Four Questions to Ask about the Atonement

By Stephen J. Wellum: The doctrine of penal substitution is under attack today—and that’s an understatement. From voices outside of evangelical theology to those within, the historic Reformation view of the cross is claimed to be a “modern” invention from the cultural West. Others criticize the doctrine as sanctioning violence, privileging divine retributive justice over God’s love, condoning a form of divine child abuse, reducing Scripture’s polychrome presentation of the cross to a lifeless monochrome, being too “legal” in orientation, and so on. All of these charges are not new. All of them have been argued since the end of the 16th century, and all of them are false. Yet such charges reflect the corrosive effects of false ideas on theology and a failure to account for how the Bible, on its own terms, interprets the cross. Given the limitations of this article, I cannot fully respond to these charges. Instead, I will briefly state four truths that unpack the

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Protestant and Catholic: What’s the Difference?

Kevin DeYoung: Ask a serious Protestant today what is the biggest threat to orthodox Christianity today, and he might mention cultural hostilities, the sexual revolution, or nominalism in our churches. But if you would have asked a Protestant the same question a hundred years ago, he would have almost certainly mentioned the Roman Catholic Church. Until fairly recently, Protestants and Catholics in this country were, if not enemies, then certainly players on opposing teams. Today, much of that animosity has melted away. And to a large extent, the thaw between Protestants and Catholics has been a good thing. Sincere Protestants and Catholics often find themselves to be co-belligerents, defending the unborn, upholding traditional marriage, and standing up for religious liberty. And in an age that discounts doctrine, evangelical Protestants often share more in common theologically with a devout Roman Catholic steeped in historic orthodoxy than they do with liberal members of their own denominations. I personally have benefited over the years

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The work of the Spirit that anticipates the future

Michael Horton: Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7) “It is to your advantage that I go away.” What a strange thing to say. Right at the verge of Jordan in this new covenant conquest, how does Christ’s leaving benefit the disciples—or you and me? First of all, we need to exercise empathy here. When we read about how the disciples had not yet experienced the Holy Spirit’s illumination of their hearts so they could understand what was happening, we have to imagine how they would have heard this. In this light, it makes perfect sense that they were stunned. Here is the true and great Joshua—Jesus—standing on the verge of the Jordan, on the verge of the conquest, ready to lead the armies of God into

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What Does It Mean to Be Dead to Sin?

J.D. Greear: Many people think that if Jesus paid it all, we now have this divine Visa card with an unlimited balance. We can just flash it whenever we want to cover whatever sin we choose. And as the Apostle Paul anticipated, some people will even justify their actions by saying, “Hey, if God gets more glory by showing grace, doesn’t my sinning give him more space to be glorified?” Paul answers those claims with the strongest negation possible: “By no means!” (I like how some of the older translations handle this phrase: God forbid!) Why is Paul so opposed to this line of thinking? He writes, “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:2 CSB) But that raises an interesting question in its own right, doesn’t it? What does he mean when he says we’ve died to sin? What Paul doesn’t mean is that we have lost all interest in sin. Certain streams of Christian thought have, in fact, taught that

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“Jesus Died for Sinners”

Conrad Mbewe: The longer I pastor, the more I’m convinced that pastors should regularly preach the unsearchable riches of Christ not only for the salvation of the lost but also for the believers’ growth in grace. But sadly, when dealing with the Savior’s work in saving us from sin, we preachers so often say very little. Because of this, something frightening happens over time: those who listen to us fill in their own meanings to the common words “Jesus died on the cross”—and those meanings can be far from what the Bible actually teaches concerning the death of Christ on the cross.   Here’s an example. In Africa, where the blood of birds and animals is used as a charm of protection from witchcraft, it’s become popular, even among Christians, to see a bumper sticker that declares “Protected by the blood of Jesus.” Pulpits are to blame for this serious confusion. When the death of Christ is merely mentioned as

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Am I Truly Born Again?

