More from Michael Kelly and his blog Forward Progress.



What destroys the work of the gospel in a person?

All kinds of things, but certainly not least on that list would be self-righteousness. Confidence in ourselves, being proud of how good we are, or internally harboring the belief that “we’re really not all that bad” runs contrary to the core of what the gospel message is. Think about it with me – what do you have to know to come to Jesus?

Not a lot, truth be told. There’s not a class you must take; no certificate you have to earn. But you must know at least two things:

1. Who He is. That Jesus Christ is the Son of God, crucified and then risen, not because of His own sin but as a willing sacrifice for yours, which leads us to the second thing:

2. Who you are. Not who we should be; not who we would like to think we are; not who we aspire to be; but the rock bottom realization that we are, at our core, wicked and in need. That sin is not just something we do, but is the driving force behind who we are, and it’s from this reality that we must be rescued.

And that’s precisely why self-righteousness is so destructive. With each bolstering run on the ladder of our egos, we knock down the sufficiency of the cross. We are, if not in word, crying out at the cross that this really didn’t have to happen. Not for me at least. With our self-righteousness, then, we simultaneously deceive ourselves and rob the Son of God of His rightful glory. It’s clearly, then, something that we should be on guard against. And yet, like so many other idols of the heart, our sense of self-righteousness does not often come on us suddenly, but instead creeps into our thinking slowly, over the course of time, until we unknowingly have begun to resist the truth that we are rightfully condemned before a just and holy God.

But there is an occasion, at least in my own life, that provides an opportunity for me to self-diagnose this creeping kind of idolatry. I can know whether or not I am giving in to my own ego by my reaction to God showing grace to another.

I remember a story Jesus told about a vineyard in Matthew 20. In it, a landowner goes and hires a group of laborers early in the day. They agree to the wage for their service, and the workers start putting the nose to the grindstone. Then, later in the day, the same landowner goes back to where he hired the first group only to pick up a few more workers. And then a few more workers even later in the day. When the day reaches its end, it came time for the money to be handed out. Much to the initial group’s surprise, they got the wage they had agreed to… and so did the other workers. The same wage, for unequal amounts of work.

And Jesus says this is what the kingdom of heaven is like.

And everything in me rises up and says, “It’s like what? Like unfairness? Like injustice?” And that’s when I know.

I know that it isn’t really a sense of righteous injustice rising up in me; it’s my self-righteousness laying claim on what I think I deserve. It seems I have forgotten, based on my reaction, that what I truly deserve is the very condemnation Jesus has rescued me from. It’s at this moment that I, or maybe you if you’re tracking with this, have two options:

1. We can harbor our resentment at the generosity of God, and in so doing refuse to acknowledge the truth that we are still broken people no matter how many classes we’ve been to and Bible stories we’ve read. If we do, that bitterness will grow over time and cause our hearts to calcify until we no longer see the need for grace for anyone, much less ourselves…


2. We can take the invitation to stop complaining and start celebrating. This is what the father asked of his older son in another one of Jesus’ stories, when this older son was so offended at his father’s generosity. And if we choose this route, sure, it might be a little awkward at that party first, and we might look around at all the younger brothers who came to work later than we did, but as the party wears on, we will be reminded that it’s only by grace that we got the invitation in the first place.

And then we dance.




Terry Virgo, writing in The Resurgence shares this thoughtful posting. This is a blog you want to bookmark.

Jonah’s Escape into Sleep

Terry Virgo » Biblical Theology Biblical People Sin

God told Jonah, “Go to Nineveh.” Jonah responded, “Not likely! I’m off to Tarshish.” Having secured his passage, he went below deck and promptly fell asleep.

Sleeping to escape

Tiredness can be perfectly wholesome, the natural result of hard work. But we can also experience a tiredness that is not healthy, a sleep that says, “I can’t face reality any more. I can’t cope with the responsibility.”

Jonah had already run away physically. Now he was running away mentally. He lost all sense of purpose and along with it all sense of urgency. Dejected and weary, he crawled below deck and fell asleep.

The world regards Christians as sleepy and irrelevant rather than provocative or prophetic.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus told the disciples to watch and pray, but they fell asleep. They must have thought, “we’re weary of all this. What’s the point? If Jesus dies what’s going to happen to us? It’s just too much for us to cope with.” So they switched off and slept.

Like Vance Hayner said, “Taking it easy is often the prelude to backsliding. Comfort precedes collapse.”

Sleepy and irrelevant

How many Christians suffer from lethargy and general aimlessness? We have a glorious commission—to tell the world about Jesus—but how often do we give the impression of having a vital sense of destiny?

Forgetting God’s command to reach the nations, we simply adopt our own plans. We soon lose our sense of direction, get bored, and “fall asleep.” So the world regards Christians as sleepy and irrelevant rather than provocative or prophetic.

A storm-tossed world

Suddenly, a violent storm engulfed Jonah’s ship. Panic gripped the terrified sailors, who cried out to their gods to save them. Fearing they would capsize in the gigantic waves, all hands were ordered on deck, and cargo was frantically thrown overboard (Jonah 1:4-5).

Today the world is confronted by many terrible storms. People are tossed about by countless fears and countless social needs scream for answers. Though modern man is better educated and informed than ever, he still feels overwhelmed by the enormity of the world’s problems.

Just as Jonah’s companions called on their various gods, society cries out to humanism, secularism, and materialism. Some are turning to occult or eastern religions – Islam, Hinduism, Hare Krishna, spiritualism, and so on. Not knowing who has the answer, each calls on his own “god” for help.

The sleep of a sinner

Jonah’s shipmates didn’t realize it, but the one man who knew how to stop the storm was asleep. “How can you sleep?” the ship’s captain asked him. “Get up and call on your god.” Everybody else was doing what they could—praying to their gods, bailing out water, discarding cargo—but Jonah only slept (Jonah 1:6).

Backslidden Christians are often faced with the same sort of question by well-meaning friends and colleagues, but it’s pointless trying to “bail out the water” when you, like Jonah, know the reason for the storm.

Jonah knew more about the cause of the weather conditions in the Mediterranean than the entire meteorological office of his day! The sailors may have calculated certain winds had reacted with high and low pressure areas, and the result was a storm. But this backslider knew exactly what was happening.

God will wake you up

Backsliders who’ve been apprehended by God often know more about the situation than anyone else, whatever the specialists may say. The backslider on the verge of bankruptcy can call in an expert to help him save his business. Or to help save his crumbling marriage, he may consult a marriage counselor. But in his heart the backslider knows, “God is after me.”

God has a heart for backsliders. He closes in on them, whispering through the storms, “I’m after you. You’ve run away from me, but I love you and I haven’t finished with you. I want you back with me again.”


Michael Horton has written these words of challenge to the church today.

The older theology tended to produce character.  By the end of the twentieth century we have become God’s demaning little brats. In church, we must be entertained. Our emotions must be charged. We must be offered amusing programs. We give up a lot to become Christians and what little teaching we do get must cater to our pragmatic, self-centered interests. Preaching must be filled with clever anecdotes and entertaining illustrations with nothing more than passing references to doctrine. I want to know what this means fr me in daily experience.

Have we forgotten that God is a monarch? He is the king by whom and for whom all things were made and by whose soveriegn power they are sustained. We exist for his pleasure, not he for ours. We are here on earth to entertain him, please him, adore him, bring him satisfaction, excitement, and joy. Any gospel that seeks to answer the question, “What’s in it for me?” has it all backwards. The question is, “What’s in it for God?”

– Made in America: The Shaping of Modern American Evangelism, 1991