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Unshackled: The God of WM. Paul Young

Excellent review from my good friend Dr. David Steele – Thanks for taking the time to write such an excellent critique of “Lies”

Veritas et Lux

liesWM. Paul Young, Lies We Believe About God, New York: Atria Books, 2017, 273 pp. $13.48

Lies We Believe About God is the latest book from the author of The Shack, WM. Paul Young. The author originally penned The Shack   at the request of his wife as a Christmas gift to his six children. First published in 2007, this book has sold over 20 million copies and was recently unveiled as a feature film.

The Shack struck a central chord in people, many of whom confess that the storyline helped them overcome personal pain and tragedy, what the author refers to as, the Great Sadness. Wes Yoder, who endorses The Shack summarizes the ideas in this story. He writes, “The Shack is a beautiful story of how God comes to find us in the midst of our sorrows, trapped by disappointments, betrayed by our own presumptions.” Eugene Peterson…

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Posted by on March 8, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

The Christian’s A-Z’s of Thanksgiving By Dr. David P. Craig

 

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What do Christians have to be thankful for every day and not take for granted as we contemplate the many blessings we have through Christ? Here are my A-Z’s of Thanksgiving:

A = Adoption – I have been chosen unconditionally and eternally into the family of God: Romans 8:15, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”

B = Baptism – I have been cleansed, washed, made new, and am now identified with Christ through the ordinance of baptism an external symbol of an inner reality: Romans 6:4, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

C = Christ – I am a new creation in Christ: 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

D = Disciple – I have a perfect Leader to follow – the Lord Jesus Christ: Luke 6:40, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.”

E = Evangelism – I have good news to share with every human being on the planet: Acts 20:24, “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”

F = Father – I have an intimate relationship with a perfect Heavenly Father who loves to answer my prayers: Matthew 6:6, “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

G = Glory – Everything I do can be done for God’s glory: 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

H = Heaven – I know that Jesus has prepared a perfect place for me to live when I die: John 14:3, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

I = Identity – In Christ my identity is totally secure: Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

J = Justified – Because Jesus’ righteousness has been imputed to me in exchange for my sin I am declared sinless and righteous by God the Father forever: Titus 3:6-7, “whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

K = Kingdom – I belong to an everlasting Kingdom ruled by a Perfect King: Matthew 6:33, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

L = Love – I am loved by a perfect Lover: John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”

M = Mission – I have a purpose to live for that matters forever: Philippians 3:13-14, “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

N = New Birth – I have been made alive spiritually in Christ by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit: Titus 3:5, “he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.”

O = Obedience – I have a new inclination to love God and my neighbor with my heart, mind, soul and strength: 1 John 3:23, “And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.”

P = Peace – I am at peace with God forever by faith in Jesus: Romans 5:1, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Q = Qualities I share character attributes of God: Galatians 5:22-23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

R = Rapture – I will one day meet the saints and Jesus in the air: 1 Thessalonians 4:17, “Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.”

S = Scripture – In the 66 Books of the Bible I have all the revelation from God I need for salvation and sanctification: 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

T = Truth – In Scripture I have all the objective truth I need to guide my every thought and decision for living a godly life: John 17:17, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”

U = Unity – Just as the members of the Trinity are one; I can be unified with my brothers and sisters in Christ around the world: Ephesians 4:4-6, “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

V = Vengeance – I don’t have to worry about my enemies; God will deal justly with those who have hurt or betrayed me: Romans 12:19, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

W = Wrath – Thank God He has punished Jesus for my sins and as a result I will never experience His wrath: Romans 3:24-25, “and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.”

X = Xenophobia – I no longer need to be afraid of God: Romans 5:10-11, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”

Y = Yahweh – I am grateful that God is the “I AM”. He has the power of being in and of Himself and thus is totally capable of sustaining His creation and carrying out His glorious purposes: Revelation 1:8, “ I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

Z = Zion – I can look forward to a fortress – my eternal home – that will never be destroyed, or decay – a perfect city to live with Christ and His family forever: Isaiah 60:14, The sons of those who afflicted you shall come bending low to you, and all who despised you shall bow down at your feet; they shall call you the City of the Lord, the Zion of the Holy One of Israel.”

 

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Dr. Daniel L. Akin Answers The Question: Why Does Theology Matter?

Why Theology Matters
An Interview with Daniel L. Akin
President, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, North CarolinaThis summer, Broadman & Holman released a new textbook on theology entitled A Theology for the Church. The book was edited by Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and it has contributions from some of the best known names in Southern Baptist life in the field of theology. This is the first compendium of theological topics produced by Broadman & Holman and written by Southern Baptists in more than fifty years. What follows is an interview between SBC LIFE and Dr. Akin. SBC LIFE wanted to know why Dr. Akin and the contributors to this book believe theology is important for the church and why it is especially crucial at this particular juncture in Southern Baptist life.SBC LIFE Why do you feel it is necessary for churches to focus on theology?

Akin Theology enables God’s people to think correctly and live rightly. What we do always flows from what we believe, and a sound theology helps us think clearly, rightly, and, most importantly, biblically about God.

SBC LIFE What difference does theology really make? Is it not enough that we worship the Lord with our hearts and enjoy warm and affirming fellowship?

Akin It is important that we love God with our heart, but it is also imperative that we love the Lord with our mind as well. Most of the time, Southern Baptists do a good job of loving God with their heart. However, I am not sure that we always do a good job at loving God with our mind. Peter reminds us to set apart the Messiah as Lord in your hearts and always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you (1 Peter 3:15). Jesus instructed us in Matthew 22:37, that you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. Theology is one means whereby we love God with our minds.

SBC LIFE How would you respond to those who suggest that studying theology tends to reduce God in the Christian life to an “ivory tower” academic exercise?

Akin Studying theology can certainly run that risk, but we do not have to fall into this trap. That is why Jesus challenges us to love the Lord both with our heart and with our mind. I am convinced that the best theology is done within the context of a passion for the Great Commission. I often tell our students that the model in this area is the Apostle Paul who was both the great missionary and the great theologian. When you wed solid theology to a commitment to the Great Commission, you will bring a balance to your theology that will be healthy and fruitful. We must remember that the best missionaries are capable theologians, and the best theologians are passionate missionaries. The two must never be separated. This is imperative for the future of our convention of churches.

SBC LIFE Many people believe that theology is a discipline best left to seminary professors and the seminary classroom. They would say that pastors and their churches are better served to be about Kingdom priorities of spreading the Gospel and not getting distracted by all of this “heady” material. How would you respond to that?

Akin The title of this book explains what we believe is the case. Theology is a discipline for the church, not just the academy. Indeed, it is primarily a task for the church. The fact of the matter is that defining the Gospel is inherently a theological task. You cannot define the Gospel without doing theology. You cannot define the Kingdom of God without doing theology. You can’t really even define the Great Commission without doing theology. In other words, we do theology whether we realize it or not. Therefore, we are either going to do theology well or we are going to do theology poorly. Pastors need to set the standard in this area by emphasizing and modeling the importance of good theology for their people.

Further, I believe pastors need to regain a renewed understanding of what it means to be a pastor/theologian and to challenge their people likewise to grow in the discipline of studying theology. Reading popular Christian works is fine and good, but it is certainly not enough. Just as a child (and adults for that matter!) needs to have a balanced diet to grow and stay healthy, we also need to take in spiritual food from various sources to ensure that we have a balanced diet. I am personally convinced, as are all the contributors of this theology, that our people are far more interested in, and capable of, thinking theologically than many of us believe. My experience has been when people are challenged to study theology, they respond in a wonderful manner. This has especially been true in what I have seen in teaching high school and college students over the last decade. Let’s raise the theological bar and see what happens! I think the response will be awesome to behold.

SBC LIFE So you believe a pastor could take this work, A Theology for the Church, and lead his people through a study of it over an extended period of time with great fruit resulting.

Akin Absolutely! I know of a Southern Baptist church in which the pastor began five years ago working through a basic systematic theology textbook with ten men. This past year there were 480 men and women who met weekly to study theology! I am convinced more than ever that there is a deep hunger in Southern Baptist churches for a steady diet of good, sound, biblical theology. I also believe that the need has never been greater. It is the prayer of all the contributors of this work that this book might bring about something of a revival and renaissance of the study of theology within the Southern Baptist Convention. Given so much of the conversation and controversy recently in our Convention over the Baptist Faith and Message, I believe the need is self evident.

SBC LIFE Theologians are sometimes viewed as being out of touch with the churches. Further, sometimes they can even come across as being almost “papal,” speaking down to the common people in the pew concerning what they should believe and how they should think. How would you respond to someone who raises this concern, as well as to those who even hold that the doctrine of the Priesthood of all Believers would argue against the validity of theological instruction?

Akin That is a really good question. I would begin by saying that we as Southern Baptists affirm wholeheartedly the doctrine of the Priesthood of Believers. We also believe that this doctrine is primarily one of accountability and responsibility which fits perfectly into the study of theology. We are responsible to hold one another accountable in defending the faith once and for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3).

