The Holiness of God

Sam Storms: What does it mean to say that God is holy? Most people think of moral rectitude or righteousness or goodness, and that is certainly true. To be holy is to be characterized by purity and blamelessness and integrity, both in terms of one’s essence and one’s activity. In this sense, God’s holiness and his righteousness are somewhat synonymous. He is described in the OT as “too pure to behold evil” and intolerant of evil (Hab. 1:12-13). But this is only a secondary way in which God is said to be holy. We need to understand the primary thrust of the word. The Biblical evidence God is regularly identified in Scripture as “the Holy One“. See Job 6:10; Isa. 40:25; 43:15; Ezek. 39:7; Hosea 11:9; Hab. 1:12; 3:3. He is also called “the Holy One of Israel” in 2 Kings 19:22; Isa. 1:4; 43:3 (a total of 25x in Isaiah alone); Jer. 50:29; 51:5; and elsewhere. In Isa. 57:15 God is described as “the high and lofty one who inhabits eternity, whose name is

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The Surprising Truth about Legalism

Sinclair Ferguson: As Old As Eden The root of legalism is almost as old as Eden, which explains why it is a primary, if not the ultimate, pastoral problem. In seeking to bring freedom from legalism, we are engaged in undoing the ancient work of Satan. In Eden the Serpent persuaded Eve and Adam that God was possessed of a narrow and restrictive spirit bordering on the malign. After all, the Serpent whispered, “Isn’t it true that he placed you in this garden full of delights and has now denied them all to you?” The implication was twofold. It was intended to dislodge Eve from the clarity of God’s word (“Did God actually say . . . ?”). Later the attack focused on the authority of God’s word (“You will not surely die”). But it was more. It was an attack on God’s character. For the Serpent’s question carried a deeply sinister innuendo: “What kind of God would deny you

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Repentance: the Lost Doctrine of the Twenty-First Century

Grant Castleberry: When I came to Capital Community Church in Raleigh, North Carolina in August of last year as its senior pastor, the elders and I thought it would be best to begin my ministry in the church with a series of eight evangelistic messages. The evangelistic sermons I preached focused on the “new life” in Christ that is offered to us in the gospel. Sermon topics specifically covered the essence of lostness, the gravity of our sin, Christ’s work on the cross, the necessity of the new birth, and justification by faith alone. After these messages were preached last fall, I came across a William Booth quote that shook me. He said, “The chief danger that confronts the coming century will be religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, politics without God, heaven without hell.” The phrase “forgiveness without repentance” particularly convicted me. I immediately thought to myself, ‘Why had I not emphasized

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What the Psalter Should Teach Us about the Songs We Sing

By Brian Sandifer: How can we foster a culture of theological depth in our churches? It must begin with the faithful exposition of God’s Word. If our people aren’t regularly being fed from the Word of God, then there’s little hope for theological depth. But God has given us others tools to facilitate our growth when we gather on Sunday mornings. One tool in particular stands out: singing. Little else brings together the heart, the soul, and the mind in one event. All this raises a question: what kinds of songs best foster a culture of theological depth? To answer this question, we don’t need to look any farther than the Psalter, God’s hymnbook. CONSIDER GOD’S HYMNBOOK The collection of 150 psalms which we call the Psalter is widely recognized to be the hymnal for the ancient people of God. Some present-day denominations still use it at their exclusive hymnal. I can understand why: it’s teeming with a variety of subjects and

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8 Things Your Bible Says About Itself

Matt Smethurst: There are only two options when it comes to knowledge of a divine Creator: revelation or speculation. Either he speaks, or we guess. And he has spoken. The God of heaven and earth has “forfeited his own personal privacy” to reveal himself to us—to befriend us—through a book. Scripture is like an all-access pass into the revealed mind and will of God. By virtually any account the Bible is the most influential book of all time. No shortage of ink has been spilled on writings about it, whether in favor or against. But what claims does the Bible make about itself? Here are eight. 1. The Bible Is Inspired When Christians claim Scripture is “inspired,” what do they mean? Inspiration is about the relationship between God and the Bible’s authors. These men weren’t inspired in the way we typically use the word today—it’s not as if the apostle Paul saw a gorgeous sunset and then wrote Galatians. Nor does it mean he

