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)

Dane Ortlund: Edwards on the Christian Life

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Justin Taylor:

I am so thankful for Dane Ortlund’s new book, Edwards on the Christian Life: Alive to the Beauty of God. As George Marsden notes in his foreword, “Books such as Edwards on the Christian Life are especially welcome as part of the current Edwards revival precisely because Edwards is so many-sided and complex. The essence of his theology needs to be distilled from his many writings and to be presented in practical terms for Christians today. Dane Ortlund does just that. Reading Edwards’s own works can inspire Christians today, but often it is best to start with a more accessible introduction, such as the present one.”

In Ortlund’s introduction he provides an outstanding overview of where he is going:

Our strategy will be to ask twelve questions about the Christian life and provide, from Edwards, corresponding answers. These will form the chapters of this book, with a final thirteenth chapter diagnosing four weaknesses in Edwards’s view of the Christian life. Twelve chapters identify what we can learn from Edwards; one chapter identifies what he could learn from us. In brief the twelve questions and answers are:

1. What is the overarching, integrating theme to Edwards’s theology of the Christian life?

Answer: Beauty.

2. How is this heart-sense of beauty ignited? How does it all get started? What must happen for anyone to first glimpse the beauty of God?

New birth.

3. Having begun, what then is the essence of the Christian life? What does seeing God’s beauty create in us? What’s the heart and soul of Christian living?

Love.

4. How does love fuel the Christian life? What’s the non-negotiable of all non-negotiable that will keep us loving? What does divine beauty give to us?

Joy.

5. And what uniquely marks such love and joy? What is the aroma of the Christian life? What does Edwards diagnose about the Christian life that is most important for recovery today?

Gentleness.

6. Where do I go to get this love, joy, and gentleness? How can I find it? What,
concretely, sustains this kind of life, through all our ups and downs?

The Bible.

7. But as I go to the Bible, what do I do with it as I read? How do I own it, make it mine,
turn it into this joy-fueled love?

Prayer.

8. What then is the overall flavor of the Christian life? What is the aura, the feel, of following Christ in a world of moral chaos and pain?

Pilgrimage.

9. As new birth, Bible, prayer, and all the rest go in, what comes out? What is the fruit of the Christian life?

Obedience.

10. Who is the great enemy of Christian living? Who wishes above all to prevent loving, joyful, gentle lives?

Satan.

11. What is the great concern of the Christian life? Toward what, supremely, should our
efforts be directed as we walk with God?

The soul.

12. Finally, what does all this funnel into? When will we be permanently and fully and unfailingly alive to beauty? What, above all else, is the great hope of the Christian life?

Heaven.

Commendations here.

Walk with God for Joy

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Happiness is in the Sovereign Giver.

George Whitefield preaches:

“As it is an honorable, so it is a pleasing thing, to walk with God. The wisest of men has told us, that ‘wisdom’s ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths peace’. And I remember pious Mr. Henry, when he was about to expire, said to a friend, ‘You have heard many men’s dying words, and these are mine: A life spent in communion with God, is the pleasantest life in the world’. I am sure I can set to my seal that this is true. Indeed, I have been listed under Jesus’ banner only for a few years; but I have enjoyed more solid pleasure in one moment’s communion with my god, than I should or could have enjoyed in the ways of sin, though I had continued to have gone on in them for thousands of years. And may I not appeal to all you that fear and walk with God, for the truth of this? Has not one day in the Lord’s courts been better to you than a thousand? In keeping God’s commandments, have you not found a present, and very great reward? Has not his word been sweeter to you than the honey or the honeycomb? O what have you felt, when, Jacob-like, you have been wrestling with your God? Has not Jesus often met you when meditating in the fields, and been made known to you over and over again in breaking of bread? Has not the Holy Ghost frequently shed the divine love abroad in your hearts abundantly, and filled you with joy unspeakable, even joy that is full of glory? I know you will answer all these questions in the affirmative, and freely acknowledge the yoke of Christ to be easy, and his burden light; or (to use the words of one of our collects), ‘His service is perfect freedom’. And what need we then any further motive to excite us to walk with God?”

