Advent Meditation: Sigh No More

Brett McCracken: Read And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. (Isa. 35:10) Reflect The essence of hope is not the downplaying, justifying, or avoidance of present pain and sorrow. Rather, hope is the ex­pectation that as real as the pain is now, it will one day feel as foreign as our faintest memories. In our day, we can relate to the experience of “ransom captive Israel,” who mourned “in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear.” As Israel waited—in bondage to suffer­ing, sin, pain, and injustice—so we wait now. Sorrow is ev­erywhere: in the bleak headlines that cross our feeds, in the sickness and death that plague our own friends and family, and in the temptation and sin that leave us feeling frustrat­ed, defeated, even hopeless. Sighing is everywhere too. We

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Why We Desperately Need the Message of Revelation

Thomas R. Schreiner: A Mixture of Intrigue and Intimidation The book of Revelation both attracts and repels readers. It attracts readers because it introduces a strange new world, an apocalyptic vision that captures our imagination. We all sense that some dimensions of life are beyond us, that there are mysteries surpassing our comprehension, and Revelation introduces us to this world, inviting us to hear what God says to us. We wonder, what will happen in the future, and how will the world come to an end? Revelation reveals to us where the world is going, and it tells us what we should do to be part of the new world that is coming. At the same time, Revelation can repel us because we wonder what it all means and perhaps because we despair of making any sense of it at all. Martin Luther felt this way when he complained that Christ is not clearly taught or revealed in the book!1Our

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4 Roles Scripture Plays in the Life of a Believer

Paul David Tripp The Word is a Gift of Grace The doctrines of the word of God were not intended just to lay claim on your brain, but also to capture your heart and transform the way you live. Those doctrines are meant to turn you inside out and your world upside down. Biblical doctrine is much more than an outline you give confessional assent to. Doctrine is something you live in even the smallest and most mundane moments of your life. Biblical doctrine is meant to transform your identity, alter your relationships, and reshape your finances. It’s meant to change the way you think and talk, how you approach your job, how you conduct yourself in time of leisure, how you act in your marriage, and the things you do as a parent. It’s meant to change the way you think about your past, interpret the present, and view the future. The doctrines of the word of God are

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What Is the Fear of God?

Mike Reeves: Psalm 130:4 is one of those verses that makes your eyes screech to a halt on the page: “But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.” It sounds all wrong. “But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be loved” would make sense. So would “But with you there is judgment, that you may be feared.” But that is not what it says. Stranger still is the fact that the psalmist just doesn’t look afraid of God. Quite the opposite. Straight after v. 4, he goes on to write of how “his soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen [wait] for the morning” (Ps. 130:5–6). He fully embraces the fact that “with the Lord there is steadfast love” and “plentiful redemption” (Ps. 130:7). That is because the fear of the Lord that Scripture commends and which the gospel produces is actually the opposite of being afraid of God. See, for example, Exodus 20, where the people of Israel gather

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What Was Martin Luther’s Breakthrough?

Jim Davis: On October 31 we will celebrate the 504th anniversary of the day Martin Luther made his 95 theses public. But what exactly was Luther’s breakthrough? What realization did he come to that set the Western world on a course that would break the stranglehold of Roman Catholic authorities, produce Bibles in languages people could read, raise literacy rates across Europe, and birth thousands of new Christian denominations? Luther lived in a world dominated by a fear of death—a fear only increased by the Roman Catholic teaching that through our works, we can appease a vengeful God. In his own words, “Under the papacy we were told to toil until the feeling of guilt had left us.” But it never did. No matter how hard Luther worked, he never considered himself worthy of God. He entered into multiple periods of depression in which he began to ask one question that would lead to his breakthrough: Why is the gospel good news? In his forthcoming book, The

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Luther’s Advice for the Christian Life

