The effective love of Christ

 

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“A man may love another as his own soul, yet his love may not be able to help him. He may pity him in prison, but not relieve him, bemoan him in misery, but not help him, suffer with him in trouble, but not ease him. We cannot love grace into a child, nor mercy into a friend; we cannot love them into heaven, though it may be the greatest desire of our soul. . . . But the love of Christ, being the love of God, is effective and fruitful in producing all the good things which he wills for his beloved. He loves life, grace and holiness into us; he loves us into covenant, loves us into heaven.”

John Owen, Works (Edinburgh, 1980), II:63. Style updated, italics added.

(HT: Ray Ortlund)

Deeper into the gospel

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Our great need is to be led further in to what we already have. The gospel is so deep that it not only meets our deepest needs but comes from God’s deepest self.

The salvation proclaimed in the gospel is not some mechanical operation that God took on as a side project. It is a ‘mystery that was kept secret for long ages’ (Rom. 16:25), a mystery of salvation that goes back into the heart of God, decreed ‘before the foundation of the world’ (Eph. 1:4; 1 Pet. 1:20).

When God undertook our salvation, he did it in a way that put divine resources into play, resources which involve him personally in the task.… The deeper we dig into the gospel, the deeper we go into the mystery of the Trinity.

— Fred Sanders
The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything

(HT: Of First Importance)

Challies: Lessons I’ve Learned From False Teachers

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Tim Challies:

A few months ago I began a short series called “The False Teachers.” I wanted to look back through church history to meet some of the people who have undermined the church at various points. We looked at historical figures like Joseph Smith who founded Mormonism and Ellen G. White who led the Seventh Day Adventists into prominence, and we looked at contemporary figures like Benny Hinn, the prominent faith healer, and T.D. Jakes, who has tampered with the doctrine of the Trinity.

I will soon be starting a new series looking at The Defenders, Christians known for defending the church against a certain theological challenge or a specific false teaching. I will be focusing on modern times and modern issues such as inerrancy and Open Theism. But before I do that, I wanted to reflect on some of what I’ve learned as I’ve spent time considering false teachers and false teaching. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned from false teachers.

FALSE TEACHERS ARE COMMON

The first and most fundamental thing I learned about false teachers is that we ought to expect them and be on the lookout for them. They are common in every era of church history. This should not surprise us, since the Bible warns that we are on war footing in this world, and that Satan is on full-out offensive against God and his people. And sure enough, history shows that whenever the gospel advances, error follows in its wake. When and where there are teachers of truth, there will necessarily be teachers of error. Perhaps the most surprising thing about false teachers is that we continue to be surprised by them.

FALSE TEACHERS ARE DECEPTIVE

False teachers are deceptive. They do not announce themselves as false teachers, but proclaim themselves angels of light, people who have access to wisdom others have missed or misplaced. As Denny Burk says, “False teachers typically won’t show up to your church wearing a sandwich board saying, ‘I am a false teacher’.” Instead they begin within the bounds of orthodoxy and announce themselves only slowly and through their subtly-twisted doctrine. They turn away from orthodoxy one step at a time rather than all at once.

FALSE TEACHERS ARE DANGEROUS

False teachers are dangerous, and part of what makes them so dangerous is that they will affirm so much that is good and true. They will not deny all of the doctrines upon which the Christian faith stands or falls, but only select parts of it. They draw in the unsuspecting with all they affirm and only later destroy them with all they deny. There is an important lesson: We only know a person when he understand both what he affirms and what he denies.

FALSE TEACHERS ARE DIVISIVE

False teachers cause division within the church and often cause division even among true Christians. Because false teachers tend to remain within the church, and because they claim to be honoring the Bible, they confuse true believers and drive wedges between them. Amazingly, it is often those who stand fast against falsehood who get labeled as divisive. The church often trusts a smiling false teacher ahead of a frowning defender.

FALSE TEACHERS GIVE PEOPLE WHAT THEY WANT

As Paul wrote his final letter to Timothy he warned that the time was coming when people would not endure sound teaching (and hence, sound teachers) but instead they would have itching ears and demand teachers who would satisfy this itch. False teachers do this very thing. Their concern is not for what people truly need, but for what people want. The concern of the Christian is the exact opposite—the gospel does not address what we want, but what we need!

FALSE TEACHERS ARE NOT INNOCENT

False teachers know they are false teachers. This may not be true all the time, and perhaps some false teachers deceive themselves before they deceive others. But I believe most know who and what they are; in fact, I believe most know and delight in who and what they are. They are not naive people who have taken a wrong turn in their theology, but evil people who are out to destroy others. Their attack on truth is far more brazen than we may like to think.

