Sunday: Gathering in Gratitude for Our Substitute Sacrifice

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Mark Dever, from It Is Well: Expositions on Substitutionary Atonement:

Christian brothers and sisters, do you climb up the church steps every Sunday burdened with guilt, as if there’s some way you need to perform on a Sunday morning in order for God to once again be sufficiently pleased with you to allow you to go on for another week? That’s not the gospel; that’s not the good news of Jesus Christ.

Do you feel that there is something you still need to do to gain God’s favor? There isn’t. There is nothing else you need to do in order to gain God’s favor. God has done that for you in Christ.

God has provided a substitute to bear His correct punishment of us for our sins, to bear His wrath for us, and because of that we are left in the incredible state of freedom and acceptance. Indeed, for us to think there is something else we need to do is to take away from the sufficiency of Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice.

Friends, we don’t gather on Sunday mornings in order to gain God’s favor. We do so because Christ has saved us.

(HT: Trevin Wax)

An Interview with Sam Storms on What the New Testament Really Teaches about Assurance of Salvation and Eternal Security

  • 00:00 – How did you come up with your new book’s title, Kept for Jesus?  imgres
  • 00:32 – How do terms like “eternal security,” “perseverance,” and “assurance” relate to one another?
  • 02:53 – What do different theological positions teach about eternal security?
  • 05:13 – How would you respond to the claim that the Arminian perspective seems most consistent with our experience of seeing people fall away from the faith?
  • 09:04 – Is assurance of salvation normative for the Christian life?
  • 12:15 – Who do you envision using this book?

Learn more, download an excerpt, or download a free bonus chapter, “A Primer on Perseverance.”

“I have wrestled with the issue of assurance of salvation not just as a pastor counseling timid souls but as a sinner trusting in God. What a great help isKept for Jesus, then! Handling the relevant biblical texts with clarity and precision, Sam Storms has crafted real ministry with this book, working by the Spirit to plant the security of union with Christ in the believer’s heart.” —Jared C. Wilson, Director of Content Strategy, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
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“With care and compassion, Sam engages in a wide-ranging discussion of the love of God, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, spurious faith versus saving faith, human dignity and human depravity, the nature of eternal security, God’s preserving power in faithful Christians, the problem of apostasy, and much more. Not shying away from the controversial nature of his topic and tackling head-on dozens of difficult passages, Sam offers an engaging book that deals biblically, theologically, and practically with the all-important matter of assurance of salvation.” —Gregg R. Allison, Professor of Christian Theology, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
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“Too often the gospel is reduced to only wiping away sin’s debt. Storms shows us a more wonderful gospel of love and direct relationship with God in which Christ is inseparable from us, keeping us, and holding us as family. Storms is a pastor of pastors, walking us through the thorny issues—such as the warning passages—and into green pastures of communion with our Savior. He calls us into the beautiful tension and transformation of God’s forever grace.” —Daniel Montgomery, Pastor, Sojourn Community Church, Louisville, Kentucky; Founder, Sojourn Network; author, Faithmapping and Proof
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“This is classic Sam Storms: warm, thoughtful, clear, and wise. Not all readers will agree on every detail, but all will be well served by working through the issues with such an insightful guide. Throughout the book, God’s protection of his people shines through—and so do the joy and security that this brings to all who trust him.” —Andrew Wilson, Pastor, Kings Church Eastbourne, East Sussex; author, If God, Then What? andUnbreakable
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“Sam Storms has given us a book that is fair, humble, straightforward, and helpful. He consistently presents views that oppose his own and frequently admits he does not have all the answers. He argues biblically and passionately for the truth that God keeps true believers saved to the end and focuses on the Christian life and rejects errant views, including those that cut the biblical cord between God’s keeping us and our keeping on in faith, love, and holiness. This is a good book, and I am happy to recommend it.” —Robert A. Peterson, Professor of Systematic Theology, Covenant Theological Seminary
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Spiritual Gifts and Spiritual Fruit

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Tim Keller:

Gifts are abilities God gives us to meet the needs of others in Christ’s name: speaking, encouraging, serving, evangelizing, teaching, leading, administering, counseling, discipling, organizing. Graces, often called spiritual fruit, are beauties of character: love, joy, peace, humility, gentleness, self-control. Spiritual gifts are what we do; spiritual fruit is what we are. Unless you understand the greater importance of grace and gospel-character for ministry effectiveness, the discernment and use of spiritual gifts may actually become a liability in your ministry. The terrible danger is that we can look to our ministry activity as evidence that God is with us or as a way to earn God’s favor and prove ourselves.

If our hearts remember the gospel and are rejoicing in our justification and adoption, then our ministry is done as a sacrifice of thanksgiving – and the result will be that our ministry is done in love, humility, patience, and tenderness. But if our hearts are seeking self-justification and desiring to control God and others by proving our worth through our ministry performance, we will identify too closely with our ministry and make it an extension of ourselves. The telltale signs of impatience, irritability, pride, hurt feelings, jealousy, and boasting will appear. We will be driven, scared, and either too timid or too brash. And perhaps, away from the public glare, we will indulge in secret sins. These signs reveal that ministry as a performance is exhausting us and serves as a cover for pride in either one of its two forms, self-aggrandizement or self-hatred.

