Study.Live.Preach

Ezra 7:10 “For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.” (ESV)

I was struck as I listened last night to yet another of Derek Thomas’ scintillating expositions of the book of Ezra, that Ezra shows the Gospel minister an important aspect of our calling. We are to study the Word of God, live out the Word of God and teach the Word of God. I love the catchy way the NASB says this: “For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the LORD and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel.” Surely this is the right order. First to study, then to practice and then to preach the truth – else we could find ourselves commending to others a grand reality which we ourselves do not know. This is why Paul will charge Timothy to “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16). Or as C.J. Mahaney puts it: “watch your life and watch your doctrine.” And because Paul was serious about practicing what he preached, he could tell the Philippians to practice the things they had “heard and seen in” him (Philippians 4:9).

I have never known a teacher who has defected from the truth who was living out the truth in humble accountability in the church. I have never known a faithful Gospel minister who was not, in some measure, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, living out the truth he commended to others. The practice of the truth is essential to the preservation of the truth in the preacher of the truth.

You don’t know, what you don’t live. Practicing the truth is a prerequisite for preaching the truth, and all our power in the latter is caught up in the former.

-Ligon Duncan

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The 10 Effects of Believing the Doctrines of Grace

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“These ten points are my personal testimony to the effects of believing in the five points of Calvinism. I have just completed teaching a seminar on this topic and was asked by the class members to post these reflections so they could have access to them. I am happy to do so. They, of course, assume the content of the course, which is available online from Desiring God Ministries, but I will write them here in the hope that they might stir others to search, Berean-like, to see if the Bible teaches what I call “Calvinism.”

1. These truths make me stand in awe of God and lead me into the depth of true God-centered worship.

I recall the time I first saw, while teaching Ephesians at Bethel College in the late ’70′s, the threefold statement of the goal of all God’s work, namely, “to the praise of the glory of his grace” (Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14).

It has led me to see that we cannot enrich God and that therefore his glory shines most brightly not when we try to meet his needs but when we are satisfied in him as the essence of our deeds. “From him and through him and to him are all things. To him the glory forever” (Romans 11:36). Worship becomes an end in itself.

It has made me feel how low and inadequate are my affections, so that the Psalms of longing come alive and make worship intense.

2. These truths help protect me from trifling with divine things.

One of the curses of our culture is banality, cuteness, cleverness. Television is the main sustainer of our addiction to superficiality and triviality.

God is swept into this. Hence the trifling with divine things.

Earnestness is not excessive in our day. It might have been once. And, yes, there are imbalances in certain people today who don’t seem to be able to relax and talk about the weather.

Robertson Nicole said of Spurgeon, “Evangelism of the humorous type [we might say, church growth of the marketing type] may attract multitudes, but it lays the soul in ashes and destroys the very germs of religion. Mr. Spurgeon is often thought by those who do not know his sermons to have been a humorous preacher. As a matter of fact there was no preacher whose tone was more uniformly earnest, reverent and solemn” (Quoted in The Supremacy of God in Preaching, p. 57).

3. These truths make me marvel at my own salvation.

After laying out the great, God-wrought salvation in Ephesians 1, Paul prays, in the last part of that chapter, that the effect of that theology will be the enlightenment of our hearts so that we marvel at our hope, and at the riches of the glory of our inheritance, and at the power of God at work in us – that is, the power to raise the dead.

Every ground of boasting is removed. Brokenhearted joy and gratitude abound.

The piety of Jonathan Edwards begins to grow. When God has given us a taste of his own majesty and our own wickedness, then the Christian life becomes a thing very different than conventional piety. Edwards describes it beautifully when he says,

The desires of the saints, however earnest, are humble desires: their hope is a humble hope, and their joy, even when it is unspeakable, and full of glory, is humble, brokenhearted joy, and leaves the Christian more poor in spirit, and more like a little child, and more disposed to a universal lowliness of behavior (Religious Affections, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959, pp. 339f).

