As I was Reading Today

What an expression of His personal grief over the ravages of sin in the human race.

I wonder if we share the same when we see such suffering?

But we need to drill down and really grasp what grieves Him so. He tells us plainly: Unbelief. That men are faithless, denying God, refusing to believe His truth and the Gospel of the Kingdom.

I fear that we are (I am) more grieved by the results of faithlessness (like what produces such aberrations as demon possession, war, rape, murder etc.) than we are by faithlessness itself.

As long as faithless people don’t bother us, we don’t seem to mind their faithlessness. We ignore the most tragic part of their condition – while He grieved it above all else.

What does He call this condition? Twisted or perverse. Because to be oriented this way is to be upside down from the heart and mind of God.

Oh Father, make me grieve the unbelief of men more than the mere acts which vex me most. Give me your heart and mind. For it will drive my energies to see the Gospel is preached more than any other approach to society’s ills. Yes, Jesus healed the boy, but what of those around? And what is healing if we are left in eternal darkness from the face of God in Jesus Christ. Keep us from putting temporal band-aids on the eternally terminal cancer of the soul. Let your glory in Jesus be known. Let your Gospel be preached. Let me be a messenger who boldly, clearly and endlessly proclaims the forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name – and reconciliation to you through the Cross.

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The Answer to God’s Seeming Megalomania

I recently returned to reading John Piper’s book, Reading the Bible Supernaturally, and was stunned yet again by a truth that has utterly transformed my life. That’s not an overstatement. I can’t think of another theological principle that has meant more to me than what you are about to read. I have often in my books tried to say the same thing, but it always seems to fall short of how John has expressed it.

John begins by citing C. S. Lewis and his description of how he struggled with the incessant demand by God that all creation praise him. Lewis confessed that God sounded like “a vain woman who wants compliments.” Then came the discovery that changed Lewis’s life too:

“But the most obvious fact about praise—whether of God or anything—strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or the giving of honor. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise. . . . The world rings with praise—lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite game—praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians and scholars. My whole, more general difficulty about the praise of God depended on my absurdly denying to us, as regards the supremely Valuable, what we delight to do, what indeed we can’t help doing, about everything else we value. I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are, the delight is incomplete till it is expressed” (Reflections on the Psalms [New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1958], 93–95).

John then follows by teasing out this truth in a remarkable way. He writes:

“In other words, genuine, heartfelt praise is not artificially added to joy. It is the consummation of joy itself. The joy we have in something beautiful or precious is not complete until it is expressed in some kind of praise.

Lewis saw the implication of this for God’s seemingly vain command that we worship him. Now he saw that this was not vanity or megalomania. This was love. This was God seeking the consummation of our joy in what is supremely enjoyable—himself.

If God demeaned his supreme worth in the name of humility, we would be the losers, not God. God is the one being in the universe for whom self-exaltation is the highest virtue. For there is only one supremely beautiful being in the universe. There is only one all-satisfying person in the universe. And because of his supreme beauty and greatness, what the psalmist says in Psalm 16:11 is true: ‘In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.’ If God hides that, or denies that, he might seem humble, but he would be hiding from us the very thing that would make us completely happy forever.

But if God loves us the way the Bible says he does, then he will give us what is best for us. And what is best for us is himself. So if God loves us fully, God will give us God, for our enjoyment and nothing less. But if our enjoyment is not complete until it comes to completion in praise, then God would not be loving if he was indifferent to our praise. If he didn’t pursue our praise in all that he does (as we have seen!), he would not be pursuing the fullness of our satisfaction. He would not be loving.

So what emerges is that God’s pervasive self-exaltation in the Bible— his doing everything to display his glory and to win our worship—is not unloving; it is the way an infinitely all-glorious God loves. His greatest gift of love is to give us a share in the very satisfaction that he has in his own excellence, and then to call that satisfaction to its fullest consummation in praise. This is why I maintain that the supremely authentic and intense worship of God’s worth and beauty is the ultimate aim of all his work and word” (Reading the Bible Supernaturally [Wheaton: Crossway, 2017], 58-59).

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Theological Clarity Must Never Take a Back Seat

Theology is important for so many reasons . . .

  • It’s vital for our missional living, since an essential component of fulfilling the Great Commission involves teaching the nations.
  • It’s vital for the church, since everything we do is grounded in what we believe.
  • It’s vital for Christian living, since our theology determines our biography—that is, what we believe shapes how we live.

These things and more directly apply to church-planting pastors. We have the privilege of ministering the Word of God to the people we are reaching and those we are shepherding.

Our theological training is not for the purpose of winning Twitter arguments, but for maturing people into the image of Jesus. And it should also humble us, driving us to worship and prayer. Indeed, our theology must kindle in our hearts a deep love for God and neighbor. We don’t study theology to make the head fat, but the heart right.

To help us think about the importance of theological clarity in church planting, I’m excited to have Francisco Bendfeldt with me on the podcast today.

Listen to this episode of Churches Planting Churches.


Related:

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Am I Sitting Under Healthy Preaching?

Organic? Free-range? Many of us are learning to consider the long-term effects of what we’re eating. What consequences will the hormones pumped into the chickens and cows produce for me and my family over time? How harmless is it to consume a “genetically modified organism”?

Such questions, of course, can be overdone, but for many, these are sober-minded, diligent concerns. Especially when we’re not just choosing our own food, but sustenance for others, even our children. And if such bodily concerns can be of some value (1 Timothy 4:8), should we be any less careful about our spiritual diet?

Week after week, Christians sit under the preaching of God’s word in worship. How do we know if the food we’re receiving is spiritually healthy? What will be its long-term effects on our soul-health? If I keep feeding on this teaching, will my spirit be better off for it, or will I look back someday and wish I’d made wiser choices?

Determining Factor

More to the point, how will we know whether the full sweep of Christian content we’re regularly feeding on is healthy — not just weekly sermons, but daily devotionals, Christian books and podcasts, social feeds, and even real-life spiritual conversations? Aside from generally knowing the Scriptures better from cover to cover, which is a lifelong pursuit, how can we tell along the way that the places from which we’re feeding are nourishing?

Put another way, might there be any key indicator or determining factor for discerning whether Christian teaching or doctrine is healthy or not? Is there any litmus test, or organizing principle, or heart, or core, or touchstone, of what makes teaching “sound” or unsound? Healthy or unhealthy? Paul doesn’t provide a comprehensive plan, but he does give us something tangible to lean on in 1 Timothy 1:10–11.

