Monday, April 28, 2008

A Theology Of Praise

He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes of his people. He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children. Praise the LORD!
Psalm 113:9
According to the psalmist in this Scripture, the end result of praise begins with people God has made poor and placed in the dust and a woman God has made barren.

There was a certain man of Ramathaimzophim of the hill country of Ephraim whose name was Elkanah...He had two wives. The name of the one was Hannah and the name of the other, Penninah. And Penninah had children, but Hannah had no children.
1 Samuel 1:1, 2
God closed Hannah's womb and caused her to endure the scorn and ridicule of her husband's other wife, Penninah, until it brought her to the point where she could bear it no longer, weeping and refusing to eat.

Why did He do this?

So that He could make her the joyous mother of children ...
"My heart exults in the LORD; my strength is exalted in the LORD."
1 Samuel 2:1

Indeed the LORD visited Hannah, and she conceived and bore three sons and two daughters.
1 Samuel 2:21
... and so that, together with her experience, He could teach her the exact same theology that He taught the psalmist:
He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor.
1 Samuel 2:8

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Unexpected Place Of Refuge

All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. The LORD repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!
Ruth 2:11-12
Where do we go when we look to find shelter? When we want to be safe? When we want to be secure? We usually go to a place we know, a place we are familiar with.

When Ruth decided to leave her hometown of Moab in order to go back to Bethlehem with her mother-in-law Naomi after Naomi's husband and two sons had both died, she was leaving everything that she had ever known. She was leaving everything that she had ever been familiar with. She left what she knew--father and mother and native land--to come to what she did not know--a people in Bethlehem.

This is how the Scriptures, spoken by Boaz, describe what Ruth has done in going from Moab to Bethlehem. But there is another description the Scriptures give of what Ruth has done in going from Moab to Bethlehem: she went to take refuge under the wings of the God of Israel.

One action, traveling from Moab to Bethlehem, is described in two ways. Ruth leaves the known for the unknown. Ruth goes to take refuge under the wings of the God of Israel.

And the conclusion I arrive at is this: refuge is found in unexpected places. If Ruth had held on to what she knew, she wouldn't have found her refuge under the wings of the God of Israel.

Faith is a funny thing. It calls for obedience. And it does so in such a way that when we walk this path of obedience we really don't know how things will turn out. But could faith be any other way? If we know how things are going to turn out, then faith wouldn't really be faith, would it?
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
Hebrews 11:1
And yet the path of obedience is the only place of sure refuge because this is where we know for certain that God will reward us. We just don't know what form that reward will take in this life. We only know that ultimately the reward is God Himself.

We are people who find our security in knowing. When we know, we feel like we can manage. We feel like we have control. And we enjoy that. But let us not confuse what it is to know with what it is to be certain. Even when we know that things are what they are, we can never be certain that they will stay that way. But we can be certain that when we seek God in obedience, He will reward us because He says so (Hebrews 11:6).

When we trust God, though our visible reward is unknown it is never uncertain. When we trust ourselves, though our visible reward is known it is never certain.

So let us go against the impulse within us to find comfort in what we know and instead seek refuge in the God who knows all as we walk the path of obedience wherever it may lead. It feels risky. It feels dangerous. It even at times feels foolish. But, in the end, it is the only place of certain refuge.
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.
Hebrews 11:8

Friday, April 25, 2008

Oh LORD, May It Be True Of Me!

He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the LORD.
Psalm 112:7
Firm. Unwavering. Satisfied. He is not afraid not because God will give Him a life free of bad news but because God will satisfy Him in and through the bad news.

I love this verse. As I read over Psalm 112 a couple of times last night, it was as if this verse had been burned in my heart and mind. On a side note, this is how I most love to interact with Scripture. Though I may cover an entire chapter or two in a sitting, I am always looking for one verse or idea or two from the whole to pinpoint and make my meditation for the day. Few things are sweeter to me than this practice.

The reason I love this verse so much is that it goes to the very heart of my theology: that God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in Him, especially when all my circumstances should cause me to be dissatisfied, frustrated, fearful, or angry. Then, and most fully then, does God look like the Treasure of infinite worth that He truly is.

So this morning, this verse continued to reverberate in my heart and mind as I sang to the LORD.
...When sorrows like sea billows roll,
Whatever my lot,
Thou has taught me to say,
Even so, It is well with my soul.
What will make me able to sing that it is well with my soul when (not if) the bad news comes? Only if I have a heart that is firm, trusting in the LORD.
High king of heaven my victory won,
May I reach heaven's joys O bright heaven's sun,
Heart of my own heart whatever befall,
Still be my Vision O Ruler of all!
What will enable me to keep God as my Vision, Heart of my own heart, whatever bad news does befall me? Only if I have a heart that is firm, trusting in the LORD.
Great is Thy faithfulness,
O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee,
Thou changest not,
Thy compassions they fail not,
As Thou has been Thou forever will be.
What will enable me to believe that God has not changed and that His compassions have not failed when the bad news comes? Only if I have a heart that is firm, trusting in the LORD.

So how can I cultivate a heart that is firm, trusting in the LORD so as to prepare for the bad news?

One way is for me to consider that no matter how bad the news is that I will receive, there is absolutely no way that it can overshadow or change the good news of what God has done for me in Christ. He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for me, how will he not also with Him freely give me all things (Romans 8:32)? As John Piper points out, calling this the solid logic of heaven, the hardest thing in the world for God to do was to crush His Son, whom He delights in with infinite pleasure. So if God did the hardest thing possible for me, the good news is that everything else is infinitely easier. No good thing will He withhold from me (Psalm 84:11). Indeed, for Him to withhold a good thing from me would make Him the loser in the end. And this He is not. He is irrevocably, irreversibly for me. Infinite wisdom and omnipotent strength fueled by holy wrath were once against me so as to make me as miserable as possible forever. But now infinite wisdom and omnipotent power fueled by endless streams of mercy and grace are for me so as to make me as happy as possible forever. Infinite wisdom and omnipotent strength. Forever.

We prepare for the bad news by pondering the good news because the good news always overshadows the bad. And from this side of the cross, the good news is what Christ has wrought on the cross. Because of Christ, it's all good news. Because of Christ, though Satan may mean it as bad news, God means it as good news in the long run (Genesis 50:20).

Though I don't expect this to lessen the pain and the tears that may follow when the bad news comes, I pray that meditating on and clinging to the good news of Jesus will make the heart underneath to be one of joyful confidence and satisfaction in the LORD then and fearlessness now.
He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the LORD.
Psalm 112:7
Oh LORD, may it be true of me!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

A Word For Christian Hedonists

If you are a Christian hedonist, like I am, you believe that God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in Him. You believe that joy is not peripheral in the life of the Christian. As John Piper would say, "It is not icing on the cake of the Christian life." Instead, it is the substance of our lives as Christians. The essence of the Christian life is joy in Jesus.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.
Philippians 4:4
Paul's command, and the frequency with which we are to keep it, is quite clear. But listen to God Himself speak to His covenant people in the Old Testament about the consequences of not rejoicing in Him:
Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things, therefore you shall serve your enemies whome the LORD will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness, and lacking everything. And he will put a yoke of iron on your neck until he has destroyed you.
Deuteronomy 28:47, 48
As Jeremy Taylor, the 17th century minister in the Church of England says, "God threatens terrible things if we will not be happy in Him."

