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

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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)

5 Easy Steps to a Shallow Christian Life

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By Josh Bount:

Wait no longer! Write them on Post-It notes, cross-stitch them on your pillow, have Siri repeat them to you daily.

1. Don’t stop searching until you’ve found “The Secret to the Christian Life.”

It’s out there! Don’t give up. It might be baptism in the Holy Spirit. It might be true surrender. It might be faith. It might be resting in what God’s already done. It might be…well, you go find it on your own. Don’t let the fact that two thousand years of Christian history has yet to produce the final solution to the perplexities of living as redeemed sinners in a fallen world stop you. Maybe the secret was just waiting for YOU to get out there and discover it…

2. In your advice to yourself and to other believers, use the word “just” regularly.

This will be a lot easier after you’ve found the answer to #1. Then you can tell people, “Stop struggling! Just (insert SOCL [Secret of Christian Life] here).” Until then, sprinkle “just” in as many tidbits of advice as possible: : “Just believe…just remember…just trust God.” That helps remind people that, after all, the Christian life is really easy. So suck it up and deal with it, wimp.

3. For simplicity’s sake, assume that God deals with everyone in exactly the same way. If you want to make things even simpler, assume that you’re the pattern.

Listen, there are a lot of Christians out there. If you let the thought enter your mind that God is a person who might deal with people as unique individuals, not generic cookie-cutter-Christians, it will overwhelm you! You might have to actually listen to people, charitably assume that God is at work in their life in ways you can’t see, or even learn from the ways they’re different from you. That’s going to take a lot of time. Just don’t go there. Here’s the code you live by: God is easy to figure out, not very creative, and has already used all his tricks in your life. (I know, it seems a little hard on God, but trust me on this one. The alternative is just way too complicated. You’ll thank me later.)

4. Don’t waste time checking your assumptions against the Bible.

After all, there’s only so much time in the day! Begin your sentences about your key beliefs with, “The Bible clearly says…” but don’t bother with actually proving it. The basis for this is that everything that’s worth knowing in Scripture is so clear that only a fool wouldn’t already see it from your point of view. If you can find one verse that proves your point, that’s more than adequate!

5. Reduce everything to “5 Easy Steps.”

See? I’ve already modeled it for you! Remember, the point is EASY steps. It’s not enough to just list things that are true (preachers do that all the time). The real test is whether or not you can make them so simplistic that they require no work or deep thought. That’s the mark of a true Easy List.

Actually, these are probably the definitive 5 Easy Steps for the Christian life, so there may be nothing left to reduce to further lists. You’d probably be better off just memorizing this one.

The holiness we need awaits us in Christ

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Christ is our holiness in the same sense in which he is our righteousness. He is a complete and all-sufficient Saviour. He does not accomplish his work halfway but saves us really and completely. He does not rest until, after pronouncing his acquittal in our conscience, he has also imparted full holiness and glory to us.

By his righteousness, accordingly, he does not just restore us to the state of the just who will go scot-free in the judgment of God, in order then to leave us to ourselves to reform ourselves after God’s image and to merit eternal life. But Christ has accomplished everything. He bore for us the guilt and punishment of sin, placed himself under the law to secure eternal life for us, and then arose from the grave to communicate himself to us in all his fullness for both our righteousness and sanctification (1 Cor. 1:30). The holiness that must completely become ours therefore fully awaits us in Christ.

— Herman Bavinck
Reformed Dogmatics
(Grand Rapids, Mi.: Baker Academic, 2008), 4:248

(HT: Of First Importance)

Laying A Gospel Foundation, But Not Building Anything

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Trevin Wax:

If you read books or go to conferences with the word “gospel” in them, you’re likely to hear phrases like this:

“The gospel is not the ABC’s, but the A to Z of salvation.”
“We never move beyond the gospel; we move deeper into the gospel.”
“The gospel is not just what we need at the beginning of the Christian life; it’s what we need to sustain our Christian life.”

I agree with each of these statements and have said similar things before. I believe you can back up these statements with Scripture, the manner in which the biblical authors seek to foster spiritual growth among the early Christians.

What About Hebrews and Leaving the Basic Gospel Message?

But if there’s one passage that should give the gospel-centered movement pause, it’s Hebrews 6:1-3. After challenging a lack of maturity on the part of his hearers (they want milk when they should be eating solid food), the author says this:

Therefore, leaving the elementary message about the Messiah, let us go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, faith in God, teaching about ritual washings, laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And we will do this if God permits.

The logic of the passage seems to work against what the gospel-centered slogans say. The writer connects “going on to maturity” with “leaving the elementary message about the Messiah.”

