Godly Fear, Amplified Grace

Today’s post is by Chris Poblete. Chris is the Executive Director of the Gospel for OC, a network committed to bringing glory and honor to God in our neighborhoods and cities. Follow him via TGoC on Twitter and on Facebook.

There I was, listening to a sermon that a good friend had recommended to me. My friend was living in sin at the time, and he confessed that this particular sermon rocked his world. Naturally, I was excited to hear the message that so gripped my friend. But as I listened, the pastor went on to say, “I’m tired of grumpy ol’ fundie Christians judging this person and that person. In the Old Testament, that may have been okay, but try to find that in the New Testament. Try to find an angry Jesus in there.”

Really?

I was so bummed to hear these words. My jaw dropped, and my heart broke. Could this world use fewer self-righteous and judgmental finger-pointers? Of course. I’ll give him that. But once we imply that the God of the Old Testament is grumpier and rowdier than the mild God of the New Testament, we find ourselves sliding down a slippery slope to foolishness and a me-centered, anything-goes theology.

In Revelation 14, Jesus returns on a cloud with a sickle in his hand to reap the harvest. He’s accompanied by an angel with another sharp sickle. This angel is commanded to “‘…gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.’” Then we are told that “the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse’s bridle, for 1,600 stadia.”

I didn’t know what a bridle or stadia is either. Apparently, though, when you do the math what’s described here is over 180 miles of a 5-feet deep bloodbath. The graphic imagery signifies the slaughter of the enemies of God. Indeed, these pictures should give us godly sorrow and anguish that others will have to suffer under God’s wrath in such way. After all, the apostle Paul echoes those sentiments (Romans 9:1-3). And yes, God is not wishing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9). But this point is also clear: New Testament God is still angry about sin, and he will see to it that divine justice will have its day. [Read more…]

A Tale of Two Fictions

Today’s guest blogger is Dr. Brian Mattson, Senior Scholar of Public Theology for the Center For Cultural Leadership. You can fan his Facebook page (Dr. Brian G. Mattson), follow him on Twitter (@BrianGMattson), and read his blog (www.brianmattson.squarespace.com).

Greetings! I want to begin by thanking Aaron for the opportunity to hold down the fort on his blog this month. I hope he has a wonderful, restful, and energizing vacation from blogging, and I will do my best to continue his tradition of producing excellent content on Blogging Theologically.

My plan is a fairly simple one. I am going to write fifteen blog posts this month as a discrete series. Taken together, they form what I am calling 15 Meditations on the Apostles’ Creed. Following two introductory posts on the nature of Christian tradition, each subsequent post will be a simple meditation on an article of the creed.

But allow me to begin by addressing the question: Why Tradition? The Apostles’ Creed represents for the entire world of orthodox Christianity a tradition passed down from the early church to us as an articulation of the basics of Christian belief. The questions are: Do we need it and why?

I believe the answer to the former is yes, and the latter question will be taken up in the next post. But there are two basic pitfalls that we must endeavor to avoid, both to the right and to the left. Let me illustrate these pitfalls by telling a “Tale of Two Fictions.”

The first comes to us from the early 5th century. In A.D. 404, a church leader by the name of Tyrannius Rufinus wrote this account of what happened after Pentecost and the Twelve Apostles prepared to embark on their respective ministries:

As they were therefore on the point of taking leave of each other, they first settled an agreed norm for their future preaching, so that they might not find themselves, widely separated as they would be, giving out different doctrines to the people they invited to believe in Christ. So they met together in one spot and, being filled with the Holy Spirit, compiled this brief token, as I have said, of their future preaching, each making the contribution he thought fit; and they decreed that it should be handed out as standard teaching to believers.

