Is Sin Really All That Bad?

One would expect any Christian to answer the question posed in the title with an affirmative and immediate, “Yes!” However, the daily decisions we make often tell another story.

We’re quick to recoil when we hear of horrific acts committed against children, marital infidelity, cold-blooded murder, or, you know, other really bad sins–especially, the sins of others. Yet, it’s our own day-to-day living, in both the major and the mundane, that we are often slow to consider. At times, we fail to measure the words we speak, the attitudes we choose, or the media we consume against the standard of God’s Word. It’s often in the name of cultural engagement that we capitulate to content that has no place in the life of a follower of Christ. After all, it’s much easier to row with the current of our culture than paddle upstream.

While preparing to teach at our church’s young adult community, I was reading through Ralph Venning’s The Sinfulness of Sin. Venning, a Puritan and English non-conformist, had a steadfast desire that Christ be exalted and that any measure of sin be–as it should–abhorred. Here are a few of his remarks that struck me as I read:

“One may suffer and not sin, but it is impossible to sin and not to suffer.”

“Sin can do, without the Devil, that which the Devil cannot do without sin, and that is, undo men [and women].”

“Sin is an evil beyond the skill and power of all creation to cure and to cleanse.”

It is clearly evident that Venning has considered carefully what divine Scripture reveals in no casual terms–that sin, in any measure, is utterly and totally evil.

Contemplate the words of Christ in Matthew 5:29-30

If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.”

Jesus makes it clear that sin is not be tolerated (see esp., Eph. 5:3, 11). Sin must be dealt with swiftly and severely. Think of it…if I were to deal with sin as seriously as Christ commands above, others would surely take notice and likely consider me both foolish and fanatical. The question is, are we willing to be obedient, or is our greater concern what others will think?

Friend, every decision you make either serves to edify or erode your heart, and must be made with the utmost care (see Prov. 4:23-27). There is no such thing as the “neutral” Christian life. You’re either, by grace, pursuing “the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). Or, because any measure of sin is being tolerated, grievously, you’re moving backward.

Believer, in all of this, remember that you stand securely before the throne of grace solely on the merits of Christ by faith. Indeed, it’s in recognizing the putrid nature of our sin that allows us to view Christ in all his glorious sweetness. Therefore, in view of God’s rich grace toward us in Christ Jesus, let us make it our daily practice to make choices that will stir our affection for Christ, making no room for sin. Or, as John Owen has said, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”

Venning’s The Sinfulness of Sin is available for free, in PDF format, here.

REVIEW: Songs of a Suffering King, by J.V. Fesko

9781601783103I became acquainted with J.V. Fesko through his work on baptism from a Reformed perspective (Word, Water, & Spirit, Reformation Heritage Books, 2010). As I began working through that monograph, I could tell I had come across a man who was a rigorous theologian, careful biblical exegete, and a pastor at heart. Since then, I have read several of Dr. Fesko’s books and have never failed to come away edified and challenged to dig more deeply into the Holy Scriptures.

Dr. Fesko’s most recent offering is a short book on the first 8 psalms entitled, Songs of a Suffering King: The Grand Christ Hymn of Psalms 1-8 (Reformation Heritage Books, 2014). As one would expect, from the outset, the book is characterized by careful biblical exposition, a steady focus on the centrality of the person and work of Christ in biblical interpretation, and a pastoral emphasis on sanctification through savoring Christ Jesus.

After a brief introduction which covers the ordering and overall structure of the Psalter as well as a brief rationale for the Christ-centered interpretation of the Psalms, the book is divided into 8 brief chapters addressing each psalm respectively. While the chapters are brief, and read quite devotionally, they don’t fail to provide a good deal of information pertaining to historical and literary context, a clear explanation of how the Psalm relates to the person and work of Christ, and a brief, yet powerful application for the reader. The chapters also end with a metrical version of the psalm for signing and questions for further study. Given the style, structure, and substance of the book it would be an excellent resource for personal or group study (high school through adult).

