J. I. Packer on Justification by Faith Alone: The Hallmark of the Protestant Reformation

Sam Storms: This past Saturday, October 31, 2015, marked the 498th anniversary of Martin Luther’s decision to post his 95 Theses on the church door at Wittenberg, Germany. As I’ve thought this week about the significance of the Reformation, and that we are fast approaching the 500th anniversary of that momentous event (1517), I thought it would be helpful to listen to one of evangelicalism’s greatest living theologians on the subject. Here is what J. I. Packer says about justification by faith. It is perhaps the most concise and accurate description of justification you will ever read. And his explanation of the Roman Catholic view and how it differs from the evangelical, biblical, and Protestant view is extremely helpful. “The doctrine of justification, the storm center of the Reformation, was a major concern of the apostle Paul. For him it was the heart of the gospel (Rom. 1:17; 3:21-5:21; Gal. 2:15-5:1) shaping both his message (Acts 13:38-39) and his devotion

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3 Things to Remember Before You Criticize Someone’s Theology

Justin Taylor: Critique—done well—is a gift to the one being criticized. (“Faithful are the wounds of a friend,” Prov. 27:6a). We should welcome the opportunity to have our thinking corrected and clarified. We see in a mirror dimly and we know only in part (1 Cor. 13:12), but God has gifted the church with teachers who often see things more clearly than we do at present. In God’s providence and through the gift of common grace he may also use unbelievers to critique our views, showing our logical mistakes or lack of clarity. Critique done poorly—whether through overstatement, misunderstanding, caricature—is a losing proposition for all. It undermines the credibility of the critic and deprives the one being criticized from the opportunity to improve his or her position. It’s impossible in a blog post to set forth a comprehensive methodology of critique—if such a thing can even be done. But there are at least three exhortations worth remembering about criticism: (1) understand before

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The best and highest study of all

Tim Challies: This powerful quote from Charles Spurgeon is from the introduction to a sermon he preached when he was just 20. Spurgeon called upon his church to commit themselves to the study of God—the best and highest study of all. It has been said by some one that “the proper study of mankind is man.” I will not oppose the idea, but I believe it is equally true that the proper study of God’s elect is God; the proper study of a Christian is the Godhead. The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls his Father. There is something exceedingly improving to the mind in a contemplation of the Divinity. It is a subject so vast, that all our thoughts are lost in its immensity; so deep, that

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Wisdom from Luther on doing theology

  J. I. Packer on Martin Luther’s approach to doing theology: When Martin Luther wrote the Preface to the first collected edition of his many and various writings, he went to town explaining in detail that theology, which should always be based on the Scriptures, should be done according to the pattern modelled in Psalm 119. There, Luther declared, we see three forms of activity and experience make the theologian. The first is prayer for light and understanding. The second is reflective thought (meditatio), meaning sustained study of the substance, thrust, and flow of the biblical text. The third is standing firm under pressure of various kinds (external opposition, inward conflict, and whatever else Satan can muster: pressures, that is, to abandon, suppress, recant, or otherwise decide not to live by, the truth God has shown from his Word. Luther expounded this point as one who knew what he was talking about, and his affirmation that sustained prayer, thought, and

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God is Happy and Sovereign

John Piper: Can you imagine what it would be like if the God who ruled the world were not happy? What if God were given to grumbling and pouting and depression, like some Jack-and-the-beanstalk giant in the sky? What if God were frustrated and despondent and gloomy and dismal and discontented and dejected? Could we join David and say, “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; 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)? I don’t think so. We would all relate to God like little children who have a frustrated, gloomy, dismal, discontented father. They can’t enjoy him. They can only try not to bother him, or maybe try to work for him to earn some little favor. Therefore if God is not a happy God, Christian Hedonism has no foundation. For the aim of the Christian Hedonist is to

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How God’s Wrath Equals and Reveals God’s Worth

Jonathan Leeman: The “penal” in the doctrine of penal substitution, being tied to God’s wrath, has long been a source of controversy inside the church and out. It’s criticized as overly “legal” or “forensic.” People want to look to the cross and talk about Christ’s love, not his enduring the divine penalty. But it’s worth stopping for a moment and meditating on what is behind a penalty. What is behind wrath? The answer is God’s worthiness or God’s worth. God’s wrath is equal to God’s worth, and that the “penal” in penal substitution therefore reveals this very worth. Wrath and worth are perfectly matched together. The former takes the measure of the latter and expresses itself accordingly. One is as precious as the other. So drop the “penal” from penal substitution and you diminish God dramatically. Despise his wrath and you despise his worth. To see this, it’s worth meditating for a moment on what the purpose of law is. The Reformers talked about the

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Understanding the Crucial Reality of the Already but Not Yet

