The Fittest Tools for Fighting Sin

While we’re on the topic of killing sin in the life of the believer (see last post), I thought I’d pass along a deeply encouraging passage from one of the greatest sermons ever written on the expulsion of sin from the Christian’s heart.

“The Expulsive Power of a New Affection” by Scottish Presbyterian minister, Thomas Chalmers, is one of the most significant pieces ever written on the sanctifying power of the gospel.  Noting the futility of our efforts to kill sin simply by a moralistic, “try-harder” attempt to rid the heart of impurity, Chalmers offers a better way.

To summarize his message, he writes that in order to successfully put away a sinful affection, we must replace that affection with a new affection so great and glorious, it forces the sinful affection to be subordinated and obliterated.  Because the heart cannot move from a sinful affection to no affection at all, it will, by its very nature, move on to another.  We must choose then, by the power of the Spirit, to replace our old affections with the beauty and glory of the love of God demonstrated in the person and work of Christ.

Near the end of his sermon, Chalmers writes:

The object of the Gospel is both to pacify the sinner’s conscience, and to purify his heart; and it is of importance to observe, that what mars the one of these objects, mars the other also. The best way of casting out an impure affection is to admit a pure one; and by the love of what is good, to expel the love of what is evil. Thus it is, that the freer the Gospel, the more sanctifying is the Gospel; and the more it is received as a doctrine of grace, the more will it be felt as a doctrine according to godliness. This is one of the secrets of the Christian life, that the more a man holds of God as a pensioner, the greater is the payment of service that he renders back again. On the tenure of “Do this and live,” a spirit of fearfulness is sure to enter; and the jealousies of a legal bargain chase away all confidence from the intercourse between God and man; and the creature striving to be square and even with his Creator, is, in fact, pursuing all the while his own selfishness, instead of God’s glory; and with all the conformities which he labours to accomplish, the soul of obedience is not there, the mind is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed under such an economy ever can be. It is only when, as in the Gospel, acceptance is bestowed as a present, without money and without price, that the security which man feels in God is placed beyond the reach of disturbance—or, that he can repose in Him, as one friend reposes in another—or, that any liberal and generous understanding can be established betwixt them—the one party rejoicing over the other to do him good—the other finding that the truest gladness of his heart lies in the impulse of a gratitude, by which it is awakened to the charms of a new moral existence.

Salvation by grace—salvation by free grace—salvation not of works, but according to the mercy of God—salvation on such a footing is not more indispensable to the deliverance of our persons from the hand of justice, than it is to the deliverance of our hearts from the chill and the weight of ungodliness.Retain a single shred or fragment of legality with the Gospel, and we raise a topic of distrust between man and God. We take away from the power of the Gospel to melt and to conciliate. For this purpose, the freer it is, the better it is. That very peculiarity, which so many dread as the germ of antinomianism, is, in fact, the germ of a new spirit, and a new inclination against it. Along with the light of a free Gospel, does there enter the love of the Gospel, which, in proportion as we impair the freeness, we are sure to chase away. And never does the sinner find within himself so mighty a moral transformation, as when under the belief that he is saved by grace, he feels constrained thereby to offer his heart a devoted thing, and to deny ungodliness. To do any work in the best manner, we should make use of the fittest tools for it. (emphasis mine)

If you’re interested in reading more of Chalmers’ work, check out the Letters of Thomas Chalmers.

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TALKING GALATIANS w/ J.V. Fesko

Yesterday, I posted my review of the first volume in the Lectio Continua Expository Commentary on the New Testament series: Galatians, by J.V. Fesko.  Today we have the privilege of interacting with Dr. Fesko, Academic Dean and Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Seminary California.  Dr. Fesko kindly took time to answer a few questions about some of the major themes in the letter to the Galatians and his commentary.

KF: How would you summarize Paul’s main concern as he writes to the churches of Galatia?

JVF: Paul wanted the Galatian churches to know that Christ, alone, is the foundation for our salvation and that we cannot contribute any of our good works to that foundation. Paul’s concern is evident in his spine-chilling warning that anyone who teaches another gospel, even an angel from heaven, is liable to God’s curse (Gal. 1:8-9).

KF: What were the circumstances that led to the drift from the true, biblical gospel among the Galatian churches?  Can you cite any examples of modern false gospels that are prevalent in the church?  How can we avoid such error?

