When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” … “Feed my lambs.” … “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” …… More
“It will put the fear of God in you.”
This phrase is often stated by someone as a warning to another before they try some fiery hot sauce, watch a scary movie, or ride a looping roller coaster. Parents have even said it to their wayward children to warn of future discipline if they disobey. Outside of these uses, we don’t often hear much of the fear of God these days, but the Bible talks a lot about it. The fear of God is a theme taught throughout the pages of Scripture and which shows up hundreds of times in our Bibles.
Some may consider the fear of the LORD to be something for non-believers and they say true Christians shouldn’t fear God. They may even quote 1 John 4:18, which states, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” But we must never build a system of theology on one verse, but instead let the whole of revealed Scripture illuminate a matter. The verse from 1 John reveals not that we shouldn’t fear God, but that our fear of God is different now that we’re in Christ.
The great protestant reformer Martin Luther is known for distinguishing between servile fear (that of a child facing an abusive bully at school each day) and filial fear (that same child’s deep respect for his loving father and the desire to only do what pleases him). This is illustrated well in one of my favorite books on the topic: The Joy of Fearing God by Jerry Bridges. In his book, Bridges uses the illustration of a soldier who trains under a strict drill sergeant and is terror-stricken around him. But as the soldier gradually moves up in rank and begins to have a deeper respect for this officer over him, his fear of him changes. Eventually, the soldier and his commanding officer are both in an IED attack and the soldier is injured badly. While in an army hospital, the soldier’s commanding officer visits regularly to check on him and the soldier’s fear grows even deeper towards such a loving and yet authoritative man. Sinclair Ferguson has defined the fear of God as, “that indefinable mixture of reverence, fear, pleasure, joy, and awe which fills our hearts when we realize who God is and what he has done for us.”
So how does Scripture address us with this concept of the fear of God?
1. The fear of the LORD compels…our proclamation
Sharing Christ with another person can be scary work. Our minds so quickly and unconsciously present us with a multitude of possible negative outcomes: “What if they think I’m a weird religious fanatic? What if they never want to talk to me again? What if they insult me or make fun of me in front of others?” Jesus told his disciples, “…proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell…So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Mt. 10:28, 32, 33). Jesus often answered our unhealthy fear of persecution or lack of provision with a healthy fear of Him. Paul likewise told the church at Corinth, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others” (2 Cor. 5:10-11a). In both Jesus’ words and Paul’s, we get a sense that our evangelism and witness are to be driven by the fear of God. Our proclamation of the Gospel should be bold even in the face of opposition because both we and our hearers will answer to God in the end.
2. The fear of the LORD compels…our worship
There are so many factors that can negatively affect our worship of God: impure motives, unrepentant sin, prayerlessness, wasting our time. Yet we must remember just who this God is that we’re to worship and how He alone is worthy of our whole-hearted worship. The author of Hebrews tells us, “let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:28b-29). Unacceptable worship is any worship that fails to rightly acknowledge the awesome majesty of the God before whom we come. So we must approach Him as those who deserve His just wrath and yet enjoy His smile because of the wonder of Christ’s propitiation. Our prayers must be humble and serious, our Scripture reading must be disciplined and meditative, and our service must be zealous and grateful as sinners redeemed by the blood of God’s Son.
3. The fear of the LORD compels…our holy living
The pursuit of holiness is hard work because we are fighting against ourselves for ourselves. One of the reasons we struggle with practical holiness is that we forget how it is to be motivated by our fear of God. Anytime we divorce holiness from a healthy reverence for God, we turn it into a self-wrought work or a set of morals. Paul told the church at Corinth, “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1). We see this also in the Old Testament: “And he said to man, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding’” (Job 28:28). Here God equates fear of Him with personal holiness. One who is not growing in holiness is not living with a fear of God. God told the prophet Isaiah, “For the LORD spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the LORD of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread” (Is. 8:11-13). How do we not walk in the way of “this people” who don’t know God? By a letting God be our fear and dread.
4. The fear of the LORD compels…our bold obedience
This is similar to the others and yet distinct. A fear of God produces a boldness that chooses to obey Him no matter the cost. Among the hall of faith in Hebrews 11 are two women who protected the Hebrew baby boys from evil Pharaoh in Moses’ day. Where did they get such boldness in the face of such evil and opposition? You guessed it: the fear of God. Moses records their names for us and informs us, “But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live.” He later tells the people of God wandering through the wilderness, “And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deut. 10:12).
5. The fear of the LORD compels…our fellowship with God
If we want close communion with God, we cannot have it without a fear of Him. David writes, “The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant” (Ps. 25:14). In other psalms, we are informed: “Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him,” and, “The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them” (Ps. 33:18a; 34:7). In each of these psalms, David shows us that a right fear of God leads to the blessing of His friendship. Some may think they’d never want to be friends with a God who demands we fear Him, but any lesser god isn’t worthy of our friendship. Think of the wonder of these verses! The God of all creation is inviting us to be His friends! We ought to enter in with joy-filled reverence before such a God. Why wouldn’t we want such a friend on our side and for us?
6. The fear of the LORD compels…our safety
Solomon writes, “The fear of the LORD leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied; he will not be visited by harm” (Prov. 19:23). Yes many who feared God have died martyrs for Christ, but they’ve never truly been, “visited by harm.” Listen to Jesus’ words to his disciples: “You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives” (Lk. 21:16-19). Read over that again. He is literally saying, “They are going to hate you and beat you and arrest you and kill you…but you will live.” I was speaking with a pastor friend about this one day and he said something that really struck me: “In reality, nothing bad ever happens to the Christian.” Sure you may get COVID-19 or pancreatic cancer or you might be killed by a drunk driver or die at the hands of some vigilante, but this is all part of God’s sovereign plan. Isn’t that glorious! How liberating the fear of God is for us!
7. The fear of the LORD compels…our prayers
We are told in Jeremiah 26:19b of King Hezekiah, “Did he not fear the LORD and entreat the favor of the LORD, and did not the LORD relent of the disaster that he had pronounced against them?” Want a more earnest and passionate prayer life? Then before you pray, contemplate who it is you are approaching. A good fear of God will make for good prayers.
8. The fear of the LORD compels…our church health
One of the major errors of the church growth movement was a failure to stand on the truths that highlight the fear of God. Doctor Luke informs us that it is this fear of God which grew the early church. “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied” (Acts 9:31). A healthy and multiplying church isn’t one whose mere numbers grow, but whose members grow in the fear of God. Even when God’s hand of discipline fell on wayward members, we’re told, “And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things. Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women” (Acts 5:11-14). A church that fears God will be marked by holiness among its members and will eventually grow numerically as outsiders see Christ among them.
9. The fear of the LORD compels…our labors
Paul told the church at Colossae, “Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord” (Col. 3:22). Here the Bible’s reference to earthly masters and bonderservants has been compared to more of an employer-employee relationship and not so much the American system of slavery with which we’re familiar. Paul addressed those in the congregation who were bondservants because God cared about their daily lives just as He did the others in the flock. He commends a fear of God which lends itself to honest and diligent work. Find a man or woman who fears God and you’ll find someone who refuses to cut corners at work or steal time from the clock. They don’t hold back from these things because they’re afraid of God, but because they wouldn’t dare offend such a gracious and good God who has given them His only Son’s life.
10. The fear of the LORD compels…our leadership
Every organization needs good leadership and yet the best leaders aren’t those who’ve built great empires, but those who fear a great God. When Moses’ father-in-law recommended a plurality of leadership to help he and the struggling flock of Israel, he wisely instructed him to look for men of both caliber and competence. “Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens” (Ex. 18:21). David’s last words even highlight the beauty of God-fearing leadership. We read in 2 Samuel 23:3-4, “The God of Israel has spoken; the Rock of Israel has said to me: When one rules justly over men, ruling in the fear of God, he dawns on them like the morning light, like the sun shining forth on a cloudless morning, like rain that makes grass to sprout from the earth.” Leaders who fear God are a true blessing to those under their leadership.
May we all learn to live with this fear of God and let it pour down into every aspect of our daily lives so that all may see the glory of our great and awesome God.
Q & A 105
Q. What is God’s will for you in the sixth commandment?
A. I am not to belittle, hate, insult, or kill my neighbor— not by my thoughts, my words, my look or gesture, and certainly not by actual deeds— and I am not to be party to this in others; rather, I am to put away all desire for revenge.
I am not to harm or recklessly endanger myself either. Prevention of murder is also why government is armed with the sword.
