Monergism in Acts(ion): Seven Texts That Affirm The Priority of God’s Grace

crashing waves

. . . I am sending you, to open their eyes,
so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God,
that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’
— Acts 26:17–18 —

When it comes to the doctrine of salvation (soteriology), monergism is doctrine that says God alone accomplishes salvation. Etymologically, the word means one (mono) energy (energos), and suggests that all the power for salvation comes from the triune God. Monergism stands against any form of cooperation in salvation whereby God’s work is joined with or completed by man.

Historically, monergism stands upon the writings of Augustine, Calvin, and others in the Reformed tradition. But more importantly, those writings stand upon the words of Scripture. Recently, as I read through the book of Acts, this doctrine stood out, in thinking about the way Luke often spoke of salvation and attributed the faith of believers to the antecedent work of God. In other words, Luke makes it apparent, salvation comes by faith and repentance, but faith and repentance come from the grace of God. (I also spent time laboring this point in my last two sermons on Romans 3 and Colossians 1–2).

In Acts, we find at least seven instances where Luke stresses God’s singular work in salvation. And for the sake of understanding this doctrine and our experience of salvation, not to mention its impact on evangelism and missions, we should see how the pattern of God’s monergism runs through the book of Acts. Continue reading

The Need for Expositional Preaching (pt. 4): Apostolic Preaching is Expositional

md-duran-q3lWgt6JNjw-unsplash.jpgFrom the pattern of Moses and the Old Testament priests to the teaching ministry of Jesus, biblical exposition has a long track record in redemptive history. In the New Testament, the citation and explanation of Scripture (i.e., biblical exposition) continued. And this is most evident in Acts and Hebrews, the two books we will focus on here.

The Expositional Acts of the Apostles

In Acts, Luke gives a selection of exemplary sermons by Peter (Acts 3-4), Stephen (Acts 7), and Paul (Acts 13-14, 17). In each, the Spirit-filled preachers appeal to the Old Testament, retell the history of Israel, and explain how Jesus Christ fulfills God’s patterns, promises, and prophecies.

For instance, in Acts 13:15 Paul and Barnabas are invited to give a word of exhortation (a sermon?) “after reading from the Law and the Prophets.” It is easy to see the pattern of exposition here: read the word, preach about the same word. Paul paid attention to his audience, but he faithfully proclaimed God’s Word according to the pattern of sound words that was found in the Old Testament.

Of course, from the terse details in Acts, we cannot replicate the form of the apostle’s exposition, but we can see their commitment to explaining the Old Testament Scriptures: They showed how the Old Testament related to Jesus, and called their audiences to repent and believe. Continue reading

Where Do Elders Come From?

churchFrom the beginning of the church, there were designated leaders. And though given various names (e.g., elders, pastors, overseers) they served the same function. As God-given leaders of God’s flock (Acts 20:28) and under-shepherds to the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:1–4), these men were called to model the faith before God’s people and to teach the word of God, protecting God’s children from error and bolstering their faith in Christ.

A cursory reading of the New Testament shows how important these men were. In Acts we find elders in Jerusalem (11:30; 14:23; 15:2, 4, 6; 21:18) and Ephesus (20:17). When Paul planted churches in Galatia, he appointed elders in each church (Acts 14:23). In correspondence with Titus, he told him to appoint qualified overseers in the churches on Crete (Titus 1:5–9). Similarly, Timothy received instruction on the qualification of overseers (1 Timothy 3:1–7) and instructions for removing unqualified elders (5:17–23).

Even before Paul wrote his Pastoral Epistles, he had called churches to care for those who taught them (Galatians 6:6–9) and to honor those who led them (1 Thessalonians 5:12–13). Similarly, James, Peter, John, and the author of Hebrews all spoke in various ways about the office of the overseer/elder/pastor (see James 5:14; 1 Peter 5:1–4; 2 John 1; 3 John 1; Hebrews 13:7, 17). In short, the New Testament says a great deal about this important role, and it does so because the health of the church depends on those who lead them with God’s Word.

Yet, for all that it says about the office, we should ask another important question: Where do elders come from? Thankfully, the New Testament is not silent on this question. Just as it describes how to recognize an elder, it also describes where they come from. And faithful churches (and the elders who lead them), will be aware of how God raises up elders.

Where Do Elders Come From?

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On Pentecost and Its Centrifugal Effects: Acts 2, 8, 10, 19 and 1 Corinthians 12:12–13

spirit2On the Jewish Calendar, Pentecost was 50 days after Passover. According to Leviticus 23, Pentecost was a Feast Day—the Feast of Weeks to be exact. It was a day when Israel worshiped God by bringing a new grain offering to the temple. But today, this Jewish Feast is best known for what happened fifty days after Christ’s resurrection.

