Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Blogging or Brokenness

Blogging or Brokenness: (for those who don't know what I am talking about here, please hear Paul Washer's recent sermon, Ten Indictments Against the Modern Church in America, found at

Before leaving for Alaska last week, I listen to Paul Washer's sermon as it was streaming live from the Sermon Audio Conference in Georgia where he was preaching; after arriving in Alaska, I received emails about it and began to read various bloggers and online chat comments about the sermon.

In doing so, something struck me very clearly as I read people's comments. We American Christians are so used to vast amounts of new information all the time, so used to having a steady flowing stream of truth and theology, and so used to hearing and passing on info about the newest or most powerful sermon which appears new online, that we grab it quick, don't fully process or appreciate it, and then move on- its the newest evangelical fad, it seems. Just in a rush with all the truth that comes to us.

The comments were flowing, with either high praise or critical evaluation, in comparing, contrasting, and analyzing the sermon, and its power or its weak points.

Then the thought came to me-- why do we respond this way to a word from God through a sermon? Is it proper and right? Is it what the Lord Himself would have us do immediately after hearing His word come forth? Should we be dialoguing, blogging, commenting, and playing intellectual verbal ping-pong with each other over a sermon just heard? Or is there a better way?

Would it not be wiser to shut our mouths, withdraw from everyone, get before God, search our own hearts, evaluate where we are, examine ourselves to see how we are not in conformity with God's Word, and deal with our own hearts, rather than being evangelical pundits, like the political experts who gather after the presidential debates, to discuss the sermon and give fire-side analysis.

Seems to me that Isaiah, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, the Apostles, and the Lord Jesus Christ, or any truth preacher for that matter, including Paul Washer, would not care one whit if we are blogging over their latest sermon--what they would desire in response to a message would be humility, quietness, heart-searching, and fresh brokenness before God in the secret place.

Did God speak in The 10 Indictments for all of us, including the most trendy evangelical bloggers, to discuss OR apply to our own hearts and churches? Seems to me that less blogging and more brokenness might be in order when God speaks from His Word.

- Mack Tomlinson

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

What is this Babbler Trying to Say?

Acts 17:18

The Apostles were accounted as foolish babblers. We are no better than the Apostles, nor do we have reason to expect much better treatment, so far as we walk in their steps.

On the other hand, there is a way of speaking of God, and goodness, and benevolence, and morality which the world will bear well enough with. But if we preach Christ as the only way of salvation, lay open the horrid evils of the human heart, tell our hearers that they are dead in trespasses and sins, and have no better ground of hope in themselves than the vilest malefactors; if we tell virtuous and moral people, as well as the outwardly wicked, that unless they are born again, and made partakers of living faith, that they cannot be saved--this is the message they cannot bear!

We shall be called fools, narrowed-minded bigots, and twenty other harsh names. If you have met with no treatment like this, you should wonder whether you have yet received the gospel; for, depend upon it--the offense of the cross has not ceased.

"You are out of your mind, Paul! Your great learning has made you insane!" Acts 26:24

- John Newton

Monday, October 27, 2008

Politics, Activism, and the Gospel

With the nation focused on the November elections, we thought a post on politics might be appropriate. The point of this article is not that we should abstain from any participation in the political process, but rather that we must keep our priorities straight as Christians. After all, the gospel, not politics, is the only true solution to our nation’s moral crisis.

We can’t protect or expand the cause of Christ by human political and social activism, no matter how great or sincere the efforts. Ours is a spiritual battle waged against worldly ideologies and dogmas arrayed against God, and we achieve victory over them only with the weapon of Scripture. The apostle Paul writes: “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:3-5).

We must reject all that is ungodly and false and never compromise God’s standards of righteousness. We can do that in part by desiring the improvement of society’s moral standards and by approving of measures that would conform government more toward righteousness. We do grieve over the rampant indecency, vulgarity, lack of courtesy and respect for others, deceitfulness, self-indulgent materialism, and violence that is corroding society. But in our efforts to support what is good and wholesome, reject what is evil and corrupt, and make a profoundly positive impact on our culture, we must use God’s methods and maintain scriptural priorities.

God is not calling us to wage a culture war that would seek to transform our countries into “Christian nations.” To devote all, or even most, of our time, energy, money, and strategy to putting a facade of morality on the world or over our governmental and political institutions is to badly misunderstand our roles as Christians in a spiritually lost world.

God has above all else called the church to bring sinful people to salvation through Jesus Christ. Even as the apostle Paul described his mission to unbelievers, so it is the primary task of all Christians to reach out to the lost “to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me [Christ]” (Acts 26:18; cf. Ex. 19:6; 1 Pet. 2:5, 9).

If we do not evangelize the lost and make disciples of new converts, nothing else we do for people--no matter how beneficial it seems--is of any eternal consequence. Whether a person is an atheist or a theist, a criminal or a model citizen, sexually promiscuous and perverse or strictly moral and virtuous, a greedy materialist or a gracious philanthropist--if he does not have a saving relationship to Christ, he is going to hell. It makes no difference if an unsaved person is for or against abortion, a political liberal or a conservative, a prostitute or a police officer, he will spend eternity apart from God unless he repents and believes the gospel.

When the church takes a stance that emphasizes political activism and social moralizing, it always diverts energy and resources away from evangelization. Such an antagonistic position toward the established secular culture invariably leads believers to feel hostile not only to unsaved government leaders with whom they disagree, but also antagonistic toward the unsaved residents of that culture--neighbors and fellow citizens they ought to love, pray for, and share the gospel with. To me it is unthinkable that we become enemies of the very people we seek to win to Christ, our potential brothers and sisters in the Lord.

Author John Seel pens words that apply in principle to Christians everywhere and summarize well the believer’s perspective on political involvement:

A politicized faith not only blurs our priorities, but weakens our loyalties. Our primary citizenship is not on earth but in heaven. … Though few evangelicals would deny this truth in theory, the language of our spiritual citizenship frequently gets wrapped in the red, white and blue. Rather than acting as resident aliens of a heavenly kingdom, too often we sound [and act] like resident apologists for a Christian America. … Unless we reject the false reliance on the illusion of Christian America, evangelicalism will continue to distort the gospel and thwart a genuine biblical identity…..

American evangelicalism is now covered by layers and layers of historically shaped attitudes that obscure our original biblical core. (The Evangelical Pulpit: Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993, 106-7)

By means of faithful preaching and godly living, believers are to be the conscience of whatever nation they reside in. You can confront the culture not with the political and social activism of man’s wisdom, but with the spiritual power of God’s Word. Using temporal methods to promote legislative and judicial change, and resorting to external efforts of lobbying and intimidation to achieve some sort of “Christian morality” in society is not our calling--and has no eternal value. Only the gospel rescues sinners from sin, death, and hell.

- John MacArthur

Sunday, October 26, 2008

This is the God We Adore

"I know that the Lord is great, that our Lord is greater than all gods. The Lord does whatever pleases Him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths!" Psalm 135:5-6

God rules over all! And though He is concealed by a veil of second causes from common eyes, so that they can perceive only the means, instruments, and contingencies by which He works, and therefore think He does nothing; yet, in reality, He does all according to His own counsel and pleasure in the armies of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth.

Who can count all the beings and events which are incessantly before His eye, adjusted by His wisdom, dependent on His will, and regulated by His power? If we consider the heavens, the work of His fingers, the moon and the stars which He has ordained; if we call in the assistance of astronomers to help us form a conception of the number, distances, magnitudes, and motions of the heavenly bodies--the more we search, the more we shall be confirmed that these are but a small portion of His ways!