What elementary message are we talking about? The author lists six fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith:

  • Repentance from dead works and faith in God is a good description of the conversion experience. We repent of sin and believe in Christ.
  • Ritual washings and laying on of hands probably refer to baptism and what it means to be empowered by the Holy Spirit to do good deeds.
  • Then there are the basic beliefs in eternal realities, bodily resurrection for the faithful and eternal judgment for the wicked.

To counter the idea that we should keep going back to the gospel, some might say: “See? These fundamental doctrines are just for the beginning of the Christian life. Once we get the basics down, we can move on. If we keep coming back to these, we will stunt our spiritual growth.”

Leaving and Building

There’s a legitimate concern here, but I don’t think this is what the author meant by the word “leaving.” Notice he uses the example of laying a foundation. If we’re going to follow the logic of his construction metaphor, we come to this conclusion: You don’t leave the foundation; you build on the foundation.

So, it’s not that the author sees these doctrines as something you move past. No, he sees them as the foundation of everything that follows.

God doesn’t intend for you to move past the gospel or the basics of Christianity; He intends you to build your life on the gospel and the basics of Christianity.

Furthermore, as Bobby Jamieson points out, if we are to take into consideration the author’s own example, this word about leaving behind “the elementary message” is immediately followed by several chapters where we wade in the deep pools of gospel truth regarding Christ’s identity as our High Priest and perfect sacrifice. Whatever “leaving behind the elementary message” means, it can’t mean moving past the good news of Christ’s work, or the author has contradicted himself.

A Warning To Be Heeded

There is, however, a warning for the gospel-centered movement here. It’s a warning against being so excited about the foundation of Christianity that we fail to do anything with the good news we’ve been given.

Imagine a congregation that is about to start a building program, but the people are so fascinated with the concrete slab that they never erect the walls and put the roof on. They just gather and sit on the concrete slab. That’s spiritual stuntedness. And that’s a good picture of what the Hebrew audience here is like. They’ve laid a good foundation, but they’re not building anything! They’re like construction workers who are having a coffee break that never ends, always admiring the foundation that’s been laid, but never getting on with the structure.

Gospel-Centered Talk and the Church’s Missional Actions

The gospel-centered movement will enter a Hebrews 6 phase of immaturity if all our talk about the rudimentary doctrines of the Christian faith becomes just that: talk. Gospel-centrality is not a simple rehearsal of basic facts week to week; it is seeing the gospel as central to everything else, and then moving on to maturity by building our lives, our ministries, our mission on it.

God’s people will never be missional if all we do is sit around and inspect the foundation. No, the mission requires people who are grounded in the truth, empowered by the Spirit, and who are fueled and shaped by the cruciform love of Christ.

Gospel-centrality is not sitting back and admiring what Christ has done. It’s building on His foundation with faith in God’s grace – past, present, and future.

The greatest personal question ever asked

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“Justification by faith is an answer to the greatest personal question ever asked by a human soul: ‘How shall I be right with God? How do I stand in God’s sight? With what favor does he look upon me?’ There are those, I admit, who never raise that question. There are those who are concerned with the question of their standing before men but never with the question of their standing before God. There are those who are interested in what ‘people say’ but not in the question of what God says. Such men, however, are not those who move the world. They are apt to go with the current. They are apt to do as others do. They are not the heroes who change the destinies of the race. The beginning of true nobility comes when a man ceases to be interested in the judgment of men and becomes interested in the judgment of God.”

J. Gresham Machen, in God Transcendent (Edinburgh, 1982), pages 89-90.

(HT: Ray Ortlund)

Three Ways Our Deeds Relate to Our Salvation

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John Piper:

One effect of close attention to Scripture is that sweeping generalizations become problematic. This is notably true of the way our works (including our attitudes and words and behavior) relate to our salvation.

The biblical texts relating to this issue are many and diverse, but not contradictory. If you take any one of them and treat it as the whole picture, you will almost surely lead people astray.

For example, Paul rejoices that we are “justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Romans 3:28). I take that to mean that anything we bring to Christ other than faith has no part in the ground (Christ) or the instrument (faith) of our justification. This is a glorious truth, and our life hangs on it.

But if we carelessly speak of justification as having no relationship to works, or if we generalize about salvation being apart from works of the law, we lead people away from the Scriptures.

Toward More Clarity

Justification does have a relationship with works. It secures the removal of God’s wrath so that his Spirit flows freely in a union where works are possible and necessary.

And salvation is a larger reality than justification. Justification is one aspect of salvation. There are other aspects of it that are not “apart from works” but are, in fact, dependent upon (though not merited by) works.

