Category Archives: Biblical Lesson/Teaching

The Dangers of an Oversimplified Gospel

Code: B180110

What needs to be conveyed to unbelievers in order that they might understand and embrace salvation?

Many of the modern trends in evangelism have tended to take a minimalist approach to the question. Unfortunately, the legitimate desire to express the heart of the gospel clearly has given way to a less wholesome endeavor. It is a campaign to distill the essentials of the message to the barest possible terms.

The glorious gospel of Christ—that which Paul called “the power of God to salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16)—includes all the truth about Christ. But American evangelicalism tends to regard the gospel as a “plan of salvation.” We have reduced the message to a list of facts stated in the fewest possible words—and getting fewer all the time: “Six Steps to Peace with God”; “Five Things God Wants You to Know”; “Four Spiritual Laws”; “Three Truths You Can’t Live Without”; “Two Ways to Live”; or “One Way to Heaven.” (This is not a critique of these specific presentations, but is merely an observation that we seem eager to produce and use “plans of salvation” that enumerate and consolidate the gospel message.)

Another trend, equally dangerous, is to reduce evangelism to a memorized script. Often, evangelism training consists of having Christians memorize a series of questions, anticipating that each question will fall into one of a few categories that has a preplanned response.

But the gospel is not a message that can be capsulated, abridged, shrink-wrapped, and then offered as a generic remedy for every kind of sinner. Ignorant sinners need to be instructed about who God is and why He has the right to demand their obedience. Self-righteous sinners need to have their sin exposed by the demands of God’s law. Careless sinners need to be confronted with the reality of God’s impending judgment. Fearful sinners need to hear that God in His mercy has provided a way of deliverance. All sinners must understand how utterly holy God is. They must comprehend the basic truths of Christ’s sacrificial death and the triumph of His resurrection. They need to be confronted with God’s demand that they turn from their sin to embrace Christ as Lord and Savior.

Furthermore, in all the instances where Jesus and the apostles evangelized—whether they were ministering to individuals or crowds—there are no two incidents where they presented the message in precisely the same terminology. They knew that salvation is a sovereign work of God. Their role was to preach truth; the Holy Spirit would apply it individually to the hearts of His elect.

The form of the message will vary in each case. But the content must always drive home the reality of God’s holiness and the sinner’s helpless condition. Then it points sinners to Christ as a sovereign but merciful Lord who has purchased full atonement for all who will turn to Him in faith.

Christians today are often cautioned about the danger of saying too much to the lost. Certain spiritual issues are labeled taboo when speaking to the unconverted: God’s law, Christ’s lordship, repentance, surrender, obedience, judgment, and hell. Such things are not to be mentioned, lest we “add something to the offer of God’s free gift.”

Worse still, there are some who take this reductionist evangelism to its furthest extreme. Wrongly applying the Reformed doctrine of sola fide (faith alone), they make faith the only permissible topic when speaking to non-Christians about their duty before God. Then they render faith utterly meaningless by stripping it of everything but its notional aspects. This, some believe, preserves the purity of the gospel. But what it has actually done is undercut the power of the message of salvation.

It has also populated the church with false converts whose faith is counterfeit and whose hope hangs on a bogus promise. Numbly saying they “accept Christ as Savior,” they brazenly reject His rightful claim as Lord. Paying Him glib lip service, they utterly scorn Him with their hearts (Mark 7:6). Casually affirming Him with their mouths, they deliberately deny Him with their deeds (Titus 1:16). Addressing Him superficially as “Lord, Lord,” they stubbornly decline to do His bidding (Luke 6:46). Such people fit the tragic description of the “many” in Matthew 7:22–23 who will one day be stunned to hear Him say, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!”

If there is no simple description for an evangelistic conversation, then what should the evangelist say when proclaiming the gospel? What are the points we need to make clear if we are to articulate the gospel as precisely as possible? In the days ahead we’re going to lay out the basic, yet fundamental, building blocks for faithfully communicating the way of salvation to a sinner: the holiness of God, the depravity of man, the work of Christ, and God’s demands upon the sinner. These are truths we need to embrace as Christ’s people and master as His witnesses.

(Adapted from The John MacArthur Pastor’s Library: Evangelism.)

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Confession in the Bible: Verses About Confessing Your Sins

When many people hear ‘confessing your sin’, they think it reserved for monks in a monastery or of paying penance to God by entering a church confessional.

But Scripture teaches us it is an important practice for the life of every Christian. The answers to these questions about confession in the Bible may surprise you:

What does the Bible say about confession?

What will happen if you don’t confess your sins?

Psalm 32 offers us several powerful reasons to confess our sins and shows us the consequences of unconfessed sin. David felt weak and was miserable when he did not confess. Verses 3-4 says, “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.”

Before confessing his sin, David was exhausted. Why? The life was being drained out of him by sin. If you do not weaken sin, it saps your spiritual strength. It weakens you. When I see a sin forming in my life, I must say, “If I’m to serve Christ, I dare not let this grow! It’ll drain the life out of me…”

Why should you confess your sins?