It is also the case that God raises up men in the body of Christ to be pastor/teachers to lead us and to help us in thinking biblically and theologically. Some of these men find their place of service in our seminaries and colleges. However, even these men are accountable within and to the churches.

There is no place for a Baptist pope or ecclesiastical magisterium in Southern Baptist life. There is also no place for sloppy and unbiblical thinking either. I can say this. Southern Baptist seminaries are not interested in being theological peeping-toms nor are we interested in conducting theological witch hunts. Rather, we honor all those that God raises up who have the ability to help us think well theologically, and we also recognize that every believer in the body of Christ is responsible to be a capable and competent theologian. Therefore, when a Baptist church, and for that matter a convention, is functioning as it ought, there is a wonderful and healthy accountability that exists between the academy and the local church. Our six Southern Baptist seminaries serve the churches. We are accountable to the churches. We recognize that we will do a better job because of that accountability and responsibility. It is not something that we wish to negate or run from. Rather, it is something we gladly embrace. We are partners in service to King Jesus.

SBC LIFE In looking at the list of contributors, it is clear that there is a broad spectrum of representation among the authors. Some are known for being Calvinistic in their theology, while others are not. Was that intentional and did it present any problems?

Akin You are accurate in your observation. I believe the contributors to this volume represent the best thinkers in Southern Baptist life. And it is true that the contributors are not lock step in all of their theological positions. However, and I think that this is crucially important at this particular time in our history, each of these men is a confessional Baptist committed to evangelical theology and theBaptist Faith and Message. We are in 100 percent agreement on the essentials of the faith, as well as those distinctives that mark and identify us as Baptists. There may be differing views on the number of points of Calvinism, plurality of elders versus a single pastor, or a particular perspective on eschatology. Yet, we are united in what constitutes historic orthodox Christianity, and we are united in the distinctive marks of what constitutes a Baptist. I think A Theology for the Churchmodels well what could be a consensus for Southern Baptists in terms of confessional theology. At least that is a hope that I believe the Lord has placed deep within my heart.

SBC LIFE Is there anything else you would add to our interview?

Akin I would simply want to challenge pastors to take the lead in helping their people once again become good students of theology. I would challenge them to start a study group focusing on theology. Use this book and see what God does. I think many will be pleasantly surprised. I think they will also discover that they will cultivate better listeners of their preaching as well as a cohort of fellow followers of Jesus Christ who will come along side of them to ensure that their people are not tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine, but instead they are growing up in Christ to a mature man who is capable of rightly dividing the Word of Truth and holding in trust the wonderful mysteries of the Christian faith.

Original Source: http://www.sbclife.net/Articles/2007/09/sla7

 

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Dr. Donald Whitney: Why Join A Church?

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Why Join a Church?

by Dr. Donald S. Whitney

“Scripture makes abundantly clear that we are to be members of a local church.” Kenneth Kantzer

“Why should I join the church?”
Despite my seminary training and pastoral experience, I was unprepared for this new

Christian’s question. He agreed from our study of the Scripture that he needed to identify himself as a disciple of Christ through baptism, but then he asked, “Can you show me from the New Testament that I’m supposed to officially join anything?”

Now he really had me.

“If I come and worship as often as the members,” he continued, “if I fellowship with these believers as much as anyone else, if I profit from the teaching and other ministries of the church, and if I actively demonstrate love for my brothers and sisters in Christ here, why should I formally join the church?”

His question struck me with an uncomfortable logic.

I began to realize that many of my conclusions about church membership were actually nothing more than previously unchallenged assumptions. These assumptions were now melting into questions of my own. Can I give reasons from Scripture why anyone should join a church? Did the Christians in New Testament times formally join churches or did they more of an informal relationship? Did the churches in the days of the Apostle Paul have a membership list? How do I respond to the rising tide of opinion that says church membership is merely an unchallenged, but unbiblical tradition and an unnecessary formality?

Here’s what I found.

BIBLICAL INDICATIONS OF CHURCH MEMBERSHIP IN NEW TESTAMENT TIMES

To start with, we encounter the word church throughout the New Testament. In the great majority of instances the term refers to a specific local church like that in Rome or Corinth. Sometimes when we read of the church the reference is to what’s often called the church universal, that is, all Christians everywhere. But when you read “church” in the Bible, it almost always means “local church.”

At the very least, the local church was the fellowship of the followers of Jesus Christ in a particular area. We know that they met together, worshiped together, prayed together etc., as the born-again family of God. But did people actually join this fellowship in some official way, or was it a mutually-assumed and less formal association?

The New Testament church practice of keeping a list of widows makes sense in the context of membership

We know that churches in the days of the Apostle Paul made and maintained at least one type of list. “No widow may be put on the list of widows,” Paul instructs Timothy, “unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband,” etc., (1 Timothy 5:9, NIV). As easily as the churches had lists of widows, they could have had lists of members. There would be no difference except for length for a church to keep a widows’ list and a membership list.

The instructions for church discipline make sense only in the context of membership

In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus gave us instructions on how the church should respond when someone within the church persists in living like an unbeliever. We read of a specific case of this in 1 Corinthians 5 and how the Apostle Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, instructed the Christians in the church at Corinth to handle it. In verses 11-13 Paul says, “But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner-not even to eat with such a person. For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges. Therefore ‘put away from yourselves the evil person.'”

There was a sexually immoral man in this church. Was Paul simply telling them not to let this man come to church with them because he was acting like an unbeliever instead of a Christian? No, he couldn’t have meant that, for we know from other places in this letter (cf. 14:24-25) that unbelievers were welcome to attend church meetings. Even when they obeyed Paul’s instructions to “put away from yourselves the evil person” and considered the man an unbeliever, they would have allowed (even welcomed) him to come and sit under the preaching of God’s Word like any other person in town. So in what sense would they have “put away” (“remove”-NASB, “expel”- NIV) this man?

The best way of explaining how they would have “put away” this man is to understand that they removed him from the membership of the church and generally stopped associating with him outside the church meetings.

Notice that Paul refers to those who are “inside” and to those who are “outside.” Outside of what? As we’ve noted, anyone could attend their meetings. This kind of language can only refer to a definite church membership of converted people. For what authority does a group have to remove someone who is already “outside” and not a member of the group? You can’t fire someone who doesn’t work for you. You can’t vote in your country to remove a government official elected by another country. You can’t appeal to a court to discipline someone who isn’t within its jurisdiction. In the same way, you can’t formally discipline someone who is in an informal relationship with you; you have no authority to do so. These people in Corinth had voluntarily committed themselves to a formal relationship and they knew who were official members of the church and who were “outside.”

Church discipline must be done by the “church” (Matthew 18:17) and occur “when you are gathered together” (1 Corinthians 5:4). Who is to gather together? How do you know who the “church” is? How do you determine who does and does not have the right to speak and vote on such matters? Does the person subject to discipline have the liberty to bring in his extended family or coworkers who have never been to the church, or even people off the street, and expect them to be given an equal say with those who have been faithful to the church for years? No? Why not? Do you exclude them from involvement because they’ve never been part of the church? Then what about the person who attended once five years ago? Or those who came at Easter and Christmas last year? Or those who regularly watch the church services on television or listen to them on the radio, and perhaps even send money, but never enter the building? Or those from distant cities who visit several times each year because of family members in the church? Obviously, Biblical church discipline must be limited to a specific group and that must mean the church members.

The meaning of the word “join” in Acts. 5:13 makes sense only in the context of membership

In Acts 5:13 we read of the reaction of the non-Christians in Jerusalem after a couple within the church, Ananias and Sapphira, had died on the spot when it was revealed that they had lied to the church. It says, “Yet none of the rest dared join them, but the people esteemed them highly.” The unbelievers had great respect for the Christians, but after this incident none of them who claimed to be converted but were outward-only believers wanted to join the church.

In the Greek language in which Paul wrote this letter, the word he used that’s translated here as “join” literally means “to glue or cement together, to unite, to join firmly.” It doesn’t refer to an informal, merely assumed sort of relationship, but one where you choose to “glue” or “join” yourself firmly to the others. Again, that kind of language only makes sense in the context of membership.

That same “glue word” is used in the New Testament to describe being joined together in a sexual relationship (1 Corinthians 6:16) and being joined to the Lord in one spirit in salvation (1 Corinthians 6:17). And it’s the very same word Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 5:11 when he says “not to keep company with” any so-called brother who continues in immorality, but rather to “put away from yourselves the evil person.” Clearly this kind of language doesn’t refer to a casual, superficial, or informal relationship.

So when it says in Acts 5:13 that no insincere believer “dared join them,” the “glue word” used there speaks of such a cohesive, bonding relationship that it must be referring to a recognized church membership.

