8 Questions to Help You Understand and Apply the Bible

Matt Harmon: Sometimes the most important things in the Christian life can be the most difficult. That can certainly be true of understanding and applying the Bible. As believers we know that reading Scripture is essential to following Jesus. But if we’re honest, we often find it difficult to understand and apply. The Bible talks about so many different things; how do we know what to focus on? It’s set in a world very different from ours; how do we apply it to our lives today? One simple and effective tool is asking good questions. The questions we ask when we read the Bible largely determine how we understand and apply the Bible. So we need to make sure we are asking the right questions, the kind of questions the Bible was designed to answer. But how do we know what those questions are? The Bible is first and foremost a story about God displaying his glory through creating and

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10 Things You Should Know about Systematic Theology

Scott R. Swain: 1. Systematic theology exists because the God who knows and loves himself in the bliss of the Trinity is pleased to make himself an object of creaturely knowledge and love through holy Scripture. Theology in its essence is “wisdom”—a knowledge that is ordered to love (practical wisdom), and a love that rests in knowledge (contemplative wisdom). More specifically, theology is wisdom about God and all things in relation to God. This wisdom exists first and foremost in God: God knows and loves himself in the bliss of his triune life as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matt. 11:27; 1 Cor. 2:10–11). This wisdom exists secondarily and derivatively in creatures because God is pleased to make us happy by making us friends in the knowledge and love of himself (John 10:14–15; 15:15; 17:3; 1 Cor. 2:12). Though not the only source for the knowledge and love of God (see Psalm 19; Rom 1-2), holy Scripture is the supreme

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How to Resolve Most Relational Conflict

Jon Bloom: Few things sap more of our joy, are as emotionally demanding and mentally distracting, as relational conflict. And few things wreak as much havoc and destruction on lives as relational conflict. And so much of it is avoidable. Of course, not all conflict is avoidable. Some disagreements are based on issues so fundamental to truth, righteousness, and justice that conscientious conviction demands we stand our ground, even if it shatters a relationship. After all, even Jesus made it clear that for some of us, his coming would result in the painful severing of the important and meaningful and intimate relationships in our lives (Matthew 10:34–36). But most of our conflicts in life are not over such fundamental issues. They erupt over secondary, or peripheral, or trivial, or even utterly selfish things. And there’s only one path to peace in these cases. Warring Passions James nails us when he says, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?

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10 Things You Should Know About the Church

Sam Storms: It’s both amazing and deeply distressing that I continue to hear of people who are supposedly “in love with Jesus” but not with the church. “We like you, Jesus, but we don’t care for your wife!” Really? The so-called “organized” church is for some reason offensive to them. Does the NT support such a notion? Is it possible for someone to be a Christian and remain opposed to his Bride, the church? I hope these ten truths about the church will forever put that misguided idea to rest. (1) The church is the primary means by which or through which God makes known the glory of his saving wisdom. We read this in Ephesians 3:10 – “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in heavenly places” (Eph. 3:10). God’s ultimate aim is that his own “manifold wisdom” might be made known “through the church”. The

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What’s the Purpose of Pastors?

Tim Challies: The Bible knows nothing of lone Christians, of believers who are willfully independent from a local church. Rather, Christians gather in communities to worship together and serve one another. And as God commands his people to gather in community, he also commands them to be led—led by men called and qualified as pastors or elders (terms the Bible uses interchangeably). As we progress through a series of questions  about things we as Christians often take for granted, we now come to the question of church leadership and ask, “What’s the purpose of pastors?” Common Views of Pastors In the church today we find a number of common views of the role and purpose of pastors. Unfortunately, some of these, though perhaps well-intentioned, are unbiblical. Here are two prominent views that both fall short of what the Bible teaches. The first is the pastor as CEO. According to this view, the pastor’s primary purpose is to keep his organization (i.e.,

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How the Reformers Rediscovered the Holy Spirit and True Conversion

Sinclair Ferguson: Luther’s story is well known; Calvin’s less so. Luther was wrestling with the concept of the righteousness of God, and had come to hate it; Calvin had an immense thirst for a secure knowledge of God, but had not found it. While not the whole truth, there is something in the notion that Luther was looking for a gracious God while Calvin was seeking for a true and assured knowledge of him. In Luther’s case, the ordinances of late medieval Catholicism could not “give the guilty conscience peace or wash away the stain.” In Calvin’s case, neither the Church nor the immense intellectual discipline he had displayed in his teens and early twenties, and certainly not all his acquisition of the skills of a post-medieval humanist scholar, could bring him to an assured knowledge of God.   ROMANS 1:16 For all the differences in their backgrounds, educations, dispositions, and personalities, a good case can be made for thinking

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Why We Must Earnestly Desire Spiritual Gifts

Jon Bloom: The clear teaching of the New Testament is that God gives spiritual gifts to the church for the common good of the saints (1 Corinthians 12:7) and to empower her mission to evangelize the world (Luke 24:48–49; Acts 4:29–31; 1 Corinthians 14:24–25). The most familiar lists of these gifts are in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4. But the Corinthians list includes the most controversial gifts of the Spirit: healing, miracles, prophecy, tongues and their interpretation (1 Corinthians 12:9–10). And it’s in the context of teaching on these gifts — particularly the two most controversial gifts, prophecy and tongues — that Paul twice tells us to “earnestly desire” them, adding, “especially that [we] may prophesy” (1 Corinthians 12:31; 14:1). He leaves us no room to wiggle out of pursuing uncomfortable gifts. I know that some wonderful, sincere Christians believe that these most controversial gifts did not extend beyond the closing of the New Testament canon. I am not here going to

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What Is Faith?

