Faith: The Greatest Gift (1 Timothy 1:12–20)

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Faith: God’s Greatest Gift (1 Timothy 1:12–20)

On Sunday we saw how Paul shares the story of his salvation and what God’s grace in his life teaches us about the gospel. Amazingly, God’s grace does not come in response to Paul’s repentance and faith. Rather, God’s grace is the source and start of Paul’s faith.

The same is true for you and I. And the more we see the source of our faith as God alone, the more God’s grace will strengthen our faith and empower us to live for Christ.

In this week’s sermon, we take time to consider how God’s grace creates faith and how sharing our faith with one another strengthens the church and glorifies the Eternal King, the Immortal, Invisible, Only God.

You can listen to the sermon online. Response questions are below, as are a few other resources.

Response Questions

  1. How familiar are you with Paul’s testimony? What encourages you? Confuses you? Amazes you by the Apostle Paul?
  2. Why do you think inspired Scripture includes five places where his salvation is told (see Acts 9, 22, 26; Galatians 1–2; 1 Timothy 1). What does that teach us about the place of testimonies?
  3. Read Ephesians 2:8–9; Philippians 1:29; 1 Timothy 1:13. Where does faith come from? What does the text say?
  4. Why does it matter that faith is received as a gift, rather than a ‘work’ that merits a reward? How does faith as a gift magnify God’s grace? How does denying faith’s gift deny God’s grace?
  5. Why does joy matter so much for the Christian? (See John 15:11; Romans 14:17; Galatians 5:22–23; Philippians 4:4)
  6. If you feel joyless, how can you cultivate joy in the Lord? How does sharing your faith and hearing the testimonies of others cultivate joy?
  7. What comes to mind as you read Paul’s words to Timothy about Hymaenus and Alexander? Why does remaining in the faith matter for salvation? (Hint: it bears witness to the faithfulness and power of God — Romans 8:28–39; Philippians 1:6)
  8. Share your story of salvation, or any other recent series of events where you have seen God at work. Consider: What are ways you can continue to shared/hear these stories?

Additional Resources

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

The Cost of Discipleship: How the Historical Context of Hebrews Teaches Us How to Read This Book

hebrewsTonight we begin our verse-by-verse study of Hebrews in our weekly Bible study. Last week we looked at the book as a whole. You can find the audio and introductory notes here.

This week we will consider the first four verses, which introduce Hebrew’s “word of exhortation” (13:25) to a people suffering oppression (10:32–34) and tempted to shrink back from their Great High Priest. Indeed, as the book unfolds we become quite aware that the author of this book has a great concern for the enduring faith of these afflicted disciples. To understand, therefore, the pastoral intent of Hebrews we need to know something of the historical context.

And while many particulars about Hebrews are impossible to discern (like who wrote the book), we can put together a fairly accurate picture of who is addressed, where, and when. In fact, in his short commentary on Hebrews (A Call to Commitment), William Lane provides a clear picture of the letter’s background from the available content of Hebrews and the history of Rome in the first century. Here’s what he finds, Continue reading

Unshakeable Faith: Seeking Christ Through Haggai’s Temple – Part 2 (Haggai 2:1–23)

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Unshakeable Faith: Seeking Christ Through Haggai’s Temple (pt.2)

The book of Haggai centers on God’s great promise to restore the temple during the days of Judah’s return from exile (520 BC). In this little book, there are four messages from the Lord. The second, third, and fourth messages in Haggai are all found in chapter 2, and respectively they speak about the temple (2:1–9), the priesthood (2:10–19), and the kingdom (2:20–23). These were the three focal points of this week’s sermon.

As we considered in this sermon the Lord encouraged the people by telling how he was restoring his dwelling place to Jerusalem, his priesthood to Levi, and the kingdom to Zerubbabel. Yet, we also learn that this restoration is not immediate or ultimate. Rather, like so many things in life, his plans fit into his larger aims bringing his Son to the world and leading his people to place faith in the Son.

In this week’s sermon, we place this book in the larger plan of God’s redemption and learn how Haggai helps us understand what God was doing and now has done in Christ. You can listen to the sermon online. Discussion questions and resources for further study are found below. Continue reading

Lordship from the Start: A Meditation on Saving Grace

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Updated: I’ve included a few quotes from Charles Ryrie and Robert Wilkin to demonstrate my concerns with their truncated understanding of faith.

Although it has been some time since John MacArthur’s The Gospel According to Jesus launched a biblical salvo into the Free Grace Movement, every now and again I come across people who believe in Non-Lordship Salvation. I have Charles Ryrie’s book So Great Salvation book on my shelf—a book that argues against Lordship Salvation—because a friend who denied Lordship salvation gave it to me as a free gift.

