Monthly Archives: August 2010

Gazing Upon What God Has Done

Pondering the Cross of Christ

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

1 Peter 2:24

Yesterday’s theme was change. We determined that only Christ and his finished work on the Cross can change a heart. Jesus can transform a hardened heart that is torn apart through sin, torn-up through selfishness, and torn-down through suffering. By grace, a shattered, hard, and resentful heart can be made tender, loving, and whole again.

Change is not something that happens once in the Christian life. On-going change is needed to free us from the effects of living in the midst of the fallout of the fall. What do we do? We gaze upon what God has done in Jesus Christ and his triumph on the Cross.

In the reading, preaching, and teaching of the Word of God, we learn and apply the victory of the Cross.  In prayer and worship, we experience the Holy Spirit who supernaturally works his cleansing, purifying, and transforming grace. In the sacraments, we meet Christ, he touches us bringing healing, restoration, and deliverance from our self-afflicted pain.

His triumph has defeated our greatest foes: the world, the flesh, sin, death, and the devil. His victory can be applied to every struggle, hurt, sin, and frustration. We do not have to stay trapped dealing with the same problems over and over again. We can be free. We can be free to enjoy the fruit of the Spirit. We can be free to experience and enjoy God’s love. We can be free indeed (John 8:36).

Let us remember what we are, corrupt, evil, and miserable sinners. Let us remember who the Lord Jesus is, the eternal Son of God, the maker of all things. And then let us remember that for our sakes Jesus voluntarily endured the most painful, horrible, and disgraceful death.

Surely the thought of this love should constrain us daily to live not unto ourselves, but unto Christ. It should make us ready and willing to present our bodies a living sacrifice to Him who lived and died for us (2 Cor. 5:4, Rom 12:1). Let the cross of Christ be often before our minds. Rightly understood, no object in all Christianity is so likely to have a sanctifying as well as a comforting effect on our souls.

J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Mark (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1985), 344.

HT: J.C.Ryle Quotes

The Key to Change

. . . Is the Cross of Christ

He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them.

2 Cor. 5:15 NLT

We all want to change. Our society yearns for change. Professional counseling services thrive because people desire change. We get tired and weary of our selfishness, our stubbornness, and our pride. We want loving in-depth meaningful relationships. But, we struggle with letting go, trusting, and serving others.

How do we change in a world where so few love, support, and encourage one another? The key to change is the heart. Outward behaviors do not change unless our inward motivation changes. If we are only and ever thinking of ourselves: our concerns, our wants, and our needs, how can we be free? We can never have meaningful relationships with others, much less with God, when our hearts are so desperately selfish.

You and I need a heart change. Not just a tune-up or a once-over, but a complete overhaul. The key to change is the Cross. Only the Cross can melt a hardened heart. Only the Cross can transform a heart of selfishness into a heart of love.  Only the Cross can change our motivation.

The key to change is continually returning to the cross. A changing life is a cross-centered life. At the cross we see our source of sanctification (Ephesians 5:25-27; Colossians 1:22; Titus 2:14). We find hope, for we see the power of sin broken and the old nature put to death. We see ourselves united to Christ and bought by his blood. We see the glorious grace of God in Jesus Christ, dying for his enemies, the righteous for the unrighteous. We see our hope, our life, our resources, our joy. At the cross we find the grace, power, and delight in God we need to overcome sin. If we don’t come to the cross again and again, we’ll feel distant from God, disconnected from his power, and indifferent to his glory — and that is a recipe for sin.

Tim Chester, You Can Change (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 127.

HT: Of First Importance

Compromise or Hardness of Heart: Is That Our Only Choice?

God is Love and Holiness

Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.

Eph. 4:15 NLT

We tend to cast God in our own image. We can only experience one thought, one feeling, or carry out one act at a time (Psalm 121). We often assume that since we are limited than God must be so constrained. However, God can be merciful and holy at the same time (Exodus 34:6-7). He can be gracious and righteous simultaneously. The Lord can be loving and performing judgment in the same act.