In our day and age we must not forget the simple things the Scriptures and these faithful catechisms teach us. Here before you is the 105th question of the Heidelberg catechism used to instruct children and adults in the truth of godliness for hundreds of years. What is so important in this little paragraph for us today is the depths to which the sixth commandment addresses murder. Murder is far more involved than the simple matter of ending someones physical life and has far more repercussions than we think.
Our country is in a state of upheaval at the moment over the death of George Floyd and the discussion over the nature of race relations. On Tuesday, Don wrote a great article highlighting the reality behind much of what we see as hate. There exist in our world a systemic issue, sin and along with it comes hate. What is worse is this is not only in the world but in the church. If you venture onto social media you will find some of the most vile and contemptuous words and accusations coming from Christians at one another. In many ways the church has adapted the culture’s propensity towards division and hatred.
So therefore, let us remember every day as we speak to one another and post online, that we represent Christ to a lost and dying world. As we speak the Lord calls us to be an encouragement to the body. The commandment before us calls us not just to not raise arms to kill one anther but not to speak in such ways, nor think it. Let us think well of each other, giving the benefit of the doubt and seeking to hear, love and encourage one another with the truth of the gospel.
As believers we hold the only true hope for the world and it is not in this world, but in Christ, and His Kingdom.
Let me start by sharing that this will not be brief or a bullet point presentation on better race relations. I do intend, however, for this to help the Christian reader think through these sensitive issues biblically and for this to help the Gospel-centered Christian respond in a way that honors the Lord, honors the hurting, and point us all to Christ. I welcome your comments, criticisms, and clarifications but if you intend to offer them, please read the post in its entirety before responding.
The Root of Racism is Hate, not Color
I have had the privilege of teaching/preaching in the bush of Africa, the jungles of Peru, the calm streets of suburbia, and rural America. I have found hate-filled hearts in every one of these nooks and crannies.
The Shinasha people, a lighter skinned Ethiopian tribe, at times, have actively oppressed their darker skinned Gumuz neighbors. The Hispanic Peruvian people have oppressed their gringo visitors and residents, at times, because the gringos are the minority and can do little to nothing about it. There’s still even a running joke around where I serve the Lord today about those who live or grew up “north of the creek” (and this is an almost all-white region). Sure, it’s a joke but that stereotype started somewhere and it wasn’t a joke or it wouldn’t have stuck; certainly, some still believe the stereotype today and its negative connotations are clear.
Christian, you need not look any further than Acts 7:58 for an example of hate that has nothing to do with race. The man who would soon be known around the world as “the Apostle Paul” stood in agreement over the mob-murder of a preacher belonging to the minority sect of Judaism called “the Way” (later to be called “Christians” in Acts 17). Saul would then go on a murderous, hate-filled rampage not because of race but because of his hatred of these Christians. This was Jewish on Jewish oppression, suppression, and murder.
Racism, sexism, discrimination, and oppression are the symptoms of much greater problem; the root is hate. And even further than “hate” is the core fundamental problem of the complete and utter societal rejection of Absolute Truth; namely, the First and Second Tables of the Law (also known as The 10 Commandments).
This why we are seeing black cops killed alongside of white cops (https://time.com/5849888/st-louis-captain-david-dorn-suspect-arrested/) and black-owned business being destroyed along with white-owned, hispanic-owned, and other minority-owned businesses (https://fee.org/articles/here-are-just-10-of-the-many-minority-owned-businesses-destroyed-in-the-riots/).
When God is not honored it should not be a surprise when the image of God, in humanity, is not honored. Hate overflows from a heart filled with hate and it empties itself upon any who oppose it or who may stand its way of filling its single greatest desire; namely, the satisfaction of self.
Justice: The Reflection of God upon Humanity
In my heart, I’ve been conflicted over both the statement “black lives matter” and the “BLM” movement. But, while reading last week I encountered a statement that made me look past the reservations (my reservations come from not wanting fuel racial divisions or support a harmful organization) and ask myself the question, “What is at the heart of the BLM movement on the individual level? What do those who support BLM want?” I believe the answer is “Justice.”
Who doesn’t want justice? Who doesn’t deserve justice? Who doesn’t want or deserve to be treated with love, compassion, and fairly? I know I do.
Certainly, there are bad actors in the BLM movement, the police force, and even in ministry; I know that to be true. So, if the justice of God is what God desires than I can get on board with that and speak out from there.
Jesus spoke about the love (First Table, the first four commandments) and justice of God (Second Table, the last six commandments) in Luke 11:42. In essence, Jesus condemned the outward practice of religion (tithing) because his hearers were lacking the inward renewal of the Holy Spirit (salvation) and it was evident; listen carefully to the Master Teacher—“Woe to you…For you tithe mint and rue, and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting others.” The outward reflection or their religion was evident but inwardly they lacked the two most fundamental aspects of Christ-centered living: The love of God (First Table) and the love of others (Second Table); aka, justice.
The never-changing supreme standard by which God judges mankind is the Law of God, both Tables. Praise be to God that Jesus fulfilled the Law, died in my place, paid my debt, rose victoriously that I might be justified before the Thrice Holy God, and promises the forgiveness of sins and eternal life to all who come to Him in faith and repentance. But I, and we (humanity) have not been set free from living within the Moral Law (10 Commandments) but have been empowered to now live in light of the Moral Law by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. This love of Savior God (First Table) now manifests itself in the love of neighbor (Second Table). Or said from the negative position: The lack of justice/love of neighbor is the evidence that the love of God is also missing. The root of the Justice of God is buried deep into the soil of the Love of God and when a person/society loves God rightly it will be evident by how they treat/love one another.
The Cancer of Society’s Soul
Our society has almost rejected the “love of God” wholesale while still demanding that which flows from it; namely, the justice of God or the love of man. Metaphorically, we’re treating the cancer of racism, sexism, oppression and suppression of all sorts with Nyquil.
“The nighttime, sniffling, sneezing, coughing, aching, stuffy-head fever so you can rest and have a good morning medicine” helps suppress the symptoms of a cold but only masks the red-flags that cancer sends while it continues to ravage its victim internally. Clearly, our societal-bowels are being ravaged; not by racism, although it is present, but by the wholesale rejection of its Creator, Savior, & Sustainer.
Saul of Tarsus (Acts 7) ravaged the Church of Christ (Acts 8) until he had an encounter with the risen Jesus (Acts 9). And you know what happened next: The Apostle Paul was commissioned and sent out by the Lord Jesus Christ (Galatians 1) after his heart was changed through the Gospel. Paul loved the Lord, even the point of death, and loved those he once oppressed and suppressed, even to the point of his own death, not because of a protest, a rally, a social-justice drive, or new laws being codified.
Paul’s cancerous hate was healed by the life-giving Gospel of Jesus Christ being applied to his dead, hate-filled heart, by the Holy Spirit through the lips of the resurrected Jesus. This, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is the only way that the hate-filled heart is changed into a heart that overflows with love; love of God above all else (First Table) and the love of neighbor (Second Table), regardless of sex, color, or creed.
The Only Viable Solution
While atheism, agnosticism, idolatry, and Sabbath neglect rule our society (First Table neglect), our cancers of racism, sexism, and injustice (Second Table neglect) will eviscerate our families, neighborhoods, regions, and country. We will never have justice while the love of God is absent and celebrated.
Racism is annihilated in the heart that accepts the Truth that mankind is indeed one race; many shades of skin tone but one race.
Political Discrimination, Disinformation, and Character Assassination is eradicated in the heart that embraces the Truth that Christ’s Kingdom is (1) not of this world, (2) that this world is passing away, and (3) that the Lord steers the hearts of political leaders wherever He pleases.
Sexism is thrashed to shreds in the heart that holds tightly to the Truth that God created men and women to serve complimentary, Christ-exalting rolls and embracing God’s design, to the glory of God the Father.
Oppression & Suppression perishes in the heart that accepts the Truth that it is far greater to give than to receive.
Hate is disemboweled in the heart that has been overtaken by the love of God in the person of Christ Jesus, having been made alive by the Spirit of God, through seeing Love on a Cross through the lens of an empty tomb.
We need the Gospel.
The United States of America needs another Great Awakening and that is a work that only God can do and has said He will do it through the faithful proclamation of the unadulterated Gospel of Jesus Christ. After all, the Gospel is the power of God to salvation for those who believe.
Let me leave you with the words of Paul Tripp from his book War of Words: Getting to the Heart of Your Communication Struggles (pg. 112):
“God’s agenda in these moments is fundamentally spiritual. He knows that only when he owns our hearts unchallenged will we relate to the world in the way he has ordained. For this reason, God is focused not only on the momentary solution to our problems but on a long-term change of heart.”