Here’s how this danger can begin. Your prayer life may be nonexistent, or you may have an unforgiving spirit toward someone, or sexual desires may be out of control. But you get involved in some ministry activity, which draws out your spiritual gifts. You begin to serve and help others, and soon you are affirmed by others and told what great things you are doing. You see the effects of your ministry and conclude that God is with you. But actually God was helping someone through your gifts even though your heart was far from him. Eventually, if you don’t do something about your lack of spiritual fruit and instead build your identity on your spiritual gifts and ministry activity, there will be some kind of collapse. You will blow up at someone or lapse into some sin that destroys your credibility. And everyone, including you, will be surprised. But you should not be. Spiritual gifts without spiritual fruit is like a tire slowly losing air.

22 Benefits of Meditating on Scripture

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Justin Taylor:

Joel Beeke, in his essay on “The Puritan Practice of Meditation,” writes that “The Puritans devoted scores of pages to the benefits, excellencies, usefulness, advantages, or improvements of meditation.” Dr. Beeke lists some of the benefits as follows:

  1. Meditation helps us focus on the Triune God, to love and to enjoy Him in all His persons (1 John 4:8)—intellectually, spiritually, aesthetically.
  2. Meditation helps increase knowledge of sacred truth. It “takes the veil from the face of truth” (Prov. 4:2).
  3. Meditation is the “nurse of wisdom,” for it promotes the fear of God, which is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 1:8).
  4. Meditation enlarges our faith by helping us to trust the God of promises in all our spiritual troubles and the God of providence in all our outward troubles.
  5. Meditation augments one’s affections. Watson called meditation “the bellows of the affections.” He said, “Meditation hatcheth good affections, as the hen her young ones by sitting on them; we light affection at this fire of meditation” (Ps. 39:3).
  6. Meditation fosters repentance and reformation of life (Ps. 119:59; Ez. 36:31).
  7. Meditation is a great friend to memory.
  8. Meditation helps us view worship as a discipline to be cultivated. It makes us prefer God’s house to our own.
  9. Meditation transfuses Scripture through the texture of the soul.
  10. Meditation is a great aid to prayer (Ps. 5:1). It tunes the instrument of prayer before prayer.
  11. Meditation helps us to hear and read the Word with real benefit. It makes the Word “full of life and energy to our souls.” William Bates wrote, “Hearing the word is like ingestion, and when we meditate upon the word that is digestion; and this digestion of the word by meditation produceth warm affections, zealous resolutions, and holy actions.”
  12. Meditation on the sacraments helps our “graces to be better and stronger.” It helps faith, hope, love, humility, and numerous spiritual comforts thrive in the soul.
  13. Meditation stresses the heinousness of sin. It “musters up all weapons, and gathers all forces of arguments for to presse our sins, and lay them heavy upon the heart,” wrote Fenner. Thomas Hooker said, “Meditation sharpens the sting and strength of corruption, that it pierceth more prevailingly.” It is a “strong antidote against sin” and “a cure of covetousness.”
  14. Meditation enables us to “discharge religious duties, because it conveys to the soul the lively sense and feeling of God’s goodness; so the soul is encouraged to duty.”
  15. Meditation helps prevent vain and sinful thoughts (Jer. 4:14; Matt. 12:35). It helps wean us from this present evil age.
  16. Meditation provides inner resources on which to draw (Ps. 77:10-12), including direction for daily life (Prov. 6:21-22).
  17. Meditation helps us persevere in faith; it keeps our hearts “savoury and spiritual in the midst of all our outward and worldly employments,” wrote William Bridge.
  18. Meditation is a mighty weapon to ward off Satan and temptation (Ps. 119:11,15; 1 John 2:14).
  19. Meditation provides relief in afflictions (Is. 49:15-17; Heb. 12:5).
  20. Meditation helps us benefit others with our spiritual fellowship and counsel (Ps. 66:16; 77:12;145:7).
  21. Meditation promotes gratitude for all the blessings showered upon us by God through His Son.
  22. Meditation glorifies God (Ps. 49:3).

You can read the whole essay here.

The regeneration of all creation

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Our renewal is tied to the eschatological renewal of the creation. We cannot separate our present spiritual regeneration from cosmic regeneration because our present restoration to life is the first stage in the eschatological restoration of all creation to its proper vitality and relationship to God. We are the firstfruits.

The goal of redemption is nothing less the restoration of the entire cosmos. The scope of redemption is truly cosmic. Through Christ, God determined ‘to reconcile to himself all things’ (Col 1:20). Matthew 19:28 speaks of the renewal (the word is ‘regeneration’) of all things. Acts 3:21 also indicates a cosmic regeneration when it says that Jesus must remain in heaven ‘until the time comes for God to restore everything.’

Why must God regenerate, give new life and direction to, all things? Because the entire creation has been drawn into the mutiny of the human race (Rom. 8:19–24). Because man’s fall affected not only himself but also the rest of creation, redemption must involve God’s entire creation.

