Over the last few weeks in the office we have been reading the book: Spurgeon on the Christian Life by Michael Reeves. It is a wonderful read and one that will make you think deeply… More
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).
Last week I got the news that someone in my small group had a stroke and they are still in the hospital recovering. Today, while at small group I found out that another member of my small group had an unexpected death in the family. There are other members of my church who have lost loved ones recently, or battled serious illness, or suffered other difficulties. I know of a church in the panhandle (certainly there are others) that was badly damaged during hurricane Michal this past October. I have a friend who just received the news that he has brain cancer and there is not much he can do for it.
Many Christians face difficult circumstances in life. This has always been the case. Job lost his possessions and family (Job 1:13-22). John the Baptist was imprisoned than beheaded (Mark 6:16-17). The author of Hebrews tells us some believers suffered “mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated…wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth” (Hebrews 11:36-38).
The apostle Paul speaks at length of some of the difficulties he experienced in this life in his second letter to the Corinthians. He writes, “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure” (2 Corinthians 11:24-27).
Perhaps you are reading this today and you have recently received bad news from the doctor, or learned that a loved one has passed away, or have been told that you are going to be laid off from work, or that you had a miscarriage, or that your child is not walking with Jesus and you are suffering deeply. Remember Paul’s words here to the Church at Rome. He tells them, “that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).
The worst suffering that any Christian has ever experienced does not even remotely compare to the joy that they will have in heaven with Jesus for all of eternity. The Psalmist speaking of Christ writes “in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). Our joy will be full and never ending one day in the presence of Jesus. That is our hope as believers. Remind yourself of this regularly.
Prayer. From the outside, it can look like little more than resting one’s eyes. And to the fast-paced, microwave culture in which we live, prayer to the God of the Bible seems like an extravagant waste of time. Yet we know as believers that there is more to prayer than what meets the eye. Prayer is warfare and prayer is worship. Prayer is confession and prayer is communion. Prayer is beholding and prayer is becoming. Prayer is one of the means by which God advances His kingdom in this world and a means by which He advances us spiritually.
We know prayer is more than what meets the eye and yet our behavior doesn’t always align with our belief here. We sleep in that extra 30 minutes we had planned to spend in prayer because, after all, we reassure ourselves, we don’t need to be so legalistic. We turn on Netflix when we had planned to pray with our spouse because, it’s been a long day and we need a break. We run around frantic all day from the house to work to school to our kid’s ball game and crash in bed at night without realizing what perpetual prayerlessness is doing to us and our family. What we need is a good, strong, biblical reminder about how and why to pray when we don’t always see prayer’s immediate fruitfulness for us.
In Colossians 4, the Apostle Paul gives us a small theology of prayer. He concludes his letter to the church at Colossae with commands that we pray and requests that we pray. He even gives us a glimpse of the warfare that is prayer when he highlights one of the first prayer warriors. In these verses, we’ll see six things to keep in mind when we pray…
- Be steadfast in prayer
“Continue steadfastly in prayer…”
One of the hardest things about prayer is this reality that it requires persistence. Our God loves us too much to give us what we want right when we ask. We all know that a child whose every wish is granted the moment he requests it becomes spoiled. But in prayer, God is more concerned with a relationship than a simple request that will come and go. When we expect our prayers to be answered in the way we want every time, we are forgetting God’s sovereignty and treating Him as our servant. Great prayer warrior George Muller once said, “It is not enough to begin to pray…nor is it enough to continue for a time to pray…we must pray patiently, believing, continue in prayer until we attain an answer.” He lived this out himself. Mueller wrote in his diary, “In November 1844, I began to pray for the conversion of five individuals. I prayed every day without a single intermission, whether sick or in health, on the land, on the sea, and whatever the pressure of my engagements might be. Eighteen months elapsed before the first of the five was converted. I thanked God and prayed on for the others. Five years elapsed, and then the second was converted. I thanked God for the second, and prayed on for the other three. Day by day, I continued to pray for them, and six years passed before the third was converted. I thanked God for the three, and went on praying for the other two. These two remained unconverted.” Thirty-six years later he wrote that the other two, sons of one of Mueller’s friends, were still not converted. He wrote, “But I hope in God, I pray on, and look for the answer. They are not converted yet, but they will be.” Believe it or not, 52 years after he began praying for them, and even after his own death, the final two friends were converted.
- Be watchful in prayer
“…being watchful in [prayer]…”
Spiritual alertness is vital to a faithful prayer life. We must pray with a certain expectation that God is going to answer, even though He may not answer as we would have it. Another side of this watchfulness is the realization that distractions come very easily in praying. We can be distracted from praying for something through a sudden trial or through a random thought in the midst of praying. To help with this, we can actually pray that God help us not get distracted from prayer.
- Be thankful in prayer
“…[pray] with thanksgiving.”
In his book A Praying Life, Paul E. Miller writes, “Thankfulness isn’t a matter of forcing yourself to see the happy side of life. That would be like returning to naive optimism. Thanking God restores the natural order of our dependence on God. It enables us to see life as it really is.” Gratitude is at the heart of prayer itself. The mere fact we sinners can approach God, and at the price of Christ’s blood on the cross should make our every prayer one of gratitude. I’ve been to several countries and heard believers pray in their languages, but the one word I always can identify is their word for thanks. May we never “enter His courts” without thanksgiving in our hearts.
- Be evangelistic in prayer
“…pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ…that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.”
In Star Wars: The Last Jedi, there is a scene where Luke Skywalker is able to teleport his body somewhere else and defeat the enemy while actually being somewhere else. Prayer is actually very similar to Skywalker’s teleportation in that when we pray for the Gospel to advance in another place, we are actually assisting it’s spread while not being there ourselves. We ought to pray for open doors, but also clear words so that the Word will spread effectively. One practice we’ve begun to do is to pray, along with about 1,000 others for an unreached people group of the day using the Joshua Project. We can also pray daily for sister churches in our area and for missionaries we know sharing Christ abroad. Our prayers are what early Baptist Andrew Fuller called “holding the rope” for these missionaries, as he held the rope for William Carey serving in India.
- Be serious in prayer
“Epaphras [is]…always struggling on your behalf in his prayers…”
This is what I meant by saying prayer is warfare. In prayer, we struggle. We wrestle with God as Jacob did. We must not view prayer as some casual thing and approach it very nonchalant and lackadaisical. We must pray with vigilance. Jesus spoke of those who would enter the kingdom as those who “force their way into it.” Without this element of striving and straining, prayer becomes just another lifeless ritual. We must learn to pray as those who are speaking to a sovereign who is all-powerful over the universe and who has promised to hear us when we pray.
