We do what is important to us. In Jesus’ parable of the Great Banquet (Luke 14:15-24) we read about a man who is hosting a great banquet and invites many to participate. When the time… More
But God………Two words that can bring live from death. Two words that in the midst of sorrow, weeping, and hurt we may find comfort. Two words that should shock us from our complacency. Two words that put everything into perspective. Just two words that change everything.
Over the course of my walk with God these two words have continually resonated in the back of my head. These words I first fully encountered in Ephesians 2:4 resonated that in the midst of my sinfulness and willfully life of sin, He entered into the picture and transformed me. He did a work I could not accomplish, He, in the midst of my depravity, brought new life, a heart of stone replaced by a heart of flesh. There is beauty in the realization that God is at work and it is He who can change the darkest of nights to the brightest of days. However, as we travel through the scriptures the reality is far greater and the work of God is far more than simply found in taking his own out of the dominion of darkness and bringing us home. There are many places throughout the scriptures that reflect on the But God nature of events. I wanted to explore the two ends of these today Judgment and salvation.
But God…..Will judge the Wicked
Why do you boast of evil, O mighty man?
The steadfast love of God endures all the day.
Your tongue plots destruction,
like a sharp razor, you worker of deceit.
You love evil more than good,
and lying more than speaking what is right. Selah
You love all words that devour,
O deceitful tongue.
But God will break you down forever;
he will snatch and tear you from your tent;
he will uproot you from the land of the living.
One of the remarkable things about the Old Testament is its continually reminders that those who choose wickedness and pursue destruction will find God is not to be mocked and the life they have desired will find its completion in destruction. There is a warning here in the Psalter to check our hearts and lives. The steadfast love of God is evident and apparent, but do we respond to this or do we deep down spurn it, do we do as Paul warns us not to do and sin all the more so that grace may abound. God is not mocked. God’s loving kindness is steadfast, but He will judge.
These verses should wake us up when we slumber, not that we should not rest in the grace and love of our God, but that we should not pursue wickedness because of this grace. God is not to be mocked, scorned or presumed upon. Does our walk reflect the reality of our love for God? Is our speech reflective of one transformed by the gospel or is it filled with deceit and evil? But God……Will break you down forever. This is a truly humbling song one that should make us stop in our tracks and reflect back on our God, remember his steadfast love that endures and cling to Him.
But God….Will Save & Preserve
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
From reflecting on the reality that sin deserves punishment from God, and that God is not blind to our facades, we see now the incredible mercy of God. In Romans, we are reminded of the price Christ paid to free us from the bonds of our sinfulness. Our wickedness deserved punishment. We were the ungodly walking in darkness forsaking God, deserving of the judgment stored up for us and our sin, yet the Lord in His steadfast love made a new and better way for His own. We were His enemies and the judgement and wrath was stored up against us because of our sin, yet now those whom Christ has transformed, the wrath has subsided against us for it has all been poured out on Christ. He has absorbed the wrath and in so doing given us new life, that those who are His no longer reflect the spirit found in Ps 52, they have been reconciled with God and no longer live in fear, but rather in repentance.
If the first “but God” causes us to stop, reflect, repent and seek God, the second should lead us to praise and proclaim the goodness of our God. If in hearing the first warning of God’s wrath to come, your heart is hardened and inclined towards sin all the more that should be a warning that the second reality may not have taken place. A heart set free from sin is one that owns its forgiveness. It is broken by its sin, it is grateful for its savior, and awestruck that the one and perfect God would sacrifice himself for a wretched sinner. The second realization doesn’t lead to perfection, but it leads to praise of who God is, a striving after him daily in love for all He has done, and a desire to proclaim that truth to others.
The term “but God” appears throughout scripture showing us and reminding us that what appears on the outside as one thing is not always the true reality. It reminds us that God is the one who is sovereign and in control. It is He who judges, it is He who sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous alike, it is His design and order that is at work even when we don’t understand, and ultimately it is from that design and order we have experienced newness of life. We live because of the “but God”s of scripture. We have breath because of God’s goodness and mercy, and for those in Him we have reconciliation because of His work and His alone.
It seemed like day after day the Lord continued to remind me that I am but a cog in the machine of His incomprehensible plan. This was my most recent experience in the jungle of Peru; let me explain:
I have been afforded, by God’s grace, the greatest “job” in the entire world. Often times, my heart is torn between missions and pastoral ministry but recently our little country church has partnered with one American missionary and an evangelical seminary in Peru to plant a church in an under-reached region in the Amazonian high-jungle of Peru. This has given me the joy of proclaiming Christ both at home and abroad.
After an exploratory trip in July of 2018 where the Lord united us with a Peruvian church planter, pastor, and Bible translator, we began the work in September. It was February/March of 2019 when the Lord allowed me to see just a glimpse of what He is doing.
God Brought More to the Work, Even When We Thought We Were Alone
After inviting some churches in the States to join us in this endeavor, we received no response. Needless to say, we were disappointed but our Elders and congregation believed we had discerned the Lord’s will rightly and we pressed on. But it wasn’t until we arrived for our first night of services that the Lord allowed me to see just a glimpse of what He had been doing.
For a fledgling church of 16 believers (mostly new converts), 70-80 people at our first night of worship services was a little surprising. “Had the community come out in force to see what was going on? Had the Lord saw fit to grow their number since my last report? Where did all these people come from?”
In spite of my perceived failures in raising up an army of local churches from the U.S. to join us in this work, the Lord had already raised up an army of Peruvian churches. What a joy to worship Christ with brothers and sisters from five different Peruvian churches, some local and some from hundreds and hundreds of miles away, who were all invested in making Christ known! We were not alone in the work; God was raising up churches in both North and South America to declare the glories of Christ!
God Provided, Even Where We Didn’t Know We Had Needs
It was incredible to see; really. The Lord provided medical staff, Spanish speakers, and evangelists for our team that we didn’t know we needed; both from the States and from Peru.
Through no effort on our part, the Lord provided additional medical support for our team that we thought would be a “bonus.” Turns out, we desperately needed the extra American and our medical mission would have treated, at least, 50% less people than we were able to were it not for her.
The Lord also provided an additional Peruvian pastor and his wife to help share the Gospel with the community and our patients that we didn’t know we would need. The community’s response to the medical campaign left us without adequate support in sharing the Gospel; the whole purpose of coming. But God knew what we did not and provided for our needs before we knew they were ever there.
And on top of that, a last minute addition to the team came by way of an OB who is a Peruvian national that had been praying for years that God would allow her to serve alongside of her husband, one of our translators, on the mission field. She added medical expertise without the need of a translator, inside help with pharmacies, and also a joy in the Lord that was irreplaceable helping to make our time serving the Lord that much sweeter. Turns out, we were an answer to her prayers and she was answer to ours. Isn’t God good?
God Has Healed, Even Where We Didn’t Know Healing Was Needed
It was here where I saw God’s supernatural work more than anywhere. Our national pastor and his wife (both of whom are in their 70’s) left their farm, their home, and their family to take the Gospel where it was not being proclaimed. With no home, no income, and no church they left everything to take the Good News to those who desperately need it.
This uncommon faith caused a fracture in their family. Some of their children supported and encouraged them and others thought it too risky and foolish at their age. Satan saw a foot-hold and seized the opportunity to sow division and strife in a family committed to the glory of God. They wept holding their faces in their hands and they poured their hearts out to us.
But through local, national, and international support God provided for the pastor and his wife. Today, the Lord has provided a home, a modest income, support in ministry and most importantly new life in Christ in the community. It is through God’s obvious provision and faithfulness that the family has been reconciled and the Lord has brought restoration and healing in a once fractured family.
In short, God is doing more than we thought. He’s doing more than we knew. But, in His grace, He has allowed us/me just a glimpse into what He’s doing and I cannot but stand back, admire His glory, and worship.
I’m just a cog in the machine of God’s glory but every once in a while the Maker opens up the machine, takes a peak inside, and shows this cog just how beautiful He is and it makes me want to “cog a little better.”
Pray for Peru. Pray for Lamas. Pray for Pastor Alfonso and Norma. Pray for Eldred Baptist Church. And finally, pray for me.
Soli Deo Gloria
I was recently asked to write out a summary of what I believe. My immediate thought was something like “What? How in the world could I do that briefly? Is it even possible to do so?” Upon further thought I began to come around to the idea thinking it’d be a good exercise for me to state succinctly what I believe. After all if I cannot state it briefly do I really know it? Normally I’d encourage a more lengthy statement on each of the following paragraphs, but for me this proved to be an encouragement.
