Desmond Alexander on a Biblical Theology of the City of God

Desmond AlexanderIn his new book, The City of God and the Goal of Creation, T. Desmond Alexander—senior lecturer in Biblical Studies at Union Theological College in Belfast, Ireland—writes that “Genesis 1–2 introduces a story that anticipates the creation of an extraordinary city where God will dwell in harmony with humanity.” Of course just a couple of chapters later, Cain is building a city with no reference to God. We could say that the Bible is the story of two cities, the city of man and the city of God.

In this conversation, for which I traveled from Nashville to Belfast, Alexander traces the story of God working out his plan to bring his people into this city. Along the way in our discussion, we talked about how Babel relates to Babylon, how we don’t anticipate a rebuilding of the early Jerusalem but rather the coming of the new Jerusalem, and the ways our understanding of the city of God address our sometimes vague sense of the heavenly life in the eternal city to come.

Listen to this episode of Help Me Teach the Bible.

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‘Just Have More Faith’: How Bad Theology Hurts the Suffering

Why does God answer yes to some prayers and no to others? Why does God miraculously heal some people and not others? Why does disaster strike one city and not another?

I’ve been pondering these questions since Hurricane Florence devastated much of Eastern North Carolina last year. I live in the center of the state, and contrary to the foreboding predictions, we were relatively unaffected. In response, a friend said, “I know why we were spared catastrophe and the storm circled our area and went south. I was praying that God would keep us safe and he answered my prayers!”

I had no words.

I know that God answers prayer. And we need to pray. God tells us to ask and it will be given to us (Matthew 7:7). But my friend’s words made me wonder if she thought that no one in Eastern Carolina was praying. I know people whose livelihoods were destroyed in the storm. Everything they owned was gone. They escaped with their lives but nothing material left. Some of them begged God to spare their city.

One Died, Another Lived

What are we as believers to infer from these natural disasters? Can we simply draw straight lines between our requests and God’s answers? Years ago, I heard a pastor tell of his cancer that went into remission. When he told his congregation the good news, several commented, “We knew God would heal you. He had to. So many people were praying for you.”

While the pastor was thankful for others’ prayers, he also knew God did not owe him healing. Faithful believers throughout the ages have earnestly prayed and yet not been healed. The apostle Paul was not healed to show God’s power could be made perfect in Paul’s weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).

And then there was my own son, Paul, who died as an infant. We had prayed, fasted, and asked friends to pray for his healing. Several years after his death, we met a man who said when he learned of our loss, “Don’t take this wrong, but we prayed for all of our children before they were born. And they were all born healthy.” We had no words.

Why Did God Save Peter?

In considering the question of when and why God chooses to rescue, I was reminded of Acts 12 which begins: “About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. . . . So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church” (Acts 12:1–5). Peter was then rescued the very night that Herod was about to bring him out, to presumably kill him as he had killed James.

Why did God let James die and Peter live?

Peter, James, and John were three of Jesus’s closest disciples. These three were often selected to be alone with Jesus. Yet their earthly lives after Christ’s resurrection were markedly different. John was the last of the disciples to die, Peter was rescued from prison in Acts 12, but church history records that he was later martyred by being crucified upside down.

James was the first of the disciples to be martyred. The Bible records that Herod killed James with no elaborating details. We simply know that Peter was spared while James was not. What are we to make of this? Did God love Peter more than James? Was James’s life less important? Did James have less faith? Were people not praying for James?

Our Father Knows Best

Looking at the fuller counsel of the Bible, it is clear that God has plans that we do not understand. His ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8–9). Because we believe that death is just a passage into eternal life (2 Timothy 1:10), one that all of us will go through, it ultimately doesn’t matter when we pass through it. God numbers our days before they begin, and he alone determines when we will die (Psalm 139:16).

Though we often cannot understand God’s purposes in this life, we can be sure that James’s life as a disciple and his death as a martyr was intentional. Everything God does has purpose (Isaiah 46:10). Because of that, we can be sure that at the time of James’s death, he had accomplished what God had called him to (Philippians 1:6), while Peter’s work on earth was unfinished (Philippians 1:24–25).

Living or dying, being spared or being tortured, being delivered in this life or the next is not an indicator of God’s love for us or the measure of our faith. Nothing can separate us from God’s love, and our future is determined by what he knows is best for us (Romans 8:28, 35–38).

Paul understood this principle well when he said in Philippians 1:21–23, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, that is far better.” Departing this world and being with Christ is far better because eternal life is far better than life on earth. No matter what this life holds, we will eventually be deliriously happy in heaven where God has all of eternity to lavish us with his kindness (Ephesians 2:7).

Suffering Is Not Punishment

Even though I know these truths, I have often been discouraged that others have been rescued while I was still suffering. Prosperity gospel proponents have told me that if I had prayed in faith, my body would have been healed, my son would have been spared, and my marriage would have been restored. It was all up to me. If I just had the faith, I would have had a better outcome.

Their words have left me bruised and disillusioned, wondering what I was doing wrong.

But that theology is not the gospel. God’s response to our prayers is not dependent upon our worthiness but rather rests upon on his great mercy (Daniel 9:18). Because of Christ, who took our punishment, God is always for us (Romans 8:31). He wants to give us all things. Christ himself is ever interceding for us (Romans 8:31–34).

If you are in Christ, God is completely for you. Your suffering is not a punishment. Your struggles are not because you didn’t pray the right way, or because you didn’t pray enough, or because you have weak faith or insufficient intercessors. It is because God is using your suffering in ways that you may not understand now, but one day you will. One day you will see how God used your affliction to prepare you for incomparable weight of glory (2 Corinthians 4:17). This is the gospel. And it holds for all who love Christ.

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The Madness of March Madness

[It’s time for my annual rant about the madness, the lunacy, the stupidity, if you will, of March Madness, in particular, the annual ritual in which a national champion in college basketball is determined on the basis of a single-elimination tournament. Many of you have read it before, so feel free to move on to other things. But if you missed it, you need to read it.]

If you aren’t a fan of college basketball here in the U.S., stop reading and go about your business. But if you enjoy the game as much as I do, read on.

Deciding the national championship of college basketball based on a single elimination tournament is utterly idiotic, insane, ridiculous, and asinine. You heard me correctly. I’m talking about the utter madness, indeed the stupidity, of March Madness.

Don’t misunderstand me. I love March Madness! I love the tournament. It is exciting and mesmerizing and always a blast. But to use this tournament in which a single loss eliminates a team from an opportunity to win the national title is the height of stupidity. I watch the tournament every year. I faithfully and carefully fill out my bracket. I agonize when my favorite teams lose and rejoice when they win. But here’s why the tournament is dumb.

Imagine for just a moment that I had the power and authority to run the National Basketball Association, the professionals of the game. I announce that a change has been made in the post-season schedule. Every team in the NBA will now be entered into the post season and all will play for the championship based on a single elimination tournament. After a few rounds, in which the Warriors are defeated by Oklahoma City and Atlanta falls to Boston, the Thunder and the Celtics play one game for the championship, regardless of what happened during the regular season. Instead of the standard best three of five or best four of seven competition, one game decides it all.

You would rightly accuse me of having taken leave of my senses. “Sam, how can you base the professional championship of basketball on only one game? Don’t you realize that in basketball, perhaps more so than any other sport, a great team can go cold on any particular night and a mediocre team can get red hot? The only way to fairly determine who deserves the title of champion, you need to have them play more than one game.” I couldn’t agree more.

Or imagine that I am now the commissioner of Major League Baseball. I’ve decided to put every team in a single elimination playoff. After all but two teams are eliminated, the Royals and Giants face off in a one game final, winner take all World Series. Stupidity! Insanity! Absurdity!

I began thinking about this after two events in particular. The first was in 1983 when a ten-loss North Carolina State team upset the highly-favored and far superior Houston team that featured Clyde “the Glide” Drexler and others. It was exciting. I thoroughly enjoyed it. But NC State no more deserved to be awarded the national championship than I did.

The second event occurred just a few years ago. It was the incredible upset of number one seed Kansas by Northern Iowa. What a game! Wow! I wanted Kansas to win, but was happy to see a ninth seed pull off the unexpected victory. So there was Kansas, without question the best team in the nation that year, experiencing a very cold night of shooting, while Northern Iowa nailed three-point basket after three-point basket. If these two teams were to have played a best three of five or even just a best two of three, Kansas would almost surely have emerged victorious and advanced in the tournament.

Yes, by all means yes, it was exciting. I loved watching it. But this is a silly and utterly ineffective and completely unfair way of deciding the national championship.

People are talking a lot about expanding the tournament to more than 90 teams next year. Not only is this absurd beyond words, they should actually reduce the tournament to no more than 16 teams. The format would then be expanded to, at minimum, a double elimination tournament, thereby largely ensuring that the most deserving teams in the country will be rewarded with an opportunity to compete for a national title.

