What Does the Church Most Need Today?

W. Robert Godfrey: What does the church most need today? In answering this important but rather general question, Psalm 81 is uniquely important and helpful. This psalm obviously contains beautiful promises and clear directions to help the people of God. But careful study of this psalm will deepen our appreciation of it, increase its value for us, and show us how distinctive it is for helping the church. As we study psalms, we soon learn that the central verse of a psalm is often significant as a key to its interpretation. The central line of Psalm 81 is the heart of that psalm, as the plaintive cry of God is heard: “O Israel, if you would but listen to me!” (v. 8b). The center of Psalm 81—indeed the whole psalm—is a reflection on the Shema. The centrality of this line and its importance are underscored when we recognize that Psalm 81 is the central psalm of Book 3 of the Psalter. Book

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Caterpillars, Butterflies, and Replacement Theology

Sam Storms: Many times I’ve been asked by church members if I believe in “replacement” theology. Although this is a massively complex subject, I’ve tried to provide a brief answer. All biblical interpreters recognize development between the Old Testament and the New. Some say the Old Testament is the seed which becomes the flower in the New. Others speak of the relationship as one of symbol to substance, or type to anti-type. The point is we must strive to understand the obvious progress in redemptive history. And when I look at the relationship between Israel and the church, I see something similar to the relationship between the caterpillar and the butterfly. The butterfly doesn’t replace the caterpillar; the butterfly is the caterpillar in a more developed and consummate form. The butterfly is what God intended the caterpillar to become. Likewise, the church doesn’t replace Israel; the church is Israel as God always intended it to be. What we see in the New Testament, then, isn’t the replacement of

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Should every Christian study theology?

J.I. Packer: Theology simply means the study of God. This is something that every Christian needs to realise. I think the way that the word has been used in the past has frightened many Christians away from it, even though they never stopped to consider what the word actually meant. People got the idea somewhere that theology is the business of the seminary professors and the clergy, but has very little to do with the day to day living of the Christian life. It’s something people seem to think you can get along without, provided that you read your Bible daily and think one or two guiding thoughts from your passage to keep you on the rails. I don’t believe it’s at all like that. But theology means the study of God, and if we are to love God, as we are commanded, with all our “minds” then we need to be in the business of theology. So when I speak

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10 [more] things you should know about church membership

Paul Alexander: 1. Membership is not “in the Bible.” At least, it’s not there in a proof-text sort of way. Local church membership is not the eleventh commandment, or an additional beatitude, or an extra verse in some obscure manuscript tradition. But kind of like the doctrine of the Trinity, we’ll see that local church membership is a good and necessary consequence of what’s in the Bible. 2. Membership clarifies the distinction that redemption creates. Redemption creates a distinction between God’s people and not-God’s people. In fact, that’s God’s stated reason for bringing the plagues on Egypt, but not on Israel, right before the Exodus: “That you may know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel” (Ex. 11:7; cf. Ex. 8:22–23; 9:4). The plagues preview the great distinction that redemption is about to publicize—the distinction between the redeemed and the unredeemed. Local church membership is not the only way we clarify the distinction between the world and the

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What Is the Doctrine of Divine Election?

Steven Lawson: The idea that God does what He wants, and that what He does is true and right because He does it, is foundational to our understanding of everything in Scripture, including the doctrine of election. In the broad sense, election refers to the fact that God chooses (or elects) to do everything that He does in whatever way He sees fit. When He acts, He does so only because He willfully and independently chooses to act. According to His own nature, predetermined plan, and good pleasure, He decides to do whatever He desires, without pressure or constraint from any outside influence. The Bible makes this point repeatedly. In the act of Creation, God made precisely what He wanted to create in the way He wanted to create it (cf. Gen. 1:31). And ever since Creation, He has sovereignly prescribed or permitted everything in human history, in order that He might accomplish the redemptive plan that He previously had designed (cf. Isa. 25:1; 46:10; 55:11; Rom.

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What Is Your Only Comfort?

  Dr. Kim Riddlebarger: Of all the Reformation-era catechisms, perhaps none is as well-loved as the Heidelberg Catechism. In the opening question and answer, the personal and distinctive tone of the catechism becomes evident. “What is your only comfort in life and in death?” This is not a theoretical question—”What would be necessary if God were to comfort sinners?” Rather, this is a very practical question—”How do I have comfort as long as I live and then when I die?” The key word in the opening question is comfort (German, trost). The word refers to our assurance and confidence in the finished work of Christ. This comfort extends to all of life and even to the hour of death. As one of the authors of the catechism (Zacharius Ursinus) puts it in his commentary on the catechism, this comfort entails “the assurance of the free remission of sin, and of reconciliation with God by and on account of Christ, and a

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The Trinity in the New Testament

Sinclair Ferguson: The classical doctrine of the Trinity teaches us that there is one God who exists in three distinct persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Typically this is stated as God having his existence in one substance and three persons. There is mystery here. But it is the mystery in the light of which clarity is brought to all of our thinking about God, creation, providence, and redemption. Like the light of the sun we cannot gaze into it without danger; and yet it is the light in which we are able to see everything else more clearly. As Augustine wrote: ‘In no other subject is error more dangerous, or inquiry more laborious, or the discovery of truth more profitable.’[i] The purpose of this appendix is not to provide an exposition or defence of the classical doctrine of the Trinity but the more modest one of underlining the extent to which the joint work of the Father,

