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In a previous article I answered the question, “What is theology?” with the hope of helping you understand how theology is biblically/theological, and practical. In this article I want to help you understand what systematic theology is and why it is important. Ever since the dawn of the Church, Christians have been keen to engage in theology. Doctrine seeks to take what the Bible teaches and elaborate on it while theology is the application of our doctrine from the Word. Both doctrine and theology are to be grounded in the Word of God. As Dr. John Frame states in his systematic theology book, “Theology must be in accord with Scripture.”
The Point of Systematic Theology
In my first article titled, What is Theology, I explained that theology is the study of God. Since the time of the Apostles, the apologists of the early Church sought to take what they read in the Scriptures—the Old Testament writings—together with the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles, and explain it in ways that the people would understand. Theologian’s today aim to do the same thing. With systematic theology theologians aim to take the biblical teaching on certain topics and put them into specific categories. Some people today get so hung up on the categories themselves that they miss the point of systematic theology which is the synthesizing of biblical doctrine.
Being involved at my local church has taught me that speaking clearly, especially about theology is vitally important. For example, typically, what ends up happening in my small group is that we talk about what we’ve been saved from (sin), but hardly ever discuss what we’ve been saved to, namely to a new identity in Christ for the purpose of growing in His grace, culminating in glorification. With that said, in this article, I want to help you think in clear doctrinal and theological categories with the goal being that you can communicate orthodox doctrine matched with a life that reflects sound doctrine (orthopraxy).
Before I begin on this endeavor, however, let me share a personal story. As a freshman in high school, I began my study of systematic theology. In our youth Sunday school class, we studied systematic theology. Honestly, at first I didn’t get any of the terms; I struggled with the terms for a long time and kept going over and over what the words meant, until I could explain them. Today I have no problem explaining what the words mean. This took time, though, and I mention it because I understand how hard it can be to learn hard doctrinal and theological terms. It is important to keep in mind that what is most important is not the terms themselves, but being able to communicate the truth behind the words.
A few years ago I was known for correcting people when they would communicate something about theology that I thought they needed to be able to explain better. I then realized that while correcting them if they got the teaching wrong was appropriate (in a kind way), what I needed to understand was that everyone is at different levels in their knowledge and understanding. I’ll be honest—sometimes I even correct people today in the wrong way—after all old habits die hard, as the saying goes.
My point is that to be a good theologian one has not only to speak correctly about the theology, but also live by what he/she preaches. Many people know the right answers to theological matters, but live contrary to the teaching of the Word of God, and thus tear down what they espouse. In other words, as my mom tends to wisely says, “Actions speak louder than words.” Friends, we must not only believe the right things, but our lives must match what we believe. Theologians call this orthodoxy and orthopraxy.
That means that we have the right belief leading to a life that reflects the theology. Put another way, right theology should shape and transform our lives. When what we believe doesn’t change the way we behave, think, and live, then we are guilty of being hypocrites.
Dr. Ligon Duncan once stated, “Biblical theology and systematic theology, done rightly are friends. They need each other. They complement one another.” The modern understanding of systematic theology has needed to change and is changing as more and more biblical theologians are writing at a popular level for lay people regarding the storyline of Scripture. Biblical theology done rightly as Dr. Duncan states “complements one another”. This is an important point because when biblical theology doesn’t inform systematic theology, our theology takes the place of doctrine (becoming a serious problem). When this happens the relationship between doctrine and theology are confused and even separated, which causes a lot of issues as seen in a lot of our seminaries today.
Systematic theology rightly understood is informed by biblical theology. The goal of biblical theology is to inform the study of systematic theology, since systematic theology seeks to synthesize the biblical teaching on a particular doctrine. Systematic theology isn’t only for the ivory towers and theological nerds. While often it is perceived that way, and according to many a systematic theology book that view seems justified, I intend to explain why having theoretical systematic theologies is eminently practical.
Systematic theology, as I’ve stated in this article, aims to synthesize biblical doctrine. It does this by taking the clear teaching of Scripture and then putting it into categories where one can observe clearly and consider the topic at hand. To some people what I just said justifies their view: that theology is better left to the professionals. The fact is, however, that everyone is a theologian—even your atheist neighbor who espouses that God is dead. To make the statement that God is dead is to make a theological statement which reflects one’s view of God. We could continue on this vein of thought for some time, demonstrating how people make theological statements, but the point is that everyone has a theology which means everyone is a theologian to some degree or another. Systematic theology aids our understanding of biblical doctrine by expanding on it.
Dr. Wayne Grudem helpfully points out in his book, Systematic Theology, “Any Christian should find his or her Christian life enriched and deepened studying systematic theology.” During small group one time while examining Romans 5:12-21, I made the comment that what we were talking about in that passage should lead us to worship of God. The goal of theology is not just to gain more knowledge, but rather to have heady truth impact the way we live. This is why sound theology leads to sound living. This is also why, as I’ve been explaining in this article, thinking clearly about these issues is so vital.
