“It is a true mark of spiritual life when our heart yearns after and longs for the Word. It is completely natural, just as one who is hungry longs for bread, the thirsty for water, and the sick for medicine.
Just as naturally, the one who is spiritual with a holy longing reaches for the Word of God and for Christ, who is offered in that Word. Those who are spiritual never grow beyond that Word.
Unlike the mystic’s dreams, the Word is not used as a ladder to ascend to a certain height, and then to spread one’s own wings and support oneself.
Anyone who tries to do so will soon fall to earth broken.
Anyone who refuses food will soon starve.
Anyone who does not heed the word of Christ does not love Him (1 John 5:3).
Anyone who rejects medicine has no need of a physician.
But the spiritual person, as long as one lives and with all one’s soul, feels bound to that Word as the means of communion and fellowship with God, because God has bound Himself to that Word.
It is only in the proportion one is planted in that Word that one grows and becomes stronger.
As ivy to a wall, the spiritual person holds fast to the Word.
As one leans upon a rod or a staff on a pilgrimage, so one leans on the Word. One becomes increasingly attached to it, and increasingly devoted to it.
The spiritual person’s love for the Word becomes stronger, considers it ever-increasing in value, and always finds in it a rich treasure for both heart and life.
For the one who is spiritual, it becomes increasingly God’s Word, a Word that comes to that person from God, a letter from one’s Father sent from heaven, to be a guide to the Father’s house.
‘Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path’ (Ps. 119:105). ‘Oh how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day’ (Ps. 119:97).”
–Herman Bavinck, The Sacrifice of Praise: Meditations Before and After Admission to the Lord’s Supper, Trans. and Ed. Cameron Clausing and Gregory Parker Jr (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2019), 24-25.
One practical way that the Bible teaches us to see Jesus in the Old Testament is by noting how certain prominent figures point forward to Jesus. With each significant Old Testament character that you come across you should ask this question: “How does this person foreshadow Christ by analogy and/or contrast?” You can even break that question down into three separate questions as follows:
In what way does this person anticipate the person and work of Jesus?
In what way does Jesus far surpass this person?
In what way does Jesus succeed where this person failed/fell short?
To give an example of how this could be done, allow me to demonstrate how Noah points us to Jesus.
First, Noah points us to Jesus through the promise and anticipation of Rest:
“Noah was a typical rest-giver. Noah’s name meant ‘Rest.’ His father had named him ‘Rest,’ saying, “This one will give us rest from the ground which the Lord had cursed.” Noah only gives typical rest, as the remainder of the Bible bears witness to the ongoing need for redemptive rest. Jesus is the One who finally and fully gives rest to the people of God and to the creation that was brought under the curse at the fall. He is the One who said, “Come unto Me and I will give you rest for your souls.””
Second, Noah points us to Jesus by his standing alone in obedience to God:
“Noah’s life was shaped by his certainty that judgment was coming. And because of this certainty, he was willing to be counted a fool, willing to stand alone in his obedience to God. (Hebrews 11:7) Like Noah, Jesus stood alone in obedience to God, warning of the coming judgment. But rather than condemning the world through his obedience, Jesus saved the world through his obedience.”
Third, Noah points us to Jesus by showing that we are saved through union with the deliverer:
“Noah’s whole family was saved with him—not because of their own righteousness, but because of their connection to Noah. (Gen. 6:18, 7:1)
“But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons' wives with you.” (Genesis 6:18)
Likewise, those who will be saved in the coming judgment against sin will be saved solely by their connection to Jesus. (“In Christ” two of most important words in the whole Bible)”
Fourth, Noah points us to Jesus by helping us anticipate the One who will bring the hope of a New Creation:
After God’s act of judging and cleansing the earth by a flood, Noah waited and waited for the waters to subside so he could step off the ark into a “new world”. Noah used a dove to determine if it was time to come out of the ark. Initially, he sends out the dove but the dove returns because, as Genesis says, the dove found no resting place. Eventually, the dove does not return, signaling that Noah and his family can leave the ark and enter a new post-flood creation. All of that imagery and symbolism is put on display in Matthew 3:13-17 as the Spirit-like dove comes to rest upon Jesus who emerges from the waters to bring about a new creation.
Fifth, Noah points us to Jesus by showing us that God brings salvation through judgment:
Just as the flood revealed that God is holy, hates sin, and is determined to punish it with the full force of his justice, so the first and second coming of Christ reveals the same.
Just as God provides sinners with a divinely approved means of escape (the Ark), so in Christ God provides sinners with a divinely approved means of escape (the Cross).
Just as God protected and saved those who put their faith in Him and used His refuge, so God protects and saves all who put their trust in Jesus Christ as a refuge from God’s righteous wrath.
Sixth, Noah points us to Jesus by showing us that God has set down His “bow” of judgment:
Genesis 9:13-15 describes the sign of the covenant that God made with Noah:
“13 I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.”
The “bow” is not merely a curve of light shining through the rain, it is a warrior’s bow that is meant to be strung with arrows, as Psalm 7:11-13 clearly indicates:
“11 God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day. 12 If a man does not repent, God will whet his sword; he has bent and readied his bow; 13 he has prepared for him his deadly weapons, making his arrows fiery shafts.”
