Reflections on ‘Knowing God’

This week brings our men’s study of “Knowing God” to a conclusion at New Testament Baptist Church. One year ago, we set out to explore a book heralded as one of the modern Christian classics. Some books are acclaimed in such a way as being a “must-read” only to prove boring, inconsequential, and lifeless. “Knowing God” by J.I. Packer rightfully belongs among the books that one should reread every year along with “Pilgrim’s Progress”, “Lectures to My Students”, and a few other classics. Our study of “Knowing God’ produced a deeper bond among us as brothers in Christ exploring great truths concerning theology proper examining the attributes and words of God. Why should you read this book either for the first time or tenth time? Consider the following reasons why “Knowing God” is such a treasure:

  1. Deep Theology Simplified: Packer does not shy away from handling complex truths and deep theology. For example, Packer spends time unpacking the immutability of God, the wrath of God, predestination, incarnation of Christ, and so forth. He handles these subjects in a reverent manner but also writes for the layman who has no seminary education. Packer rightfully makes an argument up front about why all of us should desire to know more theology. “Disregard the study of God, and you sentence yourself to stumble and blunder through life blindfolded, as it were, with no sense of direction and no understanding of what surrounds you. This way you can waste your life and lose your soul.”[1] Not only does Packer bring the cookie jar off the shelf but he explains to you why it matters that he does so.
  2. Theology is Practical: All theology is practical. There is no way to get around it. Evangelicalism suffers tremendously today because many believers have no well-informed worldview flowing out of a biblically-based, historically-informed theology. When one is lacking in his or her understanding of who God is and what He is like, they set themselves on a path of sin. “To follow the imagination of one’s heart in the realm of theology is the way to remain ignorant of God, and to become an idol-worshiper – the idol in this case being a false mental image of God, made by one’s own speculation and imagination.”[2] Therefore, in order to live a life of joy and that is well-pleasing to God one must know God and this is only done by studying the theology of God found in Scripture.
  3. Reformed Theology for the Beginner: Only a couple of times does J.I. Packer use the terms Calvinist or Reformed to describe the position that he is taking. It is certainly not because he is ashamed of the labels. I commend Packers’ introductory essay in the reprint of John Owen’s Death of Death for a great summary of what Calvinism is. This is a book that introduces a person to classic Reformed theology without the buzzwords or phrases that cause many to stumble over the doctrines of grace. If someone can read chapter after chapter and say they agree with the truths contained in this book, then they are a Calvinist. Packer wonderfully brings forth the Bible over and over to show where he is finding the truths he does concerning grace, law, the gospel, and salvation. If you want to introduce someone to the riches of Calvinism, this is a book that does a wonderful job in many ways of setting forth those theological truths.
  4. Utilizing Other Resources: This might sound like an odd reason to read a book but, hear me out. One of the facets of “Knowing God” that we have enjoyed much in our men’s study is the various hymns that Packer incorporates in the chapter. Many times, Packer will end a chapter with a hymn that explains in a poetic way the theological truths he just unpacked. Some of the sweetest memories of our men’s study for me is hearing all of us read the stanzas in unison or taking turns reading. Packer also does not shy away from pointing you to other great men of the faith. Chapter 1 immediately opens with a paragraph from a sermon preached by C.H. Spurgeon. If a book opens with Spurgeon, then you know it will be a good one! I jest (somewhat) but Packer shows that he comes to these views not in isolation but with a great cloud of witnesses.

There are many more reasons why you should read J.I. Packer’s “Knowing God.” This is a brief article but one that I hope will cause you to make this a book you will pick up soon. What does it mean to know God? How would you answer that? Consider Packer’s words:

We must say that knowing God involves, first, listening to God’s Word and receiving it as the Holy Spirit interprets it, in application to oneself; second, noting God’s nature and character, as his Word and works reveal it; third, accepting his invitations and doing what he commands; fourth, recognizing and rejoicing in the love that he has shown in thus approaching you and drawing you into this divine fellowship.[3]

[1] J.I. Packer, Knowing God. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973), 19.

[2] Ibid., 48.

[3] Ibid., 37.

Gospel Propositions = Self Deprecation = Hard Work

1 Corinthians 15:3-7 says, “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, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles.”

Paul is eager to remind his readers that this gospel isn’t something he made up, but is a gospel he received from God. And more so, this gospel he’s about to explain to them carries first importance, it carries an unmatched prominence, so that nothing is more central or precious to the Christian than the gospel. But again I ask, what gospel? Beginning in v3 Paul explains the gospel through a series of propositions:

Proposition 1: Christ Died for Sins

That Christ died for sins carries with it some implied meaning Paul doesn’t explicitly speak of here. Firstly, for Christ to die for sins implies that the eternal Christ once came to us, that He in His Person bridged the gap between God and man. Truly God He became truly Man in His incarnation, He walked among us, He lived among us, He became and is now forever the God-Man.

Secondly, for Christ to die for sins implies that man is in a desperate sinful condition and cannot save himself. I’m afraid this is a point many people leave out of the gospel because it is so unwelcome to the heart of man. If the bad news about ourselves is left out we not only have no true understanding of the good news, we have what amounts to a kind of gospel-lite where one learns how to be saved without learning why one needs to be saved.

Thirdly, for Christ to die for sins implies that Christ died for sin. Which means He absorbed the wrath of God due to us, in His body, in our place, as our substitute. The wages of sin is death, and because Jesus drank the full cup of God’s wrath dying for our sins as the Old Testament Scriptures had foretold, we can have the free gift of eternal life.

Proposition 2: Christ was Buried

The culmination of the shame Christ bore for us was not just that He condescended and came to us, not just that He lived a life acquainted with sorrow, not just that He died on the cross for us, but that He was buried. That the very Author of life laid dead in a tomb is staggering. It shows us the ultimate end sin will bring us to if we remain in it. It shows us the truth that because He truly expired we can now truly be born anew. He embraced the chill of death that we could feel the warmth of new life.

Proposition 3: Christ was Raised

Wonder of wonders, when Jesus died, did He stay dead? No! He rose! He rose! This resurrection was the divine stamp of approval that the Father had accepted the Son’s sacrifice. This resurrection was the validation that Jesus was truly the Son of God in power. This one act sets Jesus apart from all others. Think of all other religious teachers what you will, there has only been and will ever only be One who rose from the dead. Where is Moses? Where is Mohammed? Where is Buddha? Where is Confucius? Where is Gandhi? Where is Mother Teresa? In the grave. Where is Jesus? Ruling at right hand of His Father, interceding for and building His Church. As they did of His death, so too, the Old Testament Scriptures told us Jesus would rise.

Proposition 4: Christ Appeared to Many

After rising from death, Jesus made public appearances to all the leaders of the early Church and a group of 500 people who are, for the most part, still alive. You know what that’s called. Verifiable data. He came, He lived, He died, and He publicly rose.

These are Paul’s gospel propositions that he employs to explain the gospel to us. But let’s ask a question…

What kind of personal impact did this gospel have on Paul? What kind of personal impact does Paul want this gospel to have on the Corinthians? And lastly, what kind of personal impact does God want this gospel to have on you today? The answer is a twofold impact in which self is dethroned and God in His grace takes center place. Some people, well intending, argue against the kind of self-deprecation in view in 1 Cor. 15:8-11 and think of it as something unhealthy. But I want to plead with you this morning to embrace it and to begin cultivating a holy self-deprecation yourself.