Four Evidences That You Are New By William Farley: We all know that not everyone who claims to be a born-again Christian is a genuine follower of Christ. A 2017 study by LifeWay Research discovered that 24% of Americans profess to be evangelical. A higher percent claim to be born again. But when pressed, only about 15% of Americans can affirm the most basic evangelical beliefs. This is not a new problem. Anyone who has been a Christian for long knows someone who professes Christianity but fails to believe what Christians should believe, or believes right doctrine but exhibits little or no fruit. A gap always exists between the number of people who profess to be born again and those who possess the reality. This is true of every congregation. That is one reason why the constant preaching of the gospel matters. The more the gospel is preached, the smaller that gap becomes. So, acknowledging that the gap exists, how can we know that someone

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The Gospel Kind of Christ-Centredness

Jared Wilson: “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—- unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance…” – 1 Corinthians 15:1-3 To be gospel-centered is to be Christ-centered. But as it pertains to the pursuit of holiness and obedience to God’s commands we may opt more often for the terminology “gospel-centered,” because without more qualifications, “Christ-centered obedience” can be misconstrued to imply simply taking Jesus as a moral example. Jesus is our moral example, of course, but the power for enduring, joyful obedience comes not from trying to be like him, but in first believing that he has become like us, that he has died in our place, risen as our resurrection, ascended for our intercession, and seated to signal the finished work

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What Is Preaching?

Lewis Allen: Q. What is preaching? A. Preaching is declaring God’s truth in Jesus, to the praise of his name. This grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ. —Ephesians 3:8 God’s Truth Brought Home What is preaching? Peter Adam defines it as “the explanation and application of the word in the assembled congregation of Christ.”1 God’s truth is declared by the preacher, and its meaning is brought home to those who listen. Preaching, though, is ultimately divine activity. J. I. Packer says that it is “the event of God himself bringing to an audience a Bible-based, Christ-related, life-impacting message of instruction and direction through the words of a spokesperson.”2 If this is preaching, then just how important is it? William Greenhill answers, “Where the word of God is not expounded, preached and applied to the several conditions of the people, there they perish.”3 The Puritan John Flavel, tireless (and fearless) servant of Jesus Christ, insisted that

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What Natural Disasters Preach

Jeff Robinson: My second Sunday as a full-time pastor came five days after the worst tornado outbreak in American history afflicted our city and its surrounding region. I preached from Job 1–2, and we put the sermon title on our marquee: “Where Was God?” Attendance that Sunday doubled and a couple of media members, intrigued by the existential question on our sign, interviewed me. Natural disasters and tragedies, particularly those that fall on us like a lightning bolt, provoke thoughts in all kinds of people—both the religious and the irreligious—of death, eternal realities, and deity. Many of us remember the aftermath of 9/11. There was a large ecumenical prayer service held at Yankee Stadium a few days in its wake as a shadow of fear blanketed our country. Similarly, the assassination of national leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy spawned myriad solemn gatherings for prayer and reflection on ultimate realities. In Luke 13:1–7, Jesus faced a crowd of people

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Preach the Gospel . . . and the Law

By Eric Beach: Over the last decade, the term “gospel centered” has grown in popularity among parishioners, pastors, and publishers. While I commend many of the gospel-centered resources available today, some purveyors of a “gospel-centered” message unintentionally end up neglecting the entirety of the Bible’s teaching on both the law and the gospel. From the earliest days of the Protestant Reformation, the magisterial reformers such as Martin Luther and John Calvin recognized that Scripture contains both the law of God (his commands) and the gospel of God (his promises of salvation). They, and many of their heirs, saw this paradigm as important for understanding and applying Scripture rightly. As a result, the Lutheran and Reformed traditions understood the vital importance of teaching the law and the gospel to both non-Christians and Christians. Today, teachers who emphasize the gospel and functionally deemphasize the law can generate a number of unintended pastoral problems. TEACH CHRISTIANS HOW TO OBEY First, “gospel centered” preaching that functionally excludes “law

