Eternal Security and Common Grace: Two Doctrinal Lessons from Acts 27

boatWhen Paul was taken to Rome, Luke describes the harrowing sea journey to Italy in Acts 27. Embarking on a ship from Adramyttium, a seaport in Asia Minor (v. 2), Paul crossed the Mediterranean. From Myra (v. 5), Paul and his guard found passage on a ship of 276 men, complete with many other soldiers (v. 31) and prisoners (v. 42). While Paul doubted the safety of the journey, based on the time of year (vv. 9–10), the centurion and the majority of the crew decided to head out (vv. 11–12).

This perilous journey sets up the dramatic events at sea, the near drowning of the passengers, and the eventual sinking of the ship. Verse 13 begins with gentle breezes as the ship sets sail, but all turns stormy in verses 14. Verses 14–20 recount the evasive actions taken by the crew (e.g., turning the ship out of the wind, lowering the gear, jettisoning cargo), and verses 21–26 introduces Paul’s “I told you so” coupled with gracious promise from the Lord.

21 Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul stood up among them and said, “Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and incurred this injury and loss. 22 Yet now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. 23 For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, 24 and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ 25 So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. 26 But we must run aground on some island.”

In these words, we find two doctrinal lessons—the first, an illustration of eternal security as Paul later tells the passengers they must remain on the boat to receive “salvation.” In Acts 27, salvation (defined as the preservation of life) is secured by means. Thus, it serves as handy illustration of how God provides eternal security through God-provided means. Or as Thomas Schreiner and Ardel Caneday explain in their book The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance, “Acts 27 illustrates well the fact that exhortations and warnings are a signficant means by which God moves humans to act so that his promises to them will be fulfilled” (212). This is the first illustration, well covered Schreiner and Caneday (pp. 209–212).

The second doctrinal lesson pertains to God’s common grace and the variety of ways grace is conveyed to unbelievers through the lives of Christians. I will consider this below. Continue reading

The Law and the Gospel: What God Has Joined Together, Let No Man Separate

john

In an effort to emphasize grace, many gospel preachers have fallen into the trap of denying the law. Formally, this is called antinomianism, a condition that has often plagued Reformed preachers of grace. While popularly, antinomianism often arises as preachers or believers eschew the shackles of legalism, it is more fundamentally a case where grace itself is misunderstood.

Recently, in reading Sinclair Ferguson’s historical, theological, and pastoral book, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters, I have been reminded of the importance of making this point. Antinomianism is not so much the opposite of legalism (nor the reverse). Rather, legalism and antinomianism are both fundamental misunderstandings the gospel, the way the law leads to the gospel (see Romans 3:21; 1 Timothy 1:8–11), and the way in which the gospel fulfills the need created by the law—namely, a righteousness that comes by faith (not works of the law), but which also esteems the law as it is written on the heart of those who believe the gospel.

I hope you can see that the relationship between law and gospel is more complex than simple supersession or discontinuity. In what follows, I will draw from The Whole Christ to help show how law leads to gospel and gospel pardons from legal guilt and empowers to obey the law. Continue reading

Finding Evidences of Grace

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
— 1 Corinthians 1:4–9 —

graceIn Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he begins by observing evidences of God’s grace (1:4). This astounds us because of how easily Paul could have fixated on their immaturity and iniquity rather than their position in Christ—after all the church was divided, disorderly, and dangerously lax towards sin. For most of us, it would have been difficult to get past Corinth’s glaring sins to commend the grace of God in their midst.

And yet, in his opening verses, he looks below the surface and praises God for the grace he sees in the Corinthians. How did he do that? How might we do that? When we encounter other believers whose sin stains their lives, how can we find evidences of grace?

In my Sunday’s sermon, I argued that grace looks back to see the work of Christ in a believer’s life; it looks in to see the ongoing work of Christ; and it looks forward to the day when a believer—however immature now—will be made complete in the day of Jesus Christ. This is how Paul saw grace in the Corinthians: he remembered how the gospel (i.e., the testimony of Christ) brought spiritual life to them (vv. 5–6); he saw an abundant supply of spiritual gifts in them (v. 7) ; and he trusted that God who began a good work in them would complete it on the day of Christ Jesus (v. 8; cf. Philippians 1:6). There is much we can learn and apply from Paul’s observance of grace in the Corinthians. But how? Continue reading

How Jesus’ Poverty Enriches Us to Give Sacrificially (2 Corinthians 8:9)


graceIn the middle of his instruction about giving to the Jerusalem church, Paul drops this theological gem:

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).

