Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Most Direct Route to Spiritual Maturity

"The Word of God well understood and religiously obeyed is the shortest route to spiritual perfection [maturity]. Nothing less than a whole Bible can make a whole Christian."
—A. W. Tozer

Monday, September 29, 2014

A "Form of Religion" But Not the Real Thing

A "Form of Religion" (But Not the Real Thing)
It seems that one of Satan's most effective strategies is to get the professing people of God to get caught up with a 'form of religion' that substitutes for the real thing in our lives (cp. 2 Tim.3:5). Recognizing these man-made substitutes is a first step in resisting them. Along this line, Jonathan Leeman posts on a schema of seven counterfeit gospels, as cited in How People Change by Tim Lane and Paul Tripp.

1. Formalism. “I participate in the regular meetings and ministries of the church, so I feel like my life is under control. I’m always in church, but it really has little impact on my heart or on how I live. I may become judgmental and impatient with those who do not have the same ‘commitment’ as I do.”  I honor the Lord with my lips, but my heart is far from him.

2. Legalism. “I live by the rules—rules I create for myself and rules I create for others. I feel good if I can keep my own rules, and I become arrogant and full of contempt when others don’t meet the standards I set for them. There is no joy in my life because there is no grace to be celebrated.”  My obedience is not fueled by a deep gratitude for grace, but from a desperately sought pride in my performance.

3. Mysticism. “I am engaged in the incessant pursuit of an emotional experience with God. I live for the moments when I feel close to him, and I often struggle with discouragement when I don’t feel that way. I may change churches often, too, looking for one that will give me what I’m looking for.”

4. Activism. “I recognize the missional nature of Christianity and am passionately involved in fixing this broken world. But at the end of the day, my life is more of a defense of what’s right than a joyful pursuit of Christ.”  I’m very involved and consider myself more hard-working for the kingdom than most, but I am preoccupied with whether or not other people recognize and affirm me.

5. Biblicism. “I know my Bible inside and out, but I do not let it master me. I have reduced the gospel to a mastery of biblical content and theology, so I am intolerant and critical of those with lesser knowledge.”  I have let myself become only a hearer, but not a doer of God’s Word.

6. Therapism. “I talk a lot about the hurting people in our congregation, and how Christ is the only answer for their hurt. Yet even without realizing it, I have made Christ more Therapist than Savior. I view hurt as a greater problem than sin—and I subtly shift my greatest need from my moral failure to my unmet needs."

7. “Social-ism.” “The deep fellowship and friendships I find at church have become their own idol. The body of Christ has replaced Christ himself, and the gospel is reduced to a network of fulfilling Christian relationships.”

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Not Bibliolatry but Christianity

"Bowing to the living Lord, then, entails submitting mind and heart to the written Word. Disciples individually and churches corporately stand under the authority of Scripture because they stand under the lordship of Christ who rules by Scripture. This is not bibliolatry but Christianity in its most authentic form." -- J.I. Packer, "Truth and Power"

Saturday, September 27, 2014

When God's Word (the Bible) Is Not Enough

It is unspeakably sad, and in practice debilitating, to see professedly-Bible believing Christians and churches grow increasingly discontent and dissatisfied with the God-breathed words of Holy Scripture, to maintain their faith and devotion, turning to purported words from the Lord from those who speak “visions from their own mind, not from the mouth of the Lord.” (Jeremiah 23:16; compare verses 16:31). Historically, Christians (especially evangelicals) have been sure that in the Spirit-inspired words of the Bible, we have all we need for life and godliness. But that consensus and conviction is in decline today among churches which have not actually altered a single sentence in their doctrinal statements, including their ‘official’ beliefs about the Bible.

J.I. Packer summarizes the historic orthodox belief: "...it is impossible to give too much weight to the fact that Jesus, who was himself God speaking, would have consistently viewed the words of his Bible as God speaking and should have lived his life and fulfilled his vocation of teaching and suffering in direct and conscious obedience to what was written. Now, in effect, from his throne he tells all who would be his disciples that they must learn from him and follow his example at this point and submit to becoming disciples of the canonical Scriptures. His authority and the authority of the Scriptures upon us are one.

"What then should we do? We should look to the Holy Spirit, who inspired the biblical text and who authenticates it to regenerate hearts as God-given by sensitizing us to the impact of its divinity, to make clear to us not only what God said in and through the text to its original readers but also what he says to us via the same text here and now. We should ask for the Spirit's illumination, especially for our attempts at applicatory thinking.
"We should settle it in our minds that everything the Father and the Son say to us in and through Scripture relates, one way or another, to the person, place and purpose of Christ, to the realities of God's kingdom and to faithful following of Christ through what Bunyan called the wilderness of this world." --"Truth and Power: the Place of Scripture in the Christian Life"

Compare Deut. 32:45-47; John 6:63; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; Heb. 4:12-13; 1 Pet. 1:22-25

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Only Authoritative Communion with God

"God talks to me no other way [other than through Scripture], but don't get this wrong, he talks to me very personally. I open my Bible in the morning to meet my friend, my Savior, my Creator, my Sustainer. I meet him and he talks to me. . . . I'm not denying providence, not denying circumstances, not denying people, I'm just saying that the only authoritative communion I have with God with any certainty comes through the words of this book." -- John Piper

Thursday, September 25, 2014

God's Word and Our True Good

“When Christians affirm the authority of the bible, meaning that biblical teaching reveals God's will and is the instrument of his rule over our lives, part of what they are claiming is that Scripture sets before us the factual and moral nature of things. God's law corresponds to created human nature, so that in fulfilling his requirements, we fulfill ourselves. The gospel of Christ answers to actual human need, as glove fits hand, so that all our responses to God work for our good….”

– J.I. Packer, “Truth and Power”

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A Wellspring of True Happiness

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'”  Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.  John 7:37-39

“He who has divine love in him has a wellspring of true happiness that he carries about in his own breast, a fountain of sweetness, a spring of the water of life.  There is a pleasant calmness and serenity and brightness in the soul that accompanies the exercises of this holy affection.”

-- Jonathan Edwards, quoted in Dane C. Ortlund, Edwards on the Christian Life (Wheaton, 2014), page 33.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

"I want to know one thing...."

"To candid, reasonable men I am not afraid to lay open what have been the inmost thoughts of my heart. I have thought I am a creature of a day, passing through life as an arrow through the air. I am a spirit come from God and returning to God; just hovering over the great gulf, till a few moments hence I am no more seen --- I drop into an unchangeable eternity!

"I want to know one thing, the way to heaven --- how to land safe on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach the way: for this very end he came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price give me the Book of God! I have it. Here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be a man of one book..

"Here then I am, far from the busy ways of men. I sit down alone: only God is here. In his presence I open, I read his Book; for this end, to find the way to heaven." -- John Wesley

Monday, September 22, 2014

God's Word...God Himself

"...Since the Bible affirms that it is the very words of God, we are to seek to understand those words, for in doing so, we are seeking to understand God himself. We are to seek to trust the words of Scripture, for in doing so, we are seeking to trust God himself. And we are to seek to obey the words of Scripture, for in doing so, we are seeking to obey God himself.” -- Wayne Grudem

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Totally Criticized and Completely Forgiven

"Give up your success-and-failure patterns. Seek grace in Christ, humbly and honestly. Understand that a conviction of sin does not make you neurotic, but rather it spells the beginning of the end for neurosis. After all, what is a neurotic? Simply a hurting person who is closed off to criticism in any form and yet engages in the most intense, destructive self criticism that produces neither hope nor help.

"What a marvelous relief God’s grace in Christ offers. I had been totally criticized, and at the same time I was completely forgiven. As I rested in the work of another, my heart was at peace with God; and for the first time, I felt at peace with myself."

— Rose Marie Miller
"From Fear to Freedom"

Saturday, September 20, 2014

"That would be to ... un-Christ himself...."

"If we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself." 2 Timothy 2:13
“I tell you, if he were to shut you out, dear soul, whoever you may be, if you go to him, he would deny himself. He never did deny himself yet. Whenever a sinner comes to him, he becomes his Savior. Whenever he meets a sick soul, he acts as his Physician. . . . If you go to him, you will find him at home and on the look-out for you. He will be more glad to receive you than you will be to be received. . . . I tell you again that he cannot reject you. That would be to alter his whole character and un-Christ himself. To spurn a coming sinner would un-Jesus him and make him to be somebody else and not himself any longer. ‘He cannot deny himself.’ Go and try him; go and try him.”

-- C. H. Spurgeon

Friday, September 19, 2014

Who is a legalist?

