56:49 · October 10, 2023
Prepare to be enlightened, challenged, and inspired as you join McKay Caston and Jim on this profound exploration of the grandeur of the gospel. McKay shares his personal journey from self-reliance to the liberating concept of grace, including the timeless truths within the book of Galatians and discovering what repentance truly means. This conversation invites us to look honestly at our need for Jesus and how that uncomfortable honesty paves the pathway to a renewed and fruitful life.
Prepare to be enlightened, challenged, and inspired as you join McKay Caston and Jim on this profound exploration of the grandeur of the gospel. McKay shares his personal journey from self-reliance to the liberating concept of grace, including the timeless truths within the book of Galatians and discovering what repentance truly means. This conversation invites us to look honestly at our need for Jesus and how that uncomfortable honesty paves the pathway to a renewed and fruitful life.
Thank you for listening! If you found this conversation encouraging or helpful, please share this episode with your friends and loved ones. Or please leave us a review—it really helps!
Our guest for this episode was McKay Caston, pastor, author, and professor of theology and homiletics at Metro Atlanta Seminary. This episode was hosted by Jim Lovelady. Production by Anna Madsen, Aaron Gray, Brooke Herron, Ashlie Kodsy, and Sunny Chi. Music by Tommy Leahy.
𝑮𝒓𝒂𝒄𝒆 𝒂𝒕 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝑭𝒓𝒂𝒚 𝑷𝒐𝒅𝒄𝒂𝒔𝒕 is produced by SERGE, an international missions agency that sends and cares for missionaries and develops gospel-centered programs and resources for ongoing spiritual renewal. Learn more and get involved at serge.org.
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Questions or comments? Feel free to reach out to Serge’s Renewal Team anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org
Welcome to the Grace at the Fray—a podcast that explores the many dimensions of God’s grace that we find at the frayed edges of life. Come explore how God’s grace works to renew your life and send you on mission in His Kingdom.
0:00:24 Jim Lovelady: Hello, beloved, welcome to Grace at the Fray. And before I forget, I know I don’t do this enough, but it’s probably because I don’t like being bossed around by some computer algorithm, but I want this podcast to be seen and heard by as many people as possible. So I guess I have to play the game. And you can play the game with me too. If you would go leave a rating on your podcast platform, like, and subscribe if you’re watching on YouTube, and share this podcast with as many people as you can. And just by doing those simple things, you’re sharing Grace at the Fray. Thanks. And, hey, go team.
Now today’s conversation is with McKay Caston. He’s a pastor, author, seminary professor who loves talking about the grandeur of the gospel, and he loves the mountains. But we’ll get into that later.
He wrote a Bible study for us as part of our gospel-centered life in the Bible series, and this one is on the book of Galatians. So I called him up so that we could talk about his book. And as we get into this episode, I highly recommend that you read the book of Galatians real quick, or go to your Bible app and listen to it. Before you jump into this conversation, and just to change things up, try reading it in Eugene Peterson’s version, The Message. It’s really good. So I’ll pause here so that you can go do that.
0:01:50 Jim Lovelady: Hey, welcome back. Parts of Galatians may have felt confusing, others energizing, I even say somewhat overwhelming. However you feel after engaging with Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, bring that with you as you listen to McKay Caston talk about the grandeur of the gospel that he discovered as he studied Galatians. Without saying too much about my conversation, I will simply say this interaction invites us into an uncomfortable honesty, one that we often try to avoid. It’s an honesty that ignores the “fake it till you make it” idea, and instead, paves a pathway right to the strength and kindness of Jesus. I know you’ll enjoy this one, so let’s go for it.
–McKay Caston, welcome to Grace at the Fray. Thanks for coming on, man.
0:02:46 McKay Caston: Thank you, man. It’s great to be here.
0:02:49 Jim Lovelady: Yeah, I’m looking forward to this conversation. I’ve been hanging out in the book of Galatians. I was listening to it in a couple different translations and just freshening up as I was reading through your book that you just wrote. So, what I wanna do is I wanna hear about you and what’s your story? Where are you from, what are you up to? What have you been up to? What are you passionate about? And yeah, tell us a little bit about who you are, but then I wanna jump into this little book on Galatians, the study that you wrote. So yeah, what’s your story?
0:03:27 McKay Caston: Yeah. Well, again, Jim, thanks for letting me be here. This is a lot of fun. And my name is McKay Caston, and I’m originally actually from Memphis, Tennessee. But my high school years were in Madison, Mississippi, a little north of Jackson, Mississippi, and from then went to Ole Miss, where I met my wife, Kristy. We’ve been married now for a little over 31 years. We’ve got three adult children, 27, 25, and 19. I have been a pastor now in the PCA for 28 years in a variety of places and different kinds of contexts. Most recently as a church planter, for Creekstone Church just north of Atlanta in a town called Dahlonega. And it’s a little small college town at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, right where the Appalachian Trail starts. And so it’s a beautiful place to live.
We love being here. Although we still live in Dahlonega, I did transition from 12 years at the church plant to where I now serve, which is Metro Atlanta Seminary. I teach theology, teach homiletics, or preaching for ordinary folks. And I lead the doctor of ministry program and direct the residency for our church planters who are in our M.Div program. And if you asked about passion, it really is a dovetail from… It goes way, way, way back. But kind of the metaphor for it was sparked, I think when we first drove into Dahlonega for the very first time when we moved from Mississippi, the Mississippi Delta to Atlanta to work with Perimeter church and planted church somewhere in North Georgia. I didn’t even know there were mountains in Georgia. And, of course, most of Georgia is not mountains, but the part that is, is absolutely breathtaking.
