Monday, November 30, 2009

Onward Christian Soldiers

[These thoughts follow a sermon preached at Gray Road Baptist Church. If you would like to listen to that message, just click here.]

Before we begin, it would be helpful to read Ephesians 6:10-20. Click here to read it if you don't have a Bible handy. (By the way, I have been greatly blessed and helped by the British pastor Derek Prime in this text, and if you are familiar with him, don't be surprised it this rings with familiarity. The sermon I heard him preach on this text back in 2005 is one I will not soon forget.)

Matthew Henry: "Is not our life a warfare? It is so; for we struggle with the common calamities of human life. Is not our religion much more a warfare? It is so; for we struggle with the opposition of the powers of darkness, and with many enemies who would keep us from God and heaven. We have enemies to fight against, a captain to fight for, a banner to fight under, and certain rules of war by which we are to govern ourselves."

John MacArthur - "The Christian who continually seeks to grow in his knowledge of and obedience to the Word and to serve the Lord more faithfully will not find [life] becoming easier. As the Lord gives mastery over certain temptations and weaknesses, Satan will attack elsewhere. Faithful witnessing, preaching, teaching, visiting, and every other service for the Lord not only will bring victories but will also bring their own special difficulties and opposition. A Christian who no longer has to struggle against the world, the flesh, and the devil is a Christian who has fallen into sin or complacency. A Christian who has no conflict is a Christian who has retreated from the front lines of service."

These are strong statements, aren't they? What do you think? Do you buy into the notion that our lives are lives of warfare? That faithfulness in serving the Lord will bring inevitable conflict? Sometimes, it's tempting to assume that spiritual warfare is something that only applies to missionaries seeking to confront the occult in a distant land. It's only for pastors and church leaders. It only applies to personal evangelism.

While this is the temptation, Paul takes us somewhere else to find the context of spiritual warfare. Looking in the direct context of Ephesians 6:10-20, we see Paul applying the gospel to various situations. In 5:22-33, he speaks of wives and husbands. In 6:1-4, it's children and parents. In 6:5-9, slaves and masters...or employers and employees. Isn't this where the war is often fought? In our homes? In our workplaces? Wouldn't the enemy love to destroy our families? Wouldn't he desire us to be ineffective and compromised in our workplace? How are we to deal with such things? What must we know if we are to gain ground in spiritual warfare?

1. We must know where our strength is. Look at verse 10. Our strength is in the Lord. It is not in our accomplishments as Christians, it is not in the length of time we have believed in Christ, it is not in our knowledge of God's is in the Lord. God gives spiritual strength for our daily battle against the devil, and we must know this and rely on it if we are to be successful in the fight. Derek Prime said, "Trying to fight a spiritual battle in our physical strength is like trying to fight a nuclear war with bows and arrows." How true...we must know where our strength is.

2. We must know who our enemy is. Verse 12 - "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places." We may have conflict with our wives or husbands, but they are not the enemy. There may be tension with our boss or our employees, but they are not the enemy. Our children may seem rebellious at every turn, but they are not the enemy. Even within the church, it is tempting to think someone within the congregation is the enemy, but he/she is not. There may be opposition in any of these relationships, but the real enemy is not there.

We must know who the enemy is. He is the devil...Lucifer...Satan...the prince of the power of the air...the god of this world. His schemes and tricks are many...they are flaming darts, according to verse 16. He will try to hit us with doubt, or he will seek to distract us from spiritual disciplines, such as daily time in prayer and in the Word. He will try to use reason to convince us to avoid what we ought to do (e.g. - "I don't really have time to..." or "There are a lot of people who can do that...they don't need me."). He will tempt us to abandon witnessing. Whatever his scheme and trick in your life or in mine, we must know who our enemy is.

3. We must know what our objective is. Our objective is to stand. In verse 11, we are to stand against the devil's schemes. In verse 13, we are to take on the armor of God that we might withstand him, and after doing all of that...we stand. We ought to be standing in watchfulness, withstanding his every move and not giving in an inch. We are to remain standing. There is no time for relaxing; there is no vacation from warfare. We know that all too well with our men and women being overseas. There is no moment when the enemy is not seeking whom he may devour (1 Pt. 5:8).

In the movie White Christmas, the opening scene pictures a group of soldiers celebrating Christmas with a little self-made variety show. Bombs are going off around them, but they're having a party. It is tempting to think we can take a holiday from spiritual warfare, but we cannot. We will never retire from this objective. We must stand.

4. We must know what our defense is. Our defense, according to verse 13, is the armor of God. God supplies is His defense for us. The order here indicates the order a Roman soldier would have put the pieces on.

