Four Gospels?

Nicholas T. Batzig: God doesn’t do anything arbitrarily. We may not be able to grasp His intentions in full or even in part, but we can be sure that everything that He does is full of eternal purpose and Divine wisdom. The secret things may belong to God, but those that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever (Deut. 29:29). Those revealed things have to do with all that God has made known to us in the Scriptures. The heart of biblical revelation is the revelation of Jesus. The chief reason why God breathed out the Scriptures is that we might come to know Him in and through His Son–and that we might have life in Christ. While every book of the Bible is about Jesus and our relationship to Him, the four Gospels give us the close-up shots of the Savior in the days of His flesh. As a young Christian, I remember wondering why it was that

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The Pastor’s Job Isn’t To Fix Things

Tim Challies: You don’t have to look far to find articles about how and why the pastor’s job is uniquely difficult. Having been a pastor for a number of years now (in both paid, full-time and unpaid, part-time capacities) I can attest there are ways in which it is unlike any other vocation. It really does come with unique challenges, though it certainly provides unique blessings as well. There is one realization about pastoring that came to me slowly but which finally arrived like a breath of fresh, cool air on a hot summer’s day. I found it freeing because it counters an expectation church members can have toward their pastors and, even more so, an expectation pastors can have toward themselves. Here is what I realized: The pastor’s job isn’t to fix things. Many people first begin to attend church when they are hoping to find a solution to a troubling circumstance. They want to have an easy and

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What Is Justification in Scripture and Reformation Theology?

Stephen J Wellum: In church history people have disagreed as to what justification is, and the purpose of this chapter is not to restate all the data for the Reformation’s view of justification as the biblical view.[1] Numerous books have argued this case, along with other chapters in this book.[2] Instead, I assume that the Reformation’s view of justification is the biblical view, and in this section I summarize the overall view only to set the stage for my argument that the Reformation’s view of justification and penal substitution are inseparably related. What Is Justification in Scripture and Reformation Theology? Justification is a word/concept from the law court denoting, primarily, that action whereby a judge upholds the case of one party in dispute before him. Having heard the case, the judge reaches a verdict in favor of the person and thereby “justifies” him; this action has the force of “acquittal.” The judge’s declaration entails that the person is not penally liable and

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How Jesus Secures Your Highest Joy

  David Mathis: Christian Hedonists aim to make the pursuit of joy in God our life’s work. Which is not at odds with devoting our lives to God’s glory — because God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. But Christian Hedonists must, in time, say more about the object of our joy than simply “in God.” Not any so-called “God” will do. Our souls will not be deeply and enduringly happy, and our purpose in this life (and forever) will not be fulfilled, if we do not find our heart’s satisfaction in the true God, the God who is, the God who has revealed himself as “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:6; 2 Corinthians 1:3; 11:31; Ephesians 1:3, 17; Colossians 1:3; 1 Peter 1:3). But how do we know this God’s defining features? What is it about the Christian God that distinguishes him from the false gods to which billions globally bow the knee? Does our God, the true God, have

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A Short Primer on New Covenant Theology Essentials

A. Blake White: The Story of Scripture can be summarized as “Creation to New Creation.” How God brings revelation, history, and humanity from creation to new creation is referred to by many as “Redemptive History.” One of the most complex yet rewarding pursuits in biblical studies is to understand the flow of Redemptive History. What is its structure? How does it progress and develop over time? How is one era related to another? Where do we find unity and continuity? Where do we encounter diversity and discontinuity? What has priority and permanence? What is temporal and passing away? These are not merely questions for the academic theologian. Since there is more material devoted specifically to this issue in the NT than to almost any other single issue, the Bible itself invites every believer to pursue this understanding of the big picture with all its theological and practical implications for life and faith. Currently there are three main systems of theology

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What Does It Mean to Be Sealed with the Holy Spirit?

Erik Raymond: In Ephesians 1:13 the Bible says that “when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.” What does it mean to be sealed with the Holy Spirit? A seal is an identifying mark often placed on a letter, contract, or another document. It showed that what was in the letter came from the person whose seal was on the outside. In the ancient world, cattle and even slaves were branded with a seal to show whom they belonged. This mark would deter people from stealing them because they had the seal upon them. The Bible uses this term in a few different ways, and when considered together, they help provide a full picture of what Paul is after here in Ephesians. In the Old Testament, God set a sign on his chosen ones to mark them out or set them apart as his possession and to keep them from destruction

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God Created Us for “exceeding, inexpressibly great happiness”

Sam Storms: Saturday, October 5th, is the birthday of my theological hero, Jonathan Edwards. He was born in 1703 in East Windsor, Connecticut, and his life and words continue to affect me in countless ways. The Edwards home was rather unusual, as Jonathan had 10 sisters and no brothers! But that’s not my focus in this article. I want to briefly reflect on one of the more important truths that occupied his mind. Although what follows is primarily designed for those who, like Edwards, are in pastoral ministry, all of you can benefit greatly from reflecting deeply on what he said. Edwards was just 21 years old when he preached a sermon entitled, “Nothing Upon Earth Can Represent the Glories of Heaven.” It was the first sermon he ever preached based on a text from the book of Revelation (21:18). And it was in this sermon that he articulated one of the most important theological insights he ever had: “God created