In addition to avoiding the negative effects of unconfessed sin, biblical confession is a way to experience more of God’s grace.  Biblical confession should be a joy, in some ways, due to the rich benefits God gives us through it.

1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

This does not mean that God will forgive a sin only if it has been specifically confessed. When a Christian repents and believes the Gospel of Jesus Christ, all of their sins, past, present, and future are immediately forgiven!

Confessing is part of the sanctification process and aids Christians in dealing with sin and healing from it.  James 5:16 says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”

Why confess your sin if God already knows your sin?

Christians confess their sins to God to practice humility before him and to fess up to the bad things they have done. It takes a humble person to admit their mistakes! Humility is a vital part of confession and aids the restoration of Christians who have quenched the Spirit of God. Peter in 1 Peter  5:6 says, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.”

A True Confession is Done in Humility with an Attitude of Repentance

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you” (1 Peter 5:6).

“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).

“…you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God…For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation…” (2 Corinthians 7:9-10).

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
    whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,
    and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
    through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
    my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah

I acknowledged my sin to you,
    and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
    and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah (Psalm 32:1-5)

“Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy” (Proverbs 28:13).

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16).

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”  (1 John 1:9).


The post Confession in the Bible: Verses About Confessing Your Sins appeared first on Unlocking the Bible.

John MacArthur on the Irreducible Elements of the Gospel

Code: B180108

The gospel is the great nonnegotiable of Christian truth. We aren’t allowed to add to, subtract from, embellish, or rejigger the sacred message of how sinful men can be reconciled to a holy God.

That’s why the apostle Paul reserved his sternest warning for anyone who would dare to mess with the message: “If any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed” (Galatians 1:9).

The preacher is left with one option when it comes to faithful gospel proclamation—and it’s not an elusive option reserved for scholars. Paul expected his audience to be able to clearly differentiate between the one true gospel and all the other pretenders. It is an expectation implicitly placed upon all believers. With that in mind, we recently asked John MacArthur to identify and explain the essential truths of saving faith—the irreducible elements of the gospel.

Our destinies hinge on the unshakable nature of those truths. Any variation in just one of them and the hope of eternal life completely collapses.

If you present a different god than the God of Scripture, you are effectively calling people to idolatry. If you preach another Christ you do not have the Lord; you have a liar or a lunatic. If salvation by grace through faith alone is corrupted with even the smallest amount of works-righteousness, “Christ will be of no benefit to you” (Galatians 5:2). If we don’t repent from our former sinful ways, we will perish (Luke 13:3,5).

In the days ahead we’re going to take a closer look at those core elements in presenting the gospel. Moreover, we’ll examine how they fit together into a coherent biblical message—presented simply, clearly, logically, and faithfully. There’s nothing more important for a Christian to be right about than how we can be right with God.


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Biblical Gospel vs Fake Gospel

The world is awash with fake news, and sadly this is just as true in so many of our churches. Instead of hearing biblical truth, we are getting fake news preached from too many of our pulpits. Indeed, the biggest churches in the West are often guilty of this.

We get feel-good pop sermons about how wonderful we are, how amazing we are, and how terrific we are. Not exactly what Scripture says, but this is now the most popular message heard from so many churches. At such churches one would not think that the Bible ever spoke of sin and the need of a Saviour.

One year ago the Christian satire site Babylon Bee perfectly captured this reality. The article, with this title, “Woman Unsure Why She Needs Jesus After Preacher Spends 30 Minutes Telling Her How Amazing She Is” is a satire piece, but so often satire is a perfect means to convey truth. The article says this:

TWIN OAKS, AZ—According to reports coming out of Hope Community Church, first-time visitor Brittany Wilson remains unsure about why she needed “this Jesus guy” in her life after the pastor spent the entire Sunday sermon reiterating how awesome, amazing, unique, and special she is.
“The message was super-encouraging. It was all about how I need to let the goodness within me shine and ‘just do me,’ without worrying about all the haters,” Wilson said after the service.
“But then the pastor said I needed Jesus, out of the blue. Like, what? It made no sense. I’m not sure what He has to offer that I don’t, based on how wonderful the pastor said I am.”
Wilson, who hasn’t attended church since she was a child, further reported she was “a little hurt” that the pastor would segue into an invitation to add Jesus to her life.
“It really undermined my confidence in myself,” she said, adding she wouldn’t be back anytime soon.

Some will say, “Yeah, but this is just satire. I am not aware of any churches or preachers teaching this.” If so, you are clearly out of touch. Sadly, many are running with this, and as a supreme example, the biggest church in North America specialises in this.

Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, pastored by Joel Osteen, offers exactly this sort of message week in and week out. He packs the place out each Sunday, and his books have become best sellers. It is all about feeling good about yourself, having your best life now, and thinking happy thoughts. That is his gospel, full stop.

