The Doctrine of Illumination in John’s Gospel

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It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.)
— John 6:63–64 —

The doctrine of illumination explains how spiritual insight is given to God’s children by the Holy Spirit. The locus classicus for this doctrine is 1 Corinthians 2:10–16, where the Apostle Paul explains the difference between those with the Spirit and those without. Describing this difference, he identifies two kinds of people—the natural man (i.e., the man without the Spirit) and the spiritual man (i.e., the man with the gift of the Spirit). In Paul’s thinking, there is no third category. The only way a man can rightly understand the mind of God is to have God himself reveal himself to the man. This occurs first in conversion, but then progressively in sanctification as the Spirit continues to instruct the saints through God’s Word (cf. John 17:17).

Going further, doctrine of illumination is the personal and subjective complement to the doctrine of inspiration. Whereas the Spirit inspired the words of the biblical authors (2 Pet. 1:19–21), the same Spirit must give light to the Scripture, in order for the child of God to understand God, his world, and his salvation. Without this illumination, the sinner remains in the dark—totally lost and wholly unable to find God (cf. Acts 17:27). Continue reading

Well, Well, Well: A Marriage, a Mountain, and a Messiah: Part 3 (A Sermon on John 4:27-42)

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Well, Well, Well: A Marriage, a Mountain, and a Messiah: Part 3 (A Sermon on John 4:27-42)

In The Magician’s Nephew, C. S. Lewis envisions a world coming to life, by means of Aslan’s song. If you have never read The Chronicles of Narnia series,  Aslan the Lion is the Christ-figure who both creates the world and dies to save the world. And in The Magician’s Nephew, which is the prequel to the more famous, The Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe, we are treated to Lewis’s story of creation.

Here is how he pictures Narnia coming to life.

The Lion was pacing to and fro about that empty land and singing his new song. It was softer and more lilting than the song by which he had called up the stars and the sun; a gentle, rippling music. And as he walked and sang, the valley grew green with grass. It spread out from the Lion like a pool. It ran up the sides of the little hills like a wave. In a few minutes it was creeping up the lower slopes of the distant mountains, making that young world every moment softer. The light wind could now be heard ruffling the grass. Soon there were other things besides grass. The higher slopes grew dark with heather. Patches of rougher and more bristling green appeared in the valley. Digory did not know what they were until one began coming up quite close to him. It was a little, spiky thing that threw out dozens of arms and covered these arms with green and grew larger at the rate of about an inch every two seconds. There were dozens of these things all round him now. When they were nearly as tall as himself he saw what they were. “Trees!” he exclaimed. (64)

Trees indeed! And in the context of The Magicians’ Nephew this new world was coming to life in the presence of an evil witch and crazy, self-absorbed Uncle. In this way, the creation of Narnia does not match the creation of our world, where God in his eternal perfection made the world good and very good (Genesis 1). Continue reading

What Does Baptism Look Like? Seven Observations from John 3:22–36

baptism_of_st_paul_-_capela_palatina_-_palermo_-_italy_2015-2“Look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him!”
— John 3:26b —

In John 3 a dispute about baptism arose between the disciples of John the Baptist and a Jew. While unnamed, this Jew caused an existential crisis for the followers of John. So great is their concern about purification, baptism, and the rise of Jesus, they run to their teacher and point to his baptism. Verse 26 captures their concern: “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.”

In this question about baptism, prompted by a dispute about purification, we find an analogue to modern debates about this biblical ordinance. Today, there are questions related to the mode, the subject, and the place. That is: Does sprinkling or pouring count as baptism? What about sprinkling a believer? Or immersing an infant? (See video below). Does a private baptism between friends qualify? And how should we understand the difference (or similarities) between the initiating rite of the old covenant (circumcision) and the initiating rite of the new covenant (water baptism)? All these questions and more need biblical answers.

[The Greek Orthodox remind us that baptizō means immersion, plunging, dipping].

Over the last few years, I have written multiple articles on baptism in the Bible and its pre-requisite for membership in the church. As an unashamed Baptist, who affirms the historical confessions of London, Philadelphia, New Hampshire, and Nashville, I will continue to write on the subject. Why? Because baptism continues to come up in conversation with visitors and others who are thinking about membership at our church.