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The Horror of a Different Jesus

Sam Storms: Our pluralistic, consumer driven society is all about choices, options, and diversity. If you don’t like what you see, be patient; another version, an updated edition, a new and improved alternative will soon appear. This is often the case in certain expressions of contemporary “Christianity” (so-called). Don’t like the Jesus of evangelical, orthodox biblical faith? No problem. There are plenty of other Jesus’s to choose from. There’s the liberal Jesus, the liberation Jesus, the Christ of the cults, and the Christ of Islam. There’s the entirely human but not so divine Jesus or, if you prefer, the entirely divine and hardly human Christ. Or perhaps you relish a more home-grown Jesus, one that is fashioned after the desires of your own heart. Messianic pretender? Philosophical sage? How about the Jesus of Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code? Or the Jesus of The Gospel of Judas? 2020 is a presidential election year, so cast your vote: the Democratic Jesus or

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The Danger of Falling Away

Darryl Dash: “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it,” says the author of Hebrews (Hebrews 2:1). Stern warning! It’s the first of five warning passages in the letter (2:1-4; 3:7-4:13; 5:11-6:12; 10:19-39; 12:14-29). For instance: “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12). “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled” (Hebrews 12:15). The writer keeps sounding the alarm: don’t fall away. It’s possible. You may already be on your way. Stay on guard. Help each other. These warnings have confused some. Is it possible for a genuine believer to fall away? Hebrews seems to make it clear: not all who profess faith will persist to the end. Some will fall

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A Meditation Before Preaching

Erik Raymond: It’s Sunday morning ten minutes before the service. How are you feeling? If you had to put it into a word, what would it be? For the one preaching the sermon, it’s probably some combination of words that express his inadequacy for the task at hand. Each week, like clockwork, my hands get cold, and my stomach works itself into knots. I’ve studied hard, prayed, did my work, and am by all accounts prepared. But the awareness of the preaching event and my inadequacy brings me a weekly meeting with a personal Sabbath storm. Recently, during a preservice prayer meeting, a friend said something that seemed like it was a large font. It was, “Lord, remind Erik what happens when you speak.” What followed was a gracious answer to this prayer. I began to recount how powerful God’s Word is. It brought me great encouragement that day, and each week since. In this post, I’ll share 15 meditations about

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The Essence of the Calvinistic Life

Sinclair Ferguson: Calvinistic theology has always placed great emphasis on biblical and doctrinal knowledge, and rightly so. We are transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:1-2). This transformation is a prerequisite for our worship, since it is by the Spirit’s illumination of our minds through Scripture that we gain understanding of God and His ways. But Calvinism—at least in its consistent forms—has never been merely cerebral. The history of Reformed Christianity is also the story of the highest order of spiritual experience. Calvinistic doctrine expressed in God-exalting words of praise leads to a distinctive Christian experience. The melody that is composed intellectually in Calvinistic theology and sung enthusiastically in Reformed worship also can be heard in the lifestyle and experience of Reformed Christians. The seriousness of the Reformed world and life view means that, even when the melody is played in a minor key, it remains a melody. Indeed, to use a metaphor of Calvin, as this melody is

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10 Things You Should Know about the Gospel

By Sam Storms: As much as we hear about the gospel of Jesus Christ one would think that everyone is on the same page when it comes to defining this word. Sadly, that is not the case. So just what is the gospel? How might we define it? Here are ten things to keep in mind. (1) The “gospel” is the gloriously great good news of what our triune God has graciously done in the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ to satisfy his own wrath against us and to secure the forgiveness of sins and perfect righteousness for all who trust in him by faith alone. Christ fulfilled, on our behalf, the perfectly obedient life under God’s law that we should have lived, but never could. He died, in our place, the death that we deserved to suffer but now never will. And by his rising from the dead he secures for those who believe the promise

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What does it mean to worship God “in spirit and truth”?

Sam Storms: Everyone is familiar with the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman in John 4. But not everyone can explain what Jesus meant when he said that the Father is seeking men and women who will worship him “in spirit and truth” (v. 23)? To say that we must worship God “in spirit” means, among other things, that it must originate from within, from the heart; it must be sincere, motivated by our love for God and gratitude for all he is and has done. Worship cannot be mechanical or formalistic. That does not necessarily rule out certain rituals or liturgy. But it does demand that all physical postures or symbolic actions must be infused with heart-felt commitment and faith and love and zeal. But the word “spirit” here may also be a reference to the Holy Spirit. The apostle Paul said that Christians “worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no

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The Love Story of Penal Substitutionary Atonement

By Michael Lawrence: For centuries, the church has affirmed that penal substitutionary atonement stood at the heart of the gospel. Yes, the cross also demonstrates the love of God, his hatred of sin, and his commitment to ransom his people. But behind all of these ideas stands the logic of the cross, in which an innocent substitute is offered in place of the guilty, bearing both their guilt and shame, suffering their punishment and rejection, and so securing their forgiveness and acceptance by God. But lately, penal substitutionary atonement (PSA) has fallen on hard times. It’s come under fire as a cold, dry theological construct, inspired more by Western legal concepts than the biblical God of love. It’s been rejected as a monstrous distortion of the Father as a cosmic child abuser. And it’s been crowded out by more appealing stories of the cross as our ransom or our model of sacrificial love. These critiques have a lot of emotional power.