My recommendation is that the 16 teams, after seeding, should play the best two of three over the first weekend: the first game on Thursday, the second on Friday, and if necessary, the third on Sunday. The same format would be followed for the Elite Eight and the Final Four. The remaining two teams who survive elimination, would then play a best three of five for the national title.

I can hear your protests. “But what about the 17th team that doesn’t make the tournament? What about all the mid-major conferences? What about the Cinderella that makes March Madness so much fun?” My response is that if you can’t play well enough throughout the course of the regular season to qualify as one of the best 16 teams in the nation, then you don’t deserve a change to play for the national title. Eliminate conference tournaments, eliminate the automatic bid, and simply seed the teams based on a polling system similar to the one in college football.

You can still have a post season tournament with all the teams that don’t qualify to play for the national title, in the same way we have an extensive bowl post season for those teams in college football that don’t qualify to play in the national championship game.

So why will my proposal never see the light of day? Greed. Money. The NCAA stands to make too much cash from an ever-increasing field of teams. It’s not that the NCAA doesn’t respect the integrity of the game. It’s not that they don’t want to see the national title awarded to the most deserving team. It’s just that money matters more.

It’s sad, but such is the simultaneous excitement and madness of March Madness.

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Autoplaying Evil: When Social Media Images Damage Our Souls

While mankind hasn’t invented new sins in centuries, technology has made it possible to create new ways for sin to harm us.

Take, for example, the seemingly innocuous auto-playing video. The feature has long been a common annoyance on social media. But more recently it’s become weaponized, and used to inflict trauma. Many people learned this the hard way after the terrorist attack last week in New Zealand, when the gunman live-streamed the killings to Facebook.

According to Facebook, the video of the attack was first reported to moderators 29 minutes after the stream began, and 12 minutes after the live feed ended. Initially, fewer than 200 people watched the footage during the live broadcast, and it was viewed only about 4,000 times in total before being taken down. But a spokesperson for the social media platform says that within 24 hours of the attack the company had removed 300,000 copies of the video and blocked 1.2 million copies from being uploaded.

The macabre video was also continuously uploaded on other platforms. As Ian Bogost, a contributing editor at The Atlantic, writes,

When I started catching up on the shooting this morning, I stumbled upon the video of the massacre searching for news. I didn’t intend to watch it, but it autoplayed in my Twitter search results, and I couldn’t look away until it was too late. I wish I’d never seen it, but I didn’t even get a chance to ponder that choice before Twitter forced it upon me. The internet is a Pandora’s box that never had a lid.

Trauma by Autoplay

By seeing these images—whether by choice or by accident—we are exposing ourselves to images that could be causing media-based secondary trauma. “When you watch a violent video of mass shootings and other violence, you increase your chances of developing vicarious traumatization,” psychologist Stephanie Sarkis says.

Secondary traumatic stress is the emotional distress that results when an individual hears about the firsthand trauma experiences of another. In secondary or indirect trauma, the traumatizing event experienced by a person becomes a traumatizing event for someone who relates to them—such as a first responder, nurse, doctor, or mental health-care worker—and sees or hears descriptions of the trauma. Through the use of media, such as video and imagery, we are able to see the traumatizing event or its aftermath for ourselves—even when we don’t want to.

The result is we may feel some of the same effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that would be experienced by those directly traumatized. Some of the effects can include intrusive re-experiencing of the traumatic material, avoidance of trauma triggers and emotions, and negative changes in beliefs and feelings.

Some Things Can’t Be Unseen

The idea that we may be able to get “PTSD by proxy” may seem far-fetched. But there is significant evidence that the damage caused by media-based secondary trauma is not only real but also long-lasting. For example, a recent paper published in the journal American Psychologist examined adults who had chosen to watch a videos of ISIS terrorists beheading a victim and followed their responses several years later.

Those who had watched the videos were more likely to be male, Christian, and unemployed. They were also more likely than the average person to watch more TV and to have a higher lifetime experience of violence. The researchers found that those who’d watched at least part of a video had higher levels of distress and a greater fear of future negative events compared with those that hadn’t watched one. These relationships held after controlling for prior distress, lifetime exposure to violence, and prior fear of negative events.

The researchers concluded that “watching graphic coverage may exacerbate preexisting fears and increase psychological symptomatology, demonstrating the negative psychological impact of viewing graphic media produced by terrorists.”

As for the long-lasting effect of traumatic images, I can attest firsthand. Nearly 25 years ago an acquaintance thought it would be amusing to email me a disturbing image. Fortunately, this was the era of dial-up, and I was able to close my email before the slow-loading image finished loading. Although I had only seen a glimpse of the image, it still haunts me nearly two decades later. The effect is like a spiritual attack on one’s soul.

Turn Your Eyes

The best way to protect yourself from seeing unwanted images and video on social media is to avoid social media. But too few of us are willing to make that commitment. The second-best option is to adjust the settings on those platforms to avoid autoplaying videos and sensitive material from being injected into your feed.

On Twitter, under the setttings ensure the “Hide sensitive content” box is checked and that “Display media that may contain sensitive content” is unchecked. On your smartphone, check Twitter’s settings and click on “Data usage.” Then, set the “Video autoplay” option to “Never.” On Facebook, go to the “Videos” section under settings and switch “Auto-Play Videos” to “off.” On the mobile app settings, scroll down until you see the “Media and contacts” section, click “Videos and Photos,” and then turn off autoplay. (David Murphy has additional helpful suggestions.)

Another way to guard our hearts is to refrain from searching out traumatizing media. In the study of people who watched the beheading videos, many who fully or partially watched said they did so because they wanted to gain information and verify that the videos existed, or wanted to satisfy their curiosity about what was in them.

Americans have a toxic relationship with the “news,” and many of us think watching traumatizing images is a necessary task of becoming a fully informed citizen. This type of mindset was destructive enough in the era when we consumed news once per day. But the never-ending news cycle has conditioned us to expect to deal with traumatic news—and the accompanying imagery—at almost every waking moment. The result is that many of us are exposing ourselves to media-based secondary trauma on an almost daily basis.

Such exposure is not good for our souls. As Proverbs tells us, “Death and Destruction are never satisfied, and neither are human eyes (27:20, NIV). Instead of allowing ourselves to be traumatized we should, like the Psalmist, say to God, “Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word” (Ps. 119:37).

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Book Notice: GOD FOR US: DISCOVERING THE HEART OF THE FATHER THROUGH THE LIFE OF THE SON, by Abby Ross Hutto

A Brief Book Notice from Books at a Glance

Is God really good?
Is he good to others?
Is he good to us?

And if the answer is yes, why does it often feel like he’s so far away?

God isn’t surprised by our wariness and distrust. But he has never been content to be misunderstood, either. John’s gospel tells us that God sent his Son to explain himself to us—to the distant, the wounded, the skeptical, the afflicted, the ashamed, the betrayed.

Walk with Abby as she follows Jesus through the book of John. In thirteen stories, we discover piece by piece, through Jesus, who God is—and we also see thirteen very different modern-day believers awake to these truths in their own lives. These personal and biblical stories, along with further Scripture and application and discussion questions, will show us that God is for us, not against us. He will draw our hearts back to himself.

About the Author

Abby Ross Hutto is the director of spiritual formation at Story Presbyterian Church in Westerville, Ohio. She also works as a group leader and trainer for Parakaleo, a nonprofit that comes alongside women in ministry. You can connect with Abby at godforusministries.com.

Endorsements

Scott Sauls:

Theologically sound . . . emotionally compelling.

Sara Wallace, Author, For the Love of Discipline:

A beacon of hope for anyone who has ever wondered if God’s love is enough. . . . Hutto shows us that no sin, struggle, or fear is beyond the power of the gospel. She has created a resource that can uniquely and individually bless people from all walks and stages of life.

Karen Hodge, Coordinator of Women’s Ministries, Presbyterian Church in America:

Abby’s genuine love for God’s beloved boy Jesus Christ imprints every page.

Ellen Dykas, Women’s Ministry Coordinator, Harvest USA:

A unique book that will comfort, challenge, and compel you. . . . I commend this book to all who need help understanding our God’s loving heart.

Kevin Heckathorn, Pastor, Johnstown Presbyterian Church, Johnstown, Ohio; Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor, Directions Counseling:

God for Us is a refreshingly honest look at how the challenges we face in life can overwhelm us and severely taint our view of God. With masterful grace and vulnerability, Abby draws us into these painful places and reveals how an embattled heart can find its way back into the arms of a God who has always loved us deeply and without end. I will read and recommend this book many times over.

Buy the books

God for Us: Discovering the Heart of the Father through the Life of the Son

P&R Publishing, 2019 | 216 pages

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Money, Mardi Gras, and Something Far Better: Stories from South America

Audio Transcript

Pastor John is back in the studio. Listeners, thank you for your weeks of prayers, and weeks of patience too, as we navigated this busy season of travel. As a result, we have a backlog of questions to catch up on soon, but I wonder if it would be best for us to start with a brief update from your travels and ministry in South America. Pastor John, how did it go? What do you want to share with podcast listeners about your recent travels? Can you debrief your trip for us?

Joining God’s Work

I’d love to share about the trip. From February 24 to March 6, 2019, Noël and I and some others were in Brazil and Argentina. Fiel Ministries in Brazil, the local Gospel Coalition, and the leaders of a weeklong Christian celebration in Campina Grande in northern Brazil invited us to come there. In Argentina, the leaders of a Bible conference reached out to us. That was the cluster of people who said, “Would you please come and minister here?”

“We are not marketing the brand. We’re encouraging local, indigenous movements that God’s already doing on the ground.”

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I want to underline that idea of invitation. The way we look upon these kinds of international trips — and this became clearer to me on this trip than ever, and I feel really happy about it — is not as a way of spreading what you might call the Desiring God brand or the Bethlehem College & Seminary brand or the John Piper brand. That’s just not the mindset at all. We didn’t foreground those ministries. We are not marketing the brand. We’re encouraging local, indigenous movements that God’s already doing on the ground. He’s doing it all over the world.

Mutual Encouragement

I wrote down 23 countries I know of where there is a resurgence of Reformed, evangelical, gospel-centered, exposition-oriented, lovers-of-the-sovereignty-of-God people. These were just two of the countries, Brazil and Argentina.

The key biblical text that gets at it for me is Romans 1:11–12. Paul has never been to Rome, but he knows God raised up the church in Rome. Paul didn’t raise up that church in Rome, and now he’s coming, and he writes like this: “For I long to see you” — he’s never met these people — “that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you.” And then he pauses, and he says it a little differently: “that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine” (Romans 1:11–12).

That’s exactly the way I feel. I do have something I want to say. Yet, when I pause and I look back on it, there was a mutuality of encouragement. At least, I know the encouragement came my way. I hope it went the other way. All over the world God is creating indigenous movements like this.

Fresh Awakenings

When I think of movement, I want people to have a sense of what I mean. First, it’s a fresh awakening to the power and the preciousness of the sovereignty of God in salvation and providence. That is a very different message from man-exalting views that give the human will the power to thwart God’s omnipotent wisdom.

“I go to encourage them and to nourish them, to make my little contribution. But I leave more affected and more encouraged.”

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Second, it’s a fresh awakening to the sweetness of his omnipotent care in suffering. This is a message very different from the prosperity preaching, and that’s probably the note that people brought up to me most often with thankfulness. It was the note that we strike about God’s sweetness and care and omnipotent power in suffering, not escaping from suffering.

Third, it’s a fresh awakening to the glories of the gospel of free grace. This is a message very different from the sacramentalism of Roman Catholicism, for example, in Brazil or Argentina.

Lastly, it’s a fresh awakening to the depth and wonders of Scripture experienced by God’s people through powerful expositional preaching. It’s those four pieces that I see all over the world.

Partners in the Gospel

These outcroppings of renewal movements are rising up at God’s bidding. What I think I’m called to do with the team at Desiring God is to simply discern as best we can how we can serve these movements. We need the help of people on the ground, and people like Rick Denham, who is gifted at this. He’s such a helpful person. What I’m called to do is to discern authentic indigenous movements, and then serve them in whatever way they think would be most helpful with the message God has given us.

You can hear — at least I hear — in that a tension: they are looking for me to serve, and yet I have a message that I’m not going to compromise. I’ve seen it in the Bible. I love it. And I would say it anywhere, where anybody wants me to say it. There’s this tension, and the solution to the tension is that these people who invite us to come know us. In other words, the Web has created the possibility of watching and listening for years, so that they can grow in their confidence. They can say, “Well, here’s a person who, if he says what he believes, would probably serve us well. So let’s invite him to come do that now.”

God Is in Charge

Another thing I felt so strongly is that I feel no illusions in going into a place like this and a movement like this that I’m that supervising or controlling what God is doing on the ground around the world.

My picture is something like this: God is preparing a great loaf of bread in these various ethnic settings, and he’s kneading the dough with his fingers. Piper’s role for those few days is as one of the coworkers with God. It is to contribute a certain kind of biblical leavening or some theological spices. I hope and pray they these might add just a little nutriment to the bread and a little flavor to the dough that would make it even more nourishing to the church and to the world.

But God’s the baker, and he’s doing the kneading. He decides what goes into this bread and what doesn’t. He decides what the loaf looks like when it comes out. So I don’t think we should have illusions when we do ministries like online work like at DG. We shouldn’t think we’re going to shape and control the world. That’s just ridiculous. The world is huge and complex. And God is running it, not us.

“I was blown away by my experience of standing before this sea of people hungry for the word of God.”

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In Brazil and Argentina, that included messages focused on God as the gospel: God himself is the greatest, best, final good of the good news. That led to messages on Christian Hedonism. Well, if God is the gospel, if he’s the greatest good, how does that impact the way we are worshiping or the way we love people? That led to the thought, “Okay, if God is the gospel, and the way you glorify him is through being satisfied in him and loving people, then how do you preach with expository exultation?” That was kind of the package or the cluster of truths that we laid out.

Of course, it should not go without saying that the tables are always turned. I go to encourage them, and to nourish them, and to make my little contribution of spices and nutriments into the loaf. But I leave probably more affected and more encouraged than I gave or than I influenced. Here are some examples.

Stories of Grace

I met a Muslim convert to Christ from Morocco who feeds daily on Solid Joys, which is translated into both Portuguese and Spanish. He feeds on that for his faith. I met two women, both of whom asked to see me. They both have cancer, and with tears thanked me for the note of help in suffering, not escape from suffering. They felt like they were sinking in the teaching of prosperity in their particular situation.

This is the last example, and probably the most moving one for me. I met three teenagers who asked to see me in the green room before I spoke one night. Their parents, earlier this year (I’m not sure how long ago, maybe six months ago), were about to get divorced, which was breaking their hearts. They heard a message or they read a message (I couldn’t quite discern) from me about marriage not being mainly about being in love, but being covenant keepers. It revolutionized their attitudes. They have resolved to work it out, and the kids wanted to thank me. The 14-year-old girl had tears in her eyes and gave me a piece of paper written in Portuguese that said, “I know you can’t read this, but maybe you can get it translated.”

I’ve been praying the end of Psalm 90 since I’ve been back. I scattered my seed, I put my leaven in the loaf, I tossed my spices in, and I met a lot of people. I’m now praying, “O Lord, establish the work of our hands” (see Psalm 90:17).

Christ Replaces Carnival

If I think back on one of the most striking things, it would be being a part of the conference in Campina Grande in the north of Brazil. I spoke twice. It was in a huge tent that holds about 12,000 people, and about 100,000 people come through this conference in the week that it was held. What’s so striking is that twenty years ago, that city was totally dominated with the Mardi Gras–like celebration they called Carnival.

“The world is huge and complex. And God is running it, not us.”

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It’s pretty bleak. For example, a woman was walking around scantily clad, and she had devil horns sticking out of her head. The sign around her neck said, “Are you still afraid to go to hell?” — meaning, “I’ll be there. Come.” That’s the kind of thing that dominated.

Well, this conference grew from a teeny apologetics conference to offset things that were being said from the occult to now being the event, and Carnival has been pushed out of the city. All of those I would call godless, cultish, satanic influences are still there, but they’re marginalized. I saw them walking around the lake where our hotel was, but as far as the center city that used to be filled with these influences, it’s now filled with gospel preaching. I was blown away by my experience of standing before this sea of people hungry for the word of God.

The man who leads it is just a powerhouse of vision and energy. I can’t remember exactly what his background is, but he would just probably be a big-hearted Bible evangelical guy who loves Jesus and wants to see the gospel triumph. Yet, when the thing started to grow, he looked around for counsel as to whom he should invite to these events. He began to trust — this is my understanding anyway — the key leaders of this Reformed awakening who gave him names.

He didn’t know me from Adam. He trusted them to let me address what he has grown up under God’s hand. There’s a stream of very Bible-oriented and Reformed spokesmen — not only, but largely — who are coming to that event.

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What If Your Thought Life Was Live Streamed?

What if someone told you that your every thought from the day you were born has been recorded and will be shown tonight on YouTube Live? And not only that, but a​ ​li​nk to a​ ​website​ ​will be given where all of​ ​your friends and family​ ​can go and view​ ​all of your thoughts about them.

How many people would be angry with you? Everyone? Would you be angry with yourself?

Your thought life reveals the real, unrestrained you. Like most people, you may think you’re good enough to get to heaven and that God won’t send you to hell, but God has seen every one of your wicked thoughts and actions. He has seen every time you’ve broken His commandments, lusting over someone you’re not married to, lying and stealing (no matter how little); He knows every time you’ve carved a false idol of God in your mind, a corrupt god of your own imagination who will turn a blind eye to your sin.

