The Gospel of Sovereign Grace

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By Joel Beeke:

One New Testament book that especially emphasizes God’s astounding sovereign grace is Paul’s letter to the Romans. According to Paul, this grace makes both Jew and Gentile co-heirs of God’s kingdom with faithful Abraham (Rom. 4:16). It establishes peace between God and sinners who are His enemies (Rom. 5:2). Since only this grace is stronger than the forces of sin, it brings genuine and lasting freedom from sin’s dominion (Rom. 5:20-21; 6:14). Divine grace equips Christian men and women with varied gifts to serve in the church of God (Rom. 12:6). This grace ultimately will conquer death and is the sure harbinger of eternal life for all who receive it (Rom. 5:20-21), for it is a grace that reaches back into the aeons before the creation of time and, without respect to human merit, chooses men and women for salvation (Rom. 11:5-6).

This idea that salvation owes everything to God’s grace is the overarching theme not just in Romans but in all of Paul’s epistles. For example, Paul begins his letter to the Philippians with a prayer for the church in which he says, “He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (1:6). “God’s seed will come to God’s harvest,” Samuel Rutherford writes. Salvation is neither our earning nor our doing. That is why Paul prayed with joy and thanksgiving every time he remembered the Philippians. If man had begun the work of salvation, was continuing it, and had to complete it, Paul’s praise would be silenced. But because salvation flows from a divine work that persists day by day despite man’s struggles and setbacks, a work that most certainly will be perfected in the great day, everything is to the praise of the glory of the triune God. This is why Paul thanks God for all the doctrines of grace and is moved to joy whenever he thinks of believers drawn to Christ. By clinging to God’s grace, we, like Paul, can be joyful Christians who victoriously confess, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31).

Grace calls us (Gal. 1:15), regenerates us (Titus 3:5), justifies us (Rom. 3:24), sanctifies us (Heb. 13:20-21), and preserves us (1 Peter 1:3-5). We need grace to forgive us, to return us to God, to heal our broken hearts, and to strengthen us in times of trouble and spiritual warfare. Only by God’s free, sovereign grace can we have a saving relationship with Him. Only through grace can we be called to conversion (Eph. 2:8-10), holiness (2 Peter 3:18), service (Phil. 2:12-13), or suffering (2 Cor. 1:12).

Sovereign grace crushes our pride. It shames us and humbles us. We want to be the subjects, not the objects, of salvation. We want to be active, not passive, in the process. We resist the truth that God alone is the author and finisher of our faith. By nature, we rebel against sovereign grace, but God knows how to break our rebellion and make us friends of this grand doctrine. When God teaches sinners that their very core is depraved, sovereign grace becomes the most encouraging doctrine possible.

From election to glorification, grace reigns in splendid isolation. John 1:16 says we receive “grace for grace,” which literally means “grace facing or laminated to grace.” Grace follows grace in our lives as waves follow one another to the shore. Grace is the divine principle on which God saves us; it is the divine provision in the person and work of Jesus Christ; it is the divine prerogative manifesting itself in election, calling, and regeneration; and it is the divine power enabling us freely to embrace Christ so that we might live, suffer, and even die for His sake and be preserved in Him for eternity.

Calvinists understand that, without sovereign grace, everyone would be eternally lost. Salvation is all of grace and all of God. Life must come from God before the sinner can arise from the grave.

Free grace cries out for expression in the church today. Human decisions, crowd manipulations, and altar calls will not produce genuine converts. Only the old-fashioned gospel of sovereign grace will capture and transform sinners by the power of the Word and Spirit of God.

This excerpt is from Joel Beeke’s Living for God’s Glory: An Introduction to Calvinism.

Divine Child Abuse?

 

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This is an excerpt from Donald MacLeod’s new book Christ Crucified: Understanding the Atonement (IVP Academic)

We need a doctrine of the cross that faces up realistically to the enormity of the Father’s involvement at Calvary. Why did God do this—have to do this—to his Son?

And what of the more specific claim that the cross is an example of “child abuse” (the adjective “cosmic” is quite redundant here, since it was not the cosmos, but God the Father, who was allegedly guilty of abuse). The charge is completely inept, because it isolates the story of the crucifixion from the total New Testament witness to Jesus.

It ignores, for example, the fact that for most of his life Jesus enjoyed the love, protection, and encouragement of his heavenly Father. This is why he was able to live a life free from anxiety, confident that he was never alone (John 8:16) but that God was always within earshot; and this is why, too, he could say it was his meat and drink to do the will of the one who had sent him (John 4:34). An abused and damaged child he was not.

Similarly, the charge willfully ignores the obvious fact that at the time of the alleged “abuse” Jesus was not a child, but a mature adult, able to make his own free choices and willing to take responsibility for them. From this point of view, and even at its grimmest, the cross no more amounts to child abuse than did the action of the British government in dropping grown men and women behind enemy lines as agents of the Special Operations Executive during the Second World War. Like them, Jesus was a volunteer. Once in the world, he had freely chosen the path that led to Calvary (Phil. 2:8), and, equally freely, he had resolved to lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13). In accordance with this decision, he made no attempt to escape when the arresting party approached, even though he had often evaded his enemies before. He says simply, “Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” (John 18:11).

