No Degrees Of Deadness

The key to a right understanding of God’s work in salvation is to start where the Bible starts regarding our condition outside of Christ. We are not healthy; and not just sick; very sick; or even mortally sick. No, we are dead. All of us were born that way when we came into this world as the fallen sons of Adam. In Adam all die.

Start there in your thinking, recognizing there are no degrees of deadness. See the utter hopelessness and futility of our condition. Anything less than this is a misdiagnosis of the problem. Our condition is way beyond bleak. A doctor prescribed medicine or a coach’s moral pep-talk is foolishness at this point. It’s too late. The doctor has signed the papers pronouncing us dead and there was no mistake. The mortician has placed us in the casket already. We are, in human terms, beyond all hope.

Did you catch that? Do you get that?

If you did, then you would realize that for God to make a Christian, He must raise him from spiritual death. He needs more than healing; he needs resurrection. Every Christian is therefore an act of God – a miracle, a new creation – and something impossible by the power, schemes and efforts of man.

When we understand this to be the Bible’s teaching (which it is), there can be no other logical conclusion except salvation is entirely God’s work from start to finish. It is actually quite ridiculous to think otherwise. It is beyond debate. Salvation is of the Lord.

See this now in the words of the Apostle Paul. Addressing the Christians at Ephesus he writes:

Ephesians 2:1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

Repentance

Repentance is a gift from God. We mustn’t assume that repentance has its origin within us. God gives repentance as a gift of grace through the work of the Spirit in His people and as such ought to be treated as a gift with an awareness of an undeserved mercy. (2 Tim. 2:25)

Repentance is recognizing that our offense is primarily a transgression against God, His holy character, and His Law, and secondarily a transgression against our neighbor as His image bearer. Therefore real repentance is to be offered for real sins and real transgressions and not for illusory or made-up offenses. (Matt. 22:36-40)

Repentance, rightly understood, inevitably brings about a change of mind and posture towards those whom we’ve sinned against. First, in abhorrence of my behavior as it has been directed toward to the person and character of God, and second, as I have sinned against my neighbor. Repentance looks like renewed disposition, love, and good deeds directed toward both. (Eph. 4:28)

Repentance is casting myself upon the mercy of God for my personal transgressions against God and my neighbor, and imploring Him for forgiveness, and trusting that He will hear my cry for mercy. And this with a single view of turning away from this action that has caused a breach between Him (and my neighbor) and me, with full recognition that without God’s mercy I am lost in my sin. (Psalm 51, Luke 18:9-14)

Repentance is recognizing and embracing the reality that my sinful behavior is no small thing. My sin is a transgression against the holy character of God and as such required the death of Jesus Christ as God’s sin-bearer. (Heb. 9:22)

My repentance is not conditioned upon the repentance of someone else. My transgression is mine alone and whether someone else repents is of no consequence to me. My sinful action against God (and my neighbor) is the sole source for my repentance. (Matt. 5:23)

Lack of repentance brings judgment. (James 5:9)

Repentance must characterize the community of the forgiven as the world looks on in confounded amazement. (Rev. 2:5)

Repentance makes the heart glad as we become reconciled to God and our neighbor. (James 5:16)

Repentance is an indication that we are walking in the light and have fellowship with God through Christ. (1 John 1)

Repentance, with both contrition and joy, shows the inestimable worth of Jesus Christ as a propitiation for my sin. (1 John 1:5-10)

Repentance demonstrates the imminence of God’s Kingdom (Matt. 4:17)

There is rejoicing in heaven when one sinner repents. (Luke 15:7)

Repentance, when offered in faith, is always accompanied by the assurance of forgiveness by God. (1 John 1:9)

– Dan J. Morse, from his ‘Not a Square Inch’ blog

Note: It should go without saying that before all else repentance recognizes that we cannot save oursleves so it is a turning (repenting) from trusting in your own righteousness and trusting in Christ and His righteousness ALONE.

Pastoral Anxiety

Article by Kevin DeYoung – original source here)

Second Corinthians 11:28 always seemed like a strange verse to me — until I became a pastor. Here’s Paul, rattling off all the ways he’s been beat up for Jesus — imprisonments, lashes, rods, stonings, shipwrecks, drifting at sea, sleepless nights, hunger and thirst, cold and exposure, danger from everyone everywhere (vv. 23–27). And then, as the cherry on top, Paul mentions one more trial: “apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches” (v. 28). This is the mighty apostle, the one who counted it a joy to “spend and be spent” for his people (12:15), the one who was sorrowful yet always rejoicing (6:10). This is the Paul who faced every imaginable opposition and yet learned to be content (Phil. 4:11) and anxious about nothing (4:6). And here he is admitting that even with everything else he’s endured, he still feels anxiety for all the churches.

