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John Piper

(42 posts)

Blunders into Fruit

If you’re a human being, you’ve made bad decisions. Some of them may have been seriously wrong, even sinful. You may have made choices that have left you wondering whether you’ve “missed your calling,” whether you’ve blown it so bad that God’s will is now out of reach. Fear not. On July 2 [1505], on the way home from law school, [Luther] was caught in a thunderstorm and was hurled to the ground by lightning. He cried out, “Help me, St. Anne; I will become a monk.” He feared for his soul and did not know how to find safety in the Gospel. So he took the next best thing, the monastery. Fifteen days later, to his father’s dismay, he kept his vow. On July 17, 1505, he knocked at the gate of the Augustinian Hermits in Erfurt and asked the prior to accept him into the order. Later he said this choice was a flagrant sin—“not worth a farthing” because made against his father and out of fear. Then he added, “But how much good the merciful Lord has allowed to come of it!” We see this kind of merciful providence over and over again in the history of the church. We saw it powerfully in the life of Augustine, and we will see it in Calvin’s life too. It should protect us from the paralyzing effects of bad decisions in our past. God is not hindered in his sovereign designs from leading us, as he did Luther, out of blunders into fruitful lives of joy. —John Piper, The Legacy of Sovereign Joy (Crossway, 2000), 83–84.

The Word Is in the Book

Among the frustrations of conversing with postmodern “thinkers” is their insistence that the Bible is not the Word of God, but Christ is the Word. True Christianity is not to be found in the written Word, but in relationship with the incarnate Word. To this I reply, “Nonsense!” (Greek: σκύβαλον). John Piper responds more eloquently (and more politely): Why is the Spirit so silent about the incarnate Word after the age of the New Testament—even among those who encroach on the authority of the book? The answer seems to be that it pleased God to reveal the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ, to all succeeding generations through a book, especially the Gospels. Luther puts it like this: The apostles themselves considered it necessary to put the New Testament into Greek and to bind it fast to that language, doubtless in order to preserve it for us safe and sound as in a sacred ark. For they foresaw all that was to come and now has come to pass, and knew that if it were contained only in one’s head, wild and fearful disorder and confusion, and many various interpretations, fancies and doctrines would arise in the Church, which could be prevented and from which the plain man could be protected only by committing the New Testament to writing and language. The ministry of the internal Spirit does not nullify the ministry of the “external Word.” The Spirit does not duplicate what the book was designed to do. The Spirit glorifies the incarnate Word of the Gospels, but he does not re-narrate his words and deeds for illiterate people or negligent pastors. The immense implication of this for the pastoral ministry and lay ministry is that ministers are essentially brokers of the Word of God transmitted in a book. We are fundamentally readers and teachers and proclaimers of the message of the book. And all of this is for the glory of the incarnate Word and by the power of the indwelling Spirit. But neither the indwelling Spirit nor the incarnate Word leads us away from the book that Luther called “the external Word.” Christ stands forth for our worship and our fellowship and our obedience from the “external Word.” This is where we see “the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). So it is for the sake of Christ that the Spirit broods over the book where Christ is clear, not over trances where he is obscure. —John Piper, The Legacy of Sovereign Joy (Crossway, 2000), 81–83.

“They can read the comics every day”

Thursday··2007·08·16 · 3 Comments
John Piper on pulpit frivolity: The fruit of William Cowper’s affliction is a call to free ourselves from trite and chipper worship. If the Christian life has become the path of ease and fun in the modern West, then corporate worship is the place of increasing entertainment. The problem is not a battle between contemporary worship music and hymns; the problem is that there aren’t enough martyrs during the week. If no solders are perishing, what you want on a Sunday is Bob Hope and some pretty girls, not the army chaplain and a surgeon. Cowper was sick. But in his sickness he saw things that we so desperately need to see. He saw hell. And sometimes he saw heaven. He knew terror. And sometimes he knew ecstasy. When I stand to welcome the people to worship on Sunday morning, I know that there are William Cowpers in the congregation. There are spouses who can barely talk. There are sullen teenagers living double lives at home and school. There are widows who still feel the amputation of a fifty-year partner. There are single people who have not been hugged for twenty years. There are men in the prime of their lives with cancer. There are moms who have risked all for Jesus and bear the scars. There are tired and discouraged and lonely struggles. Shall we come to them with a joke? They can read the comics every day. What they need from me is not more bouncy, frisky smiles and stories. What they need is a kind of a joyful earnestness that makes the broken heart feel hopeful and helps the ones who are drunk with trifles sober up for greater joys. —John Piper, The Hidden Smile of God (Crossway, 2001), 167.

Coronary Christians

Monday··2007·08·20 · 1 Comments
Which of these do you think is more important to your physical health: blood, or adrenaline? John Piper writes: As I write this Preface I have just preached to my people several messages in which I pleaded with them to be “coronary Christians,” not “adrenal Christians.” Not that adrenaline is bad, I said; it gets me through lots of Sundays. But it lets you down on Mondays. The heart is another kind of friend. It just keeps on serving—very quietly, through good days and bad days, happy and sad, high and low, appreciated and unappreciated. It never says , “I don’t like your attitude, Piper , I’m taking the day off.” It just keeps humbly lub-dubbing along. It endures the way adrenaline doesn’t. Coronary Christians are like the heart in the causes they serve. Adrenal Christians are like adrenaline—as spurt of energy and then fatigue. What we need in the cause of social justice (for example, against racism and abortion), and the cause of world missions (to plant churches among the unreached peoples of the world), and the cause of personal holiness and evangelism (to lead people to Christ and love them no matter what) is not spurts of energy, but people who endure for the long haul. Marathoners, not sprinters. —John Piper, The Roots of Endurance (Crossway, 2002), 11–12.

“It is a great thing to die”

Tuesday··2007·08·21 · 4 Comments
John Newton died on December 21, 1807, at the age of eighty- two. A month previously he wrote: It is a great thing to die; and, when flesh and a heart fail, to have God for the strength of our hearts, and our portion forever. I know whom I have believed, and he is able to keep that which I have committed against that great day. Hence forth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the lord, the righteous judge, shall give me that day. —quoted in John Piper, The Roots of Endurance (Crossway, 2002), 52. I don’t intend to have a marked grave, but if I did, this would be an excellent epitaph.

“Humble under a sense of much forgiveness”

Thursday··2007·08·23 · 1 Comments
If we find it difficult to forgive, it is surely a sign that we don’t understand the wretched state from which we have been saved. John Piper writes: When [John Newton] wrote his Narrative in the early 1760s he said, “I know not that I have ever since met so daring a blasphemer.” The hymn we know as “Amazing Grace” was written to accompany a New Year’s sermon based on 1 Chronicles 17:16, “Then King David went in and sat before the Lord, and said, “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far?’” Amazing grace!—how sweet the sound— That saved a wretch like me, I once was lost, but now am found, Was blind but now I see. The effect of this amazement is tenderness toward others. “[The ‘wretch’ who has been saved by grace] believes and feels his own weakness and unworthiness, and lives upon the grace and pardoning love of his Lord. This gives him an habitual tenderness and gentleness of spirit. Humble under a sense of much forgiveness to himself, he finds it easy to forgive others.” He puts it in a picture: A company of travelers fall in to a pit: one of them gets a passenger to draw him out. Now he should not be angry with the rest for falling in; nor because they are not yet out, as he is. He did not pull himself out: instead, therefore, of reproaching them, he should show them pity. . . . A man, truly illuminated, will no more despise others, than Bartimaeus, after his own eyes were opened, would take a stick, and beat every blind man he met. Glad-hearted, grateful lowliness and brokenness as a saved “wretch” was probably the most prominent root of Newton’s habitual tenderness with people. —John Piper, The Roots of Endurance (Crossway, 2002), 72–73.

The Fatal Habit of Nominal Christians

This is why promoting morality is never enough, why the gospel must be our priority: morals disconnected from doctrine have no staying power. [Wilberforce] was practical with a difference. He believed with all his heart that new affections for God were the key to morals and lasting political reformation. And these new affections and this reformation did not come from mere ethical systems. They came from what he called the “peculiar doctrines” of Christianity. For Wilberforce, practical deeds were born in “peculiar doctrines.” By that term he simply meant the central distinguishing doctrines of human depravity, divine judgment, the substitutionary work of Christ on the cross, justification by faith alone, regeneration by the Holy Spirit, and the practical necessity of fruit in all life devoted to good deeds. The Fatal Habit of Nominal Christians He wrote his book [A Practical View of Christianity] to show that the “bulk” of Christians in England were merely nominal because they had abandoned these doctrines in favor of a system of ethics and had thus lost the power of ethical life and the political welfare. He wrote: The fatal habit of considering Christian morals as distinct from Christian doctrines insensibly gained strength. Thus the peculiar doctrines of Christianity went more and more out of sight, and as might naturally have been expected, the moral system itself also began to wither and decay, being robbed of that which should have supplied it with life and nutriment. He pled with nominal Christians of England not to turn “their eyes from the grand peculiarities of Christianity, [but] to keep these ever in view, as the pregnant principles whence all the rest must derive their origin, and receive their best support.” Knowing that Wilberforce was a politician all his adult life, who never lost an election from the time he was twenty-one years old, we might be tempted to think that his motives were purely pragmatic—as if he should say, “If Christianity works to produce the political welfare, then use it.” But that is not the spirit of his mind or his life. In fact, he believed that such pragmatism would ruin the very thing it sought, the reformation of culture. —John Piper, The Roots of Endurance (Crossway, 2002), 119–121

The Good of Society

When considering the nature of sin, Wilberforce said, the vast bulk of Christians in England estimated the guilt of an action “not by the proportion in which, according to scripture, [actions] are offensive to God. but by that in which they are injurious to society.” Now, on the face of it that sounds noble, loving, and practical. Sin hurts people, so don’t sin. Wouldn’t that definition of sin be good for society? But Wilberforce says, “Their slight notions of the guilt and evil of sin [reveal] an utter [lack] of all suitable reverence for the Divine Majesty. This principle [reverence for the Divine Majesty] is justly termed in Scripture, ‘The beginning of wisdom’ [Psalm 111:10].” And without this wisdom, there will be no deep and lasting good done for man, spiritually or politically. Therefore, the supremacy of God’s glory in all things is what he calls “the grand governing maxim” in all of life. The good of society may never be put ahead of this. That would dishonor God and, paradoxically, defeat the good of society. For the good of society, the good of society must not be the primary good. —John Piper, The Roots of Endurance (Crossway, 2002), 121–122

On Reading Old Books

I am currently reading Contending for Our All by John Piper, the fourth and final volume in his The Swans Are Not Silent series. Over the next few days, I’ll be posting some excerpts from this book. While all four are excellent books, this one—at least the first section that I have read, on Athanasius—is one of the most important and (for you emergent types), the most currently relevant. And now I am going to break one of my cardinal rules (#7 here) by quoting C. S. Lewis* simply because I like the way he expresses the following principle: There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books. . . . [Students are directed not to Plato but to books on Plato]—all about “isms” and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said. . . . But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator. . . . Now this seems to me topsy-turvy. Naturally, since I myself am a writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old. And I would give him this advice precisely because he is an amateur and therefore much less protected than the expert against the dangers of an excusive contemporary diet. A new book is still on its trial and the amateur is not in a position to judge it. It has to be tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages, and a its hidden implications (often unsuspected by the author himself) have to be brought to light. . . . It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at east read one old one to every three new ones. . . . We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. . . . We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century—the blindness about which posterity will ask, "But how could they have thought that?”—lies where we have never suspected it, and concerns something about which there is untroubled agreement between Hitler and President Roosevelt or between Mr. H.—G. Wells and Karl Barth. None of us can fully escape this blindness. . . . The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries bowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. —cited in John Piper, Contending for Our All, (Crossway, 2006), 10–11 * Since the principle expressed is not theological, I think I can get away with it this time.

