Beyond Redemption?

The Lord spoke to Manasseh and to his people, but they paid no attention. Therefore the Lord brought upon them the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria, who captured Manasseh with hooks and bound him with chains of bronze and brought him to Babylon. And when he was in distress, he entreated the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. He prayed to him, and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God.[…] And he took away the foreign gods and the idol from the house of the Lord, and all the altars that he had built on the mountain of the house of the Lord and in Jerusalem, and he threw them outside of the city. He also restored the altar of the Lord and offered on it sacrifices of peace offerings and of thanksgiving, and he commanded Judah to serve the Lord, the God of Israel.” (2 Chronicles 33:10-16)

The story of Manasseh is one of the most interesting one to be found in the book of Chronicles, for in this text we see a more complete picture of the work of God in bringing salvation to sinners. Manasseh is one of the worst and most wicked of kings in the history of Israel. He is known for having murdered his own children, offered sacrifices to pagan deities and removed the true worship of God from Israel. He was a man filled with his own self-worth and truly existed in his own self-importance. He may not have been the worst of sinners in the world or the most tyrannical of rulers, but he is pretty darn close. In the line of David, it is hard to find one as evil ruling in Judah. He is the furthest thing from a man after God’s own heart

Now why do I bring us to this text today. Why focus on this specific man to bring us to see the fullness of the wonder of salvation?

First, because he is a man who we would say is the furthest from God. Unlike Paul who wrapped himself in religiosity and found himself outside of the truth, this King rejected the faith of his fathers and openly pursued wickedness. Manasseh is the proof that with God nothing is impossible, and no man is too far beyond the salvific work of our Lord. Just let it sink in for a moment. This king is far worse than the worst dictators in our current world, and yet the Lord transformed his heart. The Lord transformed a man who wanted nothing to do with Him into a man of repentance and faithfulness. Manasseh doesn’t simply give lip service in repentance, his life is transformed. He undoes the worst of his blasphemies against the Lord and makes every effort to return the people to the worship of God. In this we see the beauty that no one is too beyond the salvation of God.

Second, it shows us that God can uses many different means to bring the lost to Him. In the case of this king in Judah he uses a military defeat and capture. Manasseh finds himself in a distant land defeated and ruined, he is the prisoner of a foreign king with no hope of salvation. However, in the midst of defeat he finds the truly and lasting hope in God. He turns in this pit of destruction and there is the Lord God. God rescues him, transforms him, and brings him back to the land. The text is clear that all these events happened by the hand of God; from ruin to restoration God was at work bringing Manasseh to Himself. Breaking him of his wickedness and self-importance that he might see the true strength of his reign in the hand of God.

For many God has used the darkest days to shine brightly. He has used our sinfulness to show us His grace unending, His mercy that sustains us, and his strong hands which hold us firm. The wonder of this text is that Manasseh was actively running from God, but that never stopped God from working to bring Manasseh to himself. If you are in Christ, you know this reality to be true. God pursued us and won us. He broke down the dividing wall that stood between us and wooed us by his mercy, grace and love. He broke down our sins and gave us life. Through the storm of our sins, He brought life and hope. His divine power overcame us.

When we think of the life of Manasseh, King in Judah, we should be immediately struck by the reality of God’s work in saving sinners, and how that work shapes everything about our lives. While we may not be as bad as Manasseh, we were apart from Christ and as bad off as Manasseh. We didn’t have God, rather we openly accepted the world in whatever form brought us the most pleasure. We found satisfaction and worth in our jobs, religion, social circles, hobbies, lusts, physical pleasure, and material wealth, all of which left us empty and searching for more. We were all as bad off as Manasseh apart from God’s intervening work, and what a marvelous work it was. We must never forget the saving work of Christ, from His work on the cross to His intervention in our lives through the Holy Spirit we have been blessed beyond measure.

Therefore, let us life out the faith in earnestness as Manasseh did, let us reflect the great salvation we have received and call others to receive the same wonderful grace of our God.

A Far Nobler Aim: Newton on Grace in Debate

John Newton’s fame to most evangelicals’ centers around his testimony of transformation from participating in the slave trade to becoming a believer who would write the most popular Christian hymn of all time “Amazing Grace.”

While that hymn captures the essence of Newton’s biography and theology, there is much more to learn from the man. The Banner of Truth publishes a four-volume set of his works that I highly commend (https://banneroftruth.org/us/store/christian-living/works-john-newton/). Volume 1 contains many letters that Newton wrote with one entitled “On Controversy.” In this letter, one might think that John Newton lived in the age of Facebook, Twitter, and blogs when it comes to discussing theology. Especially with the issue of social justice, social media does not resemble a place where grace is shown by brothers and sisters seeking to work through these issues. Newton’s letter is worth the read and can be viewed in its entirety here: https://founders.org/2017/07/08/on-controversy/.

Consider a few thoughts from Newton that captured my attention and caused me to examine my own heart.

In a little while you will meet in heaven; he will then be dearer to you than the nearest friend you have upon earth is to you now.

As Newton counsels this fellow minister who prepares to engage in theological debate, he tells him to remember to treat him as a brother in Christ. It should startle us as believers to consider how we speak to one another online when it comes to debating important issues. Would we speak to each other in such a manner if we were face-to-face? Do we show more grace to the pagan we work with or are related to by blood than one who is washed by the blood of the Lamb that we happen to disagree with? This is not encouragement to pursue a squishy love that never calls out errors. Rather, this is brotherly affection that should mark our engagements with those who are a part of the household of faith. The next time that you decide to discuss a point raised by a brother or sister you disagree with, remind yourself that this individual is one you will spend eternity with. Will that shape how you respond to them?

But if you look upon him as an unconverted person, in a state of enmity against God and his grace (a supposition which, without good evidence, you should be very unwilling to admit), he is a more proper object of your compassion than of your anger.

Suppose you believe the person you are engaging with is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, should you not pity and mourn over the eternal doom of that person? Newton’s advice should be kept close to our hearts. Yes, we should call out false teachers, those who preach another gospel, and declare that their eternal fate is hell lest they repent. However, if we do this with a grin or glee in our hearts, there is repentance and examination that needs to take place in our lives. Anathematizing people on Facebook and Twitter happens frequently. Do we grasp the eternal weightiness that comes along with that view and are we praying for such ones to truly behold Christ if we think they know Him not?

Of all people who engage in controversy, we, who are called Calvinists, are most expressly bound by our own principles to the exercise of gentleness and moderation.

Social media helped me connect with fellow Calvinists, Particular (Reformed Baptists), and like-minded brothers. This has been a great blessing and joy to me in my life and ministry. However, it grieves me to see that the hashtag #1689Twitter became synonymous with men on Twitter who were ungracious, uncaring, and overtly harsh in their interactions with others, specifically regarding issues surrounding social justice. While I think the hashtag was used in an unfair way to avoid critical discussions, it saddened me to see a noble confession expressing the doctrines of grace become connected with ungraciousness. Newton’s words are needed for everyone who claims to believe in the doctrines of grace. If I might be so bold, may the doctrines explained in TULIP not be lodged in our minds intellectually but be imprinted on our hearts experientially. No two words should be further apart: cantankerous and Calvinist. Those of us who hold strongly to the doctrines of grace should heed the instructions given to us by a champion of amazing grace.

If our zeal is embittered by expressions of anger, invective, or scorn, we may think we are doing service of the cause of truth, when in reality we shall only bring it into discredit.

Believers are called to have a passion and zeal for truth. There are times when a godly anger should be demonstrated by us when we see the gospel distorted and twisted. Yet, this cannot be a 24/7 phenomenon. In fact, though, it is easy for us to tell ourselves we are warriors for the truth when in fact our angry theological tirades are a pious cloak for selfishness and egotism. If we appoint ourselves as commentators on every single issue that arises in the world or evangelicalism, people begin to label us, sigh when they see our posts, and will remark, “There he/she goes again.” Content does matter when it comes to theology. Tone does as well.

