What Is Saving Faith?

Pastor John Samson

The Apostle Paul’s main theme in the book of Romans is that of the Gospel itself, as he answers the question, “how can an unjust person ever be acceptable to a just and holy God?” In passages such as Chapter 3:20 – 4:8, he teaches that we are justified by faith alone and not by anything that we do (other passages where Paul states this are Titus 3:5; Gal. 2:16; Eph. 2:8,9; Phil 3:9; to name just a few).

Romans 3:28; 4:3-8 – “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, And whose sins are covered; Blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin.”

Having established the case biblically that we are justified by faith apart from works, we then need to ask the question, “what kind of faith is it that justifies?” In other words, what does true faith look like?

This is precisely the issue that James is addressing in chapter 2 of his epistle. He writes in verse 14, “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can such faith save him?”

The obvious answer to James’ question is “no, that is not the kind of faith that saves. True faith will produce works.” It is never enough just to make the claim to have faith. No one is ever saved by a mere empty profession of faith. What is professed, must actually be possessed for justification to exist. James teaches us clearly that if genuine faith is present, it necessarily produces the fruit of works. That’s the nature of true faith. In fact, if works do not follow from “faith,” then it is proof positive that the “faith” is not in fact genuine, but a mere claim to it.

There is no discord between what James writes and what we find in Romans and the rest of Paul’s writings. Faith without works is dead, and a dead faith never saved anyone. True faith is a living faith, and will inevitably show itself with accompanying action or works. Yet even if all these good works do come from genuine faith, these works still have no part in the ground of our justification. Our works add no merit to us, removing all grounds for boasting. “For by grace you are saved, through faith, and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God, not as a result of works so that no one should boast” (Eph 2:8, 9).

The only work that contributes to our justification is the work of Jesus; not the work of Jesus in us, but the work of Jesus for us. His merit is the only merit that counts for us. Paul tells us that it we are justified by faith apart from works, and James tells us that that kind of faith that actually saves is a faith that will of necessity produce works.

The Reformers of the 16th Century were very clear about all this. They described true saving faith as having three parts to it, which were described by three Latin words: notitia, assensus and fiducia.

1. CONTENT OR INFORMATION (notitia) – Like our modern day word “notice”, notitia concerns information or knowledge of the truth of the gospel. We need to understand the facts of the Gospel.

What exactly must be believed? Certainly, a person does not need to be a highly trained theologian to be saved. The Holy Spirit draws both adults and children to a saving knowledge of Christ. Yet when children are converted to Christ, they may not know every nuance of the faith, or even a detailed understanding of the atonement – merely that Christ died for our sins. However, I believe it would be true to say that a truly saved person, although they may not be able to articulate the content of the Gospel at length, will not reject it when they do hear it. I believe that’s a very important point to make. Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish…” (John 10: 27). Christ’s true sheep instinctively know the Shepherd’s voice and follow Him. The regenerate person humbly submits to the faithful teaching of Scripture when hearing it (Scripture being the Shepherd’s voice), unlike those who are still in the flesh who are completely incapable of doing so (Romans 8:7, 8).

This noticia includes belief in one God, in the full humanity (1 John 4:3) and deity of Christ (John 8:24), and His death for sinners on the cross (1 Cor. 15:3), as well as His physical resurrection from the dead. Romans 10:9 says,

“If you confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

I believe the noticia would also include some understanding of God’s grace in salvation – that is, God saves us because of Christ’s work on behalf of sinners, not the sinner’s work on behalf of God. Dr. James White writes, “God’s grace is powerful, and it brings full salvation to the soul of the person who despairs of anything other than free, unmerited grace. Grace cannot clasp the hand that carries within it ideas of merit, or good works, or any other kind of human addition to grace. “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace” (Romans 11:6). God’s wondrous grace cannot be mixed with human merit. The hand that holds onto its own alleged goodness, or attempts to sneak in a merit here, a good work there, will not find the open hand of God’s grace. Only the empty hand fits into the powerful hand of grace. Only the person who finds in Christ his all-in-all will, in so finding, be made right with God. This is why the Scriptures say it is by faith so that it might be in accordance with grace: in God’s wisdom, he excludes man’s boasting by making salvation all of grace.” (The Empty Hand of Faith)

2. BELIEF (assensus) – It is entirely possible to understand something (the notitia) and yet not believe it personally (assensus). We need to be able to say “I both understand and believe the content of the gospel.”

3. COMMITMENT (fiducia) – The last part of faith is a full trust in and commitment to the One who loved us and died for us. This is of critical importance simply because it is possible to understand these truths, believe they are true, and yet pull back from the necessary commitment that will actually enlist us as one of Christ’s followers. To possess only the first two parts (notitia and assensus), without the third part (fiducia), merely qualifies us to be demons! James 2:19 declares, “You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.” Even demons understand and believe, but that does not mean that they have a share in redemption.

True saving faith will always produce the fruit of good works. Though our works play no part at all in justifying us before God (Rom 3:28; 4:4, 5; Eph. 2:8, 9) they justify or vindicate our claim to faith before a watching world. Our lives should demonstrate that the faith professed was, and is, also possessed.

As you consider your own standing before God,would you say that yours is in any way based upon what you do, rather than upon what Christ has done in your place? Can you honestly say you trust Him with your eternal destiny, and fully believe He carried your sins on the cross, and has given His righteousness to you, so that you can stand before God on the day of judgment?

If at the present time you are not able to answer these questions in the affirmative, I pray that God will indeed give you the gift of true repentance and faith, and that you will call upon the Name of the Lord and be saved.

Christian, Rest In Gods Sovereignty

Pastor John Samson

“Remember the former things long past, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure’; – Isaiah 46:9-10

“When we speak of the Godhood of God we affirm that God is God. We affirm that God is something more than an empty title: that God is something more than a mere figure-head: that God is something more than a far-distant Spectator, looking helplessly on at the suffering which sin has wrought. When we speak of the Godhood of God we affirm that He is “King of kings and Lord of lords.” We affirm that God is something more than a disappointed, unsatisfied, defeated Being, who is filled with benevolent desires but lacking in power to carry them out. When we speak of the Godhood of God we affirm that He is “the Most High.” We affirm that God is something more than One who has endowed man with the power of choice, and because He has done this, is therefore unable to compel man to do His bidding (Prov. 21:1). We affirm that God is something more than One who has waged a protracted war with the Devil and has been worsted. When we speak of the Godhood of God we affirm that He is the Almighty. To speak of the Godhood of God then, is to say that God is on the Throne, on the Throne as a fact and not as a say so; on a Throne that is high above all. To speak of the Godhood of God is to say that the Helm is in His hand, and that He is steering according to His own good pleasure. To speak of the Godhood of God is to say that He is the Potter, that we are the clay, and that out of the clay He shapes one as a vessel to honor and another as a vessel to dishonor according to His own sovereign rights (Rom. 9), “according to His will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay His hand, or say unto Him what doest Thou?” (Dan. 4:35). Therefore, to speak of the Godhood of God is to give the mighty Creator His rightful place; it is to recognize His exalted majesty; it is to own His universal scepter.” – A. W. Pink

God is Sovereign. He rules and reigns. He can never be voted out of power; for He was never voted into power. He is, was and always will be the Sovereign King, whose will can never be frustrated. Sovereignty means that God does what He wants, when He wants, the way He wants, without having to get anyone else’s permission.