From Tim Challies:
A friend asked the question: How do I pray for unbelievers? How do I pray effectively? I trust that every Christian regularly prays for family or friends or colleagues or neighbors who do not yet know the Lord. And while we can and must pray for matters related to their lives and circumstances, the emphasis of our prayers must always be for their salvation. Here are some ways the Bible can guide our prayers.
Prayers for Salvation
We begin with prayers for salvation. Each of these prayers seeks the same thing, but in a different way or from a different angle or using different language. Each of them is grounded in a specific text of Scripture.
Pray that God would circumcise their hearts. Circumcision was the Old Testament sign of entering into God’s covenant, of being God’s people. To have a circumcised heart symbolizes having a heart that is fully joined to God, fully submissive to him. “And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Deuteronomy 30:6).
Pray that God would give them a heart of flesh. The Bible contrasts a heart of flesh, a heart that is alive and responsive to God, to a heart of stone, a heart that is cold and unyielding. Pray that God would work within these unbelievers to change their hearts. “And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh…” (Ezekiel 11:19).
Pray that God would put his Spirit within them. The great joy of salvation is being indwelled by God himself. Pray that God would grant this honor to those unbelievers, that he would choose to take up residence within them. “And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezekiel 36:27).
Pray that they would come to Christ. If unbelievers are to come to salvation, there is just one way. They must come through Christ and Christ alone. “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’” (John 14:6). Remember, too, that he is the one who calls them to come and to be relieved of the burden of their sin (see Matthew 11:28-30).
Pray that God would open their hearts to believe the gospel. Once more, God must initiate and people must respond. So pray that God would open the hearts of these unbelievers so they can in turn believe, just as Lydia did. “The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul” (Acts 16:14).
Pray that God would free them from the slavery of sin. Unbelievers may believe they are free, but they are in fact enslaved. They are slaves of sin, bound by their sin and sinfulness. Pray that God would liberate them by his gospel. “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed” (Romans 6:17).
Pray that God would remove Satan’s blinding influence . Unbelievers have been blinded by Satan and will only ever be able to see and appreciate the gospel if God works within them. So pray that God would give them sight—spiritual sight. “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4).
Pray that God would grant them repentance. Unbelievers cannot repent without the enabling grace of God. So pray that God would grant them repentance, that this repentance would lead them to a knowledge of the truth. Pray as well that they would come to their senses and that they would escape from the devil’s snare. “God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:25-26).
Prayers For You
You have prayed for unbelievers using different words and approaching from different angles. But you should also pray for yourself.
Pray that you will develop relationship with them. For people to be saved they must first hear the good news of the gospel. For them to hear the good news of the gospel, they must first encounter Christians—Christians like you. Pray that you would develop deeper, more significant relationship with them so you can, in turn, speak truth. “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Romans 10:14).
Pray for opportunities to minister to them. Many people come to faith after seeing Christ’s loved displayed through the ministry of Christians. Pray for opportunities to minister to unbelievers so that your ministry can have an evangelistic effect. “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
Pray for them faithfully and persistently. Our temptation is to grow discouraged in prayer, to pray for a while and, when we see no visible results, to give up. But God calls us to persevere in prayer. “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving” (Colossians 4:2). (See also the parable of the persistent widow in Luke 18:1-8.)
Pray for a burden to plead for their souls. Paul was willing to tell the church at Rome of his great longing to see the salvation of the lost. Do you share this deep longing? Pray that God would give you a great burden for souls. “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved” (Romans 10:1).
Pray for boldness in generating and taking opportunities to speak the gospel. Even Paul longed for this boldness and for the confidence that he was speaking the right and best words. Pray that God would give you the boldness and, that when you take the opportunities, that he would then guide your words. “[Pray] also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel…” (Ephesians 6:19).
Pray for other believers to encounter them. God almost always uses a succession of people to share the gospel with people before they are saved. Pray, then, that God would lead other Christians into the lives of the unbelievers you love, that they too would provide an example of Christian living and that they too would speak the gospel. “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6).
Here are a few more biblical emphases to guide your prayers.
Pray that God would use any circumstance to do his work in them. We pray to a God who is sovereign and who sovereignly works his good will. Often he saves people through difficult circumstances, through bringing them to the very end of themselves. Pray, then, that God would arrange circumstances, whether easy or difficult, to lead them to salvation. “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word” (Psalm 119:67). As you pray for the unbelievers you love, always pray to God: “your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
Pray that God would extend his mercy to them. God assures us that he wishes for all people to turn to him in repentance and faith. He receives no joy from seeing people perish. Pray, then, that God would be glorified in the salvation of these people. “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
Pray with confidence. Finally, pray with confidence. God expects we will pray, God invites us to pray, God commands us to pray. Why? Because God loves to hear us pray and God loves to respond to our prayers. So as you pray for unbelievers, pray with confidence that God hears your prayers. “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16).
No one would confuse Andrew Fuller for being anything but a firm Calvinistic Baptist who wrote extensively to defend the doctrines of grace from a Particular Baptist point of view. If you read Fuller’s writings in the realm of ecclesiology and polity, you will find a man who was a thorough Baptist. However, even in his own day, Andrew Fuller saw the danger that exists in giving one’s self over to extreme sectarianism. Are we interested in seeing people come to Christ or that they become a part of our denominational or theological heritage? By all means, if we consider ourselves a Baptist, a Presbyterian, or a Congregationalist, then we should be able to defend our convictions and views. I am a Particular Baptist because I am thoroughly convinced that is the theological tradition most faithful to the Bible. Even so, I should be filled with nothing but joy and gladness when I see a faithful Presbyterian church receive new members due to souls being converted by the grace of God. The counsel that Andrew Fuller provides us in this piece is much needed in our day when tribalism, fueled by cultural changes and social media, continues to grow more and more within the church.
I first became aware of this short piece by Andrew Fuller on David Prince’s website which hosts “Andrew Fuller Fridays.” Here is the link: http://www.davidprince.com/2018/06/08/pursuing-lesser-things-to-the-neglect-of-the-greater-andrew-fuller-being-dead-still-speaks-to-sbc18/.
Below is an excerpted portion of Andrew Fuller’s article “The Necessity of Seeking those Things First which are of the First Importance” (The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Miscellaneous—Fugitive Pieces, Andrew F. Fuller, Ed., Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2007:984-985).
A great part of the evil which prevails in the world consists in an entire neglect of what God commands, or in doing what he has expressly forbidden; but not the whole of it. There may be an attachment to many things which in themselves are right, and yet the whole may be rendered worse than void by the want of order, or a regard to things according to their importance.
Our Lord did not censure the Pharisees for attending to the lesser matters of the law, but for attending to them “to the neglect of the greater.” If we pursue things as primary which ought to occupy only a secondary or subordinate place in the system, we subvert the whole, and employ ourselves in doing what is worse than nothing.
I think I see the operation of this principle among us, and that to a wide extent. I see it among the unconverted, among the converted, and among different parties or denominations of Christians.
First, It is by this that great numbers who lay their accounts with obtaining the kingdom of heaven will be found to have deceived themselves.
It may be too much to say of them that they do not seek the kingdom of God; but they seek it not as a first or primary object. The world is their chief good, and the kingdom of God only occupies a secondary place in their affections. They wish to attend to their everlasting concerns, but they cannot spare time. Now we can commonly spare time for that which we love best.
Secondly, It is owing to this, among other causes, that many Christians go from year to year in doubt, with respect to their interest in Christ and spiritual blessings.
It is very desirable to have clear and satisfactory views on this subject. To live in suspense on a matter of such importance must, if we be not sunk in insensibility, be miserable. How is it that so much of this prevails among us; when, if we look into the New Testament, we shall scarcely see an instance of it among the primitive Christians? Shall we cast off all such characters as unbelievers?
Some have done so, alleging that it is impossible for a person to be a believer without being conscious of it. Surely this is too much; for if the grace of God within us, whatever be its degree, must needs be self-evident to us, why are we directed to keep his commandments as the means of “knowing that we know him?” The primitive Christians, however, had but little of this fear; and the reason of it was, they had more of that perfect love to Christ, to the gospel, and to the success of it, than we have, which tended to “cast out fear.”
If we make our personal comfort the first object of our pursuit, (and many attend the means of grace as if they did,) God will make it the last of his; for it is a general principle in the Divine administration, “Him that honoureth me I will honour; but he that despiseth me shall be lightly esteemed.” If we seek the honour of God, we shall find our own peace and comfort in it; but if we make light of him he will make light of us, and leave us to pass our days in darkness and suspense.