Christ: Propositional Truth

Thursday··2007·08·30 · 4 Comments
As I said yesterday, I believe John Piper’s book Contending for Our All is exceedingly relevant for our day, especially in light of attacks on truth by the emergent movement, as I think the following excerpt will demonstrate. Piper’s study of Athanasius and the Arian heresy 1700 years ago demonstrates the truth that “there is nothing new under the sun.” Loving Christ includes loving true propositions about Christ What was clear to Athanasius was that propositions about Christ carried convictions that could send you to heaven or hell. Propositions like “There was a time when the Son of God was not,” and “He was not before he was made,” and “the Son of God is created” were damnable. If they were spread abroad and believed, they would damn the souls who embraced hem. And therefore Athanasius labored with all his might to formulate propositions that would conform to reality and lead the soul to faith and worship and heaven. I believe Athanasius would have abominated, with tears, the contemporary call for “depropositionalizing” that we hear among so many of the so-called “reformists” and “the emerging church,” “younger evangelicals,” “postfundamentalists,” “postfoundationalists,” “postpropositionalists,” and “postevangelicals.” I think he would have said, “Our young people in Alexandria die for the truth of propositions about Christ. What do your young people die for?” And if the answer came back, “We die for Christ, not propositions about Christ,” I think he would have said, “That’s what the heretic Arius said. So which Christ will you die for?” To answer that question requires propositions about him. To refuse to answer implies that it doesn’t matter what we believe or die for as long as it has the label Christ attached to it. Athanasius would have grieved over sentences like, “It is Christ who unites us; doctrine divides.” And sentences like: “We should ask, Whom do you trust? Rather than what do you believe?” He would have grieved because he knew this was the very tactic used by the Arian bishops to cover the councils with fog so that the word Christ could mean anything. Those who talk like this—“Christ unites, doctrine divides”—have simply replaced propositions about Christ with the word Christ. It carries no meaning until one says something about him. They think they have done something profound and fresh, when they call us away from the propositions of doctrine to the word Christ. In fact they have done something very old and worn and deadly. —John Piper, Contending for Our All, (Crossway, 2006), 63–64

The Principal Duty of a Pastor

Tuesday··2007·09·04 · 2 Comments
It is not uncommon for a pastor work himself to exhaustion tending to one congregational need after another, while giving little time to study and delivering mediocre teaching from the pulpit. Not to be too hard on the pastor, that seemed to be what many congregations want—demand, even. Is that the way it should be? Should the teaching ministry play second fiddle to other pastoral duties? John Owen didn’t think so. Under normal circumstances Owen believed and taught that “The first and principal duty of a pastor is to feed the flock by diligent preaching of the word.” he pointed to Jeremiah 3:15 and to the purpose of God to “give to his church pastors according to his own heart, who should feed them with knowledge and understanding.” He showed that the care of preaching the gospel was committed to Peter, and in him all true pastors of the Church under the name of “feeding” (John 21:15–17). He cited Acts 6 and the apostles’ decision to free themselves from all encumbrances that they may give themselves wholly to the Word and prayer. He referred to 1 Timothy 5:17—it is the pastor’s duty to “labor in the word and doctrine,” and to Acts 20:28 where the overseers of the flock are to feed them with the Word. Then he says, Nor is it required only that he preach now and then at his leisure; but that he lay aside all other employments, though lawful, all others duties in the church, as unto such a constant attendance on them as would divert him from his work, that he give himself unto it. . . . Without this, no man will be able to give a comfortable account of his pastoral office at the last day. —John Piper, Contending for Our All, (Crossway, 2006), 94–95

The Humility of John Owen

Wednesday··2007·09·05 · 1 Comments
John Piper on the humility of John Owen: Though he was one of the most influential and well-known men of his day, his own view of his place on God’s economy was somber and humble. Two days before he died he wrote in a letter to Charles Fleetwood, “I am leaving the ship of the church in a storm, but while the great Pilot is in it the loss of a poor underrower will be inconsiderable.” Packer says that “Owen, [though] a proud man by nature, had been brought low in and by his conversion, and thereafter he kept himself low by recurring contemplation of his inbred sinfulness.” Owen illustrates this: To keep our soul in a constant state of mourning and self-abasement is the most necessary part of our wisdom . . . and it is so far from having any inconsistency with those consolations and joys, which the gospel tenders unto us in believing, as that it is the only way to let them into the soul in a due manner. With regard to his immense learning and the tremendous insight he had into the things of God he seems to have a humbler attitude toward his achievement because he had climbed high enough to see over the first ridge of revolution into the endless mysteries of God. I make no pretence of searching into the bottom or depth of any part of this “great mystery of godliness, God manifest in the flesh.” They are altogether unreachable, unto the [limit] of the most enlightened minds, in this life, what we shall farther comprehend of them in the other world, God only knows. This humility opened Owens’s soul to the greatest visions of Christ in the Scriptures. And he believed with all his heart the truth of 2 Corinthians 3:18, that by contemplating the glory of Christ “we may be gradually transformed into the same glory.” And that is nothing other than holiness. —John Piper, Contending for Our All, (Crossway, 2006), 103–104.

Practicing What We Preach

It is relatively easy to learn facts. It is more difficult to apply them personally. It often takes considerable time for lessons to become embedded in our minds and be consistently reflected in our lives. John Owen was a man who excelled in personal application. One great hindrance to holiness in the ministry of the Word is that we are prone to preach and write without pressing into the things we say and making them real to our own souls. Over the years words begin to come easy, and we find we can speak of mysteries without standing in awe; we can speak of purity without feeling pure; we can speak of zeal without spiritual passion; we can speak of God’s holiness without trembling; we can speak of sin without sorrow; we can speak of heaven without eagerness. And the result is an increasing hardening of the spiritual life. Words came easy for Owen, but he set himself against this terrible disease of inauthenticity and secured his growth in holiness. He began with the premise: “Our happiness consisteth not in the knowing the things of the gospel, but in the doing of them.” Doing, not just knowing, was the goal of all his studies. As a means to this authentic doing he labored to experience every truth he preached. He said, I hold myself bound in conscience and in honor, not even to imagine that I have attained a proper knowledge of any one article of truth, much less to publish it, unless through the Holy Spirit I have had such a taste of it, in its spiritual sense, that I may be able, from the heart, to say with the psalmist, “I have believed, and therefore I have spoken.” So, for example, his Exposition of Psalm 130 (320 pages on eight verses) is the laying open not only of the Psalm but of his own heart. Andrew Thomson says, When Owen . . . laid open the book of God, he laid open at the same time the book of his own heart and of his own history, and produced a book which . . . is rich in golden thoughts, and distinct with the living experience of “one who spake what he knew, and testified what he had seen.” The same biographer said of Owen’s On The Grace and Duty of Being Spiritually Minded (1681) that he “first preached [it] to his own heart, and then to private congregation; and which reveals to us the almost untouched and untrodden eminences on which Owen walked in the last years of his pilgrimage.” —John Piper, Contending for Our All, (Crossway, 2006), 109–111

Modern/Postmodern, Tomayto/Tomahto

Monday··2007·09·10 · 1 Comments
It has been said by some that Postmodernism is little more than Modernism warmed over. John Piper draws the same conclusion from the following series of quotes by J. Gresham Machen as he opposed Modernism. It makes very little difference how much or how little of the creeds of the Church the Modernist preacher affirms, or how much or how little of the Biblical teaching from which the creeds are derived. He might affirm every jot and tittle of the Westminster Confession, for example, and yet be separated by a great gulf from the Reformed Faith. It is not that part is denied and the rest affirmed; but all is denied, because all is affirmed merely as useful or symbolic and not as true. This temper of mind is hostile to precise definitions. Indeed nothing makes a man more unpopular in the controversies of the present day than an insistence upon definition of terms. . . . Men discourse very eloquently today upon such subjects as God, religion, Christianity, atonement, redemption, faith; but are greatly incensed when they are asked to tell in simple language what they mean by these terms. The improvement appears in the physical conditions of life, but in the spiritual realm there is a corresponding loss. The loss is clearest, perhaps, in the realm of art. Despite the mighty revolution which has been produced in the external condition of life, no great poet is now living to celebrate the change; humanity has suddenly become dumb. Gone, too, are the great painters and the great musicians and the great sculptors. The art that still subsists is largely imitative, and where it is not imitative it is usually bizarre. In view of the lamentable defects of modern life, a type of religion certainly should not be commended simply because it is modern or condemned simply because it is old. On the contrary, the condition of mankind is such that one may well ask what it is that made the men of past generations so great and the men of the present generations so small. —J. Gresham Machen, quoted in John Piper, Contending for Our All, (Crossway, 2006), 134–136

Francis Schaeffer on Love in Controversy

It pains me to admit it, but I used to be this guy. But, by the grace of God, I got tired of it. Controversy doesn’t get me going like it used to. I’m losing the formerly-urgent desire to have my say about the latest hot topic. I’ve lost interest in blogs that thrive on controversy. I seldom engage in internet forum debates anymore. I no longer rush to buy the latest books on the popular heresies of the day. I would rather think on things that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, and of good repute (Philippians 4:8). Well, I kind of feel that way. To be honest, though, there is still a part of me that is spoiling for a fight. There are two reasons for this: first, as a fallen sinner, there is a desire to shut the mouths of idiots and demonstrate my own brilliance; second, there is a legitimate desire to stand up for the truth, to be “destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ“ (2 Corinthians 10:5). But I have difficulty engaging in controversy without allowing the former motivation, which is none other than pride, to come to the forefront, exalt my own cleverness, and steal God’s glory. In short, I have difficulty speaking the truth in love. John Piper shows how Francis Schaeffer, a man who did not shrink from controversy, addressed this problem: One of the swans who sang most sweetly in the twentieth century was Francis Schaeffer (1912–1984), the founder of L’Abri Fellowship. He was a wise and humble apologist for the Christian faith, and the model for many of us. In 1970 he wrote an essay called The Mark of the Christian. The mark, of course, is love. He based the essay on John 13:34–35 were Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.“ Schaeffer spent most of this essay exhorting the church to disagree, when it must, lovingly. Schaeffer’s view of biblical truth, like the swans in this book, was so high that he would not let the value of truth be minimized in the name of a unity that was not truth-based. Therefore, he dealt realistically with two biblical demands: the demand for purity and holiness on the one hand and the demand for visible love and unity on the other hand. The Christian really has a double task. He has to practice both God’s holiness and God’s love. The Christian is to exhibit that God exists as the infinite-personal God; and then he is to exhibit simultaneously God’s character of holiness and love. Not his holiness without his love: this is only harshness. Not his love without his holiness: that is only compromise. Anything that an individual Christian or Christian group does that fails to show the simultaneous balance of the godliness of God and the love of God presents to watching world not a demonstration of the God who exists but a caricature of God who Exists. Schaeffer knew that, in general, the necessary controversies and differences among Christians would not be understood by the watching world. You cannot expect the world to understand doctrinal differences, especially in our day when the existence of truth and absolutes are considered unthinkable even as concepts. You cannot expect the world to understand doctrinal differences, especially in our day when the existence of truth and absolutes are considered unthinkable even as concepts. We cannot expect the world to understand that on the basis of the holiness of God we are having a different kind of difference, because with are dealing with God’s absolutes. This is why observable love becomes so crucial. Before a watching world, an observable love in the midst of difference will show a difference between Christians’ differences and other people’s differences. The world may not understand what the Christians are disagreeing about, but they will very quickly understand the difference of our difference form the world’s differences if they see us having our differences in an open and observable love on a practical level. Therefore, Schaeffer called controversy among Christians “our golden opportunity” before a watching world. In other words, the aim of love, in view of God’s truth and holiness, is not to avoid controversy, but to carry it thorough with observable practical love between the disagreeing groups. This is our golden opportunity. As a matter of fact, we have a greater possibility of showing what Jesus is speaking about here, in the midst of our differences, than we do if we are not differing. Obviously we ought not to go out looking for differences among Christians; there are enough without looking for more. But even so, it is in the midst of a difference that we have our golden opportunity. When everything is going well and we are all standing around in a nice little circle, there is not much to be seen by the world. But when we come to the place where there is a real difference, and we exhibit uncompromised principles but at the same time observable love, then there is something that the world can see, something they can use to judge that these real are Christians and that Jesus has indeed been sent by the Father. —John Piper, Contending for Our All, (Crossway, 2006), 163–166

