Justification by Faith, its Heritage, its Necessity, and its Attackers

J.I. Packer: Martin Luther described the doctrine of justification by faith as articulus stantis vel cadentis ecclesiæ—the article of faith that decides whether the church is standing or falling. By this he meant that when this doctrine is understood, believed, and preached, as it was in New Testament times, the church stands in the grace of God and is alive; but where it is neglected, overlaid, or denied, as it was in mediaeval Catholicism, the church falls from grace and its life drains away, leaving it in a state of darkness and death. The reason why the Reformation happened, and Protestant churches came into being, was that Luther and his fellow Reformers believed that Papal Rome had apostatised from the gospel so completely in this respect that no faithful Christian could with a good conscience continue within her ranks. Justification by faith has traditionally, and rightly, been regarded as one of the two basic and controlling principles of Reformation theology.

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You Have Need of Endurance

Jon Bloom: A few months ago, I met a friend for breakfast. When I asked him how he was doing, he answered, “I’m enduring.” If his response doesn’t sound remarkable, it’s only because you don’t know the howling spiritual storm that had raged in his soul over the past year, and the relentless questions and doubts that pressed on him. He was wrestling “spiritual forces of evil” (Ephesians 6:12) in a fierce, disorienting fight for faith (1 Timothy 6:12), all while faithfully leading a young, growing family, helping to (bi-vocationally) lead a young, growing church, and helping to (vocationally) lead a young, growing, increasingly visible ministry. And on top of that were the taxing stresses of normal life. Few knew the fortitude this season required of him. He was enduring, and it was remarkable. When we observe those like my friend enduring such a difficult struggle, we often feel the merciful impulse to try to relieve their anguish. This can be

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The 5 Movements in Isaiah

Davy Ellison: I hate being lost. Few things are more frustrating for me than meandering through an unfamiliar city, or hopelessly searching for an elusive item in the supermarket. I confess I’m not pleasant to be around in such moments. Yet lost is exactly how I feel every time I come to Isaiah. As I begin reading, the same thoughts seize my attention: I will soon be lost; totally disoriented; Isaiah feels too big; there is no immediately discernible structure. Perhaps you share this experience. Somewhere in the middle of Isaiah 24, you begin to reel at the winding path that has brought you there and the unknown path that awaits you. Perhaps a map would be useful. Let me offer some help by mapping five movements in Isaiah’s prophecy. These movements can aid us in finding our bearings in this mammoth book. As you’ll see, the movements are centered on one of Isaiah’s favorite descriptions of God: “the Holy One of Israel.”

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We Need Both Rules and Relationship with God

Jen Wilkin: Perhaps you have heard the statement “Christianity isn’t about rules, it’s about relationship.” It is an idea that has enjoyed popularity in recent decades, as evangelistic messages increasingly emphasized a personal relationship with God, one made possible through the grace that forgives our sins against God’s law. In many ways, this evangelistic approach seeks to solve the PR problem I have noted. It trades the grumpy Old Testament God of the law for the compassionate New Testament God of grace. Thus, law and grace have come to be pitted against one another as enemies, when in fact, they are friends. The God of the Old Testament and the God of the New have been placed in opposition, when in fact, they are one and the same. God does not change. His justice and compassion have always coexisted, and so have his law and his grace. Herein lies our forgetfulness. Rather than seeing the sin of lawlessness as the

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How to Count It All as Loss

John Piper: What does it mean to count everything as loss for the sake of Christ? What does it mean to renounce all that we have for Christ’s sake? Paul said he does this. “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). And a few verses later he said, “Brothers, join in imitating me” (Philippians 3:17). So this is commanded of all believers. Basic Christianity This is what it means to be a Christian. It is not advanced discipleship; it is basic Christianity. This is confirmed in Jesus’s words, “Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). Renouncing all we have is the same as “counting everything as loss.” This is what happens in conversion. You can’t be a disciple without it. Jesus said this. He describes this conversion in a parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a

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Hermeneutics: Knowing and Living the Text

By David E. Briones: I teach biblical hermeneutics—how to study the Bible—at Reformation Bible College. I enjoy teaching all of the subjects assigned to me, but hermeneutics is certainly one of my favorites. I especially enjoy the first couple of class sessions. We spend significant time thinking about what constitutes a good and faithful hermeneutical method—a good, explicitly Christian way of interpreting Scripture. To set the context for that discussion, I read a quote to the class that comes from Augustine’s On Christian Teaching: “So anyone who thinks that he has understood the divine scriptures or any part of them, but cannot by his understanding build up this double love of God and neighbor, has not yet succeeded in understanding them” (27). This quote challenges every interpreter of Scripture—professor and student alike—not only to know the text but also (and especially) to live out the text. Putting the text into practice is absolutely essential to knowing Scripture truly. A person successfully attains knowledge

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Whose Commandments Are These? – The Ten Words and the New Covenant

