That Song Will Preach

“but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8)

One of the things I’ve always loved about Dan, our music minister at Hunter Street Baptist Church, is that as he prepares us to lead worship on Sunday mornings, I sense he’s more interested in our internalizing the truth of a song we’re singing than he is about how well we sing it. That’s not to say he’s not interested in us leading well and sounding good because he is. In fact, he’s taught us that how we prepare and lead brings glory to God. Sometimes at choir practice, Dan will take the lyrics of a song we’re working on and exposit its meaning and application for our lives. I love when he does that. At other times, perhaps pondering the lyrics of a song himself, you might hear him say, “Now that song will preach”. On this particular night he did the latter. Not that every song doesn’t or shouldn’t “preach”, but on this night and with this song it was especially so.

We had begun working on a song called And Can It Be. Though the song’s lyrics touch on many doctrines found in Scripture, more broadly, it’s about Christ’s atoning sacrifice for sin that guarantees the eternal security of the believer. In his book Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem defines the atonement as the work Christ did in His life and death to earn our salvation. Scripture points to two causes for the atonement: God’s love (John 3:16) and God’s justice (Romans 3:25). That God would sacrifice His Son for our sin, and that Christ would willingly be that sacrifice is an amazing truth. Grudem expresses well its application for believers, writing, “The New Testament emphasis on the completion and the finality of Christ’s sacrifice of himself for us assures us that there is no penalty for sin left for us to pay. The penalty has entirely been paid by Christ, and we should have no remaining fear of condemnation or punishment”.

I’m thankful for the emphasis Hunter Street puts on having a correct theology and for the many opportunities we as members have to grow in our knowledge of God and the doctrines found in Scripture. One of those ways has been to study through books such as Systematic Theology. Granted this book is deep and covers a lot of topics that’ll make your head spin, but God uses studies like these to help us grow in our faith. He used it to help me grow in mine. I still remember studying through this book with a group of men. I especially remember the night we studied through the chapter on the atonement and the impact it had on me. I don’t know about you, but there’s a lot in my past, and my present as well that makes me cringe. It’s easy to get trapped by our sin, believing that God can’t or won’t forgive us. Understanding the implications of the atonement helped to free me from that trap. God’s grace truly is greater than our sin. Knowing that Jesus hung on the cross as my substitute, that He willingly paid the penalty for my sin, that He bore the wrath of the Father, that His blood purchased my freedom, and that I will spend eternity with Him, blows my mind. If you’ve trusted in Christ, He’s done that for you as well. Praise God!

Correct theology helps us to live a life that brings glory to God, glory that He alone deserves. Let me encourage you to find a church that is committed to the truth of Scripture. I’m sure thankful for my church’s unwavering commitment to biblical truth. And I’m thankful for a music minister who also teaches and helps reinforce that truth in songs such as And Can It Be. What a great song. You should listen to it sometime, because let me just tell you, “That song will preach”.

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But You Were Washed

“And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11) 

When it comes to some things, our culture desires to have its way. We think that as society changes, God’s standards change with it. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In his letter to the Corinthian church, the Apostle Paul dealt with many issues causing division in the church, issues that at their core were rooted in a theological misunderstanding of God’s grace. Many in the church had been saved from their sin but were falling back into their old habits of the past. And Paul, as he did throughout his ministry, found it necessary to warn against this when it happened.

The word antinomianism comes from two Greek words, anti, meaning “against” and nomos, meaning “law”. It’s the idea that Christians are freed from the moral law by virtue of grace as set forth in the gospel. Many mistook Paul’s teaching of grace to mean they could live however they pleased. Paul never taught that because God never intended that. Grace received always shows itself with a heart that desires to conform to God’s will.

After addressing several issues causing division in the church, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6:9, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” Paul’s point in this verse is that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God. He’s calling them to repentance. It’s also worth noting that Paul doesn’t make a distinction between specific sins? We sometimes do. God never does. As Christians, we sin, but we hate it and in our struggle against it we must rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to help us resist and overcome it.

There are things of this world that are incompatible with God’s standards, things that if we persist in indicate a lack of belief, testifying to the lack of our having a personal relationship with Christ. But as direct as God’s Word is about what perpetual sin testifies to and where it leads, God’s Word is really a story of grace, the grace of a Father who not only gave His Son for our sin, but who also stands ready to restore us to fellowship when we fail. Restoration always follows repentance. Paul reminds those in the church of their need to repent, but as he concludes the thought of this passage, he also reminds them of who they were before Christ and who they are now in Him. The gospel offers great hope!

