Joe Rigney

Living under the Progressive Gaze

The particular men that we fear or people that we seek to please may vary. But the temptation to do so is universal. And the Bible places a sharp antithesis between seeking the approval of men and seeking the approval of God. As Paul says in Galatians 1:10, “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

A week or so ago, I was observing the way that certain Christians write, preach, and engage on social media, and a phrase came to mind that I’d picked up from conversations about race in America. The phrase was “the white gaze.” Popularized by novelist Toni Morrison, the concept has to do with one’s default reader or observer, the idealized audience for which someone writes. Black authors writing under the white gaze feel constrained to adapt to the assumptions of white readers, which are taken to be normative. As the entry in Wikipedia puts it, “Various authors of color describe it as a voice in their heads that reminds them that their writing, characters, and plot choices are going to be judged by white readers, and that the reader or viewer, by default, is white.”
Morrison once wrote, “What happens to the writerly imagination of a black author who is at some level always conscious of representing one’s race to, or in spite of, a race of readers that understands itself to be ‘universal’ or race-free?” No doubt he is suffocated and strangled by the pressure.
I thought about the concept, because it seems to me that many Christians write, speak, and act under “the progressive gaze.” That is, the default unbeliever, before whom we live and move and have our being, is presumed to be urban, liberal, and progressive, and thus, we write and speak in such a way that our words (we think) will have maximum persuasive power to them.
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The Tyranny of ‘Christmas’: Advent Warnings from C.S. Lewis

Careful readers of the Narnian Chronicles have often wondered about the presence of Father Christmas in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Though his appearance is brief, it is highly significant for the plot, signaling the end of the Witch’s wintry reign in Narnia as he lays a feast for the beasts and gives gifts to the future kings and queens. He is a symbol of resistance to the evil that enslaves Narnia and, as such, may instruct us today.

But to understand Father Christmas, we must first grasp Lewis’s conflicted view of the Christmas holiday as it was celebrated in Great Britain in his day. He expressed his view of Christmas in two essays. Lewis writes the first, “What Christmas Means to Me,” in basic prose, and the second, “Xmas and Christmas,” as a fictional lost chapter from Herodotus, written in the style of the ancient Greek historian and discussing the customs on the island of “Niatirb” (Britain backwards). Both of them highlight the same tensions in the Christmas holiday season.

Meanings of ‘Christmas’

Lewis distinguishes three things that go by the name of Christmas in his day. The first is a religious festival observed by a minority of Christians in Britain, which involves a sacred feast celebrating a sacred story, featuring a mother, a child, angels, animals, and shepherds. This is what sincere Christians celebrate every December 25 with hymns, carols, and joy.

The second is a “popular holiday, an occasion for merry-making and hospitality,” loosely related to the first meaning of Christmas in English history. Lewis likely intends to include the broader Christmas season, perhaps the immediate run-up to Christmas Day, as well as the season immediately following (often celebrated as the Twelve Days of Christmas leading up to Epiphany). Lewis quite clearly approves of both the religious festival and the season of merry-making.

However, the third sense of Christmas draws both his ire and wit. He expends much of his energy in the two essays lamenting and excoriating this third season, which he calls Xmas (or Exmas in the chapter from Herodotus).

Eclipse of Exmas

Exmas is a great festival in the middle of winter that includes fifty days of preparation known as the Exmas Rush. During this season of preparation, every citizen sends cards to each other with pictures of birds and branches and pine trees and snow and carriages.

And when they find cards from any to whom they also have sent cards, they throw them away and give thanks to the gods that this labour at least is over for another year. But when they find cards from any to whom they have not sent, then they beat their breasts and wail and utter curses against the sender; and, having sufficiently lamented their misfortune, they put on their boots again and go out into the fog and rain and buy a card for him also. (God in the Dock, 335)

Additionally, citizens exchange gifts with each other, but in a peculiar fashion. Everyone seeks to anticipate the value of the gifts his friends will send him so that he may send one of equal value. And many of the gifts are quite useless, the sort of items no man would ever buy for himself — “gaudy and useless gadgets, ‘novelties’ because no one was ever fool enough to make their like before” (339).

Lewis particularly emphasizes the crushing effect the card-buying and gift-giving have on all involved. It is a “great labour and weariness.” Everyone becomes “pale and weary” because of the crowds and fog (335). The entire ordeal gives “more pain than pleasure,” degrading almost into a form of blackmail since the rule is that anyone can force you to buy him a gift simply by sending you an unprovoked one (339).

Lewis attributes the rise of Exmas to consumeristic capitalism. “The whole dreary business must go on because it is good for trade.” It has “been forced upon us by the shopkeepers” (339). Anticipating the words of the great sage Lucy Van Pelt in “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” Lewis describes the whole thing as a “commercial racket” (338), a symptom of the lunatic condition of a country that is enthralled to buying and selling.

