Category Archives: Biblical Lesson/Teaching

MacArthur and a response to racism

The interview with Dr. MacArthur is posted over at The Cripplegate:

John MacArthur was recently on the radio in Los Angeles (the Frank Sontag Show) to discuss the Charlottesville attack, but it became a longer conversation on the roots of racism and the Christian’s response to culture-wide hatred. Here are some of the highlights of that twenty-minute conversation:

Sontag: John, how to do we respond as Evangelicals to racism?  

MacArthur: We need to understand the roots of this. The roots of this are really not political, they’re not even economic. They’re moral and have to do with the sinfulness of the human heart. The Devil is the murderer from the beginning. The first crime was a killing. That basically defines the Kingdom of Darkness. That defines the realm of Satan. Jesus even said to the leaders in Israel, “You are of your father, the Devil. You’re either a child of doubt or child of Satan.” Those are the only two possibilities. For those in the Kingdom of Darkness hatred, anger, hostility, harm, and even murder is just par for the course.

That’s why God has designed mitigation into the culture. That’s why God has given every human being a conscience so at least you start out with some form of internal restraint. That’s why God designed the family and the rod in the family so that children can be harnessed and can be taught even to some inflicted reasonable amount of pain to be socially contributing to the well-being of society. That’s why God has ordained the police and given them the sword because this solemn world is completely captive to hatred and hostility at the most vicious level.

Of course, it doesn’t matter where it comes from. It might have various political forms, whether it’s white supremacy, Black Lives Matter, or whatever other form of it. Whether it’s Kim Jong-un or ISIS. This is how the worst in this solemn world conduct themselves.

It must be denounced on every level, but it also has to be understood that the remedy is not a political one. We need to restrain it by strong laws that are enforced at the highest level with justice essentially demanded and meted out.

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Source: MacArthur and a response to racism


Looking for a ‘Social Savior’

Notwithstanding the innumerable and tangible good works performed by Jesus for the practical benefit of those to whom they were graciously and mercifully imparted, those works were subsidiary to the primary reason Christ came into the world which, contrary to what many Christian social justice activists – and others – believe, was not to remedy socio-political or socio-economic inequities by improving the material, financial, or social station of those with whom He interacted, but to point people to Himself as the long-awaited Messiah.

As I continue to scan the landscape of Christian social justice activism, that is, social justice-labeled activities that are said to be carried out “in the name of” Christ, I’ve noticed many Christian activists have a tendency to proffer to the world an image of Jesus that is tantamount to that of a sanctified social worker, a holy humanitarian, an exalted egalitarian.

This visage of Jesus as a “Social Savior” is borne of a proclivity many Christian social justice activists have to leverage the works of Christ as the primary impetus not only for individuals who profess to follow Him to do likewise, but also institutions, such as governments and corporations, so that an equitable, just, and impartial society and world, which they believe Christ envisioned for mankind, ultimately becomes reality.

It is through this paradigm that such works of Christ as healing the centurion’s servant (Matt. 8:13), and the blind man (Jn. 9:6-7), and feeding more than 5,000 people on one occasion (Matt. 14:13-21) and 4,000 on another (Mk. 8:1-8), as well as His love for the poor (Luke 6:20) and the oppressed (Luke 4:18), are viewed as evidences that mandate Christians to take upon themselves, in accordance with Christ’s words in Jn. 9:4, to “…work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no man can work.”

This kind of sanguine worldview may seem admirable, perhaps even virtuous, to some, especially given the current milieu in which Christianity – and white evangelical Christians in particular – are being called to account for the deliberate and systematic misappropriation, to put it mildly, by their ancestors of various biblical precepts for the express purpose and intent of enslaving and otherwise oppressing black people in America.

That Christianity was practiced in such a deliberately iniquitous manner is both a sad and unarguable fact.

As author and researcher Richard Reddie notes in a 2007 article for the BBC on the Atlantic slave trade and abolition:

“Religion was…a driving force during slavery in the Americas. Once they arrived at their new locales the enslaved Africans were subjected to various processes to make them more compliant, and Christianity formed part of this. Ironically, although the assertion of evangelization was one of the justifications for enslaving Africans, very little missionary work actually took place during the early years. In short, religion got in the way of a moneymaking venture by taking Africans away from their work. It also taught them potentially subversive ideas and made it hard to justify the cruel mistreatment of fellow Christians.”

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The post Looking for a ‘Social Savior’ appeared first on The Aquila Report.

Key Connections (September 8, 2017)

Rosaria Butterfield: “Why I Signed the Nashville Statement” (Rosaria Butterfield, Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood)

Conversion to Christ did not initially change my sexual attraction for women. What conversion did change immediately was my heart and mind….The gospel gave me a light that was ruinous. It ruined me for the life I had loved. The Lord’s light illumined my sin through the law and illumined my hope through Jesus and the gospel.

Mount Sinai, the Ascended Christ and the Vision of God  (David C. Smith, The Village Church)

As believers, we may feel unworthy or afraid to approach God. A God so great and glorious causes us to shrink back for various reasons. But those who are in Christ now have every confidence to approach the throne of grace—to climb that mountain from where God calls to us and to gaze upon Him in His beauty and glory:

When You Find Yourself In a Dry and Weary Land (Sarah Walton, Set Apart)

Whether we recognize it or not, we all thirst and hunger to be filled in the deepest parts of our soul, but we are easily satisfied with short-term happiness. However, the wilderness provides an opportunity for those temporary means of pleasure to be removed, exposing the state of our hearts and, hopefully, driving us to recognize Christ as the only One who can satisfy us.