4. These truths make me alert to man-centered substitutes that pose as good news.

In my book, The Pleasures of God (2000), pp. 144-145, I show that in the 18th century in New England the slide from the sovereignty of God led to Arminianism and thence to universalism and thence to Unitarianism. The same thing happened in England in the 19thcentury after Spurgeon.

Iain Murray’s Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1987), p. 454, documents the same thing: “Calvinistic convictions waned in North America. In the progress of the decline which Edwards had rightly anticipated, those Congregational churches of New England which had embraced Arminianism after the Great Awakening gradually moved into Unitarianism and universalism, led by Charles Chauncy.”

You can also read in J. I. Packer’s Quest for Godliness (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1990), p. 160, how Richard Baxter forsook these teachings and how the following generations reaped a grim harvest in the Baxter church in Kidderminster.

These doctrines are a bulwark against man-centered teachings in many forms that gradually corrupt the church and make her weak from the inside, all the while looking strong or popular.

1 Timothy 3:15, “The church of the living God [is] the pillar and bulwark of the truth.”

5. These truths make me groan over the indescribable disease of our secular, God-belittling culture.

I can hardly read the newspaper or look at a TV ad or a billboard without feeling the burden that God is missing.

When God is the main reality in the universe and is treated as a non-reality, I tremble at the wrath that is being stored up. I am able to be shocked. So many Christians are sedated with the same drug as the world. But these teachings are a great antidote.

And I pray for awakening and revival.

And I try to preach to create a people that are so God-saturated that they will show and tell God everywhere and all the time.

We exist to reassert the reality of God and the supremacy of God in all of life.

6. These truths make me confident that the work which God planned and began, he will finish – both globally and personally.

This is the point of Romans 8:28-39.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. 31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died- more than that, who was raised- who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

7. These truths make me see everything in the light of God’s sovereign purposes – that from him and through him and to him are all things, to him be glory forever and ever.

All of life relates to God. There’s no compartment where he is not all-important and the one who gives meaning to everything. 1 Corinthians 10:31.

Seeing God’s sovereign purpose worked out in Scripture, and hearing Paul say that “he accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11) makes me see the world this way.

8. These truths make me hopeful that God has the will, the right, and the power to answer prayer that people be changed.

The warrant for prayer is that God may break in and change things – including the human heart. He can turn the will around. “Hallowed be thy name” means: cause people to hallow your name. “May your word run and be glorified” means: cause hearts to be opened to the gospel.

We should take the New Covenant promises and plead with God to bring them to pass in our children and in our neighbors and among all the mission fields of the world.

“God, take out of their flesh the heart of stone and give him a new heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 11:19).

“Lord, circumcise their hearts so that they love you” (Deuteronomy 30:6).

“Father, put your spirit within them and cause them to walk in Your statutes” (Ezekiel 36:27).

“Lord, grant them repentance and the knowledge of the truth that they may escape from the snare of the devil” (2 Timothy 2:25-26).

“Father, open their hearts so that they believe the gospel” (Acts 16:14).

9. These truths reminds me that evangelism is absolutely essential for people to come to Christ and be saved, and that there is great hope for success in leading people to faith, but that conversion is not finally dependent on me or limited by the hardness of the unbeliever.

So it gives hope to evangelism, especially in the hard places and among the hard peoples.

John 10:16, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold, I must bring them also. They will heed my voice.”

It is God’s work. Throw yourself into it with abandon.

10. These truths make me sure that God will triumph in the end.

Isaiah 46:9-10, “I am God and there is no other. I am God and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, “My counsel shall stand that I will accomplish all my purpose’”

Putting them altogether: God gets the glory and we get the joy.



Limited (Actual) Atonement- An Intro

What is Reformed Theology?- A summary by R.C. Sproul

Christian Preaching

Preach to Glorify God

The ultimate goal of Christian preaching—as with all other things—is the glory of the Triune God. When the minister proclaims God’s true and beautiful Word, he honors the Persons, attributes, and works of God. But the glory really radiates when the Spirit uses his Word to change lives. If someone is convicted, saved, comforted, inspired, redeemed by the preached Word, God was at work, showing himself to be good, sovereign, gracious, and altogether glorious.

