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An “unprecedented” threat on the Gulf Coast: In a year of crisis, an empowering key Christians need to remember

Dr. Jim Denison is the CEO of Denison Forum.
His Daily Article and podcast globally reach over 160,000 subscribers. Dr. Denison guides readers to discern today’s news—biblically. He is the author of multiple books and has taught on the philosophy of religion and apologetics at several seminaries. Prior to launching Denison Forum in 2009, he pastored churches in Texas and Georgia. He holds a Ph.D and a Master of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Jim and his wife, Janet, live in Dallas, Texas. They have two sons and four grandchildren.

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An "unprecedented" threat on the Gulf Coast
This satellite image released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shows Tropical Storm Laura in the North Atlantic Ocean, Friday, Aug. 21, 2020. (AP Images)

The year 2020 continues to make history for all the wrong reasons.

The good news is that Hurricane Marco weakened overnight to a tropical storm before it makes expected landfall on the Louisiana coast later today. The bad news is that Tropical Storm Laura is forecasted to strengthen to a hurricane before it makes landfall late Wednesday or early Thursday. 

Parts of Louisiana will start to see the effects of Laura by Wednesday morning, after Marco leaves the state Tuesday evening. National Weather Service meteorologist Benjamin Scott said, “The unprecedented kind of thing here is that it’s the same state within forty-eight hours of each other.” 

And this is happening in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic; the Louisiana Department of Health reported 1,223 more cases and fifty-nine more deaths in the last two days.  

In a year filled with so many challenges at the same time, Christians can make a transforming difference in our culture. However, there’s an empowering key we need to remember. 

When we are more Socratic than biblical

I teach the history of Western thought in the doctoral program at Dallas Baptist University. In our study, we note that an essential shift comes early in our intellectual history with Socrates’ dictum “Know yourself.” 

Four centuries before Christ, Socrates taught that we know truth by knowing ourselves. This focus on the individual as the locus of knowledge, in contrast to truth known through the community or by divine revelation, has been foundational to secular culture from his day to ours. 

Even evangelical Christians can be more Socratic than biblical. 

In answer to Jesus’ imperative “You must be born again” (John 3:7), we rightly emphasize the urgency of personal faith in our Savior. We know that God wants us to know him in a transforming, personal way. 

However, seen through the Socratic lens of our culture, this emphasis on individual faith can lead us to believe that once we have decided to trust Jesus, we have done all that Jesus asks of us. Our focus is more on the act of faith than on its Object. 

By contrast, God’s word teaches that choosing to believe in Jesus is only the beginning. 

God “never asks us to decide for him”

Oswald Chambers notes that our Lord “never asks us to decide for him, but to yield to him, a very different thing.” Why should we “yield” to Jesus? 

Jesus’ first beatitude is the foundation of the Sermon on the Mount that follows: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). The word translated “poor” (ptochos) means to be so impoverished as to have nothing at all. 

To be this impoverished “in spirit” is to recognize the depth of our spiritual depravity. It is to admit that, like all other humans, we have “sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). It is to acknowledge further that “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:23). 

Chambers explains: “If I know I have no strength of will, no nobility of disposition, then Jesus says—Blessed are you, because it is through this poverty that I enter his kingdom. I cannot enter his kingdom as a good man or woman, I can only enter it as a complete pauper.” 

When we admit our desperate need for our Father’s transforming love and grace, we will come to him as a dying patient comes to his doctor. As David testified, “My soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1). 

Salvation in three tenses 

The knowledge that “nothing good dwells in me” (Romans 7:18) extends from my need for salvation to my need for sanctification as well. A painter can paint only the parts of the canvas he can touch. A surgeon can heal only the patient who is submitted to her care. 

If we limit our submission to God to our salvation, we miss all that he can do with the rest of our lives. If we do not begin every day by surrendering that day to his lordship, we miss all he can do in and through us across that day. 

Biblical salvation is in three tenses: we have been saved and justified (1 Corinthians 6:11), we are being saved and sanctified (1 Thessalonians 5:23), and we will be saved and glorified (2 Corinthians 3:18). By focusing only on the first, we miss the second and are unprepared for the third. 

The secret of life is not to “know yourself” but to “know Jesus” with intimate and passionate dependence on him. 

“There is no relationship more satisfying” 

When we know Jesus through holistic submission to his lordship, we will be empowered and impassioned to make him known. Others will see the transformational difference he makes in our lives. Our faith will move from Sunday to Monday, from religion to the “real world.” And we will act as the salt and light we are (Matthew 5:13–16). 

Craig Denison captures the urgency of this opportunity: “There is no source of true love apart from [Jesus]. There is no relationship more satisfying than one with our God. There is no identity more freeing than being the child of the Creator. And there is no real grace outside of his overwhelmingly patient heart.” 

Craig adds: “Your God is patient toward you, waiting with expectation in his heart for what he can do in your life.” 

The next step is yours.