Unfaithfulness. It’s a tragic word in any context, but especially so in the covenant of marriage. As a pastor I’ve had the privilege of performing wedding ceremonies with couples I’ve counseled and seeing their smiling… More
You may be as wishful as you’d like to be, but the matter of final judgment isn’t a matter of opinion. It will come, and it will bring history as we know it, to a close.
“Then I saw a great white throne and Him who was seated on it. From His presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:11-15).
Paul in his famous sermon at the Areopagus in Athens, concludes by saying, “The times of ignorance (v23) God overlooked, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent, because He has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom He has appointed; and of this He has given assurance to all by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31). Paul’s sermon conclusion told us as much when he said God has given us assurance that He will judge the world in righteousness by a man He appointed. What’s the assurance we have and who is the man? The Man is Jesus Christ and the assurance is His resurrection from the dead.
What will occur at the judgment?
Christ will Judge
Jesus speaks of His judgment as something the Father has given to Him. John 5:26-28, “For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son also to have life in Himself. And He has given Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” For this reason Paul, when giving Timothy the charge to preach the Word in and out of season, speaks of Jesus as the “Judge of the living and the dead” in 2 Timothy 4:1. We shouldn’t also miss the implied meaning in Paul’s statement of the “judgment seat of Christ” in 2 Corinthians 5:10, that Christ is the One who judges.
All Mankind will be Judged
It will be a rude awakening for those who believe the judgment of God is only a metaphorical or a matter for the present moment, for all mankind will be judged. Hebrews 9:27 says “…it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” This judgment will be so thorough that we’ll have to give an account for every idle word we’ve ever spoken (Matt. 12:36). Luke 12:2-3 similarly shows us, “Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.” It is a common belief that only the unbelievers will be judged at the final judgment, but Scripture tells us all mankind, believer and unbeliever alike, will be judged. Romans 2:6-10, “He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, He will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek.”
For the unbeliever, the wrath of God has already been poured out on them in various measures in life because they have suppressed the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18). They have lived foolishly, trusting in their own selves rather than in God and the gospel of His Son. So their end will be the total culmination of the wrath they received in part during their life. For the believer, there is no wrath and fury but instead no condemnation (Rom. 8:1) because they have lived wisely, trusting in God and in the gospel of His Son. So too, their end will be the total culmination of the grace they received in part during their life.
The Saints will Judge
In 1 Corinthians 6 Paul lays out his argument about how to ought to deal kindly and graciously when we wrong one another. In v2-3 he makes an interesting statement when he says, “Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life!” Here Paul uses the careful and considerate judgment we ought to use with one another with the judgment we will use in the final judgment. This does mean that believers will have some measure of judgment over the world where careful consideration must be employed. But I think it also speaks of our union with Christ. When He judges the world and all in it we will in part join with Him in that judgment and feel a sense of agreement and approval when it takes place. But its not only the world that we’ll join in judging, it’s angels too. Referring to our judging angels in 2 Peter 2:4 we find that God “…did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment…” Jude agrees in v6 where he says angels, “…did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, He (God) has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day.” Why does God allow these things to take place on angels? Jude 5 gives us the answer when he says God destroys those who do not believe.
All of these things are good and profitable for us to consider because an awareness of what will take place at the final judgment moves us to live lives that are pleasing to God in the present.
The final judgment will be the finale of history, we must prepare accordingly.
John Newton’s fame to most evangelicals’ centers around his testimony of transformation from participating in the slave trade to becoming a believer who would write the most popular Christian hymn of all time “Amazing Grace.”
While that hymn captures the essence of Newton’s biography and theology, there is much more to learn from the man. The Banner of Truth publishes a four-volume set of his works that I highly commend (https://banneroftruth.org/us/store/christian-living/works-john-newton/). Volume 1 contains many letters that Newton wrote with one entitled “On Controversy.” In this letter, one might think that John Newton lived in the age of Facebook, Twitter, and blogs when it comes to discussing theology. Especially with the issue of social justice, social media does not resemble a place where grace is shown by brothers and sisters seeking to work through these issues. Newton’s letter is worth the read and can be viewed in its entirety here: https://founders.org/2017/07/08/on-controversy/.
Consider a few thoughts from Newton that captured my attention and caused me to examine my own heart.
In a little while you will meet in heaven; he will then be dearer to you than the nearest friend you have upon earth is to you now.
As Newton counsels this fellow minister who prepares to engage in theological debate, he tells him to remember to treat him as a brother in Christ. It should startle us as believers to consider how we speak to one another online when it comes to debating important issues. Would we speak to each other in such a manner if we were face-to-face? Do we show more grace to the pagan we work with or are related to by blood than one who is washed by the blood of the Lamb that we happen to disagree with? This is not encouragement to pursue a squishy love that never calls out errors. Rather, this is brotherly affection that should mark our engagements with those who are a part of the household of faith. The next time that you decide to discuss a point raised by a brother or sister you disagree with, remind yourself that this individual is one you will spend eternity with. Will that shape how you respond to them?
But if you look upon him as an unconverted person, in a state of enmity against God and his grace (a supposition which, without good evidence, you should be very unwilling to admit), he is a more proper object of your compassion than of your anger.
Suppose you believe the person you are engaging with is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, should you not pity and mourn over the eternal doom of that person? Newton’s advice should be kept close to our hearts. Yes, we should call out false teachers, those who preach another gospel, and declare that their eternal fate is hell lest they repent. However, if we do this with a grin or glee in our hearts, there is repentance and examination that needs to take place in our lives. Anathematizing people on Facebook and Twitter happens frequently. Do we grasp the eternal weightiness that comes along with that view and are we praying for such ones to truly behold Christ if we think they know Him not?
Of all people who engage in controversy, we, who are called Calvinists, are most expressly bound by our own principles to the exercise of gentleness and moderation.
Social media helped me connect with fellow Calvinists, Particular (Reformed Baptists), and like-minded brothers. This has been a great blessing and joy to me in my life and ministry. However, it grieves me to see that the hashtag #1689Twitter became synonymous with men on Twitter who were ungracious, uncaring, and overtly harsh in their interactions with others, specifically regarding issues surrounding social justice. While I think the hashtag was used in an unfair way to avoid critical discussions, it saddened me to see a noble confession expressing the doctrines of grace become connected with ungraciousness. Newton’s words are needed for everyone who claims to believe in the doctrines of grace. If I might be so bold, may the doctrines explained in TULIP not be lodged in our minds intellectually but be imprinted on our hearts experientially. No two words should be further apart: cantankerous and Calvinist. Those of us who hold strongly to the doctrines of grace should heed the instructions given to us by a champion of amazing grace.
If our zeal is embittered by expressions of anger, invective, or scorn, we may think we are doing service of the cause of truth, when in reality we shall only bring it into discredit.
Believers are called to have a passion and zeal for truth. There are times when a godly anger should be demonstrated by us when we see the gospel distorted and twisted. Yet, this cannot be a 24/7 phenomenon. In fact, though, it is easy for us to tell ourselves we are warriors for the truth when in fact our angry theological tirades are a pious cloak for selfishness and egotism. If we appoint ourselves as commentators on every single issue that arises in the world or evangelicalism, people begin to label us, sigh when they see our posts, and will remark, “There he/she goes again.” Content does matter when it comes to theology. Tone does as well.
