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"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)

Update: Gospel Tract Printing in India

God has His elect people in every tribe, tongue, people and nation. That's what gives us courage and persistence in evangelism and world missions. When the Gospel call goes out, He will certainly gather in His sheep, and all who are ordained to eternal life will believe (Acts 13:48).

I am excited that a Gospel tract I wrote has been warmly received in India. It has been translated into the local Malayalam language. With 10,000 of these tracts handed out at Easter time, there is a call for a further 100,000 to be printed. Perhaps this vision is something you might consider supporting in prayer and even in giving. God bless you. - John S

May 30, 2011  |  Comments (0)   |  Permalink

The Gift of Faith

When we declare that God gives us faith as a gift, we do not mean that he passes on a substance called faith to us, it means that he opens our blind eyes, unplugs our deaf ears and grants us a new heart and spirit so we will believe. (Ezek 36:27; Matt 16:15-17; John 5:21, 6:63-65) Both faith and obedience are equally difficult apart from renewal of heart.

John MacArthur likewise declared that, "Because He is gracious, God takes the initiative, drawing the sinner (John 6:44, 65), granting repentance (Acts 3:26; 5:31; 11:18), and awakening the heart to faith (Acts 13:48; 16:14). Every aspect of the believer's response--conviction, repentance, and faith--is the result of God's gracious work in the heart....Scripture teaches that sanctification begins at conversion. The process of practical sanctification is launched by God's regenerating work, when He graciously gives the sinner a new heart and a new spirit of obedience (Ezekiel 11:19-20; 36:26-27; 2 Corinthians 5:17)."

May 30, 2011  |  Comments (1)   |  Permalink

AUGUSTIN CONFESSES THAT HE HAD FORMERLY BEEN IN ERROR CONCERNING THE GRACE OF GOD.

Augustin explains that he changed his view from synergism to divine monergism in salvation. He argues that due to our fallen state, we are not only partly dependent upon Christ for our conversion but totally dependent upon Christ.

