Sunday, September 17, 2017

[Matt's Messages] "Called To Be Free"

“Called To Be Free”
Galatians: The Truth of the Gospel
September 17, 2017 :: Galatians 5:2-15

We’ve reached the climax of the letter the apostle Paul wrote to the churches in the region of Galatia.

We’ve called this letter a “tornado warning” (after Timothy George).

He has pulled out all of the stops. Paul is really concerned for these people.

Have you felt it as we’ve gone along?

Do you felt how perplexed and vexed and worried and concerned Paul is for these Galatians?

He knows them personally. He brought the gospel of Jesus Christ to them and they received him as a messenger from God.

But they are flirting with a false gospel!

Some trouble-makers, some false teachers, some agitators have infiltrated the Galatian churches and whispered a false gospel in their ears. What is it?

The false brothers have been saying something that sounds good, but really isn’t.

They’ve been saying that believing in Jesus is okay, but to be truly right with God in the end, you need to also take on the Law of Moses.

You need to do the works of the Law to be justified, to be counted righteous before God on the last day.

And, according to the teachers, the next big step in observing the Law is being circumcised.
Were the Galatians circumcised?

No. They were Gentiles. They didn’t grow up with circumcision. They didn’t grow up with the Law like the Jews did.

And these folks have come along like the people in Acts chapter 15 and said, “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” (15:1).

And so the Galatian churches were considering circumcision for their male members.

And word has gotten back to Paul about this, and he’s said, “Oh no! That is NOT the truth of the gospel! I’ve got to write them and warn them that they are in danger.”

And that’s what he’s been doing. Four whole chapters of it.

He’s made various arguments from his own testimony, from his interactions with the apostle Peter, from the Law itself, from the book of Genesis, from the story of Abraham, from the whole-Bible logic of trying and failing to keep the Law versus the paradoxical biblical logic of the Cross. The logic of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

Word by word, Paul has been building his case, trying to show the Galatians how foolish it would be to add law-keeping to the foundation of their justification.

It would be going backwards. It would be like going from Son back to Slave.

And last week, his argument culminated in the clarion call of Galatians chapter 5, verse 1.

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

Those words signal that Paul has reached the “therefore section” of his letter.

You know how Paul normally sets up his letters with deep theology at the beginning and then the implications of that deep theology at the end.

I often call it the “So What” section.

If this is true, then so what difference does it make.

Now, Paul has been saying it all along, but he’s going to lay it on thick from here on out.

This is about freedom! And it’s about not getting ensnared and enslaved once again.

Today, I’m going to read to you verses 2 through 15. And here we come to the strongest words that Paul, perhaps, has ever used.

And he uses them in the service of the gospel.

He uses these strong words in the service of gospel freedom.

In verse 13, he says, “You, my brothers, were called to be free.”

That’s our title for this message, “Called To Be Free.”

And he doesn’t mean “Evangelical Free.”

He means free of the Law, free of Lawkeeping, free from the Law’s authority and the Law’s demands and the Law’s condemnation. Because of Jesus!

We are called to be free.

In my line of work, I end up going to a lot of funerals.

I have led a bunch of funerals, at least 75, and I’ve attended a lot more than that.

What do you want said at your funeral?

When you’re down there in the casket, and the preacher or someone is up here making a speech about you.

You hear a lot of strange things said at funerals.

As someone tries to sum up a life in just a few words.

I often hear someone say, “He was a good man. She was a good woman. He did many good things. He would give you the shirt of his back. God would be wrong if he kept this good citizen out of heaven. She was a very religious person. The church owes her a lot. She did what God said to do. She lived like God said to live. There’s no question where she is today. She’s in a better place because she did good.”

You know what that’s like?

That’s like saying, “I know he’s in heaven today because he was circumcised.”

What do you want said at your funeral? About you and heaven.

Do you want them to say, “He sure did life good. He has surely obligated God to reward him with eternal life. He was a great man!”?

Or do you want them to say, “He trusted in a great Savior!”?

What do you want God to say?

Forget the people at your funeral. What do you want God’s verdict to be on your life?

That’s what Paul is talking about. That’s the stakes here.

Paul is going to issue an incredibly strong warning. He starts with “mark my words.”  “Behold, I Paul say to you.”

He’s using all of that apostolic authority that we learned about back in chapter 1, and he’s using it all right now.

And he’s using it to say in very strong terms what he said in verse 1.


“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

Don’t go back.

In other words, don’t allow yourselves to be circumcised by these false teachers and begin trusting in your law-keeping for your justification. V.2

“Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all.”

King James, “Christ shall profit you nothing.”

And that’s with God!

If the people at you funeral say, “He was circumcised, that’s what he was trusting in,” if you say to God at your judgment, “I was circumcised, that’s what I was trusting in...” then Christ will be of no value to you at all.

“Oh, oh, oh. I believed in Jesus, too!”

I was a Christian.

I believe He died on the Cross for our sins and all that stuff.

But I had to do my part!

So I got circumcised. And I began to the keep the Law.

Doesn’t that make me right with God?”

“If you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all.”

Not one little bit.

Do you see what’s at stake here?

This is not a little thing.

The false teachers probably said, “snip, snip, no big deal. Now you’re good.”

But Paul says it’s the just the opposite.

Now, is circumcision bad?

No. Paul was circumcised himself, wasn’t he? He’s not against being circumcised.

He’s against taking on the sign of the Old Covenant in your flesh as a sign that you are taking on the Mosaic Law and promising to keep it and trusting in keeping it for your right relationship with God. And telling everybody else that they have to do it, too!

Apparently, they haven’t yet gone this far. At least, as far as Paul has heard.

So he’s trying to stop them from going there. He says that it won’t help them one bit. In fact, it will make their spiritual situation much worse. V.3

“Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law.”

