How Important is the Gospel?

Sam Storms: Many have reached a saturation point when it comes to the notion of gospel centrality. “Enough already,” they cry, with more than a little exasperation. I understand this reaction. We who identify as evangelicals are good at taking what is otherwise a fully biblical term or concept and beating it into the ground or pounding it into the heads of our people. So, yes, it’s possible for us to grow justifiably weary of certain terminology. After years of watching “gospel-centered” be used as an adjective to describe everything from children’s ministry to a Wednesday night pot-luck dinner to global missions, I pray that we not lose sight of how indescribably important the gospel actually is. So I thought it might be helpful if we simply let Scripture address the matter. This post, therefore, is designed for those of you who, in your understandable frustration with what has often become a mindless and repetitive use of the language of gospel-centrality,

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Perhaps the most important reason we struggle with personal evangelism

Sam Storms: The 13th reason why we stink at evangelism is simply that people don’t actually know what the gospel is, or if they do know it, they struggle to articulate it in face-to-face conversations with unbelievers. Feeling ill-equipped to explain the gospel, they look for ways to avoid interaction with non-Christians. So what is the gospel? I was greatly helped by Tim Keller in answering this question, as he identified one of the major mistakes people make in thinking of the gospel. He explained how most Christians live in an “if / then” relationship with God. If I do what is right, then God will love me. If I give extra money to missions, then God will provide me with a raise at work. If I avoid sinful habits, then I will be spared suffering and humiliation, etc. It’s a conditional relationship that is based on the principle of merit. The gospel calls us to live in a “because /

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12 reasons we often fail in personal evangelism

Sam Storms: I was motivated to write this brief article because of something I saw in the text that I recently preached at Bridgeway. In John 1:35-51 we read about several individuals who followed Jesus. One of the first to do so was Andrew. We read in John 1:42 that “he [Andrew] brought him [Peter] to Jesus.” What a wonderful way to be remembered, as a man who brought another to Jesus! So why don’t we do likewise? Here are the a dozen reasons why. There may be more, but I’ll settle for these. (1) We are reluctant to share the gospel with others because of a loss of belief in the reality of hell. If there is no eternal conscious punishment for those who reject Jesus, why bother with taking the time and making the effort of telling them about him? If divine wrath is little more than a figure of speech, there is no urgency in taking the gospel to the lost.

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A brief reflection on truth

Sam Storms: Of the many things John writes concerning the Word, the Son of God, in John 1, one of the more important is his statement in v. 14 that he is “full of grace and truth.” Let’s be clear right from the start. God isn’t whatever you want him to be. He is who he is whether you like it or not. God is not like silly putty in the hands of those who wish to twist and shape him into something more palatable to their senses. He has always been, is now, and will forever be the same. His character and revealed will do not change when culture does or when he falls out of favor with human opinion. Jesus Christ embodies, defines, and speaks truth whether or not you think he does. Simply because you don’t like some of the things Jesus said or did does not mean they aren’t true. Truth is not what works or

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Philippians 2:12-13 – The Most Important NT Text on the Christian Life and Sanctification

Sam Storms: When it comes to our understanding and experience of Christian sanctification, I can’t think of a more important biblical text than Philippians 2:12-13. Here is what Paul wrote: “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13). Paul’s point is that we work out the Christian life, or act in obedience to the Word of God, only because God has already been at work within, performing a miracle in our lives. At the heart of Paul’s argument is the fact that when it comes to the Christian life, God is always antecedent. He comes first. He acts before we act. We only act because he has already acted. God works in us in advance of our working for

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10 Things You Should Know about Spiritual Adoption

Sam Storms: As glorious and wonderful as is the physical birth of a new-born baby, it pales in comparison with the spiritual re-birth of a person and the new life in Jesus Christ that they receive by God’s mercy and grace. I don’t mean to downplay the beauty of physical birth. It is truly a miracle and puts on display God’s creativity and power. But the second birth, being born again, as the NT describes it, is greater still. Physical birth only gives us physical life. Being born again gives us eternal life as the children of God. So let’s look at ten things we all should know about what it means to be an adopted child of God. (1) Although we should be careful when we compare the goodness of God’s gifts, I believe that spiritual adoption is near the top of the list. This isn’t in the least to slight justification or forgiveness or the indwelling presence of

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What makes ‘Good Friday’ good?

Sam Storms: If you plan on being in Oklahoma City on Friday, April 18, I want to invite you to join us for our traditional “Good Friday” service at 6:30 p.m. in our auditorium. I would also encourage you to invite friends and family members who may not know Jesus and his saving love. This will be a wonderful time for them to hear a short and pointed presentation of the gospel. So, why do we speak of the Friday when Jesus was brutalized and crucified as good? It would almost seem as if there could hardly be a day that is worse! In one sense, you are correct. Jesus was unjustly tried, lied about, scourged, and sadistically crucified. But in a far more ultimate sense this was immeasurably good. It was good for two reasons. First, the crucifixion of Jesus, as horrible and unjust as it was, fulfilled God’s plan. Peter declared this in Acts 4:27-28 by reminding us that, in crucifying

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We’re in a War, Folks!

