General Session 12: John MacArthur
Friday Evening, 7 p.m.
Topic: Clarity on Unity
Passage: Phil. 1:21-25
There is, among many concerns in my heart, one concern that I want to address in particular. I want to bring clarity on the issue of unity. Not only are individual churches very often divided, cantankerous, full of factions, animosity, and anger, but it seems to me the entire evangelical church is sadly much like this. This is a far cry from what our Lord desired when he said the world would know us by our love. I would hope that the word of God would speak to us on the issue of unity in a way that is unforgettable.
Paul states in Philippians 1 that it is his desire to go to heaven to be with the Lord, but he will stay for the joy of the church (1:25). How often do we think about joy as the reason for ministry? In verse 21, Paul essential says, I have no life apart from Christ. Paul means this: Christ is my life; he is my everything. All my existence and all my being is in Christ alone. He gives all definition, motivation, meaning, and purpose to every part of my life. I am utterly dominated by love and devotion to Christ. This is what Paul means. This is as close as you can get to loving the Lord with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Paul is so lost in the love of Christ that, for him, to die is gain.
There is no question to Paul as to which is the preferable option—living or dying. He would say life is sweet with Christ, but death is sweeter. Why? Because there is more of Christ—there is all of Christ. But if the Lord wishes me to stay on this earth, I will fulfill my purpose—not to fix the world or the culture or solve the social problems, but “for your progress and joy in the faith” (1:25).
If I were an unbeliever looking at the church, I don’t know if I would think it was marked and defined by joy. Is your church characterized by joy?
Paul is writing this letter to the Philippians from a prison in Rome. He is familiar with joy because it is written of all throughout the Old Testament. And the New Testament begins with joy – “good news of great joy” (Luke 2:10). And life ends with joy – “enter into the joy of your master” (Matt. 25:21). The 70 disciples, when the Lord sent them, returned with joy. And the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son, when they were found—joy, joy, and joy. Joy consumes Jesus’s speech in John 15. The kingdom of God is said to be one of righteousness, peace, and joy. Thus, if Paul is going to stay, it is for the joy of the church.
I don’t know that we think about the purpose of ministry being the joy of the people of God. Nothing mattered to the apostle Paul except the progress and joy of those who held the faith. The joy of his beloved church was upon his heart. How much better would our ministries be if our churches were characterized by joy?
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So how do we get this joy? What is most critical to a life of joy? “Conduct yourself in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (1:27). Paul wants believers to live as proud citizens of the kingdom of Jesus Christ—you demonstrate by how you live how you value the king. The singular testimony of Christians is how they live before the world. You need to conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.
What is Paul asking of us? If we are going to forgo heaven, which would be so much better, and we have to stay here, and the reason we are staying is for the progress and joy of the church—how do we get there? Is it just a general command to get your act together? It is more specific than that.
Specifically, Paul is talking about unity (1:27). The pathway that worthy conduct has to take to arrive at joy is the corridor of unity—one spirit, one mind. The price you pay for a splintered and wandering church is no joy. The church should be the most joyful assembly of human beings on the planet.
And this requires that we stand together (1:27). But this unity has to be defined. It is not inclusive. There are people excluded from this unity (Phil. 3:17). We are to exclude the enemies of the cross. But how do you know an enemy of the cross? Their god is their appetite. They see honor in their shameful behavior. Their mind is set on ungodly things.
A church that is united is a church of the redeemed who is standing together, firm in the Lord (1 Cor. 11). Unity in the church should exclude two types of people: (1) Those in error (Rom. 16:17; 2 Thess. 3:6; Titus 3:10). This is someone whose bad theology has resulted in bad living. (2) Those who are in sin (Matt. 18). Church discipline is critical to the true unity of the church. Church discipline is not optional (1 Cor. 5:9). Those standing firm in doctrine stand firm also in conduct, in one spirit.
The church has a common goal and a common enemy. All the bickering and backbiting stops when the real enemy shows up. Fighting is what happens when there is no real enemy around. There is a lot of fighting among Christians because they have failed to recognize where the true enemy is.
When Christians wake up and realize that they are in a battle for the truth against ideologies stacked against the knowledge of God, when they begin to take serious the onslaught against virtue, against men and women, against marriage and the Bible—then this bickering and divisiveness will subside. Those who fight in the church don’t know who the enemy is. The church at large today is not fighting for the gospel, we are sadly just fighting each other. Meanwhile there is a raging enemy attacking life, the Bible, holiness, the church, and the family. And the church seems indifferent. It contentedly squabbles. Paul wants the church to be built up with joy, which means you have to strive together for the truth. We have to know where our enemy is.
We also must suffer together (Phil. 1:29-30). If you want joy in your church, you must stand firm in one spirit on sound doctrine, fight the battle with clarity, and take the suffering. Don’t try to blunt the offense of the gospel. Don’t complain until you have suffered to the level that Paul has.
Ask yourself this: Have I received enough encouragement in Christ? Have I received enough consolation of love? Have I received enough of the blessing of the fellowship of the Holy Spirit? Enough affection and compassion—to be grateful? The call of unity is based on gratitude (2:1). Are you grateful for Christ and your union with him and the encouragement that continues to flow from him to you? Do you have gratitude that the Lord has come close to you to do nothing except put his arm around you and love you? Does it mean anything to you that Christ has taken up residence in your life? Does it mean anything to you that the Holy Spirit has come to dwell within you? That you are the temple of the Holy Spirit? That you are being illuminated, edified, comforted, and sanctified by the Holy Spirit? Does that mean something to you? Does it matter that you have been shown grace upon grace upon grace? Dear friend, you have taken it all. True gratitude says, in response to all that has been done for you, I give you all that I am.
Worthy conduct means that having received all that God can give, I am bound in my love and affection for the giver—that now for me to live is Christ.
Christ has come to you. The Spirit has come to you. And the Father has come to you. The whole Trinity has taken up residence in your life. And the Trinity has come full of love that pours encouragement, tender care, communion, partnership, fellowship, and compassionate mercy into your soul. The only response in you should be grateful love. The grateful response to all that has been given to you is this: “make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose” (Phil. 2:2). If you are not pursuing unity with your whole heart, you are responding to the lavish love of God in ingratitude. You have taken the entire Trinity into your life with all of its benefits, knowing that the desire of the Trinity is for the church to display unity and joy, and yet you cling to your preferences. A divisive Christian not only destroys unity, but also joy.
You cannot unify a church on anything other than sound doctrine. Without doctrine, there is no possibility of being of the same mind. Where believers are of the same mind, there is love. Where believers are gathered around sound doctrine, we are of the same love, the same truth, the same affections, and the same passions. Unity for the sake of joy.
But how do we do this?
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. (Phil. 2:3-4)
There is an absoluteness to these words. These words are inescapable. Unity is only possible if you are the least important person in your life. If you think you have a right to demand everything you want, you are doing the devil’s work in the church. Do nothing that advances you. Advancing you destroys the unity of the Spirit. Don’t give yourself undeserved glory. Don’t demand anything, ever. Personal demands must be eliminated from the church.
Instead, with humility of mind, regard one another as more important than yourself. You might have an issue and have been wronged, but so what? You are the last person that matters to you. Everyone else matters to you, not you.
You are to have no desire to be admired, respected, pandered, heard, or elevated. Because with humility of mind, you are too busy making sure everyone else is more important than you are. This will put a halt to division in the church. Please brothers, consider others as more important than yourself. And as you become preoccupied with everybody else around you, you will slowly give your life away.
What does it mean to do nothing from selfish ambition? It means this: act like Christ. The whole goal of sanctification is to be Christ-like. If you are anything like Christ at all, you care totally for everyone else, and not at all for yourself. You are the last person to be concerned about. You might say, well someone has to be concerned for me, right? The Lord will be concerned for you. And the same thing will happen to you as what happened to Jesus—when you humble yourself, you will be exalted (Phil. 2:9). God abases the proud, but He elevates the humble.
General Session 11: Mike Riccardi
Friday Afternoon, 3:30 p.m.
Topic: Clarity on the Incarnation
“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 through His poverty might become rich.” (2 Cor 8:9)
These words should land upon us with utter bewilderment. How could it be that someone so rich as Christ could ever experience anything that might be called poverty? The peculiar glory of the incarnation, the matchless beauty of gospel grace, should stop our mouths.
Paul writes of this mystery in his letter to the Philippians: “Christ Jesus, existing in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, being made in the likeness of men” (Phil 2:6). Though Christ existed eternally in the very nature and essence and glory of God, though He was existing in equality with God the Father, ruling creation in majesty and receiving the worship of the saints and angels of heaven, He did not regard the dignity of His station as something to be held onto. But He emptied Himself. He nullified Himself. He made Himself nothing.
This in no way means that in becoming man, Jesus ceased to be what He was as God. This would be impossible. He remained the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. He remained the possessor of all the divine attributes and prerogatives of God. Jesus did not become poor by becoming what He was not—man. He became poor by addition, not subtraction. He became what He was not, while never ceasing to be what He was. He took on humanity, while not for a second shedding His divinity.
So this leaves us with a question: what then was His poverty, if it was not, in some way, being deprived of His deity?
The answer is this: though Jesus had every right to continue in unlimited manifest power and authority, to radiate the very essence and glory of deity, to receive nothing but exalted worship from the host of heaven, without a trace of poverty, pain, or humiliation—He did not selfishly consider these riches as things to be slavishly held onto, but He sacrificed them. He gave them up to become man and to accomplish salvation for sinful man. One commentator put it this way: “He surrendered all the insignia of divine majesty and assumed all the frailty and vicissitudes of the human condition” (Harris, 579).