If God is not Sovereign, then God is not God. If He were not ruling over every molecule in the universe, governing its existence, directing its course, and setting its boundaries, then we and God should be very worried indeed…

God had a plan to send Jesus to the cross to make atonement for guilty sinners… but what if some virus had gotten into the lungs of Jesus and killed Him at age 7? What if a brick had fallen off some Galilean house as Jesus passed by, killing him at age 15? Obviously, the entire eternal plan of God would have been frustrated.

Thankfully there is no counseling department in heaven, nor are the heavenly hosts regularly visiting angelic doctors to gain medication to ease their stress. When a weary saint joins the heavenly throng, he is never met by an angel saying, “Phew.. that was a close one… we’re so relieved to see that you made it here. We were all so worried about you!”

So if heaven is never worried, why is it that we are oftentimes? I believe it is because the message of God’s Sovereignty has not taken the long and mammoth 18 inch journey from our heads to our hearts. We need to saturate ourselves in the Scriptures on the issue to really get the doctrine of God’s Sovereignty in our bloodstream, so to speak.

Jonathan Edwards once stated, “From my childhood up, my mind had been full of objections against the doctrine of God’s Sovereignty. It used to appear like a horrible doctrine to me. But I remember the time very well, when I seemed to be convinced, and fully satisfied, as to this Sovereignty of God, and His justice in thus eternally dealing with men, according to His Sovereign pleasure. My mind rested in it; and it put an end to all those quibbles and objections. And there has been a wonderful alteration in my mind, with respect to the doctrine of God’s Sovereignty, from that day to this. God’s absolute Sovereigntyis what my mind seems to rest assured of, as much as of any thing that I see with my eyes. But I have often, since that first conviction, had quite another kind of sense of God’s Sovereignty than I had then. I have often since had not only a conviction, but a delightful conviction. The doctrine has appeared exceedingly pleasant, bright, and sweet. Absolute Sovereignty is what I love to ascribe to God. But my first conviction was not so.”

Man naturally resists the idea of God’s Sovereignty. J. C. Ryle once commented that “Of all the doctrines of the Bible, none is so offensive to human nature as the doctrine of God’s Sovereignty.” Yet, though many in our day strongly resist the idea and the implications of God’s Sovereignty in all things; for the Christian, the doctrine continues to be an amazing source of strength, even in the midst of severe difficulty and trial.

God has never been shocked! God has never had to say, “Oh no, I didn’t know that was going to happen. Can anyone see a way out of this? Angels, please get together and have a “think-tank” meeting and come up with something we can do to respond.”

People might laugh at such an idea, and rightly so. It is so ludicrous a concept that it is in fact laughable. Yet it amazed me to hear some of the arguments put forth by many Christians in the aftermath of the events of 9/11. The God they spoke of was seemingly terribly shocked that terrorists would go ahead with their plans, and because He had given men their free will was now powerless to prevent the events. However, He was seeking to comfort where He could. Is that your idea of God?

I certainly hope not, because this idea does not in any way correspond to the God who reveals Himself in the pages of the Bible. Does God bring comfort? Of course… but is that all He can do – watch and grieve without having a purpose in mind in all that takes place? No, God not only knows the end from the beginning but has in some sense decreed all events in human history, “whatsoever comes to pass,” including sin.

What is the worst of sins? I believe the worst sin that has ever taken place on earth was undoubtedly the unjust crucifixion of the Son of God. Yet God not only allowed it, but He planned it before He ever created the world. Jesus was the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world. For the crucifixion to be ordained before the foundation of the world, it means that the sin that put Him there was as well.

Peter acknowledged this when he preached “this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.” Acts 2:23. The early church also prayed, “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.” Acts 4:27-28

Our God is Lord, even over sin… I realise that some gasp at such a notion, but not only does the Scripture teach this, but think of the opposite idea – God has no purpose in the sin of man. Is that a better proposal? Hardly! No, God has in some sense ordained that sin takes place (or else it would not take place) and He will in fact use sin ultimately to show forth His glory. Man is entirely responsible for his actions, and will face judgement for them, but the fact is that God is ultimately Sovereign over all human actions. Though man might mean an action for evil, God means it for the ultimate good. (see Genesis 50:20) The thing in itself is evil, but God can use even the most evil of human actions to bring about something good. That’s how Sovereign He is!

God knows everything – past, present and future… that’s why He can tell us the future with 100% accuracy. We call this Biblical prophecy. God can tell us the future not because He has an idea about how men will respond but because He in some sense ordains even these responses. For God to prophesy even a single event such as the birth of His Son in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), He would have to know a great many things. He would need to know who the mother of the Child is, when she would conceive, when the time of delivery was. But that’s far from all – He would need to know about the registration decree from Casar Augustus in a person’s home town, the method of transportation for Mary (a donkey), and even the speed of the donkey – the entire prophecy would fail if the donkey moved too slow, or too fast and ended up passing through Bethlehem earlier in the day of Christ’s birth… He would need to know exactly when Mary and Joseph could travel no further, and the fact that a stable would be available for them… and that Mary and Joseph would find it somehow.

God knows the end from the beginning, but His attribute of Sovereignty tells us that in some sense He ordains everything from beginning to end. When a man believes, it is because he was appointed to do so (Acts 13:48), and when a man refuses to obey the Gospel’s demands, the same thing applies (1 Peter 2:8).

The fact that God is Sovereign means that He is never just one who responds… oh He does respond when wickedness and ungodliness takes place… but it is never merely the response of a blind-sided God who had no idea things would happen as they did. No, a thousand times no! God saw the attack of the enemy long before the enemy ever thought of attacking, in fact, long before the enemy ever existed. God’s response is always full and final.

Think about the following incidents recorded for us in the Bible… each attack was personally masterminded by the devil himself, and yet all his evil plans were thwarted… why? Because God really does rule in the affairs of men:

Attack: Abel is murdered by Cain (Gen. 4:1-8) Response: The birth of Seth (Gen. 4:25)

Attack: Almost universal wickedness in Noah’s day (Gen 6:1-12) Response: The Flood – only Noah and his family left (Gen 6:13-7:24)

Attack: The Tower of Babel (Gen. 11:1-6) Response: The Confusion of Languages (Gen. 11:7-9)

Attack: Pharoah commands all Jewish male children killed (Ex. 1:8-16, 22) Response: Believing midwives protects them (Ex. 1:17-21)

Attack: Jehoram’s muder of his 6 brothers (2 Chron 21:4) and Athaliah’s murder of Ahaziah’s son (22:10) Response: Joash is hidden by Johosheba (2 Chron. 22:11-12)

Attack: Herod commands all Jewish males under 2 killed (Matt. 2:16) Response: Joseph is told in a dream to leave for Egypt (Matt. 2:13)

Of course, many more of these kind of examples could be listed. But this should suffice to give us the comfort we need in our trials. Even in the midst of great trial and suffering God is still in charge. Not only can He work all things together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose, but He actually will do so (Romans 8:28).

This is the Christian’s source of comfort. Nothing in our lives is wasted… no trial, no experience, no grief, no misunderstanding, no hardship, no scorn, no betrayal, no injury, no loss, no scandal, no injustice, no deceit… no event takes place in our lives that God will not work for our good.