I have often documented this in previous articles. Consider just one of his recent books. In 2015 Joel Osteen released The Power of I Am: Two Words That Will Change Your Life Today. It is simply more of his tried and ‘true’ formula. It is all about feeling good about yourself and being upbeat and positive. That’s it. That is the substance of this book, and all his books. Here are some quotes from the book:

“I am blessed. I am prosperous. I am successful.”
“I am victorious. I am talented. I am creative.”
“I am wise. I am healthy. I am in shape.”
“I am energetic. I am happy. I am positive.”
“I am passionate. I am strong. I am confident.”
“I am secure. I am beautiful. I am attractive.”
“I am valuable. I am free. I am redeemed.”
“I am forgiven. I am anointed. I am accepted.”
“I am approved. I am prepared. I am qualified.”
“I am motivated. I am focused. I am disciplined.”
“I am determined. I am patient. I am kind.”
“I am generous. I am excellent. I am equipped.”
“I am empowered. I am well able.”
“I am a child of the Most High God.”

Um, this is not quite what the Word of God offers us. Far from it. It gives us a much more realistic – and worrying – assessment of who we are. Simply reading the Bible will show us who we really are: we are not wonderful folks who are just peachy, but depraved rebels headed to hell who need to be delivered from our sin and depravity.

Consider what the Bible says about us as sinners. We are:

-spiritually sick (Luke 5:31-32)
-rebellious children (Luke 15:11-32)
-lost (Luke 19:10)
-in darkness (Acts 20:18)
-under the power of Satan (Acts 20:18)
-slaves to sin (Romans 6:22)
-influenced and led astray to mute idols (1 Corinthians 12:2)
-spiritually blind (2 Corinthians 4:4-6)
-God’s enemies (2 Corinthians 5:18-19)
-slaves to those who by nature are not gods (Galatians 4:8)
-dead in your transgressions and sins (Ephesians 2:1)
-objects of wrath (Ephesians 2:3)
-dead in transgressions (Ephesians 2:5)
-darkened in their understanding (Ephesians 4:18)
-separated from the life of God (Ephesians 4:18)
-darkness (Ephesians 5:8)
-in the dominion of darkness (Colossians 1:13)
-alienated from God (Colossians 1:21)
-his enemies (Colossians 1:21)
-idol worshippers (1 Thessalonians 1:9)
-held in slavery (Hebrews 2:15)
-not a people; who had not received mercy (1 Peter 2:10)
-sheep going astray (1 Peter 2:25)

Hmm, not a very flattering portrait of who we are. Indeed, it is a pretty shocking and wretched picture actually. But of course some will protest and say that this book by Osteen is meant just for Christians. But both he and his fans will insist that all of his books, sermons and messages are for everyone.

And even if this was just a feel-good, self-help pep-talk for believers only, again we find the biblical version of events a far cry from this pap. Just consider what the Apostle Paul said of himself. Did he relish in the positive thinking spiel, and adhere to the “every day and in every way I am getting better and better” mantra?

Not at all. Consider these passages in which he describes his spiritual condition. The older he got, the longer he walked with Christ, the more he became aware of his fallen and depraved condition, and the more he needed to cling to the mercy and grace of God:

-“For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” (1 Corinthians 15:9 – written in mid-50s.)
-“Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.” (Ephesians 3:8 – written in early 60s.)
-“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst.” (1 Timothy 1:15 – written in mid-60s.)

Perhaps even more worrying than Osteen and his message are the zillions of folks who lap up every word he utters. Just consider some of the comments under the book’s amazon page. I looked through many of the 854 “reviews” and it was scary stuff. Usually one or two word comments like “awesome” and “so positive” and “really uplifting” are found. Here are some of the more substantial ones:

“I am not a Christian but the message of this book is for all people. I bought it for me and some of my non Christian friends. It has changed my life. I highly recommend it to anyone.”

“I am not a particularly religious person and I enjoy Joel and his messages.”

“I know Joel is a man of religion but that isn’t why I bought the book. The positive messages we need to send to ourselves eventually spread out far and wide, even in places the good book doesn’t reach.”

“I gave it a 5 stars it speak life. I would recommend this book to everybody and the unbelievers also.”

“I love the positive and no gloom and doom that most preachers give us. Grew up Catholic and no matter what we were going to Hell, so why bother… We can make our own futures and be happy and have plenty and do good.”

And one reviewer nails it:

“The trouble with Joel, and I am not knocking him, cause I actually like him, but his trouble is that if you have read one of his books, you might as well say you have read them all, because his basic premise, and unfortunately writings and stories are truly all the same.”

Notice how plenty of non-Christians just love his stuff. That is most telling. When Jesus and the disciples preached the gospel, they were hated, attacked, abused and killed. The same when the prophets spoke in the name of the Lord. The only popular prophets in the Old Testament were the false prophets.

If Jesus had preached the message that so many of our megachurch pastors are preaching today, he never would have been crucified. Everyone would have loved him. ‘Oh I feel so much better. Thank you. Life is so much rosier now. You are so uplifting and upbeat. I feel so much happier. Thanks Jesus.’

By the way, if you go to see the reviews of a book like The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale. or even the best-selling New Age books by folks like Oprah Winfrey (a good buddy of Osteen’s), you will find identical comments: “inspiring,” “uplifting,” “awesome,” ‘encouraging,” “so positive,” etc.