In context, Paul is encouraging the Corinthians to fulfill (“finish doing” and “completing,” 8:11) what they started. Apparently, a year before Paul penned 2 Corinthians, the church in that city promised to give generously to the poor in Jerusalem (8:10; cf. Romans 15:25–26). In chapters 8–9, Paul recalls their promise and prepares them for the forthcoming delegation to collect the offering (see 9:3–5). His words are not threatening but motivating, as he  speaks repeatedly of their “readiness” (8:11, 12; 9:2), “zeal” (9:2), and genuine, generous love (8:7, 8, 24).

In fact, it is because of his confidence in their generosity that Paul encourages them in their giving. And one of the principle means of motivation is Jesus’ substitionary death. In leaving heaven to suffer and die on earth, Paul likens Jesus’ experience to that of losing his riches and becoming poor. And by speaking of Christ’s death in terms of “rich” and “poor,” Paul teaches the Corinthians and us how to give. To understand how Jesus humiliation motivates our giving, consider four points.

  1. Jesus’ Poverty Was Self-Appointed
  2. Jesus’ Poverty Was For the Sake of Others
  3. Jesus’ Giving Motivates Our Giving
  4. Our Giving Manifests and Amplifies Jesus’ Grace

Continue reading

A Debt of Love: How God’s Grace Makes Us Debtors with an Infinite Bank Account

love1Owe no one anything, except to love each other, . . .
 – Romans 13:8a –

Proverbs repeatedly instructs us to reject financial commitments that make us slave to the lender (Prov 22:7). It is good stewardship to buy what we can pay for and not to spend more than we have. But what would happen if you received an infinite inheritance? What kind of moral obligation would you have “spread the wealth”?

Imagine that the unbeknownst to you an oil baron died and left you all of his fortune. Though never communicated to you, your father had saved this man’s life by sacrificing his own. Indebted to your father, this tycoon had promised to one day repay his kindness. With no children of his own, he decided on his death bed to give his “saviors” children his entire estate.

What would you think? Surely, this windfall would provide you an endless supply—more than you could ever exhaust. If such a boon came your way, how would you employ this vast treasure? Would you live a life of unfettered hedonism? Or would you strive to follow in the footsteps of your father and improve the lives of others? Continue reading

Singing the TULIP from the Baptist Hymnal

baptist

One of the saddest effects of the Calvinism debate among Southern Baptists has been the way the discussion about predestination, etc. has moved from the realm of praise to that of polemics. Truly, the faith we hold must be defended. Christians are a people who are called to contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). Nevertheless, when we find election in the Bible it is often  a source of praise (Ephesians 1:4–6), a motivation for missions (John 10:16, 26; Acts 18:9–10), and a reason for comfort and assurance (Romans 8:29–39). Rarely, if ever, is election up for debate in the Scripture.

For this reason, discussions about “the TULIP,” which only swim in the pond of argument and persuasion, miss the genre and the goal of biblical election. While I cannot speak for all Calvinists, I can say the ones I know are far more interested in worship and winning the lost than winning the debate about “Calvinism.” For those who hold to the doctrines of grace, the doctrines of grace increase our affections for God and his mission to reach the world for Christ.

For Calvinists, unconditional election is a source of sheer amazement that God would set his love on such a worm as me. Limited atonement becomes a risk-empowering confidence that the cross will accomplish the salvation of all God’s sheep. And irresistible grace is the power God employs to free sinners, so that they can freely follow him.

To be sure, each of these points need sub-points, but the doctrines of grace—to those who delight in them—are not mere theological shibboleths; they are invitations to worship the omni-benevolent and all-powerful God. With this in mind, it is not surprising to find that the Baptist Hymnal (the old one) is filled with songs that not only touch on the TULIP, but praise God for the very doctrines espoused in that acronym.

