission will receive the attention it deserves.” from SMBC news winter 2013 issue 29. 

The sad thing about these words is the extent to which I know they are true – for me, and most other Christians I know. But is it any wonder considering the amount of time we spend soaking ourselves in the worldview of the world’s media? (Read more on this here.) Oh that we would soak our minds more in the truths of God’s Word and keep the gospel at the centre of our lives.

‘Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.’ Romans 12:2

And in case you are curious, here are some of the songs I have selected to go with the Revelation/Christ’s victory theme: All I have is Christ (Sovereign Grace), Behold the Lamb (Communion Hymn – Getty), Beautiful Saviour (Stuart Townend), Come Hear the Angels Sing (EMU), Crown Him with Many Crowns (Hymn), Glorious Day (Casting Crowns), Grace has now appeared (EMU), Hail the Day (EMU), Hope of the Nations (Doerksen), It is Well (Todd Fields), Jesus Thankyou (Sovereign Grace), Let Your Kingdom Come (Sov Grace), Majesty of Heaven (Tomlin), No Other Name (Trevor Hodge), See Him Coming (EMU), We Belong to the Day (Michael Morrow).

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On being persistent, creative and sacrificial to bring people to Christ
jesusparalytic

Big God Words for kids of all sizes

Col BColin Buchanan is a pretty clever guy. I’m not sure how many of you from the USA or UK know much about him, but he has been producing fun and biblically true kids songs for around two decades. He is very well known here in Australia, not just for his kids music, but also as a Country singer and presenter on kids TV.
This is just one example of how Colin’s songs teach the great doctrines of God in a really catchy way. Though some people steer away from teaching the big words of the Bible, Colin makes clear the meaning of words like propitiation, substitution, salvation, justification and redemption to name but a few. All these words reveal the awesome grace God has shown us in sending Jesus! Enjoy.

Big Words That End in “Shun”

CHORUS
Big words that end in SHUN!
Show us what the Lord has DUN!
Through Jesus, His own SUN!
Big words, Big words that end in SHUN!

Revelat-SHUN! God shows Himself to us
Substitut-SHUN! Jesus takes our place
Salva-SHUN! Sinners saved from hell
Big words, Big words that end in SHUN…

CHORUS

Propitia-SHUN! God’s anger turned away
Justifica-SHUN! Just like we’d never sinned
Imputat-SHUN! Jesus’righteousness is mine
Big words, Big words that end in SHUN!

CHORUS

Resurrect-SHUN! Raised from death to life
Redemp-SHUN! Sinners bought by God
Adopt-SHUN! Sinners made God’s sons
Big words, Big words that end in SHUN!

http://colinbuchanan.com.au/releases/super-saviour/

Click HERE for a link to the sheet music and a Sunday School Lesson plan which I found.

The blessings of explaining your faith

discipline-of-evangelism-sharing-the-good-newsI have been working through the course Christianity Explained* with a new friend over the past few months. She came to our church because she has seen the huge changes Jesus made in the life of her adult son, and wanted to know what it was all about!
Now I must say, it can be a scary thing when you realise you are the first person to explain to someone who Jesus is and what he has done. You think you will say the wrong thing or put them off, and damage their only hope of knowing peace with God!  But then you remember that God works through His Spirit and His Word (and us) despite our abilities or inabilities. You just have to keep resting on this knowledge and move forward. God worked in my own stubborn heart (and yours I trust) so that I would come to a point of repentance and faith. . . and He will keep drawing people to Himself in this way until Jesus returns! Softening hearts to the Gospel is something only God can do. Let’s trust Him to do it. And just keep explaining it as best we can. (Apart from all this, Christianity Explained is a really easy course to use, where the Bible and the course booklet explain everything simply and well. You can check out the summary of the course at the end of this post, with links for where to buy the resources.)

