The Power of a Prayerful Private Piety

With one specific address to begin followed by six petitions to God, the Lord’s Prayer is no doubt the world’s most famous prayer. As we approach this text we must remember the first rule of proper hermeneutics (interpretation) is that every text comes to us in a certain context and it’s in that context where we find the meaning of a particular text. What is the context for the Lord’s Prayer in v9-13? Matthew 6:5-8, where see the warning against inappropriate prayer.

Inappropriate prayer was being done and prized in the community. How so? We see this in v5, “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.” We also see this in v7, “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think they will be heard for their many words.” Two things come to the surface when inappropriate prayer comes into view. First, a desire to be seen by others as holy, and second, a desire to be recognized by others as scholarly. Holy and scholarly, a well ordered life and a well ordered mind. These are two things that in and of themselves are great and commendable even. But when sought after for the sake of public recognition or personal fame, the end of v5 becomes the appropriate response to these kinds of inappropriate desires, “Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.”

The root of both of these false desires in v5 and v7 is simple but seems to be ever entangled around the human heart. When these people pray on the street corners in the middle of the day as people are walking by, or when they use many words with multiple syllables within earshot of everyone else around them they desire their fellow man to recognize them, honor them, and esteem them. This error in prayer is the same error with giving to the poor in v2 and with fasting in v16. So, taking v2, v5, v7, and v16 all together we can see this is all really just another way of saying, these people want their fellow man to praise them and give them glory. Jesus warns us against this. He warns us against using religious external practices, like prayer, to gain applause by our demeanor or language.

In every age believers need to be enormously cautious of this. We may think this only happens out in the world of sports or in Hollywood, but do not be deceived. We do not have a spotless history. Ever since Genesis 3 back in the garden mankind has been eager to exchange the glory of God for the glory of self. One current example is that we now live in the day of the celebrity pastor, where those pastors who are cool, hip, and trendy are making waves in the culture, gaining thousands of church attendees, and earning million dollar salaries. Even in our own reformed circles we prize pastors and theologians of the past and the present. We look to them for guidance, buy and read their books for wisdom, and go to their conferences to be near see them in person.

I remember the first time I went to Together for the Gospel conference in 2008. John Piper was one of the speakers and between sessions he was up front waiting to speak and a line of hundreds of people formed to meet him and get his autograph. I couldn’t understand why such a thing was happening at a conference for pastors, and for a time was a bit put off…until reflecting on that later and saw that was I jealous of those at the front of the line who actually got to meet him. The same Genesis 3 desire to make much of self, if we’re honest, is never far away. Of course there is a fine line here right? Biblical guidance, good books, and helpful conferences are a thing we could grow immensely from. But nonetheless the temptation remains, even for us, to do ministry or be ministered to, for our glory.

Well, as v5 and v7 show the evil and inappropriate kind of prayer, v6 and v8 show us the remedy. v6, “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” v8, “Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” Also, as before this parallels the rest of this first section of chapter 6. v4 shows a true reward comes from God to those who give in secret, and v18 shows a true reward comes from God to those who fast in secret. Here Jesus reminds us of the importance simplicity and sincerity in prayer. Prayer, though informed by deep theology, isn’t meant to be a theological treatise that is performed before an audience of some kind, but simple, an activity of sincerity. Craig Blomberg, in his commentary on Matthew, says Jesus shows us that “…the remedy for our sinful streak aiming at self-glorification is the power of a private piety.”

There is one passage that clarifies these principles very clearly, Luke 18:9-14, which says, “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

In the first verse of this parable, Luke tells us that Jesus is talking to some people who thought they were righteous and viewed others as lower than themselves. Then Jesus gives his parable. Two men went into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee, and the other a tax collector, or a Publican. Jesus then says some things seemingly crazy and ridiculous. But if we’re to see this parable as crazy or ridiculous, we must view the parable from Jesus’ culture and context rather than our culture and context. You see, when we read that there was a Pharisee and a tax collector here, our minds immediately go to one place: the Pharisee is the bad guy and the tax collector is the good guy. Why? That’s what our world has been taught. This was not what Jesus’ world would have felt or believed after reading or hearing this parable. They would have been shocked and astonished because Pharisee’s in their day were the spiritual superstars. If one of them showed up in a church today the people would be so impressed with his “godliness” that within a few weeks that they’d probably make him an elder or a deacon, they might even want him to be the pastor after a few months. Everything about the Pharisee’s life looked perfect, his faith would be robust, his singing would be loud and confident, his praying would be full of knowledge and eloquent, his family would be neat and in order, his dress would be proper and put-together…from the outside looking in it would look like this guy is the real thing, a leader among leaders, a Christian among Christians, and a saint among saints.

We can see this in the text, look in v11-12, “The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” Everything Jesus warns us against in Matthew 6:5-8 is present in this Pharisee’s prayer. His so-called righteousness was really unrighteousness. Look back at his prayer. He says God once, and then says “I” five times, boasting about how squeaky clean and morally upright he is. This isn’t a prayer, it’s a boast. It seems that to this guy, God ought to be impressed with him. The harsh reality here for us in this example, is that when we come to God like this, or have these thoughts within us, we don’t find mercy from God, we find judgment.

Now to the Publican. In Jesus’ day, the average tax collector was nothing less than a crook who robbed people of their livelihood. They not only were traitors to their own people by being employed by the Jewish enemy, Rome, these people would take Jewish money and give it to Rome. And to make matters worse, most tax collectors were filthy rich because they took more money than they needed from people, and kept it for themselves. These people today would probably be included with the likes of those who sell drugs to children, pimps and swingers, and those leading, using, and trading in the sex trafficking industry. These are not good people, and everyone knew it. For one of them to walk into the temple like this guy not only never happened it would simply be astonishing.

This guy’s prayer was really different. He came in, couldn’t even lift his head to heaven or stand up, but bowed down, probably crouched in the corner saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” He knew who he was, he knew he was a fraud, and that he had stolen more than he could count from innocent people. He knew that he was more wicked than he could ever imagine. He knew that he had sold out to Rome and was bankrupt morally. What’s crazy about this, is that after he prays, he received mercy and was made right with God. You see v13-14? “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” While everything Jesus warns against is present in the Pharisee’s prayer, everything Jesus encourages us toward is present in the Publican’s prayer.

So, in beginning to teach us about appropriate prayer Jesus begins by telling us what inappropriate prayer is. What then is they way to pray appropriately? We’ll answer that question over the next many weeks as we unfold the Lord’s Prayer phrase by phrase.

 

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Why True Converts Are True

Last Monday I discussed why false converts are false. Today I want to look at conversion from another angle, asking why true converts are true. John 6:60-66 showed how many of the disciples of Jesus were repelled by His teaching, after this in 6:67-71 comes the big test. “What will the twelve do?”

This is exactly the question Jesus poses to the twelve in v67, “So Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’” That Jesus asked this to the twelve does not show any weakness or worry on Jesus’ part. He’s asking this to push them to one way or another, and displaying for them just how costly it is to truly follow Him. I think as much as the previous section of this passage challenged us, there is as much in this last passage to encourage us. Are some of you prone to doubt, prone to be rash, prone to be hotheaded, impatient, slow to understand, weak, small, insignificant, or foolish? All of these attributes are present in the twelve and more, and yet here they are in v67-71; probably feeling as much of the hardness of Jesus’ teaching as those before, but rather than leave like the rest they’re staying.

There’s only one question that comes to mind when we see them stay: why?

Why would they continue to follow someone whose teaching is so hard that it decreases His influence? Why stay when everyone else is leaving? Why stay when it costs this much to do so? Well, could we not ask similar questions of one another today? Being a Christ follower today doesn’t make one popular, if anything, it puts us at a disadvantage when it comes to advancement in most arenas within our current culture. Why do we stay? Why do we come to worship this One who is thought to be so out of touch with modern society? Why are we a part of this thing called Christianity?