These authors all get identical positive reactions because they all preach identical gospels – and they happen to be false gospels. The good news of the gospel is certainly good news. But it means absolutely nothing until we first hear and digest the bad news of the gospel, that we are damnable sinners heading to a lost eternity, and unless we turn to Christ in faith and repentance, we are all lost.

That is one message you will NOT find in the books and sermons by folks like Osteen. As such, they are presenting fake news. And as Scripture makes so clear, such fake news does not give life – certainly not everlasting life. It brings death.

Source: Biblical Gospel vs Fake Gospel

Friday’s Featured Sermon: “The Theology of Christmas”

Philippians 2:5-11

Code: B171222

Christ Jesus . . . emptied Himself.

Those words, uttered by the apostle Paul in Philippians 2:5–7, represent his most mysterious and provocative commentary on God becoming a man.

Theologians refer to Philippians 2:5–11 as the kenosis passage. Christ’s kenosis (derived from kenoō, the Greek word used for “emptied Himself”) has been the source of centuries of theological debate. The theories have been many and varied, as great Christian minds have grappled with the mystery of Christ’s incarnation.

So who exactly was the baby in the manger? And of what exactly had Christ emptied Himself in taking on human flesh? Those questions take on a massive weight of importance for all who desire to worship the Lord in truth. And John MacArthur answers them in his sermon “The Theology of Christmas.”

Of what did He empty Himself? Well, some people might think He emptied Himself of His deity but He didn’t because He couldn’t. That is His nature and His being—His essence. Some think He divested Himself of the form of God and became only a man. That’s not possible either because the very essence of God’s nature is manifest inseparably from its characteristics and attributes. So He didn’t give up His nature as God and He didn’t give up His attributes as God.

Well what did He give up? Of what did He empty Himself? The New Testament lays it out for us. In John 17:4 He said, “Father, give Me back the glory I had with You before the world began.” Christ emptied Himself of His divine glory. He veiled His glory when He came into this world. He set His glory aside and gave up His honor.

“The Theology of Christmas” explores the implications of Christ’s emptying His divine glory while remaining the unchanging, eternal God. John’s message takes you to the theological heart of this reality as found in Philippians 2:5–11.

He lays out a five-point progression that walks you through Christ’s humbling incarnation all the way to His glorious ascension. John points out what Christ’s emptying of Himself entailed: abandoning His heavenly position, accepting the place of a slave, associating with sinful people, adopting a selfless posture, and ultimately ascending back to heaven in His supremacy. That sequence lays out the supreme demonstration of humility.

And it’s a pattern that we are called to follow. If Christ was willing to lay aside His eternal glory, how much less is the price we should pay in dying to ourselves in the service of others? That question captures the massive practical significance found in Philippians 2:5–11 as well. In fact, Paul begins the passage with these words: “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5). Paul then proceeds to describe the unsurpassed humility exemplified by Christ in leaving His heavenly throne to condescend as the servant and Savior of sinful men.

This Christmas, we need to remember that Christ’s incarnation represents our template for serving Christ. Much more than that, our Christlike actions should be fueled by the knowledge that God once dwelled with us in our spiritual squalor in order that we might one day dwell with Him in glory.

John’s message brings these truths to light with great clarity. Click here to watch or listen to “The Theology of Christmas.”


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The Fullness of Time

Galatians 4:4-5

Code: B171220

The first Christmas was perfectly timed. Galatians 4:4-5 says, “When the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, in order that He might redeem those who were under the Law.” What was “the fullness of time”? God’s sovereign timing. He ordered world events so everything was ready for Christ’s coming and the subsequent outreach of the apostles.

Looking back at the early church, we are amazed at how quickly the gospel spread in less than a century. The sovereign hand of God is clearly evident. Christ’s advent could not have been timed more propitiously.

Politically, the Roman Empire was at its height. Rome had given the world good roads, a relatively fair system of government, and most important, peace. For the first time in history, people could travel with relative ease almost anywhere in the empire—and the apostles could carry the gospel message to the uttermost parts of the world.

Culturally, the world was becoming more unified. More people than ever were being educated, and most of them knew Greek or Latin. Even the common people usually spoke Koine Greek, the dialect that the New Testament was written in.

Spiritually, the world was diverse, but open. Greek and Roman polytheism were gradually being replaced by rational and secular philosophies, or by emperor worship. Among the Jews, a renewed interest in the Scriptures was leading to revival on the one hand—typified by the ministry of John the Baptist—and a strong pharisaic movement on the other. Christ could not have arrived on the scene at a more opportune time. It was the perfect time, sovereignly determined by God—“the fullness of time.”

(Adapted from The Miracle of Christmas.)


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Born of the Virgin Mary

Along with the great theologian and philosopher Anselm of Canterbury we ask the question, Cur deus homo? Why the God-man? When we look at the biblical answer to that question, we see that the purpose behind the incarnation of Christ is to fulfill His work as God’s appointed Mediator. It is said in 1 Timothy 2:5: “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself ….” Now, the Bible speaks of many mediators with a small or lower case “m.” A mediator is an agent who stands between two parties who are estranged and in need of reconciliation. But when Paul writes to Timothy of a solitary Mediator, a single Mediator, with a capital “M,” he’s referring to that Mediator who is the supreme Intercessor between God and fallen humanity. This Mediator, Jesus Christ, is indeed the God-man.

