T4G and the Benefits of Pastoral Conferences

Now over the last few years there has been a growing cry in some evangelical circles against what has been called “a celebrity culture” that drives pastoral conferences, and to a degree I will admit this is true, but I would ultimately challenge the assumption that it is the names on the preaching schedule that make these pastoral conferences so challenging and reinvigorating. Over the last few years I have been to a variety of conferences and workshop for both the purpose of honing the crafting aspects of pastoral ministry and being engaged by brothers and sisters serving around the world for edification. This Past week myself and a few other members of the Publican’s spent the week at Together for the Gospel (T4G) and I want to take a moment and highlight how this gathering is far more than celebrity worship culture in the church, and more a tool for equipping and encouraging the Saints.

Pastoral Worship Through Song

It may surprise a lot of people but on any given Sunday pastors can get distracted during the singing of the word. Now we know this should not be the case but each week there can be any number of fires to put out or the Holy Spirit for some reasons wants to hit you over the head with your sermon points again right in the middle of a Mighty Fortress is our God. So we get a lot of our vocalized undivided attention to singing probably when no one else is around. Here this is not the case. At T4G there was the undistracted singing of some of the great songs of the faith and new by 12,000 brothers and sisters in Christ. In these moments the soul is refreshed, and new life given to words that have maybe become more repetition in our minds than the power declaration of the good and great God we serve. Reminding us again of His great love for those we serve, allowing us to be reminded of how much more powerful these songs can be when sung again with our local brothers and sisters.

So don’t hear me wrong this is nothing compared to the reality of a local body singing to the Lord. In the Local body when the words to songs like Blessed by Your name are sung by believers who know are going through great trials, it reminds you on a deeper level of the work of our Lord, or to see a family sing out in Joy to the Lord following the Birth of their child, can’t be repeated in a 12,000 person gathering, but from that 12,000 person gathering I appreciate those in my local church more.

Bonding & Burden Sharing

On a similar note, one of the great things about this event is the opportunity to build on relationships with other pastors. This is more than simple networking, these are relationships where we pray for one another and year after year connect to see, in person, how one another is doing. Thanks to the advent of our technological age there is a reality that we can do this every day, and for many of us we do. However there is still just something about sitting down at a coffee shop with a brother you have prayed for and talked to over the years and actually be able to throw and arm around  them encourage them and then be equally encouraged or at time rebuked in return. For some in pastoral ministry it can be a lonely place especially those who serve in more rural areas of the country or in neighborhoods where there are not many other ministers to be encouraged by the Lord’s work. Opportunities like these give an opportunity for them to meet and partner with others whom they may have never come across and be encouraged and build up to continue running the race, and loving their flock.

Being Challenged

Lastly what I especially found helpful in this years conference was the preaching that challenged us to lives of holiness and a pursuit of that with all of our hearts. Did I enjoy every sermon equally, no, but I did find every sermon encouraging, challenging or thought provoking. Each man who brought the word of God brought with it a conviction that it is the word of God that changes lives and it is through the indwelling of the spirit that we are changed to pursue holiness in every aspect of our lives. Those who followed the conference online or through twitter may have even seen some of the “controversial sermons.” I personally loved them and maybe that’s because they forced me to think even for a moment differently that what I thought before. It asked me to look to Scripture for my worldview and just assume for a moment that I have been subconsciously shaped by the culture more than I would like to admit. What made these sermons stand out above that was the immediate backlash, which reminded me that even we shepherds are still sheep in the end, we do like to bit when we don’t like what we are hearing, but if we as pastors are not being challenged in our biblical thinking and being taught to disagree well, no wonder the church feels no pangs about being as equally angry a mob as the world. I hope at the end of the Day I seek to understand and in understanding not give an inch on the Gospel while showing the hope and joy of Christ to my neighbors.

As an aside: For those without a denominational home this is in many ways one of the best type of denominational meetings you could attend. While I personally love a good day filed with point of orders, motions and out of orders, I prefer the Word of God given through song, deed and word, and that is what I experienced this past week and hope that others did as well.

The sermons and panels can be found at T4G.org

The previous year’s Music can be streamed from Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/album/6fvhku1FBjF21nCu7c6aBP?si=VpPAh_h1QpSgAzP0JZ-eeQ

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Only One Prophet-Priest-King

Let’s face it. Not every pastor is gifted in the same way. Some pastors are extraordinarily gifted preachers, delivering mainly “home runs” each week. Other pastors will only preach a “home run” sermon once a month, yet may be strong in the area of pastoral care and counseling. Meanwhile, a third category of pastor may not be the best preacher or the most caring and compassionate with his people, but he may excel in leading the body of Christ forward like none other. We can probably see in our own pastors one of these qualities rise above the others.

Every church wants a pastor who excels in all three areas: preaching, pastoral care, and leading. A problem arises, however, when church’s assume their pastor will fill out in these areas equally. The reality is, many churches expect more from their pastors than they would from any other human being in their lives. While pastors are called to be living examples to the flock and set apart from this world, they are still fellow sheep smack dab in the middle of their own sanctification. When churches expect their pastors to be golden-mouthed pulpiteers, Mr. Rogers-like companions, and dynamic vision-casters, they are looking for something in a man that can only be found in the Son of Man. Only Jesus is the perfect preacher (Prophet), shepherd (Priest), and leader (King). We see this in Matthew 12.

