Why Sola Gratia? Because We Are Beggars

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

“We are beggars. This is true.”

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

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

He was not enough.

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

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

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

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

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How Dare You Celebrate Halloween?

It’s that time of year. Leaves falling, temperatures dropping (ok, perhaps in some places – still feels like June here in the sunshine state), football in full swing, and everything scented or flavored pumpkin. Tagging along with the fall is that dreadful and diabolical holiday known as “Halloween.” It’s the day that causes costume-clad children to rejoice and Bible-belt zealots to bristle. Sugar laced candy and self-righteous censure seamlessly flow together. After a few folks asked for my opinion on the day, and one surly religious zealot derided me for celebrating the day, I decided that it might be helpful to meander down the Halloween lane, and amidst the ghosts, goblins, spooky flicks, cotton candy, scream masks, superman suits, and hayrides, ask the all important question.

Can Christians celebrate Halloween?

The darker origins of this holiday are primarily rooted in a Celtic festival, called Samhain, celebrated at the conclusion of each harvest season. Samhain – literally meaning “Summer’s End” – was a time to reflect on the prosperities of summer and prepare for the dark, colder months ahead. During this time livestock would be slaughtered for the winter, and the carcasses of the dead animals would be set a blaze in large bonfires across the Irish countryside. Though not originally the intent, Samhain became known as the time at which the door to the “otherworld” was opened, and communication with the dead could occur. Souls of loved ones were beckoned to enter this world, which obviously gave rise to occultic activity. With this insurgence of demonic movement, many people in Ireland chose to disguise themselves during Samhain to “trick” the evil spirits. This custom was passed down through the centuries and became the festive tradition that it is today rather than the seemingly necessary ritual of the dark ages. Unfortunately when most Christians today hear the word “Halloween” they are inclined to equate it to Samhain. However, while some would use this holiday to solicit the dead and perform works of darkness (as they would with any holiday), the majority of Americans, and more specifically Christians, would not.

 

While congregations across our land (specifically meaning the southeast) host fall festivals and trunk or treats, imploring children to masquerade as cowboys, princesses, ninjas, and superheroes, they tip-toe around the “H” word simply calling a spade a heart. What many fail to realize is that the “H” word is far from a dirty word in origin. The name “Halloween” is actually a Christian term coming from the 16th century and meaning “All Hallows Eve” – the day before “All Saints Day.” All Saints Day was a time set aside each year on November 1 to honor and remember those who have served, lived for, and even been martyred for Christ. Though some of varying religions have corrupted this day, turning it to adoration of the saints, the original design for this day was to remember Christians gone before and learn from their example (as we are called to do in Hebrews 12:1).

All Hallows Eve also holds a special place in the hearts of those who celebrate the light that broke through in the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther, a monk we would now remember fondly on All Saints Day, nailed the 95 Thesis on the door of Castle Church in Wittenburg, Germany, on October 31, 1517. This was a major spark to ignite the revival that swept across Europe, bringing about theological and clerical purity throughout the church.

It is strangely ironic to me that both Christmas and Easter actually have far more pagan roots than does Halloween. Yet most Christians celebrate both of the former while boycotting the latter. Can we just be legit and admit that all three holidays in their most tragic and oft celebrated form pull folks in droves away from Jesus. And that if we can use Christmas and Easter to point our kidos and a watching world to Christ, then we can certainly do this through All Hallows Eve as well.

All of this being said, we can, as Christians, undoubtedly and with a clear conscience celebrate a day like Halloween – though the world has corrupted it as the world has corrupted Easter and Christmas – because on it we remember the Reformation and the saints that have gone on before us, and we enjoy the holiday for what it should be, not for what Sanheim and parts of the world have twisted it to be. This certainly does not mean that you have to celebrate this holiday, and I am by no means asking for you to betray your conscience or commanding you to dress up and pound candy; but should you choose to celebrate let’s have some fun and use this holiday for kingdom advancement with our eternal objective in mind – to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

Semper Reformanda

Why Sola Scriptura? Because of Misplaced Authority

The date was October 31, 1517. The man was the Augustinian monk Martin Luther. In one hand he held a copy of his 95 theses, a treatise he had written to address the various abuses present in the Catholic Church. In the other hand he held a mallet. He desired a conversation to occur about these abuses, he desired repentance, and ultimately longed for a return to the gospel. In an effort to get this conversation started he nailed his theses to the church door in the small town of Wittenberg, Germany.

What happened changed the world.

500 years later, here we are today. Does the reformation still matter? Do the writings of Martin Luther, John Calvin, and the other reformers still apply today? Is there still a need to reform the Church? Are we as Protestants, still protesting? The answer to these questions is a resounding yes. Jonathan Leeman is right when he says there is truly a danger in idolizing the past, there is a greater danger in forgetting the past altogether. So in looking to the past to gain wisdom for today, why did the foundational principle of Sola Scriptura matter so greatly during then and why does it still matter today?

The issue at stake during the reformation was authority.

The Roman Catholic church believed final authority was not in the Scripture but elsewhere. The tradition of the church was believed to be a second source of revelation, and the Pope was viewed as the final authority in all matters of faith and practice. Standing against this belief the Reformers believed the Bible to be the sole source of divine revelation, the only inspired, infallible, final, and authoritative rule for faith and practice. The reformers boldly proclaimed that when Scripture speaks, God speaks. And though Scripture is certainly to be interpreted by the Church, and though tradition is certainly helpful, the Church and its traditions only have authority insofar as they are in line with and underneath the authority the Word of God.

Why again did this matter? The Catholic church, the popes, the cardinals, and councils prohibited the Bible from being translated into the common language. Because the Scripture was kept it in Latin, and because they reserved interpretation only for themselves they were in effect saying this, “We’ll interpret the Bible for you, trust us.” And people did. For years and years people never read the Bible for themselves and simply trusted the Catholic church’s interpretation of Scripture and attended mass even though they couldn’t understand the Latin being used by the priests. Then a few scholars rose up from their own study of Scripture after seeing how wide the gulf really was between the church’s interpretation of Scripture and Scripture itself. John Wycliffe saw this, translated the Bible into English and the Catholic church banned and burned his books. Some years later Jan Hus, a Czech theologian saw similar things, translated the Bible into Czech and was burned at the stake by the Catholic church. Then, in 1483 a little boy was born who would grow up and see the same things. This little boy was Martin Luther. What began as a call to reform the Catholic church in his 95 theses soon developed into a full scale fight against the Catholic church’s wild interpretations of Scripture, the pope’s immoral and luxurious living, and the pressing need to put the Scripture into the hands of the common man. Thus, with pen in hand Luther fought back. Writing hundred’s of books, letters, and treatises on the clear and plain meaning of Scripture…all while translating the Bible into German. For this they excommunicated Luther, labeled him a heretic, and put a price on his head.

