Thursday, December 10, 2020

The Holy Spirit is the Giver of Life

III. The Giver of Life

The Holy Spirit of God gives life to us in Christ and puts to death the sin nature that is killing us.

Jesus gave the Holy Spirit the name, “the Giver of Life” (John 6:63). This name was later brought into the Nicene Creed to identify the third person of the Holy Trinity. In summary, the Holy Spirit gives everyone life in the first place. He then gives renewed life to all who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Christ’s Spirit will raise our bodies from the dead. God’s Spirit brings us into eternal communion with God the Trinity as well as with all the other saints who have ever been and ever will be.

The Apostle Paul tells us even more about how the Giver of Life gives life, and how we are personally involved in his work upon us. In Romans 8 and Galatians 5, he says the Spirit both gives life to us and kills sin within us.

The Church’s divines—Catholic and Reformed as well as Baptist—variously used the language of mortification and vivification to describe this process. “Mortification” speaks of the putting to death of the desire for sin within us. “Vivification” speaks of the way life works itself into us. The sin nature, which Paul calls “flesh,” must be mortified or “put to death” by the Spirit. Our new nature, which Paul says is characterized by the Spirit’s fruit, must be vivified or “come to life” by the Spirit.

And the Spirit does all this, as our Pastor has continually reminded us, by focusing our faith upon Jesus Christ. In Romans 8:1-13, Paul writes:
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus, because the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do since it was weakened by the flesh, God did. He condemned sin in the flesh by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh as a sin offering, in order that the law’s requirement would be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 
For those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit have their minds set on the things of the Spirit. Now the mindset of the flesh is death, but the mindset of the Spirit is life and peace. The mindset of the flesh is hostile to God because it does not submit to God’s law. Indeed, it is unable to do so. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.  
You, however, are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to him. Now if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, then he who raised Christ from the dead will also bring your mortal bodies to life through his Spirit who lives in you. 
So then, brothers and sisters, we are not obligated to the flesh to live according to the flesh, because if you live according to the flesh, you are going to die. But if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 
In conclusion, we find that the Holy Spirit of God gives life in Christ to us and puts to death the sin nature that is killing us. Death is in the flesh. Life is in the Spirit. The Spirit offers you both life and the fruit which demonstrates there is life in the root.

(Theological Note: Paul distinguishes between “flesh” [sarx] and “body” [soma] in this passage. While the flesh refers in this passage and in Galatians 5 to the sin nature, the body is itself raised by the Spirit into life. The ancient pagan and modern concept of the body as inherently evil does not agree with Paul. The material body is not inherently evil, although it may act in evil ways through the influence of the sin nature. Note also that Paul can use flesh without direct reference to the sin nature [Gal 2:20]. For Paul, the body is typically a reference to the physical person, while the flesh is typically a reference to the sin nature that leads us toward sin.)

(This is the third in a four-part short series on the person and work of the Holy Spirit. For part one, concerning the Spirit as Love, click here. For part two, concerning the Spirit as Intimate, click here.)

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

The Holy Spirit is God Intimate

II. Intimate

At the deepest place in every single human heart is the need for intimacy with a person totally safe, entirely powerful, incredibly close—A confidant, a protector, a hero. Alas, many of us carry indescribable wounds, because we trusted a friend, a relative, a lover—We gave somebody our heart, and we were betrayed. We need intimacy; we fear treachery.


When men and women became friends with Jesus, they found one upon whom they could really rely. He was trustworthy in his intentions, and he had the power to meet their every need. John, the artistic apostle, knew Jesus as beauty itself. He self-identified as “the one whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23). He also leaned against his very breast. Mary Magdalene knew Jesus as the only man who ever spoke to her with purity. He also healed her soul with power. Lazarus was the friend for whom Jesus wept. And Jesus also raised Lazarus from death. Jesus healed people, fed people, gave them the all-fulfilling words of life.

The powerful, faithful intimacy of Jesus is why his disciples, his friends, were distraught when he told them he must leave. He encouraged them in John 14, “Let not your heart be troubled” (v 1). Christ promised them that he was going to prepare a place for them in God the Father’s eternal mansion. And, at some point, he was coming back to get them. He also told them he would soon be with them in a way they never imagined.

True friendship is deep intimacy, oneness with another which cannot let go. Sometimes, when Karen is out of my sight, even if only feet away in another room, I miss her terribly. Jesus frankly told them he was leaving the world, leaving their sight. He was leaving them in one way, but coming to them in another way. 

Indeed, he promised that he would come in a way not unlike the relationship God the Father has with his Son. The Father and the Son are so intertwined that to see one is to see the other. “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (John 14:11). The words and the works of the Son are the words and works of the Father! “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father!” (John 14:9).

And there is a third Person just as intimately bound with the Godhead as the Father and the Son. Jesus promised his distraught disciples, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:16-18).

In Romans 8, Paul used the same language to describe the union of Christ with the believer and the union of the Spirit with the believer. If the Spirit of God is in you, then Christ also is in you. The indwelling of Christ and the indwelling of the Spirit are coterminous personal relationships. To have “Christ in you” (Rom 8:10) is to be “in the Spirit” (Rom 8:9) and to have the Spirit reside “in you” (Rom 8:11). The Holy Spirit who indwells us is “the Spirit of Christ” (Rom 8:9). 

