Theology, Doctrine and Worship

“Theology and doctrine make life simpler. They protect us from reading verses out of context, restricting our diet to our favorite passages, and making decisions based on impulses. They put meat on concepts we tend to use mindlessly like glory, gospel, salvation and love. They help us understand what we’re actually doing every Sunday. What complicates life is not doctrine but ignorance of doctrine”   − Bob Kauflin −                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

           Theology is the study of God. Doctrine is everything that the Bible teaches on a particular topic.Last year,our church choir read Bob Kauflin’s book Worship Matters. In the third chapter titled My Mind: What Do I Believe, Kauflin discusses the importance of theology and doctrine as it relates to worship. In the chapter, he lists common misconceptions that keep us from pursuing God with our minds; the third misconception being that theology and doctrine cause problems and make life complicated. The quote above is part of Kauflin’s response to this misconception. Continue reading

The Ground of Our Experience

“A Spirit-filled church always studies the apostolic teaching. It is a learning church that grounds its experiences in and tests those experiences by the Word of God.” − James Montgomery Boice

At the end of the second chapter of Acts, after describing the coming of the Holy Spirit and Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, Luke began to write about things that characterized the early church (Acts 2:42-47). The first characteristic he mentioned was their devotion to the apostles teaching. The apostles were specifically chosen by Jesus to teach the Word of God. Therefore, they were empowered by the Holy Spirit to carry it out. Though they may not have completely understood it at the time, the night before he was crucified Jesus explained this to His disciples. He promised that the Father would send them another Helper, the Holy Spirit who would teach them and bring to remembrance all the things He had said (John 14:26). The promise proved true as evidenced by Peter’s sermon, where he boldly preached Jesus, the Holy Spirit moved with great power, and three thousand people were saved.                                                                                                                                                                                                                              In his commentary on these latter verses of Acts 2, James Boice makes the point that after such a miraculous work, the easiest thing for the church to have done would’ve been to look back at the experience of Pentecost and try to replicate it. There’s no doubt that what happened was an awesome experience. But what is found in Luke’s description is that as the church moved forward they devoted themselves first to apostolic teaching, the study of God’s Word. The Spirit of God works mightily through the Word of God.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            As believers, we do and should experience God, but we must be careful not to measure that experience based solely on how it makes us feel or appeals to our emotions. There’s great temptation and tendency to do just that. Boice’ larger point in the quote above is that our experiences alone are not the measure of what constitutes being Spirit-filled. Nor are they the measure of what constitutes true worship. Only when our experience lines up and flows from the Word of God can it be of the Spirit and thus considered true worship. Our experiences must always be kept in check by God’s Word.         

Boice goes on in his commentary, pointing out the great blessings that have come to the church from deep study of the Bible. In answering why such is the case, he says, “It is because the closer men and women come to God the closer they want to get to where He speaks to their hearts, and that is in the Bible”. The Spirit of God lives in the heart of every believer, but we are filled with the Holy Spirit only as our hearts are yielded to His work in us. If this is to happen, we must first expose ourselves to God’s Word, and then, as was the case with the early church, the rest will follow.

Preaching the Cross

Charles Spurgeon once said about preaching, “Preach any text you want and then make a beeline to the cross.” Naturally, when we think about Jesus’ crucifixion, the scene that comes to mind is not a very pleasant one. It was horrific! Jesus was stripped and beaten almost beyond recognition before being nailed to the cross. Perhaps it makes us wonder, “Couldn’t there have been another way for us to be saved?” I suppose there could have been, but that’s not how God planned it.