Ever since I became a pastor, I have found unusual comfort in this verse. It’s not that I have accomplished what Paul accomplished or suffered what he suffered, but every earnest minister feels this burden for the church. And Paul had several churches to burden him. The churches were full of infighting and backbiting. They put up with false teaching. They were prone to legalism on one end and complete chaos on the other. Some of the church members were making insignificant matters too important, while others were too willing to compromise on Christian essentials. Paul loved these churches, and their struggles burdened him more than shipwreck or imprisonment.

Before I go any further, let me be clear: I don’t think pastors are the only ones with burdens. In many ways, we have the best job in the whole world. I certainly feel exceedingly thankful to do what I do on most days. I have no interest in comparing the difficulty of pastoral ministry with the difficulties of other vocations. All I want to do is to encourage pastors to keep fighting the good fight and encourage congregations to keep encouraging their pastors.

I’m not surprised Paul felt daily pressure for the churches. His work never seemed to let up. He had letters to write, visits to make, and a collection to gather for the saints in Jerusalem. He had to send people here and there, and manage the affairs of his churches from a distance. He had to respond to myriad criticisms, often conflicting criticisms. Some people thought he was too harsh. Others said he was too weak. Some people in his churches were ascetics and thought Paul was worldly. Others were licentious and thought Paul was too ethically demanding. They questioned his credentials. They compared him negatively to the original apostles. They thought him lame compared to the false apostles. They didn’t like his preaching style. They didn’t like his discipline. On some days, they just didn’t like Paul anymore. All this for the man who led them to Christ, loved them like a father, refused their money, and risked his neck for their spiritual good. No wonder there was no weight for Paul like the weight of caring for God’s people.

Ask any pastor who really takes his work seriously and he will tell you of the pressures he feels in ministry — people in crisis, people leaving, people coming, people disappointed by him, people disappointing to him. In the midst of this work, the pastor is trying to find time for study, prayer, preparation, and family. He’s trying to improve himself, train up new leaders, meet the budget, get to know a few missionaries, champion important programs, provide for deep, accessible worship and preaching, be responsive to new ideas, listen to new concerns, and be ready to help when people are in trouble.

And most pastors feel a burden for all the other things they could be doing: more evangelism, more for the poor, more for missions, more to address global concerns, and more to address social concerns. There are pastors reading this who wonder if the church is still responsive to their preaching; if the leadership will ever be responsive to their leading; and if the congregation will ever grow like the churches they hear so much about. On top of all this, every pastor has his own personal hurts, his own personal mistakes, and his own spiritual health to attend to. We are all weak.

But be encouraged. God uses weak things to shame the strong (1 Cor. 1:27). His grace is sufficient for you; His power is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9). For the sake of Christ, then, be content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when you are weak, then you are strong (v. 10). Paul had pressure. You have pressure, too. But God can handle the pressure. And He looks good when you can’t.

Should I Stay Home from Church When Life Gets Hard?

Article: by Eric Davis (original source here)

A wise man once said, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22 ). The “many,” “tribulations,” and “must” combine to make life really, really hard at times. Pain seems to crash upon its victims with inhumane force. It comes in all forms—physical, spiritual, relational, some excruciating combination. There are times when it just seems impossible to continue another moment.

Thankfully however, we have a loving God who is sovereign over suffering. He’s not pushing buttons from a distance, but intimately walking through it with us. What a great thing it is to have the Lord as our shepherd. He cares for us, not by always sparing us from sorrow, but leading us through it. He binds us up through various means; the word of God, prayer, corporate worship.
But, what about when a trial reaches a new level of difficulty? What about when the spiritual and emotional pain seems too crippling to be at church? Certainly there are situations like this. What should we do?

Beth Moore, a highly influential evangelical, said this on mother’s day:

Beth Moore
✔@BethMooreLPM
If you feel like sobbing, do. If you feel like going to church on Mother’s Day would crush your heart, don’t. You won’t lose your salvation because you don’t want to go to church on Mother’s Day. Grab pen and paper and get alone with God and pour out your heart to Him in full…

On the one hand, the advice is understandable. In some seasons of suffering, it seems impossible to do anything. There are certain things which feel as if doing them would only plunge the knife deeper.

