Human beings were built with limits. God didn’t design you to be a superhero.
You and I were created to live dependent lives, never surviving on the basis of our own strength, wisdom and control. From the moment of our first breath, we were limited, weak, and fragile beings.
If you’re a parent, or an older brother or sister, you know this to be true. Think about how long your newborn child or sibling would have lasted if you left them alone. I was shocked when we had our first child – there was never a moment when we could leave him alone, except during sleep, and even then we were only a few feet away.
As we grow older, we think that we become more independent. We get married, have children of our own, buy our first house, and make significant life decisions. Sure, a 40-year married adult can feed and dress himself much better than a 4-month old infant, but I’m afraid that we don’t fully accept our limitations.
I want to reinforce the point that you’re not a superhero. “Sure, Paul, I obviously can’t fly or make myself invisible,” you might say. But I want you to consider eight limits of your humanity:
Think about the benefits of controlling time. I could pause time in a moment of difficulty, thinking about my next word or decision before speaking or acting. Or, I could rewind time and right the wrongs of my own life, or stop crimes against humanity before they happen.
I don’t know about you, but I would love to be in more than one place at a time. Imagine how productive I could be! I could write my next book while speaking at a conference while shopping for dinner.
I wish that I knew everything about anything. I would be a walking encyclopedia, able to solve any problem that might complicate my day. I wouldn’t ever have to worry about being stumped.
If I was filled with wisdom, I could give people the proper advice, sifting through the clutter of information and directing them on the path to success. I would be the world’s best counselor.
I would love to be able to control the weather- the Tripp family would never have a rainy beach day! Or think about the time I could save if I controlled the traffic lights!
I wish I could get people to do things my way. Right now, Philadelphia roads are riddled with potholes because of the winter storms. If I was all-powerful, the city government would be out there immediately until every hole was filled! Or maybe if I’m feeling an extra zeal for justice, I could combine my wisdom with power and solve world hunger while fighting political corruption.
I not only wish that I knew everything – I wish I could do anything. There would never be a physical task that I would be unable to accomplish. I could cook the best meal, repair any car, and paint the best art, all while doing it better than anyone else on the planet.
Sometimes I wish that God had given me every spiritual gift available. I could be the most creative writer, the most sophisticated thinker, the most efficient administrator, and the most gifted preacher – all at the same time!
I ALREADY KNEW THAT…
So what’s the point? This Article is a bit nonsensical, because you already know that you can’t control the weather, pause time, or solve any dilemma that pops up. But let me ask you to be honest for a moment – if I were to poll the people you live with, would they tell me that you live like you’re a superhero?
What happens when someone violates your schedule? Do you act as if know everything, stepping in to comment when someone makes a verbal mistake? Are you a controlling person? And are you, at times, arrogant enough to think that there is no one out there that can give you advice and counsel?
You see, when you admit your limits, you’re a humble and restful person. You’re humble enough to admit weakness, always open to learning. And you’re restful, because you know that control is in the hands of God – and not yours.
Let me encourage you here – there’s only one Superhero in the Bible. His name is Jesus Christ. Every other man and woman documented in Scripture was a failure. Rest and peace is found when you abandon control and admit your limits.
- believers practice confession instead of trying to make an impression
- people are defined by a lifestyle of repenting rather than pretending
- you embrace truth at all costs, not agreeing for each others approval
- light exposes & wounds and love covers & heals – both/and not either/or
- people are happy to be holy not content to be comfortable
- you own your mess because of His mercy instead of hiding them because of your shame
- functional saviors & heart idolatry are lovingly confronted & challenged by Christ’s reign & rule
- unbelieving sinners & believing sinners together look away from themselves & look to Jesus
- the pleasure of God in Christ to save you liberates you to passionately serve others
- hospitality is given to those on the margins & those not like you are welcome in your world
- individual preferences take a back seat to community purposes of loving God and neighbor
A harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. James 3:18
Two things should be happening in every gospel-centered church every Sunday. One, the gospel should be preached. Two, the gospel should be experienced.
