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Category Archives: Theology Proper (The Study of God)

Theology Proper is the theological study of the Doctrine of God.

Sinclair Ferguson on “Considering the Glory of God”

Consider the Glory of God

sinclair-ferguson

By Sinclair Ferguson

John Newton (1725–1807) is best known today for his great hymns (including “Amazing Grace” and “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken”). But in his own day, he was perhaps more highly prized as a letter writer — “the great director of souls through the post,” as someone described him. Such was the value of his correspondence that he published several volumes of his letters (including one of his letters to his wife, which called forth the comment by one reviewer, his friend Richard Cecil, that wives would be in raptures reading such love letters while “we [husbands] may suffer loss of esteem for not writing them such gallant letters”).

In several of his letters, he comments on the subject of controversy. He had a distaste for it. (It would be an unhappy thing to have a “taste” for it, would it not?) He also had a sense of being unfitted for it. He remarked that it was “not only unpleasing to my taste, but really above my reach.” But lack of experience is not necessarily an obstacle to one’s ability to give biblical counsel. Newton constantly sought to give such counsel. (Did he not encourage William Wilberforce in the great public controversy of slave trading?) In a day when only a paltry number of Anglican ministers were evangelical, he was particularly conscious that Calvinists, being much in the minority, might feel pressed into controversy too frequently.

It is surely for this reason that one of his chief concerns was that if we are to engage in controversy, our perspective needs to be dominated by the issue of the glory of God. “If we act in a wrong spirit,” he writes, “we shall bring little glory to God.” The first question of The Westminster Shorter Catechism is relevant here as everywhere: How do I speak, write, or act in situations of controversy so that God may be most glorified?

This is the principle. But it needs to be particularized. Newton realized that sometimes we engage in controversy professedly “for the glory of God” but are blind to the ways in which our own motives impact and play out in our speech and actions. The rubric “for the glory of God” must transform how Christians respond to controversy.

For the glory of God” does not call for a monolithic response to every controversy. Circumstances alter cases. We do not cast pearls before swine.

Here are three illustrations of controversy. In the first, silence is the appropriate God-glorifying reaction; in the second, confrontation; and in the third, patience. Why such different responses?

KEEP SILENCE

Isaiah 36 vividly describes how Sennacherib of Assyria attacked Judah. The Rabshakeh (an Assyrian officer) sought to stir up controversy. He spoke, as Hezekiah recognized, “to mock the living God” (Isa. 37:17). But the leaders followed their king’s counsel: “They were silent and answered him not a word” (36:21). The end of the story? God vindicated their response. The angel of the Lord struck down 185,000 Assyrians. Sennacherib retreated.

Would it not have been bolder, more “faithful,” to engage in verbal controversy in defense of the Lord? Why silence? For three reasons:

1. FIGHTING WORDS would not have defended the Lord’s glory here. At such times, we look to the Lord to defend His own glory and not give it to another.

2. WE BEST DEFEND the Lord’s glory by speaking first to Him about unbelieving men rather than speaking first about Him to unbelieving men. Hence Hezekiah’s prayer: “O Lord our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone are the Lord” (37:20). Alas, not all strong controversialists are strong intercessors.

3. WE CAN MAR the Lord’s glory — as Newton hints — by how we respond to controversy. Man’s insulting God is not reversed by our insulting man.

SPEAK DIRECTLY

A less public, but no less breathtaking, incident took place in the early church.

Imagine the electric atmosphere: Simon Peter had table fellowship with Gentiles. Then “certain men came from James” (Gal. 2:12). Peter separated himself, as did other Jewish Christians, “even Barnabas” (vv. 11–14). How did Paul respond? He “opposed [Peter] to his face” (v. 11).

Paul was surely right. But why was this a God-glorifying response, rather than silence in deference to Peter and Barnabas, avoiding embarrassment and potential division?

1. THE PROTAGONISTS were present and believed the same gospel. Paul did not wait and later “bad mouth” Peter. He did the hard thing. He spoke personally and directly to him. That glorifies God because it follows a biblical pattern (Matt. 18:15James 4:17).

2. THE VERY HEART of the gospel was at stake here (as Paul notes in Gal. 2:15–21).

3. “ORDAINED” MINISTERS of the gospel were involved, not a single, ordinary individual. The deviation of both Peter and Barnabas would lead to the deviation of others and a disastrous disruption of the whole church. God’s glory in the church required direct speech.

RESPOND PATIENTLY

Some years later, Paul encountered a situation that, at first sight, seems similar. There was an ongoing controversy about “diets and days” in the Roman church(es). Some observed special days and refrained from certain foods. It was presumably a controversy between Jewish and Gentile believers (the latter being the majority in the churches after the expulsion of Jews and Jewish Christians from Rome, see Acts 18:1–2). Paul had an eye to God’s glory. How could the two groups in this controversy “with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 15:6)?

1. STRIKINGLYTHE “STRONG,” those on “the right side” of the controversy (14:14), are the ones who should refrain from insisting that others adopt their “right” position and practice. The glory of God is best seen when “the strong” welcome “the weak” — because this is what God has done in Christ: “For while we were still weak … Christ died for the ungodly” (5:6).

2. FELLOW BELIEVERS are Christ’s servants, not ours. To demean or despise the weak is to despise the Lord of glory. (Remember Matt. 25:40?)

3. TO INSIST ON exercising one’s “liberty” on a controversial matter (to eat meat, to ignore days, and so on) compromises that very liberty itself. It means we are driven by inner “need” rather than by love. We are focused on self-glory rather than God’s glory. Since “Christ did not please himself” (Rom. 15:3), should we?

These examples are by no means comprehensive. But they illustrate Newton’s point. In all things seek God’s glory — and guard your heart. Christians are always in need of that wise counsel.

Source: May 1, 2012 http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/consider-the-glory-of-god/

 

 

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The Purposes of God

The Purposes of God

R.C. Sproul sitting in green chair

by R.C. Sproul

“Why?” This simple question is loaded with assumptions about what philosophers call “teleology.” Teleology, which comes from the Greek word for “goal” or “end” (telos), is the study of purpose. The “why” questions are purpose questions. We seek the reasons things happen as they do. Why does the rain fall? Why does the earth turn on its axis? Why did you say that?

When we raise the question of purpose, we are concerned with ends, aims, and goals. All these terms suggest intent. They assume meaning rather than meaninglessness. Despite the best attempts of nihilist philosophers to deny that anything has ultimate meaning and significance, the perennial question “Why?” shows that they haven’t been successful. In fact, even the cynic’s glib retort of “Why not?” is a thinly veiled commitment to purpose. To explain why we’re not doing something is to give a reason or purpose for not doing it. Purpose remains in the background. Human beings are creatures committed to purpose. We do things for a reason—with some kind of goal in mind.

Still, there is complexity in this quest for purpose. We distinguish between proximate and remote purposes, the proximate being what is close at hand and the remote referring to the distant and ultimate purpose. To use a sports analogy, the proximate goal for the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line is to make a first down. Making a touchdown is the more remote goal. A goal that is even further off for the team is to win the game. Finally, the ultimate goal is to win the Super Bowl.

The most famous Old Testament illustration of the relation between remote and proximate purposes is found in the story of Joseph. At the story’s end, Joseph’s brothers express their fear that he will take revenge on them for all that they had done to him. Joseph’s response shows us a remarkable concurrence at work between proximate and remote purposes. He said, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20). Here, the proximate and the remote seemed to be mutually exclusive. The divine intention was the exact opposite of the human intention. Joseph’s brothers had one goal; God had a different one. The astounding reality here is that the proximate purpose served the remote purpose. This did not absolve the brothers of culpability. Their intent and actions were evil. Yet God deemed it good to let the brothers have their way with Joseph—to a limited extent—that He might achieve His ultimate purpose.

We all experience what seem to be tragic accidents. Some years ago, one of the pastors of Saint Andrew’s Chapel cut his hand severely while working in a cabinet shop. He did not mean to slice his hand; he intended to cut the wood for the cabinet he was working on. Proximately speaking, he had an accident. He asked, “Why did God permit my hand to get cut up?”

The question looks for a final purpose to the accident. It assumes what we know to be true, namely, that God could have prevented the accident. If we deny this, we deny the God who is. If He could not have prevented it, He would not be omnipotent—He would not be God. Moreover, our question “Why?” assumes another truth: that the question has an answer. We know God had a purpose for the accident.

For questions like these, we may not get a full answer in this life. We may never know on this side of glory all of the reasons why a tragedy occurs. Nevertheless, there is an answer to this most important question: “Is God’s purpose in allowing this accident to happen a good one?”

If we know anything about God, we already know the answer to the question. The Lord’s purposes and intentions are always altogether good. There is no hint of arbitrariness or wicked intent in the will of God. The pleasure of His will is always the good pleasure of His will. His pleasure is always good; His will is always good; His intentions are always good.

