Election and Evangelism: What God Has Joined Together Let Not Man Separate

brown rock formation on sea shore

On Sunday, our church considered one of many passages in John where the Beloved Disciple unites God’s sovereignty in salvation with the responsibility of man to repent and believe. With perfect, Spirit-inspired balance, John records the way God gave a particular people to the Son (i.e., the elect) and how these people will come to faith, as God calls all men and women to repent and believe. Indeed, what God has joined together—his sovereignty and man’s faith—cannot be torn apart without doing damage to the doctrine of election and the duty of evangelism.

For those familiar with the debates surrounding the doctrine of salvation, one of the longstanding charges against the doctrines of grace (Calvinism, if you prefer) is that the doctrine of election undermines evangelism and missions. Sadly, there have been some who have defended the doctrine of election without possessing an equal passion for the lost (i.e., Hyper-Calvinists, which means more than Calvinists with zeal). But biblically, election is one of the greatest motivations for evangelism.

This is evident in John’s Gospel and throughout the rest of the New Testament. And in what follows I want to highlight the connection between evangelism and election. In particular, I will show seven places, starting with John 6, where election is found in the same context as evangelism. Rather than hindering the gospel ministry, these passages teaches that the doctrine of election always spurs on missions and evangelism. Continue reading

Was Jesus Among the Larpers? How Reading John 4 with Genesis 29 Helps Us Understand Biblical Typology and Jesus’s Identity

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Well, Well, Well, Look What We Have Hear: A Marriage, A Mountain, and a Messiah (pt. 1) — A Sermon on John 4:1–18

In John’s Gospel we learn that Jesus is the Word made flesh (1:14), the Only Begotten God (1:18), the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (1:19), and the one to whom all the Law and Prophets wrote (1:45). But did you also know that Jesus was also a Larper? Not a leper, mind you, but Larper—a Live Action Role Player.

As best I could find online, Larping is a type of game where a group of people wear costumes representing a character they create to participate in an agreed [upon] fantasy world. Most recently, Larping gained attention in the Marvel Comic series Hawkeye, but it’s been around a lot longer than that. If you need an example of what Larping looks like up close, just go to a Medieval festival near you, and you will surely find a group of Live Action Role Players.

Now, if you don’t want to go to a Medieval Festival to see LARP-ing, you could also read John 4. In this famous chapter, where Jesus confronts the woman at the well, the Lord assumes the role of particular character from the world of the Patriarchs. Indeed, as John tells it, Jesus is a man (or “bridegroom,” see John 3:29) who meets a woman at a well, who will in time, become his bride. Let’s consider how this works. Continue reading

Seeing the Literary Structure of John 2–4

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The first step in understanding any book of the Bible is to see what is there and especially how the biblical author has arranged his material. In the case of the Gospels, for instance, it is important to remember Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John did not turn on their iPhones and hit record. While we have plenty of quotations from Jesus, nearly all of them have been translated from Aramaic and brought to mind by the Holy Spirit (John 14:26). This means we do not have Jesus’s spoken words in red letters. What we have are the Spirit-breathed words of God penned by the apostles.

In each book, the Spirit leads the authors to present Jesus in a coherent fashion. In Matthew’s Gospel, for example, Jesus is the Son of Abraham, the Son of David, the true Israel, and the prophet like Moses, to name a few ways he is presented. In John’s Gospel, Jesus is introduced as the true tabernacle (John 1:14), in whom the fullness of God dwells bodily. Throughout John’s Gospel, this theme of Jesus as the true and better temple will repeat (see e.g., John 2:19–22; 14:1–3).

Reading the Gospels on their own terms, therefore, becomes imperative for understanding their message. Harmonizing the Gospels (i.e., comparing Matthew to Mark to Luke to John) has its place, but it is far better to let the Evangelist speak each in his own way. When we do that, and stop strip-mining the text to find sources behind the Bible, we see how the Evangelists made their case for Jesus as God’s the Son, the long-awaited Messiah. To that end, this blogpost will consider one section of one Gospel—John 2–4. Continue reading

The Genealogy of Jesus Christ: A Christmas Meditation (Matthew 1:1-17)

close up shot of a stained glass

In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he says that the cross of Christ is a stumbling block for Jews (1:23). Due to the Law’s instruction, it is clear that law-abiding Jews would take offense at anyone hung on tree. As Moses announced in Deuteronomy 21:23, such a man was accursed by God.  Understandably, the call to believe in and worship a man nailed to a tree would have been hard to accept.

Two thousand years removed from Golgotha, the cross has become a symbol of peace and hope. In the West, Christians have grown up seeing crosses on church steeples and tee shirts. More than a few devotees to Christ adorn them around their neck or ink them on their skin. Clearly, the cross is no longer a stumbling block.

What is a stumbling block today is the Bible itself. In almost a complete reversal, the word of God, which would have posed no cultural problem for the Jews of Jesus’ day, causes many professing Christians to wince and excuse its contents.

For many, the world of the Bible is foreign. Its words, warfare, and worship are hard to understand. Add to this the self-deprecating truths of total depravity and unconditional election, and you have a Bible that is not just unfamiliar, but even offensive.  Yet, it is not only doctrine that trips up Bible readers; it is also genre selection. Continue reading

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

Personal Reconciliation and Personal Subjugation: How the Cross of Christ Achieves ‘Cosmic Reconciliation’ (Colossians 1:15–2:15)

1920x1080-it-is-finishedSince the start of our series on the cross, one recurring theme has been the way that judgment and salvation are paired. In the Passover, God saved his firstborn and judged Egypt’s firstborns. At the Red Sea, God saved his people and destroyed Pharaoh and his army. Just the same, as I read 2 Kings 3 last week, I found this theme again. The water that God provided to save Israel is the same water that brought the Moabites to their death.

In short, God’s judgment is never without salvation. And his salvation is never without judgment. From the flood of Noah to the end of time, we find salvation and judgment. And in this week’s sermon, we saw it in Colossians 1–2.

In Colossians 1:20, Paul says that the blood of Christ’s cross is reconciling all things in creation. And in what follows (1:21–2:23) he explains how that happens – through salvation and judgment. In these two chapters Paul identifies whom the cross saves and whom the cross judges. And for us, as we keep our eyes fixed on Christ, we learn how the cross has cosmic, as well as personal implications.

To learn more about the cosmic effects of the cross, you can watch this sermon. You can also read about it here.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

A Definite Atonement: John Murray’s Case for a Disputed Doctrine

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For whom did Christ die? For all nations without distinction? For all persons without exception? For everyone? Or only for the elect?

In any doctrinal exposition of the cross of Christ, the question of the atonement’s extent (or intent) is necessary. And throughout church history, especially since the Protestant Reformation, a great debate has arisen in response to the question. That dispute has divided Calvinist from Arminian, Reformed from Wesleyan, and Particular Baptist from General Baptist—to name only a few. Thus, it is not possible in one blog—let alone in one book—to resolve all the difficulties, but it is possible to lay out some of the issues and a few of the exegetical debates.

To that end, I offer ten points from John Murray. His little book, Redemption Accomplished and Appliedprovides a concise argument for the extent of the atonement that comes from a Reformed position. If I were writing a chapter on the extent atonement, I would do it differently, but I appreciate Murray’s commitment to biblical exegesis in his chapter. Even though he leaves many proof texts unchecked, what he does say sets his readers in the right direction. And for that reason I offer the following points from his chapter as a superb model for entering this debate.

Continue reading

The Heart of the Gospel: A Sermon on Penal Substitution (Isaiah 53)

1920x1080-it-is-finishedIn the Old Testament, there are a handful of passages critical for understanding Christ’s cross. Over the last few weeks, I have preached on many of them (Genesis 22, Exodus 12, Leviticus 16; Ben Purves also did an outstanding job preaching Psalm 22). There are other passage too that our current sermon series won’t cover (e.g., Numbers 21, Psalm 118, Zechariah 9–14, etc.) But the most important passage in the Old Testament for learning what Christ’s cross achieved is Isaiah 53 (technically, Isaiah 52:13–53:12). And that was the text I preached this week.

In this fifteen verse, five stanza “Servant song,” we are introduced to the One who will die for the sins of his people. In particular, he offers a guilt offering in the place of those who deserve God’s penalty of death.

In recent years, the idea of Christ’s penal substitution and God pouring out his wrath on the Son has not set well with many—both those inside the church and those outside the church, as well as those leaving the church. Indeed, with an appeal to God’s universal love, many have misunderstood how Christ’s death, as a penal substitute, is good news and necessary for salvation. Others have questioned how guilt can be transferred from one person, or one group, to another.