This brief description purports to tell us the origins of the Apostles’ Creed, and the account became the near universally-held view of the church in the Middle Ages. It was taken for granted that the Creed was written by the Apostles themselves, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. A more detailed account comes to us from a 6th century sermon:

On the tenth day after the Ascension, when the disciples were gathered together for fear of the Jews, the Lord sent the promised Paraclete upon them. At His coming they were inflamed like red-hot iron and, being filled with the knowledge of all languages, they composed the creed. Peter said, “I believe in God the Father almighty…maker of heaven and earth”… Andrew said “and in Jesus Christ His Son…our Lord” … and James said “Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit… born from the Virgin Mary” … John said, “suffered under Pontius Pilate … was crucified, dead and buried”… [et cetera].

This story, as I said, won almost universal acceptance in the Middle Ages. The thought that the Apostles themselves were directly responsible for the Creed named after them is warming and enticing. Alas, it is, as renowned scholar J.N.D. Kelly puts it, a “pious fiction.” It is a story invented at some time or another in an attempt to vindicate the authenticity and theological purity of the creed. It is an attempt to read a more fully developed theology right back into the pages of the New Testament itself, indeed, to put its content directly onto the lips of Christ’s appointed spokesmen. Its intent is, indeed, pious, but fiction it remains, nonetheless. [Read more…]

He Walks Among the Lampstands

I’ve often lamented what I call the loss of the “functional” authority of Scripture in the body of Christ in our day. Most Christians are diligent to affirm that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, the only infallible rule for faith and practice. But you could never tell that from the way they actually structure their churches or formulate their beliefs or cast their vision or shepherd their sheep. In other words, there is a vast chasm separating their theological affirmation of what the Bible is, as God’s Word, and how they employ the biblical text in shaping the strategy and expression of ministry. All too often, the Bible bears a token authority that rarely translates into a functional guide and governor, so to speak, that dictates and directs what we are to believe and how we are to be God’s people in a postmodern world.

So, when I say that certain folk don’t appear to care much about what Christ thinks of the church, I have in mind the way in which they elevate sociological trends and marketing surveys and demographic studies, together with the “felt needs” of the congregation, above the principles and truths of Scripture itself. That’s not to say we can’t learn from the former; only that an undue focus on them often leads to the neglect of Scripture and even the abandonment of clear biblical guidelines on how to “do church.”

I feel considerable energy on this point because of what I see in Revelation 2:1. There we read, “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.’” . . . These letters are the direct and explicit address of the risen Christ to his people. . . . We would do well to heed what he says!

The lordship of Christ over his people is not passive, distant, or indifferent. It is active, immanent, and intimate. Our Lord patrols the churches with an intense and ever present awareness of all thoughts, deeds, and activities. . . . He is never, ever absent! No service is conducted at which he fails to show up. No meal is served for which he does not sit down. No sermon is preached that he does not evaluate. No sin is committed of which he is unaware. No individual enters an auditorium of whom he fails to take notice. No tear is shed that escapes his eye. No pain is felt that his heart does not share. No decision is made that he does not judge. No song is sung that he does not hear.

How dare we build our programs and prepare our messages and hire our staffs and discipline our members as if he were distant or unaware of every thought, impulse, word, or decision! How dare we cast a vision or write a doctrinal statement or organize a worship service as if the Lord whose church it is were indifferent to it all!

Do you care what Christ thinks of the church? Or are you more attuned to the latest trend in worship, the most innovative strategy for growth, the most “relevant” way in which to engage the surrounding culture? Yes, Jesus cares deeply about worship. Of course he wants the church to grow. And he longs to see the culture redeemed for his own glory. All the more reason to pray that God might quicken us to read and heed the “words” of Christ to the church in Ephesus then and to the church now, whatever its name, denomination, or size. It obviously matters to him. Ought it not to us as well?

Adapted from Sam Storms, To the One Who Conquers: 50 Daily Meditations on the Seven Letters of Revelation 2-3, Kindle Edition

Heaven is Taking Over. Yield.

