Thursday, November 26, 2015

The “Common Sense” of Thanksgiving by Bob Gonzales

Bob Gonzales offers us a reminder of the importance of thanking God in a 2011 article entitled The “Common Sense” of Thanksgiving. He begins the article thusly:
By the “common sense” of Thanksgiving, I’m not referring to the ability to make sound judgments, or to practical savvy upstairs, or to practical suggestions for cooking a turkey or decorating for the Thanksgiving holiday. Rather, I am referring to an intuitive awareness or an instinctive knowledge that is common to all men. Therefore, when I speak of “the common sense of thanksgiving,” I am referring to that intuitive sense possessed by all men of the ethical propriety of giving thanks. All men in their heart-of-hearts instinctively recognize the appropriateness of expressing gratitude to another for benefits received.
Bob then argues that thanksgiving confirms the existence of God, highlights a primary purpose for our existence, exposes our sin of ingratitude, and reveals our need for forgiveness and spiritual transformation. I highly recommend reading the article as you contemplate the importance of thanksgiving today. Perhaps you could even take a few minutes to discuss these points around the dinner table.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Psalm 19 – Rightly Responding to the Revelation of God (Teaching Outline)

Introduction: Theologians often make a distinction between General Revelation (the revelation of God through creation) and Special Revelation (the revelation of God through the Scriptures). As we will see today, this distinction is a Biblical one and is rooted in passages such as Psalm 19. As we examine the psalm, we will see 1) that God has revealed Himself through the world that He has created, 2) that God has revealed Himself through the word that He has inspired, and 3) that we are obligated to respond rightly to the revelation of God.

I. God Has Revealed Himself Through the World He Has Created

This may be seen inverse 1-6.
NKJ  Psalm 19:1 To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David. The heavens declare the glory of God [אֵל,’ēl] and the firmament shows His handiwork.
We find here the same concepts that were later discussed by the Apostle Paul in his epistle to the Romans:
NKJ  Romans 1:18-21 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, 21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
Thus Paul drives home the sinfulness of those who refuse to recognize God as Creator and who also refuse to thank Him. In this psalm, however, David does display a thankful heart, since he praises God for His work of creation and for the way that He has revealed himself in it. He highlights the way that “the heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows His handiwork.”

In this way, David demonstrates the right response that we should all have as we contemplate the creation of God. Lets look further now at how he continues to speak of God's general revelation throughout his creation.
NKJ  Psalm 19:2 Day unto day utters [נָבַע, nāḇa‛] speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge.
First, notice that general revelation is ongoing – it never stops. It goes on all day, every day – it is “day unto day.” And it goes on all night, every night – it is “night unto night.” As Joseph Addison  put it in his hymn, entitled “The Spacious Firmament on High” (1712):
What though in solemn silence all 
     Move round this dark terrestrial ball;
What though no real voice or sound
     Amidst their radiant orbs be found;
In reason's ear they all rejoice,
     And utter forth a glorious voice,
For ever singing as they shine,
    “The hand that made us is divine.”
Second, notice that general revelation is abundant – it “pours forth.”

The Hebrew word translated “utters” in the New King James Version is nāḇa‛, which literally means “pour, gush forth” (TWOT 1287). It pictures the revelation of God from day to day as though it is an inexhaustible spring of water. This better translation is reflected in the NASB, which reads: “Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.” John Piper put it this way:
Nature does not whisper, it shouts and it shouts continually. We were all impressed with cinerama when the curved screen gave such a life-like impression. And now you can walk into the Omnitheatre at the St. Paul Science Museum and hear all of the ooooh's and ahhhh's as people recline and see themselves enveloped in a domed screen, and then an hour later walk outside into a dome and a three dimensional drama ten million times bigger, more unpredictable and suspenseful, and hear not a single exclamation. (Online sermon on Psalm 19 entitled “Sky Talk”)
Yet another writer has declared:
God made the skies
     With voices clear,
And gave you eyes
     So you can hear.
Thus the world that God has created actually communicates, even if not with a literal voice, which seems to be the point of the next verse.
NKJ  Psalm 19:3-4a There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard.  Their line [קַו, qāv] has gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.
Again I prefer the NASB here, which shows the difference among scholars as to how the verse should be translated, when it reads:
NAU Psalm 19:3-4 “There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard. [i.e. there is no literal speech] 4 [Nevertheless] Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their utterances [Fem. Pl. Const. > מִלָּה, millāh, lit. words] to the end of the world ….”
Both the NKJV and the NASB follow the actual Hebrew text and translate word qāv as “line,” which refers to a measuring line and seems to indicate here the extent of the the revelation of the heavens. However, the LXX – the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament – reads a little differently:
LXA  Psalm 19:4 Their voice [φθόγγος, tone, sound] is gone out into all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.
This is the reading that is cited by the Apostle Paul in Romans 10:18, and this is no doubt why the ESV has adopted this reading here in Psalm 19:4. Whichever reading one prefers, however, the point is still that, although the heavens (vs. 1) cannot speak actual words, they nevertheless do speak, and they do so as far as they can be found.
NKJ  Psalm 19:4b-6 In them He has set a tabernacle for the sun, which is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoices like a strong man to run its race. Its rising is from one end of heaven, and its circuit to the other end; and there is nothing hidden [סָתַר, sāṯar] from its heat.
Here David focuses his attention upon the sun, which he seems to view as one of the very greatest of all of God's non-human creations. He pictures the darkness of night as a tabernacle into which the sun retreats every evening, only to return as a bridegroom coming out of a wedding chamber or as a strong man anxious to run a race. But these metaphors are not the main emphasis. The main point comes at the end of verse 6: “there is nothing hidden from its heat.”

