A Systematic Theology of Justification

Andy Naselli: The Meaning of Justification 1. Justification is judicial, not experiential. Justification means to declare righteous, not to make righteous (in the sense of transforming one’s character to be righteous). It is a metaphor from the law court, where a judge pronounces someone as either guilty or not guilty. Paul contrasts condemning (pronouncing guilty) and justifying (pronouncing not guilty but righteous) in Romans 8:33–34: “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn?” (cf. Rom. 5:18; 8:1). God “justifies the ungodly” (Rom. 4:5) in that he legally declares ungodly people to be innocent and righteous—not in that he transforms ungodly people into godly people.1 2. Justification includes forgiveness (Rom. 4:6–8). When God justifies believing sinners, he forgives those sinners’ “lawless deeds” and covers their sins and no longer will count their sins against them. 3. Justification includes imputation (Rom. 4:1–8; 5:15–19). Justification is a blessing because God imputes Christ’s righteousness to the believing

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Does Hebrews 6 Teach that We Should Move On from the Gospel?

Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God,and of instruction about washings,[a] the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. — Hebrews 6:1-2 Jared Wilson: Doesn’t the author of Hebrews tell us to move on from elementary gospel truths (6:1-2)? This may seem like an odd question, but it is one I get occasionally whenever I stump hard for constantly returning to the centrality of Christ’s finished work for both the lost and the found. I remember several years ago a fairly prominent evangelical scholar citing this passage in his criticism of me on this very point. Just yesterday I was reminded again by a critic online of the alleged “graduation” from the gospel encouraged by Hebrews 6. And yet, the apostle Paul tells us in the opening verses of 1 Corinthians 15 that the gospel is of first importance.

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The Answer to God’s Seeming Megalomania

Sam Storms: I recently returned to reading John Piper’s book, Reading the Bible Supernaturally, and was stunned yet again by a truth that has utterly transformed my life. That’s not an overstatement. I can’t think of another theological principle that has meant more to me than what you are about to read. I have often in my books tried to say the same thing, but it always seems to fall short of how John has expressed it. John begins by citing C. S. Lewis and his description of how he struggled with the incessant demand by God that all creation praise him. Lewis confessed that God sounded like “a vain woman who wants compliments.” Then came the discovery that changed Lewis’s life too: “But the most obvious fact about praise—whether of God or anything—strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or the giving of honor. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise.

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How do Jesus’ wounds heal our diseases?

Tim Chester: Did Jesus heal our diseases at the cross? When you read Isaiah’s great song about the servant of the LORD the answer seems pretty straight-forward: Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering … the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:4-5) Did Jesus heal our diseases at the cross? Yes. Our pain, our suffering, our wounds are all healed through the cross. The problem But there’s an obvious problem with this: our diseases are not all healed. Colin is claiming this promise for his cancer. ‘By his wounds we are healed,’ he says, ‘and therefore God will heal my cancer – I just need to believe.’ I admire his confidence. Or is it desperation? I’m not sure. I do know I’ve been a pastor too long to share his confidence. I’ve seen too many people who were convinced God had promised to heal them only for

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10 reasons pastors need pastors

Jeff Robinson: I hadn’t been in pastoral ministry but a few weeks until the thought occurred to me, “I need to get in touch with Brian Croft.” I was facing a set of circumstances I was certain would wreck my ministry and would leave me wanting to find another vocation. Turns out, I wasn’t wrong. And I was a pastor who needed a pastor. I’ve been friends with Brian since the early days of Practical Shepherding, and I’ve watched the ministry grow exponentially. I’ve been instructed, convicted, and helped in too many ways to count by the ministry of Practical Shepherding. For me, the most delightful aspect of PS is this: It serves as a strong, balanced, gracious, biblical pastor to pastors. Brothers, pastors need pastors and here are 10 reasons—all of them represent valuable insights Brian Croft personally and Practical Shepherding overall have taught me through the years. We need pastors: 1. Because our hearts need shepherding just like