In Acts 2, Jews from all over the world were celebrating Pentecost. And it was on this day that God poured out his Spirit. Why some confusion, and accusations of drunkenness, occurred on that day, more confusion has come since. Therefore, we need to see what Pentecost is and how Luke presents its centrifugal effect throughout the book of Acts.

Pentecost Proper

Importantly, Pentecost was the day Jesus began to build his new covenant temple. This was the day when the church was born. And this was the day when the apostles were filled with the Spirit, empowering them to go into the world and proclaim the gospel—the means by which the church would be founded.

In Acts, Pentecost is accompanied by powerful signs and wonders. Fire from heaven touches earth; tongues of fire are located above the heads of the people. Just like the pillar of fire stood above the tabernacle, and just like Solomon’s temple was filled with the Holy Spirit, so now Christ’s Spiritual temple (i.e., his covenant people) is indwelt with the Holy Spirit. And as the book of Acts displays, the Spirit they received is also shared with Gentiles as the Gospel goes forward.

At Pentecost, we also hear reports of tongues being spoken. Most wonderfully, these tongues are not inarticulate utterances, or some heavenly prayer language. They are real languages, proclaiming the wondrous works of God. Acts 2:9–-10 list more than a dozen nations from around the Mediterranean. And v. 11 says: “Both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.”

On Pentecost, therefore, the Gospel is proclaimed in other languages. Just as at Babel (in Genesis 11) God gave the people new languages to divide the nations. Now God is giving new languages to preach the gospel to the nations. Whereas the first ‘gift’ of tongues was a curse, now this gift of tongues is a true nation-uniting blessing. Pentecost, therefore, is the foundation of the universal church and the beginning of the Spirit-empowered mission to unite all nations through the preaching of the gospel.

Still, we might ask the question: What about the baptism promised by Christ, what we might call Spirit baptism? Does it always look like Pentecost, or might Pentecost be a one-time event? Continue reading

Apostles, Prophets, and Evangelists (pt. 1): The Church’s Three Foundational Offices

 

churchThe apostleship was the Divine expedient to meet the emergencies of the Church at its first establishment and outset in the world, and not the method appointed for its ordinary administration; and the peculiarities distinctive of the office, to which I have now referred, could not, from their very nature, be repeated in the case of their successors, or be transmitted as a permanent feature in the Christian Church.
— James Bannerman, The Church of Christ 223 —

In his discussion of the Church and its founding, James Bannerman notes the way in which Apostles played a peculiar (and unrepeatable) role. In his second volume ofThe Church of Christ, he shows from the corpus of the New Testament how we should understand these “pillars,” whom God used to found the church (Galatians 2:9; Ephesians 2:20).

In what follows, I’ll trace his argument to help us better understand the uniqueness of these men. My hope is that by understanding their place in God’s new covenant temple, we will better understand our need for their message and the discontinuity of signs, wonders, and mighty works which accompanied their ministry. I believe local churches have risen and fell with commitment to the apostles’ gospel, not the continuation of their miraculous gifts. But in our charismatic age, this distinction is often missed.

We need to recover an understanding of God’s designs for the early church, and how though dead, the words of the Apostles still speak. In the next post, I will consider the Prophets and Evangelists—two offices that complement the Apostles. But for today, we will look at the unique role of the Apostles. Continue reading

Disciples Must Make an Argument to Make Disciples

paulSome time ago, I sat in a Simeon Trust meeting with David Helm, pastor of Holy Trinity Church (Hyde Park) and executive director of Simeon Trust. He began by making this profound point: “disciple-making requires making an argument.” His point was disciples are not formed unless we can persuade them from the Scripture that their beliefs, actions, attitudes are out of sync with God’s will and in need of spiritual renewal.

Indeed, while discipleship is as plain and simple as helping others follow Jesus (Mark Dever’s definition in Discipling), the work is incredibly hard because calling others to follow Christ fully  means calling them to bear his cross in sacrificial ways. Thus, we must learn to make arguments that grip hearts, if we are to make and mature disciples.

Arguing in Acts

Recently, in reading through Acts, I was reminded how much Paul labored to make an argument. He was not argumentative (a mood); more constructively, he made reasoned arguments. In these arguments, he didn’t present the facts and wait for others to make a decision. No, he pleaded, persuaded, and persisted in making his case.

Consider just a few examples from Paul, based on four words used to describe Paul’s ministry. May the Lord use them to spur you to make biblical arguments as you make disciples. Continue reading

“You Will Be My Witnesses”: Five Truths About Witnessing From the Book of Acts

lionWhen I was in college and a young believer, one of the first Christian books I read was Bill Bright’s Witnessing without FearIt was a helpful introduction to evangelism and the call of disciples to be witnesses for Jesus. Just beginning to understand what it meant to follow Christ and make disciples, this book helped immensely to be a ‘witness’ for Christ. Today, I’m still thankful for that book.