Dividing Line

The phrase “sound doctrine” (literally “healthy teaching”) at the end of verse 10 is one of the most important concepts in 1 Timothy, as well as 2 Timothy and Titus (“the Pastoral Epistles”). Paul paints a stark contrast between good teaching and bad. Between healthy teaching and unhealthy. Between the kind of teaching that produces healthy spiritual lives (“godliness”) and the kind that does not. False teaching will produce spiritual sickness (1 Timothy 1:3; 6:3–4). True teaching will produce long-term spiritual health (2 Timothy 4:3–4; Titus 1:9; 2:1).

And what’s especially important about this first mention of “healthy teaching” in 1 Timothy 1:10 is that, more than anywhere else, it answers for us what is the key to “healthy teaching” or “sound doctrine.”

Healthy Teaching

“Sound doctrine,” Paul says, is “in accordance with the gospel.” At first, this might seem too simple to be true. The heart and core and center and organizing principle of Christian theology is the gospel — in the words of verse 15, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” That’s the good news. That’s the heart and soul of the Christian message in all its expressions. True doctrine explains and supports and complements the Christian gospel, and false teaching blurs and mutes and obscures it.

God sent his Son into the world, as the pinnacle of all time and history, to save sinners through his death and resurrection, and to ascend to the throne as the King of all kings and the Lord of all lords. This is the gospel, or good news, of the Christian faith: Jesus saves sinners. This is the climax and heart and core of why God made the world, and all that Christians believe and confess relates in some way to this. Not just the truths we think of as exciting and comforting, like God’s love and mercy, but also the dark and difficult and unsettling truths like sin and divine wrath and eternal punishment in hell.

“Sound doctrine,” Paul says, is “in accordance with the gospel.” Christian doctrine, in all its details, gets its bearings from a particular message. Good, healthy teaching (that produces healthy Christian living) has the gospel of Jesus Christ at its center. It explains and upholds and expresses and is relentlessly shaped by Jesus’s person and work as its unifying theme. When there’s no nutrition label on the side, apply the litmus test of the gospel.

Not Enough to End with Gospel

But it’s not enough here to end with “the gospel.” Paul says healthy teaching is “in accordance with the gospel” — but he doesn’t stop at “gospel.” He continues: “. . . the gospel of the glory of the blessed God.” I’m so glad he does. Because the words that follow give us an amazing look into what makes the good news so good.

At first glance, this phrase (“gospel of the glory of the blessed God”) may not seem all that extraordinary to us, but these are not throwaway words for the apostle Paul. Here we find, piled on top of each other, three of the most important words in Scripture, three of the most important realities in the universe, and three words Christians can be prone to hear and say so often that we miss the depth of their meaning. Gospel. Glory. Blessed. “The gospel of the glory of the blessed God.”

Gospel, as we’ve seen, is the good news that God himself, in the person of his Son, has made a way to rescue us, by faith, from our sins and the eternal death we justly deserve. The heart of our faith is gospel, not law. Good news, not good advice. Glory is the beauty of God’s diverse perfections, or the visible display of God’s infinite value and worth. “God made us for his glory” means he designed us to show his greatness in the world (and in a special way: “in his own image” as Genesis 1:27 says). And what is God doing in all of history in this visible, tangible world? Showing us his glory — the height of which, Ephesians 1:6 says, is “the glory of his grace.” Jesus and his rescue, called the gospel, is where God’s glory shines out the clearest and brightest.

Happiness Himself

Blessed may be the trickiest of all. What does it mean that God is “the blessed God”?

Blessed here doesn’t simply mean he’s worthy of worship, that we should “bless” him in praise. That’s true, but as an adjective for God, it’s deeper than that. He is worthy of our worship, but his being “the blessed God” means, in essence, he is “the happy God,” and in no trite way. He is infinitely, unassailably, unimpeachably happy. “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3). He has and is infinite bliss.

At the outset of his recent Kistemaker Lectures at RTS-Orlando on “the blessedness of God,” Fred Sanders begins with this striking phrase in 1 Timothy 1:11 and says this about God’s blessedness:

The good news is about the particular character of this God, the one whose nature it is to shine out in glory and to repose in blessedness. God is not only the God of salvation, the sovereign rescuer of lost humanity. God is not only the King in his splendor bursting forth in unimaginable glory. Above or beyond or behind that, in a secret sanctuary of the depths of divinity, God is something even more astonishingly unimprovable. God is blessed.

And this blessedness, this divine happiness, in all its glory, is the ground of the possibility of his creatures being truly, deeply, enduringly happy in him, forever. God is not the cosmic killjoy many of us may have feared. He is not frustrated and sad. He is not grumpy and sour. No, he is blessed. He has infinite happiness, and is infinite happiness, and shares infinite happiness.

When Daddy Is Happy

This infinitely happy God, in his mind-stretching fullness, has gone public in creation and redemption with his infinite value and worth, called his glory. And the height of his glory is the demonstration of his fullness in the sacrifice of his Son for the eternal happiness of his people, called the gospel. And what good news it is for natural-born law-breakers like us. Not just that God rescues sinners. But that he is glorious. And he is gloriously happy.

And when Daddy is contagiously happy, the whole house is happy, and it’s a safe place to be honest about your disappointments and struggles. As his people, we are God’s household, “the church of the living God” (1 Timothy 3:15) — and what good news it is that the Father of this household is happy. Such a church is a good place to heal, and be restored to joy, and find joy that is deeper than all your pains.

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The Doctrine of Assurance Pt. 6

Doctrine of Assurance Pt. 6

Reid A Ferguson

1 Corinthians 2:9–16; John 16:1–15; 1 John 2:18–27

As most of you know, we’ve been working through this little letter of 1st John in an effort to get a firm handle on John’s assertion that he had written it, at least in part, to give certainty to believers that they really are saved – now!

1 John 5:13 

1 John 5:13 ESV

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.

How can I know that I know that I know, that I am in right relationship with God?

That my sins are forgiven; that I am already received as one of God’s own children; that when I die, I will immediately go to be in the presence of the God who loves me and sent His Son to die for me for all eternity?

While not everyone struggles with this question in a deep way – many do and all should.

For some, they question it because they simply have never heard or believed the Gospel: The Gospel that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.

They know the world is a pretty broken place, but they don’t know why.

They’ve never heard the Biblical explanation that all pain, sickness, disease, war, heartache and misery are part of the human condition because back when God created us in His image – we rebelled against Him.

