About the Guest
If the Gospel is good news, then why aren't we shouting it from the rooftops? Today on the broadcast, author and pastor C.J. Mahaney tells us to forget ourselves and to share this wonderful message of hope with those who need to hear it the most.
C.J. Mahaney tells us to forget ourselves and to share the gospel with those who need to hear it the most.
Bob: All of us spend time in our lives pondering certain things. Pastor, author, and speaker, C.J. Mahaney wants to know – are we pondering the right things?
C.J.: Where do you expend your energies daily? Do you expend them objectively? Do you expend them outward? Do you expend them admiring, exploring, expositing, and extolling Jesus Christ, or do you expend them evaluating your emotional state, taking your emotional temperature, if you will, constantly, consistently, throughout the day? Too many of us do just that.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, April 14th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. If you find yourself discouraged or unhappy, have you been thinking too much about you and not enough about Christ?
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Friday edition. I've always had some level of conflict over this day. On one level, as you contemplate the death of Christ, you can't help but be moved by His suffering. On another level, this is the day in which we commemorate our salvation, which was accomplished there on the cross with His death, and that's a cause for rejoicing.
Dennis: It really is, and the more you understand what Jesus Christ did on this day, the more motivated you are going to be to live for Him on this planet. In fact, Bob, I would say it was understanding what took place on this day and then on Sunday, when he was raised from the dead, that ultimately turned my life from being self-focused to being God-focused and others-focused. I finally realized life was not about me, but it was about Him. It wasn't about satisfying my needs and wants, it was about fulfilling His mission in life.
And this week, we've talked about His mission is one of redemption. He wants to forgive us our sins so we can, number one, be forgiven and be His children, but, secondly, so that He can put a message in our hearts that we can share with others. And so we decided to share with our listeners what you describe, Bob, as one of the top five messages you've ever heard in your lifetime.
Dennis: Now, that's an interesting statement, because you've heard a few thousand sermons.
Bob: I've heard a few sermons in my time, but this is one of those that I went back through and took extra notes on. In fact, I think I've preached it a few times myself to others, and I've acknowledged the source of it. This is a message from C.J. Mahaney, who is the former pastor of Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland. He now heads Sovereign Grace Ministries and oversees a whole group of churches throughout the country.
C.J. is an author, he's a husband, he's a speaker, he's written a book called "Living the Cross-Center Life," and we're going to hear part two of C.J.'s message on "The Main Thing," the Gospel, and how it ought to be the main thing in our lives. And we've already heard him talk this week about our tendency to forget the Gospel and why we need to have it preached to us regularly and about our tendency to be legalists and want to self-justify or self-atone. We want to pick up the message at that point. Here is pastor and author, C.J. Mahaney.
C.J.: [taped earlier] There is this daily temptation and tendency to be subjective. And, for many of us, if not most of us, for sure, this is our daily orientation. Listen to yourself as you speak today and record how often you say, "I feel" rather than "I think." Too often the word "I feel, I feel, I feel," rather than "I think, I think I think," and more importantly rather than "God's Word says, God's Word says, God's Word says." Well, why? Well, because this is the daily tendency of temptation – just to be aware of how I’m feeling at any given moment.
Let me just assure you of something for each of us – no one is exempt from this. For each of us, each day is an internal rollercoaster. It is, because each day we encounter differing degrees of prosperity and adversity. And there is this daily temptation to respond sinfully or to the grace of God as we encounter prosperity and adversity.
Now, if your orientation is inward, if you are far better at looking inward than looking outward and – by the way, I'm not minimizing the importance of self-examination – but all self-examination, to be truly spirit-led, must be done spirit-led and in light of the cross. Where do you expend your energies daily? Do you expend them objectively? Do you expend them outward? Do you expend them admiring, exploring, expositing, and extolling Jesus Christ, or do you expend them evaluating your emotional state, taking your emotional temperature, if you will, constantly, consistently, throughout the day? Luther said "The Gospel is entirely outside of you." What's your temptation daily? To be far better at examining inward. Ferguson said, again, "We think with our feelings." Too many of us do just that. You are thinking but with your feelings. Or, more accurately, we let our feelings do our thinking for us.
