Assurance through Union

Posted by on Jul 2, 2015 in Featured, The Gospel and the Christian Life

Assurance through Union

gospel“When I stand before God will He be satisfied with me? Have I really done all I could do? Will it be enough?” These questions are frequently asked from the lips of the dying. Unfortunately, it is not just unbelievers or people from work based religions who struggle with the uncertainty of their eternity. In my experience, every believer wrestles with the assurance of their salva­tion at some point in their life. It is also a battle that cuts across every age and maturity of believer. For some, this uncertainty is a constant and ever-present struggle which plagues their life and stunts their growth. For yet others, it pops up sporadically causing temporary spiritual paralysis.

While experienced Christians fret over the sins they committed and the mistakes they made, young Christians struggle with their lack of maturity and experience. They look at their less-than-perfect Christian lives with all the failures and struggles. New Christians often don’t have a lifetime of God’s faithfulness to reassure them. Instead, the future is unknown. They look at all the places and ways in which their life needs to change and they see a towering mountain of uncertainty They fear that somehow God will eventually get tired of their lack of progress and, out of disgust or impatience, revoke their salvation. They constantly ask, “How will I ever change? How can God really love a messed up person like me?”

In reality, all of us (if we are honest) have entertained such thoughts and fears. Even as Bible-believing Christians, while we may intellectually agree that God promises to preserve his people, often we just don’t often really believe it or we secretly fear that we aren’t really part of God’s people. Even while we continuously ask Jesus to forgive our sins, we nevertheless live with fear and uncertainty if He actually really will.

The reason for this is that the more we try to produce assurance, the more subjective it becomes. We quickly realize we can never be sure we will actually obtain it because there is always more we can do or be. Real, rest giving assurance constantly eludes us because the more we struggle to earn it, the further away it seems. Even if we pray more, read the Bible more, do more in the way of missions, or strive more for purity and obedience; we will not find the assurance of our salvation we so desperately seek.

This is because assurance cannot be earned or produced by us; it is something given to us. Assurance of our salvation is a gift that comes with not after the gospel. It is a precious gift of faith from God by the grace found in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Luke writes in Acts 17:31, “because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” Christians find assurance in the person and work of Christ. It is found in our union with him, because just as he was raised and ascended into heaven, so shall those that are in Him.

An assurance of salvation is an inseparable part of the gospel, that we receive at the same time as we faith. The fact is, whoever believes, has eternal life already. If we are united to Christ, then we have all the promises and pleasures of Christ. Our union is not conditioned or progressive based on our deeds. It is unconditional and secure based on Christ’s work.

We don’t need to look for assurance in our deeds or personal holiness if it were it would turn our Christian lives into a roller coaster of sharp ups and downs, twists, and turns. An assurance of salvation that depends upon us is purely subjective. For the believer, assurance is an objective reality, as unchangeable as the God who offered it to us. For the Christian, we need only to look to Christ, his work for us, and our union in Him. He is the rock of our salvation. He is the objective proof, and it is Himself along with his work which is our assurance. 2 Samuel 22:47, “The Lord lives, and blessed be my rock, and exalted be my God, the rock of my salvation.”

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The New Man Becoming A Man After God’s Heart

Posted by on Jul 2, 2015 in Christian Living, Featured

The New Man Becoming A Man After God’s Heart

41e7Pm0UMpL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Biblical manhood in our culture is under assault today on a variety of fronts. On one hand, men today are taught to have strong sculpted bodies so that women can drool over them. Movies portray men of strength as those who will get the girl of their dreams and overcome all obstacles they face. Manhood is something many people are greatly confused about in our culture. This is why I was excited and greatly encouraged by the recent book The New Man Becoming A Man After God’s Heart by Dan Doriani.

As part of my ministry as a lay leader at my local church, I minister to men. I lead the men’s Bible, help provide leadership and vision to the men’s ministry, and often engage in counseling men at our church. The more I do this the more I’m convinced that we have a real crisis on our hands in relation to biblical manhood in the local church. Men need to understand who they are in Christ so they can lead their families. This is what this book does so well. In thirteen chapters, Dorinai walks men through every topic that they would want to know about – from being a man after God’s own heart, to attacks on manhood in our culture, marriage, love, fighting against pornography, friendship, work, leadership, wealth, taking care of one’s self, play, and more.

The New Man is an excellent contribution to the ongoing conversation going on about biblical manhood. This book speaks the truth in love but does so without pulling punches. Men will appreciate the refreshing approach of the author as he speaks honestly to men about issues related to manhood. Given that fact that I write often on the topic of purity I was happy to see the author address the topic of pornography and am pleased with how he handled and discussed that particular issue.

Men today need frank conversation about what biblical manhood is. As I’ve noted already, biblical manhood is under assault in our culture. We need books like The New Man that focus not only on principles for how we should live but ground those principles in the grace of God. This is not your typical manhood book with five things to improve your marriage. This book gets to the heart of manhood by helping us to see how we sin as men and then brings in the cure of the gospel to issues related to manhood. While men today do need principles for how they are to live, along with understanding how to implement their faith into everyday life,, what they need more than that is to see their sin and to behold the Savior who died in their place for there sin so they would put their sin to death. As you read this book you’ll be confronted with where you need to grow in your own walk with God, in your own approach with your wife, how you view work, and more.  As men, we need to be confronted with the truth so that we can see ourselves rightly.

This book challenges men where they are. It will challenge your apathy by calling you to abandon it for an all-sufficient Christ. Biblical manhood requires courage—courage that is fueled by the gospel of Jesus Christ. The New Man is a book grounded in the gospel that calls for gospel-transformation in all of life for the purpose of biblical manhood. I highly recommend this book for every man and believe it will be a blessing to you and help you to understand what biblical manhood is all about.

I received this book for free from P&R Publishing for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

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Developing a Personal Plan for Discernment

Posted by on Jul 1, 2015 in Featured, The Gospel and the Christian Life

Developing a Personal Plan for Discernment

bible-199x3001This post ends the series on discernment. The first post on discernment is here. The second article is here.

Today, we conclude this series on discernment by developing a plan for discernment. The importance of personal discernment cannot be overstated because those who are unable to distinguish right from wrong will likely fall into serious error. Christians need to realize that this error comes in many forms, and it often looks good at first glance- that’s why it’s called deception. Yet, God has given His children all that they need to “test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thess. 5:21-22). Thus we can be confident that those who learn to think biblically will be adequately equipped to “turn away from the snares of death” (Prov 14:27). By asking the question, “How can we do this?”- and looking to God’s Word for the answer- this post will help us spot, and reject false teaching.

