“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Romans 12:2
Someone was asking, the other day, how it was that the church, nowadays, was not so separate from the world as it used to be. One who heard the question suggested that, possibly, the world had grown better; but another more truly said that, probably, the church had grown worse.
There are some, in these apostate days, who think that the church cannot do better than to come down to the world to learn her ways, follow her maxims, and acquire her “culture.” In fact, the notion is that the world is to be conquered by our conformity to it. This is as contrary to Scripture as the light is to the darkness!
Brethren, beloved in the Lord, you may depend upon it that nothing worse can happen to a Church, than to be conformed unto this world! Write “Ichabod!” upon her walls, then for the sentence of destruction has gone out against her.
It will be an ill day for the church and the world when the proposed amalgamation shall be complete, and the sons of God and the daughters of men shall be as one then shall another deluge of wrath be ushered in!
“Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you will be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” 2 Corinthians 6:17-18
Jesus is the one great theme both of the Old Testament and the New. The whole Bible is designed to testify of Christ, “The Scriptures point to Me!” John 5:39
In Christ the Messiah, in Jesus the Savior, in the Son of God the Redeemer all the truths of the Bible center.
To Him all the types and shadows point!
Of Him all the prophecies give witness!
All the glory of the Scriptures, from Genesis to Revelation culminates at the cross of Christ!
The Bible would be an inexplicable mystery apart from Christ, who unfolds and explains it all.
He is the golden Key which unlocks the divine treasury of Scriptural revelation!
Until He is seen, the Bible is, in a sense–a great mystery. But when He is found, it is a glorious revelation.
Every mystery is opened,
every enigma is explained,
every discrepancy is harmonized, and
every truth and page, sentence and word–is quickened with a life and glowing with a light flowing down from the throne of the Eternal God.
Christ is the substance of the Gospel.
All its divine doctrines,
all its holy precepts,
all its gracious instructions,
all its precious promises,
all its glorious hopes–
meet, center, and fill up their entire compass in Jesus!
He is the Alpha and the Omega of the Bible–from the first verse in Genesis, to the last verse in Revelation.
Oh, study the Scriptures of truth with a view of learning Christ.
Do not study the Bible as a mere history.
Do not read it as a mere poem.
Do not search it as a book of science.
It is all that, but infinitely more.
The Bible is the Book of Jesus!
It is a Revelation of Christ!
Christ is the golden thread which runs through the whole!
Blessed Lord Jesus! I will read and study and dig into the Scriptures, to find and learn more of You!
You, Immanuel, are the fragrance of this divine box of precious ointment.
You are the beauteous gem sparkling in this divine cabinet.
You are the Tree of life planted in the center of this divine garden.
You are the Ocean whose stream quickens and nourishes all who draw water out of this divine well of salvation.
The Bible is all about You!
We would soon hear all the dogs of Hell baying with all their might against us!
“If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” John 15:19
There would be much more persecution than there is if there were more real Christians. But we have become so like the world, that the world does not hate us as it once did. If we would be more holy, more true, more Christ-like, more godly – we would soon hear all the dogs of Hell baying with all their might against us!
Remember, my brethren, whoever you may be, that if there is no distinction between you and the world around you then you may be certain that you are of the world. For, there must always be some marks in the children of God to distinguish them from the ungodly. There is a something in them which is not to be found in the best worldling something which is not to be discovered in the most admirable carnal man. A something in their character which can be readily perceived and which marks them as belonging to another and higher race, the twice-born, the elect of God, eternally chosen by Him and, therefore, made to be choice ones through the effectual working of His grace.
“I have given them Your word and the world has hated them–for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.” John17:14
(J.R. Miller, “Evening Thoughts” 1907)
Thomas said to Him, “Lord, how can we know the way?“ Jesus said to him, “I am the way” John 14:5-6
This is the first day of a new year. We are setting out on a journey of which we can have no knowledge in advance. The road is one on which we never have gone hitherto. We know not what any day will have for us . . .
what our duties will be,
what burdens shall be laid upon us,
what sorrows we shall have to endure,
what battles we shall have to fight.
We cannot see one step before us! How can we know the way?
As we sit in the quiet, this first evening, and ask the question, we hear an answer which is full of comfort. Jesus says to us, “I am the way!”
All we shall have to do, therefore, will be to follow Jesus. He has made a way through this dark world for us. He has gone over all the journey and opened a road for us at great cost. He went over the way Himself–we shall find His shoe-prints at every step.
He has a definite way for each one of us. Every mile of the journey He has chosen and every place where I pitch my tent He has selected for me!
“Leaving you an example, so that you should follow in His steps!” 1 Peter 2:21
When once I mourned a load of sin,
When conscience felt a wound within,
When all my works were thrown away,
When on my knees I knelt to pray,
Then, blissful hour, remembered well,
I learned Thy love, Immanuel!
When storms of sorrow toss my soul,
When waves of care around me roll,
When comforts sink, when joys shall flee,
When hopeless griefs shall gape for me,
One word the tempest’s rage shall quell,
That word, Thy name, Immanuel!
When for the truth I suffer shame,
When foes pour scandal on my name,
When cruel taunts and jeers abound,
When “Bulls of Bashan” gird me round,
Secure within Thy tower I’ll dwell,
That tower, Thy grace, Immanuel!
When hell, enraged, lifts up her roar,
When Satan stops my path before,
When fiends rejoice and wait my end,
When legion’d hosts their arrows send,
Fear not, my soul, but hurl at hell
Thy battle-cry, Immanuel!
When down the hill of life I go,
When o’er my feet death’s waters flow,
When in the deep’ning flood I sink,
When friends stand weeping on the brink,
I’ll mingle with my last farewell,
Thy lovely name, Immanuel!
When tears are banished from mine eye,
When fairer worlds than these are nigh,
When Heaven shall fill my ravish’d sight,
When I shall bathe in sweet delight,
One joy all joys shall far excel,
To see Thy face, Immanuel!
What a wonderful testimony of the Christian’s life and hope!
by Tim Harmon
The holiday season (which is well under way) seems to carry with it a sense of longing for something we call “home.” In the words of that ubiquitous holiday anthem popularized by Perry Como:
Oh, there’s no place like home for the holidays Cause no matter how far away you roam If you want to be happy in a million ways For the holidays, you can’t beat home, sweet home
Now, being home, of course, is about something more than just being in a particular place. No, more than that, it’s about being with particular people.
This is illustrated perhaps no better than in that modern cinematic classic, where we find that being home for the holidays isn’t very happy at all, if one is Home Alone (even if it does afford one the opportunity to ward off robbers by building booby traps).
Out of a desire to be home for the holidays, over 90 million people travel to visit friends and family between Christmas and New Years. People are willing to endure long lines, and bad traffic, and flight delays all for the sake of being ‘home’. And it’s worth it, I think – especially when we consider that the opportunities we have to gather with our loved ones is finite.
One of my strongest holiday memories is of traveling each year to my grandmother’s house, to gather with my aunts, uncles, and cousins. My grandmother lived in a small, old-fashioned, rural home, set on a large plot of land.
A wood stove heated the house, and a blast of hot air would hit my face whenever I would walk through the front door. Inside, the wood floors were squeaky and the walls were covered with stoic photos of distant relatives who had passed away long before I was even born.
I’m glad that I spent the time that I did there at my grandmother’s house over holidays past, because my grandmother is no longer alive, and her property has long since been sold. That “home” does not exist anymore – neither the structure, nor many of the people who filled it.
When I think of this, I feel a small pang in my heart. It’s an ache that all of us know. It is a longing to be home . . . not just for a little while . . . but forever.
It is precisely this ache that is addressed in the true story that the Bible tells. The opening pages of this book describe an earthly home that is perfect in every way. It is a place of un-interrupted peace, love, and joy. It is a space where human relationships flourish, as they remain in fellowship with and under the wise care of the Creator.
But early on in this story, something tragic happens.
Humans reject the good order of the Creator, in effect choosing emancipation from the Heavenly Father’s household. As a result, these first humans were required to leave this glorious home. Ever since, all humans have been born estranged from God, and alienated from the one place that would ever truly feel like home.
And so, though we are each unique in many ways, at the core we are all the same. Our deepest longing – indeed our deepest need – is to find our way back home. But on our own, all of our efforts have fallen flat. There is simply no way, on our own, to get back what has been lost.
Today, we are still waiting for the day when Jesus comes again, to bring God’s people home forever.
And that’s precisely why this holiday season – the season that celebrates the advent of the Christ child – is so special. For, according to the Scriptures, the coming of Jesus was the coming of the Creator. And He came for this reason: to do what we, on our own, could not do.
In Jesus, God took on humanity, embarking on a mission to a far country. Because we could not find Him, He came and found us, and He made His home with us.
This involved a humbling of the highest order. It would be like the Queen of England giving up Buckingham Palace and entering the company of homeless street dwellers. And yet even this does not capture the degree of God’s condescension, as He came to live as and among us. For God not only took on humanity, but at the cross He also took upon Himself the just penalty for the rebellion of those He had come to bring home.
Regarding this home, before Jesus went to the cross, he spoke these words to his disciples: “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (Jn. 14:3). And a bit later, after being questioned about the way to where Jesus was going, Jesus said the following: “I am the way” (Jn. 14:6).
There is one way home, and Jesus Christ is that way.
Today, we are still waiting for the day when Jesus comes again, to bring God’s people home forever. That’s why we, as Christians, celebrate Advent – a term that literally means, “coming.” As we look back to Jesus’ first coming, we also look forward to that day when he will come again.
On that day when Jesus returns, it will be a home-coming of epic proportions – for it will be a day when those who have turned from their rebellion, and have placed their trust in Jesus, will be home not just for the holidays, but home forevermore.
And so, this holiday season, whatever gladness is experienced as we enjoy the people and places that we identify with “home,” let us remember that these serve as but a small approximation of the infinite goodness of that coming day when the innermost yearnings of the human heart are met, when God’s people are called home, once and for all.
Summary: Beware of fretting, murmuring, complaining, and giving way to an impatient spirit. Regard your sickness as a blessing in disguise – a good and not an evil – a friend and not an enemy. No doubt we should all prefer to learn spiritual lessons in the school of ease and not under the rod. But rest assured that God knows better than we do how to teach us. The light of the last day will show you that there was a meaning and a “need be” in all your bodily ailments. The lessons that we learn on a sick-bed, when we are shut out from the world, are often lessons which we should never learn elsewhere.
(C.H. Spurgeon, “Sword and the Trowel” 1876)
The minimum Christian! And who is he? The Christian who is going to heaven at the cheapest rate possible. The Christian who intends to get all of the world he can and not meet the worldling’s doom. The Christian who aims to have as little religion as he may without lacking it altogether.
The minimum Christian goes to worship in the morning; and in the evening also unless it rains, or is too warm, or too cold, or he is sleepy, or has the headache from eating too much at dinner. He listens most respectfully to the preacher, and joins in prayer and praise. He applies the truth very judiciously sometimes to himself, oftener to his neighbors.
The minimum Christian is very friendly to all good works. He wishes them well, but it is not in his power to do much for them. The Sunday-school he looks upon as an admirable institution especially for the neglected and ignorant. It is not convenient, however, for him to take a class his business engagements are so pressing during the week that he needs the Sabbath as a day of rest; nor does he think himself qualified to act as a teacher. There are so many persons better prepared for this important duty that he must beg to be excused. He is very friendly to home and foreign missions, and colportage, and gives his mite, but he is quite unable to aid in the management, for his own concerns are so excessively important. He thinks there are “too many appeals;” but he gives, if not enough to save his reputation, pretty near it at all events he aims at it, and never overshoots the mark.
The minimum Christian is not clear on a number of points. The opera and dancing, the theater and card-playing, and large fashionable parties give him much trouble. He cannot see the harm in this, or that, or the other popular amusement. There is nothing in the Bible against it. He does not see why a Christian may not dance or go to the opera. He knows several excellent persons who do so at least, so he says. Why should not he? He stands so close to the dividing-line between the people of God and the people of the world that it is hard to say on which side of it he is actually to be found.
Ah, my brother, are you making this attempt? Beware, lest you find at last that in trying to get to Heaven with a little religion you miss it altogether; lest without gaining the whole world you lose your own soul. True godliness demands self-denial and cross-bearing and if you have none of these, you are making a false profession!
(“Every Day!” Author unknown, 1872)
“Show me, O LORD, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before You. Each man’s life is but a breath!” Psalm 39:4-5
“So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom!” Psalm 90:12
You alone, O Lord, can teach to profit help me to number my days aright!
Surely my days are few and fleeting and uncertain! Days past are gone beyond recall and my future days I cannot number. Let me then this day, and day by day, confide in You and look to You for the very help and grace I need.
Surely it is the highest wisdom to renounce self, to cleave to Christ, and to keep the great end of my being in view “to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” This is an object worth living for, and which may well engage all the powers of my mind.
Nor let me suppose that it is needful to turn aside from the occupations of my daily life to honor the God of my salvation; for He teaches me that whether I eat or drink, or whatever I do I may do all to His glory. To this then may I apply my heart, with all diligence and constancy constrained by the love of Him who gave Himself for me!
“Every day I will bless You and I will praise Your name forever and ever!” Psalm 145:2
(Charles Spurgeon, 1864)
Meditate, dear friends, upon the whole range of God’s works in Creation and Providence. There was a period when God dwelt alone and creatures were not. In that time before all time, when there was no day but “The Ancient of Days,” when matter and created mind were alike unborn, and even space was not – God, the great I AM, was as perfect, glorious, and as blessed as He is now.
There was no sun – and yet Jehovah dwelt in ineffable light.
There was no earth – and yet His throne stood fast and firm.
There were no heavens – and yet His glory was unbounded.