He has heard every time you’ve used His Holy Name in vain, using the name of the One who gave you life in place of a curse word. You wouldn’t do that with Hitler’s name, but you do it with God’s name! The “Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain” (Exodus 20:7), and “every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment.” (Matthew 12:36)

Be honest with yourself: when you face God on Judgment Day—keeping in mind that He’s seen your every wicked thought and action—will He find you innocent or guilty? If God gives you what you deserve, should He send you to heaven or hell? God has written His law on your heart so you are “without excuse” (Romans 1:18-32); you know it is wrong to lie, to steal, to lust, and to curse because God gave you a conscience to know right from wrong. Your own conscience demands justice.

Imagine a courtroom scene where a child rapist is coming before the judge for sentencing. But instead of giving him what justice demands, the judge lets him go free because the rapist is a “nice guy” who has given to charity and goes to church every Sunday.

You would be outraged, and you should be! Yet most people think the High and Holy God is just like this corrupt judge, and that they can bribe Him with their “good deeds” so that He’ll overlook their sin.

Again, what would you think if the judge said to the rapist, “I’m a very loving judge, so I’ll just let you go free”? You would not think that the judge was loving at all, but that he was corrupt and not worthy to be a judge! Yet most people expect the Holy God who is “the judge of all the earth” (Genesis 18:25) to be just that corrupt with them, and overlook their sin.

Infinite Love and Goodness demand Infinite Justice. Because God’s love and justice are infinite He won’t punish only murderers and rapists, but He’ll punish ALL sin wherever it’s found. That’s why “the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9) “No thief, no sexually immoral person, no idolater will enter heaven” (1 Corinthians 6:10), and “all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone.” (Revelation 21:8)

Now the question for you, dear reader, is this: is there any hope for someone like you? Is there any hope for the person who has defied God time and again by rebelling against His will and refusing to love and worship Him? Is there any hope for the criminal who stands guilty in the courtroom of God? Yes there is! There is forgiveness with God!

The Gospel (“good news”) is this: Imagine you are in a human courtroom and the judge finds you guilty, and because he’s just, gives you the maximum fine of ten million dollars. But there is no way you can pay the fine, so you’re about to spend the rest of your life in jail.

​T​hen someone you’ve never met before steps into the courtroom and says, “I’ve sold all my worldly goods to pay your fine.” Your fine has been paid, so justice has been served and you’re free to go! Well, two thousand years ago God became flesh in the man, Jesus Christ, who was born of a virgin, led a sinless life and then suffered and died under the wrath of God on the cross to pay in full the penalty for all your sins. Then He rose again in triumph over all the powers of death and darkness, so that in Him we can have eternal life. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

But it’s not enough to merely believe “intellectually” in order to be forgiven by God. The Bible says that even the demons believe intellectually! (James 2:19) In order to have real forgiveness, you must repent, as J​​esus Himself said: “unless you repent you will also perish.” (Luke 13:3)

And repentance means turning fully away from your life of sin and turning fully to God, trusting in Jesus Christ ALONE to save you and not your own deeds; trusting in Him as the One who willingly stood in your place on the cross, taking God’s wrath for you; the wrath YOU deserve.

What are you waiting for; don’t gamble with your eternal salvation! “Your life is a vapor” (James 4:14), and you have no way of knowing which second will be your last. “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the Lord, and He will have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.” (Isaiah 55:6-7)

God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but desires for you to turn from your sins and live! (Ezekiel 18:23)

You have a personal invitation from the Lord Jesus Christ Himself: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29)


This video tract is based upon a slight variation of, “How would you feel if your Thought Life were to be shown on Nationwide TV?” written by Kevin Williams (https://gfmanchester.com/) and Garrett Holthaus (https://lakeroadchapel.org/).

Philippians 3:8–9: One Way to Know You’re in Christ

Faith is the experience of Christ as our surpassing worth and all else as rubbish by comparison. In this lab, John Piper clarifies that fake faith can say the right creeds, sing the right songs, even pray the right words, but it cannot pretend to count all as loss compared to gaining Christ.

Some questions to ask as you read and study Philippians 3:8–9:

  1. How would you help people who want to know if they are really in Christ? How could they be sure?
  2. Read Philippians 3:3–9. What does it mean to be found in Christ? If Christ came today, do you believe that you would be found in him?
  3. Watch the lab. What is one way you know if you are in Christ?

Watch this video offline by downloading it from Vimeo or subscribing to the Look at the Book video podcast via iTunes or RSS.


Principles for Bible Reading

Cultivating New Love for Old Texts

Several verses in the Bible are much more familiar than others. Many very popular texts are deserving of the attention they receive, but if we are not careful, they can become so familiar that they lose their wonder in our eyes. The solution is not to stow certain verses away and come back to them later; the solution is to go deeper into them.

One way to do this is to trace the themes in the familiar verses throughout the book or letter. Often, the themes from beloved verses can be found in people, situations, and other statements in the same book of the Bible which can deepen our understanding and appreciation for the familiar.

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New Film Shows Why We Still Need the Puritans

I was sitting in the bleachers waiting on my son to finish baseball practice when a man sitting near asked, “What’s that you’re reading? Is it a Christian book?” I paused, trying to think of the best way to tell him I was reading a work by a Puritan preacher from the 16th century. When I said, “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ by an old Puritan theologian named John Owen,” he looked at me like I’d spontaneously grown two additional heads. “Isn’t he the guy who wrote The Scarlet Letter?” he asked. “I understand those people could be a little crazy with their witch hunts and everything.”

Unfortunately, that response is a pretty accurate summary of what people today think of when they hear the word Puritans.

Like many other Reformed believers in recent years, my life and doctrine have been affected deeply by the Puritans, and I’d love to see far more Christians, like my friend in the bleachers, learn from those people who sought to take every square inch of life captive to the glory of God. At minimum, the Puritans might surely benefit from some positive PR. Some help is on the way in an upcoming documentary on the Puritans and Puritanism, Puritan: All of Life to the Glory of God by Media Gratiae in association with Reformation Heritage Books and Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary.

I interviewed Matthew Robinson, director of Media Gratiae and the film’s executive producer, and Stephen McCaskell, the film’s director, about how the project came about and why everyday Christians should care about the Puritans. The movie will make its world premiere at the upcoming TGC 2019 National Conference, April 1 to 3 in Indianapolis, Indiana.


What’s the story behind this documentary? Whose idea was it originally, and how long has it been in the works?

MR: Reformation Heritage Books is a distributor for Media Gratiae projects like the Behold Your God series and the Martyn Lloyd-Jones documentary Logic on Fire, so a great relationship has existed between our two ministries for years. One recurring conversation was the need for a popular-level, feature-length documentary that would take the Puritans, place them in their historical and geographical context, and make them accessible to the average person in the pew. Basically, when a Christians asks, “Why do you like to read those old dead guys so much?” we wanted a film that we can put in their hands and that can serve as an easy on-ramp for beginning to appreciate the Puritans. One day in late 2016, Joel Beeke expressed a desire to make the project a reality, and it quickly grew beyond just a feature documentary to include new books, a series of multimedia teaching sessions on the Puritans, and more. I immediately reached out to my good friend and fellow filmmaker Stephen McCaskell to direct it. He has worked with Media Gratiae on several projects since way back in 2014, and I have the utmost respect and appreciation for his work (including Through the Eyes of Spurgeon and Luther: The Life and Legacy of the German Reformer).

SM: We’ve been working on Puritan for nearly two years. The big challenge story-wise is the unstructured nature of Puritanism as a movement. Scholars differ on when the Puritan era began and ended, who’s in and who’s out. And then there’s the issue of running time. We’re trying to tell a story with its roots in the 16th and 17th centuries, and branches extending into our present age—and do all that in around two hours. If you try to cover everything, you exasperate the audience, so you have to find a strong central narrative that drives the movie forward, and be ruthless in pruning content that doesn’t serve that aim. We had an outstanding team to work with, including Barry Cooper, whom I’ve worked with before on Luther and Discipleship Explored. He wrote the screenplay and crafted the central narrative, which is the backbone of the film.

These projects require a large time commitment—often up to two years. Why the Puritans? What makes them fodder for so a massive undertaking as this film?

SM: For us, it felt timely because of the connections between the historical moment in which we find ourselves and the one that gave birth to the Puritans. Puritanism was born in a moment when Reformed theology was taking hold in Christian circles. The printing press made the gospel much more mobile than it ever had been before, just as the internet and social media are doing now.

The movement gained strength when Christians were kicked out of their jobs, forced to resign, and increasingly persecuted—just as they are now. The Puritans were also motivated by an increasing disquiet at the way Christianity was being misrepresented by leaders in the state church and in the highest ranks of government. That same disquiet grows in many Christians today. And just as William Perkins trained a generation of Puritans, so today there are an unprecedented number of Reformed seminaries—not to mention church and parachurch ministries—which are raising up a new generation of Reformed theologians, pastors, and laypeople.