With that in mind, I offer another exegetical take on baptism—one that comes from John’s Gospel and the dispute about baptism found therein. Following the imperative to “Look!” we will look at what John says about John’s baptism, Jesus’s baptism, and the conversation in John 3 about the new birth, baptism in the Spirit, and the practice of baptizing repentant believers. So, with this visual approach to John 3, I offer seven things we see about baptism. Here’s the list; explanations will follow.

  1. Baptism is performed in public with a group of witnesses.
  2. Baptism requires biblical discernment.
  3. Baptism is handled by Jesus’s disciples, not Jesus.
  4. Baptism is always by immersion.
  5. Baptism requires people to seek water.
  6. Baptism leads to disputations.
  7. Baptism requires humility.

Continue reading

Getting Into God’s Sovereign Grace: From Peter to the Elect Exiles to the Father, Son, and Spirit (1 Peter 1:1–2)

image001On Sunday, our church began a new series in the book of 1 Peter. Introducing the book, we focused on the salutation (1 Peter 1:1–2), two verses that introduce Peter, the elect exiles, and the triune God from whom all grace and peace come. From this short introduction we discovered a number of things about the book, its author, its setting, and the sovereign grace of God.

If you are unfamiliar with 1 Peter, it is well worth your time to study in 2021. Because, as those who are familiar with 1 Peter know, Peter’s message of living hope is tailor-made for Christians living in difficult times. For us living in a time of pan(dem)ic, political upheaval, and cultural breakdown, we need Peter’s strong words of encouragement. For the next five months, we will (as the Lord wills) focus on this encouraging book.

You can find the sermon audio. The video is below, along with these articles that might be of help after listening to the message.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

The Gospel of Peace: Hearing the Message of ‘Shalom’ in the Book of Isaiah

peaceIsaiah has sometimes been called ‘the fifth gospel,’ and for good reason. It is filled with good news about the salvation God will bring in Christ. And the more time we spend in the book, the more we discover themes of salvation, justice, righteousness, and peace.

On this note, we can learn much about the message of Isaiah by tracing various themes through the book (e.g., Zion/Jerusalem, kingdom, servant, etc.). Today I want to trace the theme of shalōm (peace, well-being). By keeping an eye on this theme, we can see how the whole book hangs together and how God, the maker of light and darkness, shalom and calamity (Isa. 45:7), has brought peace to a people who have rejected peace in their pursuit of wickedness.

In fact, as we will see, the way that God makes peace with rebellious sinners in Isaiah follows the contours of the gospel. Or perhaps, stated better, the gospel we come to know from the apostles finds it origins in the promise of peace in Isaiah. Let’s take a look. Continue reading

The Inseparable Operations of the Trinity in John’s Gospel

james-coleman-741674-unsplash.jpgFew books in the Bible give us more “raw material” about the Trinity than John’s Gospel. While the word “Trinity” is not found in the Bible, testimony to God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is. And in the Fourth Gospel, the works of the Trinity are displayed in their greatest fullness.

Helping us to see the inseparable operations of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the ESV Study Bible nicely charts most of the instances of God’s Work. In what follows, notice how every work of God is “shared” by Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. To say it more carefully, whenever God acts he acts as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Whether it is in creation, salvation, or revelation, each person of the Trinity acts in a way appropriate to their personhood. Yet, such personal properties are never divided from the other members of the Trinity. We can speak variously about the work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but we can never speak of them independent from one another, or as if the Father does one thing, the Son another, the Spirit a third.

While personal properties apply in all of God’s actions—e.g., the Father creates as the Father, the Son creates as the Son, and Spirit creates as the Spirit—the triune God always works as one God. This reality helps us to know God in his triune glory and to appreciate how each member works in union with one another. Even more, as we see in John’s Gospel, when the Father sends the Son and Spirit and the Father and Son send the Spirit, we begin to learn who God is through what God has done in redemptive history.

Expanding this vision of God’s triune work in redemption, the ESV Study Bible’s chart will assist greatly.
Continue reading

Singing the Four ‘Spirit’ Songs in Isaiah 56–66

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Perhaps you are familiar with the four Servant Songs in Isaiah. They are found in Isaiah 40, 49, 50, and 53. And I would contend, they are deeply important for understanding who Christ is and how God promised to save his people.

But do you know there are also four “Spirit” songs in Isaiah? Or better, as Alec Motyer puts it, there are four songs in Isaiah 56–66 that identify the Spirit-anointed Savior who will also come to be identified with Christ? Until, reading Alec Motyer’s commentary on Isaiah 56–66, I had not seen that.

