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The Christian job description

When I was a young seminary student, I had to read an extensive commentary by a Dutch theologian. I had never studied Dutch writing before, and I really struggled to understand the syntax. I asked an older student for help, and he directed me to an annotated outline of another theologian who had dissected the work of my Dutch theologian. But when I picked up this outline, I discovered it was longer and more complex than the original work I was studying! Keeping it simple During my years of academic study and pastoral ministry, I've found that it's natural for us to overcomplicate the stunningly simple faith to which we've been called. Is theology and doctrine important? Of course it is – I would never minimize its value – but I think we've interpreted the Christian life as more complex than the Bible describes. Today, I want to go back to the basics. I'm not suggesting that we do anything radical, like trash all our commentaries, but I just want to read Scripture verse by verse and see what it says about the way we're supposed to live. The text that I love to go back to again and again is 1 Peter 2:11-12. Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (ESV) How are Christians supposed to live? There are three key attributes to what I call "The Christian job description." 1. Exist as aliens "Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles..." A sojourner is one on a journey or pilgrimage, moving towards a final destination and temporarily pausing at a location. An exile is a person residing in a location that's not his or her original and desired homeland. That's me and you. This earth is not where we, as Christians, should call home. Eternity is our home. Forever is coming. But here's the problem: you and I have grown too comfortable in our temporary home. We like the materialism and pleasure-orientation of Western culture. We measure success by the square footage of our house, the number of options on our luxury vehicle, the size of our retirement package, the quality of our cuisine and the letters after our name. If we want to live like true, Biblical Christians, we'll live like aliens. That doesn't mean we'll be anti-social and live in monasteries, but we'll exist with a different set of values. We'll think long-term – 10,000 years into eternity long term. Our good days will be good days because the Kingdom of God is advancing, not because we're experiencing a little more temporary pleasure than yesterday. Are you living like an alien? Do you wake up every morning and long for Forever? Or have you grown too comfortable in this temporary sojourn? 2. Fight as soldiers "Abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul..." I don't know if you feel it or not, but there's a war of desire raging on the turf of your soul every day. Whether it's in your marriage, with your kids, at your workplace, with your neighbor or during the privacy of your personal entertainment choices, there will be two desires competing for control of your heart, which in turn will affect your words and actions. In the mundane moments of everyday interactions, the passions of the flesh (sin) will fight to control your heart. Simultaneously, the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God will be battling for the purity of your soul. These battles won't be won in dramatic Hollywood fashion with swords and shields, but by saying "No!" ten thousand times to your sinful desires. If we want to live like true, Biblical Christians, we'll live like warriors. I don't mean aggressive and violent, trying to overthrow any external authority figure that doesn't believe the Bible. No, with humble and perseverant abstinence, we'll take seriously the sin that exists inside our hearts and not allow it to control of words and actions. Are you living like a soldier? Do you wake up every morning and get ready to do battle? Or have you grown too passive, surrendering to the passions of the flesh?  3. Represent as ambassadors "Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable..." The job of an ambassador is to consistently and intentionally represent a leader who isn't physically present. In the same way, you and I are always "on call" - there's never a moment in life, whether its on vacation, at work, in your neighborhood, shopping at the store, working out at the gym, or whatever, where we aren't called to live with a ministry mentality and an ambassadorial attitude. We are Gospel plumbers, Gospel teachers, Gospel lawyers, Gospel doctors, Gospel musicians, Gospel salesmen, Gospel moms and dads and Gospel neighbors. We're motivated by a single passion: that somehow and in some way, God would use our lives to accurately depict the truths of the Gospel and lead people to saving and liberating faith. If we want to live like true, Biblical Christians, we'll live like ambassadors. We'll speak carefully with God-honoring words. We'll live admirably with Christ-honoring actions. We won't treat our lives as our own, but live instead for the King of Kings. Are you living like an ambassador? Do you wake up every morning and consider that your words and actions represent Christ? Or have you taken your life in your own hands, representing occasionally and on your own terms? Not qualified Let me confess something to you. I don't always live with a destination mentality; I don't always live with a wartime mentality; I don't always live with an ambassadorial mentality. I indulge too much in the pleasures of this world and measure my success by earthly standards. I grow too comfortable with my sin and think it's not as destructive as it is. I don't step out in faith as often as I should and share the Gospel with those God has placed in front of me. If I had to apply for the job of Christian, it wouldn't take Human Resources long to see that I'm not qualified! But being a Christian isn't about applying for the job; it's about receiving the gift of grace, living in obedience and following the example of Christ. In every way, this passage points to Jesus. He was the ultimate exile; foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man had nowhere to lay his head (Luke 9:58). He was the ultimate soldier, valiantly sacrificing his life to conquer sin and death (Colossians 2:15). He was the ultimate ambassador, coming down from heaven to do the will of the Father who sent him (John 6:38). What about you this week? Will you live like a true, Biblical Christian? This article was originally posted to and is reprinted here with permission of the author....

