Practical Applications of the Doctrine of Justification

Nate Pickowicz: The Reformer John Calvin (1509–64) ardently declared the doctrine of justification by faith alone to be “the principle hinge by which [the Christian] religion is supported” (Institutes 3.11.1). Known as the material principle of the sixteenth-century Reformation, the doctrine of justification by faith alone was at the epicenter of the battle to bring needed reform to the church. This biblical doctrine is central to preserving an accurate understanding of the gospel even as we find it so clearly taught in Paul’s letters to the churches of Rome and Galatia.   As we approach the Bible’s teaching on justification, it is vital that we comprehend the finer points of the doctrine. To put it bluntly, if we get justification wrong, we get the gospel wrong. Thankfully, we have a rich and faithful heritage of believers who have courageously upheld Scripture’s teaching on justification by faith alone. The Westminster Shorter Catechism presents a clear and succinct definition of justification: Justification is an act

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8 Steps for Real Repentance from Psalm 51

Catherine Parks: My brother and I had a nightly childhood ritual of asking one another’s forgiveness for a list of vague sins. Having been warned not to let the sun go down on our anger, we made sure to cover all possibilities of sins we may have committed during the day. “Aaron, I’m sorry for yelling at you, hitting you, being selfish with the Nintendo, and tattling on you today. Will you forgive me?” His answer, along with his own confession, came back to my room in return. Thus we slept in the peace of the slightly remorseful. When I read Psalm 51 (written by David after the prophet Nathan confronted him with his sin), I realize how lacking my childhood confessions were. Even many of my confessions in adulthood leave much to be desired. Often we treat repentance as a statement—an “I’m sorry, please forgive me” that checks a box and (hopefully) alleviates our guilt. But if we look closely

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Evangelism Must Explain What’s Wrong with the World

Becky Pippert: People around us today often scoff at the notion of sin. Our world has new names for what ails us: poor self-esteem, neurosis, addiction, anxiety, psychological wounding, and so forth. It isn’t that these issues aren’t a reality; it’s that such analysis doesn’t go deep enough to reveal the root cause. Yet for all the protest that sin is an old-fashioned, outdated concept, nearly everyone agrees that something has gone terribly wrong and must be made right. We see the wrong in world wars, racism, genocides, terrorism, human trafficking, exploitation of children—and in our own personal battles evidenced in broken relationships, anger, addictions, and on and on. What happened that caused our planet to go from paradise to our present brokenness? And how can this explanation be good news for our unbelieving neighbors? First Rebellion In Genesis 3, we discover that, though Adam and Eve were created in God’s image, they rejected God’s rule and chose to be

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What Preaching Christ From All Of Scripture Does And Does Not Mean

R. Scott Clark: In recent days there has been considerable discussion about what it means to speak of “preaching Christ from all of Scripture.” Some object to this way of speaking and this approach to Bible interpretation on the grounds that it does violence to the true meaning of Scripture. For those within Dispensationalism, there are two peoples of God, an earthly people (Israel) and a heavenly people. As they read Scripture, there is a genuine sense in which God’s promises to national Israel are the center of Scripture. In this view it is held that God intends to restore national Israel, including the temple and the sacrificial system. Thus, according to most forms of Dispensationalism, those promises of an earthly kingdom are thought to be the norm by which all the rest of Scripture must be understood. Another objection is that the project of preaching Christ from all of Scripture does not do justice to the particular text at hand,

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What Does “coram Deo” Mean?

