Back on August 28th Andy Stanley was a few weeks into his sermon series called Who Needs God. That particular message, called For the Bible Told Me So, was Stanley’s attempt to correct what he… More
What is the purpose of Genesis? If I asked you this what would you tell me? I recently asked a friend about this and this was his response, “The story of our beginning, of creation.” I responded and said that he was not wrong, creation is in there for sure, but I did say that he was missing something in the grand picture of Genesis.
The grand purpose of Genesis can be seen when we notice that it was Moses who wrote the book. This matters because what else did Moses write? He wrote the entire Torah as well. Most people will say that Moses wrote Exodus through Deuteronomy to prepare the people of Israel to enter the promise land, but always exclude Genesis from this purpose believing it to be written to describe the story of creation alone. This should not be done.
I think Genesis should be included with the rest of the Torah as regards to its purpose as a whole. Therefore this means Genesis was written to prepare the people of Israel to enter into the promise land along with the other books in the Torah. How? Genesis begins with Gods people dwelling safely in Eden, is then filled with all sorts of sin, and ends with Gods people dwelling in safety in Egypt.
What then was Israel supposed to learn from Genesis? That God is still with them, that God really does keep His promises, and that God really means to encourage them as they enter the land He’s giving them. No matter what sin happens to them, around them, or even from them, God will still take them exactly where He wants them to be.
How are we to be encouraged today from the book of Genesis? Rather than merely focusing on Genesis as a scientific argument for creation over evolution, we ought to be encouraged in a somewhat similar manner to Israel. God is still with us, that God really does keep His promises, and that God really means to encourage us as we live out our lives under His gracious sovereign hand. No matter what sin happens to you, around you, or even from you, God will still take you exactly where He wants you to be. His people always dwell securely and we never need fear over anything that happens in our lives.
This is the God intended purpose of Genesis.
How many of you have ever been out of the country? I have, and every time I go abroad I always look forward to one moment: walking out of the airport in the new country for the first time. Any of you know what I mean? It’s a different country, with different sights, different sounds, different smells, and an overall different feel. On one hand it feels a bit alien and strange to walk into such an unknown place, but on the other hand there’s an adventurous feel when you walk into a foreign and mysterious culture. It can be a bit of sensory overload and can feel risky at times, but I quite enjoy it.
Well, we’re about to feel the same kind of excitement and uneasiness because today I am blogging about the book of Revelation. You may feel a bit of sensory overload and it may even feel risky at times, but I assure you the book of Revelation is in the Bible to encourage us and I would even add that this book shows us the glory of Christ more than any other in the Bible.
The book of Revelation feels foreign to us mainly because it is filled with symbolism, figurative language, and prophetic apocalyptic imagery that most of us don’t really know what to do with. Now, to feel this way is ok, but to avoid Revelation because we don’t understand it is to fall into error. As a good guide would do, today I want to give you a roadmap or a foundational principle that will help you navigate through this book. This basic foundational principle comes to us from rightly answering the question: how do we approach the book of Revelation?
Answer, we should approach it literally.
Some of you just took a sigh of relief. But wait. When I mean we should approach Revelation literally I mean we should approach Revelation according to its genre of literature. Let me explain.
We should NOT approach Revelation in the same manner we approach Genesis and Exodus. Genesis and Exodus both are included in the genre of historical narrative, which means these books give us a sequential timeline or chronological account of historical events. I think many people approach Revelation in the same manner, and though Revelation shouldn’t be thought of as history, it is commonly approached as a sequential timeline or chronological account of events that are going to take place in the future. We can’t do this because Revelation isn’t narrative, it’s in the apocalyptic genre. Just as there are different ways to interpret the genre of poetry and historical narrative in the Bible, there are different ways to interpret apocalyptic literature. The same rules do not apply.
So if we’re not to approach the book of Revelation as a future chain of sequential or chronological events, how then should we approach it?
Understanding that apocalyptic literature doesn’t play by the same rules, we should approach Revelation expecting it to be filled with symbolic imagery, metaphor, and figurative language because those things are characteristic of the apocalyptic genre in the Bible. Something fascinating in this regard is that out of all the books in the New Testament, the one book with most OT allusions, quotes, references, and imagery is the book of Revelation. This means it is filled with symbolic fulfillment that goes all the way back to Genesis 1. We should also approach Revelation expecting it to have relevance and deep meaning for BOTH the present audience of the apostle John, and the universal Church throughout all of history.
So you can see the cards in my hand, my view on Revelation is that throughout its 22 chapters, the apostle John re-tells the same story 7 different times with increasing intensity every time. You can call this a progressive parallelism, or a progressive recapitulation. G.K. Beale calls is the Historical-Redemptive Approach, while others call it the ‘Iterest’ approach.
Did you know? This coming October 29 The Publicans we’ll be hosting our first ever Publicans Conference. The theme is ‘We Are Pilgrims.’ Why should you come? Simple: the Christian life is a pilgrimage, a journey, a voyage of the most exhilarating kind. It has a clear beginning and a desired end, rich with meaning for this life and the life to come. This pilgrimage is filled with joy, delight, and triumph as well as pain, fear, and danger. Courage is needed and suffering is certain, yet the Gospel moves us onward. We are pilgrims.
There will also be two large book giveaways as well as freebies for the first 50 people through the door. Check out the info below, cyou soon!
Date: October 29, 2016
Location: SonRise Community Church, 9970 Ridge Road, New Port Richey, FL 34654
8:30 – Doors open
9:00-9:15 – Welcome and Introduction
9:15-10:15 – Session 1: The Creation of a Pilgrim (Matt Noble, Ephesians 2:1-9)
10:15-11:05 – Session 2: The Life of a Pilgrim (Sam Knox)
11:05-11:35 – Panel discussion – Adam, Andrew, Matt, Sam
11:35 – Morning Book Giveaway
11:45-12:45 – Lunch Break (we’re asking that you either bring a lunch or quickly grab lunch somewhere locally, allowing enough time to return by 12:45)
12:45-1:45 – Session 3: The Privilege of a Pilgrim (Adam Powers, Jeremiah 29:7)
1:45-2:35 – Session 4: The End of a Pilgrim (Andrew Jaenichen, Hebrews 13:14)
2:35-3:00 – Panel discussion – Adam, Andrew, Matt, Sam
3:00 – Afternoon Book Giveaway
3:05 – Closing
Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
There’s an old saying that goes ‘many people will lie in the first 30 minutes of Sunday morning worship more than they will all week.’ This has always been an interesting quote to me especially when thinking about weekly congregational worship. This week, in particular, my worship director and I were talking about a worship class he is currently taking. I was helping him with an assignment where he was organizing the different worship songs that we’ve done of the past few weeks into certain categories based on who the recipient of the song was. Was it being sung to God or is it an encouragement to the congregation? This discussion led my mind to go back to that old saying and wonder how much do we really believe the songs that we sing.