Tom Schreiner: If most Christians were asked if they should keep the Ten Commandments, they would answer, “Of course!” Fundamentally, that answer is correct and reflects the wisdom of the ages, the wisdom that has been passed on from the early church to our own day. And yet the question is more complex than it appears at first glance. As the subtitle of this article implies, the Ten Commandments (literally the “Ten Words” in Hebrew) must be understood in light of the covenant in which they were given. The Ten Commandments must be read in context, and that means they must be read in a covenantal context. God’s Covenants with His People The Ten Commandments were given to Israel on Mount Sinai (Exodus 20:1–17), when Yahweh instituted a covenant with the people of Israel after delivering them from Egypt. These commands were repeated again in Deuteronomy 5 before they were about to enter the Promised Land. The Ten Words were given

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The First and Most Broken Commandment

Sinclair Ferguson: John Newton — of “Amazing Grace” fame — once shrewdly wrote to a correspondent that a misunderstanding of the law of God lies at the root of most mistakes in the Christian life. Many of the spiritual masters have agreed with him. That explains why as much as 30–40 percent of the Reformed catechisms are devoted to an exposition of the Ten Commandments. What did they understand that we fail to grasp? Much. And hearing the law through their ears will help us greatly as we consider the first commandment of the Ten: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). Sinai’s Background We can sketch a Reformed understanding of the law under six headings: The law is rooted in the covenant-making and covenant-keeping character of Yahweh. It is prefaced by the words “I am the Lord your God” (Exodus 20:2). It is a summons to reflect his moral glory. The law was given in the

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A Key Ingredient for the Christian Life

Alan Shlemon: Do you want to experience the good life? Look no further. Just add humility to your day. It’s a key ingredient for the Christian life and, indeed, life in general. Without humility, we are robbed of some of the great joys and virtues of life. Here are a few aspects of life that require humility. Friendship requires humility. Chances are you know someone who routinely talks about himself, shares his own problems, and tells you of his future adventures. After a while, you recognize this is a one-way relationship. It’s not only boring, it’s superficial. It doesn’t feel like he cares about you. Don’t be that kind of person. If you want to be a good friend, practice humility. It’s fine to talk about yourself, but a humble person also cares deeply about others. In the course of any relationship, there will be times when one of you goes through a hard time and the focus is on them

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How Does Easter Change Us?

John Piper: The effect of Christ’s resurrection on our present life as Christians is immeasurably great. I mean, none of us has exhausted the possibilities of what God may be willing to do in us and through us because of the power of the resurrection of Christ in us. And I say that because Paul said in Ephesians 3:20, “[God] is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.” And he identified that power in chapter 1 this way: “the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe . . . that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead” (Ephesians 1:19–20). There’s the connection between Ephesians 3:20 and 1:19: the power that makes it possible for us to do far more abundantly than we even dream we could is the very power of God that he worked when he raised Christ from the dead. So, Allison’s

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The Design and Scope of the Atonement

R.C. Sproul: In an age wherein the ground of theology has been saturated by the torrential downpour of existential thinking, it seems almost suicidal, like facing the open floodgates riding a raft made of balsa wood, to appeal to a seventeenth-century theologian to address a pressing theological issue. Nothing evokes more snorts from the snouts of anti-rational zealots than appeals to sages from the era of Protestant Scholasticism. “Scholasticism” is the pejorative term applied by so-called “Neo-Orthodox” (better spelled without the “e” in Neo), or “progressive” Reformed thinkers who embrace the “Spirit” of the Reformation while eschewing its “letter” to the seventeenth-century Reformed thinkers who codified the insights of their sixteenth-century magisterial forebears. To the scoffers of this present age, Protestant Scholasticism is seen as a reification or calcification of the dynamic and liquid forms of earlier Reformed insight. It is viewed as a deformation from the lively, sanguine rediscovery of biblical thought to a deadly capitulation to the “Age of

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Who Is God?

John Piper: When I turn from myself to Jesus and his teachings; and to the writings of his followers that he himself vouched for, guaranteed; and to the Jewish Scriptures that Jesus himself endorsed; and to the world of nature; and to the witness of my own conscience — when I turn from myself to these places where God has revealed himself — here’s what I see in answer to the question, Who is God? And I would appeal to everyone who’s listening not to take my word for it, but to search out those five sources as if your life depended on it, because it does. 1. God is spirit. Here’s the first thing I believe I see in those revelations from God of who he is. First, Jesus says that God is spirit. John 4:24, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” In other words, he’s not physical. He’s not material. He

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The Holiness of God and the Sinfulness of Man

R.C. Sproul: One word that crystallizes the essence of the Christian faith is the word grace. One of the great mottos of the Protestant Reformation was the Latin phrase sola gratia—by grace alone. This phrase wasn’t invented by the sixteenth-century Reformers. Its roots are in the theology of Augustine of Hippo, who used it to call attention to the central concept of Christianity, that our redemption is by grace alone, that the only way a human being can ever find himself reconciled to God is by grace. That concept is so central to the teaching of Scripture that to even mention it seems like an insult to people’s intelligence; yet, if there is a dimension of Christian theology that has become obscured in the last few generations, it is grace. Two things that every human being absolutely must come to understand are the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man. These topics are difficult for people to face. And they go

