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Founders Ministries Blog

  • 3 Reasons for God’s Moral Law

    Recently, after our family had completed its daily devotional time together, my oldest son asked me a very insightful question: How do the Ten Commandments apply to us today if they were given so long ago in the Old Testament?

    It is a basic theological question that many Christians have asked throughout the history of the church, and it is an important query. Many answers have been given to that, not all of them good. Obviously, there are two answers that are dead wrong and lead to two opposite ditches that the follower of Christ must avoid: Antinomianism (the law of God has no place in the life of the believer and he/she is free to live however they please) and legalism (I am saved by how closely I adhere to God’s commands—works righteousness).

    One of the best and most helpful answers, in my opinion, that has been given was set forth by the Genevan reformer, John Calvin. In his venerable systematic theology, the Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin set forth three “uses” for the moral law of God. The Lord of history has given His law, Calvin wrote, to serve as:

    A mirror. Calvin argued that the law functions to expose our sin and unrighteousness. When a sinner looks into the mirror of God’s law, he sees himself as he really is: depraved, sinful, wretched, undone, lost, and in need of cleansing, in need of a savior. This reality causes sinners to despair of their own righteousness and leads them to flee to the Savior, the cross of Christ, for mercy. Wrote Calvin:

    “The law is like a mirror. In it we contemplate our weakness, then the iniquity arising from this, and finally the curse coming from both—just as a mirror shows us the spots on our face.... The apostle’s statement is relevant here: ‘Through the law comes knowledge of sin’ (Rom. 3:20).”

    A restrainer of evil. The law of God functions to keep evildoers from being as bad as they otherwise might be. Thus, to some degree it serves to protect God’s people from the sinful machinations of the ungodly, Calvin argued. The law certainly cannot regenerate a sinful heart—that is the domain of the Holy Spirit through the gospel alone—but Calvin wrote:

    “They are restrained, not because their inner mind is stirred or affected, but because, being bridled, so to speak, they keep their hands from outward activity and hold inside the depravity that otherwise they would wantonly have indulged. Consequently, they are neither better nor more righteous before God. Hindered by fright or shame, they dare neither execute what they have conceived in their minds, nor openly breathe for the rage of their lust.”

    A revelation of the will of God. Believers, who have been transformed by the gospel, Calvin wrote, need the law as well, certainly not as a means of salvation, but as a guide to sanctification. The law reveals God’s perfect righteousness and reveals that which is pleasing to him. A believer can come to delight in God’s commands, however, only after he his heart has been regenerated by God’s grace through the gospel. Wrote Calvin:

    “Here is the best instrument for them (believers) to learn more thoroughly each day the nature of the Lord’s will to which they aspire, and to confirm them in the understanding of it. It is as if some servant, already prepared with all earnestness of heart to comment himself to his master, must search out and observe his master’s ways more carefully in order to conform and accommodate himself to them. And not one of us may escape from this necessity. For no man has heretofore attained to such wisdom as to be unable, from the daily instruction of the law, to make fresh progress toward a purer knowledge of the divine will. Again, because we need not only teaching but also exhortation, the servant of God will also avail himself of this benefit of the law: by frequent meditation upon it to be aroused to obedience, be strengthened in it, and be drawn back from the slippery path of transgression. In this way the saints must press on; for, however eagerly they may in accordance with the Spirit strive toward God’s righteousness, the listless flesh always so burdens them that they do not proceed with due readiness. The law is to the flesh like a whip to an idle and balky ass (donkey), to arouse it to work.”

    Calvin’s is a helpful paradigm, I think. But perhaps best of all, Calvin reminded his readers, in speaking of the first use of the law, that the law—like a schoolmaster—prepares one to receive the good news of the gospel. The law of God demonstrates that man has no righteousness in himself that is pleasing to God. Sinful man must be given a righteousness that is extra nos—outside of himself. As the Puritans, Calvin’s theological ancestors, famously put it, the law wounds and then the gospel arrives and heals. Wrote Calvin:

    “While [the law] shows God’s righteousness, that is, the righteousness alone acceptable to God, it warns, informs, convicts, and lastly condemns every man of his own unrighteousness. For man, blinded and drunk with self-love, must be compelled to know and to confess his own feebleness and impurity. If man is not clearly convinced of his own vanity, he is puffed up with insane confidence, in his own mental powers, and can never be induced to recognize their slenderness as long as he measures them by a measure of his own choice. But as soon as he begins to compare his powers with the difficulty of the law, he has something to diminish his bravado. For, however remarkable an opinion of his powers he formerly held, he soon feels that they are panting under so heavy a weight as to stagger and totter, and finally even to fall down and faint away. Thus man, schooled in the law, sloughs off the arrogance that previously blinded him.”