Do we ever think about it on Sunday mornings? While in that moment we may be caught up with an emotion or excitement, are we really engaging with the words that we are singing?
I want this brief blog post to be an encouragement to all of us as we go into worship this weekend. I hope that we will be encouraged to think through the words that we are singing. I want us to really focus in on the depth of these truths and how they affect our souls. We truly must think of the songs we sing as an outpouring of our hearts towards God and an encouragement one another. I hope the words of Colossians 3:16 become a reality to us all. So specifically we will look at two types of songs that seem to be the most often sung but overlooked in their meanings. These are songs of lament and songs of dedication. In one, we sing of our trust in God in the midst the pain and sorrow and in the other we sing of our dedication to God in all things.
The Song of Lament
For many of us songs of lament probably aren’t all that common in our congregations, even though their meaning and use is probably one of the most real parts of the Christian life. The Psalms are filled with hearts broken and beaten by the world, but whose ultimate faith is in the Lord alone. In our congregations we may not sing them very often but when (not ‘if’) we do we should take a moment and reflect on what they mean. When we sing the words of Blessed be your name and echo the bridge “you give and take away, blessed be your name” do we truly think through what that song is saying? Do we really look at our situations and see all that we may have gained and all that we may have lost and truly be able to cry out “Blessed be your name?” When we are stuck in the wilderness of life do we truly cry out “Blessed be your name?” Songs of lament can be one the greatest salves to hurting heart. They give voice to the destitute, but as we struggle do we truly believe these words. Do we truly yearn for these words to reflect our hearts towards God?
So for those of us who are in pain may we sing these songs with a heart that reflects a trust in God. And to those of us who are not in the midst of trials and struggles, let us sing these songs with two things in mind: First, the times we have been brought through the fire. When we sing these songs let us reflect on what God has done for us. Let us not sit by passively or sing absent-mindedly, but let us sing reflecting on how God has brought us through. Second, let us remember our brothers and sister who are sitting around us in our service who are struggling. Let our singing be an encouragement to them of how God is worthy in the midst of our struggles, but also let these songs be a reminder that we all suffer and walk through the deserts.
Songs of Dedication
Songs that cry out for dedication and sing of our allegiance to God are some of the most often taken for granted songs in Christian worship. With one voice we can echo the words “Jesus I my cross have taken, all to leave and follow thee, destitute, despised forsaken, and thou from hence my all shalt be,” and yet it is not less than a day and back we are to the same pattern following our own desires and ambitions, with little or no thought for the will and direction of God. Another example from the same beautiful hymn “Go then earthly fame and treasure, come disaster scorn and pain, in thy service pain is pleasure, with thy favor loss is gain.” These simple lines echo the call of Christ to follow Him in the gospel, and connect us to the mission of His disciples for all generations; To give up everything of this world and be solely devoted to him. In these songs we declare with one voice yes and amen, we will follow Him without a second guess, yet again we quickly turn back.
Worship through song is formative in many ways, for worship gives voice to who we know we should be, and when we take it seriously we begin to think thoughtfully about whether or not we truly believe the words that we say. It is easy to nod our head at the words of the sermon, but it’s a whole other thing to put those words into action in our daily lives. However, in worship through song we sing those truths one to another and back to God. So the songs we sing on Sunday should never simply be another song in the list of songs that you’ve learned, that flow as easily from, our lips as the newest pop song. The songs we sing should be an outflowing of the truth of God in Scripture and in our lives.
The songs we sing should build us up with joy for the greatness of who our God is. We should be able to sing in reflection for all that he has done. We should sing with joy to exclaim his greatness to our brothers and sisters. And we should sing the truth of Scripture to those who do not know that they may hear and believe the word of God presented through song.
May our worship through song never be a lie.
May we think deeply of the things of God and sing in response to the greatness of our God. May we not simply check out on a Sunday morning and go through the motions of singing words that we’ve heard time and time again. But may we engage our mind and our heart to understand what God is saying in his word and through the worship of his people.
So when we join with our brothers and sisters this Sunday and sing with one voice may we engage with the words that we’re singing. Let the words truly be a reflection of our hearts, let the words that we sing become formative for our lives as they reflect the truth of Scripture and the truth of our Savior.
After giving Jesus presumptuous and bogus flattery they posed their question to Him in Mark 12:14, ‘Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?’
The first half of His answer in 12:17 is, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s…” Do you realize how startling this would have been to a Jewish audience? Jesus, in this one phrase, told Jews that it was ok to pay taxes to an idolatrous government with an idolatrous coin. This is more than just a clever answer that saved Jesus from the trap set for Him. Many people think that in this phrase Jesus not only created but validated what we now call the separation of Church and State. I don’t disagree with that, I just think that there’s much more going on that the separation of Church and State. There are larger things happening here. Not only is Jesus saying that paying taxes to Caesar is ok, but by saying that paying taxes to Caesar is ok He is also saying that the Roman government is a legitimate government. You know what that means? A pagan government that rejects the one true God, according to Jesus, is a legitimate government.
Mark Dever helpfully comments here saying this means two things:
Christians should be good citizens, and in order to be good citizens Christians are to give to the existing government what they are due.
Government, according to the Bible is seen as a good thing ordained by God that Christians can and should be a part of while recognizing that it doesn’t have to be Christian in order to be good. So every government, pagan or Christian, reflects an innate authority based in God’s authority alone. Yet because of the fall of man in Genesis 3 we now know that all governments do not properly reflect authority, but rather tend to reflect the abuse of that authority. So even though authority is by nature a good thing, we recognize that not all authority is used for good. Within the words of Jesus here we find that even though all governments have been affected by the fall, rather than rejecting government and seeking to establish our own, we must work at government so that it more reflects proper justice and authority. This means Christians are to be law-abiding people, tax-paying people, and people who pray continually for those in working within governmental offices. This is how we give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.
Christians are not only to be good citizens, but we’re to be globally good citizens.
Think about it. Jesus could have required that those who follow Him to only obey and pay taxes to earthly governments that recognize and submit to the one true God, but He didn’t. Rather because Jesus taught a submission to and the legitimacy of the pagan Roman government, this becomes a principle that is to be followed by every Christian in every nation. Think of how it was in Old Testament: one people, one nation, one God. It was a theocracy, where all citizens were expected to follow and love God. Now, Jesus says, for His followers it’s no longer this way. His followers are no longer to be looking to build one nation or one earthly kingdom but are to be good citizens of the earthly governments we find ourselves under. Why? Jesus’ “Kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). Because of this no earthly kingdom should ever be identified with God’s people. Here me loud and clear: Americans are not God’s chosen people. Modern Israelites are not God’s chosen people. Modern day Jamaicans are not God’s chosen people. No, God’s people are a global people. Redeemed men and women who do life in every nation, language, people, and tongue as good citizens showing forth the good character of God in whatever nation they happen to live in.
