How to Find Your Rival Gods

Idolatry is not just a failure to obey God, it is a setting of the whole heart on something besides God. Tim Keller: It is impossible to understand your heart or your culture if you do not discern the counterfeit gods that influence them. In Romans 1:21-25 St Paul shows that idolatry is not only one sin among many, but what is fundamentally wrong with the human heart: For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him … .They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator. (Romans 1:21, 25) Paul goes on to make a long list of sins that create misery and evil in the world, but they all find their roots in this soil, the inexorable human drive for “god-making.” In other words, idolatry is always the reason we ever do anything wrong. No one grasped this better than Martin Luther.

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Stop Praying for Stuff (and Start Praying for God)

David Platt: In the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:9–13; Luke 11:2–4), Jesus teaches his disciples about the priorities that should shape the prayer life of every believer. This model prayer is full of requests—for daily bread, forgiveness, leadership, and deliverance. But it also shows that our greatest need is not just to get stuff from God. Our greatest need is to know God himself. Our Misguided Prayers for Stuff We’ve all prayed for important things in the past and found our prayers weren’t answered; God didn’t do what we thought he should. When we view prayer as nothing more than a request and don’t receive what we ask for, we often start to doubt. We wonder why we should even bother praying in the first place. Even though the questions are honest, this kind of thinking misses the whole point of prayer. The point of prayer is not just getting God to do stuff. Notice what Jesus says in Matthew 6:7–8: “When you pray,

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A Congregation Is Not an Audience

J.T. English: What is Jesus doing right now? According to Ephesians 4, he is ascended in heaven and is gifting his church for greater mission and unity. He’s giving leaders, who equip all the saints for ministry, so that the whole family can be built up in maturity. By contrast, we all too often create ministry systems that prioritize professional ministers, not the whole body. But Ephesians 4 reminds us that we need the entire church to be engaged in mission, not just professional ministers. This is what I like to call “deep discipleship”—the invitation to all members into the task of building a unified church growing in Christlike maturity. That’s Jesus’s mission. And if it’s Jesus’s mission, then it should be the local church’s mission as well. Ministry Is Not Just for Experts One trend that’s common in the church is an expert/amateur divide. The divide between the “experts” and “amateurs” is easily seen when the experts—those employed by the church—think their job is

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No Holiness, No Heaven

How to Know If Faith Is Real or Dead Greg Morse: No one will be in heaven who did not walk in good works on earth. In other words, and in the words of Hebrews 12:14, there is a “holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” Abbreviated, “no holiness, no heaven.” In directness, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:26 NASB). In confession, “Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification: yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but works by love” (Westminster Confession). In commandment: “Work out [literally, produce] your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). In illustration: “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away . . . and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned” (John 15:2, 6). In lyric, “He leads me in paths of

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What the Name “Jesus” Means for Believers

Joel R. Beeke and Paul M. Smalley: In His Human Name: Jesus Our Lord bears the human name Jesus (Greek Iēsous). Joseph and Mary did not choose this name; it was commanded from heaven (Matt. 1:21; Luke 1:31). That is not to say that the name was unique, for there were other men named “Jesus” (Col. 4:11). It was a common name among Jews through the beginning of the second century AD.1 For this reason, people spoke of “Jesus of Nazareth” in order to distinguish him from others with the same name.2 Therefore, the name “Jesus” testifies to Christ’s humanity—it is the name of a man. Why did God ordain through angels that this name would be given to his incarnate Son? The answer to this question comes from both the name’s historical background and its etymological meaning. Historically, “Jesus” was the Greek form of “Joshua” (Hebrew Yehoshu‘a),3 as appears from the use of “Jesus” in the Septuagint and New Testament for that great Israelite leader Joshua, the son

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The Ethos of Christian Hedonism: Sorrowful, Yet Always Rejoicing

John Piper: Defending Christian Hedonism exegetically is one thing; helping people feel the ethos of it is something else. The latter is harder. That’s what I want to try to do here. But first, what is it? Christian Hedonism is a way of life rooted in the conviction that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. The branches and fruits of this root are all-encompassing and thrilling. They include the stunning implication that all true virtue, and all true worship, necessarily includes the pursuit of happiness in God. The reason for this is that all true virtue and all true worship must involve the intention to glorify God. This is because we were created to glorify God (Isaiah 43:7), and because Paul said, “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). So it is sin to pursue any good deed, or any act of worship, without the intent to glorify God. But

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What Is the Doctrine of Divine Election?

Steven Lawson: The idea that God does what He wants, and that what He does is true and right because He does it, is foundational to our understanding of everything in Scripture, including the doctrine of election. In the broad sense, election refers to the fact that God chooses (or elects) to do everything that He does in whatever way He sees fit. When He acts, He does so only because He willfully and independently chooses to act. According to His own nature, predetermined plan, and good pleasure, He decides to do whatever He desires, without pressure or constraint from any outside influence. The Bible makes this point repeatedly. In the act of Creation, God made precisely what He wanted to create in the way He wanted to create it (cf. Gen. 1:31). And ever since Creation, He has sovereignly prescribed or permitted everything in human history, in order that He might accomplish the redemptive plan that He previously had designed (cf. Isa. 25:1; 46:10; 55:11; Rom.