FALSE TEACHERS CANNOT TOLERATE THE GOSPEL
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False teachers simply cannot tolerate the gospel. At some level and in some way, they will always add to or subtract from the pure and sweet gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. They may affirm the Trinity or inerrancy or the deity of Jesus Christ, but they will never fully affirm the gospel of the Bible.

The Greatest Challenge in the World

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John Piper:

Never, never, never forget that Jesus commanded us to make disciples of all the peoples on this planet — the whole planet (Matthew 28:19–20). This is the greatest challenge in the world.

Let the emphasis fall on “all the peoples” — Greek, panta ta ethne (all ethnic groups in the world). Jesus bought men “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9). Not some, but every.

The point is not that we can draw sharp boundaries between all the peoples (tribes, languages, nations). The point is that the scope of Jesus’s command is wider and amazingly more diverse than we think.

Remember the Mission

What a wonderful day we live in when we consider the sacrificial, rigorous, extensive research that is being done to help us know the progress of Jesus’s mission! Perhaps the most accessible, clear, and thorough accumulation of these facts is at Joshuaproject.net. I think Jesus would be very pleased if you were familiar with this site for the sake of his name.

They estimate that the total number of people groups in the world is 9,736 if you don’t count any group twice for being in different countries (16,067 if you do).

Then they estimate that 4,067 of those 9,736 are unreached (see the definition). This is the challenge of the church globally — the greatest challenge in the world.

In Luke 24:46–47 Jesus said his commission was written in the Old Testament: “It is written that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”

In John 17:18 and 20:21 Jesus said his command is a continuation of his own mission to earth — he was the perfect cross-cultural missionary. He bought the redemption. We take it to the world. Without us they don’t have it. “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”

And in Acts 1:8 Jesus said to the disciples that he sent the Holy Spirit specifically for the empowering of this mission. “The Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Your life is too small if it is not connected to this great challenge. Not all Christians are missionaries. But all care about the mission. All are connected. And want to be connected. No Christian should go for months and never think about this greatest of all enterprises.

The Challenge and the Greatness

World missions is greater than any other challenge in the world.

It is vastly greater than the challenge of stamping out all disease, for the consequences of our failure are infinitely worse than that failure would be.

It is vastly greater than the challenge of bringing literacy to all the peoples because it includes that (since one goal of discipleship is reading the Bible) and goes beyond it to the infinite results of believing what is read.

It is vastly greater than the challenge of ending all war, because there are greater and worse hostilities against mankind than come from armed combat.

It is vastly greater than the challenge of feeding all the hungry of the world because it addresses that and goes beyond it to the hunger that leads to starvation beyond death.

Why is it the greatest?

It is the greatest challenge in the world because it carries the greatest news in the world: There is salvation from God’s judgment only through faith in Christ’s death and resurrection.

It is the greatest challenge in the world because it involves the most complex task of embedding the Christian faith authentically in thousands of diverse cultures without diluting the saving message.

It is the greatest challenge in the world because it will require the greatest sacrifice of any other challenge not only because of the greatest complexity, but also because of the greatest opposition. Jesus promised it. “You will be hated by all nations” (Matthew 24:9).

It is the greatest challenge in the world because it was given by the greatest person in the world, Jesus Christ.

It is the greatest challenge in the world because it has the greatest authority behind it, namely “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18).

It is the greatest challenge in the world because it is backed by the greatest promise in the world: “I — the creator and sustainer and redeemer of all — will be with you to the end of the age.”

It is the greatest challenge in the world because Jesus has given us supernatural power that comes to its fullest enjoyment when actualized in world missions (Acts 1:8).

Oh, take hold of this! Never let it go. Stay connected to this. Let this be in your prayers without ceasing. Don’t drift away from this. Yes, by all means give yourself to many causes. But remember this cause sums them all up, because this cause carries the possibility of all good causes to all the nations.

Love the mission of Jesus. Because you love Jesus. And because you love the lost. Yes you do. You are Christian.

Spiritual life flows out of union with Christ

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“Spiritual life flows out of union with Christ, not merely imitation of Christ. When the full dimensions of God’s gracious provision in Christ are not clearly articulated in the church, faith cannot apprehend them, and the life of the church will suffer distortion and attenuation. The individual Christian and the church as a whole are alive in Christ, and when any essential dimensions of what it means to be in Christ are obscured in the church’s understanding there is no guarantee that the people of God will strive toward and experience fullness of life.”