"It was not thus that pious and humble teacher thought--I speak of the most blessed Cyprian--when he said "that we must boast in nothing, since nothing is our own." And in order to show the, he appealed to the apostle as a witness, where he said, "For what hast thou that thou hast not received ? And if thou hast received it, why boastest thou as if thou hadst not received it?" And it was chiefly by this testimony that I myself also was convinced when I was in a similar error, thinking that faith whereby we believe on God is not God's gift, but that it is in us from ourselves, and that by it we obtain the gifts of God, whereby we may live temperately and righteously and piously in this world. For I did not think that faith was preceded by God's grace, so that by its means would be given to us what we might profitably ask, except that we could not believe if the proclamation of the truth did not precede; but that we should consent when the gospel was preached to us I thought was our own doing, and came to us from ourselves. And this my error is sufficiently indicated in some small works of mine written before my episcopate. Among these is that which you have mentioned in your letters wherein is an exposition of certain propositions from the Epistle to the Romans. Eventually, when I was retracting all my small works, and was committing that retractation to writing, of which task I had already completed two books before I had taken up your more lengthy letters,--when in the first volume I had reached the retractation of this book, I then spoke thus:--"Also discussing, I say, 'what God could have chosen in him who was as yet unborn, whom He said that the elder should serve; and what in the same elder, equally as yet unborn, He could have rejected; concerning whom, on this account, the prophetic testimony is recorded, although declared long subsequently, "Jacob have I loved, and Esau have I hated,"' I carried out my reasoning to the point of saying: ' God did not therefore choose the works of any one in foreknowledge of what He Himself would give them, but he chose the faith, in the foreknowledge that He would choose that very person whom He foreknew would believe on Him,--to whom He would give the Holy Spirit, so that by doing good works he might obtain eternal life also.' I had not yet very carefully sought, nor had I as yet found, what is the nature of the election of grace, of which the apostle says, ' A remnant are saved according to the election of grace.' Which assuredly is not grace if any merits precede it; lest what is now given, not according to grace, but according to debt, be rather paid to merits than freely given. And what I next subjoined: ' For the same apostle says, "The same God which worketh all in all;" but it was never said, God believeth all in all ;' and then added, ' Therefore what we believe is our own, but what good thing we do is of Him who giveth the Holy Spirit to them that believe: ' I certainly could not have said, had I already known that faith itself also is found among those gifts of God which are given by the same Spirit. Both, therefore, are ours on account of the choice of the will, and yet both are given by the spirit of faith and love, For faith is not alone but as it is written, ' Love with faith, from God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ.' And what I said a little after, ' For it is ours to believe and to will, but it is His to give to those who believe and will, the power of doing good works through the Holy Spirit, by whom love is shed abroad in our hearts,'--is true indeed; but by the same rule both are also God's, because God prepares the will; and both are ours too, because they are only brought about with our good wills. And thus what I subsequently said also: ' Because we are not able to Will unless we are called; and when, after our calling, we would will, our willing is not sufficiently nor our running, unless God gives strength to us that run, and leads us whither He calls us;' and thereupon added: ' It is plain, therefore, that it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy, that we do good works'--this is absolutely most true. But I discovered little concerning the calling itself, which is according to God's purpose; for not such is the calling of all that are called, but only of the elect. Therefore what I said a little afterwards: ' For as in those whom God elects it is not works but faith that begins the merit so as to do good works by the gift of God, so in those whom He condemns, unbelief and impiety begin the merit of punishment, so that even by way of punishment itself they do evil works'--I spoke most truly. But that even the merit itself of faith was God's gift, I neither thought of inquiring into, nor did I say. And in another place I say: 'For whom He has mercy upon, He makes to do good works, and whom He hardeneth He leaves to do evil works; but that mercy is bestowed upon the preceding merit of faith, and that hardening is applied to preceding iniquity.' And this indeed is true; but it should further have been asked, whether even the merit of faith does not come from God's mercy,--that is, whether that mercy is manifested in man only because he is a believer, or whether it is also manifested that he may be a believer? For we read in the apostles words: ' I obtained mercy to be a believer.' He does not say, ' Because I was a believer.' Therefore although it is given to the believer, yet it has been given also that he may be a believer. Therefore also, in another place in the same book I most truly said: ' Because, if it is of God's mercy, and not of works, that we are even called that we may believe and it is granted to us who believe to do good works, that mercy must not be grudged to the heathen;'--although I there discoursed less carefully about that calling which is given according to God's purpose."

- Augustine, A TREATISE ON THE PREDESTINATION OF THE SAINTS chapter 7 [III.]

May 29, 2011  |  Comments (19)   |  Permalink

Augustine and Calvin and Jesus on the Fallen will

Augustine argued that there are four states, which are derived from the Scripture, that correspond to the four states of man in relation to sin: (a) able to sin, able not to sin (posse peccare, posse non peccare); (b) not able not to sin (non posse non peccare); (c) able not to sin (posse non peccare); and (d) unable to sin (non posse peccare). The first state corresponds to the state of man in innocency, before the Fall; the second the state of the natural man after the Fall; the third the state of the regenerate man; and the fourth the glorified man.

The debate in the church on the the will has always been (b). Calvin and the Roman Catholic Pighius debated about this in bondage and liberation of the will. Calvin said,

"....man has choice and that it is self-determined, so that if he does anything evil, it should be imputed to him and to his own voluntary choosing. We do away with coercion and force, because this contradicts the nature of the will and cannot coexist with it. We deny that choice is free, because through man’s innate wickedness it is of necessity driven to what is evil and cannot seek anything but evil. And from this it is possible to deduce what a great difference there is between necessity and coercion. For we do not say that man is dragged unwillingly into sinning, but that because his will is corrupt he is held captive under the yoke of sin and therefore of necessity will in an evil way. For where there is bondage, there is necessity. But it makes a great difference whether the bondage is voluntary or coerced. We locate the necessity to sin precisely in corruption of the will, from which follows that it is self-determined."