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Four Implications of Martin Luther’s Theology

Sinclair Ferguson: What do the sovereignty of God, salvation by grace, justification by faith, and new life in union with Christ mean for the living of the Christian life? For Martin Luther, they carry four implications: The first implication is the knowledge that the Christian believer is simul iustus et peccator, at one and the same time justified and yet a sinner. This principle, to which Luther may have been stimulated by John Tauler’s Theologia Germanica, was a hugely stabilizing principle: in and of myself, all I see is a sinner; but when I see myself in Christ, I see a man counted righteous with His perfect righteousness. Such a man is therefore able to stand before God as righteous as Jesus Christ—because he is righteous only in the righteousness that is Christ’s. Here we stand secure. The second implication is the discovery that God has become our Father in Christ. We are accepted. One of the most beautiful accounts found in Luther’s Table Talk was,

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Why You Can’t Be a Christian without the Church

Mark Dever: Reconciled to God A Christian is someone who, first and foremost, has been forgiven of his sin and been reconciled to God the Father through Jesus Christ. This happens when a person repents of his sins and puts his faith in the perfect life, substitutionary death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. In other words, a Christian is someone who has reached the end of himself and his own moral resources. He has recognized that he, in defiance of God’s plainly revealed law, has given his life over to worshiping and loving things other than God—things like career, family, the stuff money can buy, the opinions of other people, the honor of his family and community, the favor of the so-called gods of other religions, the spirits of this world, or even the good things a person can do. He has also recognized that these “idols” are doubly damning masters. Their appetites are never satisfied

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Mastered by Matchless Love

THE SWEET EXPERIENCE OF IRRESISTIBLE GRACE Sinclair Ferguson: Since the day I became a Christian as a 14-year-old boy, I have never had any reason to doubt the truth to which the expression “irresistible grace” points. I had read the Bible daily from age 9 to age 14, and if one thing was clear to me, it was my inability to trust in Christ. The “grace” I needed was not sufficient grace to enable me to cooperate with it, but irresistible grace that would resurrect me. But personal experience is no ultimate foundation for a doctrine, and there seem to be many would-be thought-changers sufficiently upset about “irresistible grace” to want to resist it vigorously. Whether they know it or not, they tend to appeal to the same verses of Scripture as the Remonstrants of the seventeenth century (now commonly known as Arminians). Stephen is still believed to have virtually settled the issue since he told the Sanhedrin that they “always resist the Holy

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Martin Luther’s Definition of Faith

Faith is not what some people think it is. Their human dream is a delusion. Because they observe that faith is not followed by good works or a better life, they fall into error, even though they speak and hear much about faith. “Faith is not enough,” they say, “You must do good works, you must be pious to be saved.” They think that, when you hear the gospel, you start working, creating by your own strength a thankful heart which says, “I believe.” That is what they think true faith is. But, because this is a human idea, a dream, the heart never learns anything from it, so it does nothing and reform doesn’t come from this ‘faith,’ either. Instead, faith is God’s work in us, that changes us and gives new birth from God. (John 1:13). It kills the Old Adam and makes us completely different people. It changes our hearts, our spirits, our thoughts and all our powers.

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When God Calls You His Beloved

Sam Storms: In Romans 1:7 Paul describes those to whom this remarkable letter is addressed. He refers to them as those “who are loved by God.” You may not think that anyone else cares anything at all for you. I don’t believe that’s true, but you may be convinced that it is. Satan is trying to convince you that it is true. He wants you to feel excluded, unloved, uncared for, and unnoticed by others. You aren’t. But hearing me reassure you probably won’t change things. What will change things is your capacity to believe and receive God’s love for you. Think about that for a moment. We talk about it all the time. We sing about it on Sunday mornings. But God wants you to feel his affection for you. He wants you to be set free from self-contempt and shame and the pain it brings as you reflect on the glorious truth that the God of the universe, the Creator

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Why Was the Reformation Necessary?

W. Robert Godfrey: The church is always in need of reform. Even in the New Testament, we see Jesus rebuking Peter, and we see Paul correcting the Corinthians. Since Christians are always sinners, the church will always need reform. The question for us, however, is when does the need become an absolute necessity? The great Reformers of the sixteenth century concluded that reform was urgent and necessary in their day. In pursuing reform for the church, they rejected two extremes. On the one hand, they rejected those who insisted that the church was essentially sound and needed no fundamental changes. On the other hand, they rejected those who believed that they could create a perfect church in every detail. The church needed fundamental reform, but it would also always need to be reforming itself. The Reformers reached these conclusions from their study of the Bible. In 1543, the Reformer of Strasbourg, Martin Bucer, asked John Calvin to write a defense of the

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“You are not your own” (living as slaves of Christ)

Sam Storms: The apostle Paul had never been to Rome. He knew only a handful of believers there. So one might reasonably think that he would introduce himself to the church in that city by pulling out his resume and reeling off a list of accomplishments: inspired letters that he had written, signs and wonders he had performed, famous people that he knew, or perhaps that he alone had been translated into the third heaven and given the privilege of seeing things that are too glorious to be described (see 2 Cor. 12:1-10). No. The first thing Paul mentions about himself is that he is “a servant of Christ Jesus” (v. 1a). We often speak of the importance of Christians knowing who they are. Their sense of personal identity is crucial to how they live and minister to the glory of God. It is important that we understand that we are the children of God and therefore heirs, adopted and forgiven.

