Trinitarian Sanctification: The Spirit

The final member of the Godhead and often missing in most theological discussions (except for sanctification) is the Holy Spirit. Sanctification has been historically is the one area where the Holy Spirit is given room to be discussed. So much of what is said may not be new, but it should still be encouraging.

The Holy Spirit Secures Us

First It is the Holy Spirit who seals the saints as God’s own until the final days. The Holy Spirit is at work in every believer’s life guaranteeing their salvation and continual sanctification.[1] Ephesians 1:12–14 is key to understanding this role of the Spirit: “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.” Paul reinforces the fact that it is the Spirit that will protect and secure all believers throughout their lives. Dietrich Bonheoffer did extensive work drawing out the work of the Spirit as the “sealer” of faith. He focuses first on the fact that this seal is proof of the salvation believers have received in Christ, and explains three distinct ways this sealing maintains a Christian’s faith. First, It will keep them separated from the world, Second, it will maintain their walk in a way worthy of their calling, and finally it will secure their faith in the life of Christ himself.[2]

Holy Spirit Grows Us       

Besides the sealing work of the Spirit in sanctification, The Holy Spirit also serves as the direct agent bringing about holiness in the lives of the saints. He gives man the ability to pursue holiness along with the desire to run hard after Him. Kenneth Boa points out that the role of the Holy Spirit is “bearing witness to Jesus Christ, applying Christ’s redemptive work in human hearts, and working personally and progressively to form Christ likeness in the lives of believers.”[3] .  It is left to the Spirit to complete the work orchestrated by the Father and begun by the Son. Scriptural evidence for this role of the Spirit can be seen in 1 Corinthians 6:11: “And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” This passage clearly articulate that the Spirit is the one at work in active sanctification,

He Convicts Us

The working of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers takes many different forms to produce holy lives in believers before the throne. The Holy Spirit’s work in sanctifying believers also takes on the role of convicting believers of their sins. John 16:8–11 reveals that “when he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.”[4] The role of convicting believers of their sins, either active or passive, is an important one. Here the Spirit is able to correct actions before they become habits that are destructive to a believer’s life.[5] Believers, however, do have the ability to ignore this call of the Spirit. Ephesians warns believers not to quench the Spirit. Here it is important to see that sin does cause the Spirit to be grieved and believers should not shrug it off. To grieve the Spirit is a serious offense taken seriously.

He Teaches Us

Here it is seen that “Jesus promised his disciples that the Spirit of truth would ‘guide you into all truth’ and ‘disclose to you what is to come’ (John 16:13). The divine anointing teaches us (1 John 2:27), and the Spirit glorifies the Son making Jesus’ words Known to us (John 16:14).”[6] The Spirit is working in the hearts of believers to teach them the truth of the Lord, and is connected with his role as convicting believers of their sin. The illumination of the scriptures themselves reflects this truth. As a believers read scripture it is the Spirit that illuminates the truth of who God is and how man is to respond to him and his calling on their lives.[7]

He is the Active Agent of Prayer

The final role of the Spirit is the role of prayer. Romans 8 26-27 focuses on the Spirit’s involvement in the prayer life of believers.[8] “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.  And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” Paul teaches that the Spirit is active in bringing the needs of believers to the throne of the Father.

The Holy Spirit plays an important role as the active agent in the lives of believers that brings about a holy life before God. He serves as the one who teaches believers the meaning of righteousness convicting them when they go astray. In teaching and convicting He grows them to a deeper understanding of the truth. All of these are connected directly to His work of sealing believers to the Day of Judgment. In the end, all three members have a specific function in bringing about holiness in the lives of believers.

 

[1] Dietrich Bonheoffer. The Cost of Discipleship (New York, Touchstone, 1959), 278

[2] Ibid. 279

[3] Kenneth Boa, Conformed to His Image: Biblical and Practical Approaches to Spiritual Formation (Grand Rapids, Zondervan 2001), 292.

[4] Mark Boda, A Severe Mercy: Sin and Its Remedy in the Old Testament (Winona Lake, Eisenbrauns, 2009), 293

[5] Millard Erickson, Christian Theology 2nd Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 1998), 874.

[6 Boda, 293

[7] Erickson, 875

[8] Boa, 294

Balancing Word and Spirit

I am a reformed cessationist. I believe that God can do whatever He wants to do and often does surprise us in His works today. But I also believe that all apostolic activity has ceased and we now rely solely on the Word of God. Believe it or not I have many friends who do not hold this position. They would be considered reformed as well but would call themselves charismatic continuationists. They believe there is much activity of God today similar to that of the apostolic era. After spending time around people like me and people not like me I’ve come to believe that a few cautions are necessary in both of our lives. These cautions are more like road barriers that function to keep us from going on the road. We all tend toward one side of the road but we should all ai at a certain balance. What do I mean? Keep reading…

The Word without the Spirit

Often in the reformed circles I run in you see congregations very into intellectual and theological conversations. This is not bad, but to engage in such theological activity without relying on the Holy Spirit to illumine our minds and hearts is very unhealthy. In reality, we’re seeking to find the truth of God in the Word of God without the help of the Spirit of God. If we’re not banking of the Spirit of God to open our eyes to see the wonders of the Word, we must think we can see these wonders on our own. The Word without the Spirit is insufficient to teach us the will of God for our salvation – because it is only by the Spirit that we are able to truly comprehend and receive the truth within it. 1 Cor. 2:14 makes this clear, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”

The Spirit without the Word

The opposite is just as true. Just as it is the temptation of reformed congregations to fall into the former error, the error of the charismatic congregation is the opposite. To seek the Spirit of God without or apart from the Word of God is also insufficient to teach us the will of God for our salvation. God could reveal His truth to us in this way but He has never told us in His Word that He’ll do it this way.

So if we’re to know the will of God for our salvation we must have both the gift of His Word accompanied by the illumination of the Holy Spirit.

Beware Additional Revelation

That God used to speak to His people through the prophets, and now does so in these last days by His Son, teaches us that God’s work of prophetic revelation is complete in Christ, and in His inspired Word. This is why the warning at the end of Revelation to ‘not add to this Scripture’ is meaningful for the book of Revelation and the whole of Scripture as well. Therefore, if we want to know God, we don’t need to look any further than the Scripture, because only there do we find the Spirit inspired truth about Jesus Christ.

Yet don’t we seem to struggle with this in our day? Even within the soundest of churches, how often do we feel the pressure or the weight of the popular notion that the Bible is not enough for us? Our experience and church activities reveal that we yearn for ‘more’ whatever that may be. This is why people go to things like the devotional book ‘Jesus Calling’ and the prayer book ‘The Circle Maker.’ Both of these things communicate that the Scripture is not enough, but when you add this ‘new method’ of prayer or ‘new knowledge from God’ to the Bible, you’ll reach a spiritual level you never thought possible. We should not seek after such things and seek extra or additional revelation from God. God’s prophetic work through His Son and His Spirit is sufficient, this is why 2 Peter 1:3 says, “We have all we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him.”

Since these things are sufficient, we dare not seek more. But in seeking them, may we ever rely on the Spirit of God.

Knowledge of the Holy One: The Ever-Present God

I remember vaguely, what felt like, the long rides laying in the back of my parent’s station wagon in the early hours of the morning picking up my dad from his job at the factory (this was, of course, before car seats and the bubble-wrapping of our kids for their safety). It would be late at night or early in the morning while the moon was still bright in the sky; the bumps on the road, the bed mat in the back, and the chill of the early hours. I remember it so well because I recall being afraid that the moon was following us. Every street we turned down, every intersection we crossed, every time a building would shield us from its ever-seeing eye it would emerge on the other side, never ceasing to watch over us. For a little, sleepy boy this was pretty scary.

Today, I can look back on that and laugh but it does remind me of the ever-present God who created all things and is never absent, even in the unseen world. And honestly, God’s omnipresence can be a terror for those who seek to hide themselves or their works, just as I was scared as a little boy, or a comfort to those who know Him and are known by Him. That God is omnipresent in the material realm, the spiritual realm, and even in eternity is clear from the Scriptures and I pray a comfort to you.

The Ever-present God in the Material Realm

Psalm 139:7-18 declares that from the north to the south, from the east to the west, in darkness or light, God is there; even while in our mother’s womb and before we were conceived. What a comfort! What a joy! That God is always with me,  is already where I am going, and will be there when I’m gone is my fuel, strength, and confidence in evangelism, discipleship, ministry, and missions. That we are joining God in what He’s already doing, that we are partnering with Him instead of He with us, is the confidence King David shared when he said, “…even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for you are with me…” (Psalm 23:4). Where can you go that He is already not? What has He asked you to do that He has not joined you in, led you to, and is walking with you through? Praise God!