Sam Storms: The Apostle Peter tells us that “the passions of the flesh” are waging “war against” our “souls” (1 Peter 2:11). Don’t underestimate the significance of this daily battle for our souls. So, how are we to fight? With what weapons do we wage this war? Peter says we do so “as (or because we are) sojourners and exiles” (v. 11a; see 1 Peter 1:1,17). His point is that we should draw strength to say No to fleshly passions because they belong to this world and we don’t! We are citizens of a heavenly kingdom that operates under the Lordship of Christ. The culture of heaven is governed by a different ethic, a different spirit, a different morality. So remind yourself often of where you belong. We belong to the Lord Jesus, not to this world, so take your cues from him, not it. John Piper put it best when he said that “we must cultivate the mindset of exiles.” This truth is designed

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The Answer to God’s Seeming Megalomania

Sam Storms: I recently returned to reading John Piper’s book, Reading the Bible Supernaturally, and was stunned yet again by a truth that has utterly transformed my life. That’s not an overstatement. I can’t think of another theological principle that has meant more to me than what you are about to read. I have often in my books tried to say the same thing, but it always seems to fall short of how John has expressed it. John begins by citing C. S. Lewis and his description of how he struggled with the incessant demand by God that all creation praise him. Lewis confessed that God sounded like “a vain woman who wants compliments.” Then came the discovery that changed Lewis’s life too: “But the most obvious fact about praise—whether of God or anything—strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or the giving of honor. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise.

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Is Jesus Precious to Your Soul?

Sam Storms: There is an astounding statement in 1 Peter 2:6 about Jesus Christ that stands as a challenge to each of us who claim to be his followers. Peter describes Jesus as “a cornerstone chosen and precious.” Think about it: he is chosen of the Father and precious! He is of immeasurable value to God the Father and must therefore be precious and of immeasurable value to us! Treasuring Christ is God’s response to Christ and therefore should be ours. Consider this. God is omniscient. He knows everything. He sees not merely the outward appearance but the inner reality. Nothing is hidden from him. And above all that, he has limitless wisdom and discernment. He knows what is valuable and what isn’t. He knows what is of great worth and what is worthless. And according to 1 Peter 2:6, God says that Jesus, his Son, is infinitely precious. If God embraces his Son as indescribably and incomparably precious, shouldn’t we also? One

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10 Things You Should Know about Seeing Christ in all of Scripture

Sam Storms: Ours is a splintered, fractured world, that often in its differing political parties and conflicting ethical systems and its seemingly endless variety of opinions on virtually every imaginable subject holds out little hope for ultimate meaning. And yet in the midst of undeniable diversity and the differences that so often divide us, the Bible tells us that there is a single, overarching, unitary theme and purpose and goal to all of human history and experience. The apostle Paul touched on this in several places. Let me mention only two. In Romans 11:36 he concludes a major section of his letter with this brief doxology: “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” Paul’s point is not simply that all things are the creative product of our great Triune God. Yes, all things, everything, came “from him.” He is the originating cause of everything that is. But Paul also tells us

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Genuine revival, spiritual affections, and bodily manifestations

Sam Storms: The division among Christian folk during the revival we know as the First Great Awakening (1734-35; 1740-42) often was due to their different understandings of the nature and significance of physical or bodily manifestations. Many of the so-called Old Lights in Jonathan Edwards’s day insisted on the spurious nature of the so-called “revival” by pointing to the physical and emotional phenomena that were occurring. These manifestations, so they insisted, are proof that the Spirit is not in the “revival”. The Spirit does not operate in such ways and thus these phenomena demonstrate that the religious excitement is merely a work of the flesh or of disturbed souls or, worse still, the Devil. The ironic thing is that today there are many who insist on precisely the opposite conclusion. They regard such physical and emotional manifestations to be almost certain proof that the Spirit is present and at work. In the absence of such phenomena they would likely conclude that the Spirit was

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10 things you should know about the most famous verse in the Bible

Sam Storms: The most famous verse in the Bible, at least among Christians, is John 3:16. But do we really understand what it means? Here are ten things to keep in mind as you reflect on it. (1) Are the words of John 3:16 the words of Jesus or John the Apostle? Probably the latter. John 3:10-15 are clearly the words of Jesus in his conversation with Nicodemus, but it appears that John himself is reflecting on the significance of Jesus’ death in the verses that follow. (2) What is the focus of the word translated “so”? Is John here merely describing the manner in which God loved the world? Is he telling us that it was in this particular way that God’s love was made manifest? Or could he also be emphasizing the intensity of the divine love, as if to say, God loved the world “this much”? The answer is probably a bit of both. God’s love was so great and so magnanimous

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Ten things you should know about Christian Hedonism