The result is that, by the time Christmas Day arrives, “everyone is worn out — physically worn out by weeks of daily struggle in overcrowded shops, mentally worn out by the effort to remember all the right recipients and to think out suitable gifts for them” (339). They arrive at Christmas Day exhausted, sleep in till noon, get drunk and overeat, and then fall into the post-Christmas blues, reckoning up all the money they’ve spent on gifts and wine.

Thus, those who sincerely try to keep Exmas are unable to celebrate either the religious festival or the popular holiday. They are “in no trim for merry-making,” nor are they prepared to participate in a sacred feast (339). All of the hustle and bustle distracts from anything holy or reverent. In this way, Exmas effectively eclipses and overcomes Christmas.

Commercial Racket

Such was Lewis’s assessment of the holiday season in mid-century Britain. If we turn to twenty-first-century America, the situation is perhaps even more bleak.

The American Christmas season is bookended by football on Thanksgiving Day and College Football Bowl Week after Christmas. Our own American “Holy” Week kicks off the whole affair: Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, and Giving Tuesday, each complete with its own hashtag. And this is only the beginning. The next few weeks is a season of incessant bustle, frenetic activity, endless buying and selling, all building up to the big binge at Christmas. America fully embraces the commercial racket.

So, if we share Lewis’s lament over the confusion of Christmas and Exmas, if we see the effect of this confusion in our own emotions (excitement for Christmas but worry and dread over the coming chaos, crowds, and cost), then what should we do? How should we live?

Resist the White Witch

We begin by rejecting one particular dead end. In our desire to resist the tyranny of the commercial racket and the trivialization of all that is good and holy, we do well to not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Merry-making, hospitality, and gift-giving are still good, even if Big Business seeks to exploit them. Abuse does not abolish right use.

This means that we still feast and celebrate, even as we seek to avoid conformity to the world. In resisting worldly excess, we also beware of worldly asceticism. Never forget that Father Christmas laid the feast for the Narnians, while the White Witch responded with, “What is the meaning of all this gluttony, this waste, this self-indulgence?” (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, 163).

Practically, this means that we still feast (both at Thanksgiving and at Christmas) and that our gratitude should be as piled high as our plates. Giving gifts to our children and friends is still a grand and glorious thing. After all, Jesus insisted that even evil parents know how to give good gifts to their children.

Advent Jollification

Perhaps, however, we can reorient our feasting by pairing it with expectation and waiting. In other words, perhaps the way to resist the tyranny of Exmas is through a celebration of Advent, the season of waiting that leads up to Christmas. Rather than the harried anxiety of the Exmas Rush, we can stir our hearts to hopeful expectation, reminding ourselves that we dwell in a land of deep darkness, longing for the light to shine on us. Advent chastens us in the midst of the Exmas season, reminding us that Christ has come and Christ will come again.

And then, having built expectation for the month of December, we are freed to rejoice with great joy on Christmas morning as we celebrate what Lewis called the Grand Miracle — when God became Man, descending from the heights of glory into this broken, rebellious, and enslaved world in order to reascend, carrying human nature (and indeed all of Nature) back up with him.

You might even celebrate this Grand Miracle for the full twelve days, filling it with merry-making and hospitality, since we do indeed have good news of great joy for all the people, and Christ has welcomed us back to the Father. This is why Father Christmas is in Narnia, as the herald and forerunner of Aslan, as the one who brings joviality and jollification in the midst of winter, as the glad-hearted giver who points to his namesake — Christ who gives himself for his people.

Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Goddess

We really ought to appreciate how overt the religious themes in the ad are. Humans sacrifice and perform good works in order to placate an angry deity. Modern neo-paganism has rarely been as well-represented in such a short video. I half-expected one of the employees to slaughter a ram on top of an altar of MacBook Pros. But the divinization of nature, the condemnation of religious hypocrisy, the works of supererogation, the appeasement of the goddess—all of these underscore that beneath many of our public policy debates are fundamental religious differences about the nature of God, sin, humanity, and atonement.

It’s mid-September, which means another annual Apple Event has come and gone, complete with the new iPhone 15 and Vision Pro, a new spatial computing device. But what grabbed the attention of many last week was Apple’s five-minute Mother Nature ad.
In the ad, a group of Apple employees nervously await the arrival of a peevish and snappy Mother Nature, who is dropping by for the annual corporate responsibility review. Mother Nature expects the same old empty song and dance, in which corporations make grandiose promises about reducing their environmental impact only to offer superficial efforts while kicking the can down the road.
However, over the course of the ad, sharp-tongued Mother Nature slowly softens as she realizes that Apple is in fact “doing the work” and making real progress to reduce their impact on the planet (even though, as Apple CEO Tim Cook says at the end, “there’s still a lot more work to do”). The ad closes with the sun emerging from behind a cloud and a dead plant coming back to life as Mother Nature approves their progress and the employees sigh in relief.
While some Christians might want to condemn the ad, I, for one, would like to express my (limited) appreciation for it, and invite my fellow Christians to do the same. Why, you ask? Let me count the ways.
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Sow Your Future Self: Why All Change Starts Today

Most of us who read C.S. Lewis’s stories for children growing up developed a secret wish to somehow get into Narnia. If we ever came across a wardrobe, we opened it, just in case it might lead to a snowy wood with a lamppost. We thought, “Wouldn’t it be amazing to actually walk there?”

