Are all Sins Equal?

  Marty Foord: It happens every year. In a class I teach on introductory theology, people get particularly shocked about one issue: not all sins are equal. For whatever reason, many Christians think that all sins are equal. Perhaps it’s because we’re marinated in a culture that incessantly preaches the equality of humans. Maybe some of us (rightly) don’t want to appear superior because we don’t struggle with certain odious sins of others. Whatever the reason, it’s common to think all sins are equal. But this is mistaken and will affect the church’s mission. In one sense, all sins are equal because any sin cuts us off from relationship with God (Rom. 3:23). James explains why: For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. (James 2:10, NIV) James’ point is that individual sins cannot be isolated. The Bible’s commandments are an interconnected whole reflecting God’s character, and if

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Why Church History?

Stephen Nichols: The bombing of Britain during World War II leveled most of the area known as “Elephant & Castle” in the city of London. A row of pillars stood defiantly among the piles of rubble. These pillars belonged to the Metropolitan Tabernacle, the church that housed the larger-than-life preacher of the nineteenth century, Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Those pillars well represent Spurgeon. He was solid. He stood tall in his own day, and like the pillars, his legacy still stands. Spurgeon has friends across many pews. Baptists like Spurgeon because he was a Baptist. Presbyterians like Spurgeon because he was so Reformed. Even Lutherans like Spurgeon because he was very nearly a nineteenth-century version of Martin Luther. While Spurgeon held forth at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Londoners would flock to hear him preach. In fact, people even traveled the Atlantic to hear him preach. He wrote many sermons, of course, while he was at the Metropolitan Tabernacle. And Spurgeon also wrote many books. In one of his many

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Beg God to Move Again

Seven Marks of True Revival Ajith Fernando: Revival means many things to many people. I mean it to describe a situation where large numbers of people are fired up to seek God fully, yearn for obedience, confess sin in their life, and experience the joy and freedom of walking with God. History shows us that there is no exact prescription for revival. It is an act of the sovereign God, and we can’t dictate what he should do and when he should do it. I have been praying for revival in Sri Lanka since 1975. Only once, while attending a conference, have I seen something close to revival. But I continue to pray that, in my lifetime or after, the Lord would send his showers of blessing upon our people through revival. Seven Marks of Revival While we cannot dictate to God what he will do, history shows us that there are some things that happen before and when revival comes

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God’s gracious gift of the new birth

Sam Storms: What did Jesus mean in John 3 when he spoke to Nicodemus of being born again? The best way to answer that question is by taking note of what Jesus did not mean. And it is, somewhat surprisingly, Nicodemus himself who supplies us with the answer. (1) We know, first of all, that being religious is not the same as being born again. We know this because Jesus was speaking to one of the most religious men in Israel, a Pharisee, and to that man he says, “You, Mr. Pharisee, you, Nicodemus, must be born again.” (2) Being well-trained in the Bible and able to instruct others in what it says is not the same as being born again. Nicodemus was “a ruler of the Jews” and one of the primary teachers of Israel (John 3:10, but he wasn’t born again. An intimate knowledge of the Scriptures and the ability to communicate it clearly does not always mean you are born again. (3) Attending religious

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What Does it Mean to Abide in Christ?

Sinclair Ferguson: The exhortation to “abide” has been frequently misunderstood, as though it were a special, mystical, and indefinable experience. But Jesus makes clear that it actually involves a number of concrete realities. First, union with our Lord depends on His grace. Of course we are actively and personally united to Christ by faith (John 14:12). But faith itself is rooted in the activity of God. It is the Father who, as the divine Gardener, has grafted us into Christ. It is Christ, by His Word, who has cleansed us to fit us for union with Himself (15:3). All is sovereign, all is of grace. Second, union with Christ means being obedient to Him. Abiding involves our response to the teaching of Jesus: “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you …” (John 15:7a). Paul echoes this idea in Colossians 3:16, where he writes, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,” a statement closely related to his parallel

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How Do We Become Spiritually Mature?

John MacArthur: We don’t want to remain spiritual children, perpetually stuck in infancy. We don’t want to be weak, vulnerable, and immature. Nor do we want to be ignorant about God’s truth, because we want to fully glorify Him for everything He has done. We want to appreciate Him in all His fullness, knowing and loving Him thoroughly. If that’s the goal, then how do we get there? How do we respond to the Word in a way that drives that progress? I see three definitive steps in the biblical pattern of sanctification. The first is cognition. John 17:17 gives our Lord’s prayer: “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” We have to understand what the Bible says and what it means if it is going to produce growth in us. Sanctification begins with spiritually renewing the mind, that is, changing how we think. We need “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16). There is no premium on ignorance or naivete

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How Important is the Gospel?