Believers, and non-Christians, tend to emphasize one character attribute of God over and against his other qualities. We focus on love while ignoring to need to walk in the Spirit and obey the clear dictates of scripture (Gal. 5:16). Or, we emphasize the commands of God without acknowledging the Lord’s graciousness that enables us to obey. However, this either/or kind of Christian is a false dichotomy. Love without compassion or righteousness without mercy are not our only choices.

As Christ lives in us, we trust his Holy Spirit to make Christ known in and through us. As we keep in step with the Spirit (Gal. 5:24-25), we will understand when to have compassion on the hurting and when to take a stand on God’s law. As believers, there is no need to compromise Christian conviction and no requirement to be hard hearted enforcers of God’s law. We can act in love and holiness at the same time because a loving and holy God lives in us (John 16:12-14).

If we stress the love of God without the holiness of God, it turns out only to be compromise. But if we stress the holiness of God without the love of God, we practice something that is hard and lacks beauty. And it is important to show forth beauty before a lost world and a lost generation. All too often young people have not been wrong in saying that the church is ugly. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ we are called upon to show to a watching world and to our own young people that the church is something beautiful.

Several years ago I wrestled with the question of what was wrong with much of the church that stood for purity. I came to the conclusion that in the flesh we can stress purity without love or we can stress the love of God without purity, but that in the flesh we cannot stress both simultaneously. In order to exhibit both simultaneously, we must look moment by moment to the work of Christ, to the work of the Holy Spirit. Spirituality begins to have real meaning in our moment-by-moment lives as we begin to exhibit simultaneously the holiness of God and the love of God.

Francis A. Schaeffer, The Church before the Watching World (Downers Grove, 1971), 63.

HT: Ray Ortlund

“The Old Cross and the New”

The Two Crosses

But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

Gal. 6:14

I love the writings of A. W. Tozer. When you first pick-up Tozer, he reads like an old curmudgeon. He seemingly dislikes everything about post-World War Two Evangelicalism. However when you read carefully and thoughtfully, you find a profound love for the church and insight into the power of the gospel that many writers miss.

Tozer was a modern day mystic: a mystic in the most positive sense of the word. A mystic sees and experiences a real spiritual world beyond the world of sense (Eph. 6:10). Mystics seek to please God rather than the crowd. They cultivate a close fellowship with God, sensing his presence everywhere. Also, mystics relate their experiences to the practical things of life. Mystics sit at the foot of the Cross.

Tozer examines the difference between Christ’s work on the Cross, the old Cross, and today’s worldly compromised Christianity, the new Cross. His quote is worth reading several times.

The loss, the rejection, the shame, belong both to Christ and to all who in very truth are His. The cross that saves them also slays them, and anything short of this is a pseudo-faith and not true faith at all. But what are we to say when the great majority of our evangelical leaders walk not as crucified men but as those who accept the world at its own value—rejecting only its grosser elements? How can we face Him who was crucified and slain when we see His followers accepted and praised?  Yet they preach the cross and protest loudly that they are true believers. Are there then two crosses? And did Paul mean one thing and they another? I fear that it is so, that there are two crosses, the old cross and the new.

. . . But if I see aright, the cross of popular evangelicalism is not the cross of the New Testament. It is, rather, a new bright ornament upon the bosom of self-assured and carnal Christianity whose hands are indeed the hands of Abel, but whose voice is the voice of Cain. The old cross slew men; the new cross entertains them. The old cross condemned; the new cross amuses. The old cross destroyed confidence in the flesh; the new cross encourages it. The old cross brought tears and blood; the new cross brings laughter. The flesh, smiling and confident, preaches and sings about the cross; before the cross it bows and toward the cross it points with carefully staged histrionics—but upon that cross it will not die, and the reproach of that cross it stubbornly refuses to bear.

A. W. Tozer, God’s Pursuit of Man (Camp Hill, PA: Wingspread, 1950), 53.

The Fear of the Lord

A Fear That Leads to Holiness

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Prov. 1:7

The fear of the Lord is a silent wonder, a radical amazement, and an affectionate awe of a God who became incarnate in human flesh, died in my place, and rose again. This fear is not a fear of punishment, but the dread of hurting or breaking God’s heart by disappointing his plans for me.

