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Book Review: The Gospel for Real Life, by Jerry Bridges

  • NavPress
  • October 2003
  • 199 pp.

Recommended. A book focused on the gospel and its practical implications for our present lives.

The subtitle for Jerry Bridge’s The Gospel for Real Life describes something remarkably uncommon in today’s church: turning to the liberating power of the cross every day. Sadly, the gospel is often presented the first step of the Christian life. It is only “Christianity for Infants.” Once you accept Jesus Christ’s sacrifice as the necessary substitution the debt owed by you for your sins, you move from the “good news” of Jesus’ death and resurrection on our behalf onto more advanced spiritual matters.

This would have been completely foreign to Paul, who refers to the gospel as “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8). To Jesus, to Paul, to believers across the ages, the gospel wasn’t the door into Christian life–it was the entirety of the life.

Here is where many Christians today scratch their heads–how can that be? This is exactly the question that Bridges sets out to answer in The Gospel for Real Life.

One thing I really appreciate about this book is that Bridges takes seriously the “real life” part of his title. He is not writing for the minority in the church who love to read good theology texts. Instead, Bridges has taken great pains to write for everyday Christians working everyday jobs. He and his pre-publication readers have looked at his chapters–which address theologically complex topics like adoption, substitutionary atonement, sanctification, and more–and asked of each line, “Would the common reader be able to access the joy of this, or would it come off as academic jibberish?”

The Gospel for Real Life sets out to show the reader how the gospel indeed is all of the Christian life, how it radically transforms and infuses even the most mundane aspects of everyday living. I think Bridges succeeds. I recommend picking this up and using its chapters as rich food for feasting and sharing with friends.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commision’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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What Do You Do When You Hear of Spectacular Student Sins?

Whether you teach on the Upper East Side of Manhattan or within the city limits of Baltimore or along a cornfield in Smallville, USA, you are bound to hear occasional reports of the self-destructive doings of your secondary students. I hate it when it happens, but, if you’re paying attention to your kids and seeking to know them better, you’re bound to come across reports of  students you love hacking away at their souls with pre-marital sex, substance abuse, or other foolish deeds. Yet, when we do, what should we do with this information?

One option is to ignore it. “I’m not a counselor,” we might rightly say, and then we move on with our instructional duties. This is true; we aren’t counselors. But, as Christians, we have the Wonderful Counselor residing within us; we have a constant communication link to the counselor who makes the most highly-paid counselors of our era seem like doddering fools. I don’t think that, as Christians, with access to the infinitely wise Creator of our students, we can simply ignore reports like these, though it surely may be a way to protect ourselves from emotionally draining information.

Another option is to laugh to ourselves or with a colleague. “These kids,” we might say. Using humor to cover up the intense hurt that our students are doing to themselves is just another form of self-protection.

A common option in these situations is to gossip about it. Gossip is the telling of unpleasant truths. Any time we share information about a student’s self-destructive exploits with someone besides the student or someone who can help the child, we gossip. Alarmingly, I find myself participating in this far too often. Just like the previous options, this is a form of self-protection. By telling someone, I get it off my chest.

Ultimately, this is a moral decision that cannot be joyfully made apart from the Gospel. Christ makes moral decisions both incredibly easy and infinitely challenging. He tells us that the first law is to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind. We go to God with these disturbing tales; we seek and receive true comfort from our talks with Him, not the counterfeit comfort that comes with the thrill of sharing a dirty secret with a colleague. And the second command, Christ says, is similar: we are to love our neighbors just as we love ourselves.

But our students are not our neighbors… right? Asking “Who is my neighbor?” in response to Christ’s second command is as old as the command itself—and Christ responds with the parable of the good Samaritan, which effectively says, “The person right in front of you is your neighbor, whether they are of the same class, job, status, gender, or whathaveyou.” Our students are our neighbors, and we are to love them as we would want to be loved if we were them.

