Category Archives: Christian Living

Deadly Doctrines: The Pattern and Protection

Paul warns Timothy that people “will turn away from listening to the truth.” The first step in destroying a church is a corporate rejection of the plain teaching of the Bible. First, one individual turns away, and then another, until most of the congregation begins to question what they once held to be true.

We have learned that the church of every age is plagued by false teachers and their deadly doctrine. We have met seven of those false teachers and seen the devastation they bring. We have identified five tests we can apply to any doctrine to determine whether it is false or true. But this leaves us with some important questions: How does a church come to reject sound doctrine? How do we guard ourselves against false teachers and their deadly doctrines? How do we protect ourselves, our families, and our churches from their seductive lies? Thankfully, God has given us clear guidance in his Word, showing us how churches descend into deadly doctrine and how we may protect ourselves against it.

The Pattern of Deadly Doctrine

Most biblical scholars agree that 2 Timothy is Paul’s final letter. He has nearly come to the end of his life, so he picks up his pen to write once more to his young friend. In his last words to Timothy, Paul makes sure to warn him about the danger of false teachers. “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4). In these verses he gazes into the future and describes a church being undermined and destroyed. This is not a prophecy of the death of a single congregation, but a general description of the death of a thousand. He outlines four steps that can progressively lead any congregation from health to death.

Step 1: Reject truth. Paul warns Timothy that people “will turn away from listening to the truth.” The first step in destroying a church is a corporate rejection of the plain teaching of the Bible. First, one individual turns away, and then another, until most of the congregation begins to question what they once held to be true. This may happen gradually, as distrust toward God’s revealed truth spreads. Or it may come swiftly, as love of the world chokes the fruitfulness of a congregation. Either way, what was once love of truth morphs into dislike and then disgust. What was once hatred of error becomes intrigue and then interest.

Step 2: Reject truth-tellers. As a church turns away from the truth, its members soon turn against truth-tellers. Paul tells Timothy that in that days to come, people “will not endure sound teaching.” Such people will no longer tolerate the teaching they once enjoyed. Because they have begun to question the truth, they will turn against those who boldly proclaim it. The very teachers who once drew and delighted them will begin to repulse them.

Step 3: Embrace false teachers. Once a church has rejected those who teach the truth, it will replace them with teachers who give them what they want to hear. “Having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.” This church now desires novelty over truth, platitudes over exhortation. They want religion, and they even want the label “Christian,” so long as they can keep society’s respect and stay palatable to a godless world. So they invite false teachers to guide them into a deeper, fuller twisting of the truth.

Step 4: Embrace false doctrine. Once people have rejected truth and truth-tellers, and once they have found teachers who will lead them into twisting truth, they will “wander off into myths.” Now they will embrace full-out heresy. They will become so hardened in their sin that they will elevate error to the status of truth. In their rebellion, they will celebrate in the name of God the very things that God hates. Under the guidance of false teachers, they will fully embrace deadly doctrine. They will wander off, like sheep straying away from the watchful care of a good shepherd into a pack of wolves.

Paul outlines a tragic progression that begins with people growing weary and ashamed of truth. No longer willing to endure sound teaching, they get rid of the truth-tellers and accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions. Inevitably, they turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. Countless churches have been destroyed by this deadly pattern.

The Protection Against Deadly Doctrine

Remember that Paul is writing to young pastor Timothy to instruct him in protecting his congregation. How can Timothy guard his church against succumbing to false teachers and deadly doctrine? Should he study the methods of the heretics so he can anticipate their every move? Should he study the doctrine of the heretics so he can refute it point by point? Paul offers a far simpler solution: preach. “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2).

The solution to false teachers and deadly doctrine is not to obsess with falsehoods, but to pursue truth. The church that remains faithful to God is the church that remains faithful to the Word of God. Here is how Paul tells Timothy—and each of us—to protect the church against the pattern of deadly doctrine.

Preach the Word. The church that wishes to remain healthy must preach the word of God. Preaching is only as powerful as its faithfulness to the Bible. The most faithful way to preach the Word is to preach expositorily (or expositionally), to ensure the point of a text becomes the point of the sermon. This form of preaching constrains the pastor to God’s Word and ensures the congregation that every word is drawn faithfully from the Scriptures.

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The post Deadly Doctrines: The Pattern and Protection appeared first on The Aquila Report.

What Christians Need to Understand about Mercy

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What does it mean for Christians to be merciful? Jeremiah Johnson, a writer for Grace to You, has written a blog post titled “Blessed are the Merciful” on GTY.org. He starts out by quoting Martyn Lloyd Jones from his work, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount:

A Christian is something before he does something.

This reflects what Jesus says in His sermon on the mount in Matthew 5:2-11:

“And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’
‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.’
‘Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.’
‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.’
‘Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.’ 
‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.’
‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.’
‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’
‘Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.’” (bold emphasis added)

These beatitudes reflect a heart attitude; righteousness comes from the heart and not works.  This doesn’t mean that good works don’t have a place in the Christian’s life because they do…but what motivates good works matters to Christ.

Johnson quotes John MacArthur from his book, The Only Way to Happiness:

“Living as a Christian means there is to be no veneer, no facade. Christianity is something that happens to us at the very center of our being, and from there it flows out to the activities of life. God has never been interested in only the blood of bulls and goats. He has never been interested in any superficial spiritual activity unless the heart is right. (see Amos 5:21-24) ”

The beatitude relating to mercy address an inward heart attitude, but it also relays how we are called to relate to others. So it follows that if God has granted us mercy, we will grant mercy to others. Johnson quotes MacArthur again in his definition of mercy:

“Mercy is seeing a man without food and giving him food. Mercy is seeing a person begging for love and giving him love. Mercy is seeing someone lonely and giving him company. Mercy is meeting the need, not just feeling it.”

So how can we show mercy to others, and how can we live it out every day?

Mercy shows up in our relationships: friendships, family, marriage, parenting, work, people we meet, etc.  Our natural tendency is to act in sinful, selfish ways; it is only with a transformed heart that we can truly be merciful toward someone else. Johnson references MacArthur’s direction for showing mercy through  pitying, prodding, praying, and preaching.

1. Mercy pities.

Today pitying has a negative tone associated with it, as no one wants to be pitied for fear they’ll lose their pride. However, there is a righteous pitying which Stephen displays in Acts 7:60:

“And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.”

2. Mercy prods.

Prodding also has a negative association in that people tend to find prodding by others to be annoying. This also has to do with pride and wanting to accomplish everything on our own. But merciful, gentle prodding done with the right motivation can aid in the confrontation of sin. Christians are called to prod with compassion and care, offering truth with grace and mercy.

3. Mercy prays.

It is merciful to pray for those who do not know God, and it is also merciful to pray with those who do not know God. As Christians we are called to pray for the lost, our neighbors, and the disobedient. MacArthur explains, “Our prayer is an act of mercy, for it releases God’s blessing.”

4. Mercy preaches.

How do you preach mercy to others? By sharing the gospel; for it is through the gospel that you first learned of mercy. MacArthur states, “I believe preaching the gospel is the most necessary and merciful thing you can do for the lost soul.

If we’re not pointing those we love, those we know, and those we just met to the gospel then “we’re withholding the greatest mercy imaginable,” writes Johnson.