That feeling of expectation and hope is one we all feel. We feel it about many things when we are children. “Won’t it be amazing when I can drive a car?” “Won’t it be amazing when I go off to college?” And the longings continue into adulthood. “Won’t it be amazing to be married?” “Won’t it be amazing to have children?” “Won’t it be amazing to move to that city, or be a part of that church, or have that opportunity?” We feel it about family vacations and promotions at work and a thousand other hopes. We imagine ourselves in some future desirable circumstances and think, Won’t it be great when . . .

“Our future joy is more a function of our present character and godliness than our future circumstances.”

Such feelings are, of course, often good and fitting. Frequently, the opportunities before us are genuinely desirable and exciting. We often find ourselves standing on the threshold of a wardrobe, with the dim light of a lamppost up ahead. One of the key lessons that Lewis wants to teach us in Narnia, however, is that our future joy is a function more of our present character and godliness than our future circumstances. We must keep in mind the example of Edmund Pevensie.

Miserable in Narnia?

Edmund’s initial experience in Narnia was not a happy one. Upon entry, he immediately meets the White Witch. He eats her enchanted food. He goes over to her side.

When he enters the second time with his siblings, he accidentally lets slip that he had been there before, thus revealing that he lied to the others (at Lucy’s expense). Peter sharply rebukes him, and Edmund responds with deep bitterness, saying to himself, “I’ll pay you all out for this, you pack of stuck-up, self-satisfied prigs” (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, 135). No sorrow for his sin; just a hardening of his heart and a deepening malice toward his siblings.

You’ll remember his reaction the first time he hears the name of Aslan. Mr. Beaver leans in and says, “Aslan is on the move” (146). Peter feels brave and adventurous. Susan feels as if a delicious smell has just gone past her. Lucy has the feeling we all have when we wake up and realize it’s the first day of summer vacation. But what about Edmund? The mention of Aslan gives him a “mysterious and horrible feeling” (151). And so, he leaves his family and betrays them to the White Witch, deceiving himself into believing that she will make him king and he’ll have his vengeance on Peter. To cap it off, he ends up whipped and tied to a tree with the Witch’s knife at his throat.

So then, Edmund’s story chastens our sense of expectation. “Wouldn’t it be great if we could get into Narnia?” Maybe not.

Sowing Our Future Selves

Edmund’s story is more than simply a series of unfortunate events. The tragedy that befalls him is the result of the kind of person he is. And he was already becoming that kind of person on this side of the wardrobe. Before he ever entered Narnia, Edmund was spiteful and beastly to younger children, disrespectful to his older siblings, cruel to his sister, and insincere in his apologies.

In itself, entering Narnia did nothing to change that. He simply continued down the path of cruelty, bitterness, and misery. And this is Lewis’s point: we are always becoming who we will be. We are always sowing the seeds of our future selves. Right this minute, we are headed somewhere, and sooner or later, we will arrive. The decisions we make today will inevitably shape the person we are tomorrow.

Elsewhere, Lewis puts it this way:

Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow-creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other. (Mere Christianity, 90)

This means that, when we look to the future, we can ask ourselves some probing questions about the present. Where am I compromising? Am I nursing small grievances, the kind that grow and fester into hatred of those closest to me? Do I treat those around me with respect and kindness, or do I love to show off my own perceived superiority? When I wrong someone, do I repent thoroughly, seek forgiveness sincerely, make restitution quickly, and then move on properly? And what about our lives in the digital age and what I do on and with my screens? What am I clicking on and searching for? On what content do I push play (and ask for more)? How am I being shaped by and through technology and my devices?

“We are always becoming who we will be. We are always sowing the seeds of our future selves.”

Given the present trajectory of my life, what would happen if I should find myself stumbling through the wardrobe into Narnia? Would I be likely to meet a faun who becomes a friend, or a Witch who seeks to steal, kill, and destroy me? Given the kind of person that I am right now becoming, what would be my reaction if I heard Aslan’s name for the first time?

Growing Weary in Good

This lesson, of course, is not original to Lewis. Two thousand years earlier, the apostle Paul says the same:

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:7–9)

Don’t be deceived. We all are tempted to believe that we can sow seeds of sin, and still reap a harvest of blessing, that we can sow envy and strife and worldliness and laziness and lust and pride, and still reap a harvest of joy and life and fruitful relationships. But God is not mocked. So, we must take care how we sow. We must sow to the Spirit now, in the present, using our God-given and grace-empowered hearts and minds to love him and our neighbor.