We exhibit the fear of God by submitting to his lordship, yielding to his Word, and honoring delegated authorities. We fear the Lord by maintaining a constant conscious awareness of His presence–we are always aware that God is watching our actions, attitudes, and actions. This fear is not a fear of retribution or punishment, but a deep heart-felt desire to walk in holiness and obedience to God’s Word (Prov. 1:7, Psa. 33:18).

The fear of God which is the soul of godliness does not consist, however, in the dread which is produced by the apprehension of God’s wrath. When the reason for such dread exists, then to be destitute of it is the sign of hardened ungodliness. But the fear of God which is the basis of godliness, and in which godliness may be said to consist, is much more inclusive and determinative than the fear of God’s judgment. And we must remember that the dread of judgment will never of itself generate within us the love of God or hatred of the sin that makes us liable to his wrath. Even the infliction of wrath will not create the hatred of sin; it will incite to greater love of sin and enmity against God. Punishment has of itself no regenerating or converting power.

The fear of God in which godliness consists is the fear which constrains adoration and love. It is the fear which consists in awe, reverence, honour, and worship, and all of these on the highest level of exercise. It is the reflex in our consciousness of the transcendent majesty and holiness of God. It belongs to all created rational beings and does not take its origins from sin.

John Murray, Principles of Conduct: Aspects of Biblical Ethics (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans,1957), 236-37.

HT: The Reformed Reader

Laying Hold of the Promise

The Promise of Salvation in Christ

Consequently, he [Jesus] is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.

Heb. 7:25

Saving faith believes God’s word and actions in Jesus Christ while staking our lives on His promises.  Faith relies on God’s guarantee in Christ that all our sins have been forgiven, forgotten, and defeated. We are now bound in covenant to Christ placing our lives in his hands. His covenant is an binding promise that the Lord God will love us unconditionally all the days of our lives.

True faith passively receives the benefits of Christ’s victory on the cross resulting in active obedience to Christ’s commands and acquiescence to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Saving faith does not involve meriting salvation by human work. However, genuine faith will bear good fruit: an expression of the life of Christ in us. Good deeds are not the foundation of our acceptance with God, but the correct response and fruit of a living relationship with him.

More than merely mentally ascending to the basic facts of the gospel message; saving faith involves life-changing repentance, heart-felt surrender, and supernatural empowerment to obey. Saving faith grabs hold of the promise that all that Christ did on the Cross is more than sufficient for our salvation and more than powerful to change our lives.

Faith alone lays hold of the promise, believes God when He gives the promise, stretches out its hand when God offers something, and accepts what He offers. This is the characteristic function of faith alone. Love, hope, and patience are concerned with other matters; they have other bounds, and they stay within these bounds. For they do not lay hold of the promise; they carry out the commands. They hear God commanding and giving orders, but they do not hear God giving a promise; this is what faith does.

Faith is the mother, so to speak, from whom that crop of virtues springs. If faith is not there first, you would look in vain for those virtues. If faith has not embraced the promises concerning Christ, no love and no other virtues will be there, even if for a time hypocrites were to paint what seem to be likenesses of them.

Martin Luther, Luther’s Works: Lectures on Genesis, Vol. 3 (1961)

HT: Miscellanies

Is God Really in Control?

The Sovereignty of God

I (Job) know that you (God) can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.

Job 42:2

God’s sovereignty is the biblical truth that God is the King and legal authority over all his creation. God reigns and nothing is a surprise to him, nothing is by chance, and nothing is beyond his purpose and workings. The fact that God is sovereign brings me great peace: my life is not just a series of random events and lucky breaks. My life and yours has meaning, purpose, and divine direction.  Even the bad breaks in life when submitted to God can bring spiritual growth and intimacy with God. The sovereignty of God is his powerful might working his purposes in and through our circumstances, irrespective, of Satan’s wicked devices and man’s evil intentions. You and I can be thankful for the Lord by his sovereignty is working his appointment in the midst of our disappointments. God is in control.

