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Faithful pastor, you’re not crazy

Ray Ortlund:

A text message came in from a pastor friend.  I’ve known him for decades.  He is the kind of man for whom the adjective “saintly” was invented.  He pastored a thriving church for many years.  Then someone on staff stabbed him in the back and rallied others to get him thrown out.  The objections to his ministry had no substance.  “The issues” were not the real issues.  As Moishe Rosen, founder of Jews for Jesus, said to me once, “Some try to pull down a prominent man, not because they themselves wish to take his place, but because doing so gives them a feeling of power.”

My friend had met with someone from his former church, wishing to reconcile.  But the person blew him off.  All that the meeting accomplished was to re-open an old wound.

So here is what I want to say to my friend:

You’re not crazy.  This has been happening to God’s men since Cain and Abel.  It is one way you identify with Jesus himself.

Are Tongues Real Languages?

Nathan Busenitz begins a new series asking an important question:

Has the church, historically, been right to conclude that the gift of tongues in the New Testament consists of the supernatural ability to speak in foreign languages previously unknown to the speaker? Or is the modern charismatic movement right to conclude that the gift of tongues encompasses something other than cognitive foreign languages?

Ridiculously good deals from Westminster Books

Westminster Books has a whole bunch of great titles on sale for up to 70% off, including:

The Cold that Bothers Us

Greg Forster:

The most obvious lesson of Frozen—the one made explicit in the movie—teaches viewers that love is not about how you feel. It’s about putting other people’s needs ahead of your own. This theme by itself profoundly inverts the old Disney culture; it’s a big win for the Pixar invaders. But Frozen not only makes this point, it also traces some wide-ranging consequences. It shows us why people are investing too much importance in romantic love relative to other kinds of love, like sisterhood. The responsible grown-ups who tell you not to burn down everything else in your life for the sake of “true love” are not your enemies; they’re your friends. They’re the people who really love you.

The Danger of Forgetting How to Read the Bible

Dan Doriani:

In the past month, I learned that two more Christian leaders whom I know have either tarnished or destroyed their ministries. Neither was a friend, in the full sense, yet I’ve been friendly with both men and respected their talents and the fruit of their labors.

Once again, I wonder: How could a man who studied and knew Scripture and taught it faithfully to others, brazenly violate its most basic principle of love and self-control? Even as I ask the question, I know I’m liable to self-destructive sin too. Everyone needs Paul’s admonition: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Gal. 6:1). Self-aware leaders know that we can violate principles we thought we knew.

What does the Bible say about religion?

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It’s really popular today to distinguish between religion and Jesus—as though the gospel and religion are diametrically opposed. We love Jesus, but hate religion. Religion says “do,” Jesus says, “done.” And although many of the critiques have their own strengths and weaknesses, there’s a small problem: the way we understand “religion” entirely depends on what we mean by the word. This is a subject I’ve explored in a new paper I’ve written for ExploreGod.com:

Millions of people around the globe consider the Bible an authoritative guidebook on how to live a godly, righteous life. So how does the Bible understand “religion”? What does it say?

The answer isn’t as cut-and-dried as we might like to think. The Bible itself is neither wholly positive nor entirely negative about religion. After all, at the most basic level, a religion is a set of deeply held personal or institutional beliefs or principles. There’s nothing wrong with that, in and of itself. In fact, by that definition, every human being on earth is deeply religious.

But the issue is not whether we have deeply held beliefs and practices—the issue is to whom those beliefs are devoted. To better understand this, let’s turn to the book of Romans in the Bible.

Keep reading at ExploreGod.com.

(photo credit: Stuck in Customs via photopin cc)

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When God Does the Miracle We Didn’t Ask For

Vaneetha Rendall Demski:

“No” was not the answer I wanted. I was looking for miraculous answers to prayer, a return to normalcy, relief from the pain. I wanted the kind of grace that would deliver me from my circumstances.

God, in his mercy, offered his sustaining grace.

At first, I rejected it as insufficient. I wanted deliverance. Not sustenance. I wanted the pain to stop, not to be held up through the pain. I was just like the children of Israel who rejoiced at God’s delivering grace in the parting of the Red Sea, but complained bitterly at his sustaining grace in the provision of manna.