Paul knew himself, that he didn’t deserve the grace shown to him. In fact, he knew himself so well that he confessed everything good thing in his life was solely due to God’s grace. v10, “By the grace of God I am what I am.” You need to be able to say this yourself, and you can’t truly say this as long as you believe that who you are or what you’ve done through work, effort, or ability is the reason why your life is the way it is.

This gospel is not a call to improve yourself, it’s a call to come to the end of yourself and become someone entirely new.

So reader, gain an appreciation for a holy self-deprecation, renounce all self-esteem and replace it with God-esteem! For grace to be central, self must be die, and you must rest in the work of Christ for you. Some would have you believe that this kind of grace heavy religion will only lead to laziness or licentious living. ‘If the gospel truly is all of grace, than we can just do whatever we desire…right?’ Wrong. v10 again, “By the grace of God I am what I am. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”

A true understanding and embracing of God’s grace – that He gives us grace not because of who we are but because of who He is and despite who we are – this grace leads to a life overflowing with a passion to work hard for the kingdom. Paul renounces self, embraces grace, and works harder than anyone.

Do you?

Sure, some of you are busy. Some of your schedules are already filled to the brim, but I fear our schedules betray us, revealing our hearts true affections because busy as we may be, what kind of busy-ness devours us? Worldly endeavors, worldly lifestyles, worldly accomplishments. At the end of his life Paul said he felt like he had been poured out like a drink offering…while most of our lives are aimed at increasing comfort. Rest in gospel grace, yes, but if you’re not wearing out for the kingdom you haven’t got grace.

The Doctrines of Grace in Five Minutes

I was teaching a Sunday School class a few years ago at my former church and at the end of the study a man approached me and said that this was the first time he had heard the doctrines of grace taught in years. Unfortunately, his experience is not a unique one. Growing up and attending church my entire life I can’t recall a time that I was ever taught these truths. It wasn’t until I attended Bible College at Trinity College of Florida that I was introduced to the rich truths of the doctrines of grace. I believe a great deal of people attend church regularly and are never taught these amazing truths.

Allow me to briefly share the doctrines of grace with you.

We must start with God because He is where it all begins. God is sovereign in salvation. That is, salvation belongs to Him (Jonah 2:9) He controls it. The Bible makes it clear that God chose those whom He would save before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). This election was not a result of any merit within us, but was solely by the grace of God (Romans 9:11-13).

If God were not to initiate a relationship with us we would never come to Him on our own (John 6:44). In fact, the Bible makes it clear that we were dead in our sin and utterly unable to move toward God in our sinfulness (Ephesians 2:1). God had to remove our dead heart and give us a heart that beats for Him (Ezekiel 36:26) or else it would never happen. To come to a saving faith in Christ is all the work of God. He chooses, He calls, He justifies, and He glorifies (Romans 8:30). By His amazing grace, and by His grace alone, sinners are made right with God.

This salvation is extended to many, but not all (Mark 10:45). Christ died for His elect (John 10:11). His blood does not cover universally the sin of all, or else all would be saved, but rather His blood covers only a particular people. These are God’s elect, given to the Son for salvation and they will respond in faith (John 6:37). Those who respond in genuine faith toward Christ will persevere to the end (Philippians 1:6). Nothing can separate the believer from the love of God in Christ (Romans 8:31-39).

The doctrines of grace ultimately point us to a greater worship of God for what He has done for us through Christ.  We can take absolutely no credit for our salvation. It is completely the work of God on our behalf.  All glory to Him.  All praise is to Him.  All honor is for Him.

Lifestyle Evangelism?

 

Many professing Christians think godly living is all the evangelism others need from us. They misquote St. Francis of Assisi, saying, “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words when necessary.” In actuality St. Francis never said this. The sad reality is that many are quick to find spiritualized statements like this to justify their disobedience to Christ’s command. St. Francis of Assisi actually did comment on this issue though. His first biographer, Thomas of Celeno, quoted him saying: “The preacher must first draw from secret prayers what he will later pour out in holy sermons; he must first grow hot within before he speaks words that are in themselves cold.”

That seems more in line with God’s Word.

Scripture is clear that salvation is always connected to the preached Word. James says God, “brought us forth by the word of truth” (James 1:18). Peter says we are, “born again…through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Pet. 1:23). In the parable of the four souls, Jesus taught the impossibility of growth apart from sowing the seed of God’s Word (Mark 4). But the clearest Scripture on this is perhaps Paul’s argument in Romans 10. He states, “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? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written,“How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:14-17). Paul’s quadruple “How” question clearly is rhetorical. Paul is saying that without gospel proclamation there can be no justification.”

Godly living is vital, but is insufficient to save a soul from God’s just wrath against sin. Only faith in the message of the Gospel can save. The only hope for the lost is that the saved share the Gospel with them: his sinless life, his substitutionary death, and his victorious resurrection. Those who try to avoid Gospel evangelism are trying to separate the inseparable. The very Greek word euangelion or Gospel is in our word evangelism. Tell people the only message that can save them, and don’t assume people understand it if you don’t share it with them.

The Good Samaritan

We have all either read or heard about the Good Samaritan.

It was a parable told by Jesus in response to a man hoping to be able to justify himself. This particular man was a lawyer who seemingly knew all the right answers, especially those regarding acquiring right relationship with God. In fact, when he asked the Lord what it would take to inherit eternal life, and Jesus turned the question on him, he responded with the correct answer. However, we find in Luke 10 that, in this man’s heart, he is trying to put the Lord to the test. The question that Jesus prompts him with in response is this, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” As is taught throughout Scripture, and as this man correctly answers, the whole Law can be summed up in this: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself.

Although he answered correctly and Jesus encouraged him to do just that in order to have life, the lawyer still sought to justify himself. Usually the heart behind seeking to be justified is to remove all guilt. This man wanted to be seen as innocent in the eyes of those who held power in their position. That is why this led to the man asking his next weighty question, “And who is my neighbor?”

This then brings us to the parable told by Jesus of the Good Samaritan.

Over the summer, I had the privilege to work at Pine Cove, a Christ-centered family camp that lasts for ten weeks. During one of our sessions leading up to the start of camp, at which point we would be asked to serve and love on 250 families, the director of the camp spoke on this parable in a way that I had never heard before. He was urging us to not find strength in ourselves to make it through the difficult days that would soon be ahead. It was such a beautiful reminder of the gospel and gave so much empowerment to “go and do likewise.”

As followers of Christ, we are called to love the Lord and love our neighbor as ourselves. Oftentimes, when we listen to a sermon on this passage, we are encouraged to be like the Good Samaritan who selflessly loves the man left for dead as opposed to those who were religious yet cold hearted. It’s so easy for us to want to place ourselves in the story as the hero. Take for instance the way that we often like to apply passages like 1 Samuel 17 to our lives. In this Scripture we find the well known story of David and Goliath. After reading this empowering passage, it is the role of David, who placed his faith in God and defeated the giant, that we like to identify with. However, David is being portrayed here as the Savior who accomplished what the army of Israelites could not. It is a foreshadowing of what Christ would come to earth to accomplish.

Here’s the beauty of it: instead of placing ourselves in the shoes of the Good Samaritan, imagining ourselves to be people who are more than willing to go above and beyond for those who are in need, we need to first place ourselves in the shoes of the man left on the side of the road.