By setting his “bow in the cloud”, God is saying that even though humans are sinful, he won’t destroy us. The bow is hung in the sky, not strung tight with arrows at the ready, but loose and hanging at the warrior’s side. God is no longer at war. God can hang up his bow for only one reason. It is not because Noah and his descendants will no longer sin, and it’s not because God will now overlook sin. He can hang up his bow because its arrows have been spent on someone else. God chose to aim the arrows of judgment toward an innocent Christ rather than toward guilty sinners.
 Guthrie, Nancy. The One Year Book of Discovering Jesus in the Old Testament.
 Guthrie, Nancy. The One Year Book of Discovering Jesus in the Old Testament.
James gives believers this counsel: “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.“ (James 5:16)
Below is a powerful quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer on the wisdom of God in giving us this counsel and how confession is a means of putting sin and hypocrisy to death:
“Sin demands to have a man by himself. It withdraws him from the community. The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him, and the more deeply he becomes involved in it, the more disastrous is his isolation… This can happen even in the midst of a pious community. In confession the light of the Gospel breaks into the darkness and seclusion of the heart. The sin must be brought into the light. The unexpressed must be openly spoken and acknowledged. All that is secret and hidden is made manifest. It is a hard struggle until the sin is openly admitted. But God breaks gates of brass and bars of iron (Ps. 107:16)…”
“The root of all sin is pride… I want to be my own law, I have a right to my self, my hatred and my desires, my life and my death. The mind and flesh of man are set on fire by pride; for it is precisely in his wickedness that man wants to be as God … In the confession of concrete sins the old man dies a painful, shameful death before the eyes of a brother. Because this humiliation is so hard we continually scheme to evade confessing to a brother. Our eyes are so blinded that they no longer see the promise and the glory in such abasement.”
“Since the confession of sin is made in the presence of a Christian brother, the last stronghold of self-justification is abandoned. The sinner surrenders; he gives up all his evil. He gives his heart to God, and he finds the forgiveness of all his sin in the fellowship of Jesus Christ and his brother… Now he stands in the fellowship of sinners who live by the grace of God in the Cross of Jesus Christ.”
– Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together
If a Presbyterian were to write their own version of the song “These are a few of my favorite things” from The Sound of Music, there would definitely be a line in there about covenants. What is the cause of our obsession with covenants? We believe that the concept of covenant is one of the most prominent and important themes in Scripture. In fact, if you want to know how to navigate the Bible’s storyline you need to be able to answer this question: “What is a Covenant?” This word shows up 267 times in the Old Testament and 13 times in Genesis 17, alone. Without getting too technical, it is important to know that there are many types of covenants mentioned in the Bible but the most important one, and what I want to define for us, is covenants that God makes with humans or divine-human covenants. There are five components to divine-human covenants that we need to understand.
First, at the heart of a covenant is a relationship. This is captured in the statement “I will be your God and you will be my people” (cf. Ex 6:7, 19:5-6, 29:45; Lev 26:12; Deut 26:17-18; Jer 7:23, 11:4, 30:22, 31:33, 32:38; Ezek 11:20; Zech 13:9; 2 Cor 6:16; Rev 21:3, 7). This type of language shows up at the end of Genesis 17:7 where God promises “to be God to you and to your offspring after you” and again at the end of Genesis 17:8 it says “I will be their God.” In all the major covenants in the Bible it is abundantly clear that God is the pursuer and instigator of the covenant relationship. Humans are always portrayed as running away from God in rebellion and thus the recipients of God’s gracious initiative.
A second component of a covenant is that promises are made from one person to the other. In the case of the major covenants in the Bible God is the one who makes promises to humans. Listen to how Genesis 17:5-8 clearly emphasize that God is the one making the covenant promises to Abraham and his future offspring:
No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.
It is clear from these verses that God is the benefactor and man is the beneficiary. It’s also clear that God is not a stingy benefactor, because he pours out his promises in abundance.
A third component of a covenant is a pledge of loyalty. This pledge of loyalty is made to the one who holds out the promises. This is where we as humans on the receiving end of the promises respond to God in gratitude by saying “Yes! We will be your people and you are our God.” This call to a pledge of loyalty is captured well when God says to Abraham in Genesis 17:2 “walk before me and be blameless,” also Genesis 17:9 starts off with God saying to Abraham “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations.” When it comes to a covenant relationship with God, don’t mix up a “pledge of loyalty” with “trying to earn or maintain God’s favor.” We aren’t loyal so that God will love us. No! God has loved us therefore we are loyal. It would be silly to live your life trying to earn something from God that he has freely given you. But it wouldn’t be silly to live your life in worshipful response to what had already been freely given to you.
The fourth component of a covenant is the consequences. The consequences can be either positive or negative, usually the words blessing and curse are employed in the Bible to speak of this (cf. Deut 28). For example in Genesis 17:14, God tells Abraham of the curse that will come down upon someone for breaking the covenant: “Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”
Finally, the fifth component of a covenant is a sign. This sign functions as a reminder of the covenant relationship that has been established. Abraham is given the covenant sign of circumcision. In the covenant that God made with Noah in Genesis 9, the sign of a rainbow is given (cf. Gen 9:13). In the book of Exodus, when God makes a covenant with Moses and Israel, the sign of the Sabbath(s) is given (cf. Exod 31:13).