The Spirit is distinct from Christ; but the Spirit is also one with Christ. “The Lord is the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:17). Therefore, although Jesus departed in body, he came through the presence of his Spirit to be, in an even more intimate way, present to his followers: To John, the apostle whom he loved, Jesus came in the Spirit. To Mary, who could not let go of him when she saw he had risen from death itself, Jesus dwelt in the Spirit. To Peter, the one friend who had horribly betrayed him in his hour of greatest need, not once but three times, Jesus resided by the Spirit.

Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ came to live “in” and “with” John and Mary and Peter. But this promise of intimacy with the divine is not only for them then. For even now the all-powerful Spirit of God offers to live in us, to heal us of every affliction, to feed us forever, to ensure us of eternal life. The Spirit offers you intimacy with the eternal Christ himself. If Christ is “God incarnate,” then the Spirit is “God intimate.” Have you been born again by faith in Christ? If so, the Spirit desires to fill your life with his immediate, powerful, saving presence.

(This is the second in a four-part short series on the person and work of the Holy Spirit. For part one, concerning the Spirit as Love, click here. For part three, concerning the Spirt as the Giver of Life, click here.)

Sunday, November 22, 2020

The Holy Spirit is the God of Love

In the Bible, three persons are revealed to be God—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. There is no difference whatsoever in the divine attributes, in the divine will, and in the divine working, as well as in the divine worship due to each person, for the three are the one God. Each person is fully God, yet the three persons remain distinct from one another.

The Father is the person from whom the Son of God is eternally begotten, begotten not in a flat carnal way, but in an analogically beautiful way from the very being of the Father. The Son always has been “in the bosom of the Father” (John 1:18). The Son of God possesses all the Father possesses (John 16:14-15), does whatever the Father does (John 14:10), and speaks whatever the Father speaks (John 12:49-50). The persons of the Father and the Son are united not only in act but in being. The two may thus be described, according to Jesus, as “in” one another (John 14:11). The Son is one with God (John 10:30).

And both the Father and the Son in turn send the Holy Spirit from eternity into the world to work the will of God declared by the eternal Word. “Sending” speaks to the economy or work of the Spirit, while “proceeding” speaks to the ontology or essence of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit proceeds from God eternally. The language used to describe the eternal procession from the Father in John 15:26 is both fascinating and instructive. The Greek term is ἐκπορεύομαι, which the Bauer lexicon says can be used in two closely related ways. It can either mean “to be in motion from” or “to come forth from.” Bauer classifies John 15:26 under the first to mean the Spirit “proceeds from someone.” And this someone is God.

Did you catch that? The Holy Spirit does not proceed from a creature. He is not like you and me or any other creature. Nor is the Holy Spirit sent by any mere creature. The Holy Spirit proceeds, like the Son, directly from God. The Son and the Spirit are uniquely related to the Father in that both participate by nature in the Godhead. The Son is the eternally begotten God. The Holy Spirit is the eternally proceeding God.

The Spirit’s deity is why, throughout Scripture, we find the Holy Spirit described with divine attributes, working with the divine will, doing things only God can do. Over the next several weeks we must speak of the Holy Spirit in his person and his work. And the first thing we must consider about the Holy Spirit is that He is Love.

I. Love

One of the divine perfections, alongside the attributes of sovereignty, knowledge, holiness, and so on, understood simply, is love. But be careful about your definition of love. When we run up against the Bible’s definition of love, we soon discover God the Trinity’s love is totally beyond our love. God’s love is perfect love.

John writes that “God is love,” not once but twice (1 John 4:8, 16). God the Father is ontologically love and practically love. From the internal perfection of the dynamic, eternal, and unitary love of the Three, the Father sends His Son into the world (1 John 4:9; John 3:16).

And from the internal perfection of the dynamic, eternal, and unitary love of the Three, God the Son demonstrates perfect love in the supreme loving act of becoming the God-Man. He is the One who was crucified for his unworthy friends. “Greater love has no man than this, that He lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). The Son showed his love toward us by giving his life for us, even while we were yet sinners.

So, the Father is love, the Son is love, and the Holy Spirit, too, is love. Another apostle, Paul, wrote, “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit” (Rom 5:5). The Spirit as God brings the love of the Trinity to us, working with the dynamic Word to encounter us from without (Romans 10:9-10, 17) and within, engaging our minds, convicting our hearts, and loosening our tongues (Romans 8:26-27). The Spirit wants to unite you with Himself and with the Son, so that you become indwelt by the Son and the Spirit (Romans 8:9-11).

Did you catch that? The Father loves us by sending his Son as a propitiation for our sins. The Son loves us by dying so we might be reconciled to God and by arising from death so we will be justified before the eternal throne of judgment (Romans 4:25). The Triune God works from the perfection of his love so that we may be saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. And the Spirit presents to our hearts that perfect love, pulling us majestically and gently into the very heart of God.

And God’s love is perfect, pure, for: “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends” (1 Cor 13:4-8a).

Why is the Holy Spirit so humble, so focused upon glorifying the other persons of the Godhead, especially the Son? Why does the Holy Spirit appear at first to recede into the background in our mind as He makes sure we clearly see Jesus Christ, the Son of God who was crucified and died for our sin, and who arose for our justification?