Sure, I had often wondered why Christian tradition stops counting the Servant songs at Isaiah 53, when Isaiah 61 is clearly another song extolling the glories of a Spirit-anointed Servant. But until preparing for this current sermon series, I had not put together the reality of four songs in Isaiah 59, 60, 61, and 63. Nor did I make the connection of these chapters with the previous four Servant songs in any specific way.

But after reading Motyer’s observations, it’s hard to miss the way in which these four ‘songs’ balance and apply the previous four songs. In what follows, let me share Motyer’s illuminating insights. I’ll add a few (work in progress) observations at the end. Continue reading

Walk Worthy (pt. 4): Walk Wisely by the Spirit of Wisdom (Ephesians 5:15–21)

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Walk Worthy (pt. 4): Walk Wisely by the Spirit of Wisdom

What is a Spirit-filled church? What does it mean to walk in the Spirit? And if you feel empty of the Spirit, what sort of ‘magic’ does it take to feel full again?

On Sunday, I sought to answer that question from Ephesians 5:15–21, as we considered the last of Paul’s instructions to walk worthy. In some ways this is the pinnacle of his instructions, going back to Ephesians 4:1. In another way, it is the hinge passage that turns from the general instructions (Ephesians 4:1–5:15) to the specific applications (Ephesians 5:15–6:9). 

In any case, there are many helpful points of applications for us Ephesians 5:15–21. You can listen to the sermon online or read the sermon notes. Discussion questions and additional resources are below. Continue reading

The Father Saves, The Son Suffers, The Spirit Speaks: Seeing the Trinity in Ephesians 1–3

bibleAs to the divine works, the Father is the source
from which every operation emanates (ex ou),
the Son is the the medium through which (di’ ou) it is performed,
and the Holy Ghost is the executive by which (ev ō) it is carried into effect.
— George Smeaton, The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, 4 —

When the Bible says that salvation belongs to the Lord (Psalm 3:8; Jonah 2:9), I wonder if we have a bad habit of thinking that God is a singular actor in salvation? That is, when we say (rightly) salvation is monergistic, do we remember how the Father, Son, and Spirit each work inseparably? Or does our mind’s eye see salvation as a thing given by God, but without regard for how each member of the Trinity works?

Rightly, salvation is no way the result of man’s cooperation with God (see Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8–9). But in the truest sense salvation is the indivisible work of the God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And unless we think of the three persons working together as one (because they are, in fact, one, indivisible God), I fear we may miss the monergistic nature of salvation—the very point conveyed in the testimony, “Salvation belongs to the Lord!”

In other words, when we fail to remember the triune nature of God in salvation, we are liable to conceive of salvation in synergistic terms—God provides; we respond, with emphasis on our response. The result, though perhaps unintentional, is a failure to see how the Father, Son, and Spirit work respectively to plan, procure, and provide salvation such that is remains God’s work, and salvation remains entirely gracious.

To get a handle on this idea, that salvation is a work of the triune God, we could examine many passages of Scripture, but few are more naturally trinitarian than the first three chapters of Ephesians. Continue reading

God’s War Memorial: The Church of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:11–22)

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God’s War Memorial: The Church of Jesus Christ (pt 1)

This Sunday marks our fifth sermon in Ephesians and with it the consideration of the fifth sola. As our church remembers the Protestant Reformation this fall, we have sought to highlight the five solas from the text of Ephesians. After considering the material principles of the gospel in Ephesians 1–2 (e.g., Sola Gratis, Sola Fide, Solus Christus, Soli Deo Gloria), we considered the material principle of the Reformation from Ephesians 2:11–22 (i.e., Sola Scriptura). 

More central to the text, however, this week’s message focused on the argument of Ephesians 1–3 and Paul’s repeated emphasis on the temple of God, which is the church of Jesus Christ. Taking a page from the Reformers (ad fontes), we stepped back to understand the symbolism of this temple and how temples operated in the warfare worldview of Ephesus and the Old Testament. Accordingly, this sermon paid keen attention to the temple theme in the Bible and it aimed to prepare us for understanding how the church as temple shapes our identity, community, and mission—three themes that we will, Lord willing, develop from verses 11–22 next week.

You can listen to the sermon online or read the sermon notes (there may also be an alternative ending to the sermon notes, too). Discussion questions and further resources can be found below. Continue reading