What I mean by the second, experiencing the gospel, is a social environment that feels like the grace of God. It is an obvious alternative to what we experience throughout the week. Every day we swim in an ocean of harsh criticisms, merciless comparisons and never measuring up, soaking us in sadness while also telling us to keep faking happiness. This is the “earthly, unspiritual, demonic” wisdom of the world (James 3:15). It doesn’t work.
Then Sunday comes, and we step into church, where the victory of Jesus redefines everything, even to the furthest reaches of the universe. In any church with a confidence that big, the vibe will be obviously different from the world. Every Sunday in that kind of church we will be rediscovering the mercy of God, our union with Christ, the presence of the Holy Spirit, the amazing promises of the gospel. As that good news lands on us afresh and the joy of it all breaks upon our hearts — that’s what the new creation feels like right now. It is the Lord himself enveloping us in his new community, surrounding us “with shouts of deliverance” (Psalm 32:7).
If all a church does is preach gospel doctrine, without also cultivating a gospel culture, the impact will be diminished. However “biblical” the message might be, it will not seem plausible or satisfying. The doctrine will seem theoretical, and the church will seem hypocritical. But when the gospel is clear in any church at both levels simultaneously, both the gracious theological message and the humane relational culture, there is power. It is the wisdom that comes down from above (James 3:15). It works.
The first time I heard Matt Redman’s “10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)” on the radio, I knew I was listening to a song that would soon be sung in churches across the United States. The plaintive melody perfectly suits Redman’s paraphrase of Psalm 103, and the chorus was singing in my head the rest of the day.
According to CCLI’s biannual list of 25 songs reported by churches across the country, “10,000 Reasons” is now the most-often sung contemporary worship song in America.
Since Redman’s song is so popular, I thought it may be helpful to take a deeper look at the main themes of the song, in comparison to the themes of the psalm on which it is based. I enlisted a hymnwriter and student at Belmont University (Bryan Loomis) to analyze the song’s message, and the two of us had a lunch conversation recently about its strengths and weaknesses.
The song begins with the chorus, a paraphrase of the beginning of Psalm 103:
Bless the Lord, O my soul
O my soul
Worship His holy Name
Sing like never before
O my soul
I’ll worship Your holy Name
Redman’s chorus is close to Psalm 103, with its focus on the holy name of God and the need to tell our souls to praise the Lord for who He is. Some may wonder if the line “Sing like never before” implies that every worship experience should be utterly unique, unlike anything we’ve ever been through before. I think that interpretation is doubtful. More than likely, this line is a paraphrase of “all that is within me” from the psalm. In other words, like the psalmist, Redman is summoning his soul to fully engage as he blesses the Lord. Going through the motions is not enough.
The first verse is about a new day in which we are summoned to bless the Lord:
The sun comes up, it’s a new day dawning
It’s time to sing Your song again
Whatever may pass, and whatever lies before me
Let me be singing when the evening comes.
There isn’t any specific parallel from this verse to Psalm 103, although the psalmist does speak of God redeeming our life from the pit (which may be implied in Redman’s desire to be resolute in his worship, no matter the circumstances). There’s something to be said for worship being one of the ways we fortify ourselves for the trials and struggles of life. Before entering a trial, we pray that God will keep us faithful, so that we will continue to praise the Lord when the hard day is over.
The second verse is most reflective of Psalm 103, and it’s here that the title’s “10,000 reasons” is first used:
You’re rich in love, and You’re slow to anger
Your Name is great, and Your heart is kind
For all Your goodness I will keep on singing
Ten thousand reasons for my heart to find
Psalm 103 focuses on the Lord as merciful, rich in love, and slow to anger (verses 8-9). The goodness and kindness of the Lord is also a theme of the psalm. The biggest difference between Redman’s song and Psalm 103 is that the psalmist specifically spells out the actions of the Lord that show His kindness and mercy, whereas Redman focuses primarily on the character of God.
I like the 10,000 reasons line because it implies that we are on a deepening journey of discovering different facets of God’s love. Our praise will never end because we will never come to the bottom of God’s goodness toward us. We continue to discover more and more things about God that are worthy of our praise.