By God’s grace, Christians have a standard to test the authenticity of any incoming religious message. That’s why even when we are bombarded with doctrinal frauds and spiritual knockoffs, we need not lose hope. God has not left us defenseless. By arming us with His Word, He has given us everything we need for life and godliness” (2nd Peter 1:3).

Believers’ reliance upon Scripture becomes more and more crucial everyday, as new errors are introduced into the church and as old errors continue to resurface. Whether it’s new ways to evangelize or new ways to fill the auditorium, these innovative trends always seem to provide the perfect solution for the church’s present needs. These new solutions are primarily based on secular wisdom and driven by whatever works, and this does not solve anything. By suggesting that the “old and original” methods of the New Testament are no longer good enough for today, these theological trends are just worldly philosophies dressed up in religious garb.

Theological traditions (sometimes centuries old) also vie for our attention. Many traditions are good, but some of them are not. And they have been established for almost every aspect of Christian thought, from methods of church government to philosophies of Bible interpretation. Unlike their “new and improved” counterparts, these historic systems appeal to their distinguished heritage for added credibility. Nonetheless, when these theological legacies begin to replace the clear teaching of Scripture, the results are disastrous.

How can believers discern between trends, traditions and the truth? The answer to this question begins with the Scriptures. God has given us His Word; so that we can evaluate every spiritual message we receive, discriminating between what is right and what is wrong. In 2nd Timothy 3:16-17, the apostle Paul said, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”

Do you want to be equipped for every good work? Do you want to be able to teach truth and correct error? If so, you must become a student of the Scriptures- trusting that His Word is a sufficient guide for any problem you encounter. The maze of modern religious thought is no match for the Sword of the Spirit which is able even to “discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

How can Christians, begin to apply biblical discernment to their daily lives? In the previous blog posts, you’ve seen several examples of poor theology and the confusion it can cause. How can you prepare yourself for the battle? How can you make sure you are guarding the truth of God’s Word, so that you will be able to faithfully pass it on to the next generation? Scripture outlines the plan for us to follow.

Step one is to desire. Proverbs 2:3-6, “If you call out for insight and raise your voice or understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.”

If we have no desire to be discerning, we won’t be discerning. If we are driven by a yearning to be happy, healthy, affluent, prosperous, comfortable, and self-satisfied, we will never be discerning people. If our feelings determine what we believe, we cannot be discerning. If we subjugate our minds to some earthly ecclesiastical authority and blindly believe what we are told, we undermine discernment. Unless we are willing to examine all things carefully, we cannot hope to have any defense against reckless faith.

The desire for discernment is a desire born out of humility. It is a humility that acknowledges our own potential for self-deception (“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick: who can understand it?”- Jer 17:9). It is a humility that distrusts personal feelings and casts scorn on self-sufficiency (“on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weakness,” (2 Cor 12:5). It is a humility that turns to the Word of god as the final arbiter of all things (“examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things are so,” Acts 17:11).

No one has a monopoly on truth. My heart is as susceptible to self-deception as anyone’s. My feelings are as undependable as everyone else’s. I am not immune to Satan’s deception. This is true for all believers. Our only defense against false teaching and doctrine is to be discerning, to distrust our own emotions, to hold our own senses suspect, to examine all things, to test every truth- claim with the yardstick o Scripture, and to handle the Word of God with great care.

The desire to be discerning, therefore, entails a high view of Scripture linked with a passion for understanding it correctly. God requires this very attitude of every believer (2 Tim 2:15). The heart that loves Jesus will burn with a passion for discernment.

Step two is prayer. Prayer, of course, naturally follows desire; prayer is the expression of the heart’s desire to God.

When Solomon became king after the death of David, the Lord appears to him in a dream and said, “Ask what I shall give you” (1 Kings 3:5). Solomon could have requested anything. He could have asked for material riches, power, victory over his enemies, or whatever he liked. Solomon asked for discernment. “Give your servant, therefore, an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil” (v.9). Scripture says, “It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this” (v.10)

The Lord told Solomon “11And God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches or the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, 12behold,(A) I now do according to your word. Behold,(B) I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you. 13(C) I give you also what you have not asked,(D) both riches and honor, so that no other king shall compare with you, all your days. 14And if you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments,(E) as your father David walked, then(F) I will lengthen your days.” “ (1st Kings 3:11-14).

Notice that God commended Solomon because his request was unselfish: “because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself.” Selfishness is incompatible with true discernment. People who desire to be discerning must be wiling to step outside of themselves.

Modern evangelicism, enamored with psychology and self-esteem, has produced a generation of believers so self-absorbed that they cannot be discerning. People aren’t even interested in discernment. All their interest in spiritual things is focused on self. They are interested only in getting their own felt needs met.

Solomon did not do that. Although he had an opportunity to ask for long life, personal prosperity, health and wealth, he bypassed all of that and asked for discernment instead. Therefore God also gave him riches, honor, and long life for as long as he walked in the ways of the Lord.

James 1:5 promises that God will grant the prayer for discernment: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given to him.”

Someone will point out that with all his abundance of wisdom Solomon was nevertheless a dismal failure at the end of his life (1 Kings 11:4-11). “His heat was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father” (v.4). Scripture records this sad sediment of the wisest man who ever lived:

“ 1Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, 2from the nations concerning which the LORD had said to the people of ….Israel…., “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.” Solomon clung to these in love. 3He had 700 wives, princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart. 4For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father. 5For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. 6So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and did not wholly follow the LORD, as David his father had done. 7Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of ..Moab.., and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of ….Jerusalem….. 8And so he did for all his foreign wives, who made offerings and sacrificed to their gods.” (1st Kings 11:1-9).

Solomon did not suddenly fail at the end of his life. The seeds of his demise were sown at the beginning. First Kings 3, the same chapter that records Solomon’s request for discernment reveals Solomon “made a marriage alliance with Pharaoh kings of ….Egypt….” (v.1) Verse 3 tells us “Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statues of David his father, only he sacrificed and made offering at the high places.”

From the very beginning his obedience was deficient. Surely with all his wisdom he knew better, but he tolerated compromise and idolatry among the people of God (v.2)- and even participated in some of the idolatry himself.

