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“Discerning God’s Will” by R.C. Sproul

THE THREE ‘WILLS” OF GOD

“It is the will of God.”

How easily these words fall from the lips or flow from the pen. How difficult it is to penetrate exactly what they mean. Few concepts in theology generate more confusion than the will of God.

One problem we face is rooted in the multifaceted way in which the term “will” functions in biblical expressions. The Bible uses the expression “will of God” in various ways. We encounter two different Greek words in the New Testament (boulē and thēlema), both of which are capable of several nuances. They encompass such ideas as the counsel of God, the plan of God, the decrees of God, the disposition or attitude of God, as well as other nuances. Further distinctions in historical theology add to the labyrinth of meanings attached to the simple formula “the will of God.”

Augustine once remarked, “In some sense, God wills everything that happens.” The immediate question raised by this comment is, In what sense? How does God “will” the presence of evil and suffering? Is He the immediate cause of evil? Does He do evil? God forbid. Yet evil is a part of His creation. If He is sovereign over the whole of His creation, we must face the conundrum, How is evil related to the divine will?

Questions like this one make distinctions necessary—sometimes fine distinctions, even technical distinctions—with respect to will of God. Some of those distinctions made by theologians include the following:

(1) The Decretive Will of God

This is sometimes described as the sovereign efficacious will, by which God brings to pass whatever He pleases by His divine decree. An example of this may be seen in God’s work of creation. When God said, “Let there be light,” He issued a divine imperative. He exercised His sovereign efficacious will. It was impossible for the light not to appear. It appeared by the sheer necessity of consequence. That is, the decretive will can have no other effect, no other consequence than what God sovereignly commands. He did not request the light to shine. Nor did He coax, cajole, or woo it into existence. It was a matter of the authority and power vainly sought by the king of Siam when he said to Anna (to no avail), “So let it be said; so let it be done.” No creature enjoys this power of will. No man’s will is that efficacious. Men issue decrees and then hope they will bring about their desired effects. God alone can decree with the necessity of consequence.

(2) The Preceptive Will of God

The preceptive will of God relates to the revealed commandments of God’s published law. When God commands us not to steal, this “decree” does not carry with it the immediate necessity of consequence. Where it was not possible for the light to refuse to shine in creation, it is possible for us to refuse to obey this command. In a word, we steal.

We must be careful not to make too much of this distinction. We must not be lulled into thinking that the preceptive will of God is divorced from His decretive will. It is not as though the preceptive will has no effect or no necessity of consequence. We may have the power to disobey the precept. We do not have the power to disobey it with impunity. Nor can we annul it by our disregard. His law remains intact whether we obey it or disobey it. Even this law cannot ultimately be frustrated. There will come a time when no one will steal. The sinner in hell will be forcibly restrained from stealing. The saint in heaven, in the glorified state of perfected sanctification, will be totally disinclined to theft.

In one sense the preceptive will is part of the decretive will. God sovereignly and efficaciously decrees that His law be established. It is established and nothing can disestablish it. His law exists as surely as the light by which we read it.

Yet we still observe the acute difference between the light’s obedience to God’s creative decree and our disobedience to God’s moral, preceptive decree. How do we account for this?

A common way to resolve this conundrum is by appeal to a distinction between the sovereign will of God and His permissive will.

(3) The Permissive Will of God

The distinction between the sovereign will of God and the permissive will of God is fraught with peril, and it tends to generate untold confusion.

In ordinary language the term permission suggests some sort of positive sanction. To say that God “allows” or “permits” evil does not mean that He sanctions it in the sense that He grants approval to it. It is easy to discern that God never permits sin in the sense that He sanctions it in His creatures.

What is usually meant by divine permission is that God simply lets it happen. That is, He does not directly intervene to prevent its happening. Here is where grave danger lurks. Some theologies view this drama as if God were impotent to do anything about human sin. This view makes man sovereign, not God. God is reduced to the roll of spectator or cheerleader, by which God’s exercise in providence is that of a helpless Father who having done all He can do, must now sit back and simply hope for the best. He permits what He cannot help but permit because He has no sovereign power over it. This ghastly view is not merely a defective view of theism; it is unvarnished atheism.

Obviously the motive behind this specious theology is virtuous. It is fueled by a desire to exonerate God from any culpability for the presence of evil in the world. I am sure God is pleased by the sentiment but repulsed by a theory that would strip Him of His very deity. Calvin said of this:

“Hence the distinction was devised between doing and permitting because to many this difficulty seemed inexplicable, that Satan and all the impious are so under God’s hand and power that He directs their malice to whatever end seems good to Him, and uses their wicked deeds to carry out His judgments. And perhaps the moderation of those whom the appearance of absurdity alarms would be excusable, except that they wrongly try to clear God’s justice of every sinister mark by upholding a falsehood” (Institutes I.xviii.1).

Calvin locates the scurrilous untruth in the faulty distinction between willing and permitting:

“It seems absurd to them for man, who will soon be punished for his blindness, to be blinded by God’s will and command. Therefore they escape by the shift that this is done only with God’s permission, not also by His will; but He, openly declaring that He is the doer, repudiates that evasion. However, that men can accomplish nothing … except what He has already decreed with Himself and determines by His secret direction, is proved by innumerable and clear testimonies” (Ibid.).