The stars and planets-- He calls them all by their names, upholds them by His power, and without His continual energy upholding them, they would rush into confusion, or sink into nothing! They are all dependent upon His power, and obedient to His command.

To come nearer home, and to speak of what seems more suited to our small thoughts, still we may be lost in wonder. With respect to mankind, He reigns with uncontrolled dominion over every kingdom, family, and individual. Before this blessed and only Potentate, all the nations of the earth are but as the dust upon the balance, and the small drop of a bucket and might be thought (if compared with the immensity of His works) scarcely worthy of His notice! Yet here He presides, pervades, provides, protects, and rules! All changes, successes, and disappointments--all that is memorable in the annals of history, all the rising and falls of empires, all the turns in human life--take place according to His plan!

In Him His creatures live, move, and have their being. From Him is their food and preservation. The eyes of all are upon Him--what He gives they gather--and can gather no more! And at His word they sink into the dust! There is not a worm which crawls upon the ground, or a flower which grows in the pathless wilderness, or a shell upon the sea-shore, but bears the impress of His wisdom, power, and goodness! He preserves man and beast, sustains the young lion in the forest, feeds the birds of the air, which have neither storehouse or barn, and adorns the insects and the flowers of the field with a beauty and elegance beyond all that can be found in the courts of kings!

All things serve Him, and are in His hands, as clay in the hands of the potter. Great and marvelous are Your works, Lord God Almighty! Just and true are Your ways, O King of saints!

This is the God whom we adore! This is He who invites us to lean upon His almighty arm, and promises to guide us with His unerring eye!

- John Newton

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Best Human Advice is Insufficient

No person can adjust and draw the line exactly for another. There are so many particulars in every situation, of which a stranger cannot be a competent judge, and the best human advice is mixed with such defects that it is not right to expect others to be absolutely guided by our rules; nor is it safe for us implicitly to adopt the decisions or practices of others.

But the Scripture undoubtedly furnishes sufficient and infallible rules for every person, for whatever the circumstances; and the throne of grace is appointed for us to wait upon the Lord for the best exposition of His precepts. Thus David often prays to be led in the right way, "Show me the path where I should walk, O Lord; point out the right road for me to follow. Lead me by Your truth and teach me." Psalm 25:4-5

By frequent prayer, close acquaintance with the Scripture, and a habitual attention to the frame of our hearts, there is a certain delicacy of spiritual taste and discernment to be acquired, which renders a proper judgment concerning the nature and limits of questionable things. Love to Christ is the clearest and most persuasive factor; and when our love to Jesus is in lively exercise, and the rule of his Word is in our eye, we seldom make great mistakes!

The believer should also avoid whatever has a tendency to dampen and indispose his spiritual mindedness. For such things, if they are not condemned as downright sinful, if they are not absolutely unlawful; yes though they are, when duly regulated, lawful and right; yet if they have a repeated and evident tendency to deaden our hearts to Divine things, there must be something in them which is wrong to us! And let them promise what they will, they do but rob us of our gold to pay us with pebbles! For the light of God's countenance, and an open cheerfulness of spirit in walking with Him in private is our chief joy, and we must be already greatly hurt if anything can be pursued, allowed, or rested in as a tolerable substitute for it.

- John Newton

Sunday, October 19, 2008

We Preach Christ Crucified: The Theology of the Cross

What does it mean to preach Christ? What does it mean to preach the gospel? The words used in the NT regarding the death of the cross are the truths that explain what Christ's death actually did for sinners. The vital need in preaching the death of Christ is not to just preach THAT he died--of course that is true--but rather WHAT was accomplished by his death in our behalf.

In preaching the cross, is it enough to declare THAT Christ died for our sins somehow? No, that is not enough; rather, true Calvary preaching must also be the doctrinal truths that speak to the CONTENT of what happened in Christ's death.

Concerning the work of Calvary's cross, the New Testament uses some primary and fundamental words which convey the meaning of the cross:

1. Propitiation- definition: to bear our due wrath.

The Lord Jesus took upon himself and absorbed all of God's wrath on our behalf, fully satisfying the wrath of God and divine justice. His death propitiated the wrath of God in our behalf. He took my wrath and yours personally, literally, and fully forever. No soul who has been propitiated for can every perish if divine wrath has actually and fully been satisfied in their behalf.

- Rom. 3:25- "Whom God put forward as a propitiaton by his blood"
- Heb. 2:17- "to make propitiation for the sins of the people"
- 1 Jn. 2:2 "He is the propitiation for our sins"

2. Substitution- definition: taking our place.

He was dying as a substitute in our place; anytime the N. T. speaks of Christ dying FOR us, it is directly speaking of substitution- that Christ died IN MY PLACE.

- Is. 53:4- "he has born our griefs and carried our sorrows"
- 53:5- "wounded FOR our transgressions, bruised FOR our iniquities"
- 53:6- "the Lord has laid UPON him the iniquity of us all"
- 53:11- "for he shall bear their iniquities"
- 53:12- "he bore the sin of many"
- Rom. 4:25- "who was delivered FOR our offenses"
- Rom. 5:6- "Christ died FOR the ungodly"

3. Imputation- definition: to credit to or put to one's personal account.

In his death, our sins were literally and fully imputed to the Lord Jesus; he took them upon himself; our sins were imputed to him on the cross, in order that his righteousness could be imputed to us through faith in him. He, the sinless and righteous One, became guilty, in order that the sinful and unrighteous (us) might become righteous- our sins were imputed to him in order than his righteousness could be imputed to all who believe.

- 2 Cor. 5:21- "For He (God the Father) made him (Christ) to be made (counted as) sin for us, that we might be made (counted as) the righteousness of God in him."

4. Ransom- definition: a ransom price paid.

A ransom paid on behalf of and for the ownership of slaves- He was the payer and the payment- a ransom for many. We were the slaves of sin and Satan and the Lord Jesus purchased us with the ransom payment of his own life and blood. He became a ransom for many.

- Mt. 20:28- "For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."

5. Reconciliation- definition: to bring back together in harmony and peace 2 parties who were enemies.

His death fully restored those who were enemies to right relationship with the Father, reconciling us to God.

- 2 Cor. 5:18-21- "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them."
- 1 Peter 3:18- "that he might bring us to God."

6. Redemption- definition: delivered and set free.

His death delivered us and set us free from Satan, from sin's bondage, the world, condemnation, and eternal damnation; thus we are free forever.

Gal. 3:13- "Redeemed from the curse of the law"
Eph. 1:17- "In whom we have redemption through his blood"
1 Peter 1:18-19 redeemed "with the precious blood of Christ"

7. Atonement- definition: a sin offering that accomplishes satisfaction

Christ's death one time, once for all, atoned for us as a perfect offering for sin.

Is. 53:10- "When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin "
Rom. 5:11- "by whom we have now received the atonement"

These specific redemptive truths of His death deal with what the cross actually accomplished- his death was not an example or potentially beneficial; it actually accomplished before the Father on our behalf all it needed to; it did not make us savable- it saved us; it was not a potential atonement, but it was an actual, successful atonement that saved forever all who would believe.

It is these truths and what they mean exactly which is the message of the cross- Christ's work on our behalf- that alone is what it means to preach the cross. It is not enough to preach THAT He died, to preach it even sincerely and passionately, or to try to apply the message of the cross to the sinner and the believer's life; we must preach the CONTENT of what actually happened in his death if we are to be truly preaching Christ crucified.

- Mack T.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Worldly Losses

If we have God--no other loss is irreparable! There is surely enough in God's love to compensate a thousand times for every earthly deprivation! Our lives may be stripped bare--home, friends, riches, comforts, every voice of love, every note of joy--and we may be driven out from brightness and music and tenderness and shelter into the cold ways of sorrow. Yet if we have God Himself left, ought it not to suffice? Yes, is not He Himself infinitely more than all His gifts?

Often we do not learn the depth and riches of God's love, and the sweetness of His presence--until earthly joys vanish out of our hands, and beloved ones fade away out of sight. The loss of temporal things empties our hearts to receive spiritual and eternal things! The sweeping away of earthly hopes reveals the glory of our heart's refuge in God. "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble." Psalm 46:1

"Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are Mine! When you go through deep waters and great trouble, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown! When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior!" - Isaiah 43:1-3

- J. R. Miller

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Beware-- Prejudice fuels Unbelief

Ever heard the objection, "The reason youʼre a Christian is because you were born in a Christian culture. If you were born in India you would be a Hindu, or in Iraq, you would be a Muslim?" Or consider two men, one a pediatrician in New York and the other a pygmy in the Congo. Each describe the cause of sickness in different ways. The pediatrician faults germs; the pygmy, evil spirits. The doctor invokes medicine for healing, the pygmy uses magic. Each believes exactly what his culture has taught him, and lives as if it were so. Answering the question of who's right can never be found by analyzing the cultural influences or psychological reasons that motivates people -- be they medicine men or religious men.

Why a person believes something to be true, and what a person believes to be true many times are not the same. Objections to Christianity such as the one above or other similar ones that say that Christians are hypocrites or intolerant focus erroneously on the believer, not his belief. In logic this is called the psychogenetic fallacy -- and Christians aren't immune from committing the same error as well. Neuroscientist, Simon LeVay, in doing research for a "gay gene" was the target of much criticism from Christians because of his homos exuality. Focusin g on what motivates a person like LeVay in his research tells us nothing about the veracity of that research. Even his admitted bias doesnʼt necessarily translate into a scientific bias. That requires separate scrutiny.

The response to all the above objections is two simple words, "So what?" So what if Christians are hypocrites, or people born in another culture probably will be raised into that culture's religion, or that I'm even pig-headed and totally intolerant. So what? What does my behavior or misbehavior have to do with the veracity of what I believe? It stands or falls on its claims alone. My behavior might impede others from believing, but it adds or subtracts nothing from the truth of that belief itself.

Christ being born on the "wrong side of the tracks" -- regardless of what He said or did, kept many from being born again by God. The lesson to be learned is beware -- prejudice fuels unbelief far more than logical reasons ever will.

- Mark Lacour

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Aim of All Affliction

Sooner or later, affliction and sorrow come to every Christian. We ought, therefore, to have true views about pain, about the divine reasons for sending it, and about the mission on which it comes. We ought to know, also, how to endure suffering so as to get from it the blessing, which its hot hand brings to us.

While they do not solve all the mystery of human suffering, the Scriptures show, at least, that suffering is no accident in God's world--but is one of His messengers; and that it comes not as an enemy--but as a friend on an errand of blessing. The design of God, in all the afflictions which He sends upon His people--is to make them more holy, to advance their purification of character.

It is very clearly taught in the Word of God that suffering is necessary in preparing sinful souls in this world for heavenly glory. "We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God." There is no easy way to glory. There is so much evil in us, even after we are born again, that nothing less than the discipline of pain can cleanse our nature.

Tribulation is God's threshing, not to harm us or to destroy us, but to separate what is heavenly and spiritual in us from what is earthly and fleshly. Nothing less than blows of pain will do this. Evil clings strongly, even to the godly. The golden wheat of godliness is so wrapped up in the strong chaff of the flesh--that only the heavy flail of suffering can produce the separation. Godly character can never be attained, but through suffering. Holiness cannot be reached, without cost. Those who would gain the lofty heights--must climb the cold, rough steeps which lead to them.

It is God's design, in all the pain which He sends to make us more Christlike. His puts us in the fire of purification, until His own image shines reflected in the gold! His prunings mean greater fruitfulness. In whatever form the suffering comes--the purpose of the pain is merciful. In all our life in this world, God is purifying us and suffering is one of the chief agents which He employs.

"We also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope." Romans 5:3-4. Suffering develops in us, qualities of Christian character, which cannot be developed in any other way.

But not all afflictions make people better. They do not always produce endurance. Chastening does not always yield the peaceable fruit of righteousness. We all have seen people suffering--who became only more impatient, irritable, ill-tempered, and selfish--as they suffered. Many a life in the furnace of affliction loses all the beauty it ever had. It is not by any means universally true that we are made more holy and Christlike, by pain.

Afflictions must be received as God's messengers. They often come in very somber garb, and it is only when we receive them in faith, that they disclose to us their merciful aspect and mission.

We should therefore receive afflictions reverently, as sent from God. We may be assured that there is always some blessing for us, in pain's hot hand. There is some golden fruit, wrapped up in the rough husk. God designs to burn off some sins from us, in every fire through which He calls us to pass. No one who murmurs under God's chastening hand, is ever made better by it.

The true aim of suffering is to get from it--

- more purity of soul
- greater revelations of God's face
- more love to Christ
- deeper joy in the heart
- holier living
- fresh strength for obedience and all duty

- J. R. Miller

Sunday, October 12, 2008

We Have Many Foes

In one sense, the path to heaven is very safe, but in other respects, there is no road so dangerous! It is beset with many difficulties. One false step (and how easy it is to take that, if grace is absent), and down we go! What a slippery path is that which we have to tread!

How many times have we to exclaim with the Psalmist, "My feet were almost gone--my steps had well nigh slipped!" If we were strong, sure-footed mountaineers, this would not matter so much; but in ourselves, how weak we are! On the best roads we soon falter; in the smoothest paths we quickly stumble. These feeble knees of ours can scarcely support our tottering weight. A straw may trip us and a pebble can wound us! We are mere children, tremblingly taking our first steps in the walk of faith; our heavenly Father holds us by the arms or we would soon go down! Oh, if we are kept from falling, how must we bless our patient Father, who watches over us day by day!

Think--how prone we are to sin, how apt to choose danger, how strong our tendency to cast ourselves down--and these reflections will make us sing more sweetly than we have ever done, "Glory be to Him, who is able to keep us from falling."

We have many foes who try to push us down. The road is rough--and we are weak! But in addition to this, enemies lurk in ambush, who rush out when we least expect them, and labor to trip us up, or hurl us down the nearest precipice! Only an Almighty arm can preserve us from these unseen foes--who are seeking to destroy us. Such an arm is engaged for our defense. He is faithful, who has promised, and He is able to keep us from falling, so that with a deep sense of our utter weakness, we may cherish a firm belief in our perfect safety, and say, with joyful confidence, "To Him who is able to keep us from falling and to present us before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy -- to the only God our Savior, be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen." Jude 1:24-25

- C. H. Spurgeon

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Holy Spirit and Revival, Pt. 5


Let me quote some words of my friend Stephen Rees of Stockport, Manchester, as he pictures some of the consequences of the coming of the Spirit. He describes them in these ways:

i] The felt presence of God in our meetings- There are times when God’s Spirit descends upon a meeting and everybody knows God is present. The unseen world becomes terribly and wonderfully close. At those times, the preaching is transformed. The preacher speaks with a boldness and an authority that is obviously supernatural. Hearers forget the preacher and hear only the voice of God speaking to their hearts. Familiar truths become real as they are preached. Those who listen tremble at the thought of God; they shake with fear as they are made aware of their sins and are overwhelmed with wonder as they hear about the cross of the Lord Jesus; they are filled with a joy that can't be put into words as they are reminded of heaven to come. The singing is transformed. People sing as they’ve never sung before, realizing how wonderful the words are that they’re singing and conscious that God is listening. The praying is transformed. God’s people pray with confidence, earnestness and with the wrestling spirit which says ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me’. All of us, I hope, can remember meetings when we’ve had a taste of that. But we want all our meetings to be like that. We want to know that God is among his people whenever they meet.

ii] Every member of the church filled with the Holy Spirit- I am not talking about one great crisis experience. I am saying that every one of us ought to be brim-full of the life of God every moment. If we were filled with the Spirit, we would have a great sense of the love of God towards us. We would be able to say, “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given to us” (Romans 5:5). And we on our side would love the Saviour with a warm, steady love. We would long for the day when he comes again. We would want to serve him with all our strength. If we were filled with the Spirit, we would love one another more warmly, more affectionately and more practically than we do. We would pray for one another more consistently. We would commit ourselves to the life of the church more thoroughly. We would be eager to be with our fellow believers, listening to God’s Word, so we would do everything in our power to be at the meetings. We would look forward all month to being at the Lord’s Supper and feeding on Christ there. If we were filled with the Spirit, we’d be very careful to avoid anything sinful or even dubious. We’d turn away from worldly entertainments and distractions. In every situation our first question would be ‘How can I honour God?’ not, ‘What do I want to do?’ We’d deal with our problems, especially our disagreements with other church members, in a biblical way. We would be praying in the various church prayer meetings. We’d never let dislikes or grudges fester in our hearts. We’d learn to say sorry. We’d learn to be straight with people. We’d learn to talk to people who offend us, not talk about them behind their backs. The life of the church would be sweeter and happier.

iii] Many people around us being converted- Members of our families long prayed for would change in their attitude to our Lord. Young people who had professed faith as teenagers but had fallen away, would come back from the distant country. Husbands for whom wives had prayed for years would end their rebellion and bow the knee to Christ. We do have students converted, and also the children of church members, but what of people wholly outside of Christ? Utterly indifferent men and women both teenagers and the elderly, Muslims, policemen, professors, fishermen, jewelers, managers of betting shops, politicians, clergymen, sportsmen, Jehovah’s Witnesses, journalists, media people, refuse collectors, car dealers, shop-keepers and scientists, members of the local football teams, gardeners, bakers, electricians, artists, plumbers - we want to see all trades coming to know Christ, and all kinds of personalities, depressives, academics, illiterates, melancholics, addicts, extroverts – the doors of heaven are open to all of them.

At times of spiritual awakening, many kinds of people are contacted, there is boldness given to shy believers to share their faith with the people to whom Providence brings them. A favored, prepared people grow weary of mater ialism and Dawkins and television and conversations down at the bars and football, and they are opened up by grace to consider the greatness of God. Even if they are not converted, they’ve become more subdued; a fear of God has fallen on them.

When the Spirit of God is poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour he comes to convict the world of sin and righteousness and judgment; he comes to honour and magnify Jesus Christ as the Son of God; he changes many lives for ever. People who have served sin henceforth serve the Saviour. Let us cry to God that he would pour out on us abundantly the Spirit, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

- Geoff Thomas

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Holy Spirit and Revival, Pt. 4

So the Word of God spread as God’s blessing came upon the gospel as it was preached. That was not invariable; it did not happen in Athens, although a significant little group of individuals professed faith. The Holy Spirit was poured out generously through Jesus Christ. That is the explanation.

Now let me give you an insider’s view of this great change as we read of it in three letters of the New Testament. How was this amazing work of God experienced within the congregations?

i] The church at Corinth tolerated in its membership at least one notorious sinner. It looked away and did nothing about that defiant bad man. The salt was losing its savour in Corinth; the life was seeping out of the church. Paul wrote to them and they were revived by his words and they displayed that whole ra nge of religious affections which are displayed when God awakens a congregation. Paul describes the initial grief and congregational repentance his words caused them when his letter was read out to the congregation; “your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done” (2 Cor. 7:9-11).

ii] The church at Thessalonica is reminded by Paul of how the gospel came to that whole congregation; “our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction” (I Thess. 1:5). What stirring words! You read them and think, “That is how the gospel should be received by a whole congregation.” How many evangelical sermons these days are not like that, but rather like hearing a commentary being=2 0read? The preaching with too many of20us is in word only, but in Thessalonica it was not like that; there was power; there was the Holy Spirit at work and deep conviction as the word was preached. I believe that that could happen any Sunday in this congregation.

iii] The church at Ephesus. Consider what Paul longs for in this church. He tells them that when he prays for them – a revived church, for this is his petition to God: “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge - that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen” (Eph 3:1 6-21). They had the truth; they had the Spirit;20they had Christ, but Paul longs for them to have more, for spiritual growth and not in the slight ways we think of – more people coming to our evening service, or a new face in the Sunday School – but that they would be strengthened with power through the Spirit in the inner man, and that they would be rooted and established in love, and understand more of the love of Christ that passes knowledge.

Men and women, it is a spiritual awakening of that dimension that I am speaking about and that we are to pray for in our own congregations. That is the work of the Holy Spirit – as we repent of our cold hearts and as we cry to him for help and the same apostolic word with the power of the Spirit is preached to you.

Doesn’t our Lord tell us of one congregation that had left its first love? Doesn’t Christ describe one church as being neither cold nor hot but lukewarm? If the Lord Jesus appeared in our pulpit now and lovingly and sweetly and righteously spoke and told us that we are guilty of these base attitudes would we not respond as the Corinthian congregation – what earnestness, what eagerness to clear ourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern. But surely that is exactly what he is saying to many of us today. Are we touched? Are we examining ourselves? Are we alarmed? Are we changing?

- to be continued

- Geoff Thomas

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Holy Spirit and Revival, Pt. 3

Why do we speak of the Holy Spirit and revival? Because this is a biblical theme which can be very encouraging. True God-fearing congregations are shrinking and increasingly marginalized in our own society.


i] When the word of God was rediscovered. Consider the occasion when the Scripture was rediscovered in the temple of the Lord when King Josiah was 26 years of age. What a change for the whole nation when they rediscovered, read and acted upon the Word. We read, “Hilkiah the priest found the Book of the Law of the LORD that had been given through Moses. Hilkiah said to Shaphan the secretary, ‘I have found the Book of the Law in the temple of the LORD. . . . And Shaphan read from it in the presence of the king. When the king heard the words of the Law, he tore his robes. . . .‘Go and enquire of the LORD for me and for the remnant in Israel and Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the LORD's anger that is poured out on us because our fathers have not kept the word of the LORD. . . .Then the king called together all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem. . . . with the men of Judah, the people of Jerusalem, all the people from the least to the greatest. He read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant. . . .the king stood by his pillar and renewed the covenant in the presence of the LORD - to follow the LORD and keep his commands, regulations and decrees with all his heart and all his soul, and to obey the words of the covenant written in this book. . . .the people of Jerusalem did this in accordance with the covenant of God, the God of their fathers." That nation rediscovered the Bible to its peace and unity. It had in fact rediscovered the living God.

ii] When Jonah preached in Nineveh, when with much reluctance the prophet finally came to the pagan city whose whole system he hated greatly. We are told, “Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very important city - a visit required three days. On the first day, Jonah started into the city. He proclaimed: ‘Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.’ The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. . . . 'let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.’ When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened” (Jon. 3:3-10). Jonah went with the bare word in obedience to God and the whole city was changed.