Discernment is not enough apart from obedience. What good is it to know the truth if we fail to act accordingly? This is why James wrote, “be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22). Failure to obey is self-delusion; it is not true discernment, no matter how much intellectual knowledge we may possess. Solomon is biblical proof that even true discernment can give way to a destructive self-delusion. Disobedience inevitably undermines discernment. The only way to guard against that is to be doers of the Word and not hearers only.

Fourth in our series of steps toward biblical discernment is this: Emulate those who demonstrate good discernment. Do not follow the leadership of people who are themselves “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Eph 4:14). Find and follow leaders who display an ability to discern, to analyze and refute error, to teach the Scriptures clearly and accurately. Read from authors who prove themselves careful handlers of divine truth. Listen to preachers who rightly divide the Word of Truth. Expose yourself to the teaching of people who think critically, analytically, and carefully. Learn from people who understand where error has attacked the church historically. Place yourself under the tutelage of those who serve as watchmen of the church.

I do this myself. There are certain authors who have demonstrated skill in handling the Word and whose judgment I have come to trust. When I encounter a difficult issue- whether it a theological problem, an area of controversy, a new teaching I have never heard of before, or whatever- I turn to these authors first to see what they have to say. I wouldn’t seek help from an unreliable source or marginal theologian. I want to know what those who are skilled in exposing error and are gifted in presenting truth have to say.

There have been outstanding men of discernment in every area of church history. Their writings remain invaluable resources for anyone who wishes to cultivate discernment. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and J. Gresham Machen are just two of many in the past century who distinguished themselves in the battle for truth. Charles Spurgeon, Charles Hodge and scores of other writers from the nineteenth century left a rich legacy of written material to help us discern between truth and error. In the century before that, Thomas Boston, Jonathan Edwards, and George Whitefield battled for truth, as did many others like them. The preceding era was the Puritan age- the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, which gave us what is undoubtedly the richest catalog of resources for discernment. Before that, the Reformers fought valiantly for the Truth of God’s Word against the traditions of men. Virtually every era before the Reformation also has godly men of discernment who stood against error and defended the truth of God’s Word. Augustine, for example, preceded John Calvin by more than a thousand years, but he fought exactly the same theological battles and proclaimed precisely the same doctrines. Calvin and the Reformers drew heavily on Augustine’s writings as they framed their own arguments against error. In 325 A.D. a contemporary of Augustine, Athanasius, took a decisive stand against Arianism the same error that is perpetuated by modern-day Jehovah Witnesses. His writings stand today as the definitive response to that error.

Much of the written legacy these spiritual giants left is still available today. We can all learn from these men of discernment- and we would do well to emulate the clarity with which they spoke the truth against error. Those who can expose and answer the errors of false teachers are set in the body of Christ to assist us all to think critically and clearly. Learn from them.

As important as human examples are, however, the Spirit of God is ultimately the true Discerner. It is His role to lead us into all truth (John 16:13). First Corinthians 2:11 says, “no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.” Paul goes on to write, “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.15The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one.” (1st Corinthians 2:12-15).

So discernment ultimately depends on the Holy Spirit. As we are filled with and controlled by the Spirit of God, He makes us discerning.

Finally, we return to the point we have touched on repeatedly: True discernment requires diligent study of the Scriptures. None of the other steps is sufficient apart from this. No one can be truly discerning apart from the mastery of the Word of God. All the desire in the world cannot make you discerning if you don’t study the Scriptures. Prayer or discernment is not enough. Obedience alone will not suffice. Good role models won’t do it either. Even the Hoy Spirit will not give you discernment apart from the Word of God. If you really want to be discerning, you must diligently study the Word of God.

God’s Word is where you will learn the principles for discernment. It is there that you will learn the truth. Only there can you follow the path of maturity.

Discernment flourishes only in an environment of faithful Bible study and teaching. In Acts 20, when Paul was leaving the Ephesians elders, he warned them about the deadly influences that would threaten them in his absence (vv.28-31). He urged them to be on guard, on the alert (vv.28, 31). How? What safeguard could he leave to help protect them form Satan’s onslaughts? Only the Word of God: “And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” (v.32).

Lets look more closely at 2nd timothy 2:15, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” Notice what this mandate to Timothy implies. First, it suggests that the d discerning person must be able to distinguish between the Word of Truth and the “irreverent babble” mentioned in verse 16. That may seem rather obvious, but it cannot be taken for granted. The task of separating God’s Word from human foolishness actually poses a formidable challenge for many today. One look at some of the nonsense that proliferates in churches and Christian media will confirm that this is so. Or note the burgeoning stacks of “Christian” books touting weird views. We must shun such folly and devote ourselves to the Word of God. We have to be able to distinguish between truth and error.

How? “Do your best”. Being diligent pictures a worker giving maximum effort in his or her work. It describes someone driven by a commitment to excellent. “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God”. The Greek phrase literally speaks o standing alongside God as a co-laborer worthy of identifying with Him.

Furthermore, Paul says this approved workman “has no need to be ashamed.” The word “Ashamed is very important to Paul’s whole point. Any sloppy workman should be ashamed of low-quality work. But a servant of the Lord, handling the Word of Truth carelessly, has infinitely more to be ashamed of.

What Paul suggests in this passage is that we will be ashamed before God Himself if we fail to handle the Word of Truth with discernment. If we can’t distinguish the truth from worldly and empty chatter, we can’t identify and refute false teachers, or if we can’t handle God’s Truth with skill and understanding, we ought to be ashamed.

And if we are to divide the Word of God rightly, then we must be very diligent about studying it. There is no shortcut. Only as we master the Word of God are we made “competent, equipped for every good work” (3:17). This is the essence of what it means to be discerning.

Put simply, spiritual maturity is the process o learning to discern. The path to real discernment is the path to spiritual growth. Growth in grace is a continuous process through this earthly life. No Christian ever reaches complete maturity this side of heaven. “Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to ace. Now I know in apart; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Cor 13:12). We must continually “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). We should hunger “for the pure spiritual milk, that by it we may grow” (1st Peter 2:2).

As we mature, our senses are exercised to discern good and evil (Hebrews 5:14). As we cease to be children, we gain stability (Eph 4:14-15). Mature people are discerning people.