This aligns perfectly with what Jesus said to the Jews who rejected him:

34Jesus answered them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. 38 I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father....Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God." John 8 34-47

Notice that Jesus does not say you are not of God because you do not hear the words of God. Rather he says, you are not of God ... therefore you do not hear them. In John 10:26 Jesus says something similar to them, "but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock." He does not say "you are not part of my flock because you do not beleive." No he says plainly, "You do not believe BECAUSE you are not part of my flock.

May 28, 2011  |  Comments (5)   |  Permalink

Assurance about lost loved ones

I was recently asked this question: "How does knowledge of the doctrine of election encourage/help those who are praying for lost loved ones? So many times, when discussing this doctrine for the first time, people feel discouraged and even desperate over the fact that someone that they love may or may not be elect. How can the truth of God’s election encourage someone who is praying that God will save a loved one?"

I seek to provide an answer here. - JS

May 25, 2011  |  Comments (1)   |  Permalink

Thank you for your prayers

Thanks for your prayers regarding tonight's radio show. I think it went well. Callers asked some great questions and I think I was able to say enough to point people in the right direction biblically. If you missed the show, you can hear it for the next month or so on a podcast here.

One caller asked a question about 1 John 2:2 which I didn't really have time to answer (with less than 90 seconds before the end of the show) and I promised I would post a fuller answer before the end of the evening... so here we go. Three things might be helpful:

My article on 1 John 2:2 here.

...this article on John's use of the word "world" here.

.. and Dan Phillips' article here.

God bless - and please remember Thursday in your prayers when I host the show again. Thanks so much. - JS

May 24, 2011  |  Comments (0)   |  Permalink

FREE EBOOK: "All of Grace" by C. H. Spurgeon

allgrace2.jpgFREE EBOOK: For those of you who missed it yesterday, "All of Grace" by C. H. Spurgeon available FREE in both Kindle (.mobi) and ePub formats. The download is just above the "Description" on the following page. http://bit.ly/hh9FYX -- a sample chapter of the eBook on that page (a sample which happens to be a full length classic book.)

Click here

May 24, 2011  |  Comments (2)   |  Permalink

Four-Point Calvinism an Impossible Supposition

"Irresistible grace presupposes particular redemption. There is no such grace apart from Christ and His work. (Eph 1:3, 1 Pet. 1:3) Therefore, so-called four-point Calvinism is untenable."

May 24, 2011  |  Comments (3)   |  Permalink

Grace Unmixed

Some respond to the doctrine of election by saying "that's not fair!"... Well, that's right. We couldn't agree more. Because if God did what was fair He would let us all go on in our own way to destruction. If God operated on the basis of fairness there would not be a single person reading this today.

Furthermore, synergists declare that God choose us because he foresaw that we would believe. But if God saw something in us that moved him to choose us (because we had the wisdom, sound judgment, or good sense to believe) then grace is no longer grace. Therefore synergists deny salvation is by grace alone. By grace maybe, but not by grace ALONE. In this case grace would only be necessary but not sufficient.

Therefore, we thank God for our salvation because we cannot ascribe our believing to our own good sense or wisdom. Even these blessings are a gift of God. Can we thank God for everything else, but not thank Him for the wisdom to believe? Did we find the desire and wisdom to believe from within our own native resources?. If that were the case, God would get most of the glory but not all the glory.

As a result of this confusion, Arnminian theology cannot honestly declare "Soli Deo Gloria" because it cannot declare "sola gratia"

The following quote shines further light on this:

1. Grace is Alone by Definition - Sola Gratia is Redundant!

There is a sense in which "sola gratia" is redundant! If grace is not "alone" it is not grace! "And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work." (Romans 11:6) The grace of God by definition will not admit of any admixture of debt! "Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt." (Romans 4:4)

2. Grace is Alone as Sovereign - God Will Not Share His Glory with Another!

If grace is not sovereign it is not grace, because God will not share His glory with another! "I am the Lord: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images." (Isaiah 42:8) "For mine own sake, even for mine own sake, will I do it: for how should my name be polluted? and I will not give my glory unto another." (Isaiah 48:11) Grace is depicted in Scripture as reigning as a sovereign: “That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5:21) The God of grace is the giver of every good and perfect gift, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” (Jas. 1:17) He actually reigns as the absolute Sovereign, the King of kings, and Lord of lords. “Which in his times he shall shew, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords” (1 Tim. 6:15) “These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful.” (Rev. 17:14) “And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.” (Rev. 19:16) The nature of His grace is determined by His nature. The grace of a sovereign is sovereign grace, and the grace of God is absolute in its sovereign nature. It cannot be otherwise. Therefore, it is also redundant to describe God's grace by the modifiers "sovereign" or "free". If God's grace is not sovereign, then it is not grace at all. If it is not free, then it is not grace, and it most certainly is not God's grace.