So to put these five components together a covenant is a God-initiated relationship with humans where He makes promises to them and they in turn respond by pledging their loyalty and this is usually memorialized by a sign.
The best modern example of a covenant relationship is marriage, simply because marriage is an actual covenant relationship that God has created. In a wedding ceremony you have a marriage relationship being established. In the exchanging of vows you have both promises and pledges of loyalty being made. Then, after the exchanging of vows, you have the exchanging of rings which become the signs of the covenant relationship.
On January 7, 1855, a pastor in England rose to preach. His name was Charles Haddon Spurgeon. He was only twenty years old. This is the introduction to his sermon about God:
It has been said that “the proper study of mankind is man.” I believe it is equally true that the proper study of God’s elect is God; the proper study of a Christian is the Godhead. The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls his Father.
There is something exceedingly improving to the mind in a contemplation of the Divinity. It is a subject so vast, that all our thoughts are lost in its immensity; so deep, that our pride is drowned in its infinity. Other subjects we can grapple with; in them we feel a kind of self-content, and go our way with the thought, “Behold I am wise.” But when we come to this master science, finding that our plumbline cannot sound its depth, and that our eagle eye cannot see its height, we turn away with the thought that vain man would be wise, but he is like a wild ass’s colt; and with solemn exclamation, “I am but of yesterday, and know nothing.” No subject of contemplation will tend more to humble the mind, than thoughts of God....
But while the subject humbles the mind, it also expands it. He who often thinks of God, will have a larger mind than the man who simply plods around this narrow globe.... The most excellent study for expanding the soul, is the science of Christ, and Him crucified, and the knowledge of the Godhead in the glorious Trinity. Nothing will so enlarge the intellect, nothing so magnify the whole soul of man, as a devout, earnest, continued investigation of the great subject of the Deity.
And, while humbling and expanding, this subject is eminently consolatory. Oh, there is, in contemplating Christ, a balm for every wound; in musing on the Father, there is a quietus for every grief; and in the influence of the Holy Ghost, there is a balsam for every sore.
Would you lose your sorrow? Would you drown your cares? Then go, plunge yourself in the Godhead’s deepest sea; be lost in his immensity; and you shall come forth as from a couch of rest, refreshed and invigorated. I know nothing which can so comfort the soul; so calm the swelling billows of sorrow and grief; so speak peace to the winds of trial, as a devout musing upon the subject of the Godhead. It is to that subject that I invite you this morning.
HT: Mike Bruce and Randy Alcorn
Have you ever thought to yourself “I wish I was better at evangelism…I wish I was better equipped to share the Gospel with my unbelieving family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, etc.” I echo that sentiment in my own heart on a regular basis. I grew up in a Christian home, attended church all my life, and have been in Bible college, seminary, or a church setting on a full-time basis for over a decade, so I am comfortable around Christian’s and uncomfortable around non-Christian’s. This is something I need to work on because I am not naturally or easily driven this way. One thing that I have found helpful in being better equipped to share the Gospel with someone is learning a Gospel-presentation tool, that clearly and concisely explains the central message of the Christian faith. Below are two Gospel-presentation tools that I have found most helpful.
Two Ways to Live
3…2…1…The Story of God, the World, and You
I was once asked by a parent how to go about training children to develop the practice of private worship. Below is a letter that I wrote to the parent and I thought it might be helpful to share it with others. I have removed the names to make the letter more general and applicable to all parents:
Thanks for the question regarding how we should go about teaching and encouraging our kids to engage in their own disciplines of private worship. As I have reflected on this the following thoughts and practices came to mind:
1. Example = Emulation
We are hardwired by God to be imitators. This is especially this case within the household structure that God has established. Children imitate their parents. This is why it is so important to embrace the idea that every home is a Covenant household. What we do and how we act as parents will have generational impact. God’s maxim of “sowing and reaping” (Gal 6:7-9) demonstrates itself particularly within households: What we sow as parents will ordinarily be reaped in our children.
How does this factor in to encouraging and teaching kids to practice private worship? What we model in our own personal disciplines of private worship will have the most significant impact on what our children practice in their own personal disciplines. Our to state it another way, our example = their emulation. The best way I have heard this put was by my mentor John Piper. He said if you want your kids to love God, read their Bibles, and pray don’t just tell them to love God, read their Bibles, and pray. Instead, strive to be someone who loves God, reads their Bible, and prays so that your kids don't merely hear you but see you do these things.
There is a great example of this in church history with the great hymn writers, John and Charles Wesley. These brothers were known for their spiritual maturity and evident experiential knowledge of God. When asked what influenced and encouraged this they unhesitatingly pointed to their mother. Their mom regularly spent time in prayer, even amidst the busyness of raising all her kids. In fact, her practice was to put a dish rag over her head in the kitchen to let her children know that mommy needed uninterrupted quiet so that she could spend time in prayer with the Lord. This in turn imparted a tangible example of the practice and importance of prayer to John and Charles.
2. Family Worship as the Catalyst for Private Worship
Most people would say that private worship is primary whereas family worship is more peripheral. I would argue the opposite. When children are under our covenantal roof, as it were, the most significant practice in the home that will have the greatest impact on our children personally is family worship. It is here that God works through the word and prayer led by the parents to shape little hearts to love and live for the Savior. It is family worship around “the table” that will, over time, fuel private worship in “the closet.” This is why family worship must be an intentional and regular priority in the home.