- Be intercessory in prayer
“…on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.”
Epaphras’ prayer warfare had the purpose of seeing Christ’s church grow to maturity. So often church prayer meetings are nothing more than what one friend called “organ lists” where we ask God to heal this person and that person. But in his book entitled Prayer, Tim Keller points out something remarkable: “In all of his writings, Paul’s prayers for his friends contain no appeals for changes in their circumstances.” Paul and Epaphras give us a model here to pray for the spiritual growth and progress of our church and its members more than merely physical improvement.
These are just a few ways we can pray more effectively and I pray they prove helpful.
Afraid? Of What?
by H. Hamilton
Afraid? Of What?
To feel the Spirit’s glad release?
To pass from pain to perfect peace?
The strife and stain of life to cease?
Afraid? Of What?
Afraid to see the Savior’s face
To hear His welcome, and to trace
The glory gleam from wounds of grace?
Afraid? Of What?
A flash, a crash, a pierced heart;
Darkness, light, O’ Heaven’s art!
A wound of His a counter part!
Afraid? Of What?
To do by death what life could not-
Baptize with blood a stony plot,
Till souls shall blossom from the spot?
In memory of Jack Vinson, Martyr in China, 1931
Truly afraid of what.
These words encapsulate so perfectly the beauty of the Hope of the Christian life. The strengthen that it takes to stand before the guns of man and declare the hope of Christ. The strength to stand when others fall away. It is not our own doing. The strength of the martyrs is the strength of Christ.
I wish to encourage you today with these words as a reflection on the reality that fear truly has no victory in the Christian life. For that which we fear is temporary while the hope of Christ is eternal
What is it we fear so greatly in this life, look to Jesus.
What is it that has us so broken down that we cannot lift our face,
He is the one who lifts up the broken
Our strife and strains are but a blink in the blessed eternity of our savior
The Darkness that seems to surround us will soon in time pass into the beauty of the Son.
For those who have gone before they experience the full blessing of this reality today, and for us in our trials we can look forward to the glory that is to be revealed in that day.
Remember the words of Christ: “I 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.”
The ordinary often gives way to the sensational and if we’re not careful the ordinary is lost by being overlooked. Take for example the “ordinary” gifts of the Spirit. Who prays diligently for the gift of administration or helping (1 Corinthians 12:28)? Who “earnestly desires” (1 Cor. 12:31) the gifts of service, exhortation, generosity, and acts of mercy (Romans 12:6-8)?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you, personally, do not pray for and pursue these gifts but as a whole it has been my experience, both personally and professionally, that if a conversation arises concerning the gifts of the Spirit, tongues, prophecy, healing, and miracles take center stage. Perhaps, and I believe so, this is because they are far more sensation than the ordinary.
Take Luke 4:1-15, the temptation of Jesus, in this same mindset. What may be perceived as ordinary can give way to what may be seen as sensational if we’re not careful. In so doing, we may very well lose sight of one of the most empowering and important aspects of Jesus’ life that is applicable to our own in tremendous measure.
Let me explain:
Three, easily overlooked, ordinary words, describe the extraordinary, some might even say sensational, life of Jesus Christ: “…full…led…power…” (Luke 4:1 & 14; ESV). All three words describe the relationship that Jesus had with the Holy Spirit. Before we evaluate the sensational temptations of Jesus and His perfect victory over sin and Satan, we must understand these three components.
Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit. This adjective describes the ongoing state of being in which Jesus lived His daily life. He did so, and was so, because He always lived in obedience to the Father. Notice the last place we see Jesus before Luke makes this statement (Luke 3:21-22) is identifying with sinful humanity in John’s baptism of repentance even though He had nothing to repent from or to. Why? Matthew tells us exactly why from Jesus own mouth, “…it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Mt. 3:15). No sin meant no need for repentance. No repentance meant no need for baptism…except that this was by the Father’s design that the Second Adam would identify with the First Adam, and all his offspring, that He might become a suitable sacrifice in their (my) stead.
Jesus lived His life full of the Spirit, living with the fulness of the Spirit, because He was always submitted to the will of the Father in active obedience.
Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit. This verb is the grammatical demonstration of the Divine-Human participation in the carrying out God’s will from those who are full of the Spirit. Both Matthew & Mark give us this account/word in its passive form highlighting that Jesus was “thrust or compelled or driven” into the wilderness. Whereas Luke provides this verb in its active form implying voluntary cooperation “to bring, or to carry.”
I believe an accurate word picture could be describe this way: As the Spirit of God drove the Son of God, Jesus yielded voluntarily and cooperated fully. Being full of the Spirit, Jesus yielded voluntarily and cooperated fully to the Father’s will by Spirit’s leading.
Jesus lived in the power of the Holy Spirit. Take note of the connection, “And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit…was led by the Spirit into the wilderness…and Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit…” (Luke 4:1, 14). A life full of the Spirit, being led by the Spirit, will result in living in the power of the Spirit. Where did this power come from? The Spirit. How did Jesus get this power? By a yielded, cooperative, temptation & sin-defeating life through overcoming temptation by the Spirit-inspired Word of God. Jesus wielded spiritual weapons for the spiritual battle (Eph. 6).
Jesus knew God’s Word, God’s plan, God’s Spirit, and never deviated from living for God’s glory.
Christian, we often desire the power of the Spirit. We long for the sensational and overlook the ordinary (especially the ordinary means of grace). A life not full of the Spirit will never be led by the Spirit and will never live in the power of the Spirit.
Perhaps, Satan’s temptation is not “the sensational” in this account. Perhaps, the defeat of Satan and his cunning deceit is the ordinary result of a life completely, and sensationally, surrendered to the Spirit of God. I believe it is. I know I’ve not yet come to live in this state of being, but praise God He’s brought me closer today than five years ago. And I believe five years from now I will be even closer still as the Vinedresser continues to prune me that I might bear more fruit.
I am confident of this: That He who began this good work in me will bring it to completion (Philippians 1:6). Oh Father, fill me your Spirit that I might follow His leading and live in His power, to the praise of your glory!
Throughout my life I remember certain calls. I remember the first time I answered our home phone as a young boy with a timid ‘Hello?’ I remember getting into trouble and having to call my mother from the principal’s office in 1stgrade. I remember God calling me into pastoral ministry in December 2003. I remember the many calls Holly and I exchanged our senior year of college. I remember the Easter Sunday my mother called me to tell me Grandpa had died. I remember the day the elders of SonRise called me to inform me that I’d been chosen to be the next pastor. All of these calls, some hard and some exuberant, mean much to me. I’m sure you could give a list of similar calls that have happened in your life that are meaningful to you as well. But of all the calls we could mention one call matters more than any other – the effectual call of God.
