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.

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The Double Cure of the Cross

Accessed: http://www.pcog.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/120921-Three-Acts-of-Atonement_KellieWeeks1.jpg

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| The Gospel Call & True Conversion, by Paul Washer

Gospel_Call_04021.1371217419.1280.1280__97993.1372356176.1280.1280

When a particular work is accurate in the way it explains the truth, there is something refreshing, something sturdy, something even exhilarating about that particular work. Rather than attempting to win the ears of men through overworked “creativity”, a simple, straightforward, and crystal clear explanation of the gospel in all its weight and glory can edify the soul of a man quite unlike anything else. Without fear of overstatement, I can say that the aforementioned descriptions are true of Paul Washer’s “Recovering the Gospel” series, and in particular, his recent book The Gospel Call and True Conversion (Reformation Heritage Books, 2013).

Washer is a man who understands so well the urgency with which the gospel must be preached that he has no desire to waste his hearer’s time with that which would not further his proclamation of the Good News. In that proclamation, there shines through the heart of a man who is truly a pastor, truly a missionary. Washer has served as a missionary in some exceedingly hostile environments, knowing full well that his life is not his own and that he has been called to proclaim the gospel to the uttermost regions of the earth.

In terms of content, the passion with which Washer communicates rich grace and yet lovingly warns of the reality of false conversion and watered down truth cuts against the grain of many evangelists today. Washer, in his sermons now edited for publication, is concerned that his discourse may be used by God to produce real and lasting fruit, not simply a large following. In reading it, you will encounter a prophetic boldness that is uncommon of many writers today.

The book, divided into three sections, examines:

  • The Gospel Call
  • New Hearts and the Nature of True Conversion
  • New People and the Nature of True Conversion

In each section, and in fact on every page, the reader will find footnotes loaded with Scriptural references that have not been cited as mere prooftexts, but have carefully been selected because of the way in which they support each assertion after careful examination. I find in Washer a rare mix of rigorous textual study and the ability to communicate in profoundly clear terms.

Whether you are a new believer or someone who has walked with the Lord for many years, you will be discipled through the writings of Washer. You will be stirred with passion for the grace of God displayed in the gospel of Jesus Christ. And, you will be graciously convicted toward holiness to the praise of God’s glorious grace. That being said, I not only strongly recommend The Gospel Call and True Conversion, but all of Paul Washer’s work as well.

*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.

Purchase The Gospel Call & True Conversion | Amazon.com | Reformation Heritage Books

Vos on the Resurrection

vos_geerhardus_bToday marks the 151st birthday of Dutch theologian, Geerhardus Vos.  Vos is known by many as the father of Reformed Biblical Theology and a stalwart representative of Old Princeton Theology.  The Christ-centered, gospel saturated, redemptive-historical writings and sermons of Dr. Vos have been both educational and edifying to many throughout the last 100+ years.

Reading through a collection of his sermons entitled Grace and Glory, I came across this gem about the resurrection.  I thought it fitting as we prepare our minds and hearts with Easter quickly approaching.  Preaching on 1 Corinthians 15:14, Vos notes:

“It is just as impossible that any one for whom Christ rose from the dead should fail to receive the righteousness of God as it is that God should undo the resurrection of Christ itself.  Consequently, knowing ourselves one with Christ, we find in the resurrection the strongest possible assurance of pardon and peace. Brethren, when Christ rose on Easter morning he left behind him in the depths of the grave every one of our sins; there they remain buried from the sight of God so completely that even in the day of judgment they will not be able to rise up against us any more.  And not only is this true of the resurrection as an accomplished fact, it is true in an even higher sense of the risen Lord himself. The very life of the exalted Christ is a witness to the blessed reality of the forgiveness of our sins. In the living Savior Paul would have us by faith grasp our justification. In the same real sense in which on earth he was identified with our sin, he is now in his resurrection-life identified with our state of pardon and acceptance.  According to the profound words of the apostle, we are become the righteousness of God in him (II Cor. 5:20) because he has become the righteousness of God for us.”