One of the gospel truths is this: we love because He first loved us. We will never be able to effectively be a conduit of God’s grace, love, or forgiveness until we have first experienced it for ourselves. Therein lies the beauty of this parable, in it we see Christ and the love that he has for us, the length that he is willing to go, and we receive the instruction to go and do likewise. As

Jen Wilkin puts this concept in her book In His Image, “Withholding mercy from others reveals that we do not recognize what we ourselves have received.”

The Bible teaches us that we once were dead in our trespasses and sins, until God made us alive in Christ. That is why it is so important to first see ourselves in this parable as the man who was attacked and left for dead as he was traveling.

Completely hopeless.

That is when the Good Samaritan enters into the narrative.

Instead of walking by in avoidance, as those who had gone before him had done, he stops and has compassion on the sufferer. And not only does he stop to see what he can do to help in the moment, he goes to the extreme of taking responsibility for making sure that the man is restored to good health.

The Good Samaritan cares for and binds the wounds, places the man on his donkey, then takes him to an inn where he continued to care for the badly injured man. He then pays in full with his own money whatever the tab would cost for the man to stay at the inn and be well taken care of.

This is a picture of the gospel. When we have the eyes to see it, our hearts are moved to an even greater appreciation for the length Christ went to save us and the love that he has shown for us. Jesus came to earth as a man, knowing that we were helpless on our own, left for dead, he came with compassion. Meeting us where we were, he knelt down and bound up our wounds, taken upon himself the full weight of our sin. He cries out for us, “Paid in full.”

With hearts fully set on Christ, we then have the ability to go and do likewise as Jesus has beseeched us to do. As we truly love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind and love our neighbor as ourself, we become in our own lives a reflection of the gospel.

The Response of Grateful Hearts

At Eldred Baptist Church, we preach expositionally and since we started a new series preaching through Luke/Acts that means we are currently finishing the birth narratives of the forerunner, John the Baptist, and the Christ, Jesus of Nazareth. Since March of this year, our congregation has been engulfed in the revelation of the Sovereign’s Intervention in the lives of His creation with the purpose of lavishing us with His grace.

There have been several theme’s that God has woven through the first two chapters of Luke but one has been a constant and borne fruit unexpected in our little country church, the fruit of joy.

We saw it first in Luke’s purpose of writing to Theophilus (1:3, 4). Next, in Gabriel’s proclamation to Zechariah (1:13), then, subsequently, in Elizabeth’s response to her conception of the Baptist (1:25). Joy manifested itself again in the womb of Elizabeth as the yet unborn Baptist leapt at the sound of Mary’s voice, surely in response to the Spirit’s revelation of the presence of his Savior in utero (1:41 & 44). Joy, again, exudes from the young, teenage virgin in Mary’s Magnificat (1:46-47). And in fulfillment of prophecy, Zechariah & Elizabeth’s family & friends rejoiced when the Lord blessed them with John (1:58) and Zechariah, now relieved of God’s curse from his disbelief overflows, blessing God from a joyful heart concerning the soon arrival of God’s Salvation and his newborn son’s involvement in the redemptive plan of God (1:64-79).

And all this joy comes before the Christ was born…

In chapter two, everyone, natural & supernatural beings alike, respond in joyful adoration of the arrival of God the Son; the angelic messenger to shepherds (2:10), the multitude of the heavenly hosts (2:14), the shepherds upon their arrival (2:16-20), Mary & Joseph (2:18-19), Simeon, Anna, and “all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem” (2:25-38).

I don’t know if you’re keeping count or not but that’s twelve obvious, joy-filled responses to either the news of Christ’s Advent or the Advent of the Christ! Clearly, the response of those who are filled with gratefulness concerning the Christ is joy; unmistakable, uncontainable, unfiltered, joy. And shouldn’t it be?

I mentioned that this series has borne some unexpected fruit earlier. Let me explain.

This theme of God’s people responding in joy as He reveals Himself has become contagious. Launching from the opening line of Mary’s Magnificat, EBC has begun a monthly “Testimony of Praise” that is presented by covenanted member during the worship service on the second Sunday of each month. For three months now, a member has come forward to present a testimony of praise to God for who He is and what He’s been doing in & through their lives.

This has become a Sunday that I, as well as others, are enthusiastically looking forward to. We’ve heard of God’s graciousness in bringing reconciliation to a marriage after they both were saved. We’ve heard of His goodness in restoring brokenness in families separated by years of the scars left behind by sin, supernatural peace amidst trials and anxiousness, a trust in His promises because He is ever-faithful and unchanging, supernatural growth in holiness through ordinary means long neglected, a new-found hunger and thirst for more of God and more personal holiness, and so much more. Truly, my soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior as I hear of His faithfulness in this covenanted community’s life. Praise God!

In God’s grace, through the exposition of His Word, He has revealed to this little church another ordinary mean of grace that is overflowing our already full hearts! Let me challenge you, Pastors/Elders, to disciple your congregation to fill in these blanks—“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has _______________  ____________  ______________…” and then ask them to share God’s praise with Christ’s Church; He is worthy!

Your people will be edified, your speaker will be sanctified, & God will be glorified!

“Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Eph. 3:20-21).

9/11 and Job – Suffering With God

It is fitting to talk about suffering on this day rather than others, because today is the 17th anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center. Many people suffered on that day and many people still suffer on this day who lost loved ones. It was a tragic day, and it feel’s like yesterday to most. But did you notice what most people were asking when they were suffering great pain and heartache? “Why?” The question of “why” teaches us something about people’s suffering. It teaches us that in the midst of suffering people want to know the reason they have to go through this. They want to know the design or purpose this suffering has come into their lives. Isn’t this interesting that in the midst of utter darkness people don’t cry out over the pain first they cry out to a higher being and ask “Why?”

This points us to Job 3 where we see Job asking the same thing.

Job is mourning and grieving all the suffering that’s come upon him. Yet, he’s also protesting because Job is angry and wants to know the answer to one question, ‘Why?’ Job isn’t addressing his friends and he’s not even addressing God either, no, Job is a tea pot of suffering that’s reached the boiling point of sorrow and he bursts out in steaming anguish. It’s as if Job is trying to bring his faith and his experience together into something that makes sense to him in this present suffering.

The Lament (v3-10)

“Let the day perish on which I was born, and the night that said, ‘A man is conceived.’ Let that day be darkness! May God above not seek it, nor light shine upon it. Let gloom and deep darkness claim it. Let clouds dwell upon it; let the blackness of the day terrify it. That night—let thick darkness seize it! Let it not rejoice among the days of the year; let it not come into the number of the months. Behold, let that night be barren; let no joyful cry enter it. Let those curse it who curse the day, who are ready to rouse up Leviathan. Let the stars of its dawn be dark; let it hope for light, but have none, nor see the eyelids of the morning, because it did not shut the doors of my mother’s womb, nor hide trouble from my eyes.”

We’ve seen a few special and specific days before in Job 1-2, now in chapter 3 Job has brings up two more specific days in view. Specifically, in v4-5 we see the day he was born and in v6-10 we see the day (or night) he was conceived. In light of his current state Job, in v3, looks back and curses these days desiring that he had never been born. He now wishes the sun had never risen that day and that darkness would’ve reigned instead of light. In an ironic reversal of creation and redemption where God speaks into and redeem the dark with His light, Job wishes the opposite would’ve happened. Yet, all Job’s lamenting is fantasy. The past is the past and nothing desired in the present will change what has already occurred. This poetic lament is powerful then, not because his desires will happen, but because they truly reflect the darkness of his heart.

