Culture

Telling the Old Story in a World that Craves the New

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The world jumps over itself for what’s edgy, new, and creative. Yet for believers, we have an old and unchanging story to tell. ­­ The tension between innovation and tradition is not a new conversation in the life of the church. Whether it’s an emerging social media platform, the latest music, or the next trend, cultural shifts so swiftly we often find ourselves grasping to hang on.

The church, in contrast, is always looking back to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3), and we gladly rally around the old, unchanging story of a gentle Messiah who was crushed for our sin and raised to life three days later.

Unfortunately, with the ebb and flow of a rapidly changing culture, we might be pressured to come to the Bible with the same expectations.

We may start to wonder if we are equipped to face the challenges of our day—even when we know Scripture is unchangeably and immovably true—as if it’s outmoded or archaic. We come to a quiet time and search for undiscovered angles, to the point of blurring the meaning. We might even start doubting that Scripture really can speak to us today.

When we start to wonder if the Bible’s not enough in light of the particular struggles of our cultural moment, here are some important truths to keep in mind.

THE BOOK IS FROM HIM AND FOR US

When we constantly feel the need for something new or exciting to come from interacting with Scripture, we have forgotten the most important thing about it—its author. Feeling like we must find something novel or exhilarating each time we come to the Bible will send us scavenging for truth while missing the Giver of truth.

It’s as if we think our own intuitive creativity and knowledge surpasses the God who ordered the stars in the heavens and fashioned the wings of a butterfly. Paul asks, “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” (Rom. 11:34). Even Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, warned that we could not fathom the work of God (Eccl. 11:5). The truth is, we could never know the God who created the world if he had revealed himself to us through his Word and his Son (Heb. 1:1-2, John 1:1).

Because our God is faithful, we can trust that his revelation is all we need to hear pertaining to godliness and life (2 Pet. 1:3). We can rest to know that God has revealed his plan for the fullness of time by speaking to his people through his Word (Heb. 1:1-2; Eph. 1:9-10).

Each word of our Bible reveals the character of the God who created us. We must come to it humbly, allowing his word to tell us what questions matter, and wait as God shows us the unchanging truthfulness of his Word. No doubt he will speak to us in ways we had not noticed before. He desires to speak to us! But some areas we are left with real questions to ponder and wonder, humbly before God.

There is much we will not know, but we can be encouraged to know that each word is given or withheld with purpose (Rev. 22:18). Th book is from him and for us. Let’s remember that the purposeful words of scripture depict the truth, plans, and purposes of its Author. These truths are binding on all peoples across all times and places (Eph. 1:7-10, cf. Acts 17:30-31). 

THE MESSAGE NEVER CHANGES, BUT THE WAY WE COMMUNICATE IT HAS TO

The Bible has been poured over, commented on, and debated for over 2,000 years. When we talk about the Bible, we’re not saying anything new. And if we are, we’re in trouble!

We desire to stand, so we are tempted to go to the Bible looking for something no one else has found. Instead of seeing our repetition of an old text as a limitation or as unoriginal, we can see it as an encouragement and confidence, being faithful to the truth handed down “once for all . . . to the saints” (Jude 3).

We can look back at well-known church fathers and theologians, missionaries and martyrs, pastors and leaders, and see how the same God and the same truths grounded and spurred them on to a life of faithfulness to the truth. The church has always been finding ways to communicate old (but good!) news to new audiences. The message is unchanging, but the way we communicate that message is always changing.

We stand surrounded by a “great a cloud of witnesses” to the same truth, the same story, and the same God (Heb. 12:1-2). We should be encouraged by the example of generations before us, how they read Scripture, and how Scripture’s unchanging truth still speaks specifically to our cultural moment.

Let’s dig deep into the Bible, but not to search for ways to make it shine more attention on ourselves. Rather, let’s see how we can retell the same old story in a brand new day, all to his glory.

GOD NEVER CHANGES, WE DO

Finally, while it’s true that God’s word does not change—we do. And we do so constantly! R.C. Sproul has stated that if anything defines human existence, it's change.