What will it profit a man if he gains his cause and silences his adversary, if at the same time he loses that humble, tender frame of spirit in which the Lord delights, and to which the promise of his presence is made?

Out of all that Newton says in this letter, perhaps this is the one that cuts the sharpest. Newton asks a pointed question: what advantage is there if you win the debate but dishonor God? In our theological discussions, do we ask ourselves if we are seeking to honor God or display our intellect? Are we seeking to prompt others to glorify God or to stand in awe of our debating skills? What kind of heart does the Lord delight in and accept? There dwells not room for a broken, contrite heart and an exalted, selfish heart. 

John Newton understood the need for addressing theological controversies. Yet, in his wisdom, he accurately noted that controversy should not be something we are always looking to get into. Sadly, the social justice debates are the latest example where a controversy is bemoaned while platforms are being built at the same time. Let the world watch how we engage one another amidst real differences and let them be amazed. How will they be amazed? By seeing that we do not handle our differences like cable TV. Instead, we come together around the Word of God, loving one another as members of Christ’s household, and seeking to honor the God who showed us amazing grace.

How can we, who have been shown such grace, not show it to each other?

Jerusalem and the Sin of Presumption

The city of Jerusalem is a central feature of Luke’s Gospel. His entire narrative is set against the background of godly Jews longing to see the “consolation of Israel” and eagerly waiting for the “redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:25, 38). As the capital of the nation and the site of the temple, this unique city was associated with the presence of the divine Name and the place of true sacrifice; it was central to Israel’s life and hope (Deut. 12:10-11; Ps. 48; Isa. 52:7-10). It comes as no surprise, then, that Jerusalem plays an important part in the life and ministry of Israel’s Messiah, Jesus Christ.

The majority of Luke’s gospel is spent describing Jesus’ long journey towards Jerusalem, having “set his face” to go there (Luke 9:51) in order to accomplish everything that written about the Son of Man by the prophets. But what the prophets had foretold was that the promised Messiah would come to Jerusalem to suffer and die, having been ultimately rejected by his own people (Luke 18:31-33). Therefore, Luke’s overall description of Jerusalem is by no means optimistic.

The City that Rejected her Messiah

Jesus, in his lament over the city, identifies Jerusalem as “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it” (Luke 13:33-34; 20:9-18). Jesus, the Great Prophet, would soon suffer and die outside of her walls like all those who had come before and prefigured him. As he approaches and sees the city, amidst shouts of praise and acclamation from his many disciples, Jesus weeps over Jerusalem and pronounces its impending judgment and destruction (Luke 19:41-44). Why? Because the city of God had failed to recognize its visitation by the Son of God. The city that was anxiously awaiting her promised Messiah—David’s greater son and anointed king—did not receive him.

He then proceeds to cleanse the temple and later foretells the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple again (Luke 19:45-46; 21:5-36). This tragic portrayal of Jerusalem is made complete when Jesus, the very salvation of God and redemption of Jerusalem, is condemned by his own and handed over to be crucified. God’s very own people, hardened by unbelief, were blind to the fulfillment of God’s promises right in their midst.

The City that Received his Mercy

Yet Luke’s Gospel does not conclude with a totally negative portrait of Jerusalem. It is presented in his final chapter as somewhat of a city of new beginnings. Not only do the resurrection appearances happen in and around the city, but Jesus declares to his disciples that the good news of “repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47)! And just as Zechariah, Simeon, and Anna blessed God in the temple at the beginning of Luke’s Gospel, he concludes with a description of the disciples returning to Jerusalem “with great joy” and being “continually in the temple blessing God” (Luke 24:52-53).

This then sets the stage for the book of Acts and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. Just as Jesus and the Scriptures had foretold, the gospel of repentance and forgiveness was first proclaimed in all of its glory in Jerusalem, where 3,000 souls were added to the church (Acts 2:37-41). This number only continued to grow as the word was preached, the Spirit was received, and the church was edified (Acts 4:4; 6:7).  And as the church was scattered by persecution from the temple leadership and also began to send missionaries, the gospel spread like wildfire from Jerusalem unto the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8; 28:30-31).

No longer was Jerusalem needed as the dwelling place of God’s presence on the earth or as the place of sacrifice and worship; Christ, by his indwelling Spirit, was present with his church throughout the world. The hour had come when God would no longer be worshiped in the temple in Jerusalem, but in spirit and truth among the nations (John 4:21-24)!

The Danger of Presumption

This portrait of Jerusalem—the city that rejected her Messiah yet also received his mercy—serves as a warning against the subtle but serious sin of presumption. Paul writes extensively on this in Romans 2:1-11, 17-29, and 11:17-24. The self-righteous Jews and hypocritical temple leadership presumed that just because they were Abraham’s physical offspring, they were in God’s good graces (John 8:39). Since they were committed to the Law and upheld their religious traditions, since they had their temple and had as their capital “the city of our God”, they presumed that God was pleased with them. They presumed upon the riches of God’s kindness and patience, not knowing that his kindness was meant to lead them to repentance (Rom. 2:4). Their hard and impenitent hearts led them to neglect the weightier matters of the law, to boast in their own righteousness, to base their worship upon trite ritual rather than true repentance, and even to reject their very own Messiah. As a result, they incurred the judgment of God (Rom. 2:5)

Paul, speaking to the Gentiles included in the people of God, uses the metaphor of an olive tree to make his point clear: “So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches [i.e., Israel], neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off” (11:20-22). All, both Jews and Gentiles, can be guilty of this sin of presumption.

So how do we not become proud? The answer is to remember that there is a world of difference between saving faith and presumption. Saving faith wholly trusts in the kindness of God. It leads us daily to confess our sins and bear fruit in keeping with repentance (Luke 3:8). Presumption, on the other hand, takes God’s kindness for granted and blinds us to our need for continual repentance. True, saving faith is persevering faith—a faith that boasts in the work of Christ and God’s preserving grace. Presumption hardens our hearts to the mercy, grace, and holiness of God, and leads us to hypocrisy. Therefore, let us behold the riches of God’s mercy in Christ Jesus, abide in him, and continue in his kindness!

We Do What We Value Most

We do what is important to us.

In Jesus’ parable of the Great Banquet (Luke 14:15-24) we read about a man who is hosting a great banquet and invites many to participate. When the time came for the banquet to begin the man hosting the event sent his servant out to gather all those who were invited. But as we read on, we see that all those invited “began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come'” (18-20). One after the other gave an excuse to why they could not make the great banquet. Why? Something more important to them came up and they attended to it.

In this parable the man hosting the banquet is God, those invited are those who have been given the general gospel call, and the great banquet is heaven.

From this parable we can see two things:

First and foremost, there are many unbelievers who have heard the gospel call and the command to repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and yet they have put it off choosing instead to follow that which is most important to them – their sin. I remember as a kid my dad was ministering to a family that attended our church and he asked the family if their eldest son was ready to trust in Jesus. The family told my dad that their son was not ready. He did not desire to give up his sinful lifestyle to follow Jesus. He enjoyed those things too much. They were of greater importance to him than a relationship with Jesus. And this is how it is for so many. They would rather davul in their sin then come to faith and repentance in Jesus. As a result, they miss the Great Banquet, they miss eternity in heaven.

Second, believers can also heed this warning in a different way. So often, believers will make excuses for missing church or youth group, for not spending time with God in prayer or Bible study, or for failing to evangelize and make disciples. Something more important or convenient for them came up. What we do with our time will show what we value most. When presented with the option to sleep in or attend church you will do what you value most. If you find yourself watching TV at night instead of reading your Bible, it reveals your hearts true affections, it shows you what you value most.

