Founders Ministries Blog


How to Have Healthy Churches

The conversations tend to go like this: “I like my church. My pastor preaches the Word. There are some wonderful people in the church. But something is wrong. There’s no life together. People don’t seem to really care for each other. Conversations are superficial. I’m not sure that people even know one another in our church.”

Have you had those conversations? Maybe you have even said the same thing to someone out of concern for your church. That seems to be a good starting point for doing some thinking about what it means to have a healthy church.

Many of you reading this post have found help in Mark Dever’s Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. Dever identifies nine essential characteristics of healthy churches: expositional preaching, biblical theology, biblical understanding of conversion, biblical understanding of evangelism, biblical understanding of church membership, biblical church discipline, concern for discipleship and growth, and biblical church leadership. While we might add to that list, e.g. biblical understanding of mission, we would not subtract anything from that list to characterize healthy churches.

Yet how does a church get out of the starting block toward a healthy condition? Obviously, it starts with expositional preaching in the power of the Holy Spirit. It would be impossible to institute biblical church membership or biblical church discipline or biblical church leadership without first laying a solid foundation in the church’s understanding through expositional preaching. Otherwise, any attempt to do so will result in either a church split or a short pastorate.

But here is where I want to offer one thought to consider in the process toward establishing a healthy church. Teach and preach about the nature of the church. I know that seems obvious, or should, but it appears to be presumed by pastors and leaders. We can think that a church surely knows what it is as the people of God, the pillar and support of the truth, the body of Christ, the temple of God corporately indwelled by the Spirit, et al. We can presume that one who consciously joins a church at least understands what the church is.

However, may I suggest that we delete that presumption from our memory banks? Over and over in conversations with both members and leaders from one church to another, I’m brought to the stark reality. Church members, as a rule, do not understand what the church is. They do not understand the price of its existence through the bloody death of Christ. They do not grasp its corporate standing before God and corporate functioning as the people of God in community with one another. They do not see that they have responsibility for one another to love, exhort, serve, forgive, be kind to, encourage, bear burdens, and accept. They fail to see that the church is the focus of the redemptive work of Christ rather than merely the individual. They are more influenced by Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson in their thinking than Jesus, John, and Paul. They think individually rather than as a family of believers in covenant with one another to live out the gospel.

So, in the journey toward church health, please don’t neglect intensive teaching, preaching, and training in what the church is. That understanding and practice won’t happen overnight or in a year or two, in all likelihood. It takes much patience to set forth that essential foundation for church health. And it must be constantly repeated, rehearsed, and gloried in. It cannot be programmed into existence. As a matter of fact, understanding the nature of the church takes the work of the Holy Spirit to open the eyes of a congregation to understand the clear teaching of Holy Scripture.

But our gracious God kindly opens eyes and transforms understanding about the church. Let’s be faithful, not presumptuous, in laying the foundation for the church to know what it is in Christ.


4 Signs of True Contentment

As fallen men, even redeemed fallen men, we will never be entirely content in this life. Our hearts are too prone to wander, far too apt to flirt with idolatry, for us to be completely content in Christ. As Calvin famously put it, the human heart manufactures idols day and night every day. Still, we pray for contentment and, like Paul in Philippians 4:11, we seek to learn the secret to contentment in Christ.

If we are content in Christ, what shape will our lives begin to take? What is the contented heart drawn to? When my contentment is in Christ, then four things ought to be true of me.

  • I will exhibit a deeper love for God’s Word. Because my contentment is in Him, I will want to know Him more. We know Him more through His Word. Contentment is a plant that must be tended daily, as Spurgeon said in his inimitable style: “Now, contentment is one of the flowers of heaven, and if we would have it, it must be cultivated. It will not grow in us by nature; it is the new nature alone that can produce it, and even then we must be specially careful and watchful that we maintain and cultivate the grace which God has sown in it.” One of the primary means is by hiding His Word in our hearts and having it on our person as a constant reminder that apart from our Lord, we can do nothing.
  • I will exhibit a deeper and more mature love for God’s church. When your satisfaction is found in Christ, then you will want to be in His church and with His people. It will also transform the way you see the church. This building is not the church; you are. And when your contentment is in Christ, you will love God’s people, all of God’s people, not just those people with whom you are comfortable. And you will love His church, even though it is imperfect and stained with sin. If I am content in Christ, then it will set me free from false expectations in others and will set me free to love people who come from a different background than do I.
  • I will not fall apart when adversity comes. I will rest in the absolute sovereignty of God and in His prerogative. You and I have a very limited ability to exegete our circumstances. Because we are weak and lack omniscience (though we crave it), there will be many moments in life when we simply do not understand what is going on. We will face moments when the God whom Scripture calls good brings or allows things into our lives that will not seem good. They may even seem very bad: The doctor said it was cancer. Stage four. The boss said my position has been cut. Your son continues to reject the God I taught him to love. ISIS beheaded another Christian. Your daughter admits same-sex attraction. There will be times when all you have is Christ, but if you are content in Him, He will be enough. When we our content in Christ, we can say with Paul, in Phil. 3:7–8, “But whatever gain I had, I counted loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss for because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake, I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” When it pleases the Lord to take away some earthly blessing I cherish, then I should be able to say with Job, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.”
  • I will want others to know the great gain that comes from godliness with contentment. I will want my friends, neighbors and family members to find the peace that passes understanding. Thus, I will not be embarrassed to proclaim to them the only path that leads to the Celestial City.

I have written this series, not because I am always content or am an expert in the doctrine of contentment. Actually, I have written this because I am an expert in discontentment and am seeking contentment in Christ. May it please God to grant it. So far, I must say, it comes and goes. I have to repent much of discontentment.

I close out this brief series with memorable words from Spurgeon on the absurdity of discontentment for the follower of Christ:

“Permit me to remind you again, that you should be contented, because otherwise you will belie your own prayers. You kneel down in the morning, and you say, “Thy will be done!” Suppose you get up and want your own will, and rebel against the dispensation of your heavenly Father, have you not made yourself out to be a hypocrite? The language of your prayer is at variance with the feeling of your heart. Let it always be sufficient for you to think that you are where God put you. Have you not heard the story of the heroic boy on board the burning ship? When his father told him to stand in a certain part of the vessel, he would not move till his father bade him, but stood still when the ship was on fire. Though warned of his danger he held his ground. Until his father told him to move, there would he stay. The ship was blown up, and he perished in his fidelity. And shall a child be more faithful to an earthly parent than we are to our Father, who is in heaven? He has ordered everything for our good, and can he be forgetful of us? Let us believe that whatever he appoints is best; let us choose rather his will than our own. If there were two places, one a place of poverty, and another a place of riches and honour, if I could have my choice, it should be my privilege to say, ‘Nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.’” (Spurgeon’s entire sermon from Phil. 4:11 simply titled “Contentment” is available here.)


Spurgeon’s “Three R’s”: A Useful Paradigm for Evangelism and Preaching

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Over the past few weeks, members of the congregation I pastor have been proclaiming the Gospel in the neighborhoods and apartment complexes in the neighborhood surrounding the church. Executing door-to-door, “cold call” evangelism is not without its challenges in the modern context. Rejections of the Gospel run the gamut from angry to flaky: One man told me that he hated religion, religious “zealots” and believed hell was made especially for those of our ilk; another woman said that she adhered to Jewish religion in which her father taught her that faith in any object, “even a rock,” would punch her ticket to heaven. None of my questions about the monotheism of the Old Testament and the Torah’s prohibition of worshiping idols made any difference. I even told her that the Scripture called Jesus the Rock, but she at last politely said goodbye and returned inside the door to her cats. Still, God’s Gospel is able to subdue both the rebellious heart be it seething or silly.  I pray that God used us to plant a seed in these two individuals as well as in others whom we have and will visit.

One question some of our members have posed during our community outreach is a good one, but it is a question which makes many of us of a certain theological tribe a bit squeamish: Is there a good outline we may use to help us recall the Gospel when we are witnessing to lost people? There are many such outlines that are thoughtful, careful, and biblical which have been used effectively—“Two Ways to Live” and “Evangelism Explosion” (both arise from sound biblical/theological perspectives) come immediately to mind and I am certain there are others. But recently, in my regular reading of Spurgeon’s sermons, I have discovered an excellent and pithy approach to the Gospel, one that is fully biblical and establishes well both man’s universal dilemma and God’s antidote in Christ: Spurgeon’s “Three R’s,” Ruin, Redemption, and Regeneration. This past weekend, I taught this to my people to help them understand the entire scope of the biblical story of God’s redeeming love for sinners in Christ. I commend it to our readers for evangelism and to fellow pastors as realities that must permeate their preaching.

Spurgeon called them “three doctrines that must be preached above all else,” and he drew as his text for them “Three third chapters (of Scripture) which deal with the things in the fullest manner”: Genesis 3:14-15 (Ruin), Romans 3:21-26 (Redemption), John 3:1-8 (Regeneration). Why do I think it makes a good evangelism method? Because each of Spurgeon’s three words begin with “R,” making it easy to recall to memory and each text is a key chapter 3 in the Bible, making the references easy to remember, especially in the nerve-busting throes of personal, face-to-face evangelism. Spurgeon’s three R’s:

  1. Ruin (Gen. 3:14-15). This is what man has done. “How did man get in this miserable condition?” Spurgeon asks. R.C. Sproul frames it another way, and his question is one I get often in Gospel conversations: “Saved from what?” In our post-postmodern culture, even (or perhaps especially) in the Bible Belt, we must begin here. Biblical illiteracy appears to be at an all-time high globally, thus many have ever considered the obvious truth that there is something desperately wrong in our world, though most all agree with its truthfulness. Beginning here establishes the problem into which God has launched His rescue mission: Man has rebelled against his Maker, has broken His Law and lives under a curse that will one day experience the white hot, unmediated wrath of God. But in the second half of verse 15, we hear the faint promise of God’s solution, one that will grow louder and louder as history advances and as the redemption story of the Bible unfolds: The seed of the woman will crush the head of the seed of the serpent. The serpent will bruise the heel of the woman’s offspring, but this promised one will deal the death blow to the snake, killing him as only one can a serpent: a smashed head. This leads naturally to the good news of God’s rescue mission.
  2. Redemption (>Romans 3:21-26). This is what God has done. This is the good news that trumps the bad news. In the scope of five verses, Paul articulates what some commentators have called the thesis of Romans or the magna carta of salvation. In these glorious verses, in a small section of this glorious epistle, Paul establishes: the demands of God’s Law, the futility of works salvation, the Law’s definition of sin, the righteousness of God received by faith in Christ, the reality of justification by faith that is through the redemption of Jesus Christ and His satisfaction of God’s wrath against sin. This paragraph contains the entire matrix of the work of Christ which He accomplished on the cross which provided full pardon from the guilt of sin for every sinner who believes. It is perhaps the most glorious paragraph in human history.
  3. Regeneration (>John 3:1-8). This is what God must do in sinners to enable them to believe. It is has the distinction of being perhaps one of the most under-taught doctrines in all of evangelicalism. This is the doctrine of the new birth, and Spurgeon, as have Reformed evangelicals through the ages, taught that regeneration precedes faith. In other words, God changes the sinful human heart, sets it free from bondage to sin, and enables it to believe that Jesus is indeed the way, the truth and the life. Regeneration, like the entire complex of salvation, is a unilateral work of grace. It was a central theme of Spurgeon’s preaching and in his evangelism and it must be foundational to ours as well, particularly as we think through issues of “results” in evangelism. The reality of regeneration urges us to call sinners to repentance and faith while resting in the work of God who opens blind eyes and unstops deaf ears. It removes the pressure from us and frees us to boldly share the Gospel while knowing that the results are in the hands of a sovereign, benevolent God. Out of a biblical understanding of regeneration, we may call on sinners to repent and be reconciled to God while leaving the results to Him.