The third verse paraphrases the theme of human frailty and mortality in Psalm 103:14-17:
And on that day when my strength is failing
The end draws near and my time has come
Still my soul will sing Your praise unending
Ten thousand years and then forevermore
This is one of only a handful of contemporary worship songs that bring us face to face with our mortality. Looking back, we see some of the greatest hymns end with a statement about death and eternity. Think of the last verse of “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood” and its image of a “poor, lisping, stammering tongue” lying “silent in the grave” but singing “a nobler song.” Or consider the later addition to “Amazing Grace,” with it’s opening line: “When we’ve been there ten thousand years.”
What’s interesting is how Redman follows the pattern of famous hymnody rather than the progression of Psalm 103. Watch how Psalm 103 builds poetically on human mortality, and then shifts to the Lord as the subject:
For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust.
As for man, his days are like grass;
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.
But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting…
Instead of shifting to the eternality of God’s love, Redman follows the pattern of “Amazing Grace” and “There is a Fountain” and focuses on our response to that love. Our praise will not end with death; we will continue to sing.
Strengths and Weaknesses
I appreciate Matt Redman’s work, and “10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)” is one of his best songs. I’m grateful for gifted songwriters who stir our hearts to worship by pointing us to the Lord and His goodness to us.
The strengths of “10,000 Reasons” are numerous. As I mentioned above, it uses a psalm as its base, it focuses our attention on the character of our loving God, it fortifies and prepares us for suffering and eventually death, and it teaches us that worship is unending because we never come to the end of exploring God’s attributes.
If there is a weakness to “10,000 Reasons,” it’s one that is common among many worship songs today: the actions in the song refer to the singer, and the attributes in the song refer to God. By itself, this is not problematic, but worship leaders will want to balance their song choices in such a way that God’s saving acts are extolled along with His attributes. Or better said, we want to focus on the actions that best display His attributes. For example, Psalm 103 begins with the command to “Bless the Lord, O my soul” and then continues with multiple lines extolling God’s saving acts. Psalm 103 has 13 action verbs in which God is the subject; the action verbs in “10,000 Reasons” belong to the one worshipping. We don’t want characteristics of God (“slow to anger,” “Your goodness,” “rich in love”) to be interpreted “timelessly,” apart from their greatest expression through God’s saving acts. For this reason, worship leaders who use this song will want to surround it with hymns and songs that link attributes like “slow to anger” and “rich in love” to Christ’s death and resurrection.
Overall, “10,000 Reasons” is one of the worship songs I most enjoy singing. It’s a beautiful melody based on a beautiful psalm, and I’m thankful for songwriters like Matt Redman, who focus our attention on the goodness of God and call us to worship Him no matter our circumstances.
. . . Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?
– 1 Corinthians 6:7
The biggest problem in my life and ministry is me. And the biggest problem among my many idiosyncratic problems is the impulse toward self-defense and self-justification. The Lord has been working well on me over the last several years in this area, and I do think, by his grace, I have gotten better at suppressing this impulse, denying it, even going into situations I know will include much criticism directed at myself having proactively crucified it for the moment. But my inner defense attorney (a voting partner in the ambulance-chasing firm of Flesh & Associates) is always there, crouching at my door, seeking to rule over everybody by arguing in my quote-unquote “favor.”
Crucifying the defensive impulse is so difficult because it essentially means choosing to allow others to misunderstand you, misjudge you, and even malign you. (Of course, many times the painful things said are accurate, and so it’s another difficult necessity to listen well and to “test all things [and] hold fast to what is good” (1 Thess. 5:21).) But many times, especially for those in ministry or in other leadership positions, the criticisms and complaints are inaccurate, sometimes whole-cloth falsehoods, frequently petty, and these little injustices just pile up. The need to cry out in one’s defense rises up. But wisdom knows when to claim one’s rights and when to submit to being defrauded. For me, as I get older, and the longer I minister, the more I find myself being steered toward the latter.
Why would you and I do that? Why would we turn the cheek this way, go two miles with the guy demanding one? It’s certainly not very street-smart. It’s obviously not comfortable. But wisdom directs us this way, ultimately, because we believe that the consolation of Christ now and the compensation from Christ in the age to come will far surpass any “justice” we could gin up with our own self-interested rebuttals . . . even if we’re in the right. If Christ is our treasure, if Christ is our justification, why not rather be defrauded?
