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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Reformed Theology Gone Sour: A Warning

Ray Ortlund: The Rev. William Still, a patriarch of the Church of Scotland in the 20th century, preaching on Romans 5:5 and the love of God being poured into our hearts, said this: “I wonder what it is about poring all over a great deal of Puritan literature that makes so many preachers of it so horribly cold. I don’t understand it, because I think it’s a wonderful literature. . . . I don’t know if you can explain this to me. I’d be very glad to know, because it worries me. But I hear over and over and over again this tremendous tendency amongst people who delve deeply into Puritan literature that a coldness, a hardness, a harshness, a ruthlessness–anything but sovereign grace–enters into their lives and into their ministries. Now, it needn’t be so. And it isn’t always so, thank God. And you see, the grace, the grace, of a true Calvinist and Puritan–that is to say, a

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Justifying a Non-Repeatable Justification

Nick Batzig: As there has been no small debate in recent decades over the doctrine of justification, I was delighted to come across a treatment of the once-for-all nature of justification in Geerhardus Vos’ Reformed Dogmatics. Having introduced the subject by explaining that the Roman Catholic church conflates justification and sanctification with it’s doctrine of a first and second justification, Vos explained that even within the Reformed tradition there have been those who have denied that justification was a once-for-all, non-repeatable act. Some within the Reformed tradition, he acknowledged, “think that justification repeatedly follows each confession of sin.” With these aberrant views in the background of his treatment, Vos went on to defend the majority Reformed view that “justification is an actus individuus et simul totus, that is, an indivisible act that occurs only once” by setting out six (typically brilliant) reasons why we must hold this view. Vos’ reasons for the belief that justification is non-repeatable are as follows:

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Division Begins With the Departure from the Truth

Jared Wilson: Do two walk together, unless they have agreed to meet? — Amos 3:3 Christians who affirm the normative, traditional, historical, orthodox view of the Bible’s teaching on various sins are always accused of being divisive when in sticking to their affirmations they must disassociate with those who don’t. It’s a disingenuous claim, however, since unity could have been preserved so long as the agreement did. But when one changes a mind on such matters, the division has begun with them (1 Cor. 1:10), not the one who says, “Ah, you’ve changed the rules; you’ve changed the agreement.” It would be like the adulterer calling after his wife as she’s walking out the door in anger and shame that she’s being divisive. The person who objects is often told they are “singling out” this particular sin as over-important, as more important than unity! But it is not those who protest who are singling out particular sins. It is those

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How We’ve Misunderstood “Do This in Remembrance of Me”

Adriel Sanchez: Right before Jesus’ death, he instituted a special meal for his church to observe. Historically, this meal was called the Eucharist, which means “thanksgiving.” Often today we call it communion or the Lord’s Supper. Although churches differ on how frequently we should take communion, the universal consensus among Christians is that this meal is an important part of our faith. When Jesus was reclining with his disciples, after breaking some bread and distributing it to them he said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” (Lk. 22:19) Many Christians have taken this to mean that during communion, we are to do our best to recollect the story of Christ’s death. We remember the gospel, and as we’re reminded, the gospel stirs our hearts in worship. This is, without a doubt, a good thing, but is it what Jesus was really getting at when he said, “Do this in remembrance of

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Having Jesus As Our Greatest Treasure – A Prayer

. Scotty Smith: Philippians 3:7 – I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. 8 Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ 9 and become one with him. Lord Jesus, as I meditate on the Apostle Paul’s words, I smell the aroma of a free man, a joyful man, and a grace-man–a man I want to become more like. Things he once treasured became Paul’s “garbage.” Old stuff that used to consume him, no longer even amused him. Enjoying an intimate and robust relationship with you mean more to Paul that any other competing currency and treasure. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with

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What We Need Most

Kevin DeYoung: The biggest need in your life, and in mine, is to see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. I’m convinced that more evangelism, more prayer, more fruitfulness, more holiness will flow from the fountain of our lives only when we start drinking more deeply of Christ. If you want to be more merciful, look upon Jesus who cried out at the cross, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” If you want to be more loving, look upon Jesus who ate with sinners and welcomed repentant prostitutes and tax collectors into the kingdom. If you want to be purer, look upon Jesus whose eyes are like flames of fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. If you want more courage in the face of lies and injustice, look upon Jesus who drove out the money changers from the temple with a whip. If you want to be stronger in the

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Don’t Pursue Feelings. Pursue Christ.

Joe Thorn: Human beings are emotional creatures. We love or hate, feel happy or sad, angry or joyful. And yet christians sometimes struggle with integrating emotion into their spiritual lives and end up falling victim to dangerous tendencies when it comes to their emotions. These tendencies occupy two ends of a spectrum, and they have led many into a superficial kind of Christianity. We see these tendencies at both the personal level and at the corporate level. One danger is emotionalism, in which we allow our feelings to interpret our circumstances and form our thoughts about God. This is putting feelings before faith. The other danger is a kind of stoicism, where faith is rooted in theology but void of affection. This tendency removes feelings from faith altogether. While it is true that our emotions should not lead our theology, it is vital to our faith that theology lead to a deep experience of our triune God. Good doctrine is critically important

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What Is This Thing Called Church?

Bernard N. Howard: In 2004 the Church of England began its first internet church: i-church.org. It still exists today, with a pastor and members who interact with one another online. But is it really a church? Many churches in America are made up of multiple campuses, but from a biblical point of view, is it possible for one church to be located in numerous places? These questions are more than theological teasers; they have real significance for God’s people. Darren Carlson, president of Training Leaders International, recently observed, “The greatest problem in missions right now is disagreement over what constitutes a local church.” That’s not a small statement. Clearly we need to think with care about what a church is. Dictionary Definitions The English word “church” has a number of meanings, most of which are religious. But the Greek word ekklesia—the Bible word translated “church”—is different. Non-Christians in the first century wouldn’t have thought of it as a religious word. To them it simply meant “a

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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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