Exodus 4:11; Lam. 3:38; Eccles.  7:14; Gen. 45:5-8

Nothing is a surprise to God; nothing is a setback to His plans; nothing can thwart His purposes; and nothing is beyond His control. His sovereignty is absolute. Everything that happens is uniquely ordained by God. Sovereignty is a weighty thing to ascribe to the nature and character of God. Yet if He were not sovereign, He would not be God. The Bible is clear that God is in control of everything that happens.

Joni Eareckson Tada, Is God Really in Control, Joni and Friends, 1987, 1. [HT: Grace Gems]

God in His love always wills what is best for us. In His wisdom He always knows what is best, and in His sovereignty He has the power to bring it about.

Jerry Bridges, Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1988), 17.

Preaching Without Preaching Christ?

Christ and Him Crucified

For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

1 Cor 2:2  ESV

God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself. Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin.

1 Cor 1:30 NLT

Several years ago, I was on a sabbatical and visited several different churches over a six week period in order to get a sense of the local preaching. I was dismayed and baffled by what I heard. Conservative, Evangelical churches that taught eight steps to happiness, six ways to be free from anxiety, America is a Christian nation, etc. Not a single sermon I heard mentioned the Cross, grace, or the Holy Spirit. How can you have a New Testament sermon without Christ, the Cross, and the Holy Spirit? The sermons I heard were try harder, do better sermons, not gospel infused messages that are Christ exalting, Christ glorifying, and Holy Spirit transforming.

First Corinthians 1:30 states that Christ is our wisdom, righteousness, holiness, and redemption. Wisdom is the practical application of Jesus in the midst of life’s difficult choices,  complicated situations, and perplexing people. Wisdom is making the right choices leading to right actions that lead people to do the right thing. Good preaching must communicate Jesus because only in him can we apply biblical truths to everyday life experiences. Jesus is wisdom-the gospel applied to life (Col. 2:2-3).

Jesus is our righteousness for a guilty past, Jesus is our sanctification for a triumphant present, and Jesus is our redemption for a certain future in God’s kingdom (1 Cor. 1:30).

Baptist pastor, Charles H. Spurgeon, bemoans preaching that does not center on Christ and his finished work on the Cross. Spurgeon states that preaching without Christ is “like bread with no flour, brook without water; a cloud without rain; a well which mocks the traveler; a tree twice dead, plucked up by the root; a sky without a sun; a night without a star.”

Leave Christ out of the preaching and you shall do nothing. Only advertize it all over London, Mr. Baker, that you are making bread without flour; put it in every paper, “Bread without flour” and you may soon shut up your shop, for your customers will hurry off to other tradesmen. . . . A sermon without Christ as its beginning, middle, and end is a mistake in conception and a crime in execution. However grand the language it will be merely much-ado-about-nothing if Christ be not there. And I mean by Christ not merely his example and the ethical precepts of his teaching, but his atoning blood, his wondrous satisfaction made for human sin, and the grand doctrine of “believe and live.” [sermon: “Christ the Glory of His People” (3/22/1868)]

I know one who said I was always on the old string, and he would come and hear me no more; but if I preached a sermon without Christ in it, he would come. Ah, he will never come while this tongue moves, for a sermon without Christ in it—a Christless sermon! A brook without water; a cloud without rain; a well which mocks the traveler; a tree twice dead, plucked up by the root; a sky without a sun; a night without a star. It were a realm of death—a place of mourning for angels and laughter for devils. O Christian, we must have Christ! Do see to it that every day when you wake you give a fresh savor of Christ upon you by contemplating his person. Live all the day, trying as much as lieth in you, to season your hearts with him, and then at night, lie down with him upon your tongue. [sermon: “A Bundle of Myrrh” (3/6/1864)]

What was the subject? What was Peter preaching upon? He was preaching Christ and him crucified. No other subject ever does produce such effects as this. The Spirit of God bears no witness to Christless sermons. Leave Jesus out of your preaching, and the Holy Spirit will never come upon you. Why should he? Has he not come on purpose that he may testify of Christ? Did not Jesus say, “He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you”? Yes, the subject was Christ, and nothing but Christ, and such is the teaching which the Spirit of God will own. Be it ours never to wander from this central point: may we determine to know nothing among men but Christ and his cross. [sermon: “The Mediator, Judge, and Savior” (5/30/1880)]

HT: Miscellanies: A Cross-Centered Blog

Lessons from a Lion: Prophetic Ministry Today

And behold, a man of God came out of Judah by the word of the LORD to Bethel. Jeroboam was standing by the altar to make offerings.

