The Bad News of the Kingdom

Michael Lawrence: What Is the Good News? Biblical Theology’s Answer Let’s consider how both biblical theology and systematic theology are important and relate to each other when we try to answer the most basic of ministry questions: What is the gospel? What is the good news that the Bible reveals to us? When biblical theology comes to this question, it lays out the grand sweep of God’s actions in history. That sweep might be described as the movement from Creation ➜ Fall ➜ Redemption ➜ New Creation. Notice that this outline follows the narrative of Scripture itself. It explains what God is doing across redemptive history as that history moves from the garden of Eden to the new heavens and new earth. The Good News of the Kingdom Biblical theology also talks about the gospel in terms of the kingdom of God. George Eldon Ladd has forever changed the way all of us think about this kingdom.[1] As Ladd observed,

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Passive Christianity Is Dead Christianity

Jon Bloom: What do you want? What do you desire? What is your ambition? Do you really want to know? Look at your behavior. You do what you want. This is a devastatingly simple psychology of motivation. But it’s what the Bible teaches: James: Faith without works is dead. Don’t tell me you have faith if the way you live doesn’t back up what you say. (James 2:17–18) John: Love without deeds is dead. Don’t tell me you love if the way you live doesn’t back up what you say. (1 John 3:17–18) Paul: Grace without holiness is dead. Don’t tell me you revel in God’s grace if the way you live doesn’t back up what you say. (Romans 6:12–14) Jesus: Discipleship without obedience is dead. Don’t tell me I’m your Lord if the way you live doesn’t back up what you say. (Matthew 7:21) We may say what sounds orthodox, but we do what we really believe. We may

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Why We Must Understand the Covenants to Understand the Bible

Tom Schreiner: The Backbone of the Bible’s Storyline The covenants are crucial, as Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum have argued, because they are the backbone of the storyline of the Bible. The Bible isn’t a random collection of laws, moral principles, and stories. It is a story that goes somewhere; it is the story of redemption, the story of God’s kingdom. And the story unfolds and advances through the covenants God made with his people. If we don’t understand the covenants, we will not and cannot understand the Bible because we won’t understand how the story fits together. The best way to see this is by quickly surveying the covenants in the Scriptures. The Creation Covenant God created the world and human beings, showing he is the sovereign ruler of all. He created Adam and Eve as priest-kings, as those made in his image, to rule the world for God. They were to extend God’s rule over the entire earth.

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How Can I Forgive Myself?

H.B. Charles: The most faithful response to this question is to reject it as an illegitimate question. The biblical teaching about forgiveness can be summarized in two main ideas: God forgives sinners freely, completely, and sacrificially. Ultimately, divine forgiveness is paid for by the cross of Christ. Christians must forgive those who wrong us, as God has forgiven us for the sake of Christ. That’s it. Sermon over. There is not third point. God has forgiven us and we must forgive others. Period. There are more than 125 direct references to forgiveness in the Bible. But the Bible does not teach that we should forgive ourselves. It does not explain how to forgive ourselves. It does not say anything about forgiving ourselves whatsoever. God is just, holy, and righteous. We are not. We are sinners who cannot do anything to win the approval of God. We cannot reach up to God. But God has reach down to us through the

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10 Things You Should Know about the Biblical Covenants

Tom Schreiner (author of Covenant and God’s Purpose for the World) 1. Covenants are the backbone of the biblical story. Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum have argued that the covenants advance the storyline of the Bible in their book Kingdom through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants, and they are on target. If one understands how the covenants function in the Bible, one will have a good grasp of how the Bible fits together. If we see the big picture in Scripture, we will do a better job of interpreting the details, and the covenant plays a fundamental role in seeing the big picture. 2. Covenant can be defined as follows: a covenant is a chosen relationship in which two parties make binding promises to each other. A covenant should be distinguished from a contract because it is a personal relationship which people voluntarily enter. The definition of covenant here is rather broad, but that is because there are many

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Entertainment and Worship

Joe Thorn: In every church and every generation of Christians, there is the potential to lose our focus on the things that are most important (Heb. 2:1). We must constantly remind ourselves and re-center our churches lest we find ourselves trusting in something other than the gospel of God and the Word of God. One of the more dangerous drifts happening in our local churches today is within our corporate worship. In many churches there is a de-emphasis on the means of grace (Scripture, prayer, and the sacraments or ordinances), and a reliance on entertainment. Some try to balance the two in the name of reaching more people with the gospel, but there is an inescapable danger in overvaluing entertainment and implementing it in corporate worship. This is not a new phenomenon. The nineteenth-century pastor Charles Spurgeon said, “The devil has seldom done a cleverer thing than hinting to the church that part of their mission is to provide entertainment for the

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The Inaugurated Kingdom Empowers Missional Living