As Grudem so aptly states, “A Christian should find his or her Christian life deepened by studying systematic theology”, for the simple reason that thinking deeply about these issues does matter. We live in a time when many approach the Christian life in the wrong way. Instead of viewing doctrine and theology as important to the Christian life, we instead see how some Christians in our local churches emphasize “how they feel” or “what they got out of the blog post or teaching”. The real problem is that people are not “feasting” on the preaching of the Word of God, although this may not be because of the preacher as is so often said. When we approach the Christian life in terms of what we feel, we come to worship service with the expectation that only what we “get out of the service” is what matters. This approach is the wrong one to take and is precisely what leads to the problem that I’ve been describing in this article—namely that doctrine and theology are not for the ivory tower academic, but rather for the local church, and for every Christian.
Every single Christian is a theologian. We all come to the Word, seeking to understand what it says and desiring to make sense of it for our own lives. With that said, Christians do have an objective standard by which to measure what they believe in the Word of God. As Drs. Frame and Grudem have made abundantly clear, systematic theology is to be derived from the Word of God.
Doctrine divorced from discipleship means discipleship ceases. Doctrine is the fuel that propels discipleship forward to the glory of God. This is why confusing the categories of biblical and systematical theology is so dangerous. We can become so focused on systematic categories that we begin to impose our theology on the Bible rather than have our doctrine inform our theology. Yet, often the emphasis in seminary is the opposite of this. The danger here is that if we know our systematic theology more than what the Bible teaches we will begin to impose our systematic theology on the text of Scripture. This is not how we are to treat the Word of God as Christians. As believers we are taught to handle the Word of God with great care (2 Timothy 2:15). This means that biblical theology should inform our systematic theology. Biblical theology provides the framework for systematic theology to build its categories.
If you were to walk into my office you would be confronted with five bookshelves, along with several degrees on the wall, a TV, a stand with a collection of books, a printer and my desk. Every single one of us walks into different rooms every day and we are confronted with what is there. The same is true with biblical and systematic theology. We come into the world of the Bible in biblical theology. We come to read, meditate on, study, reflect on, and obey what the Bible says. We are to live in this world and have our heads and hearts deeply affected and shaped by what it teaches. Yet, often we would rather do the opposite. We would rather hold to our own thoughts about topics rather than engaging what the Bible says. And thus we rush into the room of theology before we’ve spend time in the world of the Bible. When this happens (and it does happen) people emphasize their thoughts and feelings above the Word of God, instead of humbly submitting to the Bible.
Sound doctrine is to affect the way we live. If it doesn’t then let’s just be honest and admit we either don’t know it or don’t believe it. Either way we need to study doctrine and theology, as we are called to be workmen who are not ashamed. We are to handle the Word of God well and not be sloppy servants of the Word.
Understanding the relationship between biblical and systematic theology is eminently practical and vitally important. In conclusion here are two helpful takeaways from this article. First, understand that biblical theology informs systematic theology. Ground your heart, and mind in the truth of the Word of God. Second, grow in your understanding of systematic theology by reading good books on it. Start with Dr. Horton Pilgrim Theology Core Doctrines of the Christian Life. Then move onto Wayne Grudem’s Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Don’t just stay stagnant in your understanding of systematic theology, but continue to progress onto more advanced works like Calvin’s Institutes and many other works of like mind. Read broadly and widely on the subject even among those whom you may not agree with on a wide variety of subjects. By doing so you will grow not only in your understanding of what the Bible teaches, but be conversant with what others have said and are saying about these matters. I also urge you to open your Bible as you read and be a Berean, a workman not ashamed, rightly handling the Word of God.
This article first appeared in the Summer 2014 issue of Theology for Life.
- John Frame, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief (New Jersey: P&R, 2013), 6.
Ii. Ligon Duncan, Proclaiming a Cross-centered Theology (Wheatoon, Crossway), 32.
Iii. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction To Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1995), 23.
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At first it may seem innocent to ask the question,“What is theology?” after all theology means the study of God. Throughout this article, I intend to demonstrate that while it may be innocent to ask the question, “What is theology?” the answer is actually quite complex, serious, and very important. At this point some people may think that their suspicions about theology are justified—namely that theology isn’t important because it is dry and boring. I can understand that sentiment, we theologians do use a lot of “big” words that the vast majority of people never even think to use.
