Conflicts are to be expected in marriage. But why do they happen in even the most mature marriages?
At a recent monthly gathering with the Pastors College students and their wives, C.J. abbreviated his sermon on James 4:1–3 and shared a recent example of how the passage protected his marriage from conflict during a date night.
Listen to C.J.’s 7-minute message here:
Cravings, Conflict, and Marriage
Dec. 4, 2009
Download here (7.9 MB)
I was having a wide-ranging conversation with a friend the other day when we wandered onto the topic of the gospel. I casually observed how frequently the word gospel
was freighted with elements that belong more precisely to the realm of discipleship or ethics—e.g., what we do in response
to the gospel, or how we live in light of
My friend responded with puzzlement: “Aren’t those things part of the gospel? Didn’t Jesus say in the Great Commission, ‘teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you’?”
A lively and edifying conversation ensued in which we found ourselves largely in agreement, but also in which a crucial issue surfaced: what precisely is
Perhaps it’s foolish to tackle such a question in a medium that militates against nuance and formulaic clarity. No doubt my comments will be parsed and found wanting by many who discern neglect of this or that biblical theme or emphasis—ah, well, such are the joys of blogging. It is, however, a question that lies at the very heart of our faith, and therefore at the heart of pastoral ministry.
So what does the New Testament present as the gospel?
A good place to begin is Mark’s gospel. At the outset of the book, the author immediately alerts us to the significance of what will follow: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). Syntactically, this heading flows directly into the remainder of the prologue (Isaiah’s prophecy, John the Baptist, and Jesus’s baptism/temptations)—indicating that these introductory events are the “beginning of the gospel,” while the balance of Mark’s narrative presents the rest
of the gospel.
What’s the point? For Mark, the gospel is the story about Jesus—the good news of all that Jesus did in his life and ministry and death and resurrection.
We see a similar idea in the early preaching of the church. When Peter is summoned to Cornelius’s home and discovers that God is behind this miraculous chain of events, his presentation of the gospel (“proclaiming the good news of peace”—Acts 10:36b) is an outline of Jesus’s ministry, beginning with John the Baptist on through to his resurrection and commissioning of the apostles to proclaim forgiveness through his name (Acts 10:36-41; cf. 2:22-24; 3:13-15). As far back as C.H. Dodd, commentators have viewed this as a summary of apostolic preaching and noted its basic agreement with the structure of Mark’s gospel. Once again, the gospel is the news of what God was doing through Jesus in his life, death, and resurrection.
Paul uses the term gospel
more than any other NT writer. Of course, one of the most familiar renditions of “gospel” in the NT is Paul’s summary statement in 1 Corinthians 15:1ff: “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you...For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…” Again, the gospel consists of what Jesus did
to save us. Paul’s presentation is more narrow, focusing on the pinnacle of Christ’s work—his substitutionary death and resurrection—but that focus is also embedded into the very structures of the canonical gospels themselves, which reserve far more space for, and place the greatest emphasis on, the death and resurrection of Jesus.
So what is the gospel?
Although this brief survey is far from complete, it consistently reveals that the gospel is good news concerning Jesus and what he did to accomplish salvation for sinners.
In other words, the gospel is objective
. It tells us what God has done to save his people. It consists of concrete, historical events, rooted in Old Testament promises, types, and institutions that were fulfilled in Jesus. It promises that all who trust in Christ and his work will receive forgiveness and life. Of course, this isn’t merely a catalogue of events of only historical interest; all of this has massive implications for our lives. But we must not confuse the gospel message itself with the outworking of those implications.
So, for example, although the gospel calls me to respond to what Jesus has done, strictly speaking it doesn’t include
my response—repentance is not
the gospel. Although the gospel introduces me to a life lived in glad obedience to God, strictly speaking it doesn’t include that life of obedience. Our existence as Christians involves unspeakable privileges, significant responsibilities, and untold promise. But those things themselves are not
Why is all this important? It’s important because the very nature of the gospel is at stake—and there is no higher priority for the pastor than to guard the gospel from neglect, distortion, or redefinition (1 Timothy 6:20; 2 Timothy 1:14).