How we wanted, and STILL want the right to govern ourselves as we see fit. To name right and wrong for ourselves. And to live for ourselves, rather than for the One who made us for Himself.

They’ve never known that God loved us so even in our rebellion, that He devised a way to remain absolutely holy and not compromise His justice, and still buy us back to Himself from our ruin.

And that plan was to send His own perfect Son – Jesus Christ, God in human flesh, to live a life that completely fulfilled all that God could demand of us, and, be our substitute on the Cross, enduring the just wrath of God against our rebellion and sin. This is so that all who put their trust in Him as their sin-bearer, might be forgiven, reconciled to Him and granted eternal life.

They have not heard that is the state of affairs in this world as God has made it known. Or they’ve heard some other, some false Gospel.

Others, have fully believed that Gospel. They know the truth of all this and have come to Christ for forgiveness and salvation from the judgment of God – and yet still – for reasons unknown to themselves, cannot find complete rest in it.

They are plagued, tormented by thoughts that somehow, they will still be damned. That they are not in right relationship with Him. They fear to trust fully: Perhaps because of some failure they imagine is outside the sufficiency of Christ’s blood, or because they do not “feel” it so, or maybe because they think they’ve just not been good enough since believing.

Sadly, even some Christian traditions have (for whatever reasons) taught people that they cannot really know that they are already in a right relationship with God.

They’ve have been told that such an assurance of actually “being” saved, of being in an irreversible right relationship with God is unknowable. That you might have some reason to hope it is so – but might be lost again tomorrow.

Or that there may be this endless cycle of being saved, then lost, saved again and lost again – and that no one can ever truly rest in the finished work of Christ on their behalf.

He’s done His part, but if you fail to do yours, all of it is out the window.

John wants all of those who might read this letter to come to a place of assurance before the throne of God.

If that lack of certainty is because you need to hear and believe the Gospel – because you never have – then we invite you to listen really hard this morning.

You really can be born again – become a new creation in Jesus and be fully and finally reconciled to the living God.

Or maybe your assurance has been wounded by errant teaching, or some cause unknown to you.

Of all the things we’ve examined in this regard so far – none of them John has brought forward to date carries as much weight as this one does.

And it is captured in one very simple but eternally profound phrase: 1 John 5:10a

1 John 5:10a ESV

Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son.

Whoever believes in the Son of God, has the testimony IN himself.

That is what by God’s help I hope to unpack for you this morning.

Now by way of the very briefest of review – so far John has been building his foundation for certainty regarding our salvation by getting us to look at our relationship to some key things:

The Word of God: Is it divinely authoritative for us?

God Himself: Is my relationship to Him based upon actually having believed the Gospel?

Sin: Do you hate your love of it.

Christ’s People (the Church): Do you have a unique affinity for them?

World’s Values: Are you rejecting them in favor of the Bible’s revelation of what has true value?

This morning – What is my relationship to The Holy Spirit: Do you know the reality of Spirit given conviction over mere facts or unbelief?

Let’s look at how John addresses this in 4 key passages.

  1. 1 John 2:18-27

1 John 2:18–27 ESV

Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth. Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father. And this is the promise that he made to us—eternal life.

I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.

Let’s take this in 3 sections.

  1. 1 John 2:18-19

1 John 2:18–19 ESV

Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.

We’ve discussed the historical situation behind his words here earlier – so I won’t spend a lot of time on it.

Simply, there was a thought system invading the Church at this time, called Gnosticism. And part of the teaching of the Gnostics was that all physical or material matter is inherently evil. Therefore, they said Jesus could not have been God in the flesh, since God could not inhabit evil matter. So Jesus must have only “appeared” to be human. Or that the Holy Spirit came upon Him at His baptism, but left before His crucifixion.

And once you got this secret knowledge of theirs about who and what Jesus REALLY was – then you could become part of the spiritual elite they imagined themselves to be.

But it was all centered around errant views of Jesus Christ.

You will recall John’s opening to this letter is all about establishing that Jesus was in fact God’s Son and that He really was in a human body – very God and very man as the early Church would come to phrase it.

So when these Gnostics left the Church because their doctrine was rejected – it caused a stir. And they tried to get others to go with them.

John says look – the truth is this – if they had really been true Christians to begin with, they would have stayed with us. But the fact they split off shows you they were never really Christians as the Bible defines it.

BUT! b. 1 John 2:20-25

1 John 2:20–25 ESV

But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth. Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father. And this is the promise that he made to us—eternal life.

You don’t need this supposed secret knowledge this group claimed. Why? Because you have “been anointed by the Holy One, and you all HAVE knowledge.”

The truth is – John says – Jesus Himself has given something to you, which in the giving makes you KNOW for certain these guys are dead wrong about Jesus.

John calls this an “anointing.”

Now anointing in the Bible was always a means, usually by smearing oil on someone, to show that they were fitted for an office in serving God. So prophets, priests, kings – and in some cases even objects were “anointed.”

This anointing was always symbolic of the Holy Spirit being the one who equipped the individual for that service. We can’t develop that fully here but 2 passages may be useful in grasping what John is after.

In Luke’s Gospel we’re told Jesus went into the synagogue in His hometown of Nazareth one sabbath, and opened the scroll to Isaiah and read this: Luke 4:18

Luke 4:18 ESV

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me

to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives

and recovering of sight to the blind,

to set at liberty those who are oppressed,

What is this “anointing” here? The text is clear – it is nothing other then the Holy Spirit Himself.

We see this again in Acts 10:37-38

Acts 10:37–38 ESV

you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.

Now why would John use that anointing language when it comes to Believers?

Quite simply because it is Jesus Himself who spent a whole lot of time in the Gospel of John getting the Disciples ready for that same Holy Spirit He and the Father would send to Believers after His ascension. That He would baptize or anoint Believers with His Holy Spirit

John 14:16-17

John 14:16–17 ESV

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.

And what will The Spirit do when He comes? Tons! but let’s look at 2 just briefly.

John 16:8

John 16:8 ESV

And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:

Don’t miss that word CONVICT. Convict, utterly convince us inwardly of our sinfulness; that our righteousness is not sufficient to please God; and that we then stand in fear of judgment. Bring inward conviction of these things so that we must act on them.

John 15:26-27

John 15:26–27 ESV

“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.

We could build our case with dozens more passages but the idea here is plain: The key work of the Holy Spirit, is to bear witness about who Jesus is – directly to the soul.

To bring an inward conviction of the truth about Jesus.

Remember the verse I cited at the beginning?

1 John 5:10a 

1 John 5:10a ESV

Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son.