God inhabited eternity in the infinite majesty and happiness of His self-contained greatness. If the Lord, thus abiding in solemn solitude, should choose to create anything the first thought and idea must come from Him, for there was no other to think or suggest. All things must be of Him in design. With whom can He take counsel? Who shall instruct Him? There existed no other to come into His council-chamber, even if such an assistance could be supposable with the Most High.
In the beginning of His way, before His works of old, eternal wisdom brought forth from its own mind the perfect plan of future creations, and every line and mark therein must clearly have been of the Lord alone.
He ordained the pathway of every planet and fixed the abode of every star. He poured forth the sweet influences of the Pleiades, and girt Orion with its bands. He appointed the bounds of the sea, and settled the course of the winds. As to the earth, the Lord alone planned its foundations, and stretched His line upon it.
He formed in His own mind, the mold of all His creatures, and found for them a dwelling and a service. He appointed the degree of strength with which He would endow each creature, settled its months of life, its hour of death, its coming and its going.
Divine wisdom mapped this earth – its flowing rivers and foaming seas, the towering mountains, and the laughing valleys. The divine Architect fixed the gates of the morning and the doors of the shadow of death.
Nothing could have been suggested by any other, for there was no other to suggest. It was in His power to have made a universe very different from this if He had so pleased. That He has made it what it is, must have been merely because in His wisdom and prudence, He saw fit to do so.
“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power for You created all things, and by Your will they were created and have their being!” Revelation 4:11
Any objection to the evangelistic methods of our present golden-calf Christianity, is met with the triumphant reply, “But we are winning the lost!”
And what are you winning them to?
To true discipleship?
To separation from the world?
To crucifixion of the flesh?
To holy living?
To nobility of character?
To a despising of the world’s treasures?
To total committal to Christ?
Of course, the answer to all these questions is NO!
“My sheep hear My voice, I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish – ever! No one will snatch them out of My hand!” John 10:27-28
If only one of God’s sheep were to perish . . .
the purpose of God would be frustrated,
the power of God would be resisted,
the promise of God would be broken,
the faithfulness of God would be a mockery
and the Word of God proved to be a lie.
“I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!” Romans 8:38-39
“Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her!” Ephesians 5:25
The more I consider the doctrine of substitution the more is my soul enamored of the matchless wisdom of God which devised this system of salvation. As for a hazy atonement which atones for everybody in general, and for nobody in particular; an atonement made equally for Judas and for John – I care nothing for it. But a literal, substitutionary sacrifice, Christ vicariously bearing the wrath of God on my behalf – this calms my conscience with regard to the righteous demands of the law of God, and satisfies the instincts of my nature which declare that, as God is just, He must exact the penalty of my guilt!
“I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep!” John 10:11
If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at the moment attacking – I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved and to be steady on all the battle front besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point!
“Do not let your heart be troubled. Believe in God believe also in Me!” John 14:1
This verse is rich in precious truth. For eighteen centuries it has been peculiarly dear to Christ’s believing servants in every part of the world. Many are the sick rooms which it has lightened! Many are the dying hearts which it has cheered!
We have in this passage, a precious remedy against an old disease. That disease is trouble of heart. That remedy is faith.
Heart-trouble is the commonest thing in the world!
No rank, or class, or condition is exempt from it.
No bars, or bolts, or locks can keep it out.
Partly from inward causes and partly from outward causes;
partly from the body and partly from the mind;
partly from what we love and partly from what we fear
– the journey of life is full of trouble! Between grace and glory even the best of Christians have many bitter cups to drink. Even the holiest saints find the world to be a valley of tears! “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows!” John 16:33
Faith in the Lord Jesus is the only sure medicine for troubled hearts!
To believe more thoroughly,
to trust more entirely,
to rest more unreservedly,
to lay hold more firmly,
to lean back more completely –
this is the prescription which our Master urges on the attention of all His disciples.
Never let us forget that there are degrees in faith, and that there is a wide difference between weak and strong believers. The weakest faith is enough to give a man a saving interest in Christ, and ought not to be despised, but it will not give a man such inward comfort as a strong faith. Vagueness and dimness of perception are the defect of weak believers. They do not see clearly what they believe and why they believe. In such cases more faith is the one thing needed. Like Peter on the water, they need to look more steadily at Jesus and less at the waves and wind.
“You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You! Isaiah 26:3
“We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10
Since God has ordained that His people walk in good works, we are assured that God will graciously cause them to do so by the sweet constraint of His grace.
Grace experienced, makes Christians gracious.
Mercy tasted, makes Christians merciful.
Faith bestowed, makes Christians faithful.
Kindness known, makes Christians kind.
Forgiveness enjoyed, makes Christians forgiving.
Love felt, makes Christians loving.
These are not suggestions about what God’s people ought to be, but statements of fact about what all true believers are.
Believers are a people who, being saved by grace, ruled by love, and motivated by gratitude–seek the will and glory of God in all things.
“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age” Titus 2:11-12
“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28
Predestination is the sovereign, eternal, immutable, unalterable purpose of God almighty, by which He ordained and ordered, according to His own will and good pleasure, all things that come to pass in time.
Divine providence is the daily, constant, sovereign rule of our God over all things for the accomplishment of His eternal purpose of grace in predestination. Divine providence is the accomplishment of God’s sovereign will and purpose. Providence is God bringing to pass in time (sovereignly, absolutely, and perfectly) what He purposed in eternity.
Predestination is God’s purpose.
Providence is God’s execution of His purpose.
Nothing in the universe happens by luck, chance, fortune, accident or by blind fate! Everything that comes to pass in time was purposed by our God in eternity, and is brought to pass by His wise, adorable, good Providence.
Nothing comes to pass in time that God did not purpose in eternity, in sovereign predestination.
Nothing comes to pass in time except that which God sovereignly brings to pass in His Providence.
And that which God predestined in eternity and brings to pass in his Providence is for the good of His elect, and the glory of His name. This is clearly and incontrovertibly the teaching of Holy Scripture (Psalm 76:10; Proverbs 16:4, 9, 33; 21:1; Daniel 4:34, 35, 37; Isaiah 46:9-11; Romans 11:33-36).
Providence is God’s government of the universe. If we have a proper view of God’s Providence, we will see the hand of God and the heart of God in everything – in all the experiences of our lives. Believers ascribe their sorrows, and even the cursing of their enemies to the hand of their heavenly Father’s wise and good Providence (Job 1:21; 1 Samuel 3:18; 2 Samuel 16:11-12).
God is not idle. He never needs to rest, recuperate, or regroup. God almighty, our God and heavenly Father is always at work, governing the world. I have frequently heard preachers and religious leaders speak of sickness, poverty and war, sin, crime and cruelty, famine, earthquakes and death as things over which God has no control. Nonsense!
God’s Providence is as ‘minute’ as it is ‘mysterious’ (Matthew 10:30). Our God has ordained the number of hairs on the heads of all. Not even a worthless sparrow falls to the ground without His decree.
God’s Providence is ‘all inclusive’. God rules everything, great and small, everywhere, and at all times.
He who created all things, rules all things!
Nothing in God’s universe breathes or wiggles contrary to God’s decree (Isaiah 46:9-13).
As a wise, skilled pharmacist mixes medicine so our heavenly Father wisely mixes exactly the right measure of bitter things and sweet, to do us good.
Too much joy would intoxicate us.
Too much misery would drive us to despair.
Too much sorrow would crush us.
Too much suffering would break our spirits.
Too much pleasure would ruin us.
Too much defeat would discourage us.
Too much success would puff us up.
Too much failure would keep us from doing anything.
Too much criticism would harden us.
Too much praise would make us proud.
Our great God knows exactly what we need. By His grace, if we are His–we will bow to His Providence, accept it, and give thanks for it.
God’s Providence is always executed in the ‘wisest manner’ possible. We are often unable to see and understand the reasons and causes for specific events in our lives, in the lives of others, or in the history of the world. But our lack of understanding does not prevent us from believing God. We bow to His will, which is evident in His works of Providence, and say, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!”
The God of Providence rules all things well. How we ought to trust Him! Ever remember, our heavenly Father is God all wise, good, and omnipotent. He is. . .
too wise to err,
too good to do wrong,
and too strong to fail!
by David Briones; Tabletalk Magazine, 2016
Financial suffering is a reality in the lives of many Christians today. Many of us are familiar with the vulnerable moments of financial crisis. Will I be able to get a job this month? Will I have enough money to pay rent? Will I be able to make my car payment? Will I be able to put food on the table for my wife and kids?
Sadly, this form of suffering is frequently written off as a First World problem. After all, physical persecution is the only way a Christian can suffer on behalf of the gospel, right? Not according to Paul. He certainly suffered physically (2 Cor. 1:8–9; 4:8; 11:23–26), but he also suffered emotionally (11:28), spiritually (v. 29), and financially (1 Cor. 4:11–12; 2 Cor. 6:5; 11:27). Even so, little consideration is given to how God uses financial suffering in the church to shine the light of the gospel in a dark world. But we can learn a rich lesson about enduring poverty from Philippians 4:10–13.
This passage is well known for all the wrong reasons. Many well-intentioned Christians misuse, misinterpret, and misapply the divine promise of Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” They assume that it means God will provide anything and everything they desire in this life. They cling to this verse like a lucky rabbit’s foot, rubbing it while repeating the promise in order to receive all that they desire. For many, this includes monetary gain. But Philippians 4:13 doesn’t make that kind of promise. When read in context, we see that God promises contentment, not by pulling us out of financial suffering but by empowering us to endure it with contentment. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us, and the world will notice it.
Let’s consider the context of Philippians 4:10–13 for a moment. Paul penned these words from a jail cell (1:7, 13, 14). Unlike today, prisoners in the ancient world relied entirely on friends and family members to provide food and clothing. The state offered very little help. Paul was completely dependent on the mercy of others. He was vulnerable and in need. He was suffering physically and financially. Thankfully, the Philippian believers expressed their concern tangibly by sending material gifts to their imprisoned Apostle (2:29–30; 4:18). Surprisingly, in response to the Philippians’ generosity, Paul “rejoices in the Lord” (4:10); that is, the “Lord Jesus Christ” (1:2; cf. 2:11, 19; 3:8, 20). He alone “revived” the Philippians’ concern for Paul, which allowed Paul to experience relief from his financial suffering in prison. “I have received full payment,” Paul declares, “and I abound” (4:18). The Philippians’ gift placed Paul in a state of material abundance.
And yet, Paul prohibits the Philippians from thinking that his joy in the Lord is entirely over their material gift. That is why he immediately includes a disclaimer, “Not that I speak according to need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (v. 11). From the world’s perspective, contentment comes from within oneself. One strives in one’s own strength to become content. This is self-sufficiency at its finest.
But for the Christian, true contentment comes from outside oneself. “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things [lit.] in Christ who strengthens me” (vv. 12–13). This is not self-sufficiency but Christ-sufficiency. The source of strength to experience contentment on both sides of the economic spectrum is found “in Christ.” Our union with Christ by faith enables us to endure lowliness, hunger, need, and even the most severe financial suffering with contentment. For the branch “can do nothing” apart from the vine (John 15:5). But “in Christ,” we can do all things. We can abound financially or suffer financially with contentment.
While the world looks to itself in financial suffering, the Christian looks to Christ. This is precisely how believers shine as lights in the world. I will never forget my wife’s concern about our finances when I was completing my Ph.D. in England. A fierce argument ensued. Anxieties and fears were disclosed.
And there were many tears. But when we came to our Christian senses, we fell on our knees, prayed to the Lord, forgave one another, and listened to His voice in Scripture. In God’s timing, a sense of peace fell over us—to the point where we not only read but also proclaimed Habakkuk 3:17–19a:
Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength.
Many Christians are acquainted with this peace that surpasses all understanding during financial crises. Though the world looks for contentment in all the wrong places, Christians can cope with financial suffering in a manner that demonstrates their utter dependence on Jesus Christ. While the world may commend the strength of your faith during financial hardships, you can declare the strength that Christ provides by faith in the gospel. The good news is that despite your financial situation in this life, Christ suffered and died for the sins of His people, delivered them from eternal suffering, and will ultimately bring them to eternal rest with God. And since He has pledged His love for you in the gospel, He will never leave nor forsake you—even when you suffer financially (Heb. 13:5).
by Derek Thomas; Tabletalk Magazine, March 2016
Who would true valour see,
Let him come hither;
One here will constant be,
Come wind, come weather.
There’s no discouragement
Shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent
To be a pilgrim.
A half-century ago, I sang these words in school assemblies set to music composed by Ralph Vaughan Williams. The words appear in Part 2 of John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress as part of Mr. Valiant-for-Truth’s testimony. Earlier, Valiant had introduced himself to Mr. Great-heart and his companions with the words, “I am a Pilgrim, and am going to the celestial city.”
All Christians are pilgrims heading to the celestial city. Bunyan was simply reflecting the Bible that he loved. Scripture affirms that Christians are pilgrims. In the paradigmatic covenant made with our father Abraham, God promised him Canaan as “the land of your sojournings” (Gen. 17:8). And in the New Testament, Peter reflects the same idea when he describes his readers as “elect exiles” (1 Peter 1:1; cf. 1:17, “the time of your exile”). Similarly, in reviewing the faithful believers of Old Testament history, the author of Hebrews refers to them as “strangers and exiles” (Heb. 11:13).
The Christian life is a road trip, a journey of the most exhilarating kind. It has a starting point and a terminus. It is a metaphor of movement. Christians do not stay in one place too long, for they are set for another location. Early Christians were referred to as the followers of “the Way”—a reflection that they seemed determined to follow a different path (Acts 9:2; 24:14).