By Sinclair B. Ferguson: What do the sovereignty of God, salvation by grace, justification by faith, and new life in union with Christ mean for the living of the Christian life? For Luther, they carry four implications: The first implication is the knowledge that the Christian believer is simul iustus et peccator,1 at one and the same time justified and yet a sinner. This principle, to which Luther may have been stimulated by John Tauler’s Theologia Germanica, was a hugely stabilizing principle: in and of myself, all I see is a sinner; but when I see myself in Christ, I see a man counted righteous with His perfect righteousness. Such a man is therefore able to stand before God as righteous as Jesus Christ—because he is righteous only in the righteousness that is Christ’s. Here we stand secure. The second implication is the discovery that God has become our Father in Christ. We are accepted. One of the most beautiful accounts found in

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The Bible’s Burden for Church Revitalisation

Bobby Jamieson: Throughout much of the United States (and a few other parts of the world) evangelical churches quite literally litter the landscape. Many of these churches are like trash left on a street corner—they cause people to cross to the other side to avoid them. The people who belong to them profess to believe in the gospel, and their historic statements of faith confess the gospel. And some true Christians do belong to such churches. But on the whole the life of the church broadcasts anything but a gospel message. These churches instead churn out toxic waste rather than the nourishing food that people need. Some churches in this state may be unrecoverable. But the sad thing is, many evangelicals seem content to ignore such churches and simply start new ones. Church planting is important and strategic, and I am glad to see more and more people taking up that work. But if you saw a garden overrun with

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Dressed in His Righteousness Alone

What Is Justification by Faith? David Briones: I’ll never forget meeting up with a mentor of mine at Starbucks shortly after becoming a Christian. We regularly met there to read and study the Bible. One day, a person walked by and was elated to find Christians. But during our conversation, my mentor began asking some pretty forthright questions, and I couldn’t quite understand why. “Do you believe that a person is justified by faith alone?” he said. The stranger hesitantly responded, “No, I believe that a person is justified by faith and works.” My mentor graciously but strongly insisted, “Then you don’t have a biblical view of justification.” A lot of back-and-forths followed, but because I was a recent convert, I found it immensely difficult to understand what was going on. I barely understood what the term justification meant! Eventually, I discovered the importance of this vital doctrine. Martin Luther and other Reformers considered the doctrine of justification by faith alone the article on which the

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The History of the Reformation

R.C. Sproul: “A cesspool of heresies.” This was the judgment rendered by Holy Roman Emperor Charles V on May 26, 1521, shortly after Luther took a stand at the Diet of Worms. Earlier, in the bull Exsurge Domine, Pope Leo X described Luther as a wild boar loose in the vineyard of Christ and as a stiff-necked, notorious, damned heretic. On May 4, 1521, Luther was “kidnapped” by friends and whisked off to Wartburg castle, where he was kept secretly hidden, disguised as a knight. There Luther immediately undertook the task of translating the Bible into the vernacular. Frequently the Reformation is described as a movement that revolved around two pivotal issues. The socalled “material” cause was the debate over sola fide (“justification by faith alone”). The “formal” cause was the issue of sola Scriptura, that the Bible and the Bible alone has the authority to bind the conscience of the believer. Church tradition was regarded with respect by the Reformers but not as

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Victory Through Suffering: The True Meaning of Philippians 4:13

Benjamin L. Merkle: Nobody likes to lose. Winning is fun but losing is hard. In the midst of a challenging feat we might wonder if it’s appropriate to claim Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” After John 3:16, Philippians 4:13 is one of the most-searched verses in the Bible, and is often linked with athletes seeking to inspire victory and strength. But this common application unfortunately misses its real power. At its core, this verse is talking about a different sort of victory. How do you respond when you face challenges and hardships in life? Do you have victory in such circumstances? Can you have victory through suffering? Surveying the Context First, let’s look at the context of Philippians 4:13. Paul is under house arrest, probably in Rome during the reign of Nero, awaiting trial before the Roman Emperor. As he writes, he recognizes that death may be the end point of his imprisonment because the emperor Nero was

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What Is the Church?