The Protest (v11-26)

The futility of these laments probably hit Job hard after v10 because in v11 there is a clear shift in language. He began expressing desires, desires that won’t ever come to pass, and thus, Job begins his protest asking five questions, all around the word ‘Why?’

Question 1: v11, “Why did I not die at birth, come out from the womb and expire?”

Question 2: v12-15, “Why did the knees receive me? Or why the breasts, that I should nurse? For then I would have lain down and been quiet; I would have slept; then I would have been at rest, with kings and counselors of the earth who rebuilt ruins for themselves, or with princes who had gold, who filled their houses with silver.”

Question 3: v16-19, “Or why was I not as a hidden stillborn child, as infants who never see the light? There the wicked cease from troubling, and there the weary are at rest. There the prisoners are at ease together; they hear not the voice of the taskmaster. The small and the great are there, and the slave is free from his master.”

Question 4: v20-22, “Why is light given to him who is in misery, and life to the bitter in soul, who long for death, but it comes not, and dig for it more than for hidden treasures, who rejoice exceedingly and are glad when they find the grave?

Question 5: v23, “Why is light given to a man whose way is hidden, whom God has hedged in?”

Moving from the womb, to the knees, and then to the breast to nurse is usually a pattern of health, of loving nurture, and a sustained life. But for Job all this pattern did for him was launch him out into a sea with waves too high for him to stay afloat. These things fill out the first three questions of his protest and each time the answer seems to be that while life is now horror and misery to him death would be rest and peace to him. In the evening we usually lay down to rest, we are quiet, and we are in peace. This is what Job wants most. His daytime is nothing but terror, so he wants to escape his preset. Or switch his analogy around a bit and perhaps see it like this. There are times of suffering so deep and so vast that an evening’s sleep is a break from the nightmare of the day.

This is Job’s current experience here in chapter 3. Because of all these things when we come to v24-26 it feels like a climax to all his pain. “For my sighing comes instead of my bread, and my groaning’s are poured out like water. For the thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me. I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest, but trouble comes.”

Suffer With God

What are we to make of this chapter? One principle: sometimes those who walk with God can walk in such darkness that death seems to be the only source of relief. Jesus even experienced this as He was walking near the cross where He would make full, final, and forever atonement for all who believe in Him. But in His suffering He knew His Father’s will was best for Him, even if that meant His own death. And ironically it’s in His suffering where our suffering comes to an end. How? His suffering absorbed the Fathers wrath for all who believe so any suffering believers now experience isn’t punitive but purifying. Which brings hope in the dark.

Christians then, can have seasons and even years and years of life just like Job 3. And when we see others in seasons like this we would not serve them well if we made them feel as if their suffering were sinful or faithless. Job 3 is dark, for sure, but even in Job’s protest see a ray of hope. All throughout this chapter we see him energized to find out why God has done this to him (v20 indicates he’s dealing with God here who gives life or light to men, think also of 1:20-22). This shows us that Job, even here, wants to struggle with God rather than without Him and that ought to give us hope and leave us an example in our own suffering.

May all those who have, are still, and will continue to suffer from the events of 9/11 do the same and suffer with God rather than without Him.

Security for the Insecure

Security is a critical element in life. Unfortunately, it’s also very elusive. Recent world events, terrorist attacks, financial collapses and all of the woes that come from a fallen planet really demonstrate how insecure our world is.

On a personal level, perhaps you live in insecurity because you have been the victim of a crime such as robbery or rape. Maybe your spouse has threatened divorce and thus, you lack marital security. Your children may be struggling with physical or emotional ailments that have deprived you of security. Perhaps you’ve lost your job and your retirement has plummeted leaving you feeling hopelessly insecure. Reflecting on your life, you realize that you have little or no security in those areas where you crave it most.

Fortunately for the believer, in the single area that truly matters most—your relationship with God almighty—you can have ultimate security.

The Bible boldly declares that God offers believers His unconditional love, acceptance and security.

Yet many Christians still struggle with this notion. As a pastor, I hurt for those of you who cannot grasp the beauty of eternal security and that’s why I want you to know that God’s love for you is perfect and everlasting. I grew up in a Pentecostal home where I thought God to be a distant deity who was willing to smite me every time I listened to secular music or sat in a movie theatre. I truly resonated with Martin Luther when he came to the place where he admitted that he hated God for his holy requirement of perfection from us. “This word is too high and too hard that anyone should fulfill it,” But here’s the Biblical truth: The Lord yearns for you to have complete assurance and security in Him. Despite your imperfections.

This confidence is critical if you are to experience the Christian life the way God intended and worship Him the way He intended. Proper theology leads to proper doxology.

Romans 8 is regarded to be one of the best chapters in all the bible. Verses 31-39 may be the most comforting and encouraging verses in the Word. (In my opinion of course) These verses definitively declare thateternal security belongs to the Lord.

Paul offers three hopeful assurances: There is no opposition, there is no condemnation, and there is no separation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

There is no opposition: 31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be[a]against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 

Friend, God is for you.

In the beginning portion of 8:31; Paul writes “What then shall we say to these things?” This is the first of seven questions in this passage. Throughout this passage, Paul’s goal is to exhaust any and every objection.

What things is Paul referring to here? If we go back a verse, it ends with “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. “

This is implicitly telling us that God’s very work is effectual in its processes. It’s not anything you and I can muster up to do, but it is the very working of God that we are even called to believe in Him. Since He gave us Jesus, (The Son) how will he not keep us until the day of redemption? Salvation is a very gift. Paul is making that case crystal clear here. HE graciously, gives us all things including persecution and death. ALL things are expected, because God uses ALL things for His glory. Now it makes sense when we read Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

In Matthew 6:33 Jesus tells us: But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these thingswill be added to you.

In 8:32 Paul answers the question of 8:31 with a rhetorical question: “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?”

Paul argues from the greater to the lesser. If God has done the big thing, delivering up Jesus, will He not do the little thing?

For God to give up The Son to death and then abandon you on the highway to glorification would be like a rich man spending a vast sum on a car and then leaving it on the roadside because he couldn’t afford the gasoline to run it. How absurd! That is the idea behind Paul’s argument here. Since God gave up His Son to purchase and secure your eternal life, He will certainly give you whatever you need to live for Him now. But this phrase “all things” (panta) does not include Rolls-Royces, mansions, expensive jewelry, and elaborate wardrobes. The health, wealth, and prosperity gospel teaching is a false gospel which needs to be refuted immediately.

Paul’s assertion is designed to drive home the unshakable assurance that God will do whatever is necessary to guarantee your ultimate glorification.

And that there is good news for our souls!

There is no condemnation:   33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

The picture Paul paints here is one of a courtroom setting. He’s speaking in legal terms here. The imagery and thought process throughout is the idea that we are standing to be judged, but the accusations just don’t stick. It’s almost like having the perfect alibi during a courtroom questioning.

Let’s Look at the prophet Zachariah in chapter 3:1-4. This provides a great mental image:

Zechariah 3:1-4: “Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. 2 And the Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, O Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?” 3 Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. 4 And the angel said to those who were standing before him, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” And to him he said, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments” 

Because of what Christ has accomplished in redemption, we no longer stand condemned. A proper name for our adversary satan should really be “the satan.” The Hebrew word satan means “the adversary, or the one who resists.” It is translated as “satan” eighteen times in the Old Testament, fourteen of those occurrences being in Job 1-2, the others in 1 Chronicles 21:1 and Zechariah 3:1-2. This gives us a good understanding on who it is we’re dealing with here.