What will it profit a man if he gains his cause and silences his adversary, if at the same time he loses that humble, tender frame of spirit in which the Lord delights, and to which the promise of his presence is made?
Out of all that Newton says in this letter, perhaps this is the one that cuts the sharpest. Newton asks a pointed question: what advantage is there if you win the debate but dishonor God? In our theological discussions, do we ask ourselves if we are seeking to honor God or display our intellect? Are we seeking to prompt others to glorify God or to stand in awe of our debating skills? What kind of heart does the Lord delight in and accept? There dwells not room for a broken, contrite heart and an exalted, selfish heart.
John Newton understood the need for addressing theological controversies. Yet, in his wisdom, he accurately noted that controversy should not be something we are always looking to get into. Sadly, the social justice debates are the latest example where a controversy is bemoaned while platforms are being built at the same time. Let the world watch how we engage one another amidst real differences and let them be amazed. How will they be amazed? By seeing that we do not handle our differences like cable TV. Instead, we come together around the Word of God, loving one another as members of Christ’s household, and seeking to honor the God who showed us amazing grace.
How can we, who have been shown such grace, not show it to each other?
The city of Jerusalem is a central feature of Luke’s Gospel. His entire narrative is set against the background of godly Jews longing to see the “consolation of Israel” and eagerly waiting for the “redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:25, 38). As the capital of the nation and the site of the temple, this unique city was associated with the presence of the divine Name and the place of true sacrifice; it was central to Israel’s life and hope (Deut. 12:10-11; Ps. 48; Isa. 52:7-10). It comes as no surprise, then, that Jerusalem plays an important part in the life and ministry of Israel’s Messiah, Jesus Christ.
The majority of Luke’s gospel is spent describing Jesus’ long journey towards Jerusalem, having “set his face” to go there (Luke 9:51) in order to accomplish everything that written about the Son of Man by the prophets. But what the prophets had foretold was that the promised Messiah would come to Jerusalem to suffer and die, having been ultimately rejected by his own people (Luke 18:31-33). Therefore, Luke’s overall description of Jerusalem is by no means optimistic.
The City that Rejected her Messiah
Jesus, in his lament over the city, identifies Jerusalem as “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it” (Luke 13:33-34; 20:9-18). Jesus, the Great Prophet, would soon suffer and die outside of her walls like all those who had come before and prefigured him. As he approaches and sees the city, amidst shouts of praise and acclamation from his many disciples, Jesus weeps over Jerusalem and pronounces its impending judgment and destruction (Luke 19:41-44). Why? Because the city of God had failed to recognize its visitation by the Son of God. The city that was anxiously awaiting her promised Messiah—David’s greater son and anointed king—did not receive him.
He then proceeds to cleanse the temple and later foretells the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple again (Luke 19:45-46; 21:5-36). This tragic portrayal of Jerusalem is made complete when Jesus, the very salvation of God and redemption of Jerusalem, is condemned by his own and handed over to be crucified. God’s very own people, hardened by unbelief, were blind to the fulfillment of God’s promises right in their midst.
The City that Received his Mercy
Yet Luke’s Gospel does not conclude with a totally negative portrait of Jerusalem. It is presented in his final chapter as somewhat of a city of new beginnings. Not only do the resurrection appearances happen in and around the city, but Jesus declares to his disciples that the good news of “repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47)! And just as Zechariah, Simeon, and Anna blessed God in the temple at the beginning of Luke’s Gospel, he concludes with a description of the disciples returning to Jerusalem “with great joy” and being “continually in the temple blessing God” (Luke 24:52-53).
This then sets the stage for the book of Acts and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. Just as Jesus and the Scriptures had foretold, the gospel of repentance and forgiveness was first proclaimed in all of its glory in Jerusalem, where 3,000 souls were added to the church (Acts 2:37-41). This number only continued to grow as the word was preached, the Spirit was received, and the church was edified (Acts 4:4; 6:7). And as the church was scattered by persecution from the temple leadership and also began to send missionaries, the gospel spread like wildfire from Jerusalem unto the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8; 28:30-31).
No longer was Jerusalem needed as the dwelling place of God’s presence on the earth or as the place of sacrifice and worship; Christ, by his indwelling Spirit, was present with his church throughout the world. The hour had come when God would no longer be worshiped in the temple in Jerusalem, but in spirit and truth among the nations (John 4:21-24)!
The Danger of Presumption
This portrait of Jerusalem—the city that rejected her Messiah yet also received his mercy—serves as a warning against the subtle but serious sin of presumption. Paul writes extensively on this in Romans 2:1-11, 17-29, and 11:17-24. The self-righteous Jews and hypocritical temple leadership presumed that just because they were Abraham’s physical offspring, they were in God’s good graces (John 8:39). Since they were committed to the Law and upheld their religious traditions, since they had their temple and had as their capital “the city of our God”, they presumed that God was pleased with them. They presumed upon the riches of God’s kindness and patience, not knowing that his kindness was meant to lead them to repentance (Rom. 2:4). Their hard and impenitent hearts led them to neglect the weightier matters of the law, to boast in their own righteousness, to base their worship upon trite ritual rather than true repentance, and even to reject their very own Messiah. As a result, they incurred the judgment of God (Rom. 2:5)
Paul, speaking to the Gentiles included in the people of God, uses the metaphor of an olive tree to make his point clear: “So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches [i.e., Israel], neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off” (11:20-22). All, both Jews and Gentiles, can be guilty of this sin of presumption.
So how do we not become proud? The answer is to remember that there is a world of difference between saving faith and presumption. Saving faith wholly trusts in the kindness of God. It leads us daily to confess our sins and bear fruit in keeping with repentance (Luke 3:8). Presumption, on the other hand, takes God’s kindness for granted and blinds us to our need for continual repentance. True, saving faith is persevering faith—a faith that boasts in the work of Christ and God’s preserving grace. Presumption hardens our hearts to the mercy, grace, and holiness of God, and leads us to hypocrisy. Therefore, let us behold the riches of God’s mercy in Christ Jesus, abide in him, and continue in his kindness!
We do what is important to us.
In Jesus’ parable of the Great Banquet (Luke 14:15-24) we read about a man who is hosting a great banquet and invites many to participate. When the time came for the banquet to begin the man hosting the event sent his servant out to gather all those who were invited. But as we read on, we see that all those invited “began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come'” (18-20). One after the other gave an excuse to why they could not make the great banquet. Why? Something more important to them came up and they attended to it.
In this parable the man hosting the banquet is God, those invited are those who have been given the general gospel call, and the great banquet is heaven.
From this parable we can see two things:
First and foremost, there are many unbelievers who have heard the gospel call and the command to repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and yet they have put it off choosing instead to follow that which is most important to them – their sin. I remember as a kid my dad was ministering to a family that attended our church and he asked the family if their eldest son was ready to trust in Jesus. The family told my dad that their son was not ready. He did not desire to give up his sinful lifestyle to follow Jesus. He enjoyed those things too much. They were of greater importance to him than a relationship with Jesus. And this is how it is for so many. They would rather davul in their sin then come to faith and repentance in Jesus. As a result, they miss the Great Banquet, they miss eternity in heaven.