As I read through Dr. Fesko’s devotional commentary on Psalms 1-8, I quickly realized that—really—I was reading a book about Jesus. The Christ-connections that Dr. Fesko made, especially in chapter 1, identifying Christ at the true Righteous Man of Psalm 1, brought a significant amount of insight and perspective to my reading of the Psalms that I had not seen before. It certainly minimized the tendency I had developed to read Psalm 1 (and others for that matter) as a mere moral imperative. In doing so, I was able to see that, just as Jesus taught in John 15:4-5, apart from resting in him as the true Righteous Man, I am hopeless to fruitfully grow in the instruction of Psalm 1.

As Dr. Fesko worked through these Psalms, I got the sense that he was not forcing a Christ-centered hermeneutic as will inevitably be the critique of some. Rather, he demonstrated that the Psalms “provide a divinely inspired window into the heart of Christ” (8). It is clear that Psalms 1-8, while echoing many of the emotions King David felt during his earthly reign, certainly fore-signify the life and ministry of Messiah.

While I could critique the book in several places, simply because I desired thoroughness a bit more, those critiques would be unfair due to the very nature of the book. As stated, this book is largely an expanded devotional study of Psalms 1-8. Yet, don’t let that dissuade you from including it on your bookshelf as a valuable pastoral commentary on Psalms 1-8. As with all of Dr. Fesko’s work, you will greatly benefit in heart and mind from his devoted study and gift of writing. I sincerely recommend it.

*A copy of the book was provided by the publisher, at no charge, for the purpose of review. I was under no obligation to offer a positive review.

Book Details

123 Pages
Publisher: Reformation Heritage Books
Publication Date: April 2014
ISBN 10: 1601783108
ISBN 13: 9781601783103

BUY NOW at – $9.00

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What (or Who) Is the Bible Really All About?

Growing up, I can remember learning the great stories of the Bible in Sunday School. My teacher would position the artist’s renderings of each Bible character on a flannelgraph in front of the class as she retold the story to a crowd of fidgety onlookers. Abraham, Noah, Moses, David, Daniel and his friends, and others would all eventually take the stage on that fuzzy board.

No matter which character we were learning about, it always seemed to end in the same place. How can I have faith like Abraham? How can I trust God like Noah? How can I be a leader like Moses? How can I defeat the “giants” in my life like David? Could I “dare to be a Daniel”? At the end of it all, I was left with a lot of dos and don’ts, as well as what seemed to be a slew of seemingly disconnected Bible stories.

My well-meaning and faithful Sunday School teacher was unintentionally teaching me that the Bible was all about me. As I read my Bible, I was to follow or avoid the examples of the main characters of Scripture. The Bible largely became simply a book of characters for me to emulate and rules for me to obey. It wasn’t until much later in life that I would learn that while the Bible does contain moral imperatives to follow, there is a much larger, more glorious purpose in the pages of Holy Scripture.

One of my favorite passages of Scripture tells of an encounter two men had with the risen Lord Jesus. As the men discussed all that had recently taken place in Jerusalem, they were perplexed by the reality of the empty tomb. Jesus then said to them:

    “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:25-27, ESV)

Jesus was ultimately saying that had these two men read their Bibles properly, everything that had happened would have made perfect sense. They would have understood that the Bible is ultimately about Jesus from beginning to end. What the Old Testament promised God would accomplish through his Messiah had finally come to pass!

You see, the Bible is one grand story of God’s acts in history to rescue and redeem rebellious sinners through the person and work of his Son, Messiah Jesus. The stories of Abraham, Noah, Moses, David, Daniel, and so on, are not merely moralistic tales, but shadowy representations of redemptive qualities ultimately fulfilled in Christ. Stating it simply, the Bible is less about what “I’m supposed to do for God” and much, much, much more about what God has done in Christ to graciously save his people.

May we be those who give ourselves continually to the reading of Scripture, so that we would become more deeply acquainted with the One to whom all of Scripture bears witness; the One whom to know is life eternal!