Recently, as I read through Acts, the theme of witnessing came to the fore again. And how could it not?

In Acts 1:8 Jesus tells his disciples to remain in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit comes to empower them to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Indeed, “witnessing” is something more than a spiritual discipline or a Tuesday night activity. It is the very essence of who we are as Christians. But what does that mean? And how exactly are we to speak about Jesus?

“Witness” and “Witnessing” in Acts

Perhaps the best way to answer that question is to see how the apostles “witnessed” to Jesus in the book of Acts. After Jesus’ identifies his followers as his witnesses in Acts 1:8, Luke uses the word μάρτυς 12 more times to describe the witness-bearing of the early church (1:8, 22; 2:32, 40; 3:15; 4:33; 13:31; 14:3, 17; 22:5, 20, 15; 26:16). (He also uses the verb μαρτύρομαι twice, 20:26; 26:22).

From observing how this word is used we can begin to sketch what a faithful witness might look like. While a whole theology of witnessing could be written from Acts and the rest of the New Testament (e.g., see Allison Trites, The New Testament Concept of Witness), let me suggest five truths about witnessing from the book of Acts. Continue reading

Apostolic Exposition: How Did the New Testament ‘Preachers’ Handle the Text?

paulJust how dependent were the apostles on the Old Testament?

This is a question that interests all types. Biblical scholars, theologians, preachers, seminary students, and devoted Sunday School teachers all take interest in how the Old Testament foreshadows the New and the New Testament quotes the Old. Anyone familiar with my blog, or at least its title (see the Emmaus Road dialogue in Luke 24) will know that this has been an interest of mine for years. After all, what could be more exciting than understanding the unity of Scripture and how God’s inspired Word finds its telos in Jesus Christ.

But with such a consideration, it is important that we take our cues from Scripture and not use Scripture for our own (theological) ends. Thus, to return to the question of how the apostles made use of the Old Testament, it is worth observing how frequently the New Testament apostles took their cues from the Old Testament.

Answering the opening question with in an unreserved affirmative, I will trace the way three “apostles” (Peter, Stephen, and Paul) preached the new covenant gospel from the Hebrew Scriptures. My aim is to show how Acts gives us a model for preaching the gospel which necessarily unites the Old Testament promises in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

In my estimation, this kind of reading is necessary for understanding the Bible, knowing Jesus the Christ, and walking in obedience to the gospel. Let’s dive in and see what Acts has for us.
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Blood Moons and Smoke-Filled Skies: An Already and Not Yet Approach to the Day of the Lord

moon

When we read in Acts 2:19-20, “And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; the  sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood,” we who are unaccustomed to apocalyptic literature are quick to scratch our heads and ask: What does this mean?  Our doctrinal convictions keep us on the trail: Scripture is perspicuous (i.e., clear) and true, therefore, Peter must means what he says. He is surely not incorrect. But how can the moon turn to blood? Should we really expect the Sea of Tranquility to fill with blood, just like the Nile in Exodus?

When reading such language in Scripture, we do well to remember that Scripture interprets Scripture and that in this case, the apocalyptic language of Joel 2 is being cited by Peter to explain the historical events of Pentecost–the outpouring of the Spirit foretold in Joel 2:28. However, for reasons we will see, Peter also includes the more troubling language. Therefore, to understand the whole section lets consider four biblical-theological points that will help us see how the Day of the Lord is both a present and future reality—a method of interpreting the Old Testament that the Apostles often employed.

1. Historical Acts 2 quotes apocalyptic Joel 2.

Importantly, the strange language comes not from the historical narrative of Luke, but rather the prophetic literature of Joel. In this way, he is quoting an Old Testament prophecy to explain the events of recent history—i.e., the ostensible drunkenness of the disciples (Acts 2:13). Therefore, we must not read these words as portending to a literalistic interpretation—the moon is dripping blood. Rather, Luke is telling us how these strange, poetic words have come come true in the historical events of Pentecost. Continue reading

Acts: On Mission with the Triune God

[This is the most recent “Feeding on the Word” article for our church newsletter].

In most Bibles, Luke’s second book is entitled, “The Acts of the Apostles.”  However, as many commentators have noted, a more accurate title would be “The Acts of the Holy Spirit” because it is the Spirit who is responsible for convicting, converting, and creating the church. Yet, even this title is insufficient, because it tempts us to think that the Father and Son are absent. Thus, a better title might be, “The Acts of the Triune God Through the Church of Jesus Christ.”  While lengthy, such a title rightly emphasizes God’s work in and through the early church.

With this trinitarian framework in mind, lets consider how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit work together in Acts to convert sinners and create the church.

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