Scripture does not say that all things work for good for “everybody” but to those who love God and are called according to God’s purpose. For the unregenerate sinner, it would be true to say that nothing that happens in their lives works for their good… not even a promotion at work, a successful surgery, an unexpected gift, or even winning the lottery… if their final destination is hell, what is the “good” of these very temporal benefits? Certainly, none of them would be seen as having worked together for their good, but these things only in fact increases their judgment. For in spite of these blessings, they did not acknowledge their Source, and come to Him for salvation. That’s quite a thought isn’t it?

Let us rest then in the arms of our Sovereign Lord – the One who rules and reigns and “works all things according to the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11). What an abiding place of rest this is.

“There is no attribute of God more comforting to his children than the doctrine of Divine Sovereignty. Under the most adverse circumstances, in the most severe troubles, they believe that Sovereignty hath ordained their afflictions, that Sovereignty overrules them, and that Sovereignty will sanctify them all. There is nothing for which the children of God ought more earnestly to contend than the dominion of their Master over all creation – the kingship of God over all the works of His own hands – the throne of God, and His right to sit upon that throne. On the other hand, there is no doctrine more hated by world-lings, no truth of which they have made such a football, as the great, stupendous, but yet most certain doctrine of the Sovereignty of the infinite Jehovah. Men will allow God to be everywhere except on His throne.” – C. H. Spurgeon

Prayer In Preparation For Sunday

Pastor John Samson

It is common for us as pastors to be telling the congregation what they ought to be doing. It is oftentimes less common for an explanation to be given as to HOW to do these things. One such area is the arena of prayer. We all know that we as Christians should be people of prayer, but what causes many to stumble is a lack of knowledge as to how exactly to go about the task.

I was greatly impacted by reading a written prayer made by Tim Challies, found on his blog (www.challies.com), in preparation for a conference he was due to attend. The thought came to me that if I adjusted just one or two words, and maybe added one or two things, the prayer would be a useful tool for all of us Christians as we prepare our hearts each week for a different setting; that of Sunday worship. Here then is that suggested sample prayer, based almost word for word on the one Tim wrote. I trust many will find it useful. – John

A SAMPLE DAILY PRAYER IN PREPARATION FOR SUNDAY

Our gracious God and Father. I approach Your throne today, knowing that it is only through the name of Jesus that I can stand before You. I thank and praise You for Your goodness in allowing me to do so. I recognize very well that I am unworthy of this honor, this privilege, apart from Your unmerited favor and grace. I come before You to seek Your blessing on the service on Sunday.

Grant that the Word will come to us with power and with great freedom. Be near to our Pastor and his family. Keep the family close as they serve You together. Protect them from dangers both seen and unseen. May our pastor know great wisdom as he plans his day and his week around the priorities You lay before him. May his schedule allow him much time to study Your word and to pray. May he know that he is serving You and all of us very well as he makes these a high priority. May our pastor’s family time also be protected. Grant that he would be free from all unnecessary busy-ness in ministry. Also grant our pastor sufficient rest and sleep.

Grant our pastor humility before Your Word as he finishes his preparations and grant that he may be filled with a holy dread and gravity as he stands before Your people. May he know what it is to be filled afresh with the Holy Spirit. May we truly know what it is to sit under the preaching of the Word. Speak to us, we pray. Speak to our hearts through the words we hear. May we never be the same.

Be with those who will lead us in worship. Be near to those who will sing or play instruments. Grant that in all things they may seek to serve You. May songs be selected that will bring glory and honor to Your name. May they lead us in singing songs that celebrate the beauty of the Savior and sing of Your wonders, Your glory, Your triumphs, Your holiness, Your majesty and Your great gospel. Let everything that has breath in that place praise the Lord together. May our worship be a sweet and fragrant offering to You. Accept it Lord, though we know it is poor and imperfect. Accept it through Your grace.

Be with the men and women who will be serving this week – those who are responsible for hospitality, greeting and ushering; those who will work in the sound booth, in the bookstall, in administration, and with those who will minister to our precious children and youth. Even now Lord, please fill all of these people afresh with Your Spirit. We thank you for the servant’s hearts You have given to them. I ask that You will allow them to be a blessing to many this week, even to those who do not yet know You. May the service run smoothly and may Your hand be evident in all that transpires. May Your love truly flow amongst us. May each of us be sensitive to the needs of others.

Bless our church’s outreach this week, through the words we speak, the love we show and the help we give to others. Bless the proclamation of Your gospel both by word and by life. In Your goodness, bring many to repentance. Direct our conversations, and help each of us to be bold in sharing the good news of Christ with others. Use me and all of our church in outreach this week I pray.

Would you help all who attend to come to the Sunday service as true worshippers–as those who worship You in spirit and in truth. Remind us that the gathering of Your people to worship is something You have ordained for us. It is a holy and sacred time. Help us to take the Lord’s day seriously. Prepare my heart and each of our hearts even now for what You will say to us then. Grant that we may not come before you as frauds, standing in Your presence filled with unconfessed sin. Give us the strength and wisdom to reconcile ourselves to our brothers and sisters before we come before You in worship. Give us discerning hearts that we may see and confess our sin before You. Open our eyes to see and to know You in a new way. Help us to worship You, not only with our lips, but with our hearts, our souls, and all that we are. Accept the gift of worship we will bring to You. May it please You.

Be with our pastor as he prepares to preach Your Word on Sunday. Grant that his time of preparation will be fruitful and that You will stir His heart with the great news of the gospel, of the precious truth of justification by grace alone through faith in Christ alone, all to the glory of God alone. May all of us at our Church live in the power of this gospel always. Protect us from the devil’s lies and help us to never be bored by the wonderful doctrines of grace, but grant that they may be the joy and delight of our hearts. Open our eyes Lord to see just how Your glorious gospel affects each and every area of our lives. Grant that our pastor or any guest minister may preach with great power and passion on Sunday morning. May the preaching be God centered, cross centered and gospel centered.

Be with me Lord. Prepare my own heart for Sunday morning when You speak to us as Your people. I confess that already my heart is polluted with sin. As I think about worshiping You, already I wonder how other men may perceive me. Already I sin against you. I repent of this Lord. Please, extend Your gracious forgiveness to me that I may come before You with a clean heart. Renew a right spirit within me. Keep the truth ever before me that to obey is better than sacrifice. Help me to be obedient to You in all things. Fill me with Your Spirit. Grant that I may serve You by serving others.

Grant traveling mercies as men and women, boys and girls come to our Church on Sunday. Keep us safe this week and as we gather together in Your name.

We pray for peace and unity while we gather together. We ask that there will be mercy and understanding. We ask that there will be a great outpouring of your Spirit. We ask that you will bless us for the sake of the glory of Your great name.

I ask these things humbly and in the name that is above all names, the Lord Jesus Christ. Grant that I may be expectant and observant in seeking answers to this prayer so that I may praise You for Your goodness.

Its Scary Being A Pastor

Pastor John Samson

Ever thought about why we do Church? The schedule of meetings is not always convenient, we have to deal with people who sometimes rub us the wrong way… it would seem so much easier to be a Christian at home – except in doing so, we would not be living as disciples of Christ.