What follows is what I wrote out. Be sure to note, this is not the totality of what I believe, but it does form an adequate summary. May it encourage you and lead you to deeper study and stronger praise of the God we love.
1) Doctrine of God: it all starts here. If we move ahead too quickly we have no foundation. That God is, and that God is holy, holy, holy ought to be the foundation of all our theology. He is ever three and ever one – He has graciously revealed Himself in the book of creation and the grander book of Scripture – He is independent, being the sole Creator and source of all things – nothing comes to pass apart from His providence – He is incomprehensible yet knowable – He is immutable yet mobile – He is wrathful and jealous – He is merciful and gracious – and He alone is wise. This is our God.
2) Doctrine of Man: That the doctrine of man comes after the doctrine of God is appropriate, for man comes from and lives all his life before the face of God. In his original state man was made in the image of God, immortal and the highest creature in all of creation. In his fallen state man fell from our original condition into ruin, misery, and spiritual/physical death. Still in the image of God but now marred from sin, man is born under the judgment and wrath of God being creatures at enmity with God, who now live a life totally affected from our sin. In our redeemed state man is brought into peace with God and enjoys having the very peace of God, through Christ. Having been sinners who could do nothing but sin, being redeemed enables man to grow in holiness and communion with God, while we look forward to being with Him one day forever where sin will no longer be a reality.
3) Doctrine of Christ: being true God He became true Man, born of the virgin Mary, lived a perfect righteous life, suffered under Pontius Pilate, died on the cross bearing God’s wrath in our place as our substitute, laid in a tomb, rose three days later defeating the world – the flesh – and the devil, appeared to many, and ascended to heaven to rule and reign at the Father’s right hand, from which He’ll come again to judge the living and the dead, ushering in His kingdom in full. He is our true Prophet, our true Priest, and our true King.
4) Doctrine of the Spirit: Hovering over the waters of creation the Spirit of God brings the work of new creation by applying the work of Christ to the hearts of the elect. Delighted among the community of the Trinity, the Spirit reveals who God is through His inspired Scriptures, regenerating, enlightening and illuminating the elect, enabling them to repent and believe the gospel, He applies, sanctifies, nourishes, gifts, keeps, and ripens His fruit within God’s people.
5) Doctrine of Salvation: From before time began, God, has given some grace to all men and given all grace to some men. In an everlasting covenant, God has saved His elect. How? He predestined them, called them, regenerated them, granted them repentance and faith, justified them, adopted them, brought them into union with Him, is now sanctifying them, and will one glorify them. All of this is done through Christ and applied to the hearts of the elect by the Spirit. There are no dropouts in this golden chain found in Romans 8:29-30. This is also wondrously summarized in Eph. 1:3-14, where we see all three Persons in the Trinity active: the Father planning and choosing, the Son redeeming, and the Spirit applying and sealing.
6) Doctrine of the Church: being the fulfillment of Old Testament Israel, the New Testament Church is the body, building, and bride of Christ. A people pursued and purchased by Christ’s blood that are to be zealous for good works. A people who are marked out in this world by their right worship, right preaching, right practice of the sacraments (Baptism dealing with entrance into the visible church and the Lord’s Supper dealing with ongoing covenant renewal), and right exercise of discipline. This people is led by called and qualified elders and deacons, and is now on mission in this world with the message of Christ the King; who not only rules over this world but will one day fully bring His kingdom into this world. The Church isn’t perfect but it is the dearest place on earth, the epicenter of God’s activity in this world, and a foretaste of heaven.
7) Doctrine of Last Things: One day, just as Christ ascended bodily to rule and reign He will return bodily to make all sad things untrue. There is no secret rapture of the Church, but only two advents: the first in His incarnation and the second in His consummation. His return will be the finale of this life, as all will stand bodily before the judgment seat of Christ, from which He will usher the Church into the eternal glory in the New Heavens and New Earth and cast the wicked into eternal torment in hell. On this day sin’s very presence will be removed forever and God will dwell with His people and be their God, and they as His people will be enthralled by His Holy-Holy-Holy presence forevermore.
Is there still a reason why Roman Catholicism and Protestantism cannot just get along and unite together to create one, unified communion setting aside all previous differences? After all, can an event taking place 500 years ago really continue to bear any type of relevance in the lives of ordinary people in the 21st century? D.G. Hart’s “Still Protesting: Why the Reformation Matters” sounds a clarion call that evangelicals need to hear today. While the church might be removed from the days of Luther and Calvin by a few centuries, the doctrinal chasm between Rome and Protestants still stretches wide. Hart critiques the shallow theological views of Protestants that allows them to conclude that the differences today are not that sharp. Hence, the Reformation of the 16th century no longer matters to the church in the 21st century. Hart’s book walks through key soteriological and ecclesiological differences between Protestants and Rome. In “Still Protesting,” Hart masterfully exhibits the core tenets adopted by Rome in the Counter-Reformation are still binding to this day. The Reformation is not over.
“Still Protesting” begins by dealing with statements made by Protestants who have converted to Roman Catholicism over the last few decades. These individuals’ common refrain upon their leaving Protestantism centers upon a mixture of Rome providing stability, history, and unity. Hart’s book takes on these statements by proving that the historical objections raised by Martin Luther, John Calvin, and others are, for the most part, still valid and legitimate. Further, Rome can claim neither stability and unity in the face of their own history as well as the changes that have happened and continue to happen to this day. Hart equips modern evangelicals to see what are the differences as well as give pause to Protestants contemplating union with Rome.
The first chapter of “Still Protesting” provides an overview of the historical context in which the Reformation arose. Hart briefly walks through the situations that arose prompting men like Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin to become the chief Reformers who laid down the foundational stones of Protestantism. Hart notes that Rome eventually responded with the Council of Trent rejecting all that the Protestants put forward but giving no real adequate response to the issues raised by the Reformers. “The result is that Roman Catholicism, even to the day, has not responded to the Protestant Reformers other than to reject the original tenets of Luther and Calvin” (28). Hart notes that movements in the late 1990s did not really testify to unity theologically between Rome and Protestants. These movements sadly bore witness that many Protestants were so shallow doctrinally that the issues of the 16th century no longer mattered to them regardless of Rome’s failure to change biblically at all.
Hart walks through issues related to “Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone)” as well as the gospel. Hart does an excellent job of utilizing the primary sources of men like Luther and Calvin when it came to the role of the Bible in the church, how worship should be oriented, and justification by faith alone due to the imputed righteousness of Christ alone. This book serves as a wonderful, precise exposition of why Protestants opposed the sale of indulgences and how that factored into Rome’s distorted view of the gospel. Hart summarizes the heart of Protestant gospel theology this way: “The only way that believers can stand innocent before God on judgment day is by wearing the garments of Christ’s perfect righteousness. That was the insight and achievement of the Protestant Reformation” (61). Hart presses forward with how the corruption of the gospel with the sale of indulgences tied into the unbiblical hierarchy of Rome centered upon the doctrines of papal succession and papal infallibility. Hart walks the reader through how these views were ironed out over time primarily due to the political scene in Europe. The reader can easily detect how the papacy had little to do with Peter and more to do with political power and luxurious prestige.
The chapter that most intrigued me as well as that I found very beneficial was Hart’s chapter entitled “Vocation: Spirituality for Ordinary Life.” Hart unpacks the Protestant understanding of the priesthood of all believers as well as how our vocational calling is a means to worship God. Drawing from the writings of Luther and Calvin, Hart shows how Protestantism’s advocating of justification by faith alone in Christ alone refers not just to a moment in our conversion and then is to be forgotten. This precious doctrine impacts how ordinary life is carried out. Whether it be the baker, the carpenter, or the mother at home raising her children, for one who is clothed in righteousness of Christ, the ordinary is quite extraordinary in how their vocational calling provides opportunity to honor God. Hart ties in some of these themes in a later chapter dealing with how Rome and Protestants view architecture different when it comes to the corporate worship of God.
Hart finishes the book by examining the false and misleading attacks on Protestantism as being the source of division and modernity as well as being the new kid on the block. Each of these criticisms of Protestantism falls flat when the real history of the church is laid out showing that Rome’s attacks might be neat clichés but fall woefully short of being accurate. Hart gives an overview of the 2nd Vatical Council revealing how this event contradicts much of what Protestants state is their reasoning for converting to Catholicism as well as contradicting what are the supposed pillars of Roman Catholicism: stability and unity. The conclusion is a masterful exposition of how Protestants and Rome view sainthood differently. This is a fitting conclusion that reinforces earlier statements regarding Protestant views on the Bible, the gospel, and the church.