In my early teens I grew not only in my relationship with Jesus, but also with studying the Word of God, learning the great truths of Christianity. Some people may accuse me of being a nerd at this point, and they may have a point to a degree. Yet, here’s the thing: everyone is a theologian. Since everyone has a belief system, we must be clear about what theology is and why thinking through a biblical worldview is so important. When Christians speak, teach, or write they are to do so from a biblical worldview. Crucial to having a biblical worldview is to understand that at the heart of this worldview is God Himself who creates us, sustains our planet, and who empowers us through the Holy Spirit to make much of Jesus. It is in and through the Risen Christ that Christians are to proclaim the message of the Bible, which contains one unified message about Jesus, His coming to die, rise and ascend and to yet return. It is this message that Christians are to enjoy and proclaim.
Often Christians say that they don’t have theology nor are they theologians, however, this is the wrong approach. In my experience Christians often say this because nobody has walked them through what key doctrinal and theological words mean. So, instead of being honest about what they don’t understand, Christians often refuse to be authentic about what they do and do not know. While Christians today have more resources than ever, what we need is a filter through which to view those resources. Our desire to spread the fame of God among the nations is spot on, but we also need to understand that we are all theologians, even if we aren’t professionally trained ones.
One of the main reasons why Christians object to being a theologian is because they don’t feel that they are qualified to speak to the issues. They view theology as only for the “professionals”—those with a Ph.D. or a Master’s degree. Yes, there is a need for professionally trained theologians to speak to the issues of our day with great clarity. Yet, there is also a need for Christians in the pew to speak to the issues of our day, as well as within their workplaces.
One of my chief goals in my ministry is to equip lay people to speak to the issues of the world today. Here at Servants of Grace, we want you to understand that doctrinal and theological issues truly matter. And beyond that, we want you to know what the terms mean so you can speak with confidence to your friends and neighbors about the glorious truths contained in the Bible. We believe that every Christian regardless of their education level, can and should learn the truths we write and speak about regularly on our website. Make no mistake, friend, the stakes have never been higher for every Christian to speak to the issues and do so through a biblical worldview.
Here is where theology comes in. Theology is the application of our doctrine, which comes from the Word of God. It is a doctrinal statement that Jesus is the only way to God (John 14:6), and that salvation is only available through Jesus (Acts 4:12). The application of that truth would be, for one, to explore the depth of it by examining, for example, the exclusivity of Jesus and how if one rejects Him, they will go to Hell, a place of unrelenting, unending, and conscious punishment.
One reason why many Christians don’t see theology as important is because of how we view doctrine and theology. Christians often see our theology as more important than grounding our convictions in the truth of the Word of God. The greatest problem in evangelicalism today is our lack of doctrinal depth, precision, and conviction. This was made plain in circa 2000-2007 with the rise of the “emergent discussion,” which was a conversation about discipleship and how to reach people. The fruit of this discussion demonstrated that under the guise of “conversation”, evangelicals, rather than standing on the Word of God, would rather compromise the truth.
At the heart of Servants of Grace is the idea that what we, as Christians, need is a return to the Word of God and to the confessional standards of the early Church. Our greatest need in Christianity of this generation is to return to our first love Jesus. We need to return to the Word of God and to study the fruit and labors of men and women who have gone before us in church history.
Sadly, many evangelicals view church history with suspicion and the whole enterprise of theology as unimportant—even while they hold onto convictions and declare their beliefs, which is the task of theology. Evangelicals should learn from men like John Owen and Charles Spurgeon—men who stood fast on the Word of God and the gospel of the Lord Jesus. Evangelicals, our great cry should not only be for more “Owens” and “Spurgeons”, but for men and women on fire for the glory of the gospel.
How then can Christians be theologians?
By understanding the relationship between doctrine and theology, Christians can gain confidence that when they open their mouths they have something to say that will profit others and point sinners to the gospel. Since everyone, even your neighbor, is a theologian, the question as it’s been said is whether you’re a good theologian or a bad theologian. How then can one be a “good theologian”? Being a good theologian means being faithful to the Word of God and to the teaching of the Church throughout its 2,015 years. This includes affirming and teaching what has been taught by the Church from the Word of God throughout its history. Even here it’s important to make mention that Christians do not affirm creeds for the sake of the creed itself, but rather affirm creeds because Christians of ages gone by have sought to faithfully teach the Word of God, and to answer objections to the faith once and for all delivered to the saints. While people today view with suspicion any form of institutionalism, even the New Testament epistles affirm the reality that Christianity is a community gathered together to corporately worship the Lamb slain, hear the Word preached, participate in the sacramental communion, and much more. Being a good theologian means placing oneself under the authority of the Word of God, of the local church, and faithfully proclaiming the entirety of the Gospel.
One of the reason the creeds are important to biblical Christianity is because they give us an example of what doing theology in community looks like. Pastors and ministry leaders met and discussed the relevant issues through a biblical-theological framework and then spoke to those issues after deliberating. The great creeds of the Christianity were written in response to error that is to teaching that deviated from the truth of the Bible. Therefore, Christians need to understand that Christianity is not a “lone-ranger” religion, where having a card-carrying membership to the church of Starbucks or a subscription to every sports channel known to man cuts it. Rather, the Christian faithfully places him/herself under authority in the local church for the purpose of sitting under the teaching of the Word of God, faithfully preached with the focus being the exposition of the text and the expounding of the glories of the gospel in that text.
There are, as I’m sure you can see, dangers on all sides when we look for the answers to questions like, “what is theology?” and, “how do we do theology?” There are many different fields within theology; including biblical theology, which is concerned with looking at whether there is a unified message in the Bible; systematic theology, which seeks to apply biblical theology; and historical theology, which is concerned with the Church’s teaching and application of doctrine to the life and health of the Church. Doctrine and theology are not for some stuffy ivory tower, but for you. They are for your everyday life as you head to your job (whether you work in a secular or ministry field), and as you minister in the trenches of ministry in your local church.
I realize that seeing doctrine and theology in this way may be new to you. When we learn new things in our walk with God, we are confronted with a choice to either apply what we learn or to completely disagree. One of the areas of concern I have for you, as you study theology, is that you be discerning. Yes, I want you to understand doctrine and theology, but in doing so I want you to learn to be discerning. I want you to think through these issues. I want you to test and examine them and mull them over, again and again. In other words I don’t want you to simply take what we say here at face value, but to test it, examine it, and reflect on it. I’m sure you are used to being told what to do and how to think, so this type of instruction may seem strange. I want to challenge you now to think about what I’m saying and consider it.
I truly desire to equip lay people to be doctrinally knowledgeable and theologically capable. In other words, I want you to be able to discern truth from error and to confront it in a way that honors God. I want you to be known for convictional kindness that affirms what is true, rejecting what is false, and speaks kindly and to the point about what God says from His Word to His people. I want you to not only be able to confront false teaching but also to be able to be conversant in doctrinal and theological issues.
Dr. Albert Mohler said, “The tragedy that evangelicals have lost the art of biblical discernment must be traced to a disastrous loss of biblical knowledge. Discernment cannot survive without doctrine.” Throughout this article I’ve been arguing for a comprehensive biblical/theological framework in order to answer the question, “What is theology?”
At the heart of this question is the idea that theology is not only for academics but for your everyday life. The reason that is the case is because, as Dr. Mohler notes, we as a people lack biblical discernment due to the fact that we have lost a vision for biblical knowledge.
In summation, the problem of biblical literacy is a rising one. Researcher George Barna states that, “Fewer than half of all adults can name the four gospels. Many Christians cannot identify more than two or three of the disciples.”
According to data from the Barna Research Group, 60 percent of Americans can’t name even five of the Ten Commandments. No wonder people break the Ten Commandments all the time. They don’t know what they are,” said George Barna, president of the firm.
The bottom line is that: “Increasingly, America is biblically illiterate,” (see George Barna’s Site). To further give context to this problem twenty-five million copies of the Bible are sold in the United States annually. Nine out of ten homes in the USA have a Bible. More than 400 million copies of all or part of the Bible are distributed through Bible societies each year. “The number 1 predictor of spiritual maturity (according to a study by LifeWay Research) is reading the Bible on a daily basis, [but] only 16 percent of churchgoers read the Bible daily and 25 percent of churchgoers don’t read the Bible at all.”
Since the problem of biblical illiteracy is so widespread, there is a great need for you, the lay person, to understand the relationship between what the Bible teaches and how to apply it to your thinking and thus to your life. As we conclude this article I want to give you a few ways you can take what you’ve learned and apply it to your life and thinking.
First, refuse to be a statistic!
Those statistics listed above are shocking for a reason—they are meant to awaken you to the problem and get you to open your Bible. Regular Bible reading will help you to deal with the challenges you face every day.
Second, if you aren’t already, get planted in a church that teaches the Bible. There you will develop a biblical worldview and thus be able to speak to the issues of our day through a biblically theological framework.
Third, fight for your joy in God!
Refuse to be apathetic about your faith or to take it for granted. And finally, if I may let me encourage you to tell your friends about the work we are doing here at Servants of Grace. We earnestly desire to come alongside local churches in order to help people grow in their faith. In conclusion, as Dr. Michael Horton has noted, “Theology is more than an intellectual hobby. It’s a matter of life and death, something that affects the way you think, the decisions you make each day, the way you relate to God and other people, and the way you see yourself and the world around you.”
This article first appeared in the Summer 2014 issue of Theology for Life.
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Mortification is a word that not many of you likely have heard. Two concepts that appear in Christian approaches to sanctification are mortification and vivification. Building on the language and imagery of Colossians 3:9-10, the idea of mortification is understood as putting off the “old man,” and vivification was conceived, as the reality of being made alive by the Spirit. These twin ideas of sanctification require not only the shedding of sin but also renewal in the grace of God.
