Archives For Mike Riccardi

Edwards PortraitJonathan Edwards’ life, thought, and theology was dominated by the glory of God. Edwards argued extensively that God is chiefly concerned with His glory—manifesting the beauty of His perfections—and therefore all His creatures should be concerned with His glory as well. This commitment would shape Edwards’ entire theology, even as it related to theodicy and theology proper, the Calvinist-Arminian debate, the Christian’s pursuit of holiness, and the centrality of the affections in the Christian life. Indeed, it is no overstatement to say, along with one church historian, “No theologian in the history of Christianity held a higher or stronger view of God’s majesty, sovereignty, glory and power than Jonathan Edwards.”[1]

During his years ministering to the Indians in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, Edwards wrote his Dissertation Concerning the End for Which God Created the World, where he masterfully develops the truth that God’s chief end in creating the world was to bring glory to Himself. He wrote:

All that is ever spoken of in the Scripture as an ultimate end of God’s works is included in that one phrase, the glory of God. … The refulgence shines upon and into the creature, and is reflected back to the luminary. The beams of glory come from God, and are something of God and are refunded back again to their original. So that the whole is of God, and in God, and to God, and God is the beginning, middle and end in this affair.[2]

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Now I will relate how You set me free from a craving for sexual gratification which fettered me like a tight-drawn chain, and from my enslavement to worldly affairs: I will confess to Your name, O Lord, my helper and my redeemer.[1]

Broken Chain

Last week we looked at Augustine’s famous maxim that the human soul is restless until it finds its rest and satisfaction in the Triune God. This week, I want to look at Augustine’s own account of coming to that saving rest.

While he had been sitting under the Gospel preaching of Ambrose of Milan, Augustine of Hippo had the occasion to hear of the testimonies of the rhetorician Victorinus and of Anthony and the Egyptian monks—schooled philosophers whom Augustine held in high esteem, men who had come under the conviction of the Holy Spirit by the Scriptures and were humbled to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. At this point he could bear the convictions of his own soul no longer. He confronted his dear friend Alypius and spoke of the inner turmoil he was experiencing.

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AugustineMany Christians recognize the name of Augustine of Hippo from his valiant defense of the biblical doctrine of divine sovereignty against the man-centered heresy of the British monk Pelagius. And we know that the Reformers made exceedingly frequent references to Augustine’s work as they fought against the man-centeredness of the Roman Catholic Church. But what many don’t know about Augustine was his consistent emphasis on the centrality of the affections—and particularly joy—in the believer’s life. In fact, he even defined love for God in terms of enjoying Him: 

“I call [love to God] the motion of the soul toward the enjoyment of God for his own sake, and the enjoyment of one’s self and of one’s neighbor for the sake of God.” [1]

It was this pursuit of his own pleasure—indeed, his own pleasure in God Himself—that strengthened Augustine to engage in the many debates and altercations of the Pelagian controversy. When a friend asked him why he even bothered with the polemical disputes, he answered:

“First and foremost because no subject gives me greater pleasure. For what ought to be more attractive to us sick men, than grace, grace by which we are healed; for us lazy men, than grace, grace by which we are stirred up; for us men longing to act, than grace, by which we are helped?” [2]

For Augustine, there was no dichotomy of “enjoying sovereign grace” on the one hand and “fighting for sovereign grace” on the other. The latter was fueled by the former. The joy of the Lord was his strength (Neh 8:10).

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I came across this video from Acts 17 Apologetics this week, and found it to be a potentially helpful tool as I interact with my Muslim friends for the sake of the Gospel.

 

What do you think? Is this an effective video? Will it help you in your evangelistic conversations with Muslims? What else have you found helpful in your efforts to speak the Gospel to Muslims?

Last week, we considered Paul’s command to conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel. We saw how an implication of that command is that our fight for holiness is to be fueled by Gospel grace. But how does the Gospel directly shape and direct your pursuit of holiness? How do we practically bring the Gospel to bear on the various facets of our lives, so that we might conduct our lives in a manner worthy of the Gospel?