Richard Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Life, p. 74

(HT: Brian Hedges)

Top 20 Christ-Centred Expository Preaching Checklist

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David Prince:

  1. Preach the text/Preach Christ and His Kingdom (redemptive history, epoch, person & work of Christ, eschatological fulfillment in the Kingdom of Christ)
  2. Honor the Authors of the text
  3. Apply the text in light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ
  4. Preach with authority as an ambassador of Christ
  5. Understand preaching as an eschatological act of spiritual war that demands prayer and Spirit-given unction
  6. Preach the sermon and not the outline
  7. Remember the outline is primarily for you and not the congregation
  8. Prepare sermon notes in thought blocks with orality mind
  9. Keep your audience in mind as you prepare
  10. Concretize illustrations and application bringing theological truth down the ladder of abstraction
  11. Use an illustration like a window not like a painting
  12. Start strong. Do not slowly ramp up. Finish strong. Do not introduce new ideas in the conclusion
  13. Do not narrate your sermon moves and make sure sermon moves are connected and not abstracted from one another (why I prefer to say moves and not points)
  14. Avoid statistics and lists (if used—personalize)
  15. Do not lose the text or allow the congregation to lose the text as you preach
  16. Do not lose the genre as you preach
  17. Make sure the sermon honors the form and the feel of the text
  18. Always bring the gospel to bear on religious Pharisees, Sadducees and idols
  19. Remember that the Gospel is the key to justification and sanctification
  20. Ask – Did Jesus have to be resurrected for this sermon to work? If not, start over

Primer on Reading the Bible

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By John J. Hughes:

The Bible is not an ordinary book, and we will never taste its choicest fruits if we approach it in an ordinary manner. Here are seven short pieces of counsel, from a lifelong Bible-reader, to help you make the most of your own study of the Scriptures.

1. Exalt God’s Word

God exalts his word and name above all things (Psalm 138:2). His words are flawless, like silver refined in a furnace, purified seven times (Psalm 12:6). They are perfect (Psalm 19:7). Because the words of the Bible are “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16), they are living, active, able to penetrate our hearts (Hebrews 4:12) and to give life (John 6:63, 68). Therefore, Jesus prayed: “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). The Bible is not just true; it is truth itself — God’s divinely revealed standard of truth.

2. Live by God’s Words

Jesus said we are to live by “every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Obeying God’s word is the hallmark of a disciple and the test of true love. Jesus said, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23). But “he who does not love me will not obey my teaching” (John 14:24). Love shows itself in obedience, which God rewards with increased fellowship with him.

3. Honor the Bible’s Two Natures

Jesus has two natures — divine and human, without sin. So also the Bible has two authors — God and man, without error. The Bible is the words of God in the words of men (2 Peter 1:21; 2 Timothy 3:16). What the Bible says, God says.

4. Recognize the Bible’s Purposes

God gave the Bible to make us “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15), to equip us “for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:17). Paul prayed that our love for Jesus “may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight,” so we can discern God’s will and lead lives that please him and result in his worship (Philippians 1:9–11). Loving Jesus increases our understanding of God’s word and will, deepens our worship of him, and fosters richer fellowship with him.

5. Beware of Pharisaical Leaven

Bible study can fan the flames of our love for Jesus or drown it in a sea of knowledge. Studying the Bible with Jesus is life-changing. Studying the Bible without him is an exercise in intellectual pride.

Jesus’s harshest words were reserved for Bible scholars and religious leaders. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for their proud, deceitful hearts: “You have never heard the Father’s voice . . . nor does his word dwell in you. . . . You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:37–40).

Similarly, Jesus chastised the Sadducees for their poor understanding of the Bible and God: “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God” (Matthew 22:29).

According to Jesus (in John 5:37–47), he is the subject of the Bible (see also Luke 24:25–27 and 2 Corinthians 1:20), and the proper goal of Bible study is not the acquisition of knowledge, but hearing God speak to us in his word, having his word dwell in us, and coming to him for eternal life — in other words, life-giving fellowship with God.

6. Seek Fellowship with God

First, approach God’s word with a humble heart. “Knowledge puffs up” (1 Corinthians 8:1), and God opposes proud people (1 Peter 5:5). God calls pride a “detestable thing” (Proverbs 16:5) — the same Hebrew word used to refer to pagan sacrifices and practices. Pride begets spiritual death, but humility brings life (Proverbs 22:4) because God “gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5), who “tremble at his word” (Isaiah 66:2), and he revives them (Isaiah 57:15).

