True Religion Consists in Holy Affections: Jonathan Edwards’ Reflections on 1 Peter 1:8

peter-lewis-D1kher2Zx2U-unsplashTrue religion, in great part, consists in holy affections.
— Jonathan Edwards —

In his classic treatise on nature of the Christian experience, Jonathan Edwards begins Religious Affections with a brief and fruitful examination of 1 Peter 1:8. As this verse stands in the middle of this Sunday’s sermon, I share the opening pages from the abridged and updated version.  As many have experienced, Edwards writing is challenging, but his vision of God is glorious. Thus, it is always worth wrestling with words. Here, however, we find in language more accessible to modern readers an explanation of the way trials purify believers and enlarge our love for Christ and our joy in Christ. The section is not long and I share it as an introduction to Edwards, Religious Affections, and some of the themes we will see on Sunday.

8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him,
you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,
— 1 Peter 1:8 —

With these words the apostle demonstrates the state of mind of the Christians to whom he wrote. In the two preceding verses, he speaks of their trials: *the trial of their faith*, their *being in heaviness through manifold temptations*. These trials benefit true faith in three ways.

First, above all else, trials like this have a tendency to distinguish between true faith and false, causing the difference between them to be evident. That is why in the verse immediately preceding the text, and in innumerable other places, they are called trials because they try the faith of people who profess to be Christians, just as apparent gold is tried in the fire to see whether it is true gold or not. When faith is tried this way and proved to be true, it is “found unto praise and honour and glory” (1 Pet. 1:7). Continue reading

Getting to Know God’s Foreknowledge: A Survey of the New Testament

silhouette of mountain under starry night

To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout
the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia,
who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father,
through the sanctifying work of the Spirit,
to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood.
— 1 Peter 1:1–2 NIV —

On Sunday, I preached the first message in sermon series on 1 Peter. Considering the opening salutation, we spent most of our time getting to know Peter, his audience (the elect exiles scattered in Asia Minor), and the triune God—Father, Spirit, and Son. As with many of Paul’s letters, Peter packs a robust theology into his greeting. And one phrase in particular is worth noting: “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.”

More fully, we have Peter addressing elect exiles who are “chosen” (see 1 Peter 2:4, 9) “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.” In the ESV, the distance between the addressees and the source of their election stands in relative distance, with the five regions of Asia listed in between. This matches the way that Greek reads, but it can miss how Peter is qualifying “elect exiles” with verse 2. For this reason, the NIV supplies a repetition of elect, when it says “those who are chosen.” See above.

Still, the translation of the Greek is not as difficult as understanding what “according to foreknowledge” means. Is this a tacit admission that God chooses his elect based upon their future faith (an Arminian view)? Or is it a case where God chooses his elect based upon his free and sovereign grace without any consideration of what his creatures will later do (a Calvinistic view)? Or is it something else?

However one interprets this phrase, we can acknowledge this is one of those places in the New Testament where Christians do disagree on how to understand the biblical doctrine of election and predestination. I have written on this subject (here and here), preached on it (Ephesians 1 and Titus 1), and you can find an excellent treatment on this topic in Robert Peterson’s biblical theology, Election and Free Will: God’s Gracious Choice and Our Response.  

Still, the particular question of foreknowledge deserves a particular answer, and in what follows here, I will survey the use of the word “foreknowledge” (proginoskō) in the New Testament to see what we can learn. As we go, I will show why the best way to understand this word, and its use in 1 Peter 1:1–2, is to affirm God’s sovereign, eternal, and unconditional election of individuals to salvation. In other words, foreknowledge, as I will show below, should be understood as a word that conveys “loved beforehand” or even “loved by God before the world began.” Thus, 1 Peter 1:1–2 should be read as Peter addressing God’s elect, who were predestined in love before the foundation of the world. That’s the conclusion of the matter, now let’s consider the biblical support.  Continue reading

Getting into 1 Peter: A Brief Introduction to this Grace-Filled Book

image001This Sunday we begin a new sermon series in the book of 1 Peter. And I want share three reasons, even four, for why we are looking at this letter and why this book is so timely. These three reasons come from the outline of the book itself, and will both introduce us to what we will find in Peter’s first letter and how its contents equip us as Christians to live in our day.

First, in a world of idols inviting us to identify ourselves with them, 1 Peter reminds us of who we are in Christ. In modern, psychological, and political parlance, 1 Peter 1:1–2:10 give us a rich pedigree for understanding our self-identity. As The Bible Project helpfully illustrates, these verses depend upon various Old Testament types and shadows. They apply things like the Passover, the Priesthood, and the Temple to new covenant believers. Indeed, just as Israel found their identity from all that God did for them in the Exodus, so Christians are to find their identity in all that Christ is and all that he has done for us. Jesus is our Passover lamb who makes us a living temple and a holy priesthood. These are rich truths, we need to understand who we are.

