Friday: What Does Christ’s Death Mean?

jesuscross

On Friday — the day we call Good Friday — Jesus Christ was nailed to an old, rugged Cross. I can only imagine. The cosmos paused in stunned silence to see the Son of God, bearing our sin, forsaken of God, torn by a whip and hounded by Satan. There he hung, the God-man, winning the ages-old battle for souls. There has never been a moment like that moment — and all the ages of eternity will echo with ceaseless wonder at what happened the day Jesus died.

I thought it would be good to apply our minds and hearts, on this day, to that central day of history when our Savior died for us all.

There has never been a message so amazing as the gospel. No religion offers anything like it. Its astonishing gift of grace sets the gospel of Jesus in a class by itself. Paul summarized the gospel in one sentence, so simple we easily overlook its riches:

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,” 1 Corinthians 15:3, 4, NAS95. Continue reading

Four Benefits of Salvation Invitations

scaryevangelist1Dear Pastor,

Please give a salvation invitation. Not every week, perhaps (unless evangelism is your spiritual gift, in which case you don’t need this post). Not even every month. I’m not suggesting you set much of a schedule at all. But periodically, as the Holy Spirit leads, or as the calendar suggests, speak to those in your congregation who are not saved, invite them to cross the line of faith, and lead them in a prayer of faith, right there, on the spot.

It is not my objective, in this post, to defend the idea of evangelism, the gospel of grace, or salvation as a “moment” in which a person passes from death to life. I have done that here and here and here. Nor will we engage the calvinist/arminian controversy, except to say… Continue reading

Three Cheers for Vocabulary!

The surgeon says, “I have to pull out that little hangy thingy in your gut-parts that doesn’t do anything.”

The mechanic says, “I’ll have to brush off those shiny screwy ceramic thingies with the little metal tip.”

The contractor says, “I’ll just yank off those flat bumpy whatch-a-ma-call-its from the top of your house and see where it’s leaking.”

You’d be looking for a new surgeon, a new mechanic, and a new contractor. In each of these fields, we want experts. We want dedicated workers who have studied their craft and mastered it. We want a surgeon who knows the difference between an appendix and a spleen, a mechanic who knows the difference between a spark plug and a coil, and a contractor who knows the difference between a roof shingle and roof vent.

And I want a pastor who knows the difference between justification and sanctification, propitiation and redemption, the Hypostatic Union and the Mystical Union, Omniscience and Omnipotence. I want a pastor who has studied the craft and mastered it (not that you can ever master either God or Scripture, but you can be proficient in it at least). I know that some will immediately read me as saying all I care about is theological vocabulary… No. There is immeasurably more to being a pastor or church leader.

But clarity on theology is an indispensable foundation for everything else. Don’t tell me how to live unless you know deeply from Scripture what divine resources God has offered me, how they work, and how Jesus used them in his life… the soul-stirring vocabulary of the Christian faith.

In the realm of the spirit, I want to train you to become your own mechanic.

In olden days, everyone had the same Bible. We’d all read: Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, (Romans 5:1, NKJV). Immediately the preacher was forced into explaining justification… and we’d all learn it. Over the years, we’d develop a fairly sophisticated picture of justification as distinct from, yet related to, sanctification. We’d understand why Martin Luther attempted to correct his church’s theology on the doctrine, and why it mattered so enormously.

Today, however, we read in a dozen translations, some bland variation on: “having been made right by faith” and nobody needs to explain it. In fact, by obliterating the theological vocabulary, the reader isn’t even alerted to the existence of an entire theological system summed up in one word. When a mechanic says “carburetor” he calls to mind a whole piece of machinery and its interplay with the other machinery. One word conjures a vast, systematic picture.

So it is in Scripture: justified, justification, justify, just, righteous… there is an ocean of wonder to explore in this one great word.

Take the word “gospel.” It has morphed into a thousand things, mostly shallow, and mostly emotional. Yes, the gospel is good news, but it is the title for a precise theological bit of good news: that Christ died for our sins, etc (1 Cor 15:3) and that if we mess with it, then we’re to be damned (Gal 1:8,9). God help us all if “gospel” means so much that it stops meaning anything.