So John’s 3rd point comes clear:

  1. 1 John 2:27-28

1 John 2:27–28 ESV

But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.

And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.

What is he saying? That by virtue of the indwelling Holy Spirit, every genuine child of God has this:

A Conviction that Jesus is the Son of God incarnate.

John will build on this but let me get this point cemented so we grasp it well.

Knowledge come in different forms.

I believe that on average the moon is about 238,855 miles away.

I believe it because I’ve been taught it. And because I believe there are those who, with the means and methods requisite, have worked out those calculations.

I believe it has a solid, iron rich core, a fluid outer core of primarily liquid iron around the core and a partially molten boundary layer.

I believe all that. and I can see it every night so I know it is there. But I don’t know it the way those who walked on its surface do. They have a realization of the moon I will never have.

And, if some of those things I believe about the moon were to be altered later due to more investigation – so what?

And for many, knowledge of Jesus falls into similar category.

They believe what they’ve been taught. Trusting that those who taught them knew what they were talking about. But know it? Know it like they know sunlight when they see it each day? Nope.

They are Christians in name only.

Christians because that is how they were raised or taught.

Christians because they aren’t Muslims or Jews or adherents of some other belief system.

But not Christians by the conviction induced directly in the soul by the revelation of the Holy Spirit.

But this is the thing which is indispensible to the genuine Christian – the one who has been born of God by the Spirit – they KNOW who and what Jesus is as really and as truly as if they had walked the shores of Galilee with Him.

The Spirit has given them an inner reality of Him which they can no more deny than they can deny their own existence.

They do not just believe it – they know it. Supernaturally.

Now that is John’s starting point. It is the common experience of all those born again by the Spirit of Christ – that the reality of His incarnation is indisputable fact, that nothing can take away from them.

And this is surprisingly true for the genuine believer who is struggling with assurance.

If this is you today, you really need to lean into this beloved: You know full well that no matter how you feel, no matter how down, depressed, despairing, confused or distracted you are at any given time,  nevertheless you cannot get away from the fact that the Son of God is real, and that He came to earth in the person of Jesus Christ.

Get this – the very source of your misery is that Jesus is real to your soul. For if He were not so real to your soul, you could just give up believing instead of wrestling as you do.

No, your very wrestling IS incontrovertible proof that you indwelt by His Spirit. So, as Paul says

Romans 8:9   

Romans 8:9b ESV

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.

What is the first thing the indwelling Spirit bears witness to in the soul of Believers only?

An absolute CONVICTION that Jesus is the Son of God incarnate.

John was telling his readers that no one could bring them some new or secret knowledge about Jesus that was in any way superior to the Witness that was already in them – which showed them that any other teaching about Jesus was antichrist.

But John isn’t done yet.

1 John 3:24b-4:6

1 John 3:24b–4:6 ESV

Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

John’s 2nd point is that the indwelling Spirit of Christ brings another conviction with Him:

Conviction that the Apostolic witness is true. 

Because we’ve spent much time already on the subject of the Believer’s relationship to the Word of God – I will not press this point here more than note that when one is indwelt by the Spirit of Christ, all questions about whether or not God’s Word is true and authoritative end.

It doesn’t mean one might not have questions about how to interpret, understand or apply various parts of the Word.

What it DOES mean – as in the text: We know the Spirit of God and of Truth as opposed by the spirit of error, by whether or not one “listens” to what the Apostles taught and preached and wrote.

The anointing that abides in the Believer brings an undeniable conviction regarding the Word of God AS the Word of God given to us by the Apostles.

Paul says this is why he had confidence that the Thessalonians he preached to were genuinely saved:

1 Thessalonians 2:13  

1 Thessalonians 2:13 ESV

And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.

If you are one of the struggle-rs here today, let this stand to give you an assurance like nothing else can – if you have that deep seated, Spirit wrought conviction that the Word of God is just that, even if you are battling with understanding some things it teaches aright – that conviction is a work of the Spirit alone.

Some may say they believe it, but deep down never tremble at it, never search it out, never let it search them out.

But the one anointed by the Spirit knows that they know that they know that this is God’s Word. And nothing can shake them from that reality. For it is a reality, and not a mere belief.

Building upon the previous 2, John then multiplies his case:

1 John 4:13-19

1 John 4:13–19 ESV

By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.

Here, John reiterates his 1st point – Jesus’ Spirit within us makes US testify, bear witness that the Father has sent His Son to be the Savior of the world.

But more.

By that same Spirit we have come to know and believe the love God has for us.

You see the mounting argument. If we share the Spirit’s conviction of who and what Jesus is, and that He came to save – then in His saving act we come face to face with the reality of His love for us. We come face to face with it in a way that is unlike anything else.

We can complain that we do not feel His love. We might say that we even doubt His love. But what we cannot deny is that He tells us we know His love for us by the fact that He died for us on the Cross.

In other words, the Spirit grants –

A Conviction that God’s love toward us is absolutely proven in sending His Son to die for our sins.

This beloved is the very essence of true saving faith.

1 John 4:15-16

1 John 4:15–16 ESV

Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.

If I know the witness of the Spirit within granting a powerful conviction regarding the incarnation and His death on Calvary – then knowing that, I must also concede  – incontrovertibly, the love that God has for me.

John Calvin put it this way: “We shall now have a full definition of faith if we say that it is a firm and sure knowledge of the divine favor toward us, founded on the truth of a free promise in Christ, and revealed to our minds, and sealed on our hearts, by the Holy Spirit.”

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 1997).

You see how these work together. The Spirit gives us a deep conviction that Christ has come, that the Word about Him is true, and that His death on the Cross is His testimony regarding His toward me, whatever I may or may not think or feel. I must concede what His Word teaches.

So my problem of assurance may be that I am unwilling to accept the proof that He says is the best proof of His love.

It may be a faith issue after all.

But there is a last work of the Spirit in the soul that John has yet to bring before us.

1 John 5:6-12

1 John 5:6–12 ESV

This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

To be sure this is a somewhat complex passage, but the basic ideas most commentators agree upon:

1st. The testimony of the water, is a reference to Jesus being baptized.

And it was in His baptism that He most identified Himself with us – we in our sinful fallen state. Though He was not sinful, He joined Himself to us in that outward visible demonstration. It is a testimony to His being physically among us. Contra the Gnostics.

2nd. His blood bears witness – that He really and truly died for our sins on the Cross. He was no mere apparition, and this was no myth. He died in a Roman crucifixion, as a sinner in our place.  Also contra the Gnostics.