And our impermanent selves are what we bring to the Word each day. We come to the text with different knowledge, different circumstances, and different places in sanctification. Yet we also come to God’s Word with his Holy Spirit, who is constantly working in our hearts through each changing situation. He is removing blind spots, giving insight, and revealing the truth. This is why we can read the same passages repeatedly but still see new truths.

We don’t need to do mental gymnastics to get some sort of profound new insight. Instead, we can rest in the Spirit’s work to grow our hearts closer to him (Phil. 1:6). We can press on to know the Lord, and rest in knowing that when we do, God will respond and reveal himself through his Word (Hos. 6:3).

THE STORY THAT NEVER GETS OLD

We don’t need to feel inadequate because our story never changes—it is our lifeline. It’s the solid hope to cling to for a world drowning in ever-changing uncertainty. So let’s enter our Bible studies and conversations with humility and confidence in the truths that have lasted from the beginning of time, and will continue to last for all eternity.

The unchanging God, the Ancient of Days, has revealed himself to an unstable and shifting people. Through his Spirit, he has chosen to make inconsistent people more and more like their consistently faithful God. And that story (John 1:1) never gets old.


Brianna Lambert is a wife and mom to three, making their home in the cornfields of Indiana. She loves using writing to work out the truths God is teaching her each day. She has contributed to various online publications such as Morning by Morning and Fathom magazine. You can find more of her writing paired with her husband’s photography at lookingtotheharvest.com.

Why Counter-Formation is at the Heart of Discipleship

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“My job is to understand how people behave. Once I understand that, I can change how they behave.” This is what my friend told me over dinner recently. He works high up at one of the most prestigious ad agencies in the U.S. You watch the commercials they make, you buy the products they advertise—it’s your behavior that he changes.

This conversation with my friend reveals one of the most important, and most forgotten, truths of modern American life: everyone is trying to form you. Nothing is neutral.

It’s easy to be discipled by America. All you have to do is nothing.

THE POWER OF NORMAL

One of the fundamental lessons of discipleship is that the important things in life are caught, not taught.

I remember very few of the things my dad said to me, but I have become like him anyway. By being present in my life, my dad became normal to me, and that is the most powerful thing he did. Fortunately for me, he was a great dad, and I’m glad I became like him.

If you want to know what or who is discipling you, look at your life and ask what’s normal. The normal things are the most powerful things. The problem is, the normal things are also the hardest things to notice.

Take, for example, your habit of looking at screens. You’re skimming this article right now, trying to decide if you want to read the rest of it or click on something else.

If you’re like me, the habit of spending large parts of the day constantly scanning screens for something to peak our attention is totally normal. That’s probably not surprising. What is surprising is how we’re unknowingly being formed by our screens.

How is it that Facebook, FOX News, Google, and Twitter are all free, and yet they make so much money? It’s because we are the product, and our attention is sold to people like my friend. On the other side of the screen, there’s an army of people spending exorbitant amounts of money studying how to capture your attention and sell it to advertisers, who in turn make loads of money because of their expert ability to change the way you think and behave. We wonder why we can’t stop checking headlines or looking at social media—it’s helpful to realize that it’s not exactly a fair fight.

The real problem is not the calculated campaign for our attention, but that it is so normal we don’t see it. We are discipled by our screens simply by doing nothing. The results are well documented. The fruits of the spirit are peace, patience, goodness, and self-control. The fruits of the screen are loneliness, anxiousness, group-think, and consumerism.

The invisible power of screens and marketing is a great modern example of the power of invisible formation, but it is only the tip of the iceberg.

The point is to realize that if we care about discipleship, we need to think very carefully about the water we swim in and ask whether those currents are making us more like Jesus or not.

I would argue that we cannot make that assessment without a set of carefully chosen, counter-formational habits; the kind of habits that help us see the water and create a new normal.

The Common Rule is just such a set of habits.

HABITS OF DISCIPLESHIP

The Common Rule is a set of four daily and weekly habits designed to form us in the love of God and neighbor. There are all kinds of habits, but many of them focus on screens.