3. Grace is Alone as Glorious - Pure Unmixed Grace, Sovereign Non-Contingent Grace is Praised by the Redeemed!

It is only such non-contingent, unmixed, sovereign grace of God that elicits the praise of His people: "To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence" (Eph. 1:6-8) Sola Gratia, Soli Deo Gloria,

John T. “Jack” Jeffery Pastor, Wayside Gospel Chapel, Greentown, Pennsylvania"

J. W. Hendryx
Monergism.com

May 23, 2011  |  Comments (29)   |  Permalink

Tuesday (and now Thursday) Evening Radio Show

I would really value your prayers for tomorrow evening, Tuesday, May 24, when God willing, I will be hosting a one hour live call in radio program (the Andrew Tallman show). Andrew is taking a well earned break and has asked me to fill in for him.

My subject will be "Divine Election" as well as handling some of the many objections that are often raised by the subject. The show can be heard live across the Phoenix area at 6:00 p.m. (9:00 p.m. EST) and also live on the internet (same time of course) at www.kpxq1360.com - (when you get there, click on the "Listen Live" button at the top of the page)

(For those wanting to listen in on the internet live broadcast, here is a website giving you the current time in each time zone around the world. For instance, 6:00 p.m. Tuesday in Phoenix is 2:00 am Wednesday in the United Kingdom.) - JS

UPDATE: In addition to Tuesday's hosting of the Andrew Tallman show, I have just been asked to do the same on Thursday (May 26) also at the same time, where I believe we will continue the theme of Divine election.

May 23, 2011  |  Comments (0)   |  Permalink

Q&A with R.C. Sproul & Ligonier Teaching Fellows

Watch as R.C. Sproul and Ligonier Teaching Fellows Sinclair Ferguson, Robert Godfrey, Steven Lawson, and R.C. Sproul Jr. engage in this round-table discussion (May 19, 2011) covering topics such as dispensationalism, regeneration, election, evangelism, and Harold Camping. Very highly recommended.

May 20, 2011  |  Comments (1)   |  Permalink

What Happened?


What happened to the followers of William Miller when Christ did not return on October 22, 1844? Did they go back to the Bible and the Churches?

No, many gave up on the Bible and Christianity altogether; many became enamoured with the Jehovah's Witnesses and their (false) prophecies, while others became Second Day Adventists under the "ministry" of Ellen White (who herself was very impressed with Miller).

What does this teach us?

It teaches us that the deceptive spirit behind Harold Camping's teachings will still be very active, even after May 21 comes and goes. He already has them in his snare. Only God can reach these precious people, deceived by the deceiver.

Let us preach the truth with compassion and boldness and pray for God to open eyes.

May 19, 2011  |  Comments (2)   |  Permalink

Only the Father knows...

Question: Matthew 24:36 says, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” This seems to be problematic, for if there is something the Son does not know, would this not indicate to us that he is not omniscient (all knowing)? God is all knowing and yet this tells us that there is something Christ did not know. How do we reconcile this verse with the Christian concept of the Deity of Christ?

I seek to provide an answer here. - JS

May 19, 2011  |  Comments (1)   |  Permalink

The Secular Mind

On yesterday's Dividing Line program, Dr. James White is challenged by a caller, a lady named Alex.

After the program, Dr. White commented that this call (and another like it later on in the show) illustrates "what we are up against in attempting to deal with a secularized younger generation - a generation that will soon be making moral decisions about cloning, the use of stem cells, nuclear weapons, and so much more. God have mercy."