Preach to Transform

In order to glorify God, preaching aims at complete redemption and renewal. The goal is to make the hearer better able to engage reality (God, self, others, world, culture, etc.) from a Biblical perspective. Every facet of every life is fair game—if a person thinks, feels, speaks or acts at all, then those ways of participating in God’s world ought to be made to serve God’s glory. Sometimes the transformation is dramatic, as when a person is convicted and converted. Sometimes the change is externally imperceptible, as when a person is reassured once again of God’s love. Always it should be so that the person loves God with his whole heart, soul, mind and strength better than he did when he first sat in the pew.

Preach against Unbelief

In order to transform people, preaching aims to increase their faith. The desired progression is from sin to holiness (sanctification), which requires faith. A person will only be changed through truly believing the Word of God. Whether Christian or not, all of us have the same problem: we do not believe the Word of God enough to let it shape our lives in every way. Therefore the preacher must target the unbelief in the hearer, and proclaim the Word as beacon that draws forth true faith from those in whom the Spirit works.

Preach the Gospel

In order to inspire faith, preaching must convey the Gospel. The Good News is that God is for us in Jesus Christ. Helping the hearer understand this goes well beyond a “simple” evangelistic message. The grace of God addresses us at every point in our lives: it establishes and strengthens our faith (and, therefore, obedience). Certainly, preach the Law as well—bad news often precedes the Good News. But the majestic goodness of God, displayed in the Gospel, must characterize our preaching week in and week out. This wins our faith.

Preach Christ from All the Scriptures

The person and work of Jesus Christ is the substance of the Gospel. The beginning, middle, and end of the Christian life must be informed by the redemption that is in Christ Jesus—all the Scriptures are helpful for this. Jesus himself made it very clear that he is the main subject of all the Scriptures. Paul set the tone for our preaching by saying, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Friends, a sermon is not Christian unless it is Christocentric.

Preach with Unction

“And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” The anointing of the Spirit is necessary for true boldness in preaching. Apart from the Spirit’s empowerment, a preacher might muster some fervor, but he will lack authority, and might not even possess the courage to maintain God’s truth before sinners. The right proclamation of the Word requires holy unction, which comes by the grace of God through prayer.

Preach with Clarity

God himself has condescended tremendously to help us understand his will. Therefore, preachers have no right to dwell in theological obscurity in their pulpits, but are called to preach with clarity. If it is important that the Gospel be understood by all who hear, then preaching should be not only in the common language, but also concise, uncluttered, logical, and memorable. Preachers do well to improve upon these basics of clear communication as they seek to imitate the Fountainhead of all communication, the Word of God incarnate.

[Source: Theokosmos- Eric Costa]

Who Needs A Creed?…for those who think Creeds are useless (the “No Creed but Christ idea)

Who Needs A Creed?

Article by   April 2008

When I was at Primary School in the British state school system many moons ago, it was still the norm not only to teach pupils the Apostles’ Creed, but also to have them recite it in class. Looking back on that experience brings many thoughts to mind.

On the one hand, it is almost incredible to think that a state education system could require all pupils to learn such an overtly Christian statement of faith by heart. It would be inconceivable today – as much because it meant learning something by heart as for the fact it happened to be Christian. But on the other hand, the act of standing and reciting the creed had something of the feel of the daily act of pledging allegiance to the flag must have for many American school children. The words rolled of our tongues, but with little or no understanding of their meaning, or true appreciation of their significance. My guess is that the same is true for many churches where the practice of reciting the creed is still in vogue today and that raises the question, ‘Who needs a creed?’

The answer to that question from many in the broad sweep of Christendom, would probably be, ‘Not us!’ Such ancient documents are seen at best as outdated and at worst an irrelevance in an age that is more interested in the present than the past and in which the very idea of beliefs that are fixed is tantamount to sacrilege. That may be the majority view – in a de facto, if not conscious sense – but that does not mean it is right. The church is always confessing its beliefs whether it realises it or not; the issue is whether or not they reflect belief that is authentically Christian. There is a perennial need for such views to be challenged, ultimately for the sake of the gospel.

