Dr. D.A. Carson provides a thoughtful, pastoral and biblical answer to this important question with which so many struggle:
D. A. Carson offers a wonderful answer in the video below:
The audio for D.A. Carson’s lecture series, The God Who Is There, is now up at the Gospel Coalition. A new DVD series is being released in the fall. Here’s a preview:
In Other News
Conference Message: Burk Parsons answers the question: “Is Calvinism good for the Church?”
Ministry Opportunities: Desiring God has a number of internships available. Check it out.
In Case You Missed It
Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:
The audio from July 25’s sermon, Spiritual Poverty and the Worship of God
A review of Andreas Kostenberger & Michael Kruger’s latest, The Heresy of Orthodoxy
John Piper answers the question, “Should Christians read the “holy” books of other religions?”
Some thoughts on Abigail’s favorite new record, Meet the Rizers
[M]an never attains to a true self-knowledge until he has previously contemplated the face of God, and come down after such contemplation to look into himself.
For (such is our innate pride) we always seem to ourselves just, and upright, and wise, and holy, until we are convinced, by clear evidence, of our injustice, vileness, folly, and impurity. Convinced, however, we are not, if we look to ourselves only, and not to the Lord also —He being the only standard by the application of which this conviction can be produced.
[S]ince we are all naturally prone to hypocrisy, any empty semblance of righteousness is quite enough to satisfy us instead of righteousness itself. And since nothing appears within us or around us that is not tainted with very great impurity, so long as we keep our mind within the confines of human pollution, anything which is in some small degree less defiled delights us as if it were most pure… So long as we do not look beyond the earth, we are quite pleased with our own righteousness, wisdom, and virtue; we address ourselves in the most flattering terms, and seem only less than demigods.
But should we . . . begin to raise our thoughts to God, and reflect what kind of Being he is . . . what formerly delighted us by its false show of righteousness will become polluted with the greatest iniquity; what strangely imposed upon us under the name of wisdom will disgust by its extreme folly; and what presented the appearance of virtuous energy will be condemned as the most miserable impotence. So far are those qualities in us, which seem most perfect, from corresponding to the divine purity.
Hence that dread and amazement with which as Scripture uniformly relates, holy men were struck and overwhelmed whenever they beheld the presence of God.
When we see those who previously stood firm and secure so quaking with terror, that the fear of death takes hold of them . . . [we see that] men are never duly touched and impressed with a conviction of their insignificance, until they have contrasted themselves with the majesty of God. Frequent examples of this consternation occur both in the Book of Judges and the Prophetical Writings; so much so, that it was a common expression among the people of God, “We shall die, for we have seen the Lord.”
Hence the Book of Job, also, in humbling men under a conviction of their folly, feebleness, and pollution, always derives its chief argument from descriptions of the Divine wisdom, virtue, and purity. Nor without cause: for we see Abraham the readier to acknowledge himself but dust and ashes the nearer he approaches to behold the glory of the Lord, and Elijah unable to wait with unveiled face for His approach; so dreadful is the sight…
[T]he knowledge of God and the knowledge of ourselves are bound together by a mutual tie, [but we must] treat of the former in the first place, and then descend to the latter.
John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.1.2-3
It was not without reason that the ancient proverb so strongly recommended to man the knowledge of himself. For if it is deemed disgraceful to be ignorant of things pertaining to the business of life, much more disgraceful is self-ignorance, in consequence of which we miserably deceive ourselves in matters of the highest moment, and so walk blindfold.
But the more useful the precept is, the more careful we must be not to use it preposterously, as we see certain philosophers have done. For they, when exhorting man to know himself, state the motive to be, that he may not be ignorant of his own excellence and dignity. They wish him to see nothing in himself but what will fill him with vain confidence, and inflate him with pride.
But self-knowledge consists of this[:] first, when reflecting on what God gave us at our creation, and still continues graciously to give, we perceive how great the excellence of our nature would have been had its integrity remained, and, at the same time, remember that we have nothing of our own, but depend entirely on God, from whom we hold at pleasure whatever He has seen it meet to bestow.