I invite you to ponder the following three ways to speak of our works in relationship to our salvation. And if you agree that these are biblical, let’s strive to speak with the kind of care that does not nullify one when affirming another.

1. Jesus Is Our Righteousness

When we are united to Christ by faith alone, God counts Christ’s perfect deeds as ours. He is our righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30). Thus, in a real sense, we have performed perfectly in Christ the good deeds required of us (Matthew 5:48; James 2:10). Christ’s deeds are counted as ours. On this basis, God may be trusted, from the point of faith forward, as 100% for us.

  • For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
  • Because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption. (1 Corinthians 1:30)
  • That I may be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith. (Philippians 3:9)

2. We Work Out Our Salvation

In union with Christ by faith alone, as we enjoy God’s being 100% for us, we now, by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:13), through faith in God’s future grace (2 Thessalonians 1:11–12; 1 Corinthians 15:10), “work out our salvation” (Philippians 2:13), bearing “the fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22), in a life of practical righteousness, and we thus confirm our saving faith, and our union with Christ, and in this way obtain the inheritance of salvation. Our inheritance is not earned by our lived-out righteousness (Romans 8:15–17; Galatians 4:7), but belonging to the family and being an heir is confirmed by it.

  • If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (Romans 8:13)
  • God will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. (Romans 2:6–7)
  • Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. (Galatians 6:7–8)
  • I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things [the works of the flesh] will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:21)
  • Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9–10)

3. God Will Reward Our Good Works

United to Christ by faith alone, enjoying God’s being 100% for us, and walking in practical obedience by faith in his future grace (2 Corinthians 9:8), not self-reliance (Hebrews 13:21; Philippians 2:12–13), we “serve the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:24), and “make it our aim to please the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:9; Philippians 4:18; Colossians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 4:1), “not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but . . . doing the will of God from the heart,” so that we will receive back from the Lord varying degrees of reward corresponding to the good we have done. These rewards are not earned, but freely given in response to our “works of faith” (1 Thessalonians 1:3; 2 Thessalonians 1:11), that is, works that rely on God’s grace so that, when we are done, we say, “I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10). Thus God rewards the kinds of works that call attention to his all-sufficiency (2 Corinthians 9:8).

  • For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. (2 Corinthians 5:10)
  • I will give to each of you according to your works. (Revelation 2:23)
  • For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. (Matthew 16:27)
  • Bondservants, do the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord. (Ephesians 6:5–8)
  • There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. So is it with the resurrection of the dead. (1 Corinthians 15:41–42)
  • Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities [and another over five]. (Luke 19:17)
  • The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward. (Matthew 10:41–42)
  • Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. You are serving the Lord Christ. (Colossians 3:23–24)

If this thought of varying degrees of reward and happiness in the age to come is new to you, and you would like to hear one of the most profound descriptions of it, I once recorded a section from Jonathan Edwards who explains it beautifully.

Concluding Takeaways

The upshot of this is:

1. Let us speak with the same degree of differentiation that the Bible does about our works and our justification and our entrance into the final kingdom and our rewards there.

2. Let us glory in the gospel that no works we perform are the ground of our justification.

3. Let us be “diligent to confirm our calling and election” (2 Peter 1:10) by the love we show in the power of the Spirit.

4. In all our vocations, let us work heartily as to the Lord, knowing that “whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord.”

Israel, Gaza, ‘divine right’, and John Piper

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Matt Smethurst:

The Story: Palestinian leaders have called for a “day of rage” in the West Bank today after a Gaza school being used as a United Nations shelter was hit. The Palestinian government claims the Israeli strike killed 16 people and injured more than 200. This marks the 18th consecutive day of back-and-forth violence between Israelis and Hamas militants in the Middle East, a seemingly intractable wave of conflict that has already claimed more than 800 (mostly civilian) lives.

Meanwhile, thousands of evangelical Christians flocked to Washington, D.C., for a Christians United for Israel (CUFI) summit earlier this week. “When you turn against Israel you have lost your moral compass,” founder John Hagee told the gathered crowd. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (in a recorded video message) and Israeli ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer also addressed the summit. With nearly 1.75 million members, CUFI claims to be the largest pro-Israel organization in the United States.

Such events in the Middle East and in America raise typical and vital questions. Does Israel possess a “divine right” to the Promised Land? What is the “Promised Land,” anyway? The interminable Israeli–Palestinian conflict has always been freighted with biblical significance; Israel, after all, didn’t dub a former anti-Hamas campaign “Operation Pillar of Cloud” for nothing.