In a world that teaches us to make a name for ourselves or to find meaning in the brands we buy or the political movements we support, 1 Peter gives a better way of living. In particular, 1 Peter 1:3–2:10 expounds the meaning of “elect exiles” (1:1–2), as Peter teaches us to find our true identity in biblical terms and titles. In a world of identity politics, few chapters in the Bible are better equipped to remind us who we are, who God has called us to be, and what it means to be God’s elect exiles. This is the first reason we need 1 Peter. Continue reading

Reading God’s Word and Seeing God’s World through the Lens of Two Biblical Ages

eyeglass with gold colored frames

For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.
Romans 13:11b 

Redemptive history has two overlapping ages. And unless you grasp how the new age brings the future into the present, without entirely swallowing up the old age—yet!—you will have a difficult time understanding how the Bible fits together and how God is working in the world. To say it differently, your doctrine, especially your eschatology, will shift off-center if you don’t consider both ages as described in Scripture. Either you will see too much of God’s kingdom present today, or you will withhold too much of the kingdom until some later time period. This approach to the kingdom of God is sometimes called inaugurated eschatology and I have discussed that here.

In what follows, I want to sketch out how necessary it is to see both ages and how the entirety of the Bible depends on rightly grasping this two-age perspective. First, we will consider how the Old Testament teaches us to look forward to a new age. And instead of considering this in the abstract, we will note at least twelve specific expectations given by the prophets, such that when the authors of the New Testament describe them as fulfilled in Christ, they are telegraphing the way that the new age has come. Continue reading

Seeing the Son of Man: How Reading Daniel and Revelation Together Illumines Both

The number of connections between Daniel and Revelation are numerous and normally observed by readers of both books. A point that is more easily missed or misunderstood is “how” Daniel is used by John, when records the revelation of Jesus Christ (Rev. 1:1). As most commentators have observed there are few, if any, quotations from the Old Testament in Revelation. Instead, John combines imagery and language from all over the Old Testament as he records the words of Jesus.

A good example of how this works is seen G. K. Beale and Sean McDonough’s commentary on Revelation. Describing the glorious vision of Christ among the lampstands in Revelation 1:13–16, they demonstrate how John’s words form a kaleidoscope of Old Testament images, but especially images from Daniel 7, 10, and 12. The number connections, and pieces from different passages, may be missed by the casual reader of Revelation, but when we see just how much John depends on Daniel, or Jesus as he reveals himself to John, we begin to appreciate the intra-biblical connections and arrive at a better reading of both books.

As I go to preach Daniel 10 this Sunday, I offer their Beale and McDonough’s full quotation as an argument for why the figure in Daniel 10:5–6 is a revelation of the preincarnate Christ and an example of how we should read Revelation and other apocalyptic books like it.

Often, images in apocalyptic literature are supplied by previous Scripture. Accordingly, to understand the meaning of an apocalyptic vision in the Bible, and especially in Revelation, one must know the many inspired passages that they draw upon. Likewise, when texts like Daniel 10 have a clear vision of Christ in places like Revelation 1 (i.e., passages that come later with a clearer referent to who is in view), they receive light from the later, greater revelation, thus informing who this glorious but enigmatic figure is. Continue reading

‘Mystery’—Its Definition, Use, and Significance in Daniel and the Rest of the Bible

alphabet close up communication conceptual

. . . but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days.
— Daniel 2:28 —

. . . the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ,
in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
— Colossians 2:2–3 —

In Hidden But Now Revealed: A Biblical Theology of Mystery, G. K. Beale and Benjamin L. Gladd show how “mystery,” as a word and concept play an important role in Daniel 2 and 4 and the rest of the Bible. Indeed, for anyone familiar with the word “mystery” (mysterion) in the New Testament, it is vital to see how this word comes from the context of Daniel. Conversely, for those puzzled by Daniel’s presentation of the last days, they need to see how the New Testament interprets Daniel and applies of Daniel’s mystery to Christ and his Church, as in Colossians 2:2–3.

In what follows, I will offer a definition of mystery, a sampling of its usage, and a summary of its implications. Beale and Gladd offer a comprehensive study of this topic, one that I would highly recommend. Many of my observations rely on this subject rely on their work. But, hopefully, all can see that it is the text of Scripture that is definitive for understanding mystery in Scripture. Continue reading

That You May Believe That Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God: 10 Things about John’s Gospel

john03

This Sunday we begin a new sermon series on the Gospel of John. As we prepare for that series here are ten things to keep in mind as we enter this incredible book.

1. John has a simple four-part arrangement.

If you want to understand a book’s message, begin with its structure. And in John, we find a simple, four-part organization.

