October 18, 2012

Book Impressions: Come to Me! by Tom Wells

Come to Me! - An Urgent Invitation to Turn to Christ, Tom Wells, Banner of Truth, 113 pages.

This short book is packed with good news! Sometimes we get too wrapped up in intellectual theology to the neglect of the great truths of the gospel stated in everyday language. Wells glorifies Christ in the simplicity and clarity of the gospel he presents. Particularly beneficial are the three chapters: Come to Me as King, Come to Me Exclusively, and Come to Me Immediately.

The entire book is helpful for those who are not yet Christians and these three chapters are especially helpful to those who are already Christians. They are a great reminder of the glory, beauty, and uniqueness of Christ and His claim on every sinner.

October 13, 2012

Book Impressions: Today's Evangelism - Its Message and Methods, Ernest C. Reisinger

Today's Evangelism - Its Message and Methods, Ernest C. Reisinger, Craig Press, 163 pages.

This book lives up to its title. It is a good examination of the foundation of evangelism and the outworking of that foundation in our methods of evangelism. The late pastor Ernest Reisinger writes to the layman at his level and not to the academy. He utilizes a three-point evaluation: a right rule (the Word of God), a right end (the glory of God), and a right motive (love to God and love to man).

Why should we examine our methods of evangelism?  Reisinger writes, "The question is not going to be 'Does it work?' but 'Is it true?' - 'Is it biblical?' The Jehovah's Witnesses' system works because they get converts, but is it true?" This book is a relatively quick read and it has lasting value. It's a good dose of 'true truth' for all the Lord's evangelists.

October 11, 2012

Words of Wisdom

"Oh! Reader, beware of self-righteousness. Open sin kills its thousands of souls. Self-righteousness kills its tens of thousands. "
   --J. C. Ryle, The Cross

October 9, 2012

Resting in Jesus or Justification by Faith Illustrated

Now to the one who works, his wage is not reckoned as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing upon the man to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works: "Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered.  Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account." (Romans 4:4-8, NASB)

One of the great truths of the Gospel that was recaptured and rightly emphasized through the Reformation was the Biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone. Justification by faith alone was so foundational to the work of reformation that it became embodied in one of the slogans of the Reformation--Sola Fide (Faith Alone). It is not the only "sola" of the Reformation and there is a need to see it in combination with the other solas to understand the full picture. But such an examination is outside the scope of this little note. We are going to focus our attention on sola fide and will leave the broader examination for another time.

During the Reformation, "Faith Alone" was set in contrast to the Roman Catholic concept of works of merit done in a state of grace for which it was fitting (in the Catholic view) for God to judge them as worthy of reward. But the Reformers uncomprisingly held to the Biblical witness that our salvation is based SOLELY on the person and work of Jesus Christ, and not on anything done in us or by us. The Reformers held that God's judicial verdict of "righteous" in favor of us could be based solely on our sin being counted to Christ and correspondingly Christ's perfect righteousness being counted towards us. How can our sin be laid upon Jesus and His righteousness made ours? By placing our faith in Jesus as Savior, trusting Him to save us. This faith in Jesus has, at times, been described as "resting in Jesus".

"Faith Alone", like all Biblical doctrines, can be misunderstood. One way it is misunderstood is when people hear "faith alone" and think it means the following:

God does not justify us because of our good works. He justifies us because of our faith. Our faith stands in the place of good works. Our faith is what deserves our justification before God. In other words, faith becomes the one good work which we must do so that we deserve to be saved.

In such a view, faith itself is seen as being our righteousness, not as the means of connecting us with the righteousness of Christ. In this view, faith replaces the work of Christ and becomes the basis upon which God gives salvation to us. Repeatedly throughout the years, as I have discussed "faith alone" with people, I have been conscious of the danger of misunderstanding "faith alone" in such a way. As I was thinking about "faith alone" and how to overcome this misunderstanding, the imagery of resting in Jesus came to mind. Let me describe what unfolded in my mind's eye.