Johnson brings us full circle to Matthew 5:7 by pointing out:

Getting back to the blessing of Matthew 5:7, what can we expect as the result of showing such mercy to others? Christ says the merciful “shall receive mercy.” That’s not, as some have tried to claim, a promise of reciprocal kindness, peace, and harmony between man. Christ isn’t guaranteeing us that people will treat us the way we treat them. Instead, He’s explaining that the merciful will receive mercy from God.”

Since we have received mercy from God, we are called to be merciful in all things and to all people. Because we have been forgiven, we are called to forgive all wrongs against us. As merciful Christians, we are called to show mercy just as Christ showed us mercy. This means mercy to those we love, mercy to those we disagree with, mercy to the refugees, orphans, widows, and the lost.

To read Jeremiah Johnson’s article in its entirety, please visit GTY.org.

Crosswalk Contributor Michael J. Kruger advises,

“In summary, we should be clear that both gospel proclamation and deeds of mercy should be part of the life of the church. We are not forced to choose. But we must also be careful to distinguish between them. Deeds of mercy are not the gospel.”

An act of mercy can be sharing the gospel with someone, but good deeds should never be substituted for the gospel. No matter how many good deeds we carry out, even with the right motivation, people still need to hear the gospel. Though we are called to extend mercy, our mercy cannot save someone…only God can, and God’s mercy must be shared through the words of the gospel.

Memory verse:
“Better is open rebuke than hidden love.” (Proverbs 27:5 ESV)

Related articles:
God is Merciful to the Grumblers
Vessels of Mercy: God, Grace, and Gollum
Never be Ashamed to Ask for Mercy

Related video:

BibleStudyTools.com: What does from biblestudytools on GodTube.

Image courtesy: Thinkstockphotos.com

Publication date: January 30, 2017

Liz Kanoy is an editor for Crosswalk.com.

Why we must oppose false teachers: They shut heaven’s door in people’s faces

In the sermon The Characteristics of False Spiritual Leaders, Part 1, John MacArthur said,

There have always been and there always will be in this world false spiritual leaders who pretend to represent God, but in fact do not represent God. The Old Testament talks about them, identifies them, and warns people to stay away from them. The New Testament does the same. In fact, Moses was in conflict with them in Egypt. Jeremiah was fighting with them in Judah. Ezekiel faced them and called them foolish prophets that followed their own spirit and have seen nothing. Our Lord warned of them as false Christ’s and false prophets who shall show great signs and wonders. The apostle Paul struggled against them as preachers of another gospel in Galatians Chapter 1, and purveyors of the doctrine of demons he called them in writing to Timothy.

Peter said they were false preachers who secretly bring in damnable heresies and they are like dogs who return to lick up their own vomit. John, the apostle, saw a coming anti-Christ and many anti-christs already present who denied Jesus as the true Christ. Jude saw them and called them deluded dreamers who defile the flesh. And Paul may have summed it up well when he said they are wolves whose desire is to enter in not sparing the flock. They’re always present and they’re always eager to counterfeit the work of God.

There is a story recorded by many a historical church father all the way through to twentieth century scholars like Henry Wace and Phillip Schaff, about the false teacher Cerinthus, a contemporary of the Apostle John. Here, Phillip Schaff tells it in his momentous book Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers,

But Irenæus, in the first book of his work Against Heresies, gives some more abominable false doctrines of the same man, [Cerinthus] and in the third book relates a story which deserves to be recorded. He says, on the authority of Polycarp, that the apostle John once entered a bath to bathe; but, learning that Cerinthus was within, he sprang from the place and rushed out of the door, for he could not bear to remain under the same roof with him. And he advised those that were with him to do the same, saying, “Let us flee, lest the bath fall; for Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within.”

It’s a traditional story, not well documented, as Schaff notes,

This story is repeated by Eusebius, in Bk. IV. chap. 14. There is nothing impossible in it. The occurrence fits well the character of John as a “son of thunder,” and shows the same spirit exhibited by Polycarp in his encounter with Marcion … But the story is not very well authenticated, as Irenæus did not himself hear it from Polycarp, but only from others to whom Polycarp had told it.

Yet, two thousand years later, we still tell it. How different things are in our millennial times. Far from shouting that an enemy of God is present and all must flee lest they die under the tumbling stones of the house in which he enters, credible teachers and pastors partner with them! Rarely are false teachers excoriated from the pulpit by pastors, (or at all) thus transferring the same alarm and discernment to their sheep. Instead, if the false teachers are spoken of at any time, the subject is approached by such pastors and teachers as a deer mincing carefully up to the brook for a sip of water, delicately mentioning in general terms some vague notion that ‘False teaching is bad. Thank you for listening.’

Can you imagine the outcry if a teacher or pastor or blogger said, “Let us flee, lest the bath fall in while Beth Moore, the enemy of the truth, is there.”

Yet as MacArthur noted above, false teachers have always been a plague and a scourge upon the ministers and saints of the truth. They bring disrepute to the name of Jesus and worse, prevent people from entering the kingdom. In Matthew 23, we read of the devastating effects of their evil work. Jesus said bluntly reserving his worst woes and strident speech for the religious hypocrites,

But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.

This is an incredible statement.

False teachers shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces.

Let that sink in.

For those people who decry discernment work and refuse to be discerning, speak of discerning things, or mark false teachers for the benefit of others, you are actually participating in helping to shut others out of the kingdom.

In the second sentence, we see that false teachers disallow people to go into the kingdom. This is the first woe repeated in different words. Jesus is stressing the result of false teachers’ work. In addition, he confirmed the false teachers (hypocrites’) ultimate destination.

Thirdly, false teachers make their students and followers twice as much a child of hell as they were. If you understand compounding interest, you understand that the student will grow up to be a false believer or a false teacher and then turn around and make their students twice the sons of hell they were, which will be…well, let’s look at this short definition of negatively compounding interest.

A $1000 investment which loses 50% of its value will need to work twice as hard (i.e. grow 100%) just to get back to it original value. An investment that loses 50% in the first year and 20% in the second year will have to grow 150 % in the third year to recoup its starting value.

And that is only losing half the value. Jesus said the next generation will be twice as bad, not just half as bad. Even if you don’t like numbers, you can see what the negative impact of succeeding generations of unaddressed false teachers will have on the overall health of the faith.

Later in his sermon The Characteristics of False Spiritual Leaders, Part 1,  John MacArthur said,

Now in looking at verses 1 to 12, I want to suggest to you that a good way to see this section is to see it as a description of the characteristic of a false spiritual leader. And there are five elements that false spiritual leaders lack and I believe the Lord gives them to us right here. They lack authority, they lack integrity, they lack sympathy, they lack spirituality, and they lack humility.

Go on and read of listen to the sermon, which is part of a series. There is a related series called Exposing False Spiritual Leaders, which is also good. Remember the key verse today, Matthew 23:13,

But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in

It is serious, sisters. Serious. False teachers are not to be coddled, ignored, overlooked, tolerated, or treated non-judgmentally. They attack the sheep, prevent them from entering heaven, and make them children of hell twice as bad as they are.

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Further reading

Challies: 7 False teachers in the Church Today

The history of Christ’s church is inseparable from the history of Satan’s attempts to destroy her. While difficult challenges have arisen from outside the church, the most dangerous have always been from within. For from within arise the false teachers, the peddlers of error who masquerade as teachers of truth. False teachers take on many forms, custom-crafted to times, cultures, and contexts. Here are seven of them you will find carrying out their deceptive, destructive work in the church today.