Excerpt taken from: Geerhardus Vos, Grace and Glory (Feedbooks PDF), 80.

REVIEW: Heart of the Matter: Daily Reflections for Changing Hearts and Lives (CCEF)

I can say, without a doubt, that some of the most potent, Christ-exalting, gospel-centered biblical counsel I have encountered has come through the speaking and writing of the faculty at the Christian Counseling & Education Foundation (CCEF).  These men and women are not interested in quick-fix, self-help, moralistic nonsense.  They are unswervingly committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  They are of the conviction that real, Spirit-wrought power for the changing of the human heart occurs as we dive more deeply into the gospel, applying it to the myriad of circumstances and situations of our daily lives.

The writings and resources of the CCEF are incredibly extensive.  Effectively working through all of them, though undoubtedly worthwhile, would take years to accomplish.  That’s why I was immensely excited when I was introduced to Heart of the Matter: Daily Reflections for Changing Hearts and Lives (New Growth Press, 2012),ed. by Nancy B. Winter.  This daily devotional is a collection of some of the most powerful excerpts from the writings of those on staff at CCEF.  The authors include, but are not limited to, Paul David Tripp, Edward T. Welch, David Powlison, and Timothy S. Lane. Organized by the calendar year and paired with a daily reading from the Scriptures, these vignettes are sincere, to the point, and clearly hopeful in the power of God to change hearts through the gospel of Christ.  While deeply steeped in the grace believers have received from God in Christ, each devotion then includes questions for personal reflection and application.  As I mentioned, these devotions are not designed to give the reader 5-steps to personal change/fulfillment, but rather are written to make the reader aware of the sovereignty of God, the grace presently available in the gospel, and hope that real Sprit-wrought change is possible.

Two things that make this resource particularly helpful are the Source Index and Scripture Index included at the conclusion of the volume.  This will be of great assistance to readers who, when particularly impacted by a given devotional, desire to know the resource from which the excerpt came.  Additionally, the Scripture Index allows the reader to use the devotional as a companion when studying a specific book of the Bible.

In a day and age where so many “Christian” devotionals are filled with mere fluff, Heart of the Matter is a distinctly different resource that will assuredly encourage believers to reflect more seriously upon the gospel and be used by God to powerfully change hearts and lives to the praise of his glorious grace.  I wholeheartedly commend it to you!

*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

Publisher: New Growth Press
Author: CCEF Faculty
ISBN-13: 9781936768653
Cover Type: Hardcover
List Price: $19.99
Pre-Order at Westminster Bookstore$17.99 – 10% Off

You may also pre-order the volume for $17.59 from the New Growth Press webstore: Available Here.

Post-Election Gospel Sanity

Now that the 2012 Presidential Election has passed, and President Obama has been re-elected to a second term of office, the opinions and reactions of many people are flooding virtually every media outlet.  Whether it is a blog, Twitter, Facebook, or any other variety of instant publication, as soon as the results were announced, the statements started to fly…some helpful, others unhelpful.

For many, the re-election of President Obama comes with grave concern.  The President’s stance on abortion, his views on the constitution of marriage, his economic policy, only to name a few, all warrant a high level of concern.  The post-election question for followers of Christ is: How are we to respond in light of the gospel and God’s holy Word?

Several pastors and bloggers have brought a level of gospel sanity to the post-election discussion and I wanted to mention a few that I have found to be particularly encouraging…

  • Scotty Smith has offered two prayers; yesterday and today, Smith posted exemplary petitions in light of God’s sovereignty and Scriptural instruction.  Here are excerpts of both:

Yesterday, Smith wrote: “On this Election Day, we bow to you and cast our votes. The brokenness in our country, hearts and world leads us to cry out, “How long, Oh, Lord? How long before you return, Lord Jesus, and finish making all things new?” Until that Day, we will seek to “Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.” (1 Pet. 2:7). We will seek to live as good citizens of two kingdoms—the city of man and the City of God. We will seek to adorn the gospel and serve you faith-fully, wherever you place us in the community and culture.” Keep reading…