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Heaven is a World of Love

Sam Storms: Crossway has recently launched a series of short books under the heading, Crossway Short Classics. The most recent one is the essay by Jonathan Edwards, Heaven is a World of Love. They asked me to write the Foreword to it, which you will find below. I can’t think of anyone who was more productive during the course of his earthly life than Jonathan Edwards. One need only glance at the Yale University Press edition of his collected works to verify this as fact. And that does not take into account the vast number of as yet unpublished sermons that we hope will one day be made available. I cite this about Edwards merely to refute the oft-heard cliché that some people are so heavenly minded as to be of no earthly good. Edwards’s earthly achievements may be directly linked to his focus on, dare I say his obsession with, the glory of heaven that he had not as yet experienced. Edwards was

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The longing of the universe

What a World Ours Will Be Why the Universe Longs to Be New By John Piper At the second coming of Christ, the people of God will see the risen King in his power and great glory. They will be changed instantly into sinless persons who will be like their glorious King forever. In that likeness to Christ, their capacities for love — for delighting in what is truly great and beautiful and worthy — will be raised to unimagined heights as they share in the very love of the Father and the Son. And in that supreme, pure, perfected delight in God, the glory of God will shine. At this point, we might (mistakenly) conclude that the fullness of the purposes of providence has been reached. But to many people’s surprise, God does not intend for our sight of glory, or our likeness to glory, or our praises of glory, to be physically invisible or inaudible. So it would be a

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God’s Good Pleasure in Election

R.C. Sproul: If we are going to take the Bible seriously, we have to have some doctrine of predestination. The idea of predestination wasn’t invented by Calvin or Luther or Augustine. Paul says in Ephesians 1:4–6 that in love, God “predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” So, predestination is a biblical word, and it’s a biblical concept. But the very concept of predestination raises the question, why does God elect certain people and not others? We know that it’s not based on anything that we do. It’s not based on our running, our willing, or our doing anything. It’s based solely on the purpose of God, as Paul says in Ephesians. But that raises another question: If the reason for the Lord’s selecting some to receive the tremendous benefit of salvation but not others is

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Our King-Servant-Anointed Conqueror: Jesus

Derek Thomas: Behold my servant, whom I uphold,my chosen, in whom my soul delights. (Isa. 42:1) For he grew up before him like a young plant,and like a root out of dry ground;he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,and no beauty that we should desire him.He was despised and rejected by men,a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;and as one from whom men hide their faceshe was despised, and we esteemed him not. (Isa. 53:2–3) There is no peace… for the wicked. (Isa. 48:22) These startling words are not addressed to the heathen nations but to God’s covenant people. They describe the people’s condition after their return to the Promised Land from exile. They are a lament. The people have learned so little in their captivity. The reason for their exile is spelled out with a solemn indictment: they had sinned against the Lord, “in whose ways they would not walk, and whose law

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What Happens when Revival Comes?

Sam Storms: Everyone, it seems, has their own definition or description of revival. Here I want to identify ten features of biblical revival. Among the many who have influenced my thinking on this topic, I have to mention J. I. Packer, on whom I am greatly dependent. This week at Bridgeway we embark on four days of prayer and fasting. There are many things for which we are praying and seeking God, chief among which is a revival of his people and his church. So, here is what happens when revival comes. 1. God draws near. God comes down. This is certainly the imagery found in Isaiah 64:1-2 where God’s presence is portrayed in terms of a brushfire. “It is with this searching, scorching manifestation of God’s presence that renewal begins, and by its continuance that renewal is sustained” (Packer, 26). During the Welsh revival one pastor said: “If one were asked to describe in a word the outstanding feature of those days,

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Content in His Providence

RC Sproul: Blaise Pascal, the famous French philosopher and mathematician, noted that human beings are creatures of profound paradox. We’re capable of both deep misery and tremendous grandeur, often at the same time. All we have to do is scan the headlines to see that this is the case. How often do celebrities who have done great good through philanthropy get caught up in scandals? Human grandeur is found in part in our ability to contemplate ourselves, to reflect upon our origins, our destiny, and our place in the universe. Yet, such contemplation has a negative side, and that is its potential to bring us pain. We may find ourselves miserable when we think of a life that is better than that which we enjoy now and recognize that we are incapable of achieving it. Perhaps we think of a life free of illness and pain, yet we know that physical agony and death are certain. Rich and poor alike know

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The Story and Message of the Bible

By Stephen Wellum: DEFINITION The Bible is comprised of many books and written by various authors over centuries, but as God’s Word it is a unified revelation unveiling a single message. It is crucial to understand what the Bible’s overall message is to interpret it properly and rightly apply it to our lives. SUMMARY This article explains what the central message of the Bible is by thinking through two ways of describing the overall story of Scripture. First, the Bible’s plots movements of creation, fall, redemption, and new creation are explored to understand the Bible’s message. Second, the Bible’s story is explained by thinking through how God’s plan is unveiled through the covenants from the creation covenant to the new covenant in Christ. The Bible is a big book that consists of many topics, diverse literature, and spans centuries. Yet, the Bible, despite being written by multiple authors and addressing various subjects, is one grand story whose central message is

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