Moralism is Not the Gospel (But Many Christians Think It Is)

Al Mohler: One of the most amazing statements by the Apostle Paul is his indictment of the Galatian Christians for abandoning the Gospel. “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel,” Paul declared. As he stated so emphatically, the Galatians had failed in the crucial test of discerning the authentic Gospel from its counterfeits. His words could not be more clear: “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you have received, he is to be accursed!” [Gal. 1:6-7] This warning from the Apostle Paul, expressed in the language of the Apostle’s shock and grief, is addressed not only to the church in Galatia,

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Faith & Repentance

Sinclair Ferguson: When the gospel is proclaimed, it seems at first sight that two different, even alternative, responses are called for. Sometimes the summons is, “Repent!” Thus, “John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, ‘Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Matt. 3:1–2). Again, Peter urged the hearers whose consciences had been ripped open on the day of Pentecost, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 2:38). Later, Paul urged the Athenians to “repent” in response to the message of the risen Christ (Acts 17:30). Yet, on other occasions, the appropriate response to the gospel is, “Believe!” When the Philippian jailer asked Paul what he must do to be saved, the Apostle told him, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). But there is no mystery or contradiction here. Further on in Acts 17, we discover that precisely where the response of repentance was

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10 Things You Should Know about Jonathan Edwards’ Most Important Sermon

Sam Storms: The first thing you should know (but not included among the ten) is that Jonathan Edwards’s most important sermon was not “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” That was certainly his most famous sermon, but not the most important one he ever preached. That distinction must be reserved for “A Divine and Supernatural Light,” which he delivered to his congregation in Northampton, Massachusetts, in 1734. The full title to this message was “A Divine and Supernatural Light Immediately Imparted to the Soul, by the Spirit of God, shown to be both a Scriptural and Rational Doctrine.” The sermon was based on Matthew 16:17 where Jesus said to Peter, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” (1) Edwards was quick to explain what the “divine and supernatural light” is not. It is not to be identified with the conviction of sin that unregenerate people experience. The

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The Binding of Satan

Douglas F. Kelly: Revelation 20 is the only place in the Bible that speaks of “the millennium”—the thousand-year reign of the triumphant Christ on earth. Nowhere else does Holy Scripture mention this word, so it is necessary to look at related teachings elsewhere in Scripture to understand what it means in Revelation. A sound principle of biblical interpretation (used from ancient times by Augustine, Tychonius, and other early Christian writers) is that one interprets the few mentions of a word or concept in light of the many, and the symbolic in light of the plain. It would be contrary to a clear understanding of the Scriptures to make the many fit into the one, or the plain into the symbolic. Therefore, we should understand what Revelation 20, a highly symbolic book, says about the millennium in light of the very large number of other biblical passages that tell us more plainly (and less symbolically) what occurs between Christ’s resurrection and

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What Is the Gospel?

W. Robert Godfrey: Many Christians, churches, and organizations regularly use the word gospel to describe their convictions. Theological controversies have occurred and do occur over the meaning of the gospel and who preaches it faithfully. What does that familiar word gospel mean? The best way to answer that question is to turn to the Bible. In the Greek New Testament, the noun euangelion (“gospel”) appears just over seventy times. Since, in one sense, the whole New Testament is about the gospel, we might have expected the word to have been used more frequently. Even more surprisingly, its use varies greatly among the authors of the New Testament books. Paul uses the word more than three times as often as all the other authors combined. Most of the other uses are found in Matthew and Mark, with very few, if any, in Luke, John, Peter, and James. The word gospel most simply means “good news.” The word is not unique to the Christian message, but it was also used in the

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The Relationship between Warnings and Assurance