Spend more time this year – do this – spend more time this year, spend more time this year talking to yourself than listening to yourself. Now, don't do this in public, okay? Walk in wisdom, obviously, but I'm completely serious. Follow the example of the psalmist. He wasn't ignorant or unaware of his internal state, but he didn't spend time unnecessarily seeking to exhaust his internal state and its assessment. And you can also find the psalmist doing what – talking to himself. He becomes aware that his soul is downcast. He doesn't just seek to discover endlessly and exhaust why are you downcast? He just says to himself, "Soul, listen up, Soul, what are you downcast? Soul, stop being downcast." It's really this simple. Isn't it great? "Stop it."
Well, what do I do instead? Hope in God – subjective, objective. Subjective, objective – stop it, Soul. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote the following – "Have you realized" – see if you have – "that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself." He writes, "I say that we must talk to ourselves instead of allowing ourselves to talk to us." See, the daily temptation, just to endless listen to yourself. You will live a rollercoaster Christian life if that is your orientation.
What's the alternative? The saving events of the wonderful Savior; surveying the wondrous cross, looking upward, looking outward, and experiencing the effect of that.
Finally, number four, the daily and temptation is condemnation – condemnation. Oh, God help me with this. Please turn to 1 John, chapter 3, 1 John, chapter 3. Oh, I hope this helps you as it relates to condemnation. Who here isn't familiar with condemnation?
1 John is a wonderful complement to the Gospel of John. Gospel – John wrote his Gospel with evangelistic intent, but he wrote 1 John with pastoral intent. He wrote so that the original recipients, those that he personally cared for and fathered, he addresses them actually throughout as little children would experience a full understanding and assurance of their salvation in Jesus Christ. And so, actually, turn to chapter 5, 1 John, chapter 5, verse 13. He states it very – again, plainly and powerfully here. His primary purpose for this letter – "I write these things to you who believe" – those who have been affected by his Gospel – "I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God – why? So that you may know" – those who believe, so that you may know – so that you might have genuine assurance, so that you might have assurance, so that you might be assured of your salvation, so that you might reassure your hearts. He is protecting them, in effect, from the self-exalting knowledge and experiences of the false teachers. He is teaching them and providing them with the biblical means of evaluating their conversion experience, its genuineness, and he provides throughout this letter at least there tests. We're not going to go into any great detail, but I at least want you to be aware of them – three tests, at least three – the test of truth, the test of obedience, and the test of love. Love specifically for our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Now, in chapter 3, turn your attention to chapter 3, beginning in verse 11, he's introducing the test of love – love for our brothers and sisters as in evidence that this gospel has affected our lives, and the test of obedience is included in this as well. Let's just begin reading in verse 14 – 1 John 3:14 – he writes, "We know that we have passed from death to life because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death; anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has internal life in him.
And this is how we know what love is – Jesus Christ lay down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need, who has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This, then, is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set" – listen to this carefully. Slow down, look at this very carefully – "and how we set our hearts at rest in His presence." How do you set restless hearts at rest in His presence – whenever? Not if – when our hearts condemn us. Now, this is not license. Sin is never acceptable but, brothers and sisters, we live in a fallen world and until we die or the Lord returns, the presence of sin exists. An indwelling sin remains, and it is inevitable that, to differing degrees, each day we will experience sin, and when we do, what commonly accompanies the commitment of sin? What immediately follows the commitment of sin? Answer the question – condemnation.
Now, he's writing the people who are genuinely converted, genuinely converted and intimately familiar with condemnation. That's right, they're people like us. Condemnation has, minimally, two sources – the accuser of the brethren and, in this context, our hearts or our conscience. Whether it's the accuser of the brethren, whether it's are own hearts or consciences, for most of us condemnation is a common experience, and for many of us, too many of us, condemnation is a constant companion.
I'm not familiar with this comic, but it was given to me, and it is very relevant. "Cathy" is the comic strip, and in the first frame Cathy is look at us, and she says the following – "Things I should have done" – or, actually, she's thinking this because she's alone – so we're made privy to her innermost thoughts – "Things I should have done at work; things I wish I'd said to Irving." Next frame – "Things I promised myself to never do again that I did, anyway; ways I made myself miserable that I could have avoided." Third frame – "Things I could have done for my family, my puppy, my friends, my co-workers, my neighbor, my finances, my home, my closets, my diet, and millions of people in need whom I have never met." Final frame – "Even when I'm not going anywhere, I have 300 pounds of luggage with me." You feel as if you have 300 pounds of luggage that you are carrying with you and regardless of where you go, you live more aware of this 300 pounds of luggage than you do of the saving work of Christ on the cross. Too many – and if it's one, it's too many – are more familiar with condemnation than they are justification.