George Whitefield, Walking with God

(HT: Jared Wilson)

The Second Coming of Christ is not a peripheral doctrine

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Christ did truly rise again from death, and took again his body, with flesh, bones and all things appertaining to the perfection of man’s nature; wherewith he ascended into heaven, and there sitteth until he return to judge all men at the last day.  Article IV, The Thirty-Nine Articles

“The return of our Lord Jesus Christ is not a mere doctrine to be discussed, nor a matter for intellectual study alone.  Its prominence in the New Testament shows the great importance of the truth, for it is referred to over three hundred times, and it may almost be said that no other doctrine is mentioned so frequently or emphasized so strongly.

Baptism is mentioned nineteen times in seven Epistles, and in fourteen out of twenty-one is not alluded to.  The Lord’s Supper is only referred to three or four times in the entire New Testament, and in twenty out of twenty-one Epistles there is no mention of it.  The Lord’s Coming is referred to in one verse out of every thirteen in the New Testament, and in the Epistles alone in one verse out of ten.  This proportion is surely of importance, for if frequency of mention is any criterion there is scarcely any other truth of equal interest and value.”

W. H. Griffith-Thomas, The Principles of Theology: An Introduction to the Thirty-Nine Articles(London, 1963), page 87.

(HT: Ray Ortlund)

Gospel Affection

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Joe Thorn:

Last Sunday I preached a sermon titled “Gospel Affection” from 1 Peter 1:22-25 as a part of our Standing in Grace Series. At the end of the sermon I offered 10 practical ways to show love to one another in the church. Consider what follows a simple encouragement to press into a life of love in practical ways. A life God has called us to, saved us for, and modeled for us.

10 WAYS TO LOVE YOUR BROTHERS AND SISTERS

1. Put Them First
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (Phil. 2:3)

Self-denial lives at the center of love. True love denies self and supports another. Putting others first should be more than an act of humility, but an act of affection. It’s not that we think so little of ourselves, but that we feel so warmly toward our brothers and sisters in Christ that we are happy to lay aside our interests and preferences so that another may experience blessing.

2. Seek Their Good
“always seek to do good to one another” (1 Thess. 5:15)

Love does more than put someone else first. One’s desires may be destructive, or their path may lead to danger. Love will seek their good, their betterment, their advancement. The questions we ask must be, “How can I personally help my brother do well?” “How can I serve my sister so that she prospers in faith and life?”

3. Ask for Their Forgiveness/Forgive Them
“forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (Col. 3:13)

If you love your fellow saints then you will ask for their forgiveness when you sin against them, and will freely forgive them when they sin against you. Sin grieves the heart of a believer for in it we know we have sinned against the Lord, hurt someone made in the image of God and recreated in the image of Jesus Christ. And as a people who have been forgiven of far worse crimes than have been committed against us, we must also forgive those who sin against us.

4. Listen to Them
“be quick to hear” (James 1:19)

Love listens. Just as God hears us when we call to him, so must we listen to others. We need to listen in order to gain understanding either of truth, or of the one speaking. Until we listen to another we are ill-equipped to know their needs and seek their good.

5. Include Them
“Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” (1 Pet. 4:9)

Hospitality is a welcoming of others into your life. Love includes; it draws near to others and invites them in. It will not dismiss people because they are different or difficult, but will pursue them and offer them a place at the table. Love looks around, sees the uninvolved or unknown, and extends a hand of welcome.

6. Be Generous
“You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way” (2 Cor. 9:11)

God has given you what you have for more than your own personal enjoyment. You are called by God to steward what he has entrusted you by sharing it with others. Love seeks to give, and give big. As John Calvin said, “the legitimate use of all our gifts is a kind and liberal communication of them with others.”