It should be intentional in that we make a plan and have a structure because of the significance and shaping influence of this occasion. Coaches are intentional with their practices. Teachers are intentional with their lessons. But family worship is more significant than any sporting event or classroom lesson. So we should go about it with that much more intentionality. Intentionality happens as we ask questions like what Scriptures should we cover? What verses or catechisms should we memorize? How can we go about reviewing what we have memorized? How can we move from mere memorization to comprehending what has been memorized? What songs, hymns, psalms should we learn to sing? How can we teach them about the significance of the words that we are singing? How should we go about including prayer in family worship? What and who should we be praying for in family worship?
It should be regular in that just as we need consistent physical nourishment to sustain our physical health, we need regular spiritual nourishment to sustain our spiritual health. And God has designed that the main source of food for covenant children will come by eating at the table of family worship (Deut 6:7-9; Psalm 78:5-7).
It should also be a priority in that in light of its eternal importance we should make it a fixed item on our daily calendars. Too often we fill up our schedules with the family activities and then try and find a spot for family worship. I would humbly suggest that it should be the other way around.
As family worship becomes an intentional regular priority it will have a trickle down effect into private worship. Our children will see that just as Scripture has a central place in family worship so it should have a central place in private worship. As memorization and reflection, singing, prayer, etc. is demonstrated in family worship so it will be practiced in private worship. For example, in our family worship time (and in leading corporate worship) I use the A.C.T.S. prayer model (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication). I do this because I think it is a biblical model that I want others to emulate. When children see this model it will shape their prayers.
3. Practicalities for Private Worship
As far as the rubber meets the road practicals for structuring the time and practice of private worship for our kids I would suggest the following:
Have a Bible Reading Plan
I think the best Bible Reading Plan to start young kids on is one that touches on the most significant passages in the storyline of the Bible. A great resource that lays this out for you is The Gospel Story Bible. It breaks the storyline of the Bible into 156 stories. Under the heading of each story is the biblical passages that each particular story is based on. If you just took those biblical passages you would have a very nice and manageable Bible reading plan.
Keep a Bible Reading Journal
Also, you could use or adapt the questions that are at the end of each of The Gospel Story Bible stories as reflection questions for a Bible reading journal. You can draw upon additional questions by consulting the Long Story Short and Old Story New family worship resources. The older they are the more the questions should be why and how questions. The younger they are the more the questions should be what and who questions. For example, Genesis 4 discusses Cain murdering Abel. For a younger child simply reflecting on “what did Cain do to his brother?” is a great start. For an older child a more probing question like “why does Cain murder his brother?” is even better. Also, you can ask questions that help them connect various familiar parts of the Bible together. For example, asking “where in the Bible do we learn God’s thoughts about murder?” drives them to think about the ten commandments and God’s authoritative will for our moral conduct.
Give them a Prayer Guide
I find that the clearest and most helpful model for guiding my prayer time is the A.C.T.S. model.
A-Adoration: Focus on a particular attribute of God and praise Him for it. For example, one day you could focus on His Sovereignty and they could pray, “God, I praise you that you are in charge of everything.”
C-Confession: Either use a biblical passage or focus on a particular area of sin and ask God for forgiveness and grace to overcome sin. Psalm 51 is the clearest biblical example. Or they could ask forgiveness for how they have been unkind to their siblings, parents, etc.
T-Thanksgiving: In this area I always want to first and foremost thank God for the Gospel, which is the most precious gift he has given us. I generally take a specific passage of Scripture that highlights the work of Christ and turn it into a prayer of thanks. For example, with John 3:16 I will pray: “God thank you for so loving us that you sent your one and only Son to die for us so that we can have eternal life.”
S-Supplication: In this area I offer prayers for others. I start with my most significant relationships and work outward. So that means that I start with praying for my wife, then the kids, then the church. Children can do the same by praying for their family, their church, their friends.
Over time Supplement the Word and Prayer with Memorization and Singing
I would suggest starting small and simple and building from there as it becomes more a regular discipline. Once it becomes a regular discipline I would start by including Bible memorization. We want our children not just to read the Word but to hide it in their hearts and memorization is a further step in that direction. Personally, I love the FighterVerse program and app from Children Desiring God. It comes with numerous preset memorization programs and fun tools and games to assist in the memorization process.
I also think that by the time children can get their license they should have memorized the Westminster Shorter Catechism. This is something that I am borrowing from a mentor of mine. He would have all his kids memorize the WSC before they could get their license. He would do this because he wanted to teach his kids that driving is a privilege not a right and that privilege is gained through demonstrating responsibility. And the most important place to demonstrate responsibility is in caring for our souls. And it is good for our souls to know the truths contained in the WSC.
Additionally, you could encourage them to take time to express worship to God through song. I organize songs according to the same formula I use for prayer: A.C.T.S. The reason I do this is because on the one hand songs are prayers with a tune, as John Calvin has said. On the other hand, songs also offer instruction in these areas. For example, when we sing Holy, Holy, Holy we are both offering God praise and being reminded how praiseworthy He is. But songs offer the additional element of being more memorable because they are set to music.
I hope these inexperienced reflections give you some encouragement and guidance as you continue to press on to raise your children up in the discipline and admonition of the Lord.
