A Case for Covenant Membership in the Local Church

Sam Storms: Does the New Testament explicitly mention or describe formal church membership? No, it does not. However, there are numerous truths and responsibilities in the NT which would be minimized or denied if there were no definable local church membership. In other words, the fact that membership is not explicitly mentioned does not mean it didn’t exist. Those things which are explicitly mentioned necessarily assume that covenant membership existed. Therefore, if we conclude that covenant membership is necessarily entailed by the Bible’s commands for the church and the description of its life, we are morally obligated to pursue it in our churches today. If we conclude that it is not, we are free to regard local church membership as a matter of prudence which we may disregard if we think it not to be helpful in fulfilling our calling as the body of Christ. As I read the New Testament, I can see several truths or responsibilities that, in

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Glorification Never Ends!

Sam Storms: When we refer to the believer’s ultimate “glorification” we are speaking of the transformation of our whole being: body, soul, spirit, will, mind, and affections, in which sin is eradicated and we are made like Jesus (see Phil. 3:20-21; 1 John 3:1-3). What I want to suggest is that there is a very real and important sense in which this glorification of all believers never ends. I don’t mean that our glorification will never be reversed, although that’s true. There will never be the slightest diminishing or regression or reversal or loss of the purity and holiness and likeness unto Jesus that we gain at the resurrection of our bodies. What I mean is that although glorification will happen in an instant, in the twinkling of an eye, it will also eternally grow and expand. The condition of our body, soul, and spirit, although entirely free from sin as a result of the event of glorification, is not the

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Do Christians “go to heaven” when they Die?

Sam Storms: There is a loud chorus of voices these days denouncing, in a somewhat condescending way, the long-standing belief among evangelicals that when Christians die they go to heaven. In one sense, this outcry is good and constructive. It is an understandable and much-needed response to the unbiblical gnosticism of some “fundamentalist” Christians who denigrate material creation, diminish the reality of a future bodily resurrection, and fail to reckon with the centrality in God’s redemptive purpose of the New Heavens and especially the New Earth. So, is my answer to the question posed in the title, No? Not quite. My answer is: Immediately, Yes. Eternally, No. Or again, to simplify, when a Christian dies he/she immediately passes into the conscious presence of Christ in heaven. But when the day of resurrection arrives, he/she will be given a new and glorified body in which all of God’s people will live and flourish on the New Earth (of Revelation 21-22). What

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Worship is an End in Itself

Sam Storms: Worship is utterly and eternally unique in one critically important respect: unlike every other Christian responsibility or experience, worship is an end in itself. In other words, worship that glorifies God must be expressed in conscious awareness that this is the ultimate goal for which we were created and redeemed. We do not worship God in order to attain some higher end, or to accomplish some greater goal, or to experience a more satisfying joy. Every other ministry or activity of the Christian serves some higher end. There is a “so that” appended to everything we do, except for worship. We preach, so that . . . We evangelize, so that . . . We cultivate fellowship in the body of Christ, so that . . . We study the Bible, so that . . . But when it comes to glorifying God by enjoying him and all that he is for us in Jesus, we can never

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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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The Gift of Eternal Life: Knowing God

Sam Storms: In the opening words of his prayer to the Father in John 17, Jesus defines for us the essence of eternal life. “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). Sometimes I get the feeling that such texts as this were written distinctively and intentionally for our day and time. Of course, they are written for all God’s people in every age, but it is hard to think of a more immediately relevant statement to what we are facing today than what we find in v. 3. In a day when many are insisting that Allah, the alleged ‘god’ of Islam, is one and the same with the God and Father of Jesus Christ, this text is a ringing denunciation of that claim. Notice first that Jesus says the Father is “the only true God.” And this “Father” is explicitly said on countless occasions

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10 Things You Should Know About the Necessity of Prayer

Sam Storms: There is a reason why I speak of the “necessity” of prayer and not simply ten things to know about prayer. I want us to consider the necessity of prayer in terms of what we stand to lose if we don’t pray. Sadly, prayer for many who profess faith in Christ has become a meaningless ritual. They have lost sight of the fact that God suspends great and glorious blessings on our asking for them. So let’s take a look at ten reasons why prayer is necessary. Or perhaps we could say, let’s consider what we otherwise stand to lose if we choose not to pray. (1) We must pray because otherwise God will not be glorified. Here is how Jesus put it: “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 14:13). Answered prayer isn’t the only way in which God may be glorified, but it

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10 Things You should Know about the Virgin Birth of Jesus

Sam Storms: Yesterday was the first Sunday of Advent, so it only seems fitting that we should turn our attention to the glorious message of Christmas. We will do that by devoting today’s article to 10 things all of us should know about the virgin conception and birth of Jesus. (1) Some object to this doctrine by pointing to the many parallels to it in ancient literature. Their argument is that countless myths concerning the virgin births of various Greek gods and superheroes were prevalent in paganism. Those Greek Christians who were familiar with them account for the narratives in Matthew and Luke that describe this “miracle.” In other words, Christians in the early church simply created, i.e., concocted or fabricated their own story of their “hero” and “Lord” being born of a virgin. One problem with this is that all these alleged parallels prove to be quite different from the NT account of the conception and birth of Jesus.