But there’s something else I want you to focus on, it’s the word interceding. The Greek Paul used here for interceding is:en tyn chanei”  and it means “to light upon a person or a thing,

to go to, or meet a person, esp. for the purpose of conversation, consultation, or supplication. To pray, entreat, make intercession for any one”.

This helps us clearly see Christ’s intentional intercession on our behalf. He is for us, interceding that we would be freed from temptation and be sanctified in this life. He is on our side!

The Apostle John wanted to make this crystal clear in 1st john 2:1

1st John 2:1My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous

John here calls him our advocate. Again, speaking in legal terms. We are his “Elect” or his “chosen ones” handpicked for such a time as this to be conformed to the image of Christ! An advocate is “a person who publicly supports or recommends a particular cause or policy.”

This shows us that Christ is our advocate, supporting us, constantly recommending us, interceding on our behalf, praying that we stay the course and win this race with victory because of what he has done. And let me tell you, when the trinity is praying, these are effectual prayers! Read this slowly, Romans 8:26 says it like this: Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because[g] the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Wow! This should bring comfort to the troubled soul. Paul writing to the Galatians in chapter 4:4-6 goes on to cement this truth;

But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.[a] Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba,[b] Father.”

Don’t ever forget that!  It may be difficult to comprehend how this all works out, but this is the very means God uses to “keep us” saved and secure in him, its these beautifully complicated processes.

Jesus says in John 6:37-39: 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me but raise it up on the last day. (glorification)

Then he says in John 3:18;   17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 

My friends, there is no condemnation!

There is no separation35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written: “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The verb “separate” (chorizo) bookends this section (8:35, 39), confirming that there is no separation in your relationship with God. Paul begins with the question that is potentially the most critical question a Christian can ask:

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ?” (8:35) Of course, the answer is: No one can separate us from the love of Christ.

However, you may say, “But I don’t feel like I love Christ all the time.” No, you misread 8:35; It’s not who is going to separate us from our love for Christ, but who is going to separate us from Christ’s love for us. 

I don’t know about you, but my love for Christ can fluctuate between hot and cold. If my salvation depends upon the fervency of my love for Christ, I would have already been cast into hell. Thankfully, my salvation does not depend upon my love for Christ; rather, it depends upon Christ’s love for me. His life, death, resurrection, and intercession have secured my eternal destiny. The only reason that I will spend eternity with God is because of the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Paul goes on to quote Psalm 44:22 which reads: Yet for your sake we are killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

But I’ll quote a few verses beforehand to give you a better context.

20 If we had forgotten the name of our God
or spread out our hands to a foreign god,
21 would not God discover this?
For he knows the secrets of the heart.
22 Yet for your sake we are killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.

In other words, we can expect to be killed or destroyed by God if we turn to other gods and idols, but it says for your sake we are persecuted, we are hunted down to die, regarded as sheep to the slaughter!

God is more concerned with our sanctification, and our glorification, so yes we will face many troubles in this life, but what did Jesus say about that?

John 16:33 (ESV)

33 have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

So the very threat of death is not really a threat to us, because it cannot separate us from the love of Christ. Persecution cannot do it. Famine can’t do it. Nakedness can’t do it. Peril, or sword can’t do it. Angels, ruler’s powers and principalities can’t do it! NOTHING means nothing in Greek, Latin, English, Spanish, Creole, Afrikaans, Dutch, and you get the gist.

Paul reaffirms this when he says in Philippians 1:6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

God’s love for his children in Christ is secure, effectual and everlasting. Take heart my friend. The Lord has gone great lengths to demonstrate that those who are in Him have no opposition, no condemnation and no separation.

Live by these truths. He is for you and will make sure that you are sanctified daily with the ultimate goal of salvation in mind: To be conformed to the image of Christ. Always remember: The father chooses, The son saves, The spirit preserves.

He offers security for the insecure. 

You are in His hand.

Joy in the Ordinary

One of the greatest discoveries for me in learning about Reformed Theology came in discovering the concept of the ordinary means of grace. What exactly is that all about? The ordinary means of grace are a part of the warmth and joy that is found in Reformed Theology. Wrestling with the attributes of God, sovereign election, particular redemption, and covenant theology can be quite hard. Those deep theological matters cannot be reduced to a bumper-sticker with a catchy phrase or hashtag. The ordinary means of grace present another aspect of Reformed Theology: finding joy in that which is simple.

In the 2nd London Baptist Confession, Particular Baptists defined the ordinary means of grace this way: “The grace of faith, by which the elect are enabled to believe so that their souls are saved, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts. Faith is ordinarily produced by the ministry of the Word. By this same ministry and by the administration of baptism and the Lord’s supper, prayer, and other means appointed by God, faith is increased and strengthened.”[1] Notice that they identify the ministry of the Word, the sacraments or ordinances, and prayer as the ordinary means by which our faith is strengthened and assurance deepens. Other ordinary means of grace that can be identified, especially in a corporate worship gathering, are singing and fellowship. Reformed Baptist pastor Richard Barcellos offers this definition on the ordinary means of grace: “The delivery systems God has instituted to bring grace – that is, spiritual power, spiritual change, spiritual help, spiritual fortitude, spiritual blessings – to needy souls on earth.”[2]

The beauty and richness of the ordinary means of grace comes shining forth when we consider how God uses the ordinary to bless us in an extraordinary way. Are we comprehending just how nourishing the proclamation of the Word is when the Bible is read, explained, and applied to our hearts? This is why Jesus told Simon Peter in John 21 to feed and nourish the flock of Christ. The ministry of the Word is not just the means of the Spirit’s effectual call and regenerating work among the unconverted; it is also the means by which the saints are nourished and strengthened. Growing up in a more fundamentalist Baptist background, the memorial view of the Lord’s Supper was so ingrained that understanding of Christ’s spiritual presence at the Table seemed almost Romish to me. However, as I have learned more, I have come to realize not just the historic Baptist view of the Supper as both a memorial and spiritual nourishment but that the Scriptures teach this as well. [3]

As one might deduce, the ordinary means of grace are connected to the fellowship and assembly of the local church. How magnificent is our Lord to remind us through these means of how we are a covenant people together in need of encouragement, strength, and reminders of who we are in Christ. I often tell people that if you believe Reformed Theology is found only in T-U-L-I-P then you are missing out on what the real meaning of doctrines of grace is. Reformed theology changes your outlook on everything. It changed my outlook on preaching as I come to more and more find rest and solace in the sovereignty of the Spirit in the Word. Reformed Theology’s teaching on the ordinary means of grace deepens my appreciation for the Christian Sabbath and gathering on the Lord’s Day. Every Scripture reading, prayer, hymn, ordinance, reading of creeds/confessions/catechisms, and time together fellowshipping over the Word are the channels by which the Spirit refreshes, matures, corrects, and settles my weary heart as a pilgrim. So, when you gather this coming Lord’s Day, do not think that simple worship means ineffective or backwards. Rather, meditate upon the extraordinary power of God unleashed in the ordinary means of grace!

 

[1] See: https://founders.org/library/1689-confession/chapter-14-saving-faith/

[2] See: https://founders.org/reviews/the-lords-supper-as-a-means-of-grace/

[3] See: https://vimeo.com/287451369 for a recent sermon I preached on this topic.