Spurgeon’s “Three R’s,” whether you use this scheme or not, should undergird all our evangelism. And like Spurgeon, pastors today should make certain that these three doctrines find a regular appearance in the diet of biblical exposition which they feed to their hungry sheep.


Does “All” Ever Mean “All” in Scripture?

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Eric Hankins preached a sermon on September 26, 2013, at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in which he said, “All means all and that’s all all means.” Jump to 17:23 in the linked video to hear this claim. But is Hankins’ statement true? Does the Greek word “pas” (each, every, any, all, the whole, etc.) ever mean “all” categorically and apart from any limitation? There are over 1,200 occurrences of the word “pas;” so, it’s not practical to list them all here, but an examination of a concordance will show that the term all is almost always limited to some category. The meaning of all in Scripture is always determined by the context, and rarely, if ever, means “all without any kind of limitation.” Consider the first ten occurrences of the term “pas” in the Greek New Testament.

  • Matt 1:17 – “There were fourteen generations in all”
  • Matt 2:3 – “All Jerusalem
  • Matt 2:4 – “All the people’s chief priests
  • Matt 2:16 – “All the boys in Bethlehem
  • Matt 2:16 – “All that region
  • Matt 3:5 – “All Judea
  • Matt 3:5 – “All the region of the Jordan
  • Matt 3:10 – “Every tree that does not produce good fruit
  • Matt 3:15 – “Fulfill all righteousness
  • Matt 4:4 – “Every word that comes from the mouth of God

In each of these occurrences of the word “pas,” there’s some kind of categorical limitation. In the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Gerhard Kittel, who has never been accused of having a Calvinistic agenda, outlines a number of uses of the Greek word “pas.” He states, “In particular, one may speak of a summative, implicative and distributive signification of pas as the term embraces either a totality or sum as an independent entity (summative), an inclusion of all individual parts or representatives of a concept (implicative), or extension to relatively independent particulars (distributive). If the reference is to the attainment of the supreme height or breadth of a concept, we have an elative or (amplificative) significance” (Volume 5, 887). Since the biblical writers used the word “pas” in a variety of different ways, interpreting the word requires careful attention to context.  It is, therefore, inaccurate to say as Eric Hankins does that “all means all and that’s all all means.”

There’s only one way to use the word all such that it means “all” without qualification, and it isn’t very useful because it’s so comprehensive. All only means “all without any kind of limitation” if it refers to all things and no things, created and uncreated, existent and non-existent, abstract and concrete, actual and potential, true and false, rational and irrational, beautiful and ugly, good and evil, etc. Scripture, however, very rarely, if ever, uses the word all in that kind of comprehensive way.

What About “All” in Romans 3:23?
Some may suggest that the word all in Romans 3:23 is a place where “all means all without any limitation.” Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” But I submit that the meaning of the word all is limited here too. Romans 3:23 doesn’t mean that all of the angels sinned, and it certainly doesn’t mean that Jesus sinned.

If we look at the wider context of Romans 1-3, we’ll see that Paul uses the word all in Romans 3:23 to speak of all humanity since creation, both Jews and Greeks. But in Romans 3, Paul goes even further to show that the word all in Romans 3:23 doesn’t just mean “all ethnic groups have sinned,” “all in general have sinned,” or that “every kind of person has sinned.” Rather Paul shows that each and every individual of fallen humanity has sinned. In Romans 3:10-11, Paul makes this crystal clear: “None is righteous, no, not oneno one understands; no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” The fact that Paul denies the goodness of any fallen individual in Romans 3:10-11 clarifies his meaning of all in Romans 3:23. There would be little reason for Paul to deny that any individual is good, not even one, if “all” always meant “all” without any qualification. Thus, we see that the word all in Romans 3:23 alone isn’t sufficient to prove that each and every individual descended from Adam has sinned. But the context of Romans 3 demonstrates that that’s exactly what Paul means.

What About “All” in Romans 11:32?
When Eric Hankins said that “all means all and that’s all all means,” he was referring to Romans 11:32, among other passages (16:53 in the video). Romans 11:32 says that God has “mercy on all.” But in Romans 11:32, does all mean “all” and is that really “all all means?” Is Romans 11:32 saying that God has mercy on Satan and his angels? I assume Eric Hankins would want to limit the meaning of “all” to human beings and exclude the devil and his demons. What about human beings who have already died and are under punishment at this very moment? Does God have “mercy on all” human beings, including those currently under punishment? I suspect that Eric Hankins would want to limit the meaning of “all” even further to something like “all fallen human beings while they are alive” in order to avoid serious theological error.

But does Romans 11:32 teach that Christ has “mercy on all” human beings while they are alive? Is that the category of Romans 11 itself?

Romans 11 is dealing with elect Israelites and elect Gentiles. In Romans 11:5-7, Paul writes, “So too at the present time, there is a remnant chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise, grace would no longer be grace. What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened.” These verses tell us that God’s saving grace and mercy extends to the “elect,” while “the rest,” the non-elect, are “hardened.”

The phrase “mercy on all” in Romans 11:32 is limited to Jews and Gentiles (Rom 11:25-26) who are part of the “remnant chosen by grace” (Rom 11:5) and “the elect” (Rom 11:7). In Romans 11:30-32 Paul is saying that the elect Gentile believers in Rome had all once been disobedient but that they were shown mercy. So also, Paul says, elect Israelites have been consigned to disobedience that God might have mercy on them.


Zeal Needs Humility

by Tom Ascol

Too often zeal for truth is used as a license to be harsh, condescending or downright mean. Where such professed zeal is wedded to such attitudes you can be sure that something more than love for truth is motivating the one who is advocating it. Anyone who uses commitment to his Lord's doctrines as an excuse to violate his Lord's commandments reveals that he holds neither gospel nor law as fervently as he thinks.

The same Master who teaches us the doctrines of divine election ("All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out, John 6:37) and spiritual inability ("No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day" John 6:44) also commands us to love the brethren ("A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another," John 13:34) and even our enemies ("But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you," Matthew 5:44). And Paul explains that love is "patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude... it is not irritable or resentful" (1 Corinthians 13:4-6).

What kind of devotion is it that excuses sin in the name of truth? Uninformed and immature at best and blind and deluded at worst.

John Newton understood this very well and made the following observation on the combination of humility and benevolence that is found in true Christian zeal. His words are worth just as needed today as they were in the 18th century.

The Christian, especially he who is advanced and established in the life of faith, has a fervent zeal for God, for the honor of His name, His law, His gospel. The honest warmth which he feels, when such a law is broken, such a Gospel is despised, and when the great and glorious name of the Lord his God is profaned, would, by the occasion of his infirmities, often degenerate into anger or contempt towards those who oppose themselves, if he was under the zeal only. But his zeal is blended with benevolence and humility: it is softened by a consciousness of his own frailty and fallibility. He is aware, that his knowledge is very limited in itself, and very faint in its efficacy; that his attainments are weak and few, compared with his deficiencies; that his gratitude is very disproportionate to his obligations, and his obedience unspeakably short of conformity to his prescribed rule; that he has nothing but what he has received, and has received but what, in a greater or less degree, he has misapplied and misimproved. He is, therefore, a debtor to the mercy of God, and lives upon His multiplied forgiveness. And he makes the gracious conduct of the Lord towards himself a pattern for his own conduct towards his fellow creatures. He cannot boast, nor is he forward to censure. He considers himself, lest he also be tempted; and thus he learns tenderness and compassion to others and to bear patiently with those mistakes, prejudices, and prepossessions in them, which once belonged to his own creature and from which, as yet, he is but imperfectly freed. But then, the same considerations which inspire him with meekness and gentleness towards those who oppress the truth, strengthen his regard for the truth itself, and his conviction of its importance. For the sake of peace, which he loves and cultivates, he accommodates himself, as far as he lawfully can, to the weakness and misapprehensions of those who mean well; though he is thereby exposed to the censure of bigots of all parties, who deem him flexible and wavering, like a reed shaken with the wind. But there are other points nearly connected with the honor of God, and essential to the life of faith, which are the foundations of his hope, and the sources of joy. For his firm attachment to these, he is content to be treated as a bigot himself. For here he is immoveable as an iron pillar; nor can either the fear of the favour of man prevail on him to give place, no not for an hour. Here his judgment is fixed; and he expresses it in simple and unequivocal language, so as not to leave either friends or enemies in suspense, concerning the side which he has chosen not the cause which is nearest to his heart.


Preparing for Gathered Worship: Expect to Meet with God

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What are your expectations when you come to worship? Do you anticipate hearing an edifying sermon? Do you look forward to singing favorite songs or seeing friends? Are you eager to come to the weekly services of the church? Or has worship become just one more item to manage on your schedule?

As we prepare for gathered worship, it is important that we regularly check our expectations. They too easily can become mired in our own motives or pulled down by our own lack of aspiration. We are easily dulled, distracted, and discouraged. We sing about God’s glory while wondering how long it is until lunchtime. We pray for the preaching of His Word, then step out for a drink of water when the sermon starts. We speak well of God and yet forget that He is with us and is the very reason that we are gathered.