JVF: The false teachers taught the Galatians that circumcision was necessary for salvation in addition to believing in Christ. The false teachers taught a faith + works = salvation view of things. In the case of the Galatians it was circumcision but in our own context we bring different things to the table, such as our own sense of self-worth or even something that is biblical, but misused, such as good works. A person can think, “I’m saved by grace, but I know that since my doctrine is orthodox, this commends me more than the person next to me who has incorrect doctrine.” This is an inflated sense of self-worth. We can also think, “God will look upon me more favorably because I try to love my neighbor.” We are commanded to love our neighbor, but not as the means by which we curry God’s favor but rather as the fruit of the salvation we have already received in Christ.

How do we avoid such errors? We must constantly seek Christ—in Christ alone we find redemption. As we read of the law’s condemnation of sin and behold ourselves in the mirror of the law, we can see how frequently we fall short and how desperately we need Christ. We can flee to Christ by faith, not only for our entry-point to salvation but also throughout the entirety of the Christian life—until we die or Christ returns. In so doing we realize that who we are in Christ, and the benefits that we receive in him, chiefly justification and sanctification, among other benefits, we find redemption and a safe haven from false idols. As the Westminster Confession states, “The principal acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace” (WCF XIV.ii). And we seek Christ through his appointed means, Word and sacrament. That is, we find the grace of the gospel in the preached Word, either audibly to our ears, or to our other senses through the sacraments—through water, bread, and wine.

KF: How important is the Old Testament to Paul’s discourse as he writes this letter?  Would you briefly touch on some of the more prevalent OT motifs that Paul incorporates, and how they enrich our understanding of the redemptive work God has done for us in Christ?

JVF: Paul’s Bible was his Old Testament. If you were to ask him to quote the Bible, he would have undoubtedly quoted the Old Testament. If you pricked his finger, he bled Old Testament Scripture, themes, and its narratives. At a number of points Paul cites a series of Old Testament texts in his discussion of justification by faith alone, such as Deuteronomy 27:26, Psalm 143:1, Habakkuk 2:4, Leviticus 18:5, Deuteronomy 21:23, Genesis 12, 15, 17, 22, Joel 2:28, and Isaiah 32:15 (Gal. 3:10-14). He cites at least seven different Old Testament texts, if not more, in the span of five verses. Paul also refers to the Genesis narrative with his appeal to Hagar and Sarah as types that represent Mt. Sinai and Zion (the Jerusalem above) (Gal. 4:21-31). And at key points Paul employs language that is evocative of Israel’s Old Testament exodus and wilderness wanderings when he characterizes the law as something that held Israel in captivity and bondage (e.g., Gal. 4:8ff), but through Christ they have been set free to “walk in the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16ff). In a word, the reader of Galatians really has to know his Old Testament to appreciate fully Paul’s epistle.

KF: You cite, on several occasions, that our faith is “extraspective” in nature.  Can you explain what is meant by that term?

JVF: I believe John Murray coined the term, but extraspective is the antonym to introspective. When we are introspective we look within but when we are extraspective we look without, outside of ourselves. Far too many are introspective when it comes to their salvation—they seek salvation by themselves—looking within to something they themselves can do to somehow scale the heights of heaven. But Paul, by contrast, presents salvation as an extraspective reality—we must look outside of ourselves to what Christ has done on our behalf. Hence, faith is extraspective because it looks outside of a person to Christ as the author and finisher of our salvation.

KF: One of the emphases that may set this commentary apart is your discussion of the new creation motif within the letter.  Why is this theme of new creation so important to Paul as he addresses the Galatians?

Dr. John V. Fesko

JVF: Paul explains that Christ suffered the curse of the law so that the blessings of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, “So that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith” (Gal. 3:14). The Old Testament promised that the Spirit would be poured forth and would renew the creation—the Spirit would bring forth the new heavens and earth and it would be abundantly filled with fruit. But literal fruit was not in view, rather Isaiah was prophesying about the fruit of righteousness filling the earth (e.g., Isa. 32:14-17). So when Paul unpacks the fruit of the Spirit, he has in view the long-promised work of the Spirit. In other words, with the advent of Christ the clock of redemptive history has been irreversibly pushed forward—the new creation has dawned with the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, and he has poured out the Spirit upon the church (e.g., Acts 2:33). This means that the fruit of the Spirit that believers manifest (Gal. 5:22-24) is evidence that the new creation has dawned. The hour-hand has advanced and now reads, “the time of the new creation.”

I think far too many believers look at the fruit of the Spirit merely as a part of their own sanctification rather than as one smaller part in the greater whole of the unfolding narrative of redemptive history. Hence, believers should not only ask, “Who am I in Christ?,” to which we should answer, “A new creature.” But we should also ask, “What time is it?,” to which we should answer, “It is nearly the end of all things as Christ has inaugurated the new heavens and earth in his ministry.”