We know this from the natural world. Parents continually help their child to be discerning, even when they become teenagers. Parents help them think through issues, understand what is wise and unwise, and prompt them to make the right choices. We help them discern. The goal of parenting is to raise a discerning child. The same is true spiritually. You don’t pray for discerning and suddenly wake up with abundant wisdom. It is a process of growth.

Stay on the path of maturity. Sometimes it involves suffering and trials (James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 5:10). Often it necessitates divine chastening (Hebrews 12:11). As always it requires personal discipline (1 Tim 4:7-8). The rewards are rich:

Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding, for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold. She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare to her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; those who hold her fast are called blessed. My son, do not lose sight of these- keep sound wisdom and discretion, and they will be life for your soul and adornment for your neck. Then you will walk on your way securely, and your foot will not stumble. (Prov 3:13-18, 21-23).

And these riches unlike diamonds, will retain their value and brilliance for all eternity. The alternative is a life of theological confusion where spiritual treasures are confused with spiritual fakes. Hosea 14:9, “Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; whoever is discerning, let him know them; for the ways of the Lord are right, and the upright walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them.”

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The Human Growth of Jesus

Posted by on Jul 1, 2015 in Deity of Christ, Featured

The Human Growth of Jesus

Editor’s note: The purpose of this series is to help our readers think through what the deity of Christ and it’s importance to the Christian faith.

the-deity-of-ChristOver the past two years, I have tried to wrap my mind around what it means for Jesus to have been fully human. Reformed and Evangelical theologians have rightly fixated on the Deity of Jesus–since that is the supremely important truth about Him that is only understood by the supernatural gift of faith. Nevertheless, as the early Christological heresies teach us, much error has been propagated with regard to both natures, when the Person of Jesus has been considered. It seems to me that we do a great disservice to believers if we do not give due weight to what it means for us for Jesus to be fully human–yet without sin–with all of the limitations of finite men and women. It is in acknowledgement of the words of Luke 2:40 and 52 that we must give carefully attention to this subject. There were read, “The Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him” and “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.”

In his outstanding article “The Human Development of Jesus,” B.B. Warfield explained:

There are no human traits lacking to the picture that is drawn of him: he was open to temptation; he was conscious of dependence on God; he was a man of prayer; he knew a “will” within him that might conceivably be opposed to the will of God; he exercised faith; he learned obedience by the things that he suffered. It was not merely the mind of a man that was in him, but the heart of a man as well, and the spirit of a man. In a word, he was all that a man — a man without error and sin — is, and must be conceived to have grown, as it is proper for a man to grow, not only during his youth, but continuously through life, not alone in knowledge, but in wisdom, and not alone in wisdom, but “in reverence and charity” — in moral strength and in beauty of holiness alike. Indeed, we find it insufficient to say, as the writer whom we have just quoted’ says, St. Luke places no limit to the statement that he increased in wisdom; and it seems, therefore, to be allowable to believe “that it continued until the great ‘It is finished’ on the cross.” Of course; and even beyond that “It is finished”: and that not only with reference to his wisdom, but also with reference to all the traits of his blessed humanity. For Christ, just because he is the risen Christ, is man and true man — all that man is, with all that is involved in being man — through all the ages and into the eternity of the eternities.

Warfield was, of course, building on the idea first presented by Irenaeus of Lyons–regarding the idea of anakephalaiosis (i.e. recapitulation). Irenaeus explained this in the following way:

Jesus “came to save all by means of himself–all, I say, who through him are born again unto God — infants, and children and boys and youths and old men. He therefore passed through every age, becoming an infant for infants, thus sanctifying infants; a child for children, thus sanctifying those who are of this age, being at the same time made to them an example of piety, righteousness and submission; a youth for youths, becoming an example to youths, and thus sanctifying them for the Lord.” (Against Heresies book. 2.22.4)

Again Warfield explained that–with regard to His humanity–Jesus had sinless limitations. He wrote:

Everywhere the man Christ Jesus is kept before our eyes, and every characteristic that belongs to a complete and perfect manhood is exhibited in his life as dramatized in the gospel story. All the limitations of humanity, therefore, remained his throughout. One fresh from reading the gospel narrative will certainly fail to understand the attitude of those, who we are told exist, who for example, “admit his growth in knowledge during childhood,” “yet deny as intolerable the hypothesis of a limitation of his knowledge during his ministry.” Surely Jesus himself has told us that he was ignorant of the time of the day of judgment (Mark xiii. 32); he repeatedly is represented as seeking knowledge through questions, which undoubtedly were not asked only to give the appearance of a dependence on information from without that was not real with him: he is made to express surprise; and to make trial of new circumstances; and the like.

This is, in no way, to deny that in His Divine nature, Jesus is omniscient. We must always keep in view that Jesus is  fully God and fully man. James Anderson explains the significance of both truths when he writes:

We’re told that Jesus was omniscient (John 16:30) but also that he increased in wisdom (Luke 2:52). To be precise, however, we should say that Jesus was omniscient with respect to his divine nature and gained wisdom with respect to his human nature. On this basis, it seems natural to say that God the Son is timeless and unchangeable with respect to his divine nature but temporal and changeable with respect to his human nature. Since Jesus’ death and resurrection pertained to his human nature, this standard Christological distinction suggests a way to reconcile the events of Jesus’ life with the immutability of God. (Anderson, “Did God Change in the Incarnation” at TGC)

It is also not to suggest that Jesus somehow lacked human consciousness that he was the eternal Son of God, Messiah and the Redeemer who would lay down His life a ransom for many. Geerhardus Vos rightly explained that Jesus’ “destiny and conscious purpose were identical” when he wrote:

Our Lord affirms that he came to give his life as a ransom. The verb “came” belongs not merely to the first thing named—the ministering—but it belongs equally (as) much to the second thing named—the giving of the life by way of ransom: the Son of Man came to minister and to give. I beg you to notice this form of the statement sharply because many have tried to put upon it the weakening interpretation: Jesus came to serve and found, in the course of his life, that to serve to the full meant for him to die. But that merely makes the death the outcome of the service.