0:05:35 McKay Caston: And so we were looking at some smaller towns and we drove up to Dahlonega and we drove up from Atlanta. And before you come into the town, you go over a small little mountain, and at the top of this, you overlook the city. And in the background is this stunning mountain panorama of rolling mountains. You’ve seen pictures of the… Even maybe like the Smokies where you have mountain after mountain after mountain. And I saw that, and my jaw dropped. I couldn’t believe it. It was just so beautiful. And it was such that I was like compelled from that point on to begin exploring. It was like, there are so many trails, there’s so many creeks, there’s so many vistas. And, it is like, I saw that, and as we were thinking about planting a church, I’m like, that’s what I want. I want people to have an experience and an encounter with the grace of God that is jaw-dropping, but that never grows familiar. So that I never wanted to drive over that mountain and see the panorama and go, yeah, I’ve seen that.
0:06:50 McKay Caston: And so it was like, so from that came this mission statement, I guess even for the church, which was to glorify God by helping people come alive to the wonder, the beauty and the transforming power of God’s grace by magnifying the cross of the risen and reigning Jesus. And I wanted that to be central in everything that we did and everything that my life was about from not just the church stuff, but my own life, my own heart, my relationship with my wife and my kids. I really wanted that for all of us. I’m really grateful for Dahlonega for giving that visual picture that kind of became kind of the catalyst for what would become a lifelong mission of desiring people to come alive. And that idea of coming alive it’s kind of like that Claritin commercial, there’s like that allergy, the medication.
0:07:51 Jim Lovelady: Oh right, the veil is lifted.
0:07:53 McKay Caston: Yeah, it’s like unclear, or the first part of the commercial is almost like black and white, just kind of hazy. And you can see stuff, but then with Claritin, oh man, the picture changes and the veil is lifted, so to speak, and you see from black and white to this dynamic living color, that’s the idea of coming alive, that what we’ve seen before possibly, has just new life to it. That’s kind of, I guess, where the passion is, whether it’s preaching or writing or just even conversation. This is really the heart of…
0:08:30 Jim Lovelady: Yeah. Everything always. Yeah. It’s… I love that. I love that because, if I have a shortage of the transcendent in my… If I get a sense of a shortage of the transcendent, a shortage of awe and wonder of the joy that just kind of surprises you, I’ll go to the mountains or I’ll go to the ocean and my son and I we’re just at the beach and I love to just be out in the waves swimming around and just lifted by a wave and tossed around by something that’s just… And when you get smacked by a wave, you recognize that, whatever amount of gallons of water that just hit me compared to the vast ocean, this little bitty bit of ocean just slapped me around, like I’m a little baby or something. And it’s the same when you go to the mountains, you come up and over a crest and you see just vast rolling, and it’s, the fog comes in and you just see the grandeur. This is way bigger than me, and it’s way more glorious than I can comprehend. For that to be a metaphor for how you planted the church, it’s pretty beautiful because, luckily Jesus called you to plant the church, because if he didn’t, the mountains would’ve lured you in and you would’ve done it anyway, but that’s awesome.
0:10:00 McKay Caston: Yeah. I do admit, self-interest in that, when I first saw those mountains, there’s no doubt about it. I even, one time I asked somebody is it okay to love where you live as a church planter? And thankfully I’ve got some popular feedback.
0:10:17 Jim Lovelady: Yeah. He’s just like this is what you love, I’m gonna give you exactly what you want right here as you start this new endeavor, and that’s awesome.
0:10:26 McKay Caston: Yeah.
0:10:26 Jim Lovelady: So where did you first come in contact with Serge folks and the Serge culture, because your writings and you’ve done a lot for us and with new growth press, and so I’m curious about how that got started.
0:10:44 McKay Caston: Yeah, and I’m so grateful for this connection. Our lives really took a pretty significantly, radically different course when God providentially and so kindly introduced us to… Back then was World Harvest Mission. But in 1999, I was a new assistant pastor for a church, where a guy and his wife were coming to do a Sonship weekend. His name is Johnny Long, his wife Becky.
0:11:17 Jim Lovelady: Yes.
0:11:19 McKay Caston: And he came to my house. We were having little small groups where he would give little presentations, and he came into my house one evening and he shared his testimony, and absolutely rocked my world where he confessed that for so many years, he had essentially been trying to build a reputation, build a name for himself on the platform of his ministry, using Jesus to gain a worldly righteousness for himself. He said, my family had to look perfect, my ministry had to look strong and successful because it was all just idolatry. And when he shared that it was really as if our David and Nathan is saying, you are the man. It was like, this is the same thing. I told…
0:12:19 Jim Lovelady: His life was a parable for your life.
0:12:23 McKay Caston: Yes. It was just amazingly penetrating to my heart where I was sitting there and on my own sofa saying, I know the gospel, I’ve taught this for a number of years already, I know this been to seminary and I can shuffle grace like a pack of cards. I’ve got this down, and yet it is not really, I think, penetrate deeply with showing me where my true functional righteousness was which was not Jesus. It was building a ministry reputation. And when that struck me, I was like, Johnny, oh my, somehow we’ve gotta follow up with this. So he did a couple things. One, he gave me his Sonship for Africa manual that he had written while he was in Nairobi, Kenya doing work for World Harvest over there. And then he was kind enough to email me. We emailed on a regular basis. If we’d had Zoom, we would’ve zoomed back then, early 2000s. And so he became like a distance mentor in the gospel for me. And I began listening to not just him, but he introduced me, we had Tim Keller tapes, Scotty Smith and so many others that I began just ingesting everything I possibly could. I got the Sonship tapes, I had them on autoplay in my car.