Calvin goes on to enumerate several passages that support his thesis, looking to Job, Satan and the Sabeans, the role of Pilate and Judas in the execution of Christ, the role of Absalom in Jewish history, etc.

The key phrase is this: “Therefore they escape by the shift that this is done only with God’s permission, not also by His will.”

Here the operative word is only. If we are in any just way to speak of God’s permissive will, we must be careful to notice not only the word permissive but also the word will. Whatever God “permits” He sovereignly and efficaciously wills to permit. If I have a choice to sin or not sin, God also has a choice in the matter. He always has the ability and the authority to stop me from exercising my will. He has absolute power to restrain me. He can vaporize me instantly if it is His pleasure. Or He can keep me on a long leash and let me do my worst. He will only permit me to do my worst if my worst coincides with His perfect providential plan.

In the treachery perpetrated by Joseph’s brothers, it was said, “You meant it for evil; God meant it for good.” God’s good will was served through the bad will of Joseph’s brothers. This does not mean that since they were only doing the will of God the acts of the brothers were virtues in disguise. Their acts are judged together with their intentions, and they were rightly judged by God to be evil. That God brings good out of evil only underscores the power and the excellence of His sovereign decretive will.

We sometimes get at this same problem by distinguishing between God’s active will and His passive will. Again we face difficulties. When God is “passive,” He is, in a sense, actively passive. I do not mean to speak nonsense but merely to show that God is never totally passive. When He seems to be passive, He is actively choosing not to intercede directly.

Augustine addressed the problem this way: “Man sometimes with a good will wishes something which God does not will, as when a good son wishes his father to live, while God wishes him to die. Again it may happen that man with a bad will wishes what God wills righteously, as when a bad son wishes his father to die, and God also wills it.… For the things which God rightly wills, He accomplishes by the evil wills of bad men.”

About the Author: Dr. R.C. Sproul is the founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries, an international Christian education ministry located near Orlando, Florida. His teaching can be heard on the program Renewing Your Mind, which is broadcast on hundreds of radio outlets in the United States and in 40 countries worldwide. He is the executive editor of Tabletalk magazine and general editor of The Reformation Study Bible, and the author of more than seventy books (including some of my all time favorites: The Work of ChristThe Holiness of God; Chosen By God; Reason to Believe; Knowing Scripture; Willing to Believe; The Intimate Marriage; Pleasing God; If There’s A God, Why Are There Atheists?, and Defending The Faith) and scores of articles for national evangelical publications. Dr. Sproul also serves as president of Ligonier Academy of Biblical and Theological Studies and Reformation Bible College. He currently serves as Senior Minister of preaching and teaching at Saint Andrew’s in Sanford, FL. The article above was adapted from Ligonier Ministries Tabletalk magazine – August, 1993.

 

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7 Tips on Scripture Memorization

GSITSOL Swindoll

I know of no other single practice in the Christian life more rewarding, practically speaking than memorizing Scripture. That’s right. No other single discipline is more useful and rewarding than this. No other single exercise pays greater spiritual dividends! Your prayer life will be strengthened. Your witnessing will be sharper and more effective. Your counseling will be in demand. Your attitudes and outlook will begin to change. Your mind will become alert and observant. Your confidence and assurance will be enhanced. Your faith will be solidified.

God’s Word is filled with exhortations to implant His truth in our hearts. David says that a young man can keep his way pure by treasuring God’s Word in his heart.

Psalm 37:31, “The law of his God is in his heart; his steps do not slip.”

Psalm 119:9-11, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”

Solomon refers to this in Proverbs 4:4, “Let your heart hold fast my words; keep my commandments, and live.”

The words “hold fast” come from a single Hebrew term, meaning “to grasp, seize, lay hold of.” Scripture memory gives you a firm grasp of the Word—and allows the Word to get a firm grasp of you! Solomon also mentions writing the Word “on the tablet of your heart” and having Scriptures kept within you so “they may be on your lips” (Proverbs 7:3 & 22:18).

Now, I know you’ve been challenged to do this before. But is it happening? Perhaps you have procrastinated because you have mental blocks against it. Maybe you tried, but you either did not see the value or could not get beyond the method that was demanded by some memory program—little cards, booklets, check-up techniques, hearers, etc. Perhaps that seemed elementary and insulted your intelligence, I understand.

Okay…forget the methods…but don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Take your Bible, turn to a passage that’s been especially helpful…and commit that passage to memory—all on your own. Don’t learn just isolated verses here and there. Bite off whole chunks of Scripture. That way you can get the flow of thought God had in mind.

Here are seven things I have found helpful:

(1)  Choose a time when your mind is free from outside distractions…perhaps soon after getting up in the morning.

(2)  Learn the reference by repeating it every time you say the verse(s). Numbers are more difficult to remember than words.

(3)  Read each verse through several times—both whisper and aloud. Hearing yourself say the words help cement them into your mind.

(4)  Break the passage into its natural phrases. Learn the reference and then the first phrase. Then repeat the reference and first phrase as you go to the second phrase. Continue adding phrases one by one.