That Peter answers Jesus’ question is no surprise to anyone familiar with Peter’s actions in the gospels. He is often the one who, for better or for worse, immediately says what he is thinking. There are places this did not help him, but what we see in v68-69 of him is beautiful. It is not only the answer Peter gives for himself and the twelve, it is also the answer we must give to the same questions in our present secular age. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that You are the Holy One of God.” This confession of Peter shows that Peter, though not fully getting it, knows a few things really well, so well that he seems to be mastered by them. Peter knows that there is no one else worth going to. Peter knows what Jesus Himself said back in v63, that His words are spirit and life that give eternal life. And Peter knows what He believes, that this Jesus is the Christ He claims to be. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all have moments in them where they record a similarly great confession from Peter. This is John’s. And in all four gospels, it’s after Peter’s confession that things begin to get very hard for Jesus and those following Him.

These words put Peter and the rest of the twelve at odds with the rest of the society around them because they publicly display that they are with the Jesus. In contrast to the false disciples who defected from Christ, Peter and the twelve stood out as true disciples who were devoted to Christ. And yes, if we claim the name of Christ this great confession must be our confession too even if what these words did for them they also do now for us; separating us from the world because they publicly display to the world that we are with Christ.

This is all good and true, but let’s come at this from another angle to peer deeper into this. What was it that separated Peter and the twelve from the false converts of their day? And, what is it that separates you and I from the false converts of our day? Answer: while Peter did not deny that the teaching of Christ was hard, he acknowledged that Jesus’ words were words of life. Do you? This was the one thing the separated the twelve from all those who left. They heard the teaching of Christ, felt the difficult weight and reality of what He was saying, and trusted Him anyway. Do you do this when the teaching of Christ doesn’t mesh with you? Or, when the Bible disagrees with you, do you understand that you’re the one in error and not it?

Did you see how Jesus ends the passage in v70-71? “Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for He, one of the twelve, was going to betray Him.” They have just been through a trial where they had to choose to follow Jesus even if that decision brought very public and unpopular consequences. Now Jesus, by ending this way, prepares His disciples for an even greater trial. John Calvin says it’s as if Jesus’ saying, “You twelve now remain out of what was once a large following. If your faith hasn’t been shaken by the unbelief of many, get ready for something harder. For our number, though small, includes one who is a devil.”

John Piper makes a good point here on this text. He points out that Jesus may confuse us at times. He may perplex us and may even provoke us with things He says. And yet, do you see enough beauty in Jesus, do you see enough worthy of your trust in Jesus to say with Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life…No one ever spoke like you. No one ever acted like you. No was ever so strong and meek, authoritative and gentle, profound and simple, powerful and yet willing to be killed, just and yet willing to be treated unjustly, worthy of honor and yet willing to be dishonored, deserving of immediate obedience and yet patient with people like us, able to answer every question and yet willing to remain silent under abuse, capable of coming down from the cross in flaming judgment and yet committed not to use that power…no one is like You Lord, You are the Holy One of God.”

True converts are true because they see these things and love them.

Why False Converts Are False

During the first part of Jesus’ ministry many people were attracted to Him. Some indeed wholeheartedly but certainly some only loosely. As John 6 progresses we see Jesus put this crowd following Him to the test. His claims about who He is and what He has come to do are becoming clearer, they are rising to the surface, and because of it we see a sifting taking place between those who are true and those who are false. In John 6:60 we read, “When many of His disciples heard it, they said ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’” After hearing their question we should ask our own. What did they hear from Jesus that was so hard? Answer: all Christ had to say to them in chapter 6.

In the beginning of John 6 Jesus performs a great miracle in taking a young boys lunch and making it into a meal for a multitude. That same multitude, right after the miracle and for sometime after, seeks to make Him king because He seems (to them) to be someone who can truly take care of their needs. But Jesus didn’t come to meet physical needs, or to merely meet materialistic expectations, or to be the political leader they wanted Him to be. He came to meet the deepest need of man, the eternal satisfaction of the soul. This is why He worked the wonder of feeding the 5,000, to show that by being able to feed them physically for one evening, He is truly able and willing to feed their souls forever. He takes time to explain this to the crowds clearly telling them He was the very manna from God, the true bread of heaven that gives life to the world. In v27 He called them to labor for the food that endures to eternal life. He spoke about this heavenly food in v33 saying the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven. Then in blazing clarity Jesus says in v35, “I am the Bread of life.” Again in v41, “I am the Bread that came down from heaven.” After some grumbling Jesus makes a statement in v44 about God’s sovereign grace saying the only ones who’ll sink the teeth of their souls into the Bread of life are those whom the Father draws. In v50 Jesus remarks those who eat this bread will not die. In v51 we see another moment of blazing clarity in when Jesus says, “The Bread that I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.” Upon coming to v52 we see a shift in the crowd. They had quietly grumbled about His teaching earlier in v41, now they are openly disputing about it in v52. And by the time v60 comes around it is no longer just the crowd who is having trouble with Jesus’ teaching, it’s His very own disciples.

That they said “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” doesn’t mean that they didn’t understand these things Jesus had just taught. They got it that Jesus was speaking metaphorically and not literally about Him being the true manna from heaven, and eating His flesh and drinking His blood. They understood these to be claims of divinity. They understood the necessity of sovereign grace to reveal divine truth to sinful man. Most commentators say that by saying these were hard words they meant they were severe words, offensive words even, words that they found hard to accept, words that were more than they could endure. In his commentary on John’s gospel John Calvin comments here saying, “The hardness wasn’t in the teaching of Christ, but the hearts of those who heard it.”

So, Jesus knowing these things said in v61-65, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray Him.) And He said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to Me unless it is granted him by the Father.”

Jesus doesn’t say anything here to help ease their grumbling or soften His teaching. If anything His words here call them out and therefore probably increase their grumbling. He says if they had seen His ascension to glory, where He was before He came to walk among them, they would believe and wouldn’t grumble. Why then do they grumble at His teaching? The answer is simple but it is difficult for us to hear: they grumbled in v60 because His Word isn’t enough. This then is why Jesus in v63-65 says only the Spirit, not the flesh, can give life. The words He has spoken are that very life-filled vocabulary and because they respond to it with unbelief shows that, though they have followed Him for a time, they are false. This doesn’t surprise Jesus, as v64-65 remind us, He knows the hearts of men. Then we see a sad scene after this rebuke in v66. “After this many of His disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him.”

I wonder how v60-66 hits you.

When many others would have changed or altered their message to make it less offensive, Jesus doesn’t. Here we see false converts, those who followed for a time but turned back and left Him in the end. They had been interested in Jesus not for who He is or for what He teaches but for how they thought they could use Jesus for their own purposes. They’re false because when Jesus’ teaching doesn’t fit with their preconceived ideas and agendas they leave Jesus.

This sounds an awful lot like today doesn’t it? Perhaps this sounds an awful lot like you. I meet with a group of pastors once a month for fellowship, prayer, and study and at our last meeting one of them told us he had been preaching through the book of Romans and found that his congregation responded in a way that saddened him. During the series he said there were two times when people left the church. He said they left when he covered the sinfulness of man in chapter 1, and he said even more left when he covered the sovereignty of God in chapter 9. What happened? Why did they leave? The clear teaching of the Word of God didn’t fit into their predetermined box. Rather than submitting to what the Word says and living underneath it these people left and found another church that didn’t preach things foreign to what they already believed to be true.

Be challenged, most of you will say v60-66 doesn’t describe you, but ask: are you deceiving yourself? What this crowd in John 6 wanted Jesus would not give. What Jesus offered they would not receive. Does that describe you? If so, you have every reason to fear the wrath of God because regardless what you say you are, you’re lost and you too are a false convert. Or perhaps you truly do believe in Jesus but have come to the point where you’re frustrated with the teaching of Jesus, or have become frustrated with the Christian life because it isn’t as easy as you thought. If this is you, may I ask you a question? When did Jesus ever promise a life of ease in following Him? When did Jesus ever say His teaching was simple? Too many Christians in our day are coddled by the church and not encouraged to grow up and press on toward maturity. Too many of us are content and comfortable in our faith, and because of this we shy away from anything or anyone who’ll rock the boat too much.

Is this the kind of faith you’ve bought into?

Let’s be real for a moment – the idol of comfort is one of the great sins of the American church. We love to be comfortable. If we thought about it long enough, we would see that we’ve unloaded all of this into our spiritual lives and have come to believe that Jesus exists to make us more comfortable in this life. That He exists for us rather than we for Him. Passages like this, where Jesus intentionally disrupts the comforts of others and does nothing to alleviate discomfort make me want to say – if the Jesus you’re following never makes your life uncomfortable, you’re not following this Jesus in John 6.

