Saturday, May 20, 2017

"The Recipe for a Successful Pastor"

Excellent article from Paul Tripp on the Gospel Coalition website:

I am convinced that many of the problems in pastoral culture result from an unbiblical definition of the essential ingredients of ministry success. Sure, most candidate profiles expect a “vibrant walk with the Lord,” but these words are often weakened by a process that asks few questions in this area and makes grand assumptions. We’re really interested in knowledge (right theology), skill (good preacher), ministry philosophy (will build the church), and experience (isn’t cutting his pastoral teeth in this new place of ministry). I have heard church leaders, in moments of pastoral crisis, say many times, “We didn’t know the man we hired.”

What does knowing the man entail? It means knowing the true condition of his heart—as far as such is possible. What does he really love, and what does he despise? What are his hopes, dreams, and fears? What are the deep desires that fuel and shape the way he does ministry? What anxieties have the potential to derail or paralyze him? How accurate is his view of himself? How open is he to confrontation, critique, and encouragement? How committed is he to his own sanctification?

How open is he about his own temptations, weaknesses, and failures? How ready is he to listen to and defer to the wisdom of others? Is pastoral ministry a community project to him? Does he have a tender, nurturing heart? Is he warm and hospitable, a shepherd and champion to those who are suffering? What character qualities would his wife and children use to describe him? Does he sit under his own preaching? Is his heart broken and his conscience regularly grieved as he looks at himself in the mirror of the Word? How robust, consistent, joyful, and vibrant is his devotional life?

Does his ministry to others flow out of the vibrancy of his devotional communion with the Lord? Does he hold himself to high standards, or does he settle for mediocrity? Is he sensitive to the experience and needs of those who minister alongside him? Does he embody the love and grace of the Redeemer? Does he overlook minor offenses? Is he ready and willing to forgive? Is he critical and judgmental? How does the public pastor differ from the private husband and dad? Does he take care of his physical self? Does he numb himself with too much social media or television? How would he fill in this blank: “If only I had ________”? How successful has he been in pastoring the congregation that is his family?

True Condition of the Pastor’s Heart

A pastor’s ministry is never just shaped by his experience, knowledge, and skill. It is also always shaped by the true condition of his heart. In fact, if his heart is not in the right place, knowledge and skill can make him dangerous.

Pastors often struggle to find living, humble, needy, celebratory, worshipful, meditative communion with Christ. It is as if Jesus has left the building. There is all kinds of ministry knowledge and skill, but it seems divorced from a living communion with a living and ever-present Christ. All this activity, knowledge, and skill seems to be fueled by something else. Ministry becomes shockingly impersonal. Then it’s about theological content, exegetical rightness, ecclesiastical commitments, and institutional advancement. It’s about preparing for the next sermon, getting the next meeting agenda straight, and filling the requisite leadership openings. It’s about budgets, strategic plans, and ministry partnerships.

None of these things is wrong in itself. Many of them are essential. But they must never be ends in themselves. They must never be the engine that propels the vehicle. They must all express something deeper in the pastor’s heart.

The pastor must be enthralled by, in awe of, and in love with his Redeemer so that everything he thinks, desires, chooses, decides, says, and does is propelled by love for Christ and the security of rest in the love of Christ. He must be regularly exposed by, humbled by, assured by, and given rest by the grace of his Redeemer. His heart needs to be tenderized day after day by his communion with Christ so that he becomes a loving, patient, forgiving, encouraging, and giving servant-leader. His meditation on Christ, his presence, his promises, and his provisions must not be overwhelmed by his meditation on how to make his ministry work.

Protection Against All Other Loves

Only love for Christ can defend the heart of the pastor against all other loves that have the potential to kidnap his ministry. Only worship of Christ has the power to protect him from all the seductive idols of ministry that will whisper in his ear. Only the glory of the risen Christ will guard him against the self-glory that tempts all and destroys the ministry of so many.

Only Christ can turn an arrogant, “bring on the world” seminary graduate into a patient, humble giver of grace. Only deep gratitude for a suffering Savior can make a man willing to suffer in ministry. Only in brokenness before your own sin can you give grace to fellow rebels among whom God has called you to minister. Only when your identity is firmly rooted in Christ will you find freedom from seeking to get your identity out of your ministry.

We must be careful how we define ministry readiness and spiritual maturity. There is a danger in thinking that the well-educated and well-trained seminary graduate is ministry ready or to mistake ministry knowledge, busyness, and skill with personal spiritual maturity. Maturity is a vertical thing that will have a wide variety of horizontal expressions. Maturity is about relationship to God that results in wise and humble living. Maturity of love for Christ expresses itself in love for others.

Thankfulness for the grace of Christ expresses itself in grace to others. Gratitude for the patience and forgiveness of Christ enables you to be patient and forgiving of others. Your daily experience of the rescue of the gospel gives you a passion for people experiencing the same rescue. This is the soil in which true ministry success grows.

-- Paul Tripp

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

"The Case for Idolatry: Why Christians Can Worship Idols"

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to worship idols. It’s not that my parents raised me that way, because they didn’t; I was brought up in a loving, secure, Christian home. But from childhood until today, my heart has been drawn to idolatry. In fact, if I’m honest, one of the defining features of my identity has been my desire to put something else—popularity, money, influence, sex, success—in place of God.
That’s just who I am. 
For many years, I was taught that idolatry was sinful. As a good Christian, I fought the desire to commit idolatry, and repented when I got it wrong. But the desire to worship idols never went away.
I wanted it to, but it didn’t.
So it has been such a blessing to discover that worshiping one God, and him alone, isn’t for everyone. There are thousands of Christians out there who have found faithful, loving ways of expressing worship both to God and to idols, without compromising either their faith or their view of Scripture. In recent years, I’ve finally summoned the courage to admit I am one of them. Let me give you a few reasons why I believe idolatry and Christianity are compatible.

Evangelical, Biblical, Jesus-Loving Idolater 

I start with my own story, and the stories of many others like me. I’m an evangelical, and have a high view of the Bible—I have a PhD in biblical studies at King’s College London, which will be my third theology degree—and I know both the ancient languages and also the state of scholarly research. Yet, after much prayerful study, I’ve discovered the liberating truth that it’s possible to be an idolatrous Christian. That, at least, is evidence that you can be an evangelical and an idolater.
Not only that, but a number of evangelical writers have been challenging the monolatrous narrative in a series of scholarly books. A number of these provide a powerful case for listening to the diversity of the ancient witnesses in their original contexts, and call for a Christlike approach of humility, openness, and inclusion toward our idolatrous brothers and sisters.
Some, on hearing this, will of course want to rush straight to the “clobber passages” in Paul’s letters (which we will consider in a moment), in a bid to secure the fundamentalist ramparts and shut down future dialogue. But as we consider the scriptural material, two things stand out.
First, the vast majority of references to idols and idolatry in the Bible come in the Old Testament—the same Old Testament that tells us we can’t eat shellfish or gather sticks on Saturdays. When advocates of monolatry eat bacon sandwiches and drive cars on the weekend, they indicate we should move beyond Old Testament commandments in the new covenant, and rightly so.
Second, and even more significantly, we need to read the whole Bible with reference to the approach of Jesus. To be a Christian is to be a Jesus person—one whose life is based on his priorities, not on the priorities of subsequent theologians. And when we look at Jesus, we notice that he welcomed everyone who came to him, including those whom the (one-God worshiping) religious leaders rejected—and that Jesus said absolutely nothing about idols in any of the four Gospels. Conservative theologians, many of whom are friends of mine, often miss this point in the cut-and-thrust of debate. But for those who love Jesus, it should be at the heart of the discussion.
Jesus had no problem with idolatry.
He included everyone, however many gods they worshiped.
If we want to be like him, then we should adopt the same inclusive approach.
We should also remember that, as we’ve discovered more about the human brain, we’ve found out all sorts of things about idolatry that the biblical writers simply didn’t know. The prophets and apostles knew nothing of cortexes and neurons, and had no idea some people are pre-wired to commit idolatry, so they never talked about it. But as we’ve learned more about genetics, neural pathways, hormones, and so on, we’ve come to realize some tendencies—alcoholism, for example—scientifically result from the way we are made, and therefore cannot be the basis for moral disapproval or condemnation. To disregard the findings of science on this point is like continuing to insist the world is flat.

Putting Paul in His Place

With all of these preliminary ideas in place, we can finally turn to Paul, who’s sadly been used as a judgmental battering ram by monolaters for centuries. When we do, what immediately strikes us is that in the ultimate “clobber passage” (Romans 1), the problem isn’t really idol worship at all! The problem, as Paul puts it, isn’t that people worship idols, but that they “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images” (1:23). Paul isn’t talking about people who are idolatrous by nature. He’s talking about people who were naturally worshipers of Israel’s God, and exchanged it for the worship of idols. What else could the word “exchange” here possibly mean?
Not only that, but none of his references applies to idolatry as we know it today: putting something above God in our affections. Paul, as a Hellenistic Roman citizen, simply would not have had a category for that kind of thing. In his world, idolatry meant physically bowing down to tribal or household deities—statues and images made of bronze or wood or stone—and as such, the worship of power or money or sex or popularity had nothing to do with his prohibitions. (Some see an exception in the way he talks about coveting as idolatry in Ephesians 5:5 and Colossians 3:5, but these obviously reflect his desire, as a first-century Jew, to honor the Ten Commandments.)
In other words, when Paul talks about idolatry, he’s not talking about the worship of idols as we know it today. As a Christ-follower, he would be just as horrified as Jesus if he saw the way his words have been twisted to exclude modern idolaters like me, and like many friends of mine. For centuries, the church has silenced the voice of idolaters (just like it has silenced the voice of slaves and women), and it’s about time we recognized that neither Jesus, nor Paul, had any problem with idolatry.
Obviously this is a contribution to an ongoing conversation, rather than the last word on the subject. But I hope you will all search the Scriptures, search your hearts, and consider the evidence afresh—and avoid judging those who disagree in the meantime! Maybe, just maybe, we can make space in the church for those who, like me, have spent a lifetime wrestling with the challenge of idolatry.

Editors’ note: While this article is satire, it’s not lost on us at TGC that idolatry is a serious issue. We hope that this parody will challenge, encourage, and better equip you to root out your own “factory of idols.”

Friday, April 21, 2017

Expiation and Propitiation

R.C. Sproul's very helpful explanation of these two important concepts related to salvation and the atonement.

His Kingdom Is Not of This World

"The basic physical operation of the Resurrection was an illegal act, committed by an angel--who broke Pilate's seal and overwhelmed the military guard at the tomb. Whatever you think Jesus meant when he told Pilate that his Kingdom was not of this world, he was not giving Pilate permission to cancel the Resurrection. (That angel will show up again in the future, incidentally, to bypass prison guards and let Peter out of prison.)"

-- Richard Mouw

Living in a World of Wonders

"Woe to me if I walk through a world of wonders and grumble about the humidity." -- John Piper

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Devil and Christian Vocabulary

“Satan is so deceptive! He likes to borrow Christian vocabulary, but he does not use the Christian dictionary!”

-- Warren Wiersbe, "Be Complete" (Colossians)

Friday, February 10, 2017

"What must I do to be saved?" -- Repentance, Faith, Conversion

‘What happens then, in a true conversion, is that faith comes to life in the mind as the reality of the truths about Christ (whether they have been read or heard) begin to take life and to felt.  (Acts 2:36; 16:14b; Romans 7:7b-10; 10:17; 1 Cor.15:1-5ff.; 2 Thess.2:13)

‘In some shape or form, these truths center on:

·       God’s holiness and love (Ex.20:1-21; Jn.3:16-21, 36; Rom.1:18ff.; 3:9-26; 11:22; Eph.2:1-10)

·       Christ’s self-giving for us and in our place, on the Cross (Isa.53; Matt.20:28; Rom. 4:25; 5:1-11; 2 Cor.5:21; Eph.1:7; 1 Pet.1:18-19

·       His triumph over sin, death and the devil, (Rom.5:20-21; Rom.6:1-14; 1 Cor.15:54-57; Col.1:19; 2:13; 2 Tim.1:10; Heb.2:14-15)

·       And our sense of corruption, guilt, misery and despair. (Ps.51:5; Isa.1:5-6; Jer.17:9; Rom.3:10-18; 7:14-24; 8:7; Eph.2:12; Titus 3:3)

‘Then we hear the words of grace in the Gospel.  Emotions may well be stirred, for although the perception of spiritual reality is not itself emotional, distress, fear, shame, and hopeful joy are at different times the result of coming to realize the truth of the Gospel.  (Ps.32:1-5; Isa.6:5; 12;  Luke 18:13; Acts 2:37; 16:34; Rom.6:21; 1 Thess.1:6; 1 Pet.1:8-9)

‘Faith, beginning as this knowledge (this real understanding of the truths of the Christian faith)  (Acts 11:13-14; Ro.10:13-17; Col.1:5-6; 2 Tim.1:11; Titus 1:1; Jas.1:18; 1 Pet.1:23-25; 2 Pet.1:3ff.) blossoms into assent in which the will is now engaged; (Acts 2:37; 8:36-38; Ro.1:5; 6:17; 1 Thess.1:9-10) assent issues into heartfelt trust…. (Jn.3:16; Acts 16:31; Rom.1:16-17; 3:22; Rom.10:6-17; Eph.2:8-9; Col.1:4; 1 Jn.5:4-5,10) and from this trust flows real repentance and the turning from sin to Christ.’  (Lk.19:8-9; 24:27; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 26:20; Rom.6:17-23; Eph.2:10; Gal.5:6; Eph.4:17-32; 1 Thess.1:3; Heb.4:14-16; 12:2; Jas.2:14-26; 2 Pet.1:5)

"However this relationship [with God, through Christ] is initiated -- quietly or dramatically, over a long or over a short period of time -- it inaugurates a life devoted to serving God.

"Conversion is not an isolated event but is related to the entire life of faith that follows from it. It is the moment of birth into a new life. It is like a doorway into a room. A person is born to live, not to linger on the edge of the womb in a time limbo. A person opens a door not for the pleasure of standing forever on the threshold but to enter the room. The evangelical world has strangely perverted this truth.

"Evangelicals often make the test of spiritual life one's willingness to testify about the moment of birth. Describing one's sensations in passing through the doorway is considered proof that one is in the room! This shifts the focus from where it ought to be -- the evidence of the Spirit's renewing work in producing a God-centered life, a God-fearing heart, and God-honoring character and witness -- and places it on a person's autobiographical account of the conversion crisis.

"The only real proof of conversion is an obedient and fruitful life."

-- David Wells, "Turning to God"

(cp. Matt. 7:21-23; 28:18-19; John 8:31; Acts 20:21; 26:20; Rom. 6:4,17ff.; Eph. 4:17-24; 5:5-6; 1 Thess. 1:9; Titus 2:11-14; 1 Pet. 1:2,22; 2 Pet. 1:5-11; 1 Jn. 2:3-6)

Continuing the theme of the necessity for real repentance (change of mind/change of allegiance that leads toward changed way of living).

n  cp. Jesus re: the repentance of the people of Nineveh  (Mt.12:41, cp. Jnh.3:5; 

n  Acts 2:38; 3:19; 20:21; 26:20

Cp. Rom.6:17; Eph.4:17-5:7


This is consistently the perspective of evangelical, Bible-believing Christians of all denominations.  The idea that you could have Jesus ‘as Savior’ without submitting to him ‘as Lord’ is very much a minority viewpoint, popping up every now and then in the history of the church, but consistently contradicted and refuted by the overwhelming consensus of Christian theologians and teachers.

Repentance (metanoia), acc. to “Theological Dictionary of the New Testament” (Kittel):

“…radical conversion, a transformation of nature, a definitive turning from evil, a resolute turning to God in total obedience (Mk.1:15; Mt.4:17; 18:3)….  This conversion is once for all.  There can be no going back, only advance in responsible movement along the way now taken.  It affects the whole man, first and basically the center of personal life, then logically his conduct at all times and in all situation, his thoughts, words and acts (Mt. 12:33ff. par; 23:26; Mk.7:15 par.).

The whole proclamation of Jesus…is a proclamation of unconditional turning to God, of unconditional turning from all that is against God, not merely that which is downright evil, but that which in a given case makes total turning to God impossible….

"It is addressed to all without distinction and presented with unmitigated severity in order to indicate the only way of salvation there is.

“Repentance calls  for total surrender, total commitment to the will of God….  It embraces the whole walk of the new man who is claimed by the divine lordship.  It carries with it the founding of a new personal relation of man to God….  It awakens joyous obedience for a life according to God’s will.”


“Conversion can be spoken of as a single act of turning, just as consuming several dishes and drinks can be spoken of as a single act of dining.” 

n  cp. a ‘progressive dinner’

According to David Wells, “…conversion, our turning to God, is better understood if we view it as a complex [that is, many-faceted] process.

“The process involves thinking and re-thinking, doubting and overcoming doubts and objections, soul-searching and self-admonition, struggle against feelings of guilt and shame, and concern as to what a realistic following of Christ might mean, whether or not [the process] culminates in a personal crisis that will afterward be remembered as ‘the hour I first believed.’  Sometimes, of course, it does….” 

The truth of the Word/the Gospel, and it’s presentation, is the ‘objective’ side of conversion.

“The subjective means of conversion is what the sinner is called upon to do in repenting, believing, and acting upon the promised forgiveness in Christ.  It is all that God accomplishes within the person to enable him or her to overcome the pressures of unbelief, to begin centering upon the invisible and eternal realities of God despite the contention of a multitude of distractions, to struggle for self-denial against inbred self-assertion.  In short, it is all that moves us from being unbelievers to becoming believers.”

“Evangelical faith…is knowledge of, assent to, and trust in Christ and God’s promise of grace through him.  Evangelical repentance is turning from sin, now recognized as ruinous, to a new life of following Christ in righteousness, now embraced as the only hope of life.”
       -- contrast Zacchaeus and the rich young ruler

How much knowledge of the Gospel is necessary?  The answer is a functional one: as much as it takes to bring us to true faith and repentance, as described, recognizing that sometimes the Holy Spirit uses what seems to us to be a very small amount.

D.A. Carson Regarding Repentance:  "There is no alternative to repentance, no other way to experience the blessing of the Lord.  The nature of repentance in Scripture precludes the nonsense of partial repentance or contingent repentance.  Genuine repentance does not turn from one sin while safeguarding others; partial repentance is as incongruous as partial pregnancy.  Loyalty to God in selective areas is no longer loyalty.  To repent of disloyalty in select areas while preferring disloyalty in others is no repentance at all.  God does not ask us to give up this or that idol while permitting us to nurture several others; he demands, rather, that we abandon idolatry itself and return to the God against whom we have 'so greatly revolted.' For God is more than able to defend his people...."  (DA Carson on Isaiah 31).

TDNT again:

“Conversion applies to all people, demanding a complete commitment that seeks forgiveness in full trust and surrender.  Faith is its positive aspect (cp. Mk.1:15).  It is God’s gift, but as such a binding requirement.  By the baptism of the Spirit Jesus imparts the divine power that creates those who are subject to the divine rule, i.e., converted people.  In all its severity, then the message is one of joy.  ‘Repentance’ is not law, but gospel.

“In the apostolic kerygma conversion is a total requirement.  The disciples preach it in Mk. 6:12 and are directed to summon people to it in Lk.24:47.  ‘Repentance is at the heart of their message in Acts (5:31; 8:22; 11:18, etc.

“It is a basic article in Heb. 6:1.  Peter’s sermon connects it with baptism (Acts 2:38).  It is a turning from evil to God (8:22; 20:21).  It is both a divine gift and a human task (5:31:2:38)…..Its basis is Christ’s saving work (5:31).  The Spirit effects it (11:18).  Faith goes with it (26:18).  The imminent end gives urgency to its proclamation (Re..2:5,16; 3:3).  The goal is remission of sins (Acts 3:19) and final salvation (11:18).

Billy Graham (from “Peace with God”):

“If repentance could be described in one word, I would use the word renounce.  ‘Renounce what?’ you ask.  The answer can also be given in one word – ‘sin.’…

“Not only are we told that we must renounce the principle of sin but we are also to renounce sins – plural.  We are to renounce the world, the flesh and the Devil.  There can be no bargaining, compromise or hesitation.  Christ demands absolute renunciation…..

“…repentance and faith go hand in hand.  You cannot have genuine repentance without saving faith and you cannot have saving faith without repentance….

“…[To repent] means a great deal more than just regretting and feeling sorry about sin.  The Biblical word repent means ‘to change, to turn.’  It is a word of power and action.  It is a word that signifies a complete revolution in the individual. 

“When the Bible calls upon us to repent of sin, it means that we should turn away from sin, that we should do an about-face and walk in the opposite direction from sin and all that it implies….

“….True repentance means ‘to change, to turn away from, to go in a new direction.’  To be sorry is not enough in repentance….

“….repentance cannot take place unless first there is a movement of the Holy Spirit in the heart and mind….”

“….There must be a determination to forsake sin – to change one’s attitudes toward self, toward sin, and God; to change one’s feelings; to change one’s will, disposition and purpose.

“Only the Spirit of God can give you the determination necessary for true repentance….

“There is not one verse of Scripture that indicates you can be a Christian and live any kind of a life you want to.  When Christ enters into the human heart, He demands that He be Lord and Master.  He demands complete surrender….

“…He must have first place in everything you do or think or say, for when you truly repent you turn toward God in everything.

“We have the warning of Christ that He will not receive us into His kingdom until we are ready to give up all, until we are ready to turn from all sin in our lives.  Don’t try to do it part way.  Don’t say, ‘I’ll give up some of my sins and hang on to some others.  I’ll live part of my life for Jesus and part for my own desires.’”

“God demands a total change, a total surrender.”

                                                                                    (“Peace with God, pp. 100-107)

Scriptural warrant:   2 Chron.7:14; Isa.59:20; Ezek.18:30ff.; Matt.5:29ff.; 12:41, (cp. Jnh.3:5ff.); Matt. 19:16ff.; 22:37ff.; 28:18ff.; Lk.3:8; 13:1-8; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 11:18; 17:30; 20:21; 26:20; Rom.6:17 (and the entire chapter); 2 Cor.7:1, 10; Eph.4:17ff.; 1 Jn.2:3;  1 Thess. 1:9f.; Rom. 1:5; 16:26

All the passages that talk about getting ride of “all” vice, or doing “everything” for God’s glory or to please Him, etc. (cp. “whatever you do…”)

Positively:  Matt.22:37ff.; Rom. 6; Col.1:10, et

"…now God commands all people everywhere to repent.  For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice….”  (Acts 17:30-31)

“By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep his commandments.  The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar….”  1 John 2:3

“…We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?....But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves of sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted.  You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.”  Rom. 6:17-18

John Stott, from his book, “Christian Basics”

[He is describing the ‘ABC’s of becoming a Christian, and says first there is something to Admit: that we are sinners, then there is something to Believe: that Jesus Christ is the Savior we need, and then….] ‘C stands for something to Consider, namely that Jesus Christ wants to be our Lord as well as our Savior.  He is in fact ‘our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ’ (e.g., 2 Pet. 3:18), and we have no liberty to cut him in two, responding to one half and rejecting the other.  He offers us salvation (forgiveness and the liberating power of the Spirit); he demands our thoughtful and total allegiance.”

“For when Jesus is truly Lord, he directs our lives and we gladly obey him.  Indeed, we bring every part of our lives under his lordship – our home and family, our sexuality and marriage, our job or unemployment, our money and possessions, our ambitions and recreations.”

Charles Spurgeon:   “Another proof of the conquest of a soul for Christ will be found in a real change of life.  If the man does not live differently from what he did before, both in private and in public, then his repentance needs to be repented of, and his conversion is a fiction.

“Not only action and language, but spirit and temper/attitude must be changed….

'…Remaining under the power of any known sin is a mark of our being the servants of sin, for ‘you are servants of the one you obey’ [Rom.6].

“Idle are the boasts of a man who harbors within himself the love of any transgression.  He may feel what he likes, and believe what he likes, but he is still in the gall of bitterness and the bonds of iniquity while a single sin rules his heart and life.

“True regeneration implants a hatred of all evil; and where one sin is delighted in, the evidence is fatal to a sound hope…..[that is, the hope that such a person is genuinely saved”].

David Wells, “Turning to God”

“Conversion is the process whereby we turn from our sin in repentance and turn to God through faith in the finished work of Christ upon the cross for us.”  p. 10

“The creative, regenerative work of God produces an overwhelming desire to turn from sin and conveys the ability to believe in Christ….” (21)

“True conversion is not an isolated experience but one that is related to a life of discipleship.  It is the point in time and experience at which we enter into such a  life.  Discipleship belongs to and should follow from conversion the way that natural life belongs to and should follow from live birth….  And just as there is no discipleship without conversion, so there is no conversion without an ensuing life of discipleship that involves growth in moral maturity, a deepening faith, and loving service.”  (25)

“Christianity without conversion is no longer Christian, because conversion means turning to God.  It involves forsaking sin, with its self-deifying attitudes and self-serving conduct, and turning to Christ, whose death on the cross is the basis for God’s offer of mercy and forgiveness.  Jesus was judged in our place so that God could extend his righteousness to us.  Conversion occurs when we turn from our waywardness and accept Christ’s death on our behalf.”  (27)

“Conversion encompasses both our behavior and what we are in Christ.  It primarily refers to repudiating sin and trusting in Christ, but this action does not stand alone.  We repent and believe [so] that our sins might be forgiven and [so] that we might be given a new nature by the Holy Spirit to enable us to start living a life of obedience and service to Christ.”  (28)

“The difference in our conversion stories lies not in what God has done for us in Christ but in our process of turning to him.  A child raised in a Christian home may find conversion so natural that he or she cannot pinpoint when this change occurred.  For others, however, the transition is difficult, conversion is dramatic….”  (28)

New Bible Dictionary (J.D. Douglas, ed.) regarding “Repentance”:

 “Repentance consists in a radical transformation of thought, attitude, outlook and direction….repentance is a turning from sin unto God and His service.

“Repentance is a revolution in that which is most determinative in human personality and is the reflex in consciousness of the radical change wrought by the Holy Spirit in regeneration.

“It is a mistake, however, to underrate the place of grief and hatred for sin and turning from it unto God….”

“The necessity of repentance as a condition of salvation is clearly inscribed on the biblical witness….

“…there is no salvation without repentance.  This does not interfere with the complementary truth that we are saved through faith.  Faith alone is the instrument of justification.  But justification is not the whole of salvation, and faith is not the only condition…..

“Faith is directed to Christ for salvation from sin unto holiness and life.  But this involves hatred of sin and turning from it.  Repentance is turning from sin unto God.  But this implies the apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ.” 

Wayne Grudem’s “Systematic Theology”, in the section on Conversion (Faith and Repentance)

“We may define repentance as follows:  Repentance is a heartfelt sorrow for sin, a renouncing of it, and a sincere commitment to forsake it and walk in obedience to Christ.

“This definition indicates that repentance is something that can occur at a specific point in time, and is not equivalent to a demonstration of change in a person’s pattern of life.

“Repentance, like faith, is an intellectual understanding (that sin is wrong), and emotional approval of the teachings of Scripture regarding sin (a sorrow for sin and a hatred of it), and a personal decision to turn from it (a renouncing of sin and a decision of the will to forsake it and lead a life of obedience to Christ instead).

“We cannot say that someone has to actually live a changed life over a period of time before repentance can be genuine, or else repentance would be turned into a kind of obedience that we could do to merit salvation for ourselves.

“Of course, genuine repentance will result in a changed life, and we can call that changed life the fruit of repentance.  But we should never attempt to require that there be a period of time in which a person actually lives a changed life before we give assurance of forgiveness. 

“Repentance is something that occurs in the heart and involves the whole person in a decision to turn from sin.”  (713)

“When we realize that genuine saving faith must be accompanied by genuine repentance for sin, it helps us to understand why some preaching of the gospel has such inadequate results today.  …[A] watered-down version of the gospel does not ask for a wholehearted commitment to Christ – commitment to Christ, if genuine, must include a commitment to turn from sin. 

“Preaching the need for faith without repentance is preaching only half a gospel.  It will result in many people being deceived, thinking that they have heard the Christian gospel and tried it, but nothing has happened.  They might even say something like, ‘I accepted Christ as Savior over and over again and it never worked.’   Yet they never really did receive Christ as Savior, for he comes to us in his majesty and invites us to receive him as he is – the one who deserves to be, and demands to be, absolute Lord of our lives as well.”  (717)

Spurgeon sermon:  “…if we would be servants of God, we must be believers in his Son Jesus Christ. Come and trust Jesus Christ, and you are saved. When you are truly saved, you are to be saved from all hesitation about obedience to God—so saved, that henceforth God's law is your rule. Then, with that holy law imperative upon you, you will go forth into the world, and say, "It is not mine to ask what others will do. It is not mine to shape my course by them, not mine to enquire what will bring me most profit, what will bring me most honor. It is mine to look up to thee, my God, and ask, what wouldest thou have me to do? I will do it at all costs."


by J.I. Packer

.... I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds. ACTS 26:20
The New Testament word for repentance means changing one’s mind so that one’s views, values, goals, and ways are changed and one’s whole life is lived differently. The change is radical, both inwardly and outwardly; mind and judgment, will and affections, behavior and life-style, motives and purposes, are all involved. Repenting means starting to live a new life.