In the context David is clearly asserting that wherever the sun may be seen and its heat may be felt, there too the glory of God is being declared. There is no place that is hidden from this revelation of God! As we shall see further on, this reference to nothing being hidden from the sun's heat also forms the link David will use to bring the Psalm together. But for now let us turn our attention to our next point.

II. God Has Revealed Himself Through the Word He Has Inspired

This may be seen in verses 7-11. As we enter into the second section of the Psalm, we will see a difference in the way that David refers to our Heavenly Father. In the first part of the Psalm – when referring to the general revelation of the world He has created – David simply refers to Him as ’ēl (אֵל), but in this rest of the Psalm – referring to the special revelation of God's word – David refers to Him seven times by the divine personal, covenant name Yahweh (יהוה), indicated in most translations by the word LORD rendered in all capital letters. In this way David seems to emphasize that it is only through the special revelation of the Scriptures that we really come to know God as our Covenant God and Savior.
NKJ  Psalm 19:7a The law of the LORD is perfect, converting [or restoring, reviving] the soul;
The word of God can bring restoration and new life.
NKJ  Psalm 19:7b The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple;
Having brought restoration, the word of God can make us wise so that we can live for God as we should.
NKJ  Psalm 19:8a The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart;
Having brought restoration and wisdom for living, the word of God brings the joy of the Lord into our lives. Charles Spurgeon picks up on the progression found in these verses when he writes:
Mark the progress; he who was converted was next made wise and is now made happy; that truth which makes the heart right then gives joy to the right heart. Free grace brings heart-joy. (Treasury of David, e-Sword)
Application: Do you regard God's word as your source of life and joy?
NKJ  Psalm 19:8b The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes;
David now extols the word of God as that which brings enlightenment, the ability to see all that he has been describing. Charles Spurgeon is again helpful here when he writes:
It is well again to observe the gradation; the convert became a disciple and next a rejoicing soul, he now obtains a discerning eye, and as a spiritual man discerneth all things, though he himself is discerned of no man. (Treasury of David, e-Sword)
Application: Do you look to God's word as your source of wisdom and discernment?
NKJ  Psalm 19:9a The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever;
David is still describing the word of God, but is now doing so by way of the cleansing effect it has upon him. It produces in him the fear of the LORD that is “clean” or pure before the LORD. His word is that which brings about a fear of Him, and it lasts forever, so it will always be able to bring us back to the very place we need to be before the LORD – humbled before him and receptive to all the wisdom and joy He has to offer. You see, David knows that he has laid hold of that which is eternal and lasting! I am reminded here of the words of our Lord Jesus who said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away” (Matt. 24:35).

Application: The question for each one of us is, Do I react to the word of my Lord the way that David did? Do I stand in awe of His word and see in it the enduring means by which I may be renewed.
NKJ  Psalm 19:9b The judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.
There is no part of God's word that is lacking in truth and righteousness. It is true in all its parts. As the Apostle Paul later wrote:
NKJ  2 Timothy 3:16-17 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,  17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
Application: The word of God is the only all-sufficient guide that we have for truth and righteousness.
NKJ  Psalm 19:10 More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
As he reflects upon the word of God, David is led to see that he has found a treasure far above any earthly treasure!

