10:30 am Sunday Worship
6400 W 20th St, Greeley, CO

Session 1: The Paradigm of the Cross

Matthew 16:13-24

I just want to thank you all for coming. It’s wonderful to see so many smiling faces ready to receive the Word of God at our Pillar of Truth conference this year: “Christ, His Cross, and His Church.” So it’s how the, how the ministry of Christ in the cross sets the tone for the entire Christian life. It’s the paradigm for the Christian life and the paradigm for ministry in the church. So I have, my task in this session is to try to kind of set up the conference itself and also give some exposition as well.

So as we kick off the conference, I just want to take you to a familiar text to you, a seminal text, which is Matthew 16, Matthew 16, to see how the cross really is the paradigm of the Christian faith. Matthew chapter 16. This beautiful chapter, beautiful text contains several themes that we will remind ourselves of over this weekend together, Gospel themes that unite us together as Christians, Gospel themes that bring unity and harmony to our churches and set the tone for our entire ministry.

I’m going to read that section, starting in verse 13 where Peter makes the Good Confession, Matthew 16:13 and following. “Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’

“And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven, and I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’ Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.

“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. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘Far be it from you, Lord, this shall never happen to you.’ He turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan, for you are a hindrance to me, for you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.’ Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.’”

More than twenty years ago, it was back in 2002, Rick Warren and Zondervan publishers published The Purpose-Driven Life. And you’re saying to yourself already, I know, “Twenty years ago; that is ancient history.” And I don’t like to bring up ancient history just for the sake of bringing up ancient history. I’m bringing it up because the, the phenomenon that produced The Purpose-Driven Life and before it The Purpose-Driven Church, what brought that to a reality and made it such an astounding success is with us to this very day, stronger than ever.

The Purpose-Driven Life, published in 2002, was a follow-up to Rick Warren’s earlier hit, 1995, The Purpose-Driven Church. But whereas The Purpose-Driven Church targeted pastors with church-growth philosophy, The Purpose-Driven Life went after the churches, went after the people in the pews.

The core concepts of Rick Warren’s best-selling books come from Donald McGavran, the father of the church-growth movement, and what’s called the “homogeneous growth unit principle.” And the homogeneous growth unit principle states that people prefer to become Christians, notice the “prefer” language, they prefer to become Christians without crossing racial, linguistic, or class barriers. McGavran developed that homogeneous growth unit principle from Methodist missionary J. Waskom Pickett, who published a book back in 1933 about Gospel “success,” and I do put that in air quotes, success in India.

Pickett observed that when converts were allowed, in India, were allowed to remain in separate social castes, the Brahmins converts, the highest caste, not mixing with the lowly Shudras or worse, the Dalits, the untouchables of society, well, the Brahmins were quite happy to convert. They liked to join. They were perfectly content to join Brahmin churches full of Brahmin Christians. And so it was with the other castes as well. And all those churches in their own caste mushroomed in size.

So Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, and other church-growth pastors wanted big, successful churches, so they latched on to this new philosophy, the church-growth philosophy. They learned from McGavran and C. Peter Wagner over at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, California.

But Rick Warren learned to market church growth from his mentor, Crystal Cathedral pastor and televangelist Robert Schuller. Robert Schuller was not a Christian, though he claimed to be. He was actually a peddler of positive thinking and self-esteem psychology, the shtick of every motivational guru from Norman Vincent Peale to Tony Robbins.

And this stuff worked. It worked in a pragmatic sense. It, it did what it was peddled to do. Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, others, they discovered that by targeting the wealthy in Orange County, California, or in South Barrington, Illinois, it turns out that wealthy Americans, they’re a lot like Brahmins in India. They also “prefer” to become Christians without crossing racial, linguistic, and class barriers. And they, too, they like churches full of people who are mirror images of themselves.

The success of The Purpose-Driven Church in 1995, that was due to Rick Warren’s ability to make this church-growth strategy, to market it and its tactics to pastors, pastors who were desperate to make their churches grow, pastors who had tried year after year after year after weary year to try to teach the Bible, yet to no avail, too many people getting up and leaving. He thought, “Something must be wrong. It must be my methodology.” So they were the kindling that caught fire with church-growth, church-growth philosophy. And yet, for a number of reasons, these same pastors were unable to discern the unbiblical premise of this church-growth philosophy.

It was not until The Purpose-Driven Life was published in 2002 by Zondervan Publishers, by Rick Warren, some of the fallout of the success of that book started to bring some things to light. More than 50 million copies sold to date. At that time I think it was 25 million copies, but who’s counting once you get that high? But some of the fallout of the success of his book, with the more than 50 million copies sold, that his shrewd marketing and really the worldliness that had driven it became exposed to the public.

For his part, Rick Warren explained the success of The Purpose-Driven Life as the evidence of the work of God. Here’s what he said: “My concern is that no one, neither Zondervan Publishing nor myself claim credit for the astounding success of The Purpose-Driven Life book. The worldwide spread of the purpose-driven message was the result of God’s supernatural and sovereign plan, which no one anticipated.” End quote. What astounding success is he pointing to? What’s the evidence of God’s supernatural work? To date, 50 million copies sold, translated into 137 languages. End of story. Case closed, Supernatural.

It was in 2005 that Tim Challies reported on what happened when Rick Warren tried to suppress the connection between The Purpose-Driven Life and then what would come to light in a book by Greg Stielstra, a book called PyroMarketing: The Four-Step Strategy to Ignite Customer Evangelists and Keep Them for Life. Greg Stielstra, he was responsible on the marketing team for the The Purpose-Driven Life. He was a part of Zondervan’s marketing team at the time. He’d, he’d marketed other big-name authors like Philip Yancey, Lee Strobel, Jim Cymbala, Billy Graham, others, and according to Stielstra, he said this: “The success of The Purpose-Driven Life or The Passion of the Christ,” referring to Mel Gibson’s movie, a very Catholic movie, “the success of The Purpose-Driven Life or The Passion of the Christ remains puzzling to many.”

Why would he say they’re puzzling? Because really, they’re not that good. The book itself, The Purpose-Driven Life, according to Warren himself, he says, “None of these ideas are new. They’re not really that explosive.” He says, “Th, their success remains puzzling to many.” “But not to those who know their secret,” Stielstra said.