What’s more, we must not grow weary in doing good. And let’s be honest, it’s easy to grow weary in doing good. The natural bent of our fallen nature is very Edmund-like. To persist in showing kindness, to persevere in love to God and neighbor when we are tired and spent and stressed, is not easy. Our flesh is weak. Over time, even the most willing spirits can lapse and leak.

And so, we labor in our sowing today. We cultivate faith in Christ, obedience to God, and love for others today, right now, in this very moment. We plant the seeds of our future joy in the Spirit’s soil, trusting that God is faithful and the harvest will be glorious.

Reaping What He Sowed

The path of obedience is rarely easy. And more importantly, as Lewis shows us in the story of Edmund, failure does not have to be the end of the story. Sowing leads to reaping, but the good news of the gospel is that Jesus reaps what we have sown. Failures can be forgiven, and traitors can be redeemed.

So, as you stand on the threshold of whatever wardrobe God has set before you, remember that the world will conspire to draw you aside with its false promises and Turkish Delight. But Jesus is real, his blood is potent, and he is with you and for you. Seek him above all else, sow to his Spirit now, and trust that in due season his Father will bring forth the harvest.

Poured Out for Others

We are all called to offer ourselves wholly to God. “All of me to all of you, O God, because of Jesus.” Total surrender. Each of us is an ascension offering, daily giving ourselves to God, renewing our minds by his truth, and presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice. This is our spiritual worship. Following the apostle’s example, though, each of us is also called to be a drink offering for others. We’re called to be poured out as a glorifying accompaniment to their lives of sacrificial service.

Leviticus is the book where many Bible-reading plans go to die. Those who begin well in Genesis and Exodus find themselves, like the people of Israel, stumbling through the wilderness in Leviticus and Numbers, desperate to find their way to the story of David or the letters of Paul. For many, they stumble because they haven’t been taught the ABCs of the sacrificial system. The instructions about arranging animal parts, sprinkling blood, and bodily emissions are incomprehensible until they learn the basic grammar of the Levitical world.
Once we’ve grasped some of the basics, however, we find that we’re not only able to read Leviticus with more understanding; we’re also able to see depths in the rest of Scripture, including Paul’s letters, that were hidden before. Consider the following sentences, tucked away in his exhortation to the Philippians to do all that they do without grumbling or complaining:
Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me. (Philippians 2:17–18)
The language here is Levitical and layered. We are invited to consider the Christian life, and ministry to others, through the lens of Leviticus. Paul assumes that his readers would be familiar with the various sacrifices and offerings, and therefore able to comprehend the aim of his ministry and the aim of their lives.
All of Me to All of You
Paul references two offerings — the drink offering and the sacrificial offering (literally, “the sacrifice and service of your faith”). The latter is most likely a reference to the ascension offering, sometimes called “the whole burnt offering.”
The whole burnt offering is the baseline offering in the Old Testament, in which the worshiper lays hands on the unblemished animal so that the spotless animal now represents the sinful worshiper. The animal is killed, its blood drained and then sprinkled on the altar by the priest. After this, the priest arranges the dismembered body parts on the altar, with a particular focus on the head and the fat portions. Finally, the priest burns up the whole animal so that the animal, as the representative of the worshiper, ascends to God in the smoke as a pleasing aroma.
This offering is a fitting image of total surrender, of our heartfelt desire to draw near to the living and holy God despite our sinfulness. In it, the worshiper confesses, in essence, “All of me to all of you, O God.” Paul draws out this element of the sacrificial system in Romans 12:1–2:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
In the new covenant, rather than offering an animal through fire and smoke, we offer ourselves — our bodies and our minds — as our spiritual service and worship to God. We present the members of our bodies to God as his instruments, and we submit our minds and hearts to the truth of his word. And as Paul makes clear in Philippians, we do all of this by faith. Every Christian is now a living ascension offering, daily presenting ourselves to God through faith in Christ.
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First In, Last Out, Laughing Loudest

Psalm 19 depicts the sun as a wonderful picture of true masculinity. But for David, the sun doesn’t merely draw our minds to the bridegroom and the strong man, to the lover and the man of war. More than that, the sun draws our minds upward to the splendor and majesty of the Maker. “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1). The sun both reminds us of the glory of manhood and displays the glory of God.