But the trouble with Ryrie’s position is the way in which Scripture itself speaks of faith. In one place he writes, “it seems that many believers do not settle the matter of personal, subjective lordship of Christ over the years of their lives until after they have been born again” (68). Aside from the convoluted grammar of that sentence, he essentially suggests a faithless faith, a belief that may never bear the fruit of faithfulness. As Robert Wilkin, the executive director of the Grace Evangelical Society, puts it, “Christians can fail to endure, fall away, and prove to have been wicked,” and thus “salvation is based on faith in Christnot faithful service for Christ(Four Views of the Role of Works at the Final Judgment, 29, emphasis his).

If this sounds like amazing grace to you, it doesn’t ring true with all Scripture says. Because in the Bible, faith is qualified by terms like obeying the truth, following Christ, feeding on Christ, honoring the Son, and keeping God’s commands. For instance, in both Romans 1:5 and 16:26, Paul speaks of securing the “obedience of faith” in the gospel. What does that mean? In short, it means that saving faith is more being convinced or giving creedal affirmation of the gospel, which is Ryrie’s stated definition of faith (So Great Salvation, 144).

By contrast, a new covenant understanding of the question describes faith as the life and breath of a man or woman made alive by the Spirit. Thus, from the beginning, faith in Jesus Christ has eyes to see who Christ is (2 Corinthians 4:5), a desire to turn from all other idolatrous lords (Acts 3:19; 26:20), and a willingness to submit oneself to him. This is what a full examination of Scripture indicates and what  Luke 7 demonstrates. Continue reading

By Grace, Through Faith: Getting Into God’s Grammar about Salvation (Ephesians 2:8–10)

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By Grace, Through Faith: Getting Into God’s Grammar about Salvation (Ephesians 2:8–10)

When it comes to understanding the heart of the gospel, Ephesians 2:8–10 is an anchor passage. And this week I had the privilege and the challenge of preaching it. The privilege comes in the fact that, this verse encapsulates so much gospel truth. The challenge is unpacking all that is there in those three verses.

As with many sermons, preaching this passage makes the preacher feel as though so much more could be said about this vast and glorious subject. Nevertheless, I pray this week’s message articulated the gospel truth that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in the work of Christ alone. And such free grace ensures that the new life of the believer means that saving faith is never alone, rather as Ephesians 2:10 says: it produces a life of good works.

Below you will find discussion questions and a few resources on the subject matter. You can also find the sermon online, as well as the sermon notes. Continue reading

Like the Breaking of the Dawn: How Faith, Prayer, and the Holy Spirit Bring Spiritual Illumination

morningIn the Gospels, the disciples of Christ often appear as experts in missing the point. While seeing, they don’t yet see. Like an untrained miner, they do not yet possess and appreciation for the jewel that stands before them. Christ is the pearl of great price, the treasure of incomparable value. Yet, it took time for the disciples to perceive who Christ was and how he was bringing the kingdom of God.

The same might be true today. Although, we do not physically see Jesus Christ, we inhabit a world where the Spirit of Christ has been sent. While Christ’s absence may constitute some disadvantage to our understanding, the gift of the Spirit is a far greater advantage. As Jesus says of the Holy Spirit, “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7).

Thus, contrary to what we might think, to have the Spirit of Christ in this age is better than having the physical Christ. For to have the Spirit is to have Christ and the Father—for he is the Spirit of the Father and the Son. And more, in having the Spirit of Truth, we have One who opens our blinded eyes, convicts our dull souls, and enables us to see and believe in the Lord. Indeed, by the Spirit-inspired Word of God we have access to knowing in ways the disciples struggled to grasp. Continue reading

Saving Faith Savors Christ . . . and so much more

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son,
that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
– John 3:16 –

johnWhile John’s Gospel includes many themes, one stands above the rest: belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. In fact, John 20:31 discloses why John wrote his Gospel: “These are written so you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” Coming right after Thomas’ pronounces his faith in Christ, “my Lord and my God” (v. 28), John reveals his intentions. He desires for you and I to believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God as the singular way that we might find eternal life.

Belief in John’s Gospel

Once we tune in to John’s emphasis on belief, we discover that the verb ‘believe’ (pisteuo) occurs 98 times in John’s Gospel. Interestingly, the noun ‘faith’ (pistis) doesn’t occur at all. Clearly, John’s Gospel is meant to create faith in its hearers, not just describe what it is. Nevertheless, by paying attention to the way John speaks of believing, it is possible to learn what faith is. And importantly, belief is more than just mental agreement. In fact, when all the promises of eternal life are considered, it becomes apparent that saving faith savors Christ. That is, those who truly believe do far more than merely assent; they approach Christ the way a starving man approaches a feast.