A. The belt of truth (v. 14) - This is a picture of preparation. The soldiers would have had flowing garments that needed to be gathered up so they could be mobile. The belt prepared them for the action they must take. Truth is just such a belt for Christians. The word here (aletheia) can point to the Word of God, which we understand to be truth with no mixture of error. The word can also point to reality, or integrity. Both are necessary for the fight. If we misunderstand either, we can make terrible missteps. After all, we cannot do what is right until we know what is true (about the principles of God and about our situation).
B. The breastplate of righteousness (v. 14) - This is not the righteousness of Christ imputed to us. Remember, Paul is speaking to Christians, and it would make no sense for them to take up something they already have. No, this is the righteousness of daily life. It is daily obedience to Christ in mind, word, and deed. Derek Prime connects these first two pieces this way, "If, [based on what is true], we fail to do what we know is right, [then] we open a huge chink in our armor for Satan."
C. The gospel shoes (v. 15) - Shoes speak of readiness. Have your children ever told you they were ready to leave the house for a family outing, and then you saw they had no shoes on? Were they really ready? Our minds may comprehend the gospel, our hearts may love the gospel, and our lips may be willing to express the gospel. However, our feet must be ready to take us where the gospel is needed. After all, sitting targets are easier to hit than moving ones.
D. The shield of faith (v. 16) - Soldiers carried two shields, and Paul has the larger one in mind...the one meant to protect the whole body. In the battle against the enemy, faith is essential. We must daily exercise trust in God and dependence on God for all things. Self-reliance in our daily lives is equivalent to setting down this necessary piece of armor. The flaming darts will surely hit us.
E. The helmet of salvation (v. 17) - Again, this is not speaking of a past experience of conversion. Rather, it is the present, daily experience of the Lord's salvation in our lives. It is, as Jerry Bridges has said, preaching the gospel to ourselves. In addition to this, we hold on to what Paul calls the "hope of salvation" in 1 Thessalonians 5:8. This is that confident assurance of our ultimate victory and of God saving us from this present battle.
F. Notice there is nothing for the back. In The Pilgrim's Progress, Pilgrim enters the Valley of Humiliation, where he encounters the devil (i.e.- Apollyon). Apollyon is such a fierce creature that pilgrim wants to run, but he remembers he has no armor on his back. He realizes that the Lord must not have meant for him to run away. We run from temptation...we resist the devil.

We must know what our defense is.

5. We must know what our weaponry is. It is the sword of the Spirit (v. 17)...the Bible. The Bible was created by the Spirit for our spiritual fight and for our spiritual health. We need to know the it, study it, memorize it, meditate on it. Around the time of the new year, Bible reading plans will be available for those who attend Gray Road. Whether you choose to read through the Bible in a year or not is up to you, but we must be reading it and knowing it if we are to use it in the daily fight. In the temptation accounts recorded by Matthew and Luke, it was this sword of the Spirit that our Lord Jesus used against the devil. Let us follow in His steps.

Prayer is our other weapon mentioned here (v. 18-20). We must pray in the Spirit (v. 18), meaning we have a deep desire to pray (not just fulfill a duty), and we pray in accordance with the sword of the Spirit...the Bible. We also pray continually (v. 18), with perseverance...we must not ever give up praying (Read Luke 18:1-8 for Jesus' teaching on this matter). When we pray "your kingdom come, your will be done", it's a direct assault on the devil and his demons, just as Jesus' teaching in Mark 1:21-28 provoked anger and resistance from the demon. We pray with variety (v. 18)...prayer and supplication. We pray general prayers, such as the Lord's prayer, and we pray specific prayers for the needs of the saints. Finally, we pray in support of the gospel (v. 19-20)...for those who are preaching and teaching the gospel of our Lord Jesus. Iain Murray has said, "A normal preacher, with a praying congregation behind him, can do extraordinary things."


This is a very familiar passage, and I'm sure that nothing written here is new to you. However, it is necessary to be reminded of the reality of spiritual warfare. It is easy to forget because it is unseen. Let me finish with a memory shared once by Derek Prime. He grew up in England, and during the second World War, times were hard. Throughout London, where he lived, families had loved ones fighting and losing their lives in the war. Food and supplies were also being rationed at the time. He says that as people would begin to complain about their difficulties or the rationing, one phrase would remind people of reality. He said it was constantly said on the street, and with this phrase, I will leave you to fight the good fight. "There's a war on."

Monday, November 23, 2009

An Open Letter to Gray Road Baptist Church

(For those who do not attend Gray Road Baptist Church but follow this blog, my family and I were blessed to receive a card shower from our congregation yesterday...November 22, 2009. This letter is a response to those gifts.)

