‘I Never Knew You’: Fatal Dreams of the Religious Lost

Is any lostness worse than remaining lost while believing you’re found? Of all those who finally travel the broad way to destruction, are any so wretched as those who sang Christian songs, prayed Christian prayers, and sat under countless Christian sermons along the way? The man sipping sand in the desert, because he thinks he holds a cup of water, is the most tragic and pitiable of sights. To plunge thoughtlessly into the next life is one horror; to play the saint, and still be deceived, is another. There was a time I wouldn’t have believed such people existed — least of all, that I was one of them. Certainly, all who audibly called upon Jesus as Lord would be saved — why else would anyone show up every Sunday? But there it stood before me, glowing as if engraved in fire, Jesus’s own words giving us a transcript of some on judgment day: Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” And then will I declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” (Matthew 7:21–23) I read it again. And again. No verse had ever made me lose sleep before. I realized that I must be one of the “many.” Three Fatal Dreams I was like so many sermon-hearers, Bible-readers, and synagogue-attenders of Jesus’s day: lost in a dream, traveling toward hell in church clothes. “As when a hungry man dreams, and behold, he is eating, and awakes with his hunger… Read More

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The Key to Our Victory over Sin

Audio Transcript Today marks the birthday of Augustine. The church father was born on this date, November 13, back in the year 354. He of course served as bishop of Hippo in North Africa. His story of conversion and spiritual awakening is laid out in a book under the title The Confessions, a classic memoir, enjoyed today in over a dozen available English translations. That book, and all of his books, have left a permanent impact on the Reformed tradition, and specifically on John Piper and this movement we call Christian Hedonism. When Augustine was in his seventies, he went toe-to-toe with a nemesis named Pelagius, a free-will theologian in Britain. Here’s the backstory, and why it matters today, from John Piper’s 1998 biographic message on Augustine. My assumption is that too much Reformed thinking and preaching and worship in our day has not penetrated to the root of how grace actually triumphs through joy in believers’ lives. And therefore, our Reformed thinking and writing and preaching and worshiping is only half Augustinian and half biblical and half beautiful. It isn’t beautiful to people. Everything Good a Gift Pelagius was a British monk who lived in Rome. He was there when it was sacked. He had to leave. He taught that though grace may facilitate the achieving of righteousness, it is not necessary to that end. Grace is not necessary to making right choices. He did not believe in the doctrine of original sin, and he believed that human nature was, at its core, irreducibly good, and that we are able to do everything we are commanded to do. And therefore, Pelagius and Augustine were on a collision course, because when he read the Confessions, this sentence infuriated him: “Give me the grace, O Lord, to do as you command,… Read More

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All We Do Is Succeed: The Story of John Bunyan’s ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’

On the morning of November 12, 1660, a young pastor entered a small meeting house in Lower Samsell, England, preparing to be arrested. He hadn’t noticed the men keeping guard outside the house, but he didn’t need to. A friend had warned him that they were coming. He came anyway. He had agreed to preach. The constable broke in upon the meeting and began searching the faces until he found the one he came for: a tall man, wearing a reddish mustache and plain clothes, paused in the act of prayer. John Bunyan by name. “Had I been minded to play the coward, I could have escaped,” Bunyan later remembered. But he had no mind for that now. He spoke what closing exhortation he could as the constable forced him from the house, a man with no weapon but his Bible. Two months and several court proceedings later, Bunyan was taken from his church, his family, and his job to serve “one of the longest jail terms . . . by a dissenter in England” (On Reading Well, 182). For twelve years, he would sleep on a straw mat in a cold cell. For twelve years, he would wake up away from his wife and four young children. For twelve years, he would wait for release or, if not, exile or execution. And in those twelve years, he began a book about a pilgrim named Christian — a book that would become, for over two centuries, the best-selling book written in the English language. Tinker Turned Preacher John Bunyan (1628–1688) was not the most likely Englishman to write The Pilgrim’s Progress, a book that would be translated into two hundred languages, that would capture the imaginations of children and scholars alike, and that would rank, in influence and popularity, just… Read More

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I Feel No Sexual Attraction — Should I Still Pursue Marriage?