Andrew Wilson: Paul is a puzzle. He often warned his converts that if they didn’t persevere, or behaved in certain ways, they’d miss out on final salvation. He also assured his converts that, because of the faithfulness of God and his gift of the Spirit, they’d be preserved to the end without falling. As I say: a puzzle. Some people like the assurances (because they’re comforting), but don’t like the warnings (because they frighten believers). Some people like the warnings (because they take sin seriously), but don’t like the assurances (because they make people complacent). Some people don’t like either of them, because taken together they make it sound like John Calvin was right, and we can’t have that. Some people think Paul got himself in a hopeless tangle on the subject, and we should politely ignore him. WARNINGS AND ASSURANCE COMBINED Then there are those—we happy few—who try to have our cake and eat it too. The warnings are real:

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Resolutions for the New Year (with a little help from Jonathan Edwards)

Sam Storms: Resolving in the grace of God to bring one’s life into greater conformity to the image of Jesus is an appropriate expression of Christian sanctification, regardless of the time of year. It was in the late fall of 1722 that 19-year-old Jonathan Edwards wrote the first of what would eventually become 70 resolutions for life. He was, at the time, serving as pastor of a Presbyterian church in New York City. The 70th, and last resolution, was written on August 17th, 1723. It is essential that one acknowledge the sustaining grace of God to empower our keeping of all resolutions. Edwards put it this way: “Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake.” Instead of listing all 70, I’ve selected a few that have had the greatest

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Truth Alone Won’t Set You Free

John Piper: The Necessity of Pursuing Joy in God “Why, then,” somebody should ask me, “Why, then, do you insist over and over again in everything you write that we should pursue joy in God? Why don’t you just say, ‘Pursue God’?” And there are three reasons. God’s Own Idea Number one: It isn’t my idea to talk like this. It’s God’s idea. Deuteronomy 28:47–48 is one of the scariest warnings in the Bible. It goes like this: “Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, . . . you shall serve your enemies.” God is so bent on having people pursue joy in him that if they try to serve him without that joy, they will serve their enemies. That’s how blood-earnest God gets in this issue of pursuing joy. So it’s not me who made up all the commandments — delight yourself in the Lord; rejoice in the Lord — that’s Bible talk, not

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4 Things You Can’t Do without Systematic Theology

Stephen Wellum, in the ESV Systematic Theology Study Bible. Before we can understand why systematic theology is essential, we must first understand what it is. There’s no single definition of systematic theology, but at its heart it’s the discipline captured by the phrase “faith seeking understanding.” Systematic theology builds on the results of biblical theology. Biblical theology is the exegetical discipline that seeks to grasp the entirety of Scripture as the unfolding of God’s plan from Genesis to Revelation. Starting with Scripture as God’s Word written through human authors—our final authority (sola scriptura) for what we think about God, ourselves, and the world—biblical theology seeks to “put together” the entire canon in a way that’s true to God’s intent. Systematic theology then applies the truths gained in biblical theology to every aspect of our lives. It leads to doctrinal formulation—what we ought to believe and how we ought to live—warranted by the canon and done in light of historical theology. In

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The First and Second Resurrection

Dennis E. Johnson:   In a second perspective on the “thousand years” following the binding of Satan, John saw thrones and the judges who occupied them, the souls of those who had been beheaded for staying true to Jesus (Rev. 20:4–6). These souls “came to life” and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. Their coming to life is “the first resurrection,” and it shows that “the second death”—the eternal torment that awaits God’s enemies (19:20; 20:10, 14–15)—has no power over them. Some premillennialists construe “the first resurrection” as believers’ bodily resurrection at Christ’s second coming (see 1 Thess. 4:13–17; 1 Cor. 15:20–23). Although John does not mention a “second resurrection,” these premillennialists believe that a subsequent bodily resurrection of unbelievers is implied in the statement, “The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended” (Rev. 20:5). In this premillennial view of the future, therefore, there are two bodily resurrections separated by a

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The Christmas Miracle of the Incarnation of the Omnipresent Word