Do You Draw Near? (John MacArthur, One Place Ministries)

Sadly, I’ve watched many Christians lose the wonder of worship as the years pass…If that sounds familiar, return to God by submitting to James’ imperative: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (4:8). To know the one true God is your glorious calling. Are you ready to draw near? Let me give you some practical encouragement on how to do that.

My Soul Thirsts for You (Jon Bloom, Desiring God)

Water is really only experienced as satisfying when our real need for it makes us really want it. Likewise, God is only experienced as satisfying when our real need for him makes us really want him.

What to Do While You’re Waiting on God (Linda Green, Unlocking the Bible)

God wants us to know that waiting is far from a passive activity in which we do nothing. In fact, Scripture teaches us that God wants us to actively participate in the work he desires to accomplish. Waiting strategically can cultivate good fruit in in our lives such as patience, perseverance, and endurance. It also draws us closer to our Savior and points those who are watching us to the gospel.

The post Key Connections (September 8, 2017) appeared first on Unlocking the Bible.

Friday’s Featured Sermon: “Creating Shade for Your Children, Part 1”

Ephesians 6:4

Code: B170908

Those of us who grew up in a hot and dry climate know the value of tall, established trees. Their canopies are a glorious and desirable haven from the blazing desert sun. Those great trees are a profound reminder of an earlier generation who planted them with foresight for our present benefit.

In his sermon “Creating Shade for Your Children, Part 1” John MacArthur sees a clear parallel between that kind of planting and biblical parenting.

Families are the unit that passes on truth and righteousness from generation to generation. Families are the units that provide discipline and instruction, and therefore create civilization. They hold society together. They provide, as a Chinese proverb says, “Shade for the children”—one generation plants the trees; the next generation enjoys the shade.

We are living in a time when one would wonder whether any shady trees are being planted for future generations. There’s a generation of young people, even Christian young people today, who are afraid of the prospect of bringing children into the world. Our culture not only allows for the destruction of the family, it aids and abets it. . . .

I understand why people look at all of this and wonder how it’s going to be for their children and their grandchildren. The culture has no solution.

Those are sobering realities for any parent to contemplate. And “Creating Shade for Your Children, Part 1” provides clear biblical answers where secular wisdom repeatedly fails and has nothing to offer. John taps into the timeless truths of parenting woven throughout Scripture.

This sermon was actually the first in a four-part series centering on Paul’s exhortation to the church in Ephesus regarding parenting:

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), so that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth. Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:1–4)

In “Creating Shade for Your Children,” John draws from the rest of Scripture—especially the book of Proverbs—to flesh out the meaning of Ephesians 6:1–4 and how we should apply those truths as parents. He points out:

In Luke 2:52 there is an interesting statement with regard to our Lord, but it gives us some categories in which we can think about children. Luke 2:52, “Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.”

Children must be ruled, they must be disciplined, they must be taught, because they lack four things: they lack wisdom, they lack stature, they lack favor with God, and they lack favor with men. In other words, they are deficient mentally, they are deficient physically, they are deficient socially, and they are deficient spiritually. . . . It takes a nonstop, concerted effort to move them out of those deficiencies into a place where they receive wisdom and grow to strength—favor with God, favor with men. . . .

So what do you do as a parent? You have the responsibility, and the joy, and the privilege, and the command to raise children to be obedient. That means you have to be the instrument that God uses to help them increase in wisdom, stature, favor with God, and favor with man.

John teaches us how to leave a God-honoring legacy that will shade our children from exposure to the worst lies that this fallen world has to offer. Those of us who are parents—or one day will be—have a God-given duty to train, prepare, and protect our children. It is a responsibility for which we are ultimately answerable to God. To that end, “Creating Shade for Your Children, Part 1” provides the exhortation and instruction we need as the divinely-appointed guardians of the next generation.

Click here to watch or listen to “Creating Shade for Your Children, Part 1.”

The rest of the series can be viewed here:

Part 2Part 3Part 4.


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Why I Love the Church (John MacArthur)

Original Post Date: March 24, 2015

I love the church.

I am an inveterate and incurable lover of the church. It thrills me beyond expression to serve the church. Although I am also involved in some para-church ministries, I would not trade my ministry in the church for all of them combined. The church takes first place in my ministry priorities, and all the para-church ministries I serve are subordinate to, and grow out of, my ministry in the church.

In fact, my whole life has been lived in the church. My father was a pastor, as were my grandfathers for three more generations before him. So a deep love for the church practically runs in my blood.

In a short series of upcoming posts, I’m going to outline some biblical reasons I love the church. Let’s start with the first one today:

1. The Church Is Being Built by the Lord Himself

The church is the New Testament counterpart of the Old Testament Temple. I’m not referring to a church building, but the body of all true believers.

It is a spiritual building (1 Pet. 2:5), the dwelling-place of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16-17; 2 Cor. 6:16), the place where God’s glory is most clearly manifest on earth, and the proper nucleus and focal point of spiritual life and worship for the community of the redeemed.