Audio Transcript In our culture, every sexual orientation gets a label and a definition. A 26-year-old anonymous female listener has been considering those categories. She writes in to us, saying, “Hello, Pastor John! What are your thoughts on the sexual orientation category of ‘asexual’ — of people who experience no general sexual attraction to others? This seems to be me currently. Am I broken? Is something wrong with me? Or do you think in a Christian’s life this would be a God-given signal that one has the permanent gift of singleness? At first I thought so, but then I see another category for those who are ‘demisexual’ — those who experience sexual attraction to someone, but only after a close emotional connection has first formed. I think I may be asexual, but I don’t know. Perhaps I could be sexually attracted to a man later on? “In light of 1 Corinthians 7:6–11, does the Bible applaud asexuality? And how should a currently asexual young woman proceed in thinking about singleness and marriage that embraces singleness and ministry opportunities, but leaves open the possibility of marriage in the future?” What would you say to this young female listener? I hadn’t planned to say this originally, but yesterday I took a walk with my wife, and I said, “Hey, I’ve been thinking about some APJ questions,” and I paraphrased this one to her about a woman who thought she had no sexual attraction to men as a single woman. And my wife looked at me and said, “What’s the problem?” I said, “Okay, I’ll tell her you said that.” That response might make a little more sense if I tell you what I was going to say anyway, but that’s a short answer. Matrimony Without Romance It might be helpful to start… Read More

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I Was a Misunderstood Muslim: Common Misconceptions About Islam

Christians are called to be witnesses of Christ to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). In our day, the ends of the earth are moving into our neighborhoods — at least for those of us in America and Europe. Muslims are emigrating to our cities in record numbers. Many of us don’t need to board a plane to take the gospel to the Muslim world. We only need to cross the street to our neighbor’s house. Unfortunately, many Christians are apprehensive about engaging a relationship or even a conversation with Muslims. Some have a misperception that Muslims will not be friendly. Others are gripped with the fear of potentially offending Muslims by committing a cultural faux pas. Essentially, many are overcome by the fear of the unknown. I want to shed light on some common misconceptions that hinder Christians from reaching out to Muslims with the saving truth of Christ. Misconceptions About Muslims The most common misconception about Muslims is that they are all radical terrorists filled with hatred for the West — or at least they are headed in that direction. The thought is that all Muslims ultimately want to see our society destroyed and Islamic sharia law instituted throughout the land. Although there are movements of radical Islamic terrorists throughout the world, the vast majority of Muslims are among the more hospitable, gracious, and friendly people you will meet. Underlying this misunderstanding is the erroneous thinking that the more devout one gets as a Muslim, the more radical one becomes. Some think that the end of Christian devotion is to sell your possessions and give it all to the poor, while the end of Muslim devotion is to become a jihadist. “In our day, the ends of the earth are moving into our neighborhoods.” Tweet Share on… Read More

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Not Wired for This World: Making a Home for Special Needs

Excitement was palpable on the first day of Sunday school this year. A table featured notebooks lovingly assembled by hand with verses for children to memorize. Teachers chatted with parents about new songs on the agenda, new curricula, new dramas to unfold over the year. As my kids and I waited in line at the registration table, I glanced at my 6-year-old and prayed he could share some of the day’s joy. Yet as I watched, his enthusiasm ceded to anxiety. He stared at a box of name tags as if they were decayed things. A teacher cheered him hello, but he only blurted, “I don’t want a name tag please.” Then he glimpsed the television in the room. “Please, I don’t want to watch a video!” he suddenly cried. He started to backpedal, dragging his sister and me with him. “I can’t watch a video! Mum, I need to go home!” I placed my hand on his shoulder, but he shrank away, as if my light touch induced pain. Other parents stared in alarm. To anyone watching, the scene was bizarre. But to my family, this was just another moment. Just another day when our brilliant, compassionate, sweet boy, who loves Jesus even more than Legos, fought to cope with a world he isn’t wired to handle. Love the Sojourner God has special concern for those who wander in strange lands. He first commanded the Israelites to care for sojourners in the wilderness during the exodus (Exodus 22:21; 23:9). In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses reiterated God’s instruction before his people entered the Promised Land: “[God] executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:18–19). The… Read More

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Why Does the Bible Stress the Power of Jesus’s Name?