  • Prologue (1:1–18)
  • Book of Signs (1:19–12:50)
  • Book of Glory (13:1–20:31)
  • Conclusion (21:1–25)

In this basic outline, the prologue and epilogue balance the book with two interior sections. The first interior section, the book of signs, introduces who Jesus is through a series of extended narratives that identify him with many Old Testament shadows. The second interior section, the book of glory, shows the events leading to Christ’s death on the cross—the event that displays the pinnacle of his glory.

Setting up these two “books,” the prologue introduces us to the Son of God, who is the Word of God Incarnate. With a highly tuned chiastic structure, John opens his book by focusing on how the Divine Son will bring children into the Father’s family (v. 12).  Additionally, the prologue introduces themes about the Son of God—his eternality, his deity, his dwelling with humanity, and his fulfillment of history—which will be found throughout the book.

Finally, the epilogue closes the book with the events that took place after Jesus’s resurrection. In this final section, the purpose of the book has already been disclosed (John 20:30–31), and now Jesus is sending his disciples out to bear witness to Christ. It is with great symmetry, that the book opens and closes with men bearing witness about Christ—John the Baptist is the witness who prepares the way; John and Peter are the witnesses who find greatest attention in John 21. Interestingly, this focus on witnessing is found throughout the book too and indicates the way that the Spirit blows through these pages.

As we study this book, we will look more carefully at the organization of this book. But for now, these four sections give us a place to begin. If you want to see a more detailed outline of the book, watch these two videos by the Bible Project.

Continue reading

The Need for Expositional Preaching (pt. 4): Apostolic Preaching is Expositional

md-duran-q3lWgt6JNjw-unsplash.jpgFrom the pattern of Moses and the Old Testament priests to the teaching ministry of Jesus, biblical exposition has a long track record in redemptive history. In the New Testament, the citation and explanation of Scripture (i.e., biblical exposition) continued. And this is most evident in Acts and Hebrews, the two books we will focus on here.

The Expositional Acts of the Apostles

In Acts, Luke gives a selection of exemplary sermons by Peter (Acts 3-4), Stephen (Acts 7), and Paul (Acts 13-14, 17). In each, the Spirit-filled preachers appeal to the Old Testament, retell the history of Israel, and explain how Jesus Christ fulfills God’s patterns, promises, and prophecies.

For instance, in Acts 13:15 Paul and Barnabas are invited to give a word of exhortation (a sermon?) “after reading from the Law and the Prophets.” It is easy to see the pattern of exposition here: read the word, preach about the same word. Paul paid attention to his audience, but he faithfully proclaimed God’s Word according to the pattern of sound words that was found in the Old Testament.

Of course, from the terse details in Acts, we cannot replicate the form of the apostle’s exposition, but we can see their commitment to explaining the Old Testament Scriptures: They showed how the Old Testament related to Jesus, and called their audiences to repent and believe. Continue reading

The Need for Expositional Preaching (pt. 3): Jesus was an Expositor

james-coleman-9S5FNcs_qPw-unsplash.jpgThe Old Testament is the not the only place where we find expositional preaching. Jesus himself preached expositionally. In fact, he was more than an expositional preacher, according to John John 1:18 he literally ‘exegeted’ the Father, meaning that he explained, exposed, and revealed the character of God in his very life and person.

As the Word Incarnate, Jesus perfectly revealed God. And as the Prophet like Moses (Acts 3:22–26), he handled the Word of God with skill and authority (cf. Matthew 7:29). For these reasons, we should be listen to what Jesus said (Matthew 17:5; cf. Deuteronomy 18:15) and follow him. And learning from him how to read and interpret Scripture, we should see what kind of expositional preacher he was.

Jesus Was an Expositional Preacher

Jesus carried on a ministry of exposition before and after his death and resurrection. For instance, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus repeatedly quoted the Old Testament and provided a more accurate interpretation and deeper application by showing how the Law was fulfilled in the new covenant he was bringing.

In full agreement with his opponents that God’s word was divinely inspired, Jesus taught as one with authority (Matthew 7:29). Interestingly, with absolute authority, he did not create his own sermons; he repeatedly put himself under the word of God (cf. Gal 4:4) and interpreted how he himself fulfilled the Old Testament. (We might even find a similar pattern in the way the Father used Genesis 22, Psalm 2, and Isaiah 42 to identity Jesus as his beloved Son at Jesus’s baptism). Continue reading

From the Gospel to Good Works: A Church’s How-To Manual for Elders (1 Timothy 5:17–25)

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From the Gospel to Good Works: A Church’s How-To Manual for Elders (1 Timothy 5:17–25)

What are you supposed to do in church? What are elders supposed to do in church?
And how do elders and members work together in the church?

On Sunday I answered these questions with six “how-to’s” from 1 Timothy 5:17–25. In this section to Timothy about elders, Paul gives inspired counsel for providing for how to honor elders, protect elders, rebuke (sinning) elders, and appoint elders—to name a few things Paul says.

You can hear the whole sermon online. Response questions and additional resources about elders and churches are below. Continue reading