The importance of mortification though cannot be overstated. To mortify is to put sin to death. Christians can kill or mortify their sin because of Jesus. Jesus is our High Priest, He rules, and reigns as our Intercessor. Christians struggle to kill their sin because they don’t know role of Jesus as their High Priest, Intercessor, and Mediator before the Father.
Jesus is a sympathetic High Priest and Intercessor (Hebrews 4:14-16). He knows everything that is going on in our lives. Nothing is hidden from view of Him who knows His people. He died in our place and for our sin. When He was in the Garden of Gethsemane, He experienced suffering on a level we will never experience. Yet, He submitted Himself to the Father and His Father’s plan for Him to die and rise on behalf of His people. Through Him now, His people have a High Priest and Intercessor who knows what they are going through. On the Cross, the full wrath of God was laid upon Jesus. Now through Christ, the righteousness of God is imputed to man apart from good works, to those who believe on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Through Jesus, all men bow in humble allegiance for they find that they have met their match, and in Him they are now satisfied by His love. Jesus makes all things new. He takes our sin and imputes to man His righteousness through which He gives man a new nature, with new desires, and affections for Himself.
Many Christians struggle to understand mortification because in the North American Church, we are so used to speaking about what we’ve been saved from that we hardly ever talk about what we’ve been saved to. When you combine this, with the idea that many Christians earnestly think that they can live however you want, you have a recipe for a disaster. To use the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, he called the idea that man can live however we want, cheap grace. Bonhoeffer would point out that the grace of God is costly—it cost the Son of God His life when He bled and died a horrible awful death in our place and for our sin. Through Christ, we can put our sin to death. This is what Bonhoeffer called costly grace.
When you combine all of this with the fact that many Christians don’t want to speak about sin but only the love of God, you have a disaster. It’s no small wonder why the American church is by and large anemic today. We have such a low view of sin that when we read Paul’s words in Romans 6:1, “May it never be?” in reference to living, however, we want we don’t hear their full force. Paul’s point in Romans 6:1 is to counter the idea that because we’re saved by grace, we can live however we want to live. Instead, he counters by explaining our new identity in Christ is to inform our progressive growth in Christ. Progressive sanctification always goes back to positional or definitive sanctification. We don’t grow past our position in Christ, we grow into our position in Christ. Yet, the way that we often speak about sanctification as Christians focuses only on how we’re growing by grace (progressive sanctification). By not talking about what we’re growing into- namely our position standing in Christ we encounter many problems. As Christians grow in grace, they grow in their understanding of their new identity which propels their growth forward in His grace. Let’s now take a look at a few ways this affects our understanding of prayer and taking responsibility for our sin.
First, understanding our new identity in Christ will affect the way we pray. Through the intercession of Christ, He lives to plead the treasure of His own blood for His people. Our Lord is not dead and defeated. He is alive and empowers His people through the resurrection to live new lives. Furthermore, He empowers them to be His witness by His grace for His glory. When we witness for Christ, we witness not from our progressive growth in Him, but from our new identity in Him. Understanding our new identity in Christ affects not only our putting sin to death but every facet of our ministry for Jesus.
Second, understanding our new identity will mean we no longer play games or excuse our sin but rather take responsibility for it. Many Christians think they can live however they want, which is why pornography, adultery, and divorce are such big issues in the Church. Rather than coming out into the Light and living from their new identity in Christ, many Christians live like Adam in the Garden hiding in shame and nakedness. The thing about Adam though is that he wasn’t allowed to live in shame and guilt for his entire life, since God called him out and asked, “Where are you?” in Genesis 3:9-11. If we’re truly born again we will come awake and out of the shadows by embracing our new identity in Christ. Furthermore, the Lord will discipline us if we decide to live however we want. Christ died in the place of sinners and for their sin so, they would daily slay the dragon of sin, and testify to His power. Christ died in the place of sinners for their sin, so now they would no longer be under the dominion of sin, but instead by grace fueled obedience, daily slay sin through the present ministry of the Holy Spirit who summons them to come to His throne of grace and intercession for help in time of need.
We live in church culture where often times what is overemphasized is that you need to get saved. There is nothing wrong with calling people to become Christians. Yet Christians need to be told that now because they are saved they are to put to death their sin and live from their new identity in Christ (Romans 6). Christians have been transferred from the Kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ. As a result of this, they are to put off their sin and put on the Lord Jesus Christ in all of life. This also includes not living how you want to. This means you must decide if you will go and sin no more or if you will continue on in sin. With that said we also need to understand that we have indwelling sin. None of God’s people will be perfected until the day when the Lord Jesus clothes us completely in the righteousness of Christ. This is why theologians speak about the already and not of salvation.