Why did Luther do this? Why was he and so many others willing to die for the truth they saw in Scripture? Because the gospel of a long awaited Messiah revealed in the Word of God was hidden from sight, and they labored to reveal it. Pope after Pope had said it’s our own works that gets you into heaven or cast you to hell, yet the reformers saw standing forth in brilliant clarity the Christ, who was born of a virgin, who lived in perfect righteousness, who bore our curse on the cross, who rose and defeated death with His life, who ascended to reign over all things interceded for us. Gospel grace given by God to guilty sinners who then go free! They saw Christ in all of Scripture, and gave their all to preach Christ in all the world.

Now, why does Sola Scriptura still matter today?

Though we’re no longer held captive by the Vatican, and though we say we believe in the inspiration of Scripture, we do not go to Scripture to see how the Church should run, to see what kind of music we should sing, or to see what kind of preaching we need today, or to see what kind of lives we ought to live. Where do we look to find direction in all these things and more? We look to the world around us and employ modern cultural methods within the Church in an effort to grow the Church and remain relevant in the eyes of our culture. Bottom line? We have placed authority in the wrong place, just like the medieval church. The brilliant clarity of Christ in the gospel saturated Scripture doesn’t seem to be enough for the Church today. Instead, we resort to culturally hip strategies seeking to tickle the eyes and ears of churchgoers because deep down we don’t think the God of Scripture cannot compete with the world, so we make our churches look like the world to win the world and what happens? We…lose…the gospel. And so, as the Cambridge Declaration says, “the faithfulness of the reformers in the past contrasts sharply with the unfaithfulness of the Church in the present.”

Clearly, we need reformation still.

Where does reformation begin?

It begins with a return to Sacred Scripture.

When Tragedy Strikes

On Sunday night, the most deadly shooting in American history by a single gunman occurred in Las Vegas, Nevada. As of now, the death toll is nearing 60, with over 500 others injured. Before I begin addressing this tragedy from God’s Word, I must share that our prayers are with those affected by this horrific event. God’s grace be with you all.

The question on many people’s minds after Sunday night’s shooting is, “Why?”

Scripture warns us against putting our own interpretation on tragic events like this and attempting to fill in the blanks that only God knows. But Scripture does not leave us totally in the dark during times like this. While we may never have Christ’s perfect knowledge and know the infinite number of reasons any one event occurs, we can have a biblical worldview with which to make sense of these things.

Why would someone commit such acts of evil?

One of the first things investigators delve into after a shooting tragedy is the issue of the gunman’s motive. Ironically, we cannot even discern at times the motives for why we do the things we do, let alone someone else. The world is full of people who often do the right things for the wrong reasons.

Yet Scripture does tell us that our sinful actions stem from a sinful nature. James says it this way: “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” (James 4:1). Scripture doesn’t even stop at that, but gives us a deeper reason into the insanity of our own sinful actions. This sin nature, which we have from birth, is an inherited one. Adam and Eve freely chose to doubt God’s goodness in the garden and believe the lie of the devil over the truth of God’s Word. God’s just curse on His good creation would touch every facet of life, from the microscopic viruses that attack us, to the life destroying storms of nature, to the ferocity of wild animals, even down to the twisted cravings that cause a toddler to yell, “Mine!”

I’ve heard it put this way: “We are not sinners because we sin. We sin because we are sinners.” Yet we can in no way blame God for our sinful desires anymore than a child can blame his parents for leaving the cookies out on the table and making him eat them. James says elsewhere, “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he Himself tempts no one” (James 1:13). Were there no God to stop us, there would be no limit to the evil our hearts could create. This is why it was good for God to interrupt the plans of the people building the Tower of Babel, and this is why it is good God has given us the common grace of conscience, law enforcement, and fellow citizens who know some things are truly evil and aim to stop them.

Why would God allow such evil to occur?

When asked His thoughts on a terrible evil of His day, Jesus gave a surprising response in Luke 13 that we would do well to consider. “There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Lk. 13:1-5). 

Jesus basically says what we should take away from tragic events such as this is the awareness that our lives are a vapor, we will soon face God’s judgment, and therefore we must repent before our lives are cut short. It is not our place to draw false assumptions. It is our place to pray and check our spiritual pulse to make sure we’re ready to stand before God’s judgment throne.

Someone once said, “If God is God, He can’t be good and if God is good, He can’t be God.” But this leaves the definition of “good” in the creature’s hands instead of in God’s. The presence of evil does not negate the presence of God or prove God’s guilt. Rather, the presence of evil exposes our belief in ultimate “right” and “wrong”, in something called justice and righteousness, and clues us into the fact that God’s “ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts than our thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). Or listen to the way the psalmist lays it out: “Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?” Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3). We cannot know why God allows evil, but we can know that God does all things for the glory and honor of His name. In the midst of the plagues God sent on Egypt, He told the evil Pharoah, “But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth” (Exodus 9:16). Even Satan himself is just another creature which God will bring into judgment. Martin Luther once said, “The devil is God’s devil” and another quote attributed to him has him say, “Satan is on a leash, whose length is determined by God.” This should reassure us all that no evil will finally stand a chance to God’s righteous wrath.

Why didn’t we see this coming?

The Las Vegas gunman’s brother was reported as saying, he never saw this coming. He said his brother had no history of mental illness whatsoever and said it was like an asteroid that came out of nowhere.

We cannot see the depths of evil that lie deep in our hearts sometimes until they are exposed by our sinful actions. Everyone of us have been surprised by our own evil choices at times. We think or say or do something that shocks even us, and all we can do is honestly repent before God and those we’ve offended. For those who resist the guide of their conscience continually, it becomes incapable of pricking and is so hardened that more intensified acts of evil carry less and less guilt (1 Tim. 4:2). Serial killer Ted Bundy confessed this of himself when interviewed about his actions. Bundy said his sinful trajectory began with lust, was fed by more and more aggressive pornography, and eventually led him to feel little guilt over the horrible murders of his victims. There are many more evil perpetrators out there who have yet to act out their intentions. We may never see them before it is too late, for they look just like us. As we look ourselves in the mirror, we must not think to highly of our own goodness to think we’re beyond evil ourselves.

What hope is there for our broken world?

Thankfully God has inserted Himself into the picture. Astoundingly God didn’t come here and remain untouched by our evil. He didn’t create a bubble around Himself and come to teach a bunch of pithy platitudes. He personally allowed the evil and brokenness of this world to kiss Him in the face as it were. To punch Him in the face. To spit on Him. To mock Him. To beat Him to a bloody pulp. And to pin His naked body to a cross. Jesus asked, “Why?” from the cross, though He knew the answer. God was punishing our sins on His own beloved Son so that all who turn in faith to Him can have life. At the resurrection, the work of Christ was proven successful and His victory over the grave was obvious. But the gospel isn’t just about our personal beliefs. It is also about cosmic redemption (Romans 8:19-25). By taking the curse on Himself, Jesus was reversing the curse and promised that this ultimate reversal would come at His return (Gal. 3:13). All the marred results of life in this world will be burned away when Jesus returns and the creation will once again sing and dance before Him (Isaiah 55:12). After the consummation, there will be no more hurricanes or hospitals, no more shootings or shots, no more wars or wild animals. All will once again be at peace. Christ’s church must continually say, “Come, Lord Jesus!” But for those who aren’t ready for His return, this is a call for repentance and faith in Christ. 

