Faith and its Result
This blog is in response to a question I received from one of our members concerning the necessity of sanctification and the unpacking of saving faith...
As I have stated prior to this, I am generally not a fan of terminology that is not obviously Biblical. I prefer to simply teach the truth as it is and leave the terms on the shelf. Therefore, very rarely will you hear me - apart from jest - mention the words “Calvinism”, “Limited Atonement”, “Non-cessational”, or “Lordship Salvation.” I have witnessed again and again terms such as these spit out at the launch of a conversation, and thereby many believers are already pre-determined in their minds against any explanation that is to follow.
Therefore, as I approach this topic in response to your question, I do so, hopefully, equipped only with the Scripture and the historical stance of the church, and not with my opinions, upbringing, and terms. “Lordship” unfortunately has come to be associated with judgmentalism, comparison, and - at times - even a works based Christianity. This is not Lordship according to Scripture. Lordship has to do with Jesus Christ being King, and therefore, our Sovereign to who we owe our undying, unwavering allegiance and submission.
One of the greatest debates that has raged between Protestants and Catholics since the Reformation era is the subject of Sola Fide - Faith Alone. As I’m sure you know, in response to the corruption and watershed of heresy within the church of that day, the Reformers - having been ex-communicated from the church - rose up in opposition with Scripture in hand, endeavoring to return to the roots of true Christianity. From this revolution came the five battle cries known as the solas (Latin for only or alone): Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Solus Christus, Soli Deo Gloria. These truths brazenly declare that the Bible is our final authority on all Divine truth, trumping all opinions of man and all decisions of a pope; and that this Bible states plainly that salvation comes through the grace of God alone (apart from any and all works of mankind), by saving faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone, for God’s glory alone (or primarily). Stemming from this time and these declarations, the Catholic Church has been embattled with the Protestants for the past 700 years. Former protestants have gone the way of Roman Catholicism because “Sola Fide” does not mesh with passages such as James 2, Ephesians 2:10; Philippians 2:12 and countless others. These portions of the Word indicate very clearly that the Faith Alone argument that many North American believers cling to is, undeniably, false.
Now, let me be extremely forthright. I wholeheartedly attest to and rest in the reality of Sola Fide. I believe that the means by which I am saved is only faith. This does not mean that faith saves me, but instead that Christ Jesus saves me through simple faith in Him. Now to the one who works, his wage is not reckoned as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness (Romans 4:4-5). Those who trust Jesus Christ (our only Merit and Mediator) for justification, by faith alone, receive a perfect righteousness that is imputed to them. Those who attempt to establish their own righteousness, or mix faith with works, only receive the horrific penalty that is due all who fall short of perfection. Even Israel's apostasy was rooted in their abandonment of justification by faith alone: For not knowing about God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God (Romans 10:3). Justification (the act by which our God declares us righteous) and sanctification (the process in which He progressively makes us righteous), though Divinely linked together, must never be fused as one. When this occurs faith is diluted with works and we begin preaching a gospel that is foreign to the New Testament. In summation, I hope to be so obvious that it is painful - I do not ascribe to the heresy propagated by religious people all over the world, including popes and priests, who claim that faith and works are intrinsically woven together so that both are necessary for our salvation. Christ Jesus accomplished it all. He has become our sin. He has carried our iniquity. He has paid the price required to set us free. He has stood in our place, endured Divine wrath, borne Divine rejection, gone to the grave, and conquered death through His resurrection. Through His knowledge, obedience, sacrifice, and exaltation He has guaranteed for us eternal redemption, reconciliation, and sonship. All that is required of you and I, and every other individual, is faith in this suffering Lamb and conquering Lion. So the whole of pure Christian doctrine stands or falls with this truth of Sola Fide.
However, (and I realize that after stating all that I have just shared, to say however will make many cringe) it is vitally important that we understand the nature of saving faith. Praise God that Christ has procured for us salvation, and that we are forever declared holy if we simply believe/have faith/trust in Him; but the obvious question now is: what does it mean to believe in or have faith in Jesus? The answer to this question, my friend, in much of modern evangelicalism, has, I believe, stripped the power of the Holy Spirit, perverted the message of the Gospel, and grieved the heart of God.
“How do I become a Christian?” a child, teen, or adult asks. The response from most evangelicals: “Just believe in Jesus.” I understand that this is the phrase the Apostle Paul delivered to the Philippian jailor in Acts 16:31, but we must assume (and the assumption is not far-fetched) that the jailor had either previously heard the message of Paul or that he had been subjected to the truth found in this Jesus through the trial, beating, and imprisonment of Paul and Silas. Otherwise, when Paul declares, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” the jailor would have to obviously wonder, who is Jesus and what does it mean to believe in Him?