C.S. Lewis was fond of quoting English writer Samuel Johnson (1709–1784), who once said, “People need to be reminded more than they need to be instructed.” Both Lewis and Johnson believed that people often possess the knowledge they need; it simply needs to be brought to mind at the appropriate time.
I’ve found this to be especially true when it comes to godly masculinity. I need timely reminders to help me fulfill my calling as a husband and a father, as a friend and a brother. And thankfully, God’s word directs us to a daily and unavoidable reminder of what it means to be a godly man. We find it in Psalm 19:4–5.
In them [the heavens] he has set a tent for the sun,which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
With these words, David invites us to sanctify our imaginations by seeing the sun with godly eyes.
Bridegroom and Warrior
The sun, as it moves across the sky, reminds David of something. He’s seen that brightness before. Then he recalls the wedding day of a close friend, and the link is made — the sun is like the bridegroom.
Those of us who attend modern weddings know that, when the wedding march begins, all eyes turn to the back of the room to see the bride, clothed in white and beautiful in her glory. But a wise attendee will also steal a glance toward the altar, where the groom waits with eager anticipation and expectant joy. The beauty of his bride is reflected in the brightness of his face. It’s that look that David remembers when he sees the sun as it rises in the morning.
But David doesn’t stop looking. David considers the sun again and is reminded of Josheb-basshebeth, one of his mighty men, running into battle with spear raised and eyes blazing because he is doing what he was built to do (2 Samuel 23:8). The warrior is intense and joyful because he is protecting his people with the strength and skill he’s developed.
So then, the sun is like the groom, and the sun is like the mighty man. Both are images of godly masculinity — the bridegroom and the warrior, the lover and the man of war. Both images direct us to a man’s calling in relation to his people. One points us inward, as a man delights in his wife (and by extension his children and the rest of his people). The other points us outward, as a man protects his people from external threats.
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Poured Out for Others: The Meaning of a Sacrificial Life

Leviticus is the book where many Bible-reading plans go to die. Those who begin well in Genesis and Exodus find themselves, like the people of Israel, stumbling through the wilderness in Leviticus and Numbers, desperate to find their way to the story of David or the letters of Paul. For many, they stumble because they haven’t been taught the ABCs of the sacrificial system. The instructions about arranging animal parts, sprinkling blood, and bodily emissions are incomprehensible until they learn the basic grammar of the Levitical world.

Once we’ve grasped some of the basics, however, we find that we’re not only able to read Leviticus with more understanding; we’re also able to see depths in the rest of Scripture, including Paul’s letters, that were hidden before. Consider the following sentences, tucked away in his exhortation to the Philippians to do all that they do without grumbling or complaining:

Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me. (Philippians 2:17–18)

The language here is Levitical and layered. We are invited to consider the Christian life, and ministry to others, through the lens of Leviticus. Paul assumes that his readers would be familiar with the various sacrifices and offerings, and therefore able to comprehend the aim of his ministry and the aim of their lives.

All of Me to All of You

Paul references two offerings — the drink offering and the sacrificial offering (literally, “the sacrifice and service of your faith”). The latter is most likely a reference to the ascension offering, sometimes called “the whole burnt offering.”

“Every Christian is now a living ascension offering, daily presenting ourselves to God through faith in Christ.”

The whole burnt offering is the baseline offering in the Old Testament, in which the worshiper lays hands on the unblemished animal so that the spotless animal now represents the sinful worshiper. The animal is killed, its blood drained and then sprinkled on the altar by the priest. After this, the priest arranges the dismembered body parts on the altar, with a particular focus on the head and the fat portions. Finally, the priest burns up the whole animal so that the animal, as the representative of the worshiper, ascends to God in the smoke as a pleasing aroma.

This offering is a fitting image of total surrender, of our heartfelt desire to draw near to the living and holy God despite our sinfulness. In it, the worshiper confesses, in essence, “All of me to all of you, O God.” Paul draws out this element of the sacrificial system in Romans 12:1–2:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

In the new covenant, rather than offering an animal through fire and smoke, we offer ourselves — our bodies and our minds — as our spiritual service and worship to God. We present the members of our bodies to God as his instruments, and we submit our minds and hearts to the truth of his word. And as Paul makes clear in Philippians, we do all of this by faith. Every Christian is now a living ascension offering, daily presenting ourselves to God through faith in Christ.

And, of course, the deepest reason that we are now able to make this spiritual offering of our bodies and minds is that Christ has fulfilled the Levitical sacrificial system by offering himself on the cross. Christ entered the heavenly holy place, “not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:12). Christ offered a better sacrifice than bulls and goats, putting away sin once for all by the sacrifice of himself (Hebrews 9:26). We offer ourselves totally to God only on the basis of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice.

Poured Out for Their Sacrifice

Remember, however, that Philippians 2 mentions a second offering with which the apostle identifies both himself and his ministry: “Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering . . .” Again, with the ABCs of Leviticus in hand, we recall that alongside the primary ascension offering were also secondary offerings such as the tribute or grain offering, representing the works and labor of the worshiper. If the ascension offering is the main course, the tribute offering is the side dish.

In the book of Numbers, we learn that once Israel entered the Promised Land, they were to offer not only grain offerings but also drink offerings. They were to pour out wine on the altar, along with the grain. And here’s a crucial point: according to Numbers 15, every ascension offering made in the Promised Land was to be accompanied by a grain offering and a drink offering. Every cheeseburger came with fries and a drink.

So, what does that have to do with Philippians? Paul says that each of the Philippians is being offered as a living sacrifice, as an ascension offering. And his labor for their joy and faith is the drink offering on the side. He’s being poured out so that they can be offered up. And so, he’s willing to be poured out, all the way to the bottom, that is, to death.