John Calvin wrote, “Christ, indeed, could not divest himself of godhead, but he kept it concealed for a time, that it might not be seen, under the weakness of the flesh. Hence he laid aside his glory in the view of men, not by lessening it, but by concealing it.” He concealed the riches of the divine majesty of the Lord of glory behind the veil of the poverty of a slave.
Though being rich, He became poor.
He is rich as the uncreated Creator, but poor insofar as He assumed a created human nature. The One who always was came to exist as a human embryo in His mother’s womb. He was, as Augustine wrote, man’s Maker made Man.
He is rich as the divine Son of God, and yet poor as He was born to a poor virgin who had been disgraced by suspicions of immorality.
He is rich as the rightful owner of everything in heaven and earth, and yet poor as He was born in a stable and laid in a feed trough for a bed.
He is rich as the One whose glory fills the earth, who is rightfully worshiped by the saints and angels of heaven, and yet He is poor, as the one who was made for a little while lower than the angels (Heb 2:9).
He is rich as the sustainer of all things, upholding the galaxies by the word of His power, and yet poor—at the same time being sustained by the nutrients of His mother’s body.
He is rich as the immutable One, so perfect that He could never change for the better and so righteous that He could never change for the worse, and yet poor as the One who, as Luke writes, “kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52).
He is rich as the God who owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Ps 50:10), and yet poor as the man who had no place to lay His head (Luke 9:58). The foxes He created had holes. The birds whose life He sustained by His word had nests. But the Son of Man who had spoken the world into existence had no place on the earth He created to call His own.
He is the bread of life, who out of His infinite fullness satisfies the hunger of every soul who feasts upon Him (John 6:35), and yet He experienced hunger.
He is the fountain of living waters (Jer 2:13) who invited the thirsty to come to Him and drink (John 7:37-38) and never be thirsty again (John 4:13-14), and yet He experienced the parched mouth of human thirst.
He is rich as the omnipotent One—the source of all strength—who calms the winds and waves with a word (Luke 8:25), and yet poor as one who grew weary from a day’s journey (John 4:6) and needed to sleep (Luke 8:23).
He is the Truth (John 14:6). He is the Truth slandered and accused of bearing false witness. The King of the angels, accused of being possessed by demons. The embodiment of faithfulness, betrayed by His friends.
The One who clothes the grass of the field and lilies of the valley (Matt 6:29-30) was stripped bare. The One who healed the sick with a touch had His back ripped open by the scourges of sinful men. The brow that should have borne the crown of heaven was pierced with thorns.
The One who upheld the universe collapsed under the weight of His own crossbar, and needed the help of a man whom He had made, whose life He was sustaining at that very moment, to carry His cross to Golgotha.
From the majesty of Heaven, to look upon Him would have been to look upon the epitome of beauty itself. But Isaiah, who wrote of the angelic worship He received in heaven (Isa 6), also wrote that on earth He had “no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. He was despised and forsaken of men” (Isa 53). And the beautiful one—the one fairer than the fairest of ten thousand!—“like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him” (Isa 53:3).
The worshiped became the despised. The blessed One became the man of sorrows. The Master became the slave.
Friends, the rich became poor.
But His poverty did not reach its depths at the shame and the pain and the torture. We must raise our eyes to Calvary—up to Golgotha—and behold the one who was rich in that He had life within Himself (John 5:26), rich as the One who gives life to whomever He wishes (John 5:21), and watch as there the Author of Life humbly submitted Himself to death. The sinless one—ever and only the worker of righteousness—paying the wages of death. It should cause our souls to scream, “Amazing love! How can it be, that Thou, My God, shouldst die for me?”
But it was not just death Jesus suffered. If one so rich as God the Son must know the poverty of death, one would think that at least it would be an honorable death—a death fit for a king. But no, “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8).
One commentator wrote of this manner of death, “The cross displayed the lowest depths of human depravity and cruelty. It exhibited the most brutal form of sadistic torture and execution ever invented by malicious human minds” (Hansen, 157). In crucifixion, metal spikes were driven through the victim’s wrists and feet, and he was left to hang naked and exposed, sometimes for days. Because the body would be pulled down by gravity, the weight of a victim’s own body would press against his lungs, and the hyperextension of the lungs and chest muscles made it difficult to breathe. Victims would gasp for air by pulling themselves up. But when they would do that, the wounds in their wrists and feet would tear at the stakes that pierced them, and the flesh of their back—usually torn open from flogging—would grate against the jagged wood. Eventually, when he could no longer summon the strength to pull himself up to breathe, the victim of a crucifixion would die from suffocation under the weight of his own body. This was the most sadistically cruel, excruciatingly painful, and loathsomely degrading death that a man could die. And there on Golgotha, 2,000 years ago, the innocent, holy, righteous Son of God died this death. God. On a cross.
But it doesn’t stop even there. The shame and pain of the cross was not the lowest depth of poverty to which the Son of God humbly submitted Himself. Deuteronomy 21:23 teaches that anyone hanged on a tree is accursed of God. Worse than the pain and the torture and the shame, the self-impoverishment of the Son of God climaxes in His bearing of the divine curse, as the unmixed fury of the Father breaks over the head of His beloved Son in whom He is well-pleased, as Christ bears the sins of His people as our substitute and cries out in words that exhaust the depths of mystery, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
The Author of life—dead. The fountain of all divine blessings became a curse under the wrath of God.
Dear friends, no one was ever richer than the Son of God. And no one was ever poorer than that same Son of God.
And why did He do this? “Though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.”
Dear Christian, He did this for you. It was your sin that He bore. The wrath He suffered at His Father’s hand, that was yours. The abandonment He experienced, that was your abandonment. His cries should have been yours. And yet because of His death, you may go free. Through His poverty, you may become rich (Eph. 1:3).
Puritan John Flavel attempted to capture just a glimpse of the intra-Trinitarian council of salvation that took place before the world was made:
Father: My son, here is a company of poor miserable souls, that have utterly undone themselves, and now lie open to my justice! Justice demands satisfaction for them, or will satisfy itself in the eternal ruin of them: What shall be done for these souls?
Son: O my Father, such is my love to, and pity for them, that rather than they shall perish eternally, I will be responsible for them as their Surety; bring in all thy bills, that I may see what they owe thee; Lord, bring them all in, that there may be no after-reckonings with them; at my hand shalt thou require it. I will rather choose to suffer thy wrath than [that] they should suffer it: upon me, my Father, upon me be all their debt.
Father: But, my Son, if thou undertake for them, thou must reckon to pay the last mite, expect no abatements; if I spare them, I will not spare thee.
Son: Content, Father, let it be so; charge it all upon me, I am able to discharge it: and though it prove a kind of undoing to me, though it impoverish all my riches, empty all my treasures … yet I am content to undertake it. (The Father's Bargain with the Son)
For your sake He has done this, Christian. For you.
General Session 10: Steven J. Lawson
Friday Afternoon, 1:30 p.m.
Topic: What is the gospel?
Passage: Rom. 1:1-7
Dr. Sproul would always begin the semester in his Doctor of Ministry program by asking the simple question, what is the gospel? This was addressed to the best and brightest of men—men who had given their lives to preaching the gospel. Each semester, Dr. Sproul was stunned at how few students could accurately or biblically answer thais fundamental question.
Let me ask you, brother, what is the gospel?
To be wrong about the gospel is to be wrong where it matters most. It is to be wrong about your relationship with God. To be wrong about the gospel is to be wrong about a hundred other things theologically. To be wrong about the gospel means you are unconverted; it means you are perishing. You cannot be wrong about the gospel and be right with God.
The gospel is good news. It is the good news of salvation that has come from God in the person of his son Jesus Christ to people who are under the wrath of God and who need deliverance. This is the greatest news that anyone has ever heard.
After Martin Luther translated the Bible in hiding, Luther wrote that the gospel means
a good message, good tidings, good news, a good report, which one sings and tells with gladness. For example, when David overcame the great Goliath, there came among the Jewish people the good report and encouraging news that their terrible enemy had been struck down and that they had been rescued and given joy and peace; and they sang and danced and were glad for it [I Sam. 18:6]. Thus this gospel of God or New Testament is a good story and report, sounded forth into all the world by the apostles, telling of a true David who strove with sin, death, and the devil, and overcame them, and thereby rescued all those who were captive in sin, afflicted with death, and overpowered by the devil. Without any merit of their own He made them righteous, gave them life, and saved them, so that they were given peace and brought back to God.
The gospel is the greatest news this world has ever heard. And Romans is Paul’s magnum opus. In it he presents the very gospel of God. Luther called Romans the gateway to heaven, the open door to paradise, the very purist gospel. It can never be read nor pondered too much.
1. The Servant of the Gospel
Paul is the most unlikely messenger of the gospel that has ever walked the earth. He is a self-proclaimed blasphemer, persecutor, aggressor, and chief of sinners. Yet this is the man whom God chose.
Paul refers to himself as a bondservant—a slave who belongs entirely to his master. But Paul was also an apostle—one who is set apart for the very gospel of God. This is the highest calling that can come upon any man’s life. There is no higher calling under heaven than to be a gospel minister.
This should be encouraging to us. God delights in reaching all the way to the bottom of the barrel to find his choice servants. The greatness of the gospel is not found in the messenger, but the message.
2. The Source of the Gospel
The gospel is from God. It is true that the gospel is about God, but Paul stresses in Romans 1 that the gospel has come from the heights of heaven—from outside of this world. The gospel has come down from God to man. God is the very source, author, and architect of this gospel. This gospel has not been designed by a denomination, a seminary, or a church. This gospel has come from the infinite genius of God. There is not a man here today who could have thought up the plan of salvation as found in the gospel. This is God’s solution to man’s dilemma. This is God speaking his gospel.