The tragic error within Christianity is that many preach saving faith as merely a mental assent to the truth. There are three components of saving faith that must be understood. In the Latin these three components are: notitia, assensus, and fiducia. Notitia is knowledge - the actual content of the gospel and an intellectual (at least to a certain extent) grasp of God, sin, separation, and salvation. Assensus, is the act by which the intellect acknowledges the truth of notitia, apart from any personal trust or saving appropriation of that knowledge. This, my friend, is where doctrine and evangelism reaches its climax for many Christians. The goal is not surrender of life to Jesus as Sovereign and Savior, but rather the mental, and thereby verbal, acknowledgment of the truth. This is not saving faith for it is incomplete, irreverant, unbiblical, and insulting to the power and work of the Holy Spirit. Fiducia is the final component of saving faith as clearly stated in Scripture. Fiducia is trust which appropriates savingly, by an act of the will, through the work of regeneration, the true knowledge of the promises of God in Christ.
Let me explain a little more simply. If a building is burning and you are trapped inside, and I come running in to herald the news that the torched structure is about to collapse and we must escape, followed by the command to follow me to safety, you are left with a decision. You either trust my proclamation or you don’t. If you don’t trust me then you will remain where you are; if you do trust, you will no doubt follow me to safety. The idiocy comes in when you look back at me and declare that you do trust me, and believe that the building will collapse, and yet you refuse to follow me. Sitting idly by, you smile and assent to the truth, all the while denying through your actions what you claim to believe with your mouth. If this scenario actually presented itself I must be left to assume one of three things: (1) you are crazy and don’t understand the seriousness of the problem, (2) you’re a masochist and want to die, or (3) you don’t actually believe my message, for if you actually believed and wanted to live you would follow me.
Our current situation in evangelicalism is dire. We have millions of professing Christians still sitting in their spiritually burning buildings, smiling as they claim to believe that Jesus is the only way, yet refusing to actually follow Him. This is not Biblical, saving faith. Saving faith is not simply understanding (notitia) sin, punishment, and salvation, and attesting (assensus) to this truth, but actually trusting (fiducia) the One who calls us to follow Him.
Ephesians 2:8-9 is clear that the whole process of salvation (grace and faith) is a free gift of God, not a work in ourselves. Therefore, the faith that we exercise in Christ Jesus, is not our own faith (else it would be a work) but rather is saving faith given to us by the mercy of God. Philippians 1:29 is another text which makes this perfectly obvious: For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him. Our believing in Christ was not found in ourselves, but was given to us as a gift of grace. This is how there is no reason for boasting.
With this understanding in mind, Ephesians 2:10 begins to make much more sense: For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. You see, the sanctification that follows justification is not one with justification, but two separate realities, Divinely linked together that will be true of every single believer in Jesus. Before the foundation of the world was laid, the Father ordained for all His children to actually walk in His way becoming conformed to the image of His Son (Romans 8:28-29).
Earlier I stated that to believe in the notitia and assensus components of saving faith, and yet disregard the fiducia element was to, at least in theory, strip the Holy Spirit of His power and insult Him in His role. The reason for this is that, while many professing Christians forget the reality and result of the Holy Spirit within our lives, the Holy Spirit is - within every true child of God - slowly making them more like Jesus (Romans 15:16; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Peter 1:2; 1 Corinthians 6:11). Our striving to be more Christ-like is only possible through the power of the Spirit of God within us. Therefore, to say that a person can trust in Jesus for justification, but be transformed none at all through sanctification (or in essence, that sanctification for a believer is optional and not a by-product of justification) is to grossly twist the truth of Scripture and grieve the Holy Spirit by minimizing (or nullifying) His work.
I do believe and preach that if someone has been born again by the Spirit, and justified by the Son, then they will produce, in varying degrees, evidence of becoming more like the Savior they love and trust. This evidence does not make them a Christian but rather honors their King and lends credence to their profession. It is not my calling to judge anyone, but rather to use godly discernment foremost on myself to examine myself to see if I am indeed in the faith.
To hold to the Biblical definition of saving faith - notitia, assensus, and fiducia - sheds Divine light on “difficult” passages like James 2, Philippians 2:12-13, 1 Corinthians 15:1-2, almost all of 1 John 3 and countless others. To pluck out and abandon any of these components not only leads into serious error within our own soteriological stance, but renders us incapable of actually intellectually addressing the issues of Spirit induced sanctification, surrender, and the perseverance of the saints.
Baptism versus Filling of the Holy Spirit
When dealing with the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the filling of the Holy Spirit it is vital that we under the distinct differences of these two Divine works. At the moment of conversion we are each baptized with the Holy Spirit of God (Matthew 3:11; 1 Corinthians 12:13). Spirit-baptism is a metaphor that describes our reception of the Spirit at the moment of our conversion to Jesus in faith and repentance. When we believe and are justified, we are immersed in and saturated by the Spirit. We are, as a result of this, made members of the body of Christ, incorporated into the church, and can never fall from grace but are sealed by the Holy Ghost of promise (Eph. 1:13-14; 4:30). This baptism of the Spirit is an instantaneous, unrepeatable, and permanent miracle of saving grace.