Jesus doesn’t give participation trophies, He gives a crown of life to those who persevere by sovereign grace! May you do just that.

Jesus Chose & Died for His Bride

The atonement of Christ on the cross is central to the message of Christianity.

To atone for something is to make amends or to make satisfaction for a wrong. This is exactly what we see on the cross – it is through the blood of Christ that the holy God and sinful man are brought together peaceably. By nature we’re at odds with God because of sin, and at the center of our message we find blood. The blood of Christ, which is able to bring sinners like us who were once far away from God, near to Him. This is why Christianity is seen as a religion with a central message of redemption and reconciliation. By the blood of Christ we are redeemed from sin and reconciled to God. So we see at a very basic level that any representation of Christianity that diminishes the centrality of the atonement is a false form of Christianity.

What I’ll labor to show you now is that just as the Old Testament atoning sacrifices were only applied to God’s people then, so too the greatest atoning sacrifice of all, the sacrifice of God’s Son, was for and only applied to God’s people in the New Testament.

Six points to show this:

The Atonement is a Secured Redemption

Hebrews 9:11-12, ‘But when Christ appeared as a High Priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of His own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.’ This puts on display what we’ve seen already – in the Old Testament the high priest once a year would enter into the Most Holy Place to make atonement for God’s people by the means of the blood of goats and calves, but Jesus, our true High Priest, entered the Most Holy Place to make atonement for God’s people once for all time, not by the blood of animals, but by His own blood. What was the result? The result was not that redemption was now possible, no, the result was that by doing this Jesus secured an eternal redemption. In 9:15-22 the author of Hebrews goes onto say that the only people who benefit from this atoning work are ‘those who are called.’

The Atonement was Accomplished

Romans 8:30, ‘And those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified.’ In this passage Paul speaks of Christ’s work with such confidence that he uses the past tense for all of his main verbs, speaking that even glorification is already accomplished for God’s people through the work of God’s Son. This is why Jesus cried out on the cross, ‘It is finished!’ in John 19:30.

The Atonement is for the Church/Sheep

Ephesians 5:25-27, ‘Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the Word, so that He might present the Church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.’ In these verses who is it that Christ loved? Who is it that Christ gave Himself up for? Who is it that Jesus cleansed by the water of the Word? Who is it that He’ll one day present to Himself in splendor by His atoning work? His Church. He loved the Church and gave Himself up for the Church, only the Church. John 10:11 also, ‘I am the good Shepherd. The good Shepherd lays His life down (for who?) the sheep.’ After saying this to the crowds Jesus a bit further on in 10:26 tells many who are listening to Him that they ‘are not among His sheep.’ Acts 20:28, ‘Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for (who?) the Church of God, which He obtained (how?) with His own blood.’

The Atonement Redeemed a People for Christ’s own Possession

Titus 2:14 speaks of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ ‘who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good works.’ Christ gave Himself to redeem a people, a particular people, for His own possession. John 11:51-52 speaks of this by saying the cross gathered into one people the children of God who were scattered abroad. Matthew 1:21 too, ‘Mary will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.’ Here we see Jesus’ name is connected with His mission. Why did He come? To save His people, from their sins.

The Atonement is Not for All but ‘Many’

Matthew 20:26-28, ‘Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.’ Isaiah 53:11, ‘Out of the anguish of His soul He shall see and be satisfied; by His knowledge shall the Righteous One, My servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and He shall bear their iniquities.’

The Atonement Purchased a Global People

Rev. 5:9-10, ‘And they sang a new song, saying ‘Worthy are You to take the scroll and to open its seals, for You were slain, and by Your blood You ransomed (purchased – NIV) people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and You have made them a Kingdom of priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.’ See here again, the cross didn’t make salvation possible for people, a specific, a definite people were purchased on the cross.

So…

Jesus did not die to make salvation possible for everyone. He did not die to merely open the door of salvation and sit back hoping that people will accept His gospel. If that were true His death on the cross didn’t accomplish anything, it only made salvation possible. This is a false view of the atoning work of Christ. Rather, the Biblical view is this: Jesus died and shed His blood to purchase His sheep, to secure the salvation of His Church, and to redeem the elect of God from every corner of the globe.

In this manner we can say the atoning work of Christ on the cross is sufficient for all, but only efficient for the elect. Charles Spurgeon said it well, ‘Some men cannot endure to hear the doctrine of election. I suppose they like to choose their own wives, but they are not willing that Christ should choose His own Bride, the Church.’ J.I. Packer said it too, ‘Christ did not win a hypothetical salvation for hypothetical believers, a mere possibility of salvation for any who might possibly believe, but a real salvation for His own chosen people.’

Here we see it: Jesus chooses His Bride, and Jesus dies for His bride, securing everything needed for the salvation of His own.

Why Solus Christus? Because He is Everything

Why did the doctrine of Solus Christus matter so much during the reformation, and why does it still matter today? We’ve talked much about Luther’s life these past weeks. Let me describe one more moment from his life to answer this question.

Once Luther began seeing the power of gospel grace and the powerlessness of our own works to save, he heard reports of a preacher who had just come to Wittenberg. This preacher’s name was John Tetzel. Tetzel came into the town square and said, “Good people of Wittenberg, have you not at one time or another burned your hand in the fire? And felt it torment you day and night? How greatly you ought to fear, then, the fires of hell, which are able to burn and torment your soul for all eternity. Your Pope, Leo X, offers you grace for the building of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Tonight and only tonight you can snatch any loved one or rescue yourself from the fires of hell for a few coins. “When a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs.” The technical term for this is called an indulgence. And Tetzel just happened to be the most famous indulgence preachers around.

Luther heard this and was vexed in his soul! Why? Because Tetzel’s message was clear: give money to the Pope, and you will be saved. In response to Tetzel Luther wrote his 95 theses and numerous other books against the wicked doctrines of the Popes, past and present. For writing what he did, Pope Leo X sent Luther warning letter, called a Papal Bull, telling him to repent or else. Luther refused to repent and responded instead by publicly burning a copy of the letter. A few weeks later he preached about this in one of his Sunday sermons saying, “Yes you have heard, it’s true. I’ve been summoned to Rome. While I’m gone remember, we obsess with indulgences…God isn’t an angry God who only wants your money. Those who see God as angry do not see him rightly…If we truly believe that Christ is our Savior, then we have a God of love, and to see God in faith is to look upon his friendly heart. So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this, ‘I admit that I deserve death and hell. What of it? For I know one who suffered and made satisfaction in my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God. Where he is, there I shall be also.’”

Christ’s work alone saves, not ours. This was what vexed Luther.

Now why do these things matter today? You may think the preaching of indulgences was a thing of the past, but you’d be mistaken. The Roman Catholic Church not only still uses and offers indulgences, but Pope Francis has been known to use them often. Remember, when an indulgence is offered, what is being communicated is that if you do this, if you go here, or if you give this amount of money, you’ll be saved from the fires and torment of hell. There seems to be no place for the truths of Christ standing forth in majestic wonder as the true Prophet, true Priest, and true King, alone in His exclusive identity, and alone in His sufficiency to save. The center of Tetzel’s preaching was that man could buy His way into heaven, Luther heard it and it vexed his soul because Christ’s work to save was being thrust aside!

Today it’s really no different. By and large the center of protestant preaching is that man can use God to gain self-esteem, purpose, and worth, and even though Christ crucified is thrust aside and absent from this message…we hear it and our souls aren’t vexed at all! Where is Christ???? Where is His Prophetic, Priestly, and Kingly work for us? Sadly, though we say we reject Catholicism our message is eerily similar to Tetzel’s message. Sure, we may not say that we can buy our way into heaven, but we do say we can use heaven to buy whatever we want.