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‘The Expulsive Power of a New Affection’

John Piper: The Life-Changing Insight of Thomas Chalmers Christian Hedonism asserts that the most effective way to kill our own sin is by the power of a superior pleasure. No one sins out of duty. We sin because it is more pleasant or less painful than the way of righteousness. So bondage to sin is broken by a stronger attraction — a more compelling joy. Two hundred years ago, Thomas Chalmers (1780–1847) wrote one of the most famous defenses of this truth. It was called “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.” We believe you would profit from knowing the man and this remarkable message. He Created an Era Converted to Christ while already in the pastorate (1810) in Kilmany, Scotland, Chalmers eventually became professor of moral philosophy in the University of St. Andrews, and then professor of theology in the University of Edinburgh. His influence in church and politics in Scotland was so extensive that according to geologist Hugh

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Four Gospels?

Nicholas T. Batzig: God doesn’t do anything arbitrarily. We may not be able to grasp His intentions in full or even in part, but we can be sure that everything that He does is full of eternal purpose and Divine wisdom. The secret things may belong to God, but those that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever (Deut. 29:29). Those revealed things have to do with all that God has made known to us in the Scriptures. The heart of biblical revelation is the revelation of Jesus. The chief reason why God breathed out the Scriptures is that we might come to know Him in and through His Son–and that we might have life in Christ. While every book of the Bible is about Jesus and our relationship to Him, the four Gospels give us the close-up shots of the Savior in the days of His flesh. As a young Christian, I remember wondering why it was that

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The Pastor’s Job Isn’t To Fix Things

Tim Challies: You don’t have to look far to find articles about how and why the pastor’s job is uniquely difficult. Having been a pastor for a number of years now (in both paid, full-time and unpaid, part-time capacities) I can attest there are ways in which it is unlike any other vocation. It really does come with unique challenges, though it certainly provides unique blessings as well. There is one realization about pastoring that came to me slowly but which finally arrived like a breath of fresh, cool air on a hot summer’s day. I found it freeing because it counters an expectation church members can have toward their pastors and, even more so, an expectation pastors can have toward themselves. Here is what I realized: The pastor’s job isn’t to fix things. Many people first begin to attend church when they are hoping to find a solution to a troubling circumstance. They want to have an easy and

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What Is Justification in Scripture and Reformation Theology?

Stephen J Wellum: In church history people have disagreed as to what justification is, and the purpose of this chapter is not to restate all the data for the Reformation’s view of justification as the biblical view.[1] Numerous books have argued this case, along with other chapters in this book.[2] Instead, I assume that the Reformation’s view of justification is the biblical view, and in this section I summarize the overall view only to set the stage for my argument that the Reformation’s view of justification and penal substitution are inseparably related. What Is Justification in Scripture and Reformation Theology? Justification is a word/concept from the law court denoting, primarily, that action whereby a judge upholds the case of one party in dispute before him. Having heard the case, the judge reaches a verdict in favor of the person and thereby “justifies” him; this action has the force of “acquittal.” The judge’s declaration entails that the person is not penally liable and

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How Jesus Secures Your Highest Joy

  David Mathis: Christian Hedonists aim to make the pursuit of joy in God our life’s work. Which is not at odds with devoting our lives to God’s glory — because God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. But Christian Hedonists must, in time, say more about the object of our joy than simply “in God.” Not any so-called “God” will do. Our souls will not be deeply and enduringly happy, and our purpose in this life (and forever) will not be fulfilled, if we do not find our heart’s satisfaction in the true God, the God who is, the God who has revealed himself as “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:6; 2 Corinthians 1:3; 11:31; Ephesians 1:3, 17; Colossians 1:3; 1 Peter 1:3). But how do we know this God’s defining features? What is it about the Christian God that distinguishes him from the false gods to which billions globally bow the knee? Does our God, the true God, have

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A Short Primer on New Covenant Theology Essentials

A. Blake White: The Story of Scripture can be summarized as “Creation to New Creation.” How God brings revelation, history, and humanity from creation to new creation is referred to by many as “Redemptive History.” One of the most complex yet rewarding pursuits in biblical studies is to understand the flow of Redemptive History. What is its structure? How does it progress and develop over time? How is one era related to another? Where do we find unity and continuity? Where do we encounter diversity and discontinuity? What has priority and permanence? What is temporal and passing away? These are not merely questions for the academic theologian. Since there is more material devoted specifically to this issue in the NT than to almost any other single issue, the Bible itself invites every believer to pursue this understanding of the big picture with all its theological and practical implications for life and faith. Currently there are three main systems of theology

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What Does It Mean to Be Sealed with the Holy Spirit?