7. Sacrifice
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (Jn. 15:13)

Generosity is important, but it’s easy to pick and choose what we will be generous with. Many today have an easier time parting with their money than their time. They would rather be generous with their wallet than their calendar. Such “generosity” is giving without real sacrifice. Love, in denying self, goes farther than an easy offering. Love gives untill it hurts. If you love your brothers and sisters it will be seen in your willingness to sacrifice what you have, and even yourself, for their good.

8. Tell the Truth
“let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.” (Eph. 4:25)

Love doesn’t lie. In fact, it speaks truth. This isn’t about offering true opinions, but truth itself. It is willing to offer hard words when needed. Love corrects, rebukes even, but not from a mere love for truth. It is also connected to a sense of concern and compassion for people.

9. Encourage Them with the Gospel
“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” (1 Thess. 5:11)

Love doesn’t flatter, but it does encourage. Biblical encouragement is a kind of preaching; a gospel word offered to those who need it. Love points people to Jesus Christ, in whom we see love in its brightest display. Those around you need to hear how the good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, remains good news for them today. It’s not just for the lost. It is for the found. For without it we drift back to false hopes, doubts, and fears.

10. Pray for Them
“pray for one another” (James 5:16)

If you love your brothers and sisters you will pray for them. It is sad that we so often quickly;y promise, “I’ll pray for ya!” only to walk away and never approach God on their behalf. Even sadder is that those who need the prayer are happy enough with the false promise. They appreciate the nice thought, and think it’s better than nothing. But it’s not. It’s just nothing. Love prays. It seeks God’s action in their lives. It pleads with God for greater grace on behalf of others. And to this God responds.

There are many other ways in which we should be loving one another in the church, but here’s a start. Let us love not “in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1Jn. 3:18) We can do this because we have come to know the love of God through the death of Jesus Christ. We have been saved by love (Rom. 5:8) and for love (1 Peter 1:22).

The central problem of our age

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“The central problem of our age is not liberalism or modernism, nor the old Roman Catholicism or the new Roman Catholicism, nor the threat of communism, nor even the threat of rationalism and the monolithic consensus which surrounds us [nor, I would add today, postmodernism or materialistic consumerism or visceral sensualism or whatever].  All these are dangerous but not the primary threat.  The real problem is this: the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, individually or corporately, tending to do the Lord’s work in the power of the flesh rather than of the Spirit.  The central problem is always in the midst of the people of God, not in the circumstances surrounding them.”

Francis A. Schaeffer, No Little People (Wheaton, 2003), page 66.

(HT: Ray Ortlund)

Why We Need Both Clarity and Courage in Preaching

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John Stott:

Clarity and courage remain two of the most crucial characteristics of authentic Christian preaching. For they relate to the content of the message preached and to the style of its presentation.

Some preachers have the gift of lucid teaching, but their sermons lack solid content; their substance has become diluted by fear.

Others are bold as lions. They fear nobody, and omit nothing. But what they say is confused and confusing.

Clarity without courage is like sunshine in the desert: plenty of light but nothing worth looking at.

Courage without clarity is like a beautiful landscape at night time: plenty to see, but no light by which to enjoy it.

What is needed in the pulpits of the world today is a combination of clarity and courage, or of ‘utterance’ and ‘boldness’.

(HT: Trevin Wax)

What a Pastor Does

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It is to feed sheep on the truth that men are called to churches and congregations, whatever they may think they are called to do.

If you think that you are called to keep a largely worldly organisation, miscalled a church, going, with infinitesimal doses of innocuous sub-Christian drugs or stimulants, then the only help I can give you is to advise you to give up the hope of the ministry and go and be a street scavenger; a far healthier and more godly job, keeping the streets tidy, than cluttering the church with a lot of worldly claptrap in the delusion that you are doing a job for God.

The pastor is called to feed the sheep, even if the sheep do not want to be fed. He is certainly not to become an entertainer of goats. Let goats entertain goats, and let them do it out in goatland.

