The story is God’s story

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Anyone who has had Bible stories read to him as a child knows that there are great stories in the Bible. But it is possible to know Bible stories, yet miss the Bible story. The Bible is much more than William How stated: “a golden casket where gems of truth are stored.” It is more than a bewildering collection of oracles, proverbs, poems, architectural directions, annals, and prophecies. The Bible has a story line. It traces an unfolding drama. The story follows the history of Israel, but it does not begin there, nor does it contain what  you would expect in a national history. The narrative does not pay tribute to Israel. Rather, it regularly condemns Israel and justifies God’s severest judgments.

The story is God’s story. It describes His work to rescue rebels from their folly, guilt, and ruin. And in His rescue operation, God always takes the initiative. When the apostle Paul reflects on the drama of God’s saving work, he says in awe, “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen” (Rom. 11:36).

Only God’s revelation could maintain a drama that stretches over thousands of years as though they were days or hours. Only God’s revelation can build a story where the end is anticipated from the beginning, and where the guiding principle is not chance or fate, but promise. Human authors may build fiction around a plot they have devised, but only God can shape history to a real and ultimate purpose.

Edmund Clowney, The Unfolding Mystery, 12-13

Photo credit: __o__ via photopin cc

Authority in Christianity belongs to God

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The Christian principle of biblical authority means, on the one hand, that God purposes to direct the belief and behavior of his people through the revealed truth set forth in Holy Scripture; on the other hand it means that all our ideas about God should be measured, tested, and where necessary corrected and enlarged, by reference to biblical teaching. Authority as such is the right, claim, fitness, and by extension power, to control. Authority in Christianity belongs to God the Creator, who made us to know, love, and serve him, and his way of exercising his authority over us is by means of the truth and wisdom of his written Word. As from the human standpoint each biblical book was written to induce more consistent and wholehearted service of God, so from the divine standpoint the entire Bible has this purpose. And since the Father has now given the Son executive authority to rule the cosmos on his behalf (Matt. 28:18), Scripture now functions precisely as the instrument of Christ’s lordship over his followers. All Scripture is like Christ’s letters to the seven churches (Rev. 2–3) in this regard.

J.I. Packer, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs

It’s not a cold—it’s cancer!

Sin is one of those subjects that is tough to do justice to.

Most of the time, we err on the side of minimizing it. We treat it as little more than a personal dysfunction or a character flaw. Even in our strongest language, we tend to speak of sin in terms of brokenness, of separation, but shy away from the darker picture Scripture paints for us. “Instead of interpreting our present-day sin in the light of a divinely revealed standard,” wrote H.J. Whitney, “we reduce this standard to a pale reflection of our own man-made standards.”1

In effect, we treat sin as if it were a cold instead of a cancer. 

Sin is alien, and intrusive. It is an invader in the created order, attacking, perverting, and twisting what is good into something other than it’s intended effect.

It distorts image bearers of God into rebels lying to the world about their Creator. It perverts notions of biblical submission and service between men and women into strife and servitude. It disrupts and destroys everything it touches.

When we remember to see sin in this way, it also changes how we deal with it. It reminds us that sin isn’t something to be managed, it’s something to be destroyed. It’s not something we can will away by being more awesome, but something we defeat by surrendering to the Holy Spirit who is at work within us.

Cough medicine doesn’t kill sin. We need chemo.

Killing sin is hard work. It causes a lot of pain. And sometimes, it seems like it’s going to kill us in the end. But, fighting sin is a life-or-death situation. “Be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work,” wrote John Owen, “be killing sin or it will be killing you.”

Luther and the Reformation: Free today from Ligonier Ministries

To celebrate Reformation Day, Ligonier Ministries is offering an audio-video download of R.C. Sproul’s 10-part teaching series, Luther and the Reformation, free.

Centuries after his death, Martin Luther is celebrated as an intellectual giant, a brave opponent of corruption, a shaper of culture, indeed, as one of the most significant figures in Western history. Many people, however, are unaware of the events of Luther’s life that led him to make a courageous stand for the gospel in the sixteenth century. In this series, R.C. Sproul provides a thorough introduction to the life and thought of Martin Luther. With an eye to the lessons we can learn today, Dr. Sproul traces the major events of Luther’s life and explores the gospel recovered by Luther and the other Protestant Reformers.

