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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Justified by “Thirst” Alone!

Sam Storms: In his description of the new heaven and new earth, John refers to several glorious blessings that God’s people will experience. In Revelation 21:6 he mentions one in particular. It is God himself who declares: “To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.” Why doesn’t he simply say, “to the one who believes”? Why “thirst”? In fact, this isn’t the only time this imagery is used. In Revelation 22:17 we read this: “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who desires take the water of life without price.” So here we have two words used: “thirsts” and “desires.” His point is that saving faith or belief is more than a merely intellectual agreement with the truth of the gospel. Saving faith, the belief that leads to eternal life, is the thirsting of the soul and the desiring of the soul for the satisfaction that only Christ can bring. If you prefer the “beverages” of the

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Seven Ways to Quench the Spirit

Sam Storms: If the apostle Paul himself had not warned us about quenching the Spirit, who among us would have thought it was possible (1 Thessalonians 5:19–22)? To suggest that the omnipotent Spirit of God could ever be quenched, and thus restricted in what he might do otherwise in our lives, and in the life of the local church, is to tread on thin theological ice. Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5 that God has granted to Christians the ability either to restrict or release what the Spirit does in the life of the local church. The Spirit comes to us as a fire, either to be fanned into full flame and given the freedom to accomplish his will, or to be doused and extinguished by the water of human fear, control, and flawed theology. How many of us pause to consider the ways in which we inadvertently quench the Spirit’s work in our lives individually and in our churches corporately?

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The Dangers of Reading Providence

Sam Storms: As I’ve been preaching through the book of Revelation it has become ever more evident to me that reading divine providence is a tricky and often dangerous business. By “reading providence” I mean the tendency that all of us have to interpret what God is doing in the world around us and even in our own lives. We typically try to read providence because we are uncomfortable with mystery. We don’t like being kept in the dark about why God does or doesn’t do certain things. We don’t like having to tell people that we can’t answer their questions about why, if God is good and powerful, he permits evil to flourish in the world. We would much rather create an answer, even when the Bible remains silent. I am regularly asked what natural disasters mean. Why do they occur? Is God trying to tell us something? Is it always punishment for sin, or could it be a

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10 Things You Should Know about Church Membership

Sam Storms: Membership in a local church is very much in the minds of Christians these days. Is it biblical? Is it necessary? Is it helpful? These and other questions lead to the following ten things you should know about what church membership means and entails. [In addition to my own research, I’ve drawn heavily on the writings of John Piper, Michael McKinley, Jim Elliff, Mark Dever, and Kevin DeYoung.] Perhaps the best place to begin is by asking the question: What do you want from your local church? I assume, first of all, that you want a local church where you can be known and loved and cared for by other Christians. There is, after all, no such thing as an “anonymous-lone-ranger-Christian” in the NT. You can certainly remain anonymous if you want to. It’s easier to do in a church of several thousand where you can slip in on a Sunday morning and sit along the wall and

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The Comfort and Security of Knowing that God is in Control

Sam Storms: It’s not easy today to remain hopeful and encouraged and confident about the future of our society and the world as a whole. Things are a mess. For every one step forward it seems like we take two steps backwards. For every victory that is won for truth and morality and the Christian faith, it seems as if there is a multitude of defeats. In his excellent commentary on Revelation Dennis Johnson puts it this way: “When evil is everywhere and the world is ripe for judgment, can God protect his own? When economies crash, when civil order falters and the social fabric frays, when restraint and respect give way to rude aggression and random violence, when greed and animal appetite reign supreme, this question weighs on the hearts of God’s people: Can God keep Jesus’ little flock safe as they stand, it seems, defenseless in the crossfire? On the one hand, Christian believers will be targeted for

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10 Things You Should Know about Jonathan Edwards’ Most Important Sermon

Sam Storms: The first thing you should know (but not included among the ten) is that Jonathan Edwards’s most important sermon was not “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” That was certainly his most famous sermon, but not the most important one he ever preached. That distinction must be reserved for “A Divine and Supernatural Light,” which he delivered to his congregation in Northampton, Massachusetts, in 1734. The full title to this message was “A Divine and Supernatural Light Immediately Imparted to the Soul, by the Spirit of God, shown to be both a Scriptural and Rational Doctrine.” The sermon was based on Matthew 16:17 where Jesus said to Peter, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” (1) Edwards was quick to explain what the “divine and supernatural light” is not. It is not to be identified with the conviction of sin that unregenerate people experience. The

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Resolutions for the New Year (with a little help from Jonathan Edwards)

Sam Storms: Resolving in the grace of God to bring one’s life into greater conformity to the image of Jesus is an appropriate expression of Christian sanctification, regardless of the time of year. It was in the late fall of 1722 that 19-year-old Jonathan Edwards wrote the first of what would eventually become 70 resolutions for life. He was, at the time, serving as pastor of a Presbyterian church in New York City. The 70th, and last resolution, was written on August 17th, 1723. It is essential that one acknowledge the sustaining grace of God to empower our keeping of all resolutions. Edwards put it this way: “Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake.” Instead of listing all 70, I’ve selected a few that have had the greatest

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The Word Became Flesh! A Meditation on the Paradoxes of the Incarnation

Sam Storms: I’ve often said that the single most amazing, mind-boggling verse in the Bible is John 1:14 – “The Word became flesh!” As we approach Christmas, I thought it would be good to post again some observations I made in my book, Pleasures Evermore. I pray you are blessed by this meditation on the paradoxes of the Incarnation. Take a deep breath and ponder what this means. Don’t dismiss it as theological speculation. This is a truth on which your eternal destiny hangs suspended. This is a truth the beauty and majesty of which will captivate your attention and cause sin to sink in your estimation. Wherein lies the power to turn from iniquity and say No to sin? It lies in the power and irresistible appeal of an uncreated God who would dare to become a man! The Word became flesh! God became human! the invisible became visible! the untouchable became touchable! eternal life experienced temporal death! the transcendent one descended

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10 Things You Should Know about the Gospel

Sam Storms: As much as we hear about the gospel of Jesus Christ one would think that everyone is on the same page when it comes to defining this word. Sadly, that is not the case. So just what is the gospel? How might we define it? Here are ten things to keep in mind. (1) The “gospel” is the gloriously great good news of what our triune God has graciously done in the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ to satisfy his own wrath against us and to secure the forgiveness of sins and perfect righteousness for all who trust in him by faith alone. Christ fulfilled, on our behalf, the perfectly obedient life under God’s law that we should have lived, but never could. He died, in our place, the death that we deserved to suffer but now never will. And by his rising from the dead he secures for those who believe the promise of

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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 portrayed

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God’s Delight in Being God: The Foundation of Christian Hedonism

Sam Storms: You are all aware, I’m quite sure, that there is an eternity of difference between saying, “Delight yourself,” and “Delight yourself in the Lord” (Psalm 37:4). The former is pagan or secular hedonism. The latter is Christian Hedonism. So let’s unpack this notion that our delight or joy is to be in God. And the question is: Why, and what does that mean? In order to answer that, I want to direct your attention to a footnote. Strange as it may sound, often times the most powerful and transforming of truths can be found in footnotes rather than in the main text of a book. In the 2000 edition of The Pleasures of God, on page 26, footnote 3, John Piper writes this: “The truth that God is infinitely happy in the fellowship of the Trinity is . . . the ground of our ever-increasing happiness, as God grants us the unspeakable privilege of enjoying God with the

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