Thirdly, It is owing, if I mistake not, to the same cause that various denominations of Christians, who at some period have been greatly blessed of God, have declined as to their spiritual prosperity.
Several of our religious denominations have arisen from a conscientious desire to restore Christianity to its primitive purity. From this motive acted, I believe, the greater part of the Reformers, the Puritans, the nonconformists, and the Baptists. I do not know that any one of these denominations were censurable for the separations which they made from other professing Christians. It may be alleged that they have torn the church of Christ into parties, and so occasioned much evil; yet some of them did not separate from the church of Christ, but from a worldly community calling itself by that name; and those who did, pretended not to be the only people of God in the world, but considered themselves merely as “withdrawing from brethren who walked disorderly.”
It is a melancholy fact, however, that no sooner have a people formed themselves into a new denomination than they are in the utmost danger of concentrating almost all their strength, influence, zeal, prayers, and endeavours for its support; not as a part of Christ’s visible kingdom, wishing all good to other parts in so far as they follow Christ, but as though it were the whole of it, and as though all true religion were circumscribed within its hallowed pale. This is the essence of a sectarian spirit, and the bane of Christianity.
I am a Dissenter, and a Baptist. If I confine my remarks to the faults of these denominations, it is not because I consider them as greater sinners in this way than all others, but because I wish more especially to correct the evils of my own connexions. If we wish to promote the dissenting interest, it must not be by expending our principal zeal in endeavouring to make men Dissenters, but in making Dissenters and others Christians. The principles of dissent, however just and important, are not to be compared with the glorious gospel of the blessed God; and if inculcated at the expense of it, it is no better than tithing mint and cumin, to the omitting of the weightier matters of the law. Such endeavours will be blasted, and made to defeat, their own end.
If we wish to see the Baptist denomination prosper, we must not expend our zeal so much in endeavouring to make men Baptists, as in labouring to make Baptists and other Christians. If we lay out ourselves in the common cause of Christianity, the Lord will bless and increase us. By rejoicing in the prosperity of every other denomination, in so far as they accord with the mind of Christ, we shall promote the best interests of our own. But if we be more concerned to make proselytes to a party than converts to Christ, we shall defeat our own end; and however just our sentiments may be with respect to the subjects and mode of baptism, we shall be found symbolizing with the Pharisees, who were employed in tithing mint and cumin, to the neglect of judgment, mercy, and the love of God.
A timely word.
Hear and heed.
As we open up God’s Word it can be difficult to understand. There are certain books or passages in the Bible that we may glance over or avoid altogether because we don’t understand them. But these passages have lots of value and God has given them to us as a gift. We shouldn’t avoid difficult passages, but instead seek God through prayer to help us better understand. Seek the counsel of others to help us understand. Seek commentaries or study tools to help us understand. We have so many resources at our hands to help us understand God’s Word. Instead of neglecting the difficult passages, let’s embrace them and take them seriously.
“Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” (Psalm 119:18)
Delight in It
Psalm 119 tells us that the Word of God is sweeter than honey. It is something to cherish and delight in. We taste honey and enjoy it’s sweet flavor. We see a sunset and enjoy its beauty. We enjoy the laughter that we have with friends. All these things are wonderful delights that God has given to us by grace. His Word is said to be sweeter than these things. Knowing and understanding God’s Word will help us to delight in it. Through delighting in His word we delight in Him.
“How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalm 119:103)
When we know and delight in God’s Word it will cause us to obey. True obedience is the overflow of our relational knowledge of God. Being told to obey (“follow rules”) is not what makes people follow rules. Knowing God’s Word is what produces true obedience to God. Obeying God’s Word can only flow from a proper understanding of it. We shouldn’t look at God’s law as a rule to follow begrudgingly, but as something we are pleased to obey.
“Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.” (Psalm 119:33-34)
“And then she understood the devilish cunning of the enemies’ plan. By mixing a little truth with it they had made their lie far stronger.”
If heresy is to ever successfully infiltrate the church, then it must not only appeal to the desires of our sinful nature but also have a ring of truth to it. False doctrines that are absurd or obviously unbiblical never gain traction among the majority of Bible-believing Christians. On the contrary, Peter says that false teachers bring in their destructive heresies secretly, with the result that “many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed” (2 Pet. 2:1-3). Paul writes that the Devil himself disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14); and let’s not forget that he can quote Scripture too (see Matt. 4:5-6)!
In other words, the most convincing false doctrines will always include biblical truth. They will sound good and make us feel good. With just the right amount of Scripture, a hint of Christian concepts mixed with the desires of the flesh, and a dash of rhetorical flair, you have all the ingredients you need to create a fresh batch of ear-tickling muffins. Nevertheless, “a half-truth masquerading as the whole truth becomes a complete untruth.” We need to be on guard against false teachers and their subtle attempts to reject and redefine God’s Word.
What the Cross is “Really” About: Our Value
While we could look at many popular heresies in the church today to confirm this, one recent teaching serves as a prime example. The reason for its popularity is because it seeks to shed new light on God’s love, Christ’s redeeming work, and especially our value in God’s eyes. Todd White, a popular proponent of this view, put it this way in an interview on TBN:
The value [that] was placed on my life was determined by the cost that was paid for me. See the cross isn’t just the revelation of my sin; it’s the revealing of my value. Something underneath of that sin must have been of great value for heaven to go bankrupt to get me back. So, Jesus paid such a high price for me on that tree, and when I see that, I see my value.
As you can see, this ticks all the boxes. It affirms several biblical truths: The cross of Christ reveals both our sin and our value to God; the eternal Son of God left the glories of heaven to seek and save the lost; the price of our redemption was the blood of Jesus. It also makes sense to us on a practical level: The price you are willing to pay for something reveals its value to you. So, on the surface, it sounds good and it definitely makes us feel good; it appeals to our desire for significance and worth.
But when we look at the cross of Christ and behold the price of our redemption, should our focus ultimately be on our value to God? Specifically, was there something underneath our sin that made heaven go “bankrupt” just to get us back? Is the reason that Jesus shed his blood for us because we were worth it? The answer to these questions, from the consistent teaching of Scripture and the consensus of church history, is a resounding “No.” While it comes very close to being sound, biblical teaching, this is a false doctrine that only serves to undermine the good news it attempts to proclaim.
A Note on Our Value to God
Before we look at a few objections to this teaching, it’s important to briefly clarify this concept of our value or worth. First, having been made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27), all humanity has intrinsic value and special dignity. Human life is of inestimable worth in all its dimensions, despite the fall of man and our enslavement to sin. God has crowned man with “glory and honor” (Ps. 8:5), and Jesus himself affirms we are of great value to our Maker (Matt. 6:26).
Second, for all who have received adoption as sons through faith in Christ, we are now loved and treasured as God’s very own children! We are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” (1 Pet. 2:9; see also Ex. 19:5; Titus 2:14). If God in Christ gave himself for us to redeem us and make us his own, how could we not have value in God’s eyes?! So, in this second sense, the cross indeed is a revealing of our value to God, since he obtained us with his own blood (Acts 20:28); how deep the Father’s love for us indeed!
Objection #1: This Teaching Contradicts the Meaning of Grace
However, our value to God is not the reason why God sent his Son into the world! No worth of ours, buried beneath the dirt and corruption of our sin, compelled the Son of God to come to earth and redeem a sinful people for his possession. Neither our inherent value as image-bearers, nor our “potential” value as new creations in Christ, caused heaven to go bankrupt (which is itself a reckless phrase to use) so God could get us back. No; our salvation is totally unmerited and completely undeserved—that is, it is by grace alone. To say that Jesus shed his blood on the cross to ransom us because we were so valuable to God is to contradict the very meaning of grace!
The Bible makes it very clear why God set his love on an unworthy, sinful, and rebellious people, and it has absolutely nothing to do with any inherent worth that we possess:
The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt (Deut. 7:6-8).
The eternal God, who is perfectly blessed in himself and in need of nothing, loves us because he loves us! Jesus laid down his life for us not because we were valuable or worth it but quite simply because he loved us. In fact, when Scripture speaks of the death of Christ, it never uses this language of “our value.” Instead, what you will repeatedly find are references to the greatness of our sin and the greatness of God’s love (see Rom. 3:9-26; 5:6-10; Gal. 3:10-14; Eph. 2:1-10; 1 Tim. 1:12-17; Titus 3:3-8). The focus is always God’s unmerited favor towards unworthy sinners. Yet this teaching subtly draws our gaze away from God’s grace to behold our worth.