And to this the Spirit bears witness yet again. How?

Romans 1:1-4

Romans 1:1–4 ESV

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,

He was raised from the dead by the Holy Spirit – who in doing so, declared Him to be the Son of God in power.

These 3 bear a unified witness about Him: The Water, the Blood and the Spirit.

The same Spirit who indwells all His own. That Spirit which brings:

A Conviction that Jesus really came, really died, really rose from the dead – and that believing in Him IS the conferral of eternal life.

1 John 5:11

1 John 5:11 ESV

And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.

Conviction that Jesus is the Son of God incarnate.

Conviction that the Apostolic witness is true.

Conviction that God’s love toward us is absolutely proven in sending His Son to die for our sins.

Conviction that Jesus really came, really died, really rose from the dead – and that believing in Him IS the conferral of eternal life.

In closing let me bring us to 3 takeaways. Each for a different group.

  1. The one who says they are a Christian – but for whom these absolute convictions are not your experience.

Call on Him today. Ask God to open your heart and mind – to send the Holy Spirit to birth new life in you and make these things more than mere speculations or beliefs – but transforming realities.

To reveal Christ to you in all of His saving power in His substitutionary death on the Cross. Ask Him to give you this new life in Jesus.

The promise of His Word is that those who come to Him, He will not turn away. Come to Him today. This very moment.

  1. My dear brother or sister who is struggling with assurance.

Stop and consider that even in your worst moments of doubt and torment – that you cannot escape the reality of these truths. They are burned into your soul.

You need to let those convictions fill the role they are intended to have – to be tokens of the Anointing which indwells you – The presence of the Holy Spirit. And that this belongs only to those who are Christ’s.

The reason why you cannot be at peace, is because this witness continually confronts you in every frame of mind. And this is God’s own proof that you are His.

  1. The Compromising Christian. The reason you are so miserable here today, is because you cannot get this monkey of the reality of who and what Christ is – and what He has called you to – off your back.

And you will never be at peace, never be able to live with Christ in assurance until you yield to what you know to be the truth. You are in a most mysterious and dangerous place. You know the truth, and yet you are trying to live apart from it. Repent. For if you do not, you will find in the end that you had no real conviction, but mere knowledge. And knowledge will not save you – only Christ can.

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An FAQ on a Spiritual Classic: ‘The Valley of Vision’

The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Poems and Devotions (available in paperbackleather, and audio) is a modern-day spiritual classic.

But few people know who was behind it, where the prayers come from, and how they were collected.

Here is an FAQ, based on what I can gather.

Where does the title come from?

Isaiah 22:1, “The burden of the valley of vision. What aileth thee now, that thou art wholly gone up to the housetops?” (KJV).

This is also the title of the first prayer in the book—the best-known entry in the collection—beautifully written by the editor.

Who edited it?

The editor, Arthur Bennett (1915–1994), was an English-born minister, tutor, and author who loved to study the Puritans. You can read a biographical sketch written by his family here.

When was it compiled?

The research for the volume took years to complete. It seems that the work was done in the mid 1960s through early 1970s.

When was it first published?

The Banner of Truth Trust published it in 1975.

How many copies has it sold?

In the first 20 years (1975–1994), it sold less than 20,000 copies in the United States. But it has now sold more than 337,000 copies worldwide. Noting that Bennett died in 1994, Tony Reinke comments: “Bennett, like so many of the Puritans he drew from, did not live to see the scope of his book’s influence.”

Is the book in the public domain, since it collects materials that are no longer under copyright?

No. This is based on a misunderstanding of Bennett’s work and the nature of the material. He did not select completed Puritan poems and simply copy them down, one right after the other. His is essentially an original piece of work, under copyright, representing years of research. Banner of Truth soon plans to publish an eBook version, but if you currently see copies on the web or eBooks being sold by other parties, they are being done so illegally (whether the distributor realizes it or not).

Are there sources in the book indicating where the prayers are from?

No, not for the individual prayers. All we know for certain is that Bennett composed the first prayer himself. Bennett tells us the authors and books he is quoting, but they are not keyed to the actual prayers.

How did Bennett compile the prayers?

He gives us a few clues:

  • They are “drawn from the largely forgotten deposit of Puritan spiritual exercises, meditations and aspirations.”
  • He writes, “A number of prayers were originally spiritual experiences, as in the case of Thomas Shepard, and some others are conflations from different sources to bind together a given theme.”
  • Further, “A poetic form has been adopted throughout as an aid to easier comprehension and utterance.”

Has anyone done research to reconstruct where each prayer comes from?

Not to my knowledge. (If this changes, feel free to let me know.) I suspect it would be a major undertaking, perhaps almost impossible for many of prayers, as it is difficult to know just how much editing and conflating was involved.

Whom does Bennett quote?

Bennett indicates that the prayers are drawn from the works of the following men. I’ve added their dates:

17th Century

  • Thomas Shepard (1605–1649)
  • Richard Baxter (1615–1691)
  • Thomas Watson (c. 1620–1686)
  • John Bunyan (1628–1688)

17th–18th Century

  • Isaac Watts (1674–1748)

18th Century

  • Philip Doddridge (1702–1751)
  • William Romaine (1714–1795)
  • William Williams [of Pontycelyn] (1717–1791)
  • David Brainerd (1718–1747)
  • Augustus Toplady (1740–1778)

18th–19th Century

  • Christmas Evans (1766–1838)
  • William Jay (1769–1853)
  • Henry Law (1797–1884)

19th Century

  • Charles Spurgeon (1834–1892)

Are all of these “Puritans”?

The “Puritan” label, and who should receive it, is disputed among historians. It generally refers to several variations of church reformers in 16th– and 17th-century England and America (roughly spanning 1560 to 1660). In the strict sense, “Puritan” should probably be reserved for those operating up until 1689.

That would make only the first four authors above “Puritans proper.” Since the majority of his sources are from the 18th century, it seems Bennett is referring to those who carried on the Puritan legacy of theology and piety. I suspect that someone like Spurgeon is not being quoted himself, but probably used for his quotations of the Puritans and their successors (which often appeared in his sermons).

What books in particular did Bennett use?

