Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Declare~chapter 2

Declare ~

God’s Power in Our Weakness

Sovereign Grace believes the Gospel is not only the message but the means by which we declare Jesus Christ to the World.

As I have been thinking about and praying about Sovereign Grace and the evangelical church in America in general, I have been thinking about our sin with regard to the Great Commission. We have been commanded to share Christ with every man and woman; yet, we often don’t! How many of us have told someone about Christ and his Gospel in the last week, month, year, ever? We have the greatest message any man could ever hear and we hide it under a bowl (Matthew 5:14-16)! This is our mission, and it is being ignored as we build nice, conservative, family-friendly, and socially pragmatic churches to spend time in! We should be telling everyone about the hope we have in Jesus! Why is it that we do not declare the superior delight of Jesus Christ?

I believe there are three major hindrances that oppose and impede our mission of spreading the glory of Jesus Christ. Each of these hindrances can keep us from proclaiming the Gospel of our Lord even though it is that very Gospel itself that overcomes them! These three hindrances, these three fears, to be precise, that plague our efforts to declare are: self-righteousness, distrust, and selfishness. We can find the Gospel’s answer to all of these fears in Luke 19:1-10, the story of Zacchaeus.

I. The Hindrance of Self-Righteousness

Self-righteousness keeps us from declaring the Gospel. When we consider ourselves righteous by our own power and not by God’s we naturally fall into two lines of thinking in regard to sharing the Gospel.

Self-righteousness keeps us from those that need the Gospel

First, we avoid sinners (the people that need to hear the Gospel most!) because we’re afraid that we might become like them; we fear that to be around unrighteous is to taint our own righteousness before God. We treat them as an unclean, corrupting influence to be avoided. This is the very tactic the Jews in Jesus’ day took. Look at Luke 19:7: “And when they saw it, they all grumbled, ‘He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.’” In an effort to maintain their own righteousness, they refused to associate with such unrighteous tax collectors as Zacchaeus. The tax collectors of 1st century Judea were the lowest of the low in society, and Zacchaeus is the chief of them! Their job was to take the taxes levied by the Roman government – an honest job in itself – but the tax-collectors extorted above and beyond what the government required, robbing their fellow Jews. This is why the people hated them as traitors in way somewhat equivalent to drug dealers of our own day. Yet the self-righteous attitude of the Jews blinded them from seeing Jesus’ ministry to the unrighteous – they failed to grasp the central element of the Gospel: the fact that it was for sinners! Self-righteousness obscures the Gospel by deceiving us that we are already righteous and worthy of God’s pleasure. The Jews succumbed to this lie, and we, the church of America, often do too. How many times have we passed up an opportunity to declare Jesus Christ because we self-determined that this or that person was too unrighteous to receive it, as if we were never that unworthy? And when we consider the Gospel going out to the most hated people in society, we also have the propensity to grumble and say “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner”, claiming that we and we alone are worthy enough to entertain the Lord of Righteousness, Jesus Christ. We too can fall prey to the self-righteous indignation that God cannot possibly care about desperately wicked sinners who truly deserve every ounce of our hatred. Self-righteousness in the Christian cuts off any impulse to declare the glory of the Gospel.

Second, sinners avoid us in our self-righteousness. When we express our self-righteousness to unbelievers, they quickly realize our hypocrisy. Self-righteousness is an imaginary righteousness, and unbelievers see right through the illusion. Even if we might try to explain the Gospel to them, even if we might live the Gospel in front of them, the phony nature of a self-righteous spirituality will crumble from whitewashed walls into the ruins of a meager hypocrisy of religion. The illusion of self-righteousness impinges any effort to declare the Gospel since it offends every unbeliever fortunate enough to see our self-righteous folly. It is only by the righteousness that comes from God that anyone will ever truly see the Gospel declared.

The Gospel kills self-righteousness

Sovereign Grace, self-righteousness ought not be true of us! We, like our Lord, should be the ones hanging out with the worst of sinners. The Gospel is for sinners, not righteous people! Did not Jesus say, “I came not to call the righteous, but the sinners” (Matthew 9:13)? We too must call out the sinners to repentance in the Gospel as our Lord has. Yet how do we combat the self-righteous hindrances that come against Jesus’ command to declare?

First, know that we all were once sinners. Remember what Paul says in Ephesians 2:

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1-4)

We too, like Zacchaeus, were enemies of God, traitors to His goodness. We whole-heartedly rejected Him in rebellion and although we knew God, we did not honor Him or give thanks to Him (Romans 1:21). To kill self-righteousness, we must recall that we too were, on our own, dead in our unrighteousness! We were once called “Not My People”, but now we are called His people (Hosea 2:23)! The prophet Ezekiel delivers the Word of God to Israel put an end to any self-righteousness boasting they may claim:

“I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the LORD, that you may remember and be confounded, and never open your mouth again because of your shame, when I atone for you for all that you have done, declares the Lord God” (Ezekiel 16:63)

Sovereign Grace, we too must “remember and be confounded” at the grace God has shown us in atoning for the atrocities of our sin. We have no righteousness apart from our atonement in Jesus Christ; thus we must close our mouths to any contrary boasting. There is no room for self-righteousness in the Gospel of our God! We were once just like those that we pass up in our evangelism! In fact, we may have been worse. The apostle Paul, a Pharisee of Pharisees, the chief of the self-righteous law keepers, says, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (I Timothy 1:15). If we are to carry out the great commission of evangelism in our neighborhood, in our city, in our country, or throughout the entire world, we must kill self-righteousness by a steady and fixed contemplation and remembrance of the abounding mercies of God that overcame the abominations of our sins in the Gospel that we declare. Remember that Jesus came and stayed at Zacchaeus’s house, not the Pharisee’s; the Physician came to heal the sick, not the well. Self-righteousness seeks to offer up works of the law to God as recompense for sins when God requires the true, contrite repentance of a humble and broken sinner, over whom there will be much rejoicing in heaven (Luke 15:7). Declare to the sinners!

II. The Hindrance of Distrust

The second hindrance to declaration in the Christian and the Church is the hindrance of distrust. We often pass up opportunities to share the Gospel or fail to pursue an unbeliever further doubting that God has the power to save them. While we may not necessarily admit this to our fellow believers, we express it nonetheless in our attitudes of lethargy in evangelism.

Forsaking trust in God’s power impedes declaration

There are two central questions that proceed from a distrusting heart when it comes to declaration. The first is, “Who am I? I can’t possibly share the Gospel well enough!” We think that our inability to articulate somehow inhibits God’s ability to save. We lose trust in God’s power to save when we think it is only by our power in communication that people believe.