Several issues arise. First, there is the idea of an adventure. Yes, adventure. If Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit initially shunned adventure because it upset the equilibrium of his routine way of life in the Shire, he would later record his extraordinary journey in a breathless tale bearing the subtitle There and Back Again.
Christians explore a somewhat different journey—Here to There, perhaps. But it is nevertheless a journey equally as exciting, fraught with tales of valor and danger. There is something exciting about the Christian life. New glimpses of God’s provision, intervention, and rescue await at every turn. We have no idea what a day may bring forth (Prov. 27:1), but we may be assured that nothing happens without our heavenly Father willing it to happen. We are called to follow our Master wherever He leads us—in green pastures beside still waters, as well as in the presence of enemies and a valley of shadow and death (Ps. 23).
My friend and predecessor at the church I now serve, a name familiar enough to readers of Tabletalk, Sinclair Ferguson, often ended his sermons with an exclamatory “Isn’t it wonderful to be a Christian!” Yes, it is a thing of great wonder, an exciting adventure every second of the way.
Second, pilgrimage is evocative of the transitory nature of this life. “Here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Heb. 13:14). “The things that are seen are transient” (2 Cor. 4:18). What does it mean to refer to this life as “transient”? The answer lies in the tension evoked in the New Testament between the “now” and the “not yet.” Christians are those upon whom “the end of the ages has come” (1 Cor. 10:11). Something of the world to come has already perforated our spacetime existence and has claimed us as citizens of another realm (Phil. 3:20).
This perspective raises fundamental tensions. In one sense, we live here with a variety of responsibilities as citizens of this world. The reclusive life of withdrawal and abstinence is not a biblical worldview. This bizarre view of life is caricatured in Simeon Stylites the Elder, a man who climbed a pole in Syria in AD 423 and remained there for thirty-seven years until he died. This is a denial of Christianity, not its affirmation. Christians get involved in society. Christians reshape society. They are lights in dark places. A new affection has overtaken Christians that makes everything else seem paltry and trite. In the words of Thomas Chalmers, the Christian life is ignited by the “expulsive power of a new affection.”
A third aspect of pilgrimage is a sense of direction, a goal, an end point. The journey has a destination. Christianity provides a shalom, a sense of wholeness and completeness. Christians know who they are and where they are going. Aimlessness and drift characterize so much of life without the embrace of Christ.
Christians “look” for “things unseen” (2 Cor. 4:18, where the Greek verb “to look” suggests an intense, steady gaze). It sounds like a paradox: we look for something that cannot be seen. Glory awaits, and Christian pilgrims maintain a steady but determined discipline of facing forward. What lies ahead fills our vision and keeps us expectant. What awaits steady pilgrims surpasses expectation and defies explanation.
“Onward and upward! To Narnia and the North!” is a statement in C. S. Lewis’ Narnia tale The Horse and His Boy. All pilgrims of the cross agree: onward and upward!
I went to a church not along ago, they got thirty acres. So what are their plans with it? They want their own football field and tennis courts. Dear God, do we go to church to learn to play tennis? God help the preachers!
We have such an accommodating Christianity today.
The best title of the professing church of God today, in my judgment, is “Unbelieving Believers.” There’s cancer in the church tonight!
At this grim hour, the world sleeps in the darkness–and the Church sleeps in the light.
You’ll never get me to believe that the church today believes in Hell.
We’re a million, billion miles away from New Testament Christianity!
I doubt if 5% of professing Christians in America are born again!
Entertainment is the devil’s substitute for joy. The more joy you have in the Lord, the less entertainment you need.
Is the world crucified to you–or does it fascinate you?
The apostles had no gold, but lots of glory. We have lots of gold, but no glory.
The book of Acts shows us the church before it became fat and short of breath by prosperity!
Who or what takes priority over God in our lives?
Where, oh, where are the eternity-conscious believers?
Where are the souls white-hot for God because they fear His holy name and presence and so live with eternity’s values in view?
There’s no cost of being a Christian in America!
I’d rather have ten people who want God than 10,000 people who want to play church!
(James Meikle, 1757)
All plenitude is in Christ, to answer all the needs of His people. In Christ dwells all the fullness of the Godhead, that out of His fullness, I may receive all spiritual blessings!
Have I destroyed myself by sin?
I have deliverance from Him who is mighty to save from sin and wrath!
Is my life fleeting and passing away like a shadow?
Jesus is the Ancient of days, and endures forevermore!
Are my days short-lived and full of trouble?
Jesus is my life, and the joy of my heart!
Am I exposed to contempt?
Jesus shall be my crown of glory, and diadem of beauty!
Am I traveling through the wilderness?
Jesus is my staff, and on Him I lean all the way!
Am I on my last journey to my long home?
Jesus is my leader, and my rewarder!
Am I a sheep?
Jesus is my pasture, and my green pasture too!
Am I hungry and thirsty?
Jesus is my heavenly manna, and gives me to drink of the water of life!
Am I weary?
Jesus is my rest and refreshing!
Am I weak?
Jesus is my strength!
Am I oppressed and wronged?
Jesus is my judge and my avenger!
Am I reproached?
Jesus will wipe away the reproach of His people!
Am I a soldier?
Jesus is my Captain and shield!
Must I fight in the field of battle?
Jesus is my armor in the day of war!
Do I sit in darkness?
Jesus is my light!
Do I have doubts?
Jesus is my counselor!
Am I ignorant?
Jesus is my wisdom!
Am I guilty?
Jesus is my justification!
Am I filthy?
Jesus is my sanctification!
Am I poor?
Jesus is the pearl of great price, and has immeasurable riches laid up for me!
Am I blind?
Jesus, and none but He can open the eyes of one born blind!
Am I naked?
Jesus has white clothing to cover the shame of my nakedness!
Am I in the very utmost necessity?
Jesus is a very present help in time of trouble!
Am I exposed to the hurricanes of adversity?
Jesus is . . .
a refuge from the storm,
a shelter from the blast,
rivers of water in a desert,
the shadow of a great rock in a weary land!
Am I afraid of being left alone?
Jesus will never leave me, nor forsake me!
Do friends and brethren prove false?
Jesus is the friend who sticks closer than a brother!
Am I in danger from disease and death or from sin and Satan?
My life is hidden with Christ in God! When He shall appear, I shall appear with Him immortal in my body, and glorious in my soul!
Is my case considered in the court of Heaven?
There Jesus is my Advocate!
Do I offend the Father?
Jesus is my Intercessor!
Do I suffer in my body, and am I grieved in my mind?
Jesus bore my infirmities, and carried my griefs!
Is my mind disquieted, and my soul debarred from peace?
Jesus is my sympathetic High Priest! He was tempted in all points, and knows how to support those who are tempted!
Am I poor in my circumstances?
Jesus, the heir of all things! Though He was rich, yet for my sake He became poor–that I through His poverty might be made rich!
Do I suffer in my character?
Jesus was numbered with transgressors, called a glutton, a drunkard, and a devil!
Am I bereaved or alone?
Jesus, my best friend, can never die!
Must I undergo death and be laid in the grave?
Jesus has taken away the sting of death, and robbed the grave of its victory!
Must I rot in the grave?
Jesus shall be my resurrection, and raise me to immortality and bliss!
Would I go to God and to glory?
Jesus is my way, and must admit me into the palace of the great King, where I shall abide forever!
My needs are many, but His fullness is infinitely more!
The morning dews and fructifying showers water the fields, and refresh the parched furrows. But what are they, compared to the exhaustless ocean of Jesus?
What is all that I enjoy here below, compared to the exuberant fullness of Heavenly bliss? O! then, how shall my soul be replenished when possessed of this infinite All, through eternity itself!
(George Everard, 1884)
“Making the very most of the time!” Ephesians 5:16
Be careful to make the very best use of your time. Make the most of each passing day. Instead of trying to kill time–strive to make it so fruitful of good to yourself and others. Hours and moments are golden–yes, more valuable than pearls and diamonds–and to squander and waste them is folly beyond description! Until we reach eternity, we shall never know how much good has been obtained or wrought . . .
by a moment’s earnest prayer,
by a passing opportunity seized,
by five minutes given to read a helpful book,
by a quarter of an hour given to visit some suffering saint.
How much Christ accomplished in the three years of His public ministry! He was always intent on the work He had to do, so that tens of thousands were taught and benefitted. And though we are so sinful, and our power so feeble in comparison–is not His life to be a pattern for ours?
Oh, do not waste life! Map it out prudently, and think well of the work to which you yourself are called.
No lost hours through late rising in the morning!
No mornings or evenings worse than lost, in drinking in the poison or the vanity of a worthless novel!
No moments thrown away in idle gossip and foolish talking!
No, no–our was life given to us for this! Use it far better and more wisely. Remember that . . .
the time is short,
the work is great, and
the outcome is for eternity!
Soon will the great bell toll, which will usher you into a future state. Brother, sister, make haste to do all the work allotted to you–to do it well, that the Master may be glorified, and your crown the brighter.
“So teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12
(George Everard, 1884)
“Thus says the LORD:
Let not a wise man glory of his wisdom,
and let not the mighty man glory in his might,
let not a rich man glory in his riches.
But let him who glories, glory in this – that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises loving-kindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things!” Jeremiah 9:23-24
Glory in Christ and in Him alone!
Glory in Him as your Faithful Shepherd, who will care for you, and guard you, and restore you, and keep you even to the end.
Glory in Him as your Unfailing Physician, who will heal your soul-wounds, and bind up the bleeding, broken heart.
Glory in Him as your Great High Priest, who will ever lives to plead your cause before the Throne of grace.
Glory in Him as your Omnipotent King, who reigns over the events of Providence, and will make all things work together for your eternal good.
Glory in Him as your Mighty Redeemer, who will deliver you from every enemy, and make you conqueror over sin, death and Hell.
Glory in Him as your Everlasting Portion, remembering that when all else shall take wings and flee away–when the home is broken up, and dear ones die, and means grow less, and health decays, yes, when everything on earth fails you–He will be your everlasting treasure, and your unchangeable Friend!
And let this glorying be seen by your entire resignation to His will and by choosing His path rather than your own.
“Not I, but Christ!” Lord, choose for me,
And make me love what pleases Thee.
“Not I, but Christ!” His will be done,
And mine with His be merged in one.
Myself no longer would I see,
But Jesus crucified for me.
His eye to guide, His voice to cheer,
His mighty arm forever near.
“Not I, but Christ!” Lord, let this be
A motto throughout life for me!
by Nate Shurden; Tabletalk, 2/2016
They were truly delightful. Probably in their late fifties, recently retired, just relocated to Franklin, Tenn., to be closer to their grandkids. They started attending the church several months earlier and had just expressed excitement about participating in the upcoming inquirers’ class. Hearing this, I was encouraged but mistakenly concluded that signing up for the inquirers’ class meant they were exploring the possibility of membership. I innocently began to ask about churches they were members of in the past when the conversation shifted.
“I’m sorry. I’m afraid we misled you,” they said. “Even if we attend the inquirers’ class, we won’t be joining the church.” Surprised, and a little confused, I asked why that would be the case. “We don’t do membership. We’ve found it comes with certain expectations about attendance and involvement, and we just prefer to be freer than that.”
Though rarely expressed so honestly, such sentiment is representative of a significant number of professing Christians across North America. It seems many are happy to maintain a loose a liation with a church fellowship, but consider membership just a little too much commitment for their tastes.
To be fair, some of the views or feelings expressed about membership stem from bad experiences in local churches. It is true that some churches and denominations have a history of using membership as a legalistic billy club. If someone is coming from that background, it will take time to heal, build trust, and reshape what biblical church membership is supposed to look like.
Other Christians have simply never been taught a biblical view of membership and instinctively connect the word with the Rotary Club and Costco. For this person, the idea of membership feels like an exclusive clique where only those who pay the dues are welcome. Again, biblical instruction coupled with loving care will often lead these brothers and sisters into joyously committing to membership.
In my experience, however, an increasing percentage of professing Christians resist making the membership plunge for the reason the couple of above stated: “We prefer to be freer than that.” Here’s the question though: Is the freedom of non-membership the freedom God wants for us?
When we take an honest look at Scripture, it is clear that we are redeemed not to be alone or loosely associated but to be numbered among the body of Christ. And contrary to how it may feel at times, membership is exactly the kind of freedom for which we have been designed.
At first blush, it may seem odd to call membership the kind of freedom we’re designed to experience, but that is the way Scripture speaks of it. One of the primary ways Scripture speaks of membership is with reference to the metaphor of the physical body.
In Ephesians 4:1–16 and 1 Corinthians 12:1–27, Christian membership is analogous to the membership shared by the various parts of our body. The way your hand and foot are attached to your physical body is the same way individual Christians are to be attached to Christ and other Christians. The Bible is giving us a picture of a fellowship that is so interrelated and interdependent that true life and belonging cannot be expected without each part’s being connected to one another. Very simply, we cannot be ourselves by ourselves (Rom. 12:5).
Now, from a certain angle, one could argue that a hand or foot’s attachment to the body is restrictive. It is true that an attached hand or foot is not experiencing the “liberty” of being unattached from the body. The question we should ask is whether the so-called liberty of being unattached to the body is the kind of liberty the hand or foot is designed to experience. Can the hand or the foot be what they are supposed to be without the body? Can we expect the hand and foot to function and develop without the body? The obvious answer is no.
To be honest, the situation is far more serious than a matter of functioning and development. It’s a matter of life and death. When a hand or foot is dismembered from the body, the very life of the hand or foot is drained out of it. It ceases to live. This is not to mention the fact that it’s very disturbing to see a part of the body cut off. Interestingly, when a hand or foot is attached to a body as it’s designed, it strikes us as the most ordinary thing in the world. But if you see a hand lying on the ground, it’s traumatic—the stuff of horror movies.