Church. We need to repent and return to Christ. When we turn to this particular Sola we turn to the linchpin, the hub, the apex, and the center of all reformation theology, indeed, of all biblical theology. Christ is the glory of Sola Scriptura, for He alone is the Word made flesh and He alone is the interpretive end of all Scripture. Christ is the glory of Sola Gratia, for He alone is the grace of God personified. Christ is the glory of Sola Fide, for He alone is the object of saving faith. And Christ is the glory of Soli Deo Gloria, for He alone is the radiance of the glory of God.[i]

Far be it from us to think the reformation or any theology coming from it that boasts the label of ‘reformed’ centers on men like Martin Luther or John Calvin, or any other famous man or woman in the history of the Church. Far be it from us to think God exists to make much of us! May you be vexed at the man centeredness of the Christian world around us, and rid your soul of such narcissism. We have no need for any other prophet to provide us with new revelation, we have no need for any other priest to mediate between us and God, and we have no need for any other king to rule God’s Church.[ii]

Christ alone stands at the center of God’s eternal purposes, so, Christ and Christ alone must stand at the center of all our life and doctrine.[iii]

 

 

Citations:

[i] Michael Reeves’ foreword in Stephen Wellum, Christ Alone: The Uniqueness of Jesus as Savior, page 14.

[ii] Ibid., page 13.

[iii] Michael Reeves’ foreword in Stephen Wellum, Christ Alone: The Uniqueness of Jesus as Savior, page 13.

Why Sola Fide? Because of Works

In our continuing discussion of the Five Solas, we now turn to Sola Fide – Faith Alone. To describe this hear the story of Luther’s conversion.

Luther knew well the Catholic doctrine that the way one is saved is by a combination of God’s grace and man’s work. But as a young monk Luther was acutely aware of his many sins. Try and try as he may, he never felt he was good enough, for God’s Law demanded perfection and he couldn’t match its demands. So he would spend hours in confession, one time he even spent six hours confessing sins but ended that occasion in despair when he realized there may be sins he’s committed but isn’t aware of them. He panicked and thought: “Sins to be forgiven must be confessed. To be confessed they must be recognized and remembered. If they are not recognized and remembered they cannot be confessed. If they are not confessed, they are not forgiven.”[1]

His mentor Johann Staupitz told Luther to see God as love by looking to Christ. Luther responded by saying, “God out of mere delight hardens men and damns them for eternity…is this who is said to be full of such mercy and goodness? This is cruel, intolerable even. Love God? I hate Him!”[2] His mentor than did the unthinkable, against Luther’s wishes he made him a professor of theology in the University. Luther was tasked with teaching through the Psalms and Paul’s letter to the Romans. And the moment came, in studying Romans 1:16-17 that Luther was finally converted. Here’s his own words.

“I greatly longed to understand Paul’s letter to the Romans and nothing stood in the way but this one expression ‘the righteousness of God.’ I took it to mean that righteousness is God punishing the wicked. And my situation was just that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner, troubled, with no confidence in my own works. Therefore I did not love this just and angry God, I hated Him and murmured against Him…yet I clung to Paul, longing to know what he meant. Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the righteousness of God and the phrase ‘the righteous shall live by faith.’ Then I grasped that the righteousness of God is that righteousness by which through grace and mercy God justifies us through faith. I felt myself reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise.”[3]

For Luther, to hear that we are saved and given the righteousness of God, not through our own works, but by faith was like entering the gates of paradise. Then all of sudden something surprised him. He knew the role and place of works in the Christian life. Works don’t save, but they show we have been saved. Works aren’t the foundation of our salvation, they’re the necessary consequence of it. We’re not saved by good works, we’re saved unto good works. So for Luther and the rest of the reformers faith alone saved, but faith was never alone.

Fast forward to today.

We think salvation works like this. We are a frog that has fallen into a jar of milk, and after realizing we cannot jump out of this jar, we do the only thing we can…we start paddling. So we paddle and paddle and paddle and slowly but surely we paddle that milk into butter and launch ourselves out and up to freedom.[4] We may say Amazing Grace is one of our favorite hymns, but deep down we think if we just do our best we’ll get to heaven one day.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

We need once again to return to Scripture to see that our works, on their best day, are still filthy rags before our Holy God. Our works aren’t enough to make us right with God. Therefore we could never do enough, and ought to despair of our efforts. But though despairing of ourselves we need not lose hope, because of Christ. His works, His gospel works for us and given to us through faith are always enough.

So reader, may your confidence ever be, not in your own works, but in Christ’s works for us. May we always boast in Sola Fide, Faith alone! Because through faith we grab hold of the great gospel power of God. Indeed, we grab hold of God Himself.

 

 

Citations:

[i] Roland Bainton, Here I Stand, page 42.

[ii] Ibid., page 44.

[iii] Ibid., page 49-50.

[iv] Kent Hughes, Romans: Righteousness From Heaven, Preaching the Word Commentary, page 83.

Why Sola Gratia? Because We Are Beggars

Twenty-nine years had passed since he nailed his 95 theses to church door in Wittenberg. Being 62 years old and weary from his life’s work, Luther was asked to come be the mediator in a family dispute in his hometown of Eisleben, Germany. Through Luther’s efforts the dispute was resolved, but he fell ill in the process. Sensing his end was near he wrote his last will and testament and his friend Justus Jonas came to his side and asked him “Do you want to die standing firm on Christ and the doctrine you have taught?” Luther shouted “YES!” The sickness increased, and as death approached Luther uttered his last words.

“We are beggars. This is true.”

“We are beggars. This is true.” Do these words surprise you? On the surface of things they certainly don’t seem very hopeful do they? That he would mention his own fallen and sinful condition on his deathbed seems a bit melancholy. I mean, this is Martin Luther we’re talking about. He’d written volumes upon volumes about the nuances of gospel grace, the Christian life, the Church, and then on his deathbed he gives us that? I hope you don’t think these words are too strange. In fact I hope you are strangely encouraged by these words. Why? Because Luther knew what we need to know.

After laboring and sweating and agonizing and grinding his soul to the uttermost ends of his limits trying to perform enough good works to become right with God in the monkhood as a good Roman Catholic he realized something that changed his life.

He was not enough.

He was a fallen man. He truly was helpless and truly was hopeless before God in his own works. But this truth about him didn’t leave him helpless and hopeless, it left him hopeful, for when he came to the end of himself he found the beginning of life in Christ. When He came to the end of Himself He learned the works that really do save us and make us right with God aren’t our own works, but Christ’s and Christ’s alone! So when it came time for the great reformer to die, he did not deny, he did not twist, he did not run away from his own fallen nature. He owned it and said “We are beggars. This is true.”

What a great way to proclaim the content we find in Ephesians 2:8, “…by grace you have been saved…this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God…”

The question that he answered on his deathbed is one that each of you must answer as well. ‘How do I, a sinner, become right with a holy God?’ If your answer is anything about things you have done or things you have not done than I’m afraid you’re bankrupt spiritually. Sadly, taking the state of the Protestant Evangelical world in America this means much of who we are is bankrupt. Why? The Cambridge Declaration explains it well, “Unlimited confidence in human ability is a product of the fall. It is this false confidence that now fills the Protestant world: from the self-esteem gospel to the health and wealth gospel, from those who have transformed the gospel into a product to be sold and sinners into consumers who want to buy, to others who treat the Christian faith as being true simply because it works and brings a crowd.” All of these modern inventions are nothing more than repeats of historical heresies.

So reader, may you see God’s grace as not some kind of general kindness or benevolence of God, but the sole cause of our salvation. When asked how we become right with God may your answer ever be…Sola Gratia – Grace Alone!

Why Sola Scriptura? Because of Misplaced Authority

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 Sola Scriptura 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.

Prayer as the Route to True Theological Experience

In Romans 8:15-16 Paul says, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”

There are many things to draw from the wealth of this passage, but do not miss what is sitting right on the surface of it. When we’re reminded that we’ve been adopted by God and feel the Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we’re children of God, what happens? We cry out in prayer saying “Abba! Father!” Or in other words, we experience a deep and profound communion with God that leads to a peaceful assurance and rest in God. Some of you may shrink back at the thought of experiencing God as something too emotional, too subjective, perhaps too mystical. There is some truth in this. In every age there have been those who have allowed emotion and experience to determine their faith and view of Scripture, rather than placing their emotion and experience under the examination of Scripture. But, I’m convinced that we will miss a great deal of heavenly blessedness in our souls if we overreact in the opposite direction and reject all emotion and experience with God. If we reject all emotive experiences with God how are we to commune with God? How are to we feel deeply for Him? Indeed we cannot.

