He has anchored himself to us by the message of the Cross

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We ought never to set present communion with Christ, as so many are doing, in opposition to the gospel; we ought never to say that we are interested in what Christ does for us now, but are not so much interested in what He did long ago. Do you know what soon happens when men talk that way? They soon lose all contact with the real Christ; their religion would really remain essentially the same if Jesus never lived.

That danger should be avoided by the Christian man with all his might and main. God has given us an anchor for our souls; He has anchored himself to us by the message of the Cross. Let us never cast that anchor off; let us never weaken our connection with the events upon which our faith is based.

Such dependence upon the past will never prevent us from having present communion with Christ. Unlike the communion of the mystics it will be communion not with the imaginings of our own hearts, but with the real Saviour Jesus Christ. The gospel of redemption through the Cross and resurrection of Christ is not a barrier between us and Christ, but it is the blessed tie by which He has bound us for ever to Him.

— J. Gresham Machen What Is Faith? (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1991), 153-54

(HT: Of First Importance)

Debtors to the Triune God

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Octavius Winslow:

“Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh.” Romans 8:12

THAT around a subject so momentous as this no obscurity might gather, tending to misguide the judgment, the apostle most distinctly and emphatically affirms, that the flesh has no valid claim whatever upon the believer; and that, consequently, he is under no obligation to yield compliance with its feigned exactions. We are debtors, but the flesh in not our creditor. What are its demands with which it is incumbent upon us to comply? Do we owe anything to sin, the parent of all our woe? Nothing. To Satan, who plotted our temptation, and accomplished our downfall? Nothing. To the world—ensnaring, deceitful, and ruinous? Nothing. No; to these, the auxiliaries of allies of the flesh, we owe nothing but the deepest hatred and the most determined opposition.

Debtors to the Father

And yet the saints of God are “debtors.” To whom? What debtors are they to the Father, for His electing love, for the covenant of grace, for His unspeakable gift, for having blessed us with all spiritual blessings in Christ Jesus! We but imperfectly estimate the debt of love, gratitude, and service which we owe to Him whose mind the Eternal Son came to reveal, whose will He came to do, and whose heart He came to unveil. It was the Father who sent the Son. With Him originated the wondrous expedient of our redemption. He it was who laid all our sins on Jesus. It was His sword of Justice that smote the Shepherd, while His hand of love and protection was laid upon the little ones. We have too much supposed that the Atonement of Jesus was intended to inspire the mercy, rather than to propitiate the justice of God; to awaken in His heart a love that did not previously exist. Thus we have overlooked the source from where originated our salvation, and have lost sight of the truth, that the mediation of Jesus was not the cause, but rather the effect, of God’s love to man. “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and gave His Son to be a propitiation for our sins.” Oh, for the spirit to understand, and for grace to feel, and for love to exemplify, our deep obligation to God for the everlasting love that gave us His Son!

Debtors to the Son

Equal debtors are we to the Son. He was the active agent in our redemption. He it was who undertook and accomplished all that our salvation required. He left no path untrodden, no portion of the curse unborne, no sin unatoned, no part of the law uncancelled—nothing for us in the matter of our salvation to do, but simply to believe and be saved. Oh, to raise the eye to Him—strong in faith, beaming with love, moist with contrition, and exclaim, “You have borne my sin, endured my curse, extinguished my hell, secured my heaven. Your Spirit was wounded for me; Your heart bled for me; Your body was bruise for me; for me Your soul was stricken—for me, a sinner, the chief of sinners. I am Your debtor—a debtor to Your dying love, to Your eternal, discriminating mercy. Surely an eternity of love, of service, and of praise, can never repay You what I owe You, You blessed Jesus.” Oh, how deep the obligation we are under to Christ!

