How Then Should We Preach?

Ryan McGraw: However well constructed and attractive, a car is useless without fuel. On the flip side, a motor may have fuel without being a vehicle. Likewise, preaching is a vehicle that requires fuel. God designed preaching to bring us to himself through faith in Christ. If preaching does not have the right content, then it becomes more of a motor than a vehicle, since it can no longer take us where we need to go. If preaching has the right content, yet the Holy Spirit is absent from it, then it functions like a vehicle without fuel. It is only when Spirit shapes the content and blesses the act of preaching that preaching become a vehicle to bring us to God, through Christ, by the Spirit. In 1 Cor. 2:1-5, the Apostle Paul teaches these things when he writes: “And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you

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Is Your Church an Institution?

Ray Ortlund: To call anything an “institution” today can be its death sentence, including a church. Should we be ashamed of the institutional aspects of our churches? What is an institution? An institution is a social mechanism for making a desirable experience easily repeatable. An institution is where life-giving human activities can be nurtured and protected and sustained. Some aspects of life should be unscheduled, spontaneous, random. But not all of life should be. Some things are too wonderful to be left to chance. Football season is an institution, Thanksgiving Day is an institution, and so forth. Institutions are not a problem. But institutionalization is. An institution can enrich life, but institutionalization takes that good thing and turns it into death. How? The structure, the mechanism, the means, becomes the end. The institution itself takes on its own inherent purpose. The delivery system overshadows the experience it is meant to deliver. When, in the corporate psychology of a group of

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God’s Sovereignty and Glory

By Derek Thomas: God is sovereign in creation, providence, redemption, and judgment. That is a central assertion of Christian belief and especially in Reformed theology. God is King and Lord of all. To put this another way: nothing happens without God’s willing it to happen, willing it to happen before it happens, and willing it to happen in the way that it happens. Put this way, it seems to say something that is expressly Reformed in doctrine. But at its heart, it is saying nothing different from the assertion of the Nicene Creed: “I believe in God, the Father Almighty.” To say that God is sovereign is to express His almightiness in every area. God is sovereign in creation. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). Apart from God, there was nothing. And then there was something: matter, space, time, energy. And these came into being ex nihilo—out of nothing. The will to create was entirely

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5 Sources of True Change

This post is adapted from How Does Sanctification Work? by David Powlison: 1. God himself changes you. This is foundational to all. “It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). He intervenes in your life, turning you from suicidal self-will to the kingdom of life. He raises you in Christ when you are dead in trespasses and sins. He restores hearing when you are deaf (you could not hear him otherwise). He gives sight when you are blind (you could not see him otherwise). He is immediately and personally present, a life-creating voice, a strong and strengthening hand. All good fruit in our lives comes by the Holy Spirit’s working on scene. Jesus said it was better if he went away, because the Holy Spirit would come (John 16:7). The Holy Spirit continues to do the things that Jesus does—continually adding to the number of books that could be

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Why God Demands Worship

Don Carson: I have been doing university missions off and on for about thirty-five years. About a dozen years ago, I started stumbling across a question from university undergraduates that I never received when I was a young man. This relatively recent question is put variously, but it generally runs something like this: “Amongst human beings, anyone who wants to have all of the attention and garner all the praise, anyone who wants to be the focus of everyone’s constant admiration, with everyone stroking that person and fawning all over him, would be thought of as massively egocentric. The God you are trying to push on us looks to me to be very egocentric. He keeps demanding that we praise Him all the time. For goodness sake, is He insecure? Isn’t He, at very least, morally defective? What do you say to that? The reason I never heard that sort of question in the past, I suspect, is because until fairly

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What About Those Who Have Never Heard?

John Piper’s reply to a letter from a 12-year-old about heaven and hell: You asked what happens to people who live far away from the gospel and have never heard about Jesus and die without faith in him. Here is what I think the Bible teaches. God always punishes people because of what they know and fail to believe. In other words, no one will be condemned for not believing in Jesus who has never heard of Jesus. Does that mean that people will be saved and go to heaven if they have never heard of Jesus? No, that is not what God tells us in the Bible. The main passage in the Bible that talks about this is Romans 1:18–23. Here is what it says. Then I’ll make a comment or two. For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be

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Doctrine Is Precious in the Storm

Erik Raymond: Theology often gets a bad rap. Pitted against application, doctrine is painted as stuffy and out of step. But so often when we read the Bible we find that it is the theology that drives the devotion. Orthodoxy gets pressed down into the crevices of our lives to make us grow. Like an expert mason with his trowel, the Lord uses trials to press the mortar of doctrine into the deepest parts of our lives. One story that brings this out in a refreshing way is the time when Rebekah was pregnant with twins. Like us, Rebekah was not promised an easy life on the road of blessing. She experienced great conflict. We read in Genesis 25:22, “the children struggled together within her.” The NIV says that the babies jostled together within her. There was a conflict in Rebekah’s womb, and it was most certainly painful. In response, Rebekah asks a very appropriate question, “and she said, “If

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Is There a Silver Bullet of Sanctification?