In Matthew 12, Jesus highlights the fact that He alone perfectly fulfills each of these roles. In order to tell us who He is and what He came to do, Jesus ties together the three offices which held the entire Old Testament together: that of the prophet, the priest, and the king. Each of these three offices was instituted by God and serves as a representative of God to His people. Yet Jesus explains that he came not to fulfill only one of them, but all three.

“Something greater than the temple is here”- Jesus is the Great High Priest who makes atonement for our sins

Jesus begins in verse 6 by staring down Israel’s flawed religious leadership. When the Scribes and Pharisees ridiculed Jesus for leading His disciples to break the Sabbath, He called Himself the, “Lord of the Sabbath” and even said, “Something greater than the temple is here.” Jesus knew that the temple was the place where God dwelt and the place where blood sacrifices for sin were made. By saying, “Something greater than the temple is here.” Jesus was showing them that a new day in salvation history had come and that God’s people could now approach Him solely on the basis of Christ’s person and work.

This means Jesus and Jesus alone is our Great High Priest who has made atonement for our sins. We have no need to make sacrifices and approach a certain man to enter God’s presence once a year and hope this atones for our sins. The once-for-all time sacrifice of Christ has been offered and we are cleansed of all sin through faith in Him. This frees us up as Christ’s people to rest in His priestly office instead of expecting it’s total fulfillment in our local pastor. Your pastor may not be as personable as you’d like, but that’s okay, as long as he is aiming for more Christ-likeness in that area.

“Something greater than Jonah is here”- Jesus is the Prophet who speaks God’s Word to us

In verse 41, Jesus returns to this theme of His fulfillment of the three Old Testament offices. He moves from a focus on the office of priest to that of prophet. Jesus amazingly connects Jonah’s experience to His upcoming death, burial, and resurrection. Then, Jesus says that a new day has come regarding the office of prophet. Jonah was a prophet with many sins, and Jesus uses Him to point out that this office of prophet had never found a perfect officeholder. But now the perfect Office-holder was here and that means Jesus perfectly delivers God’s Word to His people. Jesus not only is the perfect preacher and, “The prophet who is to come” (Deut. 18:15), but He is also, “The Word made flesh” (John 1:14). Throughout the gospel accounts, people were constantly remarking that Christ taught, “As one who had authority” (Mark 1:22, Matthew 7:29). After appearing to the disciples on the Road to Emmaus, the men remarked: “He opened to us the Scriptures” (Lk. 24:32), then in verse 45 we’re told, “He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.”

This means that Jesus speaks God’s Word to us clearly and accurately, so we can trust His every word. This also means it should be our ambition to know nothing except, “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). When we know Jesus is the, “Word of Life”, we will heed Him when He says, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matthew 7:24, italics mine). We will then not be discouraged if week after week, our local pastor only delivers a “base hit” with an occasional “home run.” We can be content sitting under our pastor’s preaching so long as this broken mouthpiece delivers the Word of God to us.

“Something greater than Solomon is here”- Jesus is the King who reigns in our hearts forever

Then, in the very next verse, in Matthew 12:42, Jesus mentions Israel’s wisest king, Solomon, and shockingly says, “Something greater than Solomon is here.” It is surprising enough that Jesus claims prominence over the temple as the true Priest, and supremacy over the prophets as the true Prophet; but to say that He is, “greater” than the greatest of Israel’s kings is huge. Jesus is claiming that His rule and reign and His wisdom excel that of every other human to walk the face of the earth. No mere man holds a candle to the perfection that shines forth from Christ.

This means that Jesus and Jesus alone is worthy of our soul’s total allegiance. We are freed up from looking for flawless leadership in our local pastor when we have bowed our hearts to the King of kings. Since Jesus is leading us to the Promised Land of Glory and has “prepared the way” for us by means of His cross and resurrection, we are content when our local pastor does his best to lead us. We don’t need to reject our pastor’s leading when he obviously has sought God’s best for us and is aiming to lead us forward in holiness. We can submit to our pastor’s leadership because we know he is merely trying to get us to follow Christ.

I am not saying pastors should not strive for excellence in preaching, shepherding, and leading. I believe the strongest pastor is the one that humbly repents of his shortcomings and sins and seeks to grow in grace in each of these three areas. My point is, Christ’s sheep should not seek for something in a man when they should find it in the God-Man. When church members find Christ to be their true Prophet, Priest, and King, they don’t get upset when others fail to fill these positions. Rather than finding fault in their flawed leaders, these church members rejoice as they see the light of Christ shining through the “jar of clay” that stands before them each Lord’s Day. Your pastor may never be a C.H. Spurgeon or a John MacArthur, but they are another instrument God has raised from the dust to sound forth for His glory.

May we all as Christ’s sheep follow our Good Shepherd, even as we submit to His flawed under-shepherds. And one day, all sheep and under-shepherds, will bow at the feet of, “The great Shepherd of the sheep”, the Lord Jesus Christ (Hebrews 13:20b).  

