The Surprising Truth about Legalism

Adapted from The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters by Sinclair Ferguson. As Old As Eden The root of legalism is almost as old as Eden, which explains why it is a primary, if not the ultimate, pastoral problem. In seeking to bring freedom from legalism, we are engaged in undoing the ancient work of Satan. In Eden the Serpent persuaded Eve and Adam that God was possessed of a narrow and restrictive spirit bordering on the malign. After all, the Serpent whispered, “Isn’t it true that he placed you in this garden full of delights and has now denied them all to you?” The implication was twofold. It was intended to dislodge Eve from the clarity of God’s word (“Did God actually say . . . ?”). Later the attack focused on the authority of God’s word (“You will not surely die”). But it was more. It was an attack on God’s character.

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Freedom from the Tyranny of Hyperspirituality

Jared Wilson: My friends tell me the story of a Christian sister from their church past who would agonize in the mornings over which shoe to tie first, for fear of violating the will of God. This is serious business. So let me tell you a serious story from my own church past: When I was in the ninth grade, some of my fellow youth group members and I were a part of something called the “student ministry team” at our Baptist church in Albuquerque, New Mexico. One weekend, our youth pastor took us into the beautiful Sandia Mountains for a spiritual retreat, and on that Saturday our assignment after lunch was to get away by ourselves somewhere and listen for God and not return until we had heard from him. Late that night we all sat around our cabin living room floor and shared what God had allegedly shared with each of us. I write “allegedly” there, because I

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Done before Do

By Bryan Chapell, author of Unlimited Grace: The Heart Chemistry That Frees from Sin and Fuels the Christian Life. Getting the Order Right When you see the message of grace unfolding in the Bible a pattern emerges. God is gracious to us, and then expects us to respond. It is never the other way around—we respond in obedience and then somehow God decides to be gracious to us. There is always this order of the “who” and the “do”. We are loved; we are the children of God. Therefore we respond in what we do. God never says, “You obey me and then I’ll love you.” He is always saying, “Because I have loved you, because I have claimed you, you are mine. Now walk in my ways.” This is the pattern of the ten commandments themselves. There are certainly many things we’re told to do in the ten commandments. But before God tells us to do anything he says,

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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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Does Augustine Still Matter?

By Gerald Bray, author of Augustine on the Christian Life: Transformed by the Power of God. Does Augustine Still Matter? What does Augustine mean to us now? What is there about his life and work that still speaks to the Christian life today, and to what extent are his thoughts original to him? Was he merely repeating what had gone before, or did he strike out on new pathways that have remained serviceable for the modern church? 1. The Importance of Real Relationship with God The first thing we notice about him is the emphasis he placed on the relationship of the individual to God. He lived in a world that was rapidly becoming Christian, at least in a formal and public sense. It would have been very easy for him to have gone with the flow, as many of his contemporaries did. But Augustine confessed that he became a Christian only when the Holy Spirit of God moved in

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The Gospel Kind of Christ-Centeredness

Jared Wilson: Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you— unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance . . . — 1 Corinthians 15:1-3 To be gospel-centered is to be Christ-centered. But as it pertains to the pursuit of holiness and obedience to God’s commands we may opt more often for the terminology “gospel-centered,” because without more qualifications, “Christ-centered obedience” can be misconstrued to imply simply taking Jesus as a moral example. Jesus is our moral example, of course, but the power for enduring, joyful obedience comes not from trying to be like him, but in first believing that he has become like us, that he has died in our place, risen as our resurrection firstfruits, ascended to intercede for us, and seated to

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What Is the Gospel?

  Greg Gilbert: A Message from God What exactly do Christians mean when they talk about the “gospel of Jesus Christ”? Since the word “gospel” means “good news,” when Christians talk about the gospel, they’re simply telling the good news about Jesus! It’s a message from God saying, “Good news! Here is how you can be saved from my judgment!” That’s an announcement you can’t afford to ignore. Why Is the Gospel Good News? So, what is the good news about Jesus Christ? Since the earliest Christians announced the good news about Jesus, it has been organized around these questions: Who made us, and to whom are we accountable? What is our problem? What is God’s solution to our problem? How can I be included in his solution? Christians through the centuries since Christ have answered those questions with the same truth from the Bible. We are accountable to God. Our problem is our sin against him. God’s solution is

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Why Does the Trinity Matter?

