Sunday, August 12, 2018

When the Church Confesses "Jesus is Lord"...

1. implying that the Christ of faith was none other than the Jesus of history (Acts 2:34-36),

2. acknowledging the deity of Christ (Jn. 20:28; Phil. 2:6, 9-11)

3. admitting the Lord’s personal rights to absolute supremacy in the universe, the church and individual lives (Acts 10:36; Rom. 10:12; 14:8; 1 Cor. 8:6; Jas. 4:15),

4. affirming the triumph of Christ over death and hostile cosmic powers when God raised him from the dead (Rom. 10:9; 14:9; Eph. 1:20-22; Col. 2:10, 15) and therefore also the Christian’s hope of resurrection (1 Cor. 6:14; 2 Cor. 4:14),

5. epitomizing the Christian message (kerygma; cf. Rom. 10:8-9; 2 Cor. 4:5) and defining the basis of Christian teaching (didache); cf. Col. 2:6-7),

6. declaring everyone’s accountability to the Lord, the righteous judge (1 Cor. 4:5; 2 Tim. 4:1, 8),

7. making a personal and public declaration of faith (Rom. 10:9), which testifies to their being led by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:3), and

8. repudiating their former allegiance to many pagan ‘lords’ and reaffirming their loyalty to one Lord through and in whom they exist (1 Cor. 8:5-6; 1 Tim. 6:15; [1 Thess. 1:9]).”

-- Murray J. Harris, New International Commentary on the Greek New Testament on 2 Cor. 4:5

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

"Don't Underestimate the Doctrine of Divine Providence"

-- by Stephen Witmer

I shifted uncomfortably in my chair, conscious of the tension in the little room. I’d guessed this conversation was coming, since the people now sitting in front of me had seemed unhappy with my pastoral leadership for a good long time. I wasn’t sure what would happen now, but I was afraid it might end badly, with hurtful words spoken and their bitter departure from our church. I mention this moment not because it’s unusual in pastoral ministry—every pastor experiences such meetings sooner or later—or because it had a miraculous and uplifting outcome, but because I recall my own heart in that conversation. I claimed to be Calvinist, but I wasn’t living like one. I was thinking little of God’s role in this conversation—and much of the people sitting across from me.

A Doctrine to Cherish
In the years since, I’ve come to cherish the doctrine of God’s providence and to draw strength and encouragement from it. I’ve begun learning what a difference it makes in the Christian life. In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin underscored the high stakes of believing or rejecting this doctrine: “Ignorance of providence is the ultimate of all miseries; the highest blessedness lies in the knowledge of it.”

I suspect relatively few of us who espouse a classical Reformed view of God’s providence, however, would say it’s borne the “best and sweetest fruit” or that for us “nothing is more profitable than the knowledge of this doctrine.” Reading Calvin on God’s providence leads me to realize we must reclaim the practical benefits of this vital teaching.

Two Planes
The classical view of divine providence holds that every event—including human thoughts, choices, and actions—occurs according to God’s sovereign will. “All things,” the Heidelberg Catechism declares, “come not by chance, but by his fatherly hand.” This view of providence allows for genuine human causality; divine and human agency are held together.

And yet there is an ultimate causality in divine agency that sets it apart from (and over) human agency. We see this in the famous Genesis 45 passage recounting the story of Joseph and his brothers. In Genesis 45:4–8, Joseph twice says that his brothers sold him into Egypt and three times that God sent him to Egypt. Both are true. But there’s another important and initially puzzling feature here that’s crucial for grasping how to apply the doctrine of divine providence. After twice affirming his brothers’ role, Joseph seems to deny it: “It was not you who sent me here, but God.” Unless Joseph is flatly contradicting himself, he must mean his brothers were not the ones ultimately responsible. While both they and God exercise genuine agency, only God’s is ultimate. Their choice is part of God’s plan.

Providence Amnesia 
This is far from an irrelevant theological distinction in Joseph’s mind. In fact, it has immediate practical implications. “Do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here,” Joseph tells his brothers. Why? “For God sent me before you to preserve life.” God’s activity is the reason Joseph’s brothers need not be distressed. Yes, they really sinned, and that can’t be ignored. But God had a purpose for their actions, and that must shape their response to what they’ve done. Joseph urges them to focus more on God’s good purposes in the situation than on their own sinful purposes. They’re to report to their father Jacob that God has made Joseph lord of all Egypt (Gen. 45:9)—and the result of God’s action will be salvation for the entire family (Gen. 45:10–11). Later, we learn God’s ultimate causality led Joseph to speak kindly to his brothers rather than seek revenge (Gen. 50:19–21).

“When we are unjustly wounded by men,” Calvin wrote, “let us overlook their wickedness (which would but worsen our pain and sharpen our minds to revenge), remember to mount up to God, and learn to believe for certain that whatever our enemy has wickedly committed against us was permitted and sent by God’s just dispensation.” I think Calvin (like Joseph in Genesis 45) speaks hyperbolically to make a point. We’re not to completely ignore other people’s good or bad intentions, words, and actions. Calvin further writes, “The Christian heart, since it has been thoroughly persuaded that all things happen by God’s plan, and that nothing takes place by chance, will ever look to him as the principal cause of things, yet will give attention to the secondary causes in their proper place.” In the same evil deed, a godly man will “clearly contemplate God’s righteousness and man’s wickedness, as each clearly shows itself.” Calvin’s strongly-worded counsel to “overlook their wickedness” and “mount up to God” is his way of emphasizing that our main focus is to be on God’s purposes, not human intentions.

This is enormously helpful and practical counsel for all Christians. We’re prone, when confronted with spiteful and malicious human enemies, to forget God is ultimately behind what’s happening to us. Perhaps we give lip service to the truth of his providence, but most of our emotions and responses are directed toward the human agents. After all, they’re more immediately present to our senses. Too often the conviction that God is sovereign, and that humans fulfill his good plans, has virtually no practical impact on the way we live. We suffer from providence amnesia.

Seeing the Invisible Hand
We should begin each day by asking God to give us faith to see his hand in every encounter. Paul Tripp prays three commendable prayers at the outset of the day: (1) “Lord, I’m a person in desperate need of help today,” (2) “Lord, won’t you, in your grace, send your helpers my way?” and (3) “Lord, please give me the humility to receive the help when it comes.” Daily preparing ourselves to receive God’s loving help in unexpected ways, through unexpected people—perhaps through unexpected suffering and hardship—opens our eyes to see the loving activity of his hand in every circumstance. We’re watching for that fatherly hand.

Moreover, when someone hurts us, we should spend more time reflecting on God’s good purposes than on their evil intentions. Or, adapting Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s famous advice, for every look at someone else’s evil intentions, take ten looks at God’s providential purposes. This is what Joseph instructed his brothers to do. It’s what Job did (Job 1:21). Of course we can never fully know God’s purposes, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ponder them. After all, our ignorance of the bad intentions of those who hurt us doesn’t stop us from endlessly speculating on their intentions. If we’re going to speculate, why not speculate on God’s good purposes instead?

A Doctrine for Life
If I were having that same painful conversation in the little room tomorrow, I’m sure I wouldn’t be looking forward to it. My palms might still be sweaty. But I hope I’d have a confidence this time I didn’t have before. I hope I’d be expecting God to work for me, even through the cutting words of angry people. God’s providence doesn’t make our troubles go away, but it does frame them within his majestic and loving purposes for us. This doctrine matters for life.


[originally posted at 

Stephen Witmer (PhD, University of Cambridge) is pastor of Pepperell Christian Fellowship in Pepperell, Massachusetts. He teaches New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and helps lead Small Town Summits, which partners with The Gospel Coalition New England to serve rural churches and pastors. He is author of Eternity Changes Everything: How to Live Now in the Light of Your Future (The Good Book Company, 2014) and the volume on Revelation in Crossway’s Knowing the Bible series.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

"The Lordship of Jesus Christ for Today" by Michael Bird



FALL 2014

To profess that Jesus is Lord is to make no empty claim. It is the singular most important confession that a person can make about who Jesus is and about their relationship to Jesus. To identify Jesus as Lord is to state that God the Father has appointed the crucified and risen man, Jesus of Nazareth, as the master and commander of the cosmos. To acknowledge that Jesus is Lord with one’s lips, by surrendering one’s heart, and by bowing (metaphorically or literally) one’s knees, means that one recognizes that Jesus is the ultimate authority over all things. The sun at the center of the theological universe of the New Testament is this: Jesus reigns.

Truth be told, the Greek word Kyrios for “Lord” is not a technical title for a deity, but simply denotes a person who has authority over someone or something. In the ancient world slaves referred to their masters as Kyrios (Greek) or Dominus (Latin). In the Gospels, when Jesus is addressed as “Lord,” it often means no more than “Sir” or “Master.”1 However, there are other occasions when designation of Jesus as “Lord” is clearly intended to convey Jesus’ divine identity. The resurrection and exaltation of Jesus drove the early church to refer to Jesus as “Lord” in ways identical to how the Old Testament referred to God as YHWH. We need to remember that the Hebrew names for God, the tetragrammaton YHWH and the more general Adonai, were usually translated in the Septuagint (i.e. the Greek version of the Old Testament) with Kyrios for “Lord.” So when Paul says that Jesus is the “one Lord” through whom all things come (1 Cor 8:6 = Deut 6:4) and “everyone tongue will acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil 2:11 = Isa 45:23) he was using YHWH-language to describe Jesus as the “Lord.” The purpose of this blend of scriptural allusion and devotion to Jesus is to underscore the unequaled status given to Jesus by God the Father.

In several other instances the lordship of Jesus constitutes the rubric for the New Testament witness to Jesus. For example, Psalm 110 opens with, “The Lord said to my lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” This was the favorite text for Christian interpreters and preachers. Flip through any New Testament concordance and you’ll find citations, allusions, and echoes of Ps 110 literally and literarily everywhere. A christological reading of Ps 110 gave strong impetus to the view that Jesus was the singular highest authority in heaven and earth.

Second, Paul tells us that when the Judean leaders and Roman authorities killed Jesus, they did not put a mere man to death, rather, “They crucified the Lord of Glory” (1 Cor 2:8). NB: Paul brazenly applies an attribute associated with God–the “God of glory” (see Acts 7:2; Rom 3:23; 5:2; 1 Cor 10:31; 11:7; 2 Cor 1:20; Rev 21:23)– to Jesus. N.T. Wright puts it well: “The ‘rulers and authorities’ of Rome and of Israel … the best government and the highest religion the world at that time had ever known—conspired to put Jesus on the cross.” These rulers did not recognize Jesus as the bearer of the regal and radiant splendor of God Almighty.2

Third, the place where Jesus’ glory will be supremely manifested is, of course, his second coming. Aramaic-speakers in the early church regarded the return of the “Lord,” Mara in Aramaic, as the coming of Jesus to judge the world (1 Cor 16:22; Rev 22:20; Didache 10.6). This is why Paul urged Titus to look ahead to “the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Tit 2:13). The revelation of the Lord Jesus at the end of history would be the revelation of the glory of Israel’s God. The final and climactic manifestation of Jesus as Lord will take place at his second coming when he rescues believers from the coming wrath (1 Thess 1:10), gathers them to himself (2 Thess 2:1), and overthrows lawless authorities (2 Thess 2:8). This is the moment when Jesus will be by might what he is by right, the cosmocrator, the divine master and commander over everything and everyone! So whether it was expositing Scriptures like Ps 110, contemplating the glory of God in Christ, or waiting for Jesus’ return, all of this was saturated with the imagery of Jesus as Lord.

The lordship of Jesus Christ was not merely a doctrinal formula, but something that pervaded the witness, work, and worship of the early church. Have a brief glance through the Book of Acts and you’ll notice as clear as day that baptism, thanksgiving, prayers, hymns, praise, and celebratory meals all take place in the context of devotion to the Jesus Christ as the Lord. In the early church, the word and example of the Lord Jesus carry pre-eminent authority (1 Thess 4:15; 1 Cor 7:10; 11:1; 1 Pet 2:21). The preaching of the gospel was the proclamation of Jesus as Lord (see Acts 2:36; 5:14; 8:16; 9:5 10:36; 28:31; 2 Cor 4:5; 2 Thess 1:8). Knowing God meant knowing the lordship of Jesus Christ (Eph 1:17; 2 Thess 1:8). In fact, the most basic definition of what it means to be a Christian is one who confesses Jesus as Lord, because it is by such a confession that one is saved (Rom 10:9-10), and such a confession can only me made with the help of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:3). On a more chilling note, Paul declares that if anyone does not love the Lord, then he or she is cursed (1 Cor 16:22). Evidently loving the Lord Jesus is identical to the type of covenant loyalty that was expected of Israelites in the love for YHWH (see Deut 6:4; 10:12-13).3

We should also add there is a very sharp and subversive claim implied with the profession that Jesus is Lord. In the Roman world of the first century, Caesar was venerated as “Lord” over the realms he ruled, not just politically, but religiously too. Worship of the emperor all over the empire, while localized in form and varied in intensity, was aimed at ensuring the devotion of his subjects. In ancient media like coins, pottery, and poetry one can find celebration of the emperor as both a “god” and a mediator before the “gods.” In some inscriptions one reads statements such as, “Emperor [Augustus] Caesar, god and lord” and “Nero, the lord of the whole world.” Picture what it would be like to confess that Jesus is Lord in such a context. Visualize yourself standing on a street in downtown Rome announcing that a Jewish man put to death by a Roman governor had been installed as King of kings and Lord of lords! To some it might sound disgusting, while to others it would mark you as a political dissident or simply a lunatic. N.T. Wright rightly observes: “To come to Rome with the gospel of Jesus, to announce someone else’s accession to the world’s throne, therefore, was to put on a red coat and walk into a field with a potentially angry bull.”4

The best analogy I can provide is this: imagine you are in an extravagant hotel in Berlin during the 1930s for a dinner party attended by a mix of lawyers, doctors, businessmen, and military officers. While the evening is mostly polite and cordial, with small talk on everything from the stock market to the latest operas, a military officer suddenly taps his glass and proposes a toast to the Führer, Adolf Hitler. Then, as everyone stands, and raises their glasses, you, being the committed Christian you are, interrupt and propose an alternative toast. Everyone is startled and looks at you as you proudly utter in your best German, “Jesus der Jude aus Nazaret ist der wahre Führer” (Jesus the Jew from Nazareth is the true Leader). You probably won’t have long before the Gestapo comes and takes you away to a very nasty place for making such a subversive claim. Lest I seem to be overstating the political dimensions of Jesus’ lordship, keep in mind that Nero did not have Christians thrown to the lions because they said, “Jesus is Lord of my heart.” The Romans were not interested in the internal dispositions of people’s lives. Confession of Jesus as Lord was always a scandalous and subversive claim. Profession of a “lord” is not merely religious language for adoration on some spiritual plane; it is also a matter of social and political protest. When it came to who was running the show, the Christians knew that there were only two options: the Son of Augustus or the Son of David. By singing and preaching about Jesus as Lord, they were opting for the later, a claim regarded by political authorities as seditious. As N.T. Wright suggests: “At every point, therefore, we should expect what we in fact find: that for Paul, Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not.”5

It is worthwhile to think about what proclaiming Jesus as Lord means for us today. Some time ago H.A.A. Kennedy opined that “the term ‘Lord’ has become one of the most lifeless words in the Christian vocabulary.” When the title “Lord” lost its reverence it also lost its relevance and the title was reduced to something like “a spiritually meaningful religious leader.” That is a travesty because acclamation of Jesus as Lord is no empty confession or a vague religious platitude. More likely, as Kennedy himself adds, “To enter into its meaning and to give it practical effect would be to re-create, in great measure, the atmosphere of the Apostolic Age.”6 I concur with Kennedy because when we discover what it means to live with respect to the lordship of Jesus, then we can get closer to the pattern of devotion that the New Testament calls us to emulate. To confess that Jesus is “Lord” is to announce that he is Lord of all. At the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow, every Christian, every Jew, every Muslim, every Hindu, and every atheist, and they will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. I don’t know whether you’ve thought about it, but this is deeply offensive and disturbing stuff to postmodern sensibilities. Confession of Jesus as Lord implies that all religions are not equal. Jesus is not a leader who has his authority curtailed by politicians or sociologists telling him which areas of life he’s allowed to give people advice on. Jesus is the boss of everyone’s religion, politics, economics, ethics, and everything. Jesus is not interested in trying to capture a big chunk of the religious market; to the contrary, he’s in the business of completely monopolizing it with the glory, justice, and power of heaven. And he has every right to do so, being as he the firstborn of all creation, and the cosmos is both his handiwork and his inheritance! Consequently Abraham Kuyper was right to declare that “there is not a square inch in the whole domain of human existence which Christ who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”7 If that is the case, then true discipleship is about dutifully and faithfully living out the lordship of Jesus Christ. Discipleship means ordering our lives according to his story, symbols, teaching, and authority. Evangelism is not about asking people to try Jesus the way they might try a new decaf moccacino latte from Starbucks. It is more like declaring the victory of the Lord Jesus over sin and death, warning of the judgment to be made by the Lord Jesus over all rebellion, and inviting people to find joy and satisfaction in the life and love that come from the Lord Jesus Christ.

In my visits to the United States I have observed a strong historically conditioned aversion to monarchs, masters, and lords in American culture. There is no American royal family – though if we get another Clinton or Bush in the White House it might be a de facto royal dynasty if you ask me – and such a family would not be welcomed in most quarters. Apparently America has no plans to recant its declaration of independence and to come under the gentle yoke of the English monarch any time soon either! Most American churches would probably loathe the prospect of having Prince Charles installed as the “Supreme Governor” of their respective denominations (and I confess that I share the aversion too). In a curious anecdote, R.C. Sproul observes:

Sometimes it is difficult for people in the United States to grasp the full significance of the title Lord. An Englishman came to this country in the decade of the sixties, and upon arrival spent his first week in Philadelphia becoming acquainted with historic landmarks, such as Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. In order to familiarize himself with American culture, he visited several antique stores that specialized in colonial and revolutionary memorabilia. In one such shop he saw several posters and signboards that contained the slogans of the revolution, such as No Taxation Without Representation, and Don’t Tread on Me. One signboard attracted his attention more than the rest. In bold letters the sign proclaimed: we serve no sovereign here. As he mused on this sign, he wondered how people steeped in such an antimonarchical culture could come to grips with the notion of the kingdom of God and the sovereignty that belongs to the Lord. The concept of lordship invested in one individual is repugnant to the American tradition, yet this is the boldness of the claim of the New Testament for Jesus, that absolute sovereign authority and imperial power are vested in Christ.8

I understand the patriotic dislike of foreign lords who might potentially attack and then tax Americans. Yet such an aversion to a “lord” might be taken too far in some contexts. Strange parts of American evangelicalism –the so-called “no lordship” advocates – have even contended that one should not even preach Jesus as Lord in evangelism, but only as Saviour. Apparently making Jesus lord of one’s life is something that is not meant to happen until much later in one’s Christian walk. Such a view, quite frankly, merits the mother of all theological face palms. Profession of Jesus as Lord is not asking for assent to the mere fact of his deity, but calling people to faithfulness, obedience, and allegiance towards him. Jesus wants followers not fans!9

If I may gently plead with my American friends, with your aversion to “Kings” and “Lords:” before you throw all the christological tea over side of the theological boat, reflect on the words of Paul: “Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love” (Eph 6:24). To love Jesus as Lord is to love Jesus’ lordship. We do this knowing that Jesus is neither a tyrant nor a despot. While Jesus is Lord of all, he is also Lord for all. The goodness, kindness, love, and compassion of Jesus as our Saviour is also reflected in Jesus as our Lord. If we were to make a Christian psalm book, the most common refrain should be, “The Lord Jesus is good, his love endures forever” (see Ps 100:5; 106:1; 107:1; 118:1, 29; 136:1)! To know Jesus as Lord is to know and taste that God is good.

Michael F. Bird is a professor of Theology at Ridley Melbourne College of Mission and Ministry and a contributor to the Ichthus.

 The exception perhaps is Matt 7:22 where Jesus describes himself as the eschatological “Lord” of the end of history.

 N.T. Wright, Climax of the Covenant (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1991), 116 .

D. E. Garland, 1 Corinthians (BECNT; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2003), 774.

 N.T. Wright, “Romans,” New Interpreters Bible, 10:423.

 N.T. Wright, Paul in Fresh Perspective (Minneapolis: MN: Fortress, 2009), 69.

H.A.A. Kennedy, St. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians, 439 cited in C.F.H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1999), 2:239.

Cited in James D. Bratt, Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 461

 R.C. Sproul, Following Christ (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1996), 31

Cf. further Darrell, L. Bock, “Jesus as Lord in Acts and in the Gospel Message,” BSac 143 (1986): 146-54; Millard Erickson, “Lordship Theology: The Current Controversy,” SWJT 33 (1991): 5-15; Michael S. Horton, Christ the Lord: The Reformation and Lordship Salvation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1992).

Salvation, Repentance and Confessing "Jesus is Lord"

New Horizons – Studies in the Book of Acts (Salvation, Conversion, Repentance & Faith)

On repentance as an essential aspect of conversion: (Luke 24:45-47) Acts 2:38; 5:31; 5:31; 11:18; 17:30-31; 20:21; 26:20

The nature of repentance: cp. Jesus’ statement in Matt. 12:41 with Jonah 3.(1-4)5-10

Key Question:  If Jesus is not the Supreme Authority [= 'Lord'] in a person’s life, is that person saved?

Answer: No. 

If you declare/confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  Rom. 10:9  (cp. 1 Cor. 12:3b.)

“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? Lk. 6:46

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’  Matt. 7:21-23

What is at sake regarding this crucial question:

1.  the eternal damnation of those led into a false assurance of salvation;

2.  the corrupting of the church with unregenerate ‘members’…;

3.  failure, then, to be salt and light in the culture (because we will have lost our saltiness);

4.  lack of compelling purpose and direction for living as individual believers and as a church (for we have no Master/Lord to direct us)

Conversion marks the inception of ‘the obedience of faith’, reversing the characteristic disobedience on the unbeliever.  (Rom. 1:5; 6:17-18; cf. Eph. 2:2; 5:6); proactively following as disciples, serving as ‘slaves’, person to Person.

Our Repentance Will Always Be Incomplete, a Work in Progress, in This Life

“We need to realize that while God’s acceptance of each Christian believer is perfect from the start, our repentance always needs to be extended further as long as we are in this world.

"Repentance means turning from as much as you know of your sin to give as much as you know of yourself to as much as you know of your God, and as our knowledge grows at these three points so our practice of repentance has to be enlarged.”

- J.I. Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit: Finding Fullness in Our Walk with God, 87

Repentance Is Not Perfection but Taking Sides

“[The truths relating to a genuine conversion do not mean] that a Christian will never sin.

“Repenting of sin doesn’t necessarily mean that you stop sinning – certainly not altogether, and often not in particular areas, either.  Christians are still fallen sinners even after God gives us new spiritual life, and we will continue to struggle with sin until we are glorified with Jesus (see, e.g., Gal. 5:17; 1 John 2:1).

“But even if repentance doesn’t mean an immediate end to our sinning, it does mean that we will no longer live at peace with our sin.  We will declare mortal war against it and dedicate ourselves to resisting it by God’s power on every front in our lives.

“Many Christians struggle hard with this idea of repentance because they somehow expect that if they genuinely repent, sin will go away and temptation will stop.  When that doesn’t happen, they fall into despair, questioning whether their faith in Jesus is real.

“It’s true that when God regenerates us, he gives us power to fight against and overcome sin (1 Cor. 10:13).  But because we will continue to struggle with sin until we are glorified, we have to remember that genuine repentance is more fundamentally a matter of the heart’s attitude toward sin that it is a mere change of behavior.  Do we hate sin and war against it, or do we cherish it and defend it?

“One writer put this beautifully:  ‘The difference between an uncoverted and converted man is not that the one has sins and the other has none; but that the one takes part/[sides] with his cherished sins against a dreaded God, and the other takes part/[sides] with a reconciled God against his hated sin.’”

-- Greg Gilbert, “What Is the Gospel?” pp. 81-82, quoting William Arnot, “Laws from Heaven for Life on Earth” (London: T. Nelson and Sons, 1884), 311.


How can you hope to enter the kingdom of heaven (then) when you're unwilling for Christ to be your king (now)?


Saturday, June 30, 2018

Repentance is inseparable from forgiveness

'According to the infinite goodness of God, we are promised that if we will forsake our sins, confessing them, and will, by faith, accept the grace which is provided in Christ Jesus, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
'But, so long as God lives, there can be no promise of mercy to those who continue in their evil ways, and refuse to acknowledge their wrongdoing.
'Surely no rebel can expect the King to pardon his treason while he remains in open revolt. No one can be so foolish as to imagine that the Judge of all the earth will put away our sins if we refuse to put them away ourselves.'
-- Charles Spurgeon, "All of Grace" (in the chapter, 'Repentance Must Go with Forgiveness')

Repentance is a change in what we worship

"We were created to worship, and if we won't worship God, we'll worship something else.

"Calling to repentance, then, means calling for a reorientation of worship.  So who or what are we worshiping rather than God?  What compels our time and energy, our spending and our leisure?  What makes us angry?  What gives us hope and comfort?  What are our aspirations for our children?

"...Repenting means exchanging our idols for God.  Before it's a change in behavior, it must be a change in worship...."