What do these remarkable success stories have in common? They each used “pyromarketing.” “Pyromarketing” is what he calls it. Now with Rick Warren, everyone thought the wizard had powers, that Rick Warren’s success was indeed supernatural. Turns out it was just Greg Stielstra behind the curtain, pulling all the levers and cranking the marketing machine up. That’s what explained it. There is no wizard, there is no wizardry. It’s just clever marketing, and Stielstra, for his part, he’s just doing his job. At least he’s honest about it. Rick Warren was playing people. He was playing this off as all God’s work when he knew very well this is the work of men.

Stielstra’s four-step approach to “pyromarketing,” which Rick Warren used, Tim Challies outlines the whole thing, but I’m just going to summarize it just so you know how it works. Rick Warren and Zondervan con, convinced pastors of mid-sized churches to begin what was called the “Forty Days of Purpose” campaign. Do you remember that? Remember that? “Forty Days of Purpose”? It was going on everywhere. You couldn’t get away from it. These campaigns were held in churches, and they promised these pastors and these churches that “this campaign is going to build bigger, more successful, thriving churches.” And so 1,200 pastors signed on the dotted line, 1,200 pastors, their congregations total, totaling about 400,000 people. That’s roughly mid-sized churches, 300 to 400, 500, somewhere in there.

Next, Zondervan produced, distributed commercial spots on Christian radio, building brand recognition. And not for the book per se, but for the “Forty Days of Purpose” campaign, all of them kicking off in a local church near you. So the radio got on board, the marketing got on board. Zondervan sent discounted copies of The Purpose-Driven Life to all those participating churches, and 400,000-plus people bought them at discounted rates.

Luther outlined the contrast between the theology of glory, that’s his name for Rome’s theology, and he contrasted it there in the Heidelberg disputation with the theology of the cross.

Travis Allen

That started the fire going. Zondervan fanned the flame by promoting that book as evangelistic, gathering testimonies of individual people who had said their lives were changed, testimonies of pastors who said their churches just exploded in size. All this stuff works. I knew many Christians, I’ve known many Christians who have told me, sometimes even now, later, looking back sheepishly, “Yeah, I, I bought those books and handed them out to unbelievers because I thought they were evangelistic.”

That’s how they were sold in the Christian bookstores. The Christian retail, retailers talked about it all the time. There were displays everywhere. Challies writes this, he says, “A company called Outreach Marketing produced posters and door hangers and other items to assist churches as they spread the word. Zondervan provided retailers with marketing tools like postcards and emails, along with a list of participating churches so they could sell them and any additional copies that they needed, and the pastors and the laypeople who’d already completed the program largely unknowingly became consumer evangelists, consumer evangelists. And the flames spread.

Then came the next stage, the final stage, the counting up the numbers, totaling the numbers, reporting the sales figures, gathering data on participating individuals, participating churches, gathering and crunching all that data, getting e-mail addresses, other personal data, everything that they could. And according to Greg Stielstra, he says, “A great deal of scientific evidence for pyromarketing comes from psychology, physiology, and sociology,” he says. And all that data that gathered prepared the publisher for the next marketing campaign.

Now why have I told you that story? I can assure you it is not to be salacious. It’s not to expose Rick Warren, other big name authors, Zondervan, Christian publishers, Christian retailers, the Christian media industrial complex, or whatever you want to call it. I’m not trying to just expose how they have been duping an unsuspecting public. Others have told that tale far better than I can now, in the limited time I have.

My interest, instead, in telling you what happened twenty years ago is to draw attention to that unsuspecting public. That’s where I want to shift your focus, is to those people. There were, after all, 1,200 pastors and their churches who were all complicit in this scheme. They represent 400,000 professing Christians. To date there have been 50 million in book sales, 137 expensive, highly labor-intensive translation projects.

When I worked at Grace to You, I picked up a translation project that Don had started before he left Grace to You, to translate the MacArthur Study Bible into Chinese, a very, very ambitious, huge project. And I could see how expensive and labor-intensive it is to translate anything. A hundred thirty-seven of these translation projects, even at a low estimate in the numbers, that means millions, millions of professing Christians all bought into this.

Why is that? How did that happen? And more to the point, how did pastors agree to go along with this, turning their sheep into consumer evangelists? How has everybody been duped so easily into believing that clever marketing tactics are not the work of man, but the work of God himself? Why would they think that? I know there must be a number of different answers to that question, a number of different angles.

We can look at the question and come out with a, a number of good reasons for this, but I want to get to the basic fundamental error. I want to get to the bottom line on this, which I think is a watershed issue and a paradigm-setting pattern of thinking that is revealed here, and it’s endemic to the fallen condition.

It’s in the contrast that Martin Luther identified 500 years ago between the theology of glory versus the theology of the cross. The theology of glory, on the one hand, as opposed, as contra-distinct from, the theology of the cross. It was years ago that I read an article by Carl Trueman that I found very helpful, and I’m going to quote from in my message here, but it’s called “Luther’s Theology of the Cross.” It exposed me to this thinking in Martin Luther.

And in this article, Carl Trueman described Luther, describing and identifying how Roman Catholic theologians had practiced theology for centuries, and this theology that they had practiced was just standard for them. It turned out that it justified the opulence of the Roman Catholic Church, hoarding wealth. Their theology fed a lust for power. Their theology resulted in the rotten fruit of sin and terrible abuse among the clergy among the laity. Frankly, the sheep were scattered without a shepherd, and this theology of glory, it explains it.

It was at the Heidelberg Disputation that was conducted in April of 1518 by the Augustinian Order. Martin Luther was a monk in the Augustinian order. Luther outlined the contrast between the theology of glory, that’s his name for Rome’s theology, and he contrasted it there in the Heidelberg disputation with the theology of the cross. Four theses, theses 19 through 22. And here’s theses 19 and 20. Number 19: “That person does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks upon the invisible things of God as though they were clearly perceptible in those things which have actually happened.” Thesis 20: “He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God, seen through suffering and a cross.”