We must remember that worship is not about us; it is about God. We are coming into the presence of our Creator, who made all things, including us, for His own glory. We are coming into the presence of our King, who rules and reigns over us and all things. We are coming into the presence of our Father, who loves us and who gave His own Son to rescue us and bring us near. Christ shed His blood that we might have bold access to the throne of grace. David reminds us in Psalm 16:11 that in God’s presence “there is fullness of joy.” At His right hand there “are pleasures forevermore.” Our expectations, when rightly kindled, should be that worship is a glorious opportunity for us, together as the people of God, to draw near and enjoy the very One who is our joy and life and salvation.

We see an example of such expectation in the opening verses of Psalm 42.

As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?
(Psalm 42:1–2)

Last time we considered the need to pray for the power of the Spirit as we come to worship. As we pray, we should anticipate that God will hear and answer our prayer—that He will be present and active in our times of worship, and as a result, we will leave challenged and changed by His Word.

May God guard us against simply marking time in our services. If we really grasp the reality that we are coming into the presence of our God, it will change our attitude and actions. We will not be casual or careless. We will come full of expectation, ready and intent upon looking to Him, rejoicing in Him, and loving Him. We will come with humble expectation, delighting in His truth and ready to submit our thoughts and lives to His Word. We will come with great expectation, knowing that we love and serve a great God “who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20). May this be the passion of our hearts as we look forward to gathering together to worship the One true God.


The Gospel is about Words

Paul did not pantomime the gospel to the Corinthians. He declared it in words. “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you” (1 Cor 15:1). The word for “preached” is literally “to announce the good news.” So, he reiterates the gospel and how it consists in a body of truth communicated verbally about the person and work of Jesus Christ: ‘the good news which I announced good news to you.’

Paul’s statement implies that the gospel must be proclaimed in some fashion. It’s not about how we live or what we do that proclaims the gospel, although, no doubt, our faithfulness in living out the gospel gives credibility to what we say about it. That’s why Paul spent so much time throughout this epistle correcting the selfish, prideful behavior of those professing to be followers of Christ! Yet the adage wrongly attributed to Francis of Assisi (13th C.), “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary,” fails to square with Paul’s assertion. We cannot preach the gospel without words. We can demonstrate it, beautify it, give credibility to its power, and illustrate it through faithful, holy lives. And indeed, we must! But we cannot preach it, proclaim it, announce it, testify of it, or explain it without words.

Duane Litfin, president emeritus of Wheaton College, clarifies. “There is both a carelessness of thought and sloppiness of language inherent in the claim that we can preach the gospel without words.” He makes this important distinction concerning deeds versus words. If we think that it is our deeds that proclaim the gospel without words, then we might think that the power to save lies in us. “If the gospel is powerful—which the Bible assures us it is—its power resides not in us but in the gospel itself” [D. Litfin, Word Versus Deed: Resetting the Scales to a Biblical Balance (Crossway, 2012), 41, 50].

Let me illustrate it in this way. If I happened to travel to a remote tribal area in Kenya, where they knew virtually nothing of American sports’ traditions, do you suppose that I could explain without using words the football rivalry between Alabama and Auburn or Mississippi State and Ole Miss? To begin with, how would I explain the game of football to them? I suppose that I could take a football with me, motion for a tribesman to hold out his hands, and then loft the ball to him, hoping that he would catch it rather than allow it so smack him in the nose. Supposing he actually caught the ball, I could then run toward him, lower my shoulder, and drive it into his chest, tackling him to the ground. Of course, I could give him a “high five” upon helping him from the ground.

Would he think this to be an act of aggression? Would he think it some strange gesture of friendship that would throw an oddly shaped object at him and then knock him to the ground? Or would he immediately have an ‘aha’ moment, understanding, “Oh, you’re trying to declare to me the game of football”? I think not.

Additionally, how could I communicate the intense, passionate rivalry that I grew up with in Alabama in this sport that he does not understand? Would I start doing fist pumps, and imitating the stadium wave?

I could spend hours and days attempting to explain without words the game of football and the rivalry between those teams, yet it would never work. Without words and the long, patient process of explanation and example, that tribal member would never understand about football rivalry. He would only know that I had some kind of odd belief and behavior that seemed to influence the way that I acted toward him.

Far, far more importantly, verbal communication is necessary to understand the gospel. Dr. Litfin explains, “The biblical gospel is inherently a verbal thing, and communicating it by definition requires verbal behavior” [36]. That’s why we have one example after another throughout the Gospels and Acts of Jesus and His followers declaring the good news to sinners. We have no indication that they simply relied upon their behavior as sufficient to communicate the gospel. The gospel is about words.

If we skip words and just focus on behavior as the means to communicate the gospel, then we’ve communicated, as well, that one can become a Christian by following our example. In such a case, we’ve boiled the gospel down to works righteousness. As Ray Ortlund Jr. notes, “The gospel is not law, demanding that we pay our own way. The gospel is a welcome announcement, declaring that Jesus paid it all” [The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ (9Marks: Building Healthy Churches; Crossway, 2014), 15; italics added]. Paul gave that welcome announcement to the Corinthians and others in his missionary journeys. Along the way, for all who are believers, someone offered the welcome announcement that Jesus paid it all. They believed and were changed forever.

Words matter. Words explaining and declaring the gospel matter most. Let’s be clear with our gospel words so that all may hear the good news that Jesus paid it all.


Where to Look in Dark Times

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“Then I saw in my dream, that the Interpreter took Christian by the hand, and led him into a place where was a Fire burning against the wall, and one standing by it, always casting much water upon it, to quench it; yet did the Fire burn higher and hotter.”

There are times when theology can be very practical, times when what we believe and what we preach to ourselves can have a profound impact on our spiritual well-being. Nowhere is this more true than when we face times of darkness—suffering, persecution, trials, and temptations—times when we are doubting, distressed and unsure how to press on. John Bunyan offers a vivid illustration of this in his allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress.

In Bunyan’s story Christian is directed to the House of the Interpreter (the Bible) where he is shown “excellent things” that will help him in his journey. In one of the rooms Christian sees a Fire burning against a wall. He also observes one standing by the fire casting water on it, trying ceaselessly to quench it, yet the fire continues to burn higher and hotter. Christian cannot understand why the fire doesn’t go out. From his perspective the fire has no chance against such a diligent effort to douse its flames.

As Christian ponders the scene before him, he asks: “What does this mean?” The Interpreter explains that the Fire is the Work of Grace, accomplished in the heart by the Holy Spirit. The one who casts water on the fire is the Devil, who would like nothing better than to see the heart grow cold and still. Satan is hard at work in his endeavor, constant in his efforts. Scripture speaks of him as walking about as “a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Yet, in spite of his attempts to drown the heart with temptation and doubt, God’s work of grace burns higher and hotter, that is, it is not diminished in heat or light.

This imagery arises from Bunyan’s own experience with temptation as he describes in Grace Abounding:

Then hath the tempter come upon me, also, with such discouragements as these: You are very hot for mercy, but I will cool you; this frame shall not last always; many have been as hot as you for a spirit, but I have quenched their zeal. And with this, such and such who were fallen off would be sent before mine eyes. Then I should be afraid that I should do so too; but, thought I, I am glad this comes into my mind. Well, I will watch, and take what heed I can. Though you do, said Satan, I shall be too hard for you; I will cool you insensibly, by degrees, little by little. What care I, saith he, though I be seven years in chilling your heart if I can do it at last? Continual rocking will lull a crying child asleep. I will ply it close, but will have my end accomplished. Though you be burning hot at present, yet if I can pull you from this fire, I shall have you cold before it be long. [par. 110]

As Christian wonders at the sight of the flames’ perseverance in the face of such opposition, the Interpreter has him come around to see the backside of the wall previously hidden from his view. Here Christian sees the means by which the fire perseveres. A Man with a Vessel continually feeds the fire with Oil. Though water may pour endlessly to douse and discourage it, so also the oil continually revives it and sustains it that it may never go out.

The Interpreter continues his explanation: The Man with the Vessel is Christ and the Oil is His Grace that faithfully maintains the work of God in the heart, even through the dark times of suffering, persecution, difficulty and temptation. We see in Scripture that the apostle Paul faced all of these things, yet his faith held true. Paul was given “a messenger of Satan” that he might be humbled and learn to rely only on the grace of God. He testifies:

And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

The confidence that Paul knew from trusting in the strength and power of Christ, he desired others to know as well. Though himself in chains, he wrote to the church at Philippi of his confidence in the power of the gospel:

being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6).

We can glean at least three important truths from this lesson.

First, that Satan is ceaseless in his attack upon the believer. Christian has yet to learn in the Valley of Humiliation how fierce the Devil (Apollyon) can be in his hatred and oppression against those who seek the Celestial City. The Interpreter teaches Christian now so that he will be prepared when that opposition comes. We must not be caught off guard in the face of certain oppression and darkness.

Second, that the perseverance of the saints is all of grace. Without the Oil of God’s grace continually applied to the heart, we would quickly grow cold and dark. While we must be diligent in working out our own salvation in fear and trembling, we must remember Christ and set our hope in God who works in us “both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13). The strength to persevere is not in us, not in our determination, not in our creativity, not in our optimism. We press on only by the grace of God.

Third, in times of darkness, we must remember to “look behind the wall.” The times when it is most difficult to understand God’s work in us and rest in His grace are often the times when we face the fiercest temptation and oppression. Through seasons of spiritual refreshment and growth, our faith may be strong; yet when these are past and times of difficulty arise, we can too easily find ourselves weak and unbelieving. Bunyan himself confessed in the conclusion to Grace Abounding:

I have wondered much at this one thing, that though God doth visit my soul with never to blessed a discovery of Himself, yet I have found again, that such hours have attended me afterwards, that I have been in my spirits so filled with darkness, that I could not so much as once conceive what God and that comfort was with which I have been refreshed. [par 3 in the Conclusion]

Though at times we may face darkness and even lose our sense of God’s presence with us, we must rest in the promise of His Word that He continues to abide with us (though unseen), pouring His grace out for the nourishment of our souls. We may be forgetful of His mercies, but He is never forgetful of our needs. We may not understand all the events and circumstances that God uses to shape our lives, but He has infinite wisdom and is always working all things together for our good (Romans 8:28). We must remember this vantage point of faith that permits us to see the hand of God at work holding us, sustaining us and fitting us for heaven, even when we cannot perceive or comprehend it.