Eric B. Watkins: This article is the first of twelve that will serve as an overview of the great “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11. In this introductory article, I would like to address the question, “What is faith?” It might seem like this little word faith, so familiar to every Christian, would be easy to define. It occurs all over the Bible; various forms of it are used nearly one hundred times in the gospel of John alone. But what is faith? Often, Hebrews 11:1 is cited as a definition of faith. In the ESV, it reads, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Though this might sound like a definition of faith, New Testament scholar J. Gresham Machen is likely right when he says that Hebrews 11:1 gives us more a description of faith than a definition of faith.1 In the New Testament, faith is often referred to as the

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What’s the Purpose of the Church?

Tim Challies: Whatever else we may know about Christians, we know this: Christians are supposed to go to church. Every Sunday, Christians gather together to worship God and spend time in fellowship. But do we actually know why we do this? Do we pause to consider the purpose of the local church? In this series of articles we are considering the purpose of many things we may take for granted, and so far we have looked at marriage, sex, and children. Today we are broadening our perspective from family to the church. It is important to note that our concern here is not the universal church, which is comprised of all Christians of all times and places. Rather, we are answering the question: What is the purpose of the local church? In other words, why do we as Christians gather together in local congregations? Common Views of The Church As we consider why we gather week by week, we can

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Does God Really Save Us by Faith Alone?

John Piper: The first great Reformers like Martin Luther, John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli never summed up their teaching with the tidy set of five phrases we now know as the five solas. The solas developed over time as a way of capturing the essence of what the Reformation was mainly about in its dispute with the Roman Catholic Church. Sola is Latin for “alone” or “only.” The five solas are sola gratia (by grace alone), solo Christo (on the basis of Christ alone), sola fide (through the means of faith alone), soli Deo gloria (to the ultimate glory of God alone), sola Scriptura (as taught with the final and decisive authority of Scripture alone). Justification Alone I think these five solas can be preciously illuminating, both for the crux of the Reformation and for the essence of the Christian gospel itself, which of course was central to the dispute. I say they can be helpful because five prepositional phrases hanging in the air with no clause to modify are not helpful in making clear what the great

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Seven Biblical Reasons Why Singing Matters

Tom Olson: Have you ever wondered why God desires for his people to sing? What role should singing play in the life of a Christian? What is it about worshiping through song that is so important to God? You may not know it, but God has already answered these questions in the Bible. Seven Biblical Reasons Why Singing Matters The seven reasons below answer these questions and unpack more important truth about singing in the life of an individual Christian and the church. 1. When you sing, you obey. Singing isn’t an option in Scripture. It’s a command: Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16) And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and

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What Is Biblical Meditation?

Brad Archer: Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. (Psalm 1:1-2) What is meditation? The concept has been corrupted in modern thought. In the minds of many Christians, meditation is associated with eastern religions, like Hinduism and Buddhism – belief systems that don’t acknowledge God as Father or Jesus as Savior and Lord. This association leads many to believe that meditation in any form opens the mind to evil spirits or untrue teaching. But that robs us of an important way of interacting with Scripture. When I began staying home with my kids, I was overwhelmed. While I suspected such an endeavor would be hard, I wasn’t prepared for the ways it challenged me. My daily time in the Bible kept

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5 Reasons Ministry Staff Conflict Can Be Good

Rebekah Hannah: Conflict among ministry co-workers is inevitable. A staff of sinners trying to pour themselves out in service will be susceptible to many temptations. They can be tempted to not believe the best of one another, to disagree with the direction of ministry, or to be hearers of the Word but not doers (1 Cor. 13;James 1:22). Conflict may be uncomfortable, but it isn’t all bad. Here are five reasons why God may permit conflict for your benefit as a ministry leader. 1. Conflict exposes the heart. Church leaders spend a lot of time saying the right things. But when conflict happens, our hearts are exposed, and we can see if we really believe what we say. James 4 explains if we have a conflict, it’s often because we aren’t getting something we want. Conflict reveals what we love most. Do we want to please Christ, or do we want to please ourselves? Are we gracious like Christ, or do we force others to bend our way? Ephesians 4:3 teaches we should

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How Not to Walk by the Spirit

Adam Mabry: “I feel like the Lord is leading me to do it.” Those were my friend’s parting words to me. I told him not to follow this leading, but he’d had an experience he “really felt was from the Lord.” I tried to explain what the Bible had to say about his choice. In fact, many had. But, he had an experience, and he wasn’t budging. So off he went—into his error, out of the church, and away from Jesus. This situation it so common in churches across the spectrum that you could probably fill in details from similarly painful conversations. Add to that our culture’s commitment to an expressive individualism that exalts actualizing our desires above conforming to God’s, and we’ve set the stage for rough times when trying to convince someone that what they “feel led to do” may not be the Holy Spirit at all. No wonder some respond to this problem by simply denying God’s Spirit speaks to us today. My

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What is preaching?