[S]econdly, when viewing our miserable condition since Adam’s fall, all confidence and boasting are overthrown, we blush for shame, and feel truly humble. For as God at first formed us in his own image, that he might elevate our minds to the pursuit of virtue, and the contemplation of eternal life, so to prevent us from heartlessly burying those noble qualities which distinguish us from the lower animals, it is of importance to know that we were endued with reason and intelligence, in order that we might cultivate a holy and honourable life, and regard a blessed immortality as our destined aim.
At the same time, it is impossible to think of our primeval dignity without being immediately reminded of the sad spectacle of our ignominy and corruption, ever since we fell from our original in the person of our first parent.
In this way, we feel dissatisfied with ourselves, and become truly humble, while we are inflamed with new desires to seek after God, in whom each may regain those good qualities of which all are found to be utterly destitute.
John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.1.1
PJ Smyth of GodFirst Church in Johannesburg recently preached a sermon called “What Would God Say to the President of South Africa?”
And who should happen to have been in attendance that day?
Jacob Zuma, President of South Africa.
The sermon notes can be found here. His three points were as follows:
- I have made you the President of South Africa
- Anticipate submissive and prayerful followership by Christ-following South Africans
- In view of me appointing you, lead confidently and humbly
This comment, speaking of our need to submit to the authorities God has placed over us, really stood out to me:
Check out the progression in 1 Timothy 2: I urge…that prayers be made for kings and all those in authority, (why?) that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness which pleases God our Savior, (why? Because he wants) all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. Wow! Did you see it?
Paul wants prayers for governments ultimately because he wants the gospel to advance, because he knows that Governments, like all aspects of creation, ultimately exist to facilitate the spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Men and women responding to the gospel of Jesus Christ is the goal of creation. Jesus used the phrase ‘You must be born again’ (John 3).
The Duchess of Huntingdon once asked D.L. Moody why he always seemed to speak on the John 3 text ‘You must be born again’. He replied, ‘Because Madame, you must be born again’. Being born
again means receiving the forgiveness of God, and the lordship of God into your life. Or, to use a phrase that we find so helpful, to begin to ‘put God first’ in your life.
There is another reason Paul ultimately places a higher value on the gospel than on government, because he knows that it is ultimately only the gospel, not merely a government that can produce a truly godly nation. Think it through: The government can outlaw racism, but only the gospel can deal with hatred. The government can ban corruption, but only the gospel can deal with greed. The government might subsidize the poor but only the gospel can make the rich compassionate. The government might ban porn, but only the gospel can deal with lust.
We thank God for the government and Laws of RSA because they keep a lid on sin, but only the gospel can change the heart of a man or woman.
I am in awe of Pastor Smyth’s boldness. Well done.
HT: The Resurgence
O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it. . . .
For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. . . .
Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!
Psalm 139: 1-6, 13-16, 23-24
I love Psalm 139. As David moves through the psalm, we see him confronted with a keen awareness of God’s sovereignty—that God fully knows David. He knows every deed.
And he knows every thought.
“Even before a word is on my tongue . . . you know it altogether,” he writes. Every thought. Every word. Every action.
Every ugly sin that David would try to hide from anyone else, God knows it.
How does he react? Guilt? Shame?
Awe. [Read more...]
A couple months back, James MacDonald examined personal revelation in his Hope in the Authority of the King series. Here he explains his perspective on the way God speaks:
MacDonald describes five methods in which God speaks:
- From the Word of God itself (this is most common)
- From the Word through a person (this is less common)
- From a person, not contradicting the Word (this is not common)
- From the Holy Spirit to my spirit (this is uncommon)
- In a dream to my mind (this is very uncommon)
You can find a PDF of the chart shown in the video here.
The first two, we’ve undoubtedly all experienced at some point.
If you’ve read the Bible wanting to hear from God, you’ll hear from Him. [Read more...]
What makes a man of God is first and foremost his vision of God, and it will help us to know Nehemiah better if at this point we look at his beliefs about God, as his book reveals them. . . . So what did Nehemiah believe about the one whom ten times over, six times in transcribed prayers, he calls “my God”?
[T]he God of Nehemiah is the transcendent Creator, the God “of heaven” ([Nehemiah] 1:4-5; 2:4, 20), self-sustaining, self-energizing, and eternal (“from everlasting to everlasting,” 9:5). . . . God was to Nehemiah the sublimest, most permanent, most pervasive, most intimate, most humbling, exalting and commanding of all realities.