I recently picked up Ray Ortlund’s excellent commentary, Isaiah: God Saves Sinners, for a project I’m working on. This passage from his notes on Isaiah 6:1-13 is awe-inspiring:

“Holy, holy, holy” is not just repetition; it is emphasis. It isn’t one + one + one; it’s perfection x perfection x perfection. The holiness of God distinguishes him absolutely, even from the sinless angels. The Bible speaks of the splendor of God’s holiness (Psalm 29:2), the majesty of God’s holiness (Exodus 15:11), the incomparability of God’s holiness (Isaiah 40:25). His holiness is simply his God-ness in all his attributes, works, and ways. And he is not just holy; he is “holy, holy, holy,” each word boosting the force of the previous one exponentially. No other threefold adjective appears in all the Old Testament. It takes a unique linguistic contrivance to convey meaning beyond its meaning as the seraphim strain at the leash of language to say that God alone is God. He is not like us, only bigger and nicer. He is in a different category. He is holy.

And the holy God is filling the earth with his glory. He is not only out there; he is also down here. He is why there is a “down here.” Think back to the beginning. Why did God create anything at all? Throughout eternity past, before time was launched, God was complete in himself. He was never lonely within the blazing fellowship of the Trinitarian Godhead. He has always been happy and full. Why does that kind of God create anything? Not to remedy a lack in himself, but to enjoy spreading his goodness. The delight that God feels in being God is so great that his exuberance spills over into a creation filled with his glory…

We are not just ordinary. Nothing is just ordinary. “The whole earth is full of his glory.” We keep trying to fill it with monuments to our own glory — kingdoms, businesses, hit songs, athletic victories, and other mechanisms of self-salvation. But the truth is better than all that. Created reality is a continuous explosion of the glory of God. And history is the drama of his grace awakening in us dead sinners eyes to see and taste to enjoy and courage to obey.

Do you realize that it is God’s will to make this earth into an extension of his throne room in Heaven? Do you realize that it is God’s will for his kingdom of glory to come into your life and for his will to be done in you as it is done in Heaven? Heaven is expanding, spreading in your direction. That is the meaning of your existence, if you will accept it and enter in.

Heaven is taking over. Yield.

Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr., Isaiah: God Saves Sinners (Kindle Edition)

Enlightened Self-Interest is Still Self-Interest

And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. (Luke 18:18-19)

Before Jesus answered his question about the requirements for salvation, He dealt with the compliment. Jesus asked: “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone” (v. 19). Some critics hold that, by virtue of this response, Jesus was denying His goodness and deity. No, Jesus knew very well that this man did not have a clue about the person to whom he was speaking. This man didn’t know who Jesus was. He didn’t know he was asking a question of God incarnate. All the rich young ruler knew was that he was talking to an itinerate rabbi, and he wanted an answer to a theological question. But Jesus’ identity was central to the answer. So Jesus said: “Why do you call Me good? Haven’t you read Psalm 14:3: `They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one’? No one is good except God Himself.”

Does that seem absurd? After all, we see people who aren’t believers doing good all the time. It all depends on what we mean by “good.” The biblical standard of goodness is the righteousness of God, and we are judged both by our behavioral conformity to the law of God and by our internal motivation or desire to obey the law of God. I see people all around me who aren’t believers but who practice what John Calvin called “civic virtue”; that is, they do good things in society. They donate their money for good causes, they help the poor, and they sometimes even sacrifice themselves for others. They do all kinds of wonderful things on the horizontal level (i.e., toward other people), but they do none of it because their hearts have a pure and full love for God. There may be what Jonathan Edwards called an “enlightened self-interest” involved, but it is still self-interest.

R.C. Sproul, Can I Be Sure I’m Saved? (Kindle Edition)

Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God?

Pastor Thabiti Anyabwile, a former Muslim, interacts with Miroslav Volf’s argument in his new book, Allah: A Christian Response, that one could practice Islam and be 100% Christian. Anyabwile also explains how the fundamental differences in doctrine—particularly regarding the nature of God in the Trinity—are irreconcilable:

[HT: TGC]

Last year, Anyabwile released an excellent book on ministering to Muslims, The Gospel for Muslims (reviewed here). There, he offers three reasons for the necessity of holding fast to the doctrine of the Trinity:

First, because we are bound in humility to accept what God reveals of Himself. After all, we are creatures and He is the Creator; we are finite and He is infinite. Accepting and maintaining the Trinity as central to the Christian faith is to say to God, “I believe You—not others and not myself—as You reveal Yourself.” In short, believing and defending the Trinity is essential to genuine Christian faith and witness.