John Owen, the English Puritan, in a sermon on the gospel once encouraged his hearers to “get an experience of the power of the gospel…in and upon your own hearts, or all your profession is an expiring thing.”[1] Similar to this quote the Scottish theologian John Murray said, “It is necessary for us to recognize that there is an intelligent mysticism in the life of faith…of living union and communion with the exalted and ever-present Redeemer…He communes with His people and His people commune with Him in a conscious reciprocal love…The life of true faith cannot be that of a cold metallic assent. It must have the passion and warmth of love and communion because communion with God is the crown and apex of true religion.”[2] Hear Peter in 1 Peter 1:8, “Though you have not seen Him, you love Him. Though you do not now see Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory…” We cannot commune with God in any proper or substantial way, we cannot ‘rejoice with joy inexpressible filled with glory’ if we remain cold and against all emotion. No, we are called an intimacy with God where a deep love for God is felt and cherished.

We must be reminded first and foremost that prayer is not a conversation between two equal parties. We do not pray to get things from God, we pray to get more of God.[3] We pray to commune with God and to grow in our affections for God. Tim Keller commenting on these things says, “An encounter with God involves not only the affections of the heart but also the convictions of the mind. We are not called to choose between a Christian life based on truth and doctrine or a Christian life filled with spiritual power and experience. They go together…”[4] God doesn’t intend us to leave our theology behind and go out on a quest looking for deeper religious experience, no. Rather, in prayer the Holy Spirit helps us experience our theology.[5]

With this in mind let’s examine four prayers Paul makes in his letters to the churches.

Ephesians 1:15-20

“For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which He has called you, what are the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His great might that He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places…”

When Paul heard of the faith the Ephesian believers had in Christ and their love toward one another, it moved him to pray for them. Specifically praying that God (calling Him the “Father of glory”) would give them the Holy Spirit who would reveal more of God to them so they would increase in their wisdom and knowledge of God. Paul even asks for their hearts to be enlightened so that they would four things: first, how deep and vast our hope is in Christ. Second, how glorious our inheritance in Christ is. Third, how immeasurably great God’s power is toward us who believe. And fourth, for them to recognize that all of these wonderful things he’s been praying for are given to us in the Spirit who raised Christ up to God’s right hand. It seems clear to me, and I hope it seems clear to you, that Paul’s main agenda in prayer here is to ask God to so move among these Ephesians that these Ephesians would experience subjectively what they know to be true objectively. They have rich doctrine in their minds, and Paul desires that doctrine would fill the rest of the lives and the means he goes about encouraging them toward this is prayer.

Ephesians 3:14-19

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of His glory He may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

We see a progression in Paul’s prayer here. First, Paul desires that these believers would be strengthened by the Spirit in their inner being according to the riches of God’s glory, so that, Christ would abound in their hearts through faith. Secondly, Paul asks that because of that they would be rooted and grounded in love with one another. Thirdly, because of that He asks that they, together, would comprehend the breadth, length, height and depth of Christ’s love that surpasses knowledge. Fourth, because Paul’s ultimate request from all of this is that they would be filled with the fullness of God. Again, Paul’s driving motivation in praying for the Ephesians here in chapter 3 is similar to his motivation back in chapter 1. He desires they comprehend what is incomprehensible, and that they be filled with the fullness of God. This is to say, he prays they would experience subjectively what they know to be true objectively.

Philippians 1:9-11

“And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”

After reminding the Philippian believers in v3-8 that he prays for them regularly, remembering them for their deep and heartfelt partnership with him in the gospel, Paul prays for that their love would abound, be filled with more knowledge and more discernment, and that God would fill them with the fruit of righteousness for the praise and glory of Christ. Again, we see Paul praying for the Philippians in a very similar manner he prayed for the Ephesians. He is taking immense doctrinal truth and praying that this Philippian congregation would experience the fullness of it. That this truth they know would not only inform their minds but inflame and enliven their lives with a new depth of spiritual communion with God.

Colossians 1:9-14

“And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

As with the Ephesians and the Philippians, Paul uses almost the exact same language to pray for Colossian believers. He wants them to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will and from that desires they walk in a manner worthy of God. He wants them to be increasing and strengthened with God’s glorious might and from that desires they endure patiently with joy. And lastly he wants them to be thankful to God who has delivered them from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of Christ.

I think you get the picture I’m seeking to set before you.

In Paul’s prayer for these churches we something very experiential and something very doctrinal. As Tim Keller told us before, be reminded that God does not ask us to choose between a Christian life that’s doctrinal and a Christian life that’s powerful. No, God calls each of us to a Christian life that is deeply and objectively theological as well as richly experiential and subjective. How exactly does God intend these two worlds of objective truth and subjective experience to mesh together? In prayer.

The greatness of prayer is that in it we subjectively experience what we know to be true objectively. The greatness of prayer is that it is the way in which our theology moves into our soul.

So the application is simple, give yourself to this deeply and daily and what God fill you with His fullness.

 

 

Citations:

[1] John Owen, quoted in Tim Keller’s Prayer, page 15.

[2] John Murray, quoted in Ibid., page 16. Emphasis mine.

[3] Tim Keller, Ibid., page 21.

[4] Ibid., page 16-17.

[5] Ibid., page 17.

Prayer As the Pursuit of God’s Glory

What is prayer?

I believe that the glory of God is the most ultimate and supreme and majestic reason behind everything, so I want to begin a series of posts on prayer but feel I must start in seeing prayer in relation to God’s glory. So, my first answer to the question ‘What is Prayer?’ is this: prayer is the pursuit of God’s glory.

In Psalm 50:15 we read, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.” Similarly in John 14:13 Jesus says, “Whatever you ask in My name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” So, the ultimate reason we’re to call on God in days of trouble, and to come before God in Christ’s name with our requests is so that God would be glorified. When God brings us out of the day of trouble His goal is His glory. When God hears and grants our requests in Christ’s name His goal is His glory. God desires to be glorified in our prayer. One question we may ask at this point is how? God says He wants to be glorified when in prayer, that is clear, but how does He want to be glorified in our prayer? Think of like this.

Suppose you are completely paralyzed and all you can do is talk.[i] Then suppose your brother promised to live with you for the rest of your life to care for you and do for you what you are no longer able to do. Then suppose one day afterwards someone decides to visit you. So they get ready, come to the door and ring the doorbell. Your brother then opens the door, lets them in, and brings them to your room. In that moment how would you make much of your brother’s humble willingness to live with you and care for you? Would you try and get up out of bed, and clean yourself and your room up to make room for your guest? Of course not. No, you would call out to your brother for help. Help to be propped up, help with your glasses to see your visitor, help to clean up your room a bit so your visitor can sit down with you. After seeing your brother help you, your visitor would learn two things from watching this. First, they would learn how needy you are. And second, they would learn how kind and able and strong your brother is.

Prayer is very similar. By coming to God in the day of trouble, and by coming to God with your needs in Christ’s name, you are shown to be needy and weak, unable to do for yourself what you most need to do. But your neediness isn’t the only thing on display here. What else is on display? God’s power and strength to provide the help we need. So how God glorified in prayer? God is glorified in prayer because prayer humbles us as needy and exalts God as strong. To not pray is like having the rooms of your house wallpapered in Target gift cards while you keep shopping at Goodwill because you can’t read.[ii] To not pray is like being a bus driver and trying to push your bus out of a ditch on the side of the road unaware that Clark Kent is on board.[iii] Remember what Jesus said to the Woman at the well? In John 4:10, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that is saying to you ‘Give me a drink’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” If you knew…you would ask! Therefore those who labor in prayer are those who know two things. They know how needy and helpless they are, and they know how willing and able and strong God is in Christ toward those who believe.