In the early centuries of the church, with the office of mediator and the ministry of reconciliation in view, the church had to deal with heretical movements that would disturb the balance of this mediating character of Christ. Our one Mediator, who stands as an agent to reconcile God and man, is the One who participates both in deity and in humanity. In the gospel of John, we read that it was the eternal Logos, the Word, who became flesh and dwelt among us. It was the second person of the Trinity who took upon Himself a human nature to work out our redemption. In the fifth century at the Council of Chalcedon in 451, the church had to fight against a sinister teaching called the Monophysite heresy. The term monophysite is derived from the prefix mono, which means “one,” and from the root phusis, which means “nature” or “essence.” The heretic Eutyches taught that Christ, in the incarnation, had a single nature, which he called a “theanthropic nature.” This theanthropic nature (which combines the word theos, meaning “God,” and anthropos, meaning “man”) gives us a Savior who is a hybrid, but under close scrutiny would be seen to be one who was neither God nor man. The Monophysite heresy obscured the distinction between God and man, giving us either a deified human or a humanized deity. It was against the backdrop of this heresy that the Chalcedonian Creed insisted Christ possesses two distinct natures, divine and human. He is vere homo (truly human) and vere Deus (truly divine, or truly God). These two natures are united in the mystery of the incarnation, but it is important according to Christian orthodoxy that we understand the divine nature of Christ is fully God and the human nature is fully human. So this one person who had two natures, divine and human, was perfectly suited to be our Mediator between God and men. An earlier church council, the Council of Nicea in 325, had declared that Christ came “for us men, and for our salvation.” That is, His mission was to reconcile the estrangement that existed between God and humanity.

It is important to note that for Christ to be our perfect Mediator, the incarnation was not a union between God and an angel, or between God and a brutish creature such as an elephant or a chimpanzee. The reconciliation that was needed was between God and human beings. In His role as Mediator and the God-man, Jesus assumed the office of the second Adam, or what the Bible calls the last Adam. He entered into a corporate solidarity with our humanity, being a representative like unto Adam in his representation. Paul, for example, in his letter to the Romans gives the contrast between the original Adam and Jesus as the second Adam. In Romans 5, verse 15, he says, “For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many.” Here we observe the contrast between the calamity that came upon the human race because of the disobedience of the original Adam and the glory that comes to believers because of Christ’s obedience. Paul goes on to say in verse 19: “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.” Adam functioned in the role of a mediator, and he failed miserably in his task. That failure was rectified by the perfect success of Christ, the God-man. We read later in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians these words: “And so it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being.’ The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual. The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man” (1 Cor. 15:45).

We see then the purpose of the first advent of Christ. The Logos took upon Himself a human nature, the Word became flesh to effect our redemption by fulfilling the role of the perfect Mediator between God and man. The new Adam is our champion, our representative, who satisfies the demands of God’s law for us and wins for us the blessing that God promised to His creatures if we would obey His law. Like Adam, we failed to obey the Law, but the new Adam, our Mediator, has fulfilled the Law perfectly for us and won for us the crown of redemption. That is the foundation for the joy of Christmas.

This post was originally published in Tabletalk magazine.

Source: Born of the Virgin Mary

What If God Takes It All Away? Trusting Him Through Financial Struggles

Recently we drove past our old house for the first time since downsizing. Immediately, our four children began rehearsing memories, noting every part of the house that they missed. Once again, they struggled to understand why we had to give it all up.

As hard as I tried to respond with confidence that it was the right thing for our family to follow God’s leading — even at the cost of financial comfort and a home we loved — deep down, I wrestled with my own nostalgia and questions.

Living on Far Less

Rewind six years when we were living well below our means, carefully planning for the future, and seeking wise counsel to be good stewards of our rising income. But, in his strange sovereignty, God chose to teach us how little control we really had.

Even as our oldest child’s neurological challenges seemed to consume us, other pressures were mounting. My health continued to decline and my husband’s on-call job often left me feeling like a single parent. Medical bills increased, and our confidence in the future was replaced by a growing reality that our family was in crisis.

God led us to a place where there was no other option but to let go of all we had saved, planned, and worked hard for. Within a few short months, my husband took a new job that brought significantly less income (but allowed him to be home more often). We sold our dream home, moved in with my parents, and were completely unsure of what the future held.

Am I Trusting in Prosperity?

Where did we go wrong? Maybe somewhere, but maybe nowhere.

Although God commands us to live wisely with what he entrusts us with, he ultimately asks us to trust him above all else, no matter the cost.

Through all of this, even in our desire to use our resources for God’s glory, he has taught me to search my heart by continually asking three questions.

1. Do I live in fear of losing my comfort?

If we desire worldly comforts, and fear earthly loss more than we fear God, then we will likely make decisions and plans according to what we think will keep our lives most comfortable. Looking back, I can now see the Lord’s severe mercy in overturning the plans we had set for our lives. He removed all of our earthly means to find comfort and security in this world. It was painful, yes, but it was also freeing.