The meaning of “the whole church” in 1 Corinthians 14:23 makes sense only in the context of membership

The earthly founder of the church at Corinth, the Apostle Paul, wrote to this new body of Christians about their many difficulties, including how to bring order to their public worship. He began 1 Corinthians 14:23 with, “Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place, . . .” Who did he have in mind when he referred to “the whole church”? The only realistic answer is “the church members.” That’s why one commentator, working with the original language of this text, translates it “If then the whole church assembles together and all its members” [emphasis mine] and notes “(the last two words are not in the Greek but are naturally to be understood).”(1)

Imagine the leaders of the Corinthian Christians walking into the gathering of the church for worship one Sunday. Would they have known by looking, or would they have had some way of deciding, whether “the whole church” was there? Surely they would have known who was supposed to be present in a churchwide meeting and who was missing. But how else could they have known when “the whole church” was “together in one place” without knowing who was a member and who wasn’t? This implies a verifiable membership.

The instructions for pastoral oversight and spiritual leadership make sense only in the context of membership

“This is a faithful saying:,” said Paul to Timothy, “If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work” (1 Timothy 3:1). In other places the New Testament also refers to a bishop, or “overseer” as the NIV and NASB render it, as a pastor or elder (Acts 20:17, 28; Philippians 1:1; Titus 1:5-7). But what or whom does he oversee? How can he provide spiritual oversight if he doesn’t know exactly those for whom he is responsible? A distinguishable, mutually-understood membership is required for him to fulfill his charge.

Down in verse 5 it says of an overseer, “for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?” The local church is compared to a family. Is anyone a casual member of a family? No, membership in a family is a very definite thing.

“Take heed to yourselves,” Paul instructed the elders of the church of Ephesus, “and to all the flock” (Acts 20:28). How could they fulfill their responsibility as undershepherds to “all” the flock unless they knew who was part of “the flock” and who was not? These leaders of a growing church in a large city needed some means of identification of those for whom they were to “take heed.” A simple membership list is the logical solution.

In Hebrews 13:17 is a word addressed to those under such overseers: “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.” For whom will the leaders of a church give an account-everyone who comes in and out of their church services? No, it has to be a limited group of people-the members of the church-for whom they will be answerable. Otherwise, how can church leaders be responsible for someone until they know he or she is committed to their care? The Bible’s instructions for pastoral oversight and spiritual leadership can best be obeyed when there is a well-defined church membership.

The metaphors used to describe local churches (flock, temple, body, household) make sense only in the context of membership

The New Testament uses several metaphors to describe churches. Some of these metaphors describe the church of Christ collectively throughout the world. While all of them could potentially apply to the local church also, at least four of these metaphors- flock, temple, body, and household-are definitely used to refer to individual churches (in Acts 20:28; Ephesians 2:21; 1 Corinthians 12:27, and 1 Timothy 3:15). And each metaphor is best understood in a setting of specific church membership.

A flock of sheep isn’t a random collection of ewes, rams, and lambs. Shepherds know their flocks. They know which sheep are theirs to care for and which are not.

Sheep belong to specific flocks. This is also the way it should be for God’s spiritual sheep. A temple building, just like a church building, shouldn’t have any loose bricks or blocks. If it does, something’s wrong. Each one of them has a definite place. “There is no place,” said an English preacher long ago, “for any loose stone in God’s edifice.” (2) The same analogy is true for a human body. Your body isn’t a casual collection of loosely related parts. You don’t keep your fingers in your pocket until you need them. They are joined. They are members of the body. The local body of Christ should be like this also-those joined to Christ, who are members of His body-should express that relationship through a visible membership. And in a household, a family, you’re either a member or you’re not. So if you are part of the family of God, show it by joining a local expression of God’s family.

British pastor Eric Lane sees additional significance in this quartet of metaphors:

God has given us four pictures of the church, not one. This is not just to emphasize and prove the point by repetition, but also to say four different things about what it means to be a member of a church. To be a stone in his temple means to belong to a worshipping community. To be part of a body means to belong to a living, functioning, serving, witnessing community. To be a sheep in the flock means belonging to a community dependent on him for food, protection, and direction. To be a member of a family is to belong to a community bound by a common fatherhood. Put together you have the main functions of an individual Christian. Evidently we are meant to fulfill these not on our own but together in the church. Now can you see the answer to the question why you should join a church? (3)

We’ve just seen five Biblical indications that New Testament churches had membership lists of some sort. They knew who was a member and who was not. When people became followers of Jesus, or when followers of Jesus moved to another town, they formally identified themselves with a local church-they joined it. “In the New Testament there is no such person as a Christian who is not a church member,” writes Douglas G. Millar. Conversion was described as ‘the Lord adding to the church’ (Acts 2:47). There was no spiritual drifting.” (4)

Perhaps you are persuaded that the churches in the days of the New Testament had membership lists and that people joined the churches instead of “drifting.” Are there other Biblical reasons why Christians should be members of a church today? Here are some . . .

BIBLICAL REASONS FOR JOINING A CHURCH

You prove that you’re not ashamed to identify with Christ or His people

Jesus said (in Mark 8:38) that if anyone is ashamed to identify himself with Him on earth then He will not identify Himself with that person when he or she stands before God in the Judgment. Joining a church is one of the plainest ways of saying you’re not ashamed to identify yourself with Jesus and with His people. Jesus certainly made a formal commitment to identify Himself with His people when He left Heaven to come to earth and die as a man. Can, then, one for whom Christ died be reluctant to identify himself formally with the others for whom Christ died? California pastor John MacArthur explains and asks further, “You have been joined together with Christ. . . . You bear His name. Are you ashamed to belong? Are you ashamed to bear that identification with other believers of like precious faith? . . . Shouldn’t you be willing outwardly to identify with the visible, gathered members of that group to which you eternally belong?” (5)

When you join a church you make it clear whose side you’re on. You’re telling the family of God that you’re part of the family too, and that you don’t want to be considered on the “outside” (1 Corinthians 5:12-13) any longer.

You stop being an independent Christian and place yourself under the discipline and protection of other Christians

In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus set up an accountability system. When a professing believer starts living like an unbeliever, those in the church who know about it are to confront him about his sin. First, one is to go to this person, and then, if he will not listen, the one is to bring one or two others along for a second conversation. The goal is to restore him back to full fellowship with the Lord and his fellow believers. If he persistently and unrepentantly refuses to return to the Lord, the final step is to report the matter to the church. Then everyone in the church has the chance to win the person back. And if he continues in his sin, the church is to withdraw fellowship from him as the final means of showing him his need to repent.

If you aren’t part of the church, they have no authority over you and cannot do what Jesus said to do. Unless you join the church, your independence places you outside the way Jesus wants things to happen. Incidentally, when Jesus says in verse 17 to bring this matter “to the church,” how do you know who should be notified (and who should not be) unless there is a formally recognized membership?

Related to this idea of spiritual authority, recall Hebrews 13:17, the passage we examined which tells us to obey the leaders of the church and submit to them because they keep watch over our souls. The leaders of the church are to “watch over” you by providing spiritual protection for you and caring about your growth in Christ. You place yourself outside that spiritual watchcare unless you join a local church.

You participate in a stronger, more unified effort of God’s people to obey Christ’s command to reach others

The last thing Jesus said before returning to Heaven is known to Christians today as the Great Commission. It’s found in Matthew 28:19-20 where Jesus told His disciples (and us), “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen.”

I’ve met a few people who weren’t interested in church membership but who were zealously witnessing to others about Christ and trying to make disciples for Him. Since they do so well what relatively few Christians do at all (i.e., share their faith), why emphasize church membership to them? They need to see that joining a church is like putting one candle with many others. They will give off more light collectively than the one lone candle ever could, and together they will have a greater penetration into the world’s darkness.

And as your local church reaches across the country and around the world in direct and indirect support of missionary work, you can participate in ways of reaching the world for Christ that you could have never dreamed otherwise.

In contrast, consider the potential negative impact on your efforts to talk about Jesus if you don’t join His earthly body. John MacArthur says we should ask ourselves, “How wonderful can Christ be if we’re not even committed to being associated with His church?” (6) How believable is our testimony of the goodness and greatness of Christ if we don’t want to identify openly with Christ’s family?

You have a greater opportunity to use your spiritual gift “for the profit of all”

At the moment of salvation when the Holy Spirit comes to live within a believer in Christ, He brings a gift with Him. “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit,” Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:4. He continues in verse 11, “But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.” For what purpose does God gift each Christian? The answer is in verse 7: “But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all.” God gifts you individually so that you will use your gift “for the profit” of others. You have a greater opportunity to do that when you use your gift in and through local church membership.

Yes, you can use your spiritual gift for the good of God’s people without joining a church. But in a lot of churches, many of the ministry opportunities are available for church members only. That’s because the church wants to know that you stand with her doctrinally and support her ministry goals before you’re asked to minister in certain positions. Besides, remaining outside the membership of the church may say more about your desire to serve than you intend. “Not joining the church,” according to MacArthur, ‘is saying, ‘I don’t want to serve the only institution Christ ever built.” (7) So the best way to maximize the effectiveness of your spiritual gift is to use it “for the profit of all” in a local church as a member.