Here’s a look at part one:

(RSS readers: click through to see the video)

This special offers ends tonight at 11:59 EDT, so act quickly.

Can a true believer blaspheme the Holy Spirit?

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Early on in my faith—in fact, nearly from the moment I became a Christian—I’ve been intrigued by an encounter in between Jesus and the Scribes and Pharisees. In Matthew 12:22-32, Jesus has just healed a demon oppressed man who had been brought to Him, and all the crowd marvelled. “Can this be the Son of David?” they asked.

But the Pharisees declared, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.”

Simply, the Pharisees just accused Jesus of being empowered by Satan to do this. Rather than accept what Jesus has done for what it is—a miraculous work of God—they declare it must be the devil’s work. He’s performing witchcraft!

Sound familiar?

Jesus’ response is telling. Knowing the Pharisees’ thoughts, he says,

Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house.

Again, really basic here: Jesus calls their theory ludicrous—a divided kingdom can’t stand, it will be laid to waste. Defeat is inevitable. Satan’s desire isn’t to defeat himself, but to rule God’s creation for himself. You can say many things about the serpent, but he’s not an idiot. He’s the prince of this world, and he won’t give it up that easily.

But if Jesus is casting out demons by the power of the Holy Spirit, then it means the kingdom of God has come. It means Jesus, the “strong man” in his example, has come to plunder the goods of Satan’s house before crushing his head.

And then Jesus continues:

Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man l will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. (Emphasis mine.)

Here’s where so many people get confused—what is Jesus talking about here? What does He mean when He says “blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven”? Is it possible for a Christian to commit this sin?

The answer is a lot simpler than some of us realize: Not even a little bit. [Read more...]

A perspective calling forth unqualified obedience

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We live in a day when we are being reminded again and again of our temporal privileges and responsibilities as Christians: we enjoy abundant life now, and we must remember to help the poor, seek justice for all, insist on integrity and demonstrate it ourselves. Such reminders are important, precisely because it is possible in a superficial sense to be heavenly minded yet morally and socially useless. At the same time, Christians must avoid identifying the goals of the kingdom of God with political, economic, or social goals; or, more accurately, such identification must never be exclusive. Just as the kingdom of Jesus Christ is not of this world (18:36), so also is it not restricted to this world. Our ultimate goal is not the transformation of society, as valuable as that may be. Our ultimate goal is pure worship in the unrestricted presence of God.

That perspective, and that perspective alone, is powerful enough to call forth our unqualified obedience. Such an eternal vantage point enables us to be more useful in our society than we would be otherwise; for, following an exalted Master, we learn something of service while walking in self-denial that eschews personal empire-building. Empire-building is so common a temptation for idealists that today’s revolutionaries commonly become tomorrow’s tyrants. The Christian has the potential to escape this snare, for his highest goal transcends the merely temporal. He magnifies integrity coupled with meekness because he recognizes that such graces are gifts from the Master who exemplified them.

D.A. Carson, The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of Jesus

The Value of Reading Our Church Fathers

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Joey Cochran served as the High School Pastor at Fellowship Bible Church Tulsa for four years before transitioning to serve as the Resource Pastor at Cross Community Chicago, a plant of The Village Church. He is a graduate of Dallas Seminary. Joey blogs regularly at jtcochran.com. Follow @joeycochran on Twitter.


History has always fascinated me. In studying history we discover where we come from and how we got here. We observe progress. We also observe errors repeated. Most often, when errors of the past repeat it is because we forgot the past.

In RetroChristianity: Reclaiming the Forgotten Faith, Dr. Michael Svigel, Associate Professor of Theological Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, warns, “It only takes one negligent generation to forget the accumulated knowledge and wisdom of the entire history of the church” (Svigel, 50).

Do we run the risk of being that generation? To protect from this error, it is wise to read those who came before us, especially the Church Fathers.

Most scholars agree that the Church Fathers are the men who wrote during the beginnings of the Church up to medieval times. These are our earliest leaders. They lived closer to Christ’s time and offer solidarity to scripture’s message. The earliest of these men sat at the feet of our New Testament writers.

There is wealth in reading these writings. Here are three values of reading the Church Fathers:

Value 1: We learn from the Church Fathers’ challenges

In reading the Church Fathers, we read of the battles they fought. The creeds and the council’s primary purpose were to eradicate erred doctrine. Much of these writings were apologetic. The writer’s responded to those who perpetuated false-doctrine.