The Ever-present God in the Spiritual Realm

Amos 9:2-3 can be seen as a “sister-text” to the Psalm 139 passage mentioned above. Here, God doesn’t reveal His presence as a comfort for His children but as a terror for those who oppose Him. “If they dig into Sheol, from there shall my hand take them; if they climb up to heaven, from there I will bring them down. If they hide…I will search them out and take them…” What a terrifying reality.

This is not so much of a statement on God’s spatial presence as it is His relational presence. Some have argued that God is so holy that He cannot be in the presence of sin but that is a distortion of His Omnipresence. God is everywhere, in His fullness, at all times but withholds good from those who hate and oppose Him.

Like a two year-old believing he is hidden as he covers his eyes, so are those who believe that God is not present in their iniquity. We laugh when we see a toddler hide behind a small lamp stand and fill his diaper because he honestly believes that no one knows what he’s doing. But God’s ever-presence spiritually is no laughing matter. As His presence is a comfort to those who love Him, His presence should be a terror to those who oppose Him; for nothing is outside of His present reality.

The Ever-present God in Eternity

Revelation 21:22-27 give believers a glimpse of the physical presence of God in eternity as God Almighty and the Lamb are the center of life and the focal point of eternity. To think of God’s intimate, personal, and very real presence in Heaven is no stretch at all. It’s the hope of our endurance!

But what of Hell, is God present in Hell? Revelation 14:9-12 paints a terrifying and tragic picture of the eternal state of those who refuse to believe in the resurrected Christ and repent. In this passage we read, “…[they] will drink of the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and [they] will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.”

In the presence of the Lamb? Jesus will be in Hell? John MacArthur writes, “Unrepentant sinners will be banished from God’s presence relationally; they will be forever barred from the loving fellowship with Him that believers will enjoy. They will not, however, be away from His presence in the sense of His sovereignty and omnipresence—even in Hell.” Yes, even in Hell. All of His Goodness withheld, all His Wrath poured out in full strength, un-watered down, un-filtered, un-relenting, all-consuming, superintended by the Savior once spurned.

God’s omnipresence can be a comfort or a terror. To those whom He has poured His ever-present grace upon, His presence is the salve of our weary sin-soaked souls. To those who spurn His call to faith and repentance, a terrifying reality that I pray God would remedy in them, by His grace and for His glory.

Trinitarian Sanctification: The SON

The second aspect of our Trinitarian understanding of Sanctification centers around the role of the Son in a believers life, for he is the example all believers are to follow. The Son has an important role in bringing believers to the Father. He also is their model for proper worship and life, teaching believers how to in holiness. According to Wayne Grudem it is evident that believer’s must understand Christ specifically as their grounding for sanctification.[1] So today we will briefly explore Christ’s role in the lives of believers; pushing them to new heights of understanding and obedience.

He Suffers

For us to truly understand Christ’ role we need to first know that he is the incarnate Word of God. His life is the example of God on earth; this is the most foundational aspects of Christ for believers to grasp. While the topic may be debated because Jesus was never sinful, he did suffer and remain faithful and true to the work of the Father, growing in obedience and truth as he lived and ministered here on earth.[2] In Luke’s gospel believers are told that He continued to grow in wisdom, and even for a moment acceptance with going to cross and accepting the will of the Father. However, Luke through these accounts shows us a picture of Christ as an example for proper living. Here it is evident that Christ as the Son is obedient to the Father’s will and seeks diligently to follow his commands, setting the pattern for all believers as adopted sons of God. 1 Peter 2:21 reveals that, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” Even in suffering He is faithful and obedient to the Father. This models the response Christians must have towards God. As discussed in my previous post it is the Father who uses suffering to bring sanctification, and it is the Son who reveals how believers can suffer well in obedience to the Father.

Therefore, the example of Christ for believers is in his obedience to the Father’s will and His law. Christ’s life is a revelation of  proper worship; in that He sought hard after his Fathers will, not settling for the pleasures of the earthly realm. While believers are not God they are given the same ability to seek after the Father and his will, it is important to see that Christ modeled a holy life for all Christians.[3]

He Serves

Not only in Suffering is Christ an example but also in service, John’s Gospel explores the importance of Christ as an example for believers to emulate In the upper room John explores the washing of the disciples feet and the importance that they follow after Him in servanthood (13:13–14). Christ sets the stage for the disciple’s life after he ascends. They are called to resemble him and his ministry on earth to all people. As servants to the world they are to bestow grace and love in such a way that people see Christ through them. There is no one who is too lowly to be treated with grace and dignity. This is example displayed in the upper room. This model is one that is to be followed by all believers as a perpetual demand.[4]

He Teaches

Another aspect of Christ work of sanctification is as teacher; this evidenced throughout the Gospels teaching but for our sake we see it clearly in the Sermon on the Mount. Christ teaches believers what it means to live a sanctified holy life that is pleasing to God. Granted, there have been questions raised as to whether this is a description of life in the present Kingdom or future. I though feel the heart of this text points to a realized kingdom, and that these are to be the natural characteristics of those who are in Christ.  In this sermon, believers are told that life in the kingdom is one of subjugation to the work of the Father and a form of holiness that surpasses that known in their own time. Here it is evident that much like His Father in the giving of the law, Christ is expounding on it and, to a degree, adding heart felt submission. The life of Christ is one of a disciple maker, teaching believers to follower of God. [5] this is evident in His application of the Law in John14:15, 21 where he reveals that, ”If you love Me, you will keep My commandments… He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.” Christ again shows the importance of keeping the Law that the Father has given as a means of sanctification as it reveals a true love for him.

His Death

The final role of Christ in the believer’s sanctification is seen in the believer’s union in His death and the motivation the gives to believers that they are no longer controlled by the sins of the Flesh but have been freed to live a holy life. Here believers are connected to Christ’s burial and resurrection. All three facets of the final acts of Christ carry into how believers are to live. Christ’s death on the Cross granted salvation to all who believed, freeing them from the power and potency of sin. It is this death to sin that grants Christians the ability to live a holy life before God now freed from the bondage of sin. This does not guarantee that Christians will not sin or fail, but that they now have the old life removed.[6] The believers union with the Son is scripturally realized in Romans 6:6: “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin” In the greater context of Romans 6 it is evident that not only does the death of Christ bring victory over sin, but his resurrection secures the ability for man live holy lives. His death killed sin and his resurrection guaranteed life to all believers to become holy children of God not only in the future but in the present.[7]

In the end Christ’s role in sanctification is as multi-faceted as the Father’s. He serves as an example of right living in communion with God’s will and as the model of servanthood. He also functions as the teacher demonstrating a sanctified life. The final function connects these two realizations together in his death and resurrection empowering believers for godly lives.

Citations:

[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Zondervan. 1994), 753.

[2]Paul Ellington, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids. Eerdmans, 1993), 291.

[3] Colin G Kruse, John, TNTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 345.

[4] Scott Wilson, Trinity and Sanctification: A proposal for understanding the doctrine of sanctification according to a triune ordering, SEBTS Ph.D. dissertation, 142.

[5] Ibid., 120-122

[6] Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1988), 251.

[7] Ibid., 129-130

Trinitarian Sanctification: The Father

The focus of Christianity is the continual and eternal worship of the Triune God. Unfortunately, the importance of the Triune nature of God is often overlooked when dealing with theology such as sanctification. Over the next few posts will explore the importance of focusing on each member of the Godhead in relation to sanctification. Each member has an important role to play in the lives of believers as he moves them to a greater state of holiness and communion with himself. This Week we begin by looking at the Fahter’s Role in our sanctification.