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Paralysis Was His Good Plan

HOW PREDESTINATION CHANGED MY SUFFERING By Joni Eareckson Tada “Your broken neck is no accident, Joni. God has an amazing plan for your life.” Christian friends said something like this often when they came to visit me in the hospital after my diving accident. They longed to encourage their paralyzed friend, and they succeeded. To a point. Having been raised in the Reformed Episcopal church, God’s sovereignty was not a strange concept. But now, it raised sticky questions. I kept pushing the replay button on my dive off the raft, trying to imagine what was happening in the heavenlies. Did God take a hands-off approach and allow me to do something stupid of my own free will? Or did Satan go before God with the playbook he used with Job, asking for permission to shove me off the raft? Was God reluctant? Did the devil then twist his arm until God cried uncle? Or maybe God himself pushed me off the

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Reformed and Always Reforming

W. Robert Godfrey: The year 2017 was the Martin Luther year. We remembered the Reformation and we celebrated it. But we must also continue the Reformation. The Reformation is not a museum to be visited occasionally on a tour bus. It was and is a vital movement for truth and life in the church of Jesus. How should we maintain and advance the cause of reform? Some believe that the answer to that question can be found in the slogan reformed and always reforming. We continue the Reformation by always reforming. That slogan is indeed useful if we understand it correctly. The problem is that sometimes the slogan is used to justify the opposite of what it originally intended. Those who misuse the slogan end up saying something like this: The Reformation had to change things that were wrong in the church, and we have to continue changing things that are wrong with the church. We have to make Christianity more understandable and

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The Gospel is Big Enough for Your Church

Adam McClendon: Herman Bavinck said the big question in religion comes down to this: what must we do to be saved? How we answer that question, of course, determines the kind of religion we have. We can answer it any number of ways. We have no lack of religions. Some say we’re saved by our good works. Some say by our lack of bad works. Others strive for an enlightened state. Yet more sacrifice to appease the wrath of the gods, crossing their fingers it’s enough by the last breath. Still others (the right ones, I believe) put their full hope in a Savior. Just as we answer the all-important question individually, we also do so corporately. In fact, that’s what the church is. Every church is answering the question. And the question we must ask of every church is what is their answer? In other words, every church has something at the center. Something driving the gatherings, the activities,

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Regeneration Is Monergistic

Steven Lawson: There may be no truth in the Bible more deeply loved and greatly cherished than the subject of the new birth. Here is the grace-centered message of a new beginning for those whose lives have been ruined by sin. Here is the life-changing truth that sinful men can be made new. When the new birth is caused by God, old things pass away—old practices, old cravings, old habits, old addictions, and old associations. Behold, new things come—new desires, new pursuits, and new passions. An entirely new life begins. Nothing could be more positive than this. It is no wonder that the truth of the new birth is so beloved. Yet despite its great appeal, the new birth may be the most misunderstood doctrine in Scripture. Most people naively imagine that there is something they can do to cause themselves to be born again. They hear a well-meaning person say, “Believe and be born again,” and suppose that they can. So

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The Obedience of Faith

Ian Hamilton: Paul’s Letter to the Romans is a pastoral tour de force. It is of course richly theological. Nowhere does Paul more deeply and beautifully open up to us the gospel of God’s saving grace in Christ. But Paul’s theology of grace is not an abstract exposition of doctrine. He is concerned to explain to the church in Rome the gospel he preached and to establish them in that gospel. The apostle’s doctrine always has a pastoral edge to it. True theology is for living (Martin Bucer), it is never a brute chunk of fact. That said, it is striking that Paul bookends this Letter to the Romans with an identical phrase, ‘the obedience of faith'(1:5 and 16:26). He begins his Letter telling the church in Rome that he had ‘received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his (Jesus’) name among all the nations’; and he ends his letter telling them that

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Denying Yourself Is Loving Yourself

Scott Hubbard: When many hear Jesus’s blunt command to deny yourself and take up your cross (Mark 8:34), they hear another voice alongside our Lord’s. “In other words, be miserable,” the voice says. “Lose everything you love. Take your little portion of happiness and trample on it. Become a martyr.” We might call this ever-available voice the New Serpent Translation (NST) of the Bible. The devil was, after all, the world’s first Bible translator and interpreter. “No eating from the tree, did he say? Yes, let me tell you what that means . . .” (Genesis 3:1–5). The experience is rarely so conscious for us as it was for Eve, of course. We don’t realize we’ve fallen under the serpent’s spell; we just walk away from hearing Jesus with the subtle sense that his commands are burdensome. But what Satan leaves out is that Jesus came “to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8), including the blasphemous lie that “deny

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