The lesson of the fire burning against the wall made its impression on Christian. When he is asked later in the story to recall his experience at the House of the Interpreter, this lesson is the first he mentions. The lesson, in fact, proves essential for Christian in his pilgrimage. Later in the allegory when Christian enters the Valley of the Shadow of Death he becomes confounded with the darkness and is unable to perceive the presence of God with him. He is fiercely attacked and tempted to turn back and forsake the Way. Christian survives the night by trusting in the promise of Scripture:

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
(Psalms 23:4)

Christian knows and trusts that God is with him, even though as he says: “I cannot perceive it.” God has promised: “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). This promise is just as certain when God seems (at least from our perspective) to be far off, as when we sense His nearness. We must learn to trust God at His Word and believe as Paul, that whether our path is filled with light or with darkness, “He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day” (2 Timothy 1:12).

From A Guide to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress / A Fire Burning Against the Wall


7 Astonishing Reasons to be Thankful When You're Waiting

I don’t like to wait. No, let’s be completely forthright: I despise waiting. There is a certain highway in the city where I live that is notorious for traffic that is snarled for several hours on both sides of rush hour: I avoid it like cream of broccoli soup. Every Sunday morning, there are certain members of my family who move at the speed of a glacier in getting ready for worship, and I’m convinced they make less haste on the days I have to preach. They make me wait, and I don’t like it.

I realize that I am not alone in this. Fallen humans categorically do not like to wait. We want instant gratification. We want life’s knottiest dilemmas solved in a half hour or so. Why is it so hard for sons of Adam to wait? Conventional wisdom says doing absolutely nothing should be easy for us, but it is not.

Over the years, I have learned that waiting on the Lord one of the most potentially sanctifying (and necessary) aspects of the Christian life. It is one of those glorious “gospel paradoxes” that makes us say with the prophet, “O Lord, your ways are higher than our ways, your thoughts higher than our thoughts.” We pray in hope, and then we wait on the Lord to answer. A Christian man prays for a job so that he can provide for his family as God has commanded, and then he waits. A mother prays that God will draw her wayward son to himself unto salvation, and then she waits. We pray that God will make our future path clear, and we wait. We read Matthew 6:34 for a thousandth time for comfort.

The Puritans understood this reality well and developed something of a doctrine of waiting; they referred to it as being in “God’s school of waiting.” William Carey understood it well. He spent many years on the mission field before seeing his first convert. Of greater import, the inspired writers understood it well: Psalm 27:14, “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”

As difficult as it can be, waiting builds spiritual muscles in a unique manner. My sinful impatience notwithstanding, Isaiah makes this truth clear: “But they who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount with wings as eagles, they shall run and not grow weary, they shall walk and not faint.” What a glorious promise! And yet, our discontented hearts find it difficult to wait.

Yet waiting on the Lord many good things for us. It:

1. Causes us to pray without ceasing. We are needy and He owns the cattle on a thousand hills. He is always faithful and the outcome of our waiting proves Him wholly true.

2. Instills in us a clearer understanding that we are creatures who are absolutely dependent upon our Creator. Though our sinful hearts crave omniscience and omnipotence, we possess neither, and waiting helps us to focus on that reality.

3. Increases our faith. After all, does not the writer of Hebrews define faith as “the conviction of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen?” (Heb. 11:1). We wait and God works.

4. Transfers the doctrine of God’s absolute sovereignty from the speculative realm to the practical. In waiting, we actually experience God’s Lordship in an intimate way.

5. Grounds our future in a certain hope. This is Paul’s point in Romans 8:24–25, “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” A glorious by-product of this is that it instills patience, that most elusive of spiritual virtues, in us.

6. Reminds us that we live between the times. When Jesus returns, the not yet will collapse into the already, and there will be no more waiting for an answer to desperate prayers. The Kingdom will be consummated, and Jesus will set everything right. Until then, we pray and wait and are sanctified by God’s wise process.

7. Stamps eternity on our eyeballs. When we bring urgent petitions before the Lord, we wait with expectancy, and the city of man in which we live fades in importance, and we begin to realize that the city of God is primary. As Jonathan Edwards prayed, “O Lord, stamp eternity on my eyeballs.” Waiting helps to do that. It prioritizes the eternal over the temporal in accord with 2 Cor. 4:18, “…as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”


Should We Preach Christ in Every Sermon?

by Fred A. Malone

Faithful preaching is expositional, which means that it explains a biblical text in its context and applies the text to the hearers. There have been times, however, when I've heard expositional preaching that makes little or no mention of the Lord Jesus Christ (sadly, I've done this myself). If an unbeliever had been sitting among the hearers, he would not have heard enough of the gospel to be saved. Furthermore, saints would not have heard enough of Christ to move them to live and obey out of love for Him. Scripture teaches that every expository sermon should be Christ-centered.

  1. An expositional sermon, even from a New Testament text, without mentioning Christ except in an evangelistic appeal at the end.
  2. A sermon filled with illustrations and humor, while only nominally mentioning a text, or Jesus Christ Himself, occasionally.
  3. A "practical series" on marriage, joy, etc., without explaining how the person and work of Jesus Christ applies to marriage, joy, etc.
  4. A running commentary on a passage of Scripture without preaching Christ because He is not mentioned explicitly in the text. 

None of the above measures up to the Bible's requirement for preaching. Scripture gives us clear instructions about how to preach. Consider the following.

1. Our Lord Jesus and His Apostles practiced Christ-centered preaching. Every word our Lord uttered ultimately was about His own person and work as our prophet, priest, and king, even when He expounded Old Testament texts, which did not always mention Him explicitly. Christ's Apostles followed His example in their preaching. Every evangelistic sermon in Acts and every epistle was centered on Jesus Christ. The epistles were read to churches in their entirety, including the parts about Christ and the gospel. In every application of the epistles, there is always a reference to Christ, His person and His work. I am not saying that Jesus Christ was mentioned by name in every text of His preaching and the Apostles teaching. What I am saying is Christ was the foundation and goal in the proclamation of every word of God. 

2. The Bible mandates preaching Christ to unbelievers and believers.

First, it is clear that the Apostles preached Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior to unbelievers (Acts 5:42, 8:35, 11:20). Jesus was the center of their message. When Paul first came to Corinth to preach the gospel to the unconverted, he said, "For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified" (1 Cor 2:2). Jesus Christ was the substance of Paul's evangelistic preaching in Corinth. Peter also preached Christ on the day of Pentecost as well as in the other evangelistic messages of Acts (Acts 2; 10; 17).

Second, the Apostles preached Christ to believers. The Apostles constantly tied their rebukes, exhortations, and doctrinal instructions to the person and work of Christ, past, present, and future. It's impossible to read the epistles without seeing that the person and work of Jesus Christ is the center point of salvation and sanctification. To the Colossians, Paul described his preaching and teaching to Christians: "We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ" (Col 1:28). It takes little research to see how Paul tied his exhortations to the Corinthian Christians to the person and work of Christ for them. For instance, when warning against adultery, Paul said, "Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body" (1 Cor 6:19-20). Paul based his warning against adultery on Christ's work. Christ Himself was the substance of Apostolic preaching, both to the unconverted and the converted. The Bible mandates Christ-centered preaching both to the unbeliever and believer.

3. The Bible mandates preaching Christ in every sermon from every text. In Genesis 3:15, Jesus Christ is declared the center of God's revelation to man. Adam represented all of his posterity and fell into sin, breaking the covenant of works, which required perfect obedience for life. But Jesus Christ, the last Adam, is the only mediator between God and man. Christ satisfied God's just wrath in the covenant of redemption and did what Adam failed to do. Jesus Christ is the only Savior and Lord of all who believe in Him. The Old Testament records the unfolding of the promise of redemption in Christ found in Genesis 3:15. And the New Testament reveals how Christ came to fulfill that first promise in Genesis 3:15. The Bible's own structure provides us with a theological mandate to preach Christ in all the Scriptures because both the Old Testament and the New Testament are theologically centered in Jesus Christ.

Preachers in the New Testament did not preach in the manner that has become customary to us. They did not take a text out of the New Testament, analyze it, expound it, and then apply it. What did they preach? They preached the great message that had been committed to them, the great body of gospel truth, the whole doctrine of salvation revealed from Genesis to Revelation. My argument is that this is what we should always be doing, though we do it through individual expositions of particular texts. That is the relationship between theology and preaching.

So, dear brothers, are you preaching the Lord Jesus Christ in every expository sermon? Could an unbeliever be saved through your exposition? Can a believer hear enough of Christ to be moved to love Him more and obey Him by faith working through love? May God help us to proclaim Him!


6 Reasons Discontentment is Disobedience to God

It might be the most elusive of all Christian virtues, except for perhaps humility—contentment. I am not naturally content. In my fallen nature I am naturally discontent. I am not content because I am always playing out in my mind what Paul Tripp calls the “if only” life: If only I had more money in my bank account, I’d be content, if only I had a church that follows my leadership, if only my children were better behaved, if only I had a job that I enjoyed.... For the progeny of Adam, the “if onlys” are endless. In our self-idolatry, we tend to think that a change in circumstances will bring us joy and contentment. For us, the grass is always greener unless we learn to find our contentment in something that is transcendent and eternal.

Apparently, the apostle Paul waged this frustrating internal war as well. In Philippians 4, he tells the church there that he had “learned the secret” of being content in any and every circumstance. The secret? It is found in Phil. 4:13, a verse we typically deploy to make Christians seem like Popeye with Christ as the spinach, a people who can accomplish literally anything their minds can perceive (a New Age concept) because of Christ: “I can do all things through him (Christ) who strengthens me.”

Actually, Paul’s words, when properly understood, are far more expansive than the quasi-prosperity interpretation of that verse: Because of Christ, we can accomplish contentment no matter what circumstances a day brings into our lives. Why is contentment so important and why is it so elusive? It is important first to understand how deeply sinful is our discontentment.

As expert physicians of the soul, the Puritans wrote much and thought deeply about this crucial topic. Among the excellent Puritan works on contentment (several Puritan works on this topic have been republished by Banner of Truth) are The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs, The Art of Divine Contentment by Thomas Watson, The Crook in the Lot by Thomas Boston, and an excellent sermon by Boston titled “The Hellish Sin of Discontent.” A very good and inexpensive e-book titled The Art and Grace of Contentment is available on Amazon which compiles many Puritan books (included the three just listed), sermons (including the Boston sermon), and articles on contentment.