Though there is only one baptism of the Holy Spirit, there are numerous "fillings" of the Spirit. It is clear from the New Testament that through submission to the truth and love for Christ we can be filled with the Holy Spirit. It is also clear that when we reject truth, refusing to walk in obedience, we grieve the Spirit (Eph. 5:18). Typically, the evidence of being filled with the Spirit of God is the power of the Gospel guiding our lives, boldness in proclaiming truth, purity in life, and authentic worship of Jesus. The filling of the Spirit can, but not always, manifest itself through the display of gifts, such as knowledge, prophecy (encouragement and edification through the proclamation of truth) or tongues. In no New Testament text are we ever commanded to be baptized with the Holy Ghost, but we are commanded to be filled with the Spirit.
I am not a cessationalist because I do not believe that Scripture anywhere teaches that gifts of the Spirit have ceased. However, at the same time, when the Spirit moves in power, gifts are only ever manifested in accordance to Biblical revelation. Therefore, if someone speaks in tongues, but does so outside of the Biblical parameters (either speaking their own language and others hearing in their own [Acts 2], or speaking in an unknown language with no more than three doing this and having an interpreter present [1 Corinthians 14:26-28]) then that person is not filled with the Holy Spirit and is actually grieving the Spirit through the disobedience of inspired Scripture.
So, in these issues of Cessationalism and the gifts of the Spirit of God, it is vitally important that we, as always, run everything through the grid of sacred writ. Cessationalism is not Biblical (and anyone basing it on 1 Corinthians 13 has some major hoops to jump through); but neither is the open chaos and jibberish that is filling many churches today. Our Father is the author of order not confusion, and He has established Biblically how gifts are to be used.
Finally, I will say this, it concerns me greatly today that many Christians get hung up on the filling of the Holy Spirit and whether or not you must speak in tongues, yet there is a complete absence of mandatory holiness, evangelism, prayer, and spiritual discipline in many lives which should always accompany Spirit filling. Tongues has been transformed into a grotesque (and confusing) idol in many churches. All of the gifts of the Holy Spirit have been given to evangelize the lost, edify the body, and bring great glory to our Sovereign.
A Review of "The Bible" series on the History Channel (Episode 2)
Last week I caught a barrage of friendly fire when I lit into “The Bible” mini-series on the History Channel. Apparently, a few deemed my approach to the show to be unwarranted, defending it by stating that it was presenting Biblical accounts - however inaccurate and Christless they might be - to millions of Scripturally uneducated people. So, to appease some of you, and redirect any censure that might come beaming my way, I will reserve my personal opinions, jokes, and scrutiny for only those wanting to hear it.
There is one element, though, that I believe must be addressed, as we strive to be Biblically minded theologians. Looking back across my pastorate I have encountered dozens of individuals who, as if struck with an original thought, conveyed to me that the God of the Bible is not the same throughout. That, in fact, Jehovah of the Old Testament is furious and hostile, while Jesus of the New Testament is amiable and gracious. They state candidly that they cannot worship and serve the God of Israel, while they have no problem lining up with the God of the New Covenant.
As I labored through the show last evening I tried to put myself in the shoes of someone who is unchurched, non-religious, unsaved. In doing so I came away turned off by a barbaric deity that murdered whole people groups because, apparently, He was sadistic and His people blood-thirsty. If you know me, you understand that I am not one for removing the gore and violence from the Bible. Genesis, Exodus, Joshua, and Judges are unapologetically gritty and saturated in savagery, but if you read these passages in their entirety you begin to understand why.
People are sinful - desperately depraved - and God is, to an unfathomable degree, holy. He detests sin, abhorring every act, word, or thought of wickedness. Every murder, every disease, every proud king, every fallen city spews not necessarily from the order of the Lord (though He is sovereign over them and sometimes uses these things in His grand purpose) but rather from the corruption of the human heart. The reason that the flood came upon the earth, that inhabitants of Jericho were destroyed, that the Philistines were massacred by Sampson, that Samson was blinded by his enemies, that Saul fell upon his own sword, that David had sex with a married woman and then murdered Uriah is for no other reason than that all of these men and women were rebelling against the God of glory.
“The Bible” series does not convey this. I have already heard from non-Christians who watched the show last evening who communicated this very problem. God seems like a vicious, cold-hearted brute, which sadly will only reinforce the popular opinion of our godless culture. Conveniently, though probably not intentionally, omitted from the two hour episode last evening were the beautiful promises and loving invitations that are strewn across the Old Testament. Passages such as Isaiah 55:1 or Jeremiah 31:3 desperately need to be heralded. Jehovah God is not a callous butcher, and Jesus is not a weak-willed, soft-gospel preacher. The God of the Old Covenant and the God of the New are one God: the righteous Judge and loving Redeemer. He is the same in the past, in the present, and in the future (Hebrews 13:8) and will never change. Redemption is the grand “meta-narrative” of all of Scripture, and “The Bible” sadly fails to communicate this foundational truth.