Now, maybe you’ve never noticed just how many (not all) hymns are written by Calvinists. Once you begin to learn the backdrop to the Baptist Hymnal, however, it is hard to miss the rich hymnody produced by the likes of Isaac Watts, John Newton, William Cowper, and others who affirmed the TULIP. It is my hope that by drawing attention to the following songs, you might see the doctrines of grace in their native habitat—the praise and worship of the church. My prayer is that God may open your eyes to behold the beauty of his multi-faceted grace, what sometimes goes under the acronym TULIP. Continue reading

What Does the Bible Say About Divorce?

divorce2In Sunday’s sermon (“What about divorce?“) I listed seven ways that Scripture speaks about divorce. They are outlined below, plus one more, making eight. From these eight truths, we can get a full, but not yet exhaustive, picture of divorce. Let me know what you think and what you might add.

First, divorce goes against God’s ideal.

Before the Fall, God establishes his pattern for all humanity in Genesis 2:24: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”

This pre-fall ideal is reiterated when Jesus is asked about marriage and divorce. In Matthew 19, he goes back to the Garden to establish God’s ideal for marriage. In verses 4–6, he answers, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” From these two verses, it is plain that God desires for a man to hold fast to his wife and not divorce her (cf. Mal 2:14–15). Continue reading

A Gospel-Centered Approach to Divorce

divorceMany Christians when they think about God’s view on divorce rattle off three words: “God hates divorce.”

This sentiment is biblical, but too brief. It fails to understand why God hates divorce (see Eph 5:32–33); it misses the fact that God himself has experienced a divorce (Jer 3:8); and it denies the way the gospel promises pardon and healing to those who have been divorced (see John 4), not to mention the power the gospel gives to live in covenant faithfulness to God and the spouse he has given us.

This week I preached on the subject of divorce and in our bulletin I included a biblical survey of what Scripture says about divorce. What follows is an expansion on that survey. While the subject of divorce can be approached in many ways, my hope is to put the gospel at the center of our discussion about this personal subject. Let me know what you would add. Continue reading

Without Holiness . . .

bushSunday I will begin a series of sermons on the holiness of God, namely his kindness and severity evinced in the stories of Old Testament Israel. Since the history and example of Israel has been given to Christ’s church, it is vital that we labor to know those men and women who walked with God in the Wilderness, and more, we must know the Holy One of Israel, whose holy love impelled the Father to send the Son to die for sinners.

In truth, we in the modern church are not comfortable lingering with God and meditating on the fact that he is a consuming fire (Heb 12:29). We are much more accustomed to bite-size theology, ten minute devotionals, and casual worship. And yet, what the church needs most today is a fresh encounter with the holiness of God.

Or maybe I just speak for me. I continue to be struck by how much my faith is influenced by the weightlessness of modern evangelicalism. I am not surprised at how my ambient culture has impacted me; I am surprised by how little the God of the Bible has impacted modern Christians. This is why I will be preaching on the kindness and severity of God found throughout the Bible (cf. Rom 11:22).

Without Holiness . . .

Most recently, this thought about our need to ponder the holiness of God was stirred afresh by David Wells in his book God in the WastelandHis soul-searching, heart-pulverizing disclosure of God’s holiness indicates what happens to grace, sin, God, and the gospel when churches overlook the holiness of God. In his survey of Scripture and church culture, he explains what has happened to the modern church who by and large operates without a sense of holiness.

Consider his words, which I’ve bullet-pointed to draw attention to the idea of holiness’s absence (pp. 144–45). Continue reading

What is the Gospel?

For I am not ashamed of the gospel
for it is the power of God for salvation
to everyone who believes,
to the Jew first and also to the Greek
(Romans 1:16)

The gospel. 

It is a word made impotent by its vague familiarity.  Like ‘love’—which sells hamburgers, promotes athletics, and expresses marital bliss—‘gospel’ has become a filler word.  It is often used, but little understood.  Don’t believe me? Just ask a Christian what the word is, and wait for the stammering to begin—uh . . . well . . . hmmm . . . you know . . . it’s the gospel.

The gospel is often assumed.  Rarely defined.  Abstract, not concrete.  It is a good word to use in church, but it is a word more quickly said than studied.

Such gospel assumption—or it is amnesia?—impairs our witness and our worship.  Therefore, we need to ask some questions about the gospel: Who needs the gospel?  Christians or non-Christians?  What do we do with the gospel?  Is it a message to be believed and preached?  Or is it a way of life to be lived?  Are there variations of the gospel?  Or is the message singular?  How do you define the gospel? Continue reading