Friday, December 28, 2007

For The Sake of Your Name

For the sake of Your name, O LORD, revive me. In Your righteousness bring my soul out of trouble. (Psalms 143:11)

I am working on putting my sermon together for this coming Sunday, and this verse may be a good cross reference. My pastor asked me to preach on the last Sunday of the year, and I was happy to give him a break when his children will all be home for Christmas break from college. I really want to plead with the congregation not to waste this cultural time of introspective investigation and resolution, and I am looking at the picture of God’s willingness to give what we ask Him for found in Matthew 7:7-11 as the primary text. And David’s plea to God on behalf of his own life perfectly focuses one of my main thoughts. David had a definite need of preservation from all of the problems and dangers that were swirling around him, and he asked God to revive him.

But the point that really made me sit back and think was that the weight of this request was not based on David’s health or well being in and of themselves, it was based and rooted in God’s Name and for God’s sake. This is the kind of attitude that accepts blessing and persecution from God, regardless of what we would like to have happen to us. I think that this model of asking for something, anything really, is the only viable model for making God honoring requests. Everything we do should be done in order to glorify God. And we can do this by loving and serving Him, loving and serving others, proclaiming His Word, and by following His many other commands in Scripture. May God be glorified, and may I receive grace when preparing this message.
3 And they sang the song of Moses, the bond-servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, "Great and marvelous are Your works, O Lord God, the Almighty; Righteous and true are Your ways, King of the nations! 4 "Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy; For ALL THE NATIONS WILL COME AND WORSHIP BEFORE YOU, FOR YOUR RIGHTEOUS ACTS HAVE BEEN REVEALED." (Revelation 15:3,4)

I just loved this praise to God for the greatness of His works and that it affirms and esteems all of His ways as being righteous. I can just sit and drink in the truth that God alone is holy, and that all the nations will worship God because His righteous acts have been revealed. The revelation of the gospel of Jesus Christ and His act of justifying wretchedly sinful people, so that He can be both just and the justifier, is staggering to me when I ponder it.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Daily Bread: Mercy and Wrath

Today’s Reading (read on 12/22 & 12/23):

  • Zechariah 2:1-5:11
  • Revelation 13:1b-14:20
  • Psalms 141:1-142:7
  • Proverbs 30:18-23
Today’s Thoughts:
1 Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. 2 The LORD said to Satan, ‘ The LORD rebuke you, Satan! Indeed, the LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?’ 3 Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments and standing before the angel. 4 He spoke and said to those who were standing before him, saying, ‘ Remove the filthy garments from him.’ Again he said to him, ‘See, I have taken your iniquity away from you and will clothe you with festal robes.’" (Zechariah 3:1-4)

This section of Zechariah stuck out to me for a few reasons. The first was the fact that two times God (I would guess that it is Christ in this context) rebuked Satan, but He didn’t do it in the way that many modern Christians practice commanding Satan what to do and what not to do. The trend seems to be that if you command (or claim) something “in Jesus’ name” that you have the authority to do what you have said. Now, I don’t want to get into the whole problem of the “name it, claim it” false teaching in the church today, but I will say that there seems to be some reason for not using the commanding “in Jesus’ name” formula. Jude also warns of false teachers “revile angelic majesties” by, among other things, not acting as Michael the archangel did when dealing with disputing with the devil saying, “The Lord rebuke you!” (cf. Jude 8,9) I think that we need to be careful of how cavalier we are when we attempt to deal with the demonic.

The second thing that stuck out at me was the picture of the Lord ordering that the “filthy garments” be taken from him, and it is explained that God has “taken your iniquity away from you.” I just thought that this was a beautiful picture of the mercy of God in how He chose Joshua as “a brand plucked from the fire.” The picture of having our sins dealt with and being clothed in clean garments before God is beautiful in light of how the Bible repeatedly describes our natural attire before Him (cf. Isaiah 64:6). Praise God for removing my filthy garments and clothing me with His Son.

9 Then another angel, a third one, followed them, saying with a loud voice, ‘If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10 he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.’” (Revelation 14:9,10)

The only reason why this really jumped out at me was a combination of a few things. First of all, the increasing number of people inside of Christendom who deny the existence or reality of Hell as a place of eternal torment has really been overwhelming lately. I know that people who have believed this have been around for a long time, but the increasing visibility and volume of them today is very distressing. The second reason that I grabbed this verse was recently I read Habakkuk where God turns the tables on those who indulge in drunkenness (cf. Hab 2:15,16).

I don’t know all of the cultural implications of drinking “a cup” in this type of a manner back in the first century, but the imagery of having to drink some horrible concoction is nothing pleasant. Eating foul food, taking medicine that tastes unpleasant, or otherwise accidentally ingesting something foreign is a terrible thought. The cup that we will drink is the cup of His anger at me and the wine is His wrath being applied to me. Wow, that is a vivid image of hell that I don’t think can be explained away as the life we’re living now apart from God or something innocuous that man-hating peddlers of their so-called gospel put forth in an effort to calm the screaming consciences of their dead followers.

I got some light reading for Christmas...

...Oh, yeah, and by "light" I was totally being tongue in cheek. My brother in law (God bless him) gave me this book. I'm really psyched about reading it. My understanding is that this is the quintessential book written on the defense of the reformed understanding of the atonement from the Scriptures. This is the "L" portion of the TULIP acrostic, and it stands in reference to the theology of Limited Atonement (also called Particular Redemption). This was the last of the real objections that I had to deal with before I could take my stand in the Arminian vs. Calvin debate.

"The Death of Death in the Death of Christ (Owen Works, X:139:148) is a polemical piece, designed to show among other things, that the doctrine of universal redemption is unscriptural and destructive of the gospel. There are many, therefore, to whom it is not likely to be of interest. Those who see no need for doctrinal exactness and have no time for theological debates which show up divisions between so-called evangelicals may well regret its reappearance. Some may find the very sound of Owen's thesis so shocking that they will refuse to read his book at all, so passionate a thing is prejudice, and so proud are we of our theological shibboleths. But it is hoped that this classic may find itself readers of a different spirit. There are signs today of a new upsurge of interest in the theology of the Bible: a new readiness to test traditions, to search the Scriptures and to think through the faith. It is to those who share this readiness that Owen's treatise is now offered, in the belief that it will help us in one of the most urgent tasks facing evangelical Christendom today - the recovery of the gospel." - J.I. Packer (from the Introduction to the book)

I also found that you can read the whole introduction (not a small task) online. You can see it by clicking here.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Daily Bread: Justice for the Poor

Today’s Reading:

  • Zechariah 1:1-21
  • Revelation 12:1-13:1a
  • Psalms 140:1-13
  • Proverbs 30:17
Today’s Thoughts:
12 I know that the LORD will maintain the cause of the afflicted And justice for the poor. 13 Surely the righteous will give thanks to Your name; The upright will dwell in Your presence.” (Psalms 140:12,13)
Perhaps one of the more apparent problems in modern Western Christianity has to do with the corporate dealings with those in poverty. I think that this observation is being keenly highlighted with various parts of the emergent movement even if their way of dealing with this issue is wrong. That being the case, I still think that it is generally Christians, or those who would fall under the umbrella of Christendom, who give more to the poor, volunteer, adopt children, and do various other actions displaying their concern for those less fortunate than themselves. So I don’t want to agree with a large amount of people in our culture who think that Christians just don’t care about the poor. A common assault on our stance on abortion is that we are pro life until the child is born, and then they need to fend for themselves.

Although that thought is based largely on a straw-man understanding of what Christians believe, I can’t get away from the thought that there might be a grain of truth in some of the accusations. Not enough to validate the unfair characterization, but enough to make me sit back and ponder it a bit. Could it be that much of my socially apparent thoughts about the poor and about the needy are governed more by my political persuasion than by the Bible? Conservative politics has a touch of grace but is very rigidly a “pick yourself up by the bootstraps” kind of mentality. Conversely, liberal politics tends to be gracious to the point of enabling bad and destructive behavior with a more limited “get up and work” mentality with very little teeth.

As an aside, though, because of our current societal conditions, I hesitate to afford very many people the label of “poor” or “needy”. I worked with a guy who asked if I knew of any food shelters that didn’t ask for information on your current income before giving out food. Now I really love this guy, but we both worked the same job and were making between $40k and $60k each year. I have other friends, co-workers, and relatives who constantly complain of money problems or state some form of “we’re not poor, but we don’t have much money.” The problem is not with the amount of money that most Americans have, it is what we choose to do with it. For goodness sake, probably the vast majority of the “poor” in America have cable TV, high speed Internet, their own home (or apartment), air conditioning, refrigerators and microwaves. We need to take care of them, but the poor that I think the Bible is primarily talking about are the destitute, those who have no means, no supplies, no home, nothing.