You openly demonstrate the reality of the body of Christ

“Now you are the body of Christ,” Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, “and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27, NIV). But how can we see the body of Christ? When you join a church, you make it visible. You give a living demonstration of the spiritual reality of the body of Christ. You show that even though you are an individual, you are a part of the body, you are joined together with others. You take the body of Christ out of the realm of the theoretical and give it a meaning that people can see.

As pastor and author Ben Patterson puts it, “To join a particular part of the body of Christ is not to bring something into existence that was not there before. It is simply to make actual what is spiritual, to prove that the spiritual is real.” (8)

You participate in a more balanced ministry than you can otherwise experience

In Ephesians 4:11-16 we read of the Lord giving gifted men such as evangelists and pastor-teachers to the church. We’re taught that each part-every member-of the church body has a job to do for the body to function properly and grow. It’s a picture of wholeness and balance. We need this God-ordained mutual ministry to be what God intends.

Further, God has designed us so that we can’t get this well-rounded ministry on our own. No one develops the proper spiritual symmetry just by listening to Christian radio, watching Christian television, or reading Christian books. You can’t get this kind of maturity merely by participating in a group Bible study. Unless you’re an active part of a local church, your Christian life and ministry will be imbalanced.

You demonstrate your commitment, not to “spiritual hitchhiking,” but to “the proper working of each individual part” in the visible body of Christ

Some time ago in the magazine of the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, a writer made an interesting observation about the hitchhiker. He wants a free ride. He assumes no responsibility for the money needed to buy the car, the gas to run it, or the cost of maintenance. He expects a comfortable ride and adequate safety. He assumes the driver has insurance covering him in case of an accident. He thinks little of asking the driver to take him to a certain place even though it may involve extra miles or inconvenience.

Think about the “spiritual hitchhiker” who has settled all his major questions about the matters and has definitely decided where he wants to attend church, but now wants all the benefits and privileges of that church’s ministry without taking any responsibility for it. His attitude is all take and no give. He wants no accountability, just a free ride.

This is not meant to discourage those who are attending a church to find answers about Jesus Christ and are still uncertain about their eternal destiny. If that describes you, your first priority is to come to Christ rather than to come for church membership.

Neither is this intended to deter those who are sincerely and actively seeking God’s will in a decision about a church home. Sometimes that decision cannot be made quickly. A wise person evaluates a church carefully before joining its membership.

A “spiritual hitchhiker,” however, has no real intention of joining the church, at least not soon. He only wants to enjoy its advantages without any obligation on his part. He wants convenience without commitment, to be served rather than to serve. But every true Christian is to be committed to “the proper working of each individual part” (Ephesians 4:16, NASB) in a local church. When you join a church, you’re saying you believe in taking your “individual part” and that you don’t want to be a “spiritual hitchhiker.”

You “exhort” new believers to the same “good works” of commitment to the local body of Christ

In the familiar passage on church commitment, Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” Notice the command to “consider one another” that is associated here with church involvement. Bear in mind the message you give to other believers, especially new believers, if you do not join a church. What are you modeling to new believers when you remain uncommitted to the local church? Do they see your example and learn that the church isn’t important enough to join? Do they get the message that the Kingdom of God is not worth such an investment of yourself? Do they interpret your actions as saying that the work of God does not deserve a full commitment?

On the other hand, joining a church is one way of “exhorting one another” as this passage puts it, “to love and good works.” When you do join the local church you provide a positive example that says, “This is worth being a part of and I recommend it to you.”

You encourage a ministry when you consider it faithful and join it

Suppose John loves Mary and sees no one else but her for ten years. Every time they are together he tells her that he loves her, but never proposes to her. Finally, after a decade she has enough nerve to ask him, “John, why haven’t you wanted to marry me?”

If he says, “I’m just trying to make sure,” how do you think she would feel? Of course, she’s glad he says he loves her, and she’s thankful for all he does for her, and she’s pleased that he doesn’t see anyone else, but in spite of all that, she’s going to be somewhat discouraged because he doesn’t love her enough to decisively commit himself to her.

The people and pastor of a church are glad whenever you attend. But if you keep coming and never join, they may begin to wonder what Mary wondered about John, despite how happy you seem to be with the church and how many wonderful things you say about it. So there is a sense in which your attendance and involvement can actually discourage the church and its leaders if, after a reasonable time, you do not join it.

Conversely, the church is encouraged (the NASB and NIV render “exhort” in Hebrews 10:25 as “encourage”), and its leadership is encouraged, when you indicate by joining the church that you love it and think it is a Biblically faithful ministry worthy of your commitment.

BIBLICAL RESPONSES TO THIS MESSAGE

Now that you’ve read these things about church membership, what should you do?

Turn from living for yourself and follow Christ, the Head of the church

Membership in a local church does not mean that you are part of the body of Christ. Without Christ, church membership means nothing. Hell is filled with people who were church members. Before you respond to the challenge of church membership, you must make sure you know Jesus Christ, who is “head over all things to the church” (Ephesians 1:22). Your greatest need in life is not to be on the membership roll of a church; it is to be made right with God by the One who died for the church, who created the church, who loves the church, and who is returning someday for His true church.

What should you do? The Bible says you should repent and believe in the Gospel (Mark 1:15), i.e., the message about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. To repent and believe in this way involves turning from living for yourself and turning in faith to Jesus Christ. Recognize that your sin has separated you from God (Isaiah 59:2; Romans 3:23). You’ve repeatedly broken God’s laws and this excludes you from His family and from eternity with Him. Come to Christ, however, and He can make you right with God. Believe that His death can cleanse you from all guilt before God and provide you with all the righteousness God requires. This is infinitely more important than church membership.

Present yourself to the church for baptism as a symbol of identification with Christ and His church

Ten days after Jesus had ascended back to Heaven, the Holy Spirit of God descended upon the believers who were gathered in Jerusalem. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter preached that morning to the crowd that had gathered because of the Jewish Feast of Pentecost. About three thousand people turned from their sin and believed that the crucified and risen Jesus was their Messiah and God. Then, according to Acts 2:41, “those who had gladly received his word were baptized.” If you have received (i.e., believed) the word about Jesus Christ, you should be baptized.

Baptism is a church ordinance commanded by Christ (Matthew 28:19). If you have trusted Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, you should present yourself to a local church as a candidate for baptism. By this means you will openly identify yourself as a follower of Christ and a member of His body.

Present yourself for membership in a local, New Testament church if you’ve been Scripturally baptized and your membership is elsewhere

Have you come to Christ and been baptized? Then you should formally identify yourself with the people of Christ where you live. If you have moved, or for some other reason have membership in a church you no longer attend, you should unite with the believers of a Biblically-based, Christ-centered church where you can participate faithfully. (See Acts 18:27 and Romans 16:1-2 for a New Testament example of Christians who identified with and served with a local congregation even when they were in a place which might not have been their permanent residence.)

When I was in college I faithfully attended a local church. After about a year I realized that my membership needed to be in that church, not the one back home that I grew up in but now rarely visited. So I presented myself for membership in the church where I was worshiping regularly. Today I encourage students to become members of a church in their college town, because that’s where they are most of the time. If they are home for the summer, I suggest that, if practical, they move their membership back to their hometown church for those three months. There are two good reasons for doing this. One, there’s no guarantee that their plans won’t change and that they won’t be back either at their school or at that particular church in the fall. Two, this develops a healthy pattern of thinking “Join a church here” whenever they relocate. This habit will serve them well when they graduate and move away from college to who-knows-where, not to mention each of the several times they are likely to move in the coming decades.

Reaffirm the commitment implied in your present church membership

If you are presently a member of the local church you attend, you should exercise your spiritual gifts in and through that church (see Romans 12:5-6a). Membership implies commitment and activity. All the living parts of the body of Christ should be working and fulfilling their God-intended function.

Think about this: a member of a human body, such as a heart or kidney, cannot exist apart from the body, except by some temporary and artificial sustenance. But this isn’t what it’s designed for. In this sheer existence the organ doesn’t fulfill its function in the body. It isn’t nourished in the way God intended through the body, but subsists only through some synthetic way that provides mere maintenance but doesn’t stimulate growth or development.

In the same way, a true member of Christ’s body is not designed to operate independently or outside the body. An authentic part of Christ’s spiritual body cannot be content while separated from the rest of His earthly body. That’s because he or she is made for interdependence, not independence.

As wonderful and sophisticated as the heart is, it was never made to be just a heart, but a part of a body. It has no value to the body outside the body. And the heart itself can’t thrive outside the body. As incredible and wonderful as you are, Christian, you were never made just to be an individual Christian, but a part of body. As every organ and every cell is God-created to be an active member of the human body, so every true Christian is God-created to be a active member of a localbody of Christ.