As our eyes become increasingly fixed on fearing the Lord and trusting his promises for us, we can live in greater freedom to plan and live wisely according to God’s plan, rather than living in bondage to our own.

2. What legacy am I leaving?

Where we pour our time, energy, and money is a part of building the legacy that we will leave when we are gone. Are we working so many hours for our family’s comfort but are never there to invest in them spiritually and relationally? Are we so focused on planning for the future that we miss how God is calling us to live radically in the present? Or, does our lifestyle suggest that this earth actually is our home?

I am not saying we should not enjoy the gifts that God has given us, but we are commanded to be good stewards of what God has entrusted to us. We should be frequently asking the Holy Spirit to examine our hearts and show us where earthy treasures are motivating us more than eternal ones, that we might pursue righteousness above all else (Matthew 6:33).

3. Whether in prosperity or need, is Jesus enough?

We should plan and save—but is Christ enough if he chooses to take it all away?

In a two-year period, we went from debating how to redesign and remodel our kitchen to wrestling with how we would feed our family of six on food stamps. Both seasons have presented different challenges. In comfort, it was a constant temptation to put our confidence and joy in the false security that wealth gave us. While we desired to honor Christ with all that we had, if I’m honest, it was far too easy to be distracted by the excess.

Far Greater Treasure

 Admittedly, the past two years have tested us in other ways as well. We’ve wrestled with trusting the Lord’s leading when it seemed only to lead to greater need and suffering. We were tempted to envy the seemingly comfortable lives of those around us. We’ve questioned why God would allow us to lose everything when we earnestly sought to honor him in our steps. We have struggled to understand why God has taken away provisions for the necessary treatments and doctors that our family’s chronic health issues require. And, at times, we have struggled to see God’s provisions and undeserving gifts because we were so focused on what we had lost.

Hold firmly to the truth that Christ is and will always be enough.
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Yet by his grace, he has continually shown himself faithful, providing in his way and timing, while changing our hearts along the way.

In whatever season you find yourself, hold firmly to the truth that Christ is and will always be enough (Philippians 4:19). He is a greater treasure than anything else this world can give. Sometimes, it may take losing everything on this earth to truly come to believe that with every ounce of our being.

Plan for the Future—But Don’t Hope in It

Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. (1 Timothy 6:6-8)

We are commanded to be content today because none of us have a guarantee of what tomorrow holds. Therefore, as Christ-honoring as it is to steward our resources wisely—to plan and save for an emergency fund, home, and retirement—we must always be on guard that we are not placing our hope in them. As we grow in understanding how temporary this life really is, we will learn to hold more loosely to our plans, live in freedom rather than fear, and be willing to spend ourselves more radically for the Lord.

When we find ourselves with a comfortable bank account and all of our efforts panning out as we hoped, we must be careful that our security and joy is not found there. We must boldly ask the Lord to both keep us dependent and to help us, in any situation, to glorify him. May we be slow to judge those who are struggling (not assuming it’s their own laziness or poor judgment), and quick to see how God’s grace has provided for us abundantly for his purposes.

You Can Lean on Him

If, on the other hand, you are reeling from the loss of what you worked hard for, or are carrying the burden of an uncertain future, take heart and rest in the one who sees your needs and is faithful to provide.

May this be a season that you see and savor an increased desire and love for Christ as you lean on him for your current and future needs. Be careful of giving way to resentment or envy towards those who appear to be more comfortable. Your intense season of need may be the greatest gift of grace that God has given you for his eternal purposes.

This post originally appeared on November 27, 2017 on the Desiring God blog here. [Photo Credit: Unsplash]


The post What If God Takes It All Away? Trusting Him Through Financial Strugglesappeared first on Unlocking the Bible.

Friday’s Featured Sermon: “The Nature of the Incarnation, Part 2”

Hebrews 2:1-4

Code: B171215

Nativity scenes are profoundly ironic. The smallest character in the ensemble represents the Creator and sustainer of the universe!

There’s something unfathomable about the unchanging and eternal God housed in humanity and experiencing the growth process from birth to adulthood. One thousand years before the birth scene in Bethlehem, King Solomon asked the question: “But will God indeed dwell with mankind on earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You” (2 Chronicles 6:18).

I’ll never forget driving to seminary during my first year of study and hearing John MacArthur say in a sermon that even as an infant, Christ was upholding the entire universe by the word of His power. That statement was so shocking to me that I had to pull over to the side of the freeway for a few minutes to regain my composure. Was the vulnerability of infancy no impediment to Christ’s eternal attributes? Is there really biblical support for such a claim?

John MacArthur answers both of those questions with an emphatic yes in his sermon “The Nature of the Incarnation, Part 2.” John’s message explores perhaps the most breathtaking of all biblical passages concerning the incarnation of Jesus.

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. (Hebrews 1:1–4)

Hebrews 1 offers a completely different perspective on the Christmas story. Christ’s finite experience of dwelling among us for three decades doesn’t alter who He has always been eternally. John points out that there was nothing partial or fragmented about God appearing in the form of a man.