Paul’s incredible promise that “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28) is a statement of teleology. Here, Paul addresses the remote rather than the proximate. Note that he doesn’t say all things are good but that they work together for good—for a final and ultimate goal. The Apostle insists that the proximate must always be seen in light of the remote.

The difficulty we face is that we do not yet possess the full light of the remote. On this side of heaven, we see through a glass darkly. Yet, we are not utterly devoid of light. We know enough about God to know He has a good purpose for all things even when that good purpose eludes us.

God’s good purpose shows us that the appearance of vanity and futility in this world is just that—mere appearance. To trust in God’s good purpose is the essence of godly faith. Thus, no Christian can be an ultimate pessimist. The wickedness and tragedy we daily endure can lead to a proximate pessimism, but not an ultimate one. I am pessimistic about human government and the innate good will of men. I am fully optimistic about divine government and the intrinsic good will of God.

We do not live in a world of chance or chaos. It began with a purpose, it is sustained with a purpose, and it has an ultimate purpose. This is my Father’s world, and His rule is purposeful, not capricious and arbitrary. Purposelessness is a manifest impossibility.

Source: www.ligonier.org (June 1, 2014)

 

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God Reigns

Unknown 2

By Burk Parsons

What is the kingdom of God? It’s a simple question, yet if I were to ask that same question to a hundred theologians I would likely get a hundred different answers. The kingdom of God is not some sort of ancient or obsolete doctrine that no one has ever heard of. Rather, it is something we hear about all the time as a fundamental component of Jesus’ teaching and a primary theme throughout sacred Scripture. Although few would admit it, when most Christians think about the kingdom of God, their minds are strained to conceive of anything beyond some ethereal notion of mustard seeds, lost coins, different soils, and undefined future bliss.

However, when it comes right down to it, the kingdom of God should be more simple to define than just about any other theological term. It’s quite plain really: God reigns. Or, to say it another way: The kingdom of God is the omnipotent rule and sovereign reign of Almighty God over all things, the inauguration of which came with the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ Jesus and the fullness of which is yet to come.

Nevertheless, while it is important to have a good, biblical answer to the question, what is the kingdom of God? it is just as important to have an honest answer to the question, whose kingdom do you serve? These are the questions that are at the very heart of the Sermon on the Mount: Are you the king of your own kingdom? Are you the self-appointed potentate of your own, private little empire? You may answer with a hearty no, but does your life demonstrate that you are a servant of God or a servant of self? We all certainly want to be part of the kingdom, but most Christians want to serve the kingdom on their own terms.

As divinely appointed citizens of the kingdom of God we are foreigners in the kingdom of this world. We are real characters in the real story of redemptive history in real space and real time who have been summoned to follow the King of kings as servants, saints, and soldiers – coram Deo, before His face, in life and in death. Augustine understood this well: “We want to reach the kingdom of God, but we don’t want to travel by way of death. And yet there stands necessity saying: ‘This way, please.’ Do not hesitate, man, to go this way, when this is the way that God came to you.”

Source: http://www.ligonier.org (December 1, 2007)

 

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Why Theology Is For Everyone

The Thinker

By Jared Wilson

Every Christian must be a theologian. In a variety of ways, this is something I tell my church often. And the looks I get from some surprised souls are the evidence that I have not yet adequately communicated that the purposeful theological study of God by lay people is important.

Many times the confused responses come from a misunderstanding of what is meant in this context by theology. So I tell my church what I don’t mean. When I say every Christian must be a theologian, I don’t mean that every Christian must be an academic or that every Christian must be a scholar or that every Christian must work hard at giving the impression of being a know-it-all. We all basically understand what is meant in the biblical warning that “knowledge puffs up” (1 Cor. 8:1). Nobody likes an egghead.

But the answer to formal scholasticism or dry intellectualism is not a neglect of theological study. Laypeople have no biblical warrant to leave the duty of doctrine up to pastors and professors alone. Therefore, I remind my church that theology—coming from the Greek words theos (God) and logos(word)—simply means “the knowledge (or study) of God.” If you’re a Christian, you must by definition know God. Christians are disciples of Jesus; they are student-followers of Jesus. The longer we follow Him, the more we learn about Him and, consequently, the more deeply we come to know Him.

There are at least three primary reasons why every Christian ought to be a theologian.

First, theological study of God is commanded. Having a mind lovingly dedicated to God is required most notably in the great commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37). Loving God with all of our minds certainly means more than theological study, but it certainly does not mean less than that.

Second, the theological study of God is vital to salvation. Now, of course, I do not mean that intellectual pursuit merits salvation. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone (Eph. 2:8) totally apart from any works of our own (Rom. 3:28), which includes any intellectual exertion. But at the same time, the faith by which we are justified, the faith that receives the completeness of Christ’s finished work and thus His perfect righteousness, is a reasonable faith. Faith may not be the same as rationality, but this does not mean that faith in God is irrational.

Saving faith is a gift from God (Eph. 2:8Rom. 12:3), but it is not some amorphous, information-free spiritual vacuum. The exercise of faith is predicated on information—initially, the historical announcement of the good news of what Jesus has done—and the strengthening of faith is built on information, as well.

Our continued growth in the grace of God, our perseverance as saints, is vitally connected to our pursuit of the knowledge of God’s character and God’s works as revealed in God’s Word. Contrary to the way some idolaters of doubt would have you believe, the Christian faith is founded on facts.Hebrews 11:1 reminds us that for the Christian, faith is not some leap into the dark. Instead, it is inextricably connected to assurance and conviction. It stands to reason that the more theological facts we feast on in the Word, the more assurance and conviction—and thus the more faith—we will cultivate.

Paul tells his young protégé Timothy, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:16). He is reminding Timothy that the sanctification resulting in continual discipleship to Christ necessarily includes intense study of God’s Word.

Third, the study of God authenticates and fuels worship. True Christians are not those who believe in some vague God nor trust in vague spiritual platitudes. True Christians are those who believe in the triune God of the holy Scriptures and have placed their trust by the real Spirit in the real Savior—Jesus—as proclaimed in the specific words of the historical gospel.

Knowing the right information about God is just one way we authenticate our Christianity. Intentionally or consistently err in the vital facts about God, and you jeopardize the veracity of your claim truly to know God. This is why we must pursue theological robustness not just in our pastor’s preaching but in our church’s music and in our church’s prayers, both corporate and private.

But theological study goes deeper than simply authenticating our worship as true and godly—it also fuels this worship. We must remember what Jesus explained to the Samaritan woman at the well:

True worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth. (John 4:23–24)

We are changed deeply in heart and, therefore, our behavior when we seek deeply after the things of God with our brains. The Bible says so: “Do not be conformed to this world,” Paul writes. “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2). The transformation begins with a renewing of our minds. As John Piper has said, “The theological mind exists to throw logs into the furnace of our affections for Christ.”

Purposeful theological study of God, as an expression of love for God, cannot help but deepen our love for God. The more we read, study, meditate on, and prayerfully apply the word of God, the more we will find ourselves in awe of Him. Like a great ship on the horizon, the closer we get, the larger He looms.

SOURCE: Jared Wilson in Tabletalk Magazine. April 1, 2014/ http://www.ligonier.org

 

 

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Book Review on R.C. Sproul’s: Everyone’s A Theologian

A PRIMER ON THE MAJOR DOCTRINES OF THE BIBLE

Everyone's a Theologian Sproul

Book Review by David P. Craig 

This book is almost a word for word account of R.C. Sproul’s DVD teaching series entitled “Foundations: An Overview of Systematic Theology.” Having watched this video series in the past I immediately recognized the content. I’m glad this series has now been made available in book form.

R.C. is a master teacher and in this book he covers the subject of Theology in its broadest sense. Theology not only refers to the study of God, but to everything that God has revealed to us in the Bible. In sixty short, but jam-packed chapters R.C. unveils with depth and clarity a summary of what the Bible has to say about its most important themes: Theology Proper – The study of God; Anthropology and Creation – The study of man; Christology – The study of Jesus; Pneumatology – The study of the Holy Spirit; Soteriology- The study of salvation; Ecclesiology – The study of the Church; and lastly (no pun intended) – Eschatology – The study of last things.

This book is an excellent introduction to all of these subjects and the sub topics they address. As R.C. Sproul says, “Everyone, is a theologian, but either a good or bad one.” You will come away from reading this book having learned a ton of important truths that will help you become a better theologian. With profound depth, clarity, historical, and practical wisdom Sproul will delight and intrigue you in helping you grow in your journey and intimacy with God – using your head, heart, and hands for His glory and your good.

 

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Book Review: Tim Keller’s “The Reason For God”

The Reason For God Keller

Mere Christianity for the 21st Century – Book Review by David P. Craig

In 1943 in Great Britain, when hope and the moral fabric of society were being threatened by the relentless inhumanity of global war, an Oxford don – C.S. Lewis was invited to give a series of radio lectures addressing the central issues of Christianity. Over half a century after the original lectures, the topic retains it urgency. Expanded into book form, Mere Christianity set out to provide a rational basis for Christianity in an era of modernity.

