Another Sola?

During the Reformation, there were five “solae” (sola is Latin for “alone”) that attempted to sum up the doctrine of salvation. To the reformers, salvation is:

by Grace alone
through Faith alone
in Christ alone
as revealed in Scripture alone
for the Glory of God alone

This is right and good. But is it enough?

Several years ago, a mentor posed the question to me: “I wonder how history would have changed had the reformers included another sola: for love alone.”

There should be another. After all, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim. 1:5).

Think about it. How might church history, or even world history, be different if the reformers had been absolutely focused on ensuring their theology so transformed people it made them into the best lovers of God and neighbor the world had ever seen?

Reformed theology is a beautiful thing. I’ve benefited from it so much. But as I continue to grow older, I’m not so naïve to believe it alone (see what I did there?) has all the goods. Love, like we see it in the life of Jesus, simply was not emphasized by the reformers or their pupils as it should have been.

Reformed theology has too often trained many of its students, including me, to embrace and practice a faith that seeks to be right rather than get it right. Being right is nice when you’re having a debate with your buddy. Getting it right? Love is getting it (aka “life”) right.

And that’s the exact thing Jesus told us really matters to God. I want that to matter for you and me.

We need good theology. Obviously! But let’s be honest: knowing good theology without real, true, Spirit-empowered love makes us, as someone once put it, good for nothing.


Let there be Light! No, seriously, turn on the lights!

Corporate worship is the highlight of the weekly rhythm for Christians. It is the time when we gather together to exalt Jesus and renew our covenant with God. We are to do this in accord with the way he has revealed himself with his word.

Because of this, every aspect of corporate worship should be well-thought out. I think that evangelicals do a pretty good job, for the most part, in thinking through preaching, music, order of service, etc. when it comes to corporate worship. But what about the very non-essential matters? What about, say, how low we dim the lights?

I know what you are thinking: James, seriously? You are talking about light bulbs in church on your blog? Is this important in any sense of the word? This is worse than an argument about carpet patterns!

I would argue, yes, it is important. I would say, no, this is not worse than an argument about carpet. Paul said, “Let all things be done for building up” (1 Cor. 14:26). Of course, he was talking about our manner of speech in a church service. But don’t you think that “all things” can extend even to our use of electricity to communicate God’s redemption?

My personal experience can testify to the fact that most of the churches I’ve been to worship in the dark. Not spiritually. I’m talking literally. The light bulbs are nearly turned off. The Bible has nothing to say about halogens and fluorescents, so there’s no reason to be dogmatic here. But Scripture talks at length about the concept of “light,” and I think it can give guidance about how to handle the dimmer switch on a Sunday morning.

God is light and in him there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5). Jesus came as the radiance of God’s glory (Heb. 1:2); he is the light of the world (John 8:12). God has shone into our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of himself in the face of Jesus (2 Cor. 4:6). The New Jerusalem, our eternal home, will be a place where there is no darkness (Rev. 21:25). Christians are called to be the light of the world, reflecting their Savior (Matt. 5:14).

Dimming the lights at church may get people “in the mood to worship.” It may get them “to focus on what’s going on up front.” But it sends implicit–though unintentional–messages. First, it sends the message that you can hide and not be seen. If the room is dark, we can slip into and out of the service without anyone noticing us. We may be able to fool others with our spiritual vitality, but God is light and he sees and exposes the hidden parts of our hearts. Light reminds us that our deeds will ultimately be exposed by the piercing light of God’s word (Heb. 4:12-13). No one is hidden and, eventually, your true heart allegiance will be found out. The church is a community of light: vulnerability, honesty, confession, forgiveness, and grace. Our worship environment should reflect this.

Second, a dark room also sends the message that church is a “personal time” with the Lord. You can literally not be noticed if the lights are so dim and you may forget there are people worshiping around you! Corporate worship is not personal time with God; it is a communal gathering with God’s people. When the blinds are open and the lights are turned up, we can (literally) see the people who worship around and with us. Physical light reminds us that if we walk in the light of God’s word, we have fellowship with one another and Jesus’ blood cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7). To walk in darkness means that we are not in the fellowship of the saints. Our worship environment should reflect this.

