“All the Father Has Given Me”: Election and Evangelism in the Gospel of John

anthony-garand-498443-unsplashJesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.
— John 6:35–37 —

If the book of John is the most evangelistic Gospel—or at least, if it is the one most often lifted from the canon and given as an evangelistic tract—it is also the Gospel with the greatest emphasis on God’s sovereignty to open blind eyes to the person and work of Christ. For instance, the whole message of the man born blind (John 9) identifies the way God intended his blindness for his glory. That is, through his blindness, God would glorify his Son in the miracle of healing, such that the healing miracle revealed the blindness of the Pharisees and the promise sight for the blind.

In fact, throughout John’s Gospel we find instances of those in the dark coming into light, and the supposed enlightened ones (think Nicodemus) proving their darkness. These themes of light and darkness highlight the sovereignty of God who both creates light and darkness (see Isaiah 45:7). Still, the most evident examples of God’s sovereignty in John’s Gospel relate to the way he grants life  and salvation to one group of people, but not another. Indeed, for all the places John invites readers to believe in Christ, he equally insists that no one can come, believe, or receive the gift of salvation unless God sovereignly enables them. Continue reading

“Whatever You Ask in Prayer”: A Christ-Centered Re-Reading of a Commonly Misused Verse

rob-bye-103200-unsplash“And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”
— Matthew 21:22 —

Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer,
believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.
— Mark 11:24 —

In my high school year book, my senior quote was from Jesus: “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” Young in my faith but zealous, I was learning how to follow Christ and this verse seemed to be an appropriate way to express my devotion. Not to mention, it marked something of my eighteen-year-old theology: If I put my mind to it, Jesus could do anything.

In subsequent years, I’ve seen that my introduction to Christ came through various shades of moralistic, therapeutic deism with splashes of the Bible mixed in. I believed in God, the Bible, the historical death and resurrection, and my need for salvation, but I really didn’t understand the logic of the gospel—even though I believed in Christ crucified.

I believe God, in his unspeakable kindness, used a psychologically-slanted message of salvation to create in me a simple trust in Jesus. In a way that only a sovereign God could design, he planted the truth of Christ’s preciousness in my heart, even if it would take some time to see the darker lines of the gospel—namely God’s absolute holiness, my absolute need for atonement, and that faith included a dying to self and living for his glory (in a word, repentance is part of saving faith).

For me, college served as a crash course in theology, where the doctrines of grace began to redraw my earlier understanding of Christ and salvation. But before college, I believed Christ came to save me from hell and to help me fulfill my life’s purposes. After all I had found verses that said as much—Matthew 21:22 and Mark 11:24 being prime examples.

So, in my misguided zeal, I quoted Mark 11:24, a verse that I think many people misunderstand. Continue reading

“As Unto the Lord”: Work with Christ at the Center (Ephesians 6:5–9)


“As Unto the Lord”: Work with Christ at the Center

Paul is unashamedly Christ-centered. And it seems that in whatever subject he is discussing, he brings it back to the Lord who saved him and commissioned him to preach his gospel.

On this note, we see in Ephesians 6:5–9 how Paul teaches us to bring Christ to work. In five verses written to slaves and masters, he gives us at least five motivations for the workplace. While we have to think carefully about how Paul’s context is similar and different from our own, these verses give us many practical applications for doing work to the glory of God.

You can listen to the sermon online. Discussion questions and additional resources, including how to think carefully about Paul’s approach to slavery, are included below. Continue reading

Paul, Slaves, and the Church: How the Gospel Creates a People Passionate for Love and Justice

museum of the bible

In Washington, D.C. the Museum of the Bible has an exhibit tracing the impact of the Bible on slavery, and the impact of slavery on the Bible. Tragically, as the artifact above reveals, slave holders invited God’s judgment on themselves (see Revelation 22:19), in order to control their slaves and defend their institution of slavery.

In another exhibit, Ephesians 6:5 (“Slaves/Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ”)  is cited as one verse among many that were used out of context to control God-fearing slaves. In reading this verse by itself, you can see how it could be misused to do horrendous damage. But how should we understand this verse? Did Paul condone slavery? Are his words to be ignored, rejected, or attributed to some cultural blindness of his day? Why didn’t he speak against slavery?

To be sure, questions like these need answering. But denying the veracity of God’s Word, as some like to do, is not the answer. Rather, we need to understand Paul’s words in their historical context and how his commitment to the gospel both liberated individuals from slavery to sin/death/hell and, in time, led to emancipation for slaves across the Mediterranean.

To get at his historical context, lets consider two questions:

  1. What did slavery look like in first century Ephesus?
  2. What did Paul think of slavery?

By getting a handle on these two questions, it will help us understand Paul’s words and how his witness shows how far pro-slavery Christians deviated from God and his Word. At the same time, by considering Paul’s unswerving commitment to the gospel, we will see how that message (alone) forms a foundation for all genuine pursuits of love and injustice, liberty and emancipation. Indeed, by understanding more clearly the way the gospel works, we can see more clearly the wisdom of God, the goodness of Paul’s words, and the reason why he, as God’s chosen apostle, addressed slaves and their masters as members of Christ’ church, rather than a class of people suffering under an unjust system. Continue reading

Serving Two Masters: Does Ephesians 6:5 Contradict Matthew 6:24?


No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
— Matthew 6:24 —

Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, . . .
— Ephesians 6:5–6 —

Ephesians 6:5–9 calls “slaves” to obey their earthly masters, which at first sounds like it contradicts Jesus words in Matthew 6:24, where our Lord states that men are not to be divided in their allegiance and service—you can either serve God or money.

A careful reader may ask, Does Paul’s instructions contradict Jesus’ words? Or does he help the worker go further in understanding how our primary allegiance to Christ leads to improved service to earthly masters?

