Sinclair Ferguson: The exhortation to “abide” has been frequently misunderstood, as though it were a special, mystical, and indefinable experience. But Jesus makes clear that it actually involves a number of concrete realities. First, union with our Lord depends on His grace. Of course we are actively and personally united to Christ by faith (John 14:12). But faith itself is rooted in the activity of God. It is the Father who, as the divine Gardener, has grafted us into Christ. It is Christ, by His Word, who has cleansed us to fit us for union with Himself (John 15:3). All is sovereign, all is of grace. Second, union with Christ means being obedient to Him. Abiding involves our response to the teaching of Jesus, “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you” (John 15:7). Paul echoes this idea in Colossians 3:16, where he writes, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,” a statement closely related to
Thom S. Rainer: I am a Christian. Four life-defining words. Christ died for me, rose for me, redeemed me. If you can say, “I am a Christian,” these truths apply to you as well. Sometimes, though, when we memorize Scripture, we end at Ephesians 2:8–9 (“God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.“). But there is much, much more: “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago” (Eph. 2:10, NLT). Don’t miss it. We were saved not by our good works, but to do the good works God has planned. And there’s more—a further point that’s often overlooked. Yes, we’re saved by grace through faith. Yes, we’re saved to do good works. But we’re saved to do those good works in the context and under the accountability of a church. In the book of Ephesians, Paul
Jeremy Linneman: Jesus’s disciples asked a lot of bad questions during their tenure with him: “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” (Luke 9:54). But they occasionally got it right: “Teach us to pray,” they asked (Luke 11:1). Our Lord must have beamed with joy at the opportunity to teach his beloved friends how to enjoy fellowship with the Father. So, with his disciples and an eager crowd gathered on the mountainside one afternoon, Jesus taught them to pray. The words that followed in Luke 11:2–4 are among the most famous ever spoken: “Our Father who art in heaven . . .” The words are brief and recited easily by a child, but let’s not be misled by the prayer’s brevity or familiarity. The Lord’s Prayer is rightly understood to be the most important prayer for Christians, but it’s more than that. J. I. Packer cites Tertullian, who called it a “summary of the gospel,”
Derek Thomas: Some twenty years ago, I spoke at a conference in Iowa along with Jerry Bridges. In a breakout session, I sat in the rear and listened to him explain why Christians need the gospel too. This was a recent insight, he confessed. In subsequent editions of his book Disciplines of Grace, he added this insight. I must confess that I have thought about it frequently ever since. At one level, the statement seems obvious. Of course Christians need the gospel every day. How could it be otherwise? When Paul writes to the church in Rome, he begins by saying, “So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome” (Rom. 1:15). The letter is addressed to professing Christians in Rome who, Paul reasons, need to hear the gospel again. He concludes the letter with these words: “Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ” (16:25).
Will Anderson: The imperative—“Repent!”—assaults modern sensibilities like nails on a chalkboard. Repentance is often dismissed as the sadistic mantra of self-loathers; or worse, dreaded as a pistol drawn in pulpits to scare sinners into submission. But repentance—the act of turning from sin and toward God—pervades the biblical story as a life preserver for God’s people, not a cruel waterboarding tactic. Strikingly, Jesus’s main message is summarized in the Gospels as: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17; Mark 1:15; Luke 5:32). If repentance is so central in Jesus’s teaching, why is it so peripheral (or nonexistent) in ours? Repentance, Where Art Thou? Different tribes give different responses. Progressives tend to deny repentance altogether, rejecting it as fundamentalist fodder. I recently met with a local progressive church leader who feels this way, and during our charitable yet lively conversation, she remarked: “I never address sin from the pulpit. I don’t think it’s helpful to tell people how bad they are all the time.” While
Matt Bradner: “Matt, would you grab the rest of the groceries from the trunk of the car?” The familiar words fell on me with greater irritation than normal because I was immersed in my favorite childhood hobby, sorting through my collection of sports cards. What I initially interpreted as a demand (and interruption!), however, was actually an expression of my father’s love for me, because his request was an invitation in disguise. After delaying for far too long, I finally dropped the cards and made my way to the trunk, expecting to find eggs, lettuce, and cereal. When I finally fulfilled my duty, I realized that I had been duped — in the best way possible. Sitting in the trunk was an unopened box of 1986 Fleer Basketball cards. This may not seem significant to you, but my adolescent brain instantly knew that I was moments away from adding a Michael Jordan rookie card to my collection. I grabbed the
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
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.