I don’t know if they’re telling you this or not. They might be keeping it from you.

But I’m telling you. If you go this route, you are taking on the whole law, and nobody, but Jesus, has ever been successful at keeping the whole Law.

You are just heaping up condemnation on yourself if you go down this road. And it gets worse. V.4

“You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.”

If you go down this road, then you are cut off. And not just your foreskin.

You are cut off from Jesus Christ.

You will be out of the sphere of grace.

Because you’re choosing Law over grace.

Don’t go there!

Paul would just absolutely hate it if any of the people he loved took that road.

Don’t go there!

I would hate it if this was said at my funeral.

“He was a very religious man, and he was severed from Christ. He fell away from grace.”

“He believed the wrong gospel. He believed the gospel of Jesus plus his good works.”

“He believed that believing in Jesus was not good enough.”

“He had to add to the mix.”

Woe to the one whom that is said at their funeral, or much worse, in the courts of heaven.

“You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.”

Don’t go there!



“But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.”

Isn’t that a glorious sentence?!

Notice how the pronouns change. He changes from “you” those people who are maybe going the wrong direction, to “we” and he gives us the gospel.

“But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.”

Salvation is by faith, not by works, so that we cannot boast.

Salvation is by faith, our trusting in Jesus’ work on the Cross.

Giving us the righteousness that we need.

Both now in present justification and some day soon in final justification.

I think that’s what he means by “the righteousness for which we hope,” or the “hope of righteousness.”

That could mean the hope that comes from the righteousness we have in Christ. Because that’s a real thing.

But I think it actually means the righteousness, the right standing with God that we will have on that day. The true righteousness and the visible righteousness of Christ  that we are will be clothed with on the last day.

We’re waiting for it!

That doesn’t come from our works.

That comes from Jesus’ work on the Cross and the Spirit’s work of faith in our hearts.

“But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.”

That’s the gospel! That’s how it works!

Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ’s righteousness alone now and forever. V.6

“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”

Notice that he doesn’t say we should boast in being NOT circumcised either.

You can’t trust in your uncircumcision either.

What counts in Christ is FAITH.

Do you have faith?

And is your faith in Christ alone?

Don’t leave here today with that question unsettled.

Here’s what I want said at my funeral, “This man was trusting, not in himself, but in Christ Jesus. This man was eagerly awaiting (not in his own strength but through the Holy Spirit, this man was eagerly awaiting) the righteousness for which he hoped.”

“And his faith expressed itself through love.”

“His faith worked by love.

His faith was the root and love was the fruit.

He didn’t trust in his life of love, but he had one. His love came from his trust in Jesus Christ.”

Paul is going to say more about that in a few more verses.

But he’s got a few more strong words to say. V.7

“You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?”

You were good off the blocks. Why did you let that guy into your lane?

“Who has bewitched you?” Right?

You’ve got stop this false teaching. V.8

“That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. [You were called by grace.] ‘A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.’”

One bad apple ruins the barrel.

You’ve got to stop listening to this false teaching. It’s going to blow up the church!

And then he says this. V.10

“I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion will pay the penalty, whoever he may be.”

That is so encouraging!

Paul believes that the Lord will use his warnings in this letter, to draw these people back from the edge of the cliff.

And those who are pushing them toward the cliff, will fall over it.

No matter who they might have been.

Paul is hopeful, in the Lord, that these dire warnings will be effective.

And he is confident that God will judge the ones making the trouble.

They’ve been lying about him. V.11

“Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished.”

Apparently, they’ve been saying that Paul is inconsistent on circumcision himself.

The rumor is going around that Paul preaches circumcision, at least for the Jews.

But you can tell by who is being persecuted what gospel they preach.

Paul is not preaching circumcision and Law-keeping for anybody as a means of justifcation.

He is preaching the Cross.

He was preaching the Cross.

And he is preaching the Cross.

And he will continue preaching the Cross.

And the Galatians have to choose. Which will it be?

Circumcision or the Cross?

How do you answer that for yourself?

The Cross is offensive, according to verse 11.

The Cross offends our pride, doesn’t it?

You know what that Cross says about you?

It says you are not a good person.
It says you are a sinner.
You are a rebel.
You are evil-doer.

It says, “This is what you deserve.”

Does that offend you?

It sure doesn’t make you feel good about yourself.

But it’s true!

And the Cross also says, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son [to be crucified on it], that whoever believes in him [faith] shall not perish [shall not be cut off] but have eternal life [the righteousness for which we hope].”

Is that what you choose?

Circumcision makes you feel good about yourself.

You did something!

You added to your salvation.

You did your part.

Jesus did his. You did yours.

The offense, the scandal, of the cross has been abolished.

You did something to help make up for your sin.

What a good person you are!

That’s what circumcision would have done in this situation for these people.

And they had to choose.

What would you choose?

Circumcision or the offense of the Cross?

These bad guys were choosing circumcision and they were teaching that all of the Galatians had to choose it, too, or they weren’t going to be right with God.

They weren’t going to heaven when they died.

They weren’t getting into the kingdom of God without getting circumcised.

And that’s a different gospel.
That’s a false gospel.

And it’s really no gospel at all.

And that makes Paul rip-roaring justifiably mad. V.12

“As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!”

Yes, he said that. And he meant that.

And it was a holy thing for him to say.

“These guys think that kind of cutting is spiritually beneficial and necessary? That’s ridiculous! That’s awful. That’s terrible. They might as well go all the way.”

That’s like the pagan religions that mutilate themselves.

That kind of religion is no better than the pagans.

It is non-Christian, no matter what these people call themselves.

It is anti-gospel.

And it is anti-Christ.

If that is what they will teach, let them be cut off.

Physically and spiritually. Let them be damned.

He doesn’t say that lightly.