R.C. Sproul: Paul gives great attention to ecclesiology, the doctrine of the church, in his letter to the Ephesians. In fact, we could say Ephesians answers this question: What is the church? In Ephesians 2:19–22, the chief metaphor Paul uses is that of a building—the household of God. Christians are part of the household in the sense that they have been adopted into the family of God, which is another image that Scripture uses to describe the church. But here the accent is not so much on the family of the household as it is on the house of the household: “[We] are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (vv. 19–20a). Paul says the foundation of this building called the church is made up of the prophets and the Apostles, that is, the Old Testament prophets and New Testament Apostles. Why? It’s because the prophets and

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When God Became Heaven for Me

Marshall Segal: The gospel is not a way to get people to heaven; it is a way to get people to God. (God Is the Gospel) People often describe pivotal moments in their lives as “the day when God turned my world upside down.” Some experience, some conversation, some trial radically reshaped how they viewed themselves, their lives, their relationships, and the world around them. Well, in my sophomore year of college, God turned heaven upside down for me. I grew up in a Christian home with loving Christian parents, and had been a Christian myself for a number of years at that point in college. I read the Bible and prayed most days. I was part of a faithful Bible-preaching church and was surrounded by mature and intentional Christian friends. I was even doing ministry among high school students, sharing the gospel and discipling them in the faith. And then, in a moment — in a sentence — God suddenly flooded the

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How Do I “Count It All Joy”?

Joel Smit: Like the inhospitable cold corridors of the emergency hallways we entered, so were the years of trials and tribulations my family endured. Life-altering pain, weekly doctor’s visits, IVs, and deeply weary souls underneath it all consumed the last five years of our life. Like a thief who comes to steal, it has physically, emotionally, and spiritually robbed us, leaving us depleted, weary, and wondering if we would survive. Joy has been rarely perceptible through our enduring loss. However, the seeds of a greater work, and yes, even of a greater delight have begun to sprout and flourish as we peer under the surface of what God is doing. A work that God is doing not only in us but in all who endure trials. Joy does not arise naturally from us as we suffer the effects of the fall of this life. Why would James exhort the readers of his epistle to “count it all joy, my brothers,

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Four Core Truths about the Second Coming of Christ

Alistair Begg: The second coming of Jesus Christ is absolutely foundational to the Gospel, which concerns not only the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of God the Son but also His return. This event and the doctrines that surround it are integral to “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). Though Christ’s return is both a main thing and a plain thing in Scripture, enough views on the second coming have circulated over the years to cause confusion and, indeed, to induce conflict among those who share convictions about Scripture’s inerrancy and the event’s imminency. This meditation is intended not to cut through that conflict and assess these various views but to point out what is irreducibly true about Christ’s promised return. Four Certainties Concerning the Second Coming For all the disparate viewpoints regarding Christ’s second coming, what does Scripture help us see clearly? 1. The day is secret. First and foremost, the day when

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What Does Justification Have to Do with the Gospel?

Sinclair Ferguson: “I must stress again that the doctrine of justification by faith is not what Paul means by ‘the gospel’. It is implied by the gospel; when the gospel is proclaimed, people come to faith and so are regarded by God as members of his people. But ‘the gospel’ is not an account of how people get saved.”—N.T. Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said, pp. 132–33 There is a striking plausibility about saying that “justification by faith is not what Paul means by ‘the gospel.’” After all, as N.T. Wright elsewhere observes, we are not justified by believing in justification by faith but by believing in Jesus Christ. How Luther-like this all sounds. Did he not affirm that the gospel is “entirely outside of us”? Is this perhaps the longed-for antidote to evangelical individualism and a cure for subjectivism? Clearly Bishop Wright and others believe so. Elsewhere, Dr. Wright confesses the great relief he felt in discovering that we

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How does Hope Serve to Sanctify our Souls?