In the New Testament God didn’t display some of Himself, He displayed all of Himself. God didn’t display His truth in some facets or in some fragments as He had in the Old Testament, but rather in Jesus Christ who embodies all the treasures and wisdom of God—Jesus Christ in whom all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily. If you want to see God fully, look at Christ. Jesus said, “If you’ve seen Me, you’ve seen the Father.”

The writer of Hebrews is writing to these Jewish people to affirm to them that Jesus is Yahweh, that Jesus is Almighty God, that Jesus is none other than the covenant God of Israel, the creator God of the universe. To understand the Christian faith and to even understand Judaism in its completion is to understand that God came into the world in human form as Jesus Christ. And He is the preeminent person, fully man and fully God. And that’s the message of this opening part of Hebrews. That is the heart and soul of the Christian faith—Jesus is God. No one can be a Christian and deny that. No one can have their sins forgiven and deny that. To believe that is essential for being saved, being forgiven, and going to heaven.

Our eternal future hinges on whether we worship the true Christ of Scripture rather than a false christ devised by our own flawed theology. “The Nature of the Incarnation, Part 2” reveals the fully divine Messiah, presenting Him as preeminent over all things. John reveals seven ways that Jesus is superior to all else: in His inheritance, His power, His glory, His nature, His authority, His atonement, and His exaltation.

What better way could there be to honor our Savior this Christmas than by understanding, proclaiming, and worshipping Him in the same way that the writer of Hebrews presents Him.

Click here to listen to “The Nature of the Incarnation, Part 2.”


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5 things your kids need to know about death

It wasn’t the first thing to enter my mind, but it might have been the second: How am I going to tell the kids?

The doctor had just laid out the cold, hard truth: “Your friend, Ken, has passed.” Ken was a dear family friend, a man my kids adored. A longtime staff member at the church I served as pastor, he died suddenly—at the church building, in the midst of his work. A heart attack ushered him into the arms of his Savior in an instant on that overcast fall morning. I was stunned. Our staff was stunned. The congregation was stunned. My children, who “helped him” regularly at the church while I sat in meetings, counseled members, or worked on sermon prep, would be most stunned of all. I planned my talk with them carefully and broke the sad news that evening.

Messenger of ill tidings

Our family faced death again in late-summer of 2015 with the sudden departure of my stepfather. Like Ken, he clearly loved Jesus and sought to please him. Gratefully, we don’t grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thess. 4:13). When the news came, my wife and I were again faced with delivering the sad news to our four children who range in age from 7 to 13.

As a pastor, I always found serving as the messenger of ill tidings particularly difficult. It’s even more tricky, though, when you’re telling young hearts whose ability to grasp death and all its implications is limited. Do we soft-pedal death, referring to it in vague, non-threatening terms? Or do we speak of it straightforwardly as we might with another adult?

My wife and I have found neither approach to be helpful. Obviously, how much and precisely what you say will be much different for a younger child than for a 12-year-old. Still, there are basic biblical realities they should all know.

Here are five fundamental truths we’ve explained to our kids when death has come close to home.

1. Death and judgment are coming to us all.

Sadly, death is part of our fallen world, and the Bible doesn’t shrink back from this truth. Psalm 139 tells us God has numbered our days. Since the Word doesn’t dismiss this truth as “overly negative,” neither should we.

Our family once had friends who never spoke to their kids about negative news stories, such as natural disasters or 9/11. They made it a rule never to discuss death. I believe this is unwise. By avoiding bad news, parents set up their children for unreasonable expectations and stark disappointment in a broken world. This approach subtly, even if unintentionally, communicates that life on earth is ultimate. Worst of all, it fails to provide a rationale for why the gospel is such good news. Every day brings us one step closer to that final day, and our children should be aware of that.

There is also a judgment awaiting every one of us (Heb. 9:27). I want my children to know that, as the great Southern Baptist pulpiteer R. G. Lee (1886–1978) famously put it, there is coming a “payday someday” for the way we have lived on earth (2 Cor. 5:10).

2. Death is not the way it is supposed to be.

This biblical truth is what makes death particularly sad. Tell your kids that death is an intruder in this world, that the first Adam’s sin opened the door through which the curse of death entered. Cornelius Plantinga’s book Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin (Eerdmans, 1994) is a compelling resource (for adults) to help you put more biblical meat on the bones of this doctrine.

Explain to your children that this is why we are sad when someone dies. In our mourning, through our tears, we are admitting there’s really no such thing as death from natural causes.

3. Death for the Christian is to be with Jesus.

In Philippians 1, the apostle Paul toggles back and forth between whether it’s better for him to leave this world to be with Jesus or remain in it to advance the gospel. He then writes: “To live for me is Christ, to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). In a culture that does all it can to stave off any hint that humans will grow old and die, this is a deeply countercultural truth. But for the believer, crossing the chilly river of death is the pathway to paradise and pleasures that defy the descriptive ability of human language.