So, when we hear these secrets and are tempted to either ignore them or divulge them to colleagues, we can simply “put ourselves in their shoes.” If we were the student, making similarly terrible decisions, yet knowing deep down that these decisions were destroying us, what would we want done? First of all, I wouldn’t want someone to ignore or laugh about it; at least, deep down I wouldn’t. And second, I certainly wouldn’t want it spread around fruitlessly. What good would all of my teachers knowing my sin do for me? Nothing except do what I find teacher gossip most often does: create a tiny voice in the teacher’s head that says, “That student is unreachable. Move on to someone else.”

No, I wouldn’t want that. Instead, knowing what I know now, I’d want two things: first, for the teacher to pray for me; second, for the teacher to prayerfully pull me aside and ask me how things were going, perhaps even confronting me in a humble-bold manner.

The next time we hear of a stomach-churning, debaucherous deed done by one of our students, let’s put off the temptation to ignore it or laugh about it or gossip, instead turning to God with joy that we are able to be part of the redemptive work that Christ’s infinitely powerful blood and resurrection have made possible.

What do you do in these situations? What do you do when a colleague comes to you and begins gossiping about a student’s sin?

What Does Jesus Do with our Biggest, Nastiest Work-Related Problems?

In Mark 5, a synagogue leader (Jairus) comes to Jesus desperate for the healing of his ailing daughter. The young girl is on the brink of death, and Jairus knows that Jesus is the last hope. Yet, on the way to Jairus’ house, Jesus apparently fails to see the urgency of Jairus’ daughter’s condition, because he stops and has a conversation with a healed woman. When they finally arrive at the house, Jesus claims that the girl is asleep (although everyone there knows that she is literally, physically dead). He goes into her and says what translates as, “Honey, get up.”

Tim Keller, while writing about the incident with Jairus’ daughter, says,

“Jesus is facing death, the most implacable, inexorable enemy of the human race and such is his power that he holds this child by the hand and gently lifts her right up through it. ‘Honey, get up.’ Jesus is saying by his actions, ‘If I have you by the hand, death itself is nothing but sleep.’

–Tim Keller, King’s Cross, p. 68

In this incident, we see several lessons to take with us to work:

1. If Jesus’ power so overwhelms death, it is our greatest resource on the job. As Christians, we are to strive toward excellence with every atom God has given us. Yet, problems will relentlessly arise in our tasks, our relationships, and our circumstances. We will have great idols to overthrow both within and outside of ourselves. No amount of human excellence will ever conquer death, and no amount of your excellence will ever conquer all of the problems you encounter in your job. In matters big and small, we must seek the master of death. Where we see death, he sees a mere nap. Where we see a mountain, he sees a pebble to be tossed into the sea. As Christians, we have access to the only infinite power in the universe.

2. God’s timetable isn’t our own. Jairus (and any of us who don’t know the end result of this event) could only have been mortified by Jesus’ lack of hurry. However, ultimately Jairus got much more than even he asked for–he got his daughter AND a deeper glimpse at the magnitude of Christ’s power. Jesus wasn’t just a healer–he was the killer of death.

3. The gospel is that Jesus makes death a mere nap for us by experiencing the fullness of its desolation and destruction in our place. This good news, if we repeat it to ourselves throughout our workday, if we pray that God will make it the beat of our heart, will utterly destroy the moralistic, legalistic, self-righteous, love-earning mentalities that Christians too often become infamous for in the secular workplace. Jesus Christ suffered every iota of death’s poisonous sting so that we don’t have to. Not a lick of our performance at work made his death any less bitter, any less toxic, any less complete. He died. He went to hell. For us. For our failures. For our weaknesses.

Now we can go to work alive. Successful through the redemption of our failures. Strong through the awareness and acknowledgement of our weakness.

Article Notes: “Young Women, Idolatry, and the Powerful Gospel,” by Elyse Fitzpatrick

This article hit home for me. As the dad of a 7-month old little girl, I’ve already spent plenty of time thinking (and, I confess, probably worrying) about how to help Hadassah see through fleeting things that our culture tells girls to give their lives for: a certain ideal of beauty, a relationship with Mr. Right, projecting just the right image to others.

Fitzpatrick offers some great thoughts that are worth reminding ourselves of:

1. We all worship something. It’s easy to see the things other people worship–an iPhone, a nice house–but it’s harder to see what idols our hearts tend to bow to.