For me, what naturally follows from believing this biblical truth is that joy in God is the ultimate goal of all of my life because this is what it means to seek His highest glory, which is the end for which He created the world. And when I say joy, I'm talking about a feeling, an affection, something in my heart and not just my mind. I want the books I read to produce in me greater joy in God. I want my times in the Word to produce in me greater joy in God. I want my prayer times, my times of writing and reflection, fellowship with other believers, sitting under the preaching of the Word, listening to music, and everything under the sun that I do to produce in me ever-increasing affections of joy in and love for God.

But here's the problem. Though pretty regularly the affections are there, often times they are not. And when they are not, it makes me feel like something is wrong. It worries me. I know some will say that there's a difference between joy and happiness, that joy is deep and happiness is more superficial, that joy is constant and happiness is not. But whatever we call it, if we are not seeing ourselves affected with brokenhearted joy or awe-struck joy or sin-defeating joy that produces contentment in our hearts as we encounter the living God especially in communion with Him through prayer and Scripture, this is spiritual numbness that should scare us.

Some of us don't focus on our affections enough. But if you are like me, then often times you will focus on your affections too much. It shouldn't be any surprise, as with most things in the Christian life, that most people probably fall on one end of the spectrum or the other when the goal is to fall in the middle. In his book Rejoicing in the Lord Jesus in All Cases and Conditions, Puritan Robert Asty provides this word of tremendous help and encouragement to those who, like me, are tempted to focus too much on their affections as they seek to rejoice in the Lord Jesus continually:
Darkness of evidence [of our fellowship with Christ] sometimes arises from peremptory [final, decisive] conclusions as to our state, upon the reports that sense makes when we look at our feelings.
The reason for our darkness [lack of evidence] is that we lay the stress of our condition upon sense, and upon what we can feel in ourselves, and not upon a simple venture upon Christ Jesus; not upon a gospel-throw upon Christ Jesus, whatever be the issue. The soul goes to its feelings, and makes a judgment of its state upon and from them. When a man can find his heart warmed for Christ, when he can find his spirit under any gospel enlargement for Christ, when he can find his graces begin to grow and thrive, and when he can find speedy returns made unto all his seekings after the Lord, then he concludes, "Now all is well; here is an interest, and behold the fruits of it." But now, when the soul's graces are a little clouded, when he misses that enlargement which sometimes he has experienced, when he comes under some difficulty, and when Jesus Christ is for a while silent unto his prayers, why, then, he concludes against himself: "Oh, there is no interest! Why, if I were in Christ Jesus it would be otherwise in me. Christ would answer me, Christ would enlarge me, and Christ would heighten and brighten my graces. Chris would not leave me in such an uncomfortable condition. He would fill me, lift me up, and set me on high! Oh, surely there is nothing of truth and reality that has passed upon my soul!"
Now, Christians, while you draw up peremptory [final, decisive] conclusions as to your state, upon the reports of sense in your hearts, you will never come to be settled and established while you are in this world. Conclusions drawn from changeable, mutable principles will never be relieving or comforting to you (Rejoicing in the Lord Jesus in All Cases and Conditions, p.90-91).

Because, even after conversion:
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?
Jeremiah 17:9
So I think the key to rejoicing in the Lord Jesus always is not to focus on our rejoicing always, but to focus on the Lord Jesus, His person and His work, always. And by God's grace, the rejoicing will soon follow.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Prayer of David and the Son of David

They encircle me with words of hate, and attack me without cause. In return for my love they accuse me, but I give myself to prayer. So they reward me evil for good, and hatred for my love.
Psalm 109:3-5
When David's enemies attack him with hatred and accusations and evil from all sides despite the love that he has shown them, his response is to give himself to prayer. Oh, that we would learn from him simply on this front! What does he pray for?
Let there be none to extend kindness to him, nor any to pity his fatherless children! May his posterity be cut off; may his name be blotted out in the second generation! May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the LORD, and let not the sin of his mother be blotted out! Let them be before the LORD continually, that he may cut off the memory of them from the earth!
Psalm 109:12-15
This is just a small sampling of curses that David gave himself to praying down on those who were against him.

When the Son of David's enemies attack Him with hatred and accusations and evil from all sides despite the love that He has shown them, His response is to give Himself to prayer. What does He pray for?
Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.
Luke 23:34
No doubt, this is just a small sampling of blessings that Jesus gave Himself to praying down on those who were against Him.

It is a mind-blowing thing to ponder that the hatred that Jesus met with in response to the life of love that He lived towards all those He came into contact with in the gospels overflowed with the fullest expression of love at the moment it should have overflowed with the fullest expression of hatred. This is the difference between David and the Son of David. This is the difference between being a man after God's own heart and being a man having God's own heart.
You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy." But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of Your Father who is in heaven.
Matthew 5:43-45
Need we ask whether Jesus would want us to model our prayers after David or the Son of David?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The One Who Works Wonders

So Manoah took the young goat with the grain offering, and offered it on the rock to the LORD, to the one who works wonders, and Manoah and his wife were watching.
Judges 13:19
When Manoah's wife comes to him to tell him that an angel of the LORD appeared to her and informed her that she would give birth to a son (Samson) that would be set apart for God, Manoah prays to God to send this angel once again. When the LORD grants Manoah's request, the angel returns and repeats the things he had previously said, now in the presence of both Manoah and his wife. Manoah, seemingly as an act of honor, wants to prepare a goat for this man of God. The angel kindly tells him that he would not eat it if he did prepare it. Instead he ought to prepare and offer a burnt offering to the LORD. So Manoah does as the angels says. He prepares a young goat with a grain offering and then after lighting the fire ... he waits. He and his wife wait. They've made all the preparations, they've set the burnt offering on the rock, and then they stand back and watch. What are they watching for? For the One who works wonders.

I can just picture Manoah and his wife standing there watching and waiting, the gaze of their eyes constantly alternating between the rock and the sky as they expectantly wait for the One who works wonders.
And when the flame went up toward heaven from the altar, the angel of the LORD went up in the flame of the altar. Now Manoah and his wife were watching, and they fell on their faces to the ground.
Judges 13:20
He's done it again. And all they can do is bow with their faces down before the awesome majesty of the One who works wonders.

As I read through this story, I kept coming back to the phrase "the one who works wonders." Why did the inspired writer choose to add this modifier to describe the LORD? He could have left it out without in any way altering the story. But this is the way he chooses to describe the LORD. Is this the way that I choose to describe the LORD in the day in and day out grind of everyday life? When I wake up each morning, is my heart marked by an expectancy that eagerly desires to watch for the new wonders that God will work today ... in me ... in those around me? If I'm honest with myself, my answer to these questions is no.