Christians are saints and not yet perfected. Christians are saints because they have the righteousness of Christ imputed to them by faith in Christ. Through Christ, the Christian is as adorned in the perfection of Christ as they can be here while they wrestle against the world, the flesh, and the devil. This is also why the Christian is to engage in spiritual warfare. At the heart of mortifying the flesh is the idea that they are putting their sin to death. The Christian who shows no semblance of repentance in their life shows that they have serious doctrinal decencies. Discipleship problems are always doctrinal problems.
One day, Christians will be thoroughly clothed in the righteous robes of Christ. That Day is not yet since they are not in heaven. We will face hardship, persecution, and difficulty. After all the Lord told His people that we would in John chapters 15-16. The Lord to uses the good and difficulty of His people’s lives to refine and mold them into His image and likeness. This is why when Christians behave like how they live doesn’t matter, what they are saying by their actions is they don’t believe the gospel. The gospel is the power of God. God will bring His elect to glorification. Everything God does in the life of His people is to bring forth a pure and holy bride to the Lord Jesus. There is no fault on the side of the Lord Jesus for the lack of sanctification in the life of His people since He lives to make intercession for them. The entire responsibility lies in the individual Christian for failing to repent of sin. This is why many Christians to use the language of 1 John 1 are deceived. They think all is well with their soul, attend church every Sunday and yet not all is well. They go home from church, yell at their spouses, look at pornography during the week, men lust after every girl on every magazine cover, and look at that inappropriate image on social media and think, “Wow my life would be so much better if I had that toy or that attractive spouse.” The lust for more and greed is so rampant in our culture that for many of you, you’ve become desensitized to it. The sad truth is you have no understanding of holiness because you have a tiny gospel of your own making. This is why you live however you want to. You don’t even understand that you’re under divine discipline which is why you’re so discouraged and struggling.
There is good news though for sinner-saints. When Paul addressed the Corinthians at the opening of his letter in 1 Corinthians he called them saints. Now keep in mind these were people who were living however they wanted to do a gross degree. They were truly messed up and yet Paul said they were saints. Notice though that he doesn’t say they are perfect. Paul writes to correct them on how they are living because they were not living out the gospel before a watching and waiting world. This is why Paul wrote Corinthians to correct them on church governance, church government, spiritual gifts, biblical manhood, and womanhood, and biblical sexuality among other topics. The Lord desires to do the same in the life of His Church today. The book of Corinthians is a rebuke to much of North American Christianity with its lax attitude towards sin and towards its view of doctrine. 1 Corinthians may be one of the best letters for contemporary Christians to read and study because it’s there that we’re confronted with matters that we’re all dealing with, especially biblical sexuality. As I said discipleship problems are ultimately doctrinal problems.
Throughout this article, I’ve written to you in a confrontational style on purpose. I write as one who is deeply concerned and saddened by the state of the Church and who is concerned about the eternal state of many professing Christians. It’s not enough to say, “I’m a Christian” but the question is, is there enough evidence to convict you of being a Christian? Can people truly see Christ being formed in you? No man can judge your heart and whether you’re saved or not but your life can and does testify against your profession. This is why your profession must be matched by your possession. If you don’t believe me read 1 John, a letter the Apostle John writes to deal with this very issue of thinking you can live however you want to and be saved. Instead of this the Apostle John writes to confront us with hard truths. The Book of Hebrews uses warnings to warn Christians about falling away. Does the writer of Hebrews use these warnings because Christians have fallen away? No, he uses warnings because the writer wants his readers to heed the warnings and examine their lives in light of what Christ has done in their lives. This is precisely what I want for you as well. I want you to examine your life in light of Christ and His demands. After all, Christ has called His people to be holy. The holiness of God is to reshape our lives as Christians as Peter says in 1 Peter 1:13-17. The Christian is being remade in the image of God’s holiness and likeness through Christ. The image of God that was marred by the Fall is being remade in the image of Christ through the finished work of Christ. Now through Christ the Christian is to kill sin by the grace of God.
Conrad Mbewe, a well-known African Pastor consider by many the Spurgeon of Africa at the recent Desiring God Pastors conference said, “We deserve death, wrath, and hell forever. Jesus took our liability, and God crushed him. Jesus drank our hell.“ John Piper at that conference said the following, “At the very center of our deliverance from sin is the slaughter of the Son of God.” Jonathan Edwards once said, “A true love of God must begin with a delight in his holiness.” At the same Desiring God conference, Dr. Piper said, “A true understanding of sin will devastate you. And, in Christ, it will gloriously refresh you”, as well as, “He was killed for our sin, you were killed in Him, so kill your sin.”