The second question is, “How can that person be saved?” The Pharisees expressed this same attitude when they grumbled and complained against Jesus going to stay with Zacchaeus. They saw Zacchaeus as the sinner of sinners, the least likely person to be saved. Not only did they doubt that he was worthy of salvation, they doubted even the possibility of it! If anyone’s heart was going to be changed, it was not his! We are guilty of this when we abandon our task of declaration because we determine someone as far too wicked to hear the Gospel thinking, “how could their heart ever change?” Yet it is these least likely people that Jesus stays with because He knows that the power of the Gospel, His power, can change any heart.

God’s Gospel is more powerful than our fears

When we doubt the fact that it is God who is responsible to bring results from our declaration and put our hopes in ourselves, we believe that we will fail to declare. Moses doubted in this same way when God called him to lead the people out of Egypt, but God said to him, “But I will be with you…” (Exodus 3:11-12). God is with us, and He brings the power. Understanding that it is by God’s power that our declaration is successful will remove the hindrance of distrust! God’s Word will not fail:

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout… so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11)

God’s Word is powerful and it will not fail. Our responsibility is not to bring people to salvation (that depends on God, Romans 9:15-16), but to simply bring forth the good news to everyone. “And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’” Romans 10:14-15. Did not Paul struggle with the same thing? He says in I Corinthians 2:3-4, “And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom.” Yet though he struggled to articulate the Gospel, it is not that Paul doubted God’s power; for he says that it was so “your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (I Cor. 2:5). The Gospel is the power of God. Rest in the power of God to bring the effect of the Gospel for His glory and boldly declare His name!

But what about when we encounter people who demonstrate exceedingly hard hearts, hearts so hard, we doubt that they will ever be saved? If God’s Word will not fail, how could there be a heart so hard as to keep Him from succeeding? Didn’t the power of His Gospel save Zacchaeus? Look at Zacchaeus’ response: “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold” (Luke 19:8). Zacchaeus was a very rich man because he defrauded everyone. Yet he gave up everything in response to his salvation! And what does Jesus say to him: “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham” (v. 9). The sinner of sinners, Zacchaeus, was changed by the power of God’s word! Despite all of the Jews misgivings and doubts, God demonstrated His power once again in salvation! When Jesus gave his life on the cross he brought every bit of grace necessary to save God’s people. This includes the grace and mercy to change men’s heart, open blind eyes, and raise the spiritually dead! Meditate on the Gospel, know that Christ’s sacrifice was sufficient to save all God’s people – Jesus did not fail! Then, you can be confident you can never fail because you only have to share the message; God does all the work!

God is in the business of changing hearts, and we are merely privileged participants in that great work through our declaration. It is not our responsibility to change men’s hearts; our responsibility is to trust God to work powerfully through our declaration. Whether we doubt our words or God’s power to save, or both, we must return our minds to the Gospel we declare. The Gospel is God’s power to save. Trust Him Sovereign Grace, His Gospel, His power. Then tell people!

“So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come” (Psalm 71:18).

III. The Hindrance of Selfishness

Seeking joy in ourselves becomes the third hindrance to declaring the Gospel. Our selfish joy distracts from the joy of seeing sinners saved; thus, there becomes little value in declaring the Gospel. Yet Jesus’ joy, and the Father’s joy, was in seeing sinners repent and come to salvation.

Selfishness keeps the Gospel to ourselves

Because of our sin, our hearts have become naturally turned inward. Our natural tendency is to be self-consumed, seeking our own pleasure before any other. Like an object falls toward the earth by the force of gravity, our hearts cave-in on themselves in their native sinfulness. As believers we have the spirit dwelling within us, giving us new Christ-like desires. Yet this is not to say that, while we live in this life, we do not struggle with our old sinful desires any more. Paul describes this conflict in Romans 7:21-23: “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members”. Our sinful nature still lies close at hand to keep us from declaring the glory of God by engaging in the perverse pleasure of selfishness. When our hearts are turned away from delighting in God we become dull and apathetic when it comes to declaring. It doesn’t matter how many people around us may be dying only to suffer the eternal wrath of God’s judgment, our hearts will not be moved because of the inward blindness that comes from turning inward on ourselves. We won’t care because we won’t see.

The Gospel turns our joy back to God

The Gospel is the very thing that kills our selfish pleasures that hinder our declaration. Jesus’ joy was to see the Father rejoice as the lost were saved! Look what he says in Luke 19:5:“I must stay at your house”. Why? Look at verse 10: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost”. Jesus came to seek and save the lost! Jesus must stay at his house, because Jesus must seek and save the lost, He must do this because the Father’s joy is to save the lost! Consider Luke 15. Jesus tells three parables that all conclude with the joy God has in seeing sinners saved! Jesus is essentially saying, “I want nothing more than the joy of seeing my Father rejoice; nothing gives me more joy. That is why I must stay at Zacchaeus’s house!” We are called to live the same way as Jesus did! We are to complete his mission for the same motive that he was on mission. Our turned in hearts must be turned outward to declare the glory of God. We are to rejoice in preaching the Gospel to every man and woman because it is Jesus’ mission to seek and save the lost; it is the Father’s joy to see them saved, and, like Jesus, we should delight in His joy!

IV. In Whatever You Do, Declare!

In the last chapter I dealt sufficiently with personal evangelism, but there’s one more point I want to make clear before we end our discussion about declaring. Now that we’ve discussed what it means to declare, and how we are to overcome hindrance to that declaration, we must consider, in very practical terms, how we are to live this out as members of the body of Christ. Many people have the notion that to truly declare the Gospel one needs to be in full-time ministry as a pastor or missionary. That is not true! We can declare the Gospel in every vocation and activity in which we find ourselves.

In Your Vocation

At the time of the Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church, and consequently the majority of Europeans, believed that a monastic life or an ecclesiastical life was the only true calling. Everyone else’s work was unimportant or unworthy. Yet the Reformed preachers began instructing their congregations otherwise. The Reformers often spoke to their congregations regarding how they should live as Christians declaring the Gospel in their jobs. They often put these teachings under the category of “vocation”.

Martin Luther was once asked by a new convert, a shoe-maker, how he should live now that he was saved. Luther asked him in return, “Are you a good shoe-maker?” He replied, “Yes, people know as the best!” Luther gave him this answer, “Then make good quality shoes, and sell them for a reasonable price.”[1] While most of us may be surprised that this learned theologian would give such a mundane and common answer, there is a very simple truth to what Luther said. God is honored when we do the work given to us well. Part of our task in declaring is to do whatever we do well. Paul says in Colossians 3:23 that “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” The first venue for our declaration ought to be in our work, in whatever God has given us to do in life. God is pleased when we complete our work well. In Psalm 90, Moses’ desire is that God blesses Israel’s work (v. 17). He is speaking of ordinary, day-to-day work. God is concerned not just with the pastors and missionaries, but also with all of His children! Therefore, part of our honoring Him part of our declaring Him to others is to do our work well; for we “are serving the Lord Christ”!