So, scorn me if you will for being the narrow-minded dude that I am, but I simply believe that this series may be doing much more damage than good in presenting a God that is barbaric and a redemption that is inconspicuous.
How Does Prayer Change an Unchanging God?
This blog is in reponse to a question I received concerning prayer and the sovereignty of God...
Grappling with the perfect sovereignty of God and the flawed, albeit, legitimate volition/responsibility of man can obviously be perplexing to the human mind. Isaiah 46:9-11 makes it abundantly clear (to this theologian anyway) that the Lord not only knows all things, but has declared the end from the beginning, is charting the course of nations, and turning the hearts of men and women. According to Ephesians 1:11 our Sovereign works all things after the counsel of His will, for His pleasure. Though this reality rattles the mind and angers the heart of some, for me it is a huge comfort to know that nothing happens by accident. The omnipotent One is, with divine precision, penning His mega-narrative and nothing or no one can alter His purpose.
Now, some will attempt to corner me on the above stated theology, insisting that since I believe that the Lord has decreed the end from the beginning then I must adhere to the blasphemous claims that He indeed causes sin to occur. Though the Lord could obviously halt any single sin from ever occurring, as He has done numerous times throughout history, and though He does plan (not merely permit) for His people at times to suffer at the hands of wicked men (Acts 2:23), He does not actually cause the sin to transpire. Biblically, He loathes sin, unable to even look upon it (Habakkuk 1:13). For a vivid portrayal of how the holy One feels about wickedness, one need only look at His response to the Sin-Bearer upon the cross. As the evil of humanity was laid upon the Lamb, the Father turned His back, pouring out the full weight of His wrath upon His Son for our crimes against Him. So, no, God does not ordain sin, and therefore, God's will (at least His declared will) is not always accomplished.
What do I mean? Well, the Scripture tells us several things that are the will of God. For example, 1 Thessalonians 4:3 tells us that "this is the will of God...that you abstain from fornication." However, both Christians and non-believers have fallen into fornication/adultery thereby rejecting the declared will of the Lord. It is also the will of the Lord that believers commit themselves wholly to a local church (Hebrews 10:25). Yet, many immature Christians flounder about, rarely or never becoming truly a part of any fellowship. Furthermore, it is God's will that we always rejoice in His goodness, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, and refuse to grieve His Spirit. Followers of Jesus do however, have days where they fail to rejoice, refuse to pray, murmur in all circumstances, and do, in fact, grieve the Holy Ghost.
All the while, I am left to wonder, how could all these things occur in direct opposition to a God who truly desires them, and has the ultimate power to bring them to pass? The answer, in light of Isaiah 46 and Ephesians 1, must be that the Sovereign has decreed to permit men and women to violate His declared will. Therefore, His decretive will, in fact, will always be accomplished, though His declared will, at times, will be rejected.
Therefore, coming full circle now, prayer is not a means to manipulate the will of the Lord, but rather the method that He has given us to get in on His will. Yes, He does respond to the pleas of His people in accord with His will, but this is not just His decreed will - we are praying to see His declared will accomplished as well. This is a staggering thought that will, without fail, make many minds reel and heads ache: through prayer, the God of providence has invited you and I into the shaping of events throughout the universe. James 4:3 speaks simplistically to this point: "You do not have, because You do not ask." The apostle does not say, you would have anyway, even if you didn't ask, because I have a plan. That's not what the text declares. The Lord states plainly, you do not have because you do not ask. The sovereign Ruler of the universe has ordained for prayer to cause things to happen, that would not happen if you didn't pray. As John Piper eloquently states, "The Sovereign God of the universe who works all things according to His infinite wisdom, through prayer folds us into His causality. If you do not avail yourself to the privilege of bringing to pass events in the universe that would not take place if you didn't pray, you are acting like a colossal fool." Mind boggling, I know. But this should cause no issue with our Biblical (Reformed) Theology. We have already admitted that there are things about the Lord, particularly in His salvation of sinners that are a glorious mystery to us. This matter of God's will (both decreed and declared) holding hands with the effectual, fervent prayer of righteous children of God, and both of them in some way shaping the other, is an infinite, Scriptural truth that will be difficult for many to swallow.
Therefore, I will conclude this mini-epistle with this encouragement. When you and I pray, we are communicating with a Sovereign Father who loves us but has not revealed the entirety of His will to us. We know portions of His will from Scripture, but there are other facets of His will that are hidden. We are called, as His children, to trust Him fully, and petition Him continually. I do not believe that every request that we make of the Lord should only come from a Biblical truth - for example, while it is good to ask our Father to make us more like Jesus, cause us to hate sin, give us daily food, save the lost and cause us to love others (all these things are Biblically the Lord's will for us) there is no harm, folly, or fault in asking Him for things that aren't necessarily in His Word - such as, safety in travel, good health, financial security, or the safe arrival of an unborn child. We must however, be aware, that at times though, the Lord will deny our requests, as I mentioned yesterday morning. He does this for various reasons, and our response to such denials should be humble, and grateful, submission, knowing that He does all things well.