Today, in light of 1 Peter 2:11-17, Scotty writes: “Father, may we fear you 1000 times more than we are either excited this morning or are quite disappointed by the outcome of the election. You alone are God; you are in the heavens and you do whatever pleases you. As your servants, may we prove the wonders of Jesus’ love this very day, and tomorrow, and the next, far as the curse is found. So very Amen we pray, in the exalted and triumphant name of Jesus.” Keep reading…

“Christians, above all people, should pray for and show respect for our President and all of our elected officials. After all, unlike those who see politics as ultimate, we recognize that our political structures are important, but temporal, before an inbreaking kingdom of Christ. We don’t then need to be fomented into the kind of faux outrage that passes for much of contemporary political discourse. And, unlike those who see history as impersonal or capricious, we see behind everything a God who is sovereign over his universe.”  Keep reading…

  • Kevin DeYoung weighed in with a prayer for the President, which he wrote for either man, before the outcome was announced:

DeYoung writes:  “Make him a defender of the unborn, a protector of marriage, and a champion for religious liberty.

Make him a man of prayer and a daily student of the Scriptures.

Give him humility to admit his faults, forgive his enemies, and change his mind.

Lead him to a firm understanding of the truth of the gospel, a resolute commitment to obey the Word of God, and a passion to promote what accords with your truth.

By your grace, heavenly Father, may our President be a better man than so many expect and a better man than we deserve.

In the name of Jesus our Lord, let it be.” Keep reading…

May we be those who join these men in praying for our nation and our President in light of the gospel and the Holy Scriptures!

Piper on Calvin: After Darkness, Light

Yesterday was Reformation Day, and Desiring God made available a video of John Piper discussing the impact of John Calvin’s ministry on the city of Geneva.  Check out the video below…

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(Introduction from desiringGod.org, posted 10/31/12)

Today is Reformation Day. Martin Luther posted his explosive 95 theses October 31, 1517. In the wake of Luther’s life, an army of Reformers soon emerged. Foremost among them was John Calvin. Together they recovered for the church the supreme authority and clarity of the Scriptures. Grace-erasing tradition had buried the glory of the gospel. But now light was breaking out. So the Reformers took up a Latin phrase to describe the wonder: “Post Tenebras Lux”—“After Darkness… Light.”

In honor of Calvin’s ministry and, even more, in celebration of the God who restored the gospel to his church, we are making this video available today. My prayer is that it would stir in your heart a fresh passion for the majesty of the word of God.  (Continue reading…)

Old Story New Preview: Week 1, Day 2

Yesterday we began the preview of Marty Machowski’s new family devotional Old Story New: Ten Minute Devotions to Draw Your Family to God (New Testament).  I hope you found it helpful, and even gave it a test run with your family.  As noted, we’ll be previewing the entire first week courtesy of New Growth Press.  So without further delay…here’s Day 2!

DAY TWO

Remember It: What do you remember about yesterday’s story? What do you think is going to happen today?

Read Luke 1:39–45.

Think about It Some More: After the angel told Mary about God’s plan, Mary went to see Elizabeth, a relative of hers.

When Mary arrived and walked through Elizabeth’s front door, the little baby growing in Elizabeth’s tummy jumped, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Even before Mary could tell Elizabeth that she was pregnant, Elizabeth already knew. The Holy Spirit told her that Mary was going to have a baby, a very special baby. She said that Mary’s baby would be her Lord! That means that she knew Mary’s baby was God and would rule over her life.

Talk about It

  • What was amazing about Elizabeth’s greeting? (She knew what happened to Mary even though Mary didn’t tell her.)
  • What did Elizabeth’s baby do when Mary arrived? (Elizabeth’s baby, who was later to be known as John the Baptist, jumped inside of her.)
  • Why did Elizabeth’s baby jump inside her? What was so special about Mary’s baby? ( Jesus was no ordinary baby; he was the Son of God. Jesus came to earth so that he could die on the cross for our sins. He is only a little baby in our story, but he is still the Savior of the world.