— Michael D. Williams, Far as the Curse is Found(Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 2005), 275-276

(HT: Of First Importance)

Preachers, Keep A Close Watch On Your Life and Illustrations

Billy Graham Preaching, Bible Raised

Jared Wilson:

Sermon illustrations. They can make or break your message, or so we’re told. In my time at Docent Research Group, working as a pastoral research assistant, I remember the high premium put on killer illustrations. One client I worked for only wanted sermon illustrations, pages and pages of them, no exegesis, no reference excerpts. I think over the course of several months, having filed numerous research briefs full of newspaper clippings, movie ancedotes, literary references, assorted fragments of pop culture detritus, and even some original creative stories, he eventually used one illustration that came from the briefs.

We all know a good illustration when we hear one in a sermon. But I for one think sermon illustrations are way overrated. Yep, I said it. I think too much emphasis is put on illustrations in how we train preachers and in too many actual sermons. You shouldn’t trust your illustration to do what only God’s word can. And that’s where many of us often go wrong with illustrations. Here is more on that though, and some other wrong ways preachers often use illustrations in their sermons:

1. Too long.
If you’re going to eat up valuable real estate in your sermon time, you’ve got to make it really count. But some sermons are too reliant on long set-ups or overly present creative themes that end up obscuring the biblical message. This is a problem, assuming what you want people to focus on most is the biblical message. Some preachers really pride themselves in being storytellers or artists, and that’s great — but quit the ministry and go be a storyteller or artist. That will glorify God too. But at least then there’s no mistaking the point of the message. Some illustrations go on so long and some topic themes are so pervasive, any Bible verses that show up in the sermon really only serve to support the illustration, when by definition it’s supposed to be the other way around.

2. Too many.
I heard a message once that began with a 5-minute story from the preacher’s childhood, segued into an ancedote from the life of Leonardo DaVinci, then transitioned into a series of quotes from ancient philosophers (where Jesus appeared alongside Socrates and Aristotle, like they’re all part of some Toga Brothers gang), and stumbled into a heavy-handed object illustration complete with big props on the stage. This guy forgot what he was there to do, which ostensibly was preach. The result of all these illustrations was distracting and, actually, counter-productive, because at some point, the law of diminishing illustration returns kicked in, and each successive illustration diminished the effectiveness of the ones before it. When you use too many illustrations, when your sermon is so full of illustrations or the time you spend on them is greater than the time you spend proclaiming and explaining the text, they stop being illustrations and become your text. Preachers who overuse illustrations are communicating that they don’t actually trust the Bible — which is inspired by the Holy Spirit — to be interesting, provocative, and powerful.

3. Too clunky.
You know these when you hear them. It seems as though the preacher prepared his sermon using some kind of template, plopping something from an illustration book or website every time he saw Insert Illustration Here. Or his pop culture references are old, but not historic old (red meat for the Reformed crowd) or vintage old (ironic winks from the hipsters) but “lame” old, “out of touch” old. Maybe the stories are sappy or cheesy or hokey. Or maybe there’s no decent transition from the illustration into the body of the sermon. I’ve heard some guys tell a cutesy-story or badly land a bad joke and then pause, as if waiting for audience reaction, ending the silence with a “But anyway…” That’s a sure sign of someone who put a lot of trust in the illustration and no thought into how it would actually fit into the tissue of the message. Remember, if the weight of power is put on your illustrations instead of the biblical text, the clunky illustration makes a clunky sermon.

4. Too self-referential.
Here’s a good rule of thumb: when using yourself as an example, be self-deprecating. Make it confessional, not exaltational. In other words, use your personal illustrations to show us not how great you are, but what you’ve got wrong, how you messed up, where you’re deficient. It doesn’t have to be a serious example; it can be a funny one. But self-referential illustrations that talk the preacher up too often violate 2 Corinthians 4:5. This same rule applies somewhat to the use of wives and children in illustrations. Everyone appreciates a good “the pastor is a normal guy with a normal family” type story, and most preachers know not to criticize or point out flaws in their wives and kids in sermons, but if you reference your wife and kids (even positively) too much, over time it can have the same effect as the self-congratulating illustration — it casts a vision of your family as the church’s moral exemplar, which is not good for your family or the church, and also only serves to by extension exalt yourself. Use family illustrations sparingly and when using personal illustrations, go the route of self-deprecation.

Every Story Casts His Shadow

“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” Luke 24:27

Welcome to the world of Biblical Theology.

Tevin Wax:

Here’s a brief video that shows how the Old Testament stories point forward to Christ.

This is the heart behind The Gospel Project Chronological. You can preview sessions here.

4 Ways to Pray

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Tim Challies:

I’m sure you are familiar with the powerful words of Philippians 4:6-7: “[D]o not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” In his book Mindscape, Timothy Witmer explains that there are 4 ways in which these words call us to pray.

