Divine Sovereignty: The Fuel of Death-Defying Missions #T4G12

My notes from David Platt’s session (paraphrased)

I have one overarching truth that I want to communicate as clearly and as biblically as possible: A high view of God’s sovereignty fuels death-defying devotion to global missions. Another way to put it, pastors who believe that God is sovereign over all things will lead Christians to die for the sake of all peoples.

I want to show you this in Revelation chapter 5. And I want to be clear on a few underlying premises so you can understand where we’re going and hopefully defuel some objections:

Local mission and local ministry are totally necessary. We should never neglect this at any point. There are hurting people, broken marriages in our churches. We must not neglect local ministry to the body, nor should we to the body. I want to encourage ever member of our body to make disciples in our local community.

Global missions is tragically neglected. I was near Yemen not too long ago—it has approximately 8 million people in the northern part of the country. How many believers are there? They estimate no more than 20-30. There are more Christians in our Sunday Schools than in the entirety of Northern Yemen. They are among the 2 billion people globally who are unreached—they have no access to the gospel. They’re not just lost, they are lost and have no Christian, no Church to share the gospel by which they might be found.

Pastors have the privilege and responsibility to lead the way in global missions. To the pastor belongs the privilege and the responsibility of the missionary problem—George Pentecost. It is the responsibility of the pastor to feel the weight and fan the flame of global missions in every local church.

Pastors love people. They want to see people  be saved and worship the living God. That is Global missions.

What drives all of this—rock solid confidence in the sovereignty of God over all these things. And I want to show you that in Revelation 5. From this text, I want to show you four theological truths and four practical applications.

Four Theological Truths

Our sovereign God holds the destiny of the world in the palm of his hand. The palm of his hand contains God’s sovereign decrees for the final glorification of all believers and damnation of all unbelievers. It is all in the palm of his hand. Nature, the sun, the stars—he is sovereign over all. There is not a speck of dust that exists apart from the sovereignty of God. Our God charts the course of countries. He holds rulers in the palm of his hand. Our God is sovereign over every single world leader—over you, me, everyone.

He creates all things, knows all things, has authority over all things. He has all the rights! Christian, you have no rights. God along has all rights. He has the right to save sinners and he has the right to damn sinners.

What about human responsibility? Man makes decisions, God is sovereign over them.


Almighty God, just because He is almighty, needs no support. The picture of a nervous, ingratiating God fawning over men to win their favor is not a pleasant one; yet if we look at the popular conception of God that is precisely what we see. Twentieth century Christianity has put God on charity. So lofty is our opinion of ourselves that we find it quite easy, not to say enjoyable, to believe that we are necessary to God. But the truth is that God is not greater for our being, nor would He be less if we did not exist. That we do exist is altogether of God’s free determination, not by our desert nor by divine necessity. . . . Too many missionary appeals are based upon this fancied frustration of Almighty God. An effective speaker can easily excite pity in his listeners, not only for the heathen but for the God who has tried so hard and so long to save them and has failed for want of support. I fear that thousands of younger persons enter Christian service from no higher motive than to help deliver God from the embarrassing situation His love has gotten Him into and His limited abilities seem unable to get Him out of. Add to this a certain degree of commendable idealism and a fair amount of compassion for the underprivileged and you have the true drive behind much Christian activity today.

Brothers and sisters, God does not need you, he does not need me. He does not need your church or mine. They all could drop dead and God would still make his name great among the nations. He involves us not because he needs us but because he loves us. But be sure of this, that our sovereign God holds the fate of all things in his hand.

The state of man before God apart from Christ is utterly hopeless. (Rev. 5:2-4) The fate of all things are in these scrolls—who is able to open them? The silence of heaven testifies to the state of man. John is weeping. There is no one apart from Christ who is worthy to open the scrolls. See the need. Apart from Christ, man is separated from God, condemned by God . . . Thomas Watson said thus it is in hell that they would die but cannot. Do you see why John is weeping? This is no casual matter. We say things like “You have a hell of a time” or “you played a hell of a game” and it just shows we have no idea what we’re talking about.

Just pause for a moment and contemplate the state of the unreached in the world. People who exist before God apart from Christ who have never even heard of him. Now they have heard of God, or rather have seen him (Rom. 1). Every unreached person has knowledge of God—even if they haven’t heard the gospel, they have seen him, have knowledge of him and rejected him. People ask me about the innocent man in Africa who never hears the gospel—what happens to that guy when he dies? That’s easy: He goes to heaven. The problem is, there’s no such thing as an innocent man.

There are over 2 billion people in the world whose knowledge of God is only sufficient to damn them to hell. Forever.

They know he exists.

They’ve rejected him.

They deserve his wrath.

And that’s where their stories end.

They exist before God apart from Christ and they are utterly hopeless in their state.

But there is hope.

The greatest news in all the world is that the slaughtered Lamb of God reigns as the Sovereign Lord of all.

The Lion of the Tribe of Judah and the Branch of David has come and he has conquered and we need weep no more. Men have come, women have come, generation after generation, every single man and every single woman succumbed to death. But then came another man, unlike any man before or after. This man did not fall prey to sin. This man was not enslaved to Satan, this man would crush that snake.

How has he conquered? Isaiah prophecies that the Lion would suffer as a Lamb, being crushed for our sins. He is the slaughtered Lamb of God and yet he stands. He has not only defeated sin, but he has defeated death. The one who has defeated death bears the marks of death.

In verse seven we are astonished to read that he is the one to take the scroll from the hand of the one who sits on the throne. Jesus walks up and takes the scroll. The slaughtered Lamb rules as the Sovereign Lord over all. God doesn’t share the spotlight with just anyone—he only shares the spotlight with himself.

[Jesus] emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:7-11 ESV)

The atonement of Christ is graciously, globally and gloriously particular.

Follow this:

            And they sang a new song, saying,
“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:9-10 ESV)

He has ransomed you—he has purchased you.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:3-6 ESV)

Christ purposed to purchase you—you! Don’t forget this. Before the sun was even formed, before a star was even put in the sky, before mountains were ever established on the earth, almighty God on high set his sights on your soul and he purposed to save you. He sent his Son according to the purposes of his will to save you.

We’re talking about unreached people—and we need to remember that you and I had nothing to do with where we were born. God the Father purposed that we would be born in a nation where we would be reached.

It is gloriously personal, but it’s also globally particular. There are over 11 thousand people groups in the world—and God has purposed to save men and women from among all of them. The atonement is globally particular. Matthew 28:19-20 is a command to make disciples of all the nations. And if there are people groups that are unreached, then we have missed the point of the atonement. Particular atonement is driving global missions.

If we believe that God has purposed to reach people from among all people groups, what drives passion to reach them? Guilt? No, it’s glory–it’s our belief that God has purposed to reach people from all people groups!

In his sovereignty he has ordained to make for himself a kingdom of priests from all peoples and nations. (Rev. 5:11-14)

This is what we live for, this is what we die for.

Four Practical Applications

Let us lead our churches to pray confidently for the spread of the gospel. God’s sovereignty does not negate prayer. God’s sovereignty necessitates prayer. Pastors, let’s teach our people to pray, “Your Kingdom come!” Tell them about Matthew 24:14 and tell them to pray for that! Show them how to pray for Saudi Arabs and the Brahman of India and assure them that every one of their prayers is piling up at the altar of God and one day God will bring about his kingdom.

Let us lead our churches to give sacrificially. Christians in North America give about 2.5 percent of their income to their local churches and the local church gives about 2 percent to global missions. That means that for every $100 we earn, 5¢ are given to global missions. By all estimates, we are the richest people to ever live—why? I’m convinced Psalm 63 has the answer. The Sovereign God has ordained that we be wealthy so that he may be glorified in the world.