[T]he God of Nehemiah is Yahweh, “the LORD,” the covenant making, covenant-keeping, promise-fulfilling, faithful God of Israel (9:8, 32, 33). . . . The prayerful dependence on God that sustained Nehemiah throughout his leadership career, and that he so often verbalizes as his book goes along, was an expression in his faith in God’s covenantal commitment to him and to those he led, just as was his declaration as he arranged Jerusalem’s defenses, “Our God will fight for us!” (4:20). Nor was his faith in God’s faithfulness disappointed. Nehemiah’s God showed himself to be a faithful covenanter who did not let his servant down.
[T]he God of Nehemiah is a God whose words of revelation are true and trustworthy. . . . God had told his people who he was, what he wanted from them, how he would react should they rebel, and what he would do should they come to their senses and repent after rebelling.
“Remember,” prayed Nehemiah, “the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name” (1:8, alluding to Lev. 26, especially verse 33; Dt. 28:64 and 30:1-10, especially verse 4). . . .
The Law that God gave his covenant people to show them how to please him was, for Nehemiah, the unchanging standard of righteousness, just as God’s promises were, for him, the unchanging basis of future hope and present confidence.
These three convictions about God were most certainly the making of Nehemiah. Without them, he would never have cared enough about God’s honor in Jerusalem to pray that the city be restored, nor would he have sought the taxing and terrifying role of being the leader in that restoration, nor would he have had what it took to keep going in the face of all the apathy and animosity that his leadership encountered.
J. I. Packer, A Passion for Faithfulness: Wisdom from the Book of Nehemiah, pp. 37, 39-42 (emphasis mine)
The above is a powerful excerpt from John Piper’s final sermon before beginning his eight-month sabbatical, Consider Your Calling from 1 Cor. 1: 26-31:
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
I would highly recommend you listen to the whole thing as it’s quite moving and encouraging.
The following text is from the sermon’s transcript:
“For consider your calling, brothers.” What is Paul referring to? Their job? Being a carpenter? Homemaker? Teacher? No. He is referring to the work of God in calling them to himself out of darkness into light, out of death into life. You can see the meaning pretty clearly in verses 22-24:
For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. [Read more...]
Matt Chandler was a special guest at Together for the Gospel 2010, sharing about how his experience with cancer has impacted him and his theology:
“My goal is to be a faithful minister of Jesus Christ until he calls me home,” says Chandler.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure I’ve got that kind of faith. But I want it.
When we suffer, will we suffer well? Will we look at our circumstances with despair or will we join Paul in saying,
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.
HT: Matt Robbins
Morals play a large part in religion; morals are good if they’re healthy for society. Like Christianity, which is all I know, the values you get from like the Ten Commandments. I think every religion is important in its own respect. You know, if you’re Muslim, then Islam is the way for you. If you’re Jewish, well, that’s great too. If you’re Christian, well, good for you. It’s just whatever makes you feel good about you.
A “non-religious white girl” from Maryland, as quoted in Christian Smith’s essay, On “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” as U.S.Teenagers’ Actual, Tacit, De Facto Religious Faith
In his book, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, sociologist Christian Smith describes what he refers to as “the de facto dominant religion among contemporary teenagers in the United States is what we might call ‘Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.'”
The creed of this religion, as codified from what emerged from our interviews with U.S. teenagers, sounds something like this:
- A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.
- God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
- The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about one-self.
- God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when he is needed to resolve a problem.
- Good people go to heaven when they die.
“It’s just whatever makes you feel good about you,” says the teenager from Maryland. Reading Christian Smith’s essay, On “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” as U.S.Teenagers’ Actual, Tacit, De Facto Religious Faith, was a real eye-opener. Because at the heart of it all:
It’s all about us.
Am I the only one who finds that a bit depressing? [Read more...]
Depending on who you talk to, the Holy Spirit is either overly discussed or utterly neglected. Francis Chan would be firmly in the latter group.
“[W]hat if you grew up on a desert island with nothing but the Bible to read? . . . [Y]ou would be convinced that the Holy Spirit is as essential to a believer’s existence as air is to staying alive,” writes Chan (p. 16). And that’s why Chan wrote Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit—to help believers recapture the necessity of the Holy Spirit to the Christian life.