God Himself is the architect and builder of this temple. In Ephesians 2:19–22, Paul writes:

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.

It is impossible to overstate the importance of the church in the eternal plan of God. The church is His building (1 Cor. 3:9). Moreover, He is the immutable, sovereign, omnipotent Lord of heaven. His Word cannot return void but always accomplishes what He says (Isa. 55:11). He is always faithful and cannot deny Himself (2 Tim. 2:13). His sovereign purposes always comes to pass, and His will is always ultimately fulfilled (Isa. 46:10). His plan is invincible and unshakable, and He will bring to pass all that He has spoken (v. 11). And he has spoken about building the church in the most triumphant words.

For example, in Matthew 16:18 Christ said, “I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” He who knows His sheep by name (John 10:3)—He who wrote their names down before the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8)—He personally guarantees that the gates of Hades will not prevail against the church He is building.

“The gates of Hades” was a Jewish expression for death. Hades is the place of the dead, and the gates of Hades represent the portal into that place—death itself. Hades is also the domain of the devil. Hebrews 2:14 refers to Satan as the one “who had the power of death,” and verse 15 says he used that power to keep people in fear and bondage all their lives. But now Christ has broken that power, and liberated His people from Satan’s dominion—in essence, he has broken down the gates of Hades. And therefore even the power of death—the strongest weapon Satan wields—cannot prevent the ultimate triumph of the church He is building.

There is still more significance to the imagery of “the gates of Hades.” Gates are a walled city’s most vital defensive safeguards. Christ’s words therefore portray the church militant, storming the very gates of hell, victoriously delivering people from the power of death. Thus Christ assures the triumph of the church’s evangelistic mission. He is building the church, and the work will not be thwarted.

Christ’s promise in this passage should not be misconstrued. He does not suggest that any particular church will be infallible. He does not teach that any of the bishops of the church will be error-free. He does not guarantee that this or that individual church will not apostatize. He does not promise success and prosperity to every congregation. But He does pledge that the church—that universal body of believers under Christ’s headship—will have a visible being and a testimony in this world as long as the world itself lasts. And that all the enemies of truth combined shall never secure the defeat or destruction of the church.

Notice also that the church is a work in progress. Christ is still building His church. We are still being joined together (Eph. 2:21). The church is still under construction (v. 22). God is not finished yet. The imperfections and blemishes in the visible church are still being refined by the Master Builder.

And here’s something remarkable: The plan for the finished product is a blueprint that was drawn in eternity past.

Click here to read Part 2.

The post Why I Love the Church appeared first on The Master’s Seminary.

20 Practical Ways To Kill Sin Every Day

Sin perplexes us. We love it, and we hate it. We embrace it, and we war against it. We act on it, yet we don’t always understand why. Sin is alluring and confusing, pleasurable anddestructive. The redeemed heart has been set free from sin’s power, yet still wars with sin’s presence—and sin distances us from the God who willingly came to rescue us from it.

When I asked friends, “What are some sins and areas of temptation we must fight every day?” the response was overwhelming: jealousy, laziness, discontentment, control, discouragement, pride, a sharp tongue, vanity, slander, inadequacy, anxiety, fear, selfish gain, impatience, anger, disobedience, lust, fear of man, and critical judgment of other Christians.

Which of these resonate with you? Do others come to your mind?

20 Practical Ways to Kill Sin Every Day

No Christian is exempt from the battle with sin, and it’s wise to consider what and how we’re actively fighting each day. But we do not fight alone:

We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:9-11)

Believer in Christ Jesus, you are dead to sin and alive to God – and your calling is to “consider yourself” in this way. So what does it look like to fight sin on a daily basis, when temptation is all around you and spiritual death is sin’s goal (James 1:15)?

Ponder these 20 practical ways to “consider yourself dead to sin and alive to God” by killing sin today:

1. Pray for the Holy Spirit’s conviction and help.

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. (Romans 8:11)

2. Practice regular confession.

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:8-9)

3. Remove the temptation.

And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. (Mark 9:43)

4. Tell a friend.

Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another. (Proverbs 27:17)

5. Memorize Scripture.

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil….take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God… (Ephesians 6:11, 17)

6. Meditate on the cross.

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. (Colossians 2:13-14)

7. Deal quickly with offense.

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” (Matthew 18:15)

8. Discern your desires.

…put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and…put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:22, 24)

9. Help someone in need.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. (Philippians 2:3)

10. Praise and thank God.

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you…singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:5, 16).

11. Watch your words.

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. (Ephesians 4:29)

12. Forgive the repentant.

Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” (Luke 17:3-4)

13. Know yourself.

Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly. (Proverbs 26:11)

14. Heed your conscience.

But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. (Romans 14:23)

15. Flee sexual sin.

Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. (1 Corinthians 6:18)

16. Preach the truth to doubt, fear, and unbelief.

We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ… (2 Corinthians 10:5)

17. Deal with your anger.

Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. (Psalm 37:8)

18. Aim to please Christ.

So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. (2 Corinthians 5:9-10)

19. Remember God’s work to save you.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?…And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9, 11)

20. Follow Jesus.

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26)


The post 20 Practical Ways To Kill Sin Every Day appeared first on Unlocking the Bible.

