Whatever Christ Commands He Gives

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

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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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“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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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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Are You Shaped By the World or By the Word?

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

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The Mortification of Sin

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

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The Danger of Falling Away

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

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What Does it Mean to Abide in Christ?

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

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Improving your relationship with God

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

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A Catechism on the Heart

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.

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Do You Make Life Decisions with Your Church in Mind?

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

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The Vine, the Branches, and Christian Perseverance

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

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4 Christian Principles For Making New Year’s Resolutions

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

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Calling Is Not A Job Offer

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

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A Focused Faith

Chris Castaldo: Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), a Protestant pastor, was one of Germany’s leading scholars of the twentieth century. He courageously returned from Union Seminary in New York to oppose Adolf Hitler. His great desire was for Christians to follow Christ whatever the cost. It was a cost he knew only too well: he was arrested, imprisoned, and executed (just days before the end of the Second World War) for his opposition to the Nazi regime. In his most famous work, The Cost of Discipleship (1937), he urged Christians to throw off everything that hindered their wholehearted allegiance to Christ, including the accumulation of wealth. Jesus does not forbid the possession of property in itself. He was man, he ate and drank like his disciples, and thereby sanctified the good things of life. These necessities, which are consumed in use and which meet the legitimate requirements of the body, are to be used by the disciple with thankfulness . . .

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