Debtors to the Holy Spirit

And not less indebted are we to the Holy Spirit. What do we not owe Him of love and obedience, who awoke the first thrill of life in our soul; who showed to us our guilt, and sealed to us our pardon? What do we not owe Him for leading us to Christ; for dwelling in our hearts; for His healing, sanctifying, comforting, and restoring grace; for His influence, which no ingratitude has quenched; for His patience, which no backsliding has exhausted; for His love, which no sin has annihilated? Yes, we are the Spirit’s lasting debtors. We owe Him the intellect He has renewed, the heart He has sanctified, the body He inhabits, every breath of life He has inspired, and every pulse of love He has awakened. Thus are all real believers debtors to the Triune God—debtors to the Father’s everlasting love, to the Son’s redeeming grace, and to the Spirit’s quickening mercy. To the flesh we owe nothing but uncompromising hatred; to Jehovah we owe undivided and supreme affection.

(HT: Tim Brister)

Christ is Everything

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When you put your trust in Christ, the overpowering attraction of the world is broken. You are a corpse to the world, and the world is a corpse to you. Or to put it positively, you are a ‘new creation’ (Galatians 6:15). The old you is dead. A new you is alive — the you of faith in Christ. And what marks this faith is that it treasures Christ above everything in the world. The power of the world to woo your love away is dead.

Being dead to the world means that every legitimate pleasure in the world becomes a blood-bought evidence of Christ’s love and an occasion of boasting in the cross. When our hearts run back along the beam of blessing to the source in the cross, then the worldliness of the blessing is dead, and Christ crucified is everything.

— John Piper Fifty Reason Why Jesus Came to Die (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004), 85

(HT: Of First Importance)

Your church: where Jesus calms the storm

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Ray Ortlund:

“How wonderful it is to come every Sunday into a liberating church!  All week long we swim in an ocean of judgment and negative scrutiny.  We constantly have to comply with the demands of a touchy world, and we never measure up. . . .

Then on Sunday we walk into a new kind of community where we discover an environment of grace in Christ alone.  It is so refreshing.  Sinners like us can breathe again!  It’s as if God simply changes everyone’s topic of conversation from what’s wrong with us, which is plenty, to what’s right with Christ, which is endless.  He replaces our negativity, finger-pointing, and self-attack with the good news of his grace for the undeserving.  Who couldn’t come alive in a community which inhales that heavenly atmosphere?

Here is where every one of us can happily take our stand right now: ‘The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me’ (Galatians 2:20).  Our self-focus was crucified with Christ.  The need to conceal failure and display false superiority no longer lives.  Christ is enough to complete every one of us, without adding anything of ourselves.

As we humbly keep in step with the truth of this gospel, people will find a new kind of community in our churches where sinners and sufferers can thrive.”

Ray Ortlund, The Gospel: How The Church Portrays The Beauty of Christ (Wheaton, 2014), pages 90-91.

Jesus Doesn’t Fail: An Interview on Definite Atonement

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David Mathis, Desiring God:

It is, by far, the most contested of the Five Points. And confusion over the term makes it all the trickier.

“Limited Atonement” is the middle letter in TULIP, but as author and pastor Douglas Wilson explains, that name might give the wrong impression.

“The problem with ‘limited atonement’ is that it makes everybody think ‘tiny atonement.’” And, of course, no good Christian wants to cast the cross-work of Christ as diminutive.

The better term, says Wilson, with a growing number of voices, is “Definite Atonement.” Same doctrine, better name. This way of putting it emphasizes the extent of Jesus’s accomplishment, rather than its restriction.

He Died for His People

Definite atonement teaches that Jesus died to fully secure the salvation of his people, not just make the offer. Its anchors in the biblical text include, among others,

  • John 10:11: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep
  • Ephesians 5:25: “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her
  • Revelation 5:9: The worshipers in heaven sing to Jesus, “Worthy are you . . . for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation
  • Mark 10:45: “the Son of Man came . . . to give his life as a ransom for many
  • John 11:52: Jesus died “to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad”

Jesus died not only to make a bonafide offer of salvation to all people indefinitely, but to actually secure the salvation of a definite group: his sheep, his bride, his people, the many, the children.

The Calvinist Centerpiece

In the story of the church, this particular expression of the doctrine emerged at the Synod of Dort in the early seventeenth century. Following the death of an influential teacher named Jacob Arminius — who had disagreed with several key points of the prevailing theology of the day — his followers published five specific objections to Calvinist teaching in 1610. The Synod, then, responding in 1619, re-articulated the five doctrines, which have come down to us in English in the floral acrostic.

