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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Pursuing True Unity

Grant Castleberry: There is something transcendently unifying when a group is engaged together in a singular, heroic cause. For instance, historians have often highlighted the camaraderie and esprit de corps they have found among the members of the Marine Corps. The Marine Corps embodies, perhaps more than anything else in American public life, a brotherhood–forged in the forest of Belleau Wood, on the sands of Iwo Jima, through the bitter cold of Chosin Reservoir, and in the streets of Fallujah. The Marine Corps represents an ethos which has gripped the American imagination since our nation’s inception. And that ethos centers around the fact that Marines fight America’s toughest battles. When I entered the Corps in 2007, it was at the height of our involvement in the Iraq and Afghanistan War. As Marines we shared a common enemy and a common mission and our success depended on our unity as Marines. In this war-time environment, it was normal for Marines from

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Practical Applications of the Doctrine of Justification

Nate Pickowicz: The Reformer John Calvin (1509–64) ardently declared the doctrine of justification by faith alone to be “the principle hinge by which [the Christian] religion is supported” (Institutes 3.11.1). Known as the material principle of the sixteenth-century Reformation, the doctrine of justification by faith alone was at the epicenter of the battle to bring needed reform to the church. This biblical doctrine is central to preserving an accurate understanding of the gospel even as we find it so clearly taught in Paul’s letters to the churches of Rome and Galatia.   As we approach the Bible’s teaching on justification, it is vital that we comprehend the finer points of the doctrine. To put it bluntly, if we get justification wrong, we get the gospel wrong. Thankfully, we have a rich and faithful heritage of believers who have courageously upheld Scripture’s teaching on justification by faith alone. The Westminster Shorter Catechism presents a clear and succinct definition of justification: Justification is an act

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8 Steps for Real Repentance from Psalm 51

Catherine Parks: My brother and I had a nightly childhood ritual of asking one another’s forgiveness for a list of vague sins. Having been warned not to let the sun go down on our anger, we made sure to cover all possibilities of sins we may have committed during the day. “Aaron, I’m sorry for yelling at you, hitting you, being selfish with the Nintendo, and tattling on you today. Will you forgive me?” His answer, along with his own confession, came back to my room in return. Thus we slept in the peace of the slightly remorseful. When I read Psalm 51 (written by David after the prophet Nathan confronted him with his sin), I realize how lacking my childhood confessions were. Even many of my confessions in adulthood leave much to be desired. Often we treat repentance as a statement—an “I’m sorry, please forgive me” that checks a box and (hopefully) alleviates our guilt. But if we look closely

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Evangelism Must Explain What’s Wrong with the World

Becky Pippert: People around us today often scoff at the notion of sin. Our world has new names for what ails us: poor self-esteem, neurosis, addiction, anxiety, psychological wounding, and so forth. It isn’t that these issues aren’t a reality; it’s that such analysis doesn’t go deep enough to reveal the root cause. Yet for all the protest that sin is an old-fashioned, outdated concept, nearly everyone agrees that something has gone terribly wrong and must be made right. We see the wrong in world wars, racism, genocides, terrorism, human trafficking, exploitation of children—and in our own personal battles evidenced in broken relationships, anger, addictions, and on and on. What happened that caused our planet to go from paradise to our present brokenness? And how can this explanation be good news for our unbelieving neighbors? First Rebellion In Genesis 3, we discover that, though Adam and Eve were created in God’s image, they rejected God’s rule and chose to be

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What Preaching Christ From All Of Scripture Does And Does Not Mean

R. Scott Clark: In recent days there has been considerable discussion about what it means to speak of “preaching Christ from all of Scripture.” Some object to this way of speaking and this approach to Bible interpretation on the grounds that it does violence to the true meaning of Scripture. For those within Dispensationalism, there are two peoples of God, an earthly people (Israel) and a heavenly people. As they read Scripture, there is a genuine sense in which God’s promises to national Israel are the center of Scripture. In this view it is held that God intends to restore national Israel, including the temple and the sacrificial system. Thus, according to most forms of Dispensationalism, those promises of an earthly kingdom are thought to be the norm by which all the rest of Scripture must be understood. Another objection is that the project of preaching Christ from all of Scripture does not do justice to the particular text at hand,

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What Does “coram Deo” Mean?

RC Sproul: I remember Mama standing in front of me, her hands poised on her hips, her eyes glaring with hot coals of fire and saying in stentorian tones, “Just what is the big idea, young man?” Instinctively I knew my mother was not asking me an abstract question about theory. Her question was not a question at all—it was a thinly veiled accusation. Her words were easily translated to mean, “Why are you doing what you are doing?” She was challenging me to justify my behavior with a valid idea. I had none. Recently a friend asked me in all earnestness the same question. He asked, “What’s the big idea of the Christian life?” He was interested in the overarching, ultimate goal of the Christian life. To answer his question, I fell back on the theologian’s prerogative and gave him a Latin term. I said, “The big idea of the Christian life is coram Deo. Coram Deo captures the essence of the Christian life.” This phrase

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Christmas: A Story of the Wealth and Poverty of the Son of God

Sam Storms: No biblical text so vividly portrays for us the true meaning of Christmas as does 2 Corinthians 8:9. There the apostle Paul wrote this: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). In what sense was Christ “rich” or “wealthy”? I want you to think with me about what kind of “wealth” or “riches” characterized the Son of God in eternity past, before the incarnation, before he became a fetus in the womb of Mary, before he was born on that first Christmas morning. But I also want you to consider with me the ways in which the Son of God became “poor”. When I hear Paul say that the Son of God was “rich”, the first thing that comes to mind is the incalculable “wealth” of his eternal glory. The sacrifice of