One does not have to go to the jungles to declare, although that is certainly a worthy mission. Simply put, to live a life of declaration is not to retreat into a monastery in order to declare Jesus privately, but it is instead to declare Jesus publicly in our vocation in addition to our words. A declaring Christian makes his words as well as his works an extension of the Gospel in which he delights.

[1] Horton, Michael. Where in the World is the Church. P&R Publishing, 2002, (20).

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Declare~chapter 1

Declare ~

God’s Command to His Church

Sovereign Grace believes we should be committed to declaring the Gospel we delight in.

We all experience delight at some point in our lives. Whether it is in a person, a thing, or a moment in time, we can readily recall times when we’ve delighted in someone or something. In those extraordinary moments of exceeding joy and pleasure, we must express our delight through some means. Is it not impossible, if you’re truly delighting in something, to not exclaim your delight? I can remember some specific moments where I could not but declare my delight to others:

When I first got a car…

When I first got accepted into college…

When Teresa said she wanted to date me…

When I first got engaged…

When I graduated from college…

When I first came to Christ…

Every time I was delighting in something or someone, I told other people: I declared what happened! We declare what we delight in! Truly delighting necessitates declaring!

A Biblical example of this kind of declaration can be found in Psalm 119. The Psalmist is continually declaring what he delights in:

“In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches…” (Psalm 119:14)

“I will delight in your statues; I will not forget your word.” (v. 16)

“Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it.” (v. 24)

“With my lips I declare all the rules of your mouth.” (v. 13)

“I will speak of your testimonies before kings…” (v. 46)

“My lips will pour fourth praise, for you teach me your statues…” (v. 171)

Why is it that we always declare what we delight in? Is it the overwhelming sense of emotion and excitement that causes us to tell people of our delight? Is it an overwhelming sense of the value of the object of our delight? Declaring one’s delight is certainly not unique to Christians. What, then, separates Christian declaration from the world’s declaration, and how are we as Sovereign Grace Church going to declare our delight?

I. Declaring finds its source in delighting.

Before we consider what it means to declare as Christians and then as a church, let us remind ourselves briefly as to what God-centered delight looks like – how could we begin to declare if we do not understand what it is we are declaring?

A Perverse Delight

Consider the story of the Samaritan woman in John 4:1-42. Her life consisted of one marriage relationship after another (a total of five in all, not including the adulterous relationship she was presently in) (John 4:16-19). She had been delighting in relationships as an alternative god; this woman had been looking for satisfaction through physical intimacy and relationship. Was it wrong for her to desire to be married, to have companionship? No! But she turned a thing created good into an ultimate thing… and sinned to get it! Satan’s whole project is to take God’s creation, which is meant to point us to God, and convince us to worship it, to delight in it as an end in itself! The Samaritan woman had a perverse and twisted delight in an idolatrous god of adultery. She tried to achieve delight in her own way, not God’s

We too can be guilty of this same perversion. When we delight in anything other than God the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, we abandon the eternal source of delight. We, like the Samaritan woman, try to do things our own way, searching for our own source of delight. As the prophet Jeremiah writes,

for my people have committed two evils:

they have forsaken me,

the fountain of living waters

and hewed out cisterns for themselves,

broken cisterns that can hold no water. (Jeremiah 2:13)

We dig our own wells to quench our thirst; trying to fill ourselves with the promises of the world (sex, wealth, relationship, beauty, fame, happiness, entertainment etc.) we become hopelessly engrossed in finding the next means of satisfying ourselves as we waste away apart from God. Cut off from our Creator who sustains us, we slowly atrophy in this world until the dust takes us and our souls remove to an eternity of death where there is no delight and no deliverance. On and on it goes. From one thing to the next we search for a satisfying object for our delight. We continue trying to find satisfaction for our hunger in the world rather than seeing all those as gifts from our kind God in whom is fullness of joy! If we would just hunger and thirst for God then we would be satisfied!

A Worshipful Delight

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

(Matthew 5:6)

Jesus points out that we look to this world and what it offers for satisfaction / delight, and says we should be looking to God who will provide the only thing that truly satisfies. He tells the Samaritan woman in John 4:13-14 that Holy Spirit will be given and he will satisfy – the creation won’t satisfy what only the Creator will (John 7:37). Only the living water of Jesus himself will satisfy our parched souls that have sought relief in every false and vain cistern dug by sinful men in their delusion. We can find full satisfaction in his living waters from which no one will ever thirst again. True satisfaction comes from true worship of God…it comes from delight in God! Jesus points out the Samaritan woman’s sin and the fact that she was delighting in sexual relationships and that she must delight in him to be satisfied. To worship the only God by delighting in his character and his work is to have true, redeemed, rightful delight and satisfaction. In John 4 Jesus cuts to the heart of worshipful delight: true worshippers worship God in spirit and truth. What matters to the Father is that he is worshipped in spirit and truth! Location doesn’t matter (John 4:21), the heart matters, and the heart is the seat of our delight. With the truth of the Gospel and the Holy Spirit we may have God-honoring, worshipful delight!

Jesus is your only hope! Repent of delighting in the creation and turn to delighting in the Creator, recognize that Jesus lived perfectly, paid your penalty, rose from the dead so you can be forgiven, counted righteous, made spiritually alive, and given the Holy Spirit who will be a spring of living water that will well up to eternal life!

II. Declare!

When the Samaritan woman trusted Jesus, what did she do immediately? When Jesus spoke these words to the Samaritan woman (John 4:16-26), she responded immediately. Her delight having been re-informed by the words of Jesus, she could do nothing but declare what he had said. Her new found delight became the source of her declaration. She went and declared: “he told me all I ever did!” Not ashamed and hiding her sin, she was thankful that he brought her out of it, and she wanted people to know that he knew her sin and still offered her eternal life and delight! She knew the greatness of her sin and she knew the greater grace of God in Jesus Christ. She knew that her sin was greater than she wanted to admit and God’s grace in Christ was greater than she ever imagined! She could run through town and say, “Look what Jesus offered me and gave me! Look how great he is! I don’t need to protect myself, and hide, and stay in this prison of dissatisfaction and sin. Look how good he is to me!” Because of the woman’s declaration of salvation in Jesus, many of the Samaritans in that town believed in him also (John 4:39-42). The Samaritan woman was faithful to declare the marvelous delight she found in Christ Jesus the savior of the world. Sovereign Grace, we too must take this great salvation and declare it to the world.

What do we Declare?