By losing our vocabulary, we’ve lost the riches and the wonder. We’ve lost the clarity. We’ve lost the powerful and beautiful inter-linkages that tie all of Scripture together.

We’ve also lost the subtle distinctions that protect us from heresy. After all, the early church split over a single letter: whether Jesus, in his deity, is homo-ousios (the same substance) or homoi-ousios (similar substance) with the Father. Picky? Yes! Essentially picky. Life-changingly picky. Picky the way you hope and pray your surgeon is picky. Vocabulary matters enormously.

The authors of Scripture never shied away from long sentences and big words. They developed a sophisticated vocabulary and weren’t afraid to use it.

This is not to suggest that our sermons and Bible classes become dry, academic, theological lectures. Not at all — and if you’ve heard me preach, you probably wouldn’t describe my sermons that way [I hope]. The people of God crave the deep things of God — let’s take them there, assuming we’ve taken ourselves there first. Let’s patiently build the concepts in their minds. Let’s lay out a rich feast for hungry souls. Let’s integrate deep truth into real life. Let’s go beyond the surface.

Pick up any collection of sermons from a hundred years ago and notice the dramatic contrast: ours today are painfully dumbed down. Sorry.

Paul validated his ministry saying, “For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27, NKJV). Do we declare the whole counsel of God? Or do we settle for funny stories, thin sentimentality, and relentless exhortations to duty.

Three cheers for the meat of God’s Word and the vocabulary that expresses it!

And three cheers for any preacher brave enough to teach it.

Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the Word and doctrine. (1 Timothy 5:17, NKJV).

 

Secure Forever, part 1

Can a Christian lost his/her salvation? I’ve had a lot of questions about this topic lately, so here goes. I’m reposting these on my Facebook Author page too, and I’d love for you to go there and click the like button. Thanks.

Sooner or later, every believer in Jesus Christ must come to grips with one all important question: Who will bear the burden of my eternal life? Or we might ask, On whose shoulders will rest the weight of bringing me to God and ultimately getting me into heaven?

Scripture supplies a most magnificent answer: Cast your burden on the LORD, And He shall sustain you; He shall never permit the righteous to be moved. (Psalms 55:22, NKJV).

In its short form, Eternal Security means “once saved, always saved.” It means that you cannot lose your salvation; even if you tried. What a wonderful confidence we can have! The biggest question of life — Where will I spend eternity? — has been answered once for all.

Definition: Eternal Security means that if you are truly saved, you can never be unsaved, not even for a moment. God will not permit it. He has set your foundation upon the Lord Jesus Christ, and since God will not permit Christ to be shaken, he will not permit you to be shaken either.

Many believers, even godly Christians and scholarly Christians, do not believe in eternal security. They admit into their concept of salvation certain conditions under which you might lose it. I would ask, What good is a salvation that is not really a salvation? But we won’t get into all the problems with the other position… (maybe later? depends)

Here are some definitions of eternal security from some Bible teachers.

  • Charles C. Ryrie. Eternal Security: The work of God which guarantees that the gift of God (salvation), once received, is possessed forever and cannot be lost.
  • Harry Ironside [for many years pastor at Moody Church]. When we speak of the eternal security of the believer, what do we mean? We mean that once a poor sinner has been regenerated by the Word and the Spirit of God, once he has received a new life and a new nature and has been made partaker of the divine nature, once he has been justified from every charge before the throne of God, it is absolutely impossible that that man should ever again be a lost soul.
  • Augustus Hodge. They whom God hath accepted in his Beloved, effectively called and sanctified by his Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace; but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved. [a definition of perserverance]
  • R.T. Kendall [who succeeded Martyn Lloyd-Jones at Westminster Chapel, London]. We are not saying once saved, always obedient. We are not saying once saved, always perfect. We are not saying once saved always godly. It is once saved, always saved.

These are excellent definitions for Eternal Security. I am convinced that Eternal Security is best understood from the divine perspective. In other words, this is far more something about God and what he does than it is about us and what we have. Therefore based on Psalm 55:2 and many other Scriptures, here is my simple definition of Eternal Security.

ETERNAL SECURITY MEANS that God himself bears all the burden for me to be secure forever.