Challies: The False Teachers: Arius

This morning I am setting out on a new series of articles that will scan the history of the church—from its earliest days all the way to the present time—and pause to examine some of Christianity’s most notorious false teachers. Along the way we will visit such figures as Pelagius, Servetus, Fosdick, and even a few you might find on television today. We will begin this morning with one of the very first, and certainly one of the most dangerous, false teachers: Arius.

S. Lewis Johnson: Basic Biblical Doctrine, sermon series, read and/or listen. The first sermon,
How Do We Know Spiritual Truth

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Stop Calling Error ‘Anointed

In a spot on piece over at Pulpit & Pen, Costi Hinn calls for Christians to get back to the basics, meaning biblical Christianity.  He raises a two fold question: “What in the world has happened to the body of Christ and what semblance of biblical orthodoxy will be left for our children and grandchildren?” The way things are going, the younger generation will grow up with scant knowledge of what God’s Word says and they’ll trust, not in the authority of the infallible Word of God, but instead they’ll lay aside their bibles and trust in extra biblical revelation uttered by infallible men.

In this short blog post, Hinn exposes some of the errors professing Christians have bought into, not realizing that they’re actually believing lies from the pit of hell. How could this be?  Two words: Biblical illiteracy.

Now to Hinn’s piece:

Where do you draw the charismatic line?

30 years ago nobody would’ve given this question much thought because it was easy to answer. People either liked Benny Hinn or thought he was crazy. People thought Kathryn Kuhlman was a great woman of God or a dramatic fraud. People were largely conservative, or charismatic. They either spoke in tongues that made no sense or viewed the practice as foolish and unbiblical.

It wasn’t a perfect Christian world, but at least there was some clarity.

View article →

2 Corinthians and the Heart of Christian Life and Ministry

I have a confession to make: I did not always love Second Corinthians like I do now. A lot of it is about Paul defending himself and his ministry, and he even speaks about boasting in this if he must. That seemed a bit odd to me, and I did not always fully understand and appreciate what he was getting at in this epistle.

But for various reasons, in the past few decades 2 Corinthians has rocketed to my number one New Testament book. I am not sure if we are to so elevate one NT book over another, but its themes about strength in weakness and glory in suffering are so very vitally important today – certainly in the West.

Many of our churches preach a triumphant gospel, one that often exalts power, one that exalts self, and one that exalts success. We find this especially in the health and wealth gospels, and in the name it and claim it theologies, both of which basically look down upon suffering and weakness.

paul 2Thus 2 Corinthians is THE book of the hour for so much of Western Christianity. In it Paul takes on the “super apostles” and those who exalt all sorts of things (fame, power, signs and wonders, speaking ability, status, reputation, etc). Paul boasts instead of his weakness, his afflictions, his hardships and his suffering.

These are the real marks of the true minister of the gospel he insists. And I could simply quote large slabs of the epistle to make this point. But let the reader check out these key passages: 2 Cor. 4:7-12; 6:3-10; 11:23-30; and 12:9-10.

But let me here simply run with a number of quotes on the book’s main theme and its importance. Right now there is a big gap in my bookshelves because I have pulled my twenty-plus commentaries of the book down to quote from. Here are some of their thoughts:

With evident distaste for speaking about himself, Paul reminds the Corinthians that, as they well knew, in contrast to the pretended apostleship of these false teachers his apostleship was one of continuous suffering and self-abnegation, and that it was precisely in his own manifest weakness, which left no room for self-glorification, that the power and grace of God had been magnified (11:21-12:12). (Philip E. Hughes)

The central theological theme of 2 Corinthians is the relationship suffering and the power of the Spirit in Paul’s apostolic experience. Paul’s point concerning this theme is as simple as it is profound. Rather than calling his sufficiency into question, Paul’s suffering is the revelatory vehicle through which the knowledge of God manifest in the cross of Christ and in the power of the Spirit is being disclosed. (Scott Hafemann)

The central theme of 2 Corinthians is divine power in weakness. It is a theme that the church in the West has tended to shrug off as appropriate only for Christians living under oppressive political regimes. Health, wealth and prosperity is a message often presented in the media and preached from the pulpit in the West. Not so with Paul. He defines the role of the gospel preacher in terms of the trials and hardships through which God’s power is seen and appropriated. It is the same for the church…. Every chapter echoes this theme. (Linda Belleville)

Paul’s theme throughout this letter is the strange royal comfort that comes through the suffering and death, and the new resurrection-life, of Israel’s Messiah, Jesus, the Lord of the world. This is the letter above all where he explains the meaning of the cross in terms of personal suffering – his own, and that of all the Messiah’s people. (Tom Wright)

The motif that keeps emerging throughout this epistle is that weakness is the source of strength and that suffering is the vehicle for God’s power and glory….
The gospel does not ride on health and wealth but on weakness. The ministry of the Spirit is not one of splash and flash but of meekness and weakness….
Affliction was the key to Paul’s effectiveness in ministry, and affliction is the key to effective ministry today. How countercultural this is. It even runs counter to so much “Christian” thinking that regards affliction as evidence of personal sin or efficient faith, and sleekness and ease as palpable evidence of divine blessing. (R. Kent Hughes)

In and through this weakness, God manifested his power, so that Paul can also write, ‘but he lives by reason of the power of God’ (13:4). The fundamental paradox of weakness and power then is rooted in Christ’s death, which has been made possible by the incarnation. Embracing this paradox in his life, Paul boasts in his own weaknesses (11:30; 12:9), aware that Christ’s ‘power is made perfect in weakness’ (12:9). This is not to say that power is weakness. Rather, in a manner that can be understood only in light of the paradox of the cross, power comes to its perfection in and through weakness. Because the Corinthians did not grasp this paradox, they could not appreciate Paul’s apostolic ministry among them and the new covenant community that he established in their midst. (Frank Matera)

It is, however, in human weakness that the pattern of the Gospel is most clearly shown: ‘My grace is enough for you; for power comes to perfection in weakness. Therefore will I most gladly boast rather in my weaknesses, in order that Christ’s power may rest upon me’ (xii. 9). And Paul constantly bears in his body the death of Jesus— not as an end in itself but as the only way to a manifestation of his life (iv. 10). Human weakness is thus not a thing that may or must be tolerated; Paul boasts about it, as the surest proof of his being a Christian, and a representative of the Christ crucified who is the Lord, not in spite of his having been crucified, nor as a reward for having been crucified, but because being ‘Christ crucified’, ‘the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me’ (Gal. ii. 20), is what God means by being the Lord. (C. K. Barrett)

Paul’s argument throughout the letter is that “only in cruciform sufferings like his” can the Lord “perform his powerful work, introducing glory into an age of darkness, salvation into a world of despair, a new age with the old life and power to more and more people.” Those who cannot see the glory in the cross of Christ because they are captured by the wisdom of this world will hardly see it in his suffering apostle. If they do see it, however, they will see how exceedingly glorious Paul’s ministry is. This letter is not just a personal defense; it is a restatement of the basic doctrine of the cross which Paul preached to them (1 Cor 2:2). (David Garland)

To confess that the present world is a “vale of tears,” as Paul effectively does, is not to say that there is nothing in it but suffering and sorrow. It is, however, to open one’s eyes to the sorrow and suffering that are present in the world. It is to see beyond the temporary security of the earthly goods to the suffering that in one measure or another must come to each who belongs to Christ. Indeed, according to the apostle, comfort and salvation come only through trial and suffering. True happiness comes only to those who know sorrow. Paul seeks to bring the Corinthians back to this realism. (Mark Seifrid)

Now if all this sounds very foreign to what is heard in most Western pulpits today, that is because it is so seldom preached. Hardly anyone is talking about suffering and hardship and weakness as indications of the genuine Christian life and work. Instead, we mainly hear about having your best life now, and getting everything you want to be happy and successful.

