Category Archives: Gospel

By Grace Through Faith (Galatians 2:15-21)

We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.

(Galatians 2:15-21 ESV)

Mid-Cities Presbyterian Church Library

IMG_0686 Pastor Joe Troutman preaching at San Antonio Reformed on June 21, 2015. HT: Billie Moody

On Sunday, November 15, 2015, Pastor Joe Troutman preached “By Grace Through Faith” from Galatians 2:15-21.

You are justified in God’s sight not because of what you have done, but only by what Christ has done for you, and imputed to you by God’s free grace.

1. By God’s Free Grace—It doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, all are justified by grace through faith in Christ. Justification is, in God’s Court, your being declared righteous. If our righteousness is filthy rags, then justification by God is a gift.

2. He Pardons All Our Sins—In the case of your standing before the Lord, it is impossible to plead innocence. If you only ever committed the least sin, you stand condemned by the Law, because it is holy, good…

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Hear, O Israel (John 10:22-30)

At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, hin the colonnade of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are ithe Christ, jtell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do lin my Father’s name bear witness about me, but myou do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and pthey will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of tthe Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:22-30)

Mid-Cities Presbyterian Church Library

Sermons JohnOn Sunday, October 18, 2015, Pastor Joe Troutman preached “Hear, O Israel,” from John 10:22-30.

Jesus Christ is of one substance with the Father but who became a man; he is the Good Shepherd out of whose hands no one may snatch those who believe in him.

1. Insufficiency of Evidence–The miraculous signs of Jesus reveal him as the Son of God and the Messiah; however, though we point to evidence of his divinity, his miracles and the historical fact of his resurrection, and many will refuse to believe in the face of overwhelming evidence because evidences alone are unable to generate the faith sinners need to be born again.

2. Faith Comes from Hearing–Jesus’ sheep hear his voice because they’ve been enabled to hear by the Holy Spirit. Those who never hear it, neither want to, nor are they able to hear his voice.

3.

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While I AM is Still Near (John 9:1-7)

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing. (John 9:1-7 ESV)

Mid-Cities Presbyterian Church Library

Podcast Art JohnOn Sunday, September 27, 2015, Pastor Joe Troutman preached “While I AM is Still Near” from John 9:1-7.

The Lord may be found only while he is here on earth. First, he was present in person; now he is present in his Body, the Church.

1. Who Sinned?—The fall of Adam brought the world into a state of sin and misery; therefore, we live with the daily consequences of our corporate sin in Adam in a fallen world.

2. God’s Works on Display—The real purpose of the man’s blindness, was to put the work of God on display. Doing the works of Jesus is the duty of followers, too.

3. As Long as I am in the World—The miraculous signs of Jesus reveal him to be the Creator and the Son of God. Jesus was the Light of the world during his earthly ministry. Since…

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Divine Inspiration Evidenced by the Miracles of Scripture

Lithograph of the Reverend John Brown of Haddington
Lithograph of the Reverend John Brown of Haddington

The following continues a series of excerpts from “An Introduction to the Right Understanding of the Oracles of God,” by the Rev. John Brown of Haddington, as published in his Self-Intepreting Bible (1859 edition).