Audio Transcript Why does the Bible stress the power of Jesus’s name? The question comes from a listener named Jared. “Hello, Pastor John. I have a question for you that my wife and I have wondered about for a while now. Why the biblical emphasis on praising the name of Jesus? And praying in the name of Jesus? Of course we want to, and it’s a pattern we see all over the New Testament, especially in the book of Acts (2:38; 3:6, 3:16; 4:10, 18; 5:40–41; 8:12; 9:27; 10:48; 16:18; 19:13; 26:9) and in Paul (1 Corinthians 1:2; Philippians 2:10). To ask it another way: Why is there power in Christ’s name rather than saying there’s power in Christ’s person?” What would you say to Jared and his wife? Well, the answer to that last question is easy: There isn’t. There isn’t power in Christ’s name, rather than saying there’s power in Christ’s person. There is power in Christ’s name because there is power in Christ’s person. But Jared knows that. That was just strange wording. What he really wants to know, I think, is what he said at the beginning: Why do we see such an emphasis on praising the name of Jesus and praying in the name of Jesus, doing all of these things in the name of Jesus? What does the focus on name imply in the New Testament? So let me try to answer that in maybe three steps. What’s in a Name? The fact that in the Old Testament God went out of his way to make a connection between someone’s God-given name and the essentially important thing about that person is significant. For example, Genesis 17:5: Abram changed to Abraham. “No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham,… Read More

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Manage Your Household Well: The Tragedy of Distracted Dads and Pastors

The gratuitously distracted, and often unexamined, lives of modern unmarried men can be concerning enough. Then the seriousness of the problem rises higher when we say, “I do.” And even more when we bring children into the world. One of the greatest needs wives and children have — and all the more in our relentlessly distracting age — is dad’s countercultural attentiveness. Perhaps human attention never has been more valuable. Today the largest corporations in the world no longer compete for oil, but for human attention. And when attention is short and scarce, one of the greatest emerging tragedies of this new era is distracted dads. And in the church, its digital-age analog: distracted pastors. Qualification for Christian Men “He must manage his own household well.” The risen Christ, through his apostle Paul, requires as much of any officer in the church, whether pastor or deacon (1 Timothy 3:4–5, 12). As is plain from the rest of the leadership qualifications, however, these traits aren’t meant to set leaders apart from the congregation, but to make them “examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3) of every Christian’s calling. Christ means for these attributes to be true of us all, and so it is essential that they be modeled, at minimum, in the leadership. By extension, Christ means for every dad to “manage his own household well.” “Before and beneath God’s call that we care for our households, and for his church, is his care for us.” Tweet Share on Facebook This qualification to “manage his own household well” forges a special relationship, among the other requirements, between church leadership and domestic husbanding and fathering. Why must a pastor be one who manages his household well? “For if someone does not know how to manage his own household,” Paul reasons, “how will… Read More

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‘I Don’t Believe in Christ — Why Is Faith So Hard?’