The Architect

The Father has multiple roles in maturing a believer, one of the key roles he plays in our sanctification is as the architect.  A house cannot be made if there is not an architect working every angle and dimension; this is a job that begins before construction and continues to its completion much like how the Father lays out the plan and works it to completion. Bruce Ware pens this best in his work on the Trinity:

“The Father is the Grand Architect, the Wise Designer of all that has occurred in

the created order. From initial creation through ultimate consummation and

everything that happens in between, it is God the Father who is the Architect, the

Designer, the one who stands behind all that occurs as the one who plans and

implements what he has chosen to do.” [1]

This understanding of God’s role is key to the rest of the work of the Godhead. The Father is the one who designed the plan for creation before the foundations of the world. In both Romans and Peter it is seen that the Apostles are connecting the work of sanctification to the Father’s work of electing his people and setting the path that they will walk, focusing on the Son and being moved by the Spirit. Ephesians 1 notes that God is at work among his people, for “He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ,”[2]

The Law Giver

Another important function of the work of the Father is as the Law Giver. He gives the law to Moses in the Exodus narrative which sets the foundation for how believers are meant to live. There has been much debate as to whether or not this law is still applicable to Christians living today and to what extent. For this discussion, the use of the Law is seen as the means of obeying the calling of God to “be Holy as I am Holy”[3] This giving of the Law and commands for their fulfillment is an important part of the Father’s work in sanctification and as architect of the work. The Law lays out the way a believer is to live and worship before God.

John Frame in his work on the Christian life does an extensive study on the use of the Law to mold believers into faithful followers. Each law has many facets revealing an important character of God and his demand for holiness. The Father, in establishing the Law, displays the measure by which faithfulness will be judged in sanctification, not salvation. Frame shows his readers that God gave the Law so that believers may know how to live on earth (not to find salvation)[4]. Sanctification here is the working out of a believer’s salvation not an effort to achieve it. This is an important distinction in any discussion about the use of the Law in Christian life. The Law allows believers to measure their lives against the Holiness of God. The Father’s giving of the law was an act of grace allowing his children to know the way they are to live before him. The giving of the law would allow His people to stand out among all people revealing Himself to the nations through His people. [5]

With the giving of the Law, as a measure by which believers are to follow, comes the discipline for not seeking after it. This is an important role of the Father in molding his children, similar to the way earthly fathers teach their children by correcting their failings. Therefore discipline for failing is not done out of vengeance, but rather gentle correction teaching them how they are to live.[6] Biblically this is tied to Deuteronomy 6 and the second giving of the Law. After giving the law Moses states that” As a man chastens his son, so the Lord your God chastens you.” It is the Father’s role in sanctification to discipline those he loves guiding through correction with divine love. The purpose is that by disciplining his children they may see their errors and return to the holiness for which they were called. Discipline helps us to grow in Christlikeness.  Therefore, every instance of life’s failings and suffering can and will be used by the Father to bring his children into a greater sense of Holiness, conforming them to his will and truths.[7]

Another means of sanctification is through suffering. This is different from discipline that is a result of moral failings. Suffering can be seen as natural occurrences such as, sickness, natural disasters, or loss. In Scripture this type of sanctification is seen in the life of Job most clearly. Job has not sinned, but rather is being tested leading to a greater understanding of the nature of God.[8]  In John Piper’s work on suffering he reveals that God uses suffering to deepen the faith of believers by eliminating self-reliance. He points to Paul’s struggle in 2 Corinthians with a thorn in the flesh. While Paul does plead for it to be removed from him, he also knows that it is being used by the Father to produce a greater faith.[9] It is evident that the Father will use suffering and pain apart from discipline as a means to create deeper faith and reliance on himself for all of life’s challenges.

The Sender

The final two key features of the Father’s work are as the sender of His Son and the Spirit to the world. He sends the Son and the Spirit as agents to complete the work that He set in motion. Each of these members will be discussed, but it is the Fathers sending that must be evaluated first. Both the Son and Spirit are sent to the world revealing the imminent nature of the Godhead in sanctification. This sending of the two is connected directly to God as architect. It is clear from scripture that God’s purpose from eternity was to bring the Son to Earth, for providing salvation, and then the Spirit to secure it for eternity. [10] This connection is seen throughout the gospel of John and exemplified in 12:49 where Jesus states “The Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak.” It is the Father at work in Christ’s ministry on earth. The Father sent the Son for a specific time and function to bring about salvation and with salvation the need to become holy laid out in the process of sanctification. This means the very work of Christ in bringing about salvation and the sanctification of believer is directly connected to the sending of the Father.[11]

Similar to the sending of the Son the sending of the Spirit is equally important to the work of the Father’s plan for His people. The Spirit is sent by the Father to make the work of sanctification real in the lives of believers. The rejection of the Spirits work in Thessalonians is directly connected to the work of Father in sending Him to the people. Paul solidifies this notion in Titus 3:5—7 when he states that “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior,  so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” This reveals that it is the mission of the Father for the Spirit to work and bring about righteousness in his people[12]

In summation, the role of the Father in sanctification is as the architect of the whole doctrine. He is the one who elects believers for salvation and by proxy sanctification. The Father devised the system for sanctification by giving the Law to Moses and Israel in Exodus, then by sending his Son and His Spirit afterwards. The Father is also responsible for using the sufferings of this age, such as diseases and natural disaster to grow believers in faith. Finally, He disciplines His saints; pushing those who fall away to return to the family of God and to himself.

[1] Bruce Ware, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Relationship, Roles, and Relevance (Wheaton: Crossway, 2005) 51.

[2] Scott Wilson, Trinity and Sanctification: A proposal for understanding the doctrine of sanctification according to a triune ordering. (Ph.D. diss., Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2007), 76.

[3]Dietrich Bonheoffer. The Cost of Discipleship (New York, Touchstone, 1959), 278.

[4] John M. Frame. The Doctrine of the Christian Life (New Jersey, P&R Publishing 2008), 912.

[5] Stanley Gundry, Five Views on Sanctification (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1987), 88.

[6], Allan Coppedge, Portraits of God (Downers Grove Intervarsity, 2007), 281.

[7] Gundry, 68

[8] Mark Boda, A Severe Mercy: Sin and Its Remedy in the Old Testament (Winona Lake, Eisenbrauns, 2009), 393.

[9] John Piper and Justin Taylor. Suffering and the Sovereignty of God (Wheaton, Crossway. 2006), 92.

[10] Andreas Kostenberger, The Mission of Jesus & The disciples according to the Fourth Gospel (Grand Rapids. Eerdmans, 1998), 96.

[11] Wilson, 82

[12] David Peterson, Possessed by God: A New Testament Theology of Sanctification and Holiness (Downers Grove, Intervarsity. 1995), 127

Lead Us Not Into…What? (part 2)

This past Monday I began thinking through the sixth petition of the Lord’s Prayer coming to the conclusion that, based on James 1:13-15, this cannot mean that God tempts us in any way. What then does this mean? To that we now turn…

The True Meaning

When we pray “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” we are first acknowledging that God rules over all things in His sovereign, wise, and good rule. That there are no “maverick molecules”[1] in the universe, but all things are governed according to His will. Secondly, we are asking that God, if it be in line with His sovereign will, would not lead us into positions where we can be easily tempted and likely to fall.[2] It means we ask Him to preserve us from these things, or if He sees fit to bring us into seasons of trial that He strengthens us to stand firm, lessen the attractiveness of sin, or expel the allure of sin with a superior affection for Himself…in order to remain faithful to Him.[3] Thirdly, we are submitting ourselves to God in such a request knowing that every trial He brings our way is to be accepted and “counted all joy” as God’s necessary means to conforming us into the image of Christ.

As one commentator put it, “…there can be no virtue without temptations to vice…In few things is God’s power of bringing good out of evil seen more clearly than when He turns what the devil intends as ‘occasions of falling’ into opportunities that may be ‘for our wealth’; for every temptation vanquished adds to the strength and richness of the soul.”[4] So in this request we’re not asking God to not tempt us, He doesn’t tempt us. We are not asking that God not allow us to be tempted but saying “Lord, don’t let us succumb to temptation” or “Don’t abandon us to temptation.”[5] We, sad as it is to admit, do find ourselves giving in to temptation but in those moments we do so by rejecting the way of escape God always provides as 1 Cor. 10:13 tells us. So when we give in we have only ourselves to blame.[6] This means, we do not fall into sin. No, we sin because we want to and don’t want God to help us.