VII. Multitudes of MIRACLES, which only the infinite power of God could effect, have been wrought for the confirmation of the doctrines and facts mentioned in the Scriptures, and for evincing the divine mission of the principal publishers thereof. The wisdom and goodness of God required him, especially when in the days of Moses and Christ he was establishing a new form of worship, to mark the important declarations of his will with some distinguishing characteristics, awakening to consideration. Nothing appears more proper for this end than a series of uncontrolled miracles, which no power could check, and which supported nothing but what was agreeable to reason, so far as it could conceive of it. Neither reason not experience can admit that the infinite wisdom and goodness of God could permit one, much less multitudes of uncontrolled miracles wrought in confirmation of the Scriptures have every favorable circumstance that could be wished. Their number was almost beyond reckoning, and all of them calculated to answer some great and benevolent end. According to the nature of the broken law, many of those wrought by Moses, Elijah, and Elisha, were tremendous and dreadful. According to the nature of the gospel which they published, the miracles wrought by Jesus Christ and his apostles were generally of a benevolent nature and tendency. Moreover most of the miracles mentioned in Scripture were performed in so public a manner that both friends and foes had the fullest access to a thorough examination of their nature and certainty. Most of them were wrought when the concurrent circumstances of Providence loudly called mankind to observe and examine them. Most of them—as the passage of the Hebrews through the Red Sea and through Jordan; the forty years’ sustenance of the people in the Arabian desert, by manna from heaven, and water from a rock; the stoppage or retrograde motion of the sun; the feeding of thousands with a few loaves and fishes; and the raising of dead persons—were of such a nature, that nothing less than absurdity itself can suppose the senses of the witnesses to have been deceived, or that any power less than divine could have produced them. Besides, all these miracles were wrought in confirmation of a religion the most holy, pure, and benevolent; and most of them by persons who were eminent patterns of virtue. And that such miracles were wrought, is in part attested by the inveterate enemies thereof, whether Jews or heathen.

An Introduction to the Right Understanding of the Oracles of God by Rev. John Brown of Haddington.

Michael Card on an “Informed Imagination”

Promoting his Biblical Imagination series of books and CDs, Michael Card  (one of my favorites) discusses how a quote by his late mentor, William Lane, regarding “informed imagination” lead him to investigate what Scripture might have to say about such a concept, and concludes it is the bridge between the head and the heart. “Head” people being the argumentative doctrinal people, while “heart” people are appropriately experiential, yet tend to not do their homework. Where head and heart converge is what Michael Card believes constitutes an “informed imagination.” I’ll have to do something with that one day.

Sermon Notes: The Lamb of God (John 1:18-34)

Sermon Notes Image

The following is an outline based on the notes taken during the sermon preached by Rev. Joe Troutman at Mid-Cities Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Bedford, Texas on October 26, 2014. Audio

The Lamb of God (John 1:18-34)

John the Baptist points away from himself to Christ, so that all may know that Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

I. Who Are You? (1:19-21)

A. Leaders’ First Question

1. “Who are you?” (1:19)

a. Not asking for genealogy—they likely know of his father, Zechariah.

b. Jewish leaders would be remiss to not examine John the Baptist.

 B. John the Baptist’s First answer (1:20)

1. Confesses Christ by denying being him.

2. There were many itinerant claimants to Messiahship.

C. Leaders’ Second Question (1:21a)

1. “Are you Elijah?”

a. Matthew’s description of John the Baptist an allusion to Elijah (Matthew 3:4)

b. Rabbis frequently expounded on Elijah’s expected return (Malachi 4:5)

D. John the Baptist’s Second Answer

1.  “I am not.”

E. Leaders’ Third Question (1:21b)

1. “Are you ‘The Prophet’?” (Deuteronomy 18:15)

F. John the Baptist’s Third Answer

1. “No.”

2. Christ himself is ‘The Prophet’ (Acts 3:22; 7:37).

II. The Voice (1:22-28)

A. Leaders’ Fourth Question (1:22)

1.“Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

B. John the Baptist’s Fourth Answer

1. “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” (1:23)

2. Prophesied in Isaiah 40:1-8; see v. 3

3. A metaphorical call to repair the roads to ease the return of repentant Jews from Babylonian Captivity—the literal near fulfillment.

4. John the Baptist and his baptism of repentance (Luke 3:3) is the spiritual and ultimate far fulfillment.

5. John the Baptist is like a pre-battle bombardment to soften a target before an attack.

C. Leaders’ Fifth Question (1:25)

1. “The why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”

D. John the Baptist’s Fifth Answer (1:26-27)

1. “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”

2. Like his confession by denial above, John the Baptist magnifies Christ by diminishing his own importance (John 3:30).

3. Christ was there, yet remained unrecognized (cf. John 1:10).

III. That He Might Be Revealed (John 1:29-34)

A. John 1:32-34 takes place after Jesus’ baptism.

B. “The next day he (John the Baptist) saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’

1. John 1:29 is the gospel in a nutshell.

a. John the Baptist refers to Christ in terms of the Passover Lamb.

b. “The world” in John 1:29 does refer to all people in the world, but not all people without exception (see John 1:12).