Application: Have we really seen God's word as we should unless and until we are equally convinced of its unsurpassed value? Have we really appreciated His word if it has not continually led us to fear the Lord and to seek Him above all else?
NKJ  Psalm 19:11 Moreover by them Your servant is warned, and in keeping them there is great reward.
Application: All too often professing Christian's seem to be annoyed when they are warned about their sins from God's word, but this only means that they have forgotten how important it is that we turn from sin and that there is great reward to be found in obedience to His word. As John Bunyan once said: “This Book will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from this Book.”

And this leads us to our third and final major heading.

III. We Are Obligated to Respond Rightly to the Revelation of God

This may be seen in verses 12-14.
NKJ  Psalm 19:12 Who can understand his errors? Cleanse me from secret [סָתַר, sāṯar] faults.
There are a couple of things to notice in this verse:

First, the rhetorical question, “Who can understand his errors?” highlights the fact that none of us can completely know all of his own sins, thus some of these sins will be a “secret” to us.Martin Luther reacted quite strongly to the way the Romans Catholic Church failed to appreciate the teaching of this verse when he wrote:
As regards confession, the procedure was this: Every one had [was enjoined] to enumerate all his sins (which is an impossible thing). This was a great torment. From such as he had forgotten he would be absolved on the condition that, if they would occur to him, he must still confess them. In this way he could never know whether he had made a sufficiently pure confession, or when confessing would ever have an end. Yet he was pointed to his own works, and comforted thus: The more fully one confesses, and the more he humiliates himself and debases himself before the priest, the sooner and better he renders satisfaction for his sins; for such humility certainly would earn grace before God.
Here, too, there was no faith nor Christ, and the virtue of the absolution was not declared to him, but upon his enumeration of sins and his self-abasement depended his consolation. What torture, rascality, and idolatry such confession has produced is more than can be related. (Smalcald Articles, III. Of Repentance: Of the False Repentance of the Papists)
David would have none of this! He knew that he could never fully understand his own faults, but he also knew that he could still ask God to forgive them. He was confident of this, and he would have us be confident in this as well!

Second, it in worth noticing that in referring here to “secret faults,” David repeats the Hebrew word sāṯar, which he had already used in verse 6 to assert that “nothing is hidden from [the sun's] heat.” So, David is indicating that, although we may not be aware of all of our sins, they are nevertheless known by God, before whom nothing is hidden. The God who made the sun to bring light to the darkness so that nothing may escape its heat surely is a God who sees everything!

David is thus motivated to such prayer by both the warnings and the blessings of which he has already spoken in verse 11. He wants nothing to hinder his happiness with the Lord and the enjoyment of the life to be found in obedience to Him.
NKJ  Psalm 19:13 Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, and I shall be innocent of great transgression.
Having spoken of “errors” (vs. 12), which appear to refer to unintentional sin – which includes sin we may not even be aware of – David now refers to willful sins, and asks for God's protection from slavery to such great transgression. But how does he know about such presumptuous sin? The answer of the Psalm is that he has discovered it in the word of God. So, as he is made aware of His sin through God's word, David is sure to ask God to help him overcome it, because he also knows from Scripture that God is the only one who can keep us from sin!
NKJ  Psalm 19:14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my strength and my Redeemer.
David now focuses his attention specifically upon sins of speech and of the heart. He understands clearly that the ultimate problem is the heart, and He knows that only God can bring the change of heart that is needed.

So we see that the word of God has not only shown David his sin problem, but that it has also given him the answer to it, namely the power and grace of God. He does not assume, then, that he is capable of mastering such sin on his own. Instead, he recognizes that God alone can give him victory and that He will do it through His word.

Conclusion: I would like to end today by emphasizing that we cannot understand God's revelation as we should, let alone respond to it as we should, aside from His work of grace in our hearts. As Paul wrote in his first epistle to the Corinthians, “the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14).

This is why we must always seek the Lord's enabling grace to help us hear Him speak to us in his word, as the Psalmist who wrote Psalm 119 also shows when he prays: “Teach me, O LORD, the way of Your statutes, and I shall keep it to the end. Give me understanding, and I shall keep Your law; indeed, I shall observe it with my whole heart. Make me walk in the path of Your commandments, for I delight in it. Incline my heart to Your testimonies….” (vss. 33-36a). Amen!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Mike Brewer on the Danger of Success

