religion versus the gospel


I am continually amazed by the never-ending tug of religiosity on my heart. I have been saved by grace, I live in grace, I thank God for grace, but I often fall back into religion. This, I believe, is the default wiring of the human (because of sin). We are born with a relentless desire to self-justify and promote ourselves because of our self-righteousness.

So, what are some distinctions between religion and the gospel? None of these are all that clever and neither are they ingenuous sparks of originality. Others have said the same things in a much more articulate fashion. Nevertheless, here are a few observations regarding the gospel versus religion as seen in Luke’s narrative.

1. Religion despises wicked people, but Jesus calls wicked people to Himself: Within religious thinking, some people are far worse than others. We see this exemplified by the words and actions of the Pharisees. They were horrified by the kinds of people Jesus spent time with and professed love for in his day-to-day ministry. The very people the religious elite rejected because of their self-righteous religiosity were the people Jesus pursued and called to follow Him. The gospel tells us we are all wicked people and we need Jesus to call us to Himself.

2. Religion demands payment, but Jesus cancels debts: Religious people rightly recognize that we owe God a great debt for our sin. However, they wrongly assume that we can work hard enough and do enough good to pay our sin debt. Jesus is clear in that we cannot pay our debt, He must cancel our debt (from our perspective) by paying our debt (God’s perspective) with His obedience, death, burial, and resurrection. We are bankrupt. We have nothing to offer God. So, Jesus pays the debt we cannot pay. Religion says pay your own debt, the gospel says the debt is paid for all who repent and believe.

3. Religion is cruel, but Jesus is compassionate: Religion is all about self. On the surface religion appears to be about God, but when we get to the heart of the issue we see that the object of our worship is the god of self. This is a cruel thing on two levels. 1) Religion is cruel because it promises salvation, but it never delivers. 2) Religion causes us to be cruel to those we see as less “holy” than ourselves. Religion says we are “clean” and others are dirty. Whereas the gospel tells us that we are all sinful and defiled people. None are clean. So, Jesus comes to us and for us. Jesus becomes unclean for us and with us. He takes our sin on Himself and gives us His righteousness. Just as the Good Samaritan has compassion on the unclean man in the ditch, Jesus has compassion on sinners and comes for us.

4. Religion demands endless work, but Jesus gives rest: Religion is a system with “daddy issues.” Think about it. If you had a cruel and unloving father, you probably spent much of your life trying to gain his attention, to make him proud, to gain his affection. Religion is a system that puts our “daddy issues” on a cosmic scale. Religion says God is a cruel Father that you must work endlessly to gain His attention, His approval, and His affection. False. The gospel says that God loves you because of God. Your performance doesn’t earn His attention, approval, or affection. The gospel says that in Christ we have God’s undivided attention. In Christ, because of His performance for us in our place, we have God’s approval. The gospel says that God demonstrates His love for us in that while we were sinning against Him, Christ came and died for sinners (Rom. 5:8). In Jesus, we find rest. We don’t have to earn or prove anything. We rest in Christ.

5. Religion says we determine our worth by our effort, but Jesus says you are valuable (as you are): Religion sees some people as worthless. According to religion, some people have gone too far and sinned to much to be found and loved by God. Religion says that if we even want a chance at earning God’s love we must search hard and diligently to find God. The gospel says the opposite. The gospel says you cannot find your way back to God. So, God comes searching for us. The gospel says God comes for us because even when we are lost we have value to Him. The value of something is determined by the price paid for it. Jesus purchased His people by shedding His priceless blood. So, we  are valuable. We are not valued because of our efforts, but based upon the price paid for us.


being a faithful pastor


I am genuinely concerned by a phenomenon taking place in evangelical Christianity. No, its not some kind of insidious plot to overthrow orthodoxy. Nor is it a conspiracy to undermine missional efforts. Instead, it is the attitude that serving a local church is a means to an end. Far too many men who are “called” to ministry view the local church as the place to build their brand and establish a platform. It seems that many seminary students have dreams of becoming the next Matt Chandler, John Piper, or David Platt. Few desire to be Steve Lewis.

Who is Steve Lewis, you ask? Exactly! I didn’t know him either. However, the city in which I pastor is littered with people whom “Pastor Steve” impacted. Evidently he was a man who really believed the gospel, faithfully served his church, and then died. What’s my point? Well, “Pastor Steve” never wrote a book (to my knowledge), never spoke at a major conference, and he didn’t have a blog or his own personal logo. He was simply a faithful pastor whose gospel legacy has lived on well beyond his life.