William Still, The Work of the Pastor (rev. ed.; Christian Focus, 2010), 23

(HT: Dane Ortlund)

Faith Hacking: Preaching the Gospel To Yourself

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Tim Challies:

I love to find and share practical methods or techniques for living the Christian life—ways other Christians live out their Christian faith day-by-day. As I speak with people, as I read books, as I listen to sermons, I am always looking for these tips which I call “faith hacks.” I am going to share another one with you today. It comes from Jerry Bridges and deals with the important disciplines of preaching the gospel to yourself.

Bridges has written in several of his books about the importance of the daily practice of preaching the gospel to yourself. In The Discipline of Grace he writes, “When you set yourself to seriously pursue holiness, you will begin to realize what an awful sinner you are. And if you are not firmly rooted in the gospel and have not learned to preach it to yourself every day, you will soon become discouraged and will slack off in your pursuit of holiness.” He also gives an overview of the practice: “To preach the gospel to yourself, then, means that you continually face up to your own sinfulness and then flee to Jesus through faith in His shed blood and righteous life. It means that you appropriate, again by faith, the fact that Jesus fully satisfied the law of God, that He is your propitiation, and that God’s holy wrath is no longer directed toward you.”

But it is in Respectable Sins that he gives the practical example from his own life. Here is how he preaches the gospel to himself every day:

Since the gospel is only for sinners, I begin each day with the realization that despite my being a saint, I still sin every day in thought, word, deed, and motive. If I am aware of any subtle, or not so subtle, sins in my life, I acknowledge those to God. Even if my conscience is not indicting me for conscious sins, I still acknowledge to God that I have not even come close to loving Him with all my being or loving my neighbor as myself. I repent of those sins, and then I apply specific Scriptures that assure me of God’s forgiveness to those sins I have just confessed.

I then generalize the Scripture’s promises of God’s forgiveness to all my life and say to God words to the effect that my only hope of a right standing with Him that day is Jesus’ blood shed for my sins, and His righteous life lived on my behalf. This reliance on the twofold work of Christ for me is beautifully captured by Edward Mote in his hymn “The Solid Rock” with his words, “My hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” Almost every day, I find myself going to those words in addition to reflecting on the promises of forgiveness in the Bible.

What Scriptures do I use to preach the gospel to myself? Here are just a few I choose from each day:

As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:12)

“I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” (Isaiah 43:25)

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6)

Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin. (Romans 4:7-8)

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)

There are many others, including Psalm 130:3-4; Isaiah 1:18; Isaiah 38:17; Micah 7:19; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 2:13-14; Hebrews 8:12; and 10:17-18.

Whatever Scriptures we use to assure us of God’s forgiveness, we must realize that whether the passage explicitly states it or not, the only basis for God’s forgiveness is the blood of Christ shed on the cross for us. As the writer of Hebrews said, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins (9:22), and the context makes it clear that it is Christ’s blood that provides the objective basis on which God forgives our sins.

That has been his daily practice for many years. Why don’t you make it part of your practice, and see the difference it makes to begin each day reminding yourself of who you were, and who you now are in Christ.

Do you make it your practice to preach the gospel to yourself? If so, what have you learned? How do you go about it?

How Do You Know If You’re Qualified to Serve As an Elder?

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What does it mean to be elder-qualified?

Jeramie Rinne answers that question with six statements in Church Elders: How to Shepherd God’s People Like Jesus (9Marks; Wheaton: Crossway, 2014), 19–29.

You know you’re qualified to serve as an elder if . . .

  1. You want to be an elder.
  2. You exemplify godly character.
  3. You can teach the Bible.
  4. You lead your family well.
  5. You are male.
  6. You are an established believer.

Rinne unpacks each statement in his short, well-reasoned book.

(HT: Andy Naselli)

Life Together

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Justin Taylor:

Bonhoeffer on What a Christian Under the Cross Can Offer that a Secular Therapist Cannot

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together:

Whoever lives beneath the cross of Jesus, and has discerned in the cross of Jesus the utter ungodliness of all people and of their own hearts, will find there is no sin that can ever be unfamiliar.