We do what is most important to us.

We make time.

We find a way.

If prayer, Bible reading, church attendance (small groups/youth group), discipleship, and evangelism, are important to us then we will make it happen. We all have the same amount of time, the issue is this: are these eternal and most important things a priority for us? Our prayer should be that God would give us hearts that value Him, His Word, and His people above all else.

Or allow me to put it like this: we do what we value most, what is most valuable to you? The answer to that question will reveal much about where your heart truly is.

Comfort and Encouragement in God’s Providence

Have you ever noticed how God is constantly at work in all things, exercising His providential control in every aspect of our lives, even when (perhaps especially when) we least realize it? John Piper famously captured this truth in a 2012 tweet when he said: “God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them.”

We see this throughout Scripture, don’t we? We see it in the story of Joseph in Genesis 37-50. We see it in the life of Esther. We see it in Pauls’ painful thorn that made the power of Christ more beautiful in his weakness (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). We see it in virtually every book of the Bible, from beginning to end.

Recently I was reminded of this truth from the book of Philippians. In Philippians 1:12-14, Paul is reminding the Christians to whom he’s writing that his imprisonment is actually accomplishing something good for the sake of the Gospel.

If you remember, the Apostle is sitting in a Roman prison while writing this letter to these Philppian Christians. You have to imagine that these Philippian brothers and sisters are distraught over the current situation of their beloved Apostle. I’m certain that they were praying for his release. I’m confident that many were plagued by fear that a similar fate may come upon them. And perhaps some of them were even tempted to question the faith. But not the Apostle Paul. Not only was he aware of and focused on the providential control of God, but he also wanted to remind and encourage his brothers and sisters in Christ of this glorious truth.

Recognizing the likely range of emotions among these saints, Paul reminds them in verses 12-14: “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the imperial guard and to all the rest, that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.

Paul reminds them that, even in his imprisonment, God is at work. God is at work to spread the Gospel. God is at work to embolden other brothers to “speak the word without fear.” God is at work to point the whole world to the fact that Paul’s imprisonment is for Christ. Even in the unlikeliest and worst of scenarios, humanly speaking, God was powerfully at work for the expansion of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Only God knows how many men and women were converted, and how many local churches planted, in the years and decades that followed Paul’s imprisonment as a result of the emboldening effect upon men to preach the Word without fear.

What about your life? Is there anything in your life right now that is causing you to question the goodness or faithfulness of God? May our hearts and minds be encouraged by the truth of Scripture that God is powerfully at work in all things. There is not a single thing happening in your life that God is not aware of, that God is not in control of, and that God is not working for your good to make you more life Christ. 

Depending on the circumstance, it can be very hard for us to grasp this truth, can’t it? I am pretty confident that, as Paul received lashes, beatings, stonings, and as he was shipwrecked hungry, thirsty, and exposed to the harsh elements (2 Corinthians 11:24-27), he was confused at times at how exactly God was using these things for his good. But I’m far more confident that Paul trusted, by faith, that God was powerfully at work for His glory and Paul’s good, whether he could understand it or not.

And such is the case for us. Whether it’s sickness or sorrow, pain or persecution, death or disease, no matter what the situation is for us in this life, we can trust with rock-solid assurance that God is in control (Romans 8:28-29). As the Apostle Paul reminded these Philippian brothers and sisters of God’s work through his imprisonment, let us remind ourselves of the truth that God is powerfully at work in and through each of our situations, whether we realize it or not, whether we recognize it or not, and whether we understand it or not.

“God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them.”

Soli Deo Gloria!

Why They Call It Good Friday

Typically when we tack the word “good” onto something, we are communicating that we have had a positive experience with it. This makes sense when we are giving our opinion on the latest superhero movie or the new restaurant in town. It doesn’t make sense to use the word “good” in reference to a tragic event. You can just imagine the angry looks you’d get if you did so in a public setting. Yet the most tragic event in world history, the murder of God’s only Son, is termed “Good Friday.” Why is that? Before answering that question, we need to remember that one event can be intended by some for evil while simultaneously being intended by God for good. When Joseph was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, falsely accused, and imprisoned, he told his brothers, “What you meant for evil, God meant for good” (Gen. 50:20). Had it not been for Joseph’s circumstances, thousands could have died in the famine that struck the land. This is how the early church thought of the cross. They prayed in Acts 4:27, “Truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” So on one side, we’ve got evil motives from Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Gentiles, and the peoples of Israel. While on the other side, God has good motives for the death of His Son.

Let’s take a look at three reasons why the cross was (and is) good…

1. Jesus traded places with us

Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted. And they had then a notorious prisoner called Barabbas…Pilate said to them, ‘Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?’…‘Barabbas.’ ‘Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?’ They all said, ‘Let him be crucified!’” -Portions of Matthew 27:15-23

So the option was given: release “the Christ” and punish the “notorious prisoner” or vice versa. The crowds that day, lead by the jealous religious leaders, cried out for Jesus’ crucifixion and the pardon of this convicted criminal. In his account of the Gospel, Mark tells us Barabbas was a murderer and the leader of an insurrection. Jesus, however, was no murderer and actually brought people back from the dead, among other things. Jesus led no insurrections and rather sought to overthrow Satan’s power. The name Barabbas means, “Son of a father” and yet the true Son of the Father was about to be condemned in his place. We see a much deeper story developing behind the story of Barabbas. It is the story of the Gospel, which the whole Bible is telling. The story of how a holy God made a way to dwell with unholy people, and at the very center of this story stands the cross. It is your story and my story. It is what theologians call the Great Exchange. At the cross, Jesus stood in for us to take our deserved punishment and gave us all His perfect righteousness, which we could never have earned.  

So we call it Good Friday because Jesus traded places with us and yet also because…   

2. Jesus granted access to us

And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.” -Matthew 27:50-51a

Once Jesus had endured six trials, been brutally scourged, mocked and beaten, He was finally crucified. For six grueling hours, Jesus felt not only the nails, but the holy hatred of His Father against sin. Paul says in Galatians 3:13 that Jesus “became a curse” for us and he says in 2 Corinthians 5:21 that he “became sin.” The prophet Isaiah foretold that He was, “smitten by God…the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all…it was the will of the LORD to crush Him” (Is. 53:4, 6, 10). Every sin every believer would ever commit was fully punished in that one moment…on the head of the sinless Son of God. And the dividing curtain which had separated man from God since the garden was finally removed. The temple’s four inch curtain was torn from top to bottom, signifying this salvation was God’s initiative and accomplishment. Unhindered access to God is now ours through faith in Christ.

Good Friday is good not only because of Jesus traded places with us and gave us access into God’s presence, but also because…

3. Jesus tasted death for us

Joseph…went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away.” -Matthew 27:58-60

The body of Jesus that once moved about throughout Judea and Galilee now lay cold, still, and lifeless. It is good for us to stop and consider the weight of this. Jesus became not only a curse for us, but a corpse for us. His life snuffed out. The grave sealed shut. Why? What is the significance of this odd reality? The prophet Ezekiel states, “The soul that sins shall die” and the Apostle Paul writes, “the wages of sin is death…” and it was on the cross that Jesus took our sins. Had Jesus never died, our sin would have never been fully dealt its true punishment. Also, if Jesus had never died, we would still face the uncertainty of the grave. Yet because Jesus died and rose again, the grave has fully and finally been conquered. Death has now been transformed from an end, to a beginning, for all whose hope is Christ.

Good Friday is truly a good day for us because our most “notorious” sins have been placed on Jesus, we have been given eternal access into God’s presence, and our coming death has been transformed into a new beginning in the presence of God. So I think it’s safe to say these are good things and this very, very good news.

