Becoming Like the One We Behold: Why Seeing Christ in Scripture is Necessary for Biblical Exposition

swapnil-dwivedi-246205Q. Why is it necessary to preach Christ in every sermon?

A. Because without seeing Christ, we will not become like him.

When asked to give an answer for why preaching Christ is necessary, there are many biblical answers I could give—

  • because this is how the apostles preached in Acts,
  • because the Scriptures were inspired by the Spirit to lead us to Christ,
  • because the Father wants to glorify the Son in redemptive history and revelation,
  • or because Scripture teaches us how all creation and redemption center on Christ.

Still, the most powerful reason for preaching Christ, in my estimation, is the transformative effect of seeing Christ. As 2 Corinthians 3:18 puts it, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

In conjunction with the truth that we become like what we behold (see Psalm 115:8; 135:18), this verse teaches us that when we “see” Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:5–6) in his beauty and glory, his humility and love, we will become like him. However, when we read Scripture without seeing Christ, or worse if we read Scripture with an intention not see how every passage relates to Jesus Christ, then we will grow in knowledge of the Bible but without growing in affection for Christ. Ever wonder how men and women who know the Bible could be so arrogant or divisive? Might it be due to reading Scripture, without falling in love with Christ?

Indeed, this is why we have the Bible—to know the triune God through the full and final revelation of Christ (see Hebrews 1:1–2:4). And when led by the Spirit, such knowing comes with the stirring of affections. And with those affections, our hearts are enlarged for God through our loving trust in Christ. Then, as a result, our lives are transformed from one degree of glory to another.

For me, this is why preaching Christ is not exercise in erudition, but a necessary part of faithful exposition—showing how the whole Bible comes together in Christ (Ephesians 1:10). And thankfully, this approach to Christ is not novel. Indeed, it is the way many in the church has approached Christ in Scripture. For instance, in reading Richard Sibbes recently, I came across his own passion for seeing Christ. In meditating on Matthew 12:18, which quotes from Isaiah 42:1, he explains the relationship of these two passages and how seeing Christ is necessarily transformative. Here’s what Sibbes says,

The very beholding of Christ is a transforming sight. The Spirit that makes us new creatures, and stirs us up to behold this servant, it is a transforming beholding. If we look upon him with the eye of faith, it will us like Christ; for the gospel is a mirror, and such a mirror, that when we look into it, and see ourselves interested in it, we are changed from glory to glory (2 Cor. 3:18). A man cannot look upon the love of God and of Christ in the gospel, but it will change him to be like God and Christ. For how can we see Christ, and God in Christ, but we shall see how God hates sin, and this will transform us to hate it as God doth, who hated so that it could not be expiated but with the blood of Christ, God.man. So, seeing the holiness of God in it, it will transform us to be holy. When we see the love of God in the gospel, and the love of Christ giving for us, this will transform us to love God. When we see the humility and obedience of Christ, when we look on Christ as God’s chosen servant in all this, and as our surety and head, it transforms us to the like humility obedience. Those that find not their dispositions in some comfortable measure wrought to this blessed transformation, they have not yet those eyes that the Holy Ghost requireth here. ‘Behold my servant whom chosen, my beloved in whom my soul delighteth,’ (Richard Sibbes, “A Description of Christ,” in The Works of Richard Sibbes, 1:14)

Glorious! To see Christ, as revealed in Scripture by the Spirit, is to become like him.

So, if you preach the Bible, make sure you preach Christ—in his humility and exaltation, his cross and resurrection, his deity and humanity, as Creator and Redeemer, as Son of God and God the Son, as the Way to the Father, and as the Sender (with the Father) of the Spirit, the head of the church, and the Lord of the nations. Indeed, as Sibbes observes, it is only by seeing Christ that we will be become like him. And thus preachers (and all Christians) must pray and seek and desire to see Christ from all the Scriptures; we must learn how to read all of Scripture to see Christ.

And why is that so important? Because only by seeing him will we become like him—the purpose for which we were created and redeemed. As Romans 8:29 puts it, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

Reformed in our thinking. Conformed in our living. Transformed in our affections. This is what happens when we see Christ, and thus we must endeavor to behold him from all the Scriptures.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Photo by SwapnIl Dwivedi on Unsplash

“Give Me Life . . . According to Your Word”: How God’s Law Leads to Gospel Life

ben-white-131241There is a way of thinking today that says life and liberty are found by rejecting or rewriting the law. Personal expression is all that matters: “Just be yourself . . . Be authentically you!” And if any rules or laws—be they religious or otherwise—get in the way, just reject or rewrite those restrictions.