With our new delight in Christ Jesus, brought out of the darkness of idols into his marvelous light, we must declare the Gospel by which we have been saved. As the Apostle Peter writes, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (I Peter 2:9). What are we to do as a “chosen race” and a “royal priesthood”, a “holy nation” and a “people for his own possession”? What is the outcome of our salvation? Declare his excellencies! You have been saved that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you! Having been filled with the delight of Jesus, we must now engage in his work. Just as Jesus delights in seeing the Father’s glory declared, so should we. Just as Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:33), so we are also to make our lives instruments and tools to accomplish the work and the will of our heavenly Father. This is the cause of our declaration; we love the Father by the work of the Holy Spirit through the Lord Jesus Christ by his gracious regeneration of our hearts, so we are compelled to declare that glory that he has shown in us. God has shown the light of his Gospel in our hearts (II Corinthians 4:6) and that light will overflow in our declaration (Matthew 5:14-16). That is why the Samaritan woman declared, and that is why we as the church declare.

To Whom do we Declare?

Now that we’ve seen why we declare and what it is that we declare, we must consider who gets to hear our declaration. In the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman, we can see that Jesus delights to see all peoples delight in the Father through him. The Samaritan people were considered reprehensible and unclean by the Jews. Therefore the Jews expected Jesus to avoid Samaria and all Samaritans in his ministry since they would defile him. Not only that, but the Jews would never have spoken with a Samaritan woman! Yet Jesus brings salvation for all people, and we must declare that message to all people. This is why Jesus proclaimed his Gospel to Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman, two very opposite peoples of society. Jesus preached to Jews and Gentiles, and he commands his disciples to do the same (Matthew 28:19; Acts 1:8; Romans 1:5).

III. Declaring at Sovereign Grace

So how are we as a church fulfilling Jesus’ command to declare his Gospel to all people? There are two major spheres in which we as a church actively declare our delight in Jesus Christ.

Declare Locally

Bakersfield is a most immediate target for declaring the Gospel. Sovereign Grace seeks to reach out to the surrounding communities with the Gospel through individual outreach and church planting. A distinctive of Sovereign Grace Church is our strong emphasis on the Gospel needs of our neighbors here in Bakersfield – they are just as lost as any sinners, and we are called to bring the living water of Jesus Christ to them. Personal evangelism to those we live around is a necessary component of our ministry as a church and as Christians. We also will be offering organized outreach opportunities to corporately declare our delight to those who have none outside of Christ, as well as ongoing mercy ministries to those in need in our communities.

Yet our desire to declare the Gospel goes beyond personal evangelism; we regularly support the collective church planting efforts of local church planters. Our participation in the Acts 29 organization reflects our sincere desire to see the kingdom of God spread through the spreading of churches across our town, state, and country, as well as the entire world. Wherever God gives us an opportunity to further the declaration of himself, we want to be ready for the task. We are interested in whoever God puts in our path, knowing that he desires all people to be saved.

Declare Globally

However, we do not simply want to end our missionary work within the borders of our city, county, state, or country. We take seriously God’s desire for the Gospel to go forth into all the nations that he might have worshipers of all nationalities (Revelation 5:9). This is why we desire to help build up the church in other countries. We invest our efforts regularly and diligently into foreign missions. Our first full-time missionary, Dan Healy, is currently ministering in Guniea Bissau, Africa, in order to provide medical relief to the people and to help equip the church to reach their local populations who do not know Christ. In addition, we have invested our time and finances considerably into Grace Bible College in India where they train up Indian ministers to pastor local congregations and spread the news of Jesus to their own countrymen. It is also our dream to build up a center for training people to send them out into the unreached people groups of the world. There are approximately 247 unreached people groups on the plant ranging from 100,000 to 13,000,000 people each. God commands us to take the delight he has given us in Christ Jesus and declare that delight to the world.

We can so easily be caught up with all that is going on with us in life that we begin to delight in and hope in those things and lose sight of what should be our primary delight, the Father! As we delight in him, we will want to see others sharing in that worship and delight, we will want to obey, we fill find joy in obedience to his command that we preach the Gospel to every people, and we will find joy in seeing people turn from sin to Jesus as their hope! There is no greater joy for the one who delights in God than to see other people turn from finding their joy in this world to finding their delight in the one true God and savior. So, let’s delight together in God through Jesus and go declare our delight to the world!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Where is the Real Ministry Action?

I am often asked the question, "In what areas of ministry can I serve at Sovereign Grace?" I immediately stop and think of our various programs and wonder where I can plug people in. Of course, my tendency to do this is exactly the opposite of what my impulse should be. My answer betrays that I am often more interested in furthering our church's programs than I am with the furthering of our people! My answer should be, "Why don't you get involved in a mutually edifying relationship with...? They are unengaged and could use other Christians in their life helping them grow. Invite them to lunch or dinner. Spend time together. Challenge each other with the Word and pray for one another. Further, who are your neighbors, coworkers, and friends who don't know Jesus? Pray for them. Invite them over for a BBQ. Take time to share the gospel with them."

Sovereign Grace is a church that endeavors to pursue biblical ministry, and in this vein, our direction should be more focused on who God has given us and training them to be used in their sphere of influence, passion, and gifting, rather than surveying our programs and trying to squeeze people into them. If programs need to cease, so be it. However, what we can't allow is for people to be thrown into the maintenance of programs for the purpose of keeping the program afloat. This is not biblical ministry. We must focus on training people to minister to others and release them to do it. This means that the vast majority of our ministry is not under the control of our staff and we may even be unaware of most of it.

It is my hope that Sovereign Grace will be a church that has leaders focused on training and releasing people for ministry, and members who begin to see the more informal and non-programmatic ministry opportunities of caring for one another and reaching out to the lost as where the real ministry action is.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Develop~Chapter 4

Develop ~

God’s Calling for His Church

Sovereign Grace believes we should commit to develop in love for God’s calling for his church.

Have you ever heard statements like, “I love Jesus, but I hate the church,” or, “I think highly of Jesus, but I can’t stand his followers,” or, “Jesus was a righteous man, but this church he left behind is just a bunch of hypocrites?” The Bible says that this church Jesus left behind is called his body, his bride, and his chosen and beloved.

Saying, “I love Jesus, but I hate his followers,” is kind of like having a friend who says to you, “I love you, but I can’t stand your wife. We can hang out but you have to keep your incredibly undesirable wife away from me!” It is like someone saying, “I really like your head, but you have to keep that hideous body out of sight.” This probably wouldn’t lead to an incredibly strong relationship.

The fact is that the idea of being a Christian disconnected from being a member of the local church is unheard of in the Bible. The concept of a Christian who isn’t a member of the body and part of a local church is about as useful as the crucifixion of Christ without the resurrection of Christ. This kind of Christian is not found anywhere in the Bible.[1]

Frankly, I am not surprised to hear this from unbelievers. Unbelievers don’t love the Jesus of the Bible and so I am not surprised they hate his followers. Jesus prophesied this would happen. Of course, Jesus meant that unbelievers would reject the church because it loved him and pursued holiness as he did. He did not predict it because he meant the church would be filled with a bunch of people who could care less about him and are disinterested in holiness. Inasmuch as our lack of love for Jesus and pursuit of holiness is the problem, the critique is fair.