In many cases related to personal offenses, if not most, the best defense is neither a good offense nor a good defense, but simply sitting on the bench and, in love, refusing to play the game.
J. Gresham Machen:
We ought never to set present communion with Christ, as so many are doing, in opposition to the gospel; we ought never to say that we are interested in what Christ does for us now, but are not so much interested in what He did long ago.
Do you know what soon happens when men talk that way? They soon lose all contact with the real Christ; their religion would really remain essentially the same if Jesus never lived.
That danger should be avoided by the Christian man with all his might and main. God has given us an anchor for our souls; He has anchored himself to us by the message of the Cross. Let us never cast that anchor off; let us never weaken our connection with the events upon which our faith is based.
Such dependence upon the past will never prevent us from having present communion with Christ. Unlike the communion of the mystics it will be communion not with the imaginings of our own hearts, but with the real Saviour Jesus Christ.
The gospel of redemption through the Cross and resurrection of Christ is not a barrier between us and Christ, but it is the blessed tie by which He has bound us for ever to Him.
- J. Gresham Machen, What Is Faith? (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1991), 153-54
(HT: Of First Importance)
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Philippians 3:12
The New Testament rings with two glorious themes. One is the grace of Christ. He has made us his own. Think of the sweep of thought from election to predestination to creation to fall to promise to Old Covenant to New Covenant to atonement to resurrection to outpouring to conversion to growth to glorification. When Christ Jesus makes us his own, he draws us into a massive reality.
The other theme is how we respond to the magnitude of all that Christ brings to us. We have not yet obtained the fullness of his grace. We are not already perfect. But we are pressing on. We are not wallowing in defeatism and self-pity. We are highly motivated for whatever next step the Lord is calling us to venture. Why? Because Christ Jesus has made us his own, and we know and feel that there is nothing greater in all this world than to be drawn into Christ.
These two themes converge in this one verse, Philippians 3:12, but they are pervasive throughout the New Testament. They are God’s both/and. It is unbiblical, unwise and unhelpful to sinners to turn God’s both/and into our own either/or.
New Testament Christianity does not call us to choose between either divine grace or human engagement. New Testament Christianity calls us to embrace both, and in this order: first overflowing divine grace, then our own vigorous engagement motivated by that grace. If we reverse the order, we turn the gospel into legalism: “I am pressing on, so that Christ Jesus will make me his own.” But another way to get it wrong is to leave out the second part – “I am pressing on.” If all we talk about is overflowing divine grace, we risk distorting the biblical message and influencing people toward a diminished Christianity that will inevitably fail them.
Wherever the message of divine grace comes down in divine power, sinners are lifted out of lethargy and eagerly reach for the fullness of divine blessing.
Everything that we know and appreciate and praise God for in all Christian experience both in this life and in the life to come springs from this bloody cross.
Do we have the gift of the Spirit? Secured by Christ on the cross.
Do we enjoy the fellowship of saints? Secured by Christ on the cross.
Does he give us comfort in life and death? Secured by Christ on the cross.
Does he watch over us faithfully, providentially, graciously, and covenantally? Secured by Christ on the cross.
Do we have hope of a heaven to come? Secured by Christ on the cross.
Do we anticipate resurrection bodies on the last day? Secured by Christ on the cross.
Is there a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness? Secured by Christ on the cross.
Do we now enjoy new identities, so that we are no longer to see ourselves as nothing but failures, moral pariahs, disappointments to our parents—but deeply loved, blood-bought, human beings, redeemed by Christ, declared just by God himself, owing to the fact that God himself presented his Son Jesus as the propitiation for our sins? All this is secured by Christ on the cross and granted to those who have faith in him.
— D. A. Carson Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 70-71
(HT: Of First Importance)
The power of Pentecost makes for a fantastic story. Rushing wind, flaming tongues, and the proclamation of a fisherman turned evangelist calling people to repent and be baptized.