Let us lead our churches to go to unreached peoples. We must lead our people to do wise short-term missions, mid-term and long-term missions. There’s no question that in the New Testament that we see Timothy-types and Paul-types. There are men and women in your church whom God is calling to pack their bags and spread the gospel through unreached people groups. Are you encouraging them? Are you taking time to speak specifically to them, leading your church to fast and pray for them and just waiting until he answers? Are you listening to see if he’s calling you to this?

Let us lead our churches to die willingly for the spread of the gospel to all people. Pastors with a high view of God’s sovereignty will lead people to die for the spread of the gospel. We’ve already seen how the gospel compels us to go, but we are also confident as we go because we know that nothing can happen to us apart from the sovereign will of our good and gracious God.

Do not dread suffering, God has ordained suffering. We must embrace suffering. We should not seek suffering, but we should embrace it. How did the gospel spread from Judea to Samaria? Through the stoning of Stephen. Satan’s attempts to stop the Church only serve to spread the Church.

Will we lead people in our churches to embrace suffering as God’s means for spreading the gospel? Will we lead them to die willingly?

Pastors, let us be finished and done with puny theology that leads us to paltry approaches to global missions.

Spirit-Powered, Gospel-Driven, Faith-Fueled Effort #T4G12

My notes on Kevin DeYoung’s message on 1 Corinthians 15:10 (paraphrased)

In my perception, I believe all the good we see in this new resurgence—and there is much that is good that ought to be celebrated—we are known, I hope, by our commitment to the Scriptures, to biblical manhood and womanhood, to the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, to the doctrine of justification by faith and to the centrality of the gospel of Jesus Christ. These ought to be celebrated.

But there are two areas in which I believe that we need to grow. The first is in global missions, in calling young men and women to go to the outermost parts of the world with the gospel.

The other is personal holiness. We are to strive for progressive, personal, actual holiness without which we will not see the Lord.

Is there anything more important than this? Do you not want to see the Lord? Because there are some who will not be in his presence. If there is not a desire and fight for holiness, you have to wonder if you are saved.

Those most passionate about the gospel of God’s free grace should be most passionate about the pursuit of godliness. The question in this message is not about why, but about how we grow in holiness. What will we do to help and say to those we serve to grow in itty bitty steps toward godliness?

In 1 Cor. 15:10, Paul writes:

 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.

Here he says two things that seem contradictory, but are not. If we are to grow in holiness we must hold these two things together. He says, I’m working hard—but all that hard work I’m doing, it’s the grace of God in me. So we need to know two things:

  1. We need to work hard
  2. We need to experience God’s grace working in us

Growth in holiness requires Spirit-powered, gospel-driven, faith-fueled effort.

So what do these things mean? How does it work?

We use these phrases all the time, but we don’t communicate how it works—“bathe it in prayer,” “soak in the Spirit,” and so on—some are biblical, but they become clichés when we don’t explain what they mean.


This is the work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is power. (Eph. 3:16:“…that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being”)

The Spirit, Romans 8 says, this Spirit that dwells within us is the same that raised Jesus from the dead. This is good news! Defeatist Christians who do not fight sin are not being humble, they dishonor the Holy Spirit who strengthens us with spiritual power.

The Spirit is light. He reveals sin. (John 3) He will expose the world’s sin—he turns on lights! This is what happens when you really preach with power and conviction—rats are going to scurry. Sinners do not want to walk in the light, but when you preach part of what you’re doing is shining a bright spotlight onto people’s sin. The Spirit works to reveal sin and to reveal truth.

He throws a spotlight on sin and truth but he also draws our attention to Christ. When the Spirit converts and regenerates the heart of the sinner, it is never apart from throwing a spotlight on the glory of Christ—causing them to see Christ!

We become what we behold. We look at Christ to become like Christ. And when the light comes on and you run to the darkness, the Bible causes that resisting, quenching, grieving the Spirit.

Spirit powered sanctification shows us our sin and shows us our Savior.


Good deeds flow out of the good news, but how? How does it work?

It drives us to good deeds out of a sense of gratitude (Romans 12). It is not a desire to repay God, but a sense of gratitude for all that he’s done. Gratitude—the kind of experience of humility that comes with gratitude tends to crowd out the unseemly attitudes. If you have an anger problem, you can be sure you’ve got a gratitude problem. The gospel drives us to godliness out of gratitude.

It drives us to godliness by revealing to us who we are. If we are dead to sin, why live in it? If we have been raised with Christ, why continue in it? If you have been seated with Christ in the heavenly places, why live in hell? Here’s where you must do Spiritual warfare with the Sword of the Spirit and remember that there is no condemnation in Christ (Rom 8:1).

Here, I think is the central motivation for holiness in the New Testament: It’s to be who you are. To understand your union and identity in Christ and be who you are.

Our culture resonates with an idea that is true: You cannot be someone other than who you are. “We’re just born this way,” as the song goes. As Christians, we come along and say, “You’re right, but the gospel tells you can be born again. You cannot be who you are not, but if you are in Christ, you can be like him.”


Here’s where we have to be careful—we’re saved by faith, but we’re also sanctified by faith. But we have to understand what we mean by saying “by.” We’re justified by faith—it’s not anything we do. We come along and say, we’re sanctified by faith and it just confuses people. It’s better to use the language that Scripture uses, that we’re sanctified as we believe in the promises of God, as we look to our identity in Christ… and we live in them. Look at the Beatitudes:

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Here, Jesus gives a promise. Be meek, inherit the earth. Jesus says, “if you want to be great—be meek. I don’t know if you’ll have a big church, a big house, but I’ll give you the earth.”

Faith fueled sanctification believes the promises of God, believing with all our hearts that God’s promises are true and living as if they’re true.


I’m not saying that we’re justified by faith and the work is just our own apart from it. The call of Christian preaching should never be to make people better apart from the faith, belief—but we must not let “effort” become a four-letter word in our vocabularies.

Luke 13:24, 1 Cor. 9:24-27, Phil 3:12-14, 2 Pet. 1:5

Christians work. We work to kill the flesh and be alive in the Spirit. Ryle said that the child of God has two great marks about him: His inner peace and his inner warfare. We are at rest with God and never at peace with sin, and the flesh.

Is sanctification monergistic or synergistic? Those are the wrong terms to use. Who sanctifies you, you or God? Yep. God sanctifies me as I work out my sanctification. We cannot simply say, “Look to the Lord.” We can’t simply say, “Get gripped by the gospel.” We don’t want to fall into “let go and let God.” Sanctification is not by surrender, but by divinely driven toil and effort.

Let me drive this down to us and apply it—how does this work?

Pastors, you know and have been hearing that being a pastor is hard work. We work long hours, weekends, we don’t have the luxury of knocking back early Friday afternoon and coming back Sunday evening. We work hard. Sometimes you do have to leave the vacation early. Sometimes you do miss the soccer game. Sometimes you’re working on a sermon and it’s a labor of love—but sometimes it’s a lot more labor… The people who get bored by their sermons first are the pastors. They’re the ones who are always introducing new gimmicks. But we’ve got to be working hard as we preach. We’ve got to toil. Struggle with his energy. To proclaim him and present others to him in Christ.

It is not possible to work too hard, just like it’s impossible to talk about the gospel too much. But you can approach work in a very truncated way. So no one here is in danger of working too hard—we’re in danger of working foolishly.

Work hard at fighting distracted. Work hard at resting. Work hard at being present at home. Work hard at guarding your day off. Working 80 hours is easy—working 40, 50, 60 takes effort. You have to guard your time, to schedule. It’s the easiest job in the world to be an unashamed workaholic and be totally lazy.