Jon Nagle: I’ll always remember two of the most incredible moments of my life. The days that my wife and I discovered she was pregnant with our two boys were breath-taking experiences. With our firstborn, I was sitting in the bedroom of our first apartment; and with our second-born, I was sitting in the master bedroom of our current house. In both instances, my wife decided to sneak away into the bathroom to take a pregnancy test without telling me. And in both instances she exited the bathroom to surprise me with that infamous blue plus-sign. Tears of joy flowed, and the same life-altering thought that struck me the first time—”Wow, I’m a father!”—also struck me the second time, “Wow, I’m a father … again!” Indeed, in those very moments, though there were still many months of pregnancy and growth ahead of us, I was already a father. And although my newborn sons were yet to be seen in their

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Seven ways delighting in God benefits us

Ray Ortlund: Richard Baxter, in A Christian Directory (Ligonier, 1990), page 140, lists seven benefits of looking by faith to the Lord, as to no other, for our deepest delight. Updating the language a little: 1. Delight in God will prove that we know him and love him and that we are prepared for his kingdom, for all who delight in him shall enjoy him. 2. Prosperity, that is, the small addition of earthly things, will not easily corrupt us or transport us. 3. Adversity, that is, the withholding of earthly delights, will not excessively grieve us or easily deject us. 4. We will receive more profit from a sermon or book or conversation that we delight in than other people, who don’t delight in them, will receive from many such opportunities. 5. All our service will be sweet to ourselves and acceptable to God; if we delight in him, he certainly delights in us. 6. We will have a continual feast

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12 Signs of Genuine Repentance

Jared Wilson: I have sinned against you. I have apologized. But how do you know if I mean it? How do you know when someone is repentant? In his helpful little book Church Discipline, Jonathan Leeman offers some guidance: A few verses before Jesus’ instruction in Matthew 18 about church discipline, he provides us with help for determining whether an individual is characteristically repentant: would the person be willing to cut off a hand or tear out an eye rather than repeat the sin (Matt. 18:8-9)? That is to say, is he or she willing to do whatever it takes to fight against the sin? Repenting people, typically, are zealous about casting off their sin. That’s what God’s Spirit does inside of them. When this happens, one can expect to see a willingness to accept outside counsel. A willingness to inconvenience their schedules. A willingness to confess embarrassing things. A willingness to make financial sacrifices or lose friends or end relationships.

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Why We Dare Not Seek God without Christ

Mark Jones: Too Much for Us We believe that thou art a being than which nothing greater can be conceived. —Anselm, Proslogion Whoever has seen God and has understood what he saw, has seen nothing. —Maximus the Confessor, In Epistula Dionysii The majesty of God is too high to be scaled up to by mortals, who creep like worms on the earth. —John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion The true and living God is too much for us to bear, to handle, to conceive, to adore, to know, to trust, to understand, and to worship. The Incomprehensible One is simply too much for us in every conceivable way. Christ the Mediator However, that the Son became flesh makes our human nature appear lovely to God. But he also makes God appear lovely to us.1 Take away Christ, the God-man, and we are reprehensible to God and he to us. But in Christ, God is well pleased with us and

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The Real Reason We Don’t Read Our Bibles

Brandon D. Smith: Through my work with the Christian Standard Bible, I came across some stats about Bible reading. Eighty-eight percent of American households own a Bible, but only 37 percent of people read it once a week or more. People said they don’t read their Bibles because they don’t have enough time, and they struggle to understand the words. These two frustrations are understandable, and we’ve all struggled with them. But are they the real reasons people aren’t reading their Bibles? Root Issue When you think about it, we should get really excited about Bible reading. The God of the universe has given us his Word. He could’ve tapped out when we disobeyed him in the garden, but he didn’t. He went looking for us and talked to us (Gen. 3). Knowing our gracious God gave us his Word should make us want to read it, but often that’s not enough. We don’t read the Bible regularly because we don’t understand how it works. We

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Is God a Megalomaniac?

Sam Storms: I’m currently reading through John Piper’s most recent book (and so should you!), Reading the Bible Supernaturally: Seeing and Savoring the Glory of God in Scripture (Crossway, 2017). I’ll have a more complete review of it when I’m done, but I can assure you that it will most definitely be on my list of Top Ten Best Books of 2017. Early on in the book Piper picks up the objection that C. S. Lewis voiced concerning the way in which God constantly demanded praise of himself (especially as we see this in the Psalms). Lewis struggled to understand how God could be loving towards us at the same time he seemed so obsessed with his own praise. In other words, how does God escape the charge of being a megalomaniac? Shouldn’t God “humble” himself by seeking our good above and prior to his own glory? Piper’s answer follows: “If God demeaned his supreme worth in the name of

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How the Reformation Rediscovered Happiness

Tim Chester: Imagine facing Judgment Day every week. Near to where I grew up, in the Oxfordshire village of South Leigh, is the parish church of St. James the Great. Over the chancel arch is a medieval wall painting depicting the final judgment. To the left, the righteous rose from their graves to be welcomed into paradise. To the right, the damned were roped together to be dragged towards the gaping mouth of a huge red dragon. This is what the churchgoers of South Leigh saw every Sunday. And they would find no relief, even if they turned away. For on the wall of the south aisle, another wall painting depicted St. Michael weighing souls in a balance. More demons hover, ready to carry away those found wanting. Heaven was a possibility for the churchgoers of South Leigh — but so was hell. And the church offered no assurance of salvation. Perhaps you might be righteous enough for God with