Pray specifically. Paul uses different words for “prayer” in verse 6. The first is a general word for prayer, but the second word, “supplication,” refers to an urgent specific plea. This is reinforced when he adds, “let your requests be made known to God.” I’ve heard some folks say that when they pray they don’t ask for anything for themselves. This might sound very selfless and holy, but it is wrong! The prayer Jesus taught his own disciples includes specific personal requests. It begins with praise to our Father in heaven and ends with his kingdom and power and glory; but in the middle supplications Jesus teaches us to ask God to meet our important personal needs. “Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:11-13). Requests for daily provision, forgiveness, and protection are quite personal, and we are urged to bring them before the Lord regularly. This includes things we are prone to worry about. Do not be reluctant to cry out the Lord about anything and everything.

Pray remembering God’s goodness. You’ll also notice that Paul tells us to pray “with thanksgiving.” Praying with thanksgiving requires us to remember all of the good things the Lord has done for us and is doing for us now. After all, there are more things in your mindscape than just worry needs. Worries might be in the foreground at the moment, but there are many other things to which you should draw your attention and for which you should be thankful. This isn’t easy because our natural tendency is to focus on our worries rather than to give thanks. When you are worried, bring your cares to the Lord, but also remember his kindness and goodness to you right now and in the past.

Pray expecting an answer. Another reason we can pray with thanksgiving is that we can expect an answer. Sometimes the answer might not be what we expect, but the Lord has promised to answer. As many have observed, the answers the Lord gives can be “yes,” “no,” or “not yet.” We might always like a “yes” but the Lord our heavenly Father knows what is best and he will not give us something that isn’t good for us. When I was in college I thought the Lord’s plan for me was to become a famous tuba performer. Yes, that’s right—I said a tuba performer! He had given me lots of success up to that point and I was a performance major in my college. I decided that I would audition for the United States Marine Band (The President’s Own) in Washington, DC, and the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. I didn’t make either one. It was “no” and “no” from the Lord. I was disappointed, but in closing these two doors the Lord was directing me elsewhere—toward the ministry.

Pray expecting that God will want your response, too. As we pray, the Lord might make it clear that there is something that we need to do. For example, if you’re worried about a relationship, God might lead you to have a conversation with the individual with whom you’ve had difficulties. He will certainly impress upon you the need to look for and apply for jobs if you have lost your job. New health challenges will require a change in diet, exercise, and lifestyle. Be ready to be directed toward the things you might need to do regarding your situation. This leading will always be according to and consistent with his Word. If you feel that God is calling you to do something that is beyond you—pray about that as well. If he is calling you to do something, he will also give you his Spirit to do it. Pray for the Spirit to help you and direct you so that you can follow Jesus wherever he calls you to go. Fundamentally, Paul reminds us that the Lord will answer, and that we should be prepared for where that answer may lead or what that answer may call us to do.

Seven ways we can guard and repair relationships

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Ray Ortlund:

1.  Let’s rejoice in one another, because the Lord rejoices in us.

Psalm 16:3 sets the overall tone: “As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight.”  There is excellence to admire in every Christian.  And it’s easy to discern.  Two questions into a conversation and the excellence starts appearing.

2.  Let’s create an environment of trust rather than negative scrutiny.

1 Corinthians 4:5 says, “Do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart.”  Human eyes are not competent to judge human hearts.

3.  Let’s judge ourselves, even as we give each other the benefit of the doubt.

Matthew 7:5 says, “First take the log out of your own eye.”  And 1 Corinthians 13:7 says, “Love believes all things.”  In other words, love fills in the blanks with positive assumptions.

4.  If a problem must be addressed, let’s talk to, not about.  Gossip destroys.

Matthew 18:15 says, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.”  The Lord didn’t say, “Go ask your brother his fault.”  Let’s man up and tell him his sin.  But let’s tell him to his face, rather than spread accusations around.

5.  If a problem must be addressed, let’s avoid blanket statements but identify factual specifics, offer a positive path forward and preserve everyone’s dignity.

“You are ___________” is too sweeping to be fair.  It leaves a person no freedom to change.  Better to say, “In this situation, when you _____________, that was wrong.  It would be helpful if, in the future, you would ______________.  What do you think?  And is there anything I can do that might help?”

6.  Let’s extend kindness.

Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind to one another.”  That word “kind” is used in Matthew 11:30 when Jesus says, “My yoke is easy.”  So kindness asks, “How can I make this situation as easy for the other person as possible?  How can I make a positive response as easy as it can be?”

7.  When we wrong another, let’s admit it: “What I did to you was wrong.  I am sorry.  By God’s grace, I won’t do that again.  Is there anything I can do now, to make up for it?”

Where a wrong has been done, as the Bible defines wrong, an apology will help.  Reparations are also biblical and may be necessary in the case of a significant injury.  But evading the wrongs of our past only builds hypocrisy into our future.  And God cannot bless that.  But God will surely bless serious repentance.  When Zacchaeus vowed to repay the people he had defrauded, the Lord didn’t reply, “You don’t have to.  That’s water under the bridge!”  No, the Lord said, “Today salvation has come to this house” (Luke 19:8-9).