Are you a true Christian? Are you an actively and Biblically involved member of a local body of Christ? “Belonging to the church,” says John MacArthur, “is at the very heart of Christianity.” (9)

Church membership involves many responsibilities, but we must never lose sight of the great privilege that it really is. “We must grasp once again,” said Martyn Lloyd-Jones of London in the mid-twentieth century, “the idea of church membership as being the membership of the body of Christ and as the biggest honour which can come a man’s way in this world.” (10)

(1) C. K. Barrett, A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians (New York: Harper & Row, 1968), p. 324.

(2) Joseph Hall, as quoted in John Blanchard, More Gathered Gold (Welwyn, England: Evangelical Press, 1986), p. 43.

(3) G. Eric Lane, I Want to Be A Church Member (Bryntirion, Wales: Evangelical Press of Wales, 1992), p. 21.

(4) Douglas G. Millar, “Should I Join A Church?”, The Banner of Truth, Issue 62, Nov. 1968, p. 21.

(5) John F. MacArthur, Jr., “Commitment to the Church,” Tape GC 80-130 (Panorama City, CA: Grace to You, 1994.

(6) MacArthur tape GC 80-130.

(7) MacArthur tape GC 80-130.

(8) Ben Patterson, “Why Join A Church?”, Leadership, Fall Quarter, 1984, p. 80.

(9) MacArthur tape GC 80-130.

(10) D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Knowing the Times (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1989), p. 30.

*Adapted from Spiritual Disciplines Within The Church by Donald S. Whitney, Moody Press, copyright 1996. Used with permission.

 

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Humor: Of Babies and Men

SERIES: FRIDAY HUMOR #48

baby image

Once there were four business men. They were sitting on a bench in a hospital waiting room because their wives were having babies.

A nurse comes over and says to the first businessman, “Congratulations! Your wife had 1 baby.”

The man says, “What a coincidence! I’m the president of And 1!”

The nurse goes away.

Then the nurse comes back and says to the second businessman, “Congratulations! Your wife had twins!”

The man says, “What a coincidence! I’m the owner of the Minnesota Twins!”

The nurse goes away.

The nurse comes back and says to the third businessman, “Congratulations! Your wife had triplets!”

The man says, “What a coincidence! I work for Triple Crown!”

The nurse goes away.

The nurse comes back and sees the fourth businessman alone on the bench crying.

She asks, “Why are you crying”?

The man replies, “I work for Seven Up”!!

 
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Posted by on March 14, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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SUNDAY NT SERMON: “SIGNS OF THE KING” BY TIMOTHY KELLER – ACTS 2:37-47

Series: The King and the Kingdom – Part 4 

Tim Keller preaching image

Preached in Manhattan, NY on August 13, 1989

37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. 42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.

44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46 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, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. – ACTS 2:37-47

Last week we began a series of messages, of talks, on the church. Have you noticed how often I talk about us launching a church? Why do I like to use that word launching? Is it just because I’m a frustrated sailor? No. Actually, I think of a rocket ship, and I think of how important liftoff is, because if you’re aiming at the moon and your rocket ship down here is just a silly millimeter off, it could be thousands of miles off when it gets there.

Therefore, if this church is not going to join the thousands and thousands of cultural institutions that are totally ineffective in this country within just a few years, it is vital we strain every nerve to think about the church aright, to envision it, to see exactly what it is and what it can be. Now last week we said there was a central fact, the most important thing you have to understand if you’re going to understand what the church is. That central fact is the church is the place where God dwells, where God comes down as it were and meets us in all of his transcendent love and light and fire and majesty.

That’s what the Bible says, and the church has known this for years. Not programs. Not busyness. Not work, but that. You know, one of the greatest hymns ever written about the church was written by John Newton. It says,

Glorious things of thee are spoken,

Zion, City of our God!

He’s talking about the church.

He, whose word cannot be broken,

Formed thee for his own abode.

The first thing Newton says in that hymn is the church is the place where God dwells. Now this particular passage is very critical because it gives us the birth of the New Testament church. You see, there’s a little group of people. Jesus, when he left, had only left a small handful of people. Peter preaches this remarkable message on the day in the history of the church we have always called the day of Pentecost, and on that day, Peter preached a message, and the message that formed that church, that gathered those 3,000 souls that first day, was through Jesus Christ you can have the presence of God in your life.

We’ll look at that just for a minute because I want to show you that was his message. That’s what formed the church. We see that in verses 37–41. That’s the message that formed the church. Then in verses 42–47 we see the marks of the life of this early church. In other words, if a group of people actually come together and build their lives on that reality that God is present in the midst, if a group of people come together and actually take that seriously (not cynically) and say, “This is what we’re going to build our lives on,” the presence of God expresses itself.

There is a cosmic vitality that expresses itself through a church like that, and I want to show you the signs of it. It’s right there in verses 42–47. There are five signs of that cosmic vitality. It’s the way you can tell whether a church is realizing the presence of God. What we’re trying to show and what this passage tries to show is first of all, before we can run off to our busyness and run off to our ministries and our programs, we have to stand before God and realize his presence and know it and yearn for it.

Then it’s the presence of God that becomes like the motor or the driveshaft for everything else the church does, and that’s what we’re going to see. First, the message that forms the church is that Jesus Christ is the way to know the presence of God. Secondly, the five signs of life that flow out of that should characterize every good church. Let’s look at the message and then let’s look at those five signs which are the evidences of that kind of vitality.

First, the message. In a way we talked about this last week, but I just want to show you again what it is. Peter says to them, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” He says, “Repent and be baptized …” That is virtually the same thing Jesus said when he came out of the wilderness and first began to preach in Mark 1:15 and said, “Repent, and believe the gospel.”

Those two things are always there: repentance and trust. Repent and trust your sins can be put away through Jesus Christ so they are no longer a barrier between you and God. Repent and believe. Those are not two different things; that’s one thing. It’s repentant faith, turning from your old ways, resting and trusting in Christ, and making him your only hope in life and death.

They are really two sides to the same coin, and that’s how you receive Christ as Savior and Lord, through repentance and faith. Obviously, we could spend quite a bit of time talking about repentance and faith, but right now let’s move on to how this creates the church. If a person receives Christ as Savior and Lord, Peter says you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Now let’s take that apart for a moment. Give me a 90-second tangent for some of you.

Even though you have repented and believed, the Holy Spirit comes in as a gift. Your repentance and your faith do not earn the Spirit; it is a gift. Now the only reason I say that is because I continually meet people who don’t know where they stand in the Christian faith, and they say, “I know you’re not saved by your efforts and your good deeds. You’re saved strictly by faith alone, but I don’t know whether my faith is good enough. It just doesn’t seem to be very strong. It doesn’t seem to be very pure.”

Repentance and faith receive the gift. Your repentance and faith don’t have to be pure enough to earn it. Then it wouldn’t be a gift. Let me put it this way. It’s the fact of your repentant faith, not the purity of it, that brings it in, and anyone who is worried and always saying, “I don’t know if I repented well enough. I wonder if I repented well enough.” I can clear that up for you right now. You haven’t. Nobody has ever repented well enough. Who in the world has ever been sorry enough for the things they’ve done wrong?

You say, “I don’t know whether my faith is good enough.” I can clear that up, too. My friends, here is the bad thing. If you’re worried about it, there is pride in there. As humble and as despairing as you seem, what you’re saying is, “Oh, I have to get good enough. I have to be pure enough. I have to be faithful enough so Jesus Christ can give me his Spirit.” My friends, receiving Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord is a gift. Eternal life is a gift. The Holy Spirit is a gift. Your faith receives it; it doesn’t earn it. It can’t. Don’t you see?

Now it’s the gift of the Holy Spirit I want to look at here for a second. Peter is telling us something I’m afraid most of us here cannot really understand the momentous nature of. (How do you like that for a sentence?) I don’t think anybody in this room can understand how momentous a statement this was unless we spend some time reflecting on it. Peter didn’t just preach this sermon. Years later, he wrote a couple of epistles which are in the back of this Book. He wrote a couple of letters to some other churches.

In this sermon he says there is a tremendous promise. He says, “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off …” You can come near to God. You can come near. You’re far off. You can come into the presence of God and receive the Holy Spirit. Now he says it a different way in his second epistle (letter) in 1:4, where he says, “Through his great and precious promises, we participate in the divine nature.” That’s the same thing.

See, what is the Holy Spirit? It’s the glory of God. It’s the lifeblood of God. I’m sorry. You see, this promise beggars description. It’s his very glory, and Peter is saying that, through receiving Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, can flood into your life. Now get the hang of this. Remember Moses said, “Show me your glory.” What he was saying was, “Oh, Lord, I want your glory to come into my life. I want to see it,” and God said, “You can’t. It will kill you. Your poor, bitty, little soul would crack under the strain of it, so I’m going to let you see the gleam of my brightness through the back door,” in a sense.