Obviously, we need to make allowances in our thinking for the housebound Christians who are physically impeded from getting to the corporate gathering. But for all of us who are able bodied and call ourselves disciples of Christ, the Lord Himself (through His apostles) commands us to be regularly attending services. He also summons us to live under pastoral rule and care (Heb 10:25; 13:17). To either ignore or dismiss these responsibilities makes us rebels, not disciples. We can say we love the Lord but Jesus says, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” and the commands of the God breathed Scriptures carry the full weight of divine authority because they come from the Lord Himself.

Alright – so God wants us to participate in this thing called “church.” But what exactly is “Church”? What are the priorities in the life of a church?

Obviously, the subject of ecclesiology (the doctrine of the Church) is a vast one. Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her. The Church is the people of God. Most of the Church are already amongst the heavenly choir. The Church of the Lord Jesus Christ is the only institution that does not lose a member at death. That’s a breathtaking truth isn’t it?

But what of the church still on earth? Is there a plan or blueprint for us to follow as we gather and live the Christian life together? I believe there is. We are to govern our collective lives together by the mandates of Scripture, making God’s priorities our own.

When we look at God’s priority list for His Church – we notice that His list is not identical to ours. For many people, priorities include adequate parking, clean restrooms, music to our liking (not too loud mind you), relevant youth ministry, comfortable seating, and the preacher having a likeable personality. He must be strong, but in a gentle way; very serious, with a great sense of humor! There is of course, nothing inherantly wrong with these things. But my question is whether or not these should top our list, to the exclusion of the things Christ has commanded be observed. Have you noticed something about the short list above? None of them are mentioned in sacred Scripture.

But back to our list (whether or not it is written down, it exists somewhere in our mind) – lets examine it and ask if we put things like prayer, sound doctrine, evangelism, baptism, the Lord’s Supper and worship on our top 10 list when we look for a church home? Really – do we? How close to the top of our list is how the church handles the word of God? Is that a priority for us? Where do you think this would rank on Christ’s list of priorities?

I believe that consumerism is not just out there in the world; it is right inside the Church. We want to be entertained, we want to feel comfortable. Don’t get me wrong – one of the worst sins a preacher can possibly do is to make the most amazing message, “the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” sound boring. I believe a boring sermon is a scandal! Yet if someone cannot find contentment or spiritual nourishment in the gathering of the people of God, or in the consistent accurate presentation of the Word of God – if that is not enough… then something is seriously wrong.

At the end of every year, we can determine whether we have had a successful year two different ways. One way is to see if we met attendance goals, etc. Now again, there’s nothing inherently wrong in that. I want to see many, many more true disciples of Christ here at the Church I pastor, and that’s something I pray for regularly. But I wish to suggest that there is a second way of determining success, by answering a different set of questions such as:

How many of our people are more godly than a year ago?

How many disciples of Christ have we made?

How many men are more patient with their wives, or better fathers to their children?

How many wives are more godly?

How many people are growing in grace, and in their hunger for the Word of God?

In things like language, dress, attitudes and thinking, are we different from the world?

And what about the leaders? Are we passionate about the ministry of the Word?

Is the teaching sound and biblical?

Are our entire hearts involved in the worship of God? Are the songs and hymns even about God?

Then what’s this sermon thing? Do we really believe in the supernatural ministry of the Holy Spirit?

Do we really believe that He shines His light on our motives and attitudes when the Word of God is proclaimed?

I certainly do, and am convinced God is watching over His Word to perform it (Jer. 1:12). The sermon is not an addendum but is an essential part of our worship.

But many pastors, while convinced of the message of scripture, avoid the hard hitting doctrines of God’s holiness, wrath and sovereignty because.. well … if we’re honest, we know that some folk will leave if we tell it just the way He said it. But on the other hand, we have no right to adjust or avoid the clear teaching of Scripture. I also believe that the people of God are crying out to hear about God as He really is, and the Gospel as it really is.

I think as pastors we need to face this head on and say, “yes, some will leave,” just as some quietly vacated the crowd in Jesus’ day when He outlined His demands for discipleship, or pressed home His Father’s Sovereign Grace in election (Jn 6:37-66). But that’s the point – Jesus didn’t preach to please the crowd, but to please His Father. He wasn’t seeking to build a popularity base in Israel, but He did say, “I will build My Church.”

We need to ask the question, “who are we trying to please – men, or God?” When I stand before the Master, I don’t want to face Him with only bulimic, under-nourished sheep under my charge. I certainly don’t want blood on my hands for failing to preach the whole counsel of God (see Acts 20:26, 27).

I believe that God is worshipped when His truth is proclaimed, and that my responsibility as a pastor is not to try to keep all the wolves happy, but to feed Christ’s sheep. As the prince of preachers, C. H. Spurgeon once said, “Christ’s sheep will never be offended by Christ’s voice.”

I don’t wish to come across as someone who feels I’ve got everything in place or that I think God is perfectly pleased with how I do Church. Not at all. And that’s what’s scary. I don’t have all the answers, but I do feel that l am beginning at least to ask the right questions. I want to find biblical answers, rather than simply designing a church by the popular trend of the day. I think that has to be the place to start – asking the right kind of questions.

What haunts me – what really scares me – is that one day I will stand before the Master and give an account of my life and my ministry. I am scared, not because I do not believe in Christ’s imputed righteousness to me as a believer. I certainly do. Thank God! With Scripture alone as my sure foundation, I affirm that my justification is by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone “” for the glory of God alone. What a secure refuge the Gospel is in all this! But what scares me, and if I am honest, what I think should scare me and all of us a lot more than it presently does, is the reality of Christ’s future judgement over our works (Rom. 14:10-12; 1 Cor. 3:5-15; Rev. 22:12).

We see Christ’s priorities in many places in the Scripture, but perhaps the place we see them most clearly is in the letters of Christ to the seven Churches of the book of Revelation (chapters 2 & 3). As I read through these letters, I have to admit, I find it more than a little frightening. In my mind, I have a mental picture of that day when my works are judged. Jesus is standing in front of me, in a blaze of glory, and with a Bible in His hand, He asks me three piercing questions:

1. How well did you live this?

2. How well did you preach this?

3. How well did you do Church by this?

These are not questions He doesn’t know the answer to. He knows the answers all too well, of course. But whatever the picture in my mind right now, the reality will be a great deal more alarming. Jesus, with eyes of love, but eyes of fire, will look at me and all of us Christians with a gaze that penetrates all self professed spirituality. He will deal with us in truth. With all that is in me, I want Him to say, “Well done!” and not “well, are you done?”

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. – Heb 4:12-13

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. – Heb 13:17

Its a wonderful and joyful privilege to be a pastor – an under shepherd to the Great Shepherd of the sheep. But being a pastor is also the most scary job imaginable on planet earth. Please take some time today and pray for your pastor and elders.

Much Ado About Nothing

Pastor John Samson

Ask a High School student what they did at school that day and the usual response is “nothing.” “Nothing,” according to Jonathan Edwards “is what sleeping rocks dream about.” That’s quite a humorous statement, but have you ever tried to think about nothing? If you have you will know that its hard, if not impossible to think about nothing.

We could think about blackness but blackness is not nothing. We could think about emptiness but emptiness by definition is merely the absence of fullness and what is that exactly? The fact is, we are always thinking about something, even when we are trying to think of nothing. Our minds are not good at grasping the concept of nothing.

But lets think about our universe for a moment: If there ever was a time when there was nothing, all there could ever be now would be nothing.