What our Lord affirms is that it was the implication and the avowed end of the service from the outset. What he says carries the knowledge (of) his death and of the saving purpose of his death back into the initial act of his appearance upon earth: his coming was with this end and none other in view. He came to serve not merely to the possible limit of death, but to serve by the absolutely free and deliberate employment of death as the supreme instrument of his service. No one took his life from him. He gave it voluntarily. And he expected to give it from the very moment in which he received it. Hence the writer of the epistle of the Hebrews represents him as entering the world with the words of the Psalmist upon his lips: “Lo I am come to do thy will, O God” (Heb. 10:7, that is, it was God’s will that he should suffer). And “a body didst thou prepare for me” (Heb. 10:5, that is, God gave him a body in order that it might be possible for him to experience death as the true sacrifice for sin).

You see, therefore, how all this excludes the view that our Lord only late in his career began to entertain the idea that his death might be a contribution to the success of his work. No—he carried the conviction that his work centered in his death with him in the silence of his inner life all the days of his pilgrimage. From the beginning he set his face deliberately towards this goal and unswervingly shaped his course with reference to its attainment. The gospel in the mind of Jesus did not need first to develop into a gospel of the cross. He took up the cross when he breathed the first breath of his earthly life. Thank God we are justified in reading the gospels with this thought in mind. Jesus did not live the greater part of his life in a naive ignorance and unconsciousness of the web of destiny that was being woven around him. In his case, as in no other case, destiny and conscious purpose were identical. Not only that he died, but that he meant to die for us, this constitutes the preciousness of the gospel story for everyone who reads it with the eye of faith. (Vos, “Sermon on Mark 10:45“)

What I would suggest is that it is altogether orthodox and right to apply the principle–regarding the humanity of Jesus–to His reading of the Scriptures as a covenant document, in order to be the Covenant-keeping, true-Israelite and Redeemer of His people. He learned more and more of His Father’s revealed will in Scripture–in his human capacity at each stage–in order to be equipped as a man to be the Redeemer of men. Jesus never studied in the Rabbinical schools like all the other religious leaders in Israel (John 7:15). But, we can safely assume that Mary and Joseph faithfully taught Him the Scriptures from His earliest days. We know that He would have been in the synagogues often as a boy; and Luke tells us that He went with Mary and Joseph to the Temple every year. We find Him there as a 12 year old boy astonishing the teachers with His questions and answers about the Scriptures (Luke 2:41-52). So, how did Jesus read the Old Testament? Did He read it as a book of morals or character development? Did He read it like the Pharisees and Scribes read it? Far from it! Jesus read the Old Testament as the Covenant revelation of God written to Him and about Him. We have frequently rushed to this latter part and rightly rejoiced in the fact that Old Testament was written by and about Jesus, but have failed to see that, at the same time, it was written, first and foremost, to Jesus.

This post first appeared at Nick’s blog and is posted here with permission.

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Counter Culture by David Platt

Posted by on Jul 1, 2015 in Christian Living, Featured

Counter Culture by David Platt

Counter Culture Gay marriage. Poverty. Pornography. Abortion. Racism. Turn on the news and you will be bombarded with these and many other issues. As believers, how are we to respond as salt and light within a culture that seems to embrace literally everything God desires for humanity not to do? Do we retreat within the walls of our local church or are we called to run to the battle, to be a people on the front lines addressing all of these types of societal issues with the message of the gospel. David Platt, in his latest book aptly titled Counter Culture, expresses the position that God’s people must be in the midst of the battle armed with a proper biblical understanding of how to address what is taking place all around us.

David Platt is a man full of passion for the things of God and that passion literally drips from every of this book. Those who have not read his other books or who might be unfamiliar with Platt should be warned that they will find themselves thoroughly challenged after reading this book. Platt is a man that speaks and writes directly to the point, driving directly to the heart of the matter at hand. He is one who has experienced through his ministry outreach the struggles people are facing not just in the United States, but all across the world.

Perhaps that is why I enjoyed reading this book so immensely as it was not just another academic minded book on the nature of poverty and the ten best ways to help people in need. It was not a book full of heart-wrenching stories about some person who was trapped in the world of pornography. While Platt certainly does share heart-wrenching stories and he does provide the reader with recommendations on how to take action, this is a book that digs much deeper and that moves the reader past surface issues to what really is taking place in the world with the how and why of what our response must be to those issues.

Platt drives home repeatedly that everything he discusses whether it is homosexuality, abortion, poverty, or racism, must be understood from the lens of the gospel. What we are seeing take place around us is a culture that is thumbing their nose at a holy God which is an offense to God because such actions are at their root sinful behavior. With that said, to live counter-culturally is to live with a proper understanding of the gospel. In order to share the saving message of the gospel, we have to first understand what the gospel is all about so we can shine the light of that gospel into the darkest places of our culture.

Building on that all-important foundation, Platt then explores the ways by which we can be counter cultural, the how’s and why’s if you will of helping the poor, addressing the horrific practice of abortion and sex trafficking, helping those trapped by the bondage of pornography, or dealing with the increasingly troubling problem of racism. Without a gospel-based foundation, our efforts will fall short as the solution to these problems is not another program or a series of legislation, but rather God’s people declaring the true solution to these problems, the saving message of the gospel. Platt does a marvelous job of outlining what that looks like in a practical everyday sense.

There can be no doubt that anyone who reads this book will be challenged. It is my prayer and I believe the prayer of David Platt that we do more than just read the wise words shared in this book. I pray we not only take the excellent message of this book to heart, but more importantly, I pray the reader answers the call to action presented by Platt for the purpose of sharing the message of the gospel to be the salt and light we have been commanded by God to be to a world that is falling apart at the seams and that so desperately needs the compassionate call to counter culture declared by Platt in this timely book. I highly recommend this book for all believers. Read it and get out there and be engaged in our culture!

This book is available for purchase from Tyndale by clicking here.

I received this book for free from Tyndale for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Developing a Doctrinal Framework for Discernment

Posted by on Jun 30, 2015 in Featured, The Gospel and the Christian Life

Developing a Doctrinal Framework for Discernment

bible-199x3001In the first article I discussed the importance of doctrinal discernment. In this second installment, I will discuss the importance of building a doctrinal framework for the purpose of knowing which theological hills to die on. Every Christian should develop the ability to think rightly about spiritual matters. Every Christian should be like the Bereans of Acts 17 who examined the Scriptures to see what is true and what is false.

In this post, I want to explain the essential issues that Christians should think about when choosing a church, buying a book, tuning into a sermon or listening in to Christian radio. In other words, I will explore in this post what Christians should focus on in terms of non-negotiables when evaluating a Christian ministry, philosophy, or program.