We consume a lot of media, whether it’s through TV, laptops, tablets, or phones. With so much media consumption that is so very easy to consume, we need to exercise an incredible amount of discretion and discernment. Yet it seems that the more we consume media, the more desensitized we become to the type of media we consume. This means that we need to spend extra energy “watching what we watch.” I have found the following input and guidelines most helpful in evaluating and using discernment in my media consumption:
When deciding on the appropriateness of a particular program or film, we often make a judgment based on its rating. However, simply knowing what it’s rated does not mean we’ve applied thorough biblical discernment. While offering some help, the ratings system doesn’t use biblical criteria to evaluate the content of films. And no ratings system can answer the questions regarding the stewardship of our time or the motive of our heart in viewing. We need more than a rating if we’re to honor God through our viewing. We need an evaluation process that takes into account our time and our motive, as well as offering a biblical benchmark for measuring content.
The following application questions can help in discerning the benefit of watching a particular movie or program. The questions have been expanded in some places to cover our use of the internet.
Am I skipping or delaying something important in order to watch this now?
What are my other social/entertainment options besides watching television or going out to see a movie?
How much time have I already spent consuming media today? Surfing the internet? Social media? Youtube?
In the last week, how much time have I spent on the spiritual disciplines, building relationships, attending to my family, serving others, exercising, going outside compared to time spent consuming media?
After investing the time to view this, will I look back on it and honestly be able to say that it was time well spent?
Why do I want to watch this program or film? What do I find entertaining about it?
Am I seeking to escape from something I should be facing by watching this? Am I seeking comfort and relief that can only be found in God?
What sinful temptations might this program or film present me with?
Do I secretly want to view something in this that’s not honoring to the Lord? Am I deceiving myself by saying “I’ll fast-forward through that part” or “I’ll close my eyes” or “It’s not that bad, I can handle it”?
What worldview or philosophy of life does this program or film present? How do these views relate to God’s views?
What does this program or film glamorize? What is valued or considered important? How does that line up with the values of Scripture?
Is sin shown as having negative consequences? Or is sin glorified and rewarded? Is sin presented in an appealing and seductive way?
Is there any sexual content in this film that will expose me to things I ought not to see and hear for the sake of my purity?
Can I tangible think of any benefit that I will gain from viewing this material?
By asking these sorts of questions, we may find that although a certain program is acceptable, spending the time to watch it may not be beneficial. Think about Paul’s counsel to the Corinthians: “‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful.’ ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up” (1 Cor. 10:23). One author offers the following application of this verse:
What if the standard we used to test all our media consumption was not simply what is permissible but what is beneficial?
Source: God, My Heart, and My Media by Craig Cabaniss in Worldliness edited by C.J. Mahaney.
“Remember, therefore, it is not thy hold of Christ that saves thee—it is Christ.
It is not thy joy in Christ that saves thee—it is Christ.
It is not even faith in Christ, though that be the instrument—it is Christ’s blood and merits.
Therefore, look not so much to thy hand with which thou art grasping Christ, as to Christ.
Look not to thy hope, but to Jesus, the source of thy hope.
Look not to thy faith, but to Jesus, the author and finisher of thy faith.
We shall never find happiness by looking at our prayers, our doings, or our feelings.
It is what Jesus is, not what we are, that gives rest to the soul.
If we would at once overcome Satan and have peace with God, it must be by ‘looking unto Jesus,’ (Hebrews 12:2).
Keep thine eye simply on Him.
Let His death, His sufferings, His merits, His glories, His intercession, be fresh upon thy mind.
When thou wakest in the morning look to Him.
When thou liest down at night look to Him.”
–Charles Spurgeon, “June 28 – Morning” in Morning and Evening (Geanies House, Fearn, Scotland, UK: Christian Focus, 1994), 378.
Many theological errors happen by overreaction. We don’t want to be make the error of treating tradition as equal with Scripture, so we reject tradition altogether. Or, as relates to this post, we don’t want to be legalists so we reject the place of obedience and God’s commands in the Christian life altogether. That would be an error by overreaction. So let me try and help us avoid that error of overreaction by making clear what legalism is not…
Legalism is not a zealous commitment to honor the commandments of God’s Word or do good works.
Jesus said very plainly and clearly to his disciples: “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” Notice that he didn’t say, “If you keep my commandments, I will love you.” Jesus is saying that commandment-keeping is an expression, an overflow, an evidence of our love for Christ not the basis of it.
Furthermore, Paul shows us in Titus 2:14 that one of the effects of the Gospel is a zeal for good works: “[Christ] gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.“ Christ has freed us from the condemnation of the law, which hung over our heads reminding us that we could never render the perfect obedience that God demands. But Christ also, freed us from lawlessness, a “everyone did what was right in their own eyes type of mindset.” By the purifying power of his grace, he has given us a passion to live for His glory by doing good works.
Legalism is not a ministry that teaches others to follow Christ in obedience.
It seems that some people have their legalism detector set to 11, such that if any pastor from any pulpit calls for people to honor a particular command of God’s Word, they cry “legalism.” But again to draw our attention to the words of Jesus listen to what he said at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount: “Whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.“ (Matthew 5:19)
Legalism is not strong personal convictions, as long as they are not imposed on and required of others.