Indeed, in a book that testifies to who Jesus is, the beloved disciple spends ample time considering the nature of saving faith. He indicates that Jesus knew of a faith that did not save (2:23–25) and so he labors in his Gospel to show that saving faith “receives Christ,” “comes to Christ,” “honor Christ,” and “feeds on Christ”—to only name a few descriptors. Although John states plainly in John 3:16 that eternal life is the reward of believing, we will see genuine faith does far more than simply believe. Continue reading

What is Saving Faith?

faithOn Easter as we call people to repent of sin and believe on Christ, it is worth our time to consider the essential nature of saving faith. Therefore, from Romans 4 I have gleaned eight truths about saving faith. I am sure this list is not exhaustive, but I pray it will help you think about the kind of faith you have in Christ.

Saving Faith

1. Saving Faith responds to the one, true and living God. 

Verse 3 says, “‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.'” In context, this citation of Genesis 15:6 is the driving force for Paul to appeal to Abraham. In Romans 3 Paul wrapped up his argument that every Jew and Gentile has sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (v. 23); the wrath of God stands to condemn all men for their sin (1:18; 2:5; 3:18), unless they have faith in God.

Thus as Paul explains what saving faith is in Romans 4, he quotes or alludes to Genesis 15:6 at least nine times (vv. 3, 4, 5, 9, 10, 11, 22, 23, 24). Paul’s point is to show that those who believe in the God of Abraham will find legal pardon—i.e., God will reckon them righteous by means of faith in him. What follows are the stipulations attached to that justifying faith, but first foremost saving faith is faith in God. Continue reading

Skip Bayless Goes Biblical on ESPN

It is not everyday that the Bible is quoted on ESPN.  And it is even more rare that if the Bible is quoted it is handled correctly.

This week, both of those things happened.  In reacting to the controversy set off by Brady Quinn’s comments about Tim Tebow’s faith–which seem to have been reconciledSkip Bayless does a good job quoting Matthew 6 and explaining how evangelical followers of Christ are to be Christians in private and in public.

Against the cultural sentiment that Christ should be kept out of the public square, Skip Bayless does a good job explaining why Tim Tebow and other true followers of Christ cannot simply keep their faith private.  As Bayless points out, Christianity is a public faith. Check it out:

And just in case you are wondering, Skip Bayless is a professing Christian.  You can see his comments here: “Skip Bayless reflects on God, sports, and LeBron James.”

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

What God Commands, He Gives: A Reflection on 2 Peter 1:3-11

Augustine once said, “Command what you will, oh God, but give what you command.”  This prayerful axiom is an incredibly important lesson for Christians to learn: That the God who demands perfect righteousness supplies all that he demands.  This is the good news of New Covenant.

2 Peter 1:3-11

One place where this truth becomes evident is in a passage of Scripture that at first sounds like we, the Christian, must make every effort to generate virtues to add to our faith.  The passage is 2 Peter 1:3-11, and the problem is discerning where the good works in verses 5-7 come from.  From God or from us?

First lets read the passage and then notice four textual clues that show us that God is the supplier of the good deeds he calls us to.

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Four Clues 

There are at least four clues from the text that the imperative “to supplement” (epichorēgēsate) in verse 5 is not something we do on our own, but rather, as is true in all biblical Christianity, God is always at work in us to will and do all that he commands of us (cf. Phil 2:12-13).  Let’s consider them together.

First, in verse 3-4, Peter gives the wonderful promise that God gives us everything we need for life and godliness.  Therefore, prior to calling for “works,” he points to the boundless reservoirs of grace already available in Christ–and make no mistake, the resources of grace are not a substance acquired from God, but rather the spiritual favor and power that comes from a covenantal union with Christ.  Accordingly, from a genuine knowledge of God in Christ and from his never failing promises, all that the passage calls believers to do is premised on the fact that he has antecedently provided that which he calls (cf John 15:5; Rom 8:32).

Second, this general principle of the imperative following the indicative–which is a most valuable lesson for interpreting the NT epistles and for understanding gospel-powered obedience–is followed up by a more specific textual link between verse 3 and verse 5.  In verse 5, Peter calls Christians to add knowledge to their faith, and virtue.  Later in 2 Peter 3:18, he will close with the command to grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  But both of these commands follow from the explicit reality, that God has made himself known to his elect exiles (cf. 1 Pet 1:1).  This is seen in 2 Peter 1:2, where Peter greets his audience as those who know the Lord and are growing in that knowledge.  And in the next verse, he explains that knowledge of God is the instrument by which God supplies the believer with everything they need for life and godliness.