If the gospel message expands to include “discipleship in the kingdom,” then the objective nature of Christ’s work is minimized. When the gospel is redefined as a call to a social or political movement, Christ’s work is replaced with ours. When the gospel includes my response, then the ground of my assurance lies in me rather than in Christ. Indeed, anytime we shift the definition of the gospel from God’s objective accomplishment to our subjective appropriation, the rock-solid foundation of our faith is misplaced—and the glory of God in the gospel is obscured.
Of course, we can be clear on the gospel message and make other mistakes. We can neglect the entailments
of the gospel (a life of self-denial and obedience to Christ). We can focus only
on spiritual salvation to the exclusion of any concern for the material or physical well-being of others. We can so focus on a heavenly home that we neglect our responsibilities of loving others in a fallen world, and that our ultimate future lies in a “new heavens and new earth” that have been fully renewed by God’s power.
None of these mistakes, however, minimizes the importance of holding fast to the gospel of our salvation. For it is through the power of the gospel that we are transformed to live new lives by the power of the Spirit. It is through the gospel that we are freed from selfishness to give our lives in service of others. Sure, the scope of Christ’s redemption is the whole cosmos (Colossians 1:20), but at the center
of his redemptive concern are rebellious image-bearers whom he is ransoming to be his children. But all of these entailments, implications, and promises are founded upon the rock-solid, unchanging accomplishment of God through the gospel of his Son. It is this message that is God’s power to save sinners, to comfort the grieving, to motivate the listless, to encourage the downhearted, to assure the guilt-stricken.
This message never changes; this message is always true; and so our hope is always secure.
And it precisely when those erstwhile rebels grasp God’s accomplishment in the gospel—the greatest display of “the breadth and length and height and depth of Christ’s love”—that they will be “filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:17-19) and marvel with wonder at the gospel’s display of God’s glorious grace.
Jeff Purswell serves as the Dean of the Sovereign Grace Pastors College and a pastor at Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, MD.
Here’s the second installment in our “five minutes with David Powlison” series (you can access the first one here
I asked David to elaborate on this quote:
I have yet to meet a couple locked in hostility (and the accompanying fear, self-pity, hurt, self-righteousness) who really understood and reckoned with their motives. James 4:1–3 teaches that cravings underlie conflicts. Why do you fight? It’s not “because of my wife/husband…”—it’s because of something about you. Couples who see what rules them—cravings for affection, attention, power, vindication, control, comfort, a hassle-free life—can repent and find God’s grace made real to them, and then learn how to make peace.
—Seeing with New Eyes (P&R, 2003), p. 151.
To hear David expand on this quote, download the 7-minute audio recording here
(5.9 MB) or listen online:
Welcome to the fourth and final part of my interview with biblical counselor and author Dr. David Powlison.
David, what single bit of counsel has made the most significant difference in your leadership?
The shepherd must know that he is one of the Shepherd’s needy and
beloved sheep: 2 Corinthians 1:4; 1 Corinthians 10:12–13. You can best
give to others the very things that you are receiving and living.
Where in ministry are you most regularly tempted to discouragement?
I don’t tend to get discouraged in ministry. I think that I was
convinced early on that evil is incomprehensibly deep and tangled, and
that life is shadowed by death. The fewer the illusions, the less prone
to disillusionment. Jesus came for all this sin and suffering,
continues to enter in with light, mercy and power into imperfect and
broken lives, will return to make right all that is wrong. “Tis mercy
all, immense and free….” Kyrie eleison.
I do get discouraged simply as a man, by my own shortcomings,
lovelessness, and weakness/astheneia
. But time after time the place of
discouragement has become the door for the mercies of Jesus to delight
and refresh me.
Today, as I’m doing this written interview for CJ, I’m nearing the 3
week mark of a post-surgical recovery period. I’ve been quite slowed by
the pain and fatigue. The process has been disheartening at times. But
the very act of doing this interview (something that was not on my
project list—see question above!) has brought me back to basics and
invigorated me, helping restore me to the mindset of work and ministry.