Even more glaringly, the child-abuse charge ignores the clear New Testament witness to the unique identity of Jesus. Not only was he not a child; he was not a mere human. He was God: the eternal Logos, the divine Son, the Lord before whom every knee will one day bow (Phil. 2:10). This is no helpless victim. This is the Father’s equal. This is one who in the most profound sense is one with God; one in whom God judges himself, one in whom God condemns himself, one in whom God lets himself be abused. The critics cannot be allowed the luxury of a selective use of the New Testament. The same scriptures portray the cross as an act of God the Father and also portray the sufferer as God the Son, and the resulting doctrine cannot be wrenched from its setting in the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. The “abused child” is “very God of very God.” It is divine blood shed at Calvary (Acts 20:28) as God surrenders himself to the worst that man can do and bears the whole cost of saving the world.

Yet Jesus is never, not even for a moment, man’s helpless victim. He is indomitable in his Spirit-filled humanity; and when he completes his mission by giving up his Spirit, God—the allegedly “abusive” Father—exalts him to the highest place, commands every knee to bow, and orders the entire universe to confess him Lord of all (Phil. 2:9–11).

But what can we say as to the precise nature of the Father’s action at Calvary? The New Testament answer is breathtaking. He acted in the role of priest. Just as Jesus “gave” his life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45) so God the Father “gave” his one and only Son; just as Christ ”delivered up” himself as a fragrant offering (Eph. 5:2) so God the Father “delivered up” his own Son (Rom. 8:32). Clearly, then, corresponding to the priesthood of the self-giving Son there is a priesthood of God the Father. From this point of view, Golgotha becomes his temple, where, far from abusing a child or sadistically inflicting cruelty, he is engaged in the most solemn business that earth can witness. He is offering a sacrifice. The cross is his altar, and his own Son the sacrifice.

The evidence that Jesus and his apostles understood the cross in terms of sacrifice is overwhelming. There is something deeper here, however, than the struggle of bewildered disciples to find concepts by which to explain the tragedy that had overtaken their master.

It was not human ingenuity that discovered in the Old Testament sacrifices an interpretative framework for the cross. On the contrary, God himself had provided that framework. In the order of knowing, the Levitical sacrifices came before the sacrifice of Calvary; but in the order of being, the sacrifice of Christ came first. He was the Lamb ordained before the foundation of the world, and the Levitical system was but his shadow. We need to be careful here: Christ was not a priest only metaphorically. He was the true priest, and his sacrifice the real sacrifice. Rather, the Aaronic priesthood was figurative, and its sacrifices were metaphorical. Just as Jesus was “the Root of David” (Rev. 5:5), so he was the root of the Passover, the sin offering and the scapegoat, all of which were divinely configured to prefigure him. The understanding of Jesus” death as a sacrifice is not a human convention, but a divine revelation.

From The Gospel Coalition.

Do Not Let Your Sense of Failure Blind You to the Glory of Gospel Freedom

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“When I was a young man, I heard D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones comment that he would not go across the street to hear himself preach. Now that I am close to the age he was when I heard him, I am beginning to understand. It is rare for me to finish a sermon without feeling somewhere between slightly discouraged and moderately depressed that I have not preached with more unction, that I have not articulated these glorious truths more powerfully and with greater insight, and so forth. But I cannot allow that to drive me to despair; rather, it must drive me to a greater grasp of the simple and profound truth that we preach and visit and serve under the gospel of grace, and God accepts us because of his Son. I must learn to accept myself not because of my putative successes but because of the merits of God’s Son. The ministry is so open-ended that one never feels that all possible work has been done, or done as well as one might like. There are always more people to visit, more studying to be done, more preparation to do. What Christians must do, what Christian leaders must do, is constantly remember that we serve our God and Maker and Redeemer under the gospel of grace. [My] Dad’s diaries show he understood this truth in theory, and sometimes he exulted in it (as when he was reading Machen’s What Is Faith?), but quite frankly, his sense of failure sometimes blinded him to the glory of gospel freedom.”

– D.A. Carson, Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor: The Life and Reflections of Tom Carson (Crossway, 2008), 92-93.

(HT: Jared Wilson)

God’s kindness through Christ

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Martin Luther on never tiring of the gospel of God’s grace:

“People don’t earn God’s approval or receive life and salvation because of anything they’ve done. Rather, the only reason they receive life and salvation is because of God’s kindness through Christ. There is no other way.

Many Christians are tired of hearing this teaching over and over. They think that they learned it all long ago. However, they barely understand how important it really is. If it continues to be taught as truth, the Christian church will remain united and pure — free from decay. This truth alone makes and sustains Christianity. You might hear an immature Christian brag about how well he knows that we receive God’s approval through God’s kindness and not because of anything we do to earn it. But if he goes on to say that this is easy to put into practice, then have no doubt he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and he probably never will. We can never learn this truth completely or brag that we understand it fully. Learning this truth is an art. We will always remain students of it, and it will always be our teacher.

The people who truly understand that they receive God’s approval by faith and put this into practice don’t brag that they have fully mastered it. Rather, they think of it as a pleasant taste or aroma that they are always pursuing. These people are astonished that they can’t comprehend it as fully as they would like. They hunger and thirst for it. They yearn for it more and more. They never get tired of hearing about this truth.”

Teach Believers What Happened to Them in Conversion

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John Piper:

Everyone who is converted to Christ is converted through partial knowledge. Real knowledge, to be sure — otherwise, there would be no true conversion — put partial, nevertheless.

This is not surprising, of course, since that’s the only kind of knowledge we have as finite creatures, especially in this fallen world. “Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

The Obvious Worth Speaking

But speaking the obvious is very useful. For example, it may be obvious that the blue sky is glorious today, but it is not pointless to say to your friend, “Isn’t the deep blue sky beautiful today!” Till that moment he may have been blind to the obvious. And suddenly you woke him up to joy — by saying the obvious.

