Division Begins With the Departure from the Truth

Jared Wilson: Do two walk together, unless they have agreed to meet? — Amos 3:3 Christians who affirm the normative, traditional, historical, orthodox view of the Bible’s teaching on various sins are always accused of being divisive when in sticking to their affirmations they must disassociate with those who don’t. It’s a disingenuous claim, however, since unity could have been preserved so long as the agreement did. But when one changes a mind on such matters, the division has begun with them (1 Cor. 1:10), not the one who says, “Ah, you’ve changed the rules; you’ve changed the agreement.” It would be like the adulterer calling after his wife as she’s walking out the door in anger and shame that she’s being divisive. The person who objects is often told they are “singling out” this particular sin as over-important, as more important than unity! But it is not those who protest who are singling out particular sins. It is those

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How We’ve Misunderstood “Do This in Remembrance of Me”

Adriel Sanchez: Right before Jesus’ death, he instituted a special meal for his church to observe. Historically, this meal was called the Eucharist, which means “thanksgiving.” Often today we call it communion or the Lord’s Supper. Although churches differ on how frequently we should take communion, the universal consensus among Christians is that this meal is an important part of our faith. When Jesus was reclining with his disciples, after breaking some bread and distributing it to them he said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” (Lk. 22:19) Many Christians have taken this to mean that during communion, we are to do our best to recollect the story of Christ’s death. We remember the gospel, and as we’re reminded, the gospel stirs our hearts in worship. This is, without a doubt, a good thing, but is it what Jesus was really getting at when he said, “Do this in remembrance of

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Having Jesus As Our Greatest Treasure – A Prayer

. Scotty Smith: Philippians 3:7 – I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. 8 Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ 9 and become one with him. Lord Jesus, as I meditate on the Apostle Paul’s words, I smell the aroma of a free man, a joyful man, and a grace-man–a man I want to become more like. Things he once treasured became Paul’s “garbage.” Old stuff that used to consume him, no longer even amused him. Enjoying an intimate and robust relationship with you mean more to Paul that any other competing currency and treasure. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with

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What We Need Most

Kevin DeYoung: The biggest need in your life, and in mine, is to see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. I’m convinced that more evangelism, more prayer, more fruitfulness, more holiness will flow from the fountain of our lives only when we start drinking more deeply of Christ. If you want to be more merciful, look upon Jesus who cried out at the cross, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” If you want to be more loving, look upon Jesus who ate with sinners and welcomed repentant prostitutes and tax collectors into the kingdom. If you want to be purer, look upon Jesus whose eyes are like flames of fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. If you want more courage in the face of lies and injustice, look upon Jesus who drove out the money changers from the temple with a whip. If you want to be stronger in the

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Don’t Pursue Feelings. Pursue Christ.

Joe Thorn: Human beings are emotional creatures. We love or hate, feel happy or sad, angry or joyful. And yet christians sometimes struggle with integrating emotion into their spiritual lives and end up falling victim to dangerous tendencies when it comes to their emotions. These tendencies occupy two ends of a spectrum, and they have led many into a superficial kind of Christianity. We see these tendencies at both the personal level and at the corporate level. One danger is emotionalism, in which we allow our feelings to interpret our circumstances and form our thoughts about God. This is putting feelings before faith. The other danger is a kind of stoicism, where faith is rooted in theology but void of affection. This tendency removes feelings from faith altogether. While it is true that our emotions should not lead our theology, it is vital to our faith that theology lead to a deep experience of our triune God. Good doctrine is critically important

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What Is This Thing Called Church?

Bernard N. Howard: In 2004 the Church of England began its first internet church: i-church.org. It still exists today, with a pastor and members who interact with one another online. But is it really a church? Many churches in America are made up of multiple campuses, but from a biblical point of view, is it possible for one church to be located in numerous places? These questions are more than theological teasers; they have real significance for God’s people. Darren Carlson, president of Training Leaders International, recently observed, “The greatest problem in missions right now is disagreement over what constitutes a local church.” That’s not a small statement. Clearly we need to think with care about what a church is. Dictionary Definitions The English word “church” has a number of meanings, most of which are religious. But the Greek word ekklesia—the Bible word translated “church”—is different. Non-Christians in the first century wouldn’t have thought of it as a religious word. To them it simply meant “a

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How Then Should We Preach?

Ryan McGraw: However well constructed and attractive, a car is useless without fuel. On the flip side, a motor may have fuel without being a vehicle. Likewise, preaching is a vehicle that requires fuel. God designed preaching to bring us to himself through faith in Christ. If preaching does not have the right content, then it becomes more of a motor than a vehicle, since it can no longer take us where we need to go. If preaching has the right content, yet the Holy Spirit is absent from it, then it functions like a vehicle without fuel. It is only when Spirit shapes the content and blesses the act of preaching that preaching become a vehicle to bring us to God, through Christ, by the Spirit. In 1 Cor. 2:1-5, the Apostle Paul teaches these things when he writes: “And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you

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Is Your Church an Institution?