Now, Jesus could’ve stopped here in His answer and would’ve successfully navigated the crafty question meant to trap Him. But He continued to make another point clear. Not only should we render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but the second half of His answer in v17 is, “…render to God the things that are God’s.”
Notice here what Jesus is saying. The Denarius He was holding had an inscription on one side that said Caesar was the ‘son of divine Augustus’ which was meant to convey that Caesar was a god. This is also held up in other historical literature where we read the phrase ‘Caesar Kurios’ (Caesar is lord) was a common motto in first century Greco-Roman culture. By saying ‘give to God what is God’s’ Jesus is contradicting the coin He’s holding. The coin said Caesar was a god, yet Jesus clearly makes a distinction between Caesar and God, which ultimately means Caesar is not god. Because Caesar is not god, and God is God, the extent of a government’s authority and the extent of God’s authority are different. Governments really do have authority in the lives of their citizens, but their authority is not a universal authority. It has borders and boundaries. Whose authority is universal? Whose authority transcends all of man’s limitations? God’s. So Christians are to obey the government, but Christians are never to worship the government or its leader. Our duty to earthly governmental authority is limited, because we have a greater allegiance to God, and whenever we find these two authorities (of God and government) clashing, we go with God every time…no matter what. This means when the government commands us to do something that is morally wrong, we as Christians, are called to disobey those authorities and obey God instead because God’s holds a higher authority over us.
These things are played out for us in Acts 4. The authorities in place told the apostles not to speak or preach in the name of Jesus Christ and it was Peter and John who responded in Acts 4:19-20 saying, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” So in their example we see obedience to authorities but we see a greater obedience to God. A more modern example is found in Washington D.C. Capitol Hill Baptist Church is a historic church in Washington D.C. When they were founded in 1878 they labored to put Jesus’ teaching about government into their statement of faith, and this is what the came up with, “We believe civil government is of divine appointment, for the interest and good order of human society, and that magistrates are to be prayed for, conscientiously honored, and obeyed, except in things opposed to the will of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the only Lord of the conscience and the Ruler of the kings of the earth.” Today 138 years later they still hold to this paragraph. They did well, and we would do well to heed it.
Before we finish note one final implication, again from Mark Dever. Because the ultimate allegiance of Christians belongs to God and no nation or government, it is therefore problematic to say that any one nation on earth is a Christian nation. For us, just because the principles of Christianity influenced the founders of our nation, and just because we have had some presidents who were Christians, this does not mean that most Americans are Christians, that most government employees are Christians, that the Christian worldview is the American worldview, or that one has to be a Christian to be an American. No, America is not God’s country. No earthly nation is God’s country. His country is our heavenly country that is already here but not yet fully here.
As Christians, we are dual citizens. We are citizens first and foremost of the city of God, and secondly we are citizens of the city of man. We enter into the city of God by faith in Christ’s work on our behalf, and show our faith in Christ within the city of man by our good works done for our fellow man. Therefore, because we’re concerned with the commission we’ve been given by God to help people find their way to and do life within the city of God (even though many political options and opinions abound in our nation and our own congregation) this is why you’ll never hear an endorsement of any political candidate or political party at my church.
This is where I want to leave you today. Our duty to our government is very important but it is limited. Our duty to God is more important and all-encompassing. Yes, pay your taxes, obey the government, pray for President Obama, and pray for whoever gets elected in November. But even more, trust in Christ, obey Him, and remember that in the end of all things you and I will ultimately stand or fall, be welcomed into glory or cast out into hell not before any government or earthly king, but before God.
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).
Dr. Paul Fritz, Professor at Trinity College of Florida, recently found out that he has been cut out of a hefty inheritance. He was born into a very prosperous family and, if he had desired, could have been a beneficiary of his family’s money. However, he decided to put that life to the side and become a missionary proclaiming Christ to the lost. He endured many difficulties and illnesses along the way. Life was not always easy. Circumstances were not always perfect. But Dr. Fritz does not regret his choice to live his life for Christ, for there is no greater endeavor. “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose” (Jim Elliot).
Dr. Fritz could have spent his life making millions of dollars, but in the end what would that have mattered?
As someone once said, “You cannot pull a U-haul to heaven.” Only what is done for Christ lasts. So as the verses above say, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Let me ask you, where is your heart?
Is your heart focused on God and living life for eternity? Or is your heart focused on this world and living for the temporal? What you pursue in this life is a reflection of your heart. And it is so easy to live for the nicest car, the biggest house, the best vacation, and the rest of what this world offers, but these are fleeting joys that do not fully satisfy. To live for these things is a futile pursuit that leaves you empty and lost. Instead we are to live for eternity. To live for the One who gave His life that you might have eternal life. Live for Jesus Christ.
This is the pursuit that matters.
When it comes to religion and politics there seems to be more questions than answers.
For example: does the separation of Church and State mean that the church shouldn’t get involved in politics? If not, to what degree should churches get involved? Is there one Christian position on politics? Does the Bible line up with more with liberal Democrats or conservative Republicans? Does the Bible teach us how to vote? Does God redeem institutions or nations as well as men and women? Should the government compel religion or exclude it? Is the government good or evil? If good, how should Christians support it? If evil, should the Church begin a revolution and take it over?
Different Christians throughout history have responded to these questions in different ways. Some have been so fearful that they’ve run away from the state wanting nothing to do with anything political while others have been so eager to jump in that they’ve run towards the state by seeking governmental office or seeking change by campaigning for various presidential candidates. The rest of us seem to be caught in the middle not really sure how to think about politics in relation to our faith. So wherever you are in this discussion it would do us all very much good (especially taking into account our current political climate) to ask one question: how does Jesus teach us to think about these matters?
For today, turn to Mark 11-12.
It had only been two days since Jesus had entered the city on a donkey, where crowds of people were triumphantly cheering and shouting His name. Ironically now began the terrible game of ‘cat and mouse’, the endless Pharisaic and Roman maneuvering that will end in the death of Jesus. Perhaps it was the incident with the Fig Tree or the moment when Jesus turned over the tables in the temple that moved them to question Him, but in 11:27 we see it was the chief priests, the scribes, as well as the elders of the people who challenged Him directly. Asking about where His authority comes from and how He can do what He does. Jesus asked them questions in return and from being too afraid of the crowds they refused to answer Jesus, so Jesus refused to answer them. After telling them a parable which clearly laid blame on these Jewish leaders for refusing to believe in the Messiah, they grew so angry with Him that they sought to arrest Him, but again being too afraid of the crowds, they changed their plans and sought to trap and humiliate Him in public.
Now we have come to our text for today, Mark 12:13-17.