Fast forward to the 21st century. We now live in a post-modern era in the western world. When Lewis wrote in 1943 lines of black and white, right and wrong were very clear, not so anymore. How can we believe in a personal God in an age of skepticism unlike the times of fifty years ago? Are there any cogent reasons to believe in God in an age of relativistic thought? Enter Tim Keller.

Tim Keller’s Reason for God has provided for modern Christians and skeptics what C.S. Lewis provided in his time – a reasoned defense over the main objections to Christianity: (1) There can’t be just one true religion; (2) How could a good God allow suffering? (3) Christianity is a straightjacket; (4) The Church is Responsible for So Much Injustice; (5) How can a loving God send people to Hell? (6) Science has disproved Christianity; (7) You can’t take the Bible literally…and then in provided seven offensive cases for the coherency of rational Christianity: (1) The clues of God; (2) The knowledge of God; (3) The problem of sin; (4) Religion and the Gospel; (5) The true story of the cross; (6) The reality of the resurrection; (7) The dance of God.

In reading the book one finds a step by step macro level picture of why a reasonable belief in God is rational and compelling in a postmodern world. All other world-views leave one full of loopholes and contradictions. Only Christianity  gives one the comprehensive lenses by which we can see ourselves, the world, and a personal God more clearly and logically. Life, relationships, and our place in the universe has meaning, purpose, and hope if there is indeed the existence of a Holy God who came and died for us to know Him and to make Him known.

I highly recommend this book for both skeptics of Christianity and believers in Christianity. It will answer the most important questions we can ever ask about faith, life, the after life, and the most important issues of our day. Tim Keller answers the profoundest questions we have with humility, sensitivity, biblically, and practically. It is one of the “must reading” books for our times. I especially would like to see Christians giving this book to their unbelieving friends and reading the book with them. It is a great book for discussion and building bridges to the gospel – and thus opening the door for a relationship with God through His Son – Jesus Christ.

 

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Tim Keller Sermon: The Heart of Darkness

Tim Keller preaching image

SERIES – Bible: The Whole Story—Redemption and Restoration— PART 7

Preached in Manhattan on February 15, 2009

18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal men and birds and animals and reptiles.

24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. – Romans 1:18-25

We’re in a series that’s tracing out the storyline of the Bible. We’ve said each week that the Bible is not a disconnected set of individual stories that each has a little moral to it. Rather, the Bible is primarily a single story that tells us, first, what’s wrong with the human race; secondly, what God has done about that in Jesus Christ; and thirdly, how it’s all going to turn out in the end of history.

We first started by looking at Genesis 1–4 to see the beginning of the Bible’s story about what is wrong with the human race, and now we’ve begun to look at Romans 1–4, where Paul gives us perhaps the single most comprehensive explanation of what God has done about our problem through Jesus Christ.

At this spot in the text of Romans, we actually have something pretty interesting. If you’ve been with the series, we have Paul reflecting himself on Genesis 1–4. We have him looking back on all the things we’ve been looking at and summarizing what’s wrong with the human heart. Now all Scripture is equally true, and all Scripture is equally inspired, but not all Scripture is equally packed. This text is packed. There is more in it than we can unpack.

So, for example, the very first line introduces to us the idea of the wrath of God. A lot of people have questions about that. We’re going to wait for next week on that. Instead, what we’re going to look at tonight are the four things Paul says you can find in every human heart. If you look in every human heart, Paul says, reflecting on Genesis 1–4, you’ll find four things. Those four things are the knowledge of our God, the manufacturing of our idols, the hardening of our humanity, and the capacity for endless praise.

1. The knowledge of our God

Let’s start at the top of the text. The first thing we learn here, Paul says, is there is in every human heart the knowledge of God, because we’re told that what is so awful, what God is so angry at, is we suppress the truth. You can’t suppress something unless you have it. What do they have? What do we have? The truth. What is the truth? The truth is (and as you go through the rest of the little paragraph, it tells you), that basically down deep in our hearts, we know there is a God, and we know about his eternal power and divine nature.

In other words, regardless of what we tell ourselves or what we claim, every human being knows there is a Creator on whom we are utterly dependent and to whom we are completely accountable. His power … see? His nature … We know that down deep, but we suppress it. We repress it. The word there is we hold it down or hold it back.

That means Paul is saying two things about human beings. First of all, everyone does understand a great deal about truth. There is a lot of truth every human being knows about life, about reality. But we’re also told we hold down that truth. We repress it. Why? Well, here’s the big answer. The reason we repress the knowledge of the true God is, if you take a look down in verse 21, it says, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him …”

I remember years ago, when I first started studying this passage, that sure sounded anticlimactic to me. “They didn’t give thanks? That’s it? That’s the problem? That’s the source of all the problems in the world, the evil, the misery, and suffering? We don’t give thanks?” You know, you think about when you were little, all the teachers and all the adults and all the parents were always saying, “Now, say ‘thank-you.’ Don’t take that without saying ‘thank-you.’ ” “Thank-you.” It just seems like courtesy, you know.

Is that it? That’s the problem with the whole world? Bad manners? Is that it? No. Let’s think about it for a second. Do you know what plagiarism is? We say, “That’s intellectual property theft, IP theft.” Yeah? But do you know what plagiarism is? Do you know why it’s so severely punished? Because it’s not giving thanks. In other words, it’s claiming to be self-sufficient, claiming that you came up with this, and not acknowledging dependence, not acknowledging the fact that you didn’t come up with that. You got it from over there. You’re dependent on this person.

Plagiarism is a refusal to give thanks, and therefore, it’s a claim to self-sufficiency when it’s not there, when it’s not true. Cosmic ingratitude, cosmic un-thankfulness, is living in the illusion that we are self-sufficient, that we can call the shots, that we decide what is right or wrong, that we decide how to live. We hate the idea that we would be utterly and completely dependent and, therefore, thankful to God for everything, because then we’d lose control. Then we’d be obligated. Then we couldn’t live the way we want, and we hate that.

Therefore, we’re told, because the sin in the heart makes us want desperately to keep control of our lives, and to live the way we want to live, we cannot acknowledge the magnitude, the size, the greatness, and how much we owe God, how dependent we are on him, how accountable we are to him, how much we should be living in thankfulness. We don’t want that, because that means to lose control.

Let me give you an example. Therefore we repress the knowledge of the real God. We may believe in God, but we don’t believe in the real God, the true God, because that means losing control. Example: Some years ago, I was listening to a minister teach on this topic. When I give you his illustration, you’ll know how long ago this was. He was saying the other night he had been watching television. He was watching David Frost on television. He saw David Frost interviewing Madalyn Murray O’Hair, who was a very famous and activist atheist.

David Frost was arguing with her. She says, “Oh, there is no God.” He says, “Well, I think you can believe in God.” They went back and forth, and finally David Frost was getting kind of frustrated, so he did a modern thing. He solved the problem in the modern way. He took a poll of the studio audience. He said, “Now how many of you out there believe in God?” Almost everybody raised their hand, and he turned to Madalyn Murray O’Hair and said, “See?”

The preacher, the teacher who was teaching on Romans 1, said, “What a shame Madalyn Murray O’Hair missed … What an opportunity, what a chance she missed! What she should have done is say, ‘Excuse me. Can I take my own poll?’ She would have turned to the audience and said, ‘How many of you believe in the God of the Bible?’

She would have asked, ‘How many of you believe in the God who, when he comes down on Mount Sinai, comes down in lightning and deep darkness? How many of you believe in the God who is a consuming fire, who says, “No one can look upon the face of my glory and live”? How many of you believe in the God who says, “Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin”? How many of you believe in the God of the Bible? That God?’ Probably,” said the teacher, “very few people would have raised their hands, and then she could have just turned and said, rightly so, ‘I win.’ ”

Here’s why she would have been able to do that if she’d known. Romans 1 says the real God, not the liberal God or the conservative God … The liberal God is the God of love in the universe, you know, the spirit of love. Everybody loves everybody, so you basically can live the way you want. The conservatives say, “No, we believe there’s a God with moral absolutes, and if you really obey those absolutes, if you try really hard, then you know you’re one of the righteous people. Then you can please God. Then he will take you to heaven.”

Don’t you see? Both of those kinds of gods leave you in control. You know, a God who is just a God of love … you can live any way you want. A God who is a demanding God … if you obey him, then he’ll take you to heaven, and then you can know you’re one of the righteous people … that’s a God who owes you. You’re not losing control.

But this is the God of the Bible, the God who is a consuming fire, the God whom you can’t look upon and live, the God who says, “Without the shedding of blood there’s no remission of sins.” This is the God who, if you relate to him, you have to relate to him on the basis of absolute grace, and therefore you owe him everything. You will be utterly thankful to him or not have a relationship to him at all. That God.