0:13:46 McKay Caston: I got the manuals. And I would go to lunch with me and Jesus and the Sonship speakers and read the transcripts and holler at them and circle them. And just kind of had a second theological education from those resources, which just really began to bring me alive and do a lot of things that were needed in my marriage. It really readjusted how I saw my parenting. Because when you are demanding other people to be your righteousness before the world, that is a crushing burden that nobody can bear.
0:14:24 Jim Lovelady: Yeah. No one can do that.
0:14:25 McKay Caston: And good things do not result from that. And so I was so thankful for Johnny and for Becky. And then after planting, about 10 years later, we started planting. And it wasn’t a year in where I knew, and I was like, man, I gotta have more. I gotta have somebody speaking regularly this into my life. And so I tracked down Stu Batstone at a church planter conference, and he didn’t know me from anybody. And I went up to him and essentially begged him to take us on. I said, please let Kristy and I’d be some clients of yours. Do phone discipleship with Sonship with us, please.
0:15:05 Jim Lovelady: Oh, that’s awesome.
0:15:06 McKay Caston: And I really was begging, honestly, it became a begging issue because I knew he was busy. He was full. He didn’t have probably many slots left in his schedule. And he, again, kindly graciously agreed to do that. And that relationship has continued to be so special for us. We did a couple years of that and he kept discipling us and know how we needed that. Because Johnny Long would… He preached a sermon for me one time, and he talked about the gospel being a slippery bar of soap so we just get so hard to hold on to it.
0:15:44 McKay Caston: We keep losing it. And Stu’s illustration that some of Serge listeners you probably are familiar with are the distinction between the shark bite and the dolphin bump. Because when we were talking about repentance, in our phone discipleship my wife and I with Stu I was saying I’m always so quick to repent. I’m always saying, Hey, I’m sorry. And Kristy seems to be a lot slower to repent. And I was like, so I’m the better repenter obviously by far in our marriage. And he began to press that a little bit and asked some questions, and he said something that it was almost the same sort of, you are the man to, when Johnny was speaking in my living room back in ’99, where he looked at me through the camera and said, McKay, I’m not sure you have ever repented to your wife. And here we were at 20 years in almost, and it’s like this is…
0:16:45 Jim Lovelady: Right. Because… Go ahead. Go ahead.
0:16:46 McKay Caston: Awesome. He said you’ve treated your repentance like a dolphin bumping someone’s in the shore.
0:16:53 Jim Lovelady: That’s right.
0:16:54 McKay Caston: But in reality, you have taken a huge chunk. She’s bleeding out the water, she’s trying to get back to the beach, and you’re going, “Oh, I’m sorry. No, it’s okay. You’re a Christian, right? So you’re supposed to just easily, quickly forgive me.” And so he taught me how to stand in somebody else’s shoes that I have wounded, and to approach them as if I didn’t just bump them, but have really harmed them, and to take that on in my engagement with them. And that was so helpful. Oh, my goodness. Absolutely changed…
0:17:25 Jim Lovelady: Now, Stu’s metaphor for the fish… The shark fin I, when I’m doing Sonship I don’t have a real… Stu has a real shark, you know, and he’ll like put it on the screen.
0:17:37 McKay Caston: Yeah. [laughter]
0:17:37 Jim Lovelady: And I’ll just do like this with my hand.
0:17:40 McKay Caston: That’s good, yeah.
0:17:41 Jim Lovelady: And it’s like, you were functioning as if the whole… His whole metaphor is the sins that we can see are not what do the damage, it’s what’s lingering underneath that has lots and lots of really sharp teeth. And so he was just calling you out of like, look, stop focusing on the fin and start taking a look at the way that you’re damaging the people around you. And so how did that…
0:18:02 McKay Caston: Yeah. That’s good.
0:18:04 Jim Lovelady: I love how there’s so much joy in the way that you’re talking about you’re [chuckle] realizing like, oh man, what a mess I was. But that’s the… [laughter]
0:18:17 Jim Lovelady: Flip side of all of this, right? So talk about the joy…
0:18:20 McKay Caston: Oh, man.
0:18:20 Jim Lovelady: Talk about the joy. I mean, you’re kind of exuding it. I can see it in your face, but talk about it of when Johnny Long shows you and Stu shows you a picture of this is who you really are. This is how you’ve been behaving. Just ask the people who are closest to you. And how did Joy come out of that?
0:18:42 McKay Caston: Well, you know, there’s nothing more tiring and exhausting than living as a pharisee, having to keep up pretense and build something for yourself that people will recognize as valuable and praiseworthy. And it is exhausting. Absolutely exhausting wearing that armor. You know, it’s almost like David trying to wear Saul’s Armory. It was just clunking around on and he… It just didn’t fit. And so finally, well, how frame would it have been for David to say, this isn’t me. This isn’t really me, to take it off and be who he is and who he is been designed to be by the father and for us. When I learned through my Sonship mentors that the gospel is not just forgiveness of your sins, it is the actual imputation of Christ’s perfect record of righteousness that we now possess, that we get to wear. And it is like I’ve talked about it as if it’s like the green jacket at the Masters.
My father-in-law got me into golf back when I was dating my wife, Kristy. And after we got married, I thought he wanted to bond with me, but that was not the real reason why he got me into golf. He wanted to see a preacher curse. And that is the most effective way to accomplish that goal is to put somebody who is not skilled at golf on a golf course with tools, who do not fit the ball. And I realized that was his real motivation. That’s to say that no matter how long I practiced or how hard I worked at it, I’m never gonna win even an amateur golf tournament, much less the masters.
And yet in the gospel, it’s as if we come with these dirty rags into this beautiful manicured golf club. And someone who does have the gifting, does have the skill and wins the tournament and rightly owns their jacket, calls me over and exchanges my rags for him and he puts that green jacket on me as if I have won the tournament. And now I get to be a member of the club. I get to have all the rights and privileges. And so am I gonna now wear that green jacket around as if I have earned and woven this thing together somehow? That’s the greatest freedom and joy in the world is saying, “I no longer have to try to achieve this. It’s all about receiving something. And the one who gives it gets the glory.” And so the joy comes from the freedom in my experience. And so we focus on freedom and then the joy follows. But wearing the jacket, there’s so many different illustrations. But…
0:21:34 Jim Lovelady: Yeah. Yeah. That’s a great one.
0:21:36 McKay Caston: I think that’s probably what got me. And that even today, the ongoing need to proclaim that freedom to my own heart and to be able to repent of ongoing pretense. I mean, the flesh is a pharisee, whether it’s a religious pharisee or a worldly successful affairs or whatever it is. And man, the freedom to be able to rest and receive and possess is just the greatest joy in the world.
0:22:09 Jim Lovelady: Yeah. I love the green jacket metaphor. There’s this inevitability though, that keep running with that metaphor and you always run that metaphor until you’ve run it to the ground, right?
0:22:24 McKay Caston: Thank you.
0:22:25 Jim Lovelady: But this one is like… Right, the inevitability that of when Jesus puts the “green jacket of Christ’s righteousness,” He starts to make you really good at… For this metaphor, He makes you a really good golfer. He starts to turn you into His likeness. He makes us like Himself. And so the inevitability of, I will not… It’s not that we will ever earn the jacket. It’s that I will reflect the one who has brought me into His Kingdom. And I’m going to be a person [chuckle] who’s way better 1000 years from now, way better at loving people than I am today, a million years from now, even way better. So the inevitability of this, like when he puts the jacket… When he closes with righteousness, the inevitability of justification, sanctification, glorification is just, it’s there. So again, I…
0:23:37 McKay Caston: Yeah. And even to say even go a little bit more into that with what you’re saying, especially with regard to the outworking of the changed life, which I think is something that people always tend to push on. It’s like, okay, so we’re talking about this grace so much, we’re talking about the joy, we’re talking about the freedom. Well, what about the change? What about… And so what I learned from the Galatians study and what I’ve learned from Johnny, from Stu, from so many other Sonship mentors, from so many of the World Harvest and Serge teachers, from so many other folks, that have helped me. What I’ve learned is something significant about two things. One, is repentance and faith. And over the last couple of years, something has tweaked a little bit in my understanding of repentance. It really helped. And essentially the difference for me in studying this and experiencing it is that we tend to talk about or define repentance. And I realized the Westminster Confession uses this term. And so I’m not anti-Westminster Confessions at all.
0:24:54 Jim Lovelady: Right.
0:24:54 McKay Caston: I think we actually need to define this in a different way. So here’s what I’m saying. We often define repentance as turning from our sin to Jesus. And we know what that means, but what it sounds like is stop sinning and start obeying. Or we could say, I’m making a promise and resolve to not do my sin anymore, but to follow Jesus. And I think that if we just change one small preposition, then everything is gonna change as far as understanding justification, adoption, and sanctification. That if I can say, okay, repentance is not first and foremost turning from my sin to Jesus, but what if it’s turning with my sin to Jesus?
0:25:46 Jim Lovelady: Right, right, right, right.
0:25:48 McKay Caston: So what happens now is that when I turn with my sin to Jesus and I give him my rags, that’s repentance. He then offers me the green jacket, this robe of righteousness, this perfect record that cannot be faded or soiled or it’s totally unchanging. It is now mine. That’s gospel faith that I get to put my arms in it and I get to be clothed in it. It’s saying, “This is now mine.” So I’m confessing, I’m receiving.
0:26:22 McKay Caston: But then in that transaction, so to speak, when I am willing to turn with my sin to Jesus, His Spirit begins to fill me like the branch and the vine metaphor that Jesus says, if you abide in me, then I will abide in you. The sap of the Spirit will fill you. You’ll have new desires. You’ll have new abilities. So that now turning with my sin to Jesus, I’m enabled by the Spirit to turn from my sin, empowered by the Spirit to turn from my sin and to endeavor to new life and to experience the power of the Spirit of resurrection life and new fruitfulness. But all of that is a work of God. Justification, work for me, sanctification, his work in me. He gets the glory for all of that. And so that again, the freedom and the joy and his glory in it all is something that really has helped me in my study of Galatians.