Why do I suspect that if Paul tried to get a few speaking gigs in most churches today he would never make it through the door? He would be told his message is far too negative and would simply turn people off. After all, we need to be seeker sensitive and tell people what they want to hear. That is how we grow churches (and get even more moolah in the offering plate).

The theology of suffering, of the crucified life, and of strength coming through weakness is about as alien as you can get in far too many churches today. Yet is was the very heart and soul of the message of the Apostle Paul, not just in 2 Corinthians, but in all his epistles.

To emphasise the cross and death to self is Christianity 101. There is no crown without the cross. There is no glory without suffering. There is no resurrection without death. As C. S. Lewis reminded us in one of his essays, “Nothing that has not died will be resurrected.”

In that brief remark Lewis nails the very heart of the Christian life. It is clearly not a popular message today, but it is a thoroughly biblical one. And it is the message which the Apostle Paul saw as absolutely central to everything about his life and ministry. We should take the same view.

[1544 words]

The post 2 Corinthians and the Heart of Christian Life and Ministry appeared first on CultureWatch.

For those Christians who are concerned that their sin has disqualified them for heaven.

You said you trust in Jesus yet you claim YOUR sin has disqualified you. Consider … this means you are not trusting in Christ alone but, at least partly, in your own ability to maintain a just standing before God. Still trusting in your own goodness to win Gods approval. But in Christ you already have his approval …The gospel is good news that Christ ALONE saves, not you. You will never defeat sin by trying, only Christ can do so in and through you. If you believe you don’t deserve heaven, by the grace of God flee from trusting in your own righteousness … all of it… you have nothing to offer God. You are spiritually bankrupt and can only come to him with empty hands as a poor sinner. Trust in Jesus alone.

It seems that your sin deeply concerns you. This is a sign of life, for those without the Holy Spirit would be unconcerned, indifferent or hostile to God, rather than concerned or broken over their sin. In 1 Cor 11:31-32 it teaches than when a believer sins either we judge ourselves, or the Spirit will discipline us until we do so that we will not be condemned along with the world. That is good news .. the Spirit is working in you to be convicted over your sin, to hate it and, by the grace of God, to put it to death…. and you will be fighting it all you life .. in fact all of us are… when you fall though, the Spirit will ensure that you get back up and persevere to the end. Being a Christian does not mean you are sinless, but that you are united to the one who was, and God accepts you because of Him. Your cannot maintain your own standing before God … that is the Lord Jesus’ office, and His alone.

If you trust in Christ, your sins are forgiven… Because of Him, “the Father … has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.” – Col 1:12

Source: For those Christians who are concerned that their sin has disqualified them for heaven

Weekly Watchman for 02/17/2017

Fake News and Christian Discernment
Charles Spurgeon once rightly said, “Discernment is not a matter of simply telling the difference between right and wrong; rather it is telling the difference between right and almost right.” Today, Pastor Randy White joins us to discuss discernment, fake news, and having the correct biblical perspective on our times and how to prepare for the challenging days our nation and church face.

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The Most Important Nation in History
God has brought the nation of Israel back to center stage for the final years of this world before the Lord returns in judgment. Of all the policy decisions President Trump is faced with, none may be more important than how he works with and supports Israel. Joining us to discuss the critical relationship between the U.S. and Israel is Jan Markell of Olive Tree Views.

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Lies, Hypocrisy and Cover-ups from the Left
There can be little doubt that the secular media in our nation on the whole is committed to the Socialist progressive movement, and the days of unbiased reporting of news is a thing of the past. Today we discuss the death of media objectivity; has the final nail been hammered in its coffin?

This morning, Mike and Dave discuss a report on how “climate change” data has been manipulated to advance radical environmentalism, and take a look at the hypocrisy of Senate Democrats in the handling of President Trump’s cabinet nominations. We will also look at the increasing pressure progressives are putting on American businesses to get in line with their agenda.

Plus, is media objectivity dead? Sadly, truth and facts are no longer priorities when political ideology reigns supreme.

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A Lost Generation?
Certainly this generation faces enormous challenges as public education and media have succeeded at indoctrinating many of them into a secular humanist world view. And this generation of younger people will one day lead our nation and our churches; some already are! So how can we help them turn (back) to God instead of away from Him? Religion and Culture expert, Dr. Alex McFarland joins us today to discuss this and other concerns.

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The World Will Hate You, But…
Jesus warned His disciples in John 15 that because the world hated Him, it would also hate all those who believe in and follow Him as well. The times in which we live certainly bear out the truth of Jesus’ warning. But if we are not speaking God’s truth and living out the Bible, people may not know we are Christians.

Led by atheists, LBGTQ activists, a corrupt humanist court system, and a corrupt media, our nation is seeing a steady diet of lawsuits against the free speech of Christian individuals and organizations. Religious freedoms are being redefined.

This morning we cover some recent stories involving the godless push to eradicate biblical Christian morality in America, and we analyze some of the evidence of growing hatred and discrimination against Christians. Our special guest today is Brad Dacus, president of The Pacific Justice Institute.

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Technology, the Church, World Events & Prophecy
It’s vital for true believers to have a solid, biblical Christian worldview and do our best to see people and events with an eternal perspective. Though we were not given a spirit of fear, it’s easy to become anxious or overwhelmed if we focus on this world rather than the Word.

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Forgiven People Forgive

Well, we’re back to our series on dealing with sin in the church from Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 2:5–11. If you haven’t read the other posts in this series, I’d encourage you to do so. We’ve been moving through the stages of faithful, successful discipline, and have seen three of them so far. First, there is the harmful sin that makes discipline necessary; second, there’s the corporate discipline itself; and third, there is, we hope, genuine repentance. The fourth stage, after there has been genuine repentance, is comforting forgiveness. Paul says, “Sufficient for such a one is this punishment which was inflicted by the majority, 7so that on the contrary you should rather forgive and comfort him, otherwise such a one might be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.”

Here we glean a principle that needs to take root in the soil of every Christian’s heart: where there is repentance, there is forgiveness. When a sinner repents, the church forgives. And though the original events of this text lead us to apply this principle first of all to cases of corporate church discipline, we all need to hear this point in light of our own duty to forgive those who sin against us personally. When a sinner repents, Christians forgive.

Requiring Penance?

But the Corinthians weren’t not abiding by this principle. Remember, they had come to grips with how serious it was for them to take sides with the offender against the Apostle Paul. Through Paul’s severe letter (cf. 2 Cor 2:4), they had experienced that godly sorrow that leads to repentance. 2 Corinthians 7:11 speaks about the fruit of Corinthians’ godly sorrow and genuine repentance as it related to the offender: “For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you: what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong!” Though they had been hesitant to discipline the man who had challenged Paul’s authority, they were now indignant with him. Paul speaks of their zeal, and their avenging of wrongdoing in this matter of disciplining this person.

