About Matthew R. Olson


Posts by Matthew R. Olson:

The Biggest Lie About Grace

We are comfortable talking about grace when it comes to our justification but become incredibly uneasy when applying it to the Christian life. It’s almost as if the word “grace” has become “dangerous” and “too risky.” How is it that the very means of authentic Christianity is something we have come to fear? Fear drives us to control people with rules and regulations. These have no power to produce what pleases God but instead only bring about a kind of religious moralism that is very far from genuine Christianity. And we feel safe?

Tullian Tchividjian addresses these thoughts in the forward of the excellent book Give Them Grace by Elyse M. Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson. He writes:

The biggest lie about grace that Satan wants Christian parents to buy is that grace is dangerous and therefore needs to be “kept in check.” By believing this, we not only prove we don’t understand grace, but we violate gospel advancement in the lives of our children. A “yes, grace, but…” disposition is the kind of fearful posture that keeps moralism swirling around in their hearts. And if there’s anything God hates, it’s moralism! …The irony of gospel-based sanctification is that those who end up obeying more are those who increasingly realize that their understanding with God is not based on their obedience but on Christ’s. In other words, the children who actually end up performing better are those who understand that their relationship with God doesn’t depend on their performance for Jesus but on Jesus’s performance for them.

He continues on with this powerful statement,

Long term, sustained gospel-motivated obedience can come only from faith in what Jesus has already done, not fear of what we must do. Any obedience not grounded in or motivated by the gospel is unsustainable.

Don’t believe the lie. Grace is not just for saving, it is for living.

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More or Less on Relevance

Relevance should not be our goal, but neither should irrelevance—either pursuit can derail us. Jesus was simply relevant. He wasn’t chasing it or running from it. He ministered in the context of His culture without being contaminated by it. He was a friend of sinners and this fact bothered a lot of people.

The distinguishing marks of a follower of Christ should be the characteristics of Christ himself. Jesus was not into image management, regulations, or checklists of behavior. His mark was the fruit of the Spirit and it looked like this: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. It also looked like this: The undeniable works of God. We call this fruit, and this is the proof of true discipleship (John 15:8).

Cults and religious sects can put on “the look” and control behavior but they cannot manufacture fruit. Jesus did not put on special clothes or make up extra rules to live by. He did not stay away from sinners or build a wall and moat around his life and ministry. He lived among the people and looked like them, yet He still stood out. The difference was that He bore the fruit of the Spirit and the evidence of the works of His father. These radiated like the dawn of a new day. And nothing could be more relevant! Gospel living is relevant.

I would love to connect with you! If you have any questions or would like to connect please use the contact page.

Breaking Out of the Sub-Culture

It has been my growing concern that many of our churches have created a sub-culture that is not built on the Word but on a comfortable lifestyle of yesteryear. Often it is simply a conservative pragmatism that gives a false sense of separation and safety from “the world”. In reality it is nothing more than a pop culture taken from a different decade. The past culture is no more spiritual than today’s culture—only irrelevant. Orthodox churches are losing relevance and don’t even realize it. They are also losing the ability to be salt and light. And what troubles me most is that we are losing the next generation and then turning around and blaming the young people for abandoning their parent’s faith. It is not the faith they are abandoning. Forms, traditions, and methods maybe, but not the faith—in fact I think they are more in tune with theology and what the Bible says.

Walking into many church buildings is like stepping back in time – it is an entry to another world.  When children grow up in this environment they really struggle with communicating the gospel with the 21st century life. The separation they are taught is not biblical or theological separation, it is sectarian isolationism and it is crippling great commission work. My prayer is that we return to a biblical example of reaching this world the way Christ and the early church did – in the world but not of the world, current with our culture but not contaminated by it. Fruit is what God wants, it is what glorifies Him, it is what proves us to be disciples, and it is what brings joy into the church. It is possible to be both biblical and relevant. Let’s be salt and light in 2012!

I would love to connect with you! If you have any questions or would like to connect please use the contact page.

Vidcast with Steve Viars

Steve Viars, pastor of Faith Church in Lafayette, IN, brought a stirring message to us last week in chapel. In this vidcast he talks about reaching into the community with the gospel.

I would love to connect with you! If you have any questions or would like to connect please use the contact page.