Whoever has once been appalled by the horror of their own sin, which nailed Jesus to the cross, will no longer be appalled by even the most serious sin of another Christian; rather they know the human heart from the cross of Jesus.

Such persons know how totally lost is the human heart in sin and weakness, how it goes astray in the ways of sin—and know too that this same heart is accepted in grace and mercy.

Only another Christian who is under the cross can hear my confession. It is not experience with life but experience of the cross that makes one suited to hear confession. The most experienced judge of character knows infinitely less of the human heart than the simplest Christian who lives beneath the cross of Jesus.

The greatest psychological insight, ability, and experience cannot comprehend this one thing: what sin is. Psychological wisdom knows what need and weakness and failure are, but it does not know the ugliness of the human being. And so it also does not know that human beings are ruined only by their sin and are healed only by forgiveness. The Christian alone knows this. In the presence of a psychologist I can only be sick; in the presence of another Christian I can be a sinner.

The psychologist must first search my heart, and yet can never probe its innermost recesses. Another Christian recognizes just this: here comes a sinner like myself, a godless person who wants to confess and longs for God’s forgiveness.

The psychologist views me as if there were no God. Another believer views me as I am before the judging and merciful God in the cross of Jesus Christ.

When we are so pitiful and incapable of hearing the confession of one another, it is not due to a lack of psychological knowledge, but a lack of love for the crucified Jesus Christ.

—Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, vol. 5 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), 114-16.

Membership in the Local Church: a neglected text

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Sam Storms:

A couple of years ago, following a rigorous and careful study of the Scriptures, we implemented formal church membership here at Bridgeway. One of the biblical texts that moved us in that direction was the reference to the people in the local church as being in the “charge” of the Elders (1 Peter 5:3). Some may translate this as “those allotted to you,” or those for whom you bear responsibility.

In my opinion, there’s no way to escape the fact that this exhortation to Elders implies some expression of formal membership in the local church.

Of course Elders can and should extend their love to anyone and everyone, within the limits of their ability. But the question is whether the Bible tells Elders that they are to have a special responsibility and care for a certain group, a group of covenant members. Consider Acts 20:28 where Paul tells the Elders how to care for their flock.

“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.”

This verse does not say Elders cannot visit unbelievers or those who are not yet members. But it does make clear that their first responsibility is to a particular flock. How are they to know who their flock is? Who are we as Elders and Pastors responsible for? For whom will we give an account to God?

“Those in your charge” (your portion, your lot) implies that the Elders knew whom they were responsible for. This is just another way of talking about membership. If a person does not want to be held accountable by a group of Elders or be the special focus of the care of a group of Elders, they will resist the idea of membership. And they will resist God’s appointed way for them to live and be sustained in their faith.

Church membership is also implied in the biblical requirement of Christians to be submitted to a group of church leaders, Elders, or Pastors. The point here is that without membership, who is it that the New Testament is referring to who must submit to a specific group of leaders? Some kind of expressed willingness or covenant or agreement or commitment (that is, membership) has to precede a person’s submission to a group of leaders.

Consider the way the New Testament talks about the relationship of the church to her leaders.

“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account” (Hebrews 13:17).

“We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work” (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13).

“Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching” (1 Timothy 5:17).

How are this leadership and this submission going to work if there is no membership defining who has made the commitment to be led and who has been chosen as leaders? If we downplay the importance of membership, it is difficult to see how we could take these commands to submit and to lead seriously and practically.

Election and the Gospel

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Let no one say that the doctrine of election by the sovereign will and mercy of God, mysterious as it is, makes either evangelism or faith unnecessary. The opposite is the case. It is only because of God’s gracious will to save that evangelism has any hope of success and faith becomes possible. The preaching of the gospel is the very means that God has appointed by which he delivers from blindness and bondage those whom he chose in Christ before the foundation of the world, sets them free to believe in Jesus, and so causes his will to be done.