At the very end of that old movie The Bible in which you have Abraham and Isaac, and Isaac at the very end looks up at his father Abraham and says, “Is there nothing he cannot ask of thee?” And Abraham says, “Nothing.” That God. Nobody believes in that God unless by the power of the Holy Spirit your heart is regenerated. The Holy Spirit has to come in and intervene to let you believe in that God, because according to Romans 1, you can’t believe in that God. You suppress the truth about that God.

You may not believe in any God at all. That way you can live any way you want. Or you believe in God. In fact, most people believe in God, but they don’t believe in that God. They can’t believe in that God. They won’t believe in that God, because then they lose control. We can’t do that. We don’t want to glorify him as God. That means give him the significance he deserves and give him utter thanks, because then we’d be out of control.

Therefore, we all have the knowledge of God, but we suppress it. Do you know what this means? Here I’m going to speak to Christian believers. We have to realize what Solzhenitsyn said is true of everybody in a way. Solzhenitsyn has this very famous line where he says you can’t divide the world into good and bad people. Rather, “… the line dividing good and evil cuts through the center of every human heart.” Every human being is good and evil.

You know, Christians understand that, because Christians know even when you’re born again you have the new self and you still have the old self, and we feel that. But Paul is saying that’s true of absolutely everybody. Everybody is in the image of God. Everybody has the truth, and yet everybody has a deeply ambivalent relationship to the truth.

Therefore, the line between good and evil goes down the middle of every movie, every book, every work of art, because every human being knows a lot about the truth, and every human being is struggling and resists the truth. Therefore, every work of art, every cultural product, everything out there has remarkable mixtures. There’s a dialogue going on between the truth and falsehood in all human endeavor.

Therefore, Christians cannot just say, “Well, I only want to read Christian books and go to Christian counselors and Christian lawyers and Christian doctors, and all those other people out there are bad.” No, no. You don’t want to be like Salieri who’s sitting around saying, “Hey, I go to church. I pray. Why is this licentious person Mozart …” This is in the movie Amadeus. “… getting so many of God’s gifts? Why is such beauty coming into the world through him? I don’t understand it. I’m the good person. He’s the bad person. What’s going on here?”

James 1:17, says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights …” Every act of goodness, wisdom, justice, and beauty, no matter who does it, is a gift from God, and everybody does them. So Christians need to not be so exclusive. They need to have critical appreciation of all the people around them and all the culture around them, yet at the same time knowing in all of our hearts there is this deep resistance to the truth. So you’re not naïve; on the other hand you’re not exclusive. So it’s a very important first point.

2. The manufacturing of idols

Now this is perhaps the central thing Paul is getting across. There’s a lot more we could say about it than we are about to say, but let me say this. First of all, he shows us here the inevitability of idolatry, because he says in verse 25, “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator …”

Notice “… they worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator …” There are only two options. You either worship the Creator, or you worship a created thing, but there is no possibility of not worshiping or serving anything, in spite of the fact that plenty of people say they don’t worship or serve anything. It’s impossible. Why? Paul says it’s impossible. If you do not worship the true God, and nobody does, apart from the power of the Holy Spirit, then you have to be worshiping something else.

How could that work? Well, like this. Some philosophers and thinkers have said it this way. Human beings are telic creatures. Telic is from the word telos, which means purpose. In other words, human beings have to live for something. Human beings don’t live; they have to live for something. Something has to capture your imagination. Something has to capture the highest allegiance of your heart. Something has to be the resting place of your deepest hopes.

Every human being has to look at something deep in their heart, semi-consciously or unconsciously, and say, “If I have that, then my life is worthwhile. Then I have meaning in life. Then life will have been worth living. Then I’ll know I’m somebody. If I have that …” and whatever that is, wherever your hopes are, your deepest hopes, whatever your highest allegiance is, whatever your ultimate concern is, that’s what you worship.

That’s what worship is. Therefore, the inevitability of idolatry, because since none of us in our natural state actually worship the true God. We believe in God, but we believe in a kind of god who keeps us in control of our lives, as we just said. Then what we actually center our lives on, what we actually give our functional trust, our functional worship to, is always something else, whether it’s achievement, or money, or claim, or human approval, or comfort, or power, or approval, or control.

That’s the inevitability. But the second thing Paul shows is the incredible range of idols. Today if you talk about idolatry, almost immediately modern people say, “You mean worshiping statues?” Oh no. When Kathy and I first started coming up here to start the church, in 1989, we used to take trips up here every Sunday afternoon to meet with people and meet individuals. I remember one time we met somebody at a Thai restaurant.

Every week we used to take one of our three sons and leave the other two at home with a babysitter. That’s the parental philosophy “divide and conquer.” You leave two at home, have one … you know, we outnumbered them, so it always was better. But I remember my middle son, age 9, with the loud voice that only 9-year-olds can muster, walks into the Thai restaurant, sees the little statue and a candle lit in front of it, and says, “There’s idols in New York!” If only he knew … Because see, Paul in his writings … let me give you three examples … shows that anything can be, anything is an idol.

On the one hand, here he links idolatry to sexual lust, sexual desires. Now if this is the only place he mentioned idolatry and then he said sexual lust is an example of an idol, making an idol out of sex, romance, maybe even marriage, you say, “Well, he has sex on the mind.” But go to Colossians 3. There he calls greed idolatry, materialism idolatry, a love of money idolatry.

You say, “Okay, well, I can understand that. Sex can be an idol, money can be an idol.” Try this one on. In Galatians 4, he is talking to Jewish Christians who are sliding back into their belief that they need to adopt the Mosaic code, all the Mosaic laws, in order to please God. He looks to them, and he starts saying, “If you go back into that kind of moralistic religion, if you begin to think that obeying the Mosaic code and the law of God is going to get you into heaven and please God, if you go back into that kind of moralistic, legalistic religion, you are going into idolatry.”

Look, maybe you’ve heard of the idea that money can be an idol. Maybe you’ve heard the idea that sex can be an idol. Have you ever heard that church can be an idol? The law of God can be an idol. Your own moral efforts and your own moral rectitude can be an idol. Until you can see that, you don’t have a biblical understanding of what idolatry is, because idolatry is looking to something to give you the kind of hope, the kind of value, the kind of safety that only God himself can give you.

If you love anything more than God, if you rest your security in anything more than the providence and wisdom and sovereignty of God, if your imagination is captured by anything more than the greatness of God, if your value is rooted in anything more than the grace and love of God, if you love anything more than God, and you do, you are looking to a created thing to give you what only God can possibly give you. Therefore, you have set up an idol.

There are all kinds of idols. There are near idols and far idols. For example, you say, “Well, I’ve heard this idea that money is an idol.” Ah, okay. But why is money an idol? Some people, you know, make a lot of money, and you’d have no idea. They don’t spend it on themselves. They don’t spend it on clothes. Do you know why? Money for them is something they sock away, and they can’t give it away.

Do you know why? Because money is their way of keeping control of the environment. It’s their way of saying, “I have this money, and therefore, I can handle what comes. I’m secure. I have control over my world.” Instead of prayer, instead of God, it’s money. That person doesn’t spend the money on him or herself at all. They just have to know it’s all there. They can’t give it away. Why? Because of the idolatry of control. “I have control of my life, and the money gives me that control.”

Other people take the money and they spend a lot on themselves. You can see it. They look beautiful, and they live in beautiful places, and they hang out with beautiful people. Why? Because for them, money is a way of getting on the inner ring. Money is a way of getting human approval. “If I have human approval, then I know who I am. Then I feel significant and secure.” So the money is actually an easy-to-look-for idol, but underneath there are deeper idols.

Everything is an idol. Everything can be an idol. Everything serves as an idol. If you are a Christian believer, it means you may have had the back broken of your idols, and when you gave yourself to Christ you understand something about who he is. He comes into your life, but you have the new self and the old self, and the old self is still beholden to idols. Apart from the work of the Holy Spirit, we’re completely beholden to idols, and therefore, everybody in this room has a problem with it.

Do you know what your idols are? Do you know what your near idols are, your far idols are? Unless you do, Paul says you don’t even know your own heart at all. You don’t know anything about your heart. You haven’t begun to understand yourself. So in the heart is the knowledge of God. In the heart is the manufacturing of idols.

3. The hardening of our humanity

The third thing that’s going on in every human heart, and linked very much to idolatry, is the hardening of our humanity. One of the great themes of the Bible throughout, from Old to New Testament, is that idolatry leads to a heart of stone, to dehumanization. Over and over again, we’re told if you worship idols, which are things, rather than the living person of God …

If you worship things rather than the person of God, instead of a person, you’ll become a thing. You will become hard. You will become as blind as the idol. You will become as deaf as the idol. You will actually become less and less of a human being, less and less personal, more hardened in heart, more blind.

There are hundreds of these references, but here’s one. Psalm 135. “But their idols are silver and gold … They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but they cannot see; they have ears, but cannot hear … They have hands, but cannot feel, feet, but they cannot walk, nor can they utter a sound with their throats. Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them.”

Now Paul is basically working that out, because when he says we’re all guilty of idolatry, then he goes along and says our wills, our minds, and our emotions are slowly being eroded. They are slowly being taken over, and we are becoming less and less human and less and less personal all the time.

