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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The Path to Apostasy

Erik Raymond: When someone walks away from the faith it sends seismic ripples throughout the church. Somewhere amid the shock and emotions, we realize that we saw alarming signs but didn’t think they would materialize. I personally have seen this happen far too many times. In each case, however, the steps, the path is eerily similar. First let me give you a bottom-line proposition: The path to apostasy is paved by bricks of apathy towards Christ. If you want to persevere, then give attention to your affections. Now, how does this happen? This walk down the road to apostasy is intended to illuminate a dark and often camouflaged way. 1. Neglect. When someone is routinely neglecting the common means of grace you can be sure that there will be spiritual consequences. Just as an unhealthy diet will affect the body so the negligence of spiritual food will adversely affect the spiritual life. Here I mean the neglecting of the Word of God (personal Bible

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Does Christ Rule the Nations Now?

John Piper: What I see in Scripture are at least three ways God rules over the nations — or we could say three stages in history in which God brings the nations into complete submission. God’s Everlasting Dominion First, there’s the absolute, all-embracing, all-pervasive rule of God’s providence over all nations at all times and in all places. Psalm 103:19: “The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.” That’s true now, and that’s true always. Psalms 47:2: “The Lord . . . is . . . a great king over all the earth.” Proverbs 8:15: “By me kings reign.” There’s no reign of any king anywhere at any time except by God’s decree. Daniel 4:17: “The Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” And when God puts the kings in place, he governs what they do. Proverbs 21:1: “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand

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“The Word Did It All”: The Necessity of Preaching According to the Protestant Reformers

Shawn Wright: One danger of being familiar with history is just that. It becomes familiar to us. Or so we think. Our familiarity with the facts, the cause-effect relationships, and the narrative may keep us from actually seeing what happened, or why what took place matters for us. The narrative of the Protestant Reformation serves as a case in point. Martin Luther (1483–1546) simply read the Bible, rediscovered the doctrine of justification by faith alone (sola fide), and preached the gospel. And in the process, he and later Reformers like John Calvin (1509–64) turned the world upside down. [1] Right? Not so fast, argues Brad Gregory. Gregory, a highly trained Reformation historian, argues that the Reformation unbound the tightly-knit-together world of the Thomistic synthesis between faith and reason and the Catholic conception of Christendom in which secular and religious cohered closely together. Unknowingly, Luther unleashed a torrent that swelled into the modern world with all its post-Enlightenment problems. In other words, the

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The Gifts of This Age Point Us to the Age Still to Come

Jared C. Wilson: And Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. — Luke 20:34-36 Jesus knows that the Sadducees he’s speaking to do not believe in a resurrection, and in a way, their very misunderstanding of what Jesus believes about marriage betrays their disbelief. The Sadducees, like so many others then and today who don’t believe in Jesus, think this is all there is. Nothing comes after death. You die and that’s it. They do not think on the scale of eternity. That God is endless and therefore life is endless. That when God created the world, not even the fall of mankind and the sin unleashed into the world

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Why It Matters What We Do with Our Bodies

Sam Allberry: Body and Soul “It didn’t mean anything—it was just physical.” We’ve all heard the line, in movies and perhaps in real life. Someone has been caught cheating on their spouse and in the moment of confrontation this is the defense they offer. The assumption behind it is that if something is merely physical then it doesn’t matter. And the assumption behind that is that the body itself is just flesh and blood, and as such, is not of crucial significance. Ultimately, so the thinking goes, what we do with our bodies doesn’t really matter. It is not unusual to find this sort of thinking in the church today. Indeed, it seems to have been rife in the church in Corinth. One of their slogans was “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food” (1 Cor. 6:13). This was evidently being used as a justification for various kinds of sexual immorality. Just as we should eat when we’re hungry, so

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What Kingdom Story Are We Telling?

Kevin DeYoung: We can’t tell the story of the Bible in all its fullness without talking about the kingdom. Not only does Jesus make the kingdom a central theme in his teaching, we also see the importance of the kingdom in Acts and in Paul. And the whole concept, of course, has its roots in the Old Testament, in God’s kingship over his people and in Israel’s own kingly office. In other words, the kingdom–predicted, coming, and already here–is essential to the storyline of Scripture. But the kingdom of God is not just one thing in the Bible. We will obscure the storyline of Scripture more than illuminate it if we fail to make distinctions in our kingdom language. Likewise, we can miss the big story of what God means to do in our world if we misunderstand how the different aspects of the kingdom fit together. In classic Reformed theology, Christ’s kingdom is distinguished in three ways. First, there

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Yes, Preaching Really Does Change People

Mike Bullmore: If you’ve been in pastoral ministry for any length of time at all you’ve asked the question: Is my preaching actually doing anything? Is it having any effect? The question could be addressed on several different grounds. It could be addressed on historical grounds, pointing to the powerful effects of preaching in various times and places in the history of the church, notably, from the beginning in the book of Acts. It could be addressed on personal grounds by means of collected anecdotes—“Let me tell you about Joe and Mary Black and what God did in their lives through the faithful preaching of God’s Word.” But without question, the most compelling response is going to be a theological one, grounded in the realities presented in Scripture regarding who God is, what he is doing, what his Word does, and what he fully intends preaching to accomplish. AN UNDER-CELEBRATED CHARACTERISTIC We rightly celebrate the authority, the trustworthiness, and the sufficiency of

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How Could Jonathan Edwards Own Slaves?

Wrestling with the History of a Hero John Piper: When I gave the inaugural biographical message of the Bethlehem Conference for Pastors in 1988 on the life of Jonathan Edwards, I had never heard that Edwards owned slaves,1 nor that he pushed back against those who opposed slaveownership while themselves benefiting from slavery.2 I had read Edwards diligently for twenty years — all of his major works and many sermons and smaller treatises and letters, plus at least three biographies — but had never noticed anything suggesting he owned a slave. I was surprised. Some have argued that his slaveholding is not surprising, but rather fits with his view of hierarchy in society — that is, that some people properly have more authoritative roles, while others have more servant roles. George Marsden says, in fact, that “we can consider Edwards’ attitudes toward slavery in the context of his hierarchical assumptions. Nothing separates the early eighteenth-century world from the twenty-first century more than this issue.”3 So in

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