Learning and Living the God-centered life

One Biblical Doctrine at a time…

Essentials vs. Non-essentials

From the blog site of Andy Naselli

Erik Thoennes, Life’s Biggest Questions: What the Bible Says About the Things That Matter Most, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), 35–37 (formatting added):
Essential vs. Peripheral Doctrine

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The ability to discern the relative importance of theological beliefs is vital for effective Christian life and ministry. Both the purity and unity of the church are at stake in this matter. The relative importance of theological issues can fall within four categories:

• absolutes define the core beliefs of the Christian faith;

• convictions, while not core beliefs, may have significant impact on the health and effectiveness of the church;

• opinions are views or personal judgments that generally are not worth dividing over; and

• questions are currently unsettled issues.

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Understanding the Gospel

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A shift has taken place in the Evangelical church with regard to the way we think about the gospel–and it’s far from simply an ivory tower conversation. This shift effects us on the ground of everyday life.


Shifting Away from Salvation
In his book Paul: An Outline of His Theology, famed Dutch Theologian Herman Ridderbos (1909 – 2007) summarizes this shift, which took place following Calvin and Luther. It was a sizable but subtle shift that turned the focus of salvation from Christ’s external accomplishment to our internal appropriation:

While in Calvin and Luther all the emphasis fell on the redemptive event that took place with Christ’s death and resurrection, later under the influence of pietism, mysticism, and moralism, the emphasis shifted to the individual appropriation of the salvation given in Christ and to it’s mystical and moral effect in the life of the believer. Accordingly, in the history of the interpretation of the epistles of Paul the center of gravity shifted more and more from the forensic to the pneumatic and ethical aspects of his preaching, and there arose an entirely different conception of the structures that lay at the foundation of Paul’s preaching.
Donald Bloesch made a similar observation when he wrote, “Among the Evangelicals, it is not the justification of the ungodly (which formed the basic motif in the Reformation) but the sanctification of the righteous that is given the most attention.”


Focusing On the Individual
With this shift came a renewed focus on the internal life of the individual. The subjective question, “How am I doing?” became a more dominant feature than the objective question, “What did Jesus do?” As a result, generations of Christians were taught Christianity was primarily a lifestyle; that the essence of our faith centered on "how to live;" that real Christianity was demonstrated in the moral change that took place inside those who had a “personal relationship with Jesus.” Our ongoing performance for Jesus, therefore, not Jesus’ finished performance for us, became the focus of sermons, books, and conferences. What I need to do and who I need to become became the end game.

Sanctification feeds on justification, not the other way around.
Believe it or not, this shift in focus from “the forensic to the pneumatic,” from the external to the internal, has enslaving practical consequences.

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Jesus plus NOTHING = everything

From the blog site of Pastor Matt Richard

The other day I posted the following quote from Tullian Tchividjian on my Facebook page, "Jesus + Nothing = Everything"

As a result I had a lot of comments and feedback from friends.
"Do we even need the '+nothing' portion in this quote?"
"I'd like it better as simply Jesus= Everything"
"I like having both Jesus + anything = nothing and Jesus + nothing = everything. Much more clear and concise."
I think, as Christians, we can all agree that Jesus=Everything. However, why would we even think about having the descriptive phrase "+nothing" added for clarification?


The reality is that we need to have the phrase "+nothing" because our sinful nature will always attempt to add to Jesus. Our flesh can't stand the idea of Jesus with a period. Rather we want to add a comma so that we can allow for mankind's will and abilities to have a subtle yet prominent role in our spirituality.


The idea of Jesus period is offensive because it undercuts our role and our narcissistic inclinations. On the other hand, a comma allows for us to be involved in our spirituality, even if it is 1% involvement.


Think about this for a minute how we subtly add to Jesus.


  • Jesus + our sanctification
  • Jesus + our decision
  • Jesus + our obedience
  • Jesus + our repentance
  • Jesus + our right doctrine
  • Jesus + our response/devotion
  • Jesus + our prayer(s)
  • Jesus + our good works as evidence of salvation


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The gospel is counter-intuitive

“Christ wins our salvation through losing, achieves power through weakness and service, comes to wealth via giving all away. And those who receive his salvation are not the strong and accomplished but those who admit they are weak and lost.”

— Timothy Keller
Gospel Christianity
(New York, NY: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2003)




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A plan of Redemption

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“If you read Scripture carefully, you will never get the idea that the work of Christ is for well-adjusted people who just need a little redemptive boost. It never presents any human condition or dilemma as outside the scope of the gospel. Redemption is nothing less than the rescue of helpless people facing an eternity of torment apart from God’s love.”

— Paul David Tripp
Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands
(Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2002), 195


The importance of gospel delight

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“Ecstasy and delight are essential to the believer’s soul and they promote sanctification. We were not meant to live without spiritual exhilaration, and the Christian who goes for a long time without the experience of heart-warming will soon find himself tempted to have his emotions satisfied from earthly things and not, as he ought, from the Spirit of God. The soul is so constituted that it craves fulfillment from things outside itself and will embrace earthly joys for satisfaction when it cannot reach spiritual ones. The believer is in spiritual danger if he allows himself to go for any length of time without tasting the love of Christ and savoring the felt comforts of a Savior’s presence.

When Christ ceases to fill the heart with satisfaction, our souls will go in silent search of other lovers.

By the enjoyment of the love of Christ in the heart of a believer, we mean an experience of the “love of God shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given to us”. Because the Lord has made himself accessible to us in the means of grace, it is our duty and privilege to seek this experience from Him in these means till we are made the joyful partakers of it.”

John Flavel (English Puritan – 1630-1691), was one of the main influences in Charles Spurgeon’s spiritual formation in the gospel.


The justifying work of Christ

Only a fraction of the present body of professing Christians are solidly appropriating the justifying work of Christ in their lives. Many have so light an apprehension of God’s holiness and of the extent and guilt of their sin, that consciously they see little need for justification. Below the surface, however, they are deeply guilt-ridden and insecure. Many others have a theoretical commitment to this doctrine, but in their day-to-day existence they rely on their sanctification for justification….drawing their assurance of acceptance with God from their sincerity…their recent religious performance or the relative infrequency of their conscious, willful disobedience.

Few start each day with a thoroughgoing stand upon Luther’s platform: you are accepted, looking outward in faith and claiming the wholly alien righteousness of Christ as the only ground for acceptance, relaxing in that quality of trust which will produce increasing sanctification as faith is active in love and gratitude.

- Richard Lovelace

Entertainment vs. Biblical

The difference between an entertainment-oriented preacher and a Bible-oriented preacher is the manifest connection of the preacher’s words to the Bible as what authorizes what he says.

The entertainment-oriented preacher seems to be at ease talking about many things that are not drawn out of the Bible. In his message, he seems to enjoy more talking about other things than what the Bible teaches. His words seem to have a self-standing worth as interesting or fun. They are entertaining. But they don’t give the impression that this man stands as the representative of God before God’s people to deliver God’s message.

The Bible-oriented preacher, on the other hand, does see himself that way — “I am God’s representative sent to God’s people to deliver a message from God.” He knows that the only way a man can dare to assume such a position is with a trembling sense of unworthy servanthood under the authority of the Bible. He knows that the only way he can deliver God’s message to God’s people is by rooting it in and saturating it with God’s own revelation in the Bible. - Pastor John Piper