Second, believers can also heed this warning in a different way. So often, believers will make excuses for missing church or youth group, for not spending time with God in prayer or Bible study, or for failing to evangelize and make disciples. Something more important or convenient for them came up. What we do with our time will show what we value most. When presented with the option to sleep in or attend church you will do what you value most. If you find yourself watching TV at night instead of reading your Bible, it reveals your hearts true affections, it shows you what you value most.
We do what is most important to us.
We make time.
We find a way.
If prayer, Bible reading, church attendance (small groups/youth group), discipleship, and evangelism, are important to us then we will make it happen. We all have the same amount of time, the issue is this: are these eternal and most important things a priority for us? Our prayer should be that God would give us hearts that value Him, His Word, and His people above all else.
Or allow me to put it like this: we do what we value most, what is most valuable to you? The answer to that question will reveal much about where your heart truly is.
Have you ever noticed how God is constantly at work in all things, exercising His providential control in every aspect of our lives, even when (perhaps especially when) we least realize it? John Piper famously captured this truth in a 2012 tweet when he said: “God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them.”
We see this throughout Scripture, don’t we? We see it in the story of Joseph in Genesis 37-50. We see it in the life of Esther. We see it in Pauls’ painful thorn that made the power of Christ more beautiful in his weakness (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). We see it in virtually every book of the Bible, from beginning to end.
Recently I was reminded of this truth from the book of Philippians. In Philippians 1:12-14, Paul is reminding the Christians to whom he’s writing that his imprisonment is actually accomplishing something good for the sake of the Gospel.
If you remember, the Apostle is sitting in a Roman prison while writing this letter to these Philppian Christians. You have to imagine that these Philippian brothers and sisters are distraught over the current situation of their beloved Apostle. I’m certain that they were praying for his release. I’m confident that many were plagued by fear that a similar fate may come upon them. And perhaps some of them were even tempted to question the faith. But not the Apostle Paul. Not only was he aware of and focused on the providential control of God, but he also wanted to remind and encourage his brothers and sisters in Christ of this glorious truth.
Recognizing the likely range of emotions among these saints, Paul reminds them in verses 12-14: “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the imperial guard and to all the rest, that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.”
Paul reminds them that, even in his imprisonment, God is at work. God is at work to spread the Gospel. God is at work to embolden other brothers to “speak the word without fear.” God is at work to point the whole world to the fact that Paul’s imprisonment is for Christ. Even in the unlikeliest and worst of scenarios, humanly speaking, God was powerfully at work for the expansion of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Only God knows how many men and women were converted, and how many local churches planted, in the years and decades that followed Paul’s imprisonment as a result of the emboldening effect upon men to preach the Word without fear.
What about your life? Is there anything in your life right now that is causing you to question the goodness or faithfulness of God? May our hearts and minds be encouraged by the truth of Scripture that God is powerfully at work in all things. There is not a single thing happening in your life that God is not aware of, that God is not in control of, and that God is not working for your good to make you more life Christ.
Depending on the circumstance, it can be very hard for us to grasp this truth, can’t it? I am pretty confident that, as Paul received lashes, beatings, stonings, and as he was shipwrecked hungry, thirsty, and exposed to the harsh elements (2 Corinthians 11:24-27), he was confused at times at how exactly God was using these things for his good. But I’m far more confident that Paul trusted, by faith, that God was powerfully at work for His glory and Paul’s good, whether he could understand it or not.
And such is the case for us. Whether it’s sickness or sorrow, pain or persecution, death or disease, no matter what the situation is for us in this life, we can trust with rock-solid assurance that God is in control (Romans 8:28-29). As the Apostle Paul reminded these Philippian brothers and sisters of God’s work through his imprisonment, let us remind ourselves of the truth that God is powerfully at work in and through each of our situations, whether we realize it or not, whether we recognize it or not, and whether we understand it or not.
“God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them.”
Soli Deo Gloria!
Typically when we tack the word “good” onto something, we are communicating that we have had a positive experience with it. This makes sense when we are giving our opinion on the latest superhero movie or the new restaurant in town. It doesn’t make sense to use the word “good” in reference to a tragic event. You can just imagine the angry looks you’d get if you did so in a public setting. Yet the most tragic event in world history, the murder of God’s only Son, is termed “Good Friday.” Why is that? Before answering that question, we need to remember that one event can be intended by some for evil while simultaneously being intended by God for good. When Joseph was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, falsely accused, and imprisoned, he told his brothers, “What you meant for evil, God meant for good” (Gen. 50:20). Had it not been for Joseph’s circumstances, thousands could have died in the famine that struck the land. This is how the early church thought of the cross. They prayed in Acts 4:27, “Truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” So on one side, we’ve got evil motives from Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Gentiles, and the peoples of Israel. While on the other side, God has good motives for the death of His Son.
Let’s take a look at three reasons why the cross was (and is) good…
1. Jesus traded places with us
“Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted. And they had then a notorious prisoner called Barabbas…Pilate said to them, ‘Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?’…‘Barabbas.’ ‘Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?’ They all said, ‘Let him be crucified!’” -Portions of Matthew 27:15-23
So the option was given: release “the Christ” and punish the “notorious prisoner” or vice versa. The crowds that day, lead by the jealous religious leaders, cried out for Jesus’ crucifixion and the pardon of this convicted criminal. In his account of the Gospel, Mark tells us Barabbas was a murderer and the leader of an insurrection. Jesus, however, was no murderer and actually brought people back from the dead, among other things. Jesus led no insurrections and rather sought to overthrow Satan’s power. The name Barabbas means, “Son of a father” and yet the true Son of the Father was about to be condemned in his place. We see a much deeper story developing behind the story of Barabbas. It is the story of the Gospel, which the whole Bible is telling. The story of how a holy God made a way to dwell with unholy people, and at the very center of this story stands the cross. It is your story and my story. It is what theologians call the Great Exchange. At the cross, Jesus stood in for us to take our deserved punishment and gave us all His perfect righteousness, which we could never have earned.
So we call it Good Friday because Jesus traded places with us and yet also because…
2. Jesus granted access to us
“And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.” -Matthew 27:50-51a
Once Jesus had endured six trials, been brutally scourged, mocked and beaten, He was finally crucified. For six grueling hours, Jesus felt not only the nails, but the holy hatred of His Father against sin. Paul says in Galatians 3:13 that Jesus “became a curse” for us and he says in 2 Corinthians 5:21 that he “became sin.” The prophet Isaiah foretold that He was, “smitten by God…the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all…it was the will of the LORD to crush Him” (Is. 53:4, 6, 10). Every sin every believer would ever commit was fully punished in that one moment…on the head of the sinless Son of God. And the dividing curtain which had separated man from God since the garden was finally removed. The temple’s four inch curtain was torn from top to bottom, signifying this salvation was God’s initiative and accomplishment. Unhindered access to God is now ours through faith in Christ.