What is amazing is that I am increasingly seeing this attitude of disdain and distance from the church among believers. Believers are either so taken with their individualism that they think they don’t need the church, or they are so smitten with their autonomy that they don’t like the thought of a religious organization (because that implies authority) and they think no one has any right over them. Or, they are so tired of being burned by the sin they see have seen and been affected by in the church that they would rather not put themselves in a place where they can be hurt again. They never seem to realize that they are sinners and are also capable of hurting others.

If the church is so important, then it might help to begin by defining what the Bible means by the church. What is the church? The church can be discussed as either the universal or the local church:

Universal: All people everywhere who have been born again to faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are members of God’s universal church.

Local: “The local church is a community of regenerated believers who confess Jesus Christ as Lord. In obedience to Scripture they organize under qualified leadership, gather regularly for preaching and worship, observe the biblical sacraments of baptism and communion, are unified by the Spirit, are disciplined for holiness, and scatter to fulfill the great commandment and the great commission as missionaries to the world for God's glory and their joy.”[2]

As you can see from the definition above, the local church is marked by preaching the Word, the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and qualified leadership. The local church’s function is to help its people delight in God through Jesus, develop in their delight in God, and declare God to the ends of the earth. In order to do so, God has called the local church to establish leaders who will preach the Word, administer the ordinances, and apply discipline when necessary. Further, the local church cannot delight in God, develop in delight, or declare our delight without its members fulfilling their God-given roles.

Leadership in the Local Church

God has established two offices for his church---Elders and Deacons. It is the belief of Sovereign Grace that we should be governed by a plurality of elders (more than one). The lead pastor serves as the first among equals among the elders. The lead pastor has the responsibility to humbly and diligently lead a team of men who are responsible for the spiritual oversight of the church. They are the pastors of the church. The Bible provides for the two types of elders---double-honor and single-honor (1 Tim. 5:17). Double-honor elders are those who are paid as full-time pastors over the church. Single-honor elders are those who serve the church as part-time, unpaid pastors. We believe elders should be trained and appointed by the current pastors / elders and confirmed by the members of the church.[3]

The office of deacon is an office that was established for the purpose of caring for the physical needs of the body. The word “deacon” literally means “servant.” We see the beginning of the role of deacons in Acts 6 when the apostles tell the church to appoint men to serve the widows. The apostles needed to be freed up to preach and pray. Likewise, elders are set apart for providing spiritual oversight and shepherding in the church and deacons are set apart to care for the physical needs of the church. Some men are exceptionally gifted in taking care of physical needs in the church and providing mercy ministries for those in need. These men will be trained and appointed by the elder team and will be confirmed by the congregation to lead areas of ministry specific to deacons.

As Pastor Mark Driscoll describes it, elders fight the air war of preaching and prayer and deacons fight the ground war of caring for physical needs. Certainly, deacons can preach and pray and elders can help with physical needs, however, these offices speak to their primary roles. Further, while it is true that deacons must submit to elders in the local church, Sovereign Grace does not see these offices as the “Varsity and JV” of church leadership but different roles on the same team.

Membership in the Local Church

When we were born again we became spiritually united to Jesus through faith. This unity we experience is brought about by the work of the Holy Spirit mysteriously incorporating us into Jesus’ church. We are the body and he is the head. We are united to him and to one another through the work of the Holy Spirit applying the grace of the gospel to us and adopting us as sons of God. Therefore, it is impossible to speak about being a Christian and not being a member of the body of Christ. The only option left to discuss is whether one is a member who is walking worthy of their calling, or not. What are the duties of members to one another and to the leaders?

The responsibility of members to the leaders

  • Respect and love the leaders because of their work among you. (1 Thess. 5:12-13)

  • Take care of the financial needs of the leaders who teach you. (Galatians 6:6; 1 Timothy 5:17)

  • Follow and submit to the leaders whom God has placed over you. (Heb 13:7, 17; 1 Pet 5:5)

The responsibility of members to one another

  • Worship with one another on the Lord’s Day (Acts 20:7; Rev. 1:10).
  • Encourage one another toward love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:23-25).
  • Help one another through habitual sin. (1 Thessalonians 5:12-14).
  • Be humble, patient, loving, and peace-pursuing with one another (Ephesians 4:1-6)
  • Speak the truth in love to another so we might grow into maturity. (Ephesians 4:11-16)
  • Discipline one another in sin and restore one another upon repentance (Matthew 18:15-20; 1 Cor. 5; Gal. 6:1-2).
  • Help one another with physical and emotional needs (Acts 2:44-45, 4:32-37, 1 Cor. 12:26)
  • Pray for one another. (Matthew 6:9-13)
  • Love one another as a testimony to the world of the power of the Gospel (Acts 2:47; 1 Cor. 14:24-25.)

Sovereign Grace is striving to help equip each of our members to serve one another well without so filling our schedules that we don’t have time to attend to work, families, and reaching unbelievers well. This is a difficult balance to try and achieve. This is why we push so hard on small groups. We firmly believe these communities can help equip one another and support one another in such a manner that we don’t need multiple different programmatic avenues to equip you to minister to one another well.

However, no matter how much we strive it remains true that we must give up our time, talent, and treasure if we are going to help one another delight in God, develop in our delight, and declare our delight to others. Every believer must consider how God has equipped him or her to serve the needs of the whole body. You may respond that you are not sure you have a talent that is useful, that you may not have much time to give, or that you don’t have much treasure to contribute. Our response is that you have been given everything necessary to accomplish your role in God’s church. God has gifted every member of his body with the grace necessary for the work he wants accomplished in the church ((Romans 12:3ff., 1 Cor. 12-14, Ephesians 4:7-16, 1 Pet. 4:10-11). Further, God has given you the grace he considers necessary for the local church you are in. In other words, as members of Sovereign Grace you are not only helpful, but also necessary to the mission of our church. We cannot walk worthy of our calling as a church apart from you using whatever grace God has given you.

The problem for all of us is that we often do not sacrifice our time, talent, and treasure because we have a worship problem. We don’t sacrifice our time because we worship our freedom to do as we please, or because we want to please someone who does not want us to give up any of his or her time. We don’t sacrifice our talent because we worship accolades and appreciation and don’t believe we get enough when using our talents for the church, or because we fear we are not good at anything and don’t want others to think poorly of us. We don’t sacrifice our treasure because we worship our security in having money, or our comfort and pleasure. Sovereign Grace believes the solution to our idolatry problem is the Gospel. When we understand that God, who is infinitely rich, became poor in order to give those of us who were spiritually poor all the riches of his kingdom we can rejoice in sacrificing for others.

Sovereign Grace is a church that believes we need to be rich toward one another because God has been rich toward us. We ask our members to commit to care for one another in small groups, pray for the work of the ministry, serve in some manner on Sunday mornings, reach out to unbelieving friends and family, and give generously to support the ministry of the church.[4] We can’t achieve our mission of “bringing about the obedience of faith in all nations for the sake of his name” without our whole body fulfilling their God-given role as a member or leader in Sovereign Grace.