The call to repent was the first and fundamental summons in the preaching of John the Baptist (Matt. 3:2), Jesus (Matt. 4:17), the Twelve (Mark 6:12), Peter at Pentecost (Acts 2:38), Paul to the Gentiles (Acts 17:30; 26:20), and the glorified Christ to five of the seven churches in Asia (Rev. 2:5, 16, 22; 3:3, 19). It was part of Jesus’ summary of the gospel that was to be taken to the world (Luke 24:47). It corresponds to the constant summons of the Old Testament prophets to Israel to return to the God from whom they had strayed (e.g., Jer. 23:22; 25:4-5; Zech. 1:3-6). Repentance is always set forth as the path to remission of sins and restoration to God’s favor, impenitence as the road to ruin (e.g., Luke 13:1-8).

Repentance is a fruit of faith, which is itself a fruit of regeneration. But in actual life, repentance is inseparable from faith, being the negative aspect (faith is the positive aspect) of turning to Christ as Lord and Savior. The idea that there can be saving faith without repentance, and that one can be justified by embracing Christ as Savior while refusing him as Lord, is a destructive delusion. True faith acknowledges Christ as what he truly is, our God-appointed king as well as our God-given priest, and true trust in him as Savior will express itself in submission to him as Lord also. To refuse this is to seek justification through an impenitent faith, which is no faith.

In repentance, says the Westminster Confession, a sinner, out of the sight and sense not only of the danger, but also the filthiness and odiousness of his sins, as contrary to the holy nature, and righteous law of God; and upon the apprehension of his mercy in Christ to such as are penitent; so grieves for, and hates his sins, as to turn from them all unto God, purposing and endeavoring to walk with him in all ways of his commandments. (XV.2)

This statement highlights the fact that incomplete repentance, sometimes called “attrition” (remorse, self-reproach, and sorrow for sin generated by fear of punishment, without any wish or resolve to forsake sinning) is insufficient. True repentance is “contrition,” as modeled by David in Psalm 51, having at its heart a serious purpose of sinning no more but of living henceforth a life that will show one’s repentance to be full and real (Luke 3:8; Acts 26:20). Repenting of any vice means going in the opposite direction, to practice the virtues most directly opposed to it.


Baptist Catechism:
88.  What does God require of us, that wwe may escape His wrath and curse due to us for sin?  Answer:  …God requires of us faith in Jesus Christ, repentance unto life…”

90.  What is repentance unto life?
Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, does, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience.  [Acts 11:18; Acts 2:37-38; Joel 2:12-13; Jer. 31:18; Ps. 119:59]  “The[Westminster] Shorter Catechism:  A Modest Revision for Baptists Today”


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Unconsciously Looking for God

"...the young man who rings the bell at the brothel is unconsciously looking for God.”
'[This  quote] comes from a small and positively delightful 1945 novel, The World, the Flesh and Father Smith written by a lesser-known, mid-twentieth century Scottish writer, Bruce Marshall. His style reminds one of Flannery O'Connor in her hilariously biting sarcasm, coloring for her reader serious spiritual truths in the lives of her larger-than-life idiotic characters.
'Our quote appears in a conversation between the book's protagonist, the dutiful Father Smith, while walking home one day, encounters a beautiful, seductive young woman standing on her front stoop. Miss Dana Agdala is provocatively accented by her “frock blowing all around her lovely legs.” She introduces herself to Father Smith as the author of the scintillating and best-selling Naked and Unashamed, “but perhaps you haven't read me.”
'She asks the priest, “Tell me, do you get much response to the old, old story these days?” She, a modernist had long rejected “[a]ll that poppycock about baptism, and purity and the Virgin Birth…” because, of course, “it's against all modern science and obstetrics.”
'She explains to our cleric that she'd, “been dying for years to meet a Catholic priest, but somehow there never seems to be any at any of the parties I go to.” She had “oodles and oodles to ask you about that I don't know if I'll ever have time.”
'He invited her to walk along to his next appointment and ask away. Among many questions, built upon her judgment of the silliness of his faith, she asked about his own sexuality and how he manages to, as she put it, “live without us?”
'Easily and confidently, Fr. Smith answers that, in his view, “women's bodies are rarely perfect; they soon grow old and sag, and always the contemplation of them even at their best is a poor and boring substitute for walking with God in His House as a friend . . .”
'Miss Agdala judges that Fr. Smith's answer proves what she had always maintained about Christians, “that religion is only a substitute for sex.”
'Fr. Smith counters roundly, “I still prefer to believe that sex is a substitute for religion and that the young man who rings the bell at the brothel is unconsciously looking for God.”'

Saturday, December 17, 2016

"Preach the Word" at Christmas Too

“Preach the Word….”  (2 Tim. 4:2).  That exhortation to Timothy (and to the Church) from the apostle Paul applies just as much at Christmas time too – in fact in some ways, the joyfully serious task of proclaiming the true Gospel applies especially to Christmas.  For it is possible that, during the very time when unbelievers are most likely to show up at church for our special concerts and programs, Christians (for a whole host of reasons) might be tempted to hollow out the very heart of the greatest story every told.