I'm glad the same wasn't true of Jesus. As five thousand hungry people stood before him and having only five loaves and two fish to feed them with, what did the Son of God do?
And taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all.
Mark 7:41
He took this small offering and, looking up to His Father, offered it to Him. Then Mark tells us that he said a blessing. I wonder what words came out of Jesus' mouth. You alone are the One who works wonders, Father. Glorify your name.
And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.
Mark 7:42, 43
The fire fell, as it were, and the One who works wonders had done it again.

And the wonder of wonders of this story is that the One who looked to the One who works wonders was Himself the One who works wonders! He is the One who divided the two fish among them all. And those who were closest to Him had to have known that they were in the presence of the One who works wonders.

And so are we. The same God who calls us "friend," talking with us in the morning when we rise, and walking with us through all the ins and outs of mundane every day life is the One who works wonders. Oh, may God grant that we would not lose sight of His infinite transcendence as we enjoy His infinite condescension! That the two of these would be true at the same time, in itself, should be enough to cause us to marvel continually at the One who works wonders.

But the greatest wonder of all that God could work is to fold depraved sinners such as us into the overflowing fullness of the fellowship of the Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, executing the plan of salvation by putting forward His Son as a propitiation for our sins in order that He might be both just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus and qualify us for such a glorious inheritance that we deserve no part in. What greater wonder has God worked than to remove hearts of stone from those who hate Him from birth, replacing them with hearts of flesh so that we would love Him for all eternity?

This work of wonder in the gospel that we behold in ourselves and in the lives of those around us is the very work of wonder that angels long to watch but are not granted the privilege to (1 Peter 1:12). In light of this, what should be our response?
Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works!
Psalm 105:2
And then watch and wait expectantly for the wonders, especially of this great salvation, that He has yet to work!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Together For The Gospel 2008: Session #8

C.J. Mahaney

Sustaining A Pastor's Soul
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.
Philippians 1:3-8
Chuch life is a carousel of defeat and victory. Ups and downs.

There is no true pastoral ministry apart from faithfully proclaiming the gospel and holding fast to doctrinal truth. But pastoral ministry also calls for personal holiness and pleasing God in our hearts. Pastoral ministry is not just about our minds. It is also about our souls. And our souls are often overlooked.

So C.J.’s aim is to care for our souls this morning. He wants to give us a personal word to prepare us for the difficulties that will come when we return to the carousel of real life in ministry, that of blessing, power, and joy alternating with defeat, loss, and struggle.

There is a sense in which we have not been experiencing real life here: free books, relentless preaching of the Word, continual praises being sung to our Savior, staying in nice hotels, eating good food.

The transition is already beginning. So C.J.’s goal is to prepare us more fully.

Paul knew of the daily pressures from his anxieties over all the churches he shepherded (2 Corinthians 11:23-29). Paul was familiar with the carousel. But there is something that sets Paul apart. He did all of this with joy. He served and sacrifice and suffered, all with pervasive joy. He served the Lord with gladness. Is this distinctive in Paul, that he was filled with joy in all that he did, present in our lives?

C.J. doubts that the majority of pastors are daily serving the Lord and His church with joy. In order for a pastor to fully please the Lord, he must serve joyfully and not just faithfully? So are you a joyful pastor?

We are not talking about a superficial happiness or an aspect of one’s personality. But even when we experience sorrow and defeat, is there a joy that characterizes us? Can we say with Paul that we are “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10)? Would your wife describe you this way? Would your children describe you this way? Those who work with you? Those who are in your congregation? Would they describe you as joyful? Or as normally burdened? Moody? Irritable? Easily discouraged?

Is joy a distinctive characteristic of your church, something that marks your people by and large?

Humbly ask these people that are closest to you and that you have most contact with on a daily basis if they see you as one whose life is marked by joy.

This word is especially for those who are discouraged but it’s a word for everyone, that we should have hope. And we will find hope by looking at the apostle Paul, the happiest pastor in the world and also the pastor who had more responsibilities than any of us. Looking at Paul should give us hope.

How did this man serve the Lord with gladness?

We will focus on these verses from Philippians, the letter of Paul that exudes the most joy, and yet was written from prison.

3 characteristics we must cultivate in our hearts if we will sustain our souls in the ministry:

1) Gratefulness to God (v. 3-5)

Paul assigned a high priority to gratefulness. In private he gives thanks to God for people. And he expresses that thankfulness for his people in his letters to them. There was probably no more grateful man than Paul.

What is it like when people converse with us? Is it obvious that we assign a high priority to the practice of gratefulness?

Gratefulness as a result of the grace of God in the life of others was a dominant experience in the life of Paul.

Is gratefulness a priority in our lives? Is it a priority in our churches? If not, we need to isolate this topic. Study it throughout the New Testament, especially in the letters of Paul. If we apply this topic to our souls, we will experience the transforming power of the grace of God in our lives. If we don’t, we will be vulnerable to a subtle, serious, and predictable temptation to complain and joy will be foreign to our souls. The sin of temptation is a daily temptation especially for pastors.

This is a serious sin against the nature of God. God hates our complaining. The Puritan Thomas Watson says this (paraphrase): Murmuring is rising up against God. That sets us against God as though we were wiser than Him.

Anytime we express complaint towards God’s providences, when we see no reason for the things that happens in our lives, we are contending for supremacy with the Almighty by exalting our wisdom above His.

Only gratefulness will combat a complaining spirit. We must focus more on the evidences of grace in our church rather than the things that are wrong. If one were to overhear our prayers for our church, what would they hear?

The practice of gratefulness in Paul’s life is informed by the gospel. According to Paul, the gospel is the gospel of God’s grace (Acts 20:24) so that everything coming to us including the ministry itself is mercy (2 Corinthians 4:1) and grace that we should only be thankful for. This makes all the difference in his ministry and in ours.

2) Faith for the future (v.6)

You must be certain, as Paul was, of the fact that God is at work and that He will continue to be at work in your church if you will be able to press on in the carousel of church ministry. Your faith in God must be unwavering.

In his book “The Christian Ministry,” Charles Bridges attributes every failure in ministry to a lack of faith. The difficulties we encounter don't primarily come in the things we do but rather as we struggle internally to trust God. This is where the battle is primarily fought.

We must continually be placing our confidence in God and not in our own gifts, education, experience, or abilities. Spurgeon said that though Whitefield and Wesley might be able to preach the gospel better than him, they couldn’t preach a better gospel than him. The gospel is God’s gospel and that is why it will always be successful. We must believe day in and day out that, as the Lord spoke through Isaiah, the when the LORD sends out His word it will not return to Him empty but it will always accomplish that which He purposes and succeed in the thing for which he sent it.

3) Affection for your people (v.7-8)

Paul yearns for the Philippians with the affection of Christ Jesus? Do you have this kind of love for your people? Do you feel affections for the people in your church? Are they the object of your affection? Rather do you see them as the object of Christ’s affection?