(5)  Learn a little bit perfectly rather than a great deal poorly. Do not go on to the next verse until you can say the previous one(s) perfectly, without a glance at your Bible.

(6)  Review the verse(s) immediately after you have gone through this process. Twenty to thirty minutes later, repeat what you’ve memorized. Before the day has ended has ended, firmly fix the verse(s) in your mind by going over it fifteen to twenty times. (You can do this as you drive or do your job.)

(7)  Use the verse(s) orally as soon as possible. After all, the purpose of Scripture memory is a practical one, not academic. Use the verses in conversation, in correspondence, in teaching, in counseling, in everyday opportunities. Relate what you’ve learned to your daily situation. You’ll be thrilled with the results.

*Article above adapted from Charles R. Swindoll. Growing Strong In The Seasons of Life. Portland, OR.: Multnomah Books, 1983, pp. 53-54.

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About The Author:

Charles R. Swindoll has devoted his life to the clear, practical teaching and application of God’s Word and His grace. A pastor at heart, Chuck has served as senior pastor to congregations in Texas, Massachusetts, and California. Since 1998, he has served as the senior pastor-teacher of Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas, but Chuck’s listening audience extends far beyond a local church body. As a leading program in Christian broadcasting since 1979, Insight for Living airs in major Christian radio markets around the world, reaching people groups in languages they can understand. Chuck’s extensive writing ministry has also served the body of Christ worldwide and his leadership as president and now chancellor of Dallas Theological Seminary has helped prepare and equip a new generation for ministry. Chuck and Cynthia, his partner in life and ministry, have four grown children and ten grandchildren.

Chuck’s prolific writing ministry has blessed the body of Christ for over thirty years. Beginning with You and Your Child in 1977, Chuck has contributed more than seventy titles to a worldwide reading audience. His most popular books in the Christian Bookseller’s Association include: Strengthening Your Grip, Improving Your ServeDropping Your GuardLiving on the Ragged EdgeLiving Above the Level of MediocrityThe Grace AwakeningSimple FaithLaugh AgainThe Finishing TouchIntimacy with the AlmightySuddenly One MorningThe Mystery of God’s WillWisdom for the WayThe Darkness and the DawnA Life Well Lived, and the Great Lives from God’s Word series, which includes JosephDavidEstherMosesElijahPaulJobJesus: The Greatest Life of All, and his most recent addition, The Church Awakening: An Urgent Call for Renewal. As a writer, Chuck has received the following awards: Gold Medallion Lifetime Achievement Award, Evangelical Press Association, 1997 and Twelve Gold Medallion Awards.

 
 

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A 12-Step Way To Pray by Dick Eastman

HTCTW Eastman

In the United States today is the “National Day of Prayer” and do we ever need to be praying. Our nation is crumbling before our eyes spiritually, morally, economically, and in many other ways. The only way I can fathom any significant change is for the gospel to go forth in power resulting in repentance and faith in Christ in droves.

One of the mysterious means God has given us as Christians to work in this world is the gift of prayer. Whereby Christ mediates our prayers in the power and through the working of the Holy Spirit to the throne room of God the Father. God answers our prayers in accordance with His sovereign plans.

Today I will be working through the twelve steps of prayer below presented as a template and expounded upon in the excellent book on prayer by Dick Eastman entitled: “The Hour That Changes The World.” Dick Eastman’s book is highly recommended in that it provides a plethora of outstanding resources on how to pray biblically, and therefore with great effectiveness and power. Today I will be praying through these twelve steps with a special emphasis on praying for the USA – and it’s much-needed revival!

Dick Eastman suggests using this template to pray for an hour. You may not be able to pray for an hour – and that’s ok. It’s not the time that matters. It’s really about your intimacy with God and focusing in and honing in on what’s important to Him so it’s also important to you – and you become a doer of what He wants done on earth. Revival starts with the Church and then results in penetrating culture. I hope you will join me today in praying for our beloved country and for all the nations of the earth that so desperately need to repent of their sins and trust in Jesus’ provision for them on the cross, and through His resurrection.

The Hour That Changes The World – By Dick Eastman 

(1) Begin with Praise – Recognize God’s Nature

Psalm 63:3, “Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.

(2) Waiting – Silent Soul Surrender

Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”

(3) Confession – Temple Cleansing Time

Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”

(4) Scripture Praying – Word Enriched Prayer

Jeremiah 23:29, “Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?”

(5) Watching – Develop Holy Alertness

Colossians 4:2, “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.”

(6) Intercession – Remember The World

1 Timothy 2:1-2, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”

(7) Petition – Share Personal Needs

Matthew 7:7, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”

(8) Thanksgiving – Confess My Blessings

1 Thessalonians 5:18, “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

(9) Singing – Worship In Song

Psalm 100:2, “Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! 

 (10) Meditation – Ponder Spiritual Themes

Joshua 1:8, “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”

(11) Listening – Receive Spiritual Instruction

Ecclesiastes 5:2, “Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few.”

(12) Praise – Recognize God’s Nature

Psalm 52:9, “I will thank you forever, because you have done it. I will wait for your name, for it is good, in the presence of the godly. 