The Swans Are Not Silent

Wednesday··2007·09·12 · 2 Comments
I have recently finished reading a series of books by John Piper called The Swans Are not Silent. You may have read the several excerpts I have posted as I read. In my mind, nothing short of Scripture serves to inspire and encourage like the biographies of great saints of the past. This series has been especially good that way. These books are a great entry-point into the history and theology of the Christian church. Rich in theology and fascinating in history, yet written on a level that should be easily understood by anyone of high school age and up, they will whet your appetite for more—more history, more theology, more of God’s working through the ages. Titles in the series are: The Legacy of Sovereign Joy: God’s Triumphant Grace in the Lives of Augustine, Luther, and Calvin The Hidden Smile of God: The Fruit of Affliction in the Lives of John Bunyan, William Cowper, and David Brainerd The Roots of Endurance: Invincible Perseverance in the Lives of John Newton, Charles Simeon, and William Wilberforce Contending for Our All: Defending Truth and Treasuring Christ in the Lives of Athanasius, John Owen, and J. Gresham Machen Filling Up the Afflictions of Christ: The Cost of Bringing the Gospel to the Nations in the Lives of William Tyndale, Adoniram Judson, and John Paton The thumb-nail sketches of great theologians of the church from Augustine and Athanasius to J. Gresham Machen show us that the struggles we face are not greater than those that Christians have faced since the beginning of the church; that the heresies that are prevalent today are the same attacks on the truth that Satan has been using for centuries; that the truth that has sustained God’s people is the same truth that sustains us today; and that the one true God upon whose grace we rest is as faithful today as he has always been—“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

John Piper and Guns

Monday··2008·06·30 · 29 Comments
Today I must strenuously disagree with John Piper. I’ve disagreed with him before, but never like this. In most other disagreements, I’ve at least had some empathy with his position. In this case, I have none; his logic is badly flawed. If it was almost anyone else, I’d probably ignore it; but John Piper has a following of bloggers who run to their keyboards every time he moves, gasping breathlessly at the profundity of his latest twitch. So I expect to see his latest statement spread virally all over the blogosphere in this and following weeks. In fact, I’m seeing it start already, and it was only posted this morning (it’s Sunday as I write this). And, though his sentiments are noble, I think they are completely wrong-headed, and deserve a rebuttal. I’m referring to his statement on the Desiring God blog concerning the Supreme Court’s decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, in which the 2nd Amendment was properly (though narrowly) upheld. Dr. Piper made no statement on the court’s decision per se. His statement addressed why he would not use a gun to defend his home, and expressed his hope that no one else would, either. He used, as his example, Jim Elliot and his fellow missionaries, who chose not to defend themselves against the spears of their attackers because “The natives are not ready for heaven. We are.” I tend to believe that those young missionaries made the right choice. However, I don’t believe their reasoning applies in the vast majority of home-defense situations. My reasons are as follows (none of them would have applied in the jungles of Ecuador): In the majority of instances of defensive firearms use, no shots are fired. The threat is enough to subdue or put to flight the perpetrators. Yet being confronted with a violent response increases their fear of other potential victims, most of whom “are not ready for heaven.” The knowledge that potential victims, most of whom “are not ready for heaven,” might be armed is a known deterrent to criminals. Violent crime is highest in unarmed cities, and is known to decrease when citizens of those cities arm themselves. When an assailant is shot, more is accomplished than stopping the immediate crime: his future crimes—primarily against people who “are not ready for heaven”—are prevented; and a societal atmosphere is created in which criminals are more likely to think twice before attacking others who “are not ready for heaven.” While you can be sure that an intruder in your home is “not ready for heaven,” neither are most of his past and future victims—and you can be sure that there are, or will be, others. Sacrificing yourself only leaves him free to move on to his next victim, who is most likely—say it with me, now—“not ready for heaven.” Piper’s goal of saving the lives of those who “are not ready for heaven,” though noble, is myopic and misdirected. It would be better served by doing whatever is necessary to stop the violent criminals who kill them. Postscript: That was to be the end of this post, but a couple of additional points have crossed my mind. I don’t know if John Piper’s children are all grown and it’s just he and his wife at home, but many of us do still have children at home, and I am not one who assumes my children are “ready for heaven” just because they say they believe in Jesus. Shall I not protect them? Shall I value the soul of a murderer above theirs? Can a Calvinist really believe that evil must be allowed to go unchecked because God hasn’t had a chance to save the evildoers yet? In other words, is this really a dilemma at all? Addendum: James White addresses this issue in I Beg To Differ, Brother Piper. Dr. White takes a more wide-angle view than I did. Although the comments section of this post has taken in more, my intention was to focus on Dr. Piper’s single expressed reason for sparing the intruder, i.e., that he is “not ready for heaven” (in case you didn’t get that).

God Is the Gospel

Friday··2008·11·28 · 2 Comments
Todays gospel is hopelessly man-centered. It is Your Best Life Now, or the horrible old clich?, repeated by Rick Warren in The Purpose of Christmas, When the Romans nailed Jesus to a cross, they stretched his arms as wide as they could. With his arms wide open, Jesus was physically demonstrating, I love you this much! I love you so much it hurts! Id rather die than live without you! It is a gospel that is all about us, with Christ as a means to an endour salvation, in the evangelical version, and in the liberal version, our personal satisfaction and fulfillment. John Piper challenges us to examine our gospel, and see if the true gospel isnt much more than we think. Todayas in every generationit is stunning to watch the shift away from God as the all-satisfying gift of Gods love. It is stunning how seldom God himself is proclaimed as the greatest gift of the gospel. But the Bible teaches that the best and final gift of Gods love is the enjoyment of Gods beauty. One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple (Ps. 276:4). The best and final gift of the gospel is that we gain Christ. I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ (Phil. 3:8). This is the all-encompassing gift of Gods love thorough the gospelto see and savor the glory of Christ forever.    In place of this, we have turned the love of God and the gospel of Christ into the divine endorsement of our delight in may lesser things, especially the delight in our being made much of. The acid test of biblical God-centerednessand faithfulness to the gospelis this: do you feel more loved because God makes much of you, or because, at the cost of his Son, he enables you to enjoy making much of him forever? Does your happiness hang on seeing the cross of Christ as a witness to your worth, or as a way to enjoy Gods words forever? Is Gods glory in Christ the foundation of your gladness?    From the first sin in the Garden of Eden to the final judgment of the great white throne, human beings will continue to embrace the love of God as the gift of everything but himself. Indeed there are ten thousand gifts that flow from the love of God. The gospel of Christ proclaims the news that he has purchased by his death ten thousand blessings for his bride. But none of these gifts will lead to final joy if they have not first led to God. And not one gospel blessing will be enjoyed by anyone for whom the gospels greatest gift was not the Lord himself. . . . The sad thing is that a radically man-centered view of love permeates our culture and our churches. From the time they can toddle we teach our children that feeling loved means feeling made much of. We have built whole educational philosophies around this view of lovecurricula, parenting skills, motivational strategies, therapeutic models, and selling techniques. Most modern people can scarcely imagine an alternative understanding of feeling loved other than feeling made much of. If you dont make much of me you are not loving me.    But when you apply this definition of love to God, it weakens his worth, undermines his goodness, and steals our final satisfaction. If the enjoyment of God himself is not the final and best gift of love, then God is not the greatest treasure, his self-giving is not the highest mercy, and the gospel is not the good news that sinners may enjoy their Maker, Christ did not suffer to bring us to God, and our souls must look beyond him for satisfaction.    This distortion of divine love into an endorsement of self-admiration is subtle. It creeps into our most religious acts. We claim to be praising God because of his love for us. But if his love for us is at bottom his making much of us, who is really being praised? We are willing to be God-centered, it seems, as long as God is man-centered. We are willing to boast in the cross as long as the cross is a witness to our worth. Who then is our pride and joy? John Piper, God Is the Gospel (Crossway, 2005), 1112.

What the World Needs

Friday··2008·12·05 · 2 Comments
What does the world think of when it hears the word Christian? Im afraid what it often thinks of is a people who do certain things and dont do others, who practice certain rituals and traditions. To an extent, I suppose that is unavoidable; we do, or at least ought to, behave in ways that are different than theirs. I suppose it is reasonable that that would be the first thing they see that distinguishes us from the world in general. But it is a shame if they never see more than that, if they never see what motivates us and energizes us, if they are allowed to believe the goodness they perceive in us is our own goodness. What the world needs to see is not human goodness; they can manage that themselves. What the world needs to see is Christ-likeness. It needs to see lives that point to our Creator and Redeemer. The gospel we preach and live must not point to our improved livesany religion can produce thatbut to God himself. When we celebrate the gospel of Christ and the love of God, and when we lift up the gift of salvation, let us do it in such a way the people will see through it to God himself. May those who hear the gospel from our lips know that salvation is the blood-bought gift of seeing and savoring the glory of Christ. May they believe and say, Christ is all! or, to use the words of the psalmist, May those who love your salvation say evermore, God is great! May the church of Jesus Christ say with increasing intensity, The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup (Ps. 16:5). As a dear pants for the flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God, my soul thirst for God, for the living God (Ps. 42:1). We would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8). My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better (Phil. 1:23). The world needs nothing more than to see the worth of Christ in the work of words of his God-besotted people. This will come to pass when the church awakens to the truth that the saving love of God is the gift of himself, and that God himself is the gospel. John Piper, God Is the Gospel (Crossway, 2005), 1617.

Why Do You Want Forgiveness?

Friday··2008·12·12 · 3 Comments
John Piper writes that Justification is the heart of the gospel, not its highest good. By that he means that justification is the most important action that takes place in the gospel transaction, but as great as it is, it is only the means to an end. What, then, is the highest good of the gospel? Is it simply to get us to heaven, and if so, why would you want to go there? Is it because there is suffering and injustice here, and in heaven justice and beauty will finally be everywhere? Or perhaps it is just because the alternative is so painful. Those answers seem very reasonable, but they miss the point. Piper offers the following illustration: Suppose I get up in the morning and as I am walking to the bathroom I trip over some of my wifes laundry that she left lying on the hall floor. Instead of simply moving the laundry myself and assuming the best in her, I react in a way that is all out of proportion to the situation and say something very harsh to my wife as she is waking up. She gets up, puts the laundry away, and walks downstairs ahead of me. I can tell by the silence and from my own conscience that our relationship is in serious trouble. As I go downstairs my conscience is condemning me. Yes, the laundry should not have been there. Yes, I might have broken my neck. But those thoughts are mainly the self-defending flesh talking. The truth is that my words were way out of line. Not only was the emotional harshness way out of proportion to the fault, Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? (1 Cor. 6:7). So as I enter the kitchen there is ice in the air, and her back is blatantly toward me as she works at the kitchen counter. What needs to happen here? The answer is plain: I need to apologize and ask her forgiveness. That would be the right thing to do. But heres the analogy: Why do I want her forgiveness? So that she will make me my favorite breakfast? So that my guilt feelings will go away and I will be able to concentrate at work today? So there will be good sex tonight? So the kids wont see us at odds? So that she will finally admit that the laundry shouldnt have been there? It may be that every one of those desires will come true. But they are all defective motives for wanting forgiveness. Whats missing is this: I want to be forgiven so that I can have the sweet fellowship of my wife back. She is the reason I want to be forgiven. I want the relationship restored. Forgiveness is simply a way of getting obstacles out of the way so that we can look at each other again with joy. John Piper, God Is the Gospel (Crossway, 2005), 44.

Spiritual Sight

Once we have been born again and have come to understand Christ as our highest good, when we have learned that our greatest joy is in “seeing and savoring the beauty and value of God,” we still have a problem. As long as we are in the flesh, we will have poor eyesight. “For now we see in a mirror dimly . . .” (1 Corinthians 13:12). We cannot see God clearly, and so cannot enjoy him fully. The ability to see spiritual beauty is not unwavering. There are ups and downs in our fellowship with Christ. There are times of beclouded vision, especially if sin gets the upper had in our lives for a season. “Blessed are the poor in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8). Yes, and this in not an all-or-nothing reality. There are degrees of purity and degrees of seeing. Only when we are perfected in the age to come will our seeing be totally unclouded. “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12). This is why Paul prayed the way he did for the believers of Ephesus. “[May God] give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what in the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe” (Eph, 1:17–19). Notice Paul’s distinction between the eyes of the head and the eyes of the heart. There is a heart-seeing, not just a head-seeing. There is a spiritual seeing and a physical seeing. And what he longs for us to see spiritually is “the hope to Which [God] has called” us, “the riches of his glorious inheritance,” and “the immeasurable greatness of his power.” In other words, what he wants us to see is the spiritual reality and value of these things, not just raw facts that unbelievers can read and repeat. That is not the point of spiritual seeing. Spiritual seeing is seeing spiritual things for what they really are—that is, seeing them as beautiful and valuable as they really are. —John Piper, God Is the Gospel (Crossway, 2005), 55–56.