    As followers of Christ, we are a people of grace and not law. But it is God’s law that demonstrates his spotless character and shows our need of grace. Calvin saw this clearly. As Paul admonished young Timothy, may God teach us how to use the law lawfully (1 Tim. 1:8).

  • Participating in Gathered Worship: Worship in Spirit and in Truth

    What would you consider essential to worship? What is truly necessary if true worship is to occur? Is it a certain style of preaching? Is it a certain type of music? Is it a sense of reverence and awe? Is it a sense of excitement and praise? Of course it is important to be intentional and thoughtful about our preaching and singing in worship. And it is important that we respond in appropriate ways as we worship. But Jesus points us to something deeper at the heart of worship.

    In John 4, in the midst of a conversation at the well with a woman from Samaria, Jesus revealed the essence of true worship. He said in verses 23–24:

    But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth (John 4:23–24).

    In these verses Jesus teaches us two essential truths about worship. Those who worship God must worship Him in spirit and in truth. These are not two different or distinct ways of worshipping God, but two essential parts of the same worship.

    If we are to participate rightly in worship, we must worship in spirit.

    Our worship must be heart-felt and alive in the power of Holy Spirit. In order for us to worship in spirit, we need the Spirit of God to seek us out and make us alive. God must first come and draw us to Himself, awaken us, quicken us, and enable us to come. As the Holy Spirit indwells us and enlivens our spirit, we see Christ as precious—we see our great need to be in Him, clothed in His righteousness alone—and we are able to worship God in spirit.

    If we are to participate rightly in worship, we must worship in truth.

    Our worship must be saturated with God’s Word and offered in submission to God’s Word. In order for us to worship in truth, we must pursue God and know God as He has revealed Himself to us in His Word. John begins His gospel pointing us to the Word.

    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:1–5).

    If we are to worship in truth, we must have Christ. Later in John’s Gospel, Jesus said of Himself:

    “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).

    God gives us Christ, who is truth, and His Word. His Word is truth (John 17:17). It is through the Word of God that we know Christ and know the gospel, as the Spirit of God illumines the Word in our hearts and gives us understanding of truth.

    God would have us worship Him in spirit and in truth. This is the essence of true worship. God is seeking those who will worship Him in spirit and in truth. We see this in both the Old and New Testaments.

    In Isaiah 66 the prophet delivered the truth that Jesus was teaching in John 4: God cannot be confined to one place. He cannot be contained in a temple of stone.

    Thus says the LORD: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest? All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the LORD (Isaiah 66:1–2a).

    But notice where God’s presence does abide:

    But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word (Isaiah 66:2b).

    God looks upon those who are humble and contrite in spirit (worship in spirit) and who tremble at His Word (worship in truth).

    Worship in spirit and in truth described the worship of the early church:

    And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness (Acts 4:31).

    They were filled with the Holy Spirit (worship in spirit) and they spoke God’s Word with boldness (worship in truth).

    Worship in spirit and truth framed Paul’s instruction for music in the church in the parallel passages in Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3 that speak of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs:

    Worship in Spirit:

    And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart (Ephesians 5:18–19).

    Worship in Truth:

    Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God (Colossians 3:16).

    “God is spirit and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth.” This has significant implications for us as we worship God today. As we plan worship, and lead worship, and participate in worship, there are two things we must do that are most essential:

    1. We must saturate our services with the Word of God. We must read it and preach it and pray it and sing it. We must obey it and follow its instructions as we order our services of worship.
    2. And we must pray for the presence and power of the Spirit. We need God’s Spirit to enliven our spirits and illumine His Word if we are to hear and understand and respond rightly to His Word.

    May God grant us hearts that are sensitive to the presence of His Spirt and submissive to His truth as it is proclaimed whenever we gather in His name to worship.

    We confess, without Your grace,
    Vain our efforts in this place.
    You must come and warm and stir,
    For true worship to occur.

    For Your Word, O Lord, we yearn;
    Empty, let it not return.
    Come, accomplish all Your will—
    Draw, convict, give life, and fill.

    (from “Lord, We Come to Hear Your Word”)


    See a Table of Contents (thus far) for this series: Gathered Worship in the House of God

    (Scripture quotations are from the Holy BIble, English Standard Version (ESV) ©2001 by Crossway)

  • Paying the Preacher

    “Okay, it’s time to pay the preacher.” Those words made me cringe every time I heard them in my early years of pastoral ministry. Just the mention of the Sunday offering seemed to immediately spawn quips about paying the preacher. I was not sure how to take it—whether they gladly gave to “pay the preacher” or regretted feeling somewhat forced to “pay the preacher.” Did they view the work of “the preacher” as gratefully necessary in the ministry of the Word in their congregation or did they think “the preacher” intruded upon their already tight budgets? Since I was “the preacher” it tended to put me on the spot. I usually tried to say nothing or to quietly respond, let’s just give as unto the Lord.