“And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified…” You see, before Christ we were spiritually dead. The people in the Corinthian church had been brought from death to life (regeneration). They had been set apart to God for His use (sanctification). They had been declared not guilty before God (justified). They had been saved from all of the sins listed in 1 Corinthians 6:9. God’s power over sin isn’t limited to only certain sins. He has power over all of them. There’s great hope in that truth. God is also the definer of what is and is not sin. He has spoken clearly. So, as our culture moves, God doesn’t, therefore, we shouldn’t move either. Let us never celebrate sin. Instead, with the Holy Spirit’s help, let us fight against our flesh to bring glory to God.

I Have Decided

“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37-38)

I love music, all kinds of music. I especially love knowing the story behind songs because it gives me a fresh perspective and a greater appreciation for that particular song. In their book Living Among Lions, David and Jason Benham tell the story behind the hymn I Have Decided to Follow Jesus. If the title sounds familiar it might be because there’s a popular Christian song entitled Christ is Enough that borrows a portion of its lyrics from I Have Decided…. We sing this song at church and I listen to it often on iTunes. I’ve always appreciated the lyrics of this song, but until reading the Benham brothers book, I had never heard the story behind them.

The story behind I Have Decided to Follow Jesus began with a family of four who lived in the Indian province of Assam. They had professed faith in Christ and were subsequently baptized by a Welsh missionary in the 1880’s. As one might imagine, their profession brought about intense persecution. The leaders in their village arrested the family, demanding the father renounce Christ. He refused their demand saying, “I have decided to follow Jesus, and there is no turning back.” His two children were then killed right in front of him. He still refused to renounce Jesus saying, “The world can be behind me, but the cross is still before me.” Then they killed his wife. Still no renunciation. “Though no one is here to go with me, still I will follow Jesus” was his response. The village leaders then killed him. According to the Welsh missionary, when he returned to the village some time later, revival had broken out and he came to find out that those who had murdered the family had themselves come to faith in Christ. He passed this story along to a prominent Indian evangelist named Sandhu Sundar who then made this man’s dying words into a great hymn.

Scripture leaves no doubt as to where our allegiance as believers must lie−with Jesus. Jesus’ own words make that abundantly clear (Luke 14:25-33, Luke 9:57-62, Matthew 16:24-28). At first glance, the level of commitment these verses communicate might seem a bit unrealistic, but not only is it not unrealistic, this level of commitment is what’s expected. Our love and commitment to Christ must be unrivaled. Everything must take its place behind Jesus. And when it does, persecution may, and most likely will come. As disciples, we must be willing to count the cost. It’s not that we wish for the persecution, and it’s not that it will be anyway near as intense as this family underwent. It’s that in whatever form it comes, and however intense it may be, we focus on Christ and His promise to be with us in the midst of it. It was the Holy Spirit alone that enabled this father to not renounce Christ. It will be the Holy Spirit that will see you through whatever persecution results from your commitment to Christ as well.

So, are you willing to count the cost? Have you decided to follow Jesus? Have you resolved to not turn back? If not, grab hold of Jesus. If you have, just hang on. Trust that He is always with you, that His promises are true, that He is enough, and that yes, His grace is always sufficient. “I have decided to follow Jesus; no turning back, no turning back. The cross before me, the world behind me. No turning back, no turning back.”

More Than A Baby

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11)

The prophets predicted it: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14); “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

Jesus fulfilled it: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11); “She will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

On Christmas we celebrate the deity of Jesus. We celebrate that “He [Jesus] is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature” (Hebrews 1:3). We celebrate that what God promised, He fulfilled in Jesus Christ—the incarnate Word, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” (John 1:1, 14). Jesus never ceased to be God, but rather, He took on humanity. He is fully God and fully man.

As Christians, we not only celebrate that Jesus came, but also that He lived a perfect life, died for our sin, was raised for our justification and is coming again. On Christmas and every day, we celebrate Immanuel, “God with us”.