Isn’t this a wonderful, biblical, Levitical picture of the church and the Christian life? We are all called to offer ourselves wholly to God. “All of me to all of you, O God, because of Jesus.” Total surrender. Each of us is an ascension offering, daily giving ourselves to God, renewing our minds by his truth, and presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice. This is our spiritual worship.

Following the apostle’s example, though, each of us is also called to be a drink offering for others. We’re called to be poured out as a glorifying accompaniment to their lives of sacrificial service. Like Paul, we labor and run and work and give so that others can be pure and blameless for the day of Christ. We pour ourselves out so that they can offer themselves up.

Offering One Another to God

This Levitical background shapes our vision of the Christian life and ministry to others. For instance, consider how this vision of Christian service reorients our labor to shepherd our children. To begin, we are not fundamentally asking them to offer their obedience to us; we’re aiming at a living sacrifice and service to God by faith. When we exhort them to not grumble and complain, but instead to offer cheerful, happy, and full obedience, we are calling them to gladly say, “All of me for all of you, O God, through Jesus Christ your Son.”

Or consider how it shapes our prayers. When Paul says that he is being poured out as a drink offering, this includes the prayers that he offered for the Philippians at the beginning of his letter.

It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9–11)

Abounding love, growing discernment, wise approval of what is good and right in any circumstance — this is a Godward life. If God answers this prayer, these people will be pure and blameless, living sacrifices filled with his righteousness, and fully pleasing to him. And behind such a Godward life of spiritual worship lie the prayers and labors of the apostle, graciously assisting and serving the full and complete offering of God’s people to God.

And all of this is done with joy. When Paul pours himself out in prayer and service, even unto death, he does so with indomitable joy. And he invites the Philippians to join him in that joy. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:4).

For Paul, living is Christ, dying is gain, and therefore, his labor for the progress and joy of the Philippians’ faith is a deeply happy one. He gladly spends and is spent for their souls, pouring himself out as a drink offering, to help bring them nearer to God. Through his written words, he still does the same for us. And now we share in the joy of pouring out ourselves for others.

Reversing Romans 1

The pleasure of God is revealed from heaven upon all godliness and righteousness of men, who by their righteousness celebrate the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. For because they know God, they honor him as God and give thanks to him. 

The late R.C. Sproul was fond of inverting a particular biblical passage in order to bring home a theological truth. For instance, in seeking to press upon his hearers the horrors of God’s wrath, Sproul would turn to the Aaronic blessing:
The Lord bless you and keep you;     the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. (Numbers 6:24–26)
Sproul turns the blessing inside out, transforming it into a curse:
May the Lord curse you and abandon you.     May the Lord keep you in darkness and give you only judgment without grace.May the Lord turn his back upon you and remove his peace from you forever.
His point in doing so was to press home the reality of God’s judgment and the wonders of Christ’s cross, modifying the familiar words so that we marvel at God’s grace in sending Christ to bear the curse in our place. Years ago, inspired by Sproul’s example, I engaged in my own inversion, this time transforming the Bible’s most detailed description of human rebellion into a vision for the Godward life.
The Godless Life
In Romans 1:18–32, Paul paints a picture of the consequences of human idolatry and ingratitude on human life and culture — the wages of a godless life. God’s wrath is revealed against our ungodliness, by which we suppress the truth of his sovereignty, power, and nature. In refusing to honor and thank God, who gives us every good gift, our minds fall into vanity and our hearts are darkened. Our rebellious folly is manifested clearly in the dark exchange that we make — trading away the glory of the immortal God for created things.
As a result of this foundational rebellion and false worship, God gives us over to impurity, lies, dishonorable passions, and a debased mind. The result extends to every area of human life. The individual is corrupted in mind and heart, in thinking and willing. The effects of rebellion extend from the inner man to the outer man, from the soul to the body. Our sexuality is corrupted, as sinful desires reign and ungodly passions distort the relationships between men and women.
From there, our corporate life is affected. “They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless” (Romans 1:29–31). Family, friends, and society are all twisted by our debased minds as loving fellowship and community are torn apart and reoriented by our shared rebellion.
The Godward Life
So then, if this is a horrifying picture of human rebellion and ungodliness, what might the opposite be? Could an inverted Romans 1 give us a renewed vision for the Godward life?
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First In, Last Out, Laughing Loudest: The Shining Strength of Good Men

C.S. Lewis was fond of quoting English writer Samuel Johnson (1709–1784), who once said, “People need to be reminded more than they need to be instructed.” Both Lewis and Johnson believed that people often possess the knowledge they need; it simply needs to be brought to mind at the appropriate time.

I’ve found this to be especially true when it comes to godly masculinity. I need timely reminders to help me fulfill my calling as a husband and a father, as a friend and a brother. And thankfully, God’s word directs us to a daily and unavoidable reminder of what it means to be a godly man. We find it in Psalm 19:4–5.

In them [the heavens] he has set a tent for the sun,     which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,     and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.

