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Foreword:  This is the last installment on the series  from Modern Reformation, Nov./Dec. Vol. 5 No. 6 1996 issue. To see the complete list and full articles, go to ‘Categories’ from the sidebar and choose the section on The Life of A Justified Sinner. – EmmausTrekker

 

By Dr. Michael S. Horton

Everyone knows St. Augustine , that fourth-century giant, as the doctor of grace. To a large extent, the Reformation was simply a recovery of and improvement on Augustine’s system. Few quills have graced the subject of guilt and grace like the Bishop of Hippo’s. And yet, Augustine’s own conversion was not so much due to the guilt of his sins, as to their power. You see, Augustine had been a member of a heretical sect known for its immorality. The immediate point of contact for him was the indomitable tyranny of sin. Theologians have distinguished three aspects of sin: its guilt, its power, and its presence. The moment we place our confidence in Christ’s saving work, we are instantly justified, liberated from the condemnation which the guilt of our sins deserves. Further, because of the Holy Spirit’s regenerating work, we are not only given the faith to believe, resulting in our justification; we are also given the gift of repentance, resulting in a life of sanctification or growth in Christian maturity. And yet, we know the struggle of Romans 7 all too well. Though we are justified and are being sanctified, we are engaged in a war and will know no peace until we are finally delivered from the presence of sin altogether in the New Jerusalem.

Know The Enemy
The unholy trinity most often identified in Scripture is well-known to most of us: the world, the flesh, and the devil.

First, the world. Now, be careful with this one, because it is not the world per se that’s the problem, but the world as it has come to be shaped by the warped hands and minds of sinful human beings. As God created it, the world was a good place–“very good,” God said. The Creator placed Adam in the garden as the worldly custodian, to insure that all creation served and praised its glorious Maker. But we know the story: Adam and Eve failed God in this task and the entire creation was placed under a curse to bondage and decay. The second law of thermodynamics was one physical aspect of this curse. And yet, God did not leave it this way. In the very day on which God pronounced judgment, He also promised redemption (Gen. 3:15). From Eden , history unfolds in successive stages of redemptive acts pointing to the ultimate act of redemption in Christ’s self-sacrifice.

But we very often forget that the world itself was included in this promise of redemption. It wasn’t just for Christians that the “new creation” or the “new age” dawned. In Romans chapter eight, St. Paul informs us, “The whole creation is on tiptoe” waiting to see our redemption. “The world of creation cannot as yet see reality, not because it chooses to be blind, but because in God’s purpose it has been so limited–yet it has been given hope.” That’s right, even creation itself has been given the promise of redemption. “And the hope is that in the end the whole of created life will be rescued from the tyranny of change and decay, and have its share in that magnificent liberty which can only belong to the children of God!” ( Rom. 8:20-21, Phillips).

Therefore, the world has now become the theater of war. Just as Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait made that state the theater of conflict, so too Satan has invaded this world through the disobedience of our first parents. The world is our enemy, therefore, not in the sense that we are hostile to its culture, its music, its science, its art, its civic and social life–for we were created to participate in these activities. Rather, it is the world as dominated by alien forces hostile to the reign of Christ which presents some of our most urgent challenges.

This is why the Apostle warned, “Do not be conformed to this world’s pattern of thinking, but be transformed by the renewing of the mind” (Rom. 12:2). Hence, we “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). Every method, belief, outlook, agenda, must become a POW of Jesus Christ. Our beliefs and attitudes must pass His inspection. Some years ago, the National Council of Churches, often railed against by evangelicals as liberal, made the remark that, “The world sets the church’s agenda.” But today, it is often evangelicals themselves who are taking in uncritically the popular trends and fashionable thoughts which make it difficult sometimes to discern where Christianity ends and pop culture begins.

If the conflict with the world is a war without, the conflict with the flesh is the war within. St. Paul makes it the subject of his seventh chapter of Romans. “We know,” he says, “that the Law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.” At this point, Paul, the missionary to the Gentiles, does not experience the “victorious Christian life” so many Christians are promised these days. He feels like a POW in the battle with sin. One minute, in Romans six, we find him fighting and overthrowing attacking forces in hand-to-hand combat. The next, in Romans seven, he is a prisoner. This is the nature of the Christian life. This is the course of sanctification. What many Christians today regard as a “carnal Christian” is really either an unbeliever or, like the rest of us–a struggling saint. “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out . . . When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law, but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am!” (vv. 21-24).

The difference between a Christian and a non-Christian is not, as is often suggested, that the former lives a “victorious life,” or that he “lives above all known sin.” Rather, it is that the Christian is at war within, while the non-Christian is not even aware of any conflict. The Christian houses two hostile forces. He is at once “justified and sinful,” pro-God and anti-God. And this war with oneself will never be resolved until we reach the Promised Land. As Alexander Whyte, the Presbyterian pastor of the previous century informed his congregation, “You will never leave Romans seven while I am your minister!”

The third enemy, archenemy, in this war, is the devil himself. Unlike the mystery religions surrounding the Jewish and early Christian cultures, biblical faith located evil in personal beings rather than impersonal forces. A revived collection of mystery religions, the New Age movement seeks to discover and manage these evil forces, but Christians know where evil comes from. It is the result of personal, active, willful rebellion by creatures brought into being as good creations by a good God.

In Revelation twelve, we read about a “war in heaven.” After our Lord ascends, war breaks out and Michael defeats Satan. The dragon is therefore expelled from heaven and is no longer given access to the court where his prosecution against Christians can be heard. And yet, “Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.” Thus, the theater of war moves from heaven to earth itself. Here, Satan prowls like a “roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” He deceives unbelievers with false teaching; he entices Christians with false promises, and though he knows his time is short, his hatred for Christ and His redeemed hosts drives him to assault. Though he cannot win the war, he is happy to win battles, making common cause with the world and the flesh.

Know The Weapons
“Put on the full armor of God,” Paul’s command in Ephesians chapter six, is well-known to many of us. First up is the “belt of truth.” Before anything else, we have to know what we believe and why we believe it if we are to withstand the world, the flesh, and the devil. Another metaphor might be that of roots reaching deep into the soil of Scripture. We must read Scripture not only for devotional purposes, but to understand in a profounder way the meaning of our faith. We ought to read great Christian classics instead of light and fluffy popular books. There is a war for our mind and truth is the place to start. As a belt, it holds our pants up in battle.

Second, the “breastplate of righteousness” is listed. According to the Cambridge Biblical Commentary, “Most likely, this refers not to the believer’s moral character, but describes God’s rescue operation in Christ, bringing the assurance that the Christian is right with God.” In other words, our protection in battle is the confidence that we are justified–that is, already declared righteous. Whenever Satan comes to tempt us, we hold up the cross. Whenever the flesh threatens to bring us back under the dominion of Adam, we remind ourselves of our union with the second Adam, Jesus Christ. Whenever the world tells us about self-esteem or self-confidence, or takes a short-cut around dealing with the real problem of guilt, we respond with this doctrine of justification.

Third, there are the “ready feet.” Once armed with truth and the knowledge of our justification in Christ, we are now ready to zealously act. This is of great importance. St. Paul refers in Romans to his legalistic friends as those who “have tremendous zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge.” This zealous ignorance was especially disastrous, he says, because what they failed to understand was essential to the gospel: “For not knowing about the righteousness of God which is by faith, they set out to establish their own righteousness.” Zeal must be led and directed by the truth and justification which have already been discussed. That being said, many of us are so content with the belt and the breastplate that we forget our shoes. Zeal without knowledge is misguided energy, but knowledge without zeal is a profound waste of good news.

Fourth, we have the “helmet of salvation.” What is important to note in all of this is that every weapon with which we have been provided is outside of us. In other words, whether it’s truth, or salvation, the weapons with which we fight the world, the flesh, and the devil are not inner resources. So much of the emphasis I see these days on “spiritual warfare” calls believers into themselves through spiritual exercises like “spiritual breathing” or other forms of subjective, mystical navel-gazing. But this is just what Satan’s strategy has been. In every pagan folk culture, mysticism dominates. Techniques are provided for dealing with the forces within. Sin becomes a matter not of personal rebellion as much as demonic conflict (such as Jimmy Swaggart’s insistence that he was fine now after Oral Roberts cast the demons off of the evangelist’s back), and the war becomes a “good force” vs. “bad force” nonsense. This is folk religion rather than Christian warfare and it certainly has nothing to do with Ephesians six.