Finally, a dark room sends the message that church is simply a place to have a cool experience à la a concert. It’s dark, the spotlight is on the guy with the mic, and I can sit snug in my little corner of the sanctuary and not engage with others. It can communicate a “come and see” mentality rather than a “be filled and go” mentality. It communicates that the point is to be entertained, not prepared to be ambassadors of the King throughout the week. Physical light reminds us that we are a commissioned people who are the light of the world, a city set on a hill (Matt. 5:14). We are people of the light who are sent out to light up the dark, dingy places of the world. Our worship environment should reflect this.

Whether sunshine or incandescent, we can use light to remind ourselves and communicate to others very important Christian truths. I’m curious: what are your thoughts on lighting in the church? Does it matter? Why or why not?


Six “P’s” for Looking for Christ in the Old Testament

David Murray, professor at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, talks for a few minutes about the main ways to look for Christ in the Old Testament. This video is primarily for preachers, but there’s nothing explicitly sermon-oriented about it. Whether you are a preacher or not, this video will be a great help to you as you seek to gaze upon the glory of the gospel of Jesus in the Old Testament!


Jesus: Prophet, Priest, King

If you had three words to describe Jesus, which words would you use?

Gentle? Lord? Master? Kind? Loving? Gracious? Truthful? Teacher? Savior? Compassionate?

These descriptors are all true, of course. The truest of true! But I want to challenge you to think big picture, and consider the background of the Old Testament–which all points to Jesus (see John 5:29; Luke 24:24-27, 44). In the Old Testament, there were only three offices in Israel: prophet, priest, and king. Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of these offices, so whenever we read about them in the Old Testament, we need to keep one eye on that text and another looking ahead to how Jesus fulfills them in the New Testament.

So, if I had just three words to describe Jesus, I’d say he is Prophet, Priest, and King. Let me unpack these ideas and the implications for us.

Prophets spoke to people on behalf of God. Jesus came as God’s word in the flesh (John 1:1-2), as God’s final revelation (Heb. 1:1-2). Jesus came to speak the true words of the Father to the world (John 8:28). We know what Jesus speaks today by reading God’s written word–which is all a testimony to Jesus (John 5:39). In our heart of hearts, we either want to hear the true God or a god of our own making. We all look for some kind of divine word, don’t we? Who is the most influential speaker in your life? You need a prophet who will deliver pure words that give life, not false prophets who fail to deliver on their promises.

Priests went to God on behalf of the people. As a mediator between God and man, they offered sacrifices to God for atonement for sin. Jesus came as the sole and final mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5). He is the great high priest who has no need to offer sacrifices repeatedly (Heb. 4:14-16; 7:26-27), because he has made a once-for-all sacrifice (Heb. 10:1-14). He did not sacrifice a lamb; he is the Lamb (John 1:29, 36; Rev. 12:11). At our core, we all realize that we have inadequacies that keep us from being right with God. What mediator do you seek to find righteousness and forgiveness? You need Someone who is perfect and spotless to stand in the gap, to go to God on your behalf and represent you before him.

Kings reigned over a nation, subdued enemies, and brought blessing to his people. Jesus is the true King–the King we’ve always longed for. He is the promised descendant of David, the greatest king of Israel (Rom. 1:3). Jesus brings the promised kingdom of God to earth (Mark 1:15). He has conquered our enemies (Col. 2:15) and his throne and kingdom will never end (Heb. 1:8-9; 12:18-29). We desire to be ruled justly and with love, but we realize that our human governments are insufficient, incomplete, and always corrupt at some level. We also wrongly desire to be ruled by everyday things that are temporary by nature. Who rules you? What authority do you look to for security, hope, and blessing? You need a King who will forever rule your heart in grace and truth.

This is no shallow and boring Christ. He is a dynamic, strong, gracious, and supreme Christ. And do not be fooled. Everyone longs for and clings to prophets, priests, and kings–even in our day. It’s just a matter of whether we set our gaze on false ones or the true One.


David Platt on How We Should Respond to the Gospel

You are not saved because you prayed a prayer or went to the front row during an evangelistic event. Here, David Platt talks about “the sinner’s prayer” and what a biblical response to the gospel looks like.

If you are looking for a few resources on conversion and response to the gospel, let me suggest two books. J.D. Greear has written a wonderful little book called Stop Asking Jesus into  Your HeartI recently reviewed this book. Also, Gordon Smith has written a more comprehensive and academic book on conversion called Transforming Conversion: Rethinking the Language and Contours of Christian InitiationSmith’s book is one of the most helpful and insightful books I have read in the past two years.

HT: Bob Thune