One day, we will all know the answer to the question, “Why?”, but until then, we must only remember who is truly in control of this chaos.

Prayer as the Route to True Theological Experience

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

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

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

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

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

Ephesians 1:15-20

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

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

Ephesians 3:14-19

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

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

Philippians 1:9-11

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

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

Colossians 1:9-14

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Citations:

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

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

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

[4] Ibid., page 16-17.

[5] Ibid., page 17.

Prayer As the Pursuit of God’s Glory

What is prayer?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Citations:

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

[ii] Ibid., page 162.

[iii] Ibid., page 162.

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

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

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

[vii] Ibid., page 172.

[viii] Ibid., page 182.

When God Says No

In Mark chapter 5 we are introduced to a demon-possessed man running wild in a graveyard (read the story here). 

The man could not be held captive. He was so strong that he could break chains and shackles to pieces. He would spend night and day crying out and cutting himself. He had become a real concern to the locals (i.e. trying to bind him) and a danger to himself. Mark chapter 5 begins with Jesus meeting this demon-possessed man face to face. 

As soon as the demon-possessed man sees Jesus he bows down at His feet and begs Him to be merciful, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me” (Mark 5:7). After conversing with the demon-possessed man, Jesus casts out the evil spirits from him and finally the man was at rest. No longer would he have to live in the graveyard crying out night and day in agony. He had been delivered. Jesus rescued this man from his hopeless situation and brought him to his right mind.

After being rescued, naturally, the man desired to go with Jesus and to be with Him. He begged that Jesus would let him come along. The passage tells us, “As He [Jesus] was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. And he did not permit him but said to him, ‘Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.’ And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled” (Mark 5:18-20).

The man in our passage begged Jesus for something and it was a good something – he wanted to be with Jesus.

But Jesus said “no” to his request. 

He denied the man’s request to go with Him and rather told the man to stay where he was and to become a missionary in his hometown. And that is exactly what this man did. He went away and began to proclaim how much Jesus had done for him. The man desired to do one thing, but Jesus had another plan for him. And now the area of Decapolis had a Christian evangelist actively sharing the good news of Jesus. In God’s wisdom, this man’s request was denied so that he could do the work Jesus desired Him to do.

Here’s where this meets you and I. 

You and I may cry out to God with our requests, even good, godly requests, and God may say, “no” to those requests. So often our gracious God answers our prayers with a “yes”, but at times He may respond to our prayers with a “no” or “not right now” and we need to know that in those instances it is for the best. God is by no means required to give us anything in prayer as if it were a conversation between equals. God may have other plans for us. Plans that are much better than we ever could’ve dreamed up. He may be sending us in another direction altogether. 

Bottom line: He knows what is best for us and we need to trust Him in that. 

When we pray we need to pray, “not my will God, but Yours be done” and trust in that knowing that God’s ways are better than ours.

The Word Did It All

I recently listened online to Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr. preach a chapel sermon at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary concerning the orthodox beliefs Christians hold concerning the Bible. In that sermon, Dr. Mohler shared an observation from a secular historian regarding the Protestant Reformation. This historian noted that in a generation, Christians in Germany shifted from going to church to see the mass to now going to church to hear the Word of God. Dr. Mohler added that once you have heard the Word of God, nothing else will do.[1]

Martin Luther would wholeheartedly agree. Luther, commenting on what took place during the Reformation, summarizes what causes profound spiritual change: “I simply taught, preached, wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. While I slept … the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that never a Prince or Emperor inflicted such damage upon it. I did nothing. The Word did it all.”[2] Such movements of Reformation and Revival are always marked by the pulpits of churches coming back once again to faithful, biblical exposition. In his great work, Preaching and Preachers, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes: “What is it that always heralds the dawn of a Reformation or of a Revival? It is renewed preaching. Not only a new interest in preaching but a new kind of preaching. A revival of true preaching has always heralded these great movements in the history of the church.”[3]

This seems rather straightforward but a famine exists in churches today. Why do so many pastors and preachers confess their beliefs concerning the inerrancy, inspiration, and infallibility of the Scripture but practically deny its sufficiency? Does one really believe in the supernatural power of the Scripture if one believes that it is not enough to convert sinners and strengthen the saints? The pull that so many pastors and churches feel is to adopt the standards of the world when it comes to whether they are achieving success, relevancy, and notoriety. So, if that becomes the measuring stick then it is not surprising when pastors and churches move away from the sufficiency of Scripture to believing that it must be supplemented with something else. Before long, the Bible becomes less and less central to the church while the methods of the world become more and more prominent within the church. Dr. Steven J. Lawson pens these poignant words: “God’s work must be done God’s way if it is to know God’s blessing. He provides the power and He alone should receive the glory, but this will happen only when His divinely prescribed plan for ministry is followed. When people-centered schemes are followed, often imitating the world’s shtick, the flesh provides the energy, and people – not God – receive the glory.”[4]

A new generation of pastors must hear the words of Paul written to Timothy. “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13). In his final words recorded, Paul increases the emphasis on sound preaching: “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:1-2). These are only two of many passages with clear teaching concerning the manner and the content of what pastors and preachers are to be giving to the flock of Christ. This is what is called expositional or expository preaching. Why is biblical exposition so important? Mark Dever writes: “Expositional preaching is preaching in service to the Word. It presumes a belief in the authority of Scripture – that the Bible is actually God’s Word…A commitment to expositional preaching is a commitment to hear God’s Word – not just to affirm that it is God’s Word but to actually submit to it.”[5]

What would be said about your ministry or the church you are a part of? Would you join with Luther and say that the Word does everything? Pastors and churches must throw off the yoke of a worldly measure of success and be faithful to the Word. As the pastor of a church that has undergone a revitalization process transforming from a fundamentalist, legalistic Baptist tradition to now being a Reformed Baptist congregation, it was the Word that has and continues to do everything. It will require patience from you but if you give your people the Word week by week, doctrinal exposition centered on Christ, and out of a heart that loves the flock, you will see the effects and you will know that it was the Word that did it all.

 

Citations:

[1] http://equip.sbts.edu/chapel/bible-gods-word/

[2] http://www.ligonier.org/blog/expositor-magazine/

[3] Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers. (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), 31.

[4] Steven J. Lawson, Famine in the Land. (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2003), 26.

[5] Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013), 44.

Every Book of the Bible in One Word

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

I’ve reposted the whole below, enjoy!