Silverio Gonzalez: Why does the Trinity matter? This is a fair question, especially since the Trinity isn’t easy to understand. Simply put, the Trinity is God in three persons and one essence. God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but there are not three gods. There is only one God who is three persons. This is complex. Christians want to move on from talking or thinking about God to knowing God. I understand that, but I want you to see that understanding the Trinity actually changes your life. As you come to know God, you come to know the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. As Christians, you and I have a personal relationship with each person of the Trinity. This kind of knowledge is more than just what you need to know to pass a doctrine exam. This kind of knowledge matters for your life. It makes life worth living. Here are three ways understanding the Trinity will

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Everyday Justification

By Tim Chester, coauthor of Why the Reformation Still Matters. A Personal Doctrine Justification is not just a doctrinal or church doctrine. It is a deeply personal doctrine. Every time I sin, I create a reason to doubt my acceptance by God and I question my future with God. But day after day, the doctrine of justification speaks peace to my soul. This is especially true of imputed righteousness. Catholicism says that righteousness is imparted to us or infused into us, primarily through the sacraments. This righteousness is the potential to live a righteous life that pleases God. With God’s help mediated through the church, we may be accepted by God. We are justified by faith, but it is faith plus human effort. Declared Righteous In contrast, the Reformers spoke of imputed righteousness. Luther said saving righteousness is external or alien. In other words, it’s not our righteousness; it’s not something we achieve. Instead, Christ’s righteousness is given to us

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The All-Satisfying Object

John Piper: Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4) The quest for pleasure is not even optional, but commanded (in the Psalms): “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). The psalmists sought to do just this: “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Psalm 42:1–2). “My soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1). The motif of thirsting has its satisfying counterpart when the psalmist says that men “drink their fill of the abundance of Your house; and You give them to drink of the river of Your delights” (Psalm 36:8, NASB). I found that the goodness of God, the very foundation of worship, is not a thing

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You Know You’re Really Preaching the Gospel When…

Dave Harvey: When two pastors meet for the first time, the same question always comes up: How big is your church? And I get it. How else is a pastor supposed to determine if he’s a success or failure? Pastoral ministry isn’t like sports, in which even the most obscure statistics (average yards per carry on third downs after 3:00 PM) are quantified and assigned value. Ministry isn’t like business either, with a bottom line that is either distinctly red or distinctly black. Ministry isn’t like manufacturing, which is often boiled down to the how many you sold and how much you made on each sale. No, ministry is much more nebulous. Earthly equations for determining a pastor’s success or failure are much more difficult to come by. Because of it’s nebulous nature, some pastors desperately try to find some measurement or number that will help them determine if they are successful. They want to be assured they are doing

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3 Things to Know about Union with Christ

Timothy W. Massaro: The phrase, “union with Christ,” has enjoyed a recent resurgence of interest. This important element of Scripture was something that I only came to understand in part within the last ten years of being a Christian. Until recently, it never really struck me how important this doctrine was for my whole outlook on Christianity, and especially how we as Christians relate to Jesus. Union with Christ represents the sum of our salvation, fellowship, and communion with Jesus. From the early days of creation, the goal that God had in mind was ever-deepening fellowship with his people. This communion is emphasized over and over again in the New Testament as what we now have through God’s Son. The Bible points to our union with Christ with the prepositional phrase “in Christ” (Eph. 1:4; 11; 2 Tim. 1:9; Rom. 5, 6:1–23; 1 Cor. 15:35–58). Through the Holy Spirit who gives us faith, we are united to Christ like branches