“Definite atonement is the centerpiece,” says Wilson. The three middle points — unconditional election, definite atonement, and irresistible grace — demonstrate how the persons of the Godhead work together inseparably in our salvation: the Father elects, the Son atones, and the Spirit gives life. It is all one seamless garment. The Son dies for those whom the Father has chosen, and the Spirit regenerates those for whom the Son has died.

To compare the doctrine of definite atonement with the contrasting view of the Arminians, Lorraine Boettner observes, “For the Calvinist, it is like a narrow bridge that goes all the way across the stream; for the Arminian, it is like a great wide bridge that goes only half-way across.” The question is not whether the atonement is limited in some sense, but how.

Yes, It Matters

Most significant, perhaps, is Wilson’s claim, “Penal substitution necessitates definite atonement.” To believe that Jesus truly substituted himself as the penalty for our sin implies some definite group for which he died, not just a potential group of individuals to be named later. One’s view on the definiteness of the atonement then is not far removed from the depth and surety of one’s understanding of the Christian gospel and its joys.

Whether you’re a young Millennial or an old post-millennial like Wilson, we think you’ll benefit from this new episode of Theology Refresh, which aims to help you tell the gospel, in public and in private, with precision and power. And it will challenge you not to be a “whispering Calvinist,” who carefully hides the Scriptural truths most offensive and confounding to our modern milieu, but to speak openly and honestly what the Bible teaches.

To access this 13-minute episode, subscribe to Theology Refresh in iTunes, download or listen at the resource page, or watch below.

How Does the Holy Spirit Actually Produce Change in Us?

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A rich and wise answer from Abraham Kuyper:

Dwelling in the elect, the Spirit does not slumber, nor does He keep an eternal Sabbath, in idleness shutting Himself up in their hearts; but as divine Worker He seeks from within to fill their individual persons, pouring the stream of His divine brightness through every space.

But we should not imagine that every believer is instantly filled and permeated. On the contrary, the Holy Spirit finds him filled with all manner of evil and treachery. . . . His method of procedure is not with divine power to force a man as though he were a stock or block, but by the power of love and compassion so to influence and energize the impulses of the feeble will that it feels the effect, is inclined, and finally consents to be the temple of the Holy Spirit. . . .

This operation is different in each person. In one it proceeds with marvelous rapidity; in another, progress is exceedingly slow, being checked by serious reaction which in some rare cases is overcome only with the last breath. There are scarcely two men in whom this gracious operation is completely the same.

It may not be denied that the Holy Spirit often meets serious opposition on the part of the saint. . . . And the Holy Spirit bears all this resistance with infinite pity, and overcomes it and casts it out with eternal mercy.

Who that is not a stranger to his own heart does not remember how many years it took before he would yield a certain point of resistance; how he always avoided facing it; restlessly opposed it, at last thought to end the matter by arranging for a sort of modus vivendi between himself and the Holy Spirit? But the Holy Spirit did not cease, gave him no rest; again and again that familiar knock was heard, the calling in his heart of that familiar voice. And after years of resistance he could not but yield in the end.

–Abraham Kuyper, The Work of the Holy Spirit (trans. Henri De Vries; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), 529–30

(HT: Dane Ortlund)

Singing To One Another

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Tony Reinke:

Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs . . . Eph.5:18-19

David Ford, Self and Salvation: Being Transformed (Cambridge: 1999), 122, 125:

Drunkenness is a practice that incapacitates people for responsible use of time in line with ‘the will of the Lord’ (5.17). Singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, by contrast, enables a ‘sober intoxication’ which attunes the whole self — body, heart and mind — to a life attentive to others and to God. It is a practice of the self as physical as drinking — and as habit-forming. One of the main habits formed is that of alertness. . . .

It is striking that there is encouragement to the members to practice ‘addressing one another’ in song. This is part of facing each other in the community. One way of understanding it is that one sings a song to another who does not sing. But it can also and more naturally be taken to be about one of the obvious features of psalms and hymns: a large proportion of them do not speak to God directly but address other people or oneself ‘Bless our God, O peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard’ (Ps. 66.8); ‘O come, let us sing to the Lord’ (Ps. 95.1); ‘Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is Within me, bless his holy name!’ (Ps. 103.1).

For a community of worship, this coming together before God in song is the fullest facing of all, explicitly acknowledging the reality of which they are all part, and adding their energies to enhance it. The specific contribution of music to this building up of community in worship includes its encouragement of alertness to others, immediate responsiveness to changes in tone, tune and rhythm, and sharing in the confidence that can come from joint singing. Singing together embodies joint responsibility in which each singer waits on the others, is attentive with the intention of serving the common harmony.

God Wants Us To Want

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Darryl Dash:

I used to think that God was happy with our grudging obedience. Do the right thing, grit your teeth, and everything is good with God. I’ve been increasingly learning that God doesn’t want us to do the right thing so much as he wants us to want to do the right thing. Big difference.

Two examples:

Peter writes to elders in churches that are experiencing some suffering. “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight,” he writes, “not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you” (1 Peter 5:2). There’s a world of difference between elders who serve because they have to, and elders who serve because they want to. God, Peter says, desires the latter. God wants elders who want to serve him, even under the pressure of suffering.

Paul writes to the Corinthians to ask for money for the poor Christians in Jerusalem. He doesn’t tell them to dig deep until it hurts. “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). There it is again, something to avoid: compulsion. God wants our willingness, our eagerness, and our cheerfulness.

C.S. Lewis was insightful when he wrote:

A perfect man would never act from a sense of duty; he’d always want the right thing more than the wrong one. Duty is only a substitute for love (of God and other people) like a crutch which is a substitute for a leg. Most of us need the crutch at times; but of course it is idiotic to use the crutch when our own legs (our own loves, tastes, habits, etc) can do the journey on their own.

The perfect man or woman acts not out of duty, but of delight. We’re all in process, but this is God’s desire for us.

God wants to change us not at the level of our obedience, but at the level of our affections. God wants us to want.

The Will of God Expressed in Christ

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Now the will of God is what Christ both did and taught:

  • Humility in conversation
  • steadfastness in faith
  • modesty in words
  • justice in deeds
  • mercifulness in works
  • discipline in morals
  • to be unable to do a wrong
    and to be able to bear a wrong when done
  • to keep peace with the brethren
  • to love God with all one’s heart
  • to love Him because He is a Father
  • to fear Him because He is God
  • to prefer nothing whatever to Christ
    because He did not prefer anything to us
  • to adhere inseparably to His love
  • to stand by His cross bravely and faithfully
  • when there is any challenge on behalf of His name and honor
    to exhibit in our speech a consistent confession
  • in torture, that confidence with which we do battle
  • in death, that patience whereby we are crowned.

This is the desire to be fellow-heirs with Christ.

This is to do the commandment of God.

This is to fulfill the will of the Father.

- Cyprian, The Treatises of Cyprian: On the Lord’s Prayer, 15 [Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 5], adapted

(HT: Trevin Wax)

We must get to the cross, and dwell there

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Every plant must have both soil and root. Without both of these there can be no life, no growth, no fruit. The root is ‘peace with God’; the soil in which that root strikes itself, and out of which it draws the vital sap, is the free love of God in Christ. ‘Rooted in love’ is the apostle’s description of a holy man.

The secret of a believer’s holy walk is his continual recurrence to the blood of the Surety, and his daily intercourse with a crucified and risen Lord. All divine life, and all the precious fruits of it, pardon, peace, and holiness, spring from the cross. All fancied sanctification which does not arise wholly from the blood of the cross is nothing better than Pharisaism.

If we would be holy, we must get to the cross, and dwell there; else, notwithstanding all our labour, diligence, fasting, praying and good works, we shall be yet void of real sanctification, destitute of those humble, gracious tempers which accompany a clear view of the cross.