And the man cried against the altar by the word of the LORD and said, “O altar, altar, thus says the LORD: ‘Behold, a son shall be born to the house of David, Josiah by name, and he shall sacrifice on you the priests of the high places who make offerings on you, and human bones shall be burned on you.

1 Kings 13:1-2 ESV

I wrote an essay about prophetic ministry entitled, “Lessons from a Lion: A Fresh Look at First Kings 13.” My motivation for writing this article was twofold: prophetic ministry has fallen into disrepute and confusion exists in the Body of Christ regarding the practice of prophetic ministry. Is New Testament prophetic ministry identical in authority with the Old Testament prophets of long ago? How can I discern that a “prophetic word” is from the Lord or just someone trying to confuse me or even manipulate me? Can New Testament prophets be wrong? Is a prophetic word still valid if a prophet fails morally?


The Lord has used my essay to help Charismatics come to greater sense of liberty when sharing a “word” and a greater sense of peace when receiving prophetic declaration. “Lessons from a Lion” can be found here at Google documents.

Stone the False Prophet

Why Not Stone the False Prophets?

But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death. You may say to yourselves, ‘How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD?’

If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.

Deut. 18:20-22 NIV

Often, I am asked the question, “If New Testament prophecy exists today, why do you guys (i.e., Charismatics and Pentecostals) not stone the prophets when they are obviously wrong in their predictions”? To begin to answer this question, we need to examine the difference between an Old Testament prophet and present day New Testament prophetic ministry.

In the Old Testament the prescription was clear (Deut. 18:20-22). If a prophet failed in his prophecy, he dies because his words did not come to fruition. Clear, tangible, visible evidence assisted the observers in discerning whether a prophecy was true or false.

The Holy Spirit was not present individually in the lives of the Israelites, the only means available for discernment was outward evidence. If the “word of the Lord” came true, the prophet was from the Lord. If the prediction was false, the prophet was false and must be killed before he or she deceives and misleads hundreds, if not, thousands of people.

Today, however, any New Testament believer has within him (or her) the presence of the Holy Spirit. Since, the Holy Spirit is resident within, then are all the spiritual gifts are available to every believer (1 Cor. 12). One of those resident gifts is the spirit of discernment (1 Cor. 12: 10): this gift assists each believer and the whole body to discern whether a prophetic word is from the Lord, the flesh, or even the devil (1 Cor. 14: 29). Thus, we are able to weigh whether a prophetic word is valid by an inner witness (1 John 4: 1-3, 1 Cor. 14:29).

Therefore, we no longer need piles of stones outside our church doors. The Lord himself guides a congregation to accept or reject a prophetic word or ministry.

In 1 Corinthians 14:29 it seems that the prophet’s words could be challenged and questioned, and that the prophet could at times be wrong. Yet there is no indication that an occasional mistake would make him a ‘false’ prophet. In 1 Corinthians 14:30, Paul seems unconcerned that some of a prophet’s words could be lost for ever and never heard by the church.

In 1 Corinthians 14:36, he refuses the prophets the right to make rules for worship other than the ones he has given, and in 1 Corinthians 14:37-38 he seems to indicate that, in his opinion, no Corinthian prophet had a kind of divine authority equal to his own. Finally, in 1 Corinthians 11:5 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, Paul allows women to prophesy while denying to them the right to enforce obedience or belief on the congregation, and this would be consistent with the view that prophets spoke with something less than ‘absolute’ divine authority.

Wayne Grudem, The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today (Westchester, IL: Crossway, 1988), 87.