Adult non-fiction

BOOK REVIEW: Paul Tripp's "Parenting: The 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family"

What’s the best passage in the Bible about parenting? Maybe some will say Ephesians 6:1-4. Others will point to Deuteronomy 6:4-9. Paul Tripp has his own suggestion about a helpful parenting passage. But he also wants us to realize that the Bible isn’t meant as a topical resource to consult when we have specific questions or difficulties. We probably sometimes wish that that’s how the Bible was organized: if you’re angry, turn to this text; if you’re lonely, read this one. And if you want good advice about raising your strong-willed kids, read this. The Bible isn’t written as a topical study, addressing the daily issues which concern us. From beginning to end it’s a story, where God is telling us about His great work of salvation through his Son. And so nearly every text in the Bible reveals something about God, or about ourselves, or about sin, or grace through Christ, or life in this world, or our calling. This broad scope means that almost every passage in the Bible has something to say that relates to the many diverse areas of your life, including your job as a parent. This is the kind of “big picture” perspective that Tripp teaches in his book Parenting. He doesn’t provide ten practical steps for raising nicer kids. He doesn’t share how-to strategies for the challenges of boundaries and discipline. Instead, he wants to reorient the very way that we look at parenting. What are we really trying to do in our homes? What are our chief goals? And what’s the one foundational thing that parents and children need, so much more than good manners, civilized dinner times, and open communication? THE WAY OF GRACE The subtitle of Tripp’s book says a lot about his approach: “The 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family.” He argues that the better way of parenting – the only way – is the “way of grace,” or the way of the gospel of Christ. That sounds vague, but then follow fourteen chapters exploring principles of how God’s grace is worked out in the parenting task. For example, Principle 1 is, “Nothing is more important in your life than being one of God’s tools to form a human soul.” Or Principle 5, “If you are not resting as a parent in your identity in Christ, you will look for identity in your children.” And Principle 11, “You are parenting a worshiper, so it’s important to remember that what rules your child’s heart will control his behavior.” These powerful principles give a flavor of the kind of book that Tripp has written. For each of these norms he shows that the core of parenting resides in the human heart: not just the hearts of our children, but our own hearts as dads and mums. Both their and our hearts need to be changed by the salvation that is granted through the work of Jesus Christ. TWO DANGEROUS AND DESTRUCTIVE LIES Our children need transformation because they all believe two dangerous and destructive lies. First, a child reckons that he’s autonomous, a completely independent human being with the right to live his life however he chooses, and to worship whomever he wants. Second, a child believes that he is self-sufficient, that within himself he has everything that he needs. If you pay a bit of attention, you can see these lies getting worked out in the conduct of our children, right from those aggravating moments of trying to spoon mushy peas into their mouth, to the frustrations of getting the silent treatment from your teenage daughter. Born in sin, our children desperately need help. God has placed them in our life so that we can help them, with wisdom, compassion and hope. MAKING PARENTS SQUIRM As a parent, reading parts of this book made me uncomfortable. This is because Tripp seems to know parents and our weaknesses so well. He knows that we often focus on changing our children’s outward behaviors (use of technology, clean language, respect for curfew, etc.), without targeting the heart behind the actions. He knows that we tend to “lay down the law” when there’s been a household infraction, instead of showing grace. He knows that in the heat of the moment we can get sinfully angry and say cruel things to our children, and then spend the rest of the evening telling ourselves that what we did was totally fair and completely justified. Uncomfortable, because it’s true. Still, Tripp wants to encourage. He says that parents who finally admit that they’re inadequate and run to God for help actually make the best parents. When your weakness is again so painfully evident, “Know that God hasn’t left you to the limits of your righteousness, wisdom, and strength," but that He is with you, and He is almighty and gracious. Tripp insists that successful parenting isn’t about us achieving our own goals or upholding our own values (e.g., producing punctual, responsible, hard-working children), but it’s about us being usable and faithful tools in the hands of God. After all, God is the only one who can produce good things in our children, and He’s the only one who can bring them to faith in Christ. As parents, we are unfinished people ourselves, being used by God as agents of change in the lives of unfinished people. CONCLUSION Tripp doesn’t pretend that it’s going to be easy. I love his line on page 208, “Parenting is about the willingness to live a life of long-term, intentional repetition.” Our task as parents means that we’ll need to do the same thing, over and over. We’ll need to say the same things, over and over. That’s fine, for God is pleased to use our humble prayers and efforts and energies for the good—and even for the salvation—of the children He’s entrusted to us. This is an excellent book. It’s a book to savor: read a chapter, and then let it simmer. Talk about it with your partner in parenting, or talk about it with other parents (whether more or less experienced). You’ll be challenged and encouraged. This article first appeared in the Oct 7, 2017 issue of Una Sancta, a magazine of the Free Reformed Churches of Australia, and is reprinted here with permission. Rev. Reuben Bredenhof is pastor of the Mt. Nasura Free Reformed Church in Western Australia. Below you can find a talk on parenting Paul Tripp gave earlier this year. "Parenting is Gospel Ministry" from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo....