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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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

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 | “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 WTSBooks.com | $23.69 (32% off – $35.00)*

*Prices subject to change without notice.

REVIEW| Judges for You, by Timothy Keller

9781908762900Surging interest in biblical theology, with a particular emphasis a Christ-centered hermeneutical approach to the Old Testament, has brought upon evangelicalism a wealth of excellent resources for personal study. Many of these resources are written with the goal of helping the student of Scripture understand the grand storyline of the Bible, how a particular book fits into that storyline, and how the gospel is communicated through that particular book. One such series that bears these characteristics is entitled, “…For You” by Timothy Keller, published by The Good Book Company (2013).

The series, and this volume in particular, seeks to accomplish 3 tasks for the reader:

Read: Pointing you to God’s greatest rescue.

Feed: Helping you to meditate on God’s Word day by day.

Lead: Equipping you to teach the Bible to others.

In Judges for You, Keller takes a somewhat familiar Old Testament book, at least by name, and unpacks it under the heading that there is one ultimate hero evident in the book of Judges, and that is God himself.  God’s faithfulness to Israel displayed in the time of the Judges points to his ultimate act of faithfulness in the sending of his Son to redeem his people.

In terms of familiar interpretative approaches, Keller does view the book in light of the commonly understood “cycles” pattern, which is helpfully illustrated, in one of the books appendices. In terms of appendices, Keller also includes a helpful response to the difficult issue of “holy war” and how one may effectively answer the erroneous charge that Judges, or the Old Testament in sum, advocates ethnic cleansing/holy war. I found this 5-page response to be very helpful. To note, Keller employs Meredith Kline’s “intrusion ethic” as a way of understanding the judgment that takes place upon the peoples who are driven out of the land.

The strength of the book lies in Keller’s incredibly clear writing style and his ability to understand the human condition and apply a well-exegeted text for the purpose of heart/life transformation. Because Keller is so easy to read, without sacrificing substantial content, the reader will thoroughly grow in their knowledge of this difficult book and how it fits into the rest of the story of redemptive history.

However, for those looking for a technical commentary on the book of Judges, this will fall short. That is not the purpose of this volume, though. For sure, this would be an excellent resource for those preaching through the book or a study group that seeks to have a guide that is heavily substantial and practical. Judges for You is exactly that: substantial and practical.

I will be consulting this book frequently in my study of Judges and wholeheartedly commend it to your reading and personal study.

*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

224 Pages (Click Here for Preview)
Publisher: Good Book Company
Publication Date: August 2013
ISBN 10: 190876290X
ISBN 13: 9781908762900

BUY NOW at WTSBOOKS.com – $16.32 (29% off)

Red vs. Black? Update

pressLast week I posted some introductory remarks about a short series of posts having to do with the inspiration and authority of Scripture, especially as it relates to the words of Jesus and Paul.  Due to a number of events, the series I hoped to accomplish in a week has been delayed.  For those who were anticipating the posts, I apologize for the delay and will be completing it shortly.  Thanks for your patience!

Red vs. Black? | On the Inspiration and Authority of Scripture

pressIn a recent interaction on Facebook, my wife encountered a gal who noted that she believed there was a distinction in authority between the words of Jesus as recorded in the gospels, and the words of Paul as recorded in the epistles.  In noting the distinction, this woman said that Paul addressed many subjects, in her opinion, more harshly, than the themes of love she associated with the teachings of Jesus in the gospels.  This women went on to note that if a certain subject is found in one of Paul’s letters, but is seemingly absent from the teaching of Jesus recorded in the gospels, then we should certainly dismiss the subject(s) that Paul is addressing.

This perspective on alleged “opposing” viewpoints and emphases between Jesus and Paul is not a new issue.  Though scholars have been debating the subject for some time, it does often raise the question in the minds of many people as to whether or not the words of Jesus, recorded in Scripture, perhaps carry more weight than those of the apostle Paul.  After all, in many Bibles, the words of Jesus are set apart in red letters.  So, are we to consider the words of Christ as weightier than those of Paul?  Is all Scripture, in fact, the inspired and authoritative Word of God in equal fashion?

In addressing the issue, I’d like to approach it from several angles.  First, I want to consider how Jesus defines the role and ministry of the Holy Spirit in the gospels—specifically in relation to his own teaching.  Next, I want to consider what Scripture has to say about the role of the Spirit in the inspiration of Scripture.  Finally, I want to look at Scripture’s witness to itself as Holy Scripture, in both the Old and New Testaments.  From there, I believe we can draw a conclusion as to how we are to read the words of Christ and the words of Paul in terms of their inspiration and authority.

While volumes could be written on each of the angles I mentioned, my intent is to be faithful to Scripture and brief in explanation.  So, as we progress, I’d welcome your interaction and thoughts in areas you feel may be helpful in clarifying or further expounding the subject.  In keeping with my desire to be brief in explanation, I will post on each of the angles separately over the course of the next week.  I hope that this exercise will be mutually helpful, whether as a review or further instruction in our understanding of the Bible.

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