    While uncomfortable with those comments, whether understood or not, they actually revealed a biblical idea. Paul wrote, “So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel” (1 Cor 9:14). Paul’s instruction arose out of a discussion on Christian liberty (1 Corinthians 8–10), and as an application, on congregational support of gospel ministers. Ironically, while expounding from Old Testament texts the New Testament principle of supporting those ministering the Word among the congregation, Paul insisted that out of Christian liberty he had the right to not receive those gifts. Yet that did not mean that they were to forgo those gifts for others or to neglect this practice in the local church.

    Paul’s decision to not receive support from the Corinthian church had nothing to do with his right to receive it but due to his desire to avoid confusion with the wandering teachers, sophists, and false teachers who might have taken advantage of them in this regard. With the sometime skewed way of thinking by the Corinthians, Paul did not want the expectation of support to be construed as compulsion. So he refused to use the right to this principle of support. But that did not stop him from teaching how they were to support other faithful gospel ministers among them.

    Drawing from Numbers 18, Paul asks the Corinthians, “Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the food of the temple, and those who attend regularly to the altar have their share from the altar?” (1 Cor 9:13) That passage, from Paul’s understanding, served as the background for the teaching of Christ. “So also [thus he draws from the Numbers’ passage] the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel” (1 Cor 9:14). Jesus told the seventy as they prepared to enter into gospel ministry, “Stay in that house [where there was “a man of peace”], eating and drinking what they give you; for the laborer is worthy of his wages” (Luke 10:7). That last clause established the principle for all of the early Christian workers. And it remains the same principle for us today. Those engaged in gospel ministry should find their support from it.

    The local church has the responsibility to care for and support those ministering to them through gospel work. By the same token, those receiving this care and support from the gracious gifts of the congregation must feel a weight of gratitude that God would provide for them and their families through such generosity. Sometime those in ministry can slip into a state of presumption that blinds gratitude and accountability. Both congregation and ministers need to recognize mutual accountability in the matter of Christian support. Here are a few questions to help both congregations and ministers.

    • (For the church) Are you faithful and regular with your giving?
    • (For the minister) Are you faithful to the gospel by believing it, living it, and proclaiming it, as one that regularly receives of the gospel’s bounty from the congregation?
    • (For the church) Do your gifts reflect the generosity of God in the gospel?
    • (For the minister) Is the worthiness of the gospel expressed by your use of the gifts that have come through the ministry of the gospel by the generous hands of God’s people?
    • (For the church) Do your gifts reflect the principle: “It is more blessed to give than to receive?” (Acts 20:35)
    • (For the minister) Do you receive the gifts of the gospel with gratitude to God, His people, and the gospel itself for bringing about such support?
    • (For the church) Do you express your gratitude to God for those who faithfully labor in the gospel on your behalf by the way that you give generously to support them, along with other local and global ministries through your local congregation?
    • (For the minister) Do you shepherd and pray for the members of your congregation who, out of gratitude to God, honor you and your ministry by their generosity in giving?

    Paul made local church giving and support of their ministers a matter directly related to the gospel. Faithful, generous congregational support of those ministering the gospel flows out of gratitude for the gospel. Faithful, wise stewardship from ministers receiving these gifts flows out of gratitude for the gospel and its fruitfulness among the congregation.

  • Why Expository Preaching?

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    A few years before his death, I was talking with Dr. Stephen Olford about trends in preaching. The notable British expositor spent the last twenty years of his fifty-plus years in gospel ministry teaching biblical exposition from his preaching institute in Memphis and around the globe, influencing thousands of pastors over the years to “preach the Word.” He told me of sitting in an office discussing preaching with one of the country’s best-known young pastors. That megachurch pastor was not then and, to my knowledge, not presently given to weekly exposition. Rather his focus has been on topical sermons, typically lively and visually illustrated, even elaborately choreographed. In a somewhat shocking reprimand to the older preacher, this young man said, “Expository preaching is a thing of the past.” He went on to espouse his style of preaching as in vogue with the present generation.

    I have often thought of that conversation with Dr. Olford, whose influence on my understanding of preaching from the time I was a junior in college continues to the present day. Olford rightly turned away from the trendy styles of preaching to stick with the practice that continues to transform lives and congregations after twenty centuries: biblical exposition. Does that mean that some of the trendy approaches to preaching cannot minister to people? Certainly not, for if God’s Word is read and opened to any degree, that Word goes forth to accomplish His purposes. Paul even gloried in Christ being preached by those who were antagonistic toward him, stating, “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice” (Phil 1:18). So even with styles that will fade when the next trend rolls around, the Lord is pleased to use weak, faulty messengers to convey truth that gives life.