It’s at this point where we encounter a paradox.
Because of God’s predestining love, many people in the world are truly the ‘elect of God’ but still remain dead in sin and without hope. God has chosen them in Christ before the foundation of the world, yet they live as unbelievers, apart from Christ, still rejecting the gospel. How is it then that God brings these chosen ones, how is it that God brings His elect to a saving knowledge of the truth?
The answer according to Scripture is the effectual call.
Or we could say it another way: God’s sovereign election is not the end of the story, it’s merely the beginning. God will lead all of those He has elected in Christ to salvation through Christ and the first step in this process is the effectual call. This is why Paul says in Romans 8:30, ‘And those whom He predestined He also called…’ So first comes the election of God then comes the call of God. And not just any call, but a call that we say is ‘effectual’ because the call itself creates what is not there: life from death, light from darkness, faith from unbelief, salvation from condemnation, and adoption from alienation.
1 Corinthians 1:22-24 says it like this, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
In this passage three groups are present: Jews, Gentiles, and another group Paul refers to as ‘the called.’ Three groups with two very different responses to Christ. Jews demand signs/wonders and upon seeing/hearing of Jesus Christ they conclude Him to be a stumbling block. Greeks (who are Gentiles) were seen as more cultured people than the Jews so rather than seeking powerful signs they sought after wisdom and upon seeing/hearing of Jesus Christ they conclude Him to be folly. This response of unbelief does not surprise us because in the verses leading up to v22-24 we continually read that to the world the cross is foolishness (v18), that it pleased God the world through wisdom cannot find Him or know Him (v21a), but rather God saves those who believe a message which the world sees as foolishness (v21b).
Standing against the unbelief of Jews and Gentiles is the other group, ‘the called.’ We’re introduced to this group in v24 and when these people heard of Jesus Christ they did not think Him to be a stumbling block or folly, no, they held Him to be the very power and wisdom of God. A slow reflection of these three groups and their responses to the gospel prompts us to ask questions: what made the difference? How did the third group recognize Christ as God’s very wisdom and God’s very power while the Jews and Gentiles missed it? The Jews wanted their signs, the Gentiles wanted their wisdom, and ironically the very things that both of these groups were seeking are found together in Christ in the highest degree possible. He is the definition of the power of God…He is the definition of the wisdom of God. What made this last group embrace this and embrace the truth of the gospel while the others rejected it?
Answer: they were called of God.
We see this in the first few words of v24, ‘But to those who are called…’ That’s it. That’s the difference maker. ‘But to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.’ This means the call of God is the very thing which removes our John 3:3 blinders. Anybody recall John 3:3? ‘Jesus said, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you are born again you cannot see the kingdom of God.’’ Because of our sinful nature we cannot see the kingdom of God, we’re blind to the beauty of the gospel by birth, but those who are called, those whom God gives the new birth (that’s what ‘born again’ means) can see power and wisdom in the gospel! They don’t think of the gospel as a small thing that doesn’t have meaning for their life, they think it is life.
Do you? It was the call of God that made this third group in v24 see the truth of who Jesus really is while the rest of the world was blind to it. Thus, the call of God is an effectual call or is efficacious because it brings about the desired effect. The best evidence of true salvation is not having raised a hand or praying a prayer or signing a card or being baptized, attending church, or even serving that church to any capacity. The best evidence of true conversion is the presence of light, warmth, love, and joy in God found in the gospel of Christ saving sinners. This transforms a life, because once God effectually calls you to Himself, you will not remain the same.
What comes to your mind when you hear the term “Calvinist” or “Calvinism” mentioned? For some people, the term represents a theology and a people who are cold, selfish, eggheads, academics, not practical, and isolated. The caricature of Calvinism oozes forth from many people as if being a Calvinist and being a leper were synonymous with one another. As someone who gladly embraces the term (with qualifiers as a Baptist), along with unashamedly declaring the doctrines of grace from the pulpit, it raises a concern that perhaps our zeal apart from love contributes to the scarecrow straw-man constructed by those who oppose Calvinism. A Calvinist must be a man or woman who is a Calvinist all-around. This is play on C.H. Spurgeon’s work An All-Around Ministry where the Prince of Preachers guides young pastors into seeing the many elements that must be a part of ministry. I would suggest a few elements that are needed for us to be all-around Calvinists.
Some might get the impression (fairly and unfairly) that to be a Calvinist requires an oath to reject any type of feelings and emotions in regards to the Christian faith. If one reads just a few Puritan works, the conclusion will be made that this is not true. As I read The Valley of Vision (which you should too) prayers, my heart stirs within me considering the greatness of our God and His grace manifest in the life and work of Jesus Christ. Calvinism fuels true experiential religion built upon the Word of God. In his work The Practical Implications of Calvinism, Pastor Albert N. Martin makes a striking observation: “I submit that a man has no right to speak of being a Calvinist because he can repeat like a parrot phrases brought to him in the great heritage of Reformed literature. He must ask himself, Has the Holy Spirit brought be me to this profound sense of God that has worked in me at least in some measure the grace of humility.” It is not enough for us to systemize if we do not internalize. The doctrines of grace are the marrow for experiential religion for they are anchored to the text of the Bible, beholding the majesty of God, humbling our prideful spirits, and taking us upward to behold the Lamb of God. Is your Calvinism causing you to be a man or woman of biblical, experiential religion? May God help us if our Calvinism causes us to be cold and indifferent! Such an experience would indict us of not truly knowing the doctrines of grace.
An Informed Worldview
Calvinism extends far beyond TULIP and the latest conferences. Biblical and historic Calvinism provides a guide for how to view all of life. A person’s theology better be more than what takes them to corporate worship for an hour on Sunday. In fact, this is one of the great problems of the day. A ritualistic morality is a poor and cheap substitute for biblical Christianity. The great Princeton theologian B.B. Warfield defined a Calvinist in the following way:
He who believes in God without reserve and is determined that God shall be God to him in all his thinking, feeling and willing – in the entire compass of his life activities, intellectual, moral, and spiritual – throughout all his individual social and religious relations, is, by force of that strictest of all logic which presides over the outworking of principles into thought and life, by the very necessity of the case, a Calvinist.