As I thought on the phrase "resting in Jesus", an illustration came to mind which might help us see why faith itself is not why God will justify us. Now, this is an illustration, and no illustration is perfect. Think of your bedtime. At the end of a long, wearying day you look forward to a night of restful sleep. When bedtime arrives, you sit on the edge of the bed, turn off the light, pick your feet up off the floor, and rest on your bed. When you pick your feet up and lay down, your full weight is carried by the bed beneath you. You are "resting in bed". It is the bed which is holding you up. It is bearing the burden of all your weight. You cannot lay on it harder or softer. Your entire weight is all you have and no amount of "laying down harder" will put any additional load on the bed. We don't speak of laying down hard or soft. It's not a matter of degree. Laying down is not done in parts. It's all of you. When we speak of "resting in Jesus", it is this kind of resting that is being described. This kind of "full weight laid upon another to bear the load" is what I have in mind for "resting in Jesus".

Well, if you misunderstand "faith alone" to mean that you are saved by your work of faith instead of by Jesus' righteousness, how would that change the illustration? You would probably want to do the best job you could of laying in bed. So once you pick your feet up off the floor, you may think this way, "I must lay down as good as I possibly can. I am doing such a good job of laying here. I'm certain that this bed is going to recognize the quality of my laying here and reward me for it. Others can see that I am doing my best at laying here. I will continue to do my best at laying here." Perhaps you will think you should lay down harder, bearing down on the bed with all of your might (which really accomplishes nothing and certainly does not contribute to your rest). Or maybe you become convinced that you should lay lighter, but how would that be done? Perhaps you should stand and merely lean on the bed? Once again, you will not find true rest in such a posture. Are you really contributing anything to the bed's ability to hold you up as you lay there? Of course not! It is the bed that is upholding you and not anything to do with your laying will make you to be held up any better or more than you already are.

You see, "faith alone" is "resting in Jesus". This resting is a placing of all your weight on Jesus for HIM to bear you up. This resting, like physical resting, is not something which can be done more fully through exertion. It is a trust in HIM to uphold your full weight. It is a resting in HIM from the weariness of sin. Who does the work? Jesus does the work in holding you up, just as the bed alone holds you up and you contribute nothing to it without ruining your rest. And when people look to your resting in Him, what will they see? Not the fact that you are resting so well that God should forgive you, but that Jesus is holding you up entirely and perfectly. When you look to your own resting, what will you see? Not your resting, but the Beloved One who holds you up.

Do you see that faith alone does not point to your resting, to your faith, but to the one upholding you. He is the one bearing you up fully and completely. This is "faith alone". This is for His praise and glory. Amen.

October 8, 2012

Words of Wisdom

"We have in many areas blindly and unknowingly embraced values and ideas that are common in our culture but are antithetical to the gospel [Jesus] taught. Here we stand amid an American dream dominated by self-advancement, self-esteem, self-sufficiency, by individualism, materialism, and universalism."
-- David Platt, Radical.

October 4, 2012

Book Review: The Life of God in the Soul of the Church by Thabiti Anyabwile

The full title of the work is The Life of God in the Soul of the Church: The Root and Fruit of Spiritual Fellowship. It is published by Christian Focus under the 9 Marks imprint.

Henry Scougal was a 17th century Scottish pastor who wrote a small book for a friend entitled The Life of God in the Soul of Man.  Although the book was small, it has proven to possess enduring quality and powerful insights even to this day.

Enter Thabiti Anyabwile, a 21st century pastor of First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman.  Pastor Anyabwile, inspired by Scougal's original work has written a book designed to extend our understanding of the Life of God beyond the individual soul, to encompass the overall fellowship of the local church. 

Pastor Anyabwile's book is offered as a corrective to over-emphasized individualism found in many evangelical churches. He seeks throughout the book to highlight discipleship pursued intentionally through relationships in the the local church, using the rich tapestry of fellowship found throughout the New Testament as the basis for this course correction.