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

Mark 4:26–29

Code: B170825

The world of consumerism is in a constant state of restlessness. Manufacturers and marketers relentlessly search for improved results. Those who achieve the greatest success become the latest benchmark for results-driven methodology. And there’s no shortage of people who flock to these self-proclaimed gurus, buying their books and attending their seminars, desperate to unlock the secrets of success.

Unfortunately, many modern evangelicals presume those principles for growth in the business world will directly transfer to gospel outreach. Their desire to see more converts, along with their lack of confidence in God’s Word, causes them to seek secular wisdom and solutions.

But as John MacArthur points out, their quest ignores God’s sovereignty. It is destined for compromise and doomed to fail. In his sermon, “The Theology of Sleep,” he argues that market-driven evangelism is, in reality,

the sort of Neo-Finneyist Pelagianism that motivates so many people in evangelicalism who think that the success of the gospel is dependent on their persuasive powers and ingenuity. That kind of thinking inevitably ends up adjusting the gospel. I promise you that if I felt for one minute that anybody was going to go to hell because I failed to make the necessary adjustments in the message to persuade them to believe I would have a very hard time sleeping.

The destiny of lost souls is a very heavy burden to carry for Christians—if they think their job is to persuade sinners into God’s kingdom. Who could sleep well under the weight of such a hefty responsibility? But “The Theology of Sleep” is a soothing reminder that it is God who is sovereign over the conversion of sinners and that our job is to remain faithful to the timeless message of the gospel. John reminds us that the biblical evangelist can and should sleep well at night.

John’s sermon takes us to Mark 4, a passage he refers to as the “Magna Carta of evangelism.” One of the central characters in that chapter is a farmer who diligently sows seed and then goes to sleep—secure in the knowledge that the growth and fruitfulness of the seed is beyond his control (Mark 4:26–27).

Christians should likewise approach evangelism in the same way—be faithful planting the gospel seed in the hearts of those who hear, and rest in the knowledge that it is God who sovereignly regenerates sinners (Ezekiel 36:25–27).

Furthermore, the parables of Mark 4 combine to form a timeless pattern for how we should evangelize. This biblical approach is the only one that rightly understands the dual realities of divine sovereignty and human depravity. If we fail to take either of those eternal truths into account, our evangelism will be disobedient, burdensome, and bear only superficial fruit.

“The Theology of Sleep” is a timely reminder of how we should reach out, and how we should rest, as God’s divinely chosen messengers.

Click the play icon below to watch “The Theology of Sleep.”


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The Four Soils: The Fertile Ground

Luke 8:8

Code: B170823

Our approach to evangelism shouldn’t be influenced by the way people respond to the gospel.

When the gospel is preached faithfully and clearly, acceptance of the message is never the result of the skill of the messenger or the marketing of the message. As we have seen throughout this series, it all hinges on the receptivity of the human heart—the quality of the soil into which the gospel seed is sown.

The sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell beside the road, and it was trampled under foot and the birds of the air ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky soil, and as soon as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. Other seed fell among the thorns; and the thorns grew up with it and choked it out. Other seed fell into the good soil, and grew up, and produced a crop a hundred times as great. (Luke 8:5–8)

The “good soil” is well cultivated and produces the desired crop. Jesus says this symbolizes those “who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance” (Luke 8:15). This is the truly prepared heart. In Matthew 13:23, Jesus says the good soil pictures a person “who hears the word and understands it.” In Mark 4:20, He says it is a symbol of those who “hear the word and accept it and bear fruit” (emphasis added).

He is describing someone with a heart so well prepared that when the person hears the gospel, he receives it with true understanding and genuine faith. The expression Luke uses (“[they] hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance”) suggests a tenacious hold on the truth, and perseverance in the faith.

Perseverance with fruit is the necessary sign of genuine, saving trust in Christ. This is one of the key lessons of the whole parable: The mark of authentic faith is endurance. Jesus said, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of mine” (John 8:31). Temporary faith is not true faith at all.

The “fruit” spoken of in the parable includes, of course, the fruit of the Spirit—“love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22–23). It encompasses all “the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:11). A truly believing heart will naturally produce worship—“the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name” (Hebrews 13:15). And the apostle Paul spoke of people whom he had led to Christ as fruit of his ministry (Rom. 1:13). All of these are examples of the kinds of fruit Jesus had in mind when He said the good soil represents people who “bear fruit with perseverance.”

The expectation is that they will also bear fruit abundantly. Matthew and Mark both say “thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold” (Mark 4:20; cf. Matthew 13:23). Anything over tenfold would be an immense return on the farmer’s investment. While Jesus is clearly teaching what we know from experience—that Christians are not all equally fruitful—He is simultaneously suggesting that an abundance of fruit is the expected result of faith. The spiritual fruit in our lives should be copious and obvious—not so scarce that it’s hard to find. After all, we are “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). Jesus said, “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, [the Father, who is the vinedresser] takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:2). Fruitfulness—a divinely wrought, abundant harvest—is the expected outcome of saving faith.

That can occur only in a heart that is clean and well cultivated.