That is not a joke.

If it is sarcasm, it is the heaviest and holiest of sarcasm. That which is an imprecation.

That’s how serious this is.

The truth of the gospel is at stake.

True freedom is a stake. V.13

“You, my brothers, were called to be free.”

You weren’t called to be a slave to the Law.

You weren’t called to be a slave to the Law’s demands or the Law’s condemnation.

You, my brothers, were called to be free.

But that freedom is not a freedom from holiness. Or a freedom from love. It’s a freedom TO LOVE. V.13

“You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature [the flesh]; rather, serve one another in love.”


And here Paul turns a corner and begins to run a little bit of a different track from here to the end of the letter.

He’s made his case and he’s made his appeal.

Don’t go back to slavery.
Don’t get circumcised.
Trust in Jesus Christ alone for your justifcation.
His work on the Cross is more than enough to save you.

You are now free.

But don’t get wrong idea.

Just because you’re free of the Law doesn’t mean that you are free to do just whatever.

It means that you are now free to be holy.

And you are free to love.

You are free to live a life of love.

You are free to serve others in love.

Get that?

You are free to become a slave!

A slave, not of the Law or of sin, but a loving slave to serve other people and put their interests ahead of your own. Get this. Look at verse 14.

“The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

So we end up fulfilling the Law after all.

Not doing the Law, not keeping the Law for our justification, but fulfilling the Law, living out what it was trying to teach us all along.


Love for God.

And here, love for our neighbors.

We are called to be free.

And we are free to love each other in Christ.

Apparently, they were not doing that very well, either. V.15

“If you keep on biting and devouring each other [like some kind of animals], watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.”

By the way, that’s what trying to be saved by law-keeping will do to a local church.

Legalism will make a church the most toxic, people-destroying place you ever saw.

That’s not the kind of freedom to which we are called.

Gospel freedom is freedom from the Law.
Freedom from sin.

And freedom to serve each other in love.

How are you doing at that?

Next time, Paul will begin to develop this idea of faith working through love.

And walking by the Spirit and how that produces the Spirit’s fruit in us, which is love.

But for today, just ask yourself the question, “How am I doing at serving others in love?”

I have not been set free for selfishness but for service (paraphrasing John Stott).

Whom am I called to serve today?

I would love it if at my funeral, someone would say, “He was a servant.”

Not because I had to be a servant to be justified.

But because I was justified, because I was set free. I had been set free to love.

And people could see it.

Hear the warning in this passage and heed it.

There is only one way of salvation.

And it is not by our works, our human achievement, our religiosity, our goodness.

It is only by faith in Jesus Christ.

Every other way of getting to God will cut you off from God.

And everyone who teaches another way of getting to God pay a steep price.

Trust in Jesus Christ and Him alone to be set free.

And use your freedom to serve others in love.

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Because, brothers and sisters, you have been called to be free.

Messages in this Series:
01. To the Churches in Galatia
02. Turning to a Different Gospel
03. Preaching the Faith He Once Tried to Destroy
04. So the Truth of the Gospel Might Remain With You
05. Acting in Line with the Truth of the Gospel
06. I Live By Faith in the Son of God
07. You Foolish Galatians!
08. You Are All Sons of God Through Faith in Christ Jesus
09. So You Are No Longer a Slave
10. I Plead With You
11. Abraham Had Two Sons

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Friday, September 15, 2017

Q&A with Mike Emlet on "Descriptions and Prescriptions"

The folks from New Growth Press asked Michael Emlet some good questions about Descriptions and Prescriptions, the new release which I've been featuring on the blog this week.

His answers give a flavor of the contents of this helpful little book:

Why did you write Descriptions and Prescriptions?

When it comes to issues of psychiatric diagnoses and medications it is too easy for Christians to go to one extreme or the other. That is, to either grant too much authority to psychiatric classifications and solutions for people’s problems as though Scripture is irrelevant for issues of mental distress. Or to dismiss them altogether as though medical science is irrelevant for issues of mental suffering in Christians. I wrote this book to present a nuanced “third way” between those two extremes that is grounded in Scripture, does justice to human beings as embodied souls, respects the role of scientific inquiry, and suggests compassionate and wise ways to minister to those who are struggling with mental illness in our churches.

How do you think your medical background and ministry training/experience contribute to the shape of this book?

My training and experience in both medicine and gospel ministry means that the book is first and foremost grounded in Scripture while also giving careful consideration to the medical research that contributes to the discussion. The book is marked by both biblical and scientific inquiry.

Who is your target audience?

My primary audience includes helpers and leaders in the church--pastors, vocational counselors working in a church setting, lay counselors, elders, deacons, small group leaders, and others involved in one another ministry. I trust the book will be helpful also for Christian psychiatrists, Christian psychologists, and Christian professional counselors.

What are the takeaways of your book?

For readers who come skewed to one extreme or the other regarding psychiatric classification and psychoactive medications, I hope they leave with a more balanced and nuanced approach. For readers who already have a more balanced approach, I hope they leave more clearly informed and equipped with biblical and scientific perspectives to undergird their ministry. Ultimately I want the perspectives of the book to provide helpers with guidelines for compassionate, wise, gospel-saturated care to those who are struggling with issues of mental health.

What imbalances have you seen in the way Christians think about psychiatric diagnoses and medications?

Regarding psychiatric diagnoses, I have encountered people who embrace a psychiatric label as an all-encompassing explanation for their struggles. Their diagnosis becomes the identity around which their lives orbit. They may seek only medical means of help and believe that biblical and pastoral realities are irrelevant to their problems. On the other hand I have seen people who resist a particular diagnosis when it might provide a helpful way to bring some clarity and order to their experience. These people may over-spiritualize their problems and resist appropriate medical interventions. Since God has made us both body and spirit creatures, it is important to consider both aspects of our personhood as we seek to understand the struggles of others.

