Archives For Theology

comradesYesterday marked the 91st Comrades Marathon Race in South Africa. Since the first race in 1921 the Comrades Marathon has become one of the most famous and prestigious of all ultra-marathons. Winning the race is a coveted achievement. But there are many ways to win the Comrades Marathon.

As I discuss in The Preacher’s Payday, you can win it simply by finishing first, like Bill Rowan did in 1921 by coming in a mere minute under nine hours. You can win it five hours and 18 minutes, like David Gatebe did yesterday, setting the new record. You can win it more times than anyone else, like Bruce Fordyce did: nine times. You can even win by running against people who are not running. Yes, you can win a Wally Hayward medal if you finish in under six hours or a Bill Rowan medal if you beat his time of nine hours.

But you can also win the race by beating the real competition: pain. It is the pain and fatigue that most runners are trying to conquer, not the person in front of them. It is a challenge of body and mind, and runners are racing against themselves. And so the awards reflect this. Most races award a gold medal for 1st, silver and bronze for 2nd and 3rd, and everyone else gets a pat on the back.

But the Comrades organizers realize there is more to this race than coming first. Everyone who finishes within the twelve hour limit gets a medal. Even those who come in during the last hour, get the Vic Clapham copper medal. And as agonizing as the challenge, that medal will outlast the memory of your pain and fatigue. It is that image that the New Testament writers use to picture our awards ceremony.

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Several years ago, Justin Taylor linked to a moving and encouraging account of a pastor coming to grips with the fact that his second child, like his first, would be born with spina bifida. Amazingly, this man has found great comfort in rejecting the common notion that God will merely use this bad situation for good, rather than the biblical truth that He has ordained it for His glory and His people’s good.

Stories like these continue to confirm the reality that we must prepare ourselves to undergo suffering and trials righteously. We need to learn how to suffer well. And, as I’ve said over the past couple weeks, the way we do that is by being equipped with a theology of suffering while not yet in the midst of a particular trial.

And to that end we’ve been looking to Jeremiah’s experience with devastating suffering at the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC, and hoping to glean some lessons on how to respond to suffering righteously. First, we learned that a righteous response to others’ suffering includes suffering along with our brothers and sisters who suffer. Secondly, we learned that we must acknowledge the role of sin in our suffering. Today, we find a third lesson from Jeremiah’s righteous response to suffering: we must acknowledge, and trust in, God’s absolute sovereignty even in the unpleasant and painful circumstances.

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Oftentimes problems with the fruit on a tree are not because of problems with the fruit on the tree. Below the soil’s surface, there is usually a sickness present. Things like fungus, poor nutrient content in the soil, insufficient watering, and pests can plague the roots and subsequently damage the tree. So goes the root, so goes the fruit. Neglect the root, neglect the fruit.

Imagine an orchardist who addressed sickly trees by only addressing the fruit. He approaches the sickly lemon tree, puts up his ladder, and inspects the lemons. Some of the lemons are flaccid, some shrunken, and others cracked open and rotten. Then, imagine, that he breaks out a syringe with store-bought lemon juice and injects the emaciated lemons to fill them out a bit. To repair the sickly, split lemons, he breaks out some band-aids and closes up those holes. Finally, he notices some fruitless branches. So, he breaks out his duct-tape and tapes some nice-looking, store-bought lemons to the branches. He steps back and notices that, for the moment, the tree looks fruitful. For the moment.

Often in our lives, we approach personal change and sanctification like that orchardist.

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I recently had the privilege of sitting down with the brothers of the Glory Books ministry and talking with Pastor Will Costello about my book, Sanctification: The Christian’s Pursuit of God-Given Holiness. It was a pleasure to be a guest on their Inner Revolution podcast and to talk about the foundational truths concerning the believer’s growth in Christlikeness. I hope our conversation will be edifying to you as well.

3:23 – Could you tell us a bit about the sanctification debate that has been going on in the last four or five years?