MR: When I started attending Christ Church New Albany, one of the things that made an early impression on me was hearing the members talking about what they’d been reading that week, and how much they’d been helped by the likes of Samuel Rutherford, John Flavel, Richard Sibbes, Thomas Boston, and so on. When titles like The Bruised Reed or Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices were mentioned in conversation, a collective word of affirmation would be heard all around. I remember asking someone, “How do you all know these authors? Do you have Puritan trading cards?” But the truth was that dog-eared copies of Puritan paperbacks and whole sets of collected works lined the walls of the members’ homes, and they had been reading through them both individually and also corporately for many years.

One of the first “book studies” I took part in at the church went through John Owen’s Communion with God. Individuals would read the chapter on their own during the week, then gather in homes for a discussion led by an elder. It was mind-blowing. From that point forward I started devouring the Puritans and lining my own walls with them. Not only have I personally benefited from them so much, I’ve also seen the effect that having elders who read, commend, and give away the Puritans in their congregation can have on strengthening and deepening a local body. I want to see that happen in churches and families all across the world.

Take me through a bit of the movie. Who is featured, and what aspects of Puritanism does it cover? Whom did you interview for the movie?

Kevin DeYoung

MR: For the feature film we interviewed Albert Mohler, Conrad Mbewe, Geoff Thomas, Gloria Furman, Ian Hamilton, Jeremy Walker, J. I. Packer, John MacArthur, John Piper, John Snyder, Kevin DeYoung, Leland Ryken, Ligon Duncan, Mark Dever, Michael Reeves, Rosaria Butterfield, Sinclair Ferguson, Stephen Nichols, and Steven Lawson. Of course, Joel Beeke serves as our guide in the film, narrating our journey through the ages. We cover a lot of ground, beginning with the Reformation, going right through the movement, and then tracing the spirit of Puritanism through to the current day. To keep us from losing the viewer in a long list of dates and strange place names, I envisioned us using a timeline and a map that would constantly help the viewer place the people or activities we are discussing in their geographic and temporal context. We reached out to Jorge Castaneda at Ordinary Folk in Vancouver to bring that visual device to life, as well as the rest of the animation in the film, and they did an absolutely stunning job. Add to these animation sequences Stephen’s cinematography and interviews shot all over Great Britain and the Continent, and we have a visually stunning film.

We also wanted to avoid making a documentary that recounts the historical facts about the Puritan movement but fails to recognize the hand of God and his zeal for his name behind it all. I hope our supporters would expect nothing less from a Media Gratiae project. Our narrator and interviewees were great at making warm spiritual application throughout the entire story.

You can’t say everything that could be said in two hours, and I am fully prepared for people on all sides to complain we didn’t talk enough about this or that issue, person, movement, and so on. But I feel good about accomplishing what we set out to do: to make a film that glorifies the work of God in his church, inspires and challenges us to love and live more for Christ in every area of life, and hopefully serves as that “on-ramp” for untold thousands of people to engage the Puritans. For some, it’s just a matter of beginning to read the men whom the men they read are reading. For others who haven’t heard of the Puritans (apart from associating them with Thanksgiving or more nefarious connotations), this could be an introduction that literally changes their lives for the better.

SM: When you say the word Puritan, you typically get strong reactions. Puritans come to us through publishers like Reformation Heritage Books, but they also come to us through Christian music like Propaganda’s song “Precious Puritans” and through Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter. So we take that head on. The film is not hagiography. We love the Puritans, but that doesn’t mean we have to airbrush them. We ask some tough questions around the issue of slavery, for example. And John Piper gives a particularly memorable take on that issue.

But it’s sobering to remember that we have blind spots just as they did.

Talk about your own interest in the Puritans. Are there certain figures among who will stand out in the film? What did you learn about the Puritans and Puritanism while working on this project?

SM: We give a decent amount of airtime to most of the big names. My introduction to the Puritans came through Charles Spurgeon (whom we discuss in the film as a latter-day Puritan). As a young boy, Spurgeon devoured his grandfather’s library that was full of Puritan books. If you’ve read any Spurgeon book, you’ll see he quotes them frequently. The first Puritan he introduced me to was Richard Sibbes. Shortly after reading The Bruised Reed I fell in love with them, and now I always have a Puritan book on the go. One of the most moving sequences in the film is when J. I. Packer quotes Valiant-For-Truth in The Pilgrim’s Progress: “My sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage . . . ” Coming from the mouth of Packer, who has fought the fight so long and so faithfully, it hits hard.

What do you hope this film will accomplish? Are there any surprises for those who’ve long been readers of the Puritans?          

SM: There are plenty of surprises. To experience the whole sweep of Puritan history in a two-hour sitting like this—zooming out and surveying the macro as well as the micro—draws out themes that I think many of us have missed. My hope for Puritan is that for those two hours, people will start to see the world through their eyes. And hopefully, when the film ends, that vision will persist.

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The Doctrine of Assurance Pt. 7

Assurance and the Gospel

We’re nearing the end of our study on the doctrine of the assurance of salvation, with just 2 more considerations out of 1 John.

You know that I prefer to be teaching systematically out of a book of the Bible at a time – but we’re taking a break from that to look at some individual topics.

As we have seen all along, John doesn’t just give us a quick and easy answer to having an assurance of salvation like, “I answered an altar call” or “once I prayed a special prayer”, or “I had this experience one time.”

John is probing much deeper.

He wants his readers to take a serious inventory of those indicators of new life in Jesus.

Anyone can ask themselves the following things reasonably:

Do I believe the Word of God is really God’s Word, and that it has ultimate authority in my life?

Do I know what the Gospel is, and have I believed it? Believed it such that I’m aware the Bible says whoever DOES believe it and trusts Christ alone for their salvation – IS reconciled to God?

Has my relationship to sin changed such that I now mourn and struggle against the very sins I still love in some way?

Have I come to see that I have an almost inexplicable affinity for God’s people – whether we share anything else in common or not?

Have a new set of values invaded my thinking so that the emptiness of what the World prizes grows stranger, and new things in Christ grow dearer?

Has the Spirit of God opened my eyes so that the reality of who and what Jesus Christ is and what He has done is simply a part of the fabric of what I KNOW, not simply think or believe? A true inward conviction.

This morning I had planned to go on and explore the question of whether or not I genuinely believe in, and am looking forward to the coming resurrection of the saints.

But before we dive into that concept allow me to look briefly at 3 vitally important things. A bit of an excursus if you will – but central to everything we’re considering.

And in light of the past few weeks, I will not keep you long this morning.

  1. I am repeating a lot because I know how the one struggling with assurance needs to hear these truths over and over and over.

Please do not be insulted if you think this is too elementary for you.

We never get away from the basics.

Of all the books that have ever been and ever will be written in the English language, all of them will use the very same 26 letters.

Of all the music written in the history of mankind (with slight consideration for quarter-tones), essentially all of it falls within the 12 note scale of the perfect octave.

But when you consider the noetic effects of the Fall on the human mind, and how since the Fall we have trouble retaining sound doctrinal truth in our everyday consciousness – you see how going over and over and over the rudiments becomes absolutely necessary.

It is why we not only meet here each Sunday for worship where were rehearse these truths in song and prayer and preaching – but why we have small groups, Wednesday night Bible study – and encourage you to be reading the Word on your own continually.

Add to that an active Enemy of our souls who seeks to undermine the truth of the Gospel whenever possible, and the endless distractions of the world, and you see why this is necessary for all of us.

Musicians practice their scales over and over and over. No matter how trained, or how long they’ve played.

And Christians need to do no less if we are to live in a living and vivid reality of Biblical truth.

Deuteronomy 11:18-20 Isn’t just a good suggestion, it is God addressing us with the knowledge of how these things escape us so easily. 

Deuteronomy 11:18–20 ESV/ “You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates,

And this gets repeated over and over:

Proverbs 3:3 ESV / Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart.

Proverbs 6:21 ESV / Bind them on your heart always; tie them around your neck.

Proverbs 7:3 ESV / bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart.

  1. Remember that in each of these, John isn’t asking about levels of performance or feelings – but whether or not something of these is PRESENT within us.

A few weeks ago I mentioned how medical science looks for 4 basic things to determine life in a human being: Respiration, Pulse, Blood Pressure and Body Temperature.

Now those alone can’t tell you how healthy the individual is – but they can and DO indicate the presence of life.

And that is what we are doing in this study – what John has been giving us by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

In each case we are looking at the question of where I stand in relationship to these various things.

And in some there might be a more pronounced reality than others.

It isn’t how much of the Bible I know and understand, but what place of authority for truth it holds.

Is sin troubling to me? At all? Simply because it is sin and offends my God?

Am I learning the difference between the World’s values and the Bible’s and seeking to love what God values more? etc.