He said, “I’ll put you in the cleft of the rock, and I’ll let my hind parts go by you.” We don’t know what in the world that means except God was saying to Moses, “Moses, you can’t take my glory.” When Isaiah got just a glimpse of God in the temple, what did he say? He said, “Woe is me! for I am undone …” which is a good King James Version way of saying, “I feel unzipped! I feel I’m being unbuttoned. I’m unraveling.” Why? He said, “… for mine eyes have seen the King …” “The King is here, and even getting this close, I feel like I’m coming apart.”

The glory of God (his face, his royal presence, his raw presence, what in the Old Testament they called the shekinah, the glory cloud of God) dwelt in the Holy of Holies in the center of the tabernacle in the temple behind the veil over the ark of the covenant. Who could get there? Who could go back there? Who could get near the presence of God? Only the high priest, the holiest person (supposedly) in Israel, one day a year on the Day of Atonement after spending days purifying himself in body and soul.

Then he would go back there with a blood atonement, sprinkling incense everywhere so he didn’t see anything that might kill him. He had bells on the tassels on his robe so the people outside could hear him moving around so they knew he was still alive. Now why was the presence of God so fatal to people? One of the problems is we have movies, and I know in a way Steven Spielberg wasn’t really trying to depict this, but you know in the Raiders of the Lost Ark, the power of God that comes out of the ark of the covenant is depicted as a completely abstract thing.

You remember, don’t you, through great special effects, the nasty Nazis opened the lid and they looked in? If I remember correctly, Harrison Ford and Karen Allen closed their eyes. Isn’t that right? You get the impression first of all, because they closed their eyes while the Nazis were looking at it, and secondly, you also get the impression because the Nazis are nasty and because Harrison Ford and Karen Allen were kind of good people, they didn’t get melted down the way all the other people did with all those great special effects.

In other words, the ark of the covenant is depicted as a kind of cosmic mouse trap, and the power is abstract. If you push the right buttons and you do the right things, you see, it won’t harm you; it will harm somebody else. My friends, that is not at all the way the Bible depicts the glory of God. The glory of God was fatal to people, and the reason it was fatal to people was because of the holiness and sin issues. Maybe the best way to understand it is the old orbit analogy.

God, because he’s completely pure, and he’s completely holy, and he’s completely just, everything he is and does and thinks centers on what is good and what is holy and what is just and what is pure. That’s why he does what he does. Now let’s think about ourselves for a moment. Remember everything we do centers on … let’s face it … our happiness and our comfort. We will take the good, the true, and the holy into consideration, but we reject it if it looks like its not comfortable, right?

Let’s be honest. What do we center on? Why do we do the things we do? Why do we make the decisions we make? What do we center on? We center on our own comfort and our own happiness, and here is God centering on what is good and what is true and what is right. My friends, when two planets have the same center, you have a solar system, and you have harmony.

When two planets come together and they have two different centers, you have an accident looking for a place to happen. It’s inevitable there will be cataclysm, and when a holy God and human beings who make everything revolve around their own pride and themselves … When a holy God comes into the presence of sinful man, there is trauma. There is clash.

When Moses said, “Show me your glory,” God said, “I can’t.” Even all through the Bible, you see, though Moses knew he needed the presence of God and we were all built for it, and he knew it would fulfill something deep in every human soul, he couldn’t have it. In the Bible, whenever it says, “Come into his presence with singing,” we know that was a relative command because the people could not come into the presence of God. They could come relatively into the presence of God.

They could come into the outer courts, but nobody could go into the presence of God except that poor high priest with his knees knocking. Then Peter has the audacity to say, “Through his great and precious promises, we are made partakers of the divine nature.” Through receiving Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, because he is the real High Priest, because he is the final sacrifice, when Jesus died that veil was ripped and the barrier between the presence of God and the people was gone because Jesus is the door, and when you receive Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, the very presence of God comes into your life.

The Holy Spirit comes in with all of his unconquerable mirth. Mirth! The Holy Spirit has enough joy in him to set a whole kingdom laughing. Why not? God is the center of joy. The Holy Spirit, with his absolute purity and boundless love and dynamic energy and strength, comes in and we’re never the same again. Don’t you see this is radical and this is what the church is built on? This is what the people responded to. Now just before we move on, quickly one thing.

You can’t have something like that coming into your life without turmoil. See, some of you are fairly new Christians, and that’s one of the reasons I’m here in New York to meet people like you. It depends on how new you are. I would say if it’s been a few weeks, if it’s been a couple of months, somewhere in there you experience the tough side of being a Christian. There are all sorts of tough sides, and I don’t have time to go into a catalogue of them now, but some of you are out there saying, “If God is my Savior and if my sins are forgiven and he accepts me and all these great things are true, why are all these problems happening to me?”

Some of you are saying, “If the Holy Spirit has come into my life like this, why does it seem to be taking so long for me to get better? Why in some ways do I feel like I’m actually doing worse? Am I really a Christian?” For something of this kind of power and magnitude to come into your life, it just does not sneak in. It doesn’t slip in. If you think of the Christian life as one unbroken, smooth road of peace from here on in, look out.

Suppose we were in the middle of a tremendous heat wave. I mean, we haven’t had heat waves this year, but like last year. Worse than last year. Day after day after day of 110 degrees. People are dying. Imagine being in a heat wave like that, and you start to say, “We are going to perish if we don’t get a cool, Canadian high.”

Then we find out there is one on the way. Well, how will it come and release us and deliver us from this heat? A thunderstorm, right? You see, a cold air mass coming and hitting that heat wave, the only way to move it out before everything clears off and the haze is gone, things get worse before they get better. Before the haze is gone so we can finally see the blue sky, things have to get a lot worse. That’s a normal approach.

My friends, when God’s presence comes into your life full of selfishness with his love, full of power with your anxiety, there’s going to be a clash. It has to happen. There will be, but don’t worry. The haze will clear out. That’s the only thing I need to tell you. Somebody says, “If God is a loving God, why is it he is showing me so many bad things about my life? Why is it that everything is going like this?” Well, listen, remember who he is. He is light, and he is love, and he is wise, and he is holy.

There is this tremendous quote I got out of C.S. Lewis’ book, The Problem of Pain, in which he says just be careful when you ask the living God into your life. He says, “In awful and surprising truth, we are objects of his love. You asked for a loving God; you have one. The great spirit [God] you … invoked … is present …” Now listen to every word here. “… not a senile benevolence that drowsily wishes you to be happy in your own way, not with the cold philanthropy of a conscientious magistrate … but [he is] the consuming fire himself, the love that made the worlds, persistent as the artist’s love for his work … as provident and venerable as a father’s love for a child, jealous, inexorable, exacting as love between the sexes.”

Yes, God has come in with his love. It’s a holy love. It’s a powerful love, and it’s going to renovate you, and it’s going to remake you, but nobody ever renovates someplace without a lot of dust and a lot of dirt and a lot of inconvenience, without it getting uglier before it gets more beautiful? Right? That’s normal! How can you expect it to be any other way? Trust him, though, you see. You trust in him, of course, but recognize when something like this comes into your life, there’s going to be a cloud of dust.

Now verses 42–47 tell us these people who took hold of this truth with both hands and said, “All right. We’re going to build our lives on this. Though we were far away from God, we can be brought near right into the presence of God and have the Holy Spirit in our lives.” I want to show you there are five signs of this vitality. Let me put it this way. Every one of you in this room who has received Christ as Savior and Lord have access to the presence of God when you sit down and pray, when you say, “Because of what Jesus Christ did, O Father, hear my prayer.”

You have access to his presence, but the Bible also says, “For where two or three [of you] are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of [you].” What that means, among other things, is when several Christians get together, though they individually have access to the presence of God, the presence of God expresses itself in corporate ways in the corporate life of those people. Here is what they are, five of them, and I want you to keep this in mind.

I’m going to go through them quickly because every one of them at some future date will get an extended treatment. I guarantee you. I want you to see at this point the importance is they all have to be together. Having one or two or three will not do the trick, and I’ll explain why. The five things are teaching, community, social compassion, evangelism, and worship. Let’s go through them quickly.

1. Teaching

It says here in verse 42, they were devoted to the apostles’ teaching. Devoted. A vital church understands truth is not just a subjective thing. Of course, it’s subjective, but we also believe there is a body of truth (the teaching of the apostles and the prophets) deposited here, and that truth not only gives us guidance for every area of our lives, but the truth isn’t an abstract thing. The Bible says about itself that it’s alive and active. It’s a transforming power that comes in and changes us.

For a church to honor the truth does not just mean people flock to hear the great teacher, nor does it mean the people of the church just run by their Bibles in the morning for five minutes and just expect inspiration to jump out of it onto you somewhere to take you through the day. Rather, it says the people of a church like this are devoted to the apostles’ teaching. They devoted themselves, you see. They dug in. They spent the time. They reflected. They thought. They meditated. They wrestled.

They said, “How do I get this truth into my life? What does this truth mean?” You see, they thought about it. One of the hard things to explain in a place like New York, especially in a place like Manhattan, is that wherever God’s presence is, there is an insatiable hunger for truth. Now the reason it’s harder to show in a college town or a big city is there are a lot of people around who are already predisposed to enjoy reading and studying. You become Christians and you continue to enjoy reading and studying.