Second, because to deny the Trinity is to commit idolatry. Here the Christian and the Muslim come to irreconcilable differences. We may not maintain that God is one God in three Persons and at the same time accept that God is radically one with no persons in the Godhead as Muslims believe. That would be to accept a contradiction. And it would be to deny the revelation God gives of Himself, making an idol graven with the tools of our own imagination. God is jealous for His name. He calls His people to “worship [Him] in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). Surrendering the Trinity turns us away from true spiritual worship of the only living God to idolatry.

Third, we must cling to the Trinity because apart from the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, there is no possibility of eternal salvation. If we surrender the Trinity, or weaken our presentation of who God really is, we in effect deny the gospel. Each Person in the Godhead plays an essential part in redeeming sinners from judgment and bringing them to eternal life. (p. 37, Kindle edition)

“Why Should I Let You Into Heaven?” “Because I’m Dead!”

A tool that some find helpful in evangelism is a series of diagnostic questions. “Have you come to the place in your spiritual life where you know for sure that if you were to die tonight you would go to heaven?” “If you were to die tonight and stand before God, and God were to say to you, ‘Why should I let you into My heaven?’ what would you say?”

Some might bristle at the thought of asking these questions, for fear of being linked to Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron (that said, who wouldn’t want to go out street preaching with Mike Seaver?). But they’re actually more helpful than you might think. R.C. Sproul explains:

Once, when my son was young, I asked him these two questions. I was delighted that he immediately answered the first question by saying “Yes.” But when I asked him the second question, he looked at me as if I had just posed the silliest question he had ever heard. He said, “Well, I would say, `Because I’m dead.”‘ What could be simpler? My son was being reared in a home committed to biblical theology, but not only had I failed to communicate justification by faith alone to him, he already had been captured by the pervasive view in our culture that everyone goes to heaven and that all you have to do to get there is to die.

We have so eliminated the last judgment from our theology and expunged any notion of divine punishment or of hell from our thinking (and from the church’s thinking) that it is now widely assumed that all a person must do to get to heaven is to die. In fact, the most powerful means of grace for sanctification in our culture is to die, because a sin-blistered sinner is automatically transformed between the morgue and the cemetery, so that when the funeral service is held, the person is presented as a paragon of virtue. His sins seem to have been removed by his death. This is very dangerous business, because the Scriptures warn us that it is appointed for every person once to die, then to face judgment (Heb. 9:27).

People like to think that the threat of a last judgment was invented by fire-and-brimstone evangelists such as Billy Sunday, Dwight L. Moody, Billy Graham, Jonathan Edwards, and George Whitefield. But no one taught more clearly about the last judgment and a division between heaven and hell than Jesus Himself. In fact, Jesus talked more about hell than He did about heaven, and He warned His hearers that on that last day, every idle word would come into judgment. But if there’s anything unredeemed human beings want to repress psychologically, it’s that threat of final, comprehensive judgment, because none of them wants to be held accountable for his sins. Therefore, nothing is more appealing to human beings than universalism-the idea that all are saved.

R.C. Sproul, Can I Be Sure I’m Saved? (Kindle Edition)

Where Is Jesus In The Old Testament?

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Throughout the gospels, Jesus told both disciples and opponents that the Scriptures bore witness about Him. For example, in John 5:39, Jesus told the Pharisees, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.” In Luke 18:31-34, He told the twelve as they were on their way to Jerusalem, “Everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” And after His resurrection, He rebuked the two travellers on the road to Emmaus, saying:

“O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:25-27)

So Jesus was pretty clear: the Scriptures—specifically the Old Testament—are all about Him. So how do we find Jesus in the Old Testament? Here are six broad categories that help us to see Jesus in all of Scripture:

1. Christophanies. These are the appearances of Jesus in the Old Testament before His incarnation. In these Jesus frequently appears as “The Angel of the Lord” (which is different than “AN angel of the Lord”). Passages to study include: Judges 2:1-5, Joshua 5:13-15, and Isaiah 6:1-13.