It is such a privilege to be explaining Christianity to someone – not just because of the earthly and eternal benefits involved for them – but also for growing your own faith. I have been challenged and refreshed in going carefully over the basics again, looking deeply into Mark’s Gospel and being confronted by Jesus up close! I see anew his character, his humour, love, compassion and his determination to fulfill his rescue mission for all people, even for those who despised him. He showed people such grace and such patience, dealing with crowds who really just wanted to see a show – crowds that made it difficult for those who had real faith in Him to get close. He lived for three years with a group of men who almost understood who he was, yet showed great lack of faith at times and were probably quite annoying! (a bit like me).

I have also been challenged by the way my friend has been so keen to share with her friends the things that she has been learning about Christian beliefs, particularly the difference between salvation by works and salvation by grace! She realises that GRACE is so totally opposite to the message the media portrays of do-gooder Christians who are trying to make it to heaven!

So can I encourage you if you are a Christian, to keep explaining the Gospel as much as you can . . . not just in the quick hit evangelism format (which is often very useful) but in the more relaxed teaching-style format of this course (or something similar). It gives people plenty of time to think and process what they are being told, and for God to challenge them personally through His Word. It also means you grow a close relationship with someone else who gets to know you, over time, and see how your belief makes a difference in your life.

Don’t miss out on sharing that moment of awe, when someone sees God’s amazing grace for the first time! It is such an encouragement to see God working, challenging someone in what they know and believe about the Son of God who died for them. Whether or not they become a Christian in the end – well that is up to God (and I pray that may be so) – the encouragement and growth gained along the way is certainly worth the journey.

* * *

*CchristianityExplained_coverhristianity Explained is a great short course which in 6 sessions takes you through the basics of what Christians believe and who they are. The course, developed by Michael Bennett, has been widely used in Australia and internationally for several decades. Each session takes about 45mins to an hour to complete, depending on how many questions your person wants to ask and discuss. It is based on the gospel of Mark, which course participants read at home in small segments for the duration of the course. It is a great tool for clearly and fully explaining the Gospel – one to one, or in a group setting. The 6 sessions focus on the meaning of:
1. Jesus, Son of God
2. The Cross
3. The Resurrection
4. Salvation by Grace
5. Repent
6. Believe

Check out the course here at The Good Book (US) or Koorong Books (Australia).

No wonder there is no wonder

Yesterday I found these words scrawled on an old crumbly piece of paper in the bottom of my filing cabinet: (from Max Lucado, In the Grip of Grace – 1996, p15.)
The loss of mystery has led to the loss of majesty
The more we know the less we believe.
No wonder there is no wonder.
We think we have figured it all out.
Strange, don’t you think?
Knowledge of the workings shouldn’t negate the wonder.
Knowledge should stir wonder.
Who has more reason to worship than the astronomer who has seen the stars?
Than the surgeon who has held a heart?
Than the oceanographer who has pondered the depths”.

Now there was a reason I copied those words by hand from Lucado’s book quite a while ago. I was probably wanting to be reminded that the heavens declare the glory of God, that day after day creation pours forth speech about our Maker (Psalm 19). I wanted to be challenged not to allow my understanding of the universe, by virtue of my education, to deny me the pleasure of “wondering” at God’s ultimate creativity.

But the reason I am sharing them today is slightly different. Since I’ve being doing a few theological subjects lately, these words got me thinking about the wonder of our salvation, and the “danger” of theological study. When approached as a purely academic exercise, Bible students can easily lose some of the wonder of the Cross. The greatness of God, and the immensity of His grace to us in Christ, can become smaller in our eyes because we think we understand it! Worse still we can become proud of our ability to wrap our brains around the mystery of Christ. In some ways this is also the lot of a composer or professional musician who cannot enjoy the wonder of the symphony for their awareness of all the notes!

Then as I was thinking these thoughts, and preparing to wrestle with revising Numbers and Deuteronomy today, I read a great post on this very dilemma over at Mere Inkling (where C.S. Lewis’ thoughts are explored regularly) a post entitled Theological Training.