Leave nothing for 10 minutes or 10 billion years and it will still be nothing. In Latin there is a phrase “ex nihilo nihil fit,” which means “out of nothing, nothing comes.” You can’t get something out of nothing. Nothing is no thing! It is not! Nothing is not a little something.

Yet something exists. That is undeniable.

If there ever was a time when all there was was physical matter, where did intelligence and personality come from? Could matter develop personality over time? Really? How is that in any way possible?

Nothing x No One = Everything

(That’s total nonsense!).

GOD + Nothing = Everything!

(Now that make perfect sense!)

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Genesis 1:1

The Most Helpful Thing I Ever Learned As A Christian

Pastor John Samson

I wonder if you can relate to any of this. One of the first things God the Holy Spirit did for me after I had come to faith in Christ was to give me a deep settled assurance of salvation. Romans 8:16 tells us that “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God…” This inner witness brought me the sure knowledge that despite my many flaws and failures, I was in fact His – His for all eternity. As I read the Scriptures, the wonders of this great salvation become clear – God had saved me, I was His, and Christ did indeed love me and had given me eternal life. Heaven sent joy and peace flooded my soul. I knew I could say, “I am my Beloved’s and He is mine.”

But then, somewhere along the way this settled peace was disturbed. The wonders of His grace, wrought through Christ and His atoning work became obscured”¦ not because I read some book countering Christianity and was swayed by the arguments, but because I came across Scriptures that at least at first glance, seemed to show that my salvation was a lot more flimsy and shaky than I first imagined. Perhaps you can identify with this.

Here’s what I mean: I read Scriptures such as “nothing can separate us from the love of God” (Rom 8: 39) but then read “the one who endures to the end will be saved.” (Matt 24:13)

I read, “”¦whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16) and then read “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you””unless you believed in vain.” (1 Cor 15:1,2)

I thought, “which is it God? If someone believes, You say that they have eternal life, but here it says that someone can “believe in vain.” How could both statements be true?”

I read about how God started the work in us and would in fact complete it (Phil 1:6) and that “these whom He justified, He glorified” (Rom 8:30) showing me that none of His truly justified saints fall through the cracks, but all end up saved. I cannot for a moment imagine Jesus failing to fulfill the will of His Father, and in John 6:39 He makes clear what the Father’s will actually is: “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.”

These Scriptures, and many others like them gave me great assurance that I was saved by grace alone through faith in Christ alone, but then I read other Scripture verses that would say things such as, “without holiness no one will see the Lord.” (Heb 12:14)

That was a verse that terrified me, plaguing my conscience continually. As holy as my life was compared to what it was before, (I now had a great love of the Scriptures and spent many hours each day studying them, even as a young teenager), I knew I never measured up to even my own standards, let alone God’s. If I prayed for 20 minutes, the thought came to me, “if you were a real Christian, you would have prayed longer.”

Where did that kind of thought come from?

I knew it was probably the enemy, but I had little with which to fight those thoughts. If I shared my faith with a friend, my conscience would point out to me that there was a guy walking down the street I could have stopped and witnessed to also. I could never do enough to assuage my conscience.

I heard sermons where the preacher talked about the difference between conviction of the Holy Spirit and condemnation (which comes from the devil) and although understanding this distinction certainly helped, my conscience still screamed that I was not as holy as I should be, and lurking at the back of my mind was the constant pounding of that haunting Scripture “without holiness, no one will see the Lord.”

The poisoned lies of the enemy were like fiery darts that assaulted my mind. The enemy can quote scripture (Matt 4:5). Looking back I can see that he was taking advantage of my lack of knowledge. Verses that were meant to add to me, to bless me, to inspire me and comfort me, became the source of great confusion and anguish of heart.

So what happened to change this ever deepening cycle of despair? My answer came by doing a lot of thinking. “Thinking?” you might say. That does not seem too spiritual.

Perhaps you thought I might say that I had some sort of “experience” – that I went to some conference and experienced a vision of glory – or maybe I was taken up into heaven and given the privilege of seeing my name written in the Lamb’s book of life before returning back to earth. Well that’s not what happened. What happened was, I thought!

I knew that contradiction was not the hallmark of truth but of falsehood. I knew that God was not a liar and that His word was true. That was a conviction that never left me during this whole process. But what I came to understand was that there was a way to reconcile all of these statements in Scripture and make sense of them all.

The remedy came by understanding a simple concept – something I had been taught in school in an English class – the difference between the prescriptive and the descriptive.

“What? You are telling me that the enemy was put to flight through an English class. That doesn’t sound too spiritual to me either.” Well maybe so, but the truth became clear to me when I understand that there were two ways of looking at the second set of statements mentioned above. One way left me in great confusion, the other way brought everything into clarity.

The first set of Scriptures are very clear.. the one who believes has eternal life”¦ whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”¦ and so on”¦ The second set of Scriptures, which talk of the need to persevere, to continue in faith could be viewed as prescriptive (they tell us to do something) OR they could be viewed as descriptive (they describe actions being done). When seen as descriptive, all of them make sense.

Here’s what I mean. Lets take the Scripture “the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matt 24:13). We could interpret this as saying “well, you never can have assurance of salvation unless you first endure to the end.. case closed.. no one can ever have assurance”¦” That is one way to read the words and many in fact interpret the verse that way. However, that understanding would set itself in total opposition against the whole reason for an entire book of the Bible, namely First John.

John wrote “I have written these things to you that you might know that you have eternal life.” (1 Jn 5:13) John (and of course God, who inspired the words) wrote to make his readers assured of their salvation.

So again which was it? Is it “no one can know” or “God wants us to know”? The fact that God wants us to know we are saved is a clear statement of Scripture. There was no other way to understand the words. So the way to reconcile both statements became clear. The verse on the need to endure to the end is descriptive rather than a prescriptive.

Yes. A true Christian NEEDS to endure. In fact, he MUST endure.. all the way to the end. But here’s the truth that helped me so much: Saving faith endures, demonstrating it to be supernatural in its origin. The true Christian WILL endure. Matthew is describing the character trait of the true saint, namely endurance. If you see someone endure to the end, it is the evidence of the fact that they are a truly saved individual. The one enduring is a saved person.

The Apostle John made it clear that those who do not continue in the faith were never truly genuine disciples. 1 John 2:19 reads, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.” Once again we see that the true Christian WILL endure – the enduring one is a saved person.

Oh how this helped me! I could then see that there is a false kind of faith that looks a lot like the real thing but is not genuine. Those who have this kind of “faith” will not last – they endure for a while, but when pressures of life and the cares of this world come, they fall away.

Doesn’t that sound a lot like one of Jesus’ parables? Yes, exactly – the parable of the sower (Matthew 13, Mark 4).

Those who have the word planted in the soil of the heart do endure. Endure they must and endure they will!

This understanding allows me to look at any of the Scriptures and believe them.

“But wait,” someone might say, “you haven’t yet endured to the end, so how can you be sure you will?”

Oh that comes back to the first thing I mentioned.. the settled peace that the Holy Spirit gave me when I first came to Christ. He gave me the assurance that I was His, and now asks me to examine myself to see if I am in the faith.. asking things like, “are you still enduring, even in troubled times?” The answer is “yes” – and the good news is that because He is the source of my faith (its not the product of my own fleshly carnal unregenerate nature) “¦ because it is He who started this work in me, I can be confident of this – He will complete the whole process.