    Yet does that suggest that we may be careless when it comes to our approach to preaching? God forbid! As those who will give an account for the way that we handle God’s Word and shepherd His flock, we must guard against allowing opinion polls and marketers to shape the way that we preach the Word. Consequently, one does best to steer clear of any approach or preaching method that hinders or clouds or confuses the message of God’s Word. Desiring to be “trendy” melts before the gaze of Him before whom we will one day stand to give an account.

    While not wanting to discourage, but rather, to clarify, all attempts at expository preaching are not genuinely expositional. I know that I have failed to expound the biblical text many times in my attempts at exposition. Some have the idea that if a nice, alliterated outline is used then the sermon is expository. But finely crafted outlines and rhyming terms do not an exposition make! Others provide a running commentary laced with quips and quotes that lacks clear explanation and application. That, too, falls short of exposition by unfortunately coming across more like a sterile, historical, or linguistic lecture than the Word of God opened and applied to the hearers. Does that also mean that all exposition is monolithic? Absolutely not! One can see the variety in the sermons recorded in the New Testament, as well as faithful expositions throughout the centuries.

    I have found J. I. Packer’s explanation of biblical exposition to be most helpful. “The true idea of preaching is that the preacher should become a mouthpiece for his text, opening it up and applying it as a word from God to his hearers, talking only in order that the text may speak itself and be heard, making each point from his text in such a manner ‘that the hearers may discern how God teacheth it from thence’ (Westminster Directory, 1645).” Let’s consider a few things that Packer brings out.

    First, the basis of biblical exposition is the Holy Spirit inspired, divinely authoritative text of Scripture. One must be convinced that the Bible is the revelation of God before he approaches it with a passion to expound it. God has no more to say to us than what He has spoken in His Word, yet that is much more than we can fathom in a thousand lifetimes! In reflecting on the present power of God’s revelation, Packer notes, “Which means that when we read, or hear read or expounded, the biblical record of what God said in Old or New Testament times, we are as truly confronted by a word of revelation addressed by God to us, and demanding a response from us, as were the Jewish congregations who listened to Jeremiah or Ezekiel, or Peter, or Christ, or the Gentile congregations who listened to the sermons of the apostle Paul.” With that pinpointed revelation the expositor begins his work.

    Second, since the Word is divinely inspired, then the burden of coming up with something clever or unique or provocative no longer rests on the preacher as though he is just another orator attempting to impress his audience enough to keep them coming back. Instead, a different burden weighs upon him—that of serving as a mouthpiece for the biblical text to speak to the hearers. In his preparation, delivery, and after the sermon, the expositor must keep the question riveted in his thoughts: ‘Am I a mouthpiece for the text or am I using the text to say what I want to say?’

    Third, as a mouthpiece for the text, the preacher engages in “opening it up and applying it as a word from God to his hearers.” Here’s where the spade work in the study pays off, as the preacher (1) so digs into and wrestles with the biblical text until he understands it well enough to explain it, and (2) meditates on the implications and applications of the text to his hearers. Only after he has understood the text and applied it to his own life will he be ready to expound it to his hearers.

    Why biblical exposition? Quite simply, because the thing that matters most to those who listen to us preach is not what we say but what God has already spoken. Our responsibility in preaching, therefore, must always be to serve as a mouthpiece for the text to speak effectively to those who listen. We’ll think more upon this subject in subsequent blog posts.

  • About Founders Ministries Blog

    Founders Ministries exists to work for the recovery of the gospel and the biblical re-formation of local churches. They have a myriad of ministries that are given to that two-pronged effort, including a church planting network, an online study center, a publishing house, a quarterly journal, regional conferences and events, minister search list, friends list, and church list. In addition to this their website is populated with loads of resources for pastors, students, church leaders and serious Christians.

    Contributers to the blog:

    Dr. Tom Ascol, Senior Pastor, Grace Baptist Church, Cape Coral, FL

    Dr. Tom Hicks, Pastor of Discipleship, Morningview Baptist Church, Montgomery, AL (Tom is the team leader of the blog).

    Dr. Fred Malone, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Clinton, LA

    Dr. Tom Nettles, Professor of Historical Theology, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY

    Dr. Phil Newton, Pastor, South Woods Baptist Church, Memphis, TN

    Dr. Kenneth Puls, Director of Publications and the Study Center for Founders Ministries, Cape Coral, FL

    Dr. Jeff Robinson, Pastor, Philadelphia Baptist Church, Birmingham, AL

    Jon English Lee, Ph.D. Student, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY