The Supremacy of Christ: Living for His Glory and Not Our Own (Hebrews 9)

1920x1080-it-is-finishedImagine that you were writing the script of your life. In your story, the place was yours to decide, as well as the people, the problems, and the pleasures. As the author of the story and the inventor of your universe, you got to decide how you would do it.

So, how would you do it?  How could you write up something so large, so complex, so weighty? And would it even be possible to write a grand story without imitating the story that God has written?

As I tell my kids all the time, all the best stories—the epic novels, the literary masterpieces, the Jeremy Bruckheimer movies—all of them plagiarize from the greatest story ever told. And in God’s story, we find a God who designed the whole universe to glorify his Son.

And knowing that, it is not too much to say that the heavens above us, and the trees around us, and the blood flowing in us, all of these elements were made by God to play a part in the story of God’s glory.

Just the same, the sacred history of Israel is filled with texts and tabernacles, priests and promises, crises and christs (i.e., anointed ones) that bring us to the cross of Christ and the new covenant that holds it all together. In fact, when we speak about the cross, it takes the entire Bible to understand its meaning. And without all the Bible, we would miss much of Christ’s glory. That said, if there was one chapter in the Bible that put all the pieces together, it might be Hebrews 9.

Hebrews 9 is a chapter rich in biblical theological intratextuality, which is a complex way of saying: Hebrews 9 is an explosion of biblical glory, which brings together all the elements of God’s story—the the covenants, the priests, sacrifices, etc. And when all of them find their fulfillment in Christ, we see that the story of the universe has a place for us, if we will draw near to God in Christ.

In other words, the Bible teaches us to stop seeking our own glory or to use God to write our stories. Instead, we are called to see and savor the supremacy of Christ in all God’s Word and God’s world. Hebrews 9 helps us to do that. And this last Sunday I preached a message on this glorious chapter, as the culminating sermon in our series on the cross. You can find the sermon here, and the rest of the series here.

May the Lord use this meager attempt to declare God’s glory to help us all delight in the supremacy of Christ and to live for his glory over and above our own.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Getting Off the Gospel Blimp: A Plea to Believe God’s Gospel Method

Somewhere in seminary I was introduced to The Gospel Blimp (1967), a made-for-television adaptation of Joseph Bayly’s book by the same name (circa 1950s). For those who do not know Joseph Bayly, he was a Christian editor, author, and satirist that would make the brothers at the Babylon Bee proud. And I lead with his classic film, not because it possessed the best acting or cinematography, but because of its important warning: The works man cannot accomplish the works of God. 

More specifically, the book lampoons the way Christians, especially evangelicals, employ all kinds of gimmicks in order to preach the gospel. Yet, such gimmicks, Jesus junk, and revivalist tactics actual deny the power of the gospel and the wisdom of God that they claim to believe.

What is the wisdom of God? What is a demonstration of God’s power? How should we herald God’s truth?

According to Paul the wisdom of God is found in the preaching of the gospel (1 Corinthians 1-2) and the gathering of the church (Ephesians 3). In other words, the most effective ways for evangelism are not the schemes and strategies of men, nor are they the “God showed me” ideas of eager Christians. Instead, God’s strategy is laid down in Scripture. God’s plan is simple: disciples making disciples, by means of the regular preaching of the Word, the sharing of the gospel, prayer, and suffering.

Historically, this approach to limiting ministry to the regular means of grace has been referred to as the regulative principle. The regulative principle of worship affirms the all-sufficient wisdom of God’s Word and seeks to practice only what is commanded in Scripture. By contrast, the normative principle of worship has granted more freedom of expression, whatever Scripture does not forbid is thereby permitted.

Obviously, these are principles for church worship are derived from Scripture; they are not absolute mandates found in Scripture. That said, they provide a helpful rubric for thinking about what we do in church and what we don’t. So to help understand these principles, let me offer a few definitions and then return to the main point—that we should avoid gospel gimmicks and stick to the simple wisdom proclaiming the Word and gathering the people. Continue reading

Between Christ and Culture: 7 Books about the Word and the World (December 2021)

assorted books on the shelf

In November I read some books. And as with any book I read or listen to—the majority of what follows are books I’ve listened to and taken notes on—they help me understand God’s Word and God’s world. For matters of personal record-keeping and public commentary, I share a few thoughts on each book. If you have read any of these, or books like them, I welcome your feedback. Please put it in the comment section below.

Bible and Theology

Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism by Kevin T. Bauder, R. Albert Mohler, Jr., John G. Stackhouse, Jr., and Roger E. Olson. Edited by Andy Naselli and Collin Hanson.

In Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism, co-editors, Andy Naselli and Collin Hanson, have assembled a collection of essays that outline the unifying and dividing features of evangelicalism. Admitting the inherent challenges of defining this movement, Kevin Bauder, Albert Mohler, John Stackhouse, and Roger Olson define their positions as Fundamentalist, Confessional Evangelicalism, Generic Evangelicalism, and Postconservative Evangelicalism, respectively. And over the course of this introductory work, the reader is introduced to a number of the complementary, contrasting, and competing views of various evangelicals. As I listened to this volume, here are a number of the points I found interesting and/or helpful. Continue reading

The Passion of God’s Propitiation: How the Cross Demonstrates, Defines, and Diffuses God’s Love (1 John 4:7–12)

brown sand love text on seashore

In Plato’s Republic, that ancient philosopher declared, “Let me make the songs of a nation, and I care not who makes its law.” Thankfully, in the Bible, God cares about laws and songs and he provided both.

Outside of the Bible, however, there is something to the wisdom of capturing hearts and imaginations with song. And it seems that for decades, the songs of our nation have been filled with love, love, and love me do.

From Elvis Presley to Taylor Swift, love has trained a generation to embrace love as love and love as life. If you go back to the British Invasion of the Beatles, you will find that in less than 5 years time, the Fab Four had four chart-topping singles with “love” in the title, as well as four more top forty songs with “love” in the title. And the focus on love has not abated in the decades since. Indeed, it is not too much to say that Top 40 love songs have formed the appetites and affections of our age, all the while obscuring what love really is or ought to be.

It is remarkable, then, that when love gets so much attention in our world, our streets are overrun with rage, our social media posts spew hate, and our love-seeking leaders are so loveless. In fact, while the market for love has never been greater, the supply has never been more empty.

Made in the likeness of a God who is love and fashioned to know God’s love and to share love with others, it is both ironic and tragic that a world hungry for love is so starved for the same. And most strange of all, those who are most adamant about love are often the ones coming up with laws to penalize others who don’t love the way they do.

Apparently, when individuals and societies seek love without God’s love, they will form new laws to protect and promote their idea of love. Sadly, these new laws of love jeopardize God’s holy and good law, erase true love, and secure a future for love that is nothing like what the songs of our nation promise.

In response to this loveless, law-filled pursuit of unholy love, we should ask the question: What is love? Where do we find love? And who gets to define love? These are important questions and one’s that God’s Word answers in full.

In particular, 1 John 4:7–12 gives a thorough, cross-centered explanation of God’s love. And this last Sunday I preached a message from this text: The Passion of God’s Propitiation: How the Cross Demonstrates, Defines, and Diffuses God’s Love (1 John 4:7–12). I pray it may be a help to all who are looking for love and looking to understand how the cross of Christ proclaims a message of sin-forgiving love.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Photo by Porapak Apichodilok on Pexels.com

Typology That Is True to the Text: What Elijah and Elisha Point Out for Modern Interpreters of Scripture

roadway sign in desert land

How does typology work? Is it something that we do when we interpret Scripture? Or, is it something that Scripture does and we recognize when we read and interpret? In other words, is typology a method of interpretation, distinctive from a literal interpretation and similar to an allegorical method? Or, is typology something that is inherent to Scripture itself?

This is no small question. Volumes have been written to debate the point. And for more than the last decade I have thought about, written about, and preached about this very thing. It my conviction, outlined in a forthcoming article co-written with Sam Emadi, that typology is found in Scripture and it not something that the interpretive community brings to Scripture. To illustrate, consider the storyline of Elijah and Elisha. Continue reading

Regeneration Precedes Faith: Six Passages in Paul That Prove Faith is a Gift

photo-1416958672086-951aa7064010 2Continuing the theme of monergism in salvation, we come to the debate regarding faith and regeneration. Does regeneration empower faith? Or does faith produce regeneration? Both are necessary for salvation, but what is their relationship? And how do we know?

Historically, Reformed theologians have understood faith as a divine gift to God’s elect, a gift that was planned in eternity, purchased at the cross, and personally granted in regeneration. By contrast, Arminians, Wesleyans, and other advocates of free will aver that faith is possible for all men and hence is not a special gift of grace to God’s elect, but a gift of grace to all who would freely receive it.

As one who gladly affirms a Reformed view of salvation, I believe this latter position minimizes the work of God in salvation. Instead of putting man’s final destiny squarely in the hands of God, an Arminian view conjoins the work of God and man. Theologically, this undermines grace. Pastorally, this contribution of faith produces (or leaves unchanged) man’s inveterate thirst for self-determination and creates communities that lack a spirit of humility. In God’s grace, other doctrines may ameliorate these realities or produce humility. But, by and large, a church that teaches—explicitly or implicitly—that you are capable of making such a decision for Christ impedes the humility which the gospel is meant to foster (see Rom. 3:27–30).

So, how we understand God’s work of salvation matters immensely for our sanctification, discipleship, and Christian fellowship. Still, it must be a doctrine derived from Scripture and not from tradition alone. To that point, we might ask: Where do we find teaching that says regeneration precedes faith and/or that faith is a gift of God? Good question. And in Paul’s Epistles, we find at least five passages that teach us that faith is a gift. Let’s consider each below. Continue reading

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 Most Exciting Book You’ve (N)ever Read: Twenty Lessons on Leviticus

imageThe Most Exciting Book You’ve (N)ever Read. 

That’s how I framed the book of Leviticus when I invited members of our church to study it last January. And this week, by God’s grace, we finished going through the book. Admittedly, our study could have done more. But for 20 weeks (Spring and Fall), those who were at first skeptical of Leviticus kept coming back to the see the good news proclaimed in Moses’s central book. Many even would agree that Leviticus is an exciting book.

In the list below are the lessons I taught on Leviticus. Again, they do not exhaust the book, but they give a general sense of the book and its message, with regular connections to Christ and the Church. I share them here for anyone who wants to know more of Leviticus. Continue reading

The Righteousness of God Revealed: A Sermon for Social Justice (Romans 3:21–31)

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The Righteousness of God Revealed: A Sermon for Social Justice (Romans 3:21–31)

No justice, no peace.

Know justice, know peace.

For the last few years, the theme of justice has filled city streets, social media posts, and more than a few church pulpits. Yet, for all the attention given to social justice, there remains an insufficient understanding of this precious virtue.

In Scripture, the God of justice, the righteous God of Israel, displays his justice in ways beyond the sending of prophets to decry Israel’s sin. Yes, the Old Testament has numerous prophets condemning Israel for their sins of injustice and idolatry. Just read Isaiah 5 or Amos 5. Yet, the prophets’ main message centers on the coming messiah and the justice, make that the justification, that he will bring (1 Pet. 1:10–12).

Indeed, justice apart from justification is a pronouncement of law without gospel. Not surprisingly, a world that does not know the grace of the gospel will call for justice based upon their fallen understandings of law. For Christians, however, when we speak of justice, we must begin with God and follow his Word until it brings us to Christ’s cross. For on the cross, we see justice and justification. And from Paul’s careful attention to God’s righteousness in Romans 3:21–31 we see what justice truly looks like.

In this sermon, I outline seven truths about God’s justice and justification. Of all the sermons I have preached touching on social justice, this is the one I would recommend to anyone inclined to chase social justice causes. You can also find an entire sermon series on the subject here.

In any case, when it comes to the contemporary cries for justice, we must continue to go back to Scripture to learn what justice is and what it isn’t. Hopefully, these sermons can help.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Picturing the Word without Caricaturing the Text: Fifteen Statements on Inerrancy and Interpretation

eduardo-pastor-pDAipmK6eRg-unsplashIn his six-volume opus, God, Revelation, and Authority, Carl F. H. Henry unpacks 15 Propositions about Revelation. These propositions include statements related to the source, nature, and purpose of God’s speech. And for anyone interested wrestling with the theological debates surrounding God’s Word and its inerrancy, this would be an excellent, if lengthy, place to begin. Henry was one of the chief architects of neo-evangelicalism and a defender of biblical inerrancy. He with 300 others authored the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy in 1978 and his enduring legacy includes not only his books on theology but his influence on other theologians. 

As noted by Kevin Vanhoozer, Henry was a part of evangelicalism’s “greatest generation,” a spin on the nickname given to the Post WWII generation (The Basics of the Faith). And in that generation, Henry and others argued against liberalism’s rejection of the Bible and for a view of the Bible that was infallibly true in “all matters upon which it touches.” This statement on inerrancy is part of the legacy that Henry and others passed on, but it also has been a legacy regularly contested.

As we should expect, the Word of God will always be questioned. “Did God really say?” is not a query left in the Garden of Eden. It is a question that persists at all times and in all fallen hearts. Thus, it is not surprising that today, those within evangelicalism and those without have raised questions about biblical inerrancy. In fact, to get a good lay of the land, just consider the book, Five Views on Biblical InerrancyIn that volume, you find two voices championing inerrancy, albeit with different terms (Albert Mohler and Kevin Vanhoozer), two voices denying inerrancy (John Franke and Peter Enns), and one voice basically affirming the contents of the Chicago Statement without giving it his international endorsement (Michael Bird).

From that volume, it is clear that the doctrine of inerrancy is not clearly understood today. That is, many who reject it fail to appreciate the nuance offered in the 1978 statement. And those who affirm it seek to provide clarity on what inerrancy is and is not. To that end, I think Kevin Vanhoozer is the most helpful. And in another of his books, Pictures at a Theological Exhibition, he lists—although by authorial intent, as far as I can tell—15 Propositions on Scripture that clarify what biblical inerrancy is and is not. Continue reading