What does it mean to give this vision to our people? I think many of us are getting scared of telling our people that the Bible would have them do some stuff and not do some stuff. The Bible’s full of commands. If we’re not teaching our people to obey the commands of Jesus, we’re not fulfilling the Great Commission.

People talk about the dangers of legalism and anti-nomianism: On one side, you have to do all of these things on the other, you have these folks who say, it doesn’t matter how you live. But here’s what I think is plaguing our churches: The world looks at us and the world is very concerned that we’re homophobic. I think God’s much more concerned that we might be nomophobic, afraid of the Law. We might be afraid of the third use of the Law. We need to get a grip on this.

We’re good with using the Law to convict and lead to the gospel—but then you could say that the gospel leads to the Law. We should not be afraid to say that the Bible insists that God’s people obey its commands.

If you preach on David and Bathsheba, and you don’t preach about the problem of sexual sin, you’re not teaching the text. In Luke 18, Jesus shares a parable encouraging people to pray and not lose heart. There’s a way to preach this so that everyone in your church feels guilty for everything in it. You don’t preach legalistically—so what do we do? We need to infuse the gospel into the command.

We preach not just the content but the mood of the content. You cannot assume that everyone in your church only needs a kick in the pants or only needs a hug. If it’s not gospel of me to exhort these people to obedience, I just shouldn’t say it. Making an effort is not somehow sub-holy. Don’t give people have a Savior, don’t give them half of grace. Give them the grace that will change how they live.

These issues matter because some of us here and some in our churches are stalled out in their sanctification because of lack of effort. They need to toil, fight in Spirit-fueled, gospel-driven, faith-fueled effort. Without this, it’s like teaching pigs to fly. When it comes to sanctification, holiness does not happen apart from trusting and trusting does not put an end to trying.

Will Your Gospel Transform a Terrorist? #T4G12

My notes from Thabiti Anyabwile’s session on 1 Timothy 1:12-17 (paraphrased)

I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (1 Timothy 1:12-17)

At an evangelism conference in the United Arab Emerits, an evangelist asked, “What do you think is the greatest hindrance to the spread of the gospel in the Middle East?” He suggested that the greatest hindrance of the gospel is the Christian’s lack of confidence in the gospel. I was stunned—I hadn’t thought of that. And there was this sense of dawning that I lacked confidence in the gospel. Now, I trusted in the gospel, I believed the gospel, but as he continued his exposition of Romans 1:16… I found myself asking, “Thabiti, is there any evident mark, any compelling evidence, that certifies to others and to your own soul that you have a deep and unshakeable confidence in the gospel?” And I wanted to ask you the same question. Do you have confidence that the gospel of Jesus Christ has the ability to transform the hearts of even the worst of sinners? Or do we underestimate it’s ability…?

The title of this talk asks “Will your gospel transform a terrorist?” Who is that person? Now, that could be the radical Muslim or Hindu burning churches. Or it could be the prostitute down the street or your third grade teacher… fix that person in your mind and ask:

Am I confident—down in my bones with Romans 1:16 styled unashamedness—that the gospel of Jesus Christ will transform this person?

Is Romans 1:16 really our boast?  Is that boast obvious in our lives and ministries?  If not, what do we need to do?  How do we need to repent of our unbelief?

Today, I want to hang our thoughts on three points.

The great change in one terrorist’s life (1 Tim 1:12-13)

Paul writes to encourage Timothy, his protégé, to deal with falsehood and false teachers that were destroying the life and witness of the church.

We’ve all had the experience of hearing “our song” on the radio—we hear it and it takes us back. For Paul is the gospel like that. He gives us in v. 12-17 a picture of the before and after. He shows the transformation. He starts in verse 12 with the “after “ picture. After the transformation, he’s a thanksgiving servant of Christ, a steward of the gospel and he’s thankful for it. He’s now the man God uses to strengthen and confirm the church. He is amazed at where his strength comes from—Christ is giving him strength! (Gal 2, Col 1:28-29) He’s a man transformed—but that’s his after picture.

Verse 13 tells us that he has a past. “Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man.” He blasphemed and slandered God. He persecuted the church, a violent man, persecuting the church even to death. He was an anti-Christian, anti-church terrorist. Acts 7 we get the glorious sermon Stephen preached that cost him his life . . . and at the end of the chapter beginning at verse 54, we read:

Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep. And Saul approved of his execution. (Acts 7:54-8:1)

When we first meet Saul, he is approving of the murder of Stephen. This was not a prank—this was his career. He was systematic, moving from house-to-house. He was zealous! Paul creates the position and argues for himself to fill the position. In Acts 9, he shows initiative in this persecution, he is looking under every rock to find all that follow Christ and have them imprisoned. When Paul gives his testimony in Acts 26, he says:

I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities. (Acts 26:9-11 ESV)

This is the man who pens 1 Timothy. And when I see this before and after, I have this question: Why do you think that Paul remembers these things so vividly? I wonder if he still saw the faces and heard the voices of all those he persecuted.

Sin is like ketchup on a nice shirt—you might be able to dab it off and wash it, but the stain is still there. I remember sharing the gospel with a woman at a basketball outreach and she said to me, “Honey, God gave up on me a long time ago.” What she needed was for me to be confident in the gospel because she had no confidence of her own.

So we need confidence in the gospel, but the other question that jumps out to me is why do you think Paul jumps into this career of persecution—why does he jump into this destruction? Because he was lost.

What do you think happens when Christians lose key words from their vocabularies, like “lost”? When you lose the words, you lose the understanding. We used to speak about people being lost, but we don’t talk about that much anymore. What do we lose? What happens if this understanding is lost from our vocabulary?

How might be define lostness? A convinced blindness and misdirected affection that leads to eternal damnation. Paul thought he saw, but he didn’t. He acted in ignorance and unbelief. He saw darkness and thought it was light. Paul is the very fulfillment of what Jesus prophesied when he said that a time was coming when those who persecute you will think they’re offering a sacrifice to God. It wasn’t just that Paul was wrong-headed, he was wrong-hearted. He delighted in the darkness, even though he was convinced of his own rightness.

When we lose this understanding, we lose the need for repentance, for substitution, the majesty of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We lose wrath and hell because man isn’t rebelling against God, he’s simply on a journey, a seeker. We lose missions and evangelisms because no one needs saving.

The great cause of that change (1 Tim 1:14-16)

So we saw that Paul was a blasphemer, a persecutor and a violent man—what caused the change? The gospel.

The gospel supplied his need. In v. 13, he speaks of the mercy he received. He speaks of it as a kind of waterfall of grace and love and mercy poured out on him. I suspect that Christ wrote so frequently of being in Christ because he was so aware of his life outside of Christ. He’s come to see how all the blessings of God are bound up in our being in Christ. He reflected on it so much because he was so familiar with the bankruptcy of life apart from Christ. All that he lacked is now supplied in Christ.

The blasphemer is given faith. The persecutor is given grace. The violent man is given love. All that once ruined him is renewed in Christ.

In verse 15 Paul tells us the gospel is trustworthy. It’s like this verse is a neon sign flashing, saying “here, put your confidence here!” He tells us to put our confidence in the gospel because it is trustworthy. Here’s how he describes it—Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom Paul regards himself as the worst. Notice how the Scriptures tightly pack the gospel into one verse (Mark 10:45, John 3:16). The gospel is packed into this one tight succinct statement that explodes into the world.