We should be more conscious of the needs of those in our community and in our nation, and I think that we Christians need to make a large effort to reach out and help. We must not do that instead of preaching the gospel to them or fall under the false idea that doing that is preaching the gospel to them, but the gospel message of salvation from sin by Christ’s blood that we preach must be seasoned with love and good deeds.
“Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” (James 1:27)

We must reach out to the poor and take care of the widows and orphans. We can do that, and we can make that difference. But the second part of James’ statement about “pure and undefiled religion” is to remain “unstained by the world.” That is impossible for anyone to do. The gospel must be preached so that it can be believed. Only then can the hearer become unstained by the world. And in the preaching of the cleansing gospel of Christ, we can show our love and the love of God in Christ by serving the needy and helping them so as not to be offensive by only saying “be warmed” or “be filled” without giving them what they need for clothing and food (cf. James 2:16).

Is there a problem that needs to be addressed with how the majority of Western protestant Christianity interacts with and thinks of the poor? I believe there is. Is the answer to stop preaching the gospel of salvation from sin and death while turning to noble social programs? Never! The answer is to align our hearts and minds with Christ’s by reading and applying His Word. Only then will we have the mind of Christ and the motivation to do what Christ did when He cared for the poor and the outcast and still proclaimed the gospel with unwavering fervor.

My iPod and My Xbox 360

So what does it say about my life when two of the biggest “concerns” of this past week have had to do with my Xbox 360 and my iPod? Now, to be fair, the last two weeks were consumed by weightier things with my preaching and teaching duties as well as some relationship “funkyness” with someone, but that has all subsided and I have come out on the other side of the problem with focus, joy, and determination.

Recently I was hit with the stressful situation and problems of two people who I am very close to and fond of. In one situation there is significant marital strain, but both parties are committed to fighting through. We spoke at some length and my heart just broke for them. Sometimes it is best to hear and know things even though they will cut deeply as opposed to not knowing about them to be able to deal with them. I am committed to pray for my friend and everything that may be contributing to the difficulties that they are going through.

The second issue that was brought to my attention (only an hour or so later) was from another brother in the Lord who I esteem very highly. Basically, the job market is tough, and companies make decisions that may or may not be of an overall benefit for individual employees. Stress about the security of one’s job is never a good thing, especially around Christmas and especially if you’ve been there for a few years. I asked how I could pray for him in this situation, and he asked for wisdom in decision making.

My marriage is sublime and my job security is as good as it has ever been, and I’ve been concerned over my Xbox 360 and my iPod. It kind of puts things into perspective. When I got home I just wanted to hug my wife and kids and just thank God for the blessings that He has given to us. Now, that could all change tomorrow – my job could end and some tragedy could come out of nowhere and bring a hard time to our family. May I encounter the hard times as my brothers in Christ are doing so now. Seeking to lean on Christ and trusting in Him for everything. May I be like Job and bless God and not curse Him even if my family and all that I have is stripped from me during this life. “Blessed be the name of the Lord!”

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Daily Bread: Comfort or Fear

Today’s Reading:

  • Haggai 1:1-2:23
  • Revelation 11:1-19
  • Psalms 139:1-24
  • Proverbs 30:15-16
Today's Thoughts
1 O LORD, You have searched me and known {me.} 2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You understand my thought from afar. 3 You scrutinize my path and my lying down, And are intimately acquainted with all my ways. 4 Even before there is a word on my tongue, Behold, O LORD, You know it all. 5 You have enclosed me behind and before, And laid Your hand upon me. 6 {Such} knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is {too} high, I cannot attain to it. 7 Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? 8 If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. 9 If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, 10 Even there Your hand will lead me, And Your right hand will lay hold of me. 11 If I say, "Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, And the light around me will be night," 12 Even the darkness is not dark to You, And the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike {to You.}” (Psalms 139:1-12)
I know that the writer is a friend of God because he hates “those who hate You,” (v.21). And in that light, it is so wonderfully comforting to know that God knows me completely and is never far from me. It helps to give some depth to Paul’s rhetorical question about “Who will separate us from the love of God in Christ?” (Romans 8:35) It is so wonderfully assuring to know that there is no place that I can go or no place that someone evil can take me that God is not in control of or near.

Conversely, if someone is an enemy of God and has not received His mercy based upon Christ’s work on the cross…wow, how scary is this picture of God. You can’t go anywhere to hide from God. The piercing vision of God and the ability to stretch out His hand to anyone at any place would be a source of great dread and horror. To have the infinitely powerful God angry with you and to not be able to hide in the least from His wrath should fear in the heart of the unbeliever.

John Piper once described God as an immeasurable rock. The unbeliever stands under this rock which is only suspended by a single thread. The believer stands on top of this same rock. God’s power, when expressed in His love, is the single source for all of the stability, comfort, and security for the believer. But it is the power of the same Almighty God that will utterly crush and destroy the unbeliever in the most complete fashion when it is expressed in wrath.

For To You It Has Been Granted

It seems to me that the first chapter of Philippians is book ended by two great passages that intertwine the doctrines of the perseverance of the saved with the actual doctrine of salvation itself. Both the Philippians’ continual perseverance in the faith of Jesus Christ and the fact that intensifying persecution was looming on the horizon for them seem to be the immediate motivation for why Paul provides both of these encouraging statements.

The opening book end in chapter one is that Christ will complete the “good work” of the gospel that He started in the life of all who believe (v.6). The true Philippian believers, as do all true believers for all time, were to have no fear that God will allow them to fall from grace, be lost, or apostatize. The very fact of their final, total, and eternal salvation was as sure of a reality as the fact that they even possess saving faith, because, just like their perseverance and final salvation, faith too is based upon God’s work and His perseverance alone. This powerful and gloriously stated truth was given as a comfort to the Philippian believers in their continuing life of faith. What makes this truly glorious, in my opinion, is that Paul bases the reason for their comfort on nothing less than God’s character and nature; the fact that since God began their faith, He will finish what He began.

The closing bookend of the first chapter of this book is set in the context that the Philippian believers will endure the “same conflict” or suffering that Paul was undergoing. And in his desire to comfort and encourage them in this increasing persecution, Paul again connects the reality and purpose of this type of suffering with their faith itself; not simply the faith in the gospel, but the actual reality, presence, and existence of their own faith (believing) as well as the “why” and “how” that they now possess this faith.

The Scripture here leaves nothing to the imagination. It is clear that Paul is telling these Philippian believers that they are (or will be) on the receiving end both of the gift of faith and the gift of suffering, and that the giver of these gifts is God Himself. But the question that I have, and I am sure this is the question that we all want answered by God is this: Are we the beneficiary of both of these gifts too?

And in order to address this question, I want to first look at the issue of suffering and then look at the issue of faith. And the reason why I want to deal with it in this order is that the primary intention of the text here, I believe, is encouragement in the face of coming suffering, whereas the underlying, larger principle that is the basis for comprehending this uncomfortable reality is the reality that they understood about their faith and that it is naturally foreign to them as well. Saving faith is as foreign to the natural man as transatlantic flight is to the North American continent.

The main point that I want to communicate with the issue of suffering and the Christian, at least at this time, is this: suffering for the sake of Christ is truly a gift from God to those who believe in His name.

11 Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12 "Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matt 5:11-12)
18 If the world hates you ,you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. 19 "If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. 20 "Remember the word that I said to you, ' A slave is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.” (John 15:18-21)
”12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; 13 but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. 14 If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” (1 Peter 4:12-14)

Christians in America have been blessed with centuries of virtual persecution-less existence. Now, I use the word “blessed” cautiously here, but that is the fact. Since the founding and taming of this nation and its geography, the greatest extent of persecution that Christians have had to endure has been fairly harmless. Christians may be asked to move a few feet, get off private property, or be the recipients of a frustrated cough or grunt, or even the occasional verbal berating, but it is nothing compared to the violence perpetrated against God’s people throughout the history of the church. That being said, I think that it is safe to say that today’s American culture is far more openly hostile to Christianity than it has been at any other time in its existence. And in that light, perhaps Paul’s statement to the Philippians is, to a great extent, a message that will ring true with us in our cultural context.

One of the things that the Philippians prided themselves on was the fact that they were Romans. This is not uncommon or unheard of because being Roman citizens instead of simply being occupied and conquered foreigners carried with it rights, status, and privileges that others did not enjoy. And looking back with the 20/20 vision of history, we can see that the Roman Empire was rocked with the persecution of Christians. And this persecution was carried out upon all people, citizens or not, by the government itself.

The stories of the Neronic persecution are far too gruesome and on too great of a scale for me to deal with them here, but the main point that I want to get across is simply this: The Philippians’ status as Roman citizens did nothing to stop the persecution that was on the horizon and was being driven by their own government. And as a point of warning for all of us in the West, hear me well: our status as American citizens will not save us when (I personally don’t think that it is a question of “if”) persecution begins to intensify in the states. The unjust persecution and suffering of those chosen by God is a consistent occurrence throughout the history of the world.