One of the most beautiful scenes in the Bible is between brothers who had been long alienated: “Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept” (Genesis 33:4).  God wants that beauty to reappear in every generation, as needed.

The Joy Behind All Joy

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Tony Reinke:

The power of a great book to awaken your soul to the majesty of God is on full display in Delighting in the Trinity by Michael Reeves. If you get this — or if it “gets” you — your life will never be the same.

Next time you look up at the sun, moon and stars and wonder, remember: they are there because God loves, because the Father’s love for the Son burst out that it might be enjoyed by many. And they remain there only because God does not stop loving. He is an attentive Father who numbers every hair on our heads, for whom the fall of every sparrow matters; and out of love he upholds all things through his Son, and breathes out natural life on all through his Spirit.

And not only is God’s joyful, abundant, spreading goodness the very reason for creation; the love and goodness of the triune God is the source of all love and goodness. The seventeenth-century Puritan theologian, John Owen, wrote that the Father’s love for the Son is “the fountain and prototype of all love. . . . And all love in the creation was introduced from this fountain, to give a shadow and resemblance of it.”

Indeed, in the triune God is the love behind all love, the life behind all life, the music behind all music, the beauty behind all beauty and the joy behind all joy. In other words, in the triune God is a God we can heartily enjoy — and enjoy in and through his creation. (62)

What Unites Us in Worship at Bethlehem?

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John Piper:

As a supplement to the two messages I am preaching on worship (September 28 and October 4–5), here is a list of “marks” that define us in worship at Bethlehem. I wrote these ten years ago and have only changed them slightly. The reason they are the same, even though we have changed in many ways, is that they deal with deeper issues than style and form. I pray that we will always define ourselves with deeper issues than style and form. “The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him” (John 4:23).

1. God-Centeredness. We put a high priority on the vertical focus of our Sunday morning service. The ultimate aim is to experience God in such a way that he is glorified in our affections.

2. Expecting the powerful presence of God. We do not just direct ourselves toward him. We earnestly seek his drawing near according to the promise ofJames 4:8. We believe that in worship God draws near to us in power, and makes himself known and felt for our good and for the salvation of unbelievers in the midst.

3. Bible-based and Bible-saturated. The content of our singing and praying and welcoming and preaching and poetry should always conform to the truth of Scripture. But more than that, the content of God’s Word should be woven through all we do in worship and will be the ground of all our appeal to authority.

4. Head and heart. The elements of our worship service should aim at kindling and carrying deep, strong, real emotions toward God, especially joy, but should not manipulate people’s emotions by failing to appeal to clear thinking about spiritual things based on shareable evidences outside ourselves.

5. Earnestness and intensity. We will try to avoid being trite, flippant, superficial, or frivolous, but instead will aim to set an example of reverence and passion and wonder and broken-hearted joy.

6. Authentic communication. We utterly renounce all sham, deceit, hypocrisy, pretense, affectation, and posturing. We do not pursue the atmosphere of artistic or oratorical performance, but the atmosphere of a radically personal encounter with God and truth.

7. The manifestation of God and the common good. We expect and hope and pray (according to 1 Cor. 12:7) that our focus on the manifesting of God is good for people and that a spirit of love for each other is not incompatible with, but necessary to, authentic worship.

8. Undistracting excellence. We will try to sing and play and pray and preach in such a way that people’s attention will not be diverted from the substance by shoddy ministry nor by excessive finesse, elegance, or refinement. Natural, undistracting excellence will let the truth and beauty of God shine through. We will invest in equipment good enough to be undistracting in transmitting heartfelt truth.

9. The mingling of historic and contemporary music. No church or service can be all things to all people. But we do not value stylistic narrowness. We believe there are affections owing to God that different tunes and different texts and different genres may awaken better than others. We will strive to be who we are without exalting our own tastes as the standard of excellence or power. We will see God’s guidance in each worship setting to be both indigenous and stretching.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books.

What is Faith?

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Sam Storms:

It’s actually quite remarkable when you think about it: one of the most basic of Christian realities, faith, is widely misunderstood and misrepresented. So what is “faith”? Perhaps one way to get to the biblical answer is by identifying several mistaken notions about faith.

So, let me be perfectly clear about what Christian faith is not:

• Faith is not believing in your heart what your mind otherwise tells you isn’t true.
• Faith is not trusting in something for which there are no facts.
• Faith is not an existential blind leap into the dark.
• Faith is not putting your trust in something or someone about whom you know nothing.
• Faith is not the opposite of knowledge.
• Faith is not the enemy of reason.
• Faith is not the antithesis of scientific endeavor.
• Faith is not believing in something that runs counter to obvious and incontrovertible evidence.
• Faith is not superstition.
• Faith is not a positive mental attitude.
• Faith is not wishful thinking.
• Faith is not a creative power that brings into existence things that otherwise wouldn’t exist.
• Faith is not a weapon through which we get God to do things for us that he otherwise wouldn’t do.

Faith is warranted confidence and justified trust. So, yes, faith is a subjective experience of the human soul. It is the human soul trusting and expressing confidence in something or in someone. But this confidence is “warranted”, which is to say there are good grounds for it. To say that we have “warrant” for something we believe or that our trust is “justified” is to say that there are rock solid facts that make our believing a wise and reasonable thing to do.