C. John the Baptist’s twofold ministry

1. Negatively, he calls the Jews to his baptism of repentance.

2. Positively, he points to the Lord Jesus Christ to bear witness that he is the Son of God that they might believe.

D. If you believe in Christ, he has borne your sins; therefore, repent of your sins and reaffirm your faith in him in Christian worship.

 

Plain Vanilla Presbyterian Church

vanilla ice cream cone

The 10 marks of a “plain vanilla” Presbyterian church. Some are tongue-in-cheek–kinda!

  1. Lectio continua preaching. If you want topical preaching, then preach through the catechism in the evening.
  2. Is it a sanctuary or an auditorium?
  3. Evangelism is inherent in #1, while personal witnessing is commended and encouraged.
  4. Psalms and hymns sung from the Trinity Hymnal (1960, or 1990 edition) to piano accompaniment, at least.
  5. Resist the trend toward weekly communion, paedocommunion and intinction.
  6. Deaconess is not an ordained church office; pastors are men, too.
  7. If the Bible doesn’t say you can do it in the worship service, then you can’t!
  8. Congregational participation in worship: a) pray along with the elder during his public prayers, b) sing, recite the creed or Lord’s Prayer and responsively read like you mean it, c) actually hear and heed the Word preached.
  9. No hand raising until the benediction (but only if you know what it means).
  10. If you call people “Brother” and “Sister,” everyone will know you used to be a Baptist.

What other marks can you think of?

How Christ Restored the Gospel to His Church

Post Tenebras Lux Logo

I’ve added a link to the top of my sidebar to the right. It links to Post Tenebras Lux, the website of Dr. Thomas R. Browning, Assistant Pastor of Grace Community Presbyterian Church in Fort Worth, Texas. At his site is a lecture series about the life and ministry of Martin Luther and the story of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. It is  the month of October now, and Luther nailed the historic 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517, so it is time to begin gearing up to commemorate the Protestant Reformation, which was the providential way “How Christ Restored the Gospel to His Church.”

More posts that reference Dr. Browning

Analyzing the Character and State of the PCA

“The Christian Curmudgeon” was a member of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) since its founding. He recently left the PCA for his own reasons and is now ministering in the Reformed Episcopal Church. In the past few weeks, you may have noticed that The Aquila Report has posted two articles expressing the growing concern over the state of the PCA. In light of this, The Christian Curmudgeon has written a very helpful post characterizing the various theological and practical trajectories represented by the first generation of the PCA. The point being that the PCA was never intended to be a strictly confessional Reformed denomination. This sheds light on how they got into the chaotic state they are in today. Read his informative post, “I Don’t Have a Dog in this Fight, But That Doesn’t Keep Me From Having an Opinion.”

The God-Given Righteousness of Noah

The following post was originally written in 2007. I thought maybe it would be a good time to post something edifying about Noah in light of the recent unpleasantness.

“This is the genealogy of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, perfect in his generations. Noah walked with God. And Noah begot three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth. The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. So God looked upon the earth, and indeed it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.” Genesis 6:9-12
The God who promised to send the Seed of the Woman to crush the Serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15) gave Noah the faith to believe this promise. God was the ultimate basis of Noah’s righteousness. The way in which the Seed of the Woman would crush the Serpent’s head, destroying Satan’s power through sin over God’s chosen, had not yet been revealed. Noah did not know how God’s promised Seed would save him from sin, he just believed that he would. As we study through the Old Testament, we’ll learn that God reveals his plan to save sinners progressively, a little bit at a time.