“But what about holiness John – are you as holy as you should be?” Well I have to admit, God’s standards are perfect, and I come short of the mark each and every day I live.

“Well then John, that means you can have no assurance of salvation, right?”

No, not at all, because I do sense some holiness, I do see growth in sanctification, being set apart to God.. but my standing with God is based on being justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, and the wonderful truth is that Christ Himself IS my sanctification – though the process has begun in me of making me more like Him and many times I still fail to honor the Lord as I should, progress is being made.. I do want to be holy, I do wish to live free from sin”¦ yet my standing in holiness is the very holiness of Christ. (1)

“And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and SANCTIFICATION and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Cor 1:30, 31 – emphasis mine)

“Lord, make me more like You, help me to hate my sin more each day and love Your ways instead, and draw me closer to You, not to try and gain salvation by my works, but because I am a saved man, wanting, desiring, longing for more of You.”

The saved man endures, strives, presses and perseveres.. He must do so, and he will do so. Why? Because I am confident of this very thing – that the One who has begin the work in me He will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ. None of His true sheep will be lost. Hallelujah, what a Shepherd. Hallelujah, what a Savior!”

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(1) The root idea of creaturely holiness is not primarily behavior – rather it is being set apart to God’s ownership and His service. To be holy is to belong to God, to be uniquely set apart to Him.

God declares us (true Christians) as positionally holy by virtue of the person and work of Christ (Col 1:2).

Hebrews 10:10 says, “And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”

Then, having declared us positionally holy, God makes us personally holy. Hebrews 12:10 “” “For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.”

This aspect of holiness is a matter of progressively becoming in practice what we already are (positionally) in Christ.

The Messianic Claims Of Jesus Christ

Pastor John Samson

As Christians, we believe our Savior’s name is the Lord Jesus Christ. Its important to understand that “Christ” is not Jesus’ last name, but rather a title. The word “Christ” comes from the Greek word “Christos” which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word for Messiah. When we say, “Jesus Christ” we are literally saying, “Jesus the Christ” or “Jesus the Messiah.” But are these claims valid? Can we be sure that Jesus is the long awaited Messiah?

Through what we call Messianic Prophecies, God provided a sure and certain way to recognize His Messiah when He came. These are events written in the Bible, hundreds and even thousands of years before they would take place in time. Only God could reveal such amazing detail millennia in advance of the events.

God had declared that His Messiah would be a descendant of Abraham (Gen. 22:18), from the tribe of Judah (Gen. 49:10), and a son of David (Jer. 23:5,6; 1 Chron. 17:10b-14). God had also said that the Messiah would be born of a virgin (Isa. 7:14), in the surroundings of poverty (Isa. 11:1-2), in Bethlehem, the city of David (Micah 5:2). He would be proceeded by a herald (Isa. 40:3-5, Mal. 3:1), be seen riding on a donkey (Zech 9:9, 10) and would be present 483 years after the decree was made to rebuild Jerusalem, after the Babylonian captivity (Dan. 9:24-27). He would be a king (Gen 49:10; Isa. 9:6,7), a priest (Psalm 110:1-7) and a prophet (Deut. 18:15-19; Isa. 61:1, 2).

But there’s more. He would be legally tried and condemned to death and would suffer and die (Isa. 50;4-9; 52:13-53:12, Psalm 22), by means of piercing his hands and feet (Zech. 12:10; 13:7; Psalm 22), His death would be substitutionary (in the place of others), He would be buried in a rich man’s tomb and He would be resurrected from the dead (Isa. 52:13-53:12; Psalm 16:1-11; Psalm 22).

All in all, around 330 prophecies such as these were fulfilled by Jesus in His first coming, and many more will be fulfilled when He comes back to Earth to reign. He will be seen to be the ruler of the Gentile nations (Psalm 2:7-12), and of Israel (Psalm 110:1-7).

More than 30 prophecies were fulfilled in just one day – the day Jesus Christ died!

Ps. 41:9 – Mark 14:10 Betrayed by a friend

Zech 11:12 – Matt 26:15 Price: 30 pieces of silver

Zech 11:12 – Matt 27:3-7 Money used to buy a field

Zech 13:7 – Mark 14:50 Shepherd killed, Sheep flee

Isa 50:6 – Matt. 27:26-30 Spat on and mocked

Ps 69:19 – Matt 27:28-31 Shame and dishonor

Ps 35:11 – Mark 14:56 False witnesses

Ps 22:18 – Jn 19:24 Gambled for His clothes

Isa 53:7 – Matt 27:13, 14 He opened not His mouth

Ps 109:24 – Matt 27:32 Too weak to carry cross

Ps 69:3 – Jn 19:28 Jesus thirsty

Ps 69:21 – Jn 19:29 Given vinegar to drink

Ps 22:17 – Matt 27:36 They stare at Jesus on the cross

Ps 22:16 – Matt 27:35 They crucify Him

Ps 22:14 – Jn 19:34 Water flows out of wound

Ps 38:11 – Luke 23:49 Friends stand afar off

Ps 109:25 – Matt 27:39, 40 People wagged mocking heads

Ps 22:8 – Matt 27:43 Challenge for God to save Him

Isa 53:7 – Jn 1:29 Jesus the Lamb of God

Isa 53:12 – Luke 23:34 Jesus prays for His killers

Ps 22:1 – Matt 27:46 He cries out to God

Isa 52:14 – John 19:5, 14 A broken man, yet King

Isa 53:4, 5 – Matt 8:17; 1 Pet 2:24 He bears our sins and sicknesses

Ps 22:31 – Luke 23:4 Jesus declared faultless

Ps 31:5 – Luke 23:46 He gives up His spirit

Exo 12:46 – Jn 19:36 His bones not broken

Isa 53:12 – Luke 23:33 Numbered with the transgressors

Daniel 9:26 – Jn 11:50-52 Jesus died not for Himself

Gen 3:15 – Jn 19:18 Satan bruises Jesus’ heel on cross

Isa 53:9 – Matt 27:57-60 Laid in a rich man’s tomb

Amos 8:9 – Matt 27:45 Darkness at crucifixion

The evidence is overwhelming – Jesus is the long awaited Messiah of Israel and the Savior of the world. The vital question then is this: How do you stand in relationship to Him? Is Jesus Christ your personal Lord and Savior? If not, the time to make Him so is now.

Maturity In Essentials And Non-Essentials

Pastor John Samson

“till we all come to the unity of the faith..” Ephesians 4:13

“In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity.” – Augustine

Doctrine divides! It divides truth from error. It divides the true teacher from the false teacher; the spirit of truth from the spirit of error; and the true Christ from the Anti-Christ.

In the Church, Christians hold differing views about important, yet non-essential matters. Let me explain. There are doctrines in the Bible that while very important, are not essential to salvation. For instance, whether or not someone believes in the baptism of infants or whether or not God still heals today, I think are important issues; yet, what someone believes about these is not essential to someone being included or excluded from the kingdom of God. Someone is not a “false teacher” who takes a different position on these issues. The same is true for doctrines such as whether Christians today should tithe on their income as in Old Testament times, or whether someone is “pre-trib,” “mid-trib,” or “post-trib” in their belief about the end times, or for those who take different positions on the millennnium – “a”, “pre” or “post.” Sincere, godly, dedicated believers believe different things about these issues, but it does not mean that one person is saved and another damned because they have a different view.