My fear is that we have so many guys aiming to be the next David Platt (and sorry guys…99.9% of you will miss this target), that they will never become Steve Lewis. Genuine pastoral ministry isn’t flashy, it is faithful service. It isn’t about building a brand, it is about making much of Jesus. It isn’t about building a platform, it is about advancing the kingdom. 

If you serve Christ as a faithful pastor like Matt Chandler, John Piper, and David Platt have and in the midst of this service God gives you a platform, then use it well. However, Chandler, Piper, and Platt were not aiming to be the next Adrian Rodgers or Charles Spurgeon. They were aiming to be guys like Steve Lewis. Don’t aim for fame. Purpose to be faithful. Wait, don’t just purpose to be faithful. Instead, pray that God would keep you faithful. 

The Watchtower and the Word


My friend Stephen Bedard has written a new book on engaging Jehovah’s Witnesses. I’m looking forward to reading it.

Check out the description from his website:

“Have you ever tried to have a conversation with a Jehovah’s Witness? You have all the right intentions but the conversation quickly goes down a dozen rabbit trails. How can you have a productive conversation?

My new book, The Watchtower and the Word, is an attempt to provide the resources you need. Although it is a response to What Does the Bible Really Teach? it really is a guide to having a good conversation with Jehovah’s Witnesses without getting sidetrack on the nonessential issues. The book is purposely short so that it is accessible to laypeople. And yet it is based on careful research. The Watchtower and the Word is written in a respectful way and it is one of my hopes that you will be able to get a Jehovah’s Witness to read it in exchange for you reading their material.

Make sure to get your copy now.” – Stephen J. Bedard

book released: Joseph Smith’s Tritheism


My new book, Joseph Smith’s Tritheism, was just released. WIPFSTOCK_Template

It is freshly available through both Amazon and Wipf & Stock.

I am very thankful for the kind endorsements from the following academics:

“Hartman shows that a grasp of historic Trinitarian thought matters. In this context, it matters for Christians seeking to understand and evaluate the doctrine of God held by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. By carefully articulating Joseph Smith’s classic tritheistic view against the historic Nicene Creed, Hartman offers the reader—whether Christian or Mormon—a framework for such a conversation. In this respect, this is a unique and timely work.”
—Ed Smither, Professor of Intercultural Studies, Columbia International University

“Dayton Hartman’s well-researched and well-reasoned book serves as a reminder that a proper understanding of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity—in its biblical and historical context—is necessary to accurately evaluate the theological claims of Mormonism, not to mention other departures from orthodoxy. Hartman ably shows that Mormonism’s view of deity is deficient and that creedal Christianity, which is a truthful distillation of the Scriptures, is not.”
—Paul Copan, Pledger Family Chair Professor of Philosophy and Ethics, Palm Beach Atlantic University

“In his excellent book, Dayton Hartman not only carefully explores the basis for the historic Christian doctrine of the Trinity but he skillfully compares that Nicene orthodoxy with the tragic tritheistic theology of the Mormon prophet, Joseph Smith. Hartman provides a thoughtful explanation of the various theological, historical, and cultural influences that shaped Smith’s basic beliefs about God. This is an important and valuable theological-apologetics work.”
—Kenneth Samples, Senior Research Scholar, Reasons to Believe

“In the light of Mormonism’s recent claims to be a valid Christian denomination, Dayton Hartman provides a thorough critique of its tritheism. By displaying Joseph Smith’s beliefs and motivations, as well as contemporary efforts to conceal this heresy, he capably shows that it is incompatible with the Bible and early Christian doctrine. A solid treatment exemplifying careful academic interaction with aberrant theology.”
—Winfried Corduan, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy and Religion, Taylor University

“This book provides a starting point for discussions on Trinitarian doctrine and its heterodox expressions. This is a thought provoking work that offers a solid foundation for further research on these (and related) issues.”
—Leo Percer, Associate Professor of Biblical Studies, Liberty University Baptist Theological Seminary

“Dayton Hartman’s Joseph Smith’s Tritheism offers readers significant insight into the cultural milieu out of which Smith’s doctrine of God emerged. No false doctrine ever arises out of thin air, and Hartman traces the religious influences that led Smith to a false understanding of the nature of the Godhead. . . . This is a must read for anyone interested in false religions and in the history of religions in America.”
—Fred Smith, Associate Professor of Theology and Biblical Studies, Liberty University Baptist Theological Seminary