Our lives are like that. We set goals, but we don’t know everything we’ll need to do yet, or what will happen to us before we reach our goal, but these details become clear to us day by day. This is the way it works with the history of God’s work of redemption from sin. First we learn the big picture: God had announced his plan to send Someone to defeat the great enemy of our souls; then, bit by bit, who this Someone is, and how he’s going to defeat this enemy slowly became clear to people like Adam, Seth, Enoch and Noah one detail at a time. A few of these details are revealed to us in the righteous life of Noah.

By his grace, God promised to deliver Noah from the flood of judgment which he and the entire world deserved (Genesis 6:18), and Noah believed God’s promise, so one of the factors of Noah’s righteous life was faith. This faith in God’s promise was the basis for Noah’s righteous life, but it was not his faith that saved him, it was the gracious, promise-keeping God who chose to save him that was the ultimate basis of his righteousness and his salvation. Noah was a righteous man because God made Noah a righteous man.

The other factor that adds up to righteousness for Noah was his obedience to God’s commands. God gave Noah very specific instructions to build an ark (Genesis 6:14-16), what size to build it, what to build it with, how to build it and how many of the various beasts, birds and bugs to gather into the ark (Genesis 6:19-20). The testimony of Moses was that Noah obeyed all that God commanded him to do (Genesis 6:22). Yet this obedience by itself did not earn for Noah his status as a righteous man. Remember he was righteous by God’s grace through the faith granted to him by God (see Ephesians 2:8-9) with which he believed the God of the promise of salvation from sin, Satan and the flood. Noah’s faith was the root of Noah’s obedience. Noah’s obedience was the fruit of Noah’s faith. Therefore Noah’s faith evidenced by his obedience was what Moses was talking about when he wrote that Noah was a righteous man (Genesis 6:9).

God saves us the same way. All of us were born with Adam’s guilt legally imputed to us (Romans 5:12-14) by virtue of the fact that Adam represented us in the covenant with God which he violated when he ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3; cf. Hosea 6:7). In addition to this, we were born, having inherited a corrupt human nature that wants nothing but sin (Romans 3:10-18), unable to do anything (Romans 8:7) that will please him (Hebrews 11:6) and save ourselves. As things stand, we deserve death and an eternity of suffering the wrath of God.

But out of the mass of condemned humanity, a remnant finds favor with God (Genesis 6:8; cf. Romans 11:5-7). Because of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection for sinners, God looks on this remnant with grace and gives them the faith (Acts 13:48; 18:27) to trust the work of Christ that is preached to everybody (Mark 16:15). We then rely on his grace to give us the obedience with which we show our thanks and love for the work of Christ on the cross (John 14:15). So we learn how God saved us in the Bible, and we also learn how to respond to this good news in grateful love by learning the commands of God—because true faith works by love (Galatians 5:6). That’s how we can be remembered as a righteous man or a righteous woman after our story has been told, just like Noah, by a God-given faith in Christ that obeys God’s commands.

Reforming Saint Nicholas Day

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Saint Nicholas privately giving to save poor girls from slavery.

As much as I love the Reformed tradition, some of its more extreme instincts, in my humble opinion, lead it to throw out the baby of the communion of the saints with the bath water of Roman Catholic superstition. One case in point is the memory and example of the saints of the past. Not wanting to retain a Romanist veneration of the saints, we neglect the important and edifying discipline of gleaning from the history of the church the graces of the saints conveyed to us in the annals of church history. This may lead us to keep an eye on the historic church calendar, but we do not have to allow the entire worship of Christ to be distorted by this. There are ways to corporately remember the faith and works of the saints without violating the regulative principle of worship. What it takes is a little ingenuity on the part of Reformed congregations—their members under the informed supervision of their sessions.

The Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 26, “Of the Communion of Saints,” presents the biblical principles that go along with the communion of believers with Christ by the Spirit through faith, and with each other in love.