Who but God could have thought up in eternity past that God the Father would send his Son into the world to save the world through a virgin birth, that he would be born under the law, that he would fulfill all righteousness on our behind, that by his active obedience to the moral law of God he would secure perfect righteousness for us – who but God could have thought of this? Who but God would have designed that Jesus would go to Calvary’s cross and would be lifted to die, and that all the sins of the elect would be placed upon him – that he would become sin in their place? Who but God? That he would be taken down and buried in a borrowed tomb and then raised on the third day – who but God could have designed this? And that he has now ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father? Only God could have designed this gospel.
Every time the Bible references the gospel there is an article in front of it. This is the exclusivity of salvation that is in this gospel. It is not a gospel. There are many roads that lead to hell, there is only one road that leads to heaven, and it is through the Lord Jesus Christ.
There is a zero-tolerance policy for tampering with this gospel. You may not add anything to it. You may not take anything from it. On the last day, every one of us will give an account as to how we have preached this gospel. It is not our gospel, it is God’s gospel.
3. The Stability of the Gospel
This is not a new message. The gospel is an old story. From times of old, God promised the gospel through a parade of prophets who heralded this message. This gospel would be found in the holy writings—in the very words of the Old Testament, words that can be studied, parsed, analyzed, and interpreted.
Any time anyone has ever been made right with God has been by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. There is no other gospel. People in the Old Testament were saved by looking forward to the coming Messiah, just as we are saved. And we all come together at the cross.
The entire gospel rests upon the sturdy foundation of the Old Testament. It was prophesied and written in the Scriptures. It is recorded throughout the whole of the 39 books of the Old Testament. The people of God knew that there was one who would come and redeem them.
4. The Subject of the Gospel
The gospel is about a person. The gospel concerns the Son of God. It does not concern any other matter; it concerns the Lord Jesus Christ.
This Son of God was born. He came into human skin. He was born a descendant of David. He came according to the Messianic line. He was the Son of God from all eternity, and he was the Son of David as he enters the human race.
Jesus had to become a man in the gospel of God. Why? Because we could not raise ourselves up to the heights of heaven to climb into the courts above. All of our righteousness is as filthy rags. God had to leave heaven and come to us—to enter into this world of sin and strife in order to raise us up and take us to heaven. The wages of sin is death, and God cannot die. God is immortal. In order for Jesus to die as our savior, he had to take upon himself sinless humanity in order to suffer the curse of the law. The Son of God had to become the Son of David so that he might die and atone for our sins. In order to be a perfect mediator between God and man—one who stands between two unreconcilable parties to represent both sides –Jesus had to be truly God in order to represent God, and truly man to represent man. No angel or prophet or righteous man could have mediated. No one except the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the gospel of Jesus Christ.
And what did he do as our mediator as he stood between the two sides? He accomplished propitiation, reconciliation, redemption, expiation, and justification. This is the good news from heaven.
5. The Proof of Christ
Thousands of men died upon crosses at the time of Jesus. There were so many crucifixions, they virtually ran out of trees. But only one was raised from the dead, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ. And his resurrection validated and vindicated that the death of Christ was a perfect, once and for all death, for those would trust in his name. Salvation is from God, to God, by God. Only God could save man from his own wrath. His grace has triumphed over his wrath.
All saving faith flows through Jesus Christ to those who would put their trust in him. The word grace represents the entirety of the gospel message. All of grace is flowing through Christ. And there is not one drop of saving grace outside of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Christ is the very epicenter of the gospel. A sermon without Christ has no saving power, for he is the savior of sinners. Do you preach Christ and him crucified? Brothers, let us preach Christ.
6. The Strength of the Gospel
The gospel has the power to change and transform lives. It more than pardons—it gives power to live transformed lives. It brings about the obedience of faith. The only way that the work of Christ is applied to the guilty sinner is through the act of faith in Christ. This saving faith is not a mere intellectual assent, it is not an emotional response, it is an activation of the will. It is more than just the mind or emotions. There is volition that is activated in saving faith which begins with conversion. The first step through the narrow gate is the step of faith.
The obedience of faith means the faith that produces obedience. It is the obedience that faith produces. All true saving faith produces obedience to the will and work of God. It is obedience that is the mark of true saving faith.
Obedience is an essential component in true saving faith. This is the strength of the gospel. It provides all that we need, and the faith that God grants is a faith that is active, dynamic, submissive, and obedient to the will and work of God.
7. The Scope of the Gospel
There is amazing grace for every race. It is for the rich and the poor, the young and the old, men and women—all that there would be more voices in the hallelujah chorus. All so that more would be conformed into the very image of Jesus Christ.
8. The Success of the Gospel
God guarantees the success of his gospel. Christ will not die in vain. There will be a chosen bride who will come to know Jesus Christ. The gospel will not return void. God will send out a call to the elect, and when the gospel is preached, God will call to Jesus Christ those whom he called before the foundation of the world. God’s call overcomes man’s resistance. He makes us willing in the day of his power. We answer God because he gave us ears to hear and a heart to believe. And in that moment, we call upon the name of the Lord, because he has called upon us. There will be none who will fall away, for one day he will glorify all those whom he has called.
If you don’t preach the gospel brother, God will have someone else do it. God has the power in his voice to call the dead to life.
Preach the gospel, the gates of hell shake. Preach the gospel, prodigals return. Preach the gospel to every creature, it is the Master’s mandate and the Master’s power to everyone who believes. ~ Charles Spurgeon
General Session 9: Nathan Busenitz
Friday Morning, 10 a.m.
Topic: Clarity on the Deity of Christ
A right understanding of the person of the Lord Jesus is essential to the Christian faith. There are many today who have abandoned the doctrine of the deity of Christ. Our minds might initially go to Jehovah’s Witnesses or Muslims, but there are also heart-breaking examples that are much closer to home. I have friends in pastoral ministry who have had to church discipline their elders out of churches for this doctrine. I know of Bible professors at conservative universities who have denied the deity of Christ. There are popular authors and speakers who have once affirmed the deity of Christ, only later to turn and walk away.
Brothers, let us not approach this doctrine with an air of familiarity or indifference, lest we find ourselves profaning the profound. To gain clarity on the person of Christ is to behold him with greater focus and to bow our hearts before him in worship.
There are a host of passages throughout Scripture that affirm the deity of Christ (Isaiah 9:6; Matt. 1:23; John 1:1; John 20:28; Acts 20:28; Col. 2:9; Titus 2:3; 2 Peter 1:1; Hebrews 1:3; Hebrews 1:8; 1 John 5:20). We could, of course, add many other passages to this list. But the biblical authors fully embraced the deity of Christ, and in so doing they merely echoed what Jesus claimed about himself (Luke 6:5; John 14:13-14; Matthew 14:33; Mark 2; John 5:18; John 8:58; Matt. 13; Matt. 24; John 17:5; John 14:9-10). It is difficult to imagine how anyone could deny what seems so apparent on the pages of Scripture. But we know that the heart of unbelief suppresses truth, regardless of the mountains of evidence.
As you know, the personal, covenant name of the Lord is Yahweh. Exodus 3:14-15 reads,
Then Moses said to God, ‘Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I will say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you.’ Now they may say to me, ‘What is His name?’ What shall I say to them?’ God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM’; and He said, ‘Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’’ God, furthermore, said to Moses, ‘Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is My name forever, and this is My memorial name to all generations.
When God revealed his covenant-keeping name to Moses, that name was and is Yahweh. But when you look through your Old Testament, the name Yahweh will not be there. Most translations translate it as LORD. This is the very personal, covenant-keeping name of God.
English translations do this in an attempt to follow the lead of the Septuagint. In respect for the name Yahweh, the Jewish people replaced the name Yahweh with another name, Adonai. The English versions have followed in their footsteps. But as a result, we sometimes miss the significance of the passages when the name LORD is used.
There are places in the New Testament where the author quotes an Old Testament passage that refers to Yahweh, and the New Testament author takes that passage and applies it directly to Jesus. The point is clear: there is no wall between Yahweh and Jesus. Jesus is Yahweh. Just as we might say that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, we can also say with utter confidence that the Father is Yahweh, the Son is Yahweh, and the Holy Spirit is Yahweh.
This is the beauty of the trinity.
Let me provide four explicit examples where New Testament authors apply the name Yahweh to Jesus.
1. Matthew 3 shows us that the coming Messiah is Yahweh.
Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ For this is the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet when he said, ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make ready the way of the Lord, Make His paths straight!’ (Matt. 3:1-3)
In this passage is a reference to Isaiah 40:3, and it is used to reference the ministry of John the Baptist. The use of Lord in verse 3 is the very word for Yahweh. After 400 years of silence, there appears a prophetic figure in the wilderness: John the Baptist. And as he preaches against the hypocrisy of the current religious leaders, people want to know who he is. So, John responds with this: he is the one who would call the people to make straight the way of Yahweh. His audience would have recognized John’s Old Testament reference immediately – here was a man making straight the way of Yahweh. What an amazing statement, not just about John the Baptist, but about the one to whom John was pointing. This was the very arrival of Yahweh himself. This passage clearly affirms the deity of the Messiah who was to come.
In the Old Testament, Yahweh promises not only to send a Messiah to defeat Satan and to reverse the curse, but in the New Testament, Yahweh himself takes on flesh, is born in a manger, and takes the name Jesus, which means Yahweh saves. And he is called Emmanuel: God with us. This glorious reality that God became man has captured hearts throughout history.