The above quotes articulate in bit size form what I’m trying to say in this article—namely that through Christ, the Christian can slay the dragon of sin. Don’t’ make excuses, instead refuse to hide in the darkness any longer. Instead, come out of hiding and shame. Refuse to hide in shame and guilt any longer. Even Adam had to come out of hiding at the command of the Lord God. God through His Word calls man to come out of darkness and into the Light for this very reason—God wants His people to be holy and happy. He wants them to utilize the means of grace, He has given which are fueled by the grace of God. The grace of God provides the fuel by which we grow and go in the Christian life. God calls His people because of His grace to exercise grace-filled effort in the pursuit of Himself. He does this through the present ministry of the Holy Spirit.
So the next time you think you can live however you want—think again! Heed Paul’s teaching in Romans 6:1, “May it never be!” You were bought at the prices of the Son of God. Now because of Him put your sin to death and live unto the righteousness of God. What God commands He supplies. His grace is true and real. He hasn’t left you and He hasn’t forsaken you. Instead of this He has supplied you with everything you need to live a holy life in light of the cross and resurrection of Christ. So now because of His grace live for Him. Slay the dragon of sin in your life. Christian you are no longer under the dominion of sin, so now live unto the righteousness of God.
This article first appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of Theology for Life. Download this issue here.
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To download or view the the issue as a PDF please click on: Til Death Do We Part The Truth About Marriage
The past decade has seen an increase of attacks on the traditional definition of marriage between one man and one woman for the rest of their lives. Marriage was designed by God to be a covenant between one man and one woman, but in this day and age attacks from theological progressives, political liberals, and with increasing frequency from those who oppose the Biblical view of sexuality, have brought us to the point of no return on the traditional definition of marriage.
Those who hold to the pro-gay marriage view believe that homosexuals should have the same rights as heterosexuals. Instead of only pushing for rights for themselves to be acknowledged as couples, those who support “gay marriage” have brought the issue to such a point as to suppress the view of those who hold to the traditional (Biblical) definition of marriage. Under the old definition of tolerance, people could discuss issues and have a conversation about important topics. When a conservative Christian now attempts to discuss issues regarding gay marriage and how the Bible is not in support of it, he/she is shouted down and ridiculed for actually believing and applying what the Bible teaches.
Whenever I write or spoke about homosexuality, I am immediately peppered with a barrage of questions. Most of these questions center around the lack of Bible based Christian churches and the desire to find such places of worship. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of churches, however, who have not bowed the knee to theological progressivism, with its socially-acceptable shifting-sand approach to theology.
As Christians, we have the Word of God which is inspired, inerrant, authoritative, and sufficient for faith and practice. Believing that the Bible is authoritative for faith and practice means that we’re not free to do as we wish. Instead our faith and our practice—what we believe, what we say, and do—must match. Theologians call this orthodoxy (what we believe) and orthopraxy (what we do and how we practice our Christian faith). The sad thing is many “Christians” who say they believe the Bible, dismiss biblical orthodoxy (that is what the Bible teaches) and thus call for a practice (homosexuality) that the Bible itself doesn’t support. To get there, they do gymnastics with their hermeneutic (how they intercept the Bible).
As Christians we have one Word (the Bible), one Lord in Jesus, and have been called to proclaim the gospel in faithfulness to God’s Word. This means that what we believe must inform our lives and our practice. When people minimize or deny what they believe, and then people call to support a practice the Bible doesn’t support, they are not being honest. Instead, they are intentionally misleading people away from the revealed Word. Christians can have full confidence in the Word of God. In this issue, we want to help you to grow in your confidence in the authoritative Word by helping you to deal with those who hold to wrong ideas about marriage, and especially homosexuality. This issue isn’t going away, rather it’s becoming more and more a part of our everyday lives and experience each passing day.
My prayer is that this issue will help build your knowledge base and equip you to serve the Risen Christ, by helping you grow in your confidence in His Word, and thus in the work of the gospel.
For the Glory of Christ,
Executive Editor, Theology for Life
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To download or view the the issue as a PDF please click on: Sinners In The Hands Of A Merciful God
Sin is a concept that is by and large discounted and even neglected in the Church. Not that many Pastors don’t preach on it—they do—it’s more that sin is an uncomfortable topic to talk about. Think about the last time someone pointed out sin in your life to you. Or the last time you were convicted of your sin by the Holy Spirit. No one enjoys having their sin pointed out to them or being convicted of their sin, yet we need both. We need to be in community with God’s people. You need me to help you grow in grace. In turn, I need you to help me grow. After all we all have “blind spots” in our lives, where we attempt to justify our sin. Some people get very defensive when they have their sin pointed out to them. Those who know the grace of God, however, know they don’t have to have it all together. They are freed in Christ to be who they are.