            The truth is, our sin cost Jesus a lot. The greater truth is He willingly paid the cost. Pray that our preachers never get tired of preaching, not only the necessity, but also the sufficiency of the cross for salvation. Pray also that we never get tired of hearing it. When you envision the scene at Calvary, remember, it is love that flows from the cross because it was out of love that Jesus went to it. Our only proper response is to love Him in return. “And you who were dead in your trespasses…God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:13-14)

The Battle of Wills

“Our battles are first won or lost in the secret places of our will in God’s presence, never in full view of the world.”  − Oswald Chambers −

If our wills are to be conformed to God’s, it is critical that we come into His presence. Outside of the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives, our wills are never submissive to God’s. We love to have our own way. When God brings you to a major crossroad in your life, what will you do? We’re always left with a choice, a choice that will either move us closer to the Lord, or farther from Him. Have you spent time in the God’s presence today? Have you spoken to Him and allowed Him to speak to you? There’s no better place to be than in the presence of the Lord. And there is nothing that better prepares you in dealing with life’s issues and living for God’s glory.

Knowing the True God

“No religion is stronger than its god, and in the case of Christianity, no Christians have ever been stronger than their knowledge of the true God and their desire to obey and glorify Him.”

                                                                                                 – James Montgomery Boice –

             What keeps us from having a greater passion to know the true God? Are we just too busy to spend time getting to know Him? Could it be because we’ve made up a god of our own choosing; one that conforms His will to ours instead of the other way around? James Montgomery Boice’ quote above is found in the introduction to his commentary on Romans 9-11. In many ways, these are three of the most difficult chapters in Scripture. They are difficult because they make it abundantly clear that God, not man, is the center of all things. He is above us in every way. Paul concludes Romans 9-11 by expressing the depth of God’s wisdom and the impossibility of our complete understanding of His ways (Romans 11:33-36). We can never separate our desire to obey and glorify God from our knowledge of Him. That knowledge comes as we submit to His authority and allow free reign of the Holy Spirit in our lives. All of it is by God’s grace. Let us pray that our hearts would be open to His work, that we would have a greater desire to seek to know the only true God. Let us see His greatness, obey His will and glorify Him more and more each day.

Something Higher

“God’s purpose in all His dealings with us is to make us grow into something higher. The greatest calamity that can come to a soul is to be satisfied with its present condition. – A.B. Simpson –

Twice in 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul stresses the “more and more” to those he was writing to in the church at Thessalonica. The “more and more” had to do with living a life pleasing to God and of expressing brotherly love (1 Thessalonians 4:1, 9). They are both characteristic of Christians. Some in Paul’s day took his teaching on grace to mean something it didn’t. They took it to mean that sin offered an opportunity for God’s grace to be magnified. That is not what Paul taught (Romans 6).

The Christian life is a progressive process of being made more and more like Christ. It’s very easy to settle into the routine of our Christian lives in which we become satisfied with our present condition instead of seeking a deeper fellowship with the Lord. This is neither God’s intention nor desire. Continue reading

Suffering: The Reality, Purpose and Promise

“When God allows suffering and trials in our lives, sometimes it’s for us to unlearn something and simplify our beliefs until our relationship with Him is like that of a child.”  – Oswald Chambers – 

It’s not that we should desire to suffer or go through trials, but we do need to accept this truth of what Scripture teaches. As God’s people, we must be prepared to suffer, because suffering is certain.  

–          “Many are the afflictions of the righteous…”  (Psalm 34:19)  

–          “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22)  

–          “and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s co-worker in the gospel of Christ, to   establish and exhort you in your faith, that no one be moved by these afflictions.  For you yourselves know that we are destined for this.” (1 Thessalonians 3:2-3) 

–          “For to this (suffering) you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you…” (1 Peter 2:21)   

–          “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” (1 Peter 4:12) 

However, equally certain to suffering, is not only God’s sustaining grace through it, but also His Divine purpose in it. One purpose according to Chambers is that we simplify our beliefs. We should never outgrow our dependence on God, and often, trials are to ensure that we don’t. One of the biggest mistakes we make as Christians when encountering an unbelieving world is to not be prepared to answer why a loving God would allow His people to suffer. Sometimes, the best answer comes when they see you, His child, display that grace in your deepest time of need. Trust that God’s grace is always sufficient, His purposes always right, and that He will be with you each step of the way. You can, because He keeps all His promises.    

