“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

The Future Orientation of Salvation in the New Testament

samuel-zeller-358865When you think of “salvation” is it a past, present, or future reality?

If we let Scripture shape our thinking and the answer we give, it is surely all three. The elect of God have been saved (past tense) when they received and believed the gospel of Jesus Christ (see Ephesians 2:8). At the same time, those who have been saved are also being saved (see 2 Corinthians 2:15) and one day will be saved (Romans 13:11).

This way of thinking is not uncommon in biblical Christianity. As it is often framed, Christians are saved from the penalty of sin (past), the power of sin (presence), and will be saved from presence of sin (future). Each temporal aspect is true and cannot be divided from the other, but are they of equal stress in the Bible? Does Scripture place greater prominence on one aspect of salvation above the others? I believe so.

In seminary I read the book The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance by Thomas Schreiner and Ardel Caneday. In their book, they show how the New Testament emphasizes a future orientation for salvation. That is to say, while salvation is a past, present, and future reality, it is the future aspect that is most often described and discussed.

This revelation surprised me, and I bet I’m not alone. Protestants are people who like to hear testimonies of someone “got saved.” We say things like: “At youth camp, 15 teens were saved.” And we like to ask questions like: “When you were saved?” All in all, while we may know that salvation has a future orientation, that is not the emphasis most evangelistic Christians seem to put on it. And that, I believe, is a problem. Continue reading

What John the Baptist’s Bullhorn Teaches us about the Good News?

jason-rosewell-60014When John came preaching “good news,” it may not have sounded like the good news we think of today. In fact, in our day it seems that any call to repentance, to deny self, or to do hard things is either dismissed as unloving or labeled legalism. And yet, to think biblically about the good news requires us to see how Scripture presents the gospel, both in content and tone. And thus, it is worth meditating on how John the Baptist in Luke 3 presents the gospel with many exhortations.

In Luke 3:18, the good doctor summarizes John’s preaching ministry with these words, “So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people.” This summary statement follows three ‘paragraphs’ outlining the content of John’s message (vv. 7–9, 10–14, 15–17) and precedes the arrest of John the Baptist by Herod the tetarch (vv. 19–20). For our purposes, it is worth considering what John said in order to see how he presented the gospel. Continue reading

Paul, Timothy (Keller), and the Making of Good Arguments

grant-lemons-82179In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul engages the skeptic about questions concerning resurrection of the body. In verse 35 he writes, “But someone will ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?'”

To this he turns to nature to make his argument. Instead of simply rejecting the error of “the fool” (v. 36), he argues for the plausibility of the resurrection from a commonly held belief—that plants rise from the ‘dead’ when the seed is planted in the ground.

Here’s how he argues. First, Paul uses the farmer’s field to explain the resurrection in terms of seed and plant (vv. 36–38). Then he points to the various kinds of flesh on earth and the various kinds of glory in the heavens (vv. 39–41). In order to begin taking steps to show how the dust of earth might be raised up and transformed into glory (see vv. 42–49), he appeals to nature to explain their plausibility. In these two analogies, therefore, Paul moves from shared belief in nature, to greater truth revealed in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Materially, Paul’s words makes a strong argument for how the resurrection will happen. But formally, Paul’s approach to the skeptics is a vital lesson in how to communicate truth to a doubting world. In this approach to skeptics, we can learn much. Continue reading

Our Mission Trip to Iceland: A Sunday Morning, Coffee House Update

IMG_0514On Facebook, I’ve had a chance to share a few updates from our mission trip. Today, as we get ready to go to church (at 2pm UTC), we are stopping in a local coffee shop—the Flagship Coffee House of the North Atlantic—and stopping to give a brief update on our trip. So, here are six highlights from the trip.

Six Highlights from Iceland

The Landscape

The first thing to mention about Iceland is the stunning beauty of the Iceland. The word Reykjavik, which hosts about 80% of the population (280,000 of 340,000), means “smoky bay.” The reason: Iceland is situated on a volcanic rock jutting out of the Northern Atlantic. Accordingly, it has beautiful black beaches, rocky mountains, long bays (called fjord), and rainbow-filled skies. In short, the landscape looks like something from a C. S. Lewis or J. R. R. Tolkien novel—and that’s fitting because both were affiliated with Iceland.

The Weather

Next, the weather. When I first thought of Iceland, I (wrongly) thought of ice, snow, blizzard, and sunless winters. And to be sure, Iceland is cooler than Virginia and darker in the Christmas season. But at the same time, it has been far more pleasant than I imagined. Our weather has been wet, but the houses are more than adequately warmed. With lava-heated water pumped into every home, windows stay open most of the time. And the landscapes and people more than make up for the Seattle-like wetness. Continue reading

Playing Your Part in the Gospel (pt. 1): Planning, Giving, Going, Hosting, Helping (1 Corinthians 16:1–11)

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Playing Your Part in the Gospel (pt. 1): Planning, Giving, Going, Hosting, and Helping (1 Corinthians 16:1–11)

When Paul finishes his doctrinal defense of the resurrection, he says, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (15:58). Clearly, in his mind the resurrection is not an esoteric point of doctrine; rather, it fuels ministry and missions. Indeed, in 1 Corinthians 16 we find a flurry of gospel activity that prompts us to consider how we are living in light of the resurrection.