Recommended Reading:

Stop Dating the Church, by Joshua Harris

Why We Love The Church, by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck

What is a Healthy Church?, by Mark Dever

The Treasure Principle, by Randy Alcorn

[1] For an extended article on why Sovereign Grace believes in church membership please see Appendix #5, entitled, Life at Sovereign Grace.

[2] Driscoll, Mark, Vintage Church, p. 40

[3] For a longer description of elders and their training process, please see Appendix #6.

[4] Randy Alcorn provides 6 helpful keys for informing our giving: 1). God owns everything. I’m His money manager. 2). My heart always goes where I put God’s money. 3). Heaven, not earth, is my home. 4). I should live not for this present life on earth but for my eternal life in heaven. 5). Giving is the only antidote to materialism. 6). God prospers me not to raise my standard of living, but to raise my standard of giving.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Develop~Chapter 3

Develop ~

God’s Promises in Prayer

“That we lie on earth poor and famished and almost destitute of spiritual blessings, while Christ sits in glory at the right hand of the Father, clothed with the highest majesty of empire, must be imputed to our slothfulness and the narrowness of our faith.”---John Calvin

Sovereign Grace believes we should commit to develop in love for God’s promises in prayer.

Are you ever overwhelmed by the distress in this fallen world and your inability to do anything about it? Have you ever looked at the state of our culture, or a friend’s heart, and thought it is hopeless? Do you ever live with the sense that everything is “going to hell in a hand basket”? Think of the numerous problems we encounter which can make us feel hopeless:

  • Our culture is increasingly becoming godless and is suffering massive moral degradation.
  • The Evangelical church is becoming increasingly weak in its holiness, evangelism, and commitment to rigorous study of the Word.
  • There are billions of people who don’t know Christ.
  • You have a family member, or friend, who is stuck in the same sin pattern and who refuses to heed your advice.
  • You see people you know walking away from Christ and there is nothing you can do to convince them otherwise.

What is our natural inclination in these scenarios? My inclination is often to think of a new strategy or to work harder. My response is often not to pray! Prayer is necessary to accomplish God’s ends and I don’t think we believe it. I believe we need to get our minds around something fundamental---God is sovereign over all things! His sovereignty includes the ends and the means to those ends! One of the primary means God uses to bring about his ends is prayer.

In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus gives his disciples the Great Commission. Jesus teaches us that the church is commanded to take the gospel to every people, tribe, tongue, and nation. Jesus states the Great Commission this way:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in* the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Jesus tells us the means of seeing men and women from every nation worshipping God. The means is that the church preaches the Gospel in every nation. What is glorious is that we also learn the outcome of this command. When we read Revelation 5:9-12, we learn that not only has God given the means to his end, but he has even told us the ends before they have come to pass! How can he tell us the ends before the ends have even come to be? He can do so because he is sovereign over the ends. Look at what John shows us as he rends the curtain of heaven so we will see what is to come in the eternal state:

And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals,

for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God

from every tribe and language and people and nation,

and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,

and they shall reign on the earth.”

Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”

Jesus gave his church a command showing he is sovereign over the means and he showed us the fulfillment of that command showing he is sovereign over the ends. We have in writing the guarantee that the Great Commission is going to be fulfilled thousands of years before it is. Jesus gave his disciples a command that he knew the result of.

I suppose some people might say, “then what is the point of obeying the Great Commission if it is guaranteed to be fulfilled?” Why preach or pray if it is already determined and written down that God will be glorified by all nations? We should do so because God has commanded us to obey the Great Commission. He has commanded us to preach and pray as the means by which the ends will be accomplished! God has also told us to pray, “Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven,” and then shows us it will be so in Revelation 21-22. Is there any doubt that “God’s will” will be done on earth? So, why pray?

We should pray because God has told us this is the means through which he will bring His glorious ends. God has not superintended the writing of his Word in such a way that we are just playing an empty game. It isn’t just an exercise in psychology as God uses prayer to change us. God really, in fact, uses our prayers as the means to accomplish his ends. Our prayers are effectual; they are answered and the hearts of men and women are opened to the Word as a result. In fact, our praying and our preaching are not only helpful, but are necessary.

It is true that the Word of God is the sword of the Spirit in our fight against the Devil. The Word of God is what is sharper than any two edged sword, dividing joint and marrow. The Word of God is what is useful for teaching, correcting, rebuking, and training in righteousness. It is the Word of God through which the mind is renewed, and which is effective in taking captive every thought to the obedience of Christ! However, this sword of God’s Word is a weapon that man is powerless to wield without prayer. This is why Paul tells the Ephesians that when they put on the full armor of God and wield the sword of the Spirit they need to be praying continuously. We need our people to pray so our preaching of the Word to one another and to unbelievers will be powerful to change hearts. As John Piper has said, “Prayer is the power that wields the weapon of the Word, and the Word is the weapon by which the nations will be brought to faith and obedience.” We need to pick up the sword of God’s Spirit trusting him to provide what he requires and promises.

Prayer at Sovereign Grace

This is why Sovereign Grace encourages prayer in every context of our church. We want God to work powerfully in our church and know that he promises to do so if his people would only ask him. When a group of Americans visited London last century to see the famous pastors, C.H. Spurgeon, they asked him what was the secret of his great congregation. He took them to the boiler room, downstairs, where a large group of over a hundred men and women were gathered lifting up the services in prayer. He said, “There is the secret, corporate prayer.” Sovereign Grace Church, likewise, believes that prayer both corporate and individual is necessary to effective ministry. We have nothing to offer people but God’s Word, and we can do nothing to change their hearts so they repent before it, rejoice in it, and are obedient to it. Only the Holy Spirit can do this heart changing work. Thus, we are utterly dependent on Him in prayer.

We believe prayer should trust in God’s character and provision, should be continuous, thankful, in accordance with God’s revealed will, and for God’s glory. We believe prayer should manifest itself in the following contexts:

1. Private Devotion: Both as a matter of time set aside and as frequent ejaculatory prayers.

2. Family Devotion: Before meals, in the morning, before bed, during family worship times, and in family decisions.

3. Corporate Devotion: At all events, during corporate worship, as separate meetings, and during small groups.

How Do I Pray as Jesus Taught in the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13)?[1]

The Address: We need to start by recognizing the God whom we are addressing. We need to recognize he is the transcendent (above us and greater than us) and holy God. We also need to recognize he is imminent (near us) and cares for us as children. We need to recognize our right to be children of God is a gift of the Gospel.