From a recent interview with Tom Schreiner about his new book, The king in His Beauty. Why is understanding the tension of the “already but not yet” so crucial to rightly understanding the Bible? How might grasping this practically help a Christian struggling with sin? If we don’t understand the already but not yet, then we simply won’t and can’t understand the Scriptures. For example, when the kingdom comes in Jesus’ ministry, the dead are raised, demons are cast out, and the sick are healed. Satan’s kingdom is overthrown! The Gospel writers clarify that victory over sin and Satan are due to Christ’s death and resurrection. But what does this mean for us today if the kingdom has come? After all, sickness is rampant, death seems to reign over all, and Satan is alive and well. The answer is the already but not yet. The kingdom has arrived in Jesus and, among other things, the gift of the Spirit demonstrates

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Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility – A Match Made in Heaven

Sam Storms posts: What comes to mind when you hear someone refer to the “sovereignty” of God? Here is J. I. Packer’s answer to that question. As you read and reflect upon it, observe the beautiful harmony that exists between God’s causal priority in all things (as stated in the first paragraph) and human responsibility and moral accountability (as found in the second). They are gloriously compatible! The sovereignty of God, writes Packer, means that, “the living God, who created the entire universe and actively upholds it in being (otherwise it would vanish away, and so would we as part of it), knows everything that has been and now is and foreknows everything that will be just because, in a way that totally passes our understanding, he plans and decides and controls everything that takes place. From inside (and we are all insiders at this point) the cosmos appears as a huge interlocking system of cause and effect, the working

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Martyn Lloyd-Jones: Advice on What to Read

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: My advice to you is: Read Jonathan Edwards. Stop going to so many meetings; stop craving for the various forms of entertainment which are so popular in evangelical circles at the present time. Learn to stay at home. Learn to read again, and do not merely read the exciting stories of certain modern people. Go back to something solid and deep and real. Are we losing the art of reading? Revivals have often started as the result of people reading volumes such as these two volumes of Edwards’ works. So read this man. Decide to do so. Read his sermons; read his practical treatises, and then go on to the great discourses on theological subjects. —D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “Jonathan Edwards and the Crucial Importance of Revival,”Puritans: Their Origins and Successors (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1987), 369-370. Lloyd-Jones elsewhere explained the importance of this practice in his own ministry: In my early days in the ministry there were no books

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7 Ways of Preaching Christ from the Old Testament

By Trevin Wax: No pastor wants his preaching to be considered “Christ-less” or something other than “Christ-centered.” Still, it is sometimes difficult to understand what exactly is meant by this kind of terminology. Likewise, no pastor wants to “read into” the text something that is not there. In the initial chapter of his book,Preaching Christ from Genesis,Sidney Griedanus lays out seven ways that a preacher can legitimately preach Christ from the Old Testament. I’ve adapted the examples for each category in order to keep the focus on how there are multiple ways to preach Christ from an Old Testament account (such as Noah). 1. Redemptive-Historical Progression The redemptive-historical road to Christ is the “broadest and foundational path from an Old Testament text to Jesus Christ” (3). It takes into consideration the history of redemption which begins with the opening chapters of Genesis and culminates in the vision of a restored paradise in Revelation. This journey from creation to new creation

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Sam Storms on….

Check out three great current series from Sam Storms on: What it means to be Reformed Some peculiarities of Revival, and Spiritual Gifts in church history Access Sam’s blog, and many other helpful resources HERE. Justin Taylor also points us to Sam Storms’ new book called Tough Topics: Biblical Answers to 25 Challenging Questions. Here they are: 1 Is the Bible Inerrant? 2 What Is Open Theism? 3 Does God Ever Change His Mind? 4 Could Jesus Have Sinned? 5 What Did Jesus Mean When He Said, “Judge Not, that You Be Not Judged”? 6 What Is Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit? 7 Does the Bible Teach the Doctrine of Original Sin? 8 Are Those Who Die in Infancy Saved? 9 Will People Be Condemned for Not Believing in Jesus though They’ve Never Heard His Name? 10 What Can We Know about Angels? 11 What Can We Know about Satan? 12 What Can We Know about Demons? 13 Can a Christian Be

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14 Characteristics of Theological Legalism

By C. Michael Patton: […] Here are some ways to know if you are a theological legalist: You don’t think there are “minor theological issues” You always define yourself with the word “true” in front of it (e.g. “I am a ‘true’ Calvinist,” “I am a ‘true’ Baptist,” “I am a ‘true’ Christian). Your statement of faith or catechism is so detailed that no one but your particular tradition can sign it. Your passions focus on the small issues and this finds expression in your personality. Most of your theological writing and/or discussion focuses on where other Christians have gone wrong. You have a bulldog mentality with regard to your “pet” issues; you cannot let things go emotionally. You have to leave the room. When one disagrees with you they are forever defined by that disagreement (“There goes Joe the Arminian” or “I would like to introduce you to Katie the complementarian.” You think belief is either black or white, you

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Gospel doctrine, gospel culture

Ray Ortlund: Gospel doctrine creates a gospel culture.  The doctrines of grace create a culture of grace, as Jesus himself touches us through his truths.  Without the doctrines, the culture alone is fragile.  Without the culture, the doctrines alone appear pointless.  For example: The doctrine of regeneration creates a culture of humility (Ephesians 2:1-9). The doctrine of justification creates a culture of inclusion (Galatians 2:11-16). The doctrine of reconciliation creates a culture of peace (Ephesians 2:14-16). The doctrine of sanctification creates a culture of life (Romans 6:20-23). The doctrine of glorification creates a culture of hope (Romans 5:2). The doctrine of God creates a culture of honesty (1 John 1:5-10).  And what could be more basic than that? If we want this culture to thrive, we can’t take doctrinal short cuts.  If we want this doctrine to be credible, we can’t disregard the culture.  But churches where the doctrine and culture converge bear living witness to the power of Jesus.