It’s unusual to see in v13 that the Pharisees and the Herodians were working together. The Pharisees, of course, being the Jewish religious leaders who opposed the Roman rule and supported Jewish liberty and the Herodians being servants of the Roman king Herod who opposed Jewish liberty and supported Roman rule. They were natural enemies that never collaborated on anything due to their rival interests, yet here they are, united in their opposition to Jesus. It’s ironic what brings people together isn’t it? These two groups now form the ‘they’ we read of in every verse of our passage. ‘They’ got together, formed a plan, came up with a question and sent some of their own to trap or catch Jesus in His teaching. This was nothing less than a carefully planned ‘ambush.’ After giving Jesus presumptuous and bogus flattery they posed their question to Him in v14, ‘Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?’
On the surface of things this question may seem small but to this culture and time the question was explosive to say the least.
You see, there were many taxes, tolls, and other charges Rome commanded on their people, but the imperial tax was required only of subject peoples, not Roman citizens. So for all Jews the same sum was required from rich and poor alike. When this tax was paid to Caesar they paid it with a Denarius (a coin worth a days wage for the common person then, worth about 16 cents in our currency today). This coin, on one side had an image of Caesar and on the other side had an image glorifying his rule with the words ‘son of divine Augustus’ over it. By paying this tax, one was in essence proclaiming the glory of Caesar’s rule and their submission to it. More so, because all the coins in circulation belonged to the Caesar, paying the tax was in essence giving back to Caesar money that was rightfully his. So each time a Jew had to pay this tax it was a reminder that they were a conquered people. This was very unpopular with Jews, most of them viewed it as idolatrous because paying it implied that Caesar, not God, was king.
In asking this question to Jesus they were trying to show that He was one of two things. He was either a fraud (a weak Messiah who had no plans to save the Jews from Roman oppression) or He was a political revolutionary (a military Messiah who was going to oppose Rome). This is a ‘heads I win, tails you lose’ kind of question. Depending on His answer either He loses His popularity among the Jews, or He loses His life from the Romans who don’t allow revolutionaries to live. This question had been well thought out. It was carefully crafted, sneaky, and totally unfair. But Jesus saw through their shallow hypocrisy. He knew their true malice toward Him and that with their mouths only they were showing this honor to Him. Matthew Henry comments here saying, “Hypocrisy, though ever so artfully managed, cannot be concealed from the Lord Jesus.”
So Jesus responded to them, and did so in such a way that made them marvel at His wisdom. On Wednesday we’ll look at His answer…
While many of us may have heard this question from someone who doesn’t believe in God or at least not the one presented in Scripture, it is a bit different when it comes from a Christian.
For many in evangelical Christianity this is an argument that has been settled since the mid-twentieth century, and in the SBC it was met by a landslide victory in the 1980’s that solidified the foundation of our faith in the Christ of Scripture. Now when we use the word ‘believe’ we are not talking about salvation, but as the apostle Paul says to Timothy “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:15-16).
So why has this discussion come back up again? In the last few weeks a prominent Pastor has spoken in 2 different forums and in both case exposed a belief that the Scriptures are a stumbling block to non-believers and as us such we should make them less important to our conversations with them. Instead of focusing on what Scripture says we need to only focus on what Jesus says and making a historical case for His resurrection…in the end is not the Bible that saves anyone it is faith in a resurrected Savior.
To this I would agree, that we’re saved through the work of the Spirit in us leading us to repentance and faith in the one true God, and this faith is not placed in ourselves but in the work of Jesus the Christ who came to earth in the time of Caesar Augustus and was crucified under the governance of Pontius Pilot in Caesarea. But who is this Christ, not who is Jesus, who is Christ? Apart from the rest of Scripture the title means little or nothing. Apart from a belief in the Old Testament prophecies, the covenants handed down from Adam to David, the words of Isaiah of one who would suffer so that we may live, what is it that our belief is founded in?
Now I could spend a lot of time giving an apologetic on the reason we believe the Bible, but that is not my goal today. My goal is to point out a simple flaw in the whole realm of thought that we can somehow jettison the Scriptures for the sake of evangelism.
For those who have read my first two post here and here, the final call of Christ is an important one, but one that encouraged the disciples not to hide from the Scriptures but to embrace them. In Luke 24 while on the road to Emmaus Jesus doesn’t just talk to these disciples about all the cool things that He did on earth and how they should put their faith in Him because of those things. No, He points back to the Old Testament and walked them through how this Jesus who they followed had to be the Messiah because all of Scripture pointed to this moment. He was the fulfillment of all that went before. They were talking to the Son of God and He wanted them to see how He was the fulfillment of scripture, not for them to abandon Scripture. When He appears to the rest of His disciples at the end of the chapter we see that Jesus opens their minds to understand the Scriptures in light of Himself.
So in Jesus’ own words the Scripture must be true and valid, for if they are not then how can we trust that He is the promised one. How could Peter preach in Acts 2 that the day’s prophesized by Joel were coming to pass? The teachings and work of Christ mean little if we do not have the Old Testament, without them we cannot fully understand or appreciate the Christ,. We cannot fully appreciate the long suffering work of God. We cannot fully grasp that God is working all things to His end, in His time table, and that He will bring these things to pass.
Clearly, the Scriptures are essential for our full understanding of God and His Christ, Jesus.
Now then the question will arise ‘Are they necessary for salvation?’ And to that I would ask ‘What are they being saved to?’ The first words of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark are a look into the message he came to proclaim: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).
What is so interesting is the Gospel we are to believe in is based on the reality of two preceding things, 1) the time is fulfilled, and 2) the Kingdom of God is at hand. It is out of these two things we are called to repent and believe. We don’t repent and believe because we want a ‘better life’ or because we want to feel better about ourselves. We repent and believe because of the conviction of sin and the reality that the time has come and the plan of God is fulfilled in His Son the Christ, who is the foundation of the message Jesus is proclaiming. Our faith is deeper than a prayer, it is more than a moment, it is a life with Jesus the Christ the Son of God who was promised from Genesis 3:15, who visited Joshua before Jericho, who stood beside the faithful in Babylon, and who is the suffering servant portrayed in the book of Isaiah.
So while we would agree the Bible doesn’t save anyone (only God can do that, only the Spirit at work can change a heart of stone to the heart of flesh) we cannot agree that the Old Testament is not a very important part of the Christian faith. It teaches us and points us to the only promised one of God. By it Phillip leads an Ethiopian eunuch to an understanding of Jesus as the one promised in Isaiah 53. By it Stephen makes his defense for his faith before the Jewish religious leaders.
For some this brief article will just seem like semantics, to others it will seem like nit picking, to some maybe it will be another reminder to be clear and concise when speaking about what you believe, but personally listening to the talks this past week and the follow up this week by apologists attempting to clarify (sort of) the view of Scripture that started this whole theological and pastoral pondering, it was a reminder to know what and why we believe.