So, while the cross is the revelation of our value to God—in that he gave “his only Son to make a wretch his treasure”—we only have this value because of the cross! The cross is supremely the demonstration of “the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:7). In Christ, we are no longer glory-stealing sinners and God-hating rebels but new creations, God’s treasured possession. Why? Because our salvation is a gift of God’s grace, due to nothing good in us whatsoever.
Objection #2: This Teaching Confuses Our Value with Our Debt
Another problem with this teaching’s emphasis on our value is that it misunderstands the price that Jesus paid for us on the cross. While it is true that the price of something shows its value, in our case, the price of our redemption isn’t so much a revealing of our worth but of the debt that we owe. It’s a reflection, so to speak, of the “damage” we have caused—as if the servant of a high-ranking government official had stolen one his exotic cars and crashed it into his multi-million dollar estate, which then exploded and set his whole property on fire, destroying billions of dollars’ worth of paintings and sculptures from his private art collection and killing the official’s son.
You see, God in Christ paid such a high price for us not because we were valuable to him and deserved to be redeemed, but because we had rebelled against him and incurred the wages of sin and eternal death! We, who were made in his God’s own image to glorify him like nothing else in all creation, “did not honor him as God or give thanks to him” but “exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever” (Rom. 1:21-25). We have committed cosmic treason and robbed the infinitely glorious God of the honor which he is due. Paul says that, “All have turned aside; together they have become worthless” (Rom. 3:12), that, “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). And as the author of Hebrews reminds us: “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb. 9:22).
So again, while the cross does in one sense reveal our worth (because those justified by grace through faith in Jesus have received adoptions as sons and become God’s treasured possession), it is ultimately a reflection of God’s abundant grace and generosity and not any value on our part—inherent or potential. The cross of Christ is the revelation that unworthy sinners are “justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness [notice Paul doesn’t mention our value here!] . . . so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:23-26). The cross primarily reveals the righteousness of God in perfect justice and mercy, “having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Col 2:13-14). This is why we sing:
He paid a debt he did not owe; I owed a debt I could not pay
I needed someone to wash my sins away
And now I sing a brand new song, “Amazing grace!”
Christ Jesus paid the debt that I could never pay.
Objection #3: This Teaching Changes the Grounds for Loving God
This final objection is a bit more subtle than the others but is absolutely critical. Here we see even more clearly why this teaching is such a dangerous false doctrine. Drawing on the writing of Jonathan Edwards, John Piper makes the following observation, worth quoting at length:
Perhaps you have heard people say how thankful we should be for the death of Christ because it shows how much value God puts upon us. In other words, they are thankful for the cross as an echo of our worth. What is the foundation of this gratitude?
Jonathan Edwards calls it the gratitude of hypocrites. Why? Because “they first rejoice, and are elevated with the fact that they are made much of by God; and then on that ground, [God] seems in a sort, lovely to them. . . . They are pleased in the highest degree, in hearing how much God and Christ make of them. So that their joy is really a joy in themselves, and not in God.” It is a shocking thing to learn that one of today’s most common descriptions of the cross—namely, how much of our value it celebrates—may well be a description of natural self-love with no spiritual value.
In other words, this teaching only serves to make us love and worship God because of how much he makes of us! In the end, it’s simply another form of self-love and pride—and it doesn’t take a supernatural act of sovereign grace to make a sinner love himself more.
We simply can’t afford to miss this point. This is a gospel that our world would have no trouble hearing and even accepting, since it completely downplays both our sin and the righteousness of God just to reaffirm our worth and increase our self-esteem. It only validates how awesome we are—after all, God bankrupted himself to get us, right?! Piper goes on to explain:
We have absorbed a definition of love that makes us the center. That is, we feel loved when someone makes much of us. Thus the natural, human definition of love is making much of someone. The main reason this feels like love is that it feels so good to be made much of. The problem is that this feels good on wholly natural grounds. There is nothing spiritual about it. No change in us is needed at all to experience this kind of “love.” This love is wholly natural. It operates on the principles that are already present in our fallen, sinful, and spiritually dead souls. We love the praise of man. It feels good.
But the true gospel is preeminently, unequivocally, exclusively, unquestionably God-centered. Even with all of the blessings with which we have been blessed in Christ, it is ultimately “to the praise of his glorious grace” (Eph. 1:6).
God did not send his only Son into the world so that we would be amazed with how much he makes of us. God in Christ did not lay down his life to forgive us, redeem us, and make us his treasured possession so that we would be enamored with how valuable we are. No, God sent his only Son into the world to the end that we would forever enjoy beholding his glory, seeing his worth, and making much of him. This is what we were created to do. This is the good news our world so desperately needs.
It is sadly the case that many Christians fail to live in light of our union with Christ and adoption as sons. Many believers continue to live beneath a burden of guilt and condemnation due to either the temptation of the devil or a misunderstanding of the gospel. And we know that all humanity is longing for acceptance, significance, meaning, and a sense of worth. But the solution is not found by simply increasing our self-esteem or making ourselves the center of God’s universe! The answer is found in beholding the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ and rejoicing in his great love for us.
Yes, the cross is the revelation of our sin and our value to God. Yes, God obtained a people for his own treasured possession with his own blood. Yes, those who are in Christ are loved by God with the very love that he has for his Son. But our worth does not come from any worthiness on our part; our worth is entirely owing to the love of God in Christ. The glory of the cross is not seen in the revealing of our value to God, but the revealing of his glorious grace.
Two wonders here that I confess
My worth and my unworthiness
My value fixed – my ransom paid
At the cross
I rejoice in my Redeemer
Wellspring of my soul
I will trust in Him, no other.
My soul is satisfied in Him alone.
- C. S. Lewis, The Last Battle, The Chronicles of Narnia, book 7 (New York, NY: Harper Trophy, 1994), 116.
- J. I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1990) 126.
- “Todd White | How Much Are You Worth?” posted on December 2, 2016 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X_KKwLTeMjQ&feature=youtu.be).
- For a further look at the emergence of this kind of false teaching in the 21st century, see David Powlison’s excellent article: The Therapeutic Gospel (February, 25, 2010), https://www.9marks.org/article/therapeutic-gospel/.
- Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections, in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 2, ed. John Smith (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1959), 250-51 in John Piper, God is the Gospel: Meditations on God’s Love as the Gift of Himself (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2005), 137.
- Piper, God is the Gospel, 149.
There is no more joyous person than one whose sins have been covered by God. Likewise, there is no more miserable person than one who tries to cover his sins from God’s sight. In Psalm 32, David shares his personal acquaintance with the shame of unconfessed sin and the wonder of having all those same sins forgiven.
Most of us know the story of David’s sin, but the valuable lessons we can glean from it mean we should never tire of hearing it. God called the ruddy shepherd boy to be king of Israel when nobody else saw it coming, not even the great prophet Samuel (1 Sam. 16). God said David was, “a man after his own heart” (1 Sam. 13:14). Hopes were bright for David and yet in time, those hopes were dashed through one dark night of sin. David let down his guard and grew a little too comfortable with his own power and position. Seeing a woman bathing, David gave his heart away to lust and the downward spiral began. From lust to adultery to lies to murder, David seemed to descend the dark stairwell of his sinful heart. With every step down, David saw depths of depravity he never thought possible. When Bathsheba informed him she was pregnant, David quickly began the cover up process. He was like a child frantically attempting to hide the broken pieces of the cookie jar he’d wrongly gotten from the shelf Dad said not to open.
But there God was lurking in the shadows, watching and waiting for David’s contrite confession, even as He tenderly began to expose David’s sin. God gave Bathsheba a fertile womb that night, but David tried to cover it up by calling Uriah home from battle and getting him drunk so he’d have sex with his wife. If Uriah lay with his wife, perhaps the sin would be successfully hidden. But God loved David too much to let him cover up his sin that long. God gave Uriah such noble character that he was “a better man drunk than David was sober”, and he wouldn’t enjoy sex with his wife while his comrades fought in battle. So the only viable option for a clean cover up now meant the death of Uriah. David’s sin was as his son Solomon called it, “the letting out of water” (Prov. 17:14)…the mess he tried to hide kept spreading beyond his control and getting away from him. The execution was ordered. Uriah carried it with his own hands. The report came back that Uriah was killed. The cover up was successful. David’s reputation had been spared. He was now free to marry Bathsheba and hopefully nobody would do the math once the baby was born. No one knew, thought David. The only problem was that God knew.