And by the grace of God, corporate discipline had had its intended effect; it brought this sinning brother to repentance. But the Corinthians weren’t satisfied. They refused to forgive him and welcome him back into the church. And the fact that Paul says the punishment was sufficient (2 Cor 2:6), and “on the contrary you should rather forgive and comfort him” (2 Cor 2:7) implies that they were looking to impose even severer punishment. They believed that he needed to suffer further before being restored to the church. He needed to be made to wallow in the grief of his sin. In a real sense, the Corinthians were demanding that this man do penance. His repentance was not enough; they were requiring that he now further “atone” for his sins by suffering further shame, grief, and sorrow. Once he had felt bad enough about his sin, well then they would welcome him back.

It is Finished

But such self-atoning penance is no more acceptable to the true church than it is to God Himself. Think for a moment about the times when you find yourself on your face before God, confessing a familiar sin to Him and asking for forgiveness again. He has every right to be indignant with you. He has every right to rake you over the coals for sinning against Him again—especially after He has forgiven you countless times for that same sin. But when you come to your Father in repentance, seeking forgiveness for your sins and restored fellowship with Him, He doesn’t require you to perform a laundry list of duties before He welcomes you back. He doesn’t say, “Nope, you need to sit in the dog house a little while and feel worse about what you’ve done.”

And why not? Because Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient atonement for all your sins. When the Son of God received in Himself the full exercise of His Father’s wrath against the sins of His people, He did not fail to pay for a single one of your sins. He didn’t dodge the slightest stroke of His Father’s rod. He drank every last drop of that miserable cup, and cried, “It is finished!” There is nothing more that you could do to pay for your sins. And to suppose that you can pay for them—whether it be by reciting Hail Marys, or by wallowing in your grief trying to feel sorry enough so God will take you back—is nothing short of blasphemy. You could fill the oceans with sorrow, and there would never be enough sorrow to atone for even a single sin.

And if that is the case with God’s forgiveness of you, dear Christian, how could it be any different with your forgiveness of your brothers and sisters? Or how could a church demand from its members more than God Himself demands of them? When a sinner repents, church discipline has achieved the purpose for which it was instituted. For the church to withhold forgiveness at that point is to abandon the remedial and restorative blessings of discipline, and to move into cruel domineering, as Calvin said. Philip Edgcumbe Hughes writes,

“Discipline which is so inflexible as to leave no place for repentance and reconciliation has ceased to be truly Christian; for it is no less a scandal to cut off the penitent sinner from all hope of re-entry into the comfort and security of the fellowship of the redeemed community than it is to permit flagrant wickedness to continue unpunished in the Body of Christ” (66–67).

Swallowed Up in Despair

The fruit of that kind of domineering over-lordship is utter despair. Paul says, “Forgive him, otherwise such a one might be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.” “Overwhelmed” is the Greek term for “swallowed,” “drowned,” or “devoured.” Paul is concerned that this repentant man be forgiven and comforted, lest he be swallowed up and drowned by excessive sorrow. Now, it might sound a bit melodramatic, but think for a moment about the sheer power of the despair for ever being forgiven. If you have sinned grievously, and, because of your stubborn refusal of the correction of your brothers and sisters, have been put out of the fellowship of the church, but now by the grace of God you have owned your folly as sin and have sought to abandon your error and be restored to God’s people, and you go to them expressing repentance, but they tell you that you’re not forgiven and still not welcome——how helpless and alone would you feel?

You would feel as if there is absolutely nothing that could ever be done to help your estate. It’s one thing to feel like a stranger and alien among the world; they are of their father and you are of yours. But to be made to feel like you’re a stranger and alien even among the people of God is an unbearable thought. It would be to make a spiritual orphan out of you. How long would it be before your flesh convinced you that there’s no point to repentance—no point to pursuing holiness at all? If repentance from sin gets you isolated and cut off from the people of God, it will only be a matter of time before you plunge headlong into sin without any hope of ever being restored to fellowship. Friends, the power to fight sin comes from the freedom of Christ’s forgiveness. For the church to withhold forgiveness from repentant sinners is to imprison those whom Christ had made free—to cripple them, to weigh them down with despair.

That kind of sorrow devours a person; it swallows him up. Just as properly-administered discipline brings godly sorrow, so poorly-administered discipline brings worldly sorrow. “Godly sorrow,” Paul says, “produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death” (2 Cor 7:10). God doesn’t mean for believers to be totally consumed by grief over their sin; He wants them to experience the godly sorrow that leads to a repentance without regret. Excessive sorrow can be so unbearable that it even leads to death (e.g., Matt 27:3–5).

And so Paul says to “forgive and comfort him.” As surely as correction and discipline are to follow sin, forgiveness is to follow repentance. Just as it is grossly unfaithful for a church to fail to deal with sin in its midst by failing to administer discipline, it is just as grossly unfaithful for a church to fail to forgive a sinner who repents. Charles Hodge captured it nicely when he wrote, “Undue severity is as much to be avoided as undue leniency.”

Forgiven People Forgive

Undue severity just as unfaithful as undue leniency because it is so outrageously out of tune with the Gospel. I’ve always been struck by the utter wisdom of the Holy Spirit to place the parable of the unmerciful slave immediately after Christ’s teaching on church discipline.

Back in Matthew 18, immediately after Christ finishes speaking about binding and loosing, Peter pipes up. And he asks, not, “Lord, how many times should I be forgiven if I’m a bonehead and sin against my brother over and over again?” but, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” And Jesus said, “Not seven times, but seventy times seven. As often as there is repentance, so often is there to be forgiveness.”

And then he tells the story of a man who owed his master an incalculable debt; ten thousand talents was equivalent to 150,000 years’ wages. He couldn’t pay the debt, so he and his family were to be sold into slavery. The man threw himself to the ground and begged his master to give him time to pay. And the master had such compassion on him that he didn’t just give him time to pay, but forgave the entire debt! But then the slave came across one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii—equivalent to about 100 days’ wages—and he grabbed his friend by the throat and demanded to be paid! And just as he had done with his master, his friend fell to the ground and begged him to give him time to pay. And this man, who had just been forgiven, threw his fellow slave in prison until he was paid back a debt that was 0.000183% of the debt that he was just forgiven!

What would you say about such a man? Absurd! Wicked! No appreciation whatsoever of what it meant to be forgiven! Well, the other slaves went and told the master what this man had done. And he summoned his slave to him and said, “You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?” (Matt 18:32–33). And then Jesus comments, “And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart” (Matt 18:34–35).

Friends, we who have been declared righteous in Christ have been forgiven an incalculable debt. Not 150,000  years, but eternity. And not in a debtor’s prison, but in hell itself. That is the just payment that our sins deserved. And because of the unspeakable grace and mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ, we don’t pay a thing! We have been forgiven! And yet what happens? We are so prideful, that when our brother or sister sins against us, we are intransigent: “It isn’t right! She sinned against me! And I demand justice!”

And people try to reason with you. “But she’s come and confessed. She’s admitted her sin and has asked for your forgiveness.”

“I don’t care! She’s not getting off that easy!”

Now, you don’t always give voice to that kind of severity, but whenever you refuse to forgive someone who has come to you in repentance and has asked for your forgiveness, that is what’s going on in your heart.

Do you understand the Gospel? Do you understand the unspeakable magnitude of your sin against a holy God? Do you understand that the perfect sacrifice of Christ has paid your debt, so that you are forgiven? Then how in the world can you, who have sinned against God and have been spared the tortures of hell, refuse to forgive such an insignificant crime committed against yourself, and insist on your pound of flesh?