The more we understand our sin, the more we can rightly understand the work of Christ. After all, Christ dealt a death blow to sin in His death, burial, and resurrection. Since we’re freed from the chains of sin and transferred from the Kingdom of Darkness to the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus, we’re free to be who we are in Christ. We’re not free to be who we want to be (living however we want to live). Even our freedom in Christ is restricted. We don’t get to abuse the freedom we have, but we do get to enjoy it. We’re freed from the penalty of sin, but we still experience the very real effects of sin, since we haven’t yet been glorified. There is a tension I hope you see between the “already” and the “not yet” of the Christian life. We’re saints in our standing with God, and yet we’re still sinners, still repenting of our sin. This is why as Martin Luther said, in the very first of his 95 theses he posted to the door of the church at Wittenberg, “When Our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said, “Repent”, He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”
The clearer we see our sin, the better able we’ll be able to understand the finished work of Christ. Jesus’ death and resurrection dealt a death blow to sin. Through Him, we who have died to the flesh can live according to the Spirit. The Holy Spirit empowers God’s people to put sin to death, and live not according to their fleshly desires, but according to the Spirit.
In this issue we’ll be talking about sin. Through the articles, interviews, and book reviews, our aim is to help you consider your sin and to point you to the finished work of Christ, who alone empowers you now through the Holy Spirit to slay your sin. Jesus has sent you out on a mission; He calls you to bring people to Himself through faithfulness to His Word by declaring His gospel to sinners. As you bring sinners to Jesus, He will save them. This means that you and I can be who we are in Christ. We are His; we are His beloved. Yet, we’re not perfect—we’re still growing in His grace. We’re still repenting and we still need one another. I pray this issue helps you understand the doctrine of sin so that you can rightly see your sin, and thus better know, see, and delight in the Savior. It is Christ alone who saves sinners from sin to new life in His Name, and empowers His people to shine the light of the gospel in a dark world.
In Christ Alone,
Executive Editor of Theology for Life
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To download or view the the issue as a PDF please click on: Scripture The Source of Truth in a Culture of Doubt
Over the past decade, I’ve spent considerable time studying the Bible in both an academic and personal setting. During this time, I not only learned a great deal about the Bible, but also about how the Bible is under attack through a multifaceted method from the scientific communities, theological liberalism, and secularism. Many people come to the Bible to merely investigate what it teaches, rather than to humbly submit to what it teaches. As I continued to study secular history and church history, I quickly realized that these attacks are not new, but rather a common reoccurrence throughout time—albeit with a new spin and a fresh face attached to them.
When I progressed past the scrawny middle-schooler stage, I became very interested in studying doctrine and theology. As I continued to study the Bible into adulthood, I came to the conclusion that when a person views the Bible in the wrong light it affects the conclusions that he or she comes to regarding the person and work of Jesus Christ.
During the Protestant Reformation, the Reformers returned to the Scriptures. Theologians call this return Sola Scriptura which means “Scripture Alone”. By their understanding of Sola Scriptura, the Reformers believed the Bible was inspired, inerrant, authoritative, and sufficient for training and equipping in the Word of God as Christians practicing their faith.
In this issue of Theology for Life on the Bible, you’ll learn from me and our other contributors about the doctrine of Scripture—precisely how the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, sufficient and authorative Word of God. Not only this, but you’ll also read reviews of current books on Scripture and an interview from Dr. Chatraw, co-author with Drs. Bock and Kostenberger of Truth Matters and Truth in a Culture of Doubt. As you read this Issue, our prayer is that the Lord would help you to grow in knowledge of handling His Word and applying it so that you won’t be merely a hearer of the Word, but a doer of His Word by His grace. My hope is that the Bible would become more precious to you, so much so that you would delight to digest the Word of the Lord, in the Bible. This is our prayer for you:
“Oh, that you and I might get into the very heart of the Word of God, and get that Word into ourselves! As I have seen the silkworm eat into the leaf, and consume it, so ought we to do with the Word of the Lord—not crawl over its surface, but eat right into it till we have taken it into our inmost parts. It is idle merely to let the eye glance over the words, or to recollect the poetical expressions, or the historic facts; but it is blessed to eat into the very soul of the Bible until, at last, you come to talk in Scriptural language, and your very style is fashioned upon Scripture models, and, what is better still, your spirit is flavored with the words of the Lord. I would quote John Bunyan as an instance of what I mean. Read anything of his, and you will see that it is almost like the reading the Bible itself. He had read it till his very soul was saturated with Scripture; and, though his writings are charmingly full of poetry, yet he cannot give us his Pilgrim’s Progress—that sweetest of all prose poems — without continually making us feel and say, “Why, this man is a living Bible!” Prick him anywhere—his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him. He cannot speak without quoting a text, for his very soul is full of the Word of God. I commend his example to you, beloved.”
In Christ Alone,
Executive Editor of Theology for Life Magazine
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