For Further Reading…

The Unfolding Mystery: Discovering Christ in the Old Testament, by Edmund P. Clowney

Jesus on Every Page: 10 Simple Ways to Seek and Find Christ in the Old Testament, by David Murray

Is Jesus in the Old Testament?, by Iain M. Duguid

Criticizing Your Pastor Around Your Kids

Source: Click Photo

Source: Click Photo

The other day I made reference to an entry from The Treasury, a magazine published in the late 19th century. In the same article I mentioned last week, I found an interesting comment as it pertains to the danger of critical remarks we may make about our pastor(s) around our kids. The following is a good reminder about the weight of our words, specifically as they pertain to the spiritual leaders in our lives…

     “One word of unfavorable criticism upon your minister, or his preaching, will be remembered by your children when all the good you have said is forgotten. If you speak disparagingly, why may not your children speak disrespectfully, and thus by your criticisms you turn the Gospel into very foolishness, and a stumbling-block and a savor of death to some very dear to your heart. If your minister is in his place at all, it is as an ambassador for Christ, and so far as he preaches the Word, God will vindicate His servant and His message from every indignity and slight.”

“All at it, and always at it.”

SpurgeonSurreyThe other day I saw someone tweet—though I cannot remember who it was—about Spurgeon’s philosophy of “church growth.” The tweet read something to the effect of “#Spurgeon on growth: “I will fill the pulpit, the people will fill the pews.”

The tweet intrigued me, so I went looking for the primary source. I stumbled upon an interesting collection of magazines entitled The Treasury: A Magazine of Religious and Current Thought for Pastor and People. The original Spurgeon quote came up in the October 1885 edition of The Pulpit Treasury, which was included in the collection (p. 386).

Under the subheading, “How The Pew Should View The Pulpit,” the author, “A Layman,” writes the following:

     We read a piece of good advice that a minister gave on the occasion of the installation of a pastor. He said to pastor and people, “Let your motto be, ‘All at it, and always at it.'”

     This certainly is the motto for every congregation that would accomplish the greatest amount of good. If the pulpit and pew shall be successful in Christian work there must be a ready hand and willing mind on the part of all. There is too frequently a desire to see the Church built up, but entirely too many of the members are willing to give all the credit to the preacher. As much as every pastor loves to see his work prosper, he cannot hope to see it unless there is a due proportion of work done by the membership of his church. There is a very close relation existing between the pulpit and pew. Pews without a pulpit would not look well, neither would a pulpit without pews. Spurgeon said to his students, in reply to a question how he succeeded so well, that “he filled the pulpit and the people the pew.” There is much then in filling both places well to make it agreeable and encouraging to all.  (emphasis mine)

     Simple and fitting words of encouragement for any congregation.

The Necessity of a Lofty Conception

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“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” –so said A.W. Tozer in the first line of his classic book, The Knowledge of the Holy.

Let that sink in…

The way in which we think about God is truly of immense importance. For ever since Eden, Satan, with great cunning, has been seeking to distort the truth about who God is within the minds of those whom God has created in his image and likeness. This distortion is no small matter. Scripture teaches us that all sorts of trouble flows out of an improper and impotent conception of the greatness, majesty, and holiness of God (see Exodus 32:1-6; Romans 1:18-32).

Perhaps you’re familiar with the modern hymn, “O God of Our Salvation”? The three verses and chorus tell of the Trinitarian nature of God and of our salvation. In sum, the hymn glorifies God by recounting how God the Father graciously sent God the Son to accomplish the salvation of his people; the results of God’s saving acts are then revealed and applied by the Spirit of God. In response to the glory of the gospel, drawing on 1 Chronicles 16:29, the bridge declares:

     Ascribe, O Church, the greatness and the glory due His name!

One of the primary purposes of the church on earth is to continually declare, in the power of the Spirit, the redemption that God has accomplished for unworthy sinners through the person and work of his Son, Messiah Jesus. Yet, the church must be carrying out this task with diligence for, as he has been doing from the beginning, Satan will continually be working, with deplorable craft and serpent-like subtlety, to detract from a lofty conception of God within the church and from her commitment to proclaiming the gospel. How will Satan do this? Often by deceiving God’s people into focusing on non-gospel issues and making them matters of discouragement or division.

Satan will distract through the promotion of sinful gossip cloaked as “sharing a concern”, convincing saints to be more committed to nostalgia than considering how they may reach their surrounding culture for Christ, and elevating personal preference above gospel priority. All of these deceptions will eventually destroy our devotion to a lofty conception of God and an unwavering commitment to gospel proclamation, and replace them with a sinful devotion to self.