Christian Submission in a Broken World

 

When we look at the world around us it is easy to become angered and at times lash out either through the internet or through our everyday interactions, yet when we come to scripture this is the exact opposite of the reality of Biblical teaching, especially when it comes to human institutions. I think this is especially true in an American context were rebellion is in our blood, and independence and division reign. However for a believer this should not be the case, we are a people under the lordship of Christ and trust in him as our defender and ultimately as the one who judges the world and its leaders. This is exactly where Peter in His first epistle address fellows Christians.

13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
1 Peter 2:13-17

This text is a challenging one as the Apostle began to deal with the reality of what it means to live a life that exemplifies the gospel. It is easy to say: “be holy as God is holy”, or to talk about how we should walk as Children of God, but the actual reality of what that looks like can get murky at times, or at least we sometime like to think it is. Peter here, while talking to 1st century Christians living under the oppressive rule of Rome, has some very real and challenging things to say about how we live out the faith in the midst of injustice. In particular he dealt with how Christians who are pursing God and proclaiming the true hope of the Gospel will respond to the governing authorities over them, especially those that they feel were unholy and wicked.

Unlike what we may think or even at times hope in our individualistic tendencies, Peter encourages us to be “subject to ever institution.” This comes from our understanding first and foremost that our Lord is God and everything that happens is governed and under his control, as such we know that our vindication is in the Lord’s hands. Therefore we should listen to and follow the rules of the governing authorities around us, so long as it doesn’t infringe on the proclamation of the gospel. The government’s job is to punish evil doers while proclaiming justice, we must be found to be the most excellent of citizens, especially in how we speak and how we act, from the way we treat local government ordinances and officials to the way we speak of all federal officials regardless of their affiliations. There is no one party that is specially ordained by God over another when they are in office. If under the reign of Nero or Tacitus these commands were true, then under both a Republican or Democratic these commands are true.

Secondly we are reminded that the reason we are able to be subject to human institutions is because our ultimate freedom is from God. We are not following blindly the course of this world or living blind lives to the reality around us. Rather, because of Christ, we are able to live our lives more boldly, even when following the law around us. We can live in such a way that it causes other to question our motivation, not in a negative way, but a positive one. The scriptures do give us reminders that our service will always be to God, just as Daniel in Babylon, but where the government isn’t forcing us to literally worship at the feat of Baal, let us serve God and those around us well, not giving into the temptations to slip back into the sinful nature that surrounds us. Let us not use our freedom in Christ to dive headlong into sinful ventures.

Finally this is all a lasting reminder to treat the people around us with honor, in such a way that they may see the greatness of the God we serve. Peter’s final exaltation brings us back to those foundational truths: Love God and Love your neighbor. Her he shows us that as believers we should show everyone the same honor and respect due them as image bearers of God. Everyone deserves to be honored as the greatest of our governing leaders are.

Only from honoring everyone at this base standard do you see the gift that the family of God is, for we take it to a whole new level inside the church. Here we don’t just show honor and respect we show a deep and abiding love that comes from being a family. A family committed to the Worship of God, who has set us free and given us a new home. So the highest form of adoration is for God alone.

We can submit to human institutions because we fear the Lord and lovingly worship His Son who gave himself freely under the hand of wicked men as a payment for our sins. We can suffer injustice because he suffered injustice. We can worship in the midst of pain because he worshiped in the midst of pain, and we pray that through our lives the world that hates us will see Him and like the soldier by the cross on the day of His crucifixion she that Truly Jesus is the Son of the Living God.

 

The True Heart of a Disciple

1 Peter 3:8-12

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. For  “Whoever desires to love life and see good days,  let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

In today’s post I wanted to take a moment and look at how Peter wrapped up His discussion on living life in a broken world, specifically by focusing on how we as a church should live together. In this way Peter instructs us again how we are to be treating each other in the family of God and our overarching motivation found in the blessing of God. To help us see this Peter encourages each of us to have attitudes, actions, and ambitions, that reflect the life we have been called to live.

In regards to our attitudes verse eight lays out five key attitudes, unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind, that should be easily seen and identified in the church. At the center of this list of attitudes lies the call to brotherly love. It is structurally from this point in the middle of the list that we see the other four turn and move together as one. For Peter the act of loving one another in the church is a key way in which we are able to be sustained in a world that may reject us. The church should be a safe haven for believer to be free from the persecution and hostilities that exist in the world around us. It should be a place where that familial love is common and put on display.

From this familial love we are able to have unified and humble minds. The purpose of these two show us that we as believers should be heading in the same direction with the same goals and theological understanding of who God is and what Christ has done. If we are moving in the same direction and are unified in mind then we will be humble in the means. We won’t expect each other to be clones of one another, but rather we will see each other as walking day by day in the grace of God growing in holiness, and we will seek to encourage and help one other along the way.  For from the mind we will engage our emotions showing both sympathy and tender heartedness. We won’t just mentally want one another to grow we will emotional invest in that growth. We will invest in each other’s victories and failures. We will open our lives to one another so that we may as one rejoice and mourn. For the attitude of believers towards one another involves our minds and hearts.

