The Agony of Eternal Life-God Loves You and Has an Agonizing Plan For Your Life

Strive to enter in at the narrow gate” (Luke 13:24)

Jesus would not be a minister of evangelism/missions at your church. It’s likely he would have never gotten past your search committee. You may not even want him on a visitation team. Not if you attend a church like most in modern American “churchianity”.

A cursory reading of Scripture shows that many times instead of making it easy for people to come to him, Christ put up formidable barriers to their coming. The harshness of tone and content in his invitation was usually in direct correlation to the hidden pride of his hearers. Amazingly, Christ didn’t always hit an inquiring person with a John 3:16 or a Mat 11:28 like we do. The Rich Young Ruler got smacked with the Ten Commandments when he came in Mark 10. The Pharisees were told their mom shagged the devil in John 8. Christ referred to a needy Samaritan woman as a dog when she asked for help in Mark 7:28. In general, his call in the Gospels consisted of “Turn your back on everything you know, and come die with me.” To which the response was either instant obedience to the command or “This dude’s crazy!” and “He just has a demon.”

So it shouldn’t surprise us that when Christ was met with a seemingly simple question, he handled it in an utterly unique and refreshingly blunt way. In Luke 13:23, as Jesus is teaching and journeying towards Jerusalem, an inquirer asks, “Lord, are there few who are saved?” Far from a simple “Yes” or “No” answer Jesus gives this response: “Strive to enter in at the narrow gate” (Luke 13:24).

He doesn’t just say “whosoever believes in me” will have eternal life. He doesn’t just say, “All who come unto me will be saved.” He says in effect, “Those who are saved are those who strive.” In the Greek he seems to be saying even more than that. The Greek word here used for “strive” (agonizomai) is a very expressive and emphatic one. It literally means to “agonize.” The questioner lobs an underhanded softball to Jesus, and according to our modern standards of evangelism, Christ Himself whiffs and pulls a hamstring in the process. He doesn’t tell him to just believe, he tells him to agonize. This is not friendship evangelism, the Roman Road, or even the F.A.I.T.H. outline. I have yet to see a gospel tract with the call for the unbeliever to agonize and anguish their way into eternal life.

The early church knew something of agonizing into Eternal Life

Grace is clearly free and sovereign in Scripture. (Eph 2:8, Rom 9:16) So why strive to enter into eternal life, why must we agonize for something free? It probably has to do with one of the most important words in Scripture: repentance.  Repentance is a heart-rending world-view shattering change that happens within a person. It’s a gift of God’s grace, and it is a gift that is indeed agonizing for those who experience it. When a revelation of our iniquity crashes against a revelation of God’s holiness, repentance is birthed in us and we are broken. Agonizingly and beautifully broken.

And it doesn’t stop with a one time act of repentance, but a continual repenting, a putting to death the deeds of the body for the rest of our God-given lives. Rom 8:13 As the chief of Puritans, John Owen, said, “Be killing sin, or it will be killing you.” The word (agonizomai) used in Luke 13:24 is the same word used in 1Cor 9:25 of an athlete battling to win a victory. It is also used in 1Tim 6:12, of the Christian who “fights the good fight of faith.” The life of Christ is a severe struggle, a battle, and even a life of shocking violence. This is in no way a violence to others, but a violence to self- our own flesh, desires and dreams, and everything remaining of the old nature. It’s better to gouge out your sinning eye and amputate your transgressing arm now so that you may gain King Jesus and entry into his kingdom for eternity. We see why the gate of salvation is “narrow” now. As Christ said in a tandem passage, there are “very few” who find it. (Mat 7:13-14)

This is not to deny the true abiding joy a Christian experiences. But even our joy in Christ is an agonizing joy. Our persevering on the narrow road with Christ is an agonizing persevering. I am not a woman, and thus have not experienced firsthand the sacred rite of childbirth. But after witnessing the birth of my son and hearing the testimony of many women, I venture to guess it is not just a beautiful process for the mother, but an agonizingly beautiful process. Everything worth anything is. This is especially true for the only thing worth everything-Christ Himself and gaining an eternal knowledge of him. (John 17:3)