In Foxe’s Book of Martyr’s there is a story told of the fate of two men under the reign of bloody Mary. Both of these men were condemned to burn at the stake for being and teaching Reformation principles. One of the men boasted loudly to the other prisoners that he would be a ‘man’ in the fire, that he was grounded in the gospel of Christ and would never imagine denying Christ given the chance. Even as the day dawned, he spoke of his imminent death in the most pious of terms, saying that he was like a bride made ready for the wedding day. Well, the other man could not have been more opposite. He too was eager to not deny Christ but admitted that he was terrified of burning at the stake and suffering so greatly. He was so scared he feared that he would recant when the first flame came near him. So he begged the other man to pray for him and wept over his weakness and fear. The other man responded to his pleas for help by rebuking him for acting like a coward. The day came, they were tied to the stake, and at the first sight of the fire the one who had been so bold recanted, was released, and people say he never returned to Christ. The other man, trembling, stood firm as a rock praying, “Father, lead me not into temptation” as he died a cruel but courageous death.[7]

We do not approach trials saying “Bring it on!” We don’t look for them to show how strong we are.[8] If we’re honest we’d all like to avoid them, and be more faithful in them. That’s what this request is getting at. Here’s the lesson for us. We all must undergo various trials and temptations to grow in Christ. 1 Peter 1:6-7 says, “In this (this being the great salvation and living hope we now have) you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

Well, as the first half of v13 is put negatively, the second half is put positively. “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” The second half of the verse supports all we’ve been discussing so far and connects the temptations we encounter in life and desires to be saved from to their evil consequences and true source. Temptations, when given into, bring about some nasty consequences, and temptations, truly do come from the tempter, from the devil. This is why some say it should say “evil one” there instead of “evil.” I disagree. It is not just the devil in view, but all the evil dwells within our hearts, all the evil that results from giving into temptations, as well as all the evil produced directly by Satan. From these things we want deliverance, and praise God, He often does just that!

The Real Ending

Now, as we come to the ending you should all look down to your Bibles and look at that little footnote that says, “For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” This is not included in the earliest of manuscripts we have of Matthew and because it is not there most translations do not include it within the text, but leave it to the footnotes.

Martin Lloyd-Jones says that it does not matter whether this doxology was there originally or not, and that these words are fitting to for any Christian to say! He also adds that ending prayer with praise is suitable after beginning a prayer with praise, because it forms a kind of bookends to healthy prayer. But, as much as I agree with everything Lloyd-Jones says in those statements I want to encourage to you to believe that the prayer actually does stop with the word “evil.” I say this because seeing the ending of the prayer at ‘evil’ forms a vivid contrast to how the prayer began. “Our Father in heaven…, deliver us from evil.” As the blood bought covenantal adopted children of God, we live in between the times. We live in the overlap of the ages. We have one foot remaining in this present evil age and one foot, by God’s grace, in the age to come. We see something of this eschatological reality even here, that all of our lives are lived between God and the devil. Thus, the natural reaction of the Christian to this could only be a cry for help.

And in v13, the whole of the Lord’s Prayer in general, God has given us such a cry.[9]

 

Citations:

[1] A fond saying of the late R.C. Sproul.

[2] Martin Lloyd-Jones, Studies on the Sermon on the Mount, Vol. 2, page 76.

[3] Alfred Plummer, An Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to Matthew, page 103.

[4] Plummer, page 102-103.

[5] O’Donnell, page 171.

[6] Craig Blomberg, Matthew – The New American Commentary, page 120.

[7] O’Donnell, page 171-172.

[8] O’Donnell, page 172.

[9] O’Donnell, page 173.

Lead Us Not Into…What? (part 1)

Coming now to the sixth and final petition of the Lord’s Prayer, I have four thoughts to give you.

The Context

Thus far in our trek through the Lord’s Prayer we have gleaned much benefit for our soul’s good by paying close attention to the context of the prayer, especially noticing the ordering of Matthew 6 as a whole and the individual requests within the prayer as well. We’ve seen that we do not begin prayer with any kind of petition but an opening address that acknowledges the goodness (Our Father) and greatness of God (in heaven). By beginning like this we’re reminded of the privileges of our adoption by God through the redemptive work of Christ, that He is our Father who has made us His own children and given us access to Him in Christ anytime we so desire. Then after beginning in God with prayer the very first priority we’re to move towards is His glory, that His name, fame, and reputation would be hallowed, magnified, or made much of.

After this we ask that both His Kingdom and His Will would come into our earthly context, serving the purpose of His glory, as they already are in God’s context, heaven. Then we descend from the heights of glory into the mundane and common affairs of human existence when we see v11 and the request for our daily bread. This reminds us that God is cosmic in His majesty but that God also cares about our ordinary physical/spiritual needs in this life as well. Then we come to the two-sided coin of v12-13 about our own sin and struggles. In v12 we’re told to pray for forgiveness, that our past guilt from our previous sins may be forgiven and in v13 we’re told to pray that God would deliver us from incurring new guilt by committing new sin.[1] So right away in v13 we’re brought face to face with the reality we must acknowledge, just as we need God to help with our past sins, we need God’s assistance to face future struggles. v13 is the prayer of a weak person to a strong God.[2]

The Obvious Question/Answer

As with v12, here in v13, right on the surface of this text lies a question that seems hard to answer but isn’t hard at all upon further study. The question is this: does v13 teach that God is one who leads us or brings us to temptation? Recall just a few chapters earlier when Matthew 4:1 told us “Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” So right away we know there’s more to this than meets the eye. To answer it definitively we must go to James 1:13, where we read “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He himself tempts no one.”

In James 1:13 we find a blasphemous accusation. Some think this verse is out of place because who in their right mind would accuse God of tempting them with evil? Perhaps you’d say, “God is God, He is holy. He is light and in Him there is no darkness at all as 1 John says. This is elementary Christian doctrine. Certainly I would ever accuse God of such a thing.” Wrong, I think you would. I think we all would. I think this because when we’re in a trial (like the audience of James is) we’re not in our right mind, and when we’re not in our right mind all sorts of fantastically wicked/sinful things become possible. We blame God for His providence, for the times we live in, for the people around us, for our circumstances, for allowing tempting things to remain in our path, some of us even blame God for our own evil condition. Puritan Thomas Manton said the reason we say such things of God is because “there is in man a wicked folly which moves us to measure God by man’s standards, and because we can be tempted to sin we think God can be tempted also, and because we can tempt others we presume God does the same.”

Clearly some of the dispersed believers James is addressing are struggling with this, saying these things, and rather than seeing their trials as sent to them by God for their own growth in grace (thereby allowing them to “count it all joy”), they are blaming God for their trials, and even going so far as to accuse God of tempting them to sin in the midst of their trials. This should not be so, this cannot be so. God cannot do such a thing because that would be altogether inconsistent with His purity and the holiness of His nature. God Himself tempts no one, and it isn’t even possible for God to be tempted with evil. This leaves us with the question of the origin of temptation – where does temptation come from if it doesn’t come from God? James continues and answers our question by descending into our own depravity in v14-15, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully-grown brings forth death.” This is ugly isn’t it? God tempts no one, and is not tempted with evil – yet we are lured away and enticed by what? Our own desires. And once desire is conceived, it gives birth to sin, and once sin is full grown it brings forth death. It really does come from within. The completion of this step-by-step progression into sin may take years to form in the heart, or it may take minutes. We allow sinful desires to grow in our hearts, we give it room to grow, sin then comes forth, and when it roars its ugly head literally all hell breaks lose, and if sin is not dealt with in a Biblically appropriate manner, it will be the end of us.

So we know this isn’t the meaning intended here in Matthew 6:13. But because this isn’t the meaning intended we’re left with a new question, what is the intended meaning?

That question I’ll turn to next week with the final two points…stay tuned.

 

Citations:

[1] A.W. Pink, An Exposition on the Sermon on the Mount, page 164.

[2] Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Matthew: All Authority in Heaven and on Earth – Preaching the Word Commentary, page 171.

The “Share the Gospel by Your Life” Lie

Enough is enough, really.

Have you heard it? Perhaps you’ve said it. Maybe you’ve even taught it or preached it…“You don’t have to share the Gospel with words. The most powerful Gospel is shown by your actions.” Putting it very simply and plainly, that’s nonsense. And it’s worse than nonsense when it comes from pastors, teachers, and preachers; the ones called & supernaturally equipped by God to take His Word about salvation from His wrath through Christ’s substitutionary atonement and share that Word with a world of people condemned unless they believe the Gospel and repent (Mark 1:15).

The Gospel must be presented with words. The Gospel is only fully presented with words. The Gospel comes from the Word and the Word is powerful & effective (Isaiah 55:11; Romans 1:16; Hebrews 4:12-13).

Paul writes to the Romans that belief comes from hearing and hearing comes through preaching and preachers are sent to do just that, proclaim the Good News of God’s salvation (Romans 10:14-15). And just in case the Romans, and we for that matter, didn’t get it the first time he summarizes those verses and repeats himself in verse 17 when he says, “Faith comes through hearing and hearing through the word of Christ.” Note that Paul does not say “preach the Gospel and use words when necessary.” Can you imagine if Paul would’ve evangelized the Gentiles with that lie? He’d have been a happy-go-lucky, kind-hearted, forgiving, polite, tent maker who never saw a single person saved from their sin and given eternal life.