After looking deeply at our attitude Peter quickly turns to our actions. Unlike with our attitudes,Where peter focused on the positive encouragements, with our actions he begins with the negative steps that we fall into daily. Peter reminds us that as believers our actions are supposed to be mirrors of Christ (2:22-24), therefore when people turn on us and revile us we do not respond in kind, nor when evil is raised up against us do we fight back an eye for an eye. No, rather according to the Word of God we return evil with a blessing. Those who would speak evil against us we speak forgiveness over them. Those who would wish to bring evil upon us; we will joyfully seek that the good of God be poured out on them.  This is because when Christ was reviled, suffered and was killed, He did not seek their destruction; rather He called out for them to be forgiven. We are called to be a blessing to a dying world, not just through our thoughts but by our actions. Those who would seek us ill must be the primary recipients of the blessing we have received from God, for while we were enemies of His He died for us.

So from our attitudes and actions we see the ambition of a Christian is to love life and see good days, not by human means but by divine mercy. Peter closes this encouragement by quoting Psalm 34 which deals with how we may fear the Lord and grow in holiness. For Peter sees in this Psalm the very encouragement the broken and suffering people of God need to be reminded of, that God is with them and loves them. He has given them the means to walk in holiness and the spirit to accomplish the goal. Therefore, let us turn from evil (repent) and do good. Let us be a people who pursue the peace of God through our attitudes and actions and as we do let us rest faithfully in the knowledge that our prayers are heard and the Lord is with us.

Luke: The Faith-growing Gospel

Greetings, salutations, introductions, and openers are generally overlooked, ignored, and discounted. They are often viewed as the “lets get this out of the way because the content of what is written is what’s important.” But for the student of Scripture, the one who genuinely believes that all Scripture is breathed out by God, even the introduction is given to us by God and is profitable for teaching, reproof, correcting, and training in righteousness. Luke’s introduction is just that; praise God!

In Luke’s introduction (Luke 1:1-4) a few gems sparkle brighter than the rest. Luke informs “most excellent Theophilus” (Friend of God) that the purpose of his writing this Gospel is to (1) provide an orderly account, a logically flowing narrative of the Christ’s life, ministry, death, burial, & resurrection & (2) that Luke was offering it to him “that [he] may have certainty concerning the things [he] has been taught” (Lk 1:4). What a joy this must have been for Theophilus, the gentile convert, to have an orderly, logical account intended to solidify his already laid down faith. Just as concrete laid, in time, grows to profound strength, so too Luke’s Gospel will take the faith already laid and harden it into a firm foundation in our souls.

An Orderly Account

One need not “check his brain at the door” of Luke’s Gospel account. Luke was man of immense intellect, an historian, and a passionate pursuer of Truth. This becomes clear as one opens up and explores his introduction; even the manner in which it was written. His usage of the Greek language of his day, his balance in the structure of his writing, and his word choice all demonstrate that Luke intended to provide for his reader a record worthy of trust, both theologically and historically. The doctor was concerned greatly with sharing Christ with orderliness, multiple eye-witness testimonies, and even his personal witness so that Theophilus could be sure of what he had been taught. And in God’s providence, the gentile author providing this account to a gentile audience has left us, a greater gentile audience, with a repository of Truth solidifying our faith, factually, historically, and theologically. Praise God!

Certainty of Our Faith

Theophilus had been taught the Gospel, had believed the Gospel, and now was being given a thorough, written account of the Gospel that his faith might be firmly rooted, concreted, having certainty that what he had believed was legitimate, solid, and trustworthy. Luke’s Gospel account contained several “proofs” that would bring Theophilus, and consequently us, this certainty of faith: Proof from Prophecy, Proof from Miracles, and Proof from Growth.

Proof from Prophecy

When taking Luke/Acts as a continuous unit, as Luke intended, one theologian counted 47 references & allusions to how the life, death, & resurrection of Jesus Christ fulfilled the O.T. Scriptures. Imagine what 47 pieces of written evidence, backed up by eye-witness testimonies, in a courtroom would render; certainly, proof beyond a reasonable doubt. What a comfort to know that the God who said “this” would happen also made it happen and left us the proof of his happenings!

Proof from Miracles

For Luke, the proof was in the pudding. In Acts 2:22, Luke records that God confirmed Jesus identity by the “mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst…” The miracles that the people remembered seeing Jesus do was God’s proof that Christ’s message was legitimate. This was Jesus claim as well in Luke 7:18-22 when He confirmed that he was the long-promised and awaited Messiah and the proof of His identity was in the blind seeing, the lame walking, the lepers cleansed, the deaf hearing, the dead living, and the poor receiving the good news, all by His divine hand; and this, too, was a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the Messiah. The miracles of Christ were proof that the message of Christ was authentic!

Proof from Growth

Even a casual stroll through Luke’s account of the early church, Acts, radiates certainty as the masses were coming to faith in Christ they could not see. At first there were only 120, and then 3000, with more being added daily, and then 5000, followed by rapid expansion of the Word of God regionally (Judea, Galilee, & Samaria) that caused massive spiritual growth across geographical boundaries to such that they could no longer be numbered (Acts 2-12). Finally, as if to place an exclamation point, the missionary journeys of Paul, commissioned by the Holy Spirit, caused explosive multi-continental growth of Christianity fulfilling the prophetic word given by Gamiliel in Acts 5:33-39 “…if [the Gospel of Jesus Christ] is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”

The Gospel of Luke is sure faith-builder. It was written as such and intended to be just that for Theophilus and continues to stand as such today! May God increase our faith as we joyfully feast upon “every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4)…even the introductions.