This verse is a warning to me, and all who may be casual confessors of Christ. The kingdom of heaven does not consist of decision cards and  church attendance, the kingdom of heaven is much like a war within you. When we came to Christ we were automatically enlisted into a battle for the ages; we were set on the beautiful and agonizing path of life with Christ. Nominal striving is no striving at all. Do we agonize over our sin, the very sin that put our precious Savior on the cross? Do we agonize over our lack of fervor and obedience to our perfect Lord and Master? If we do, we may take heart that God’s grace has taken effect in us.

If not, the solution Christ offers is beautifully, agonizingly simple: “Repent and believe the gospel.” (Mark 1:15)

Bryan Daniels

The Modern Gospel: Lawless Grace, Lordless Christianity

A strange creature has crept into the church under the moniker of “radical grace” and “spiritual freedom.” It has had a home in the human heart since the very beginning, where the mankind’s federal parents first questioned what God clearly required of them (Genesis 3). It’s message is plastered naturally at the end of most pop songs and cheesy chick flicks, along the lines of “Just follow your heart” or “Be true to yourself.”

Oprah is not the only adherent to this whimsical doctrinal system I assure you. Yes, in some way, every man desires to be a law unto himself.

The technical theological term for this deep-seated desire is “antinomianism.”

Antinomianism literally means “anti-lawism” or just “against the law.” “Antinomianism” is a Greek word coined by the great Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther. Luther saw excesses in the Reformation that sprung out of a desire to combat the Roman Catholic Church’s blatant legalism. In 1539 Luther wrote against such error in his book, Against the Antinomians. Later Lutheran theologians affirmed Luther’s stance in the Formula of Concord (1577) outlining the three biblical uses of the law: 1. To reveal sin 2. To establish moral guidelines for the society at large 3. To provide a rule of life for those regenerated through faith in Christ.

The third statement is where the primary rub comes in for the classic Antinomian theologian. The portion of the Law which this stance is set against is the moral law, or the Ten Commandments.

The whole crux of the issue is the denial of the moral law’s use as a rule of life for the believer. Since Jesus redeems one from the curse of the law (Galatians 3:13), Antinomians believe He also frees us from any obligation of keeping the moral law. The moral law has virtually no value to the Antinomian because he sees the law as void with the coming of Christ and the New Covenant. License to sin and disobedience is typically the natural effect of such theology in one’s life.

An equally heretical and polar opposite theology of antinomianism is legalism. Legalism, as expressed in the Roman Catholic ideology of Luther’s day, swings the pendulum the other way and makes keeping the Law the primary means by which a person must be saved. Both systems of thought have a deeply flawed understanding of the Law and Grace.

Antinomianism is serious error, and a damnable heresy according to Jesus Himself.

In Matthew 7:13-14 it is the condemning charge of Jesus towards a wildly popular group of prophets and preachers:

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles? And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’

“Depart from me you workers of lawlessness.” Yeah you have the private jet, an internationally renowned ministry, and even miracles proceed from your crusades, but you are lost if you live as if I gave you no law to obey. Or as Jesus said in even simpler words “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ yet you do not do as I say?” (Luke 6:46)

If you don’t know Him as Lord then you don’t know Him as Savior.

The New Covenant is not the end of the Law. Rather it is the fulfillment and clearer expression of God’s perfect law (Matt. 5:17-18). Christ is the reason the ceremonial and civil aspects of the Law are no longer necessary (the book of Hebrews bro!). Now thankfully, because of Him, we no longer have to sacrifice our pet goats or boycott Red Lobster. But Christ never indicated the complete abrogation of the moral Law with His coming. In reality, He clearly upheld it as the pre-eminent model of a truly Christian life (Matthew 5:21-48)

The OT prophecies pointing to the New Covenant show it to be “a law written on the hearts” of the covenant community, and not just the stone tablets of Mt. Sinai (Jer. 31 :31-34).