Take, for example, The Common Rule habit of Scripture before phone. I love my smartphone. (In fact, I wrote this article on my phone in the back of a car on a trip home.) Phones enable amazing things. But ever since I got my phone, it started invading my mornings.

I’m a corporate lawyer, and for a long season of life the first thing I did every morning was check my work email in bed. My eyes would peel open and I would scan through what people wanted me to do today.

The formational consequences were powerful. My phone became a liturgy of legalism. The gospel tells me I’m loved in spite of what I can or can’t accomplish. But in starting my day in work emails, I wasn’t simply asking my phone what I needed to do that day. I was asking my phone what I needed to do to justify my existence that day.

In the end, I needed the counter-formational habit of Scripture before phone.

Sometimes people think that cultivating such a habit is legalistic, as if you have to do such a thing to be holy. For me, however, cultivating this habit and others like it was what I needed to fight my natural bent towards letting the world disciple me in legalism. Whether it’s social media or news headlines, much of what we read first thing in the morning is designed to stoke anger or envy—to make us think the world is about us.

In order to pursue being formed in gospel freedom, I needed a new habit. By doing nothing, I began the day in legalism.

It took some practice to form the habit of Scripture before phone, but I found that beginning my day in the story of God’s love calmed my anxiety and prepared me to work out of love for clients and coworkers, instead of working to earn myself love. Soon I found it also cleared a blank space in my mornings, where now—by habit—I leave the phone upstairs and read, sit quietly, or drink coffee slowly.

CULTIVATING GOSPEL HABITS

Some of The Common Rule habits focus on friendship, some focus on rest, others focus on work or screens. In different ways, all of these habits are meant to help develop a new normal, so that our habits make us more like Jesus instead of less.

The reason my marketing friend was telling me about his work was that he was trying out a habit from The Common Rule of pausing for kneeling prayer in the middle of his workday.

In a brief midday prayer on the floor of an empty conference room, he was reflecting on the significance of his industry and how he could work to make it a better—not a worse—place. He was inviting God to shape his work instead of inviting his work to shape his view of God.

He was creating a new normal, a powerful new habit of mind. He was cultivating a gospel habit.


Justin Whitmel Earley lives in Richmond, VA with his wife, Lauren, and his three (soon to be four!) sons Whit, Asher, and Coulter. He is a corporate lawyer and a writer of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction, The Common Rule - Habits of Purpose for an Age of Distraction is his first book-length project and is coming out with InterVarsity Press in early 2019. Read more at www.thecommonrule.org.

You Don't Need a Passport to Reach the Nations

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I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else's foundation, but as it is written, “Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.” – Rom. 15:20-21

I was twelve when I first read these lines from Romans. The unstoppable advance of the gospel immediately captivated me.

Stories of missionary heroes like David Livingstone, Hudson Taylor, and John Paton flooded my mind as I considered what gospel-pioneering work would look like.

With a Bible in one hand and a machete in the other, I envisioned myself blazing a trail through the dense African bush, fighting off snakes and lions to reach remote tribes with the gospel. I was convinced this was the life God was calling me to live.

Twenty-five years later, I’m still just as excited about reaching the unreached. But my role in this work has looked entirely different from my childhood dreams.

DASHED DREAMS OF REACHING THE NATIONS

Initially, passion for the gospel’s advance led my wife and me to leave the comforts of family, friends, and homeland to church-plant in a Muslim village in West Africa. But our baby daughter’s struggles with malaria led us back to the States.

I was crushed.

My childhood dreams of reaching the unreached had been dashed.

Or had they?

These days, I’m not sweating bullets under the scorching African sun. Instead, you can usually find me shoveling snow on yet another frosty day in western New York. I’m not halfway across the continent, but a few miles up the road at the local university, studying the gospel with young men and women who’ve never heard the good news. Instead of cutting my way through a jungle with a machete, I’m digging my way through conversations with chopsticks.

Through this season of ministry, I’ve discovered something that never occurred to me when I first read Romans 15. I had always thought of the unreached peoples as only being “out there.” But the truth is, they’re very much here, too.

We don’t have to cross the ocean or cut down a trail to get to the nations. The nations have come to us.

THE UNREACHED IN OUR BACKYARD

One of the most dynamic mission fields of our time might easily be one of the most overlooked. This past year, more than one million international students from all over the world attended colleges and universities in the U.S. Many of these bright, ambitious men and women came to us from countries closed to traditional missionary endeavors.

Some will be only here for a year. Others, for quite some time. After completing their studies, many will go on to become influential leaders.

An article from the Washington Times stated that nearly 300 current and former world leaders once occupied American classrooms before ascending to prominence in their home countries.

The potential to see the gospel advanced globally through international student ministry is truly staggering!

AN EXCITING—BUT CHALLENGING—OPPORTUNITY

Almost anyone involved in international student ministry will tell you that most of these students are curious about religion. Unlike their American counterparts, international students are open to discussions about Christianity.

And they’re eager to make American friends. Being far from home, many long for a sense of community. They are an ideal mission field that is ripe for harvest!

Making disciples of the nations within our nation, however, is not for the faint of heart. The challenges can be overwhelming.

Since English isn’t their first language, communication can be complicated. Most of these students have cultures and worldview perspectives that are drastically different from ours. Some come from countries completely closed to the gospel and therefore lack basic categories for basic biblical concepts. Even those from “Christianized” countries often have a seriously distorted understanding of the gospel.

Patience, love, and a long-haul mindset are essential if we’re going to reach these men and women for Christ.

HOW YOU CAN REACH THE NATIONS AT HOME

If you’ve read this far, you might be thinking, “Micah, I get what you’re saying. Reaching these people sounds awesome, but kind of scary.” Maybe you’ve never interacted with someone from another country. Perhaps you’re worried that you won’t know what to say or how to act. How would you even begin?

If you’re near a local campus with international students, let me encourage you to consider the following:

Partner with local campus ministries

Partnering with a student ministry on campus is probably the best place to start. There are a number of campus ministries effectively reaching international students. Our church has been able to establish a healthy, working relationship with one such ministry.

Through our partnership, we’ve had numerous opportunities to make connections and develop meaningful relationships with students. Some of them have come to know the Lord and are now radiant followers of Christ. Others are attending gospel studies led by some of the men and women of our church.

Working together, I’m thankful that my church body can multiply our time, efforts, and resources to advance the gospel.

Meet the international student advisors at your local college

I recently talked with a young man who is involved in a thriving international student ministry at his local church. When I asked him how his church started their outreach, I was struck by the simplicity of his response:

“We met with the international student advisors and asked them how we could help students adjust to college life. They were happy to have us help with things like picking up students from the airport, showing hospitality, and helping students learn about the city.”

Through simple acts of service, members of this church established relationships with both students and faculty that have opened doors for disciple-making ministry.

Organize an ESL conversation club

Opportunities to meet Americans, make friends, and practice English are usually big hits with international students, especially those with families. With a little planning and training, nearly anyone can organize an effective ESL (English as a second language) conversation club. Select a few conversational topics that might be of interest to students. Open your gathering with a few ice-breaker activities to help everyone feel comfortable with one another. Divide the students up into smaller groups where they can receive more personalized attention and opportunities for discussion.

As relationships are established, encourage volunteers to follow up with students in their groups to set up one-on-one gospel studies.

REACH THE NATIONS RIGHT WHERE YOU ARE

God may not be calling you to cross the ocean to reach the unreached. Instead, he might be asking you to drive a few miles up the road.

Through international student ministry, you can labor so that “those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand”—and you won’t even need a passport.


Micah Colbert and his wife, Debbie, live in Buffalo, NY with their three children. In addition to planting and pastoring Gospel Life Church, Micah also works part-time as an ESL instructor in the city. Currently, Micah is working on developing disciple-making materials to help churches effectively engage in international student ministry and ESL outreach. You can visit his website at www.internationalbiblestudy.com.

3 Ways Googling Hinders Your Growth and Your Church

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Every day, I turn on my phone and scroll for wisdom. Sometimes it comes from friends that are friends in real life. Other times it comes from my carefully curated experts. There are some I go to for political analysis, and others for parenting advice. There are experts on theology, sexual abuse, and the commentators on racial division. They’re knowledgeable and instantly offer Biblical advice or encouragement.