That has come home to me more than ever in the congregation and community I serve on the edge of inner city London. Within the church there is an entire cross-section of people from all sorts of backgrounds. At one end of the spectrum there are those who are well-grounded in the Faith after years of teaching and study. At the other end are those who come along to Sunday services and mid-week groups who haven’t got the faintest clue of what Christianity is all about. And there is everything else in between! On top of that there is the local parish: a diverse community with all shades of religious belief and none at all. People generally are suspicious about church – especially a church that has the word ‘evangelical’ on its sign. So where does one begin to address such an array of needs? Let me suggest a number of ways the creed can help.

It Helps us Wrestle with the Challenge of Articulating the Faith
The very notion of ‘creed’ immediately suggests the idea of expressing belief. In the barest sense it is an expression of truth in abstraction: ‘This is what Christians believe…’ but historically there was more to it. The Latin verb credo from which ‘creed’ is derived carries a more personal and existential connotation. Hence several major creeds begin with the words ‘I believe in…’ – in the sense of placing confidence in, or relying on particular truths. The Apostles’ Creed spells out the truths a person must believe in if he or she is to be a Christian.

 Its history says a lot about its purpose. Even though legend had it that the original authors of this statement of faith were the twelve Apostles – each one contributing one of its twelve constituent parts – the reality is that it evolved from a number of earlier statements of faith. The main antecedent was the so-called Old Roman Creed; but that in turn seems to have been an evolution of two other documents: the Epistula Apostolorum and what has come to be known as Der Bazileh papyrus – probably part of an Egyptian communion liturgy. Each in their own historical setting was an attempt to articulate the faith crisply and clearly for seekers and catechumens.

Those who framed these various statements of faith were simply following the pattern found in Scripture itself. From the simplest article of faith found in the Great Shema – ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.’ (Dt 6.4) – right through to the Carmen Christi of Philippians, the Bible has multiple examples of its teachings being summarised and confessed. Its teaching has to be systemised if it is to make sense.

Martin Luther commends the Apostles’ Creed by saying, ‘Christian truth could not possibly be put into a shorter and clearer statement.’ Philip Schaff says, ‘As The Lord’s Prayer is the Prayer of prayers, the Decalogue the Law of laws, so the Apostles’ Creed is the Creed of creeds.’ The challenge it presents to the church in the 21st Century is to use it as a framework for expressing these time-honoured truths that are essential to Christian faith for the world of our day.

It Provides a Tool for Teaching the Faith
It has been said that the Apostles’ Creed was the Alpha course, or Christianity Explored course of its day. That isn’t far from the truth. Successive generations have come up with their own tools for presenting the main teachings of the Bible, but the Apostles’ Creed is the mother of them all. It sets the principle and provides a paradigm for what needs to be taught.

J.I. Packer’s book, I Want to be a Christian (1977), is a fairly recent example of how the Creed can continue to function in a contemporary church setting as an effective teaching tool today.  He uses it as a framework for exploring each tenet of faith it contains, in such a way as to lead young Christians to see the essence of what is meant, but at the same time providing pointers to those who want to dig deeper.

At an even simpler level, the simple practice of memorising the creed and reciting it publicly still has enormous merit – especially in an age when memorising anything is deemed passé. In the syllabus of what every child ought to learn by heart, the Apostles’ Creed must take its place alongside the Books of the Bible, Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer as one of its core components. And if adults haven’t got there yet, it’s never too late to start.

The creed is a wonderfully versatile tool for instruction. It has a use with children, seekers, new converts and those who realise that no matter how long we may have been in the faith, familiar truths always have fresh depths to be explored.

It Makes us Focus on the Heart of the Faith
There is always a temptation to get lost in the minutiae of what the Bible teaches – as is seen in all too many of the distractions and controversies of the New Testament Church and the church generally throughout its history.  Nowhere was that more damaging than in the church at Corinth and Paul’s response to their distractedness is timeless. He reminds them of what he had taught them in the first place: ‘What I received I passed on to you as of first importance…’ (1Co 15.3) – here are the core teachings that form the bedrock of the Christian Faith.