The person’s heart needs to be prepared, ready to “receive with meekness the implanted word” (James 1:21, NKJV)—and then to nurture that seed to full fruitfulness. The Old Testament tells us that Rehoboam, Solomon’s foolish son and heir to the throne, “did evil, because he did not prepare his heart to seek the Lord” (2 Chronicles 12:14, NKJV, emphasis added). Also, to the backslidden people of Judah and Jerusalem in Old Testament Israel, God gave this command through His prophet: “Break up your fallow ground, and do not sow among thorns” (Jeremiah 4:3). The context in verse four makes it perfectly clear that He was commanding them to prepare their hearts to receive the word. That is the duty of every person.

But here is the problem: We cannot accomplish that for ourselves. We are already hopelessly unclean. We are fallen, guilty sinners with shallow, weedy, rebellious hearts. Left to ourselves we would just grow harder. Every exposure to the light would bake in the hardness even more, until we became as impervious to God’s Word as a concrete walkway is to grass seed. “The mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:7–8).

Only God Himself can plow and prepare a heart to receive the Word. He does it through the regenerating and sanctifying work of His Holy Spirit, who convicts the world “concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). For those who believe, He awakens them spiritually (Romans 8:11). He enlightens their minds to the truth (1 Corinthians 2:10). He washes them clean (Ezekiel 36:25). He removes the stony heart and gives them a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26). He indwells His people and motivates them unto righteousness (Ezekiel 36:27). He engraves the truth of God on their hearts (Jeremiah 31:332 Corinthians 3:3). He pours the love of God into their hearts (Romans 5:5). We who believe in Christ are totally dependent on the indwelling Spirit’s work in our hearts to keep us tender, receptive, and ultimately fruitful.

And we must remain faithfully dependent on Him.

Like David, who prayed, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10), we must approach God with trust and submission, knowing that He must do the necessary work in our hearts that we cannot do ourselves.

Finally, this parable is a reminder that when we proclaim the gospel or teach the Word of God to our neighbors and loved ones, the results will always vary according to the condition of the hearts of our hearers. Success or failure does not hinge on our skill as sowers. Some of the seed we disperse will fall on hard, shallow, or weedy ground. But there’s nothing wrong with the seed. If you are faithful at the task, some of the seed you throw will find well-cultivated soil, and the result will be abundant fruit.



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The Four Soils: Among the Thorns

Luke 8:7

Code: B170821

Most of us have endured the tragedy of watching people we counted as spiritual brothers and sisters leave the church and turn their backs on Christ. It is heartbreaking to see friends and loved ones reject the Savior and instead pursue sin.

When we think of apostasy, we generally think of blatant and outspoken rejections of Christ and the gospel. But much more often, apostates merely drift out of our churches without us even noticing. They may seem like solid believers and loyal members outwardly, but inwardly their loyalties remain divided between Christ and the world. Their hearts are still fixed on temporal and trivial things. The pull of the world continually erodes their profession of faith until they eventually disappear from Christian fellowship altogether.

Jesus issued strong warnings against those who thought they could love Him without abandoning the cares and pleasures of this world. And in His first parable, vividly described the deceptive pattern of such false believers.

The sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell beside the road, and it was trampled under foot and the birds of the air ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky soil, and as soon as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. Other seed fell among the thorns; and the thorns grew up with it and choked it out. Other seed fell into the good soil, and grew up, and produced a crop a hundred times as great. (Luke 8:5–8, emphasis added)

The third type of soil, the kind situated “among the thorns,” represents a heart too enthralled or too preoccupied with worldly matters. Jesus explains, “The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with the worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity” (Luke 8:14).

Those who fit this category (like the shallow-soil hearers) may seem to respond positively at first. The analogy suggests that there will most likely be some initial sign of receptivity. Seed sown among weeds would germinate. These people, when they “have heard” they “go on their way”—meaning, apparently, that they give every sign of pursuing the way of faith. Mark’s gospel seems to suggest that at first they seem to have every potential to be fruitful, but then at some point afterward, “the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful” (Mark 4:19, emphasis added).

This is not a hard-hearted unbeliever or a shallow, emotional person. This time the soil itself is well plowed and deep enough. But there are all kinds of impurities in it. Weeds native to that soil have already germinated under the surface. They will always grow stronger and faster than the good seed. The Word of God is a foreigner in such a heart. Weeds and thorns own that ground.

This person is too in love with this world—too obsessed with the “riches and pleasures of this life” (Luke 8:14). That’s the key. The values of the temporal world (sinful pleasures, earthly ambitions, money, prestige, and a host of trivial diversions) deluge the heart and muffle the truth of God’s Word.

This is “a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:8). As Jesus taught, “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Luke 16:13).

Indeed, in Matthew’s account, the stress is on the worldly hearer’s love of money: “The deceitfulness of wealth choke[s] the word” (Matthew 13:22). Writing to Timothy, the apostle Paul said,

Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (1 Timothy 6:9–10)

Nothing is more hostile to the truth of the gospel than love for the riches and pleasures of this world. To those whose main wish is to spend their resources on worldly pleasures, James 4:4 says, “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”

The apostle John condemned worldliness with equal severity. He wrote, “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). Did he mean it is a sin to love mountains and flowers or good food and people? Of course not. He is talking about the values and the vices of this world, everything embodied in the world’s pathological and self-destructive enmity toward God: “All that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world” (1 John 2:16).