My point here is that when a person is saved, they do not know all the glorious things which, in that moment, happened to them — like a person who wakes up from surgery and does not know that the cancer has been completely removed. He must be told.

So it is the task of parents and Sunday school teachers and small group leaders and pastors to teach people what happened to them. Never assume that people understand how God saved them. All of us have only partial knowledge of this. And most of the New Testament is designed to increase our knowledge of how God saved us (in history and in our souls), and what is true of him and us now in this new relationship.

Let me illustrate what I mean.

1. Thousands of people are truly converted who have never even heard about “new birth” or “regeneration.” The witness they heard to Jesus’s death and resurrection and forgiveness did not include that truth. Now they are believing. They have been “born again” and they do not know that. So we must teach them.

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God. . . . Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. (1 John 5:1; John 3:3, 8; 1 Peter 1:3, 23; James 1:18)

2. All Christians have been “called” by God. But thousands do not know the language of divine calling. They’ve never heard that language. So we must teach them.

Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:22–24, 9; 7:15, 17; Romans 8:28; Galatians 1:5;5:8; Ephesians 4:1, 4; 2 Timothy 1:9)

3. All Christians have been chosen by God before the foundation of the world. But thousands do not know that God chose them from eternity. They need to be taught this truth.

He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. (Ephesians 1:4; 1 Corinthians 1:26–29;Romans 9:11; 11:5–7; James 2:5)

4. All Christians have died with Christ. But thousands have never taken note of that way of thinking about their conversion. Even if the words were spoken over them at their baptism (not to mention how many true believers have no memory of an infant sprinkling) the words did not register. They need to be taught that they are dead.

You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:3;2:12; Romans 6:4–6; Galatians 2:20)

5. All Christians are justified by faith alone apart from works of the law. But many came to Christ without the word “justification” ever being used. At some point along the way they need to be taught that this glorious thing has happened to them.

We hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. (Romans 3:28; 5:1; 8:1, 30; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 2:16; 3:11)

6. All Christians have been transferred out of the dominion of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of Christ. But many have never heard that they were under the dominion of darkness, or what that is, let alone that they have been transferred to another kingdom. They must be taught.

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son. (Colossians 1:13)

7. All Christians have been set free from the decisive control of the devil. But many Christians didn’t even know they were in the control of the devil, let alone that they are freed from him. They need to be taught.

He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:15; Hebrews 2:14–15)

8. All Christians have been sealed by the Spirit for the day of redemption. But thousands are not aware that there is such a sealing or what it means. They must be taught.

Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. (Ephesians 4:30; 1:13)

9. All Christians have been legally adopted into God’s family and are children of God. But many have never heard this truth about adoption. They must be taught.

You did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”, . . . and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:15–17; Ephesians 1:5; Galatians 4:4–5)

10. All Christians are indwelt by the living Christ. But not all know this. They must be taught.

To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27; Romans 8:10)

An Old Word on New Life

Think for a moment about the implications of this. Our experience (note the word! Not just knowledge, but experience) of who we are, and what has happened to us, is profoundly determined by what we know about the miracle of our conversion. And what we know comes from Scripture.

God ordained that the miracle of the Christian life be powered by his sovereign grace in the soul, but guided and shaped by his word in the Bible.

We might think God would cause us to enjoy all the glories of conversion just because we are in fact miraculously converted. It was, after all, a miracle! Do you have to be told you just experienced a miracle? Yes, if you are to know the many faceted wonder of the miracle. But God does not give the joys of conversion through the conversion alone. We experience the fullness of our conversion when the new life within intersects with the old word from without.

For example, the Spirit of adoption within (which every Christian has) intersects with the biblical teaching on adoption, and explodes with the joy-giving awareness and assurance that we are the children of God.

So pastors, teachers, parents: Teach the believers in your charge what happened to them in the miracle of conversion. This is how we experience the work of the living God.

A Lifestyle of Devotion

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Paul Tripp:

If you were to outline the book of Hebrews, you would see that from 4:14 to 10:18, the author builds an extensive argument for the high priesthood of Jesus.

At the conclusion of that argument, he begins the next section with the words, “Therefore, brothers, since…” (10:19). In other words, here’s what the author is trying to communicate: “If everything I’ve said about Jesus is true, then you ought to live in the following ways.”

With that in mind, over the next four Wednesdays, we’re going to look at four different lifestyles described by the author of Hebrews. The first is a lifestyle of DEVOTION.

“Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:22, ESV)

I’m very concerned with the way modern Christianity tends to think about our “devotional life.” It seems as if we’ve reduced these devotions down to five minutes of reading a Psalm and saying a quick prayer for the day, or, reading an e-mail devotional sent out by a pastor.

The Bible paints a much different picture of a devotional life. The author here uses the word “heart” twice in verse 22. For the Christian, a lifestyle of devotion shouldn’t be reduced to an activity or daily routine; a lifestyle of devotion is characterized by a heart that’s owned by Christ.

Your “devotional life” shouldn’t be slotted into your daily schedule after your morning workout and before you start your work for the day. No, your devotional life is meant to shape the way you think about your body, your job, your family, your social circle, your calendar, and your budget.

No one would admit this, but we try to cram Jesus into a heart already filled with selfish idols and personal hobbies. Even after 40 years in ministry, it’s tempting for me reduce my individual faith down to a daily routine instead of a heart captured by grace.