Pray about It: Thank God for the way he used Mary and Elizabeth to work out his plan to send us Jesus.

From Old Story New: Ten-Minute Devotions to Draw Your Family to God by Martin Machowski. Copyright © 2012 by Covenant Fellowship Church. Used by permission of New Growth Press, www.newgrowthpress.com

 

 

Old Story New Exclusive Preview: Week 1

Last week we featured Marty Machowski’s new family devotional, Old Story New: Ten Minute Devotions to Draw Your Family to God (New Testament).  This devotional is the next offering in Machowski’s Gospel Story for Kids series…a series that I wholeheartedly recommend for its superb ability of explaining and applying the grand story of the Bible to your children.  You can read my interview with Marty here, and my full review here.

This week, I’d like to offer you a preview of the first week’s devotions.  I hope that you’ll use these posts as a test run of sorts with your family, and that it will encourage you to begin to incorporate the entire series in your home.  The kind folks at New Growth Press have provided the unformatted text for use here on my blog.  My many thanks to them for their generosity!

Week 1: The Birth of Jesus Foretold(Coordinates with Story 79 – The Gospel Story Bible)

Introductory Note to Parents:

Prior to Bible study, find a photograph of some people (in a magazine or online) that has a lot of detail. Make a list of questions to ask your children that will test their skills of observation. The children will look closely at the photo and then answer questions to see how well they remember the details. Questions like, “What color shirt was the man wearing?” or “What was sitting on the table?” will work well to test the skill of your eyewitnesses. During Bible study, give everyone one minute to study the photograph taking in as much detail as they can. Then ask the questions from your list to see how observant they are. Explain to your children that this week you will be reading from Luke’s Gospel, which was written from eyewitness accounts.

DAY ONE

Picture It: Can you remember a time when you were startled? Perhaps someone walked up behind you in a quiet room, and you didn’t know anyone was there until you felt a hand on your shoulder. If something like that can scare us, imagine what it would be like to be alone in your room and suddenly see an angel appear out of nowhere. Probably you would either scream in fright or be scared into silence. Let’s see what happened to Zechariah and Mary in our story today when angels suddenly appeared to them.

Read Luke 1:1–38

Think About It Some More: When we read the story it can seem like seeing angels was a normal part of life, but it wasn’t. Zechariah had been a priest all his life but he’d never seen an angel before. Serving in the temple was scary enough, for God’s presence lived inside the temple. Even before he saw the angel, Zechariah would have walked very cautiously into the temple’s inner room. He knew God was holy and that he was a sinner. If he made a mistake, he could die—like Uzzah, who had touched the holy ark with his hand and been killed (2 Samuel 6:6–7). So when the angel suddenly appeared, fear must’ve shot through him like a lightning bolt. Similarly, when the angel appeared to Mary, she also was afraid. Angels had to calm people’s fears before speaking their messages.

 Talk about It

  • Why did Zechariah lose his voice? (Zechariah lost his voice because he didn’t believe the angel’s words to him.)
  • How was Mary’s answer to the angel different from Zechariah’s answer? (Mary trusted that what the angel said to her was true. She had faith and did not doubt.)
  • Whose throne was Jesus going to sit on? (Verse 32 tells us that Jesus would sit upon David’s throne. If you have smaller children, you can read verse 32 and ask them to raise their hands when they hear whose throne Jesus would be sitting upon.)

Pray about It: Thank God for sending his Son, Jesus, to the earth to die on the cross for our sins.

From Old Story New: Ten-Minute Devotions to Draw Your Family to God by Martin Machowski. Copyright © 2012 by Covenant Fellowship Church. Used by permission of New Growth Press, www.newgrowthpress.com