It’s starkly obvious when you go to a place where people hate reading and studying. When the presence of God comes down in their midst, it’s amazing to see the change. I took a church in Virginia that, when I got there, as far as I knew, virtually none of the officers had finished high school. Especially the males in that particular blue-collar, southern community felt readin’ and writin’ were feminine.

I remember a man who came to Christ just before I got there. He had been an alcoholic. He had been a career army sergeant. He was a tough, rough person. He became a Christian, and this man who had only finished eighth grade (I don’t know how in the world he got that far) became hungry to study the Word of God.

He could barely read, and he would spend hours reading a passage, having to look everything up in the dictionary. After a while, he came to me and said, “I want to teach.” I said, “I don’t know how you’re going to do that.” He said, “Give me a chance.” So we gave him a Sunday school class. His wife told me absolutely for sure that he spent 45 hours a week preparing his lesson. He would spend hours just reading with the dictionary through the Sunday school teacher’s guide.

Then he would write out what he was going to say. He would speak it into a tape. He’d take the tape to some friends, and they would listen. He would say, “Now am I pronouncing these words right?” and “What does this word mean?” What did he turn out to be? A good teacher. Nothing spectacular. A mediocre teacher, but it was unbelievable to see what happened in this man’s life, and he changed. I remember after being there for nine years, one of the last days I was there, this man came up to me and said something.

He said, “Do you know what? Before you came to this town, before I came under your teaching, I was a racist.” Now I had never ever talked to this man. Of course, he was a racist! Everybody in town was a racist, and frankly, I had never talked to this man about it ever. That is one of the last things a blue-collar, Southern male over the age of 50 will ever say. What happened to him? Whenever God is present, the truth shines. Some of you may up till now have been saying, “I don’t even know I’m sure what you mean when you talk about access to the presence of God.”

Let me tell you what the sign of it is. Let me give you the most common way to experience it only through Jesus Christ, of course. You’re reading a passage you’ve read 100 times before and suddenly it shines like somebody plugged it in and you’re looking for the cord. You’re saying, “Why didn’t I ever see that before?” You see, the truth gets real. Real! When we talk about the presence of God, we mean it gets real. For example, the promise of God’s love becomes more real to you than the rejection you’re getting in your life, so you’re just not walking around with your head hanging down.

The promise of God’s protection, the truth of that, becomes more real to you than the things you’re afraid of, the threats that are coming to you. Do you see? That’s why Peter can say, “Through his great and precious promises, we participate in the divine nature.” It’s the promises. It’s devoting yourself to the Word. It’s getting and understand the truth. It shines only when God does it. You experience the presence of God when he becomes real to you through the Word, and that’s a sign of the presence of God. That’s the first sign, and that’s a mark of real Christianity. It’s the essence of a real Christian, and it’s the mark of a church like this.

2. Community

It says there they had everything in common and they didn’t claim anything they had was their own. Now I know the example it gives here is economic sharing, giving a lot of money and resources to each other, but let me just say they devoted themselves to fellowship and community. Community exists to the degree people are saying to one another, “What’s mine is yours.” We’re not just talking about money at all. As a matter of fact, you can have communism without any community at all, right?

You can have a forced redistribution of wealth without any community. Community has to do first of all with what is in the heart. For example, in the church if somebody comes to me and says, “Do you know what? I don’t like the way in which you are treating your children.” What if I say, “That’s none of your business?” I have no concept then of community, no concept of what the Bible says the church is. I’m a radical, American individualist, but I have no idea about this, because you see, my sins are your business.

The Bible says, “… confess your sins to one another …” “Bear one another’s burdens …” That means we don’t just share our bucks, though we do. We share our joys. We share our mistakes. We share our sorrows. Now this can be done in a very icky way, and you can very artificially press this kind of community on people. It grows, and it has to grow in an organic, natural way, but I tell you, we in America are absolutely against this. In his book, Habits of the Heart, Robert Bellah says the one thing Americans hold dear is the idea I am not accountable to anybody but myself for the meeting of my own needs.

That, my friends, is worldliness. I know many churches have said what worldliness means is, “We don’t smoke, and we don’t chew, and we don’t go with girls who do.” That’s worldliness. My friends, that’s not worldliness. Worldliness is saying, “I don’t want to be accountable to anybody.” The only thing that can really create community is the presence of God. I saw The Abyss the other night. It was pretty good. I’m just a frustrated film critic, so I won’t say anything about the movie.

That movie is a typical adventure movie in that you have a bunch of people who, for one reason or another, don’t like each other, but because they go through the same incredible experience that sets them apart from everybody else in the world, by the end they are lifelong pals. It’s like The Dirty Dozen. They all hated each other, but then they got on this great mission in the end. It had male bonding stuff. Oh, how great it is. Any two people, no matter how different they are in every other way, who through Jesus Christ have experienced the presence of God, there is community there.

The relationship between two Christians outweighs any other relationship you have on the basis of your race, on the basis of your gender, or on the basis of your social status. You are a Christian first and you’re white second. You’re a Christian first and you’re black second. You’re a Christian first and you’re wealthy or poor second. You’re a Christian first and you’re an American second. Do you see what I’m saying? Community can only be based on the presence of God.

3. Social compassion

It says here these people were unbelievably generous to anybody who was in need. The difference between a real Christian and a moralistic person is not that Christians repent of their sins. My friends, lots of moralistic people repent of their sins. The difference between Christians and non-Christians, the difference between real Christians and moralistic people is Christians also repent of their best deeds.

In other words, they also recognize even the best things they’ve ever done are filthy rags in God’s sight, and I have to rest wholly and completely in what Jesus has done for me. Now if you are a moralist, if you’re basically a Pharisee, if you basically believe God saves you and loves you because you’re a pretty good person, you’re going to look at needy people, and you’re going to say, “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps. I did.”

If, on the other hand, you know you’re a sinner saved by grace, when you look at a person who smells terrible, who has no resources, no mind, nothing left, you say, “I realize I’m looking in a mirror. I realize this is what I look like to God spiritually, and you’re generous.” Only an encounter with God through Jesus Christ can you have that kind of spirit, and any church that understands and realizes the presence of God in its midst is compassionate like that.

4. Evangelism

Notice it says they enjoyed the favor of all the people and they grew every day. Now can I point out to you, though it says the radiance and the responsibility and the beauty of this Christian community was so great that people were attracted to it (they loved it), non-believers said, “What is going on here?” They had the favor of all the people. Don’t forget 2 Timothy 3:12. It says, “All who live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”

Now somebody is out there saying, “What do you mean, ‘Don’t forget’? Those two things seem to contradict. How can you keep them together?” It’s really pretty simple. Anybody who is living a consistent, Christian walk will polarize people. That means there will be some people who will say, “You are remarkable. You are amazing. You are fascinating to me. I want to talk to you about my problems. I want to find out what’s going on in your life. I want to get to know you better.” Or you’ll have people who are extremely upset with you, offended by you, and angry at you.

You may go through seasons where there is a lot of popularity and seasons where there is persecution. It might be happening at the same time, but only if you are absolutely not living a consistent, Christian life will nobody notice. The fact is, whenever the church is the church, it’s getting both: a terrific amount of growth through attraction and persecution.

I knew a man who was a college kid when I was a college kid. One summer he was going to work for the post office. He said to me, “The thing I want to know is how can I be a Christian postal worker?” So we sat down and said, “Okay. How do we integrate our Christianity into our postal working service?” We started to say to ourselves, “Okay. Does the Christian put the stamp on any different than a non-Christian?” “No.”

We finally figured out all he could do was get in there and do eight hours of a hard day’s work. In just one brief summer, he polarized that office because on the one hand he had people saying, “I like your style. I like your hard work. I like your savvy. I like your attitude.” Yet, other people were coming and saying, “You might get roughed up if you don’t slow down. You’re making us look lousy. You’re just a kid. You’re here for three months. We have to work here all of our lives. Your production is making us look bad. It’s putting heat on us. Cut it out!”

He polarized the place just by doing eight hours of good work. What I want to know is why that’s not happening to you and why it’s not happening to me and why it’s not happening to us. All I know is if you’re walking the way you ought to walk, there will be that polarizing, and the church will grow.

5. Worship

They praised God in the temple and in their homes. Verse 43 says there was awe, and intimacy and glad, generous hearts. You know, real worship is characterized both by an awe and an intimacy at the same time, not just sober dignity that eventually makes the place seem like a funeral home, and not just “gee, wish, golly, and God’s a wonderful guy who makes us feel warm and fuzzy,” but both together. There is both an awe and an intimacy, and the reason for that is God will reveal his face to us as a group when we come together and worship him.