Now, if you’re out there scratching your head wondering why this is such a big deal, you’re not alone. Hardly seems like a breakthrough. In some ways, it doesn’t even seem cogent or even lucid of, of a comment. And the truth is what Luther said at Heidelberg, it really did identify a watershed way of thinking about theology, not only between Catholics and Protestants, which became clear in his day, but between true Christianity, on the one hand, and every false sub-Christian, sub-biblical version of Christianity on the other hand. In fact, we could say without fear of contradiction, what Luther identified there at Heidelberg identifies a watershed between true Christianity, true religion, the way of God, God-centered thinking, on the one hand, and man-centered thinking and man-centered religion on the other hand.

Trueman, he interprets Luther for us. He tells us why those theses are such a big deal. He says this: “At the heart of Luther’s argument is this: that human beings should not speculate about who God is or how he acts in advance of actually seeing whom he has revealed himself to be.”

All right, as we read in Matthew 16, no one, no one expected the Messiah to show up in Jerusalem only to die on a cross. No one saw that coming. Even his closest disciples, though Jesus had told them several times, predicted it in very clear language as we see in our text, his closest disciples were unable to accept, unable to fathom the thought of him dying on the cross.

When Peter, not getting it, tried to rebuke Jesus before seeing who God would reveal Christ to be, Jesus had to rebuke Peter, didn’t he? He called his thinking nothing short of satanic. That’s strong. Because Peter had set his mind on the things of man. He was man-centered in his thinking. He’s on the wrong side of the watershed, here, rather than on the things of God.

Again, here’s Luther at the Heidelberg Disputation, April 1518, theses 21 and 22. Number 21: “A theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theologian of the cross calls the thing what it actually is,” and by that he means, he’s waiting to see what God reveals it to actually be, before he makes a judgement. Thesis number 22: “That wisdom, which sees the invisible things of God in works as perceived by man,” this is the theology of glory, “is completely puffed up, blinded and hardened.”

Peter had his mind on the things of men, and he was thus susceptible to thinking that was, frankly, from the pit of hell itself. It was demonic. And this is the theology of glory. By human wisdom he judged the invisible things of God as being wrong, as being in grave error, as meriting rebuke and rejection. Why? Because suffering and dying on a cross is not glorious. It is anything but glorious. It is the ultimate assault against any person’s dignity. It is not glorious. It is reprehensible. And so Peter said, “Away with this. You can’t think this way, Lord.”

By Luther’s judgment, in that moment Peter was puffed up, blinded, and hardened. Trueman writes this: “The theologians of glory, therefore, are those who build their theology in light of what they expect God to be like. And surprise, surprise, they make God to look something like themselves,” just like the Brahmins in India, just like the seekers entering into Willow Creek or Saddleback Church.

That’s the perennial error of the Jews, isn’t it? Over the entire recorded history of Israel, continued in Jesus’ day, led to the Jews rejection of Christ, and we can look at the Roman Catholic era the very same way, as fundamentally flawed in its man-centeredness, with assumptions and expectations that are set by a theology of glory. They want something that is glorious, something that appears to be great.

And I’d argue that much of today’s evangelicalism is making the exact same mistake now, right now. In fact, many of us in this room have been weaned and reared and raised on this same thinking, and it keeps coming back to us as well. The same theology of glory that persecuted the prophets, that crucified our Lord, that burned reformers at the stake, it is the fundamental flaw of many leaders in the Christian world today, and it is the dominant spirit of our age.

In 2002, as I said, there were 1,200 pastors and their churches who believed God wants them to build a mega-church, that God’s true work is evident in mega-proportions: big numbers, big sales, big movements, big things, big influence worldwide. So when someone comes along to sell them what they so desperately want, surprise, surprise, God looks a lot like exactly what they want.

That is why Rick Warren tried to explain the astounding success of The Purpose-Driven Life, not as a result of good marketing, which it was, but as God’s supernatural and sovereign plan, which no one anticipated. He operates on the very same assumption that many evangelicals still live by today. In fact, many of you may still have this thinking as a go-to, as a knee-jerk reaction in your mind: bigger, better; bigger, successful; successful, big is God’s work. God’s true work is evident in mega-churches, huge numbers, large revenues, big budgets, and a big, huge movement. That’s what many think today.

By contrast, what Luther and the Reformers recovered in their time, might should say rediscovered, was this theology of the cross. The paradigm itself comes from Jesus’ ministry, his life of self-denial, of self-sacrifice, of perfect obedience to his Father’s will, which took him inexorably and inevitably into the cross. The paradigm of the cross only made sense, by the way, after the cross. They couldn’t see it beforehand.

It was only after the cross itself, the historical event, it was only after the Apostles interpreted the cross to us in the New Testament by the Spirit’s ministry of illumination, and only by his enabling, I should say, are we able to see who God is and what he is like. Only by the Holy Spirit can we understand the true meaning of God’s works. Trueman says, “Theologians of the cross are those who build their theology in the light of God’s own revelation of himself in Christ, hanging on the cross.”

In the cross of Christ, which the entire world got wrong, as the centuries have proven, the world is still getting it wrong even today. It’s in the cross of Christ that we see who God is, what he is like, and how he acts. In Christ on the Cross, we see God as He has revealed himself to be in the Incarnate Son, dying, dead on the cross. This is what Christianity really is, what it’s really about. It’s what true discipleship is. It’s what ministry is really about, is the theology of the cross.

So we return to Scripture, we look here to find the true paradigm of our faith in the cross, and we see the theology of the cross right here in Matthew 16, and I’m going to give you four concepts in this paradigm this evening. If you’d like to take notes, write these down. I’m going to give them to you one at a time so you don’t get lost.

But a first concept is, number one, discipleship demands divine regeneration. Discipleship demands divine regeneration. It says in verse 13, “When Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi,” there tucked beneath Mount Hermon, rising 9,000 feet in the air, hard rock, it took him to really what was predominantly a pagan area, Gentile places away from the Jews. And “there he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’” They answer the question in verse 14. “‘Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, others Jeremiah, one of the prophets.’”

These all seem to be, don’t they, noble opinions. Due to the popularity of John the Baptist and probably also some degree of popular suspicion, people believed perhaps John was coming back to haunt Herod, who had beheaded him. Many people like to think that. John was extremely popular. His ministry was so powerful it’s hard for us to fathom this. And so people believed justice would not let Herod rest in peace, wouldn’t let him get a wink of sleep. And so Jesus is John returned to haunt Herod, to deal out divine retribution.