The Corny and Cliche
A Review of "The Bible" series on the History Channel (Episode 1)
With all the chatter recently surrounding the new “Bible” series premiering on the History Channel, I vowed to pen a blog each week addressing the good, the bad, and the theologically ugly aspects of what I wrongly assumed would be a documentary of Biblical events. Instead, what you and I got, is a fast paced (tonight’s episode spanned some 2500 years of history) drama featuring certain primary characters. All this to say, my blog will be very much different than I had originally imagined.
Obviously, I had to smirk as the opening scene of “The Bible” mini-series depicted the bald-headed Noah, apparently from the highlands of Scotland, commemorating the days of creation, the fall of humanity and Cain’s slaying of Abel, all the while running to and fro to patch leaks in his big boat. Shrugging off my judgmentalism, I forced myself to swallow the reality that this production was, no doubt, going to be cheesy and cliche in parts. So, with my diet sweet tea in hand, I settled in for the two hours of Biblical drama.
Having considered myself to be somewhat of a Scriptural fanatic, I was shocked to find that Abraham could channel his inner William Wallace when his boy Lot was being tortured by...umm, who were those people again? Furthermore, I was astounded to witness the two angels of the Lord, one moment bloodied by a few angry men, and the next moment opening a can on the wicked, though hapless citizens of Sodom. And, apparently, Moses and Pharoah’s kid were bitter rivals in their youth, and God wanted to see that rivalry burst into full flame by calling Moses back to Egypt after 40 years - thus the symbolism of the burning bush (a scene in the series which left out almost every key moment of God’s conversation with, what should have been, a bare-footed Moses). Yea, I seemingly missed all of the above stated elements in my studies of Genesis and the first half of Exodus.
Ok, so I understand that there will be liberties taken when depicting the story of the Bible. While I am not comfortable with these twists and turns I must tolerate them if I am ever going to make it through this series.
So, what of the theology communicated through this first episode? Herein lies the heart of why I record my thoughts for your enjoyment (and if you think this blog is laborious I have no idea how you made it through those two hours of History Channel TV last night) - but anyway...
From what I saw in episode one, there were no glaring theological pitfalls. I was super bummed that the entire stories of Jacob and Esua, as well as Joseph’s journey from slavery to power were completely left out. I was also looking forward with amusement to seeing Abraham call his 90 year old pageant-worthy wife his sister twice (to protect himself) and then see his son Isaac do the same thing years later. I didn’t much like seeing Lot depicted as a weakling, though I was annoyed with his wife and kind of enjoyed watching the transformation from human to salt statue.
In all seriousness, my biggest issue with the first episode - which will no doubt be my primary objection throughout - is that Jesus is the central character and hero of all the Bible. From the opening lines of Scripture we see Jesus moving in creation. We hear the prediction of His triumph in Genesis 3. We witness a vivid illustration of His salvation in the Ark of Noah. We understand the significance of Isaac, the willing and obedient son, laying down to be sacrificed by his father. We ponder the sobering reality of passover - the blood of the Lamb causes the angel of death to pass over us. Though there were references to these truths in the episode, very few viewers will come away with the realization that this is indeed the point and purpose of these events. Every one of them points forward to the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ. I know, I should be content with the fact that the History Channel didn’t completely butcher the Bible (yet); but, alas, I am left wanting more. I want the whole truth to get out.
So, my encouragement to each of you, is to intentionally discuss these prophecies with others who are watching the show. Needless to say, there are millions of people who don’t really know Jesus who will be tuning in and learning from this series. Seize the opportunity to share how all of Scripture points to our Savior (Luke 24:25-27). Then keep watching this series and reading this blog. I’m sure we’ll trip up on something crazy sooner or later.
A Cluster of Questions
“Why would Jesus not reveal the Father to everyone? Hasn’t the Father been revealed to everyone? And what does Jesus mean when He says, ‘Priests and kings have longed to see and hear the things that you see and hear...?”
As I opened my inbox last Friday I found these inquires from Luke 10, posed by a young lady within BLDG 28. This morning I got around to answering the questions and knowing that many of you have similar questions, I decided to post this blog for you to mull over.
In Luke 10:22 Jesus makes this declaration: "...no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him." In accord with His providential purpose, no one knows the Son except God the Father. This is how things would continue to be, with no one understanding who the eternal Son was, had not the Father sovereignly orchestrated Jesus' coming to earth. Through the incarnation, the atonement, and the resurrection, the Father revealed His Son to humanity.