What are some limitations and benefits of a psychiatric classification of people’s struggles?

The main limitation of a psychiatric classification is this: it is a description of the person’s experience but it is not an explanation for it. A diagnosis describes the person’s disordered thinking, emotion, and behavior but doesn’t tell you why the person is struggling in this particular way. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the DSM) acknowledges this limitation. This means that a diagnosis becomes a starting point (not an endpoint) for careful inquiry, biblical understanding of this person as a body-soul image bearer, and ongoing pastoral ministry. At the same time, certain psychiatric diagnoses (for example, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder) alert us to patterns of severe suffering that may well require additional intervention, including medication.

How does Scripture give us a framework for understanding various forms of mental suffering?

Our starting point is Scripture because we cannot understand ourselves apart from God’s revelation to us. God created us as body-spirit image bearers who perfectly reflected His design for abundant and fruitful life (Gen 1:26-28; Gen 2:7). Body and soul worked seamlessly to honor and glorify God. The fall of Adam and Eve into sin affects us holistically—we are fallen, body and soul. Sin and suffering (physical and mental) become two ever-present realities for us as a result (Gen 3:16-19; Gen 6:3-7; Rom 5:12-21; Rom 8:22-23; 2 Cor 4:7-12).

There is no doubt that our cognition, our affections, and our will to act must and do reference the living God—we are by nature worshippers, according to Paul in Romans 1. The human heart is always active (Gen 6:5; Exod 25:2; Lev 19:17; Deut 6:5; Prov 13:12; Prov 14:13; Ezek 36:26-27; Matt 15:10-20; Luke 6:43-45; Eph 6:6; Heb 4:12). So while mental illness is suffering, it is also demonstrative of an active posture before the Lord—we remain image-bearers, after all! Our thoughts, emotions, and actions reveal an orientation toward or away from him, moment by moment. To ask, as Scripture urges us, “What does the call to love God and others look like in the midst of your suffering?” is a profoundly humanizing question.

At the same time we must recognize the mystery involved in the interface of body (brain) and spirit. Scripture doesn’t slice and dice people into bodies and spirits per se, but approaches God’s people holistically as saints who need confirmation of their identity in Christ, sufferers who need the consolation of God, and sinners who need loving correction of their wayward ways. Ministry to anyone with a psychiatric diagnosis always involves these elements in various measures (1 Cor 1:1-9; 1 Thess 5:14).

How does Scripture guide our thinking about the use or non-use of psychoactive medications?

Clearly, Scripture does not provide explicit instruction about the use or non-use of medication. However it provides a wise and balanced framework for considering such questions. For example, here are several biblical perspectives that offer guidance: (1) Relief of suffering and growth in Christian character in the midst of suffering are both important; (2) Medications are a gift of God’s common grace and medications (like any gift of God) can be used idolatrously; (3) Motives are important—a person can have wrong motives for wanting to take medication and a person can have wrong motives for not wanting to take medication; (4) Attention to the interplay between the spiritual and somatic aspects of the person’s experience is important. In the end, the use or non-use of medications is not a “right or wrong” issue but a “wisdom” issue. We ask, “What seems wisest for this particular person with this particular constellation of struggles and strengths at this particular time?”

If the local church embraced the ideas in your book, what would change?

My hope is that leaders in the church would have increasing confidence to pursue those in their congregations who are struggling with mental health issues. And that they would do so in a balanced way, being attentive to both spiritual and bodily aspects of these struggles. I want them to have a growing conviction that Scripture speaks broadly and deeply to the disordered thoughts, emotions, and behaviors associated with psychiatric diagnostic categories, and that Scripture provides fundamental ways of understanding people that are much more full-orbed than a diagnosis can capture. At the end of the day my goal would be a restoration of the local church as the central locus of care for those who are troubled, while recognizing there are times when we must wisely partner with those in the medical community.

How can leaders in the church become better equipped to minister wisely to those diagnosed with psychiatric disorders?

The most fundamental starting point is to listen deeply to people and to Scripture. Both are critical. Listening to people’s stories without an accompanying biblical perspective will result in truncated, imbalanced ministry. Listening to Scripture without listening to people’s experiences will also result in short-sighted and imbalanced ministry. Always ask, “How does Scripture provide clarity and coherence to this person’s struggle as a body-soul image bearer?” But do so, making sure that you have sought to understand the struggler’s experience as well as possible.

In addition, the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation ( provides a wealth of resources to equip leaders in the church, including blogs, podcasts, videos, conference talks, mini-books, books, online classes, and The Journal of Biblical Counseling, to name a few.

Can you tell a story that illustrates the balanced approach you are advocating in the book?

I knew a man in my former church who struggled with paranoid schizophrenia. Despite the use of multiple medications, he continued to have bouts where accusatory voices filled his head, telling him that he was worthless and that he ought to kill himself. What did he need? Fine-tuning of his medications? Certainly that was something important to pursue, given the complexity of his psychoactive medical treatment. But I think what he also (and perhaps especially) needed at those times was a friend. A friend who would listen with compassion and patience. A friend who would take seriously the impact of those demeaning and frightening voices in his head. A friend to remind him of God’s favor, care, and presence in his experience of isolation, confusion, and loneliness. A friend who would pray for him and read the Psalms with him. A friend who would highlight that, in Jesus, nothing could separate him from the love of the Father (Romans 8:38-39). A friend who expected both personal and corporate benefit from having this man as a part of the body (1 Corinthians 12:21-26). You can be that friend. I can be that friend. And that’s apart from having any particular medical expertise with schizophrenia (which of course he needs as well). There’s the balance: by all means seek psychiatric input/medication when it seems justified but approach the person with biblical categories in mind, confident that God speaks into the experience of suffering.