But don’t miss how Acts 2 ends. The power of the Spirit that flowed through the apostles’ proclamation is the power that gathers people into a new community.
So those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about 3,000 people were added to them. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayers. Then fear came over everyone, and many wonders and signs were being performed through the apostles. Now all the believers were together and had everything in common. So they sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as anyone had a need. And every day they devoted themselves [to meeting] together in the temple complex, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to them those who were being saved.
Evangelicals in the West tend to think of the gospel as just a transaction between the individual and God. Just me and Jesus, thank you. Of course, salvation is indeed about an individual being reconciled to God. The Spirit ushers us into a restored relationship with the living God, an intimate knowledge and love of Him who loved us first.
But we mustn’t leave out the result of the gospel’s proclamation in Acts 2. The cross restores our relationship to God, and the result is restored relationship with others. Vertical reconciliation makes possible horizontal reconciliation, and the horizontal dimension then magnifies the vertical.
Here’s an example. Ephesians 1 is all about God’s magnificent plan of salvation. Ephesians 2:1-9 is all about God’s magnificent plan of saving individual sinners like you and me. But the rest of Ephesians 2 and 3 (and 4-6, for that matter!) is about how God’s magnificent plan results in the creation of a renewed people – bringing together former enemies, Jew and Gentile, into one family. Jesus is our peace.
The Holy Spirit not only gives us power, not only leads us to proclamation, and not only fulfills God’s promise. He forms a new people.
What Kind of People?
That’s where Acts 2 gets most interesting. The characteristics of this new people reflect the work of the Holy Spirit. What are they doing?
- They are devoted to the apostles’ teaching. This is a Word-centered group of people, aren’t they? No surprise there. The Spirit inspired the apostle’s teaching.
- They are devoted to fellowship. They love each other. No surprise there. The Spirit of love has been poured into their hearts.
- They break bread together at the Communion table. No surprise there. Through the Spirit, Christ is present with us when we gather and proclaim His death through the Lord’s Supper.
- They are devoted to praying together. No surprise there. The Spirit is the One who groans within us when our words run out.
- They are marked by fear of the Lord. No surprise there. God has given us the Spirit of all wisdom, and the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
- They are marked out by witnessing the signs and wonders of the apostles. No surprise there. We too have seen God’s wonders. We’ve seen Him rescue people from sin, we’ve seen Him heal people of sickness in answer to our prayers, we’ve seen Him soften the hardest heart.
- They are willing to share their belongings and give to one another. No surprise. The Spirit of generosity has been poured out on God’s people.
- They show hospitality, going from house to house. No surprise. This is the Spirit who welcomes us into the throne room of grace.
- They are filled with gladness and simplicity. No surprise. This is the Spirit, the Comforter who brings us joy in God.
- They praise God. No surprise. The Spirit lifts up Jesus, and whenever we proclaim Him as Lord, it’s through the work of the Spirit.
- They find favor with all the people. No surprise. The Spirit fills us with love and self-giving devotion to others, so that they may see our good works and give glory to our Father in heaven.
The Gospel of the Promised Spirit
The Holy Spirit is part of the promise of the gospel.
- He gives us power to fulfill Christ’s mission.
- He leads us to proclamation of Christ’s gospel.
- He fulfills God’s promise of regeneration.
- And He forms a new people who know and love God, and overflow with love for others.
Jeremiah 29:11 is a precious verse to many: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lᴏʀᴅ, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
So how can Gentile John Piper, or any of us, lay claim to this hopeful promise made to Israel, God’s covenant people? Pastor John explains in this 3-minute video:
In Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism, Iain Murray draws four lessons from that conflict:
1. “Genuine evangelical Christianity is never of an exclusive spirit. Any view of the truth which undermines catholicity has gone astray from Scripture.” Spurgeon disagreed with hyper-Calvinists who “made faith in election a part of saving faith and thus either denied the Christianity of all professed Christians who did not so believe or at least treated such profession with much suspicion.”
2. Spurgeon “wanted to see both divine sovereignty and human responsibility upheld, but when it came to gospel preaching he believed that there needed to be a greater concentration upon responsibility. The tendency of Hyper-Calvinism was to make sinners want to understand theology before they could believe in Christ.”