The Holy Spirit is humble, because humility is the perfect expression of pure love. The Holy Spirit is love. He humbly loves both the Son and the Father, and He humbly loves you. He is gently knocking on the door of your heart. As your pastor preaches the Word, will you let the Holy Spirit into your heart and confess the truth of the Gospel with your tongue?

(This is the first part in a four-part short series on the person and work of the Holy Spirit. For part two, concerning the Spirit as Intimate, click hereFor part three, concerning the Spirit as the Giver of Life, click here.)

Sunday, November 01, 2020

Holy, Holy, Holy: A Song for the Eternal Throne

The final year of Judah’s king Uzziah heralded a tumult in politics. The rising pagan storm of Assyria was blowing away the small nations of the Middle East. Even the great states of Egypt and Babylon would not be able to withstand her mighty onslaught. The national-economic winds were shifting radically to the north. 

The people of Judah and Israel feared that the security of their future was slipping away, no matter what they tried. Uzziah assembled a military like few others could imagine. Personally flawed, even profane, he proved a surprisingly astute ruler. But the kings who came immediately after him repeatedly demonstrated that no mere human ruler could handle the dangers of Assyrian martial conquest, much less the Babylonian, Persian, Greek, and Roman empires which would follow. 

A court prophet fretted as he worshiped in the Temple. Then, with social and political turmoil threatening to engulf the people of God, Isaiah was granted a vision of that one royal court which really mattered. He saw formidable angels, seraphim, literally “burning ones.” They humbled themselves before the divine throne, covering their feet, hiding their faces, careful not to detract from the glorious One on the eternal throne. They flew hither and thither, calling out, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of Hosts!” These messengers did not praise any mere human ruler. They would not dread even the most powerful emperor. They did fear God.

The word “holy” indicates a mysteriously present, tremendously powerful otherness wherein there resides no hint whatsoever of that which is common, profane, evil. “Holy” indicates a sacred place, a sacred time, even a sacred presence, the awful presence of a person beyond the observer’s normal capacity for discourse. In Hebrew, to say “holy” is to say, “this is other.” And to say “holy” twice is to say, “this is superior to others.” But to say “holy” three times is to say, “the most holy, the Holy One.” The Lord, He is God, and He has shown Himself. Comprehensive holiness truthfully engenders absolute alarm.

The existential impact of this heavenly vision upon Isaiah was personally and communally devastating. When the prophet glimpsed the government of God, his perspectival grasp of contemporary reality experienced a revolutionary shift. The veil of eternity was peeled back. The nations paled into insignificance. Isaiah gazed upon the heavenly throne, and he could only tremble. The nations have pretentious petty potentates, but the Lord God outshines every nation, indeed the sum of all together, with his matchless purity, his resplendent presence, his crushing power. The whole earth shudders beneath the weight of Yahweh’s glory.

And the only proper response before the One who rules the universe itself is to repent. Isaiah cried out from the depth of his terrified soul, “Woe is me! I am undone!” “I am a man who has spoken evil.” “And I live in the midst of a nation which speaks evil!” Perhaps he thought of how the court scribes fawned over their rulers; of how his people paraded their perverted sexuality; of how his nation’s parents sacrificed their children to a false god of prosperity; of how the strong oppressed the weak and abused the defenseless. Whatever the particular cause, Isaiah knew every single person was wicked, deserving of damnation.

By all appearances, there was no hope. Alas, there is no hope for any of us, for we have all gone our own way. We are all sinners. We are, therefore, hopeless, unless God himself makes an atonement, provides a sacrifice, creates a way for the unholy person to become holy. True hope will not be found with any name offered on a ballot during a national election day. Hope will be found only in the electing grace of the thrice-holy God. 

The Father freely offers us the sacrifice of his own Son’s life as the atonement for our sins. This is why our only hope is to cry out, under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, “Christ has died! Christ has risen! Christ will come again!” Confess your sins, whatever they are, to Him. He wants to forgive you. You can be holy, even as the One on the heavenly throne is holy. He offers, by his Holy Spirit, to make you holy through faith, repentance, regeneration. Come and drink freely from his water of life. Only then may you enter God’s presence, only then, as you place your hope, your faith, your trust in Christ alone, the forever King.

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:1-5)

[Delivered to the Lakeside Baptist Church on November 1, 2020, the third day before the American National Election.]

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

A Primer in Political Theology for this Election

Many conscientious pastors, along with other Christian teachers in the churches, are trying to help our sisters and brothers in Christ discern how to act politically in good conscience. Our goal is to help the flock of God to act righteously in the voting booth and responsibly in the public square during this tumultuous and fractious election season. Believers in our churches are struggling with how to cast their votes in a way that is true in this context and right before God. And we need each other’s help to discern the mind of Christ.

Two Important Questions

In order to function properly, the conscience must first be attuned to God’s will. Second, the conscience must also be provided with adequate knowledge regarding the political options available in our context. Our problem is, therefore, twofold. The flock of Christ needs help answering two important questions. 