“Generational Sins” (PG-13)

My film-making friend Spencer Folmar* has a brand new feature-length movie coming out in just 3 weeks. It’s called Generational Sins, and I was privileged to attend a special advanced screening.

Generational Sins is Spencer’s best and most artful production so far. I can’t begin to imagine what kind of work goes into directing a major movie project like this–shepherding all of the complex details from the idea stage all the way to the big screen.

The two principal actors clearly know what they are doing. Daniel MacPherson, who plays the central character of Drew Caldwell, is an Australian actor who will soon be appearing in Disney’s A Wrinkle in Time. He shows a great range in this film from outright rage to peaceful joy. His co-star, Dax Spanogle, who co-wrote the screenplay with Spencer, portrays Drew’s brother Will Caldwell and reminds me of a young Chris O'Donnell, with pluck and charm (and maybe some hidden depth). A minor character is played by the man famous for being Goofy (yes, that Goofy!).

Many of the other actors are familiar faces to me because they are actually neighbors and friends from around here in Clearfield County, Pennsylvania where most of the story takes place. It’s fun to see all of them (including a sweet little girl from our church family) and lots of our local landmarks, especially some great aerial shots! Spencer himself even pulls a Hitchcock and shows up in his own movie as a waiter at a local eatery.

An Explicit Gospel Message

As you might guess from the title, this movie deals heavily with spiritual and theological themes. Spencer is a Christian and has a deep desire to portray the glory of the gospel of Jesus Christ in his films. In one key scene in Generational Sins, a compassionate pastor explains the good news explicitly, referencing the death and resurrection of Jesus and the power of forgiveness to change a person’s life. And there is a general (yet realistically zig-zaggy) movement in the story arc from darkness to light.

Spencer’s theology is orthodox. Unlike some other big-budget faith-based movies, there is no heretical false teaching to be worried about in Generational Sins.

Not for Everyone

That doesn’t mean, however, that Generational Sins is a movie for every person to watch.

Spencer is trying to create something different than most other Christian films out there these days. He calls his new genre “hard faith” movies, films that go to greater lengths to fully depict the brokenness of our fallen world. You can look at the line-up of movies that Spencer intends to make and see the kinds of heavy subjects he wants to interact with through his art.

Generational Sins is rated PG-13 and for good reason. It is intense, dark, and gritty. The main characters are unhappy, unlikable, and angry with each other and God for most of the movie. The story revolves around jagged realities like child abuse, rage, lust, addiction, fear, and suicide. And there is a good bit of crass and coarse language from beginning to end (even from the saintly mother character!). If your conscience won’t allow you to watch other movies like that, you’ll want to give this one a pass, too.

This week, a group of Christian women asked me if I thought they ought to attend the world premiere of Generational Sins. They had gone to other movies in the “faith-based” genre like God’s Not Dead, The Case for Christ, and War Room. I told them what I’ve written here–that Generational Sins is like those movies in being explicitly Christian, but it’s also significantly unlike those movies in both content and style. Ultimately, they decided to split into two groups that night: one that went to the movie prepared for what they’re going to see and another that is going out together for dessert and fellowship. I thought that was very wise.

Generational Sins will open in US theaters the weekend of October 5-8.

*Spencer was the genius behind the camera and the computer for the Resisting Gossip Trailer and Video Teaching Series.

And the Winner Is....

... Amy M (whom I believe is also an M.D.)!!!

Congratulations on winning a copy of Descriptions and Prescriptions by Michael Emlet, M.D. Send me your address so that the generous folks at New Growth Press can send you your free book.

Thank you, everyone who participated! If you want to buy your copy, visit WTSBooks, New Growth Press or any other book retailer today.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Win a Copy of "Descriptions and Prescriptions" by Michael Emlet

Mike Emlet, M.D., was one of my favorite CCEF teachers when I did my doctorate at Westminster Theological Seminary. Soft-spoken yet passionate, nuanced yet not timid, brilliant yet not proud, Mike taught me so much in his class on Counseling and Physiology*. I draw from the framework he provided us nearly every week in my pastoral ministry.

I'm excited that that framework is now available to everyone in a short book he has written entitled Descriptions and Prescriptions: A Biblical Perspective on Psychiatric Diagnoses and Medications which just came out last week from New Growth Press.

Too Hot, Too Cold, Just Right?

Mike sets the book up this way in his introduction:
What do you think when someone you know is diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder? Or has started to take a psychoactive medication? Do you say to yourself, “Finally, he is getting the help he really needs!” Or do you feel skeptical about either the diagnosis or the solution (or both), and wonder if what the person really needs is simply to trust in Jesus more?
It doesn’t take too many conversations in the church to realize that there are widely divergent views regarding the diagnosis and treatment of mental health issues. Like many, you may find yourself falling into one of two camps. Let me call this the Goldilocks Principle. What do I mean?
You may be someone who is “too cold” toward psychiatric diagnoses. Perhaps you’re highly suspicious of using these labels. You believe that they are secular understandings of the person that compete with biblical categories and solutions. At best you don’t think they’re helpful, and at worst you believe they are harmful and dehumanizing.
Does that "Goldilocks" dilemma sound familiar to you? Is it possible to find a "just right" third way somewhere in the middle? That's what Mike is trying to guide readers into in Descriptions and Prescriptions. Mike writes,
There is no doubt that many people suffer greatly with emotions and patterns of thinking that bring grave hardship to them and to their loved ones. The pressing issue is how best to know and understand their struggles. And then, having understood, how best to provide compassionate and wise help. After all, we are called to “bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). Psychiatric diagnostic classification and psychoactive medications provide a way to understand and help those who are burdened in particular ways. This book assesses the limitations and benefits of understanding and helping people using that lens.
What's amazing to me is that the book can be so helpful on these complex issues while being so short!