KF: You note, concerning the fruit of the Spirit in the life of the believer, that some may think that, having been justified by Christ, this fruit is now produced simply through concentrated moral effort.  Would you explain what Paul considers to be the source of this Spirit-wrought fruit?  

JVF: I have addressed this question in my previous answer, but I can restate my answer in these terms, which hopefully give another view upon this vital issue. All too many Reformed Christians believe that there is a distinct Reformed doctrine of justification but that everyone agrees on the doctrine of sanctification. But such an idea is not true—there is a Reformed doctrine of sanctification as well. In other words, people can have unbiblical ideas about the doctrine of sanctification.
If we are saved by grace through faith in Christ (e.g., Eph. 2:8-10), then the grace of the gospel is not only vital for our entry-point into salvation (such as with our justification) but also for the entirety of the Christian life (in my sanctification). There is no point in the Christian life where we are not totally and utterly dependent upon Christ’s gospel. The way in which we will manifest the fruit of the Spirit, therefore, is not through concentrated moral effort but rather through drawing near to Christ through the means of grace. And in drawing near to Christ, we become like the one we worship. Like Moses’ face aglow with the glory of God merely by being in God’s presence, so we are transformed more and more into the holy and righteous image of Christ as we draw near to him in worship. In drawing near to him, then, we are transformed and enabled and equipped to manifest the fruit of the Spirit, grow in our sanctification, and feed our faith so that it might work through love (Gal. 5:6).

KF: As a pastor, professor, scholar, and one who has rigorously studied the letter to the Galatians, and many of Paul’s motifs therein, how did this particular sermon series and the writing of this commentary most impact your life, ministry, and understanding of the gospel?

JVF: I think it has reminded me to two chief things, among many others. First, how desperately we, individually and corporately, need Christ and his gospel. There is no hope without it. And second, it struck me how quickly the Galatian churches abandoned the gospel even though Paul himself planted these churches. It gave me solace to know that Paul faced false teaching and so the false gospels we see in our own day are nothing new. It was also a reminder that the greatest threat to the gospel comes, not from without the church, but within. The Judaizers were wolves in sheep’s clothing. False teaching comes dressed as light, not as the darkness it truly is. I think that far too many think greater threats to the church’s well-being lie outside the church. This is a constant reminder to me in my own ministry to pray that Christ would keep me close and in his grip so that I would not spread false teaching. But it also causes me to pray the same for the church—that we would collectively pray for fidelity to Christ and his gospel.

My sincere thanks to Dr. Fesko for taking the time for this interview.  I trust it’s been as insightful and edifying for you as it has been for me.  If you haven’t already done so, take time to check out my interview with Dr. Jon D. Payne, the series editor of the Lectio Continua commentary.  Great stuff there as well!

Lastly, for more information regarding Dr. Fesko’s commentary on Galatians, and to pick up a copy for yourself or your pastor, CLICK HERE.

OTHER RESOURCES BY J.V. FESKO

Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine (P & R, 2008)

The Fruit of the Spirit is… (Evangelical Press, 2011)

Word, Water, and Spirit: A Reformed Perspective on Baptism (Reformation Heritage, 2010)

Last Things First: Unlocking Genesis 1-3 with the Christ of Eschatology (Christian Focus/Mentor, 2007)

REVIEW: Galatians (LCECNT) by J.V. Fesko

Dr. J.V. Fesko, Academic Dean, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Seminary California, and minister at Geneva Orthodox Presbyterian Church, is the first commentator to be published in the new expository commentary series from Tolle Lege Press, The Lectio Continua Expository Commentary on the New Testament (LCECNT)As an expository commentary, the volume is composed of 22 of Dr. Fesko’s sermons on Galatians.  Preaching through the entirety of the letter to the churches in Galatia, Fesko aims to unpack the Apostle Paul’s defense of the true gospel against the false teachers in Galatia.

INTRODUCTION

At the outset, Fesko paints a broad picture of all that is to come with a helpful introductory chapter where he identifies the main themes of Galatians as justification, sanctification, and eschatology (the study of last things).  Additionally, touching upon the historical background and circumstances that arose at the time of composition, Dr. Fesko gives the reader an accessible understanding of the contextual issues at hand without being over-technical.

COMMENTARY

Moving through the text, Fesko provides a section by section exposition of the letter.  As is one of the aims of the Lectio Continua series as a whole, the commentary avoids the technicalities of more academic commentaries, and without diminishing substance, provides the reader with a faithful explanation of the text.  Certainly, at this point, Dr. Fesko’s approach to exposition is a training manual of sorts for biblical communicators as it relates to the often difficult ability to interact with scholarship, historical voices, differing interpretations/objections, etc., and yet remaining articulate, balanced, coherent, and practical.  The textual commentary is thus edifying, engaging, and homiletically instructive.