-- Michael Lawrence, "Conversion" (9Marks)

Monday, March 12, 2018

Spurgeon on True Conversion

"Note the business on hand—it is that Jesus should be King over you. ...Jesus must be King or He cannot be your Savior. Thousands of people are quite willing to be saved by Christ, but when it comes to the first step, namely, that Jesus must be accepted as Ruler, Lawgiver, Master, King, and Lord, then they start back and reject eternal life—
“Yet know (nor of the terms complain),
Where Jesus comes, He comes to reign;
To reign, and with no partial sway;
Thoughts must be slain that disobey.”
"The whole question of your being saved or lost will turn on this—if Jesus is not your King, then the devil will remain enthroned in your heart and you will remain a lost soul. But if your heart will yield itself up to the supreme authority of King Jesus, then the work of salvation has already commenced and Jesus will take care to purge your nature of all His enemies until you shall be an empire in which He alone shall reign in holiness and peace. Jesus must be king! What do you say, sir, shall it be so? Do you hesitate about it? He must be your Lord and Master. His will must be your will. His commands must be law to you and His example must henceforth be the model of your life. Do you disagree or will you yield at once?...
"...And here is the point, if Jesus is to reign, the old king must go down. It is of no use trying to have [Sin and Christ] on the throne at the same time. It is impossible to serve sin and to serve Christ. Favorite and constitutional sins must be relinquished. I know many persons who say that they are under concern of soul whose sincerity I more than question, because they continue in known sin and yet they complain that they cannot find peace. How can they?...
"...The main point, however, is to do it—really and at once make Christ Jesus your King. And to this end we must believe in Him or trust Him. It is this trusting Jesus Christ which is the essential point, for out of it grows the repentance which renounces every false way. When a man fully and honestly trusts Christ with his soul, he is enabled from that time forward to hate the sin which he once loved and so he wins the mastery over it. He finds a joy in submitting to the holy reign of Jesus because he has already trusted Him and believes that he is saved. But alas! many of you do not believe..."
-- from his sermon entitled, "Now Then Do It"

Saturday, December 2, 2017

John Stott on True Conversion

(from "Basic Christianity", an excellent book on what it really means to become a Christian)

In reference to Luke 14:25-33, Stott writes:

...All too many people still ignore Christ’s warning and undertake to follow him without first pausing to reflect on the cost of doing so. The result is the great scandal of so-called ‘nominal Christianity’. In countries to which Christian civilization has spread, large numbers of people have covered themselves with a decent, but thin, veneer of Christianity.

 They have allowed themselves to become a little bit involved; enough to be respectable, but not enough to be uncomfortable. Their religion is a great, soft cushion. It protects them from the hard unpleasantness of life, while changing its place and shape to suit their convenience. No wonder cynics complain of hypocrites in the church and dismiss religion as escapism. The message of Jesus was very different. He never lowered his standards or changed his conditions to make his call easier to accept. He asked his first disciples, and he has asked every disciple since, to give him their thoughtful and total commitment. Nothing less than this will do.

[Stott then quotes Mark 8:34-38]
 At its simplest, Christ’s call was ‘Follow me’. He asked men and women for their personal allegiance. He invited them to learn from him, to obey his words and to identify themselves themselves with his cause. Now there can be no following without a previous forsaking. To follow Christ is to give up all lesser loyalties….

.….Let me be more explicit about what needs to be abandoned, which cannot be separated from what it means to follow Jesus Christ. First, there must be a renunciation of sin. The word for this is repentance and it is the first step in Christian conversion. There is no way round it. Repentance and faith belong together. We cannot follow Christ without forsaking sin.

Repentance is a definite turning away from every thought, word, deed and habit that we know to be wrong. It is not enough to feel pangs of remorse or to make some kind of apology to God. In essence, repentance is a matter neither of what we feel nor of what we say. It is an inward change of mind and attitude towards sin which leads to a change of behaviour. There can be no compromise here.

There may be sins in our lives which we do not think we could ever let go of; but we must be willing to let them go and ask God to deliver us from them. If you are unsure about what is right and what wrong, about what must go and what may be held on to, do not be too greatly influenced by Christians you may know and what they do. Go instead by the clear teaching of the Bible and by the prompting of your conscience, and Christ will gradually lead you further along the right path. When he puts his finger on anything, give it up. It may be someone you spend time with or something you do, or some attitude of pride, jealousy or resentment, or a refusal to forgive.

Jesus told his followers to gouge out their eye and cut off their hand or foot if these caused them to sin. We are not to obey this literally, of course, by mutilating our bodies. It is a vivid figure of speech for dealing ruthlessly with the ways through which temptation comes to us. Sometimes, true repentance has to include making amends. This means putting things right with other people whom we may have hurt.

All our sins wound God, and nothing we do can heal the injury. Only the atoning death of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, can do this. But when our sins have harmed other people, we can sometimes help to repair the damage, and where we can, we must. Zacchaeus, the dishonest tax-collector, more than repaid the money he had stolen from his clients and promised to give away half his capital to the poor to compensate for the thefts which he was unable to make good. We must follow his example.

There may be money or time for us to pay back, rumours to be contradicted, property to return, apologies to be made, or broken relationships to be restored. We must not be unduly overscrupulous in this matter, however. It would be foolish to rummage through past years and make an issue of insignificant words or deeds long ago forgotten by the person we offended. Nevertheless, we must be realistic about this duty. I have known a student own up to the university authorities that she had cheated in an exam, and another return some books which he had stolen from a shop. An army officer sent a list of items he had ‘scrounged’ to the Ministry of Defence.

If we really repent, then we shall want to do everything in our power to put things right. We cannot continue to enjoy what we have gained from the sins we want to be forgiven.

