Election and Evangelism: What God Has Joined Together Let Not Man Separate

brown rock formation on sea shore

On Sunday, our church considered one of many passages in John where the Beloved Disciple unites God’s sovereignty in salvation with the responsibility of man to repent and believe. With perfect, Spirit-inspired balance, John records the way God gave a particular people to the Son (i.e., the elect) and how these people will come to faith, as God calls all men and women to repent and believe. Indeed, what God has joined together—his sovereignty and man’s faith—cannot be torn apart without doing damage to the doctrine of election and the duty of evangelism.

For those familiar with the debates surrounding the doctrine of salvation, one of the longstanding charges against the doctrines of grace (Calvinism, if you prefer) is that the doctrine of election undermines evangelism and missions. Sadly, there have been some who have defended the doctrine of election without possessing an equal passion for the lost (i.e., Hyper-Calvinists, which means more than Calvinists with zeal). But biblically, election is one of the greatest motivations for evangelism.

This is evident in John’s Gospel and throughout the rest of the New Testament. And in what follows I want to highlight the connection between evangelism and election. In particular, I will show seven places, starting with John 6, where election is found in the same context as evangelism. Rather than hindering the gospel ministry, these passages teaches that the doctrine of election always spurs on missions and evangelism. Continue reading

Seeing the Literary Structure of John 2–4

close up shot of bible text

The first step in understanding any book of the Bible is to see what is there and especially how the biblical author has arranged his material. In the case of the Gospels, for instance, it is important to remember Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John did not turn on their iPhones and hit record. While we have plenty of quotations from Jesus, nearly all of them have been translated from Aramaic and brought to mind by the Holy Spirit (John 14:26). This means we do not have Jesus’s spoken words in red letters. What we have are the Spirit-breathed words of God penned by the apostles.

In each book, the Spirit leads the authors to present Jesus in a coherent fashion. In Matthew’s Gospel, for example, Jesus is the Son of Abraham, the Son of David, the true Israel, and the prophet like Moses, to name a few ways he is presented. In John’s Gospel, Jesus is introduced as the true tabernacle (John 1:14), in whom the fullness of God dwells bodily. Throughout John’s Gospel, this theme of Jesus as the true and better temple will repeat (see e.g., John 2:19–22; 14:1–3).

Reading the Gospels on their own terms, therefore, becomes imperative for understanding their message. Harmonizing the Gospels (i.e., comparing Matthew to Mark to Luke to John) has its place, but it is far better to let the Evangelist speak each in his own way. When we do that, and stop strip-mining the text to find sources behind the Bible, we see how the Evangelists made their case for Jesus as God’s the Son, the long-awaited Messiah. To that end, this blogpost will consider one section of one Gospel—John 2–4. Continue reading

The Via Emmaus Bible Reading Plan: February Resources for Exodus, Jeremiah, and Mark

Jesus washing the feet of Saint Peter on Maundy Thursday

This month the Via Emmaus Reading Plan is looking at Exodus, Jeremiah, and/or Mark. (See below for the tracks). If you are following this plan, or looking for a new reading plan, you can find helpful resources on the following pages. 

Track 1: Exodus

Track 2: Jeremiah

Track 3: Mark

If you have other resources on these books, please feel free to share.

May the Lord bless you and keep you and make his face shine upon you as you draw near to him in his Word. Continue reading

Returning to Romans: An Epistle of Faith, Hope, and Love

kelly-sikkema-GPoh17DxqdM-unsplashIn the Fall of 2019 our church began a Bible study in the book of Romans. It ran through the first seven chapters of Paul’s magnum opus, but in March 2020, when the world shut down, we pushed pause on this book. When we returned to church, our Bible study shifted to Leviticus. But with that study completed, we are now returning to Paul’s largest letter. And for those interested in following along, they can find previous lessons here. New lessons will also be posted on the same page each week through the Spring.

For this blogpost, I want to offer a brief sketch of the book and how Paul’s triad of Faith, Hope, and Love organize his magnificent exposition of the gospel. For those studying Romans (again), this will help acquaint you with the book as a whole. And it also will provide a way of seeing the gospel, and what the gospel achieves, in this whole letter. Additionally, this approach to Romans may also remind us of how Paul brought unity to the church of Rome, when it was facing divisions. Today, we face the same. And thus, we need to learn as much from Paul as we can about what the gospel is and what the gospel does.

Continue reading

Reading for Scripture Saturation: Renewing the Via Emmaus Bible Reading Plan in 2022

Jesus washing the feet of Saint Peter on Maundy Thursday

How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.
10  With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments!

11  I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.
12  Blessed are you, O Lord;
teach me your statutes!
— Psalm 119:9–12 —

With 2021 ending and 2022 approaching, you may be thinking about how to read the Bible in the new year. I hope so. The Word of God is not a trifle; it is our very life (Deut. 32:47). Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Deut. 8:3; Matt. 4:4). With that in mind, we should aim to read the Bible and to read it often!

Truly, the Bible is not a book to read once, or even once a year. It is meant to be imbibed and inhabited, adored and adorned, studied and savored. Mastery of the Bible does not mean comprehensive understanding of Scripture; it means ever-increasing submission to the Master who speaks in Scripture. This is why in the closing days of the year, it’s good to consider how we can saturate ourselves with Scripture in the next year.

Personally though, I wonder if our daily reading plans help us with this idea of Scripture saturation. Often, such plans call for reading single chapters from various parts of the Bible. And the daily routine can invite checking the box without understanding the book. So my question has been: Does such reading help us or hinder us in our Bible consumption and consumption? Continue reading

Avoiding Monsters in the Apocalypse: Three Requirements for Reading Revelation

man people art blue

“Though St. John the Evangelist saw may strange monsters in his vision,
he saw no creature so wild as one of his own commentators.”
— G. K. Chesterton —

Few books are more mysterious, more difficult, or more confusing than the book of Revelation. Simultaneously, because of its sensational imagery and more than a few best-selling, end-times thrillers, few books are more commonly requested. Countless are the times I have been asked when I will preach Revelation. And here is my standard answer: I will preach Revelation, after I preach Exodus, Isaiah, Daniel, Zechariah. So far, I’m halfway there.

As a teacher who will give an account for his teaching (James 3:1), I do not want to be on record for teaching this glorious and mysterious book until I am better acquainted with the Old Testament and the rest of the Bible. With more than 400 allusions to the Old Testament, Revelation is thickest book in the Bible, and it requires extra care when taught. Therefore, wise readers will seek to understand the book not with current events but with the biblical canon.

To that end, I share a few comments from commentators who avoid the monstrosity’s to which Chesterton alludes. And they do so by reading Revelation soberly and with a constant gaze upon the Old Testament. May we learn from them as we continue to read Revelation and the vision of Christ found therein. Continue reading

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