— Horatius Bonar God’s Way of Holiness

(HT: Of First Importance)

Christian Hedonism

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Sam Storms:

It should come as no surprise that among the ten theological trademarks of John Piper’s ministry we find an emphasis on Christian Hedonism. As we continue to focus attention on his book, Doctrine Matters: Ten Theological Trademarks from a Lifetime of Preaching (Minneapolis: Desiring God, 2014), this controversial subject is next in line.

Perhaps more than anything else John Piper is known for the declaration that “God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him.” If this statement is true, there is no inconsistency between your greatest gladness and God’s greatest glorification. In fact, God’s glory “shines in your happiness, when your happiness is in him” (42).

People often push back against Christian Hedonism because the idea that God seeks his own glory above all else strikes them as egotistical and selfish. But as Piper points out,

“since God is the source of greatest happiness, and since he is the greatest treasure in the world, and since his glory is the most satisfying gift he could possibly give us, therefore it is the kindest, most loving thing he could possibly do – to reveal himself, and magnify himself and vindicate himself for our everlasting enjoyment” (42).

This means that “God is the one being for whom self-exaltation is the most loving act, because he is exalting for us what alone can satisfy us fully and forever” (43). If you think God could provide you with something other than himself that could satisfy your heart more than he can, or that God can give you something or someone capable of bringing more intense delight and joy to your soul than he is able to give, God ceases to be God. Your “god” is now whatever it is that brings you your greatest perceived pleasure. And is it not blasphemous for anyone to suggest that a creature or a finite thing or a temporal experience can bring more joy to the human heart than can the God who has Genesis 1 on his resume?

Piper proceeds to give a more extensive explanation of Christian Hedonism, as well as its biblical basis, but I will mention only one text that is particularly supportive of this idea and quite stunning in its implications. It is in Paul’s statement in Philippians 1:21 that whereas life and ministry on this earth are wonderful and would certainly honor Jesus, “to die is gain.” Here is what this means and why we believe it sustains Christian Hedonism:

“You add up all the losses that death will cost you (your family, your job, your dream retirement, the friends you leave behind, your favorite bodily pleasures) – you add up all these losses, and then you replace them only with death and Christ – if when you do that you joyfully say, gain!, then Christ is magnified in your dying. Christ is most magnified in your death, when you are so satisfied in Christ, that losing everything and getting only Christ is called gain. Or again . . . Christ is glorified in you when he is more precious to you than all that life can give or death can take” (47).

That is Christian Hedonism!

Will Christians be secretly raptured?

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Jeramie Rinne:

This past weekend the eschatological thriller Left Behind opened in theaters. It joins a flood of Christian movies this year including Exodus, Son of God, God’s Not Dead, Heaven Is for Real, andNoah. Okay, let’s not count Noah.

Yet Left Behind stands out among this surge of Christian films, not just because it stars Nicholas Cage, and not just because it’s based on the wildly successful Left Behind novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. Perhaps more than the other films, Left Behind captures believers’ imagination because it portrays a future, world-changing event: the secret rapture, that moment Jesus suddenly snatches up all Christians to himself years prior to his visible second coming.

As producer and writer Paul LaLonde put it, “It’s a Bible-based movie, it’s a biblical story, it’s a true story—it just hasn’t happened yet.” As a result, it can cause us to wonder, What will it be like when all the Christians suddenly disappear? How close are we to the rapture? Will I be taken or left behind? 

 

But there’s another question we should ask, one that may surprise you: “Is the rapture taught in the Bible?” It may come as a shock to learn that many Bible-believing Christians today doubt the rapture, and that most Christians throughout history had never even heard of it.

Brief History of the Secret Rapture

The doctrine of the secret rapture emerged during the early 19th century through the teachings of John Nelson Darby (1800–1882). Darby was one of the early leaders of the Plymouth Brethren movement, and his teachings became known as “dispensationalism.”

Darby’s dispensationalism distinguished sharply between Israel and the church. The former was earthly, he believed, and the latter heavenly. God had two distinct peoples and separate plans for each. Thus Darby understood Old Testament prophecies as applying only to Israel, the earthly people of God. Rather than “spiritualizing” such prophecies, he expected a literal fulfillment of God’s promises to literal Israel. So when, according to dispensational thought, would God fulfill his prophecies to Israel? During the millennium (Rev. 20:1–8) after Jesus’ second coming.