Boston’s exposition of the sin of discontentment in light of the 10th Commandment shows the practical atheism that a lack of contentment insinuates. Boston (1676–1732), a pastor and son of Scottish Covenanters, argues that the 10th commandment forbids discontentment—covetousness. Why? Because:

  • Discontentment is a mistrusting of God. Contentment is trusting God implicitly. Thus, discontent is the opposite of faith.
  • Discontentment amounts to complaining against God’s plan. In my desire to be sovereign, I think my plan for me is better. As Paul Tripp well puts it, “I love me and have a wonderful plan for my life.”
  • Discontentment exhibits a desire to be sovereign. See No. 2. Like Adam and Eve, we desire to taste of the tree that will transform us into sovereign kings.
  • Discontentment covets something God has not been pleased to give us. He gave us His Son; therefore, can we not trust him for the trivial things? (Rom. 8:32)
  • Discontentment subtly (or perhaps not so subtly) communicates that God has made a mistake. My present circumstances are wrong and they should be otherwise. I will only be content when they change to suit my desires.
  • Discontentment denies the wisdom of God and exalts my wisdom. Isn’t this precisely what Eve did in the garden in questioning the goodness of God’s Word? Thus, discontentment was at the heart of the first sin. “Has God really said?” That’s the question at the heart of all our discontentment.

In part 2, I will look at the positive side of this doctrine and how Paul learned contentment and how we might too. Once again, I will call upon the witness of our Puritan forebears for some penetrating biblical insights.


6 Biblical Reasons to Observe the Sabbath

Because this teaching has fallen into disrepute lately, it is necessary to teach again what the Bible says about it. Consider the following Scriptural points that establish the doctrine of the Sabbath commandment.

1. The Sabbath Day is an Ordinance of Creation.

Just as God instituted marriage and work in the Garden of Eden, so He also instituted Sabbath observance at creation. He set one day in seven aside for rest and worship at the very beginning of the Bible’s story. Genesis 2:3 says, “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy.” Notice that God placed a special blessing or grace upon the Sabbath day, and He “made it holy,” or “sanctified” it, which means that He set that day apart from every other day. Just as we continue to observe the pattern of marriage found in Genesis 2, we should continue to observe the pattern of Sabbath observance found in Genesis 2 as well. Thus, the pattern of the Sabbath ordinance is prescriptive, just as marriage is prescriptive.

In fact, Jesus teaches precisely that. In Mark 2:27, Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” In that passage, Jesus is thinking of the order of creation. Christ’s meaning is, “The Sabbath was created for Adam, and not Adam for the Sabbath.” In other words, God created the Sabbath after He created Adam and Eve in the Garden. God didn’t make human beings slaves to the Sabbath to hurt or burden them; rather, He gave them one holy day in seven on which to rest and worship for their good. Christ showed that the Sabbath continues into the New Testament: “The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (Mk 2:28), just as He is Lord of the church, Lord of the family, and Lord of all creation.

2. The Sabbath Day was Observed Prior to Sinai.

Some people think the Sabbath commandment was only a ceremonial law of the Mosaic covenant, that it applied only to God’s people under the Old Covenant. But Scripture clearly teaches us that God’s people observed the Sabbath prior to God’s writing it on tablets of stone, which means the Sabbath commandment was not limited to the Mosaic covenant. In Exodus 16, Scripture tells us that the people of Israel gathered up the mana from heaven on the sixth day in order to free themselves for rest and worship on the seventh day. Scripture says, “On the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, two omers each.... Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, which is a Sabbath, there will be none” (Ex 16:22, 26). Note that Exodus 16 comes before God gave the Sabbath law at Sinai.

3. The Sabbath Commandment is One of the Ten Commandments, which Makes it Perpetually Binding Moral Law.

The Ten Commandments are unique among all the laws of the Bible. The Bible itself wants us to see the Ten Commandments this way.

Only the Ten Commandments were written with the very finger of God. Exodus 31:18 says God gave Moses “tablets of stone, written with the finger of God.” All of the other laws of the Old Testament were written by the pens of prophets on parchment, which would eventually disintegrate. But God visited His people on Mount Sinai and delivered the Ten Commandments, writing them on permanent tablets of stone with His own finger.

Only the Ten Commandments were given with such a display of God’s power. God gave the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai with loud thunder, flashes of lightning, a thick cloud, and a “very loud trumpet blast” (Ex 19:16). God made the giving of the Ten Commandments a sensory experience, which the people were never to forget. God was saying, “These laws are unique among all my laws.”

Only the Ten Commandments were included within the ark of the covenant. All of the other laws were rolled up in a scroll and placed beside the ark of the covenant in the tabernacle. In >Deuteronomy 31:24–26, God said, “Take this Book of the Law and put it by the side of the ark of the covenant.” The other laws of the Old Testament applied the Ten Commandments, but only the Ten Commandments formed the basis of Old Testament law and therefore only they were placed inside the ark.

Therefore, since the Sabbath commandment is one of the Ten Commandments, it comes to us with the same force of authority and perpetuity as the other nine commandments. See Philip Ross’s book, From the Finger of God, which makes a solid case for the threefold division of the law and for the perpetuity of the moral law of God summarized in the Ten Commandments.

4. The Sabbath Commandment is Grounded in Creation.

If we examine the wording of the Sabbath commandment given at Sinai, we find that God bases His command on creation itself. It’s not based on the temporary ceremonial system of the people of Israel. It’s not based on a temporary epoch in redemptive history. Rather, God grounds the Sabbath on His own actions at the creation of the world. >Exodus 20:8, 11 say, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.... For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” Note the preposition for. This shows us that the reason we should observe a Sabbath day is that God rested on the Sabbath day and made that day holy.

5. The Sabbath Commandment is Written on the Hearts of New Covenant Members.

Jeremiah’s prophecy of the New Covenant is repeated and explained in the book of Hebrews. God promises that all the members of the New Covenant will have the Old Covenant law written on their hearts so that they will obey God freely and faithfully from the heart. God says that in the New Covenant, “I will put my laws into their minds and write them on their hearts” (Heb 8:10). Literally, the word write could be translated “carve,” which calls to mind the image of God carving His law onto the tablets of stone. This is consistent with what 2 Corinthians 3:3 says about how in the New Covenant, God writes his truth, “not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of human hearts.”

We know that the law God writes on the hearts of believers isn’t the ceremonial law, since the book of Hebrews expressly says that the ceremonial law has passed away. Referring to the ceremonial laws of the priesthood, Hebrews 7:18 says, “A former commandment is set aside.” But, then, in the very next chapter, God tells us in the same book of Hebrews that God will “put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts” (Heb 8:10). This can’t mean that God writes the whole Old Testament law on His people’s hearts. So, what law does He write on their hearts? It must be the law of the Ten Commandments. This is confirmed by Hebrews 13, which moves through many of the Ten Commandments as the guide for the New Covenant people of God.

6. In the New Testament, the Sabbath Moved from Saturday to Sunday.

The book of Acts teaches us that while the Old Covenant church observed the Sabbath on the last day of the week, the New Covenant church observes the Sabbath on Sunday, the first day of the week to celebrate not only creation, but also Christ’s glorious resurrection. Acts 20:7 says they gathered “on the first day of the week.” Paul confirms this transfer of Sabbath observance from the last day of the week to Sunday saying that they met “on the first day of every week” (1 Cor 16:2). In Revelation 1:10, the apostle John calls Sunday “the Lord’s Day.” The transfer of the day of worship from Saturday to Sunday does not violate the Sabbath command, since what it requires is a pattern of six days of work followed by one Sabbath day. In the New Testament believers worked Monday through Saturday, and observed the New Covenant Sabbath on Sunday. O. Palmer Robertson has written a helpful article, “Why On Sunday?,” outlining the biblical teaching that Sabbath Day observance has changed to Sunday, Lord’s Day observance.

So, what are some practical implications of our lives together in the church under the Sabbath command?

To start off, let me say that I am loathe to hand out prescriptive applications of the Sabbath, since that’s what the Pharisees did. I believe that pastors should simply teach what the Bible says, apply it as far as it’s clear, but must refrain from issuing commands that the Bible does not issue. In light of the above teaching on the Sabbath, however, consider some of the following questions for your own personal application.

Am I observing the Sabbath Day? Am I observing a whole day unto the Lord with God’s people, attending all of His commanded means of grace?

Am I preparing during the week for Sabbath observance? Do I get my work done on six days of the week so I can rest spiritually and worship on the seventh with God’s people?

Do I structure my whole life around God’s design for six days of work (at home, at work, in the community) and one day of rest and worship (with the church)? Do I allow God’s creational rhythm to organize my own time and existence in this world? Or do I believe that I am lord of my own time?

Am I willing to sacrifice extra-curricular activities and entertainments for the church’s assembly on the Lord’s Day? There is nothing wrong at all with extra-curricular activities and entertainment, when they’re in their proper place! They can be blessings. But do I allow these things to interfere with God’s appointment of one day in seven as spiritual rest and worship?

In the next post, I’ll consider some of the objections to Sabbath observance.

Here are some other excellent resources on the Sabbath.

Call the Sabbath a Delight by Walt Chantry
The Lord’s Day by Joseph Pipa
The Market Day of the Soul by James Dennison
Jon English Lee has a great historical series on the Sabbath commandment here at the Founders Blog.


2 Ways that Sin Sneaks In

by Jon English Lee

Recently I have been working through Genesis 39 and the story of Joseph. I have been thinking about Potiphar’s wife and how she demonstrates some common sin-related themes. I thought I could jot down a few notes regarding sin and temptation:

1. Sin is often perception-driven

In verse 7 we see that she “cast her eyes on Joseph.” We must remember that whatever we expose our eyes to can often be the beginning of our undoing. We can look back to Genesis 3 and remember Eve who “saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes… she took the fruit and ate.” Staying in Genesis, we see in chapter 38 Judah is tempted to sleep with Tamar because he saw her veiled face and believed she was a prostitute. What about David and Bathsheba? (2 Samuel 11) “When David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king’s house, he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful.” We must always be careful of what we expose ourselves to; of what we focus our gaze upon.

Humans were designed with a desire and capacity to look upon something and to worship it. The problem comes when we place our vision, and ultimately our worship, on something other than the Crucified Christ. When anything other than Christ occupies our vision, we will be led astray and will wander down the path of sin.

2. Unchecked sin produces boldness

In verse 12 we see that Potiphar’s wife “caught him by the garment.” Sin will lead us to do things that we would never do in our right mind. It lures us in with false promises of happiness and fulfillment, and we are subtly convinced to commit further sins. Cain was jealous and angry with his brother Abel. When those sinful desires weren’t corrected and repented of, he then murdered his own brother. Look at King David. He stole another man’s wife. Then, when he is unable to cover his tracks, he has that man killed. He commits several heinous sins that he would never have done when in his right mind. His lustful desires brought about a boldness for sin that led him into further sins.