It simply cannot happen. For those who have truly experienced the forgiveness that the Gospel brings, it is a delight to extend forgiveness to others. Those who’ve been forgiven by God are eager to forgive those who sin against them, because it gives them an opportunity to be an imitator of their Father. That’s why Jesus says, “If you forgive others, God will forgive you, but if you don’t forgive others God won’t forgive you” (Matt 6:14–15). He’s not saying that salvation is conditioned upon forgiveness. He’s saying that if you can profess to be forgiven of such an incalculable debt as eternity in hell, and then refuse forgiveness to those who come to you in repentance, then you give evidence that your heart is a stranger to the grace of God in Christ, and that you aren’t even a believer yourself.

Ephesians 4:32: “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also as forgiven you.”

Colossians 3:12–13: “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.”

Do you see the way Scripture reasons? Forgiven people forgive.

Conclusion

And so Paul says, “The punishment already past is sufficient. He’s repented. Forgive this man, and comfort him, otherwise he might be swallowed up by sorrow and despair.”

“But Paul, don’t you remember how he stood up and defied you in front of the whole church—”

“Don’t worry about me. I’ve forgiven him—if even there was anything to forgive” (cf. 2 Cor 2:10).

“Anything to forgive? How can you say that?”

“Dear friends, because I am ever so conscious of the sin that I’ve been forgiven by Christ. And in light of the cross, sin against me looks a thing so miniscule and infinitesimal that I’m not sure it even registers as a crime.” That’s how forgiven people talk.

Do you talk like that? And more than talk like it: do you act like that? And even more than acting like it: does your heart pulse with that kind of forgiving spirit? Is it the reflex of your heart to forgive a sinning brother or sister? That is the kind of forgiving that we, as forgiven people, are called to. May we fix our eyes so firmly on our own forgiveness that we delight to extend something of that forgiveness to others.

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A Free Seminary-Level Course on the Reformation

Justin Taylor: “Thanks to the generosity and permission of Carl Trueman and The Master’s Seminary, you can basically take Professor Trueman’s course online for free.”
You can find the details and the videos at the link below.
A Free Seminary-Level Course on the Reformation

Watch an Entirely Free, Seminary-Level Course with Carl Trueman on the Reformation

I have posted below the heart of the course syllabus, along with all of the lectures, filmed at The Master’s Seminary in January 2017.

Over at the Evangelical History blog, I have posted Professor Trueman’s bibliography for further reading.


Description

This course will introduce student to the major ideas, personalities, and events that shook Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It will consist of lectures and guided reading.

The focus will be on the development of Protestantism in its social, political, and cultural contexts, starting with Luther and the late medieval background and tracing the story through to the birth of modernity in the seventeenth century. En route, the student will study primary texts, art work, Reformation popular culture, and pastoral practices in early modern Protestantism.

In addition, the course is designed to help students to think critically about the past in a way which allows them to think critically about the present. Men and women make history, but they do not make the history that they choose; and only by examining the past forces that shaped the present can we understand ourselves, the world in which we live, and thus mount any response to the challenges that face us today.


Learning Goals

At the conclusion of the course, each student should be able to:

  • Recognize the key personalities, controversies, and theological developments which marked the Reformation.
  • Distinguish between the various historic Christian traditions in terms of their distinctive theological convictions as formulated during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
  • Articulate ways in which social and cultural contexts shaped the way the church developed during the Reformation.

Textbooks and Reading Schedule 

Students are expected to obtain a copies of:

The numbers appended below to Janz refer to the selection, not the page.

Schaff III is the third volume of P. Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom (free pdf).

The readings from Lindberg are not synchronized with the lectures; they are merely a suggested timetable for taking you through the whole book by the end of the course.

1. Medieval Background and Martin Luther

2. Martin Luther

 3. Martin Luther

 4. The Birth of the Reformed Church

  • Janz 30-37
  • The Sixty-Seven Articles of Huldrych Zwingli (in Schaff III)
  • Lindberg, Chapter 7

5. Geneva and Calvin

  • A Reformation Debate: Sadoleto’s Letter to the Genevans and Calvin’s Reply
  • Lindberg, Chapter 8

 6. The Spread of Lutheranism and the Reformed Faith

7. The English Reformation

8. Reading the Reformation

9. The Catholic Reformation

10. Seventeenth Century Developments: Reformed Confessionalism

11. Seventeenth Century Developments: Internal Catholic Conflicts

12. The Birth of Modernity

  • Lindberg, Chapter 15

 

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What Is the Relationship Between Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility?

The relationship between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility is not instantly obvious, and at first glance it seems paradoxical. But Scripture offers us considerable insight into how these twin truths harmonize within the plan of redemption.

The first step in understanding the compatibility between God’s sovereignty and human will is to recognize that they are not mutually exclusive, and Scripture makes this absolutely clear. In God’s design, human responsibility is clearly not eliminated by God’s sovereign control over His creation. That’s true even though evil was included in His grand design for the universe even before the beginning of time, and He uses His creatures’ sin for purposes that are always (and only) good. Indeed, in His infinite wisdom, He is able to use all things for good (Rom. 8:28).

Consider the Lord’s opening statement in Isaiah 10:5: “Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger.” At first glance, this makes no sense. If Assyria is functioning as an instrument of God’s judgment, why is He pronouncing condemnation on the Assyrians? “Woe” is an onomatopoeic word (meaning the word sounds like what it means; in this case, a cry of agony) that warns of calamity or massive judgment to come. But how can a people come under divine denunciation and judgment while at the same time functioning as a rod of God’s anger? The rest of the verse says, “the staff in whose hand is My indignation.” Assyria, this pagan, godless, idolatrous nation, is the instrument of divine judgment against God’s own rebellious people.

In fact, the next verse says, “I send it against a godless nation [Judah, the southern part of the kingdom] and commission it against the people of My fury” (v. 6). The Jews are thus designated as the people of God’s fury. God holds Israel fully responsible for their disbelief; fully responsible for their idolatry; fully responsible for their rebellion and their rejection of Him, His Word, and His worship. So He commissions the Assyrians to come against them. Notice verse 6: “To capture booty, and to seize plunder, and to trample them down like mud in the streets.” That’s strong, decisive language.

Now here you have a divine decree in action. God grabs Assyria by the nape of its national neck and assigns it to be the instrument of His fury against the godless people of Judah who have rejected and rebelled against Him. And then He says in verse 7, “Yet it [Assyria] does not so intend, nor does it plan so in its heart.” Assyria is the instrument of God’s judgment—and the Assyrians themselves are clueless about it. It was never Assyria’s purpose, motive, or intention to serve God. They had no interest in the God of Scripture—they didn’t even believe in Him. Rather, Assyria planned in its own heart to cut off many nations. This was just another opportunity for the Assyrian power to knock off another neighboring nation, as they’d already done to Calno, Carchemish, Hamath, Arpad, Samaria, and Damascus (v. 9). Verses 10 and 11 depict Assyria’s confidence in its ability to conquer Judah: “As my hand has reached to the kingdom of the idols, whose graven images were greater than those of Jerusalem and Samaria, shall I not do to Jerusalem and her images just as I have done to Samaria and her idols?” All Assyria knows is that it has destroyed other nations who, in its judgment, had greater protection and greater gods than the God of the Bible. The Assyrians simply intended to do to Judah what they had done to the rest of the nations. They thought they were acting in complete independence. They had no idea that God was using them as agents to deliver His judgment.