Justin, Irenaeus, Hippolytus, and Tertullian wrote against Gnoticism and Marcionism. Athanasius championed Trinitarianism against Arianism. The Cappadocian Fathers (Basil the Great, Greggory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzus) wrote against Arianism and Apollinarianism. Augustine wrote against Pelagianism.

Yes, a lot of big words and no time to explain. It seems overwhelming, doesn’t it? Likely, you have heard these terms but may not know the meaning. Does knowing about these controversies matter today?

[Read more...]

How do we exercise dominion?

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People who know me (or at least follow me on Twitter), know I enjoy puttering around the kitchen. One of my favorite ways to unwind is to try out a new recipe—everything from stuffed French toast to braised rabbit—and see what the response is from my family. What’s funny is, for me, it’s not always what I wind up making that is the enjoyable part: it’s the feeling of power that comes from taking all these raw ingredients and making something really cool and almost always delicious.

Why do I have that feeling, aside from being easy to please? I think it’s, at least in part, because of how God has designed me—and humanity as a whole. You see, back at the beginning of creation, when God created the first man and woman, He declared He would make them in His image—“Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness,” God said (Genesis 1:26).

This idea of being made in God’s image has been the subject of much discussion within the Christian community over the centuries. It carries with it an understanding of the dignity of humanity, of being designed to function within relationships, of being wired to worship and serve our Creator.

But it also carries with it a responsibility: to “rule” or “have dominion” over the earth (Genesis 1:28).

If there’s one command that’s caused people to get in a tizzy, it’s this one. What does it mean to have dominion? Are we still called to do this? And, especially given that we’re living in a fallen world, how do we exercise dominion in a way that honors God? [Read more...]

5 books on a subject you’re probably scared to look at

Most people get a bit freaked out when you start talking about eschatology, with visions of Left Behind and Kirk Cameron riding unicorns dance through there heads. (You’ll never get that image out of your head now, will you?)

While many of us neglect studying this subject (primarily because of people talking about locusts being black hawk helicopters and such things), we all need to work out our understanding of the things yet to come.

Why? Because how we understand the world as it is—and how we relate to it—is as equally tied to our understanding of the last things as to our views on the first things. In light of that, I’ve compiled a list based in part on feedback provided by a few followers on Twitter to see what a few helpful resources to assist us in working toward a greater understanding of a difficult topic.


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A Basic Guide to Eschatology: Making Sense of the Millennium by Millard J. Erickson

In this fair, careful, and accessible study, leading evangelical theologian Millard Erickson provides an overview of various end-times perspectives. Pastors, students, and all those interested in end-times thought will find A Basic Guide to Eschatology an understandable, well-organized examination of the various viewpoints.

Each position Erickson examines includes (1) a brief overview, (2) its history, (3) a more thorough examination of its major concepts and of the arguments offered in support of them, and (4) an evaluation of both its positive and negative aspects. Previously published as Contemporary Options in Eschatology, this book contains an updated chapter that discusses new developments in dispensationalism.

Buy it at: Amazon


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A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times by Kim Riddlebarger

Amillennialism, dispensational premillennialism, historic premillennialism, postmillennialism, preterism. These are difficult words to pronounce and even harder concepts to understand. A Case for Amillennialism presents an accessible look at the crucial theological question of the millennium in the context of contemporary evangelicalism.

This study defends amillennialism as the historic Protestant understanding of the millennial age. Amillennarians believe that the millennium of Christ’s heavenly reign is a present reality, not a future hope to come after his return.

Recognizing that eschatology, the study of future things, is a complicated and controversial subject, Riddlebarger provides definitions of key terms and a helpful overview of various viewpoints. He examines related biblical topics as a backdrop to understanding the subject and discusses important passages of Scripture that bear upon the millennial age, including Daniel 9, Matthew 24, Romans 11, and Revelation 20.

Regardless of their stance, readers will find helpful insight as Riddlebarger evaluates the main problems facing each of the major millennial positions and cautions readers to be aware of the spiraling consequences of each view.

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Books


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The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views edited by Robert G. Clouse

Since the first century, Christians have agreed that Christ will return. But since that time there have also been many disagreements. How will Christ return? When will he return? What sort of kingdom will he establish? What is the meaning of the millennium? These questions persist today.