Unchecked sinful desires lead us into further sin. We must beware of our sinful desires and snuff them out before they give birth to further sins and, eventually, spiritual death. James 1:15 says, “Then desire, when it has conceived, gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” Unchecked sin can lead us down the path toward spiritual death. We must constantly be on the lookout for signs of sin in our own lives.

What idols occupy your vision? What desires run unchecked in your heart? Ask yourselves these things and constantly guard your heart. Check back tomorrow to see how Joseph demonstrates the proper response to sin.


7 Signs that You Truly Believe God’s Word is Enough

Yet they seek to live as Christ’s followers in that setting, laboring for the chance to tell these people about the God of Holy Scripture and the good news of Jesus Christ. I listened to reports of some conversions, small house churches gathering for worship, disciple-making conversations, and the slow penetration of unreached people groups. Here’s what gripped me: Only by the proclamation of God’s Word and powerful answer to prayer will any of the people of this region believe the gospel. After many conversations and lots of listening, I came away convinced that these workers live by the Word and prayer. No tricks, no showmanship, no manipulation, no rallies, and no foolproof program; they depend upon the power of the Word of God for life and ministry.

Quite simply, these faithful gospel workers believe in the sufficiency of God’s Word for the way that they live as Christians and for their ministries.

Should we rely upon the sufficiency of Scripture any less? Do we think that our more sophisticated, Christianized arena of life and ministry can depend upon other things, with Scripture as one of numerous tools in our spiritual arsenal? I fear that we sometime fall into that tragic allurement of the world to go soft on Scripture’s sufficiency.

No doubt, few of us would readily admit to neglecting to live and minister apart from the sufficiency of Scripture! Yet in practice, we sometime profess one thing while doing another. We say that we believe the Bible to be God’s infallible and inerrant Word, and that it is sufficient for life and practice. But our life and practice may prove otherwise. To help my own life and practice, and perhaps yours, too, let’s consider a few evidences that we believe in the sufficiency of Scripture. I’m sure that we could add much more to this list, but I hope that it will serve as a starter to spur much more meditation on living in the sufficiency of God’s Word.

1. Theological Refinement

Rather than simply following tradition or preferences or the influence of power brokers or popular trends, one who depends on Scripture’s sufficiency will regularly test his understanding of God’s Word. He will be changed, sharpened, and refined theologically by proper interpretation of the Word (2 Tim 2:15). One sees this worked out in Apollos, who as an eloquent and mighty man in the Scriptures still lacked theological clarity concerning Christology. He relied on Scripture’s sufficiency, so gladly received the instruction of Priscilla and Aquila, finding himself sharpened for future ministry (>Acts 18:24–26).

2. Bread and Life

Resting in the sufficiency of the Word can be found in one’s appetite. Instead of finding deepest satisfaction in other things, even good things, one who lives in the sufficiency of Scripture hungers for the Word as his bread and life. He grows in his understanding of what Jesus declared to the adversary, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matt 4:4). The Word is “more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb” (Psa 19:10).

3. Conviction and Correction

Instead of refusing to admit personal sin and areas of disobedience, when one lives in the sufficiency of Scripture, then he humbly bows and submits to the conviction and correction meted out by the Word. And it comes regularly! When Paul confronted Peter over his aloofness toward the Gentile believers in Antioch upon the Judaizers’ arrival, the issue at hand in Peter’s behavior was his failure to be “straightforward about the truth of the gospel.” How would Paul correct him? He relied on the sufficiency of the Word spoken to the notable apostle, to convict him and bring correction (>Gal 2:11–14).

4. Direction and Discernment

In Scripture sufficiency, we turn to Scripture for direction, clarity, understanding, and discerning the times rather than simply following the popular notions of the day. When Paul visited Jerusalem with Barnabas, he took along Titus as somewhat of a test case concerning where the powers that be stood on the gospel. He sought to stand on the Scripture alone for his understanding of the gospel, and would not cower even to those in power if they swayed from it. Fortunately, he found satisfaction with them that they, as well, relied on the sufficiency of the gospel (>Gal 2:1–10).

5. For Conversion

In the sufficiency of Scripture, we trust the power of the gospel read, talked about, discussed, and proclaimed for the conversion of the unbelieving. We refuse to resort to gimmicks, manipulation, easy-believism, or plucking unripe fruit in order to impress others. We believe that “the gospel... is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (>Rom 1:16–17). Spending several days with scores of Christian workers living among unreached people groups reinforced this truth. They rely on the power of the gospel and prevailing prayer—period—to see the conversion of the people for whom they weep for their salvation.

6. Praying

We pray Scripture, when we believe it to be sufficient, seeing its truth as the foundation for our prayers. As Don Whitney writes in his new book, Praying the Bible, “[T]he Spirit of God will use the Word of God to help the people of God pray increasingly according to the will of God” (37). We find the disciples doing this in >Acts 4:24–30, as they asked the Lord for boldness to speak the gospel. They rooted their petition in God’s revelation of Himself as Creator and His Sovereign Lordship manifested in His Christ (Pss 146:6; 2:1).

7. Worship

When we live in the sufficiency of Scripture, we fill our worship with the truth of Scripture, believing that, as it has been well said, “When Scripture speaks, God speaks.” Merely appealing to emotions or entertainment or crowd-pleasing will not do when one is convinced of Scripture’s sufficiency. Instead, the believer will find that while reading privately and in the public reading of Scripture (1 Tim 4:13), the Word brings him into the presence of the Lord with expressions of praise, adoration, awe, and thanksgiving. The Word believed leads to worship.

I’ve only touched the surface of the characteristics of those relying upon the sufficiency of God’s Word. Keep adding to it in your own meditations. Let this brief look serve as a reminder that believing that Scripture is sufficient affects life and practice.

 


3 Reliable Ways to Overcome Sin

by Jon English Lee

Recently, in Genesis 39, we saw Potiphar’s wife demonstrate that sin is often perception-driven and that unchecked sin produces boldness. Now we will let Joseph show us the proper response to sin and temptation.

1. He Refuses (vs. 8)

Joseph’s first and continual response is to refuse to give in to temptation. Notice, though, the reasons that he gives for his refusal are some of the same reasons that others would give in favor of the sin: “my master has no concern about anything in the house… he has put everything that he has in my charge… he is not greater in this house than I… nor has he kept anything back from me….” Joseph saw rightly that the situation was full of providential blessings, not divine markers pointing him into further sin. Beware the temptation to read circumstances as infallible road signs. Furthermore, not only did Joseph refuse the woman’s advance, but as vs. 10 says, he refused her day after day… even refusing to be with her. He doesn’t let sinful temptation stay in his presence. That’s just foolishness. We must consciously and zealously avoid any temptation (more on that later).

2. He Recognizes Sins True Nature (vs. 9b)

Joseph knew that sin is ultimately, “great wickedness and a sin against God.” We have a tendency to think that the little sins that don’t have any visible victims aren’t a problem. But the problem is huge, and the problem is our view of sin and our view of God. We serve an infinitely Holy God. Even the tiniest sin that we could think of becomes an infinite offense, not because of the size sin itself, but because of the One against whom the sin is committed. It is the one whom is offended that determines the magnitude of the offense. In our own lives, we must see BOTH that our sins are an infinite offense AND that the offense is against God. In God’s eyes, there are no small sins, and all sins are against Him.

3. He Runs! (vs. 11-12)

She lays the perfect trap: no witnesses around, husband isn’t home, and no one will know. Plus, if he doesn’t give in, his career can be in jeopardy. In the face of extreme temptation, Joseph gives us the proper response: he flees. Notice what he doesn’t try to do: he doesn’t try to reason with her. This isn’t the time to try and be a noble evangelist and convert her to Christ. This isn’t a time to try and pull out the Bible and do a word-study on “pornea” in the NT; he rightly sees that the situation is critical and he needs to get out. When temptation reaches a boiling point the best thing to do is to flee from that temptation.

We must recognize the chinks in our own armor and flee from situations that might exploit those weaknesses. Recovering alcoholics are taught never put themselves in situations where they might be tempted to drink. When they find themselves in sticky situations, they are taught to leave immediately. As recovering sin-addicts, we must use the same approach. We must never put ourselves in compromising positions of temptation. But when those temptations do arise, we must flee immediately.

Joseph gives us a great example to follow regarding sexual purity and proper perception of sin. Like Joseph, our vision of sin and of God must be biblically informed if we are to properly judge the extent of our offense. May we be ever vigilant in avoiding temptation and quick to flee when the scene becomes deadly.

You’ve Heard God’s Word... Now What?

One of the great benefits of gathered worship with the church is that it keeps us regularly under the preaching and teaching of God’s Word. As God’s people we must give attention to God’s Word. We must be diligent to listen as it is taught. We must be willing to place our lives in its light and ask God to shine upon us.

As the Word of God shines on us, exposing our sin, we are to respond with repentance. God’s Word has a penetrating gaze into the life of the believer. It is like a light that shines into a room. When the light is dim, the room may not look too bad. It may look rather pleasant. But as it shines more brightly, we begin to notice spills and stains, dirt and dust—messes we never even knew were there.

This is what Christ does through His Word each week as we sit under the preaching and teaching of truth. He comes into our lives and opens drawers, and goes through closets, and looks behind our cherished possessions. He exposes our darkness and smashes our idols. He makes us aware of our sinfulness, and we begin to realize just how dark and deep our sins really go. Our repentance deepens as we learn to confess sin, fight sin, flee temptation and turn away from sin.

But for us to have hope, repentance must be accompanied by another response in worship. Though we must see ourselves in light of God’s Word, we must look even more intently at Christ. As the Word of God shines on Christ, revealing Him as the way of salvation, we must respond with faith. In ourselves we have no hope. But in Christ there is mercy and forgiveness. In our sinfulness we face fear and condemnation. But in Christ we find joy and redemption. We must put our hope and trust in Christ alone. We turn away from sin, but we turn to Jesus.

Because of Christ our faith is strengthened, even as our repentance grows deeper. Our sin is great; our need is certain. But our Savior is greater, and the promise of the gospel is more certain. As we look to Christ by faith we realize more and more just how precious He is, how much we need the gospel, how much we need His perfect righteousness to clothe us. This is why we so need the gospel—even after we have professed faith in Christ. We never outgrow the gospel. We must day by day learn to walk in faith and repentance.

Faith, like repentance, is not something we can find or create in ourselves. Faith is a gift of God rooted in His grace.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:8–10).

