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 (John 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 15:7). 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
The Gospel is the Source of Strength for Weak People
Sam Storms: I fear we often have an unrealistic image of the Apostle Paul. We tend to think of him as if he were some combination of a Navy Seal and a Super-Hero. And yet, Paul knew what it was like to experience human weakness. When he described his ministry in the city of Corinth he said that he was with them “in weakness and in fear and in much trembling” (1 Cor. 2:3). I don’t need to tell any of you what it is like to feel weak and inadequate and overwhelmed. But here is the good news: The gospel can strengthen you! The gospel can empower you! The gospel can supply you with whatever you need to remain faithful to the Lord and to accomplish whatever he’s called you to do. How, you ask? I’ve got a lot of answers! Consider your suffering. The only way you can suffer unjustly without growing bitter and resentful is tied directly to
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The Christian Life Is Church-Shaped
Thom S. Rainer: I am a Christian. Four life-defining words. Christ died for me, rose for me, redeemed me. If you can say, “I am a Christian,” these truths apply to you as well. Sometimes, though, when we memorize Scripture, we end at Ephesians 2:8–9 (“God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.“). But there is much, much more: “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago” (Eph. 2:10, NLT). Don’t miss it. We were saved not by our good works, but to do the good works God has planned. And there’s more—a further point that’s often overlooked. Yes, we’re saved by grace through faith. Yes, we’re saved to do good works. But we’re saved to do those good works in the context and under the accountability of a church. In the book of Ephesians, Paul
Christians Need the Gospel Too
Derek Thomas: Some twenty years ago, I spoke at a conference in Iowa along with Jerry Bridges. In a breakout session, I sat in the rear and listened to him explain why Christians need the gospel too. This was a recent insight, he confessed. In subsequent editions of his book Disciplines of Grace, he added this insight. I must confess that I have thought about it frequently ever since. At one level, the statement seems obvious. Of course Christians need the gospel every day. How could it be otherwise? When Paul writes to the church in Rome, he begins by saying, “So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome” (Rom. 1:15). The letter is addressed to professing Christians in Rome who, Paul reasons, need to hear the gospel again. He concludes the letter with these words: “Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ” (16:25).
5 Reasons to Love Repentance
Will Anderson: The imperative—“Repent!”—assaults modern sensibilities like nails on a chalkboard. Repentance is often dismissed as the sadistic mantra of self-loathers; or worse, dreaded as a pistol drawn in pulpits to scare sinners into submission. But repentance—the act of turning from sin and toward God—pervades the biblical story as a life preserver for God’s people, not a cruel waterboarding tactic. Strikingly, Jesus’s main message is summarized in the Gospels as: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17; Mark 1:15; Luke 5:32). If repentance is so central in Jesus’s teaching, why is it so peripheral (or nonexistent) in ours? Repentance, Where Art Thou? Different tribes give different responses. Progressives tend to deny repentance altogether, rejecting it as fundamentalist fodder. I recently met with a local progressive church leader who feels this way, and during our charitable yet lively conversation, she remarked: “I never address sin from the pulpit. I don’t think it’s helpful to tell people how bad they are all the time.” While
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
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
“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
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
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
Why Did Jesus Sleep During the Storm?
Scott Redd: The story of the sea storm in the Gospel of Mark picks up right after Jesus has given a series of sermons. He’s preached to a crowd so large that he had to speak from a boat pushed a short distance into the water. Mark 4:35–41 tells the story of Jesus calming the storm—but, curiously, we find the Lord asleep as the chaos breaks out around him: And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. (Mark 4:37–39) Why was Jesus asleep in the boat? There are a few possible explanations. Mark, as well as most
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
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
How Do We Become Spiritually Mature?
John MacArthur: We don’t want to remain spiritual children, perpetually stuck in infancy. We don’t want to be weak, vulnerable, and immature. Nor do we want to be ignorant about God’s truth, because we want to fully glorify Him for everything He has done. We want to appreciate Him in all His fullness, knowing and loving Him thoroughly. If that’s the goal, then how do we get there? How do we respond to the Word in a way that drives that progress? I see three definitive steps in the biblical pattern of sanctification. The first is cognition. John 17:17 gives our Lord’s prayer: “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” We have to understand what the Bible says and what it means if it is going to produce growth in us. Sanctification begins with spiritually renewing the mind, that is, changing how we think. We need “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16). There is no premium on ignorance or naivete
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
The Value of Being Blunt
John Piper: Looking at Harshness and Cheerfulness Most of us know people who are blunt. Sometimes their bluntness morphs into harshness and unkindness. If that happens often enough, we may sense that they have a kind of personality disorder, because they seem unable to express emotions other than frustration and anger. They give little positive affirmation and little praise—of anything. There is little spontaneous expression of the sort of joy that is self-forgetful and simply swept up into some wonderful experience. On the other hand, most of us know people who are always chipper, always smiling, always commending, always gentle and kind. We marvel at this. It seems wonderful and biblical. But then, over time, we may sense that something is amiss. These people never seem to notice the wrongs others do. They seem to never take note of evils and injustices in society. They are silent when others are wrestling with a difficult moral issue. They don’t give their
The Key to Not Grumbling in Suffering
John Piper: A Rare Trait I am drawn to people who suffer without murmuring. Especially when they believe in God but never get angry with him or criticize him. It seems to me that not murmuring is one of the rarest traits in the world. And when it is combined with a deep faith in God—who could alter our painful circumstances, but doesn’t—it has a beautiful God-trusting, God-honoring quality that makes it all the more attractive. Paul was like that. Brought to the Brink of Death Paul tells of the time when his faith was put to the test in a way that brought him to the brink of despair and death: We were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a
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
The Promise-Driven Life
John Piper: So the challenge of the Christian life — and at 66, I am deeply desirous to learn how to do this. Paul did say, “I’ve learned the secret” as though it took some time (see Philippians 4:12 NASB). How many times do I come to the end of a day and I shake my head and say, “It’s been eight hours since I thought about trusting a promise.” I haven’t even thought about it. But do you know what else I’ve had in those eight hours? Anxiety. Murmuring. Where do they come from? Not trusting promises. This takes some of us a lifetime to learn. O you young people, get this now. That’s why I prayed at the beginning, “O God, build habits into our lives.” Habits of trusting promises, habits of hourly going to the Lord and saying, “I need you. I need you. I need you.” And then don’t just go away saying, “Yeah, I need him,” and feeling