Do you exercise? If so, what do you do? If not, why not? (Please be specific.)
I exercise by walking outdoors in some part of God’s creation where I
can observe something beautiful—stream, field, tree, cloud, bird,
light, rain, snow, mountain…. My physical exercise includes a major
aesthetic component. (This is also part of how I answer the question
below, about leisure). Sometimes I throw in a few sets of pushups or
wind sprints to get the pulse racing and the muscles burning.
Currently, what sport do you like to play and/or watch?
Injuries and aging have pretty much put an end to sports. I loved
surfing, basketball, football, softball, distance running, competitive
swimming, cross-country skiing. I still occasionally do a little kayak
surfing or boogie-boarding (when I visit my family in Hawaii), or some
skiing (when we get 4" or more of snow).
On TV I’ll watch a little of all the major sports, when it comes to
playoffs and championships. And every four years I watch swimming and
track during the Olympics.
What do you do for leisure?
Among the highlights are hiking (both with Nan and alone), reading good
fiction, cross-country skiing or kayaking (when opportunity presents),
and playing with my granddaughter. I find that a half an hour of
something both absorbingly mindful and mindlessly forgetful—a card game
on my Palm Pilot, a computer strategy game, the Sunday crossword
puzzle—can be refreshing. I love the ritual of reading the newspaper
over a cup of coffee.
If you were not in ministry, what occupational path would you have chosen?
God made me to do what I am doing, shaping every aspect of both gifts
and life experience. If I had to do some other job in order to support
myself and my family, I’d do any honorable work as an occupation in
order to enable my vocation in ministry. For me, doing ministry came
with becoming a Christian.
If I had not become a Christian, I’m not sure what I would have done. I
was never occupation-oriented. In fact, I was intensely alienated even
from the idea of an occupation, and came close to becoming a dropout
from society. I was repelled by the degree to which people sought
personal identity and meaning from their occupation and achievements.
My only aspiration had been to write honest and beautiful poetry, song
lyrics, and fiction (not the most promising of occupations). I would
likely have ended up either as a derelict or, if I’d stayed functional
in society, as one of Thoreau’s “The mass of men lead lives of quiet
[Added by Dr. Powlison]
What one further question should C.J. be asking?
Who are your closest personal friends (outside your family)? What role do they play in your life and ministry?
Four men have been in my life through many years (40, 30, 20, and 15
years, respectively). We are honest with each other—a track record of
loving concern creates a depth of basic trust and immediate honesty. We
hold each other to Jesus Christ. We pray with and for each other. I
need the mutual give and take, the simplicity of caring and candor both
given and received.
Here’s a quotation that captures it for me: “Those who lack friends to
open themselves unto are cannibals of their own hearts….This
communicating of a man’s self to his friends works two contrary
effects; for it redoubles joys and cuts griefs in half.” (Francis
Bacon, “Of Friendship,” 1625)
Thank you, David!
Recorded late in 2001 at a Covenant Life Church parent-youth meeting, this fifth clip in our “C.J. + Carolyn on Parenting” series provides an opportunity for the couple to explain some of their most humbling mistakes. Grant Layman’s question was simple and direct: “What sins have you personally confronted in yourselves in regard to parenting?”
5. Fear + Unbelief in Parenting (3:46)
Other clips in the series:
1. Gospel-Centered Parenting + Young Children (9:27)
2. The Gospel + Parental Sin (2:39)
3. The Gospel + Discipline (5:37)
4. Teaching Children to Love the Church (10:59)
The audio recording of C.J.'s message at the 2008 Dwell Conference in New York City is now online.
Dwelling in the Cross
1 Timothy 4:16; Galatians 5:17
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
New York City
43:55 run time; 9.6MB MP3
February 22, 2008 by C.J. Mahaney
Categories: Confessing sin | Sports
Over the past few years, sports fans have endured a steady diet of news about high-profile athletes who have been busted for using steroids. Though steroid use is not limited to baseball, most recently professional baseball has been the focus of criticism due to the Mitchell Report and the recent hearings on Capitol Hill.