Today I want to share a devotional word from Mike Brewer, a beloved and respected brother and member of Immanuel Baptist Church, where I am privileged to serve as the primary teaching elder. Mike has a blog where he posts devotional thoughts on the Scriptures, which come from the devotions he writes for his family. The following word is taken from his entry on 2 Chronicles 26:1-23:
“But when he [Uzziah] was strong, his heart was lifted up to (his) destruction: for he transgressed against the Lord his God …” (26:6) 
Uzziah was one of the most successful kings. His reign was one of the longest, 52 years. But success is a test of your soul. It feeds your pride. You look at your accomplishments and deceive yourself that it was all your doing. 
Beware of the spirit of self-congratulatory contentment. See that all that you have, your strength, your intellect, your circumstance — it is all from the Lord. Know your place — that your very next breath is a gift of God. 
Love – Dad
This is certainly a wise word for all of us. If you would like to read more of Mike's thoughts on Scripture, see His blog here. You may also be interested in an article written by Mike and his son, Matthew, entitled Biblical Ethics and Medical Perceptions Pertaining to the Home Birth Practice.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

"Jonathan Edwards on Freedom of the Will" by Philip Fisk

Immanuel Baptist Church, where I serve as the primary teaching elder, has been privileged to support Phil and Cindy Fisk in their ministry at the Evangelical Theological Faculty (ETF) in Leuven, Belgium. May God bless their ministry and the ministry of ETF!

Phil recently defended his doctoral dissertation at ETF, and you may watch his defense in the video above. His dissertation is entitled Jonathan Edwards on Freedom of Perfection: Establishing the Shift Away from the Classic-Reformed Tradition of Freedom of the Will. I highly recommend watching the defense in its entirety. It is both fascinating and informative. If you're at all like me, it will make you want to learn more and to get a copy of the dissertation and read it for yourself. The book will be available in the fall of 2016 as a part of the series New Directions in Jonathan Edwards Studies, by Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht. Given the defense above, I suspect that it will become essential reading for anyone interested in the theology of Jonathan Edwards. I also suspect that, even if many still side with Edwards' view, they may be forced by Phil's work to acknowledge that they stand outside Classic-Reformed theology when they do so. I think I certainly need to study the issue again in a much deeper way and to reassess my own view in the light of Scripture.

After messaging with Phil, he has stressed that it should be kept in mind while watching the video that he is only making the claim that Edwards turned from the classic-Reformed tradition on the topic of "freedom of the will," not on other topics, such as union with Christ, the Covenants, etc.

I'll be sure to let our readers know when the book is available for purchase.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Happy Reformation Day!

Most Evangelicals who celebrate Reformation Day do so on October 31, which is the day that Martin Luther nailed his famous 95 theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenburg in 1517. The debate that ensued led to a full outbreak of reformation and to Luther's trial at the Diet of Worms in 1521. So, I offer the above video as a reminder of this important occasion in the history of the Church. The clip is taken from the excellent 1953 film, Martin Luther, in which Luther was wonderfully portrayed by Niall MacGinnis. I really like the way the film employs Luther's famous hymn, A Mighty Fortress is Our God, in the background.

For those who are interested, here is the complete film:

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Simple Gospel

"The Simple Gospel" by my friend Jon J. Cardwell is now on sale at Amazon. I would encourage you to go check it out. It is a book of essays relating to the gospel, person, and work of Jesus Christ.

"Propitiation through Faith," "The Sign of Jonah," "The Shroud of Turin," and the "The Mystery of God" are a few of the many wonderful essays contained within this valuable book. I enjoyed reading them all because I enjoy learning.

As I explained in the foreword, which I happen to have been privileged to write, "The manner in which Jon describes the passion of Christ is the most vivid I think I have ever read. I felt like weeping as I read his description of the utter loneliness, emotional humiliation, and physical agony that Christ endured as He was rejected by men and crushed by God." Any book that brings me closer to my Lord in love and devotion is book I love to recommend. The reason I am posting about this book now is that the eBook is currently only 99 cents. This is too good to pass up. If you buy this book, I don't think you will be disappointed.  

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

A Biblical View of Self-Image (Teaching Outline)