But is this really what’s best for me or the church?

Not too long ago, if you had a parenting question you would call your mom. If you wanted a book recommendation, you would ask a friend, or if you had a question on a difficult passage of Scripture, you would wait to talk with your pastor or Bible study group.

Then the search bar arrived with its instant, reliable answers. The rise of social media makes the availability of information even faster as we can now turn to a host of people we have personally vetted to feed us answers. It is true that the internet is a wonderful tool in our day and age that enables us to gain wisdom and see the global church of Christ with incredible clarity. Still, there is an underlying danger when we start to use social media as our go-to for expert information. This pattern hinders not only our own growth but the growth of Christ’s church in several ways.

STEALING HUMILITY

One of the ways it hinders our growth is by robbing us of opportunities to learn through humility. When I’m in a tough spot with my young children, I’d rather send off a quick post to my homeschool group on Facebook than call an older mom in my church who has walked this path before me. I make all kinds of excuses, but in reality, I’d rather receive instant encouragement from strangers than become vulnerable and teachable in the community God has given me. The truth is it’s easier to turn to our friends on the internet for advice or even confess our sinful struggles because we do not live, worship, and learn alongside these saints each week. We feel safer and protected in our online bubbles, but our attempts to save face actually hinder our spiritual growth.

Often times the means of greatest growth and grace in our lives is not through the cheers of distant acquaintances, but through the humbling counsel of the people who know us the most. Of course, we can still use the internet for advice and even for friendships, but are there some conversations we aren’t having with saints in our local church because we fear to be vulnerable? Proverbs tells us that with humility comes wisdom (11:2), and three times in Scripture it is repeated that God gives grace to the humble (Prov. 3:34, Jas. 4:6, 1 Pet. 5:5, ESV). The cost of laying down our pride is worth the blessings of growth and grace we will receive in return.

THE BEAUTY OF THE BODY

Another way seeking all our answers online hinders our growth is by limiting our ability to see how the body of Christ works. There is a distinct difference in the way we feel the church through social media than through our local church down the road. I could ask my favorite author for a book recommendation, but their answer would not be as encouraging to me as when my pastor handed me a giant theology book and said, “Here you go, eat it one bite at a time.” While I have learned much from my favorite authors, they don’t know me like my pastor. He is the one who sees me each week and has heard my questions and what I’m passionate about. He knows how busy I am with three kids, which projects my family is working on, and he’s both challenging and encouraging me in a way that no far-off Christian writer ever could.

As brothers and sisters we are called to serve one another (1 Pet. 4:10, ESV), to encourage one another (Heb. 3:13, ESV), to teach one another, and to hold each other accountable (Col. 3:16, ESV). While these commands can be carried out on the internet, they begin and flourish in the local church.

What if along with racing to see those end-of-year book lists we stopped an elder and asked what book he recommends? What if we asked a godly teacher what reading plan she was going through? As we purposely take these questions to those around us, it blesses them as they are allowed to pour into us, while at the same time showing us the accountability of the body of Christ. No longer are we faceless avatars, but fellow laborers in our community. We assume the role of a saint who not only wants an answer but a chance to form deeper relationships in the body of Christ.

THE RISE OF CELEBRITY

Finally, seeking all our answers on our smartphones contributes to the Christian celebrity culture that continues to ravage the body of Christ. It’s easy to believe our favorite authors, the wittiest podcasters, or the famous pastors on our phones have it all together, that their words can be trusted the most. But the reality is that behind that screen they are the same, sinful, flawed, and gospel-needing people like those sitting next to us in the pews. We must remember it is not because of any special skill or importance that some are elevated, but it is because “God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose” (1 Cor. 12:18, ESV). Christ is the head, and he has made each member of the body in need of each other. Moreover, Paul tells us that the parts that seem weak are indispensable, and we should bestow the greatest honor on the parts which seem less honorable (v. 22, 23).

When we start to use our social media groups as our primary source of advice, we see Paul’s definition of the body of Christ upside down. We don’t see each other in desperate need of grace, but we instead elevate certain members and forfeit the value of the “lesser members” sitting next to us. This warped sense of the body of Christ feeds our own pride and eventually sets us up for crushing disappointment when any of our esteemed leaders show their faults. We can and should benefit from the wisdom of public leaders, but we must make sure to prioritize and esteem the local church members God has given us. When we do this, we protect not only ourselves, but also those very leaders in the public eye.

FINDING THE BALANCE

God is sovereign over the internet and our online relationships. We don’t need to pull the plug completely, but we do need to examine the balance we’re striking. There may be some tweets we shouldn’t send and some conversations we can wait to have face to face. In doing this, God strengthens not only our own congregation but the entire body of Christ.

Next time you’re tempted to ask your phone to function as your church, think of who in your church might be able to answer the same question.


Brianna Lambert is a wife and mom to three, making their home in the cornfields of Indiana. She loves using writing to work out the truths God is teaching her each day. She has contributed to various online publications such as Morning by Morning and Fathom magazine. You can find more of her writing paired with her husband’s photography at lookingtotheharvest.com.

Why the Resurrection is No April Fools' Prank

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It was only a matter of time before they were caught. You can’t hide 5,000 people believing in Christ. Peter and John, sore from spending the night in jail, were shoved into the presence of the rulers and scribes. The members of the high-priestly family stood. The crowd hushed.

“By what power or by what name did you do this?”

The question hung in the air. Everyone expects them to say, “Jesus”—but would they do so in the face of beatings, and maybe even death?

Peter rises to his feet, surveying the scene. Then it happens again—the promised Spirit fills him for the task at hand. Unsure of what he’s about to say, he opens his mouth in faith and declares,

“This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

These words were offensive then—and they’re offensive now.

AN EXCLUSIVE CLAIM 

Do you find Peter’s claim of exclusive salvation through Jesus Christ alone offensive? How could he make such a bold claim?

Flavius Josephus (37-97 AD), a defected Jew turned court historian for Emperor Vespasian, is quoted in AD 324 by Eusebius, and speaks of “Jesus, a wise man” who was condemned to the cross and then “appeared to them alive again the third day.” Belief in this Jesus turned the Roman empire upside down in just a few years.

But it wasn’t merely belief in Jesus that propelled the movement; it was a belief in his life, death, and—most importantly—his resurrection from the dead that was the chief apologetic of the early church.

We see this exclusive claim of salvation in Christ over and again in the New Testament. In Acts 4:10, Peter made his claim for the exclusivity of Christ largely based on the resurrection of Christ: “Let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well.” Similarly, Paul on Mars Hill contended that “[God] has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:31).

The apostles continually referenced the resurrection as their chief argument for the truth of Jesus’ claims.

A SIGNIFICANT CLAIM

Why is the resurrection of Christ so significant? Because Christianity stands or falls on the truth of the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:14-17). The resurrection also reveals that  Christ has the power to raise us from the dead (John 11:25-26). Third, it confirms the validity of Christ’s teachings about his own deity.

Because a real man Jesus rose from the dead, he proved his own claim to divinity, sealed the salvation he promised to purchase, and now demands that we trust and submit to him.

Philosopher and broadcaster C.E.M. Joad was once asked who he would most want to interview if he could choose anyone from all of history. He chose Jesus and said that he wanted to ask him the most important question in the world: “Did you, or did you not, rise from the dead?”

The resurrection, more than any religious claim, is investigable and therefore verifiable because it is a historical—not a philosophical—claim. And if it is true, it has universal implications.

The resurrection is the foundation of Christianity: if Jesus were dead, the church of Jesus would be speechless, powerless, and pointless. Yet we find in history that a handful of devastated Apostles frenzied the first century with the message that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead. They gave their lives for this message—a message, we must not forget, they would know to be true or not.

These men—the ones who heard the hammers crush nine-inch nails through Jesus’ bones, saw the spear pierce his lifeless flesh, and watched the corpse of Christ be removed from the cross—were convinced of the resurrection. They weren’t giving their lives for some dogma, but for the man they knew and loved named Jesus, who they saw, touched, and talked with after his horrible and humiliating death.