As I’ve listened in, read the sports pages, and watched part of the hearings, I’ve listened carefully to the way athletes articulate their words. Sadly, as I listen to these confessions of drug use, I see no discernable difference between the professing Christian and the non-Christian athletes. Specifically, this has been obvious in the recent round of charges against and admissions by Andy Pettitte.
If you’ve followed major league baseball, you know pitcher Andy Pettitte was identified in the Mitchell Report and later acknowledged using human growth hormones (HGH), a substance banned by the league.
Sadly, though he has publicly admitted using HGH, Pettitte (a professing Christian) did not get off to a good start. His first public statement (Dec. 15, 2007) included some “if” statements like “If what I did was an error in judgment on my part, I apologize.” I don’t really even know what this sentence means. But I do know that confessions including the word “if” quickly move away from a truly biblical confession.
Monday at a press conference from spring training, Andy Pettitte was asked by a reporter, “Considering it [HGH] is illegal, do you consider yourself a cheater?” Pettitte responded by saying,
From the bottom of my heart, I know why I did this. I didn’t do it to try to get an edge on anyone, I didn’t do it to try to get stronger, faster or to throw harder. I did it because I was told that it might be able to help me. That’s for other people to decide. If people think I’m lying then they should call me a cheater. Do I think I’m a cheater? I don’t. God knows my heart.
As I watched Pettitte, I noted how high-profile Christian athletes miss opportunities to present culture with a compelling alternative: someone who has been genuinely convicted of sin and confesses those specific sins. Instead, the norm for these athletes (who are professing Christians) is to conform to the evasive language so common when someone has been caught.
Reading these explicit references to God, I find it difficult to reconcile Pettitte’s statements with Scripture. He is a professing Christian, yet when it comes to his admitted use of HGH, we hear posturing and ambiguous language. And you see this throughout the process. The Mitchell Report named Pettitte, and Pettitte acknowledged the accuracy of the Report in regards to a personal use of HGH, but withheld specifics about his uses on other occasions. Then Pettitte later revealed more specifics about his use, when deposed by the congressional committee. And though he has (and only after he was caught) admitted to multiple uses of the drug, Pettitte refuses to see himself as a cheater.
Now Pettitte is claiming that his motives were pure, attempting to justify the steroid use by a desire to recover sooner from an injury. With this statement Pettitte presents himself as though what he did was admirable
. He says he did it for the team. Please, does he think we’re all fools?
Tuesday morning I jogged on the treadmill while watching ESPN’s Mike & Mike in the Morning
. After clips from the Pettitte press conference on Monday, attention turned back to Mike and Mike. One of them, former professional football player Mike Golic, acknowledged that in 1987 he took steroids for five weeks to accelerate the healing process of shoulder surgery. After ridiculing Pettitte for using his faith in God, Christian beliefs, and personal feelings as justification for his actions, Golic went on to say, “I did it [steroids] for the same reason [as Pettitte]. But when I admitted that I did it, I never tried to come across as though I didn’t cheat. I did. It was wrong.”
Golic clearly acknowledged cheating. He did. And it’s disappointing to me that a guy who is (to my knowledge) not a Christian acknowledged he cheated and can easily discern the weaknesses of Pettitte’s “confession.”
As I watched the Pettitte press conference, I didn’t question the sincerity of his profession of faith. What I am questioning is his understanding of Scripture (specifically ethics as taught in Scripture). I wonder if he has a pastor. I wonder if he’s a part of a local church. I wonder if the Yankees have a chaplain who is a true pastor. Because I think Pettitte needs a pastor or chaplain who can meet with him to walk back through his confession and examine his heart in light of the holiness of God, the doctrine of sin, and (most importantly) the gospel.
It was disappointing because Andy Pettitte missed his moment. He had a moment where he could have articulated a clear confession that was theologically informed. Sadly, he didn’t, but others have; you just may not have heard of them. Meet Daniel Naulty.