May 18, 2011  |  Comments (1)   |  Permalink

Stop Trying and Start Trusting?

I have heard it said, "stop trying and start trusting" but sinners cannot trust, any more than try, without renewal of heart. Both are equally difficult apart from regenerating grace. So it is perfectly fine to call people to both try and trust (as an imperative) if we keep in mind that they both spring from the grace of Christ.

May 13, 2011  |  Comments (3)   |  Permalink

Pastoral Pelagianism

Andrew Purves, Reconstructing Pastoral Theology

Apart from union with Christ, ministry is cast back upon us to achieve. This is a recipe for failure, for we all fall short of the glory of God. The understanding and practice of pastoral work in this case is a burden too heavy to bear and follows a path that denies the gospel. We do not heal the sick, comfort the bereaved, accompany the lonely, forgive sins, raise up hope of eternal life, or bring people to God on the strength of our piety and pastoral skill. To think that these tasks are ours to perform is not only hubris, but also a recipe for exhaustion and depression in ministry (45).

The effect [of developing “an imitative rather than a participatory approach to ministry”] is to cast the pastor back upon his or her own resources – thus it can be defined as pastoral Pelagianism, a ministry by works rather than a ministry through grace (xxx).

The professional pressures on ministers today are immense. At the level of practical theological argument, the case can be made that to understand the burnout rate among ministers and the lack of vocational fulfillment that many experience we must also recognize the decision we may have made to turn away from this theological and practical foundation for ministry in general, and preaching in particular. [That foundation being, as Barth wrote, that the sum and substance of all pastoral work is the declaration of Him who proclaims Himself.] We must consider this turn because it signifies…the introduction of a countergospel basis for ministry and means here that preaching becomes something we do, something that we must make effective. Preaching becomes the minster’s burden, a new law, the consequence of which is a kind of ministerial Pelagianism in which there is now a strictly human, albeit religious or churchly, criterion of success. Bluntly put: this turn means that it is up to the preacher to make preaching effective (158-60).

May 12, 2011  |  Comments (1)   |  Permalink

Grace & Boasting

"Grace frees you from boasting in what isn't your own, including ascribing your repenting and believing to your own sound judgment or good sense. Grace makes us glory in Christ alone, even for these blessings." (Monergism)

May 11, 2011  |  Comments (0)   |  Permalink

Jesus is Knocking

Revelation 3:20. Its a verse many of us not only know but can quote by heart. Its also a verse that is almost always used out of context.

For some time I have been thinking of writing a short article on the context and meaning of the verse, not only for the good of my own soul (my own thoughts tend to become much clearer when I write them down) but hopefully, for the benefit of others too. Yet today, as I made my morning venture out into the blogosphere, I came across an article that said all I ever wished to say about the verse and said it very well. So, I thought to myself, "Self... rather than taking the time to try to say the same thing using different words (to avoid plagiarism), why not simply quote the article and let all be blessed by it, the same way you were?" So, that is what I do here. I found the article to be a real blessing and pass it on, trusting it will be the same for you. - JS

The Thirsty Theologian writes:

On the wall of one of the churches I attended as a child hung a picture of a fair-haired gentile knocking on a door. We all knew it was Jesus, seeking entrance at our heart’s door, as in Revelation 3:20.

Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.

Time and time again, we were taught that Jesus was standing, waiting, knocking, waiting, knocking, just hoping to be invited into our hearts.

Time after time He has waited before
And now He is waiting again
To see if you are willing to open the door
Oh, how He wants to come in.

This image of the pathetic, pleading Jesus has no doubt coaxed multitudes down aisles to dubious conversions. But what if it’s all fiction? What if Jesus is not standing at some door to our hearts? Rather than pulling one verse out of context because it looks so nice on a tract, let’s examine the entire passage.