Good Friday is good not only because of Jesus traded places with us and gave us access into God’s presence, but also because…
3. Jesus tasted death for us
“Joseph…went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away.” -Matthew 27:58-60
The body of Jesus that once moved about throughout Judea and Galilee now lay cold, still, and lifeless. It is good for us to stop and consider the weight of this. Jesus became not only a curse for us, but a corpse for us. His life snuffed out. The grave sealed shut. Why? What is the significance of this odd reality? The prophet Ezekiel states, “The soul that sins shall die” and the Apostle Paul writes, “the wages of sin is death…” and it was on the cross that Jesus took our sins. Had Jesus never died, our sin would have never been fully dealt its true punishment. Also, if Jesus had never died, we would still face the uncertainty of the grave. Yet because Jesus died and rose again, the grave has fully and finally been conquered. Death has now been transformed from an end, to a beginning, for all whose hope is Christ.
Good Friday is truly a good day for us because our most “notorious” sins have been placed on Jesus, we have been given eternal access into God’s presence, and our coming death has been transformed into a new beginning in the presence of God. So I think it’s safe to say these are good things and this very, very good news.
But God………Two words that can bring live from death. Two words that in the midst of sorrow, weeping, and hurt we may find comfort. Two words that should shock us from our complacency. Two words that put everything into perspective. Just two words that change everything.
Over the course of my walk with God these two words have continually resonated in the back of my head. These words I first fully encountered in Ephesians 2:4 resonated that in the midst of my sinfulness and willfully life of sin, He entered into the picture and transformed me. He did a work I could not accomplish, He, in the midst of my depravity, brought new life, a heart of stone replaced by a heart of flesh. There is beauty in the realization that God is at work and it is He who can change the darkest of nights to the brightest of days. However, as we travel through the scriptures the reality is far greater and the work of God is far more than simply found in taking his own out of the dominion of darkness and bringing us home. There are many places throughout the scriptures that reflect on the But God nature of events. I wanted to explore the two ends of these today Judgment and salvation.
But God…..Will judge the Wicked
Why do you boast of evil, O mighty man?
The steadfast love of God endures all the day.
Your tongue plots destruction,
like a sharp razor, you worker of deceit.
You love evil more than good,
and lying more than speaking what is right. Selah
You love all words that devour,
O deceitful tongue.
But God will break you down forever;
he will snatch and tear you from your tent;
he will uproot you from the land of the living.
One of the remarkable things about the Old Testament is its continually reminders that those who choose wickedness and pursue destruction will find God is not to be mocked and the life they have desired will find its completion in destruction. There is a warning here in the Psalter to check our hearts and lives. The steadfast love of God is evident and apparent, but do we respond to this or do we deep down spurn it, do we do as Paul warns us not to do and sin all the more so that grace may abound. God is not mocked. God’s loving kindness is steadfast, but He will judge.
These verses should wake us up when we slumber, not that we should not rest in the grace and love of our God, but that we should not pursue wickedness because of this grace. God is not to be mocked, scorned or presumed upon. Does our walk reflect the reality of our love for God? Is our speech reflective of one transformed by the gospel or is it filled with deceit and evil? But God……Will break you down forever. This is a truly humbling song one that should make us stop in our tracks and reflect back on our God, remember his steadfast love that endures and cling to Him.
But God….Will Save & Preserve
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 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.
From reflecting on the reality that sin deserves punishment from God, and that God is not blind to our facades, we see now the incredible mercy of God. In Romans, we are reminded of the price Christ paid to free us from the bonds of our sinfulness. Our wickedness deserved punishment. We were the ungodly walking in darkness forsaking God, deserving of the judgment stored up for us and our sin, yet the Lord in His steadfast love made a new and better way for His own. We were His enemies and the judgement and wrath was stored up against us because of our sin, yet now those whom Christ has transformed, the wrath has subsided against us for it has all been poured out on Christ. He has absorbed the wrath and in so doing given us new life, that those who are His no longer reflect the spirit found in Ps 52, they have been reconciled with God and no longer live in fear, but rather in repentance.
If the first “but God” causes us to stop, reflect, repent and seek God, the second should lead us to praise and proclaim the goodness of our God. If in hearing the first warning of God’s wrath to come, your heart is hardened and inclined towards sin all the more that should be a warning that the second reality may not have taken place. A heart set free from sin is one that owns its forgiveness. It is broken by its sin, it is grateful for its savior, and awestruck that the one and perfect God would sacrifice himself for a wretched sinner. The second realization doesn’t lead to perfection, but it leads to praise of who God is, a striving after him daily in love for all He has done, and a desire to proclaim that truth to others.
The term “but God” appears throughout scripture showing us and reminding us that what appears on the outside as one thing is not always the true reality. It reminds us that God is the one who is sovereign and in control. It is He who judges, it is He who sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous alike, it is His design and order that is at work even when we don’t understand, and ultimately it is from that design and order we have experienced newness of life. We live because of the “but God”s of scripture. We have breath because of God’s goodness and mercy, and for those in Him we have reconciliation because of His work and His alone.
It seemed like day after day the Lord continued to remind me that I am but a cog in the machine of His incomprehensible plan. This was my most recent experience in the jungle of Peru; let me explain:
I have been afforded, by God’s grace, the greatest “job” in the entire world. Often times, my heart is torn between missions and pastoral ministry but recently our little country church has partnered with one American missionary and an evangelical seminary in Peru to plant a church in an under-reached region in the Amazonian high-jungle of Peru. This has given me the joy of proclaiming Christ both at home and abroad.
After an exploratory trip in July of 2018 where the Lord united us with a Peruvian church planter, pastor, and Bible translator, we began the work in September. It was February/March of 2019 when the Lord allowed me to see just a glimpse of what He is doing.
God Brought More to the Work, Even When We Thought We Were Alone
After inviting some churches in the States to join us in this endeavor, we received no response. Needless to say, we were disappointed but our Elders and congregation believed we had discerned the Lord’s will rightly and we pressed on. But it wasn’t until we arrived for our first night of services that the Lord allowed me to see just a glimpse of what He had been doing.
For a fledgling church of 16 believers (mostly new converts), 70-80 people at our first night of worship services was a little surprising. “Had the community come out in force to see what was going on? Had the Lord saw fit to grow their number since my last report? Where did all these people come from?”
In spite of my perceived failures in raising up an army of local churches from the U.S. to join us in this work, the Lord had already raised up an army of Peruvian churches. What a joy to worship Christ with brothers and sisters from five different Peruvian churches, some local and some from hundreds and hundreds of miles away, who were all invested in making Christ known! We were not alone in the work; God was raising up churches in both North and South America to declare the glories of Christ!
God Provided, Even Where We Didn’t Know We Had Needs
It was incredible to see; really. The Lord provided medical staff, Spanish speakers, and evangelists for our team that we didn’t know we needed; both from the States and from Peru.
Through no effort on our part, the Lord provided additional medical support for our team that we thought would be a “bonus.” Turns out, we desperately needed the extra American and our medical mission would have treated, at least, 50% less people than we were able to were it not for her.