There=0 Aare such occasions in the history of redemption when a nation is stirred, faith in the Lord is renewed, idols are destroyed and many people repent of their sins and turn to God. You might think that this is simply the romantic, folk-story manner in which the Old Testament is written . . . “and they all lived happily ever after.” I want to say most earnestly to you that the above instances are not an invariable pattern of the Bible. For example, in the wilderness wanderings, though there were extraordinary blessings and miracles as in the parting of the Red Sea, the daily manna that came from heaven and the water that burst out of the rock and the preaching of Moses, the people were not revived, but they all perished in the wilderness. Under the mighty ministry of Jeremiah there was no national turning to God. Under the ministry of Elijah, when God answers with fire and consumes the sacrifice on the altar, there is no subsequent turning to God by the people, even with the presence of Elijah in their midst. So there is no naturalistic explanation for those occasions I have drawn your attention to when the people were greatly stirred and broken. There is nothing inevitable about the wonderful turning to God. They were a result of the quickening grace of God. Revival is a sovereign work of God.

Let me give you three similar examples from the book of Acts.

i] In Jerusalem, Peter preached to Jerusalem sinners, concluding “‘Let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.’ When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.’ With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ Those who accepted his message were baptised, and about three thousand were added to their number that day” (Acts 2:36-41).

So a substantial number of people in that wicked city turned to Jesus Christ and became true Christians and the impact on the l and was great. A tide of persecution opened up again the people of God. They could no longer be ignored.

ii] In Samaria. Again we meet the same phenomenon of a whole city stirred when Philip goes to Samaria; “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said. With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed. So there was great joy in that city” (Acts 8:4-8). “When they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.” (Acts 8:12).

Here is superstitious irreligious Samaria, with all its deep-dyed hostility to the Jews, and yet it heard a Jewish Christian evangelist so keenly that multitudes in the country believed that the crucified Jewish Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah and they were publicly baptized in his name. That is the grace of God leading3D2 0to a great awakening.

iii] In Pisidian Antioch and Iconium. Again, we meet the same phenomenon-- “As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath. When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God. On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord” (Acts 13:42-44). “When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honoured the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed. The word of the Lord spread through the whole region” (Acts 13:48&49). Then at Iconium we are told, “At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed” (Acts 14:1).

So the Word of God spread as God’s blessing came upon the gospel as it was preached. That was not invariable; it did not happen in Athens, although a significant little group of individuals professed faith. The Holy Spirit was poured out generously through Jesus Christ. That is the explanation.

- to be continued

- Geoff Thomas

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Holy Spirit and Revival, Pt. 2

We finished our previous thoughts on this subject with the question, "What are the reasons for the wariness with which godly men and women listen to messages on this theme of revival? I suppose there are numbers of answers:

1. Revivals are illusive. For the church member sitting in the pew, revivals never seem to be here and now. The men talking even authoritatively about them have never experienced them. They have read about them in books, and these revivals always appear to be events that happened a hundred years ago or that will occur some time in the future; or, if they are occurring now, they are 10,000 miles away from where the church member lives. So the Christian gets restless at sermons on revival, believing that it is better to confront the reality of today rather than be overwhelmed with nostalgia for the past or with longing for a future he may never see. I feel there is some kind of betrayal of living New Testament Christianity in the revival illusion. We wouldn’t accept the work of the Holy Spirit, true prayer or gospel preaching to be20illusive, or in other words, to be occurring in the past or future, or to be found on another continent, and not existing here and now. There is the real danger of living vicarious Christian lives through what we imagine revival to have been, and we dare not do that.

ii] Revival sermons, instead of being inspiring, can be depressing. They begin with long descriptions of how horrible the times are in which we live, with bleak statistics underlining a nation’s bankruptcy, moral decline and ecclesiastical collapse. We hearers then never recover from this long encounter with today’s darkness. We do not enjoy our noses being rubbed in the follies of a fallen world because we see that each day. Maybe at the end of the sermon our feelings are back to where they were before the sermon began, but often they are not. The theme, “things are terrible and we need a revival,” is not the most reviving experience. It can bury us.

< i>iii] Gospel messages are better than revival messages. What we long for week by week is the gospel being preached in the power of the Holy Spirit. We want Jesus Christ to be exalted and sin to be exposed as exceeding sinful. Nothing can satisfy our souls except this, and series of messages on revival or the second blessing or the baptism of the Spirit actually detract from that; we have found this to be true. It is not the work of Jesus to give glory to the Spirit. It is the work of the Spirit to glorify Christ, and so that must be our work. That is why the announcement of such a sermon as this on “The Holy Spirit and Revival” may raise questions, but we are glad when the theme of the sermon brings Jesus to us in the power of the Sovereign Spirit, and our hearts again burn within us as we hear of him whom our souls love.

iv] True revivals make us afraid, though we may be reluctant to admit it, and so we would rather not be confronted with them. We 21st century disciples of the Lord Jesus are comfy in our routines; we think the godliness we have attained in life is our limit. Do20we really want a confrontation with God the Holy Spirit which by the Word breaks our pride and increases tenfold our zeal for serving Jesus Christ? Do we want the next months of our lives to be filled, night after night, in counseling guilty, troubled sinners, pointing them to the Saviour, helping them gain assurance of salvation and seeking for them when they start to fall away? It would be a very demanding time; there would be many meetings each week which would have to be stewarded; we would often be out of our depth in personal encounters; it would take us away from pleasant evenings at the fireside with our families. We want church growth, but not something that makes demands on our souls, our lives and our all. Are we anxious to feel our helplessness, that we are sinners in the hands of an angry God? Are we truly committed to knowing today a mighty work of God in our home town? Do we want the rushing mighty wind? There will be a cost in time, and energy, and a bruising of our personalities.

Then why do we ever speak of the Holy Spirit and revival? Because this is a biblical theme which can be very encouraging. True God-fearing congregations are shrinking and increasingly marginalized in our own society.

- to be continued

- Geoff Thomas

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Holy Spirit & Revival, Pt. 1

He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour. - Titus 3:5&6

Here is a picture not of a few drops of rain, but of a downpour drenching the land. Paul is describing his experience of the work of God in his generation. He is a Jew and he is writing to a man from Greece, Titus, who is evangelizing and pastoring on the island of Crete; Paul is saying that the experience of all of them was that God in Damascus, Greece and Crete, had been pouring out generously the Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ our Saviour. Many people had been converted; cities and nations had been changed; churches had been planted everywhere ; Christians had e xperienced firm assurance of their interest in the Saviour’s blood and the fear of God had fallen on communities. This is what I understand as a revival.

The history of the church has been characterized by some very great personalities and memorable spiritual breakthroughs that have changed the history of nations. Think of Patrick and his ministry in Ireland in the fifth century, and David with his ministry in sixth century Wales. Patrick broke the power of heathenism in Ireland, and David did the same in Wales. In 8th century England, Bede and his followers preached and he translated the Gospel of John into Anglo-Saxon. In the 14th century John Wycliffe translated the Bible into English and his followers, the Lollards, preached across the land. Many of them were imprisoned and some were burnt at the stake with their Bibles tied around their necks. Savonarola preached in the 15th century Italy and many people turned to God.

The greatest outpouring o f the Holy Spirit since the time of the apostles was the 16th century Reformation. The next century was the Puritan period with Bible translation and John Bunyan and many anonymous preachers taking the gospel to the ordinary people of North America and Great Britain. The following century was the period we call the ‘Great Awakening’ in Wales, Scotland, England and America under Howell Harris, John & Charles Wesley, George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards. The 19th century saw the birth of the modern missionary movement and the gospel spreading across the South Seas and into India. The 20th century then witnessed an awakening in South Korea in which many turned to Christ, but there has been no similar revival in China, although millions there have come to a knowledge of the living God.

I wonder whether Jonathan Edwards was right when he claimed that the work of the gospel has been most advanced by revivals? Consider America today; it is the strongest Christian nation in the world with vast numbers of gospel congregations, growing seminaries, Christian colleges, a network of Christian schools, publishing houses, radio networks and thousands of missionaries going i nto the world. Liberal modernistic Christianity has consequently declined in the USA, and all this in the 20th century has been achieved without a revival. There has simply been regular harvests rather than those years of drought which Europe has known after which we’ve been left longing for an enormous harvest.

We have lived through a century of decline here in Wales in which we have seen in Sandfields, Port Talbot, under the ministry of Martyn Lloyd-Jones in the 1920s and 1930s, a conspicuous work of God in one church. We have, though, also seen a network of gospel churches planted across the Principality. We can do much without a great awakening, and yet if we are to make any impact on our community for Jesus Christ, there has to be a mighty work of God.

Why is it that the hearts of many Christians sink when they hear that the sermon or even a sermon series is going to be on the subject of revival? Why is a message on revival such a tur n-off for people who actually believe in great awakenings and who long for a new work of t he Holy Spirit in our land? Why are we merely interested in Lloyd-Jones’s studies on the baptism of the Spirit, when we’ve often been revived by his preaching on the great themes of the gospel? The truth is that those latter sermons have indeed raised us up and re-motivated us in a way that no sermons on revival ever did.

What are the reasons for the wariness with which godly men and women listen to messages on this theme? I suppose there are numbers of answers and we will begin to gives those next time. - to be continued

- Geoff Thomas

Monday, October 6, 2008

Spiritual Progress

Many sincere Christians feel that they make no progress in the divine life because they do not attain all that they desire. But one real view of Jesus, one sin put to death, one temptation conquered, one worldly habit broken, one sunbeam of holy joy shining upon the soul-- these are victories achieved and spiritual blessings possessed, more wonderful and important that the taking of a city, and more enriching that the conquest of a world. It may be through deep trials, in the face of powerful opposition and great weakness, that the advanced steps have been made. Nevertheless, it has brought the heart nearer to God, has transcribed some presence and image of Jesus on the soul, and is so much actual gain in the believer's progress towards heaven.

- Octavius Winslow

Friday, October 3, 2008

A Time to Act

I may get the anger of someone stirred up over this, but it seems to me to be just too important to leave anything unsaid any longer.

Many of you know of Mark Driscoll, the pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle; he has spoken now more than once for Pastor John Piper's ministry in their Desiring God conferences. Some of you probably are not familiar with him, so you may disregard this plea.

The important and very public issue in this email is Driscoll's continued improper and dirty language from the pulpit and his justification of it by using or twisting Scripture to justify it.

Below is a paragraph of a believer who has recently listened to Driscoll from the most recent Desiring God conference and is grieved by his conduct from the pulpit; please read their concern and prayerfully consider if an expression to Dr. Piper and Desiring God Ministries is not in order at this time because of their wide influence;

"Driscoll is not actually in the "emergent" movement, he came out of it and is conservative and reformed in his doctrine... but he does have coarse joking, sexual jokes and other filth in his sermons. He claims he has repented of it, but it has continued without any breaks. I just got done listening to his sermon at Piper's conference and he basically defended all of his language in the pulpit as imitating Jesus (for example in Matthew 23) and Paul in Philippians 3 and Galatians (although he brought up tons of other texts)... the problem is, that most of his language is in the sermon just to be funny, not because he is dealing with bad doctrine or false teachers... he uses bad language in a flippant manner and everyone laughs... but when Jesus and Paul used harsh strong language, the result was not laughter... we don't hear the disciples laughing in the background of Matthew 23 or anywhere else. Driscoll seems to have one mode... funny, and that is just not the right tone for the pulpit. He was a comedian before he got saved and he seems to not be able to distinguish between a pastor and a comedian... or he has refused to put down the idol of being the funny guy. I plan on listening to the Q&A with Driscoll, Piper and one of the other speakers... I hope Piper steps up and does something to redeem his name." - end of quote

As many Christians who love and appreciate Dr. Piper's ministry ought to speak up to them about this and ask them to take a public stand separating themselves from Driscoll on this; perhaps they are going to; we will see; but their silence about it only validates his approach, which can only hurt the testimony of their ministry, cause many to believe that such a thing is somehow valid in trying to relate truth to this world, and most of all, dishonors the Lord and the purity of the gospel and His Word.

There is a time to be silent and there is a time to speak up and act, especially when truth is on trial; this seems to be one of those times; it very well may be that Bethlehem Baptist leaders and elders have already take a good stand on this; if they have, it will encourage them to hear from as many as possible; if they have not, its all the more important for them to hear from many who appreciate them. When they were being tempted to compromise their position on baptism, different brethren in and outside of their church encouraged them to not do it, and they changed their mind and did not compromise.

My encouragement to you, if you feel led by the Lord to do so, is to email Dr. Piper specifically at Desiring God or at the church, and express real concern about this; be gracious, be humble, but be clear and uncompromising, encouraging them to do what is right and publically renounce such a practice and viewpoint. Let's be their friend, because faithful are the wounds of a friend.

Also, feel free to send this to as many believers as possible who love their ministry.

- Mack T.

Praise God from Whom all Blessings Flow !

"The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all." - 2 Cor. 13:14

Someone once said of the doctrine of the Trinity: "Try to explain it, and you'll lose your mind. Try to deny it, and you'll lose your soul!" I agree. The concept of the one God as a trinity of co-equal, yet distinct, persons is the most intellectually taxing and baffling doctrine in Scripture. It is a mystery that transcends reason, in the sense that we cannot exhaustively comprehend it, yet does not violate reason or require that we believe a logical contradiction.

Does the doctrine of the Trinity demand that the Christian perform some sort of convoluted spiritual arithmetic? After all, how can 1 + 1 + 1 = 1? To answer this, we must give full weight to three lines of evidence in the Bible.

First, the Bible is decidedly monotheistic. That there is but one God is an assertion at the very heart of the Judeo-Christian tradition. "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one" (Deut. 6:4; see also 1 Cor. 8:4-6; 1 Tim. 2:5; Exod. 3:13-15; 15:11; 20:2-3; Isaiah 43:10; 44:6; 45:5-6; 45:14,18,21-22; 46:9; Zech. 14:9; John 17:3; James 2:19; Rom. 3:30. In summary, there is but one God and one God only.

Second, the Bible is no less clear that the Father is God, as is the Son, as well as the Holy Spirit. But how can three be God and yet God be one? There is no escaping the fact that the biblical authors assert both truths. Clearly the Godhead is not an undifferentiated solitary oneness, but a oneness that subsists in multiplicity.