3. “This controversy directs us to our need for profound humility before God. It reminds us forcefully of questions about which we can only say, ‘Behold, God is great, and we know him not’ (Job 36:26).” “It is to be feared that sharp contentions between Christians on these issues have too often arisen from a wrong confidence in our powers of reasoning and our assumed ability to draw logical inferences.” Spurgeon saw “how a system which sought to attribute all to the grace of God had itself too much confidence in the powers of reason.”
4. “The final conclusion has to be that when Calvinism ceases to be evangelistic, when it becomes more concerned with theory than with the salvation of men and women, when acceptance of doctrines seems to become more important than acceptance of Christ, then it is a system going to seed and it will invariably lose its attractive power.”
Iain H. Murray, Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism (Edinburgh, 1995), pages 110-122. Italics added.
(HT: Ray Ortlund)
Many are asking, “What is the church?” Pastor Jeff Vanderstelt believes we’re asking the wrong question, because the Bible uses that word to describe a group of people, not a gathering or event. So we really should be asking, “Who?” not what.
His answer? “The church is the regenerate people of God saved by the power of God for the purposes of God in this world.” This means we don’t stop being the church when we walk out of the building on Sunday morning. Instead, everything we do, we do as the blood-bought church of God, for the fame of Jesus, everywhere.
In less than three minutes, Vanderstelt unpacks how seeing the church through these eyes will change you — how you understand yourself and how you live Monday through Saturday.
By Trevin Wax:
There has been a much-needed resurgence of preaching the Bible as one storyline lately. But what’s the big deal? Why is it so important for Christians to be able to connect the dots of the Bible’s grand narrative? Here are four reasons I list in my latest book, Gospel-Centered Teaching:
1. To Gain a Biblical Worldview
The first reason we need to keep the biblical story line in mind is because the narrative of the Bible is the narrative of the world. The Bible doesn’t just give us commands and prohibitions. It gives us an entire worldview.
Everyone has a worldview, even people who are not Christians. Unfortunately, there are many Christians who do not have a Christian worldview. They may display some of the religious trappings of Christianity, but they demonstrate by their choices that they are living by another worldview.
The story line of the Bible is important because it helps us think as Christians formed by the great Story that tells the truth about our world. It is vitally important that people know the overarching story line of the Bible that leads from creation, to our fall into sin, to redemption through Jesus Christ, and final restoration in the fullness of time. If we are to live as Christians in a fallen world, we must be shaped by the grand narrative of the Scriptures, the worldview we find in the Bible.
2. To Recognize and Reject False Worldviews
A few years ago, two sociologists studying the religious views of young people in North America coined the phrase “moralistic therapeutic deism.” Those are three big words that sum up the following five beliefs of many in our society today:
- “A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.” (That’s the “Deism” part. God created the world, watches things, but doesn’t do much in the way of intervening in human affairs.)
- “God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.” (That’s the Moralistic part. The goal of religion is to be a nice, moral person.)
- “The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.” (That’s the Therapeutic part. The most important thing in life is to be happy and well-balanced.)
- “God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.” (Now, we see the Deistic view of God combine with God’s therapeutic purpose. He exists to make us happy.)
- “Good people go to heaven when they die.” (Salvation is accomplished through morality.) Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. “Moralism,” for short. Our society is awash in this worldview. Even longtime church members are not immune to it.
So, if we are going to be effective witnesses to the gospel in our day and age, we must put forth a biblical view of the world that counters rival worldviews.
3. To Rightly Understand the Gospel
Another reason we need to know the story line of the Bible is because the gospel can quickly become distorted without it. The story of the Bible gives context to the gospel message about Jesus.
Too many times, we think of the gospel as a story that jumps from the garden of Eden (we’ve all sinned) right to the cross (but Jesus fixes everything). On its own, that works fine in communicating the systematic points of our need for salvation and God’s provision in Christ, but from a biblical and theological perspective, it doesn’t do justice to what’s actually in the text. Once a person becomes a Christian and cracks the Bible, they’re going to wonder what the big deal is about Israel and the covenant, since that storyline takes up roughly 75% of the Bible. Getting people into that story is important. As D. A. Carson says, the announcement is incoherent without it.