The first is the pragmatic question, the question to which many theologians too often immediately proceed, assuming the conscience will function properly, if we only give it the right information. The second is the judicial question, concerning the equipping of the consciences of the saints to make proper decisions, but this is more difficult and requires personal transformation as well as continuing theological maturation:

  1. The Pragmatic Question: What are the political options before me? 
  2. The Judicial Question: How would God have me address these options with a good conscience?

Dealing Honestly with the Pragmatic Question

Pursuing the first question almost entirely, many Christian leaders now seek to sway the flock of Jesus one way or another by pointing out the promises and the problems with the persons and/or policies among which we have to choose. While pursuing the pragmatic question is important, indeed necessary for moral decision making, answering the question about political personality and party policy will never be enough on its own. 

It is inadequate merely to point out the promises and problems available with the various political options, much less to focus simplistically on the problems of one side alone. If Christian teachers speak to politics, and we should, we must ensure the people of God have adequate information about important contemporary options. But to be trusted as genuine truth tellers, we must also speak with adequacy and clarity about those options. Pastors should not merely point out the problems in one party and the promises of the other, nor must we accuse one politician for his or her problems while we silently excuse or even vocally defend the other. 

However, even were we to provide full disclosure about the various political options, this alone would still prove deficient. While we must help the flock learn to discern the morals of the various political persons and party platforms, this activity is woefully insufficient on its own. Moreover, as soon as we begin wading into the weeds of the contemporary political swamp, we find that even if we have adequate information about the various options, mere knowledge of the contemporary options is not enough.

In order to help believers exercise their choices properly, we must train our people in the proper conduct of their consciences. Developing a properly formed conscience is both a grace from God and a continual work within the human being. And, within the church community, this requires more than a simple appeal to one or two favored issues that currently prick our consciences about the social context in which we live. Certain important issues may be exceptionally critical by reason of their deadly effect, but no threat to human flourishing should be dismissed as inconsequential. Every human being is created in the divine image and deserves to be treated with utmost dignity. And the ways we choose to pursue this end must be thoroughly informed by the best practical data through the theologically-informed conscience.

Dealing Adequately with the Judicial Question

How can we develop our consciences properly? We develop good consciences as we listen to the whole counsel of God and consider the various problems we face today. For those of us who are Christians, we must be careful to place ourselves theologically as well as socially. Our social location is important, for it reminds us of who we are and of the limits we face. But our theological location is also incredibly important. Because our current conversation has assumed the theological and majored on the practical, please allow me first to offer a few rules from Scripture that may help you form your own conscience properly and help your people form theirs, too.

Following are seven key theological truths from Scripture, doctrines which must be kept in mind as we who are pastors and teachers speak to our people about the political crises in our day and time. If we do this well enough, our people will be better equipped to make wise decisions not only today but in future years, and not only in the grand political crises but in all the moral crises, large or small, which we face in our ongoing social conversation. After reviewing these seven key scriptural doctrines, we must also summarily consider matters of general revelation.

Seven Key Political Doctrines

First, we are all creatures and not the Creator. God is eternal. He knows everything. He is righteous. He knows human hearts. He will always make the perfect judgment at the perfect time. Human beings were created by God, and we all have severe temporal and spatial limits as creatures. We must constantly recognize our limits of knowledge. We don’t know all the facts, and we cannot read human hearts, though we can see human actions. We are utterly dependent upon God in order to make a right judgment. Prayer toward God and integrity toward other people is our only proper response.

Second, we are all sinners and remain works in progress. There is not one perfect politician or political party on this planet. Realistically, we cannot demand perfection out of those who are manifestly imperfect. We become hypocrites the moment we demand perfection in one character while dismissing that requirement for our own character or for the character of our favored candidate. This does not mean we should turn a blind eye to flaws in persons and polities. It does mean we should be slow to judge and quick to forgive. Moreover, we must remember that evil is rooted in the heart of every person. No party has a monopoly on wickedness, and no politician is thoroughly righteous.

Third, we have one King and no other. We must worship and praise Christ publicly and privately, and we must worship him alone. There have been isolated moments in the last 13 years where I was genuinely concerned for proponents of major political parties and leaders. When churches turn their hymns and songs of praise toward politicians, parties, and nations, they dally with idolatry. It is often said that we are not voting for a pastor but for a president. Very true, but remember also we are not voting for a messiah. That role is already taken. No mere president, senator, or congressman, nor even the might and wisdom of a whole nation, will solve our real problems with full justice. We have one Lord, and his name is Jesus. Our hearts must be enthusiastic for Christ alone, as we pursue righteousness in this world.

Fourth, we must seek the welfare of our society and its inhabitants. Jeremiah reminded the exiles from Jerusalem that they must seek the welfare of the city in which they currently resided, Babylon. Babylon was not a perfect city, as no human city is perfect. Indeed, it was full of vile and vice. But so are all human cities. We might construct measures of wickedness with regard to various cities, as long as we remember that every human culture is a conglomeration of human beings and that we are all sinners deserving of death. But this is no reason for fight or flight. Rather, Jeremiah calls the people of God to advance the flourishing of those human beings who inhabit the same place they do. The Old Testament also made it clear that the weakest inhabitant must become a matter of priority for the people of God. These include the immigrant, the widow, and the abandoned child, the weak ones who have little or no voice and little or no power. Remember them when you exercise your judicial power on the ballot and in the courtroom.

Fifth, the Kingdom of Heaven is not yet here. No matter whether your favored political choice wins or not, the current political crisis is not absolute but relative. This too shall pass. Nations rise and fall. God has set their boundaries and times. This world is not our ultimate home. The author of Hebrews reminds us that Abraham was a sojourner who looked ultimately not for a city in this world but for a city whose builder and maker is God. Peter developed the metaphor of a resident alien to describe the place of the Christian in this world. This world is a passing point for us. We are responsible for helping the people we meet here to see the glorious and coming city of God rather than only the corrupted and failing cities of men. Remember to keep a proper eschatology and a proper hope. Recognize that the United States of America is not heaven.

Sixth, our primary responsibility in this age is presenting the really good news for sinners. Too often, even the most responsible Christian voice may become a wag for one politician or the other in the heated debates of our day. We can dress up our practical position as a matter of absolute political crisis or as a matter of studied principle. But, eventually, even the most principled voice risks coming off as too beholden to one political party or another. We may slip either by what we are saying explicitly, or by a change in tone when we speak of one option, or by our unwillingness to criticize the obvious evil in our preferred candidate or party. Alas, those who, by reason of conscience, disagree with our assessments, will be less likely to listen to us as we try to turn back to our primary conversation. Remember that the good news that Jesus Christ died for all sinners, which includes every political actor, is too important to get shunted to the side by our political passions. 

Seventh, whatever else, exercise grace toward everyone. As important as this election may be, nothing is as important as the one who is made in the image of God. Even if a person has done great evil, he or she still possesses an inherent dignity. Please, please, please refrain from diminishing their humanity in any form or fashion. Yes, speak truth, but speak it with grace. As my friend, Bruce Ashford, has said, “Truth without grace makes us political bullies and jerks. Grace without truth makes us political wimps and non-entities. Truth and grace together allows us to exhibit that great strength and witness that Christ himself exhibited.” And, as another friend, Bart Barber, recently pledged, we should pray for the winner of the election, no matter who that person is. And we should speak with civility at all times about him or her and about their opponents.

The Way of Jesus vs. The Way of the World

Let’s conclude this very short primer in political theology with a reminder that the way of Christ is not the way of the world. Though we must participate in a real world rather than an ideal world, Christ calls us to exhibit an ideal behavior which will catch the attention of a watching and soul-starving world. Our world’s rulers dominate people and exercise tyranny over them. However, as my senior pastor, Mark Forrest, recently reminded our church, Jesus also said, “it shall not be this way among you.” We are not called to exercise dominion over others but to serve others, with towels about our waists, ready to give our own blood in loving service to other precious image bearers, following the example and command of our Lord Jesus.

Serving also requires listening. Human consciences are formed best by Scripture, but they are also formed through listening to God’s general revelation, by common grace in and through nature and human logic. The conscience reflects divine law adequately enough to hold us accountable before God. However, the conscience may be misinformed, even seared. This is as true with regard to cultures as with individuals. Sadly, horrific sins like abortion and racism can become accepted cultural norms through custom and/or law. 

Happily, the misinformed conscience may be corrected in part through careful listening to others. Listening well takes a humble heart. Mutual and respectful listening can open doors which should never have been shut, doors others may not see in their own hearts, doors we may not see in our own hearts. So, listen to the other side of the political divide. Listen with genuine attention. Listen with gracious spiritual discernment. Listen to truth with love before you speak truth with love.

Finally, when you have to do so, make your political choice the best you can. Follow your conscience, but make sure your conscience hears God well. Listen to Scripture first and foremost, but also listen to one another. “Conscience” (Greek syneidesis, Latin conscientia) means “to think with,” and we must think with God first, but we also learn to think with one another. After all, Paul said, “We have the mind of Christ.” Paul did not say, “I,” but “we.” The plural is significant.

Whoever you think you should vote for, Christian leader, remember these several truths from Scripture. If you will keep Christ's Kingdom priorities and Kingdom ways as your own, your people will have better developed consciences. And you will have a more dynamic and successful ministry where it really counts, in lives changed by the good news that Jesus loves sinners. This is the real good news for every last single one of us, no matter what our politics.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Councils, Christlikeness, and a Christological Glossary: Further Reflections on the 2020 Drummond-Bush Lecture

The Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, recently granted a signal honor by inviting me to present the 2020 Drummond-Bush Lecture. That Lecture is entitled Christology without Christlikeness. The Drummond-Bush Lectures memorialize the academic ministries of Lewis Drummond, the fourth President of Southeastern Seminary and author of a key biography of Billy Graham, and Russ Bush, a leading evangelical apologist and philosopher as well as a personal friend and administrative mentor.

The event video, originally presented on Friday, the 2nd of October 2020, will be available online through the L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture. Because the event was oversold, the Bush Center kindly made it available on Facebook Live, too. The Question and Answer period moderated by Dr. Ken Keathley, Director of the Bush Center, was enjoyable and may be particularly helpful to the uninitiated. A Christological Glossary is provided below as a quick reference guide for the important technical terms. (The Lecture alone, originally recorded by Adam Covington of The Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in the Truett Auditorium, may be found here.)