In verse 15, we’ve got a tightly compact message that we could stretch out into eternity and never explore the depths. Christ Jesus came into the world—from where? From glory! How, in the Incarnation! To save sinners—who is that? All of us, you and me. And Paul says, put your confidence here.

He also tells us that the gospel reaches the worst of sinners and makes them trophies of God’s glory. He says that Christ saves sinners, of whom he was the worst. Why did he do it? “God showed me mercy so that others would have a faith-inspired example of the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ.” If Paul’s example is compelling enough to make others believe, then it ought to compel us to preach with confidence. The purpose of our unredeemed past is to magnify our redeemed future. We must preach with that kind of confidence, the kind that says, “If God can save that guy, he can save me!” We ought to have this reliance on the gospel.

The great celebration of that change (1 Tim. 1:17)

What should this reliance look like? I have nine points:

  1. If we’re confident in the gospel, we would position ourselves around the worst of sinners looking for gospel opportunities.
  2. If we’re confident in the gospel, we would share the gospel slowly and clearly. If the gospel does the work, then we only need to release it.
  3. If we’re confident in the gospel, we would redirect our fears from man to God. We would fear being unfaithful more than being unfruitful.
  4. If we’re confident in the gospel, we would endeavor to preach the gospel in every sermon. On what Sunday do we have no lost people in our services? We ought to unpack and apply the gospel in every message. You realize that God only has one sermon? From genesis to revelation, it’s preaching the redemption of sinners through Christ Jesus.
  5. If we’re confident in the gospel, we would be careful with new converts and evangelistic methods. With new converts, we would resist the temptation to view Paul’s conversion as paradigmatic of all conversions. Not everyone’s struck down blind on the Damascus Road. If our confidence in our method or in the gospel? Are we organizing our methods and services that subtly betray our confidence in the gospel?
  6. If we’re confident in the gospel, we would study the gospel in deeper and more varied ways. We would make ourselves serious students of the gospel, studying in deeper and deeper ways.
  7. If we’re confident in the gospel, we would preach to open eyes, not just convey information. (Acts 28:29) Unless people are brought to see that their ideas about Christ and God, they won’t know where to turn.
  8. If we’re confident in the gospel, we would ask ourselves a question: Is my confidence in myself or in the power of the gospel itself? This is a real, subtle danger—to put our trust in ourselves rather than the gospel. For me, it shows up in impatience, in depression, in “fainting spells…” Brothers, beware of that shift of moving from relying on the gospel to relying on ourselves.
  9. If we’re confident in the gospel, we would preach the gospel in such a way that their faith would rely not on the cunning and craftiness of man but on the power of God. We want to preach in the Spirit’s power, to give us unction, to give us clarity, words, phrases… that their lives would rest upon the power of the gospel.

Now look at the celebration that this confidence brings. (v. 17) Paul didn’t write this verse as a systematician, but with a heart that rejoices and celebrates the gospel—so it may be with us as well.

False Conversions: The Suicide of the Church #T4G12

My notes on Mark Dever’s session on the importance of a healthy local church (paraphrased):

Why should you as a pastor be concerned about your local church beyond the obvious ways that you would be in your day-to-day life? Why should this topic matter to you? Tonight, I want to bring a message on this topic to you—False conversions: the suicide of the church

Our text for tonight is 1 Tim. 4:16:

Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.

My fellow pastors, could it be that many of our hearers aren’t saved? Maybe even some of our members?

Some might ask, what’ the problem with false conversions—I mean, as long as people are really becoming converts, what’s the issue? A fear of false conversions could lead to graceless suspicion and legalism, won’t it? Why give time to a problem that the Bible tells us is an inevitability of ministry in a fallen world?

I want to address you as interested Christians and brother pastors to help you understand that this is a problem, and what we can do about it. So tonight, I want to look at the plan, the problem and the source of the problem.

God’s Plan

God has an overarching purpose to get glory to himself through people. So he calls Abraham to himself in Gen. 12 and gives that great promise that all people would be blessed through him. He rightly wants his creation to know him in his glory.

God’s plan is to make himself known and make his name exalted among the nations

(Psa. 86:8, Psa. 22; Psa. 36)

This is what God says he will do, and is doing.

But how will he? How will he do this thing?

Through Jesus Christ, and specifically through the Church of Jesus Christ (Matt. 28). So as we go through the book of Acts, we see this taking place. It’s not merely the story of people coming to faith, but it’s the story of the planting of congregations.

That’s been the plan from the beginning that his name would be made great through his people bringing him glory through the nations.

I hope you’re encouraged that what you’re about is even bigger than what you thought it was when you came in tonight.

The Problem

But that brings me to the problem—that God’s people in the Old Testament were unfaithful (Psa. 106). When God’s people were in exile in Babylon, God told them over and over again that he does all things for his name. God’s name was blasphemed among the nations because of God’s people. That’s why he exiled them. Whatever God did to his people, whether blessing or cursing, it was all done for the sake of his name so that the nations will know that he is the Lord.

This is what God does—he does everything for the sake of his name. And non-Christians hate this message. Christians love it. You preach that message from your pulpit and you’ll get a very quick read on what’s going on in your church.

So he does all things for the sake of his name—can we see echoes of this in the New Testament?

Matt 5:16, 1 Pet. 2:12 = yes.

But the problem is that we’ve built systems today where we’re building whole congregations where it’s not one person, but the entire congregation are false congregation.

Let me give you four aspects of the problem:

1. It’s a problem for the expression of our love for sinners—it’s not right to act as though a man or woman is a convert when there’s no evidence of their conversion accept for a record in 1947. That’s not loving to them.

2. It’s a problem for the church’s internal love—the entire congregation is affected by this. What are the implications of many false converts within the church? Hundreds? Does it make our life less loving, hopeful, joyful? What toll does it take on its leaders?

3.  It’s a problem for our witness. Our witness is subverted. It appears that we have no better hope than theirs. We’re to be a light to the world, but if our lives don’t evidence it, hope vanishes.

4. God’s name is defamed. God sets apart a people for himself for his own glory—but what he sets apart for himself becomes grounds for his name to be defamed. False converts slander the glory of God.

All of that is gone wrong when we have churches that are characterized by members whose lives are indistinguishable from the world.

What’s the Source of the Problem

Why are there so many churches where the people don’t evidence the fruit of the Spirit, where there’s no evidence of conversion? We have to look at three aspects:


There are too many warnings against false teaching in the New Testament. The Scriptures are rife with these warnings. If God has this great plan that he’s about, and if we to be a part of this plan, even though our character by itself is insufficient to display his glory on its own, but when we come together something happens—the teachers have a special calling and accountability over this. I think the text I started with is a good summary of this:


We need to know that we can teach the wrong things with disastrous results. We know that saving faith only comes by hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ—so what will false teaching do? Will it be ignored? False teaching will bring converts, but false converts. Five truths that were being distorted then that are still being distorted today:

God’s judgment is coming. (2 Pet. 3). When you get this teaching right, when you teach the doctrine of judgment and hell regularly, there’s a mercy that becomes evident within our congregations.

We should be judged by God (Rom. 1-3). We are lost, depraved and fearful under the sure judgment of God. We need to know and feel our own helplessness. We need to know that because God is good and we are not, we deserve God’s judgment. God should judge us—we should be clear on this in our teaching. Imagine how much that humility mentioned above would grow as we apply this understanding to our own life—that God judges and that we deserve to be judged. If we think seriously and biblically about sin, how much sweeter is God’s mercy.

Our only hope is in Christ. We must make it very clear in our teaching that we are to trust not in who we are or what we are done, but in Jesus Christ, his substitutionary work and his resurrection. We must be wary of any denial of Christ’s work on our behalf. We must be wary of any denial of Christ’s resurrection. We must preach and teach clearly on who Christ is and what he has done. Now, you can make converts without this—but it’s converts to fatalism.

