Tag Archives: Testimony

My Wife Has Tattoos: Marriage and New Birth

My wedding was last Saturday. And I didn’t marry the girl of my dreams.

If you would have told me when I was a teenager that my wife would have seven tattoos and a history in drugs, alcohol, and heavy metal concerts, I would have laughed at you, given you one of my courtship books, and told you to take a hike. My plans were much different, much more nuanced with careful planning, much more clean-cut, and much more, well, about me.

It wasn’t my dream to marry a complicated girl. I never dreamed I’d sit on a couch with my future wife in premarital counseling listening to her cry and tell stories of drunken nights, listing the drugs she used, confessing mistakes made in past relationships.


This isn’t my dream—it’s better.

Many people wouldn’t put Taylor and me together. In high school, we probably would not have been friends. She probably would have thought I was a nice, boring, judgmental Christian kid; I probably would have thought she was a nice, lost, party-scene girl who guys like me are supposed to avoid. People like us, with our backgrounds and histories, are not supposed to meet, fall in love, and covenant their lives to each other.

But everything changes when people meet Jesus. He takes rebellious teenage partiers and goody-two-shoes homeschoolers and puts them together in marriage to put something on display much bigger than their own handcrafted, perfectly planned love story.

Right in the middle of the mess of life, Taylor met Jesus, and he planted his flag in her life. She believed in him, and he transformed her. The Taylor who spent her life living from one pleasure to the next died, and a new person was born. A new person with new desires and a new heart that longed to please God, serve people, and treasure Jesus Christ above every other pleasure.

And this is how I see Taylor. She is completely new, completely transformed, and completely clean. This is not because she joined a helpful program or because she really “pulled herself together.” It’s because God, in his incredible, infinite kindness, took Taylor’s dark, crimson life, and made her white as snow. He took all of her sins, placed them on his Son, and then gave her Jesus’ righteousness to wear like a perfectly white wedding dress.

In reality, Taylor’s story is my story as well. As she walked down the aisle toward me, I was reminded of how much I don’t deserve the precious gift she is to me. I’ve spent much of my life singing a self-centered siren song. Nothing about my life cries for blessings; it calls for curses forever. Yet God has dressed me in white, put my sin upon his Son, and given me a heart that loves him.

I love Taylor with all that I am. She is gentle, kind, patient, joyful, beautiful, and loving. I don’t deserve to be married to someone like her. I didn’t plan for this, but I’m so glad I didn’t get what I planned for.

Last weekend I was reminded of the beautiful reality that God exchanges the sin of our past for the perfect righteousness of his Son. Contrary to popular opinion, our wedding day was not our wedding day; it was a display of the most stunning reality in the universe—that God sent his Son to redeem a people made clean by the blood of his Son.

God’s ultimate plan in putting Taylor and me together is to uniquely display his grace so that other people will praise him (Eph. 1:5-6). That’s his purpose for our marriage, and that’s his purpose in the world at large. Taylor and I have taken part in that display, and we hope you will too.

Editors’ note: This article originally appeared at the Unspoken blog.


Cardinals Manager Mike Matheny on Baseball, Manhood, and Faith

Editor’s note: Darrin Patrick, TGC Council member and lead pastor of The Journey Church, is the chaplain to the St. Louis Cardinals. For this interview Patrick talked with Mike Matheny, manager of this historic professional baseball team, about how Matheny found faith in Jesus Christ and how he relates the members of his team and staff who are not Christian.

* * * * *


Darrin Patrick | One of the metaphors in Scriptures, we see in the life of Jacob, is wrestling with God. How did God win in your life?

Mike Matheny | I’m glad he won.

I grew up in strong Christian family and became very religious. Once a challenging guest speaker visited our church and asked the usual Christian crowd, “Do you know who Jesus is? Who is he to you?” And those questions kept haunting me. I was wrestling with God. I realized I had been riding on the coat-tails of my parents. I was in the routine of religion, but there was no relationship there. My parents were there to open up the Bible and lead me through the gospel, and I responded with faith on my own.

DP | How did it change your life?