Living Faith is not Lazy

 “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able” Lk 13:24

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Phil. 2:12-13

Now these are some weighty passages that growing up in a reformed Baptist church the idea of holiness in relation to work was not something often spoken about. We would speak a lot on the grace of God and how overwhelming the grace of God was towards us. This informed us that there was nothing that we could do to earn our salvation, it is only Christ that set us free from sin and death, it is only Christ who gave us new life, it is only Christ who teaches us, and all of this is true and then some. We can not earn our salvation, but this teaching left a lingering question after salvation: “how then shall I now live.”   Texts like the two presented here that hit home in relation to living the Christian life. but being raised in a church were any talking of working out the salvation as deemed legalistic, it left little encouragement to change. Ultimately it became a sense that if God was going to change you he would otherwise rest on his grace in the midst of your sin. This is where I want to challenge us today as I myself have been challenged, we have been saved by Grace to walk in newness of life, by the Spirit for Holiness, but this does not take place through some spiritual osmosis while you sleep, it comes through self-discipline, confession, community, and growing in Faith. We agree that it is all by God’s grace and mercy we are saved we added nothing to it, and can do nothing of our own to spurn the loving grace of God, but with salvation is a call to live it our and these things are the evidences of a growing faith.

Self-Discipline:

So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

Paul encourages the church to model his way of life. He didn’t receive the gift of God and then hang out in bars getting drunk hoping the Lord would use him. He didn’t continue in sinfulness hoping that one day this Jesus thing takes over. He was transformed and by being transformed he lived out the life, endeavoring all the more to be found in Him. He speaks often about disciplining himself in the faith, running the race and being prepared to see God. Do we take such an approach to our Christian lives? It’s humbling to read the words scattered throughout the New Testament that call us to such things, but they are there to remind us we serve a Holy God who has made us holy positionally before Him in Christ, but who also calls us to live out the life in the same holiness.

How else does one strive for Holiness than in faith in Christ and living out the faith. Think of it in terms like Paul does running a race, or exercising. If you want to get in better shape you don’t sit around the house eating Doritos and ice cream, waiting for the day it all comes together. You get up off your butt and do a sit up, may be just a few, then you discover weights, and planks, plyo and pilates, maybe you join a gym, you change the meals you eat…..You become disciplined in your endeavor.  The Christian faith requires us to take the life we live that seriously, and it is convicting and it should be. It should hit us between the eyes, not leading us to guilt that we fail, but to humility that we need God to work in us and through us. We trust the Lord and walk in Holiness.

Confession:

 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Col 3:12-13

The Christian life is also not lived alone, it is lived together and an aspect of that togetherness is confession and forgiveness. As God’s Children we have been forgiven much, we have been forgiven the sins that have entangled us, do entangle us, and will entangle us. However, part of being forgiven involves the reality of confessing and walking in that forgiveness. The Lord called us to repent and believe, His apostles remind us that we must confess our faults before God and we were saved.  We are also reminded though that while we are saved and set free from sin, the roots go deep and evil remains surrounding us, so we must make a habit of identifying the evil that remains, confessing it to God and seeking the forgiveness of those we have wronged, and as though being wronged we must also be open with a hand of forgiveness, not just 7 times, but in to eternity, for God grace towards us is such in measure.

Community

 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. Eph 2:19-22

Not only is growing in Holiness seen in self-discipline & confession, but in our lives as a community of faith. Christ’s church is not a lone ranger experience, it is a corporate one. We were not saved to be alone, but to be together. Our faith is lived out with others, for others, and for ourselves as we together grow in self-discipline and confession. Using the illustration of working out, we don’t do it alone, in the faith we have trainers and others besides us working, encouraging, falling, and getting back up. We work together, but what is even more important is the realization that this community is a family. We are brothers and sisters joined together by the blood of Christ under His Lordship and the Love of the Father. As a family we wish to see none of our brothers or sisters fall away, but be encouraged. We strive together for a true church strives as one, being built up by Christ into the temple which displays His majesty to the world. His majesty is a Holy Majesty and as such we are again to be Holy as He is Holy.

Growing in Faith

 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 2 Peter 1:5-7

The last avenue, when we think about striving and working out the faith, is in the reality of growing in our faith, Peter here encourages us to work hard at the faith and grow up in it. There is an element in his proposal for us all to take the faith seriously and to advance in it, through faith and work. Now again this is not salvation but the working out of that salvation, the striving after the Lord if you will. Peter warns us not to take the faith lightly but for those who are saved and being saved to make our lives living examples of the grace and mercy of God, putting off the things that have so entangled us and grow up in the faith, seeking to earnestly grow in the faith, means to earnestly endeavor in the faith.

Ultimately, we need not be afraid of the idea of working out our salvation, this is not legalism, its discipline and biblical. It’s a matter of Growing into who you already are, it’s seeing sin and putting it to death through prayer and action. It’s seeing deficiencies in your life and correcting them according to the word of God and the spirit of God. It’s making every effort to walking in Holiness through faithfulness, confession, prayer, and forgiveness in the community of God’s family

Three Reasons to Preach Through the Bible

God gave us an entire Bible, and He intends for us to use all of it to help us grow. Below are three reasons why this truth changes how we preach.

  1. Preach the Whole Counsel of God

If you are like me, then your preaching tends to lean towards your favorite Biblical themes. For me it often ends up being the gospel message or God’s sovereignty in salvation. For you it could be eschatology or church membership or a million other things. Typically, we are bent to our preferred Biblical themes in preaching. If we just chose our favorite things to preach on, those few things would be all that our congregation hears. However, when we preach verse-by-verse through a book of the Bible, we are going to preach on things that we may never think to preach on our own. This is a healthier form of preaching because it allows the church to be exposed to the whole counsel of God rather than preaching only the portion that the preacher is inclined toward. God gave us an entire Bible, and He intends for us to use all of it to help us grow.  This makes for a more mature church body.

  1. Keep Scripture in Context

When you are preaching topically, it can be easier to take a verse out of context, even if it’s accidental. Preaching verse-by-verse through a book of the Bible will force you to study the context surrounding the passage. You will be doing an in-depth study of that particular passage. Since you are chronologically going through it and the context is there for everyone to see, it will be more difficult to err because of lack of study within context. Whereas, if you were to just grab a verse that seems to fit your topic and place it in your message, you may not be preaching it in the context that it was intended. Therefore, you are at risk of misrepresenting God’s Word. We don’t want to be guilty of that.

  1. Get the Full Story

The Bible was written as letters, songs, stories, etc. When Paul wrote his letter to the Corinthians, I don’t think he intended them to read the first 2 verses and then read 2 verses from Exodus, and then one verse from Proverbs. When he wrote his letters, he intended them to be read as a whole unit, in context. Because the Bible was written in this form, I think it’s a good idea to preach through all that Paul intended his readers to hear. This will also help the hearer to remember last week’s sermon and put the pieces of Scripture together to flow as a unit. Preaching through books of the Bible helps this to take place.

Whether you’re preaching or hearing, may God bless you and may the whole counsel of His Word run swift into our hearts.

Elihu: Righteous Prophet or Arrogant Fool?

When one arrives at Job 32 they arrive at a particular difficulty. Why? Because in Job 32 we meet Elihu.