It makes sense, then, why John Calvin, leaning heavily on the early church fathers, argued that the church is the “bosom [in which] God is pleased to gather his sons, not only that they may be nourished by her help and ministry as long as they are infants and children, but also that they may be guided by her motherly care until they mature and at last reach the goal of faith … so that, for those to whom he is Father the church may also be Mother” (Institutes 4.1.1).
Far from being restrictive to our freedom, membership in a local church is the exact condition and constraint that makes for a healthy—and free—Christian life. In the end, membership really is the right kind of freedom.
“Even to your old age and gray hair I am He; I am He who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you!” Isaiah 46:4
As we grow older, there should be a constant gaining, never a losing in our spiritual life. Every year should find us living on a higher plane than the year before. Old age should always be the best of life, not marked by spiritual emptiness and decay, but by nobler fruitfulness and more gracious beauty. Paul was growing old, when he spoke of forgetting things which are behind, and reaching forth to things ahead. His best was yet to be attained. So it should always be with Christian old age. We must ever be turning heavenward, toward nobler life and holier beauty!
“The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green!” Psalm 92:12-14
“Is it not lawful for Me to do what I wish with what is My own?” Matthew 20:15
How dare people walk their pets on leashes to control them!
How dare parents force their children to obey their rules!
How dare employers insist that their employees do their jobs!
How dare governors rule over the people!
How dare policemen take criminals to jail without their permission!
How dare the Potter make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor!
How dare God love and hate whom He will!
How dare God the Father choose to save whom He will!
How dare God the Son die for whom He will!
How dare God the Spirit call whom He will!
How dare the Almighty have His way with all men, in all places, at all times!
How dare God save and damn whom He will!
How dare God judge us!
How dare God call us into question!
How dare the indisputable Sovereign of the universe do . . . what He pleases, when He pleases, where He pleases, how He pleases, and with whom He pleases!
“Our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases!” Psalm 115:3
“I know that the LORD is great, that our Lord is greater than all gods. The LORD does whatever pleases Him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths!” Psalm 135:5-6
“All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as He pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back His hand or say to Him: What have You done?” Daniel 4:35
“My times are in Your hand!” Psalm 31:15
Firmly believing that my times are in God’s hand, I here submit myself and all my affairs for the ensuing year, to the wise and gracious disposal of God’s divine providence. Whether God appoints for me . . . .
health or sickness,
peace or trouble,
comforts or crosses,
life or death – may His holy will be done! All my time, strength, and service, I devote to the honor of the Lord Jesus and even my common actions. It is my earnest expectation, hope, and desire, my constant aim and endeavor that Jesus Christ may be magnified in me.
In everything I have to do my entire dependence is upon Jesus Christ for strength. And whatever I do in word or deed, I desire to do all in His name, to make Him my Alpha and Omega. I have all from Him and I would use all for Him.
If this should prove a year of affliction, a sorrowful year to me I will fetch all my supports and comforts from the Lord Jesus and stay myself upon Him, His everlasting consolations, and the good hope I have in Him through grace.
And if it should be my dying year then my times are in the hand of the Lord Jesus. And with a humble reliance upon His mediation, I would venture into the eternal world looking for the blessed hope. Dying as well as living Jesus Christ will, I trust, be gain and advantage to me.
Oh, that the grace of God may be sufficient for me, to keep me always a humble sense of my own unworthiness, weakness, folly, and infirmity together with a humble dependence upon the Lord Jesus Christ for both righteousness and strength.
A friend of mine has been known to encourage me to produce my own study Bible. Happily, his vision for my study Bible isn’t quite the mammoth undertaking that putting together a real study Bible is. He suggests that my Bible just have a few notes, repeated over and over again. Things like, “See this promise? Believe it.” Or, “This sinner in this story—he’s just like you. Learn to see yourself in the Bible’s great sinners.” These two themes—that we need to learn to believe more fully, down to our toes, the promises of God, and that we need to come to a more potent, existential awareness of our sins and our weaknesses—are a big deal to me. The themes find their way regularly into my writing and into my teaching.
That, in itself, is not a bad thing. Wisdom calls us to recognize, as much as we are able, our own peculiar callings. If God gives you a cannon, He expects you to fire it. There is, however, also a danger. Just as it has been said that to the man with a hammer everything can look like a nail, so when we come to the Bible with our pet passions we will find ourselves tempted to see things in the text that aren’t there, and to miss things in the text that are there. We will show ourselves workmen who need to be ashamed for mishandling the Word of God.
There are, of course, metanarratives to go along with biblical narratives. A narrative, simply put, is a story. A metanarrative is a storythattranscends stories. It is the overarching story. The Boston Tea Party is a narrative. America as a fearless bastion of freedom—that’s a metanarrative. The two, of course intersect, just as they do in the Bible. Abraham and Isaac on Mount Moriah is a story that illumines the metanarrative of substitutionary atonement and of fathers sacrificing sons (see also John 3:16). Nathan’s confrontation of David is a story that illumines the metanarrative of blindness to sin.
Because there are metanarratives, we are wise to see them in the narratives we read. But because there are many, we need to be careful not to put square narratives into round metanarratives. Trouble is, because there is more than one metanarrative, we face the temptation to seek out the metametanarrative, the story that transcends the stories that transcend.
Consider covenant theology and dispensational theology. These big-picture interpretative grids are so broad, so all-encompassing that each side often finds itself struggling to correct the other. Our differences are so foundational, touching on how we understand all of God’s Word that we seemingly have nothing to do but talk past each other. We can’t walk inside each other’s shoes because we’re walking in opposite directions. I have my own convictions on the issue, strong ones. But I’m not afraid to confess that I am virtually uncorrectable from my friends on the other side, simply because this is such a foundational issue.
Which makes me long for an unimpeachable answer, a meta-meta-metanarrative that comes from the lips of Jesus Himself. Is it just possible that all the Bible’s stories about substitution, about covering, about creation, fall, redemption, about covenant are subsumed under one grand story? Perhaps so. What if, in the end, it were all about the kingdom? What if that is why Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness”? What if He was clueing us in on the big picture? What if the dominion mandate, the Great Commission, the promise that all things are being brought into submission to the reign of Christ—what if these were all the one great story?
This doesn’t, of course, undo the other stories in the Bible. It’s still true that the Bible is the story of Jesus’ rescuing not the beautiful princess, but the ugly hag. But in doing so, He secures a queen for His kingdom. It doesn’t undo His death and resurrection for us. But in doing so, He wins citizens for His kingdom. It doesn’t undo creation–fall–re-creation. But it affirms that God created a kingdom, Adam failed to rule it, and Jesus now succeeds where the first Adam failed.
When Jesus calls us to seek first His kingdom, He isn’t turning sanctification, evangelism, sound doctrine, atonement, and meeting the needs of widows and orphans into secondary matters. Rather, He is telling us why we pursue these things, the end for which they exist. It is affirming the forest that helps us understand the trees.
There is, however, one more step. The Bible is only penultimately the story of the kingdom. For the glorious truth is that the kingdom exists for the sake of the King. The Bible is Jesus’ story from beginning to end. He is the Alpha and Omega of the Bible, even as He is the Alpha and Omega of history. We understand history, we understand the Bible, therefore, only insofar as we understand Jesus. That is what each is for: to show us the glory of the Only Begotten, to the everlasting praise of the Father. May we never, in all our study, lose sight of Him.
(Joseph Alleine, “Alarm to the Unconverted” 1671)
“That night God appeared to Solomon in a dream and said: What do you want? Ask, and I will give it to you!” 2 Chronicles 1:7
If God would give you your choice, as He did to Solomon – what would you ask for?
Go into the gardens of pleasure, and gather all the fragrant flowers there – would these satisfy you?
Go to the treasures of mammon – suppose you may carry away as much as you desire.
Go to the towers, to the trophies of honor – and become a man of renown.
Would any of these, would all of these satisfy you, and make you to count yourself happy? If so, then certainly you are carnal and unconverted. Converting grace turns the heart from its idols to the living God. Before conversion, the man minded his farm, friends, pleasures more than Christ. He found more sweetness in his merry company, worldly amusements, earthly delights than in Christ. Now he says, “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ!” Philippians 3:7-8
(James Smith, 1842)
“Delight yourself in the Lord and He shall give you the desires of your heart!” Psalm 37:4
Delighting in worldly things effectually prevents our delighting in God. Therefore it is often the case, that the Lord strips us of these things, or incapacitates us to enjoy them in order to bring us back to delight in Himself.
He delights in His people and He desires that His people to delight in Him. In order to accomplish this, He has revealed Himself in the most amiable characters, as . . .
a Shepherd, and so forth –
all on purpose to endear Himself to us!
Surely if our hearts were right we would delight in Him on account of . . .
His glorious perfections;
His unalterable love;
the perfect atonement made for our sins;
the promises made for our comfort and encouragement;
the gift of the Holy Spirit;
the communion we are urged to hold with Himself;
and the glorious paradise of blessedness set before us where we shall forever . . .
view the unfolding of His glories,
enjoy the riches of His grace, and
drink of the river of His pleasures!
Sick Christian, Jesus bids you to delight in Him!
Delight in Him as your Savior, Friend, and Brother!
Delight in His person and glories!
Delight in His perfect work!
Delight in His glorious fullness!
Delight in your salvation in Him, union to Him, and claim upon Him.
Oh, delight in Jesus!
You will have no permanent peace or solid satisfaction, but as you are delight in Him, and rejoice in Him, saying, “You are my portion, O Lord!”
He who delights in God has the desires of His heart because they are in accordance with the purpose, promise, and pleasure of God.
The mind is thrown into the mold of God’s mind, and the soul cries from its inmost recesses, “Not my will, but may Your will be done!” Its pleasures are spiritual, permanent, and satisfactory. The desire for earthly things becomes very contracted a little of the things of this poor world will satisfy a soul that is delighting in Jehovah.
Delighting in God always produces resignation and holy contentment. Whatever they have they enjoy it as the undeserved gift of God; and they feel obligated and thankful for all. They would rather be conformed to God’s will than have their own will. They know that His appointments are best because they are infinitely wise, holy, and gracious. They can say, “I trust in You, O Lord, for You are my God! My times are in Your hand!” They find that godliness with contentment is great gain; and say with one of old, “The little that a righteous man has is better than the riches of many wicked!” “Better a little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure with turmoil.”
The presence, the promise, and the smile of God are to them inestimably valuable; but other things are not so important. They seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all other necessary things are added unto them. They live at the fountain when all the streams are dried up! They delight in God when creatures fade and wither!
O Lord! I would delight in Thee,
And on Your care depend;
To You in every trouble flee,
My best, my only Friend!
No good in creatures can be found,
But may be found in Thee;
I must have all things and abound,
While God is God to me!
(Charles Spurgeon, “A Good Start!”)
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life what you will eat or drink; or about your body what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.“ Matthew 6:25-32
Undue anxiety is very common among the unsaved I suppose they cannot help it. Yet Christians must help it; for the Lord’s precept is plain and binding: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus!” Philippians 4:6-7
Fretful anxiety is forbidden to the Christian!
It is needless. “Look at the birds of the air,” said Christ: “they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” If you have a Father in Heaven to care for you are you not put to shame by every little bird that sits upon the bough and sings, though it has not two grains of barley in all the world? God takes charge of the birds of the air, and thus they live exempt from anxious care – why do not we?
Our Lord also taught that such anxiety is useless as well as needless; for, with all our care, we cannot add a single hour to our life!
Can we do anything else by fretful care? What if the farmer deplores that there is no rain? Do his fears unstop the bottles of Heaven? Or if the merchant sighs because the wind detains his ship laden with goods will his complaining turn the gale to another quarter?
We do not better ourselves a bit, by all our fretting and fuming. It would be infinitely wiser to do our best and then casts our care upon our God!
Prudence is wisdom for it adapts means to ends. But anxiety is folly for it groans and worries, and accomplishes nothing!
Besides, according to our Savior, anxiety about worldly things is heathenish: “For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them!” They have no God and no providence and therefore they try to be a providence to themselves. Let the heir of Heaven act a nobler part than the mere man of the world who has his portion in this life, and lives without God and without hope.
Our distrust of our God is both childish and dishonoring. I was driven through the streets one day by a friend in a four-wheeled carriage, and he, being a good driver, must needs drive into narrow places, where it seemed to me that we would be crushed by the vans and omnibuses. I shrank back in my timidity, and expressed my unwise alarms so freely, that with a smile he laid the reins in my hand, and said, “If you cannot trust me would you like to drive yourself?” From that ambition I was wholly free, and I assured him that he might drive as he liked, rather than make me the charioteer!
Surely, the great God might well put the same proposal to those who are complaining of His providence. If we cannot trust Him could we manage better ourselves?
If we are Christians, let us believe in our God, and leave the governance of the great world to the Lord God, our heavenly Father, who will surely cause all things to work together for good to those who love Him!
15 June 2015
The couple looked familiar to me as I saw them approaching, smiling, pushing a stroller toward me, but I couldn’t place their names. It was the annual summer meeting of my denomination, so I was used to renewing old acquaintances from all over the country.
The husband was the first to speak, and he told me that he and his wife had met with me about adoption a few years earlier when they were students at the seminary I served. They wanted me to see the little boy they had adopted, from a former Soviet state. I knelt down to talk with the little fellow as he shyly curled back in his seat. The little boy had beautiful olive skin coloring, looked as though he had Arabic or perhaps Persian roots, and had cute little chubby cheeks. As I played peekaboo with the little boy, I asked the parents if they’d had any trouble with bureaucracy along the way.