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10 Things You Should Know about Being Filled with the Holy Spirit

Sam Storms: In an earlier installment of the “10 Things You Should Know” series, we looked at Ephesians 5:18 and what it says about being filled with the Spirit. But here I want to look more closely at the issue as it is found in other portions of God’s Word. I’ve found that the best way to help people understand what it means to be “filled” with the Spirit is to compare and contrast that experience with being “baptized” in the Spirit. (1) Spirit-baptism is a metaphor that describes our reception of the Holy Spirit at the moment of our conversion to Jesus in faith and repentance. When we believe and are justified, we are, as it were, deluged and engulfed by the Spirit; we are, as it were, immersed in and saturated by the Spirit. (2) The result of being baptized in the Spirit is that (a) we are made members of the body of Christ, or incorporated into

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10 Things You should Know about Interpreting the Bible

Sam Storms: Today we look at 10 things we should know about how to interpret the Bible (or conversely, how not to interpret it). But before we begin, it’s important to remember that the Bible is not an answer-book that provides ready-made explanations for all problems or solutions to puzzling questions. When I run into a problem with my computer, I click the Help button and find a topically organized list of solutions to virtually every difficulty I may be facing. But the Bible did not come to us with an Index of topics or a Table of Contents. With that in mind, we begin. (1) We should never forget the incredible privilege and responsibility that falls on every Christian to interpret the Bible for himself/herself. This is the principle of private interpretation, based on the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. But don’t misconstrue what it means. Private interpretation does not mean that we should rely solely on

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Wisdom from Spurgeon on the Mystery of Divine Election

Sam Storms: …there is still in the human soul an uneasiness concerning God’s sovereign choice. To many, it seems arbitrary and unfair. If this is problematic to you, read carefully Charles Spurgeon’s response. It’s lengthy but well worth the effort: “But there are some who say, ‘It is hard for God to choose some and leave others.’ Now, I will ask you one question. Is there any of you here this morning who wishes to be holy, who wishes to be regenerate, to leave off sin and walk in holiness? ‘Yes, there is,’ says some one, ‘I do.’ Then God has elected you. But another says, ‘No; I don’t want to be holy; I don’t want to give up my lusts and my vices.’ Why should you grumble, then, that God has not elected you to it? For if you were elected you would not like it, according to your own confession. If God this morning had chosen you to

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Renouncing ‘self’ for the greater blessings of eternal and unending pleasure

Sam Storms: Did Jesus Deny Christian Hedonism when He called on us to Deny Ourselves? When people want to deny Christian Hedonism they often direct our attention to the words of Jesus in Mark 8:34-37. But as you will shortly see, this passage is actually a defense of it. Here is what Jesus said: And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? Our Lord’s appeal that we deny ourselves and take up our cross is actually grounded upon the concern that each person inescapably has for his

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10 Things You Should Know About Male Headship

Sam Storms: In the on-going dialogue (debate!) between complementarians and egalitarians, there is considerable confusion about the meaning of male headship. So today we look at 10 things we should know about headship. (1) “Headship” (Gk: kephale) has three meanings in Scripture: first, a physical head (1 Cor. 11:7); second, source or origin (Col. 1:18); and third, a person with authority (Eph. 1:22). (2) Among the many misconceptions about male headship in Scripture I mention these. First, husbands are never commanded to rule their wives, but to love them. The Bible never says, “Husbands, take steps to insure that your wives submit to you.” Nor does it say, “Husbands, exercise headship and authority over your wives.” Rather, the principle of male headship is either asserted or assumed and men are commanded to love their wives as Christ loves the church. Headship is never portrayed in Scripture as a means for self-satisfaction or self-exaltation. Headship is always other-oriented. I can’t think

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When God’s Timing Is Not Our Own

    Sam Storms: The God of the Unlikely Time Often our schedule and God’s seem out of sync. He acts earlier than we had expected, or later than we had hoped, or when it seems most awkward and inconvenient. The result is that sometimes we are impatient with God or choose to act impetuously, while on other occasions we are lazy and inactive. I suspect that’s how the Israelites must have felt as they stood on the banks of the Jordan River, prepared to enter the Promised Land of Canaan. They learned a lesson there that all of us must learn sooner or later. The lesson is simply that the God we love and serve is often the God of the unlikely time. When the two spies returned from Jericho, Joshua received the news he had been waiting for: “And they said to Joshua, ‘Truly the LORD has given all the land into our hands. And also, all the

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What Does it Mean to Pray in the Name of Jesus?