Elijah was also a popular choice, and since he ascended into heaven in a flaming chariot, alive, Malachi predicted, “I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.” Many people thought that perhaps now, now this is the time. Elijah is here. This is the Elijah-like figure returned to overthrow the Romans and restore Israel to its rightful place in the world. Again, they’re thinking through, “What is most glorious to me? Power. Strength. Military might.” Others believe Jesus is a visitation by an ancient prophet: Jeremiah, Moses, Enoch rising up, returning for judgment, for glory.

And what ties all these popular opinions together, what they all have in common, is they interpret Jesus coming through the lens of human expectation and a human expectation about what real power is. Trueman writes this: “When theologians of glory read about divine power in the Bible, or use the term in their own theology, they assume that it, power, is analogous to human power. They suppose that they can write of it, an understanding of divine power, by magnifying to an infinite degree the most powerful, powerful thing of which they can think.” End quote. That’s what they’ve done here. Sure. The supernatural is at work in Jesus, but in how they interpreted him, essentially, he is an elevated man. He’s a super-prophet. He’s a super-duper prophet. He’s really impressive.

And so in so doing, in estimating Jesus that way, the people have undershot the mark, haven’t they? Infinitely. They are infinitely low because what is he? He is God himself, Son of God, distinct from man, Creator-creature distinction. And yet here he is showing up incarnated in human flesh. He’s something else entirely.

This is in clear contrast, their judgement, by the way, it’s in contrast to Peter’s answer. “He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’”, turning to his disciples, “and Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’” “You are something else entirely. You are something else other than anything which I have ever seen. There is no category for you. You are unique. You are monogenes. You are the one and only begotten son of God. You’re the Christ,” Peter says. The Greek christos translates the Hebrew mashiach from the verb mashach, which is “to anoint with oil.”

So by God’s command, Israel used to anoint certain men who were set apart by God for three special offices: prophet, priests, and king. Jesus, he’s all three. He is the prophet Moses predicted in, in Deuteronomy 18:15, God promised him in Deuteronomy 18:18. He’s the priest whom God promised in Psalm 110:4, “You are priests forever after the order of Melchizedek,” an eternal order. He’s the king that God promised, according to 2 Samuel 7:12-13, David’s greater Son coming to rule an everlasting kingdom. How can he rule an everlasting kingdom unless he is an everlasting person?

All this I’m just summarizing here. There’s so much to say. Rich tapestry of prophetic revelation demonstrated in the, in the Old Testament Scriptures, but all of them demonstrating beyond a doubt that the Christ would be the Son of Man, predicted, prophesied Son of Man, Daniel 7, and also the Son of God.

We don’t have the time, and I would like to unpack all this, but incarnational theology is the substance of Peter’s answer here. We know, we know, Peter did not come up with all that on his own. He isn’t that smart. He’s not smarter than the crowds. In fact, he biffs it just a few sentences later. He’s no more literate than any of the rest. He’s no more studied, no more biblically astute than anybody else. How does he get it when other people don’t? What is the dividing line? What marks the difference between Peter and the, the other disciples, the other Apostles and all the crowds, the multitudes, the many?

Difference-maker for Peter? Peter knows what he knows and he confesses what he confesses by the sovereign working of the Triune God. Jesus said as much: “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah.” “Simon Bar-Jonah” reminds Peter of his sin nature, not to insult him, but just to remind him that sinners cannot on their own identify the Christ on their own power, by their own intellect, in their own merits.

“Blessed are you,” though, “Simon Bar-Jonah,” “because that’s what you are. You are the son of Jonah. You are the son of a sinful man that goes all the way back to the first sinful man, Adam.” “Blessed are you,” though, “because flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father, who is in heaven. That’s the difference-maker. By the election of God the Father, by the ministry of the Son, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, Peter’s mind is opened. It’s illuminated. So he is able now to apprehend a truth that was hidden to him before. He’s able to assent to its truthfulness. And even more, he’s able to love this truth.

We see in the balance of Peter’s life, he embraced the truth. He joyfully obeyed the truth. Jesus, in John chapter 6, he’s teaching about himself. He’s teaching about how “‘unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,’” I mean, this is gruesome-sounding stuff. Says it to all the crowds of disciples; they’re called disciples. “‘Unless you do that, you’re no disciple of mine.’ And many of those disciples were no longer walking with him anymore.” You know what that means? They were not true disciples.

Crowd clears out. Jesus finds himself standing there with just a few, the Twelve. He says, “‘What about you? Do you want to go away, too?’” And Peter speaks up then once again: “‘Where are we going to go? You have the words of eternal life.’” Why does he know that? Why does he believe that? Why doesn’t he wander away with the many? Why doesn’t he follow popular opinion? “‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah. Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you.’” This is not coming from the category of man. This is not coming from the category of a creature. “My Father, who is in heaven,” the Creator, God, “has revealed this to you.’”

That’s the evidence of divine regeneration. That is the hidden work of God, and it’s revealed in retrospect. It’s revealed as we look back. It becomes very clear in hindsight, very hard to tell sometimes in the moment. And definitely we can’t look into the future. Apart from the Triune God, Peter would not, he could not discern Jesus’ true identity as the Christ, and he would not embrace Jesus as Savior and Lord. He would not stand there; he would not stand against the crowds and popular opinion. He would not walk with him. He would not suffer with him. He would not die for him. He’d be just as blind as everyone else taking one of all these popular views.

Why? Because those who judge God’s ways through the lens of human power, they are blind to who God actually is. They’re ignorant of what God is actually like. They have no understanding of what God is actually doing in the world. It is only by divine regeneration that blind eyes are open, that truth is revealed to those eyes, and that the identity, the true identity of Jesus, is known.

If Christian discipleship depends on divine regeneration, and it does, we need to examine the content of popular books and messages. We should not look at the success of its sales, its distribution, popular books and messages and music. Its success means absolutely nothing to us. The numbers don’t mean a thing. In fact, when the numbers are big, we should say, “Warning flag!” Remember the majority in Israel after they came out of Egypt? Do you know what they wanted to do to Moses? Stone him and go back to slavery in Egypt. Don’t follow the majority.