  1. But lastly I want to revisit the nature of what it means to believe the Gospel.

I know we’ve covered this numerous times before but bear with me.

This is truly central to everything we’ve covered so far, and will cover.

It is absolutely central to your life and identity as a Christian.

Now the older theologians used to think of Biblical faith in 3 parts:

Notitia – Content

Assensus – Agreement

Fiducia – Committal

Notitia – Do I know what the Gospel actually is?

Faith relies upon certain information. We do not just “believe” – we believe or disbelieve some particular information.

Biblical faith is always – without exception – rooted in some information communicated by God.

Biblical faith is: Believing what God has said is true, and acting on it appropriately.

It is vitally important we know how the Bible uses certain words, in order to understand the Gospel as God has given it, as opposed to how people have messed it up.

Scripture has no other category for faith. It never exists in a vacuum, is plucked out of mid-air, or is the fruit of my baseless belief.

So it is with the Gospel.

It is staggering to realize how often the Gospel is held out in terms of: Jesus made up the gap between your best efforts and what is required to be accepted by God.

Or that Jesus has come to say “clean up your act, and I’ll help you get to Heaven.”

Go to the right Church.

Do enough good things.

Stop doing too many bad things.

Be religious – and I’ll save you.

NO!

The Gospel is about Jesus coming to a totally lost and condemned human race – to pay the penalty for our sins in His own body on the Cross, because we have absolutely nothing we can offer to God to make ourselves acceptable under any conditions.

The Bible tells us that we all sinned in Adam, and are enemies of God the moment we come into this world.

Ephesians describes our condition in graphic detail: Ephesians 2:1–3 ESV / And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

Ephesians 2:12 ESV / remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.

And so, John 3:36 ESV / Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.

Now having been made in the image of God as Genesis tells us – the truth is that even if we were to perfectly obey God in every thought, action and attitude, we would only be doing what was expected of us, what we were made for.

That couldn’t possibly earn us anything.

And if that were true before the Fall – how much more after?

We couldn’t earn or contribute to eternal life in any way since we are already condemned.

So even if we lived every moment for Him for the rest of our lives, we’d only be doing our duty – and still have no way to pay for our past sins!

But then comes Jesus.

And the Gospel about Him.

NOT a Gospel about giving us some sort of mythical second chance to do our best.

1 Corinthians 15:1–4 ESV / 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 what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,

Jesus Christ died for OUR sins.

He did so fulfilling God’s plan – it was according to the Scriptures.

He was buried, and He was resurrected the 3rd day – also according to the Scriptures – according to God’s plan.

That is the Gospel – the GOOD NEWS.

God has dealt with our sin problem in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The Gospel is all about who Jesus is and what He has done.

It is not about what we can do either in ourselves, or even because of Him.

We absolutely must have this clear in our hearts and minds.

The Gospel is about Jesus’ rescue mission, not about a religious self-help scheme.

This is why the Apostle Paul had to come to grips with how his own life as a profoundly religious and upright man was totally insufficient to save even him.

Listen to how he goes through it in Philippians: Philippians 3:3–9 ESV / For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—

All of which he summarizes so wonderfully in – 2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV / For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

This beloved is the Gospel. So do you know it?

Do you know it is not about your being good, or making up for past sins or anything else you can contribute?

Do you know it is about who Jesus is and what He has done?

How He died for YOUR sins,  and was raised up again for YOUR justification – the declaration before God that you are righteous IN HIM!

And that He has sent His Spirit to indwell and empower you to persevere to the end – when He will raise you up from the dead as well.

This is GOOD NEWS! This is the Gospel.

But there is more to saving faith than just knowing the Gospel.

Notitia – Content

Assensus – Agreement

Fiducia – Committal

Knowing the content of the Gospel, I now have to ask – do I agree that this is the truth?

Do I believe this?

Do I believe this really happened and that this is what God was doing in sending Jesus?

Has Jesus died for our sins? For MY sin? For YOUR sin?

DO I believe this – what seems to be – TOO good to be believed news?

Do I give my assent to the Gospel that it is true?

This is the 2nd part.

If I don’t know what the Gospel is, then I can’t believe it. Some sort of disconnected faith or belief the Bible knows nothing about.

But having heard and understood it – do I believe it is the truth?

Do I really believe John 3:16?  NET / “For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NET)

But then there is a 3rd aspect to saving faith:

Notitia – Content

Assensus – Agreement

Fiducia – Committal

Fiducia – Will I commit myself to trusting this Gospel reality as all I need to be reconciled to the Father?

Do I take Jesus as the full satisfaction for my sin before God, so that I am wholly accepted and loved by Him because of Jesus?

This is the $50,000 question as they used to say.

In truth, it is a question beyond worth in asking and answering.

James Montgomery Boice used to use this illustration of marriage to try and bring all of this home.

Let’s consider a young man and a young woman.

In the process of time, old fashioned as he is, the young man gets down on one knee and asks: “Will you marry me?”

This is Notitia: The gentleman made a genuine proposal of marriage. He has asked the question.

So the gal must ask: Is that what I understand? Is that what he said? Was the content of his proposal that he asked me to marry him?

Have I understood him correctly?

2ndly, Assensus: Have I believed that he wants to marry me and that we should be husband and wife, and HAVE I SAID YES!?

Have I assented? If I haven’t said yes – I believe you really asked me to marry you but haven’t said yes – everything comes to a grinding halt.

But if I have said yes, there is still one more thing to round out the entire scenario.

3rd. Fiducia: We aren’t married until we’ve walked the aisle and said: “I do.”

So let’s roll this back.

Here’s the question beloved:

Have I said “I do” to Jesus’ proposal to be the complete satisfaction for my sins – to be all of my righteousness, and for me to be His bride?

Have I consummated that by continually trusting Him in that way? By ceasing to look to anything else.

By forsaking all others, and cleaving only to Him.

This is what saving faith looks like.

And it is not hard to determine if this has been your experience.

And if so, then you don’t need to “feel” like your married.

You don’t need to keep repeating the wedding vows.

You don’t need to guess whether or not you’re good enough, since that was never a part of the equation to begin with – the Gospel being rooted in our salvation being totally dependent upon HIS being good enough.

Now, you need to live in the reality of it. To truly trust Him in all that He promised.

And so as Jesus says in John 17:3 ESV / And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

And then Jesus goes on to pray about all who believe in Him: John 17:20–24 ESV / “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

And so I want us to close just here this morning.

I want us to take some time to wait before the Lord to search our own hearts to see if this is the case with each one of us here.

Have you heard and do you know the Gospel, as Paul says in 1 Timothy 1:15 ESV / The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.

Do you BELIEVE the Gospel? Do believe this is true?

Romans 10:9 ESV / because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Do you put the responsibility for the whole of your salvation into His hands today?

Romans 6:23 ESV / For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The free gift of God.

Eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

In this, the whole of our assurance of salvation lies.

Jesus Christ has died. And those who trust in Him, are saved forevermore.

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A Call to Repentance (Part One)

Hosea 6:1-6

Come, let us return to the Lord. For he has torn us, and he will heal us; he has wounded us, and he will bind up our wounds. He will revive us after two days, and on the third day he will raise us up so we can live in his presence. Let us strive to know the Lord. His appearance is as sure as the dawn. He will come to us like the rain, like the spring showers that water the land (6:1-3 CSB).

Religious people in our time have lost their hold on the reality of God, the living God, the God who is there. During the last few years in Christian writings, it has become necessary to revisit the basic teachings about God. For example, in some circles there is growing confusion about the Trinity, and in others there is a denial of God’s knowledge and sovereignty in what is called “Open Theism”. Since the tragic events of 9/11, some have become practical dualists in their theology, wrongly assuming that all good events come from God and all bad events from the devil. As we will see, such ideas shipwreck on the solid rock of this text.

We need the teaching of this text for another reason. This passage is like a ray of sunshine and hope before the storm breaks. Sometimes in the trials of life we lose sight of the mercy and love of God. Hopefully, we still confess the mercy and love of God, but the fog of life obscures the sight and pleasure of God’s wonderful grace to broken people. We become legalistic, wrongly assuming that God only likes people that resemble Mary Poppins— “practically perfect in every way!” The Bible knows of no perfect person but the Lord Jesus, and instead asserts the holiness of Christ and our total need of him. So this passage offers hope to people, regardless of their imperfection. Let us listen to God’s encouraging words.

The Lord Israel urged to repent (6:1-3). Hosea taught the people how to turn back to the Lord in these verses. God was behind this training; he wanted repentance. Hosea willingly joined with the people, both as an example, and a leader, and as one who recognized his own sinfulness, for no one is perfect.

Repentance described. A description is different from a definition. Repentance is defined as a “change of mind or heart.” Genuine repentance produces certain actions that describe how it looks. Two of these are the descriptions we read here.