“The only problem we had was with the judge,” the wife said. “The judge thought there was some mistake that we’d want this child because he’s dark skinned. The judge said no one would want a child like that and that there were plenty of light-skinned babies available. He just couldn’t believe that we would want him and almost treated us as though we were up to something shady because we did.”
I wasn’t expecting that, and as I stroked this little boy’s cheek, those words struck me: “No one would ever want a child like that.” I picked him up from his stroller and hugged him, hoping I wouldn’t start crying in front of my denominational peers walking up and down the corridor of the convention hall. “You’re loved and wanted,” I told him. “Isn’t that great?”
After I finished the conversation with the family and went back to the relative inanity of voting on resolutions and motions on the convention floor, I couldn’t get the horror of that situation off my mind. How could a judge sit in his chair and deem that lovable child to be unworthy of love simply because of the shade of his skin? What kind of backward Philistines were they dealing with in that courtroom?
And then I remembered that my denomination, in whose deliberations I then sat, was formed in a dispute with other American Christians over the slavery of other human beings because of the color of their skin. And my people had been on the slaveholders’ side. Previous generations of preachers just like me (indeed probably some related to me) had argued that some children were unworthy of freedom because of the shade of their skin. My own ancestors had seen to it that children of a darker skin than themselves were made orphans. As the resolutions flew around the convention hall about “the sanctity of marriage,” I realized that previous generations of preachers in this very same context had propped up a system in which parents couldn’t marry legally because that would make it more difficult to sell them individually when necessary.
A similar story could be told a billion times over in virtually every human society throughout history. There seems to be an orphan-making urge among us, whether we see it in the slave culture of centuries past or the divorce culture of today. But where does it come from?
It’s not just impersonal economic and sociological factors at work. “The course of this world” is driven along by “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2). Jesus showed his disciple John what the story behind the story is. It’s the picture of a woman giving birth to “a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron” (Rev. 12:5). Crouching before this woman’s birth canal is a dragon, the Serpent of old, who seeks to “devour” the baby (Rev. 12:4). That dragon then “became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring” (Rev. 12:17) and has done so ever since.
The demonic powers hate babies because they hate Jesus. When they destroy “the least of these” (Matt. 25:40, 45), the most vulnerable among us, they’re destroying a picture of Jesus himself, of the child delivered by the woman who crushes their head (Gen. 3:15). They know the human race is saved—and they’re vanquished—by a woman giving birth (Gal. 4:4; 1 Tim. 2:15). They are grinding apart Jesus’s brothers and sisters (Matt. 25:40). They are also destroying the very picture of newness of life and of dependent trust that characterizes life in the kingdom of Christ (Matt. 18:4). Children also mean blessing—a perfect target for those who seek only to kill and destroy (John 10:10).
But Satan always uses human passions to bring about his purposes. When new life stands in the way of power—whether that power is a Pharaoh’s military stability or a community leader’s reputation in light of his teenage daughter’s pregnancy—the blood of children often flows. Herod loved his power, so he raged against babies. In the middle of all of this stood Joseph, an unlikely demon wrestler.
The protection of children isn’t charity. It isn’t part of a political program fitting somewhere between tax cuts and gun rights or between carbon emission caps and a national service corps.
It’s spiritual warfare.
Our God forbids Israel from offering their children to Molech, a demon-god who demands the violent sacrifice of human babies (Lev. 20:1–5). Indeed, he denounces Molech by name. He further warns that he will cut off from the people of God not only the one who practiced such sacrifice but also all who “at all close their eyes to that man when he gives one of his children to Molech” (Lev. 20:4). Behind Molech, God recognizes, there is one who is “a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44).
The spirit of Molech is at work among us even now. Even as you read this page, there are bones of babies being ground to unrecognizable bits, perhaps even a few short miles from where you’re sitting. There are babies lying in garbage receptacles waiting to be taken away as “medical waste.” These infants won’t have names until Jesus calls them out for the first time. There are little girls waiting in Asia for a knock at the door, for an American businessman who’s paid a pimp to be able to sexually assault them. There are children staring out the window of a social worker’s office, rubbing their bruises as they hear their mother tell the police why she’ll never do it again.
Aborted babies can’t say, “Abba.” But the Father hears their cries anyway. Do we?
The universe is at war, and some babies and children are on the line. The old Serpent is coiled right now, his tongue flicking, watching for infants and children he can consume. One night two thousand years ago, all that stood in his way was one reluctant day laborer who decided to be a father.
Russell D. Moore is the eighth president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the moral and public policy agency of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. A widely-sought commentator, Dr. Moore has been called “vigorous, cheerful, and fiercely articulate” by the Wall Street Journal. He is the author of several books, including The Kingdom of Christ, Adopted for Life, Tempted and Tried, and Adoption: What Joseph of Nazareth Can Teach Us about This Countercultural Choice, and he blogs regularly at RussellMoore.com. He and his wife, Maria, have four sons.
I keep reading in the news and fb posts and hearing conversations a great deal regarding the visit of the Roman Catholic Pope to the United States. I am especially concerned that I keep hearing doctrinal confusion from professing evangelical Christians as to his teaching and that of his church. Are we to welcome him as a teacher of truth or heretic? Do we call him a brother in Christ or one outside the family of God? Basically was there any real reason for the Reformation other than non-essential differences that that we should lovingly agree to disagree over? Perhaps all the Reformation was about were mere preferences in form of worship and church polity, etc. What is the heart of the matter anyways? As so often, for me anyway, John Piper gets to the heart of the matter. This is not the only important doctrinal area for certain, but it is the heart of the matter! Yes, the Reformation was important and the basic teaching of the Roman Catholic Church has not changed on this issue! Please read with genuine love and with a sincere heart that all men might come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
If You Had Two Minutes to Talk With the Pope, What Would You Say to Him?:
The following is an edited transcript of the audio.
If you had two minutes to talk with the pope, what would you say to him?
O my, I have never asked myself that question at all.
I would say, “Could you just, in one minute, explain your view of justification?” And then on the basis of his one minute, I would give my view of justification.
I think Rome and Protestantism are not yet ready — I don’t think the Reformation is over. I don’t think that enough change has happened in Roman understanding of justification, and a bunch of other things.
I’m just picking justification because it’s so close to the center. You could pick papal authority or the nature of the mass or the role of sacraments or the place of Mary.
But those seem to be maybe a little more marginal than going right to the heart of the issue of, “Do you teach that we should rely entirely on the righteousness of Christ imputed to us by faith alone as the ground of God being 100% for us, after which necessary sanctification comes? Do you teach that?”
And if he said, “No, we don’t,” then I’d say, “I think that right at the core of Roman Catholic theology is a heresy,” or something like that.
Clarifying My Words About Roman Catholic “Heresy” ;
A few years ago, I was asked on camera what I would say to the Pope if I had two minutes with him. I said I would ask him what he believed about justification. The video ended with me putting the question to the Pope and then responding as follows:
“Do you teach that we should rely entirely on the righteousness of Christ imputed to us by faith alone as the ground of God being 100% for us, after which necessary sanctification comes? Do you teach that?”
And if he said, “No, we don’t,” then I’d say, “I think that right at the core of Roman Catholic theology is a heresy,” or something like that.
“Heresy” is a strong word. The problem with it is that its meaning and implications are not clear. Dictionary.com defines heresy, for example, as:
You can see how fluid such definitions are.
So what did I mean in the video?
I meant that the rejection of 1) the doctrine of the imputation of the righteousness of Christ as an essential part of the basis of our justification, and 2) the doctrine that good works necessarily follow justification but are not part of its ground — the rejection of those truths is a biblical error so close to the heart of the gospel that, when consistently worked out, will undermine saving faith in the gospel.
The reason for saying, “when consistently worked out,” is because I think it is possible to inconsistently deny the truth of imputation while embracing other aspects of the gospel (blood bought forgiveness, and propitiation, for example), through which God mercifully saves.
I am thankful that God is willing to save us even when our grasp of the gospel may be partial or defective. None of us has a comprehensive or perfect grasp of it.
Nevertheless, God’s mercy is not a warrant to neglect or deny precious truths, especially those that are at the heart of how we get right with God. And the teachers of the church (notably the Pope) will be held more responsible than others for teaching what is fully biblical.
Thus, any church whose teaching rejects the imputation of the righteousness of Christ as an essential ground for our justification would be a church whose error is so close to the heart of the gospel as to be involved in undermining the faith of its members.
(Charles Spurgeon, “A Good Start!”)
David said, “O Lord, truly I am Your servant.” Psalm 116:16
If you become the servant of God then become the servant of God truly. God is not mocked.
It is the curse of our churches, that we have so many merely nominal Christians in them. It is the plague of this age, that so many profess Christ and yet never intend to live for Him. Oh, if you serve God, mean it!
If a man serves the devil then let him serve the devil! But if he serves God then let him serve God!
Is there not much of this hypocrisy abroad? God is to have the scraps of a man’s life and he flings these down as if they were all that God was worth. But as for the world, that is to have the vigor of his life and the cream of his being.
God does not want nominal servants! “O Lord, truly I am Your servant!” He who does not mean to be truly God’s servant, let him not pretend to be one at all.
Every man in the presence of the cross-bearing Jesus, should feel that to take up his cross and follow Christ is the most natural thing that can be; and he should resolve in God’s strength that he will do it, and continue to obey the Lord, though all the world should ridicule. He must put on the badge of Christ, and say, “I am His servant and His follower from this day to life’s end, and will shoulder the cross! I am free from all the maxims and customs of the world!”
“And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” Joshua 24:15
Your prayer-life is a measure of your spiritual maturity. Just about any decent book on prayer will tell you so. Your prayer lives exposes you to the reality that what is nearest and dearest to your hearts are those things for which you pray the most. It is an inescapable rule. In this respect, your prayer life may betray the public image which you, in turn, portrayed to others. Just a few years back, I became painfully aware that my prayer life was centered on…me. What a shock it was to realize that my prayers were essentially self-serving!
The practice of prayer has fallen on hard times in the church today. There may be many factors producing this rapid downturn in frequency and quality of prayer. Two of the most obvious are the affluence of western society and the lack of deeply spiritual representative prayer in our churches.
The affluence and relative ease of western culture has relaxed the grip that Scripture should hold on our lives. Our material lives are easier than they were even one hundred years ago: the present relief we have from infant mortality or child labor, from common sicknesses that often resulted in death but are now treatable have lulled us into a false sense of security. The Puritan pastor and theologian John Owen apparently had eleven children, ten of whom died in childhood–the one who didn’t die in childhood died of tuberculosis soon after she had married. Owen’s wife passed away eight years before him. People once knew–even expected–death and serious sickness to be a present reality in their lives, and often it drove them to prayer. They knew what it was to “number their days and gain a heart of wisdom.” (Ps. 90:12) Sadly, it is not so now. As longevity and better quality of life are now expected–even deemed a right–we have been driven from pondering our mortality and eternal realities to filling our lives with less consequential matters – with trivialities. Prayers for health, wealth, success, family, children, friendship, employment, while not illegitimate topics of prayer (3 John 2), are the topics which saturate most Christian prayers today.
The dilution of spiritually rich prayer has also been aided and abetted by prayers from the pulpit. The casual manner of many public prayers – where Jesus is merely our best bud and God is little more than a divine handy man – teach the average Christian how not to pray. Awe, transcendence and a sense of holiness in prayer have been replaced with a superficial familiarity with the Almighty. Ministers lead and teach by example and must teach the manner and the content of biblical prayer.
How then should we pray, publicly and privately? Most books on prayer focus on using biblical petitions – this is the what and how of prayer. The ‘what’ is the content of our prayers, the how is the manner of our prayers. Have we adopted a biblical and God-honoring posture of prayer, or have we adopted an essentially selfish attitude in prayer? What are our priorities in prayer? Are we more concerned with the spiritual realities of our life and the lives of others than with the material? For example, when was the last time you prayed that God would “make you worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Eph 4:1; and 2 Thess. 1:11); or, that you would be “joyful in hope, patientin affliction, faithful in prayer” (Rom.12:12); or, that “God…would give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had”. (Rom 15:5-6); or, that “the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Rom 15:13); or, “that you will not do anything wrong.” (2 Cor 13:7). Or do ceaselessly give thanks to God for your brethren, remembering them in your prayers? (Eph1:16; Col 1:9); or, do you pray that “you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord”(Col 1:9); or, we could turn to the Psalms – “create in me a clean heart of God, and renew a right spirit within me”(Ps. 51:10); “be merciful to me O God, be merciful to me for in you my soul takes refuge” (Ps 57:1); and “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations.” (Ps. 67:1)
The truth is that our prayers are not saturated with Scriptural petitions (which place a great deal of emphasis on our spiritual well-being and little on our material well-being) because we are not saturated with Scripture and its priorities. Resultantly, we often end up praying for the wrong things. Or, perhaps we might better say, we don’t pray for the right things. While praying for material matters is both permissible and necessary, there are more important things in life. We are not here to live our lives for material and physical well-being. We are to be supremely mindful of the life to come. To that end, our prayers ought to focus on those matters that will fit us for eternal life. In short, our spiritual condition is far more important than our material or physical condition.
It is my deepening conviction that perhaps the Lord’s own people sin more in their efforts to pray, than in connection with any other thing they engage in.
What hypocrisy there is where there should be reality! What presumptuous demanding where there should be submissiveness! What formality where there should be brokenness of heart!
How little we really feel the sins we confess! What little sense of deep need for the mercies we seek!
And even where God grants a measure of deliverance from these awful sins . . . how much coldness of heart, how much unbelief, how much self-will and self-pleasing have we to bewail!
We need to be delivered from a cold, mechanical and formal type of praying which is merely a lip-service, in which there is . . . no actual approach unto the Lord, no delighting of ourselves in Him, no pouring out of the heart before Him.
