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Paul Tautges Christian Blog and Commentary

Paul Tautges

Paul Tautges serves as senior pastor at Cornerstone Community Church in suburban Cleveland, Ohio, having previously pastored for 22 years in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Paul has authored eight books including Counseling One Another, Brass Heavens, and Comfort the Grieving, and contributed chapters to two volumes produced by the Biblical Counseling Coalition. He is also the consulting editor of the LifeLine Mini-Book series from Shepherd Press. Paul is a Fellow with ACBC (Association of Certified Biblical Counselors). He and his wife, Karen, are the parents of ten children (three married), and have two grandchildren. Paul enjoys writing as a means of cultivating discipleship among believers and, therefore, blogs regularly at Counseling One Another.

Evangelical Christians continue to be obsessed with political activism as the answer to the problems of our nation. "If we can only get the right people into the right positions who can then make the right laws we can turn our nation back to God," many argue. As optimistic as this may be, it does not fit the biblical pattern of how God works in nations and, particularly, through His people by calling them to personal repentance. Throughout world history, God has judged nations for their disobedience to His commands. At the same time, however, He has had His faithful remnant of believers who place their personal faith and obedience to His Word as a higher priority than making noise in high places. This, they rightly believe, is the most powerful influence they may have for the sake of righteousness and the prosperity of the gospel.

Recently, I was reminded of this priority in my daily reading of Isaiah by the Day, which I purchased for myself at last month’s Basic Conference and am thoroughly enjoying. In this new devotional translation by Alec Motyer, I am growing to appreciate the book of Isaiah through learning to understand its message. The following words from Day 15 shine piercingly clear light into our foggy minds.

“National, political, social and governmental disasters and misdemeanors can all be traced to this one source: the Word of God has been sidelined. Isaiah saw it in his day and, with our eyes opened by him, we see it in ours. The beginning of the remedy lies in our individual hands: our greatest contribution to the good of our nation, to political stability and wholesomeness, to social standards and decency and to proper and just government, in our individual devotion and obedience to God’s Word. Recovery starts with me. Isn’t this what the Lord Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount? When he has set out the basic principles of kingdom-life (in the blessedness/happiness sayings, Matt. 5:2-10, which we put away in the deep-freeze by calling them ‘Beatitudes’) he immediately transposes the ‘they’ of general principle into the ‘you’ of personal discipleship (Matt. 5:11). This blessedness is for you when this is your life-style. But more: when this is your life-style you become the salt of purification and the darkness-dispelling light the world so desperately needs. Not by what we say but by what we are when his Word fashions our lives. The alternative way of life, when we set aside his Word, invites the Lord’s displeasure and leaves the world around without any bar to its inevitable corruption, or light to dispel its native darkness.”

Personal obedience to the Lord, along with prayer for our government leaders, and the spread of the gospel, comprise the key means by which we influence our nation for the good (1 Tim. 2:1-4). It is not that there are no other responsibilities we have as salt-and-light citizens, but we must continually remind ourselves that our citizenship is first and foremost in heaven, not earth.

It has often been said that there is no perfect church. But there is also no perfect church member. As the old joke goes, if you find a perfect church you shouldn’t join it, because if you do it won’t be perfect anymore. Whenever sinners work together in close quarters, whether in churches or in families, conflict and disappointment will arise. Regardless of flaws, however, God designed us to need one another, and for the church to need us. But how do you find a good church? What are the qualities to look for? A brand new mini-book answers these questions, and more. I’m super-excited to let you know that the newest addition to the LifeLine mini-books just rolled off the press.

In HELP! I Need a Church, Jim Newheiser gives sound counsel to those in need of a solid biblical church. After spending a short chapter explaining how not to choose a church, Jim spends another chapter highlighting the most important positive traits. Based solely upon Scripture, here is a list of the ten most important questions to ask yourself and a few selected thoughts under each (the author fully develops each in the book).