The book is essentially a lightly edited sermon series that Pastor Anyabwile preached in his home church in 2008.  As expected from a sermon series, the book is not written in a heavily academic tone but rather carries a pastoral feel, with strong contextualization within the body of his local church.  Publishing a collection of thematic sermons has both strengths and weaknesses.  It is written at a very understandable level, avoiding unnecessary theological jargon. This makes it accessible to nearly every adult Christian. As expected of sermons, many illustrations and most applications are chosen and emphasized from within the congregational life of a pastor's local church. Since this work is a collection of sermons, this means it requires some re-interpretation for your own local church context, with little instruction within the text itself in how to do this.

This book is a hard read.  Not hard to read.  Anyabwile challenges us across the spectrum of church life. There is a mix of ideas presented, from strongly exegetical to less binding personal preference. This is one of the reasons it is a hard read. A variety of Anyabwile's examples could be directly applicable to your church.  Others may need to be applied as a concept and not necessarily using the explicit example offered in the book.  It takes effort to grasp these differences and thoughtfully mingle them with the character of your own individual local church.

The book has two major divisions. Part 1 builds the foundation for Christian fellowship as union with Christ.  Part 2 has specific examples of union with Christ expressed through fellowship in the local church.  The specific examples cover a broad range of fellowship, including: loving one another, spiritual gifts, restoration, suffering and comfort, giving, acceptance, and singing to one another among others.

A sample of quotations follows to whet your appetite.

"Membership in the local church is a biblical idea and an implicit requirement for the Christian life."

"I pray that you would see how indispensable you are to everyone in your church according to God’s design."

"There are not two classes of Christians— super-spiritual and ordinary. Because every Christian possesses the Spirit of God through faith, every Christian is spiritual. In that sense, the gospel flattens the world for us. We are all equal; we all live on the same plane."

"It’s really remarkable to see how Trinitarian the Christian life is from beginning to end."

"To see and experience this joy, we must commit to carrying ‘each other’s burdens’ (Gal. 6: 2). Restoration cannot be achieved a hundred yards away from the burdened. We cannot restore people by shouting across a football field, ‘Hey! Get it together! Get it right!’ The idea of carrying burdens requires proximity, intimacy, and teamwork."

"The Christian church is an astounding thing. It is the bodily presence of Christ in the world. Where is God in suffering? He’s in His people administering comfort. Christian, you’re not just you. You’re you— with God working and flowing through you! You’re an utterly strange being, and the only lasting source of compassion in a world gone mad with suffering."

"The stubborn pride of man that clings to self-reliance may be so strong God may sit death before us in order to shake us from it."

Finally, one quote surprised me quite a bit, considering it is coming from a baptist pastor.

"People often ask why the church is not flowing in the gifts the way the early church was in Acts— or like the church at Corinth which had every spiritual gift (1 Cor. 1: 7). They ask, ‘Why are we not seeing miracles and things like that?’ Just reading through 1 Corinthians 12– 14, I think the answer can be boiled down to this one problem— churches are not flowing in the miraculous because the commitment to love is so weak and partial in very many churches. Congregations are not bent on loving one another so that equal concern is shown for every member (12: 25) and so that the common good is the main goal (12: 7)."

In my thought, this is a less-than-helpful explanation why God does not move through miracles displayed commonly in the church today.  I fear that this statement could be taken to extremes by many readers, laying a deep burden of guilt on the church as a whole. Perhaps my fear is unfounded, but it is my conviction that there is danger lurking here.  It could easily cause burnout in most churches as the people attempt to love one another enough so that their church is flowing in the miraculous.  When the miraculous fails to materialize, where will the church turn?  Will they speed up the love treadmill and try even harder, or pull the ripcord and float away in exhaustion?

To summarize, I recommend that this book be read broadly but with care, as should be our approach with all theological writing.

Full disclosure: I received a free review ebook from Christian Focus to prepare this review.  This has not unduly influenced me and I offer this review with a clear conscience.

October 3, 2012

Words of Wisdom

"It was necessary Christ should be both God and man to work our redemption. As He was God, He was able; as He was man, He had aptness. No man nor angel could have effected it. Not man; for how could he, who was dead in sin, give life to others? Not the angels; for they had not sufficiency to stand upright themselves."  --Fulgentius, quoted in H. Bonar's Words Old and New.