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.  — Hebrews 13:8 Jared Wilson: Every year at this time as we celebrate the birth of baby Jesus to the virgin Mary, I don’t suppose it occurs to too many merrymakers that what they’re really celebrating is the incarnation. All of the other miracles are in service of that central miracle: God became man. And in becoming, through spiritual conception, the man Jesus of Nazareth, the Word of God did not cease to be God. Baby Jesus, from the moment of conception to the straw habitation of the manger, was fully God and fully man. That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown. When we put our minds long to the idea of Jesus being 100 percent God and simultaneously 100 percent man, they naturally feel overwhelmed. The orthodox doctrine of the incarnation is compelling, beautiful, biblically sensible, and salvifically necessary, but it is nevertheless utterly inscrutable. And that’s okay. In

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What Did Jesus Believe About the Bible?

Paul Carter: Recently I wrote about the 3 different ways that Post Evangelicals are relating to the Bible. The more conservative group will tend to appeal to the Protestant Reformers while the more progressive folks will cite Origen or Gregory of Nyssa. While it is interesting and helpful to be guided by history, the past can be used to support just about anything. As the wise man of the Old Testament said: What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:9 ESV) Today’s novel interpretation is likely a repackaged version of yesterday’s discarded heresy. A footnote is not a foundation. Rather than grasping for a quote from the sixth or sixteenth century, Christians ought to be primarily concerned to study the example of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Word of God. He is the Spirit of Prophecy. He is God in the flesh, so if

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Glory of the Newborn King

Caleb Cangelosi: Of all the hymns written about the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the words of Charles Wesley’s “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing” are among the most theologically dense and substantive–because all five stanzas are filled with Scriptural truths about Jesus. Before considering the Christology of this beautiful carol, though, it will help us to recall a little of the fascinating and ironic history behind it. Charles Wesley first penned the words of this poem in 1739, a year after his conversion. He originally wrote ten shorter stanzas, without a refrain, and his first two lines were “Hark! How all the welkin rings // Glory to the King of Kings.” Nearly all of us today would ask, “What on earth is a welkin?” A welkin is actually not “on earth” at all. Rather, it is the archaic English word referring to the sky or the celestial sphere where the angels dwell with God. Fifteen years after Wesley first wrote his poem,

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The Word Became Flesh! A Meditation on the Paradoxes of the Incarnation

Sam Storms: I’ve often said that the single most amazing, mind-boggling verse in the Bible is John 1:14 – “The Word became flesh!” As we approach Christmas, I thought it would be good to post again some observations I made in my book, Pleasures Evermore. I pray you are blessed by this meditation on the paradoxes of the Incarnation. Take a deep breath and ponder what this means. Don’t dismiss it as theological speculation. This is a truth on which your eternal destiny hangs suspended. This is a truth the beauty and majesty of which will captivate your attention and cause sin to sink in your estimation. Wherein lies the power to turn from iniquity and say No to sin? It lies in the power and irresistible appeal of an uncreated God who would dare to become a man! The Word became flesh! God became human! the invisible became visible! the untouchable became touchable! eternal life experienced temporal death! the transcendent one descended

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Joy to the world: Far as the Curse is Found

  Al Mohler: Many Christians would be surprised, and perhaps even disappointed, to learn that the song often cited as our favorite Christmas carol is not actually a Christmas carol at all. The famed hymn writer Isaac Watts published “Joy to the World” in 1719. Millions of Christians sing this great hymn at Christmas, celebrating the great news of the incarnation and declaring “let earth receive her king.” “Let every heart, prepare him room, and heaven and angels sing.” At Christmas we celebrate the incarnation of Christ, the coming of Jesus in Bethlehem. But “Joy to the World,” though sung rightly and triumphantly at Christmas, is really about the Second Coming of Christ. Watts led in the development of hymns in the English tradition, drawing many of his hymn texts directly from the Psalms. “Joy to the World” is based upon Psalm 98, which declares creation’s joy when the Lord comes to rule and to judge. When we sing “Joy

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10 Things You Should Know about God’s Attributes