Augustine would write:
Man's maker was made man that He, Ruler of the stars, might nurse at His mother's breast; that the Bread might hunger, the Fountain thirst, the Light sleep, the Way be tired on its journey; that Truth might be accused of false witnesses, the Teacher be beaten with whips, the Foundation be suspended on wood; that Strength might grow weak; that the Healer might be wounded; that Life might die.
The very Son of God became the Son of man in order to save fallen men. And his name was Jesus, which means Yahweh saves. It had to be him. Who could pay the infinite debt that was owed to God, except God himself?
2. Romans 10 shows us that the conquering savior is Yahweh.
If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, ‘Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for ‘Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ (Rom. 10:9-13)
Paul quotes from Joel 2:32 in this passage. The word translated LORD in Joel is the word Yahweh. Paul is telling his readers, in essence, whoever confesses Jesus as Yahweh and whoever calls upon the name of Yahweh will be saved. To confess Jesus as Lord is not just to let words pass through your lips, it is to declare allegiance to him—to embrace him as the risen savior who conquers death for us. This declaration stood in stark contrast to the pagan expression that Caesar was Lord. Paul says: no, we affirm the deity and lordship of Jesus. We submit to his rule and reign because he is God.
The implications of this verse are clear: unless you proclaim Jesus to be Yahweh, you cannot be saved. The conquering savior is Yahweh, and only those who embrace him in saving faith will be saved.
3. Philippians 2 shows us that the cosmic king is Yahweh.
For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:9-11)
The name that has been bestowed upon Jesus is Lord. What does this mean? This is a reference to Isaiah 45:18-25. Isaiah writes in verse 23: “I have sworn by Myself, the word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness and will not turn back, that to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance” (Is. 45:23). In this passage in Isaiah, it is Yahweh who claims that every knee will bow and tongue will confess his name. And Paul is fully aware of this, which is why he applies it to Jesus. It is none other than Jesus to whom every knee will bow and tongue confess. And what will they confess? That Jesus is Lord—Yahweh. Righteousness and strength and justification are found only in Yahweh. There is no savior except for him, and at his name every knee will bow.
4. 1 Peter 3 shows us that our commander-in-chief is Yahweh.
Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence. (1 Peter 3:13-15)
The last part of verse 14 and beginning of verse 15 are excerpts from Isaiah 8:12-13. The word used for Lord, again, is Yahweh. When Peter quotes from Isaiah 8 and applies it to Christ, he is affirming that Jesus is Yahweh. Peter’s call is clear: treat Jesus as Yahweh in your hearts. Fear him rather than the hostile world around you. When we are tempted to fear men rather than God, we are to set Christ apart as holy, who is Yahweh, and to fear him rather than men.
These are four examples of a New Testament author taking an Old Testament text about Yahweh and applying it directly to Christ. The New Testament unquestionably declares Jesus to be Yahweh.
The deity of Christ is not some secondary doctrine on which we can agree to disagree. It is a defining mark of biblical orthodoxy. It is the very theme of heaven’s song. It is one thing to affirm with our mind and our mouth that Jesus is Yahweh, it is another to submit to it in our soul. When we sanctify Christ as Yahweh, we submit to his lordship, and it emboldens our words and propels our worship. Why? Because we are reverencing him for who he truly is.
Brothers, may this truth grip our hearts, our lips, and our lives as we daily bend the knee to worship the one before whom one day every knee will bow, and as we swear our allegiance to the one to whom one day every tongue will confess—Jesus is Lord.
General Session 8: Paul Washer
Thursday Evening, 6 p.m.
Topic: Clarity on Missions
Passage: Matthew 28:16-18
In recent decades, we have bought into the lie that there is some sort of mysterious knowledge that you have to know in order to do missionary work. How do you plant a church on the mission field? The same way you plant a church in this country: you do the work of an evangelist, you call sinners to repentance, you baptize believers, and then you train them. And then some of those men that you train will go beyond the walls of your church to plant another biblical church elsewhere. This is the work of missions. If missionaries would only obey this, it would transform missions around the world.
I am tired of hearing the belief that there is this esoteric knowledge that missionaries are to have. It is this so-called “knowledge” that has brought ruin to the Great Commission. How do you preach to someone on the other side of the globe? You just preach the gospel to a man. That is it. Enough with the methodologies.
The Great Commission is simply to preach the gospel. It is simple, not easy. It is impossible. But it is the Great Commission. And yet our church keeps producing missionary strategy after missionary strategy, and every strategy is simply an excuse to not preach the gospel. Missionaries are not racehorses, they are plowman. Missionaries are sowers and reapers. Their work is faithful and unnoticed.
There never has been a great man of God except for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. There are only weak and pitiful men of a mighty God. God finds some sort of delight in choosing the runt of the litter and making that man strong.
Every tribe and giant we cannot overcome is there to show us our weakness, to empty us of our wisdom, to empty us of any gifts we suppose we have, and to make us rely upon Jesus Christ. Your problem is not that you are too weak brother, it is that you do not realize how weak you are. And you will be crushed until you know it—so that you might cling to the Lord.
We can do nothing in ourselves apart from Christ, but we can do everything within the providence of Jesus Christ our Lord. No matter what we do as preachers or missionaries, there is only one hero in this story—Jesus Christ. Any sound word ever spoken is the result of His life and wisdom flowing through us. In weakness, we are made mighty. He is not just all that we need, He is the only thing that we have. If you don’t think this way, I have just identified the problem with your ministry. You can do nothing without Christ. And yet with him, we can do anything within his providence. There is nothing commanded that we cannot accomplish—no task given that cannot be carried out in his power and wisdom.
You will not leave this battle without scars, but you will prevail because of the one who sits upon the throne. The church will prevail; the Lord will see to it. If all the armies that have ever been of men and demons amass in one mighty force against my Lord and come against his throne, it would be like a tiny gnat beating his head against a world of granite. And this is what makes the weak strong: knowledge of God. Your need is not what is being sold in the evangelical market; your need is a knowledge of God.
Brother, you will one day have to give an account for your life. How can a man have any peace knowing that one day he will stand before God, with his works tested as fire? We will all one day see words and works burn. How can we have any confidence on that day?
How can you know how to pastor? How can you know how to lead worship or to counsel or do missions or to organize a church? The only way you will know, is through what is written.
These should be our two prayers: Lord, open our eyes to what this text is saying; and Lord, increase my fear of thee.
Missions is simply the church extending itself in the Great Commission. The problem with missions is that we don’t know how to conduct ourselves in the church. The church is the household of God. Christ’s church—Christ’s way. We are mere stewards, nothing less than a steward of the most high God, and nothing more. And as a steward, it is not your prerogative to invent or design.
Imagine that a great king was going to go on a long journey, and he called you as a steward to care for his bride, whom he loves more than his kingdom. He gives you a list, a kingly decree, of what you are to do with his bride. This is what you are to do, and nothing more. And the king looks at you with fire in his eyes, for this is his bride. This king has always delighted in his bride; she is a simple, lovely bride. No frills. Just a simple dress that the king purchased for her. As he goes on the journey, he stays longer than expected. People eventually lose interest in the king, because they are no longer interested in his bride. She is simple, old-fashioned. You decide to change her dress, to paint her face, to restyle her hair, and to march her before a bunch of carnal men to draw men back to the king. Imagine how the king would feel when he returns to see what you have done to his bride.
This is what missionaries are doing with the church. They are changing the appearance of the simple, beautiful bride of Christ in order to draw carnal men back to the Father.
You should look at the bride of Christ and realize these people belong to Him. Pastor, do not add to the Word of God. Care for the bride of Christ with a trembling heart. And if you do care for her well, don’t expect anything special in reward; you have only done what was expected of you.
To go out in his authority, you must go out under his authority. And there is only one book, and it is the Word of God. Oh pastor, when everyone else goes out, can you stay in your study and be alone with God? Can you tarry with God? We don’t need more strategies, we need biblical churches in America with not just expository preaching, but expository living—men that don’t just preach this book, but who conform their ministries, lives, and churches to this book.
Men, we have to go, and we have to disciple, and we have to die. William Carey told a group of men, I’ll go down into the mine, you men hold the rope. Either way there will be scars on your hands. Wear your scars, men. There are still nearly 3 billion people that haven’t heard the gospel. We must be more concerned. We must go brothers, but we must go biblically. Pragmatism is just the handmaiden of liberalism. Pragmatism is doubting God and his word. Missions is not primarily the work of the local church; it is exclusively the work of the local church. We need local churches. Throughout the book of Acts, we see apostles handing the torch of missions over to elders of churches. Elders are to give their lives to raising up young men, and they are not to turn them over to anyone. When those young men are elder-qualified, they are either stay in that church and serve, or they are to go out—either across the city or around the world.
But remember this: Unity is not based on a common mission. Missions can never be the unifying factor among believers. Well-defined truth must be the unifying factor. The only way to be part of the family of God is to embrace the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We must preach the gospel, not a gospel. The God I preach is the same, and the gospel they need is the same—regardless of the country. Ours is not a mystical religion, but it is a supernatural one. We preach to dead men, and there is no crowbar we can use to pry dead men from their tombs. But if we preach the gospel, God will rip dead men from tombs and flood them with light. Preach this gospel men, no matter the country.
Just look in church history. Who has shaken the globe? Preachers. And most of them died preaching. Men, attack the world with the proclamation of the word of God. You say, but I am the runt of the litter! Good, God will do something with you. Cling to the word of God. You have no wisdom? Good, only speak the word of God. You have no strength? Constantly ask the Spirit to help you to walk in holiness and to preach with clarity. Men, rise up. Never turn your eyes away from the flock of God. And then lead your flock into missions. Be content with God’s smile. You are looking for him and his approving gaze.