Paul expressed these same concerns is his book to the Romans. Remember this is the same apostle who tore into the legalistic Judaizers of the Galatian church (self castration, anyone?). Yet Paul was also explicit in his condemnation of the possibility of antinomianism: “Do we then make the law void through faith. Certainly not! On the contrary we establish the law.” (Romans 3:31)

The argument minded Antinomian may retort, “What about Romans 6, ‘we are no longer under law!'” When Paul says we “are not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14), he is not nullifying the law. Rather he is saying: 1. We are not under law as a covenant of works like Adam was 2. Keeping the law cannot now justify us 3. We won’t be condemned for falling short of the law 4. We’re now under grace, the covenant of grace, for our hope and eternal life.

These beautiful divine truths do not make us “lawless” by any means! Instead they make it possible for us to love Christ and obey His law through the power of the Holy Spirit (1 John 2:4). As Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones used to say, “If the ‘grace’ you have received does not help you to keep the law, you have not received grace.”

What you see in the NT is a correction of a common OT misconception. The grievous error the Pharisees and teachers of law committed was by making the law an exhaustive rule book for earning God’s favor. God’s favor is free (Eph 2:8) yet the road it puts us on will cost us our life (Luke 9:23-24). With His death and resurrection Jesus, Christ reinstates a clear vision of Love driven obedience and Spirit-led law keeping. As always, we should let Him have the last word on this matter:

“If you love me, you will obey my commandments” (John 14:15).

Bryan Daniels

Unto Us a Child is (about to be) Born…and WWE cage matches…

This coming up Monday (March 14th) Friday (March 11th) our little family will be welcoming a new addition to the world: Gideon Bryce Daniels will be induced at 4 AM (!) at Gulf Coast Medical where he will meet his two proud parents and one little unsuspecting brother face to face for the first time. We are both excited about the new baby boy God has entrusted us with as His stewards. Lately, Jessica has been doing the flight of the bumblebee in the frenetic process of renovating our backroom to Josiah’s new room. The ever relentless “nesting” phase has officially kicked in full force for my wife.

In light of this I have an announcement to make:   

I will try to give my undivided devotion for the next couple weeks to my wife, two sons, and their collective health (emotional, physical and spiritual). I know young families are the most tender, and a father’s special concern to his home’s well being is his primary responsibility behind serving God.

In the interest of my sanity (and also my wife’s), I will be attempting to keep my online activity to a minimum. That means a sabbatical for an indefinite period of time from writing new blogs. Fortunately, thanks to “Enabled by God,” I do have some decent blog material saved up so this site will continue to churn out some time honored pieces every few days. One of the innovative features of blogs nowadays is the ability to schedule posts so that you can be away from your computer and still maintain an active blog.

I assure you, if there is a slight lag to my response time via Facebook or blogging it’s not because I’m ignoring you.

So when life settles down a bit and routine is re-established I look forward to ranting again about Charlie Sheen, Westboro Baptist Church, the Cam Newton cult or the speeding turds in my neighborhood. Until then I got a wife who deserves the full attention of her husband, a little infant boy who will need some serious kisses, and a near three year old who will be primed for a daily WWE cage match.

God bless you all.

Bryan Daniels

The Unwelcome Beast of Depression (You’re Not Alone)

A few months ago, I wrote about an elephant dwelling in the back of our church sanctuaries. That post was about the prevalence of “porn” in the American church, and it included a short lament regarding our tendency to keep it a dirty little secret rather than shedding the gospel light on it. I called porn an elephant because when an elephant is in any room it must be acknowledged. Yet so many church leaders have taken the ridiculous stance of acting like the “porn elephant” is not seated among their own congregations, when statistics clearly show it is.