There are three basic doctrines that should motivate believers in order to build a basic framework for discernment. The first of these is a high view of God’s Word. Second, is to have a high view of God’s Person. Obeying God is far more important than obeying man (Acts 5:29). The allegiance of the Christian should be to the Sovereign Creator of the universe. The result of this is to please God, even if it displease one’s neighbors. The third is to have a high view of God’s salvation and the gospel.

It is these three elements- a high view of God’s Word, a high view of God Himself, and a high view of the gospel that comprise the biblical framework for determining what hills Christians should die on. Because these three categories are of primary importance, believers should be careful to evaluate every ministry and every message they encounter through this theological grid. What books you buy, where you go to church, how you respond to the sermons you hear, and with whom you associate and minister- each of these should be primarily evaluated on this basis. With this in mind, let’s consider each of these three theological categories.

A high view of God’s Word

Crucial to developing biblical discernment is having a high view of Scripture. After all Scriptures constitutes God’s written revelation to man. Without them, we would know nothing about God’s specific desires for us or about His plan of salvation. We would be unable to please Him, to know Him, or to follow Him- being destined instead to spiritual ignorance, decay, and death. Yet God, in His mercy, revealed Himself to us in this one book we call the Bible.

For this reason, God’s Word to the Christian should be like bread to the hungry man (Matthew 4:4) or like water to the thirsty deer (Psalm 42:1). By keeping its commands, we keep ourselves pure (Psalm 119:9). By following its guidance, we have a light for our paths (Psalm 119:105). By meditating on it, we find blessing and joy (Psalm 1:1-2). By wrestling with the Scriptures, we find our own lives being changed and sanctified (Hebrews 4:12). It is our perfect guide and our ultimate authority (Psalm 19:7-11- because it is the very Word of God.

Churches, sermons, books, and articles may claim to be Christian. But if they undermine or contradict God’s Word in anyway, you can be certain they do not meet God’s approval. Sometimes these errors take away from what God has taught (like the Jesus Seminar, which denies the historical authenticity of large portions of the Gospels).Other times they try to add to what God has taught (for example, cult groups who place the teaching of their leaders on the same level as the Bible). In either case, the Scriptures itself respond with strong condemnation. Christ’s final warning in the Book of Revelation in Revelation 22:18-19, “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, 19and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.”

Without question, maintaining a high view of Scripture is a hill that every Christian should die on. If God’s Word is undermined such that God Himself is no longer given the final say, then the door is opened to all kinds of error. A high view of Scripture is absolutely indispensable to the discerning Christian, and this high view must uphold at least three elements.

First, a proper view of Scripture necessitates a full understanding and acknowledgment of the Bible’s authenticity- namely that the Bible is indeed the inspired Word of God. Scripture, of course ,makes this claim about itself in numerous places (1 Thess. 2:13; 2 Peter 1:20-21; 1 John 5:10). In the Old Testament alone, the text claims to represent the very words of God over 3,800 times. It’s no wonder that, when we come to the New Testament, the apostle Paul can say, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that he man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2Timothy 3:16-17).

Despite the clear self-claims of Scripture, contemporary Christianity is fraught with attacks on the inspiration and authenticity of the Bible. Some claim that only parts of the Bible are inspired. Others suggest that “inspiration” doesn’t actually refer to divine authorship but rather to human intellectual achievement. These are only futile attempts to deny that God Himself stands behind every word of both the Old and New Testaments (Matthew 5:18; 24:35). It is at this foundational point that many so-called Christians condemn themselves to lives of perpetual confusion- doomed to wallow in the mire of man-made musings, simply because they have rejected the true source of divine wisdom. True wisdom begins with the Word of the Lord. “For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Prov. 2:6). Unless one acknowledges that the Bible is indeed His Word, we forfeit all possibility of learning discernment.

Second a high view of Scripture must accept the accuracy and inerrancy of the Bible. After all if the Bible is God’s inspired Word in every part (meaning that He is at the author), then it must also be truthful in every part (including the passages regarding science and history) because He is a God of truth (Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:17-18). Thus, the Scriptures can be wholly trusted because they come from a God who can be wholly trusted.

This means Genesis should be believed when it states the world was created in seven days. It means that Adam should be accepted as a real human being, that the Flood was a global event that Sodom and Gomorrah were literally destroyed by fire from heaven and that Jonah was, in the belly of a fish for three days. Even Christ and the apostles reflect this same attitude toward the Old Testament when they refer to Adam (Romans 5:14), Noah (Matthew 24:37-38), the inhabitants of ..Sodom.. and ….Gomorrah…. (Matthew 10:15), and Jonah (Matthew 12:40) as historical figures. It is not enough to accept the Scriptures as true in matters of faith in practice but then deny its truthfulness in matters of history and science. If the God of Truth has spoken (no matter the subject), then He has spoken truthfully.

Too often Christians accept false teachings because they trust the latest scientific or literary theories over the very Word of God. In doing so, believers relinquish their ability to discern truth from error. Why? The reason is simple: It’s because they have let go of the truth, without which they have no standard for deciphering what’s wrong form what’s right.

A high view of Scripture also demands submission to its absolute authority. Because the Bible comes from God Himself, and because it reflects His perfect truthfulness, it also bears His authority as the final say in our thoughts, our words and our actions. Because we submit to Him, we likewise submit to His Word, through the power of His Spirit (John 14:15).

God should be our ultimate authority in discerning truth from error. This is why He gave us His Word- so we can know what He thinks about any given topic and thereby know the truth (John 17:17). Second Peter 1:2-3 indicates that the knowledge He’s given us in the Scriptures include everything we need for life and godliness. This means that we don’t have to supplement the Bible with human philosophy.  Nor do we need business principles to learn about successful church growth. God has given us His authoritative word on all of those matters- and it comes complete with everything we need to live the Christian life successfully. Those Christians who desire discernment should stop endorsing or entertaining any teaching that undermines, redefines or rejects the clear teaching of Scripture. It also means that the Bible is the first place you should go if you want to receive a heart of wisdom (Proverbs 1:1-7).

A high view of God

Another essential component in developing a framework for biblical discernment is a high view of God Himself. In order for this view to be correct, it must flow from the revelation He has given about Himself. We must rely on the Word of God to inform our understanding of who He is.