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Christmas Reminds Us That Jesus is God

Jared Wilson: What would prompt us to refer to a man as God? And even if we acknowledge that Jesus was somehow God, how did he become God? Was he born a man and later “divinized” in some way, perhaps at his baptism? Many have wrestled with these questions throughout church history, but the faithful church has always held as orthodox what the apostles profess in the creed: “We believe. . . in Jesus Christ, [God’s] only Son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary . . . This short phrase encapsulates the doctrine we call “the Incarnation.”  What the Incarnation means is this: Jesus Christ was both fully God and fully man. He was not God manifesting in the illusion or appearance of a man. And he was not man operating under the title “God” as some vicarious ambassador or adoptee. Jesus was—simultaneously, totally, and actually—God and man. The second person of the Triune Godhead, the eternally

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The Sounding Joy: Four Reasons to Rejoice in Jesus’ Arrival

Brandon Freeman: Luke’s infancy narratives provide the most detailed description of Jesus’ birth and its surrounding events. The Gospel writer records the angelic announcements of John the Baptist’s birth to Zechariah (1:5–25), then Jesus’ birth to Mary (1:26–38). Mary’s song of praise (1:46–56) and Zechariah’s prophecy (1:67–80) are wondrously recounted. The births of John the Baptist (1:57–66) and that of Jesus (2:1–8) are not left to the reader’s imagination. Throughout, the author expresses the mercy of God (1:50, 72) and the salvation of God (1:47, 69) visible in the coming of Jesus. Have you noticed, though, the theme of joy that pervades the narratives in Luke 1–2? Joy occurs more often in Luke than in Matthew and Mark combined and is a motif that Luke desires to see connected to Jesus’ arrival. Observe the notes of joy documented by Luke. The angel told Zechariah that “Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness,

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God’s Passion for God at Christmas

For this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name. —John 12:27–28 John Piper: Glory to God in the Highest One of the most famous Christmas scenes in the Bible is the announcement to the shepherds by an angel that the Savior is born. And then it says, “Suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’” (Luke 2:11–14). Glory to God, peace to man. The angels are sent to make something crystal clear: the Son of God has come into his creation to display the glory of God and to reconcile people from alienation to peace with God. To make God look great in salvation and to make man glad in God. So when we come to John 12, there is no surprise when we hear Jesus praying that this would actually happen at

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A Man’s Identity

David Powlison: Who are you? What gives a man his identity? On what foundation are you building your sense of self? Your answer, whether true or false, defines your life. Wrong ways of defining who we are arise naturally in our hearts, and the world around us preaches and models innumerable false identities. What are the ways men get identity wrong? Perhaps you construct a sense of self by the accomplishments listed on your resume. You might identify yourself by your lineage or ethnicity, by your marital status or parental role. Your sense of self might be based on money, on achievements, on the approval of others, on your self-esteem. Perhaps you think that your sins define you: an angry man, an addict, an anxious people-pleaser. Perhaps afflictions define you: disability, cancer, divorce. In each case, your sense of identity comes unglued from the God who actually defines you. Who God says you are God’s way of sizing up a man

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5 Myths about the Trinity

  Fred Sanders: Myth #1: It’s only for theology experts. The doctrine of the Trinity is for everybody who is saved by Jesus. Or, to say that just a little more elaborately, it’s for everybody who has been drawn to the Father through faith in the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit (see 2 Cor. 13:14). Or, to say it again, it’s for everyone who has been adopted by the Father who sent the Son to redeem us, and sent the Holy Spirit of adoption into our hearts to make us cry out to God, “Abba, Father” (see Gal. 4:4–6). Or, to say it another way, it’s for everyone who is in communion with other believers through our common access to the Father in Christ by the Spirit (see Eph. 2:18). Or, to be more precise, it’s for everybody who wants to understand how any of this deep salvation works, and what the gospel reveals about the God who stands behind

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Do You Believe in a Santa Christ?

Nathan W. Bingham: In Sinclair Ferguson’s book, In Christ Alone, he shares the sad reality that many Christians have a Christology that is more informed by Santa Claus than Scripture. For them, the message of the incarnation has been so twisted or diluted that they have in fact created for themselves a savior who is nothing more than a Santa Christ. As you prayerfully read Sinclair Ferguson’s words, ask yourself the following question this Christmas season: “Do I believe in a Santa Christ?” 1. A Pelagian Jesus is a Santa Christ Santa Christ is sometimes a Pelagian Jesus. Like Santa, he simply asks us whether we have been good. More exactly, since the assumption is that we are all naturally good, Santa Christ asks us whether we have been “good enough.” So just as Christmas dinner is simply the better dinner we really deserve, Jesus becomes a kind of added bonus who makes a good life even better. He is not seen as the Savior of helpless sinners. 2. A Semi-Pelagian Jesus is

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Why Must Jesus Be both Human and Divine?

Erik Raymond: Recently someone who is just beginning to investigate Christianity asked me an important question. As they are wading through the biblical data, the question came up, Why was Jesus both human and divine? Is this an important detail?   This is an important question. It’s vital that we understand not only that Jesus was truly God and fully man, but also why it is important.  I have found the Heidelberg Catechism quite helpful in its concise explanation.  On question 16 we read, Q:  Why must he be a true and righteous man? A:   He must be a true man because the justice of God requires that the same human nature which has sinned should pay for sin. He must be a righteous man because one who himself is a sinner he cannot pay for others. The answer here is focusing on the need for a real human nature. Why? Because the penalty for sin requires suffering in body and soul. And only

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