General Session 7: Conrad Mbewe
Wednesday Afternoon, 3:30 p.m.
Topic: Testing the Spirits: Biblical Clarity on the Charismatic Movement
Passage: 1 John 1:4-6
You cannot be a Christian leader at the commencement of the twenty-first century without realizing that you will soon need to deal with the crisis that has been brought into Christendom by the charismatic movement. Like any movement, it is a mixture of good, bad, and ugly. As such, there is a desperate need for clarity. There is a need for you and I to see through this movement that is tearing through the church, so that we can act as safeguards for the people of God. There must be stability in the way that we lead the people of God and the church of God.
One has to ask the question: where do we draw the line with those who we can agree to disagree on some aspects on pneumatology and those who are unsaved?
The Achilles heel, with respect to this movement, is simply its lack of discernment. Once there is a claim by a leader to do some sort of miracle, the people readily believe that surely God must be with that leader. And whoever would question this teacher is viewed as divisive and cold, even pharisaical. We desperately need clarity in this area. We must be safe and sure guides for the people of God.
We should not be hesitant or reluctant to test the spirits. We must not be spiritually careless, that we readily accept anyone and anything that comes in the name of Jesus. Do not believe every spirit. We must test the authenticity of preachers. Test the spirits. Why? “For many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).
If the American government were to tell the American people that the market had been infiltrated with counterfeit money, everyone would be sure to check and guard their wallets. But, brothers, we know according to 1 John that the church has been infiltrated with false teachers. What is money compared to human souls? If we love our souls and the souls of others, we must care for them by being vigilant to test the teaching of the Word of God. Once you have died, there is no second chance—no coming back to check and make sure you believed the right thing. Vigilance is important now.
Our church is filled with men and women who claim to have a “word from the Lord.” We must not blindly follow these men and women. Test their words. The book of 1 John pleads with you to do so.
Please accept that it is your responsibility not just to believe what other people say. Please accept that it falls on you to test the spirits.
When thinking through how to test the spirits, we must ask ourselves: how is the theology, specifically the Christology, of these individuals who are speaking in the name of God? In the apostles’ day, heresies surrounded the nature of the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. Today, heresy surrounds every aspect of Jesus’s person and work. In my land of Africa, people treat the blood of Christ the same way that witches treat the blood of chickens – they sprinkle it on their properties and lives, and they believe it keeps them from being snatched away.
The main issue that is taking place at the cross is not so much the protection of my things, but it is reconciling me to believing in God. This the issue. It is justification, redemption, and propitiation that is taking place as the Son of God bleeds and dies. He is saving my soul, not my things. “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever” (Rom. 11:33-36). Friends, this is Christianity. This is the glorious message of the cross.
And this is the exact opposite of what is often attributed to Christ. The promise that is often made to the masses is that when you become a Christian, everything is now supposed to be going well with you—that your health and wealth should be restored. Meanwhile, this is what you find in the very word of God: “For your sake we are being killed all day long, we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered” (Rom. 8:36). True Christianity does not save us from hurt or death. It does not rescue us from the tears of this world. And yet this is what is being propagated. What a terrible, hellish lie.
You can’t believe wrongly and then live correctly. When you have embraced a serious error in theology or Christology, it is only a matter of time before scandals begin. Bad theology produces bad lives. You can pretend for a while—you can paint your tomb with bright white paint, but inside are still bones. A faulty Christology never saved a single soul. It is real, biblical truth concerning the life and death of our Lord Jesus Christ that saves sinners and sanctifies the people of God. Therefore, this is the test we must use.
So why is it that so many people follow false teachers, and we do not? Why is the error in their teaching so obvious to you, and yet so attractive to millions of people?
It is because you are from God, dear brother (1 John 4:4).
The same Spirit of God who saved you, who now dwells in you and sanctifies you, that Spirit of God is the Spirit of truth (1 John 4:6). Because he is the spirit of truth, he guides you into truth. He gives you a sense of truth. You are enabled by him as he opens your eyes to the truths of the Word of God to sense when someone is teaching something that contradicts the very Word of God. The Spirit of God causes you to have a jealousy for the truth of God. And because of that, you are an overcomer. Even when everybody is heading in the opposite direction, you shake your head and fix your eyes upon the person of Christ. The Spirit of God who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. Praise God that he who said let there be light dwells within your soul. Praise God.
The reason worldly crowds follow false teachers is because they tell them worldly things—the very things the world wants to hear (1 John 4:5). This is the very reason that motivational speaking has become the regular menu for people, because it tells people that God wants you to be great. This is what everyone wants to hear. So false teachers will always have their numbers, because this is what the world’s itching ears crave.
The false teachers sing us to sleep in the sleep of death. And the world loves it. It is the world chasing the world. This is goats chasing goats, wolves chasing wolves, the dead chasing the dead. This is not Christianity; this is the backdoor into hell. And we must have nothing to do with it.
The thing that identifies you is whether you listen to the apostles or not (4:6). Those who are truly born of God will listen to these men. The Spirit must work in our souls to regenerate us and to open our eyes in order for us to see the truth as it is in Christ and to embrace it with our very lives.
This is who to follow: follow those who are willing to submit their beliefs and practices to the Word of God.
It would not be right to paint everyone in the charismatic movement with the same brush. We have the good, the bad, and the ugly. The greatest need for today is discernment. The very people who speak so much about the Spirit are not taking the time to test the spirits. We, of all people, must long for biblical clarity. We must not remain silent. We must engage actively in testing the spirits. Our line of action should not be to join crowds, but to be faithful to the God of the Bible by being faithful to His Word. What a challenging time we live in today. All of us need a clarity in the midst of all the noise of all the crowds of all the claims—to be able to see through it all what God has revealed in His Word. May it be that the Lord tells us well done when we see him face to face, because we have tested the spirits.
General Session 6: Abner Chou
Thursday Afternoon, 1:30 p.m.
Topic: Clarity on Creation
Creation is the very foundation of the biblical story line. The way you approach creation will determine your approach to the entire biblical story line. Your view of creation exposes your very view of Scripture. It answers the question: do you reason from a human perspective or from a biblical one?
Our view of creation exposes our hermeneutic. It asks: Do we have a hermeneutic of surrender? Do we look at the creation account and say this is what God has said and I will say no other? Or do we have a hermeneutic of struggle? Do we try to make the creation account say what we want it to?
The creation account exposes even our character. It is one thing to say you have a high view of Scripture, but the creation account challenges that assertion. It asks where your loyalties lie.
Clarity on creation is not optional; it is the very gatekeeper for your theological fidelity.
The narrative of creation is often swept under the rug and seen as an embarrassment to evangelicalism. But there is so much at stake with holding to this doctrine. Creation does not open a host of questions to the Christian faith, it answers them. The doctrine of creation firmly states: this is our father’s world, and everything in it is for his glory. Therefore, he will make all things right in the end. This doctrine is not a liability; it is our greatest asset. Your job is not to convince the world of your sanity, it is to handle the word of God with care. The doctrine of creation challenges you to do just that.
The author of Genesis did not miscommunicate when writing Genesis, nor was he writing a myth. This is an account that is anchored in history. When Moses wrote Genesis, his point was clear—God created this world. It belongs to him, and him alone. Genesis is pure history.
And history is the very basis for theology. History actualizes theology. The very reality of history is the reality of theology. Take away the history of the resurrection, and you have removed the theology of the resurrection. The same is true of creation. You lose the history of creation, you also lose all of its theology.
And we are not alone in thinking of the creation account as historical. This is precisely how the biblical authors thought of it (Exodus 20; Psalm 20; Daniel 7; 1 Chron. 1:1; Amos 5:8; Matt. 19:4; John 1:1; Acts 17:26; 2 Peter 3; Hebrews 1). Who reads Genesis as history? All of the biblical writers. People may think we are crazy for this view, but you can say with confidence that you have the same view of Genesis that the biblical authors did.
We do have to ask though, does it really make a difference what our position is on creation in Genesis? What is actually at stake?
The answer: Christianity.
When you change Genesis 1-3 to accommodate for evolution, you have to redefine every vein of systematic theology. You are given no choice. Creation bleeds into your theology of the Godhead, the goodness of God, your doctrine of sin, your definition of salvation, your anthropology, your view of the church, your eschatology, even your angelology.
All doctrine matters. What is at stake with creation? Christianity. When you change Genesis 1-3 to accommodate evolution, you have to redefine systematic theology. If you cave on your doctrine of creation, if you are consistent, the whole of Christianity will crumble with it.
Brothers, you can’t afford to bend on this issue. Please love this doctrine. Learn it, defend it, and cherish it.
When life is hard and you begin to wonder if God can and will make all things right, remember whose world this is. Cherish creation, and most of all, cherish the Creator.
This is the lesson: don’t just study passages or doctrines until you are able to defend them, study them until you treasure them—until you adore them. Don’t just study creation until you know how to defend it, study it until your heart sings to the Creator. Brothers, may we not stop studying until every verse is a treasure to us.
General Session 5: Phil Johnson
Thursday Morning, 10 a.m.
Topic: The Doctrine of Original Sin
Passage: Romans 5
When Adam partook of the fruit in the garden, that one act of disobedience left us all guilty and morally corrupt (Rom. 5:12-21). Humanity's problem of sin stems entirely from that one act of sin. The ramifications of that act are monumental. By the one man’s disobedience, the many were made sinners. Adam's sin ruined human nature—it is the source of our sinful character. You are not a sinner because you sinned; you sinned because you were born a sinner. We are fallen from the moment of our conception in the womb, and the reason for that is traceable to Adam’s rebellion. And his guilt is imputed to his offspring. Adam’s disobedience rendered all of his offspring subject to judgment.