Yes, we need to live the Gospel. The Gospel of Jesus Christ never, and I repeat, never leaves a life unchanged. Yes, you can observe, through actions, a difference between someone who is a Christ follower and someone who is not.

But being kind does not share that Jesus Christ died to pay your sin debt and that he rose from the dead for your justification (Romans 4:25).

But being polite does not share that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life and that no person will ever be in God’s presence unless they come through Christ (John 14:6).

But being joyful does not share that Christ bore in his body your sins and that by his wounds you can be healed (1 Peter 2:24).

But being nice to people does not share that their good works and their best obedience is not the measurement of God’s satisfaction of them and that their best effort will never earn them eternal life (Galatians 2:15-16).

You may be asking, “Where is this blog post coming from? Why the aggression about this topic?” Honestly, I expect this from the world. I expect the world to say things like “don’t worry about telling people about Jesus,” but I don’t hear it from the world, I hear it and read it regularly from the Christian community. Church, and church leaders, we need to stop believing and stop propagating this lie! We need to repent & tell everyone about the forgiveness of sins through Christ alone.

Christian:

“…do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord…” (2 Timothy 1:8)

“…what you have heard from me…entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also…” (2 Timothy 2:2).

“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus…preach the word; be ready in season and out of season…” (2 Timothy 4:1-2).

“…the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it” (2 Timothy 4:17).

May you find yourself in the company of Jesus Christ who “must preach the good news of the kingdom of God…for [he] was sent for this purpose” (Luke 4:43).

May you find yourself in the company of the Apostle Paul who was “eager to preach the gospel” to a people he had never met before (Romans 1:15).

And may you find yourself as an answer to Christ’s prayer as he prayed for laborers to harvest God’s people (Matthew 9:38).

Don’t get sucked into the lie that the Gospel is best presented by your way of life. The Gospel is best presented with the Word of God, coming from a life that has been changed by God, bearing witness to the power, love, grace and mercy of God found only in the cross of Christ.

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive…”—The Gospel of Jesus Christ, from 1 Corinthians 15:3-6

Tremble at the Word

When is the last time you trembled?

Maybe it was when a semi truck came uncomfortably close to your vehicle on the interstate or when you showed up to class only to discover the term paper was due and you forgot to finish it last night. The last time I trembled was one sunny day (or so I thought) when I was getting the kids ready to go play outside and was startled by a booming thunderclap. The flicker from the corner of my eye was met a second later with such a loud cannon blast that it left the house shaking for a few seconds. Needless to say, we stayed indoors till the storm passed. What makes us tremble in these moments? It is the sudden realization that we are not that powerful after all. In these moments we are brought down to size and reminded that we are dust and to dust we shall return.

In Isaiah 66:2, God speaks through the prophet Isaiah and declares, “But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” Then a few verses later we read, “Hear the word of the LORD, you who tremble at his word.”

The trembling that brings a blessing with it is this soul trembling God calls for in response to His Word. But what does it mean to tremble? We know it cannot mean trembling for fear of punishment, for Jesus bore all God’s wrath for the believer on the cross. What it must mean then is a humble and prayerful listening to the Word from the heart; the opposite of an independent and boastful attitude which thinks we know best apart from the Word.

Then the question arises: “What if I’ve lost this sense of trembling over God’s Word? What if the Word that once seemed so alive is now dry and lifeless to me? How can I recover this trembling at the Word?”

To rekindle this sense of the fear of God as we read His Word we must…

Read Scripture as though God were speaking to us (because He is)

2 Timothy 3:16 tells us that, “All Scripture is God-breathed,” so we must read our Bibles as though God were speaking from heaven to us. In his recent book, Reading the Bible Supernaturally, John Piper compares our Bible reading to a conversation over the lunch table with a friend. He says if he finds his mind wandering while reading the Bible, it’s just as rude as letting your mind wander when someone is talking to you over the lunch table. Since you would apologize for not listening to a real person, we should also confess to God when we aren’t listening to Him speak in His Word. We all would love to hear the audible voice of God guiding us in the course of this life like Moses did on Mount Sinai or like Peter did on the Mount of Transfiguration. Ironically, we have the voice of God before us in black and white and often don’t tremble over it. Peter himself tells us, “We ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention…” (2 Pet. 1:18-19a). As I’ve heard it said, if we want to hear God speak out loud, all we have to do is read the Bible out loud.  

Pray as though God were listening to us (because He is)

If we wish to tremble at the Word, we can’t just read it though. We’ve got to respond to it in prayer. One practice I’ve always found helpful, which I got from Piper, is to pray before you read that God would show you His glory, pray as you read that God would help you understand, and pray after you read that God would help you respond appropriately. But if we’re not careful we can even feel numb in our prayers to God. We must remember Who it is we’re praying to and what it cost us to even approach Him. At the Together for the Gospel pastor’s conference a few years back, I’ll never forget how David Platt brought this home in his prayer. Before praying, he noticed that the 10,000 pastors in the room were being irreverent in the way they were casually walking around and texting and talking when we were about to pray to our most awesome and holy God. After he rebuked us for our lackadaisical attitude to prayer in such a conference setting, a sudden hush fell over the massive gathering and it felt as though we were all united in prayer with this man. This is how we must bring ourselves to pray every time we do so; with the realization that we’re approaching the Holy of Holies.

Live as though God were watching us (because He is)

If we are faithful to read Scripture with trembling and pray with trembling, but we aren’t faithful to live with trembling, we’re missing the point. At the beginning of our text, we saw how God said, “This is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit.” It should humble us that God is the watcher of all mankind and yet it should even more greatly humble us that He will look with special affection on those who fear Him. Francis Chan has rightly noted, “The fact that a holy, eternal, all-knowing, all-powerful, merciful, fair, and just God loves you is nothing short of astonishing.” Since this holy God looks our way in Christ, we should live daily in the fear of Him. In his book The Joy of Fearing God, the late Jerry Bridges defines the fear of God as reverential awe. Our daily decisions and encounters with temptation should be marked by reverence for who God is and awe before Him. If we wouldn’t say, do, or think something if we knew people around us were fully aware of it, we shouldn’t with such a God fully aware of it. This is why Paul tells the church at Philippi to, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12). This is also why 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).

My great uncle Clark Harrison was paralyzed by a sniper bullet in World War II. After a period of licking his wounds so to speak, he decided he would not give up on life. He went on to be one of the founders of the Shepherd Spinal Center in Atlanta and even got his pilot’s license. One day while sitting on the wing of his plane as it sat on the tarmac, he noticed the smell of burning flesh and looked down to discover his numb, paralyzed legs had received second and third degree burns from the wing by sitting there and he didn’t even know it.

Like my great Uncle Clark, we must remember that when our hearts grow numb to God, this does not minimize in any degree His blazing holiness. If you find your heart hard and numb and cold, confess it to God and repent. Use all manner of His ordained means to once again tremble at His Word. Pray, read, and live in a way that acknowledges you are nothing without Him and He is worthy of your zealous worship. Then this holy God will once again lead you to tremble at His Word.

Have We Forgotten God?

For you have forgotten the God of your salvation and have not remembered the Rock of your refuge; therefore, though you plant pleasant plants and sow the vine-branch of a stranger, though you make them grow on the day that you plant them, and make them blossom in the morning that you sow, yet the harvest will flee away in a day of grief and incurable pain. (Isaiah 17:10-11)

In 1863, Abraham Lincoln said:

“We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.”

We can be the same way, can’t we? We too can get so preoccupied with the things of this world, even good things, that we forget God. We can become so self-reliant and self-confident that we forget our need for God in all areas of life. And that should not be.

In the above verses, from the book of Isaiah, we can see that God is bringing judgment to Israel because they had forgotten the God of their salvation. He was not on the forefront of their minds, in fact, it sounds like He was not on their minds at all. They had set Him aside and moved on to other things.

This is a dangerous way to live.

There are consequences to disregarding God.

He should never be on the back-burner. God in His mercy has rescued us from our helpless state by sending His Son, Jesus, to die in our place. He has shown us tremendous mercy and grace when we were in no place to deserve it. He is the God who has showered us with His common grace and blessed us beyond our comprehension in His Son. He is the God of our salvation. How can we now forget Him? May that not be true in our lives.