Look, first of all, he says whatever you worship (this is down in verse 25) you serve. That word serve means you are a slave to it. Think about this. Well, I know this is hard because we’re also blind and futile in our thinking, and we’re in denial. But think about this. Whatever is the most important thing in your life, whatever is the thing about which you say, “Boy, because of that, I’m happy. Because of that, I have meaning in my life …” You have to have that. You have to. If you don’t have that, life is over. Hope is gone. Your very identity falls apart.

Therefore, there’s no freedom about that thing. There’s no choosing about that thing. Human beings can choose. But you’re more like an animal who is operating on instinct. Or you’re more like a robot that has to do what it’s programmed to do. You have to have it. You’re driven. So your will is beholden.

Secondly, your mind. See, up in verse 21 it says because they neither glorified God nor gave thanks to him, their thinking became futile. Then of course, even down in verse 25 it says, “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie …” All addicts … and that’s what we’re talking about, you know. Idolatry is a form of spiritual addiction. All addicts … all … are actually in denial.

You see, I don’t know where you are. I don’t know what you thinking right now. But if you say, “I don’t see any idols in my life right now,” you’re an addict, and you are in denial. You say, “Well, yeah, of course, that is pretty important to me.” You have no idea how important it is, because you don’t want to see. Alcoholics say, “I can control it.” That’s what an alcoholic is. An alcoholic says, “I can control it.” They can’t, but they think they can.

There’s something in your life that you look at like that. Idols weave a delusional field, a field of denial, around them, so you always minimize their impact on you. In other words, you have eyes, but you don’t see. The longer you worship the idol, the more you have eyes that don’t see, just like they have.

Last of all, your hearts are darkened. Not only is your will beholden and your mind made futile and deluded, but then it says in verse 21, “… their foolish hearts were darkened.” Most of all, it says, “Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts …” Now if you’ve been around Redeemer, you’ve heard this before. The Greek word that is translated here desire shows up every place that idolatry shows up in the New Testament.

It’s the word epithymia, which actually means an epi-desire, like an epicenter. It doesn’t mean sinful desire. That’s not the best way to translate it. Sometimes they try to translate it as lust, but lust of course just means sex, so that’s not a good translation. There’s no good English translation, so I’m going to tell you what it is.

Idolatry creates super-desires. Burnout-level, over-the-top, uncontrollable desires. Inordinate desires. Over-the-top desires. You not only are driven to have it, but if anything gets in your way, there is paralyzing anxiety, not normal kinds of worry. There is paralyzing, debilitating guilt, not normal kinds of regret. There is paralyzing, debilitating bitterness, not normal kinds of anger.

Therefore, you are more and more like an animal, or more and more like a robot, following your program, and less and less like a human being. You say, “How does that work out?” Well, let me read you from a manuscript that I was working on with somebody about idolatry. Listen carefully.

“Anxiety is idolatry mapped onto the future. Anxiety becomes pathologically intensified to the degree that I have idolized finite things. Suppose my highest value, my functional meaning in life, is politics, either the Democratic Party or the Republican Party. Then when my party experiences a great defeat, I don’t experience just glum disappointment, but I’m shaken to the depths. I want to leave the country, and I’m too furious to speak to anyone who voted for the other side.

Guilt is idolatry mapped on the past. Guilt becomes pathologically intensified to the degree that I have idolized finite things. Suppose I value a happy family. Therefore, my performance as a parent is valuable above everything else. Then if my daughter goes wrong or has great problems, I am not just sorrowful and grieved, I am stricken with neurotic guilt. I cannot forgive myself. I hate myself. I may become suicidal.

Lastly, anger and bitterness is idolatry mapped onto the present. Anger becomes pathologically intensified when someone or something stands between me and something that is my ultimate value. Suppose my career is the measure of my worth as a person, and someone at work is harming it. I won’t just be angry. I will be so deeply bitter and capable of doing things to this person that I may blow up my career more thoroughly than that person ever could.”

Do you see what’s going on? Or what if you make your moral rectitude into an idol? Remember, like in Galatians 4? What if you really believe that because you’re a good person, you’ve tried very hard, God owes you a good life. Then when difficulties come, sorrow is pathologically intensified into absolute bitterness against God and life itself and it poisons your ability to ever enjoy life ever again, because you deserve better than this? Don’t you see? Idolatry dehumanizes you. If you worship a thing instead of the living person of God, you’ll become less and less a person and more and more a thing.

4. The capacity for endless praise

How will we escape? I told you this is a packed text. This text is like an arrow. If you really listen to it, this text is like an arrow in a bow, and the bow is bent. The bow is really bent. How are we going to escape? Here’s what you have to do. Admittedly, the text doesn’t tell you much about it, because what Paul’s going to tell you God has done about it comes later on in the next chapters, especially chapters 3 and 4. But there’s a hint here, especially at the very end, when it says we “… worshiped … created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.”

Think with me for a second. The first thing you have to do, if you want to escape the idols of your heart and the hardening that comes with them, is you have to really not waste your sorrows. You have to make good use of your disappointments. There has never been a better time than now. There have never been more disappointments in New York City than now.

Why? Well, here’s why. It says in verse 24, “Therefore God gave them over …” To what? Now don’t forget what the right translation is. God gave them over to the strongest desires of their hearts. The worst thing God can do to you, and the most just form of punishment God could possibly give you, is to give you over to the strongest desires of your hearts. In other words, let your wishes come true. That’s the worst thing God could possibly do, and the most fair thing.

Oscar Wilde, of all people, said, “When the gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers.” You think about that. It’s right out of Romans 1. When the gods want to punish us, they answer our prayers. Oscar Wilde knew that when he got the things his heart most wanted it was the worst possible thing for him, because our hearts are disordered, our hearts have idolatrous desires. They have epi-desires, over-desires.

The worst thing God could possibly do is give you what you want, give you over. You know, the word give over is actually a word that means surrender to your enemies. That’s an amazing verse. Paul is saying your enemies are the strongest desires of your heart, the idolatrous desires of your heart. The worst thing God could actually do is give you a good life, let everything happen the way you want it to happen.

Richard Baxter, the old seventeenth-century Puritan, has a section on particular kinds of spiritual problems, and he has a frightening section which he wrote in the 1650s or 1660s on if you set your heart on money and you actually get it, how horrible that is for you spiritually. He says, for example, if you set your heart on money and you actually make it, several things happen.

One is you, first of all, mistake wealth and savvy and skill and smarts for character, because you’re smart and you’re savvy and you’ve made this money. You want to believe it’s because of your character. So you mistake wealth and savvy for character. Then the rest of your life, you make all kinds of terrible choices in relationships, because you’ll mistake wealth and savvy for character, and it’s not true.

You’ll also become very proud. He says wealthy people believe they’re smart about every area, they’re experts on everything. He says everybody sees it and everybody laughs at it, but nobody can say anything because of your power, which makes it impossible for people to tell the truth. He goes on and on and on and says the worst thing that could possibly happen is to set your heart on money and get it.

But it’s really true about anything. Kathy and I, before we were married, had really good prayer lives. Neither of us really thought we were going to get married to anybody. We got married, and without our knowing it, our prayer life kind of went into the toilet. Why? Well, why do you have to pray to God when all you could do is just call on the phone?

John Newton said the worst thing about a good marriage is the problem of idolatry. For many years, we had no idea how poor our prayer life was because we had made idols out of each other. We didn’t see it that way. We didn’t understand that. But when sickness came, when bad sickness came to both of us, we realized our prayer life was nothing like it should have been. The best thing that happened to us was our idols were in jeopardy. It gave us a prayer life back.

The best thing that can happen, according to Oscar Wilde, is God not answering your prayer. At that time, and only at that time, do I begin to see this anxiety I’m feeling, this guilt I’m feeling, this anger I’m feeling … it’s pathological. It’s not caused by the circumstances. It’s caused by my over-trust in things, my looking to things to give me what only Jesus can give me. It’s only in bad times that you will ever see your idols. It’s the only opportunity you have … briefly, when bad times come … to get on top of them.

Then besides making good use of your troubles, the second thing you have to do is learn to do what the angels do, which is endlessly praise. See, the only way to get your hearts to stop worshiping other things is to worship the right thing. Who endlessly praises God? The angels. In 1 Peter 1:10–12, we read, “Concerning this salvation, the prophets spoke of the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. They spoke of the things that have now been told to you by those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit, into which things even angels long to look.”

The phrase long to look … It says here the angels long to look at the gospel. They long to look at Jesus dying for us. They long to look at the glory of it and the beauty of it and the wisdom of it and the love of it. They can’t get enough of it. Do you know what that phrase long to look is? It’s the word epithymia. It’s the word that’s usually translated lust. The angels lust after the gospel. What does that mean?

Here’s what it means. The deepest passions of angels’ hearts are satisfied by looking at the love and the beauty and the wisdom of Jesus Christ. Reveling in it, rejoicing in it, singing praise … It wasn’t even for them. See, when the deepest passions of your heart are satisfied by praising and adoring Jesus Christ, then all other passions are put in their place.