A SPECIFIC CLAIM

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is recorded in all four gospels—the same divine, multi-faceted, unified truth is presented from different, harmonious perspectives. A summation of these accounts is found in the ancient Christian creed (probably from about 37 A.D.) in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8.

These gospel writers, as representatives of early Christianity, make clear their assertion: the resurrection of Jesus Christ was a predicted, bodily, historical event.

Jesus’ resurrection was predicted in the Old Testament, centuries before Jesus was born in Bethlehem. In the messianic Psalm 16, David speaks prophetically: “You will not abandon my soul … or let your holy one see corruption” (v. 10). In the New Testament, Jesus explained to his disciples before his death that he would rise from the dead: “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Matt. 16:21).

Jesus’ predictions were so well known that even his enemies were aware he planned to rise from the dead (see Matt. 27:63). Jesus’ resurrection was prophesied hundreds of years before his birth, and in the days immediately preceding his death.

Jesus’ resurrection was also a bodily resurrection. The New Testament makes it plain that Jesus literally and physically rose from the grave. Thomas was able to put his finger into Jesus’ nail-prints and feel the spear-wound in his side (John 20:27). Luke tells us that, when the resurrected Jesus appeared to his frightened disciples in a locked room, he invited them to handle his body, and then ate in front of them to assure them it was him and not just a spirit (24:36-43).

Christ’s resurrection was also historical. This was no April Fools' Day prank. As we’ve already seen, it is referenced by numerous Christian and non-Christian historical sources. Christianity is not based on a myth or fairytale.

AN INVESTIGABLE CLAIM

The evidence for the resurrection is plentiful. First, there is the empty tomb. If the tomb were full, no one would have believed the disciples’ testimony. The Jews would certainly have produced the body if they could have and silenced the apostles. However, they couldn’t, and subsequently, we see Christianity explode around the known world in (historically speaking) no time at all.

Second, the eyewitness testimony of the apostles (John 20:19-20; 1 Pet. 3:18-21; Matt. 28:16-17; 1 Cor. 15:3-8) verifies Jesus’ resurrection. Three of these four witnesses died for their testimony, and all of them suffered for it.

Third, the Sabbath was changed to Sunday by devout Jews. The only reason such a ground-shift in a centuries-long tradition would occur is if something tremendous and extraordinary—a sign from God—had taken place.

Finally, consider the remarkable growth of the church. The early church—against great opposition, persecution, and rejection—grew by leaps and bounds in the first century. This can only be explained by some incontrovertible evidence, especially as many of their converts (e.g. Saul of Tarsus, better known as the Apostle Paul) came from among their enemies.

Despite all of this, you may still be skeptical of—or indifferent to—the evidence for and implications of the resurrection of Jesus. The gospel writers, as am I, are sympathetic to the doubting or struggling investigator. In fact, the disciples themselves were slow to believe. But once they were convinced, they became irrepressibly inspired.

In the resurrected Christ, even the skeptic may find the confirmation he or she needs in order to turn to Jesus. Truly, there is salvation in no one else; his is the only name under heaven by which we must be saved.

The resurrected Jesus has the power to escape a sealed tomb and enter a locked room. If you are a skeptic, may he enter the locked room of your heart and bring you out of unbelief. And may you find yourself, like the Apostles and millions of others, irrepressibly inspired to tell others about the poor, wandering rabbi from Nazareth who came not to serve, but to be served, and to give his life as a ransom for many—including you.


Justin Huffman has pastored in the States for over 15 years, authored the “Daily Devotion” app (iTunes/Android) which now has over half a million downloads, and recently published a book with Day One: Grow: the Command to Ever-Expanding Joy. He has also written articles for For the ChurchServants of Grace, and Fathom Magazine. He blogs at justinhuffman.org.