In terms of the major themes addressed in the commentary and mentioned above, several points are worth mentioning.  Fesko’s understanding of the doctrine of justification is of the traditional Reformed perspective, specifically citing the Westminster Confession’s definition.  He briefly interacts with the New Perspective (NPP).

In regard to the doctrine of sanctification, Fesko offers substantial discussion concerning the Spirit’s role in the sanctification of the believer and the import of our union with Christ.  Fesko writes at one point, “Paul drives us to our union with Christ and the work of the Spirit.  As Paul explains, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).  In other words, both justification and sanctification come by faith alone in Christ.  We are no more sanctified by our good works than we are justified by them.  Rather, we look by faith to Christ alone and he saves.  As Paul makes clear, such an approach to redemption in no way mitigates the believer’s need to produce good works,.  Instead, Paul desires to have the Galatians recognize that Christ is the source of their salvation—both in justification and sanctification.”

Perhaps a mark which sets this commentary apart, and which is remarkably helpful, is the time which Dr. Fesko devotes to the importance of Paul’s understanding and use of the OT within his argument.  Drawing on several redemptive-historical, new creational and eschatological motifs, Fesko shows the immense importance of understanding the overall redemptive work of God in Christ.  Specifically, in regard to the fruit of the Spirit, “walking by the Spirit”, and the significance of circumcision, Dr. Fesko explains how each are foreshadowed in the OT and understood in NT perspective as they relate to God’s overall plan of redemption.

NOTES ON INTERPRETATIVE POSITIONS

Dr. Fesko writes from a thoroughly Reformed perspective.  The redemptive-historical nature of Paul’s argumentation is explained clearly, and the incorporation of the significance of the OT text is both noted and explained throughout.  Dr. Fesko concludes that “the Israel of God” in Galatians 6 is indeed the church as he states that, “only those who belong to Christ are properly called Israel.”  Regardless of where you may come down on this interpretation, the explanation that Dr. Fesko provides for his interpretative conclusion is wonderfully concise, theologically helpful, and practically encouraging.

CONCLUSION

In sum, Fesko’s volume is a largely helpful commentary on the book of Galatians.  Whether pastor, professor, or layperson, all will indeed benefit from this treatment of the Galatians text.  Overall, this commentary is soaked with gospel goodness.  It’s solid, simple, and straightforward.  Not only will it help you think more deeply about the gospel, but I believe those who read it will become better equipped at speaking more clearly and substantially about what God has done for us in Christ.  It certainly lives up to the aims of the Lectio Continua series in that it is, “rigorously exegetical, God-centered, redemptive-historical, sin-exposing, Gospel-trumpeting and teeming with practical application.”  Insofar as expository commentaries are concerned, it is superb.  I highly recommend it.

BOOK DETAILS

Read inside (PDFs):Sample Pages

Publisher: Tolle Lege Press
Author: Fesko, J. V.
ISBN-13: 9780983145776
Binding: Hardcover
List Price: $29.95
BUY NOW at Westminster Bookstore: $26.96 – 10% Off

NOTE: I was provided with a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher for the purpose of review, and was under no obligation to offer a positive review.

THE LECTIO CONTINUA METHOD w/ Rev. Dr. Jon D. Payne

Is there a way of approaching the task of preaching that ensures a local church receives a balanced diet of the Word?  Is there a manner of proclamation that takes up “the whole counsel of God”, rather than allowing the preaching to be driven by the preacher’s every whim?  The answer is,”YES!”

Rev. Dr. Jon D. Payne, series editor of The Lectio Continua Expository Commentary on the New Testament, was kind enough to answer a few questions about the lectio continua method of reading and preaching, its benefits, and what we can expect from this exciting new expository commentary series on the NT.

As was touched upon yesterday, Dr. Payne is senior pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Douglasville, GA, and Visiting Lecturer in Practical Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Atlanta. He is the author of John Owen and the Lord’s Supper (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2004), In The Splendor of Holiness: Rediscovering the Beauty of Reformed Worship for the 21st Century (Tolle Lege Press, 2008), and co-editor of and contributor to a forthcoming collection of essays celebrating the 450th anniversary of the Heidelberg Catechism (Reformation Heritage Books, 2012). Dr. Payne is also a frequent contributor to Modern Reformation. Jon and his wife Marla have been married for thirteen years and have two children, Mary Hannah (9) and Hans (7).