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Jellyfish Christianity

J.C. Ryle: One plague of our age is this widespread dislike to distinct biblical doctrine. In the place of it, the idol of the day is a kind of jellyfish Christianity – a Christianity without bone, or muscle, or sinew, without any distinct teaching about the atonement or the work of the Spirit, or justification, or the way of peace with God – a vague, foggy, misty Christianity, of which the only watchwords seem to be, “You must be liberal and kind. You must condemn no man’s doctrinal views. You must consider everybody is right and nobody is wrong.” And this creedless kind of religion, we are told, is to give us peace of conscience! And not to be satisfied with it in a sorrowful, dying world, is a proof that you are very narrow-minded! Satisfied, indeed! Such a religion might possibly do for unfallen angels! But to tell sinful, dying men and women, with the blood of our father

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Saint or Sinner? Rethinking the Language of Our Christian Identity

Michael J. Kruger: Throughout the letters of the New Testament, the people of God are called lots of things. They are the “elect” (1 Pet 1:1), “faithful brothers” (Col 1:2), “beloved” (1 John 2:7), “children of God” (1 John 3:2), a “holy nation” (1 Pet 2:9), and most of all they are called “saints.” Conspicuously absent from this list is the term “sinners.”  There is no place I am aware of where the church, the people of God, are collectively called “sinners.”  Moreover, an argument can be made that there is no instance in the New Testament where a believer is referred to as a “sinner.”  The closest is Paul’s well-known reference to himself as the “foremost” (or “chief”) of sinners in 1 Tim 1:15.  But, the context makes it plain that Paul is using this terminology to refer to his old life as a persecutor of the church.  He says, “formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent” (1:13). Now, of course, this does not

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If Jesus Is God, Why Did He Pray?

Mark Jones: Age-Old Question Why did Jesus pray? As in any answer to questions like these, one could find many sound reasons to explain why the God-man, Jesus Christ, prayed. Many theologians over the course of church history have wrestled with this question. I think the answer to this question is relatively simple: Jesus prayed because he needed to pray. 1. Jesus prayed because God infused in him a spirit of prayer. In Psalm 22 we catch some glimpses of the various details of Christ’s life, not just his crucifixion that so prominently features in this Psalm. Christ’s life of prayer began at birth. Psalm 22 finds its ultimate fulfillment in Christ, though its immediate story is that of David. The Father prepared a body for Christ, which was formed by the Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary. According to the natural limits of his humanity, Christ’s early prayer life was clearly not as developed as it would be at the end

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The Distinction Between Free Will and Free Agency

BY J.I. PACKER The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? – JEREMIAH 17:9 Clear thought about the fallen human condition requires a distinction between what for the past two centuries has been called free agency and what since the start of Christianity has been called free will. Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and others spoke of free will in two senses, the first trivial, the second important; but this was confusing, and it is better always to use free agency for their first sense. Free agency is a mark of human beings as such. All humans are free agents in the sense that they make their own decisions as to what they will do, choosing as they please in the light of their sense of right and wrong and the inclinations they feel. Thus they are moral agents, answerable to God and each other for their voluntary choices. So was Adam, both before and after

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Can you be a Christian and Deny the Trinity?

John MacArthur: A Mormon asked me this question a number of years ago, and through the years, I’ve asked a number of people this question, and I wanted to get your opinion. Can you become a Christian if you deny the Trinity? Answer: I would answer, “No.” If you don’t believe in the Trinity, then you don’t understand who God is. You may say the word “God” but you don’t understand His nature. Second, you couldn’t possibly understand who Christ is — that He is God in human flesh. The Incarnation of Christ is an essential component of the biblical gospel, as John 1:1-14 and many other biblical passages make clear. To deny the Trinity is to deny the Incarnation. And to deny the Incarnation is to wrongly understand the true gospel. In saying that, I realize that such an answer is going to not only impact people that you may have witnessed to (like Mormons), but it also applies to some