Warfield expands the playing field when it comes to Calvinism as being more than a theological acrostic. Theology can never be impractical due to the fact that doctrine fuels our lives. Each day decisions are made based upon a worldview, a grid for life. Calvinism will influence how you parent, how you relate to your spouse, the way you view your job, politics, and so forth. If Calvinism only comes into play when TULIP is spoken of, then it is not Calvinism but a sort of pragmatism that reigns in the heart and mind of an individual. J.I. Packer beautifully summarizes this in his introductory essay to John Owen’s The Death of Death in the Death of Christ:
Calvinism is a whole world-view, stemming from a clear vision of God as the whole world’s Maker and King. Calvinism is the consistent endeavor to acknowledge the Creator as the Lord, working all things after the counsel of his will. Calvinism is a theocentric way of thinking about all life under the direction and control of God’s own word. Calvinism, in other words, is the theology of the Bible viewed from the perspective of the Bible – the God-centered outlook which sees the Creator as the source, and means, and end, of everything that is, both in nature and in grace. Calvinism is thus theism (belief in God as the ground of all things), religion (dependence on God as the giver of all things), and evangelicalism (trust in God through Christ for all things), all in their purest and most highly developed form. And Calvinism is a unified philosophy of history which sees the whole diversity of processes and events that take place in God’s world as no more, and no less, than the outworking of his great preordained plan for his creatures and his church. The five points assert no more than God is sovereign in saving the individual, but Calvinism, as such, is concerned with the much broader assertion that he is sovereign everywhere.
A Gracious Outlook
Confessing a theology known as the doctrines of grace must impact us in being gracious to others. Sometimes I cringe reading Twitter and seeing how men who I am persuaded are true believers, who call themselves Calvinists, and yet speak to each other in ways that lack any type of grace and charity. Keyboard Calvinism is as dangerous as pragmatism. Calvinism is not a badge to wear for admittance into the cool kids’ club nor is it a club to beat people over the head with. When one gets a true sense of the grace that God has shown, how can that not humble us and guide us in our dealings with others? One of the great concerns I have is that many Facebook and Twitter Calvinists are pragmatists when it comes to their ecclesiology. If you choose where you attend church and are a member at based on pragmatic values, then it does not matter how well you can articulate the doctrines of unconditional election and irresistible grace. One of the greatest changes in my life when I came to understand the doctrines of grace involved how I viewed the local church. If you want to destroy the caricature of cold Calvinism, band together with like-minded believers. The beauty of Calvinism should be seen in gracious cooperation: serve the community like ministering at a children’s home or a nursing home, show grace to one another knowing all of us are feeble human beings who need Christ, and remember that the pilgrimage to Zion is not a road of isolation.
The false dichotomy that states being gracious and compassionate means the absence of convictions and beliefs must be rejected. Our Lord is all-gracious and compassionate yet He is dogmatic and narrow as He declares that He alone is the way, the truth, and the life. Calvinism must be compassionate and convictional. Our theology does matter. Our beliefs do matter. For someone to say that it is not a big deal what one believes concerning God’s sovereignty, man’s depravity, and Christ’s sufficiency moves closer and closer to a false gospel. Further reformation is needed today when it comes to the regulative principle of worship, the perpetuity of the moral law of God, confessionalism, and covenant theology. However, a person can be fervently committed to the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith without being obnoxious about it. In my opinion, no one combined the doctrinal fidelity of Calvinism with experiential religion, powerful evangelism, compassionate ministry, and selfless service like C.H. Spurgeon. Yet, Spurgeon was no ecumenical in the sense of watering down doctrine and theological railing.
Beliefs do matter. Practice does matter. They go hand-in-hand. Calvinism must be convictional and compassionate. I urge you to explore ministries like Ligonier Ministries, Reformation21 of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, Founders Ministries, and Banner of Truth as examples of how Calvinism serves for all of life. I will close with a word from Mr. Spurgeon:
A knowledge of doctrine will tend very much to confirm your faith. Try to understand God’s Word, get a sensible, spiritual idea of it. Get, if you can, a system of divinity out of God’s Bible. Put the doctrines together. Get real, theological knowledge founded upon the infallible Word. Get a knowledge of that science which is most despised, but which is the most necessary of all, the science of Christ and of him crucified, and of the great doctrines of grace…The church needs the doctrines of grace to-day as much as when Paul, or Auguste, or Calvin preached them; the Church needs justification by faith, the substitutionary atonement, and regeneration, and divine sovereignty to be preached from her pulpits as much as in days of yore, and by God’s grace she shall have them, too.
 Albert N. Martin, The Practical Implications of Calvinism. (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1979), 10.
 Ibid., 4.
 See https://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/packer_intro.html for the full essay.
 Tom Nettles, Living By Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles Haddon Spurgeon. (Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2013), 167.
The date was October 31, 1517. The man was the Augustinian monk Martin Luther. In one hand he held a copy of his 95 theses, a treatise he had written to address the various abuses present in the Catholic Church. In the other hand he held a mallet. He desired a conversation to occur about these abuses, he desired repentance, and ultimately longed for a return to the gospel. In an effort to get this conversation started he nailed his theses to the church door in the small town of Wittenberg, Germany.
What happened changed the world.
500 years later, here we are today. Does the reformation still matter? Do the writings of Martin Luther, John Calvin, and the other reformers still apply today? Is there still a need to reform the Church? Are we as Protestants, still protesting? The answer to these questions is a resounding yes. Jonathan Leeman is right when he says there is truly a danger in idolizing the past, there is a greater danger in forgetting the past altogether. So in looking to the past to gain wisdom for today, why did the foundational principle of Sola Scriptura matter so greatly during then and why does it still matter today?
The issue at stake during the reformation was authority.
The Roman Catholic church believed final authority was not in the Scripture but elsewhere. The tradition of the church was believed to be a second source of revelation, and the Pope was viewed as the final authority in all matters of faith and practice. Standing against this belief the Reformers believed the Bible to be the sole source of divine revelation, the only inspired, infallible, final, and authoritative rule for faith and practice. The reformers boldly proclaimed that when Scripture speaks, God speaks. And though Scripture is certainly to be interpreted by the Church, and though tradition is certainly helpful, the Church and its traditions only have authority insofar as they are in line with and underneath the authority the Word of God.