RC Sproul: I remember Mama standing in front of me, her hands poised on her hips, her eyes glaring with hot coals of fire and saying in stentorian tones, “Just what is the big idea, young man?” Instinctively I knew my mother was not asking me an abstract question about theory. Her question was not a question at all—it was a thinly veiled accusation. Her words were easily translated to mean, “Why are you doing what you are doing?” She was challenging me to justify my behavior with a valid idea. I had none. Recently a friend asked me in all earnestness the same question. He asked, “What’s the big idea of the Christian life?” He was interested in the overarching, ultimate goal of the Christian life. To answer his question, I fell back on the theologian’s prerogative and gave him a Latin term. I said, “The big idea of the Christian life is coram Deo. Coram Deo captures the essence of the Christian life.” This phrase

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Christmas: A Story of the Wealth and Poverty of the Son of God

Sam Storms: No biblical text so vividly portrays for us the true meaning of Christmas as does 2 Corinthians 8:9. There the apostle Paul wrote this: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). In what sense was Christ “rich” or “wealthy”? I want you to think with me about what kind of “wealth” or “riches” characterized the Son of God in eternity past, before the incarnation, before he became a fetus in the womb of Mary, before he was born on that first Christmas morning. But I also want you to consider with me the ways in which the Son of God became “poor”. When I hear Paul say that the Son of God was “rich”, the first thing that comes to mind is the incalculable “wealth” of his eternal glory. The sacrifice of

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Christmas Reminds Us That Jesus is God

Jared Wilson: What would prompt us to refer to a man as God? And even if we acknowledge that Jesus was somehow God, how did he become God? Was he born a man and later “divinized” in some way, perhaps at his baptism? Many have wrestled with these questions throughout church history, but the faithful church has always held as orthodox what the apostles profess in the creed: “We believe. . . in Jesus Christ, [God’s] only Son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary . . . This short phrase encapsulates the doctrine we call “the Incarnation.”  What the Incarnation means is this: Jesus Christ was both fully God and fully man. He was not God manifesting in the illusion or appearance of a man. And he was not man operating under the title “God” as some vicarious ambassador or adoptee. Jesus was—simultaneously, totally, and actually—God and man. The second person of the Triune Godhead, the eternally

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The Sounding Joy: Four Reasons to Rejoice in Jesus’ Arrival

Brandon Freeman: Luke’s infancy narratives provide the most detailed description of Jesus’ birth and its surrounding events. The Gospel writer records the angelic announcements of John the Baptist’s birth to Zechariah (1:5–25), then Jesus’ birth to Mary (1:26–38). Mary’s song of praise (1:46–56) and Zechariah’s prophecy (1:67–80) are wondrously recounted. The births of John the Baptist (1:57–66) and that of Jesus (2:1–8) are not left to the reader’s imagination. Throughout, the author expresses the mercy of God (1:50, 72) and the salvation of God (1:47, 69) visible in the coming of Jesus. Have you noticed, though, the theme of joy that pervades the narratives in Luke 1–2? Joy occurs more often in Luke than in Matthew and Mark combined and is a motif that Luke desires to see connected to Jesus’ arrival. Observe the notes of joy documented by Luke. The angel told Zechariah that “Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness,

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God’s Passion for God at Christmas

For this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name. —John 12:27–28 John Piper: Glory to God in the Highest One of the most famous Christmas scenes in the Bible is the announcement to the shepherds by an angel that the Savior is born. And then it says, “Suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’” (Luke 2:11–14). Glory to God, peace to man. The angels are sent to make something crystal clear: the Son of God has come into his creation to display the glory of God and to reconcile people from alienation to peace with God. To make God look great in salvation and to make man glad in God. So when we come to John 12, there is no surprise when we hear Jesus praying that this would actually happen at

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A Man’s Identity

David Powlison: Who are you? What gives a man his identity? On what foundation are you building your sense of self? Your answer, whether true or false, defines your life. Wrong ways of defining who we are arise naturally in our hearts, and the world around us preaches and models innumerable false identities. What are the ways men get identity wrong? Perhaps you construct a sense of self by the accomplishments listed on your resume. You might identify yourself by your lineage or ethnicity, by your marital status or parental role. Your sense of self might be based on money, on achievements, on the approval of others, on your self-esteem. Perhaps you think that your sins define you: an angry man, an addict, an anxious people-pleaser. Perhaps afflictions define you: disability, cancer, divorce. In each case, your sense of identity comes unglued from the God who actually defines you. Who God says you are God’s way of sizing up a man