All saints, that are united to Jesus Christ their Head, by the Spirit, and by faith, have fellowship with him in his graces, sufferings, death, resurrection, and glory (1 John 1:3; Eph. 3:16-18; John 1:16; Eph. 2:5-6; Phil. 3:10; Rom. 6:5-6; 8:17; 2 Tim. 2:12): and, being united to one another in love, they have communion in each other’s gifts and graces (Eph. 4:15-16; 1 Cor. 3:21-23; 12:7,12; Col. 2:19), and are obliged to the performance of such duties, public and private, as do conduce to their mutual good, both in the inward and outward man (1 Thess. 5:11,14; Rom. 1:11-12,14; 1 John 3:16-18; Gal. 6:10). [WCF 26.1, as adopted by the Orthodox Presbyterian Church]

With regard to this section of the confession, there are gifts and graces to be communicated by one believer to others. This does primarily intend to apply to all living believers who are physically present among the saints in their generation of the church militant. But just as our confession transmits to us the corporate Reformed understanding of biblical faith, piety and practice, so can church history communicate to us the benefit of the gifts and graces of great Christians of the past who are now numbered among the church triumphant in heaven, with whom we are lifted in the Spirit on a weekly basis to join them in worship of Christ.

In one sense, this takes place all the time in one Reformed church or another as pastors illustrate the teachings of Scripture with examples of the works and experiences of saints of the past. By so appropriating their examples in the exposition and application of the Scriptures to us, I submit that we are benefiting from the gifts and graces of these historic saints, and so are experiencing the communion of saints even with them, if only in a sense. If the teaching ministries of Calvin, Luther, Spurgeon, Warfield, Machen, etc., continue to build up and instruct the church, why not the lives and works of those who published nothing, as their lives are recorded in church history?

One of the Scripture proofs in the section of the confession above is Romans 1:11-12,14. In this passage, the apostle Paul expresses his desire to commune with the saints at Rome.

For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you—that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles. I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.

If Paul desired to impart a spiritual gift to the Romans in person, for his strengthening with the Romans in their mutual faith in the Person and Work of Christ, he certainly did impart such not only to them, but also to all Christians who would follow to this present day, twenty centuries later in his writing the most comprehensive exposition of the gospel of Christ in his letter to the Romans.

Paul’s grace was the grace of apostleship. Other ministers of the gospel have spiritual gifts to impart which are outworkings of this Pauline gospel. In the case of Nicholas, the grace of generosity to the poor among his parishoners has been communicated to us today through sixteen centuries of church tradition. If we may demythologize the traditions of St. Nicholas’ “wonder-working” intercessions, among other fanciful traditions, what we find remains is the kernel of a godly example of generosity on a par with that first lived by Christ in his state of humiliation. As Paul wrote, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9, ESV). Saint Nicholas was rich, and he used his wealth to relieve the poverty of those in his ministerial care. Truly, Saint Nicholas  excelled in the grace of giving, taught in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9. His example can help us learn how to live out the teaching of this passage.

It seems to me that due to the Reformed tradition’s utter rejection of corporate recognition of such great saints from church history, depriving ourselves and our congregations of their gifts and graces, are we not also neglecting a sense of communion with those professing Christians, whether Protestant or Catholic, who do recognize these days? We may be appropriately divided from Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians over essentials like justification by faith alone, or other Protestants over important doctrines like the sovereignty of God in the gospel, ecclesiology and the sacraments, but we can at the very least affirm the validity of, rather than despise, their edifying themselves with the gifts and graces of the saints of the past. We could furthermore, I propose, go a step further by not only affirming them in their commemoration, but perhaps exemplify a “more perfect way” of doing so in the context of Reformed theology, piety and practice.