Audio Transcript Just recently, Pastor John and Noël traveled to Holland, France, and Germany. Earlier in the year, they traveled to South America. And earlier in the spring, they were in Ireland and Scotland. All those trips were ministry trips on behalf of Desiring God. Our ministry partners make these international trips possible. So thank you. Today I want to share with you one moment captured in Scotland, recorded at a conference hosted by our friends at 20schemes. In Scotland, a “scheme” is something like a housing project, a government-subsidized neighborhood that’s pretty rough, known for high crime and rampant drug use. More troubling, over half of Scotland’s schemes are gospel-less places. 20schemes is a ministry to change this by planting gospel-loving churches right into these areas of deprivation. While in Scotland, Pastor John sat down to field audience questions from one of those church planters, Andy Prime, who relayed to Pastor John the following question. Have a listen. Andy Prime: Someone says, “Hi, Pastor John. I’m someone who has been exposed to a lot of Christian talks and events in the last couple of years, but I am still struggling to put my faith in Christ. What advice could you give me?” John Piper: Wow, I wish I knew you. I would really probe before I gave an answer. I would probe the word struggle. What is that? I want to help you so bad to get over that. Let me just say what comes to my mind. Narrow Way, Light Load Let me give you two texts, and then tell you why the word struggle is a little odd and yet understandable. In Matthew 7:14, Jesus said, “The gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Now,… Read More

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What Is the Apocrypha? Listening to Four Centuries of Silence

ABSTRACT: The Apocrypha is a collection of books written in the four centuries between the Old and New Testaments. Though the Apocrypha is not Scripture, many Protestants (including Luther, Calvin, and other Reformers) have found the collection useful historically, theologically, and spiritually. Discerning readers of the Apocrypha gain a fuller understanding of first-century Judaism, including the messianic fervor that led, in part, to Jesus’s passion. For our ongoing series of feature articles by scholars for pastors, leaders, and teachers, we asked Professor David Briones to provide an overview of the Apocrypha’s history and the potential benefits it can offer Protestants. Most Protestants have never read the Apocrypha. Many don’t even know what the term apocrypha means. And the majority don’t care to read books that aren’t in their Bibles. Is this a bad thing? Shouldn’t the Apocrypha be kept out of sight and out of mind? Protestants who were raised Roman Catholic would probably say, “Of course!” They have come to learn that the Apocrypha is uninspired and supports erroneous Roman Catholic dogma. And that’s more than enough reason to disregard it. “The Apocrypha provides us with rich historical information that illumines our understanding of the New Testament.” Tweet Share on Facebook As accurate as that negative assessment is, disregarding the Apocrypha isn’t necessarily the right response. We can read it discerningly yet constructively, critically yet charitably. Doing so will lead one to see the many ways it actually enhances our understanding of the divinely inspired Scriptures. So, rather than thrusting the Apocrypha out of your sight and out of your mind, I want to give you a glimpse of what you’d be missing if you did. After providing a brief description and history of the Apocrypha, I will lay out some of the theological and spiritual benefits this questionable… Read More

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When Has My Career Become My Idol?

Audio Transcript Last time, we talked about Christians who work on Sundays. Today, we talk about Christians who work every day. The question comes from Samantha. “Hello, Pastor John! I am honored to work in a very demanding field in DC, alongside a number of other young Christians who also work very hard. I think it’s safe to say we are overworking. It would be pretty normal for me and other young associates to put in seven-day workweeks. The phone is never off, texts never stop, the work never ends. It’s immersive. Work is life. And as much as we bemoan it, we struggle to know what to do in the moments when we are not working. Work gives us our cues for action in life, of what to do next. And thus, our work can undermine relationships and meaningful church involvement — everything that is not work. Even if we are not officially forced to work every day, the desires for advancement and for future success and for achieving financial security are such strong draws that to stop working feels like losing momentum to others in a very competitive career field. That’s my world right now, and it doesn’t feel healthy. At what point does vocational diligence become corrupting idolatry?” It seems to me that Samantha already has such an amazing grasp of the telltale signs of idolatry in the way she describes her situation. Maybe the best thing I can do is to give her a fresh set of categories for how to think about this — not at all contradicting what she’s already seen, but just coming at it a new way. Here are four words, which in Greek — yes, this is going to be relevant — have a positive meaning and a sinful meaning, and… Read More

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We Dare Not Ignore the Devil