Sam Storms: The words of the apostle John in 1 John 3:2-3 are both inspired and inspiring. He tells us that if we put our hope in the return of Christ, in the prospect of seeing Jesus “as he is,” this will serve to purify or sanctify our souls. Here is the passage: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3). How exactly does this work? What is it about our hope for the return of Jesus and seeing him face to face that serves to purify our souls? I can think of four things. (1) We know that we will stand in the presence of Jesus to be judged for the things done in his grace and power.

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What Is the Job of the Pastor?

Jonathan Leeman: A Crucial Role Leaders play a crucial role in any church, and we’ll refer to them as pastors and elders interchangeably because that’s what the Bible does (see Acts 20:17, 28; Titus 1:5, 7; 1 Pet. 5:1–2). Your ability to do your job as a church member depends on pastors or elders doing their jobs. Your job is to be a priest-king. Jesus tasked you with watching over the what and the who of the gospel, as well as extending the gospel’s dominion throughout the earth by making disciples. But what is a pastor’s job? As churches emerge from COVID-19, it’s as important as ever before that we know the answer to that question because of the impact the COVID-19 quarantines had on trust inside of churches—trust among members and trust toward leaders. We’ll think about this more in a moment, but part of building trust back up is knowing exactly what a pastor’s job is. The short description of a pastor’s job is that

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Does the Bible Limit Gender to Just Male and Female?

Alan Shlemon: There’s a trendy new idea that denies God created only two genders (male and female). What’s the proof? Frogs. That’s right. Proponents of this view claim frogs are evidence that the gender binary of the Bible is a myth. If you’re puzzled by this, that’s understandable. Here’s how the argument works. Defenders of this position point out that in Genesis 1, Scripture says God made creatures that live on the land and creatures that swim in the water. Frogs, however, are amphibians and aren’t exclusively land or water creatures. They don’t fit neatly in either of those creature classifications. So, although Genesis describes the creation of land and water creatures, it does not account for every kind of animal that God made. In the same way, so the argument goes, even though Scripture says that God made humans “male and female” (Gen. 1:27), those two categories can’t account for every kind of human. God also created non-binary people—those

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To the Almost Christian

Alistair Begg: Not all who profess faith in Christ actually follow Him. Not all who give lip service to Christianity necessarily know its truth. Various warning passages (e.g., Heb. 2:1–4; 3:7–4:13; 1 John 2:19), along with Jesus’ own words in the Gospels (e.g., Matt. 7:23; 25:41; Luke 13:27), alert us to the possibility that we can appear to have a relationship with Jesus and even enjoy the fellowship of close Christian community without finding a home in heaven in the end. When Self-Effort Strikes Some of us have been awakened to the truth about who Jesus is. We’ve seen the seriousness of our own sinfulness. We know that sin isn’t merely a generic problem but something that dwells in our hearts. We may be under the teaching of the Bible and even find ourselves agreeing with much of what it says—especially about our need for redemption. But it is precisely at this point that we are so prone to take a dreadfully wrong turn. Self-effort kicks

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Finding Our Champion: A Biblical Theology of David and Goliath

Jason Hood: With apologies to Malcolm Gladwell, the story of David and Goliath in 1 Samuel 17 is not intended to offer a lesson in how underdogs can defeat heavily favored opponents. Nor can we find corporate-leadership strategies or advice for tackling life’s giants ranging from debt to weight problems to addiction. Nor is the lesson “use the armor that’s authentic to you.” So how then is the story of David and Goliath relevant? A more useful approach is to ask what God is up to in Scripture as a whole, beginning in 1 Samuel. When we read this story in its canonical context, we can begin to see how it connects to Jesus Christ, and through Jesus Christ to us. Seeing Jesus: David, Goliath, and the Bible’s Big Story In 1 Samuel, God is transitioning his people from rule by chieftains to rule by kings, and raising up a monarch with whom he will make an eternal covenant (2 Sam. 7). Because that covenant

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