David soon discovered that life with unconfessed sin was far worse than life with a shattered reputation. Sin exposed would have brought far less agony for David than sin hidden. God had tenderly used Bathsheba’s pregnancy to expose David’s sin, but he fought that. Then God used Uriah’s noble character to expose David’s sin, but he fought that too. Now God used David’s guilty conscience to bring about a confession, but David even fought that. For perhaps all of Bathsheba’s pregnancy, David pretended all was well while the alarm of his conscience rang out like a smoke alarm that won’t turn off while smoke is present. He writes in Psalm 32:3-4, “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.” When David refused to confess after all these more gentle exposures, God sent the prophet Nathan. I believe it was David Platt who said, “If we cover our sin, God will uncover it. If we uncover our sin to God, He will cover it up.” God knew it was time for the big reveal. He loves his children too much to let them linger in unconfessed sin.
Nathan told the story of a man to whom God had given an abundance of wealth and possessions and another poor man who only had one little ewe lamb whom he treated as a child. The rich man had guests coming, so he stole the poor man’s only ewe lamb and slaughtered it to feed his guests. David’s rage was palpable at this rich man and demanded justice. Then, with his finger extended to the great king’s face, the bold prophet Nathan announced that David is the man from the story and that David is the one who deserves justice. Then something astounding happens in the story: confession. Instead of killing the prophet, the God-fearing David comes out from hiding. Upon David’s clear owning of his sin in confession, this same fiery prophet quickly remarks, “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die” (2 Sam. 12:13). This declaration from the mouth of the LORD was a jaw-dropping change in affairs. Owning his sin in total confession brought from the Lord total cleansing. He moved from being the most miserable person to being the most joyful person. In Psalm 32:5, David described it this way: “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.” Notice how many times David used the personal pronoun “my” to describe his sin and how he gave various descriptions of the nature of his sins. This is true confession. Confession that shifts the blame (“I’m sorry you were hurt”) or downplays the extent (“My bad”/”It was an honest mistake”/”I didn’t mean to do it”), is not confession at all. David’s contrition led to his confession, which resulted in his cleansing. Faulty confession comes from lack of contrition and will never result in true cleansing. This is why he begins Psalm 32 with the words, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.” Paul picks up this verse in Acts 4 to show it teaches the beautiful doctrine of imputation, or as theologians call it, the great exchange. For those who truly confess their sins and come clean before God, He does two things: 1) He refuses to impute/count/reckon their sin to them and 2) He imputes/counts/reckons them His own righteousness by faith. The Gospel of Christ is the good news that God not only pays off all of our debts, bringing our bank account back to zero. The Gospel goes beyond this to actually credit us with all the riches of Christ’s righteousness. Justification by faith means not only that we are declared, “Not guilty,” but that we are declared, “Righteous!” There is only one vehicle that can move a person from rebel to righteous, from sinner to saint, from hell-bound to heaven-bound: conversion…and God is the One driving this vehicle. And what is conversion? A turning from delighting in sin and a turning to delighting in Christ. Repentance and faith. A contrite heart that confesses and owns personal sin while trusting the cleansing power of Christ.
Such true confession doesn’t mean the removal of all consequences, however. Nathan’s next Spirit-inspired words to David were, “nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the LORD, the child who is born to you shall die” (2 Sam. 12:14). The child died and David’s sin was publicly known to all Israel and recorded in the Psalms for all future generations. His kingdom was never the same, but his account of confession and repentance in Psalms 32 and 51 have proven a help to millions of believers struggling with indwelling sin. May the words of David and Bathsheba’s next son Solomon ring in our ears: “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy. Blessed is the one who fears the LORD always, but whoever hardens his heart will fall into calamity” (Prov. 28:13-14).
May we all learn from David the joy of confessing and forsaking our sins and the danger of hardening our hearts to them.
May we uncover our sins to our brothers and sisters in Christ, knowing such confession rescues us from our shame and restores to us the joy of our salvation.
The book of Revelation is not only hard to interpret, it’s highly debated because of its difficult nature. Because of this the majority of folks react to it in two ways. On one hand some simply avoid it, while on the other hand others embrace an interpretation of the book that resembles a shoulder shrug “I don’t know, it doesn’t really matter” kind of approach. Both of these are bad options that, in the end, don’t help anyone and doesn’t honor God. What then are we to do with it?
Face it, study it, and ask the Lord’s help in understanding it.
Alongside our other pastor at SonRise, I’ve been preaching through Revelation for the past year or so on Sunday evenings. At times the text has proved wondrously more straightforward than I thought it would be, while at other times the text has proven more intensely confusing than I would’ve imagined. What has helped us through it? What can help you through it?
Here is my list of the top 5 commentaries on the book of Revelation:
5) Revelation, Thomas Schreiner – this commentary came out in 2018, and I’ve found it very helpful and thorough. It is included within the ESV Expository Commentary set, specifically in volume 12 which covers Hebrews – Revelation. Overall it’s a good balance between scholarly and devotional, making it a great help to anyone leaning into John’s apocalypse.
4) Revelation, Richard D. Phillips – found within the Reformed Expository Commentary set, this is a collection of 65 sermons covering every verse of Revelation. Because it’s sermons it proves to be very helpful not only for interpretation but for application as well. It’s easy to read and therefore is greatly accessible to all.
3) Revelation: A Shorter Commentary, G.K. Beale & David H. Campbell – this is the shorter commentary on Revelation from G.K. Beale, and while his larger one is very scholarly and technical, this shorter edition, while still the most technical in this list, proves it’s worth time and time again. Why? He explains how the symbolism and figurative language of Revelation comes from and is rooted in the Old Testament rather than our own opinions or speculation (which has been an issue historically). After each passage he also provides a devotional thought.
2) Revelation, Joel R. Beeke – this one and Beale’s commentary above could swap spots on this list, but Beeke just presses out Beale simply due to its easier readability. Beale, even in the shorter commentary, can be quite technical while Beeke’s commentary brings a balance between weighty scholarship and powerful pastoral care. For this, it’s my favorite commentary on Revelation, easily.
1) The Old Testament – does this surprise you? On one hand it might, this is mainly a list of commentaries. But on the other hand it shouldn’t. The golden rule of all interpretation stands fast: Scripture is the best interpreter of Scripture. Or we could say, the clearer passages of Scripture help us interpret the less clear. In the case of Revelation this is supremely important. Of all the books in the New Testament the book of Revelation contains the highest amount of quotations, images, symbols, and references to the Old Testament. Thus, an intimate knowledge of the Old Testament is the most important tool to have when reading it. The lack of this has led to a host of errors while the proper use of it has led to much faithfulness in reading and preaching.
I hope this helps you discover the wonders God has for us and intends to bring to us through the book of Revelation.
Without a doubt, a faithful & fulfilling prayer-life is the singular greatest topic that Christians I encounter confess to struggling with in their walk with Christ. Why is that? You may have many opinions and thoughts on that (as most people do) but it is consistently at the top of the charts in studies and polls, as well.
Praise God, though, that the Twelve (Luke 11:1-13) were honest with the Lord about their struggles in prayer. For by their honesty and humility, we have the Greatest Teacher instructing on one of the greatest topics, and it has been given to and preserved for us.
The practice of prayer is, arguably, one of the two most important practices of a Christian’s life (see Don Whitney’s ‘Spiritual Disciplines for a Christian’s Life); and I believe that to be true. After having been saved by God through faith in Jesus Christ, you will never participate in anything more impactful than applying the words/instructions of our Savior in Luke 11:1-13. Everything in your Christian life flows and is fed from the unfathomable privilege and practice of prayer.
Your intimacy with the Lord, your hunger for His Word & Righteousness, your spiritual growth, evangelism, worship, your thought life & actions as a spouse, parent, covenant member of a Local Body, friend, employee, student are all radically changed by a healthy and robust prayer life.
On the contrary, however, when prayer is neglected or takes a back seat to “the really important and necessary tasks of the day, the Christian will find him/herself dry, disconnected, and often times desperately out of sync.
J.I. Packer: “I ask whether you prayer, because diligence in prayer is the secret of eminent holiness. Without controversy there is a vast difference among true Christians…I believe the difference in 19 cases out of 20 arises from different habits about private prayer. I believe that those who are not eminently holy pray little, and those who are eminently holy pray much.”