How can you cultivate affection? When you look at your people, learn to look at them as those who have been bought by the blood of Christ, those who have been redeemed by the precious blood. Meditate on and never lose sight of the fact that your flock is one over which the Holy Spirit has set you as overseer, having been obtained with His own blood. As you learn to see them as precious in Christ’s sight, they will become precious in your sight.

Download the audio here.

Together For The Gospel 2008: Session #7

John Piper

How the Supremacy of Christ Creates Radical Christian Sacrifice

My recommendation: don't even bother spending the time reading below. Download and listen to the audio here.

We must be able to correctly answer these four questions to understand how the supremacy of Christ creates radical Christian sacrifice:

  • What is the great reward?
  • What is the better resurrection?
  • What is the joy set before us?
  • What is the city yet to come?

Piper’s answer to these questions is that the answer is found in the book of Hebrews and all of these refer to the supremacy of Christ experienced as the all-satisfying treasure of our lives.

  • Hebrews 10:32-35 - a better and abiding possession
  • Hebrews 11:6 - a reward for those who seek God
  • Hebrews 11:24-26 - Moses looked to the reward
  • Hebrews 11:35 - a better life (or resurrection)
  • Hebrews 12:2 - the joy set before Christ
  • Hebrews 13:12 – therefore, let us go to Christ outside the camp.

May our lives and ministry have a radical, risk-taking, gutsy, counter-cultural, wartime flavor that makes average American people in our churches uncomfortable, that which keeps people off-balance, a saltiness and a brightness about or lives and our churches. Salt and light are joyful embrace of suffering. That’s what the world is waiting for.

Preach and live in such a way that over a decade, or two or three, the church we minister in would produce crazy people who meet death, and cancer and suffering with unflinching joy in Christ in being known and loved by Him.

We must remember the rich, young man. We must not only flee from fornications but ostentations and copulations.

We’ve heard the apostle Paul and have blazed it in our minds and hearts: those who desire to be rich plunge themselves into snares (1 Tiomthy 6:9).

We have eaten the words of Isaiah: all flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The flower falls and the grass withers but the word of the LORD stands forever (Isaiah 40:6-8).

Oh, that our lives and our ministries would have a radical flavor. The world is not going to glorify Christ because they see that Christians are wealthy and healthy and prosperous. There’s a simple reason why: that’s what they live for. We just use Jesus to get it. They use other means. They are not impressed. Jesus is the ticket. When the show starts, we throw the ticket away. They don’t need our ticket. They are not impressed. We should want them to be impressed.

The world may not like it. They may crucify it. Stephen’s face shone like an angel and they could not withstand his wisdom. So they killed him. But they weren’t bored. It cost Stephen his life for Acts 1:8 to be fulfilled.

We must have a flavor about our lives that is risky and radical and different.

  • Risk
  • Simplicity
  • Love
  • Joy
  • Adventure
  • Sacrifice

Where are the pastors who say with the apostle Paul: I don’t count my life of any value nor as precious to myself if only I may finish my course and the work that He gave me to do to testify to the gospel of the grace of God? (Acts 20:24)

Where are the pastors who say with Joab: brothers, be courageous and let us take the cities and may the LORD do what seems good to Him? (2 Samuel 10:12)

Where are the women who say with Esther in the cause of serving her people: if I perish, I perish. (Esther 4:16)

Where are you Joab? Where are you Esther? Where are you Paul?

The world desperately needs to see these kinds of people.

A radical willingness to risk and suffer and sacrifice is the only kind of authentic ministry. Why? Because Jesus said that if we were serious about following, we WILL suffer. A servant is not above his Master.

Paul built his ministry on these truths Jesus taught. Through many trials and tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22). All who desire to live a godly life will be persecuted in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 3:12).

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, death, sword, etc. (Romans 8:35)? Is the reason they won’t separate us because they don’t happen to us, since we are king’s kids? Or is the reason that they won’t separate us because He ordains that these things happen to us but He sustains us and keeps us through them. The next verse tells us the answer: For your sake we are being killed all day long.

But in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us (Romans 8:37).

If we are left without divine discipline, we are illegitimate children and not sons. Suffering for the following of Christ is the sign that God is our Father. Every kind of suffering. We groan inwardly awaiting the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:23).

Beloved, Together for the Gospel attendees, do not think it strange when you come into various trials as though something unusual were happening to you (1 Peter 4:12).

We should not want to escape from this. We must embrace this if the world will even consider embracing the Christ who is our Treasure. May we not desire to be carried to the heavens on flowery beds of ease.

So the question is: what creates such a ministry? What creates radical Christian sacrifice? How do we experience this?

The whole book of Hebrews aims at answering this question. The way that the writer creates this impulse is by giving glimpses of the supremacy of Christ throughout the book.

Hebrews is probably the only book that is a sermon delivered to Christians. This book is about creating radical, joyful Christian sacrifice.

The point of all the messages we’ve heard up till now is to make us radically, joyful, sacrificial Christians. The point of hearing all those who slander penal, substitutionary atonement is to make us crazy for Jesus.

Hebrews 10:32-35 – Some believers were put in prison and other believers were faced with the question: what should we do? What created radical, Christian sacrifice was their complete emotional persuasion was that what they were going to inherit in the life to come was so superior that it made whatever loss they were about to experience as nothing.

What creates the radical, crazy lifestyle of risking the plundering of your property for the sake of visiting Christians in jail was the belief that heaven is better. They were free from material possessions. Stuff we own is killing us. These folks had their iPhones thrown away, lost their computers in airline baggage, and they rejoiced. What creates this other worldly impulse is the reward that is coming.

Hebrews 11:24 – How does Moses radical, sacrificial impulse to embrace pain created? He considered the reward. Present sacrifice is sustained by the hope of future reward.

This reward is the supremacy of Christ. The reward is the experience of Christ as our Treasure.

Hebrews 12:2 – How did Jesus bear up in doing radical, crazy, counter-cultural sacrifice? He did it by looking to the reward. He is our model in learning how our motives are to work in the Christian life.

If we haven’t experienced this, we must get on our face and pray for it the way Paul did for the Ephesians that the eyes of their hearts might be enlightened to know the glorious inheritance to which they have been called, the immeasurable greatness of God’s power toward us (Ephesians 1:18, 19).

Hebrews 13:13 – Therefore, let us go to Him outside the camp and bear the reproach that He endured. How? Because we know that here we have no lasting city. It’s all coming down.

It’s all coming down. Don’t live for this. Only what’s done in the love of Jesus will survive that fire.

What does Hebrews 13:13 mean for us? What does it mean for you as an individual to go to Jesus outside the camp? This is the question that we must all answer for ourselves.

May our answer be: I’ll go anywhere.

If we are yielded to this kind of life, God will not leave us without direction.

All these texts work the same way. When we treasure our future reward vastly more than we treasure the comforts and securities of our earthly life, that is how radical Christian sacrifice is created.

But is Hebrews not about Christ’s work as mediator and sacrifice and perfecter of our faith? Are these not just a means to an end? So where do we get the idea that Jesus is the end?