Throughout church history the doctrine of God has faced many attacks. Questions about the Trinity, divine attributes, Christ’s deity, and the personhood o the Holy Spirit have each been the topic of at least one church council. More recently, questions about God’s sovereignty and the gifts of the Holy Spirit have sparked controversy. In each of these areas, as believers make their way through the maze of theological rhetoric, only a biblically-informed view of God will allow them to think rightly.

God’s greatness quickly emerges from the pages of Scripture as one of His primary characteristics. It is seen in the first verse of the Bible- His creative power and His eternal preexistence. It continues in Genesis 3 with His judgment on the human race, a judgment that culminates in Genesis 6-8 with the Flood. At Sinai the mountain trembles because God is there. Even Moses, after requesting to see the Lord, is only given a sheltered glance- and he barely survives the experience.

In Psalm 115:3 we are told that, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.” In Isaiah 40:18 the Lord asks rhetorically, “To whom will you liken God?” But the answer to this question leaves Job dumfounded (Job 40:4-5), and the thoughts of God’s transcendence leaves Nebuchadnezzar to decree in Daniel 3:28-28, “Nebuchadnezzar answered and said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set aside the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God.”

Yet despite God’s majestic self-portrait, many Christians today minimize His greatness and God’s glory. In some miracles His sovereign power is denied (as with openness theology). In other circles it seems Satan and his demons are feared more than God Himself (in some charismatic contexts). But the Lord whom we serve is not like us. He made the sun, moon and stars (Psalm 8:3). We are not at liberty to mold him into our own image.

In discerning truth from error, we must ask ourselves, “Does a particular teaching, accurately depict the God of the Bible? Does it correctly represent His character essence and being?” Refuse to accept any teaching where the answer is other than yes.

God’s greatness and majesty is not only seen in His sovereign power, but also in His mercy and grace. In fact it was because of the Father’s great love for us that He sent His Son to die for our sins (John 3:16).

As God in human flesh (John 1:1, 14, Titus 2:13; Hebrews 1:8; 1 John 5:20), Jesus Christ lived a perfect life before sacrificing Himself on the cross. As the spotless lamb (1 Peter 1:19) and once- for all sacrifice (Hebrews 10:12), He not only paid the price for our sins but also clothes us in His righteousness (2 Cor 5:21). As the risen Lord (1 Cor 15:1-8), He sits enthroned at the right hand of God the Father (Acts 7:56) waiting for the day when He will return to earth to set up His kingdom (2 Thess 1:7-10; Rev 20:1-6), In the meantime, all who trust Him as their Savior and choose to follow Him as Lord will be saved (Romans 10:9-10).

Despite the biblical evidence, false teachers stir up confusion about who Jesus is. Many deny this outright. Others are more subtle, agreeing that Christians must accept Jesus as Savior but not as Lord. Some suggest the resurrection was spurious or that the true Christ has been misrepresented by the Church. All such accusations fall flat when compared to the testimony of Scripture. This is why a biblical view of the Savior is important to those who want to be discerning.

A proper view of God the Father and God the Son would not be complete if it did not include a right view of God the Holy Spirit. Before Jesus left, He promised that He would send a Helper, the Holy Spirit, to guide Christians throughout the church age (John 14:26)- a promise that was fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:2-8).

The Bible clearly distinguishes the Spirit as a separate Person (John 14:26; Romans 8:11, 16, 26; 1 John 5:7), who is equal with the Father and the Son (Matthew 28:19;; 2ndCor 3:16-18; 13:14; Eph 4:4-6). His ministry is one of teaching (John 14:26; Luke 12:12), interceding (Romans 8:26), leading (Matthew 4:1), giving life (John 6:63), filling (Eph 5:18), and sanctifying (Gal 5:16-22). As believers study God’s Word the Spirit aids us in the process (John 14:26; 16:13; 1 Cor 2:14). Ephesians 6:17 tells us that “the sword of the Spirit” the weapon He uses to help us fend off deception, is the Word of God. It’s no wonder, then, that to be filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18) is parallel to “let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly” (….Col…. 3:16).

Confusion about the doctrine of the Holy Spirit is almost as old as the Church itself. In Acts 8 a man named Simon incorrectly assumed that he could buy the Holy Spirit’s power with money. Over the centuries, various cult groups- such as the Jehovah’s witnesses- have simply denied the Spirit’s personhood or deity, choosing instead to see Him as an impersonal force. The unbiblical practice of some charismatic groups (such as slaying in the Spirit, laughing in the Spirit, barking in the Spirit, etc) have only increased confusion on the work of the Holy Spirit.

The discerning Christian is spiritually unaffected by heretical trends. He is like a tree, firmly planted (Psalm 1:3) because his view of God (including the Father, the Son and the Spirit) is firmly founded in the truths of Scripture. By letting God’s self-portrait inform his own thinking, the discerning Christian compares what he hears with what he knows to be correct. In other words, he refuses to replace a high view of God (one that is biblical) with any type of cheap substitute.

A High view of the Gospel

Biblical discernment demands a third theological component, which is a right understanding of the gospel. Building on the previous two categories, the gospel answers the question for us, “What must one do to be saved?” This, in fact is the most important question human beings can ask, for our answer to that question determines both our present choices and our eternal destinies.

Sadly, many Christians today downplay key aspects of the gospel message. As a result false professions of faith are commonplace in the contemporary church, where belief is redefined as mere assent, and repentance is missed altogether. Discerning Christians are not impressed with water-down gospel presentations, nor are they fooled by the false promises of prosperity preachers. Instead they have a clear grasp of the gospel, always being ready to give an account for the hope that is in them (1 Peter 3:16).

The good news of Scripture begins with the bad news that all men are sinners before a holy God (Romans 3:23), unable to save themselves (Isaiah 64:6) and therefore worthy of His condemnation (Romans 6:23). Because Adam and Eve broke God’s law (Genesis 3:6-7), and because all of their descendants (with the exception of Jesus Christ) have also broken His law (James 2:10), human beings deserve to be punished. As a perfect Judge, God’s judgment for sin is death- both physical (Genesis 3:3) and spiritual (Romans 5:12-19). Scripture teaches that men and women are not only sinners through their actions (1 John 1:8,10) but also because they inherited a sin nature from Adam and Eve (Psalm 51:5; 5:12-19).