I often say my prayers, But do I ever pray? And do the wishes of my heart Go with the words I say? I may as well kneel down And worship gods of stone, As offer to the living God A prayer of words alone!
“Lord, teach us to pray!“ Luke 11:1
Question: “What is the chief end of man?”
Great Answer: “To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”
More Precise Answer: “To glorify God and enjoy Him forever by exalting, loving, and serving the Lord Jesus Christ for whom the entire universe was created.”
Goodin, Douglas (2012). Exalted: Putting Jesus in His Place (p. 4). Cross to Crown Ministries.
From time to time I’ve met professing Christians who for one reason or another claim that they do not need to be part of a local church. In most cases, they seem to believe that because God has placed them in the universal Church, they can worship God just fine apart from a local body of believers. I’d like to suggest that such a view is not only mistaken but is also harmful to the unchurched person and dishonoring to God.
Everywhere one looks in the NT, one sees believers actively participating in a local body. In fact, the NT knows nothing of a perpetually disconnected Christian. The apostle Paul says roughly as much about healthy unchurched Christians as he does about minotaurs, unicorns, and leprechauns. From the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) to the seven churches addressed in Revelation 2 and 3, everywhere the NT assumes that those who profess faith in Christ in this dispensation are part of a local body of believers. Much of the NT was originally written to specific local churches and addressed questions about how the local church should conduct itself. The professing believer who attempts to live apart from a local church will not be able to obey a significant portion of the NT (1 Tim 3:15). Although I’m thankful for access to good books and sermons produced by believers all over the world, it is first and foremost within the context of a local church that believers are to be instructed in the Word and exhorted by fellow believers (Eph 4:11–13; 1 Tim 4:11–16; 2 Tim 4:2; Titus 3:1–2). Those who profess Christ but remain disconnected from a local church need to realize that they have turned away from one of God’s clearly intended means of spiritual growth: the leadership and fellowship of a local assembly.
More importantly, those believers who choose to live apart from a local church dishonor the head of the Church. Both the Church universal and the church localized are God’s idea, not man’s (Matt 16:18; Acts 2:41–47). God’s Word never depicts local church involvement as optional for the believer. And God certainly didn’t intend for there to be two kinds of Christians, those who worship him within a local church and those who just do their own thing. Those who profess to follow Christ while remaining disconnected from a local church are really saying that they know better than God.
The local church is one of God’s gifts to his people. It is a means by which they can be taught, encouraged, and exhorted to follow Christ. And ultimately, local church involvement is an essential part of a genuine Christian profession. Apart from such involvement, the profession itself can only be incomplete and highly suspect.
Have you ever played the Google Search Game? It’s where you start typing a phrase into Google and take a look at the search recommendations it gives back to you. The suggestions are based on actual searches done by others. For instance, if you go to Google and type in “Why do babies” into the search box; Google will suggest that you might be searching for, “Why do babies cry” or “Why do babies sleep so much” or “Why do babies drool”. Likewise, if you entered the phrase “Why do women”, then you’ll see more varied suggestions; from very serious ones like, “Why do women cheat” and “Why do women stay in abusive relationships” to more humorous ones like “Why do women play Peter Pan”.
But when you type in the phrase “Why does God”, then the suggestions are rather telling. Here are the suggestions Google recommended:
“Why does God allow suffering?”
“Why does God let bad things happen?”
“Why does God hate me?”
These questions pretty much sum up the entire collective depraved human heart as it exists in every nonbeliever right now. They show that people have no idea who God really is. They’ve been blinded to truth, and the gospel is but a word to them. But let’s see if we can give them some answers.
Why does God allow suffering?
Right at the outset, the question is flawed because it implies that God’s role is a passive one. Nothing could be further from the truth. God is active, not passive. In fact, God is the only one who is completely independent from everything else. God was not created, He is the Creator. From every star and every galaxy, to every atom and subatomic particle, as well as the forces that hold it all together; God created and maintains it all.
He has made the earth by His power, He has established the world by His wisdom, and has stretched out the heavens at His direction. When He utters His voice, there is a multitude of waters in the heavens: “And He causes the vapors to ascend from the ends of the earth. He makes lightning for the rain, He brings the wind out of His treasuries.”
All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.
God is always at work. Jesus Himself tells us this when He spoke to the Jews saying, “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working” (John 5:17). Nothing happens outside of God’s sovereign will. God is active, and God is acting, and God’s actions have purpose. That would mean that God does not allow suffering, He has a purpose for it. The better question would be, ‘What is God’s purpose for suffering?’. Next question…
Why does God let bad things happen?
The first thing you would have to ask here is, what do you consider a bad thing? How do you distinguish it from good things, and what is your standard for doing so? Another way you might find this question phrased is, ‘Why does God let bad things happen to good people?’. And again, I would ask how do you decide which things are good, and which things are bad? The Rich Young Ruler came to Jesus saying “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17), but Jesus answered him saying, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God.” (Mark 10:18). Paul reminds us of this in the book of Romans:
As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no not one.”
It would seem clear that the standard is God. God is good. There are no good or innocent people to be found on earth. All of us have turned away from God. Just as we’re told later in the book of Romans, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23). It’s sin that has come into the world; that has also corrupted all of creation. The sin of Adam, which has been carried all the way down to each and every one of us, is the source of all bad and evil things. All pain, all disease, all treachery, all hatred, all lust,.. all of these things are a result of our sin. And sin is what separates us from God, and so all our acts that are not done in faith are sin, and so, are also bad. That’s how you define ‘bad’. To ask why God allows bad things to happen is to ask why God doesn’t wipe us all from the face of the earth for continuing to disobey and turn away from Him with such spitefulness? Last question…
Why does God hate me?
There are many who would answer this question by saying, ‘God doesn’t hate you,.. He loves you!’. But we have to be very careful not to go outside what is defined for us in scripture. In fact, although the love of God is talked about in many ways; in most translations of scripture the phrase, ‘God loves you’ is nowhere to be found.
Many people would stop me here and bring up very popular verses like John 3:16:
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
But what is this verse saying? ‘God so loved the world’; “the world” doesn’t mean “all people”. We know that because we have the rest of the verse to explain “that whoever believes in Him should not perish”; which would mean that all those who do not believe in Him will perish in hell. It’s almost like me saying that I love baseball. That doesn’t mean that I love all teams and all players. Actually, if I were to say the phrase ‘I love baseball’, then the next question I’d likely be asked is, ‘What is your favorite team’?
God loves the world He created, but the world as He created it was a world without death or sin. It wasn’t until Adam and Eve broke God’s command that the curse of death came into it. But continue the verse, ‘God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son,’. God didn’t love the world to let those who live in it do whatever they want. He didn’t love the world, and so decide to forgive everyone of their sins. God so loved the world that He sent His Son Jesus Christ here, so that He could give His life, and take upon Himself the wrath that God had stored up for us. And why did God do this? “That whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
But read those verses carefully. “Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8), “whoever believes in Him” (John 3:16). Christ didn’t die to save everyone, but He sacrificed Himself so that “everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and [He] will raise [them] up on the last day” (John 6:40). Christ made it clear when He said “I am the good shepherd; and I know my sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:14 & 15). So who are Christ’s sheep? Whoever repents of his sins and trusts in the name Jesus as the only way to salvation; those are His sheep.
Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent.
If God hates you, it’s because you do not believe in Him. You have turned away from Him and have disobeyed His commands. You hate Him. But if you’re reading this right now, and you know that I’m describing you, then God still commands you. Repent, and put your trust in Jesus. If you do that, you will be saved. If you will not believe, and reject the gospel, and reject Jesus, then you are condemned already.
Because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.
But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who “will render to each one according to his deeds”: eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey truth, but obey unrighteousness – indignation and wrath
So what are you searching for? If it’s another excuse to disbelieve the promises of Him who is unchanging and unshakable; then I’m sure you’ll come up with something. But if you are truly seeking truth, and salvation, then look no further than Christ on the cross. Yes, there is death there, but there is life too. The question is, is it your death, or the death of Christ that leads to life everlasting? I’ll be praying for you.
“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
In a world of sound bites, Instagram, #, and Twitter, we have become really good at saying as much as possible in the fewest words. We have become highly effective reductionists. The more I look at my faith, particularly as an evangelical, the more I realize we have done the same in our spiritual practice. We have reduced worship to preliminaries, message, and invitation, washing out much of the weighty and scriptural aspects of historic worship. In reaction to the more liturgical, we have condensed communion to a wafer, a mini-cup, and a 30 second reflective memorial moment. Worst of all, we have diminished the gospel to an add-on altar call. We really have earned the title, “Church Lite.”
It’s the gospel part that has gotten my attention as of late. I grew up with altar calls and gospel tracts. They were designed to simplify and reduce the gospel message to a three minute presentation. I carried the Four Laws in my pocket through my college years, sharing the message whenever opportunities arose. All of this was reinforced in a national youth ministry I was a part of, where I was exposed to hundreds of messages that preached “the gospel” and called for immediate decisions. Unfortunately, many of those decisions did not stick.
I am still in ministries that underscore the importance of the gospel. Christ and the gospel are central to my faith. I am part of a seminary that refers to itself as “gospel centered.” I work with people who are committed to The Gospel Coalition. But while it serves as a sort of badge of authenticity (Gospel-Centered Preaching, Gospel-Centered Worship, Gospel-Centered Church, Gospel-Centered Parking Lot, etc.), I wonder if we, in all too many ministries, have compromised the larger meaning of the gospel. Recent books raise similar concerns, including Darrell Bock’s Recovering the Real Lost Gospel, N.T. Wright’s Simply Good News, and Scot McKnight’s The King Jesus Gospel. These are important reads, each underscoring that, in too many cases, we have reduced the gospel to 140 characters or less; worse, we have extracted the gospel from its context.
Defining the gospel is not as easy as people would suggest. Is the gospel reserved only for the New Testament? Does it begin and end with Jesus? Is there gospel in books like Genesis or Jeremiah? Can you really say Ecclesiastes is gospel centered? It depends upon how we use the word. When Jesus preached the gospel (e.g., Mark 1:14, “Jesus went…proclaiming the gospel), did it sound anything like what we call the gospel? What does “preaching the gospel of the kingdom” mean? When you read Paul’s gospel presentations in Acts, do they correspond to what we often preach?
In too many cases, we have reduced the gospel to a tweet, an altar call, a tack on prayer, a salvation formula. It amounts to a decision that typically does not lead the hearer to become a disciple—but simply gets one saved. Some of my congregants expect an altar call, but did Jesus give altar calls? He clearly called us to go and make disciples, but I am not certain He ever called us to go and make decisions.
Many of the gospel presentations in my growing up amounted to an arrangement to get our fire insurance papers in order—freeing us to get back to life. Dallas Willard refers to this definition of gospel as “sin management.” This presumes a Christ with no serious work other than redeeming humankind, and it fosters ‘vampire Christians,’ who only want a little blood for their sins but nothing more to do with Jesus until heaven. But this sells the gospel way short.
In our reductionist ways, our “gospel invitations” have thinned out the larger framework. And we wonder why people are confused. It’s like reading John 3:16 without first reading the encounter with Nicodemus. There is a necessary context. We miss the fact that the gospel does not begin with the Cross—it does not even begin with Jesus. It’s is part of a larger good news message. Look back at the gospel presentations of Jesus or Stephen or Paul, and one notices they always started from the beginning. When Jesus shared the gospel in His hometown, He began with Isaiah (Lk 4:18). In Stephen’s address, he began with, “The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham…” (Acts 7:2). When Paul shared the gospel in Antioch Pisidia, he opened with the words, “The God of this people Israel chose our forefathers…” (Acts 13:17). They never preached a formula. They always went back to the roots. They set a context for a message that would have otherwise made no sense. They seemed to say, “Do you want to hear the gospel? Sit down. It will take a while.”
To preach the gospel is to tell an ongoing story of God’s pursuit of man, one that continues to be played out. It begins with the good news of Genesis (we are created in His image to govern the world). It has to start here. It moves to the good news that though we usurped His authority, He created a nation to be His rescue plan—to be His good news and His light (Isa 42). And even though Israel preferred her own king, God did not give up on us, but sent His Son to fulfill the promises of Israel and declare His rule (Matt 4). And though man has still sought to commandeer God’s supremacy at every turn, even putting the King of kings to death, God used this death to pay the price for our failure. And the really good news is that His death also served to conquer sin and death, affirmed by His resurrection. And He is presently working through His church to call men to repentance, back to their original design, and back to governing this world for Him.
So what is the gospel? It is the good news of God’s stubborn love, which can only be understood by telling the story. It is the good news that He has won the victory, which is the very nature of the word euangellion. It is bad news for those who still insist on being their own god, which explains the deep aversion many have towards the gospel. It is what we are called to preach, defend, live out, and live in a worthy manner (Phil 1:27). Maybe it is time we stop reducing the gospel to a transaction, like a lot of other things in culture. Tweets and formulas have their place, but not when it comes to preaching God’s good news. Until we do it right, our culture will be confused, unimpressed, and unmoved.
John Johnson | April 22, 2015 at 8:49 am | Tags: altar calls, gospel tracks, Gospel-centered, sin management, The Gospel Coalition, what is the gospel? | Categories: Bible, Culture, Discipleship, Featured, Gospel-Centered, Ministry, Teaching, the gospel | URL: http://wp.me/p4dWCg-1ve
(William Nicholson, 1862)
“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain!” Philippians 1:21 At death, the Christian gains pleasure without pain. “You will fill me with joy in Your presence, with eternal pleasures at Your right hand!” Psalm 16:11. Hence pain will never follow pleasure it will never be experienced at all. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away!” Revelation 21:4
In this sinful world, there is no perfect enjoyment. The sweetest cup of earthly bliss, has always more or less of the drops of the ocean of bitterness mingled with it. The brightest day of joy, is invariably followed by the dark night of sorrow. This world is a barren wilderness, and contains neither the fruit of the garden of Eden, nor the milk and honey of the land of promise. Here the pleasures of sin are but for a season and they always leave a sting!