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Theological Minutia Matters

Trevin Wax: Who needs theological education? Doesn’t theology just lead to mind-numbing debates over insignificant matters? Only theological eggheads insist on parsing doctrines and dogmas until powerful, life-changing experiences with God get dissected and reassembled as stale and crusty formulas. Who cares about the minutia? Give me something simple and relevant! That’s the cry from many in the church these days. We’re told that the next generation doesn’t have patience for rehashing theological quarrels from previous centuries. To reach millennials, we need to get back to the basic message of Jesus’s love. Stay simple. Stay practical. Whatever you do, don’t get mired in meaningless distinctions about ancient words or complicated concepts about the essence of God or the nature of salvation. But what if the minutia matters? Like, really matters? Draw to Theological Controversy I realize that, as commonly understood, minutia often refers to trifling and insignificant matters that don’t deserve our attention. Perhaps you’ve been in a place where

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Is Jesus Precious to Your Soul?

Sam Storms: There is an astounding statement in 1 Peter 2:6 about Jesus Christ that stands as a challenge to each of us who claim to be his followers. Peter describes Jesus as “a cornerstone chosen and precious.” Think about it: he is chosen of the Father and precious! He is of immeasurable value to God the Father and must therefore be precious and of immeasurable value to us! Treasuring Christ is God’s response to Christ and therefore should be ours. Consider this. God is omniscient. He knows everything. He sees not merely the outward appearance but the inner reality. Nothing is hidden from him. And above all that, he has limitless wisdom and discernment. He knows what is valuable and what isn’t. He knows what is of great worth and what is worthless. And according to 1 Peter 2:6, God says that Jesus, his Son, is infinitely precious. If God embraces his Son as indescribably and incomparably precious, shouldn’t we also? One

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Do This and Remember

Guy Prentiss Waters: Sign of the Promise From Genesis to Revelation, there is a succession of covenants. There are basically two covenants in the Bible: the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. God made the covenant of works in the garden with Adam and, in Adam, with all his ordinary descendants. This covenant was conditioned upon Adam’s obedience. When our representative Adam disobeyed God, he plunged himself and all of us into sin and misery. The way to eschatological or eternal life by our obedience was forever closed off. Soon after Adam’s fall into sin, God introduced a second covenant into history, the covenant of grace. This covenant was conditioned upon the obedience of the second and last Adam, Jesus Christ. He pledged to obey where we failed to obey. Part of his obedience involved bearing the penalty due to us for our sin. On the basis of his obedience, those who trust in him are brought from

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5 Things Every Christian Should be Doing with God’s Word

Michael J. Kruger: Psalm 119 is an amazing Psalm.  Not only is it the longest Psalm (176 verses!), but it is also the Psalm that deals the most directly with the topic of Scripture.  Virtually every verse, in one way or another, refers to God’s Word. David (who is most likely the author) uses a variety of terminology to describe God’s Word:  commandments, law, statutes, precepts, ordinances, rules, words, testimonies, etc.  These all refer to the Scriptures as they existed in David’s day (essentially the Pentateuch). Thus, Psalm 119 is one of the best examples of Scripture speaking about Scripture.  It is the Word about the Word. And in it, we find David interacting with the Word of God in five ways that should be paradigmatic for all believers: 1. Trusting the Word of God.  Time and time again, David expresses his belief that the Scriptures are true (v. 151).  He believes in them (v. 66).  He trusts in their reliability (v. 42). 