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Holy vs. Holier Than Thou

Jared Wilson: How do we become holy without becoming ‘holier than thou’? By actually becoming actually holy. Holiness and holier-than-thou-ness aren’t parallel phenomena. They run on different tracks. If someone is growing in arrogance, pride, and self-righteousness, by definition they are not growing in holiness. The problem arises in equating holiness with religious behavior. Holy people do obey God, of course. But the character of holiness, in which the Spirit does his progressive sanctifying work in our hearts (and therefore in our thoughts, speech, and actions), produces qualities of humility, gentleness, kindness, and self-control. Any arrogant fool can abstain from certain sins or give to charity and what-not. The Pharisees certainly did that, and all our legalistic contemporaries do too. But that is not real holiness. That is moralistic separatism or some such thing. Therefore, it is impossible to become both holy and holier-than-thou. To grow in one, is to atrophy in the other. But I am grateful that while

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Preach the Old Testament as if Jesus Is Risen

By Mitch Chase: Have you ever explored underground caverns? The natural light is dim, so limited sight is a problem, if you can see at all. The more openings you go through and the deeper you descend, the greater the probability you’ll be confused, turned around, and lost. Even when your eyes adjust to the darkness, you may still not see the intricate beauty of the natural architecture. Some Christians read the Old Testament only in dim light. They enter one chapter after another like exploring a cavern, yet they squint and strain their eyes to answer questions. Why is this episode here? Why has the narrator told the scene from this angle? Where is this storyline heading? Why should I care about this long genealogy? How does this prophecy reach fulfilment  How do this character’s actions contribute to the plot, to the book, to the canon? Is this text built on earlier ones? Such interpretive questions (and more) arise for

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Possessing all things in Christ

Jonathan Edwards: By virtue of the believer’s union with Christ, he doth really possess all things. That we know plainly from Scripture. But it may be asked, how doth he possess all things? What is he the better for it? How is a true Christian so much richer than other men? To answer this, I’ll tell you what I mean by “possessing all things.” I mean that God three in one, all that he is, and all that he has, and all that he does, all that he has made or done–the whole universe, bodies and spirits, earth and heaven, angels, men and devils, sun, moon and stars, land and sea, fish and fowls, all the silver and gold, kings and potentates as well as mean men–are as much the Christian’s as the money in his pocket, the clothes he wears, the house he dwells in, or the victuals he eats; yea more properly his, more advantageously his, than if

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Effectual Calling and Regeneration

“So, then, what is this effectual, internal call that we are speaking about? Well, the most we can say about it is — and this must of necessity be true in the light of these scriptures — that it is the exercise of the power of the Holy Spirit in the soul. It is a direct operation of the Holy Spirit within us. It is immediate, it is spiritual, it is supernatural, miraculous. And what it does is to make a new mode of spiritual activity possible within us. Without this operation we are incapable of any true spiritual activity but as the result of this operation of the Holy Spirit upon us, we are rendered capable, for the first time, of spiritual activity and that is how this call now becomes effectual, that is what enables us to receive it. “Now this is very important and I want to emphasise the immediacy, the direct action. You see, what happens

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Kingdom Come by Sam Storms

Coming soon (excuse the pun!) from Christian Focus, my good friend Sam Storms’ latest book; perhaps the benchmark text on eschatology and amillennialism: Featured Review “…the most helpful book on the various millennial views I have seen since W. J. Grier’s The Momentous Event. His work is marked by careful exegesis of pertinent texts, and ranges widely and deeply in all of the relevant Scriptural passages dealing with the end of the age.” Douglas F. Kelly ~ Richard Jordan Professor of Theology, Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte, North Carolina Description The second coming of Christ is a matter of sharp disagreement amongst Christians. Many hold to premillennialism: that Christ’s return will be followed by 1,000 years before the final judgement, a belief popularised in the popular Left Behind novels. However, premillennialism is not the only option for Christians. In this important new book, Sam Storms provides a biblical rationale for amillennialism; the belief that 1,000 years mentioned in the book of Revelation

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United to the Resurrected Christ

Richard Gaffin: What characterizes the redemption of Christ holds true for the redemption of the believer. As the justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification of the former take place by and at his resurrection, so the justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification of the latter take place in his having been raised with Christ, that is, in his having been united to Christ as resurrected. This means, then, that despite a surface appearance to the contrary, Paul does not view the justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification of the believer as separate, distinct acts but as different facets or aspects of the one act of incorporation with the resurrected Christ. –Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., Resurrection and Redemption: A Study in Paul’s Soteriology (P&R, 1987), 130-31 (HT: Dane Ortlund)