Why again did this matter? The Catholic church, the popes, the cardinals, and councils prohibited the Bible from being translated into the common language. Because the Scripture was kept it in Latin, and because they reserved interpretation only for themselves they were in effect saying this, “We’ll interpret the Bible for you, trust us.” And people did. For years and years people never read the Bible for themselves and simply trusted the Catholic church’s interpretation of Scripture and attended mass even though they couldn’t understand the Latin being used by the priests. Then a few scholars rose up from their own study of Scripture after seeing how wide the gulf really was between the church’s interpretation of Scripture and Scripture itself. John Wycliffe saw this, translated the Bible into English and the Catholic church banned and burned his books. Some years later Jan Hus, a Czech theologian saw similar things, translated the Bible into Czech and was burned at the stake by the Catholic church. Then, in 1483 a little boy was born who would grow up and see the same things. This little boy was Martin Luther. What began as a call to reform the Catholic church in his 95 theses soon developed into a full scale fight against the Catholic church’s wild interpretations of Scripture, the pope’s immoral and luxurious living, and the pressing need to put the Scripture into the hands of the common man. Thus, with pen in hand Luther fought back. Writing hundred’s of books, letters, and treatises on the clear and plain meaning of Scripture…all while translating the Bible into German. For this they excommunicated Luther, labeled him a heretic, and put a price on his head.
Why did Luther do this? Why was he and so many others willing to die for the truth they saw in Scripture? Because the gospel of a long awaited Messiah revealed in the Word of God was hidden from sight, and they labored to reveal it. Pope after Pope had said it’s our own works that gets you into heaven or cast you to hell, yet the reformers saw standing forth in brilliant clarity the Christ, who was born of a virgin, who lived in perfect righteousness, who bore our curse on the cross, who rose and defeated death with His life, who ascended to reign over all things interceded for us. Gospel grace given by God to guilty sinners who then go free! They saw Christ in all of Scripture, and gave their all to preach Christ in all the world.
Now, why does the doctrine of Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) still matter today?
Though we’re no longer held captive by the Vatican, and though we say we believe in the inspiration of Scripture, we do not go to Scripture to see how the Church should run, to see what kind of music we should sing, or to see what kind of preaching we need today, or to see what kind of lives we ought to live. Where do we look to find direction in all these things and more? We look to the world around us and employ modern cultural methods within the Church in an effort to grow the Church and remain relevant in the eyes of our culture. Bottom line?
We have placed authority in the wrong place, just like the medieval church. The brilliant clarity of Christ in the gospel saturated Scripture doesn’t seem to be enough for the Church today. Instead, we resort to culturally hip strategies seeking to tickle the eyes and ears of churchgoers because deep down we don’t think the God of Scripture cannot compete with the world, so we make our churches look like the world to win the world and what happens? We…lose…the gospel.
And so, as the Cambridge Declaration says, “the faithfulness of the reformers in the past contrasts sharply with the unfaithfulness of the Church in the present.”
Clearly, we need reformation still.
Where does reformation begin?
It begins with a return to Sacred Scripture.
“Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; 8 for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:7-8).
I recently read that Olympian Michael Phelps, when competing, would train for 5 -6 hours a day, 6 days a week. He put a lot of time and effort into his Olympic training. It certainly paid off. He has won numerous gold medals and is arguably the greatest Olympian of all time.
We may not be at the level of Michael Phelps, but we regularly train ourselves. We have training at work. We have training at school. We take courses that train us to be financially stable. We go to the gym to train. We go to the soccer field or the basketball court to train. We spend a lot of time training ourselves to better in many areas. These things are good. You will notice that Paul, in the passage above says that, “bodily training is of some value” (v8). There is value to our training. It is good to improve ourselves at work, school, and the soccer field. It is good to go to the gym every now and then. We are called to hard work and to do things well and training is a part of that.
Although Paul says that “bodily training is of some value” you will notice that he says, “godliness if of value in every way” (v8) and therefore he says to “train yourself for godliness” (7). We spend a lot of time training ourselves in many ways, but how often do we train ourselves in godliness? Is this something we even consider?
As a people who have trusted in the gospel of Jesus Christ and have been changed from the inside out our thoughts ought to be on the eternal rather than the temporal (Colossians 3:1). Our desire to be more like Christ should be stronger than our desire to be successful, athletic, good looking, etc. The goal in the life of the believer should not be physical, financial, or mental fitness, but spiritual.
Here are some ways, by the grace of God, that the we can train ourselves in godliness:
- Pray – Jesus told his disciples to “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Mark 14:38) and “Pray then like this… lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:9-13). There is a real correlation between praying and fighting sin. To train in godliness to pray regularly.
- Bible Reading – Paul told Timothy that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16). If we are not regularly reading the Bible, then we are not equipped as for godliness as we could be. To train in godliness is to read God’s Word often.
- Christian Community – The Author of Hebrews writes, “let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25). There is a way that we can be encouraged and stirred on in the Christian life though Christian community that we cannot achieve on our own. To train in godliness is to surround yourself with Christian community.
Of all the hours and ways, we train, let’s be sure that we work in a heavy dose of training in godliness.
This week in my Bible reading plan, I was struck by the repeated references to beholding the glory of God in Christ. I saw unbelievers like Pilate say, “Behold your King!” as he presented Jesus for crucifixion and I saw scenes where Moses beheld God’s glory on burning Mt. Sinai. I saw Zechariah prophesy of Christ’s coming, “Behold your King…how great is his goodness, and how great his beauty!” and I saw David praying, “our eyes look to the Lord our God.” But what stood out the most to me were Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 3:18, where I read, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” All this language of beholding made me take a step back to see what Scripture teaches on this. I discovered 5 steps in the Bible’s argument on this, which may be helpful to you as well…
We were created to behold the glory of God
God says in Isaiah 43:7 that we were created for His glory. But what does it mean to behold God’s glory? It obviously means more than merely seeing it with our eyes. After all, Scripture says we’ll never fully see God’s glory because he is invisible and, “dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see” (1 Tim. 6:16b). Jonathan Edwards says to behold God’s glory is to delight in Him above all else. He says this in his Miscellanies: “God is glorified not only by his glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in…[W]hen those that see it delight in it: God is more glorified than if they only see it.” This was the condition Adam and Eve had in the garden. They enjoyed unhindered fellowship with God. Until that dreadful day when they broke fellowship with God and started beholding the glory of lesser things. This brings us to the next step in the argument…
Sin and Satan have blinded us to God’s glory
Jesus says that we are born spiritually blind because of our sin nature (Jn. 9:39-41). Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:4 that Satan compounds this blindness by actively blinding unbelievers from beholding the light of God’s glory in the Gospel. So not only can they not see God’s glory, but Satan is working to ensure they don’t ever see it. Thankfully, this is where the bad news ends and the good news begins…
God by His Spirit gives us eyes to behold His glory on the cross
The only possible way for the blind to see is by the miraculous touch of the Great Physician. They can’t and don’t want to behold God as glorious until then. As a matter of fact, Jesus said, “People loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed” (Jn. 3:19-20). So then, what needs to happen must be nothing short of Divine intervention. God must impart spiritual eyesight. But how does He do this? Through the preaching of the Gospel. This is precisely what Jesus sent the apostles…and us to do. Paul says Jesus sent him, “to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me” (Acts 26:18). But wait, I thought we already saw how Satan blinds them from seeing the Gospel when it is preached. Yes, but God in His grace, overcomes this blindness through the very Gospel that is preached. Paul says that what God does in the new birth is similar to what He did in creation: He says, “Let there be light” and He shines the Gospel into our darkened hearts (2 Corinthians 4:6). So now that we see Christ’s glory and realize He alone is truly valuable, what do we do from here?