I am not convinced that Christians, at least in America or the West, really understand, like, or agree with either of Paul’s statements here. In the West we have been so sheltered from persecution on account of our faith because we have been privileged to live in various forms of democracy that have protected religious liberty. But going along with that, the idea of God’s absolute sovereignty over all things, including our salvation, is so contrary to our democratic, capitalistic, American ideals and society (where we have rags to riches stories of millionaires who grew up on the streets with nothing and ended up in the highest class of citizens) that the very notion that I would have no “right” to heaven or that I would not be able to cast my “vote” for Christ slams up against so many of our presuppositions about all of life.

So it is with a desire to exalt God in all of His glory and to proclaim His greatness that I would like to look at the gift of faith. God has granted the faith to believe in His son to those individuals whom He has chosen from before time began, and this is one of the most precious gifts that any man could ever receive from God.

There are many words used to describe those of us who have placed our faith in Christ Jesus as Lord and have repented of our sins and have been born again by the Spirit, “chosen” is only one of them but some people tend to recoil at the concept that individuals are chosen by God to receive His grace. For instance, in the Bible the name for a gathering of Christians or the universal body of Christ is “church”. But there are many different words that are used to speak of those who make up the church.
  • “Christians” is used 3 times in the New Testament.
  • “Believers” is used 12 times in the New Testament. And one of the truths that we understand from the text at hand is that the faith that we have to become “believers” is itself a gift of God.
  • “Elect” or “chosen” (the same Greek word) is used 22 times in the New Testament.
  • “Called” is used 31 times in the New Testament.
  • “Saint” is used 61 times in the New Testament. “People who have been separated from the world and consecrated to the worship and service of God.”1 Who does the separating and who does the consecrating?
  • “Church” is used112 times in the New Testament. The Greek word “eklesia” is a compound word. “ek” means out of or from, and “kalein” means to call. So literally, the term “church” speaks of “the called out ones”.
My point is this; I cannot find a word that describes our relationship with God or our position as those who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ that doesn’t specifically imply and proclaim the fact that God is the active one in our salvation and we are not. So I as again that faith is a gift of God to those who have been chosen by God to receive it.

One other interesting note is that the Greek in verse 29 uses the same root words as does Ephesians 2:8. The words translated “grace” (Eph 2:8) and “granted” (Phil 1:29) both have “charis” as the root word. Likewise the words “faith” and “believe” in these texts both have “pistis” as the root word.

In Philippians, Paul is using doctrinal truth as a foundation for their understanding of the coming suffering. But in Ephesians Paul is declaring a doctrinal truth of man’s salvation. If the understanding of “grace” were insufficient, Paul makes it absolutely clear that the faith by which we are connected with that saving grace of God has its roots in God Himself alone and not in our condition as men.
“Faith is the most beautiful, the most God honoring, the most humble of all acts that a human being can perform. Therefore, we must not imagine that a natural man, who cannot even receive the things of the Spirit, would have the inclination to do the most wonderful, beautiful, God honoring, humble act that can be performed by a human being. Before a person can perform that act, the best of all possible acts, he must be born again. Thorns do not give forth figs, an apple tree does not give forth olives, and natural men do not believe, they cannot.”2
“Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” (James 1:17)

So I believe that we must understand faith in terms of being a complete gift from God. The first reason is simply that this text, as well as others, states that faith is a gift of God. That should be the end of any discussion of human merit or ultimate human determination over if one possesses faith in Christ or not, but sadly the debate rages. I believe, over and above the simple reason that the Bible says that faith is a gift; there are two very powerful Biblical arguments to say that faith must be a gift.

Now before I get into my argument much further, I want to be absolutely clear that fact that my doctrinal conviction that faith is a gift bestowed upon unworthy sinners, and thus it is only those who receive this gift of faith who are enabled to believe in Jesus does, not negate any personal responsibility on the part of an individual sinner. When we proclaim the gospel, we call all men everywhere to repent, and all of those who do repent of their sin and trust in Christ alone as savior will be saved. The issue here is not the response or responsibility of the sinner to the message of the cross. The issue here is who is ultimately responsible for the faith that any man expresses and places in Christ. It is my contention that since faith in God goes so far against anything that is natural to the unsaved man, it must have its origin with God.

First of all, the Bible says that the natural man is completely unwilling to choose to believe in God. God makes a sweeping declaration of the extent of the vileness of the human condition both before the great flood and directly after. In both of these places, God sums up man’s condition by stating that “every intent of the thoughts of [man’s] heart was only evil continually” (Gen 6:5) and that “the intent of man's heart is evil from his youth” (Gen 8:21). There is no way that one can read what God has said here and come up with any notion of some ability to do the very opposite of evil by trusting in and believing in God. The New Testament is not silent on this predicament either. When writing to the Galatians about the differences between the fruits of the Spirit and the deeds of the flesh, Paul begins by setting up a dichotomy,
“For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.” (Galatians 5:17)

Even in the heart and lives of those who are saved (as the context is referring to here), there is nothing similar about the desires and inclinations of the flesh as compared to the Spirit of God that is present in the believer. And it is only after God has saved a person that there is even this type of a struggle. Before the gift of faith and the new birth, the flesh still is opposed to the Spirit, but there is no Spirit to move the person away from evil and toward God.

This dovetails into the next reason why faith must be a gift is that man is completely unable on his own to choose to believe in God. It is fair to say that the extent of man’s unwillingness is virtually indistinguishingly intertwined with his inherent inability to do so. And the inability of man to do anything righteous is best understood in our spiritual deadness in sin.
1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.” (Ephesians 2:1,2)

It is my belief and experience that if this doctrine of faith is rightly understood, it will be one of the most self-stripping, pride-crushing, and God-glorifying truths that will cause more thanksgiving to God and a richer understanding of grace. You don’t have to be a card carrying member of the Synod of Dort in order to agree with these truths. You don’t have to agree with everything that a French pastor and reformer ever wrote to understand the implications of this truth of the Bible. But what you need to be is humble, and see God as God is described in the Bible and see man as we are described in the Bible.

1 (from Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Copyright (c)1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers)

2 John Piper – “That Which is Born of the Spirit is Spirit” 7/30/07 DGR (cf. Matt 7:16)/span>

Do We Worship the Same God?

It is my contention that Jews, Christians, Muslims, Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses do not worship the same God. I would even go farther and say that there are many sub-sets of faith traditions inside of the history of Christendom that do not worship the true God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ as revealed in Scripture. The intra-Christendom groups include (but are not necessarily limited to) Oneness Pentecostals (“Jesus Only”) and various universalistic churches like the Universalist Unitarian church.

I know that may sound shocking or uncouth in today’s society, but it is nothing different than what Biblical Christians (i.e. “true” Christians) have believed for centuries. Why else do you think that we evangelize? Other than the fact that we are commanded to, we understand what the Bible means when it says,

“He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him." (John 3:36)

In other words, if you don’t understand Jesus rightly and trust in Him as He commands, you will be eternally condemned and suffer the just and righteous wrath of God.

While I was putting together my most recent “Daily Bread” devotional thoughts from reading the daily prescribed Scriptures, I saw an application to the coexist campaign. And while looking for a graphic to use, I came across an individual’s Jewish blog who (I believe) is in favor of much of what that symbol stands for. The post that had the graphic attached to it seemed to be a scything condemnation of a “disgusting story” about a Baptist church’s unwillingness to facilitate Muslim prayers during an interfaith service that they were hosting.

He quoted his own rabbi’s disgusted comments about how the situation played out,
“Sadly, when the church leadership learned that ‘interfaith service’ did not mean ‘intra-Christian’ or ‘intra-Protestant,’ in other words, when they learned that non-Christian worshipers and religious leaders would be represented, they withdrew their offer.”1

But my concern was not over the fact that the local Jewish community was upset over this decision by a particular church or even over the reasons why a church would hold an event where (apparently) corporate worship by various different faiths is welcomed and endorsed. No, my concern was over the blogger’s seemingly frustrated and sarcastically aghast comment,
“Upon hearing [that Muslim evening prayers were going to be held in the Baptist Church], HPBC’s leadership apparently had an aneurism and decided that they would not allow people to pray to God in their church. Makes sense, right?”2

My concern, my single concern in this post, is over the common modern concept that says that Jews, Muslims, and Christians believe in the same God while using the Biblical language of "the God of Abraham" for support. I believe that based on Scripture that is not the case. But based on the entire Bible, both Old and New Testaments, it is clear that God is very jealous and distinct about how He is worshipped or referred to. And prayers to Allah or to the Jewish understanding of God in the Old Testament, both religions flatly deny the deity of Jesus Christ, are prayers to a false god. And prayers to false gods do not belong in a church, nor should they be condoned by a church.