Here is how it begins: “I’m proud I graduated from a well-respected seminary. And I’m proud of following that Master of Divinity degree with an advanced Master of Theology degree in Patristics. And that’s precisely the problem . . . I’m proud. As a Christian, I recognize that pride is one of the most destructive and insidious sins. . .” Read more

As I do my own study today I pray that God will keep from me the sin of pride in understanding Him, and focus my thoughts instead on the grace that I am called His child. (Actually, writing this post has helped greatly with that!)

Saved by a violent grace

“So ruthless, He loves us,
So reckless His embrace

To show relentless kindness,
To a hardened human race

The joy that was before Him
On the Man of Sorrows face,
And by His blood He bought a violent grace”

Many years ago some great ministry friends introduced me to a writer of very “deep” and challenging Christian songs, Michael Card. And I had almost forgotten him until the other day! Now why did I remember him, you ask? At the moment I am studying for an exam, a “big picture” Bible overview subject and I really need to get some memory verses and concepts stuck in my head, about how Christ fulfills all the OT law and prophets. So then I thought, Hebrews! Great book for explaining that. This was quickly followed by my recollection that Michael Card’s “Soul Anchor” album is the book of Hebrews in song (just about).

“A Violent Grace” (quoted above and below) is Track 1. So passionately does it remind us that God’s grace was no stroll in the park! Jesus was the high priest who sacrificed Himself. His love was (and is) ruthless! He showed the ultimate kindness and grace to the hardened human race that despised Him. Yet the joy set before Him held the Man of Sorrows to the Cross. And what was this joy? (Hebrews 12:2)
“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (NIV)
“We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.” (NLT)

What was this joy? I suppose there was the joy of sitting on the Throne. But moreso, we are His joy! We are His reward. His death saved a people. All those the Father gave Him can never be snatched from His hand by the power of His death and resurrection. (John 10:28-29) We are God’s chosen people, recipients of immense and violent grace.
No wonder the message of the Cross is so offensive to so many.
But for us being saved it is the power of God!

A Violent Grace (Michael Card, 2001)

A mural of memories moves by in a blur
His prayers all seem unanswered and unheard
His pleading petitions, his loud cries and tears
A last reprieve will simply not appear
So ruthless, He loves us, So reckless His embrace
To show relentless kindness, To a hardened human race
The joy that was before Him
On the Man of Sorrows face
And by His blood He bought a violent grace
Most willing of victims, And with His final breath
Destroyed the one who holds the power of death
The hate heaped upon Him, scorning all the shame
But all for love He died and overcame

In all of time no one had ever heard
And to the world the thought seemed so absurd
Beyond their wildest dreams no one could ever tell
Of a high priest who would sacrifice Himself

The LORD is my light and my salvation…(2)

An interesting way to think about “hiding God’s word” in our heart – and why it is important to do that. This blog “Singing in Babylon” is a good one; it’s all about Psalms, about how we, who are living in “Babylon”, as it were, can be encouraged by this ancient book of poetry/song. Enjoy!

Singing in Babylon

‘My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face, LORD, I will seek.’ Psalm 27:8.

Is it just a prejudice that comes with living in the 21st century that I have such difficulty thinking of David, living 3000 years ago, as a man so acutely self-aware in the presence of his LORD?

Even with the differences between us on a cultural level (David never drove a car or wore a suit and tie; he never had a ‘Facebook’ page or ‘blogged’ a single line, and his taste in music was so ‘Old Testament’) the similarity in his songs with what goes on in my heart when I am confronted by God amazes as well as comforts me.

Threatened with powerful enemies, this man whom the LORD described as one ‘after my own heart’ could look within himself, into his heart and find the way to meet…

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The Grace that breaks in and saves

“The Bible’s purpose is not so much to show you how to live a good life. The Bible’s purpose is to show you how God’s grace breaks into your life against your will and saves you from the sin and brokenness that otherwise you would never be able to overcome….Religion is ‘if you obey then you will be accepted.’ But the Gospel is ‘if you are absolutely accepted, and sure that you are accepted, only then will you ever begin to obey’. Those are two utterly different things. Every page of the Bible shows the difference.”
Tim Keller.