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2015 in Book Excerpts, Prayer Helps

 

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Why The Gospel is The Key To Bringing Real Change to Your Life

THE GOSPEL: KEY TO CHANGE

Tim Keller seated image

By Tim Keller

The Greek term “gospel” (ev-angelion) distinguished the Christian message from that of other religions. An ‘ev-angel’ was news of a great historical event, such as a victory in war or the ascension of a new king, that changed the listeners’ condition and required a response from the listener. So the gospel is news of what God has done to reach us. It is not advice about what we must do to reach God. What is this news?

God has entered the world in Jesus Christ to achieve a salvation that we could not achieve for ourselves which now 1) converts and transforms individuals, forming them into a new humanity, and eventually 2) will renew the whole world and all creation. This is the ‘good news’—the gospel. And it is good news in three important ways.

1. The gospel is the good news of gracious acceptance. Jesus lived the life we should live. He also paid the penalty we owe for the rebellious life we do live. He did this in our place:

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. (Isaiah 53:4-10);

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor 5:21);

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).

We are not reconciled to God through our efforts and record, as in all other religions, but through his efforts and record. Christians who trust in Christ for their acceptance with God, rather than in their own moral character, commitment, or performance, are simul justus et pecator – simultaneously sinful yet accepted. We are more flawed and sinful than we ever dared believe, yet we are more loved and accepted than we ever dared hope at the same time.

Without this unique understanding of grace-salvation, religions have to paint God as either a demanding, holy God who is placated by back-breaking moral effort, or as what C.S. Lewis calls ‘a senile, old benevolence’ who tolerates everyone no matter how they live. The problem is that if I think I have a relationship with God because I am living morally according to his standards, it does not move me to the depths to think of my salvation. I earned it. There is no joy, amazement, or tears. I am not galvanized and transformed from the inside. On the other hand, if I think I have a relationship with God because the Divine just embraces us all, no matter what how we live— that also does not move me to the depths. I simply have the attitude of Voltaire, who, on his deathbed famously said, “Of course God forgives—that’s his job.” Any effort to take away the idea of Christ’s substitutionary atonement and replace it with a moralism (i.e., being moral, working for others, imitating Jesus) robs the gospel of its power to change us from the inside out.

The gospel is, therefore, radically different from religion. Religion operates on the principle: “I obey, therefore I am accepted”. The gospel operates on the principle: “I am accepted through Christ, therefore I obey.” So the gospel differs from both religion and irreligion. Not only can you seek to be your own ‘lord and savior’ by breaking the law of God (i.e., through irreligion), you can also do so by keeping the law in order to earn your salvation (i.e., through religion). A lack of deep belief in the gospel is the main cause of spiritual deadness, fear, and pride in Christians, because our hearts continue to act on the basis “I obey, therefore, I am accepted.” If we fail to forgive others–that is not simply a lack of obedience, but a failure to believe we are saved by grace, too. If we lie in order to cover up a mistake–that is not simply a lack of obedience, but a failure to find our acceptance in God rather than in human approval. So we do not ‘get saved’ by believing the gospel and then ‘grow’ by trying hard to live according to Biblical principles. Believing the gospel is not only the way to meet God, but also the way to grow into him.

2. The gospel is the good news of changed lives. Paul says to Christians, ‘your life is hid with Christ in God’ (Col 3:3), and in numerous places he says that we are now ‘in Him.’ This means, on the one hand, that the Father accepts us in Christ and treats us as if we had done all that Jesus has done (cf. Col 3:2a). But this is also means Christ’s life comes into us by the Spirit and shapes us into a new kind of person. The gospel is not just a truth about us that we affirm with our minds, it is also a reality we must experience in our hearts and souls. For example, In 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 Paul wants the people to give an offering to the poor. He says, “I don’t want to order you. I don’t want this offering to simply be the response to my demand.” He doesn’t put pressure directly on the will (saying ‘I’m an apostle and this is your duty to me!’) nor pressure directly on the emotions (telling them stories about how much the poor are suffering and how much more they have than the sufferers). Instead, Paul vividly and unforgettably says, “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9). When he says ‘you know the grace’—he uses a powerful image, bringing Jesus’ salvation into the realm of money and wealth and poverty. He moves them by a ‘spiritual recollection’ of the gospel. Paul is saying, ‘Think on his costly grace. Think on that grace until you are changed into generous people by the gospel in your hearts.’ So the solution to stinginess is a re-orientation to the generosity of Christ in the gospel, where he poured out his wealth for you. Now you don’t have to worry about money—the cross proves God’s care for you and gives you security. Now you don’t have to envy any one else’s money. Jesus’ love and salvation confers on you a remarkable status—one that money cannot give you.

Paul does the same thing in Ephesians 5:25ff, where he urges husbands to be faithful to their wives. What is the point? What makes you a sexually faithful spouse, a generous-not avaricious- person, a good parent and/or child is not just redoubled effort to follow the example of Christ. Rather, it is deepening your understanding of the salvation of Christ and living out of the changes that understanding makes in your heart—the seat of your mind, will, and emotions. Faith in the gospel re-structures our motivations, our self-understanding and identity, and our view of the world. Behavioral compliance to rules without heart-change will be superficial and fleeting. The gospel changes your heart.