Dressing Up as Jesus for Halloween (and Every Other Day)

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As October comes to an end, the question on every kid’s mind is, “What are you going to be for Halloween?” If you’re a parent, you’ve probably overheard your kids discussing their wardrobe plans, or found yourself doing recon on Pinterest to figure out the year’s best costumes. The holiday aisles of Walmart and Target are fully stocked to help the less crafty among us outfit our children for the occasion. If Jake wants to be a ninja, all he needs is the right mask, a sword, and a black suit. Anna can be a princess by donning a crown, sparkly shoes, and a poofy dress. When little Kevin knocks on his neighbor’s door expectantly awaiting Snickers and Kit Kats, he wants his neighbor to see a fireman, not the little boy from next door who leaves his toys all over the lawn. So he wears the helmet, coat, and boots of a fireman. He pretends to save the day by putting out fires.

Wouldn’t it be great if we really could put on different clothes and transform into someone other than who we are? God’s Word has much to say about the kind of clothes we should put on.

WE NEED A WARDROBE CHANGE

Prior to repentance, the filth of sin covers us. When we live by the flesh we wear soiled garments all day long. Jude 23 teaches the appropriate response to sin is to, “hate even the garment stained by the flesh.” What we wear on the outside reflects what we look like on the inside.

God commands us in Ephesians 4:22-24 to, “put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” Our old clothes are no longer appropriate; they reflect our old lives. The Bible says we used to wear our corruption. But if we are in Christ, we are new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17) and we need new clothes.

Paul tells us to put off our old life of sin and to, “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:10). As image-bearers of God (Genesis 1:27), we reflect him to the watching world. We must dress appropriately for this task. We can’t walk around with the stench of our filthy garments of sin clinging to us. We must instead, “cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Romans 13:12).

We must, by God’s grace, exchange our old life and its filthy clothing with the new life found only in Christ and his righteousness. God tells us how we should dress in Romans 13:14: “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” Once redeemed, don’t continue to allow sin to stain your new wardrobe. James is very direct when he says, “keep yourself unstained from the world” (James 1:27).

GOD CLOTHES HIS CHILDREN

God showed Zechariah a vision of him providing new clothes for the high priest, Joshua. Joshua was impure and God cleansed him of his dirtiness. He also gave him new clothes once he was clean. Zechariah 3:3-4 says, “Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. And the angel said to those who were standing before him, ‘Remove the filthy garments from him.’ And to him he said, ‘Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.’ ”

Luke’s gospel tells of the prodigal son’s father clothing him by commanding his servants, “Bring quickly the bests robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet” (Luke 15:22). The prodigal’s status had gone from lost to found, and his father wanted his clothes to reflect that change in standing. He needed new clothes and his father provided them.

Isaiah’s heart was filled with gratitude for the new clothes his Father gave him. He says, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels” (Isaiah 61:10).

God has been clothing his creation since the beginning. Genesis 3:21 says, “And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.” When we, by his grace, reject our old life and turn to him in repentance, he gives us a new wardrobe appropriate for his children. He clothes us in the beauty of the gospel.

SHOW OFF YOUR NEW CLOTHES

When our children put on their costumes this Halloween, they will want everyone to see their new look. Moms and dads will follow them around like paparazzi to document the transformation from little girl to Superwoman, or from little boy to Batman. As we watch our children dress up for the day, we can rejoice knowing we get to wear the new clothes our Father gives us for all eternity. Unlike our children, we don’t have to pretend to be something we’re not.

We belong to God. He has adopted us and clothed us with the garments that reflect our new identity as heirs (Romans 8:15-17). We’ve traded in our filthy rags and are now clothed in his righteousness. We should be excited for everyone to see our new look, too!

Our spiritual clothing communicates identity and belonging. As God’s children, we must dress accordingly. Job says he dressed in righteousness and justice. “I put on righteousness, and it clothed me; my justice was like a robe and a turban” (Job 29:14).

What is your spiritual wardrobe telling the world? When others see you, do they see the righteousness of Christ, or do they see garments stained by the world?

Put on Jesus. Show him off. Let others see how your Father has dressed you.

We want the world to see what he looks like on us. We want the world to see what he looks like through us. We wear Christ for the glory of God.

Let’s show the world our new life and the wardrobe that comes with it. Let’s tell others how they can trade in their old, dirty rags for the finest clothes.