I believe it is the latter.  And on that point, Wolfgang Musculus, a sixteenth-century pastor-theologian, answers well: Continue reading

Seven Ways to Glorify Christ in Your Work

pexels-photo-313773In Ephesians 6:5–9 Paul finishes his “household codes” by addressing slaves/bondservants and masters and how they ought to work as unto the Lord. In fact, in five verses Paul makes five explicit references to Christ. Thus, as with marriage (Ephesians 5:22–33) and parenting (Ephesians 6:1–4), he gives hyper-attention to the way Christ motivates Christians in the marketplace.

Acknowledging the cultural differences (and challenges) between masters and slaves in Ephesus and our own modern free-market, post-slavery context in America, there are numerous ways Paul’s words continue speak to marketplace Christians today. In what follows, I’ll list seven ways Paul puts Christ in the cubicle, the shop, the council chamber, and the medical office.

Indeed, by walking through these five verses, we can see how Christ motivates, supervises, evaluates, and coaches his followers. Rather than bifurcating Sunday from the rest of the week, Paul teaches us how Christ should be present with believers as they enter the work week.  Continue reading

The Final Days of Jesus: A 40-Day Reading Guide

final daysThis week marks 40 days until Resurrection Sunday. While some celebrate with Lent and others do not, we should all prepare our hearts to celebrate the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. To help in that endeavor, let me encourage you to pick up and read The Final Days of Jesus by Andreas Köstenberger and Justin Taylor.

A few years ago I put together a 40-day reading plan for that book.  The outline lays out daily Scripture readings from the Gospels, many intra-biblical connections to the Old Testament, and the page numbers to read from The Final Days of JesusIf you are interested in that 40-day reading plan, you can find it here.

Here is the devotional guide’s introduction. Let it be an invitation to a slow, worshipful reading of the passion narratives in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Continue reading

Reading Proverbs Wisely

samantha-sophia-34200.jpgIn Proverbs the ideas of wisdom, righteousness, and reward are prevalent. And as I highlighted here and here, these three ideas are developed together under the old covenant. Therefore, they cannot be directly applied to the new covenant believer—at least, not without showing how they apply to us in Christ. That said, they are important for understanding the righteousness of Christ and the way in which we are to follow him when, by the Spirit, we walk by faith.

In what follows I want to consider how to read the Proverbs wisely by holding the old covenant and new covenant together as we read Proverbs. In this approach to the Proverbs, we see the covenantal context of Proverbs relates to Christ and the whole counsel of Scripture. In other words, by holding these biblical realities together, we begin see how the wisdom of the old covenant called for God’s people to enjoy God’s gracious promises through wisely applying the law of Moses. However, for us, because we do not live under Moses, we learn how to apply them in Christ. Graphically, we might illustrate the difference like this:

Old Covenant

Law >> Wisdom >> Righteousness >> Reward (=Inheritance) . . . [Gospel]

New Covenant

Gospel >> Faith  >> Reward (=Inheritance) >> Law >> Wisdom >> Righteousness**

** Righteousness defined as a progressive growth in righteousness (i.e. sanctification) as the believer exercises faith in God’s Word, demonstrated in love and justice.

With this framework in place, we can see that the wisdom of the Proverbs still has a vital place in the life of a Christian. But it is not a pathway to salvation or blessing, as some prosperity preachers wrongly apply the proverbs. Neither are the Proverbs timeless principles that promise material blessing today; they are instead enduring principles that teach the child of God how to walk in the light of Christ.

In truth, by living out the Proverbs, we are often protected from many earthly trials and find greater earthly success. However, such proverbial fruit is all the more reason to be careful with Proverbs. Why? Because earthly fruit through a Provers-centered life does not mean that we can read Proverbs as a certified manual for ensuring material blessing. In fact, there are hints in the Proverbs that righteousness is itself a reward: “Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues with injustice” (16:8).

In the end, we should read Proverbs regularly, but  we must read them wisely. And to help us read wisely, let’s consider how Proverbs speaks of righteousness and how we might apply its words in and through Christ today. Continue reading

Wisdom, Righteousness, and Reward: Four Reflections on Proverbs 8


In Proverbs 8 we find wisdom personified, a woman speaking who is sometimes called Lady Wisdom.

In church history, this chapter has raised all sorts of exegetical and theological questions with respect to eternal deity of Christ—Did God “possess” (ESV), “make” (HCSB), or “create” (LXX) wisdom in verse 22? Is wisdom speaking of Christ directly or indirectly (typologically) or not at all?

These are the debates made famous by the heretic Arius, who denied Christ’s eternal deity, and they are important questions, but my focus is not on this debate. Rather, I want to consider how Proverbs 8 speaks of wisdom with respect to righteousness and reward in verses 8, 15, 16, 18, 20.

In these verses we discover at least four truths about wisdom and righteousness and reward. They are worth our consideration and application, especially as we see how Christ is God’s Wisdom, who teaches his (once foolish) disciples to walk wisely after they have come to trust in his wisdom (cf. Matthew 11:28–30). Continue reading

“In the Lord”: Children, Obedience, and the Gospel (Ephesians 6:1–3)


“In the Lord”: Children, Obedience, and the Gospel (Ephesians 6:1–3)

In Ephesians Paul calls the church to walk in wisdom by the power of the Spirit. This includes children. And in this week’s sermon, we saw how children in the Lord (believing children) are motivated to obey and honor their parents.

Indeed, in only three verses (Ephesians 6:1–3) there are a lot of things to consider, especially with the way Paul uses Exodus 20:12 to motivate children to obey their parents. Take time to listen to the sermon online, as it considers how the promise of inheritance in Exodus 20:12 is applied to believing children. You can read the sermon notes here. Discussion questions and further resources can be found below.  Continue reading