2. Types. Old Testament representative figures and institutions that foreshadowed Jesus. These include the tabernacle, the sacrificial system (now you’ve got a reason to go read Leviticus!), the prophets, priests and kings (esp. David & Solomon). Key prophetic ministries to study are Elijah and Elisha.

3. Analogous service. These are people who do things that ultimately Jesus does perfectly and completely. TIm Keller & Sinclair Ferguson do a brilliant job explaining these here.

4. Events that prophesy the coming of Jesus.This would include the Exodus—particularly the Passover—where the Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt. The entire book of Exodus gives us a glimpse of what Christ came to do. As the people crossed the Red Sea, they were crossing from death to life. Death awaiting them at the hands of Pharaoh’s army to life in the land God had promised. In Christ, we cross from death in our sins to eternal life with Him.

5. Titles that refer to Jesus. These are titles for God in the Old Testament that refer to Jesus. Redeemer, Savior, Lord of Glory, Husband/Bridegroom, Light, Rock, Shepherd and Son of Man are among those titles.

6. Old Testament prophecies about Jesus. Different from category 4 which are events that point to Him, these are prophecies about Jesus directly. These include Isaiah 7:14-15, and 52:13-53:12,  Psalm 110, and Deut. 18:14-22, among others.

I hope having a sense of these broad categories will help you to see Jesus as you read the Old Testament.


Edited October 2014 with a new introduction. For more on this subject, you can also check out this video which handles the subject well (despite the status of its preacher). 

What Will It Take?

If I could explain all the mysteries of the Bible, then would you believe? No, you wouldn’t.

If I could show you many signs and wonders, then would you believe? No, you wouldn’t.

If I sacrificed all that I have and all I am in service to the poor and oppressed, then would you believe? No, you wouldn’t.

If I could live my life in such a way that there wouldn’t be even a hint of hypocrisy, then would you believe? No, you wouldn’t.

If I could prove my genuine love and concern for you over and over again, then would you believe?

No, you wouldn’t.

I cannot create a compelling enough argument to make you believe.

I cannot point to any sign that you could not explain away.

I cannot sacrifice enough or be authentic enough to convince you that the gospel is true.

No matter what I say or do, no matter how hard I try, there will always be another excuse to continue in unbelief.

While every day of my life will be spent seeking to live more and more in light of what Christ has done, I know I will stumble and fail. I will say and do things that will cause you to say, “See, this is why I don’t believe!”

I can’t not disappoint. I’m a sinner just like you.

So let’s be honest. I want you to believe the truth of the gospel. I want you to believe that Jesus Christ—God the Son in human form—lived a perfect life in obedience to God the Father, was crucified to pay for my sins and yours, and rose again in victory over sin, death and judgment.

You don’t want to believe this and there is nothing I can do on my own to convince you otherwise.

Fortunately, there is one thing I can do: I can pray for the One who can convince you to do exactly that.

I can pray for a miracle.

The only thing that will make you believe is if God, through the Holy Spirit, gives you a new heart—one that can see the truth and is willing to respond to it.

Then all the arguments will crumble.

Then all the barriers will break down.

Then all the excuses will come to an end.

And then you will believe.

Sanctification: Progressive and Imperfect

Sanctification is always a progressive work. Some men’s graces are in the blade, some in the ear, and some are like full corn in the ear. All must have a beginning. We must never despise “the day of small things.” And sanctification in the very best is an imperfect work. The history of the brightest saints that ever lived will contain many a “but,” and “howbeit,” and “notwithstanding,” before you reach the end. The gold will never be without some dross—the light will never shine without some clouds, until we reach the heavenly Jerusalem. The sun himself has spots on his face. The holiest men have many a blemish and defect when weighted in the balance of the sanctuary. Their life is a continual warfare with sin, the world, and the devil; and sometimes you will see them not overcoming, but overcome. The flesh is ever lusting against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh, and “in many things they offend all” (Gal. 5:17; James 3:2).