So in order for God to resume these plans for Israel, Darby believed, God would first need to remove the church from the world. Hence arose the need for the secret rapture. Darby had in effect proposed something new: a two-stage return of Jesus. Jesus would first come to “rapture” the church, and then return again in visible glory.1

Darby’s views spread rapidly, especially in the United States. The dispensational system, including the secret rapture, was disseminated through prophecy conferences and received support from evangelists like D. L. Moody and Billy Sunday. By far the most important boost for Darby’s teaching, however, came from the Scofield Reference Bible. Scofield’s work became the English standard for fundamentalist, Bible-believing Christians in the early 20th century, and in the process exposed thousands of readers to the secret rapture through his dispensational-informed study notes.

The secret rapture doctrine continued to gain steam in the latter half of the 20th century, and the advent of modern Israel in 1948 seemed a clear sign that God was restarting his plans for Israel. The rapture must be close! Books like Hal Lindsay’s The Late Great Planet Earth and movies like A Thief in the Night further popularized dispensational teaching. And then there are the Left Behindnovels, which have sold millions of copies and captured the imagination of a new generation.

The rise and spread of the secret rapture teaching is a remarkable story. In just a century and a half, a previously unknown doctrine has become a central eschatological hope for millions.

Is the Rapture in Scripture?

Ultimately we must assess doctrine not on the narrative of church history, but on the text of Scripture. That fact that the secret rapture, and dispensationalism, are the new kids on the eschatological block doesn’t necessarily mean they are false. Previous generations could have misinterpreted their Bibles. As Protestants we hold Scripture, not church tradition, to be authoritative.

But the secret rapture faces biblical challenges as well. There are no biblical texts that explicitly teach it or anything like a two-stage coming of Jesus. Passages that supposedly describe the secret rapture could just as easily be read as referring to the glorious second coming, and in fact have been read that way throughout the church’s history.

For example, the New Testament repeatedly warns that Jesus will return unexpectedly “like a thief” (e.g., Matt. 24:42–44; 1 Thess. 5:2; 2 Pet. 3:10). Many read this as describing the any-moment return of Jesus at the secret rapture. However, in each of these passages the context seems to indicate the coming in question is Christ’s public, triumphant return in glory on the Day of the Lord (e.g., Matt. 24:30–31; 1 Thess. 4:16; 2 Pet. 3:10-13).

And then there’s Jesus’ warning that at his coming “two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two men will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken, the other left” (Matt. 24:40–41). Doesn’t this describe the rapture? Two people are in the car: one is taken, the other left. Hence the bumper sticker: “In case of rapture this car will be unmanned.”

But again, the “coming” of Jesus to take people (24:39) has already been identified as his coming in glory in the immediate context (24:30–31) without any clear textual indication that another coming is in view. Further, the Old Testament analogy of Noah and the flood suggests that those “taken” are actually the ones swept away in judgment (24:39)!

While it’s possible these texts or others describe a secret rapture separate from Jesus’ return, it’s not clear or, perhaps, even probable. Again, part of what drives the doctrine of the secret rapture is the function it serves in classic dispensationalism to separate God’s current workings in Israel and in the church.

Should Christians Watch Left Behind?

Full disclosure: I have not seen the new Left Behind film, and probably won’t. I’m mainly avoiding it because the reviews are so poor, and I’m too busy for potentially bad art. But more generally, what should Christians do with movies or books or teachings built on the secret rapture theory?

Watch and read and listen to what you want, but be aware.

Be aware of the historical background and biblical challenges surrounding the secret rapture doctrine. Don’t just assume it’s true because of the emotional effect of its portrayal in a movie or book. Just as we don’t ultimately build our beliefs on church tradition, so we shouldn’t build our beliefs on popular films or novels.