No Hope, Without God…But Now

“But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13)                                                                                                                                                  

In April, I began reading Ephesians. My plan has been to read the whole book every day for the month. The idea came from a friend who told me about an article written by John MacArthur on the topic of how to read the Bible for a deeper level of understanding. As I’ve been reading, Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 2:12-13 has been particularly meaningful. What the apostle is teaching in these verses is the unity and peace that exists in Christ. In context, he is teaching that the Jews and Gentiles are no longer two distinct groups, but are one “new man” in Christ. This is a pretty amazing considering the social and spiritual disadvantages the Gentiles had relative to the Jews. You see, the Gentiles weren’t part of the covenant community. They weren’t given a divine promise. They didn’t even recognize the true God. So, in fact, they were without hope and without God. But you know what, so were we.

Sometimes it’s easy to fall into a casual approach to reading God’s Word. It’s like we treat it as if it’s part of our “to do” list as opposed to an opportunity to meet with our heavenly Father. I believe this is particularly the case if we’ve studied the book or passage before. We assume there’s nothing more to be gained from it. It is true that a verse says and means only one thing, and it’s true that it says and means the same thing every time we read it. But it is equally true that the Holy Spirit is capable of taking God’s Word and impressing it upon our hearts in different ways at different times. That’s what’s happened as I’ve been reading through Ephesians this month. I’ve read Ephesians many times, but what has really struck me this time is that the Gentiles story is my story. And it’s also your story. All of us were without hope and without God. The Bible says we were dead in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1). But then God intervened, and because of His mercy and grace, even when we were dead in our trespasses, He made us alive together with Christ (Ephesians 2:4-5). Christ’s substitutionary death was not only for the Jew, but also for the Gentiles. It was for us as well. Christ’s death for us is the greatest expression of love ever known. It brought near those who were once far off. I believe the “But now” in each of our lives means even more when we realize our desperate condition apart from Christ. How can we truly appreciate grace if we’re oblivious to the degree with which we need it? God doesn’t love us because we’re lovable. He chooses to love us simply out of His own free will. The cross is the proof. Let us respond by loving Him in return.

Anchor Deep

“…so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. ” (Ephesians 4:14)

We should never think the work of ministry is only for those who do it vocationally. That’s not found in Scripture. We are all “ministers” with a role and responsibility to spread the gospel. The reason Paul says God gave the apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers was that they would equip the saints (all Christians) for the work of ministry and for building up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-12).

There is a purpose for equipping of believers. Ultimately, that purpose is that we would bring God glory. This happens as we live out His will in our lives. God’s glory should always be our primary goal. But growing in maturity also helps us navigate through a challenging world. We need a filter through which to see the world, an anchor to keep us from being tossed about by false teaching.

Our world promotes many non-biblical ideas. Some may even sound good on the surface, but in the end just get us off course. Paul explains in Ephesians 4:14 that spiritual maturity is important because it keeps us from being like a ship without an anchor as wave’s crash in and the wind blows around us. It helps us to better be able to choose right instead of wrong and less likely to follow where we shouldn’t. So, make sure to anchor deep that you may more fully discern the will of God. Search His will in His Word. Doing so will benefit you as you navigate in a crazy and confused world. Most importantly, it will bring God the glory He deserves.

The Will of the Lord

“Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:17)

No one sought to do the will of God the Father more than Jesus, God the Son. “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my will but the will of Him who sent me” (John 6:38). Even as He met the moment of the cross, the purpose for which He came and agonized over separation from His heavenly Father, Jesus submitted to the Father’s will. “Not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). Romans 12:2 says we are not to be conformed to this world, but instead transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we may “discern the will of God”. Though the Bible tells of people who patterned obedience to God’s will, only one did it perfectly, Jesus Christ. He was obedient all the way to the cross.

God’s “hidden will” are those things He has chosen not to reveal. His “revealed will” are those things He has chosen to reveal in order to provide us a roadmap for our lives. If as Scripture says we were predestined to be conformed to the image of the Son, why should we think our wills are not to be conformed to God’s. We shouldn’t. Paul teaches that we are to walk as children of the light…and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:9-10). Jesus’ perfect obedience to the will of the Father doesn’t make our submission to God’s will unimportant. It’s the only proper response to His grace. And because God’s will is found in His Word, we are to search for it there. And as best we can, enabled by the Holy Spirit, we should seek to understand it because to do otherwise would be foolish.