3. The gospel is the good news of the new world coming. The plot-line of the Bible is this: 1) God created the world,
2) The world and humanity fell into sin and decay, 3) But God sends his Son to redeem the world and create a new humanity, and 4) Eventually the whole world will be renewed. Death, decay, injustice, and suffering will be all removed.

The gospel then is not just about individual happiness and fulfillment. It is not just a wonderful plan for ‘my life’ but a wonderful plan for the world. It is about the coming of God’s kingdom to renew everything. Gospel-centered churches do not only urge individuals to be converted, but also to seek peace and justice in our cities and in our world

Christ wins our salvation through losing, achieves power through weakness and service, and comes to wealth via giving all away. Those who receive his salvation are not the strong and accomplished but those who admit that they are weak and lost. This pattern creates an ‘alternate kingdom’ or ‘city’ (Matt.5:14-16). in which there is a complete reversal of the values of the world with regard to power, recognition, status, and wealth. When we understand that we are saved by sheer grace through Christ, we stop seeking salvation in these things. The reversal of the cross, therefore, liberates us from bondage to the power of material things and worldly status in our lives. The gospel, therefore, creates a people with a whole alternate way of being human. Racial and class superiority, accrual of money and power at the expense of others, yearning for popularity and recognition–all these things are marks of living in the world, and are the opposite of the mindset of the kingdom (Luke 6:20-26).

Conclusion

All of the above are important ‘perspectives’ on the gospel. The first stresses the doctrinal content of the gospel. The gospel is the news that Jesus Christ died and rose for our salvation in history. The second stresses the personal individual impact of the gospel. The gospel is a transforming grace that changes our hearts and inmost motives. The third stresses the social impact of the gospel. The gospel brings a new ‘order’ in which believers no longer are controlled by material goods or worldly status and have solidarity with others across customary social barriers. These three ‘perspectives’ are all Biblical and should be kept together. There is a tendency for Christians and churches to focus on just one of these perspectives and ignore the others. However they are inseparable and inter-dependent on one another.

If, for example, you stressed the social perspective to the exclusion of others, you might call loudly for social justice, but your ministry will not convert people and give them the changed lives they need to persevere in humbly serving the needs of the poor. If you stress the doctrinal perspective to the exclusion of the experiential and social, you might have a ministry that is doctrinally accurate but it will not produce changed lives, so why should anyone believe your doctrine? If you over-stress the personal perspective, you might ‘psychologize’ the gospel so that it is presented as strictly a way for an individual to overcome his or her guilt and unhappiness. But it will not get the person out of him or herself—which is what you need most to be happy. We were built by God for service. All three perspectives are necessary. This full approach to the gospel creates a church that does not fit neatly into the traditional ‘conservative/sectarian’ nor ‘liberal/mainline’ categories.

The gospel is the dynamic for all heart-change, life-change, and social-change. Change won’t happen through ‘trying harder’ but only through encountering with the radical grace of God.

 

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Practical Guidelines for Biblical Interpretation from Dr. R.C. Sproul

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1: READ THE BIBLE LIKE ANY OTHER BOOK – The Bible does not take on some special magic that changes basic literary patterns of interpretation.

2: READ THE BIBLE EXISTENTIALLY – We ought to get passionately and personally involved with what we read. We should seek to “crawl in the skin” of the characters we are reading about so that we get absorbed into the world of the text, so that their world begins to shape us. By trying to put ourselves in the life situation of the characters of Scripture, we can come to a better understanding of what we are reading. This is the practice of empathy, feeling the emotions of the characters we are studying. Such reading between the lines may not be regarded as part of the text of Scripture itself but will aid in our understanding the flavor of what is happening.

3: INTERPRET THE HISTORICAL NARRATIVES BY THE DIDACTIC (‘Teaching’ or ‘Doctrinal’ Passages) – The term didactic comes from the Greek word that means to teach or to instruct. Didactic literature teaches or explains. Much of Paul’s writing is didactic in character. The relationship between the Gospels and the Epistles often has been defined in simple terms of saying that the Gospels record what Jesus did and the Epistles interpret the significance of what He did. It is true that the emphasis in the Gospels is found in the record of events, while the Epistles are more concerned with interpreting the significance of those events in terms of doctrine, exhortation and application…The principle of interpreting the narrative by the didactic is not designed to set apostle against apostle or apostle against Christ. It is merely recognizing one of the principle tasks of the apostle, to teach and to interpret the mind of Christ for His people.

4: INTERPRET THE IMPLICIT BY THE EXPLICIT – When an implication is drawn that is contradictory to what is explicitly stated, the implication must be rejected. If we interpret the clear in light of the obscure, we drift into a kind of esoteric interpretation that is inevitably cultic. The basic rule is that of care: careful reading of what the text is actually saying will save us from much confusion and distortion.

5: DETERMINE CAREFULLY THE MEANING OF WORDS – Only the context can determine the particular meaning of a word.