This post is adapted from How Does Sanctification Work? by David Powlison. “Just . . .” We are all tempted to oversimplify. We long for one “key” truth, a “secret” principle, the foolproof technique, some life-changing experience that makes everything different from now on. If only there were some one thing to make Christian growth certain! But there is no single key. You often hear people say things like “He should just remember that . . .” Or “If only she would just do . . .” Or “If I could just experience . . .” You’ve probably said things like that yourself. I certainly have. Preachers, teachers, counselors, authors, and friends instinctively gravitate toward naming some truth, some spiritual discipline, some action step, or some experience as the key that will unlock everything. The phrase “Just . . .” is a tip-off. But there are no “Just [do x, y, or z]” solutions to the puzzles of our sanctification.

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Luther, and the Creative Power of the Word

. Carl Trueman: . The importance of Luther to the Christian faith cannot be overstated. For many today, he is probably a figure who looks larger as a symbol of defiance or a heroic rebel against a corrupt church and decadent theology.There is much truth in such images. His stand at the Diet of Worms was a remarkable act of courageous defiance. And his theology represented nothing less than a self-conscious attempt to overthrow the medieval thought which he had been taught and replace it with a comprehensive understanding of God and the gospel as refracted the incarnate and crucified Christ. . Yet there is more to Luther. Indeed, perhaps his greatest contribution to the faith, and one that we can still learn from today, is his understanding of God’s Word. When we hear this term, our modern evangelical minds typically go to the contemporary debates about inerrancy, infallibility, interpretation and the like. Certainly such questions are legitimate. But for

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Getting to the Very Core of Pastoral Ministry

Dave Harvey: Imagine that you want to purchase a new, sturdy, handcrafted kitchen table, assembled from the finest pieces of oak. You happen to live near an Amish community, and you know that the Amish have a well-earned reputation for fine furniture that endures the test of time. So you find an Amish carpenter – we’ll call him “Ezekiel” – and you arrange to meet Ezekiel at his shop. But when you arrive, you notice something very strange: there is not a single scrap of wood in the entire shop. There are tools scattered everywhere but not a single piece of wood to be seen. Ezekiel emerges from the back of the shop and greets you with a firm handshake. “This may be a silly question,” you say, “but where is the wood?” “Oh, I don’t use wood. I’m a wood-less carpenter,” he says. You leave the shop, confused. What kind of carpenter doesn’t use wood? Wood is at the

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Three great soundbites that make terrible theology

Matt Fuller: Punchy sound bites are great—they’re memorable and help us get some things clear in our head. Jesus often used punchy sentences without any nuance: “If your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out.” Yet most of us recognize that if we turned that sentence of great preaching into an absolute statement, then there would be a lot of Christians stumbling around without any eyes. There are other very helpful sound bites that often get used in church. They are good preaching and make a helpful impression upon us. But, again, we don’t want to turn them into absolute statements or our faith will similarly stumble. Let me mention three common ones related to sin. 1. “There’s nothing I can do to make God love me more, or love me less.” On one hand that is wonderfully true! Our status before the LORD is secured by our union with Christ. The Christian is one who is justified, adopted and

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Spiritual Blessing: More than Just a Nice Feeling

This post is adapted from Alive in Him: How Being Embraced by the Love of Christ Changes Everything by Gloria Furman: Real Blessings from the Triune God The blessings we have in Christ are more than social niceties like saying “Gesundheit” after someone sneezes. Paul is describing how we have been blessed “with every spiritual blessing.” Often, when we hear of these blessings, we just smile and nod and utter a polite “Thanks,” as though someone has just blessed a sneezing fit. “Spiritual blessings” sounds fake, like a warranty for an appliance that expires the moment you open the package and use the machine. That warranty was never meant to benefit you, the consumer. But God’s blessings are utterly real. The indwelling Holy Spirit is the one who mediates these blessings to us; he brings them to us and applies them to our lives. In the first fourteen verses of Ephesians, Paul writes to unwrap these blessings in a massive

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Why Hell Is Integral to the Gospel

By Greg Gilbert: I’m sure you were overjoyed to learn that 9Marks has devoted an entire Journal on the topic of hell. In fact, it’s a topic that, if anything, makes us want to avert our eyes and think about something else entirely. For some, the horror of the Christian doctrine of hell—that it is a place of eternal, conscious torment where God’s enemies are punished—has led them not just to avert their eyes and minds, but to deny it entirely. “Surely,” they say, “hell is a fictional construct used to oppress people with fear; a God of love would never allow such a place to really exist.” There’s an emotional power to this argument, to be sure. No one, certainly no Christian, likes the idea of hell.   At the same time, this doctrine isn’t just drapery on the side of the Christian worldview, something with no relevance to the structure of the faith itself. Nor is the doctrine

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Why I Preach Through Books of the Bible

Phil Newton: I had a conversation with a minister friend who had been involved in discussing what pastors were preaching in their churches. While most seemed to agree that exposition of the biblical text must have priority in the church, few thought it wise to preach consecutively through books of the Bible—particularly with series that extended beyond twelve weeks. I understand the challenge of longer series but also see the value in the long run. The forty-four sermons that I preached through Ephesians in 1990–91, literally transformed my life, theology, and congregation. Eight or ten sermons would not have sufficed to uproot faulty theology and set us on a right course. The fifty-two sermons in Hebrews in 2000–01, sharpened our understanding of the gospel and its application to the whole of life. What would you say had you been involved in the discussion? Here are a few thoughts that I’ve ruminated on since that conversation: (1) Pastors have the responsibility

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What is the Difference between Justification and Sanctification?