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The Attraction of Idolatry

Kevin DeYoung: We know as Christians, on an intellectual level, that we have idols—be it family, food, football or whatever. But to see the allure of idolatry can be hard for those of us in the Western world. That’s why I appreciate the points laid out by Doug Stuart in his Exodus commentary (450-54). Stuart suggests nine reasons idolatry was attractive to the Israelites and in the cultures of the Ancient Near East. 1. It was guaranteed. If you do the right incantation, you get the right results. Just say the right words and the gods show up. Who wouldn’t want that? 2. It was selfish. In the ancient world, the gods, though they were powerful, needed humans to feed them. Sacrifices were brought to the gods because they were hungry. Consequently, you can get what you want from the gods simply be bringing them the sacrifices they need 3. It was easy. Sure, you need to show up and

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Why Complementarianism Remains Important

  Richard Phillips: Recent months have seen considerable controversy among conservative Christians around the topic of complementarianism, arising mainly from a false analogy between the subordination of wives to husbands and that of God the Son to God the Father. Depending on your perspective, the complementarian view has been either maligned, discredited, or reformed. My hope is that events will prove that the latter has taken place. I am in complete solidarity with those who reject the eternal subordination of the Son in any form, since no amount of nuance or affirmation of Christ’s deity can preserve it from functionally reproducing the Arian position. There are no ends for which a degrading of the Trinity is an excusable means. I am therefore grateful for the way this controversy, though regrettably contentious, has highlighted massively important issues of theology that tend to receive little attention. At the same time, my hope is that this attempt to reform the complementarian position will

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The Depth of My Depravity

Tim Challies: Testimony—that’s a good Christian word, isn’t it? Each of us has a testimony, an account of how God extended his grace to us. And these testimonies are beautiful things, each one recounting the sovereign work of our great God. Now, much has been said about how we tend to prefer the testimonies that feature the most dramatic lows. We have all heard those tales that almost seem to revel in past sins more than feel regret for them. But we like those stories because we find a certain kind of thrill in hearing how someone turned away from a life of such egregious sin. I used to feel a little bit odd about telling others how I was saved. I was a good kid. I had opportunities to drink and do drugs, but just wasn’t interested. I didn’t ever steal anything beyond a few coins after running errands for my mother. There just isn’t a whole lot to tell. But the

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Your Testimony Isn’t About You

Jordan Monson: We live in an age of narcissism. It is the era of self-actualization, the relentless race to perfect the self. Time magazine reported in 2013 that “Narcissistic personality disorder is nearly three times as high for people in their twenties as for the generation that’s now 65 or older. . . . 58% more college students scored higher on a narcissism scale in 2009 than in 1982.” As the West has become more narcissistic, so have the people in our churches. We see it on social media. We hear it over coffee. We see it when young people break away from living and breathing social groups to snap a selfie. We also see it in our evangelism. A decade or two ago our evangelism still pointed outward. We spoke of the existence of God, objective truth, and the historical reliability of the resurrection. Now, swaths of churches have moved on to leading with personal testimonies. This contextualization isn’t

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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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The Gospel Past and The Gospel Future Make Your Gospel Present

Jared Wilson: The oracle of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi: “I have loved you,” says the LORD. But you say, “How have you loved us?” “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.” If Edom says, “We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins,” the LORD of hosts says, “They may build, but I will tear down, and they will be called ‘the wicked country,’ and ‘the people with whom the LORD is angry forever.’” Your own eyes shall see this, and you shall say, “Great is the LORD beyond the border of Israel!” (Malachi 1:1-5) There is past tense and then future tense. There is “I have loved you” and there is “Your own eyes shall see . . .” God through Malachi is addressing a half-hearted, spiritually

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10 Things You Should Know about Persecution

By Tim Keesee, author of Dispatches from the Front: Stories of Gospel Advance in the World’s Difficult Places. 1. Persecution is bound up with Christ’s persecution. Jesus made that clear on His way to Jerusalem when he told his disciples that there he would “suffer many things . . . and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Matt. 16:21). And then he told his followers that they were, in fact, to follow him by taking up their cross—that is, by fully identifying with him, whatever that would cost them and wherever that would take them. Suffering for the sake of the gospel is a way in which we identify with Christ’s sufferings—and he, in turn, identifies with the sufferings of His people. “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you

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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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