And be aware that the secret rapture is one of those “secondary doctrinal issues” over which Christians can disagree. It grieves me to think of churches or Christians dividing over it. If you’re a secret rapture skeptic (as I am, if you couldn’t tell), will you be upset if you’re wrong and you get raptured? “Hey Jesus, why did you rapture me? Didn’t you read my TGC article?”

If on the other hand you have rapture fever, will you stop faithfully following Jesus if things deteriorate, persecution and suffering come, and you must endure it?

Finally, be aware of your hope. As you groan at life in this broken and sin-soaked world, place your hope in Jesus’ coming, not in a certain theory of how he will come. Of course those who believe in the secret rapture believe Jesus is coming back. But when I talk to such folks I sometimes get the sense they’re really comforted by knowing that they’ll be beamed up before the world goes completely haywire.

Remember, the glorious hope of the church has always been in Christ’s triumphant return. Regardless of how you draw your end-times chart, may Jesus himself occupy the center of it.

Editors’ note: This article is partially adapted from Jeramie Rinne’s new book, How Will the World End?: And Other Questions About the Last Things and the Second Coming of Christ (Good Book).


1 Dispensationalism is an incredibly complex system of interpretation, and this brief summary does not begin to do it justice. Nor have I addressed the ways dispensationalism has grown and changed over the years. A short, helpful, and irenic summary and critique of dispensationalism can be found in Vern Poythress’s Understanding Dispensationalists.

G.K. Beale on interpreting OT Prophecy

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Justin Taylor:

G.K. Beale, writing in The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God (Apollos/IVP, 2004), argues that “We should want to follow an interpretive method that aims to unravel the original intention of biblical authors, realizing that that intention may be multi-layered, without any layers contradicting the others. Such original intentions may have meaning more correspondent to physical reality (hence so-called ‘literal interpretation’) while others may refer to ‘literal’ spiritual realities…” This means that “the progress of revelation certainly reveals expanded meanings of earlier biblical texts. Later biblical writers further interpret earlier biblical writings in ways that amplify earlier texts. These subsequent interpretations may formulate meanings that earlier authors may not have had in mind but which do not contravene their original, essential, organic meaning. This is to say that original meanings have ‘thick’ content and that original authors likely were not exhaustively aware of the full extent of that content. In this regard, fulfilment often ‘fleshes out’ prophecy with details of which even the prophet may not have been fully cognizant” (p. 289).

To illustrate this, Beale asks us to imagine a father in the year 1900 promising his young son a horse and buggy when he grows up and marries:

During the early years of expectation, the son reflects on the particular size of the buggy, its contours and style, its beautiful leather seat and the size and breed of horse that would draw the buggy.

Perhaps the father had knowledge from early experimentation elsewhere that the invention of the automobile was on the horizon, but coined the promise to his son in terms that his son would understand.

Years later, when the son marries, the father gives the couple an automobile, which has since been invented and mass-produced.

Is the son disappointed in receiving a car instead of a horse and buggy?

Is this not a ‘literal’ fulfillment of the promise?

In fact, the essence of the father’s word has remained the same: a convenient mode of transportation.

What has changed is the precise form of transportation promised. The progress of technology has escalated the fulfillment of the pledge in a way that could not have been conceived of when the son was young. Nevertheless, in the light of the later development of technology, the promise is viewed as ‘literally’ and faithfully carried out in a greater way than earlier apprehended.”  (352-53)

Our representative and our substitute

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God displays his righteousness by judging sin as sin deserves, but the judgment is diverted from the guilty and put on to the shoulders of Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God acting as wrath absorber.

The atonement had to be costly because it was necessary in light of the nature of God, which must inflict retributive punishment on sin.

A marvelous wisdom of God consists in his establishing the Lord Jesus as our representative and our substitute because only he could bear and absorb the judgment due to us. Being our representative makes him our substitute, and so he suffers and we go free.

— J. I. Packer “The Necessity of the Atonement” in Atonement, ed. Gabriel N. E. Fluhrer (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2010), 15-16

(HT: Of First Importance)

How We Know for Certain That We Are Currently Living in “The Last Days”

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Justin Taylor:

The New Testament distinguishes between

“the last day” (that is, the coming day of salvation and wrath; see 1 Thess. 5:1-11) and
the “last days” (the period of time we are now in, between Christ’s death/resurrection/ascension and his second appearing).
In addition to “last days,” this present-day category can also be called “the last time/s” (Jude 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:20) or “the last hour” (1 John 2:18).