— John Stott The Message of Ephesians (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1979), 48

(HT: Of First Importance)

ZSDS 5th Annual Doctoral Colloquium

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Away for a couple of weeks. Study!

ZSDS will be holding the fifth annual Doctoral Colloquim of Olivet University this September 7th to 14th. It’s to be at Olivet’s new western base, Riverside Campus in Southern California. The spacious campus, which formerly housed a technical school, is near Anza in Riverside County, southeast of Los Angeles and northeast of San Diego.

Unlike the previous colloquia, this one will feature three intensive seminars for the doctoral students. Each will meet for two hours daily for a week, and then be followed over the coming months by participating in online classrooms. The seminars are to be on Global Theology, Global Missiology, and Research Methods.

In the busy week, there are also to be eight general lectures, six by faculty (four of whom are coming over from Europe for the colloquium) and one each by a D.Min. [that's me] and a Ph.D. student.

The colloquium sessions will close in Saturday with introductions to the three new institutes that Olivet has launced to function alongside and in cooperation with Zinzendorf.

For more Olivet University News visit www.olivetnews.com

The necessity of a right gospel order

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Mark well the great advantages you have for the attainment of holiness by seeking it in a right gospel order.

You will have the advantage of the love God manifested towards you, in forgiving your sins, receiving you into favor, and giving you the spirit of adoption, and the hope of His glory freely through Christ, to persuade and constrain you by sweet allurements to love God again, who has so dearly loved you, and to love others for His sake, and to give up yourselves to the obedience of all His commands out of hearty love to Him.

You will also enjoy the help of the Spirit of God to incline you powerfully to obedience, and to strengthen you for the performance of it against all your corruptions and the temptations of Satan, so that you will have both wind and tide to forward your voyage in the practice of holiness.

— Walter Marshall
The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification
(Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 1999), 97

(HT: Of First Importance)

What is the greatest threat facing mankind?

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Sam Storms:

What is the greatest threat facing mankind? Many would say it is climate change, while others would point to the increasing presence of radical Islamic fundamentalism. Others would highlight the uncertainties of our global economy or perhaps the potential for new diseases that are resistant to all medical remedies.

As important as those issues may be, the greatest threat to the eternal welfare of the human soul is divine judgment! The greatest threat to mankind in general and to individual men and women in particular, and that includes you and me, is that our sins have “made a separation” between us and God (cf. Isa. 59:2). Our greatest need, therefore, is that “eternal salvation” which in Hebrews we are told comes only from the redemptive work of Jesus Christ (Heb. 5:9).

And thus our greatest need is for someone in some manner to heal this breach, to interpose himself, as it were, and bridge the gap between us and God. We need someone in some manner to bring us back to God. We need someone to deal with this issue of our sins and to reconcile us to God. We need someone to serve as a go-between in our relationship with God. And we find this in Jesus Christ and in him alone.

Whatever you come to church to find in Jesus Christ, come first and foremost to find in him the cause and source of eternal salvation from the guilt and condemnation of sin, eternal salvation from the wrath of God, eternal salvation from the penalty of God’s holy law. The salvation that is found in Christ alone lasts forever and ever. It never ends. It begins in this life when you throw yourself on the mercy of the cross and lay claim to no works, no good deeds, no promises kept, no sins avoided.

The author of Hebrews holds forth this promise of eternal salvation for all who “obey” Jesus Christ (cf. Heb. 5:9).

The obedience he has in view is to respond to the call for faith in Christ. It means to trust him, to cast your all upon him, to believe him when he claims to be God in human flesh, dying and rising again for sinners like you and me. To “obey” him is to hope in him and to “hold fast” (3:6, 14; 4:14) your “confession” that he is Lord and that he alone, by grace alone, through faith alone, can save you!