He lists the following. I’ve made some edits to his list for the sake of accuracy:

  • Baxter, Richard. The Saints’ Everlasting Rest.
  • Brainerd, David. Diary and Journal.
  • Bunyan, John. Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners.
  • Doddridge, Philip. The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul.
  • Jay, William. Prayers for the Use of Families.
  • Law, Henry. Family Prayers for Four Weeks.
  • Romaine, William. The Walk of Faith.
  • Shepard, Thomas. Works, vol. 3.
  • Spurgeon, Charles Haddon. The Pastor in Prayer.
  • Stephen, David Rhyes. Life of Christmas Evans.
  • Toplady, Augustus. Works, vol. 1.
  • Watson, Thomas. The Lord’s Prayer.
  • Watts, Isaac. Works, vol. 3, section: “A Guide to Prayer.”
  • Williams, William. Free translations from “Y Caniedydd Cynulleidfaol Newydd” [Welsh congregational hymnal, 1921].

If I had to guess (without doing the original research myself), I suspect the works by Jay, Law, Toplady, Watts, and Williams are the most frequently cited, given that those works involve extensive prayers and hymns. But that may be a task for some intrepid researcher to confirm or refute!

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We Don’t Need Actors in the Pulpit

Audio Transcript

The aim of my exposition of the Book, in the sermon for those 33 years, was to fuel me first, to set my heart aflame with the glories of God revealed in the text of this Book, so that I, as I opened those glories through the text, could draw other people into my experience of God. That’s preaching in my understanding of what it is.

The aim of preaching was only secondarily to keep their marriages together, or to make them bold in witness, or to make them fervent in prayer, or to release them into God-centered living and mission, or to grow the church, or to meet the budget. All of those things were secondary.

“The aim of my exposition was to set my heart aflame with the glories of God.”

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Now, I was a pastor. Of course, I wanted their marriages to stay together. I wanted them to be a praying people. I wanted them to boldly witness. I can’t win everybody to Jesus. They have to talk about Jesus. I wanted them to be involved in missions. I wanted them to be sacrificial in their giving. I wanted the church to grow.

Some pastors, however, feel the burden and the urgency of all those practical things so deeply that they switcheroo, and begin subtly or blatantly to make those the primary aim of preaching, failing to realize that if this church is not thrilled with the God of this Book, the soil in which those things grow won’t be there. And over time you may think you’re doing a little end run around worship over the word to get more “practical,” but it’s going to backfire. So, yes to changed lives, just not that way. I think those things, and a hundred other practical fruits of righteousness that grow in the Christian life, grow in the soil of worship.

So, my primary task was to lay open texts in such a way that the meaning of the author could be understood, and the reality in the meaning — the reality of God and Christ and salvation — could be displayed so that I and they could exult in that meaning, in that reality.

So, you can hear two pieces to that, I hope. I call it, like the title of the book, Expository Exultation. Make it plain. Make it plain. These are not your ideas. I don’t give a rip about your ideas, preacher. I want to know what’s in this Book. Make this plain. I call that exposition. Get into the text, show the clauses and the words, how they work, how they make the points, and then go through it to reality. You’re not playing games grammatically. Get to the reality.

And then, two, Do you see? Do you feel it? Is it meaningful to you? Are you blown away by it? Pastor, do they see that?

Expository Exultation: Christian Preaching as Worship

Expository Exultation

Christian Preaching as Worship

John Piper

Christian preaching is a God-appointed means of transforming its hearers in both head and heart — not only in intellect, but also in affections.

Expository Exultation — that’s what I call Christian preaching. When I say that we are to exult over the reality coming through texts from the Bible, I have in mind a kind of proportional emotional response to the text, to the reality in the text. And the proportion has to do with the kind of reality that we see there.

So, if it’s a heavy reality that this text just opened, you’re not lighthearted. If it’s a terrifying reality, you’re not chipper. If it’s a tender reality, you’re not harsh. If it’s a harsh reality, you’re not tender. And on and on. I’m talking about a proportional, appropriate affectional experience of the reality that you’ve just opened for the people.

“You can fool unspiritual people forever. You can’t fool Christians.”

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If you handle the majesties of God with the same casual demeanor you use when you told the illustration about your cat, you’re out of touch with reality. And over time the people are going to know this. You can fool unspiritual people forever. You can’t fool Christians. I’m talking about people who have the Holy Spirit and are walking into your service with the living God in them, expecting to hear his word dealt out with exultation that corresponds to the nature of the reality you’ve just opened in the text. They know. They know whether you are in touch. Don’t fake it. Just quit the ministry, if all you can do is fake it.

There are actors in the pulpit. They can pull it off for a long time because they grow a church of unspiritual people, and unspiritual people are deceivable. Spiritual people are going to just drift away from that church. The church will grow like crazy. But the real Christians are down the street in a little church where the pastor is real. He’s real. He walks in there from the closet with God and the aroma of Jesus is on him. And the people can smell it.


Read, watch, or listen to the full message:

Conference Message

The Devil Can Do Exposition, but He Can’t Preach

The Devil Can Do Exposition, but He Can’t Preach

Mar 11, 2019

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What Does God Have against Your Church?

“Being a loving church, being a loving Christian, is no excuse for accepting false teaching. That’s Jesus’s point here. It’s what he said, not me. It’s what he says in the text: ‘I have this against you.’ Being loving, doing good works? Not enough. We have to guard the truth that’s been entrusted to us.” — Mez McConnell

Text: Revelation 2:18–28

Preached: February 18, 2018

Location: Niddrie Community Church, Edinburgh, Scotland

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10ofThose

Introducing Jonathan Carswell and 10ofThose Publishing

Editor’s Note: We want you to get to know Jonathan Carswell and his excellent work at 10ofThose Publishing. Please take a moment and read his story!

Texting, tweeting, scrolling and flicking. Where do books belong when it’s screens that dominate and demand our attention all day long? I’m no different, and can often be found skimming through the latest news, blogs and chatter on my phone. But I’m wholly convinced that we need books. As Christians, books can feed us, fuel us, and build us up and critically they can reach the perishing millions around us, in ways that the latest thread or blog never will.

As a dyslexic who struggled to finish any book before I became a Christian at age sixteen, it might surprise you that I am so passionate for books, and physical ones at that.

The first book I ever finished was Roger Steer’s brilliant biography of Hudson Taylor (the English missionary to China). The book it still resonates with me now as I remember the impact of seeing his life unfold through its pages.

My conviction that we still need books stems from the fact that we are people of the Book. God has chosen to communicate with us through His written word made living and active by His powerful Spirit. If we really understand that, then reading is a necessary and natural thing for Christians to do. As Al Mohler says, ‘The electronic media have their places … nevertheless, the electronic screen is not the venue for lengthy, thoughtful, serious reading … and the Christian should be a serious reader.’