That is precisely what the weeds and thorns in the parable represent: selfishness, sinful desire, and the unholy belief system that dominates this world. Values such as those—not the natural features of the created world itself—are what suffocate the truth of God’s Word in fallen hearts and make this world unworthy of our love.

Don’t miss the point. Material wealth is not inherently evil, nor is pleasure. When properly prioritized, wealth and pleasure should be received with thanksgiving as gracious gifts from the hand of God, who is generous with such blessings (Deuteronomy 8:18Ecclesiastes 5:18–19Hosea 2:8). But it is evil to love the gifts more than the Giver, or to value tangible and temporal benefits more highly than spiritual blessings. Paul told Timothy, “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17).

One classic New Testament example of the worldly hearer is the rich young ruler. He came to Jesus eagerly seeking eternal life, but he was a materialist and a lover of the world—and Jesus knew it. Scripture says the young ruler “went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property” (Matthew 19:22). He loved worldly things more than he loved God. Another example, of course, is Judas, who made every pretense of following Jesus from the time Jesus called the twelve until Judas finally betrayed Christ for thirty pieces of silver. Scripture tells us that Judas’s besetting sin was the love of money. “He was a thief, and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it” (John 12:6). He was the most sinister kind of thorny-soil hearer.

Here’s what the hard-hearted hearer, the shallow hearer, and the worldly hearer all have in common: They “bring no fruit to maturity” (Luke 8:14). The whole purpose of agriculture is to produce a harvest. Soil that fails to produce a crop is of no value. The hardened roadside will remain perpetually hard, the shallow and rocky soil will most likely not be seeded again, and the thorny soil will be burnt. If it cannot be completely cleared, purged of weeds, and cultivated again, it will be abandoned as wasteland.

All three varieties of fruitless soil are emblematic of unbelievers—including those who originally showed some promise but failed to bear fruit. There is only one kind of soil that will bear true and lasting fruit—one kind of hearer who responds to the gospel in genuine repentance and faith. And we’ll consider that fertile and well-cultivated ground next time.



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Put Jealousy to Death

It’s in the tightening of your chest, the bile in your throat, and the knot in your stomach. It flashes in lightning fast, infecting whatever happiness or hope you feel. Every child knows it. Every adult knows it. It’s that fierce, familiar green monster –


We envy someone else: their looks, their job, their family, their vacations, their skills, their money. And it’s something so overwhelmingly common that we tend to overlook it. We minimize its sinfulness and allow it to fester to our soul’s detriment.

We don’t like to put jealousy to death. Instead, we feed it. We tend to it. We give it life.

How to Put Jealousy to Death

But jealousy and envy are soul-enemies, and Scripture warns us against them over and over. We’re told that jealousy is a fruit of the flesh (Galatians 5:21), an antonym of love (1 Corinthians 13:4), a symptom of pride (1 Timothy 6:4), a catalyst for conflict (James 3:16), and a mark of unbelievers (Romans 1:29).

So what does killing jealousy actually look like? Ultimately, it’s identifying it as evil and then attacking it with truth.

Here are four practical ways to do that.

1. Recognize jealousy as deception.

Recognizing jealousy is the hardest part of killing it. Our hearts are often drowning in envy, yet we don’t even realize it.

Begin paying attention to your thoughts and feelings and responses. When you see jealousy rearing its ugly, green head, recognize it as deceptive thinking. Jealousy pretends to be a friend. It wants to sympathetically vindicate your sinful feelings by fostering discontentment and self-pity. It seeks to convince you that someone else has the all-satisfying happiness you crave.

But it’s a lie. The thoughts motivating your envy are false and crippling – that house, money, vacation, job, kid, parent, or number on the scale will not fulfill you. In those moments, grasp for this lifeline of truth: Your hope isn’t found in your circumstances being “better;” it’s in the unchangeable work of Christ (Psalm 42:5).

2. Repent of idolatry.

At its root, jealousy is idolatry. We’re placing our satisfaction in something that’s not God, and we’re saying he’s not sufficient for us. Because of that, the only right response is to repent, turning from the poison of our envy and running to the throne room of grace.

3. Confront jealousy with joy.

The lie of jealousy is, “If only things were like this, I would be happy.” But the truth is, the opposite happens, as jealousy feeds a deep, hungry dissatisfaction. Instead of confronting discontentment with jealousy, confront it with joy. Choose joy. Fight for joy. Instead of measuring your happiness against someone else’s success, root yourself in the incomparable truths of the gospel.

A few days ago, I was on Instagram and stumbled across a picture of a girl the same age as me doing something I would love to do. And I felt it: the stinging seed of jealousy sprouting fast. I want to do that. I wish that was me. Why her?

Counterattack jealousy by cultivating gratitude. Notice and savor the blessings all around you.
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In that moment, I was faced with a choice: to dwell on my discontentment or preach the gospel to myself. I could wallow in dissatisfaction or remind myself of the riches I have in Jesus. I could believe that I knew everything going on in her life or recognize that I was only seeing the curated version she posts on social media. I could boil in envy or embrace the truth that this is God’s will for her life right now – and not for mine.

I could compare my life to hers or rejoice in the blessings God has given me.