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5 Myths about the Trinity

  Fred Sanders: Myth #1: It’s only for theology experts. The doctrine of the Trinity is for everybody who is saved by Jesus. Or, to say that just a little more elaborately, it’s for everybody who has been drawn to the Father through faith in the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit (see 2 Cor. 13:14). Or, to say it again, it’s for everyone who has been adopted by the Father who sent the Son to redeem us, and sent the Holy Spirit of adoption into our hearts to make us cry out to God, “Abba, Father” (see Gal. 4:4–6). Or, to say it another way, it’s for everyone who is in communion with other believers through our common access to the Father in Christ by the Spirit (see Eph. 2:18). Or, to be more precise, it’s for everybody who wants to understand how any of this deep salvation works, and what the gospel reveals about the God who stands behind

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Do You Believe in a Santa Christ?

Nathan W. Bingham: In Sinclair Ferguson’s book, In Christ Alone, he shares the sad reality that many Christians have a Christology that is more informed by Santa Claus than Scripture. For them, the message of the incarnation has been so twisted or diluted that they have in fact created for themselves a savior who is nothing more than a Santa Christ. As you prayerfully read Sinclair Ferguson’s words, ask yourself the following question this Christmas season: “Do I believe in a Santa Christ?” 1. A Pelagian Jesus is a Santa Christ Santa Christ is sometimes a Pelagian Jesus. Like Santa, he simply asks us whether we have been good. More exactly, since the assumption is that we are all naturally good, Santa Christ asks us whether we have been “good enough.” So just as Christmas dinner is simply the better dinner we really deserve, Jesus becomes a kind of added bonus who makes a good life even better. He is not seen as the Savior of helpless sinners. 2. A Semi-Pelagian Jesus is

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Why Must Jesus Be both Human and Divine?

Erik Raymond: Recently someone who is just beginning to investigate Christianity asked me an important question. As they are wading through the biblical data, the question came up, Why was Jesus both human and divine? Is this an important detail?   This is an important question. It’s vital that we understand not only that Jesus was truly God and fully man, but also why it is important.  I have found the Heidelberg Catechism quite helpful in its concise explanation.  On question 16 we read, Q:  Why must he be a true and righteous man? A:   He must be a true man because the justice of God requires that the same human nature which has sinned should pay for sin. He must be a righteous man because one who himself is a sinner he cannot pay for others. The answer here is focusing on the need for a real human nature. Why? Because the penalty for sin requires suffering in body and soul. And only

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Why Christians Should Think More About Heaven

Owen Strachan: You’ve no doubt heard the saying, “Don’t be so heavenly minded that you’re no earthly good.” I get the meaning here. We all know absentminded folks. If you’re the type of person who thinks deeply about life but goes out the door in mismatched socks, you might need to become a bit more practical. We’ve all met people who fit this mold. Maybe you and I are those people! But I have observed that most Christians struggle the opposite way. Let me put it plainly: I don’t think we’re nearly heavenly minded enough. We focus a ton on what’s right in front of us—politics, movies, our social-media feeds—but give little thought to what lies ahead in eternity. Small wonder so many believers today are discouraged. There is a marvelous and easy-to-comprehend solution to this common problem. If we will take the time to think about heaven, we will find our gaze lifted. If we will give less attention to tracking the latest Twitter

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Mind Your Christmas Imperatives