The speeches of Elihu perplex many theologians for many reasons. He seems to come out of nowhere in the text, and when he bursts onto the scene he really does burst. Four times in the first five verses of Job 32 we read that Elihu was burning with anger. Out of his burning anger he speaks to Job’s friends and to Job, but neither Job’s friends nor Job respond to him once he’s done, and more so, God never responds to his words or mentions him at all in the end of the book when He rebukes Job’s friends and restores Job. Because of all of these things most people are perplexed with what to do with him.

There are three commonly held views on him.

The first view, and probably the least likely to be accepted among Christians, is the view that the six chapters given to Elihu (32-37) are not original to the book of Job. Instead these chapters are a later addition to it that is something of a foreign intrusion into the text. There are largely two reasons given for this view. First, the Hebrew is different in these chapters. It doesn’t match with the rest of the book, thus it doesn’t belong with the rest of the book. Second, the reason Job, Job’s friends, and God don’t respond to Elihu after he’s done is because he wasn’t physically present with them when these events occurred. This is why we don’t see any response to him. As I said just a moment ago, this view isn’t commonly held within the Church, it is mostly found in nonbelieving commentators and textual critics. Therefore we can move onto the next view.

While the last view is the least likely to be accepted among Christians, the second view is probably the majority view among Christians. This majority view believes Elihu to be an arrogant young man who speaks hastily and harshly about things that he is largely unaware of. The reasons for this view are as follows. First, Elihu overestimates his own importance and does truly show himself to be an arrogant young man. Second, while anger isn’t a sin Elihu has sinfully given too much room to his anger and vents it in the direction of these men. Third, Elihu doesn’t contribute anything new to the ongoing conversation between Job and his friends but merely restates what has already been said after rebuking Job and his friends. Like Job’s miserable comforters Elihu also does say some true things but applies them wrongly and draws the wrong conclusions. Fourth, Elihu’s chapters do build suspense within the book of Job but only do so by delaying the judgment of God at the end. Fifth, the reason Elihu is ignored by everyone at the end of the book is because he does prove himself to be something of an irrelevant intruder into an already lengthy conversation. This view is probably the majority view within the Church. You’ll find it in most commentaries, the ESV Study Bible, and the Gospel Transformation Study Bible.

While the second view is the majority view among Christians, the third view is probably best described as the minority view among Christians. This minority view believes Elihu to a good character and even something of a preview of the very things God will say to Job and his friends at the end of the book. The reasons for this view are also many. First, Elihu finds both Job and his friends wanting in the debate. Second, after rebuking the friends Elihu focuses on Job’s words throughout the debate, quoting Job many times without accusing Job of living a wicked life like the friends have done. Rather he moves the conversation toward a proposal that suffering does indeed have a redemptive role. Third, because of these things Elihu’s words anticipate the stance God Himself will take in chapters 38-42. Some who hold this view, at this point, make the claim that Elihu was a prophet sent by God to prepare Job and his friends for God’s words stronger words about to come. Fourth, though not being the answer to Job’s problems, Elihu points in the right direction by functioning, in small measure, as the ‘arbiter’ or ‘mediator’ Job has been longing for. Fifth, this is the reason why no one responds to Elihu in the end, because he was a voice preparing the way for the greater voice to come. This view is the minority view within the Church. You’ll find it explained and embraced in the Reformation Study Bible, and given a ‘nod’ though not embraced in the ESV Study Bible. This is also the view held by Christopher Ash in his commentary on Job that we’ve been using a guide through our series in Job.

Taken these three views into account, we can easily reject the first view which believes Elihu and his speeches to be a foreign intrusion into the text of Job. As for the remaining two views we find believers lining up in both of them. Personally through studying this text I have come to believe the third view, that Elihu is a good character who prepares the way for God’s voice to come. But honesty would demand I also say that while I believe this third view is the best option I also believe I could be wrong about this.

So, I do not hold my view, and I would encourage you to not hold your view on Elihu with a closed fist, but with an open hand willing to adjust as the text demands of us. But for now think of Elihu like this.

So far in Job we come through 30 chapters of thick back and forth conversation about Job’s innocence, and whether or not Job has been right to say what he has about himself and about God. I think the author of Job knows what he has put together here in his work can easily exasperate the reader and is now giving us a bit of a break, or a change in tempo, with the wisdom hymn of chapter 28 and the speeches of Elihu in chapters 32-37.[1] And more so, that these chapters are present between Job’s final plea and Job’s meeting with God show us that Job might be in need of a bit of a break as well. Remember, God isn’t forced to reply to Job right away or quickly even though Job’s final plea in chapter 29-31 is intense. No, God acts in His own time and Elihu’s speeches reinforce this by causing Job to wait a bit longer for his inner angst to be resolved. Yes we have felt deeply for Job as we have watched him suffer and work through the hard realities and questions of why God does what He does. But we also, again and again, have had to almost gasp at Job’s audacity in accusing God of being a wrongdoer and unjust.[2]

Maybe, just maybe, some of what Elihu has to say will be the very things Job needs to hear in order to be prepared to meet God before the end in chapters 38-42.[3]

 

Citations:

[i]David Atkinson, The Message of Job – The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1991) page 116-117.

[ii]Christopher Ash, Job: The Wisdom of the Cross – Preaching the Word Commentary (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2014) page 329.

[iii]Atkinson., page 122.

Why Must I Grow in Holiness?

Sanctification.

It is a big, five-syllable word that may not be used much, but remains vitally important. Most mornings while our three children are munching down their cereal, we listen to the New City Catechism in song form. This morning, the song was focused on answering the question, “What do justification and sanctification mean?” My six year old daughter said, “Sanctification? What’s that?” Sadly, many adults who have been raised in the church don’t know the answer either. Yet the doctrine of sanctification is so important and so monumentally vital to the Christian life that Scripture says we cannot see the Lord without it (Heb. 12:14).

So what is it? Sanctification refers to that gradual process of upward spiritual growth in the Christian’s life whereby we are conformed more and more to the image of our Savior. The process of sanctification begins at conversion and ends in final glorification when we die or Christ returns. While our justification is all a work of God in grace toward us, our sanctification involves our spiritual effort and the Spirit’s enabling and empowerment. But one question that seems to be on the minds of churchgoers in our generation is this: “Does it really matter if I am growing spiritually? After all, aren’t we saved by faith alone in Christ alone?”

In 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8, the Apostle Paul addresses the importance of spiritual growth to a church in a similar scenario as ours. The believers in Thessalonica had been converted from idolatry and were living in a culture of rampant sexual promiscuity, to say the least. Cult prostitutes were even used in their temple worship. Various forms of sexual perversion were state-sanctioned activities to raise funds for government buildings and such. We may not be facing as much blatant sexual immorality in our society as the Thessalonian believers were in theirs, but I think it’s safe to say it is a big problem. There are now a variety of new snares Satan has devised to trip us up. By means of great technological advancements, nearly 80% of all Americans own a smartphone. These devices have instant access to visual, moving internet pornography and most people have no filter set up in place to guard them from it. Along with smartphones, we have laptops, smart TV’s, tablets, and such. Just recently my family was at my parents’ home while my dad was trying out his new Echo Dot. Within a few minutes, my children learned to call out the title of a song and expect it to play it for them on demand, only that it misunderstood them and played sexually explicit music for the next couple minutes. This is just one example of how pervasive the problem of sexual immorality is in our culture.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8, the Apostle Paul answers some crucial questions for us about spiritual growth…

Does it really matter if I am growing spiritually? Yes, it’s God’s will.