Let me give you a few common characteristics of those experienced in condemnation – number one, you perceive God as disappointed with you rather than delighting over you. When you think of God, you just think of Him as tolerating you. At best, God is tolerating you. It's as if He's morally obligated to tolerate you because you've trusted Him. You might have gotten in with a group, responded in a meeting like this and just think, "Well, God doesn't specifically love me. I came in on the group plan, and God is morally obligated to tolerate me because I responded, but He's basically disappointed."
These individuals, though they have confessed their sins, think of themselves as on probation. You just – the rest of your life, you're just on probation because of the pattern of sins. You've confessed these, whether it's in the distant past or the immediate past. You refuse to draw near to God except maybe in corporate settings because you don't think you would be welcome. You maintain what you think is this respectful distance from God. You live with, really, low-grade, unresolved guilt and condemnation. You rarely experience joy. Every time you read your Bible to escape His condemnation, you're only reminded of your sin, it only confirms your condemnation on every page. The Scriptures don't reveal God's love, they instead just confirm the condemnation you're experiencing in your heart, and sermons can have a similar effect on your life. Who here isn't? If you're a Christian, you are familiar with a condemning heart.
I am so encouraged that John was familiar with condemnation. How do I bring my heart at rest when I'm experiencing it? Well, in context, I'm to assure myself that because I have this now uncommon love for people I once hated, that that is proof positive that I have truly been converted. And then he goes on to say even that's not sufficient, so listen – in verse 20, "Whenever our hearts condemn us, for God is greater than our hearts, and He knows everything." So we not only assure ourselves by this transforming love we have for others, but then He says, "And you know what else? God is greater than our hearts, and He knows everything." Which, initially, I don't find that very encouraging, do you?
I mean, when you say to me, "God knows everything," I don't think, "Wow, am I set free from condemnation right there." Whoa! I think, "I wasn't condemned until you told me He knew everything." But listen, this is brilliant, what John is saying is this – when your heart is condemned, and you have confessed your sin, and you have assured yourself that there is this uncommon love as an evidence of conversion, you can know this as well, if your restless heart still isn't at rest – God is greater than your heart. You see, your conscience is a gift from God, but your conscience isn't God, and your conscience is fallible, and your conscience needs to be changed, and God is greater than your heart, and God knows everything.
See, when I'm condemned, all I'm aware of is my sin, but God is aware of everything. God is aware of conversion; God is aware of grace; God is aware of evidences of grace; God's aware of everything. I'm only aware of my sin. That's not how God views me. Hold fast the Gospel. Why? Because the daily tendency in temptation is to forget it. The daily tendency, the daily tendency in temptation is to legalism. The daily tendency in temptation is to a "feeling" orientation. The daily tendency in temptation is to experience paralyzing condemnation.
What's the alternative? Preach the main thing to yourself, hold it fast, keep the main thing the main thing.
Bob: Well, we've been listening to part two of a message from Pastor C.J. Mahaney, and that ought to be our focus not just today but every day – keeping the main thing the main thing.
Dennis: And, Bob, for me, personally, back the summer when I moved toward my junior year in college, my understanding of what Christ had done for me on the cross, of His death, burial, and Resurrection, that ultimately turned my life around, and 1 John 4, talking about the love of God toward me turned me from a self-absorbed life toward Him and becoming a recipient of that grace and a recipient of that love and an experience of knowing God and walking with Him and experiencing Him all day long.
And, Bob, I felt like I traded in life in black and white, a one-dimensional life, for a Technicolor life that was lived alive spiritually. And my life was forever changed that summer, as I understood the Gospel; as I understood what Christ had done for me and I moved from being a very selfish person to beginning to learn to think about others. Now, I’m still learning how to do that, but you know what? That is what the Gospel does. That is what Christ came to do. He came to forgive us our sins and to redeem us from ourselves as C.J. was talking about, so that our lives are not focused upon our own failures, those failures that Christ died for.