Sam Storms: Christian Hedonism often goes misunderstood and thus maligned. Let’s look closely at ten things that bring clarity to what is meant by the label. (1) When it comes to Christian Hedonism, the adjective is everything. Hedonism is itself a godless approach to life that says we should pursue whatever brings us optimum pleasure. Hedonism judges right and wrong on the basis of whether or not an action brings pleasure or pain. But Christian Hedonism is an entirely different thing. The pleasure we seek as Christians is pleasure and satisfaction and delight in God. God is not the means to some other pleasure but the object of it. It is in him, his beauty, power, and presence that we find our deepest delight. (2) Christian Hedonism insists that the most effective way to glorify God is to enjoy God. It was Jonathan Edwards who helped me see that God’s glory and my gladness were not antithetical. He helped me

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10 Things You Should Know about Jesus Christ

Sam Storms: It actually sounds a bit silly, even irreverent, to speak of only ten things we should know about Jesus. There are thousands of things to know about him, perhaps millions. Indeed, when we arrive in the new heaven and new earth we will discover that there is an infinity of truths about our Savior that it will be our joy to see, know, and savor. But for now, today, let’s consider the ten things said about him in Colossians 1:15-20. There Paul writes: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead,

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10 Things You Should Know about Suffering

Sam Storms: Suffering is an unpopular but essential topic for Christians to understand. And it is nowhere more clearly explained than in 1 Peter. So here are ten things we can learn about suffering from this letter. (1) In 2 Corinthians 6:10 Paul describes himself as “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing”. And in Colossians 1:24 he again declares, “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake.” It should come as little surprise, then, that Peter would echo this sentiment when he says in 1 Peter 1:6 that we “rejoice” in spite of the fact that “now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials.” Suffering does not cancel out joy, but provides a platform for others to see that our satisfaction is in Christ and not in material or physical comfort. (2) Suffering for the sake of the gospel is God’s will for us. Peter makes it plain that Christian distress only happens if God wills it. For example, in 1 Peter 3:17 he

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Affections and emotions: Are they the same?

Sam Storms: The word “affection” may be unfamiliar to many, except when used of romantic feelings that pass between a man and a woman. This is not the sense in which I use it here. Jonathan Edwards defined the affections as “the more vigorous and sensible exercises of the inclination and will of the soul.” So, are our “affections” the same as our “emotions” or “passions”? I don’t think so. Certainly, there is what may rightly be called an emotional dimension to affections. Affections, after all, are sensible and intense longings or aversions of the will. Perhaps it would be best to say that whereas affections are not less than emotions, they are surely more. Emotions can often be no more than physiologically heightened states of either euphoria or fear that are unrelated to what the mind perceives as true. Affections, on the other hand, are always the fruit or effect of what the mind understands and knows. The will

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10 Things You Should Know about the New Heaven and New Earth

Sam Storms: Where will believers in Jesus spend eternity? It won’t be on a cloud or a star in some distant galaxy. It will be on the sanctified and redeemed soil of the new earth. Here are ten things you should about what eternal life will be like in the new heaven and new earth. (1) According to Revelation 21:1 this present earth and the heavens above will “pass away” when Jesus Christ returns to destroy his enemies and consummate his kingdom. But this present earth does not give way to a purely spiritual existence somewhere in the clouds above. The “first heaven and the first earth” give way to a new heaven and a new earth. The relationship between the former and the latter is ambiguous. Will the new heaven and earth replace the old or simply be a renewal of what we now experience? Certainly there are elements of continuity, even as there are between our present, corruptible bodies and

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10 Things You Should Know about Forgiving Others

Sam Storms: Forgiving others is counter-intuitive to human nature. It rarely seems to make sense. Most often it grates on our souls like fingernails on a chalkboard. King Louis XII of France spoke for us all when he said, “Nothing smells so sweet as the dead body of your enemy!” If we were honest with each other we’d readily admit that we enjoy withholding forgiveness because it permits us to keep our enemies (and even some of our friends) under control. It gives us the opportunity to manipulate them into providing things we want from them. We use their offense against us as a rope to dangle them over the fires of vengeance. If we were to completely forgive them, we would lose our excuse for self-pity. And forgiveness would set them free from their obligation to us to “make good.” One thing I’ve learned over the years is that people typically refuse to forgive others or even to consider

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10 Things You Should Know about Original Sin

Sam Storms: Original sin sounds so archaic, so pessimistic, so grimly medieval. For heaven’s sake, this is the era of the computer and the space shuttle. And haven’t the most learned psychologists and sociologists assured us that people are by nature good, having been turned to their evil ways not by some inner instinct but through the influence of a deviant culture and sub-standard education? These questions indicate how important it is for us to understand the biblical notion of original sin. So here are ten things to keep in mind. (1) The terminology of “original sin” has been used in any one of three ways. Often people think immediately of the “original” original sin, i.e., the first sin of Adam. Others use this language to refer to “inherited” sin, the idea that all humans are born morally corrupt and spiritually alienated from God. Finally, by “original sin” some are referring to the causal relationship between Adam’s sin and our

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