Monthly Archives: July 2012

All Christians Believe God is Sovereign

          “What is true is that all Christians believe in divine sovereignty, but some are not aware that they do, and mistakenly imagine and insist that they reject it.  What causes this odd state of affairs?  The root cause is the same as in most cases of error in the Church—the intruding of rationalistic speculations, the passion for systematic consistency, a reluctance to recognize the existence of mystery and to let God be wiser than men, and a consequent subjecting of Scripture to the supposed demands of human logic.

           “People see that the Bible teaches man’s responsibility for his actions; they do not see (man, indeed, cannot see) how this is consistent with the sovereign Lordship of God over those actions.  They are not content to let the two truths live side by side, as they do in the Scriptures, but jump to the conclusion that, in order to uphold the Biblical truth of human responsibility, they are bound to reject the equally Biblical and equally true doctrine of divine sovereignty, and to explain away the great number of texts that teach it. 

            “The desire to over-simplify the Bible by cutting out the mysteries is natural to our perverse minds, and it is not surprising that even good men should fall victim to it.  Hence this persistent and troublesome dispute.  The irony of the situation, however, is that when we ask how the two sides pray, it becomes apparent that those who profess to deny God’s sovereignty really believe in it just as strongly as those who affirm it. 

            “How, then, do you pray?  Do you ask God for your daily bread?  Do you thank God for your conversion?  Do you pray for the conversion of others?  If the answer is ‘no,’ I can only say that I do not think you are yet born again.  But if the answer is ‘yes’—well, that proves that, whatever side you may have taken in debates on this question in the past, in your heart you believe in the sovereignty of God no less firmly than anyone else.  On our feet we may have arguments about it, but on our knees we are all agreed.”

 J.I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, pp.16-17.  

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“Second” Blessing, My Foot…

“It is wholly a false view, never accepted by the Church, that the Christian undergoes two conversions–that he first accepts Christ for justification, and afterwards, by a separate act, accepts Him for sanctification. Justifying faith is an act of a spiritually quickened soul. It accepts Christ as a Savior from sin–not mere judicial condemnation. The removal of guilt is in order to the removal of the pollution and the power of sin. The same act of faith, which accepts Christ as Priest, accepts Him as Prophet and King. He cannot be divided. Nor more, in any act of true faith, can forgiveness be separated from purification.” A.A. Hodge

The God Who Smokes

          “What the prophets report from behind the smoke is that God scares the pants off us.  And to even entertain the idea that we can improve His painting by airbrushing away some offensive ‘flaws’ is incredibly demeaning at best.  To act as though God needs our assistance to better position Himself for improved market penetration is so presumptuous and stunningly disrespectful that it is really kind of frightening….He is fierce, and He acts like He owns the entire planet.  No, make that the universe. 

           “He really believes that He is the most worthy, most majestic, magnificent, glorious, stunningly beautiful being in the universe.  And He is fixated on the certainty that only He deserves worship—that to Him alone belong honor, glory, and praise forever and forever.  With red-rimmed, stinging eyes and burning hair, all we can say is—He is right.  He is astonishingly beautiful, utterly majestic, and perfect in the symmetries of justice and righteousness, knowledge and wisdom.  He is as hypnotically compelling as a surging forest fire and ten times as dangerous.

            “He is out of control—ours, not His.” 

Timothy J. Stoner

The God Who Smokes:  Scandalous Meditations on Faith

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The Difference Between a “Do” Religion & A “Trust” Religion: B.B. Warfield



“Trust and performance are contradictions.  A “Do” religion and a “Trust” religion are irreconcilable.  To demand trust as a condition defeats, therefore, its own object and renders the trust demanded impossible.  If we are to depend on our own trust it ceases to be trust.  We cannot look to ourselves for the decisive act in our salvation and at the same time be looking to God for all.  Trust transformed into a work loses its quality; turned back on itself, it is obliterated.”  (“The ‘Higher Life’ Movement”)