It is described as the need to return to the Lord (6:1). Israel had abandoned the living God for dead idols. She needed to go back to the true and Living One (Jeremiah 2:13). The deepest truths are often the simplest! Where is the Lord in your life? What practical evidences are there of your interaction with him?

In our family we can point to specific events when we were together and can describe the fellowship that occurred during those times. You can do the same in your family. The same thing happens in the family of God, when people are in a vital relationship with the living God.

Have you wandered away from the Lord? What has come between God and you? Forsake it and return to him! You won’t return to the Lord as long as you hang onto what is keeping you away from him. A desire for “other things” can choke the Lord’s message to you (Matthew 13:22).

It is described as the need to know the Lord (6:3). Observe once again the importance of knowing God! See Jeremiah 9:23-24; John 17:3. God wants a diligent desire. He wanted them to pursue this knowledge. In other words, the Lord wants fellowship or communication.

Repentance encouraged

God encouraged it by a presentation of God’s grace. The Lord uses his kindness to lead people to repentance (Rm 2:4). He wins us by his love. The Almighty revealed himself in three ways.

  • God as Healer. The Lord is able to mend what he has torn.
  • God as Lifegiver. Notice the “third day” mentioned. This might be an allusion to Christ’s resurrection on the third day.
  • God as Renewer. Rain is essential for a proper harvest. In the same way, the life-giving grace of God is able to make them flourish spiritually.

Observe the idea of overflowing grace (Romans 5:20-21). His grace is greater than our sins. When you take care of young children, you find out that they can be messy, especially when they eat! Loving adults reach out to messy children and tenderly clean them. The living God is willing “to get his hands messy” to clean us up and to share life with us. He knows that to some extent, we will always have “messy faces and hands” in this life, but he still loves us!

God encouraged it by a presentation of their need: “that we may live….” Since God has endowed people with life and the ability to make rational judgments, he appeals to us in this way. Will you be able to live before God forever? If not, how will you be able to endure his wrath forever?

Grace and peace, David

Christian, God is a Father to You

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Christian don’t ever forget, despite what other blessings you may see your fellow brethren receive, God is your Father just as much as theirs.

One God and Father

The Bible declares three distinct persons to be God (Father, Son, Holy Spirit), but we need to remember that the Bible gives primacy to the Father. The Bible most certainly exalts Christ, but we can’t forget that God the Father is said to be overall, including Christ.

What To Do When Christians Clash!

What are we to do when Christians clash? I’m not thinking of momentary spats or minor disagreements, but of significant divisions and conflict grounded in equally sincere convictions about what is right and wise. If you’ve been a Christian for any period of time you’ve no doubt seen it or, sadly, been embroiled in one of your own.

Once again, one of the admirable things about the Bible is its often brutal honesty, its refusal to gloss over the glitches in believers’ lives. There are a number of examples I could cite, but none more pointed than the breakdown between Paul, Barnabas, and Mark, and their subsequent reconciliation.

If we are going to understand and learn from this “clash of Christians” we need to take note of a story that is recorded for us in Acts 15. Our principal characters are Paul (who needs no comment), Barnabas, and Mark.

Barnabas was the kind of man that everyone would want as a best friend. No matter how bad things got, no matter how low and lousy you might feel, no matter how badly you may have failed, when your world stinks, Barnabas is the sort who brings a sweet aroma to life. You can always count on him being there. He won’t close an eye to your sin. In fact, he’ll rebuke you if needed, but you know it’s because he really cares.

Much is said of Barnabas in the New Testament, all of which is worthy of imitation. He is described as generous in Acts 4:36-37 (if you’re in financial stress, he’ll give you what he’s got, even if it isn’t much). He has an uncanny knack for encouraging others when they are in distress (“Barnabas,” as most of you know, actually means “Son of Encouragement”), as Acts 4:36 and 11:23 bear witness (cf. Acts 9:27). He was a “good” man (Acts 11:24; what a brief but glorious epitaph!). He was “filled with the Spirit” and “full of faith” (Acts 11:24; i.e., rock solid and spiritually steady, no matter the circumstance, always looking confidently to the trustworthiness and sufficiency of Jesus). He was a teacher, prophet, evangelist, and apostle (Acts 11:26; 13:1; 14:14; obviously quite gifted!). Perhaps best of all, he could be counted on, which is to say, he was reliable (see Acts 11:29-30; 12:25).

Then there is Mark, called “John Mark” (it was common to have two names, one acceptable to Greeks and Romans and the other Jewish). He lived in Jerusalem with his mother, Mary, in his whose home prayer meetings were regularly held (Acts 12:12). We know he was the cousin of Barnabas (as Paul indicates in Colossians 4:10) and was selected by Paul (no doubt on Barnabas’s recommendation) to accompany them on their missionary journeys (Acts 12:25).

The problem, the “clash” if you will, was precipitated by something recorded for us in Acts 13:13-14 during Paul’s second missionary journey. There we read that “Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. And John [Mark] left them and returned to Jerusalem, but they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia.” Luke doesn’t tell us at this point why John Mark “left them”, nor does he suggest at this stage that his decision was wrong or sinful.

Why did Mark leave? There are any number of possibilities. For example, he may have been homesick. Perhaps he missed his mother, their spacious home in Jerusalem, and the comfort provided by the servants present there.

Others believe that he had come to resent Paul for eclipsing his cousin Barnabas in importance and fame. Paul was now the acknowledged leader of the group. Was it familial jealousy that drove this young man?

The explanation could be as simple as physical exhaustion. Mark may not have been accustomed to the rigors of travel, or perhaps he was a bit lazy, as least by Paul’s standards. Was he having second thoughts about his calling as a missionary (“Did I really hear God?”). Was he discouraged (“This isn’t what I had in mind at all!”)?

When Paul reached the cities of south Galatia, he was quite ill (see Galatians 4:13-15). He may have contracted malarial fever which could be reduced by leaving the climate of the low-lying coastal plain and going to the coolness of the Taurus plateau some 3,500 ft. above sea level. A few have argued that perhaps Mark thought Paul was foolish in making the decision to go north over the mountains and decided it was unwise to accompany him.

There is also the possibility that as a loyal member of the church in Jerusalem he disagreed with Paul’s policy of evangelizing Gentiles and granting them equal status in the church. Some suggest it was Mark who provoked the Judaizers in Jerusalem into opposing Paul (cf. Acts 15:1ff; but we have no explicit evidence to support this).

Other possible explanations are his fear of bandits, thieves, and muggers who infested the Taurus mountains into which Paul insisted they go (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:26), or perhaps his fear of persecution (cf. Acts 14:19).

Whatever the reason for Mark’s refusal to continue with Paul and Barnabas, whatever excuse he used to make a hasty retreat to Jerusalem and the comforts of home, Paul took it as a sign of weakness and immaturity and unreliability. So did Barnabas, I suspect, although later they would differ greatly on how best to deal with the problem.

Following the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15), Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are” (Acts 15:36). Barnabas wanted Mark to come along, “but Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work” (Acts 15:37-38).

Note well what happened next: “And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord” (Acts 15:39-40). It testifies to the historical reliability of Acts that Luke makes no effort to cover up this dispute. He’s not afraid to face reality or point a finger at warts on the face of the church.

Barnabas would not have disputed the fact that Mark blew it badly when he deserted them in Cyprus. Sin is sin. He no doubt agreed with Paul that Mark failed miserably on his first outing, but he also believed Mark had sincerely repented and should be welcomed back and given a second chance.

There’s no reason to think Paul doubted Mark’s sincerity in repenting. But the great apostle could not afford to risk the lives of others and the success of the mission on a man who, in his opinion, had yet to prove himself reliable and trustworthy in the heat of battle. Perhaps Paul said to Barnabas (using modern lingo): “When the going gets tough, the tough get going; but Barnabas, don’t you remember Cyprus? When the going got tough there, Mark turned tailed and ran away. It’s not that I don’t love the young man, but too much is at stake to trust him this early in his recovery.”

Who was right, Paul or Barnabas or both? Paul believed that Mark needed to prove his reliability before being entrusted with such an awesome responsibility. That’s probably true. But Barnabas believed he also needed encouragement and love and acceptance. Again, no argument there. But with neither man willing to concede, the split was unavoidable.

So what ultimately happened with Mark? How did he end up with Paul during his imprisonment in Rome? And how is it that Paul commends him to the church in Colossae (Col. 4:10). And what lessons can we learn from it all?

Luke describes the incident between Paul and Barnabas as a “sharp disagreement” (Acts 15:39). I don’t know, but it may have sounded something like this:

Barnabas: “Paul! You’re being unreasonable. I know you’re a man of conviction, but for heaven’s sake ease up a bit.”

Paul: “I may be unreasonable in your estimation, Barnabas, but you are showing a distinct lack of wisdom. Don’t let the fact that he’s your cousin blind you to his failures. We need to think first and foremost about the welfare of this ministry God has entrusted to us.”