Jonathan Carswell, CEO 10ofthose.com

Read the good stuff

It was while I was a Youth Pastor in Northern Ireland that I began selling Christian books as a hobby. It was distressing me to see damaging heresy dominating the bestsellers’ lists. So, from my little bedroom in my flat, I tried to do something about it! I began buying a few titles that I knew held to the Bible (three at first). I bought them in big numbers – 1000 of each – and got them at a super knock-down price. I then sold them to individuals and churches in packs of 10, making a little margin on each to pay for the next batch I’d buy. They all sold in a week, and www.10ofthose.com was born!

Twelve years on and God has been so kind to us. Today, 10ofthose.com sells over 1.5million resources a year and uses its profits to supply ministries around the world with resources they wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford.

Our range has grown (we have around 8,000 titles now) but the process is still the same. We handpick what we sell, so we know it holds to the Bible. We ensure the range is accessible, readable and engaging, and then we make them as low-cost as possible, so more resources can go out. You don’t have to buy 10, but the more you buy the cheaper it gets!

Our endeavors spring from the desire to get Christians, and non-Christians, reading good, biblical books that point them to Jesus. I want people to grow in their love and knowledge of the Lord Jesus, and I’m persuaded that books are one of the ways that God uses to allow that to happen.

Books from the 20schemes staff.

Hard work

I still don’t find reading easy (most people don’t), and I have to discipline myself to put the phone down and pick up a book (most people do). But I know that I always benefit from it. Whether it’s a biography of someone who has walked the Christian life before us, devotions that fuel my daily readings or writing that helps me grapple with some theological knottiness … reading works. We all read at different paces, in different contexts (with their various distractions!) and with different preferences, but it makes sense that God has designed us to be readers. That must be true at some level because He has given us a written book, and He doesn’t make mistakes!

Help me read more

Maybe you’re convinced, but could do with a few tips to help you get off the ground. Here are a few thoughts:

  • Keep it simple and don’t be too ambitious: Don’t think you have to pick up the thickest, most complex book to benefit – the long ones can be helpful too but you can build up to them rather than starting with them and being defeated within a few days. Short books can be just as good as long books. As John Piper says, ‘Books don’t change people, paragraphs do, sometimes even sentences.’ Plan to read for a few minutes at a time, and gradually build up to longer stints. Don’t expect to suddenly be able to read for two hours having only ever managed ten minutes before.
  • Stay balanced: there are a great variety of books out there. Not all do the same thing, and just as we need a balanced diet, balance in reading is a worthy thing. Read a good mix of biographies, devotional books, those that engage with relevant issues, as well as those that cover evangelism and training.
  • Pass it on: when you’ve read a book, why not pass it on to someone else? Maybe even get someone else to read it, and see if you can chat about it over a coffee one day. Maybe you could send a book to a mission partner overseas? Or someone in your church family? Books can also be a brilliant evangelistic tool. You’ll be amazed how well a book can be received when given prayerfully and cheerfully.

While I’m endlessly enthusiastic for Christian books and their value in our spiritual lives, reading books is not to be at the expense of reading The Book. ‘Bring me my books!’ said Paul, but it’s God’s word alone that brings life. It’s books alongside the Bible – it’s books that help us engage with His word and help us to see Jesus more clearly as we journey along in our Christian lives.

Categories include Bibles, Children & Youth, Christian Life, Outreach, Study, Church Resources, New Releases

Finally, but critically

The reason I love physical books most of all, is that they can say things, and at times go places, that I otherwise wouldn’t be able to do. Let me explain.

I’m always trying to look for opportunities to talk to my neighbor about Jesus. He isn’t yet a Christian and I want that to change! Sometimes our conversations turn to gospel things, but it can be hard. I’m hesitant; nervous I will offend. But if I am able to give him a book, (e.g. The Case for Christ; Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus; or Why Trust the Bible?) the book can perhaps say things I can’t.

Say I get chatting with some buddies at soccer practice and the conversation turns to Jesus. My friends may be reluctant to talk openly in front of their friends for fear of embarrassment, or not wanting to look too keen. If I’m able to give them an evangelistic book though, then the book can speak to them at a time when I can’t – when they are alone at home perhaps.

A book can also speak to them at a time when I can’t. Our lives are crazy busy and finding time to read can be hard. It’s true for our non-Christian friends too. Sadly, we can’t go on vacation to the beach with them – when they might have more time to consider the big issues of life. But before they leave, if we give them a book, they can read it at a time that suits them, when they have more time … and who knows what may happen.

I firmly believe that books that point people to Jesus change lives. It’s why I’m passionate about people reading good books. It’s why I believe we should use books (and tracts) evangelistically. Why not pick up a gospel book … give a gospel book … and as you do, pray it would change a life.

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Praying for the Salvation of Lost Loved Ones

As much as we long for our lost loved ones to be saved, we can’t forget that God doesn’t owe them salvation, or owe us to give them salvation. But as we come on that basis, we can take great courage that God may very well be pleased to answer that prayer.


Excerpt from the full sermon, “Everyone and No One“.

Like Moth and Lion (Part One)

Hosea 5:1-15

Their actions do not allow them to return to their God, for a spirit of promiscuity is among them, and they do not know the Lord… When Ephraim saw his sickness and Judah his wound, Ephraim went to Assyria and sent a delegation to the great king. But he cannot cure you or heal your wound (5:4, 13 CSB).

What is your view of God? What do you think he is like? No, this is not an exercise in allowing your imagination to run wild. The essence of idolatry is inventing a god from human imagination. Instead, I am asking what you know of God’s revelation of himself in the Holy Scriptures. God has communicated understandable and adequate truth about himself for life and godliness. Since he is God and our Maker, he is quite able to do this.

We should not be content with a minimal acquaintance with the Lord, for he is our Creator and Judge. What do you know of the One to whom you will give an account for your actions in this life? Can you provide others with an accurate picture of the Lord of the universe?

Old covenant Israel could not. The people that were called to be his witnesses could not even give an accurate testimony to themselves of God’s true nature, what he expected of them, and the way to find him. God’s prophet Hosea calls them back to the basics of spiritual reality, for in the spiritual realm, few things are as deadly as deception.