One should also notice that the helmet of salvation is given at the beginning of the war, not the end. Salvation is never a carrot God dangles in front of us to keep us going, but is a declaration already made at the beginning of it all. What commander would send his forces into battle without a helmet, merely promising them one as a reward for their success? God gives us the “helmet of salvation” right from the start, not if we win, but so that we will win.

Know The Captain
Each of these weapons mentioned in Ephesians six is first listed in the Old Testament, particularly Isaiah 11. Of the Messiah it is promised, “Truth will be the sash around His waste.” “Righteousness will be His armor . . . His own arm worked salvation. He put on righteousness as a breastplate, He put on garments of vengeance and wrapped Himself in zeal as a cloak.” Further, He is even the shield and the helmet: “He is my shield behind whom I take refuge” (Ps. 144:1-2); “He will wear the helmet of salvation upon His head” (Is. 59:17). And He is the sword, known to John’s Gospel as “the Word of God.”

In all of our battles with the enemy, we reach for nothing that Christ has not already won for us. Even when we win a personal battle, it is because Christ has already fought and successfully won over His trials and temptations. In Christ, the war is already won, so the battles are real but the outcome is already known.

I hear someone saying, “Wait a second, even when you guys do talk about sanctification and the pursuit of godliness, you end up talking more about justification and ‘alien righteousness’ than practical steps of holiness.” That’s correct, and any method that does not do that is not Pauline, evangelical, or Reformational in any sense. Let me give an example of how genuinely practical this approach is even for godliness. In Shakespeare’s “MacBeth,” the witches’ prophecy that “no man born of a woman will conquer you” inspires MacBeth to fight even the dreaded MacDuff. In the heat of battle, MacBeth taunts his enemy with the prophecy and confidently wields his sword because of it. But then MacDuff informs the usurper that he was not, technically speaking, born of a woman, having been torn from his mother in her death. Just as soon as the news reaches MacBeth’s ears, the strength leaves him and he is immediately taken in battle.

Many Christians live defeated lives, not because they are failing to follow certain steps or are not living up to the “victorious Christian life” (whatever that is), but because they do not have the confidence that no one, not even Satan, can “lay any charge to God’s elect” (Rom. 8:32). In the heat of battle, the strength we have to keep on going is knowing that our Commander has already determined the outcome of the war by His victory. His ascension into heaven and the devil’s expulsion from the same guarantees that our skirmishes, serious as they certainly are, will nonetheless not bring us ultimate defeat. Knowing that already makes all the difference.

Conclusion
Having said all of that, I wonder if we really want to be rid of our sins. In Romans six, Paul cheers us on: “Do not let sin reign, therefore, in your mortal body.” In Romans seven, he is more sober, reflecting on his own personal struggle to “practice what he preached” in the previous chapter. In the eighth chapter, he goes on to encourage us that even though we lose battles here and there, “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (v. 1).

As believers, we live between those three poles–energetic zeal, struggle/failure, gospel. But I wonder if we take the first two poles as seriously as we really ought. Knowing that our salvation is sealed in the courts of eternity, do we eventually ignore the challenges of Romans six because of the failures of seven and the unconditional “no condemnation” in eight? I guess what I’m saying is: What do we have to lose? If we’re afraid of losing a battle, of being disappointed with a failure out on the field, we need only remember that our success or failure on the battlefield does not determine the outcome of the war. We can fight with confidence.

John Owen once said of Christ, “When He comes to war, he finds no quiet landing place. He can set His foot on no ground but that which He must fight for.” We will not grow without a fight, without sharing in His sufferings. Unlike justification, our sanctification is a lifelong struggle–so much for “let go and let God.” Small victories are prized; battles lost are soon forgotten, extracting lessons for the next. None of our enemies–the world, the flesh, or the devil, will simply move aside and put up a white flag. And yet, in our fighting we fail to hide our unrestrained anticipation prefigured in the arrival of Israel in the Promised Land: “Then the land had rest from war.”


Dr. Michael Horton is the chairman of the Council of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, and is associate professor of historical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in California . Dr. Horton is a graduate of Biola University (B.A.), Westminster Theological Seminary in California (M.A.R.) and Wycliffe Hall, Oxford (Ph.D.). Some of the books he has written or edited include Putting Amazing Back Into Grace, Beyond Culture Wars, Power Religion, In the Face of God, and We Believe.

 

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Original posted by Nathan Pitchford  in www.reformationtheology.com. 

Not only does trinitarian theology shape the goal toward which the Christian mission is striving; it also clarifies the means which are to be used in the pursuit of that goal. Redemption is ultimately an accomplishment of the triune God; he alone is the doer of the work, and therefore, any human activity must flow from his prior activity, and be directed and empowered by him. The mission that God left his people with is ultimately his mission, and advances on the basis of his eternal, immutable design; and so, any human activity which fails to take into account God’s redemptive plan as he has made it known is bound to be frustrated. Human mission endeavors are likely to be successful only as they understand the divine agenda and lean upon divine strength. This means that a first qualification for any missionary is a knowledge of the triune God; an awareness of the role of the persons of the Godhead in the work of redemption, as revealed in the scriptures; and a heart-attitude of faith in those joint operations of the persons of the Trinity.

For example, take the scriptural revelation of the work of the Father in the plan of redemption: he is the ultimate planner, the source from whom the whole work flows and is governed. We see throughout the gospel of John that the Son, in the fulfillment of his part of the redemptive work, acts in an unceasing obedience to the Father’s will (e.g. John 5:17-19, 30; 8:28-29; 10:17-18; 14:31; 17:4). Likewise the Spirit, when he comes, speaks not on his own, but only what he has heard from the Father and the Son (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:13-14). This role of the Father in planning out the work of redemption is seen with special clarity in the aspect of his choosing its subjects. We have already observed that the Father has chosen a specific people to give to the Son, and that the Son has purposed to redeem these alone (e.g. John 6:37-40; 10:29; 17:1-2, 6, 10); we may add to this testimony the witness of the epistles, which speaks of the Father’s choice of a certain people to be redeemed in no uncertain terms (e.g. Romans 8:29-30; Ephesians 1:3-6; 1 Peter 1:1-2). We may learn further from the revelation of scripture that this people is chosen out of every kindred, tribe, tongue, and nation (e.g. Revelation 5:9), and that it will be called out only when the gospel is proclaimed in all the world (e.g. Matthew 24:14).

So how does this truth affect the task of the Christian missionary? First, it gives him a clear directive in the pursuit of the task: as the Church continues to spread across the world, believers may know that in their missionary endeavors they ought to target the kindreds, tribes, tongues, and nations which are yet unreached, because they know that the conversion of representatives from these peoples is the Father’s will. Their task remains undone as long as there is any people group that has not heard the gospel, or that has not yet seen fruit from the proclamation of the gospel. Second, this understanding gives hope to missionaries laboring in the most difficult places. When Paul was experiencing opposition in Corinth, he was comforted by the realization that the Father had many people in that city, chosen for a redemption which had not yet been applied (see Acts 18:9-11). In the same way, the missionary who understands the biblical representation of the Father’s role in redemption has a strong hope that his labor will not be in vain, and has cause to cry out to God in faith for the success which has been promised. Because God has chosen a people, our ultimate success is guaranteed. This foundational awareness of the Father’s revealed role in the work of redemption drives a faithfulness which would otherwise wilt under the discouragement of unfavorable circumstances.