6: NOTE THE PRESENCE OF PARALLELISMS – Parallelism may be defined as a relationship between two or more sentences or clauses that correspond in similarity or are set with each other. There are three basic types of parallelism: synonymous, antithetic, and synthetic.

Synonymous parallelism occurs when different lines or parts of a passage present the same thought in a slightly altered manner of expression. For example:

“A false witness will not go unpunished,

And he who tells lies will not escape” (Proverbs 19:5).

And: “Come, let us worship and bow down,

Let us kneel before the LORD our God our Maker” (Psalm 95:6).

Antithetic parallelism occurs when the two parts are set in contrast to each other. They may say the same thing but say it by way of negation.

“A wise son accepts his father’s discipline,

But a scoffer does not listen to rebuke” (Proverbs 13:1).

And: “Poor is he who works with a negligent hand,

But the hand of the diligent makes rich” (Proverbs 10:4).

Synthetic parallelism is a but more complex than the other forms. Here the first part of the passage creates a sense of expectation that is completed by the second part. It can also move in progressive, “staircase” movement to a conclusion in a third line.

“For, behold, Your enemies, O LORD,

For, behold, Your enemies will perish;

All who do iniquity will be scattered” (Psalm 92:9).

“Give to him who asks of you,

and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you” (Matthew 5:42).

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek and you shall find;

knock and it will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7).

7: NOTE THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A PROVERB AND A LAW – Proverbs are catchy little couplets designed to express practical truisms. They reflect principles of wisdom for godly living. They do not reflect moral laws that are to be applied to absolutely every conceivable life situation.

8: OBSERVE THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE SPIRIT AND THE LETTER OF THE LAW – Jesus goes beyond the letter to the spirit of the letter. The Pharisees noted only the letter; Christians are to take note of the both the letter and the spirit of the letter.

9: BE CAREFUL WITH PARABLES – Some parables are extended similes, others are comparative stories, and still others have an obvious moral application. The safest way to look at parables is to look for one basic central point in them.

10: BE CAREFUL WITH PREDICTIVE PROPHECY – If we examine how the NT treats the OT prophecy, we discover that in some cases an appeal is made to the fulfillment of the letter (such as the birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem) and in others fulfillment has a broader scope (such as the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy of the return of Elijah).  When interpreting Apocalyptic literature (e.g., Daniel, Ezekiel, Revelation) it’s important to seek the general meaning of such images in the Bible itself. For example, most of the images of the book of Revelation are found elsewhere in the Bible, particularly in the Old Testament.

11: INTERPRET THE BIBLE WITH A SPIRIT OF HUMILITY – We must humbly acknowledge the possibility that at some points we could be mistaken…If my views cannot stand the test of objective analysis and verification, humility demands that I abandon them.

*Adapted from Chapter 4: “Practical Rules for Biblical Interpretation” from R.C. Sproul. Knowing Scripture. IVP: Downers Grove, IL.: 2009.

 

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Christianity is About a Relationship with Jesus

Receiving The Resurrected Redeemer

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Every single person who has ever lived on Planet Earth will be resurrected—some to eternal life and some to eternal torment. In the Lord’s own words, “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned” (John 5:28-29). Everyone reading these words is in one of these two categories.

Relationship

The distinction between religion and relationship makes all the difference in the world. Religion is merely man’s attempt to reach up and become acceptable to God through his own efforts—living a good life, attempting to obey the Ten Commandments, or following the golden rule. Some religions even teach that this cannot be accomplished in one lifetime. Thus, you are reincarnated over and over again until you become one with nirvana or one with the universe.

The problem with the answer provided by religion is that the Bible says that if we are ever to become acceptable to God, we must be absolutely perfect! As Jesus put it in His Sermon on the Mount—one of the most famous literary masterpieces in the history of humanity—“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Obviously no one is perfect; therefore, if we are ever going to know the resurrected Redeemer here and now, as well as rule and reign with Him throughout the eons of time, there has to be another way. And that way is found in a relationship.

Relationship is what the Christian faith is all about. It is not primarily a set of dos and don’ts. It’s a personal relationship with God. That relationship does not depend on our ability to reach up and touch God through our own good works, but rather on God’s willingness to reach down and touch us through His love.

By way of illustration, if I wanted to have a relationship with an ant, the only way I could do so is to become one. Obviously I can’t become an ant, but God did become a man. The Bible says that God in the person of Jesus Christ “became flesh” and lived for a while “among us” (John 1:14). He came into time and space to restore a relationship with man that was severed by sin.

It is crucial that you understand the problem of sin. If you do not recognize that you are a sinner, you will also not realize your need for a Savior.

Sin

Sin is not just murder, rape, or robbery. Sin is failing to do the things we should and doing those things we should not. In short, sin is a word that describes anything that fails to meet God’s standard of perfection.

Thus, sin is the barrier between you and a satisfying relationship with God. As Scripture puts it, “Your iniquities [sins] have separated you from your God” (Isaiah 59:2).