We need the biblical story line in order to understand the gospel of Jesus. Otherwise, sharing the gospel of Christ’s death and resurrection is like coming into a movie theater at the most climactic moment but without any knowledge of the story thus far. You will be able to discern bits and pieces of the story, but you won’t understand the full significance of what is happening unless you know the backstory.
4. To Keep Our Focus on Christ
Every story has a main character. The Bible does too. It’s God. Specifically, it’s God as He reveals Himself to us in the Person of Jesus Christ.
Here’s what happens if we learn individual Bible stories and never connect them to the big Story: We put ourselves in the scene as if we are the main character. We take the moral examples of the Old and New Testament as if they were there to help us along in the life we’ve chosen for ourselves.
But the more we read the Bible, the more we see that God is the main character, not us. We are not the heroes learning to overcome all obstacles, persist in our faith, and call down fire from heaven. We’re the ones who need rescue, who need a Savior who will deliver us from Satan, sin, and death. It’s only in bowing before the real Hero of the story that we are in the right posture to take our place in the unfolding drama. Bearing in mind the big story of Scripture helps us keep our focus on Jesus, and off ourselves.
Adapted from Gospel-Centered Teaching (B&H Publishing Group, 2013)
In the on-going debate about the nature of Christ’s atoning death, some have insisted that penal substitution is only one model among many others. My contention has always been that it is more than one of many models and is in fact the central and controlling foundation for everything the atonement accomplished on behalf of sinners. Without it, there is no gospel and there is no salvation. I was pleased to come across this statement by J. I. Packer in which he affirms precisely the same point.
Packer proceeds to explain how penal substitution theologically explains everything else regarding the saving efficacy of Christ’s death. Note the following sequence.
“What did Christ’s death accomplish? It redeemed us to God – purchased us at a price, that is, from captivity to sin for the freedom of life with God (Tit 2:14; Rev 5:9). How did it do that? By being a blood-sacrifice for our sins (Eph 1:7; Heb 9:11-15). How did that sacrifice have its redemptive effect? By making peace, achieving reconciliation, and so ending enmity between God and ourselves (Rom 5:10; 2 Cor 5:18-20; Eph 2:13-16; Col 1:19-20). How did Christ’s death make peace? By being a propitiation, an offering appointed by God himself to dissolve his judicial wrath against us by removing our sins from his sight (Rom 3:25; Heb 2:17; 1 Jn 2:2; 4:10). How did the Savior’s self-sacrifice have this propitiatory effect? By being a vicarious enduring of the retribution declared due to us by God’s own law (Gal 3:13; Col 2:13-14) – in other words, by penal substitution” (416, “The Atonement in the Life of the Christian”).
The inescapable fact is that if Christ’s death was not of the nature of a penal substitutionary sacrifice, we simply have nothing in the way of good news to share with a lost and dying world.
Two heroes for the price of one!
(HT: Justin Taylor)
“But the taproot of our entire salvation, and the true NT frame for cataloguing its ingredients, is our union with Christ himself by the Holy Spirit. That is, to be more precise, our implantation, symbolized by the under-and-up-from-under of water baptism, into the twin realities of Christ’s own dying and rising (see Rom 6:1-11; Col 2:9-12). In this union we have a salvation that is not only positional through the cross in the terms just stated, and relational through our sustained faith-communion with our Lord, but is also transformational through the regenerating and indwelling Spirit, who stirs and motivates and empowers us to express our new hearts’ desires in new habits of action and reaction constituting Christlike character (‘the fruit of the Spirit’ in Gal 5:22-23).
”Atonement in the Life of the Christian,” in The Glory of the Atonement, 417
(HT: Sam Storms)
Sometimes people ask authors, “Which of your books is your favorite?” The first time the question is asked, the response is likely to be “I am not sure; I have never really thought about it.” But forced to think about it, my own standard response has become, “I am not sure what my favorite book is; but my favorite title is A Heart for God.” I am rarely asked, “Why?” but (in case you ask) the title simply expresses what I want to be: a Christian with a heart for God.