Importantly, Scripture is not silent on this matter. And it teaches the opposite. Instead of rejecting the law as a place of life and freedom, it actually says that life is found in keeping the law. Or to be more specific, life is enjoyed as one seeks to obey the law. Yes, Paul says that the law does not have power to make alive (Romans 8:3), but that is not all he says about the law (see Romans 13:8; Galatians 5:13–14).

Moreover, Psalm 119 demonstrates what a heart cries, when it has been circumcised by the law. In other words, whereas mere obedience cannot earn life; those who have been made alive by God will hunger and thirst for life in the law. Obedience to the law is not antithetical to life; it is the very essence of life under the Lord.

So let us consider how Psalm 119 cries out for life in the Word of God. Continue reading

Trust the Process: Learning to Make Disciples and Develop Leaders like Jesus

fireIf you go to church, I’m sure you’ve experienced the “foghorn announcement.” What’s the foghorn announcement, you say? It’s the long, droning, monotonous, unenthusiastic call for workers in the nursery, volunteers at the picnic, or helpers with an outreach event. It goes something like this:

Hi, the pastor asked me to make an announcement. So, here it goes. I know you are busy—we are all are busy, aren’t we—but we have an event coming up and we need help. We’ve made this announcement for the last three weeks. But we still don’t have enough help. It won’t take too much time and anyone can do it. Just sign up in the back as you head out today. 

Okay, this might be a bit overly dramatic—or underly dramatic. But these announcements are as common in well-meaning churches as foghorns on the coast of Maine. They begin with an apology; they make some non-descript invitation for everyone to do something; they often motivate with guilt, ease, or fear; and they fail to capture the wonder that the God of the universe who is building his church permits us to be a part of his work.

Surely, Jesus didn’t recruit leaders this way, did he? Therefore, the question hangs in the air: How do we recruit people to serve in the church? And how, especially, do we call leaders to follow us as we follow Christ? Continue reading

Working Smarter: Five Personal Reflections from David Murray’s ‘Reset’

resetLast week our family took time to decompress and visit the beautiful mountains around Gatlinburg, Tennessee. While there I read Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture by David Murray. For those in ministry or committed to serving in the local church on top of work, family, and all else, this is an important book. In ten “repair bays” Murray gives practical steps to recovering from burnout and finding rest in the midst of serious labor. I commend the book as a whole and found a number of things particularly applicable. Here are five of them. Continue reading

Hospitality is Not Optional: Five Ways to Pursue Other People

welcome

Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
— Romans 15:7 —

A few months ago I wrote about the importance of hospitality and five ways to show hospitality in the church. Today, I want to offer five more.

While much hospitality focuses on individuals or families opening their homes to others, a vital practice which enables “house churches” to meet (e.g., Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:19), I am focusing attention on churches gathering outside of the home. Thus, spring-boarding from 1 Corinthians 16, a passage overflowing with gospel labor, here are five more ways we can pursue hospitality in the church.

Five Ways to Pursue Hospitality

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Glorifying God with Our Technology: Four Questions to Ask

 

Discipleship in Digital AgeIn one sense, discipleship in any age concerns certain common disciplines in order to become like Christ so that we no longer live to ourselves (2 Corinthians 5:14), but to Christ (Galatians 2:20). If we want to grow into Christ, we must discipline ourselves for godliness (1 Timothy 4:7). But the question remains: In light of our increasing, whirling (digital) technology what additional disciplines might we need to embrace to walk by faith amidst pings, apps, and notifications?

Too often, we know Christ should be our focus and that we become like what we worship (Psalm 115, 135), but still technology pushes back on us—retraining, rewiring, and reshaping us in the process. And this is not unintentional, apps are designed by programmers to encourage certain behaviors. We recognize that there are certain beneficial, helpful, and fitting uses of technology that help us in our spiritual walk and in spreading the Gospel. Yet, there are also ways in which our hearts and habits are being reshaped by the devices we hold. So how do we take the principles found in Scripture and apply them to an ever-changing digital age?