Is this Church Centered on the Gospel of Jesus Christ? - You can tell what really matters to a church by what is emphasized from the pulpit, discussed by the people, and even displayed on the walls. Sometimes I will ask ordinary members, “Why do you go to this church?” Some churches are all about the music. Some like a church because it supports home-schooling or a Christian school, because of the great kids’ programs, or even because it has no programs for children and youth. Some attend a church because of a famous preacher, or because the right people, including celebrities, go there. Some like a church because of the political activism of its members. Some churches focus on their heritage in church history or a confession of faith. But Paul tells the Corinthians, “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2)

Does This Church Stand Firm on Sound Biblical Doctrine? - You can get an idea of what a church believes by reading its doctrinal statement or confession of faith, but you also need to listen carefully to what is actually preached and taught to see if it is standing firm on biblical doctrine (Titus 1:9; 2:1). Some churches have strayed from their biblical heritage. The most important doctrine on which a church must be clear is that of salvation (Galatians 1:8). As well as this, a church should also affirm that the Bible is inspired (God-breathed—2 Timothy 3:16) and inerrant—the sole authority for faith and practice. A church must also affirm the sufficiency of Scripture to equip us for every good work for life and godliness (2 Timothy 3:17; 2 Peter 1:3.

Is the Bible Faithfully Preached Week after Week? - A faithful preacher preaches only the Word of God, his sole authority. He also preaches all of the Word—the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27), including the difficult parts about God’s holy wrath against sin. A faithful preacher doesn’t merely encourage, but he also reproves and rebukes sin. All faithful preaching will be grounded in the gospel (what God has done for us). Paul said that he was eager to go to Rome to preach the gospel to believers (Romans 1:15). When you visit a church, ask yourself these questions: Is this preaching faithful to the Word of God? Is this a place where my family could be fed the Word of God week after week?

Is the Worship Biblical and God-Centered? - The most important Person we are to seek to please in our worship is God himself. He seeks worshipers who worship in spirit (sincerely and from the heart) and in truth (John 4:23–24). Not all worship is acceptable to God (Isaiah 1:14; Matthew 15:8–9). Under the Old Covenant, God precisely prescribed the way his people were to worship him. God’s worship is still holy under the New Covenant. Some in the early church who did not respect God’s holiness in worship became sick and others died (1 Corinthians 11:29–31; Acts 5:1–10). The New Testament also reveals how we are to worship God under the New Covenant.

Are the Leaders Biblically Qualified and Mutually Accountable? - Church leadership in our day often seeks to reflect the charisma, drive, and vision which our culture looks for in leaders in business or politics. “Successful” Christian leaders (meaning those with large churches and ministries) write books on leadership which seem based more upon management and marketing techniques than upon Scripture. In these models, the leader is regarded as the key to success. The New Testament, however, makes it clear that the Head and Chief Shepherd (Senior Pastor) of the church is Christ (1 Peter 5:4; Ephesians 1:22; 5:23) and that leaders are under-shepherds.

Do the Leaders/Pastors Shepherd the Sheep? - Both Paul and Peter exhort church leaders to shepherd God’s flock (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2). Church leaders are reminded that they will give an account to God for how they have tended the sheep he entrusted to their care (Hebrews 13:17). Some leaders are so driven to grow the church by attracting more people and resources that they don’t have time to actually get involved in helping the hurting sheep that are already part of the flock. Many pastors refuse to invest time in counseling individuals and families through conflicts and crises. Some don’t even believe that they are called to do so, but refer their members to outside “professional counselors” who may offer unbiblical advice. Are the leaders committed and equipped to minister God’s Word, not just publicly before a crowd, but also to individuals and families who need comfort and encouragement (Acts 20:20)?

Does This Church Practice Biblical Church Discipline? - Jesus is deeply concerned about the purity of his church, both in doctrine and in practice. He is also concerned about the influence that doctrinal error and immorality may have on others in the church. “A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough.” (1 Corinthians 5:6). In our day, local churches tend to go to one of two extremes when it comes to discipline. Most commonly fail to practice church discipline. Little or no effort is made to correct and, if necessary, remove members who are involved in immorality or other serious sin, or who promote false and divisive teaching. At the opposite extreme, a few churches, perhaps reacting against the laxness of the majority, are harsh in their discipline. They put people out for minor doctrinal differences or infractions. Ungodly leaders use discipline to protect themselves against those who threaten their power (3 John 9–10). Biblical church discipline is to be carried out in a gentle, loving, and orderly fashion with the purpose of restoring the wayward brother or sister (Galatians 6:1; 2 Corinthians 2:6–8; Matthew 18:12– 15) and upholding the honor of Christ.