Third, in verses 5-7, when Peter commands us to add to faith, virtue, knowledge,  self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love, there is noticeable move from faith to love (cf. Galatians 5:6), and maybe even a more defined progression from faith to love, through virtue, knowledge, self-control, etc–though it would be hard to make the ordering normative, as much as it is descriptive.  Nevertheless, the main command to supplement these characteristics is retained from verse 5.  Thus, in the process of adding all of these characteristics, comes the necessary dependence on God’s promises and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Furthermore, verses 8-9 serve as an evaluative tool to discern if indeed we are walking in the Spirit, if we are experience the power of God in our Christian life.  They invite the Christian to do a spiritual inventory and to take stock of what is there.  If fruit is lacking, the imperative does not say to go out and find self-control (which is a fruit of the spirit, Gal 5:22) or to self-generate knowledge (which also is a gift, Prov 2:1-7), or to find endurance from within.  Rather, a poor inventory, calls the Christian to go back to the beginning: To believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  From that place of abiding belief, the believer looks to the promises of God and finds help in time of need and promises from God for life-change.  Thus, the evaluation does not call for works divorced from faith, but faith that overflows in good works.

Fourth and last, in verse 10-11, we see Peter’s eschatological promise that those who do these things prove their election in this life.  Genuine believers will be kept from falling and their entrance to the eternal kingdom will be well-furnished.  To stress the point in question, we do not provide an entrance ourselves to heaven, nor are we the ones who are responsible for finding riches to add to that entrance.  Rather, in Christ and through a lifetime of faith in his gospel that overflows into all the attributes listed in verses 5-7, God gives to the believer knowledge, godliness, and love–to only name a few.

Does This Promote Laxity in the Believer?

This heavy emphasis on grace and provision could easily promote laxity, but that would be to misunderstand the point.  God does not motivate with fear; he motivates with fullness.  For those who are full of love (for God and others), they cannot but do all that God commands.  Remember, under the New Covenant, the commandments of God are not burdensome, for those who have been born again.  For those who see the commands of God burdensome, they are either trying to complete them in their flesh, or they do not have any spiritual power with which to complete them.  The result is disinterest and spiritual burnout.  The collective effect of this are bloated church rolls with names of people who had a religious experience but who never experienced the power of conversion.

The Bible motivates obedience differently.  Just as God gives eternal life, he gives good works for the believer to do (Eph 2:10).  He bears fruit in the life of his Spirit-filled saints (Gal 5:22-23).  He gives spiritual gifts for the purpose of edifying (not dividing) the church (1 Cor 12-14).  And he puts desires in the hearts of his saints that he intends for them to pursue with vigor (Ps 37:4; Ezek 36:26-27).

All that to say, what God gives to the believer is not simply the capacity to do good; He gives the will and the power (Phil 2:12-13).  He doesn’t save people for them to do nothing. Born again believers grow and mature–at different rates and with different results.  But all spiritual children grow to look more and more like their Father in heaven.

Returning to our text, Christians’ entrance into God’s kingdom (at the end of the age) will be richly provided, because God has supplied them with the sanctifying fruits of knowledge, godliness, and love.  Still, while such things are provided by God, they still must be exercised by the believer; hence the serious charge to make ones calling and election sure.  Do not be lethargic.  Press into these realities.  Exercise the life God has given to you for the greater display of his glory!  And still, with that balance in place, at the end of the age, all that the believer has done in his obedience is attributed primarily not to deserving children of God, but the amazing grace of God, and the fact that he supplies all that he solicits.

Conclusion: God Supplies All That He Solicits

In the end, 2 Peter 1:3-11 does not promote a system of faith in God plus good works by man.  Instead, the true believer is walk by faith in all ages of their life, from faith to faith, they are to add virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love, so that their faith is not unadorned (cf. James 2).  Moreover, they are to add to their faith these things, because God has provided them in abundance for the believer, and such is the call of all genuine disciples of Christ–to do all that he instructs–so that we might be more like him.

May we not be afraid to evaluate our lives by 2 Peter 1:5-7, and when we find ourselves lacking–and we will–may we go back to the gospel promises found in verses 3-4 before working harder to do better.  The richness of our heavenly homecoming is not based on how much good WE do for God in this life, it is how much GOD has done for us as we trust in him day-in and day-out.  God calls us not to create these good deeds but to walk in them.  So walk in a manner worthy of gospel, letting your faith grow into all manners of Christ-exalting love.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss