The Successful Virtual Office

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Melanie Pinola at Lifehacker has written a brief, helpful, new book entitled The Successful Virtual Office In 30 Minutes. As a part of series of 30-minute guides, this book seeks to “help telecommuters, consultants, freelancers, small business owners, independent professionals, and other types of remote workers set up and maintain a high-performance virtual office.”

And here’s a fun fact: In her book, she also quotes from my e-book How to Set Up Your Desk: A Guide to Fixing a (Surprisingly) Overlooked Productivity Problem

If you need help with your own virtual office, or if you are interested in learning about available tools that might help you in this area, check out Melanie’s book. She has been gracious enough to offer some complimentary PDF copies of her book to readers of What’s Best Next. Send an email to contact [at] whatsbestnext.com and explain why this book might help you. The first ten folks to email will win a copy. Enjoy!

Do All of God’s Blessings Really Come to Us on the Basis of the Infinite Merit of Christ?

In his excellent book The Gospel for Real LifeJerry Bridges writes:

We need to learn and remind ourselves every day that God’s favor — His blessings and answers to prayer — come to us not on the basis of our works, but on the basis of the infinite merit of Jesus Christ.

Is this right?

What about, for example, James 4:6, where we read that “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble”? In that passage it looks like God is giving his blessing in response to a work (or, most specifically in this case, a character quality).

Likewise, in Philippians 4:9, Paul says that if we practice the things we have learned and received and heard and seen in him, then “the God of peace will be with you.” So it looks like there are places where God’s blessings and even presence are in response to our works.

How should we understand this?

One common response is based on a misunderstanding of the biblical meaning of “works.” Some people seem to think that whenever the Bible speaks of “works,” it is speaking of something that is actually bad. “Works” is taken to mean external actions done without the right heart; things that are done to put God in our debt. So when we say that God’s blessings don’t come on the basis of our “works,” they say “of course.”

But that is not the biblical meaning of works. Certainly there is such a thing as bad works. But works themselves are not by definition something bad. A Christian can and should do good works.

“Works” is not a catch-all term in the Bible for things done to earn God’s favor. Neither are works merely the external components of an action. In the Bible, works are simply things we do, which can be done for the glory of God or for evil purposes. Further, the term “works” includes the internal motivation, and is not just about the external behavior. If a work is done for the glory of God, then it is a good work and not to be disparaged.

Hence, it would be fully acceptable in the James 4 passage to refer to humility as a “work.” It is chiefly an internal work, but since works are not bad things in the Bible, we are not disparaging humility if we call it a work. “Work” simply means any human action or disposition of our character. Humility is a disposition of the heart, a character quality, and thus can be subsumed under the category of “works.”

Hence, when we say that God’s blessings don’t come to us on the ground of our works, we don’t simply mean the “bad” works that are done in a legalistic spirit. We mean the good ones. Further, we don’t simply mean the external components of the action. We include the internal heart motivation. God’s blessing does not come to us on the basis of even our good works, including the good internal motivation to love others and honor God.

Another response would be to say that God never rewards our works with blessing. This would also be a misunderstanding, because all over the Bible we see God acting in response to our works. The James 4 passage is a key example, and there are many others.

So how should we understand God’s blessing in relation to our works?

The answer comes from understanding, first of all, the doctrine of justification. When it comes to how we are set right with God forever (justification), our works play no role whatsoever. Literally none. I’m not just speaking of works done in a legalistic spirit here, or just of the works done before we become Christians, but of all works whatsoever. The good works we do that are rightly motivated and done after we become Christians are just as excluded from the means by which we are set right with God as legalistically motivated works are. We are truly and fully justified by faith alone. 

Some try to say that we are not justified on the basis of our works, but we are justified by means of our works. That is, these people try to make our good works function as the way we receive the work of Christ. They say Christ’s work is the foundation, not our works, but then in order to gain access to that foundation which Christ laid, we need to do good works. Good works are a means, though not the basis, of our entering a right relationship with God.

That is also wrong and very bad. Our good works are excluded in all possible ways in our justification. They are not the basis or the means through which we become right with God.

To make things more complicated, they sometimes say that this is not actually justification by works, because these are truly good works they are speaking of that are the means of our justification, done in God’s power from good motivation, rather than the desire to put God in our debt.

But as we saw, it is a misunderstanding of the biblical teaching to limit “works” simply to things done to put God in our debt. In the Bible, “works” include any human action, including truly good things we do from a humble spirit. When the Bible excludes “works” from justification, it is truly excluding all our works — even (especially!) the good ones.

Now, once we are Christians and we do good works and display godly character qualities such as humility, how does God respond to them? We know, per the above paragraphs, that our works and character are not the basis or means by which are right with God.

But as James shows us (and many other passages), God does have a positive response to our good works and growth in character. That is, he blesses them. How, then, can we say like Jerry Bridges does in the quote above that even those blessings come on the basis of Christ’s work, rather our works? For if God “gives grace to the humble,” it certainly sounds as if that particular blessing of grace is a response to our humility. Such that if we hadn’t expressed humility, we wouldn’t have received that act of grace.

The answer is this: God’s act of grace in James 4 is indeed in response to our humility. It is unmerited, conditional grace. Yet even that act of humility itself was won for us by Christ.

Hence, the act of grace in response to humility is given on the basis of Christ’s work because that humility is only there in the first place because of Christ’s work. God is, as Augustine said, crowning his own gifts.

So we see that God is able to respond to our works with blessing, while those blessings are given ultimately on the basis of Christ’s works and not our works.