I haven't been able to read the whole thing yet, but I appreciated this review by Phil Monroe, a professor of Christian counseling whom I highly respect. And the breadth of endorsements is impressive and encouraging. This is a really good book by a highly qualified author.

Win Your Own Copy

Starting today, I'm offering starting a contest to win a copy of Description and Prescriptions. The good folks at New Growth Press will send a copy to the winner picked at random.

Entering this contest is very simple:

1. Leave a comment on this post (either here or on Facebook) with your name on it.

2. Wait to see if you win. I'll be drawing the names out of a hat. It's that easy! (Don't forget to check back or subscribe to updates to find out if you win--I'll need your mailing address if you do.)

You can also increase your chances of winning by posting about this contest on your social media page (FB, Twitter, Blog, Pinterest, etc.). Just send me an email or leave a comment with the link so that I know that you've expanded the reach of the contest. For each time you link to the contest, you get your name added to the hat one more time (limit of 7 chances, the contest ends at 11:59pm EST on Thursday night, September 14th).

I'll announce the winner on Friday.

*Mike was also one of my official readers at WTS for my doctoral project and one of the first endorsers of Resisting Gossip. He has been a great encourager to me!

Are you interested in reading a few of my book review papers from Mike's class? Here they are (but don't blame him for my verbose writing style!):

Sunday, September 10, 2017

[Matt's Messages] "Abraham Had Two Sons"

“Abraham Had Two Sons”
Galatians: The Truth of the Gospel
September 10, 2017 :: Galatians 4:21-5:1

Our current series is called “The Truth of the Gospel” because that’s what Paul was trying to preserve for and in the Galatians.

The Galatian churches, founded by Paul himself, were on the brink of spiritual disaster. False teachers had snuck into these churches and had just about convinced the Galatians to believe a different gospel than the one Paul had taught them.

What was it?

The Galatians were being taught that they had to add keeping the Law of Moses to their faith in Jesus to be right with God.

These Gentile Galatians were being told that they had to get circumcised. They had to eat kosher. They had to observe special days, months, seasons, and years. They had to obey the Ten Commandments to be justified and to stay justified.

But Paul says, “That’s not how it works!”

And for four chapters, he’s been trying to convince them that believing this alternative gospel would be disastrous for them. Ruinous.

He’s come at it from lots of different ways. Last week (in verses 11-20), he pleaded with them. He reminded them of their long warm history together and warned them that the false teachers were just flattering them for their own selfish purposes. And he opened his heart to them about how perplexed and concerned he was for their spiritual well-being.

And Paul is not done trying to win the Galatians back to the truth of gospel of grace.

In this next paragraph, he takes yet another tack.

He goes on the offensive against the false teachers and takes the battle right to them.

And he goes back to Father Abraham.

Paul is a careful and deep student of his Old Testament, and he knows that the false teachers must had been drawing heavily from their Old Testaments. Especially the Law, the Torah, the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament.

So Paul goes back to the Old Testament, back to the Pentateuch, back to Father Abraham, whom they were undoubtedly proud to be connected to, and shows again how Abraham’s story proves the truth of his gospel, not theirs.

And he does it in a very surprising, unexpected way.

Paul has already talked about Abraham’s faith in the promises of God and how they came before the Law.

But now he draws from another story in Abraham’s life. And I would have never thought to do it this way. He draws from the story of Abraham’s first two sons.

I’m going to call this sermon, “Abraham Had Two Sons,” from verse 22.

Of course, Abraham ended up having more than just two sons, but these two sons were the two potential heirs of all of God’s promises in the Abrahamic Covenant.

That word “heir” has been pretty important in this letter so far, hasn’t it?

And these two potential heirs were two very different sons because they came from very different mothers in very different ways.

And Paul sees in these two sons a recognizable pattern that appears again and again in the Bible and corresponds to the two different gospels that are duking it out in the Galatian churches in Paul’s day.

It’s very surprising and little hard to follow, but the upshot is very obvious.

It’s the same upshot that has been running through this whole letter.

And Paul spells it out verse clearly in verse 1 of chapter 5, so we will read through to that as our conclusion this week.

Before we try to understand Paul’s argument here, I think it would help to back up and remind ourselves why this whole thing is so important.

I mean, Paul obviously thinks it’s important or he wouldn’t go to all of this trouble to make these arguments.

What is he so concerned about?

He’s concerned about the truth of the gospel.

Remember the gospel is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16).

Salvation comes from believing the gospel.

So it’s very important.

What happens if you don’t have the gospel?

You don’t have salvation!

What if you believe the wrong gospel?

You don’t have the power of God for salvation.

That’s why it’s so important.

Paul is afraid that these Galatians are going to throw out the truth of the gospel for legalism and the results will be spiritually disastrous.

And that’s not just for the Galatians.

That’s for us today.

We need to get the truth of the gospel right so that we have the power of God for the salvation of all who believe.

It is that important.

So Paul says (v.21) right after confessing his perplexion with the Galatians, “Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says?”

You want to talk Old Testament? You want to talk Torah?

Okay, let’s go back to Genesis. V.22

“For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman.”

What are the names of those two sons? Do you know this story?

What was the name of Abraham’s first son? Ishmael. Right. What was the name of his mother? Hagar.

What was the name of Abraham’s second son? Isaac. Who was his mother?  Sarah.

Which of those mothers was a slave woman?  Hagar. Right.

So Sarah was a the free woman.

These two sons had the same father, but that was just about the only things they had in common. V.23

“His son by the slave woman was born in the ordinary way [literally “according to the flesh”]; but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a promise.”

Do you remember the story of how their births came about?