Tozer went on to say, “So necessary to the Church is a lofty conception of God that when that concept in any measure declines, the Church with her worship and her moral standards declines along with it. The first step down for any church is taken when it surrenders its high opinion of God.”

By God’s grace, let us fight to think rightly about God and allow nothing to distract us from proclaiming the great and glorious gospel of God for the sake of his Name and the joy of our neighbors.

The Immovable Foundation

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My job. My ministry. My children. My salary. My clothes. My friends. My extensive resume. My theological prowess. My good behavior. My acquaintances. My family name. My position of leadership. My years of experience. My health. My car(s). My talents. And the list could go on…

What do you look to in order to determine your identity? In life, what gives you a sense of significance and security? Unless we are carefully diligent we can succumb to the the world’s mode of determining our self-worth based upon personal achievement. Before we know it, our sense of meaning becomes wrapped up in our own accomplishments. And, the truth is, when we are striving to stand upon our own works, we are sinfully striving to stand upon a foundation that can crumble at any moment.

As Edward Mote was travelling to work one morning, around 1834, he desired to write a hymn on “The Gracious Experience of a Christian”. By the day’s end he had completed four verses. The very first line of that hymn reads

     “My hope is built on nothing less,

          Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness”

Mote was touching upon what the Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 3:4-9:

     “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more…But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—“

You see, the Scriptures declare that it is not what you have done that determines your ultimate identity, but what Christ has done for you. Who God the Father declares you to be in Christ Jesus is the most important thing about you! The reality of your gracious position in Christ is an immovable foundation upon which you can stand secure.

Thus, when my health wanes, when plans fail, when I lose my job, when finances are tight, when my abilities are criticized, or in the light of gracious success—whatever the case may be—I can still joyfully sing, “On Christ the solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand; all other ground is sinking sand.”

The Double Cure of the Cross


Photo Credit: Kellie Weeks

About 2 months ago I began serving as Associate Pastor of Worship and Discipleship at Faith Bible Church. In the very first song of the first service I was leading, I made a fairly bold decision. Unannounced and somewhat unplanned, I stopped everything. I could see the startled faces, the looks of confusion. It had dawned on me the possibility existed that we may be singing lyrics we did not completely understand. How can we be worshiping the Lord in spirit and in truth if we do not understand the truth we are singing? A brief teaching moment in the course of the service served to clarify, in the minds of some, what they were singing to the Lord.

A quick survey of some of the most beloved hymns of the faith reveals they are replete with somewhat enigmatic phrases. For example,

  • “Here, I raise my Ebenezer…”
  • “A bulwark never failing” or “Lord Sabaoth His name”
  • “Eternal Thy goodness for naught changeth Thee”
  • “How does that visage languish”

We could go on, of course, but for our purposes here the above examples will suffice.

For a moment, I want to explore the theology behind the lyrics of a fairly well known hymn. I hope that in doing so, some of the most profound and precious truths of the gospel will rise to the surface, in turn compelling us to worship with hearts and minds that are more fully engaged and exult more deeply in the person and work of Christ.

In 1776, Augustus Toplady published the hymn “Rock of Ages”. Writing in response to the crisis of national debt in that day, Toplady hoped to encourage believers in the truth that their debt of sin before God the Father had been paid in full by Christ (cf., Col. 2:13-14).[1] The end of the first stanza reads:

Let the water and the blood

From Thy wounded side which flowed

Be of sin the double cure

Save from wrath and make me pure.

Here, Toplady was highlighting two realities secured by the sacrifice of Christ for those to trust in him by faith.

First, in light Christ’s cross work, Toplady notes that believers have been saved from God’s righteous wrath against their sin (cf., Eph. 2:1-10). On the cross, Jesus absorbed that cup of wrath to the very last drop (cf., Matt. 26:39-42). The theological term for this aspect of Christ’s saving work is “propitiation” (pron. “pro-pitch-ee-ay-shun”). Having been crucified as a substitute, Jesus fully absorbed God’s wrath for those who are in him, thereby securing the believer’s peace with God (cf., Isa. 53:4-6; 2 Cor. 5:21). As believers in union with Christ, we no longer need to fear facing God’s wrath because of our sin.

Second, Jesus has purified those who believe in him by taking away their sin. Theologians refer to this act of taking sins away as “expiation” (pron. “ex-pee-ay-shun”). Harkening back to the Old Testament Day of Atonement (cf., Lev. 16, see esp. 16:21-22) the high priest laid his hands on the scapegoat and, after confessing the sins of the people, released it into the wilderness signifying the taking away of sin. This act in the Old Testament pointed to the work that Jesus would ultimately do. Jesus is the true and better scapegoat, for his blood truly purifies us from all sin (cf., Heb. 9:11-14).

Propitiation and expiation are two glorious aspects of the gospel! Remember, because of what Jesus has done, we now stand before God the Father with the very purity of Christ (cf., 2 Cor. 5:21). He has saved the believer from the wrath of God by bearing that holy wrath in our place.

It is my hope that an increased understanding will move you to sing with joyful confidence and savor the reality of what Christ has accomplished for unworthy sinners like you and me.

REVIEW | “Great Doctrines of the Bible”, by Martyn Lloyd-Jones

9781433538797Since being introduced to systematic theology in my days as an undergraduate student in Bible school, when I come across a good volume in this field, I receive it with excitement and enthusiasm; and reference it quite frequently. By “systematic theology” meaning of course the orderly presentation, by topic, of what the whole Bible teaches on a given theological matter. And, off hand, I can think of a handful of standard systematics that I would recommend should a person inquire. Among that group, though, there is one that sticks out as unique. Where many systematics are quite predictable in the manner in which the material is presented, I have found one that communicates with a different style and tone, and is intensely practical. In that, this systematic is really simply a collection of recorded sermons on various topics within classic systematic theology. Simply, it is systematic theology preached.

From 1952 to 1955, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones presented a series of sermons/lectures on Friday evenings in one of the halls of Westminster Chapel in London. Addressing, by request of the people, various matters of doctrine, the good Doctor, would expound upon the topic in his classic engaging, reverent, and wonderfully practical manner of preaching. These talks became so well attended that they had to move into the main Chapel itself.

Lloyd-Jones is recorded as saying, “Preaching is theology coming through a man who is on fire.” In Crossway Books’ republication of 3 classic Lloyd-Jones volumes in one, we find this sentiment demonstrated. Great Doctrines of the Bible is a recent reprint of God the Father, God the Son; God the Holy Spirit; and The Church and the Last Things, in one bound paperback volume. Though lengthy, the content within is intensely edifying.

In terms of the book’s contents, the book retains its three-volume structure. Lloyd-Jones begins with matters of prolegomena. He deals with his method, and the perspective from which he views God’s Holy Word. He then moves through bibliology, theology proper, anthropology, angels and demons, soteriology, covenant and redemption, and Christology. The latter two volumes address exactly what their titles would suggest.

For me, this work gives some of the clearest exposition of the nature of God’s redemptive work, from a covenantal perspective, which I have ever read. Here we find that systematic theology is no way needs to be confined to the bookshelf, but can be passionately preached from the pulpit. As a teacher and preacher Lloyd-Jones work will not only serve to edify in personal study, but may also be a model of how these great doctrines may be clearly and concisely expounded.

Another advantage of this work is the Scripture index in the back of the book. After all, what is a work of theology without an index of Scripture?

Overall, what we have here is classic Lloyd-Jones. There are no surprises, only a solid, straightforward, passionate and reverent presentation of the truths of Scripture. It is a volume that will edify both the new Christian and the seasoned student of theology. It is a volume that will train the pastor and layperson in how to communicate systematic theological truth in a plain manner. I highly recommend it.

*A copy of the book was provided by the publisher, at no charge, for the purpose of review. I was under no obligation to offer a positive review.

Book Details

928 Pages
Publisher: Crossway/Good News Publishers
Publication Date: October 2012
ISBN 10: 1433538792
ISBN 13: 9781433538797

Purchase at | $23.69 (32% off – $35.00)*

*Prices subject to change without notice.