14 To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this: 15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. 16 So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. 17 Because you say, "I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing," and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, 18 I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me. 21 He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Revelation 3

The church at Laodicea was very much like a great many churches today. It was an apostate body, unregenerate, no true church at all. The Lord points to their deeds, observing that they “are neither cold nor hot.” This figure is a metaphor for water, which, when hot or cold, has many uses, but when lukewarm is not good for much. He wishes they were one or the other, because that would indicate the good fruit of a good tree (Matthew 7:16–20). But they are, figuratively, lukewarm — not good for washing, not good for drinking — so Christ will spit them out like warm, stagnant water. Bad trees get cut down, bad water gets spit out on the ground. This was the Laodicean church.

To make matters worse, they were self-righteous. They thought themselves rich when they were, in fact, spiritually “poor and blind and naked.” This is the state of the unregenerate. They are naked, and blind to their nakedness. This, again, was the Laodicean church. They were spiritually naked, but they thought they were dressed in rich robes of their own making.

At this point, Jesus could have simply passed judgment. If the Laodiceans didn’t deserve to be cut down and burned, no one ever would. But Christ extended grace, delayed the day of judgment, and called them to repentance. Notice now that this is no pleading Savior. His knock is a command, and spare me the “Jesus is a gentleman” nonsense. This is a take-it-or-leave-it command to turn to him in repentance and faith. Notice also that this is not the door to any individual’s heart.

Though this verse has been used in countless tracts and evangelistic messages to depict Christ’s knocking on the door of the sinner’s heart, it is broader than that. The door on which Christ is knocking is not the door to a single human heart, but to the Laodicean church. Christ was outside this apostate church and wanted to come in—something that could only happen if the people repented.

The invitation is, first of all, a personal one, since salvation is individual. But He is knocking on the door of the church, calling the many to saving faith, so that He may enter the church. If one person (anyone) opened the door by repentance and faith, Christ would enter that church through that individual. The picture of Christ outside the Laodicean church strongly implies that, unlike the Sardis, there were no believers there at all.

Christ’s offer to dine with the repentant church speaks of fellowship, communion, and intimacy. Sharing a meal in ancient times symbolized the union of the people in loving fellowship. Believers will dine with Christ at the marriage supper of the Lamb (19:9), and in the millennial kingdom (Luke 22:16, 29-30). Dine is from deipneo, which refers to the evening meal, the last meal of the day (cf. Luke 7:8; 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25, where the underlying Greek is rendered “sup,” “supper,” and “supped,” respectively). The Lord Jesus Christ urged them to repent and have fellowship with Him before the night of judgment fell and it was too late forever.

—John MacArthur, MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Revelation 1–21 (Moody, 1999), 140.

I thank God that Jesus was never waiting for me to let him in, for if he had been, he still would be. I would never have let him in. And this is should be an obvious tip-off to the error of the popular interpretation of verse 20: nowhere in Scripture is there any hint that Christ needs our acceptance. No, it is we who need to be made acceptable to God. My salvation was never dependent on me accepting him, but on him making me acceptable to the Father. That is what the gospel is all about. It is what Christ accomplished on the cross.

May 11, 2011  |  Comments (2)   |  Permalink

Concerning Differing Degrees of Reward in Heaven

Luke 19:16 The first came before him, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made ten minas more.’ 17 And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.’

18 And the second came, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made five minas.’ 19 And he said to him, ‘And you are to be over five cities.’

Jonathan Edwards was a wonderful and precious gift of the ascended Christ to His Body, the Church (Eph 4:7-14). Through his writings, he remains so.

Some years ago, John Piper recorded a section of Jonathan Edwards' sermon preached in December, 1740, on Romans 2:10. Dr. Piper regards this section as the best thing he has ever read on the issue of varying degrees of reward, glory, happiness and holiness in heaven. I would agree.

I believe Jonathan Edwards provides satisfying answers to questions such as "how is it possible that there are varying rewards in heaven and yet it also be the place of supreme happiness for the saints?"

It is vintage Edwards. He has obviously given this a great deal of thought as he has pondered and meditated deeply on the biblical texts.

It comes from page 902 of the second volume of The Works of Jonathan Edwards. It last about 7 minutes and can be found here. - JS

May 09, 2011  |  Comments (0)   |  Permalink

What is the Gospel?