But still, for all this, I am sure that to have such a character as I have faintly drawn [of holiness], is the heart’s desire and prayer of all true Christians. They press towards it, if they do not reach it. They may not attain to it, but they always aim at it. It is what they strive and labour to be, if it is not what they are.

J.C. Ryle, Holiness, as published in Faithfulness and Holiness: The Witness of J. C. Ryle, p. 144

The Sincerity of Our Profession and the State of Our Hearts

The sincerity of our profession much depends upon the care we exercise in keeping our hearts. Most certainly, that man who is careless of the frame of his heart, is but a hypocrite in his profession, however eminent he be in the externals of religion. . . . It is true, there is great difference between Christians themselves in their diligence and dexterity about heart work; some are more conversant with, and more successful in it than others: but he that takes no heed to his heart, that is not careful to order it aright before God, is but a hypocrite. “And they come unto thee as the people cometh, and they sit before thee as my people, and they hear thy words, but they will not do them: for with their mouth they show much love, but their heart goeth after their covetous.” Here was a company of formal hypocrites, as is evident from that expression, as my people; like them, but not of them. And what made them so? Their outside was fair; here were reverent postures, high professions, much seeming delight in ordinances;” thou art to them as a lovely song:” yea; but for all that they kept not their hearts with God in those duties; their hearts were commanded by their lusts, they went after their covetousness. Had they kept their hearts with God, all had been well: but not regarding which way their hearts went in duty, there lay the essence of their hypocrisy.

If any upright soul should hence infer, ‘I am a hypocrite too, for many times my heart departs from God in duty; do what I can, yet I cannot hold it close with God: ‘I answer, the very objection carries in it its own solution. Thou sayest, ‘Do what I can, yet I cannot keep my heart with God.’ Soul, if thou doest what thou canst, thou hast the blessing of an upright, though God sees good to exercise thee under the affliction of a discomposed heart.

There still remains some wildness in the thoughts and fancies of the best to humble them; but if you find a care before to prevent them, and opposition against them when they come, and grief and sorrow afterward, you find enough to clear you from the charge of reigning hypocrisy. This precaution is seen partly in laying up the word in thy heart to prevent them. “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.” Partly in your endeavors to engage your heart to God; and partly in begging preventing grace from God in your commencement of duty. It is a good sign to exercise such precaution. And it is an evidence of uprightness, to oppose these sins in their first rise. “I hate vain thoughts.” “The spirit lusteth against the flesh.” Thy grief also discovers the uprightness of thy heart. If with Hezekiah thou art humbled for the evils of thy heart, thou hast no reason, from those disorders, to question the integrity of it; but to suffer sin to lodge quietly in the heart, to let thy heart habitually and without control wander from God, is a sad, a dangerous symptom indeed.

John Flavel, On Keeping the Heart (Kindle Edition, location 179)

Shall Not The Judge Of All The Earth Do What Is Just?

How can a God who loves the world permit anyone to perish this way? Jesus answers, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:18). The key word is condemned. The God who loves the world is also a perfectly holy judge. Abraham asked, “Shall not the judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Gen. 18:25). The answer is yes! God’s holy nature requires justice. This means that we must be judged for our sins unless they can be removed, the judgment being eternal death (see Rom. 6:23).

This is where God’s love enters, because God showed His love for the world by sending His Son to die for our sins. God made a way for us to be forgiven and escape judgment, at infinite cost to Himself. This way requires that we receive God’s Son in faith, so that our sins may be transferred to His account at the cross, where Jesus died as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29b). But if we spurn God’s loving offer of salvation and refuse to believe on Jesus Christ, neither we nor God can avoid our condemnation. No unbeliever will suffer in hell because God lacked love, but “because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”

People resent the thought of God condemning anyone, especially them. But we have no cause to resent God. Jesus Himself revealed God’s purpose in giving His Son to die for our sins: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17). God is never mean-spirited, even in His awful wrath. He has extended love to a world that is wicked, rebellious, and already condemned. God did not send Jesus to cause sinners to perish; sinners were going to perish without Jesus having to die. But God lovingly sent His Son to pay with His own blood the sin-debt for all who believe. God is like a doctor who prescribes the healing medicine. But if we refuse to admit our sickness and refuse to take the pills, we condemn ourselves to death. So it is with all who refuse to receive Jesus as Savior and Lord.