"What we usually mean by a legalist is anyone who seems more serious about obeying Christ than I am." -- Kevin DeYoung

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Center of the Universe?

"If there really is an infinitely glorious God, does it really make sense for the universe to revolve around us rather than around Him?" -- Timothy Keller

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Receiving God's Word

Here is the outline of the introductory lesson to the Foundations Bible Institute course that I'm teaching on Tuesday evenings at South Church.

Introduction (9/16/14)
Receiving God’s Word

We are to use God’s Word(s) for the purpose(s) for which it was given. (Not more; not less.)
-- 2 Tim. 3:16-17; Psalm 119; Deut. 10:12-13; Jer. 9:23-24; John 17:3

God’s Word is communication from Him designed to create and guide our relationship with Him.
-- John 17:3, 6, 17,20-21; Psalm 1; 19:7-11; Matt. 28:18-19; Col. 1:28; 3:16; contrast John 5:39; Matt. 23:1-5a (ff.), 23-24

We are to be clear on where we find God’s Word (how does He speak His Word to us?) Heb. 1:1-2 ; 2:1-4 (contrast Jer. 23:25-32; 2 Thess. 2:1-3a)

The Word of God is continually addressing us, as teaching, promise/warning and command.
The right responses are belief, trust and obedience.

Satan counteracts God’s working to save and sanctify us by undermining our confidence in God’s Word. (cp. Gen. 3 and Matt. 4)

The Word of God must be rightly heard and understood (and thus rightly interpreted and taught) to do its saving work. 2 Tim. 2: 15-17a ; 2 Pet. 3:16

Christ gave to the church pastor-teachers to guide believers in their understanding of God’s Word. Eph. 4:7-16; Acts 20:25-32; Titus 1:5, 9. Acts 2:42ff.; Col. 3:16

(Consider the phenomenon of ‘unsupervised’ parachurch Christianity, e.g., Christian radio); James 3:1

Summary application: Matt. 7:24-29; Jas. 1:22-25
Related resources:
“Truth and Power” by J.I. Packer http://www.ccel.us/packer.toc.html
“Taking God at His Word” by Kevin DeYoung

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Right Kind of Scholarship in Seminary

Printed below are excerpts from this excellent article:  ‘Scholarship that helps men to preach’: The pastoral legacy of A.T. Robertson

'Robertson had a deep passion to equip gospel ministers whose hearts were impassioned and whose minds were enlightened. He vehemently rejected the idea that theological education was a waste of time. He averred, “If theological education will increase your power for Christ, is it not your duty to gain that added power? … Never say you are losing time by going to school. You are saving time, buying it up for the future and storing it away. Time used in storing power is not lost.” He also rejected the idea that the purpose of the seminary was to make scholars. The question for him was: “Does the college and seminary training tend to make better preachers?” His response:

'If not, it is a failure. The German idea is to make scholars first and preachers incidentally. But ours is to make preachers, and scholars only as a means to that end. We have small need in the pulpit for men that can talk learnedly and obscurely about the tendencies of thought and the trend of philosophy, but do not know how to preach Christ and him crucified. The most essential thing to-day is not to know what German scholars think of the Bible, but to be able to tell men what the Bible says about themselves. And if our system of theological training fails to make preachers, it falls short of the object for which it was established. But if it does meet the object of its creation, it calls for hearty sympathy and support. … But my plea is for scholarship that helps men to preach. For after all, the great need of the world is the preaching of the gospel, not saying off a sermon, but preaching that stirs sinful hearts to repentance and godliness.'

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Liberty is the Gift of God

"God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever."

-- Thomas Jefferson

Wednesday, September 10, 2014


"Worship, according to Scripture, is an ongoing captivation of the heart that overflows into your life to produce desire, word, and deed. Everybody worships all the time. The question is: who, or what, is your heart captivated by that results in specific desire, word, and deed?" -- Paul David Tripp

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

You Are Accepted!

“Only a fraction of the present body of professing Christians are solidly appropriating the justifying work of Christ in their lives. . . . In their day-to-day existence they rely on their sanctification for justification. . . . Few know enough to start each day with a thoroughgoing stand upon Luther’s platform: you are accepted, looking outward in faith and claiming the wholly alien righteousness of Christ as the only ground for acceptance, relaxing in that quality of trust which will produce increasing sanctification as faith is active in love and gratitude.