Transparency and Candidness from Brian Fuller

At the beginning of the month Brian Fuller, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Concord, NH, wrote a transparent and candid post about this generation of students and young people. I think that much of what he says is helpful and is accurate. Why have young people been bailing from the church in epidemic numbers? It is easy to put the blame here or there or on that thing over there, but Fuller accurately says that we must first look at ourselves. Take a look at this article and I think you’ll find that he is accurate in his writing.

I would love to connect with you! If you have any questions or would like to connect please use the contact page.

Steve Viars in Chapel

Steve Viars challenged our students on Wednesday about the incredible opportunities that the church has in reaching its community. He warned against a “fortress mentality” and urged us to reach out in good works that open up gospel opportunities. It was one of the most challenging messages I have heard from the Northland pulpit. Steve is pastor of Faith Church in Lafayette. I would encourage you to listen to this sermon by clicking on to our website. We were also glad Steve was able to bring his wife Kris and their son Andrew. Thank you Steve for serving our students with the Word!

I would love to connect with you! If you have any questions or would like to connect please use the contact page.

Northland Alumni Team Up to Church Plant

In the picture above you’ll see Jon and Lacy Cummins, Josh and Celeste Brown, Joe and Charity Fox, and Lead Elder Rick and Kristin Dobrowolski of Allentown Bible Church. They joined us with a number of other for our alumni for a get-together in Allentown, PA.

This past weekend Cary Smith and I enjoyed connecting with two groups of Northland alumni—one in Northeast Philadelphia and the other in Allentown, PA. Few things have given me greater encouragement than reconnecting with our grads! Teams of our graduates and their families are pulling together to plant churches in Pennsylvania that in turn are planting other churches. And rather than spending years on the road trying to raise support, these couples are stepping right into the work by securing secular jobs and sharing the leadership and responsibility. It seems to be an effective model. Allentown Bible Church is one example of those who are jumping in and engaging the community. They are building relationships in their neighborhoods, community centers, and work places. As time goes on these churches will grow and be able to financially support the pastors and teachers.

I like the team concept. It gives a synergy and accountability to the work as well as an acceleration to reaching people with the gospel. When we say, “go where the gospel isn’t,” we realize there are still places around us where people have not heard. This particular church plant, like many others I am seeing, is going intentionally to these kinds of places. It challenges us in our roles at Northland to continue to not only strengthen our Bible core but to improve the skill sets that will help bi-vocational ministers (discover, develop, deploy concept). This seems to be the model that is working today—teams going to needy and difficult areas who are willing to roll up their sleeves and accept a bi-vocational roll with enthusiasm.

I would love to connect with you! If you have any questions or would like to connect please use the contact page.

Embracing Obscurity | A Review by Trevin Wax

Yesterday Trevin Wax posted a review about an anonymous book, Embracing Obscurity: Becoming Nothing in Light of God’s Everything. This book looks to be a helpful reminder that we are nothing compared to God. God is so much bigger than who we think we can be and we must be content to be in that place. Check out Trevin’s post over at The Gospel Coalition site for his review and consider picking this up to read.

I would love to connect with you! If you have any questions or would like to connect please use the contact page.


If we believe in the sufficiency of the gospel and its unique power to change the life, and if we believe that this working can only happen from the inside-out, then why do we put so much emphasis on external things? Why is it that churches slowly become consumed with image management, personal performance, and acceptable associations—rather than the gospel? Is there a lost confidence in the power and sufficiency of the gospel? Have we found a substitute for grace?

Timothy S. Lane and Paul David Tripp address this problem in their book How People Change. They describe our efforts as attempts to fill “the gospel gap” with externalism. The result is a counterfeit gospel. They list seven ways the gospel gets replaced (I have added some brief comments after each):

  1. Formalism: Going through the motions of Christianity
  2. Legalism: Measuring spirituality with a list
  3. Mysticism: Basing spiritual growth on experiences
  4. Activism: Allowing a cause to be your primary attention
  5. Biblicism: Mastering the Word without it mastering you
  6. Psychology-ism: Being preoccupied with the needs of people
  7. Social-ism: Developing unhealthy dependences on other people

Whether we like to admit it or not, we can get the theology of the gospel right on paper, but quickly desert it in practice for one of these attractive counterfeits…and yes, we all have a tendency to do that.

The gospel IS all-sufficent. It is the good news of the person and work of Jesus Christ—from eternity to eternity. The gospel is so much more than “getting or being saved,” it is how we are to live every day.

I would love to connect with you! If you have any questions or would like to connect please use the contact page.