The Lord also provided an additional Peruvian pastor and his wife to help share the Gospel with the community and our patients that we didn’t know we would need. The community’s response to the medical campaign left us without adequate support in sharing the Gospel; the whole purpose of coming. But God knew what we did not and provided for our needs before we knew they were ever there.
And on top of that, a last minute addition to the team came by way of an OB who is a Peruvian national that had been praying for years that God would allow her to serve alongside of her husband, one of our translators, on the mission field. She added medical expertise without the need of a translator, inside help with pharmacies, and also a joy in the Lord that was irreplaceable helping to make our time serving the Lord that much sweeter. Turns out, we were an answer to her prayers and she was answer to ours. Isn’t God good?
God Has Healed, Even Where We Didn’t Know Healing Was Needed
It was here where I saw God’s supernatural work more than anywhere. Our national pastor and his wife (both of whom are in their 70’s) left their farm, their home, and their family to take the Gospel where it was not being proclaimed. With no home, no income, and no church they left everything to take the Good News to those who desperately need it.
This uncommon faith caused a fracture in their family. Some of their children supported and encouraged them and others thought it too risky and foolish at their age. Satan saw a foot-hold and seized the opportunity to sow division and strife in a family committed to the glory of God. They wept holding their faces in their hands and they poured their hearts out to us.
But through local, national, and international support God provided for the pastor and his wife. Today, the Lord has provided a home, a modest income, support in ministry and most importantly new life in Christ in the community. It is through God’s obvious provision and faithfulness that the family has been reconciled and the Lord has brought restoration and healing in a once fractured family.
In short, God is doing more than we thought. He’s doing more than we knew. But, in His grace, He has allowed us/me just a glimpse into what He’s doing and I cannot but stand back, admire His glory, and worship.
I’m just a cog in the machine of God’s glory but every once in a while the Maker opens up the machine, takes a peak inside, and shows this cog just how beautiful He is and it makes me want to “cog a little better.”
Pray for Peru. Pray for Lamas. Pray for Pastor Alfonso and Norma. Pray for Eldred Baptist Church. And finally, pray for me.
Soli Deo Gloria
I was recently asked to write out a summary of what I believe. My immediate thought was something like “What? How in the world could I do that briefly? Is it even possible to do so?” Upon further thought I began to come around to the idea thinking it’d be a good exercise for me to state succinctly what I believe. After all if I cannot state it briefly do I really know it? Normally I’d encourage a more lengthy statement on each of the following paragraphs, but for me this proved to be an encouragement.
What follows is what I wrote out. Be sure to note, this is not the totality of what I believe, but it does form an adequate summary. May it encourage you and lead you to deeper study and stronger praise of the God we love.
1) Doctrine of God: it all starts here. If we move ahead too quickly we have no foundation. That God is, and that God is holy, holy, holy ought to be the foundation of all our theology. He is ever three and ever one – He has graciously revealed Himself in the book of creation and the grander book of Scripture – He is independent, being the sole Creator and source of all things – nothing comes to pass apart from His providence – He is incomprehensible yet knowable – He is immutable yet mobile – He is wrathful and jealous – He is merciful and gracious – and He alone is wise. This is our God.
2) Doctrine of Man: That the doctrine of man comes after the doctrine of God is appropriate, for man comes from and lives all his life before the face of God. In his original state man was made in the image of God, immortal and the highest creature in all of creation. In his fallen state man fell from our original condition into ruin, misery, and spiritual/physical death. Still in the image of God but now marred from sin, man is born under the judgment and wrath of God being creatures at enmity with God, who now live a life totally affected from our sin. In our redeemed state man is brought into peace with God and enjoys having the very peace of God, through Christ. Having been sinners who could do nothing but sin, being redeemed enables man to grow in holiness and communion with God, while we look forward to being with Him one day forever where sin will no longer be a reality.
3) Doctrine of Christ: being true God He became true Man, born of the virgin Mary, lived a perfect righteous life, suffered under Pontius Pilate, died on the cross bearing God’s wrath in our place as our substitute, laid in a tomb, rose three days later defeating the world – the flesh – and the devil, appeared to many, and ascended to heaven to rule and reign at the Father’s right hand, from which He’ll come again to judge the living and the dead, ushering in His kingdom in full. He is our true Prophet, our true Priest, and our true King.
4) Doctrine of the Spirit: Hovering over the waters of creation the Spirit of God brings the work of new creation by applying the work of Christ to the hearts of the elect. Delighted among the community of the Trinity, the Spirit reveals who God is through His inspired Scriptures, regenerating, enlightening and illuminating the elect, enabling them to repent and believe the gospel, He applies, sanctifies, nourishes, gifts, keeps, and ripens His fruit within God’s people.
5) Doctrine of Salvation: From before time began, God, has given some grace to all men and given all grace to some men. In an everlasting covenant, God has saved His elect. How? He predestined them, called them, regenerated them, granted them repentance and faith, justified them, adopted them, brought them into union with Him, is now sanctifying them, and will one glorify them. All of this is done through Christ and applied to the hearts of the elect by the Spirit. There are no dropouts in this golden chain found in Romans 8:29-30. This is also wondrously summarized in Eph. 1:3-14, where we see all three Persons in the Trinity active: the Father planning and choosing, the Son redeeming, and the Spirit applying and sealing.
6) Doctrine of the Church: being the fulfillment of Old Testament Israel, the New Testament Church is the body, building, and bride of Christ. A people pursued and purchased by Christ’s blood that are to be zealous for good works. A people who are marked out in this world by their right worship, right preaching, right practice of the sacraments (Baptism dealing with entrance into the visible church and the Lord’s Supper dealing with ongoing covenant renewal), and right exercise of discipline. This people is led by called and qualified elders and deacons, and is now on mission in this world with the message of Christ the King; who not only rules over this world but will one day fully bring His kingdom into this world. The Church isn’t perfect but it is the dearest place on earth, the epicenter of God’s activity in this world, and a foretaste of heaven.
7) Doctrine of Last Things: One day, just as Christ ascended bodily to rule and reign He will return bodily to make all sad things untrue. There is no secret rapture of the Church, but only two advents: the first in His incarnation and the second in His consummation. His return will be the finale of this life, as all will stand bodily before the judgment seat of Christ, from which He will usher the Church into the eternal glory in the New Heavens and New Earth and cast the wicked into eternal torment in hell. On this day sin’s very presence will be removed forever and God will dwell with His people and be their God, and they as His people will be enthralled by His Holy-Holy-Holy presence forevermore.
Is there still a reason why Roman Catholicism and Protestantism cannot just get along and unite together to create one, unified communion setting aside all previous differences? After all, can an event taking place 500 years ago really continue to bear any type of relevance in the lives of ordinary people in the 21st century? D.G. Hart’s “Still Protesting: Why the Reformation Matters” sounds a clarion call that evangelicals need to hear today. While the church might be removed from the days of Luther and Calvin by a few centuries, the doctrinal chasm between Rome and Protestants still stretches wide. Hart critiques the shallow theological views of Protestants that allows them to conclude that the differences today are not that sharp. Hence, the Reformation of the 16th century no longer matters to the church in the 21st century. Hart’s book walks through key soteriological and ecclesiological differences between Protestants and Rome. In “Still Protesting,” Hart masterfully exhibits the core tenets adopted by Rome in the Counter-Reformation are still binding to this day. The Reformation is not over.