10:13 – You’ve contributed to this discussion in your book, Sanctification: The Christian’s Pursuit of God-Given Holiness. What did you want people to take away after reading your book?

13:15 – You describe sanctification as an internal and supernatural work of the Holy Spirit, which He accomplishes through means. A key thought in your book is that the foundational means of sanctification is beholding the glory of Christ. Can you unpack what it means to behold the glory of Christ?

22:05 – Comments on looking at Christ as the example of our holiness, as well as beholding Christ as the fuel of our holiness.

24:11 – Is it right to say it’s our responsibility to actively behold Christ, but that we are passively transformed by the agency of the Holy Spirit?

28:04 – So is it right to say that sanctification is both a gift and a reward? A reward because we have to work for it, and a gift because we can never achieve it ourselves?

31:06 – Understanding God’s role and man’s role in sanctification.

32:42 – I like that you say in the book that sanctification is glorious because it is through sanctification that God gets what He is worthy of in us.

34:33 – Sometimes people speak of sanctification negatively. They’re having a hard day and they say something like, “Yeah, well I guess this is supposed to work for my sanctification.” It’s not very joyful. And yet Scripture wants us, on the front end, to consider it pure joy when we enter various trials, because that suffering is designed to conform you to Christ. What do we need to keep in mind so that we can embrace sanctification as a wonderful thing?

39:30 – A quote from John Owen on sanctification, one of the greatest paragraphs Mike has read outside of the Bible.

Sundays ComingOver the last three weeks, we’ve been considering the biblical and theological implications of the resurrection of Christ. First, we examined the significance of the resurrection as it relates to the person of Christ. Over the past two weeks, we took a look at eight implications the resurrection of Christ has for believers in Him. Because of the resurrection, the believer enjoys the blessing of regeneration and deliverance from the fear and slavery of death; the resurrection is the foundation of justifying grace, the guarantee of the indwelling Holy Spirit and the present intercessory ministry of Christ, the ground of our sanctification, power for holiness and for ministry, and the guarantee of the promise of a resurrection body of our own, free from sin and decay.

But today I want to ask: What does the bodily resurrection of Christ say to the unbeliever? What is the significance of the resurrection for those of you who remain outside of Christ? Whether you’re an atheist or agnostic; Buddhist, Hindu, or any other religion; or even if you call yourself a Christian but have only an outward attachment to Christ—you would regularly attend church, and even read the Bible and listen to sermons—but you have no vital union to Christ, no living relationship, and you still cling to your sin and aim to be lord of your life: what is the significance of the resurrection for you?

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Empty Tomb 2Because it’s easy to limit our reflection and meditation on the resurrection of Christ only to Holy Week, we’ve been doing some post-Resurrection-Day reflection on the significance of the resurrection. Two weeks ago, we looked at some theological and practical implications of the resurrection as it relates to the person of Christ. Last week, we began considering the significance of the resurrection for believers. There we learned that the resurrection is the ground of our regeneration, the ground of deliverance from death’s fearful slavery, and the very foundation of the Gospel.

But that’s not all. There are more benefits the resurrection brings for the believer in Christ.

The Holy Spirit

Fourth, the resurrection guarantees the New Covenant ministry of the Holy Spirit.

In his Pentecost sermon, Peter is explaining the pouring forth of the Holy Spirit that has manifested in the disciples speaking in languages they had never learned. And he says in Acts 2:32–33: “This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses. Therefore”— that is, on the basis of this raising up of Jesus—“having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear.”

So Scripture links the coming of the New Covenant ministry of the Holy Spirit to the resurrection and ascension of Christ.

Jesus Himself teaches this in John 16. As He is with His disciples in the upper room on the eve of His betrayal, preparing them to live the Christian life without His physical presence, He says, “I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you” (John 16:7). The Spirit will come to permanently indwell the disciples because He is going to the Father. If Christ had simply died and remained in the grave, He would not have gone to the Father, and the Spirit would not have come.