So as the Creed spells out the sum of saving knowledge for the early church, it takes us first and foremost to the God of the Bible in all his uniqueness and glory. His uniqueness lies in the fact that he is Trinity and his greatest glory is seen in the salvation he provides at such extraordinary cost through his own Son. Grasping this is the theological equivalent of finding the holy grail of science: the theory of everything.

In an age when evangelical Christianity is rapidly losing its way in a maze of ‘steps to salvation’ and myriad books and sermons on the ‘how to’ of the Christian life, the creed brings us back to the heart of both the gospel and the faith: God himself.

It Guards the Gospel against Distortions of the Faith
Historically, creeds have had a double function: to serve as both a fence and a foundation. They serve as the latter in that they crystallise the essence of all a person needs to know for life and salvation – that inevitably is more than just a ‘simple gospel’. In that sense they provide a foundation for the church, since the church is the community of the redeemed and is built on the teaching ‘of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone’ (Eph 2.20). The Apostles’ Creed encapsulates positively what the essence of that teaching is.

The sad reality of course is that the community of the redeemed has been plagued, not merely from without, but more often from within by distortions of that teaching. So creeds have been formulated to provide a fence to guard the church against such aberrations. It is noteworthy that the most insidious distortions of the faith that threatened the church in the early centuries of its existence concerned the doctrine of God himself – whether as Trinity, or in the mystery of the incarnation. It is understandable, therefore, that the Apostles’ Creed is particularly concerned to secure that fence, given the era in which it was framed.

It would be nice to think that almost twenty centuries later, the church no longer needs to go over these elementary teachings of the faith again; but it does. Whether through the assault of Open Theism or that of well-meaning ignorance, the truths enshrined in the Creed still need to be guarded and the Creed itself continues to be a most effective way to do so.

It Shows the Need for Personal Faith
Perhaps the greatest threat of all to the church and the teachings on which she stands in every generation is that of sliding into nominalism. Paul warns Timothy that the Last Days will be characterised by those (in the church) who have a ‘form of godliness’ but who deny its power (2Ti 3.5). He warns against them in the strongest possible terms.

It’s a danger that lurks most subtly in the Reformed community where we are inclined to lay great store on scholarship and precision. It can be paradise for the kind of people who Paul is warning about – especially those who delight in controversy.  The essence of Christianity that is authentically Reformed is its concern for authentic experience. The experiential Calvinism of the Reformation and Puritan eras was driven by the conviction that all truth leads to godliness. The study of theology can never be merely academic.
 
The first three words of the Creed embed that conviction at the very centre of the truths it goes on to confess. It is only as we declare our belief in this God and all that he has done that we can actually know him along with all the benefits he promises in the gospel. There is a piety reflected in the Creed that is the key to understanding its truths and making them live for the church and all its members. The piety of genuine personal faith.

 Mark Johnston is the Senior Minister of Grove Chapel in Camberwell, London.

Ligon Duncan- Study. Live. Preach

Study. Live. Preach.

Ezra 7:10 “For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.” (ESV)

“I was struck as I listened last night to yet another of Derek Thomas’ scintillating expositions of the book of Ezra, that Ezra shows the Gospel minister an important aspect of our calling. We are to study the Word of God, live out the Word of God and teach the Word of God. I love the catchy way the NASB says this: “For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the LORD and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel.” Surely this is the right order. First to study, then to practice and then to preach the truth – else we could find ourselves commending to others a grand reality which we ourselves do not know. This is why Paul will charge Timothy to “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16). Or as C.J. Mahaney puts it: “watch your life and watch your doctrine.” And because Paul was serious about practicing what he preached, he could tell the Philippians to practice the things they had “heard and seen in” him (Philippians 4:9).

I have never known a teacher who has defected from the truth who was living out the truth in humble accountability in the church. I have never known a faithful Gospel minister who was not, in some measure, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, living out the truth he commended to others. The practice of the truth is essential to the preservation of the truth in the preacher of the truth. 

You don’t know, what you don’t live. Practicing the truth is a prerequisite for preaching the truth, and all our power in the latter is caught up in the former.”