Cry out for supernatural help. Ask God to give you a “spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better” (Ephesians 1:17) and to open your eyes so you “may see wonderful things in his law” (Psalm 119:18). Ask to hear Jesus’s voice (John 10:4, 16, 27) and for him to open the Scriptures so your heart might burn with increased passion for the Son of God (Luke 24:32). Invite the Author of the Book to help you understand his Book. God delights in giving the Holy Spirit to those who ask him (Luke 11:13)!

Second, approach God’s word with a pure heart. Only in Jesus are we able to enter God’s presence as a passionate worshiper who has “clean hands and a pure heart” (Psalm 24:3–4), not just by justification, but increasingly in terms of our own sanctification. Sin grieves the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30) and separates us from God (Psalm 66:18; Isaiah 59:2). Without the active presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, the Spirit of Truth (John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13), we cannot understand God’s word (1 Corinthians 2:12–14).

Before studying the Bible, ask God to reveal any sin in your life (Psalm 139:23–24). Confess your sin. Ask God to cleanse your heart (Psalm 51:10). Then thank God for forgiving and cleansing you through Jesus’s blood (Hebrews 9:14; 10:19–22; 1 John 1:9).

Third, approach God’s word with a seeking heart. Only if you earnestly seek God, believing he will speak to you in his word, will you hear what he has to say and experience his presence, for without faith it is impossible to please him (Hebrews 11:6). Seek God above all. Learn to pray David’s prayer: “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple” (Psalm 27:4).

7. Seek to Love What God Loves — And Hate What God Hates

The main purpose of Bible study is knowing God personally and deeply in a life-transforming way (Philippians 3:10) so that the character of Christ is formed in us (Galatians 4:19) as God conforms us to the image of (Romans 8:29) and transforms us into the likeness of (2 Corinthians 3:18) his Son, Jesus.

Godly Bible study will lead to an increased love for what pleases God (John 8:29; 2 Corinthians 5:9) and a corresponding hatred for the things God hates (Hebrews 1:9). It will lead us to seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness (Matthew 6:33) and to do all that we do for God’s glory (1 Corinthians 10:31). It will lead us to have passion for Jesus and compassion for people (Matthew 22:37–40; 1 Timothy 1:5; Revelation 2:4). Jesus prayed that the Father’s love for him would be in us and that he would be in us (John 17:26). He prayed that we would experience the Father’s love for us, have deep fellowship with him, and then love him as his Father does (Romans 5:5; 1 John 4:19). Such love is upward-facing toward God and outward-facing toward others. To say that we love God while failing to show love to others signifies a failure to love God truly (1 John 4:20).

God-pleasing Bible study will deepen our experience of God’s love, resulting in greater love for him, deeper fellowship with him, and greater compassion for people.

A thinly spread gospel

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“In the twentieth century the church has tried to see how little it could say and still get converts. The assumption has been that a minimal message will conserve our forces, spread the Gospel farther, and, of course, preserve a unity among evangelicals. It has succeeded in spreading the truth so thinly that the world cannot see it. Four facts droned over and over have bored sinners around us and weakened the church as well.”

Walter J. Chantry, Today’s Gospel: Authentic or Synthetic? (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1970), p. 45-46.

(HT:Thabiti Anyabwile)

The Fuel For Missions

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Without the Bible, world evangelization would not only impossible but actually inconceivable. It is the Bible that lays upon us the responsibility to evangelize the world, gives us a gospel to proclaim, tells us how to proclaim it and promises us that it is God’s power for salvation to every believer.

It is, moreover, an observable fact of history, both past and contemporary, that the degree of the Church’s commitment to world evangelization is commensurate with the degree of its conviction about the authority of the Bible. Whenever Christians lose their confidence in the Bible, they also lose their zeal for evangelism. Conversely, whenever they are convinced about the Bible, then they are determined about evangelism.

- John Stott in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, p.21

(HT: Zach Nielsen)

 

God’s last and effective word

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

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

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

(HT: Of First Importance)

Five Questions for Christians Who Believe the Bible Supports Gay Marriage

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Kevin DeYoung:

So you’ve become convinced that the Bible supports gay marriage. You’ve studied the issue, read some books, looked at the relevant Bible passages and concluded that Scripture does not prohibit same-sex intercourse so long as it takes place in the context of a loving, monogamous, lifelong covenanted relationship. You still love Jesus. You still believe the Bible. In fact, you would argue that it’s because you love Jesus and because you believe the Bible that you now embrace gay marriage as a God-sanctioned good.

As far as you are concerned, you haven’t rejected your evangelical faith. You haven’t turned your back on God. You haven’t become a moral relativist. You’ve never suggested anything goes when it comes to sexual behavior. In most things, you tend to be quite conservative. You affirm the family, and you believe in the permanence of marriage. But now you’ve simply come to the conclusion that two men or two women should be able to enter into the institution of marriage–both as a legal right and as a biblically faithful expression of one’s sexuality.