Some of the Biblical support for the exclusivity of God comes from Zephaniah and 2nd John.
4 "So I will stretch out My hand against Judah And against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And I will cut off the remnant of Baal from this place, {And} the names of the idolatrous priests along with the priests. 5 "And those who bow down on the housetops to the host of heaven, And those who bow down {and} swear to the LORD and {yet} swear by Milcom, 6 And those who have turned back from following the LORD, And those who have not sought the LORD or inquired of Him." (Zephaniah 1:4-6)
7 For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist. 8 Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward. 9 Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. (2 John 7-9)

Second John says that if anyone denies that Jesus came in the flesh, and John’s writings along with the rest of the New Testament make it clear that Jesus is the eternal 2nd Person of the Triune Godhead, that they do “not have God” but only those who abide in the “teaching of Christ” is one who has “both the Father and Son.” So in a real and obvious way, there is no real debate as to whether Jews, Muslims, Christians, and Mormons worship the same God. If we just look at the primary texts of each of these faiths and look at their historical creeds, followers of these different religions do not worship the same God. And true adherents of these faiths would agree with this statement.

For instance, the historic Jewish beliefs, as I understand, of both the Sh’ma and the Messiah do not allow for God to be Triune or for Him to be incarnated as a man. The Muslim understanding of Jesus is that He was just a prophet, albeit a great prophet, but they deny His deity. Furthermore, it is a heresy, as it is in Judaism too, to believe anything close to a Triune Godhead. And it is not merely vague assent to the deity of Jesus that is necessary according to the Scriptures. And because of this, the Mormon’s declare Jesus as God, but their understanding of Jesus is that He is the first created being. This is contrary to everything in the New Testament about Jesus. The Bible consistently teaches that Jesus is the eternal uncreated God who is the Son of the Father. His status as the “Son” is not a description of His of lineage or origin, but it is a description of His authority and power. In that culture, first-born son had the power and authority of the father and would inherit all that the father had. The rest of the New Testament is in alignment with this. Put it simply again: Jews, Muslims, Mormons, and Christians do not worship the same God.

I fully expect those of different faiths to disagree with my theology, and that is fair. You can argue and disagree as to the ultimate truthfulness of what I believe and what the Bible teaches, but I don’t believe that you can disagree that based on this understanding that I have just espoused (whether you agree with it or not) that the Bible teaches that if you worship God wrongly or understand Him wrongly, He is not pleased and you are not truly worshipping Him. Therefore, any prayers to Allah or the prayers of the practitioners of Judaism and the prayers of a Mormon would be rightly considered an abomination before God. And no church should provide the facilities and encourage things that God detests.

As an aside, does this mean that I hate or don’t like or don’t want to work together in social situations with Jews, Muslims, Mormons, or whoever? Nope. But, I must draw the line at claiming that the object of our individual faiths is the same God. I can love you and work with you in social causes, but we must be clear about the fact that we do not worship the same God.

2 Ibid.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Daily Bread: Coexist or Wrath and Mercy

Today’s Reading:

  • Zephaniah 1:1-3:20
  • Revelation 10:1-11
  • Psalms 138:1-8
  • Proverbs 30:11-14
Today’s Thoughts:
4 "So I will stretch out My hand against Judah And against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And I will cut off the remnant of Baal from this place, {And} the names of the idolatrous priests along with the priests. 5 "And those who bow down on the housetops to the host of heaven, And those who bow down {and} swear to the LORD and {yet} swear by Milcom, 6 And those who have turned back from following the LORD, And those who have not sought the LORD or inquired of Him." (Zephaniah 1:4-6)

I am finding that it can get a bit overwhelming to read Minor Prophets because of the wrath and judgment that they are declaring against Israel. The one thing that struck me here is that in between the condemnation of the idolatry of worshiping Baal and Milcom (these two are possibly one and the same along with Molech), the Lord condemns those who seemingly mingle worship of Him with the worship of false gods. I guess I find that it is an interesting dichotomy that God cannot tolerate what our postmodern society lifts up, and our postmodern society cannot tolerate what God demands.

This makes me weep for the droves of people who are being falling led astray and who are headlong into the sin of Bono with his anti-Christian, God-insulting, and otherwise damning coexist campaign.

16 In that day it will be said to Jerusalem: " Do not be afraid, O Zion; Do not let your hands fall limp. 17 "The LORD your God is in your midst, A victorious warrior. He will exult over you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy. 18 "I will gather those who grieve about the appointed feasts-- They came from you, {O Zion;} {The} reproach {of exile} is a burden on them. 19 "Behold, I am going to deal at that time With all your oppressors, I will save the lame And gather the outcast, And I will turn their shame into praise and renown In all the earth. (Zephaniah 3:16-19)
2 I will bow down toward Your holy temple And give thanks to Your name for Your lovingkindness and Your truth; For You have magnified Your word according to all Your name.

6 For though the LORD is exalted, Yet He regards the lowly, But the haughty He knows from afar. (Psalms 138:2,6)

It is quite amazing that the same God who will crush (in the most complete way possible) those who oppose Him, and He will be righteously just in doing so, will show compassion on the “outcast” and He will have regard for the “lowly” and express His lovingkindness to receive praise and glory from them. The doctrine of God’s infinite, but jealously guarded, mercy and grace is so much more beautiful than a pandering call to coexist.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Daily Bread:
Drunkenness & Non - Repentance

Today’s Reading:

  • Habakkuk 1:1- 3:19
  • Revelation 9:1-21
  • Psalms 137:1-9
  • Proverbs 30:10
Today’s Thoughts:
15 "Woe to you who make your neighbors drink, Who mix in your venom even to make {them} drunk So as to look on their nakedness! 16 "You will be filled with disgrace rather than honor. Now you yourself drink and expose your {own} nakedness. The cup in the LORD'S right hand will come around to you, And utter disgrace {will come} upon your glory. (Habakkuk 2:15,16)

This passage was in the context of God declaring “woe” on those who build their empires or civilizations on bloodshed or deceptive means. But then God transitions to talk about making people drink to see their nakedness. I could not help but think of our debaucheries society where “Spring Break” is like a religious ceremony where this seems to be the act of worship; people going to warm beaches, drinking to see nakedness and fornicate. But isn’t God’s justice language here sobering? He will cause that person to drink the Lord’s cup and be naked before Him! How scary is that – to be naked in all of one’s sinfulness before God Almighty who is “of purer eyes than to behold evil, And cannot look on wickedness.” (Hab 1:13) How terrible will that day be for those who are naked and shamed before God.

20 The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, so as not to worship demons, and the idols of gold and of silver and of brass and of stone and of wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk; 21 and they did not repent of their murders nor of their sorceries nor of their immorality nor of their thefts. (Revelation 9:20,21)

I guess I’m not sure why I marveled at this statement, but I did. After all of the plagues and death and suffering that the world endures up until this point, but they did not repent. Twice, it says it twice! And, as an aside, for my easy-believism friends, repent here implies more than simply a “change of mind” about who Christ is. They didn’t repent “so as not to worship demons, and the idols of gold….” In other words, the repenting would have included putting a stop to all of that. Anyway, it is shockingly clear that the mind and will of man will not turn to God, but only blaspheme Him, even when that same man is being righteously punished.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Sound My Brain Made When It Melted…

One of the blessings of my job, other than the primary benefit of taking care of my family and allowing my wife to stay home with our kids, is the fact that I have the liberty to listen to pretty much whatever I want throughout the course of my day. For the first few years, my regular diet of audio intake was Dennis Prager, Michael Medved, and Joe Soucheray. In other words, I listened to a lot of conservative political talk radio. However, after the election of 2004, I became less and less satisfied with the content of the programs. My views on social, political, and moral issues are still very much the same, but I became increasingly unable to listen to Medved and Prager be very openly inclusivistic as it relates to their views on religion and God.

My growing dissatisfaction with political talk (of any stripe) came about because of a few contributing factors. The major one is that during that time my only real desired topic of conversation was quickly becoming Christ, the gospel, and the Bible. Again, not that politics are unimportant, but I felt that my time and energy would be used more effectively if they are not consumed by politics. Furthermore, I have a theory about general conversation and people’s willingness to listen at all. I believe that everyone in every relationship (whether it is a long time friend or someone you just met) has a certain degree of conversational “capital” that you can choose to spend in conversation with that other person. In other words, normal social niceness will allow you to bring up a subject or talk about things for a certain length of time even when the hearer is opposed to what they are hearing. So, if I used my conversational capital primarily discussing budgetary issues, immigration, the war in Iraq, abortion, poverty, taxes, or any other important issue (and they are important political and social issues), I would not have any left to spend on talking about the gospel, Christ, salvation, and eternity.