Ray Ortlund: To call anything an “institution” today can be its death sentence, including a church. Should we be ashamed of the institutional aspects of our churches? What is an institution? An institution is a social mechanism for making a desirable experience easily repeatable. An institution is where life-giving human activities can be nurtured and protected and sustained. Some aspects of life should be unscheduled, spontaneous, random. But not all of life should be. Some things are too wonderful to be left to chance. Football season is an institution, Thanksgiving Day is an institution, and so forth. Institutions are not a problem. But institutionalization is. An institution can enrich life, but institutionalization takes that good thing and turns it into death. How? The structure, the mechanism, the means, becomes the end. The institution itself takes on its own inherent purpose. The delivery system overshadows the experience it is meant to deliver. When, in the corporate psychology of a group of

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God’s Sovereignty and Glory

By Derek Thomas: God is sovereign in creation, providence, redemption, and judgment. That is a central assertion of Christian belief and especially in Reformed theology. God is King and Lord of all. To put this another way: nothing happens without God’s willing it to happen, willing it to happen before it happens, and willing it to happen in the way that it happens. Put this way, it seems to say something that is expressly Reformed in doctrine. But at its heart, it is saying nothing different from the assertion of the Nicene Creed: “I believe in God, the Father Almighty.” To say that God is sovereign is to express His almightiness in every area. God is sovereign in creation. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). Apart from God, there was nothing. And then there was something: matter, space, time, energy. And these came into being ex nihilo—out of nothing. The will to create was entirely

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5 Sources of True Change

This post is adapted from How Does Sanctification Work? by David Powlison: 1. God himself changes you. This is foundational to all. “It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). He intervenes in your life, turning you from suicidal self-will to the kingdom of life. He raises you in Christ when you are dead in trespasses and sins. He restores hearing when you are deaf (you could not hear him otherwise). He gives sight when you are blind (you could not see him otherwise). He is immediately and personally present, a life-creating voice, a strong and strengthening hand. All good fruit in our lives comes by the Holy Spirit’s working on scene. Jesus said it was better if he went away, because the Holy Spirit would come (John 16:7). The Holy Spirit continues to do the things that Jesus does—continually adding to the number of books that could be

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Why God Demands Worship

Don Carson: I have been doing university missions off and on for about thirty-five years. About a dozen years ago, I started stumbling across a question from university undergraduates that I never received when I was a young man. This relatively recent question is put variously, but it generally runs something like this: “Amongst human beings, anyone who wants to have all of the attention and garner all the praise, anyone who wants to be the focus of everyone’s constant admiration, with everyone stroking that person and fawning all over him, would be thought of as massively egocentric. The God you are trying to push on us looks to me to be very egocentric. He keeps demanding that we praise Him all the time. For goodness sake, is He insecure? Isn’t He, at very least, morally defective? What do you say to that? The reason I never heard that sort of question in the past, I suspect, is because until fairly

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What About Those Who Have Never Heard?

John Piper’s reply to a letter from a 12-year-old about heaven and hell: You asked what happens to people who live far away from the gospel and have never heard about Jesus and die without faith in him. Here is what I think the Bible teaches. God always punishes people because of what they know and fail to believe. In other words, no one will be condemned for not believing in Jesus who has never heard of Jesus. Does that mean that people will be saved and go to heaven if they have never heard of Jesus? No, that is not what God tells us in the Bible. The main passage in the Bible that talks about this is Romans 1:18–23. Here is what it says. Then I’ll make a comment or two. For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be

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Doctrine Is Precious in the Storm

Erik Raymond: Theology often gets a bad rap. Pitted against application, doctrine is painted as stuffy and out of step. But so often when we read the Bible we find that it is the theology that drives the devotion. Orthodoxy gets pressed down into the crevices of our lives to make us grow. Like an expert mason with his trowel, the Lord uses trials to press the mortar of doctrine into the deepest parts of our lives. One story that brings this out in a refreshing way is the time when Rebekah was pregnant with twins. Like us, Rebekah was not promised an easy life on the road of blessing. She experienced great conflict. We read in Genesis 25:22, “the children struggled together within her.” The NIV says that the babies jostled together within her. There was a conflict in Rebekah’s womb, and it was most certainly painful. In response, Rebekah asks a very appropriate question, “and she said, “If

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Is There a Silver Bullet of Sanctification?

This post is adapted from How Does Sanctification Work? by David Powlison. “Just . . .” We are all tempted to oversimplify. We long for one “key” truth, a “secret” principle, the foolproof technique, some life-changing experience that makes everything different from now on. If only there were some one thing to make Christian growth certain! But there is no single key. You often hear people say things like “He should just remember that . . .” Or “If only she would just do . . .” Or “If I could just experience . . .” You’ve probably said things like that yourself. I certainly have. Preachers, teachers, counselors, authors, and friends instinctively gravitate toward naming some truth, some spiritual discipline, some action step, or some experience as the key that will unlock everything. The phrase “Just . . .” is a tip-off. But there are no “Just [do x, y, or z]” solutions to the puzzles of our sanctification.