But there is a problem…

Carl Trueman:

But I do think the response to Frye should not be ‘How dare you blame the Calvinists!?’ so much as ‘If there is a problem, and if true Calvinism should not create such a problem, what is going wrong in our churches?’ Here, the difference between a church’s doctrine and the reception of that doctrine by individual Christians and congregations is crucial. Calvinism, true Calvinism, is not to blame; but sadly there are Calvinists who are less innocent, who do reduce the problem of evil and suffering to tweetable soundbites which inevitably lack the complexity of the Biblical teaching, who do ignore the whole counsel of God in their teaching and preaching and choice of praise songs. And I fear that a failure to reflect the whole counsel of God in our teaching and worship has indeed left individuals conflicted over how — and whether — Christians should lament. The arrival of funerals that are ‘celebrations of life’ even within some Presbyterian circles witnesses to the reality of this problem.

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Does God Live in the Gaps?

Joe Carter:

Drummond, a 19th century evangelical writer and lecturer, originated the term “God of the gaps” while chastising his fellow Christians for their unscriptural view of natural history. Unfortunately, this confusion about “natural” and “supernatural” continues today even though it is, as philosopher Alvin Plantinga explains “at best a kind of anemic and watered-down semideism” that “is worlds apart from serious Christian theism.”

For Christians, though, a “natural” process is just a normal-appearing process which remains the providential design and control of God. The difference between natural-appearing and miraculous-appearing processes is not whether God is acting — his action occurs in both processes — but the way in which he chooses to act.

Multi-Generational Worship

Daniel Renstrom:

This is pure speculation, but it seems to me that when the modern worship movement came into town, churches became more and more age segregated.  There is probably a doctoral student somewhere in America working on this topic right now, so I’ll wait for that book to come out to tell me more about it.  But as a general observation, I do not remember churches in my youth having such radical age divides as they do now.  And my guess is that music is one of the main reasons for this change.

This is certainly an oversimplification of a larger problem. But music is one of the main ways that a church shows its stylistic preferences.  Thus, music becomes an important way for a church to identify itself.  My guess is that many people make the decision about where they will go to church based largely on the style of music.  It’s just easy to be around people who like the things we do.

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The Stealth Prosperity Gospel

Jared Wilson:

The real devil in the details of the prosperity-type teaching permeating so much of evangelicalism is not really that it skips over the stuff about sin. Sure, it does that too, but the pernicious paradox of this stuff is that it champions “victorious Christian living” yet does not equip believers for sustainable discipleship. It emphasizes feelings and “outlook,” not the power of the Spirit, which is hard for some folks to notice since the latter is often conflated with the former (so that being optimistic or a go-getter is ipso facto being Spirit-empowered). The problem over time is that, going from victory to victory, expecting victory after victory, cultivates a contagious form of spiritual greed. (Is it any wonder that this sort of teaching often goes hand and hand with talk of financial riches and prosperity?) The real stuff of discipleship — what Eugene Peterson calls “a long obedience in the same direction” — involves hard stuff like discipline and the fruit of the Spirit. In pop discipleship discipline is replaced by steps, tips, and amazing supercolossal breakthroughs.

Get God in our Midst in today’s $5 Friday at Ligonier.org

Today you can get God in our Midst by Daniel Hyde (ePub and MOBI) for only $5 in today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier.org. Other items on sale:

  • Bound for Glory teaching series by R.C. Sproul Jr. (audio and video download)
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$5 Friday ends tonight at 11:59:59 PM Eastern.

Why Calvinism not Lutheranism?

Wherever you land on Calvinism, you’ll hopefully find this piece by Derek Rishmawy interesting:

When I was doing my theological searching early on, I found myself initially more attracted to Lutheranism given their apparent lack of emphasis on predestination as well as Luther’s fiery wit. (Also, I was in my anti-Piper phase.) In fact, many of us raised in more a-historical, non-denominational Evangelical backgrounds are likely to hear of Martin Luther as the Reformer, instead of Calvin, just because of the 95 theses and the issue of justification by faith. So why is it that so many of us end up learning the Westminster or Heidelberg catechism, instead of Luther’s?