My faith is in a risen Savior. Who came, suffered, and died as the Word of God declared would take place, and now has risen from the dead 3 days later and ascended to the right hand of the Father as testified to by the apostles. I believe because of the work of Christ in me and I am assured of His love and promises because of His written Word to us, both the Old and the New.
Yes I believe in the Event and in the Words that testify to it. Both before and after its occurrence.
Two days ago I asked you some hard questions about whether or not you’ll still be a Christian in the future. Today I want to give you confidence that God will keep you.
God Begins and Completes the Work in Philippi
1:6 continues, ‘And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus.’ Here we see the foundation of Paul’s confidence in this church. It’s not them who began this great gospel work, it is God who did so. And it’s not them who will complete this great gospel work, it is God who will do so. God began a work of conversion in the hearts of many Philippians, and this work shows itself in fruit. Fruit that looks like working together, partnering together, joining together for the spread and advance the gospel. Paul saw this, rejoiced in it, happily prayed about it, and then concluded that just as God had begun this work, so too He’ll complete it.
Front and center here we the sovereignty of God in salvation as well as the sovereign faithfulness of God to keep them until the end.
Even though the Philippian church suffered so much Paul encourages them with the sovereign faithfulness of God to keep and preserve them in 1:6. He does this later in 1:27-29 saying, ‘Let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ…stand firm in one spirit with one mind…don’t be frightened in anything by your opponents…for it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in Him but suffer for His sake.’ So God has granted two things to the Philippian church. God has granted them the gift of believing in Him and granted them the gift of suffering for Him. In these things the Philippian church is reminded that the only reason they will persevere in faith to the end is because God has promised to faithfully preserve them to the end.
What does this mean for us?
God Begins and Completes the Work in Us
Phil. 1:6 is not just a promise for the Philippian church, it’s a promise to the universal Church throughout all time. The same way God encouraged and taught the Philippians of His sovereign faithfulness to keep and preserve them to the end is the same way God encourages you and I when we face the questions like we posed two days ago: how do we know we’ll remain Christians throughout our lives? How will we endure? What is our confidence that we’ll last to the end? Phil. 1:6, ‘And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus.’
We will persevere in faith because God has promised to preserve us.
Jesus in John 10:28-29 said, ‘I give My sheep eternal life, and they will never perish, no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.’ Paul in Romans 8:30 said, ‘And those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified.’ Everyone whom God has predestined, called, and justified God will glorify. When God begins a work, He always finishes it. In Eph. 1:13-14 Paul says, ‘In Him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of His glory.’ The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is a promise of and evidence for God’s great keeping power. Jude addressed his small letter in Jude v1 to ‘those who are called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ.’ And at the end of Jude in v24 we read, ‘Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy…’
Be of good cheer Church, God promises to keep us, and make us blameless and happy before the presence of His glory. God began this great work, God grows this great work, and one day God will finish this great work.
Yes, we cannot lose our salvation, but people have a habit of twisting these things to their own evil ends. The doctrine of the preservation of the saints is twisted in this manner, ‘I’ve got my ticket, I know that the ‘man upstairs’ and me are good…once saved always saved right?’ It is true that once we’re saved/converted, we’ll always be saved/converted, but if you use that as a license to do whatever you want to do, or just sit back and passively and do nothing, you’re not saved/converted. Those who are truly saved, work out their salvation with fear and trembling because God is act work within them to act according to His own good pleasure.
But another question comes up. What do we do about those who claim to have fallen away from the faith? If we can’t lose our salvation what happened to them? 1 John 2:19 makes it pretty clear saying, ‘They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.’ On this passage R.C. Sproul comments, ‘If you have saving faith you’ll never lose it, if you lose it you never had it.’
So Church, rest well.
The doctrine of the preservation of the saints is God’s sovereign faithful promise to keep us through all the affliction and suffering of life, so that we will one day gain an inheritance of pleasures at God’s right hand forevermore. Rest well, the doctrine of the preservation of the saints reminds us on our worst days and even on our best days God has a firmer grip on us than we will ever have on Him. Rest well, this doctrine of the preservation of the saints points us to the gospel truth – “Before conversion we we’re in a battle we couldn’t win (after conversion, because of the preserving work of God) we’re now in a battle we can’t lose” (Tim Keller).
How do you know that you’ll wake up a Christian tomorrow morning?
Is that a daunting question to think about? Try these: how do you know that you’ll still love God a few months or even a few years from now? How do you know that you’ll make it glory? This is a pressing question. We’ve all known people who’ve made a profession of faith and have even seemed to grow strong in faith only to later turn their back on such things. How do we know we won’t end up like that? Can we know we’ll make it? Or do we just hope that everything will be ok? Jesus said in Matthew 24:13, ‘Those who endure to the end will be saved.’ Church, we have a need to endure to the end if we’re going to be finally saved, so let’s ask the question today – how are we going to endure? Your answer to this question reveals not only your hope for eternal life, it reveals your understanding of the gospel, it reveals what you’re placing your hope in to finally save you.
To tackle these questions let’s spend some time on Philippians 1:6 which says, ‘And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus.’
In order to understand the text of Phil 1:6 we must see it in it’s context, which is Phil. 1:3-11 where Paul prays for the Philippian church. In the beginning of this section Paul says this in v3-5, ‘I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.’
Here Paul, as He often does, begins with an opening prayer for the particular church in view. What we ought to notice is that it is in these prayers that we find the major themes of each letter. For the letter to the Philippians the main theme of Paul’s opening prayer is joy. Joy in thankfulness, joy in their partnership in the gospel, and joy in God’s continued work in them. Every time Paul remembers the Philippians in prayer, he thanks God for them joyously. Why is he so joyous and glad when he prays for them? v5 tells us, ‘…of because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.’ The foundation of Paul’s joy in the Philippians is that from the first day he came to them they’ve partnered with him in the gospel work. This word ‘partnership’ in Greek is the word ‘koinonia’ which is usually translated as ‘fellowship.’ This lets us know that Paul and the Philippians were working together, partnering together, and were joined together for, or had fellowship in, the one aim of spreading and advancing the gospel. This same word in v7 is used and translated as ‘partakers’ meaning the Philippians joined or shared in this great work of preaching, defending, and suffering for the gospel.
This shows us how intimately connected Paul and the Philippians were in his day. It also shows us how we’re do life with one another in the local church in our day. We are individuals true, but as we come together to worship and study and pray throughout the week we slowly over time become more than mere isolated individuals, we grow in ‘koinonia.’ We grow in our fellowship, we grow in our partnership in the gospel and for the gospel. So just as Paul and the Philippians worked together, partnered together, joined together for, and had fellowship in the one aim of spreading and advancing the gospel, there should be nothing different about how we do life within our congregations. This means the work of ministry is not just about what your elders do for you. It’s more about what we together. Following Christ is a community endeavor. In this context Paul writes Phil. 1:6.
So we’ve seen Paul’s context, let’s now see…
In Phil. 1:6 Paul begins with these words, ‘And I am sure of this…’
Paul is confident, and shows a deep conviction here. He’s sure of something about this church. He’s not guessing. He doesn’t say, ‘I may be right about this…’ or ‘I have a hunch about this church…’ No, he says, ‘And I am sure of this…’ Paul’s firm conviction about God’s work in the Philippians is deep and grounded, perhaps this is why he has such joy in praying for them. He knows they’re spiritually healthy, walking wisely, and loving each other as they ought to.
Their conduct with the gospel gives Paul a firm conviction that they’re truly in the gospel.
Because he has a firm conviction that they’re truly in the gospel, he is confident of one thing – that God is working in them. This is why Paul can confidently say later in 2:12, ‘Therefore my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, so now, work out your salvation with fear and trembling.’ Paul is very confident in this church, even when he’s not with them he knows they’re living as they ought to.
His certainty he feels for them is great, but it doesn’t come from them, it comes from God. How so? Stay tuned later this week…
God is under no obligation to save anyone, so when (out of sheer grace) He decided to save, He did it in His way.
The atonement of Christ on the cross is central to the message of Christianity. To atone for something is to make amends or to make satisfaction for a wrong. This is exactly what we see on the cross – it is through the blood of Christ that the holy God and sinful man are brought together peaceably. By nature we’re at odds with God because of sin, and at the center of our message we find blood. The blood of Christ, which is able to bring sinners like us who were once far away from God, near to Him. This is why Christianity is seen as a religion with a central message of redemption and reconciliation. By the blood of Christ we are redeemed from sin and reconciled to God. So we see at a very basic level that any representation of Christianity that diminishes the centrality of the atonement is a false form of Christianity.
Even from the earliest chapters and books of the Bible we see atonement as central to those who would do life with God. In Eden, after the fall of man, for the first time in history God made atonement for His people by shedding the blood of an animal and using it’s skin to cover the shame of Adam and Eve. Cain and Abel offer sacrifices in Genesis 4, Noah offered sacrifices to God in Genesis 8, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all do the same thing each time God meets them or blesses them. We see many other offerings in Genesis, but when Israel gets into slavery in Egypt and when God calls Moses to go to Pharaoh and say ‘Let My people go’ in behalf of God it is here where we see the doctrine of atonement coming into view clearly.
After 9 plagues completely devastate the Egyptians, God brings a dreadful decree to close out His assault on Egypt. He tells Moses of His plans and Moses tells Pharaoh in Exodus 11:4-6, ‘Thus says the Lord: ‘About midnight I will go out in the midst of Egypt, and every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die…there shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there has never been, nor ever will be again.’ Moses leaves Pharaoh’s presence and God gives Him further directions in chapter 12, ‘This month shall be for you the beginning of months…On the 10th day of this month every man shall take a lamb for his household and on the 14th day of the month you shall kill the lamb at twilight. Then take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the house…the blood shall be a sign for you…and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.’
It was the blood that saved Israel from death, it was the blood that secured their redemption from Egypt. Paul picks up this theme in 1 Cor. 5 where he calls Christ our Passover Lamb. The parallel is clear is it not? Just as the blood of the lamb secured Israel’s redemption from Pharaoh and Egypt and sent them on their way to the promise land, so too, it is now the blood of Christ, our Passover Lamb, that secures our redemption from Satan, sin, and death and sends us on our way to the greater Canaan. It was the blood of the lamb that atoned for Israel, it is the blood of the Lamb of God that atones for us.
From this point on, we see God instituting His Law, which has many prescriptions in it for various offerings and sacrifices intended to atone for the sin of the people. This Law is then what all of the Old Testament prophets courageously and consistently called God’s people back to. Therefore, atonement has always been central to the people of God, and when we come over into the New Testament we find that all the sacrificial atoning work of God culminating in one act of atonement, the cross of our Lord Jesus.
What I’ll labor to show you now is that just as the Old Testament atoning sacrifices were only applied to God’s people in the Old Testament, so too the greatest atoning sacrifice of all, the sacrifice of God’s Son, was for and only applied to God’s people in the New Testament.
6 points to show you this:
The Atonement is a Secured Redemption
Hebrews 9:11-12, ‘But when Christ appeared as a High Priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of His own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.’ This puts on display what we’ve seen already – in the Old Testament the high priest once a year would enter into the Most Holy Place to make atonement for God’s people by the means of the blood of goats and calves, but Jesus, our true High Priest, entered the Most Holy Place to make atonement for God’s people once for all time, not by the blood of animals, but by His own blood. What was the result? The result was not that redemption was now possible, no, the result was that by doing this Jesus secured an eternal redemption. In 9:15-22 the author of Hebrews goes onto say that the only people who benefit from this atoning work are ‘those who are called.’
The Atonement was Accomplished
Romans 8:30, ‘And those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified.’ In this passage Paul speaks of Christ’s work with such confidence that he uses the past tense for all of his main verbs, speaking that even glorification is already accomplished for God’s people through the work of God’s Son. This is why Jesus cried out on the cross, ‘It is finished!’ in John 19:30.
The Atonement is for the Church/Sheep
Ephesians 5:25-27, ‘Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the Word, so that He might present the Church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.’ In these verses who is it that Christ loved? Who is it that Christ gave Himself up for? Who is it that Jesus cleansed by the water of the Word? Who is it that He’ll one day present to Himself in splendor by His atoning work? His Church. He loved the Church and gave Himself up for the Church, only the Church. John 10:11 also, ‘I am the good Shepherd. The good Shepherd lays His life down (for who??) the sheep.’ After saying this to the crowds Jesus a bit further on in 10:26 tells many who are listening to Him that they ‘are not among His sheep.’ Acts 20:28, ‘Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for (who?) the Church of God, which He obtained (how?) with His own blood.’
The Atonement Redeemed a People for Christ’s own Possession
Titus 2:14 speaks of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ ‘who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good works.’ Christ gave Himself to redeem a people, a particular people, for His own possession. John 11:51-52 speaks of this by saying the cross gathered into one people the children of God who were scattered abroad. Matthew 1:21 too, ‘Mary will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.’ Here we see Jesus’ name is connected with His mission. Why did He come? To save His people, from their sins.
The Atonement is Not for All but ‘Many’
Matthew 20:26-28, ‘Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.’ Isaiah 53:11, ‘Out of the anguish of His soul He shall see and be satisfied; by His knowledge shall the Righteous One, My servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and He shall bear their iniquities.’
The Atonement Purchased a Global People
Rev. 5:9-10, ‘And they sang a new song, saying ‘Worthy are You to take the scroll and to open its seals, for You were slain, and by Your blood You ransomed (purchased – NIV) people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and You have made them a Kingdom of priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.’ See here again, the cross didn’t make salvation possible for people, a specific, a definite people were purchased on the cross.