Hart provides an excellent resource for pastors and laymen alike to combat the charge that the Reformation is over. One critique that I would raise is that Hart did not provide a further resources section in this book so that readers could explore these topics in more depth. Hart quotes contemporary Roman Catholic sources but did not cite any Protestant theologians who would be in agreement with him concerning the need to still see the Reformation as ongoing. This would have bolstered his case in some areas. However, those critiques aside, this book is definitely a book you should purchase and read. “Still Protesting” will remind you of why you are a Protestant and why you should remain a Protestant!
As Christians, we love the Bible. Many of us even have quite the collection—from that old King James Bible we used as a kid, to that new ESV Journaling Bible we received as a gift. One of the first apps we download on a new mobile device (whether out of devotion or guilt) is usually a Bible app. We love posting Bible verses on social media, sharing typography that moves us or a landscape that captures the beauty of a psalm. And while we know that some of the Old Testament and Revelation can be hard to grasp, for the most part we believe that all Scripture is profitable for our spiritual growth. So, we make it a point to read our Bible(s) often.
Superstition Ain’t the Way
Yet when we actually sit down to read the Bible, we often do so in a way that is all wrong, and even dangerous. We might say that Scripture is “God’s Word,” but we easily forget that behind the sixty-six books and forty-or-so different authors who wrote across a period of over 1500 years stands one divine Author telling one glorious story. J. I. Packer explains:
“When you read a book, you treat it as a unit. You look for the plot or the main thread of the argument and follow it through to the end. You let the author’s mind lead yours. . . . You know that you will not have understood it till you have read it from start to finish. If it is a book you want to master, you set aside time for a careful, unhurried journey through it.
“But when we come to Holy Scripture, our behavior is different. To start with, we are in the habit of not treating it as a book—a unit—at all; we approach it simply as a collection of separate stories and sayings. We take it for granted that these items represent either moral advice or comfort for those in trouble. So we read the Bible in small doses, a few verses at a time. We do not go through individual books, let alone the two Testaments, as a single whole. We browse through the rich old Jacobean periods of the King James Version or the informalities of the New Living Translation, waiting for something to strike us. When the words bring a soothing thought or a pleasant picture, we believe the Bible has done its job. We have come to view the Bible not as a book, but as a collection of beautiful and suggestive snippets, and it is as such that we use it. The result is that, in the ordinary sense of ‘read,’ we never read the Bible at all. We take it for granted that we are handling Holy Writ in the truly religious way, but this use of it is in fact merely superstitious.”[i]
The Bible Tells a Story
The Bible is not simply a collection of motivational sayings or unrelated stories. God did not give us a box of inspired fortune cookies to dig through and crack open, ignoring what seemingly doesn’t apply to us and acknowledging only what makes us feel good inside. He gave us a book to read—a book that tells a story.
The Bible is the story of God’s saving acts in history to redeem sinners and restore all things for his glory. It is the story of a King and his kingdom. It is a story that begins at the very beginning of history, ends at the very end of history, and explains everything in between. “It is a single, coherent story, planned and executed and recorded by a single omnipotent, omniscient God.”[ii] And it is a story of grace that is ultimately centered on the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Yes, there are several different literary styles that make up the story of Scripture, but it is still telling one story of redemption. Yes, it is a collection of books composed by many human authors, but it is still the inspired word and the self-revelation of one divine Author. Once we begin to approach the Bible with this understanding—and with the eyes of our hearts enlightened by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:18; Rom. 12:2; 2 Cor. 4:6)—we will begin to read the Bible as it ought to be read.
Take Up and Read!
So, how do we put this understanding into action? First, it means actually reading the Bible through from cover to cover. Begin to familiarize yourself with God’s story of redemption. When you’ve finished, do what you do when you come to the end of your favorite television show or your favorite record album: go through it again! Sometimes it’s good to go slowly through the Bible, mining all of the riches we can out of each and every verse. But “binge-reading” the Bible can be just as fruitful.
Second, remember that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the main theme that unites the whole of Scripture together. Don’t get discouraged when reading about the borders of the twelve tribes in Joshua or the bizarre imagery in Ezekiel. Instead, keep your eyes on Jesus and the primary themes that run throughout the Bible: promise and fulfillment, creation and new creation, faith and obedience, sin and sacrifice, offspring and kingdom, and so on. You may not understand how every part of Scripture relates to the whole the first time through, but as you prayerfully keep your focus on the gospel of Jesus Christ, you will slowly but surely grow in your understanding and appreciation of God’s holy word.
Third, take advantage of your church’s teaching ministries (assuming you attend a Bible-preaching, gospel-centered, Christ-exalting church). Attend Sunday School classes; sit under the preaching of the word every week; join a small group Bible study. Additionally, go to your pastor(s) with your questions and concerns! Instead of doing a Google search, ask your pastor about any books or Bible reading plans that he recommends. He is a devoted student of Scripture and spends every day familiarizing himself with the story of redemption for your benefit. He prays for you and knows you better than some other guy’s blog ever will.
And fourth, rinse and repeat as necessary. Take up and read!
[i] J. I. Packer, “The Plan of God,” in God’s Plan for You (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2001), 18–19.
[ii] Michael Lawrence, Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church: A Guide for Ministry, 9Marks (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 30.
In Psalm 103 we see David repeatedly using the phrase “bless the Lord, O my soul”. To “bless the Lord” was to “praise the Lord”. So, David was exhorting himself to praise God. He was trying to stir up in himself praise and adoration for God.
And the way David motivated himself to praise God was to remind himself of who God was and what God had done for Him. He writes, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits” (v.2). There is a real correlation between blessing God and remembering all His benefits (provision, mercy, sovereignty, etc.).
So often the reason we are not satisfied in God and therefore do not praise Him as we should is because we forget all His benefits. That’s why David proclaims, “Let my soul not forget the benefits of God” because when we forget all that God has done, we don’t rejoice in Him as we should.
When it comes to God, forgetfulness equals joylessness. And we are a forgetful people. We forget to turn the lights off, take the trash out, pay the electric bill, etc. These are things that we forget. And so often when we forget there are consequences. Some are small and insignificant, others are big and costly, but there are often consequences to our forgetfulness. And when it comes to God the consequence of forgetfulness is joylessness. When we are not reminded of who God is and what God has done for us then it’s easy to become discontent and depressed in life. The joy of the Lord is missing because we’re not dwelling on Him.
David stirs himself up to praise and adoration for God by reminding himself of the benefits of God.
We too need to regularly remind ourselves of who God is and what He has done for us. It is crucial in the pursuit of joy that we regularly read God’s Word, listen to Biblical preaching, and have godly mentors in our lives to remind us again and again of the benefits we have in Christ.
Recently my wife and I were blessed to enjoy a four day retreat with Winshape at Berry College in Rome, GA. The whole four days we were served amazing meals, developed some new ministry friends, and had a ton of time to rest and enjoy the beauty of God’s creation in the mountains. The best part of all wasn’t the hiking trails, the Filet Mignon, or even the fact that this trip was free (if you’re a senior pastor and spouse, do yourself a favor and sign up). The best part was the fact that we had time to linger over the Gospel individually and as a couple.
I was raised in a church where the Gospel was presented in every message, and for that I am very grateful. My pastor heralded the Gospel message clearly and unapologetically, pleading with sinners to surrender their hearts to Christ. Yet the Gospel that was preached every sermon was targeted at unbelievers and seldom believers. The main message for believers were the Bible’s moral imperatives, but seldom it’s Gospel indicatives. I assumed that the Gospel got me in God’s kingdom and obedience kept me in it.
The New Testament, however, always roots our obedience in the Gospel, so we need the Gospel more than ever as believers. The Gospel is not merely one story among many in Scripture; it is Scripture’s main story, and the constant refrain from Genesis to Revelation is that we linger over it. Tim Keller said it this way: “We never ‘get beyond the gospel’ in our Christian life to something more ‘advanced.’ The gospel is not the first ‘step’ in a ‘stairway’ of truths, rather, it is more like the ‘hub’ in a ‘wheel’ of truth. The gospel is not just the A-B-C’s but the A-Z of Christianity. The gospel is not just the minimum required doctrine necessary to enter the kingdom, but the way we make progress in the kingdom.”