What’s the solution? It’s not to restructure your schedule and free up 20 more minutes for Bible study, although that might be helpful. Rather, every morning, make a heartfelt confession that much of your devotion is still for the things of this world and not for the Lord.

God will give abundant grace to those who confess their desperate need for it. Lay down your pride; admit to the real devotion of your heart and watch the Spirit transform your soul.

Gospel doctrine creates a gospel culture

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But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
1 John 1:7

Ray Ortlund on this passage from his book The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ:

A heart aloof from God grows aloof from others. It engages in merciless comparisons and endless faultfinding. Therefore, all restoration begins by going back to God first, prodigals that we are.

The wonderful thing is that, when we lose our way, God is not hard to find again. He has made himself very findable. He is “in the light” — right out there in the place of truth, honesty, openness, confession, and owning up. God himself awaits us there. We sinners can go to him freely through the cross of Christ. There in the light, but only in the light, everything gets better in our relationships with one another too.

The price we pay is to face ourselves. That is humiliating and painful. It’s why we shun the light. There are episodes in our past that we don’t want to think about — harsh words, acts of betrayal, broken promises, and worse. We shove these memories down into the darkness of our excuses and blame-shifting. We refuse to call sin “sin.” We feel too threatened by what we have done even to admit it to ourselves, much less confess it to others. But those places of deepest shame are where the Lord Jesus loves us the most tenderly. Is there any reason not to walk in his light together, where we recover fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin?

It is so refreshing to come back out into the light of honesty again, where we first met the Lord. It is there that ex-friends can be regained by love. It is there that Jesus is glorified in the eyes of the world.

Gospel doctrine creates a gospel culture.

The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ, p.117

(HT: Jared Wilson)

The essence of holiness

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You will cleanse no sin from your life that you have not first recognized as being pardoned through the cross. This is because holiness starts in the heart. The essence of holiness is not new behavior, activity, or disciplines. Holiness is new affections, new desires, and new motives that then lead to new behavior.

If you don’t see your sin as completely pardoned, then your affections, desires, and motives will be wrong. You will aim to prove yourself. Your focus will be the consequences of your sin rather than hating the sin and desiring God in its place.

— Tim Chester You Can Change (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2010), 28

(HT: Of First Importance)

Eight Traits of Good Teaching

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David Mathis:

It’s a very short book on spiritual leadership — just a booklet, really — but the walls of this small cave are lined with gold. You won’t even need a pickax to pluck off a nugget.

In The Marks of a Spiritual Leader, John Piper points to an “inner circle” and an “outer circle” of traits. The inner circle is “the absolute bare essentials,” or what must happen in the leader’s own soul if he is going to take even the first step in leading others spiritually. These include prayer, meditating on God’s word, and acknowledging your helplessness.

The outer circle, then, is comprised of “qualities that characterize both spiritual and non-spiritual leaders.” Piper gives 18 of these traits. One is skill in teaching. “It is not surprising to me that some of the great leaders at our church have been men who are also significant teachers. According to 1 Timothy 3:2, anyone who aspires to the office of overseer in the church should be able to teach.”

Piper then says, “A good teacher has at least the following characteristics” and provides these eight:

  1. A good teacher asks himself the hardest questions, works through to answers, and then frames provocative questions for his learners to stimulate their thinking.

  2. A good teacher analyzes his subject matter into parts and sees relationships and discovers the unity of the whole.

  3. A good teacher knows the problems learners will have with his subject matter and encourages them and gets them over the humps of discouragement.

  4. A good teacher foresees objections and thinks them through so that he can answer them intelligently.

  5. A good teacher can put himself in the place of a variety of learners and therefore explain hard things in terms that are clear from their standpoint.

  6. A good teacher is concrete, not abstract; specific, not general; precise, not vague; vulnerable, not evasive.

  7. A good teacher always asks, “So what?” and tries to see how discoveries shape our whole system of thought. He tries to relate discoveries to life and tries to avoid compartmentalizing.

  8. The goal of a good teacher is the transformation of all of life and thought into a Christ-honoring unity.


The Marks of a Spiritual Leader is available as 38-page printed booklet as well as free of charge in three electronic formats (PDF, EPUB, and MOBI).

 

God’s last and effective word

The Bible and Mission

 

The secret of the promise is the bearing of the curse so that the blessing may prevail. The gospel is that in Jesus Christ the curse has been set aside and God’s creative purpose for the blessing of his creation is established beyond any possibility of reversal.

God’s last and effective word is his blessing. It is a particular word spoken in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, broadcast by those who like Paul cannot but pass it on, so powerful is its effect, over flowing with blessing from those who, blessed by it, become a blessing to others.

— Richard Bauckham Bible and Mission (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 35-36

(HT: Of First Importance)

3 Degrees of God’s Pleasure In His Children

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Tony Reinke:

Does God find pleasure in you?

When he looks at you, does he smile?

In short, if you’re in Christ, the answer is yes. But the answer to how and why and on what basis needs some explaining.

We can break God’s delight for the redeemed into three categories: (1) a delight in election, (2) a delight in redemption, and (3) a delight in holiness.

1. Delight in Election

First, God has expressed delight in his children in the election. Unconditionally and freely, without a hint of injustice or unfairness, God chooses to set his delight on certain human souls, and this delight is an expression of the delight of the triune God (Luke 10:21).

God freely delights in electing children for redemption and for adoption into his family (Romans 9:10–18, Ephesians 1:3–6).

Such a predestined delight over us in election is unconditional to anything in us.