Make no mistake – the early chapters of the Gospels, echoing the ancient prophets, are very clear what is really going on with the birth of the ‘Christ child’.  For that world ‘Christ’ means – ‘God’s end-time King’ (e.g., Psalm 2 and Isaiah 9:6f.).   Christmas means this rebellious, prodigal planet’s rightful Ruler has come to re-assert the reign of God, for the glory of God.  And yes, wondrously, the kingdom of God will mean salvation and peace for all those who repent and believe, but it will mean judgment and wrath for those who refuse (compare John 3:16 with John 3:36).

The Christmas Story includes exultant angels and kneeling shepherds, yes; but it also includes a murderous king and ‘Rachel weeping for her children.’

Christmas is all about an unavoidable choice; we must all choose sides.  Will we repent and bow the knee to the gracious King who saves, or will we persist in our rebellion, even if our unbelief bears all the trappings of religiousness that marked the Pharisees and Sadducees before us?

“Glory to the newborn King” we sing, and we are right to do so.  But when this newborn grows up to be a man, he begins his ministry by preaching:  “Repent; for the kingdom of heaven has come near”  (Matt. 4:19).  Is THIS the message that non-believers will hear clearly proclaimed from our churches when they gather with us for our programs and pageants, concerts and services this Christmas season?

Will we faithfully “preach the Word” – teaching them that, indeed “in the  town of David a Savior has been born to you”, but telling them too that this Savior is the “Christ  (God’s end-time King), the Lord” who summons all people everywhere to repentance, and to a whole-souled obedience.   (Luke 2:11;  Matt. 28:18ff.; Acts 17:30-31; Rom. 10:9)?   God help us to be faithful heralds of the true and saving message of our glorious and gracious King.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Divine Providence versus Our Fears

"We are superstitiously timid...if whenever creatures [some created thing] threaten us or forcibly terrorize us we become as fearful as if they had some intrinsic power to harm us, or might wound us inadvertently and accidentally, or [as if] there were not enough help in God against their harmful acts."

-- John Calvin, "Institutes of the Christian Religion" (I, XVI, 4)

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Lincoln on Thanksgiving

From Abraham Lincoln's 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation:
"...The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. . . . No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People."

God's Good and Perfect Will

"The Lord is the master of the jigsaw puzzle of our lives.  The pieces may be strangely shaped; often we cannot see how they fit together; but eventually when the big picture is complete we sill see that each piece as perfectly shaped.  He leads us by ways we could not have guessed, into situations we never expected, to fulfill purposes we never could have imagined."

-- Sinclair Ferguson, "Devoted to God" p. 52

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Gospel and the Kingdom

The Gospel is just as much about how to enter into and live in the kingdom of God before you die as it is about how to get into the kingdom of heaven after you die.
(adapted from a statement by Dallas Willard)

The Word of God Already Spoken (and Written Down)

This is so important, and is in opposition to the perspective and practices related to a book like 'Jesus Calling': “If we don’t like Joshua 1:7-8 [quoted below], we still have to face Psalm 1:2, which describes what should be true of every godly believer (i.e. ‘but his delight is in Yahweh’s torah, and in his torah he meditates day and night’). There is no escape! Indeed, the torah should be our delight. Life in the kingdom of God must be lived out of the Word of God.
"Joshua 1 and Psalm 1 alike tell us that a life pleasing to God does not arise from mystical experiences or warm feelings or from a new gimmick advocated in a current release from one of our evangelical publishers; no, it comes from the word God has already spoken and from obedience to that word.”
"Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful." -- Joshua 1:7-8
-- Ralph Davis in “Joshua—No Falling Words”

Monday, September 5, 2016

The More Scriptural, the More Spiritual

Crucial principle for life and ministry: the more Scriptural something (a belief, a practice, a method or way of doing ministry) is, the more spiritual and God-pleasing it is. (And the reverse is therefore true too.)
Elaboration: If something is Scriptural it is spiritual and God-pleasing (because 'Scriptural' = defined by God Himself through His Word). If it is unscriptural it is unspiritual and dis-pleasing to God.
The more Scriptural something is the more spiritual and pleasing to God it is.
The more unscriptural something is the more unspiritual and displeasing to God it is. I'm not saying 'more strict' I'm saying more Scriptural. (The Pharisees were stricter than Jesus, but not more spiritual and God-pleasing.)
Paul says he prays that the Colossian believers will be filled with the knowledge of God's will or purpose (Col. 1:9ff.). Well, that knowledge comes through God's inscripturated word.
So if we really want to live a God-pleasing life and carry out God-pleasing ministry, we will live a life, and do ministry, shaped by the fullness of the knowledge of God's will and the knowledge of God himself -- realizing that comes through God's word and that God’s Word is available to us through Scripture.
And what is the Biblical basis for all this? ...the fact that God gave us the Bible.