How to Recognize a Spirit-Filled Church

Eric Davis

Church advertisements can be interesting. I’ve seen things like, “Always an open door,” one that advertised a concealed weapons class, and “You have a friend request from Jesus: Accept? Ignore?” But one that confused me the first time I saw it was “Spirit-filled.” What does that mean? And are only some churches Spirit-filled? Or all of them? Or partially filled? What’s the difference between a Spirit-filled and non-Spirit-filled church?

Generally, the advertisement means that the Holy Spirit’s power and presence are observable in that local church. Praise God if that’s true. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with such advertising. But, assuming accurate advertising, what ought we expect from such a church? What will that look like?

Why We Cannot Coexist

Jeff Medders:

All religions cannot be true. As much as people preach from their bumpers on how we should all coexist, if we are intellectual honest with the tenets of each religion, we simply can’t hold hands and ride off into the ecumenical sunset.

How I Beat Back the Darkness after Rape

Halee Gray Scott:

I was 21-years old, barely five months after returning to the Christian faith. My rapist lived in the parsonage. He was young, serving as a youth pastor while attending a nearby seminary. I’d come roaring back to the faith after a brief dalliance with atheism and agnosticism. My enthusiasm quickly secured me a position on the leadership team for the youth group, within close working conditions of the youth pastor.

Before long, I began to notice strange, questionable behaviors. Phone calls, flirtations, casual references to meeting with married women in the middle of the night. At first, I thought my perception unreliable—after all, he was the youth pastor, the seminarian. And I? A heathen whose discernment could hardly be trusted. But as the weeks wore on, I grew more confident in my assessment.

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How To Avoid a Cult of Personality

Zach Nielsen:

Just because you’re a strong and effective leader doesn’t mean you’ve built a cult of personality. That should be all of us. But the Oxford Dictionary helps us know what we are trying to avoid. It defines a cult of personality as a “misplaced or excessive admiration for a particular person or thing.”
There is nothing wrong with your people admiring you as their pastor. The problem starts when the healthy admiration morphs into unreflective obedience, fearful retreat, or a messianic complex. Only our admiration of Jesus could never be misplaced or excessive. So perhaps the best way to avoid a cult of personality in your ministry is to actively pursue creating a cult of personality for someone else, namely Jesus.

John MacArthur: The Infographic

Tim Challies and Josh Byers have put together a pretty fantastic infographic on John MacArthur (who, if you hadn’t heard, will be speaking at T4G 2014).

The Historical Reality of Adam

Guy Waters:

“In Adam’s fall, we sinned all.” So begins the New England Primer, which taught generations of early Americans to read. In introducing our forefathers to the letter A, the primer was also administering a generous dose of biblical theology. As Paul puts it crisply in 1 Corinthians 15:22, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” Through Adam, sin and death entered into the world. By Christ, sin and death were conquered. Adam forfeited life by his disobedience. Christ achieved life by His obedience. These simple, basic truths, Paul tells the Corinthians, are the very structure and content of the gospel.

What Macklemore Got Wrong . . . and Right

Denny Burk:

The lyrics to Macklemore’s song took aim at Christians and their views on marriage. To be more precise, it takes aim at the God that Christians worship and offers another god in His place—a god that bears no resemblance to the God of the Bible. Nevertheless, these performers were obviously grasping for divine approval. All of the trappings of Christianity were invoked to bless “same love”—a stage decorated to look like a church, a “minister” presiding, and a gospel choir singing the words of 1 Corinthians 13. You might say that it had the form of godliness while denying its power (2 Tim. 3:5).

Young Pastor, Here’s What I Wish I’d Known

David Helm, Andy Davis and JD Greear share what they wish they’d known when they first entered the ministry:

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3 Checkpoints for Spiritual Drift

Michael Kelley:

Drifting is something that happens over time. It’s slow and steady, almost imperceptible. It can happen so gradually in fact that it goes without notice. That’s the real problem with drifting spiritually – you don’t know it’s happening until it’s already happened.

But what if you could? Are there certain checkpoints that, if they appear in your life, you know that the drifting has started? That the rope tied to the anchor of faith has started to let out? That you are slowly moving in a direction that you didn’t intend to go? I think there are, and here’s three to think about.

Hurry!

Staci Eastin:

Busyness is talked about a lot. We take on too much. We don’t say no to anything, because being busy makes us feel important. Look how much I’m doing!