Charles Spurgeon once used the famous tale Robinson Crusoe as an illustration in a sermon. He said this, “Robinson Crusoe had been wrecked. He is left on the desert island all alone. His case is a very pitiable one. He goes to his bed, and he is smitten with fever. This fever lasts upon him long, and he has no one to wait upon him – none to even bring him a drink of cold water. He is ready to perish. He had been accustomed to sin, and had all the vices of a sailor; but his hard case made him think. He opens a Bible which he finds in his chest, and he comes upon a passage, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.” That night he prayed for the first time in his life, and ever after there was in him a hope in God which marked the birth of the heavenly life.”[iv]

Spurgeon explained his use of Robinson Crusoe’s tale like this, “God and the praying man take shares…First here is your share “Call upon Me in the day of trouble…” Secondly here is God’s share “I will deliver you.” Again, we take a share “You shall be delivered.” And then God takes the final share “You shall glorify Me.” Here is a covenant that God enters into with you who pray to Him, and whom He helps. He says, “You shall have deliverance, but I must have the glory.” Here is a delightful partnership: we obtain that which we so greatly need, and…God gets the glory which is due to His name.”[v]

Church, see this great discovery about the nature of prayer. We do not glorify God in prayer by asking God if we can provide for His needs, but by asking that Him to provide ours and trusting Him to answer in His own wise and gracious time. Prayer is in a very real sense, giving up the effort of doing things in your own strength and hanging a help wanted sign around your neck.[vi] It is sitting back in the doctor’s chair and trusting the Great Physician to do what only the Great Physician can do.[vii] So yes, in all of life, and for our purposes here – in our prayer, if God is to get the glory we are to act as receivers and not givers. This is how God is glorified in the prayer of His people. And more so, this is how we receive great joy. John 16:24, “Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” So when we come with empty hands, acknowledging our neediness and depending on God to provide in His abundance, God is glorified and our joy is made full.

You’ve probably felt his influence throughout all of this, so I’ll just go ahead and quote him now to end. John Piper concludes his chapter on prayer in Desiring God like this, “Prayer pursues God’s glory by treating Him as the inexhaustible reservoir of hope and help. In prayer we admit our poverty and God’s prosperity, our bankruptcy and His bounty, our misery and His mercy. Therefore prayer highly exalts and glorifies God precisely by pursuing everything we long for in Him, and not in ourselves.”[viii]

Lord willing, we will continue next week discussing more of the nature of prayer.

 

Citations:

[i] John Piper, Desiring God, page 160-161.

[ii] Ibid., page 162.

[iii] Ibid., page 162.

[iv] Charles Spurgeon, Twelve Sermons on Prayer, page 105. Quoted in Piper, Desiring God, page 161.

[v] Charles Spurgeon, Twelve Sermons on Prayer, page 115. Quoted in Piper, Desiring God, page 162.

[vi] John Piper, Desiring God, page 171.

[vii] Ibid., page 172.

[viii] Ibid., page 182.

Every Book of the Bible in One Word

I ran across this post a while back and found it extremely helpful. It’s from Garrett Kell over on the The Gospel Coalition.

I’ve reposted the whole below, enjoy!

 

God reveals himself through his Word. When he speaks, he teaches us what he is like, how he acts, and how he desires us to respond. As a whole, the Bible is about God. It’s about God the Father displaying his glory through God the Son by the power of God the Holy Spirit.

The Bible is one book made up of 66 books. Each book has a major theme that emphasizes an aspect of God’s character or a way he is working to carry out his perfect plan. What follows is an attempt to capture these themes. These themes are certainly reductionistic and required me to make a few tough choices, but I hope you’ll be helped by considering them.

Bible: God of Jesus

Old Testament: Anticipation

Gospels: Manifestation

Acts: Proclamation

Epistles: Explanation

Revelation: Consummation


Law
Genesis: God of Promise

Exodus: God of Power

Leviticus: God of Purity

Numbers: God of Perseverance

Deuteronomy: God of Preparation


History

Joshua: God of the Land

Judges: God of the Rebels

Ruth: God of Redemption

1 Samuel: God of the Heart

2 Samuel: God of the Throne

1 and 2 Kings: God of Israel

1 and 2 Chronicles: God of Judah

Ezra: God of the Temple

Esther: God of the Gallows

Nehemiah: God of the Wall


Wisdom

Job: God of Pain

Psalms: God of Praise

Proverbs: God of Prudence

Ecclesiastes: God of Purpose

Song of Solomon: God of Passion


Major Prophets

Isaiah: God of Glory

Jeremiah: God of Weeping

Lamentations: God of Faithfulness

Ezekiel: God of Visions

Daniel: God of History


Minor Prophets

Hosea: God of the Unfaithful

Joel: God of the Locusts

Amos: God of the Oppressed

Obadiah: God of the Mountain

Jonah: God of Compassion

Micah: God of Justice

Nahum: God of Wrath

Habakkuk: God of Sovereignty

Zephaniah: God of Judgment

Haggai: God of Renewal

Zechariah: God of Restoration

Malachi: God of Worship


History

Matthew: God of the Jews

Mark: God of the Romans

Luke: God of the Outcast

John: God of the World

Acts: God of Power


Pauline Epistles

Romans: God of Righteousness

1 Corinthians: God of Holiness

2 Corinthians: God of Weakness

Galatians: God of Justification

Ephesians: God of Unity

Philippians: God of Joy

Colossians: God of Preeminence

1 Thessalonians: God of Encouragement

2 Thessalonians: God of Admonishment

1 Timothy: God of Godliness

2 Timothy: God of Endurance

Titus: God of Works

Philemon: God of Reconciliation


General Epistles

Hebrews: God of Fulfillment

James: God of Trials

1 Peter: God of the Persecuted

2 Peter: God of Patience

1 John: God of Love

2 John: God of Truth

3 John: God of Discernment

Jude: God of Protection


Prophecy

Revelation: God of Eternity

I found the process of reflecting on God’s message in each book deeply edifying, and I would enjoy hearing any ways you can improve this list.

Garrett Kell is married to Carrie, and together they have five children. He serves as pastor of Del Ray Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia.

On Life & Theology With Costi Hinn

I recently had the privilege to sit down with Costi Hinn for a rare Publicans Blog interview. It was a pleasure to get to know the man and hear his heart for the Truth. He has been through a lot in his journey from heresy to faithfulness and we can learn much from him. He is not only a godly man, he’s a husband, father, and faithful pastor seeking to honor Christ in all he does. Our interview is below, enjoy!

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Adam: Thank you for joining me for this interview. I don’t think many of our readers will know who you are, even though they may recognize your last name. Could you briefly share about yourself and how God has brought you where you are now?

Costi: Thanks for inviting me to join you Adam. From what I’ve read and seen thus far, “The Publicans” is a blessing to a lot of people.

My name is Costi, but what sticks out to most people is my last name – Hinn. I grew up in the Word of Faith and Prosperity gospel movements and was born and bred to be a tongue-speaking, name-it-and-claim-it, healthy and wealthy charismatic Christian. Some people may have heard of Benny Hinn. He’s my uncle. I grew up traveling globally with him and my father (his brother), and even worked with him when I was 18. My job was to be a “catcher” at the healing crusades. In other words, I was supposed to catch people when they were “slain in the spirit” by uncle Benny’s hand, breath, or infamous white jacket. Though I had questions about the integrity of his ministry, and the legitimacy of the manifestations and healings occurring at the crusades, the pleasures of the prosperity lifestyle were enough to keep those questions at bay for a time. Luxurious accommodations, private air travel, and the finest things in life were, after all, the blessings of God for our faithful “ministry” work. I often justified any concerns with that belief. Furthermore, any confusing teachings or things that my uncle said in contradiction to the Bible were never to be challenged. We are taught strictly that one is never to “touch the Lord’s anointed.” That meant no speaking out against or challenging any preacher – no matter what shady things they did behind closed doors or said in error from the pulpit. I was completely blind to the truth and didn’t dare challenge the system. Eventually God saved me from my life of deception and suddenly the Bible that I had been reading most of my life made sense more than ever before! I experienced illuminating work of the Holy Spirit in a remarkable way. It was as though a light bulb just flipped on and it was obvious that I had been preaching, serving, and believing in a false version of Jesus Christ. Like many believers who have left false beliefs behind, it was a series of providential events in my life and exposure to faithful Bible teachers that led to my conversion. I’ll never forget the day I wept bitterly over the life of hypocrisy that I had lived. I repented of my sin, and walked away from my false beliefs forever. it was at that time that I committed to being discipled by the pastor who had been used to show me my errors, and reading voraciously to grow in sound doctrine. Shortly after, I enrolled in seminary. By God’s grace today I am fully committed to preaching the true gospel, and serving God’s people as a faithful under-shepherd for the rest of my life. I currently am on staff as an Associate Pastor at Mission Bible Church in Tustin, California. Our teaching pastor is my brother in the Lord and close friend, Anthony Wood. He’s the one who discipled me closely during my conversion.