By faith we believe the gospel and walk in its light, trusting that all God has said in His Word will certainly come to pass. Faith allows us to lay hold of the promises of God, though we have not yet seen the final outcome.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).

We have every reason to trust God and rest in Him. Over and over the Bible exhorts us:

You keep him in perfect peace 
whose mind is stayed on you, 
because he trusts in you. 
Trust in the LORD forever, 
for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock. 
(Isaiah 26:3–4)

Trust in the LORD, and do good;
 dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. 
Delight yourself in the LORD,
and he will give you the desires of your heart. 
Commit your way to the LORD; 
trust in him, and he will act. 
He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, 
and your justice as the noonday. 
(Psalm 37:3–6)

Trust in him at all times, O people;
 pour out your heart before him;
 God is a refuge for us. Selah
 (Psalm 62:8)

Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding. 
In all your ways acknowledge him,
 and he will make straight your paths. 
(Proverbs 3:5–6)

Even in times of trials, the promises of God remain true. Trials, as Peter teaches us, can be God’s means to increase and test our faith, that Christ would be magnified in our lives:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:3–9).

This is how we respond rightly to worship—trusting Jesus by faith.

As we go out from worship, we must go out into a life of faith, a life where we are not trying to sort things out on our own, but a life where we are committed to walking in the light of God’s Word and trusting in His promises. Responding rightly to worship is anchoring our hope and securing our faith in Christ alone.


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)


20 Ways to Find Contentment

Jeff Robinson has started a great series on contentment, but the topic has been on my own heart as well. I’ve been reading Jeremiah Burroughs’ classic book, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, and wanted to share a bit of it here. If you haven’t read this book, let me encourage you to get it and read it. American culture fosters discontentment and all the miseries and heartaches that go along with it. Discontentment is coveting what we do not have, longing for it, believing that if we have it, then we will be satisfied.  To be content is to obey the 10th commandment, “You shall not covet” in the power of Christ and the gospel of grace.  Here’s my summary of 20 ways that Burroughs describes contentment.

“I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Phil 4:11).

1. Contentment is a sweet, inward matter of the heart. Many people appear to be calm on the outside, but inwardly, they are frantic emotional basket-cases. True contentment is an inward peace and calmness of soul no matter what kinds of terrible trials and sufferings may be happening on the outside.

2. Contentment doesn’t mean that you don’t feel the pain of your suffering. In fact, in order to learn contentment, you have to feel the pain of your sufferings. The pains and sorrows of whatever crosses you’re bearing are the things God uses to teach you to find comfort in Christ. If you ignore the pain, belittle it, or mindlessly muscle your way through it, you’ll never learn the lesson of contentment in Christ.

3. Contentment doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to cry out to God and to your friends in Christ. It’s only by crying out to God in faith and submission that you’ll find contentment. God brings you into a state of contentment through communion with Himself. And often, God uses godly friends to speak the truth to you in love, to remind you of the graces of Christ, and to comfort you in His love.

4. Contentment doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to end your suffering. You should certainly seek every God-honoring and lawful means of ending the sufferings you’re experiencing in life. Particularly, if an injustice is being committed against you, and it’s causing you suffering, then it’s your Christian duty to try to end it in any lawful way possible.

5. Contentment means that you should not grumble under God’s good hand. If you’re content, you’ll remember that God Himself has a hand in your suffering. Some people complain that God isn’t good or wise in what He does in their lives, and they think they know better than Him how their lives ought to be. But grumbling and complaining is forbidden because it fails to rest in the knowledge of God and receive His comfort and strength.

6. Contentment means that you mustn’t become bitter or angrily lash out at God and others. Some get so deeply angry when trials come into their lives that they lash out at God and others. But God calls you to quietly accept His loving Fatherly rod of discipline.  He kindly calls you to contentment for your own good.

7. Contentment means that you’re not distracted from your God-given duties.  Some are so discontent in their trials that they neglect the responsibilities God gives them in life.  They may begin to neglect family, church, or their job responsibilities because their present circumstances are so full of sorrow.  But this isn’t how a Christian should respond to suffering.  Often it’s by doing what God calls you to do in a disciplined way that you can grow in contentment.

8. Contentment means that you don’t neglect communion with Christ. It’s possible for your fears and anxieties to become so great that you neglect vital union and communion with Jesus. But knowledge of Christ’s love and communion with Him is the very foundation of contentment and the source of peace with God and joy in this fallen world.

9. Contentment doesn’t sink into dark discouragements. The believer who is content in God remembers God’s power and love, that He’s able to rescue sinners, to heal the sick, to make the blind see. God calls us to trust that He will deliver us from our sufferings in His time and in His way, according to His good pleasure.

10. Contentment doesn’t sin to try to get relief from pain. Sometimes when things are particularly dark, Christians are tempted to find comfort in their sin. They look for a sinful escape or distraction from their trials. Or they may be tempted to believe false doctrine as a means of escaping their pain and fostering some false hope of temporal rescue. But Christ would have us to be content in Himself and to flee from sin and heresy.

11. Contentment doesn’t rebel against God. When people are least content, they’re often tempted to shake their fists in God’s face. They blame God and accuse Him for their troubles. They believe the worst of Him for brining trails into their lives. But God only has thoughts of love in everything He does to those who belong to Him.  It isn’t from ill-will that God brings suffering into the lives of His beloved children.

12. Contentment is a grace that spreads through the whole person. That is, a content person’s thoughts, emotions, and will are all content in Christ. Sometimes people have a very hard time even understanding why they should be content in their situation. Other times, they may understand the reasons they should be content, but they have a very hard time actually feeling content. And still other times, people will not act with contentment. True contentment involves the whole man.

13. Contentment comes from within, from the heart. It’s possible for a person to warm up by a fire for awhile, but he gets cold again when he leaves the warmth of the fire. Some people get temporary contentment by surrounding themselves with external arguments, with people, and with circumstances that make them feel content for a little while, but when their circumstances change, their contentment also leaves them. True contentment, however, radiates from within by the Spirit of Christ. Christian contentment isn’t conditioned upon outward circumstances.

14. Contentment is a habitual character of the heart. Someone who has learned to be content has a habit and discipline of bringing his heart into a state of stable and peaceful contentment, even though the world around him is constantly changing. He practices contentment during lesser trials so that he is strong and able to practice contentment during greater trials.

15. Contentment does not come from a naturally sturdy disposition. Some people have a natural ability to stabilize themselves by sheer force of will. They do this by dulling their emotions and distancing themselves from attachments to the world in a stoic way. But true godly contentment is not dull. The source of godly contentment is Christ. It longs for Him, trusts in Him, rejoices in Him, and wants to honor Him in all of life.

16. Contentment submits to God’s sovereign will. A content person bows under God’s sovereign hand and submits to what God has ordained in his life. He acknowledges that God has appointed this hardship in life and so accepts it from God’s hand. A submissive Christian realizes that he is under authority and he does not resist God’s authority.

17. Contentment takes pleasure in God’s sovereign will. Far more than just submitting to God’s will, a content person knows that there must be good in what God has ordained. Burroughs wrote, “I find there is honey in this rock, and so I do not only say, I must, or I will submit to God’s hand. No, the hand of God is good, ‘it is good that I am afflicted.’”

18. Contentment submits to every kind of affliction. For example, some people may be able to submit to God striking their own personal health. But they wouldn’t be able to stand God striking their spouse or their child. True contentment submits to all of God’s wise providences.

19. Contentment submits to God’s time-table of affliction. Some would say, “This affliction has lasted too long. The affliction itself is bearable, but the length of time I’m required to endure this affliction is unbearable.” But true contentment acknowledges that God’s time-table is good and wise.

20. Contentment submits to afflictions when many come at the same time. Some may say, “This one affliction is bearable all by itself, but it has come with so many other trails and troubles at the same time.” One suffering often comes with many other sufferings. But true contentment submits to God’s wisdom in brining more than one kind of affliction at once.

If you’ve made it to the end of this post, and you’re convicted of your own discontentment, as I am of mine, then the law has done its most basic work. The 10th commandment declares: “You shall not covet.” But the law cannot save you or change you. The law, which commands you to be content, has no power to make you content. You can’t simply decide by force of will that you’re going to start keeping the law and become more content.

Rather, you need Jesus. Only a believing sight of Jesus, our glorious Savior, can quiet your heart and make you content. If you are a believer, remember that Christ died for your sin of discontentment. His blood washes you completely clean. His righteousness covers you so that you’re accepted in the courts of heaven before the bar of God’s justice. It’s only by thinking on Christ, His glories, His wisdom, His greatness, and His perfect love for you, that you will be able to grow little by little, more and more, into contentment for your own joy and for the glory God. It’s when you purposely, and in a disciplined way, draw near to Christ from the heart that you can learn to keep God’s law, to be content, and reap the blessings of it.


The Sabbath as a Creation Ordinance

by Jon English Lee

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy." - Ex. 20:8-11 (ESV)

It is of no small importance that Exodus grounds the Fourth Commandment upon God’s example in creation.[1] Chantry offers this reason for referring back to creation: “God’s written fourth commandment recalls the first historic observance of the Sabbath in order to stir up our own compliance with Sabbath-keeping.” 
 
Using the text of Genesis 2 as a guide, this post will examine three creation narrative observations, followed by a discussion of whether God’s rest should be viewed as descriptive or prescriptive.

Sabbath as Imitation of God

First, six days of work followed by a Sabbath day of rest imitates God’s own pattern (Gen. 2:2). Ryken puts it simply: “We are called to work and rest because we serve a working and resting God.”[2] Frame, borrowing from Meredith Kline’s work, offers three categories in which to classify the rest of God: consummation, enthronement, and consecration.[3]
 
God's rest on the seventh day is the consummation of His creative work: “As a celebration of the finishing of the world-temple, the Sabbath proclaims the name of the creator to be Consummator.”[4]

The Sabbath rest of God, foreshadowing Christ's future rest at the Father's right hand, also demonstrates Divine enthronement: “God created the heaven and the earth to be his cosmic palace and accordingly his resting is an occupying of his palace, a royal session. The dawning of the Sabbath witnesses a new enthronement of Elohim.”[5] Christ has always reigned as Lord, but now He has new territory over which to rule. 
 