“Still Protesting” begins by dealing with statements made by Protestants who have converted to Roman Catholicism over the last few decades. These individuals’ common refrain upon their leaving Protestantism centers upon a mixture of Rome providing stability, history, and unity. Hart’s book takes on these statements by proving that the historical objections raised by Martin Luther, John Calvin, and others are, for the most part, still valid and legitimate. Further, Rome can claim neither stability and unity in the face of their own history as well as the changes that have happened and continue to happen to this day. Hart equips modern evangelicals to see what are the differences as well as give pause to Protestants contemplating union with Rome.
The first chapter of “Still Protesting” provides an overview of the historical context in which the Reformation arose. Hart briefly walks through the situations that arose prompting men like Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin to become the chief Reformers who laid down the foundational stones of Protestantism. Hart notes that Rome eventually responded with the Council of Trent rejecting all that the Protestants put forward but giving no real adequate response to the issues raised by the Reformers. “The result is that Roman Catholicism, even to the day, has not responded to the Protestant Reformers other than to reject the original tenets of Luther and Calvin” (28). Hart notes that movements in the late 1990s did not really testify to unity theologically between Rome and Protestants. These movements sadly bore witness that many Protestants were so shallow doctrinally that the issues of the 16th century no longer mattered to them regardless of Rome’s failure to change biblically at all.
Hart walks through issues related to “Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone)” as well as the gospel. Hart does an excellent job of utilizing the primary sources of men like Luther and Calvin when it came to the role of the Bible in the church, how worship should be oriented, and justification by faith alone due to the imputed righteousness of Christ alone. This book serves as a wonderful, precise exposition of why Protestants opposed the sale of indulgences and how that factored into Rome’s distorted view of the gospel. Hart summarizes the heart of Protestant gospel theology this way: “The only way that believers can stand innocent before God on judgment day is by wearing the garments of Christ’s perfect righteousness. That was the insight and achievement of the Protestant Reformation” (61). Hart presses forward with how the corruption of the gospel with the sale of indulgences tied into the unbiblical hierarchy of Rome centered upon the doctrines of papal succession and papal infallibility. Hart walks the reader through how these views were ironed out over time primarily due to the political scene in Europe. The reader can easily detect how the papacy had little to do with Peter and more to do with political power and luxurious prestige.
The chapter that most intrigued me as well as that I found very beneficial was Hart’s chapter entitled “Vocation: Spirituality for Ordinary Life.” Hart unpacks the Protestant understanding of the priesthood of all believers as well as how our vocational calling is a means to worship God. Drawing from the writings of Luther and Calvin, Hart shows how Protestantism’s advocating of justification by faith alone in Christ alone refers not just to a moment in our conversion and then is to be forgotten. This precious doctrine impacts how ordinary life is carried out. Whether it be the baker, the carpenter, or the mother at home raising her children, for one who is clothed in righteousness of Christ, the ordinary is quite extraordinary in how their vocational calling provides opportunity to honor God. Hart ties in some of these themes in a later chapter dealing with how Rome and Protestants view architecture different when it comes to the corporate worship of God.
Hart finishes the book by examining the false and misleading attacks on Protestantism as being the source of division and modernity as well as being the new kid on the block. Each of these criticisms of Protestantism falls flat when the real history of the church is laid out showing that Rome’s attacks might be neat clichés but fall woefully short of being accurate. Hart gives an overview of the 2nd Vatical Council revealing how this event contradicts much of what Protestants state is their reasoning for converting to Catholicism as well as contradicting what are the supposed pillars of Roman Catholicism: stability and unity. The conclusion is a masterful exposition of how Protestants and Rome view sainthood differently. This is a fitting conclusion that reinforces earlier statements regarding Protestant views on the Bible, the gospel, and the church.
Hart provides an excellent resource for pastors and laymen alike to combat the charge that the Reformation is over. One critique that I would raise is that Hart did not provide a further resources section in this book so that readers could explore these topics in more depth. Hart quotes contemporary Roman Catholic sources but did not cite any Protestant theologians who would be in agreement with him concerning the need to still see the Reformation as ongoing. This would have bolstered his case in some areas. However, those critiques aside, this book is definitely a book you should purchase and read. “Still Protesting” will remind you of why you are a Protestant and why you should remain a Protestant!
As Christians, we love the Bible. Many of us even have quite the collection—from that old King James Bible we used as a kid, to that new ESV Journaling Bible we received as a gift. One of the first apps we download on a new mobile device (whether out of devotion or guilt) is usually a Bible app. We love posting Bible verses on social media, sharing typography that moves us or a landscape that captures the beauty of a psalm. And while we know that some of the Old Testament and Revelation can be hard to grasp, for the most part we believe that all Scripture is profitable for our spiritual growth. So, we make it a point to read our Bible(s) often.
Superstition Ain’t the Way
Yet when we actually sit down to read the Bible, we often do so in a way that is all wrong, and even dangerous. We might say that Scripture is “God’s Word,” but we easily forget that behind the sixty-six books and forty-or-so different authors who wrote across a period of over 1500 years stands one divine Author telling one glorious story. J. I. Packer explains:
“When you read a book, you treat it as a unit. You look for the plot or the main thread of the argument and follow it through to the end. You let the author’s mind lead yours. . . . You know that you will not have understood it till you have read it from start to finish. If it is a book you want to master, you set aside time for a careful, unhurried journey through it.
“But when we come to Holy Scripture, our behavior is different. To start with, we are in the habit of not treating it as a book—a unit—at all; we approach it simply as a collection of separate stories and sayings. We take it for granted that these items represent either moral advice or comfort for those in trouble. So we read the Bible in small doses, a few verses at a time. We do not go through individual books, let alone the two Testaments, as a single whole. We browse through the rich old Jacobean periods of the King James Version or the informalities of the New Living Translation, waiting for something to strike us. When the words bring a soothing thought or a pleasant picture, we believe the Bible has done its job. We have come to view the Bible not as a book, but as a collection of beautiful and suggestive snippets, and it is as such that we use it. The result is that, in the ordinary sense of ‘read,’ we never read the Bible at all. We take it for granted that we are handling Holy Writ in the truly religious way, but this use of it is in fact merely superstitious.”[i]
The Bible Tells a Story
The Bible is not simply a collection of motivational sayings or unrelated stories. God did not give us a box of inspired fortune cookies to dig through and crack open, ignoring what seemingly doesn’t apply to us and acknowledging only what makes us feel good inside. He gave us a book to read—a book that tells a story.