Dear Gray Road Baptist Church,

Yesterday, I held a microphone at our Praise Offering banquet and thanked you for the card shower which was presented to me and my family. Now, after sitting on the couch in my living room and reading dozens and dozens of cards, I have to stop and say thank you again. Primarily, I am thankful to God for allowing me the privilege of serving you. In addition, I am thankful for each of you...for your gifts, for the promised prayers, for the family support, for the offers to babysit, and for so much more. Susan and I are truly overwhelmed by the expressions of love we have received from all of you.

As we begin this week of Thanksgiving, I echo Paul's words to the Philippians, "I thank my God in all my remembrance of you" (Phil. 1:3). I know it was a long journey for you, as a church, to get to the place of calling a pastor. It was also a long journey for our family, as well, as we waited for God to open the right door of ministry. We could not feel more humbled by God's placement of our family in this congregation.

Yesterday was the 46th anniversary of the death of C.S. Lewis, and I'd like to give you a quote from his book called The Four Loves:

"To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable."

This is true of personal relationships, and it is true of pastor-church relationships. It can be a timid thing to "give your heart" to a new pastor and his family, especially if things have been strained or difficult in the past. However, I feel that you have done just that...and in amazing ways (both seen and unseen). I think this is why I feel so overwhelmed at all the encouraging words we have received from you...especially since there are still names I don't quite recognize!

Going forward, my prayer for this church is that of Paul in the same paragraph in Philippians: "And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God."

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving...we'll see you Sunday! (And yes, the blog entries will be back to normal next week.)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Our Sinless High Priest

To listen to yesterday's sermon, just click on and then select the sermon entitles "What Does the Temptation of Jesus Reveal?" In our study of Mark 1:12-13, we learned that Jesus is the submissive, sinless, successful Savior. Mark wants us to know that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (1:1), and Jesus' temptation reveals just that.

Our primary application is to see Jesus as submissive, sinless, and successful as our Savior. We must see Him as He is. This is part of why we need to continually study the Bible...we never grow past it or stop learning. We need to maintain an accurate knowledge of God, of Christ, of sin, of ourselves, of mankind in general, of salvation, of the church, etc. As we learn the Word, it is the role of the Spirit to open our eyes and minds and hearts. As a result, we see, we understand, and we respond. We love God more, the joy of our salvation grows, we are conformed to the image of Christ, and much more.

So, as we look at this text, the primary goal is to see Jesus as He have our vision of Him renewed. "Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart; Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art; Thou my best thought by day or by night; Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light." As a secondary thought, I want us to meditate briefly on Hebrews 4:14-16.

Here is the text of Hebrews 4:14-16: "Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with great confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."

So much can be said about these verses, but I want us to see how Jesus' sinlessness magnifies everything in this short paragraph. Why don't we make a list to help us "connect the dots?"

1. Jesus is a great high priest. This is's right there in verse 14. What makes him a "great" high priest? It seems that we have a good idea from the next sentence.

2. Jesus is a great high priest because He has passed through the heavens. This doesn't just mean that Jesus ascended. He passed through the heavens as the high priest would pass into the Holy of Holies to make atonement for the sins of the people year after year. Unlike the other high priests' work, which had to be continued year after year, Jesus' work is a finished work, and He is now seated at the right hand of the Father because the work is completed for our salvation. He is a great high priest.

2. Jesus is a great high priest because He sympathizes with our weaknesses and has shared in temptation. The text says He is a great high priest that has passed through the heavens. Then, the writer goes on to clarify what he means by "great." Jesus identifies with us...He identifies with us in our weaknesses and temptations. Some believe that God couldn't possibly understand what they're going through. In Jesus Christ, we don't have a distant, aloof high priest. We have a GREAT high priest, who has experienced the weaknesses and temptations of being human. He truly understands. As one song puts it well, "He did not keep Himself away, He was no stranger to my pain. He walked a mile in my shoes."

3. Jesus is a great high priest because He passed through the heavens, sympathizes with our weaknesses and temptations, and He never sinned. Jesus' work as our high priest could not have been perfect and complete were it not for His sinlessness. Jesus' identification with us in our weakness and temptation would not be as great if He was corrupted by sin. However, He is great...His work is perfect and complete...His identification with us is real and comforting...because He is without sin. Being fully human, He stood apart from the rest of humanity before and after him. He is a unique high priest...He is a GREAT high priest.

4. Because Jesus is a great high priest, let us hold fast our confession and draw near to the throne of grace. Our confession of the faith is certain and eternal because it is based squarely on the person and work of Jesus...not on our upbringing, not on our personal experience, but on the real, historical Jesus...the sinless, great high priest. So, as we move about in our social circles, in our work environments, and in our families, let us hold fast our confession. Also, let us draw near to the throne of grace. Because Jesus was sinless as He experienced weakness and temptation, He is our great source of strength and help in our times of need. So, let us not be apathetic in approaching prayer. We have a great high priest who understands and has an abundant supply of mercy and grace at His disposal.