May God be at the forefront of our minds in all we do.

The Meaning of an Ending

This past Sunday I announced that I was stepping down as a possible candidate to become the Senior Pastor of Riverside Baptist, the church that I have been serving as the Interim for the past two years and on staff for the last five. It was a hard Sunday morning that capped off a hard month since being informed that someone else was also being brought into candidate, and as such I withdrew my name. But in the course of this time the Lord gave me a profound blessing and that was the continuance of His word as I prepared each week’s sermon that I had planned months in advance. For today’s post I wanted to share the over-arching theme of the sermon I preached to close out the year and reflect on how important faithfully preaching the word of God is, and on a side note how God can use the natural means of grace such as sermon planning to enrich the soul.

To close out 2017 I preached on the final day of Moses in Deuteronomy 33 & 34. In this text we see Moses giving his final farewell, calling the people to find meaning in the blessings of God as they concluded the journey. One of the things that all too often happens as we come to the end of an event, or in this case a ministry, we tend to only look at the bad and miss out on all the blessings of God that brought us to where we are today. When I look back over five years of ministry I can see the blessings of those who I baptized, the couples who I was blessed to perform their marriages, the babies we saw born, and the miracles of lives transformed through the preaching of God’s word and the faithfulness of His people. I reflect on those who have joined the church or have come back to church over that span, and seeing a renewed vitality in their Christian walk. With Moses’ Final moments he reminds us that God is good and faithful through the hardships of life, and even in the midst of an ending.

For many of you maybe 2017 brought an end to something in your life, maybe you said goodbye to a family member or lost a job. Maybe your finances took a dramatic turn that you didn’t’ expect or one of your children started school and moved away. Whatever the case is, we experience endings far more frequently than we think, and most of the time we let them slip by, but maybe this time take a second and see the blessings God gave to you which led to that moment, that lead to that goodbye. The journey reveals a God who is growing us into the image of his son, and sometimes that comes through the sun shining and sometimes through the cold bitter nights. So when you come to the end of a moment, look back and rather than look at the hardships and the brokenness, see the bright spots along the way, and joyfully sing God’s praise for he has brought you through those Cold dark nights so that you can see the bright spots (even if they be few).

The second aspect that we see, when finding meaning in our ending, is that God has a plan. After blessing the people in chapter 34 Moses ascends Mount Nebo as instructed by the Lord. When he arrives at the top God shows him all the land that will be his people’s and in that moment pours out a blessing of assurance on Moses that his work was hardly in vain. He revealed to Moses once again, one last time, that he was a faithful God and that His word was true and he would see the mission through. In this moment he helps Moses to see the beauty and splendor of His plan, and allows him to bask in the glow of it, knowing once again that the plan of God is not about him, but about God alone.

So for each of us this text reminds us that when we come to the end of a ministry, or our time serving a church, we can look back and know that God is faithful, that it is God who rules His church, it is God who directs the path of the saints, and it is in the plan of God that we trust. We get the great privilege and blessing to be a part of it as long as we are. If you would have told the 14 year old me back in 1999 when I first felt the desire to go into ministry that one day God would place me back in my home church as the interim pastor I would have thought you mad. If you would have told me when I left for seminary in 2008 that I would come back to my sending church after all the ups and downs of college and ministry I would have probably laughed, but that is exactly what God did, and I am all the more blessed for it. As it comes to and end over the next few months I want to thank God that I got to be a part of His plan in proclaiming the gospel to the People of New Port Richey, and that in some small way I got to be a part of Riverside’s 141 year legacy, and in the end, like Moses, pass the baton to the next man to carry the banner of the gospel.

The conclusion of the text involves the passing of the baton to Joshua who will run the race and keep the faith, being used by God to lead the people into the land. In my case I can sympathize with Moses, they’re had to be a part of him that wanted to keep going, that wanted to see it through, but at the same time he knew God had other plans, and he trusted God. At the end of any situation we ask ourselves, do we trust God with the next step? Do we trust God with what He is doing? We serve a faithful God and through it all He is in control, no matter what comes through the ups and downs of the remainder of the Old testament, long after Moses had died, God was still God and he was still at work, and in the fullness of time Moses entered the promise land, though now he came to comfort Christ the Son of God as he prepared for his final ministry to the people. Moses may not have experienced the promise land in this life, but he experienced the power and promises of God in his soul and into eternity, and in the end that is the experience that truly gives meaning to our endings.

 

He is Himself Our Daily Bread

I have four points to make today in regard to Matthew 6:11.

Transition Comments

Here in this first point let me set v11 into the context of the whole of the Lord’s Prayer.

When we come to Matthew 6:11, “Give us this day our daily bread” we reach a transition in the Lord’s Prayer similar to the transition we see in the Ten Commandments. In commandments 1-4 we find the first table of the Law, commandments that have to do with our relating to God directly. Then in commandments 5-10 we see the second table of the Law, commandments that have to do with our relating to one another directly. In these two tables of the Law God is first and man is second. Here in the Lord’s Prayer we see similar things. A Godward direction is present in the first three petitions. Hallow Your name, Your kingdom come, Your will be done are all direct requests for God to come and do something for His glory. After these initial three requests we see something different. Daily bread, forgiveness of sin, deliverance from temptation and evil are all direct requests for God to come and do something for our good.

See again the true pattern to prayer. We’ve seen this pattern time and time again throughout our study on prayer. Prayer doesn’t begin rapid fire of requests for God to come and make our lives better. It begins with God. It begins with praise, with adoration, with requests for His name to hallowed, and for His fame to be known and loved in all the world. It begins with a robust recognition of who we’re speaking to and an honest humility about who we are speaking to Him. The Lord’s Prayer shows us the reality of what tends to the glory of God and the good of man, and that the glory of God comes before the good of man.[1]

Realization of Utter Dependence

Here in this second point I want to make another introductory comment on v11. This request, “Give us this day our daily bread” should remind us of how utterly dependent we are on God for everything.[2] If God willed it He could withhold everything from us. He could stop the sun from shining and giving light and heat. He could stop the rain from watering the earth and making it bring forth plants and turn all of creation into a barren wasteland. He could take back up the breath in our lungs or forbid that our hearts take another beat if He desired to. In our arrogance we forget that God is at this very moment, and at all moments, upholding, preserving, and supporting all things. If He were to stop, we would not continue to exist for even a split second. We could not live a single moment without Him.

A.W. Pink goes further and comments here that not only can God do these things if He wanted to, but because of our sin God would be just to do those things. Pink says, “By asking for our ‘daily bread’ a tacit acknowledgement is made that ‘in Adam and by our own sins we have forfeited our right to all the outward blessings of this life, and deserve to be wholly deprived of them by God, and to have them cursed to us in the use of them.’”[3] I think here it would be appropriate to say, fighting for human rights and fighting against various kinds of injustices has its sure place in the life of man. But I think we too often forget that because of our sin, before God we have no rights. Or as the Westminster Larger Catechism questions 21-29 say, mankind did not continue in the estate wherein we were created. In Adam’s fall all man fell into a state of sin and misery. And now we who we created very good have become corrupted and wholly inclined to all evil continually, which causes us to commit actual sins. And because of this, we lost communion with God, gained His displeasure, and are in ourselves children of wrath, slaves to sin, justly deserving the wrath of God in this life and in the life to come.

Taking these things into account, this request “Give us this day our daily bread” is a good reminder for us of our dependence on God for everything…and that any provision that comes to us is of God’s sheer grace.