Setting aside the issue of biblical interpretation for the moment, let me ask five questions.

1. On what basis do you still insist that marriage must be monogamous?

Presumably, you do not see any normative significance in God creating the first human pair male and female (Gen. 2:23-25; Matt. 19:4-6). Paul’s language about each man having his own wife and each woman her own husband cannot be taken too literally without falling back into the exclusivity of heterosexual marriage (1 Cor. 7:2). The two coming together as one so they might produce godly offspring doesn’t work with gay marriage either (Mal. 2:15). So why monogamy? Jesus never spoke explicitly against polygamy. The New Testament writers only knew of exploitative polygamy, the kind tied to conquest, greed, and subjugation. If they had known of voluntary, committed, loving polyamorous relationships, who’s to think they wouldn’t have approved?

These aren’t merely rhetorical questions. The issue is legitimate: if 3 or 13 or 30 people really love each other, why shouldn’t they have a right to be married? And for that matter, why not a brother and a sister, or two sisters, or a mother and son, or father and son, or any other combination of two or more persons who love each other. Once we’ve accepted the logic that for love to be validated it must be expressed sexually and that those engaged in consensual sexual activity cannot be denied the “right” of marriage, we have opened a Pandora’s box of marital permutations that cannot be shut.

2. Will you maintain the same biblical sexual ethic in the church now that you think the church should solemnize gay marriages?

After assailing the conservative church for ignoring the issue of divorce, will you exercise church discipline when gay marriages fall apart? Will you preach abstinence before marriage for all single persons, no matter their orientation? If nothing has really changed except that you now understand the Bible to be approving of same-sex intercourse in committed lifelong relationships,we should expect loud voices in the near future denouncing the infidelity rampant in homosexual relationships. Surely, those who support gay marriage out of “evangelical” principles, will be quick to find fault with the notion that the male-male marriages most likely to survive are those with a flexible understanding that other partners may come and go. According to one study researched and written by two homosexual authors, of 156 homosexual couples studied, only seven had maintained sexual fidelity, and of the hundred that had been together for more than five years, none had remained faithful (cited by Satinover, 55). In the rush to support committed, lifelong, monogamous same-sex relationships, it’s worth asking whether those supporters–especially the Christians among them–will, in fact, insist on a lifelong, monogamous commitment.

3. Are you prepared to say moms and dads are interchangeable?

It is a safe assumption that those in favor of gay marriage are likely to support gay and lesbian couples adopting children or giving birth to children through artificial insemination. What is sanctioned, therefore, is a family unit where children grow up de facto without one birth parent. This means not simply that some children, through the unfortunate circumstances of life, may grow up without a mom and dad, but that the church will positively bless and encourage the family type that will deprive children of either a mother or a father. So are mothers indispensable? Is another dad the same as a mom? No matter how many decent, capable homosexual couples we may know, are we confident that as a general rule there is nothing significant to be gained by growing up with a mother and a father?

4. What will you say about anal intercourse?

The answer is probably “nothing.” But if you feel strongly about the dangers of tobacco or fuss over the negative affects of carbs, cholesterol, gmo’s, sugar, gluten, trans fats, and hydrogenated soybean oil may have on your health, how can you not speak out about the serious risks associated with male-male intercourse. How is it loving to celebrate what we know to be a singularly unhealthy lifestyle? According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, the risk of anal cancer increases 4000 percent among those who engage in anal intercourse. Anal sex increases the risk of a long list of health problems, including “rectal prolapse, perforation that can go septic, chlamydia, cyrptosporidosis, giardiasis, genital herpes, genital warts, isosporiasis, microsporidiosis, gonorrhea, viral hepatitis B and C, and syphilis” (quoted in Reilly, 55). And this is to say nothing of the higher rates of HIV and other health concerns with disproportionate affects on the homosexual community.

5. How have all Christians at all times and in all places interpreted the Bible so wrongly for so long?

Christians misread their Bibles all the time. The church must always be reformed according to the word of God. Sometimes biblical truth rests with a small minority. Sometimes the truth is buried in relative obscurity for generations. But when we must believe that the Bible has been misunderstood by virtually every Christian in every part of the world for the last two thousand years, it ought to give us pause. From the Jewish world in the Old and New Testaments to the early church to the Middle Ages to the Reformation and into the 20th century, the church has understood the Bible to teach that engaging in homosexuality activity was among the worst sins a person could commit. As the late Louis Crompton, a gay man and pioneer in queer studies, explained:

Some interpreters, seeking to mitigate Paul’s harshness, have read the passage [in Romans 1] as condemning not homosexuals generally but only heterosexual men and women who experimented with homosexuality. According to this interpretation, Paul’s words were not directed at “bona fide” homosexuals in committed relationships. But such a reading, however well-intentioned, seems strained and unhistorical. Nowhere does Paul or any other Jewish writer of this period imply the least acceptance of same-sex relations under any circumstances. The idea that homosexuals might be redeemed by mutual devotion would have been wholly foreign to Paul or any Jew or early Christian. (Homosexuality and Civilization, 114).