The Apostle Paul touches on this principle in Romans 14 in his discussion of the strong in faith and the weak in faith, regarding observing the ceremonial dietary laws and observing the ceremonial calendar: “One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.“ (Romans 14:2-5).
Someone may have a strong personal conviction that honoring the Sabbath means refraining from participating in commerce because it essentially forces people to work on the Lord’s Day. It would be fine for them to express their thoughts on paper and hand it out to others for consideration and discussion as to why they follow that practice and hold that view. But it would be wrong of them to try and force other people to follow their practice if they do not share their conviction.
A parent may determine that a certain book series or movie or show is not permissible or beneficial for their children. They may share with other parents how they came to such a conclusion in order to assist their own thinking on such a matter. But the moment that one parent definitively and authoritatively says to another: “You are sinning by allowing your kids to read that book or watch that movie,” they have crossed a Scriptural line.
Legalism is not imposing personal restrictions for personal protection from sinful temptations and acts.
Based on the admonition from Paul in Romans 13:14 to “make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” a person may recognize in themselves a propensity towards abuse of alcohol and thus determine that they are going to totally refrain from drinking such beverages. This is an honorable, permissible, personal stance to take, as long as the individual does not force that position on others or view themselves as more righteous than others because they follow such a personal practice.
These points were adapted from: https://www.ccwtoday.org/2008/04/an-outline-for-understanding-issues-of-conscience-and-legalism/
As Christians who live between the D-Day and V-Day of Christ’s first and second coming, there are certain enemies that we have to be on the lookout for. In the book of Galatians one enemy in particular that Paul constantly warns against is legalism. He warns that it’s not just an enemy to our view of justification (God’s act of declaring us righteous), it’s also an enemy to our sanctification (God’s work of making us righteous). In Galatians 2:16 Paul declares legalism to be an enemy of justification when he says, “we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.” Later in Galatians 3:3, Paul declares legalism to be an enemy of sanctification when he says, “having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”
Paul, throughout the book of Galatians, is clearly passionate about preserving the purity of the Gospel and upholding the sole sufficiency of the work of the Savior. One of the ways this is clearly demonstrated is in his all out assault on legalism, one of the greatest enemies of Gospel. But what exactly is legalism? This is a word that is tossed around frequently and like much “Christianese” it has been overused, abused, misused and under-defined. So, I want to attempt to move toward a clearer understanding of what legalism is in hopes that this will help us detect it more easily, repent of it more specifically, and embrace it’s remedy more wholeheartedly.
The Subtlety of Legalism
Before I give a definition of Legalism, it is important to note that legalism shares a lot of similarities to a Deer Tick that carries Lyme Disease. Like a Deer Tick, legalism is sometimes undetectable (a Deer Tick is almost microscopic). It can easily be mistaken as completely harmless (a Deer Tick looks like a cute baby ladybug). It can be hard to diagnose (early stages of Lyme Disease mimic the flu). And if it is allowed to go untreated, it’s effects can be devastating (untreated Lyme Disease can have chronic effects). This is what, in part, makes legalism so dangerous.
The Spectrum of Legalism
Furthermore, legalism does not come in one shape and size, as if it were one very specific thing that you could point to. Legalism comes in a variety of flavors and exists on a spectrum. For example, on one end of the spectrum you have forms of legalism that are heretical. These are the extreme cases of legalism that distort the truth of the Gospel so much that to believe them or teach them is damnable (Paul seems to deal with this kind in Gal 1:6-9). On the other end of the spectrum, you have less extreme cases of legalism that though not heretical, are still harmful (Paul seems to deal with this kind in Gal 2:11-14).
Legalism is any man-made addition(s) to salvation or Scripture which we use to earn, maintain, or improve our standing before God and which we impose upon others.
Let’s break that down…
Legalism Usurps the Authority of God
Legalism makes “man-made addition(s)” to things that only God has the authority to speak on. In a sense, legalism is “fools rushing in where angels fear to tread.” Scripture has one ultimate author and it is not us. Only God has the prerogative to say “thus saith the Lord.” Legalism tries to say “thus saith the Lord” without asking permission.
Legalism Undermines the Sufficiency of Christ
Legalism makes “man-made additions to salvation.” By adding any criteria to salvation other than “believe on the Lord Jesus,” legalism essentially says that Jesus isn’t enough, His work isn’t fully sufficient, more is required. This comes not only in formal ways, where one declares “you must be circumcised if you would be saved.” It also comes in functional ways. No one makes a declaration or writes a position paper on it, but people can unknowingly treat voting a certain way or adopting a certain educational method or adhering to certain social behaviors as necessary criteria for being a Christian. This cuts at the heart of the Gospel.
Legalism Undermines the Wisdom of God
Legalism makes “man-made additions to…Scripture.” By adding anything to Scripture’s commands, Legalism acts as if it were wiser than God. There are many areas of life to which God, in his wisdom, does not say “thus saith the Lord, do this and do not do that.” These are areas of Christian Freedom, or as it has sometimes been called cases of conscience. Legalism seeks to remove freedom in these areas and hold consciences’ captive. In effect, this says if God were as wise as me he would have said “don’t do ________.”