With these words, David invites us to sanctify our imaginations by seeing the sun with godly eyes.

Bridegroom and Warrior

The sun, as it moves across the sky, reminds David of something. He’s seen that brightness before. Then he recalls the wedding day of a close friend, and the link is made — the sun is like the bridegroom.

Those of us who attend modern weddings know that, when the wedding march begins, all eyes turn to the back of the room to see the bride, clothed in white and beautiful in her glory. But a wise attendee will also steal a glance toward the altar, where the groom waits with eager anticipation and expectant joy. The beauty of his bride is reflected in the brightness of his face. It’s that look that David remembers when he sees the sun as it rises in the morning.

But David doesn’t stop looking. David considers the sun again and is reminded of Josheb-basshebeth, one of his mighty men, running into battle with spear raised and eyes blazing because he is doing what he was built to do (2 Samuel 23:8). The warrior is intense and joyful because he is protecting his people with the strength and skill he’s developed.

So then, the sun is like the groom, and the sun is like the mighty man. Both are images of godly masculinity — the bridegroom and the warrior, the lover and the man of war. Both images direct us to a man’s calling in relation to his people. One points us inward, as a man delights in his wife (and by extension his children and the rest of his people). The other points us outward, as a man protects his people from external threats. Which means the sun is an ever-present reminder of what it means to be a godly man: bright, triumphant, blazing with joy and purpose, ready to fight and bleed and die for the ones he loves.

Manly Weight

When we press into this image, we see the gravity that lies at the heart of mature masculinity. A number of recent Christian books on manhood have underlined the importance of gravitas for godly men. Michael Foster and Dominic Bnonn Tennant define gravitas as the weight of a man’s presence (It’s Good to Be a Man, 141). It’s the dignity and honor that pull people into his orbit (much like the sun orients the planets by its mass).

“The fear of the Lord gives weight to a man’s soul, making him firm and stable and steadfast.”

Gravitas comes partly from a man’s skill and competence, and partly from his sober-mindedness and confidence. A competent and confident man catches the eye, much like the sun as it blazes a trail through the heavens. But ultimately, true gravitas comes from fearing the Lord. The fear of the Lord gives weight to a man’s soul, making him firm and stable and steadfast, not tossed to and fro by winds of doctrine or the passions of the flesh.

But as Psalm 19 shows, gravitas is only one half of the equation. Gladness completes the picture. It’s not enough to take initiative and responsibility for oneself and for others. A godly man runs his course with joy.

Manly Mirth

One of my favorite pictures of masculinity comes from Lewis’s The Horse and His Boy. King Lune tells his son Cor what kingship is all about.

This is what it means to be a king: to be first in every desperate attack and last in every desperate retreat, and when there’s hunger in the land (as must be now and then in bad years) to wear finer clothes and laugh louder over a scantier meal than any man in your land. (310)

“Biblical manhood bleeds and sacrifices with unconquerable joy.”

First in, last out, laughing loudest. Here is competence and confidence — initiating, taking risks, and bearing burdens for others. Here is a king who cultivates his strength for God’s mission and the good of others. And he does it all with courage in the heart and manifest laughter in the soul. Biblical manhood bleeds and sacrifices with unconquerable joy.

Gravity and gladness are both essential. Without gravity, gladness declines into triviality. Without gladness, gravity degenerates into gloom. Together, they are a potent combination that inspires others, forms communities, and extends a man’s influence in the world.

Where the Images Land

Psalm 19 depicts the sun as a wonderful picture of true masculinity. But for David, the sun doesn’t merely draw our minds to the bridegroom and the strong man, to the lover and the man of war. More than that, the sun draws our minds upward to the splendor and majesty of the Maker. “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1). The sun both reminds us of the glory of manhood and displays the glory of God.

More than that, these reminders point us to Jesus. He is the ground and goal of manhood. All true gravity and gladness come from him. He is the one who reconciles us to God so that, despite our sin and shame, we live beneath the smile of a happy Father who says to us, “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).

Jesus is our older brother, the firstborn from the dead, our model and example who ran his race for the joy set before him. He is the ultimate strong man — a man of war who killed the dragon to get the girl. He is the bridegroom who greatly rejoices over his bride and whose face is like the sun shining in full strength. And every day, he causes the sun to rise, reminding us of who he is and who we are to be.

‘Lead Me into Temptation’: How We Make Room for Sin

In the book of Romans, the apostle Paul gives a simple yet profound exhortation to Christians that illuminates our fight with sin:

Make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. (Romans 13:14)

The exhortation suggests that not only do we sin by gratifying sinful desires, but we can actually create space for such indulgence. What does that mean, and how does it work?