Just as light and dark cannot exist together, neither can God and sin. And each day we are further separated from God as we are further separated from God as we add to the account of our sin. But that’s not the only problem. Sin also separates us from others. You need only read the newspaper or listen to a news report to see how true this really is. Locally, we read of murder, robbery, and fraud. Nationally, we hear of corruption in politics, racial tension, and an escalating rate of suicide. Internationally, we constantly see wars and hear rumors of war. We live in a time when terrorism abounds and when the world as we know it can be instantly obliterated by nuclear aggression.

All of these things are symbolic of sin. The Bible says that we “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). There are no accept ions to the rule. The problem is further compounded when we begin to understand who God is. Virtually every heresy begins with a misconception of the nature of God.

God

On one hand, God is the perfect Father. We all have had earthly fathers, but no matter how good—or bad, as the case may be—none are perfect. God, however, is the perfect Father. And as the perfect Father, he desires an intimate relationship with us. In His Word, God says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3).

Yet the same Bible that tells us that God loves us and wants a relationship with us as our heavenly Father also tells us that He is the perfect Judge. As the perfect Judge, God is absolutely just, righteous, and holy. The Bible says of God, “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; You cannot tolerate wrong” (Habakkuk 1:13).

Herein lies the dilemma. On the one hand, we see that God is the perfect Father. He loves us and wants to have a personal relationship with us. On the other hand, He is the perfect Judge, whose very nature is too pure to tolerate our sin. The dilemma is brought into sharper focus by a story I heard many years ago.

A young man was caught driving under the influence of alcohol after having committed several crimes. He was brought before a judge nicknamed the “hanging judge.” Although the judge’s integrity was beyond question, he always handed out the stiffest penalty allowable by law (to wit the nickname, “hanging judge”). It turns out that the judge was the young man’s father. As you can imagine, everyone in there courthouse that day waited with bated breath to see how the judge would treat his own son. Would he show him favoritism as a father, or would he, as always, hand out the stiffest penalty allowable by law?

As the spellbound courtroom full of spectators looked on, the judge, without hesitation, issued the maximum financial penalty allowable by law. Then he took off his judicial robes, walked over to where his son stood, and paid the penalty his son could not pay. In that one act, he satisfied the justice of the law and yet demonstrated extraordinary love.

That, however, is but a faint glimpse of what God the Father did for us through His Son, Jesus Christ. You see, Jesus Christ—God Himself—came to earth to be our Savior and to be our Lord.

Through His resurrection, Jesus demonstrated that He does not stand in a line of peers with Buddha, Mohammed, or any other founders of world religions. They died and are still dead, but Christ had the power to lay down His life and take it up again.

Jesus Christ

As our Savior, Jesus lived the perfect life we cannot live. Earlier I pointed out that Scripture says in order to be acceptable to God we need to be perfect. Well, Jesus Christ came into time and space to be perfection for us. As the Bible puts it, “God made Him [Jesus Christ] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).

This is the great exchange over which all of the Bible was written. God took our sins and placed them on Jesus Christ, who suffered and died to pay the debt we could not pay. Then, wonder of wonders, He gave us the perfect life of Jesus Christ. He took our sins and gave us His perfection as an absolutely free gift. We cannot earn it or deserve it; we can only live a life of gratitude for this gift that God freely offers us. But that’s not all. Jesus not only died to be our Savior; He also lives to be our Lord.

As our Lord, Jesus Christ gives our lives meaning, purpose, and fulfillment. This is a particularly exciting thought when you stop to realize that the one who wants to be your Lord is the very one who spoke and the universe leaped into existence. He not only made this universe and everything in it, but He made you. He knows all about you, He loves you, and He wants you to have a satisfying life here and now and an eternity of joy with Him in heaven forever.

The Bible says, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). The resurrection of Jesus is an undeniable fact of history. Through the immutable fact of the resurrection, God the Father vindicated Christ’s claims to deity, thus demonstrating that Jesus was God in human flesh. To receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, one need only take two steps. The one step is repent, the other is receive.

Two Steps

The first step involves repentance. Repentance is an old English word that describes a willingness to turn from sin toward Jesus Christ. It literally means a complete U-turn on the road of life—a change of heart and a change of mind. It means a willingness to follow Jesus Christ and receive Him as Savior and Lord. In the words of Christ, “The time has come…The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15).

The second step is to receive. To demonstrate true belief means to be willing to receive God’s free gift. To truly receive God’s gift is to trust in and depend on Jesus Christ alone to be the Lord of our lives here and now and our Savior for all eternity.

Receiving God’s free gift takes more than knowledge. (The devil knows about Jesus and trembles.) It takes more than agreeing that the knowledge is accurate. (The devil knows that Jesus is Lord.) True saving faith entails not only knowledge and agreement, but trust. By way of illustration, when you are sick you can know a particular medicine can cure you. You can even agree that it’s cured thousands of others. But until you trust it enough to take it, it cannot cure you. It like manner, you can know about Jesus Christ, and you can agree that He has saved others, but until you personally place your trust in Him, you will not be saved.

The requirements for eternal life are nit based on what you can do but on what Jesus Christ has done. He stands ready to exchange His perfection for your imperfection.

To those who have never received Him as Savior and Lord, Jesus says, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in” (Revelation 3:20). Jesus knocks on the door of the human heart, and the question He asks is, Are you ready now to receive me as Savior and Lord?