The First 3 Petitions: God is God-centered and we also should be. We need to pray God’s name will be set apart as holy and glorious. He should be known here and in all nations for the majesty of his character. We also need to pray that God’s kingdom of grace will spread in our own hearts and the hearts of men in all nations, culminating in his glorious return in which his kingdom of glory will be established. Finally, we need to pray God’s will be done in our lives and in the lives of others. We need to pray that his Word will be obeyed and rejoiced in.

The Second 3 Petitions: God has provided for all our needs before we have even asked him. As a Trinitarian God, the Father created us and will providentially provide for our physical needs, the Son atoned for our sins and will provide us with our ultimate spiritual need of forgiveness and reconciliation with the Father, the Holy Spirit indwells us and will provide for our moral needs of resisting the devil’s temptations. We should trust God for these things and ask him to provide them.

Recommended Books:

The Prayer of the Lord, by RC Sproul

The Valley of Vision, edited by Arthur G. Bennett

[1] For a short model on Biblical prayer based off the Lord’s Prayer, please see Appendix #4.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Develop~Chapter 2

Develop ~

God’s Voice in His Word

Sovereign Grace believes we should commit to develop in love for God’s voice in his Word.

Do you struggle with how to read the Bible? Have you ever wondered about how to understand certain verses in the Bible? Have you ever read verses you thought were confusing, seemed contradictory, pointed to a conclusion that seemed to impugn the character of God, or verses that you have no idea how to apply? There are several texts in the Bible, which have been the center of confusion of controversy for Christians. The following are some examples:

Texts we argue over application for today:

  • Remember the Sabbath by keeping it holy. Exodus 20:8
  • So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 1 Cor. 14:39
  • I don’t permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man… 1 Tim 2:12

Texts we aren’t sure why they are even in the Bible:

  • Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk. Ex. 23:19
  • You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the LORD. Lev. 19:28
  • When an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten, but the owner of the ox shall not be liable. Ex. 21:28

Texts that use imagery we don’t often understand:

  • Your neck is like the tower of David, built in rows of stone; on it hang a thousand shields, all of them shields of warriors. Song of Solomon 4:4
  • This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666. Rev. 13:18

Texts that seem to present a moral problem:

  • Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock! Psalm 137:9
  • For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills and he hardens whomever he wills. Romans 9:17-18
  • So Joshua struck the whole land, the hill country and the Negeb and the lowland and the slopes, and all their kings. He left none remaining, but devoted to destruction all that breathed, just as the LORD God of Israel commanded. Joshua 10:40

Texts that seem to make God look wrong or fearful:

  • “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Genesis 2:17
  • Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” Genesis 3:22

These and other texts cause many people to doubt the Bible, or to be confused about how to read it, or to conclude they don’t understand the Bible well enough to read it. Our major problem is the way in which we read the Bible. We do not have a bird’s eye view by which we look at the whole story. We often have more of a microscopic view where we come in close and dissect the parts without looking at the whole. When we approach the Bible incorrectly we often pervert the message. There are several ways in which we currently pervert the Bible.

    1. We read it like an encyclopedia with stand-alone articles arranged by topic.
    2. We read it legalistically like a rule-book.
    3. We read it like a fortune cookie that provides pithy statements.
    4. We read it like theological term paper rather than paying attention to types of literature.
    5. We read it like a book of magical incantations, which can be repeated for spiritual power.
    6. We read it like a source of authority about truth, rather than the source.
    7. We read it like a book of hero stories, rather than a book about God.
    8. We read it like a religious relic used to oppress people, rather than a document of faith meant to bring freedom.
    9. We read it like a letter from a buddy or friend, rather than the weighty word of the Holy God.
    10. We read it like a kind of spiritual medical cure, almost with the idea that “a verse a day keeps the Devil away.”
    11. We read it as a therapeutic, self-help book, rather than a book that tells us there is no help for us apart from the free gift of God’s grace.
    12. We read it like a cut and paste guide to spirituality, rather than as a book that tells us a whole story about God and his work.

The point is that we often misread the Bible because we don’t know the whole story. Because we don’t know the whole story, we often don’t understand a verse like 2 Timothy 3:16:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.

How can some of the verses I just mentioned be profitable for training in righteousness? How is “don’t boil a young goat in its mother’s milk,” profitable for training in righteousness? The answer to that question is found in the answer to the question, “How do these verses help us understand the whole story of the Bible?” We must understand the whole Bible if we are going to understand its parts. When we understand how each part of the story fits within the context of the whole, we will understand how, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” So, the most fundamental principle in reading the Bible properly is to understand that we must read the Bible in light what the Bible is, what its theme is, and the purposes for which it was written.

What is the Bible and it’s Theme?

If we are going to understand how to read the Bible we must know what it is and what the theme of the Bible is. The Bible is God’s Word given to us in 66 different books, by multiple different human writers, in 3 different languages, with one primary or central message about God and his work. We have 39 books, which comprise what we call the Old Testament, and 27 books which make up the New Testament.

The Old Testament, written primarily in Hebrew with some Aramaic sections, is grouped in 3 sections:

1. History (Genesis-Esther)

2. Poetry (Job-Song of Songs)

3. Prophecy (Isaiah-Malachi)

The New Testament, written in Greek, is grouped in 4 sections:

1. Gospels (Matthew-John)

2. Acts

3. Epistles (Romans-Jude)

4. Revelation

We can summarize the Old Testament with one word, “Promise.” The Old Testament’s primary purpose is to show us God’s promise of sending our Savior-King, Jesus. The New Testament can be summarized with the word, “Fulfillment.” In the New Testament we read of how God kept his promise to send our Savior-King, and how his Name is Jesus. Did you notice something in my summaries? The whole of the Bible is about our Savior-King Jesus! It is about how God wanted to send his Son, Jesus, to save us from our sins and bring us back into his kingdom to worship him as king---and how he accomplished it!

We often hear that the theme of the Bible is the kingdom of God. John the Baptist preached, “repent, for the kingdom of God is near.” Jesus preached “repent, for the…kingdom of God is at hand.” Paul preached “about the kingdom of God.” They all preach about the kingdom of God because it is the theme of the Bible. But, didn’t I just say the whole Bible is about our Savior-King Jesus, and him saving us? Yes! Because saying the Bible is about our Savior-King Jesus and it is about the Kingdom of God is essentially to say the same thing. Graeme Goldsworthy has said that when we talk about the kingdom of God we are talking about,

“God's people in God's place under God's rule and blessing.”

The story of the Bible is that we were God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule and blessing, but that we sinned and were no longer God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule and blessing. So, God promised to send, and fulfilled his promise to send, our Savior-King Jesus to save us back into his place under his rule and blessing. Thus, when we say the Bible is about God’s Kingdom we are saying the Bible is about God’s Savior-King Jesus---coming to save us and bring us back into his kingdom! This changes the whole way we read the Bible and see the Christian life. We realize that the whole book is primarily about our Savior-King, Jesus. It is about his glory and exaltation. When we understand this bigger picture we will see how the smaller parts fit together.