Drawing from what many, perhaps most, call the Lord’s Prayer I hope to provide you with a format or skeletal structure for prayer that the Lord teaches His Disciples. I recently taught our congregation this format using the acronym REAPS (1,2,3)
“Our Father” recognizes two fundamental realities of profound blessing: (1) That we have been saved into a community of believers, a family. We are not in this alone. Indeed, God chose to save you but you are not an island. When you read the Lord’s Prayer notice the plural pronouns. We are a family and as a family we praise God together and petition the Lord for and with one another. (2) God has adopted each believer, both Jew and Gentile, into one family with He as our Father; as our Daddy (Romans 8:15). God the Father is not absent or aloof but rather present and intimate with His children. Consider the great expense at which God has made you, and your new family, His own!
Lest we become too familiar with the Incomprehensibly Glorious One, the Lord Jesus Christ reminds us that He is “in Heaven.” I am always reminded of the magnificent communication skills of RC Sproul who taught on the Imminence of God (His nearness to us) without ever compromising the Transcendence of God (His “otherness” if you will). “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts…” the seraphim cried out (Isaiah 6:3). Our culture, even our Christian culture would do well to remember to revere Him who sits enthroned above the heavens with the earth as His footstool. The Almighty is not your “homeboy” or the “little 6lb 5oz baby Jesus” but the King of Creation, The Eternally Existent and Self-sufficient One, who is worthy of our utmost reverence.
The hallowing of God’s name goes beyond setting apart the name of YHWH in our speech. Al Mohler demonstrates the profound nature of this request when he writes, “By asking that the name of God be hallowed, Jesus is asking God to so move and act in the world that people value His glory, esteem His holiness, and treasure His character above all else. We must not miss this: Jesus’ first request is not that His personal needs be met, but that God’s glory and holiness be known and loved as it deserves. What a remarkably God-centered prayer.” In short, we adore the name, fame, and glory of God so highly that we ask God to move/act in history in such a way that the whole world sees His glory; regardless of personal costs associated with such a prayer. We would do well to focus first on His glory before our own desires!
When praying “your kingdom come and your will be done,” Believers align themselves with an agenda far beyond their comprehension. Jesus also summarized this type of attitude when He taught on the Mount that His followers would “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). This prayer, when genuinely prayed, has catastrophic consequences for personal and political agendas. God’s Kingdom/Will is not a matter of earthly or materialistic advancement but “of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17); it’s about His reign and His design for life to be our earthly reality. Therefore, to pray for God’s Kingdom and God’s Will to be accomplished we should first ensure that when He consummates the Kingdom (the Second Coming) we personally are prepared, and secondly ensure that our hold on this world not be so tight that when the Lord brings the Kingdom to this world we wouldn’t find ourselves disappointed by some perceived loss. In other words, do your priorities in life lead you to an Eternal Kingdom or when the Eternal Kingdom is ushered in would you find your priorities leaving you empty handed?
Finally, the Lord gets to where many Christians begin; asking the Lord to supply our needs. But, pay special attention to these needs: (1) Give us, (2) Forgive us, and (3) Lead us. “Give us” points the believer to his/her dependence upon the Lord for their daily sustenance. In spite of the fact that our pantries and closets are full, we should still be confessing our dependence upon the One who gave it and we know could take it if it brought Him the greatest glory and us our greatest good (see Job). “Forgive us” points the believer to the spiritual reality of our dependence upon Him to take away that which we cannot undo; namely, our sin. We are desperately in need of the Father’s forgiveness daily and we can praise our Merciful Father that He is pleased to oblige through Calvary (Isaiah 53:10). Lastly, “Lead us” points the believer to our ongoing need for the Good Shepherd to “lead us beside still waters” and to “lead us in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” How desperately we need the leading of the Good Shepherd and how lovely it is to hear His voice and follow Him (John 10) away from the Evil One. Our supplications cover our physical, spiritual, and shepherding needs!
I’ll leave you with one parting thought on prayer from the Prince of Preachers as he mulled over the promises of the Lord contained in “ask, seek, and knock” from Luke 11:1-13—“Ask, therefore, after a God-like fashion, for great things, for you are before a great throne…The right spirit in which to approach the throne of grace is that of unstaggering confidence… Shame on us if we are unbelieving before the throne of the King of Heaven & Earth. With our God before us in all His glory, sitting on the throne of grace, will our hearts dare to say we mistrust Him? Shall we imagine either that He cannot—or will not—keep His promise?” Far be it from us, brothers.
May the Lord be glorified as we learn to pray at the feet of the Master.
In 2 Timothy 4 Paul warns against those who won’t endure sound teaching, but instead from their “itching ears” they will “accumulate teachers to suit their own passions…turning away from the truth and wander off into myths.” Now, in context Paul is warning against false teachers who promote false doctrine, and false followers who will seek out these teachers to hear them instead of a faithful teacher.
I think there is a parallel application for us to see in our current pandemic. This past week my social media feed has been chock full of those promoting and spreading a variety of teachings and opinions about the ‘true nature’ of the government regulations surrounding the Coronavirus. These headlines range from the subtle, “WHY YOU SHOULD CARE ABOUT THESE REGULATIONS” to the more pointed, “THE REAL THREAT BEHIND COVID19”, even to the extreme, “WHY THE GOVERNMENT IS SHUTTING US DOWN”, or “THE CONSPIRACY IS REAL” and the like.
Can I ask a question?
Could it be that those of you sharing these things are feeling your own kind of stress, worry, and fear (maybe trauma?) from what’s going? And that from such feelings you’re seeking out ‘teachers’ that suit your stress induced opinions? And from hearing said ‘experts’ share your opinion you feel you must spread the word to spread the ‘truth’ behind what’s going? I could be wrong and of course I can’t make a blanket statement here, not everyone is doing this. But I do think this is occurring to a large degree.
Why bring this up? Because one of the results of itchy ears looking for conspiracies is rebellion against governmental authorities. From the subtle to the more extreme opinions being shared today, most of them desire to persuade their hearers to one conclusion, “YOU CAN’T TRUST THE GOVERNMENT.” Which of course is just another way of saying “You don’t have to obey what they’re asking, do what you want.”
Again, can I ask a question?
Where does such an argument leave you? More fear. More stress. More worry. And also, when did God promise we could trust government? He didn’t. What God does say is that we’re to submit to the governing authorities over us because He’s placed them there as ministers for our safety and our good. So insofar as they aren’t causing us to sin against God, we’re to submit to them.
In one sense this doesn’t surprise me. The United States was born in rebellion, so naturally the shoe fits, probably a little too well. But in another sense it saddens me to see these itchy ears among Christians because Romans 13 is still in our Bibles. Perhaps we need a reminder that God cares very deeply how you and I interact with the government. In fact He cares so much about it that in Romans 12-15, where He tells us how we’re to live worshipful lives before Him, one of the things He brings up is how to rightly do life with those in authority over us. What’s His conclusion? Submission. There is great blessing for those who obey this command and glorify God, while there is also great warning to those who disobey this command and dishonor God.
In light of all of this here are six reminders for Christians to put into practice today (and always):
1) Be reminded: in all of life is to be lived ‘Coram Deo’, before the face of God. This is why Romans 13 is in the section beginning with the all-encompassing vision of the Christian life found in Romans 12:1-2.
2) Be reminded: I don’t care what political party you affiliate with, our view of government shouldn’t be informed by party lines but by Scripture.
3) Be reminded: in Scripture we are brought face to face with the God who is Lord of the State just as much as He is Lord of the Church.
4) Be reminded: when the government stops doing what God ordained it to do (promoting good and punishing those who disrupt that good) it is the Church who calls the government back to what it should be. In doing this we’re not going against the separation of Church and State, we’re merely calling the government to function in the manner God intends them to.
5) Be reminded: the gospel is more political than we realize. It declares that Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords, that He sits in the ultimate seat of authority. He subdues us to Himself. He rules and defends us. He restrains and conquers all His and our enemies. During His humiliation we see His Kingly authority in His ministry, and right now in His exaltation He still carries out His Kingly authority by being Lord over all things.
6) Therefore: all governing authorities, though they may be over many, are still under King Jesus, and will one day give an account to Him for how they exercised their rule. And Christians, 99% of the time, are to be the example to the world of what submission looks like.
All in all, don’t make room for itchy ears, cynicism, or rebellion. Don’t lose this opportunity to shine gospel light by our obedience to Christ’s commands.
The ongoing battle in our lives is that between subjective experience and objective truth. We always must strive for a balance and there is a danger of being so doctrinally-minded that one thinks it is wrong to display joy and gladness in the Lord. Doctrine should fuel our doxology for how can we worship God if we do not know Him? With that being said, many are interested in a “truth” that is totally shaped by how they feel and what they experience. My experience determines what I perceive as truth and dictates what I deem is right. Our feelings and emotions are very susceptible to being played by sinful impulses and desires all the time. We will even possess cravings for feeling that are often rooted in sinful desires and tell ourselves that they are natural somehow excusing us.