Consider as well the Son’s role in the work of redemption: he has determined to redeem the people God has chosen through his sacrificial blood, shed in their behalf; and in consequence of this redemption, he has won the right to return and judge the world, saving those who believe in him and condemning those who do not believe. Understanding this role clarifies the missionary’s task of proclaiming the gospel: for the account of this work is precisely the gospel he must proclaim. To the extent that one has not understood the role of the Son in redemption, he cannot proclaim the good news of that redemption. When Paul labored to bring the gospel to people, he emphasized Christ’s role as the returning judge and his resurrection from the dead, which had given him the authority to be Lord of the living and the dead (e.g. Acts 17:31; Romans 14:9). He also emphasized his shed blood, which serves as a fully acceptable propitiation for the sins of all who believe in Christ, and on that basis exhorted people to be reconciled to God (e.g. Acts 13:38-39; Romans 3:23-28; 1 Corinthians 1:23-24; 2 Corinthians 5:20-21). Now, to forget the part of Christ’s redemptive work which promises him the authority to come and judge the world, casting his enemies into eternal punishment, strips the gospel of its necessary context. Just asking a person, “Do you want to be saved?” is meaningless unless it is made clear what he must be saved from. But saying, “God has raised his Son from the dead, vindicating his authority to return to the earth and judge all who are opposed to him; would you be saved from the wrath that he will soon bring upon the earth in great fury?” – that provides the necessary background to display the surpassing goodness of the good news. But not only must Christ’s judging role be emphasized; so also must his atoning, propitiatory role be emphasized, or else the news is not good at all. Saying, “Jesus has risen from the dead, and is Lord over all” is only bad news for anyone still in his sins. To the extent that the missionary does not understand the role of the Son in the work of redemption, therefore, he is left without a message to take to the nations of the world, the message by which all the Father’s chosen people will be called out.

Similarly, without an understanding of the Spirit’s role in redemption, the missionary is apt to be frustrated. It is only through the Spirit’s empowerment that the missionary can proclaim the good news with boldness and clarity (see Acts 1:8); and likewise, it is only through the Spirit’s work of convicting and regeneration that the elect of the Father can understand and come to Christ (e.g. John 3:5-8). Understanding the role of the Spirit directs the means of praying for and pursuing the evangelistic task; it also provides the ongoing confidence in the missionary’s own secure position in the favor of God. The Spirit is sent to seal and guarantee the final salvation of all who have once come to Christ (e.g. Romans 8:11-17; Ephesians 1:13-14); and without that constant witness and encouragement, the missionary is apt to despair at his own condition, especially when his circumstances grow difficult.

So then, an understanding of the inter-trinitarian roles in the work of redemption is a necessary foundation for the Christian missionary, shaping the message he has to take, clarifying to whom he has to take it, and providing inexhaustible hope and encouragement along the way. But there is also another way in which the doctrine of the trinity serves as the means of Christian evangelism; and that is, it is only as the trinitarian nature of God is displayed in the lives of Christians that unbelievers will come into a relationship with this triune God.

In his last discourse, Christ revealed to his disciples the means by which the world of unbelievers would recognize that they were truly followers of Christ: and that means was nothing other than the love they had for each other, which is reflective of the inter-trinitarian love of the persons of the Godhead (see John 13:34-35). When believers are brought into a covenantal relationship of love which is reflective of the eternal trinitarian covenant of love, people take notice. Mankind was created to display the image of God, and until he does so, he is living a life devoid of ultimate purpose. Mankind was created to know and enjoy God; and when he gets a glimpse of God’s nature, in the lives of believers, he realizes that he wants something like that, but he does not yet have it. This is why, in John 17:21, Jesus prayed that the disciples would be one even as he and the Father were one – so that the world would believe that the Father had sent him! When the world sees the blessed trinity reflected in the lives of the disciples, it is only then that they will believe in the actual trinity, the Father and the Son whom he sent.

So then, the shaping element of the doctrine of the trinity for the means of the Christian mission goes even beyond the fact that the knowledge of the redemptive work of the Godhead is a necessary foundation for taking the message to the world; in fact, the display of the inter-trinitarian relationships in the lives of the disciples constitutes a necessary means through which the gospel message may be understood and desired. — from “How the Doctrine of the Trinity Shapes the Christian Mission”.

 

 

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Foreword:  This is one of the books in my reading list since May of this year. The other two are Heroes and Heretics, and Why We’re Not Emergent. I have not finished Him We Proclaim till now because I want to make sure that I get the point of every section I am reading, realizing above all what the Lord said, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me…” (John 5:39). I highly recommend this book to every Christian.

EmmausTrekker

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Him We Proclaim: Preaching Christ from All the Scriptures

by Dennis E. Johnson

P&R, 2007, 464 pp

 

Him We ProclaimReviewed by Aaron Menikoff

A few weeks ago I read an essay by Carl Trueman in The Wages of Spin where he argued that many preachers employ biblical theology with disastrous results:

One of the problems I have with a relentless diet of biblical-theological sermons from less talented (i.e., most of us) preachers is their boring mediocrity: contrived contortions of passages which are engaged in to produce the answer ‘Jesus’ every week. It doesn’t matter what the text is; the sermon is always the same.[1]

Ouch! It reminded me how hard preaching can be, especially preaching from the Old Testament. But to help us become better preachers of the whole Bible, Dennis E. Johnson, academic dean and professor of practical theology at Westminster Seminary in California, has just written an excellent book on the subject aptly titled, Him We Proclaim.

WHAT MAKES THIS BOOK UNIQUE?

There are a myriad of books on preaching, but Johnson believes that the Bible is finally the best guidebook for preaching the Bible. More specifically, the New Testament apostles teach us how to preach:

This book makes the case for imitating the interpretive and communicative methods employed by the apostles to proclaim Christ to the first-century Greco-Roman world as we minister in the twenty-first century world (3).

In an age where so many communicators are interested in style, dress, and tone, Johnson challenges preachers to consider what the apostles thought of preaching. They regarded it as a supernatural endeavor designed to change men through communication of the written Word of God (Col. 1:24-2:7).

Johnson also points the reader to an example of apostolic preaching, arguing on the basis of internal evidence that the letter to the Hebrews is actually a sermon—the author described it as a “word of exhortation” (13:22). Hebrews is of unusual help to the preacher because, whereas most of the sermons in Acts were preached to a non-Christian audience, Hebrews was written to believers. Not only that, it combines Old Testament interpretation and Christian application: “our one New Testament example of apostolic preaching addressed to an established congregation illustrates the integration of Christ-centered biblical interpretation with hearer-contoured communication and application” (248).

The New Testament authors were preachers whose treatment of the Old Testament is worthy of emulation. To those who object that the apostles were inspired while preachers today are not, Johnson replies,

Precisely because we lack the extraordinary and mysterious operations of the Holy Spirit that produced the New Testament documents, should we not be guided by the hermeneutic method exemplified in their Christological and redemptive-historical interpretations when we approach the Old Testament texts that they did not explicitly address, rather than turning to useful but, ultimately, a sub-apostolic methodology? (178).

WHAT MAKES THIS BOOK INTERESTING?

Pastors will find many things in this book thought-provoking. For example, Johnson surveys the current trends in preaching. Pastors tend to preach to convert, preach to edify, or preach to instruct. Johnson suggests a fourth category, a hybrid of sorts, with a not-so-catchy name: “Evangelistic, Edificatory Redemptive Historical Preaching.” He references Tim Keller as the contemporary exemplar of this type of preaching.

Another notable section is Johnson’s survey of the history of biblical interpretation and his discussion of why some pastors and theologians are put off by redemptive historical preaching. While the brevity of this history forces him to gloss over historical nuances (for example, there was more diversity among interpreters in the Middle Ages than Johnson notes) he makes a very provocative point: the Enlightenment led many interpreters to treat the Bible as any other book, and this still affects some conservative theologians today:

Scholars influenced by Enlightenment naturalism are bound to be suspicious of approaches to biblical interpretation that seek to relate every text to Christ and his work, if the latter dares to allege that a Christological fulfillment of an Old Testament passage was in any sense intended by the text’s human author (since the possibility of a divine Author must be left out of the picture) (152).[2]

Those wanting to understand why biblical theology is not accepted by all will be especially interested in the chapter, “Challenges to Apostolic Preaching.”

WHAT MAKES THIS BOOK HELPFUL?