His Daily Provision

Here in this third point I want to unfold what the words “Give us this day our daily bread” mean. There is a difference of opinion as to what this phrase means and most of it centers around the word ‘daily.’ In the Greek epiousios is literally translated as ‘the next day.’ But as you can imagine, “Give us this day our bread for the next day” can be difficult to understand. Does it mean “Give us this day our…” bread for the current day, bread for future days, needful bread, or bread necessary for our existence?[4] While some do attempt at singling out one of these meanings as the optimal, most simply believe these varied meanings combine easily and prefer to use ‘daily’ as an all encompassing term. There is another debate as to what the bread actually refers to. Some believe it is describing the bread received in the Lord’s Supper, this is called the sacramental view. Others see the bread being a figurative term symbolizing life in Christ’s Kingdom and therefore see this fourth petition and the second petition “Your kingdom come” as asking the same things. These two views on the bread are minority views. Most believe this request for daily bread to be a request asking God to provide literal bread as well as all that is needed for our physical lives in this world. The reason most embrace this view is because the rest of Matthew 6 develops that very point.[5]

Therefore, many things are put forward here for us to embrace.[6] A great humility is put forward here as Jesus teaches us to ask God ‘to give’ us what we need to exist. In order to ask God for this we must put aside our pride thinking we can do this on our own. Moderation is put forward here as Jesus teaches us to ask God for daily bread, not luxury or superabundance, just what is needed. Trust in God is put forward here because after asking God to give us this sustenance we must trust Him to do so. But in trusting Him to do so, Jesus does not intend us to wait and be idle, anxiously awaiting God to answer this apart from our own work and toil. God intends us to work, to be able to earn money to purchase what we need to continue in our lives. And the idea of community is put forward to us here once again in that we pray not “Give me…” but “Give us…our daily bread.” So in praying for ourselves and our needs we must always have an eye on those in our community around us. If God gives you bread abundantly, it could very well be for more than just you. God may intend you to support and sustain another around you who isn’t in a similar state. “Give us…” demands we leave our normal independent mentality and think of our life in Christ as life together.

In Martin Lloyd-Jones commentary on the Sermon on the Mount he mentions an illustration he once heard from A.B. Simpson that helped him understand this a great deal.[7] He said Simpson asked him to think of God differently than most do. Most, he said, think of God as a Father that has given us a great of grace gift in one lump sum and we go on throughout life living on that gift. God does not work that way with us according to Simpson. In fact if God were like this Simpson mentions it wouldn’t be out of bounds to think we would enjoy the lavishness of the gift so much that we would forget the great Giver who gave to us. Rather, Simpson encouraged Lloyd-Jones to think of God like this. Think of God as our great Father, who has truly given us a great gift of grace in Christ, but being our Father He desires that we come to Him continuously and ask for this gift from Him. So in a sense God has put a great deposit for us in the bank, and while He will not allow us to take all of it out at once, He does allow and even want us to come and make daily withdrawals for what we need. Simpson said prayer was the way believers make withdraws for what we need from this great deposit of grace that is now ours in Christ.

Commenting on this Lloyd-Jones says, “This surely is the marvelous thing, that God likes us to come to Him. The God who is self-existent, the great Jehovah, the God who is not dependent on anybody, who is from eternity to eternity, who exists in Himself apart from all – this is the astounding thing, that because we are His children He likes us to come to Him, and likes to hear…our lisping praises and our petitions. That is because God is love; and that is why, though He knows all about our needs, it gives Him great pleasure…when He sees us coming to Him to ask for our daily bread.”[8]

So that God invites us to come to Him for this, awakes us to the realization that God is the giver of all good gifts. And from knowing that God is the source of all that sustains us in this life, our enjoyment of all that sustains us in this life is not diminished but increased. We often sing a hymn saying, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.” This is true, God is God and God is greater and ever above all the gifts He gives to us. But, can I suggest that there is another way to see this? When we turn our eyes upon Jesus, when we look full in His wonderful face, when we see the reality of all that sustains us in this life comes from His hand, all that He has given us will not grow strangely dim but strangely bright, for in His gifts we see the glory of the Giver. Or as Jonathan Edwards says, “In His gifts we can trace the sunbeam back up to the sun.” 

A Thing of Wonder

Here in this last point I want to make a concluding statement, and try, by God’s grace to get you to see how wonderful this statement is. When we come to 6:11 we come down from the heights of glory to the depths of what is common. Jesus takes us from grand spiritual concerns (God’s glory, God’s Kingdom, God’s Will) to our everyday spiritual and physical concerns.[9] That the God of glory is concerned about our little needs is a thing of wonder. This shouldn’t surprise us, it is the teaching of Jesus everywhere. Even a sparrow doesn’t fall to the ground apart from God’s will, and after telling us that He says we are of much more value than sparrows. More so, all of the hairs of our head are numbered, such that, there is not a hair on our head that God is not concerned about. This means more than hair, it means that there is nothing about our life, even the smallest and most trivial details about us, that are not known to Him on His everlasting throne.

So rejoice, “…the high and lofty One that inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy, dwells with he who has a humble and repentant spirit…in v11 Jesus Christ takes hold of us here on earth and links us with the Almighty God of glory.”[10]

 

 

Citations:

[1] Alfred Plummer, An Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Matthew, page 95-96.

[2] Martin Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount – Vol. 2, page 72.

[3] A.W. Pink, An Exposition of the Sermon on the Mount, page 163.

[4] William Hendrikson, Baker New Testament Commentary – Matthew, page 332.

[5] Reformation Study Bible, study notes on Matthew 6:11.

[6] Hendrikson, page 333.

[7] Lloyd-Jones, page 71-72.

[8] Lloyd-Jones, page 72.

[9] Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Matthew – Preaching the Word Commentary, page 169.

[10] Lloyd-Jones, page 70.

Two White Guys On Race and White Privilege

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. day, which for 2018 also marks what would have been his 89th birthday. In honor of MLK Day this year I want to point you to a two part conversation from two white guys (Mark Dever and Jonathan Leeman) on race, the church, and white privilege. Being a pastor and a white guy I really needed this conversation. It helped me. It opened my eyes to much that I had not previously known about and had honestly never thought about. I should have thought about these things, but haven’t? Why? Because I’m privileged and didn’t even realize it. I’m grateful for these two doing this and helping me become aware of much and encouraging pastors to lead conversations like this one.

Give these chats a listen, they’re only about 30 minutes each but they’re filled with rich content that will benefit you greatly.

Listen to Part 1 here and part 2 here.

Or listen in on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher or download the MP3 file.

Share The Importance of What We Do in Secret by Derek Thomas

While reading today in preparation for this upcoming Sunday morning, I came across this article by Derek Thomas that spoke deeply to the reality of our true selves being revealed in the absence of others. I hope you are equally as convicted and encouraged by His words this weekend.

Share The Importance of What We Do in Secret by Derek Thomas

According to Jesus, it is what we do in secret that matters most. Jesus is not suggesting that the outward is unimportant—far from it. “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” (James 2:14).

The answer is emphatically no. Still, it is also possible to have outward works but no inner reality. In this instance, religion is a pretense. Six times in the Sermon on the Mount, alluding to three distinct exercises, Jesus employs the term secret:

  • Give “in secret…and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matt. 6:4).
  • Pray “in secret…and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (v. 6).
  • Fast “in secret…and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (v. 18).

The Sermon on the Mount is addressing the issue of authenticity. Just how genuine is our relationship with the Lord Jesus? It is altogether possible to practice an outward display of piety—to “talk the talk”—without demonstrating any inner reality of godliness. This is true of every professing Christian, and it is especially true of those engaged in Christian ministry. Authentic Christianity requires an outward and discernible “work of faith” (1 Thess. 1:3; 2 Thess. 1:11). But it also requires genuine godly affections and an inner discipline of the heart.

There is a manner of ministry that is more about self-service than self-sacrifice, self-indulgence than self-discipline, and self-promotion than self-denial. There is also giving that is designed for recognition—plaques on walls intended to be read by generations to come, or press releases informing the world of “generous donations”; prayers in pristine Cranmerlike language of the sixteenth century suggesting depths of personal piety; fasting that is shown via open-necked T-shirts revealing a ribbed torso.

But all these outward demonstrations of piety may be no more than mere hypocrisy. The Greek word translated “hypocrites” (Matt. 6:2, 5) refers to the masks worn by ancient actors as symbols of pretense and show. Thus, give with fanfare; pray with pride; fast with notice. This ministry is inauthentic. It is a sham.

Inauthentic ministry was a charge leveled against Paul. The Corinthians said that there was discrepancy between the way he wrote his letters and the way he was in person: “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account” (2 Cor. 10:10). It is a serious charge, and in his second letter to the church at Corinth, Paul spends almost the entire time defending himself. The critique came from jealousy and therefore bore no legitimacy. But the fact is, the charge can be true—not of Paul, but of us. Leadership calls for genuineness, authenticity and transparency.

True, there’s something of a cliché about the word authentic when applied to Christian ministry (add contemporary, intentional, relevant, and community to that list). If we really need to add the description authentic, we are probably trying too hard and therefore not being authentic at all. Nevertheless, hypocrisy lurks everywhere, not least in Christian ministry, and we ignore it at our peril.

Godliness must be found in the heart if it is to be genuine. The one who prays more in public than in private, or only gives at special events when likely to be thanked for it, or practices spiritual disciplines and lets everyone know just how difficult a spiritual routine he keeps, is more concerned about the outward appearance than a heart-relationship with Jesus.