Many of these questions have been well answered in the book Pierced for Our Transgressionsas well as by many others in church history. In every case, Isaiah 53 plays a prominent role in explaining what Christ’s cross achieved. And in my sermon yesterday, you can hear why the most important thing about the cross is not what could be seen with the naked eye, but what the Father, Son, and Spirit achieved in the cross. Indeed, while Mel Gibson’s Passion captured the brutality of the cross, it did not explain the divine design of Christ’s cross, nor how Christ’s death might benefit those who believe upon him.

Truly, if you want to understand the cross, you have to look to the Scripture and especially to Isaiah 53. So here is a sermon that explains why the cross of Christ and especially penal substitution stands at the heart of the gospel and the good news that Christ died for sinners.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Getting Redemption Right and Understanding the Logic of Christ’s Cross

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Recently, I have been watching, reading, and discussing the ways that the cross of Christ has being wrongly preached, taught, and explained in churches today. In particular the penal substitutionary nature of the cross, where Christ pays the penalty for sinners who have broken God’s law and deserve his righteous and eternal condemnation, has been redefined by scholars like N.T. Wright, popular teachers like Tim Mackie (and The Bible Project), and misrepresented by pastors who have adopted their teaching and succumbed to the God-is-love-and-not-wrath narrative. And this does not even include the opponents of Christianity (e.g., Tony Jones, Bart Campolo, Richard Rorty, and others in the following video) who have simply denied the historic meaning of the cross of Christ.

Often, false teaching about the cross affirms truths that Scripture teaches. For instance, the cross does defeat the powers and principalities (Col. 2:13–15); it does display the love of God (John 3:16); it does liberate mankind from the idols and ideas of this world (1 Pet. 1:18–19). Sadly, the error comes not in what is affirmed, but what is denied—namely, that the cross propitiates the wrath of God. At its heart, Scripture teaches that a holy God cannot turn a blind eye to human sin. Therefore, mankind stands condemned in Adam and ready to receive God’s righteous judgment. This is bad news. But it is biblical and it is the ground from which the good news of Christ’s death must spring.

In the Bible, we discover that God’s gospel declares that he has satisfied his own holy standards by substituting his own Son in the place of the people who he has chosen to redeem. Sadly, many teachers deny or distort this penal substitutionary view of the cross. Some caricature God’s wrath as divine child abuse poured out on Jesus, as if Jesus is not God himself; others make the problem of humanity some form of human, political, or demonic evil; and others simply deny the holiness of God, declaring that God has absolute freedom to do whatever he wants, including letting sinners go free—no wrath needed. Space does not permit a full response here to these errant views (but see this three-part response).

Instead, I want to offer a biblical definition of redemption and Christ as the redeemer.  Again, the problem with any view that denies Christ’s penal substitution stems from a dismissal or distorted view of Scripture. Yet, when we take Scripture on its own terms, we find a holy God who has made a single way of salvation in Christ’s death and resurrection. Explaining that redemption, Leon Morris, in The Atonement: Its Meaning and Significance, has helpful spelled out the nature of humanity’s need and the effect of Christ’s death. Writing about Christ the Redeemer, he says Continue reading

The Story of God’s Glory: A Wide Angle View of Salvation from 1 Peter 1:10–12

glory to god book

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.
— 1 Peter 1:10–12 —

In his commentary on 1 Peter, the late biblical theologian, Edmund Clowney, observes that “Glory is the goal of the Old Testament promises” (56). Indeed, glory is the goal of creation, salvation, and really everything God does in his world. And in 1 Peter 1:10–12, the apostle of Jesus widens his view of salvation to include all the Spirit of Christ revealed to the Old Testament prophets about the coming messiah, from his sufferings and his subsequent glories to the gospel of grace that came from Christ to the elect exiles in Asia Minor.

For us, who read 1 Peter, it is worth our time to ponder all that God has done in redemptive history also. Such a meditation solidifies the foundation on which we stand in Christ and secures us further in times of trial. Indeed, salvation, which comes by faith alone in Jesus Christ, depends upon understanding the Christ of Scripture and not the christ of our sentimental imaginings. With that in mind, we should constantly be rehearsing the high points of the biblical storyline to better know who Christ is and what he did. Continue reading