–          “But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’” (2 Corinthians 12:9) 

–          “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5) 

–          “I will never leave you or forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

Being Whole

“Wholeness begins by deliberately and daily receiving the lavish, unreasonable, unfailing love of God all the way into our marrow.  When life is too foggy to see the evidences of His love around us, behold it in His Word.  Know it until you feel it.”      — Beth Moore —

            Webster’s dictionary defines whole as being complete; not broken or divided. Too often we look only to what we can see and feel to make us whole. Sometimes we believe other people or things can make us whole. No matter how much we may love them, they can’t. The truth is that wholeness is found only in God through a relationship with Jesus Christ. The joys we find in everything else are merely His gifts. They will never complete us. In fact, they will often let us down. God never will. No one loves you like He does. When you can’t see the evidence of God’s love behold it in His Word because His Word is filled it. Seek Him and you’ll find it.

Divine Sovereignty And Human Choice: What Tension?

“If I find taught in one part of the Bible that everything is foreordained, that is true; and if I find, in another Scripture, that man is responsible for his actions, that is true; and it is only my folly that leads me to imagine that these two truths can ever contradict each other.”        -Charles Haddon Spurgeon- 

            It seems more and more we live in a day in which we consider God’s Word as true and authoritative only as long as it agrees with our own opinions and understanding.  There are many issues related to God and our understanding of Him that are mind blowing.  But isn’t that the way it should be?  He is God after all.  In the last chapter of his book, Twelve Ordinary Men, a book about Jesus’ disciples, John MacArthur discusses the life of Judas Iscariot, the betrayer of Jesus.  As it relates to this betrayal, Scripture makes clear that though it was foreordained by God, it was carried out freely by Judas.  MacArthur says, “God’s plan and Judas’ evil deed concurred perfectly.”  Jesus affirmed both God’s predetermined plan and Judas’ responsibility for his evil actions (Luke 22:22).  As MacArthur sought to explain the tension between divine sovereignty and human choice he used the above quote by Charles Haddon Spurgeon.     

            There are certainly passages of Scripture that are difficult for us to reconcile in our minds.  Consider how the Bible records Jesus’ statement that no one can come to Him “unless the Father draws them” (John 6:44) but also teaches that a person is condemned because of their unbelief (John 3:18).  What about how the Lord’s desire is that none perish but that all reach repentance (2 Peter 3:9) yet while teaching clearly that not all are saved.  And how could Jesus’ crucifixion be God’s plan and the Jewish leaders still be held responsible for carrying it out?  What about all of Romans 9?  When we read these passages, the doctrines of divine sovereignty and human choice may appear to contradict, but they don’t.  They may seemingly appear irreconcilable, but they’re not.  There are no contradictions with God nor is there any need for the passages that support each of these doctrines to be reconciled.  We accept them because the Bible teaches both.  What is needed is our submission to the realization that God really is beyond our full understanding.  I like the way Kent Hughes puts it when he says that “if anyone completely understands the ways of God, the Trinity will have to make room for another member.”  Consider the following verses: 

–          “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9) 

–          “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways!  For who has known the mind of the LORD, or who has been His counselor?  Or who has given Him a gift that He might be repaid?  For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.  To Him be glory forever.  Amen.” (Romans 11:33-36) 

            The above passages underscore the impossibility of our being able to fully comprehend God’s ways.  It would be a mistake however to let this fact dissuade you from the deep study of God’s Word.  We must go as far as the Holy Spirit takes us, realizing at the same time our full understanding and for that matter, opinion or belief is not the basis of the truth of God’s Word.  It never has or ever will be.  So, as to the tension between divine sovereignty and human choice; it is only ours, not God’s.  Spurgeon goes on to say  concerning divine sovereignty and human choice, that they are “two lines that are so nearly parallel that the human mind that pursues them farthest will never discover that they converge, but they do converge, and they meet somewhere in eternity, close to the throne of God, whence all truth doth spring.”  God is amazing.  Aren’t you glad we have a God who is beyond us?  What kind of God would He be if His ways were our ways, if His judgments were searchable, and if He needed our counsel?  Could we then appreciate the greatness of His grace?  I don’t think so.  But thankfully such is not the case.  Our God will always be beyond us and because the words of Scripture are His words, they are beyond us as well.  Isn’t that just as He and they should be?