Adam: Praise God! It’s encouraging to hear this. God has taken you through a complete theological renovation hasn’t He? I can only imagine the high cost you’ve experienced in turning away from what your family has taught you for so long. I’m guessing that you once rejected suffering as a lack of faith in God? If so, are you now encouraged by the numerous passages of Scripture teaching us that conflict and suffering will be a normal part of the Christian life?

Costi: Yes it’s been a total transformation of my desires, beliefs, and teachings. Only God could do such a thing. I wake up thankful every day that He graciously saved me. As far as my view on suffering in the past, it certainly was tied to Word of Faith theology. For example, if there is conflict in a person’s life the culprit could be the “spirit of strife” or they could be causing the conflict with negative confessions, negative thoughts, or lack of faith. The solution is (normally) to rebuke the devil, pray in the spirit (meaning tongues), speak positive confessions, or even sow a seed into a ministry that is seen as good soil. This couldn’t be further from the biblical view on suffering but I was honestly clueless. Since my conversion, a passage that has greatly encouraged me during conflict and temporal suffering has been Matthew 10:26-39. Jesus really is the dividing line – and serving Him faithfully is not going to lead to a cake-walk through this life. Since taking a public stand for the true gospel, I’ve been received death threats, threats of physical violence, cursed for “touching the Lord’s anointed”, been called a heretic, and more. I count it a privilege to experience barely a fraction of what better men of women have gone through long before I was saved. Ultimately, we are all standing on the shoulders of faithful generations who have stood for Christ before we did. I never intended to be divided with my family over doctrine, but I refuse to compromise the gospel or turn a blind eye when a false Christ is being preached.

Adam: Amen and well said. There is a lot of deep and good stuff here to chew on. It all seems to come down to right theology and the importance of it before, in, and after seasons of suffering. Having been corrected by God theologically you have found deeper and truer wells of joy, even in the midst of difficulty. What would you say to someone who thinks theology is too controversial or too divisive and therefore avoids it trying to have a simple faith, perhaps saying, ‘I don’t do theology, I just want to love Jesus’?

Costi: First off, to avoid theology because it’s hard, controversial, or divisive, in favor of just “loving Jesus” and keeping faith simple, is like keeping your marriage superficial and shallow for fear of ever having conflict. It doesn’t make for true relationship and is not a true relationship. Jesus can’t be loved without conflict of some kind. We will either be offending someone, or conflicting with our own sinful nature that doesn’t want to submit to Him. He said He would divide people (Matthew 10:34-36), He said if you love Him you’ll obey Him (John 14:23), and He said He was the only way to heaven (John 14:6) – which means all other roads lead to hell. You literally can’t love Jesus without controversy of some sort. Second, we all need to “do theology.” By definition theology simply refers to the study of knowing God and His nature. What better way to have a relationship and thrive in true worship of God than to know Him deeply! Theology also provides an amazing platform for growing in our faith. Wrestling with doctrines, being sharpened by sound teaching, and having our man-centered pride crushed by the notion that we exist for God’s glory is sanctifying for the Christian. Lastly, some people have a bad taste in their mouth when it comes to theology because of bad experiences. One of my seminary professors told us a story of how in his day, all seminary students tended to do was debate over non-essentials and forget about the Great Commission. I think there is a lesson there. Still, theology is the furthest thing from mere head knowledge that puffs up. To quote R.C. Sproul, “The purpose of theology is not to tickle our intellects but to instruct us in the ways of God, so that we can grow up into maturity and fullness of obedience to Him. That is why we engage in theology.”

Adam: I love these three things you state here, they’re absolutely necessary to keep them in view in order to do life glorifying God. Regarding your third statement here, what are the theological essentials we must never compromise on and what are the theological non-essentials we can afford to be a bit more open handed with?

Costi: Essentials are things like the deity of Christ, the virgin birth, the Trinity, the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture, salvation by grace through faith, the resurrection of Christ, the return of Christ, and you could certainly add several more to this list under those headings but you get the picture. As far as non-essentials, that list may look like the cessation or continuation of certain gifts, eschatology, ecclesiology, and church government structures. Again, several more could be added to this list but in general, these aren’t hills we should be dying on or spending our entire ministry solely focused on. I would clarify this list by saying that many of these non-essentials can easily become essential issues when they infringe upon the deity of Christ, the work of the Holy Spirit, the sufficiency of Scripture or other excesses being witnessed in the church today. In other words, there is a huge difference between Wayne Grudem and Bill Johnson, though they both would be considered “continuationists.” One is a biblically sound theologian, the other is a false teacher.

Adam: Knowing the difference between what hills to die on and what hills to not die on is indeed extremely helpful. Thank you so much for your time with me and answering my questions. One last question: if you were stranded on an island and were allowed to have 5 books with you, what 5 would you take and why?

Costi: Thank you Adam. I’d take 1) My Bible for obvious reasons. 2) A Bible handbook because I enjoy background and context 3) J.C. Ryle: Prepared to Stand Alone by Iain Murray because Ryle is one of my heroes and I’d be stranded alone on an island 4) The Sovereignty of God by Arthur Pink for those days when I’d question why God allowed me to end up stranded on an island 5) Church History in Plain Language by Bruce Shelley because I never get bored of reading about where we’ve come from as Christians. We are just standing on the shoulders of faithful men and women who stood boldly for Christ long before us.

Adam: Well said sir, I praise God for the testimony of His grace in your life and will continue to pray for you and your ministry. May the Lord bless, increase, and spread His fame through you in the years to come. Thank you for taking time to spend with us Publicans 🙂

Costi: It was fun Adam – I enjoyed it! Keep up the great work at The Publicans.

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You can find more from Costi Hinn on his blog Equip the Saint, you can find him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/costiwhinn/, and follow him on twitter @costiwhinn.

Reader, Don’t Miss This. There’s A Chance You Could.

In the beginning of John 6 Jesus performs a great miracle in taking a young boys lunch and making it into a meal for a multitude. That same multitude than seeks to make Him king, right after the miracle and even into the next day, because He seems (to them) to be someone who can truly take care of their needs. But Jesus didn’t come to meet physical needs or meet materialistic expectations. He came to meet the deepest need of man, the eternal satisfaction of the soul. This is why He worked the wonder of feeding the 5,000, to show that by being able to feed them physically for one evening, He is truly able and willing to feed their souls forever and ever. He even takes time to explain this to the multitude more clearly telling them He was the very manna from God, the true bread of heaven that gives life to the world. The multitude still didn’t quite see what Jesus was saying, so in response to the crowd’s obtuseness Jesus responds with some of the clearest and most powerful language thus far in John’s gospel.

This clear, powerful response is found in John 6:35-40. For us today, notice just v35-36.

After this multitude shows their shallow ability to understand what Jesus is saying He speaks in blazing clarity saying in v35, “I am the bread of life, whoever comes to Me shall not hunger and whoever believes in Me shall never thirst.” They were comparing Jesus’ previous miracle to the manna given by God to Israel in the wilderness, but Jesus contrasts Himself with that manna pointing out that the true bread of heaven isn’t something they can pick up and eat, it is nothing less than Himself. “He Himself is the food, the bread of heaven come down to give life, and it is only from this bread that men truly obtain the satisfaction we desire.” (Leon Morris)

Becoming a Christian can be described in many ways: being born again, becoming a new creation, getting saved, leaving the old behind and pressing into what’s ahead, turning away from sin and turning toward Christ, etc. Notice here in v35 Jesus describes it in terms of coming to Him and believing in Him. When one comes to Him or believes in Him what’s in view here is a move away from a life that is characterized by hunger, thirst, famine, lack, and an inability to satisfy or quench the deepest desires of our soul. v35 says we move away from that kind of life only when we move toward Christ. This means when we move toward Christ we move into an entirely new kind of human experience. We move into a kind of life where hunger and thirst are no longer possible, where famine and lack have no place or room to settle within us, and where the inability to satisfy or quench the soul’s deepest desires is a thing of the past.