That’s not an easy thing to understand, and I can’t explain it. All I know is I exist in this entire field of space right here. Six foot four of it and 220 pounds of it, I exist in this whole field of space, but if you come up and try to talk to me, you probably won’t talk to the back of my kneecap, will you? Why? Because that’s not the way in. This is the way in. Isn’t that weird? The front of my head is the way in. You’re going to talk to the front of my head. You’re going to talk to my face, because that’s the way to make contact.

God is a spirit. He is everywhere, you see. In fact, he’s more than everywhere. It says, “The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you,” which is pretty hard to figure out. He’s bigger than everywhere. The greatness of God! The place to communicate with him is at his face. How do you find his face? Well, how do you find my face? It’s pretty easy. It’s up here at about six foot four. How do you find the face of a spirit? He has to reveal it to you, and he promises to reveal it to those in worship who receive Christ as Savior and Lord.

In conclusion, let me just say how can any church be a church like this? The answer is on the one hand, we do have to be careful to balance our programs. Yeah, we do. If you don’t have all five of those things, do you realize how bad it can be? It’s possible to have social compassion not because of the Spirit of God … listen to this … but just out of a pride and a humanism, a pride in human beings. A social compassion like that, which arises out of humanistic pride, will not go along with teaching, and it won’t go along with evangelism.

You can have a church or group who loves great teaching and indoctrinating people because it likes tidy systems, and it likes telling people they’re wrong, but there won’t be a lot of fellowship or celebration in that church. You can find people who love celebration. They love great music. They love to get together, and they say it is worship, but it’s probably just an emotional catharsis because there is no truth and teaching in that church. You see what I mean? You can have a church that seems like its full of fellowship and full of community where people love each other because they’re lonely, but there is no outreach and there is no social compassion.

What I’m trying to say is only if you have all five is that a sign that the Spirit of God is there, and you have to work for balance in your programs, yeah, but ultimately, my friends, you and I have to create little altars in our own lives for the fire to come down on us if we expect a church to be a big altar on which the fire can fall. That little altar is right there in verse 42. I suggest you circle it. I suggest you take it home with you. It says you have to be devoted to three things. “They were devoted to the apostles’ teaching.” That’s study. “They were devoted to fellowship.” That’s real communication and accountability to other believers. “They were devoted to prayer.”

My friends, if you give those things short shrift, do not expect the fire to come down. In the Old Testament, you built the altar. You put the sacrifice there, and the fire came down, you see. The fire is the reality and presence of God. I have three sons, and I can’t spend all of my time in their faces. I’d love to do it. I love at night to climb into their bunk beds, to read them a book, to communicate my undying love and affection, to hug them, to touch them. I can’t do that all the time.

I love to buy them gifts, and I love them to hug me. I can’t do that all the time, but I do tell them this: “If you listen to me, if you obey me, if you love me, if you follow me, those times will become more and more frequent.” God says the same thing to you, and you have to look at your life, and if you say, “This reality is just not part of my understanding, my knowledge at all,” dare I say it … you really have no excuse. There is a three-pronged tripod there. They were devoted to the apostles’ teaching, to prayer, and to fellowship.

Look at yourself. Is there anybody in fellowship you are accountable to for your life who you really talk to, not just in general about the weather, but about what God is doing in your life? Do you have anybody like that? Can you really be said to be devoted to study? Can you really be said to be devoted to prayer? If not, you can forget about access to the presence of God. It’s not automatic.

Lastly, if there is anybody in this room who has had a religious experience, has had maybe God answer prayers, has asked God for help in changing some bad habits and you’ve changed them, and you say, “Well, I think I’m a Christian,” let me tell you this: The purpose of Jesus Christ is not just to give you a lift, just to help you overcome your bad habits, just to answer your prayers. He does all that, yes, but the purpose of the gospel of Jesus Christ is to give you something that enables you to stand before God face to face today and on the day of your death. If you don’t know you can do that, then you still don’t understand what the gospel is.

Jesus Christ, if you repent and believe in him alone and receive him, then you can look at him face to face. To stand in the presence of God, that is what the gospel is. The gospel is not primarily about forgiveness. It’s not primarily about good feelings. It’s not primarily about power. All those things are byproducts, sparks. It’s primarily about the presence of God. Do you know that in your life? Let’s pray.

Our Father, we thank you this is available, and we ask you would enable every person in here to realize it. Now many of us belong to you, yet we’re dry as a bone. We’re cold, and we need your fire, and we see there is an altar we have to build. Enable us to build it. Father, there are people here tonight, I believe, I know, who have never actually received you in repentant faith and therefore, do not know.

 ABOUT THE PREACHER

In 1989 Dr. Timothy J. Keller, his wife and three young sons moved to New York City to begin Redeemer Presbyterian Church. In 20 years it has grown to meeting for five services at three sites with a weekly attendance of over 5,000. Redeemer is notable not only for winning skeptical New Yorkers to faith, but also for partnering with other churches to do both mercy ministry and church planting.  Redeemer City to City is working to help establish hundreds of new multi-ethnic congregations throughout the city and other global cities in the next decades.

Dr. Tim Keller is the author of several phenomenal Christo-centric books including:

Joy for the World: How Christianity Lost Its Cultural Influence and Can Begin Rebuilding It (co-authored with Greg Forster and Collin Hanson (February or March, 2014).

Encounters with Jesus:Unexpected Answers to Life’s Biggest Questions. New York, Dutton (November 2013).

Walking with God through Pain and Suffering. New York, Dutton (October 2013).

Judges For You (God’s Word For You Series). The Good Book Company (August 6, 2013).

Galatians For You (God’s Word For You Series). The Good Book Company (February 11, 2013).

Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Plan for the World. New York, Penguin Publishing, November, 2012.

Center ChurchDoing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, September, 2012.

The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness. New York: 10 Publishing, April 2012.

Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just. New York: Riverhead Trade, August, 2012.

The Gospel As Center: Renewing Our Faith and Reforming Our Ministry Practices (editor and contributor). Wheaton: Crossway, 2012.

The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God. New York, Dutton, 2011.

King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus (Retitled: Jesus the KIng: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God). New York, Dutton, 2011.

Gospel in Life Study Guide: Grace Changes Everything. Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2010.

The Reason For God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. New York, Dutton, 2009.

Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Priorities of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters. New York, Riverhead Trade, 2009.

Heralds of the King: Christ Centered Sermons in the Tradition of Edmund P. Clowney (contributor). Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2009.

The Prodigal God. New York, Dutton, 2008.

Worship By The Book (contributor). Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002.

Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road. Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1997.

 

 
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Posted by on November 24, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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BOOK REVIEW: James Hamilton’s – “WHAT IS BIBLICAL THEOLOGY?”

A GUIDE TO THE BIBLE’S STORY, SYMBOLISM, AND PATTERNS

WIBT? Hamilton

Book Review by David P. Craig

My wife and I have a tradition that we have practiced over our 21 years of marriage. Once every two to three years we plan a trip somewhere in the United States we’ve never been to before. We have gone to Boston, Washington D.C., New York, Seattle, Honolulu, Minneapolis, Orlando, Austin, San Diego, and several others. Before we go to the city we buy a really good map that gives us the lay of the land. Once we are there the first thing we do is go on a city-wide bus tour. In doing these two things it helps us to appreciate the history of the city, landmarks, and highlights we don’t want to miss during our stay. We get an overview and the big picture of the city before we enjoy its constituent parts.

Hamiton’s book is like a map or tour of the Bible. He helps you not to miss the most important stories, symbols, and patterns that are featured in the Scriptures. All of the biblical authors do “biblical theology.” They have a framework or world-view through which they interpret and describe the events, stories, and principles through this lens. All of the authors interpret Scripture in three ways (1) They interpret the words or accounts of God’s words and deeds that have been passed down to him; (2) They interpret world history from its creation to its final consummation; and (3) They interpret events and statements that they describe. According to Hamilton biblical theology in essence “means the interpretive perspective reflected in the way the biblical authors have presented their understanding of earlier Scripture, redemptive history, and the events they are describing, recounting, celebrating, or addressing in narratives, poems, proverbs, letters, and apocalypses.”

By taking into account the different genres of Scripture and their various themes, Hamilton helps the reader appreciate the biblical “lay of the land” in it’s varied history, and its consummation centered around the gospel and the glory of God in Christ. I think the thesis of this book is wonderfully expressed by Hamilton in the second chapter: “Our aim is to trace out the contours of the network of assumptions reflected in the writings of the biblical authors. If we can see what the biblical authors assumed about story, symbol, and church, we will glimpse the world as they saw it. To catch a glimpse of the world as they saw it is to see the real world.”

I believe this book is indeed a fantastic guide in helping all Bible students to understand, appreciate, and enjoy the biblical message intended by the author of the word – the Word – Jesus himself. We learn how to read, understand, and interpret the Bible from the perspective of the biblical authors, which is to learn a divinely inspired perspective. I believe that Hamilton achieves his hope and desired purpose for everyone who reads this book: “My hope is that you cross the bridge into their [the biblical authors] thought-world and never come back. I hope you will breathe the air of the Bible’s world, recognize it as the real Narnia, and never want to leave.”

 

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