KF: What is the lectio continua method of reading/preaching the Scriptures?  What are the benefits of such a method?

JDP: The Lectio Continua method of reading and preaching the Scriptures is the regular, consecutive, systematic, verse by verse exposition of God’s Word.  When executed faithfully, this method ensures that God’s Word is preached, and not something (or someone) else.  Sadly, it has become increasingly difficult for committed believers to find a church where the “whole counsel of God” is faithfully proclaimed.  Too often modern day preachers put style over substance, creativity over content.  Sermons are filled with personal stories, clever anecdotes, and entertaining illustrations, and not with careful exegesis and exposition — a simple explanation and application of the text.  At the root of this problem is a lack of belief in the inspiration, authority, sufficiency, and efficacy of God’s Word.  We boldly confess a high view of Scripture, yet our preaching reveals something quite different.

Dr. Jon D. Payne

The benefits of the lectio continua method of preaching are myriad. To name but a few:

  1. The whole counsel of God is trumpeted forth (Acts 20:27; Matthew 28:20).
  2. The difficult and thorny texts are not passed over (II Timothy 3:16-17).
  3. God’s people learn how to study the Bible as their ministers preach through OT and NT books.
  4. Faith is created and nourished in God’s elect through the Word of Christ (Romans 10:17).
  5. The good news of Christ crucified, risen and exalted is preached from all of Scripture, thus underscoring the Christo-centric nature of the Bible (2 Corinthians 2:1-2).
  6. The indicatives and the imperatives are boldly proclaimed.
  7. The minister may not only choose “soap box” texts from which to preach.
  8. In time, the congregation will hear the entire Bible preached and read in morning and evening Lord’s Day worship (NOTE: In the last nine years our church has read and preached through well over half the Bible in public worship). See I Timothy 4:13.
  9. Ministers are marvelously free to preach with boldness and authority, since it is GOD’s Word that they are preaching, not man’s ideas.
  10. Through careful exegesis and preparation, ministers grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 6:4).  I think that the burnout rate and the rise of immorality among ministers are due, in large part, to a lack of time in the study.  Ministers who rely upon charm, charisma, style (ahem … dare I say, fashion), and intellectual gifts, and not upon God’s Spirit and Word, are easy prey for the Devil.

KF: What are the distinguishing marks of the Lectio Continua Expository Commentary on the New Testament (LCECNT)?  How often can we expect to see new volumes in this series?

JDP: The aim of the LCECNT is to provide biblical exposition that is unswervingly Reformed, Confessional, Christ-centered, Redemptive-Historical, and full of application. Each volume, as with every preacher, will have strengths and weaknesses.  But we trust that the end result will serve as an example to future preachers, a resource for current preachers, and an encouragement to all members of Christ’s church who desire to grow in their understanding of God’s life-transforming Word. In other words, these expository commentaries are not just for pastors and theologians, they are meant to be read by Christians everywhere.

New volumes will appear every few months. The next three vols will appear this fall and winter, 2012:

  • First Peter by Jon Payne

KF: How did the vision for this series develop?

JDP: Several years ago I read through D.M. Lloyd-Jones’s multivolume expository commentaries on Romans and Ephesians. As a young and impressionable seminary student, these lectio continua sermons had a significant impact on my life and ministry. Now teaching homiletics at RTS Atlanta, I am aware of the great need for students to recognize the value of preaching through books of the Bible.  Many of them are coming out of churches where careful expository preaching is unknown. In addition, many pastors are losing confidence in God’s Word, and thus replacing systematic expository preaching with mostly topical the thematic sermons — of the poorer sort.

A couple of years ago it occurred to me that the wider church – ministers and laypeople included – could always use more serious biblical exposition in print, to help drive us back to biblical preaching in our congregations. Fresh and faithful expositions of God’s Word in print should be welcome in every generation. Many friends and colleagues have graciously agreed to participate in the series, and I trust that their contributions will be a blessing.  Currently, the list of contributors includes Terry Johnson, Iain D. Campbell, Sinclair Ferguson, Ian Hamilton, J. Ligon Duncan, Harry Reeder, Kim Riddlebarger, Joel Beeke, JV Fesko, David W. Hall, Richard D. Phillips, et al.  My earnest hope and prayer is that the series will be a help and encouragement to many.

I’d like to extend my gratitude to Dr. Payne for taking the time to answer a few questions about the series.  Please take a moment to check out the following resources by Dr. Payne: John Owen on the Lord’s Supper and In the Splendor of Holiness: Rediscovering the Beauty of Reformed Worship for the 21st Century.