You can look at approval, and you can look at romance, and you can look at all these things you wish you had, and you can say to them, “I can live without you, because I have Jesus Christ. If I can’t live without you, I’ll never be able to live safely spiritually with you. Therefore, don’t you tell me how to live my life. Don’t you push me around. Don’t you inflict anxiety and guilt on me.”

You can spit in the world’s eye, if you have learned, like the angels, to look at the gospel and be so moved by his love for you and love him for his love for you, especially when you realize this word … It says God gives us over to our strongest desires, but do you realize in Romans 8 it says God gave him over to die for us? And in Ephesians 5 it says Jesus Christ gave himself over to die for us.

When you see Jesus Christ giving himself over to his enemies to die for us, out of love for us, to pay for our sins, nothing else will take functional control of your heart. If you see him giving himself over for you, you will not be given up and given over to your lusts, to your idols. Learn to sing the praises of the one who died for you. Here’s actually a hymn that was written many years ago about this very subject by William Cowper.

The dearest idol I have known,

Whate’er that idol be,

Help me to tear it from thy throne,

And worship only thee.

Let’s pray.

Thank you, Father, for being the one God who, if we get you, will satisfy us to the bottom, and if we fail you, will forgive us. If we live for our career, our career can’t die for our sins. We pray, Father, that you would help us to rest in the beauty of what Jesus Christ has done. Teach us how to praise you endlessly, especially for your gospel grace.

As we do it, as we sing your praises, and as we think about what you’ve done, our hearts will heal. We’ll get from hearts of stone to hearts of flesh. We’ll become more and more personal. We’ll be more and more free to live our lives instead of being driven by fears and guilt and anxiety. Oh, Lord, give us the lives that are possible if we love what your Son our Savior has done for us, Jesus Christ. In his name we pray, amen.

 
 

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FOCUS ON WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL

Sunset over water

We cannot control the length of our life,

but we can control its width and depth.

We cannot control the contour of our countenance,

but we can control its expression.

We cannot control the other person’s annoying habits,

but we can do something about our own..

We cannot control the distance our head is above the ground,

but we can control the contents we feed into it.

God help us do something about what we can control,

and leave all else in the hands of God!

SOURCE: John Lawrence. Life’s Choices: Discovering the consequences of sowing and reaping. Portland, OR.: Multnomah Press, 1975. p. 115.

 

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Jerry Bridges: Faith and the Power of God

PRECARIOUS ROCK CLIMBER

The healing of the demon possessed boy (Matt. 17:14–20) at first glance seems to be only one more in a series of miraculous healings recorded by Matthew. What makes this one unique is Jesus’ emphasis on the role of faith. It is true that faith is prominent in the miracles recorded in chapter 9, but in chapter 17 it is the lack of faith that is emphasized by Jesus.

That God is not dependent on human faith for accomplishing His work is clear from the accounts of other miracles recorded by Matthew. The transfiguration of Jesus immediately prior to the healing of the boy is a prime example. It was a spectacular miracle; yet no human faith was involved. This is also true in the feeding of the five thousand (Matt. 14:13–21) and the four thousand (15:32–38). So the first thing we need to learn about faith and the power of God is that He is not dependent on our faith to do His work. God will not be hostage to our lack of faith.

The second thing we need to learn, however, is that God often requires our faith in the carrying out of His purposes. We see this in the healing of the demon possessed boy. Mark, in his account, brings this out sharply in Jesus’ conversation with the boy’s father. The father, in great distress, said to Jesus: “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us” (Mark 9:22). He had already experienced the failure of the disciples, so he was not sure if Jesus could help. His faith at this point may be described as no more than an uncertain hope that Jesus could do what the disciples could not do.

Jesus responded to the father: “If you can! All things are possible for one who believes” (v. 23). Biblical faith may be described in different ways depending on the situation. The description of faith in Hebrews 11:1 as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” was appropriate for the Jewish recipients of the letter, who were facing severe opposition and needed to be encouraged as to the certainty of their hope in Christ.

For the father of the boy, faith would mean believing that Jesus could heal his son. We are often like the father. We may face what seems to be an intractable situation, and because we have prayed a long time without an answer, we begin to doubt that God can answer our prayer. But we must believe that with God nothing is impossible.

Sarah, the wife of Abraham, doubted that God could give them a son in their advanced age, to which God replied, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (Gen. 18:14). Centuries later, the prophet Jeremiah wavered in his faith when God told him to buy a field in the face of the Chaldeans’ invasion (Jer. 32:6-26). Again God’s response was: “Is anything too hard for me?” (v. 27). To have faith in God, even in the face of unanswered prayer or a seemingly impossible situation, means we continue to believe that He can do what seems impossible to us.

The importance of faith is further emphasized in Jesus’ answer to the disciples’ question: “Why could we not cast it out?” (Matt. 17:19). He said it was because of their little faith. We are not told in what way their faith was deficient. We do know that Jesus had previously given them authority over demons to cast them out (Matt. 10:1–8), so why was their faith so weak at this time? Perhaps it was because the demon did not respond immediately to their command, and so they began to doubt the power of Jesus. Or perhaps they presumed that because they had been successful before, they would be at that time. So we see that faith not only involves a firm reliance on Jesus’ power and ability, but also a complete renunciation of any confidence in our own.

Last month we looked briefly at the subject of God’s providence. In Matthew 17 we see an example of it in action, in connection with a mundane event — the paying of the temple tax. Jesus, as the Son of God, was under no obligation to pay the tax. Yet in order to give no offense, He sent Peter to catch a fish in whose mouth was the required shekel. This brief account raises some questions: How did the shekel get into the mouth of the fish? How did Peter just “happen” to catch that fish and not another one nearby? It is possible that Jesus performed a miracle and created the coin out of nothing in the mouth of the fish.

It is more likely, however, that it was a work of providence. Someone “accidentally” dropped a shekel into the sea. A particular fish grabbed it, and it stuck in its mouth. The fish swam to the exact spot where Peter cast his net and the fish was caught. None of these events was miraculous; yet all of them were necessary to accomplish Jesus’ purpose, and Jesus was in control of each one of them. God’s power is as much at work in His providence as in His miracles. So as we struggle with our own faith, or lack of it, in the difficult situations of life, let us believe that God is able, whether through miracles or providence, to care for us.

SOURCE: Jerry Bridges, July 1, 2008 @ http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/faith-and-power-god/

 

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James Boice Sermon: Genesis Part 13 – “The Seventh Day”

SERIES: GENESIS – PART 13

Genesis 1-11 vol 1 Boice

Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. - Genesis 2:1-3

What does it mean, God rested on the seventh day? It does not mean that God closed his eyes and went to sleep. He did not take a nap. It does not mean that God rested in the sense that he became indifferent to what the man and woman were doing. We know God was not indifferent because when Adam and Eve sinned he was immediately there in the garden calling them to an accounting. He pronounced judgment and held out hope of a Redeemer to come. Rest is not to be understood in either of those ways.

What is involved here is what St. Augustine had in mind when, with his magnificent use of words, he contrasted the rest of God with our restlessness. He said, “Thou has made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.” Augustine was thinking of the turmoil of the human heart. He was saying that our true destiny is to find the rest that is found in God only.

Is it not the case that what is involved here is this kind of rest? God, having completed his work of creation, rests, as if to say, “This is the destiny of those who are my people; to rest as I rest, to rest in me.”

Rest and Restlessness

One thing that makes our lives restless is the pace of change. I wonder how many people have had the experience of watching a population clock. I did at the first of the world congresses on evangelism in Berlin in 1966 and can report that it is a very disturbing experience. In the Congress Halle in Berlin, where the meetings took place, there was a population clock display. It was a printout of numbers that kept increasing at the rate of the increase of the population of this planet. The numbers went by very rapidly. They were literally flipping by in front of our eyes—ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, a hundred, two hundred, three hundred, a thousand, two thousand, three thousand. … That is the way they went. As I stood watching this clock, I was overwhelmed by the rapid pace of change. On this occasion even the clock was overwhelmed, because the mechanism was unable to keep up with the increase of the population and the poor thing began to slow down. Toward the end of the assembly someone had to announce from the platform that the clock was not keeping up with the population and if you wanted to know what it was, you had to upgrade the numbers by a certain amount.

If we fail to recognize how disturbing this is, we need to think of this further fact: not only are the numbers increasing, indicating that time is quickly marching on, but even the rate of increase is increasing. The population increases are accelerating. Instead of slowing down, the clock should have been speeding up. The speed at which it was going back in 1966 for the World Congress on Evangelism was much slower than it would have to be if it were keeping pace with the increase of the world’s population today.

