What is the Gospel?

On Easter, it is always good to refresh our understanding of the gospel so we can avoid the trap of being pulled away by additions to it that undermine our relationship with God.

Here’s how I summarize it in a call-out box in What’s Best Nextin a chapter where I talk about the relationship between the gospel and good works:

What is the Gospel?

The gospel is very simple: Christ died for our sins, was buried, and raised from the dead. Paul states it very clearly in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5:

I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.

It’s not enough to just hear the gospel, or go to church, or have been baptized. We have to believe the gospel. Believing the gospel does not just mean assenting to it intellectually, but relying on Christ crucified and risen for our acceptance with God and right to eternal life.

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved….Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:9-10; 13).

We enter a right relationship with God through faith alone in the gospel, not as a result of any works we do — before or after becoming a Christian. Good works are a result of having been accepted by God, not the means or basis of our being accepted by Him.

Further, you never get beyond the gospel. Once you become a Christian, you don’t “graduate” on to more important realities. The gospel is always “of first importance,” as Paul says (1 Corinthians 15:3). Christ died for the sins of Christians, too — that is, the gospel is not just something we point unbelievers to, but is something we continue relying on every day as Christians. As Christians, Jesus’ death and resurrection continues to be the full and complete basis of our forgiveness and righteousness before God.

April 20, 2014 | Filed Under Justification | Leave a Comment 

The Final Days of Jesus

In these final days before Easter, it would be a great idea to pick up my friend Justin Taylor’s excellent new book The Final Days of Jesus (co-authored with NT scholar Andreas Kostenberger).

His book goes through the last week of Jesus’ life, culminating in the crucifixion and then the resurrection. We often think we “know the story,” such that we take it for granted. But it is amazing how much more there is to learn, and Justin’s book is a great guide.

And, of course, the book remains extremely relevant after Easter, since the death and resurrection of Christ are eternally significant and the foundation of our faith.

You can see more of my thoughts on Justin’s book from the post I did a few months ago when I interviewed him.

You might also be interested in his recent article for Christianity Today on Five Errors to Avoid in Preaching Your Easter Sermon, which include:

  1. Don’t say Jesus died when he was 33 (he was probably 37).
  2. Don’t bypass the role of women as witnesses to the resurrected Christ (this is a theological reminder that the kingdom of Christ turns the world’s system on its head, and also great evidence for the truth of the resurrection, as the disciples would not have included this detail if they made it up since the testimony of women in 1st century Judaism was so lowly regarded).
  3. Don’t focus on the suffering of Christ to the extent that you neglect the glory of the cross in and through the resurrection (Jesus did not stay dead! He is off the cross and reigning today.)

As an aside, I liked Bill O’Reilly’s book Killing Jesusbut I like Justin’s book way more!

April 17, 2014 | Filed Under Theology | Leave a Comment 

What’s Best Next Seminar in Ames Iowa

If you live in or around central Iowa, you are invited to a workshop I’m doing on What’s Best Next on Saturday morning, April 26, from 9:00 – noon.

I’ll cover things like these:

The seminar will be at Zeke’s, at 3329 Lincoln Way, Ames, IA 50014. You can learn more about it and register here.

It would be great to see you there!

April 16, 2014 | Filed Under Events | 1 Comment 

The Traditional View of Productivity vs. Gospel-Driven Productivity

Traditional View (TV): Do more in less time.
Gospel-Driven Productivity (GDP): Do the right things, and you can care a lot less about efficiency.

TV: Use the right techniques.
GDP: Be the right kind of person. Then, use smart techniques.

TV: Seek peace of mind and fulfillment.
GDP: Seek to do good for others first, and make a contribution. Peace and fulfillment will follow (and so will suffering!—but of a different kind).

TV: Minimize work and maximize money.
GDP: Do hard things and find joy in your work as a fulfillment of your calling. Maximize meaning, not money.

April 12, 2014 | Filed Under Productivity | 6 Comments 

TGC’s Review of What’s Best Next

Hugh Whelchel, executive director of The Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics, has done a great review of What’s Best Next for TGC.

It is a fantastic review with a superb summary of the book. And here’s something especially unique about Hugh’s review: he comments on the final section of the book, where I show how personal productivity connects to the productivity of our organizations and society, and therefore why it is important for us as Christians to understand economics.