Four major views on the millennium have had both a long history and a host of Christian adherents. In this book Robert G. Clouse brings together proponents of each view: George Eldon Ladd on historic premillenniallism, Herman A. Hoyt on dispensational premillennialism, Loraine Boettner on post-millennialism and Anthony A. Hoekema on amillennialism.

After each view is presented, proponents of the three competing views respond from their own perspectives. Here you’ll encounter a lively and productive debate among respected Christian scholars that will help you gain clearer and deeper understanding of the different ways the church approaches the meaning of the millennium.

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Books


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Promise of the Future by Cornelius P. Venema

Though we can never, in our time-bound state, know the future in detail, God in his mercy has not left us in complete ignorance of what is to come. His revelation in Holy Scripture has cast a flood of light on what would otherwise remain an impenetrable mystery.

Even among those who accept the Bible’s authority, however, there has never been complete agreement on what Scripture teaches in this area.

This major new examination of biblical teaching on the future of the individual, of the church and of the universe as a whole will be useful both to theological students and to informed non-specialists. Ranging over the whole field, it interacts extensively with recent literature on disputed issues, such as the nature of the intermediate state, the millennium of Revelation 20 and the doctrine of eternal punishment, always seeking to answer the fundamental question: “What do the Scriptures clearly teach?” The Christ centered nature of biblical teaching on the future is emphasized, as is the importance of the church’s historic confessions for an understanding of eschatology. The chief note sounded is one of hope: “God’s people eagerly await Christ’s return because it promises the completion of God’s work of redemption… The future is bright because it is full of promise, the promise of God’s Word.”

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Books (A study guide for this book is also available)


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The Bible and the Future by Anthony A. Hoekema

Writing from the perspective that the coming of God’s kingdom is both present and future, Hoekema covers the full range of eschatological topics in this comprehensive biblical exposition. The two major sections of the book deal with inaugurated eschatology (the “already”) and future eschatology (the “not yet”).

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Books


What are some other books you’d recommend on this subject? Leave your recommendation in the comments.

Are we both “old” and “new” at the same time?

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It’s one of the perennial problems of the Christian life:

I’m supposed to be a new person, but I don’t really feel like it. My struggles are still there. I keep sinning even when I don’t want to—am I doing something wrong?

This is a problem I’ve dealt with for pretty much my entire life as a Christian, and I don’t expect to stop having days when I go to bed thinking, “man, I really blew it today…” (Not that I want to do this, mind you; I just expect it.)

What’s the deal with this tension that we’re dealing with—one Paul arguably describes in Romans 7:19-20:

For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

and again in Galatians 5:17:

For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.

Some look at the struggle as being not unlike that of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a view Anthony Hoekema describes when he writes:

At times the old self is in control, but at other times the new self is in the saddle; the struggle of life, according to this view is the struggle between these two aspects of the believer’s being. (Saved by Grace, 209)

While appealing, this “internal dualism”—where there are two persons at war with one another in the same person—doesn’t quite give us the best view of our ongoing struggle with sin.

Hoekema points out that Paul describes the “old self” as being definitively put to death on the cross—and in sanctification, we are progressively becoming more and more our “new selves.” Therefore, the believer who is easily discouraged by the continued persistence of sin (or the return of behaviors you thought you’d long since put to death), need not lose heart

A believer deeply conscious of his or her shortcomings does not need to say, Because I am still a sinner I cannot consider myself a new person. Rather, he or she should say, I am a new person, but I still have a lot of growing to do. (Saved by Grace, 213)

Do not  be discouraged, Christian. The old self has indeed been put to death. We may have a lot of growing to do, but the new has surely come. Rejoice and do not lose heart.

Did Jesus REALLY have to rise again?

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Some things are harder to believe than others. Believing that Jesus was a bona fide historical figure… few, if any, seriously doubt there really was a Jesus of Nazareth who preached a message of repentance and reconciliation with God and was later crucified (even if many attempt to redefine the purpose of these events).

Then, there’s the resurrection…

For a lot of people, this is far more difficult an idea to swallow, particularly those of us who were raised on a steady diet of empirical naturalism.

The idea that Jesus was crucified—we can accept that. But that He rose again? That’s a bit much, isn’t it? Surely it had to have been made up.