"In order for a pure and lasting work of spiritual renewal to take place within the church, multitudes within it must be led to build their lives on this foundation.  This means that they must be conducted into the light of a full conscious awareness of God’s holiness, the depth of their sin and the sufficiency of the atoning work of Christ for their acceptance with God, not just at the outset of their Christian lives but in every succeeding day.”

-- Richard F. Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Life (Downers Grove, 1979), pages 101-102.  Italics his.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Even our sins testify to Him

“All those who wander far away and set themselves up against you are imitating you, but in a perverse way; yet by this very mimicry they proclaim that you are the Creator of the whole of nature and that in consequence there is no place whatever where we can hide from your presence.”

-- Augustine, Confessions, Book 2, Section 14.

Every sin is not an original composition but a fake, an imitation of something real and wonderful.  It is the photographic negative of beauty found in God alone.

There is no way to escape God.  No one, including the most extreme sinner, will ever be able to say, “God, you were completely beyond my range of awareness and experience.”  Even our sins testify to him.

-- Ray Ortlund, Jr.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Authentic Pastoral Calling

“It is to feed sheep on such truth [the whole counsel of God] that men are called to churches and congregations, whatever they may think they are called to do. If you think that you are called to keep a largely worldly organisation, miscalled a church, going, with infinitesimal doses of innocuous sub-Christian drugs or stimulants, then the only help I can give you is to advise you to give up the hope of the ministry and go and be a street scavenger; a far healthier and more godly job, keeping the streets tidy, than cluttering the church with a lot of worldly claptrap in the delusion that you are doing a job for God.

"The pastor is called to feed the sheep, even if they do not want to be fed. He is certainly not to become an entertainer of goats. Let goats entertain goats, and let them do it out in goatland. You will certainly not turn goats into sheep by pandering to their goatishness. Do we really believe that the Word of God, by his Spirit, changes, as well as maddens men? If we do, to be evangelists and pastors, feeders of sheep, we must be men of the Word of God.”

-- From THE REFORMED READER -- a quote by Scottish pastor William Still (d. 1997) about authentically carrying out the calling of a pastor to be a faithful minister of God's Word

Friday, September 5, 2014

To Him Who Overcomes....

I often think in analogies, and right now this one occurred to me -- we in America (and the West), especially under current leadership, seem to be reluctant to face the reality that our enemies are not measured and moderate in their goals, nor in their brutal intensity of achieving them. But pretending or wishing this were true doesn't change the reality. And how hard you actually fight is pretty much determined by how hard your enemy is fighting.

And what occurred to me is that the same is true when it comes to our 'spiritual warfare' (see, e.g., Eph. 6:10-20; 1 Pet. 5:8-9). We may wish that authentically living the Christian life was really just kind of a casual self-improvement plan -- but it's not. It's a fight (1 Tim. 6:11-12) -- and how hard we have to fight is not really up to us -- in a key sense, it depends on how hard our Enemy is fighting to defeat and destroy us.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Receiving Reproof

It is striking to me how much the Bible says about the importance, value and benefit of accepting correction and reproof/rebuke (e.g., Prov. 9:7-12; Col 1:28-29; 2 Tim. 3:16) and how unwelcome such correction is in evangelical Christanity today. In contrast, in areas like sports and fitness (things we really care about being good at) we welcome and seek out correction, because we know it's essential to our improvement and development, but when it comes to spiritual fitness (1 Tim. 4:7-8), not so much..... And thus we head down the road to the kind of cluelessness that characterizes life in Laodicea (Rev. 3:17f.). Heaven help us.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Speaking Coldly of Heavenly Things?

"To speak slightly and coldly of heavenly things is nearly as bad as to say nothing of them at all." -- Richard Baxter

Monday, September 1, 2014

God is the highest good of the reasonable creature

"God is the highest good of the reasonable creature. The enjoyment of him is our proper happiness, and is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied. To go to heaven, fully to enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant accommodations here: better than fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, or children, or the company of any or all earthly friends. These are but shadows; but God is the substance. These are but scattered beams; but God is the sun. These are but streams; but God is the fountain. These are but drops; but God is the ocean. Therefore, it becomes us to spend this life only as a journey towards heaven."

-- Jonathan Edwards (WJE 17:437–38)