Barnabas: “I am thinking of the ministry. But Mark is a sensitive and loving young man. Your inflexibility could crush his spirit. Must you be so harsh?”

Paul: “Must you be so soft? I love Mark. Really, I do. But you’re letting your compassion override your convictions.”

Barnabas: “And you’re letting your principles override your pity.”

In any case, the split must have been painful for everyone involved. I suspect even Mark felt guilty for being the cause of a separation between these two friends and co-workers. But let’s learn from what happened. There are five valuable lessons we can ill-afford to ignore.

First, we mustn’t forget that Paul and Barnabas, not just Mark, are also human and prone to sin. I can’t get over the fact that two apostles, that’s right, apostles(!), are engaged in a verbal brawl. I’m not in the least suggesting this justifies such behavior in us or that what occurred wasn’t grievous to the heart of God. But it reminds us that no one in this life achieves perfection or rises above the promptings of the flesh. These two men had worked miracles by the Spirit of God. They had laid hands on the sick and healed them. They both prayed in tongues (at least Paul did). They both loved Jesus. Yet here they are shouting angrily at each other!

If you had witnessed this clash, what conclusions would you have drawn? Or let’s bring it into the twenty-first century. If you were a new Christian, visiting a local church for the first time, and you happened upon such an argument in the parking lot or even the foyer of the church, what might you think?

Perhaps: “These men obviously can’t be Christians.”

Or perhaps: “I won’t believe anything either of them teaches. They are obviously disqualified from instructing others when they can’t get along with each other.”

Or maybe: “Who appointed these guys to be missionaries? Someone needs to re-evaluate the screening process!”

Or again: “I’ll bet you God never blesses or anoints either of them again. No more signs and wonders through their hands!”

Or lastly: “Hypocrites! The church is full of them. I’ll never again darken the door of this place as long as people like that are around.”

If nothing else, we learn from this not to judge too quickly or draw decisive conclusions about the goodness of people from a singular incident.

Second, is there anything we can learn from Paul’s position? I think his decision reminds us that you don’t entrust the young and immature with major tasks (cf. 1 Timothy 3:10). Don’t push people into ministry or positions of leadership and authority who may not be capable of bearing the burden or dealing with the pressure. A proven track record and proven character are indispensable.

Can we learn something important from Barnabas? Certainly. We learn that even those who fail are not to be abandoned and forever spurned. They are to be lovingly rebuked and corrected and then encouraged until conviction grips their hearts and repentance is forthcoming. We learn that failure such as this is not grounds for permanent exclusion from ministry.

Third, observe how God providentially brought good out of this tragic turn of events. With Paul and Barnabas splitting up and going their separate ways, two missionary teams instead of one are unleashed on the unbelieving world. Paul took Silas with him, while Barnabas took Mark. We must never justify our failures or sins by appealing to the overriding role of divine providence, but it is reassuring to know that God can redeem for his glory even the most petty as well as substantive clashes among his children.

Fourth, there are important lessons to learn from the experience of Mark himself. It would appear that although Mark abandoned them, he has returned on his own initiative. This was a courageous and humbling act on his part, demonstrative of the reality of his repentance.

Note also that Mark was not only received back by Paul, but was restored to ministry as well! In Colossians 4:10 Paul sends the church greetings from Mark and adds this comment: “concerning whom you have received instructions – if he comes to you, welcome him.” Evidently Mark’s restoration had not been fully acknowledged by all. I suspect that some in Colossae were suspicious of him, which is why Paul insists that they receive him warmly and wholeheartedly.

If that weren’t enough to restore confidence in Mark, Paul explicitly calls him his “fellow worker” in Philemon 24. Better still is what Paul wrote to Timothy in his second epistle. Remember, Paul is in prison in Rome, perhaps only weeks, at most months, away from execution. Virtually everyone had either abandoned him or left for other ministry opportunities (cf. 2 Timothy 4:9-10). “Luke alone is with me” (2 Timothy 4:11a), wrote Paul.

It’s a bit depressing, isn’t it? Paul is at the end of his life. His ministry is nearly over. Of all the people he could have asked to come and support and encourage him, guess whom he mentions? “Get Mark(!) and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11b). Mark? Useful? For ministry? Indeed! Isn’t God’s grace amazing?

Fifth, how was Mark restored to ministry? I suspect there were at least three human contributors through whom the Spirit worked.

There was, first of all, Barnabas and his constant encouragement and friendship.

Then there was Peter, Mark’s spiritual father (1 Peter 5:13). Peter knew a bit about failure himself! He knew the joy of restoration as well. No doubt his advice and prayers and support proved invaluable to Mark on his journey back.

Finally, Paul’s principles, his rebuke, and the discipline on which he insisted must also have played a role (“Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy,” Proverbs 27:5-6). I suspect Mark would have been the first to say that all three men were indispensable to him.

We’ve learned much from the clash of Paul and Barnabas over Mark. But there’s one more lesson to note. It comes by way of a painful contrast. Among those listed in the concluding paragraph of Colossians is a man named Demas (Colossians 4:14). He, too, was with Paul in Rome, faithfully serving the apostle alongside of Mark, Luke, Epaphras, and others. But not for long.

Is there a more painful experience than being abandoned by a friend? One struggles to find words adequate for the distress that is felt when a close, trusted companion and fellow-worker (see Philemon 24) walks away.

It’s important to remember that this was Paul’s first Roman imprisonment when conditions were not so threatening. But things were to change. When Paul wrote again from prison in Rome, his life was in the balance. Here are his words to his spiritual son, Timothy: “Do your best to come to me soon. For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica” (2 Timothy 4:9-10). Ouch! Double ouch!!

Was Demas a “convenient” Christian, one who was happy to follow Jesus and assist the apostle so long as it was rewarding and safe? We can’t be sure, but it’s clear that Demas wanted nothing to do with Paul. The verb translated “deserted” in 2 Timothy 4:10 implies not simply that Demas had “left” but had “left him in the lurch,” had abandoned and forsaken him.

Paul would have recalled the wisdom of Solomon: “Trusting in a treacherous man in time of trouble is like a bad tooth or a foot that slips” (Proverbs 25:19). Nothing hurts quite like the disloyalty and betrayal of someone you trusted. It’s like a decaying, rotten tooth and a palsied, disjointed foot. Not only are they functionally useless (for chewing and walking), they hurt!

For some of you, no doubt, your experience with this sort of person has made you hesitant to trust another. Perhaps you’ve closed your heart to starting new friendships or found yourself keeping folk at arm’s length. But Paul didn’t let the betrayal and abandonment of Demas and others scare him off or sour him to friendship altogether. He didn’t say, “Oh, Timothy, how do I know you won’t abandon me like Demas did?” There’s an important lesson in that.

Demas abandoned Paul in his hour of need because he had fallen “in love with this present world” (2 Timothy 4:10a). He preferred material prosperity to spiritual blessings. Comfort and wealth and safety meant more to him than the advance of the gospel and the welfare of the apostle.

What lessons might we learn from the contrast between Demas and Mark?

First, when you look on these two men for the first time, Demas appeared faithful and loyal while Mark gave every indication of cowardice and weakness. But as time passed, their situations reversed. Demas proved himself to be disloyal and unreliable and Mark grew into the sort of trusted friend whom Paul wanted at his side in his final days on earth.

Don’t be hasty in making snap judgments about people. Initially, Paul thought Demas would never leave and Mark would never be of use. Now, Demas has left and Mark is back! We’re reminded by this that more important than how you start a race is how you finish. It’s been said before and I’ll say it again: the Christian life is a marathon, not a sprint! So let’s be careful and not place excessive responsibility on those who do well at first, nor give up entirely on those who appear to have slipped at the starting line.

Second, some say Mark was not a Christian when he abandoned Paul and Barnabas but converted later on. They also argue that Demas was a Christian but lost his salvation when he deserted Paul for love of the world.

But this is based on the assumption that a true believer is incapable of the sin of fear or cowardice (Mark’s transgression; Peter’s too!). It also assumes that someone who is born again cannot fall into the grip of materialism and self-protection (which may well have been Demas’s struggle).

I suspect, but can’t prove, that Demas was a Christian with whom God dealt no differently than he did with Mark. He would have come under the conviction of the Spirit and felt the call to repentance. Short of his restoration, divine discipline would have ensued. Was he restored? We don’t know. There are other instances in Scripture where discipline is temporally (but not spiritually) fatal (cf. Acts 5:1-11; 1 Corinthians 11:30-32). In the case of Demas, the Bible is silent, and we must be content with that.

Third, and finally, Barnabas received Mark back. Peter received Mark back. Paul received Mark back. The Church as a whole received Mark back. But what about God? God used him to write the gospel of his Son! This miserable failure who initially proved so unreliable was received and restored by God to fulfill a task of awesome and eternal significance. As I said before, isn’t grace amazing!

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