Monthly Archives: April 2008

Preaching and living the right Gospel

Most people get the gospel dead wrong. An examination of today’s so-called preachers and churches reveals a staggering and blasphemous understanding of the gospel. There are many categories of this problem—TV preachers assuring you that God exists to grant your material whims, well-meaning (but dead-wrong) preachers who suggest your salvation is only in your hands, church organizations who believe salvation lies in liberation from social problems, and churches that believe they dispense the grace required for salvation through the sacraments. Rarely is sin talked about. Rarely are we told our already-damned standing before a holy God. And, almost never, are we told the Gospel is ultimately about God’s working to bring us into relationship with him, not our working to bring ourselves into relationship to God.

“Gospel” means “good news.” For some, the good news is purely subjective and quite manipulative. These misguided people seem to think the good news is that they can use God to get what they want—a new car, a good family life, an easy life. For some, Christianity is a take-it-and-leave-it-whenever-it-it-suits-your-purposes proposition in which it is OK to live like the world and still claim to be a Christians. For others, the Gospel is purely social—a works-based Gospel in which you receive points for helping others to overcome social injustices. Yet for others, the good news is the church is able to grant salvation through any means, usually through the sacraments—especially “communion.”

Why are there so many mutated permutations of the “Gospel?” Most people do not have the first clue what the Gospel actually is and the “good news” is missed because no one realizes how bad the “bad news” is.

The Bad News

Death. Spiritual death. We were dead in our sins. Ephesians 2:1-3 says:

1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

This is a sad state indeed. It is as if we were the living dead—an existence in which we are alive physically and dead spiritually. Because of Adam’s sin, humanity is damned by God. Our spiritually dead nature shows Adam’s sin spiritually killed all of us so that we are already damned by God. As if that were not enough, our own sins we commit (because we are, by nature, sinners) serve to damn us all the more. Because of our nature all we have to look forward to is God’s wrath.

But wait, there’s more! We did not nor could not seek God. Romans 3:10-12 says:

None is righteous, no, not one;

11 no one understands;

no one seeks for God.

12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;

no one does good,

not even one.

The situation is the most grim—we are damned with no hope in ourselves. We cannot do anything to please God. We cannot do anything, in ourselves, to escape the present and coming damnation.

There is more bad news—ready? God is not ambivalent about us. Since Ephesians 2 tells us we are objects of His wrath, we can see that God has already made His decision about us and that decision is not good for us. We are to bear His holy, righteous, and just wrath for our being sinners by nature and committing sins ourselves.

The Good News

Perhaps the best word in all the Bible is the conjunction “but.” Ephesians 2:4-10 shows us God’s work in doing what we were absolutely unable to do:

4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

This truly is “good news.” What we could not do, God does.

WHY THIS IS OF LIFE AND DEATH IMPORTANCE

The Bible speaks of the consequences of sin.  Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  This is why Paul, in Ephesians, says we were “dead in our trespasses and sins.”

There is no middle-ground.  Sin is not waiting to kill us and, thereby, make us unacceptable to God.  No, sin (Adam’s sin) has already killed us and therefore we are already unacceptable to God.

Throughout the pages of Scripture, we see people separated from God because of sin–Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden (away from God’s presence) when they sinned.  One of the worst punishments in Old Testament Israel was to be cutoff from the camp (cast away from God’s covenant community and where His presence rested–the tabernacle).

This is the curse of sin–to be separated from God.  Jesus bore that very curse on the cross and experienced separation from God so that His people (Christians) would not have to.

The Gospel starts with God and His righteous and just opposition to us because we are, by nature, sinners.

The Gospel is not, ultimately, about us–what we can do to be saved.  The Gospel is about what God does to save us–he takes on Himself His prescribed punishment (the curse of separation and death) so that we can be forgiven of our sins (based on Christ’s payment).  In this way, God brings us into relationship with Himself.  He is just in that He demands payment for sin and He is also the one who justifies in that He Himself pays the payment for us.

This is the “Good News” of the Gospel–those for whom Jesus died do not get what we deserve.  Instead, we get God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense (G.R.A.C.E.).

No material items (cars, houses, hefty bank accounts, etc) can compare to what we have been given.  Because of this, we do not seek our treasure on earth–God Himself is our treasure and our desire is to know Him more and we seek to live our lives in thankful devotion to Him.

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Did God actually say….?

Many evangelicals, such as myself, are often accused of being the most arrogant people–all because we believe and preach the Bible as God’s word. We clearly preach the Bible in this manner: “What God says the Bible says and what the Bible says God says.” So, because we believe God has spoken, we are laughed at as being unbelievably arrogant, backwards, oppressive, and misogynistic fuddy-duddies.

Some time ago, many new scientific theories and the baggage of the enlightenment cast doubt on the veracity of the Biblical account, especially the miraculous. Many so-called theologians became convinced that the Bible and modern, enlightened persons were like oil and water and, therefore, began teaching a “new and improved” theology which sought to minimize or even eliminate the miraculous nature of the Bible. These so-called theologians thought this would make the Bible and Christianity more acceptable to modern man, thereby increasing the numbers in their churches.

Unfortunately, the attempts to make Christianity more palatable to sophisticated, modern people served to destroy what Jude called “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). Gone was the idea that God parted the Red Sea; gone was the notion of God creating mankind ex nihilo (out of nothing); gone was the idea that Christ was raised from the dead. All these things require a belief in the miraculous.

In the aftermath of this blasphemous movement, some (perhaps) unexpected and unintended consequences emerged. If it is acceptable to discount and deny the miraculous parts of Scripture, then it would be a very short journey to deny the entirety of Scripture. This is exactly what happened.

Now, rather than dedicating ourselves to live “by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4), we align ourselves with the Serpent of the Garden and repeat his venomous question “did God actually say?”

GOD HAS SPOKEN

The Bible itself claims to be the very word of God. Many passages could be referenced simply because there are many passages which make this very point. Hebrews 1:1 says, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets.” The author to the Hebrews is making the point that God speaks–He takes the initiative and He does speak.

In the Old Testament, God revealed Himself to Abraham (then called Abram). Abraham’s actions show that he thought God to be worth listening to. In accordance with His relationship with Abraham and His promises to Abraham, God rescued the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt. Part of that rescue was the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai.

The Law was given in a very common form known in that day. The form is referred to as a “Suzerain-vassal treaty.” God was the “Strong” party (the Suzerain) and Israel was the “weak” party (the vassal). Because God is absolutely sovereign and supreme, He alone is allowed to make the rules, and God gave rules in the form of the Law. Make no mistake, God initiated this covenant. The Israelites were the beneficiaries of God’s grace.

The covenant of the Law given at Mt. Sinai included the customary “Blessings” and “Curses.” If the Israelites kept the Law, God would bless them (by sustaining them in the promised land), but if they broke the Law, they would be subject to God’s curse (expulsion from the promised land). As history shows, the Israelites did not keep the Law and they were expelled from the land. The expulsion of the Israelites shows God takes His words and His law very seriously.

What Did King David Think?

In Psalm 19, King David writes about God’s Law. From his writing, it is abundantly clear that David took God’s word (His Law and statutes) as being very important.

7 The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
making wise the simple;
8 the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
9 the fear of the Lord is clean,
enduring forever;
the rules of the Lord are true,
and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.

David’s writing shows a respect for God’s word that has been lost, for the most part, in the theological confusion of our day.

David’s words show us if we want to know God intimately, as well as know about Him, we must look at His law and His word. If we want to know what pleases God, we must look at His law and His word. Since God has chosen to reveal Himself through specific, written revelation given to mankind, we are dependent on His revelation if we are to know anything about Him. He has not left us guessing, He has told us exactly who He is and exactly what He requires of us.

It is important to note that the Book of Psalms is Scripture. God spoke through David and God is saying His words are important and are authoritative.

What Did Jesus Think?

When Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness (recorded in Matthew 4), He makes two very informative statements: (1) “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” and (2) “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.”

Now the context is that Jesus is answering Satan’s tempting challenges. If you read the entirety of Matthew 4, it is clear that Satan is quoting Scripture to Christ–but, Satan is mis-quoting the Scripture. Satan is asking the same, age-old question, “Did God actually say?” If you read the account of the Fall in Genesis, Satan misquotes God to Eve and she falls for it! Jesus doesn’t fall (like Eve did) for Satan’s trap because He knows the Scriptures and His defense is to quote Scripture.

From this episode, we see Jesus quoting Scripture and, therefore, showing Scripture to be authoritative. In short, Jesus is saying that God has spoken and His words are words to live by.

Also, we can see Jesus’ statements about the Law and the Prophets–the Old Testament Scriptures.

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-20)

Not only does this passage show Jesus’ commitment to the Old Testament Scripture, it shows, from the mouth of God Himself, the Scripture to be much more than a collection of stories. Jesus’ statement shows that God intends the Old Testament to be seen as His words to His people. Jesus, who is God, says that greatness in the Kingdom of God is related to how you treat the words of Scripture–and that is no small thing.

Jesus also confirmed the historicity and veracity of the Old Testament when said the entire Old Testament pointed to Him–“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27)

ARE BIBLE-BELIEVERS THE ARROGANT ONES?

The conclusion to this question is very simple. The Bible clearly claims to be the very words of God. If God has spoken, which He has, it is not arrogant to live your life by the Scriptures and to call others to do the same. Why? Paul gives the answer in Acts 17:

29 Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. 30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

It is clearly not arrogant to call people to leave their sinful ways and their sinful lifestyles. If God “commands all people everywhere to repent” and if God “will judge the world in righteousness by [Christ],” and He will do these things, then it is the most loving thing to call the unbelieving world to repent from their sinful ways and escape the coming judgment.