It’s not a pretty story. It’s kind of like a Soap Opera or an episode of Jerry Springer or Doctor Phil.

If you have time, go back and read Genesis 16 through 21 this afternoon and refresh your memory.

Basically, Abraham married the slave woman Hagar and had a baby by her because of unbelief.

It was actually Sarah’s idea!

Which of these two ladies had been promised a son?

Sarah had. But ten years had gone by and she was 90 years old and she didn’t really believe that God was going to do it.

Maybe God needed some help. So, she got Hagar involved believing, I think, that “God helps those who help themselves.”

I think that’s what Paul means by saying that Ishmael was “born in the ordinary way” or “according to the flesh.” Now that “flesh” could mean born through physical means or even by sinful means. “Flesh” is used in both of those ways.

But I think Paul is emphasizing that Ishmael was born by these people taking matters into their own hands. Ishmael was conceived by works. By doing.

Not by faith. Not by trusting in God’s promises, but by the opposite.

By making God’s promises come true by forcing His hand through their efforts.

You see that?

See what he contrasts it. Verse 23 again.

“His son by the slave woman was born in the ordinary way; but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a promise.”

Not nature but super-nature.

Not naturally but supernaturally.

Not by works but by faith.

Not by what God does but by what these people did.

Do you see that?

But when Isaac came about, he was the result of God’s promise. He was a gift. He was grace.

He was not what Abraham or Sarah deserved. Clearly!

But He was what God had promised.

Do you see that?

Now, Paul makes a big deal out of their social statuses. Of the mother.

Which mother was a slave? Hagar.

And Paul has been harping on this idea of slavery. Hasn’t he?

Look where he goes with it. Verse 24.

“These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar.”

Now just a sec.

It’s easy to get lost at this point. Especially if you have a translation like the King James or the ESV that uses the word “allegory” in that verse.

The Greek word is “allaygoroumena” where we get our word “allegory” from and it means to use one set of things to speak of another set of things.

But we tend to use the word “allegory” to mean using “one set of things that is not real” to speak of “another set of things that is real.”

Like maybe a parable or something.

The greatest allegory in English literature is Pilgrim’s Progress.

A fictional story where everything stands for a spiritual reality.

But that’s not how Paul is using the word here.

He is using one set of things to speak of another set of things but the first set of things is historical and real.

Paul discerns a real recognizable pattern here in the Bible that he then lines up all of the points of correspondence so that we can see the pattern for ourselves.

That’s what he means by “allegory” here. It’s stronger than the old NIV makes it. It’s not just that these thing can be taken figuratively. It is that these things are to be seen as lining up in this way.

That’s why the 2011 NIV says, “These things ARE BEING taken figuratively.” Because they do represent a recognizable pattern.

Let’s see what it is:

“These women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves. This is Hagar.”

Got it?

Hagar stands for the old covenant. The Mosaic Covenant.

The Law that was given at Mount Sinai.

And if you think that the Law is going to give you freedom, you’ve got another think coming. V.25

“Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children.”

Now THAT would have flabbergasted the false teachers!

They would have never associated themselves with Hagar. Not in a million years!

But Paul says, “Oh yeah, that’s who those guys are. They are the children of Hagar.”


Because Hagar’s children come from the flesh (according to the flesh, according to works and getting things done for God), and they are slaves.

They love the Law and the Law does not free. The Law actually makes slaves.

Not because the Law is bad. We always have to add that.

But because we are sinners, and we can’t keep the Law. The Law shows us that we need Christ. But it doesn’t justify us. Because by works of the Law no one will be justified.

And if you add Lawkeeping, you will be slave.

Hagar is your momma.

“Now Hagar ... corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children.”

Jerusalem should be the center of faith, but that’s where the Lawkeeping trouble is coming from.

Now, those are fighting words.

I’m sure that they would have infuriated the false teachers who had infiltrated the Galatian churches, but they needed to be said.

Legalism is a false gospel, and it enslaves.

But. V.26

“But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother.”

Do you see the contrast?

He’s lining up Sarah (when she’s got her faith on!) and the heavenly Jerusalem, the Jerusalem that is still to come, the people of God who believe the promises of the Abrahamic Covenant and the New Covenant ratified by Jesus’ blood.

And he says, that’s all us.

“But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother.”

If you believe the gospel of grace in Jesus Christ, you belong to this side of the column!

Do you see how he’s got everything in columns?

In the one column is Ishmael, Hagar, the flesh, Sinai, the Law, the Old Covenant, the present Jerusalem, slavery.

In the other column is Isaac, Sarah, the promise, the Jerusalem above, the New Covenant, and freedom.

And he’s asking: Which one do you want?

And he pulls out another stop in the Old Testament. Isaiah 54, verse 1.

The first verse after the amazing chapter about the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53. V.27

“For it is written: ‘Be glad, O barren woman, who bears no children; break forth and cry aloud, you who have no labor pains; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband.’”

Now, that’s from a different time period.

Isaiah is prophesying to the people of God in exile.

And he’s promising them that even though it looks like they are barren (Jerusalem was destroyed) God had plans for a great reversal.

He is still going to bring all of His promises to fruition.

The exile will end and through the suffering of the Servant, there will be massive blessing unleashed on the people of God.

I think Paul draws from this Isaiah here because in the context it talks about Sarah and she also was a barren woman who was eventually given a promised child over against a woman who temporarily had the affections of her husband.

The point is that God is in the business of surprising people with the miraculous keeping of His promises and bringing blessing where it never seemed possible.

Even from the suffering of Jesus on the Cross!

“Be glad, O barren woman” because you’re going to have a baby when you least expect it.

Trust in God and His promises and you will be children of promise. V.28

“Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise.”

That’s who you are!

If you believe.

If you put your faith in Jesus and Jesus alone.