 

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

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

Bible: God of Jesus

Old Testament: Anticipation

Gospels: Manifestation

Acts: Proclamation

Epistles: Explanation

Revelation: Consummation


Law
Genesis: God of Promise

Exodus: God of Power

Leviticus: God of Purity

Numbers: God of Perseverance

Deuteronomy: God of Preparation


History

Joshua: God of the Land

Judges: God of the Rebels

Ruth: God of Redemption

1 Samuel: God of the Heart

2 Samuel: God of the Throne

1 and 2 Kings: God of Israel

1 and 2 Chronicles: God of Judah

Ezra: God of the Temple

Esther: God of the Gallows

Nehemiah: God of the Wall


Wisdom

Job: God of Pain

Psalms: God of Praise

Proverbs: God of Prudence

Ecclesiastes: God of Purpose

Song of Solomon: God of Passion


Major Prophets

Isaiah: God of Glory

Jeremiah: God of Weeping

Lamentations: God of Faithfulness

Ezekiel: God of Visions

Daniel: God of History


Minor Prophets

Hosea: God of the Unfaithful

Joel: God of the Locusts

Amos: God of the Oppressed

Obadiah: God of the Mountain

Jonah: God of Compassion

Micah: God of Justice

Nahum: God of Wrath

Habakkuk: God of Sovereignty

Zephaniah: God of Judgment

Haggai: God of Renewal

Zechariah: God of Restoration

Malachi: God of Worship


History

Matthew: God of the Jews

Mark: God of the Romans

Luke: God of the Outcast

John: God of the World

Acts: God of Power


Pauline Epistles

Romans: God of Righteousness

1 Corinthians: God of Holiness

2 Corinthians: God of Weakness

Galatians: God of Justification

Ephesians: God of Unity

Philippians: God of Joy

Colossians: God of Preeminence

1 Thessalonians: God of Encouragement

2 Thessalonians: God of Admonishment

1 Timothy: God of Godliness

2 Timothy: God of Endurance

Titus: God of Works

Philemon: God of Reconciliation


General Epistles

Hebrews: God of Fulfillment

James: God of Trials

1 Peter: God of the Persecuted

2 Peter: God of Patience

1 John: God of Love

2 John: God of Truth

3 John: God of Discernment

Jude: God of Protection


Prophecy

Revelation: God of Eternity

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

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

I Want to Be That Man

Don Whitney, in his Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life, reminds every Christian who is seeking maturity in Christ that “there is simply no healthy Christian life apart from a diet of the milk and meat of Scripture.” Oh, how true that is. The Word of God is irreplaceable in the Christian’s pursuit of personal holiness; there simply is no substitute.

God transforms us by the renewing of our minds—Romans 12:2

God cleansed us by the washing of water with His Word—Ephesians 5:26

God pierces our consciences, discerns our thoughts and intentions of our hearts by His Word—Hebrews 4:12

God draws us to Himself and reveals Himself to us through His Word—Romans 10:17

It is no surprise to those who are pursing Christ that His Word plays an intricate role in our sanctification. But, as students of the Word we (and by we I mean “I”) can get lost in the “meat of Scripture,” as Whitney described it and lose sight of the “milk.” Milk feeds, nourishes, and sustains the infant & the mature alike.

As I was reading through the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) I was moved by the Holy Spirit and reminded that the academic pursuit of God alone is an exercise in futility.

Let me explain: As a preacher, teacher, and theologian I often approach the Scriptures from that position, recording notes in my Bible like “Your reward should motivate you” (from Matthew 6:20-21). When in reality, my notes should read “My reward should motivate me.” For truly, the Holy Spirit is seeking to transform ME, cleanse ME, pierce ME, and draw ME; milk before meat.

The meat of Scripture, the intellectual pursuit of exegesis & exposition, often take priority in my study & pursuit of the knowledge of God which leads to a spiritual dryness, and understandably so.

So, it was in the milk of Matthew 7:24-25 that the Lord reminded me of who I needed to be and caused me to re-think, re-read, and then apply that which he was teaching me. The Holman Christians Standard reads this way: “Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on the rock. The rain fell, the rivers rose, and the winds blew and pounded that house. Yet it didn’t collapse, because its foundation was on the rock” (emphasis added).

In other words, don’t just hear the Word and not act upon it but rather apply to your life that which is being taught (James 1:22-25 as well). Hear, act upon that which you heard, and you will be firmly established upon The Rock (not Dwayne Johnson), Jesus Christ. I want to be that man.

Profound, huh? Not really…just reality. Milk, not meat, is still needed; even greatly needed. As a dear friend of mine often reminds me, “Our orthopraxy must always match our orthodoxy.” For orthodoxy without orthopraxy is worthless!

May God bless you richly as you apply His Word and thereby glorify Him with your life!

When Will Christ Return?

“But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning—lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.” – Mark 13:32-37

We have all become accustom to hearing the predictions of the day that Christ will return. Joseph Smith, the father of the cult religion Mormonism, claimed that all Mormons alive in 1830 would live to see Christ’s return. He was wrong. Harold Camping not once, but twice, predicted the date that Christ would return. First, he claimed Christ would return September 6, 1994 and when that did not happen, he later stated that Christ would return May 21, 2011. Again, he was mistaken. Anyone who claims to know the day or hour that Christ will return is wrong. We simply do not know that information.

The above passage in Mark tells us that no one knows the day or time that Christ will return, only that He will return and we are to be ready. We may not know when He will return, but we can be sure that He will. And as a result we are to be, as Jesus tells us here in Mark, like servants diligently doing the Masters work until He returns. We should be making a concentrated effort to live for eternity even now. We should not be sleep-walking through this life spiritually, we should be awake and alert, actively pursuing a life that means something for Christ.

Paul echos what Jesus says here when he says in Ephesians 5, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16). And also in Colossians 3 when he writes, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth (Colossians 3:1-2). We don’t know when Christ will return, but we know He is returning and therefore we need to make the most of the time.

We get so caught up with work and school and deadlines and vacations and weekends and future plans that God gets placed on the back-burner. So often we live life and God is not on our mind and His work is not in our plans. And that should not be the case. D.L. Moody once said, “Our greatest fear should not be of failure, but of succeeding at something that doesn’t really matter.”

And what matters is Christ. What matters is living in light of eternity. Let’s be found diligently doing Christ’s work when He returns or calls us home.

6 Ways to Stay Humble

An old country song goes like this: “Lord, it’s hard to be humble, when you’re perfect in every way.” Most of us would not put it so bluntly, but we all find it hard to be humble. The problem with us is that we forget who we are in the grand scheme of things. We must remember that we are but dust created in the image of God and made to display His worth. One particular passage of Scripture is thoroughly helpful in turning our eyes off our own navels and onto God’s glory: Philippians 2:5-11. By meditating on the gospel in this text, even the most prideful among us will be leveled low.