MM | It became real instead of routine, even as a young kid. I wasn’t walking through the public school high schools with my Bible, preaching. But all of a sudden, there was a sense of rightness—that’s where I was supposed to be. I felt guidance through every day and accountability—through the Spirit’s hand—giving me a slap in the back of the head when I was going in a direction I shouldn’t. God was an ever-present guide, my peace and joy. It was the package deal promised to us in Scripture.

DP | I’ll never forget, it was the National League Championship Series in 2013. It was before the game, we’re doing our prayer time, like we did before every home playoff game, and I walked in and saw you playing and worshiping.

MM | It might have been the last game against Los Angeles. And you came in and were blown away. You actually took a picture and said, “I want to show my wife what you do to prepare for a game!”

I do a lot of praise and worship. And it helps the time go by on the road, but I don’t do it a lot at home. But that was special how that group got together before every game. And it started out as a few guys, and ended up with 20-plus guys in this room. We just stopped and gave God a little bit of our time. Let’s slow down and realize how cool it is that we are where we are right now and not praying necessarily, “Let’s win.” We just prayed that we would go out and do things the way we’re supposed to do it.

DP | How would you encourage and challenge Christian men?


MM | Christian men in our country need to lead. We need to lead our families. And hopefully that begins with a relationship with Christ. And then lead the way our wives and children are wanting us to. There are things that we need to fight for. We need to know what is right and be able to find it—a moral compass that hopefully is pointing to the cross of Christ.

DP | Mike, you are in this position now: you’re a Christian, and you have players who are not Christians. You have staff and people you work with who aren’t Christians. How do you go about your life as a Christian man in those relationships?

MM | First, my faith has been clear and open. Every year at spring training I explain to my guys I stand for certain things as a follower of Christ. But you’re never going to hear me preach this at you or hold you to any sort of moral obligations that I try to hold for myself.

That opens a door so when they ask me a question, they know the foundation of the majority of my answers. It opens some great opportunities. There are eyes on me non-stop, and important conversations pop-up. We talk a lot more about life than we talk about baseball. We’re together so much that we have an opportunity to go through life together. I believe that’s one of my main jobs. Part of that is being available when those questions of faith come up.

But once again, I don’t believe my job is to force feed these guys anything. So I give them their space. But those opportunities come because life happens. I think people see these jerseys on these guys, and they think they’re superhuman and above some of the trials and issues that come to people. They’re not.

The Beauty of ‘Boring’ Testimonies

Many Christians struggle with their own testimonies. Our stories are boring, uninteresting, and mundane—or so it often seems to us. Who would listen to us even if we did share?

What often qualifies as “interesting” is the sort of thing someone would write (and read) a book about: ex-felons, ex-addicts, ex-something-or-others. We are all sinners saved by grace, and yet, as unclean and broken as we may be, many of us haven’t gone a day in our lives not knowing about God. Often we describe our testimonies in terms of reshaping or renewing our current faith: we are reminded of the sin we have, or convicted of the sin we didn’t see, and now we can return to the gospel we’ve known all our lives. It isn’t so much a 180° change as a couple of degrees at a time.

Always Amazing

We’re suckers for big and loud stories—look at the film industry for evidence—and so we tend to write off anything that doesn’t fit that pattern. We don’t volunteer to tell people we grew up in the church and asked Jesus into our hearts as soon as we learned to speak. Who would find that story anything but boring?

The solution isn’t to seek a more powerful testimony—let’s not sin that grace may abound—but to expand our understanding of what constitutes a beautiful testimony. We can describe those who grew up in the church as spared from the horrors of the criminal life, but this story feels empty. The negation isn’t nearly so powerful as the positive expression: we are saved from the damnation we earned by the great grace of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Of course we desire to be remembered, to be seen as moving examples of the grace God can provide. The examples trumpeted stand out in the wide course of history, especially those saved through harrowing circumstances: Paul’s persecution of Christians, Augustine’s many sexual sins, right on up to the teenage-atheist-turned-30-something-Christian C. S. Lewis. We see that great Christians of the past have often come from broken places.