Jesus is a great high priest who has passed through the heavens. He knows our weakness, He has been tempted, and He is sinless. As we begin another week, then, let us be strengthened in our that our confession of Christ is bold and our prayer lives are bold as well.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Trinity is Important, Part 3

Below are the last four reasons for the importance of the trinity, taken from chapter 1 of Dr. Bruce Ware's book...Father, Son, & Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles, and Relevance. The six reasons previously posted are stated without the extra thoughts, and then the last four have been added (each with part of Dr. Ware's elaboration of the reason).


1. The doctrine of the Trinity is one of the most important distinguishing doctrines of the Christian faith and therefore is deserving of our careful study, passionate embrace, and thoughtful application.

2. The doctrine of the Trinity is both central and necessary for the Christian faith to be what it is. Remove the Trinity, and the whole Christian faith disintegrates.

3. Worship of the true and living God consciously acknowledges the relationship and roles of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

4. The Christian's life of prayer must rightly acknowledge the roles of Father, Son, and Spirit as we pray to the Father, through the Son, in the power of the Spirit.

5. The Christian's growth in Christlikeness or sanctification is rightly understood and enriched when seen as the work of the triune God.

6. The triune relationships of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit cause us to marvel at the unity of the triune God.

7. The triune relationships of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit cause us to marvel at the diversity within the triune God.

The three Persons of the Godhead exhibit distinct roles in relation to one another. Distinct tasks and activities in accomplishing their common plan characterize nearly all of the work that the true and living God undertakes...The Father is the eternal Father, the Son the eternal Son, and the Spirit eternally distinct from both Father and Son. This diversity speaks of the richness of God, while never allowing the richness of differentiation to lead to discord.

8. The triune relationships of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit cause us to wonder at the social relationality of the triune God.

God is never 'alone.' He never experiences, whether with or without the world he has made, a sense of individual isolation and 'loneliness.' He never has been lonely or alone, in this sense, nor could he ever be, even in principle. The one God is three!...In this tri-Personal relationship the three Persons love one another, support one another, assist one another, team with one another, honor one another, communicate with one another, and in everything respect and enjoy one another. They are in need of nothing but each other throughout all eternity. Such is the richness and the fullness and the completion of the social relationship that exists in the Trinity.

9. The triune relationships of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit cause us to marvel at the authority-submission structure that exists eternally in the three Persons in the Godhead, each of whom is equally and fully God.

In this authority-submission structure, the three Persons understand the rightful place each has. The Father possesses the place of supreme authority, and the Son is the eternal Son of the eternal Father. As such, the Son submits to the Father just as the Father...exercises authority over the Son. And the Spirit submits to both the Father and the Son. This...structure of authority exists in the eternal Godhead even though it is also eternally true that each Person is fully equal to each other...

10. The doctrine of the Trinity - one God existing in three Persons in the ways we have described - provides one of the most important and neglected patterns for how human life and human relationships are to be conducted.

In the end, the doctrine of the Trinity is eminently practical, and the church can benefit much from understanding and modeling its own life, work, and relationships after the Trinity. As we understand better the nature of the Trinity...we have the opportunity to pattern what we do after God's design. We are made in the image of God, and so we can live rightly and best only when we mirror in our relationships the relationships true of the eternal God himself. Yes, we are called to be like God in character, but we also are created to be like God in relationship with one another. To miss this is to miss part of the wonder of human life, and it stems from failing to see something more of the wonder of God himself. May we see...the Trinity, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit...and may we our relationships and work ought to be lived out, for our good and for the glory of his great and triune name.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Trinity is Important, Part 2

As promised, here are some more reasons for the importance of the trinity, taken from chapter 1 of Dr. Bruce Ware's book...Father, Son, & Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles, and Relevance. The first three reasons are stated without the extra thoughts, and then three more have been added (each with part of Dr. Ware's elaboration of the reason).


1. The doctrine of the Trinity is one of the most important distinguishing doctrines of the Christian faith and therefore is deserving of our careful study, passionate embrace, and thoughtful application.

2. The doctrine of the Trinity is both central and necessary for the Christian faith to be what it is. Remove the Trinity, and the whole Christian faith disintegrates.

3. Worship of the true and living God consciously acknowledges the relationship and roles of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

4. The Christian's life of prayer must rightly acknowledge the roles of Father, Son, and Spirit as we pray to the Father, through the Son, in the power of the Spirit.