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The Lord who is Hosts

I remember hearing in seminary–and reading many times thereafter–a number of different attempts to capture the essence of this widespread name for God throughout the Old Testament.  I recently came across the most helpful explanation of its significance and implications I’ve ever encountered, in J.A. Motyer’s “Isaiah By the Day” (which I highly recommend to you, by the way):

“He is ‘Yahweh who is Hosts’, possessing in himself every potentiality and power; not a ‘bare One’ but a ‘One’ incorporating a multiplicity of attributes, capacities and powers.  The addition ‘of Hosts’ is part of the Old Testament’s anticipation of the New Testament revelation of God as the holy Trinity.”  (7)

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Pastors: Fight for the Time to Read! – John Piper

There are very few questions from my people that are more encouraging than “What are you reading these days, Mike?”

I am thankful for elders and a congregation who want me to read.

I need it.

Pastors: Fight for the Time to Read! – Justin Taylor.

John Owen on Definite Atonement

In preparation for tonight’s lesson at Immanuel Presbyterian Church, I’m enjoying the clarity of the great Puritan, John Owen, whose work The Death of Death in the Death of Christ remains THE master work on the doctrine of definite atonement.  Consider Owen’s summary of the alternative interpretations of the death of Christ and their implications:

“The Father imposed His wrath due unto, and the Son underwent punishment for, either:

1.            All the sins of all men.

2.            All the sins of some men; or

3.            Some of the sins of all men.

“In which case it may be said:

a.            That if the last [i.e. some sins of all men] be true, all men have some sins to answer for, and so none are saved.

b.            That if the second [i.e. all the sins of some men], then Christ, in their stead suffered for all the sins of all the elect in the whole world, and this is the truth.

c.            But if the first [i.e. all the sins of all men] be the case, why are not all men free from the punishment due unto their sins?

“You answer, ‘Because of unbelief.’  I ask, Is this unbelief a sin, or is it not?  If it be, then Christ suffered the punishment due unto it, or He did not.  If He did, why must that hinder them more than their other sins for which He died?  If He did not, He did not die for all their sins.”

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Unhindered: Praying Through the Book of Acts to the Christ who Acts

The following is the text of the last sermon I prayed from the book of Acts.  That’s right:  prayed.  I wrote and “preached” the sermon as a prayer which I prayed that Sunday, working through each of the book’s 28 chapters.

Lord Jesus, You are known, loved, and revered by many names in the Book of Acts:  Son of Man, Son of God, Seed of David, the Nazarene, Holy and Righteous One, Prince of Life, Prophet, the Cornerstone, Lord, the Christ, judge of the living and the dead, and Savior.

My heart overflows with a good theme, the best of all themes, and as we reach now the end of our study of the Book of Acts, we address our verses to You, our matchless King and Master.  For of all the blessings You have bestowed on us, Your bride at Immanuel, through this Book of Acts, the highest, the richest, and the fullest, of those blessings has been Your own, week-by-week verse-by-verse, Self-disclosure to us:  You, the Prince of Life and unhindered King of the Nations, the Alpha and Omega of the Book of Acts, have made Your face to shine upon us!

In Chapter 1, You are the Lord, risen from His sufferings, resolved to take possession of His inheritance from among the nations, whose achievements will transform the entire earth into a holy temple, whose plan and command is to build His Church with His Church, and who must first ascend to the Father’s right hand in order to descend once again at the Father’s pleasure and in the Father’s timing.  We praise You, Lord Christ; grant that we—Your people at IPC—would obediently take this mission as our own.

In Chapter 2, though You are the One “delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, and though you were nailed to a Cross by the hands of godless men (2:23), You were unhindered by these evils from fulfilling Your promise, for it was impossible for death to hold You in its power (2:24).  And having entered the Father’s presence in triumph, crowned as Lord and Christ (2:36), Your coronation gift to the world was to pour out the Holy Spirit, proving that “the great and glorious day of the Lord” had come because You had brought it through Your obedient life, crucifixion, and resurrection, and inaugurating the age of amnesty, open until the Day of Your return, in which “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (2:21).  We praise You, Lord Christ.  Grant that we would increasingly trust You to build Your Church with & by the community filled with and sustained by Your Holy Spirit, through means that seem so ordinary to us, but through which You have ordained to release the powers of the age to come:  the teaching of the apostles, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer (2:42).