Do you see how Paul is dead set on helping these people to see who they really are?

Sons in the Son.
Heirs of the promises.
Known by God!

If you believe the true gospel, the one about grace, the you are “like Isaac, children of promise.”

You’re on this side of the ledger!

And it’s gonna hurt.

Just because you’re on the right side of the ledger, doesn’t mean that it’s all a bed of roses.

In fact, it’s the opposite.

You can expect persecution for believing the gospel of grace. V.29

“At that time the son born in the ordinary way [Ishmael] persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now.”

It’s gonna hurt.

Ishmael mocked Isaac and gave him a hard time in Genesis chapter 21.

It’s part of the consequences of sin that these conflicts come.

Those who are legalists and are trying to be justified by their law-keeping will not like it if you hold to the gospel of grace.

So in the short run, you’re going to have trouble.

And lots of it.

Don’t be surprised if you believe the right gospel and have a very hard life.

Don’t expect to have your best life now.

Jesus said to expect trouble.

“In this world you will have trouble.”

Paul says elsewhere, “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).

“It is the same now.”

But that’s just the short-run. See what happens? V.30

“But what does the Scripture say? ‘Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman's son.’”

That’s what happens to those who believe the false gospel of law-keeping.

Do you see how important this is?

Do you see what’s at stake?

Paul quotes Genesis 21:10 which were Sarah’s words (perhaps sinfully motivated), but were authorized in the end by the Lord Himself (cf. Genesis 21:12).

“...the slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman's son.’”

Which do you want to be? V.31

“Therefore, brothers, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman. [That’s why Jesus died! Chapter 5, verse 1] It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

Two points of application this morning.

They’re both the logical conclusion of Paul’s allegorical argument from Genesis.


Paul says “Jesus died to set us free.”

Believe that and live free!

Stand firm on Christ alone.

You are a child of promise.

You are child of the free woman.

You are a citizen of the Jerusalem above that is still to come.

She is your mother!

That’s who you are!

I love that Paul gets that from a very careful detailed study of the Old Testament.

There is so much in the Old Testament to get.

We will never exhaust the riches of our Bibles.

Especially if we don’t study them!

I can’t believe how many professing Christians don’t bother to read their Bibles carefully.

Look what Paul found just by reading his Bible!

God doesn’t help those who help themselves.

That’s not in your Bible!

Don’t do things the Hagar way.

Trust in Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ alone.

Trust in the Suffering Servant and the Suffering Servant alone.

“He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.”

And that’s enough!

So that we are free!

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.”

Stand firm.

Have you put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ and Him alone?

There is no greater thing.

Like a 90 year old barren woman who then miraculously gives birth in total joy!

Stand firm.

Live out of your identity in Christ.

Remember what column you are in and live like it.

Stand firm in Christ alone.


“Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

Don’t go back.

Don’t go back to sin.

And don’t go back to the Law.

Don’t trust in Law-keeping for your justification!

You want to be tossed out on your ear?

You want to be associated with Ishmael?

I’m sure that rankled the false teachers! To be lumped in with Hagar and Ishmael when they surely saw themselves as the heirs of Abraham and Isaac.

But they weren’t. They were the children of the slave woman.

Because they were choosing slavery all over again.

Don’t let that be you.

Don’t go back to sin, don’t go back to the Law, don’t go back to the elementary principles of the world.

Put your faith in Jesus Christ alone and stand right there.

Don’t back down.

Don’t go back to slavery.

Paul is not done yet. He has some of the strongest words he ever written yet to come.

Next week we will look at that.

At more of the consequences that come when you go back to slavery.

It’s really bad.

That’s why Paul is worked up.

Because this is all important.

Who and what you are trusting in for your justification before God is very important.

Don’t trust in your own obedience.
Don’t trust in your church-going.
Don’t trust in your relationship with some organized religion.
Don’t trust in your good works.
Don’t trust in your law-keeping.

Trust in Jesus Christ alone and what He did for you on the Cross.

Because that’s where freedom is.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.

Messages in this Series:
01. To the Churches in Galatia
02. Turning to a Different Gospel
03. Preaching the Faith He Once Tried to Destroy
04. So the Truth of the Gospel Might Remain With You
05. Acting in Line with the Truth of the Gospel
06. I Live By Faith in the Son of God
07. You Foolish Galatians!
08. You Are All Sons of God Through Faith in Christ Jesus
09. So You Are No Longer a Slave
10. I Plead With You

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Friday, September 08, 2017

Four Years of "Resisting Gossip"

Rejoice with me!

This week marked the fourth anniversary of the publishing of Resisting Gossip: Winning the War of the Wagging Tongue. What a joy it has been to be see it continue to be read by people all around the world.

Here are eight important milestones from the last 12 months:

1. I got to speak about resisting gossip and using our words for good at the 2016 Deep and Wide Conference at Faith EFC in Mountain Lake Park Maryland.

2. The Spanish version, Resistiendo el Chisme,  is now available as an e-book in multiple formats.

3. The Korean version,험담을 멈추라, was released by CLC Korea.

4. CareLeader republished my article on Keeping Gossip Out of Prayer Requests.

5. The Russian version, Противостоять сплетням, was released by CLC Belarus and (another first!) they produced a Russian version of the original book trailer.

6. The Romanian version, Lupta împotriva bârfei, was released by CLC Romania (doesn't "bârfei" look like a great word for gossip?!).

That brings the total number of languages up to 6 (including the original English, the only one that I actually understand)!

7. Resisting Gossip was included among a group of terrific books in a new free guide for discipling youth by Reformed Youth Online.

Thank you to those who have helped with this and prayed for the influence of our little book. I'm thankful to my Lord for the blessing of being involved in this ministry and grateful for stories of people who are learning to win the war of the wagging tongue.