The Glory of Christ

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus sake. For God, who said, Light shall shine out of darkness, is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; 2 Corinthians 4:37 The gospel is not about you. You most likely already know that. The gospel is about the glory of God in Christ. That is what Gods intent is, and it must be ours, too. Did you know that that is what the gospel is to Satan, as well? The god of this world hates the gospel and blinds the eyes of unbelievers to it because seeing the glory of God in Christ displayed is what liberates people from his power. Liberator from the Blinding Work of Satan Compare Christs commission to Paul in sending him out as his apostle. Christ says that he is sending Paul to the Gentiles in order to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me (Acts 26:18). In other words, in the ministry of the gospel through Paul the eyes of the spiritually blind are opened, light dawns in the heart, the power of Satans darkness is broken, faith is awakened, forgiveness of sins is received, and sanctification begins. In 2 Corinthians 4:7 Paul describes himself as a jar of clay with a powerful gospel inside: We have this treasure [the gospel of the glory of Christ] in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. His ministry is not to exalt himself. God sees to it that Paul has little ground for boasting-even among men. Afflictions and weaknesses abound (4:818). But that is no hindrance to letting the glory of the gospel shine. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus sake (4:5). Let There Be Light! God uses weak, afflicted clay pots to carry the surpassing power of the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ. What happens when these clay pots preach the gospel and offer themselves as servants? Verse 6 gives the answer: God, who said, Let light shine out of darkness, has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. This means that in the dark and troubled heart of unbelief, God does what he did in the dark and unformed creation at the beginning of our world. He said, Let there be light, and there was light. So he says to the blind and dark heart, Let there be light, and there is light in the heart of the sinner. In this light we see the glory of God in the face of Christ. Notice the Parallels between [2 Corinthians 4] verses 4 and 6. Verse 4Verse 6Satan blinds toGod Createsthe lightthe lightof the gospelof the knowledgeof the gloryof the gloryof Christ>---//--->of Godwho is the image of God>---//--->in the face of ChristIn verse 4 Satan blinds the mind; in verse 6 God creates light in the heart. Verse 4 describes the problem; verse 6 describes the remedy. These two verses are a description of the condition of all people before conversion, and what happens in conversion to bring about salvation. More than any part of the Bible that I know of, the connections between 2 Corinthians 4:4 and 6 shed light on the ultimate meaning of good in the term good news. The Gospel Is the Glory of Christ Lets be clear that we are talking about the gospel in these verses. The fact that Paul does not mention the facts of Christs life and death and resurrection does not mean he has left them behind. They remain the historical core of the gospel. There is no gospel without the declaration of Christ crucified for sinners and risen from the dead (1 Cor. 15:14). This is assumed here. When Paul speaks of the gospel of the glory of Christ, he means that the events of the gospel are designed by God to reveal the glory of Christ. This is not incidental to the gospelits essential. The gospel would not be good news if it did not reveal the glory of Christ for us to see and savor. It is the glory of Christ that finally satisfies our soul. We are made for Christ, and Christ died so that every obstacle would be removed that keeps us from seeing and savoring the most satisfying treasure in the universenamely, Christ, who is the image of God. The supreme value of the glory of Christ revealed in the gospel is what makes Satan so furious with the gospel. Satan is not mainly interested in causing us misery. He is mainly interested in making Christ look bad. He hates Christ. And he hates the glory of Christ. He will do all he can to keep people from seeing Christ as glorious. The gospel is Gods instrument for liberating people from exulting in self to exulting in Christ. Therefore Satan hates the gospel. John Piper, God Is the Gospel (Crossway, 2005), 6062.

The Same God?

Friday··2009·01·09 · 2 Comments
The claim that Christians, Jews, and Muslims worship the same God is becoming increasingly popular. We have heard this from the secular world for as long as I can remember, but now it is no longer surprising to hear it from those who profess to be Christians, as well. The following excerpt from Pipers God Is the Gospel shows why that claim can never be true. Knowing the Son Means Knowing the Father Only the Son and the Father have the capacity to know each other fully, since they have a wholly unique essencethey are God. Therefore, we cannot know them truly if it is not granted to us by a special work of grace. God the Spirit, in the service of the glory of God the Son, (John 16:14), grants us the spiritual capacity to know God the Father (John 3:68). Because of that new capacity to know God, the Son takes his divine prerogative to make the Father known to us. Thus Jesus says, No one knows the Son except the Father,. And no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him (Matt. 11:27). If the Son chooses to reveal the Father to us, then we have fellowship with both the Father and the Son through the life-giving Spirit. In this fellowship we enjoy seeing and savoring the glory of the Father and the Son. The Father and the Son are so inseparably one in glory and essence that knowing one implies knowing the other, and loving one implies loving the other. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God (1 John 4:15). Confessing Christ, the Son of God, results in the Fathers coming to us and manifesting himself to us. The Father and the Son are so united that to have one is to have the other. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also (1 John 2:23). Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son (2 John 9). There is no possibility of knowing God or having a saving relationship with God without knowing and trusting his Son. This is made clear over and overboth negatively and positively. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him (John 5:23). If you knew me, you would know my Father also (John 8:19). Whoever receives me receives him who sent me (Matt. 10:40). The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me (Luke 10:16). John Piper, God Is the Gospel (Crossway, 2005), 7273.

The Spirit & the Word

It is a great indication of the hubris of men that the Roman Catholic religion avers that the authority of Scripture has been given it by ecclesiastical decree. Calvin, of course, agrees with me: Not the Church but the Spirit Confirms the Word As John Calvin pondered the basis of our confidence in the gospel, he was dismayed that the Roman Catholic Church made the authority of the Word dependent on the authority of the church: A most pernicious error widely prevails that Scripture has only so much weight as is conceded to it by the consent of the church. As if the eternal and inviolable truth of God depended upon the decision of men! [John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Westminster Press, 1960), 1:75 (I.vii.1).]   How then shall we know for sure that the gospel is the word of God? How shall we be sure, not the just that these things happened, but that the biblical meaning given to the great events of the gospel is the true meaningGods meaning? Calvin continues: The testimony of the Spirit is more excellent than all reason. For as God is a fit witness of himself in his Word, so also the Word will not then find acceptance in mens hearts before it is sealed by the inward testimony of the Spirit. The same Spirit therefore who has spoken through the mouths of the prophets must penetrated into our hearts to persuade us that the faithfully proclaimed what had been divinely commanded . . . because until he illumines their minds, they ever waver among many doubts! [Ibid. 79 (I.vii.4).]John Piper, God Is the Gospel (Crossway, 2005), 7879.

Illumined by the Spirit

Continuing from last weeks entry from Pipers God Is the Gospel (and very much in tune with yesterdays post on Thomas Chalmers), in which we saw that the Word of God is confirmed by none other than his own Spirit, we will now see how that happens, and how it does not. Piper writes: The Unmistakable Majesty of God Manifest in the Word But how does this persuasion happen? Is it by the Spirit telling us a new factnamely, the whisper, This book is true? Do we hear a voice? That is not the way it happens. The glory of God in the gospel does not need another witness of that sort. How then does the internal testimony of the Spirit work in conjunction with the glory of God in the gospel? What does the Spirit do? The answer is not that the Spirit gives us added revelation to what is in Scripture, but that he awakens us, as from the dead, to see and taste the divine reality of the glory of Christ in the gospel. (Recall the seeing of 2 Corinthians 4:4, 6.) This sight authenticates the gospel as Gods own Word. Calvin says, Our Heavenly Father, revealing his majesty [in the gospel], lifts reverence for Scripture above the realm of controversy [Institutes, 1:92 (]. This is the key for Calvin: the witness of the gospel is the immediate, unassailable, life-giving revelation to the mind of the majesty of od manifest in the Word itselfnot in new revelation about it. We are almost at the bottom of this experience of the internal testimony of the Spirit. Here are the words that will take us deeper. Therefore illumined by [the Spirits] power, we believe neither by our own [note this!] nor by anyone elses judgment that Scripture is from God; but above human judgment we affirm with utter certainty (just as if we were gazing upon the majesty of god himself) that it has flowed to us from the very mouth of God by the ministry of men. [John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Westminster Press, 1960), 1:80 (I.vii.5).]John Piper, God Is the Gospel (Crossway, 2005), 79.

The Holy Spirit and the Glory of Christ

Friday··2009·01·30 · 2 Comments
Many people look for the Holy Spirit to work in spectacular, miraculous ways. But the Holy Spirit does not exist to amaze us with his power. In fact, he has no interest in doing so. His one purpose is to display the glory of Christ in the gospel. John Piper writes: [The Holy Spirit] will not do his sanctifying work by the use of his direct divine power. He will only do it by making the glory of Christ the immediate cause of it. This is the only way he works in evangelism, and this is the only way he works in sanctification. In evangelism the Holy Spirit opens the eyes of sinners to see the glory of Christ who is faithfully preached in the gospel. If Christ is not preached and his glory is not exalted, the Holy Spirit does not open our eyes, for there is no glorious Christ for us to see. The Holy Spirit, we might say, flies in perfect formation be hind the jet of the Christ-exalting gospel. he does his miraculous heart-opening work to make Christ seen and savored as he is preached in the gospel. The Spirit was sent to glorify the Son of God (John 16:14), and He would not save anyone apart from drawing their attention to the glory of the Son in the gospel. So it is with sanctification. We are transformed into Christs imagethats what sanctification isby steadfast seeing and savoring of the glory of Christ. This too is from the Lord who is the Spirit. This is the work of the Spirit: to shine the light of truth on the glory of Christ so that we see it for what it really is, namely, infinitely precious. The work of the Holy Spirit in changing us is not to work directly on our bad habits but to make us admire Jesus Christ so much that sinful habits feel foreign and distasteful. My aim here is not to spell this out in detail, but to point it out so that the gospel does its work decisively by revealing the glory of Christ who is the image of God. Therefore, if we neglect the glory of God in Christ as the greatest gift of the gospel, we cripple the sanctifying work of the church. John Piper, God Is the Gospel (Crossway, 2005), 9192.

Sorrow & Delight

Friday··2009·02·06 · 1 Comments
If it is true, as John Piper says, that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him, how does godly sorrow fit into the Christian life? In a sermon from 1723, titled The Pleasantness of Religion, Edwards addressed the question: How does the centrality of savoring the glory of God in the gospel relate to the pain of gospel-awakened contrition? Here is the key insight: There is repentance of sin: though it be a deep sorrow for sin that God requires as necessary to salvation, yet the very nature of it necessarily implies delight. Repentance of sin is a sorrow arising from the sight of Gods excellency and mercy, but the apprehension of excellency or mercy must necessarily and unavoidably beget pleasure in the mind of the beholder. Tis impossible that anyone should see anything that appears to him excellent and not behold it with pleasure, and its impossible to be affected with the mercy and love of God, and his willingness to be merciful to us and love us, and not be affected with pleasure at the thoughts of [it];but this is the very affection that begets true repentance. How much soever of a paradox it may seem, it is true that repentance is a sweet sorrow, so that the more of this sorrow, the more pleasure. [The Sermons of Jonathan Edwards: A Reader (Yale University Press, 1999), 1819.]   This is astonishing and true. What he is saying is that to bring people to the sorrow of repentance and contrition, you must bring them first to see the glory of God as their treasure and their delight. This is what happens in the gospel. The gospel is the revelation of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Cor. 4:4). True sorrow over sin is shown by the gospel to be what it really isthe result of failing to savor the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6). The sorrow of true contrition is sorrow for not having God as our all-satisfying treasure. But to be sorrowful over not savoring God, we must see God as our treasure, our sweetness. To grieve over not delighting in God, he must have become a delight to us. John Piper, God Is the Gospel (Crossway, 2005), 107108.

Gift-Cherishing, or God-Cherishing?