If Jesus taught us to pray to the Father, then we ought to do this. For one reason or another, we sometimes follow a different practice. We may encourage our children, especially, to open their prayers with, "Dear Jesus," despite the fact that Jesus said to pray "Our Father in heaven"...we should pray to the Father through the Son. Jesus Christ is the mediator. He is the one through whom we address the Father. He is the one who brings us access to the Father. Our prayers bring spiritual benefit only when we pray in his name. And prayers that bring fruit in the kingdom are those offered in the power of the Spirit. We pray as the Spirit prompts and urges us to pray. So prayer rightly understood - Christian prayer - is prayer to the Father, through the Son, in the power of the Spirit. To pray aright, we need a deep appreciation for the doctrine of the Trinity.

5. The Christian's growth in Christlikeness or sanctification is rightly understood and enriched when seen as the work of the triune God.

First, the Father ordains and secures our holiness...Ephesians 1...This ordained plan then moves toward becoming reality in the lives of sinners as the Son lives [a holy life]...and then dies to pay for and defeat our sin...But even with the plan of the Father and the saving work of the Son, we are not declared holy or remade until we put our faith in Christ. Then, by faith, we begin the life-long process of conformity into his likeness, and here the Spirit [works] opening our eyes to see the glory of the Son (2 Cor. 4:6) and in making us like Christ (2 Cor. 3:18). So our sanctification is done by the triune God, with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit each participating in different but completely complementary ways.

6. The triune relationships of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit cause us to marvel at the unity of the triune God.

The three persons are never in conflict of purpose, never jealous over another's position or specific work, never prideful over one's own position or work, and they are always sharing fully the delight in being the one God accomplishing the unified purpose of God...Each divine Person accepts his role, each in proper relation to the others, and each works together with the others for one unified, common purpose.

Check back on Friday for the last four reasons that the doctrine of the Trinity is so important.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

The Trinity is Important

Additional thoughts on Mark 1:9-11. (These thoughts follow a sermon preached at Gray Road Baptist Church. If you would like to listen, just go to the sermons page ( and the title is "The Identity of Jesus")

"In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opening and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, 'You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.'"

This week's follow-up entries will focus on a secondary teaching found in Mark 1:9-11. It is not secondary because it is is secondary because it is not the primary teaching of these three verses. As you can see, in the account of Jesus' baptism, we have a clear display of the trinity. God the Father is speaking in verse 11, God the Son is being baptized, and God the Spirit descends in verse 10.

Now, the word "trinity" does not appear in the Bible, but it is one of the most important doctrines in the Bible. It helps to answer the question "What is God like?" The word trinity comes from Latin and means 'tri-unity'. In his Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem gives the following definition of the doctrine of the Trinity: "God eternally exists as three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and each person is fully God, and there is one God." (p. 226)

There are three ideas that are put forward in such a definition. (1) God exists in three persons. (2) Each person is fully God. (3) There is one God. (from p. 231 of the same book) Now, another way I have heard this put is in the following summary: "God the Father is fully God. God the Son (Jesus) is fully God. God the Spirit (Holy Spirit) is fully God. The Father is not the Son. The Son is not the Spirit. The Spirit is not the Father. There is one God." Confused yet? Though it is a very important doctrine, there is mystery to it.

We will never be able to fully comprehend with our finite mental capacities. However, if you'd like to look at some Bible texts to help point you to three distinct persons, all of whom are God (and that there is only one God), here are some for your own consideration (taken from

On God the Father: Genesis 1:1; 2:7; Exodus 3:14; 6:2-3; 15:11ff.; 20:1ff.; Leviticus 22:2; Deuteronomy 6:4; 32:6; 1 Chronicles 29:10; Psalm 19:1-3; Isaiah 43:3,15; 64:8; Jeremiah 10:10; 17:13; Matthew 6:9ff.; 7:11; 23:9; 28:19; Mark 1:9-11; John 4:24; 5:26; 14:6-13; 17:1-8; Acts 1:7; Romans 8:14-15; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Galatians 4:6; Ephesians 4:6; Colossians 1:15; 1 Timothy 1:17; Hebrews 11:6; 12:9; 1 Peter 1:17; 1 John 5:7.