The Background: Ten years ago John Piper, then pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, delivered a sermon from Romans 11:25–32 titled “Israel, Palestine, and the Middle East.” In it, he offered seven principles concerning the ever-contentious issue of “the Land”:

1. God chose Israel from all the peoples of the world to be his own possession.

2. The Land was part of the inheritance he promised to Abraham and his descendants forever.

3. The promises made to Abraham, including the promise of the Land, will be inherited as an everlasting gift only by true, spiritual Israel, not disobedient, unbelieving Israel.

4. Jesus Christ has come into the world as the Jewish Messiah, and his own people rejected him and broke covenant with their God.

5. Therefore, the secular state of Israel today may not claim a present divine right to the Land, but they and we should seek a peaceful settlement not based on present divine rights, but on international principles of justice, mercy, and practical feasibility.

6. By faith in Jesus Christ, the Jewish Messiah, Gentiles become heirs of the promise of Abraham, including the promise of the Land.

7. Finally, this inheritance of Christ’s people will happen at the Second Coming of Christ to establish his kingdom, not before; and till then, we Christians must not take up arms to claim our inheritance; but rather lay down our lives to share our inheritance with as many as we can.

Why It Matters: Regardless of where you land theologically or politically, the events of the past two weeks mark yet another distressing development in the Israeli–Palestinian saga. This is a prime opportunity to pray. Pray for the Israelis, image-bearers of God, that they’d search the Scriptures and find life in the Savior (John 5:39–40, 46). May they discover that the meeting point between God and man is no longer a place—whether reconstructed temple or geographical acreage—but a risen and reigning and soon returning Person (John 4:21–26).

Pray too for the Palestinians, image-bearers of God, that they’d turn in droves to Jesus the King. Pray particularly for our Palestinian brothers and sisters in the faith; there are, after all, far more Palestinian Christians in the Middle East than the news headlines imply.

May the Prince of Peace reveal what’s been hidden (Luke 19:41–42) and bring everlasting shalom to a Land flowing with blood and hate—with little milk and honey to be found.

Living in the light of the end of all things

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Sam Storms:

It is widely reported (but may not be true) that the great 16th century Protestant reformer, Martin Luther, once said: “If I knew for sure that Jesus was coming back tomorrow, I’d plant a tree today.”

Luther wasn’t trying to be cute, nor did he think that his words were contradictory. He was simply pointing out that no amount of speculation or confidence or doubt or belief about when Jesus might return should ever undermine the fulfillment of our basic ethical obligations or lead us to abandon the routine responsibilities set forth for us in Scripture.

Sadly, many Christians through the centuries have taken an altogether different and unbiblical approach to this problem. Convinced that Christ was to return very, very soon, they abandoned their daily tasks and embraced a form of hyper spirituality that served only to bring reproach on the name of Christ and disaster to their own lives.

How often have we heard and seen something like this:

“The end of all things is at hand! Therefore, let’s shave our heads, adorn ourselves in white robes, and run to the hills!”

“Christ is coming back soon! Therefore, let’s sell our possessions, quit our jobs, and turn our backs on a culture that is hell-bound!”

“The end of human history is just around the corner! Therefore, let’s refuse to bathe, learn how to cry on cue, and contort our faces in a show of deep concern for the plight of all lost souls!”

“We are certain that Jesus is coming back before we die! Therefore, let’s set a specific date for Jesus’ return, write it up in a best-selling book, and then make sure we’ve got an excuse for why he doesn’t return on the day we said he would, in order to protect our reputations!”

“The end of all things is at hand! Therefore, let’s abandon the local church, launch a para-church movement that will gather thousands of followers, and forget about higher education, paying our taxes, getting married, having children, and mowing the grass!”

“The second coming is surely on the horizon! Therefore, let’s host a seminar and work hard at identifying the Antichrist and figure out ways that 666 applies to all the people we don’t like!”

Well, not exactly. The Apostle Peter’s advice is of a different spirit. “Yes,” said Peter. “The end of all things is at hand! Therefore, be level-headed and sober-minded as you pray for one another. The end of all things is at hand! Therefore, love one another, and be hospitable to one another without grumbling about it, and use your spiritual gifts to serve and minister to one another, always seeking the fame of God’s name, not your own.” Look again at the passage itself.

“The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4.7-11).

Eschatology is one of those technical, ten-dollar terms that theologians like to toss around to impress people with their intelligence. But it’s really a very simple and very important word. The Greek word eschatos simply means “last” or “final,” and thus Eschatology is the study of last things, final things; it is the study of events leading up to and including the second coming of Christ and the end of human history as we know it.

What most Christians don’t grasp, however, is that the primary purpose of eschatology is two-fold. First, it is designed to deepen our confidence and faith in God as the sovereign Lord over history who will bring his purposes to their proper consummation in such a way that righteousness will prevail and evil will be defeated and Jesus Christ will be glorified. Eschatology is important because it tell us that God wins! And because he wins, he is to be worshipped.