In Chapter 3, exalted as the highest of men at the Father’s right hand, You prove that Your eye is always upon the lowest of men, when you send Your Apostles to heal the man lame since birth.  Though his physical healing is dramatic, You instruct us there to seek what matters most:  that, in this age of mercy, the greatest of all signs and wonders is the healing of the heart, the reconciliation of a sinner to God.  Grant that the Gospel of Your free grace will always be our hearts’ highest definition of prosperity and health.

In Chapter 4, Yours is the only Name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved (4:11).  Prince of Life, we praise You, for we know that this unyielding and exclusive honor is rightfully Yours because there never has been, nor will there ever be, anyone else under heaven whose worth and work compare to Yours.  Grant that we would have the same jealousy for Your honor as Your Apostles did, and so speak Your Word with boldness (4:31).

In Chapter 5, You are the fearsome and unhindered guardian of holiness inside Your Church.  Holy and Righteous One, we praise You for Your purity and confess that we are afflicted with a casual attitude toward holiness inside Your Church.  We ask that You would cause us to increase in a holy trembling in all our dealings with Your Bride, a trembling that is the fruit of Your Gospel, which has been given to redeem us from every lawless deed.

In Chapter 6, You provide for Your bride by appointing offices for ministry designed to depict Your own ministry in and for the Church.  Great Prophet of God, we praise You that You are the greatest and most faithful Elder over Your flock, guarding, leading, feeding, and interceding for the Church.  Son of Man, we thank You that You are the greatest and most faithful Deacon serving the Church:  who did not come to be served, but to serve and give His life a ransom for many.

In Chapter 7, You are boldly commended by Your servant Stephen as the Righteous One (7:52), the heart and long-expected Champion of Israel’s history, and as he sees you truly in this history, You permit him to see Your glory in the heavens.

Lord Jesus Christ, we praise You for Your identity as Israel’s truest Prophet, her most sympathetic & faithful Priest, and her mightiest King.  Grant that we, Your flock at IPC, would love Your glory even as our brother Stephen did.

In Chapter 8, You display Your unhindered rule over all history by taking what men mean for the worst against You and Your Church, and turning it to the advancement of Your Kingdom, as You use the outbreak of persecution against the Church in Jerusalem to bring the light & liberation of Your Gospel, first to Samaria and then even to Africa through the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch.  We praise You, Lord, that You prove throughout Acts that You are able to build Your Church in the midst of the darkest of storms.  Grant that we would trust You to continue to do so in our own day.

In Chapter 9, Your grace transforms the most vicious wolf, first into a sheep, and then into a shepherd.  We thank You for two unfathomably rich lessons displayed in Saul’s conversion:  (1)  First, Your identification with the sufferings of Your bride, taking a personal interest in her persecution; and (2) Second, Your identification with the worst of sinners.  Grant that our grasp of these truths, anchored in Your Cross, would continue to deepen and bear more fruit in our lives.

In Chapters 10 and 11, You keep Your promise by sending the Gospel and the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles: first, to Cornelius and his friends in Caesarea, and then later in the church in Antioch.  We praise You, Lord Christ, for teaching us in these chapters both what the Gospel is not and what it is.  That it is not:  piety, belief in God, good-works, continual praying or spiritual influence upon others.  But it is: God cleansing what is unholy through the holy work of His holy Son.  Grant that we would never consider unholy what God has cleansed, that we would believe this about others and ourselves.

In Chapter 12, we are confronted by the mystery of Your sovereignty:  in James’ martyrdom, in Peter’s release, and in the death of Herod.  Grant that we would be appropriately humble and hopeful before Your authority and control over all things, even the worst evil of men and the most painful suffering of Your people.