So while this transition in my own thoughts was occurring, I found a talk radio program called “Talk the Walk” on a local AM Christian station. This program had many focuses, but primarily it was on the proclamation of true doctrine (Theology Thursday’s), calling out false teachers (False Teacher Tuesday’s), and evangelism (Witness Wednesday’s). I came to greatly enjoy this show, even if I did not always agree 100% with the host or guests. But then, about two years ago, the program started to change a bit. I didn’t know why, but I believe in January of 2006 the program was taken off the air, and a newer show that is much less critical of modern Christendom has taken its place. “Talk the Walk” morphed into “Way of the Master Radio” that still has the same goals as the previous show, but with a different name and a sharper focus, primarily, on evangelism but without losing doctrinal clarity or calling out false teachers when they pop up.

However, this is not an article about Way of the Master Radio, but it is focused more on AM 980 KKMS and the show “KKMS Live – with Jeff and Lee”. “KKMS Live” was the show that replaced “Talk the Walk” on AM 980 KKMS and I didn’t listen to it a lot at first because the style was a bit different from what I was used to. My first real exposure to Jeff and Lee was at a John MacArthur conference in mid January of 2006, and I had no adverse thoughts about them because of this experience. However, since then, I have heard snippets and segments of their program and I have become increasingly uneasy with some of the programming choices that they are making and some of the theological views that they choose to give air time to in order to promote them. This was no where more profoundly evident than when I heard them interviewing Tony Campolo.

Tony has written a book recently (honestly I don’t know or really care what the title is), and he appeared on this show in order to promote this book. I will mostly quote what Tony had to say as my critique and the subject of contention that I have with the show and its hosts. In his book, Tony apparently talks a lot about different forms of prayer, and he encourages practicing them. One of the forms is called Lectio Divina, and Tony explained what that type of prayer is,

“Take a passage of Scripture, read it. Now close the Bible; be still and let the Spirit of God apply what you have just read to your own personal existential situation. Go to the Scriptures and there are two ways of reading them. One is the scholarly way. “What did Paul mean when he wrote these words? How do the people in the social context who receive these words understand them?” That’s’ the scholarly way, but there is another way of reading Scripture in which you read some Scriptures and say, ‘Ok Holy Spirit, what do you want to say to me through these verses?’ We see the Scriptures as a vehicle through which God speaks to us, not in generalities, but to our individual needs. I am sure you have met people who have said, ‘I was going through a very difficult time and I was reading some Scripture and suddenly a verse that I had read over 100 times spoke to me in a way that it had never spoken to me before. And suddenly it addressed my need; at that hour it was exactly what I needed to hear from the Lord. That’s called Lectio Divina.”1
After hearing this, to their credit, one of the hosts of KKMS Live voiced a concern that using this type of prayer would and this type of studying technique with the Scriptures would lead to misunderstanding the meaning of the text. I think that this was a valid question to raise, and it gave me hope that the hosts would stand firm against such inductive and subjective methods of Scripture interpretation. Tony responded by saying the following,

“I think that there is that danger, that’s why in this book, we establish certain parameters to make sure that you do not end up with pure subjectivity and end up interpreting the Scriptures in a way that suits your own purposes rather than see the Scriptures as an instrument through which God wants to speak to you in your situation. Now we all know that you can read the same passage of Scripture 10 different times, 10 different months, and every time the same Scripture will speak to you, probably every time it will say something else to you. I’m sure you’ve had that experience?”
When Tony asked this question, both of the hosts gave rather affirmative responses. Now this concerned me, and I was beginning to get rather irritated with this entire program and the dialogue that was going on here. But before I could even catch my breath, Tony kept steamrolling along the same thought line.
“But we always have to be careful; is what God is saying to us through the Scripture in harmony with His will, and there are certain ways of dealing with this, and we feel that John Wesley, and we talk about John Wesley in this book a great length, told us how to be careful so that we don’t end up with subjective interpretations that end up being quite heretical. One of the ways is this; that we must always read the Scripture and ask ‘how do those in the Christian community to which I belong understand these verses?’ To share what I just learned from these Scriptures with bro & sis in the faith is a very important thing. Because if I am out of line, they will correct me. The Scripture sys test the spirits to see whether they be of God. And this is one of the ways that you test; namely you ask brother or sister [summarize what you read and what it “said to me”], and wait for ether correction or affirmation from your brother or sister. The second thing to do is to ask whether, in the tradition of the church, the church has been around for 2,000 years and people have been interpreting Scripture for 2,000 years, is this in harmony w what the church leaders, the fathers & mothers of the church have said about this passage of Scripture over the years. Is it in harmony with that? ‘Check with tradition’ says Wesley. The third thing is; be reasonable. Is this a reasonable understanding of these verse? These are very very important things to do because otherwise we end up with pure subjectivity."2
I don’t think that I’m being too critical of Mr. Campolo here if I think that his method for validating his understanding of the Scriptures is way off. This method may well be good enough for the Roman Catholic system or any other system that holds up tradition as equal to Scripture, but not for someone who claims to be protestant and evangelical. He didn’t once mention that we need to check our understanding of a particular passage against the rest of the council of Scripture. Would it be reasonable to think that Tony was implying this type of Scriptural authority when he indicated that the steps for vetting ideas were to ask other Christians, to check the tradition of the church, and to see if the conclusion is reasonable? I don’t think so at all. It is not nearly the same as stating that the Bible is the single authority for all things pertaining to God and our Christian life. Honestly, he sounds more Episcopalian than evangelical with his readiness to bow to reason and tradition.

One other thing came out in his comments that truly troubled me. He made allusions to what the Bible is, what Scripture is, a few different times, but none of them was more revealing than when he advocated viewing the Scriptures “as an instrument through which God wants to speak to you in your situation.” I do not believe that I am playing a game of semantics when I say that this view of the Scriptures that he articulated is very dangerous, and I believe that the danger is evident in what he further went on to advocate. Let me, clearly and for the record, state that the Holy Bible, the Scriptures, is the container of the objective message from God but it is not an instrument for communicating a subjective message from God.

The differences in what I have said and what Tony Campolo has said are not minor. With Campolo’s interpretive method, it would be very possible (and likely) that based on (selected) comments and thoughts from some of the church fathers as well as utilizing modern reason along with the thoughts of other like-minded Christians that one could conclude that Christ isn’t God or that He isn’t the only way to God. Furthermore, other blatantly universalistic conclusions could be arrived at using this same hermeneutic. Consequently, this type of inductive interpretation is dangerous and deadly to the soul.

But, unfortunately, the madness didn’t stop. Campolo went on talking and now moved on to the second prayer type called centering prayer.
“Centering prayer is an ancient practice, and I think Jesus was into it. He said, when you pray – it’s ok to pray publicly with a lot of words - but if you really want to pray go into a closet and shut the door; that is go where there are no distractions; go where there is nothing around you to pull you away and then center down, focus. And the Hebrew Bible says, to meditate upon His word. To those who wait upon the Lord. I wake up in the morning before I have to, I did it this morning, before the alarm went off I was up, and I say the name ‘Jesus’ over and over again. And people say, ‘it sounds like vain repetition.’ Call it anything you want, there’s something about that name. It drives back dark things; it gets rid of the extraneous thoughts; I have to put things out of my mind, because the minute I wake up my head starts spinning with all the things that are waiting to be done. I have to drive them out and create what the celtic Christians called ‘the thin place’. An atmosphere that is rarified with nothing which I am conscience, save His presence. And in the quietude, and the stillness of the morning, I simply surrender and wait for Christ, wait for the HS to flow into me. In Isaiah 42 we read, ‘they who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength.’ And I ask the listeners, when was the last time you waited for the Lord to flow into you? When was the last time you were quiet and still and just surrendered and said, ‘Christ Jesus, come in, flow into my being, saturate my personhood.’ And then the next verse says, ‘and in stillness He will come into you.’ What a wonderful that we are taught in the Scriptures."3
Again, before I look at what was said, I must again note that the KKMS Live hosts responded in verbal affirmation of what Campolo just said. The truth of Scripture records that Jesus had long prayer times and that He often went away from people to pray, yes, but that doesn’t come close to saying that He was doing “centering” prayer. Furthermore, if centering prayer is emptying one’s mind of nothing save “His presence”, how could He do that if He was the one trying to pray in this way? It makes me want to retch when I hear Jesus’ habits being interpreted as doing centering prayer. That conclusion is only at all possible to come to if you go looking through the Bible for vague references to something that might have been centering prayer.

Also, I think that Campolo’s dismissal of the “vain repetition” (cf. Matt 6:7) objection shows a downright disregard for Scripture. To be fair, whether “vain repetition” is referring to this specific type of meditation or if it is referring to using a lot of big and dramatic words while praying, Campolo dismisses the objection outright! I’m not certain of the specific meaning of this text, but judging from the context it seems to be specifically referring to the quantity of words, perhaps these are in a vain display of intelligence in an attempt to show the severity of a need, as opposed to repeating one word over and over. And if that is the interpretation of this text in Matthew, I still would have a hard time finding anything in the Bible relating to prayer that indicates that we are to repeat one word over and over and over and over in an effort to be aware of nothing “save His presence”. Plus, the taught model for prayer from Jesus to the disciples was not one of emptying or not thinking about stuff, it was praying first and foremost for the supremacy of God, but then the prayer includes things that are in daily life like the provision of daily bread, requesting forgiveness for current sins, and from deliverance from temptation, and this is the exact opposite from a clearing of the mind.