Does this Church Equip Its Members to Serve God? - The church officers are not called to do all of the ministries, but rather they are called to equip each member to use his or her gifts to build up the church (1 Peter 4:10–11). Do the elders/ pastors at the church you are visiting encourage every member to serve? Are members free to use their gifts and even to start new ministries? Are the elders/pastors encouraging and training future leaders (2 Timothy 2:2)? Is this a church in which others will disciple you and you will have opportunity to disciple others? Is this a church where you will be able to flourish serving Christ and his people? Is this a church in which men and women are being encouraged and equipped to be godly husbands, wives, parents, employees, employers, and citizens (Ephesians 5:22–6:9; Romans 13:1–7)?

Does This Church Community Have a Culture of Grace, Love, and Peace? - God accepts us, not based upon outward appearance or even our works, but by his grace towards us in Christ. Are people accepted and welcomed into this church regardless of age, ethnicity, social background, spiritual weakness, or differences on secondary issues (such as educational choices for children, views on food and drink, the place of children and youth programs in the church, views of the end times/ rapture, etc.)? Because we are still sinners, you will never find a church in which there is no conflict. But is this church one in which members deal with their differences by showing grace toward one another (Proverbs 19:11; 1 Peter 4:8) and by pursuing peace (Romans 12:18; Hebrews 12:14)? Do people seek to resolve their conflicts in a direct, biblical, and gentle way (Matthew 18:15; Galatians 6:1), rather than participating in slander, gossip, and bullying?

Does This Church Have an Outward Focus—Missions, Evangelism, and Church Planting? - Some churches are such close families that it is hard for an outsider to break into them. Other churches are so concerned about precision in their doctrine and practice that they expend more energy keeping the wrong people out than in welcoming those from the outside. Jesus has given us the great commission to bring his gospel to the world so that disciples can be made to serve and worship him (Matthew 28:18–20; Acts 1:8). Sadly, many churches grow primarily by attracting sheep from other local flocks. Is this church seeking to grow through conversions? Are members of this church encouraged and equipped to practice personal evangelism?

There are many other amenities people look for in churches, but these are the most important qualities. If you are not a member of a solid biblical church then now is the time to seek the Lord for one. HELP! I Need a Church will give you the faithful guidance you need.

As believers, we long to be more like Christ but some days we feel we are taking three steps forward and two steps back. How do we approach the Christian life? How do we make steady progress in our spiritual growth? How can we overcome sin and become more like Christ? The teaching in Philippians 2:12-13 is key to answering these questions. But first, let’s think about two unbiblical extremes, popular imbalances in our understanding of sanctification.

Two unbiblical extremes, popular imbalances

In the progress of sanctification, there are two unbiblical extremes we must avoid. First, there is the “Let God and Let God” approach also known as Keswick theology. According to an article written by New Testament professor Andrew Naselli, entitled “Why ‘Let Go and Let God’ Is a Bad Idea,” Keswick theology comes from the early Keswich movement, named after the small town in northwest England which has hosted an annual weeklong meeting on the deeper spiritual life since 1875.

Keswick theology is “one of the most significant strands of second-blessing theology. It assumes that Christians experience two ‘blessings.’ The first is getting ‘saved,’ and the second is getting serious. The change is dramatic: from a defeated life to a victorious life; from a lower life to a higher life; from a shallow life to a deeper life; from a fruitless life to a more abundant life; from being ‘carnal’ to being ‘spiritual’; and from merely having Jesus as your Savior to making Jesus your Master. People experience this second blessing through surrender and faith: ‘Let go and let God.’”[1]

This theology is “appealing because Christians struggle with sin and want to be victorious in that struggle now. Keswick theology offers a quick fix, and its shortcut to instant victory appeals to genuine longings for holiness….You can tell that Keswick theology has influenced people when you hear a Christian ‘testimony’ like this: ‘I was saved when I was eight years old, and I surrendered to Christ when I was seventeen.’”

This kind of theology is sometimes put in the category of Quietism. Quietists believe that the will of the Christian is quiet, or passive in sanctification. Concerning Quietism, John MacArthur writes, “Quietism tends to be mystical and subjective, focusing on personal feelings and experiences. A person who is utterly submitted to and dependent on God, they say, will be divinely protected from sin and led into faithful living. Trying to strive against sin or to discipline oneself to produce good works is considered to be not only futile but unspiritual and counterproductive.”[2] In short, Quietism is a less than biblical approach to pursuing holiness.

A second unbiblical extreme is known as Pietism. Pietists are “aggressive in their pursuit of correct doctrine and moral purity. Historically, this movement originated in seventeenth-century Germany as a reaction to the dead orthodoxy of many Protestant churches. To their credit, most pietists place strong emphasis on Bible study, holy living, self-discipline, and practical Christianity….Yet they often stress self-effort to the virtual exclusion of dependence on divine power.”[3]

Pietism, as a movement, emphasized many good things in the area of spiritual disciplines and the mutual encouragement and exhortation of believers. However, it has its downsides as well.

Pietism is often the parent of legalism, which is a false measurement of spirituality stemming from a dependence upon adherence to the law in place of resting in faith. Pietistic tendencies also tend to feed what I like to call “The New Pharisaism,” which is an over-emphasis on externals, and the addition of extra-biblical rules and regulations to the neglect of the internal issues of the heart. The New Pharisaism is also characterized by a hyper-critical spirit toward believers who fail to conform to the Pharisee’s demands.

Both Quietism and Pietism fail. Both of these unbiblical extremes fail in the same way: They place importance upon only one side of the process of sanctification. Quietism places emphasis upon resting in God by faith, while Pietism places emphasis upon the diligent, unrelenting pursuit of holiness. But growing in Christ requires both personal responsibility and a dependence upon God in faith.

I am personally indebted to Jerry Bridges who helped me to understand the importance of keeping these two equally true concepts in tension with one another. Now, keeping them in balance continues to be a journey for me. In his first book, The Pursuit of Holiness (1978), he emphasized every Christian’s personal responsibility to be diligent in godliness. God expects us to wage war against the remaining sin in our lives and run the Christian race with great effort. We are not to flirt with sin, but fight against it. In a later book, Transformed by Grace (1991), he wrote of the energizing power of God’s grace to transform us into Christlikeness. In that book, he warned believers to beware of the “Performance Treadmill,” the never-ending tendency to base our relationship with God upon our personal, spiritual performance. Then, in 1993, he wrote The Discipline of Grace, which combined personal responsibility and divine empowerment into one. The book’s subtitle says it all: God’s Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness. Philippians 2:12-13 keeps before us—in equal balance—both of these two truths: personal responsibility and divine empowerment.

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

We are fully responsible for our own spiritual growth.

We are commanded to work out our salvation in fear and trembling, with sober-mindedness (1 Peter 1:13-16; 4:7; 5:8). The apostle links what he is about to say with the emphasis upon the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Remember from last Sunday, no one makes Jesus Lord. He is Lord. The response of biblical faith is to recognize that and submit to His rightful rule over our lives.

The Christian life is not a playground; it is a battlefield. It is a race to run. It is a fight to fight. It is a war, and we are called to be good soldiers. There are other Scriptures which emphasize our personal responsibility in the pursuit of holiness (Matthew 5:27-30; Ephesians 4:17; 22-24; Hebrews 12:1; James 1:21-22).

We are also fully dependent upon God for our spiritual growth.

Verse 13 affirms that “it is God who works in you.” His work is in two areas: to will and to work for His good pleasure. God gives us the desire to become holy (“to will”) and He also provides the power “to work,” to do the things that please God. Other Scriptures that emphasize God’s work of sanctification (John 15:5; Galatians 5:22-25; Ephesians 2:1-10; 2 Peter 1:3, 5).

The apostle Paul testifies that it was this balance of two truths that governed his own progress in Christ. First Corinthians 15:10 says, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” And so it must be the same with us.

[Adapted from yesterday's sermon "Work Our Your Salvation."]

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[1] Andrew Naselli, Why “Let Go and Let God” Is a Bad Idea. Ligonier.org.

[2] John MacArthur, Philippians, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 2001), p. 152.

[3] MacArthur, pp. 152-153.

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