But on the other hand, this kind of thinking backfires. It’s hazardous. It can create damage and propagate error. I assume that the intention of the advice was to help and bless. But the stay-home suggestion can communicate several consequential errors. Here are a few for consideration:

1. God’s means of grace are insufficient for certain struggles.

The corporate gathering is to be a time of worship to the glory of God. As we worship together with gifted saints, we are fed, strengthened, transformed, encouraged, and equipped. That’s why the gathering exists. As the word of God is read, sang, prayed, pondered, and preached, God administers his care. So, to suggest avoiding the gathering because of a trial is counter-productive. Corporate worship is intended to bring care in suffering. It might feel impossible to gather; too painful. But our God knows. And he desires to care for us precisely through corporate worship. So, to avoid church due to the pain of a trial is akin to avoiding eating due to the pain of hunger. Continue reading

Charles Finney vs. the Westminster Confession by Michael S. Horton

Article source here.

The most famous evangelist of the nineteenth century declared that The Westminster Divines had created ‘a paper pope’ and had ‘elevated their confession and catechism to the Papal throne and into the place of the Holy Ghost.’ ‘It is better,’ he declared, ‘to have a living than a dead Pope,’ dismissing the Standards as casually as the boldest Enlightenment rationalist: ‘That the instrument framed by that assembly should in the nineteenth century be recognized as the standard of the church, or of any intelligent branch of it, is not only amazing, but I must say that it is highly ridiculous. It is as absurd in theology as it would be in any other branch of science.’1

Given the unpopularity of Calvinism in particular and confessionalism in general, all of this might not have raised the slightest hint of impropriety except for the fact that the evangelist was Charles G. Finney, an ordained Presbyterian minister. In his introduction to Finney’s Lectures on Revivals of Religion, William McLoughlin wrote the following:

The first thing that strikes the reader of the Lectures on Revival is the virulence of Finney’s hostility toward traditional Calvinism and all it stood for. He denounced its doctrinal dogmas (which, as embodied in the Westminster Confession of Faith, he referred to elsewhere as ‘this wonderful theological fiction’); he rejected its concept of nature and the structure of the universe…; he scorned its pessimistic attitude toward human nature and progress…; and he thoroughly deplored its hierarchical and legalistic polity (as embodied in the ecclesiastical system of the Presbyterian Church). Or to put it more succinctly, John Calvin’s philosophy was theocentric and organic; Charles Finney’s was anthropocentric and individualistic….As one one prominent Calvinist editor wrote in 1838 of Finney’s revivals, ‘Who is not aware that the Church has been almost revolutionized within four or five years by means of such excitements?’

In this brief survey, our purpose will be two-fold: first, to understand the factors that shaped Finney’s theology and practice and, second, to appreciate the legacy of both for contemporary evangelicalism and especially Reformed faith and practice in the United States.

I. The Man: His Life & Times

We must remember that the period just prior to the Great Awakening was not congenial to an undiluted Calvinism: Jonathan Edwards lost his pulpit in 1750 in large part because he would not moderate his belief in total depravity; Solomon Stoddard, Edwards’ grandfather, had softened the Puritan emphasis on conversion in the interests of civil order with his ‘Half-Way Covenant,’ and the Enlightenment, having practically extinguished the remnants of orthodox Calvinism in English nonconformity, was threatening the citadels of American learning.

It was in reaction to the spiritual state of New England, ranging in general from nominal to skeptical, that a handfull of preachers–Anglican, Presbyterian, Congregationalist, and Dutch Reformed, but Calvinists all, began to recover the evangelical emphasis of the Protestant Reformers, summoning men and women to a confrontation with God through the Law and the Gospel. A cursory glance at the most popular sermon titles illustrates the dependence on classical biblical categories of sin and grace, judgment and justification, Law and Gospel, despair and hope, and these gifted evangelists were convinced that the success of their mission rested in the hands of God and faithfulness to the apostolic proclamation.

In spite of such biblical rigor, matched with evangelistic zeal, the Great Awakening (1739-43) itself was not without its excesses of enthusiastic religion, as Edwards himself was painfully aware. The Princeton divine labored to distinguish between true and false religious emotions. A man of towering presence and celebrated oratory, George Whitefield proved a valuable colleague in awakening sinners to God, and yet, as Harry S. Stout has argued in a controversial work, Whitefield himself may have contributed to some of the seminal features of mass evangelism that would manifest themselves in the revivalism to follow.2 The Tennent brothers, along with James Davenport, were also accused by some of their brethren as sowing seeds of unwholesome enthusiasm and a host of questions could be raised concerning the Awakening in terms of its ecclesiology and the prominence given to radical individual conversion over and against the more traditional covenantal motifs of Reformed theology. While the ‘New Light’ and ‘Old Light’ factions do not directly parallel the ‘New School’ and ‘Old School’ divisions to follow, they do reflect the controversial innovations introduced by those who sought to wed a pietistic impulse to Reformed orthodoxy, leading to a secession of Gilbert Tennent’s ‘New Light’ Presbyterians from the more traditional Philadelphia presbytery in 1741.