Sam Storms: Can we really believe the words of Jesus in John 14:14 when he declares: “If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it”? Twice in vv. 13-14 Jesus says you must pray “in my name”. What does that mean? Is Jesus telling us that all we have to do is attach the words, “In Christ’s name” at the end of each prayer and we will be guaranteed a positive answer? If that were the case, the words “in Christ’s name” or “in the name of Jesus” would function much like a magical incantation, no different from what a magician would do when he says “Abracadabra” or what the owner of a magic lamp would do to evoke the presence of a genie who would then grant him three wishes. It’s important to note that one need not even repeat the words “in Christ’s name” to pray “in Christ’s name.” The perfect inflection of the word

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How Big is Your God?

Sam Storms posts on Scott Christensen’s, What About Free Will? Reconciling our Choices with God’s Sovereignty (P&R, 284pp.). In Chapter Three, titled, “How Big is Your God?” Christensen describes God’s sovereignty in these terms: When the Bible unfolds God’s supreme control it speaks of a glorious choreographer who causally determines the course of history in a way that is not conditioned by anything his creation or creatures do. Rather the whole panorama of the cosmos is entirely dependent upon his meticulous guidance. His foreordination of all things was forever settled before the foundations of the earth were laid and nothing can change this fact. He neither established his plan by consulting the future choices of his creatures nor does he alter it by considering what they have already done. The Scripture is replete with passages that paint just such a portrait of God. As the psalmist says, “The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules

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Why Patience Doesn’t Come Naturally

Sam Storms: How many of you reading this article are by nature patient? Is there anyone who finds patience as natural as breathing? Anyone? Anyone? I’m looking for that man or woman, young or old, who instinctively responds to irritating people and aggravating circumstances with a calm and controlled spirit. Anyone? Anyone? Hmmm. I didn’t think so. No one comes by patience naturally. No one instinctively responds to adversity and interruptions without at least some measure of irritation and anger. No one encounters opposition to one’s plans without some degree of agitation and frustration. Patience, to put it simply, is counter-intuitive. It is not something with which we are born. It is, instead, a work of God’s grace in the human heart, a fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Let me begin with a confession. I’m an impatient man. I hate it, but it’s true. I get frustrated when a train stops on the tracks and I’m delayed

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10 Things You should Know about Being Born Again

Sam Storms: Here we take up the issue of the new birth, or what we often refer to as regeneration or being born again. (1) Being born again is not to be thought of in terms of moral reformation, a mere exchange of one set of habits for another set. Some mistakenly think that mankind does not need re-creation, only redirection. But as we shall shortly see, being born again entails a radical renewal of the entire inner being of a man or woman. (2) One Arminian author argues that God alone regenerates the human heart but does so only when and because the individual believes by a free act of will, or does not resist the overtures of grace. We are told that “God cannot and to say the same thing – will not regenerate a heart that will not admit him. God respects the sovereignty-within-limitations with which he endowed man at creation” (William G. MacDonald, Grace Unlimited, 86).

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Seven Principles for the Understanding and Exercise of Spiritual Gifts

Sam Storms: While much can and should be said about spiritual gifts, here are a few relevant observations or principles that I believe should guide our understanding and exercise of the charismata. (1) Every single spiritual gift, whether it be mercy, serving, giving, speaking in tongues, or prophecy, is a “manifestation of the Spirit” given “for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:7). Therefore, every gift is by definition supernatural, since every gift is the enabling presence of the Spirit operating through us. As Paul says, although there are varieties of gifts, services, and activities, it is the “same Spirit” who “empowers them all in everyone” (1 Cor. 12:4-6). So, teaching is as supernatural as tongues; service is as supernatural as word of knowledge, and so on. (2) In light of the first point, we must acknowledge that a “gift” or “charism” of the Spirit is an impartation to enable and equip us to serve others. Nowhere in Scripture are gifts

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How Important is the Church?

Sam Storms: The disturbing and unbiblical trend continues: professing Christians who insist they love Jesus but have no formal association with or participation in the life of a local church. What are we to make of this? Is the church secondary to God’s purposes in history? Or might it be primary? And if so, what is the reason for the existence of the church? Paul speaks to this point in Ephesians 3:10 where he says that “through the church the manifold wisdom of God” is now “made known to the rulers and authorities in heavenly places.” What does this mean? The word translated “manifold” was used to describe everything from the intricate and colorful design of flowers, to embroidered cloth, to woven carpets, and even crowns with their exquisite jewels. It could be rendered “richly diversified,” “multifaceted,” “highly variegated,” “infinite diversity,” etc. God’s saving wisdom is gloriously intricate in its design and its effect. It is the very antithesis of

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