  Erik Raymond: In the excellent book Preach the Word, which is a collection of essays in honor of R. Kent Hughes, D.A. Carson writes a most helpful chapter entitled Challenges for the Twenty-first-century Pulpit. When I pulled this book from my shelf today I saw the note I wrote after reading it,Outstanding! Reread annually! After looking through it again, I want to share a section of it where Dr. Carson identifies five observations about what preaching is (from pages 176-177). First, preaching is re-revelation. Preaching is more than the oral communication of information, no matter how biblical and divine that information may be. Rather, we should think in terms of what might be called “re-revelation.” …Preachers must bear this in mind. Their aim is more than to explain the Bible, however important that aim is. They want the proclamation of God’s Word to be a revelatory event, a moment when God discloses himself afresh, a time when the people

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Protestant and Catholic: What’s the Difference?

Kevin DeYoung: Ask a serious Protestant today what is the biggest threat to orthodox Christianity today, and he might mention cultural hostilities, the sexual revolution, or nominalism in our churches. But if you would have asked a Protestant the same question a hundred years ago, he would have almost certainly mentioned the Roman Catholic Church. Until fairly recently, Protestants and Catholics in this country were, if not enemies, then certainly players on opposing teams. Today, much of that animosity has melted away. And to a large extent, the thaw between Protestants and Catholics has been a good thing. Sincere Protestants and Catholics often find themselves to be co-belligerents, defending the unborn, upholding traditional marriage, and standing up for religious liberty. And in an age that discounts doctrine, evangelical Protestants often share more in common theologically with a devout Roman Catholic steeped in historic orthodoxy than they do with liberal members of their own denominations. I personally have benefited over the years

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What God Is Doing in the World Today

Travis Myers: What is God doing in missions? SEVEN WAYS HE MOVES IN GLOBAL MISSIONS Today many debate the correct definition of Christian missions as well as the right understanding of what faithful missionaries should be doing, or prioritizing, in their labors. Answering those important questions well begins with recognizing in Scripture what God is doing in the global outreach and cross-cultural ministries of his people. My aim is to lay out some of the theological richness God has provided to inform global outreach, especially among the unreached and least responsive people groups of the world. I want to sketch for you how the Bible portrays the journey we’re all on as the global body of Christ and the horizon toward which God is taking us. Finding ourselves in these seven biblical trajectories and storylines ought to yield a more humble confidence that God may choose to do glorious things through our patient, painstaking, and strategically-placed acts of Christian discipleship

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Serious Sins

Kevin DeYoung: Every sin is serious, even the ones that look respectable. But that doesn’t mean some sins don’t deserve more attention than others. In fact, when the Bible rattles off a series of sins, it tends to mention many of the same ones. And while we don’t want to do ethics by list making, it is instructive to note what sins are mentioned, how often, and in what place. Here are the eight vice lists in the New Testament: Mark 7:21-22 “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness . . .” Romans 1:28-32 “And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters

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If All My Sins Are Forgiven, Why Must I Continue to Repent?

Stephen Wellum: It’s an understandable question: If we’re justified by faith and forgiven all our sins—past, present, and future—then why is it necessary to continue seeking forgiveness? Aren’t our sins already forgiven? Both Saint and Sinner  There are at least three biblical truths that must be kept together simultaneously. First, for those who have repented of sin and trusted in Christ as Lord and Savior, God declares them right before him on the basis of Christ’s righteousness and substitutionary death (Rom. 3:21–26; 5:1; 8:1, 30,33–34). As a declarative act of God and not a process by which we are infused with righteousness, justification takes place in the believer once for all time (Rom. 5:12–21; Phil. 3:8–9; 2 Cor. 5:19–21). Although everyone will stand before Christ’s judgment seat and hear the public verdict of whether or not we are in him (2 Cor. 5:10), for believers this end-time verdict has now been brought into the present. We have already crossed from death to

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Thinking Like Jesus

R.C. Sproul: Several years ago, I was asked to give a convocation address at a major theological seminary in America. In that address, I spoke about the critical role of logic in biblical interpretation, and I pleaded for seminaries to include courses on logic in their required curricula. In almost any seminary’s course of study, students are required to learn something of the original biblical languages, Hebrew and Greek. They are taught to look at the historical background of the text, and they learn basic principles of interpretation. These are all important and valuable skills for being good stewards of the Word of God. However, the main reason why errors in biblical interpretation occur is not because the reader lacks a knowledge of Hebrew or of the situation in which the biblical book was written. The number one cause for misunderstanding the Scriptures is making illegitimate inferences from the text. It is my firm belief that these faulty inferences would

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