But in Heaven, pleasures will be pure, holy, exquisite, and eternal ever yielding satisfaction and joy. To die and enter Heaven, will be gain indeed!
Why Can’t the Church Just Agree to Disagree on Homosexuality?
Contributors – Kevin DeYoung
It is difficult to exaggerate how seriously the Bible treats the sin of sexual immorality. Sexual sin is never considered adiaphora, a matter of indifference, an agree-to-disagree issue like food laws or holy days (Rom. 14:1-15:7). To the contrary, sexual immorality is precisely the sort of sin that characterizes those who will not enter the kingdom of heaven. There are at least eight vice lists in the New Testament (Mark 7:21-22; Rom. 1:24-31; 13:13; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 5:19-21; Col. 3:5-9; 1 Tim. 1:9-10; Rev. 21:8), and sexual immorality is included in every one of these. In fact, in seven of the eight lists there are multiple references to sexual immorality (e.g., impurity, sensuality, orgies, men who practice homosexuality), and in most of the passages some kind of sexual immorality heads the lists. You would be hard-pressed to find a sin more frequently, more uniformly, and more seriously condemned in the New Testament than sexual sin. All of these third ways regarding homosexuality end up the same way: a behavior the Bible does not accept is treated as acceptable. “Agree to disagree” sounds like a humble “meet you in the middle” compromise, but it is a subtle way of telling conservative Christians that homosexuality is not a make-or-break issue and we are wrong to make it so. No one would think of proposing a third way if the sin were racism or human trafficking. To countenance such a move would be a sign of moral bankruptcy. Faithfulness to the Word of God compels us to view sexual immorality with the same seriousness. Living an ungodly life is contrary to the sound teaching that defines the Christian (1 Tim. 1:8-11; Titus 1:16). Darkness must not be confused with light. Grace must not be confused with license. Unchecked sin must not be confused with the good news of justification apart from works of the law. Far from treating sexual deviance as a lesser ethical issue, the New Testament sees it as a matter for excommunication (1 Corinthians 5), separation (2 Cor. 6:12-20), and a temptation for perverse compromise (Jude 3-16).For more on this and other related themes, see What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality? The book releases in April.
9 Marks of an Unhealthy Church:
Thanks to Mark Dever, many of us have become well acquainted with the 9 Marks of a Healthy Church. While these were never meant to be the last word on everything a church should be or do, the nine marks have been helpful in reminding Christians (and pastors especially) of the necessary substance we often forget in an age fixated on style.
In one sense the nine marks of an unhealthy church could simply be the opposite of all that makes for a healthy church, so that unhealthy churches ignore membership and discipline and expository preaching and all the rest. But the signs of church sickness are not always so obvious. It’s possible for your church to teach and understand all the right things and still be a terribly unhealthy place. No doubt, there are dozens of indicators that a church has become dysfunctional and diseased. But let’s limit ourselves to nine.
Here are nine marks that your church–even one that believes the Bible, preaches the gospel, and embraces good ecclesiology–may be unhealthy.
by Richard Bennett on 2015-02-19
In my 48 years as a Catholic and my 22 years as a Catholic priest I believed in the Catholic Church. Consequently I thought that as I had the Sacraments by means of which, when I died, I would have everlasting life. Like other priests, I taught the people that once they were faithful to the Church as Catholics and died in the state of “sanctifying grace,” they would go to heaven. With deep respect for these who have been so misled, I now write on the topic of Catholics and eternal life. As an Irish Catholic, I remember the grip that Catholicism had on my own soul; in a sense, it was second nature to me. So it is with sensitivity that I write on a Christian’s relationship with God the Father and a Catholic’s relationship with the Holy Father in Rome.
A Christian’s relationship with God the Father is a crucial topic. Jesus Christ declared, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent.”1 Not to know and believe in “the only true God” is to be deprived of “life eternal.” However, a Catholic is first required to believe and know that the “Church is the mother of all believers.” This is because, according to the Catholic Church’s official teaching, “‘Believing’ is an ecclesial act. The Church’s faith precedes, engenders, supports and nourishes our faith. The Church is the mother of all believers. ‘No one can have God as Father who does not have the Church as Mother’”(Para 181).2
Consequently, a Catholic in daily life willingly has a relationship with “the Church as Mother” replacing what ought to be a relationship with God as his adoptive Father. The essence of this substitution is obvious when a devout Catholic refers to the Pope as “Holy Father.” In fact, the Catholic news agency, Zenit, normally calls the Pope the “Holy Father.”3 And for most Catholics, the term the “Holy Father” usually means the Pope.
The Concept of God as Father:
It is noted that in Scripture the word “Father” was on the lips of the Lord Jesus no less than one hundred seventy times. Christ Jesus spoke of God distinctively as Abba Father.4 In Scripture the same concept, “Abba Father,” is explained to the believer in these words, “for ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.”5 Beholding the Father’s love by the intimate title of “Abba Father” gives the true believer the deep sense of being loved personally as a child of God.6 The Lord Jesus Christ offered the following prayer for all those who would genuinely believe in God as their Father, “Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.”7
In contrast, the official law of the Roman Catholic Church speaks of the necessity of submitting one’s highest faculties, that of mind and will, not to God the heavenly Father, but to the Supreme Pontiff in Rome. Thus, the official law of the Roman Catholic Church states, “A religious respect of intellect and will, even if not the assent of faith, is to be paid to the teaching which the Supreme Pontiff or the college of bishops enunciate on faith or morals…”8
However, the Lord Jesus Christ has commanded, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.”9 One cannot serve two sovereigns, for the Lord’s command contradicts that of the Pontiff. A man cannot be impartial between two masters who are incompatible and demanding total allegiance. The necessity of a choice arises. So a Catholic ought to decide who indeed is his or her Lord!
Moreover, as the Lord Jesus Christ deeply treasured the word “Father,” He gave this commandment, “call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.”10 This is the essence of the message of the Lord concerning our Father in heaven. Thus, the Father in heaven is worthy of worship, and a true believer will speak the words, “The Holy Father” for God alone! Nonetheless, the Church of Rome teaches that her pope is called “Holy Father.” For example, the Vatican website announced regarding Francis I, “Address of the Holy Father” in the Vatican Gardens Sunday, 8 June 2014.11
The Lord God is Sovereign:
God is all-loving, omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. The Lord God is sovereign with complete, supreme, and universal power of all things, in heaven and on earth. Even on the topic of the sovereignty of God, Papal Rome’s claim is stated in the following official words, “For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered.”12 Thus, the Roman Pontiff attributes to himself the sovereign rule of the entire Church that belongs to the Lord God alone. Let us make no mistake, the Catholic Church throughout its history has persistently and arrogantly assumed and appropriated to itself the offices of the Heavenly Father. For example, Pope Boniface VIII in 1302, in the Papal Bull “Unam Sanctam” decreed, “Furthermore we declare, say, define, and proclaim to every human creature that they, by necessity for salvation, are entirely subject to the Roman Pontiff.”13 The papal arrogance is blasphemy of the highest order!
God the Father’s Love in Salvation:
God the Father’s love always achieves its purposes, “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love … that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”14 The design and intention of God the Father was that salvation should come to sinful man in and through Christ Jesus. Emphatically, grace in its most proper sense is free as given, a gift from heaven. Thus, as Scripture says, sinners are saved by grace; it is “the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.”15 The reign of sin is overcome by the reign of God’s grace, as the Scripture says, “even so might grace reign!”16 The abundance of grace far surpasses the evils of sin. Once a believing sinner trusts upon Christ Jesus as his only surety and substitute, he discovers that not only is he freed from his sins, but also he is made to “reign in life.” As Scripture states, “for if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.”17
Attempting to imitate this, the Roman Catholic Church claims that its sacraments are necessary for salvation. Its official teaching states the following, “The Church affirms that for believers the sacraments of the New Covenant are necessary for salvation.”18 Thus, the Catholic Church presents her seven physical sacraments – mediated through her – as the means of obtaining the grace of the Holy Spirit.19 The Vatican’s pretense is to present her symbolic sacraments as the efficacious cause of salvation. These enticing ways to obtain salvation are but the age-old temptation of looking to physical performances and human works to gain favor with God. Such teachings as these come under the eternal curse of perverting the Gospel of Christ.20 Nevertheless, to administer her seven sacraments, the Catholic Church ordains priests of whom the she states, “Priests have received from God a power that he has given neither to angels nor to archangels…God above confirms what priests do here below.”21 In the New Testament, no sacrificial priests are mentioned, only elders and pastors.22
Thus the Catholic Church’s man-made belief system is a catastrophic imposition on the souls of men and women. However, the true Gospel lays before each person the solution that is ample to face all evil. The power of it is strong enough to raise people up to life, peace, and heaven itself. The same Gospel causes the Lord’s redeemed people to rejoice in the glorious grace that flows through His own plan of eternal life. “And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.”23 The eternal Son of the Father has life in His own essence and person as the Word of God.24 From Him eternal life is given to each true believer, both here and in heaven.25 However, the Catholic Church teaches that God’s grace comes through the Roman Catholic sacraments.26 Anyone who believes in the Catholic sacramental system and places his or her soul’s trust on ceremonial proceedings is not trusting on Jesus Christ alone.
A Catholic Believes in the Mass i.e. the Eucharist:
At the heart of Roman Catholicism is the Mass or Eucharist, described by the Second Vatican Council as “the fount and apex of the whole Christian life.” Rome claims that the Mass is a sacrifice and that the sacrifice of Calvary and the Mass are the same; namely, “one single sacrifice.” Thus she teaches, “The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice: ‘The victim is one and the same: the same now offers through the ministry of priests, who then offered himself on the cross; only the manner of offering is different.’ ‘And since in this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross is contained and offered in an unbloody manner…this sacrifice is truly propitiatory.’”27
To propose a bloodless sacrifice is a contradiction in terms.28 A bloodless sacrifice is a senseless inconsistency that can have no purpose other than to deceive. The Lord’s Supper is not a sacrifice; it is a memorial. The bread and wine are tokens symbolizing the body and blood of the once and for all sacrifice of Calvary. A true believer eats the bread and drinks the wine to remember Him and His atonement with thanksgiving and praise until He returns. Again what a different relationship there is in the faith of a true believer regarding the Lord’s Supper and the belief of a Catholic regarding the Mass or Eucharist. There can be no more remembrance of sin against a true believer, either to shame him now or to condemn him hereafter. The sacrifice of Christ was once for all time. Its power is eternal. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.”29 Jesus Christ the Lord procured a perfect, eternal salvation for one who truly believes in His finished sacrifice. Not so for the poor Catholic who persists in depending on a so-called, “divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass.”
A Catholic Prays not to Christ Jesus Alone but also to Mary and the Saints:
A true believer looks to Christ Jesus as the one mediator, “for there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus.”30 The splendor of the Gospel is that the believer’s heart is set on Jesus Christ, the fountain of life. A Catholic, however, will also pray to Mary and their declared Saints. This is because the Catholic Church officially teaches, “Communion with the dead. In full consciousness of this communion of the whole Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, the Church in its pilgrim members, from the earliest days of the Christian religion, has honored with great respect the memory of the dead… Our prayer for them is capable not only of helping “them, but also of making their intercession for us effective.”’31
The Bible teaches that God alone is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. Thus, He alone hears prayers, He is the all Holy One; in a word, He is God alone. Prayer directed to the dead, and not the Lord God alone, is consummate blasphemy! Calling up or invoking the dead; i.e., necromancy, is strictly forbidden in the Bible.32 As the One great true High Priest, Jesus Christ completely satisfies all the intercessory prayer service that a true believer needs; as Scripture states, “It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.”33 Again, a poor deluded Catholic who persists in following the Roman Catholic tradition of prayers to, or invocations of the dead, has no biblical warrant for being heard by God the Father. Scripture asserts that in seeking other mediators, Catholics reject the unique redemptive office of the Lord Jesus Christ who is the sole mediator of the covenant of Grace appointed by the Holy Father.34
In Scripture, the believer looks to Christ Jesus as “THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.”35 The splendor of the Gospel is that the believer’s heart is set on Christ, the Fountain of life, where the believer drinks more and more deeply of the rivers of pleasure that are at Christ’s right hand. Eternal life is to be found only in Christ Jesus, His perfect life, and Him being an all-sufficient sacrifice. “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.”36 This is the true focus, because a believer learns more and more consistently to look always to the Lord Jesus Christ alone for life. How completely different this is from the goal and destiny that Papal Rome holds out to people. Rome directs her people, and mankind in general, to look to physical sacraments and her ruling hierarchy that uphold her sacraments. However, the biblical Gospel does not involve looking to physical signs; rather, believers are to follow the biblical injunction to look “unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”37 He is the author and finisher of their faith: its beginning and end. “Looking to Jesus” is to trustfully keep one’s heart and mind stayed upon Him. In Him is grace. He is the Fountain of all grace and supplies all the needs of each believer. The believer’s life is drawn from Christ, and directed to Him; he is its initial principle and the final end of it. True life is that which is lived in personal, intimate communion with Christ, as the Apostle Paul so eloquently stated, “For to me to live is Christ.” It means that as a person is justified by the All-Holy God alone, he is to walk with the Lord Jesus Christ, taking Christ’s yoke upon him and learning of Christ, so that he drinks deeply from God’s Written Word and begins to follow what the Scripture says, rather than devising his own ways.