So faith is not a baseless and blind leap into the darkness of uncertainty. Faith is a well-grounded, warranted, justified confidence and trust in some truth claim or in some person.

When people want a definition or description of faith they often turn to Hebrews 11:1. There we read that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” OK, but what does that mean?

As you know, there are a variety of differing translations of this verse. The old King James Version renders it: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” The NIV says: “Faith is being sure of what we hope for.” According to the Phillips translation, “Faith means putting our full confidence in the things we hope for.” As you can see, the ESV uses the words “assurance” and “conviction”. Believe it or not, I think the KJV rendering is more accurate!

But what could it possibly mean to say that faith is the “substance” and “evidence” of the things for which we hope, the things we have not yet seen? I think it means that genuine faith is more than merely a subjective confidence about what will happen in the future. Make no mistake: it is surely that. Faith is the internal assurance we experience that what is hoped for will in fact come to pass. Faith is our reliance on God to do what he has said he will do even when present circumstances suggest otherwise.

But here I think he’s saying that in a certain sense faith is also what makes it possible for us now, in the present, to actually experience something of the “substance” of what we know will come only in its fullness at some point in the future. This is just another way of talking about the “already” and “not yet” dimensions of Christian experience. There is much that is “not yet” ours. We await it. It will come when Christ returns. But there is also a part of that future inheritance that is “already” ours, and faith is what makes it possible for us to experience and enjoy today what will come in fullness only when Christ returns.

So, it is by “faith” that we apprehend or take hold of the goodness and joy of what God promises will one day be ours in their fullness. There is a sense in which that future promise is already and substantially here when we trust God’s word. Faith gives to our future inheritance a present reality and power, as if it is already possessed. No one has expressed this with greater clarity than John Piper:

“In other words, faith grasps – lays hold of – God’s preciousness so firmly that in the faith itself there is the substance of the goodness and the sweetness promised. Faith doesn’t create what we hope for – that would be a mere mind game. Faith is a spiritual apprehending or perceiving or tasting or sensing of the beauty and sweetness and preciousness and goodness of what God promises – especially his own fellowship, and the enjoyment of his own presence.

Faith does not just feel confident that this is coming some day. Faith has spiritually laid hold of and perceived and tasted that it is real. And this means that faith has the substance or the nature of what is hoped for in it. Faith’s enjoyment of the promise is a kind of substantial down payment of the reality coming” (sermon, What Faith Knows and Hopes For, June 1, 1997; http://www.desiringgod.org).

Thus we see that there is a “now” and a “not yet” to the gospel. Faith enables us to lay hold of it “now”, but the time has “not yet” come when we will experience its fullness. Or, to put it in slightly different terms, faith is that sturdy bridge which provides a link, a bond of union, as it were, between our present experience and the blessings God has stored up for us in the age to come.

There is certainly a lot more that could be said about faith. Although this famous description in Hebrews 11:1 is helpful, it is not exhaustive. But it’s certainly a good place to start!

A sermon cannot do any good unless there is a savour of Christ in it

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C.H. Spurgeon:

A young man had been preaching in the presence of a venerable divine, and after he had done he went to the old minister, and said, “What do you think of my sermon?” “A very poor sermon indeed,” said he. “A poor sermon?” said the young man, “it took me a long time to study it.” “Ay, no doubt of it.” “Why, did you not think my explanation of the text a very good one?” “Oh, yes,” said the old preacher, “very good indeed.” “Well, then, why do you say it is a poor sermon? Didn’t you think the metaphors were appropriate and the arguments conclusive?” “Yes, they were very good as far as that goes, but still it was a very poor sermon.” “Will you tell me why you think it a poor sermon?” “Because,” said he, “there was no Christ in it.” “Well,” said the young man, “Christ was not in the text; we are not to be preaching Christ always, we must preach what is in the text.” So the old man said, “Don’t you know young man that from every town, and every village, and every little hamlet in England, wherever it may be, there is a road to London?” “Yes,” said the young man. “Ah!” said the old divine “and so form every text in Scripture, there is a road to the metropolis of the Scriptures, that is Christ. And my dear brother, your business in when you get to a text, to say, ‘Now what is the road to Christ?’ and then preach a sermon, running along the road towards the great metropolis—Christ. And,” said he, “I have never yet found a text that had not got a road to Christ in it, and if I ever do find one that has not a road to Christ in it, I will make one; I will go over hedge and ditch but I would get at my Master, for the sermon cannot do any good unless there is a savour of Christ in it.”

He Knows Me

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What matters supremely is not, in the last analysis, the fact that I know God, but the larger fact which underlies it–the fact that he knows me. I am graven on the palms of his hands. I am never out of his mind.

All my knowledge of him depends on his sustained initiative in knowing me. I know him because he first knew me, and continues to know me. He knows me as a friend, one who loves me; and there is not a moment when his eye is off me, or his attention distracted from me, and no moment, therefore, when his care falters.