But does being instruments of divine wrath somehow exonerate them from responsibility for the evil inherent in their military policies? If this irresistible divine decree brings them to Israel, what culpability do they have for their actions? And yet Scripture is clear that they will be held accountable. Verse 12 says that when God has finished using Assyria as an instrument of His fury, “So it will be that when the Lord has completed all His work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, He will say, ‘I will punish the fruit of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the pomp of his haughtiness.’” The Lord has already decreed that once He is done using Assyria, He will punish it for its sins. The very act that the Assyrians carried out under divine decree was an act of evil—so evil that God will turn on them and bring destruction on them. In God’s eyes, they bear full culpability for every part of their evil slaughter and destruction, even though they are fulfilling His divine decree.

Not only did God pronounce judgment on Assyria for its wicked deeds but also for the motives behind the deeds. “I will punish the fruit of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the pomp of his haughtiness. For he has said, ‘By the power of my hand and by my wisdom I did this’” (vv. 12–13). God will punish the Assyrians for their motives and for their failure to recognize His glory by taking credit for what they had done. They thought they had done it by the power of their hands and the wisdom of their own design. Isaiah records the king of Assyria’s arrogant boasts:

By the power of my hand and by my wisdom I did this,
For I have understanding;
And I removed the boundaries of the peoples
And plundered their treasures,
And like a mighty man I brought down their inhabitants,
And my hand reached to the riches of the peoples like
a nest,
And as one gathers abandoned eggs, I gathered all the earth;
And there was not one that flapped its wing or opened its beak or chirped. (vv. 13–14)

That rebellious pride is what invites divine wrath. The Assyrians’ motives and arrogance put them in the path of God’s judgment. Isaiah vividly depicts the ignorance and foolishness of their haughty attitude.

Is the axe to boast itself over the one who chops with it?
Is the saw to exalt itself over the one who wields it?
That would be like a club wielding those who lift it,
Or like a rod lifting him who is not wood. (v. 15)

God is the One who wielded Assyria like an ax to chop down Judah and Jerusalem, and yet He righteously holds the ax responsible (vv. 15–18).

Here’s the point: although God controls by divine decree and sovereign power everything that goes on in the world according to His own purposes, that does not remove one iota of culpability from those who do evil. Evildoers do evil not because they are forced to, but by their own evil intent. So God will judge them for both the act and the motive, as well as for their failure to give Him glory and to worship Him.

And Isaiah never makes an attempt to resolve or explain away what many would regard as a judicial paradox. Scripture gives no indication that God’s wrath against Assyria was anything but just, reasonable, and appropriate. The Bible is simply not concerned with reconciling divine judgment with any human assumptions about justice or fairness. Scripture simply explains what God did, and we are to understand that it was just and fair because He did it.

We see the same tension between divine sovereignty and human responsibility in bold relief in Acts 2. During Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost, he said, “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know—this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death” (vv. 22–23).

Christ died under God’s authority, in His timing, and according to His plan. And yet Israel was guilty—both for their collective hand in His death and for their failure to believe in Him as Messiah.

But the guilt of Christ’s murder was not isolated to Israel alone. In Acts 4:27, there’s another indictment: “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel.” The point is clear: Christ’s death was a corporate act of sinful humanity aligned together against God. All are guilty.

But the prayer of verse 27 continues in verse 28, saying that all these guilty souls conspired together “to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.” Isaiah 53:10 agrees, identifying the Lord as the One responsible for the Son’s death: “The Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief.” That by no means exonerates the ones who carried out Christ’s execution. The perpetrators’ intentions were entirely rebellious and murderous, and for them, it was an act of pure evil.

Bearing that in mind, Christ’s death is, therefore, the greatest fulfillment of the truth embodied in Joseph’s insightful words to his brothers in Genesis 50:20: “As for you, you meant it for evil against me, but God meant it for good.” The fulfillment of God’s redemptive plan in the death of Christ in no way mitigates the guilt of His murderers. While the Lord ordained and orchestrated every event to bring about His desired ends, the wicked human hands that accomplished the work are no less guilty for the sinful role they played.

We see those seemingly contrasting truths of divine sovereignty and human responsibility repeatedly, in every part of God’s Word. But Scripture never attempts to ease the apparent tension. There’s no inspired explanation that spells out their complex relationship. Therefore, we need to be careful in attempting to conform God’s divine decrees to our own feeble sense of fairness. We need to remember that it’s not our job to hold God to whatever standards our meager minds might suggest. He Himself is the standard of true righteousness, and He never acts in a way that would contradict His righteousness or justice.

This excerpt is taken from None Other: Discovering the God of the Bible by John MacArthur.

Source: What Is the Relationship Between Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility?

When Assurance of Salvation is Fleeting

Dear struggling Christian, if our gaze is always within, assurance will remain fleeting. No doubt, we need to examine our lives and test the fruit, but true assurance, lasting assurance, secure assurance comes from looking to Christ and our union with Him. We want to see evidence of Christ’s grace in our lives, but we realize these evidences not by seeking after them, but by gaining a greater grasp on Christ. How do we gain this greater grasp of the King of Glory? How do we look to Him more? God has granted His means of grace to the struggling Christian for this very purpose.

In a world filled with sin, the flesh, and the devil, assurance of salvation is the soft feather bed on which the Christian rests. Assurance proves to be one of the greatest benefits of the Christian faith and the rightful inheritance of the child of God. In its enjoyment are found peace, hope, and joy unsurpassed in this fallen world.

The Scriptures clearly articulate that a child of God may and should possess a true sense of peace and confidence regarding personal salvation. Faith is trusting in Christ as Savior, so the seeds of assurance inherently lie within faith itself. Though the gift of assurance regularly accompanies saving faith, many Christians find it elusive or even nonexistent in their own experience. As John Calvin said, “We cannot imagine any certainty that is not tinged with doubt, or any assurance that is not assailed by some anxiety. . . . Believers are in perpetual conflict with their own unbelief” (Institutes, 3.2.18). Every Christian knows this experience. Yet, this lack of assurance leads some Christians to assume they are counted among the lost. Such an error devastates—breeding inner turmoil and even despair.

The Westminster Confession of Faith helpfully addresses the underlying error when it states “infallible assurance doth not so belong to the essence of faith, but that a true believer may wait long, and conflict with many difficulties, before he be a partaker of it” (18:3). The Westminster divines rightly understood that one may possess saving faith yet not possess the assurance that often accompanies that faith. In fact, the Westminster Assembly chose to address saving faith and assurance in separate chapters of the confession (WCF 14 and 18, respectively), because it recognized that the doctrines are not so inextricably linked that if one possesses saving faith he must also enjoy assurance. The Scriptures and Christian experience bear witness to the stark reality that saving faith and assurance of salvation do not always coexist in the believer.

I believe; help my unbelief!” said the father of the demon-possessed child (Mark 9:24). Few men have uttered more honest words, and few honest words have benefited more men. Here is the cry of a man with faith who also recognizes that his faith remains weak, stumbling, and frail. Faith is present, but it remains mixed with doubt. Yet, Christ clearly recognizes this father’s faith. An ounce of saving faith is a faith that saves. Our Lord boldly proclaimed: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25–26).