However essential it may be to raise those questions within the Reformed family, it is not within the scope of this brief survey to explore. It is sufficient for our purposes to at least recognize the fundamental Reformed consensus of the Great Awakening on anthropological and soteriological grounds. Revival was ‘a surprising work of God,’ as Edwards expressed it, and depended entirely on divine freedom.

The revivals associated with the Great Awakening created a rift in New England Congregationalism, encouraging many who were offended on grounds of taste and style (as well as the resurgent Calvinism) to embrace Unitarianism, while Edwards provided the intellectual resources for a courageous defense of Calvinism in conversation with, not merely in reaction to, the Enlightenment. Perhaps no other movement has had such a profound hand in shaping the religious character of Revolutionary America and the evangelicalism that is its heir–with the possible exception of the Second Great Awakening. Continue reading

The Genesis and Future of Worship

Article by Jonathan Gibson (original source here)

“Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever. Worship, therefore, is the fuel and goal of missions.” — John Piper

The story of human history is a story of worship. In Eden, God called his son Adam to worship him alone as Father and King—by not eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. At Sinai, God called his son Israel to worship him alone as Father and King—by not putting other gods before him. In Jerusalem, God called his son David (and David’s sons) to worship him alone as Father and King—by walking before him in faithfulness with all their heart.

But Adam, Israel, David, and his sons all rejected God’s call to worship. They chose to worship created things instead of the Creator. In each case, they were led astray by women: Adam through Eve, Israel through marrying foreign women, Solomon through his many wives. The Old Testament develops in such a way that we are left hoping for a son of God who will be devoted to one woman whom he will lead in pure worship of the one God. And that expectation is met in Jesus Christ—the last Adam, the true Israel, David’s greater son.

Perfect Worship
At Jesus’s baptism the Father affirmed him as his beloved Son, with whom he was well pleased. But that affirmation had never truly been tested.

So the Spirit drove the Son into the wilderness. The ancient serpent, Satan himself, was allowed to test him to see what was in his heart—to see if he’d continue worshiping God as Father and King.

Where Adam, Israel, and David (and his sons) all failed, God’s final Son succeeded. Where the first Adam remained silent and bowed before the serpent, the last Adam rebuked the serpent and refused to bow: “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve” (Matt. 4:10; cf. Deut. 6:13). Where Israel and David (and his sons) promised they’d worship God with heart and soul and mind and strength, but didn’t, Jesus as the true Israel and David’s greater son worshiped wholeheartedly: “Zeal for your house will consume me” (John 2:17; cf. Ps. 69:9). Jesus was no idolater; he was no hypocrite. God finally had a Son who worshiped him alone.

Now all the Son needed was a bride.

This is why God’s Son left heaven: to woo for himself a bride who would worship the Father. We see glimpses of this in Jesus’s ministry. At a well in Samaria, Jesus met a woman—one who hadn’t able to find the right kind of husband all her life—and called her to worship the Father in spirit and truth. But such a woman was not fit for such worship—she first needed to be cleansed, along with all who would become part of Jesus’s bride.

Jesus died to present the church to himself “in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, so that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:25–26). He then rose and ascended and sat down at the right hand of the throne of the majesty on high. He became a minister of worship (Heb. 8:1–2), so that the worship of his bride might be acceptable to his Father.

Future Worship
Around the world today, God’s Spirit—through God’s people—is calling sinners to renounce idolatrous worship and join the bride of God’s Son. One day, the bride’s evangelism will cease, but her worship will not. In the new heavens and new earth, an innumerable multiethnic multitude will declare, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” (Rev. 7:10).

On that day, the bride will be ready, the marriage will commence, and the processional hymn will begin:

Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the omnipotent reigns. (Rev. 19:6)

Is It Necessary to Preach Divine Wrath?

Article by Dr. Steve Lawson (original source here)

The Genevan Reformer John Calvin said, “Preaching is the public exposition of Scripture by the man sent from God, in which God Himself is present in judgment and in grace.” Faithful pulpit ministry requires the declaration of both judgment and grace. The Word of God is a sharp, two-edged sword that softens and hardens, comforts and afflicts, saves and damns.

The preaching of divine wrath serves as a black velvet backdrop that causes the diamond of God’s mercy to shine brighter than ten thousand suns. It is upon the dark canvas of divine wrath that the splendor of His saving grace most fully radiates. Preaching the wrath of God most brilliantly showcases His gracious mercy toward sinners.