As we enjoy our gifts from God, how do we guard against valuing the gifts above the giver? John Piper examines The Line Between God-Cherishing Gratitude and Gift-Cherishing Idolatry. How do all the gifts that flow to us from the gospel relate to God as the ultimate and all important gift of the gospel? The challenge . . . is to walk a fine line between belittling the gifts of God and making the gifts of God into god. Its the line between God-cherishing gratitude and gift-cherishing idolatry. The truth I will try to unfold is that all the gifts of God are given for the sake of revealing more of Gods glory, so that the proper use of them is to rest our affections not on them but through them on God alone. What I mean by resting our affections is that the desires of our hearts find their end pointtheir goal, their resting placeonly in God, even though, as it were, they ride up to God on a thousand gifts. Augustine said, thou hast made us for thyself and our heart is restless until it repose in thee. This restlessness is a good thing when we find ourselves delighting in one of Gods gifts. Gifts of God should be enjoyed, whether it be the gift of salvation (1 Pet. 1:45) or food (1 Tim. 4:3; 67). But if our affections rest there, we become idolaters. So the aim of this chapter and the next is to show from scripture how blood-bought giftsone could say, gifts of the gospelpoint away from themselves to the one great gift of the gospel, God himself. . . . Consider first Gods manifold gifts that come to us in the accomplishment of our salvation. How shall we rejoice in them? Predestination is one of the first gifts of the gospel, even though it preceded the death of Christ in eternity. The spotless lamb, Jesus Christ, who was slain for our sins, was foreknown before the foundation of the world (1 Pet. 1:20). Because of his, God gave us grace before the ages began (2 Tim. 1:9). Therefore, Paul says, God predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:5) This predestination was Gods purpose to adopt us and make us holy and blameless before him in love. How then shall we rejoice in this amazing blood-bought gift of predestination? Paul gives the answer in Ephesians 1:6. He predestined us . . . to the praise of the glory of his grace (NASB). Gods aim in our predestination is that we admire and make much of the glory of his grace. In other words, the aim of predestining us is that grace would be put on display as glorious, and that we would see it and savor it and sing its praises. The glory of grace is the glory of God acting graciously. Therefore, the aim of predestination is that we savor God in his gracious saving action of predestination. The goal of predestination, and of the gospel acts that purchased it, is that we would be glad in praising the grace of God. John Piper, God Is the Gospel (Crossway, 2005), 117118.

That He Might Bring Us to God

What did the death of Christ accomplish? Depending on the context of the question, there are a number of correct answers. Ultimately, however, there was one single purpose. Whether one thinks of the work of Christ as accomplishing reconciliation or propitiation or penal satisfaction or redemption or justification or forgiveness of sins or liberation, the aim of them all is summed up in the ultimate gift of God himself. First Peter 3:18 is the clearest statement: Christ also suffered once for our sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God. Ephesians 2: 1318 is the next most explicit statement of this truth. In Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blod of Christ . . . . That he might . . . Reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross. . . . . For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. The ultimate aim of the blood of Christ is that we be brought near to God and have access in one Spirit to the Father. John Piper, God Is the Gospel (Crossway, 2005), 120121.

Gifts of the Gospel

In and through Christ believers are promised ���all things��� (Romans 8:32). What is ���all things���? Surely not everything we want. By the worldly, materialistic measure of ���all things,��� we are promised much less than ���all.��� But at the same time, by that standard, we are promised much more than we imagine. . . . The gospel has unleashed the omnipotent mercy of God so that thousands of other gifts flow to us from the gospel heart of God. I am thinking of a text like Romans 8:32: ���He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?��� This means that the heart of the gospel���God���s not sparing his own Son���is the guarantee that ���all things��� will be given to us. All things? What does that mean? It means the same thing that Romans 8:28 means: ���And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.��� God takes ���all things��� and makes them serve our ultimate good. It doesn���t mean we get everything our imperfect hearts want. It means we get what���s good for us. . . . Compare this with Philippians 4:19: ���My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.��� Every need! Does that mean we never have hard times? Evidently not. Seven verses earlier Paul said, ���I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me��� (vv. 12-13). This is amazing. God meets ���every need��� (v. 19). Therefore, I have learned how to face ���hunger��� and ���need��� (v. 12). I can do ���all things��� through him who strengthens me���including be hungry and be in need! I conclude from this that for Christians everything we need���in order to do God���s will and magnify him���will be supplied. According to Romans 8:32 this was secured by the gospel. It is stated even more strikingly in Romans 8:35���37. Here the love of Christ guarantees that we will be more than conquerors in every circumstance, including the circumstance of being killed. ���Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ���For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.��� No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.��� Astonishing! We are more than conquerors as we are being killed all day long! So nothing can separate us from Christ���s love, not because Christ���s love protects us from harm, but because it protects us from the ultimate harm of unbelief and separation from the love of God. The gospel gift of God���s love is better than life. ���John Piper, God Is the Gospel (Crossway, 2005), 124���125.

The Gratitude of Hypocrites

Friday··2009·03·06 · 2 Comments
The prophet Jeremiah wrote, The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it? We would be wise to meditate on those words frequently, as this sickness of our hearts tends to infect our very best thoughts. This is well illustrated as John Piper asks if gratitude to God and even gratitude for the cross can be idolatrous. . . . gratitude that is pleasing to God is not first a delight in the benefits God gives (though that will be part of it). True gratitude must be rooted in something else that comes firstnamely, a delight in the beauty and excellency of Gods character. If this is not the foundation of our gratitude, then it is not above what the natural man, apart from the Spirit and the new nature in Christ, experiences. In that case gratitude to God is no more pleasing to God than all the other emotions that unbelievers have without delighting in him. You would not be honored if I thanked you often for your gifts to me but had no deep and spontaneous regard for you as a person. You would feel insulted, no matter how much I thanked you for your gifts. If your character and personality do not attract me or give me joy in being around you, then you will just feel used, like a tool or a machine to produce the things I really love. So it is with God. If we are not captured by his personality and character, displayed in his saving work, then all our declarations of thanksgiving are like the gratitude of a wife to a husband for the money she gets from him to use in her affair with another man. . . . It is amazing that this same idolatry is sometimes even true when people thank God for sending Christ to die for them. Perhaps you have heard people say how thankful we should be for the death of Christ because it shows how much value God puts upon us. In other words, they are thankful for the cross as a echo of our worth. What is the foundation of this gratitude? Jonathan Edwards calls it the gratitude of hypocrites. Why? Because they first rejoice, and are elevated with the fact that they are made much of by God; and then on that ground, [God] seems in a sort, lovely to them. . . . They are pleased in the highest degree, in hearing how much God and Christ make of them. So that their joy is really a joy in themselves, and not in God [Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections, in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 2, ed. John Smith (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1959), 250, 251]. It is a shocking thing to learn that one of todays most common descriptions of the crossnamely, how much of our value it celebratesmay well be a description of natural self-love with no spiritual value. Oh, that we would all heed the wisdom of Jonathan Edwards here. He is simply spelling out what it means to do all thingsincluding giving thanksto the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). He is showing us what the gospel is for. It is for the glory of God. And God is not glorified if the foundation of our gratitude for the gospel is the worth of its gifts and not the value of the Giver. If gratitude for the gospel is not rooted in the glory of God beneath the gift of God, it is disguised idolatry. May God grant us a heart to see in the gospel the light of the glory of God in the face of Christ. May he grant us to delight in him for who he is, so that all our gratitude for his gifts will be the echo of our joy in the excellency of the Giver! John Piper, God Is the Gospel (Crossway, 2005), 137138. I was reminded, as I read this, of gifts I receive from my children. Those gifts often have little or no value at all. I often have no use for them, except to clutter up my desk until such a time as I can discreetly tuck them away (I do usually save them). I have a box full of cards and crayon drawings that I will never part with, because those gifts are precious to me. Their value to me is certainly not in their quality or usefulness. I value them simply because their givers, little sinners with bad handwriting and spelling, who need me and owe me their gratitude, are precious to me. How much more ought this to be true of the gifts I receive from the Lord of the universe, who has no need of me and owes me nothing! Shouldnt he be infinitely more precious to me?

Testing Our Hearts

The Christian life is not wrapped up in doing, but in being. It follows, then, that we ought not to judge ourselves primarily by our actions, but by our motives. John Piper writes: A Personal Test for What Is Ultimate in Our Hearts We should test ourselves with some questions. It is right to pursue likeness to Christ. But the question is, why? What is the root of our motivation? Consider some attributes of Christ that we might pursue, and ask these questions: Do I want to be strong like Christ, so I will be admired as strong, or so that I can defeat every adversary that will entice me to settle for any pleasure less than admiring the strongest person in the universe, Christ? Do I want to be wise like Christ, so that I will be admired wise and intelligent or so I can discern and admire the one who is most truly wise? Do I want to be holy like Christ, so that I will be admired as holy, or so that I can be free from all unholy inhibitions that keep me from seeing and savoring the holiness of Christ? Do I want to be loving like Christ, so that I will be admired as a loving person, or so that I will enjoy extending to others, even in sufferings, the all satisfying love of Christ? The question is not whether we will have all this glorious likeness to Christ. We will. The question is: to what end? Everything in Romans 8:2930all of Gods work, his choosing us, predestining us, calling us, justifying us, bringing us to final gloryis designed by God not ultimately to make much of us, but to free us and fit us to enjoy seeing and making much of Christ forever. John Piper, God Is the Gospel (Crossway, 2005), 159160.

God Is the Gospel (Habakkuk 3:1718)

I’ve been sitting on this post for a couple of weeks, wondering if it is needlessly contentious. Perhaps it is, but having nothing else to say today, I’m posting it anyway. Warning: At the time of this writing, I had loosed my inner curmudgeon. It was predictable. Tim Challies posted a nice review of The Search for God and Guinness by Stephen Mansfield, the beer alarm went off, and ignorant legalism abounded in the comments. The most ignorant of all are those who actually believe alcohol consumption is sinful. Most are not that ignorant. But admitting, as we must and most will, that Scripture does not forbid it, there will still always be a vocal bunch who say we ought to avoid offending the so-called “weaker brother.” So I’ll just come right out and say it: Christians who want to drink—I’m thinking particularly of believers in the United States—should usually just do it, pretty much wherever they are, no matter who is looking. Forget about offending Christians who don’t like it. About this time in 2006, I wrote a series of posts on the subject of alcohol consumption called God Gave C2H6O. At that time, I had a much more conciliatory attitude toward Christian prohibitionists than I do now. That is not to say that I was very soft on them then; I wasn’t. However, I have had several occasions during the last four years to consider whether I should be a little more accommodating, and each time, I have come to the same conclusion: no, I should not. In fact, I am convinced I should be less accommodating than I have been. I don’t mean that I want to be cantankerous and start arguments about it; I don’t even want to talk very much about. I mean that I’m through looking around and wondering who might be offended, and altering my behavior accordingly. Read John Piper on Why Was Timothy Circumcised?* If you understand Piper’s reasoning of why Titus was not circumcised, you’ll understand why I don’t think we should cater to the feelings of legalists in the church. I think our situation today, concerning alcohol, is much more Titus than Timothy. It’s a gospel issue. So here is my response to Christian prohibitionists and abstentionists, á la Galatians 5:11–13: I wish you would stop drinking altogether, and dehydrate completely. * Don’t get me started on that.

Filling Up the Afflictions of Christ

This morning, I began reading the fifth volume in John Pipers biographical series, The Swans are Not Silent. In this volume, entitled Filling Up the Afflictions of Christ: The Cost of Bringing the Gospel to the Nations in the Lives of William Tyndale, Adoniram Judson, and John Paton, Piper draws vital theological lessons from three men whose lives are chronicles of sacrifice and suffering for the sake of the gospel. In his introduction, he sets the tone by presenting an important fact of Christian life: suffering and martyrdom are not merely unfortunate results of service to Christ in a lost world; they are part of Gods design. Piper writes: The truth that is especially illustrated by the lives of these servants is that Gods strategy for breaking through Satans authority in the world, and spreading the gospel, and planting the church includes the sacrificial suffering of his frontline heralds. Again I emphasize, since it is so easily missed, that I am not referring only to the fact that suffering results from frontline proclamation. I am referring also to the fact that this suffering is one of Gods intended strategies for the success of his mission. Jesus said to his disciples as he sent them out: Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. (Matthew 10:16) There is no doubt what usually happens to a sheep in the midst of wolves. And Paul confirmed the reality in Romans 8:36, quoting Psalm 44:22: As it is written, For your sake we are being killed all the say ling; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered. Jesus knew this would be the portion of his darkness-penetrating, mission-advancing, church-planting missionaries. Tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword (Romans 8:35)that is what Paul expected, because that is what Jesus promised. Jesus continued: Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors an kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. (Matthew 10:1718) Notice that the witness before governors and kings is not a mere result or consequence, but a design. Literally: You will be dragged before . . . kings for a witness to them [eis marturion autois]. Gods design for reaching some governors and kings is the persecution of his people. Why this design for missions? One answer from the Lord Jesus goes like this: A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. . . . If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household. (Matthew 10:2425) Suffering was not just a consequence of the Masters obedience and mission. It was the central strategy of his mission. It was the way he accomplished our salvation. Jesus calls us to join him in the Calvary Road, to take up our cross daily, to hate our lives in this world, and to fall into the ground like a seed and die, that others might live. We are not above our Master. To be sure, our suffering does not atone for anyones sins, but it is a deeper way of doing missions than we often realize. When the martyrs cry out to Christ from under the alter in heaven, How long before you will judge and avenge our blood? they are told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been (Revelation 6:1011). Martyrdom is not the mere consequence of radical love and obedience; it is the keeping if an appointment set in heaven for a certain number: Wait till the number of martyrs is complete who are to be killed. Just as Christ died to save the unreached peoples of the world, so some missionaries are to die to save the people of the world. John Piper, Filling Up on the Afflictions of Christ: The Cost of Bringing the Gospel to the Nations in the Lives of William Tyndale, Adoniram Judson, and John Paton (Crossway, 2009), 1921.