Christianity emphasizes doctrine, theology, and objective truth. When we confess our faith in Jesus Christ, we are not saying that we came to a conclusion that He is the best option out there but there are some plausible alternatives. No, we confessing that He is the way, the truth, and the life. If we subject our lives to the whims of the day, there will be much in the way of disappointment and defeat that characterize us. Paul gets to the heart of the matter in Philippians 4:4-9. Christians experience joy by knowing truth. However, there is a caution before us. Joy is not found in simply memorizing soteriology, pneumatology, and ecclesiology in a perfect way. You can recite the fine points of each one of those fields and lack true joy. True joy comes from us resting and dwelling upon the truth as it is in Jesus Christ. We must grasp the battle that we are engaged in and how we can possess a mind of joy.
In verses 4-5, Paul shows how our joy as believers endures regardless of circumstances because our joy is in the Lord. Joy does not depend upon the season or experience. Biblical joy is rooted in the Lord Himself. That is the key as Paul puts it: rejoice in the Lord. This joy comes from contentment in the Lord. This joy rests in the trust one has that all things are under God’s control. In the most difficult times, we can know this true joy in the Lord. Satisfaction is not found in circumstances but in our sovereign Lord.
Paul then shows the importance of prayer in connection with joy in verses 6-7. If we are anxious, through prayer, God grants us peace that transcends the problem. We might not understand nor know how things troubling us will unfold. Yet, in Christ, we can truly experience this blessed peace. Heart and mind are used together to speak of the soul, of our complete being. In Christ Jesus, we can know a garrison of peace! This peace of God that comes to us in Christ as we pray shows us that regardless of the situation, it is all under the authority of heaven.
Prayer settles our hearts as we come to the throne of grace and consider our standing in Christ. “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you” (Isaiah 26:3). The peace that our Lord gives to us in our hearts is just as real and sure as when He said to the winds and the waves on the Sea of Galilee, “Peace! Be still!” This should comfort our hearts and remove all fears and anxiety. The God of heaven beckons us to come and bring our cares before Him. This mind of joy will not be fully experienced unless we rest our weary souls daily in the Savior.
Finally, in verses 8-9, Paul calls our attention to those matters that we should think, dwell, and meditate upon. “True” points our focus to the word of God and Christ who is the theme of the Scriptures. “Honorable” is that which is noble and to be revered. Of course, there are things of the earth that are noble and to be honored such as honoring our parents and commitments we make. In a greater way, the things of heaven are to be adored and revered. “Just” or right; righteousness should consume our minds and this would bring us to consider the law of God as the rule and standard for our living as believers. “Pure” would be that which is free from sin and his holy, clean, and undefiled. “Lovely” is only used here in the NT. Other terms we can think of are sweet and gracious. What is pleasing according to God should fill our minds. “Commendable” is only used here in the NT and it is that which is highly regarded. The Word of God will bring our minds to that which is heavenly and lofty. Paul summarizes it all by saying that those things which are excellent and praiseworthy should dwell in our minds.
The command “think” means to dwell or meditate on. The mind is being filled all the time: what are you filling it with? Often, we think it can seem legalistic to speak on things like what we watch, read, or listen to. I agree that we can go overboard but I fear that is not often what is our biggest issue. For most of us, it can be a laxness that sets in where we do not think it is a big deal. Use verse 8 as a prism in your watchfulness. Remember that we are called to bring every thought captive unto Christ.
This is the battle for our minds. Are we bringing every thought captive to Christ? We are what we think! May we be given to that which is spiritually whole and healthy that comes from above! Let us use our days to be filled with the good things of God as revealed in His Word. Let us beware being enslaved to Netflix or conspiracy theories. None of those things will bring us a mind of joy. In the Lord, there is joy forevermore! Think upon that!
As I recline upon my bed, without sleep and bombarded with imagery, the scene takes shape in my mind…
A grand ballroom swims into view. The chandeliers are lit. The guests are arranged. The symphony swells. A lovely lady, cloaked in elegance, steps out from a crowd. A gentlemen moves forward to offer his hand. Across the dance floor the delighted couple glide. He whispers in her ear. She flashes a smile. She is the picture of serenity.
A second suitor emerges from the observers. He places a hand upon the first gentlemen’s shoulder, before whisking away the damsel. This couple moves in striking similarity to the first. The lady is the same; but her lead has changed. This second suitor also whispers in her ear. We see her mouth turn downward; her brow furrow. Clearly she is disturbed.
The first gentlemen intrudes, stealing away the lady. Moments later the second gent, almost forcibly this time, steps in. Back and forth the ordeal swings. Time and again she dances, laughs, and glides with the first lead; time and again she is stolen away to lament and discomfort with the second.
What does all this mean? Who is the damsel? Who is he that makes glad? Who is he that offends? The answer is simple.
The first gentlemen – delightful, optimistic, and charming – is faith. The second suitor – forever obtrusive, doubtful, and openly antagonistic – is fear. The lady is the soul of the Christ-follower. The waltz is the daily life for many a believer.
I find myself constantly in this dance. It is not that fear rips me from the grip of faith, but certainly I come face to face, all too often, with my insufficiencies, my vices, my failures. Fear declares to my soul that I am alone, unsupported, uncared for. I do not have what it takes. I am not as polished as that writer, not as knowledgable as that scholar, not as eloquent as that teacher. My affections stray, my soul grows weary, my theology is merely cerebral. The light of hope grows dim. The mouth of my soul twists downward in a scowl. And then, by a stroke of Divine favor, again and again, relentlessly faith, as a gift, takes hold. I am reminded that I am intimately known and unreservedly delighted in by God Himself. I am comforted with conviction, contrition, confession. I know that I am redeemed and that this is enough.
Perhaps you struggle as I do. Perhaps you dance. Perhaps you need to recall the power of Christ through faith. Hopefully this reminds you.
Read more of Aaron’s post at themoderninkling.com
In Hebrews 13 we are told that pastors must give an account for those they watch over (Hebrew 13:7). We see this again in the epistle of James where we are told that pastors/elders will be judged with greater strictness (James 3:1) as they have tremendous influence over the church. Pastors/elders have been given a very weighty task – to shepherd God’s people (Acts 20:28). This is an enormous responsibility that at times can be daunting. Certainly there is great joy in pastoral ministry. It is a tremendous privilege and blessing to shepherd God’s people. However, at the same time, the toll of ministry can truly cause pastors/elders to become overwhelmed, discouraged, and even burnt out. It is so important that we lift our pastors/elders up in prayer regularly, asking God to guide their every step.
Here are a few ways we can do this:
Pray For Their Walk with Jesus
It is important that we pray for our pastor’s spiritual growth. We want them to be the men are walking closely with Jesus and who are striving to be more and more like Him everyday. Over the years the church has had it’s fair share of pastors who have fallen in moral failure. Certainly we do not want this to be true of our pastors. However, sin and temptation are never far away (Genesis 4:7). Therefore, it ought to be our prayer that God would guard our pastor’s hearts from sin. The Bible calls for our pastors to be men who are above reproach (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6 ) and that needs to be our regular prayer for them. This includes all areas of their lives – family relationships, work relationship, personal friendships, and ultimately their walk with Jesus.
Pray For Their Preaching
Every week our pastors stand before their congregations and preach God’s Word (hopefully). This is one of the most important, if not the most important, things they do. God’s Word is spiritual nourishment to God’s people. It helps them to grow into mature, healthy believers. Therefore, it is important that the church is served a hearty portion of God’s Word each week. Pray then, that God would guide our pastors each week in their sermon preparation and study. Pray that they would rightly divide the Word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15) each time they step into the pulpit. And most importantly, pray that God would be magnified and that we would grow through the preaching of God’s Word.
Pray For Their Leadership
There are many decisions to be made, people to counsel, and problems to solve as elders in pastoral leadership. In each instance we want our pastors to lead wisely and in a way that honors God. We want them to be moving in the direction that God would have them go. This requires prayer. We need to pray that God would grant great wisdom to our pastors as they lead the church (James 1:5), meet with individuals, and plans for the future. We want each step our pastors make to be guided by God.
Prayer is a crucial component to the Christian life and your pastors/elders need to be included in your regular prayers. Don’t just think of your pastors/elders as the ones who should be praying for and helping you – they are just as much in need of prayer as any person. Never stop praying for your pastors/elders. they covet your prayers, needs your prayers, and your prayers will have an impact.