I’ll end with one thought:
Jesus did not die to make salvation possible for everyone. He did not die to merely open the door of salvation and sit back hoping that people will accept His gospel. If that were true His death on the cross didn’t accomplish anything, it only made salvation attainable, and we cannot attain it on our own! This is a false view of the atoning work of Christ. Rather, the Biblical view is this: Jesus died and shed His blood to purchase His sheep, to secure the salvation of His Church, and to redeem the elect of God from every corner of the globe. In this manner we can say the atoning work of Christ on the cross is sufficient for all, but only efficient for the elect.
Charles Spurgeon said it well, ‘Some men cannot endure to hear the doctrine of election. I suppose they like to choose their own wives, but they are not willing that Christ should choose His own Bride, the Church.’
J.I. Packer said it too, ‘Christ did not win a hypothetical salvation for hypothetical believers, a mere possibility of salvation for any who might possibly believe, but a real salvation for His own chosen people.’
Here we see it: Jesus chooses His Bride, and Jesus dies for His bride, securing everything needed for the salvation of His own.
If there is one thing you may not know about me is my love of books.
If you saw my library you’d see I have lots of books, from many different generations, different styles, different genres, different authors, different denominations, and those don’t even cover the ones on my Logos collection. Beginning in my early days in college at an interdenominational school here in Florida we were taught to think outside the box and read from many different authors who challenge our presuppositions about ministry, theology, doctrine, and practice. I’m very grateful for those early days. It trained me to think outside of my own theological spectrum. Now, not only did my time there teach me to think outside of my boundaries, it also taught me to appreciate the value that books have in forming the Christian life.
In literature and books we have great wisdom from men and women that have gone before us. We have their application of Scripture and encouragement for times of sorrow and times of joy. We have their instruction on how to think through hard issues. We have their synthesis of Scripture to point us to a fuller understanding of the text of Scripture. However, it is important to understand those books should never take the place of Scripture in your spiritual life.
In too many cases it is easy to become overwhelmed by the knowledge of those who came after the apostles rather than the apostles, the prophets, and Jesus Himself. We must never overlook the importance of Scripture alone as the foundation for our spiritual health. You are grown most fundamentally through the Word of God. Therefore when it comes to reading apart from it, it is important that we choose books that will encourage and inform us on the truth of Scripture. Books that will encourage and push us forward in our spiritual journey. This is especially true when it comes to selecting devotionals.
Do we choose resources that encourage and inflame our love for the Scriptures? Do we choose resources that encourage and push us back to know more about what the Word of God says, or do we select devotionals that point us back to ourselves and what we think about things?
Do not be deceived by false teachers that would put their words above God’s Word. In our day and age it’s very easy to be misled by false teachers through the books that we read, especially from books sold in Christian bookstores. Just because a Christian bookstore sells it does not make it Christian or Biblical in its application of Scripture or its understanding of God’s word. But I guess the question remains what do we read?
First and foremost read the Bible.
It is the only thing that gives us hope, that truly reveals an understanding of who God is. This is not to dissuade you from reading, but rather to make sure that our foundation is set first and foremost on our understanding of God. We must read with an aim to know and see God in His Word and in the words of others.
Second, read books that will encourage you in your walk with the Christ
Now these are books that can range from daily devotionals to theological works. Most of us since early days in our Christian faith were encouraged to do a daily devotional. Throughout Church history many great men have written their own devotionals, such as Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening, which are still used by many even today. Aside from devotionals though you’d also find great spiritual encouragement through theological works such as J. C. Ryle’s classic Holiness, or even something slightly newer like Knowing God by J. I. Packer.
On our own homepage we list the four theological works that each of us are currently reading. As you can see from the list currently both Adam and myself are reading books by Michael Horton. Adam, reading one of his newer works, Ordinary. This book encourages us to see that our lives, even though they may appear ordinary, are really the supernatural work of God. Myself, on the other hand, am reading a book that he wrote several years ago on our call to be disciple makers. Horton does this by walking us through the importance of the great commission and our job as believers to follow through with that call. You can see each of these books seek to further our knowledge of God and a reliance on Him through the Scriptures.
Third, Read a good biography
For many of you this third category seems obvious. Biographies are very common in our day and age so much so that their use to actually be a television channel dedicated to them. That should be no shock to you that we as believers should be encouraged to read good biographies especially about the lives of the saints of God who lived before us. You’d be amazed at the things that believers went through and how through the power of God they overcame their trials and temptation and found joy and contentment in Christ alone. Biographies are great blessing to the Christian as we see time and time again the work of the Lord in His saints. Now I am not saying to go out and buy the two volume George Whitefield biography collection by Arnold Dallimore, though it is a fantastic book series, but there are some great short biographies put out by Ligonier ministries, also John Piper on his website Desiring God wrote some short biographies on some great saints such as David Brainerd and Jonathan Edwards that can bring great encouragement to your Christian walk. Mostly, biographies help us to know that we are not alone in our journey, we are not the first to experience the things that we’ve experienced, just as the Lord was faithful to them so too we can trust that he will be faithful to us.
Finally, (though not least in importance) enjoy a good work of fiction.
Now this being the last category that I’ll discuss for many of us it may be our favorite category. A good fictional novel can range from some of the great works of the past like To Kill a Mockingbird, Oliver Twist or The Lord of the Rings to some of the newer works of fiction such as the works of Stephen King, Ken Follett, George R. R. Martin or maybe J. K. Rowling. Fictional works help to expand our imaginations. They can help us to see the world in a different light, especially for ministers, fictional novels help us to think differently about the world around us. Fictional novels can open our imaginations, broaden our visual vocabulary, and allow us to get a look into the way our culture thinks and acts by the way they write about the world.
In conclusion this is an encouragement to those of us who love books, who love our libraries, who love great authors and theologians, so much so that we spend great deals of time with them, to not lose sight of the truth of God in the midst of the words of others. And to those who don’t read as often, to see, in works of theology, works of Christian growth, stories of brothers and sisters who have walked the path before, an opportunity for you to grow in your understanding of the Scriptures and to grow in your understanding of the work of God through the lives of others.
Above all else again the Bible must be central to our understanding. While we can learn from great men and women through their writings as they have experienced the work of God in them, through them, and through their knowledge of Him, they are still but mortals. Their words are but temporary while the Word of the Lord is eternal.
Before Holly and I got married I was a poor college graduate who had just begun seminary and that meant that I had zero income. Holly, on the other hand, had graduated and already gotten a job, which meant her bank account was full.
After an 8 month engagement the day finally came, and Holly and I arrived at a beautiful church in downtown McDonough, GA to be married in the presence of God, family, and friends. My eyes filled with tears as she walked down the aisle, my heart pounded with excitement, and a marvelous thing took place that day. Not only did I gain a godly and gorgeous wife that I didn’t deserve, but a full bank account as well. I said ‘I do’ and my bank account went from empty to full from no work of my own simply because our lives were now united as one everything that belonged to her became mine.
You see the greater lesson in this don’t you? When we become Christians, when we come to Christ, we’re united to Him, and from no work of our own everything that belongs to Him becomes ours. How did this happen? It happened by the atoning work on the cross.
This brings up a question that is as old as the Bible:
‘For whom did Christ die?’
What’s in view in this question is the extent and the intent of the atonement. John Murray in his book Redemption Accomplished and Applied asks the same question like this: ‘On whose behalf did Christ offer Himself a sacrifice? On whose behalf did He propitiate the wrath of God? Whom did He reconcile to God in the body of His flesh through death? Whom did He redeem from the curse of the law, from the guilt and power of sin, from the power and bondage of Satan? In whose stead and on whose behalf was He obedient unto death, even the death of the cross?’
To answer Murray’s questions fast forward to the New Heavens and the New Earth. Picture yourself there, praising the Lamb who stands victorious though slain, picture the Father on His throne pleased with the work of His Son and His Church, and picture the Spirit filling us all with an eternal delight and joy as we surround the throne of God in robes of white. Now picture yourself looking around you at all the other people there the people from every tribe, language, tongue, and nation; who are these people? The answer from the Bible, is they are the elect, the ones for whom Christ died.
You see, in Jesus’ atonement He didn’t merely open the door of redemption for whosoever desires it. No, He redeemed and purchased a particular people. Rather than just making salvation possible and hoping people would be saved, God really did accomplish the conversion of a definite group of people, and through His Son and by His Spirit gave them everything that belonged to Him.
If you have ever read The Lord of The Rings or watched the movies, one of the main themes that drives the plot is fellowship. You are introduced to characters like Frodo Baggins, Gandalf, and Sam as well as the silly and inseparable duo that enjoy second breakfasts Merry and Pippin. The relationships each had with each other were deep before the great journey and it grew more intimate while on it. Struggles and battles, victories and loss all shaped the fellowship they had with each other. At the end you got a glimpse of how the bonds that they made were indivisible.
This is the stuff of communion.
And it doesn’t just happen in fantasy. The fellowship of close friends in a common purpose embodies one of the most precious privileges that we cherish and long for in this life. Whether in a strong Christian marriage or with that friend who sticks “closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24), or, ultimately, in our union and communion with God.
Communion With God
Normally when we see or hear the word ‘communion’ we automatically think of the ‘Lord’s Supper.’ Communion hopefully does happen when we do the Lord’s Supper, but it’s not limited to that event. John Owen says it like this, “Communion relates to things and persons. A joint participation in anything whatever, good or evil, duty or enjoyment, nature or actions.” To have Communion with God is an intimate, mutual, covenantal bond between God and his people. Normally when the Bible talks about communion and fellowship, specifically in the New Testament, the Greek word is koinonia. The words primary meaning is “fellowship, sharing in common, communion.” J.I. Packer does much for us in explaining what this kind of communion with God looks like, “Communion with God is a relationship in which Christians receive love from, and respond in love to, all three persons of the Trinity.”
Read the words of Owen. “Now, communion is the mutual communication of such good things as wherein the persons holding that communion are delighted, bottomed upon some union between them. Our communion then, with God consists in his communication of himself to us, with our return unto him of that which he requires and accepts, flowing from that union which in Jesus Christ we have with him.” So without Christ and ultimately because of sin, communion with God is impossible. As Owen puts it, “By nature, since the entrance of sin, no man hath any communion with God. He is light, we are darkness; and what communion hath light with darkness?” Communion can only be a reality because of the Triune God being sovereign has sought to reconcile His enemies to Himself. By sending His Son, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” The wrath we deserve fell upon Him and He stood in our place as our substitute. “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Romans 5:9-11). “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
This communion is possible because each of the persons of the Trinity plays a unique role in the salvation of the elect (1 John 5:7). The Father elects to save His people in Christ (Eph. 1:4). The Son is appointed and willingly offers Himself as the Savior and Mediator (Luke 22:29; Heb. 10:5–7). The Holy Spirit furnishes Christ with the gifts necessary to accomplish His saving work (Luke 1:35; 3:21–22; 4:18), and also applies the benefits of Christ’s work to those whom the Father gives to the Son (John 6:38–39; 17:4). Thus, in a delightful harmony of mutual love and purpose, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have eternally covenanted to redeem the elect community.
The glorious truth is this that, all areas of our covenant relationship to God are Triune “so that no one may boast.”
Our justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification are ‘Triunely’ planned, purchased, and applied. Our access to God is through Christ, by the Spirit, and to the Father (Eph. 2:18). The gifts of the Spirit are won by Christ and offered to the Father (1 Cor. 12:4-6). Our worship is through the mediation of Christ, by the Spirit, and presented to the Father. Our prayers are in the name of Christ, by the Spirit, and addressed to the Father.
All that we have from God and enjoy with him is Triune.
“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ…” (Mark 1:1a)
Do you ever watch the evening news? Man, is it a downer, sometimes. Within the first five minutes you hear about a double homicide, a kidnapping, a terrorist attack, and some corrupt politician who has been caught doing something shady. And then on top of all that, you find out it’s going to rain all weekend. It just seems like the world is full of bad news. I think that is why we have the saying, “no news, is good news” because so much news is bad news.
Well, the word “gospel” in the verse above literally means “good news.” And in a world full of bad news, we need some good news. This news that Mark speaks of is not just good news, it’s the best news we could ever hear. It’s the good news of Jesus Christ! And the reason that news is so good is because we are sinners who have rebelled against God and as a result His wrath hovers over us. We have offended a holy God with our sin. And left to ourselves, there is no way that we can make this right.
Imagine if you were given the task of counting every single grain of sand in the world. Do you think you could do it? Of course not, it is literally impossible. And as impossible as it is, the chances of you counting every single grain of sand in the world is far more likely than you being able to remove the wrath of God that rests upon you because of your sin. It can’t be done. On our own we cannot appease God, we cannot make right what we have made wrong. We have sinned against God and we deserve punishment and there is nothing we can do to fix that.
But the good news of the gospel is that
Christ has done what we could never do.
He lived the perfect life that we were supposed to live but failed, and died in our place taking the death we deserve, and then three days later He rose again. And in doing so, He has removed the punishment off of those who trust in Him. Our sin, our shame, and our punishment has all been nailed to the cross, and we have been forgiven because of Christ’s sacrificial work. The good news is that all those who turn from their sin and turn in faith to Jesus will be saved and will spend eternity with Him.
That is the good news. That is the gospel of Jesus Christ!