0:27:22 Jim Lovelady: Yeah. So let’s talk about the book that you wrote because it’s a small group Bible study with the leader’s notes in the back, which I think is really awesome. We’ll talk about that later. But what was it that attracted you to Galatians, writing a study on Galatians, and what was your hope for readers, for small groups? What’s your hope for how they would receive and use the message of this book?
0:27:56 McKay Caston: Yeah, that’s a great question. And really, it’s a little mundane in the original answer to this because what happened… What got the ball rolling with this is that I got connected with Patrick Knack at Serge and we began talking about doing something collaboratively, some sort of writing resource, but didn’t know what it would be. And so we brought Barbara Juliani from New Growth Press into the conversation and we began brainstorming ideas. And the whole thing about the gospel center of life and the Bible series came up and I asked, well, I’m sure that Galatians is taken. [chuckle]
0:28:38 McKay Caston: And it wasn’t. I’m like, are you kidding me?
0:28:42 Jim Lovelady: So you snatched it up.
0:28:44 McKay Caston: And so yeah, I said, if there’s any way you would be willing to entrust me with Galatians, I’ll tell you what, I’ll send you some old sermon notes on it that I did. It still feels a little fresh. So you look at this and if you think that there’s anything that could be helpful toward really redeveloping this into a book context, I would love to consider that. And all…
0:29:06 Jim Lovelady: That’s awesome. So what was it in particular, about… What is it…
0:29:10 McKay Caston: In particular, the reason why Galatians, I mean, we can talk about if you want to, the redemptive story of the whole Bible. Everything is gospel centered, so to speak, from Genesis to Revelation. But there’s something about having just preached a couple years earlier on Galatians and kind of realizing this is small, compact. It’s almost like the… What do they call it in a nuclear bomb? Like it’s the small plutonium core [chuckle] that has this massive explosive property. It’s a very small part of the bomb but I saw Galatians as being like that, because in Galatians, you see very clearly, you don’t have to search for it. It is, you see justification by grace through faith. It is just like your positional status is a gift. It is Christ’s, it is Jesus’ righteousness given to you. You see that also the grace of God and justification also sustains us. So they’re sustaining grace.
We don’t have to keep it up. The idea of the country club dues, another illustration that just imagine if there’s this country club that where you wanted to go play tennis or golf or swim or whatever it was. And the initial entry fee was $300,000 just to make an application. And what if somebody paid that for you? That’d be amazing gift. You mean, I’m in, that’s incredible.
0:30:45 Jim Lovelady: Right.
0:30:45 McKay Caston: But then you realize, oh, they’re ongoing monthly dues. And for most of us, those monthly dues would be untenable to pay. We’d get crushed under that.
0:30:58 Jim Lovelady: Right.
0:30:58 McKay Caston: We might go into some other… I might start trying to sell something on the side just to pay for my dues because we want to remain in good standing in the club. And if you don’t pay your dues, you might still be a member but you’re not really in good standing and your name might even go up on the wall. You don’t accept any payments from this guy. And I think that a lot of us have experienced church like that. We’ve been told Jesus pays for all your sins. He’s given you entrance into the club, but for some reason now you got to pay your dues to remain in good standing.
And what I want to realize and help me believe in others is that Jesus doesn’t just pay your entry fee. He actually pays the dues. And again, there’s tremendous freedom leading to joy in that. And so what happens is, is that with this justifying grace in Galatians, the sustaining grace of God that is taught in Galatians, you also see the sanctifying grace of God taught in Galatians. It’s all there. It all goes together. That once we are justified and adoption is very clearly in Galatians. Where once we’re adopted, the father’s not gonna let us go. We who are his now.
And so this whole idea of those components being part of such a small compact letter made me say, let’s dive into this because I can relate to the Galatians, especially in the Galatians 3:3 where he’s… Paul says who has bewitched you? Foolish Galatians. Before your very eyes, Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. So I’d like to learn just one thing from you. Tell me, did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? Again, that’s the kind of the entry fee, the dues. And so I can relate to them. I need to hear this.
And so the privilege of being able to write about it was one thing, but having it saturate my own heart in the process was just such an extra benefit. So that’s a little bit about, I guess, why Galatians.
0:33:22 Jim Lovelady: Yeah. In pastoral ministry, as well as in my own life, I see so often the tendency that we have to live under the burden of, hey, now that you’re in, get to work. Now that you’re in, go be a good Christian, earn your keep those kinds of… That are… It’s never articulated that way. Because as soon as you articulate it that way, people are like, Well, that doesn’t seem right. That doesn’t seem like grace. But we just kind of have this anxiety, just always this anxiety of like, have I done enough for Jesus? Am I good enough? Hey, I better not be open and vulnerable about my own heart and my sins and my struggles, because that would reveal that my name would get put up on the wall as someone like, don’t trust that person.
My mentor used to say this, if you spent two minutes in my mind you would not want me to be your pastor. And it’s that kind of anxiety of like, anybody who says, if you spent two minutes in my mind, if you walked in my shoes for two minutes, you would not want me to be in this club. And so I got to put up the kind of behavior that demonstrates that I belong here. And it’s self-manufactured and it’s such a burden. So while we have been given all rights to the Kingdom of God, we continually go back to, oh man, I guess I should probably pay my dues. I need to behave or whatever it is. So I feel that anxiety, I see that anxiety in folks that I’ve pastored and it’s soul-crushing. So…
0:35:12 McKay Caston: Yeah. I feel it so much. That’s why I realized it in my own life the reason why a lot of the Serge teaching on repentance over those years of being mentored has helped me so much, is that, what I would tend to do is in turning from my sin, which is the result of turning with our sin. But in thinking that I’m turning from my sin to Jesus, I would either go into a season of self-loathing where I would try to emotionally and mentally beat myself up enough where I was being crucified for my sin. If I could do that hard enough, long enough with enough tears, then maybe finally the Lord would look at me and say, okay, that’s enough. Your probation period is over you can get back in. But that leads to then promises of resolve. I promise you, I’m not going to do this again later. I’m not going to… And all that is just penance. That is self-oriented salvation rather than one where we look to Jesus alone and rest in his wounds for us.