God exposed Israel’s lack of repentance. Here we observe a problem of the heart (5:4). Remember that the heart means the entire inner person, including the mind, emotions and will. It is the seat of your personality. Think of the importance of the motives of the heart. Here we encounter the deepest spiritual and psychological level of a person (Ezekiel 14:1-11; Hebrews 4:13). As we have seen, they pursued prostitution, whether sexual or spiritual, from their innermost desires. They did not know the Lord. Notice how the Holy Spirit keeps on emphasizing this point! Lack of knowledge of God is the empty space in the heart of a mere professor of religion. Such a person goes through the routine of worship without a personal relationship with the Lord. The true Christian knows the Lord (John 17:3; cf. 1 John 5:20; Hebrews 8:10-12).

God exposed their problem of performance (5:4). There are two ways of looking at this.

  • The sinner is held prisoner by their sins. He or she cannot run away from their master. They are slaves to sin, though they suppose themselves free (Romans 6:15-20).
  • The sinner’s mere profession to saving grace is betrayed by his or her actions (Romans 2:1-29). Before we judge others, we must first judge ourselves (Matthew 7:1-5).

A problem of misdirection (5:13)

Israel knew she had problems. When invading armies gather on your borders, it is hard not to notice.

Many Americans see our nation’s problems: escalating debt, troubling trade issues, increasing violence, deep, political hatred, the scourge of “new” diseases (HIV, Lyme’s, Autism, Alzheimer’s), declining literacy, and an entire litany of abuse (sexual, physical, substance, pornography, gambling). Not many can dare with a straight face to call this a golden age.

Israel decided to turn to her enemy for help! How deceived! Will one who seeks your destruction heal your sores? Yet they vainly hoped that Assyria would help them.

Israel turned to what was ineffective. Assyria would not have been able to help in any event, because Israel’s problem with God was beyond Assyria’s resources. (Recall that Assyria was the “superpower” of the day.)

The failure of our day is the ongoing human failure to recognize the depth of our problems. We have serious issues with God that the resources of American “superpower” cannot address and that tweaking our thinking with postmodern “insights” knows nothing about. May the Lord of all step into our lives in mercy and power.

Grace and peace, David

Why J. Gresham Machen Didn’t Like the Term “Evangelical”

As Justin Taylor’s recent post noted, the great Princeton theologian B.B. Warfield was already registering doubts about the meaning of the term “evangelical” in 1915. The current religious debates we often see as brand new (such as “who is an evangelical?”) have deep historical roots.

Warfield’s onetime Princeton colleague J. Gresham Machen, a founder of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and of Westminster Theological Seminary, also faced the question of what orthodox Presbyterians should call themselves. He gave a brilliantly biblicist, if denomination-centered answer, in his wonderful little essay “What Is Orthodoxy?” (1935).

I just want to say, when you ask me whether I am a Fundamentalist or a Modernist, that I am a Fundamentalist from the word go!

However, it is a different matter when we are choosing terminology that we shall actually use about ourselves. When we are doing that, I think we ought to be just as careful as we possibly can be.

The term Fundamentalism seems to represent the Christian religion as though it had suddenly become an “ism” and needed to be called by some strange new name. I cannot see why that should be done. The term seems to me to be particularly inadequate as applied to us conservative Presbyterians. We have a great heritage. We are standing in what we hold to be the great central current of the Church’s life—the great tradition that comes down through Augustine and Calvin to the Westminster Confession of Faith. That we hold to be the high straight road of truth as opposed to vagaries on one side or on the other. Why then should we be so prone to adopt some strange new term?

Well, then, if we do not altogether like the term Fundamentalism—close though our fellowship is with those who do like that term—what term shall we actually choose?

Conservative does seem to be rather too cold. It is apt to create the impression that we are holding desperately to something that is old just because it is old, and that we are not eager for new and glorious manifestations of the Spirit of God.

Evangelical, on the other hand, although it is a fine term, does not quite seem to designate clearly enough the position of those who hold specifically to the system of doctrine taught in the Westminster Confession of Faith, as distinguished from other systems which are near enough to the truth in order that they may be called “evangelical” but which yet fall short of being the system that is contained in God’s Word.

Therefore, in view of the objections that face the use of other terminology, I think we might do far worse than revive the good old word orthodoxy as a designation of our position.

Orthodoxy means, as we have seen, “straight doxy” [or “straight teaching, straight doctrine”]. Well, how do we tell whether a thing is straight or not? The answer is plain. By comparing it with a rule or plumb line. Our rule or plumb line is the Bible. A thing is “orthodox” if it is in accordance with the Bible. I think we might well revive the word. But whether we revive the word or not, we certainly ought to hold to the thing that is designated by the word.

If it comes to pass that we need to abandon “evangelical” because of the term’s political and ethnic baggage today, one alternative would be to call ourselves “orthodox,” or “orthodox Protestants,” to avoid confusion with capital-O “Orthodox” churches.

For Machen, this terminology helped him create distance from the militant fundamentalist movement that had defined itself by opposition to evolution in public schools in the Scopes Trial (1925), on one hand, and from the modernist Presbyterians that he was separating from by founding the OPC on the other. Of course, both the fundmentalist movement and Machen’s Reformed movement had their own implicit ethnic connotations, as they catered primarily to whites and tended to exclude people of color and neglect their concerns over issues such as lynching (see my post “African American Christians and Fundamentalism.”)

For us today, the challenge is separating ourselves from the hyper-politicized and ethnic image of “evangelical” that dominates media coverage. In the public mind, “evangelical” seems to designate Fox News-watching whites who vote Republican and consider themselves religious.

Our self-description of choice probably doesn’t make much of a difference on a day-to-day basis. But if asked, should we continue to tell pollsters that we are “evangelicals,” knowing that an affirmative answer will inextricably connect us to those ethnic and political connotations?

Maybe in our next conversation with a pollster, we should insist on telling them, “I am an orthodox Protestant.” I’m sure that will not fit in their survey rubric!

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No, the Church Didn’t Create the Bible

“The Bible did not arrive by fax from heaven,” one of the characters says in The Da Vinci Code. “Man created it as a historical record of tumultuous times, and it has evolved through countless translations, additions, and revisions. History has never had a definitive version of the book.”

Walk into the first class session of World Religions 101 at a university near you, and you’re likely to hear a variation on that theme. The Catholic Church created the Bible to control people. The Bible as we know it didn’t exist until the reign of Constantine. The church decided what belonged in the Bible at the Council of Nicaea.

But according to New Testament scholars Michael Kruger (PhD, University of Edinburgh) and Don Carson (PhD, University of Cambridge), historical evidence does not bear out this narrative. The books of the New Testament were all written in the first century and were in wide use by the early church as early as the second century. Kruger and Carson explain why they don’t believe the Bible’s authority comes from the decision of any man.

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