The answer: in doing all this work, Christ displays the majestic, incomparable, beautiful glory of God in all that He does. This is why we will spend eternity singing about horrible things. Slaughter of the Son of God will be our song forever. We will never put the horror of the cross behind us forever. In His means work, Christ becomes the end. The means and the end are not two different things.

So all these pictures in Hebrews of His glory are not just to fit Christ for His means work. They are fitted for that. They are written so that, even more than that, we would see Him as our Treasure in all the glorious work that He does.

Therefore, let us go to him outside the camp. When we really consider who that Him is, we wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. The sweetest fellowship we can have with our Savior is in His sufferings. It doesn’t get any better. And anyone who’s been there knows this.

For here we have no lasting city, we seek the city that is to come, the city whose builder and founder is God, the city whose lamp is the Lamb of God that was slain.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Together For The Gospel 2008: Session #6

Al Mohler

Why Do They Hate It So? The Doctrine of Substitution

Reflecting on Acts 16:26, Charles Wesley wrote a hymn. The first verse says this:

And can it be that I should gain an interest in the Savior's blood! Died he for me? who caused his pain! For me? who him to death pursued? Amazing love! How can it be that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

This hymn is like a short, poetic, lyrical exercise in systematic theology. And though it’s hard for us to imagine, there are those who hate the words, images, and truth claims contained in this hymn. There is resistance all around us to the blood of Christ, the wrath of God, penal atonement and this resistance is not new. There are those who hate it so.

But our focus tonight isn’t why the unregenerate hate it so. Rather why would those who claim to be Christian hate it so?

There are three main understandings of Christ’s death and its meaning:

1) The cross has its effect entirely on humanity
2) The cross has its effect primarily on hostile, spiritual forces
3) The cross has its effect first on God by propitiating His wrath towards sinners

There are three main views of humanity’s greatest need:

1) Humanity’s great problem is the need to be delivered from spiritual forces.
2) Humanity’s great problem is the need to know God’s love for us.
3) The main problem is God’s righteous wrath against us.

The third in both cases is what Scripture teaches and this is why a penal, substitutionary atonement is required. It must be both penal and substitutionary. When we deny the penal, substitutionary nature of the atonement there are always ripple-effect like ramifications on our theology.

Four major categories of objections to the penal, substitutionary nature of the atonement:

1) Biblical
We (those who believe in penal substitution) have misunderstood the Scripture in whole or in part. We are wrong because we have the whole Bible storyline wrong. Here’s how:

  • We misunderstand sin. Sin is not a transgression against God’s holiness but rather entering into the powers of darkness.
  • We misunderstand wrath. Wrath is a natural consequence of sin. Sin brings about its own punishment. God allows the natural world to work out its own consequences.
  • We misunderstand sacrifice. The animal is not really being punished. We are misled when we believe God required sacrifice.
  • We misunderstand expectation. Prophets weren’t looking ahead for one who would deliver from sin.
  • We misunderstand the relationship of the Old Testament to the New.
  • We misunderstand the words of Jesus. Jesus never wrote anything.
  • We misunderstand the New Testament language of wrath.
  • We miss the fact that the main message of Jesus is non-violence.

Yet some say that we understand properly. They just flat out reject it.

2) Theological
Some theological objections:

  • The idea of penal, substitutionary atonement makes it sound like God wanted Jesus to die and predestined Pilate and Caiphas to make it happen. Surely not. Jesus is God’s beloved Son.
  • The cross demonstrates the compassion of God. The real issue is a broken relationship, not a broken contract. It is we that need to be changed and not God. We need to be delivered from the power of evil and become people who love God again.
  • Jesus doesn’t change God’s disposition towards us but rather our disposition towards God.
  • In experiencing suffering through the incarnation, God the Son only did so to learn how to identify with humans.
  • God is not foremost an angry God who desires to punish humans. He is a God of love.
  • Many live in fear of a God who is unwilling to forgive sins.

3) Moral

  • A penal, substitutionary atonement is divine child abuse.
  • Supposedly, women have been counseled to accept beatings from their husbands as Christ accepted the punishment of cross.

4) Cultural

  • Penal, substitutionary atonement is irrelevant. Postmoderns don’t believe that they are sinners in the first place.
  • Penal, substituionary atonement is just too individualistic.

So once again, why do they hate it so?

They reject the Scriptures. They reject wrath. They reject the character of God. They reject imputation of sin from Adam. They reject the biblical idea of salvation.

When you reject the penal, substitutionary nature of the atonement, to name just a few things that must necessarily follow:

  • You undermine the exclusivity of the gospel. If the problem is primarily that something in us needs to change, then there is no exclusive need for Christ.
  • You undermine the church.
  • You undermine the idea of hell. No wrath. No punishment.

When they ask us what the gospel is, let us be clear and simple, telling them: for our sake God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).

In the panel session that followed, the first question that C.J. asked was about how guys like those who reject penal substitution get to where they are and how we are to relate to them. The name he named is Clark Pinnock. Pinnock is a unique example in that he used to have, for the most part, a solidly orthodox theology. But now he's wandered not only into open theism, but rejecting penal substitution. As I pondered this question , I think this is one of the biggest takeaways from Al's talk. It just doesn't make sense to me that people who are smarter than me can't see what's clearly in the text. It's not rocket science. And at the bottom of this is that God has simply withheld grace from them. Period. The only reason we aren't in error that isn't grotesquely worse is purely because of sovereign grace that has opened our eyes to see the truth and keeps them open. Why does he hate it so and I don't? In light of my similar total depravity, the answer is that God has given me grace and withheld it from him. So I ought not be naive to think that this could never happen to me but instead I ought to pray with trembling that God would keep me from intellectualizing my theology so much that I become hardened, ceasing to worship the One who desires my affections and end up rejecting the only basis of my hope. And how do I relate to such men? My only answer is to lift them up to the judge of all the earth who will most certainly do what is just: Lord, have mercy on them and grant them repentance that leads to a knowledge of the truth.

Download the audio here.

Together For The Gospel 2008: Session #5

R.C. Sproul

The Curse Motif of the Atonement

For all who rely on works of he law are under a curse; for it is written, "Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them." Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for "The righteous shall live by faith." But the law is not of faith, rather "The one who does them shall live by them." Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us -- for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree" -- so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
Galatians 3:10-14

It has been over 50 years that Sproul has meditated on and studied the cross of Christ. And yet he still believes that he hasn’t been able to more than touch the surface of the depth and riches contained in that one moment of redemptive history.

When we read about the cross in the NT, there is no one image that can comprehensively convey the fullness of its significance. It is like a garment woven together by many finely woven threads to compose a prolific, indescribably beautiful work of art.

Some of these aspects are those of Christ as ransom, vicar standing in our place, victor over Satan, kinsman redeemer of the bride…

But one aspect has receded in our day into almost total obscurity. We flee from any mention of a curse inflicted by God upon His own Son. We skip over the fact that in Isaiah 53 it pleased the Father to bruise His own Son.