A.W. Tozer once memorably said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” Though I agree with C.S. Lewis’s response to this line of thinking — that “how God thinks of us is . . . infinitely more important” than how we think of him — Tozer’s point is still crucial: “We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God” (The Knowledge of the Holy, 1). How we think about God determines how we live. Now, what comes into your mind when you think about Satan and his demons? Certainly, it is not the most important thing about you. And what God thinks about Satan and demons is infinitely more important than what we think of them. But what we think about the demonic realm is certainly not unimportant. “We must be more willing to be considered fools than to cruelly leave people the victims of enslaving evil.” Tweet Share on Facebook What do we think of what God has to say about the existence and activity of devils in Scripture? How seriously do we take what he says — not just in creed but in deed? How much does a conscious awareness of spiritual warfare functionally factor into our daily life? How does it affect how we pray? How does it inform the ways we see our areas of chronic temptation, fears, family dynamics, church conflicts, physical and mental illnesses, inhibited gospel fruitfulness, geopolitical events? What kinds of strategic spiritual action do we take in response to these things? These are important questions. Because how we think about satanic forces also determines in significant ways how we live. Are We Ignorant of His Designs? The New Testament authors wrote with a profound… Read More

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What Is an Embryo Worth? The Deadly Intuitions Behind Abortion

The science of embryology has not been kind to pro-abortionists, but that hasn’t stopped a popular comedian from doing his best to dismiss it. Science establishes that, from the earliest stages of development, the unborn are distinct, living, and whole human beings. True, they have yet to grow and mature, but they are whole human beings nonetheless. Leading embryology textbooks such as The Developing Human, Langman’s Embryology, and Human Embryology and Teratology affirm this. Rather than refute the scientific evidence for the humanity of the unborn, some justify abortion with a direct appeal to intuition. To be clear, moral intuitions are more than hunches. They are strong, stable, immediate moral beliefs requiring no prior justification. They are properly basic, or, as America’s founders wrote, “self-evident.” Statements like “rape is wrong” and “murder is wrong” are properly basic. You don’t need a syllogism to defend them. Anyone demanding proof that rape and murder are wrong does not need an argument; he needs a psychologist! The truth of the statements is immediate, direct, and obvious. From a Christian worldview, a wise Creator built these intuitional truths into our nature. Indeed, if you don’t have some foundational truths in place to begin with, you can’t know anything at all. Do Intuitions Justify Abortion? Nevertheless, some beliefs we think are self-evident may not be. In a fallen world, our intuitions are not infallible. In some cases, they are subject to correction by superior evidence, thus proving they are not self-evident after all. A recent series of tweets by comedian Patrick S. Tomlinson is a case in point. “In a fallen world, our intuitions are not infallible.” Tweet Share on Facebook Tomlinson thinks he has a slam-dunk defense of abortion. Actually, it’s not his; it’s a rehash of a thought experiment first put forward (in… Read More

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Advice for Christians Who Work Sundays

Audio Transcript It’s Friday, and for a lot of us, our workweek is ending and a free weekend is ahead. For others, the weekend means more work, like for Christine, a nurse in Louisville. “Dear Pastor John, thank you for your wisdom over the years. By God’s grace, I have grown up in a solid Christian home and have known your name as long as I have known my own. I recently graduated as a registered nurse and now work in an ICU that requires all nurses to work every third weekend (Saturday and Sunday). Since I work day shift, this means that I miss being with the body of Christ every third Sunday for both the morning and evening. This is hard on me. I believe the Sabbath is a precious day of rest and refreshment in the Lord and in the company of his people. And yet, I am thankful to have the opportunity to help bring physical healing on the Lord’s Day, as our sweet Lord Jesus healed on the Sabbath. What wisdom could you give to us with jobs that require weekend work?” Well, the way Christine asks this question shows remarkable discernment, it seems, already into some of the New Testament teachings about the Lord’s Day. She calls it “a precious day of rest and refreshment in the Lord and in the company of his people.” That’s a beautiful description. And she draws the connection between work that blesses people on the Lord’s Day and the way Jesus got himself in big trouble precisely because of healing people on the Jewish Sabbath. And remember, Jesus rebuked the leaders by asking them this really amazing question: “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” (Mark… Read More

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