Two life altering words.

But God………Two words that can bring live from death. Two words that in the midst of sorrow, weeping, and hurt we may find comfort. Two words that should shock us from our complacency. Two words that put everything into perspective. Just two words that change everything.

Over the course of my walk with God these two words have continually resonated in the back of my head. These words I first fully encountered in Ephesians 2:4 resonated that in the midst of my sinfulness and willfully life of sin, He entered into the picture and transformed me. He did a work I could not accomplish, He, in the midst of my depravity, brought new life, a heart of stone replaced by a heart of flesh. There is beauty in the realization that God is at work and it is He who can change the darkest of nights to the brightest of days. However, as we travel through the scriptures the reality is far greater and the work of God is far more than simply found in taking his own out of the dominion of darkness and bringing us home. There are many places throughout the scriptures that reflect on the But God nature of events. I wanted to explore the two ends of these today Judgment and salvation.

But God…..Will judge the Wicked

Why do you boast of evil, O mighty man?

The steadfast love of God endures all the day.

Your tongue plots destruction,

like a sharp razor, you worker of deceit.

You love evil more than good,

and lying more than speaking what is right. Selah

You love all words that devour,

O deceitful tongue.

But God will break you down forever;

he will snatch and tear you from your tent;

he will uproot you from the land of the living.

Psalm 52:1-5

One of the remarkable things about the Old Testament is its continually reminders that those who choose wickedness and pursue destruction will find God is not to be mocked and the life they have desired will find its completion in destruction. There is a warning here in the Psalter to check our hearts and lives. The steadfast love of God is evident and apparent, but do we respond to this or do we deep down spurn it, do we do as Paul warns us not to do and sin all the more so that grace may abound. God is not mocked. God’s loving kindness is steadfast, but He will judge.

These verses should wake us up when we slumber, not that we should not rest in the grace and love of our God, but that we should not pursue wickedness because of this grace. God is not to be mocked, scorned or presumed upon. Does our walk reflect the reality of our love for God? Is our speech reflective of one transformed by the gospel or is it filled with deceit and evil? But God……Will break you down forever. This is a truly humbling song one that should make us stop in our tracks and reflect back on our God, remember his steadfast love that endures and cling to Him.

But God….Will Save & Preserve

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Rom 5:6-11

From reflecting on the reality that sin deserves punishment from God, and that God is not blind to our facades, we see now the incredible mercy of God. In Romans, we are reminded of the price Christ paid to free us from the bonds of our sinfulness. Our wickedness deserved punishment. We were the ungodly walking in darkness forsaking God, deserving of the judgment stored up for us and our sin, yet the Lord in His steadfast love made a new and better way for His own. We were His enemies and the judgement and wrath was stored up against us because of our sin, yet now those whom Christ has transformed, the wrath has subsided against us for it has all been poured out on Christ. He has absorbed the wrath and in so doing given us new life, that those who are His no longer reflect the spirit found in Ps 52, they have been reconciled with God and no longer live in fear, but rather in repentance.

If the first “but God” causes us to stop, reflect, repent and seek God, the second should lead us to praise and proclaim the goodness of our God. If in hearing the first warning of God’s wrath to come, your heart is hardened and inclined towards sin all the more that should be a warning that the second reality may not have taken place. A heart set free from sin is one that owns its forgiveness. It is broken by its sin, it is grateful for its savior, and awestruck that the one and perfect God would sacrifice himself for a wretched sinner. The second realization doesn’t lead to perfection, but it leads to praise of who God is, a striving after him daily in love for all He has done, and a desire to proclaim that truth to others.

The term “but God” appears throughout scripture showing us and reminding us that what appears on the outside as one thing is not always the true reality. It reminds us that God is the one who is sovereign and in control. It is He who judges, it is He who sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous alike, it is His design and order that is at work even when we don’t understand, and ultimately it is from that design and order we have experienced newness of life. We live because of the “but God”s of scripture. We have breath because of God’s goodness and mercy, and for those in Him we have reconciliation because of His work and His alone.

Book Review: “Still Protesting: Why the Reformation Matters” by D.G. Hart

Is there still a reason why Roman Catholicism and Protestantism cannot just get along and unite together to create one, unified communion setting aside all previous differences? After all, can an event taking place 500 years ago really continue to bear any type of relevance in the lives of ordinary people in the 21st century? D.G. Hart’s “Still Protesting: Why the Reformation Matters” sounds a clarion call that evangelicals need to hear today. While the church might be removed from the days of Luther and Calvin by a few centuries, the doctrinal chasm between Rome and Protestants still stretches wide. Hart critiques the shallow theological views of Protestants that allows them to conclude that the differences today are not that sharp. Hence, the Reformation of the 16th century no longer matters to the church in the 21st century. Hart’s book walks through key soteriological and ecclesiological differences between Protestants and Rome. In “Still Protesting,” Hart masterfully exhibits the core tenets adopted by Rome in the Counter-Reformation are still binding to this day. The Reformation is not over.

“Still Protesting” begins by dealing with statements made by Protestants who have converted to Roman Catholicism over the last few decades. These individuals’ common refrain upon their leaving Protestantism centers upon a mixture of Rome providing stability, history, and unity. Hart’s book takes on these statements by proving that the historical objections raised by Martin Luther, John Calvin, and others are, for the most part, still valid and legitimate. Further, Rome can claim neither stability and unity in the face of their own history as well as the changes that have happened and continue to happen to this day. Hart equips modern evangelicals to see what are the differences as well as give pause to Protestants contemplating union with Rome.

The first chapter of “Still Protesting” provides an overview of the historical context in which the Reformation arose. Hart briefly walks through the situations that arose prompting men like Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin to become the chief Reformers who laid down the foundational stones of Protestantism. Hart notes that Rome eventually responded with the Council of Trent rejecting all that the Protestants put forward but giving no real adequate response to the issues raised by the Reformers. “The result is that Roman Catholicism, even to the day, has not responded to the Protestant Reformers other than to reject the original tenets of Luther and Calvin” (28). Hart notes that movements in the late 1990s did not really testify to unity theologically between Rome and Protestants. These movements sadly bore witness that many Protestants were so shallow doctrinally that the issues of the 16th century no longer mattered to them regardless of Rome’s failure to change biblically at all.

Hart walks through issues related to “Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone)” as well as the gospel. Hart does an excellent job of utilizing the primary sources of men like Luther and Calvin when it came to the role of the Bible in the church, how worship should be oriented, and justification by faith alone due to the imputed righteousness of Christ alone. This book serves as a wonderful, precise exposition of why Protestants opposed the sale of indulgences and how that factored into Rome’s distorted view of the gospel. Hart summarizes the heart of Protestant gospel theology this way: “The only way that believers can stand innocent before God on judgment day is by wearing the garments of Christ’s perfect righteousness. That was the insight and achievement of the Protestant Reformation” (61). Hart presses forward with how the corruption of the gospel with the sale of indulgences tied into the unbiblical hierarchy of Rome centered upon the doctrines of papal succession and papal infallibility. Hart walks the reader through how these views were ironed out over time primarily due to the political scene in Europe. The reader can easily detect how the papacy had little to do with Peter and more to do with political power and luxurious prestige.

The chapter that most intrigued me as well as that I found very beneficial was Hart’s chapter entitled “Vocation: Spirituality for Ordinary Life.” Hart unpacks the Protestant understanding of the priesthood of all believers as well as how our vocational calling is a means to worship God. Drawing from the writings of Luther and Calvin, Hart shows how Protestantism’s advocating of justification by faith alone in Christ alone refers not just to a moment in our conversion and then is to be forgotten. This precious doctrine impacts how ordinary life is carried out. Whether it be the baker, the carpenter, or the mother at home raising her children, for one who is clothed in righteousness of Christ, the ordinary is quite extraordinary in how their vocational calling provides opportunity to honor God. Hart ties in some of these themes in a later chapter dealing with how Rome and Protestants view architecture different when it comes to the corporate worship of God.