As Christians, what unites us, vastly outweighs what might divide us. In the essentials, such as the Deity of Christ, the Trinity, justification by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone, etc., we need to be in agreement. As this quote, which historically has been attributed to Augustine states, “In essentials, unity.” We cannot compromise on these major issues of the Gospel. These are non-negotiables. In fact, to depart from these doctrines is to depart from the Christian faith itself.

Knowing the difference between the essentials and the non-essentials takes a great deal of maturity at times. Christians have been notorious for dividing over such minor issues, and the Body of Christ has been less effective because of it. Our track record is not at all good, in this regard. The boundary lines are drawn by the Gospel itself. We must be united in the Gospel for true Christian unity to exist. But where this does in fact exist, let us celebrate it, standing united for the cause of Christ.

Augustine went on to say, “in non-essentials, liberty.” Christians need to allow their brothers and sisters room to hold differing positions on some issues without breaking fellowship with them. This takes a great deal of maturity. Church history shows us that the Body of Christ as a whole has not been very good at this. We tend to disassociate ourselves from Christians who don’t have the exact same understanding of the spiritual gifts, the end times, Divine election, or even when a child is old enough to be baptized. These are important issues, of course. In fact, there is only one true biblical position on these issues – not everyone is right! There is a right answer and a wrong answer. In fact, there are many wrong answers. God is not confused on these issues, even if we are. We should note too that God doesn’t ever give us the right to believe false doctrine. If there are two people with differing positions on an issue, at least one of them is grieving the Lord in terms of what they believe. Yet the point is that both people can believe that, disagree on a certain issue with a fellow brother or sister and yet believe the best of the other – that if the other person could be convinced by sacred scripture concerning the truth of the matter, they believe the other one would change their beliefs immediately. But disagreement on these important but non-essential things should not divide us, if we are united in the Gospel.

This is not to minimize doctrine. In a local Church it is entirely right for eldership to state in categorical terms, just what it is that they believe scripture to be teaching. This is part of their function as elders. Yet, in doing so, we must all recognize our fellow brothers and sisters in the entire Body of Christ, and know that God embraces many who hold differing positions to us on some issues.

The scripture commands us to “maintain the unity of the Spirit” (Eph. 4:3) “until we all come to the unity of the faith.” (Eph. 4:13). For God to tell us to maintain something, it shows clearly that we already have possession of it. For instance, we cannot maintain a photocopier unless we first have the photocopier in our care. We are called to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. This we are to do “until we all come to the unity of the faith.”

Augustine’s quote ends by saying, “in all things, charity (or love).” Let love be chief amongst us, His people. May we unite for the sake of the Gospel, while God, the Holy Spirit continues to lead His people into all truth.

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as a follow up to this, here are some scriptures to consider that show that some truths are more important than others – from an article by Dr. Phil Johnson:

Common sense makes it crystal-clear to most people that some truths in Scripture are of primary importance, and other truths are less vital.

For example, most people would agree that the deity of Christ is an essential doctrine of Christianity, but Sabbatarianism is not. (In other words, committed Christians might differ among themselves on the question of whether and how rigorously the Old Testament Sabbath restrictions should apply to Christians on the Lord’s day; but authentic Christians do not disagree on whether Jesus is God.) Again, common sense is sufficient for most people to recognize the validity of some distinction between primary and secondary truths.

Unfortunately, “common sense” is not as common as it used to be. (It’s one of the early fatalities of the postmodern era.) And with increasing frequency, I encounter people who challenge the distinction evangelicals have historically made between fundamental and secondary doctrines.

Some rather extreme fellows have begun a quasi-Christian cult located not far from where I live, and they actually teach that all truth is primary and every disagreement is worth fighting about and ultimately dividing over if agreement cannot be reached. Either agree with them on everything, or you are going to hell.

Others””equally extreme””argue, in effect, that “truth” isn’t primary at all; relationships are, and therefore no proposition or point of truth is ever worth arguing about with another professing Christian. The latter position is gaining adherents at a frightening pace.

Does the Bible recognize a valid distinction between fundamental and secondary doctrines? How would you refute someone who insisted that all truth is of equal import? How do you answer those who claim no truth is worth arguing over? Could you make a biblical case for a hierarchy of truths, or for recognizing a distinction between core doctrines and peripheral ones? If so, how do you tell the difference? Do you have biblical guidelines for that? What if we disagree on whether a particular doctrine is essential or secondary? How is that question to be settled?

Those are questions which in my opinion have not been pondered seriously enough by contemporary evangelicals. You have to go back a couple of centuries to find writers who wrestled with such concerns in any depth. Volume 1 of Francis Turretin’s Elenctic Theology includes a section discussing this subject (starting on page 49). Herman Witsius also deals with it near the beginning of vol. 1 of his two-volume work titled The Apostles’ Creed.

It seems to me that the distinction between primary and secondary doctrines is implicit rather than explicit in Scripture. But I think the distinction is still very clear. Here, briefly, are five biblical arguments in favor of making some kind of distinction between primary and secondary doctrines:

Jesus Himself suggested that some errors are gnats and some are camels (Matt. 23:24-25). And He stated that some matters of the law are “weightier” than others (v. 23). Think about it; such distinctions could not be made if every point of truth were essential.

Paul likewise speaks of truths that are “of first importance” (1 Cor. 15:3)””clearly indicating that there is a hierarchy of doctrinal significance.

Certain issues are plainly identified by Scripture as fundamental or essential doctrines. These include:

doctrines that Scripture makes essential to saving faith (e.g., justification by faith””Rom. 4:4-5; knowledge of the true God””Jn. 17:3; the bodily resurrection””1 Cor. 15:4; and several others).

doctrines that Scripture forbids us to deny under threat of condemnation (e.g., 1 Jn. 1:6, 8, 10; 1 Cor. 16:22; 1 Jn. 4:2-3).

Since these doctrines are explicitly said to make a difference between heaven and hell while others (the “gnats” Jesus spoke of) are not assigned that level of importance, a distinction between fundamental and secondary truths is clearly implied.

Paul distinguished between the foundation and that which is built on the foundation (1 Cor. 3:11-13). The foundation is established in Christ, and “no other foundation” may be laid. Paul suggests, however, that the edifice itself will be built with some wood, hay, and stubble. Again, this seems to suggest that while there is no tolerance whatsoever for error in the foundation, some of the individual building-blocks, though important, are not of the same fundamental importance.

The principle Paul sets forth in Roman 14 also has serious implications for this question. There were some differences of opinion in the Roman church which Paul declined to make into hard-and-fast matters of truth vs. heresy. In Romans 14:5, he writes, “One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” That clearly allows a measure of tolerance for two differing opinions on what is undeniably a point of doctrine. As an apostle, Paul could simply have handed down a ruling that would have settled the controversy. In fact, elsewhere he did give clear instructions that speaks to the very doctrine under debate in Romans 14 (cf. Col. 2:16-17). Yet in writing to the Romans, he was more interested in teaching them the principle of tolerance for differing views on matters of less-then-fundamental importance. Surely this is something we should weigh very heavily before we make any point of truth a matter over which we break fellowship.

Playing Marbles With Diamonds

Pastor John Samson

Does your Bible Study offend God?

Did I get your attention?

What!!? God can be offended when we study the Bible?