For five weeks our church, in Sunday School, has considered Discipleship in a Digital Age. We have given attention to biblical, theological, and practical truths to help us think about technology, but now we need to put truth into action. We need to think practically about the way smart phones and social media, apps and artificial intelligence impact us, and better how we can use them to the glory of God.

And so, this Sunday we will consider a couple of “case studies,” where we can think about how our technology impacts us and how we can best use technology. We will look at smart phones and Facebook to consider how we engage technology with discernment and discipline. If we do not consider such applications, we will not be able to spur one another on towards love and good deeds with our technology. By default we will only  find ourselves following the patterns given to us by the inventers of the technology.

Four Questions to Ask About Any ‘Tool’

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Discipleship in a Digital Age

Discipleship in Digital AgeFrom Abraham to Abraham Lincoln, the speed of the world didn’t change all that much. From the agrarian lifestyle of the Patriarch to the rural farms of North America, among which Lincoln grew up, the speed of news typically traveled at the pace of a horse. In this historical setting, the famed presidential debates between Lincoln and Douglas lasted for hours at a time, with people taking a break for dinner, only to come back for more.

What a difference 150 years makes, only its not time that has changed the world, its technology. In the three millennia between Abraham Lincoln and his namesake, the world didn’t change that much because communication didn’t change that much. To be sure, the printing press in the fifteenth century changed the world and powered the Protestant Reformation. But nothing has changed the world like the technological advances of the telegraph, radio, television, Internet, and now the iPhone.

Through each of these advances the world became smaller, communications faster, and information easier—easier to accumulate, easier to disseminate, and easier to manipulate. And significantly, the pace of life and speech has increased in exponential fashion.

It’s not like the move from industry to information to digital preoccupation has increased gradually over the last 150 years. Far from it! With the Internet and the iPhone, in particular, digital information chases us, hacks into our brains, and produces within us data smog. All told, unless we learn to walk wisely in this age, we are at risk not only of becoming servants to our digital masters, but to lose our Master altogether.

Walking Wisely in a World Full of Pings, Pixels, and Panic (FoMO)

David Wells said two decades ago “the fundamental problem in the evangelical world today is that God rests too inconsequentially upon the church” (God in the Wasteland30). In his corpus of theological studies into evaluating evangelicalism at the turn of the twenty-first century, he identified the effects of modernity on the church. By modernity, he was not speaking of modernism—the Enlightenment-derived elevation of man and his autonomous rationality—but the effects of our hyper-transient, ultra-consumeristic, technologically-dependent, and information over-saturated modern world. This materialistic cocktail has wreaked havoc on the soul of the Western Church and has brought about a loosening of doctrine and lightening of God himself. Continue reading

Thanksgiving and the Glory of God: Why Giving Thanks is More Than a Casual Habit

praying handsI will praise the name of God with a song;
I will magnify him with thanksgiving.
— Psalm 69:30 —

Thanksgiving is a practice of politeness, etiquette, and good decorum. Right? It is what we (are told to) express when Aunt Lucille buys you a sweater when you want the Super Hero action figures. Or something like that. It is a Christian command, but one that is more happenstance than a daily discipline. Right?

Well, what does Scripture say? Could it be that thanksgiving is something far more essential than we typically think? However you consider it, I am increasingly convinced the discipline of thanksgiving is a central feature of what it means to be a Christian. With it the church of God will grow in grace and love and hope, but without it Christ’s church becomes bitter, fragile, and peevish.

Could it be that one of the greatest needs we have today is the cultivation of thanksgiving as a spiritual grace and habit of holiness? Could it be that we have too casually treated thanksgiving? Maybe its just me, but I think we could use a refresher on how important Scripture makes thanksgiving. Continue reading

Discipleship Fever: Disciple-Making as Treasure-Seeking (Luke 12:32–34)

rhythms-of-holiness

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.
— John 15:7–8 —

Yesterday I preached a message on disciple-making that, for me, is the culmination of about 15 years of thinking on discipleship and Christian hedonism.

In college God used two ministries to shape the core of theological convictions. The first was Campus Crusade for Christ (now Cru). Through men like Phil Gillespie, Chris Sarver, and Robert Coleman (via The Master Plan of Evangelisma Cru staple), God gripped my heart with a passion to make disciples.