When believers fail to drink deeply from the fountain of the Gospel, they shrivel spiritually. So if we reserve the Gospel to unbelievers in our church’s, we may see increased professions of faith, but we may also see decreased spiritual growth among those who profess faith. On the other hand, A church that preaches the Gospel to believers while unbelievers listen in will have a stronger and more stable family from which to launch this message into the community and world.
The soul that is regularly enjoying and resting in the truths of the Great Exchange will find constant motivation to obey God’s commands. It is there at the cross that we learn about the ugliness of our sin, God’s holiness, Christ’s sinless nature, the Judgment to come, astounding grace, our salvation, and sacrificial love. A cursory glance at the Gospel will not impress these realities upon us, so we must spend time each day lingering in it. Memorizing and meditating and mulling over the wonder of Christ’s substitutionary atoning death is the best fuel for everything in the Christian life, from holiness to missions. Whenever we find ourselves treasuring sin, it always stems from a failure to glory in the Golgotha event. May we rehearse the wonder of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection to ourselves and one another until He returns.
Over the past three months we at SonRise have been studying the history of the early church during our Sunday evening gatherings. So far, over almost 12 weeks, we have covered almost 400 years of the early church and explored key figures such as Polycarp, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Cyprian, Origen, Athanasius, The Cappadocians, and many others both heretic and hero. One question though that arose during our discussions is why is this important? Why should we in the 21st century pay much attention to the thoughts and work of the early church? Now these are fair questions and in this brief post I would like to lay out some of the reasons why the history of the Church is important to every believer.
It is Our Story
When we think of the history of the church, we come face to face with our own past, warts and all. It’s easy to get wrapped up in our own current church issues, whether that be on a local level or a global one, but when we look back over the totality of our history, we see that people are still people and God is still God. Now what I mean by that is that by studying our history we see the loving perseverance of God, in spite of our own failings. We see God preserving a people in spite of themselves, for His glory and our good. In every era of church history we see people who use the church for their own selfish gains and twist the meaning of Christ’s work and word to bring about their own personal fame. We see men abuse their flock and seek to destroy the church, not from without but from within. We see the warnings of Paul played out time and time again to love the people of God and protect the church from false teaching. Unfortunately, we also see this truth twisted to man’s own evil ends, just as we do today. However, in each generation we also see men and women of faith seeking God faithfully, loving their community with the gospel and seeking to grow in the grace of God day by day. We see men and women stand firm on the truth of God in the face of sever opposition and pain. So, when I begin by saying church history is our story I mean it reflects the very things we experience today. Ecclesiastes reminds us that at the end of the day there is nothing new under the sun, and the challenges of the church remain the same: to love the Lord with all our hearts and to live out the faith in Love towards our neighbors, all the more as those who profess Christ seem to act in the exact opposite of his teachings, twisting His truths for their own gains. Thankfully, when seen in the scope of history and the reveled truth of God’s word we know that our story shows us that God has faithful preserved His church through every generation.
It’s our Theology
The first generation of saints had the apostles’ teachings and the truth of scripture and from there the Spirit of God instructed them in the truth and lead them in grace. As we look back into the history of that time, we see people wrestling with the truth of scriptures and working out the reality of its teaching in their lives and practice. Over the first 500 years of the church many theological heresies would arise within the church that required a diligent study of the scriptures to lead to an answer, serious theological issues such as the full divinity of the Holy Spirit or about the questions of whether Jesus was truly divine or on the other hand truly human. Questions arose about how one comes to faith, and can one fall away from faith, how does evil exist if God is good? Many questions were asked and answered, some well some not so well, but as we know many of these same questions still come up today, and in looking back we see how the earliest of Christians thought through the scriptures to come to their conclusions. We see how many of the questions and charges that we wrestle with answering have been answered in generations past, and not simply in our creeds but in the writings that influenced the creeds, and in the depth of scriptural wisdom these men had leading to their arguments. When we avoid the past, we are forced to re litigate the central tenants of the faith over and over again, because we are continual ignoring those who have fought these battles long ago, and at times because of this we have adopted heresies that were long ago proven to be in error when seen in the totality of scripture.
We get it wrong
This maybe an interesting third option to put in the study of church history, but it is a reality that we see in church history and that is that sometimes, godly people living godly lives who love the Lord, get things wrong, both in our day and theirs. While I just spent a paragraph praising the church fathers for their advancement of the truth of scripture there were still plenty of times, when they went beyond the realms of scripture and speculated on God and the church and came up with some crazy things, that rather than being relegated to opinions or culture applications, were treated as binding theology. Many an issue arose not over interpretations of scriptures but over power and authority and innovation. Most of the things that are now regarded as tradition and essential in many churches, were innovations and controversial in their days. For instance, in the 16th century the Vulgate was seen as a relic of the past that kept the people away from the scriptures, in the 5th century it was seen as an innovation ripping away the scriptures from their original foundations, and giving it to the people who could not understand Greek. So in praising innovation we must also realize from history that innovation can become a false idol just as quickly. And that in spite of innovation the greatest traditions of the church can be seen in the early church and the works of the apostles; the dedication to the people reading and learning the scriptures together, the truth reveled and celebrated at the table, and church’s hospitality found in the loving community transformed by the Work of Christ.
We are encouraged
Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them.
In the end, let me end with the author of Hebrews as he encourages the church to look to those who have gone before them, those who have run the race and kept the faith. This text comes after the encourages them with a resounding list of the OT saints in chapter 11 and its implications in 12. When we put this text in the course of history, we are reminded that the lives of the saints from the days of Christ to now are models for us. They show us how to live in times of peace and times of persecution. They show us the struggles that men and women dealt with living in a world surrounded by believers and one depleted of them. In each and every way we have a whole history to draw from and be encouraged by, for we have not run this race alone, and we will not eat the great feast alone on that last day, but with all those who have run it before us. Therefore, let us learn from them and be encouraged by their faith and in turn let us turn all the more to the word of God and growing in His saving grace.
For many, this little two-letter word is the within the first few words we learn how to say. Every study I researched (which didn’t need to be many) verified that “No” is in the first grouping of new vocabulary words for a toddler; along with, “da-da, ma-ma, tanku (thank you), and other similarly simple to say.
Is “No!” there because of its relative ease in speaking? To be fair, I’m sure that’s why our littles choose it over “I’m confident that I am not willing to conform to your standard or to submit to your authority.” That articulation comes much later in our rebellion; however, its essence is still a resounding, “NO!”
Submission is really what we’re rebelling against with most of our “No’s.” And ultimately, as I believe the Scriptures make clear, it is not a rebellion of submission to our parents, leaders, or authority figures in our lives but against God’s design, and ultimately against God Himself.
In reality, submission has not only recently come to be taboo. Genesis 3 and the Fall detail our rejection of God-ordained submission. From Genesis 3 through Revelation 20:15 we read of the consequences of our rebellion, the Divine plan and accomplishment of redemption from our rebellion (Gen. 3:15 and beyond), and until we reach the Story of Redemption we cannot find a single person who was not only completely submissive but who was joyfully submissive.
That Jesus was completely and joyfully submissive is the solid foundation of submission. Afterall, if submission was appropriate for Christ, the God-man, then why can’t we stomach it? But even Christ’s submission stretches beyond the reach of the Roman government, the ecclesiastical (if you will) constructions, the work-place, and even beyond the family unit. Jesus, the Son of God, was first submissive inside the co-eternal, co-equal, co-magnificent Godhead; as was the Holy Spirit. The solid foundation of submission for this generation, as well as any subsequent generations, is godliness.
Submission of the Son to the Father
Galatians 4:4—“But when the fulness of time had come, God sent forth his Son…”
John 12:49-50—Jesus said, “For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak…I say as the Father has told me.”
John 10:37—Jesus said, “If I am not doing the works of my Father…”
Luke 22:22—“For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined…”
And ultimately, Luke 22:42—Jesus said, “Nevertheless, not my will but yours be done…”
Submission of the Spirit to the Father & the Son
John 14:26—“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name…”
John 15:26—Jesus said, “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.”
Luke 24:49—Jesus said, “…I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
Acts 2:33—Peter said, “[Jesus] being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit…”
These are by no means exhaustive references to the eternal submission within the Godhead but a clear and definitive doctrine (and example) can be seen through the passages provided.