But for me? I rush because I’m lazy. I want to get done with the dull stuff so I can get to the important stuff. Like, I don’t know, reading. Or Candy Crush.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

A few Kindle deals for you:

Get The Hard Sayings of Jesus in today’s $5 Friday at Ligonier.org

Today you can get The Hard Sayings of Jesus teaching series by R.C. Sproul (audio download) for only $5 in today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier.org. Other items on sale:

  • Welcome to a Reformed Church by Daniel Hyde (ePub)
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$5 Friday ends tonight at 11:59:59 PM Eastern.

Why I Am a Cessationist

Thomas Schreiner:

Why would anyone think that some of the gifts have been withdrawn? I will argue that such a reading fits best with Scripture and experience. Scripture takes priority over experience, for it is the final authority, but Scripture must also correlate with life, and our experiences should provoke us to re-examine afresh whether we’ve read the Bible rightly. None of us reads the Bible in a vacuum, and hence we must return to the Scriptures repeatedly to ensure we’ve read them faithfully.

See also…

Why I Am a Continuationist

Sam Storms:

Let me begin with the consistent, indeed pervasive, and altogether positive presence throughout the New Testament (NT) of all spiritual gifts. The problems that emerged in the church at Corinth were not due to spiritual gifts, but to immature people. It wasn’t the gifts of God but the childish, ambitious, and prideful distortion of gifts on the part of some that accounts for Paul’s corrective comments.

Putting Off Cynicism

Paul Maxwell:

Cynicism is the attitude that encapsulates the ethos of twentysomethings par excellence. It is, I think, the most covert negative emotion. We harbor it in Christian garb: cynicism toward immature men (“man-boys”), hipsters, a denomination or movement, clichés, and a thousand other things.

Cynicism is so undetectable because it is so justifiable. It wears a mask of insight and godliness, but it conceals festering wounds of harbored bitterness against God and neighbor. We need to understand cynicism, because the masks we wear tell us about the wounds we hide, and point us to the Savior who yearns to mend them.

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A Report Card For Humanity

David Murray:

Is the world getting better or worse? Is the human race getting better or worse?

Your answer probably depends on whether you are an optimist or a pessimist, but 21 of the world’s top economists have tried to provide an objective answer by measuring and forecasting 10 areas (e.g. health, education, air pollution, etc.) over a 150 year period (1900-2050). Their conclusion?

Neither the pessimists nor the optimists are entirely right. But the optimists definitely win on points—most indicators are going in the right direction…That’s not to underplay the serious issues still confronting much of the world, especially in developing nations. But overall, we can stop panicking. Things are generally getting better.

Crossway Kindle deals

Also on sale, although not all are from Crossway:

All The Dying Megachurches

Matt Svoboda:

“Are there not megachurches full of church members whose personal preferences are greater than their passion for the gospel?” Of course there are, they just prefer loud, dynamic music accompanied by smoke and a laser show. Thom Rainer is absolutely correct, when that happens a churches spiritual vitality and vibrancy begins to die. This is happening all over in America, in churches numerically small and large that vary in all different types of worship, styles, and philosophies.

There Will Be No Sea in the New Heaven and New Earth

R.C. Sproul:

Scripture often speaks of the entire creation awaiting the final act of redemption. To destroy something completely and to replace it with something utterly new is not an act of redemption. To redeem something is to save that which is in imminent danger of being lost. The renovation may be radical. It may involve a violent conflagration of purging, but the purifying act ultimately redeems rather than annihilates. The new heaven and the new earth will be purified. There will be no room for evil in the new order.

Print is not dead

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HT: Justin Taylor

It’s not a cold—it’s cancer!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The world rests on revelation

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The world itself rests on revelation; revelation is the presupposition, the foundation, the secret of all that exists in all its forms. The deeper science pushes its investigations, the more clearly will it discover that revelation underlies all created being. In every moment of time beats the pulse of eternity; every point in space is filled with the omnipresence of God; the finite is supported by the infinite, all becoming is rooted in being. Together with all created things, that special revelation which comes to us in the Person of Christ is built on these presuppositions.