“There is a kind of conversation with God where you say nothing and you hear nothing, but you just sense yourself being connected with Him and He being connected with you; flowing into your being, saturating your personhood. That’s what centering prayer is all about.”4
When he described centering prayer this way, I just about lost whatever sanity I still had left at this point. First of all, how do you have a conversation if no one says anything? I don’t even think that an emergent could understand that or pull that off. Secondly, what does it feel like to “sense” being connected with God in that way? And what does it feel like when God flows into you? What does “saturating your personhood” even mean? I have no idea what he just said. This is ridiculous. And this is supposed to be a way to converse with God? How can we do this and be confident that we are connected to God when we have no way to “test the spirits” to see if the feeling we’re getting is the saturation of my personhood by God Himself or just the leftover bodily reaction to the mocha I had this morning.
I don’t want to minimize making your requests known unto God – we should do that – but we need these other kinds of praying as well: Lectio Divina and I am also mentioning this other kind of praying which is called centering prayer. And there is a third kind that we mention in this book, and it’s the prayer of examine and I do this when I go to bed. I put my head on the pillow and I examine the day from when I woke up until that moment, and I think of all of the good things that I have done, all of the ways in which God moved through me and blessed other people; all the ways in which I did His will, and I thank God for them. Paul writes in Philippians 4:8, “and finally my brothers and sisters” and I could easily read ‘at the end of the day brothers and sisters’, ‘whatsover things you have done that are good, whatsover things you have done that are profitable, whatsover things you have done that are of good report, that are excellent, think on these things.” And the next verse is ‘and then continue to do them.’ Then I go over the day a second time and I remember all of the ways in which I failed God, all of the ways in which I sinned, and I repent, and I ask God’s forgiveness. But I dare not do the second thing until I’ve done the first thing. So often, all Christians ever do is confess their sins and do not recognize the wonderful things that God has done in them and through them. Hence, they end up very depressed because if all you do is concentrate on the negative, you will end up as a negative person. The prayer of examine requires that we do both of those things.”5
It is one thing to examine your day and praise God for how you’ve been used as a vessel to glorify Him, but it is quite another to mangle Philippians 4:8 to do it. I’m sorry, but “Finally my brothers and sisters” is not the equivalent of saying “at the end of the day”. “Finally” is not in reference to a time or date, but in reference to the conclusion of Paul’s letter. But even more than that, the text doesn’t say think on these things “that I’ve done” or “that you’ve done”. It says “think on these things” with no specification as to the person doing them. I tend to think that he’s referring to the good things, and specifically the best way to think on them is to go to God and to His Word and think on what He has done.

As to Campolo’s comment that confessing sin leads one to be negative because you’re only focusing on the negative, I must heartily disagree. I do attempt to confess my sin, as much and as often as I can, and it doesn’t leave me depressed. Why? My focus is not solely on my many and dire failures. My focus and my mind are fixed on the mercy of God. This does not leave me depressed, it leaves me thankful and in awe of Him because He saved me and loves me.

Well, it wouldn’t be fair to not mention that once Campolo was done with this part of his monologue, one of the hosts of KKMS Live responds by saying, “very good, very interesting.” Honestly, I don’t know what would be considered “good” about the content of what he was saying and the content of the book he was pushing. I’m not sure whose decision it was to push this book and give Campolo this platform, but all I can say is that wherever the blame lies, it is a bad sign for a Christian radio station that has included so many faithful Bible teachers.

I have no knowledge as to the motives of either of the hosts for why they were so inviting to Tony Campolo or to his dangerous and sub-Christian ideas of prayer and the Scriptures. That being said, I find it difficult to understand how the two hosts of KKMS Live can “amen” John MacArthur and seem to make overtones to really enjoying his preaching as well as other men like him and then turn around and be warm and fuzzy to a guest who promotes spiritual practices that are exact opposite of so much of what men like Dr. MacArthur have been teaching.

Whether the hosts have little or no discernment concerning the difference in the teachings of a Campolo and a MacArthur, or whether they don’t see a problem with the practices encouraged by Campolo, or if they do see a problem with the practices and do understand the difference between him and MacArthur type teachers but still gave a warm and welcoming environment for him to plug his book I don’t know. Regardless of the real reason for this kind of dichotomy, this does speak well for KKMS as a station, KKMS Live as a program, or Jeff and Lee as discerning and wise Christian “leaders”.

As a side note, this wasn’t the first time that Tony Campolo was a guest on this radio program. He was on near the end of 2006, and I listened to that show too. The thing that made me the saddest concerning that interview when I compared it to the recent one was that both hosts disagreed and brought up points of debate with Tony Campolo regarding his views on the Palestinian people, the state of Israel, social justice, and other conservative political issues. This was shocking and saddening because they were more passionate about the state of Israel and the government’s place in helping the poor than the clear problematic statements about the Word of God and about prayer. Not that the issues of modern Israel and poverty are not something to have biblically motivated thoughts about, but the disparity in passion and conviction between the two subjects was woefully concerning.

(Oh, and by the way, my brain made a gurgling sound when it melted.)

1 Tony Campolo on “KKMS Live with Jeff and Lee” November 26, 2007.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Noah Turns Two…wow, how time flies

I still almost can’t believe that Noah turned two years old on Sunday. It has been a whirlwind over the past two years, and I’m not even counting the craziness that his older brother and younger sister have added to the mix. I understand it from reliable sources (namely my mother) as well as my own distinct way of seeing things that Noah is a little me. Not just genetically, but temperamentally. I would throw in the “weird” factor as well because I was a strange boy (I still kind of am) and I see the glimmers of the same type of “marching to a different drummer…who’s in a different band…in a different city…living in a different realm of reality” mentality that I hear about from my relatives in reference to me as well as what I have seen on old home movies. All of that makes no difference – positive or negative – to the amount of love that I have for this little (and strange) boy.

Noah -

You truly light up my heart with joy when you come barreling into me and squeeze my leg as hard as you can. It makes me so happy when you have had a hard day and you ask me to “nugga” (snuggle) for a bit when it is bed time. Your craziness is so fun and contagious that it seems to me that as much as you copy your older brother in doing things, he takes some cues from you in zany, and sometimes dangerous, things.

Dear God,

I pray that Noah would grow up healthy and strong and have a long and fruitful life. I pray that Stephanie and I would train him well and that we would be blessed with the ability to communicate the message of the cross to our son so that, God willing, he would repent and place his faith in Christ at a young age. I pray that You would grant him grace, faith, repentance, understanding, wisdom, and patience that he will develop throughout his life. Thank you again for the blessing that Noah is.


Friday, December 07, 2007

Worthy Christian Conduct Part 2:
the Conduct

Some may wonder whether there is a need to teach or preach this message on Christian conduct. Some people inside of evangelical Christianity may even say that this is an admonition only for those Christians who want to be disciples, but not for all believers. Also, many of those who are opposed the gospel of pure grace may perhaps use texts like this (and others in Philippians and elsewhere) to make a case that faith alone in Christ’s person and work don’t save the sinner; and that it would be some work on the part of the sinner in addition to Christ’s work that results in the salvation of the sinner.

For instance, Roman Catholics would say that the way in which man attains eternal life is by the contribution of one’s own earthly works to that of Christ’s singular work. I would argue that the Bible indicates that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone, and that any Christian conduct or good deeds that are done by an individual are the fruit of that individual’s salvation, but these works are not a part of the means by which that sinner is brought from death to life.

But for those inside of Evangelical and Biblical circles, the need for a concern over the conduct of the body is very important. John MacArthur summarized some of the reasons why consistent Christian conduct is important in his commentary on the book of Philippians.

“When the unsaved look at the church and do not see holiness, purity, and virtue, there appears to be no reason to believe the gospel it proclaims. When pastors commit gross sins and are later restored to positions of leadership in the church; when church members lie, steal, cheat, gossip, and quarrel; and when congregations seem to care little about such sin and hypocrisy in their midst, the world is understandably repulsed by their claims to love and serve God. And the name of Christ is sullied and dishonored.”1

“The point here is that those who belong to Christ through saving faith in His gospel should demonstrate that power by their changed lives (cf. 2 Cor. 5:17).”2
In my previous entry (which amounts to the first half of the sermon that I preached on 12/2/07), I attempted to show the nature of what the gospel message is so that we can understand what Paul is calling the Philippians (and us) to do. So, having seen that the gospel contains the key doctrines of God and the Bible, that it is a message of reconciliation to God, and that it must be believed, we can now move on to see Paul’s three keys for living in a manner that is fitting and is worthy of this glorious gospel!