Third, alongside the biblical testimony that God is one and that three are God is the multitude of texts which in some fashion unite the three who are God; hence our term triunity. In addition to 2 Corinthians 13:14, we could also point to Matthew 28:19 and Ephesians 4:4-6. On several occasions the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are mentioned together in united activity or purpose relating to the life and ministry of Jesus: at his conception (Lk. 1:35), baptism (Mt. 3:16-17; John 1:33-34), in the working of his miracles (Mt. 12:28), and at his ascension (Lk. 24:49). The three are also portrayed as united in the work of revelation and redemption (see Acts 2:38-39; Rom. 14:17-18; 15:16,30; 2 Cor. 1:21-22; Gal. 4:6; Eph. 2:18-22; 3:14-19; Col. 1:6-8; 2 Thess. 2:13-14; Titus 3:4-6; Heb. 10:29; 1 Peter 1:2; 1 John 4:2,13-14; Jude 20-21; Rev. 1:4-5).

As far as I can tell, there are only three possible ways to respond to this evidence. The first alternative is to stress the unity of the one God to the exclusion of the full and co-equal deity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This view, rightly denounced by the early church as heretical, is found in virtually all expressions of contemporary Unitarianism and in most forms of theological liberalism.

The second alternative is to stress the distinctiveness of the Father, Son, and Spirit to such a degree that the result is Tritheism, a form of Polytheism (i.e., multiple gods). The only link among the three is that they share a common purpose or will. Stress is placed on the personhood of each, the essence of which is autonomy and independent self-consciousness.

The third and, I believe, only legitimate and biblical option is to accept without alteration both the oneness of God and the full deity of Father, Son, and Spirit. This is done by saying that God is one in essence and three in person. Historic Trinitarianism does not assert that God is one and three in the same sense. Rather, that in respect to which God is one is essence (or substance), and that in respect to which God is three is person. In affirming triunity in God we are saying that God is one in a sense different from the sense in which he is three. We may thus speak about Father, Son, and Spirit both in terms of what is common to all (the divine essence or nature) and what is proper or peculiar to each (person). The Father is the same God as the Son and Spirit but not the same person. The Son is the same God as the Father and Spirit but not the same person. The Spirit is the same God as the Father and Son but not the same person. Or again, relative to deity, Father, Son, and Spirit are the same. Relative to person, they are distinct.

What I am saying, then, is that there is a sense in which God is one (essence) and a sense in which God is three (person). The one God exists eternally in three distinct but not independent persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The doctrine of the Trinity is neither logically contradictory nor inconsistent with Scripture. So much more could and should be said of the triune nature of God, but I must move on.

Paul's desire or wish, perhaps we could even say his prayer, is that the Corinthians and we would experience that grace which flows from the Lord Jesus Christ. The apostle earlier mentioned "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich" (2 Cor. 8:9). It was the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ that Paul was assured would prove "sufficient" to sustain him beneath the burden of a painful "thorn in the flesh" (2 Cor. 12:9).

Of course, we must not think that Christ is exclusively the source of grace or the Father of love or the Spirit of fellowship. The Father can also be the source of grace (1 Cor. 1:4; 2 Cor. 8:1), while love derives from both the Son and Spirit (2 Cor. 5:14; Rom. 8:35; 15:30). And we are all, by God's grace, called into fellowship or communion with the Son (1 Cor. 1:9).

Whereas it is grammatically possible for Paul to be referring to our love for God, it is unlikely. What Paul has in view in speaking of "the love of God" is similar to what he described in Romans 5:5, where the "love of God" is poured out into the hearts of his children. These fresh and incessant infusions of God's love are traceable to the Spirit's work of awakening and quickening in us an experiential awareness of God's deep and passionate affection for broken and struggling sinners.

In this parallel text in Romans 5, Paul is emphasizing the unstinting lavishness with which God has flooded our hearts with a sense of his love for us. Our hearts are immersed in this exuberant communication of God's affection. This love does not descend as drops of dew but floods and fills the heart with wave upon wave of conscious conviction.

When we speak of the objective display of God's love, we have in mind the sacrificial gift of his Son on our behalf (Rom. 5:6-8). But in both 2 Corinthians 13:14 and Romans 5:5, Paul's focus is on the subjective or experiential awakening of the soul to this remarkable truth. In other words, Paul isn't talking about knowledge that we gain by inference from a body of evidence. This is an assurance of being God's beloved that is fundamentally intuitive. One knows it to be true because through the internal work of the Spirit one knows it to be true!

Finally, and no less important, is his desire that we experience "the fellowship of the Holy Spirit." But what does this mean? Some contend that this is our fellowship or communion with the Spirit, our enjoyment of his presence and daily attentiveness to his voice. In other words, the Spirit is viewed as the one who evokes in our hearts a joyful participation in him, or a partaking of him and living in daily dependence upon him. If so, it would be similar to Paul's statement in 1 Corinthians 12:13 that we all "were made to drink of one Spirit". As true as this is in its own right, I think Paul has something else in mind.

The communion or fellowship in view is what the Spirit produces in us with one another. When interpreted this way, it ties in with the earlier statement in v. 11 regarding living in peace and agreement with one another. The Spirit alone can overcome our prejudice and resistance to others in the body of Christ and create authentic community and heartfelt affection one for another. If this is what Paul has in mind, and I believe it is, a parallel passage would be Ephesians 4:3 where he exhorts us to "maintain the unity of the Spirit in the body of peace." The Spirit graciously unites us in a bond of fellowship or communion that we must diligently preserve.

There would appear to be no better or more spiritually appropriate way to conclude than by singing:

Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!


- Sam Storms

Thursday, October 2, 2008

What is Faith?

I stopped this week at my friend Michael Durham's 3rd favorite place, Star Bucks Coffee (after his home and Oakgrove Baptist Church), to get some hot tea and study for about an hour before getting my children at school in the afternoon.

As I sat down at the table outside to enjoy the pleasant weather, I saw words written on the Star Bucks cup which intrigued me. I began to read these exact words by James Brown, a pro football television sports anchor:

"I have faith--faith in our wondrous capacity for hope, good, love and trust, for healing, and forgiveness; I have faith in the blessing of our infinite ability to wonder, question, pray, feel, think, and learn; I have faith in the infinite possibilities of the human spirit."

I began to think, smile, ponder, and then grieve-- everyone's religious in America these days; Brown sounds like he lifted a quote from yesterday's Oprah show, though he probably wrote it himself. Everybody's talking about faith today, from Obama to Joe Biden, to Rush Limbaugh, to Oprah and Hillary, to Barbara Streisand and even Madonna-- everybody loves "faith"-- it's very fasionable and in vogue to say you have faith.

It all sounds so sweet, kind, inspiring, gushy and mushy, making people want to bust out singing in unison, "We are the world, we are the people!" But the real question is this:

What in the world do they mean by faith?

Brown's words above are loudly and clearly saying one thing: "I have faith in me-- I have faith in man-- I have faith in my own endless capacity to be really good; I have endless, infinite abilities and capacities because I am human."

The world is groveling and drooling over such language every day- in advertising, in movies, in the media, in Hollywood, from L.A. to New York, in office buildings, coffee shops, in press conferences, in presidential candidates' speeches, in churches, at weddings, funerals, graduation ceremonies and in university classrooms across the country and in many towns in rural America, where ladies will have coffee together tomorrow morning. This disease is everywhere and it continues to spread.

Such words as Brown's are meant to teach only one thing-- have faith in yourself and in innate human goodness, for that is the only thing that matters. Neither Marx, Lenin, or radical atheistic communism ever had a better humanism than the words on that Star Buck's cup. America has swallowed the biggest lie of all-- I trust in myself because I am good.