To stay in a humbled position…

Feast your eyes on the matchless glory of Christ (vv. 5-6)

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped…”

Paul ascends to breathe the air of Mount Everest in this ancient hymn of the church. He speaks of Jesus’ divinity and equal status as God with the Father and Spirit. By bringing us to heaven, Paul reveals the amazing condescension of Christ coming to earth and the cross. Getting a fresh look at the majesty of Christ always has the effect of humbling the believer’s pride. When Isaiah saw the Lord seated on His throne, he cried out, “Woe to me!…I am ruined. I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell among a people of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5). When Peter saw Jesus’ glory in the fishing boat, he fell on his knees before him and cried out, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8). Make it a practice everyday to behold Christ’s glory in His Word and carry it with you. This will put a check on your prideful moments during the day and remind you who you really are apart from Him. Before you open your Bible, pray with Moses, “Show me your glory, Lord” or with the psalmist, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things from your law.”

Contemplate Christ’s humbling Himself in the incarnation (v. 7)

“…but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men…”

The steps toward humility are not upward, but downward. Christ stepped down into this world, humbling Himself greatly for us. We must follow Him if we wish to be properly humble. We would be wrong to assume that in the incarnation, Christ was subtracting certain aspects of His divinity in order to save us. It isn’t subtraction going on here, but addition. Stephen Wellum, in his book, God the Son Incarnate, helps us see this when he writes, “Paul’s point then, is not that Christ exchanged the ‘form of God’ for the ‘form of a servant’ but that he manifests the ‘form of God’ in the ‘form of a servant.’ The text says nothing about Christ emptying his divine attributes. Rather, he empties himself by adding to himself a complete human nature and a willingness to undergo the agony of death for our sake and for our salvation.” Wellum quotes theologian Donald Macleod, who also informs us by writing how Christ, “had glory with the Father before the world began (Jn. 17:5)…He possessed all the majesty of deity, performed all its functions and enjoyed all its prerogatives. He was adored by his Father and worshipped by angels. He was invulnerable to pain, frustration, and embarrassment. He existed in unclouded serenity. His supremacy was total, his satisfaction complete, his blessedness perfect. Such a condition was not something he had secured by effort. It was the way things were, and had always been; and there was no reason why they should change. But change they did, and they changed because…Christ did not insist on his rights.”

The thought that this glorious a subject would choose to undergo birth as a human baby with all the limitations of life in this fallen world is truly astounding and ought to keep us ever humbled.

Think over the servant-hearted nature of Christ (vv. 7-8a)

“...taking on the form of a servant…”

It was this divine Sovereign who dwelt from eternity past in perfect fellowship with the Godhead who stooped to wash the filthy feet of the disciples. God’s Agent of creation who lit the fire of a million blazing suns with His powerful words washed a mixture of sweat, dirt, and animal feces off the feet of fishermen. In one of the key passages in John Mark’s account of the gospel, Jesus defines His mission in this way: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45)

Behold the wonder of Christ crucified for sinners (v. 8)

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

The lowest step was not the manger. It was the cross of Calvary. Keith and Kristyn Getty, ponder the wonder of the cross in their song Gethsemane, when they write:

“What took Him to this wretched place,

What kept Him on this road?

His love for Adam’s cursed race,

For every broken soul.

No sin too slight to overlook,

No crime too great to carry,

All mingled in this poisoned cup ‚

And yet He drank it all,

The Saviour drank it all,

The Saviour drank it all.”

The first place we all must look in our struggle with pride is the cross. As low and despised as the cross was, John presents it as the place where Jesus reigns in the fullest extent of His glory. We see at the cross so many things: the ugliness of sin that it would crucify God’s Son, the wrath of God against sin, and the love of God in Christ for sinners that He would go to such an extent to save us.

Worship the now exalted and glorified Christ on bended knee (vv. 9-11)

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Once we come to this point, we are properly humbled. We realize we are nothing and Christ is worthy of all the glory. Now that we are on our spiritual knees where we belong, Paul reminds us that Christ’s pre-incarnate glory has been restored and he promises us that one Day every soul will acknowledge it. Paul’s phrase comes from Isaiah 45:23 where we see this One to receive all glory is none other than the only God Himself. We must make it our aim each moment of the day to keep our spiritual knees bent. Christ will receive all the glory and we must give it to Him through our daily lives.

Get busy serving others in the name of Christ

It would be easy at this point to be so eclipsed and engulfed in this glorious gospel that we forget that it carries with it everyday ramifications. The gospel is never given to us so that we can simply bask in its light and forget the world outside. Christ didn’t die to simply make us worshipers, but to make worshipers of His glory through us. Christ humbled Himself to serve us so that we would follow His lead and humble ourselves to serve others too. Look for humbling and lowly acts of service Christ may be leading you toward. It may mean doing something uncomfortable for you and yet the very doing of it will help you flesh out this gospel theology. There are widows around us who don’t see God’s love in action. There are neighbors around us who wonder if there is such a thing as authentic love. Whether it be a mission trip, a chance to work in the nursery, or the opportunity to bring food to a hurting family, only we will give an account to God for how we practically live out this gospel. But whatever we do, we must carry the humbling gospel message with us and serve out of this glorious news.

What is Church Discipline?

What gospel do you believe in? Do you believe in a gospel that says “God is holy. We have all sinned, separating us from God. But God sent His Son to die on the cross and rise again so that we might be forgiven. Everyone who believes in Jesus can have eternal life and be welcomed by God just as they are” (Jonathan Leeman). Do you believe in that gospel? Or do you believe in a gospel that says, “God is holy. We have all sinned, separating us from God. But God sent His Son to die on the cross and rise again so that we might be forgiven. Everyone who believes in Jesus can have eternal life and be welcomed by God just as they are. But in His grace and by His Spirit He doesn’t leave us as we are. No, He slowly and surely makes us into different people. People who love Him and hate sin. People who refuse to do life alone but do it in the community of the local church. People who grow in godliness, eager to reflect His holy character and glory to this fallen world.”

Which gospel do you believe in? The first version presents Jesus as Savior, the second presents Jesus as Savior and Lord. The first version points to our new status as children of God, the second points to our new status as children of God as well as our new job description as citizens in His Kingdom. The first version has a view of God’s grace saving us, the second has a view of God’s grace not only saving us but sanctifying us as well.

Everything in the first version is true, wonderfully so. But there’s much more to be said. My guess is that most of you would say you believe in this second version of the gospel, and that’s a good thing. But I am coming to you today with a pastoral question, “Are you sure about that?” So please pay attention to not only what God is about to tell you through His Word, pay attention to how you respond to what is said in God’s Word. Why? Your response to these things reveal which version of the gospel you really believe as well as which version of the gospel you’re really living out.

 

The passage we’ll be walking through today is Matthew 18:15-20, where Matthew would have us consider three points today, all aiming at how we as fellow believers do life together when one of us wanders and how to restore such a person(s) to a right standing within the church.