And note how glorious Jesus views the privilege of the indwelling presence of the Spirit. He sees it as so valuable that He Himself says that it is to the disciples’ advantage that He—their Lord, their Master, their Savior, the Author and Perfecter of their faith, the one in whom all things hold together—go away from them! The permanent indwelling of the Spirit must be a phenomenal blessing! And it is ours as a direct result of the resurrection of Christ.

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Empty Tomb 1Last week, we looked at the significance the resurrection has as it relates to Jesus’ Himself. The resurrection identifies Jesus as the Second Adam, the seed of the woman, the Seed of Abraham, and the Son of David. It also vindicates the testimony He had given about Himself.

This week and next, I want to consider the significance of the resurrection for believers. What implications does the resurrection have for the people of God? In fact, every aspect of our salvation—our regeneration, our justification, our sanctification, and our glorification—is tied in some way to Christ’s resurrection from the dead.

The Ground of Regeneration

1 Peter 1:3 – “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

Peter says our new birth comes through the resurrection of Christ. Our new spiritual life that is born in our regeneration has its source in Christ’s resurrection life.

And we are made to share in that resurrection life through union with Him. Ephesians 2:5–6 says that while we were dead in our transgressions, God “made us alive together with Christ . . . and raised us up with Him.” Because of the union that believers have with Christ, Scripture says that our spiritual resurrection in our being born again has its source in Jesus’ bodily resurrection.

And so the resurrection is the ground of our regeneration.

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He Has RisenLast Sunday morning, the people of God celebrated the triumphant victory of King Jesus, who died for our sins according to the Scriptures, who was buried in a borrowed tomb, and who three days later rose from the grave, triumphant and victorious over sin and death. And on Resurrection Sunday, we always say that our worship of Christ for His resurrection isn’t something that happens only once a year, but rather is something we do all year round. But I’ve found that that’s not always the case. It’s easy for the busy-ness of life, or even just the next sermon series to replace disciplined and sustained meditation on the significance of the resurrection.

So I want to do some post-Resurrection-Day resurrection reflection. And today I want to focus particularly on the biblical and theological significance of the resurrection with respect to the person of Christ Himself. What did the resurrection mean for Jesus?

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monte cristo escapeOne of the most loved and enduring prison escape stories is The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas. He was incarcerated on a tiny, isolated island, in a jail made of cramped, ill-lit cells. No one who had been banished to the island left it alive. Indeed, the only way to leave the island was after you died, wrapped in a cloth sack and tossed off a cliff into the ocean. Dantès saw this as his opportunity to escape. He would need to swap places with a dead man. If someone died, he could live.

His chance came when the old priest who had been coaching him died. Just before he died he confessed the location of a hidden treasure. Through the old priest’s death Dantès became free and wealthy.

In the same way the escape from Egypt could only be accomplished by the death of a substitute, and with that escape would come freedom and eternal life.

Easter and Passover will forever be inextricably linked on our calendars. This is because Jesus deliberately died during the feast of Passover. As the Lamb of God his death was the fulfillment of the feast.

Passover was a teacher of the vital gospel concept of substitution. Here are three lessons we learn from this feast…

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In Romans 9, Paul discusses God’s absolute freedom in His saving purposes. He uses the illustration of the twins, Jacob and Esau, stating that God’s choice of Jacob over Esau had nothing to do with either of them. Rather, God chose “so that [His] purpose according to His choice would stand.” This choice was “not because of works but because of Him who calls” (Rom 9:11). He goes on to say that salvation “does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy” (Rom 9:16), and then supports that claim by referring to God’s hardening of Pharaoh’s heart for the expressed purpose of demonstrating His power and proclaiming His name through the events that followed (Rom 9:17; cf. Exod 9:16). Paul then summarizes his point by declaring: “So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires” (Rom 9:18).

Then, Paul anticipates an objection: “You will say to me, then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?’”

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