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Pastoral Bullies

Erik Raymond: It was a bad day at church. What was supposed to be a blessed and meaningful worship experience felt like a punch in the gut. What happened? Those in authority were selfish bullies. We read about these leaders in 1 Samuel. Eli’s sons aptly described by the author as “worthless men” (v. 12), were serving at the temple. It pains us to read that these leaders “did not know the Lord” (v. 12). In verses 13-17 we read about their shameless exploitation of their position and the people. As a worshiper was preparing the post-sacrificial portion of the peace offering for his family, a servant of the priests would pop over. These henchmen walked around with a three-pronged fork in their hands. They would walk up to the family and fish around in the pot with their fork; whatever they were able to “catch” they would keep and bring to the leaders (vv. 13-14). The priests were not

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The Value of Being Blunt

John Piper: Looking at Harshness and Cheerfulness Most of us know people who are blunt. Sometimes their bluntness morphs into harshness and unkindness. If that happens often enough, we may sense that they have a kind of personality disorder, because they seem unable to express emotions other than frustration and anger. They give little positive affirmation and little praise—of anything. There is little spontaneous expression of the sort of joy that is self-forgetful and simply swept up into some wonderful experience. On the other hand, most of us know people who are always chipper, always smiling, always commending, always gentle and kind. We marvel at this. It seems wonderful and biblical. But then, over time, we may sense that something is amiss. These people never seem to notice the wrongs others do. They seem to never take note of evils and injustices in society. They are silent when others are wrestling with a difficult moral issue. They don’t give their

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10 Things You Should Know about Seeing Christ in all of Scripture

Sam Storms: Ours is a splintered, fractured world, that often in its differing political parties and conflicting ethical systems and its seemingly endless variety of opinions on virtually every imaginable subject holds out little hope for ultimate meaning. And yet in the midst of undeniable diversity and the differences that so often divide us, the Bible tells us that there is a single, overarching, unitary theme and purpose and goal to all of human history and experience. The apostle Paul touched on this in several places. Let me mention only two. In Romans 11:36 he concludes a major section of his letter with this brief doxology: “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” Paul’s point is not simply that all things are the creative product of our great Triune God. Yes, all things, everything, came “from him.” He is the originating cause of everything that is. But Paul also tells us

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3 Reasons Definite Atonement is Basic to Biblical Missions

Alex Kocman: “Sit down, young man. When God decides to save the heathen, he will do it without your help.” These were the words of John Ryland to a passionate, young English Particular Baptist named William Carey, now known to us as the father of the modern missionary movement. Since then, the temptation to pit Reformed theology and missions against each other as enemies has continued to plague the broader evangelical movement, despite the Calvinistic bona fides of Carey and countless others like him. “If you’re a Calvinist, you must not really believe in evangelism”—so goes the logic. Men like William Carey and Andrew Fuller, and more modern writers like J.I. Packer in his Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, have demonstrated repeatedly that the Reformed emphasis on particular redemption is the sweet companion of the missionary endeavor and not its antagonist. But in our day and age, for some observers, another sticky question remains—the question of that pesky “L” in the “TULIP.”

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The Key to Not Grumbling in Suffering

John Piper: A Rare Trait I am drawn to people who suffer without murmuring. Especially when they believe in God but never get angry with him or criticize him. It seems to me that not murmuring is one of the rarest traits in the world. And when it is combined with a deep faith in God—who could alter our painful circumstances, but doesn’t—it has a beautiful God-trusting, God-honoring quality that makes it all the more attractive. Paul was like that. Brought to the Brink of Death Paul tells of the time when his faith was put to the test in a way that brought him to the brink of despair and death: We were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a

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Solus Christus: The Bedrock of Theology

Dustin Benge: In Acts 4, the Apostle Peter stands before the leaders of Israel and identifies the cornerstone of all faith, “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). The bedrock and cornerstone which lies at the center of the other solas of the Reformation, connecting them all together by a single theological redemptive thread is solus Christus––Christ alone. When German Reformer, Martin Luther, preached from the gospel passages on John the Baptist, he always emphasized how John was consistently pointing to Christ. He encouraged the church to follow in John’s footsteps and point people to the Lord without fail. Luther emphatically believed the message the church must constantly preach was the message of Christ being the only way of salvation. However, he was quick to point out that this type of preaching is not always easy. Luther declared: The devil does

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