Notice What’s Before Our Passage (18:10-14)

In the verses that lead up to our text today, we find Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep. In this parable Jesus says, “If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of My Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish” (18:12-14). See here the great love of God for His people. It is so great and so vast that if one of them wanders off, He will always go after them and bring them home. Jesus shows Himself to be here in Matthew 18 what John 10 says He is, the great Shepherd of the sheep. And being the great Shepherd of the sheep, He not only has a great love for the sheep but He also sees to it that every sheep in the flock will remain in His hand until the end. None of them will perish or be snatched up by a wolf or some other intruder.

Church, since this is how God loves His people, since this is how Christ loves His Sheep, isn’t this to be how we love one another? Paul similarly, in Galatians 6:1-2 says, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness…Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” This means when we come together and commit to one another in the membership of the local church, we commit to chasing down the wanderer, bringing back the sinner, loving one another despite our own foolishness, and pursuing the offender so that they are brought back home.

Into this context, comes one of the most detailed explanations of how to do church discipline. That this parable of the lost sheep comes before v15-20 gives us an example of the spirit in which church discipline is to be carried out. Not to punish, but always to be aiming at restoration, at winning back the wanderer.

Notice What’s In Our Passage (18:15-20)

Jesus has already told us that every one of us is to be about the business of pursuing, chasing, and bringing back the wandering sheep in our midst. But now suppose the shoe is on the other foot, what then? Did you notice the first words in v15? “If your brother sins against you…” If you’re the one sinned against, are you still to chase them down? Or does someone else do that? To see it in yet another manner, get out of your shoes altogether and get into the shoes of another and suppose you’re the one doing the sinning against another. What is supposed to happen then? What actions are you to take? What does the church do? Or the offended party? These are deep questions, loaded with all kinds of baggage, that God has not left us in the dark with. The light of His Word shines into our disobedience with all manner of grace.

Here Jesus gives us four steps that make up the whole process of church discipline.

Step One – Private Admonition (v15)

In v15 we learn that the very first step in the church discipline process is to go to the person who has sinned against you personally and privately. This means when sinned against, you don’t sound off to the whole church about how bad they really are and how they’re the worst thing that’s come into this church in years. You don’t refuse to talk to them anymore, give them the cold shoulder, or close yourself off from them. You don’t build up a bitter resentment in your heart toward them. No, you go them and bring it up privately. They may be aware of what they did, they may not. But by going to them privately you’re protecting the offender’s reputation by keeping the circle of people who know about this offense as small as possible. And you’re also protecting yourself from gossiping about them to others in the church by going to them immediately and personally.

When you go, what do you speak with them about? In v15 when it says “If he listens to you, you have gained your brother” it implies that you’re intentions in going to them are to make them aware of their sin and seek repentance from them for their sin. You’re not going to condemn the person, you’re not going to tell the person off, you’re there to share what they did or what they continue to do, how it crossed the line of right and godly behavior for a Christian, and to see if they feel a godly remorse over what has happened and desire to make things right. If they listen to you, express sorrow over offending you, and repent Jesus says you’ve gained your brother back! I’ve often found that when this occurs the result of such a meeting is a much deeper relationship in the future. But if they refuse to listen, don’t acknowledge that what they’ve done or keep doing is sinful even though it’s clear in Scripture, you move onto to step two.

Before we get to step two notice something else here in step one. This initial step doesn’t involve any kind of official organization or leadership in the church. It’s simply between you and the other person, which is where Jesus intends church discipline to begin. In this light see that step one of church discipline is just a normal part of Christian discipleship where we are seek to do spiritual good to one another. I think if we got this step right more often, most of the discipline cases in churches would be solved right away. But sadly in this fallen world, rather than humbly seeking restoration and repentance with those who sin against us, we too quickly go the opposite way, wrongfully involve way too many people in what should be a private matter, and destroy relationships and reputations.

Step Two – Group Admonition (v16)

In v16 we learn that the second step in the church discipline process is not to give up but to again revisit the offender, with one or two others. Now, there is no timeline given here as to the exact amount of time required between these two visits. Patience, love, and grace should allow at least some time between the first and second visit to let the private admonition sink in. But if in time it is clear that the offending member is remaining unrepentant the one who went by themselves now must carefully choose one or two others, probably ones that know and love this person, or an elder, and go back to give another admonition. That a few others go back echoes Deut. 19:15 which says, “A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established.” That additional witnesses must be involved at this point encourages the one doing the sinning to come out of their sinful isolation, and encourages the individual sinned against to think deeply about whether or not this case is serious enough to warrant the sound judgment of a few others, or if they’re just making a bigger deal of this than is necessary. If they do deem it worthy of another visit, though the circle is still intentionally kept small here, a small group’s plea with the wanderer to return does make the admonition a bit weightier as well as harder to ignore.

Hope remains, for the offender could hear and heed the second warning, and if they do, you’ve won them back and will rejoice to bring them home! But if they do not, step 3 comes into view.

Step Three – Church Admonition (v17a)

In v17 we learn that the third step in the church discipline process is again, not to give up, but to tell it to the church. As we’ve seen throughout these steps, here also we do not receive a time requirement between step two and three, so patience, grace, and love should allow at least some time between the second step and the third step. When it’s clear that the offending member is still remaining unrepentant Jesus is clear, the matter now comes to the entire church. This is not strictly just telling it to the elders, not strictly just telling it to the pastor, but it really does seem to be the whole body or the entire local congregation in view here. Of course the elders need to take the lead here, they need to be the ones who decide how and when the church is to be told about it to ensure this is done orderly and graciously, but through them the matter is to come to the whole of the assembly. Do you think this is unloving or embarrassing? Remember the parable of the lost sheep. When the first two steps have been employed and the wandering member has refused to listen we’re not to give up, but in this third step we’re to enlist the whole of the congregation to go and gain back the wanderer. David Platt, in his commentary on Matthew says of this third step, “God loves us so much that if we are caught in sin, He will send an entire army of believers to us as a demonstration of His love and mercy.” In this step the circle is no longer small. It is intentionally large. Large enough, by God’s grace, to wake the wanderer out of his or her sin.

So again hope remains, the offending member who has not repented could hear and heed the warnings when they see the whole church pursuing them, and if they do, they are won back! But if they do not listen to the whole church, the final step, step 4 becomes a necessity.

Step Four – Excommunication (v17b-20)

Look at v17b, “And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” What does this mean? It means that when the offending member refuses to listen and repent after these first three steps, Jesus now commands one thing – excommunication. Though probably stirred quite a bit from the whole sermon up to now, our modern sensibilities are now in full shock. ‘Isn’t the church supposed to be welcoming to sinners? Isn’t the church a where sinners find hope? Isn’t the church where sinners find rest? Yes, of course. The Church of Christ is a very safe place for sinners, but it is not ever to be a safe place for sin. To excommunicate someone isn’t to forsake them or to forget about them, no. To excommunicate someone is a public declaration from the church of which they are a member, that this church no longer believes their profession of faith is true. So by excommunication, they cease to be a member of that church and cannot partake of the Lord’s Supper any longer.