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Ecumenical vs. Evangelical

Mike Riccardi: One of the most devastating attacks on the life and health of the church throughout all of church history has been what is known as the ecumenical movement—the downplaying of doctrine in order to foster partnership in ministry between (a) genuine Christians and (b) people who were willing to call themselves Christians but who rejected fundamental Christian doctrines. In the latter half of the 19th century, theological liberalism fundamentally redefined what it meant to be a Christian. It had nothing to do, they said, with believing in doctrine. It didn’t matter if you believed in an inerrant Bible; the scholarship of the day had debunked that! It didn’t matter if you believed in the virgin birth and the deity of Christ; modern science disproved that! It didn’t matter if you embraced penal substitutionary atonement; blood sacrifice and a wrathful God are just primitive and obscene, and besides, man is not fundamentally sinful but basically good! What mattered was

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Who is the Holy Spirit?

Sam Storms: From Sam’s contribution to The New City Catechism: Rarely does a Christian struggle to think of God as Father. And to envision God as Son is not a problem for many. These personal names come easily to us because our lives and relationships are inescapably intertwined with fathers and sons here on earth. But God as Holy Spirit is often a different matter. Gordon Fee tells of one of his students who remarked, “God the Father makes perfectly good sense to me, and God the Son I can quite understand; but the Holy Spirit is a gray, oblong blur.” How different this is from what we actually read in Scripture. There we see that the Spirit is not third in rank in the Godhead but is co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and Son, sharing with them all the glory and honor due unto our Triune God. The Holy Spirit is not an impersonal power or an ethereal,

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Build Your Life on the Mercies of God

John Piper: I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. My aim in this message is that you would be encouraged by God and enabled by his Spirit to build your life on the mercies of God revealed in Jesus Christ. There are two parts to this aim: that you would build your life on something, and that you would build it on the mercies of God revealed in Christ. I see those two things in the first half of verse 1 of Romans 12. It says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God.” 1. Build Your Life on Something

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10 Things You Should Know about Reading the Bible

By Matt Harmon, author of Asking the Right Questions: 1. The Bible is both a divine and a human book. Every word of the Bible is inspired by God (2 Tim. 3:16). He spoke through the various human authors, using their unique personalities and writing styles to communicate exactly what he wanted to say (2 Pet. 1:20–21). 2. The Bible is a story. The Bible is not simply a collection of religious sayings or an anthology of various people’s religious experiences. The Bible tells us the true story of the world, the way things truly are and should be. Understanding the basic plot of the Bible that runs from Genesis to Revelation helps us better understand every passage in between. 3. The Bible focuses on God and his plans for the world. God is the main character of the Bible. He created humanity to reflect his image by ruling over creation as stewards under his authority. But Satan deceived Adam and

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The Beatitudes

Matt Boga: This is the famous introduction to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount recorded in the Gospel of Matthew chapters 5-7.  In these 10 verses Jesus quickly flips everything that we think to be correct on its head, and beautifully offends and astonishes all readers/hearers. The Beatitudes – much like the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23 – describe the entire Christian.  No one of them sufficiently describes a Christian, but all of them together paint a well-rounded picture of Christianity.  Jesus speaks about the narrow gate of entrance that leads to life later in the Sermon on the Mount, but in this opening passage he wonderfully describes what that gate looks like. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. The poor in spirit are those that understand, by the work of the Holy Spirit, that they are spiritually bankrupt.  The poor in spirit understand that no man has anything to bring to

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The law of God is not a burden

Joe Thorn: The commands of God can be a heavy reality. The Lord calls us to love him above all things, to love others as ourselves, and to even love our enemies. We are commanded to be content in all circumstances without coveting, and to not only tell the truth but defend those who are maligned. As sinners who break all of these commands the law can be crushing. They show us the way to go, and then reveal that we are prone to go our own way (Rom 7). For the unbeliever the law of God, if taken seriously, is a burden too great to bear. For the unbeliever the law not only commands and convicts, it also confounds and condemns. The Law stands true and bears witness against one’s sins leaving him or her without excuse before the face of God. But, for the believer the law of God is not burdensome. For this is the love of

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Loving God with Our Minds

R.C. Sproul: The human mind is one of the most incredible aspects of creation. It is more powerful than the largest supercomputer and can solve great problems and make great discoveries. That makes the noetic effects of sin especially tragic. The noetic effects of sin describe the impact of sin upon the nous—the mind—of fallen humanity. The faculty of thinking, with which we reason, has been seriously disturbed and corrupted by the fall. In our natural, unregenerate state, there is some-thing dramatically wrong with our minds. As a consequence of our suppressing the knowledge of God in our sin, we have been given over to a debased mind (Rom. 1:28). It’s terrible to have a reprobate mind, a mind that now in its fallen condition doesn’t have a scintilla of desire to love God. But that is the kind of mind we chose for ourselves in Adam, so in our natural fallen condition, there is nothing more repugnant to our minds than

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