That’s a very important section of the book to me. I almost had to cut it out due to length, in fact, but insisted that we keep it (though I still and to cut that section in half). I also show how a concern for the productivity and well being of all of society is not just a modern idea, but is clearly and significantly expressed by even the great 18th-century theologian Jonathan Edwards.

Read Hugh’s whole review of What’s Best Next to see a bit more on the connections between Christian love and a concern for economics.

April 7, 2014 | Filed Under Book | Leave a Comment 

If You Are In Louisville: Come Say Hi at the Lifeway SBTS Bookstore Monday at 10am

In addition to the author meet up on Tuesday night at T4G, I’m also doing a brief event on Monday (tomorrow) at 10:00 am at the Lifeway Bookstore at Southern Seminary.

The bookstore is on campus in the Honeycutt center.

I’ll talk a bit about the book, answer questions, and I think some other things. Also, they will be giving away some copies.

So if you are in Louisville, and especially if you are a student at SBTS, it would be great to see you Monday morning!

April 6, 2014 | Filed Under Events | Leave a Comment 

Come to My Author Meetup Tuesday Night at T4G

If you are going to be at Together for the Gospel this week, my friend Alex Chediak and I will be doing an author meet up and we’d love to see you. It will be in the lobby of the Galt House on Tuesday night from 10:00 – 11:00, after the final panel. (Note: the lobby is in the first floor of the Suit Tower.)

It will be very informal. Stop by to say hi and hang out a bit, and we’ll also have a brief Q&A time about our books — so bring your hardest questions. We will also be giving away some free copies of our books.

I love really, really, really hard questions, so the harder the questions, the better. Further, you can ask questions about anything; our books would be the best, but you can ask questions about the sovereignty of God, the Trinity, social justice, leadership, social media, hard passages in the Bible, or anything else. Literally anything and everything.

We’ll give some free books to people who ask the best and most difficult questions. (I recognize, of course, the irony there, because if you are asking questions, you’ve probably read the book and thus don’t need one! but then you’ll have another to give away.)

My book, obviously, is What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Donewhich is about how to get things done and be productive in the new economy, in a gospel-centered way. It first gives a biblical vision for understanding our work, productivity, and the things we do every day; then, it gives a practical approach for improving our effectiveness for the glory of God in all areas of life (something which is sorely lacking right now in the church, in my view).

Alex is the author of several books, including Thriving at College and his latest, Preparing Your Teens for CollegeHis books are about far more than college — at root, they are about what it means to be a mature adult and live life in a Gospel-centered way as a self-governing, competent individual. Hence, they are very related to the issue of productivity, as productivity is ultimately rooted in character and competence — which is what both of Alex’s books are ultimately about.

We look forward to seeing you!


April 6, 2014 | Filed Under Book | 1 Comment 

Transformational Productivity vs. Transactional Productivity

Stephen Covey, in his stellar book First Things First:

For most people, the large majority of waking time is spent communicating or interacting with people — or dealing with the results of poor communication or interaction.

Effective interdependence is core to the issue of time management. But the traditional literature essentially deals with it in a transactional way. This transactional approach grows out of the mechanical, controlling, managing “things” paradigm. People are essentially seen as bionic units to whom we can delegate to get more done, or as interruptions to be handled efficiently so that we can get back to our schedule.

But fourth-generation interdependence is not transactional; it’s transformational. It literally changes those who are party to it. It takes into consideration the full reality of the uniqueness and capacity of each individual and the rich, serendipitous potential of creating synergistic third alternatives [see note below on why these aren't just buzzwords] that are far better than individuals could ever come up with on their own.

Fourth-generation interdependence is the richness of relationships, the adventure of discovery, the spontaneity and deep fulfillment of putting people ahead of schedules, and the joy of creating together what did not exist before.

In other words: Just as leadership can be transactional or transformational, so also our approach to productivity can be transactional or transformational.

In leadership, the transactional view sees people merely as means to an end. They are a tool to accomplish a task, rather than also being valued in themselves. In a transactional view, people are viewed as expendable. If this person can’t do it, then that person will. Instead of adjusting jobs to fit people, people are “adjusted” to fit a standardized view of a job (all in the name of “efficiency,” of course; note: this hardly every works out well for people!) People with a transactional view say things like “why is this taking you so long? I’m not paying you to learn, I’m paying you to get a job done.” Truly horrible. I mean that.