In Chapter 13, You set apart Paul & Barnabas for the 1st missionary journey in fulfillment of Your plan to send Your witnesses to the remotest part of the earth, to fulfill Your own mission as the Servant of the Lord (Isaiah 49:6),  to be “the Light for the Gentiles, to bring salvation to the end of the earth” (13:47).  We praise You, Lord Christ, Your light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not, could not, and will not overcome it.  Grant that we would increasingly see ourselves as bearers of Your light into the world.

In Chapter 14, You display Your worth through the willing suffering of Your servants, Paul and Barnabas, as they carry Your Gospel to both the Jews in Iconium and the Gentiles in Lystra and Derbe, with the testimony that it is “Through many tribulations we must enter the Kingdom of God” (14:22).  Grant we, Your people at IPC, would rejoice if and when we are considered worthy to suffer shame for the sake of Your Name.

In Chapter 15, You are the Great Teacher of Your Church, as You guide the Jerusalem Council into a deeper and more accurate understanding of Your Gospel.  We praise You, Lord Christ, for the inexhaustible depth of Your Work and its implications, that no matter how long and far we journey with You, we will never graduate from the wonders of the Gospel.  Grant that we would exult in the riches of Your grace, rejoicing that there is no caste system in Your Church, but all who come to You come on an equal footing, as sinners saved by grace alone through faith alone in You alone.

In Chapter 16, You remind us that You have ordained to build Your Church by linking the edification of the saints and the evangelization of the lost (16:5).  Grant that we, Your people at IPC, would never separate what You, our God and Savior, have joined together.  In Philippi, we witness the power of Your Gospel:  first, by saving very different kinds of people (the pious Lydia, the demon-possessed slave girl, and the jailer), and then by bringing those people together into Your Church.  Great Savior of Sinners and Builder of Your Church, grant that we would experience Your power to save and join together in DeLand as You demonstrated it in Philippi.

In Chapter 17, You build Your Church through much affliction & conflict in Thessalonica, according to the Scriptures in Berea, and assert Your supreme relevance and authority over the intellectual and idolatrous pride of Athens.  We praise You, Lord Jesus Christ, for the boundless relevance of Your Gospel depicted in this chapter.  We pray You will give us hearts like Your servant Paul’s, burdened and provoked by compassion for the lost and a jealousy for Your glory so that we would be courageous speakers & sharers of Your Gospel, Your call to all men everywhere to repent, and your identity as the One appointed as the Righteous Judge over all men.

In Chapter 18, You shock us with Your announcement to Paul that “I have many people in this city.”  First, because the city is Corinth, a place of great sin.  Second, because You teach us once again that Your saving grace is sovereign grace, the grace of election.  Third, because not only have You sovereignly ordained the end for Your people (R&Fàsalvation), but the means by which they are saved (“go on speaking”)(18:9).  We praise You, Lord Jesus Christ, for Your sovereign, invincible grace.  Grant that we, Your people at IPC, would move from this foundation with the same confidence into our communities as Paul did into Corinth, that we would not be silent, but go on speaking until Your return.

In Chapter 19, You literally turn the entire culture of Ephesus upside down and inside out with Your Gospel, liberating people from their slavery to the forces of wickedness and darkness, and proving that the longer and more deeply Your Word is sown into the life of a community and its people, the more every facet of that community will be changed forever by the Gospel.  We praise You, Lord Christ, for Your power in Ephesus.  Grant that we too, Your people at IPC, would sow the seed of Your Gospel into our communities with the expectation that You will turn them upside down.

In Chapter 20, You are the Good Shepherd, who purchased the Church at the cost of Your own blood.  We praise You, Great Shepherd of the Sheep, for redeeming us at such tremendous cost.  Grant that we would decreasingly think of ourselves as belonging to ourselves, and increasingly live as those who belong to, and are the rightful property of, Another, even You.

In Chapters 21, 22, and 23, You are the culminating fulfillment of Israel’s hopes, but Israel (largely) doesn’t honor You for it. You are the Messiah and rightful heir to David’s throne, who has been rejected by His own people, the one true Israelite rejected by Israel; but who has not rejected them, who deploys His lead Apostle to witness to Israel’s leaders once again.  Greatest Son of David, we praise You for Your covenant faithfulness to Your people and Your promise from Acts 1:8 to link Jerusalem with the ends of the earth in Your Kingdom by assuring Paul that he will be Your witness in Rome just as he was in Jerusalem (23:11).