The church has been of one mind on this issue for nearly two millennia. Are you prepared to jeopardize the catholicity of the church and convince yourself that everyone misunderstood the Bible until the 1960s? On such a critical matter, it’s important we think through the implications of our position, especially if it means consigning to the bin of bigotry almost every Christian who has ever lived.

What is Hell?

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R.C. Sproul:

We have often heard statements such as “War is hell” or “I went through hell.” These expressions are, of course, not taken literally. Rather, they reflect our tendency to use the word hell as a descriptive term for the most ghastly human experience possible. Yet no human experience in this world is actually comparable to hell. If we try to imagine the worst of all possible suffering in the here and now we have not yet stretched our imaginations to reach the dreadful reality of hell.

Hell is trivialized when it is used as a common curse word. To use the word lightly may be a halfhearted human attempt to take the concept lightly or to treat it in an amusing way. We tend to joke about things most frightening to us in a futile effort to declaw and defang them, reducing their threatening power.

There is no biblical concept more grim or terror-invoking than the idea of hell. It is so unpopular with us that few would give credence to it at all except that it comes to us from the teaching of Christ Himself.

Almost all the biblical teaching about hell comes from the lips of Jesus. It is this doctrine, perhaps more than any other, that strains even the Christian’s loyalty to the teaching of Christ. Modern Christians have pushed the limits of minimizing hell in an effort to sidestep or soften Jesus’ own teaching. The Bible describes hell as a place of outer darkness, a lake of fire, a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth, a place of eternal separation from the blessings of God, a prison, a place of torment where the worm doesn’t turn or die. These graphic images of eternal punishment provoke the question, should we take these descriptions literally or are they merely symbols?

I suspect they are symbols, but I find no relief in that. We must not think of them as being merely symbols. It is probably that the sinner in hell would prefer a literal lake of fire as his eternal abode to the reality of hell represented in the lake of fire image. If these images are indeed symbols, then we must conclude that the reality is worse than the symbol suggests. The function of symbols is to point beyond themselves to a higher or more intense state of actuality than the symbol itself can contain. That Jesus used the most awful symbols imaginable to describe hell is no comfort to those who see them simply as symbols.

A breath of relief is usually heard when someone declares, “Hell is a symbol for separation from God.” To be separated from God for eternity is no great threat to the impenitent person. The ungodly want nothing more than to be separated from God. Their problem in hell will not be separation from God, it will be the presence of God that will torment them. In hell, God will be present in the fullness of His divine wrath. He will be there to exercise His just punishment of the damned. They will know Him as an all-consuming fire.

No matter how we analyze the concept of hell it often sounds to us as a place of cruel and unusual punishment. If, however, we can take any comfort in the concept of hell, we can take it in the full assurance that there will be no cruelty there. It is impossible for God to be cruel. Cruelty involves inflicting a punishment that is more severe or harsh than the crime. Cruelty in this sense is unjust. God is incapable of inflicting an unjust punishment. The Judge of all the earth will surely do what is right. No innocent person will ever suffer at His hand.

Perhaps the most frightening aspect of hell is its eternality. People can endure the greatest agony if they know it will ultimately stop. In hell there is no such hope. The Bible clearly teaches that the punishment is eternal. The same word is used for both eternal life and eternal death. Punishment implies pain. Mere annihilation, which some have lobbied for, involves no pain. Jonathan Edwards, in preaching on Revelation 6:15-16 said, “Wicked men will hereafter earnestly wish to be turned to nothing and forever cease to be that they may escape the wrath of God.”

Hell, then, is an eternity before the righteous, ever-burning wrath of God, a suffering torment from which there is no escape and no relief. Understanding this is crucial to our drive to appreciate the work of Christ and to preach His gospel.

This excerpt is from R.C. Sproul’s Essential Truths of the Christian Faith.

Worship Like a Hedonist

 

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David Mathis:

Let me encourage you to take a very hedonistic approach to worship this weekend, and to every corporate worship gathering.