We grow more like Christ as we behold His glory in the Gospel
2 Corinthians 3:18, once again says, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” Becoming requires beholding. Beholding enables becoming. If we want to be more like Christ, we need to behold Christ more. The reason we sin is because we are beholding something else as glorious and not Christ. Paul David Tripp has pointed out, “If we worship our way into sin, we have to worship our way out.” How do we do this? Bible study, prayer, fellowship, humility, meditating on the Gospel. All the various means of grace are avenues God created for us to better behold His glory in the Gospel. If we seek God’s glory in these we will grow in Christlikeness as we behold Him. So then what is next?
One day, we will eternally behold His glory
John Piper puts it this way in his book, God is the Gospel: “Christ did not die to forgive sinners who go on treasuring anything above seeing and savoring God. And people who would be happy in heaven if Christ were not there, will not be there. The gospel is not a way to get people to heaven; it is a way to get people to God. It’s a way of overcoming every obstacle to everlasting joy in God. If we don’t want God above all things, we have not been converted by the gospel.” God, through the preaching of the Gospel, has broken into your blindness to give you a sight of His glory and He now calls you to to an eternity of beholding Him which begins now. If you now see the crucified and risen Jesus as the most satisfying and glorious One of all, then God has given you this. Keep beholding Him in your daily life and be urged on by the future Day when you will behold Christ fully and finally with new eyes. We’ll end with some words from a Sovereign Grace hymn entitled When We See Your Face. Let these words spur you on as you behold Christ in your daily life:
“We will see, we will know
Like we’ve never known before
We’ll be found, we’ll be home
We’ll be Yours forevermore.”
*Anxiety Disorders affect 18.1 percent of adults in the United States (approximately 40 million adults between the ages of 18 to 54). – National Institute of Mental Health
*Of those 40 million people, almost 7 million of them suffer from GAD, with 15 million suffering from social anxiety disorder, 14.8 million suffering from major depressive disorder, and 7.7 million affected by post-traumatic stress disorder- National institute for mental health.
Worries. Pain. Fear. Frustration. Doubt. Stress. Faithlessness. Exhaustion.
All of these words paint vivid pictures of the complexities associated with “anxiety.”
If you are reading this right now, then no doubt you have experienced your fair share of anxiety from time to time. You may have even rented a room in the “Distress District” as of late, due to your workload.
We often feel anxious about our finances: How can we make this month’s bills? How will I be able to fix my aging car if it breaks down? What if I lose my job? How will we put the kids through college? How can we meet our medical bills? How will we ever save enough for retirement? What if the economy fails?
We feel anxious about our health, especially as we grow older: What if I get cancer or Alzheimer’s? What if I’m disabled or have to go into a nursing home? If we’re younger, we may have these same anxieties concerning our aging parents.
We’re anxious about our children: Will they turn out okay? Will they avoid drugs and sexual immorality? Will they be safe in this crime-ridden world? Will they be able to get into college and then get a decent-paying job? Will they marry a godly person and have a happy home? What kind of world will their children have to live in?
The lists could go on and on. Maybe you’re getting anxious just reading this as I give different reasons for anxiety! Sometimes we can’t identify any specific reason for our anxiety, but it’s there, nagging away at our insides. If we don’t learn to deal with it properly, it can cause all sorts of health problems, which in turn feed our anxieties. Few of us are strangers to anxiety. It creeps in over big and little things, gnawing away at our insides.
Someone graphically described anxiety as “a thin stream of fear trickling the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other things are drained” – (Arthur Roche)
Anxiety in the Greek is the word “mermina” which translates as “care or worry,” which comes from the Greek root word, “merminao” which literally means dividing and fracturing a person’s being into parts.”
There’s no wonder that worry and anxiety make us feel like we are literally falling apart.
Anxiety kills faith. Anxiety kills hope. Anxiety limits our devotion to God. Anxiety bogs down our prayer life. Anxiety places a wall between the factual, and the supernatural. Anxiety weakens. Anxiety distorts. Anxiety clouds. Anxiety is not from God. Anxiety is a swift attack on the mind, which then affects the heart, and ultimately affects the body. Anxiety must be understood, dealt with and removed in order to have deep and personal fellowship the Lord.
I love how Dr. Tony Evans puts it: Worrying is interest paid before the trouble is due.
No one in scripture dealt with the reality of worry and anxiety more than the apostle Paul. He is arguably one of the most central figures in the growth of the early church, and an excellent example of how to proclaim the gospel with authority, conviction, passion, zeal and respect. Paul addresses the church in Phillipi while arrested after an incident we’ll read about in acts 16:20.
20 And when they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, “These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city. 21 They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice.”22 The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. 23 And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. 24 Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.”
Here we see Paul suffering at the hands of roman soldiers for what had happened a few verses earlier, driving a demon out of a girl who could for-see the future with demonic possession. Once the magistrates got word that this was taking place, they flogged both him and Silas and put them both in prison.
Paul had worries. I’m sure Paul felt a great deal of anxiety as a church planter, missionary and pastor.
Paul had much to worry about if he were to solely deal with the facts of his constant sufferings, but in the middle of a dark & dungy prison, Paul pens one of the most encouraging letters to believers. The letter to the Philippians. Paul uses what the enemy intended for evil and destruction to encourage believers to seek Christ’s joy in the midst of their most difficult times.
To those who follow Him, Jesus promised, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful” (John 14:27). He spoke those comforting words on the most difficult night He faced on this earth, the night before His crucifixion. Seven times in the New Testament our God is called either the God or Lord of peace. That peace can be the constant experience of every Christian, even in the midst of trials
I want to focus our attention to the passage in Philippians 4:4-13 and draw 4 simple points to live an anxiety free life.
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness[d] be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned[e] and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. 10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
Rejoice in the LORD.