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True vs. false repentance: what’s the difference?

Adriel Sanchez: According to the Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Louw & Nida) the word repentance means, to change one’s way of life as the result of a complete change of thought and attitude with regard to sin and righteousness. In repentance, a person is given a true sense of the heinous nature of sin and, hating it, they turn to God through Christ with the desire to part ways with it. It is a gift that God gives to us and true repentance leads to eternal life (2 Tim. 2:25). The Bible does make it clear that not all repentance is genuine, though. Paul said to the Corinthian church in 2 Corinthians 7:10-11, For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point,

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Four Questions to Ask about the Atonement

By Stephen J. Wellum: The doctrine of penal substitution is under attack today—and that’s an understatement. From voices outside of evangelical theology to those within, the historic Reformation view of the cross is claimed to be a “modern” invention from the cultural West. Others criticize the doctrine as sanctioning violence, privileging divine retributive justice over God’s love, condoning a form of divine child abuse, reducing Scripture’s polychrome presentation of the cross to a lifeless monochrome, being too “legal” in orientation, and so on. All of these charges are not new. All of them have been argued since the end of the 16th century, and all of them are false. Yet such charges reflect the corrosive effects of false ideas on theology and a failure to account for how the Bible, on its own terms, interprets the cross. Given the limitations of this article, I cannot fully respond to these charges. Instead, I will briefly state four truths that unpack the

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Protestant and Catholic: What’s the Difference?

Kevin DeYoung: Ask a serious Protestant today what is the biggest threat to orthodox Christianity today, and he might mention cultural hostilities, the sexual revolution, or nominalism in our churches. But if you would have asked a Protestant the same question a hundred years ago, he would have almost certainly mentioned the Roman Catholic Church. Until fairly recently, Protestants and Catholics in this country were, if not enemies, then certainly players on opposing teams. Today, much of that animosity has melted away. And to a large extent, the thaw between Protestants and Catholics has been a good thing. Sincere Protestants and Catholics often find themselves to be co-belligerents, defending the unborn, upholding traditional marriage, and standing up for religious liberty. And in an age that discounts doctrine, evangelical Protestants often share more in common theologically with a devout Roman Catholic steeped in historic orthodoxy than they do with liberal members of their own denominations. I personally have benefited over the years

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The work of the Spirit that anticipates the future

Michael Horton: Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7) “It is to your advantage that I go away.” What a strange thing to say. Right at the verge of Jordan in this new covenant conquest, how does Christ’s leaving benefit the disciples—or you and me? First of all, we need to exercise empathy here. When we read about how the disciples had not yet experienced the Holy Spirit’s illumination of their hearts so they could understand what was happening, we have to imagine how they would have heard this. In this light, it makes perfect sense that they were stunned. Here is the true and great Joshua—Jesus—standing on the verge of the Jordan, on the verge of the conquest, ready to lead the armies of God into

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What Does It Mean to Be Dead to Sin?

J.D. Greear: Many people think that if Jesus paid it all, we now have this divine Visa card with an unlimited balance. We can just flash it whenever we want to cover whatever sin we choose. And as the Apostle Paul anticipated, some people will even justify their actions by saying, “Hey, if God gets more glory by showing grace, doesn’t my sinning give him more space to be glorified?” Paul answers those claims with the strongest negation possible: “By no means!” (I like how some of the older translations handle this phrase: God forbid!) Why is Paul so opposed to this line of thinking? He writes, “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:2 CSB) But that raises an interesting question in its own right, doesn’t it? What does he mean when he says we’ve died to sin? What Paul doesn’t mean is that we have lost all interest in sin. Certain streams of Christian thought have, in fact, taught that

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“Jesus Died for Sinners”

Conrad Mbewe: The longer I pastor, the more I’m convinced that pastors should regularly preach the unsearchable riches of Christ not only for the salvation of the lost but also for the believers’ growth in grace. But sadly, when dealing with the Savior’s work in saving us from sin, we preachers so often say very little. Because of this, something frightening happens over time: those who listen to us fill in their own meanings to the common words “Jesus died on the cross”—and those meanings can be far from what the Bible actually teaches concerning the death of Christ on the cross.   Here’s an example. In Africa, where the blood of birds and animals is used as a charm of protection from witchcraft, it’s become popular, even among Christians, to see a bumper sticker that declares “Protected by the blood of Jesus.” Pulpits are to blame for this serious confusion. When the death of Christ is merely mentioned as

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