Running on Fumes
Chan feels that we have lost a robust understanding of the Holy Spirit. We have neglected Him. This neglect has caused us to look and act no differently than our surrounding culture. But this should not be. Chan writes,
If it’s true that the Spirit of God dwells in us and that our bodies are the Holy Spirit’s temple, then shouldn’t there be a huge difference between the person who has the Spirit of God living inside of him or her and the person who does not? (p. 32)
In this assessment, I think Chan is right on. If our lives do not have a marked difference in any way aside from what we do on Sunday morning, perhaps we have some bigger questions to ask ourselves, no? If we were dead but now live, there should be some kind of marked difference in how we live, what we think and how we speak… shouldn’t there?
Absolutely, there should. And it’s only possible by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. This is a truth that we dare not take for granted and I appreciate Chan highlighting it.
The Spirit’s Work
Chan does a solid job of reminding readers of the person and work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is a Person, a “He,” not an “it.” He is God; eternal & holy; omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent. He has emotions, a mind and a will. He prays for us. He teaches and reminds us of what we we need to know. He applies our salvation to our lives. Chan wants these truths to lead readers “to a deeper relationship with and a greater reverence for the Spirit—that good theology would lead you to right action, genuine love, and true worship” (p. 77).
Chan encourages readers to read John 14-16, to notice “how Christ desires that His disciples have peace and how He comforts His disciples with the truth that they are not left alone” (p. 110). He continues,
Part of His answer to how we are to have peace and be comforted is through the provision of the Holy Spirit, the other Counselor, who He promised would come once He left.
Having read these chapters, I notice that the peace that comes with the Holy Spirit is the fuller knowledge of what it means to be grafted into the vine (cf. John 15:1-11), and it’s the Spirit who does the grafting. The Spirit brings us peace and comfort by giving us the words to act as witnesses to the gospel, even as the Spirit Himself bears witness to Christ (cf. John 15:26-27). Truly, the Spirit’s role is to glorify Jesus and to guide us into truth:
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:13-15)
A Life of Obedience
The heart of Chan’s message is that the Christian life is to be lived in the power of the Holy Spirit, in obedience to Christ, to the glory of the Father. We must not quench His work in our lives, caring more for comfort than for holiness. To walk by the spirit is to live a life that is counter cultural and often antithetical to the world in which we live.
But, it’s one thing to talk about what “walking by the Spirit” can be, and another to show it.
Where Chan best illustrates this is in the wonderful biographical sketches of men and women whose lives have been completely transformed as they’ve sought to obey the Spirit’s leading. These serve as testimonies to the truth that the Christian life is one that glorifies God in extraordinary ways.
A married couple in their 50s, Domingo & Irene, fostered thirty-two children and adopted sixteen. A teenage girl who works multiple jobs all summer to sponsor 14 children. Thomas Yun, who gave up a fortune in the restaurant business to work at a rescue mission because he believed that God was calling him to serve there.
These are the stories that move me and inspire me, probably more so than the rest of the book (no offense to the author).
The Primary Voice
What I find lacking is the relationship between the Holy Spirit and Scripture. Chan writes that Spirit “teaches and reminds us of what we need to know and remember” (p. 74), but I think this needed to be more than a bullet point. God’s written Word is the primary means through which God speaks to His people—it is the Spirit who gives us the ability to understand them. It’s through the hearing of the Word that the Spirit’s primary active role takes place, bringing the spiritually dead to life, sealing them as God’s people and sanctifying them (cf. Eph 1:13), all serving to glorify Jesus.
If Scripture is the primary means by which God speaks, it should probably have a more prominent role in any discussion on the Spirit’s work. I would have really enjoyed seeing Chan address this a little more, in addition to focusing on the “private nudging” of the Spirit (which is where he spends the bulk of his time).
Is the Holy Spirit Forgotten?
In Forgotten God, Francis Chan reminds readers just how much we need the Holy Spirit. “There is no such thing as a real believer who doesn’t have the Holy Spirit, or a real church without the Spirit. It’s just not possible,” writes Chan. Without the Spirit’s active presence in our lives, we cannot live a life of obedience to Christ. The question for you is, is the Holy Spirit forgotten in your life?
Read the book. It’s challenging and there are likely parts you’ll disagree with, but it’s worth investigating.
Title: Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit
Author: Francis Chan
Publisher: David Cook