On God the Son: Genesis 18:1ff.; Psalms 2:7ff.; 110:1ff.; Isaiah 7:14; 53; Matthew 1:18-23; 3:17; 8:29; 11:27; 14:33; 16:16,27; 17:5; 27; 28:1-6,19; Mark 1:1; 3:11; Luke 1:35; 4:41; 22:70; 24:46; John 1:1-18,29; 10:30,38; 11:25-27; 12:44-50; 14:7-11; 16:15-16,28; 17:1-5, 21-22; 20:1-20,28; Acts 1:9; 2:22-24; 7:55-56; 9:4-5,20; Romans 1:3-4; 3:23-26; 5:6-21; 8:1-3,34; 10:4; 1 Corinthians 1:30; 2:2; 8:6; 15:1-8,24-28; 2 Corinthians 5:19-21; 8:9; Galatians 4:4-5; Ephesians 1:20; 3:11; 4:7-10; Philippians 2:5-11; Colossians 1:13-22; 2:9; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18; 1 Timothy 2:5-6; 3:16; Titus 2:13-14; Hebrews 1:1-3; 4:14-15; 7:14-28; 9:12-15,24-28; 12:2; 13:8; 1 Peter 2:21-25; 3:22; 1 John 1:7-9; 3:2; 4:14-15; 5:9; 2 John 7-9; Revelation 1:13-16; 5:9-14; 12:10-11; 13:8; 19:16.

On God the Spirit: Genesis 1:2; Judges 14:6; Job 26:13; Psalms 51:11; 139:7ff.; Isaiah 61:1-3; Joel 2:28-32; Matthew 1:18; 3:16; 4:1; 12:28-32; 28:19; Mark 1:10,12; Luke 1:35; 4:1,18-19; 11:13; 12:12; 24:49; John 4:24; 14:16-17,26; 15:26; 16:7-14; Acts 1:8; 2:1-4,38; 4:31; 5:3; 6:3; 7:55; 8:17,39; 10:44; 13:2; 15:28; 16:6; 19:1-6; Romans 8:9-11,14-16,26-27; 1 Corinthians 2:10-14; 3:16; 12:3-11,13; Galatians 4:6; Ephesians 1:13-14; 4:30; 5:18; 1 Thessalonians 5:19; 1 Timothy 3:16; 4:1; 2 Timothy 1:14; 3:16; Hebrews 9:8,14; 2 Peter 1:21; 1 John 4:13; 5:6-7; Revelation 1:10; 22:17.

If it would help, print this out, and take time in your personal Bible study to look up the passages mentioned previously. I remember being blessed when I first looked them all up. I also remember being overwhelmed at the Scripture's constant testimony to what God is like. If you are like I was, then a study like this might just change you. You will no longer be one whose doctrine of the Trinity is based solely on a pastor's sermons or a Sunday school teacher's lessons. You will have the confidence of knowing that your doctrine of the Trinity came from your own study of the Scripture.

Now, before moving on...I know that what will follow may feel like a bit much to try and digest. If that's the case, just take it slow. Read some, pray, and think about it. Ask God to help you see the importance of His being one God in three persons, and ask for His Spirit to be your Teacher.

Now, why is this doctrine so important? Another helpful resource here will be Dr. Bruce Ware's Father, Son, & Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles, and Relevance. In it, he lists ten reasons why the doctrine of the trinity is so important. In order to let you digest it slowly, I will post three reasons here, three more on Wednesday, and the final four on Friday (by the way, multiple posts during the week will not become the norm). Each reason will be stated, and then I will include some of Dr. Ware's thoughts about that reason. I pray that dwelling on these truths all week will cause us all to live in light of this important doctrine.


"1. The doctrine of the Trinity is one of the most important distinguishing doctrines of the Christian faith and therefore is deserving of our careful study, passionate embrace, and thoughtful application.

As one considers the distinctiveness of Christianity compared to other religions and ideas, clearly the doctrine of the Trinity not only distinguishes the Christian faith from all others, it also establishes the basis for all that we hold dear as Christian believers. The doctrine shows us in essential and glorious ways what it is to be 'Christian.' To know the Christian faith, and to know what it means to be a Christian, one must see more clearly what it means for God to be triune...

How enriched our lives can be, and how much more joyful our experience and fruitful our service, when informed by an intimate knowledge of who God is. Let us press on, then, to know with greater clarity the one God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

2. The doctrine of the Trinity is both central and necessary for the Christian faith to be what it is. Remove the Trinity, and the whole Christian faith disintegrates.

Can the Christian faith survive, as it were, if the doctrine of the Trinity is omitted? Are we aware of just how crucial this doctrine is to all else we believe as Christians?...our salvation comes as the Father judges our sin in the Son, who became incarnate and lived his life in the power of the Spirit as the perfect and sinless God-man, and accomplished his perfect obedience to the Father through the power of the Spirit. Disregard the Trinity and you necessarily undermine salvation. More can be said, but this example is sufficient to demonstrate how crucial this doctrine is to the whole of our faith as Christians.