When we think of a curse today, we think of the occult. We think of voodoo. We think of those putting spells on people, superstition, and such. But biblically speaking, there is nothing superstitious about a curse. The idea of it is biblically rooted. In Genesis 3, God curses the serpent and God curses the earth.

We also find a curse in the giving of the law by Moses to the people of Israel (Deuteronomy 28). If the people obey, they will be blessed. If they don’t, they will be cursed.

One of our favorite carols we love to sing at Christmas speaks to the fact that Jesus comes into a world that is under the curse of God:

He comes to make His blessings flow, far as the curse is found. (Joy to the World)

We see throughout the Scriptures the interweaving of blessing and curse. The prophets spoke both. In America, we have come to be very comfortable with hearing about blessings, but we have conveniently pushed curses aside. We have come to think that God blesses only and doesn’t curse.

The famous blessing given for Aaron to give to Israel (Numbers 6:24-26) uses a Hebrew structure called synonymous parallelism. Essentially, this means that the same thing is said in three different ways.

The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
Numbers 6:24-26

In order to know how the Jew understood a curse, we must know how he understands blessing. The Jew believed that to be blessed by God is to be bathed in the resplendent glory that emanates from His face. This is what Moses begged for, but was refused. Moses could only see the backside of God and yet his face still shone.

So here is Sproul’s antithesis to the blessing of Aaron:

May the LORD curse you and abandon you.
May the LORD leave you in darkness and give you only judgment with no grace.
May the LORD turn his back on you and give you no peace.

In the concept of the atonement, the sacrifice consisted of propitiation and expiation.

What’s the difference between propitiation and expiation?

Propitiation: the Son does something to satisfy the justice and wrath of the Father (vertical transaction)

Expiation: the Son removes our sins from us and takes away the guilt and shame that come to us with them (horizontal transaction)

The scapegoat carrying the sins of the people was driven outside of the camp to the place where the blessing of God is not present while the people are allowed to remain in the camp where the blessing of God dwells as He tabernacles in their presence. Christ doesn’t just redeem us from the curse, He becomes the curse for us. Christ became the ultimate obscenity and carries not only satisfies God’s wrath but carries away from us, allowing us to remain in God’s presence where there can be no sin.

God cannot look upon sin. So when Christ bears our sin, God removes the light of His countenance from His Son. He ceases to make His face shine upon the Son. He removes His blessing from His Son. He curses His Son.

When the light of God’s countenance is removed from His Son, even the sun is shut down on Calvary. For Jesus to become the curse, He has to be utterly forsaken by the Father.

In a room this big, it is undeniable that there are people here who are still under the curse. You are trying to justify yourself by works of the law and you are cursed because there is none of us who has been able to keep the entire law for even five minutes since we were born.

You will either bear the curse fully yourself or you will flee to the One who takes it from you and bears it for you.

The reason we cannot see the face of God isn’t because our eyes are insufficient. The reason we cannot see the face of God is because our hearts are insufficient. Who shall see God? The pure in heart (Matthew 5:8). This was only true of Jesus.

If we believe this, and the reality of the curse, we will stop adding to the gospel because it is the only hope we have. And it is hope enough.

Download the audio here.

Together For The Gospel 2008: Session #4

Mark Dever

Improving the Gospel: Exercises in Unbiblical Theology

People try to improve the gospel. But in improving the gospel they end up losing it. Some Corinthians wanted to add human wisdom and eloquence. Some Galatians wanted to add observance of the ceremonial laws of Moses. Some Colossians were adding everything from worldly philosophy to the worship of angels.

Before we can know what is being added to the gospel, we need to know what the gospel is. Study the New Testament to learn what the gospel truly is, what it consists of.

God is fundamental to the gospel. Our creation in His image and our fall are fundamental. Christ’s incarnation, perfect life, death, and resurrection are fundamental. And this instruction is not merely an application but part of the gospel message itself. We must clearly define the gospel.

What attempted improvements can we see today? What are the threats that we face as we defend the gospel as it is revealed in the New Testament?

5 cries that try to improve the gospel:

1) Make the gospel public
Jesus came to save the structures of society. This cry believes that we will see more of the fullness of the kingdom of God here in this life than Scripture would seem to imply. Seeing societies, politics, government and such reformed is the purpose of the gospel proclamation and saving work and not just an effect.

The gospel is a uniquely Christian message and has been uniquely entrusted to the Church. Non-Christians will join us in the pursuit of reforming society but they will NOT join us in the propagation of the gospel and the exaltation of Jesus Christ as King of kings and Lord of lords.

  • Acts 8:12, 14 - The message of the kingdom of God is associated with baptism in Christ’s name and the reception of the Word of God.

Non-Christianss, therefore, are not doing kingdom work though they may be doing things that Christians ought to be doing.

Never substitute good works for the preaching of the gospel.

2) Make the gospel larger
Did Jesus come really only to save our souls? This cry thinks through a Christian worldview, which we should be doing. But implications of the gospel are sometimes referred to as part of the gospel.

Is the gospel more than believing that our faith in Jesus Christ saves us from the wrath of God?

The gospel is not a collection of moral positions or actions. This is fruit that grows from a life that has been transformed by the gospel.We must distinguish between the core of the gospel and its implications. We must clearly define what a person must fundamentally believe in order to be rightly called a Christian.

  • 1 Thessalonians 2:8 - Sharing the gospel is more than just sharing our lives with others.

Does the gospel include opposition to abortion or working to end unjust laws? If so, then it must include ending the war in Iraq and nationalized health care and much, much more.

The unavoidable path we end up going down is that when we make the gospel larger than what it really is, it will be hard to see those who don’t agree with us to truly be Christians because they surely have gotten the gospel wrong since they’ve gotten abortion wrong (or whatever other issue we claim to be an indispensable part of our Christian worldview).

Don’t confuse the gospel with a Christian worldview.

3) Make the gospel relevant
How will people be saved? This cry says we must contextualize. The gospel appears irrelevant to people today so we must change our message by becoming all things to all men. We must figure out what keeps non-Christians from coming to hear the gospel and then adapting so that they will want to come.

A concern for evangelism, sadly, has often been the path to theological liberalism. In order to reach the lost, we do whatever works and end up abandoning, whether knowingly or not, core truths about God and His ways with man.

We must do away with the idea that we should adapt our methods to “studies have shown…”

If this is true, then what happens when the atheists, and Mormons, and Muslims, figure out how to be more relevant than we are? Then what do we do?

Embracing relevance attracts a certain kind of people. This leads to a homogeneous congregation when our goal is a heterogeneous congregation.

Yes, we should contextualize in the sense that we take the gospel into different places by going physically and being willing to lay aside our own comforts and conveniences. Contextualization should never make the gospel more acceptable or less offensive. If we have communicated the gospel faithfully, it should only make the offense more clearly. We must always have a distinction that bears witness to the reality of the gospel. The gospel’s relevance appears precisely in our being distinct.