The word “rejoice” means to be conscious and glad for God’s grace. To take it a step further, it literally means to “Hail” or bow down to God as a means to surrender any contrary feeling and subject it to the overwhelming reality of Gods goodness. Experience his joy & goodness and anxiety won’t take much part in our thinking. Notice how paul begins his letter in the fourth chapter, in prison. He says in simple terms: “First of all, you need to rejoice. Start with a spirit of thanksgiving and acknowledge Gods goodness”
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus made it clear that anxiety stems from a lack of faith and from a wrong focus on the things of this world instead of on the kingdom of God (Matt. 6:25-34, especially verses 30 & 33). If we excuse our anxieties by saying, “Well, it’s only human,” or, “Anybody would feel anxious in this situation,” we will not overcome it because we are not confronting the root cause of it, namely, our sin of not believing God and of not seeking first His kingdom and righteousness.
Pray constantly, and consistently. Phil. 4:6-7 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Paul says do not be anxious about anything. This shows us that the very act of worry and living in worry are sins! He’s not making a pledge here, or 5 steps to a better life. No. What he’s implying is that the key to even begin to rejoice in the Lord is found in the secret room of your prayer life.
Proverbs 15:8 says: The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord,
but the prayer of the upright is acceptable to him. It literally pleases the Lord when we take part in continual prayer, it is our very fuel for the journey. Fuel your spirit with constant communication with the Lord! Constant! The promise is that HIS peace will be with you! This means that when it comes to the matter of dealing with our anxiety, we must, at the outset, confront our motives for even wanting to have peace. If our reason for wanting to be free from anxiety is so that we can live a peaceful, pleasant life, our focus is self-centered and therefore wrong. There are many people who come to Christ because they are anxious and they want the peace He offers. But if they do not confront the fact that they are living to please themselves rather than God, they will simply settle into a self-centered life where they “use God” for their own peace and comfort. Jesus said, “Whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s shall save it” (Mark 8:35). The peace Christ offers is the by-product of enthroning Christ as Lord and living for His kingdom. Saints, we must pray constantly & consistently.
When Paul says to make our requests known “to God,” the Greek word means “face to face with God,” to come directly before Him. This means that when we pray, we must stop to remember that we are coming into the very presence of the holy God, where even the holy angels cover their faces and cry, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts” (Isa. 6:3). Yes, He welcomes us into His presence as a father welcomes his children. Through our High Priest, the Lord Jesus, God invites us to draw near with confidence to the throne of grace to receive mercy and grace to help in time of need (Heb. 4:16). But we must remember that it is to the throne of the universe, to the Sovereign, Eternal God that we come.
This means, of course, that we must always examine our hearts and confess and forsake all sin when we come to God in prayer. The psalmist says, “If I regard wickedness in my heart, the Lord will not hear” my prayers (Ps. 66:18). But we also have the assurance that if we confess our sins, the blood of Jesus is sufficient to cleanse us (1 John 1:7, 9).
Meditate on The Word. Phil. 4:8-9 8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned[e] and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you”
The God of peace will be with us when we truly learn to meditate on his word. (Ps. 119:9-16) This is an ongoing issue in the church. We are hearers of the word, but not many of us are doers. The issue lies with our lack of meditation in the Word. I personally know many people who can spit out Bible verses left and right but live their lives in constant worry, fear and anxiety. Sound like an oxymoron? That’s because it is! The bible is not a book of useful historical information. You and I are not historians merely scrounging around the texts trying to fit geographical/ historical issues together. You and I should recognize the bible for what it is; the unique story of redemption where we are united to a Holy God through the finished work of Christ. It is in his word that we get the nourishment for our souls, how to pray to our loving Father, how to appreciate and worship our redeemer how to live in holiness and oneness with God, and how to live a life full of spiritual victory over the powers and principalities of the airs! If you are living in worry and defeat, the bible is here to remind you to STOP!
Remember whom you serve: .Phil.4:11-13 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
Note that this peace stands guard like a sentry over our inner person, our hearts (the comprehensive term for our whole person) and minds (specifically, our thoughts which threaten to trouble us) in Christ Jesus. We are in intimate, permanent union with Him, and to get to us, anxiety must go through Christ Jesus!
So what God promises isn’t just a quick fix, where prayer is a technique that will bring you calm until you get through the crisis. Paul is talking about an ongoing, deepening, intimate relationship with the God of peace, where you seek to please Him with all your thoughts, words, and deeds. In a time of trial, you draw near to the God of peace, you focus on His grace to you in Christ Jesus, you pour out your heart to Him, and the result is, His peace stands guard over your heart and mind. Remember whom you serve! Do you know God’s peace in the midst of situations that the world gets anxious about? If not, examine yourself: Is your faith in Him and your focus on His kingdom, rather than on selfish pursuits? Have you drawn near to God in reverent, specific, thankful prayer? You can put your full weight down on Him, and He will bear you up and give you His indescribable peace. It makes the flight so much more enjoyable!
Words from Jesus:
And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?[g] 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
Camel hair, wild honey, Hell-fire and brimstone…If you’re reading this post then you know exactly who I’m referencing; John the Baptist.
Pastor’s today, including me, could (and should) learn a lot from this wilderness preacher. Granted, his office and calling are different than ours given that his coming was prophesied of hundreds of years in advance, his conception was miraculous, and he was filled with the Holy Spirit from birth but it is from his ministry and preaching that we can learn and grow.
One Hit Wonder
John had one message, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mt. 3:2). It’s not that this is the only line he preached but that this was the central message every time he addressed the crowds. This was John’s task “to make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (Lk 1:17). This was it…He had no other material; like Deep Blue Something singing “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, John only had one tool in his tool-belt.
But did you notice that the people flocked to John?
One Offensive Preacher
We don’t really have much, by design, about exactly what John said when he preached but what we do have wouldn’t fit very well into the “Church Growth Model”, the “Seeker Sensitive Model”, or a “Felt Needs” emphasis. He didn’t mince words or try to be crafty, indirect, or politically correct. “You brood of vipers! Who warned you of the wrath to come” (Lk. 3:7)? is not exactly the “Softly and Tenderly” approach we most often see today.
But did you notice that the people flocked to John?
One Pointed Preacher
John’s preaching was personal. He addressed not only specific people groups and occupations but specific sins that needed to go. John’s preaching was political. He addressed the rulers of his day and called them to repentance, publicly, for their specific sins (without fear of losing his 501c3). And John’s message was always pointed at holiness.
First, his preaching was pointed at the Holy One, himself, Jesus Christ. From “I am not worthy to untie” (Lk. 3:16) his sandals to “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29). John was not concerned with how he was viewed in the public eye but that his hearers knew who the Christ was and that He alone could save them.
Second, his preaching was pointed at personal holiness as the evidence of regeneration. In short, if repentance from sin meant that your life would be marked by godliness, holiness, or Christ-likeness as we might say today, then if that was missing John warned clearly of the “unquenchable fire” that awaited you. Apart from a life marked by holiness, there was no evidence of salvation and it was not words that would convince John but your walk.