Introduction: Back in the early 1980's, the popular pastor of the Crystal Cathedral, Robert Schuller, called for a “new reformation” in his book Self-Esteem: The New Reformation. Here are a few of the comments he made in that book:
Self-esteem then, or “pride in being a human being,” is the single greatest need facing the human race today. (p. 19)
It is precisely at this point that classical theology has erred in its insistence that theology be “God-centered,” not “man-centered.” (p. 64)
Once a person believes he is an “unworthy sinner” it is doubtful if he can honestly accept the saving grace God offers in Christ. (pp. 98-99)
The classical error of historical Christianity is that we have never started with the value of the person. Rather, we have started from the “unworthiness of the sinner” and that starting point has set the stage for the glorification of human shame in Christian theology. (p. 162)
Wow! This hardly squares with Biblical teaching! For example, our forefather, Jacob, had no problem at all recognizing that he was unworthy to receive God's grace:
NKJ  Genesis 32:9-10a Then Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, the LORD who said to me, 'Return to your country and to your family, and I will deal well with you': 10 I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth which You have shown Your servant ….”
Or what about John the Baptist, who certainly had no problem thinking of himself as unworthy when he spoke thus of Christ:
NKJ  Luke 3:16 John answered, saying to all, “I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
Or what about Jesus' Parable of the Lost Son, in which He provides a model of repentance in the wayward son when he comes to his senses and returns to his father:
NKJ  Luke 15:21 And the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.”
According to Robert Schuller, these men were way off track! But we may easily see that it is actually Schuller himself that is wrong. And he certainly isn't the only one affected by such an unbiblical view concerning the concept of self-esteem. Consider this comment from Bruce Narramore of the Narramore Christian Foundation, which is billed as “Your Resource for Christian Psychology”:
Under the influence of humanistic psychologists like Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow, many of us Christians have begun to see our need for self-love and self-esteem. (You’re Someone Special, p. 22)
Notice that Narramore concedes that a recognition of this supposed “need for self-love and self-esteem” actually comes from “the influence of humanistic psychologists like Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow” rather than from Scripture. Sadly, such thinking has filtered down into many churches and many professing Christians don't realize just how much this mindset has affected them. They have imbibed it slowly from the culture without even realizing it. And this is one of the reasons we need to address this issue on a fairly regular basis. In fact, Gary Gilley, pastor at southern View Chapel in Springfield, Illinois, has stated very well what is at stake here: 
How people think of themselves will to a large degree determine how they will think of others, how they will think of God, how they will obtain and maintain all their relationships, and how they will make decisions. There is no area of life that will not be directly or indirectly affected by the way we view ourselves. (The Biblical View of Self-Image)
This is why it is so important that I periodically address this issue directly, although it is in some sense included in every teaching I give. In dealing with the subject today, I will follow a very basic outline, first considering how we ought not to think of ourselves and then how we ought to think of ourselves. Under these two basic headings, I hope to address in one way or another the primary issues involved.

I. How We Ought Not to Think of Ourselves

The overwhelming emphasis of Scripture regarding self-image is that it ought not be too high. Scripture never assumes that we have too low a view of ourselves but rather consistently assumes the opposite, namely that we all have a problem with sinful pride. For example:
NKJ  Proverbs 8:13 The fear of the LORD is to hate evil; pride and arrogance and the evil way and the perverse mouth I hate.
NKJ  Proverbs 16:18 Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.
NKJ  Proverbs 29:23 A man's pride will bring him low, but the humble in spirit will retain honor.
NKJ  James 4:6 But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” [Citing Prov. 3:34]
NKJ  1 John 2:16 For all that is in the world-- the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life-- is not of the Father but is of the world.
But the Apostle Paul gives specific direction to the Church about this as well, and I would like to focus special attention upon a couple of passages from his epistles:
NKJ  Romans 12:3 For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.
In the following verses Paul goes on to address the many spiritual gifts the Lord has given to the various members of the body of Christ in accordance with His grace (vs. 6). So, when he says that we should avoid thinking more highly of ourselves that we ought to think, Paul means that we should never think that we are better than others in the Church, since we have all received faith from God and are all merely recipients of His grace. Yet Paul clearly assumes that we may all be tempted to be prideful, and he tells us the remedy, namely that we should remember that all we have is by God's grace and not due to anything inherent in us.
NKJ  Galatians 6:3 For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing [μηδείς, mēdeís], he deceives himself.
When I considered this passage many years ago, I wondered what Paul meant when he used the word nothing. Did he mean ... 
1) that we are “nothing” in the sense that we are totally worthless as beings?
2) that we are “nothing” in comparison to God?
3) that we are “nothing” in comparison to what we are deceived into thinking we are?
I suspect Paul has in mind the latter of these three possibilities. He is speaking in the context of the need to bear one another's burdens by helping one who is caught in some sin, and he warns us to be careful lest we too are tempted (read vss. 1-2). You see, if we are not careful, we can start to think that we are better than another who is struggling with some sin that we might not be dealing with ourselves. But a spiritual person (vs. 1) will realize that he too is capable of falling into sin and will be moved by compassion to help his brother rather than look down on him. The point here is really that we should be aware that a prideful attitude toward others in their struggle with sin necessarily means that we are self-deceived. In this sense we are tricked into thinking we are something when we are nothing. We must realize, however, that are no better than anyone else! We are all just sinners saved by grace!

Paul issued a similar warning to the Corinthian church as he did to the Roman and Galatian churches when he put a series of rhetorical questions to them: “For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (1 Cor. 4:7).

Ant any rate, it is clear that Scripture warns us repeatedly about our tendency toward sinful pride. It assumes that we all have this problem, and it expressly teaches us that we ought no think too highly of ourselves. With this in mind, let's turn now to our next major heading.

II. How We Ought to Think of Ourselves

Here I would like to explain how we ought to think of ourselves, according to Scripture, by addressing three modern concepts communicated by three loaded and interrelated terms brought over primarily from pop psychology. The three concepts are 1) self-worth, 2) self-esteem, and 3) self-love. It is my hope that the Biblical view will become clear through interacting with these concepts on the basis of the Bible's teaching.

1. The Concept of Self-Worth – Is it Biblical? 

Whenever I teach on this issue, I am reminded of what a psychology professor I had in college once said to the class. He was decrying what he saw as a rampant problem in Christians circles, a problem he described as “worm theology.” I think he got this term – “worm theology” – from the old Isaac Watts hymn, “Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed?” The first verse of the song originally said:
Alas! and did my Savior bleed,
And did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I? 
Anyway, in disagreeing with the way in which Christians had commonly spoken and sung about their own unworthiness, this professor essentially said, “God died for us because we are worth so much.” And he went on to say, “Many Christians feel they are not worthy, but we are worthy of God's love.” I remembered so clearly what this professor said because when he said it I nearly had a conniption! But he did highlight the need for making some careful distinctions when we speak of the concept of self-worth. For example:
1) We must distinguish between what we are as God's creatures, created in His image, and what we are as fallen sinners.
2) We must distinguish between having worth because of God's love and being worthy for God's love.
My professor had failed to make such important distinctions, and he ended up making it sound as though we are actually worthy of God's love and that this is why He saves us. We do not wish to make the same mistake, however, so let's take a look at a number of key Scripture passages in order to see the importance of theses distinctions. First, we must understand that we were created in God's image: 
NKJ  Genesis 1:27 So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
Then, however, we were corrupted because of the fall of Adam, which is recorded in Genesis 3. After this the Biblical description of man is quite grim: 
NKJ  Genesis 6:5 Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
But the image of God remained in man, although distorted due to sin. This is clear from what God says to Noah after the flood: 
NKJ  Genesis 9:6 Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man.
This is also clear from what James says when speaking of the evil use of the tongue: 
NKJ  James 3:9 With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude [image] of God.
So, we definitely can say that we have worth as those created in God's image, and that this worth is still real to the degree that His image remains in us after the fall. I think Jesus assumed as much, for example, when He admonished His disciples, “Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father's will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matt. 10:29-31). Now, we might say based on Jesus' analogy that we aren't worth much, but we cannot say that we are worthless. We all do have value as God's creatures. Indeed, it seems to me that David was asserting what is in some sense still true of all men when he wrote of the greatness of man in Psalm 8:
NKJ  Psalm 8:4-8 What is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him? 5 For You have made him a little lower than the angels, and You have crowned him with glory and honor. 6 You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet, 7 all sheep and oxen-- even the beasts of the field, 8 the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea that pass through the paths of the seas.
But, although we all have great worth because we have been created by God, and as Christians we can say that we have great worth because God loves us, we are none of us worthy for His love or salvation. This is why Paul issues this important reminder to the Roman believers:
NKJ  Romans 5:8-10 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. 10 For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.
And Paul is also very clear in writing to the Ephesians believers:
NKJ  Ephesians 2:1-5 And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, 2 in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, 3 among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved) ….
So, when we ask of what we are worthy, the answer must be the wrath of God. It is only by His grace that we have been saved and not because we are deserving in any way. May we all learn, then, more and more each day to say sincerely with Paul, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain …” (1 Cor. 15:10a).

You see, we are at one and the same time those who are of great worth as creatures of God, but yet who are not worthy of His love because of our sin. Both of these facts must shape how we view ourselves. As Augustine once wisely said:
Thus in a marvelous and divine way [God] loved us even when He hated us. For He hated us for what we were that He had not made; yet because our wickedness had not consumed His handiwork, He knew how, at the same time, to hate in each one of us what we had made, and to love what He had made. (As cited by John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Vol. 1, p. 507)
Do we have worth? Yes, but this should not be called self-worth, as though it were somehow derived from ourselves or as though we may arbitrarily assign worth to ourselves. Rather, any worth that man has comes from the fact that God attaches such worth to him as His creation. I call on all Christians, therefore, to reject outright the use of the term as one that confuses believers and even undermines the Gospel. With this in mind, let's turn now to the second concept.