In 1 Cor. 5 we see an example of this when Paul instructs the Corinthians to excommunicate a certain man (who had sinned grievously) so that he would be delivered “…to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (1 Cor. 5:5). See it is restoration in view even here at this last step not punishment. So when this happens we should never forsake the person, but in treating them like an unbeliever we ought to pursue them with the gospel urgently. And just in case anyone is thinking ‘Who gives you the right to do such a thing?’ see v18-20. Here we receive the promise of authority in v18, that the church holds the keys of the Kingdom so that whatever is bound or loosed on earth is also bound or loosed in heaven. Here we also receive the promise of support in v19, that the Father will give His full support to what we agree about in prayer concerning these difficult matters of discipline. Here lastly we receive the promise of presence in v20. This is not a blanket statement about God dwelling in the midst of His people’s prayer, it’s specifically about God dwelling in the midst of His people’s prayer about excommunicating a wayward brother or sister. So when we do the tough work of church discipline, God encourages us with His authority, His support, and His presence.

Notice What’s After Our Passage (18:21-35)

We’ve seen what’s before and in our passage, now see what’s after it. In v21-35 we find the parable of the unforgiving servant, which asks “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times? (18:21). No, Jesus says, “…not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (18:22). Lesson? That the passage describing how church discipline is done is surrounded before and behind, shows us church discipline must be carried out with gospel grace. How often will God forgive us for our sin? His grace never ends. Ours shouldn’t either.

In an age where this topic is as popular as a parent publicly spanking their child…

-We must remember that not all discipline is bad.

-We must remember that the exercise of pastoral authority is not the same as the abuse of pastoral authority.

-We must reject the belief that church discipline is a bad thing, and come to embrace the belief presented to us in the text, that the neglect of church discipline is a bad thing.

-And we must reject the critical/judgmental spirit that we’re all prone to, remembering that because we’ve received extravagant grace in the gospel, we now must extend extravagant grace with the gospel as well. These things are commanded by Christ for the wanderer’s good, for the purity of the church, and ultimately for the glory of God.

What is Heaven?

For as long as I’ve been a Christian I’ve always been captivated by the great hymns about heaven, about glory, and the sweet eternal bliss we’ll enjoy forever with God. Many hymns come to mind like On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand, In the Sweet By and By, I’ll Fly Away, and When the Roll is Called Up Yonder. All of these provide a wonderful glimpse into what awaits all those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ. But one hymn stands above the others in my own heart, and its closing words have long given strength to my soul. The hymn is O the Deep Deep Love of Jesus and the final stanza goes like this, “O the deep deep love of Jesus, love of every love the best, tis an ocean vast of blessing, tis a haven full of rest. O the deep deep love of Jesus, tis a heaven of heavens to me, for it lifts me up to glory, for it lifts me up to Thee.”

These lyrics describe our final hope. Not the glory of being in heaven, not the glory of being in fellowship with loved ones gone before, but the glory an eternal and intimate fellowship with God Himself.

Let’s turn to these things now in the Scripture. From Genesis to Revelation we truthfully could summarize the whole scope of redemptive history in four encompassing terms: Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation. With these four terms in mind we can conclude that the whole Scriptures lean toward the final consummation of all things, the glories of heaven and the terrors of hell. Consider the following:

Heaven: An Eternal Sabbath

Early on in Genesis, at the end of the creation week we see God command Adam and Eve to keep the Sabbath, just as God had labored and rested from His work. This pattern was to be the norm for His people. This command is repeated again in the 4th Commandment, and throughout the entire Old Covenant God’s people were to keep the Sabbath regularly to rest from their labors. When Jesus comes onto the scene He caused quite a stir regarding the Sabbath. In Mark 2:23-28 He and His disciples are walking through a field on the Sabbath and the disciples plucked off the heads of grain to eat. After being questioned about this Jesus responds by saying, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27-28). By saying this, Jesus clearly declares that He is greater than the Sabbath.

Paul then, in Colossians 2:16-17, states the Old Covenant physical Sabbath rest was a mere shadow of the New Covenant spiritual Sabbath rest that is enjoyed in our union with Christ. Now the New Covenant believer rests not just once a week but rests everyday from our works as we trust in the saving work of Jesus on our behalf. We all know this rest is hard. Our remaining corruption within us tempts us to trust in our own works. So even in the New Covenant spiritual Sabbath rest, we struggle. But the day is coming when the struggle will end. This life we now live in union with Christ on earth is a foretaste of the greater life we’ll experience in heaven where we’ll finally and fully be able to rest from our works in the perfect work of Christ. Heaven therefore, is the eternal Sabbath.

Heaven: An Eternal Tabernacle

Come back again with me to the closing chapters of Exodus where see God confirm the covenant with the people of Israel. Here God gives Israel detailed instructions for many things, chief among them are the instructions for the tabernacle. God commanded such specific instructions for the tabernacle because He intended to dwell among His people through the tabernacle. The tabernacle was completed, and the glory of God came down and filled it, signifying God’s presence among His people.

Fast forward to John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” The word ‘dwelt’ here is the Greek word ‘eskonosen’ which literally means ‘tabernacled’ or ‘tented.’ So just as God formerly dwelt and made His presence known among His people in the tabernacle, now God dwells and makes His presence known among His people in the Person of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, the greater and truer tabernacle. And just as a display of God’s glory came after the completion of the first tabernacle, a truer and clearer revelation of glory occurs again in the Person of Christ. “…we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” This means, Jesus is the true shekinah glory of God. Or we could say it all another way: God once filled the tabernacle with His glory to speak with Moses face to face. Now God not only reveals His glory but speaks with His Church in a vastly more intimate way, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:6, in the face of Jesus Christ.

Because of this, God no longer lives in a temple or tents and He won’t ever return to one. Why? Divine space is no longer confined or located or seen in a place, but a Person. The only temple God now dwells in and will dwell in forevermore is His Son. And by the Holy Spirit Christ is making His Church into a new and glorious and diverse spiritual temple. He will build His Church, this spiritual temple until all the elect have been brought in. And we, as the spiritual temple and people of God, await the day when He will usher us into the heavenly temple, the eternal tabernacle, that will fill the entire earth. Heaven therefore, is the eternal tabernacle.

Heaven: An Eternal Confidence

Many today believe there is no life after death and think our hope of heaven is nothing more than a projection of our mistaken wishes. Yet, though the world may rile against us on this, we have great confidence to hold onto. Jesus gives us such confidence in John 14:1-4 when He says, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” In v1 Jesus lets them know that He would be leaving them soon, so it’s understandable to see them as being a bit distraught about His departure. Knowing this, He gives them such encouragement in commanding them Do you to not be troubled but to have a sure confidence about their future state. If the hope of heaven were false, Jesus would have told them so. But He encourages them to have a great hope in this by telling them how He is leaving to prepare a place for them. This promise of hope held out to the disciples here is a promise of hope every Christian can hold onto as well.