And, so that’s where the change of life. We just… I want to believe the dynamic of grace is such that it only doesn’t renew us, save us, restore us, or reconcile us to the Father but it does actually do the renewing work on a ground level functional basis. Because what I tended to think too, and going from all of the figuring this stuff out, you swing from one pendulum swing to the other side. And so some can hear us talk about the law is the law is a bad thing. And the law is not a bad… The law is a beautiful… The law reflects the perfect character and righteousness.
0:37:01 Jim Lovelady: It’s the heart of God.
0:37:02 McKay Caston: Of God. Yeah. The bad news is that it shows us our own corruption, but it leads us to Jesus, where we find freedom from the penalty of that.
And as we abide in Jesus, and here’s the glorious thing about the law is that God has designed not only a material universe that operates with certain laws and properties, and if you defy them you can hurt yourself. If I don’t believe in gravity, that I can fly like a bird and jump off, it don’t work out. He’s also designed the moral universe.
So in the same way, his law as a moral parameter for how we are to flourish as humans is a good thing. And the question now is, okay, so why do I want to… Do I wanna flourish as a human? Of course I wanna flourish as a human being. I mean, do you wanna jump off a building? No. And so how do we do it? That’s the big question of sanctification is, okay, I know what I want to do. I have these new desires in my body and Jesus is cultivating my spirit within me.
So how? Well, it’s the same spirit that gives you the new desires, gives you the new ability. And so what happens is we get to experience greater human flourishing. That’s where sanctification is not a duty, it is a gift. In my opinion, I believe it is a gift to us that we should long for and desire but the only way we experience it is by greater abiding in Jesus as our justifier. Then we get to experience new desires, new abilities. So, we can go on for hours on this. Sorry to take the time on it.
0:38:45 Jim Lovelady: Right, right. No. No, it’s beautiful. It kind of leads to my next question because the idea… You kind of answered it already, but I want to hear you talk a little bit more about how you would want people who go through the study, who read through Galatians, like what’s your prayer for them. How do you want it to impact their spiritual growth?
0:39:10 McKay Caston: Yeah, that’s a good question too. I think that I would want someone going through this study from beginning to end to arrive at a place where they truly boast in the cross of Jesus. Where that truly, if not just a, I know I’m supposed to boast in the cross of Jesus, yay Jesus, yay cross. It is that this is the cross of Jesus and all the grace attached to that.
0:39:39 McKay Caston: Is the defining truth of my very life. But that is the epicenter that is, as the book says, it’s the true north right of who we are as believers. That just like, there’s a hub on the wheel of, it spokes to it that the center of this hub is the grace of God expressed to us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and his present reign and his future return. But that the center where Jesus is, where his blood is, it’s like Francis Schaeffer in one of my favorite books of all time, true spirituality. He speaks of the present value of Jesus’ blood, not the past or the future early, but the present. What does this mean for me right now in this moment? And what it does is it sets you free. It sets you free and leads to joy.
0:40:38 Jim Lovelady: That’s right. That’s right.
0:40:39 McKay Caston: And when something sets you free and leads to joy, what happens next? It’s a missional impulse. I have got to share this with somebody else. And just somebody else would’ve discovered in this, I loved how, Johnny Long would, in his, Sonship for Africa, talks about weakness evangelism. He doesn’t tell people what they need. He shares about what he has needed and how it is affecting him and invites them in to taste of this, if they sense a similar need, well, hey, it’s for you too. And that really changed my thinking on and joy in sharing the gospel. For what…
0:41:25 Jim Lovelady: Yeah. I’m gonna talk about how much I need Jesus and how much Jesus has done for me in front of you. [chuckle]
0:41:33 McKay Caston: That’s it.
0:41:33 Jim Lovelady: That’s it.
0:41:34 McKay Caston: It’s not complicated.
0:41:36 Jim Lovelady: Yeah. Oh, that’s so good. I love… So one of my favorite verses in all of the Bible, is Galatians 5:6 And I keep trying to get somebody to put this on a coffee mug, but people, I don’t know, maybe seeing on a little coffee mug in the morning, neither circumcision nor Uncircumcision, is of any value, but faith working itself out in love. My wife…
0:42:07 McKay Caston: You know what, that could be a great evangelistic tool. Take it to a coffee shop and stick it on your desk with your computer. You’re almost guaranteed to have somebody come up and say, what in the world is that coffee mug talking about?