One clarification here: Obedience is not in question. When God makes commands, we as Christians must “serve the Lord with gladness” (Psalm 100:2). But we are not obligated in any way to submit to man-made additions to God’s commands. That is the difference between obeying God and legalism. (see the Westminster Confession Chapter 20)
Legalism Breaks the Greatest Commandment
Legalism uses obedience to “earn, maintain, or improve our standing with God.” When we do this we break what Jesus called the “greatest commandment:” to LOVE the Lord your God. Instead of fueling love for God, legalism becomes a way of trying to manipulate God and put him in our debt. This is why you will never see joy in a legalistic environment. Legalists aren’t gazing properly at God to derive the joy that comes from truly knowing him. Instead, legalism takes our eyes off of the greatness of God and tries to get God to look at our perceived greatness.
Legalism Breaks the 2nd Greatest Commandment
Finally, Legalism imposes itself on others and judges others by its non-biblical standard. Thus, legalism not only affects things on a vertical level, it also affects things on a horizontal level by breaking the 2nd greatest commandment: “Love your neighbor.” Sam Storms helpfully articulates it this way:
Legalism is the tendency to regard as divine law things which God has neither required nor forbidden in Scripture and the corresponding inclination to look with suspicion on others for their failure or refusal to conform.
Legalism makes us think we are superior to our neighbor because we have reached heights of holiness that they can only dream about. In this state of mind, instead of coming underneath our neighbor and serving them, we stand over our neighbor and judge them for not being like us. That is why you will never see genuine community in a legalistic environment. The only “community” will be cliques that are formed by groups who share the same legalistic tendencies.
In the next post, I will look at what Legalism is not in order to help us avoid a misdiagnosis or an overreaction.
“Do we want an unfailing friend? Such a friend is the Lord Jesus Christ.
The saddest part of all the good things of earth is their instability. Riches make themselves wings and flee away; youth and beauty are but for a few years; strength of body soon decays; mind and intellect are soon exhausted.
All is perishing. All is fading. All is passing away. But there is one splendid exception to this general rule, and that is the friendship of Jesus Christ.
The Lord Jesus is a friend who never changes. There is no fickleness about Him: those whom He loves, He loves unto the end. Husbands have been known to forsake their wives; parents have been known to cast off their children; human vows and promises of faithfulness have often been forgotten.
Thousands have been neglected in their poverty and old age, who were honoured by all when they were rich and young. But Christ never changed His feelings towards one of His friends. He is ‘the same yesterday, today, and forever.’ (Heb. 13:8.)
The Lord Jesus never goes away from His friends. There is never a parting and good-bye between Him and His people. From the time that He makes His abode in the sinner’s heart, He abides in it forever.
The world is full of leave-takings and departures: death and the lapse of time break up the most united family; sons go forth to make their way in life; daughters are married, and leave their father’s house forever.
Scattering, scattering, scattering, is the yearly history of the happiest home. How many we have tearfully watched as they drove away from our doors, whose pleasant faces we have never seen again!
How many we have sorrowfully followed to the grave, and then come back to a cold, silent, lonely, and blank fireside! But, thanks be to God, there is One who never leaves His friends! The Lord Jesus is He who has said, ‘I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.’ (Heb. 13:5.)
The Lord Jesus goes with His friends wherever they go. There is no possible separation between Him and those whom He loves. There is no place or position on earth, or under the earth, that can divide them from the great Friend of their souls.
When the path of duty calls them far away from home, He is their companion.
When they pass through the fire and water of fierce tribulation, He is with them.
When they lie down on the bed of sickness, He stands by them and makes all their trouble work for good.
When they go down the valley of the shadow of death, and friends and relatives stand still and can go no further, He goes down by their side.
When they wake up in the unknown world of Paradise, they are still with Him.
When they rise with a new body at the judgment day, they will not be alone.
He will own them for His friends, and say, ‘They are mine: deliver them and let them go free.’ He will make good His own words: ‘I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.’ (Matt. 28:20.)
Look round the world, and see how failure is written on all men’s schemes. Count up the partings, and separations, and disappointments, and bereavements which have happened under your own knowledge.
Think what a privilege it is that there is One at least who never fails, and in whom no one was ever disappointed! Never, never was there so unfailing a friend as Jesus Christ.”
–J.C. Ryle, Practical Religion: Being Plain Papers on the Daily Duties, Experience, Dangers, and Privileges of Professing Christians (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1878/2013), 327-328.
Have you ever wondered (or been confused about) what it means to be a part of a “presbyterian” church? In part, to be presbyterian means that we have a unique form of church government. Below is a video that explains presbyterian church government in a very simple and concise way:
Here is another video in which fellow PCA pastor Sean Michael Lucas briefly explains the biblical basis of presbyterian church government:
If you like charts as much as I do, perhaps this chart on PCA church government will be even more clarifying for you:
If this is something that you are interested in exploring further, I would recommend What Is Church Government? by Sean Michael Lucas, which is a short booklet on the topic. Or if you’re really interested in digging into this, you can read How Jesus Runs the Church by Guy Prentiss Waters, which is a book length treatment of the topic.
The great commentator and puritan Matthew Henry had this to say about the importance and blessing of family worship:
A church in the house will be a good legacy, nay, it will be a good inheritance, to be left to your children after you. Reason directs us to consult the welfare of posterity, and to lay up in store a good foundation for those that shall come after us to build upon: and we cannot do this better than by keeping up religion in our houses. A family altar [gathered family worship] will be the best entail; your children will for this rise up and call you blessed, and it may be hoped they will be praising God for you, and praising God like you, here on earth, when you are praising him in heaven.