3. Worship of the true and living God consciously acknowledges the relationship and roles of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

As Paul demonstrates in Ephesians 1:13-14, the whole of God's work is accomplished in a trinitarian framework, and hence the worship of this God - the true and living God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - necessarily requires a conscious understanding and honoring of the Trinity...Paul is saying that praise to God must be given to God the Father, through the Son, in light of his blessings being mediated to us by the Spirit. So here we have in one verse the praise of God, who is none other than Father, Son, and Holy Spirit...Christian worship is inherently trinitarian."

If you can, come back on Wednesday to see a few more reasons this doctrine is so important. If you feel overwhelmed, just print it out and save it for later. Or...come back to the blog at another time and find the entries. They're not going anywhere. May the Lord bless your study and cause to grow in grace and knowledge.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Mark's View of the Scripture

More thoughts on Mark 1:1-8.

As I think more about the words of these eight verses, one small phrase stands out. It is a phrase that appears in almost the same form about 150 times in the New Testament. It is a phrase that should encourage and strengthen us as we read, study, and teach the Bible...for the rest of our lives. At the same time, it is tempting to think of this phrase as just an introductory one, with no real significance. Looking at the pages of the New Testament, this can't be true. What are these words? Look to the beginning of verse 2 and you'll see them. They are the words "as it is written".

All 150 times that this phrase appears, including the one here in Mark 1, this verb "is written" is in the perfect tense. The perfect tense in the Greek language has a wonderful meaning. When a verb is in the perfect tense, it means that the action is complete, but the action has lasting consequences. In other words, the verb tense of "it is written" communicates that the words Mark quotes have been written in the past, but the value and effects of those words are lasting. They continue to resonate with truth. As Mark uses this phrase to introduce prophecy about John the Baptist and his ministry, he is affirming the enduring authority and sufficiency of the Scripture.

This should encourage and strengthen us in our daily Bible reading, in our personal study of the Bible, and in our corporate teaching of the Bible. The Scripture that has been handed down to us has authority to teach us about God, man, sin, salvation, life, the church, and more. In addition to this, the Scripture is sufficient for all that we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). Every time we open the Scripture, this least its meaning...should prepare our minds and hearts to receive what we read, study, and hear taught.

So, in addition to affirming the abiding value and authority of the Old Testament, Mark will show us how he interprets the Old Testament. This interpretation shows up in all the major English translations of the Bible. When Mark quotes Malachi 3:1, the Old Testament wording that the coming messenger would "prepare (or clear the way) before me" becomes "who will prepare your/thy way" in Mark 1:2. The first person ('me') becomes the second person ('your'). In addition, Isaiah 40:3 says that the messenger would prepare "a highway for our God", and this is changed to "his paths" or "paths for him" (Mark 1:3), pointing Mark's readers to a person.

What's happening here? What is Mark doing? How is he interpreting these Old Testament passages? Mark does not see the Old Testament in the same way anymore. It looks different in his eyes, and it is quoted differently through his pen. Why? The answer lies in his opening phrase. This is the gospel about "Jesus Christ, the Son of God." Not only is Mark pointing his readers to Jesus, he sees the Old Testament prophecies about John the Baptist ultimately pointing to Jesus, too.

J.C. Ryle has written, "There was nothing unforeseen and suddenly contrived in the coming of Jesus Christ into the world. In the very beginning of Genesis we find it predicted that the woman’s offspring would crush the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15). All through the OT we find the same event foretold with constantly increasing clearness. It was a promise often renewed to patriarchs, and repeated by prophets, that a deliverer and redeemer would one day come. His birth, his character, his life, his death, his resurrection, his forerunner were all prophesied long before he came. Redemption was worked out and accomplished in every step, just as it was written.

"We should always read the OT with a desire to find something in it about Jesus Christ. We study this part of the Bible with little profit if we can see nothing but Moses, David, Samuel and the prophets. Let us search the books of the OT more carefully. It was said by Jesus, whose words can never pass away, ‘these are the Scriptures that testify about me’ (John 5:39)."

So, as we read, study, and teach the Bible, let us be confident in the authority and sufficiency of the Scripture. As we read, study, and teach the Bible, let us keep our eyes looking toward the author and perfecter of our faith...the Lord Jesus Christ.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Did He Just Say 'Idolator'?

Further thoughts on Mark 1:1-8. (These thoughts follow a sermon preached at Gray Road Baptist Church in Indianapolis, IN. If you would like to listen to that message, go to, click on "Sermons", and then find "Prepare the Way of the Lord".)

"The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,

'Behold, I will send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way,
the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
"Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,"'

John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel's hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, "After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."'

So, what's the point? That is at the heart of my efforts to preach expository sermons. That big word just means that the main point of the text is the main point of the sermon. So, what's the point here? What is Mark driving at? I believe it's clear that Mark is driving at the greater quality of Jesus' person and work over John the Baptist, about whom Jesus would say, "...among those born of women none is greater..." (Luke 7:28). John the Baptist's ministry was so great that some wondered if he might be the Christ (Luke 3:15), and on one Catholic website, it is even asserted...

"John the Baptist...had original sin, but no personal sins whatsoever. John the Baptist never committed the least personal sin in his entire life, not even a single, semi-deliberate venial (i.e.- minor) sin. John the Baptist never committed even the least of sins in his heart, mind, words, or actions." (

That seems pretty unbelievable, doesn't it? It is clear, though, that John the Baptist was highly esteemed then, and he is today. In many ways, this is a good and right esteem, for He was greatly used of God to 'prepare the way of the Lord'. However, no matter how highly esteemed John the Baptist is, Mark must make clear that Jesus is greater. His power is greater ('mightier than I'), his significance is greater ('not worthy to stoop down and untie' his sandals), and his work is greater ('he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit'). whatever else we might say about these 8 verses in Mark, we must primarily concern ourselves with what it primary.

Does all that make sense? I hope so. Now, let's walk forward to the personal application. If I had a guess, you probably weren't looking to hear the word 'idolator' in yesterday's message. We were seeking to apply the idea that Jesus is greater than John the Baptist...really, that He is greater than any preacher or pastor or missionary or servant of God...that He is greater than all.

In thinking about this, we noted that God has established relationships in which some lead and some follow (e.g. - church, family, workplace, and even society). It is good and right to have mentoring relationships, to have people from whom you can seek godly counsel, and to have men preaching and teaching God's Word for the benefit of our souls. But...if our allegiance is to these types of people over and above Jesus, then we have become idolators. That was the context...remember it? Still, 'idolator' does feel like a strong word...are we sure we want to use it? Is there a better word?

Let's think on this by looking to a couple of sources for definitions of 'idolatry':

Easton's Bible Dictionary
"Image-worship or divine honour paid to a created object...The forms of idolatry are (1) Fetishism, or the worship of trees, rivers, hills, stones, etc. (2) Nature worship, or the worship of the sun, moon, and stars, as the supposed powers of nature. (3) Hero worship, the worship of deceased ancestors, or heroes."

Unger's Bible Dictionary
"In a general sense idolatry is the paying of divine honor to any created thing; the ascription of divine power to natural agencies. Idolatry may be classeified as follows: (1) the worship of inanimate objects...; (2) of animals; (3) of the higher powers of nature...; (4) hero-worship or of deceased ancestors; (5) idealism, or the worship of abstractions or mental qualities, such as justice..."

The interesting idea in both of these definitions is that what we call "hero worship", which would be the direct application from our text, would be giving divine honor to a created being...or ascribing divine power to natural agencies. We may think, "I don't think of that person as God." Well, we may not have such an overtly idolatrous thought, but let's ask ourselves some questions.

Do I turn to this person before I turn to the Scripture when I am looking for answers about life, about God, about salvation, about the church, etc.? When I read that person's book, do I "examine the see if these things are so", or do I simply assimilate that man or woman's teaching into my thoughts and life with no further study? If the counsel I receive from this person doesn't quite make sense, do I just assume that I they are probably right and go forward with what they have suggested, or do I take time to seek the Lord in His Word and pray?

These are not a formula, by any stretch, but they can be helpful guides for us. Let me finish with a personal story. After the Lord called me into ministry, I had the chance to work with some great youth pastors and pastors. I was an intern in the churches they served, and I loved every minute of it. Once I landed in a full-time ministry role, I found myself overwhelmed, as many young pastors do. It seemed that almost every week, I was calling one of these men to run a situation past them, and whatever they thought was best, I would do just made sense. I trusted them...why wouldn't I just act on what they say?

A few years into my ministry career, having continued this mode of calling every time I felt a little stuck, things changed. One by one, God removed these men from the pedastals on which I had set them in varying ways. As I went through this time of my life, heartbroken by what was happening in these men's lives, God opened my eyes to what was going on in my own heart. I didn't just have mentors, friends, and counselors. I had idols. I didn't consider any of these men 'God', but I would have failed horribly if I was asked those questions written just a couple of paragraphs ago. So, I had to repent of such idolatry. I still love these men, and I still get counsel from them at times. However, the way in which I receive counsel is different. They never meant to be my final authority...I had given it to them.

We must always be on guard to this kind of idolatry. We should and must depend on one's what the New Testament protrays when it teaches us about the church. Still, it must always be clear that our ultimate dependence is on Christ and His Word. "Little children, keep yourself from idols" (1 John 5:21).

If you have time, come back to the blog on Wednesday afternoon, November 4, to read a couple more thoughts from Mark 1:1-8.