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
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
Nancy Guthrie: There’s a section in department stores these days called “shapewear.” It’s in both women’s and men’s clothing. These stores are banking on our concern with the shape of our bodies and our willingness to invest in garments that promise to give us the shape we’re looking for. But when we read Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, we discover it’s not what is shaping our bodies that he is most concerned about. He’s concerned about what is shaping our perspective, our priorities, our pursuits, and our opinions. He writes: Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom. 12:2) His words force us to ask ourselves: What external forces are shaping my internal dialogue about what matters? What pressures me to make the choices I am making about how I spend my
An essay by Kelly Kapic: DEFINITION Mortification is the theological term used to describe the call for those who are united to Christ and living in the power of the Spirit (i.e., Christians) to put to death (mortify) lingering sinful impulses that arise from within and resist temptations that surface from outside of the believer. SUMMARY Mortification is the theological term used to describe the call for those who are united to Christ and living in the power of the Spirit (i.e., Christians) to put to death (mortify) lingering sinful impulses that arise from within and resist temptations that surface from outside of the believer. As new creatures in Christ, believers are free not simply to resist sin but also to partake in actively loving God and neighbor. Properly understood, therefore, mortification will also be linked with vivification, which highlights the call to live responsively to the Spirit’s ongoing work where he grows his fruit in us even as indwelling sin is
Darryl Dash: “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it,” says the author of Hebrews (Hebrews 2:1). Stern warning! It’s the first of five warning passages in the letter (2:1-4; 3:7-4:13; 5:11-6:12; 10:19-39; 12:14-29). For instance: “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12). “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled” (Hebrews 12:15). The writer keeps sounding the alarm: don’t fall away. It’s possible. You may already be on your way. Stay on guard. Help each other. These warnings have confused some. Is it possible for a genuine believer to fall away? Hebrews seems to make it clear: not all who profess faith will persist to the end. Some will fall
Sinclair Ferguson: The exhortation to “abide” has been frequently misunderstood, as though it were a special, mystical, and indefinable experience. But Jesus makes clear that it actually involves a number of concrete realities. First, union with our Lord depends on His grace. Of course we are actively and personally united to Christ by faith (John 14:12). But faith itself is rooted in the activity of God. It is the Father who, as the divine Gardener, has grafted us into Christ. It is Christ, by His Word, who has cleansed us to fit us for union with Himself (15:3). All is sovereign, all is of grace. Second, union with Christ means being obedient to Him. Abiding involves our response to the teaching of Jesus: “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you …” (John 15:7a). Paul echoes this idea in Colossians 3:16, where he writes, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,” a statement closely related to his parallel
Tim Chester: Can you improve your relationship with God? People are often unsure how to respond. The promises of grace suggest one answer; the experience of life often suggest another. In the confusion, we often do nothing. We stagnate. But there is a way forward. Can you improve your relationship with God? Yes. Let’s turn for help to the seventeenth-century Puritan John Owen. In his classic book Communion with God, Owen says, Our communion with God consists in his communication of himself to us, with our return to him of that which he requires and accepts, flowing from that union which in Jesus Christ we have with him. (Works, Vol. 2, 8–9, modernized) Note how Owen makes a distinction between “union” and “communion.” In the gospel, through faith, we have union with God in Christ. From start to finish this union is God’s gracious work toward us. But this union leads to communion with God — a genuine, two-way relationship of give-and-take in which our
Sinclair Ferguson: Sometimes people ask authors, “Which of your books is your favorite?” The first time the question is asked, the response is likely to be “I am not sure; I have never really thought about it.” But forced to think about it, my own standard response has become, “I am not sure what my favorite book is; but my favorite title is A Heart for God.” I am rarely asked, “Why?” but (in case you ask) the title simply expresses what I want to be: a Christian with a heart for God. Perhaps that is in part a reflection of the fact that we sit on the shoulders of the giants of the past. Think of John Calvin’s seal and motto: a heart held out in the palm of a hand and the words “I offer my heart to you, Lord, readily and sincerely.” Or consider Charles Wesley’s hymn: O for a heart to praise my God! A heart from sin set free.
Joshua Hedger: In Philippians 1:22-26, we have the Apostle Paul’s dialogue, if you will, with himself. In this back and forth of thought, he wrestles with a major life decision. His decision is this, “If I had the choice to live or to die, which would I choose?” Now perhaps that questions strikes concern into you for Paul’s mental stability, but it gives us an incredible glance at the treasure of his heart because Paul will continue on to say, “I would choose death because it’s much better for me. When I die, I get Jesus!” Paul so treasured Jesus that he’d rather die, lose all that this world has for him, and therefore gain Jesus! He truly thinks that death would be a better choice for him. But what follows this is what I want to focus on for the next few paragraphs. Paul follows up his realization of what would be best for him by saying what would
Sam Storms: A lot of people struggle with John 15:1-11 and our Lord’s teaching on the vine and the branches. This week I’ve been looking at the question of the relationship between professed faith in Christ and consistent obedience to his commands. This passage speaks directly to the issue. Let’s look closely at it. “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart
Burk Parsons: It seems that every new year, we are caught up in a whirlwind of well-intentioned resolutions. With premeditated bursts of enthusiasm, those closest to us begin to take part in peculiar, and sometimes public activities that even cause neighborhood children to look puzzled. We find ourselves bearing witness to surprising edicts and seemingly self-conscious new year’s manifestos whereupon we are summoned to behold what sweeping changes may come—resolutions for impending dispositions, impossible diets, and impenetrable fortresses of discipline. The skeptical observer may inquire: “Is all this fervor really necessary?” Moreover, the cynical reader may ask: “Is it even appropriate to make resolutions? After all, shouldn’t we at all times and all seasons seek to live wisely, obediently, and biblically?” Some may even go so far as to argue that resolutions themselves are not biblical based on the fact that the Word of God itself provides us with a complete and authoritative compilation of God’s resolutions for His people. To manufacture
Dan Allender, in To Be Told: Know Your Story, Shape Your Future: Most people understand understand calling as God’s calling us to a specific job. Indeed, God called adolescent Jeremiah to preach of his coming judgment. And God called Paul (then named Saul) to serve the very people that he, blinded by zeal, had been trying to destroy. God calls us to certain tasks and jobs, but he doesn’t do so because we are uniquely suited to do them. He calls us to the task of job because we are weak, broken, and ill-equipped for the task. I don’t believe anyone is called to a job or a profession. My calling in life is not to be a writer, therapist, speaker, teacher, trainer, or administrator. My calling is to walk through any door God gives me in order to reveal his glory. If I am a graduate-school president, it’s for a season, but my life lasts for eternity. If I am