This is momentous knowledge. There is unspeakable comfort–the sort of comfort that energizes, be it said, not enervates–in knowing that God is constantly taking knowledge of me in love and watching over me for my good. There is tremendous relief in knowing that his love to me is utterly realistic, based at every point on prior knowledge of the worst about me, so that no discovery now can disillusion him about me, in the way I am so often disillusioned about myself, and quench his determination to bless me.

— J. I. Packer Knowing God 41-42

(HT: Of First Importance)

United in Redeeming Love

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Mankind, spiritually bankrupt, has nothing to offer, but God, prompted by pure grace, and drawing on his eternal wisdom, prepares a counsel of salvation in which the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are united in redeeming love and pity for the human race. The triune God resolves to save the world, and to accept the good offices of a Mediator who shall act for mankind as their representative and suffer for them as their substitute: so accommodating is the divine will, and so predisposed to forgive our transgressions.

But the Three-in-One, acting to save the world, go further: they resolve that the salvation shall be free to the human race. It will cost them nothing. For them, it will be an act of pure love and mercy. From sinners as such no satisfaction will be required. Instead, everything will flow from the loving-kindness of God. He will bear the whole cost. He will provide the one who will take the sinner’s place.

But he will go even further: he will become the one who takes the sinner’s place. God the Son will suffer for the world’s sin. God the Father will suffer in the Son’s pain. God the Holy Spirit will share in the pain of both.

At Gethsemane and Golgotha the Three will be One, as God, not sparing himself, takes blood, his own blood, and sheds it to redeem the world.

–Donald Macleod, Christ Crucified: Understanding the Atonement (IVP, 2014), 177

(HT: Dane Ortlund)

Who are you married to?

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Ray Ortlund:

“A married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. . . . and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.  Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another.”  Romans 7:2-4

We were married to Mr. Law.  He was a good man, in his way, but he did not understand our weakness.  He came home every evening and asked, “So, how was your day?  Did you do what I told you to?  Did you make the kids behave?  Did you waste any time?  Did you complete everything I put on your To Do list?”  So many demands and expectations.  And hard as we tried, we couldn’t be perfect.  We could never satisfy him.  We forgot things that were important to him.  We let the children misbehave.  We failed in other ways.  It was a miserable marriage, because Mr. Law always pointed out our failings.  And the worst of it was, he was always right!  But his remedy was always the same: Do better tomorrow.  We didn’t, because we couldn’t.

Then Mr. Law died.  And we remarried, this time to Mr. Grace.  Our new husband, Jesus, comes home every evening and the house is a mess, the children are being naughty, dinner is burning on the stove, and we have even had other men in the house during the day.  Still, he sweeps us into his arms and says, “I love you, I chose you, I died for you, I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  And our hearts melt.  We don’t understand such love.  We expect him to despise us and reject us and humiliate us, but he treats us so well.  We are so glad to belong to him now and forever, and we long to be “fully pleasing to him” (Colossians 1:10)!

Being married to Mr. Law never changed us.  But being married to Mr. Grace is changing us deep within, and it shows.

Sin: Can’t Live With It, Won’t Live Without It

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Tim Challies:

Sin. I can’t live with it, but time and time again I have proven that I’m just not able to live without it. I know that I have been freed from sin—freed from the power of sin—and yet I still sin. The Bible tells me not to let sin reign, it tells me that if I am truly a child of God I will not go on sinning (Romans 6:12, 1 John 3:9). And still I sin. Even in those times that I focus my efforts on one particular sin I find that I am unable to stop, unable to put it entirely to death. My mind can’t do it, my heart can’t do it, my will can’t do it, my hands can’t do it. It may not reign as sovereign, but it continues to exist as a trial and a steady temptation.

In The Christian Life: A Doctrinal Introduction Sinclair Ferguson writes about this tricky relationship of sin to the Christian and offers these words of assurance: “We are no longer what we once were; we are no longer related to sin the way we once were.” This is important for me to understand and to keep in the forefront of my mind as I battle sin—any sin. I am not what I once was. I am not who I once was. I was once a slave to sin, owned by it, inexorably drawn to it. But now I am the slave to a different master. I am owned by God and subject to him. My relationship to sin has been radically transformed.

And yet I still get angry. I still lash out in anger. I still simmer in anger. I still have desires that stem from anger and suffer the consequences of my anger. And that is just one sin. I still lust and am still jealous and am still thankless and still sin in so many ways. I have died to sin but sin has not yet died within. But here is the difference; here is the change: Sin no longer has dominion. And practically I cannot relate to it as if it has dominion. I have to ensure that my experience of sin is consistent with my theology of sin.

Anger does not own me. Christ owns me. Lust does not motivate me. Christ motivates me. Jealousy does not get the final victory. Christ gets the final victory. The cross stands there as assurance that I have been saved from its power and will some day be fully and finally delivered from its presence. Sin is in me but I am in Christ. And what is in me was put upon him on the cross. He triumphed over it then. He broke its power. And now I just wait, battling all the while, for him to speak the word and bring it to an end once and for all.

Pastor, are you having fun?