Hart finishes the book by examining the false and misleading attacks on Protestantism as being the source of division and modernity as well as being the new kid on the block. Each of these criticisms of Protestantism falls flat when the real history of the church is laid out showing that Rome’s attacks might be neat clichés but fall woefully short of being accurate. Hart gives an overview of the 2nd Vatical Council revealing how this event contradicts much of what Protestants state is their reasoning for converting to Catholicism as well as contradicting what are the supposed pillars of Roman Catholicism: stability and unity. The conclusion is a masterful exposition of how Protestants and Rome view sainthood differently. This is a fitting conclusion that reinforces earlier statements regarding Protestant views on the Bible, the gospel, and the church.

Hart provides an excellent resource for pastors and laymen alike to combat the charge that the Reformation is over. One critique that I would raise is that Hart did not provide a further resources section in this book so that readers could explore these topics in more depth. Hart quotes contemporary Roman Catholic sources but did not cite any Protestant theologians who would be in agreement with him concerning the need to still see the Reformation as ongoing. This would have bolstered his case in some areas. However, those critiques aside, this book is definitely a book you should purchase and read. “Still Protesting” will remind you of why you are a Protestant and why you should remain a Protestant!

 

Read the Bible as the Author Intended

As Christians, we love the Bible. Many of us even have quite the collection—from that old King James Bible we used as a kid, to that new ESV Journaling Bible we received as a gift. One of the first apps we download on a new mobile device (whether out of devotion or guilt) is usually a Bible app. We love posting Bible verses on social media, sharing typography that moves us or a landscape that captures the beauty of a psalm. And while we know that some of the Old Testament and Revelation can be hard to grasp, for the most part we believe that all Scripture is profitable for our spiritual growth. So, we make it a point to read our Bible(s) often.

Superstition Ain’t the Way

Yet when we actually sit down to read the Bible, we often do so in a way that is all wrong, and even dangerous. We might say that Scripture is “God’s Word,” but we easily forget that behind the sixty-six books and forty-or-so different authors who wrote across a period of over 1500 years stands one divine Author telling one glorious story.  J. I. Packer explains:

“When you read a book, you treat it as a unit. You look for the plot or the main thread of the argument and follow it through to the end. You let the author’s mind lead yours. . . . You know that you will not have understood it till you have read it from start to finish. If it is a book you want to master, you set aside time for a careful, unhurried journey through it.

“But when we come to Holy Scripture, our behavior is different. To start with, we are in the habit of not treating it as a book—a unit—at all; we approach it simply as a collection of separate stories and sayings. We take it for granted that these items represent either moral advice or comfort for those in trouble. So we read the Bible in small doses, a few verses at a time. We do not go through individual books, let alone the two Testaments, as a single whole. We browse through the rich old Jacobean periods of the King James Version or the informalities of the New Living Translation, waiting for something to strike us. When the words bring a soothing thought or a pleasant picture, we believe the Bible has done its job. We have come to view the Bible not as a book, but as a collection of beautiful and suggestive snippets, and it is as such that we use it. The result is that, in the ordinary sense of ‘read,’ we never read the Bible at all. We take it for granted that we are handling Holy Writ in the truly religious way, but this use of it is in fact merely superstitious.”[i]

The Bible Tells a Story

The Bible is not simply a collection of motivational sayings or unrelated stories. God did not give us a box of inspired fortune cookies to dig through and crack open, ignoring what seemingly doesn’t apply to us and acknowledging only what makes us feel good inside. He gave us a book to read—a book that tells a story.

The Bible is the story of God’s saving acts in history to redeem sinners and restore all things for his glory. It is the story of a King and his kingdom. It is a story that begins at the very beginning of history, ends at the very end of history, and explains everything in between. “It is a single, coherent story, planned and executed and recorded by a single omnipotent, omniscient God.”[ii] And it is a story of grace that is ultimately centered on the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Yes, there are several different literary styles that make up the story of Scripture, but it is still telling one story of redemption. Yes, it is a collection of books composed by many human authors, but it is still the inspired word and the self-revelation of one divine Author. Once we begin to approach the Bible with this understanding—and with the eyes of our hearts enlightened by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:18; Rom. 12:2; 2 Cor. 4:6)—we will begin to read the Bible as it ought to be read.

Take Up and Read!

So, how do we put this understanding into action? First, it means actually reading the Bible through from cover to cover. Begin to familiarize yourself with God’s story of redemption. When you’ve finished, do what you do when you come to the end of your favorite television show or your favorite record album: go through it again! Sometimes it’s good to go slowly through the Bible, mining all of the riches we can out of each and every verse. But “binge-reading” the Bible can be just as fruitful.

Second, remember that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the main theme that unites the whole of Scripture together. Don’t get discouraged when reading about the borders of the twelve tribes in Joshua or the bizarre imagery in Ezekiel. Instead, keep your eyes on Jesus and the primary themes that run throughout the Bible: promise and fulfillment, creation and new creation, faith and obedience, sin and sacrifice, offspring and kingdom, and so on. You may not understand how every part of Scripture relates to the whole the first time through, but as you prayerfully keep your focus on the gospel of Jesus Christ, you will slowly but surely grow in your understanding and appreciation of God’s holy word.

Third, take advantage of your church’s teaching ministries (assuming you attend a Bible-preaching, gospel-centered, Christ-exalting church). Attend Sunday School classes; sit under the preaching of the word every week; join a small group Bible study. Additionally, go to your pastor(s) with your questions and concerns! Instead of doing a Google search, ask your pastor about any books or Bible reading plans that he recommends. He is a devoted student of Scripture and spends every day familiarizing himself with the story of redemption for your benefit. He prays for you and knows you better than some other guy’s blog ever will.

And fourth, rinse and repeat as necessary. Take up and read!


[i] J. I. Packer, “The Plan of God,” in God’s Plan for You (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2001), 18–19.

[ii] Michael Lawrence, Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church: A Guide for Ministry, 9Marks (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 30.

We Need Reminding

In Psalm 103 we see David repeatedly using the phrase “bless the Lord, O my soul”. To “bless the Lord” was to “praise the Lord”. So, David was exhorting himself to praise God. He was trying to stir up in himself praise and adoration for God.

And the way David motivated himself to praise God was to remind himself of who God was and what God had done for Him. He writes, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits” (v.2). There is a real correlation between blessing God and remembering all His benefits (provision, mercy, sovereignty, etc.).

So often the reason we are not satisfied in God and therefore do not praise Him as we should is because we forget all His benefits. That’s why David proclaims, “Let my soul not forget the benefits of God” because when we forget all that God has done, we don’t rejoice in Him as we should.

When it comes to God, forgetfulness equals joylessness. And we are a forgetful people. We forget to turn the lights off, take the trash out, pay the electric bill, etc. These are things that we forget. And so often when we forget there are consequences. Some are small and insignificant, others are big and costly, but there are often consequences to our forgetfulness. And when it comes to God the consequence of forgetfulness is joylessness. When we are not reminded of who God is and what God has done for us then it’s easy to become discontent and depressed in life. The joy of the Lord is missing because we’re not dwelling on Him.

David stirs himself up to praise and adoration for God by reminding himself of the benefits of God.

We too need to regularly remind ourselves of who God is and what He has done for us. It is crucial in the pursuit of joy that we regularly read God’s Word, listen to Biblical preaching, and have godly mentors in our lives to remind us again and again of the benefits we have in Christ.