…So, in order to follow Christ we have to deny ourselves, to crucify ourselves, to lose ourselves. The full, inescapable demand of Jesus Christ is now revealed in full. He does not call us to a sloppy half-heartedness, but to a vigorous, absolute commitment. He calls us to make him our Lord.  [Mark 8:34-38; Luke 14:25-33]

Many people think that we can enjoy the benefits of Christ’s salvation without accepting the challenge of his absolute authority. There is no support for such an unbalanced idea in the New Testament. ‘Jesus is Lord’ [Rom. 10:9] is the earliest known summary of what Christians believe….

…God had placed his Son Jesus far above every other authority and given the highest possible status to him, so that ‘every knee should bow’ before him ‘and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord’ [Phil. 2:9-11].  He does not call us to a sloppy half-heartedness, but to a vigorous, absolute commitment. To make Christ Lord is to bring every area of our public and private lives under his control. …. 


-- John Stott. “Basic Christianity” (pp. 133-137). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

"Once saved, you'll want to obey the Lord...."

“No matter how you put it, no matter how you argue it, no matter how you outline it, one of the evidences of having salvation in your heart is a desire to be obedient to Him. If you’re a professing Christian and your whole nature is disobedient to what God says in His Word, you better have a meeting with the Lord.

"If you don’t believe this is true, you carefully read 1 John and find out how many things John puts in that little epistle about the evidence of salvation, and almost every one of them, if not every one of them, can be tied somewhere to the idea of obedience. Once saved, you’ll want to obey the Lord. Now that is not to say that in every instance every Christian all the time will, but there will be a desire in his heart to obey the Lord….”

-- James T. Jeremiah (fomer president & chancellor of Cedarville University)

Martin Luther on the First Commandment

I recently read Martin Luther’s profound treatment of the 1st Commandment (in a new translation) and was struck by his insights:

"You are to have no other gods...."

What is the meaning of the First Commandment?  It is God saying to us:   "You are to regard me alone as your God. What does 'to have a God' mean? Or, what is 'God'? 

Answer: God is that in which we are to look for all good and in which we are to find refuge in all need. Therefore, to have a God is nothing else than to trust and believe in that one [entity: a god, person, thing, cause] with your whole heart. It is the trust and faith of the heart alone that make both God and an idol. If your faith and trust are right, then your God is the true one.  Conversely, where your trust is false and wrong, there you do not have the true God. For these two belong together, faith and God. Anything on which your heart relies and depends, I say, that is really your God. 

The intention of this commandment therefore is to require true faith and confidence of the heart, which fly straight to the one true God and cling to him alone. What this means is: 'see to it that you let me alone be your God, and never search for another'. In other words 'whatever good thing you lack, look to me for it and seek it from me, and whenever you suffer misfortune and distress, crawl to me and cling to me. I, I myself, will give you what you need and help you out of every danger. Only do not let your heart cling to or rest in anyone else.'

-- "The Large Catechism of Martin Luther" in "Word and Faith" vol. 2, Kirsi I. Stjerna, ed. (Fortress Press) p. 300

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Calvin on Justification, Faith and Works

"When therefore, we say that the faithful are esteemed just even in their deeds this is not stated as a cause of their salvation, and we must diligently notice that the cause of salvation is excluded from this doctrine; for, when we discuss the cause, we must look nowhere else but to the mercy of God, and there we must stop. 

"But although works tend in no way to the cause of justification, yet, when the elect sons of God were justified freely by faith, at the same time their works are esteemed righteous by the same gratuitous liberality. Thus it still remains true, that faith without works justifies, although this needs prudence and a sound interpretation; for this proposition, that faith without works justifies is true and yet false, according to the different senses which it bears.

"The proposition, that faith without works justifies by itself, is false, because faith without works is void. But if the clause "without works" is joined with the word "justifies," the proposition will be true. Therefore faith cannot justify when it is without works, because it is dead, and a mere fiction. He who is born of God is just, as John says (1 John v. 18).

"Thus faith can be no more separated from works than the sun from his heat: yet faith justifies without works, because works form no reason for our justification; but faith alone reconciles us to God, and causes him to love us, not in ourselves, but in his only-begotten Son."

-- cited in an article by Richard B. Gaffin

Friday, October 13, 2017

Acedia (Spiritual Apathy) versus Friendship with God

Especially helpful insights about the essence of true Christian spirituality from an article in First Things by Reinhard Hutter:

"…To comprehend the spiritual roots of this crisis, we need to recall an all-too-forgotten vice, acedia, usually called “sloth” but better rendered as “spiritual apathy.” It is the very forgoing of friendship with God—which is the fulfillment of the transcendent dignity and calling of the human person—and the embrace of the self-indulgent deception that there never was and never will be friendship with God, that there never was and never will be a transcendent calling and dignity of the human person. Nothing matters much, because the one thing that really matters, God’s love and friendship, does not exist and therefore cannot be attained.

"Acedia creates a void that we try to fill with transient rushes of pleasure—primarily venereal pleasure—to ward off the ennui of life bereft of its very center. But the simulacra [an image or representation of someone or something]   that promise the rushes of pleasure we seek betray us. They cannot fill the void created by the loss of our transcendent calling to the love and friendship of God. Rather, they only increase the craving to fill the void we cannot fill, breeding compulsion and intensifying spiritual apathy, thereby encouraging acedia’s most dangerous shoot to spring forth: despair.