Conversely, no one can truly know the Father, unless Jesus, who is intimately connected to His Father, chooses to reveal Him. In John 14:9 Jesus says to Philip, "Whoever has seen me, has seen my Father." Biblically it is clear that truth cannot be spiritually discerned through unaided human reason. The general revelation of the Father is seen through the first coming of Christ. However, mankind rejects the Father and His Son, blaspheming the Holy Spirit in the process. People do not see the worth of Jesus, nor the true love of the Father. Jesus spoke of the darkened state of the human heart and will in John 6:44: "No one can come to me unless the Father who has sent me draws him." Owing to our mental, emotional, and volitional incarceration in sin, further action is necessary by the merciful One. Through the power of regeneration (2 Timothy 1:9; John 3:3-7; Ephesians 2:4-5; Colossians 2:13; Titus 3:5) the Holy Spirit illuminates the mind, awakens the heart, and softens the will of sinners. Following this miraculous event, the sinner then turns to Jesus, embracing Him by faith (John 3:15-16; John 1:12-13; Ephesians 2:8-9). The culmination of this process is that by the regeneration of the Spirit, and justification through the Son, we have reconciliation with the Father. This is what Jesus was stating in this passage. The Father knows the Son and sends Him into the world to be known. The Son knows the Father and not only lives, dies, and rises to reveal His glory, but actually opens the door through which the Spirit of God works to bring people to Jesus and unite them to the Father.
As for your question, why would Jesus not reveal the Father to everyone? He has done this generally through the means mentioned above. Everyone has the opportunity before them to look to Jesus and live. However, Scripturally they will not do this (Romans 3:11). Therefore, Jesus reveals Himself salvifically through the Spirit of God to the elect of God. Why does He not reveal Himself to all men savingly, thereby securing their eternal redemption? The obvious and final answers are (1) because that is not the Father's decreed will (though it is to some degree the desire of His heart [1 Timothy 2:6; 2 Peter 3:9]); and (2) I do not know. Both of these responses, particularly number 2, will irritate many. What we must keep in mind, though, is that while we can Biblically discern, to some extent, the workings of the Triune God in salvation, we cannot begin to fathom the reason why Father, Son, and Holy Spirit chose to save only some - or quite honestly, any at all. Therefore, when cornered with the query of "why does God do...?" the finite answer to such an infinite question is always: because He wants to, and other than that, I have no idea. There is no shame in worshipping and serving a God whose wisdom and ways are inscrutable.
As for your second question: In verse 24 it states that many prophets and kings desired to see and hear "these" things but did not. Why could they not see these things and more specifically, what are these things?
This is a great question, and the answer is incredibly comforting. All prophets (Isaiah, Nahum, Amos, Daniel, etc.) and all Kings (David, Solomon, Josiah, Hezekiah) longed to see the coming of Messiah, and earnestly desired to hear His teaching. Throughout the Old Covenant, saints were brought to salvation by looking forward to and trusting in the promised Messiah (Romans 4:3; Galatians 3:6). However, there was a veil draped across their understanding, for they did not know all the incredible mysteries that Christ Jesus would unravel (1 Peter 1:10-12; Hebrews 1:1-3; Hebrews 11:13). When Jesus says that prophets and kings longed to see and hear these things, it was the things concerning Himself of which He spoke. He was stating that the disciples, and we as New Covenant believers, are much more privileged than were the Old Testament saints, in that we have seen the only begotten Son of God, we know that the veil separating the people from the Holy presence of the Lord has been torn in two, and we can worship with full knowledge of who Jesus is and what He has accomplished on our behalf.
Last evening Dink and I came to the section in the Pilgrim's Progress where Christian and Faithful are temporarily greeted and accompanied by a fellow named Talkative. By first impression, Talkative seems to be just as the two godly pilgrims are, holding, with verbal eloquence, to Biblical truth. However, as the conversation between the travelers progresses it becomes awkwardly evident that Talkative shares the faith of the other two in word only, for His life is grossly lacking of any true passion for Jesus, holy devotion, service to the church, spiritual care for His family, or compassion for the lost.
I fear that the same that was realized of Talkative may be apparent in some of us. Our lip-service and theological flowery of speech serves as a beautiful guise for a heart that is perhaps not truly set on worship, sanctification, and mission. I know for myself, daily Holy Spirit induced surrender is essential as I tend, even in my redeemed state, to have an inclining to err, my doctrinal profession and daily production not matching up. Needed is the sweet encouraging grace of other believers, who have been ordained by our loving Father to stir me up to love and faithfulness. So, I pray that I may fill that need for some of you even now.
May we all continue striving forward for the sake of His name and for the love of all people.