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Tony Reinke:

“I have a little and earnest peeve,” John Piper said last night in his second message at DG’s 2015 Conference for Pastors, “Make War: The Pastor and His People in the Battle Against Sin” (2/3/15).

“‘Fun’ has become an adjective, and is the most common word used today, I think, among pastors to describe their happiness in ministry. That’s very telling. All of you do it. I hear it everywhere. ‘Having a blast in the work.’ ‘Oh, we’re having fun!’ Lots of people who say that are not superficial people, they have just absorbed the language from superficial people. If any word is superficial, the word ‘fun’ is superficial.”

He went on to explain:

I think one of the reasons so many worship services in America are so playful and amusing and entertaining and casual and flippant and jokey and trifling and downright silly is that there is so little sense that anything ominous is really at stake in this service. This service is for secure believers to have fun and for unbelievers to see them have fun; so they will know Christianity is fun. And “fun” has become the most common word among pastors to describe their happiness in ministry. It’s very telling. . . .

In Romans 8:13 Paul says, “If you live according to the flesh you will die.” How could he talk that way to the “saints” at Rome?

Thousands of pastors today would never talk that way to their people. Which is one reason why people don’t feel anything huge, eternal, life-shaking, awesome is at stake in this service or this message. Paul could talk that way because his understanding was that the way people receive and respond to the word of God confirms what kind of person they are: truly born of God, or not. . . .

Then he closed:

In the end, the warfare [against sin] doesn’t sound so bleak. It is serious. Every Sunday. Everyday. But it is a profoundly happy business, because our main work is, by the Spirit of God, with the word of God, to portray the glories of God as more beautiful and more satisfying than anything in the world. We pastors, we people, are a seriously happy band because we aim to kill sin that kills joy in God.

You have authority in Christ

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Ray Ortlund:

“Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you.”  Luke 10:19

In Dynamics of Spiritual Life, Richard Lovelace proposes that one of the “primary elements of continuous renewal” in a church is “authority in spiritual conflict,” pages 133-144.  We are not on the defensive.  We have authority from Christ himself.  The blows we do receive from Satan “come from a retreating enemy,” as Lovelace says, because of the decisive victory of Jesus on our behalf.

Lovelace draws from Scripture five fall-back strategies of Satan:

1.  Temptation

“The enemy strategy here is either to disfigure a Christian’s witness through public scandal, to gain some evidence through which his or her conscience can be accused and discouraged, or to weaken faith in the possibility of sanctification in some contested area.”

2.  Deception

“Negatively, demonic agents induce a strong conscious aversion to biblical truth, an inability to comprehend it and a distaste for what little can be understood. . . . Positively, the forces of darkness inspire and empower antichristian religious counterfeits . . . . The deceiving work of Satan can even be done in and through Christian believers, as Christ’s famous rebuke of Peter shows.”

3.  Accusation

“Demonic agents italicize the defects of Christians and the churches in the minds of unbelievers and cause true Christianity to be branded with the image of its own worst exemplars . . . . They are also particularly active in dividing Christians from one another into parties . . . . Finally, satanic forces attack Christians directly in their own minds with disturbingly accurate accounts of their faults, seeking to discourage those who are most eager and able to work for the kingdom.”

4.  Possession

“The Gospels plainly describe a condition in which human victims come almost helplessly under control of alien personalities.”

5.  Physical attack

“From data in the Gospels it appears that demonic agents can occasionally cause illness, at least psychological and neurological ailments like dumbness and epilepsy.”

More should be said about all this, and Lovelace does say more.  But he wisely affirms, “The battles we fight against [demonic powers] should not be occasions of anxiety.  They force us back to reliance on Christ’s redemptive work and enhance our dignity and authority as redeemed saints who have the power to judge angels.”

Christianity – Something Else Entirely

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Tim Keller:

To most people in our society, Christianity is religion and moralism. The only alternative to it (besides some other world religion) is pluralistic secularism. But from the beginning it was not so. Christianity was recognized as atertium quid, something else entirely.

The crucial point here is that, in general, religiously observant people were offended by Jesus, but those estranged from religious and moral observance were intrigued and attracted to him. We see this throughout the New Testament accounts of Jesus’s life. In every case where Jesus meets a religious person and a sexual outcast (as in Luke 7) or a religious person and a racial outcast (as in John 3-4) or a religious person and a political outcast (as in Luke 19), the outcast is the one who connects with Jesus and the elder-brother type does not. Jesus says to the respectable religious leaders ‘the tax collectors and the prostitutes enter the kingdom before you’ (Matthew 21:31).

Jesus’s teaching consistently attracted the irreligious while offending the Bible-believing, religious people of his day. However, in the main, our churches today do not have this effect. The kind of outsiders Jesus attracted are not attracted to contemporary churches, even our most avant-garde ones. We tend to draw conservative, buttoned-down, moralistic people. The licentious and liberated or the broken and marginal avoid church. That can only mean one thing. If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our parishioners do not have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did. If our churches aren’t appealing to younger brothers, they must be more full of elder brothers than we’d like to think.