Not in Vain

In God’s grace, I have been blessed recently to witness the Holy Spirit’s regenerating power in the lives of some men, as well as His supernatural sanctifying power in the lives of men I’ve known for a long time. God, truly, is good!

But with this new life in Christ and this new growth in Christ there have been some steep costs. God never calls us to Christ to leave us as we are but He calls us to salvation, by grace, through faith, and then works in us repentance. Faith & repentance always carries a cost with it.

The cost is always high and the change is always dramatic. When ones eyes are opened to sin and righteousness and when the heart is given new life, we cannot but change and change is costly: relationships, employment, leisure, entertainment, interaction with family, indeed, every facet of life.

The Twelve knew this very well. They left their homes, traveled with this preaching miracle worker and it cost them deeply. They were essentially homeless, separated from family, unemployed with no prospect or thought of returning, living entirely off of God’s provision through other people’s generosity. Their cost was high, but the promise of reward was even higher. Surely, the cost of following Christ weighed heavily upon them at times and undoubtedly they wrestled with, “Can I endure? Is it worth it?” In one of those moments God, in His mercy, gives us this account from Peter as He sought the soothing balm of assurance that the road he was traveling was not in vain.

“Peter said, ‘See, we have left our homes and followed you.’ And [Jesus] said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life'” (Luke 18:28-30).

Some of you have left your homes to follow Christ; this was not in vain!

Some of you have lost your spouses when you followed Christ; this was not in vain!

Some of you have left behind your extended family to love, serve, and pursue the advancement of the kingdom of God with reckless abandon; this was not in vain!

The road is not always smooth but be encouraged, dear Christian, you will receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life, because God called you to this life. And He’s not called you to walk it alone. Even though you walk through dark valley’s, because of His presence you don’t have to fear. Even though the cost is high, the rewards are higher, in this life and in the age to come!

Rest in His assurance, Christian. And what a rest He is!

Book Review: Augustine on the Christian Life

Continuing through our book review series we come to the next in the On the Christian Life Series put out by Crossway; Augustine. This edition is written by Gerald Bray a research professor at Beeson University who specializes in historical and theological studies. He spends a great deal of time working through Augustine’s life and theology attempting to connect us from the present backwards into an age and culture that is far removed from our present state. In this regard Bray sets the book up to first see Augustine; the Roman and from his Latin roots and citizenship in a dying Roman world allows us to better appreciate how he approaches the Christian faith. The results are mixed at times but overall eye opening. So let’s take some time and dive in to this text a little bit.

Augustine’s Life and World

Bray begins his work by laying the foundation of who Augustine was and how the culture around him shaped him. He explores the roots of Augustine classic text: Confessions. From here he is able to piece together the roots of Augustine’s history in the close 4th century North Africa and his many adventures searching for truth as a young adult. Bray doesn’t sugar coat Augustine’s history, but rather uses it to show how we are shaped by our past experiences when we come to Faith. Augustine’s past forays into random cults and philosophies greatly shaped his desire to write against such teachings and encourage those who he wrongly lead into those practices to abandon them for the truth of scripture and the hope of Christ. He reminds us in many ways not to forget who we were before Christ but that each of our past failures and journeys in sin is now an open door for us to clearly speak back through to those who are still there and by the grace of God show them the truth of God’s redemption.

Augustine as Person

Here is where Bray spends the majority of the book breaking Augustine down into three roles: believer, teacher, pastor. From each role Bray discusses the ways in which Augustine was influenced by the truth of scripture and as he grew in the knowledge of the Lord lived it out and encouraged others to do so as well. There were times throughout this section where things can seem repetitive as Bray will often bring back the same arguments and events from Augustine’s life to highlight new aspects of how he approached theology or family. This, however, is only a minor flaw and one that can be overcome as you see him put together a fuller picture of how these different aspects of Augustine’s life can fit together to help form a complete person, especially, in a day and age that we don’t completely comprehend.

One example of this comes in his continued reference to Augustine and his mistress. For many in our modern world we would have seen a clear solution to this problem in them getting married, since all evidence points to the fact that he had an overwhelming love for her. However, in their day and age this was out of the questions due to their different places in society, and as such we see Augustine throughout the text apply scripture to his situation and in the end choose a celibate life and ministry over the prospect of marriage to another. Now he does not make this a rule for anyone going into ministry as he will clearly articulate that many of his peers did get married. He will though repeatedly show how, in his life, the celibate life gave him more time to dedicate to the word of God and to the ministry of the Word. As such we are blessed to have a vast collection of his writings and a firm foundation on how he thought about life and godliness.

Thanks to his amazing collection of works Bray helps us to see some of the finer points of Augustine life and how they affect our own modern life. This is especially evident in his section on the preached Word.  Augustine preached sermons ranging in time from 20 minutes to over two hours at one point, continually pointing his listeners to hear the Word of the Lord and be transformed by it. He was a master at rhetoric a classic art form that is very rarely appreciated in today’s world, but one that was essential to preaching in the 5th century. His preaching was strictly biblical and meant to persuade his hears to trust in Christ. Bray stands out in this section as he makes Augustine’s art of preaching come alive and convicts us of our modern reliance on gimmicks rather than persuasion by the Words of God.