0:42:19 Jim Lovelady: Yeah. What are you thinking? Yeah, so I think that for me, that has transformed the way that I [chuckle] it probably, it needs explanation. So tell me about that verse. Tell me your thoughts on that verse. It’s one of my favorites, so I don’t wanna talk about it. I wanna hear what you’ve talked about. You’re the one that wrote the study. [laughter]
0:42:42 McKay Caston: Well, yeah. I think that a lot of people would share your love of that particular text. And the way that has affected me is, again, shaped my understanding of both freedom in Jesus justifying grace and what the result looks like in sanctifying grace. Because Paul says the only thing that counts that matters, look, it’s faith expressing itself through love. So we have here is gospel faith where we are abiding in the vine. So we’re saying, my life, faith is in the finished work of what Jesus has accomplished for me. He has fulfilled the law for me. He has paid the debt for my sin. So as my sin bearer and my righteousness provider, what happens is now He becomes my sanctifier and that sap of the Spirit comes through the vine into the branch, and I begin to do what? Express love. So that love is the confirmational fruit of one who is abiding.
0:43:50 Jim Lovelady: That’s right.
0:43:54 McKay Caston: It’s not about the circumcision uncircumcision. It’s not about religious rights or rituals or do’s or don’ts. It’s a genuine personal conscious awareness of what Jesus has done, who he is for me. And so the idea of the love being the free of that, I think is really significant because when we think about sanctification, if we wanna really distill it down into a small little definition, sanctification is loving like Jesus.
0:44:23 Jim Lovelady: Yeah. There it is. Yeah.
0:44:24 McKay Caston: Not loving Jesus, but we do. But it’s loving like him so that we are transformed into those who fulfill the law at the most expansive, most fundamental level, because the, all the law is summarized, love God, love your neighbor. And so here we see Jesus perfectly fulfilling that. And now my own record is that positionally. But what happens is, as I abide in that there is a power that comes through by the Spirit to let me functionally manifest that actual righteousness in love for other people as I laid down my life for them, as he laid it down his life for me. So that one verse is loaded, but it’s really helpful because it takes both of those twin towers of gospel theology and puts them into something I think is really a beautiful picture.
0:45:19 Jim Lovelady: Yeah. It’s the… it’s neither following the rules and boasting and following the rules, nor doing whatever I want and boasting in what, doing whatever I want counts for anything but faith Working itself out in love. And so love becomes the litmus test for our faith, and it demonstrates. So if we have love, it’s demonstrating that we’re walking in faith, looking more and more like Jesus. And when it turns out, going back to Johnny Long or Stu Batston calling you out, basically being like, look, you’re not loving your wife well. And you’re like, oh, geez. Well, if you work that backwards, it means, well, your faith has been in the wrong things. And since your faith has been in the wrong things, it probably means that you’ve been boasting or trying to put yourself in a position to where you can boast about.
0:46:13 Jim Lovelady: For us in ministry it’s always like what Johnny Long said, it’s how amazing of a minister I can be. How amazing of a how amazing of a podcast host or how amazing of a Sonship mentor, how amazing of a worship leader, how amazing of a church planter I can be and just grasping for any opportunity to where maybe I’m not boasting we’re too good at our job to like boast out loud but maybe we’ll boast.
0:46:43 McKay Caston: Or say good sin managers. We can, you know.
0:46:46 Jim Lovelady: Exactly. Yeah. We’ll boast internally where it’s just like this [*wide hand motion*].
0:46:50 McKay Caston: Huge.
0:46:52 Jim Lovelady: Yeah, so that verse is, maybe I should put it on a mug because I need to see it every morning and be like, look, the litmus test for your day is faith in Jesus. Well, faith in Jesus is gonna work itself out in love. Faith in Jim is not going to work itself out in love. So drink your coffee and decide who you’re gonna trust today and follow. Follow the one who for freedom has set you free, you know?
0:47:24 McKay Caston: Yeah. Amen to that yeah That, well, you are getting at is something so important in analyzing how all these dynamics work in that you say love is the fruit. So, okay the Spirit produces love in me; received the Spirit by believing what I heard, by abiding in Jesus. And so even having the ability to abide is a work of the Holy Spirit regenerating grace in my life and all that was the eternal love of the Father. And so it’s just, again, the panorama of the mountains in Dahlonega is like the panorama of the gospel. It just, it’s as far wide and deep and high as you look. It is a glorious, glorious gift.
0:48:09 Jim Lovelady: Yeah. Oh I love that. Yeah. The metaphor is a beautiful metaphor because when you’re standing on a mountaintop, when you’re standing on, pick any verse in Galatians, and you’re gonna see the density of the glory there, which is, which is what’s so, so fun. But standing from there, you look at another peak and it’s like, well, let’s go over there. And as soon as you get over there yeah. You see a whole other vast panorama?
0:48:32 McKay Caston: That’s exactly right, man. Yeah.
0:48:35 Jim Lovelady: It’s just so grand and glorious. So how would you, I talked about how there’s a leader’s guide at the end, which I thought was really good because it offers, for someone who’s gonna lead a small group, it offers a little bit more of a theological and pastoral background to whoever wants to lead. So, how would you encourage leaders, small group leaders, as they’re working through this material? I mean, it’s really easy to feel intimidated by what Paul is saying and like, what in the world, [laughter], which is talking about Abraham and adoption and surrogate and all sorts of stuff Where you’re like, what in the world? How would you, how would you encourage a small group leader to use this material?
0:49:29 McKay Caston: Yeah And I want to, first of all with regard to the leader’s notes, especially the editorial team at New Growth Press were heroes for me, just so incredibly helpful Jack Clump and Howard especially not only an editorial gift of the grammar of the text, but in helping develop some of these study the leader’s guides for this, his theological insight into the gospel I really want to give a shout out to him and to commend his work. It is absolutely couldn’t have done it without Jack.
0:50:11 Jim Lovelady: I love it. It takes a village…
0:50:14 McKay Caston: As far as the leader is concerned, I would say a few things. One remember that as far as this small group time, Jesus is the hero even of the small group time so you don’t need to be the perfect answer, man or woman. You don’t need to have this thing go so smoothly that the end of it, you’d land it and it was like, man, what a great job. I would say lead from your own repentance. Your own need for the material. And be prepared to be vulnerable, even share where this has really challenged you and expose your own idols and where it’s called you to deeper repentance and more joyful faith to trust and rest in the finished work of Jesus because when we lead out of that weakness you can be sure, I believe that Jesus will show up with his strength to do his work in the group, so that it’s not about you. That it really becomes about him. Now we want that at the Spirit in us wants that. The flesh in us as any preacher, like myself tell you, wants our own name to be magnified, but we wanna magnify truly Jesus. So that’s how, I guess, essentially the easy, basic way to consider leading these groups. So obviously read the leader’s notes. They’re genius. They’re helpful. I didn’t write them. Jack did use those as a really, really great help.
0:51:44 Jim Lovelady: Well, I appreciate, I appreciate that you wrote this because I, and I’m glad that you [laughter] when you heard that Galatians was free, I’m glad that you raised your hand. I’ll take it. I’ll take it.
0:51:57 McKay Caston: Raise both hands. Come on, please.
0:52:00 Jim Lovelady: Yeah Give it to me. Give it to me. That’s so good. [laughter] yeah It’s beautiful. It’s a mystery. And I, yeah. I love that you started with the mountain metaphor, because that’s what it is it’s this beautiful transcendent, mysterious thing that I cannot but want to explore every single trail.
0:52:21 McKay Caston: Yep.
0:52:21 Jim Lovelady: It’s so good. Anyway, well, thank you so much for hanging out. Tell folks where they can find you, how they can follow you. ’cause this isn’t the only book you’ve written.
0:52:31 McKay Caston: Yeah. I mean, first of all, Jim, thank you for having me on. This has been a lot of fun. This has been great. It’s been good for my heart. Folks can find me at my website, mckaycaston.com. I’m also on Twitter @mckaycaston. I’m on Facebook but I love to hear from you if you’ve heard this and want to engage more, let me know. You’ll have to go deeper.
0:52:57 Jim Lovelady: Right on. Well, thanks brother. Blessings, man.
0:53:00 McKay Caston: Thanks, Jim.
0:53:08 Jim Lovelady: I feel like my conversation with McKay was something like a park ranger taking me to all of his favorite trailheads to some glorious mountains and saying, “If you go this way, it’s gonna be amazing. And if you go that way, it’s gonna be so beautiful. And if you go that way, it’s gonna be hard, but very rewarding.” As he guides us from one glorious topic of Galatians to the next, McKay’s study is a great trail map for the glorious mountains of the Book of Galatians. And when you stop to look around, the view is breathtaking. I would encourage you to pick up your copy of the Galatians study and check out our other resources at serge.org/resources.
And for more of McKay’s work, his other books and articles, go to McKaycaston.com. And if you’re planning to lead a study of your own, be it in a small group, dorm floor or with flat-mates, I wanna reiterate what McKay told us to do.
Be humble, be vulnerable, be okay not knowing the answers and see what the Holy Spirit does in and through that. And if you’re a leader in any capacity and you’re looking for ways to lead like Jesus, the one who became the servant of all.
We have a new course to offer you called Leadership Lab. This is a leadership training course that goes deeper than mere surface-level strategies, exploring a leadership style rooted in faith. Go to serge.org/leadership-lab for more information. Registration for the spring 2024 cohorts is now open.
And be sure to check out our show notes because they’re loaded with lots of useful resources worth exploring. It’s way better than the mindless death-scrolling that we often do on social media, right? But now I wanna leave you with something that I think is a very significant paradigm shift as we think about following Jesus.
Do you remember when McKay said, “Repentance is not turning from our sin to Jesus, but turning with our sin to Jesus.” I want you to settle in with that idea, mold that over in your mind and understand how significantly glorious that is. The implications of this are far-reaching, but it always goes back to how incredible God’s grace is towards us. The continual invitation for those who are weak and heavy-laden is that Jesus promises to give us rest, but we have to relinquish our fear, control, reputation, sense of power, prestige. Is the rest that God offers worth giving those things up?
Well, that’s what I want to hear from you. You tell me what is your story of finding rest in Christ? And maybe that’s the story you need to be ready to share with somebody today. And of course, the stories you share with others are grounded in the fact that in this very moment, you have the blessing of God.
So, receive his blessing as you go to be a blessing. May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make his face to smile down on you. May the Lord be gracious to you. Turn his bright eyes to you and give you his peace. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, one God, life everlasting Amen.
Mckay Caston teaches and leads the Doctor of Ministry program at Metro Atlanta Seminary. He is also the founder of Mustard Seed Discipleship, an online resource ministry designed to help people experience the transforming power of God’s grace. He enjoys spending time at home and exploring the mountains in north Georgia.
Jim Lovelady is a Texas-born pastor, musician, and liturgist, doing ministry in Philadelphia with his wife, Lori, and 3 kids, Lucia, Ephram, and Talitha. He is passionate about the ministry of liberating religious people from the anxieties of religion and liberating secular people from the anxieties of secularism through the story of the gospel.
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