To help make better preachers, Johnson gives preachers tools for approaching their sermon texts with a right understanding of redemption history. Worth the price of the book, the chapter entitled “Theological Foundations of Apostolic Preaching” presents five ways in which New Testament authors demonstrate the Old Testament’s fulfillment in Christ:

  • Typos
  • Old Testament quotations applied to Christ – For example, Matthew 2:15 directly applies Hosea 11:1 to Christ—”Out of Egypt I called my son.”
  • Unmistakable allusions to Old Testament events, applied to Christ – For example, references to Jesus’ body as the “temple” (John 2) or Jesus as “manna” (John 6) are unmistakable allusions to Old Testament events.
  • Subtle and debatable allusions to Old Testament events, persons, and institutions – Consider a possible connection between the Mount of Transfiguration and the Lord’s indwelling of the tabernacle in Exodus 40:25 based on the overshadowing cloud in both events. The allusion, as Johnson notes, has to do with the Gospel writers’ decision to use the same word for “overshadow” found in the Septuagint account of God’s indwelling of the Tabernacle.
  • General Old Testament patterns fulfilled in Christ and his work – Though there is no direct link between an Old Testament and New Testament text, a connection can still be drawn based upon “a pattern (typos) embedded in redemptive history” (272). For example, Psalm 88 is not quoted or alluded to in the New Testament. However, as a psalm of lament—like Psalm 22—it is reasonable to conclude that it can be interpreted along those same lines, as also alluding to Christ. As Johnson puts it, “we have good reason to believe that the New Testament interpretation of Psalm 22 teaches us to read the whole genre of lament psalms as revelatory of the anguish and abandonment of the ultimately Innocent Sufferer” (273).

It’s far too easy, as Trueman has noticed, for preachers to simply assert that a text points to Christ. The question is, “how?” The answer requires a theological foundation, and that is what Johnson gives.

We must consider the relationship of our particular text to other portions of Scripture . . . Preachers who recognize the divine authorship of Scripture and divine sovereignty over history realize that these relationships cannot be random, accidental, or arbitrary; rather, they must reflect the manifold wisdom of God as they disclose the marvelously diverse and unified plan of God for history (309).

Him We Proclaim ends in the most helpful way possible, with Johnson applying his principles to eleven texts in the Old and New Testament. For any preacher who has ever stared at a text and wondered, “What in the world am I going to do with this?” these chapters are gold. This is not because Johnson offers some magic bullet; no, there is no special trick or formula. It is simply helpful to see how he walks through a passage, accounts for a text’s historical context, accounts for where it falls in the context of the Bible as a whole, and then translates all these factors into a sermon outline.

WHY IS THIS BOOK NECESSARY?

There are other books like Him We Proclaim in print today. Here’s how Johnson’s book compares to two of them:

1) Sidney Greidanus’ Preaching Christ from the Old Testament: A Contemporary Hermeneutical Method is very similar to Johnson’s. Both aim at a recovery of redemptive historical preaching, both look to the New Testament for principles on preaching Christ from the Old, and both offer practical suggestions to the preacher. Nonetheless, pastors and theologians unconvinced about the importance of redemptive-historical preaching will find that Johnson is more of an apologist than Greidanus. Furthermore, Johnson assumes less, as his chapter devoted to an outline of redemptive-history attests. Furthermore, while Greidanus’s history of biblical interpretation is more detailed, most will not mind Johnson’s more cursory treatment. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Johnson does not limit his work to preaching Christ from the Old Testament. Thus he includes an entire chapter on preaching from the New.

2) Graeme Goldsworthy’s Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, like Him We Proclaim, aims to connect biblical theology and preaching, to drive home the point that every sermon must preach Christ crucified, and to give the pastor practical tips on the redemptive-historical context of the different genres of Scripture. However, Johnson is slower to show the reader his conclusions. He works very hard to make his thought process transparent as he works through the different genres of Scripture in the final two chapters. Preachers may be anxious to flip ahead and see, “How does he preach Christ?” But this, of course, would miss the point entirely.

The utility of Him We Proclaim is Johnson’s commitment to help a generation of preachers figure out for themselves how to preach Christ and, Lord willing, avoid the trap that Carl Trueman described where, “[i]t doesn’t matter what the text is; the sermon is always the same.”

 

Footnotes:

1. Carl Trueman, The Wages of Spin: Critical Writings on Historic and Contemporary Evangelicalism (Scotland: Mentor, 2004), 171-172.

2. Generally-conservative scholars like the German Johann Ernesti and the American Moses Stuart both affirmed divine and human authorship and yet allowed the Enlightenment’s rationalistic principles of interpretation to govern their reading of the Bible. Nonetheless, it is no small thing to argue that evangelical scholars today are influenced by “Enlightenment naturalism” and I think Johnson needs more evidence for that connection to be convincing.Aaron Menikoff is the 9Marks lead writer on the topic of preaching and an elder at Third Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville, KY.

 

May/June 2007 
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by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (*)

We have seen that the devil is never quite so subtle, and never quite so successful, as when he succeeds in persuading people that he does not exist at all! That, as we have suggested, was his supreme masterpiece, and it is certainly a part of our problem at the present time. The tendency now is to say that we must not talk about ‘the devil’ but only about ‘evil’. We must not tell people to ‘renounce the works of the devil’, we must tell them to ‘resist evil’. In other words, the whole tendency today is to say that our fight is only against a principle of evil that is in ourselves and in others, and perhaps in the very environment into which we are born. But it is not considered to be ‘consistent with modern knowledge’ to believe still in a personal devil. We must not even make that principle of evil positive. What has been called ‘evil’, we are told, is simply the absence of good qualities rather than something positive in and of itself!

But the whole emphasis of the Apostle here is on the devil as a person. A principle cannot be subtle. It is only a person who can be subtle. ‘The wiles of the devil!’ The Apostle’s whole object is to tell us that we are not fighting merely against flesh and blood, merely against some principle, or absence of principle, which is within us as flesh and blood, as men and women. He goes out of his way to say that it is quite otherwise. In other words what he says is the exact opposite of what is being taught commonly at the present time.

But somebody may ask, ‘Does it matter whether you believe in a personal devil or not?’ The answer is that the Apostle most certainly assures us that we are fighting personalities and ‘spirits’ of evil, the world ‘rulers of this darkness’, not the ‘darkness’, but ‘the rulers’ of the darkness. His whole object is to get us to see that we must not be deluded in this respect, but realize that there are these spiritual entities, personalities, headed up by the devil himself, who are warring a terrible, subtle, vicious warfare against God and all His people. This is not a matter of opinion, it is not just a matter of accommodating our teaching to suit the modern mind and modern knowledge and understanding; if you do not believe in the person of the devil you are rejecting not only the teaching of the Apostle Paul but you are rejecting the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself!

The problem that arises here primarily is the problem of revelation. Was the Apostle Paul just a creature of his age, or was he given this revelation by the Lord Jesus Christ through the Spirit? Was our Lord Himself but a creature of His age? He obviously believed in a personal devil, and in these powers. He addressed demons as persons, saying ‘Come out’. You cannot say that to a principle! You cannot dismiss the devil, as it were, in that way; you are denying at the same time the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. You are saying that you are in a superior position to Him, that your knowledge is greater, that you have greater understanding. You are involved in the whole question of revelation and of authority.

This digression is important, for the business of preaching is to relate the teaching of the Scriptures to what is happening in our own day; and if this teaching in Ephesians is true there is nothing more dangerous than to substitute for a personal devil a principle of evil! The whole of our faith is ultimately involved in the matter. The trouble with the critics is that they really do not believe in the spiritual realm. Many of them are equally doubtful, as I have shown, of the Person of the Holy Spirit. He is just a principle, a power, an influence. There is, in fact, nowadays, a fundamental lack of belief in the spiritual realm and the reality of these spiritual personalities. Never was there a time when it was more necessary that we should consider carefully what the Apostle has to teach us, and what all parts of the Bible teach us, concerning ‘the wiles of the devil’.