In light of Scripture emphasis on sin, it’s disheartening to watch contemporary Christians purposefully deemphasize the subject. Rather than addressing man’s true need (to be forgiven), too many modern evangelists focus on the felt needs of their audience. In the end, God is misrepresented as a loving grandfather rather than a holy Judge, and the listeners are given false expectations about the wonderful life Jesus has planned for them. New “converts” spend the rest of their Christian lives trying to meet their own felt needs and never deal with the sin in their lives- choosing instead to ignore it or redefine it as “honest mistakes” or “unhealed wounds.” In contrast, the discerning Christian is all-too-familiar with his own sinfulness, having cried out to God for God’s mercy and daily battling the flesh (Romans 7:13-8:4).

If you have a biblical view of sin, you will have a right view of yourself. Isaiah cried out “Woe is me!” (Isa. 6:4) or the publican who pleased, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13), those who recognize their sinfulness before a holy God realize how wretched and unimportant they really are. With this in mind, the apostle Paul commands his readers not to think more highly of themselves than they ought to think (Romans 12:3). Instead following the example of Christ they should regard others with “humility,” putting the wishes of their neighbor above their own (Phil 2:3-4). Past success and achievements are deemed as worthless compared to knowing and serving the Savior (Phil 3:7-8).

For the Christian, self-esteem is replaced with self-denial. After all, “we “have been crucified with Christ,” meaning that we no longer live, but rather Christ lives in us (Gal 2:20). The Lord Himself instructs us along these lines saying: “If anyone would come after me let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:34-35). Clearly, then this attitude of self-denial is intimately tied to the gospel, since we can do nothing, in and of ourselves, to earn salvation (Eph. 2:8-9). In embracing Christ’s work on our behalf, we abandon any form of self-sufficiency, choosing instead to thank God that He has chosen us- the weak, the foolish and the unimportant (1 Cor 1:26-29).

In an age where self-esteem and self-promotion are prevalent it’s not surprising to find many in the church who have embraced their own self-worth. This problem is only compounded by the fact that sin is emphasized, leading many pew-sitters to overestimate their own inherent goodness. God’s holiness, of course, is also overlooked, resulting in Christians who have a high view of themselves and a low view of their Creator. The messages they hear and the books they read are evaluated by their own man-made standards- in terms of felt needs and innovative programs. Because of their diminished reverence for God, they do not look to Him for His approval. As a result they fail to cultivate true discernment in their lives.

Having underestimated and having overestimated themselves, these same Christians fail to properly understand salvation. In some cases, they begin to view salvation as nothing more than heavenly fire insurance- as though God is obligated to save them without any repentance on their part. Others misunderstand grace, including cults who teach works-righteousness is added to the free gift of salvation. Key concepts, such as justification and imputation (Christ takes our sin, and we take His righteousness) are sometimes misunderstood or redefined (as with the New Perspective on Paul). There are even some, such as Seventh-Day Adventists, who claim Christ’s atonement on the cross was not His final work of atonement- despite verses such as Hebrews 7:27 and 1 1peter 3:18.

What is the biblical plan of salvation from sin? The apostle Paul answers this question in Romans 10:9-10 when he says, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” He reiterates this truth in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4.

Thus the call of salvation is a call to believe in the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ on the cross, and to publicly submit (“confess”) oneself to him as Lord (thereby repenting from sin). Of course, this is a gift of grace and not of human effort or merit (Eph 2:8-10). It also involves other theological truths- such as regeneration (John 3:3-7; Titus 3:5), election(Romans 8:28-30;Eph 1:4-11; 22 Thess 2:13), sanctification (Acts 20:32; 1 Cor 1:2, 30; Eph 6:11; Hebrews 10:10, 14), and eternal security (John 5:24; 6:37-40; 10:27-30; Romans 5:9-10; 8:31-39). The heart of the gospel is this: By dying on the cross, Jesus took the penalty for all who believe in Him. By trusting in Him, the believer is seen as righteous (or justified) in the sight of God.

Thinking rightly about the gospel is something that God takes very seriously. Scripture severely condemns those who preach another gospel as false teachers (Gal 1:8). Christians would do well, then, to arm themselves with the true gospel- one that maintains a biblical view of sin, self, and salvation. Only then will we be able to fulfill the Great Commission with which we have been tasked (Matthew 28:18-20).; and only then will we be able to discern the message of life from any counterfeits. False gospels cannot be tolerated because eternity is at stake.

Mountains and Molehills

Are there other hills that Christians should die on? It depends on the circumstance and the individuals involved. Questions about end times, about the church and about other areas of theology are important. Why focus on the Bible, God and the gospel? The New Testament portrays an accurate understanding of these three doctrines as essential.

Peter discusses all three in the first two verses of his second epistle- an epistle that spends its time refuting false teaching. He begins with a right view of salvation (faith by the righteousness of Jesus Christ). He moves on to a right view of Jesus Christ (as “Our God and Savior” and “our Lord”). He mentions a right view of the Scriptures (“the knowledge of God”) a subject he unpacks in the rest of chapter 1. Other  New testament writers agree, responding to false gospels (Gal 1:6-7; 2 Cor 11:4), false Christ’s (1 John 2:22; 2 John 7), and mishandled Scripture (2 Peter 3:16) with the harshest of criticisms (Matthew 24:24; 2 Peter 2:1-22; Jude 4-19). Because Christ and the apostles took a firm stand on these issues, we should be careful to do the same.

We should also take note of those issues that Scripture does not lists as hills to die on. Preference issues such as the length of a sermon, the style of music used in corporate worship, the church’s building program, and other pet grievances are not issues on which we should refuse to budge. Although we live in a day when everyone demeans his or her personal rights, opinions and choices, our testimony as Christians should be different, seeking to give preferential treatment to our brothers and sisters in Christ (Phil 2:1-4).

Conclusion

When it comes to developing a doctrinal framework for discernment it cannot be overstated enough about the importance of a theological grid through which every message is filtered. Without sound doctrine you will not be able to protect your own heart from the doctrinal errors that exist today. By looking to the Scriptures (as your ultimate authority) for a right view of God and a right view of the gospel, you can safeguard your mind- “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor 10:5).

Good theology that comes from God’s Word allows one to discern between what is right and what is wrong.  This clear biblical teaching lifts high the holiness of God, which stands for the Truth. It is most important that Christians be faithful to God. If you want to be faithful to God then stand on God’s Word which dictate the issues that Christians should fight for and the hills we should die on.

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