Sam Storms: Many have reached a saturation point when it comes to the notion of gospel centrality. “Enough already,” they cry, with more than a little exasperation. I understand this reaction. We who identify as evangelicals are good at taking what is otherwise a fully biblical term or concept and beating it into the ground or pounding it into the heads of our people. So, yes, it’s possible for us to grow justifiably weary of certain terminology. After years of watching “gospel-centered” be used as an adjective to describe everything from children’s ministry to a Wednesday night pot-luck dinner to global missions, I pray that we not lose sight of how indescribably important the gospel actually is. So I thought it might be helpful if we simply let Scripture address the matter. This post, therefore, is designed for those of you who, in your understandable frustration with what has often become a mindless and repetitive use of the language of gospel-centrality,

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What Does It Really Mean to Take the Lord’s Name in Vain?

Kevin DeYoung: The What So what exactly is forbidden by the third commandment? The word vain (as it’s rendered in the ESV) can mean “empty,” “nothing,” “worthless,” or “to no good purpose.” We are forbidden, therefore, from taking the name of God (or taking up the name or bearing the name, as the phrase could be translated) in a manner that is wicked, worthless, or for wrong purposes. This doesn’t mean that we have to avoid the divine name altogether. The name YHWH (or Yahweh)—“the Lord,” in most translations—appears some seven thousand times in the Old Testament. We don’t need to be superstitious about saying his name. But we must not misuse it. The Old Testament identifies several ways in which the third commandment can be violated. Most obvious is to blaspheme or curse the name of God, which we saw already in Leviticus 24:16. But there’s more to the commandment than that. The third commandment also forbids empty or false oaths: “You shall not swear by

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The Battle for Biblical Truth

John MacArthur: Antipathy toward God’s Word inherently resides in the hearts of all sinners. This antipathy may even be present in those within the church. If there is any doubt about this, it is worth asking why popular evangelicalism’s greatest fear is being out of sync with the culture. Pastors and leaders are chasing the culture, so that its trends show up in their churches. They treat this pursuit as a necessary evangelistic strategy. But the only way to be in sync with the culture is to diminish the presence of the Word of God, because unregenerate culture will always be fundamentally and irreconcilably incompatible with the truth of God. By catering to the unchurched or to the unconverted in the church, evangelical- ism has been hijacked by legions of carnal spin doctors seeking to convince the world that Christians can be just as inclusive, pluralistic, and open-minded as any postmodern, politically correct worldling. However, true biblical Christianity requires a denial

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Perhaps the most important reason we struggle with personal evangelism

Sam Storms: The 13th reason why we stink at evangelism is simply that people don’t actually know what the gospel is, or if they do know it, they struggle to articulate it in face-to-face conversations with unbelievers. Feeling ill-equipped to explain the gospel, they look for ways to avoid interaction with non-Christians. So what is the gospel? I was greatly helped by Tim Keller in answering this question, as he identified one of the major mistakes people make in thinking of the gospel. He explained how most Christians live in an “if / then” relationship with God. If I do what is right, then God will love me. If I give extra money to missions, then God will provide me with a raise at work. If I avoid sinful habits, then I will be spared suffering and humiliation, etc. It’s a conditional relationship that is based on the principle of merit. The gospel calls us to live in a “because /

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12 reasons we often fail in personal evangelism

Sam Storms: I was motivated to write this brief article because of something I saw in the text that I recently preached at Bridgeway. In John 1:35-51 we read about several individuals who followed Jesus. One of the first to do so was Andrew. We read in John 1:42 that “he [Andrew] brought him [Peter] to Jesus.” What a wonderful way to be remembered, as a man who brought another to Jesus! So why don’t we do likewise? Here are the a dozen reasons why. There may be more, but I’ll settle for these. (1) We are reluctant to share the gospel with others because of a loss of belief in the reality of hell. If there is no eternal conscious punishment for those who reject Jesus, why bother with taking the time and making the effort of telling them about him? If divine wrath is little more than a figure of speech, there is no urgency in taking the gospel to the lost.

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How Suffering Reveals Your True Self

Paul 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 productivity

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7 Traits of False Teachers

Colin Smith: “There were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you.” (2 Peter 2:1) There are no “ifs, ands, or buts” in Peter’s words. It’s a clear and definite statement. There were false prophets among the people (of Israel in the Old Testament). That’s a matter of history. False prophets were a constant problem in the Old Testament, and those who falsely claimed to be prophets of God were to be stoned. The people rarely had the will to deal with them, so they multiplied, causing disaster to the spiritual life of God’s people. In the same way Peter says, “There will be false teachers among you.” Notice the words “among you.” Peter is writing to the church and says, “There will be false prophets among you.” So he is not talking about New Age people on television. He is talking about people in the local church, members of a local congregation. There is no such thing as