The Bible is the story of God’s saving acts in history to redeem sinners and restore all things for his glory. It is the story of a King and his kingdom. It is a story that begins at the very beginning of history, ends at the very end of history, and explains everything in between. “It is a single, coherent story, planned and executed and recorded by a single omnipotent, omniscient God.”[ii] And it is a story of grace that is ultimately centered on the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Yes, there are several different literary styles that make up the story of Scripture, but it is still telling one story of redemption. Yes, it is a collection of books composed by many human authors, but it is still the inspired word and the self-revelation of one divine Author. Once we begin to approach the Bible with this understanding—and with the eyes of our hearts enlightened by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:18; Rom. 12:2; 2 Cor. 4:6)—we will begin to read the Bible as it ought to be read.
Take Up and Read!
So, how do we put this understanding into action? First, it means actually reading the Bible through from cover to cover. Begin to familiarize yourself with God’s story of redemption. When you’ve finished, do what you do when you come to the end of your favorite television show or your favorite record album: go through it again! Sometimes it’s good to go slowly through the Bible, mining all of the riches we can out of each and every verse. But “binge-reading” the Bible can be just as fruitful.
Second, remember that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the main theme that unites the whole of Scripture together. Don’t get discouraged when reading about the borders of the twelve tribes in Joshua or the bizarre imagery in Ezekiel. Instead, keep your eyes on Jesus and the primary themes that run throughout the Bible: promise and fulfillment, creation and new creation, faith and obedience, sin and sacrifice, offspring and kingdom, and so on. You may not understand how every part of Scripture relates to the whole the first time through, but as you prayerfully keep your focus on the gospel of Jesus Christ, you will slowly but surely grow in your understanding and appreciation of God’s holy word.
Third, take advantage of your church’s teaching ministries (assuming you attend a Bible-preaching, gospel-centered, Christ-exalting church). Attend Sunday School classes; sit under the preaching of the word every week; join a small group Bible study. Additionally, go to your pastor(s) with your questions and concerns! Instead of doing a Google search, ask your pastor about any books or Bible reading plans that he recommends. He is a devoted student of Scripture and spends every day familiarizing himself with the story of redemption for your benefit. He prays for you and knows you better than some other guy’s blog ever will.
And fourth, rinse and repeat as necessary. Take up and read!
[i] J. I. Packer, “The Plan of God,” in God’s Plan for You (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2001), 18–19.
[ii] Michael Lawrence, Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church: A Guide for Ministry, 9Marks (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 30.
In Psalm 103 we see David repeatedly using the phrase “bless the Lord, O my soul”. To “bless the Lord” was to “praise the Lord”. So, David was exhorting himself to praise God. He was trying to stir up in himself praise and adoration for God.
And the way David motivated himself to praise God was to remind himself of who God was and what God had done for Him. He writes, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits” (v.2). There is a real correlation between blessing God and remembering all His benefits (provision, mercy, sovereignty, etc.).
So often the reason we are not satisfied in God and therefore do not praise Him as we should is because we forget all His benefits. That’s why David proclaims, “Let my soul not forget the benefits of God” because when we forget all that God has done, we don’t rejoice in Him as we should.
When it comes to God, forgetfulness equals joylessness. And we are a forgetful people. We forget to turn the lights off, take the trash out, pay the electric bill, etc. These are things that we forget. And so often when we forget there are consequences. Some are small and insignificant, others are big and costly, but there are often consequences to our forgetfulness. And when it comes to God the consequence of forgetfulness is joylessness. When we are not reminded of who God is and what God has done for us then it’s easy to become discontent and depressed in life. The joy of the Lord is missing because we’re not dwelling on Him.
David stirs himself up to praise and adoration for God by reminding himself of the benefits of God.
We too need to regularly remind ourselves of who God is and what He has done for us. It is crucial in the pursuit of joy that we regularly read God’s Word, listen to Biblical preaching, and have godly mentors in our lives to remind us again and again of the benefits we have in Christ.
Recently my wife and I were blessed to enjoy a four day retreat with Winshape at Berry College in Rome, GA. The whole four days we were served amazing meals, developed some new ministry friends, and had a ton of time to rest and enjoy the beauty of God’s creation in the mountains. The best part of all wasn’t the hiking trails, the Filet Mignon, or even the fact that this trip was free (if you’re a senior pastor and spouse, do yourself a favor and sign up). The best part was the fact that we had time to linger over the Gospel individually and as a couple.
I was raised in a church where the Gospel was presented in every message, and for that I am very grateful. My pastor heralded the Gospel message clearly and unapologetically, pleading with sinners to surrender their hearts to Christ. Yet the Gospel that was preached every sermon was targeted at unbelievers and seldom believers. The main message for believers were the Bible’s moral imperatives, but seldom it’s Gospel indicatives. I assumed that the Gospel got me in God’s kingdom and obedience kept me in it.
The New Testament, however, always roots our obedience in the Gospel, so we need the Gospel more than ever as believers. The Gospel is not merely one story among many in Scripture; it is Scripture’s main story, and the constant refrain from Genesis to Revelation is that we linger over it. Tim Keller said it this way: “We never ‘get beyond the gospel’ in our Christian life to something more ‘advanced.’ The gospel is not the first ‘step’ in a ‘stairway’ of truths, rather, it is more like the ‘hub’ in a ‘wheel’ of truth. The gospel is not just the A-B-C’s but the A-Z of Christianity. The gospel is not just the minimum required doctrine necessary to enter the kingdom, but the way we make progress in the kingdom.”
When believers fail to drink deeply from the fountain of the Gospel, they shrivel spiritually. So if we reserve the Gospel to unbelievers in our church’s, we may see increased professions of faith, but we may also see decreased spiritual growth among those who profess faith. On the other hand, A church that preaches the Gospel to believers while unbelievers listen in will have a stronger and more stable family from which to launch this message into the community and world.
The soul that is regularly enjoying and resting in the truths of the Great Exchange will find constant motivation to obey God’s commands. It is there at the cross that we learn about the ugliness of our sin, God’s holiness, Christ’s sinless nature, the Judgment to come, astounding grace, our salvation, and sacrificial love. A cursory glance at the Gospel will not impress these realities upon us, so we must spend time each day lingering in it. Memorizing and meditating and mulling over the wonder of Christ’s substitutionary atoning death is the best fuel for everything in the Christian life, from holiness to missions. Whenever we find ourselves treasuring sin, it always stems from a failure to glory in the Golgotha event. May we rehearse the wonder of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection to ourselves and one another until He returns.
Over the past three months we at SonRise have been studying the history of the early church during our Sunday evening gatherings. So far, over almost 12 weeks, we have covered almost 400 years of the early church and explored key figures such as Polycarp, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Cyprian, Origen, Athanasius, The Cappadocians, and many others both heretic and hero. One question though that arose during our discussions is why is this important? Why should we in the 21st century pay much attention to the thoughts and work of the early church? Now these are fair questions and in this brief post I would like to lay out some of the reasons why the history of the Church is important to every believer.