2. As humans made to worship God, worship isn’t an option–everyone does it.

3. At the heart of all sin is worshipping something besides God — this is why the first commandment is first.

4. As parents, we can help our kids see their idols by being humble and confessing ours.

C. S. Lewis and How the Gospel Changes our Jobs

In thinking about how the gospel changes our jobs in secular workplaces, I found this quote from C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity interesting:

[A] continual looking forward to the eternal world is not, as some modern people think, a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history, you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you will get neither.

Lewis’ quote begins by mentioning a common trap I see my Christian colleagues falling into: since we are saved and have our eternal lives secured, what we do now does not matter. Or: since we believe that Jesus is coming back soon to make all things new, we don’t need seek the flourishing of the secular company or institution I work for. Or: Since what my company does is not directly relating to saving souls, it does not need my full, earnest effort.

If you’ve got eyes and ears, you’ve heard or seen the fruits of this kind of thinking. God hasn’t left us without help with this problem–the letters to the Thessalonians are all about living fruitful lives in light of what we believe about the Second Coming of Christ and the world to come.

And then there are authors like Lewis who, in light of the gospel, see the obvious error in viewing heaven as an excuse for poor effort at secular jobs.

Let the truth of the new heavens and new earth change our approach to our jobs, God! May the hope that we have shape our work ethic–we know that we can pour ourselves out for excellence in our careers, for services and products that promote human flourishing, because we know that the world you’re going to give us in the end–the “other world” Lewis mentions–is going to be nothing but flourishing.

Let’s seek the flourishing of our companies and our colleagues today.

Book Review: The Christ of the Empty Tomb, by James Montgomery Boice

Recommended. As Easter approaches, these sixteen sermons dedicated to Him “who has swallowed up death in victory” bring a freshness to the resurrection.

I first heard the name James Montgomery Boice in a Tim Keller sermon. Since then, I’ve been happy to receive a review copy of The Christ of the Empty Tomb from P & R. Upon reading Boice’s preaching, I see a lot of traits that I enjoy in Keller’s preaching: a respect for skeptics and a gentle yet bold refuting of their arguments; an explanation of apparent contradictions in the biblical texts; and a joyful, robust communication of the Gospel behind it all.

In the sermons printed in this book, you’ll find the fruits of a gifted preacher’s efforts to clearly communicate the Bible’s teaching on the resurrection. With each of the sixteen sermon-chapters in the book, it is clear that Boice poured a great deal of time and talent into providing fresh, relevant ways for his congregation to consider the central moment in human and cosmic history that we come together to celebrate at Easter.

I can see this text being useful in various contexts: for the father wanting to lead his family in contemplating Easter’s significance in fresh ways each year; for the pastor seeking to “compare notes” with a gifted preacher; or for the individual desiring to enliven his or her own devotions during the Lenten season.

Howard Stern Sheds Light on a Common Idol (Plus a Tim Keller Quote)

In a recent newsletter, Jim Daly from Focus on the Family is very respectful of Howard Stern’s recent admission to Rolling Stone. While speaking about his need for approval, Stern told RS:

“The curse is I take it so seriously. I gotta know, do you think I did a good show and are you satisfied? That’s the neurosis and that’s the source of all problems for me.”

How wise it is of Stern to realize this, and what a note of caution to my generation, which longs for fame and recognition! Stone has received more fame and recognition than probably any single radio personality of his time, his face is on the cover of Rolling Stone, and he is neurotically concerned with how people perceive his daily performance. This is not fault of Stern’s; it is simply the fault of the human heart. Celebrity itself cannot satisfy the desire for affirmation that the human heart holds.

Daly goes on to quote from Tim Keller’s Counterfeit Gods:

The human heart’s desire for a particular valuable object (human affirmation) may be conquered, but its need to have some such object is unconquerable. How can we break our heart’s fixation on doing “some great thing” in order to heal ourselves of our sense of inadequacy, in order to give our lives meaning? Only when we see what Jesus, our great Suffering Servant, has done for us will we finally understand why God’s salvation does not require us to do “some great thing.” We don’t have to do it, because Jesus has.

Only when we see what Jesus has done for us will this common slave-driver–the need for affirmation–be put to rest. Praise God for the good news of what Christ has done.