For when we come to Christ He saves us, and when Christ saves us, He becomes the very sustenance of our souls. Of course I do not mean that all hungering or thirsting or longing in the soul vanishes when we’re saved, not at all. In a real sense it’s at the moment of salvation where we, for the first time, taste a true hunger and thirst to know God more and more. Thus, a new kind of hungering and thirsting is created by coming to Christ. So what kind of hunger and thirst then has vanished forever, never to return again upon becoming a Christian?

The deep longing of an unsatisfied heart, that is no longer part of our reality.

One of Jesus’s parables puts this on display. In Matthew 13:44 Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all he has and buys that field.” Here we see what true conversion looks like. John Piper is so helpful here. In the second chapter of Desiring God, Conversion: The Creation of a Christian Hedonist he says we are converted when Christ becomes for us a treasure chest of holy joy. When we see Him, recognize His vast worth, and then, in our joy we let go of all we hold dear so we can have Him! A crucified, risen, and reigning Savior who pardons all our sins, provides all our righteousness, and becomes in His Person our greatest treasure. So saving faith, the kind of faith v35 speaks of that comes to and believes in Jesus, this kind of faith always involves a profound change of heart. It is not mere mental ascent to a certain set of doctrines. It is seeing Christ in those glorious gospel doctrines standing forth as supremely valuable and worthy of all the affection of your heart and soul. It is gaining a God-given new taste for the bread of heaven, and a new captivating sight of the beauty and glory of Christ!

Listen to John Piper describe this later in that same chapter, “Once we had no delight in God, and Christ was just a vague historical figure. What we enjoyed was food and friendships and productivity and investments and vacations and hobbies and games and reading and shopping and sex and sports and art and TV and travel…but not God. He was an idea, maybe even a good idea or topic for discussion, but not a treasure of delight. Then something miraculous happened. It was like the opening of the eyes of the blind during the golden dawn. First, the stunned silence before the unspeakable beauty of holiness. Then the shock and terror that we had actually loved the darkness. Then the settling stillness of joy that this is the soul’s end…And then, faith – the confidence that Christ has made a way for me, a sinner, to live in His glorious fellowship forever, the confidence that if I come to God through Christ, I will share in His holiness and behold His glory.”

Reader, please don’t miss this. There is a chance you could.

There is a chance you could be in church every week for your whole life and miss this. See v36, “But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe.” That v36 comes directly after v35 shows that it is possible to see Christ and hear His teaching and see nothing of value, worth, or anything that amazes your soul. You don’t want to be part of this group. v35 is not a distant, abstract reality that we cannot grab ahold of. It is an offer extended by God through Christ that the human soul can feast on forever! To not embrace this offer is the epitome of folly, and to go through life near to Christ, near His people, near His Word and yet miss seeing the glory of who He is, is a horrific tragedy. You don’t want to be found in v36, but in v35.

Philemon Part 4: Confident in Grace

We’ve looked into this letter for 3 weeks now and today as we finish walking through Philemon we’ll focus our attention on Paul’s closing remarks in v21-25. 

Paul is Confident of the Grace of God in Obedience (v21)

v21 says, “Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.” The first thing that ought to rise in your heart after hearing such a sentence is the question, “WHY?” Why is Paul confident that Philemon will not only obey his request and welcome in his runaway slave Onesimus unconditionally and wholeheartedly, but how can Paul be confident that Philemon will do even more than asks? I think, Paul’s confidence is not that he trusts in Philemon to obey him, but rather that he trusts in the work of God’s grace in the heart of His friend Philemon. What I mean by this is plain: Paul is trusting that the grace of God at work in the heart of Philemon will lead to what the grace of God at work in the human heart always leads to – obedience. Paul is so confident in God’s work inside the heart of Philemon that Paul is expecting Philemon to go above and beyond what he is asking him to do. Whether this means that Paul expects Philemon to send Onesimus back to him to continue alongside him in ministry, or that Philemon would free Onesimus from slavery we can’t be sure of. What we can be sure of from this v21 is the one thing we see, Paul is confident that the gospel of grace at work in human heart will lead to obedience.

Does this seem like a hard concept to you – that grace leads to obedience? I think that personally for many years I had trouble with this idea, that placing the two realities of grace and obedience together in unison doesn’t mesh well together, and so for many years I had a sort of false dichotomy at work within my own understanding. From people I’ve talked to this isn’t rare to me but seems to be common experience that we all naturally either want grace or we want obedience, we don’t want them together. We wrongly think that if we’re to live our lives under the banner of God’s grace we shouldn’t be concerned about obedience because God’s grace covers all our sin regardless of how much there is to cover. Or on the other side, we wrongly think that if we’re to live lives of obedience to God’s Word we won’t be concerned with God’s grace because obedience is all about being disciplined enough to do the right thing no matter what and that type of resolve is merely something I can create on my own.

Yet, if we merely hang onto grace we’ll have a deficient view of what the Christian life is supposed to be lived like. When God draws us to Christ He always draws us toward Christ and away from sin. God calls us out of sin, wickedness, and darkness to live new lives by His strength walking in the light, in obedience, and in holiness. Having this false dichotomy at work within us makes us miss the grand reality that when God through the power of the Holy Spirit works His grace into the human heart, obedience to the gospel is always the result. Thus, the realities of grace and obedience should never be separated but always held as they really are – inseparable. Paul is confident to expect such living in the life of his friend Philemon. Remember v8? Paul is asking Philemon to do what the gospel requires him to do. How can he confident that Philemon will actually do this in v21? He trusts in the power of God’s grace at work in the hearts of His people.

Paul is Confident of the Grace of God in Prayer (v22)

See the power of prayer. Paul in v22 states that God, through their prayers, will graciously give him to them. In this we see that our prayers in and of themselves contain no special power, save only for the grace of God working through them. Because of this we have such a special hope in prayer, for by our prayer, things really could change. Not because of anything in us, or that when I pray for you I bank on some kind of pastoral prowess in prayer – no, I have nothing of the kind. Rather, the power and therefore the privilege of prayer is seen not in the person praying, but in the Person being prayed to. Who are we speaking to? God Himself! With God all things are possible, and through prayer we offer up our desires to God, for things agreeable to His will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of His mercies.

There’s something about prayer that doesn’t feel sexy right? I mean if you were to ask 100 churches about how they plan to reach their communities with the gospel, 99 of them would probably respond by giving some sexy ministry philosophy saying “We’ve got this strategy, we’ve got this vision, we’ve got this outreach director, we’ve got a kicking praise band, etc., etc., etc.”

Where is the congregation willing to seek the face of God in prayer? Where are the people who understand that we’re at our strongest when we’re kneeling before our Father?

It’s nothing sexy, or showy, prayer doesn’t really contain much flair, but tell me this – what is more powerful than coming before the throne of God to adore Him and ask Him to give us the cities we live in? We don’t know if Paul was ever released from his chains to visit Philemon to see how things really played out in this situation, but that’s not the point here. The point is that without being told about that they are praying for him, Paul knows this Colossian church is praying for him, and that God by hearing their prayers may move in power and free Paul from his chains. His confidence in the grace of God through prayer is stunning to see, and from seeing it we should be rebuked for our prayerlessness, and freshly give ourselves to the pursuit of God in public and private prayer.

Paul is Confident of the Grace of God, Just (v25)

v25 is the end of this small letter and in it Paul says, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.”

v25 is almost the exact same as the end of Paul’s greeting back in v3. These two verses (v3 and v25) form bookends to this book. The lesson here is that as Paul began with the grace of God, he wants to end with the grace of God and by so doing teach the Colossian Church and teach us, that the Christian life begins and ends with the grace of God. For while the sinner is lost wandering aimless in sin and darkness, God’s grace pursues, chases, grabs, and saves! The same grace that started our salvation in the beginning, sustains our salvation throughout our life, and finally secures our salvation in the end. Grace at the birth, grace in-between, and grace at the close.

We shouldn’t expect Paul to end any different either…grace gripped Philemon, and now if grace is to really get to the ground and make a difference, he must give the grace he received to someone as unworthy as he himself is – Onesimus.