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The Imperative-Indicative Balance

Bryan Chapell: Right application of Scripture necessitates Herman Ridderbos’s famous insight into Paul’s theology. Every imperative of Scripture (what we are to do for God) rests on the indicative (who we are in our relationship with God), and the order is not reversible (Acts 16:14–16; Col. 3:1–5; 1 John 5:1–5).[i] The human instinct with every non-Christian religion reverses the order, teaching that who we are before God is based on what we do for God. Thus, any preaching that is distinctively Christian must keep listeners from confusing, or inverting, our “who” and our “do.” What Christians do is based on who we are in Christ. We obey because God has loved us and united us to himself by his Son; we are not united to God, nor do we make him love us, because we have obeyed him. Our obedience is a response to his love, not a purchase of it. We keep this indicative-imperative relationship clear, not by when we happen to mention each element in a sermon, but by making sure

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Enjoying God Is a Command

Sinclair Ferguson: While shaking hands at the church door, ministers are sometimes greeted with a spontaneous, “I really enjoyed that!”—which is immediately followed by, “Oh! I shouldn’t really say that, should I?” I usually grip tighter, hold the handshake a little longer, and say with a smile, “Doesn’t the catechism’s first question encourage us to do that? If we are to enjoy Him forever, why not begin now?” Of course, we cannot enjoy God apart from glorifying Him. And the Westminster Shorter Catechism wisely goes on to ask, “What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him?” But notice that Scripture contains the “rule” for enjoying God as well as glorifying Him. We know it abounds in instructions for glorifying Him, but how does it instruct us to “enjoy him”? Enjoying God is a command, not an optional extra: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Phil. 4:4). But how? We cannot “rejoice

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J. I. Packer: A Personal Appreciation from Ray Ortlund

Ray Ortlund: Our dear friend, James Innell Packer, has been released from this life. Many of us will feel, as I do, deep personal loss. We will miss him—and for good reason. Packer embodied the personal characteristics and ministry ideals we evangelicals most revere. He was saintly and sensible, brilliant and practical, faithful and peaceable, courageous and charitable, cheerful and serene, blunt and gentle, humble and bold, submissive to Scripture and sensitive to the Spirit. Above all, Packer was Christ-honoring. So my purpose here, as the Scripture says, is to “honor such men” (Phil. 2:29). After hearing Packer preach and teach and after reading his books and essays for more than 40 years, I gratefully remember five outstanding marks of his life and ministry. 1. Packer revered the Bible and helped a whole generation settle into the same confidence. In my dad’s copy of ‘Fundamentalism’ and the Word of God: Some Evangelical Principles, this sentence is underlined: “Scripture itself is alone

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None Can Stay His Hand – The Certain Triumph of the Gospel

David Mathis: I was a freshman in college when I first heard a preacher named John Piper. I was piled into a van with some older students who had recruited me to go to a weekend men’s retreat with a college ministry. One of the guys played for us a message called “Doing Missions When Dying Is Gain.” The reason I mention it is because that message was the first thing to come to mind when I received this topic for our few minutes together: “The Certain Triumph of the Gospel.” I had grown up in church, but up to that point, Matthew 24:14 had never really landed on me. It was the first verse that Piper quoted in that missions message. These are the words of Jesus: This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:14) As a 19-year-old, who wanted my little life

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Groaning, Waiting, Hoping – How to Live in a Fallen, Fragile World