2. The Concept of Self-Esteem – Is it Biblical?

Based upon what we have seen thus far, in answer to the question concerning how we should regard ourselves, whether highly or lowly, two observations may be made:
1) Nowhere in Scripture are we told that we have a problem with esteeming ourselves too lowly. Our big problem is not low self-esteem, but sinful pride!
2) As Christians we must esteem ourselves both negatively and positively at the same time – negatively for who we are in and of ourselves, but positively for who we are in Christ.
I think that J.R. McQuilkin got it right when he said, “A 'strong' self-image is that perception of self which is true, which is most nearly aligned with the facts, including all the weakness that is mine by nature and all the glory that is mine by grace.”

But, is it in any way possible for Christians to view themselves too lowly? I don't think so, even though I would agree that many Christians may have struggles which they may think are due to their viewing themselves too lowly. There are at least three ways this may happen:
1) We may allow ourselves to be trapped by false guilt. For example, this is the problem faced by the one Paul describes as having a “weak” conscience (1 Cor. 8:7). Such a person may think that he or she is unworthy in ways that are not true because they think of themselves as guilty in ways that they are not. The answer to their problem is to learn to distinguish between true and false guilt based upon Scripture.
2) We may wrongly focus solely upon the negative aspect of our self-image. That is, we may focus so much on who we are in and of ourselves that we lose sight of who we are in Christ. For example, this is the problem faced by the Christian who is – you might say – stuck in Romans 7 and can't seem to make it into Romans 8. This person is good at seeing his own sin but not at seeing God's grace. This person finds it easy to say with Paul:
NKJ  Romans 7:18-24 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. 19 For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. 20 Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 21 I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. 22 For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. 23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24 O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? [Notice the emphasis on first person pronouns with no mention of Christ.]
But such a person may find it difficult to go on to say with Paul in faith: 
NKJ  Romans 7:25-8:1 I thank God-- through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin. There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.
3) We may think we are worthless as a being rather than as a sinful being. But this is false, since we are beings made in the image of God. As beings created by God we are worth a great deal, but as sinful beings we are complete unworthy of God's love.
So, in all these ways one might say that we could view ourselves wrongly in the sense that we do not take into account the whole truth about ourselves. But we are not faced with low self-esteem. For the answer to each of these dilemmas is not to view ourselves more highly, but rather to view ourselves more accurately. So, again, I call upon all Christians to reject the use of the term self-esteem, especially since it is so often preceded by the word low and thus feeds into the self-deception that leads so many people to mask their sinful pride as some psychological problem and in this way to excuse it. With this in mind, let's turn now to the third concept.

3. The Concept of Self-Love – Is it Biblical?

It must be said at the outset that nowhere in the Bible are we commanded to love ourselves. The Bible simply regards men as already loving themselves. For example: 
NKJ  Proverbs 19:8 He who gets wisdom loves his own soul; he who keeps understanding will find good.
This proverb does not see this kind of love toward oneself in a negative light. But, then, this self-love is oriented on seeking wisdom from the Lord, thus seeking the glory of the Lord as one's highest good. It is acknowledging that the best thing one could ever do for oneself is to seek such God-given wisdom.
NKJ   Matthew 22:35-39 Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” 37 Jesus said to him, “'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'”
Notice that our Lord Jesus does not command love for oneself here. He simply assumes it. Those who see a command implied here to love ourselves before we can love God or others are simply reading into the text. Gary Gilley correctly responds to these kinds of self-love advocates when he declares:
[W]e are told that what Jesus meant to say is that we have to learn to love ourselves first, before we can love others. In other words, there are really three commandments given here (even though Jesus said that there are “two”). We are commanded to love God and our neighbor; then, Jesus concludes by saying, “On these two commandments depend the whole Law. . .” If Jesus says that there are two commandments here how dare we claim that there are three! (The Biblical View of Self-Image)
So, there is a sense it which we can say that it is proper to love oneself, if by that we mean doing what is best for oneself by seeking wisdom from the Lord and thus actually loving Him first. After all, our Lord Jesus did say that the greatest command is to love God! In this sense we might say rather paradoxically that we love ourselves by denying ourselves. Surely this kind of motivation was in Jesus' mind when He said:
NKJ  Matthew 16:24-26 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 25 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. 26 For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”
So, it is not possible to love God first without doing the best and most loving thing for ourselves in the process. If we love God first, then our lives will be saved. If we seek His wisdom above the wisdom of this world, then we do the most loving thing we can do for ourselves. If we love God first, then we will also love what He loves, and we will seek His glory first in our lives. You see, God's glory and our good are really not two separate ends; they are inseparably linked, so that, when we seek His glory first, we also seek our own ultimate good.