We don’t see the fullness of our salvation in this life. Christ’s death and resurrection secure for us forgiveness and reconciliation with God, but it’s an error to teach that Christ’s work is primarily for benefits in this life. Our primary posture in Scripture is waiting—we wait for his return. It’s why Paul said that if for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied above all men.

We can deceive ourselves and others about our relationship with God. Please teach this clearly—it is counterintuitive in our culture, it is clear in our Bible. We must be clear in teaching that we can deceive ourselves. “Examine yourselves to see if you are in the faith. Test yourselves.” When we get this, there’s a child-like reliance on him that can mark our congregation with great joy.

Think about the people you’ve baptized in the last year? Do they believe these things? Have they been taught them clearly?

Teach these things—and remember that false converts hire false teachers. There’s a symbiotic relationship between false converts and false teachers. If you want to be sure that your successor is denies the gospel, just admit a bunch of false converts into membership.


It’s an error to present a church without holiness. Unholiness may thrive in some churches because pastors are afraid to confront sin. It may thrive where there is no accountability. Preach on 1 John to teach this. There is a wonderful health and beauty and freedom in holiness—it frees us to help us understand how we are to live, as God’s Spirit remakes us into more and more of his likeness.

It’s an error to present a church with no suffering. Left to ourselves, we would all avoid poverty and sickness. But such goals are too small. Jesus saves us from ultimate bankruptcy and suffering, but he saves us into suffering in this life. Health and wealth teachers are FALSE teachers—we must be clear on this. But we have to be mindful in the ways in which we’re subtly doing the same thing. What do miserable Christians sing? What if I’ve lost my job, what if I’ve had a terrible fight with my wife? How can we lead those who are hurting to hope rather than push them away? Our churches should have room for great joy, but it should be in the context of understanding where people are at. So are all people called to suffering? The truth is: no cross, no crown. In this world you will have trouble.

It’s an error to present a church without love. You want to present the church in a godly way, you’re good with suffering. You’ve got a grim willingness to suffer. But if love does not mark the church, you might attract spiritual hobbyists, but not people who are willing to inconvenience themselves for the good of others. 1 John teaches that if we walk in the light, we will love one another. We know that we have passed from death to live because we love our brothers. Whoever does not love does not know God because God is love. One of the most striking needs our world has is churches full of Christians who are sacrificing for one another and showing great love to one another.

Brother pastors, when we get some crucial things right about life and about doctrine, we’ll start to show light to this world.

Solving the Problem

So how are false converts suicide to the church and how can we solve the problem?

Always be evangelizing—and as Spurgeon says “steadily and well.” Ask yourself how you’re evangelizing and if it’s creating false converts.

Always be shepherding sheep. Re-center your thoughts on the individuals to be shepherded. With each person you take into membership, you’re telling them they’re giving evidence that they are born again and spiritually fine. Do not forget that God has called you into a great role in people’s lives. Don’t just try to get your numbers straight—remind yourself that God cares for each one of those people.

Always remember the account you’re going to give to God. Our accountability to God reminds us of the huge role we play in God’s great plan.

“Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”

The Power of the Articulated Gospel #T4G12

My notes on Albert Mohler’s message on Romans 10 (all notes are paraphrased):

I don’t know what it would be like to do this ministry without friends. I know there are some men who are called to preach and teach alone, I don’t know how you do it, but God bless you. But in ministry we desperately need friends who are with us for the long haul.

The theme of our meeting is the Underestimated Gospel. We want to be together for the gospel, but we do not want to underestimate it—or to use a term coined by our George W. Bush—we don’t to misunderestimate it. We need to stand together for the gospel. Compromise on the gospel has led to false teaching, the corruption of movements… And this means at times that we need to be painfully candid about what the gospel is not. We’re surrounded by false gospels, misunderstandings of the gospel and understandings of the gospel that just fall short.

The gospel has enemies, but it is sometimes underestimated even by its friends. In Romans, Paul writes that “I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God to salvation…” We want to be gospel people in a gospel movement, we want to live gospel lives and bear gospel fruit and send gospel people out on gospel mission, but we might still underestimate it.

Carl Henry wrote a book called A Plea for Evangelical Demonstration. This is good and right and necessary. But first it must be articulated. It must be heard.

Paul’s great apostolic concern in Romans 10 is about the need to hear the gospel in order to be saved. All throughout the book of Romans, Paul shows us our need and the centrality of the gospel. And what we find here in chapter 10 is the whole machinery of salvation. Several things we should see:

The word is brought near.

The Word of God came near to us in Christ and now in the preaching of the gospel, the Word is brought near to us. The Word has to be brought near to us. It was brought near to Israel, a reference to the closing words in the book of  Deuteronomy, where God reminds them that they did not seek God, but he drew near to them. He’s writing to Gentiles, who are saved because the Word was brought near to them. That’s one of the great privileges of ministry—that as we are brought near, we preach so that the Word might be brought near to those who are perishing. If the one who knows the gospel is close to one who does not know Christ but does not proclaim the gospel, there is no salvation. Articulation is necessary so that the one who hears may believe and may confess and in doing so may be saved.

The apostle Paul in his ministry was all about bringing the Word near—the saving Word of the gospel.

The power of the gospel to save.

This is where we rightly refer to the well-meant offer of the gospel. We are to preach the gospel to all people everywhere in the firm, unshakeable belief that if they hear and respond, they will be saved. Romans 10:13 there is no asterisk, there is no footnote—if sinners believe and confess, they will be saved. We don’t present the gospel with one hand behind our backs; we don’t hide behind the sovereignty of God to say, “well they might believe, they might not.” We live this, we teach this, that if we preach the Word, sinners will be saved. We are to be indiscriminate in our preaching of the gospel. We are to be like the sower who indiscriminately sows the seed of the Word and the Lord brings the harvest.

In verse 12, Paul makes it clear that there is no distinction in terms of our need for a Savior and the provision. “The gospel is the power of God for salvation to all who believe, first to the Jew and then to the gentile.” And so there is no distinction.

The necessity of articulating the gospel.

It is not brought near without words. Our ministry is multi-phasic, but it is most essentially verbal. The gospel requires words in order to be heard, in order to be received. It even requires words in order to be rejected!

These days it’s increasingly popular to quote Francis of Assisi, as saying “Preach the gospel always if necessary use words.” While this didn’t emerge until 200 years after him and this sounds like Francis, it sounds like those who think that we can bring the gospel near just by being there, or by being kind or nice or loving. And while we are called to do those things, we must articulate the gospel. We much use words. We must speak.

We certainly don’t want to expect that Christians should preach the gospel but not live without evidence to back it up. We really can’t do much of importance without words. Most of what we do requires words. Just imagine any formative experience in your life and think about how you can communicate this without words? We are made in the image of God and we have a speaking God. And because God speaks, we must speak also.

Even the formation of language begins with words. Even before the written word exists, we begin with spoken words. Linguists speak about how humans are the only creatures that make gestures, but they’re also aware of the limits of gestures. Even the gestures for “yes” and “no” may not be as clear as they need to be.

Here is the indictment: We are dead in our trespasses and sin so [gestures] we are lost without words. We are lost without words. We have in our midst who are hearing this message by means of American sign language. It is not mere gesture. It is the communication of words. We use the only words that we have available to us, human words, but when those words are used to articulate the gospel, they are more than words—they convey the power to save those who are perishing.

Without preaching, there is no believing. Faith comes by hearing and hearing the Word of God. We’re not just talking about the auditory experience, but we’re talking about the internal calling, the effectual calling, but we know that the effectual call is part of our call to preach.