Grace And Sin

“Those who argue that grace allows a buffer for sin, that their sin will ultimately glorify God anyway, are revealing they are not under grace!  They are not Christians, no matter how much they argue otherwise.”   – R. Kent Hughes –

            If the quote above stings a bit, perhaps it should.  As believers in Jesus Christ, sin will be an ever present enemy.  We will battle it as long as we live.  If that wasn’t the case, Paul would not have implored the Christians to whom he was writing in Rome to, “let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions” (Romans 6:12).  God’s Word teaches that as believers, sin dwells within us.  But equally so, it teaches that grace properly understood doesn’t need sin in order for God to be glorified.  So what do I mean?  Many in Paul’s day mistook his message to mean that sin brought glory to God because it allowed His grace to be magnified.  They took it as if the ethical requirements of God’s law were unimportant.  This is referred to as antinomianism; a term used to deny that what God’s law teaches in Scripture should control the life of the believer.  The truth is they just wanted to sin.  Paul taught that the law was holy, righteous and good, but impossible to keep.  Its purpose was to reveal sin and ultimately point people to Jesus Christ, who fulfilled the law on our behalf.  Furthermore, Paul taught that to continue a sinful pattern of life was contrary to a believer’s new identity in Christ, “How can we who died to sin still live in it”? (Romans 6:2).    

            Grace properly understood hates sin, and as children of God we hate sin because we realize it’s that pattern in which we lived that God loved us enough to save us out of, “while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).  Though we were undeserving, God gave His Son for our sin in order to reconcile us to Himself.  Are we to show our appreciation for Christ’s work by thinking God expects no change?  Certainly not!  But more than that, true change; change which comes from the heart, can’t help but live differently because we are different.  We are a new creation, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 2:17).  

            To be Christian is more than just being a moral person, though morality is characteristic of Christians.  To be Christian comes only through faith in Jesus Christ alone.  It results in a change that is based on and motivated by your love for Christ.  Though it’s His righteousness you wear, you strive to live rightly out of a desire to please Him.  We live in a world way too tolerant of sin.  Yes, we understand its reality.  We understand that Christians sin greatly, but the pattern of sin that once was so gripping has been broken.  God will not let Christians sin as they once did.  Because of their union with Christ and the Holy Spirit’s work bringing them under conviction of sin, they can’t.  But you ask, “What if they can”?  Though perhaps unpopular and both hard to say and hear, no matter their profession, if they can, they’re not saved. 

            Paul’s teaching was never meant for us to constantly doubt our salvation.  It was quite the opposite.  But he didn’t want us to have a false assurance of salvation either, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith.  Test yourselves.  Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?  Unless you fail to meet the test” (2 Corinthians 13:5).   Paul was very direct in his teaching.  So direct was he that it ultimately cost him his life.  Today, many fear the consequences of calling sin what it is because of what it may cost them.  When the pattern of a person’s life is contrary to God’s will, our first thought might be, “Who am I to judge”?  If Matthew 7:1 comes to mind, “Judge not, that you be not judged”, I would ask you to consider it in context.  It’s about undue harshness and a judgmental attitude toward a person.  It’s not our role to pronounce another guilty before God, but that doesn’t mean we forgo appropriate discernment of sin.  We’re sometimes so busy not “judging” that we fail to the properly teach the true meaning of grace.  Yes, we know that grace abounds more than sin, in fact grace overwhelms it.  But grace and those who’ve received it live with a desire to please our Savior.   Do you?  It makes all the difference.