Warren’s book, The Purpose-Driven Life, misuses God’s Word repeatedly. He distorts the meaning of God’s Word by using loose paraphrases that let him get away with all kinds of false stuff. He takes texts out of context all the time, and he does it so quickly and rapidly that you don’t stop and say, “Wait, wait wait, wait. Let’s pause right there and examine. Does the Bible actually say that, what you’re making it say?”

He undermines the entire need for the Gospel in The Purpose-Driven Life, which everybody says is a Gospel book, an evangelical book, and a book for evangelism. “Give this to an unbeliever. The Gospel’s so easy, so clear, that an unbeliever can get it easily.” But he undermines the need for the Gospel. He treats the biblical concept of guilt for sin, which is a good thing, to recognize your guilt for sin. Does it make you feel bad? Yeah, that’s the point. If you feel bad, blessed are you who mourn over your sin because maybe your salvation is right around the corner.

But he treats the biblical concept with guilt as nothing more than a psychological hang-up, a barrier to your success. Here’s what he says: “People are driven by guilt, manipulated by memories that allow the past to control their future and unconsciously punish themselves by sabotaging their own success.” If you carry your guilt before God, punishing yourself and sabotaging your own success is going to be far from your mind in that day.

But having redefined guilt as nothing more than the psychological issue, Warren preaches the gospel of self-worth. He says this: “When you finally understand this truth, you will never again have a problem with feeling insignificant because after all, that’s what you need salvation from. You need salvation from feeling insignificant, from lacking self-worth, from lacking self-esteem, and you need to esteem yourself highly.” He goes on. He says, “When you finally understand this truth, you’ll never again have a problem with feeling insignificant. It proves your worth. If you are that important to God, and He considers you valuable enough to keep you with Him for eternity, what greater significance could you have?”

Well, Warren sounds a lot like his former self-esteem coach, his ministry mentor Robert Schuller, who preached that Protestant liberal gospel. Richard Niebuhr famously summarized that gospel this way, that “a God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgement through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.” That’s exactly what Warren’s preaching.

If Christian discipleship depends on divine regeneration, and it does, then we need to preach Christ crucified. We need to preach what Christ taught us to preach: that sinners are guilty before a holy God, and with the regeneration work of the Holy Spirit, making them to be born again, opening blind eyes, unstopping deaf ears, giving them a new heart, they can believe and repent of their sin, and God can grant them justification by faith. All this by the sovereign grace of a kind and good and merciful God. If Christian discipleship depends on divine regeneration, and it does, we need to preach that message and not soft-pedal a message of self-esteem.

There’s a second concept in the cross paradigm. A second concept, number two, discipleship demands a religious institution. Discipleship demands a religious institution. Look at verse 18: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.” And Peter doesn’t interrupt him and say, “Oh, Lord, I’m kind of not into organized religion. I, I, this, you just talked about church. That kind of cramps my style. I kind of have this, like, kind of freewheeling, evangelizing, evangelistic thing I like to do. I’m a street preacher. I’m kind of a wild-at-heart kind of a guy.”

Quiet, fake Peter. Let’s see what Jesus actually said. “I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” I can tell you that by divine regeneration, because God has been gracious to me, I want to be a part of that thing. Whatever that is that the gates of hell cannot prevail against it, I want in. I want in for life. I want in for life and eternity.

You? I hear this all the time, and so do you. “I’m spiritual; I’m not religious. I’m spiritual; I’m not religious, though,” and I know what people are trying to say. “I’ve had a bad experience, had some difficult things go on. I’ve been hurt by churches.” But it’s worth examining the statement behind that sentiment, that statement, “I’m spiritual; I’m not religious.” To say, “I’m spiritual,” that’s just a truism. It’s like saying, “I breathe.” To say, “I’m spiritual” is just simply to admit one-half of your human ontology. We could just as easily make the pronouncement acknowledging the other half of human ontology, “I’m material.” Okay, so what?

But to say the next thing, “I’m not religious,” that is a tacit denial of the kind of creature that we are. We are religious by God’s design, and have by our nature, we’re religious. And since we are religious, God designed us to be joined to a religious institution. Jesus identifies it here as “my church.” Jesus gives Simon Bar-Jonah a new name, gives him a nickname, kind of to memorialize his confession. I think this is such a, this is such like a “guy thing” to do. Like guys on a football team, guys in the military, they give each other nicknames. “Shorty.” I met a guy today who’s like, what? What is he? Like 6’-5” and 250? And then he says, “Yeah, my name’s ‘Tiny.’” We love giving each other nicknames. That’s such a guy thing to do.

And that’s what Jesus does here with Simon Bar-Jonah. He gives him a new, he says, “I tell you, you are Peter. I, I got a name for you. You’re Peter.” That is the Greek word petros, “little rock.” “You’re the pebble and on this rock,” and he’s using another Greek word there. It’s similar, but it’s petra, refers to a big rock, a rock outcrop, a rock cliff. They’re standing there at the base of Mount Hermon, 9,000 feet in the air. That’s the setting they’re in. That’s the image Jesus is referring to.

So after memorializing the significance of Peter’s good confession in this nickname, Jesus said, “On this rock,” that is, on Peter’s confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” on that confession, “I will build my church. The gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Church, the word ekklesia, “called out of” literally is what it means. But it means “assembly.” It means congregation, right here in this place, and just kind of a plain, vanilla sense, not in a, not in a biblical sense, but in a plain sense, we’re an assembly. This is an assembly. You all have assembled here in person. You’ve congregated. This is in that sense a church, just in the technical sense.

At the time that Jesus said this, there were no distinctions that were made between the church, visible and invisible, local church and universal church. The word simply meant “assembly,” referred to a congregation of gathered people, in-person meetings, which were visible and local. That’s the church.

This is not to deny the invisible and universal nature of the greater church of Jesus Christ, that historical reality of Christ by the Spirit, who’s gathered all his saints, joined them together in one body, creating for God one temple to glorify him. But the emphasis in the New Testament from the very beginning is on the localized expression of the ekklesia, an in-person gathering assembly of Christians.

Notice Jesus did not say here, “I will build my parachurch,” or “I will build my evangelism outreach,” or “I will build my denomination,” “I will build my conference,” “I will build my social, political, cultural, movement.” All that stuff is theology-of-glory thinking. The local church is where it’s at. The local church is where it’s at.