God has chosen in his sovereignty that the whole machinery of salvation requires the articulation of the gospel—God has not been frustrated by the fact that the gospel is communicated by words, he has chosen this means.

We are, then, to preach and teach, to contend, but also to persuade.  How will they believe if they never hear? As evangelicals, we believe in the power of the gospel, we believe in the articulation of the gospel—it’s only in recent years that we’re hearing “stop talking and show me the gospel.” We need to show people the fruit of the gospel, but we must articulate the gospel.

Before you can demonstrate the power of the gospel, you must first articulate the power of the gospel. We cannot articulate the gospel without words. The only means of reaching those who are perishing is by articulating the gospel through words.

We cannot preach or teach or tell the gospel without words. A pattern of right words reminds us of our responsibility to get the gospel right. We are here because we want to live the gospel and we do not want to underestimate its power. We never want to underestimate the power of the articulated gospel.

Go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere, go tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is Lord.

When a Pastor Loses Heart #T4G12

CJ Mahaney’s opening session on 2 Corinthians 4 (all notes are paraphrased):

Because this conference exists to serve pastors, each of us who have the priveliege to address you have to choose what we believe will bless you . . . and I pray that this would be helpful to you.

Through his profound letter, we come to know Paul in a profound way . . . so let us consider what we can learn from a portion, found in 2 Cor. 4:1-18.

There is much for the Pastor in 2 Corinthians, but in the fourth chapter in particular, Paul shows us the temptation to lose heart and Paul’s resolve to not lose heart. Paul was a man who was familiar with the temptation to lose heart . . . but in this chapter we’re not just reminded of the temptation to lose heart, but of Paul’s resolve to not lose heart.

But what informed Paul’s resolve and what can we learn to inform our resolve?

This is a predictable temptation for pastors—it’s one that you can predict every Monday. We’re evaluating our Sunday service and our Sunday sermon and that evaluation tends to be unfavorable and it’s often aided by well-meaning or not-so-well-meaning church members who offer their own unfavorable evaluations.

The temptation to lose heart is a common one, and one in particular for pastors. There’s no pastor who is exempt from this temptation—and I can’t help but wonder how many here feel this temptation or the effects of this temptation. You may continue to appear fruitful and skillful, but you’re no longer joyful.

If this is you, I believe this conference is a gift from God for you. . . . I pray that this will minster to you and you will feel God draw near to you and you could come home discernibly different.

Let’s not waste this conference—it is a gift from God and I do not want anyone to waste it. Listen humbly to each and every message. Listen humbly and not critically. Use the time in meals to review what you found particularly helpful in each message. Begin by identifying evidences of grace in each and every message and communicate to others how each message was helpful to your soul. Let’s not gather together to simply critique one another. No, we come as those who are aware of the temptation to lose heart. We need the grace of God, to respond to it . . . If it is not well with your soul, then communicate it to the appropriate individual at the appropriate time. Acknowledge that. For some of you, grace is just a humbling acknowledgement away.

So what does a pastor do when he is tempted to lose heart? In chapter four, Paul contemplates three ways he resolves to never lose heart:

The call to Christian ministry (v. 1-6)

Paul’s awareness of his call strengthened his call and his resolve to not lose heart. His ministry was to preach the gospel . . . and this helped him in his resolve to not lose heart when faced with opposition. Though Paul’s call was certainly unique, we too have been called to proclaim the gospel, where the glory of God has been uniquely displayed. We have been called to proclaim the gospel to those who have been blinded by the god of this world, the same god who dispelled darkness in creation, will dispel the darkness from their heart. He will give sight to the blind.

Pastoral ministry is about an ongoing confrontation with the god of this world, with hardness of heart, with blindness, but we do not lose heart because we have this ministry, we have this message that brings light, that transforms heart, that changes lives. And we must resist any temptation to tamper with this message. Those who tamper with this message underestimate this message. We are not innovators, we are proclaimers.

Paul was amazed by the message of the gospel. He lived in constant awareness of his fitness for the task. Are you aware of the mercy of God? Have you grown acclimated to it? Are you amazed by this message?

Also keep in view your congregation. Too easily pastors become preoccupied with the besetting sins of the congregation and to forget their conversion. To not keep in view this creative act of God where they turned from their sins and toward Christ. Brothers, may we never lose a sense of wonder that you, me, we have been called to pastoral ministry. May we never lose a sense of wonder and marvel at the fruit of wonder. If you keep this ministry in view you won’t lose heart.

The context and conditions of Christian Ministry (v. 7-12)

Paul was under no illusions about the context of his ministry. He understood that his call was not only to proclaim but to suffer and to serve. He references personal weakness in v. 7, and references some of the personal examples of suffering in v. 8-9. In a fallen world, this glorious ministry by definition involves trials and suffering and persecution. These categories apply to us as well. This is what you have to look forward to. Too often, pastors begin ministry confident in the gospel, but unprepared for verses seven through 12. You need a theology of suffering in place before you hit verses 8 and 9. Younger pastors, when you speak with older pastors, let these categories inform your questions. Let them inform your study of other pastors. Ask how have you experienced trials, with affliction, with being bewildered? Every pastor is familiar in varying degrees with these things.

But perhaps the one we’re most familiar with—being struck down. Maybe a friend from your pre-conversion days, or a staff member who misrepresents you. You are struck down. But perhaps the most common form is depression. Lectures to My Students should be required reading for all pastors—so get it and turn to the section on the “fainting fits” of the preacher.

Listen, when you’re in pastoral ministry, you’re going to encounter these—and you’re most likely going to encounter them all at the same time. These harsh realities have a divine design. They are all purposeful. They are all an opportunity for God to display his power and glorify himself in our weakness. In the midst of affliction and persecution and bewilderness and being struck down, we discover that he is wonderfully at work—and our congregation does as well! Your congregations are studying you, they are studying your life and they are seeing how you endure suffering and to see that you do not lose heart.

But the accent in these verses is not on these verses, it is on the grace of God. “…perplexed but not…” Paul is certainly acknowledging the harsh realities but he is celebrating the grace of God that sustains us in the midst of these harsh realities and this should bring great joy to our souls. Ultimately, it’s not about Paul, it’s about God. It’s not that Paul was unusually strong in his constitution, it’s about the power of God in him that sustained him. Every pastor has “but not” written over his life.

His heart was strengthened by the hope of Christian ministry (16-18)

In ministry, enduring is rooted in an eternal perspective. The absence of an eternal perspective results in losing heart. Paul had this eternal perspective. He studied the unseen, paid careful attention to the future and found this work of renewal . . . but was also aware that he was wasting away. Here’s the difference the eternal perspective makes: Paul concludes that there’s no comparison. He is experiencing present suffering, he is wasting away, but as he peers into the future, he finds there is no comparison with future glory. If you make the comparison of your local quarry with the Grand Canyon, there is no comparison.

This isn’t my impulse. My normal comparison is, “Well, your situation could be worse…” And I hope that comparison will be helpful, but Paul didn’t work with that kind of comparison. He didn’t work with that approach. The approach he worked with changed his comparison. How’d you like to spend time with him? It just seems that there’d be no whining allowed. We don’t have anything that could compare. If what he experienced he calls, “light and momentary,” what is yours?

Where’d he get this perspective? Verse 18: As he looked, he kept the glories of the unseen in front of him. The older you get, the more you need to get this. We need to look more to the unseen than to the seen. To become more aware of the sustaining power of God in our lives and that our momentary afflictions cannot be compared with the glories that await us—and then you are prepared to preach, to counsel, even in the midst of trial, affliction—and you don’t lose heart.