No Ordinary Christians

This emphasis on dramatic testimonies can be harmful, though, despite the intention to inspire us. While these testimonies can encourage us to look and see the greatness of God, we tend to only see God’s grace manifest in those who have been saved from what appears to be much. If we took for our role models “ordinary” Christians—local pastors and elders, our parents and professors, our peers—perhaps we’d be more capable of seeing God’s explicit and awesome grace in our “ordinary” lives.

I don’t recommend removing the historical “greats” from our studies, nor should we discount the explosive testimonies we so often hear. Rather, we ought to broaden our understanding of what makes for a compelling story of grace.

Every Christian has a redemption story. Whether you are saved from cocaine addiction or a prideful heart, from deep in a prison cell or the comfort of your suburban home, your story is filled with grace. If we can’t see the beauty of a redemption story, the problem isn’t with the story: the problem is with us.

After all, every story of redemption is one so powerful that Christ died to fulfill it.

From Prison to the Pulpit: A Stunning Story of God’s Grace

Every Christian has an “impressive” testimony. There aren’t Varsity and JV versions, because there aren’t Varsity and JV sinners. “Dead in our trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1-3) described all of us before God butted in (Eph. 2:4).

But while all testimonies are miraculous, some are unusually gripping and encouraging. Mez McConnell has one of those stories.

Once an abused, addicted, homeless, Christian-despising criminal, Mez now serves as senior pastor of Niddrie Community Church in Edinburgh, Scotland, and founder of 20 Schemes, a ministry dedicated to building gospel-centered churches for Scotland’s poorest communities (“schemes”). Here’s their vision:

Our long-term desire is to see Scotland’s housing schemes transformed by the good news of Jesus Christ through the planting of gospel-preaching churches, ultimately led by a future generation of indigenous church leaders. . . . We believe building healthy, gospel-preaching churches in Scotland’s poorest communities will bring true, sustainable, and long-term renewal to Scotland’s schemes.

We partnered with 20Schemes to record a brief video of Mez’s testimony. Do your soul a favor and watch. Soli Deo gloria.

Mez McConnell’s Testimony from 20 Schemes on Vimeo.


Mez recounted his story in a three-minute presentation at Together for the Gospel 2012 and in an hour-long interview at 9Marks. For a more detailed account of Mez’s testimony, pick up a copy of his book, Is There Anybody Out There?: A Journey from Despair to Hope (Christian Focus, 2011).

How to Tell Your Story of God’s Grace

With Advent upon us, our thoughts anticipate the many gatherings that will punctuate the upcoming weeks, recognizing opportunities for gospel witness among friends and family. But what can we possibly say in such situations? Randy Newman in his recent article “Don’t Just Share Your Testimony” offers a helpful answer by explaining the apologetic nature of these encounters. I would like to approach the issue a little differently by reflecting on how your personal testimony captures attention and leads friends to consider Christ.

Stories have sticking power. When Greeks of old studied Homer’s Odyssey, the narrative shaped their ideals, intuitions, and eventually their behavior. The sequence of action, dialogue, thoughts, description, and suspense unfold in such a way as to  pique interest. This is true when we read the Chronicles of Narnia with our children or when we listen to a colleague retell her story of sprinting through the JFK Airport terminal to catch a plane just moments before the door was shut. Stories communicate.

Sharing our redemptive story requires a variety of approaches, one of which—an especially valuable one—is the “conversion testimony.” The following example, which I shared last month when a friend asked me, “Why did you become a Christian?” illustrates the two major movements of a gospel testimony: the futility of life outside of Christ contrasted by the inexplicable joy of salvation.

All Is Vanity

At age 19, a case of meningitis landed me in the hospital for five weeks. The time of my convalescence raised profound questions about life’s meaning. Why was I alive? Is there really a God, and if so, does he care to be involved in my life? With each day, questions grew and eventually settled into a resolution to find answers.

The first step of my quest was to pursue transcendental meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. After a few months of making unusual noises in a lotus position, I understood why the Beatles became disenchanted with Mr. Yogi’s method. From there I attended seminars through the Learning Annex, studying under world-class gurus like M. Scott Peck and Deepak Chopra.