Dear Christian, it is not the degree, quality, or abundance of our faith that saves. Rather, it is the object of our faith that saves. Faith does not look to itself. It looks to another. And in Christ, the object of our faith, salvation lies (John 14:5). Therefore, it is also in Christ that our assurance lies. This father understood the necessary thing. As Calvin stated, “He who, struggling with his own weakness, presses toward faith in his moments of anxiety is already in large part victorious” (Institutes, 3.2.18).

In those moments when assurance escapes us, let us look to Christ in faith. Assurance is nurtured as we grow in our understanding of grace, especially in our union with Christ as it relates to our justification and adoption. How do we grow in this grace? The Westminster Confession proves helpful once again. It proclaims that one may “without extraordinary revelation, in the right use of ordinary means attain thereunto. And therefore it is the duty of everyone to give all diligence to make his calling and election sure” (WCF 18:3). The confession rightly points us to Christ by the very means He has given to His people for their growth, including growth in assurance. Those means are the Word, sacraments, and prayer (WCF 14.1).

Before we turn our attention to these means of grace, I want to note a pastoral issue that often emerges in this realm. Over the course of my pastoral ministry, I have found that many struggle with assurance because they direct their eyes within rather than without. Make no mistake, introspection serves its purpose in the Christian life. We are to examine ourselves to see whether we are in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5). This is necessary and good. Yet, I find that many Christians suffer from overzealous introspection. Like a medieval inquisitor, we lay our souls upon the rack and inflict torture with constant accusatory questions: Do I bear enough of the fruit of the Spirit? Is my faith solid enough? Have I confessed and repented sufficiently? Have I tricked myself into thinking I am a believer? And all the while, we forget to look to our Savior in faith. The Great Shepherd’s promise, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28), seems too foreign to too many of His sheep.

Dear struggling Christian, if our gaze is always within, assurance will remain fleeting. No doubt, we need to examine our lives and test the fruit, but true assurance, lasting assurance, secure assurance comes from looking to Christ and our union with Him. We want to see evidence of Christ’s grace in our lives, but we realize these evidences not by seeking after them, but by gaining a greater grasp on Christ. How do we gain this greater grasp of the King of Glory? How do we look to Him more? God has granted His means of grace to the struggling Christian for this very purpose.

Into this dark world God has sent the light of His Word. This Word, which is living and active (Heb. 4:12), works in the hearts and minds of His people. We hear the true, gracious voice of our Heavenly Father. As we sit under the preached Word, read it in our prayer closets, meditate upon it on our beds (Ps. 63:6), and talk of it on the way (Deut. 6:7), the Spirit attends to the Word, and it does not return void (Isa. 55:11). The truth of Christ occupies our minds, the promises of Christ comfort our souls, the beauty of Christ stirs our affections, and the commands of Christ move our spirits. As we attend to this means of grace, He encourages and affirms assurance within us. Too often, the voice of our adversary sounds loud in our ears: “You are no child of God. Would God allow a wretched sinner like you into His family?” Our flesh joins in as a ready accomplice and the struggle can be great. However, such indictments cannot stand in the light of God’s Word. His Word pierces such darkness and resounds louder than any accusations that our adversaries can hurl at the children of God.

The Lord not only gave us His written Word, but also His visible Word. The Lord, as an act of magnanimous grace, condescends to give us something we can see, touch, and taste. He knows that we, as corporeal beings, naturally gravitate toward the visible. So, He blesses His children with outward signs—the sacraments—that confirm to our senses what the ear has heard and the eye has read. Dear struggling Christian, partake of the Lord’s Table and be reminded that not only did Christ die for sinners, but Christ died for you. Not only did Christ shed His blood for sinners, but He shed it for you. Not only can sinners be united to Christ, but He is united to you. As real as the cup you hold is Christ’s love for you. As surely as you taste the bread and wine do you taste Christ’s peace. As the bread and cup sustain your body physically, so Christ’s grace sustains you spiritually. All the promises of Christ are not only true, but they are truly yours. Baptism serves the Christian in the same way. As surely as the water flowed over your head are you washed in the blood of the Lamb. As surely as you entered the waters of baptism are you united with Christ in His life, death, and resurrection (Rom. 6). The sacraments not only signify this truth to the struggling Christian but also seal it upon their soul.

Finally, the Lord blesses His people with the gift of prayer. What a relief this means of grace provides for the limping Christian. He grants to us the privilege and solace of crying out to Him, a cry granted only to His children. And our pleadings do not fall on deaf ears (Ps. 18:6). They ascend into the very throne room of God. We speak into His ear and may do so with boldness (Heb.4:16). James says, “You do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:2). Let the Christian struggling with assurance cry out with the psalmist, “How long O Lord?” (Ps. 13:1). The desperate cries of God’s sons and daughters to their heavenly Father never fall on deaf ears. He loves to give good gifts to His children (Matt. 7:11). Let us cry out with the father of the tormented child, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).

Dear sinner, the Jesus who recognized the faith of the father is the same Jesus who sits enthroned above, hears our prayers, and says to His Father: “These are mine, the price has been paid, the law has been fulfilled, the blood has been shed. My righteousness belongs to them. Mercy has been purchased. Forgiveness is theirs.” If you have even the least bit of saving faith in Christ, all the blessings of salvation belong to you—including assurance. You may, as the Westminster Confession says, wait “long” for it, and it may only come through many struggles, but it is yours. Seek after it. And if we would hope to enjoy this grace more and more, let us seek Christ more and more by the means He has given. As God’s children, assurance is our rightful inheritance.

© Tabletalk magazine. Used with permission.

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8 Things North American Believers Can Learn from Believers around the World

In my various roles, I’ve been privileged to travel the world, talk to global brothers and sisters in Christ, and learn from them. I may be the professor, but they always teach me. Here are some things we North American Christians can learn from them:

  1. The Bible is precious. We who have multiple copies of the scriptures miss this point. It would do all of us good to spend time with a believer who stays up all night to hear and read the Word of God because he doesn’t have his own copy.
  2. Holiness matters. I’ve been with some believers around the world who lean toward legalism, but seldom have I been with any who are as lax about sin as North Americans tend to be. Global believers often struggle with our brand of non-life changing Christianity.
  3. Worship is more than head-centered. Every culture is different, but I love worshiping with believers who give themselves fully to worship. From the African who jumps when he worships to the Ukrainian who sings with all his might, believers around the world challenge my often- too stoic approach to worship.
  4. Prayer makes a difference. I once stood for two hours praying non-stop with believers in a war-torn part of the world, and they were just getting started. When Christ is genuinely your hope and peace, you understand better the necessity and the value of prayer.
  5. Persecution is real. For many believers, persecution is not just somebody else’s story on a sheet of paper. It’s their story. No article or website can speak the volumes that a believer who’s been faithful under persecution can.
  6. Church membership means something. I’ve talked with local church leaders around the globe who shepherd large networks, and they can tell you much of the spiritual state of each believer. They take seriously the need for accountability and growth among believers.
  7. North American Christianity is not the center of the Christian world. We tend to think we are, simply because our world revolves around us. Many believing groups around the world, though, have longer histories, more followers, and much more to teach us.
  8. Heaven will be really sweet. I already knew that, but thinking about the peoples of the world gathering around the throne is that much more powerful after meeting many of those folks.

Source: 8 Things North American Believers Can Learn from Believers around the World