Hopes and Concerns About the Gospel-Centered Movement #T4G2012

#T4G pre-event begins w/ @harrisjosh @drmoore @jeffbethke @jdgreear Matt Pinson & Carl Trueman

A photo posted by Aaron Armstrong (@aaronstrongarm) on

Monday night, Russell Moore hosted a panel discussion featuring JD Greear, Carl Trueman, Josh Harris, Jefferson Bethke, and Matt Pinson to discussion Christ-centered theology and ministry. One of the most helpful portions for me was listening to their hopes and concerns about the YRR/gospel-centered movement. Below are my notes from each speaker on this subject (paraphrased, of course):

Matt Pinson

What’s hopeful to me is an interest in the Bible for starters. A real interest in the authority of Scripture for the life of the church. A real interest in the community of saints over time and space . . . and a lack of patience for a consumerist religion that is found in much of evangelical Christianity. That’s what’s most hopeful to me. That depth and substance and reading books of substance…

When I first learned about Al Mohler, Lig Duncan and these guys, there was something that resonated with me, but sometimes I wonder if the more success the YRR experiences if there’s not more of a drive to be more accepted by the culture. That would be a concern I’d have.

JD Greear

The return to the centrality of the gospel . . .  It’s led to some unity across denominations that’s really encouraging. The things that are concerning: The human heart’s tendency to create barriers and structures. Our ability to be legalistic about gospel centrality is astounding. Sometimes there’s greater vigor in defending gospel-centeredness than reaching people for Christ. And these ought to be the same thing, but you see the energy that goes into these critiques of certain things—which certainly has its place—but we’re called to seek and save the lost.

Josh Harris asking great questions @ #t4g pre-event

A photo posted by Aaron Armstrong (@aaronstrongarm) on

Josh Harris

I remember some of the first people I encountered who were talking about the doctrines of grace seemed to completely lack grace. It wasn’t until I heard preachers like Piper who had such a zeal for the glory of God. And this is something that seems to happen in every generation. The leaders have the heart for the gospel, but their followers are lacking it, they’re just trying to fall in line.

Jefferson Bethke

The older generation needs to stop shooting the younger generation; take them under your wing, disciple them, but don’t shoot them.

JD Greear & Matt Pinson discussing multi-site

A photo posted by Aaron Armstrong (@aaronstrongarm) on

Carl Trueman

I’d affirm the positives that have been said, but there are two big negatives that could damage the movement: The first is shifting identities from denominations to para-church organizations and personalities. What happens when they die out? The second is that the gospel-centered movement is very procural but ultimately baptism is relativized. The gospel-centered movement seems to be very hard on the complementarian issue, but we can agree to disagree on baptism. But baptism isn’t something we can afford to not have a position on.


5 Things Everyone Needs When Going to a Conference


This morning I’m on the road to Louisville to take part in the Together for the Gospel 2014 conference. I’m very much looking forward to hearing the speakers, learning lots and spending time with a number of friends, old and new, who will be there. As I’ve become more of a regular attendee at these sorts of things, I’ve found that there are a few things that every person should really have on hand at a conference:

An eReader of some sort

This just makes the travel-time go so much more quickly. I bring my iPad pretty much everywhere with me and it’s so worth it, in part because it keeps my bags light (I like to have options when reading). Also, you’re probably going to be coming home with a whole whack of books (either from giveaways or purchases), so you’re going to need the room in your luggage. Which brings me to my next point…

Appropriate luggage

You’re almost certainly going to come home with more than you planned. Pack light and bring roomy luggage (this goes double for all you folks who are flying).

A contact card (optional)

It’s a bit old-school, but a contact card (read: business card) is super helpful to have handy when you know you’re going to meet a bunch of people with whom you’ll want to keep in touch.

Comfortable shoes

Because you’re going to be on your feet a fair amount of the time, it’s wise to wear comfortable shoes. Even the best business casual slip-on gets unpleasant after a long day.

Oral B brush ups (and/or mints and gum)

Roaming around a conference for 10+ hours, drinking coffee… yeah. Take care to protect your breath.

Anything else you’d add to the list?

This post has been updated since it was first published in April, 2012.

photo credit: marfis75 via photopin cc

Links I Like

Who Really Wrote the Gospels by Chuck Swindoll

C. Michael Patton:

We have dozens that sprang to life over the next few hundred years: The Gospel of PeterThe Acts of John,The Acts of Paul, and The Apocalypse of PeterThe Gospel of Judas, and The Infancy Gospel of James are just a few that we could name. We even have a Gospel of Mary. Why? Well, who was more credible than the mother of Christ?! The common characteristic of all of these works is that they attempted to solidify their testimony by tagging it with the name of a credible eyewitness. After all, if someone in the third century wants to teach some new idea about what Jesus did, or said, it would be futile, unless it was not really a part of the apostolic tradition (We call this “apostolicity”). Why? Because the person was not there. He or she doesn’t have a leg to stand on. Why should we believe them? But if they were to say that this was a “lost” or “secret” teaching that, indeed, originates with one of the eyewitnesses, then, so long as they could pull off the deception, their ideas might have a chance. The early church hardly gave these writings a second thought. Why? Because they knew that they were not written by a credible source. They knew they were fakes.

Asexuality and the Feeling Of Being Fractured

Stephen Altrogge:

Yesterday I read an interesting and somewhat odd article about the asexuality movement. According to the article, a person who is asexual is “defined by an absence of sexual attraction.” David Jay is the spokesman for the asexuality movement and has founded an online community called the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network, which exists to raise awareness and provide support for those who identify as being asexual.

My first thought when I read the article was, is it really necessary to form a community that identifies itself as being asexual? If you don’t want to have sex, then don’t have sex. There is nothing necessarily wrong or sinful about that choice. Not wanting to have sex may seem odd, but it’s not fundamentally wrong.

Missing Missing

R.C. Sproul, Jr:

My wife would be pleased with me. As I do far too infrequently, I uncluttered my desk today. You should see how nice it looks. In so doing, however, I came across another old stack of sympathy cards sent months ago from friends and strangers. I read through them, and found myself lonesome for a surprising time, the day my Denise went on to glory. In a previous piece I wrote about how, crossing the barrier of forty days of mourning made me fear that I would miss Denise all the more. I suggested that the more I mourned the more it seemed she was with me. Turns out I was right.

Leaders Need Feedback

Justin Buzzard:

Leaders (church planters especially), feedback is tough because our hearts are so raw. You are so deeply invested in loving and leading people and your people likely do not understand how much pressure you’re under, the stress and pain that happens behind the scenes, the sleepless nights, the dissonance between the vision God has given you and the reality in your own life and the church, and how much your heart beats for the things of God and the well being of your church. But this cannot be an excuse for avoiding feedback.

Let Me Climb Up Near to Thee

My dear Lord, I can but tell Thee that Thou knowest I long for nothing but Thyself, nothing but holiness, nothing but union with Thy will. Thou hast given me these desires, and thou alone canst give me the thing desired.

My soul longs for communion with Thee, for mortification of indwelling corruption, especially spiritual pride. How precious it is to have a tender sense and clear apprehension of the mystery of godliness, of true holiness! What a blessedness to be like Thee as much as it is possible for a creature to be like its creator!

Lord, give me more of Thy likeness; enlarge my soul to contain fullness of holiness; engage me to live more for Thee. Help me to be less pleased with my spiritual experiences, and when I feel at ease after sweet communings, teach me it is far too little I know and do.