Many Reformed churches are happy to commemorate Reformation Day on a yearly basis. We promote our commonly held Protestant distinctives, displaying our unity with Lutheran, Anglican, Methodist and Baptist Protestants. We also take it a step further and do it in a Reformed way. If we can do it with the memory of the works of Saint Martin Luther, why can we not do it with others like Saint Nicholas? Today is Saint Nicholas Day. December 6 is the anniversary of his death. It is on this day that Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran churches commemorate his life and ministry in their various ways. Yet the Reformed ignore it, although many of them have borrowed from the Anglicans at Christmas and found a way to bring into greater conformity to the Refomred confessions the Anglican Service of Lessons and Carols.

I say we should find a way to bring into greater conformity to our confessions the commemoration of the life and ministry of Saint Nicholas (read all about him here) and so reform  in a more winsome and attractive way, the commercialized specter of Santa Claus, rather than merely turning up our noses to it and saying “Bah! Humbug.” Saint Nicholas is the world’s favorite saint. Sure, they’ve refashioned him in their own image, but we shouldn’t just leave him to them. Let us keep alive the true Saint Nicholas, who currently enriches our Christmas seasons with his emphasis on sacrificial generosity to the poor, and perhaps, through such edifying efforts build bridges over which some of the elect may find their way into the communion of saints through faith in Christ by the power of the Spirit and love for one another, and we can learn from Saint Nicholas how to better minister to the needy among us, as well as in the world, without feeling like we’re capitulating to some liberal “social gospel” or postmodern version of progressive “social justice.” Let us reform Saint Nicholas day and perhaps in his providence the Lord will use us to reform the way Christian charity is done in a more perfect way.

Happy Saint Nicholas Day!

Sermon Notes: Crossing the Jordan, Part 1

Sermon Notes Image

The following are notes from the sermon I heard yesterday, October 13, 2013 at Mid Cities Presbyterian Church. The sermon is called “Crossing the Jordan, Part 1,” and is based on Joshua 3:1-5. Rev. Joseph L. Troutman preached the sermon. Some of the material below is original to me, however.

1Then Joshua rose early in the morning and they set out from Shittim. And they came to the Jordan, he and all the people of Israel, and lodged there before they passed over. 2 At the end of three days the officers went through the camp 3 and commanded the people, “As soon as you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God being carried by the Levitical priests, then you shall set out from your place and follow it. 4 Yet there shall be a distance between you and it, about 2,000 cubits in length. Do not come near it, in order that you may know the way you shall go, for you have not passed this way before.” 5 Then Joshua said to the people,“Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.”

The big idea of this sermon is that the gap between God and Man is caused by our sin, and is bridged only by Christ, who is God with us.

1. Follow Me (verses 1-3) they set out from Shittim. And they came to the Jordan The distance between Shittim and the Jordan River is about 12 miles. The trip took about a day.

and all the people of Israel, and lodged there before they passed over. Day 1:Their arrival, there for partial day; Day 2: “Lodged” all day; Day 3: There a partial day before crossing the river. Similar to the timing of Christ in the tomb–he wasn’t in the tomb for precisely 72 hours, but part of the first day, all of the second, and rose before sunup on day three.

Condition of the Jordan River, see verse 15: (now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest) It was springtime, and the river was turbulent.

“As soon as you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God being carried by the Levitical priests, then you shall set out from your place and follow it. Yet there shall be a distance between you and it, about 2,000 cubits in length. Do not come near it, in order that you may know the way you shall go, for you have not passed this way before.”

The ark of the covenant symbolized God’s presence. It was holy because God is holy. In the Bible, all visible signs of spiritual truths are so closely associated with the spiritual truth that it is identified as if it were the spiritual truth. In the Hebrew text of Joshua 3:17, the ark is not only called the ark of the covenant, but the covenant itself. This is why some mistake baptism as the thing that actually saves, and that the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper are actually transformed into the literal body and blood of Christ. The sign is called by the name of the reality, but the sign only points to the reality; the sign is not the reality. That’s why, in chapter 27, section 2 of the Westminster Confession of Faith, it reads:

There is, in every sacrament, a spiritual relation, or sacramental union, between the sign and the thing signified: whence it comes to pass, that the names and effects of the one are attributed to the other.