Paul says in verse 1 that we, “ought to…please God…more and more.” Spiritual stagnation is not only a waste of our potential, it is flat out dangerous. Obviously this does not mean we should expect to see some dramatic gains in our devotional lives each progressive week. If we could draw a line graph of our own lifelong spiritual progress, it would have a lot of ups and downs, yet there should be an upward slant to the whole thing. There should be a marked spiritual growth from who we were five years ago and who we are today. Not only that, but Paul also says, “This is the will of God: your sanctification.” Every high school students wants to know what God’s will is for their life and they listen for that still, small voice, but it is right here in black and white before us. God’s will for our lives is that we grow in holiness. Spoken negatively, it is not God’s will that our holiness be at a plateau.

What does this spiritual growth look like? At least sexual purity.

Paul uses an appositive statement to connect their sanctification with sexual purity. He says, “your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality.” In our pornographic society, this sexual purity is at least what it means to grow in Christlikeness and in holiness. One cannot say they are growing in holiness while they are indulging in any form of sexual immorality. Paul uses the word porneas, a broad word referring to any sexual activity outside the covenant of marriage. To be growing at all means we cannot sit complacent in any sin that perverts God’s good design in marriage. Holiness and honor should be words that characterize our sexual purity.

Why is our sexual purity that big of a deal? Because God called us out for this.

There are several answers to this question which Paul gives. One answer Paul gives is that the Gentiles who practice these things don’t know God and we do. Our knowledge of God sets us apart not only spiritually, but also sexually from the worldview of this age. Also, we are told to remember that God punishes all who love sin more than Him.  Finally, our sexual purity is a big deal because of the way God first called us. God did not come to call us to live as we were. You call a person because you want them to turn their attention away from what it is on so that it is then on you. When God calls sinners, He calls us to a whole new way of life. Jesus was known for saying to sinners, “Go and sin no more.”  Paul says to disregard the clear teaching of Scripture here is to disregard the very God who gives the Holy Spirit. None of us can ever hope to be holy without the aid of the Holy Spirit.

May our lives be marked by this growth in holiness as we walk in the power of the Holy Spirit each day. It is only when our world sees Christ’s church as set apart and holy that they will know what a different Christ has made in us.

A New Podcast

So a few months ago Adam and I began a Podcast called A2. Each week we cover a specific topic, book or subject dealing with a wide range of issues and conversations that take place in the life of the church.

So why podcasting you might ask, well in short it is a quick and honest way to discuss the realities of the Christian faith and allow our church to hear our perspective on life and godliness.

We also felt this would be a way for those who may not have time to sit a read a blog like this to listen to the thoughts of their pastor and staff members on the christian life. We know this is not a new en devour but hope that you will find it as encouraging to listen to as it is for us to record.

Feel free to click here and listen to our Podcast.

You can also find it on the SonRise ITunes page here.

Why this Pastor Loves Atheists

Yes, I do in fact legitimately love atheists.

In a culture that has produced and promoted many lies in the name or for the sake of love, perhaps the most glaring is that to love someone is to accept all that he or she is, including beliefs and practices. This is the height of absurdity. I love my 2 year old, but I don’t let her walk into the pool, however ardently she may desire to do so, because I know it would most likely produce catastrophic results. We don’t allow an addict to continue in their damaging behavior because we are fully aware that what they crave is harmful not only to themselves but to those who love them.

In fact, genuine love both philosophically and Biblically always seeks what is ultimately best for the one loved, even if that contradicts methods practiced or positions espoused. The love that I have for the unbelieving in no way condones or excuses poor behavior or erroneous beliefs. At the same time, my declaration of love for atheists (as well as agnostics, skeptics and cynics) is in no way an exaggeration or falsehood. While acknowledging our rank differences, here are 5 reasons why I truly love the anti-theistic crowd:

  1. They are thinkers.

I hate generalizations. Herding massive amounts of individuals into a one-size-fits-all-of-this-type categorization is nauseating. I understand that there are rude atheists and polite atheists, just as there are rude believers and polite believers. I also understand that not all atheists think deeply and not all Christians are emotionally charged, weak-minded flakes (though the list of best selling Christian resources on Amazon might beg to differ). Admittedly, I do not have a natural fondness for those who base their conjectures primarily (or even solely) on feelings, and this would include both the religious and the non-religious crowds. So one of the things I have loved about many agnostic/atheistic writers/debaters/friends is that they are truly attempting to explore and understand the most haunting questions of our existence. They do not fear to wade into deep philosophical waters. They are legitimately on the hunt for truth – if such a winged beast or demi-god even exists – and in this pursuit they have my admiration and my camaraderie.

  1. They care for those suffering in this world.

The primary gripe of atheists with the God they deny but simultaneously love to hate, is that he is capricious. He is a detached Dictator. The perpetual pain and prolific suffering in the world testify to this reality. While the logical progression behind this argument is, I believe, flawed – which I’ll explore in week three of our upcoming sermon series – it reveals to me that there are many non-believers who are full of compassion for those hurting across our planet. While our motives for caring (myself and the non-believer) are drastically different, I can see and am moved by the expression of their concern nonetheless.

  1. They have caused me to examine deeply my own beliefs.

Some of the most meaningful conversations of my life have taken place across from a fellow who has postulated positions antithetical to my own. Some of the most mind-jarring, soul-searching books or blogs I have ever read were penned by a devout Divine antagonist. I find myself drawn to the works of Hitch, and feel as though he and I – had we ever met – could have been good friends and I would have seen my faith in Christ deepen through his faithlessness. Though I wouldn’t encourage most Christians to read the works of Hitchens, Dawkins, Singer, or Harris, I have been challenged by their writing and led by the Truth (as arrogant as they would say that sounds) into a deeper and more robust understanding of God’s glory and grace.

  1. They are unashamed of the doctrine they embrace. 

If only this could be truly stated of American evangelicals: “they are unashamed of the doctrine (the Gospel of Jesus) that they embrace.” As I study anti-theism I am baffled by the devotion of its adherents to a hopeless fatalism almost as much as I am baffled by the dearth of devotion within Christianity to a hope-delivering Savior. How can folks who are so wrong in their admittedly dark and maddening worldview be so staunch is declaring and defending it? Theologically and even anthropologically there exist answers to this question; but whatever those answers may be, the depth of their resolve is both admirable and convicting.

  1. They are image bearers of the Divine.

While denying the very One who gave them the breath and the voice to deny Him, the anti-theists, atheists, agnostics, and cynics are in no way any less bearers of the Divine Image. They were made – mind, soul, and body – in the very likeness of the God they choose to suppress. My worldview, my doctrine, and the work of the Holy Spirit in my soul have convinced me that all of life – even the life of one who would defame or deny the existence of the King – is a precious, irreplaceable gift. As a unique expression of the Creator’s design, who the Lord of life died to save, I truly do love unbelievers and from that love will battle and dialogue to see truth triumph in these beautiful lives.

This Sunday I’ll begin a new sermon series at BLDG 28 entitled “Your God is Too…” I will offer a defense, in kindness and genuine love, of the Hope that lives within me. I look forward to the conversations this series will spawn between believing and non-believing friends and hope that through those conversations, the questions that will be raised, and the answers that will be given, genuine Love will prevail, pushing back darkness and ushering in light.

Semper Reformanda.