Jon Bloom: A late verdant spring is at this moment giving way to a lush early summer in Minnesota, the state where I have sojourned these nearly 55 years. Walking outside on a fair morning, when the brilliant new variegated greens of the trees and grasses are bursting with life, when a gorgeous spectrum of colorful, fragrant blossoms waves in the gentle breeze and seems to silently sing for joy, when the deep blues of our abundant rivers and lakes quiet frenetic thoughts, and everything is awash in the golden light of a blazing star ascending in a sky-field of azure, one can almost wonder if Eden has returned. Almost. Then a police vehicle speeds by me, followed soon by a blaring ambulance. Then beneath the bridge I see the decaying body of a songbird whose voice so recently added more beauty to our urban avian choir. Then I pass by burned-out, boarded-up buildings that testify to the great pain

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The Sources of True Change

David Powlison: When Jesus crosses paths with you, he reveals you for who you are. In response to him, people change—either making a turn for the better or taking a turn for the worse. A turn for the better means that Christian growth, or sanctification, is happening. But this is not the result of a single template of change. Because situations and persons come unscripted, fluid, and unpredictable, Jesus engages each person and situation in a personalized way. What are the sources of true change, and how does God work in those factors to transform your life? God himself changes you  “It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13)  God 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

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God Made Us to Gather – The Fresh Wonder of Corporate Worship

Bob Kauflin: Only God could have ordained that I would be writing an article on the benefits of corporate worship during the COVID-19 pandemic. My church in Louisville hasn’t met since March 15, and we’re still trying to decide what the process of meeting together again will look like. Livestreaming Sunday mornings is beginning to feel almost normal. Almost. Although I’m thankful for the virtual contact technology has made possible during this season, God has unique purposes for the weekly gathering that no livestream or Zoom meeting can replace. Perhaps we feel similar to the apostle John when he wrote, “Though I have much to write to you [or many virtual meetings to participate in], . . . I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete” (2 John 12). Not being able to meet in person makes us appreciate more deeply the privilege, joy, and benefit of gathering with the

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Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom

By John M. Frame: DEFINITION Divine sovereignty, which is that God exercises efficacious, universal, and loving control over all things, is compatible with human freedom in that humans are free to do what they want to do, although God is sovereign over our desires.   SUMMARY The sovereignty of God is the same as the lordship of God, for God is the sovereign over all of creation. The major components of God’s lordship are his control, authority, and presence. To discuss the sovereignty of God, though, is to focus particularly on the aspect of control, though this should not bracket God’s authority and gracious presence out of the discussion. The control that God exercises over all things is both efficacious and universal; there is not one thing outside of his control. This even extends to human sin and faith. However, people still remain free and God remains innocent of sin. This is because humans have the freedom to do whatever it is that they

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Finding God in the Darkness

Derek Thomas: Four times in Genesis 39 we read that God was with Joseph (39:2-3, 21, 23). The statements form a set of pillars at either end of the story of Joseph’s initial experience of Egypt. On the one end, they come at the beginning of the story after Joseph has been sold by the Ishmaelites to Potiphar, the pharaoh’s “captain of the guard” (39:1). The point of the description is to show to us that God’s presence “prospered” Joseph (39:2). He was a “successful man” (39:2) because “the Lord was with him” (39:3). William Tyndale translated it, “the Lord was with Joseph and he was a lucky fellow!” The point is that the presence of God in the life of Joseph prospered him. He was put in charge of Potiphar’s entire house entrusting everything that he had to Joseph. God was there, in the good times. True, he was a slave, but life was good. It is relatively easy to

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How Suffering Reveals Your True Self

Paul David Tripp: Trust Issues Here’s what happens in times of suffering. When the thing you have been trusting (whether you knew it or not) is laid to waste, you don’t suffer just the loss of that thing; you also suffer the loss of the identity and security that it provided. This may not make sense to you if right now you are going through something that you wouldn’t have planned for yourself, but the weakness that is now a part of my regular life has been a huge instrument of God’s grace (see 2 Cor. 12:9.) It has done two things for me. First, it has exposed an idol of self I did not know was there. Pride in my physical heath and my ability to produce made me take credit for what I couldn’t have produced on my own. God created and controls my physical body, and God has given me the gifts that I employ every day. Physical health and

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How Does COVID-19 Expose the Lie of the Prosperity Gospel?