 

Linger at the Cross

Recently my wife and I were blessed to enjoy a four day retreat with Winshape at Berry College in Rome, GA. The whole four days we were served amazing meals, developed some new ministry friends, and had a ton of time to rest and enjoy the beauty of God’s creation in the mountains. The best part of all wasn’t the hiking trails, the Filet Mignon, or even the fact that this trip was free (if you’re a senior pastor and spouse, do yourself a favor and sign up). The best part was the fact that we had time to linger over the Gospel individually and as a couple.

I was raised in a church where the Gospel was presented in every message, and for that I am very grateful. My pastor heralded the Gospel message clearly and unapologetically, pleading with sinners to surrender their hearts to Christ. Yet the Gospel that was preached every sermon was targeted at unbelievers and seldom believers. The main message for believers were the Bible’s moral imperatives, but seldom it’s Gospel indicatives. I assumed that the Gospel got me in God’s kingdom and obedience kept me in it.

The New Testament, however, always roots our obedience in the Gospel, so we need the Gospel more than ever as believers. The Gospel is not merely one story among many in Scripture; it is Scripture’s main story, and the constant refrain from Genesis to Revelation is that we linger over it. Tim Keller said it this way: “We never ‘get beyond the gospel’ in our Christian life to something more ‘advanced.’ The gospel is not the first ‘step’ in a ‘stairway’ of truths, rather, it is more like the ‘hub’ in a ‘wheel’ of truth. The gospel is not just the A-B-C’s but the A-Z of Christianity. The gospel is not just the minimum required doctrine necessary to enter the kingdom, but the way we make progress in the kingdom.”

When believers fail to drink deeply from the fountain of the Gospel, they shrivel spiritually. So if we reserve the Gospel to unbelievers in our church’s, we may see increased professions of faith, but we may also see decreased spiritual growth among those who profess faith. On the other hand, A church that preaches the Gospel to believers while unbelievers listen in will have a stronger and more stable family from which to launch this message into the community and world.

The soul that is regularly enjoying and resting in the truths of the Great Exchange will find constant motivation to obey God’s commands. It is there at the cross that we learn about the ugliness of our sin, God’s holiness, Christ’s sinless nature, the Judgment to come, astounding grace, our salvation, and sacrificial love. A cursory glance at the Gospel will not impress these realities upon us, so we must spend time each day lingering in it. Memorizing and meditating and mulling over the wonder of Christ’s substitutionary atoning death is the best fuel for everything in the Christian life, from holiness to missions. Whenever we find ourselves treasuring sin, it always stems from a failure to glory in the Golgotha event. May we rehearse the wonder of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection to ourselves and one another until He returns.

 

Learning from Old Dead Guys

Over the past three months we at SonRise have been studying the history of the early church during our Sunday evening gatherings. So far, over almost 12 weeks, we have covered almost 400 years of the early church and explored key figures such as Polycarp, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Cyprian, Origen, Athanasius, The Cappadocians, and many others both heretic and hero. One question though that arose during our discussions is why is this important? Why should we in the 21st century pay much attention to the thoughts and work of the early church? Now these are fair questions and in this brief post I would like to lay out some of the reasons why the history of the Church is important to every believer.

It is Our Story

When we think of the history of the church, we come face to face with our own past, warts and all. It’s easy to get wrapped up in our own current church issues, whether that be on a local level or a global one, but when we look back over the totality of our history, we see that people are still people and God is still God. Now what I mean by that is that by studying our history we see the loving perseverance of God, in spite of our own failings. We see God preserving a people in spite of themselves, for His glory and our good.  In every era of church history we see people who use the church for their own selfish gains and twist the meaning of Christ’s work and word to bring about their own personal fame. We see men abuse their flock and seek to destroy the church, not from without but from within. We see the warnings of Paul played out time and time again to love the people of God and protect the church from false teaching. Unfortunately, we also see this truth twisted to man’s own evil ends, just as we do today. However, in each generation we also see men and women of faith seeking God faithfully, loving their community with the gospel and seeking to grow in the grace of God day by day. We see men and women stand firm on the truth of God in the face of sever opposition and pain. So, when I begin by saying church history is our story I mean it reflects the very things we experience today. Ecclesiastes reminds us that at the end of the day there is nothing new under the sun, and the challenges of the church remain the same: to love the Lord with all our hearts and to live out the faith in Love towards our neighbors, all the more as those who profess Christ seem to act in the exact opposite of his teachings, twisting His truths for their own gains. Thankfully, when seen in the scope of history and the reveled truth of God’s word we know that our story shows us that God has faithful preserved His church through every generation.

It’s our Theology

The first generation of saints had the apostles’ teachings and the truth of scripture and from there the Spirit of God instructed them in the truth and lead them in grace. As we look back into the history of that time, we see people wrestling with the truth of scriptures and working out the reality of its teaching in their lives and practice. Over the first 500 years of the church many theological heresies would arise within the church that required a diligent study of the scriptures to lead to an answer, serious theological issues such as the full divinity of the Holy Spirit or about the questions of whether Jesus was truly divine or on the other hand truly human. Questions arose about how one comes to faith, and can one fall away from faith, how does evil exist if God is good? Many questions were asked and answered, some well some not so well, but as we know many of these same questions still come up today, and in looking back we see how the earliest of Christians thought through the scriptures to come to their conclusions. We see how many of the questions and charges that we wrestle with answering have been answered in generations past, and not simply in our creeds but in the writings that influenced the creeds, and in the depth of scriptural wisdom these men had leading to their arguments. When we avoid the past, we are forced to re litigate the central tenants of the faith over and over again, because we are continual ignoring those who have fought these battles long ago, and at times because of this we have adopted heresies that were long ago proven to be in error when seen in the totality of scripture.

We get it wrong

This maybe an interesting third option to put in the study of church history, but it is a reality that we see in church history and that is that sometimes, godly people living godly lives who love the Lord, get things wrong, both in our day and theirs. While I just spent a paragraph praising the church fathers for their advancement of the truth of scripture there were still plenty of times, when they went beyond the realms of scripture and speculated on God and the church and came up with some crazy things, that rather than being relegated to opinions or culture applications, were treated as binding theology. Many an issue arose not over interpretations of scriptures but over power and authority and innovation. Most of the things that are now regarded as tradition and essential in many churches, were innovations and controversial in their days. For instance, in the 16th century the Vulgate was seen as a relic of the past that kept the people away from the scriptures, in the 5th century it was seen as an innovation ripping away the scriptures from their original foundations, and giving it to the people who could not understand Greek. So in praising innovation we must also realize from history that innovation can become a false idol just as quickly. And that in spite of innovation the greatest traditions of the church can be seen in the early church and the works of the apostles; the dedication to the people reading and learning the scriptures together, the truth reveled and celebrated at the table, and church’s hospitality found in the loving community transformed by the Work of Christ.

We are encouraged

Hebrews 13-7-9

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them.  

In the end, let me end with the author of Hebrews as he encourages the church to look to those who have gone before them, those who have run the race and kept the faith. This text comes after the encourages them with a resounding list of the OT saints in chapter 11 and its implications in 12. When we put this text in the course of history, we are reminded that the lives of the saints from the days of Christ to now are models for us. They show us how to live in times of peace and times of persecution. They show us the struggles that men and women dealt with living in a world surrounded by believers and one depleted of them. In each and every way we have a whole history to draw from and be encouraged by, for we have not run this race alone, and we will not eat the great feast alone on that last day, but with all those who have run it before us. Therefore, let us learn from them and be encouraged by their faith and in turn let us turn all the more to the word of God and growing in His saving grace.

The Solid Foundation of Submission

“No!”

For many, this little two-letter word is the within the first few words we learn how to say. Every study I researched (which didn’t need to be many) verified that “No” is in the first grouping of new vocabulary words for a toddler; along with, “da-da, ma-ma, tanku (thank you), and other similarly simple to say.