In transformational leadership, people are not seen as a means to an end. People are valued as well as tasks. People are seen as important and valuable in their own right. Thus, the goal becomes not simply to get tasks done, but to build people up in the accomplishment of tasks. This is the only view of leadership consistent with the Scriptures, which teach us that people are created in the image of God, and thus are always to be treated with respect, value, and love.

As with leadership, so also with productivity. In the transactional view of productivity, we think of others either as tools to help us get more done, or interruptions who are getting in our way. This is disrespectful and unbiblical, just as transactional leadership is.

The correct view of productivity is transformational. People are not merely means to help us get more done, or obstacles to doing what we really want. Rather, relationships are seen as part of what it means to be productive at all. True productivity comes from working with others, and doing so in a way that recognizes and values their individuality and seeks to help them grow through the process of creating something great together.

The essence of the transformational view of productivity or leadership or anything else is this: see people as people who are valuable for their own sakes, having been created in the image of God, and thus even when you have tasks to accomplish, make the aim not to “get things done through others” but rather to “build people up in the accomplishment of the tasks.” Value people as well as tasks, and more than tasks. For it is the effect you have on people that is the true measure of your productivity.

Here’s the note I mentioned: Covey is often criticized for using terms like “synergy” and “paradigm” too much. I think that’s a very wrong-headed criticism. Sure, lots of people use those terms not knowing what they are talking about. That’s annoying.

But when someone who actually understands such terms uses them, it’s not something to criticize; it’s something to pay attention to. If we criticize people every time they use a word that has become “common,” we undermine all teaching. For teaching is about making important concepts universal. If we then make fun of those concepts because they have become so common, haven’t we then undermined the whole enterprise of teaching?

April 5, 2014 | Filed Under Productivity | Leave a Comment 

Naming Your Computer Files Well

It is so completely strange to me that really odd naming conventions for computer files continue to persist to this day.

I have probably over 10,000 documents on my computer (Word documents, spreadsheets, keynote presentations, PDFs, and so forth). If I followed the usual naming conventions that most people seem to use, I would be totally lost. I’d never be able to find anything.

For example, one of the things I do in my consulting is write business plans for people. Sometimes, when the client takes the first attempt at writing the business plan, the file will be named something like “plan234.doc.”


It’s as though we think we need to intentionally give our computer files cryptic, obscure, hard-to-grasp names. This, in turn, makes it really hard to find the file when you are going to work on it, since it’s not like it’s the only file you have.

Far better to call it what it is. In this case, the best file name would be: “Business Plan for [Name of Company].doc.” Then, you know what the document is right away when you see it in your files. You don’t have to guess or, worst of all, open it in order to know for sure what it is.

I see this type of mistake made over and over again: people continually give their computer files names that are hard to decipher. I don’t know if the aim is to save space or what; if the aim is to save space, the need to do that went away about 20 years ago. It used to be that file names had to be kept very short, because we were limited to just a few characters. Those days are over.

And, spaces are OK!

In one of the call-out boxes in What’s Best NextI summarize these principles as one of the immediately-applicable productivity tips I give. Here’s the box:

How to Name Your Computer Files Well

  1. Give the file a name that actually means something.
  2. Don’t abbreviate (it makes no sense and makes it harder to know what the file is at a glance!)
  3. Make the file name the same as the title of the document in the file.

Good name: “Bookstore Procedure Manual.” Bad name: “Bkstr_2305.”

If someone says: “The type of file name you suggest is too obvious,” my response is: That’s the point! If you don’t make it obvious, you’ll forget what the file actually is down the road or the next day. By making it obvious, you save time.

The principle for naming your computer files well is the same as the principle for making websites effective: “Don’t make me think.” That is, minimize your cognitive workload by making the file name something obvious. The aim is to know right away, at a glance, what the file actually is so you don’t have to spend time trying to figure out which file you are looking for after all.

April 2, 2014 | Filed Under Filing | 4 Comments 

Seven Principles for Setting Goals that Work

My guest post today at Michael Hyatt’s blog.

Stephen Covey would often talk about people climbing the ladder so fast that they would get to the top, only to discover that their ladder was leaning against the wrong wall.

So how do we set goals that actually take us to a place we want to be? I give seven principles. The first is that a good goal always starts by asking not “what do I want to do,” but “what needs to be done?” That’s the question that orients you toward contribution and service, which is the core principle for being effective in any area.

Read the whole thing.

March 14, 2014 | Filed Under Goals | Leave a Comment 

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