The Abridged Christianity
Just a cursory glance at Acts 2:42-47 would convince most rational individuals of one abundantly clear fact: first century Christianity and most of twenty first century Christianity are two completely different things. In the first century men were converted and instantly, without being told to do so, sold out to Biblical teaching and Gospel, communal living. In the twenty-first century men “accept Jesus” and then are almost encouraged not to speak too frequently of Jesus for fear of making others - even in the church - uncomfortable. Community and faith family, to most of these men, look more like an awkward family reunion, an escape from the badgering wife, or a possibly “Christianized” version of the Elk Club.
At Pentecost the Holy Spirit came and folks were transformed by the power of the truth; today the message of grace has become so palatable that the Holy Spirit is grieved, transformation is unpopular, and truth is relative. Salvation in the book of Acts caused the new Christians to spring into action without being told to do so; salvation in North America today causes new “Christians” to smirk at their sin, wallow in their apathy, and tell the god of their making what they want in return for half-heartedly (at best) trusting in a twisted, perverted Jesus that they have created, and upon which the apostles would turn over in their graves.
So what happened in Acts 2? Jesus was preached as He is. Sin was declared to be what it is. Repentance was heralded. And over 3,000 people were radically converted. The aftermath is astonishing to us only because we do not see similar results in our day. It would appear that everyone who believed in Jesus connected, or I should say, devoted, themselves to a local expression of the church. They craved Biblical teaching. They longed to gather for earnest prayer and authentic worship. They loved to be together in the community of faith. They could not be silenced when it came to the truth, declaring and living the Gospel with such validity that awe came upon the people and day by day more souls were being brought into the kingdom of Christ.
Cool right? Absolutely! And we are still very much living in this age of grace today. Though two millennium have passed, the commands of Jesus and the model of a true church have vacillated none at all. As a follower of Jesus Christ, you, as well as I, should be in cahoots with the believers at Pentecost. Our lives and our church should look very similar.
All this to say, at BLDG 28 we are striving to be the New Testament local church. Every event, every study, every worship gathering, every mission outreach is designed to bring each of us closer to Jesus, closer to each other, and closer to the people who we are attempting to reach with the good news. The church locally is the people of it, so as a pastor, it is incumbent upon me to figure out how to effectively release each of you, with your own set of spiritual tools, into the church and out into the world.
While mission trips, outreach opportunities, and various ministries are very good avenues to foster your own growth as a missionary (yes, each of us are called to be missionaries) the most effective ministry you should have is to those who you are sovereignly ordained to come in contact with on a daily basis. Your most tangible mission field is your home, your workplace, your school, your neighborhood, the restaurants, coffee houses, and businesses you frequent, and yes, your very own church. You have the incredible opportunity to live and give Jesus every day, and you should be taking advantage of this privilege. Do not use this as a comp-out as to why you do not get involved in the church though. Biblically, the great mission to which we have been called is to be accomplished by many individuals all under the authority of a local church. So this, my friends, is your primary objective.
While doing this, it is vitally important, just like the believers in Acts 2, to be fully committed to and involved in your faith family. To love the church, defend her, support her, and serve her. I will be sending out an email this week that will give you practical steps to do just that. Looking forward to pressing forward with each of you for the sake of His name, His glory, and His Gospel.
10 Books Every Christian Should Read (Part 1)
The task to compile a concise list of the books that every Christian should read was certainly not an easy one. More than a time or two I have raked my mind, scanned my shelves, and waded through my history as a follower of Jesus, to call to mind those written works (in addition to Word) that have rocked my soul and driven me to a deeper love for Christ. The result is, I firmly believe, a list of 10 books that will, for any true disciple of Jesus, ignite the heart and fuel the mission.
As a disclaimer I will simply state that this list is one pastor's humble opinion, and is not a list of my top 10 books for ministers, or my top 10 works on theology. I have purposefully selected volumes that are easy to meander through, realizing that we, as brothers and sisters, are all at different levels of spiritual maturity and literary aptitude.
Also, I will adamantly declare that these books, and others like them, should only serve to complement the Word of God in our lives. Do not replace inspired Scripture with human scribbling. As Spurgeon often stated, "Visit many books, but live in the Bible."
So, for those who love to read, as well as those who don't (as if you're even reading this blog) here are the 10 books that I believe every Christian should read:
Notable mention: Knowing God by J.I. Packer
I read this work in my freshman year of college and endeavored to wrap my mind around the theology of it. Following my conversion in 2008, I dove into Knowing God again, and this time came away with much more than intellectual stimulation - I came away with an unrivaled awe and affection for God. With extreme clarity and authenticity, Packer paints an intensely accurate picture of God. The doctrinal side of the Sovereign One is established, but without forgetting the vitality of personally encountering the Lord.
10. Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem
Every Christian should certainly read at least one systematic theology early on in their pilgrimage. While the writings of Berkhof and Hodge are stout, in my opinion there is not a finer systematic theological explanation than that of Grudem. His writing is easily understood, Biblically accurate, and God exalting.