Is “No!” there because of its relative ease in speaking? To be fair, I’m sure that’s why our littles choose it over “I’m confident that I am not willing to conform to your standard or to submit to your authority.” That articulation comes much later in our rebellion; however, its essence is still a resounding, “NO!”

Submission is really what we’re rebelling against with most of our “No’s.” And ultimately, as I believe the Scriptures make clear, it is not a rebellion of submission to our parents, leaders, or authority figures in our lives but against God’s design, and ultimately against God Himself.

In reality, submission has not only recently come to be taboo. Genesis 3 and the Fall detail our rejection of God-ordained submission. From Genesis 3 through Revelation 20:15 we read of the consequences of our rebellion, the Divine plan and accomplishment of redemption from our rebellion (Gen. 3:15 and beyond), and until we reach the Story of Redemption we cannot find a single person who was not only completely submissive but who was joyfully submissive.

That Jesus was completely and joyfully submissive is the solid foundation of submission. Afterall, if submission was appropriate for Christ, the God-man, then why can’t we stomach it? But even Christ’s submission stretches beyond the reach of the Roman government, the ecclesiastical (if you will) constructions, the work-place, and even beyond the family unit. Jesus, the Son of God, was first submissive inside the co-eternal, co-equal, co-magnificent Godhead; as was the Holy Spirit. The solid foundation of submission for this generation, as well as any subsequent generations, is godliness.

Submission of the Son to the Father

Galatians 4:4—“But when the fulness of time had come, God sent forth his Son…”

John 12:49-50—Jesus said, “For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak…I say as the Father has told me.”

John 10:37—Jesus said, “If I am not doing the works of my Father…”

Luke 22:22—“For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined…”

And ultimately, Luke 22:42—Jesus said, “Nevertheless, not my will but yours be done…”

Submission of the Spirit to the Father & the Son

John 14:26—“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name…”

John 15:26—Jesus said, “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.”

Luke 24:49—Jesus said, “…I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

Acts 2:33—Peter said, “[Jesus] being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit…”

These are by no means exhaustive references to the eternal submission within the Godhead but a clear and definitive doctrine (and example) can be seen through the passages provided.

Why such a hesitation, then, for the Church to submit herself in her marriages (Ephesians 5:22-33), and children to the parents (Ephesians 6:1-4), and employees to their employers (Ephesians 6:5-9), and citizens to their government (Romans 13:1-7).

Could it be that our marital, parental, ecclesiastical & societal resounding “NO!” is the smoldering embers of sinful pride and self-exaltation that needs to be snuffed out by the deluge of Spirit-empowered self-mortification that we might bear and project God’s image rightly? I believe so. To be submissive is to be Christlike. What other foundation could be more stable?

Submission may be a nasty word in our culture but far be it from the Bride of Christ to declare the posture of Christ to be passé; lest we be found professors of Christ and not possessors.

The Son’s Sobering Preservation

Jesus, anticipating what’s to come, says in John 16:1, “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away.” Then in 16:4 He similarly says, “But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.” These form bookends to v1-4, because in both Jesus gives reasons behind why He tells them what He is telling them, and the main reason is preservation. The reason in v1 is so that they won’t fall away when trials come, and the reason in v4 is so that they won’t be surprised when trials come. Taking them together we can see the meaning in view. Jesus doesn’t want His disciples, and doesn’t want you and I, to encounter the hatred of the world and be so shocked or scandalized[i]by it that we abandon the faith.[ii]

No, He wants us to last, He wants us to be informed, and He wants us to be prepared for what’s to come.

So He continues on in v2-3 saying, “They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor Me.”

Sobering words from the Son intended to function as a means of preservation for His disciples. v2-3 repeat many of the same things we saw in 15:18-25 but here the tone is stronger. Back in chapter 15 the hatred in view was from the world in general, here in chapter 16 the hatred has a very specific origin. It’s from those who are very religious. Does that surprise you? That someone with deep religious zeal could be so blind and so violent? These religious zealots will first excommunicate them, which wouldn’t only remove them from the spiritual life of the society (they wouldn’t be able to attend sacrifices, feasts, etc.) but the social life of the society as well. This would’ve meant things like getting a job would now be difficult, it meant you’d likely lose business customers, and might ultimately lose your livelihood. Some of you have experienced these very things already and the trend of our world isn’t headed in a Godward direction.

May we not be caught unaware. 

As bad as these things are Jesus didn’t stop there, He also said here that they would be killed by those who fully believe they’re pleasing God. Only in a fallen world could such a monstrous reality be true. This pattern has played out throughout history ever since. Today we find it true that most of the vicious threats to the gospel are often by religiously motivated zealots, thinking their god is pleased with such violence and will reward them for doing so. But go back a bit further. Did you know Thomas Cranmer, the English Reformer, was burned at the stake in 1556 by Roman Catholics as one of their priests was preaching a sermon? Did you know when Pope Leo X excommunicated Martin Luther from the Roman Catholic church and put a price on his head he said, “Arise O Lord, a wild boar has entered Thy vineyard.” Go back a bit further. Paul himself followed this pattern in his pre-Christian life. By persecuting the Church he believed God would be pleased with Him. It was Paul who chased down followers of The-Way and threw them in jail and it was Paul who looked on and held the coats of those who stoned Stephen in Acts 7. Thank God, that for Paul, his zealous pattern of violence was interrupted on the Damascus Road as he became a Christian and experienced an overwhelming irony going from persecutor to persecuted. We could speak of all the disciples here as they we’re executed or exiled at the hand of religious zealots but go back a bit further one more time.

This pattern was played out most vividly with Christ. The Jewish leaders, being very religious, claimed to know God but in v3 Jesus says they didn’t, and that their ignorance of who God truly was and who He truly was is actually the origin of their vile ways. These leaders believed God would be pleased for Christ to die, and that in doing so they would be glorifying God and keeping their religion pure and undefiled. The irony here is that they were right in a sense more true than they could know. Jesus seemed to be suffering defeat while He was accomplishing the greatest of all victories at the very moment the Jewish leaders seemed to be winning a victory while they were suffering the greatest of all defeats.[iii]In the most ironic moment of history the hour of their persecution mentioned in v4 was really the hour of the Son’s glorification[iv]where God was glorified and was very pleased for Christ to die as He bore the full wrath of God for sinners like us. And having been warned of it by Jesus, when these things fell on the disciples afterwards, the trials of persecution and death wouldn’t be an obstacle to their faith but a strengthener to their faith because they saw that everything plays out as Jesus says it will.

But remember what Jesus has already said. Between the hard words in 15:18-25 and 16:1-4 we find a marvelous description of the Person and Work of the Holy Spirit. From hearing about the Helper and the Spirit of Truth this morning in the midst of this fallen world full of hatred we must embrace a certain reality:

the Holy Spirit isn’t sent to be our Helper to aid us sail the seas of calm serenity, but is sent to be our Helper to aid us sail through the hard and difficult waters that lie ahead in this world. For the way of Christ is the way of hardship and difficulty.[v]

But, it is a way He walked before us, so we do not lose heart. As high as the waves become, the Ancient Mast of our soul – the Holy Spirit – reminds us of Him and thus we remain ever sturdy within. May you be sobered by the words of the Son, and may you be assured of the assistance of the Spirit.


[i]The Greek word ‘scandalizo’ is here translated as ‘falling away’ in v1.

[ii]D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John – PNTC (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1991) page 532. See Phillips page 329 also.

[iii]Carson, page 532.

[iv]Ibid., page 532.

[v]Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John – NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1971) page 692.