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Hell Is Not Separation from God

Michael Horton: Irresponsible speculation about hell has made discussing the doctrine considerably more difficult over the years. Whether it is vivid descriptions of Dante’s Inferno or revivalist “hellfire and brimstone” sermons, the impression is too often given that we must go beyond biblical description to alert people to avoid such a dreadful place. The problem here is that hell, rather than God, becomes the object of fear. But consider Jesus’s sober warning: Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matt. 10:28) Hell is not horrible due to alleged implements of torture or its temperature. (After all, it is described variously in Scripture as “outer darkness” and a “lake of fire.”) Whatever the exact nature of this everlasting judgment, it is horrible ultimately for one reason only: God is present. Presence of God This sounds strange to those of us familiar with the definition

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What Does ‘Born of Water and the Spirit’ Mean in John 3:5?

D.A. Carson: The question is important, because it lies at the heart of Jesus’s explanation of “born again,” of new birth, of regeneration. When Jesus first introduces the category (John 3:3), Nicodemus clearly doesn’t understand what Jesus means (3:4 NIV): “How can someone be born when they are old?” he asks. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” Many people think the question Nicodemus poses shows that he is a rather dimwitted literalist. But that’s almost certainly too harsh. You don’t get to be called “the teacher of Israel” (John 3:10—possibly a title) if you can’t spot the odd metaphor. When he hears Jesus say that to enter the kingdom one must be “born again,” I suspect Nicodemus understands Jesus to mean that we are not good enough to enter the kingdom: we must start over, have a different origin, spring from a different life. Nicodemus thinks Jesus is going too far: people

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The Road 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 strikingly similar. So, how does it happen? Let me walk you down the road to apostasy. This is intended to illuminate this dark and often camouflaged path. First let me give you a bottom line proposition: The road to apostasy is paved by bricks of apathy towards Christ. If you want to persevere, then give attention to your affections. This is a summary. Let’s work it out. 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 effect the body so too negligence of spiritual food will adversely effect the spiritual

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What Is God’s Glory?

John Piper: Defining the Impossible Defining the glory of God is impossible, I say, because it is more like the word beauty than the word basketball. If somebody says that they have never heard of a basketball — they don’t know what a basketball is — and so they say, “Define a basketball,” then that would not be hard for you to do. You would use your hands, and you would say, Well, it is like a round thing made out of leather or rubber and about ten or nine inches in diameter, and you blow it up. You inflate it, so it is pretty hard. Then you can bounce it like this, and you can throw it to people, and you can run while you are bouncing it. Then there is this hoop at the end (but it used to be a basket), and you try to throw the ball through the hoop. That is why it is called a basketball. They

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J. I. Packer’s Thoughts on Holiness

A Habitual Attitude Sam Storms: There is no holiness or Christian life that does not have repentance at its core. Repentance is not merely one element in conversion, but a habitual attitude and action to which all Christians are called. It is, argues Packer, a spiritual discipline central to and inseparable from healthy holy living. But what is it? How should it be defined? What are its characteristic features? A close reading of Packer reveals that he understands repentance to entail a number of interrelated themes. The most important dimension in godly repentance is the fundamental alteration in one’s thinking with regard to what is sin and what God requires of us in terms both of our thoughts and actions. Repentance thus begins with a recognition of the multitude of ways in which our thinking and attitude and belief system are contrary to what is revealed in Scripture. We are by nature and choice misshapen and warped in the way

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How to read the Bible, and how not to

There are two ways to read the Bible.  We can read it as law or as promise. If we read the Bible as law, we will find on every page what God is telling us we should do.  Even the promises will be conditioned by law.  But if we read the Bible as promise, we will find on every page what God is telling us he will do.  Even the law will be conditioned by promise. In Galatians 3 Paul explains which hermeneutic is the correct one.  “This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void.  For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise” (Galatians 3:17-18). So, if we want to know whether we should read the Bible through the lens of law or grace, demand or provision,

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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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