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Grace Is Not a Thing

Jeremy Treat: The great American theologian Al Pacino once said, “I asked God for a bike, but I know God doesn’t work that way. So I stole a bike and asked for forgiveness.” Pacino’s statement taps into a tension that we all sense intuitively but maybe have not expressed explicitly. If God is forgiving, then why strive for a holy life? If the penalty has been paid, then why must progress be made? I believe the tension felt here ultimately comes from a confused view of grace. What Is Grace? I used to think of grace as a spiritual substance that God stores in piles behind his heavenly throne and dispenses to his people below. In other words, grace is stuff that God gives apart from himself. How wrong I was! Grace is not a thing. Grace is not stuff that God gives us apart from himself. He doesn’t run out of it. God gives us himself when we don’t deserve it; that is

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A brief reflection on truth

Sam Storms: Of the many things John writes concerning the Word, the Son of God, in John 1, one of the more important is his statement in v. 14 that he is “full of grace and truth.” Let’s be clear right from the start. God isn’t whatever you want him to be. He is who he is whether you like it or not. God is not like silly putty in the hands of those who wish to twist and shape him into something more palatable to their senses. He has always been, is now, and will forever be the same. His character and revealed will do not change when culture does or when he falls out of favor with human opinion. Jesus Christ embodies, defines, and speaks truth whether or not you think he does. Simply because you don’t like some of the things Jesus said or did does not mean they aren’t true. Truth is not what works or

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What Does the Bible Say About Baptism?

SIX TEXTS WE CANNOT IGNORE David Mathis: Martin Luther, the great Protestant Reformer, said, “There is on earth no greater comfort than baptism.” Luther was famous for fighting against sin and Satan by preaching to himself, “I am baptized! I am baptized!” Luther was not claiming to be saved simply because he was baptized. Rather, he rightly perceived the wonder and glory of baptism. He saw the visible, external act of baptism as an objective reminder of the invisible, internal reality of new birth and the faith through which we are saved on the basis of Christ alone. Luther was, after all, the great champion of justification by faith — as well as one captivated by the power and grace of baptism. Yet, as a baptist, I can’t help but observe that something was missing in Luther’s reminder to himself about his baptism. Luther was what we call a paedobaptist (or infant-baptist). He himself was baptized as an infant, not

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When you proclaim the gospel, use words

THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN CHANGED AND SHAPED BY THE GOSPEL CANNOT HELP BUT SPEAK AND SHARE THE GOSPEL Paul Akin: The emphasis on good conduct and “witness without a word,” in 1 Peter might lead some to assume that verbal witness was not a priority for Peter and the witness of early Christians in Asia Minor. On the contrary, Peter, the apostle who preached the gospel to thousands on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), demonstrates in his first letter that verbal proclamation of the gospel is central to Christian witness and mission in the world. Tom Schreiner writes, “The declaration of God’s praises includes both worship and evangelism, spreading the good news of God’s saving wonders to all peoples.” It is imperative for Christians around the world to rightly understand not only the missional nature of their identity and lifestyle, but also the critical gospel message that they must explain while living in the midst of a non-Christian world.

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Philippians 2:12-13 – The Most Important NT Text on the Christian Life and Sanctification

Sam Storms: When it comes to our understanding and experience of Christian sanctification, I can’t think of a more important biblical text than Philippians 2:12-13. Here is what Paul wrote: “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13). Paul’s point is that we work out the Christian life, or act in obedience to the Word of God, only because God has already been at work within, performing a miracle in our lives. At the heart of Paul’s argument is the fact that when it comes to the Christian life, God is always antecedent. He comes first. He acts before we act. We only act because he has already acted. God works in us in advance of our working for

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The Kingdom of God in 8 Words

Jeremy Treat: The number-one thing Jesus talked about is the kingdom of God. It’s everywhere in the Gospels and impossible to miss. But if the theme of the kingdom is so significant, then we need to make sure we know what it means. A good starting place is to have a solid working definition. Here’s one: The kingdom is God’s reign through God’s people over God’s place. That’s the message of the kingdom in eight words. Now let’s break down each aspect to begin plumbing the depths. God’s Reign The kingdom is first and foremost a statement about God. God is king, and he is coming asking to set right what our sin made wrong. The phrase “kingdom of God” could just as easily be translated “reign of God” or “kingship of God.” The message of the kingdom is about God’s royal power directed by his self-giving love. Claiming that the kingdom of God is primarily about God may seem obvious, but many today use “kingdom”

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What Is Discernment?

Sinclair Ferguson: Someone I know recently expressed an opinion that surprised and in some ways disappointed me. I said to myself, “I thought he would have more discernment than that.” The experience caused me to reflect on the importance of discernment and the lack of it in our world. We know that people often do not see issues clearly and are easily misled because they do not think biblically. But, sadly, one cannot help reflecting on how true this is of the church community, too. Most of us doubtless want to distance ourselves from what might be regarded as “the lunatic fringe” of contemporary Christianity. We are on our guard against being led astray by false teachers. But there is more to discernment than this. True discernment means not only distinguishing the right from the wrong; it means distinguishing the primary from the secondary, the essential from the indifferent, and the permanent from the transient. And, yes, it means distinguishing between the

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