Simple Church

For decades, even centuries, there is always the temptation, which usually turns into a reality, that the church must be reinvented to accommodate whatever is the present norm of a culture, society, and community. The local church on the corner becomes a market place whereby an assortment of programs and goodies are handed out to seek to persuade prospective customers to settle here. Other churches are family chapels whereby a collection of families gather together to keep up the tradition of attending. Church can be entertaining whether it is the dazzling musical talent of a soloist, the lights and smoke of the production on the stage, or the fire-breathing preacher who jumps on pews to drive home his point. Such “churches” are relegated to being outposts of a moralistic traditionalism that has more to do with the 1950s and less to do with the Bible or they are constantly reinventing themselves based on what is perceived to work. While many of these places call themselves a church, they have little if no resemblance upon what a New Testament local church is to look like.

In fact, the Bible presents to us what I would call the simple church model. Simple does not mean unintelligent or requires no thinking. Simple church is understanding that God uses the basic, ordinary means that He has sovereignly chosen and uses them in a profound way. Recently, someone posed this question: “Could you do what you do on Sunday without electricity?” If the answer is no, then you need to examine what your grasp of the church and worship on the Lord’s Day is. Consider with me 7 traits of the simple church:

A Simple Church is a Regenerate Church

A biblical church is a regenerate church. Notice Acts 2:41: those who received his word are those who were converted and then they were baptized. Consider Acts 2:47: The Lord added to their number those who were being saved. It is the Lord who sovereignly builds His church. Jesus declared in Matthew 16:18 that He would build His church. This belongs to Christ. Every biblical, simple church ministers and disciples from a foundation that this community of believers belongs to Jesus Christ. It is by His sovereign purpose that the church grows and He is the One you want to grow the church.

A local church is a visible community of brothers and sisters made alive in Christ and bonded together in love for Him and love for one another. A church represents the new creation of God both individually and corporately.  How many generations of churches have been built on decisional regeneration based on walking an aisle and repeating a prayer rather than divine regeneration which is the work of the Holy Spirit and Him alone! Simple church is a regenerate church. The regenerate church displays the glorious change of God’s grace. Still sinners but now saints: a life that has been transformed by the work of God. The simple church leaves the results to God. We understand that the growth of the church hinges on the new birth which is what the Spirit of God performs.

A Simple Church is a Gospel Church

In Acts 2:29-36, Peter proclaims the excellencies of Christ in the gospel with the OT promises as the foundation of his sermon. A simple church is a gospel church meaning that they never move away from the core message of the gospel. The doctrines of the gospel such as election, regeneration, justification, redemption, adoption, sanctification, and glorification are a part of the DNA of the simple church. The gospel is not a cliché or a tag on the end of some presentation or skit. The gospel is not merely a part of the Sunday morning sermon. The gospel is to inform all that we say and do. Mark Dever wrote a book entitled, “The Church: The Gospel made Visible.” In the local church, we testify to what the gospel has done, is doing, and will do in our lives. The gospel is the message we proclaim to see those in darkness brought into the light. The gospel is the message that nourishes believers, strengthens them for the battle, and reminds them of who they are in Christ to deepen their assurance.

A Simple Church is an Ordinary Church

When we speak of the ordinary means of grace, we are saying that these are the means or methods that God employs to grow His people in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. You see them in Acts 2: preaching of the Word, corporate worship, fellowship, the sacraments, prayers, and praise. These are all the ways in which God works in our lives to deepen our assurance and to behold the beauty of Jesus Christ. Further, these are the means by which He draws lost sinners to Christ. To the world, the ordinary means of grace look rather simple and uninspiring. Yet, these are the means by which God works in an extraordinary way!

Do you want to be counter-cultural? As a church there is nothing more counter-cultural than for us to see that God works in the ordinary, the simple. This is what was the heart of the Reformation. We are not looking for the gimmicks, the latest phenomenon to hit Lifeway or any other Christian bookstore. We are not going to take our cues from a Wall Street CEO, a President, or King. Nor are we going to take the advice of a moralism that pines for a specific decade in the past. The counter-cultural church will always be relevant because it is built on the simple and ordinary means of God rather than chasing after the latest fad. In my own life, coming to understand the ordinary means of grace totally transformed how I viewed corporate worship, pastoral ministry, and life. They caused me to delight in the ordinary and rejoice in the King who works through the ordinary to work in extraordinary ways.

A Simple Church is a Doctrinal Church

After their conversion, Acts 2 reveals that new converts were committed to the teaching or the doctrine of the apostles. Whether a person is a recent convert or a well-traveled pilgrim, they are in need of being equipped in the faith. We cannot live our lives individually nor corporately apart from being men and women of sound doctrine. We must know the theology of the Bible. We must know how to read the Scriptures for all they are worth. We must know systematic theology. We are to see how the covenants relate to our justification and redemption, how the grace of God is displayed both in predestination and preservation, how the people of God are always a called-out community whether in the OT or NT, and on we could go. This is one reason we employ creeds and confessions. These are good tools to teach doctrine because they are based upon the Bible and are historically tested.

A Simple Church is a Word-Driven Church

If the preaching of the Word of God is not central to a local church then it does not matter what else they have going for them. It does not matter what else they do if the preaching and teaching of the Word of God is relegated to some secondary status. It is the proclamation of the Word that God uses in Acts 2 on the Day of Pentecost. It is the preaching of the Word of God by Ezekiel that God uses to bring life to the valley of bones in chapter 37 of that prophetic book. The word-driven church is the church that submits itself to the authority of God found in the Bible. It is not found in clergy, it is not found in a board, but it is found in the Word of God being proclaimed by the men raised up and gifted within the church to teach.

This calls our attention to what we call the regulative principle of worship. This term states that worship on the Lord’s Day is to be regulated by the Word of God and what we find in Scripture, is what we are to do during corporate worship. The word-driven church humbly submits to the King of kings as the ruler of His church.

A Simple Church is an Accountable Church

Part of the terminology we use as a church is that we are covenanted group of believers. We have made a covenant towards the Lord and one another. We do not see ourselves as a collection of islands with our own agenda. We are one people who have been sovereignly joined together. In Acts 2:44, the church had unity in doctrine and unity in fellowship. It was not a one hour a week deal and then you move on your merry way. This was understanding that we are doing life and sojourning together. Accountability is a scary word because we are so programmed in our culture of the glories of individualism and self-autonomy.

The Bible states that we are blood-bought people and no longer belong to ourselves. As a church family, meaningful membership means accountability and church discipline. We have responsibility for one another. As elders, we will give an account for this flock entrusted to us. This does not mean that we are constantly looking for flaws for all of us have flaws and weaknesses. What it does mean is that we are not going to leave anyone behind. We are in this together. As a pastor or an elder, never forget that you are a member of the local church and you need this accountability. In my own life, I have experienced both the early pain of being held accountable and the wondrous joy that flows afterwards.

A Simple Church is a Hopeful Church

Regardless of what is happening, the church is hopeful because our Lord told us that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. We are going forth knowing that victory is already secure in Christ. There is not a reason for us to be anxious or fretful. The king of the church is king over all. Acts is filled with many testimonies to the greatness of God in the midst of persecution. The words of one of my favorite hymns says it well:

“Mid toil and tribulation,
And tumult of her war,
She waits the consummation
Of peace for evermore;
Till, with the vision glorious,
Her longing eyes are blest,
And the great Church victorious
Shall be the Church at rest.”

Conclusion

            C.H. Spurgeon put it well: “If I had never joined a church till I had found one that was perfect, I should never have joined one at all; and the moment I did join it, if I had found one, I should have spoiled it, for it would not have been a perfect church after I had become a member of it. Still, imperfect as it is, it is the dearest place on earth to us.” We have not been called to reinvent the local church. Our task is to delight in the simplicity of what Scripture has given to us. The calling is for us to be good stewards. Let us desire to be simple church churches pointing people to the Great Savior and be amazed at how He works through an army of ordinary people!