Conclusion

While not exhaustive of Augustine’s work, Bray does help to synthesize the importance of what Augustine can teach a modern audience on how best to live out the Christian life, and that ultimately this is found in obedience to scripture. Again, I commend Bray for not running away from Augustine’s faults, but rather helping to frame him as a man of his era, faults and all. This helps us in our own modern world to realize that we are not perfect nor were the great fathers who came before us, there is always room for us to grow and expand our understanding of the word of God, especially as we are challenged by outside forces to make a defense for it. With that in mind I believe this is another solid book in the On the Christian Life collection and one worth the read if you have the time to spare, especially if you are in pastoral ministry.

A Band of Brothers

“Revival and reformation are rarely, if ever, wrought by God through one individual, contrary to the impression given by some popular church histories. Collegiality is central to times of spiritual blessing.”[1] Dr. Michael Haykin summarizes well a profound truth that too often becomes lost in the studies of church history. Martin Luther and John Calvin epitomize the Protestant Reformation as the two greater reformers of the church. While the spotlight falls upon them most often, neither of these two giants are to be thought of as isolated figures in their day. Fellow brothers, pastors, students, and theologians surround Luther and Calvin in their lives assisting them and helping them.

The point is that for all of the names that have become familiar to the church in studying church history, it is often incomplete if one believes that a Luther or Calvin did it all alone. This brings us to the subject of William Carey, the father of the Modern Missions Movement. Carey’s name immediately comes to our mind in Baptist history and missional history. Yet, William Carey would be the first man to tell you that he was not alone. William Carey’s mission to India is the fruit of a commitment of “a little band of Baptist pastors” to pray together and commit to each other to see the gospel carried to the ends of the earth.[2]

Behind William Carey, a band of pastors stood with him. Andrew Fuller is the most well-known of the group. Fuller is the pastor-theologian who laid the foundations for revival among the Calvinistic Baptists of England and Wales. How important is it to read Andrew Fuller? C.H. Spurgeon, the Prince of Preachers, describes Fuller as “the great theologian of his century.”[3] Carey is the most famous, followed by Fuller, but they are not alone. Alongside these men were pastor-theologians like John Ryland, Jr., John Sutcliff, and Samuel Pearce. From the friendship of these men would come the means by which a denomination experiences revitalization and the gospel call goes to a pagan land. These men are not the wealthiest in their denomination. Often times, pastors believe that unless they serve at megachurches, they can have little to no affect. Brother pastors, consider these men as a model for what God can do with a few committed men.

As William Carey encourages the Particular Baptists to go to India, he faces scorn and ridicule from some in the denomination. However, this band of brothers comes together. What will they do? What strategy will they employ to reach the heathens? John Ryland, Jr. shares the strategy:

Brethren, Fuller, Sutcliff, Carey, and I, kept this day as a private fast in my study: read the Epistles to Timothy and Titus…and each prayed twice – Carey with singular enlargement and pungency. Our chief design was to implore a revival of the power of godliness in our own souls, in our churches, and in the church at large.[4]

Does this not seem too simple? Brethren, do you desire to see revival in your heart, in your local church, and in the global church? Do you know pastors that you can pray with, read with, and encourage? Beloved, this is what the Lord uses! He uses that which is weak, insignificant, and simple to expand His kingdom! These were ordinary men. Some of them had a formal education while others were the equivalent of bi-vocational pastors. That did not hinder their fellowship. Haykin describes what these men did this way:

These men took time to think and reflect together, as well as to encourage one another and pray together. An aversion to the same errors, a predilection for the same authors, with a concern for the cause of Christ at home and abroad bound these men together in a friendship that was a significant catalyst for both renewal and revival.[5]

From this band of brothers, hundreds of additional Particular Baptist churches arise at home and the gospel witness comes to India leading to the later ministry of Adoniram Judson and many more. Fuller, Carey, Ryland, Pearce, and Sutcliff model how warm, evangelical Calvinism contribute to revival, reformation, and missions.

Consider the testimony of the 18th Century Particular Baptists: The Lord uses ordinary pastors to further His kingdom! There is a reason Paul continually lists the men and women who help, journey, and support him. The great apostle-missionary did not carry the burdens alone. Neither should you and I. When I consider the band of brothers in my life, the dear men I pastor and company of pastor friends, I feel the sentiments of William Carey. Upon hearing the news eight months later that Andrew Fuller died, Carey wrote Ryland from India these words about Fuller: “I loved him. There was scarcely any other man in England to whom I could so completely lay open my heart.”[6] Brothers, let us remember we are partners, not competitors. Let us have such relationships in our lives. May God form many bands of brothers He uses to bring revival and reformation in this day!

Citations:

[1] Michael A.G. Haykin, Ardent Love for Jesus: Learning from the Eighteenth-Century Baptist Revival. (Bryntirion, Wales: Bryntirion Press, 2013), 47.

[2] John Piper, Andrew Fuller: Holy Faith, Worthy Gospel, World Mission. (Wheaton: Crossway, 21.

[3] Haykin, 23.

[4] Ibid., 126.

[5] Ibid., 49.

[6] S. Pearce Carey, William Carey. (London: Wakeman Trust, 1993), 314.

From the Archives: Books vs. The Bible

If there is one thing you may not know about me is my love of books.

If you saw my library you’d see I have lots of books, from many different generations, different styles, different genres, different authors, different denominations, and those don’t even cover the ones on my Logos collection. Beginning in my early days in college at an interdenominational school here in Florida we were taught to think outside the box and read from many different authors who challenge our presuppositions about ministry, theology, doctrine, and practice. I’m very grateful for those early days. It trained me to think outside of my own theological spectrum. Now, not only did my time there teach me to think outside of my boundaries, it also taught me to appreciate the value that books have in forming the Christian life.

In literature and books we have great wisdom from men and women that have gone before us. We have their application of Scripture and encouragement for times of sorrow and times of joy. We have their instruction on how to think through hard issues. We have their synthesis of Scripture to point us to a fuller understanding of the text of Scripture. However, it is important to understand those books should never take the place of Scripture in your spiritual life.

In too many cases it is easy to become overwhelmed by the knowledge of those who came after the apostles rather than the apostles, the prophets, and Jesus Himself. We must never overlook the importance of Scripture alone as the foundation for our spiritual health. You are grown most fundamentally through the Word of God. Therefore when it comes to reading apart from it, it is important that we choose books that will encourage and inform us on the truth of Scripture. Books that will encourage and push us forward in our spiritual journey. This is especially true when it comes to selecting devotionals.

Do we choose resources that encourage and inflame our love for the Scriptures? Do we choose resources that encourage and push us back to know more about what the Word of God says, or do we select devotionals that point us back to ourselves and what we think about things?

Do not be deceived by false teachers that would put their words above God’s Word. In our day and age it’s very easy to be misled by false teachers through the books that we read, especially from books sold in Christian bookstores. Just because a Christian bookstore sells it does not make it Christian or Biblical in its application of Scripture or its understanding of God’s word. But I guess the question remains what do we read?

First and foremost read the Bible.

It is the only thing that gives us hope, that truly reveals an understanding of who God is. This is not to dissuade you from reading, but rather to make sure that our foundation is set first and foremost on our understanding of God. We must read with an aim to know and see God in His Word and in the words of others.

Second, read books that will encourage you in your walk with the Christ

Now these are books that can range from daily devotionals to theological works.  Most of us since early days in our Christian faith were encouraged to do a daily devotional. Throughout Church history many great men have written their own devotionals, such as Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening, which are still used by many even today. Aside from devotionals though you’d also find great spiritual encouragement through theological works such as J. C. Ryle’s classic Holiness, or even something slightly newer like Knowing God by J. I. Packer.

On our own homepage we list the four theological works that each of us are currently reading. As you can see from the list currently both Adam and myself are reading books by Michael Horton. Adam, reading one of his newer works, Ordinary. This book encourages us to see that our lives, even though they may appear ordinary, are really the supernatural work of God. Myself, on the other hand, am reading a book that he wrote several years ago on our call to be disciple makers. Horton does this by walking us through the importance of the great commission and our job as believers to follow through with that call. You can see each of these books seek to further our knowledge of God and a reliance on Him through the Scriptures.

Third, Read a good biography

For many of you this third category seems obvious. Biographies are very common in our day and age so much so that their use to actually be a television channel dedicated to them. That should be no shock to you that we as believers should be encouraged to read good biographies especially about the lives of the saints of God who lived before us. You’d be amazed at the things that believers went through and how through the power of God they overcame their trials and temptation and found joy and contentment in Christ alone. Biographies are great blessing to the Christian as we see time and time again the work of the Lord in His saints. Now I am not saying to go out and buy the two volume George Whitefield biography collection by Arnold Dallimore, though it is a fantastic book series, but there are some great short biographies put out by Ligonier ministries, also John Piper on his website Desiring God wrote some short biographies on some great saints such as David Brainerd and Jonathan Edwards that can bring great encouragement to your Christian walk. Mostly, biographies help us to know that we are not alone in our journey, we are not the first to experience the things that we’ve experienced, just as the Lord was faithful to them so too we can trust that he will be faithful to us.

Finally, (though not least in importance) enjoy a good work of fiction.

Now this being the last category that I’ll discuss for many of us it may be our favorite category. A good fictional novel  can range from some of the great works of the past like To Kill a Mockingbird, Oliver Twist or The Lord of the Rings to some of the newer works of fiction such as the works of Stephen King, Ken Follett, George R. R. Martin or maybe J. K. Rowling. Fictional works help to expand our imaginations. They can help us to see the world in a different light, especially for ministers, fictional novels help us to think differently about the world around us. Fictional novels can open our imaginations, broaden our visual vocabulary, and allow us to get a look into the way our culture thinks and acts by the way they write about the world.

In conclusion this is an encouragement to those of us who love books, who love our libraries, who love great authors and theologians, so much so that we spend great deals of time with them, to not lose sight of the truth of God in the midst of the words of others. And to those who don’t read as often, to see, in works of theology, works of Christian growth, stories of brothers and sisters who have walked the path before, an opportunity for you to grow in your understanding of the Scriptures and to grow in your understanding of the work of God through the lives of others.

Above all else again the Bible must be central to our understanding. While we can learn from great men and women through their writings as they have experienced the work of God in them, through them, and through their knowledge of Him, they are still but mortals. Their words are but temporary while the Word of the Lord is eternal.