Conrad Mbewe: Prosperity gospel preachers all over the world claim that Christianity, when well understood and applied, is meant to give you a long life of health and a lot of wealth. I often tell friends in the West that the prosperity gospel in Africa has a slightly different texture and emphasis from what was initially imported from there. Prosperity teachers in the West often teach carefully selected passages of the Bible in ways that are not in line with the original author’s intent. In Africa, prosperity teachers emphasize the “anointed man of God” who has power to deliver you from your poverty through his prayers. This is a very serious problem in Africa. It has spread like a wild forest fire. I am not sure about the Islamic states in north Africa, but south of the Sahara Desert it has become the most conspicuous form of Christianity. This is because prosperity gospel preachers tend to buy up time on

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His Delight Is Not in Your Strength

Marshall Segal:  We discover where we really find our strength not when we feel strong, but when we feel weak. Exhaustion and frustration have a way of blowing away the fog, revealing what’s really happening inside of us: Have we been leaning on God for all that we need, or have we made his help, his strength, his guidance a kind of last resort? Many of us are more self-reliant than we would admit, and self-reliance is far more dangerous than it sounds. The widespread delusion, especially among more secular people, is that I can do anything, if I am willing to work hard. I am stronger than I think, strong enough to do anything I want to do in the world. The reality, however, is that the vast majority of us are weaker than we realize — and yet love to think ourselves strong. And that false sense of strength not only intensifies our arrogance and our ineffectiveness, but it also offends our God. His

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8 Reminders in These Days of Panic

Dane Ortlund: These are strange days, days of fear, days of hysteria—in other words, days that simply bring all our latent anxieties up to the surface, anxieties that were there all along and are now made visible to others. What do we need to remember in these days of alarm? The World of the Bible. Now we know how the people of God felt throughout the Bible, especially the Old Testament. The prophets and many of the psalms speak to people who are caught up in mass hysteria or subject to pandemics. Maybe the current cultural moment is precisely the hermeneutic we need to read the OT deeply for the first time, which can otherwise feel so foreign. Our True Trust. Times of public panic force us to align our professed belief with our actual belief. We all say we believe God is sovereign and he is taking care of us. But we reveal our true trust when the world goes into meltdown. What’s really our

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3 Doctrines That Sustain Us in Suffering

  Ligon Duncan: Undergird Your Hope While we may not understand what God is doing, we can always trust who he is. We must never interpret God’s character by our circumstances. We must instead interpret our circumstances by God’s character. In Psalm 89, we can find three doctrines that undergird the psalmist’s hope in God and that sustain him in the midst of his suffering. 1. The Doctrine of Election First, we find the psalmist taking comfort from the doctrine of election. The doctrine of election is not an esoteric theological point for seminarians to fight about. Election in Scripture is meant to generate both hope for the people of God and worshiping hearts in the people of God. Notice how the psalmist celebrates God on account of his electing grace: I will sing of the steadfast love of the Lord, forever; with my mouth I will make known your faithfulness to all generations. . . . You have said, “I have made a covenant

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The Christian Faith Is Not Based on the Evidence for the Resurrection

William Lane Craig: In considering the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, it is important to avoid giving the impression that the Christian faith is based on the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. The Christian faith is based on the event of the resurrection. It is not based on the evidence for the resurrection. This distinction is crucial. The Christian faith stands or falls on the event of the resurrection. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then Christian is a myth, and we may as well forget it. But the Christian faith does not stand or fall on the evidence for the resurrection. There are many real events in history for which the historical evidence is slim or nonexistent (in fact, when you think about it, most events in history are of this character). But they did actually happen. We just have no way of proving that they happened. Thus, it is entirely conceivable that the resurrection of Jesus was a real

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