Note, however, that this only works in the realm of sanctification. As we saw, this is not how justification works. God does not give us good works that he then blesses with the gift of justification. Justification is entirely, as we saw above, “apart from works” (Romans 4) and thus considers us exclusively as ungodly (Romans 4:5).

Having been justified, though, we are now in a right relationship with God. God thus can and does bless the works that we do in a multitude of ways, just as a father will reward many of the good things his children does because he wants to testify to the approval and delight he takes in what they are doing.

Another way to say this would be to say that just as we are accepted in Christ, so also our works are accepted in Christ. So when God rewards our works, even those rewards (along with the works itself that he is rewarding) are coming on the basis of Christ’s death and resurrection.

 

Kindle Version of What’s Best Next $1.99 Today Only

Zondervan has put What’s Best Next on sale today only for $1.99 as part of their e-book flash sale this week (see the other books in the sale as well).

If you haven’t picked it up yet, now is a great time! And either way, this sale is a great opportunity to spread the word further.

In honor of this sale, I’ve also reduced the price on my ebook How to Set Up Your Desk to $0.99. (Note: if the price on that isn’t active yet, it should be live soon.)

Zondervan 24-Hour Ebook Flash Sale

Zondervan is doing an incredible ebook flash sale this week. Each day, one ebook will be on sale for $1.99.

What’s Best Next will be on sale Thursday.

The other books are

  • Nabeel Qureshi’s Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus (for $2.99; all others are $1.99) on Monday
  • Tim Challies’ The Next Story (revised) on Tuesday
  • Mike Horton’s Ordinary on Wednesday
  • What’s Best Next on Thursday
  • Collin Hansen and John Woodbridge’s A God-Sized Vision on Friday
  • Timothy Paul Jones and Daniel Montgomery’s Proof: Finding Freedom through the Intoxicating Joy of Irresistible Grace on Saturday

Here’s the link to the sale, and spread the word!

Why Plant Churches?

A fantastic and extremely helpful article by Tim Keller that everyone needs to read.

Here’s the start:

The vigorous, continual planting of new congregations is the single most crucial strategy for 1) the numerical growth of the Body of Christ in any city, and 2) the continual corporate renewal and revival of the existing churches in a city.

Nothing else–not crusades, outreach programs, para-church ministries, growing mega-churches, congregational consulting, nor church renewal processes–will have the consistent impact of dynamic, extensive church planting. This is an eyebrow raising statement. But to those who have done any study at all, it is not even controversial.

The normal response to discussions about church planting is something like this:

A. ‘We already have plenty of churches that have lots and lots of room for all the new people who have come to the area. Let’s get them filled before we go off building any new ones.”

B. ‘Every church in this community used to be more full than it is now. The churchgoing public is a ‘shrinking pie’. A new church here will just take people from churches already hurting and weaken everyone.’

C. ‘Help the churches that are struggling first. A new church doesn’t help the ones we have that are just keeping their nose above water. We need better churches, not more churches.’

These statements appear to be ‘common sense’ to many people, but they rest on several wrong assumptions. The error of this thinking will become clear if we ask ‘Why is church planting so crucially important?’ Because–

What is a Gospel-Centered, Missional Church?

A great article at the new For the Church Website.

Here are a few excerpts:

What is a gospel-centered, missional church? Simply put, a gospel-centered missional church is one that recognizes that:

Authentic heart-transformation cannot happen apart from the gospel;

AND

Culture is not the enemy of the church; rather it is a broken treasure God has gone to great lengths to restore.

A gospel-centered church is so because the gospel is the engine that propels its mission….

A gospel-centered church is missional because it considers the needs, dreams, and hopes of culture, and engages culture in these areas as it communicates the gospel. A missional church finds the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection to be so compelling and life-giving that it is willing to let it shape everything it does—its methodology—in order to communicate the gospel in a way that makes sense in its cultural context.

Read the whole thing.

Theodore Roosevelt: In Praise of the Strenuous Life

In 1899, a few months after becoming governor of New York, Theodore Roosevelt gave the speech “In Praise of the Strenuous Life.” It remained one of his most popular, and has excellent things to say that are affirmed by the biblical doctrine of vocation. Here is how it starts:

In speaking to you, men of the greatest city of the West, men of the state which gave to the country Lincoln and Grant, men who preeminently and distinctly embody all that is most American in the American character, I wish to preach not the doctrine of ignoble ease but the doctrine of the strenuous life; the life of toil and effort; of labor and strife; to preach that highest form of success which comes not to the man who desires mere easy peace but to the man who does not shrink from danger, from hardship, or from bitter toil, and who out of these wins the splendid ultimate triumph.

A life of ignoble ease, a life of that peace which springs merely from lack either of desire or of power to strive after great things, is as little worthy of a nation as of an individual. I ask only that what every self-respecting American demands from himself, and from his sons, shall be demanded of the American nation as a whole.

Read the whole thing (it’s short). And you can find more helpful resources on vocation at MondayChurch.org.

5 Questions on Faith and Doubt

Barnabas Piper’s new book Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt is Not the Enemy of Faith releases July 1st. In the weeks leading up to its release, he is interviewing several people on questions of faith and doubt.

Today his interview with me is up. The five questions are:

  1. What does “I believe, help my unbelief” mean to you?
  2. Do you have a favorite Bible passage about belief and doubt? What is it and how has it impacted you?
  3. What is belief in God?
  4. What do you see as the relationship between belief and doubt?
  5. How can a person strengthen their belief in God?