So when asked if you think we are living in the last days, you can assure the questioner that we are: we are living in between the two comings of Christ. But we do not know—indeed, cannot know—the day or the hour of the last day itself (cf. Matt. 24:36).

You can see the references for last days/times/hour below:

“Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour.” (1 John 2:18)

“He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you. . . .” (1 Pet. 1:20)

“Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.” (1 Cor. 10:11)

“But in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” (Heb. 1:2)

“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.” (2 Tim. 3:1)

“In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” (Jude 1:18)

“. . . scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires.” (2 Pet. 3:3)

“Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days.” (James 5:3)

“And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.” (Acts 2:17)

Gentleness is Not an Option

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“[G]entleness is essential to Christian living. It is not an add-on. It is . . . one of the few indisputable evidences of the Holy Spirit alive and well within someone. Gentleness is not just for some Christians, those wired in a certain way. It cannot merely be an inherent character trait, a result of personality or genetic predisposition, because it is listed as part of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. Looked at another way, nowhere in the New Testament’s lists of spiritual gifts is gentleness identified as one such gift. It is not a gift of the Spirit for a few. It is the fruit of the Spirit for all. To be gentle is to become who we were meant to be; that is, to return to who we once were, in Eden.”

– Dane C. Ortlund, Edwards on the Christian Life: Alive to the Beauty of God (Crossway), 91.

(HT: Jared Wilson)

 

Praise God for His electing grace

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Make God the peculiar object of your praises. The doctrine of electing grace shows what great reason you have to do so. If God so values you, set so much by you, has bestowed greater mercies upon you than on all the ungodly in the world, is it too little a requital for you to make God the peculiar object of your praise and thankfulness? If God so distinguishes you with his mercies, you ought to distinguish yourself in his praises. You should make it your great care and study how to glorify that God who has been so peculiarly merciful to you.

And this, rather, because there was nothing peculiar in you differing you from any other person that moved God to deal thus peculiarly by you: you were as unworthy to be set by as thousands of others that are not regarded of God, and are cast away by him forever as worthless and filthy.

— Jonathan Edwards “Christians a Chosen Generation” in Sermons and Discourses, 1730-1733, ed. Mark Valeri(New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1999), 318

(HT: Of First Importance)

Gospel-centered Preaching vs. “another brick in the backpack”

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Iain M. Duguid has some excellent advice for us when it comes to the focus of our preaching:

“Sermons and Bible studies that focus on ‘law’ (the demands of Scripture for our obedience), no matter how accurately biblical in content, tend simply to add to the burden of guilt felt by the average Christian. A friend of mine calls these sermons ‘another brick in the backpack’ – you arrive at church knowing five ways in which you are falling short of God’s standard for your life, and you leave knowing ten ways, doubly burdened.

In my experience such teaching yields little by way of life transformation, especially in terms of the joy and peace that are supposed to mark the Christian life. Focusing on the gospel, however, has the power to change our lives at a deep level. Through the gospel we come to see both the true depth of our sin (and therefore that our earlier feelings of guilt were actually far too shallow), while at the same time being reminded of the glorious good news that Jesus is our perfect substitute who removes our sin and guilt. He lived the life of obedience in our place and fulfilled the relentless clamor of the law’s demands, and he took upon himself the awful punishment that our sin truly deserves. As the Holy Spirit enables us to grasp this gospel reality, he frees us from our guilt and refreshes us with a deep joy that motivates our hearts to love God anew. In this way, the gospel begins the slow transformative work of changing us from the inside out. This is what the nineteenth-century Scottish pastor Thomas Chalmers called ‘the expulsive power of a new affection’: the fact that profound change in our behavior always comes through a change in what we love most, not through external coercion”

(Is Jesus in the Old Testament? [P&R Publishing, 2013], 13).

(HT: Sam Storms)