The local church is where God’s regular means of grace are administered to God’s people by biblically qualified leaders who preach biblical messages, Gospel-faithful messages, who administer the ordinances; and that requires examining candidates for membership and for baptism. It requires the practice, faithful practice, of church discipline.

To despise any of those divinely appointed means, to think of any of that is insufficient for sanctifying Christians, to denigrate the church of Jesus Christ, which gives meaningful avenues of ministry of service to his saints, which builds them up in their most holy faith, which grows them in the grace and the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, which protects them from false doctrine, false teachers, waves of doctrine throwing them here and there, winds of doctrine blowing them all over, teaching them to resist enticing temptations, to think Christ’s headship and his shepherding is somehow insufficient for the end for which God designed it, for the, with the end for which God gave it, to bring his people to maturity, to cause them to persevere to the end, well, that is the height of ignorance and arrogance and a false judgement from the theology of glory.

“I’m spiritual, but I’m not religious.” “I’m a Christian, but I don’t go to church.” It’s not through the parachurch or through the university outreach ministry or through Christian concerts. It’s not through the Internet. It’s not through podcasts. It’s not through listening to sermons online, but it is through the local church, an in-person gathering of people with biblically qualified leadership and all the things that I’ve said.

It’s through the local church that the manifold wisdom of God is on display, and it is being made known, Ephesians 3:10, “to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places.” God is putting on a show of his wisdom to angels and demons. Something great is going on here, much greater than we can see, much greater than our eyes can behold.

Now, I’ll admit that it is not intuitively obvious to anyone that God’s wisdom is on display in a local church. Paul said as much in 1 Corinthians 1:26. He said, “Look at you. Just, just look at you. Not many of you are wise according to the world. Not many of you are powerful or wealthy or not many of noble birth.” Listen, but local churches are exactly what God has chosen to glorify himself. “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise. God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God chose what is low and despised in the world, even the things that are not, they are nothing, to bring to nothing the things that are so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” You know what human beings boasting the presence of God is? The theology of what? Glory.

This religious institution, which Jesus bought and paid for at the price of his own precious blood, is indomitable, though it is assailed by all the powers of hell. And Jesus tells Peter and the Apostles in verse 19, he charges them, “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth,” “whatever your pronouncement is about something on earth,” “it shall be bound in heaven,” or better translated, maybe, as “shall have been bound in heaven.” “You’re proclaiming the judgment of heaven as you, as you guide, oversee, as you make decisions in the church. As your church binds something on earth, it has already been bound in heaven. If you loose it on earth, it shall be loosed in heaven.”

What’s “binding and loosing”? It has to do with sins. “Are you truly a Christian or not a Christian?” We guard entrance into the local church by practicing meaningful church membership, actually examining people’s professions of faith. Why? Because so much of what I’m preaching is not the message you’re hearing in pulpits all over the country. I don’t, I’m not preaching anything different than what the Bible says. You can see it for yourself.

But so many people have been told that they are Christians because they read The Purpose-Driven Life, and then they come to our church doors and say, “Let me in, I’m one of you. I’m one of you. I believe the Gospel.” And for them, “Gospel” means self-esteem, salvation from insignificance, salvation from having a purposeless life. Now they have a purpose-driven life, so they’re saved.

That’s why we have to examine people who come into our doors and call themselves Christians, and that’s why we have to examine people’s baptism testimonies. We have to even question the timing of their baptism and say, “Okay, you say you were baptized when you were two. How much did you understand of the Gospel back then?” “Well, I loved Jesus.” “Okay, okay, that’s good. What did you understand Jesus to be back then: Son of Man, according to the prophecy in Daniel chapter 7? Son of God, you know, monogenes? Did you understand that at two?” “Well, no, but…” “Well, if you didn’t understand the Gospel, how could you believe the Gospel if you didn’t understand the Gospel?”

Believing is not some mystical leap into the unknown. Believing is based on, it’s, it involves the mind, the intellect. It involves the, the will; it involves the emotion, the affection. All three of those things are involved in biblical saving faith, and if you don’t have one of any of those elements, it is not biblical saving faith that you have. You must understand the Gospel and assent to its truth in order to believe it, in order to embrace it, in order to let it change your entire life so you obey it, and you love it.

That’s why we have to guard entrance into the local church, examining people for membership, examining people for baptism, practicing church discipline. So the people who are here and want to come to the Lord’s Table, and yet they are living completely out of step with what the Lord’s Table represents, the body and the blood of the Lord, we’ve got to say, “You can’t come. You’re not, you’re not acting according to the fellowship because you’re walking in sin. Let’s, let’s get you working on the sin. We’ll get you to confess sin, repent, reconcile with whoever you need to reconcile, and we’ll bring you back to the Lord’s Table and fellowship.”

You must understand the Gospel and assent to its truth in order to believe it, in order to embrace it, in order to let it change your entire life so you obey it, and you love it.

Travis Allen

 All right, first two concepts of this paradigm: Discipleship demands divine regeneration, and that joins us to a religious institution called the church. Third concept, number three, disciple, discipleship demands penal substitution. Discipleship, number three, discipleship demands penal substitution. In verse 20, he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one he was the Christ. His intent, here, is not to shroud the truth, but just to avoid the popular uprising, something driven by emotional zeal, those who wanted to make him king by force prematurely, again driven by a theology of glory that says, “What’s glorious to us is power. Overthrow the Romans. So let’s, let’s get you going in this.”

So he says, “Don’t, don’t tell anybody I’m the Christ. Not yet. Now’s not the time.” Jesus is following God’s agenda, not a human agenda, not a human timetable. He knows he’s heading for the cross. Verse 21: “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples he must go to Jerusalem, suffer many things from the elders, chief priests, scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”

Many of the time viewed Jesus’ dying on the cross as a tragic failure. It was an utter failure. They were blind, as they were to the Law’s demand for perfect righteousness, that there had to be a spotless sacrifice who would die for the sins of the people. They didn’t realize that. Even Peter, verse 22, he’s still functioning under the paradigm of a theology of glory. “Peter took him aside, began to rebuke him, saying, ‘Far be it from you, Lord, this shall never happen to you.’”