The now infamous Mitchell Report on steroid use in major league baseball pointed a finger at high-profile players like Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Miguel Tejada, and Gary Sheffield.
Long before the Mitchell Report was released, a lesser-known pitcher named Daniel Naulty admitted using steroids. Naulty pitched for the Twins (1996–98) and Yankees (1999), which put him in contact with a number of players later named in the Mitchell Report. Naulty not only is a professing Christian, but is now pursuing a Ph.D in theology with the hopes of one day becoming a seminary professor.
Naulty has repeatedly confessed publicly his use of steroids. He told the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune
I stole people’s jobs. That’s the part for me that was so wrong. I have to explain to my boys that I took people’s jobs by cheating, and that penetrated my soul a number of years ago and still haunts me today.
And in reflecting on all the players behind the scenes he influenced to use steroids, he told USA Today
I want to apologize to as many [fellow players] as I can. If they forgive me, great. But I need to be prepared to be declined and I’d understand if they didn’t. I took a piece of their life away from them that I could never give back. You reap what you sow and I might very well reap a lot of what I sowed.
Let me tell you what he won’t reap. He won’t
reap a perjury charge or a seared conscience or the ridicule of a world that easily discerns someone who is lying. And he will reap
the love and respect of his sons.
Naulty embraced his moment to speak and he spoke clearly, specifically, and humbly. Pettitte missed his moment.
Now, what about your moment of confession? Your moment is coming, and so is mine. And this is what concerns me the most—that I will miss my moment.
My Confession of Sin
Though I’m seeking to grow in godliness (by God’s grace), I know indwelling sin remains, and that means I will sin against my wife, son, or friends at some point this week. I am the worst sinner I know, not Andy Pettitte. I am more familiar with my sin than I am with his sin. And I have my own moment fast approaching when I will need to acknowledge my sin.
Obviously I am not a high-profile athlete, and my words are not being recorded and evaluated by the press. But my words are being evaluated by God (Matthew 12:36
). And at times, I am sorry to say, my confession can be all too Pettitte-like.
When I have sinned against someone, a sincere confession is required. A confession that is sincere and pleasing to God will be specific
. I have learned to be suspicious of my confession if it’s general
. A sincere confession of sin should be specific
(“I was arrogant and angry when I made that statement; will you please forgive me for sinning against you in this way?”) and brief
(this shouldn’t take long). When I find myself adding an explanation to my confession, I’m not asking forgiveness but instead appealing for understanding.
If my so-called confession extends beyond a very specific (acknowledgement of sin) sentence or two, then I am most likely excusing my sin, and requesting understanding for my sin, rather than sincerely asking forgiveness because of my sin. So I have learned to be suspicious of any confession of sin that is lengthy. Genuine conviction of sin is evidenced by a sincere
, and brief
confession of sin, without any reference to circumstances or the participation of anyone else. When I sin, I am responsible for my sin, and the cause of my sin is always within my heart and never lies outside my heart.
Often after I sin, and even after I confess my sin—most importantly to God to receive the forgiveness I need from him for my sin through the death of his Son for my many sins—I experience a conflict in my soul about the confessing, when necessary, to the appropriate individuals. And whenever there is this conflict in my soul about specifically confessing my sin, I am aware that pride is actively at work in my soul, opposing the confession and seeking to persuade me that it wouldn’t be wise or even necessary for me to confess. But I have learned to ignore this noise from my arrogant heart, and instead weaken this noise by specifically confessing my sin to the appropriate individual as quickly as possible.
When I do confess, first and foremost to God and then (where and when appropriate) to others, I want my confession to be sincere and specific. I want my confession to express genuine sorrow and gratefulness to God for the mercy I experience because of the substitutionary sacrifice of his Son for my sins on the cross.
And when I confess my sin to others and ask their forgiveness when I have sinned against them, I don’t want my confession to resemble the press conference of a high-profile athlete, characterized by evasive language and the refusal to be specific. Instead, I hope my confession of sin is the sincere and specific confession of one genuinely convicted of his sin, sorrowful about his sin, and amazed at the grace of God provided for the forgiveness of sin.