Finally, the Sabbath is tied to consecration: “Consecration here means, then, that all creation recognizes, affirms, and honors God’s lordship and behaves accordingly.”[6] Man is present for the very first Sabbath day, and he is not without a role: “All the creation of the six days is consecrated to man as the one set over all the works of God’s hand, as the hierarchical structure of Genesis 1 shows, but man himself in turn is consecrated to the One who set all things under his feet.”[7]

God Blessed the Sabbath

A second creation-based reason to keep the Sabbath commandment is because the Lord Himself “blessed the Sabbath day” (Gen. 2:3a). Chantry ties this to a blessing that falls on those who enter into God’s rest with him.[8] Regardless of whether or not this refers to blessings being bestowed upon Sabbath keepers, the language of the passage does point toward a perpetual Sabbath pattern. In Genesis 1, God’s blessing is given over the fish in the sea, the fowl of the air, and of humans. This blessing is for the ongoing production and multiplication of each group. God likewise blesses the Sabbath day, setting it apart for ongoing observance.

God Sanctified the Sabbath

A third creation-based reason for seeing the Sabbath as a creation ordinance is that God made the Sabbath holy (Gen. 2:3a). This should give us even more reason to strengthen our resolve to keep the Sabbath. “He who is king over all the earth has, by his sovereign right, made the day holy. He devoted one day in each seven to his worship and service. He does not advise or request but decrees that it is so. He who is eternal divided our time and legislated that we give him a day of worship each week.”[9] Because the Lord himself has sanctified, or set apart, one day a week for reflection upon His work, it would be foolish to carelessly disregard such a pattern.
 
We should follow the Sabbath pattern set forth by our Creator. That claim is not without its detractors; so, in subsequent posts, I plan to defend God's Sabbath rest as prescriptive for us, rather than merely descriptive.

[1] See also David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans: An Exposition of Chapter 14:1-17 : Liberty and Conscience (Edinburgh; Carlisle, Pa.: Banner of Truth Trust, 2003), 81ff.

[2] Ryken, Written in Stone, 107.

[3] Frame, Doctrine of the Christian Life, 529.

[4] Meredith Kline, Kingdom Prologue, as quoted in Frame, Doctrine of the Christian Life, 529.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 530

[7] Kline, Kingdom Prologue, in Frame, Doctrine of the Christian Life, 530.

[8] Chantry, Call the Sabbath a Delight, 27.

[9] Chantry, Call the Sabbath a Delight, 28.


Are You Quarrelsome?

by Tom Hicks
 
A “quarrel” is a verbal fight. Not all conflicts are quarrels, but a conflict becomes a quarrel when it's sinfully combative or contentious. I've been thinking about my own quarrelsomeness, and this is some of the fruit of my study. The Bible has quite a bit to say about quarreling:

What is the cause of quarrels?

James 4:1-2 says, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.” The root of quarrelsomeness is “covetousness.” Covetousness is discontentment with Christ, a desire to be satisfied in something outside of Him.

We quarrel to try to change someone's mind or behavior because we want something (Jas 4:1-2). Our covetous wants are often rooted in selfishness and pride. We may want to win an argument, look better than another person, or showcase our intellectual superiority. So, we quarrel. We may want to crush another person so that they won't dare challenge us again. We may want our lives to be more convenient or comfortable; so, we quarrel, trying to make another person treat us the way we want to be treated. On the other hand, we may quarrel to change a person's mind for their own good because we love them. Parents sometimes quarrel with their children and teenagers out of desperation because they want to protect them from something harmful.

Ultimately, quarreling is an attempt to control someone by fighting them with our words. When we quarrel, we're trying to force another person to agree with us and to make them change by brute force. Quarreling is foolish because it can never win another person's heart. We may win arguments. We may end up getting our way, like bullies sometimes get their way. But quarreling ends up driving others away, causing resentment, and damaging personal relationships.

The Lord Jesus did not quarrel.

Christ had many opportunities to quarrel, but He never did. The Pharisees and Saducees often attempted to lure Christ into quarrels, but Jesus always responded with perfectly wise speech. Christ's disciples regularly misunderstood Him, and even contradicted Him, but Jesus never quarreled with them. Instead, He patiently corrected them and taught them, over and over. Christ spoke the truth in love to all men.

Matthew 12:19-20 says of Christ, “He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench.”

Christ isn't quarrelsome. His perfect speech stands in the place of our quarrelsomeness. That's the doctrine of justification. As we lay hold of Christ by faith, God forgives us of our quarrelsomeness and treats us like our speech is perfect, even though it's not. And He wins our hearts by His wisdom, gentleness, judicious speech, measured words, and rescuing love. And the more we see of Him through the eyes of faith, the more we will love Him, fear Him, pursue Him, rejoice in Him, and want to know more of Him. The more we love Him, the more we'll learn to put off the sin of quarrelsomeness, and put on gentle and loving speech, becoming more like our Savior.

What should we do instead of quarreling?

1. We should trust God. When we quarrel, we're actually attempting to be God, rather than trusting God. We're trying to rule over the minds, hearts, and behaviors of others, instead of relying on God to rule them. We're attempting to leverage someone into change by fighting them with our words. But God calls us to remember that He is sovereign over the hearts and lives of others. We can never change a person from the inside out, but God can, and God does. If we believe His meticulous providence and His perfect loving care for us and others, then we can trust Him without trying to change others by quarreling. To the degree we do this, our anger and our fears will diminish as we rest in His kind providence.

2. We should rely on God's appointed means of grace. Ordinarily, God changes people by means of His Word, prayer, and loving service. So, if we really want people to change, to trust Christ and become more like Him, we need to tell them the truth in love, pray for them, and serve them with sincerity and humility. When we do this, we need to remember that there's no guarantee that others will ever change. God alone is Lord of the human heart. He changes people according to His sovereign pleasure, but if we want to be instruments of change in people's lives, we have to trust God to work through His appointed means.

3. We should think of disagreements as an opportunity to love and serve. If we're to do all things in love, then we're to disagree in love too. “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices at the truth. Love bears all thing, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor 13:4-7). We should first listen carefully to those with whom we disagree, make sure we have understood what they're saying, and we should only choose to voice a disagreement if we believe that it will serve them and God's glory. If our goal is loving service, then we'll always be willing to hear correction and reproof from those we're trying to serve. We should never disagree about petty matters or things that selfishly serve our own interests. Instead, faithful disagreements seek to serve others, to do them good, to lead them to worship, and glorify Christ. They should always aim to persuade others that we care about them and their souls.

For further study, I recommend War of Words: Getting to the Heart of Your Communication Struggles by Paul David Tripp.

How to Distinguish a True Christian from a Hypocrite

How can you tell whether you’re a genuine believer or a false professor? One of the best books describing the true nature of conversion is The Christian’s Great Interest by William Guthrie. The great Puritan theologian John Owen highly commended it and wrote, “The author [of The Christian’s Great Interest] I take to have been one of the greatest divines that ever wrote; it is my Vade-mecum [that is, “handbook”], and I carry it and the Sedan New Testament, still about with me. I have written several folios, but there is more divinity in it than in them all.”

Consider what William Guthrie says in chapter 5 of his book about the differences between the true Christian and the hypocrite. Here are some ways in which the hypocrite may be like the Christian.

1. A hypocrite may be influenced by the gospel in every part of himself. He may come to great knowledge of God’s truth (Heb 6:4). His emotions about Christ may be high (Matt 13:20). He may even experience drastic changes in the outward man, like the Pharisee who prayed, “God, I thank You that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, etc.” (Lk 18:11–12).

2. A hypocrite may look to others like he’s a true believer. He might talk of the law and the gospel (Ps 50:16), openly confess his sin to his own shame (1 Sam 26:21), and humble himself in sackcloth (1 Kgs 21:27). He may even carefully consider what duties he needs to perform and seek after them (Is 58:2), persevere even in hard times, give his possessions away to God and the saints, or even give his body away to be burned (1 Cor 13:3).

3. A hypocrite may advance far in God’s ordinary graces. He may come under great convictions of sin, just as Judas did (Matt 27:3–5). He may tremble at the word of God, just as Felix did (Acts 24:25), rejoice in receiving the truth (Matt 13:20), and have many experiences of tasting the good graces of God (Heb 6:4).

4. A hypocrite may have some characteristics very similar to the saving graces of the Holy Spirit. He may have a kind of faith, like Simon Magus who “believed also” (Acts 8:13) but then proved to be a false believer. He may have a kind of legal and outward repentance that looks very much like true repentance (Mal 3:14). He may have a great and powerful fear of God, like Balaam did (Num 22:18). He may experience a kind of hope (Job 8:13). The hypocrite may even have some love, as Herod had of John (Mk 6:26).

5. A hypocrite can even have great and powerful experiences of God. He may have “tasted of the heavenly gift” and become “partakers of the Holy Spirit” and experienced the “powers of the age to come” and yet not be genuinely converted.

So, what are the marks of a true believer? How is genuine conversion to be distinguished from false conversion? Guthrie provides five marks of a true believer that are not possessed by the hypocrite.

1. A true believer’s heart is changed forever. In Jeremiah 32:39 the Lord says, “I will give them one heart, and one way, that they may fear me forever.” Hypocrites never have a changed nature. Hypocrites want Christ for the good that He might do them in the world. But a true believer’s heart loves Christ as the all-satisfying treasure of this life and the next.

2. A true believer’s changed life comes from a heart of love to Christ. Hypocrites can clean up their outward behavior to be seen by men, to ease their troubled consciences, or to keep themselves from the consequences of their sins. But true believers love Christ and keep His commandments for His sake, to serve Him, to know Him, and to bring glory to His name (Ps 119:6).

3. A true believer seeks Christ and His kingdom above all else. This is the one thing necessary: Christ’s friendship and fellowship. But that is never the “one thing” and heart-satisfying choice of the hypocrites. True believers, on the other hand, desire that this “better part would never be taken from them” (Lk 10:42).

4. A true believer submits to the righteousness of God. He abandons all hope in himself and his own righteousness, and rests wholly in the righteousness of Christ for his acceptance before God. A true believer rests in Christ and Him only as his Savior. Hypocrites don’t do this (Rom 10:3). They depend, in some degree, upon their own righteousness.

5. A true believer has the three great essentials of genuine Christianity. First, he is broken in heart and emptied of his own righteousness so as to loath himself (Lk 19:10). Second, he takes up Christ Jesus as the only treasure and jewel that can enrich and satisfy (Matt 13:44). Third, he sincerely closes with Christ’s whole yoke without exception, judging all His “will just and good, holy and spiritual” (Rom 7:12). A hypocrite does none of these things.
 

Tom Hicks serves as the Pastor of Discipleship at Morningview Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. He's happily married to Joy, and they have three children. You can follow him on Twitter @TomHicksJr.