The Lecture is a shorter version of an essay written at the request of Dr. Walter Strickland, Associate Vice President for Kingdom Diversity Initiatives and Assistant Professor of Systematic and Contextual Theology at Southeastern Seminary. The Essay, entitled “Christology in Chalcedon: Creed and Contextualization,” has since been published in the Southeastern Theological Review. The Essay may be found here.

While the shorter Lecture and the longer Essay explore the pristine theology of Chalcedon and the difficult history of the various Christian churches, both Miaphysite and Duophysite, from Ethiopia to Armenia and Rome to Persia, the most important aspect for the contemporary Christian leader will appear toward the end. The persecuting legacy of Constantinianism is challenged through an appeal to obey consistently the supremely authoritative teaching of Jesus Christ himself.

————

Christological Glossary: 

  • “Miaphysitism” is characterized by the worship of the unitary nature of Jesus Christ, while retaining both the humanity and the deity of the incarnate Lord. This is a common position for Christians in Armenia, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Syria.
  • “Duophysitism” also worships the one Lord Jesus Christ, while explicitly affirming both his human and divine natures. This is the position advanced by the Council of Chalcedon.
  • “Monophysitism” differs from both Miaphysitism and Duophysitism, in that it compromises the humanity of Christ. Monos indicates “only” or “alone.” Miaphysites such as Didymus the Blind of Alexandria should not be identified as Monophysite, because they worship Christ under one nature even while maintaining the two natures conceptually.
  • “Nestorianism,” which is not to be confused either with the person, Nestorius, nor with many of those who later became known as “Nestorians,” compromises the unity of the Lord’s person. In particular, Nestorianism denies the Virgin Mary is the Theotokos, “God-bearer.” 
  • “Heresy” is a term reserved for a church body’s declaration that a teaching requires repentance or excommunication. Note that heresy is determined not by individual theologians but by churches, whose one head remains the Lord Jesus Christ (Matt 18:15-20; Col 1:18). Nestorianism was formally condemned as a heresy at the Council of Ephesus (431), while Monophysitism was formally condemned as a heresy at the Council of Chalcedon (451). 
  • “Orthodoxy” technically means “right glory,” with reference to the liturgy of worship, but it has come to be intellectualized as “right doctrine.” Although they differ in their terminology, many Miaphysite and Duophysite churches have in recent decades affirmed one another’s theological orthodoxy, even while retaining their distinct terminologies.
  • “Constantinianism” is that form of Christianity which combines ecclesiology with human power structures, proposing to advance the interests of the church with the coercive tools of the state. Its authority to pursue this program and its practical results have been heavily disputed both by non-Christians and by those Christian traditions affiliated with the Free Churches.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

The Election that Counts

“Election!” “Choice!” “Vote!” 

We hear much about “electing” these days. Yesterday, President Donald Trump “chose” to nominate Amy Coney Barrett as the next Supreme Court Justice of the United States. And we are all being bombarded with demands about how we should cast our “vote” to “choose” the next President and Senator and Congressman, and so on. Everything rides on the next “election.”

But, step back a moment, and ask a question: Have I ever been elected? And from an eternal perspective, enquiring minds want to know, “Am I elect?” If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, rest assured that you have been chosen by the eternal God for eternal life with Him (Philippians 1:29). 

And why did God choose you? Out of love. “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

“Did God choose me because of some good quality in me?” No, He chose me in spite of me. James (2:5) says it like this, “Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?” If God chooses you, it is not because of you, but simply due to his love, which generates love in us.

The next question then comes, “Did God choose me, because he loved me rather than someone else?” No. “God so loved the world,” and the world includes all human beings (John 3:16; 1 John 2:2). God loves the world, in spite of our rebellion, in spite of our sin, in spite of our spiritual poverty. Paul says that God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).

“But how can we come to a knowledge of him?” Well, we come to know God through hearing what Christ Jesus did for us on the cross. Paul says, “Faith comes by hearing and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). That is how you can be among those chosen by God: by believing in the Good News of Jesus Christ as you hear it.

God loves you, and He wants you to love him. God calls you, and He wants you to call on him to save you. Paul tells us, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). God voted for you, and He wants you to vote in your heart and life for Him.

But you may say, “How do I know He will accept me?” Paul reminds us, “the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame’” (Romans 10:11).

My friends, President Barack Obama once said, “Elections have consequences.” Indeed, they do. So, vote your conscience in politics. 

But also make sure you vote in the election that really counts. The most important election occurred when God “chose” you “from the foundation of the world” to be “holy and blameless” in Christ (Ephesians 1:4).

God already voted for you. Now, you vote for God. So, vote early and vote often ... for God.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Which Way?!

So many voices are frantic:

to lead you this way or that, 

to vote for this person or that, 

to see the greatest danger here or there, 

to empower them to do this or that for you.


What should you:

think?

say?

do?


Two divine words will help you navigate the chaos:

Every person should focus here: “And He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

We who are teachers should focus here: “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.”

So, the Word of God reminds all of us that we should Prioritize Love! Prioritize first your devotion to God, then also love your neighbor as you love yourself.

And, as for you teachers, Preach the Word! The Word is Christ Jesus, who died for sinners and arose for our justification.