4. Death will one day die.

Give your children the unfathomably good news of 1 Corinthians 15:26: “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” When the “already” collapses into the “not yet,” death will be dead, and this is cause for rejoicing. This is a choice opportunity to commend Christ to your children, to urge them to flee to the cross where Christ took the key to death and unlocked it from the inside in his resurrection.

5. Death is something we must all think about.

I don’t want my kids to obsess or become paralyzed in fear over the specter of eternity. That said, 18th-century pastor-theologian Jonathan Edwards provides an excellent example of the necessity of ruminating on death, even at a young age. Granted, Edwards was much older than my young children when he wrote his famous resolutions, the seventh of which reads: “Resolved, to think much on the brevity and how short one’s life is (Ps. 90:17).”

Edwards understood that life is a vapor, and that death should motivate us to live for another world. Tell your children that for those in Christ, our best life is later.

What about the death of unbelievers?

What do we say to our children about those who seem to have died in unbelief? This is even trickier but presents a key opportunity to discuss eternity, both heaven and hell. We should be no less clear about hell than was our Lord, who spoke far more in the Gospels about judgment than about paradise.

Whether I’m speaking to adults or children, I always avoid weighing in on the eternal destiny of one who appears to have died in unbelief. Of course, I make clear that anyone who would be saved must come to God through faith in Jesus. But we’ve told our children (and I’ve told family members of unbelievers) that the deceased person is in God’s hands—a righteous and just judge who can be trusted to do the right thing. I don’t put it this way to avoid or minimize the reality of God’s wrath; it simply keeps me off the seat of eternal judge—a place that belongs to God alone.

Though there’s certainly much more that could be said about death, our kids need to be prepared—in age-appropriate ways—for life in a world captive to sin and death. And they need to be shown why the good news of God’s rescue mission in Christ, and his victorious war with death on Calvary’s tree, is good news indeed.

This is an adapted version of an article originally published at The Gospel Coalition.

The post 5 things your kids need to know about death appeared first on Southern Equip.

Christians and Christmas

Code: B171213

Christmas presents a conundrum to many believers. Do you withdraw from the world and its materialistic excess at this time of year? Or do you lean headlong into the celebration, hoping to sanctify the festivities through your participation?

Given the wide chasm between those two extremes, it’s no wonder that the Christmas holiday can be a cause for division within the church. But some biblical and historical context can help bridge that gap.

It’s Not How You Celebrate, But Why (and Why Not)

Christmas as a holiday was not observed until well after the biblical era. The early church of the New Testament celebrated Jesus’ resurrection, but not His birth. In fact, Christmas was not given any kind of official recognition by the church until the mid-fifth century.

Partly because so many Christmas customs seem to have their roots in paganism, Christians have often been resistant to some of the rituals of the holiday. The Puritans in early America rejected Christmas celebrations altogether. They deliberately worked on December 25 to show their disdain. A law passed in England in 1644 reflected a similar Puritan influence; the law made Christmas Day an official working day.

Christians today are generally not opposed to celebrating Christmas. The holiday itself is nothing, and observing it is not a question of right or wrong. As Paul wrote,

One man regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. (Romans 14:5-6)

Every day—including Christmas—is a celebration for us who know and love Him.

How we observe Christmas is the central issue. Do we observe it for the Lord’s sake or for our own sinful self-gratification? Do we even think about why and how we celebrate it? That is the heart of the matter. Christmas is an opportunity for us to exalt Jesus Christ. We ought to take advantage of it.

What About Christmas Presents?

Folded into the discussion about how to celebrate Christmas is the matter of Christmas presents. Is it appropriate to give gifts to friends and family? Does that inherently shift the spotlight off of Christ, or can we splurge on loved ones in a way that still honors the Lord?

Christmas is undoubtedly a good time for giving. After all, we are celebrating the greatest gift ever given—God’s Son: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

God’s great Gift was first of all a gift of love to an unworthy world. He gave not because He had to, but because He loves us. And our giving should reflect His love. If we can keep that perspective—especially in the minds of our children—this can be one of the most blessed and enjoyable aspects of the holiday.

It isn’t easy to keep one’s perspective so focused. Christmas has become too commercial, too carefully merchandised, too crassly materialistic to lend itself to teaching any spiritual truth about giving. Every year at Christmas, the buying frenzy gets worse. Have you ever noticed, for example, how much stuff is sold that nobody needs? It doesn’t have any practical use. It just sits there, collecting dust.

Our society is literally filled with the unnecessary, the insignificant, and the meaningless. And people spend a fortune on that kind of junk for Christmas. Why? Often, it is the quickest and easiest way to complete an obligatory Christmas list. What meaning is there in that?

Ask yourself this year if your giving reflects the spirit of Him who gave His best for us—just because He loves us.

(Adapted from The Miracle of Christmas.)


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The Sin No One Wants to Talk About

There is a sin that is often overlooked, ignored, or unseen. It can take many forms, affect many different sorts of people, and be called by many names. In James 2, it is called the sin of partiality.

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? … If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. (Jm. 2:1-48-10)

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Source: The Sin No One Wants to Talk About