4) Make the gospel personal
Are we saved alone as individuals apart from the local church? What is God about in Jesus Christ?

  • Ephesians 3:10 -The manifold wisdom of God is to be made known through the church.

Our participation in the local church validates or falsifies our witness for the gospel. The reason we have gifts is not just for ourselves and our own purposes but to serve a local congregation. Many Christians see the gospel as that which saves them individually and not that which brings them into a body of fellowship, except when it is convenient. The idea of being committed to one congregation and serving primarily in that context is utterly alien. Many assume that the church is just a plural word for Christian.

A wrongly personalized gospel ends up with a wrongly personalized church. Being vague about our understanding of the church can hurt our understanding and communication of the gospel. Two or three gathered in Jesus’ name are not necessarily a church.

Wrong ideas of the church encourage wrong ideas about the gospel. The audible gospel is intended to be displayed by the visible church comprised of individual people who may have very little in common apart from this gospel that brings them together. The church isn’t just a collection of individual lights. The church is a furnace that is meant to burn brightly and makes other lights.

Don’t decouple the gospel by decoupling it from the local church.

5) Make the gospel kinder
Why does God save us? This cry says that the ultimate purpose of the gospel is the greatest good for the greatest number of people. God’s highest desire is to rescue the greatest number of people from hell that we can. The ultimate purpose of the gospel is the salvation of sinners.

God’s ultimate purpose is not seeing the most sinners saved but about getting the most glory for Himself.

  • 1 Thess. 1:2, 3 - God gets the thanks and the glory in our salvation. This is the goal.

All that exists is for God’s own pleasure in the display of His manifold perfections.

  • Romans 9:22, 23 - Our churches are a demonstration of God’s character and His mercy.

Look at Ezekiel. God does all that He does so that His people will know that He is the LORD. Look at Exodus. God does all that He does to demonstrate His great power.

We should want to see people saved and for their own good, but even more for God’s great glory so that the truth of our Creator will be known, so that He will be loved and worshiped.

To add to the gospel is always to remove from it and to detract from God’s glory.

So the message is simply this: keep the message clear and don’t add anything to the gospel.

Download the audio here.

Together For The Gospel 2008: Session #3

John MacArthur

The Sinner Neither Able nor Willing: The Doctrine of Absolute Inability

John 5:39 40 - Even those who know the Scriptures are unwilling to come to Jesus for eternal life.

John 6:44 - No one can come to Jesus unless drawn by the Father. We are all unable.

The doctrine of total depravity is the most hated doctrine of Christianity. Every other religion except for Christianity is a works-based system that says that man has enough goodness in him to contribute to his salvation. This doctrine is most minimized when it should be most maximized, especially in the Church.

This is the most God-honoring doctrine, honoring God completely and leaving no honor for man because it makes salvation entirely a divine work.

This is the most historical doctrine despite free-willers who seem to think otherwise, dating back to the early battles between Augustine and Pelagius. Total depravity is the foundation of all anthropology and all soteriology.

How does the Bible speak of this doctrine of total depravity?

It typically speaks of this condition as being in a state of death.

  • Ephesians 2
    • v.2: We are dead in trespasses and sins.
    • v.3: The phrase “by nature” means “by birth.” This is how we are born because of the sin of Adam.
    • v.4: If anything is to change this, it is the grace of God and that’s why Paul makes the transition in here to highlighting the mercy and grace of God.
  • Ephesians 4:18 - We are darkened in our understanding, excluded from the life of God.
  • Colossians 2:13 - God makes us alive by commanding us to live just like Jesus commanded Lazarus to rise from the dead (John 11).
  • John 1:12 - We must be born of the will of God, not man.
  • John 3:6-8 - Being born again is a divine work because flesh can only produce flesh. And the Holy Spirit who alone gives life is sovereign in determining whom He will give life to.
  • John 5:21 - The Son gives life to whom He wills.
  • John 6:44 - The Father is the only One who can draw.
  • John 8:36 - The Son shall make free.

This is the sovereign work of the triune God.

  • Romans 8:7, 8 - The sinner is not only unwilling to acknowledge the triune God, he is unable to acknowledge the power of the gospel.
  • 1 Corinthians 2:14 - The natural man is unable to understand the things of God
  • 2 Corinthians 4:4 - There is a compounded blindness, blindness in original sin and blindness by Satan, the god of this world.
  • Mark 7:20-22 - What does man produce? Evil only.
  • Romans 3:9-18 - There is none righteous. No ability, no hope on our own.

To say one is totally depraved means that he can only sin and can do nothing to please God. It affects him totally: mind, thoughts, will, desires, affections.

The contemporary idea is that there is a residual good left in the sinner. There is something in the sinner that can respond. And the sinner must make the first move.

But the Bible teaches that he has no capacity and no interest to make the first move. To tell a sinner that God will give him his desires if he comes to Him is destructive because it feeds his inclination to evil.

To lead people to rely on their own goodness is deception of the worst kind and to lead them to rely on religion is blasphemy of the worst kind.

  • 2 Timothy 2:25 - God must grant repentance.
  • Titus 3:3, 4 - When found in our wickedness, God saves us according to His kindness.

What are the implications of embracing this doctrine?

1) We will know that Jesus means for us to more than just care for the poor and needy. A hungry and homeless person's greatest need isn't to have a roof over his head and food in his stomach, as important as these things are. His greatest need is to be raised from the dead if he hasn't been.

2) We will know that our methods don’t need to change to accommodate the sinner.

Soft preaching makes hard people. To preach soft truth hardens hearts. To preach hard truths breaks hard hearts.

3) We will know that our message is not to change.

The reality is not on the outside but rather on the inside. All hearts are the same. All need the same message, the same gospel. So our context doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter where in the world you are. MacArthur noted how in his extensive ministry traveling all around the world, through translators and all, there has been the same response to the gospel. Some repent and some are hardened.

Be meek and humble. No one should be so meek and humble as those who preach the gospel. We are the only profession in the world where we can take absolutely no credit for what we do. We can only take credit for our failures, never our successes. We are just clay pots.

One might ask: Aren’t we supposed to adjust like Paul (1 Corinthians 9:19-23)? Paul didn’t say "I change my message, my method, my clothes, or my vocabulary." He said that he himself changed, making sacrifices to reach as many as possible.

It’s not about how cool or relevant we are. It’s about how clear we are.

Download the audio here.

Together For The Gospel 2008: Session #2

Thabiti Anyabwile

Bearing The Image: Identity, The Work of Christ, and The Church

Thabiti began by telling us that the vast majority of us are living our lives with a wrong assumption that needs to be corrected.

That assumption is this: that there exists such a thing as race. If our standard of truth is the Bible, then the concept of race is as much a figment of our imagination as unicorns.

This requires a definition of terms. When Thabiti speaks of race, he is speaking of the idea that traces the distinction in people groups to biological differences, something different in our DNA. Ethnicity, he claims, is an entirely different concept. Ethnicity is that which traces our distinction in people groups to things such as region, language, and culture. And this is all based on the fact that the Bible teaches that all human beings descend from one man, Adam. Biblically speaking, race does not exist. Only ethnicity.