In a sense, the ark was treated by the Israelites the way the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are treated by Bible-believing Christians today.

2. A Safe Distance (verse 4)

Yet there shall be a distance between you and it, about 2,000 cubits in length. Do not come near it,

Two thousand cubits is about three thousand feet–over half a mile. This distance which the Israelites were to keep between themselves and the ark of the covenant symbolizes the distance between the holy God and sinful humanity. Although God was with his people, their sins still separate them from him; however, the Levites were graciously allowed to carry the ark, and thus the priesthood does its job of mediating between the holy God and sinners. They represent the people to God, and thus he is near his people while keeping a safe distance for the good of his people. This nearness of God with Man, while at the same time being separate from them is ultimately bridged in the person of Jesus, our Great High Priest.

3. Consecration (verse 5)

Then Joshua said to the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.”

The people must set themselves apart from unclean things, as well as from common things. God is holy, so they must be holy. God is clean and he is uncommon, therefore, so should the Israelites make this spiritual fact ceremonially visible in the same way the ark makes the presence of the Lord ceremonially visible. They were to wash their clothes and abstain from sex, as in Exodus chapter 19, which gives a good description of the way the people must consecrate themselves and keep a safe distance from Mount Sinai, and the severity of the consequences if they do not.

the Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments and be ready for the third day. For on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. And you shall set limits for the people all around, saying, ‘Take care not to go up into the mountain or touch the edge of it.Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death. No hand shall touch him, but he shall be stoned or shot; whether beast or man, he shall not live.’ When the trumpet sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain.” So Moses went down from the mountain to the people and consecrated the people; and they washed their garments. And he said to the people, “Be ready for the third day; do not go near a woman.”

Similarly, Christians should see themselves as called out from the unclean and the common, to be God’s chosen possession.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).

“…for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.” Miracles are a sign of God’s power announcing that the observer is in the presence of God. Christ himself so far surpasses Old Testament miracles that if we are unaffected by the fact of his incarnation, righteousness, substitution for us on the cross, his resurrection and ascension to be enthroned on the right hand of God the Father, this speaks ill of our spiritual condition. Jesus, the God-Man bridges the gap between the holy God and sinful humanity, and consecrates those who repent and believe that they might draw near to God to serve and worship him.

The Hermeneutics of Insider Syncretism

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On this week’s episode of the Christ the Center podcast (#263, “Insider Movements“), Dr. David Garner is interviewed about his recent article in Themelios, “High Stakes: Insider Movement Hermeneutics and the Gospel,” analyzing the hermeneutics underlying the Insider Movement, a sociological and anthropological approach to contextualizing evangelism without calling on people whose identities are tied to other world religions like Judaism, Islam and Hinduism to disassociate themselves from those religious, cultural and family ties, but to work inside them and transform their approach to those religions in light of the teachings of Jesus. While it is noble to attempt to find a way to minimize the risk of loss or danger a Jew, Muslim or Hindu (for example) may face upon becoming a Christian, it is unfaithful to the Jesus they claim to follow if they would settle for living to distort their new-found faith with the teachings and practices of the religion with which they have previously been associated. Living to syncretize Christianity with non-Christian world religions is not a faith worth living for or dying for.

This movement is clearly in contradiction with the teachings of Jesus to those who would follow him. Jesus carried his cross and died on it for those who believe, and he calls on believers to take up their cross, follow him, and be willing to live publicly for him and, if need be, accept rejection by leaders of other religions, communities and families, even if such rejection includes dying for him.

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Matthew 10:34-39 ESV).

I know it’s easy for me to say, and to criticize those who would find a way around it, but I too have a cross of self-denial to carry if I am to follow Jesus. I must kill my own sin (a struggle which involves suffering and risk of social rejection on my part), and publicly acknowledge Jesus as my Lord and Savior and associate myself formally with his people, the Church (Hebrews 10:25), serving him with my time, talent and treasure–loving, forgiving and giving to my brothers until it hurts. Should the time come that the culture or community in which I live demands that I deny my Lord Jesus Christ, I am called upon to defy such a demand and willingly suffer the consequences in reliance upon the grace and goodness of God, knowing that if such is happening to me, it is no more than what he sacrificed for me.