A High Price Tag

I scanned my shelves this morning and counted Bibles. In my office alone, I found three readers Bibles, eight Study Bibles, one Parallel Bible, two Greek New Testaments, one Harmony of the Gospels, and one Harmony of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles. If I lost all those, I could still find at least two complete Bibles and a couple of nearly complete Bibles in commentary sets, plus the Gospels, Psalms, and other books in various other commentaries. I also have a Douay-Rheims, a New World Translation, and an NIV parked between Charles Finney and Rick Warren, but Im not counting those. Then there are the ten-or-so paperbacks Ive got for giving away. If I went through the whole house, Im sure I could find a dozen and a half more. The point, as youve probably guessed, is that thats a lot of Bibles. I admit that I seldom give much thought to this abundance of treasure. Only occasionally do I think of the history of the Biblemy English Bible, to be preciseand what it cost and who paid the price so I could have just one. Five hundred years ago, men like William Tyndale paid the ultimate price to bring the Bible, in English, to common folks like me. Having promoted the Reformation teachings of Luther, Tyndale had fled King Henry VIII and England and gone into hiding on the continent. Eventually, Henry was inclined to mercy, and an English merchant named Stephen Vaughn was commissioned to find Tyndale and ask him to return home to England. Vaughn, having found Tyndale, informed the King in a letter, I find him always singing one note. John Piper writes:    The thirty-seven-year-old Tyndale was moved to tears by this offer of mercy. He had been in exile away from his homeland for seven years. But then he sounded his one note again: Will the king authorize a vernacular English Bible from the original languages? Vaughan gives us Tyndales words from May 1531: I assure you, if it would stand with the Kings most gracious pleasure to grant only a bare text of Scripture [that is, without explanatory notes] to be put forth among his people, like as is put forth among the subjects of the emperor in these parts, and other Christian prices, be it of the translation of what person soever shall please his Majesty, I shall immediately make faithful promise never to write more, nor abide two days in these parts after the same: but immediately to repair unto his realm, and there most humbly submit myself at the feet of his royal majesty, offering my body to suffer what pain or torture, yea, what death his grace will, so this be obtained. Until that time, I will abide the asperity of all chances, whatsoever shall come, and endure my life in as many pains as it is able to bear and suffer. In other words, Tyndale would give himself up to the king on one conditionthat the king authorize an English Bible translated from the Greek and Hebrew in the common language of the people. The king refused. And Tyndale never went to his homeland again. Instead, if the king and the Roman Catholic Church would not provide a printed Bible in English for the common man to read, Tyndale would, even if it cost him his lifewhich it did five years later. John Piper, Filling Up on the Afflictions of Christ: The Cost of Bringing the Gospel to the Nations in the Lives of William Tyndale, Adoniram Judson, and John Paton (Crossway, 2009), 2829. Tyndale was forced to do all of his translating and writing as an exiled fugitive. Multitudes were tortured and killed for smuggling his books into England, or for simply possessing them. In 1535, he was befriended by an Englishman named Henry Philips. Philips, over several months, won Tyndales trust with the intention of betraying him. On October 6, 1536, at the age of forty-two, Tyndale was strangled and burned at the stake.