27 Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; 28 in no way alarmed by your opponents--which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God.” (Philippians 1:27,28)
The first of the three keys for how to live a life worthy of the gospel of Christ is that the Christian must stand firm. I think that Paul is particularly saying that we must stand firm in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul’s words are that they are to stand firm, and the context of this passage indicates exactly what they are to stand firm in; their faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

13 Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. 14 Let all that you do be done in love.” (1 Corinthians 16:13-14)
“It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)
“So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us.” (2 Thessalonians 2:15)
So to “stand firm” is to believe the teachings of Christ and the apostles so completely that it permeates every area of your life and effects every decision that you make. This type of standing firm will result in a life that is free from gross hypocrisy and blatant and flaunted sin that would turn the gospel message sour in the mouths of the world. Standing firm in the faith of the gospel of Christ will also display the beautiful fruit of the changed lives and desires of wretched sinners who have been saved by grace. It is the proclamation of the true gospel of Christ adorned with living a life marked by holiness that glorifies the God whom we serve.

The second key that Paul gives here is that we as believers must be unified with the brethren in our firm stance on the gospel of Jesus Christ. If I am committed to the gospel as an individual, it will do the church very little good if I am the only one in my local fellowship who is. We are not to live in the Christian life alone, as a hermit, but we are to work together as a body of believers; each differently skilled and gifted working toward the same end goal.
2 make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. 3 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. 5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 2:2-5)
1 Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, 3 being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.”

14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; 15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.” (Ephesians 4:1-6, 14-16)
So for the body of Christ to be united in the cause of the gospel is this: to live in such a sensitive realm that when someone in my church is hurting, I hurt. When my pastor or a widow in my community has a need, I really look to see if there is anything that I can do about it. The local body shouldn’t just come together on Sunday, sing together, say a few pleasantries to each other, toss out a “I’ll pray for you” whether we will or not, and call that a display of the body of Christ. In order for us to be a healthy microcosm of the body of Christ, we must weep together, rejoice together, worship together, get excited together, serve together, love together, and encourage one another together. And while we are doing these things, we must do them focused on and centered on the gospel of Jesus Christ that is revealed in the pages of the Bible.

If we as believers can stand unified in the proclamation of the true gospel and stand together in a common commitment over the needs and concerns, pains and joys of one another, then we can be ready to not only stand together in a display of the body of Christ, but we can then have the combined strength to stand firmly together as one in the gospel against the attacks of those who despise the gospel of Christ.

We must strive for the gospel, but we must do it in two different ways. First of all, we must strive together, as a body, to be mature in the faith so that we are not children who are so easily overpowered by the smooth-tongued false teacher in our midst. One of the meanings of “strive” is that we must be diligent to present ourselves approved to God by rightly handling and understanding the Word of God (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:15). So, in this sense of “striving”, how are we to strive together? The Bible shows us that we are to be wise and judicious believers by being actively engaged with the Bible and other believers.
“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
“Iron sharpens iron, So one man sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17)
11 Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. 12 Therefore many of them believed, along with a number of prominent Greek women and men.” (Acts 17:11-12)
So as an application of what I am saying, take what you are reading here, take what you heard this past week at your church, take what you heard on the Christian radio station this week and search the scriptures to see if what you’re hearing is true! Don’t just swallow whatever you hear. Try to “swallow the meat & spit out the bones.”

If you’re at a church where the gospel is preached, where Christ is exalted, where the Word is revered and studied, then examine what you are taught to be sure that you are being fed the truth. Now, when you do this, you will invariably find something that is misstated or misunderstood by a lay teacher like myself, your pastor, or a visiting pastor or theologian. But don’t forsake the local body because of a peripheral issue of disagreement or one misstatement or error. Take the meat, eat it, and grow from it. Then, examine the statement or issue that you don’t agree with, and if you find, by Scripture, that what you heard was wrong; spit it out! If you’re deeply concerned that the error was serious enough, and not a slip of the tongue, bring it before the teacher in a loving and compassionate way. You may not come to agreement, but you will be engaging in iron sharpening iron.

Furthermore, talk about the Scriptures, as well as sermons that you hear and songs that you sing and programs that you watch or listen to, with a brother or sister in the Lord. In this way you will both be immeasurably blessed in the understanding of God’s Word and in the closeness of your relationship to one another if you are coming together with the desire to glorify God in your fellowship and in the study of His Word,. But none of this can really happen unless you, like the noble Bereans, search the Scriptures to see if what you are hearing is true.

Also, if you’re not searching the Scriptures on your own, and not simply a legalistic 10 -15 minute quiet time where you “do your time” and then go on to do what you really want to do, the truth of the gospel and the truth of the doctrines of the Bible may offend your ears and you will be more likely to dislike them. You cannot trust your inclination as to whether a doctrine is true or false or if someone is accurately presenting scripture if you are not studying the Word of God.

As a body of believers, we should not be “alarmed by [our] opponents” who are standing opposed to us because of the gospel that we proclaim. There will always be opponents of the true gospel, and that is why Paul encourages the Philippian believers that this opposition is a sign of the truth of what they believe and a sign of destruction for those who oppose the truth. So the Philippians needed to be willing and able to stand against the false teachers that would, without a doubt, assail them with false doctrine. Understanding Paul’s admonition here, how are we to strive amidst opposition to the gospel?
3 Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. 4 For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” (Jude 3-4)
We must stand firmly in the gospel of grace against all heresy. United States soldiers take an oath to defend against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and we need to be on guard against all false teaching both from outside of our fellowship and from inside.

We can know, and take a measure of comfort in the fact, that because the true gospel of grace that is preached here and is opposed so vigorously that this is a fruit of the fact that the message we preach is true. Paul tells us that this is a sign of our salvation. If we never rustled anyone’s feathers with the message that we preach, we aren’t preaching the gospel of Christ! Take heart, the gospel will be offensive to the will of every natural man who will ever hear it (1 Corinthians 1:18).

This opposition is also a sign of the destruction that these same opponents of the gospel justly deserve because of their unrighteousness. We will be opposed by people who hate Christ (whether they know that they hate Him or not) and who hate His gospel because the message of the cross is intolerant, unfair, narrow-minded, or just simply foolish (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:18). People will hate the gospel and they will hate those who hold to the gospel; and so we must be ready to defend the gospel against their attacks. For the sake of our children, our grand children, and our great grandchildren, we must be vigilant in the face of silence or in the face of terrifying and deadly opposition.

  1. Are you living in a manner worthy of the gospel? Are you living your Christian life in a manner so that when you die and stand naked before Almighty God, that He will say “Well done, good and faithful servant”? Or are you that man who will stand naked before Christ who was truly saved but you are not living in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ and you will have all of the things that you thought were good and lovely services to God burned up…but you will be saved as though through fire?

    Furthermore, are you – sir…madam – living a new life at all? Do you simply believe the facts about Jesus Christ being God’s son and the atoning work He did on the cross, but you don’t believe in them or trust in them? If I am talking about you here – oh and I am sure that there are people hearing my voice tonight who have not been born again even though you have grown up in the church, went to church groups, taught bible classes, and went to Christian school who are not saved – if I am talking about you here tonight, please hear me. Today is the day of salvation! Repent and believe the Gospel! (cf. 2 Corinthians 6:2)
  2. Is your local church standing together in one mind and spirit? If not, how can you improve your participation in the body to make it stronger?
  3. Are you standing firm in the gospel of Jesus Christ? Not “do you go to a church that does” or “do you associate with people who do”. But are you standing firm in the gospel?
  4. Are you wrestling through the Scriptures on your own and with a brother or sister to see if what you are hearing is true?
  5. Are you standing firmly in opposition to the myriad of false gospels and false teachers that abound in the world today?

1 “Philippians – The MacArthur New Testament Commentary Series” by John MacArthur Jr. p. 85

2 Ibid. p. 86

Monday, December 03, 2007

Worthy Christian Conduct Part 1: Understanding The Gospel

I recently preached a message to my church on the text of Philippians 1:27-28. But before I launched into this text, I felt that it was necessary for me to remind the church of where we had come from and what we have gone through in the study of Philippians. So, for the reason of context and as a reminder, here is my own personal summary of what Paul has said (from his perspective) to the Philippians and about the Philippians through the end of this first chapter.

You have faithfully worked with me in my ministry (v.5), you continually partake of the same grace as I do (v. 7), and your salvation is secure because of God’s single-handed initiating, sustaining, and completing work for it (v. 6). Because of your faithfulness to me and to Christ, you have my deepest affection through Christ Jesus (v. 8). I pray that your love would greatly increase with judicious wisdom (v.9) so that you may approve what is excellent in order that, one day, you may sincerely stand blameless before Christ (v. 10) after you have been filled with the righteousness from Christ (v. 11). Don’t worry about the fact that I’m in prison because I am convinced that God will deliver me from this imprisonment so that I can continue my work in Christ for your benefit (v. 12-26).