But did you notice that people flocked to John?
Our Pulpits Today
Why did people flock to John? Plainly, because they can have their ears tickled anywhere, and they actually do everywhere. Inherently, humanity knows we need to make right the wrongs, serve up justice, and that we’re going to be judged by God. People can have their ears tickled during TV commercials, what they need is to know the Truth; and we know it!
In spite of John’s singular message, as offensive as it was, and as unpopular as it was to those who were not concerned with living for YHWH, it was effective! It was effective! It was effective!
The message of the Gospel is a one hit wonder, it is an offensive message, it is personal, & it, always and only, points one to Christ with the assured result of holiness. The Gospel is the power of God to salvation…I think I’ve read that somewhere.
Our pulpits don’t need new and exciting, fresh and relevant, contemporary additions to draw in the new age. Our pulpits need the Gospel; unadulterated, unfiltered, strong, and without apology.
May we, pastors and laity alike, be found by God to be more like John, committed to the One who gave us the message and unconcerned with making the message palatable for those who need that same message that saved us!
In College I once had an Honor Seminar on the classics of Literature throughout time and culture. In one of these classes I was introduced to Bonaventure’s The Journey of the Mind to God first published in the 13th century. In this text we began to unpack the reality of the medieval churches fathers and the thoughts they had on experiencing God and experience God along Life’s journey. For Bonaventure he understood himself to be a sinner unworthy of God’s glory and grace first and foremost, and because he was a sinner he began first to see God in the world around him and in the mercy that was seen in his own life. Thus, from seeing the mercy of God on his own life he then move forward into creation and into all that was around him, which lead him to ponder greater things about who God was and what God was doing in this Journey and as such he came to a greater understanding of God. Over the course of seven quick chapters Bonaventure takes us on a journey from the world around us to the depths of Scripture, to God’s name, to God’s gracious gifts, to the reality of His love for his saints and most importantly for His Son. Alas this text is far from perfect but I wanted to begin with this quick thought for it reminded me of another great journey to knowing and experiencing God provided in the scriptures, specifically in the Psalter.
For the past few years the men of SonRise have been working through the book of Psalms and as we came back off summer break we once again reengaged in this text, specifically teaching through the Psalms of Ascent (120-134). For many of you maybe you’ve never even realized that this book within a book was there. The Psalms were meticulously ordered, compiled, and placed in this beautiful hymnbook for us through the work of the Spirit and throughout the history of the faith to be an encouragement, a rebuke, and a challenge to be led deeper into the reality of knowing and worshiping God. So as we journeyed through the Psalms we came upon these 15 Psalms grouped together to lead us on a journey from exile to our Home Praise God.
So with that in mind I wanted to draw our attention to three specific ways these Psalms remind us of our journey home.
- It reminds us of our beginning
In Psalm 120 the author speaks of the yearning to be with the people of God. He speaks about his longing for the peace of God for all around him he is surrounded by words of war. He is surrounded by arrows and violence, but he knows that there is hope before him in God. Thus, the Psalms of Ascent begin with the yearning for the peace of God. It is a cry in a parched desert for water, and prayer that we quickly see realized as the page turns and we quickly come to the hills of Jerusalem in Psalm 121. Here we see that God lifts up our eyes and leads us to cry “where does my help come from” my help comes from; the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. Here the opening two Psalms draw our attention to the reality of our salvation. They remind us that we were once far off in war and in misery surrounded by the flesh and yet when the Lord interceded he lifted up our eyes and we saw from where our help and comfort came from, it did not come from ourselves but it came from the Lord. We must never forget where our journey began. It began in the muck in the mire of sin, and was not are doing that drew us out of the pain that surrounded us, it was not our strength that drew forth our feet from the mud, it was Christ who pulled us out, it was the mercy of God that set us free. So to truly understand our journey to God we must begin by understanding that it is He who set us on the journey, it is He who made it possible, it is He who paved the way, for Paul reminds us in Ephesians that is he who prepared the works that we are to walk in. We are but the beneficiaries of his good gift, for it is He who lifted up our eyes in the desert lands to see his beauty.
- It reminds us of our present situation
The second reality these Psalms reveal to us is that it is not just the Lord who saved us, but it is the Lord who sustains us. The continuation of the Journey reminds us daily of the mercy of God as we cry to Him. We are reminded that are present state is not free from sin but that in our cries for Mercy he is merciful. The Lord will be gracious to us in our sin for it is only He who brings us victory over sin and death. It is He who protected us and guided us we have done nothing to earn or deserve such gifts. Therefore, when we see the mighty hand of God sustaining our lives we can say as Psalm 125 says “Those who trust the Lord are like Mount Zion which cannot be moved.” When we see the Lord for what He has done, and what He is doing our faith should be strengthened and reinforced knowing that it is He who has done great things and it is He who will continue to do great things on the journey home. So whether our present situation be joy or distress we know that God is good and will be glorified through it. So for those who are in joy they may sing the first stanza of Psalm 126 “the Lord has done great things,” and for you who mourn you may sing the second stanza “knowing that he who goes out weeping bearing the seed for sowing shall come home with shouts of joy bringing his sheaves with him.” For both situations we know that it is God who is building the house through joy and through suffering. He is building us into the image bearers of His Son.
- It reminds us of our future blessing
Lastly, the concluding sections remind us of our future blessing. Here we are reminded of the Lord’s steadfast covenant love for His people. Our “soul will wait for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning.” Our souls will yearn for the Lord who has not marked our iniquities against us, but has given us grace in His Son, and in His Son a family. As the Psalms of Ascent wind to an end, they remind us of not only the blessings of the grace of God, but in the family he has brought us into; for we sing here of how majestic it is that brothers dwell in unity. We are reminded of the wonder and majesty of the church now assembled in part and yet in future assembled as one before the throne of God. Here it is brought to a dramatic conclusion as we enter into the beautiful picture of the saints lifting their hands to the holy place, singing the name of the Lord by day and by night for He has made heaven and earth, He drew us out of the desert and gave us a home, gave us a people, gave us a name, and he alone gave us true life. All of which we did not deserve. All of which is by His merciful hand and so from understanding our future blessing we are reminded of our broken beginning and the God who put it all in motion and sustains us until the end.
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:
- 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.” Not only does Packer bring the cookie jar off the shelf but he explains to you why it matters that he does so.
- 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.” 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.
- 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.
- 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.
 J.I. Packer, Knowing God. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973), 19.
 Ibid., 48.
 Ibid., 37.
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.
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.
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.
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.