But eschatology has a secondary purpose as well. It is also designed to encourage and sustain us in practical righteousness. It is precisely because we know that Christ will return and put the world to rights that we are to be obedient to the Word of God.

Did you see the word “therefore” in v. 7? It is because the end of all things is at hand that we are to pray for one another and love one another and be hospitable to one another and to serve one another. Countless other texts affirm the same thing. Here are a few:

“Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Rom. 13:11-14).
After describing the return of Christ and how our bodies will be gloriously transformed, Paul says:
“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58).

“Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:11-13).

“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3).

So that is what I want to address in this article and in a few that will follow. I want you to think about how you should react to the reality of Christ’s impending return. I want you to think about what kind of person God wants you to be in view of the end of all things. As Peter put it in his second epistle, chapter three, I want to focus on “what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness.”

Follow up posts here and here.

Before we preach tomorrow

j_kennedy_dingwall“There are some who preach before their people, like actors on the stage, to display themselves and to please their audience.  Not such were the self-denied preachers of Ross-shire.

There are others who preach over their people.  Studying for the highest, instead of doing so for the lowest, in intelligence, they elaborate learned treatises, which float like mist, when delivered, over the heads of their hearers.  Not such were the earnest preachers of Ross-shire.

There are some who preach past their people.  Directing their praise or their censure to intangible abstractions, they never take aim at the views and the conduct of the individuals before them.  They step carefully aside, lest their hearers should be struck by their shafts, and aim them at phantoms beyond them.  Not such were the faithful preachers of Ross-shire.

There are others who preach at their people, serving out in a sermon the gossip of the week, and seemingly possessed with the idea that the transgressor can be scolded out of the ways of iniquity.  Not such were the wise preachers of Ross-shire.

There are some who preach towards their people.  They aim well, but they are weak.  Their eye is along the arrow towards the hearts of their hearers, but their arm is too feeble for sending it on to the mark.  Superficial in their experience and in their knowledge, they reach not the cases of God’s people by their doctrine, and they strike with no vigor at the consciences of the ungodly.  Not such were the powerful preachers of Ross-shire.

There are others still who preach along their congregation.  Instead of standing with their bow in front of the ranks, these archers take aim in line and, reducing their mark to an individual, never change the direction of their aim.  Not such were the discriminating preachers of Ross-shire.

But there are a few who preach to the people directly and seasonably the mind of God in His Word with authority, unction, wisdom, fervor and love.  Such as these last were the eminent preachers of Ross-shire.”

Revd. John Kennedy, The Days of the Fathers in Ross-shire (Inverness, 1895), pages 22-23.

(HT: Ray Ortlund)

Questioning God

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We cannot remain faithful and question God’s own faithfulness. His love for those who are in Christ is beyond question. His character is a constant and his love never fails. He is not loving and gracious toward believers at one moment, only to turn into a malevolent deity the next. He never changes.

In this light, it would be sin to question whether God really loves us, or if He is really faithful to his promises. This is not the questioning worthy of a believer, but of an unbeliever.

— Albert Mohler
“Is it Legitimate to Question God?”

(HT: Of First Importance)

Instead of Building Your Platform, Build Your Character

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Derwin Gray:

Pastor, words like “platform” and “influence” are important.

But if we aren’t careful, in our desire to build our platform and influence, we can end up building our EGO.

As leadership gurus Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges say, “EGO stands for ‘Edging God Out’.”

BUILD YOUR CHARACTER

Instead of building your platform, focus more on building your character.

According to the Apostle Paul, the qualifications to be an elder-pastor are about character, not gifting.

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. 1 Timothy 3:1-7 ESV

HOW DO YOU BUILD YOUR CHARACTER?

I want to share 3 practices (other than classical spiritual disciplines) that challenge and encourage my character development.

Practice the Presence of People:

Treat every person you come in contact with as though Jesus died for them.
Treat every person as if Jesus left heaven to rescue them.
Treat every person as if they are made in the image of God and really matter to Him.
This will keep you from treating people as though they are less than made in the image of God.
Practice Being a Servant:

People do not exist to serve you, you exist to serve them.
Look for ways to serve people besides preaching a sermon.
Jesus washed His disciples’ feet. Whose feet are we washing?
This will keep you humble and accessible.
Practice the Presence of Christ:

Abide in Christ. Revel in Christ. Enjoy Christ. Make much of Christ. Live in constant dependency on Christ.
This will keep you relying on Jesus as your source of power.
You build your character, and let God build your platform and influence.