Tim Challies: Christmas is coming and with it a special season for Christians. Or most Christians, anyway. As we get into the season and as so many people begin their month-long reflections on the birth of Jesus Christ, it’s probably a good time to consider our Christmas imperatives. What are Christians commanded to do in the Christmas season? The Incarnation is nothing short of a miracle. As Christians, we believe that God took on flesh. Jesus Christ, who was and is and always will be God, became a man. The infinite and eternal God was, in the words of John Wesley, “contracted to a span” and “incomprehensibly made man.” An early theologian marveled, “Remaining what he was, he became what he was not.” He became what he was not so he could save the people he loved. Without the incarnation there could be no salvation. Little wonder, then, that God’s people celebrate it on this day and through this season

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God Is Incomprehensible

R.C. Sproul: What can we know about God? That’s the most basic question of theology, for what we can know about God and whether we can know anything about Him at all determine the scope and content of our study. Here we must consider the teaching of the greatest theologians in history, all of whom have affirmed the “incomprehensibility of God.” By using the term incomprehensible, they are not referring to something we are unable to comprehend or know at all. Theologically speaking, to say God is incomprehensible is not to say that God is utterly unknowable. It is to say that none of us can comprehend God exhaustively. Incomprehensibility is related to a key tenet of the Protestant Reformation—the finite cannot contain (or grasp) the infinite. Human beings are finite creatures, so our minds always work from a finite perspective. We live, move, and have our being on a finite plane, but God lives, moves, and has His being in infinity.

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The Great Exchanges of Romans

Sinclair Ferguson: When the wonder of the gospel breaks into your life, you feel as though you are the first person to discover its power and glory. Where has Christ been hidden all these years? He seems so fresh, so new, so full of grace. Then comes a second discovery—it is you who have been blind, but now you have experienced exactly the same as countless others before you. You compare notes. Sure enough, you are not the first! Thankfully you will not be the last. If my own experience is anything by which to judge, discovering Romans can be a similar experience. I still remember, as a Christian teenager, the slow dawning of this thought in my mind: all Scripture is God-breathed and useful to me, but it also seems to have a shape and structure, a center and circumference. If that is so, then some biblical books may be foundational; these should be mastered first. Then came the realization that

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Do You Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness?

R.C. Sproul: Some years ago, I spoke with a man whose business was to help people plan for the future. He asked me about my goals, about what I wanted to accomplish in life. As I went through this exercise, I noticed that one thing was conspicuously absent from my goals: there was nothing there about righteousness. I thought, “What’s wrong with this picture? How could a Christian establish life goals and not have at the top the attainment of righteousness in the sight of God?” Did not our Lord say, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33)? One of the scariest things that Jesus ever said was the warning He gave that “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). The Pharisees were devoted to the quest for righteousness, but they ended up in a

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Penal Substitution and Gospel Proclamation

Jonathan Griffiths: It is one thing to accept that a doctrine is true; it is quite another for it to shape the life and ministry of the church. The doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement (PSA) is a controversial doctrine in some circles. But those of us who affirm that it is a truly biblical doctrine need to grapple carefully with how it should shape and inform our ministry. The purpose of this brief article is to argue that PSA should be at the heart of our proclamation of the gospel—at the heart of our regular preaching of the word of God. There are important reasons for this both at the level of theological integrity and at the level of pastoral practicality. Theological reasons for the centrality of PSA in preaching Preaching that is biblical in the truest sense must be sensitive to the wider storyline of Scripture and properly contextualized within biblical theology, consciously shaped by certain key biblical-theological truths.

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That you can pray

“The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self controlled so that you can pray.”   1 Peter 4:7 Paul wrote in the thirteenth chapter of his letter to the Romans that…”The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” (Rom.13:11)  Now, if that was true for first century believers how much more so for us who are well int the third millennium. Two thousand years have past since Paul gave this exhortation to vigilance in the light of Christ’s return, and we may be tempted to think that He will never come. Peter addresses this kind of mistaken thinking in his second epistle, explaining that the ‘delay’ in Jesus return has to do with God’s kindness and patience in bringing many people to salvation. (see 2 Peter chapter 3) So the exhortation remains relevant. We are to rouse ourselves from spiritual lethargy

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