This is a truth that is absolutely vital to the gospel. This very same principal of imputation explains how Christ could have bore our sins.
If you try to do away with this doctrine, you will not be able to make sense of sin or salvation. Sin is an expression of man’s innate hostility towards God. Despite what you might hear today, sin is not evil because it fails to promote human flourishing. The evil of sin is in the fact that it is defiance against the living God. Sin is the transgression of God’s law. At the heart of every false worldview is a twisted view of sin. This misshapen understanding of sin has rendered the whole world dysfunctional.
Most of what is wrong in the visible church today is also rooted in a twisted view of sin. Across the spectrum of broad evangelicalism is a doctrine of sin that has long gone ignored, especially when revivalism was at its peak. Yet two world wars made the problem of evil an issue that simply could not be ignored. Liberalism was on the rise in denominations, and instead of facing the reality of the depravity of man, the dominant view in churches was that we need to believe that people are good—that we can fix the problem with political solutions. We started to blame the environment, not the man. This misdirected blame overlooked the fact that it was in paradise that man first fell.
Soon, the church believed the gospel was something like, “God loves you and has wonderful plans for your life.” Eventually, sin became too negative sounding, and the subject was ignored by the church all together. Soon the church was removed by four or five generations from a right view of sin. What we see today in the church is a calculated attempt to make sin not so exceedingly sinful.
In Romans, imputation is the key to Paul’s gospel proclamation. The gospel depends upon the principle of imputation. The sins of the elect were imputed to the person of Christ, though he was innocent. And his righteous was imputed to depraved sinners.
If we are honest, this idea of merit by proxy goes against our sense of justice. Is it right to reward one moral agent for the actions of another? This is the dilemma that makes the doctrine of original sin so hard to deal with.
Let's be honest enough to ask the question: how can God hold you and me guilty for Adam’s sin?
Remember that the very same question lies at the heart of justification: how can the merit of Christ’s righteousness be granted to us? Your life depends upon the principle of imputation.
Comparison between Adam and Christ
It is much easier to see contrasts than comparisons, but unless we grasp that Adam and Christ share a similar headship, it will be difficult to grasp imputation. Adam and Christ share headship—Adam shares those who are in him, and Christ shares all those who are in him. This idea of headship is essential to Pauline theology (1 Cor. 15:45). There is such an exact parallel between Adam and Christ, that Christ is sometimes referred to as the second Adam.
Paul is making a connection between the way we fell into sin in Adam, and the way we are united in Christ. Unless you understand the fall, you won’t understand redemption. Your understanding of what it means to be in Christ is dependent upon your understanding of what it means to be in Adam. All in Adam are clothed in guilt, all in Christ are clothed in righteousness. All in Adam die, all in Christ live. Adam is an archetype—a type of prophetic foreshadowing of Christ. Adam stands in relationship to the whole human race in the same way that Jesus stands to the elect.
This same type of representative headship is normal among men. The leader of a nation may make a treaty or declare war that involves his whole nation. Hitler’s acts brought guilt upon a nation. A father represents his family. An employer represents his employees.
When creation was complete, Adam and Eve were the entire human race. Adam was given freedom to eat from any tree, except one. It should have been clear that he was being given a test. And Adam was our representative in that test. He is the first and most perfect of us all. He is the one we would have chosen if we could have sent a representative to take that test. He is the fitting and obvious, and only, choice to stand as the representative of the whole human race. The test was one of obedience. He was given a world of delights, and was told not to eat from just one tree.
Adam failed this simple test. This failure plunged the entire race into sin. When he fell, we fell in him. Both guilt and corruption seeped into the whole human race because of Adam. Adam’s guilt is imputed to us all. Adam’s sin is imputed to his posterity. We do not fall into sin individually, we were born into it.
What Christ did to redeem us, he did as our substitute and proxy. He fulfilled all righteousness, and then he died in our place. His role effectively and perfectly reverses the sin of Adam. The relationship between Adam’s sin and those who are in Adam is exactly the same relationship between Christ’s righteousness and those who are in Christ.
Believers are made righteous by imputation. When Adam failed, we failed in him. When Christ died, we died in him.
The Contrast between Adam and Christ
Though both Adam and Christ act as heads, the results of their headship could not be more different (1 Cor. 15:22). Adam committed an offense that resulted in death, but Christ provided a gift which resulted in life for many. With Adam as the representative head, one man sinned and many were condemned; in Christ’s representative headship, one sacrifice is offered which atones for many.
Adam disobeyed, Christ obeyed. Adam brought condemnation, Christ brought justification. Adam brought guilt and corruption, Christ brings righteousness.
The universality of death proves the universality of sin. If human history teaches us anything, it is the universality of death. Our own actions prove that we are in every sense in agreement with Adam’s rebellion against God, so we are justly held in judgment.
Without the doctrine of legal imputation, we wouldn’t have any hope of salvation. The idea of substitutionary atonement depends upon this idea. You destroy one, you destroy the other. Throw away the doctrine of original sin and you throw aside the very foundation of the gospel. If you understand the doctrine of original sin, so many other doctrines fall into place. This doctrine points us to Christ—the second Adam who makes the only possible atonement for sin.
General Session 4: H.B. Charles
Wednesday Evening, 6 p.m.
Topic: A Worthy Workman
Passage: 2 Tim. 2:15
In the business world, there is a term: the bottom line. It is used in reference to financial reports. It shows profit and/or loss. It indicates whether the company is earning or losing money. And everything, in the business world, is about the bottom line.
Every field of life and labor has a bottom line—an intended outcome, a crucial factor. In business, it is making money. In education, it is making grades, passing tests, and getting degrees. In sports, it is winning games, awards, and championships.
What is the bottom line of the Christian ministry?
Just asking this question feels odd. The answer should be assumed among us. Unfortunately, many ministers suffer from ministerial identity crisis, from mixed up priorities, and from confusion as to what it is the church of the Lord Jesus Christ is to be and do. I want us to go back to the basics, to the very bottom line of Christian ministry.
Second Timothy 2:15 is not about congregational watch. It is about self-watch. There is no way you can watch over the church as you should if you cannot watch over your own motives, conduct, and doctrine. Yes, Paul is concerned about the others. But he is most concerned about Timothy. So he says to Timothy, do your best. Present yourself to God so as to be approved.
This is the bottom line of Christian ministry: Please God in everything you do.
Here are three requirements for God-pleasing ministry.
1. God pleasing ministry requires personal earnestness.
Diligence in ministry requires that you study, but the term used here indicates that you should use speed and make haste. This is a full exertion. This is your best, aimed to present yourself to God as one approved.
The ministry of Jesus Christ deserves your best. God deserves the best that we could offer him. If it bears God’s name, it deserves our best. Doing the best is more important than being the best. So do your best. This is not about comparison or competition. This is not about finishing before another. This is about your best. Give God your best.
And when you give God your best, it will help you endure during the inevitable seasons of difficulty and weariness. When you give God your best, you will be able to serve with joy. Don’t be dismayed if others don’t recognize you, God will recognize your effort and will one day say, well done.
This verse speaks of an offering of worship to God (cf. Rom. 12:1). Paul calls Timothy to present himself to God as one approved. Every act of ministry should be done as an act of worship.
If your ministry is going to be pleasing to God, there will be times that you will have to go through the fire. Why? Because you need to be reminded that it is not about you. A candle must be burned to give light. The servant of the Lord must be tested in order to be approved.
2. God-pleasing ministry requires ministerial excellence.
This has nothing to do with size, style, or sensationalism. This has everything to do with being a worker that has no need to be ashamed. You are to be a worker, a laborer. You cannot please God if you suffer from ministerial sloth. A man ought to be known for hard work. We should serve the Lord with diligent toil and labor.
Godly living is hard work. Diligent study is hard work. Sound doctrine requires hard work. Wise leadership requires hard work. Intercessory prayer requires hard work. If you want something light and easy, you need to do something else. But it is worth what it costs to serve the Lord (cf. Heb. 6:10). Not only is it hard work, it is also holy work.
Notice how Paul motivates Timothy to hard work: shame. This is not shame before man, it is shame before God (cf. Matt. 7:21-23). May we be haunted by the reality that we can be a success with man and a failure with God. You can be doing great ministerial work and get to heaven and have to introduce yourself. Our heart’s burden should be that when we stand before the Lord for inspection, we would not be put to shame.
God is keeping a journal on us, how we live, how we lead, what we teach. He has a record; he does not need the report of another. He sees it all. We need to live in light of the reality that we will have to answer to the Lord as to how we lived our lives. May this warn us when we are tempted to go astray. May this encourage us to press on when we are in a difficult place.
Your goal as a minister is to hear the Lord say well done on the last day.
3. God-pleasing ministry requires faithful exposition.
The final, definitive, and central role of the pastor is to preach the Word. The imperative of Paul is simple: preach. But it is not just preach—you must preach the Word. We must faithfully preach the Word in season and out of season. Our times need such men. Preach the Word, not personal opinion. Preach the Word, not motivational talks. Preach the Word, not self-help advice. Preach the Word, not political perspective. Preach the Word, not trendy theology. Preach the Word, not health and wealth blasphemy. Preach the word, not pop-psychology. Preach the Word—in season and out of season.
The Word of God is marked, handle with care. Divide it rightly. Cut it straight. Tell the truth. Stand your ground. Don’t sell out. All until the day you hear him say well done. When you preach, you are not primarily preaching to your congregation. You are preaching to an audience of one. Honor him. Give him your best.