Moreover, the problem is not just the increase in population. That would not be such a bad thing in itself. It is that everything is changing. This is why Alvin Toffler in his book Future Shock speaks of a pending monumental breakdown of people who live in industrialized lands. It is not a case, as some have said, of our choices being increasingly eliminated and industry forcing us into greater and greater uniformity. Rather, our options are increasing and at an ever faster rate of speed. People cannot keep up with the choices they are compelled to make. We look at such things and conclude, rightly and inescapably, that this is an age of great distress and restlessness.

However, we still have not come to the real cause of restlessness. If we were to go back in history before what we regard as the modern age and the quickly accelerating pace of modern life, we would still find people having the kind of restlessness about which St. Augustine wrote. He lived in an age of change. But if we could have asked him, “Augustine, how can it be that you, living back in what we regard as the early periods of western history, can speak of restlessness? We see our problem as having to do with the fast pace of modern life.” Augustine would have said, “It’s not the fast pace of modern life or the slow pace of life that is your problem; the basic problem is sin, which brings turmoil to the heart.” Perhaps he would have pointed us to those words of Scripture that speak of the wicked having lives that are like the churning sea that never rests. That is what sin causes.

The devil was the first one to sin, and he has as one of his names, Diabolos, which means “the disrupter.” The word diabolos is based on two Greek words: dia, which means “through” or “among,” and ballō, which means “to throw.” We get our word “bowling” from it. Together the words describe one who is always throwing something into the middle of things. He is the one who throws the monkey wrench into the machinery. He disrupts. And so does sin! If we were sinless, we would have the peace of the Lord Jesus Christ within. But because we do not, we are at odds with God (who has become our enemy), with others (with whom we are in constant conflict), and ourselves. Even when we sit by ourselves we are unable to be at peace. An author once said, “The greatest problem with men and women is that they do not know how to sit and be still.”

Sabbath Rest

What is the cure for restlessness? It is interesting that these verses in Genesis are picked up by the author of Hebrews in a chapter that is entirely given over to this subject. He begins in chapter 3, but it is really in chapter 4 that he talks about what he calls “Sabbath-rest” (v. 9). He calls attention to the fact that although God has created rest for his people, we are not at rest. He points out that when God led Israel out of Egypt into the wilderness in their days of wandering, he had as a goal to bring them into the Promised Land. It was to be a place where they would find rest from their wandering. It was a symbol of heaven. But the people rebelled, as we do, and God judged that generation. The author quotes Psalm 95:11 in which God says, “I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’ ” The author asks how this can be. Here is God, who creates a day of rest and promises rest and yet swears that his people will never enter into that rest. He replies that we do not enter into rest because we will not come to God at that point at which rest may be found, namely, in the Lord Jesus Christ.

The author exhorts the people of his day. He says, in effect, “Don’t go on as those people did who perished in the wilderness, about whom these things were said. Rather strive to enter into God’s rest. Cast off sin. Cast off everything that keeps you from Christ. Come in the fullness of faith to rest in him.”

Jesus himself made that offer. Before his crucifixion when he was with his disciples in the upper room, he recognized that they were bothered by what was happening. They had heard his prophecies of his death, and although they did not understand them fully they knew that things were going to change. They were troubled, but he said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me” (John 14:1). He went on to talk about heaven and the giving of the Holy Spirit and the privilege of prayer, and when he got to the end he gave them something that can rightly be regarded as his legacy: peace. He said, “My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (v. 27).

How does that come about? It is by finding Christ who has done what we need. Sin is the basic cause of restlessness, and sin is the problem with which we must deal. We cannot handle it. We are the sinners. But the Lord Jesus Christ not only can, he does. He comes; he dies; he pays the penalty for our sin. He opens the door into the presence of God for all who believe in him. Then God, on the basis of the death of Christ, pronounces the believing one justified. That one now stands before the presence of God clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

As long as we live we will be troubled by sin. But we can begin to enter into God’s rest now and can look forward to that day when we will be made like Jesus and stand before God in holiness.

Holiness and Sin

That leads to the second point. God not only promises rest in these verses, he promises holiness as well. Holiness means to be set apart. So God sets the Sabbath day apart to teach that we are to enter not only into rest but also into holiness.

The two go together, because holiness is the opposite of sin, and sin is what makes us restless. Why is it that when we go out into the world with the gospel the world is not willing to respond to Christ’s teaching? Why is it that when we talk about rest, the world, which is restless, does not rush with open arms to embrace the gospel? The answer is that rest is connected with holiness and the world does not want holiness.

The attributes of God are always an offense to men and women. God is sovereign. That is offensive because we want to be our own sovereign. We want to be lords of our lives. We want to say, as one of the poets did, “I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.”

God is also omniscient. He knows everything. This is troublesome, too, because it means that God knows us. We do not want to be known, certainly not well. We want to be noticed. We want to be praised, built up. But we do not want to be known as we are because we are ashamed of what we are. Yet God knows us as no other man or woman will ever know us, and to be exposed in the sight of a holy God is frightening.

The most troublesome of all the attributes of God is holiness. God is absolutely holy. He has no place for sin. There is not a sinful thought, not a sinful wish, not a sinful deed or emotion in God. Yet everything we do is marred by sin. It says a little later in the Book of Genesis that the thoughts of people had become “only evil all the time” (Gen. 6:5). We may resist the judgment of God and say that this is not true, but this is the way God sees it. We tend to minimize sin. We say, “Of course, there are times when I do not do everything I should, but generally I’m pretty good.” God says, “Even those good times are so infused with sin that, if you could see as I see, you would abhor yourself in ashes.”

Men and women do not like God for his holiness, and it is this that makes the gospel so hard to preach. People need rest, yes. But they need it in the way it is to be found: by having sin’s penalty removed through the work of Christ; sin’s power broken through the power of the Holy Spirit; sin’s presence eradicated by Christ’s return, when those who believe on him shall be made like him in all his perfections.

For believers there is a sense in which the seventh day is fulfilled in us now. We enter by degrees into the rest and holiness Christ provides. But the ultimate realization of the Sabbath is to be at Christ’s return when we go to be with him and rest with him in holiness forever.

To the Work

In spite of the promise of the seventh day, it is nevertheless the case that the seventh day is succeeded by the first day, which also has importance for us. Donald Grey Barnhouse in his devotional study of the Book of Genesis has an interesting word at this point. Each segment of Genesis is followed by a devotional comment, and at this point, after the words “on the seventh day God finished the work which he had done and rested,” Barnhouse remarks, “But not for long.” Sin entered, and God was soon at work again in Christ to bring redemption. Jesus said, “The Father worketh hitherto, and I work.” That work is still going on. So if God the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit are working, then we had better be working too, because there is much work to be done.

It is significant that the Christian day of worship is not the Sabbath day of rest (characteristic of the Old Testament period) but the first day of the week, Sunday, which is a day of joy, activity, and expectation. Why is it a day of joy? Because we see the culmination of the gospel in Jesus Christ. Before, God’s people lived in expectation. They looked for the coming of the Messiah. Now the Messiah has come, and we rejoice in him. Christ’s first word to the women after his resurrection was “Rejoice.” They were to rejoice because there was much to rejoice about.

Then let us be done with the long faces and solemn demeanors that so often characterize the people of God on the Lord’s Day. And let us be done with the type of worshiper who comes to church only to go home. If you do not enjoy the worship of God and the fellowship of God’s people, if you do not enjoy the preaching of the Word and the response of the congregation in word and song, stay home! In the early days of the church the apostles did not have to go around ringing doorbells to get people to come out to the service. They did not have to maintain every-member visitation plans to renew flagging interest. In fact, the opposite was true. We read in the second chapter in Acts that the Christians “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. … Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (vv. 42, 46–47).

These were happy Christians. Other people liked to be with them, perhaps most of all because they were happy. Friendships developed. Then on the basis of these friendships the Lord moved and added to the church daily those who were being saved.

The second characteristic of the Lord’s Day is activity. The first Lord’s Day was a day of activity: the women on the way to the tomb, the appearances of Jesus, the return to Jerusalem of the Emmaus disciples, the sharing of experiences, communion, the Lord’s commission. It is possible that if you have been working hard for the other six days of the week, Sunday might have to be a “day of rest” for you. But this is not an integral part of the Lord’s Day. The Sabbath was the day of rest. If you need to rest, try resting on Saturday. The Lord’s Day should be a day of activity.

This does not mean that just any old activity will reflect the fullest significance of the day. You may mow your grass, if you wish. You are not under law. But this does not have much to do with Christ, nor does it help to express your joy in his resurrection.

Worship is significant. It may strike some persons as strange to speak of worship as an activity; for in many minds worship is conceived in a passive sense, that is, sitting in a pew and letting the words of the day run through one’s head like water. But this is a travesty of real worship. The Lord said that real worship is done “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). Truth involves content. So worship is above all else an active, rational activity.

Why do we have Scripture readings in the speech of the people instead of in Hebrew, Greek, or Latin? Why are the words of music in common speech? Why does a sermon stand at the heart of each service? The answer is: to engage our minds.