9. The Misery of Job and the Mercy of God by John Piper
I realize that some will question my inclusion of this book to the list; after all, it is, at first glance, a lengthy poem on the life of job. But having witnessed the perpetual pain of others throughout my pastorate, and been routinely questioned about how a loving God permits suffering, I believe that a book such as this is paramount. With eloquent brilliance, Piper paints a picture in the reader's mind, causing us to feel Job's agony, scorn His friends, adore His God, and ponder the depths of human misery and Divine mercy.
8. The Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler
With his remarkable gift of communication coursing through his pen, Chandler's first written work is easily one of the clearest presentations in print of what the true Gospel actually is. While half of the book is a doctrinal treatise on the Gospel, the latter half of the book addresses the impact of that Gospel. If you struggle with reading at all, begin your literary journey here. I promise that you will not regret it.
7. Foxe's Book of Martyrs by John Foxe
Outside of Scripture, my first primary exposure to Christian literature was the biographies of men and women who accomplished incredible things through the Gospel of Jesus. David Livingstone, the missionary to Africa, was my hero as a child. The prayer life of George Muller, the faith of Hudson Taylor, and the ingenuity of Amy Carmichael were all convicting and inspiring to me. The two volume set by Arnold Dallimore on the life of George Whitfield made my heart yearn for awakening. However, without question, the one book of narratives that has brought chills to my spine, tears to my eyes, and courage to my ministry more than any other is Foxe's Book of Martyrs. To relive the stories of these men, women, and children who willingly - and gladly - gave their lives for the Gospel truth is fascinating and compelling. After reading this book I believe that your view of missions, persecution, and that which is valuable will forever be altered.
6. Radical by David Platt
While perhaps, to a slight extent, lacking the smoothness and color with which Chan or Chandler write, Platt's genuine passion for Jesus and the global mandate to make disciples flows through the pages of Radical. With no reservation, the earnest plea falls to abandon all else in pursuit of making Christ known throughout the nations. This book will, without question, challenge the minds and convict the hearts of its readers. The message of Radical, which is the message of Luke 14, is desperately needed in our day, and I for one am thrilled that Platt held nothing back in delivering it.
10 Books (Part 2)
5. The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer
I read through the pages of Pursuit for the first time as a young teen, again in my college years, and a third time in 2010. Each time I was moved in very different, but equally profound ways. Tozer certainly channels the Psalmist who stated, "As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul longs for you, oh God." This work is riddled with jewels, perhaps none so stunning as the chapter entitled, "Removing the Veil." If your desire is to know and love Christ more then this is a book that you need to read now!
4. Don't Waste Your Life by John Piper
So many of us flitter away our existence with the mundane things that matter not at all. The passionate challenge from Piper from page one is a plea to young and old alike - "Don't Waste Your Life!" Beginning with the tragedy of a wasted life, the author then turns to what it means to make something of life, and who is at the center of a life unwasted. I meandered through this work shortly after completing college and it was through these Scripture laced pages that the Lord lit within me the fire to grab hold of life, and live for the sake of the Gospel, the good of others, and the glory of God. I believe it will undoubtedly do the same for you.
3. The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
There is something very compelling about reading the words of a man who was not only willing to die for his allegiance to Jesus, but actually did. This is one of the things that has always drawn me to the inspired writings of Paul the apostle, and it is certainly gripping when reading the scribblings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer - the 39 year old pastor who was martyred in Nazi Germany. As if his own personal saga is not reason enough to pick up a copy of his most famous work, the truth heralded through the pages of The Cost of Discipleship certainly should be.
2. All of Grace by Charles Spurgeon
I would dare say that no illustration has leeched to my mind quite like that of the painter and the beggar in this unrivaled work on the grace of Jesus. For those who are actually interested in this quick and elegant read, I will not spoil the story here. Throughout this portrait of grace, the prince of preachers turns the reader's gaze, with artistic ease, repeatedly away from self and upon the Lamb of Calvary. Grace was tragically abused in Spurgeon's day, and is stupendously misunderstood in ours. No matter how accurate your view of Divine grace may be, it can only be enhanced and enriched by this timeless classic.
1. The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan
From a very early age I was subjected to this, the king of all Christian classics. I recall scanning the colorful illustrations as my mother read to me the children's version. Throughout my adolescence, dad carried the paperback edition on his crusade resource table, and my brother and I had a couple of editions on the shelves in our bedroom. I acted out the allegorical work in a play for the first time in my teen years, and multiple times since. Nate (my brother) is on the verge of releasing an album based on this work, while I have nearly 90 antique editions currently resting on the shelves on my home library. Since my elementary years I have read The Pilgrim's Progress probably a dozen times and each time am struck with the stunning imagery of a man who deeply understood the Gospel, and penned this allegory so all could see its beauty. Spurgeon said of Bunyan, "If you cut him, he would have bled Scripture," and every year the prince of preachers would pick up this work and read again the story of Christian and his journey. I believe it would be a very good thing if we each adopted this habit as well.
Soli Deo Gloria