The Lord faced the sincere and devout Pharisees with a very strong word. They were looking to their leader and chief, Caiaphas, the High Priest. The Lord said to those Pharisees, “if ye believe not that I am He, ye shall die in your sins.”38 Like the Pharisees, many present-day Catholics look to the Pope. And likewise today, as with the Pharisees, if any Catholic continues to recognize the Pope as “Holy Father,” he is, in fact, denying the true Father and Son.”39 He who persists in his sins, will likewise die in his sins. The Lord Jesus Christ died in place of the true believer. His life and finished sacrifice alone are the ransom for the believer. “The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.”40 This was the price demanded by the All-Holy God in order that His justice might be satisfied in the forgiveness of sins. As a result of this payment, the true believer on Christ Jesus alone is freed forever from sin and Satan. “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”41 Such a gift of God engages our hearts in deep gratitude as we proclaim, “For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.”42
by Richard Bennett | http://www.bereanbeacon.org
Marshall Segal / January 26, 2015
Jesus came on mission, lived on mission, died on mission, and left his disciples — including all of us who follow him today — on mission. Conversion is about commission, not just salvation, because we’re not saved to be saved, but saved to be sent. Redemption is a life-saving rescue, but it also involves a profound rewiring and repurposing. We are saved to go out into the world for the glory of our Jesus — to make him known as our Lord, Savior, and greatest Treasure.
How is that mission accomplished? What plan did Jesus bring to make himself known in the world? Well, it began with a small group of confused, unqualified, and unknown men that walked with Jesus — and even one of them betrayed him to death.
Jesus “called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits” (Mark 6:7). Jesus could have chosen the experienced, well-educated teachers of the day. He could have commissioned the crowds that gathered in city after city — thousands and thousands of people. Instead, he picked twelve seemingly random guys, stayed with them his whole ministry, and sent them out to speak on his behalf.
Sent by Jesus for Jesus
These twelve “went out and proclaimed that people should repent” (Mark 6:12). They were men with a message, summarized here in one word: repentance. “Repent” appears just one other time in Mark’s Gospel. Jesus announces, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Repentance — turning away from sin, from other gods, from lesser treasures — is the fitting response of a sinful people to the good news of a holy, sovereign, and gracious God.
It was a condition for salvation (Luke 13:3, 5), but it was so much more than a condition. Repentance is living, breathing, and believing faith. Why would we continue walking in sin when we’ve seen the path of life, when we’ve heard the gospel — the medication all our sin-sick souls so desperately need? This was the message in the disciples’ mouths. There is a Name that loves the unworthy, redeems the hopeless, heals the sick, and conquers every evil. His name is Jesus.
Sent with Nothing, and Yet Everything
Before the disciples went out with the news, Jesus “charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff — no bread, no bag, no money in their belts — but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics” (Mark 6:8). Why make them live and serve like homeless guys? They certainly didn’t have to. They had the bread, the bags, and the jackets. Jesus has just given them authority over unclean spirits (Mark 6:7) and the ability to heal the sick (Mark 6:13). Why would he intentionally make their journey so hard, hungry, and precarious?
To make and keep them humble and dependent on God. Those entrusted with the greatest news in the world and empowered to be lights where they live will always be tempted to be proud and self-reliant. It’s a profound, but pervasive irony that fruitfulness so often causes us to forget the sovereign love of God upholding and empowering all our ministry. One way to avoid the trap is to intentionally forego safety and comfort, even safety and comfort we can afford to provide for ourselves.
Sometimes we need to make ourselves trust God for what we need tomorrow, instead of structuring our lives to only need him every once in a while, when an unexpected crisis comes. Leave what you need at home, and know that you’ll have what you need. Your Father loves you more than you know and has more at his disposable than you could possibly fit in that bag — or house, or 401K (Matthew 6:33–34).
Sent to Stay and Invest, Not to Bail
Jesus went on to say to these messengers, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them” (Mark 6:10–11). These disciples — as well as his disciples today — will meet two kinds of people when we go into the world for Jesus. Some will receive us and listen to what we have to say. Others will reject us — cut us off and close the door.
If they will listen, Jesus says, do not leave too quickly. Stop, stay, and invest where the word of God is welcomed. Don’t feel the need to move on to another house and another house. If they’ll have you and this gospel, be willing to stay awhile. This was likely a shorter trip for the twelve, but the principle applies today in fast-moving, over-scheduled society. Make room in your day, your month, your priorities to sit with men and women who will hear God’s word. Don’t be in such a hurry that you can’t patiently invest where God is moving in the ears and hearts of those around you. When he opens a door for the word (Colossians 4:3), walk through it.
Sent to Speak, Not to Save
Some will not listen. We should expect this in a world enslaved to sin and blind to the beauty of God. Don’t be shocked when you hear, “Thanks, but no thanks,” or worse. It doesn’t mean you necessarily picked a bad time or said it wrong. The gospel is the most offensive news you can bring — even though it’s also the sweetest, most true, most hope-filled news anyone could hear. You are wicked to your very core, broken in every way, and destined for unending wrath at the hands of an all-powerful God. And your only hope is in one message and one Man, no other. No wonder the world so often scoffs and screams at Christianity.
Jesus didn’t tell the disciples to stay until their audience surrendered. No, he said some will listen and others will not. I am not sending you to save, but to speak. I — and I alone — am the one who saves. Our commission is not to create listeners, but to discover them, and then make disciples of them. “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. . . . they will listen to my voice” (John 10:14–16).
Sent to Simply Change the World
How long were the disciples gone? We don’t know, but it seems like it wasn’t long. And there were only twelve of them, just six sets of two. That’s probably smaller than your small group. So how much could they really get done? The next verse says, “King Herod heard of it (the ministry of the twelve), for Jesus’ name had become known” (Mark 6:14). They went out, six pairs of poor, ordinary, untrained, unlikely spokesmen, and what God was doing through them rose to the attention of the highest official in their land. Through their small and simple ministry, Jesus’s name became known in that city.
God will reveal his fame even through his bread-less, bag-less, penniless, but faithful followers. God will exalt the name of his Son through us — going before us in the hearts of our listeners, then sending us to speak the good news to them, all the while promising to go with us and provide us with everything we need along the way, and finally fulfilling and completing all that he calls us to do. Jesus’s name will be known, and believed, and treasured. May it happen through me.
God’s Most Hated Attribute!
“Our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases!” Psalm 115:3
“The LORD does whatever pleases Him, throughout all heaven and earth, and on the seas and in their depths!” Psalm 135:6
“All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as He pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth.” Daniel 4:35
On the other hand, there is no doctrine more hated by worldlings, as the great, stupendous, but yet most certain doctrine of the Sovereignty of the infinite Jehovah!
Men will allow God to be everywhere except on His throne!
They will allow Him to be in His workshop to fashion worlds and make stars.
They will allow Him to be in His almonry to dispense His alms and bestow His bounties.
They will allow Him to sustain the earth and bear up the pillars thereof, or light the lamps of Heaven, or rule the waves of the ever-moving ocean.
But when God ascends His throne then His creatures then gnash their teeth! And when we proclaim an enthroned God, and His right to do as He wills with His own, to dispose of His creatures as He thinks well, without consulting them in the matter then it is that we are hissed and execrated, and then it is that men turn a deaf ear to us for God on His throne, is not the God they love!
No doctrine in the whole Word of God has more excited the hatred of mankind, than the truth of the absolute sovereignty of God!
\Opposition to divine sovereignty is essentially atheism and were it not for sovereign grace, none of us would ever have followed the path to Heaven. I am daily more and more convinced that the difference between one man and another is, not the difference between his use of his will, but the difference of grace that has been bestowed upon him.
“Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns!” Revelation 19:6
“The great controversy between God and man has been, whether He or they shall be God; whether His reason or theirs, His will or theirs, shall be the guiding principle. If anything could frustrate God’s will then it would be superior to Him, God would not be omnipotent, and so would lose the perfection of the Deity, and consequently the Deity itself; for that which did wholly defeat God’s will, would be more powerful than He. To be God and yet inferior to another, is a contradiction!” (Stephen Charnock)
God’s Most Comforting Attribute!
“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose!” Romans 8:28
There is no attribute of God more comforting to His children than that of God’s sovereignty. Under the most adverse circumstances, in the most severe troubles, they believe . . .
that Sovereignty has ordained their afflictions,
that Sovereignty overrules them, and
that Sovereignty will sanctify them all.
There is nothing for which the children of God ought more earnestly to contend, than . . .
the doctrine of their Master ruling over all creation,
the kingship of God over all the works of His own hand,
the throne of God, and His right to reign upon that throne.
“Our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases!” Psalm 115:3
“All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as He pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth.” Daniel 4:35
“Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns!” Revelation 19:6
“To be God and sovereign are inseparable!” (Stephen Charnock)
“Sovereignty characterizes the whole being of God. He is sovereign in all His attributes!” (Arthur Pink)
“God has sovereign right to dispose of us as He pleases. We ought to acquiesce in all that God does with us and to us.” (William Carey)
|Nine Profits of Praying with Company: David Mathis / January 19, 2015Prayer is one of the deepest joys of the Christian life. It is almost too good to be true that in Jesus we have the very ear of God. What an indescribable gift, that the God whose greatness is beyond comprehension actually stoops to listen to us, and is even more ready to hear us than we are to speak.
And the joys and benefits of prayer aren’t limited to our personal prayer lives. A shared joy is a doubled joy, and God means for us not only to pray in our closets, and “without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) as we move through life in a spirit of dependence, but to pray with company.
Inestimable good happens when the regenerate rally with their fellows to come to their Father. It is past finding out all that God is doing when we pray together. Yet it helps to trace out some of the goodness, and whet our appetites with a few of the graces for which our prayer together is a means.
1. Added Power
Matthew 18:15–20 may be one of the more misunderstood texts in the New Testament. That often quoted promise “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:20) comes at the end of a section on church discipline and when a “brother sins against you” (Matthew 18:15). The context is not exactly small-group prayer.
However, Jesus does appeal to a deeper principle here, which is a benefit of praying together. He says “anything” — “if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask . . .” (Matthew 18:19). There is added power when we unite with brothers and sisters in Christ to join our hearts and make our collective requests to our Father.
2. Multiplied Joy
Here we make explicit what we already said above: When we share the joy of prayer, we increase our joy in prayer. When we make a regular practice of praying together with fellow believers, we avail ourselves of a channel of joy we otherwise would be neglecting. And by praying with others, not only do we add to our joy in God, but also to theirs. And when we work with others for their joy (2 Corinthians 1:24), we again increase our own.
3. Greater Glory to God
Our multiplied joy in God then makes for multiplied glory to God — because, as John Piper says, God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. When we understand gratitude to him in terms of his glory (in light of Romans 1:21, where giving thanks to him is connected to honoring him), then 2 Corinthians 1:11 makes this truth explicit as it relates to prayer: “You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.” Praying together not only adds power to the request, but also gets others involved and so brings more glory for the Giver when he answers.
4. More Fruitful Ministry and Mission
God means for us to pray for each other in our various ministries and manifestations of our great shared Commission. Paul modeled this when he asked the churches to pray for his gospel work (Romans 15:30–32; 2 Corinthians 1:11; Ephesians 6:18–20; Colossians 4:3–4; 2 Thessalonians 3:1). He was more than able to pray these things himself, and doubtless he did, but he anticipated there would be greater fruitfulness in the work when others joined him in prayer for it.
5. Unity Among Believers
Praying together is one of the single most significant things we can do to cultivate unity in the church. There is a unity that is a given to those who are partners in Christ and share spiritual life in him. Acts 1:14 says it was “with one accord” that the first Christians “were devoting themselves to prayer.” Already we have “the unity of the Spirit,” and yet we are to be “eager to maintain” it (Ephesians 4:3). So praying together is both an effect of the unity we share in Christ, and it is a cause for deeper and richer unity. It is not only a sign that unity already exists among the brothers, but also a catalyst for more.
6. Answers We Otherwise Wouldn’t Get
James 5:14–16, and many other texts, implies that there are some answers to prayer we simply would not get without involving others in our praying.
Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.
God means for some answers to prayer to wait for others to join with us in the plea. Often we pray alone for our personal needs, and God is pleased to answer. But at times, his means include the leaders of the church, or a special “prayer of faith,” or just the humble prayer of a fellow sinner made righteous in Christ.
7. To Learn and Grow in Our Prayers
Plain and simple, the best way to learn to pray is to pray with others, especially those who have had their prayers shaped by the Scriptures. Listen for those around you who are acquainted enough with God in prayer as to regularly draw others into communion with him through their praises and petitions. Give careful attention to their approach to God, the kinds of things they thank him for, and ask him for, and how they keep others in mind in the corporate setting.
And even beyond what we’re conscious of, we’re being shaped in profound ways for good as we join our hearts with others in prayer.
8. To Know Each Other
One of the best ways to get to know a fellow believer is to pray together. It is in prayer, in the conscious presence of God, that we’re most likely to let our façades fall. We hear others’ hearts in prayer like nowhere else.
When we pray together, not only do we reveal what most captures our hearts and truly is our treasure, but as we pray together, says Jack Miller, “You can tell if a man or woman is really on speaking terms with God” (Prayer, 23).
9. To Know Jesus More
Saving the best for last, the greatest benefit is that we know Jesus better when we pray together, in his name, with fellow lovers of him. With our limited vision and perspective, there are aspects of Christ we’re prone to see with more clarity than others. Our own experiences and personalities emphasize some features of his glory and make us blind to others. And so Tim Keller observes, “By praying with friends, you will be able to hear and see facets of Jesus that you have not yet perceived” (Prayer, 119).
And since the great point of prayer is not getting things from God, but getting God, perhaps this benefit alone is enough to inspire you for that next opportunity to pray with company.