We are faced with these choices every day. Will we confront our jealousy with joy?

4. Count your blessings.

Counterattack jealousy by cultivating gratitude. Notice and savor the blessings all around you. The sunshine. Your pets. A delicious ice cream cone. Your church. Flowers. Flip flops. Transportation. God’s Word. Your family. Good books. There are small mercies around us 24/7 – but we need to be willing to pay attention.

And once we notice them, we ought to thank God for them. He is the gift-giver, the fount of all blessings, so we put jealousy to death by thanking him for beauty and goodness.

Jealousy Deserves Death – So Kill It

Like poisonous snakes or roaring fires, jealousy is too deadly to play with. Don’t pretend that jealousy is no big deal, that you need to focus your energy on fighting “bigger” sins. Jealousy is idolatry. It’s sin. Don’t just wound it, bruise it, suppress it, or maim it – kill it.

For jealousy is one of the sins Christ paid for on the cross, which means it deserves death. Jesus died for jealous people, and that’s good news for us because we are jealous people. So there is hope in Christ! Run to him, trust in him, rest in him, pursue satisfaction in him, and – by his Spirit – seek to kill jealousy today.


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Are You Teachable? 10 Questions From Psalm 119

School is starting soon. Students are preparing to hit the books again. Some will study to earn a diploma, but no disciple of Jesus Christ graduates from the school of Christian growth. We are all called to learn from Jesus, so now is a good time to ask ourselves: Am I teachable?

My recent study of Psalm 119 revealed a lot about being teachable. As I read it, I found myself asking, Is my heart is ready learn from the Lord?

1. Does God’s Word motivate me to worship?

I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous rules. (Psalm 119:7)

We often have many reasons for studying God’s Word—is worship one of mine? The psalmist says in verse 7 that he wants to learn the Lord’s righteous rules so that he can praise him with an upright heart. He says in verse 12, “Blessed are you, O Lord; teach me your statues!” The blessedness of the Lord has captured his heart and drives him to study, that he might give God the adoration he deserves.

2. Do I admit when I’m wrong?

Put false ways far from me and graciously teach me your law! (Psalm 119:29)

In verse 26 the psalmist says, “When I told of my ways, you answered me” and then says, “Put false ways far from me” (v. 29). He has opened his heart to the Lord, honestly confessing, and now that the Lord has answered him he is looking for correction from what is false within him. I find it hard to admit when I’m wrong, but it is vital to embrace my limited capacity and value what is right and true over what made sense to me in the past.

3. Do I know my limitations?

Your hands have made and fashioned me; give me understanding that I may learn your commandments. (Psalm 119:73)

The psalmist looks to the Lord as teacher because he is his Creator; he knows his dependence is on the Limitless One. While pride seeks knowledge in order to evaluate what is true, a posture of humility asks God for his wisdom and receives understanding with gratitude.

4. Do I believe God can change me?

Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end. (Psalm 119:33)

Sometimes we harden our heart to instruction because we lack faith that God can change our desires to do his will. We forget that God has promised to give us both his instruction and the power to carry it out (Jude 24). The Father purposes that through his teaching we may grow and learn to reflect the glory of his Son Jesus, and his purposes always come to pass.

5. Do I know the love of my Instructor?

The earth, O LORD, is full of your steadfast love; teach me your statutes! (Psalm 119:64)

We will find it a joy to seek and trust the teaching of the one whose love fills the whole earth. Do I believe that God’s love is written all over his good creation? Do I believe that same love comes to me through his Word? When we see and know God’s love intimately, we can say with confidence: “Deal with you servant according to your steadfast love, and teach me your statues.”

We hold up all instruction to the standard of God’s Word, not the other way around.
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6. Do I trust the goodness of my Instructor?

You are good and do good; teach me your statutes. (Psalm 119:68)

The psalmist says to the Lord: “You are good and do good” (v.68). This confidence in the Lord’s goodness helps us navigate the more difficult truths of Scripture, when we may be tempted to stray from them by hardening our hearts. We trust his goodness in trials because we have seen the ultimate display of goodness triumphing in affliction at the cross.

7. Do I value the Word of God as the ultimate source of wisdom?

I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation. (Psalm 119:99)

The psalmist is not boasting in himself, but joyfully boasting that the Lord’s wisdom is superior to all of man’s wisdom. He holds up all other instruction to the standard of the Lord’s teaching, not the other way around.

8. Do I ask God questions?

My eyes long for your promise; I ask, “When will you comfort me?” (Psalm 119:82)

The psalmist trusts the Lord, and yet he asks hard questions like, “When will you comfort me?” (v. 82), “How long must your servant endure?” and “When will you judge those who persecute me?” (v. 84). These questions reveal a longing for fulfillment of the Lord’s promises, as well as an honest wrestling with God’s timing.

The world is a confusing place. I struggle to grasp hold of the eternal. But Jesus made the way for me to have a living, transacting relationship with the Author himself — hard questions included.

9. What have I learned from my previous lessons?

It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes. (Psalm 119:71)

One sign of being teachable is the passing of a test. The good student appreciates tests because he knows they reveal evidence of growth and the need for further growth.