Desires of the Flesh

Let’s begin with the fact that the flesh has ungodly desires. In Galatians 5:17, Paul insists that the desires of the flesh are contrary to the Spirit; literally, “the flesh desires against the Spirit.” To gratify a fleshly desire is to complete, indulge, and fulfill the desire, to go where the desire wants to take you. Such indulgence is called “the works of the flesh,” which Paul lays out in Galatians 5:19–21:

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

In Romans 13, Paul calls them “works of darkness,” and provides a similar list of examples:

The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. (Romans 13:12–13)

In these lists, we see sins related to our sexual life (sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality), sins related to our desires for food, drink, and refreshment (drunkenness), and sins related to our social life (enmity, strife, rivalries, jealousy, quarreling, fits of anger, divisions). We’re all familiar with these sins in our lives. But what does it mean to “make provision” for them?

How We Make Provision

“Making provision for the flesh” implies that we can choose to put ourselves in the path of temptation. We can make room and create space for sinful desires to be awakened, pursued, and gratified. Essentially, we can turn the Lord’s Prayer on its head and say, “Lead me into temptation so that I can give myself over to evil.”

At a practical level, we can subtly plan to be in an environment of temptation, knowing (or at least hoping) that temptations will come and will awaken our desires so that we can gratify them. It’s important to stress the subtlety, though. When we make provision for the flesh, our minds operate in such a way that we often rationalize and excuse our behavior, even to ourselves. Our minds are employed to serve fleshly desires, and then our minds are employed to excuse and justify our behavior. That’s what it means to make provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Consider, in particular, how our technology enables us to make provision for the flesh. We might choose to use apps or visit websites where we know that sexually explicit images will likely show up (whether through ads or posts). We weren’t blatantly looking for such images. But we were creating space for them to show up. We were making provision for them to awaken our desires. The flesh leads us there through sinful curiosity, but then our mind attempts to rationalize what happens: “I was just checking social media.”

Lust, Jealousy, Envy, and Anger

While sexual immorality is an obvious temptation in this area, the same dynamic is at work with other passions and desires. How often do we make provision for the flesh by visiting sites and using apps that regularly awaken our jealousy and envy? We create space for covetousness by frequenting sites that display an image of the life we wish we had. “Look at her house/family/clothes.” “Look at his opportunities/successes/blessings.”

Or if not envy, perhaps it’s anger and quarreling. We know that reading that article, or watching that news clip, or listening to that podcast, will awaken frustration, or anxiety, or fear, or fits of anger. And yet we make provision for those sins by putting ourselves in a position to be so awakened. We make provision by subjecting ourselves to knowledge that we will turn over in our minds with malice and bitterness (just as we might fondle a lust). And then we justify and rationalize it, saying, “I’m just keeping up with the news. It’s important to stay informed about what’s going on in the world.”

In each of these cases, we are creating room, giving space, and making provision for the flesh to lead us into temptation and sin.

Wake Up and Take a Walk

Thankfully, Paul doesn’t simply tell us what to avoid. He also tells us what to do.

First, we wake up.

You know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. (Romans 13:11–12)

In other words, we become aware of the way that our minds and our flesh work together to lead us into sin. Making provision for the flesh numbs and deadens us. Spiritually, we fall asleep. We follow our passions in a fog of desires, appetites, excuses, and rationalizations, swatting away the voice of our conscience and the Holy Spirit. So we must wake up.

Second, we change clothes. “So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Romans 13:12). Later, he exhorts us to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14). Instead of using our minds to create space for the flesh and then rationalize our desires, we use our minds to count ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ (Romans 6:11). We consider who we are in the light of Christ’s work. This is a gracious mental effort to set our mind on things above, where Christ is (Colossians 3:1–4).

“It’s not enough to simply avoid sin and temptation; we must actively seek to kill our sin.”

And notice that changing clothes involves both casting off and putting on. “Casting off the works of darkness” involves putting to death what is earthly in us (Colossians 3:5). This implies that it’s not enough to simply avoid sin and temptation; we must actively seek to kill our sin. In other words, we refuse to allow sinful curiosity to take up residence in our hearts without making intentional efforts to put it to death. We don’t merely play defense; we also go on offense.

Finally, we go for a walk. “Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy” (Romans 13:13). We’re awake and alert; we’re properly clothed in Christ’s righteousness. And now we walk in a manner that fits our union with him.

What We Cannot Hide

Central to walking properly is recognizing that it is daytime. Having been brought from death and sin to life and righteousness, we have been brought from darkness to light. Put another way, we are seen.

“When making provision for the flesh, one of the lies we’re tempted to believe is that we can hide.”

When making provision for the flesh, one of the lies we’re tempted to believe is that we can hide. And while it is possible to hide from other people, we cannot hide from God. We never fool him with our excuses and subtleties. He sees us making space for our sinful appetites to run. Our rationalizations are empty before his omniscience. We are like the child tiptoeing to the kitchen at night to steal a cookie from the cupboard while his mother watches from the living room. Our attempts at stealth are folly before the brightness of his all-seeing gaze. As the book of Hebrews says, “No creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13).

So Paul’s call is simple (even if the obedience is hard won). Wake up. Change your clothes. Put on the Lord Jesus and his armor. And then walk in a fitting way before him. Make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

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