Tomorrow, I’ll be posting my review of Galatians, by J.V. Fesko – the first volume in the LCECNT series.  Until then, CLICK HERE, to download a PDF sample of the series preface, introductions, and first chapter.

FOR DISCUSSION:

What manner of preaching is characteristic in your local church?  In light of this preaching method, how would you say the people in your church view God’s Word?
Leave a comment below…

LECTIO CONTINUA WEEK.

There’s some exciting stuff forthcoming on the blog in the few days ahead…  All this week, we will be focusing on an exciting addition to the world of expository commentaries – The Lectio Continua Expository Commentary on the New Testament (LCECNT), published by Tolle Lege Press.

If you’re unfamiliar with the series, here is a brief description from the publisher:

The Lectio Continua Expository Commentary seeks to be rigorously exegetical, God-centered, redemptive-historical, sin-exposing, Gospel-trumpeting and teeming with practical application. It aims to encourage ministers, elders, seminarians and interested laypeople to rediscover the profound spiritual benefits of systematic expository preaching; that is, the faithful preaching of the “whole counsel of God” — verse by verse, chapter by chapter, book by book. It also endeavors, by the power of the Spirit, to help Christ’s kingdom disciples to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (II Peter 3:18).

The week at a glance…

Tomorrow, we will be featuring an interview with Dr. Jon D. Payne, the editor of the Lectio Continua series.  Dr. Payne kindly took time to answer a few questions about the series, the method of preaching upon which the series is based (and its benefits), as well as how the vision for the series developed.  The Rev. Dr. Jon D. Payne serves as senior pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Douglasville, GA, and Visiting Lecturer in Practical Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Atlanta.  He is the author of several books.

Wednesday, I’ll be posting my review of the first volume in the series, Galatians, by J.V. Fesko.

Thursday, we have the privilege of connecting with Dr. J.V. Fesko.  As author of the LCECNT  commentary on Galatians, Dr. Fesko graciously took some time to speak about the gospel, the commentary, and, specifically, the themes of new creation, fruit of the Spirit, and sanctification as they pertain to Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia.  Dr. Fesko is Academic Dean and Professor of Systematic Theology and Historical Theology at Westminster Seminary California, and a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.  His present research interests include the integration of biblical and systematic theology, soteriology, ecclesiology, and sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Reformed theology.

You won’t want to miss the interviews with Dr. Payne and Dr. Fesko.  I encourage you to subscribe to the blog feed via email (located on the right sidebar), or add the feed to your reader of choice.

 

FREE eBOOK FROM DESIRING GOD.

FROM DESIRINGGOD.ORG

Skillful listening is a non-negotiable skill for everyone who enters a church building on Sunday or plays a sermon through headphones during the week. Scripture calls us not only to consider carefully what sermons we listen to, but also how we listen to those sermons.

It is very easy to slip into what Scripture calls “dullness of hearing,” to hear the weekly sermons without faith, and to see little or no moral fruit in our lives as a result. As Jesus makes clear, ultimately it is how we hear that reveals who we are (John 8:43, 47, 10:4, 27).

Take Care How You Listen is an ebook on listening well. It is comprised of five unedited sermon manuscripts from the preaching ministry of Pastor John. We pray this resource will serve your personal reflection as you heed Jesus’ command to “take care how you listen” (Luke 8:18).

To download, click on the following format options:

Note: To load the ebook on a mobile device it may be necessary to view this blog post from within your device and then to click the download option.

 

MEET MLJ.

GRAPHIC CREDIT: MLJ-USA.COM

To some this may be “old news”, but it is nonetheless good news…Recently, the Martyn Lloyd-Jones Recordings Trust has graciously made more than 1600 of Dr. Lloyd-Jones’ sermons available for FREE digital download via their website.  Needless to say, this is a massive resource!  CLICK HERE to be redirected now.

One of the features of the site is a 19-minute video documentary on “The Doctor”.  You may check it out below…

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/v/TolCoC_44AQ]

MORE LLOYD-JONES…

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (Bitesize Biographies), by Eryl Davies

Preaching and Preachers (40th Anniversary Edition), ed. by Kevin DeYoung

Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure, by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

REVIEW: THE BEGINNING AND END OF WISDOM by DOUGLAS SEAN O’DONNELL

Perhaps the most familiar genre of biblical literature to the average layperson is the epistle.  Given our Western propensity toward the practical and the immediate, the letters of the New Testament provide us with straightforward statements about what Christ has done and how we are to live in response; so it’s no wonder many of us initially flip to these sections of the Bible in our daily reading.  But how do we fare when it comes to the literature of the Hebrew Bible?  Apart from the familiar narratives that most have experienced, at the very least in their Sunday School days, the Old Testament still remains a mystery to many gospel-believing Christians.  And given the lack of familiarity and confidence in handling much of the Old Testament among many followers of Christ, it’s likely that a portion of that may be due to the fact that many pastors could use a refresher when it comes to rightly handling and preaching the Old Testament.