Having looked at the wiles in general we must now become more particular in our approach. Here, again, I would sub-divide our treatment of this matter into two main sections. First, we must consider the devil’s activity in general, and then his activity in detail, for it is quite clear that there are certain general activities of the devil described in the Scriptures, and which are seen very clearly in the history of the Church throughout the centuries, and in the Church today. These in turn can be sub-divided into strategy and tactics. It is the same classification as is used in military warfare.

We start with these generalities, these matters of broad strategy. There have been certain movements initiated by the devil which have affected the life of the whole Church, and which in turn have affected the lives of individual believers in the Church. We are, indeed, involved in these very things at the present time. ‘To be forewarned is to be forearmed.’ Let us use again the analogy of international problems. The last War came upon this country suddenly and unexpectedly because people would not face the facts, because we were nearly all believers in, and supporters of appeasement, surrendering this and that, saying that war could not happen again, and that two World Wars do not occur within a quarter of a century! This country kept on refusing to face the plain facts of the international situation. Men wanted to be happy and to enjoy themselves, and dismissed the man who kept on warning us as a ‘warmonger’, a ‘difficult person’ with whom nobody could work, an ‘individualist’. Precisely the same, it seems to me, is happening in the realm of the spiritual today. People say, ‘Do not be negative; let us be positive; let us just preach the simple gospel’. But the Bible is full of negatives, full of warnings, ever showing us these terrible possibilities. If you find in yourself a dislike of the warnings of the Scripture and of this negative teaching, it is obvious that you have been duped by the wiles of the devil. You have not realized the situation in which you are placed.

The movements to which I am referring can be best classified and considered along the following lines. We start with Heresies within the Church, which have been caused and produced by the devil and his powers. I am not concerned to go into the detail of heresies; I am simply concerned to emphasize the fact of heresies, the fact of movements within the life of the Church that have so often led to terrible trouble and produced a state of chaos.

A heresy is ‘a denial of or a doubt concerning any defined, established Christian doctrine’. There is a difference between heresy and apostasy. Apostasy means ‘a departure from the Christian truth’. It may be a total renunciation or denial of it, or it may be a misrepresentation of it to such an extent that it becomes a denial of the whole truth. But a heresy is more limited in its scope. To be guilty of heresy, and to be a heretic, means that in the main you hold to the doctrines of the Christian faith, but that you tend to go wrong on some particular doctrine or aspect of the faith. The New Testament itself shows us clearly that this tendency to heresy had already begun even in the days of the early Church. Have you not noticed in the New Testament Epistles the frequent references to these things? There is scarcely one of them that does not include mention of some particular heresy that was creeping in, and tending to threaten the life of some particular church. It is seen in this Epistle to the Ephesians; it is still more plain, perhaps, in the Epistle to the Colossians where heretical tendencies were entering through philosophy and other agencies. It is found likewise in the Epistles to Timothy.

Incipient heresy can be detected from the very earliest days. There is an enemy who comes and sows tares. I am not applying that parable in detail, I am using it as an illustration to show the kind of thing we are considering. The enemy’s object, of course, is to disturb the life of the Church, to shake the confidence of Christian people, to spoil God’s work in Christ. The Epistles were in a sense written to counteract these evils. The threat was already there in many different forms, for before the New Testament closes, all the major heresies were beginning to show their heads in the Early Church.

But from the second century of the Christian era the evil becomes still more evident and obvious. The simple fact is that for several centuries the Christian Church was literally fighting for her very life. With the conversion, and the coming in, of those who were trained in Greek philosophy and teaching, all kinds of dangers immediately arose, and the danger became so great as to threaten the whole life of the Church. People who called themselves Christians, and moved in the realm of the Church, began to propagate teachings that were denials of Christian truth. The threat became so great that the leaders of the Churches held certain great Councils in order to define the Christian faith. Their object was to pinpoint heresies, and to protect the people from believing them. Such confusion had come in that people did not know what was right and what was wrong. So the leaders met together in these great Councils, and promulgated their famous Creeds, such as The Athanasian Creed, The Nicene Creed, and The Apostles’ Creed.

These Creeds were attempts on the part of the Church to define, and to lay down, what is true and what is not true. And in this way they were able to brand certain teachers as heretics, and to exclude them from the life of the Christian Church. The confusion that led to the drawing up of the Creeds was a great manifestation of the wiles of the devil. And today there are many people who recite these Creeds in their churches every Sunday, and then in conversation tell you that what you believe does not matter at all — ‘believe anything you like!’ But the Creeds are a permanent reminder to us of the wiles of the devil in this respect.

During the great period of the Protestant Reformation likewise the different sections of the Reformed Church drew up their Confessions of Faith, such as the Belgic Confession, the Augsburg Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and in this country the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England. In the next century Protestant theologians meeting in Westminster Abbey in London in and after 1643, eventually produced ‘The Westminster Confession of Faith’. What was their purpose? I ask the question because we are living in an age when many say, ‘Of course, these things do not matter at all, they have no relevance to us’. I am trying to show their vast importance, their extreme relevance at this present time. Confessions were drawn up for the same reason as held good during the earlier centuries. Church leaders, led by the Holy Spirit, and enlightened by Him, saw very clearly that they must, as their first duty, lay down clearly and on paper what is true and what is not true. In part they had to define their faith over against Roman Catholicism. And not only so, but also over against certain heresies that were tending to rise even amongst themselves. So they drew up their great ‘Confessions’ — which in a sense are nothing but the Creeds once more — in order to give the people light and guidance and instruction with respect to what they should believe.

Is there someone who feels at this point, ‘Well, really, what has all this to do with me? I am an ordinary person, I am a member of the Church and life is very difficult. What has all this to say to me?’ Or there may be someone who is recovering after illness and who says ‘Well, I was hoping to have a word of comfort, something to strengthen me along the way, something to make me feel a little happier; what has all this about Creeds and Confessions and the wiles of the devil to do with me?’ If you feel like that, the truth is that the devil has defeated you. The Apostle Paul says, ‘Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners’ (I Corinthians 15:33). He means that wrong teaching is desperately dangerous. He is there dealing with the great question of the resurrection, he is concerned with that one doctrine, and he says, Make no mistake about this; it is not a matter of indifference as to whether you believe in the literal physical resurrection or not. ‘Ah but,’ you say, ‘I am a practical man of affairs, I am not interested in doctrine, I am not a theologian, I have no time for these things. All I want is something to help me to live my daily life.’ But according to the Apostle you cannot divorce these things, ‘Evil communications’ —wrong teaching, wrong thinking, wrong belief — ‘corrupt good manners’. It will affect the whole of your life.

One of the first things you are to learn in this Christian life and warfare is that, if you go wrong in your doctrine, you will go wrong in all aspects of your life. You will probably go wrong in your practice and behaviour; and you will certainly go wrong in your experience. Why is it that people are defeated by the things that happen to them? Why is it that some people are completely cast down if they are taken ill, or if someone who is dear to them is taken ill? They were wonderful Christians when all was going well; the sun was shining, the family was well, everything was perfect, and you would have thought that they were the best Christians in the country. But suddenly there is an illness and they seem to be shattered, they do not know what to do or where to turn, and they begin to doubt God. They say, ‘We were living the Christian life, and we were praying to God, and our lives had been committed to God; but look at what is happening. Why should this happen to us?’ They begin to doubt God and all His gracious dealings with them. Do such people need ‘a bit of comfort’? Do they need the church simply as a kind of soporific or tranquillizer? Do they only need something which will make them feel a little happier, and lift the burden a little while they are in the church?