The foundations of creation and redemption are the same. The Logos who became flesh is the same by whom all things were made. The first-born from the dead is also the first-born of every creature. The Son, whom the Father made heir of all things, is the same by whom he also made the worlds. Notwithstanding the separation wrought by sin, there is a progressive approach of God to his creatures. The transcendence does not cease to exist, but becomes an ever deeper immanence. But as a disclosure of the greatness of God’s heart, special revelation far surpasses general revelation, which makes known to us the power of his mind. General revelation leads to special, special revelation points back to general.

The one calls for the other, and without it remains imperfect and unintelligible. Together they proclaim the manifold wisdom which God has displayed in creation and redemption.

Herman Bavinck, The Philosophy of Revelation, pp. 27-28

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Why Do So Many People Hate Optimists?

David Murray:

Reuters blogger Zachary Karabell has never had so much hate mail in his life. His offense? Highlighting some good news here and there which may indicate the US and World economy is turning the corner.

His “pen-pals” don’t just disagree with him. They hate him. He says he wouldn’t mind people saying he’s wrong, or even ridiculing him, but it’s the rage he was unprepared for. He tries to explain this inexplicable hostility…

Your Systematic Theology is Showing

Barnabas Piper:

Systematic Theology is math, a skeleton. It is a system of organizing thoughts so that finite minds can begin to understand an infinite God (in a distinctly western way, mind you). Systematic theology is a support system for the reality of relationship with God. Too often, though, it is put forth as the face of faith instead of being the framework of it. All the “ologies” (soteriology, eschatology, pneumatology, Christology, etc.) you know are not your relationship with God. They are not the true story of God. They support those things for you. They need muscles and veins and organs and skin to make them alive, to adorn them in beauty.

Get The Holy Spirit teaching series in today’s $5 Friday at Ligonier.org

Today you can get The Holy Spirit teaching series by R.C. Sproul (audio download) for only $5 in today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier.org. Other items on sale:

  • Why We Trust the Bible teaching series by Stephen Nichols (audio and video download)
  • The Spirit of Revival: Discovering the Wisdom of Jonathan Edwards by various authors (ePub)
  • Believing God by R.C. Sproul Jr. (ePub)

$5 Friday ends tonight at 11:59:59 PM Eastern.

14 Resolutions for Writers

Nicholas McDonald:

Okay, it’s a new year, and aspiring writers world-wide are mentally gearing up for finally taking the plunge into Wonderland – being published. Here are some motivational ideas to jot down before you move ahead.

The Promise of Place

Lore Ferguson:

The truth is I feel misplaced these days. Misplaced by God, misplaced by men, misplaced, mostly, by myself. I have never felt comfortable in my own skin, but these past months I have felt a foreigner even to myself.

God cannot be manipulated

Paul preaching at Athens by Raphael

Paul preaching at Athens by Raphael

Paul was a first-century preacher who appeared on the scene shortly after Jesus was crucified and came back to life again. He wrote about one quarter of the New Testament. He was especially gifted when it came to announcing the God of the Bible to the polytheists who dominated the culture of the Roman imperial world. So we find him, for example, in the great city of Athens, carefully explaining what a difference it makes to see that there is but one God and that he cannot be manipulated. At the time Athens had the reputation of being the most learned city in the Roman world, followed by Alexandria in Egypt.

When Paul gives his address to some philosophers and teachers in Athens, he explains what he holds to be the truth. Theirs is a world of gods, and the very nature of their religion is “you scratch my back, I scratch your back.” But Paul says, “The God who made the world and everything in it [thus you find him articulating the Bible’s teaching about creation from Genesis 1–2] is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands” (Acts 17:24). Paul does not mean that God may not disclose himself in a temple if he chooses to do so. What he means is that God cannot be reduced to the temple where he is manipulated and domesticated by a priestly class. You cannot get him into a position where you can manipulate him to do your will by providing cash to a certain class of priests, connected with a temple, who are allegedly experts in figuring out what the gods want. The God of the Bible is too big for that; he made everything, he is sovereign over the whole lot, and he cannot be manipulated.

D.A. Carson, The God Who is There, (46)

Where Is Jesus In The Old Testament?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Sanctification: Progressive and Imperfect

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

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

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

The Sincerity of Our Profession and the State of Our Hearts

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

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

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

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