If family worship is a new, unfamiliar, or intimidating topic, then take some time to listen to Pastor Jason Helopolous give a wonderful introduction to the topic:
As we think about Good Friday and the significance of the cross of Christ, I want to ask and answer a strange question to help you see the preciousness and potency of the blood of Christ: “if the blood of Christ could speak what would it say?”
But before I answer that rather odd question let me remind you of a story in Genesis about the first time that blood ever spoke. It’s the story of Cain and Abel found in Genesis chapter 4:8-10:
Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother's keeper?” And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground.
So we see that the first time blood ever spoke it cried out to God. But what did it cry out? The text doesn’t explicitly say but I think we can draw a solid inference if we examine some uses of the word “crying” in the OT.
This same word for crying is used in Genesis 41:55 where it says: “When all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread.” Here it has a nuance of demanding something that ought to be given them.
In Exodus 5:15 the word is used again in the context of Israel’s slavery to Egypt: “Then the foremen of the people of Israel came and cried to Pharaoh, “Why do you treat your servants like this.” Here the word has a nuance of calling someone to account for performing an injustice against someone.
Lastly, the most telling example is found in Job 19:7 where Job says: “Behold, I cry out, ‘Violence! ’ but I am not answered; I call for help, but there is no justice.” In this context the word implies a call to bring justice upon someone who has committed a crime.
This leads me to conclude that when Abel’s blood spoke and cried out to God, it cried for justice against Cain. It’s cries reached the ear of God screaming “a grievous crime has been committed and the one who committed it must be punished properly so that justice is restored.” This is what blood said the first time it spoke.
But there is another recording of blood speaking in the Bible and it answers the question I asked at the beginning: “if the blood of Christ could speak what would it say?” In Hebrews 12:24 it says this: “Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and [His] sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” So Christ blood does speak and when it speaks, it speaks a better word than Abel’s. So if Abel’s blood cries out for “justice” and “punishment” on the one who committed the crime, what “better word” does Christ blood speak?
When Christ’s blood cries out, it cries not for justice but for mercy because Christ received justice that we might receive justification. When Christ’s blood cries out, it cries not for punishment but for pardon because the punishment that we deserve fell on Christ. As Charles Spurgeon said:
Far more delightful is the fact that another and more melodious cry went up to heaven from the cross of Calvary. “Father, forgive them,” resounded from the wounds of Immanuel. The blood of Abel was not voiceless, and the blood of Jesus was not [mute]; it cried so as to be heard amid the thrones of heaven, and blessed be God, it spoke for us and not against us; it spoke not worse things, as it might well have done, but better things than that of Abel.
So as you reflect on the meaning and significance of Good Friday, remember that we worship a Savior whose blood speaks this verdict over us: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)
“No one can grow in holiness except he abides in Christ. Christ is the great root from which every believer must draw his strength to go forward.
Would you be holy? Then Christ is the manna you must daily eat, like Israel in the wilderness of old.
Would you be holy? Then Christ must be the rock from which you must daily drink the living water.
Would you be holy? Then you must be ever looking unto Jesus,—looking at His cross, and learning fresh motives for a closer walk with God,—looking at His example, and taking Him for your pattern.
Looking at Him, you would become like Him.
Looking at Him, your face would shine without your knowing it.
Look less at yourself and more at Christ, and you will find besetting sins dropping off and leaving you, and your eyes enlightened more and more every day. (Heb. 12:2; 2 Cor. 3:18.)
The true way to be strong is to realize our weakness, and to feel that Christ must be all.
The true way to grow in grace is to make use of Christ as a fountain for every minute’s necessities.”
-J.C. Ryle Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties and Roots, 447–448.
The fruit of the Spirit is…Self-control
We come to final fruit of the Spirit that Paul lists out for us in Galatians 5. One that is just as desperately needed in our hearts and lives as any other. Much of the cultural current that we stand in flows against the virtue of self-control. In many respects we are an impulse driven culture. Grocery stores are strategically arranged to take advantage of your impulse shopping. Internet ads pop-up hoping to kidnap you into an impulse purchase. Sensual material floods the media because Hollywood knows that one of our strongest impulses is lust.
One author pointed out that the best way to know the difference between practicing self-control and lacking self-control is to look at the difference between Joseph when tempted by Potiphar’s wife (see Genesis 39) and David when tempted regarding Bathsheba (see 2 Samuel 11).
Joseph rules over the temptation and flees the scene to safety. David becomes ruled by the temptation and ends up entangled in a web of deception and murder.
To lack self-control is to be ruled by the desires of the flesh that remain in our hearts.
But the self-control that the Spirit is working to cultivate in our hearts is the ability to recognize and renounce our sinful desires and bring them into submission to the reign of God in our hearts.
The fruit of self-control calls us to ask this question: “Who or what is winning the battle over your heart: Is it the desires of the flesh or the desires of the Spirit?”
Let’s get even more specific.
Are you led by the Spirit in controlling your passions?
How about your temper?
Your attitude toward others?
Your use of your time?
And have you kept a close watch on your tongue?