A hedonist is someone who thinks of pleasure as the highest good and tries, in everything, to maximize pleasure.

We Christians don’t believe that human pleasure in itself is the highest good, but we should believe that finding our pleasure in God is essential in our participating in the highest good — the glory of God. As we love to celebrate here at Desiring God, God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.

Since the glory of God is the highest good, and the way in which we glorify him most is by being satisfied in him — enjoying him or maximizing our pleasure in him — then the most important approach for us to take together in our weekly worship gatherings is to seek him hedonistically. To aim together at maximizing our pleasure in him.

Whether it’s the singing, the preaching, the praying, the reciting, the giving, or the coming together at the Lord’s Table, the most important obedience to pursue may be this: to rejoice, to delight.

Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself in the Lord”

Psalm 32:11: “Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice”

Philippians 4:4: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice”

In corporate worship, and in all of life, we’ll want to ask God to give us the heart of Psalm 63:1: “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.”

If you want a spiritual sensation to seek maybe it’s quenching your thirst. The picture from Psalm 42 is a thirsty deer, aching for water — call it “the hart of worship.” “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Psalm 42:1–2).

Perhaps your experience resonates with those of us who would say, in the words of John Piper, “the revolt against hedonism has killed the spirit of worship in many churches” (Desiring God, 98). Surprising as it may seem, we would encourage you this weekend to ban any thought of disinterestedness — because “worship is the most hedonistic affair of life and must not be ruined with the least thought of disinterestedness” (98).

We believe that “the hedonistic approach to God in worship is the only humble approach because it is the only approach that comes with empty hands” (95–96). It is good news that “the enemy of worship is not that our desire for pleasure is too strong, but too weak!” (99).

So, as you prepare your heart for, and enter into, corporate worship this weekend, don’t tone your desires down or put your heart aside. Don’t just go through the motions. Don’t let mere duty be the driver. Come to feast on God and his goodness to us in Jesus. Come to satisfy your deepest longings in the very one “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2).

We come not to meet any needs in God, but to have our greatest needs met in his grace.

Let’s worship like hedonists.

When the heart is fat with the love of Jesus

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On the most basic levels, I desire fullness, and fleshly lusts seduce me by attaching themselves to this basic desire. They exploit the empty spaces in me, and they promise that fulness will be mine if I give in to their demands. When my soul sits empty and is aching for something to fill it, such deceptive promises are extremely difficult to resist.

Consequently, the key to mortifying fleshly lusts is to eliminate the emptiness within me and replace it with fullness; and I accomplish this by feasting on the gospel. Indeed, it is in the gospel that I experience a God who glorifies Himself by filling me with His fullness. This is the God of the gospel, a God who is satisfied with nothing less than my experience of fullness in Him!

Indeed, as I perpetually feast on Christ and all His blessings found in the gospel, I find that my hunger for sin diminishes and the lies of lust simply lose their appeal. Hence, to the degree that I am full, I am free. Eyes do not rove, nor do fleshly lusts rule, when the heart is fat with the love of Jesus!

— Milton Vincent
A Gospel Primer for Christians
45-46

(HT: Of First Importance)

Saved to the Uttermost

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Jared Wilson:

(35) Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. (36) But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. (37) All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. (38) For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. (39) And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.”
– John 6:35-39

Salvation by Christ’s work is a gift of grace received through faith. This salvation is total (Romans 8:30) and we see its totality in John 6. In Christ, we are:

1. Satisfied (vv.35-36)
No more hunger. No more thirst. When we are full of Christ, we are truly full. He is the end of our fruitless searching for satisfaction, our appetites for idols.

2. Secured (v.37,39)
Never cast out, never lost. His securing hand (John 10:28), like his securing love (Romans 8:35-39), is omnipotent. If a Christian is united to Christ, he is as secure as Christ is.

3. Supernaturalized (v.39)
Heaven has come down to invade earth in Christ, and by God’s grace, heaven invades the very souls of his children (John 14:17Romans 8:9) and sets up shop (Ephesians 2:22). Indwelt by the Spirit who seals (Ephesians 1:13), guarantees (2 Corinthians 1:22), instructs (John 16:13), and empowers (Acts 1:8Ephesians 3:16), we are new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17), growing in grace (2 Peter 3:18) and bearing capital-S Spiritual fruit (Galatians 5:22-23), consecrated for the day we will receive our inheritance — glorified bodies (1 Corinthians 15:42-49).

By and in Christ, we are utterly saved.

Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God . . .
– Hebrews 7:25

A dissatisfied Messiah

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The One on whom we wait is a dissatisfied Messiah. He will not relent, he will not quit, he will not rest until ever promise he has made been fully delivered. He will not turn from his work until every one of his children has been totally transformed. He will continue to fight until the last enemy is under his feet. He will reign until his kingdom has fully come. As long as sin exists, he will shower us with forgiving, empowering, and delivering grace.

He will defend us against attack and attack the enemy on our behalf. He will be faithful to convict, rebuke, encourage, and comfort. He will continue to open the warehouse of his wisdom and unfold for us the glorious mysteries of his truth. He will stand with us through the darkness and the light. He will guide us on a path we could never have discovered or would never have been wise enough to choose. He will supply for us every good thing that we need to be what he’s called us to be and to do what he’s called us to do in the place where he’s put us.

And he will not rest from his work until every last microbe of sin has been completely eradicated from every heart of each of his children!

— Paul David Tripp
“Psalm 27: Inner Strength”

(HT: Of First Importance)

Union with Christ changes everything

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“Faith . . . unites the soul with Christ, as a bride is united with her bridegroom. From such a marriage, as St. Paul says, it follows that Christ and the soul become one body, so that they hold all things in common, whether for better or worse. This means that what Christ possesses belongs to the believing soul, and what the soul possesses belongs to Christ. Thus Christ possesses all good things and holiness; these now belong to the soul. The soul possesses lots of vices and sin; these now belong to Christ. . . . Now is not this a happy business? Christ, the rich, noble and holy bridegroom, takes in marriage this poor, contemptible and sinful little prostitute, takes away all her evil and bestows all his goodness upon her! It is no longer possible for sin to overwhelm her, for she is now found in Christ.”

Martin Luther, quoted in Alister E. McGrath, Christian Spirituality: An Introduction (Oxford, 1999), pages 158-159.

(HT: Ray Ortlund)

Only Jesus Is Enough

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Eric Costa:

We don’t often live with a functional understanding of biblical justification and sanctification. We often try—usually subconsciously—to attain feelings of assurance, satisfaction, or righteousness in our sanctification. “If I can perfectly confess and repent of this sin… If I can just figure out how to change my life in this way… If I can just achieve a certain level of sanctification, then it will be enough.” We can invest a lot of hope and effort in our sanctification in order to obtain what we’re only supposed to get from our justification: that joyful sense of assurance, satisfaction, and righteousness that comes vicariously through Jesus Christ, by his grace alone.

You cannot truly and perfectly diagnose your own sin, in order to feel that “enough-ness” about your confession and repentance. You cannot understand how you’re supposed to change to the degree where you will feel that “enough-ness” about your sanctification. What you can achieve will never be enough. You’re not meant to feel that “enough-ness” about anything other than Jesus Christ, and God’s full acceptance of you through him. Only Jesus is enough. In him is fullness of joy (Ps. 16:11). So fill your head and heart with thoughts of him! “Seek the things that are above, where Christ is… Set your minds on things that are above” (Col. 3:1-2). “Whatever is true… honorable… just… pure… lovely… commendable… excellent… worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil. 4:8). “Think over what I say… Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel” (2 Tim. 2:7-8). “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4).

Individual and cosmic

tullian

Jesus is the divine curse-remover and creation-renewer. Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross broke the curse of sin and death brought on by Adam’s cosmic rebellion. His bodily resurrection from the dead three days later dealt death its final blow, guaranteeing the eventual renewal of all things ‘in Christ.’

The dimensions of Christ’s finished work are both individual and cosmic. They range from personal pardon for sin and individual forgiveness to the final resurrection of our bodies and the restoration of the whole world. Now that’s good news—gospel—isn’t it? If we place our trust in the finished work of Christ, sin’s curse will lose its grip on us individually and we will one day be given a renewed creation.

The gospel isn’t only about reestablishing a two-way relationship between God and us; it also restores a three-way relationship among God, his people, and the created order. Through Christ’s work, our relationship with God is restored while creation itself is renewed. This is what theologians mean when they talk about redemption. They’re describing this profound, far-reaching work by God.

— Tullian Tchividjian
Unfashionable: Making a Difference in the World by Being Different
(Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah, 2009)

(HT: Of First Importance)

Carson and Keller on Revival

Though Keller and Carson could both be described as “pro-revival,” they are clear about unique dangers that have historically attended outpourings of God’s Spirit. “There is the danger of domesticating, of packaging, that can often end up making it feel phony,” Carson observes. As Keller adds, “Some are attracted to the glitz, others just want the attention.” He cites Jonathan Edwards’s little-known Thoughts on Revival for a sober-minded reflection on the false experiences that sometimes attend revival because of human sin.

Keller and Carson on Revival from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.