Three alternatives to the resurrection

Because we don’t have a category for the supernatural, we look for alternative explanations—and there are a LOT of alternatives floating around regarding the resurrection of Jesus. Yet, there’s a lot of consistency between them, with the majority being variations on one of three options:

1. The disciples made it up.

The most common version of this theory suggests the early disciples stole Jesus’ body from the tomb in order to perpetuate the notion that Jesus really did rise again… but the disciples knew full well He was dead.

The earliest version of this is actually found in Matthew 28:11-15, where we read: [Read more...]

Did Jesus REALLY have to die? (part two)

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The message of the cross is far and away the most offensive message humanity will ever hear. It offends us to the very core of our being.

We want something palatable, friendly. Inoffensive.

Surely any God who would do something as awful as punish an innocent man for the crimes of another is a fabrication.

Such a God is nothing less than a moral monster, the perpetrator of divine child abuse, some claim.

And yet, this is the testimony of Scripture:

For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:23-24).

Paul calls the cross a stumbling block to those enamored with power and worldly wisdom. It is “folly to those who are perishing,” he writes, “but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor. 1:18).

Is it any wonder, then, that so many—even professing Christians—balk at Christ’s death on the cross?

Did it have to be this way?

The question we must answer in looking at the events of Jesus’ death is a relatively simple one:

Did it really have to be this way? Did Jesus really have to die on the cross in order for God to forgive us?

Yes, it really did have to be this way.

That’s not a popular thing to say, but it’s true. As I briefly explained in yesterday’s post, throughout history the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection were hinted at and foreshadowed.

Even if we do acknowledge that there’s something wrong with humanity, God could make things right without having to kill Jesus, or so we’d like to think. If nothing is impossible for Him, then surely He could forgive us easily enough.

And if He doesn’t, then He’s being supremely unloving, isn’t He? [Read more...]

Did Jesus REALLY have to die? (part one)

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With Easter only days away, a new miniseries featuring dramatizations of stories from the Bible on the air, and the news magazines gearing up for another round of “Who was Jesus” type features, Christians everywhere are going to be facing a couple of big questions:

Did Jesus really have to die?
Did Jesus need to rise from the dead for Christianity to be true?

The answers might seem obvious to some of us, and intimidating for others. But provide an answer we must in a season that provides us with so many opportunities to share our faith.

Whether we realize it or not, the death and resurrection of Jesus is among the most hotly contested issues facing our pluralistic culture. Did Jesus “have” to die—what does it mean? Why does it matter? Why is it so important that He not only died, but rose again?

These are important questions—in fact, they’re the most important questions one could ever ask. To answer them it’s helpful to understand the context and purpose of Jesus’ death.

In the beginning…

The story of the death of Jesus begins with another death—that of our first parents in the garden. God had warned Adam and Eve not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, “for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Gen. 2:17b).

Naturally, they obeyed—they had no reason not to. Until the serpent entered the garden and tempted them to disobey, promising them, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen. 3:4-5).

Many of us know how the rest of the story goes. They ate the fruit. They disobeyed God and they—and all their descendants after them—were plunged into sin. Human relationships were fractured, work became fruitless toil and God’s warning that death would come through their disobedience came true, first spiritually and then physically (Gen. 3:6-19).

But even in the midst of this, God gave our first parents reason to hope—some day, a son of Eve would do battle with the serpent and destroy him (Gen. 3:15).

[Read more...]

Jesus’ theology was a crisis theology

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When we talk about salvation biblically, we have to be careful to state that from which we ultimately are saved. The apostle Paul does just that for us in 1 Thessalonians 1:10, where he says Jesus “delivers us from the wrath to come.” Ultimately, Jesus died to save us from the wrath of God. We simply cannot understand the teaching and the preaching of Jesus of Nazareth apart from this, for He constantly warned people that the whole world someday would come under divine judgment.

Here are a few of His warnings concerning the judgment: “‘I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment’” (Matt:522); “‘I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment’” (Matt. 12:36); and “‘The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here’” (Matt. 12:41).

Jesus’ theology was a crisis theology. The Greek word crisis means “judgment.” And the crisis of which Jesus preached was the crisis of an impending judgment of the world, at which point God is going to pour out His wrath against the unredeemed, the ungodly, and the impenitent. The only hope of escape from that outpouring of wrath is to be covered by the atonement of Christ.

R.C. Sproul, The Truth of the Cross, pp. 78-79
(available from: Westminster Books | Amazon | Ligonier Ministries)