Working at the time with New York Telephone in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, I was surrounded by a broad range of religions and philosophies. The Village became my classroom. For instance, when I wanted to learn from someone in the nearby Buddhist Center, I arranged for a personal meeting. My method for doing this was dubious, even though at the time it made sense. After locating the center’s phone terminal, I disconnected their cross-connection wires, reported the trouble, took the repair, and rang the Buddhist Center doorbell to be received by a grateful host. Once inside, I found the person to interview, sat beside a wall jack in her office, pretended I was on hold with the central switchboard, and asked questions. As I recall, I think the Buddhist lady even made me a cup of coffee.

My search for life’s purpose was heading nowhere fast.

Good News

My movement toward Christ began just after my commute to work one morning. After reaching my Manhattan office, my grandfather phoned. In a serious tone he spoke a brief message: “It’s your Dad; come home.” Somehow I knew not to ask questions. It turned out to be a severe heart attack. The waterline of fear and anxiety quickly rose above our heads.

During this time, a friend, knowing of our crisis, invited me to her evangelical worship service. Having never before stepped foot in a Protestant church, I decided to go. After 40 minutes of choruses that seemed familiar to everyone but me, the senior pastor finally entered the pulpit and explained:

“Humanity attempts to produce its own fruit. We run around exploring this and that religion, this and that philosophy, and by the end of the day, when we lay our heads down upon our pillows, our souls are still empty.

In what are you resting? In what does your life find meaning and purpose? What will be there for you the second after you take your last breath and depart in death? Consider the Good News! Jesus the Christ died for our sins, rose from the dead, reigns in eternal glory, and at this moment is calling you to repent and embrace him.

Everyone on earth faces the same fundamental choice. Will we continue to live independent of Christ, in restlessness of soul, eventually to be gathered like a useless branch into a pile to be burned? Or will we submit to his authority and abide in his peace? The former person dies in a never-ending state of alienation; the latter enjoys God’s acceptance now and for eternity. What will it be?”

I don’t know how to properly describe what came next. Anticipation surged through my veins and my mind swirled with questions. Then, suddenly, the eyes of my soul opened. They immediately blinked, again and again, as though they were awoken from sleep by a flash of light. The object of my vision appeared so new and bright that my initial response was to retreat.

As my inner eyes tried to adjust, I sensed an imposing presence. I didn’t see the angelic host or hear them singing. Instead, I felt divine mercy closing in on me. After a moment, this mercy, now accompanied by grace, reached out to grasp my guilt and shame—previously reasons for hopelessness—and brought to mind three simple words: “It is finished.”

In that moment I finally understood the meaning of Jesus’ cross and resurrection. My search for hope had ended. To this day, I don’t have a better way to describe it than with the words of Charles Wesley in his famous hymn “And Can It Be That I Should Gain”:

Long my imprisoned spirit lay, fast bound in sin and nature’s night;

Thine eye diffused a quickening ray, I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;

My chains fell off, my heart was free; I rose, went forth and followed Thee.

The Opportunity

Maybe you feel like you could never share your conversion story. You think of Christmas dinner among family, with the prospect of articulating your faith, and you get sick to your stomach.

Let me encourage you. Simply explain the reality of your heart’s emptiness before Christ—your vain pursuits at finding truth, the futility of running on a self-centered hamster’s wheel. Then, after explaining how you came to the end of yourself, give them the good news. Tell them of God’s mercy that set the cross of Christ between divine judgment and your soul to provide you with pardon and rest for all eternity. Tell them of how God bestowed upon you the brightness of his redemptive light and placed in you the fire of presence that cleanses and empowers. And tell them of your future hope, in which death has lost its sting and grave the victory, wherein life and death you are a child of God.

When Biography Shapes Theology

Several years ago, I was in Bath, England, with some friends to visit the ancient city and investigate a few Jane Austen haunts. While strolling around, I found my way into St. Michael’s Church, in which there was a contemporary art exhibition of some local artists. One piece in particular caught my attention. It was a shark engulfing a man down to his ankles. Although I can’t remember the artist’s name, the title definitely stuck with me: “Biography Shapes Theology.”

The more I read the history of philosophy and theology, the more I become convinced that biography has a disproportionate—but all too often unacknowledged—effect on an individual’s worldview. Case in point: Friedrich Nietzsche. He was born in Röcken, Germany, in 1844 into a pious Lutheran family, and his father was the community’s pastor.