The Weight of Gods Glory

The following excerpt from Preaching the Cross is addressed to pastors. Most of us are not pastors, so we may tend to read, nod our heads, and think, Yes, thats how they should do it. However, I want us to replace the words preacher and pastor with our own names or personal pronouns, and preaching with our own witness or testimony. How do we present Christ to the world? Is there a weight to our witness? Do we provoke serious thought about the majesty of God, the heinous nature of sin, and the grave consequences for sinners? Or are we just talking cartoon vegetables?    God did not ordain the cross of Christ or create the lake of fire in order to communicate the significance of belittling his glory. The death of the Son of God and the damnation of unrepentant human beings are the loudest shouts under heaven that God is infinitely holy, and sin is infinitely offensive, and wrath is infinitely just, and grace is infinitely precious, and our brief lifeand the life of every person in your church and in your communityleads to everlasting joy or everlasting suffering. If our preaching does not carry the weight of these things to our people, what will? Veggie Tales? . . . God planned for his Son to be crucified (Rev. 13:8; 2 Tim. 1:9) and for hell to be terrible (Matt. 25:41) so that we would have the clearest witnesses possible to what is at stake when we preach. What gives preaching its seriousness is that the mantle of the preacher is soaked with the blood of Jesus and singed with the fire of hell. Thats the mantle that turns mere talkers into preachers. Yet tragically some of the most prominent evangelical voices today diminish the horror of the cross and the horror of hellthe one stripped of its power to bear our punishment, and the other demythologized into self-dehumanization and the social miseries of this world. Oh, that the rising generations would see that the world is not overrun with a sense of seriousness about God. There is no surplus in the church of a sense of Gods glory; there is no excess of earnestness in the church about heaven and hell and sin and salvation, and, therefore, the joy of many Christians is paper thin. By the millions, people are amusing themselves to death with DVDs and 107-inch TV screens and games on their cell phones, and slapstick worship . . . And yet incomprehensibly, in this Christ-diminishing, soul-destroying age, books and seminars and divinity schools and church growth specialists are bent on saying to young pastors, lighten up, get funny, and do something amusing. To this I ask, where is the spirit if Jesus? If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it (Matt. 16:24-25). If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell (Matt. 5:29). Any one of you who does not renounce all that he had cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:33). If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:26). Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead (Matt. 8:22). Whoever would be first among you must be slave of all (Mark 10:44). Fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell (Matt 10:28). Some of you they will put to death. . . . But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives (Luke 21:16-19). Would the church growth counsel to Jesus be, Lighten up, Jesus. Do something amusing, and to the young pastor, Whatever you do, young pastor, dont be like the Jesus of the Gospels. Lighten up? From my perspective, which feels very close to eternity these days, that message to pastors sounds increasingly insane. John Piper, (Crossway, 2007), 105108. is a collection of messages from the 2006 Together for the Gospel Conference. You can download the entire message from which todays quotation was taken here.
And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” And in the same way He the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.” —Luke 22:19–20 Memo to Dr. Luther and all my Lutheran friends, whom I love: There have been several different understandings of what Jesus meant by taking the bread and saying, “This is my body, which is given for you” (Luke 22:19) and by taking the cup and saying, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt. 26:28). Was he saying that the cup and the bread were signs of his body and blood, or that they somehow were transformed into the very body and blood of Jesus? It was natural then, and it is natural today, to point to a representation of something and say that the representation is the thing. For example, I look at a photograph of our house and say, “This is our house.” It would not enter anyone’s mind to think I mean that the photograph was transformed into my house. If Jesus stooped down and drew a camel in the sand, He would say, “This is a camel.” The drawing doesn’t become a camel. It represents a camel. We know he used language this way because in the parable of the four soils, he interprets the images of four kinds of people with these words: “As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy” (Matt. 13:20). He means the rocky ground represents a kind of person. There is nothing modern or strange about this way of thinking, and it is the most natural way to understand Jesus’ words. The cup and the body represent his blood and body. Moreover, if we insist on saying that “this is my body” and “this is my blood” must refer to the physical body and blood of Jesus, what becomes of the statement, “This cup . . . is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20)? Are we to say that the cup is the new covenant in the same way that the cup is the blood? Surely, “this cup . . . is the new covenant” means “this cup represents the new covenant that will be purchased and inaugurated by my bloodshedding tomorrow morning.” Therefore, it seems wise to understand the words “this is my body” and “this is my blood” to mean: “The cup and bread represent my physical body and blood offered up for you in death as a sacrifice for your sins.” —John Piper, What Jesus Demands from the World (Crossway, 2006), 347–348. This post is among several that have been lost. Thanks to Google and the elephantine memory of the internet, I was able to restore it. I am not able to restore comments to their normal place, so, since this was an unusually good discussion, I have reproduced them below. Christina What of the rest of the passage? What of Jesus' clarification that "My flesh is real food and my blood is real drink?" What of the fact that Jesus lost many followers after this meal, followers who just "could not accept" Christ's teachings? Piper's explanation focuses on just one sentence made by Christ when in reality, He said much more that night. David Kjos Christina, Short answer: 1) What of any number of other figurative expressions in the Bible? 2) You're confusing the Lord's last supper in the upper room with the Jesus' Bread of Life sermon in John 6. Longer answer: John 6:48 "I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh." 52 Then the Jews began to argue with one another, saying, "How can this man give us His flesh to eat?" 54 So Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. 54 He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. 56 He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me. 58 This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever." Jesus said he was bread, then he said his flesh was food, and his blood drink. Then he said he was bread again. Elsewhere, he said he was the light (John 8, 9), the door and the good shepherd (John 10), and the vine (John 15). Is he really bread? Light? A door? A vine? Are we really branches, or sheep? Finally, that "as a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore" is a commentary on the nature of their faith. Regarding the question at hand, it is neither here nor there. Christina Thank you for your reply. I did not mean to imply that the bread of life sermon and the Last Supper were one and the same. Obviously however, Christ's words on the subject are connected. Though Christ used many metaphors in his teaching, he seems to go out of his way to emphasize that this teaching about bread and wine is not metaphorical. As for his followers' deserting Jesus, John 6:60-66 is very, very explicit with the fact that he was deserted for this specific teaching on Christ's flesh and blood: "This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?" Jesus replies, "Does this offend you?" This was not a general disagreement in overall beliefs here - the followers found something upsetting about this specific teaching. It seems strange to me that the followers would balk at a simple metaphor if that is in fact what Christ's language implies. Anyhow, I thank you for the commentary and for your response. David Kjos I should assume, then, that you believe that Christ intended his disciples to actually eat his flesh and drink his blood, not to eat and drink bread and wine and understand it metaphorically as flesh and blood. Otherwise, you are admitting it is metaphor. Was Jesus buried, resurrected, and ascended into heaven in the flesh, or did his disciples eat him? Something in this equation is figurative. If it isn't food/blood/eat, I'd like to know what it is. (A metaphor, as you apparently don't know, is an analogy drawn between two different things or actions by saying that one is the other, e.g. "I am the door." Compare to simile: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed . . .") And again, regarding John 6:60ff, your insistence that the response of some to Jesus' teaching in any way interprets the teaching begs the question. Your interpretation depends on the a priori assumption of your interpretation. Your argument can be expressed by the following syllogism: Jesus said a. a was unacceptable to many. Therefore, a means b. How did we get to "a means b"? By assuming it in advance, obviously. The fact that Jesus' teaching offended some is no interpretation of the teaching itself. We are not told, "They understood him to mean _____, and since they couldn't accept it, left him." We aren't told what they thought he meant, only that they couldn't accept it. And even if we were, that would be no indication of the actual meaning of Jesus' words, but only of their understanding of them. David So Jesus can't be present in the bread and the wine? David Kjos David, That's the wrong question. The question is not what can be, but what is. The question is also not is Jesus present, but is the bread and wine actual flesh and blood, or representative of flesh and blood. The point of this post is to answer Lutherans who want to find a middle ground between those two options. The plain meaning of the text eliminates that dilemma. When we read the text literally (recognizing literary form), the metaphor becomes obvious. Can Jesus be present, and if so, in what sense? The answer to that is somewhat complex, and I don't have time to answer that here and now. I suggest consulting R. C. Sproul, Kingdom Feast (particularly lecture 6, The Presence of Christ) for a good answer to that. David Hello David, Paul writes in 1 Cor 10: 16The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? 17Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. 'participation/sharing IN the blood of Christ', and 'participation/sharing IN the body of Christ'. 'is it' is estin. Paul could have used a different term if he wanted to convey signifies, but he doesn't. He looks to me to be convinced (but misled you might say) that the churches of the saints were participating IN the body and IN the blood. How are you going to explain that away? In greek it can be translated as 'is it not the blood' and 'is it not the body' and no other translations seems to be available. You ask in what sense can Jesus be present? We say, 'in with and under'. It is a mystery, but that doesn't make it any the less implausible. what is implausible, is that Jesus would institute anything as solemn as this communion, and it clearly was, and it was his last act with the apostles, with the words that He has used, that translate freely from the Greek, and have it seen as a mere memorial. This IS my body. 'Is' could have been said as 'signifies', there are alternatives. Would Jesus have it that we battle over the word 'is'? It is clear, but it is spiritual. We see things in a physical sense, our minds battle against spiritual things. 'Is'! No it can't be. How can this bread, this wine, be 'is'? I became a Lutheran in 1993 and it has taken me until this year, to finally agree with Luther. My understanding HAD to be based on scripture, but it also had to be based on whether or not 'is' should be seen as 'signifies' or 'is' as in 'it is hot'. The following is from The guy may be RC, but I don't see his reasoning as being anything but impartial. 'From a linguistic perspective I would consider it problematic to represent the Greek word esti in English with the word "signifies." Esti (which sometimes appears with a nu after it as "estin") is just the Greek equivalent of "is." It's the verb "to be" in the third person singular form (present tense, active voice, indicative mood), and it would translate as "(he/she/it) is." Esti works just the same way that "is" does in English. In both languages, the verb "to be" can be used to signify existence (as in "God is") or predication ("the grass is green") or equivalence ("Bruce Wayne is Batman"). It can also be used literally ("Jesus is the Son of God") or figuratively ("King Herod is a sly fox"). The latter seems to be a special case of equivalence. We do see passages in the New Testament where esti is used figuratively. For example, in Revelation 17:9 John is told, "the seven heads [of the beast] are seven mountains on which the woman is seated." The word for "are" here is "eisi(n)" which is just the plural form of "esti(n)," the way that "are" is the plural of "is." Here we have a figurative use of "is," and the seven heads do signify seven mountains. However, I would resist translating eisi as "signifies." That's not what the word means in Greek. What it means is "are." It's being used to convey the idea of signification, but that's its connotation rather than its denotation. It would be legitimate to use the connotation of a word as a translation if the receptor language can't express the same thought any other way (e.g., in languages that don't have the verb "to be"), but if the receptor language (English in this case) has exactly the same usage of exactly the same verb (it does) then the thing to do is translate the word according to its actual meaning, which is "is." To render esti in English as "signifies" is not actual translation. It's paraphrase. Paraphrase is warranted when actual translation is impossible or when it would be misleading, but when the receptor language accomodates a straightforward translation, it should be used. We otherwise run the risk of the translator's own biases distorting the message in the original. Whenever possible the original should be presented to the reader in the receptor language, and he should be allowed to determine the connotation of what is being said.' Your thoughts? David Kjos David, Having been raised Lutheran, I'm fairly familiar with the Lutheran position, and the confusing "in, with, and under" language. But you're still missing the point. There is no question about the correct translation of words here. The word is "is." We know that. If there was no "is" (or other form of "to be"), we could not call it a metaphor. Translation is not the issue. The issue is interpretation. The literary form in this case, a is not a, is metaphor. To ignore that is to fail to interpret literally. David Hello David, I thought I did get the point, hence the long reply regarding what 'is' is. This is not a case of a drawing or a photograph representing anything. The confusing 'in with and under' is a way of describing the mystery of how God works through bread and wine. Sacrament itself is based on the greek mysterion, recognising that we can't understand how such a thing as 'This is my body' is to be understood to be fulfilled. John Piper admits it when he says: 'Therefore, it seems wise to understand the words "this is my body" and "this is my blood" to mean: "The cup and bread represent my physical body and blood offered up for you in death as a sacrifice for your sins." ' He doesn't know. He's applying human wisdom to something unfathomable. 'Is' is used by Jesus Christ, not 'signifies', not 'represents', not 'is a picture', not 'is a drawing'. We say, let God be God, when we hit things that are beyond our puny wisdom. For John Piper to write 'it is wise to understand . . .', he is placing human wisdom onto a simple 'is', because we don't get it. 'to ignore that is to fail to interpret literally'. That 'is' means 'is' is a failure to interpret literally? Interpreting 'is' as 'represents' is not a literal interpretation. David Kjos David, I have stated very clearly that I know what "is" means. But words don't stand alone. When the verb "to be" is placed between two distinctly different nouns, that is a metaphor, and we do not insist that the one thing actually is the other. This is what it means to interpret literally. We have to recognize the literary genres and devices used by the author: simile, metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, hyperbole, etc. If you don't do that, you are not interpreting literally. If you persist in ignoring the metaphor here, I'll have to assume that you believe Jesus is made out of wood, steel, or maybe fiberglass, and has hinges on one side and a lock on the other, because he said "I am the door," and "am" means "am." But it goes without saying that such an interpretation is obtuse. It is not interpreting literally; it is, in fact, failing to interpret at all. If you don't like "represents," that's fine; there are other, possibly better, ways it could be expressed. How the metaphor should be interpreted may be open for debate, but what absolutely cannot be denied is the fact that it is a metaphor. David Hello David, Sorry I haven't replied earlier, other things ... Where do you get 'to be' from in the scripture surrounding 'This is my body'? 'Is' does not correspond with 'to be' ... there's a line there but I won't take it:) In regard to Jesus' I am statements, he continues beyond I am the door, by explaining the metaphor e.g. No-one comes to the Father except through me. ditto with Light, Shepherd, etc. Jesus also says, 'I am working', which is clearly not a metaphor, and nor does he need to explain it to the disciples. He explains metaphors. Please don't suggest I am a fool because I disagree with you. Like yourself, there have been many from both sides of the coin (about HC) who we would both admire for their faith,and works, even if there are aspects about their understanding that we might disagree with. To suggest that I am of such a low intelligence that I cannot recognise an obvious metaphor is indicative of frustration on your part. I get the same from premillenialists. David Kjos David, I haven't suggested you're a fool, and if I do, it won't be for disagreeing with me; it will be for being unteachable. What I have done is attempt to correct your ignorance. I also have not suggested that you are "of such low intelligence" that you cannot recognize an obvious metaphor; my impression, i.e., that you stubbornly refuse to acknowledge one, is actually much less complimentary than that. Now, obviously you need a little grammar lesson: English conjugation of "to be" Infinitive: be Present Participle: being Past participle: been 1st person singular: I am/was 2nd person singular: you are/were 3rd person singular: he/she/it is/was 1st person plural: we are/were 2nd person plural: you are/were 3rd person plural: they are/were "I am working" is not a metaphor. The structure of a metaphor is subject [to be] predicate nominative. "Am working" is the predicate; "am," in this case is an auxiliary, or helping, verb. In a metaphor, [to be] is the lexical, or main, verb. That structure is what indicates a metaphor. Whether or not they are explained--and they usually are not--they are metaphors. "This is my body/blood" has the structure of a metaphor. Is it? Unless you believe that the bread of the Lord's Table is actual muscle from the incarnate body of Jesus, and the wine is actual blood from his veins, you must answer, "Yes, it is a metaphor." Then, you can go on to consider how the metaphor is to be taken. David Hello David, Thank you, sincerely, for your reply. I am going to take some time to construct a reply, so please don't think me rude for not giving you a fuller response right now. David Hello David, I agree that we are not dealing with actual muscle and blood, and therefore, to consider Jesus statements as metaphor is a natural and logical response. Before I go any further, and possibly waste our time, what do you believe occurs with Holy Communion? Do you agree with Calvin? or Zwingli? or some other understanding. Piper holds that Jesus Christ's body and blood are experienced spiritually when the bread and wine are eaten. Is this your understanding? David Kjos David, I agree with Zwingli's position as far as I understand it. I'm not aware of any significant difference between Calvin and Zwingli on this, though there might be. Calvin said that Christ consecrated the bread and wine as symbols of his body and blood, and so I believe. In his Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, he wrote This is my body. As to the opinion entertained by some, that by those words the bread was consecrated, so as to become the symbol of the flesh of Christ, I do not find fault with it, provided that the word consecrated be understood aright, and in a proper sense. So then, the bread, which had been appointed for the nourishment of the body, is chosen and sanctified by Christ to a different use, so as to begin to be spiritual food. . . . Christ declares that the bread is his body. These words relate to a sacrament; and it must be acknowledged, that a sacrament consists of a visible sign, with which is connected the thing signified, which is the reality of it. I would further stipulate that Christ's body and blood are metonymies (a figure similar to metaphor) for his death. That is, there is no unique value in the actual flesh and blood of Jesus--it is no different from yours or mine, and to think otherwise is papist superstition. So the spiritual benefits of the Lord's Table are through faith in the substitution of Christ for us on the cross. The sacrament is the symbol of Christ's death. Our participation in it is the symbol of the reality expressed in Galatians 2:20: "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me." David Hello David, Zwingli: "To eat the body of Christ sacramentally, if we wish to speak accurately, is to eat the body of Christ in heart and spirit with the accompaniment of the sacrament...You eat the body of Christ spiritually, though not sacramentally, every time you comfort your heart in its anxious query 'How will you be saved'...When you comfort yourself thus, I say, you eat his body spiritually, that is, you stand unterrified in God against all attacks of despair, through confidence in the humanity he took upon himself for you. But when you come to the Lord's Supper with this spiritual participation and give thanks unto the Lord for his kindness, for the deliverance of your soul, through which you have been delivered from the destruction of despair, and for the pledge by which you have been made sure of everlasting blessedness, and along with the brethren partake of the bread and wine which are the symbols of the body of Christ, then you eat him sacramentally, in the proper sense of the term, when you do internally what you represent externally, when your heart is refreshed by this faith to which you bear witness by these symbols" (Zwingli's Fidei Expositio in "Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries pp.190-191). Z rationalises; there is no action by God. Calvin (from: also wrote: "We begin now to enter on the question so much debated, both anciently and at the present time--how we are to understand the words in which the bread is called the body of Christ, and the wine his blood. This may be disposed of without much difficulty, if we carefully observe the principle which I lately laid down, viz., that all the benefit which we should seek in the Supper is annihilated if Jesus Christ be not there given to us as the substance and foundation of all. That being fixed, we will confess, without doubt, that to deny that a true communication of Jesus Christ is presented to us in the Supper, is to render this holy sacrament frivolous and useless--an execrable blasphemy unfit to be listened to." Calvin admits the necessity of the presence of Christ. Paul writes 1Cor 11: 29For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not discern the body [Christ] rightly. If Z is right, what on earth is Paul writing about? He's clearly mad! How could simple bread and wine cause a person to 'eats and drinks judgment if he does not discern the body rightly'? David, the early Christians were accused of cannibalism by the Romans because of these words and their belief regarding them. They were killed for not withdrawing their belief. It wasn't until the 13th century that the RC invented their belief of physical change. The didache states: You must not let anyone eat or drink of your Eucharist except those baptized in the Lord's name. For in reference to this the Lord said, "Do not give what is sacred to dogs". Sacred? Baptised? for a memorial? The didache also states: On every Lord's Day--his special day--come together and break bread and give thanks, first confessing your sins so that your sacrifice may be pure. Anyone at variance with his neighbor must not join you, until they are reconciled, lest your sacrifice be defiled. For it was of this sacrifice that the Lord said, "Always and everywhere offer me a pure sacrifice; for I am a great King, says the Lord, and my name is marveled at by the nations." Why confess your sins prior to the Lord's Supper, why reconcile with your neighbour, why is it called a 'sacrifice' by us, if it is JUST a memorial? It is incredible, that such simple words, in Greek, or Aramaic, or English, 'This(is) my body' can't be accepted at face value. How much more simpler could my Lord Jesus have put it? David Kjos David, I'm not going to defend Zwingli, as I don't know him well enough to know that I want to. Since I never quoted him in the first place, you're wasting your time refuting him here. And the Didache--seriously? I think we had best stick to Scripture. I only quoted Calvin because you asked if I agreed with him; I looked up what he said regarding the text in question so I could answer your question accurately. Now, I haven't said that Christ is not present. As we gather together to "do this in remembrance of [him]," what could be a more perfect example of the reality of Matthew 18:20, "For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst"? Certainly he is present, but it is a spiritual presence. The presence of Christ will always be spiritual until he returns in the flesh (this is a fact dictated by the indivisibility of the two natures of Christ). You ask, "How could simple bread and wine cause a person to 'eats and drinks judgment if he does not discern the body rightly'?" Remember, as I said in my last comment, not only are bread and wine symbols for body and blood, body and blood are symbols for death: "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes" (1 Corinthians 11:26). When one does not rightly discern (understand) the death of Christ and what it accomplished, i.e. the atonement, he brings judgment upon himself. It is akin to taking the Lord's name in vain: the Lord will not hold him guiltless who does so. Final points: We don't believe, and I haven't said, that the Lord's Supper is just a memorial, so I won't go down that trail. The Romans accused the Christians of cannibalism because they misunderstood the words "this is my body" in the same way papists do, which is similar to the way you are understanding it. Finally, we do take the words "this is my body" at face value. What in the world can you mean by that, having already admitted that "body" is not actual meat? I think I've covered what that face value is. I think I've gone as far as I care to go with this. If you really want to understand this, I encourage you to get Sproul's Kingdom Feast, which I recommended above. If you still don't get it then, I'm sure I can't help you. David Hello David, Take care. Enjoyed the debate.--In Christ David