In light of this reality, I am thankful for the growing number of resources that aim to assist believers in understanding and developing a Christ-centered, gospel-focused, redemptive-historical hermeneutic for reading and interpreting the Old Testament Scriptures.  After all it was Paul who began his letter to the Romans indicating that “the gospel of God” was something God “promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son” (Romans 1:2-3, ESV).  Jesus, as well, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets…interpreted to [the disciples on the Emmaus Road] in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27, ESV, emphasis mine).  Certainly “all the Scriptures” includes the Wisdom Literature of the Hebrew Bible, and Douglas Sean O’Donnell has provided us with a very helpful example of effective Christ-centered preaching from this portion of God’s Word in his, The Beginning and End of Wisdom: Preaching Christ from the First and Last Chapters of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job (Crossway, 2011)(Talk about a Puritan-length title!)

The Beginning and End of Wisdom is a collection of a handful of O’Donnell’s sermons from the Wisdom genre as he seeks to initially instruct the reader/preacher through demonstration in practice.  I was thoroughly encouraged by the posture taken by O’Donnell as he approached his task.  Noting the primacy of Christ he states, “Life does not come through Bible literacy.  Life comes through Jesus.  And a right understanding of Scripture comes through knowledge of Jesus and trust in him.”  As O’Donnell approaches this genre of biblical literature he reminds the student of Scripture of the “demeanor” one must take, that is: “that God remain large and we remain small.”  O’Donnell displays, what I believe to be, a genuine reverence for Christ and his word, a serious approach to his task of interpretation, and a passion to see the gospel elevated and hearts awestruck by the God of the gospel in the Old Testament Scriptures.

I particularly enjoyed O’Donnell’s sermon in from the first chapter of Job (1:1-12).  With his aim set on the gospel, O’Donnell’s honesty allows the gospel to rest sweetly on the ears of the hearers of the text as he reminds us, “We come to a book (Job) that will teach us that God’s love for us is bigger and broader than sentimentality and sympathy and that his will for our lives is vaster and grander than our personal happiness or success.”  In light of Job’s life situation and response to the suffering from God’s providential hand, O’Donnell notes in Christocentric terms, “When Jesus walked the earth, he called everyone, as he still calls them, to put him and his kingdom above possessions, family, friends, and reputation, and to accept, if necessary, suffering, persecution, and the loss of home job, money, or even life.”  Thus, O’Donnell gets to Christ without rushing with hermeneutical irresponsibility toward a connection, preaching and teaching the text responsibly.

Before two appendices on “Preaching Hebrew Poetry” and “Book Summaries and Suggested Sermon Series”, O’Donnell moves from the finished product to show the readers the tools necessary to get there.  This is a bit of a different route to take as many would think to start with the materials and method before considering the finished product.  However, in his chapter entitled “How Shall Wisdom Be Preached?” O’Donnell gives careful hermeneutical consideration and instruction to that which his has just demonstrated in his sermons.  For the person who lacks acquaintance with the art of preaching Christ from the Old Testament, this order serves to effectively immerse the reader in the manner, style, and practice of preaching Christ from the wisdom books so that the dots will likely be more quickly and readily connected through, “Yeah-I-see-how-you-did-that…” moments.  The chapter on hermeneutics is incredibly helpful, especially in O’Donnell’s inclusion of charts that connect Wisdom Literature text with like texts from the New Testament.

Overall, with a reverence for the God of the Word, and a desire to see Christ exalted as the gospel is proclaimed, The Beginning and End of Wisdom is a excellent book to consider adding to your library as it relates to Christ-centered hermeneutics!  I recommend it!!

*The publisher, at no charge, for the purpose of review, provided a copy of the aforementioned title.  I was under no obligation to write a favorable review.

BOOK DETAILS

Read inside (PDFs):Sample Pages

Publisher: Crossway/Good News Publishers
Author: O’Donnell, Douglas
ISBN-10: 1433523345 | ISBN-13: 9781433523342
Binding: Paperback
List Price: $17.99
BUY NOW at Westminster Bookstore: $11.73 – 35% Off 

CLICK HERE to check out O’Donnell’s recent article in Themelios entitled, “The Earth Is Crammed with Heaven: Four Guideposts to Reading and Teaching the Song of Songs”

PRAY FOR YOUR PASTOR OFTEN…ESPECIALLY THIS MORNING.