2 Purposes of the Bible

One of the best ways to understand a book is to understand its purpose for being written. Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:14-15 to continue trusting the Bible which “made him wise unto salvation.” Paul knew that the primary purpose of the Bible is to make you wise for salvation. How does the Bible make you wise for salvation? The Bible is where we learn the good news of the Gospel---and the Gospel is the power of God for salvation! God has chosen to save us through our Savior-King Jesus by telling the story about him and his work in the Bible.

This is why the Bible is so important to us. Apart from the Word of God we cannot be saved. Apart from God revealing the truth to us in Scripture we would remain condemned in our sins, separated from God, and facing eternal damnation. But God condescended to speak his Word through men for the benefit of saving a people for himself. We can say that the Bible is what leads us into the kingdom of the Savior-King.

As we read our Bibles, we must understand that they are first about the person and work of Jesus. We must read the Bible in a Christ-centered manner. We must see the Bible primarily as a book about how God is working to graciously save us through Jesus and not primarily as a book of laws God is giving to us to keep. The whole Bible is about the story of Jesus. If we understand this we will be turned away from our constant focus on ourselves, and stop using our Bibles as some kind of self-help book. Instead, we will see that it is about our great Savior-King, and through it we can know him, live with him, and worship Him.

The secondary purpose for the Bible is to help us live for the glory of the King in his kingdom. If we have been saved into the kingdom of our glorious Savior-King how do we live well in it? How do we live for the glory of Christ? How do we live in a way that he is honored and exalted? As a believer you are currently a citizen of God’s kingdom and you also live in this world’s kingdom. Eventually you will live in God’s kingdom alone, but between now and the time we are freed from this world’s kingdom we will struggle with living in a way that honors our king.

We live well in God’s kingdom in the same way we were led into God’s Kingdom---through the Word of God. The Word of God is what makes us wise unto salvation, and the Word of God is how we are equipped to serve our King well. This is what Paul meant when he told Timothy, “all Scripture…is profitable for teaching…so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

The question is how is everything in the Bible profitable to equip me for every good work? If we understand that every verse is part of a larger story, then we will find out the context of each verse, see its use or function in that story, and then how that story applies to us---which will be beneficial or profitable. Every verse in the Bible is for you but not every verse is to you. They are not all written to direct your behavior. They are all written to broaden your understanding of your God, how he works, and what he is doing among us. As you understand him and his work you will know how to live in a manner that reflects his character and glory.

But how can the Bible be enough to equip me for every good work? There are many topics never addressed in the Bible that are very real to our lives. For example the Bible never addresses any of the following issues:

  • How to raise teenagers (the average person in the Bible was married and working in their teens).
  • How to deal with Attention Deficit Disorder. Is it okay to give drugs to your children to help them?
  • What does God think about watching television? How much is too much?
  • Who should I vote for or what political party should I register for?
  • What kind of car should I buy?
  • Should I join the military or not?

I could go on and on with examples of issues we deal with that are not definitively dealt with or even spoken of at all in the Bible. So, how is the Bible sufficient to equip me to serve Christ when it does not address so many issues that are relevant to me and when it addresses so many issues that don’t seem relevant to me?

We must understand the Bible is not primarily a book trying to provide you with all the principles you need to live by (although there are many helpful principles for addressing these issues in the Bible). It is primarily a book that is introducing you to a Person. The Bible is teaching you about Jesus and his work. John Piper said the following about how the Bible could be sufficient to equip us to deal with the many issues we face,

"That is a remarkable phrase: ‘every good work’! Everything good that God expects us to do, the Scriptures equip us to do. That is an amazing claim. How does it work? How does the Bible equip us for ‘every good work’? It's not by supplying specific lists that cover all possible situations. Thinking that way would be a mistake in two ways. It would be a mistake because there are hundreds of specific situations we are in that the Bible does not specifically address. There were no TVs, computers, cars, phones, birth control pills, Prozac, genetic engineering, respirators, bullets, bombs in Jesus' day. The Bible does not equip us for every good deed by telling us the specific choice to make for every new situation…So here's my answer to how the Scripture equips us for ‘every good work.’ The Scripture, day after day, reveals to us the greatness and the beauty and the power and the wisdom and the mercy of all that God is for us in Christ so that by the power of the Spirit we find our joy in him, and the ways of sin become distasteful—indeed ugly and repugnant. Yes the Bible gives us many specifics as pointers how to live. But most deeply the way the Bible equips us for every good work is by changing what we find satisfaction in so that our obedience comes from within freely, not by coercion from without. It does this when we read it and meditate on it and memorize it and meditate over it every day."

How should I approach reading the Bible?

We obviously cannot benefit from a book we are not familiar with. Further, it is difficult to start reading a book like the Bible when we have no experience with the types of literature used, no basic understanding of the cultural and historic concepts discussed, and no overall sense of how the Bible story develops. Therefore, I want to provide 7 simple principles for reading the Bible and some suggestions for how to start reading the Word.

7 Principles for Reading the Bible

    1. Remember the Bible is about God, his work in saving us through Jesus, and what he requires of us. Do not read the Bible without this lens on.
    2. Remember to pay attention to the kind of literature you are reading. Read a story as a story, poetry as poetry, direct teaching as direct teaching, a letter as a letter, and picturesque prophecy as prophecy. To be literal is to read the Bible according to its type of literature!
    3. Remember to pay attention to the context of what you are reading. What came before the verse you are reading? What comes after? What are the grammatical clues (i.e. is the word “because,” “therefore,” “for” starting your verse? If so, what is it referring to)? How has this same book you are reading used the same concepts and terms in other verses in the book? What is the overall flow of the argument?
    4. Remember that Scripture interprets Scripture. If your understanding of a verse causes you to think the verse contradicts another passage of Scripture then you are wrong about your understanding of one of the two passages, or both.
    5. Remember to pray God gives you understanding of the passage.
    6. Remember to use tools God has provided through his gift of teachers to the church.
    7. Remember to take your time and not get frustrated. Read, Read, Read.

Some Suggestions on How to Start Reading

1. Consider starting by reading the Gospels and then proceed to Acts.

2. Buy a good study Bible and read the introductory material for a book before you begin reading the book. I recommend the ESV Study Bible.

3. Buy the Jesus Storybook Bible and the Big Picture Story Bible and read them. They are for children but they are excellent at helping you understand the overall story.

4. Buy D.A. Carson’s “For the Love of God” books and read his short commentary on each passage as you read through the Bible.

5. Find a good Bible preacher and start listening to his sermons daily through various books of the Bible. I recommend Alistair Begg, John Piper, RC Sproul, John MacArthur, Ligon Duncan, and Sinclair Ferguson.

Recommended Reading:

God’s Big Picture, by Vaughn Roberts

Knowing Scripture, by RC Sproul

Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics, by Graeme Goldsworthy