“We must therefore beware of all forms of emotional, aesthetic or ecstatic worship in which the mind is not fully engaged, and especially of those which even claim that they are superior forms of worship,” writes John R. W. Stott, retired rector of All Souls Church in London. “The only worship pleasing to God is heart-worship, and heart-worship is rational worship. It is the worship of a rational God who has made us rational beings and given us a rational revelation so that we may worship Him rationally, even ‘with all our mind’ ” (John R.W. Stott. Christ the Controversialist. Downers Grove: IL.: IVP, 1978, 165).

Another activity that ought to characterize the Lord’s Day is witness. Jesus revealed this characteristic when he instructed the women, “Go tell my brethren,” and later informed the disciples that they were to carry the good news of his life, death, and resurrection into all the world. You can do that on any day, of course. It is of the essence of our day that anything done on Sunday can also be done (and perhaps should be done) on other days also. But do you at least bear witness on Sunday? This is a day on which to invite your friends to go with you to hear God’s Word. At the very least it is a day on which you should teach what you know about Christ to your children.

There is one thing more: the first day should be characterized by expectation. I love Sunday, and one of the reasons why I love Sunday is that I never know in advance what will happen. As I leave my house on the way to church I never know precisely whom I will meet. I never know who will be present in church or who will respond to the preaching. I never plan messages to preach at problems that I imagine to be present in the congregation, yet it is often the case that what I say is used of the Lord to speak precisely to some problem. Lives are changed. Not infrequently, the day is the turning point in someone’s entire spiritual experience.

We who know the reality of the rest and holiness of God should of all people be most joyful, active, and expectant as we take the gospel’s glorious message to a world that knows neither rest nor holiness, but needs them desperately.

About the Preacher

Boice JM in pulpit

James Montgomery Boice, Th.D., (July 7, 1938 – June 15, 2000) was a Reformed theologian, Bible teacher, and pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia from 1968 until his death. He is heard on The Bible Study Hour radio broadcast and was a well-known author and speaker in evangelical and Reformed circles. He also served as Chairman of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy for over ten years and was a founding member of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. James Boice was one of my favorite Bible teachers. Thankfully – many of his books and expositions of Scripture are still in print and more are becoming available. The sermon above was adapted from Chapter 13 in Genesis 1-11: An Expositional Commentaryvol. 1: Creation and Fall. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006.

Under Dr. Boice’s leadership, Tenth Presbyterian Church became a model for ministry in America’s northeastern inner cities. When he assumed the pastorate of Tenth Church there were 350 people in regular attendance. At his death the church had grown to a regular Sunday attendance in three services of more than 1,200 persons, a total membership of 1,150 persons. Under his leadership, the church established a pre-school for children ages 3-5 (now defunct), a high school known as City Center Academy, a full range of adult fellowship groups and classes, and specialized outreach ministries to international students, women with crisis pregnancies, homosexual and HIV-positive clients, and the homeless. Many of these ministries are now free-standing from the church.

Dr. Boice gave leadership to groups beyond his own organization. For ten years he served as Chairman of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, from its founding in 1977 until the completion of its work in 1988. ICBI produced three classic, creedal documents: “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy,” “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics” and “The Chicago Statement on the Application of the Bible to Contemporary Issues.” The organization published many books, held regional “Authority of Scripture” seminars across the country, and sponsored the large lay “Congress on the Bible I,” which met in Washington, D.C., in September 1987. He also served on the Board of Bible Study Fellowship.

He founded the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals (Alliance) in 1994, initially a group of pastors and theologians who were focused on bringing the 20th and now 21st century church to a new reformation. In 1996 this group met and wrote the Cambridge Declaration. Following the Cambridge meetings, the Alliance assumed leadership of the programs and publications formerly under Evangelical Ministries, Inc. (Dr. Boice) and Christians United for Reformation (Horton) in late 1996.

Dr. Boice was a prodigious world traveler. He journeyed to more than thirty countries in most of the world’s continents, and he taught the Bible in such countries as England, France, Canada, Japan, Australia, Guatemala, Korea and Saudi Arabia. He lived in Switzerland for three years while pursuing his doctoral studies.

Dr. Boice held degrees from Harvard University (A.B.), Princeton Theological Seminary (B.D.), the University of Basel, Switzerland (D. Theol.) and the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Episcopal Church (D.D., honorary).

A prolific author, Dr. Boice had contributed nearly forty books on a wide variety of Bible related themes. Most are in the form of expositional commentaries, growing out of his preaching: Psalms (1 volume), Romans (4 volumes), Genesis (3 volumes), Daniel, The Minor Prophets (2 volumes), The Sermon on the Mount, John (5 volumes, reissued in one), Ephesians, Phillippians and The Epistles of John. Many more popular volumes: Hearing God When You Hurt, Mind Renewal in a Mindless Christian Life, Standing on the Rock, The Parables of Jesus, The Christ of Christmas, The Christ of the Open Tomb and Christ’s Call to Discipleship. He also authored Foundations of the Christian Faith a 740-page book of theology for laypersons. Many of these books have been translated into other languages, such as: French, Spanish, German, Japanese, Chinese and Korean.

He was married to Linda Ann Boice (born McNamara), who continues to teach at the high school they co-founded.

Source: Taken directly from the Aliance of Confessing Evangelicals’ Website

James Montgomery Boice’s Books:

1970 Witness and Revelation in the Gospel of John (Zondervan)
1971 Philippians: An Expositional Commentary (Zondervan)
1972 The Sermon on the Mount (Zondervan)
1973 How to Live the Christian Life (Moody; originally, How to Live It Up,
Zondervan)
1974 Ordinary Men Called by God (Victor; originally, How God Can Use
Nobodies)
1974 The Last and Future World (Zondervan)
1975-79 The Gospel of John: An Expositional Commentary (5 volumes,
Zondervan; issued in one volume, 1985; 5 volumes, Baker 1999)
1976 “Galatians” in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Zondervan)
1977 Can You Run Away from God? (Victor)
1977 Does Inerrancy Matter? (Tyndale)
1977 Our Sovereign God, editor (Baker)
1978 The Foundation of Biblical Authority, editor (Zondervan)
1979 The Epistles of John: An Expositional Commentary (Zondervan)
1979 Making God’s Word Plain, editor (Tenth Presbyterian Church)
1980 Our Savior God: Studies on Man, Christ and the Atonement, editor (Baker)
1982-87 Genesis: An Expositional Commentary (3 volumes, Zondervan)
1983 The Parables of Jesus (Moody)
1983 The Christ of Christmas (Moody)
1983-86 The Minor Prophets: An Expositional Commentary (2 volumes,
Zondervan)
1984 Standing on the Rock (Tyndale). Reissued 1994 (Baker)
1985 The Christ of the Open Tomb (Moody)
1986 Foundations of the Christian Faith (4 volumes in one, InterVarsity
Press; original volumes issued, 1978-81)
1986 Christ’s Call to Discipleship (Moody)
1988 Transforming Our World: A Call to Action, editor (Multnomah)
1988, 98 Ephesians: An Expositional Commentary (Baker)
1989 Daniel: An Expositional Commentary (Zondervan)
1989 Joshua: We Will Serve the Lord (Revell)
1990 Nehemiah: Learning to Lead (Revell)
1992-94 Romans (4 volumes, Baker)
1992 The King Has Come (Christian Focus Publications)
1993 Amazing Grace (Tyndale)
1993 Mind Renewal in a Mindless Age (Baker)
1994-98 Psalms (3 volumes, Baker)
1994 Sure I Believe, So What! (Christian Focus Publications)
1995 Hearing God When You Hurt (Baker)
1996 Two Cities, Two Loves (InterVarsity)
1996 Here We Stand: A Call from Confessing Evangelicals, editor with
Benjamin E. Sasse (Baker)
1997 Living By the Book (Baker)
1997 Acts: An Expositional Commentary (Baker)
1999 The Heart of the Cross, with Philip Graham Ryken (Crossway)
1999 What Makes a Church Evangelical?
2000 Hymns for a Modern Reformation, with Paul S. Jones
2001 Matthew: An Expositional Commentary (2 volumes, Baker)
2001 Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace? (Crossway)
2002 The Doctrines of Grace, with Philip Graham Ryken (Crossway)
2002 Jesus on Trial, with Philip Graham Ryken (Crossway)

Chapters

1985 “The Future of Reformed Theology” in David F. Wells, editor,
Reformed Theology in America: A History of Its Modern Development
(Eerdmans)
1986 “The Preacher and Scholarship” in Samuel T. Logan, editor, The
Preacher and Preaching: Reviving the Art in the Twentieth Century
(Presbyterian and Reformed)
1992 “A Better Way: The Power of Word and Spirit” in Michael Scott
Horton, editor, Power Religion: The Selling Out of the Evangelical Church?
(Moody)
1994 “The Sovereignty of God” in John D. Carson and David W. Hall,
editors, To Glorify and Enjoy God: A Commemoration of the 350th
Anniversary of the Westminster Assembly (Banner of Truth Trust)

SOURCE: from the Tenth Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, website

 

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