I was reading through a section of Joanne J. Jung’s Godly Conversation: Rediscovering the Puritan practice of conference (Reformation Heritage Books, 2011).  As she was noting the primacy of the Word preached/proclaimed in the corporate worship service among the Puritans, she cited the words of Richard Baxter on the task the pastor must assume as he brings the Word of God before the congregation.

Jung writes:

Richard Baxter gave perhaps the finest definition of the purpose and position of preaching expressed by the Puritans:

It is no small matter to stand up in the face of a congregation, and deliver a message of salvation or damnation, as from the living God, in the name of our Redeemer.  It is no easy matter to speak so plain, that the ignorant may understand us; and so seriously that the deadest hearts may feel us; and so convincingly, that contradicting cavillers may be silenced.

The sermon carried the weight of being the God-ordained vehicle for salvation and sanctification, serving as the chief means for conversion and growth in godliness. (p. 72)

The responsibility your pastor has before himself today, and each Lord’s Day, is massive!  Pray hard for him.  Seek to encourage him.  Strive to support him as he labors to clearly preach the gospel.  For, “It is no small matter to stand up in the face of a congregation, and deliver a message of salvation or damnation, as from the living God, in the name of our Redeemer” (emphasis mine).

A DIFFERENT CHRIST CALLED “JESUS”.

In his excellent commentary on Galatians, Phil Ryken warns of the danger of false gospels saying:

“…[C]an you distinguish between the true gospel and all the false gospels in the contemporary church?  We worship in a church of many gospels.  There is the gospel of material prosperity, which teaches that Jesus is the way to financial gain.  There is the gospel of family values, which teaches that Jesus is the way to a happy home.  There is the gospel of self, which teaches that Jesus is the way to personal fulfillment.  There is the gospel of religious tradition, which teaches that Jesus is the way to respectability.  There is the gospel of morality, which teaches that Jesus is the way to be a good person.

What makes these other gospels so dangerous is that the things they offer are all beneficial.  It is good to be prosperous, to have a happy home, and to be well behaved.  Yet as good as all these things are, they are not the good news.  When they become for us a sort of gospel, then we are in danger of turning away from the only gospel there is.

Raymond Ortlund Jr. has tried to imagine the church without the gospel.  “What might our evangelicalism, without the evangel, look like?” he asks.  “We would have to replace the centrality of the gospel with something else, naturally.  So what might take place of the gospel in our sermons and books…and Sunday school classes and home Bible studies and, above all, in our hearts?”[1]  Ortlund lists a number of possibilities:

  • “a passionate devotion to the pro-life cause”
  • “a confident manipulation of modern managerial techniques”
  • “a drive toward church growth”
  • “a deep concern for the institution of the family”
  • “a clever appeal to consumerism by offering a sort of cost-free Christianity Lite”
  • “a sympathetic, empathetic, thickly-honeyed cultivation of personal relationships”
  • “a determination to take America back to its Christian roots through political power”
  • “a warm affirmation of self-esteem”

In other words, the church without the gospel would look very much the way the evangelical church looks at this very moment.  We cannot simply assume we have the gospel.  Unless we keep the gospel at the center of the church, we are always in danger of shoving it off to one side and letting something else take its place.  Martin Luther rightly warned that “there is a clear and present danger that the devil may take away from us the pure doctrine of faith and may substitute for it the doctrines of works and of human traditions.  It is very necessary, therefore, that this doctrine of faith be continually read and heard in public.”[2]  The good news of the cross must be preached, believed, and lived.  Otherwise, it will be lost.

The church’s greatest danger is not the anti-gospel outside the church; it is the counterfeit gospel inside the church.  The Judaizers did not walk around Pisidian Antioch wearing T-shirts that said, “Hug me, I’m a false apostle.”  What made them so dangerous was that they knew how to talk the way Christians talk.  They used all the right terminology.  They talked about how they “got saved.”  They told people to “trust in Christ.”  They “presented the gospel.”

Only they did not have the gospel after all.  We should expect, therefore, that the most serious threat to the one true gospel is something that is also called the gospel.  The most dangerous teachers are the ones who preach a different Christ but still call him “Jesus.”


[1] Raymond Ortlund Jr., A Passion for God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1994), 205.

[2] Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians, 1535, trans. And ed. Jaroslav Pelikan, in Luther’s Works (St. Louis: Concordia, 1963), 26:3.

Taken from: Philip Graham Ryken, Galatians, REC (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2005), 20-21.