In this Sunday’s message, I suggested that we play our part in (proclaiming) the gospel through planning, going, giving, hosting, and helping. You can listen to this call to action or read the sermon notes. Discussion questions are below, as are a cadre of resources on these actions of ministry. 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

Talking Like Jesus: Six Ways to Hold Out Truth in a Hostile World

VLUU L200  / Samsung L200In our day public speech about Jesus is becoming more and more costly. For instance, the state of Georgia has requested the sermons of Dr. Eric Walsh, a lay pastor and public health expert, who was fired from the Department of Public Health over (it seems) his religious beliefs. What is going on?

On the one hand, we are watching a sea change in our country. The religious liberty conferred on us by our founding fathers and established in the Bill of Rights is being taken away.  On the other hand, we are witnessing in our country what Jesus said would happen to his followers: we are hated by the world, because the world hates him.

In other words, American Christians are experiencing, for the first time in generations, what other disciples have experienced for centuries—verbal and even violent opposition to the truth of God’s Word. Such enemy fire makes speaking up for Christ difficult, if not dangerous. Yet, such resistance may also be the very means by which Christians can show what it means to follow Christ—bearing witness to Christ through our own afflictions. But to bear faithful witness, we need our minds to be renewed by God’s Word.

Learning from Jesus

The Gospel of John shows Jesus in constant conversation with the Pharisees whose anger towards him ultimately nailed him to a cross. As John records, they questioned him, debated him, and sought to arrest him long before they succeeded in ending his earthly ministry. Still, as the beloved disciple records, Jesus constantly responded with wisdom, grace, and truth. While John’s goal in presenting these dialogues is to testify that Jesus is the Christ whom we should trust and obey (John 20:31), his recordings also show us how Jesus spoke to those who accused and opposed us. If we are going to continue to bear witness for Christ amidst enemy fire, we must learn what such speech looks like.

If silence is not an option for a follower of Christ, and it is not (see Matthew 10:32–33; Acts 1:8), how can we learn to wear our cross and speak on his behalf with boldness and wisdom? If the gospel is our message, what is the manner in which we proclaim it? How does Scripture teach us and Jesus model for us such engagement with the world?

Those are questions we should be asking, and one place we find an answer is in John 7. Continue reading

Gospel-Centered Leadership: The Reward of the Gospel (1 Corinthians 9:12–18)

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In 1 Corinthians 9:12–18 Paul turns his full attention to the gospel of Jesus Christ. In the first twelve verses of the chapter, Paul recalls the “rights” he has to receive support, rights he will gladly forsake in verses 12, 15, 18 in order to preach the gospel free of charge. As Paul continues to give a personal example of how to give up rights for the sake of serving others, he speaks of (preaching) the gospel seven times in seven verses.

Accordingly, this week’s sermon asks two questions:

  1. What is the gospel?
  2. What do we do with the gospel?

Nothing is more important that knowing and rightly responding to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Therefore, take time to listen to the sermon or read the notes. The discussion questions and related resources listed below can also help you better understand and trust, treasure, and talk about the gospel. Continue reading

Are You Equipped? Announcing OBC’s EQUIP Conference (Sept 23–25)

equip . . . to equip the saints for the work of ministry,
for building up the body of Christ . . .”– Ephesians 4:12 –

In the 1980s edutainment games were coming of age and infiltrating American schools. Leading the way was a game called Oregon Trail. Perhaps you remember playing the game, shooting Buffalo, fording rivers, and fighting off dysentery. In truth, for most 20th and 21st century children such rugged adventures are things of the past, experienced only in pixels and museums.

In our modern world, it can seem that such explorations ended generations ago. Like our entertainment-oriented education strategies, our world tells children and adults that free time is best spent playing, gaming, or escaping the hard edges of life by conjuring up some fantasy world.

The Bible, however, confronts us with a different reality, one far more adventurous and exciting than anything created by Pixar, Pokemon, or a Carnival pleasure cruise. It calls us to scour the earth, making disciples from every nation teaching them to obey all that God has commanded us.

This is God’s great calling—to follow Christ as eager disciples and lead others to know him through our various stations of life. This is why God made us (to glorify him); this is humanity’s greatest task (to increase his glory by multiplying children who reflect his image). This was Jesus’ final word, to follow him in the world’s greatest commission (Matthew 28:18–20).

But how? Continue reading