One of the interesting things about this movement which Dr. Garner points out in the article and the interview is that the intellectual source of such innovation in world missions comes from the same root as the church growth movement–Donald McGavran (d. 1990) and his School of Intercultural Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary (formerly the famous School of World Mission).

Donald Anderson McGavran (December 15, 1897–1990) was a missiologist who was the founding Dean (1965) and Professor of Mission, Church Growth, and South Asian Studies at the School of World Mission at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. A child of missionaries in India and later amissionary himself (1923–1961), McGavran spent most of his life trying to identify and overcome barriers to effective evangelism or Christian conversion.

McGavran identified differences of caste and economic social position as major barriers to the spread of Christianity. His work substantially changed the methods by which missionaries identify and prioritize groups of persons for missionary work and stimulated the Church Growth Movement. McGavran developed his church growth principles after rejecting the popular view that mission was ‘philanthropy, education, medicine, famine relief, evangelism, and world friendship’ and become convinced that good deeds – while necessary – ‘must never replace the essential task of mission, discipling the peoples of the earth’. [HT: Wikipedia]

While McGavran’s efforts in his time were more theologically conservative and a reaction against liberal missionary trends, a student of his named C. Peter Wagner built on McGavran’s principles and create the church growth movement which has brought us such phenomena as seeker-sensitive worship and the modern megachurch. Incidentally, he is also the one who coined the phrase New Apostolic Reformation for the worldwide sweep of Charismatic and Word of Faith theology with a special emphasis on the restoration of the apostolic office, which movement in America has recently frightened the political Left because so many who would fall under this umbrella have modified the theonomist views of R. J. Rushdoony (for more on that, see this) and declared that they would “take dominion” over every sphere of influence in America.

Syncretism in the name of saving one’s life is no way to spread Christianity. A new generation around the world must hear the age-old truism: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church” [paraphrasing Tertullian, Apology chapter 50].

From Demand to Free Gift

Listen to Lutheran Church Missouri Synod minister, Dr. Rod Rosenbladt, talk about what drove Luther’s hammer

R.C. Sproul on the Current State of the Catholic/Protestant Divide

The contemporary spirit of the Evangelical movement is to lower the historic bar on the differences between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. Since the 1994 statement Evangelicals and Catholics Together, things have gone from bad to worse. Enter R. C. Sproul, probably the premier Reformed and Protestant apologist of the 20th and early 21st century to stem the tide, and remind us all that not only are the historic distinctions between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism still there, but many more issues have further complicated the matter. Get informed on all the issues so that you may retain the courage to be Protestant (with apologies to David F. Wells)

In recent years, some evangelical Protestant leaders have signed statements pledging themselves to joint social action with Roman Catholics. Others have refused to participate, declaring that, in their view, the statements went too far, touching on the gospel, which remains a point of disagreement between Protestants and Roman Catholics. Many evangelical Christians have found themselves confused by the different directions taken by their leaders.

In Are We Together? A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism, Dr. R.C. Sproul takes his stand for the cardinal doctrines of Protestantism in opposition to the errors of the Roman Catholic Church. Sproul, a passionate defender of the gospel of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, cites the historic statements of the Protestant Reformers and the Roman Catholic authorities, then references modern doctrinal statements to show that the Roman Catholic Church has not altered its official positions. In light of this continuing gap, he writes, efforts by some in the evangelical camp to find common ground with Rome on matters at the heart of the gospel are nothing short of untrue to biblical teaching. In Sproul’s estimation, the Reformation remains relevant.

Are We Together? is a clarion call to evangelicals to stand firm for the gospel, the precious good news of salvation as it is set forth in Scripture alone.

HT: Ligonier Store

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