Mark Jones: 1. God is simple. What that means is this: God is free from all composition; He is not the sum of his parts. There is not one thing and another in God. Rather, whatever is in God, God is. He is absolute, which means that there are no distinctions within his being. 2. When we speak of his attributes, we must keep in mind that because his essence remains undivided, his goodness is his power. Or, God’s love is his power is his eternity is his immutability is his omniscience is his goodness, and so forth. In other words, there is technically no such thing as attributes (plural) but only God’s simple, undivided essence. Why is this important? The simplicity of God helps us to understand that perfect consistency exists in God’s attributes. 3. God is infinite. The infinity of God is sort of like a “meta-attribute,” such as simplicity, in the sense that it qualifies all the

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Fill Believers, Not Buildings: Why Success in Ministry Isn’t a Numbers Game

Jaime Owens: Pastoring an existing church is stepping into a family. As you dig into the archives and sift through old photographs and letters, you take in the highs and lows through the years and are presented with the opportunity to reflect on the life and character of those who pastored before you. All this feels a bit like becoming acquainted with distant relatives. In the church I pastor, Tremont Temple in Boston, Massachusetts, there’s a long list of pastors spanning back to 1839, and it wasn’t long after I swung open the massive, iron, bank-style vault door, that I took a special interest in Frank Ellis. He was the pastor of our church way back when it was called Union Temple Baptist Church, from 1880–1884. Guy Mitchell, Tremont’s very own historian, produced an impressive unpublished manuscript in the mid-20th century titled History of Tremont Temple. In it he reflects on Ellis’s short tenure as pastor: Although most of the clouds which

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What Makes a Good Sermon? Five Questions to Ask

Josh Vincent: Over the years I’ve heard a number of sermons that have moved me to tears, and yet, upon closer review, I discovered that significant elements of a good sermon were absent. Despite all my training, I recently realized I didn’t know a good sermon when it smacked me in the face. I recently discovered this glaring flaw while listening to a number of our pastoral interns preach. I created a rubric with important elements of a good sermon to give thoughtful feedback to students on how to improve. I noticed that occasionally I’d hear a sermon that I categorized as “not that good” merely on feel. But once I began considering the elements of a good sermon, I recognized some “below average” sermons were actually quite helpful. My instincts alone had simply failed.   DO YOU KNOW A GOOD SERMON? So what about you? How do you know when you’ve just heard a good sermon? Did it make you

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He Lay in the Manger Without Leaving Heaven

Gavin Ortlund: The second member of the Trinity is, like the first and third, omnipresent. Wherever you go, he is there. In fact, more than that, the Bible says he sustains all things: he “upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Heb. 1:3), and “in him all things hold together” (Col. 1:15). The miracle we celebrate each year at Christmas (the incarnation, when the Son of God became a man) raises a question about this theology. Was he still omnipresent in, say, the year AD 10, while walking around Nazareth as a boy? Or what about while he was a baby, nursing at Mary’s breast among the manger animals—can we really imagine that, at the same time, he filled the entire universe, governing every quark and star? According to the so-called extra Calvinisticum, the answer, amazingly, is yes. God becomes man without ceasing to be God, and thus the incarnate Son of God was not limited to his human flesh, but continued

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Born of the Virgin Mary

R.C Sproul: Along with the great theologian and philosopher Anselm of Canterbury we ask the question, Cur deus homo? Why the God-man? When we look at the biblical answer to that question, we see that the purpose behind the incarnation of Christ is to fulfill His work as God’s appointed Mediator. It is said in 1 Timothy 2:5: “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself ….” Now, the Bible speaks of many mediators with a small or lower case “m.” A mediator is an agent who stands between two parties who are estranged and in need of reconciliation. But when Paul writes to Timothy of a solitary Mediator, a single Mediator, with a capital “M,” he’s referring to that Mediator who is the supreme Intercessor between God and fallen humanity. This Mediator, Jesus Christ, is indeed the God-man. In the early centuries of the church, with the office of mediator and the

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