The simple and right way is, therefore:

1. Prioritize Love

2. Preach the Word


This is the way.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Theology Serves Ministry: A Word for Seminarians

“Nothing can take the place of the Christian ministry. The progress of civilization, the making of many books, the increase of schools and learning, the marvelous triumphs of the press—mighty as are all of these agencies—they can never supersede the divinely sent preacher. ‘It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.’” (George W. Truett, “The Subject and Object of the Gospel,” Convention Sermon, 1899)
I am often asked how I see my role as an academic theologian. Many are shocked when I tell them the work of academic theology pales in comparison to the importance of proclamation in sermons, evangelism, missions, music, teaching, and so on.
Theology serves ministers. Theology is second.
I have more than once considered resigning my professorship. Not out of dissatisfaction with Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. But out of passion—Passion to see the Word of God proclaimed through my lips to transform human lives. There is no greater joy than being the instrument of divine proclamation.
But God always calls me back. He reminds me through good and bad of this truth: I am His alone. I have refused offers elsewhere, declined nominations, turned down an election as a president. Why? Because God called me to teach at my seminary. I must teach ministers. They are more important than me.
It was a joy when the Interim President, Dr. Jeffrey Bingham, and the Trustees approved my request to be allowed to serve as a Pastor at the same time I serve as a Professor. The synergies between church service and seminary are necessary for both. 
Then, Lakeside Baptist Church Granbury and Mark Forrest called me, and my life has been overwhelmed with joy inexpressible. Now, I get to see lives transformed through my service as an elder in my own flock and then teach the truths learned at church to my students. (The idea of barring professors from serving churches is short-sighted and can be the seed of liberalism.)
My life is a demonstration of a truth held by the Founders of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The seminaries exist to serve the churches of Jesus Christ. We do not exist for ourselves. We are not the churches. We were constituted by the churches to serve them. We must serve or cease existence.
Over the years, I have had academics get very nervous when I speak in this way. It seems to threaten their very existence. However, it is necessary for us to remember: The Christian academy serves the churches and their ministries, not vice versa. 
We are second. Be humble. Serve.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Church, State, and COVID-19: Seven Biblical Principles for Guiding Your Church through the Crisis

Recently, Mark Forrest, Senior Pastor of the church where I serve as Teaching Pastor, asked me to write about the principles we have been following to help us determine when to reopen for worship. He shared these today with our congregation. They are shared here with other church leaders in the hope they may help your church, too.

In light of the Coronavirus epidemic, when should the church re-open? And how should it do so? Does the state have authority to decide what churches may do? The questions your church leadership faces have few parallels in modern American history. In response to this unique crisis, we are seeking to obey the Word of God and honor the wisdom of human beings.

Here are seven biblical principles which are guiding our church:
  • First, the Lord commands believers to gather regularly for worship (Heb 10:25; 1 Cor 11:25).
  • Second, God also commands us to honor the governments He constituted (Rom 13:1-17; 1 Pet 2:13-17). 
  • Third, Christ remains the sole ruler of his church (Matt 28:18-20; Col 1:18). 
  • Fourth, if a government instructs the church to stop preaching, we must, with utmost respect, obey Christ (Acts 4:13-21). 
  • Fifth, God’s people must pursue the welfare of the broader community (Jer 29:7). 
  • Sixth, we must receive wise counsel (Prov 11:14, 12:13, 19:20, 24:6). 
  • Finally, we must seek God’s help in prayer (Phil 4:6).
Because of our respect for God-given government, and in order to pursue the welfare of our entire community, we rightly submit to health instructions at the national, state, and local level. We believe Lakeside Baptist Church has been blessed, because God granted us responsible governments, who seek the best social counsel possible while respecting our fundamental right of religious liberty. (However, even if worrisome signs appear, we must remember to honor the government God has given yet also preserve religious liberty.)

In conclusion, we are seeking God’s will, which is always the best way. Would you join in praying that God will make clearly evident to everyone the right way forward for the worship of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and for the welfare of others? Let us trust He will!

          

Lakeside Baptist Church of Granbury, Texas is borrowing a 3,000-seat outdoor venue this Sunday to re-start our formal physical gathering.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

A Free Church Form for a Virtual Lord's Supper

Senior Pastor: Welcome to our Lord’s Supper celebration at Lakeside Baptist Church. We invite our members to gather physically with any members who reside in your home. We invite you to gather virtually with your whole church while using the elements physically distributed or available to you.
Would you bow your heads and pray? Ask the Lord to forgive you any unconfessed sin. And confess your faith in his Son’s death for your sins and his resurrection for your life.
(Pause.)

Teaching Pastor: Then and Now: Consider ancient Israel then. When the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt, God called them to live forward into freedom. However, He first confined the entire nation to single households so as to protect them from the tenth plague, which would devastate the Egyptians.
Consider the New Testament church now. Called into existence by the grace of God the Trinity, the early church practiced “breaking bread in their homes” (Acts 2:46). Likewise, Paul believed he could be “absent in body” yet commune together with the church “in spirit” (Col 2:5; 1 Cor 3:5; cf. 1 Thess 2:17). Exigencies may bring the body of Christ together in a different way.