According to Jesus Christ, those who repent and receive Him as Savior and Lord are “born again” (John 3:3)—not physically, but spiritually. And with this birth must come spiritual growth.

Growth

First, no relationship can flourish without constant, heartfelt communication. This is true not only in human relationships, but also in our relationship with God. If we are to nurture a strong relationship with our Savior, we must be in constant communication with Him. The way to do that is through prayer.

Prayer is the way we talk to God. You do not need a special vocabulary to pray. You can simply speak to God as you would to your best friend. The more time you spend with God in prayer, the more intimate your relationship will be. And remember, there is no problem great or small that God cannot handle. If it’s important to you, it’s important to Him.

Furthermore, in addition to prayer, it is crucial that new believers spend time reading God’s written revelation of Himself—the Bible. The Bible not only forms the foundation of an effective prayer life, but it is foundational to every other aspect of Christian living. While prayer is our primary way of communicating with God, the Bible is God’s primary way of communicating with us. Nothing should take precedence over getting into the Word and getting the Word into us.

If we fail to eat well-balanced meals on a regular basis, we will eventually suffer the physical consequences. What is true of the outer man is also true of the inner man. If we do not regularly feed on the Word of God, we will starve spiritually.

I generally recommend that new believers by reading one chapter from the Gospel of John each day. As you do, you will experience the joy of having God speak to you directly through His Word. As Jesus put it, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35).

Finally, it is crucial for new believers to become active participants in a healthy, weal-balanced church. In Scripture, the church is referred to as the body of Christ. Just as our body is one and yet has many parts, so the body of Christ is one but is composed of many members. Those who receive Christ as the Savior and Lord of their lives are already a part of the church universal. It is crucial, however, that all Christians become vital, reproducing members of a local body of believers as well.

Scripture exhorts us not to neglect the gathering of ourselves together, as is the custom of some (see Hebrews 10:25). It is is the local church where God is worshiped through prayer, praise, and proclamation; where believers experience fellowship with one another; and where they are equipped to reach others through the testimony of their love, their lips, and their lives.

Application

I began by pointing out that Christianity is not merely a religion; rather, it is a relationship with the resurrected Redeemer. You can know of Him through historical evidences, but you can know Him only by the Spirit of God. Even now, if God’s Spirit is moving upon your heart, you can receive the resurrected Christ as your personal Savior and Lord. Simply pray thus prayer—and remember, there is no magic in the words; God is looking at the intent of your heart.

Prayer to Pray

Heavenly Father, I thank You that You have provided a way for me to have a relationship with You; I realize that I am a sinner; I thank You that You are my perfect Father; I thank You for sending Jesus to be my Savior and Lord; I repent and receive His perfection in exchange for my sin; In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.

Assurance

The assurance of eternal life is found in these words from the resurrected Redeemer: “I tell you the truth, whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24).

Adapted from Hank Hanegraaff (Appendix A) – Resurrection The Capstone in the Arch of Christianity. Thomas Nelson: Nashville, 2000.

 

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6 Covenants of a Church Member by Thom S. Rainer

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(1) I am a church member,

I like the metaphor of membership. It’s not membership as a civic organization or a country club. It’s the kind of membership given to us in 1 Corinthians 12: “Now we are the body of Christ, and individual members of it” (1 Cor. 12:27). Because I am a member of the body of Christ, I must be a functioning member, I will give. I will serve. I will minister. I will evangelize. I will study. I will seek to be a blessing to others. I will remember that “if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it” (1 Cor. 12:26).!

(2) I am a church member,

I will seek to be a source of unity in the church. I know there are no perfect pastors, staff, or other church members. But neither am I. I will not be a source of gossip or dissension. One of the greatest contributions I can make is to do all I can in God’s power to help keep the church in unity for the sake of the gospel.

(3) I am a church member,

I will not let my church be about my preferences and desires. That is self-serving. I am in this church to serve others and to serve Christ. My Savior went to a cross for me. I can deal with any inconveniences and matters that are just not my preference or style.!

(4) I am a church member,

I will pray for my pastor every day. His work is never ending. His days are filled with constant demands for his time—with the need to prepare sermons, with those who are rejoicing in births, with those who are traveling through the valley of the shadow of death, with critics, with the hurts and hopes of others, and with the need to be a husband and a father. My pastor cannot serve our church in his own power. I will pray for God’s strength for him and his family every day.!

(5) I am a church member,

I will lead my family to be a good member of this church as well. We will pray together for our church. We will worship together in our church. We will serve together in our church. And we will ask Christ to help us fall deeper in love with his church, because He gave His life for her.

(6) I am a church member,

This membership is a gift. When I received the free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ, I became a part of the body of Christ. I soon thereafter identified with a local body and was baptized. And now I am humbled and honored to serve others in our church. I pray that I will never take my membership for granted, but see it as a gift and an opportunity to serve others and to be a part of something so much greater than any one person or member.!

I am a church member,

And I thank God that I am.

*Adapted from pages 77-79 in Thom S. Rainer. I Am A Church Member: Discovering the Attitude that Makes the Difference. B&H: Nashville, TN.: 2013.

 

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