Never has there been worse blindness than that. Such people are clueless as to what faith is at all. Because there is no faith apart from a true objective basis of faith-- the Word of God; and there is no object of faith that is credible and true except in one person-- Christ Himself. The Bible is the only basis of faith and Christ is the only object of faith. Accordingly, true believers are the only ones who have any faith at all and are the only ones who can even talk about faith in a true way.

There is only one faith in existence- the faith once delivered to the saints; there is only one basis of faith-- the Bible, and there is only one object of faith-- not you, not me, not man, but Jesus Christ Himself. Faith doesn't even exist apart from the exclusive reality of the Lord Jesus. Every person who has ever been on the planet is shut up in complete unbelief until he or she finds a resting place solely in Jesus Christ Himself, the only place for true faith.

Sorry, James; the hot tea was good, but the cup's advertising fluff about faith is emptier than cotton candy. I'll drink the tea, but not the faith you are spreading; I don't want it because it's not the faith of Jesus and it does not work-- cannot work-- in life, in death, or in eternity.

- Mack T.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

And the God of Love and Peace will be with You

2 Corinthians 13:11-13

There are several ways to measure Christian maturity, but perhaps none so revealing as how we respond to the demands of God when we're down. All too often we use our pain to justify sin. We appeal to how badly we've been treated or victimized or point to what we regard as injustice in order to ignore or evade our ethical responsibility.

I don't know whether the Corinthians fell prey to this temptation or took the moral high ground, but Paul wasn't about to let them off the hook. He'd be the first to admit that he wrote some hard and demanding things in this letter. He confronted them concerning their unfounded suspicions about his apostolic calling. He rebuked them for their triumphalist pretensions. He warned them of impending discipline should they choose not to repent.

One might have thought Paul would ease up a bit or perhaps display a measure of flexibility in what he expected from these people. But as far he was concerned, there was never an excuse for sin, never a way to rationalize our moral sloth, never a reason to compromise on the fervency with which we pursue wholeness in the body of Christ.
That is why here, at the close of 2 Corinthians (13:11-13), he says to a church made sorrowful by sin, "rejoice"! That is why here he appeals to a church fractured by self-seeking, "aim for restoration"! Without the slightest hesitation he calls on them to "comfort one another, agree with one another" and "live in peace"! And he expects those who harbor suspicion and ill-will to set aside their differences and "greet one another with a holy kiss"! The three verses that concern us read as follows:

"Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.

There are six imperatives, each of which is undergirded by the same promise.

(1) Rejoice! As counter-intuitive as it may seem, and notwithstanding the many reasons one may feel justified for sulking in self-pity, we are to rejoice (cf. Phil. 4:4; 1 Thess. 5:16). I'm reminded of how Paul described his underlying motivation in ministry back in chapter one. In accounting for his change of travel plans, he made clear that everything he did was to increase and deepen their joy in Jesus (2 Cor. 1:23-24). As much as they thought Paul was curtailing their freedom or inflicting undue distress or stepping beyond his rightful authority, he was actually working to remove obstacles to genuine joy and re-directing their lives to a place where the fullness of God's blessing and power and grace can be felt.

I think Paul would have said to them, "But pursuing joy is often painful. It frequently requires personal sacrifice and a loss of carnal comforts and a change in one's thinking and heart-felt humility and repentance from sin and a severing of unhealthy relationships and a willingness to subordinate short term worldly pleasures for long term spiritual satisfaction. So, yes, rejoice! Rejoice that God is your Father and Jesus your Savior and the Spirit your strength. Rejoice!"

(2) Aim for restoration! Be made complete! Many divisions and disagreements exist among you. Don't settle for splintering as if you can't hope for more. Unity and mutual forgiveness are essential. Look closely for the relational damage that has been inflicted and heal it. Search out the spiritual stress fractures in your body and mend them.

(3) Comfort one another! Many are hurting from sin and conviction and feel cut off and abandoned. Others are suffering the consequences of false teaching and the deception of those who say they are apostles and are not. And when you think that you've run dry of comfort or that it is too demanding or that you'd be happy to comfort others if only they'd comfort you first, recall that God is the "Father of mercies and God of all comfort" and that he will comfort you in all your anguish so that you "may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction" with the very comfort with which you are comforted by God (see 2 Cor. 1:3-4).

(4) Agree with one another! Be like-minded! Think the same thing! Don't settle for agreeing to disagree (cf. Phil. 4:2; cf. also Rom. 12:16; 1 Cor. 1:10). Modern evangelicals who share a common allegiance to the Scriptures," notes Carson, "would do well to foster this sort of attempt to come to one mind and thought as to what the Scriptures mean. Too many of us are so threatened by our fellow believers or are so bound up with our denominational distinctives, that we are afraid to be reformed by the word of God or too proud to be corrected by those with whom we disagree. The apostle expects us to work at the business of being of one mind.

(5) Live in peace! Put an end to conflict and bickering. Some may question Paul's sincerity on this point. After all, has he not been disruptive in Corinth by challenging the false teachers? Has he not created turmoil by identifying unrepentant sin and holding all accountable for their complicity in it? Yes. But such "disruptions" and "turmoil" are often a necessary medicinal antidote to restoring the sort of "peace" that is peace indeed. Peace at the price of purity is no virtue. Peace attained only by theological compromise is but an artificial calm and will not sustain people through persecution and suffering.

(6) Greet one another with a holy kiss (v. 12)! There is no parallel for this action in the religious life of the synagogue of that day. The "holy kiss," therefore, was a Christian innovation (see also 1 Thess. 5:26; 1 Cor. 16:20; Rom. 16:16; 1 Peter 5:14a). This is not a kiss of erotic affection but one that transcended, indeed ignored, gender and race and social status and signified reconciliation and forgiveness and mutual affections, all indications that they had put things right in their relationships, or were at least committed to doing so.

But what is the point of Paul's statement that "the God of love and peace will be with you" (v. 11b)? Love and peace are undoubtedly attributes of God. Love and peace are to characterize us in our relations with one another because they are first and most fundamentally seen in God. But there's more to Paul's portrayal of what God is like.

Some believe that v. 11b identifies the result or perhaps even the reward of their following the six moral injunctions. If you do this, God will do that. If you want to experience his presence, obey him. There's certainly a measure of truth in this. There are numerous occasions in Scripture where obedience and holiness and fervency of faith result in greater intimacy with the Lord and a deepened sense of his presence. The assurance that "God will draw near" to us is predicated on our first drawing "near to God" (James 4:8). It is those who are "pure in heart" who are told they shall "see God" (Matthew 5:8). But I'm not persuaded that this is what Paul has in view in this passage.

I'm more inclined to think that Paul's words are his way of identifying the promised resources by which they are enabled to fulfill the imperatives. In other words, it's as if he says, "Lest you think this is an impossible task, a requirement that will never be fulfilled, I assure you that the God from whom love for one another and peace in the body of Christ come will be with you to provide the very things he requires. God is always present to fulfill in us whatever he requires from us. God does not merely command, but supplies the resources essential to obey. Thus God is not only characterized by love and peace; he actually imparts these virtues to empower believers to fulfill what is required of them.

As spiritually dysfunctional as the Corinthians may be, as confused about the nature of apostolic ministry as they obviously are, God is more than ready and able to supply them with the love for one another so essential to life in the body of Christ. As divisive and cantankerous as they've been, the God who is himself peace can provide all the power they need to set aside petty disagreements and to overcome selfish ambition. Let us never forget that whatever God requires, God provides!

- Sam Storms