Prophet, Priest and King

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Seventeenth-century Genevan theologian François Turrettini (1623–87), a major exponent of the Reformed tradition, here sets out the understanding of the threefold ministry of Christ:

This mediatorial office of Christ is distributed among three functions, which are individual parts of it: the prophetic, priestly, and kingly. […] The threefold misery of humanity resulting from sin (that is, ignorance, guilt, and the oppression and bondage of sin) required this threefold office. Ignorance is healed through the prophetic office, guilt through the priestly, and the oppression and bondage of sin through the kingly. The prophetic light scatters the darkness of error; the merit of the priest removes guilt and obtains reconciliation for us; the power of the king takes away the bondage of sin and death. The prophet shows God to us; the priest leads us to God; and the king joins us together with God, and glorifies us with him. The prophet illuminates the mind by the spirit of enlightenment; the priest soothes the heart and conscience by the spirit of consolation; the king subdues rebellious inclinations by the spirit of sanctification.

McGrath, Alister E. (2011-07-12). Christian Theology: An Introduction (p. 321). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

God himself is the great good of our redemption

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Jonathan Edwards:

The redeemed have all their objective good in God. God himself is the great good which they are brought to the possession and enjoyment of by redemption. He is the highest good, and the sum of all that good which Christ has purchased. God is the inheritance of the saints; he is the portion of their souls. God is their wealth and treasure, their food, their life, their dwelling place, their ornament and diadem, and their everlasting honor and glory. They have none in heaven but God; he is the great good which the redeemed are received to at death, and which they are to rise to at the end of the world.

The Lord God, he is the light of the heavenly Jerusalem; and is the ‘the river of the water of life’ that runs, and the tree of life that grows, ‘in the midst of the paradise of God.’ The glorious excellencies and beauty of God will be what will forever entertain the minds of the saints, and the love of God will be their everlasting feast. The redeemed will indeed enjoy other things; they will enjoy the angels, and will enjoy one another: but that which they shall enjoy in the angels, or each other, or in anything else whatsoever, that will yield them delight and happiness, will be what will be seen of God in them.

— Jonathan Edwards“God Glorified in the Work of Redemption” in The Sermons of Jonathan Edwards: A Reader, ed. Wilson H. Kimnach, et al 74-75

(HT: Of First Importance)

 

The folly of the cross and the wisdom of God

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Sam Storms:

What would have become of us if Jesus had died before he reached the cross? What would have happened if he had died in Gethsemane, or anywhere else for that matter, other than on a cross?

If he had, the true significance of his death would not have been apparent. Something more than merely dying was needed. It needed to be made perfectly clear that he was altogether innocent and righteous and was unjustly condemned by a human court. It was essential that he be subjected to a public judicial process in which he was condemned as a common criminal, although plainly innocent. His death was the sacrifice of the innocent for the guilty, or as Peter put it in 1 Peter 3:18, “the righteous for the unrighteous.”

It was essential that his death be more than merely a physical expiration. He had to be hung on a cross and exposed to public humiliation and made the object of human taunting and slander and mocking. In this way he took upon himself the shame of our sin and suffered to the full the wrath of God that we deserved.

“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. . . . For 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 Cor. 1:18, 22-24).

The doctrine of grace creates a culture of grace

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10 quotes from Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ by Ray Ortlund:

Gospel doctrine creates a gospel culture. The doctrine of grace creates a culture of grace. When the doctrine is clear and the culture is beautiful, that church will be powerful. But there are no shortcuts to getting there. Without the doctrine, the culture will be weak. Without the culture, the doctrine will seem pointless (21).

Every one of us is wired to lean one way or the other—toward emphasizing doctrine or culture. Some of us naturally resonate with truth and standards and definitions. Others of us resonate with feel and vibe and relationships. Whole churches, too, can emphasize one or the other. Left to ourselves, we will get it partly wrong, but we won’t feel wrong, because we’ll be partly right. But only partly. Truth without grace is harsh and ugly. Grace without truth is sentimental and cowardly. The living Christ is full of grace and truth (John 1:14). We cannot represent him, therefore, within the limits of our own personalities and backgrounds. Yet as we depend on him moment by moment, both personally and corporately, he will give us wisdom. He will stretch us and make our churches more like himself (22-23).