Erik Raymond: In Ephesians 1:13 the Bible says that “when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.” What does it mean to be sealed with the Holy Spirit? A seal is an identifying mark often placed on a letter, contract, or another document. It showed that what was in the letter came from the person whose seal was on the outside. In the ancient world, cattle and even slaves were branded with a seal to show whom they belonged. This mark would deter people from stealing them because they had the seal upon them. The Bible uses this term in a few different ways, and when considered together, they help provide a full picture of what Paul is after here in Ephesians. In the Old Testament, God set a sign on his chosen ones to mark them out or set them apart as his possession and to keep them from destruction

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God Created Us for “exceeding, inexpressibly great happiness”

Sam Storms: Saturday, October 5th, is the birthday of my theological hero, Jonathan Edwards. He was born in 1703 in East Windsor, Connecticut, and his life and words continue to affect me in countless ways. The Edwards home was rather unusual, as Jonathan had 10 sisters and no brothers! But that’s not my focus in this article. I want to briefly reflect on one of the more important truths that occupied his mind. Although what follows is primarily designed for those who, like Edwards, are in pastoral ministry, all of you can benefit greatly from reflecting deeply on what he said. Edwards was just 21 years old when he preached a sermon entitled, “Nothing Upon Earth Can Represent the Glories of Heaven.” It was the first sermon he ever preached based on a text from the book of Revelation (21:18). And it was in this sermon that he articulated one of the most important theological insights he ever had: “God created

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The Horror of a Different Jesus

Sam Storms: Our pluralistic, consumer driven society is all about choices, options, and diversity. If you don’t like what you see, be patient; another version, an updated edition, a new and improved alternative will soon appear. This is often the case in certain expressions of contemporary “Christianity” (so-called). Don’t like the Jesus of evangelical, orthodox biblical faith? No problem. There are plenty of other Jesus’s to choose from. There’s the liberal Jesus, the liberation Jesus, the Christ of the cults, and the Christ of Islam. There’s the entirely human but not so divine Jesus or, if you prefer, the entirely divine and hardly human Christ. Or perhaps you relish a more home-grown Jesus, one that is fashioned after the desires of your own heart. Messianic pretender? Philosophical sage? How about the Jesus of Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code? Or the Jesus of The Gospel of Judas? 2020 is a presidential election year, so cast your vote: the Democratic Jesus or

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The Danger of Falling Away

Darryl Dash: “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it,” says the author of Hebrews (Hebrews 2:1). Stern warning! It’s the first of five warning passages in the letter (2:1-4; 3:7-4:13; 5:11-6:12; 10:19-39; 12:14-29). For instance: “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12). “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled” (Hebrews 12:15). The writer keeps sounding the alarm: don’t fall away. It’s possible. You may already be on your way. Stay on guard. Help each other. These warnings have confused some. Is it possible for a genuine believer to fall away? Hebrews seems to make it clear: not all who profess faith will persist to the end. Some will fall

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A Meditation Before Preaching

Erik Raymond: It’s Sunday morning ten minutes before the service. How are you feeling? If you had to put it into a word, what would it be? For the one preaching the sermon, it’s probably some combination of words that express his inadequacy for the task at hand. Each week, like clockwork, my hands get cold, and my stomach works itself into knots. I’ve studied hard, prayed, did my work, and am by all accounts prepared. But the awareness of the preaching event and my inadequacy brings me a weekly meeting with a personal Sabbath storm. Recently, during a preservice prayer meeting, a friend said something that seemed like it was a large font. It was, “Lord, remind Erik what happens when you speak.” What followed was a gracious answer to this prayer. I began to recount how powerful God’s Word is. It brought me great encouragement that day, and each week since. In this post, I’ll share 15 meditations about

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The Essence of the Calvinistic Life

Sinclair Ferguson: Calvinistic theology has always placed great emphasis on biblical and doctrinal knowledge, and rightly so. We are transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:1-2). This transformation is a prerequisite for our worship, since it is by the Spirit’s illumination of our minds through Scripture that we gain understanding of God and His ways. But Calvinism—at least in its consistent forms—has never been merely cerebral. The history of Reformed Christianity is also the story of the highest order of spiritual experience. Calvinistic doctrine expressed in God-exalting words of praise leads to a distinctive Christian experience. The melody that is composed intellectually in Calvinistic theology and sung enthusiastically in Reformed worship also can be heard in the lifestyle and experience of Reformed Christians. The seriousness of the Reformed world and life view means that, even when the melody is played in a minor key, it remains a melody. Indeed, to use a metaphor of Calvin, as this melody is

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10 Things You Should Know about the Gospel

By Sam Storms: As much as we hear about the gospel of Jesus Christ one would think that everyone is on the same page when it comes to defining this word. Sadly, that is not the case. So just what is the gospel? How might we define it? Here are ten things to keep in mind. (1) The “gospel” is the gloriously great good news of what our triune God has graciously done in the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ to satisfy his own wrath against us and to secure the forgiveness of sins and perfect righteousness for all who trust in him by faith alone. Christ fulfilled, on our behalf, the perfectly obedient life under God’s law that we should have lived, but never could. He died, in our place, the death that we deserved to suffer but now never will. And by his rising from the dead he secures for those who believe the promise

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