Blessed Lord, let me climb up near to Thee, and love, and long, and plead, and wrestle with Thee, and pant for deliverance from the body of sin, for my heart is wandering and lifeless, and my soul mourns to think it should ever lose sight of its beloved. Wrap my life in divine love, and keep me ever desiring Thee, always humble and resigned to Thy will, more fixed on Thyself, that I may be more fitted for doing and-suffering.

Adapted from “Heart Corruptions,” Puritan Prayers & Devotions (Kindle Edition)

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Is It Possible that Jesus’ Body Was Left on the Cross?

Timothy Paul Jones:

If such critics have rightly reconstructed history, Good Friday was not good, and Resurrection Sunday was no triumph.

Jesus died, his corpse remained on the cross, and the resurrection was nothing more than a series of hallucinations and fabrications.

So what really happened to the body of Jesus?

Is there any historical foundation for believing that the body of Jesus was entombed in the way that the New Testament Gospels claim?

Or could it be that Crossan and other critics are correct?

Easter and the Great Wedding to Come

Jason Johnson:

The recognition of the death and resurrection of Jesus at Easter is not an isolated act of God but a pinnacle point in the ongoing bride-groom narrative running throughout the current of Scripture. It’s the celebration of God acquiring a bride for his Son through the ultimate price of death paid on the Cross. It’s the height of God’s radical, redemptive pursuit of a sinful and broken people to secure them as his beautifully treasured Bride.

Law And Gospel: Part 4

Tullian Tchividjian:

J. Gresham Machen counterintutively noted that “A low view of law always produces legalism; a high view of law makes a person a seeker after grace.” The reason this seems so counter-intuitive is because most people think that those who talk a lot about grace have a low view of God’s law (hence, the regular charge of antinomianism). Others think that those with a high view of the law are the legalists. But Machen makes the very compelling point that it’s a low view of the law that produces legalism because a low view of the law causes us to conclude that we can do it–the bar is low enough for us to jump over. A low view of the law makes us think that the standards are attainable, the goals are reachable, the demands are doable. It’s this low view of the law that caused Immanuel Kant to conclude that “ought implies can.” That is, to say that I ought to do something is to imply logically that I am able to do it.

Pixels Are People

N.W. Bingham:

As a family, this seven weeks—and the three to four months leading up to it—have taught us a lot. But as one who works in the online arena, do you know what has really becomemore clear to me than ever? Pixels are people.* The relationships I had via bits and bytes with folks from the US while I lived in Australia were real. Meeting people here in person for the first time wasn’t the beginning of a friendship but the continuation of an already existing one.

As the Lord our Savior Rose, So all His Followers Must Rise

The grotto of Gethsemane, where it is believed that Jesus was arrested following Judas' betrayal. Photo by Gary Hardman

Jesus rose, and as the Lord our Savior rose, so all his followers must rise. Die I must—this body must be a carnival for worms; it must be eaten by those tiny cannibals; peradventure it shall be scattered from one portion of the earth to another; the constituent particles of this my frame will enter into plants, from plants pass into animals, and thus be carried into far distant realms; but, at the blast of the archangel’s trumpet, every separate atom of my body shall find its fellow; like the bones lying in the valley of vision, though separated from one another, the moment God shall speak, the bone will creep to its bone; then the flesh shall come upon it; the four winds of heaven shall blow, and the breath shall return. So let me die, let beasts devour me, let fire turn this body into gas and vapor, all its particles shall yet again be restored; this very self-same, actual body shall start up from its grave, glorified and made like Christ’s body, yet still the same body, for God hath said it. Christ’s same body rose; so shall mine. O my soul, dost thou now dread to die? Thou wilt lose thy partner body a little while, but thou wilt be married again in heaven; soul and body shall again be united before the throne of God. The grave—what is it? It is the bath in which the Christian puts the clothes of his body to have them washed and cleansed. Death—what is it? It is the waiting-room where we robe ourselves for immortality; it is the place where the body, like Esther, bathes itself in spices that it may be fit for the embrace of its Lord. Death is the gate of life; I will not fear to die, then, but will say,

“Shudder not to pass the stream;
Venture all thy care on him;
Him whose dying love and power
Stilled its tossing, hushed its roar,
Safe in the expanded wave;
Gentle as a summer’s eve.
Not one object of his care
Ever suffered shipwreck there.”

Come, view the place then, with all hallowed meditation, where the Lord lay. Spend this afternoon, my beloved brethren, in meditating upon it, and very often go to Christ’s grave, both to weep and to rejoice.

Charles Spurgeon, “The Tomb of Jesus,” (April 8, 1855)

Dying For Those Who Hate Him

On the cross, we see the greatest act of love ever demonstrated, its effects reverberating down through history and permanently altering the lives of those who believe. The importance of the cross will never diminish. In heaven, Scripture tells us, the majestic beings around the throne of God worship by saying, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5:12) When the love of God is extolled, both in heaven and on earth, the sacrifice of Christ on the cross is always the focal point, for there God showed his love in the most real and powerful way imaginable—by dying for those who hate him.

But the cross did not simply display love. On the cross, Jesus performed a real, tangible, beneficial action on our behalf. Though we are by nature children of wrath, Jesus died in order to achieve something for us. He “died for our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:3), so that we can be “justified by his blood” and “saved by him from the wrath of God” (Romans 5:9).

Perhaps no writer in Scripture says it better than the prophet Isaiah, despite the fact that he preceded Christ by centuries: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4–5). Scripture plainly and clearly teaches that Jesus died in our place, as our substitute, taking from God the punishment for our sins.

On the cross, Jesus performed the ultimate act of love, and that act genuinely accomplished something—the Son of God absorbed the wrath of God on our behalf, taking our guilt away and enabling us to receive Christ’s perfect righteousness credited to us, so that we might be presented before him as righteous.

Adapted from Casey Lute, But God… (Kindle Edition)

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Barabbas and Me

David Mathis:

Murder and rebellion. Rebellion is the precise thing the leaders and the people are charging Jesus with when they say he is “misleading the people” (verse 14) and “saying that he himself is Christ, a king” (verse 2). And murder is an offense that makes it clear that Barabbas not only deserves to be in prison, but he deserves death. Genesis 9:6 taught, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” Barabbas is no mere offender in rehab, but a murderer on Death Row.

$5 Friday at Ligonier

This week’s offerings include Dr. Sproul’s God Alone (audio/video download) and The Atonement of Jesus (audio download) teaching series, as well as A Holy Ambition: To Preach Where Christ Has Not Been Named by John Piper.

A Key Insight about Romans 7 from a Conversation with J. I. Packer

Ken Berding:

Packer gently leaned over the table, looked me in the eye, and said, “Young man, Paul wasn’t struggling with sin because he was such a sinner. Paul was struggling because he was such a saint. Sin makes you numb. People who sin over and over again become desensitized to sin.  The reason Paul’s “struggle” was so intense was not because he was caught in a web of sin, or because he thought of himself as hopelessly doomed to giving into the temptations that he faced. Rather, it was because Paul lived a life so sensitive to the Holy Spirit and passionate about the glory of God that he intensely felt his sins whenever he became aware that he had committed a sin (since he was not, of course, sinlessly perfect).”

(HT Trevin)

The Death of Death in the Death of Christ Means Victory Over Death for Those Who Believe

Thabiti Anyabwile:

The death of death in the death of Christ means victory for those who believe in Him.  Jesus has destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. Eternal life and immortality come to all those who believe that Jesus died and rose again to save sinners.  This is the most basic promise of the gospel.  We hear this promise over and over again throughout the New Testament.  It’s an old truth with fresh meaning.  Christian, listen to these promises and stand in them.  My friend if you are not yet a believer in Jesus Christ, listen to these promises and received them by faith today.