The gospel is not behavior modification, becoming a better person or learning to become more moral. it is not taking the life of Jesus as a model way to live or transforming/redeeming the secular realm. It is not living highly communal lives with others and sharing generously in communities who practice the way of Jesus in local culture.

These may all be good things, but they are not to be confused with the gospel. Did you notice the one characteristic of all of the above activities has nothing to do with what Christ has done for us, but all about what we do for him. The true gospel, rather, is news about what Christ the Saviour, has already done for us (in his life, death and resurrection) rather than instruction and advice about what you are to do for God. Christ's accomplishment, not ours, is the essence of the gospel. Above all the gospel of Christ brings good news, rather than instruction. The gospel of not about what we do, but our acts inevitably follow in thanksgiving because of what Christ has done for us. ... more>>>

May 06, 2011  |  Comments (0)   |  Permalink

Book Review: The Gospel Commission

gospelcommission.jpgBy Michael Horton
Reviewed by Bobby Jamieson Print

Baker Books, 2011.
320 pages. $19.99

Are evangelicals being distracted by mission creep? That is, are we allowing lots of other good things to creep in and crowd out the central task Jesus sends the church into the world to do?

On the one hand, the rising groundswell of interest in social and cultural engagement among many evangelicals likely reflects the flowering of a robust biblical view of creation and the Bible’s command to love our neighbor. And many Christians are engaging these issues in a way that keeps the message of the gospel front and center in their lives and in the lives of local churches.

On the other hand, many voices insist that if the church as church is not engaging (insert favored social problem or cultural activity here), then it’s not fulfilling its mission. Such critics assert that evangelical churches are too preoccupied with “member maintenance” to pay attention to the real mission of Jesus among the poor, in the inner cities, and in the places where culture is made.

A whole lot of theological issues are wrapped up in this question: the definition of the gospel, the distinction between the church as a “gathered” institution and the church as a “scattered” organism, the nature of the inaugurated kingdom of God and its implications for the present age, and, not least, the contours and scope of the mission Jesus gives to his church.

AN EXPANSIVE THEOLOGICAL EXPOSITION OF THE GREAT COMMISSION

Driven by the concern that evangelicals are in fact being distracted by mission creep, Michael Horton has addressed these issues and more in his new book The Gospel Commission: Recovering God’s Strategy for Making Disciples. At its heart, this book is an expansive theological exposition of the “Great Commission” of Matthew 28:18-20. Along the way, in addition to the issues mentioned above, Horton engages with cultural pluralism, theological inclusivism, and a number of influential facets of evangelical piety and practice which he finds to be troublesome.

Horton’s thesis is summed up in one sentence early on: “The central point of this book is that there is no mission without the church and no church without the mission” (14). Over against those who would denigrate the church’s regular ministry of “Word and sacrament” as a hindrance to mission or as an irrelevant sideshow, Horton argues that the church’s regular means of grace are at the very heart of Jesus’ missional mandate. Therefore, the church is a missionary institution by nature and calling.

A RADICALLY CHURCH-SHAPED VISION FOR DISCIPLE-MAKING

In other words, Horton argues for a radically church-shaped vision for disciple-making. In my estimation, this is a timely, biblical corrective to evangelicals’ general neglect of the institutional church and to the particular way that recent “missional” emphases have sometimes tended to denigrate the institutional church’s ministry. This church-shaped vision comes to fruition in chapters six and seven, in which Horton unpacks how the church’s ministry of preaching, teaching, administering the sacraments, and practicing discipline fulfills Christ’s mandate to make disciples of all nations.

Further, Horton’s view of the church’s mission is grounded on a lush depiction of the Bible’s teaching on the kingdom of God. In chapter 2, “Exodus and Conquest: the Gospel and the Kingdom,” Horton expounds the gospel as the eschatological exodus and conquest which secures our salvation and brings the age to come crashing into the present, opening up a “crevice” between the ages in which the gospel is proclaimed to all nations.