“[My father] was the perfect picture of a country parson, gifted in spirit and heart, adorned with all the virtues of a Christian,” Nietzsche later recalled. The young Friedrich adored his father, Carl Ludwig, but then tragedy struck. In 1849, Carl died from an excruciating brain disease. The young boy struggled to understand why his faithful father had to leave the world in such great pain. Nietzsche’s brother, Joseph, died a year later. His doubts about Christianity began to grow. Friedrich, his mother, and sister were forced out of the parsonage to make it on their own. They were reduced to living with his imperious grandmother.

Nietzsche, for the time being, remained interested in the Christianity lessons he was required to take at his boarding school. His piano compositions included texts from the Psalms. By the time he had entered the University of Bonn, however, the years of creeping doubt in the aftermath of his tragic story proved to be too much. Although he went to Bonn to study theology, he abandoned the pursuit in favor of philology.

So often, evangelicals portray Nietzsche as some sort of monster filled with unreflective hate towards theism in general or Christianity in particular. But if you go back to the beginnings of his apostasy, you will find a great deal of regret after losing his faith. “Where is God?” he writes in The Gay Science, and continues:

I will tell you. We have killed him, you and I. We are his murderers. But what were we thinking when we unchained this earth from its sun? Where is it moving to now? Where are we moving to now? Away from all suns? We are continually then, all of us, falling. Backwards and forwards, and sideways. Is there even still an up or a down?

This is a lament, not a broadside. And there can be no doubt that Nietzsche’s journey away from his father’s orthodoxy emerged in response to his father’s tragedy.

Simply put, experience is a tempting but poor substitute for theological prolegomena.

Diminished Life

This is the persistent story of heresy. Life takes an unexpected turn, anxieties mount, and fears that God isn’t there grow. Deus Revelatus yields to Deus Absconditus. We believe that God’s silence or hiddenness means divine antipathy or impotence.

Consequently, we lash out. Heterodoxy is definitely Freudian, too. We try to kill the Father by saying his Word isn’t true or his character isn’t good, but after the attacks and the assaults, God is still there and sovereign. Only the quality of our life has diminished.

In his masterful 1996 novel, In the Beauty of the Lilies, John Updike tells the story of Clarence Wilmot, a Presbyterian minister from Paterson, New Jersey, who has lost his faith. Despite living an exciting life of apostasy, Clarence finds it difficult to enjoy anything about his life. The newspaper is meaningless, business and commerce a bore, and even his home and family kitchen are cold comfort. He is reduced to selling encyclopedias door to door. Clarence can only find reprieve inside the nickelodeon cinemas of his day, lost in the gaze.

Frank Kermode, upon reviewing Lilies, credited Updike for being “almost alone among his contemporaries in his willingness to study this state of dull spiritual privatization, what used to be called wanhope.” It was biography that first led the Rev. Wilmot to heterodoxy, and then into existential despair, but biography couldn’t get him out.

Our collective evangelical love for testimonies is both a blessing and a curse. Testimonies have the air of infallibility—who can disagree with what I experienced, especially when it ends with “and the Lord brought me through”? Yet an entire generation nurtured on the truth of experience—often to the neglect of tradition and theological precision—will be susceptible to deviations from the pattern of truth, especially if these are wrapped in a powerful personal story.

Keep the Faith

So how can we prevent our theological convictions from turning into some sort of Sartrean “bad faith” in the face of tragedy, suffering, and existential despair? Although a great many responses come to mind, this one is perhaps the most apt:

Learn from those who have suffered greatly and kept the faith. Here, I am borrowing from Pascal’s language in his famous “wager” argument, in which he in essence tells those who deny God’s existence to replace their doubts with acts of piety, such as partaking in the sacraments and the Mass. (For what it’s worth, the evangelical version of this looks like Martyn Lloyd-Jones’s telling a parishioner to listen to several weeks of his preaching before scheduling a counseling appointment.)