Many people often point to Genesis 10 and the account of the Tower of Babel as the origin of race by emphasizing the discontinuity among people groups that stems from the divergence of the generations of the sons of Noah. However, Thabiti pointed out that the chapter is bookended by the continuity that shows that these generations all come from one man. This adds to the Scriptural evidence (Genesis 3:20 and Acts 17:26) that we are not biologically different.

He structured his talk with a baseball analogy. He would move from first base to home plate:

First base: our union in Adam. (all people)
Second base: our union in Christ. (from this point on, Christians only)
Third base: our union in the Church.
Home plate: our union in glory.

Everyone, Christians and non-Christians alike, are related in Adam. Our relation in Adam, other than our all having fallen into sin through him, is in two ways:

1) We are all physical descendants of Adam

2) We are all created in the image of God like Adam

This means that there can be no biological difference that we call race. To embrace the idea of race is dangerous for at least six reasons:

1) It lends to abuse of people and Scripture

2) The distance from embracing race to embracing racism is a short distance

3) It undermines our ability to engage with other people

4) It undermines the authority and sufficiency of Scripture

5) It undermines the work of the Holy Spirit

6) It undermines the Gospel

When we operate under the notion of race, we become those who walk into a room full of people and define those who are like us to be those who look like us. In reality, we should walk into a room full of people and define those who are like us to be those who are descendants of Adam and those who are created in the image of God. That’s everyone.

Up until now, we are talking about all people, whether Christian or non-Christian. But when we get into the realm of only believers then with those who are like us there is an even greater tie. Those who are like us are not just those who descend from Adam and those who are created in the image of God, but this includes those who are in Christ, bought with the blood of the Lamb. Paraphrasing Sinclair Ferguson, our union in the blood of Christ is one that far surpasses any DNA match.

The part that I was struck by most was when Thabiti talked about how we are missing the point when we talk about having a focus on racial reconciliation, a reconciliation that majors on entering into other people’s racial experiences and embracing them for who they are in order to have a greater unity in Christ. When we do this, we are getting it backwards. Instead, we are to focus on our union in Christ as those who have been bought and washed and justified and sanctified and this will form the greatest basis by which we will be able to embrace each other as different as we may be. We shouldn't spend all our time looking at each other. But we should spend all our time together looking at Christ, beholding His person and work. This is what gives Christ glory.

The showcase by which we display this group of reconciled people is the church. And this is third base, after we have realized our unity in Christ (second base). And the church is an earthly representation that is only a taste and partial experience of what will be fully realized when Christ comes to wrap-up redemption and bring us to home plate, our union in glory where, gathered around the throne of the Lamb will be worshipers from every tribe, tongue, and nation.

Listen to this message. It is challenging and much needed for the church today. Earlier in the day, I met an African-American brother that told me he had seen me at another conference. He said that he had walked past me at that conference and said the word seven because he had only counted seven of "us" at that particular conference. By "us", he meant black people. Listening to this talk made me think that though there might be room for talk like this outside of the church, there shouldn't be inside where "us" should only represent those of us who were once far off but have now been brought near by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:13). It made me think about why I'm more inclined to call a black man brother than a white man even though the black man might be an enemy of Christ and the white man my true brother in Christ.

Lord, please continue to sanctify me by the power of Your Holy Spirit so that I no longer regard anyone from a worldly point of view as I still in many ways do. Thank You for Your patience and mercy in Christ. In His precious name, Amen.

Download the audio here.

And watch this clip to whet your appetite (HT: IndyChristian, Challies):

Together For The Gospel 2008: Session #1

Ligon Duncan

Sound Doctrine – Essential to Faithful Pastoral Ministry: A Joyful Defense and Declaration of the Necessity and Practicality of Systematic Theology for the Life of the Church

Systematic theology answers the question: “What does the entire Bible teach us about ______?”

More specifically, a doctrine (or teaching) answers the question: “What does the entire Bible teach us about _(some topic)_?”

And systematic theology is a collection of all the doctrines to be gathered from the Bible.

Scriptures that point us directly to the importance of theology:

  • John 17:13-17 - Jesus teaches that theology is the source of our joy and, not only this, it is the source of our growth.
  • Matthew 28:18-20 - Jesus wants us to teach everything he commanded, not just the ABC’s
  • 1 Timothy 1:3 - Paul’s first instruction to Timothy is to tell teachers not to teach bad theology
  • 1 Timothy 1:10 - We know how we are to behave based on proper theology.
  • 1 Timothy 6:1-3 - Proper theology leads to godliness.
  • Titus1:1
  • Knowledge of the truth (theology) leads to godliness.

According to the Puritan William Perkins, theology is simply the science of how to live blessedly ever after. And, therefore, everyone is a theologian in some sense, whether they know it or not. The question is whether you are a good theologian or a bad theologian. The question is whether your theology is right or wrong.

Three main points:

1) Theology is criticized in the church today, even among evangelicals

    • Use more stories and narrative because people in this generation connect with storytelling more than teaching
2) The Bible teaches systematic theology

    • Luke 24:27 – when Christ teaches the disciples from all the Scriptures about the things concerning himself, what is he doing? Systematic theology! He is answering the question “What does the entire Bible have to teach about ME?” In other words, He’s teaching them Christology, the doctrine of the person and work of the Messiah.
    • Acts 18:28 – Apollos does the same thing in Ephesus, showing from all the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ
    • Acts 17:3 – Paul does the same thing in Thessalonica, showing from all the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ
3) What is theology important for?

    • It leads to worship. Look at Romans 11:32-36. Verse 32 is doctrine, a point of theology. And what does it directly lead to in verses 33-36? Doxology! Praise to God!
    • It is important for assurance in the life of the Christian. When Jesus tells his disciples in John 15:16 that he chose them, this is precious because they are all going to abandon him in just a matter of hours. Only the doctrine of sovereign election can give them (and us) the confidence that we are not hopeless and utterly forsaken when we fail Christ.
    • It is important for marriage. This one was most powerful for me as I’ve been thinking about this very thing over recent months. When Paul tells husbands in Ephesians 5:25 to love their wives as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her, he is telling them to look at the doctrine of atonement treasure its absolute sufficiency and supremacy in justification and making them right with God. But after this, he is telling to look at the doctrine of the atonement and let that teach them how to love their wives. The implications for this, to me, are stunningly beyond words.

One of the major thrusts in some evangelical circles is to favor biblical theology (narrative/story of redemption) over systematic theology. In the panel discussion following this sermon, Lig and the guys did a great job clarifying how biblical theology and systematic theology, when done properly, are never divorced from each other. And one of the great points that Lig made was that when Jesus told parables and stories, His point wasn’t to make the truth fuzzy. But rather His point was always to convey a point of truth made razor sharp through a story that would drive it into their hearts. Sadly, there are those in some evangelical circles who want to embrace storytelling in order to play fast and loose with truth. And this was not why Jesus told stories.

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