A judgment is at the heart of a very similar sentiment today. I hear it come up here and there. A few years ago, there was a celebrity who posted this blasphemy online, said “Jesus was a loser, a failed carpenter. He’s a Savior because he was crucified? I like people who weren’t crucified.” Why would he say that? You know, he’s actually not any distant from the opinion that Peter showed on this day. “Far be it from you, Lord. This shall never happen to you.” “I’m not following a crucified man.”

The blasphemy does shock us, doesn’t it, when it comes from a celebrity today posted online. When it comes from Peter, we’re like, “Ah, Peter, there he is, sticking his foot in his mouth again.” It’s more than that. Why would, why would he say that? Why would this guy say that? Because “the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.” That’s why Jesus turned to rebuke Peter sharply in verse 23: “Get behind me Satan. You’re a hindrance to me.” “You’re a hindrance. You’re not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man. Get your theology straight, Peter. Be God-centered in your theology, not man-centered.”

Peter made a wrong judgment because he’s operating under a false paradigm, one that affects and afflicts every single one of us. It’s the paradigm of a theology of glory. I mean, he had yet to learn the theology of the cross because the cross hadn’t happened yet. Okay, we’ll give him a break, there. Trueman writes this: “Divine power is revealed in the weakness of the cross, for it is in his apparent defeat at the hands of evil powers and corrupt earthly authorities that Jesus shows his divine power in the conquest of death and of all the powers of hell. So when a Christian talks about divine power, or even about church or Christian power, it is to be conceived in terms of the cross, power hidden in the form of weakness.”

He goes on to say this: “God’s wisdom is demonstrated in the foolishness of the cross. Who would have thought? Who would have thought of the foolish idea of God taking human flesh in order to die a horrendous death on behalf of sinners who had deliberately defied him? Or God making sinners pure by himself becoming sin for them? How does that make sense? Or God himself raising up people to a newness of life by himself submitting to death?”

Truly none of this, I’m not quoting Trueman now, but truly none of this is coming from the mind of men. None of that has come from the mind of men. Penal substitutionary atonement, the death of God’s only beloved Son, only begotten Son, incarnate in human flesh, suffering the wrath of God not for his own sins, but at the hand of God suffering for their sins? That’s not the wisdom of this age. It’s not the wisdom of the rulers of this age. These are “things which eye has not seen, ear has not heard, has not entered in the heart of man, namely, all that God has prepared for those who love him.”

So discipleship demands divine regeneration, religious institution, penal substitution. All of us enter through the cross into the church because we are born again. That is the paradigm. And here’s a fourth concept in the paradigm, number four, discipleship demands full submission. Discipleship demands full submission.

This is what the life of discipleship looks like, because we have been born again, because we are members of Christ’s church, because we have been forgiven. Matthew 16:24, “Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me,’” not “‘if anyone would come after me,’” but the verb there is, “‘if anyone wants to come after me,’” “wants,” present tense of the verb thelo, “wanting, wishing, desiring, habitually all the time.” This refers to someone who knows who Jesus is, that he’s the Christ, the Son of God, and he has an abiding, continual desire and longing to seek him and want him and follow after him. That’s what he’s talking about. This willingness is evidence of divine regeneration.

Further evidence becomes manifest over time, following Christ as his disciple. And it’s in the manner that he commands, not in any old way that people want to interpret him and say, “Well, I kind of live my Christianity this way. I kind of live my Christianity in that way. I like to go fishing because God’s on the lake, you know, so I like to experience God in the great outdoors, in the wilderness, hunting. I get a lot of God out there. It’s a lot of worship time.”

Here’s, here’s what Jesus says. Here’s how discipleship looks. It’s not pleasuring yourself through whatever activity you, that you like to do. Self-denial, cross-bearing, lifelong obedience: that’s Christianity. That’s Christian discipleship: self-denial, cross-bearing, lifelong obedience. The verbs, “Let him deny himself, take up his cross, follow me,” all imperatives, all commands. These are the demands of discipleship. “So if anyone wants to come after me, he must,” he has to, there is no way around it, he has to “deny himself, take up his cross.” “He has to do that and he has to follow me.”

So discipleship demands, I can’t see any way around it, full submission to Christ, and it looks like this: permanent lifestyle of self-denying, permanent lifestyle of cross-bearing, permanent lifestyle of Christ-following. That’s the pattern. That’s the paradigm. That’s the final element in the paradigm of discipleship. It’s a life reconciled to God because it’s grounded in the penal substitutionary atonement of Christ. It’s a life lived in the context of the local church, the religious institution Christ bought and paid for. It’s a life that started with divine regeneration. And so all this self-denying, cross-bearing, Christ-following is not of man’s own doing. It is by the power of God so that no one can boast.

First, Christian discipleship is a life of self-denying. This is about the nature of discipleship: self-denial. The verb can mean “to create a distance.” And in this case, it’s about putting distance between oneself and one’s self. It’s basically blowing yourself in half. The verb can also mean “to refuse to pay attention to,” or “to disregard” or “to renounce one’s own interests.” That’s the idea here. So basically, to deny yourself means to live a life of saying “no” to yourself. Your self looks at yourself and says, “No.” That’s what Jesus is calling his disciples to do. That’s how he wants us to live. As a basic, fundamental, defining aspect of living our lives, Jesus wants us to walk day by day saying “no” to self.

Now why would anyone want to do that? “To treat the self as a negligible quality, that should never enter into consideration,” in the words of one lexicographer. To the ears of our modern, secular age, of our postmodern times, where everything is about the subjectivity of the self and “my truth” and “your truth” and “his truth” and “her truth” and “she truth” and all those things, to the ears of our modern age, to suppress oneself is rank heresy, Exhibit A in all that’s wrong with religion. Stifling. Self-denying: that’s terrible.

In fact, many today see the denial of the self as actually, as actually harmful. In fact, there are some people who are telling their children, who are confused because of all this gender stuff going on, and they tell parents who say, “You, no, you’re fine, you are a boy, you were born a boy, you’re still a boy. You were born a girl, you’re still a girl,” and people come in from the outside in the school systems and say, “That’s child abuse. Take those children away.”

But a lifelong practice of self-denial is the most basic, most fundamental pre-commitment of the Christian life. It is the defining mark of discipleship. Self-denial means we crucify all self-centeredness, mortify the flesh. We set aside every supposed claim to self-promotion, every self-perceived right. It’s the starvation of the flesh. It is the end of you, in order that God might have his way with you. You want that? Because if you do want that, could be evidence of regeneration, could be evidence you’re truly born again, that you’re truly a part of his church, that truly the penal substitutionary of Christ has covered all your sins. This is good news for you.