The perfect parallel to Nietzsche’s situation is that of his predecessor and counterpart, Søren Kierkegaard, who, far worse than merely losing a parent to illness, came to discover that his father, Michael, had been a blasphemer, adulterer, debaucherer, and fornicator. Kierkegaard also lost five of his six brothers and sisters in tragic and even bizarre circumstances. As if the loss of family weren’t bad enough, he felt compelled to break off his engagement with the love of his life, Regina Olsen.

Søren subsequently plunged into a whirlpool of anxiety and dread. Although he hoped that somehow he might win Olsen back, his hopes were dashed when, upon returning to Copenhagen from Berlin, he learned she was engaged. Yet instead of being driven to question God’s sovereignty, Kierkegaard saw that there was only one solution to his sorrows: to come honestly face to face with the incarnate Christ who “leads by the suffering of inwardness towards the truth,” thus saving him from error and bringing him the good news (Concluding Unscientific Postscript).

Indeed, the annals of church history are filled with the lives of saints who underwent not only great personal tragedy, but also suffered much for following Jesus. This is at the very heart of faith, to marvel at that great cloud of witnesses who “were stoned, sawn in two, and killed with the sword . . . who went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated . . . of whom the world was not worthy, wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth” (Heb. 11:37-38). Is this not part of the tremendous appeal and subsequent success of Eric Metaxas’s blockbuster biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer? Bonhoeffer went to the gallows embracing the Scriptures and not giving the Nazi regime the satisfaction of his losing a single jot of his confession of faith.

In the end, isn’t this what we deeply desire—to know that the martyrs who stared down unimaginable evil looked past this veil of tears to see heaven opening up and Jesus standing at the right hand of God the Father? In this light only—the session of Christ—can we endure the low points of our own biographies and make sense of them “while we wait for the blessed hope, the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).

The Seed of Revival in Our Day

God in his goodness gives us the ordinary means of grace through his Word and sacraments to reveal who he is, what he has done, and what he plans to do. But God sometimes gives us extraordinary measures of his Spirit and thickly palpable works of grace. That is, we enjoy special and distinct times of a fresh pouring out of his Spirit to bring the dead to life and the languishing to vitality. These extraordinary times should not be the sine qua non of the Christian faith. We must remember to be content with the Lord’s ordinary means of grace and to be faithful in the small things. But neither should we disdain or look with suspicion upon the supernatural works of God. After all, the author of earth, air, fire, and water also gives us the incarnation and resurrection and provides healing for the lepers and food for the 5,000.

Can you imagine that the Lord, out of love for his bride, the church, has been moving in people’s hearts in extraordinary ways in our day to re-awaken them to his gospel? I know we’re not seeing whole cities being converted as in the day of Jonathan Edwards. But what if I told you that this zeal for the gospel that the Spirit has been pouring over the Christian community is something like the seed of revival? Right now there is a lot of passion for bringing the evangel back to the center of our thought and life, echoing the conclusion of Don Carson’s book Showing the Spirit: “the church must hunger for personal and corporate submission to the lordship of Christ. We must desire to know more of God’s presence in our lives, and pray for a display of unleashed, reforming, revivifying power among us, dreading all steps that aim to domesticate God.”

Gospel Amnesia

Let me offer a personal example of this movement. When I quit law school to become a stay-at-home-mom I swung far and hard from an egalitarian worldview to a patriarchal model that was heavily obligation-driven and light on the gospel (that would be called over-correction). I sought order, feared grace, and looked down on the gospel because I thought it elementary. I wanted to move on from the “basics.” I devoured books that told me what to do to become a godly wife and mother, how to homeschool classically, how to submit to my husband, how to keep my kids away from the world and the world in the church, etc. etc. ad nauseam. (Just to be clear, there is nothing wrong with reading these types of books, per se, as long as in our minds these types of “help” books do not crowd out the Holy Spirit or Scripture.) I acknowledged that we enter the kingdom through Christ alone by faith alone, but at some level, out of fear of losing God’s favor, I embraced the idea that we stayed in by our good works. And so I threw myself into all sorts of “good works,” which in retrospect I see as fearing the unbridled work of God’s grace in our lives. I was intent on becoming a “godly” mother-wife-homemaker: protecting my children from learning anything from anyone except what they learned in the home, protecting myself from learning anything except what I learned from my husband, even protecting my family from mono- and diglycerides and partially hydrogenated vegetable oil by grinding my own wheat berries for homemade wheat bread. . . . I could fill pages with my list. This went on for quite a few years.