The Rooster Does Not Cause the Sunrise

Iain Murray: It is currently popular in some quarters to treat prayer as the great key to revival. Failure in prayer, it is said, explains the absence of revival; an awakening would be certain if only enough Christians could be brought to pray for it. Iain Murray, Pentecost Today? (Banner of Truth, 1998), 64. Murray names two lines of thought [that] support this understanding of the place of prayer: God has promised to hear prayer. (Isaiah 44:3; 45:11; Ezekiel 36:37; Luke 11:13; Matthew 6:6) History shows that it is when earnest prayer is multiplied that revivals occur. In looking at the first of these two arguments, Murray writes, we must say that it is true, yet it is not the whole truth. More needs to be said about the nature of effective prayer. He notes that A. W. Tozer pointed to the fact that there has been a great deal of prayer for revival, yet we go on at a pretty dying rate. The answer to that puzzle, Murray writes, surely has to do with how God comes into effective prayer. He goes on to explain that the view of prayer that demands particular results in a particular time frame is thoroughly man-centered. It is as though prayer is an agency to meet our needs or the exercise of a duty in which we remind God of what he may be unwilling to give. Prayer is also not an exercise which requires the use of many words, or the engagement of many people, before God will begin to listen. That idea dishonours him (Matthew 6:78). Of the second argument, Murray states flatly that it just isnt so. He offers examples, of which this is one: James Robe, he writes, minister at Kilsyth Scotland, at the time of the revival of 1742, says that before this uncommon dispensation of the Spirit we looked not for, his congregations societies for prayer came gradually to nothing and were given up. Revival has come in times of much prayer, and in times of little prayer. It has failed to appear in times of much fervent prayer. Murray writes: Instead of putting our hopes in the quantity of prayer, as though that will bring revival, out trust needs to be in God who is himself the prime mover. Sometimes an unusual spirit of prayer does precede revival; to use William Gurnalls words, as cocks crow thickest towards break of day. But it is neither cocks nor prayer that causes the dawn. Brainerd recognized the bigger picture when he wrote: I saw how God had called out his servants to prayer and made them wrestle with him, when he designed to bestow and great mercy upon his church. This God-centered view of prayer, as the example of the Church in Acts 4:2530 shows, fuels prayer rather than discouraging it. While not diminishing our responsibility, it sets the God-appointed means in a more biblical and encouraging light than does the view which would make all success depend on us. The mistake of the latter view is that it draws the wrong lesson from the priority which Scripture gives to prayer. God has chosen to make prayer a means of blessing, not so that the fulfillment of his purposes becomes dependent upon us, but rather to help us learn our absolute dependence upon him. On this subject John Love wrote: A believers encouragement to prayer is not from anything that he expects to work in God by his prayer, but what he apprehends to be already in God before he begins. He hopes in what God has determined in his own grace to do; and in his prayer he looks for the outbreaking of this. Therefore, in prayer he keeps close by Gods promises. A natural man, on the contrary, can pray without a promise; for he thinks to work upon God to bring him to do what he had no mind to do before. Such an understanding of prayer, far from leading to resignation or fatalism, engenders a spirit of God-consciousness and what a contemporary author calls radical prayer. John Piper writes: It is the time for radical prayer and fasting to the end that all our thinking and all our preaching and all our writing and all our social action and missions we will have the aroma of God on it and will carry a transforming thrust far beyond anything mere man can do. [A Hunger for God (Crossway, 1997), 165.] Pentecost Today?, 6869.

A Tribute to the Straight Man

Thursday··2012·04·26 · 5 Comments
More than once, I’ve been asked who my favorite Together for the Gospel speaker is. That’s a tough question. All were very good, and all were unique, so my answer tends to sound like one of those silly elementary school competitions in which there are no winners or losers and everyone gets a ribbon. Still, the more I think of it, one name keeps floating to the top: Ligon Duncan. It’s unfortunate, but I think that might put me in a minority. Many others, I think, would name someone more dynamic, like John Piper or David Platt. As a speaker, Duncan is fairly ordinary. That is not to say, boring. It does not mean dispassionate. He simply doesn’t bring bells, whistles, and fireworks to the pulpit. He delivers with an earnest gravitas that I appreciate. This should not be taken as a criticism of Piper and others like him. We all have different personalities, and Piper is just being Piper. But there is a downside to that kind of dynamic personality: while Duncan is remembered for what he said, Piper is often remembered more for how he said it. Piper is famous for being Piper, a fact he does not enjoy. Duncan is less likely to bear that burden. [GIF created by @JRileySheehan] So this is my tribute to the straight man, the preacher whose message is unembellished: I could listen to you all day. Those other guys wear me out. Enjoy Ligon Duncan: 2006: Preaching from the Old Testament [mp3] 2008: Sound Doctrine: Essential to Faithful Pastoral Ministry [mp3] 2010: Did the Fathers Know the Gospel? [mp3] 2012: The Underestimated God: God’s ruthless, compassionate grace in the pursuit of his own glory and his ministers’ joy [mp3]

Something Worse, Something Better

In the end, the Great Commission must be the mission of the church for two very basic reasons: there is something worse than death, and there is something better than human flourishing. —Kevin DeYoung & Greg Gilbert, What Is the Mission of the Church? (Crossway, 2011), 242. Death is surely an enemy. The evil of death must never be minimized, even in declaring the glorious hope of those who die in Christ. Death is an enemy to be defeated. But it is not our worst enemy, and it is not to be feared. “The consistent witness of Scripture,” write DeYoung and Gilbert, “is that death is grievous, but far from the ultimate disaster that can befall a person. In fact, there’s something worse than death. Much worse.” For the most part, Jesus did not want the disciples to be afraid. He told them not to fear their persecutors (Matt. 10:26), not to fear those who kill the body (v. 28), not to fear for their precious little hairs on their precious little heads (v. 30). Jesus did not want them afraid of much, but he did want them to be afraid of hell. “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul,” Jesus warned. “Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (v. 28). . . . The doctrine of hell, however unpopular it may be and however much we may wish to soften its hard edges, is essential for faithful Christian witness. The belief that there is something worse than death is, to recall John Piper’s imagery, ballast for our ministry boats. . . . All of life must be lived to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). And we ought to do good to all people (Gal. 6:10). No apologies necessary for caring about our cities, loving our neighbors, or working hard at our vocations. These too are “musts.” But with the doctrine of hell as ballast in our boats, we will never sneer at the old hymns that call us to rescue the perishing, nor will we scoff at saving souls as if it were nothing but glorified fire insurance. There will always be soft cynics who eagerly remind us that the goal of missions is more than “mere” escape from hell. “Well,” John Piper counters, “there is no such thing as a ‘mere’ escape from hell. Rescue from the worst and longest suffering can only be called ’mere’ by those who don’t know what it is, or don’t believe it’s real.” —Ibid., 243, 244, 245. Death is bad, but hell is infinitely worse. Conversely, Just as there is something worse than death, so there is something better than the good life, something better, that is to say, than human flourishing. . . . Sometimes we miss what the end of the story is all about. Yes, there will be a new creation. Yes, heaven will come down to earth. Yes, there will be peace and prosperity, security and abundance. Yes, this is all part of the coming kingdom that has already broken in on our world. But shalom is not the end of the story unless it’s shalom with God at the center. Or to say the same thing in different terms, human flourishing is not human flourishing without worship in spirit and truth. If we could somehow remake the world right now into a place with healthy relationships, meaningful work, adequate provision, and equal treatment for all, a place where the good guys are on top and the bad guys get their just desserts, we would still not have heaven. . . . The good life might be good, but without Christ it’s not the goal of Christian mission. Worship is the quintessential task of those who belong in heaven. The elders and the four living creatures in Revelation 4 are worshiping. Together with the angels they sing praise to God and to the Lamb in Revelation 5. The nations are gathered before the throne in Revelation 7 that they might cry out, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (7:10). In Revelation, when all mission comes to an end, “it becomes clear that mission is in fact a means to an end, the end being a total focus on the worship and the glory of God in our Lord Jesus Christ.” Worship is the end of the end of the story, not human flourishing, because a redesigned world is nothing without delight in God. This means that Christian mission must always aim at making, sustaining, and establishing worshipers. John Piper is right: worship is the fuel and goal in missions. “The goal of missions is the gladness of the peoples in the greatness of God.” And if this is our aim, our passion, our joy, then discipleship must be our task—the Great Commission must be our mission. —Ibid., 246–247.

A Saga of Subjectivity

Last week, I posted on the damage done to our view of God if we embrace the doctrine of fallible prophesy. Second only to that, its most dangerous product (in my opinion) is this: In light of its problematic interpretations of prophecy, fallible prophecy promotes subjectivism among Christians and supplies a dangerous form of protection for false prophets, whether they are self-deceived or intentional deceivers of others. —Michael Beasley, The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism (2013), 171. John Piper tells a story of a “prophesy” he received from a member of his congregation in which his wife, pregnant at the time, was to give birth to a girl, and die in childbirth. This was his response: I went back to my study, I got down and I just wept. I said, ‘Lord I have been trying to help these people take this gift seriously and I don’t know what to do with this. This is . . . I cannot imagine why this would be helpful. It doesn’t feel like it’s of You, and yet I don’t want to discourage people.’ So I kept it totally to myself. I didn’t tell Noel my wife about it and when we delivered our fourth boy, not girl, I gave a ‘whoop’ which I always do, but this ‘whoop’ was a little extra because I knew as soon as the boy was born this was not a true prophecy and Noel is still alive and Barnabas is, what, 27 years old today; but that’s the sort of thing that makes you despise prophecy — you just say ‘I don’t want anything to do with that kind of stuff’ and I don’t blame people for feeling that way but the Bible says, don’t despise them; be careful and discerning and so, my answer to your question is: if you sense something you have for somebody, offer it them as a gift, don’t thrust it at them as a demand — ‘I sense’ — I would use the words like, ‘I sense that God wants me to say to you.’ . . . Offer gifts to people — these are spiritual gifts, these are not spiritual hammers. And so, offer it to them and say, ‘just test it and if it seems to help, wonderful. —David Matthis, Piper on Prophecy and Tongues, cited in The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism, 177–178. Beasley recognizes Piper’s doctrinally-induced helplessness to respond in any sensible manner. Though Piper recounts the story from the standpoint of hindsight, we should wonder how he could have known that this was a false prophecy from the beginning, as he said: “I cannot imagine why this would be helpful. It doesn’t feel like it’s of You . . .” In what sense might this not have felt to be of the Lord and by what scriptural standard did he make such an initial assessment? Apart from any scriptural test, is the criterion for testing a fallible prophecy to be reduced to the subjective question of one’s own “feelings?” —Beasley, Ibid., 179. Then there is the danger, from which Piper—the shepherd—should have protected his flock, of the false prophet left free to practice her “gift” among the sheep. In Piper’s cited example, no single aspect of this woman’s “prophecy” was valid, except for the mention of pregnancy—a fact that would have been visibly evident to all. Piper correctly calls the prophecy “false,” however, we hear nothing in his testimony about the scripturally requisite tests of love being applied to this situation (Deuteronomy 13:1–5, 1 Corinthians 13). With the presence of a false prophet in the church, such tests are not an option. Perhaps there was a follow-up provided to this situation, but if this is the case, we are left without the central lesson of such follow-up. Thus, one must wonder if this woman is still in the church today practicing her “gift,” thereby binding the consciences of others with her falsely claimed prophecies; or has she moved on to other churches unabatedly spreading her influence to others? —Ibid. When the shepherd allows wolves among the sheep, who will protect the flock?


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