If you don’t want that, if there’s something in your spirit that says, “I, I think that’s too far. I think, I think, preacher, you got a little carried away with yourself. You’ve gone from preaching directly into meddling.” If that’s rising up within your heart, you need to check yourself and realize that that is a demonic impulse that’s coming from the enemy himself, the one who wants to mangle your soul. Don’t trust him, don’t listen to him, don’t believe that.

Second, Christian discipleship is a life of cross-bearing, cross-bearing. This is about the extent of discipleship. “Okay, so I’m going to deny myself, but to what extent? I mean, how far does this really go?” It’s to the point of death, even if it means death by crucifixion on a cross. The verb here refers to cross-bearing, refers to picking something up, here the very implement that results in your death, in this case the patibulum, the cross-beam of the cross. It’s not just to pick it up, but it’s to lift it on your shoulders and then to carry it from one place to another, to take it from where you are now today. And Luke 9:23 adds this very important word “daily,” so daily keep carrying this patibulum to your place of execution.

Again, this is, this is about the extent to which you must die to self. One commentator put it this way. He says, “Let the disciples take up the position of the man who is already condemned to death. Hence the saying refers not so much to literal martyrdom as to the attitude of self-denial which regards its life in this world as already over, already finished. I am dead, buried in Christ. I’m done. It’s not, it’s the end of me, it’s the end of self. It’s the attitude of dying to self and sin, which Paul demands.” End quote.

So what is your individual cross that you’re to take up daily? What does it mean to take up this cross and carry it daily? The cross you bear is not your difficult marriage. That may be the context in which you bear your cross, but it’s not the cross itself. The cross you bear is not your weight problem. It’s not your unreasonable boss. It’s not your disability. It’s not your bad golf game. It’s, again, perhaps the context of cross-bearing, but not the cross-bearing Jesus speaks of here.

Here’s what he’s saying. As you pursue the will of God every day, you entrust yourself to the good providence of God. You walk according to the will of God, and that may and will promise to you, it will result in the hatred of the world. When you do what God says, when you do his will, when you walk in righteousness and all that’s good and holy and right and pure, you know what it’s going to get you? Not commendation, but condemnation because the world hates God. So if you do that, they’re going to hate you, too. But on you go, walking daily toward that which results in what you know to be further rejection, further condemnation, and in extreme cases may even result in your death. More likely, and perhaps more difficult, it’s going to result in a long, slow death, a death to self.

So, eager to carry your cross daily, to embrace the rejection and condemnation, you recognize that God is actually using these things to further crucify the self, and so you rejoice. The long, slow, daily march following Jesus Christ to the place of execution means a long, slow death, a happy death of the death of the self. It’s the end of you, and you’re happy about it.

Listen, if that is in your heart, now, if that burns with desire and joy and, and rejoicing, listen, that is not your work. That is God who’s done that in you. He’s put that in you by the new nature to want that. Again, if anything is rising in your heart to oppose it, be on your guard. Check that.

Self-denying, cross-bearing. Finally, third, Christian discipleship is a life of Christ-following. The first referred to the nature of Christian discipleship. The second was about the extent. Here’s, this is about the purpose of Christian discipleship. You can’t follow Christ wherever he leads if the self is prominent and constantly getting in the way, if your self is always offended at everybody, if you can’t, if you got such thin skin and you can’t handle stuff, if you’re just so sensitive that everything stresses you out and you’re filled with anxiety.

You know what? You need to die to self. Christ-following, following Christ wherever he leads means you get out of the way. Jesus said, “I came that they may have life and have it,” what, “abundantly.” What is abundant life? It’s to live in obedience to Christ’s commands and follow his example and live as he lived. And you know where that took him? Death on the cross. But it’s to be free from the cruel tyranny of the devil. It’s free from the fear of death. It’s free from every anxiety, walking in a new way of life in the freedom and the fullness of the Father’s love for us and our love for the Father.

And you’ve got to ask: Christ went to the cross. He went to his own death. And did he go there begrudgingly? Did he whine and complain? He was happy! Was there ever a happier, more joyful, more contented, more fulfilled being than Jesus Christ? No. And if not, then perhaps we ought to take a page out of his playbook, live as he lived, walk as he walked, pursue daily obedience to his commands, which are commands based on the Father’s will. It’s not to gain the Father’s approval, by the way. It’s because we already have the Father’s approval through Jesus’ perfection.

Denying the self, taking up our cross daily, following Jesus Christ as Lord: To those who follow a theology of glory that does not sound like their best life now at all. But to those who are truly born again, to those who love, serve, and submit to sound, faithful local churches, to those whose hearts are full of joy and gratitude because they cannot get over the fact that Christ died for them, man, you can spot them every time. They live a life of self-denial, cross-bearing, following and obeying Christ because that is living their best life now and forever. Living that way, these are the true practitioners of the cross of Jesus Christ, and they have embraced not a theology of glory. They’ve left that behind. They’ve embraced the theology of the cross. Let’s pray.

Our Father, we are so grateful for the glorious revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ, how he came in human flesh, and though you, being invisible, are unable to be seen by the eyes of human beings, he himself is seen in his fleshly existence, in his incarnation. And yet, the more we look at him, the more we gaze, the more we see something so glorious, something so majestic, something so holy, set apart. There is only one like him.

And Father, because of your work of regeneration, causing our eyes to be opened, O, Father, we want him. We want Christ. Because of his work on the cross, O, Father, we want forgiveness more than anything, that we can be reconciled to you and have nothing plaguing our conscience any longer. We’re willing to do whatever it takes to get it. In fact, we are so willing to have your atonement, atonement and his atoning work covering us and his righteousness covering us like a garment.

O, we would leave self behind. That’s the last consideration. We rejoice to be members of a church. We rejoice to follow him as Lord, denying self, taking our cross daily, and following him. We, we rejoice to see the wisdom in your commands that you give us. We rejoice to see the goodness in everything that you command, because your commands are not burdensome. They are filled with glory and joy and peace. We thank you, Father, for your goodness to us in Christ, and it’s in his name we pray. Amen.