Thus, this book contains Horton’s answer to current debates about the relationship between gospel and kingdom, and it’s a compelling one. Building upon careful exegetical and biblical-theological work, Horton argues that “Jesus’s proclamation of the kingdom is identical to Paul’s proclamation of the gospel of justification” (75). Further, “The kingdom of God in this present phase is primarily audible, not visible. We hear the opening and shutting of the kingdom’s gates through the proclamation of the gospel, in the sacraments, and in discipline” (67). In the same vein, “Only if we hold in slight esteem the forgiveness of sins, rebirth into the new creation, justification, sanctification, and the communion of saints can we fail to revel in these present realities of Christ’s reign” (68).

Horton’s thesis that “the kingdom is the gospel and the gospel is the kingdom” (79) displays the many facets of the gospel in all their gleaming, soul-stirring radiance. Further, Horton offers a robustly biblical account of the kingdom of God that precisely details those aspects of the kingdom which are inaugurated in the present age and those which await the last day for their realization. With these theological convictions at its core, Horton’s blueprint for the church’s mission preserves the primacy of the proclamation of the gospel and the church’s mandate to make disciples.

Building on this work, in chapter eight Horton has a clarifying and, I would argue, largely satisfying discussion of the relationship between “the Great Commission and the Great Commandment”—that is, the relationship between evangelism and social justice. Horton proposes that the way to fulfill both mandates is for the church as an institution to devote itself to proclaiming the gospel and making disciples, which equips individual Christians to fulfill both commissions in their “myriad callings in the world” (231). Then, in chapter nine, Horton addresses the touchy issue of mission creep, analyzing several “dichotomies that distort the Great Commission and distract us from the strategies that Christ gave us” (252 ff.). Similar to his Westminster West colleague David VanDrunen’s work in his recent book Living in God’s Two Kingdoms (Crossway, 2010), Horton carefully argues for the unique, biblically circumscribed role of the local church as an institution. This is a crucial theological guardrail for preserving the church’s faithfulness to our Master’s marching orders.

A VALUABLE, SUBSTANTIVE, AND CLARIFYING CONTRIBUTION

I’ve spent most of my time letting Horton do the talking because I think that this book makes a valuable, substantive, and clarifying contribution to the current evangelical discussion about mission, and I want his arguments to be heard.

Horton’s theological work on gospel and kingdom is clarifying and pointedly edifying. Moreover, he glories in the inauguration of the kingdom of God and the hope of the restoration of all things while carefully guarding against an over-realized eschatology. Further, his massive emphasis on the centrality of the institutional church in fulfilling the Great Commission is a much-needed rallying cry. He muscles out room for the church as institution and then points out that this is how we must fulfill the Great Commission because this—the local church—is the means Jesus established for carrying out his mission on earth. And Horton carefully deprograms several common misconceptions that keep evangelicals from rightly understanding and carrying out the Great Commission. Among these are a consumeristic understanding of contextualization (114-132), the idea that we “live the gospel” (266-285), the claim that the institutional dimensions of the church are inimical to mission (285-290), and a misconstrual of the relationship between the church and the kingdom (290-293).

I have to register a few representative disagreements for the sake of conscience, but these by no means vitiate the book’s value. At times, Horton’s claims about what is representatively “evangelical” strike me as somewhat tendentious. I was not persuaded by his polemic for infant baptism. I don’t think he gets the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day quite right. And I’d raise questions about some of his language about the sacraments.

But in all of this, I appreciate that Horton is fleshing out a biblical vision for mission in the muscles and ligaments of the institutional church. Horton is dead right that the local church is at the heart of the Great Commission, and that the Great Commission provides us with “the message, mandate, and methods that Christ has ordained for his continuing mission in the world” (20). I hope that Horton’s example of fleshing out this churchly vision for mission within his own convictional and confessional framework will inspire many evangelicals to do the same.

This book is theologically rich, carefully critical, and it throbs with a missionary heartbeat. Reading it will both instruct and inspire you to go and make disciples of all nations.

Bobby Jamieson is assistant editor for 9Marks.

April 2011
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The Gospel Commission: Recovering God's Strategy for Making Disciples by Michael Horton - Available at Monergism Books for $12.95

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May 04, 2011  |  Comments (0)   |  Permalink