Now, my friends, you must live in a way fitting the gospel by which you have been saved! Do this in such a way so that whether I can come and see you or simply hear reliable reports concerning you, I will hear that you are unified in Christ and in the protection of the faith of the gospel. (v.27) Do not be shocked that you will continually be opposed by people because of the gospel that you are defending (v. 28). God has not only allowed you to believe the gospel, but in the same way He is also allowing you to suffer like I do for His sake (v. 29-30).

I want to attempt to point out the main goal and three attributing factors that Paul brings up in this text, and then I want to ask and answer a few questions in an attempt to encourage us to live in a manner worthy of the gospel. The main goal and the three attributing points in this selection of text are these:

Goal: The church is to live in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ
  1. The church is to stand firmly together in spirit and mind
  2. The church is to strive together for the True Gospel
  3. The church must stand fast amidst adversaries of the True Gospel
Paul’s goal and commission for the church: Live in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. What is the gospel of Christ? This first question may seem like a no-brainer or we just may forget to ask ourselves this question, but if we do not clearly understand what the gospel is then we cannot have any idea how to live our lives in a manner worthy of the gospel.

So many of the problems within modern day Christendom is due to the forsaking of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Whether this forsaking was done intentionally by those who sought to pervert the gospel, or whether it was done slowly over time through good Christian families who just didn’t make it a point to lift high the banner of the gospel of Christ, it makes no difference. The end result is still the forsaking of the gospel and apostasy. With that in mind, I want to make three points about what the gospel is so that we can understand it in order to rightly understand what we are called to live our lives worthy of.

The Gospel is the message of reconciliation.

The Good news is the proclamation for how man can be at peace with God. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the good news to all men that a completely unrighteous person can be at peace with a completely righteous God. In short, the good news is the way in which God has displayed His uncompromised and unstained righteousness and separation from the sinful and the wicked while, at the same time, giving Him the ability to forgive sinners and show them grace and mercy.

Don’t switch me off and grow deaf to what I am about to say here regarding the gospel because it is familiar to you. I don’t see how it is possible to live lives that are worthy of the gospel of Christ if we don’t esteem it rightly! If the very message of how we are made right with God and the fact that this message, this deliverance, necessitated God to be punished on my behalf has become casual in our minds and hearts, how then can we live lives worthy of the gospel? If the gospel is less spectacular to me than the current status of whatever sports team I follow, how can my life be a display worthy of it? How can I live a life worthy of the gospel of Christ if it is less captivating than the latest reality or celebrity television show, competition, news story, or event? How can I live a life worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ if it is less precious and commands less of my thoughts and desires than video games, movies, or other leisure activities?

I know that it is so easy to allow something that you have heard so often throughout your entire life to become somewhat mundane, trivial, or even annoying. But please, I beg you, don’t let the gospel become like that for you. I have known, seen, and interacted with people who profess to be believers who openly show their disinterest with the primacy of the gospel message of salvation from the wrath of God. I have also witnessed plain and simple disgust at the message of the cross of reconciliation by ‘theologians’ like Brian McLaren who refer to the cross of Christ as “divine child abuse.” Others like Steve Chalke openly scorn the doctrine of the substitutionary death of Christ as a contradiction to what he sees as the character of God. Chalke said, “If the cross is a personal act of violence perpetrated by God towards humankind but borne by his Son, then it makes a mockery of Jesus’ own teaching to love your enemies and to refuse to reply evil with evil.”

Some of the opponents of the gospel, for sure, began their journey in Christendom with this type of derision. In other words, they have never accepted the teaching of Christ crucified, risen, and reigning as the glorious act of God for salvation. However, many others that I have seen (and some who I have known personally) have become bored with the gospel. Bored with salvation from sin and death?

When I was talking about the gospel with a friend of mine who went to Bible college with me and I pressed the fact that the primary message of the gospel to mankind is that of the offer of salvation from sin and peace with God, namely the doctrine of justification, he actually responded flippantly by saying (I’m summarizing): “That’s all well and good, but what does justification do for me now?” So, again my friends, please do not become sinfully familiar and casual about the gospel of Jesus Christ. We must fight against that tendency if we have any hope of living in a manner pleasing to God.

The gospel of God and its most pivotal event, the cross of Calvary, is how God’s righteousness and justice are fully and finally vindicated in His dealings with unrighteous people. One very beautiful picture of the cross of Christ is found in the prophet Isaiah’s writings.

3 He is despised and rejected by men,
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

4 Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He opened not His mouth;
He was led as a lamb to the slaughter,
And as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
So He opened not His mouth.
8 He was taken from prison and from judgment,
And who will declare His generation?
For He was cut off from the land of the living;
For the transgressions of My people He was stricken.
9 And they made His grave with the wicked --
But with the rich at His death,
Because He had done no violence,
Nor was any deceit in His mouth.

10 Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him;
He has put Him to grief.
When You make His soul an offering for sin,
He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days,
And the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand.
11 He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied.
By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many,
For He shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, And He shall divide the spoil with the strong,
Because He poured out His soul unto death,
And He was numbered with the transgressors,
And He bore the sin of many,
And made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:3-12)

The gospel contains the foundational doctrines of God.

Saying “gospel” is a way to summarize the teachings of Christ in salvation. Preaching the gospel is the same as preaching doctrine and theology. Because without proper theology, proper doctrine, the gospel message is perverted, corrupt, and an impotent message that will not save!

I don’t want to delve too deeply into the theology of the gospel doctrine, but I do want to make one thing absolutely clear: We must be so careful of the temptation that is so prevalent inside of the Christian church today that proclaims doctrine as an unimportant thing. In this view, only Jesus and the gospel are important and they don’t want to get bogged down in deep theological debates or issues.

R.C. Sproul once responded to someone who held this view that “theology” needs to take a back seat, and the church should just preach Christ. Dr. Sprawl’s answer was to ask that person to tell him who Jesus is. As soon as any answer is given as to nature of the person and work of Jesus Christ, you are articulating doctrine. We must not be afraid to get our hands dirty in the mining of Truth from God’s word. It’s not easy work, it’s not careless work, and it doesn’t come without some difficulty and struggle, but the reward is that the gospel itself will emerge so much more beautiful than it ever was before. I can testify that in the last few years, the gospel has become more beautiful and dearer to me after years – a decade – of struggling with some very heavy and weighty theological issues.

The Gospel Must be Believed.

You have heard preachers and teachers call you and others to “Repent and Believe the Gospel”. Because “gospel” is a summary of the truths that we need to believe; we need to believe it!

You cannot just believe that a man named Jesus lived. You cannot just believe that a man named Jesus lived, did miracles, and claimed to be God. You cannot just believe that a man named Jesus lived, did miracles, and claimed to be God, preached salvation and then was unjustly executed, murdered by the hands of sinful men at the behest of other sinful men, but then rose again to life on the third day before ascended to Heaven.

The gospel contains all of those truths, yes, but we cannot just believe that those things occurred and believe that they are true. We must believe in the God-Man Jesus and place our trust in Him alone who clothed Himself in flesh, proclaimed God’s message of salvation, was unjustly executed, and then gloriously defeated death to rise again to life on the third day and following that, ascended to be at the Right-Hand of the Father.

"The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel." (Mark 1:15)
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16)
“In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation--having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise,” (Ephesians 1:13)

The doctrines that make up the message of the gospel are essential, and one cannot be saved without properly understanding the basic facts that Jesus Christ is the second Person of the Holy Trinity. He clothed Himself in flesh and was born of a virgin. He lived an utterly sinless life and fulfilled all righteousness while He was alive. He came to be the atoning and all satisfying sacrifice before God for the sins of all those who would place their faith in Him. He died at the hands of sinners and by the providential plan and will of Almighty God in the place of criminals. He endured the wrath of God in the fullest measure to satisfy God’s wrath at sinful man, so that whoever will trust in Christ alone for salvation will be a beneficiary of the great exchange. Christ also rose to life again on the third day and then later ascended into heaven where He now sits at the right hand of God the Father.

That great exchange is that Christ’s righteousness is credited to the sinner so that God will see that sinner as if he had lived Christ’s sinless life, and thus the saved saint can now experience the blessing of being with God for all eternity. The second part of that exchange is that the sinners’ sins are all credited to Christ so that God could pour out His wrath completely on the sin-bearer. Without this exchange, the sin-bearer is the sinner and this wrath is poured out on the sinner for an eternity in Hell. But with this exchange, Christ could receive the just punishment and wrath for sinners’ sins in a finite amount of time (a few hours).

And the gospel message is so priceless that no one can ever earn or even partially merit the benefits of this great exchange. The gospel is a free gift to all of those who repent of their sins and who will believe it and trust in Christ’s work alone to save them. The great doctrine of justification by faith is so beautiful because I cannot earn it, I do not deserve it, but I receive the grace of God by faith and then go out and display the fruit of my new life in Christ by love and good deeds.

Copyright © 2005-2010 Eric Johnson