Like trumpeters on the castle wall warning of coming disaster, preachers must proclaim the full counsel of God. Those who stand in pulpits must preach the whole body of truth in the Scriptures, which includes both sovereign wrath and supreme love. They cannot pick and choose what they want to preach. Addressing the wrath of God is never optional for a faithful preacher—it is a divine mandate.

Tragically, preaching that deals with God’s impending judgment is absent from many contemporary pulpits. Preachers have become apologetic regarding the wrath of God, if not altogether silent. In order to magnify the love of God, many argue, the preacher must downplay His wrath. But to omit God’s wrath is to obscure His amazing love. Strangely enough, it is merciless to withhold the declaration of divine vengeance.

Why is preaching divine wrath so necessary? First, the holy character of God demands it. An essential part of God’s moral perfection is His hatred of sin. A.W. Pink asserts, “The wrath of God is the holiness of God stirred into activity against sin.” God is “a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29) who “feels indignation every day” (Ps. 7:11) toward the wicked. God has “hated wickedness” (45:7) and is angered toward all that is contrary to His perfect character. He will, therefore, “destroy” (5:6) sinners in the Day of Judgment.

Every preacher must declare the wrath of God or marginalize His holiness, love, and righteousness. Because God is holy, He is separated from all sin and utterly opposed to every sinner. Because God is love, He delights in purity and must, of necessity, hate all that is unholy. Because God is righteous, He must punish the sin that violates His holiness.

Second, the ministry of the prophets demands it. The prophets of old frequently proclaimed that their hearers, because of their continual wickedness, were storing up for themselves the wrath of God (Jer. 4:4). In the Old Testament, more than twenty words are used to describe the wrath of God, and these words are used in their various forms a total of 580 times. Time and again, the prophets spoke with vivid imagery to describe God’s wrath unleashed upon wickedness. The last of the prophets, John the Baptist, spoke of “the wrath to come” (Matt. 3:7). From Moses to the forerunner of Christ, there was a continual strain of warning to the impenitent of the divine fury that awaits.

Third, the preaching of Christ demands it. Ironically, Jesus had more to say about divine wrath than anyone else in the Bible. Our Lord spoke about God’s wrath more than He spoke of God’s love. Jesus warned about “fiery hell” (Matt. 5:22) and eternal “destruction” (7:13) where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (8:12). Simply put, Jesus was a hellfire and damnation preacher. Men in pulpits would do well to follow the example of Christ in their preaching.

Fourth, the glory of the cross demands it. Christ suffered the wrath of God for all who would call upon Him. If there is no divine wrath, there is no need for the cross, much less for the salvation of lost souls. From what would sinners need to be saved? It is only when we recognize the reality of God’s wrath against those deserving of judgment that we find the cross to be such glorious news. Too many pulpiteers today boast in having a cross-centered ministry but rarely, if ever, preach divine wrath. This is a violation of the cross itself.

Fifth, the teaching of the Apostles demands it. Those directly commissioned by Christ were mandated to proclaim all that He commanded (Matt. 28:20). This necessitates proclaiming God’s righteous indignation toward sinners. The Apostle Paul warns unbelievers of the “God who inflicts wrath” (Rom. 3:5) and declares that only Jesus can “deliver us from the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1:10). Peter writes about “the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly” (2 Pet. 3:7). Jude addresses the “punishment of eternal fire” (Jude 7). John describes “the wrath of the Lamb” (Rev. 6:16). Clearly, the New Testament writers recognized the necessity of preaching God’s wrath.

Preachers must not shrink away from proclaiming the righteous anger of God toward hell-deserving sinners. God has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness (Acts 17:31). That day is looming on the horizon. Like the prophets and Apostles, and even Christ Himself, we too must warn unbelievers of this coming dreadful day and compel them to flee to Christ, who alone is mighty to save.

The Doctrines of Grace Series

Here is the now completed series of B.R.I.D.G.E. Ministries podcasts covering the doctrines of grace (the so called TULIP acrostic):

1. The Sovereignty of God – Dr. John Frame: (at this link)

2. Total Depravity – Pastor Jeff Durbin, Apologia Church, Tempe, AZ: (at this link)

3. Unconditional Election – Pastor John Samson, King’s Church, Peoria, AZ: (at this link)

4. Limited Atonement – Dr. James White, Alpha & Omega Ministries:
(at this link)

5. Irresistible Grace – Dr. Tim Trumper, former professor at Westminster Theological Seminary and the founder of From His Fullness Ministries (at this link)

6. Perseverance of the Saints – Dr. Joel Beeke, President of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and founder and editor of Reformation Heritage Books (at this link)