I think Anthony Hoekema probably hit the nail on the head when he wrote, “I believe a proper self-love is possible for the Christian, when he loves the new person God by His grace is creating within him, thus praising God” (Created in God's Image, p. 103). However, although we cannot love God first without at the same time loving ourselves in this sense, we certainly can love ourselves without loving God at all, and this is sinful. This seems to me to be the Biblical perspective, but I must reemphasize that self-love is nowhere directly commanded. In fact, we are warned about the danger of an improper self-love:
NKJ  2 Timothy 3:1-4 But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: 2 For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3 unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, 4 traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God ....
Again one might say, then, that we cannot love God without loving ourselves in so doing, but we can certainly love ourselves without loving God at all! Thus love for oneself, even in a proper Biblical sense, is not the focus of the Christian life. The Christian's focus is not to be love toward self, but love toward God and others! As Paul told the Corinthian believers, Christ died for us “that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again” (2 Cor. 5:15). 

Conclusion: I will conclude with a summary of what we can take away from this teaching. First, the Christian life is a life of declaring God's worth, not self-worth. Second, it is a life of self-denial, not self esteem. And, third, it is a life of selflessness, not self-love. May God grant us the grace to seek His glory above all else, and may He protect us from the self-serving lies of this wicked generation. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Second Edition of "The Church: Why Bother?" Is Now Available!

Jeff Johnson announced earlier this morning that the new edition of The Church: Why Bother? is now
available for sale on Amazon. If you want bulk discounts, please contact Jeff. Here is what John MacArthur has said about the book:
In one way or another, virtually every troubling trend in the current world of evangelical Christianity is rooted in misunderstanding about the church. What is her proper mission? What is her role in an increasingly secular culture? What should her priorities be? How should a local church function? Why is church membership necessary? or is it? What is the basis for true unity? This excellent book shines the clear light of Scripture on those and many other questions. Since Christ loved the church enough to die for her, every believer ought to share that passion. Jeffrey Johnson clearly does, and I believe you will find his enthusiasm contagious.
I highly recommend this book. It is an excellent overview of the Bible's teaching on the Church, and it is a great book to give to other people in your church.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Bob Gonzales on the Lord's Day

Recently I was reminded of a couple of very good articles by Bob Gonzales on the Lord's Day. The first article is a defense of observing the Lord's Day as a Christian Sabbath, and it is entitled How I Justify a First-Day Christian Sabbath. Here is the conclusion of that article:
I believe the argument above provides a biblical basis for treating the first day of the week not merely as a time for corporate worship, but also as a Sabbath. This reflects the teaching of our the Westminster and Second London Baptist confessions. We must note, however, that the biblical basis or warrant for a first day New Covenant Sabbath is established neither by the data of the NT alone nor by any explicit command alone. As Richard Barcellos notes, “This issue … cannot be decided upon one proof text for or against. Each text comes in a wider context in the book it appears in and, in its widest sense, a canonical context.” [“The New Testament Theology of the Sabbath,” Reformed Baptist Theological Review 5:1 (2008): 63] So good and necessary inference is an essential part of the argument.
For those, like myself, who agree that warranted inference is a legitimate form of argument, a first day Christian Sabbath can make sense. I can appreciate the Christian who wishes for an explicit command. However, the absence of an explicit command need not preclude such a believer from understanding the Lord’s Day as sabbatic in character. Perhaps some Christians are hesitant to view the Lord’s Day as a “Sabbath” because they think Sabbath-observance entails a long, dreary, and legalistic list of “don’ts.” I can sympathize with their concern. But I suspect their view of Sabbath-observance may be based on a misunderstanding of what the Bible actually teaches. A proper consideration of the biblical data enables one to view Sabbath-observance as a delightful “holi-day” (Isa 58:13). For more along these lines, click here.
The link provided by Bob at the end of that article is for the second article I would like to recommend. This is an article about proper Lord's Day observance, and it is entitled Does All Worship and No Play Make Jack a Holy Boy? Sabbath-keeping according to Isaiah 58:13. I highly recommend reading both articles. My thanks to Bob for writing them!