Why such a hesitation, then, for the Church to submit herself in her marriages (Ephesians 5:22-33), and children to the parents (Ephesians 6:1-4), and employees to their employers (Ephesians 6:5-9), and citizens to their government (Romans 13:1-7).
Could it be that our marital, parental, ecclesiastical & societal resounding “NO!” is the smoldering embers of sinful pride and self-exaltation that needs to be snuffed out by the deluge of Spirit-empowered self-mortification that we might bear and project God’s image rightly? I believe so. To be submissive is to be Christlike. What other foundation could be more stable?
Submission may be a nasty word in our culture but far be it from the Bride of Christ to declare the posture of Christ to be passé; lest we be found professors of Christ and not possessors.
Jesus, anticipating what’s to come, says in John 16:1, “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away.” Then in 16:4 He similarly says, “But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.” These form bookends to v1-4, because in both Jesus gives reasons behind why He tells them what He is telling them, and the main reason is preservation. The reason in v1 is so that they won’t fall away when trials come, and the reason in v4 is so that they won’t be surprised when trials come. Taking them together we can see the meaning in view. Jesus doesn’t want His disciples, and doesn’t want you and I, to encounter the hatred of the world and be so shocked or scandalized[i]by it that we abandon the faith.[ii]
No, He wants us to last, He wants us to be informed, and He wants us to be prepared for what’s to come.
So He continues on in v2-3 saying, “They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor Me.”
Sobering words from the Son intended to function as a means of preservation for His disciples. v2-3 repeat many of the same things we saw in 15:18-25 but here the tone is stronger. Back in chapter 15 the hatred in view was from the world in general, here in chapter 16 the hatred has a very specific origin. It’s from those who are very religious. Does that surprise you? That someone with deep religious zeal could be so blind and so violent? These religious zealots will first excommunicate them, which wouldn’t only remove them from the spiritual life of the society (they wouldn’t be able to attend sacrifices, feasts, etc.) but the social life of the society as well. This would’ve meant things like getting a job would now be difficult, it meant you’d likely lose business customers, and might ultimately lose your livelihood. Some of you have experienced these very things already and the trend of our world isn’t headed in a Godward direction.
May we not be caught unaware.
As bad as these things are Jesus didn’t stop there, He also said here that they would be killed by those who fully believe they’re pleasing God. Only in a fallen world could such a monstrous reality be true. This pattern has played out throughout history ever since. Today we find it true that most of the vicious threats to the gospel are often by religiously motivated zealots, thinking their god is pleased with such violence and will reward them for doing so. But go back a bit further. Did you know Thomas Cranmer, the English Reformer, was burned at the stake in 1556 by Roman Catholics as one of their priests was preaching a sermon? Did you know when Pope Leo X excommunicated Martin Luther from the Roman Catholic church and put a price on his head he said, “Arise O Lord, a wild boar has entered Thy vineyard.” Go back a bit further. Paul himself followed this pattern in his pre-Christian life. By persecuting the Church he believed God would be pleased with Him. It was Paul who chased down followers of The-Way and threw them in jail and it was Paul who looked on and held the coats of those who stoned Stephen in Acts 7. Thank God, that for Paul, his zealous pattern of violence was interrupted on the Damascus Road as he became a Christian and experienced an overwhelming irony going from persecutor to persecuted. We could speak of all the disciples here as they we’re executed or exiled at the hand of religious zealots but go back a bit further one more time.
This pattern was played out most vividly with Christ. The Jewish leaders, being very religious, claimed to know God but in v3 Jesus says they didn’t, and that their ignorance of who God truly was and who He truly was is actually the origin of their vile ways. These leaders believed God would be pleased for Christ to die, and that in doing so they would be glorifying God and keeping their religion pure and undefiled. The irony here is that they were right in a sense more true than they could know. Jesus seemed to be suffering defeat while He was accomplishing the greatest of all victories at the very moment the Jewish leaders seemed to be winning a victory while they were suffering the greatest of all defeats.[iii]In the most ironic moment of history the hour of their persecution mentioned in v4 was really the hour of the Son’s glorification[iv]where God was glorified and was very pleased for Christ to die as He bore the full wrath of God for sinners like us. And having been warned of it by Jesus, when these things fell on the disciples afterwards, the trials of persecution and death wouldn’t be an obstacle to their faith but a strengthener to their faith because they saw that everything plays out as Jesus says it will.
But remember what Jesus has already said. Between the hard words in 15:18-25 and 16:1-4 we find a marvelous description of the Person and Work of the Holy Spirit. From hearing about the Helper and the Spirit of Truth this morning in the midst of this fallen world full of hatred we must embrace a certain reality:
the Holy Spirit isn’t sent to be our Helper to aid us sail the seas of calm serenity, but is sent to be our Helper to aid us sail through the hard and difficult waters that lie ahead in this world. For the way of Christ is the way of hardship and difficulty.[v]
But, it is a way He walked before us, so we do not lose heart. As high as the waves become, the Ancient Mast of our soul – the Holy Spirit – reminds us of Him and thus we remain ever sturdy within. May you be sobered by the words of the Son, and may you be assured of the assistance of the Spirit.
[i]The Greek word ‘scandalizo’ is here translated as ‘falling away’ in v1.
[ii]D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John – PNTC (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1991) page 532. See Phillips page 329 also.
[iii]Carson, page 532.
[iv]Ibid., page 532.
[v]Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John – NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1971) page 692.
For decades, even centuries, there is always the temptation, which usually turns into a reality, that the church must be reinvented to accommodate whatever is the present norm of a culture, society, and community. The local church on the corner becomes a market place whereby an assortment of programs and goodies are handed out to seek to persuade prospective customers to settle here. Other churches are family chapels whereby a collection of families gather together to keep up the tradition of attending. Church can be entertaining whether it is the dazzling musical talent of a soloist, the lights and smoke of the production on the stage, or the fire-breathing preacher who jumps on pews to drive home his point. Such “churches” are relegated to being outposts of a moralistic traditionalism that has more to do with the 1950s and less to do with the Bible or they are constantly reinventing themselves based on what is perceived to work. While many of these places call themselves a church, they have little if no resemblance upon what a New Testament local church is to look like.
In fact, the Bible presents to us what I would call the simple church model. Simple does not mean unintelligent or requires no thinking. Simple church is understanding that God uses the basic, ordinary means that He has sovereignly chosen and uses them in a profound way. Recently, someone posed this question: “Could you do what you do on Sunday without electricity?” If the answer is no, then you need to examine what your grasp of the church and worship on the Lord’s Day is. Consider with me 7 traits of the simple church:
A Simple Church is a Regenerate Church
A biblical church is a regenerate church. Notice Acts 2:41: those who received his word are those who were converted and then they were baptized. Consider Acts 2:47: The Lord added to their number those who were being saved. It is the Lord who sovereignly builds His church. Jesus declared in Matthew 16:18 that He would build His church. This belongs to Christ. Every biblical, simple church ministers and disciples from a foundation that this community of believers belongs to Jesus Christ. It is by His sovereign purpose that the church grows and He is the One you want to grow the church.
A local church is a visible community of brothers and sisters made alive in Christ and bonded together in love for Him and love for one another. A church represents the new creation of God both individually and corporately. How many generations of churches have been built on decisional regeneration based on walking an aisle and repeating a prayer rather than divine regeneration which is the work of the Holy Spirit and Him alone! Simple church is a regenerate church. The regenerate church displays the glorious change of God’s grace. Still sinners but now saints: a life that has been transformed by the work of God. The simple church leaves the results to God. We understand that the growth of the church hinges on the new birth which is what the Spirit of God performs.
A Simple Church is a Gospel Church
In Acts 2:29-36, Peter proclaims the excellencies of Christ in the gospel with the OT promises as the foundation of his sermon. A simple church is a gospel church meaning that they never move away from the core message of the gospel. The doctrines of the gospel such as election, regeneration, justification, redemption, adoption, sanctification, and glorification are a part of the DNA of the simple church. The gospel is not a cliché or a tag on the end of some presentation or skit. The gospel is not merely a part of the Sunday morning sermon. The gospel is to inform all that we say and do. Mark Dever wrote a book entitled, “The Church: The Gospel made Visible.” In the local church, we testify to what the gospel has done, is doing, and will do in our lives. The gospel is the message we proclaim to see those in darkness brought into the light. The gospel is the message that nourishes believers, strengthens them for the battle, and reminds them of who they are in Christ to deepen their assurance.