It is Our Story
When we think of the history of the church, we come face to face with our own past, warts and all. It’s easy to get wrapped up in our own current church issues, whether that be on a local level or a global one, but when we look back over the totality of our history, we see that people are still people and God is still God. Now what I mean by that is that by studying our history we see the loving perseverance of God, in spite of our own failings. We see God preserving a people in spite of themselves, for His glory and our good. In every era of church history we see people who use the church for their own selfish gains and twist the meaning of Christ’s work and word to bring about their own personal fame. We see men abuse their flock and seek to destroy the church, not from without but from within. We see the warnings of Paul played out time and time again to love the people of God and protect the church from false teaching. Unfortunately, we also see this truth twisted to man’s own evil ends, just as we do today. However, in each generation we also see men and women of faith seeking God faithfully, loving their community with the gospel and seeking to grow in the grace of God day by day. We see men and women stand firm on the truth of God in the face of sever opposition and pain. So, when I begin by saying church history is our story I mean it reflects the very things we experience today. Ecclesiastes reminds us that at the end of the day there is nothing new under the sun, and the challenges of the church remain the same: to love the Lord with all our hearts and to live out the faith in Love towards our neighbors, all the more as those who profess Christ seem to act in the exact opposite of his teachings, twisting His truths for their own gains. Thankfully, when seen in the scope of history and the reveled truth of God’s word we know that our story shows us that God has faithful preserved His church through every generation.
It’s our Theology
The first generation of saints had the apostles’ teachings and the truth of scripture and from there the Spirit of God instructed them in the truth and lead them in grace. As we look back into the history of that time, we see people wrestling with the truth of scriptures and working out the reality of its teaching in their lives and practice. Over the first 500 years of the church many theological heresies would arise within the church that required a diligent study of the scriptures to lead to an answer, serious theological issues such as the full divinity of the Holy Spirit or about the questions of whether Jesus was truly divine or on the other hand truly human. Questions arose about how one comes to faith, and can one fall away from faith, how does evil exist if God is good? Many questions were asked and answered, some well some not so well, but as we know many of these same questions still come up today, and in looking back we see how the earliest of Christians thought through the scriptures to come to their conclusions. We see how many of the questions and charges that we wrestle with answering have been answered in generations past, and not simply in our creeds but in the writings that influenced the creeds, and in the depth of scriptural wisdom these men had leading to their arguments. When we avoid the past, we are forced to re litigate the central tenants of the faith over and over again, because we are continual ignoring those who have fought these battles long ago, and at times because of this we have adopted heresies that were long ago proven to be in error when seen in the totality of scripture.
We get it wrong
This maybe an interesting third option to put in the study of church history, but it is a reality that we see in church history and that is that sometimes, godly people living godly lives who love the Lord, get things wrong, both in our day and theirs. While I just spent a paragraph praising the church fathers for their advancement of the truth of scripture there were still plenty of times, when they went beyond the realms of scripture and speculated on God and the church and came up with some crazy things, that rather than being relegated to opinions or culture applications, were treated as binding theology. Many an issue arose not over interpretations of scriptures but over power and authority and innovation. Most of the things that are now regarded as tradition and essential in many churches, were innovations and controversial in their days. For instance, in the 16th century the Vulgate was seen as a relic of the past that kept the people away from the scriptures, in the 5th century it was seen as an innovation ripping away the scriptures from their original foundations, and giving it to the people who could not understand Greek. So in praising innovation we must also realize from history that innovation can become a false idol just as quickly. And that in spite of innovation the greatest traditions of the church can be seen in the early church and the works of the apostles; the dedication to the people reading and learning the scriptures together, the truth reveled and celebrated at the table, and church’s hospitality found in the loving community transformed by the Work of Christ.
We are encouraged
Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them.
In the end, let me end with the author of Hebrews as he encourages the church to look to those who have gone before them, those who have run the race and kept the faith. This text comes after the encourages them with a resounding list of the OT saints in chapter 11 and its implications in 12. When we put this text in the course of history, we are reminded that the lives of the saints from the days of Christ to now are models for us. They show us how to live in times of peace and times of persecution. They show us the struggles that men and women dealt with living in a world surrounded by believers and one depleted of them. In each and every way we have a whole history to draw from and be encouraged by, for we have not run this race alone, and we will not eat the great feast alone on that last day, but with all those who have run it before us. Therefore, let us learn from them and be encouraged by their faith and in turn let us turn all the more to the word of God and growing in His saving grace.
For many, this little two-letter word is the within the first few words we learn how to say. Every study I researched (which didn’t need to be many) verified that “No” is in the first grouping of new vocabulary words for a toddler; along with, “da-da, ma-ma, tanku (thank you), and other similarly simple to say.
Is “No!” there because of its relative ease in speaking? To be fair, I’m sure that’s why our littles choose it over “I’m confident that I am not willing to conform to your standard or to submit to your authority.” That articulation comes much later in our rebellion; however, its essence is still a resounding, “NO!”
Submission is really what we’re rebelling against with most of our “No’s.” And ultimately, as I believe the Scriptures make clear, it is not a rebellion of submission to our parents, leaders, or authority figures in our lives but against God’s design, and ultimately against God Himself.
In reality, submission has not only recently come to be taboo. Genesis 3 and the Fall detail our rejection of God-ordained submission. From Genesis 3 through Revelation 20:15 we read of the consequences of our rebellion, the Divine plan and accomplishment of redemption from our rebellion (Gen. 3:15 and beyond), and until we reach the Story of Redemption we cannot find a single person who was not only completely submissive but who was joyfully submissive.
That Jesus was completely and joyfully submissive is the solid foundation of submission. Afterall, if submission was appropriate for Christ, the God-man, then why can’t we stomach it? But even Christ’s submission stretches beyond the reach of the Roman government, the ecclesiastical (if you will) constructions, the work-place, and even beyond the family unit. Jesus, the Son of God, was first submissive inside the co-eternal, co-equal, co-magnificent Godhead; as was the Holy Spirit. The solid foundation of submission for this generation, as well as any subsequent generations, is godliness.
Submission of the Son to the Father
Galatians 4:4—“But when the fulness of time had come, God sent forth his Son…”
John 12:49-50—Jesus said, “For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak…I say as the Father has told me.”
John 10:37—Jesus said, “If I am not doing the works of my Father…”
Luke 22:22—“For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined…”
And ultimately, Luke 22:42—Jesus said, “Nevertheless, not my will but yours be done…”
Submission of the Spirit to the Father & the Son
John 14:26—“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name…”
John 15:26—Jesus said, “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.”
Luke 24:49—Jesus said, “…I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
Acts 2:33—Peter said, “[Jesus] being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit…”
These are by no means exhaustive references to the eternal submission within the Godhead but a clear and definitive doctrine (and example) can be seen through the passages provided.
Why such a hesitation, then, for the Church to submit herself in her marriages (Ephesians 5:22-33), and children to the parents (Ephesians 6:1-4), and employees to their employers (Ephesians 6:5-9), and citizens to their government (Romans 13:1-7).
Could it be that our marital, parental, ecclesiastical & societal resounding “NO!” is the smoldering embers of sinful pride and self-exaltation that needs to be snuffed out by the deluge of Spirit-empowered self-mortification that we might bear and project God’s image rightly? I believe so. To be submissive is to be Christlike. What other foundation could be more stable?
Submission may be a nasty word in our culture but far be it from the Bride of Christ to declare the posture of Christ to be passé; lest we be found professors of Christ and not possessors.