"Christian spiritual wisdom has always regarded acedia as a vice that, unchecked, will eventually prove deadly to the Christian life. For spiritual apathy first leads us to despair of God’s love and mercy and eventually issues in a sadness that will always cause problems. For, as St. Thomas Aquinas observes in On Evil, “No human being can long remain pleasureless and sad.” People engulfed by the sadness to which their indulgence in spiritual apathy led them tend to avoid such sadness first by shirking and then by resenting and scorning God’s love and mercy.

"This vice’s post-Christian secular offshoot, an unthematic despair posing as boredom, covers—like a fungus—the spiritual, intellectual, and emotional life of many, if not most, who inhabit the affluent segments of the Western secular world. The old vice of acedia, of spiritual apathy, is the root cause of the typically bourgeois ennui, boredom.

"Eventually the collective ideological, cultural, social, and political aversion to the divine good previously received and embraced will issue in a collective spiritual state of acedia, which eventually turns against any remnant of or witness to the transcendent dignity of human persons and to their calling to friendship with God. This is the very story of modern secularism. The flight from sadness that begins with avoiding and resisting spiritual goods and ends with attacking them describes with uncanny accuracy the specific ressentiment   [a psychological state arising from suppressed feelings of envy and hatred that cannot be acted upon, frequently resulting in some form of self-abasement]  and aggression typical of a secular age.

"...The single most important practice that fortifies our spiritual chastity and simultaneously protects us from acedia is an active and persistent discipline of prayer...."

"The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him,
    and he makes known to them his covenant."  Ps. 25:14

Friday, September 15, 2017

The Coming Wrath and the Message of Paul

"Most scholars believe 1 Thessalonians was the first of Paul’s extant epistles to be written. Sent shortly after Paul established a community of believers in Thessalonica, the letter reflects from beginning to end the thrust of Paul’s message when he first arrived in the city. At any moment, Paul had warned his listeners, an outpouring of divine wrath would engulf an unsuspecting humanity and bring it sudden destruction (1: 10; 5: 3; cf. 2 Thess 1: 5-10). Human sinfulness had all but reached its limit. Gentiles for their part had paid no heed to the true and living God while serving idols; their immorality was notorious and their conduct in general befitted darkness, not light (cf. 1 Thess 1: 9; 4: 4-5; 5: 6-7).

"As for Jews, estrangement from God was signaled by their no less notorious history of rejecting his messengers: the prophets of old, the Lord Jesus but recently, and now his apostolic witnesses (2: 14-16). Retribution for all would be swift and inescapable (5: 3). Many people today — for reasons we need not explore here — do not take such a message seriously. Evidently, however, Paul’s first-century readers in Thessalonica had done so; the notion that a deity might be angered by their actions was nothing new, and divine displeasure was a dangerous thing. Jews and non-Jews alike had always been concerned to keep on good terms with the supernatural powers that influenced, or even controlled, their destinies. With such concerns, Paul’s message found a natural resonance.

"We may well wonder whether Stendahl can be right in suggesting that the question 'How am I to find a gracious God?' has occupied people in the modern West, but it is inconceivable that he is right in denying such a concern to the people of antiquity — particularly if we think of those who responded to Paul’s message of pending doom. Whether or not it induced a harbinger of the introspection characteristic of later times is, in this regard, a red herring. With or without an introspective conscience, anyone who takes seriously a warning of imminent divine judgment must deem it an urgent concern to find God merciful. So much is clear.

"Conversely, nothing in the letter suggests that the relationship between Gentiles and Jews in the believing community was an issue in Thessalonica. If 'the leading edge of Paul’s theological thinking was the conviction that God’s purpose embraced Gentile as well as Jew, not the question of how a guilty man might find a gracious God,'  and if the latter question marks rather the concerns of the later West, then it must be said that Paul’s message to the Thessalonians left them in the dark about the core of his thinking while pointlessly answering a question that they were born in quite the wrong time and place to even dream of raising."

"The answer Paul gave to the question he is no longer allowed to have raised was that God had provided, through his Son Jesus, deliverance from the coming wrath (1: 10; 5: 9). This message of 'salvation'  — appropriately labeled a 'gospel' (= good news) — had been entrusted to Paul (2: 4, 16). To be 'saved,' people must “receive” the gospel he proclaimed (1: 6), recognizing it to be, not the word of human beings, but that of God (2: 13). Such a response to the word of God signified a “turning to” the true and living God (1: 9) and faith in him (1: 8). Those bound for salvation were thus distinguished from those doomed to wrath by their response of faith to the gospel. The former are repeatedly identified as 'the believing ones' (1: 7; 2: 10, 13), the latter as those who do not believe (or obey) the truth of the gospel (cf. 2 Thess 1: 8; 2: 12; 3: 2)."

-- Stephen Westerholm,  "Justification Reconsidered" (p. 5). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. Kindle Edition.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Halting, Imperfect Faith Is Still Approved by God

"...Thus in all the saints, something reprehensible is ever to be found; yet faith, though halting and imperfect, is still approved by God.  There is, therefore, no reason why the faults we labour under should break us down, or dishearten us, provided we by faith go on in the race of our calling."

-- John Calvin, commentary on Hebrews 11:32 (regarding the faith-prompted actions of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jepthah....)

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Success in Ministry?

"The fact that contempt was Jesus the Lord's experience should teach disciples that success, as the world (and much religion) counts success, should be no criterion whatsoever for discipleship.  Success in the Christian sense is the ability to be like Jesus."

-- F.D. Bruner, commentary on Matt. 10:24-25