Erik Raymond: What is the difference between justification and sanctification? I am thankful that this is a frequent question that I get as a pastor; thankful because people are thinking but also because this is so important. After all, we are talking about our standing before God. In short, justification means we are declared righteous, while sanctification means growing in righteousness. Let me explain and contrast a bit further. Justification refers to God’s declaration that someone is determined to be righteous in his sight. This justification is a one-time act whereby God declares a sinner like you and me to be not only not guilty but perfectly righteous before his high bar of justice. How does God does this and maintain his justice? The basis for the divine declaration is the doing and dying of Christ. God credits (or imputes) us with the righteousness (merit) of Jesus. We are justified by grace (a gift) through faith (trusting in Jesus). Some

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The 144,000 of Revelation 7

Kevin DeYoung: The 144,000 are not an ethnic Jewish remnant, and certainly not an Anointed Class of saints who became Jehovah’s Witnesses before 1935. The 144,000 “sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel” (Rev. 7:4) represent the entire community of the redeemed. Let me give you several reasons for making this claim. First, in chapter 13 we read that Satan seals all of his followers, so it makes sense that God would seal all of his people, not just the Jewish ones. Second, the image of sealing comes from Ezekiel 9, where the seal on the forehead marks out two groups of people: idolaters and non-idolaters. It would seem that the sealing of the 144,000 makes a similar distinction based on who worships God, not who among the Jewish remnant worships God. Third, the 144,000 are called the servants of our God (Rev. 7:3). There is no reason to make the 144,000 any more restricted than that. If

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The Most Serious and Severe Departure from the Faith in Our Day

Sam Storms: Heresy abounds. It always has and always will, until such time as Jesus returns and exposes the misguided theological fabrications of men and women and vindicates the truth of his Word. In our day, there are many heretical and deviant notions circulating within the professing evangelical church. But I am persuaded that the most serious and severe departure from biblical faith in our day is the repudiation of the truth of penal substitutionary atonement (together with the wicked, childish, inexcusable, or as J. I. Packer has put it, “the smarty-pants” caricature of penal substitution as “cosmic child abuse”). There is much that could be said about this, but today I restrict my comments to the declaration of Revelation 1:5b where John predicates of Jesus Christ “glory and dominion forever and ever.” And what is the ground for this doxology? Why is Jesus deserving of such praise? It is because, among other things, he “loves us and has freed

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Bible Reading That Satan Leaves Alone

This post is adapted from Reading the Bible Supernaturally: Seeing and Savoring the Glory of God in Scripture by John Piper. The Blinding Enemy Outside Satan is real. His main identity is “a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). His way of lying is more by deception than bold-face falsehoods. He “is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world” (Rev. 12:9). Therefore, he hates “the Spirit of truth” (John 15:26). He hates God the Father from whom the Spirit proceeds (John 15:26). He hates the Son of God, who is truth (John 14:6). And he hates the word of God because God’s “word is truth” (John 17:17). Therefore, he will do his best to take away the word, if he can, and twist it, if he can’t—the way he did in the garden of Eden (Gen. 3:1) and in the temptations of Jesus (Matt. 4:6). Jesus described how Satan takes away the word: “When anyone

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Do Paul and James Disagree on Justification by Faith Alone?

Tom Schreiner: Critics of the slogan “faith alone” often point out that Scripture only speaks once about whether we are justified by faith alone—and that text denies it: “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24, CSB). What does James mean in saying we are justified by works? I won’t defend the truth of justification by faith alone in detail, but it’s clearly taught, for example, in Romans 3:28: “A person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.” Or, as Paul teaches inRomans 4:5, “God justifies the ungodly.” Both Abraham and David were justified by faith and not by works (Rom. 4:1–8; Gal. 3:6–9). Salvation, as Paul elsewhere demonstrates, is “by grace” and “through faith” (Eph. 2:8–9). Works are excluded as the basis of salvation—otherwise people could boast about what they have done. Salvation by grace through faith highlights the amazing and comforting truth that salvation is the Lord’s work, not ours. But does

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The Expulsive Power of a New Affection

Thomas Chalmers: “The love of the world cannot be expunged by a mere demonstration of the world’s worthlessness. But may it not be supplanted by the love of that which is more worthy than itself? The heart cannot be prevailed upon to part with the world, by a simple act of resignation. But may not the heart be prevailed upon to admit into its preference another, who shall subordinate the world, and bring it down from its wonted ascendancy? “If the throne which is placed there must have an occupier, and the tyrant that now reigns has occupied it wrongfully, he may not leave a bosom which would rather detain him than be left in desolation. But may he not give way to the lawful sovereign, appearing with every charm that can secure His willing admittance, and taking unto himself His great power to subdue the moral nature of man, and to reign over it? “In a word, if the

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