Senior Pastor: The Israelites were ordered to sacrifice a flawless animal and spread its blood with a hyssop branch at the entrance to their homes (Ex 12:22). Hyssop was later used to purify the people (Lev 14). The Lord promised to protect the firstborn of Israel’s families due to their faith (Ex 12:13). This was the first Passover meal.

Teaching Pastor: Note the similarities between the Jewish Passover and the Lord’s Supper commanded by Christ for the church’s continual celebration. The Gospels tell us that during the Passover Jesus instituted the Supper (Mark 14:12-26). John says they used a hyssop branch to offer Jesus sour wine as he finished his sacrificial work upon the Cross (John 19:28-30).

Senior Pastor: Before his betrayal and crucifixion, Jesus used the bread and the cup prepared for the Passover to create a new memorial. The bread and the cup deepen the meaning of the Passover’s matzah and wine.

 I.     The Bread

Teaching Pastor: As the Israelites were commanded to use unleavened bread (Ex 12:14-20), so Jesus took unleavened bread (Matt 26:17). Paul writes, “Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Cor 5:7; cf. Mark 8:15).

Senior Pastor: The matzah bread is a picture of Yeshua and what he did for us. Look at how it is striped. It is written, “He was wounded for our transgressions; he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (Isa 53:5).
(Senior Pastor lifts and unwraps the bread.)

Teaching Pastor: Look at how the matzah is pierced. It is written, “They shall look upon me whom they have pierced” (Zech 12:10b). 
(Senior Pastor breaks the bread and distributes it to both while Teaching Pastor continues to read.)

The middle matzah from the Unity was broken, just as Jesus was broken with suffering and death. It is wrapped in white cloth, just as his body was wrapped in linen. His body was confined for a short time in the grave, but he was freed on the third day from the grip of death. 

Senior Pastor: At the last supper, Jesus said, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). 
Let us now eat the bread, remembering the broken body of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. 
(Both eat the bread, signaling the congregation to join.)

 II.     The Cup

Teaching Pastor: Just as Moses instituted the old covenant with the sprinkling of blood (Ex 24:8), so Jesus instituted the new covenant with his own “blood,” which was “poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt 26:28).

Senior Pastor: The four Passover cups rehearsed the four promises of God to Israel. With the third cup, it was said, “I will redeem you with an outstretched arm” (Ex 6:6-7a). 
(Senior Pastor fills the cups and distributes to both while Teaching Pastor is reading.)

Teaching Pastor: Just as the sons of Egypt suffered for the sins of Egypt (Ex 11:5), so the only begotten Son of God suffered for the sins of his people (Matt 27:54). 
Hebrews says, “By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them” (Heb 11:28). 
Just as the blood of the Passover lamb provided national salvation for the old covenant people of God in Egypt, so the blood of Jesus Christ provides eternal salvation for all who enter the new covenant by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
Jesus said, “this is my blood of the covenant” (Matt 26:27b-28a).

Senior Pastor: This is the cup of redemption. It stands for the blood of the Passover lamb. After the supper, Jesus said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (Luke 22:20).
Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who creates the fruit of the vine. 
Let us drink with thankful hearts, remembering the Messiah’s sacrifice for us.
(Both lift the cups and drink, signaling the congregation to join.)

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NOTE: This Form for the Lord's Supper was crafted for use in exigency by Lakeside Baptist Church of Granbury, Texas, and was first used on the evening of Easter Sunday during the COVID-19 Pandemic of 2020. Elements were made available beforehand by safe distribution.

For theological and pastoral reflections on the use of the Lord's Supper in a virtual format, please consult the contributions of the following Baptist theologians:

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Sunday, March 15, 2020

A Prayer for People Facing the Coronavirus Pandemic (Psalm 46)

Our Lord God, we beg you to grant us soundness in mind, health in body, and vigor in spiritual witness during this worldwide epidemic of the Novel Coronavirus Disease 2019. 

Father God, we have watched and prayed as our human brothers and sisters in Asia have suffered the initial spread of this disease, bringing disruption, sickness, even death.
Lord Jesus Christ, we are concerned for our own nation as we watch this disease take a devastating toll among the elderly and the infirm in Europe.
Holy Spirit, we now appeal to you to make your presence felt here as the President of the United States of America, Donald J. Trump, has halted flights from infected nations and continents, declared a National Emergency, and called us to a National Day of Prayer.

With the Choirmaster, we pray, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah

Lord, we pray for the protection of humanity from the spread and severity of this disease. May you lead our people to act wisely for the health of others as well as for themselves. May you provide us with social unity, communal harmony, and economic welfare in this time of crisis. We know you are our only “refuge and strength.”

With the Sons of Korah, we sing, “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

Lord, we pray also for the progress of the Good News of your Son, Jesus Christ, through the voices of your people accompanied by the sweet sacrifices of their own hearts and hands. According to the request of the President of our Southern Baptist Convention, J. D. Greear, and the Presidents of our seminaries and entities, we pray that you stop this pandemic, lead our government leaders to lead us, help us witness to our neighbors, and protect our missionaries.

With the Musical Instruments, we proclaim, “Come, behold the works of the LORD, how he has brought desolations on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire. ‘Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the earth!’ The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

With true faith we pray in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Malcolm B. Yarnell III, Teaching Pastor
Lakeside Baptist Church, Granbury, Texas
Sunday, March 15, 2020