Richard D. Phillips, Jesus the Evangelist (Kindle Edition, location 1150)

Everyday Theology: You Need To Feed Yourself

Who is responsible for a Christian’s spiritual health—for his or her growth in the faith, in understanding the Scriptures, and progressive increase in personal holiness?

The answer might seem obvious. It’s you, right? If you’re a Christian, you need to take ownership of your growth in understanding the Scriptures and pursuit of holiness in Christ.

But is it your responsibility alone?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a pastor say something like this:

“It’s not my job to feed you—you need to feed yourself.”

And, if I had to be honest, nearly every time I’ve heard it, it’s made my skin crawl.

Why? Well, consider John 21:15-17 with me:

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep…” (John 21:15-17 ESV)

In this passage, the restoration of Peter, Jesus asks him three times:

“Peter, do you love me? Do you love me more than these other men? Do you love me?

Just as Peter denied Jesus three times, so three times Jesus asks this question. And each time, Peter responds “Lord, you know that I love you.”

Now look at the response that this love brings. Three times, Jesus gives Peter this command:

Feed My lambs.

Tend My sheep.

Feed My sheep.

This command is so imperative that Jesus gave it three times in response to Peter’s profession of love—so what does He mean?

At the risk of being obvious, Jesus means exactly what He says: “Feed My sheep.” [Read more…]

Heart-Work is the Hardest Work

Heart-work is hard work indeed. To shuffle over religious duties with a loose anal heedless spirit, will cost no great pains; but to set thyself before the Lord, and tie up thy loose and vain thoughts to a constant and serious attendance upon him; this will cost thee something. To attain a facility and dexterity of language in prayer, and put thy meaning into apt and decent expressions, is easy; but to get thy heart broken for sin, while thou art confessing it; melted with free grace while thou art blessing God for it; to be really ashamed and humbled though the apprehensions of Gods infinite holiness, and to keep thy heart in this frame, not only in, but after duty, will surely cost thee some groans and pains of soul. To repress the outward acts of sin, and compose the external part of thy life in a laudable manner, is no great matter; even carnal persons, by the force of common principles, can do this: but to kill the root of corruption within, to set and keep up an holy government over thy thought, to have all things lie straight and orderly in the heart, this is not easy.

[Heart-work] is a constant work. The keeping of the heart is a work that is never done till life is ended. There is no time or condition in the life of a Christian which will suffer an intermission of this work. It is in keeping watch over our hearts, as it was in keeping up Moses’ hands while Israel and Amalek were fighting. No sooner do the hands of Moses grow heavy and sink down, than Amalek prevails. Intermitting the watch over their own hearts for but a few minutes, cost David and Peter many a sad day and night.

[Heart-work] is the most important business of a Christian’s life. Without this we are but formalists in religion: all our professions, gifts and duties signify nothing. ” My son, give me thine heart,” is God’s request. God is pleased to call that a gift which is indeed a debt; he will put this honor upon the creature, to receive it from him in the way of a gift; but if this be not given him, he regards not whatever else you bring to him. There is only so much of worth in what we do, as there is of heart in it. Concerning the hears, God seems to say, as Joseph of Benjamin, “If you bring not Benjamin with you, you shall not see my face.” Among the Heathen, when the beast was cut up for sacrifice, the first thing the priest looked upon was the heart; and if that was unsound and worthless the sacrifice was rejected. God rejects all duties (how glorious soever in other respects) which are offered him without the heart. He that performs duty without the heart, that is, heedlessly, is no more accepted with God than he that performs it with a double heart, that is, hypocritically.

John Flavel, On Keeping the Heart (Kindle Edition, location 133)