Their real trouble is that they lack an understanding of the Christian faith. They have an utterly inadequate notion of what Christianity means. Their idea of Christianity was: ‘Believe in Christ and you will never have another trouble or problem; God will bless you, nothing will ever go wrong with you’; whereas the Scripture itself teaches that ‘through much tribulation we must enter into the kingdom of God’ (Acts 14:22), or as the Apostle expresses it elsewhere, ‘In nothing be terrified by your adversaries: which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God. For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake’ (Philippians 1:28-29). Our Lord says, ‘In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world’ (John 16:33). There is nothing which is so wrong, and so utterly false, as to fail to see the primary importance of true doctrine. Looking back over my experience as a pastor for some thirty-four years, I can testify without the slightest hesitation that the people I have found most frequently in trouble in their spiritual experience have been those who have lacked understanding. You cannot divorce these things. You will go wrong in the realms of practical living and experience if you have not a true understanding. If you drop off into some heresy, if you go wrong at some point, if you believe, for instance — I give one example in passing — ‘that healing is in the atonement’, that it is never God’s will that any of His children should be ill, that it is always God’s will that all His children should be healthy, and that no Christian should ever die from a disease . . .; if you believe that, and then find yourself, or someone who is dear to you, dying of some incurable disease, you will be miserable and unhappy. Probably you will be told by certain people, ‘There is something wrong with your faith, you are failing somewhere, you are not really trusting as you should be’, and you will be cast into the depth of despair and misery and unhappiness. You will be depressed in your spiritual life, and you will be looking here and there for comfort. Such a person’s condition is due to error or heresy concerning a primary central doctrine. He or she has insinuated something into the Christian faith that does not truly belong to it.

Nothing is more urgently relevant, whether we think of ourselves in particular or the Church in general, than that we should be aware of heresy. Take the New Testament, take the history of the Christian Church, or take individual Christian experience, and you will see that true doctrine is always urgently relevant. It is of supreme importance for the whole life of the Church. The Holy Spirit is the power in the Church, and the Holy Spirit will never honour anything except His own Word. It is the Holy Spirit who has given this Word. He is its Author. It is not of men! Nor is the Bible the product of ‘flesh and blood’. The Apostle Paul was not simply giving expression to contemporary teaching or his own thoughts. He says, ‘I received it by revelation’. It was given to him, given to him by the Lord, the risen Lord, through the Holy Spirit. So I am arguing that the Holy Spirit will honour nothing but His own Word. Therefore if we do not believe and accept His Word, or if in any way we deviate from it, we have no right to expect the blessing of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will honour truth, and will honour nothing else. Whatever else we may do, if we do not honour this truth He will not honour us.

This is surely one of the major problems in the Church at the present moment. Everyone is aware of the fact that the Church is lacking in power. The leaders are trying to seek the cause of this in order that they may discover how to remedy it; and apparently, they are all jumping to one conclusion, namely, that the cause of our lack of power is found in our divisions. So we must all come together. That is the argument. The divided Church is the cause of the trouble, and so the argument follows that if only we all come together we shall be blessed, we shall obtain the missing power, and tremendous things will happen. But how are we to come together? One believes this, another believes that. The main trouble, we are told, is that some put far too much emphasis on what one believes. Surely, they say, we ought to recognize that the one thing that matters is that there are great common enemies against us, for example, Communism, so we must all come together, all who call themselves Christian in any shape or form. We are all one; why divide about these things? We must all come and stand together as Christians, and then we shall have power.

We read about these things constantly in the newspapers. Some are rejoicing because Protestantism and Roman Catholicism are drawing nearer together. ‘What does the past matter?’ they say, ‘Let us have the right spirit, let us come together, all of us, and not be concerned about these particularities.’ I have but one comment to make about this matter, and I regret to have to make it. To me, all such talk is just a denial of the plain teaching of the New Testament, a denial of the Creeds and the Confessions and the Protestant Reformation! It is carnal thinking, in addition to being a denial of the truth. According to the teaching of the Bible, one thing only matters, and that is the truth. The Holy Spirit will honour nothing but the truth, His own truth. But that, He will honour.

To me the most marvellous thing of all is that, the moment you come to such a conclusion, you realize that in a sense nothing else matters. Numbers certainly do not matter. But today the prevailing argument is the one that exalts numbers. If only we all got together and formed a mammoth World Church! Some would even extend that idea further and bring in everyone who believes anyhow in God. They talk about the ‘insights’ of Mohammedanism and Hinduism and Confucianism, and dream of all who believe in God uniting against a godless, atheistic Communism. The present, they say, is no time to be dividing on these small, irrelevant differences of belief, the result of which is that we are dividing our forces and become ineffective. I can only comment: What a tragic fallacy! What a tragic failure to understand the basic elementary teaching we are given here in Ephesians about the wiles of the devil!

To explain this matter further I use an analogy which seems to me to be an apposite one at the present time. I am not concerned about its political aspect; but look at the condition of the Labour Party in this country at the present time. People say, ‘There is no Opposition today, there is no “Her Majesty’s Opposition”.’ This is due, they say, to the fact that the Party’s members are all divided into groups and factions. They argue with one another, and they will carry no weight until they settle their internal differences and all speak with one voice. Now, when you are talking about a political party, that is absolutely right. Political parties can do nothing unless they have a majority. Political parties function in terms of majority rule. However right what they believe may be, if they cannot command the votes they will not be able to form the Government; in fact, governmentally they will be paralysed. Obviously they must get together and try to achieve unity so that they will command votes and increase the possibility of forming a government.

But this argument is not only wrong, it is dangerously wrong, if you relate it to the realm of the Christian faith. The whole Bible testifies against it. The glories of Church history protest loudly against it. The Christian position is entirely different. Here, you do not begin by counting heads, you are not concerned primarily about numbers and masses. You do not think in that way. You are in an entirely different realm. Here, the one thing you think of primarily is your relationship to God! Over against the modern faith in numbers we must say with an American of the last century, William Lloyd Garrison, ‘One with God is a majority’. God has come in, the everlasting, the almighty, the eternal God! It is the power of God that matters. And the moment you realize that, the question of numbers, as regards men, is comparatively irrelevant and unimportant.

Nothing matters in the spiritual realm except truth, the truth given by the Holy Spirit, the truth that can be honoured by the Holy Spirit. Is there anything more glorious in the whole of the Old Testament than the way in which this great principle stands out? God often used individual men, or but two or three, against hordes and masses. Is there anything more exhilarating than the doctrine of the remnant? While the majority had gone wrong, the ones and the twos saw the truth. Take a man like Jeremiah. All the false prophets were against him. There is a man who had to stand alone. Poor Jeremiah — how he hated it and disliked it! He did not like being unpopular, he did not like standing on his own, and being ridiculed and laughed at, and spat upon, as it were; but he had the truth of God, and so he endured it all. He decided at times to say nothing, but the word was like fire in his bones, and he had to go on speaking it. Obloquy and abuse were heaped upon him, but it did not matter; he was God’s spokesman and God’s representative. Similarly Moses had to stand alone when he came down from the Mount where he had met God. To stand in isolation from one’s fellows, but with God, is the great doctrine of the Old Testament in many ways. And it is emphasized in the New Testament also.

Is it not amazing that people should forget the Scriptures and past history? Look at the Early Christian Church. From the standpoint of the modern argument the position was ridiculous. The Son of God goes back to heaven and leaves His cause in the hands of twelve men! Who are they? No one had ever heard of them. We are told about the authorities of Jerusalem that they noticed that they were ‘ignorant and unlettered men’. Incidentally, they added that they had been ‘with Jesus’. They did not see the significance of that fellowship. What they saw was ignorant and unlettered men, and only a handful of them at that! A mere handful of men in a great pagan world with all the Jews against them, and all the authorities! Everything on earth was against them.

I do not understand that mentality in the Christian Church today which says that we must all come together and sink our differences; and that what we believe does not matter. It is a denial of the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, and of the story of the twelve ignorant, untutored and unlettered men who knew whom and what they believed, and who had the power of the Spirit upon them, and who ‘turned the world upside-down’. This is surely one of the central messages of the Bible. The great concern of the New Testament Epistles is not about the size of the Church, it is about the purity of the Church. The Apostles never said to the first Christians, ‘You are antagonizing people by emphasizing doctrine. Say more about the love of God and less about the wrath of God. They do not even like the Cross, and they cannot abide the story of the resurrection! Drop that talk about the wrath of God and Christ’s ethical teaching!’ Not so do the Apostles speak!

There is an exclusiveness in the New Testament that is quite amazing. The Apostle Paul writing to the Galatians says, ‘Though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached, let him be accursed’ (Galatians 1:8). ‘My Gospel!’, says Paul writing to Timothy. He denounces other teachers. So many of these modern preachers are much nicer people than the Apostle Paul! They never say a word against anyone at all, they praise everybody, and they are praised by everybody. They are never ‘negative’! They never define what they believe and what they do not believe. They are said to be ‘full of love’. I am not misjudging them when I say that that is not the explanation. The explanation is that they do not ‘contend for the truth’, they are innocent concerning the ‘wiles of the devil’. It is not for us to decide what to leave out and what to drop for the sake of unity. My business is to expound this truth, to declare it — come what may! We must not be interested primarily in numbers, we must be interested in the truth of God. Why are many today denying the glory of the Protestant Reformation? Martin Luther — one man, standing against the whole Church — would be dismissed today as ‘just an individualist who never cooperates’. But he stood up and said in effect, ‘I am right, you are all wrong!’

Without realizing it the moderns are dismissing Luther as a fool, and as an arrogant fool, because he stood alone. But why did he stand alone? There is only one answer. He stood alone because he had, seen the truth of God, and had known and experienced the blessed liberation it brings. He had seen the light and had also been awakened to ‘the wiles of the devil’. When a man sees this truth he has no choice. He does not force himself to stand alone. He does not even want to do so; but he can do no other. As Luther said, ‘Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God!’ And God did help him. Of course He did! God will always honour His truth and the man who stands for it. Of course such a man will meet criticism and sarcasm and derision; much mud will be thrown upon him. But that does not matter. The man who continues to stand, and who is ready to die for the truth of God, will have ‘the peace of God that passeth all understanding’ in his heart and mind. He will say with the Apostle Paul, ‘I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me’. He will ‘know both how to be abased, and how to abound; how to be full, and how to be empty’. He will be able to hold on his way quietly, steadily, knowing that God will vindicate His own truth sooner or later. As an individual he may be spat upon and trampled upon, or even be put to a cruel death. But God’s truth ‘goes marching on!’ It will be vindicated, it will be honoured by the Spirit; and he knows that ultimately, beyond this temporary, passing world, he will hear the most glorious words a man can ever hear, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant’. There is nothing beyond that — to have the Almighty God and our blessed Lord looking down upon us and in effect saying, ‘While you were in the midst of all the confusion, you preached the truth; you stood for it in spite of everything — Well done!’

Heresies always result from the wiles of the devil, the efforts of the principalities and powers. Are your eyes open to it? Do you realize the relevance of all this to you as a member of the Christian Church? Are you being carried away by this loose, general, sentimental talk? God forbid that any of us should ever say that it matters not what you believe as long as you are a Christian. May God open our eyes, and having given us to see the truth, then enable us ‘to be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might’. ‘Take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.’

 

(*) originally posted The Highway website

 

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Psalm 100
A Psalm for giving thanks.
1 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
2 Serve the Lord with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!

3 Know that the Lord, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!

5 For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.

 

The purpose is established: to bless His Name! And who are they who will bless Him through thanksgiving and praise? According to this psalm, it shall be all the earth.  Not that every living being will do so for Scriptures do portray that there will be those who would call upon the mountains to fall upon them when the Lamb of God – Jesus Christ, shall return as King of the Ages to rule with an iron rod upon the nations who raged against Him (Rev. 6:15-16; Psalm 2:8-9). But this term ‘all the earth’ shall be those described in verse 3: the people belonging to Him, the sheep of His pasture.  Psalm 100 is termed as a “psalm of ascent”. It was meant to be sang as the believers stream towards the temple of God upward to Mount Zion where God has appointed to meet His people that they might worship and serve Him.  Although God is omnipresent, He has nevertheless appointed the temple at Jerusalem to be the place He will meet His people. Although this psalm, at the time it was being penned, strongly suggests a gathering of Jews and non-Israelite proselytes who worship the Lord (YHWH) at an appointed occasion in the annual Jewish calendar, it legitimately points forward to a time appointed by God when His Son, Jesus Christ, will be gathering  all who believe and trusted in Him, mediated by the Holy Spirit, into His  heavenly temple  for a grand assembly of redeemed to give thanks and praise….to bless His Name!

Jesus Christ is the type of that temple. In Him alone will God meet us. John the apostle wrote that when the Son came into the world in human form by means of the virgin birth, He dwelt among men (John 1:14). The Greek word for ‘dwelt’ is eskenosen, an old verb that means to pitch a tent (in the past tense). The term ‘pitched tent’ refers back to the first tabernacle (tent of meeting) designed by God and handed to Moses. From this began God’s gracious condescension with His people on a regular basis to instruct them, lead them, receive their worship and offerings, to bless them and be glorified among His chosen people. In John 14:6, Jesus plainly said that no one comes to the Father except by Him. He is God’s Tent of Meeting – the tabernacle or temple – where man is given the only means to reach, meet, commune with God and nowhere else. Repentance and faith in Christ alone are the only Holy Spirit-given graces for us to possess the right to enter into a relationship with God through Christ Jesus (John 1:12-13).

Jesus Christ describes His sheep as those who listen to His voice, those whom He knows and these are they who follow Him (John 10:27). He differentiates His sheep from those who are not – John 10:26 – these are those who do not believe Him.  And it is the believing flock that is referred in the psalm on both sides of the time-space history continuum in relation to the cross at Calvary.  This shall be flock that will enter finally into the presence of God forevermore at the return of Jesus Christ when time ceases to be and eternity begins for all the sheep of His pasture. On that day, there will be

 …no more temple for the Lord Almighty and the Lamb [Jesus Christ] shall be the temple. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.  By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day – and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.  But nothing unclean will ever enter it, not anyone who does what is detestable of false, by only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” – Revelation 21:22-27

As each sheep of the Lord looks forward to that day of grand assembly in the presence of the Almighty, His steadfast love and faithfulness are continually proclaimed today, as in the past, to all generations. First, as an ongoing reminder among the redeemed to keep their hearts undivided and thankfully serving the One who saved them. Secondly, as the Gospel to the rest of humanity, so that they may know that  the day of reckoning shall one day finally come. And before that day, the message of repentance and forgiveness of sins in the Lord Jesus Christ – who died on the cross and rose again from the grave on the third day –  is available still to all who will repent and turn to Him in faith. This is the good news and the testimony of God’s unchanging love through His only begotten Son. Blessed be His Name, both now and forevermore!

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Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ reply concerning the Altar Call

We are to preach the Word, and if we do it properly, there will be a call to a decision that comes in the message, and then we leave it to the Spirit to act upon people.”

Early in the 1970s Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones was the speaker at a ministers’ conference in the USA and at a question session was asked the following question:

Q: During recent years, especially in England, among evangelicals of the Reformed faith, there has been a rising criticism of the invitation system as used by Billy Graham and others. Does Scripture justify the use of such public invitations or not?

A: Well, it is difficult to answer this in a brief compass without being misunderstood. Let me answer it like this: The history of this invitation system is one with which you people ought to be more familiar than anyone else, because it began in America. It began in the 1820s; the real originator of it was Charles G. Finney. It led to a great controversy. Asahel Nettleton, a great Calvinist and successful evangelist, never issued an “altar call” nor asked people to come to the “anxious seat.” These new methods in the 182Os and were condemned for many reasons by all who took the Reformed position.

One reason is that there is no evidence that this was done in New Testament times, because then they trusted to the power of the Spirit. Peter preaching on the Day of Pentecost under the power of the Spirit, for instance, had no need to call people forward in decision because, as you remember, the people were so moved and affected by the power of the Word and Spirit that they actually interrupted the preacher, crying out, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” That has been the traditional Reformed attitude towards this particular matter. The moment you begin to introduce this other element, you are bringing a psychological element. The invitation should be in the message. We believe the Spirit applies the message, so we trust in the power of the Spirit. I personally agree with what has been said in the question. I have never called people forward at the end for this reason; there is a grave danger of people coming forward before they are ready to come forward. We do believe in the work of the Spirit, that He convicts and converts, and He will do His work. There is a danger in bringing people to a “birth,” as it were, before they are ready for it.

The Puritans in particular were afraid of what they would call “a temporary faith” or “a false profession.” There was a great Puritan, Thomas Shepard, who published a famous series of sermons on The Ten Virgins. The great point of that book was to deal with this problem of a false profession. The foolish virgins thought they were all right. This is a very great danger.

I can sum it up by putting it like this: I feel that this pressure which is put upon people to come forward in decision ultimately is due to a lack of faith in the work and operation of the Holy Spirit. We are to preach the Word, and if we do it properly, there will be a call to a decision that comes in the message, and then we leave it to the Spirit to act upon people. And of course He does. Some may come immediately at the close of the service to see the minister. I think there should always be an indication that the minister will be glad to see anybody who wants to put questions to him or wants further help. But that is a very different thing from putting pressure upon people to come forward. I feel it is wrong to put pressure directly on the will. The order in Scripture seems to be this – the truth is presented to the mind, which moves the heart, and that in turn moves the will.

 

DMlloyd-JonesDr. David Martyn Lloyd-Jones (20 December 1889–1 March 1981) was a Welsh Christian minister who was hugely influential in the Reformed wing of the British evangelical movement in the 20th century. By the age of 26 he also had his MRCP (Member of the Royal College of Physicians) and was well up the rungs of the Harley Street ladder, with a brilliant and lucrative career in front of him. However, God had plans for D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones to be a physician of souls rather than of bodies. In 1943 he was appointed as the sole pastor of Westminster Chapel, London, a post he held until his retirement in 1968. Lloyd-Jones was well-known for his expository style of preaching. He would take many months – even years – to expound a chapter of the Bible verse by verse. His sermons would often be around fifty minutes to an hour in length, attracting many students from universities and colleges in London.

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One of the most beautiful and solid assurances of God’s Word for a believer of Jesus Christ is found in Romans 8:27-28 “And He who searches hearts know what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.”

Here, we are blessed with three things – three unshakeable things; unshakeable because it is the work of God, not of men.

  • That God searches the heart. If there’s something truly private about every person, believer or not, it is definitely the heart.  This verse is definitely for believers for it follows-up with the term ‘saint’ – hagios – those separated to God through Christ Jesus by the Spirit.  You see that it’s the Triune God who searches the heart. This heart is the desperately wicked heart transformed by the power of God to repent, believe and love Jesus Christ for the glory of His praise.  For us men, fallible as we are, although we have the unfolding of the Word  to make us wise according to Christ, we are still persona-non-grata to probe another person’s heart.  It is God’s domain.  John writes that if our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts and He knows all things. So for one man to assume the content and intents of another man’s heart is to presume too much. In context, we do not know always what we need for ourselves, neither others should presume to have the best solution for others, let alone for themselves. But because God searches the heart, He alone knows what is best for each saint in confroming us to the likeness of His Son – our glorification (Rom. 8: 29-30, 2Cor. 3:18).
  • Second, the Holy Spirit intercedes for the saints. What a marvelous and joyful truth! It is meant to describe His perfect help in our weakness (Rom 8:26), and that we do not always know what it is exactly what we have to pray for. If then the Holy Spirit intercedes for the saints, what a gracious assurance that the answer is definitely forthcoming. Jesus said to Peter, “I prayed for you” – and He prays for each and every believer (John 17:6-26).  Through the eternal Holy Spirit’s mediation, what Jesus prayed for every believer is to be accomplished without any lack or delay. This was meant to strengthen our hearts that may have grown weak because of the corruption of this world. Yes, even the Philadephians who have become weak were assured (Rev. 3:8). You see, Jesus is the One prosphesied who does not break a bruised reed nor quench a smoldering wick (Matthew 12:17-21, Isaiah 42:3). Not even the weakest nor the least fruitful of His saints will be neglected. Praise be His Name!
  • Finally, because God searches the heart, the Holy Spirit intercedes, and since the saints belong to Jesus Christ, Rom. 8:28 is the inevitable result; God’s plan and working for His people in Christ Jesus shall be accomplished. Some person or persons may doubt another person who is reproachable in his (or their) eyes, but we must not forget that this one has been separated by God in Christ through the regenerating work of the Spirit using the Gospel as the means to bring faith and repentance. This saint may be bruised or weak but nonetheless bought with one price. Most assuredly, it is God’s work and purpose.

I wrote the above prologue in connection to a booklet written by Gregory Koukl entitled Never Read A Bible Verse. It is very basic compared to other books like Exegetical Fallacies by D. A. Carson or Bible Theology by Geerhardus Vos, yet equally valuable in helping us see the Word of God in a wider and more accurate perspective. 

Also, I write this because a visitor to my weblog said in his second comment, “It is a dangerous move to initiate an ill conceived solution based on mere rational or logical experimentation and twisted application of Scriptures.” To this I heartily agree…but then he concludes in his third comment by saying this about me and I quote verbatim: “Besides, your response fails to satisfy to the particular point which I believe will correcrt [sic] the error of your ways before you put on the garment of sheep clothing. Anyway, Chameleon Christians roams [sic] freely on this world and can change their colors wherever they are.”

Hmmm, has he been searching my heart?  I don’t think so, and the Scriptures prove that to be impossible.

Now then,  I encourage and kindly recommend (not demand, as some would do) the readers of this post  to download the NRBV and surely it will help each one in rightly handling the Word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). As I said, very basic but equally important.

The grace of God in Christ Jesus be to all His saints – both great and small!

 

Never Read A Bible Verse

by Gregory Koukl – Founder and President,  Stand to Reason

If there was one bit of wisdom, one rule of thumb, one single skill I could impart, one useful tip I could leave that would serve you well the rest of your life, what would it be? What is the single most important practical skill I’ve ever learned as a Christian? Never read a Bible verse. That’s right, never read a Bible verse. Instead, always read a paragraph (at least) if you want to unlock the meaning of a passage. (Introduction, p. 3)

By focusing only on pieces of a passage, readers may actually miss the point of the passage. If we’re just reading snatches of text, what’sour guarantee that the inspirational feelings we experience aren’t just false hopes or mere emotion? The difference is critical. It’s the distinction between believe and make-believe. We can’t know what God is talking about or teaching us by looking at an isolated sentence or phrase. And if we take the Scripture in a way God did not mean it—if what we’re teaching from the verse is not really the teaching of the verse—then the words lose their authority. As Christians our commitment should be to the truth of the passage, not to the feeling a certain reading of that passage gives us. If we ignore that priority, then whatever feeling we may have had will have been based on fantasy—make-believe. Fortunately, the liability can be overcome by remembering our basic rule: Never read a Bible verse. Instead, read a paragraph, at least. Always check the context. Observe the flow of thought. Then focus on the verse itself. (Biblical Fast Food?, p. 18)

Only when you are properly informed by God’s Word the way it was written—in its context—can you be transformed by it. Every piece becomes powerful when it is working together with the whole as the Holy Spirit intended. It’s the most important practical lesson I’ve ever learned…and the single most important thing I could ever teach you. (The Role of the Holy Spirit, p. 21)

 

Download NRBV pdf file or watch a portion of NRBV lecture on video 

 

About Greg:  

He started out thinking he was too smart to become a Christian and ended up giving his life for the defense of the Christian faith. A central theme of Greg’s speaking and writing is that Christianity can compete in the marketplace of ideas when it’s properly understood and properly articulated.

Greg’s teaching has been featured on Focus on the Family radio, he’s been interviewed for CBN and the BBC, and did a one-hour national television debate with Deepak Chopra on Lee Strobel’s “Faith Under Fire.”  Greg has been quoted in U.S. News & World Report and the L.A. Times. An award-winning writer, Greg is author of Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air with Francis J. Beckwith, and Precious Unborn Human Persons. Greg has published more than 145 articles and has spoken on more than 40 university and college campuses both in the U.S. and abroad.

Greg received his Masters in Philosophy of Religion and Ethics at Talbot School of Theology, graduating with high honors, and his Masters in Christian Apologetics from Simon Greenleaf University.  He is an adjunct professor in Christian apologetics at Biola University.  He hosts his own radio talk show advocating clear-thinking Christianity and defending the Christian worldview.

 

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