Gospel Driven

Today, I want to try to answer those questions by considering 12 different biblical virtues, and showing how the Gospel draws a straight line to each of them.

 

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“Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”
– Philippians 1:27 –

Phil 1;27This little phrase is the very heart of Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Paul’s preeminent concern in his letter to the church of Philippi is that they would bring the practice of their lives into conformity with the position they enjoy as sharers in the Gospel of Christ. In reflecting on this command, two implications become immediately apparent.

Sanctification is the Necessary Fruit of Justification

The first implication of this text is that sanctification is the necessary fruit of justification. The one who has been justified by grace through faith in Christ alone—the one who has been declared righteous in his position before God—will grow and progress with respect to practical righteousness in his life.

This is the consistent testimony of the New Testament, and especially throughout Paul’s letters.

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Gospel TractsOne of my ministry responsibilities at my church is to oversee all of the church’s local outreach ministries. At our church, that includes preaching the Gospel at local jails, drug/alcohol rehab centers, and on skid row; it includes systematically visiting our neighbors and following up with those willing to talk more about the Gospel, doing street evangelism at a local metro station; it even includes hosting volleyball and basketball games in our church’s gymnasium, and preaching the Gospel to those who come to play.

As the Pastor of Local Outreach Ministries, I’m often asked what tracts and other resources we use in our evangelism efforts. Tracts can be a very helpful way of getting the Gospel message into the hands of someone who doesn’t have the time or inclination to have a conversation at the moment. They can also be a helpful follow-up to a good conversation—reinforcing the main themes of the Gospel long after you’ve both moved on to the next part of your day.

The following list is a selection of some of the tracts, Bibles, New Testaments, and other books that we use at Grace Church and make available to our church family.

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Heb 1;3The Old Testament had much to say about the presence of God. Throughout the history of Israel, God’s presence was mediated through fire (Exod 3:6; Deut 5:4), through blazing light (Exod 33:18–23), through visions (Ezek 1:28) and angels (Jdg 6:21–22; cf. 13:21–22), through the temple worship (Pss 27:4; 63:1–2), and even through God’s own Word (1 Sam 3:21). But with the coming of Jesus and the New Covenant era, the glory of God’s presence is now uniquely and supremely manifested “in the face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:6). This makes sense, of course, because Christ is the perfect “image of God” (2 Cor 4:4).

This is precisely the testimony of the opening verses of the Book of Hebrews. Though God had revealed Himself by speaking to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days He has spoken finally and decisively in His Son (Heb 1:1). Christ is therefore the radiance of the Father’s glory (1:3)—the manifestation of the very presence of God, the “effulgence of the divine glory,” as one commentator colorfully puts it.

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JusticeLast Friday, I posted some selections of Jonathan Edwards’ famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” since last Tuesday was the 273rd anniversary of the greatest sermon preached on American soil. If you haven’t read that post, I would invite you to read America’s greatest sermon for America’s greatest need.

However, because I was on vacation last week, away from a computer, I wasn’t able to participate in the very disappointing comment thread that followed that post. The discussion was immediately derailed by objections to the doctrine of hell as the eternal conscious torment of the wicked who die outside of Christ. So because I wasn’t able to respond then, and because the objections presented are very common from our increasingly-secular, anti-biblical, and Christianity-intolerant culture (and so are objections you will need to respond to as you engage your “world” with the Gospel), I wanted to respond to those objections today.

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While the United States celebrated her 238th birthday last Friday, many Americans are unaware of another significant anniversary taking place this week. On July 8, 1741, America heard what is often hailed as the greatest sermon preached on her soil from a man who is often hailed as the greatest theologian and thinker to minister on her soil.

In the years 1733 through 1737, Jonathan Edwards continued to preach in the  Northampton pulpit that was now his own, having been bequeathed to him by his grandfather, Solomon Stoddard. During these years God had blessed Edwards’ preaching and ministry with revival in New England and beyond. Many were converted and others edified in their faith. Biographer George Marsden quips, “By March and April of 1735, the spiritual rains had turned the stream [of conversions] into a flood.”[1] Edwards himself describes the revival’s effect on his congregation:

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