The porn elephant is not the only unwelcome beast in our midst that no one is talking about. Apparently, we have given a second elephant residence in our congregations while applying similar silent treatment towards it. This elephant’s name is “Depression.” While no one is really talking about it almost all struggle with it. Many take prescription meds to numb the mood or escape from self for a short drug induced vacation. Many try to tough it out while wallowing in guilt because they believe they shouldn’t be feeling this way. Even worse, others turn to alchol and hard drug abuse in a vain attempt to soothe the inconsolable longing of their wounded psyche.

But let this resonate within your sorrowed soul if you have (or are) experiencing such a cloud: You are not alone.

This depressed kitten should cheer you up....

Despondent saints are not a new trend in the church or bible history. Depression and doubt runs a thread through the life of almost every hero of our faith. Fruitfulness in ministry and the power of the Holy Spirit does not make one immune to deep bouts with the disease.

Nearly every publicly powerful leader on our spiritual pedestals have dealt with privately pitiful periods of despair (say that five times fast).

Job was the most righteous man on earth. Yet when all hell broke loose on his life he had some probing questions regarding the purposes of God.  In cursing the moment of his birth instead of the birth itself, Job barely skirts what would have been blasphemous and suicidal language (Job 3:1-4).

The prophet Elijah just called down fire from heaven and saw the slaughter of every false prophet of Baal in a mighty display of God’s power and glory.  The very next chapter of his life he is in a cave of despair doubting God’s providence and regretting his very existence (1 Kings 19:4, 10).

The prophet Jeremiah was made certain of his calling and election by God Himself (Jeremiah 1:5). After preaching God’s given message, Jeremiah saw no fruit in his ministry and only unrelenting torrents of judgment are poured out on the nation he loves. Jeremiah, broken and depressed, likewise curses the day he was born (Jeremiah 20:14).

Have you ever despaired over your life, even questioning the purpose of your existence? So it was with Job, Elijah and Jeremiah for a time.

David killed lions, bears, and giants as a scrawny youth through God’s power. He was divinely chosen as Israel’s anointed king, lauded by his countrymen, and slaughtered every pagan army he faced through God’s might. Yet read the Psalms and you will see a man marked by dark bouts of depression during significant spans of his reign (Psalm 42:3, 9, 69:1-3).

Do you feel your tears are your only food and consolation? So it was with David for a time.

CH Spurgeon, the prince of preachers and hero of little reformers everywhere, was susceptible to this grim grip of despondency. Spurgeon saw his depression as his “worst feature.” “Despondency,” he said, “is not a virtue; I believe it is a vice. I am heartily ashamed of myself for falling into it, but I am sure there is no remedy for it like a holy faith in God.”

You’re not alone. Most people in the church just don’t have the spiritual backbone to admit their weak estate. But with admitting should not come a wallowing, but rather a warring against such strongholds in us (2 Corinthians 10:5). Many saints have stayed in this dungeon for a time, but they made it their aim to never make the depths of despair a dwelling place.

Self pity and self despair are just symptoms of self worship. We are not depressed because we hate ourselves so much, we are depressed because we love ourselves so much. It is natural to be fixated on self, that is why we need to ask God to supernaturally aid us in fixing our eyes on Christ (Eph 1:18). Christ is the end of self worship for everyone who takes up their cross and follows Him (Matthew 16:24-25).

Depression, doubt and despair are not the unforgivable sins. Your current mental/emotional/spiritual state is not beyond the scope of God’s eternal grace. Chemical imbalances, genetic dispositions, difficult circumstances, and scarred childhoods are no match against the love of Christ and His Comforter being shed abroad in our hearts (Romans 5:5). Family history must bow down to King Jesus in the end (Phillipians 2:9-11).

All of our bouts with depression this side of eternity are temporal bouts (2 Cor 4:17). We can take heart, for no current state of depression is ultimate. Surely, there is a despair that is ultimate. Eternally ultimate. But those who are in Christ will never taste it. The Son of God bore the eternal despair we deserved on the cross. In Him, we will never ever have to utter these words:  (Matthew 27:46): “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”  

We may lament, mourn, and be depressed this very moment. But we can say with David, our fellow despondent doubter, in the very next breath:

“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?

Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”

(Psalm 42:11)

Bryan Daniels

Why We’re All Related to Charlie Sheen

Charlie Sheen is a poster boy.

No, I’m not talking about a poster boy for cocaine overdose or how to utterly shipwreck one’s life. Though Sheen could fill an infinitum amount of reality shows with such surreality.

Charlie Sheen is the type of poster boy who not only placards his own weaknesses in glaring fashion, but reveals ours also.

I propose the recent shenanigans of Sheen not only display his own personal excesses, they display with crystal clarity our own excesses as a society.

For too long we have been bingeing on the most ridiculous and superfluous news our culture has to offer. The hangover effect we will reap from it will not be worth the seconds of satisfaction we got from watching a rap about an attempted rape or a father getting hit in the groin by his kid.

In the world right now:

A deranged dictator who is capable of real damage to the world has made Libya a cauldron potentially bubbling over to an international war.

In a display of global implications, thousands of protestors in Egypt still storm the streets and cry out for justice and freedom from a tyrannical government. 

The United States Supreme Court continues to hand out landmark rulings nearly every week like they’re sticks of gum.

And yet all we are infatuated with are the drug induced incoherent ramblings of a madman. I mean really, count the Facebook statuses you can attribute to Sheen alone. Case in point: Sheen made Twitter history when he recently opened an account and garnered 1 million followers in just 24 hours. We can thank him for such thought-provoking gems such as these:

 “We’re Vatican assassins. How complicated can it be?”
“They picked a fight with a warlock.”
“Resentments are the rocket fuel that lives in the tip of my sabre.”

A regular warrior poet you are, Mr. Sheen. Or something like that.

Charlie Sheen is not the primary issue, rather he is just a microcosm of what’s wrong with our insatiable thirst for meaningless information. And I do say what’s wrong with “us” and not the big bad mainstream media. The media is just playing the ratings game, and if a monkey that scratches and sniffs it’s butt gets them the right numbers then they just as well will show that 24/7.

Try this yourself. Take the aforementioned shot to the man region for example. Upload a video on Youtube of a father getting hit in his manhood while playing baseball with his child and you will get 1,000+ hits and 100+ comments by the end of the day. We take illogical delight (at least I do for some reason) in a father being virtually emasculated before his children and world. And this is a man who is doing the good and fatherly thing by spending quality time with his child, which is becoming the unfortunate exception in our biblically man-less culture. Yet, write a thoughtful piece on the scourge of fatherlessness on our society and it’s rating will remain stagnant with little or no participation from the e-world.

A keyboard playing cat is an internet mover and shaker, but a dying father and husband’s heart-rending last words of wisdom to the world are barely a blip on the radar.

Our constant diet of shallow frivolousness is an indictment on our spiritual depth. “I will delight in Your law” once said the wise Psalmist (Psalm 119). The contemporary Psalmist says “I will delight in the foolish meanderings of a publicity and cocaine addict.”

What’s worse: living a wretched life or delighting in the fruits of a wretched life? Those two are not as distant of cousins as we would like to confess.

We must be vigilant with what we sow into our soul on a daily basis. If we become what we behold (2 Corinthians 3:18), we may want to turn the tube off the next time Sheen (or the likes of him) is given a megaphone to air his madness. Especially if we are self-aware of our inherent fascination with train wrecks and car crashes.

Apart from the grace of God, we would all end up as the poster children for a sad wretched self-absorbed life. We do have the same ancestral father after all (Romans 5:12). We are struck with the same tragic malady (Romans 3:23) Sheen is just a natural-born member of the depraved human race like every other man, woman, and child is (Eph 2:3-5).

Maybe we shouldn’t laugh so hard at Charlie. We have a lot more in common with this “Warlock” than we are willing to admit.

Bryan Daniels