Jonathan Edwards observed the pattern of the hypocrite with respect to prayer:

Perhaps they attend it on Sabbath days, and sometimes on other days. But they have ceased to make it a constant practice daily to retire to worship God alone, and to seek his face in secret places. They sometimes do a little to quiet conscience, and just to keep alive their old hope; because it would be shocking to them, even after all their subtle dealing with their consciences to call themselves converts, and yet totally to live without prayer. Yet the practice of secret prayer they have in a great measure left off.

There has been a rise in the use of “written prayers” in Presbyterian worship in the last decade. In part, it is a reflection of the desire to elevate worship. Liturgical, written, prepared prayers are certainly preferable to the (otherwise) paucity and emptiness of some extemporary prayers. But written prayers (drawn from The Valley of Vision, for example) may simply mask the emptiness of the heart.

And Thomas Cranmer seemed to understand the danger of wearing a mask of hypocrisy when he included the Collect of Purity in the Book of Common Prayer for the Anglican Church. Cranmer placed it just before the celebration of the Lord’s Supper:

Almighty God, unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid; Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy Name; through Christ our Lord.

This is a prayer for all seasons.

This post was originally published in Tabletalk magazine. and reposted on the Ligonier Webpage: https://www.ligonier.org/blog/importance-what-we-do-secret/

Our Father in Heaven

As the Prayer of Prayers begins, it doesn’t begin with any kind of petition but with an opening address.

We ought to expect such things. No one in his or her right mind would come into the presence of or greet the President of the United States glibly or casually. No, we would be respectful, polite, courteous, maybe even reverential. If we do this with earthly rulers, how much more should this be the case with God who rules over all? How much more should this be the case with the King of kings? There is difficulty in this. Martin Lloyd-Jones comments on this difficulty saying, “We are but human, and we are pressed by the urgency of our position, the cares, the anxieties, the troubles, the anguish of mind, the bleeding heart, whatever it is. And we are so full of this that, like children, we start speaking at once. But if you want to make contact with God, and if you want to feel His everlasting arms about you, put your hand upon your mouth for a moment…and remind yourself of what you are about to do.” Lloyd-Jones goes on to speak of Daniel’s prayers when he was vexed about knowing the interpretation of a dream, Jeremiah’s prayers when he was vexed with the state of God’s people, Jesus’ own prayer in John 17, and the prayers of Paul afterwards. None of these began with what vexed them, they all began with an invocation to God. The more we remember what we’re doing in prayer and who we’re speaking to in prayer, the less likely we are to jump into prayer quickly with a rapid fire of requests. That there is an opening address before any petition teaches us much about how prayer ought to begin. See the words with which appropriate prayer begins. “Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven…’”

I want to unfold four realities in this opening address with one aim – to see how Christians ought to begin with God in prayer.

Pray Like This

Notice the beginning of v9? “Pray then like this…” What does this mean? Does this mean we’re to recite these words? Does this mean we’re to pray in this manner? Or does this mean when you pray it is these matters that must make up our whole prayer life? These questions are clear enough in and of themselves, but the answers have been very different from one person to the next. The more liturgically minded believers recite these words in their exact form very often personally and corporately in worship. The less liturgically minded believers may go years without ever uttering this prayer personally or hearing this prayer uttered corporately. Why such recitation on the one hand and avoidance on the other? I’m not quite sure, but I don’t think either quite gets the point of Jesus here.

Rather than turning this prayer into a rote recitation that feels formal or cold and rather than avoiding this prayer all together for fear of sounding catholic or liturgical, I believe Jesus would have us catch the spirit of this prayer. Meaning that, these things (and perhaps these things in this order), are the matters that ought to be taking up our prayer life. We can choose to recite them sure, but we must not believe that the mere mindless recitation of them has any power; as if ten ‘Our Father’s’ will give us any spiritual benefit. We also can choose to never say these exact words, as long as the content of this prayer fills out the content of our own words in prayer. There is freedom here to be employed and enjoyed. But in this freedom we must be sure to anchor ourselves to the text itself, so that it in an organic manner these things naturally flow forth in our prayer. So we should see the Lord’s Prayer as guardrails which direct and guide us into prayer that is pleasing to God. In this regard John Calvin comments, “God has given us a form in which…everything which is lawful to wish, everything which is conducive to our interest, everything which is necessary to demand. From His goodness in this respect we derive the great comfort of knowing, that as we ask almost in His words, we ask nothing that is absurd, or foreign, or unseasonable, nothing (in short) that is disagreeable to Him.”

Our Father

It is true that there is something very personal about prayer. It’s an intimate moment, where we converse with God, where we linger with God quietly over His Word, where we bare our hearts, where we express our deepest longings, joys, sorrows, and desires. Prayer is intensely personal, so much so that most people feel some level of angst about praying in public. Yet, see how the Lord’s Prayer begins – “Our” not “My.” That “Our” is the first word in this prayer shows us that though prayer is truly private and personal, it is also truly communal and corporate. “When we pray we do not pray alone even if we are alone” (David VanDrunen). We do not pray to a God who has saved us alone, or even to a God who has saved many individuals throughout history. No, we pray to the God who has saved, is saving, and will save a people for Himself from every tribe, language, and tongue. The Church past, present, and future is the community we’re saved into, and in all appropriate prayer has a communal element to it. Be sure to note that the communal element I am speaking of here is the blood bought covenant people, the Church. I am not speaking of some kind of universal brotherhood of mankind underneath a universal fatherhood of God that we’re a part of. No, though God has created all mankind, only His children that He has chosen, pursued, adopted, and saved are free to call Him ‘Father.’

A number of places within Scripture remind us of this. John 1:11-12 says, “He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him. But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God…” Galatians 3:23-26 says, “Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” One chapter later Paul expands on this in Galatians 4:4-7 saying, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”

This is a Christmas time reality, that the Son of God was sent at the fullness of the times. Born like us, so that we would become like Him, and once we believe in Him we receive adoption as sons, are given His Spirit, given to heart and new desire to cry out to God as Father, and gain an inheritance. In Ephesians Paul brings the sovereignty of God into adoption when he says in 1:5, “In love He (God) predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ.” Lastly one of the highest moments in 1 John is when John exclaims in 3:1 saying, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.”

Think of like this. In regeneration God awakens us, in justification God legally declares us to be righteous, and in adoption God brings us into His family. Adoption comes after these things because it is the result of all that has come before. Because of this we can say it is in truth an apex in the order of our salvation. But do not confuse these doctrines. Regeneration is all about birth, that though we were born sinners God gave us a new birth and made us alive. Justification is all about declaring us to be righteous when we’re not. Regeneration grants us new life and justification clothes us in an alien righteousness. The glory of the doctrine of adoption is that once we’ve been made alive by God and declared righteous by Him He then brings us into a family we’re not naturally born into. So when, through faith, we receive and rest on Jesus Christ as He is offered to us in the gospel, God then receives us, brings us into the number of His children, and gives us all the rights, blessings, and privileges belonging to the sons of God. Now because of Christ, in prayer we do not meet a God angry at us, but a God who welcomes us as His own children.

“Our Father” is an appropriate address to begin prayer with, for in the very phrase itself is hidden all kinds of gospel beauty to behold.

In Heaven

As good as these things are, see that the opening address doesn’t end here. “Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven…”

Why address God as the God who is in heaven? Isn’t something like that obvious? Well no, not always with how people go around defining God these days and perhaps in Jesus’ day too. So I think there are two reasons why the opening address ends with this little phrase “…in heaven…” First, it reminds us God is above all things. And second, it reminds us God is in control of all things. Or in other words, what kind of Father do we have? We don’t just have a Father who is a smiley benevolent fellow, we have a Father in heaven, sovereign and ruling over all things. This is the kind of Father we have. How wonderful for us to know this! That God is over and in control of all things in existence, able and powerful to do something about the things weighing on us, this is the God we come to in prayer.

So…

Let’s wrap this up in a sentence or two.

Prayer isn’t to be jumped into obnoxiously, but reverently and respectfully, the way we would enter the President’s Oval Office. And we do not immediately start rattling off all those things pressing on us, we remember who we’re speaking to, God the Father, who is above all things, in control of all things, and through Christ and the Spirit adopted us as His children.

In this manner, appropriate prayer must begin with an opening address that acknowledges the greatness of God, and our gratitude for Him being such a God.