Heaven: An Eternal Glory

Though we learn greatly of heaven from many places throughout Scripture, in Revelation 21 we find what is perhaps the most extensive and breathtaking description of the life to come in the entire Bible. This is of course the apostle John’s vision of the New Heaven’s and the New Earth. Read it slowly, digest it deeply, enjoy it thoroughly – knowing these things await all those who’ve put their faith in Christ.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and she will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is wthe second death.”

Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed—on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

And the one who spoke with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia. Its length and width and height are equal. He also measured its wall, 144 cubits by human measurement, which is also an angel’s measurement. The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, like clear glass. The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel. The first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.

And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth swill bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” (Revelation 21)

What is Hell?

I will never forget first time I heard the doctrine of eternal punishment in hell explained to me. I was a sophomore in college, I was converted on a Wednesday evening and the evening after I was invited to attend the Campus Outreach on campus weekly meeting. I went, and loved it. It was the first time I worshiped with other believers, and the first time I had heard preaching as a Christian. When the time came for the campus minister to preach he walked to the lectern and his first words were as follows, “If you truly understand the nature of hell, you’ll become the greatest evangelist in the world.” Those words hit me like a ton of bricks. They’ve permanently left an impression on me, and has by and large shaped my understanding of what it means to be a Christian in a lost and fallen world.

Hell throughout History

In the early Church the doctrine of an eternal hell was embraced and taught. One document, The Shepherd of Hermas account we read, “…the age to come is summer to the righteous, but winter to the sinners. For just as in summer the fruit of each one of the trees appears, and so it is known what kind they are…the heathen and the sinners…will be found to be withered and fruitless in that world, and will be burned as firewood, and will be obvious because their conduct in their life was evil.” So too the early Church father Cyprian states, “The damned will burn forever in hell. Devouring flames will be their eternal portion. Their torments will never decrease or end. Their lamentations will be vain and entreaties ineffective. Their repentance comes too late. They will have to believe in an eternal punishment, as they refused to believe in the eternal life.” Augustine also, in his work City of God says, “The more enjoyment man found in God, the greater was his wickedness in abandoning Him; and he who destroyed in himself a good that might have been eternal, became worthy of eternal evil.”

This belief continued onto the Middle Ages and the Reformation. Thomas Aquinas believed eternal punishment must be infinite in time because wicked finite man cannot endure an infinite punishment in one moment. It was during this period we find the great works depicting the wicked suffering an eternal punishment in Dante’s Divine Comedy, and John Milton’s Paradise Lost. Martin Luther spoke of hell as a fiery oven where the wicked will experience constant judgment and constant pain. Calvin spoke of the punishment inflicted as the fury of God’s might bearing down on those in hell. These thoughts and those similar to them continued to be taught by the Church until the dawn of the nineteenth century and the rise of humanistic modernism in western Europe which came over to America in the twentieth century.

One theologian goes as far to say, “Since 1800 this situation has entirely changed, and no traditional Christian doctrine has been so widely abandoned as that of eternal punishment.” Theologians such as Friedrich Schleiermacher, William Clarke, A.T. Robinson, Karl Barth, and others began teaching that such an eternal judgment is intolerable to the mind and heart of man and that Scripture doesn’t teach it or is just wrong about this. After this a minority view called Annihilationism, which has always been present in corners of the Church, came back into some kind of influence through the largely orthodox theologian John Stott, and some more modern writers such as Edward Fudge. Annihilationism teaches that God’s judgment is sure and wrathful but is not eternal or conscious. Rather, in the judgment God annihilates the wicked for their rejection of the gospel and they cease to be. In this sense the judgment is temporally eternal because from that point on the wicked no longer exist.

This brings us to our present moment in history.

Much of our current time reflects the liberal position believing the Bible to be wrong about hell. The recent survey Ligonier ministries completed shows that only 41% of self identified evangelicals believe hell is a real place. More than half of those who participated in this survey that identified as Christians, believe hell isn’t a real place. This is telling and saddening for sure. Rather than going with the tide of our time, we ought to stand in agreement with the Church of history. Not because we love Church history, though we do, we stand with them because we believe the position of an eternal conscious punishment in hell is an entirely biblical one.

Hell throughout Scripture

A prominent place to see these things is Matthew 25:31-46. In this passage we see in v31-40 the Son of Man will separate the sheep from the goats. On the one hand, the sheep will go into the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world (v34). Why? Because the sheep lived a life characterized by gospel grace before God and man (v35-40). On the other hand the goats will go into hell (v41, v46) for not living a life characterized with gospel grace before God and man. Let’s explore the destination of the goats further.

In Matthew 25:41, 46 Jesus speaking of the goats says, “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels…These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous go into eternal life.”

First see here that Jesus speaks of hell as if it’s departing from the presence of God. “Depart from me…into eternal fire…” This is why so many have spoken of hell as separation from God. But is that really case? I don’t believe so. I don’t believe hell is separation from God because God is omnipresent, which means there is nowhere God is not. So yes, even in hell, we see the full presence of God. What then is the separation being spoken of here? There is a true separation being spoken of here in v41, but it is not a full separation. I believe it to be a separation from God’s gracious presence, or a separation from His eternal gospel favor. How does this view impact our definition of hell? It makes it not the place of separation from God, but the place where the wicked, apart from the righteousness of Christ come into the full presence of God, who is a consuming fire in His holiness. So in hell the wicked are consumed forever by the direct presence of God’s infinite holiness. In this sense we must recognize that hell is the place where the wicked will be forever and tremendously intimate with the wrath and fury of God.

Second, we see here that hell is permanent. v41 speaks of fire that is ‘eternal.’ v46 speaks of punishment that is also eternal. This passage shows that the reward or the punishment coming to all men will be eternal. This means hell is not a temporary place, it is forever. Similarly 2 Thessalonians 1:9 says those in Hell will experience “eternal” destruction and Mark 9:48 says hell is a place where, “The worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” The punishment of hell is eternal and forever, and once you’re there you cannot leave.

Third, this passage shows hell is a place of punishment. v46 says the eternal activity going on in hell is ‘punishment.’ Why punishment? Because the goats rejected the gospel, rejected Christ, and rejected His cross. This means the sins of the goats were not atoned for on the cross, and that hell is the place where they will receive the punishment for their sins. A gospel contrast is evident here. Sin is always punished. Sin is either punished on the cross of Christ by Christ, or hell by yourself.

Ending Thought

Let me leave you with this. “The dreadfulness of hell deepens our grateful praise for the salvation we have in Jesus Christ. Hell is what we deserve. And hell is what He experienced on the cross in our place. Believing the truth about hell…motivates us to persuade people to be reconciled to God. By God’s grace those of us who are trusting Christ have been rescued from this horrible destiny. How can we love people and refuse to speak plainly to them about the realities of eternal damnation and God’s gracious provision of salvation? Clearer visions of hell will give us greater love for both God and people” (Tom Ascol).