General Session 3: Paul Twiss
Wednesday Afternoon, 3:30 p.m.
Topic: Holy Affections: Clarity on the Doctrine of Love
Passage: 1 John 4:7-12
In 1563, university theologians sought to write a new catechism to benefit the church, one more pastoral in its tone than the Westminster. The first question it asked was, what is my only hope in life and in death? The answer: That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit he also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him.
Beyond scripture, these are some of the most comforting words to have been written. This first question is a representation of the theology of 1 John. 1 John is written to a group of shaken believers undergoing false teaching. This teaching was a distortion of Christ which has led to a distortion of the gospel, which led to a distortion of the believers' assurance. He writes so that they would know that they have eternal life.
He gives attempts to restore their assurance not by giving them commands or imperatives. There are only six imperatives in the book of 1 John. John understands that to strengthen his congregation, he must bring Christ closer, to make him larger. When Christ is closer, believers are strengthened.
One of his favorite themes in the letter of 1 John is love. “Let us love one another, for God loved us.” For is one of the most important words in this book. By properly understanding the gospel, we live proper lives.
I want to expound six different facets of God’s love—six angles from which John views God’s love, always with the intention that by understanding the love of God, that we would love one another.
1. We love because we have been born of a loving God.
We live in an age where the love of God is affirmed and celebrated, and the practice of love is as far removed from a biblical love as can be imagined. The church must return to a proper understanding of God’s love as the motivation by which we love one another.
We love because we have been born of a loving God (1 John 4:7). As you have been born of a loving God, you should begin to look like him in your love. As you have been born of a loving God, you should start to look like him. You have been born a second time, you were dead in your sins – lifeless. In your lifeless state you were turned in on yourself, so that even your seemingly righteous acts were aimed at your own benefit. But God, in his love, gave you life. And now for the first time, you can look beyond yourself. You can love others with a genuine concern for them, and without concern for yourself. To be born of God is to be born of another world.
If our love cannot be explained by this world, the most likely explanation is we have been born of another world. This is the standard to which God calls us. And you can see how far we have fallen in the consumeristic age in which we live. Our consumeristic tendencies mean we make decisions based upon preference, not responsibility—based upon self, not others. And as this mindset seeps into the church, we see congregation after congregation of consumers. We do not know what it is to love with a biblical, holy affection.
The congregation of faith must become the community of love. To fail to love one another is not just to fail ethically, it is to fail in the very issue of salvation.
2. We love because we know a loving God.
As you know God, he knows you. If you have done nothing to prompt God’s love towards you in salvation, you have done countless things to cause him to turn his back on you. And yet he continues with you in love. His love rests upon you, infinitely, freely. His love for you is as great this hour as it was when you were saved.
If you swam for a thousand years in the ocean of God’s love, you would never find the shore. God’s love rests upon you, infinitely and perfectly, and it comes upon you in his perfect knowledge.
The tired pastor may ask questions such as, why is my ministry this way? Why are these the trials that plague my ministry? Why is this my ministry, and not that?
The answer, dear pastor: because God loves you.
Pastors bear burdens, innumerable and untold—burdens that no one else can understand, save another pastor. The danger is not that you will start to preach another type of love, or to veer theologically, but in practice, through the wounds of the years of ministry, that you would slowly yet surely close your heart and withdraw, and that you would no longer practice a biblical love. The only way you can maintain your affection is to trust that every circumstance in God’s world is a manifestation of his perfect love for you. We love, because we have been loved.
3. We love because God is love (v. 8).
God is love apart from anything else, without reference to anything else. God is love. Before the foundation of the world, God is love. It is this love that has come to us in the gospel. This inter-trinitarian love comes upon us. And from that love, there are two implications.
First, as God is love, without reference to anything else, God’s love is inherently holy, set apart, distinct, unlike any other kind of love. As the love of God comes to you in the gospel, it begins to determine the way you love. You are to love in a holy way.
The priority of love is readily affirmed in society. Even the fact that God is love is affirmed. But that love has been so separated from God’s holiness that it has been mutated. All of God’s attributes must work together. The love that is practiced is merely based upon preference and tolerance. Society only cares that you have a choice, whether that is divorce or not, male or female, babies living or not, is irrelevant to society. Society just wants you to have a choice. And if you didn’t have a choice, then that is unlovable.
The second implication is this: when God loved you, he loved you freely. It was not based upon a need of his. God had no need of you, and with no need he loved you. This must determine the manner in which we love. We do not have the right to love based upon preference, to consider the loveliness of the object. If God had considered the loveliness of an object, you would not be here. As God loved, so we must love—with a holy and freely given affection. The only means by which we might accomplish such lofty standards is to train our hearts upon God’s love.
4. We love because we live through Christ (v. 9).
What does it mean to live through Christ? What does it mean to have eternal life? It is a life that is saturated with God’s love. It is a life that you can enjoy now – it is not merely future.
It begins with acceptance before the Father. Where once you had no place to appear before his throne, you could not so much as offer a prayer to him, now you have as much right to appear before the Father as the beloved Son. To have life in Christ means you have an advocate, a helper, an intercessor- who hour by hour pleads your case perfectly. Christ is not making the case, “Forgive him, because he didn’t mean it,” or, “Forgive him, because we are on an upward trajectory and at this time next year we won’t be doing this.” Christ is saying, “Forgive him again, because I died for him, and he lives in me.” The Father delights to hear that. He is in complete agreement with the Son.
Very soon, you will stand before Jesus, and you will see his eyes, and you will see his hands, and you will sing praises to his face. And if, in that moment, it was somehow possible to take your eyes off of Jesus, and you were to look at yourself, you would find no sin. If you could look at those around you, you would see no sin. Because we will be like him, because we will see him as he is. Because we have life in Christ.
If you look around your congregation, and do not see self-sacrificial love, it may be because you have not preached God’s love. You have been too ready to preach the imperatives, without laying the foundation of the indicatives. You must bathe the souls of your congregation in God’s love. Before being so quick to act, just spend time knowing the love of God.
5. Christ is our propitiation (v. 10).
We must continue to define the gospel in terms of propitiation. We cannot afford to do otherwise.
Jesus did not persuade God to love us on the cross; the Father sent the Son to the Cross. It is not that God loves us because Christ died for us, but because God loves us Christ died for us. Our ministries must be found at the cross.
As you tell your neighbor about God, as you tell your children about your God, tell them, “My God is the God who sent His son to die that I might have life. My God is the God who sent his son to die that I might live.”
6. We love because we have been entrusted with God’s love (v. 11-12).
When we love one another with holy affection, God’s love is perfected in us. This does not mean that our love for one another is without error or flaw. This will never happen this side of glory. The idea of perfected means to reach its intended goal. God’s love is now doing the very thing it was intended to do—that we would love like God loves. No one ever said it was going to be easy to love. But consider the privilege. As John hands the baton to the church, he says no one has ever seen God, but as you love with a self-denying love, you make God known—you explain God to a dying world. No one has ever seen God, but as we love one another, we make Him known. And we are to do that until Jesus returns, and in that day we will love God and each other perfectly. We will no longer need to explain God, because he will be fully known. May we be those who lead the church in a biblical, holy affection.
General Session 2: Austin T. Duncan
Wednesday Afternoon, 1:30 p.m.
Topic: Theological Balance
Passage: Job 25&26
Balance is something we normally associate with gymnastics, or meals. But when it comes to theology, balance has been eyed with suspicion, and rightly so. Packer refers to it as a “horribly self-conscious word.” And in many ways I think he is right. It would be hard to mistake the commands of Jesus Christ for anything that resemble balance. His commands are, often, extreme. Just think of his command about what to do with the eye if you lust. Jesus, how about a little balance?
All of us are theologians, whether we are able theologians or not is another issue entirely. But we all have thoughts of God. They may not be biblical or in any way tied to historic Christian doctrine, but we all aspire to be apt, able, and wise theologians. But so often our thoughts of God can lack balance. And this is the theological balance I want to address.
We are all familiar with the beginning of the story of Job, that deal in the throne room of God that was made over the very life of Job. And the middle of the book of Job is filled with poor advice. Sadly, we contemporary pastors have far more in common with Job’s flawed counselors than we might like to admit. Too often Job's counselors lack precision and care. They are not often theologically wrong, they have just taken their theology and applied it to poor Job in all the wrong ways. There is a theological balance that is desperately needed to apply theology to hurting people.
I am not calling for moderation in your devotion to Jesus Christ. We do not want to balance out the perspicuity of Scripture, nor justification, nor the glory of God—but a balance of the things of God. True theological balance comes only from letting the whole counsel of God counsel us. We want to be balanced where the Scripture is balanced. It comes from listening to all of Scripture, not just our favorite parts. We have so much to learn, dear friends.
The conclusion of Job’s counselors is this: Job, you did something wrong. These counselors are examples of how not to counsel the suffering. They are filled with theology, but their use of theology is imbalanced. They have come to grasp tightly held conclusions, and even when they are right, they are right in all the wrong directions. They have misapplied sound theology. And they become increasingly caustic to this suffering man.
Job has lost everything. He has lost his children and his health, even his wife has turned his back on him. Job is a man wrecked by poverty and plague, all by permission of the Lord of hosts. The Lord is using Job as a case study to prove that Job’s worship is not based on the good things he has received, but on who the Lord is.
As we zoom in on chapters 25 and 26, we are given a glimpse of the doctrine of God and his glory. I hope we are given insight into how we care for the suffering with our knowledge of God. The older we get, the more those around us suffer.
So, what should it look like?
Job 25 has the ring of credibility to it. It sounds like big-God theology. One of the ways we can become theologically imbalanced is through imprecision in how we communicate the truths of God. Heresies have been built upon prepositions.
In Bildad’s mind, God is one who asserts dominion, one who is a ruler. To Bildad, God is tyrannical, despotic. He rules over man. And Bildad thinks of God, as he relates to Job, as a God of terror—a God of wrath. And there is a sense in which this is true, but not in this sense. This counselor is a worthless counselor because he does not understand God. He thinks God is one who is without compassion, a God who grinds people down. To Bildad, God is not a good God—he is mechanical and deterministic.
Listen to me. We love the doctrine of the sovereignty of God. It is the pillow upon which the believer rests his head. We are lost without the sovereignty of God. But if you preach the sovereignty of God without the goodness of God, you have preached a false god. Pastor, you might be off-balance.
Bildad sees Job as a worm before the glory of God. There is a place for worm-theology. But that is not a balanced understanding of man. Human beings are actually glorious creatures, not because of something in us, but because of something in God. That is where value is found. These counselors have been trying to box God in for the entire book of Job, and when Bildad turns his focus to man, he is equally skewed. And yet, this seems to resemble something of Calvinism. But it is not.
Bildad thinks God is so big, so mighty, so other, so holy, and so sovereign, that He could never forgive. And yet, forgiveness was necessary. This book has been consumed with forgiveness. Job knew he needed to be forgiven. But in Bildad’s view, God is so other, that He is no longer compassionate. You could say that Bildad has too high of a view of God and too low of a view of man, but I don’t think that’s right.
Bildad has failed to see Job as redeemable. I am concerned that there are counselors like this—counselors who are on the hunt for sin, who think sin is everywhere, who have such a view of sin that they don’t trust anyone. People think like this. They think everyone is up to evil. And Christian, you should think like that, but think like that about yourself. But look at those around you and say, “What a wonderful creation of God!”
In the hurt and brokenness of Job, it is amazing that Job is still a theologian par excellence. Job balances out Bildad.
He responds in chapter 26 by saying, Thanks for nothing. You haven’t saved the one who is hurting. You have not applied wisdom or insight, and your words have had no authority. It was ineffective and powerless.
Job shows the bad preacher, Bildad, that his God is too small. Job has a higher conception of God—man only see the fringes of the ways of God. An understanding that God is without edges is the only way to make room for a God with this much compassion, a God that listens to cries of agony, a God that must have His way in redemption, a God that will provide beyond Sheol, and a God who will be able to provide resurrection. This is theological balance. Sometimes we must realize we have underestimated the glory of God. We have underestimated His power to save. We have not gone far enough theologically, stretching our understanding and affections toward heaven as far as they can go. Bildad’s theology has not gone far enough, it does not reach wide enough.
If you want to prepare your people to suffer, you must present your people a God that is far greater than you could imagine.
What has stabilized Job throughout this book is this—he knows that God knows more than him. Job says that we have all underestimated God. Job 26:14: “Behold, these are the fringes of His ways; And how faint a word we hear of Him!” Yes, God is mysterious, but nothing is mysterious to God. And Job is only at the hem of the holiness of God, at His very fringes.
God is both knowable and incomprehensible. We must think about God rightly. He is a God who is immense and ungraspable, but he has revealed himself in creation and the Word of his promise. Oh, that we might grasp the ungraspable and know the unknowable! Job shows us that the way through suffering is to bear it with the glory of God in mind.
The heavens and the earth are not nearly as great as the goodness that is in God. They are just small indications of his grandeur.
We must never undersell nor underestimate the greatness of our God. When we think God is great, we pray great. Throughout the book, Job has been begging God. His prayers have not ceased, even twenty-five chapters into Job. Job knows that he has a great and glorious God. Job has a kind of certainty based on who God is that there must be some way that he would be made right with God. Job knows there must be a transaction between God and man if he would ever be made right with God. Job longs for access to God. Job’s glorious understanding of God must be ours as well.
The resolution to the book of Job is not that Job gets more kids, servants, or riches. God is blessing Job because He loves Job. But that is not the conclusion. The verse, “And Job died” brings resolution (Job 42:17). His longing for a mediator would be resolved in this sentence. In the final line, all of his questions are answered, and his longings are fulfilled. What he gets is a mediator and an intercessor, a perfect redeemer—the one who does not accept our sacrifices, but who becomes our sacrifice. The end of the story is this – Job meets his God, no longer in the whirlwind, but in His presence. The greatness of God fully and finally realized—the only thing we can give to the suffering.
General Session 1: John MacArthur
Wednesday morning, 10 a.m.
Topic: Clarity on Clarity: Perspicuity of Scripture
Psalm 19 is a concise declaration of the character and quality of Scripture. It makes clear the power of the Word of God in our lives. It also demonstrates its clarity: “the commandment of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eyes” (Ps. 19:8).
The word commandment in this verse refers to the whole revelation of God. All of revelation is clear. Scripture is clear what we are to believe, and in whom we are to believe. Scripture is clear as to what we are to worship, avoid, fear, and hope for. Scripture is, in its very essence, clear. And therefore, Scripture enlightens. It takes away the darkness that obscures the soul, and it gives light, knowledge, and wisdom: “Your word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path” (Ps. 119:05).
The word of God is revelation—it is God revealing truth into clear focus. Even for unbelievers, the gospel is clear enough. For example, the gospel of John is directed at those who don’t believe, and it is clear enough for them to know what they are to believe (John 20:31). In John 3, Jesus said, “He who does not believe has been judged already” (John 3:18). The clear assumption of Jesus is that his message is clear. John 3:16 is not obscure even to the darkest of souls. In fact, Scripture is so clear as to be violently rejected. Unbelievers know exactly what they are rejecting, just as the Jews knew who they were rejecting, and why.
Yes, the natural man does not understand the rich internal truths of the gospel, but he is able to understand the truths revealed in Scripture, that in rejecting them he is damned forever. Rejectors have a sufficient understanding of what they are rejecting. Believers, however, can only come to believe the truth internally by the power of the Spirit.
To compound the darkness, the god of this world—Satan—has blinded the eyes of unbelievers. So, as Christians, we are not just fighting the reality of the dead hearts of unbelievers, but we are doing so in a world in which deception dominates.
So our calling is singular. There is only one skill required of an overseer, though there are many character qualities (1 Tim. 3). It is the skill of teaching.
We are to be skilled teachers—skilled enough to teach the positive truth of God and to combat the error that will always be waging war against the truth. There will be a fight in regard to the truth. False teachers will always dog the steps of those who teach the truth.
There is only one skill that qualifies us for pastoral ministry, and that is the skill for teaching. And there will be resistance. We are trusted not only to guard the treasure, but to proclaim it. We are light bearers—the Scripture is light, and it is ours to bear.
So how do we take the clear revelation of God and let it shine into the darkness around us?
We are to be workers that have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. So how do we come into the presence of God with nothing to be ashamed of? You must accurately handle the Word of truth. It doesn’t come down to cleverness or innovation, it comes down to how you handle the Word of God. You must get it right. The Word is clear, and it is our responsibility to proclaim it with that same degree of clarity.
Satan will stop at nothing to mar the clarity of Scripture. All throughout history, he has waged war against the perspicuity of Scripture. His eye has been on hermeneutics. This began with Marcion in 144, and continued with the school of Alexandrian hermeneutics, and even the Roman Catholic Church. Their claim has been consistent: the common man cannot be trusted with the Word of God—he needs an interpreter.
But faithful pastors and theologians have stood for the truth throughout church history. The fight continues even today. Certainty, today, is seen as idolatrous, even arrogant. Clarity is seen as overrated; shock and ambiguity are king. The war continues against certainty, particularly biblical certainty. Even the church has fallen into this trap. Christians don’t like the full effect of the Word of God, so they remain silent. This silence is even an assault upon the truth. God’s words were intended to do something. To shy away from proclaiming the Word of God with clarity is, in effect, to gag God.
This in no way excuses Christians to wield truth with a cold heart. We must weep over sinners as our Lord did over Jerusalem. But we must speak the words of God nonetheless. And if you can’t, please find a profession other than the pastorate.
This subtle silencing of the Scriptures is seen today in the Christocentric hermeneutic, in sensus plenior, and in any attempt to make the Scriptures less than clear.
The truth is, that the sinner can understand the law of God enough so that the law of God is the only ally the sinner has in his heart. The sinner knows he is a sinner. And when the revelation of God comes against him, it clarifies that knowledge of sin, and then he is undone and understands the offer of grace. The only ally that a sinner has is the assault the Bible makes on the sinner in his sin. If you remove the clear assault of Scripture, you have removed the only ally an unbeliever has.
How sad to convey to fallen men that Scripture is not clear, and then to hold them responsible to that unclear Word. But God is just in his judgment. Our Lord never makes excuses for the clarity of the Scriptures. Jesus assumed that his disciples would be able to read and understand it, as Jesus often said things like, “Have you not read?”
But the Bible is not so clear that everyone understands its full depths. There is milk and meat—they are simply different levels, not different truths. Scripture has its heights and its depths of truth. It is bread at the table of a child. It is gold buried deep. It demands all of our mental capacities to grasp its truth. Sometimes it is hard to understand, but it is to be understood.
Preacher, you have one task. Take the clear word of God, and preach it clearly. Faith and obedience on the part of the people must not rest on the preacher, even the most gifted expositor. Faith and obedience must rest on Scripture. So how do we as pastors stand up and make people connect with the Scripture, not with us? Show them the Word. Explain it to them clearly. Don’t let them be captivated with you. They must be captivated with the Word, and thus with God. Don’t let them attach themselves to you, their faith and obedience must rest on the Scriptures. They, not you, are the very light of life.