10. Am I a servant?

Deal with your servant according to your steadfast love, and teach me your statutes. (Psalm 119:124)

There is a remarkable tie in Psalm 119 between the psalmist’s desire to be taught and his identity as the Lord’s servant. The sum of the law of God is love — love for God and neighbor — while the ultimate expression of love is death to self for the benefit of someone else. The more we grow in knowledge of the Lord, the more we will seek to serve others, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ. As an apprentice serves alongside the Master as the trade is taught, so we learn by doing, and as servants of Christ we seek to join in the Father’s work.

While I am not the student I long to be, it’s my hope and peace that only Jesus Christ, my Substitute, served his Father perfectly, even taking the time to learn what he surely already knew (Luke 2:46-52). Because of the cross, I have confidence that my sin has been atoned for and the righteousness required by God is mine in Jesus Christ.

He is my help and my salvation, and his Spirit gives me hope that my soul will one day say, “I do not turn aside from your rules, for you have taught me” (Psalm 119:102).

[Photo Credit: Lightstock]


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The Four Soils: The Rocky Ground

Luke 8:6

Code: B170816

Just a short drive from the freeways and congestion of Los Angeles you’ll find barren hills and mountains. During the rainy season they suddenly spring to life with luxuriant-looking greenery. But they quickly revert to a parched brown. The green that looked so promising turns into lifeless scrub, good for nothing but feeding California’s wildfires as tinder.

That’s a perfect metaphor for the way some people respond to the gospel. They are the polar opposite of the hard-hearted hearers we discussed last time. They are the “rocky soil” in Christ’s original parable.

The sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell beside the road, and it was trampled under foot and the birds of the air ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky soil, and as soon as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. Other seed fell among the thorns; and the thorns grew up with it and choked it out. Other seed fell into the good soil, and grew up, and produced a crop a hundred times as great. (Luke 8:5–8)

The soil spread thinly over a layer of rock illustrates a shallow-hearted person who responds immediately but only superficially. Without deep roots, vegetation cannot live long in a dry climate. It grows green and leafy quickly, but dies just as quickly, before reaching fruit-bearing maturity. Such growth is useless for any profitable purpose.

Psalm 129:6 similarly compares the wicked to “grass upon the housetops, which withers before it grows up.” In the thin layer of dust that accumulates on a flat roof, grass or weeds may sprout and even look lush for a short season, but it is in a location that cannot sustain long-term life. It is doomed as soon as it sprouts—and even the dead straw left in the end is useless for any good purpose. The psalm goes on to say that “the reaper does not fill his hand [with it], nor he who binds sheaves, his arms” (Psalm 129:7, NKJV).

Rocky soil hearers seem receptive. They show a keen interest. Jesus says they “receive the word with joy” (Luke 8:13). They are exhilarated by it. But all that enthusiasm obscures the fact that there is no root. They “believe for a while.” That’s an important fact to acknowledge: intellectually, at least, they are receptive, affirmative—even quite enthusiastic. There is a kind of temporary credence that is not authentic faith, precisely because it is superficial—shallow, rootless, totally at the mercy of the hostile elements that are sure to test its viability.

It’s not a question of if but when such “faith” will fail. It usually (but not always) happens sooner rather than later. Each person who responds positively to the Word of God will face a “time of temptation.” The Greek word translated “temptation” in Luke 8:13 can also refer to a trial or a test—and that is clearly the sense here. The new disciple’s faith will eventually be put to the test under the threat of persecution, by one of life’s calamities, or by the sheer difficulty of maintaining the pretense of deep, abiding belief. If it’s superficial, rootless, heartless faith, no matter how enthusiastic the response may have seemed in the beginning, that person will “fall away”—meaning she will abandon the faith completely.

Jesus said in John 8:31, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine.” Hebrews 3:14 says, “For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end.” The apostle Paul said you can know you are truly reconciled to God “if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard” (Colossians 1:23).

Those whose faith is merely temporary hear the gospel and respond, quickly and superficially. Perhaps they have some selfish motive (thinking Jesus will fix their worldly problems or make life easy for them). They don’t truly count the cost. For a while they bask in some emotion—a feeling of relief, exhilaration, euphoria, or whatever. There are tears of joy, embraces, high fives, and a lot of activity—at first. That tends to convince other believers that this is a true conversion, well rooted in genuine conviction. We might even be inclined to think that’s a better response than the quiet restraint of some genuine believer who is so deeply convicted about his sin and unworthiness that all he feels is a profound sense of meekness and quiet gratitude.

An outburst of joy is not the distinguishing feature of an authentic conversion. Joy is a fine and appropriate response, of course. All heaven is filled with rejoicing when a soul is converted. “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7). But as Jesus makes clear in our parable, great joy sometimes accompanies false conversion. Neither hyperactive joy nor grateful quietude proves anything one way or another about whether someone’s profession of faith is an expression of superficial, temporary belief or deep and lasting conviction. The person’s fruit (or lack of it) will reveal that. “The tree is known by its fruit” (Matthew 12:33).

It doesn’t ultimately matter how much enthusiasm the shallow hearer shows in that initial response to the Word of God: if it’s a shallow conviction with no real root, that person will eventually fall away. And when that happens, it proves definitively that in spite of all that apparent joy and zeal, the person never truly believed in the first place. “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19).



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