In fact, I personally believe that one of the greatest needs in our nation today is for a fresh statement of forgiveness, because I think we are a guilt-laden nation. I think we are languishing in our guilt. We are under the weight of that guilt. Who can set us free? Who can release us from the burden of that guilt, from our failures of God and our fellow human being? Jesus Christ. He died so that we might live.
Bob: And you've really touched on the three things that the Gospel offers that you can't find a satisfactory answer to anyplace else – forgiveness, transformation, and hope, and every human heart is longing to be forgiven. It's longing to be changed and transformed, and it's longing – it's hoping for what is ahead for us; what lies beyond, and the Gospel offers the only satisfying answer to all three of those – where you can find forgiveness and where you can experience transformation and where you can find hope for your life. It's in the Gospel.
Dennis: And I want our listener who is listening right now to understand very clearly – all three of those things Bob is talking about – forgiveness, transformation, and hope – they are not an intellectual exercise. They are a commitment by faith of the human heart taking God at His Word. That's how you get forgiveness, transformation, and hope. God is real; Jesus Christ became man. He walked among us. This thing that you long for of being forgiven, of having a transformation, of having a hope comes about through a personal commitment by you to the God of the Universe who personally comes to you offering you forgiveness, offering you transformation, and offering you hope, if you will but take it by faith. The question is, will you do it? Will you step out and say, "Lord Jesus, be merciful to me, a sinner. I need forgiveness. I need You to transform me from being a selfish person, and you know what? I need hope. I need hope beyond the grave," and that's what Easter is all about, and that's what Jesus Christ came to do.
Bob: If any of our listeners are interested in finding out more about what it means to be committed to Jesus Christ, to have a relationship with Him, we've got a book we'd like to send you that's a free resource. It's called "Pursuing God," and we'll send it to you at no cost when you call 1-800-FLTODAY and request it. This is for those of you who are at the place in life where you'd say, "You know, I realize my need for Jesus, and I want to put my faith and my trust in Him. I want to understand more about what it means to be a Christian and walk with Him."
You can call 1-800-FLTODAY and say, "I would like that book, 'Pursuing God.'" We'll send it to you at no cost, and we'd encourage you to read it and then to talk to God about it – to just talk to God about what you've read and express the desire of your own heart and experience the forgiveness and the transformation and the hope that comes in the Gospel.
Dennis: And, you know, it's just like getting married. You can be in love, and you can love that other person, but until you stand up and make a commitment, until you say, "Will you be mine, and I promise to love you and care for you until death do us part," you're not going to be married. It's simply being in love at that point. But Jesus Christ calls us not to just know about His death on our behalf, not to just know about His Resurrection, but to make a personal commitment to Him, and He offers that eternal life to you if you'll take Him at His Word and make that personal commitment, by faith, to Him.
Bob: We also want to encourage our listeners to get copies of the book that C.J. has written called "Living the Cross-Centered Life." In fact, I came downstairs the other morning, and right there on Mary Ann's desk was this book with a notepad about a third of the way through, and she was copying things out of the book to remember them. It's a wonderful volume that helps us keep our hearts focused, as they ought to be focused – on Christ and on His finished work for us.
The book is in our FamilyLife Resource Center. In addition, we also have a daily devotional written by one of C.J.'s theological heroes – it's the book "Morning by Morning" by Pastor Charles Spurgeon, the great English preacher, and his daily devotions help keep your heart focused, as it ought to be focused each day on the cross and on Christ.
You will find both of these resources on our website at FamilyLife.com. Go to the Web page and click the "Go" button in the middle of the screen. You can get more information about these books, or you can order them online, if you'd like. Again, the website is FamilyLife.com, and if you should order both of these books, we can send you at no additional cost the CD audio for the message you've heard this week from C.J. Mahaney about keeping the main thing the main thing. Again, the website is FamilyLife.com. You can also order by phone, if you'd like, at 1-800-FLTODAY. That's 1-800-358-6329. Someone on our team can let you know how you can have these resources sent to you.
Let me say a word of thanks today for those of you who help support this ministry financially. We appreciate your ongoing partnership with us. We hope you have a great weekend, a great Easter celebration, and we hope all of you can be back with us on Monday when Dr. Robert Lewis is going to join us, and we're going to begin a week-long look at what we can do as dads to help raise our sons to not only love Christ but to understand what it means to be a man. We'll talk about raising a modern-day knight on Monday and hope you can be here for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.
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