In Chapters 24, 25 and 26, You demonstrate yet again the scandalous extravagance of Your grace as You permit Paul to remain in prison in Caesarea for 2 years (!), thereby ensuring repeated access to Your Gospel for Felix (a man of mixed motives, who feigned genuine interest, but loved his sin more than Your grace), Festus (who feigned neutrality), Agrippa, Bernice & Drusilla (the children of Herod Agrippa I, who murdered Your Apostle James [12:2], the grandchildren of Herod Antipas, who murdered Your cousin John the Baptist, and the great grandchildren of Herod the Great, who slaughtered the baby boys of Bethlehem in order to destroy You!).  We praise You, Lord Christ, that Your grace always proves to be more than sufficient for the worst and darkest of sinners, and that You delight to wield Your strength to save.  Grant that we, Your people at IPC, would grow increasingly strong in this same grace.

In Chapter 27, You are the Sovereign over the storm, and remind us that not only Acts, but the entire Bible is a book of storms which serve Your purposes.  We thank You that Your own Cross proves this to us most compellingly, and that because of Your mastery there, we have an unshakable warrant to believe You that it will turn out exactly as we have been told, that You will deliver us from every evil deed and will bring us safely into Your heavenly Kingdom.  We believe, Lord; please help our unbelief.

In Chapter 28, we learn that the very last word Your Holy Spirit inspired Luke to write, the final word of this momentous book, is the Greek word we translate into English as “unhindered.”  And though Luke uses it to describe Your Apostle’s ministry in Rome, it is such a fitting end to Acts because it so accurately describes Your own ministry throughout Acts and throughout history and the world.

Acts is a book shaped and propelled by the truth that You, our Lord, are the unhindered One.  Your advance is unchecked and unstoppable in Acts:  nothing and no one succeeds in slowing down, let alone blocking, Your project of building Your Church.  We see that the agenda unfolded in human history is the agenda of Jesus Christ alone, You to whom all authority in heaven and on earth has been given.

In Chapter 28, we see that You are the Lord who has kept every single one of His promises, the unhindered Builder of His Church from Jerusalem to Rome, whose building strategy  has not altered even in the imperial capital.  You shower Your saving kindness on the Jews of Rome as well as the 6 Gentile praetorian guards daily chained to Your Apostle in four hour shifts! (vv. 17—20; 23—28; 30—31), as Your witnesses reason and persuade from the Scriptures which testify to You and Your Kingdom (vv. 23, 31).

From the open, unfinished ending of Acts, You also show us that Your work of building Your Church in the world is not yet done, and since Yours is not, ours isn’t either.  We thank You, Lord Jesus, that Your intentions toward the world remain merciful and gracious.  Grant us, Your people at IPC, not only to see the triumphantly unhindered and open door for the Gospel at the end of Acts, but the one that remains open in our own age until the Day of Your Return.  Grant that each of us who name You as Savior and Lord would lay hold of this mission as our own.

For You and Your Gospel will always remain unhindered—from DeLand to the remotest part of the earth.

With praise, thanksgiving, and joy, we pray in Your name, our Master and our God, the name we have called upon in order to be saved, even Jesus Christ, Son of God, and Savior of sinners.  Amen.

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The New Heaven and Earth Acquired by Christ

I’ve been doing some reading this afternoon in Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics and my soul has been fed and replenished.  Here is an excerpt from his section entitled, “The Universal Significance of Particular Atonement,” that I found especially moving in its vision of Christ:

“…as in the old covenant, the tabernacle and all its liturgical implements were sprinkled with blood (Exodus 24:3-8; Hebrews 9:21), so Christ by His Cross reconciled all things and acquired a new heaven and a new earth.  The whole creation as one day it will stand perfect–without spot or wrinkle–in God’s presence is the work of Christ, the Lord of lords and the King of kings (Hebrews 12:22-28).”  Reformed Dogmatics 3:473

Amen and amen!

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