2. Delight in Redemption

Second, God delights in the redemption of his elect in Christ (Luke 15:7).

This delight hinges on the perfect work of Christ and the application of his work to the elect, by faith, in space and time. Even down to the display of our saving faith pleases God (Hebrews 11:6). And once his children are set free from the legal demands of righteousness, and stand forever justified by their union to Christ, God sings over them a song of delight (Zephaniah 3:14–17).

Think of the angel’s joy in heaven over the redemption of one sinner. And think of the father’s overflowing party of delight lavished on his prodigal son. Similarly, when the elect are redeemed, God’s heart is drawn to eternally delight over you, for you (Luke 15:11–24).

3. Delight in Holy Obedience

Third, God delights in sincere obedience.

In one of the most mysterious and profound realities in the universe, the Father’s delight in Jesus was increased after the incarnation, as Jesus matured (Luke 2:52). Think about it. By his obedience to the will of the Father, the Son abides in the delight of his Father (John 10:18, 12:49; 14:31; 15:10). It’s a biblical truth that leaves me mystified.

No mystery, however, is the pattern of Jesus we follow in obedience. And by our obedience we abide in God’s love, and God delights in our holiness (John 14:21–24).

In true obedience we experience the abiding love of Christ and increasing joy of God (John 15:9–11).

For example, humility is beautifully attractive to God. Humility catches his eye. The broken, humble heart draws God close and induces his delight (James 4:8–10; Isaiah 57:15, 66:2; Psalm 34:18).

Sin works in the opposite direction. Delight is contrary to grief, and like any loving father, God is genuinely grieved by our sin (Ephesians 4:30; Hebrews 12:3–11). Disobedience in us contradicts his eternal redeeming purposes over us. In a very real way, by our disobedience we declare sin more delightful than God. How can such a move not pain him?

The Father who has elected and redeemed his children, is genuinely grieved by our sin and genuinely delighted by our holiness.

One Design

So how do these three delights hold together?

The key is to understand God’s delight over us, not as three distinct delights, but as three degrees of the same delight. In other words, all three hold together in one plan. God’s delight in 1 (election) builds to his delight in 2 (redemption), leading to his delight in 3 (obedience).

At each stage, God’s delight in us is like a fire growing larger and stronger and hotter over time, building to a day when we stand in moral radiance and perfect Christlike perfection (1 John 3:2).

In other words, “sanctification, seen as culminating in our glorification, is the goal aimed at, all told, in our predestination” (Richard Gaffin). We are elected and redeemed to be made into radiant creatures properly reflecting God’s glory in the fullness of our being. This consummation of God’s election and redemption in glorification is found in grand storylines like Ephesians 1:3–10 and Romans 8:29–30.

The delight of God over his children, strong and constant on the basis of election, unshakably secure in the application of redemption, grows in relation to our real holiness and conformity to his will — someday to be perfected to his even greater delight!

Marvel!

Anyone in Christ can look at this plan of God and marvel.

In the beginning, God created humans to magnify his glory. He made me. I rejected him and chose sin instead, to my ruin and despair. But unknown to me, in eternity past, he set his special love on me. By his beautiful obedience, Christ entered the world to live and die and redeem me, by name, to justify me, to give me the Spirit, and to re-create something beautiful out of this mess called me, something fully obedient, fully radiant in holiness, fully happy in holy communion with God. All my sins and disobedience right now pain him. Yet he delights in all my labors against sin, and my labors to obey, and he lovingly disciplines me toward a day when I will reflect my Savior’s glory to the core of my motives, my thoughts, and all my words and actions, to his great delight. This is what God created me to be!

We need this today. As Kevin DeYoung says it, “One of the main motivations for obedience is the pleasure of God.”

Or as John Piper says it, “God is delighted with our obedience when it is the fruit of our delight in him. Our obedience is God’s pleasure when it proves that God is our treasure.”

One truth that changes worship

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Jason Helopoulos:

This truth changed my life a dozen or so years ago. I have quoted it so often that I am not sure where I got it from (maybe someone can help with its origin in the comments). I am convinced that it is not original to me, for it is far too good. The truth is this: Worship is not so much about what we receive, nor about what we give, rather, it is about being. Do we give in worship? Of course, we give our praise and thanksgiving to God. We give our offerings for the use of His Church. Do we receive in worship? Of course, we receive mercy and grace. We receive encouragement and peace. But worship is not primarily caught-up with giving or receiving. It is primarily about being, meeting with God. Or more rightly put, God meeting with us.

When we gather with God’s people on Sunday morning for holy worship, it is holy worship because He is meeting with us. The great promise of the Scriptures, “I will be your God and you will be my people,” (Ex. 6:7; Lev. 26:12; Jer. 30:22; 2 Cor. 6:16) is being realized in a special and glorious way when we gather for worship. As Israel worshipped the living God at the Tabernacle and the Temple when He descended upon them in a cloud, so we enjoy Him in the company of His saints by the indwelling Spirit and the truth of His Word (John 4)—all looking forward to that day when this promise of Him being our God and we being His people is fully consummated in the new heavens and new earth when He makes His home in the midst of us forever (Rev. 21:3). Heaven is one continual meeting and dwelling with God. Our corporate worship is but a type of that glorious heavenly meeting that awaits us. It is but an appetizer to the full banquet of God dwelling in the midst of His people forever.

This one idea can change how we approach worship. It rightly moves our petty concerns to the side. It takes our focus off self and directs it to the Lord. It makes worship more about truth than the latest gimmick. It moves us from wanting to leave with something more and rather focused upon what we have already received and shall enjoy someday. Worship becomes less about being an information download and more about engaging my whole person with the whole Christ of the Scriptures. It becomes less about my preferences and more about Him; becomes less about what moves me, stirs me, encourages me, and fills my cup and more about just purely delighting in Him.

Think about that as you gather with His people this upcoming Lord’s Day. Think about that as you meet with Him and He meets with you by His Word and Spirit. It is easy for corporate worship to become common place to us. We do it week in and week out. It occurs every seven days. But it is anything but common. It is extraordinary. It is amazing, in the true sense of that word. It is wonderfully glorious. It is a gift. The greatest gift we could receive: God Himself. He is meeting with us, communing with us, dwelling with us. And we are getting to delight in just being with Him.

A Prayer on Behalf of Iraqi Christians

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By Garrett Kell:

The past few days have been a living hell for Christians in Iraq. Stories of ISIS systematically killing our brothers and sisters along with other minority groups are heart-wrenching. Nightmarish tales of soldiers raping mothers, hanging fathers, taking the heads of decapitated children and posting them on poles emerge regularly. What can we do?

We can pray.

We must pray.

Hebrews 13:3 says “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.”

 

Father,

We do not know how to pray for our brothers and sister, but You promise to help us in our weakness, so we come in faith knowing Your Spirit will guide our prayers (Romans 8:26).

Help them to believe that while they are cursed by men, that they are indeed blessed for their sufferings (Matthew 5:10-12).

Help them to believe that when they suffer on earth, that the Lord Jesus is angered and ready to intervene from Heaven (Acts 9:4-5).

Help them to believe that when they cry out for help, that You hear their voices and are near to their crushed spirit (Psalm 34:17-18).

Help them to believe that they can joyfully surrender their property because they know they have a better and lasting possession stored up in heaven with You (Hebrews 10:34; 1 Peter 1:3-5).

Help them to believe that while they may be snatched from their homes, they shall never be snatched from the hand of Your Son (John 10:28).

Help them to believe that when they feel as if no one cares, that You see (Exodus 3:7-8) and You hear (Psalm 18:6) and that their tears do not fall to the ground unnoticed by You (Psalm 42:3, 56:8).

Help them to remember that when they feel forsaken, that Jesus was forsaken for them so they must not fear being abandoned by You (Mark 14:34).

Help them to believe that when they flee, that they can flee to You because You are good and stand as a refuge for them in their day of trouble (Nahum 1:7).

Help them to remain faithful to You when they are called to deny Your Name. Help them to not fear death, but to find courage in the hope of the greater resurrection that awaits them (Matthew 10:28; Hebrews 11:35; Revelation 2:10-11).

Help them have courage to proclaim the Gospel to those who are doing them harm, and may You use their witness to turn terrorists into worshippers of the One true God (Acts 9).

Help them to believe that though their suffering is great, it is not worth comparing to the glory that is soon to be revealed to them (Romans 8:18).

Help them to know that though their persecutors appear to be victorious today, that You will bring a swift judgment upon all those who rebel against Your great Name (Psalm 68:21;110:6; 143:12; Habakkuk 3:13; 1 Thessalonians 1:6-9).

Help them to rest in the promise that one day soon You will take them to that glorious Land where tears and death and mourning and fear shall be no more (Revelation 21:1-5, 22:1-7).

Father, send Your Son soon. Rescue Your people (Psalm 28:9)!

Come Lord Jesus, come (Revelation 22:20).

 

5 insights into idolatry

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J.D. Greear:

There are certain themes in Scripture that tend to beat you over the head with their persistence. Idolatry is one of those. It’s such a prominent theme in Scripture that some have said it is the central theme of the entire Bible.[1] And when it comes to idolatry, we humans are endlessly creative. As John Calvin said, “The heart of man is a perpetual factory of idols.” Give us the chance, and we’ll replace God with any and every object, person, ideal, or dream.

Most modern people don’t quite get the Bible’s obsession with idolatry. We think of idolatry as an ancient problem for backwards people who bowed down to statues, not a relevant one for sophisticated folks like us. But we aren’t beyond idolatry. We simply dress it up in different clothes.

Acts 19 gives us 5 insights into the reality of idolatry for us today:

1. An idol is anything that promises a life of security and joy apart from God.

In Acts 19, Artemis is described as the “protector” and “prosperer” of Ephesus. With her, the Ephesians believed, they were guaranteed security and joy. This false hope is precisely what makes an idol an idol. Idols are not usually bad things, but good things that have become ultimate things—things you believe guarantee you joy and security.

What is that in your life? About what do you think, “As long as I havethis, I’ll have happy”? What do you so desperately need that you can’t imagine a fulfilled life without it?

What makes these idols so dangerous is that they are nearly always good things. I have seen the good of desiring marriage become a false god. I’ve seen the good of wanting to provide become the idol of always needing to achieve one more financial benchmark. The problem isn’t the money or the marriage. The problem comes when we trust in those things to satisfy.

2. Idols engage the deepest emotions in our hearts.

When idols are challenged, people get violent. That’s what happens in Acts 19, when Artemis’ prowess is threatened. And it’s what happens in our lives when something we love is threatened, because many of our deepest emotions are connected to idols. Some of my deepest emotions are connected to worshipping the idol of success.

What is that in your life? About what do you think, “If I ever lost this, I’d never survive”? What possible loss makes you not only frightened, but despairing?

The irony here is that idolizing something ultimately keeps you from being able to enjoy it at all. You panic and fret about losing something so vital that you can never rest. For instance, many of the wealthiest people are the most paranoid about their money. Gaining more of an idol only heightens that sense of fear, because nothing other than God can sustain the weight of your soul.

3. Idols need to be protected.

One of the craftsmen in Ephesus, Demetrius, was making a fortune on Artemis statues, coffee mugs, and bobble-head dolls. He wasn’t about to stand idly by while Paul undermined his entire financial enterprise with his “Gods made with hands are not really gods” message. So he gathered up an impromptu group of thugs to force Paul out of town.

Don’t miss the humor in this: Artemis was the protector of Ephesus. Yet when Demetrius’ skin was in the game—his cash flow—he immediately jumped up to defend her. That’s the absurdity of idolatry: what is supposed to protect us becomes something we fiercely protect.

What is that in your life? What do you feel obsessive about protecting in your life?

Charles Spurgeon said the Word of God is like a caged lion. If someone threatens the lion, you don’t have to step in and defend the lion; you just let it loose and it will protect itself. The God of the Word can protect himself, but our false gods always need to be protected.

4. Idols demand sacrifices to keep them happy.

The whole system in Ephesus was built on appeasing Artemis and keeping her happy. That was no accident: idols will always make you sacrifice for them. If business is your idol, you’ll sacrifice your integrity to climb the ladder of success. If acceptance is your idol, you’ll sacrifice your honesty and lie to get affirmation. If romance is your idol, you’ll walk out on your spouse as soon as the “spark” seems to fade.

But an idol is like a fire. It never says, “That’s enough.” Instead, it just keeps asking for more. The altar of idolatry is terrifyingly insatiable: the more you sacrifice for an idol, the more it will demand.

What is that in your life? What part of yourself have you sacrificed on the altar of an idol? Where do you feel that “pull” to keep cutting corners or making excuses? Don’t fool yourself into thinking that thissacrifice will be the last one.

5. The gospel overcomes our idolatry.[2]

The idol of money says to us, “If you don’t do enough to obtain me, I’ll make you miserable.” The idol of family says, “If you lose me, life won’t be worth living.” The idol of comfort says, again and again, “Sacrifice your honesty, your integrity, your closest relationships, for me.

Idols are harsh taskmasters. If you fail them, they make you pay. But in the gospel Jesus says to us, “You did fail me. But instead of destroying you, I’ll let myself be destroyed for you. Instead of demanding a sacrifice, I will become a sacrifice for you.” In Jesus, unlike idols, we find the only God that—when we obtain him—will satisfy us, and—when we fail him—will forgive us.

 


[1] Cf. Jewish scholar Moshe Halbertal, Idolatry, in which Halbertal claims that the story of the Old Testament is primarily that of the conflict between the true God and all false challengers.

[2] I am indebted to Tim Keller throughout this post, but particularly in this last point. For more on idolatry, see Keller’s Counterfeit Gods.

A Birdseye View of the Gospel in One Big Sentence

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Kevin DeYoung:

One of the clearest and most comprehensive statements of John Witherspoon’s theology can be found in his Essay on Justification ( 1756) where he sets out to defend justification by the imputed righteousness of Christ and ends up giving this big, broad, glorious summary of the gospel:

 

The doctrine asserted in the above and other passages of Scripture may be thus paraphrased:

that every intelligent creature is under an unchangeable and unalienable obligation, perfectly to obey the whole law of God:

that all men proceeding from Adam by ordinary generation, are the children of polluted parents, alienated in heart from God, transgressors of his holy law, inexcusable in this transgression, and therefore exposed to the dreadful consequence of his displeasure;

that it was not agreeable to the dictates of his wisdom, holiness and justice, to forgive their sins without an atonement or satisfaction:

and therefore he raised up for them a Saviour, Jesus Christ, who, as the second Adam, perfectly fulfilled the whole law, and offered himself up a sacrifice upon the cross in their stead:

that this his righteousness is imputed to them, as the sole foundation of their reception into his favor:

that the means of their being interested in this salvation, is a deep humiliation of mind, confession of guilty and wretchedness, denial of themselves, and acceptance of pardon and peace through Christ Jesus, which they neither have contributed to the procuring, nor can contribute to the continuance of, by their own merit;

but expect the renovation of their natures, to be inclined and enabled to keep the commandments of God as the work of the Spirit, and a part of the purchase of their Redeemer.

(Works, 1:50-51)

He who has God only

CSLewis Weight of Glory

 

Sam Storms:

In his remarkable essay, The Weight of Glory, C. S. Lewis identifies five promises that Scripture supplies regarding our eternal future: “(1) that we shall be with Christ; (2) that we shall be like Him; (3) with an enormous wealth of imagery, that we shall have ‘glory’; (4) that we shall, in some sense, be fed or feasted or entertained; and (5) that we shall have some sort of official position in the universe – ruling cities, judging angels, being pillars of God’s temple. The first question I ask about these promises is ‘Why any one of them except the first?’ Can anything be added to the conception of being with Christ? For it must be true, as an old writer says, that he who has God and everything else has no more than he who has God only” (31).

Do we really believe that? The world today doesn’t. The loudest voice in our society (and tragically, in some of our churches as well) is that he who gains everything else doesn’t even need God. Or perhaps if God really exists, we can throw him into the mix as icing on the cake. Lewis rightly insists that being with Christ is everything, having Christ is everything, enjoying Christ is everything, and if he is all we have, we have it all. Perhaps David put it best:

“I say to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you’” (Ps. 16:2).

Asaph echoes his perspective:

“Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you” (Ps. 73:25).

He became a propitiation for us

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The very fact that Christ suffered for us, and through His suffering became a propitiation for us, proves that we are (by nature) unrighteous, and that we for whom He became a propitiation, must obtain our righteousness solely from God, now that forgiveness for our sins has been secured by Christ’s atonement. By the fact that God forgives our sins (only) through Christ’s propitiation and so justifieth us by faith, He shows how necessary is His righteousness (for all). There is no one whose sins are not forgiven (in Christ).

— Martin Luther, Commentary on Romans (Grand Rapids, MI.: Kregel, 1976), 78

(HT: Of First Importance)

Curse Reversed

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By Betsy Childs:

Summer in Alabama is hot and humid, but we have, as a consolation, delicious peaches. As I unpacked the basket of peaches I bought at a fruit stand, I thought to myself that a perfectly ripened peach eaten in season surely testifies to common grace. Then I saw it: the rotten peach at the bottom of the basket. I couldn’t throw the mushy thing into the trash fast enough.

I have experience with bad peaches. I know that if I left the moldy peach in the bowl with the others, it would take over. Even the peaches that were firm when I bought them would be rotten in no time. Fruit mold spreads. In the book Home Comforts (which I consider the highest authority on domestic matters), Cheryl Mendelson writes, Even a spot of mold is a call for action.”

The Levitical law shares this healthy fear of blight. If fabric showed evidence of mold, it was defiled. A house that showed persistent signs of mold had to be torn down. If not eradicated, mold will spread to whatever it contacts. The laws about mold are mixed in with laws about leprosy. As long as a skin disease was deemed persistent, the person with the disease had to remain apart from the community:

The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, “Unclean, unclean.” He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp. (Leviticus 13:45-46)

Like mold on peaches, defilement spreads in only one direction. The Israelite who touched someone unclean became defiled because defilement travels from the unclean to the clean.

Jesus, knowing the Scriptures, would have known how to avoid becoming unclean. Yet he repeatedly touched things that should have defiled him. In the first chapter of Mark, when a leper approached Jesus and asked him to make him clean, Jesus touched him. For the first time, the trajectory of defilement was reversed. Rather than becoming defiled by the leper, Jesus made him clean. A few chapters later, Jesus was surreptitiously touched by an unclean woman. Again, the defilement reversed direction, and she became clean. It’s as if water suddenly flowed uphill.

Each time Jesus touched a dead body, he should have been defiled. When he touched the sick, he could have become sick. Instead, the dead became alive and the sick became well. Jesus’ life gave life, his cleanness so deep it was contagious.

Anyone can take what is clean and make it unclean. (I do it all the time accidentally when I dump my cup of coffee into a dishwasher full of clean dishes.) Only Jesus can reverse defilement. He doesn’t do it with bleach or burnt offerings or antibiotics. He does it by the sheer strength of his holiness.

He can make us clean too. At the cross our sins were laid upon him, blighting him with defilement so great that even his Father turned away. And yet cleansing and life flow from that death to all who will receive them. Ultimately, disease and death must retreat in fear before the one who says, “Behold, I am making all things new.”

 

Simon Gathercole Gets It Wright

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Andrew Wilson:

Simon Gathercole is one of the brightest New Testament scholars around, as well as being a conservative evangelical, which makes him something of a unicorn. In a recent review of Tom Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God, he puts his finger on something I’ve never quite been able to nail down, but have always had a funny feeling about:
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“The argument here is, at risk of caricature, that big is better. The broader the canvas and the more all-encompassing the narrative, the more important the theme is. But I’m not sure that that does best justice to Paul. It remains unclear to me that the main theme of Paul’s gospel was ‘God’s restorative justice for the whole of creation’. When he summarises his gospel, he uses not themes and language comparable to those of Romans 8.18-27, but rather talks of Christ’s death for our sins and his resurrection on the third day. This is the focus in 1 Cor. 15.3-4, in the passage where he explicitly describes in nuce the content of his gospel, and he states that that is what is ‘of first importance’. Paul does not generally summarise his ministry as contributing in some way, however indirectly, to justice for the whole creation. Rather he talks of preaching Christ and him crucified, or presenting his churches blameless on the day of Christ. To be sure, this needs to be set against the backdrop of Romans 8.18-27, but – I would aver – this is more the backdrop than the foreground. This passage in the middle of Romans 8 is comparatively unusual in Paul. Much more prominent in the letters is what Wright defines as the subsidiary theme, ‘the rescue of human beings from sin and death’.”
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Which may be a relief to those who are trying to apply Paul to the everyday lives of believers, and/or those who are trying to fit the Paul of the general letters together with the Paul of Acts. Nicely played, sir.

God’s glory in and for the world

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Jesus shows us God’s agenda for change. God isn’t interested in making us religious. Think of Jesus, who was hated by religious people. God isn’t interested in making us spiritual if by spiritual we mean detached. Jesus was God getting involved with us. God isn’t interested in making us self-absorbed: Jesus was self-giving personified. God isn’t interested in serenity: Jesus was passionate for God, angry at sin, weeping for the city. The word holy means ‘set apart’ or ‘consecrated.’ For Jesus, holiness meant being set apart from, or different from, our sinful ways. It didn’t mean being set apart from the world, but being consecrated to God in the world. He was God’s glory in and for the world.

— Tim Chester
You Can Change
(Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2010), 13

(HT: Of First Importance)