A few years later, after grappling with some theological questions related to God’s sovereignty and personal holiness, the Lord brought John Piper and the ministry of Desiring God into view. His book (Desiring God) was an answer to prayer, in that gave me a biblical vision for the glory of God that most satisfies the soul. As Piper puts it, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.”

After college the fusion of disciple-making and Christian hedonism continued. And while in Chattanooga, Tennessee the discipleship pastor at my church showed the relationship between glory-seeking and disciple-making from John 15:7–8. What is the pinnacle of glorifying God? As in creation, it is the making of an image-bearer who is learning how to live and love like Jesus—i.e., a disciple. Hence by making disciples who reflect the glory of God, God is most glorified in us. The question is, will we be most satisfied in disciple-making?

That was the focus of my sermon yesterday. For the last fifteen years, this paradigm of glorifying God via disciple-making has undergirded so much of my thinking. But I don’t think I have preached on it much—until yesterday.

In our series on spiritual disciplines, I made the argument from Luke 12:32–34 that the primary way we store up treasure in heaven is to make disciples. Just like the Israelites of old “stored up” treasure in the tabernacle (Exodus 25 and 35) and temple (1 Chronicles 29), so disciples of Christ store up treasure in heaven, God’s heavenly temple, by investing their lives in others. As we use our lives to help others walk with Christ, we become Spirit-filled instruments in Christ’s temple-building hands. Discipleship therefore includes evangelism and encouragement, leading others to Christ and helping them walk with him. This in turn magnifies the work of Christ and the glory of God.

All of this I argued is the way in which we store up treasure in heaven—by sharing God’s view that disciples are the greatest treasure. And therefore setting our heart on making disciples, so that God’s glory is magnified and our joy is multiplied. You can listen to the sermon online or read the notes here. Discussion questions are below, as well as a few resources to help you multiply your joy by making disciples.

Luke 12:32–34

Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Discussion Questions

1. We have included disciple-making as a spiritual discipline. Why is that? Why is disciple making a discipline (and not a gift)? Why is not often included in lists of disciplines?

2. What is a disciple? What are the characteristics of a disciple? What do disciples do? What does a disciple need to know about discipleship? How does Luke 12 help us be disciples?

3. What is the context of Luke 12? How do we see discipleship in Luke? Luke 12? While the word ‘disciple’ is not in verses 32–34, what indicators are there that disciple is in view? Cf. Luke 9:57–62 and 14:25–34.

4. In our passage, what is the comfort (32), the challenge (33), and the counsel (34)? Why is it vital to mediate on the comfort of our identity as disciples (= sheep, heirs, children of God) before considering calls to follow and make disciples?

5. What does it mean to store up treasure? What makes this difficult (or easily missed)? How much do you think about storing treasuring? Making disciples? How can disciple making as treasure seeking help you follow the Lord?

6. Practically, what can you do to make disciples? How can you grow in your love for discipleship?  And how can you keep that vision of disciple making before you?

For Further Study

Randy Pope is the lead teacher at Perimeter Church (Atlanta, GA). His book on discipleship is called Insourcing: Bringing Discipleship Back to the Local ChurchOther books on personal disciple-making that are worth your consideration are

  • Robert ColemanThe Master Plan of EvangelismThis is the gold standard of disciple-making. To date, its abridged version has sold 3.5 million copies. Coleman is father of the modern “spiritual multiplication” movement. This is the first book you should read on disciple-making.
  • A. B. BruceThe Training of the TwelvePre-dating Coleman, this larger volume looks at the life of Jesus with this disciples and picks up a number of the same features as Coleman.
  • Christopher AdsitPersonal Discipleship-MakingChristopher is a Campus Crusade for Christ guy who gives a step-by-step approach to leading new believers to maturity in Christ.
  • Robby GallatyGrowing UpRobby the senior pastor at Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He has an infectuous desire to make disciples and to help others make disciples too. His leads Replicate Ministries, a ministry devoted to inspiring and equipping others to help make disciples.
  • Bill Hull has written a number of important works on discipleship. To date, I have not read them, but have heard great things about them. They are Jesus Christ, Disciplemaker; The Disciple-Making Churchand The Disciple-Making Pastor .
  • Finally, a recent book that is at the top of my list for discipleship is Mark Dever’s DisciplingMark is a personal example of discipleship and his book makes the complexities of discipleship simple. If you read any book on this list, start here (or with The Master Plan of Evangelism).

May God gives us discipleship fever and be faithful make disciples.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

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