Perhaps that is in part a reflection of the fact that we sit on the shoulders of the giants of the past. Think of John Calvin’s seal and motto: a heart held out in the palm of a hand and the words “I offer my heart to you, Lord, readily and sincerely.” Or consider Charles Wesley’s hymn:
O for a heart to praise my God!
A heart from sin set free.
Some hymnbooks don’t include Wesley’s hymn, presumably in part because it is read as an expression of his doctrine of perfect love and entire sanctification. (He thought it possible to have his longing fulfilled in this world.) But the sentiment itself is surely biblical.
But behind the giants of church history stands the testimony of Scripture. The first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our heart (Deut. 6:5). That is why, in replacing Saul as king, God “sought out a man after his own heart” (1 Sam. 13:14), for “the Lord looks on the heart” (16:7). It is a truism to say that, in terms of our response to the gospel, the heart of the matter is a matter of the heart. But truism or not, it is true.
What this looks like, how it is developed, in what ways it can be threatened, and how it expresses itself will be explored little by little in this new column. But at this stage, perhaps it will help us if we map out some preliminary matters in the form of a catechism on the heart:
Q.1. What is the heart?
A. The heart is the central core and drive of my life intellectually (it involves my mind), affectionately (it shapes my soul), and totally (it provides the energy for my living).
Q.2. Is my heart healthy?
A. No. By nature I have a diseased heart. From birth, my heart is deformed and antagonistic to God. The intentions of its thoughts are evil continually.
Q.3. Can my diseased heart be healed?
A. Yes. God, in His grace, can give me a new heart to love Him and to desire to serve Him.
Q.4. How does God do this?
A. God does this through the work of the Lord Jesus for me and the ministry of the Holy Spirit in me. He illumines my mind through the truth of the gospel, frees my enslaved will from its bondage to sin, cleanses my affections by His grace, and motivates me inwardly to live for Him by rewriting His law into my heart so that I begin to love what He loves. The Bible calls this being “born from above.”
Q.5. Does this mean I will never sin again?
A. No. I will continue to struggle with sin until I am glorified. God has given me a new heart, but for the moment He wants me to keep living in a fallen world. So day by day I face the pressures to sin that come from the world, the flesh, and the Devil. But God’s Word promises that over all these enemies I can be “more than a conqueror through him who loved us.”
Q.6. What four things does God counsel me to do so that my heart may be kept for Him?
A. First, I must guard my heart as if everything depended on it. This means that I should keep my heart like a sanctuary for the presence of the Lord Jesus and allow nothing and no one else to enter.
Second, I must keep my heart healthy by proper diet, growing strong on a regular diet of God’s Word — reading it for myself, meditating on its truth, but especially being fed on it in the preaching of the Word. I also will remember that my heart has eyes as well as ears. The Spirit shows me baptism as a sign that I bear God’s triune name, while the Lord’s Supper stimulates heart love for the Lord Jesus.
Third, I must take regular spiritual exercise, since my heart will be strengthened by worship when my whole being is given over to God in expressions of love for and trust in Him.
Fourth, I must give myself to prayer in which my heart holds on to the promises of God, rests in His will, and asks for His sustaining grace — and do this not only on my own but with others so that we may encourage one another to maintain a heart for God.
This — and much else — requires development, elaboration, and exposition. But it can be summed up in a single biblical sentence. Listen to your Father’s appeal: “My son, give Me your heart.”
“In a broad sense the Old Testament was the economy of conviction of sin. The law revealed the moral helplessness of man, placed him under a curse, worked death. There was, of course, gospel under and in the Old Covenant, but it was for its expression largely dependent on the silent symbolic language of alter and sacrifice and lustration. Under it the glory which speaks of righteousness was in hiding.
In the New Covenant all this has been changed. The veil has been rent, and through it an unobstructed view is obtained of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. And with this vision comes the assurance of atonement, satisfaction, acces to God, peace of conscience, liberty, eternal life.”
— Geerhardus Vos
Grace & Glory
(Carlisle, Pa.: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1994), 96-97
(HT: Of First Importance)