In fact, if God has spoken, then it is truly the height of arrogance to say that we can nullify what He has said.

The Book of Revelation contains a very scary warning in relation to this matter. Of course, Revelation is the final book of the Bible and as such, this warning can be said to apply to the entirety of the Bible. The Apostle John writes:

18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. (Revelation 22:18-19)

For a Christian, there is no choice, we must believe and affirm the entirety of Scripture. If you are unwilling to do this, you are identifying yourself with non-Christians and you ought not to play games and deceive yourself and others by calling yourself a Christian. To say the Bible is not God’s word is to sound more like Satan asking, “did God actually say?”

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Partners ?????

There is a prominent statue right smack-dab in the middle of Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. It is a statue of Walt holding Mickey Mouse’s hand and the inscription on the base of the statue says “Partners.” Of his company’s success, Walt Disney was very fond of saying, “never forget that this all started with a mouse.”

This is a nice sentiment but it is not true. Mickey Mouse, lovable though he may be, is not a pre-existent or even co-existent entity. Mickey Mouse was the creation of Walter Elias Disney. Given, Mickey was a great “invention” that helped the Disney Company to achieve its success in the movie, cartoon, theme park, etc. industry. But, Mickey was just that–an invention.

As a master animator, Walt Disney was “sovereign” over all that Micky did–his actions, his speech, the plot-lines of his movies, etc. The nice, but wrong, sentiment of Walt and Mickey’s “Partnership” suggests Mickey did these things on his own, he didn’t. Mickey was totally dependent on Walt for all he said, all he did, and even his very existance.

The relationship between God and man is no different. Many people like to think of God and man in a “partnership” in all matters related to salvation. While this is a nice sentiment it is wrong, dead-wrong, and the stakes are much higher than a man and his adorable mouse.

The truth of our relationship to God is that it is in no way, shape, or form a partnership. We are not co-eternal, co-existent, co-sovereign, co-omnipresent, or co-redeemers. Like, Mickey Mouse, we are totally and utterly dependent on God (our Creator and the true Sovereign) for everything. As Acts 17:24-25 says:

24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.

Anything and everything we have is from God. We do not “partner” with Him. He is the Benefactor, we are the beneficiary; He is the One who gives, we are the ones who receive.

Much of the glory of the Gospel is lost in bad theology that seeks to make us partners with God in our own salvation. This is deadly. Apart from His regenerating, We do not and cannot seek after God. God is the Initiator, we, because of the grace and faith He gives, become the responder. In this way, we respond, but we are not partners for we accomplish nothing related to our own salvation.

The Gospel does not start with our being on middle ground, it starts with our being dead and lifeless. The Gospel starts with God’s opposition to us. We are totally and, apart from God’s grace, irrevocably damaged in every aspect of our humanity. The Gospel is about God and his opposition to sin (and, therefore, the sinner–us!). The Gospel is about Jesus bearing God’s righteous opposition and wrath to us on Himself–He became the very Curse of God, a cursing we deserved. The Gospel is that by Jesus bearing the curse we deserved, He is both just (in that sins are paid for and not glossed over) and justifier (in that He is the one, through His work on the cross, that Justifies us). By dying on the Cross, Christ paid the sins of His people, thereby removing the God’s curse on us, bearing God’s curse in His own body.

So, like Micky and Walt, there is no real partnership. There is only a Sovereign God who acted to redeem a people for Himself. We, the beneficiaries of God’s actions, can only respond to Him in repentance and faith after He initiates the relationship.

Can you Imagine Micky Mouse holding a press conference in which he declares his work in inventing himself? That would be as ridiculous as us trying to take any credit for what God has done and provided us in His saving work.

This is the true nature of the Gospel–God works to make us (dead, lifeless sinners) into trophies of His work and His grace, all to the eternal praise and glory of Christ. God takes us from being “dead in our trespasses and sins” to being called sons (and daughters) of the Lord of the Universe!

This is a glorious Gospel indeed! And it is a Gospel that “Demands [our] soul, [our] life, [our] all.”

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Together for the Gospel (T4G) 2008

The T4G conference just ended today. It was an absolutely phenomenal conference. The speakers were great; the worship was great; the bookstore was huge!

As I write this, I am keenly aware I am going through withdrawal. My dad (who is a member of Capitol Hill Baptist Church–where Mark Dever is pastor) and I attended this conference together (we don’t get to spend too much time together anymore). Mom and Dad agreed to pay for my registration, for which I am truly grateful.

So, I’m missing my dad and I’m missing the experiences we had there at the conference. Like C. J. Mahaney said…”Back to the real world.”

All of the speakers were great. However, the message by R. C. Sproul on the curse motif was perhaps the most profound message I have ever heard.

All of the messages are available for free from T4G website (here).

I cannot encourage you enough to listen to and digest these messages.

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