A Simple Church is an Ordinary Church
When we speak of the ordinary means of grace, we are saying that these are the means or methods that God employs to grow His people in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. You see them in Acts 2: preaching of the Word, corporate worship, fellowship, the sacraments, prayers, and praise. These are all the ways in which God works in our lives to deepen our assurance and to behold the beauty of Jesus Christ. Further, these are the means by which He draws lost sinners to Christ. To the world, the ordinary means of grace look rather simple and uninspiring. Yet, these are the means by which God works in an extraordinary way!
Do you want to be counter-cultural? As a church there is nothing more counter-cultural than for us to see that God works in the ordinary, the simple. This is what was the heart of the Reformation. We are not looking for the gimmicks, the latest phenomenon to hit Lifeway or any other Christian bookstore. We are not going to take our cues from a Wall Street CEO, a President, or King. Nor are we going to take the advice of a moralism that pines for a specific decade in the past. The counter-cultural church will always be relevant because it is built on the simple and ordinary means of God rather than chasing after the latest fad. In my own life, coming to understand the ordinary means of grace totally transformed how I viewed corporate worship, pastoral ministry, and life. They caused me to delight in the ordinary and rejoice in the King who works through the ordinary to work in extraordinary ways.
A Simple Church is a Doctrinal Church
After their conversion, Acts 2 reveals that new converts were committed to the teaching or the doctrine of the apostles. Whether a person is a recent convert or a well-traveled pilgrim, they are in need of being equipped in the faith. We cannot live our lives individually nor corporately apart from being men and women of sound doctrine. We must know the theology of the Bible. We must know how to read the Scriptures for all they are worth. We must know systematic theology. We are to see how the covenants relate to our justification and redemption, how the grace of God is displayed both in predestination and preservation, how the people of God are always a called-out community whether in the OT or NT, and on we could go. This is one reason we employ creeds and confessions. These are good tools to teach doctrine because they are based upon the Bible and are historically tested.
A Simple Church is a Word-Driven Church
If the preaching of the Word of God is not central to a local church then it does not matter what else they have going for them. It does not matter what else they do if the preaching and teaching of the Word of God is relegated to some secondary status. It is the proclamation of the Word that God uses in Acts 2 on the Day of Pentecost. It is the preaching of the Word of God by Ezekiel that God uses to bring life to the valley of bones in chapter 37 of that prophetic book. The word-driven church is the church that submits itself to the authority of God found in the Bible. It is not found in clergy, it is not found in a board, but it is found in the Word of God being proclaimed by the men raised up and gifted within the church to teach.
This calls our attention to what we call the regulative principle of worship. This term states that worship on the Lord’s Day is to be regulated by the Word of God and what we find in Scripture, is what we are to do during corporate worship. The word-driven church humbly submits to the King of kings as the ruler of His church.
A Simple Church is an Accountable Church
Part of the terminology we use as a church is that we are covenanted group of believers. We have made a covenant towards the Lord and one another. We do not see ourselves as a collection of islands with our own agenda. We are one people who have been sovereignly joined together. In Acts 2:44, the church had unity in doctrine and unity in fellowship. It was not a one hour a week deal and then you move on your merry way. This was understanding that we are doing life and sojourning together. Accountability is a scary word because we are so programmed in our culture of the glories of individualism and self-autonomy.
The Bible states that we are blood-bought people and no longer belong to ourselves. As a church family, meaningful membership means accountability and church discipline. We have responsibility for one another. As elders, we will give an account for this flock entrusted to us. This does not mean that we are constantly looking for flaws for all of us have flaws and weaknesses. What it does mean is that we are not going to leave anyone behind. We are in this together. As a pastor or an elder, never forget that you are a member of the local church and you need this accountability. In my own life, I have experienced both the early pain of being held accountable and the wondrous joy that flows afterwards.
A Simple Church is a Hopeful Church
Regardless of what is happening, the church is hopeful because our Lord told us that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. We are going forth knowing that victory is already secure in Christ. There is not a reason for us to be anxious or fretful. The king of the church is king over all. Acts is filled with many testimonies to the greatness of God in the midst of persecution. The words of one of my favorite hymns says it well:
“Mid toil and tribulation,
And tumult of her war,
She waits the consummation
Of peace for evermore;
Till, with the vision glorious,
Her longing eyes are blest,
And the great Church victorious
Shall be the Church at rest.”
C.H. Spurgeon put it well: “If I had never joined a church till I had found one that was perfect, I should never have joined one at all; and the moment I did join it, if I had found one, I should have spoiled it, for it would not have been a perfect church after I had become a member of it. Still, imperfect as it is, it is the dearest place on earth to us.” We have not been called to reinvent the local church. Our task is to delight in the simplicity of what Scripture has given to us. The calling is for us to be good stewards. Let us desire to be simple church churches pointing people to the Great Savior and be amazed at how He works through an army of ordinary people!
Ideas drive history. You ever thought about that?
Behind the all the Emperor’s, Generals, politicians, philosophers, thinkers, and theologians throughout history – stands one thing: ideas. Not small ideas or fleeting thoughts but grand ideas that fill out the meaning of their existence, becoming the narrative through which they interpret all of life, driving them to do what they do. One way ideas are very meaningfully driven home to us is through images. One particular idea/image that means a great deal to me is a ship at sail in a stormy sea. There is something about this image that draws me in. Perhaps this stands out to me because as long as I can remember the ocean in the has always seemed lovely and terrible to me. A thing beyond my little self in its immensity and yet stirring within me thoughts of adventure and exploration…daunting and dwarfing me yet beckoning me to come aboard the ship and brave the waters.
If you think on this image long enough I think you’ll begin to see much about the Christian life. The waters of the world we live in are stormy indeed. Sailing on such fallen waters, eventually forces us to ask a question. How are we going to last, how are we to make it through safe to other side? Not by our wisdom or ability or strength in sailing, no. God has graciously put Someone within our ship to keep us afloat in the Person of the Holy Spirit, and by holding fast to Him, to this Ancient Mast, we’ll make it through.
Right away in John 15:26 we learn the Holy Spirit is connected to the Father and the Son. Remember, again and again John’s gospel tells us how the Father is closely connected to the Son, so close in fact that to hear the words and see the works of the Son is to hear the words and see the works of the Father, and so close in fact that to reject the Son is to reject the Father. Learn again, the Godhead is not just comprised of Father and Son, but of Father, Son, and Spirit. That Jesus says He will send the Spirit from the Father, and that He says the Spirit proceeds from the Father is a reminder that the sending of the Spirit is an activity which concerns all three members of the Trinity[i]as well as a reminder that this Spirit is no ordinary Spirit, He is the Holy Spirit. Not a kind of force or quality or property, He is the third Person in the Godhead, “…not a gift of men but a pledge of divine grace”[ii]from God Himself.
That God would dwell among us in Christ is simply breathtaking, that God the Spirit would dwell within us is incredibly comforting. Our hearts then become His home. And now that the estate that is ourselves is under new ownership, a sacred renovation begins. Renovation that looks and feels like disorder yielding to order, darkness yielding to light, and fog yielding to sunshine.
That is all good and well but particularly in this context what does the Spirit do within us? Notice the two names He calls the Spirit in v26-27.
Helper: “But when the Helper comes…” Some do think v26-27 is a later addition to John’s gospel because to them it doesn’t fit well with the theme of the hatred of the world. Sadly, those who believe this miss the point of the text and therefore miss out on what could be a great encouragement. There is a very close connection between our passage today and the passage that comes before and after. Jesus has been speaking about the rebellion of the world against Him and His Church, that the world hates Him and will hate those who follow Him, and from hearing this it is easily understandable that the disciples (and we ourselves) would be fearful, anxious, and deeply uneasy about what a life with Jesus might very well bring in this world. How can one last as a follower of Jesus if the world will hate you for doing so? This fear, anxiety, and unease about Jesus’ words makes us desperate for one thing…help. So is it no surprise that here in this context with these things in view Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit as what? The Helper, for help He brings. When Scripture perplexes us it is the Spirit who opens our eyes and understanding to what God has said. When sin tempts us to run after foul and forbidden things it is the Spirit who tugs and pulls us back. When we find ourselves dry, cold, and stony in heart, unmoved by the beauty and loveliness of God it is the Spirit who refreshes, warms, and softens us to be moved as we ought to. Do not despise the gift of God in giving us the help of God the Spirit!
Spirit of Truth: Next we see God the Spirit called the “Spirit of Truth” and perhaps we ask, ‘Out of all things why choose to call the Spirit the Spirit of Truth?’ Perhaps it’s for our encouragement. In view of the opposition of the world we might think the truth of God no longer has a place in our world today. That truth has become and must remain a private matter rather than a public topic of conversation or even debate. That truth has fallen in the street, as Isaiah 59:14 says, and is in need of resuscitation while people continue to walk on by not caring an ounce to revive it. That the Spirit is the Spirit of Truth ought to encourage us. The world hated Christ and His message endures. The world has hated us and our message endures! Despite the world’s efforts to stop, squash, or silence the truth of God it is the Spirit who maintains, upholds, promotes, and expands the truth of Christ in us and through us. If ourconsciences rest on this testimony, wewill never be shaken.[iii]The disciples, having been with Jesus from the beginning would’ve seen this and come to know this for themselves. And we too, from the beginning of our Christian lives have seen the same.
But how does the Spirit of Truth spread God’s truth in this fallen world? Answer: by bearing witness. Look at v26-27 again, “…He will bear witness about Me, and you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning.” Present here is both the witness of the Spirit and the witness of believers. The Spirit has born witness to Christ before and during the ministry of Christ. Now that Christ has ascended is the Spirit done bearing witness? By no means! The result of the assuring assistance and help of the Spirit of Truth is not private advantage or personal revelation but public proclamation. The Spirit bore witness not of Himself but of Christ to us, and now the Spirit bears witness not of Himself but of Christ through us. The Apostles remember, received power when the Holy Spirit came upon them and became His witnesses (Acts 1:8), first feeling the winds of the Spirit fill their sails to preach the gospel and write of the gospel, and now we continue in this Spirit driven apostolic calling not by claiming to be apostles ourselves, but by continuing to proclaim the same apostolic gospel message from the Spirit inspired apostolic Scriptures we now have. So the Spirit in His inspired Scripture bears witness to man, and in His powerful work within us He bears witness through man.
See here that no one can ask the Spirit to move in power and then sit back waiting as if we can relax and leave everything up to the Spirit of God.[iv]No, the Spirit so moves within us that we, in His power, would bear witness of Christ to others.
Or we could say it like this, the Spirit’s work creates the Church’s work, and it is this work of bearing witness that is to remain the chief work of the Church.
But we easily get sidetracked don’t we?
Our witness for Christ isn’t to be about a certain kind of experience, or political opinion, or current fad, but a witness to the Person and Work of Jesus Christ.[v] How great an encouragement is it that in these stormy seas God has given us an Ancient Mast we can lash our souls to in order to last amid this calling?
[i]Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John – NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1971) page 683.
[ii]John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries – Vol. 7, The Gospels (Grand Rapids, Michigan: AP&A, year unknown) page 857.
[iii]Ibid., Vol. 5, page 130.
[iv]Morris, page 684.
[v]Richard Phillips, John 11-21 – Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R, 2014) page 327.
I just celebrated my one year anniversary at my new job. For my anniversary my co-workers got me a balloon, a cannoli cupcake (which was delicious), and a card. The card was filled with kind words and thoughtful messages. It was really encouraging to know that others cared about me and appreciated certain characteristics that the saw in me.
After receiving that card it got me thinking, “Are we as Christians as encouraging to each other as all the unbelievers in my office are to me? The people who wrote me this encouraging card are not Christians. They do not have the love of Christ in their hearts and yet they wrote and said such encouraging words. Sometimes those outside the Christian faith can be more loving and encouraging than those inside of it. And that should not be. The world should not outdo us in love and encouragement. We have experienced the love of Christ and have been given new hearts and affections. We should be noticeably loving and encouraging to those around us.
Commanded to Encourage
The Bible commands that we encourage each other. Paul tells the Thessalonians to “encourage one another” (1 Thessalonians 4:18) and then again he reminds them to, “encourage one another and build one another up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). The writer of Hebrews thought that encouragement was so important that he commanded his readers to “encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘today,’ so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13). The book of Acts is filled with examples of the early church encouraging each other in the faith (Acts 13:15, Acts 16:40, Acts 18:27, Acts 20:1-2). Encouraging those around you is commanded, but how can we do this?
How to Encourage
There are at least 3 forms of encouragement: compliment, good news, and motivating. Each of these are important ways we can encourage others.
- Compliment and Appreciate – You can encourage someone by appreciating characteristics, abilities, and accomplishments that you have noticed in their life. You might let them know that you are impressed by their athletic ability, proud of their work ethic, or that you love their sense of humor. There are numerous ways that you can encourage others by complimenting them.
- Share Good News – Good news can lift your spirits and encourage: You go to the doctor and find out that the cancer is gone. Your boss calls you into his office and let’s you know he is going to give you a raise. You get your report card and your grades are good. This kind of news is encouraging. Certainly, we are not always able to share this kind of dramatic news, but as opportunities arise we should seek to share good news with others.
- Motivate and Support – You can encourage someone by pushing them to do their best. When I have a workout partner, I am typically going to have a better workout than when I am alone. I am motivated to try harder and lift more because I have someone spurring me on to do better. I am encouraged to work harder in a way that I wouldn’t be if there was no one there pushing me. We can encourage others in that same way in multiple areas of life.
It is good to encourage one other in these ways, but as Christian it is even more important that we encourage each other in the faith.
Encourage in the Faith
- Compliment and Appreciate – Paul would regularly compliment his readers by appreciating their godly characteristics and ministry accomplishments. He boasts of the Roman believers’ faith that was “proclaimed in all the world” (Romans 1:8). He spoke of the Ephesian Christians’ “love toward all the saints” (Ephesians 1:15). He compliments the Philippian church because of their “partnership in the gospel” (Philippians 1:5). When a church was doing something well, he let them know about. He wanted them to be encouraged in their Christian growth and ministerial pursuits. We too should compliment other Christians when we notice their godly character and ministry efforts. We want them to be encouraged by the work God is doing in and through them.
- Share Good News – In his first epistle to the Thessalonians Paul tells his readers that when a believer passes away they should not mourn like the world mourns “since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep” (1 Thessalonians 4:14). The good news of the gospel is that death is not the end for the believer. There is eternal life and unending joy in the presence of God. This is the hope of every believer. After sharing these truths with the Thessalonians, Paul then tells them to “encourage one another with these words” (Thessalonians 4:18). This good news is meant to be shared as a means of encouragement. As believers we can encourage each other by sharing the good news of God’s Word with one another.
- Motivate and Support – The Author of Hebrews commands his audience to consider how they can “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” (Hebrews 10:24-25). As a form of encouragement the Hebrew Christians were to stir each other on to love and good works. They were to motivate each other in the Christian life. We too are to consider ways that we can help other Christians grow in their walk with Jesus. We might ask that they come with us to a Bible study, or read a theology book along side of us, or join us as we evangelize the lost. There are endless ways that we can encourage other Christians to move forward in the faith, we just need to resolve that we will.
The Bible calls us to encourage one other in the faith. Find someone who you might encourage today.
Who Am I? This question rings in the minds of many people at different times in their lives. The question of identity is nothing new it’s been around for generations and isn’t going away soon. But when we take a second and are alone with our thoughts and dive deep into this question, we see many different ways to look at ourselves: maybe my identity is what I do? Maybe my identity is in the people I am around? Maybe my identity is found in who I am with? Maybe my identity is found in my children? Maybe it is simply how other people see me?
Growing up there were lots of things that I identified with; my academics, my friends, my work at the church, who I was dating, what I was going to do with my life, what other people thought about me, the respect of my peers, ect…
It is funny looking back at the reality of how temporal such a non-biblical approach to identity is for us. Each of the things we tend to find to Identify ourselves with are things that by nature are not guaranteed to last. No matter how smart we may be, our minds can fade, our intellect can be swallowed and destroyed by time and disease. Our professions are never assured especially in a day and age of ever-changing technology and economics. Even our families, which we love and cherish can equally be taken from us. So then why do we put so much stock in finding our identity and value in these things? To some degree it is how we have been thought to think about life, but on another level, we don’t think deeply enough about the lasting Identify we have in Christ it seems until one of the former identities comes crashing down.
For many our Identity in Christ is so other that we can barely grasp its reality? We don’t think much about what being found in Christ looks like, while the natural realities are easier to see and tangibly touch. However, the natural realities fail time and time again, while the reality of Christ is never changing. Who we are in Him is the same from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. The book of Ephesians spends a great deal of time wrapping our minds around the reality of our identity in Christ. For Paul this is not a passing issue, but central to our living out of the gospel through every trial and joy. In chapter one Paul grounds us in the truth that all three members of the Trinity have done a great work to secure and save each of His own, setting them apart and making them new. He wants us as believers to be grounded in the fact that God is the one that has worked in us, not ourselves. Now you may ask what this has to do with my identity and how I define myself, well Paul makes it clear in chapter two that it makes all the difference.
Here Paul begins by reminded us that before we were given our identity in Christ, we did have an identity, and it was anything but lasting; for our identity was that of children of wrath simply following the course of this world. It was by nature depraved and dead. The our identity was found in the whims of our desires, changing from day to day, and ultimately unsatisfying. We wonder so often why the world gets caught up in identity politics and defining people by any number of characteristics or sexual desires, and that is because it is the only thing the world knows, and it is the only course of identity available to it. For us however, this is not who we are, it is who we were. In verse four Paul explicitly points out that God has changed our identity. The Father has taken us out of the world and given us His name, His spirit, through His Son.
Paul’s aim in the remainder of chapter two of Ephesians is to ground us in the fact that our identity cannot be found in the things or desires of the world, for that is not who we are, nor can we look at our current state and yearn for that which was temporal and destined for destruction. He has done a mighty work out of love and grace to set us free from what was to establish us in what is and what will be, namely Christ. So, as we unpack this text, we are given over to the reality that all that Christ accomplished and is has been given to us. We have been made alive with Him, we have been raised as He was raised, we have been seated with Him in the heavenly places, for the Glory of His name and for the manifestation of the Kingdom through us. We have been bought with a price we are not our own. And in this we are again reminded that this was by His divine grace we did not earn it. Our identity is not based on anything we could accomplish, it is based solely on what God accomplished. It is He who gave us life, while we were dead, it was He who raised us and seated us in the heavenly places in Christ. We have done nothing to earn our new status in Christ, it was all the work of God for us, and because of this work He has given us a new identity.
Now maybe you are wondering why does this all really matter where I place my identity? What if how I identity myself makes me feel good or gives me purpose? That’s a good question, and my response would be how long will this last, if your identity is based solely on the temporal experiences and status of this phase of your life it will in time crumble as life changes around you. For one of the key things Paul points out is that our identity in Christ changes everything about our lives, it is a life shaping and defining identity. Because we are in Christ, we have a new life to live and a new task to be a light into the world. Our Identity comes with a job to do, a family to belong to, one not defined by the color of our skin or the place of our birth but on the transformation of Christ in us. We are no longer who we were and can find no lasting identity in the world or in its categories, for our lasting Identity is in Christ, and the call to live as Christ. Let us be reminded again by Paul of this reality from another of His epistles; Galatians 2:20:
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.“
“Did you hear about all the pastors convicted of sexual abuse?”
My wife’s question left me with an ache in the pit of my stomach. As a Gospel minister who struggles daily to love Jesus and kill indwelling sin, I can’t say that I’m surprised. In fact, to be surprised would expose some bad theology on my part. The more I read the Bible, the more I’m reminded that I’m more sinful than I ever imagined and the Gospel is more glorious than I ever imagined. Still, news of sexual abuse must always be received with a heavy heart. The Houston Chronicle reported some 220 Gospel ministers convicted of sexual abuse, leaving about 700 victims affected. Many of the stories are well documented and put a chill in your spine as you read them. I broke down over footage I saw of a police officer questioning a four or five year old boy molested by his “church-man.” Other footage was of jailed pastors sharing how they compromised on their convictions. Each of these were truly disturbing and humbling. Then only a day or two later, Christian news turned to abuse of authority by leaders. I learned famous pastor James MacDonald was fired by his church for serious abuse of authority. Before MacDonald, there was Driscoll, Tchividian, and Mahaney; all men whose sermons have greatly impacted me, and all left with question marks over their character, yet who went on to preach and lead other churches. Not to mention Patterson and Pressler, men who stood on biblical convictions against a tide of liberalism in my demonination, and yet who fell over bad counseling methods and sexist comments and actions. Meanwhile, some Southern Baptist pastors with massive ministries flaunt massive pride in the pulpit and we put up with it.
In light of this, here are five essentials for avoiding moral failure in ministry. There are many others, but these are just a few we would all do well to heed…
Don’t be a glory thief (Jer. 45:5)
The biggest ministry problem out there is theft. By theft I don’t mean stealing possessions, but stealing praise. All of us can be glory thieves from time to time, but stealing God’s glory in ministry is especially dangerous. As one pastor has remarked, we must never intercept the bride’s affection for the Bridegroom. Jeremiah 45 is a short chapter in the book and yet it packs a heavy punch. In it, God uses Jeremiah to challenge his assistant Baruch with this: “And do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not…” I remember my first class at Southern Seminary was with Dr. Don Whitney and was called Personal Spiritual Disciplines. Dr. Whitney was about to share with us about Charles Spurgeon and he made a humbling remark to this effect: “If one of you were going to have an impact like Charles Spurgeon, we would all already know by now.” I was guilty of seeking great things for myself and this reminded me how foolish I had been. We must learn to pray with the Psalmist, “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory…” (Ps. 115:1). Better to be unknown and faithful than known and unfaithful. As those who love the phrase, Soli Deo Gloria, it would be quite ironic to minister as though it were about us. We must glory in the Gospel we preach, but never in the way we preach it. We are like Moses in with a glow about us from being in God’s presence, but we must always be turning people’s attention off us and onto Christ, the source.
Keep a close watch on yourself and the teaching (1 Tim. 4:16)
It is amazing how our eyes can play tricks on us. Years ago there was a video going around of basketball players dribbling and passing the ball back to each other and the viewer was asked to count the number of times the ball bounced. But when you watch the video and don’t focus on the ball, you notice a man dressed in a gorilla uniform casually walks out right in the middle of the screen and waves, before walking off. Lazer-like focus on one thing will eliminate even the most glaring distractions. Paul told Timothy, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:16). Watching ourselves requires knowing the snares that tend to trip us up and avoiding them and staying in the Word and prayer. Watching our teaching requires caring about our words when communicating God’s Word. A ministry that fails to emphasize what God emphasizes is bound to mislead and fall short.
Be appropriately honest about your weakness (James 5:16)
All sheep are not shepherds, but all shepherds are sheep. Sometimes pastors fall into this weird mindset that they are not really sheep in need of the Chief Shepherd. We begin to live and believe as though we have to attain some standard not given the rest of God’s people. The truth is, however, that we are all weak and easily tempted. We must learn to share regularly with our people of our struggles, while not sharing too detailed of course. James 5:16 reminds us of this: “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed…” A church that thinks its pastor has to be above this is only adding to his burden. We need honesty and openness again about pastoral struggles.
Maintain healthy accountability (Prov. 18:1; 27:17)
Proverbs 18:1 always stands out to an introverted guy like me: “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment.” It is very easy to isolate oneself in pastoral ministry. Most pastors are preparing three to five different messages a week, not to mention all the phone calls and visits necessary. Then there’s administration, hospital visitation, counseling, event planning, discipleship groups to lead, and a whole host of others. But pastors who isolate and insulate themselves from people looking into their personal lives are setting themselves up for disaster. We need godly men who will ask us the hard questions and still choose to love us and pray for us. This is why Proverbs 27:17 states, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” We must not let our own spiritual blade or that of our brothers grow dull.
Pray, pray, pray…and did I mention pray? (1 Thess. 5:17)
When your eyes are on Jesus, it is nearly impossible to look for hope elsewhere. Puritan George Swinnock has said it well: “A Christian’s prayer may have an intermission, but never a cessation. There is no duty given to a Christian for his constant attention so much as prayer; pray always, pray continually, pray without ceasing, pray with perseverance, and pray forevermore. To pray without ceasing means: 1)To be in a praying frame all the time….2)No important business is undertaken without prayer…3)Set a regular time aside every day for prayer.” Prayerfulness is dependency and so the opposite of praying is living independently of God, which should terrify us. In his book entitled Prayer, Tim Keller has pointed out, “The infallible test of spiritual integrity, Jesus says, is your private prayer life.”
So may we all study, live, and pray in such a way that we avoid shipwreck and we pursue the safe haven for our souls and those who hear us.