The Good Shepherd and His Sheep

In John 9 by rejecting the man born blind but now healed and kicking him out of synagogue the Pharisees have shown themselves to be such horrid shepherds of Israel. As John 10 begins Jesus rebukes the Pharisees further. Here Jesus (in His last public discourse of John’s gospel) makes a clear distinction between them as false shepherds who abuse God’s people and Himself as the good shepherd who rules over and leads God’s people well.[1]

In John 10 Jesus is using a ‘figure of speech’ here, a kind of metaphor if you will. This kind of language tells a firm and grounded truth through an untruth.[2] For example, if I say ‘I’m so hungry I could eat a cow’ I’m not intending to say I could eat a cow but that I could eat a whole lot. No one would take me literally if they heard me say that. Similarly, when Jesus is speaking of Himself here as the shepherd, and speaking of all those who believe in Him as sheep, is He saying He is literally a shepherd? Or that we are literally sheep? Of course not. The language Jesus employs here, though untrue in an exact literal sense, is intended to symbolize a deeply encouraging truth. There is a profound intimacy between God and His people. They know God’s voice and when they hear it what do they do? They follow His lead. Jesus is saying He’s the true shepherd of Israel and the Pharisees are false shepherds. This is what’s in view for us here in v1-21.

Here are four takeaways from it:

Christ is our Shepherd

If you’ve repented of sin and believed in Him, Christ is your Shepherd. You belong to Him, He’s called you by name, He’s sought you out, He’s died for you, brought you into the pen, and He now leads you. The elders at your churches aren’t your shepherds. You don’t belong to them. Undershepherds they may be, but that’s all they’ll ever be. The shepherds of Israel failed, the Pharisees failed, your elders will fail you, therefore keep your eyes fixed on the Good Shepherd, He will never fail you.[3] By laying down His life for us He forever secured us in His pen, rest in Him

We’re Sheep

It seems from all accounts, that sheep aren’t the wisest members of the animal kingdom. They’re foolish, easily frightened, ever wandering, yet at other times stubbornly immovable. Some have even seen them walking directly into open fire.[4] Do not wonder that here and many other places in Scripture God likens us to be sheep. We too are often foolish, easily frightened, and wander off where we shouldn’t. But Christ, as our good shepherd, chases us down, and brings us back. I know some of you are in the midst of hard seasons of life. I want you to be encouraged here. We, like sheep, don’t often understand why things play out the way they do, or what the Shepherd is doing using both His rod and staff in leading us…but we do know our Shepherd. Trust Him, rest in His care, and take heart…“God is not calling you to make great promises to Him, He’s calling you to trust the great promises He has made to you.”[5]

Wolves are Real

In this life of following Christ, not everyone will be like Christ and not every gospel preached is Christ’s. Wolves will try to sneak in, climb over the wall, and use and abuse you for selfish purposes. Many have used this very passage to try and do just that, teaching v10 in such a way as to make us believe God wants us to be rich and materially prosperous, and that all trials that come our way are the result of our lack of faith. Take caution, be aware, and keep your eyes fixed on Christ. Even if everyone around you goes off in a different direction, you keep on Christ’s heels. How?

This leads to my last thought…

Remember, His Voice is His Word

True sheep know the voice of the shepherd. Our Shepherd not only laid down His life for us in the crucifixion, He not only took that life back up in the resurrection, our Shepherd ascended and sent His Spirit out to give us His voice. Do you know His voice? Or is His voice a stranger to you? Do you follow His voice? Or do you follow your own way? Do you sit underneath His voice and study His voice enough to be able to recognize the voice of a stranger?

 

 

Citations:

[1] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John – NICNT, page 498.

[2] Sam Storms, Kingdom Come, page 33.

[3] Sproul, page 190-192.

[4] Kent Hughes, John: That You May Believe – Preaching the Word Commentary, page 267.

[5] Kevin Dibbley, quoted in a Tim Challies meme this past week.

All I Have is Christ

All I have is Christ is one of my favorite worship songs of the last few decades, and this morning I wanted to encourage you with a visual reflection of the theological significance of this song by the Youtuber: Full of Eyes.

I pray that this quick reflection will encourage you, convict you, and spur you on in your walk with Christ this week.

More info, resources and videos can be found at Fullofeyes.com

Trinitarian Sanctification: The Spirit

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

The Holy Spirit Secures Us

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

Holy Spirit Grows Us       

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

He Convicts Us

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

He Teaches Us

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

He is the Active Agent of Prayer

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

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

 

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

[2] Ibid. 279

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

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

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

[6 Boda, 293

[7] Erickson, 875

[8] Boa, 294

Knowledge of the Holy One: The Ever-Present God

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

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

The Ever-present God in the Material Realm

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

The Ever-present God in the Spiritual Realm

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

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

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

The Ever-present God in Eternity

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

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

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

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

Trinitarian Sanctification: The SON

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

He Suffers

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

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

He Serves

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

He Teaches

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

His Death

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

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

Citations:

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

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

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

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

[5] Ibid., 120-122

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

[7] Ibid., 129-130

Trinitarian Sanctification: The Father

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

The Architect

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

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

the created order. From initial creation through ultimate consummation and

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

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

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

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

The Law Giver

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

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

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

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

The Sender

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[7] Gundry, 68

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

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

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

[11] Wilson, 82

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