What matters most to God is not which sins we’ve committed or not committed, or how we stack up in comparison with other sinners. What matters most to God is whether we’ve bonded by faith with his only Son. In other words, God’s final category for you is not your goodness versus your badness, but your union with Christ versus your distance from Christ. To put it yet another way, what matters most about you in God’s sight is not the bad or good things you’ve done but your trust and openness to Christ versus your self-trust and defensiveness toward Christ (34, italics his).

I apologize for putting this so bluntly, but it’s in the Bible. We need to face it. How can we hope to be true to Christ if we look away from the Bible’s stark portrayal of our natural corruption? The Bible alerts us that a blasphemous attitude lurks in all our hearts. We tell ourselves: “What’s the big deal about this or that compromise? He’ll understand. He’s all about grace, right?” But what man would say: “What’s the big deal about my wife’s adulteries? It’s only marriage. I understand. I’m all about grace”? In the same way, our divine Husband does not think, “Well, she’s brought another lover into our bed, but as long as they let me sleep, what’s the big deal?” The thought is revolting. The love of Jesus is sacred. He gives all, and he demands all, because he is a goodHusband. Only an exclusive love is real love. Only a cleansing grace is real grace. Would we even desire a grace that did not cleanse us for Christ (45, italics his)?

The gospel does not hang in midair as an abstraction. By the power of God, the gospel creates something new in the world today. It creates not just a new community, but a new kind of community. Gospel-centered churches are living proof that the good news is true, that Jesus is not a theory but is real, as he gives back to us our humaneness (65).

The only answer to one culture is another culture—not just a concept, but a counterculture. A church should offer the world such a counterculture, a living embodiment of the gospel (67).

The family of God is where people behave in a new way. I think of it with a simple equation: gospel + safety + time. The family of God is where people should find lots of gospel, lots of safety, and lots of time. In other words, the people in our churches need:

  • multiple exposures to the happy news of the gospel from one end of the Bible to the other;
  • the safety of non-accusing sympathy so that they can admit their problems honestly; and
  • enough time to rethink their lives at a deep level, because people are complex and changing is not easy.

In a gentle church like this, no one is put under pressure or singled out for embarrassment. Everyone is free to open up, and we all grow together as we look to Jesus (72).

The gospel changes us down deep at this intuitive level. When God justifies us in Christ, he directly counteracts our whole self-involved strategy for living. He credits a righteousness to us that depends on Someone Else, re-creating the Edenic relationship and drawing us out of ourselves into his fullness (John 1:16). We now live in Christ, the new and better Adam. At times, admittedly, our hearts still feel that we remain in a precarious position with God. We fear he will let us down. So we fall back into scurrying about to fill our emptiness with our own resources. But God graciously lets us wear ourselves out, and these efforts come to nothing. Life exists not in us but in Christ alone and Christ fully. We live in him (81, italics his).

The primary barrier to displaying the beauty of Jesus in our churches comes from the way we re-insert ourselves into that sacred center that belongs to him alone. Exalting ourselves diminishes his visibility. That is why cultivating a gospel culture requires a profound, moment by moment “unselfing” by every one of us. It is personally costly, even painful. What I am proposing throughout this book is not glib or shallow. So much is set against us, within and without. But the triumph of the gospel in our churches is still possible, as we look to Christ alone. He will help us (83).

As Christians, we should not be discouraged when we are misjudged and mistreated. It is part of gospel ministry. We should expect it and accept it for the Lord’s sake. Those who refuse the Christ that we proclaim rarely admit that their choice is against him. To justify themselves, they look for ways to blame us. Yes, we should always admit our true failings with utter honesty. But it is striking how confident the apostles were, how absent from the New Testament is a spirit of self-accusation. Hand-wringing appears nowhere in 2 Corinthians 2:15-16, where Paul sums up his whole ministry (99-100).

(HT: Gavin Ortlund)