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Luther, and the Creative Power of the Word

. Carl Trueman: . The importance of Luther to the Christian faith cannot be overstated. For many today, he is probably a figure who looks larger as a symbol of defiance or a heroic rebel against a corrupt church and decadent theology.There is much truth in such images. His stand at the Diet of Worms was a remarkable act of courageous defiance. And his theology represented nothing less than a self-conscious attempt to overthrow the medieval thought which he had been taught and replace it with a comprehensive understanding of God and the gospel as refracted the incarnate and crucified Christ. . Yet there is more to Luther. Indeed, perhaps his greatest contribution to the faith, and one that we can still learn from today, is his understanding of God’s Word. When we hear this term, our modern evangelical minds typically go to the contemporary debates about inerrancy, infallibility, interpretation and the like. Certainly such questions are legitimate. But for

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Getting to the Very Core of Pastoral Ministry

Dave Harvey: Imagine that you want to purchase a new, sturdy, handcrafted kitchen table, assembled from the finest pieces of oak. You happen to live near an Amish community, and you know that the Amish have a well-earned reputation for fine furniture that endures the test of time. So you find an Amish carpenter – we’ll call him “Ezekiel” – and you arrange to meet Ezekiel at his shop. But when you arrive, you notice something very strange: there is not a single scrap of wood in the entire shop. There are tools scattered everywhere but not a single piece of wood to be seen. Ezekiel emerges from the back of the shop and greets you with a firm handshake. “This may be a silly question,” you say, “but where is the wood?” “Oh, I don’t use wood. I’m a wood-less carpenter,” he says. You leave the shop, confused. What kind of carpenter doesn’t use wood? Wood is at the

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Three great soundbites that make terrible theology

Matt Fuller: Punchy sound bites are great—they’re memorable and help us get some things clear in our head. Jesus often used punchy sentences without any nuance: “If your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out.” Yet most of us recognize that if we turned that sentence of great preaching into an absolute statement, then there would be a lot of Christians stumbling around without any eyes. There are other very helpful sound bites that often get used in church. They are good preaching and make a helpful impression upon us. But, again, we don’t want to turn them into absolute statements or our faith will similarly stumble. Let me mention three common ones related to sin. 1. “There’s nothing I can do to make God love me more, or love me less.” On one hand that is wonderfully true! Our status before the LORD is secured by our union with Christ. The Christian is one who is justified, adopted and

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Spiritual Blessing: More than Just a Nice Feeling

This post is adapted from Alive in Him: How Being Embraced by the Love of Christ Changes Everything by Gloria Furman: Real Blessings from the Triune God The blessings we have in Christ are more than social niceties like saying “Gesundheit” after someone sneezes. Paul is describing how we have been blessed “with every spiritual blessing.” Often, when we hear of these blessings, we just smile and nod and utter a polite “Thanks,” as though someone has just blessed a sneezing fit. “Spiritual blessings” sounds fake, like a warranty for an appliance that expires the moment you open the package and use the machine. That warranty was never meant to benefit you, the consumer. But God’s blessings are utterly real. The indwelling Holy Spirit is the one who mediates these blessings to us; he brings them to us and applies them to our lives. In the first fourteen verses of Ephesians, Paul writes to unwrap these blessings in a massive

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Why Hell Is Integral to the Gospel

By Greg Gilbert: I’m sure you were overjoyed to learn that 9Marks has devoted an entire Journal on the topic of hell. In fact, it’s a topic that, if anything, makes us want to avert our eyes and think about something else entirely. For some, the horror of the Christian doctrine of hell—that it is a place of eternal, conscious torment where God’s enemies are punished—has led them not just to avert their eyes and minds, but to deny it entirely. “Surely,” they say, “hell is a fictional construct used to oppress people with fear; a God of love would never allow such a place to really exist.” There’s an emotional power to this argument, to be sure. No one, certainly no Christian, likes the idea of hell.   At the same time, this doctrine isn’t just drapery on the side of the Christian worldview, something with no relevance to the structure of the faith itself. Nor is the doctrine

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Why I Preach Through Books of the Bible

Phil Newton: I had a conversation with a minister friend who had been involved in discussing what pastors were preaching in their churches. While most seemed to agree that exposition of the biblical text must have priority in the church, few thought it wise to preach consecutively through books of the Bible—particularly with series that extended beyond twelve weeks. I understand the challenge of longer series but also see the value in the long run. The forty-four sermons that I preached through Ephesians in 1990–91, literally transformed my life, theology, and congregation. Eight or ten sermons would not have sufficed to uproot faulty theology and set us on a right course. The fifty-two sermons in Hebrews in 2000–01, sharpened our understanding of the gospel and its application to the whole of life. What would you say had you been involved in the discussion? Here are a few thoughts that I’ve ruminated on since that conversation: (1) Pastors have the responsibility

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