A friend of mine in a similar situation began using the term “gospel amnesia” to describe that state. I resonated with that description, and have used in my writings since. Elsewhere I have defined gospel amnesia as the condition where Christians get so caught up in the doing that they forget to be believing; they forget the gospel. That is, gospel amnesia comes about when a believer is zealous for obedient actions while the gospel is assumed and marginalized, even in favor of good things.

A couple years ago, the Lord shook me out of my gospel amnesia. We had elevated all these life prescriptions to such a degree that we were not capable of being good neighbors to fellow believers. I struggled mightily with anger and bitterness. This came to a climax in the summer of 2010. Our family was suffering deeply from a year’s worth of one hardship after another, some of them of our own making, some of them handed to us in the providence of God. My anger turned to rage, my bitterness became poison to everything and everyone around me. Early in the fall, in my Scripture reading I came to 1 John 2:9-11:

Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

I was undone. At that moment I stood at the edge of the black hole of my wretchedness. I knew that if I chose the way of anger, hate, and rage I would be swallowed up by these sins that had dominated me for most of my life. I could feel the Holy Spirit beside me. It was clear, there was no reconciliation between the darkness of my sin and the presence of Christ. I ached for Jesus, but I loved my sins. Human words fail here, but the Holy Spirit within me chose Christ, and he loosed the shackles and broke the bondage to the sins of anger, bitterness, hate, and rage.

Looking back now I see that the work by the Spirit started in the spring of 2009 while I was reading The Prodigal God by Tim Keller. However, I fought it. I loved my idols. I was way more excited about all sorts of things I had raised to the level of salvific importance.

The Holy Spirit has been palpable to me since that day. His work has come in waves. This was the extraordinary work of God in the heart and spirit of an ordinary sinner. I merited none of it. This spiritual renewal did not come to me because I was more pious than others, or because I was somehow more worthy in God’s economy. There is no me in this! It was completely and purely the supernatural work of God based solely on his immeasurable grace. I am not an anomaly either, as the Lord is doing mighty works of grace in the lives of many ordinary men and women (see the story of Ian and Larissa).

Inflaming Love

Following the Reformation, much of the church has shifted to focus on the internal and subjective appropriation of salvation at the expense of the external, objective truths of Jesus Christ—who he is, the life he lived, his death, resurrection, and ascension. Whereas Calvin and Luther and other Reformers put their emphasis on Christ, our contemporary evangelical movement often emphasizes the internal progress of self-help books. Tullian Tchividjian in “Where To Look When You’re In Trouble” quotes Donald Bloesch: “Among the Evangelicals, it is not the justification of the ungodly (which formed the basic motif in the Reformation) but the sanctification of the righteous that is given the most attention.” Proper attention to the forensic is crucial if we want to see revival/reformation in our day. We magnify the person and work of Christ. He is the only Savior, he is the only Mover of man’s heart, he is the only Justifier.

Focusing on the work of Christ should grow into declaring the work of Christ. Let’s remember the words of Jesus to the healed demon-possessed man in Luke 8:39: “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” This verse, along with sections of Psalm 40, 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, and others like it should drive all of us to “declare how much God has done for [us],” always with the goal of inflaming love for Jesus.

When God in his grace took the scales off my eyes to show me the joy and the glory of the gospel, my spirit revived; when my spirit revived, I found a greater love and a desire for Jesus. The greater love and desire for Jesus (all by grace and the working of the Holy Spirit, of course) then fed into a greater desire to stay centered on the gospel; staying centered on the gospel (in spite of trials and weaknesses) moved me further into spiritual renewal and a grabbing hold of what Christ did on the cross. That in turn led to a passion for speaking and writing about the gospel and being moved deeply into it.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, instead of being afraid of spiritual excesses, or viewing with cynicism or suspicion the extraordinary works of God’s grace, let us keep our eyes open expectantly and plead the promise that the Lord “will pour out [his] Spirit on all flesh.”