Yes, if we’re talking about the average Bible Study that takes place today. Let me explain:

Jesus, in the preamble to quoting a verse from the Old Testament said, “…have you not read what was spoken to you by God…” (Matt. 22:31). The testimony of Jesus and of the Bible is that “All Scripture is God breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16). Therefore, when we open up a page in our Bibles, we are treading upon holy ground. The Bible, although a book, is also unlike any other book. It is not simply a book giving facts about God. The Bible is a book written by God. Certainly, human writers were involved, but the text of Scripture is inspired or breathed out by God Himself.

Just having this concept in place would greatly help us in our Bible studies. What do I mean by that? Well, many people view the interpretation of God’s Word as “no big deal” really. To them its nothing more important than the reading of any other book, at least in their methodology.

The Jews would wash their hands before touching the sacred scrolls, because these scrolls were seen as Divinely inspired. Though we do not need to become superstitious about the physical book called the Bible, so as to wash our hands before picking up or opening the book, the text of the Scripture is the very word of God Himself. We should approach the Word of God humbly, and with the utmost reverence and respect.

And that leads us to talk about how we interpret the Bible. When we recognize that we are handling the very truth of God, we should not be quick to come to conclusions about what it means. What do I mean by that?

Well, if the Bible is God’s holy word, we should seek to gain the correct interpretation of what it means before we attempt to speak for God.

I can’t think of a more holy assignment that to be called to preach or teach the Word of God to the souls of men. Therefore, before someone stands in a pulpit to preach or teach the Word of God, he needs to make sure he has interpreted the text correctly. The preacher’s job is not to merely entertain the crowd or to tell a few stories that will connect with people. Don’t misunderstand me, God gives no prizes to boring preachers who can’t connect with people! But we must always remember that the goal of preaching is the honor and glory of God in accurately proclaiming the word of truth. It is a serious and holy thing to be responsible to proclaim God’s truth and it should never be done lightly, whether heard by thousands, or simply by one precious human soul.

But what is true for the preacher is also true for all of us as Christians. When we sit down and start reading the Bible for ourselves we need to remember that though there may be a thousand applications of Scripture, there is only one correct interpretation – the one the Holy Spirit meant when He inspired the sacred words of the Bible. We should be prepared to do some serious study to seek to understand what the Holy Spirit was and is communicating to us.

I agree wholeheartedly with Dr. James White when he writes, “Remember when you were in school and you had to take a test on a book you were assigned to read? You studied and invested time in learning the background of the author, the context in which he lived and wrote, his purposes in writing, his audience, and the specifics of the text. You did not simply come to class, pop open the book, read a few sentences, and say, “Well, I feel the author here means this.” Yet, for some odd reason, this attitude is prevalent in Christian circles. Whether that feeling results in an interpretation that has anything at all to do with what the original author intended to convey is really not considered an important aspect. Everyone, seemingly, has the right to express their “feelings” about what they “think” the Bible is saying, as if those thoughts actually reflect what God inspired in His Word. While we would never let anyone get away with treating our writings like this, we seem to think God is not bothered, and what is worse, that our conclusions are somehow authoritative in their representation of His Word.”

To some people it would seem to be “un-spiritual” to invest time in studying the historical backgrounds, the context of a text or passage in Scripture, or the original language… no, many today want to “feel” something about a passage… or better still, just want the Holy Spirit to whisper His interpretation in their ears supernaturally. This tends to become highly subjective… and the hard labor of study of the Scriptures is thrown out of the window. Every impression, vision, prophecy, needs to be subject to Scripture, and we are not permitted to subject the Word of God to our impressions or feelings about it.

Its fine to play marbles with marbles, but not with diamonds. Handling the word of God is a priceless duty and delight, not a trivial passion or pursuit.

We would never consider someone qualified to practice as a medical physician after reading just one paper containing a dozen rules on being a good doctor. Though knowing these rules would be helpful, I’m sure we would agree that there’s far more that is needed. Certainly, before a medical board would certify a person as competent to practice medicine they would need to know far more than a few rules for good health. In the same way, there’s so much more that could and should be said about how to study the Bible. Yet, with this qualifier, here are a some simple rules of interpretation (hermeneutics) which should at least get us started. May God use these brief words to encourage you as you search out the truths of God’s word, for His glory:

1. Consider the Author – who wrote the book? (what was his background, language, culture, vocation, concerns, education, circumstance, what stage of life?)

2. Consider the Audience (why was the book written? who was the audience? what would these words have meant to its original recipients?)

3. The Meaning of Words (this has become a lot easier in our day with all the information and technology at our disposal. The computer program Bibleworks 8 is especially recommended).

4. Historical Setting (avoid anachronism – trying to understand the past while viewing it wearing 21st century glasses – will not help toward understanding the original meaning of the author).

5. Grammar – (how things are being expressed – imperative is a command, a subjunctive would be “would you like to do this?” – two quite different meanings result)

6. Textual Issues – (are there any questions about the earliest or most authoritative manuscripts in comparison with others of a later date – and how does this influence our understanding of what was originally written)

7. Syntax – this refers to words and their relationship with one another. For example, Romans 5:1 says “Having been justified (a past tense action) by faith, we have peace with God.” It would be incorrect to think that we have to gain peace with God before justification takes place. The syntax is clear that it is a result of first being justified that peace ensues. Correct syntax is a vital component of sound interpretation.

8. Form of Literature (we should interpret the Bible literally, but that doesn’t mean we don’t recognize that parables are parables, and that to interpret them correctly, we interpret them as literal parables! Historical narrative is historical narrative, nouns are nouns, verbs are verbs, analogies are analogies)

9. Immediate Context (a text out of context becomes a pretext. It can be made to say something not intended by the author). Always check the immediate context of a verse or passage to determine the correct interpretation.

10. Document Context (in Romans, there is a certain argument Paul is pursuing, and this helps us to determine what is meant in isolated verses when we know the purpose for what is being written. Always keep the author’s broad purpose in mind when looking in detail at the meaning of texts). This, like the others, is a very helpful rule.

11. Author’s Context (this refers to looking at all of a person’s writings – John’s writings, Paul’s writings, Luke’s writings, etc.).

12. Biblical Context (the broadest context possible, the entire Bible; allowing us to ask if our interpretation is consistent with the whole of Scripture. Scripture is never contradictory to itself.

13. Understand the difference between prescriptive and descriptive statements in the Bible. Is the verse telling us to do something, or does it describe an action someone does?

Matthew 24:13 “But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.”

Question: Is this verse prescriptive or descriptive?

If prescriptive, (if it telling us something to do) then no one can be sure of their salvation, for the simple reason that no one presently reading or hearing the statement has, as yet, endured until the very end. If prescriptive, it would negate the wonderful assurance of salvation that the Holy Spirit wishes us to know (1 John 5:13).

Certainly, this is a descriptive statement – as it describes the actions of a truly saved person – such a one will endure, for the nature of the kind of faith God gives to His people is one that endures to the end. A saved person is one who endures to the end – a principle made clear in other passages such as 1 John 2:19 – “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.”

14. Build all doctrine on necessary rather than possible inferences. A necessary inference is something that is definitely taught by the text. The conclusion is unavoidable. It is necessary. A possible inference is something that could or might be true, but not something actually stated by the text.

This is often a lot harder than it might first appear because it means we have to take a step back and analyse exactly why we think a verse teaches something. In other words, it means testing our traditions and doing a lot of thinking. Yet this is something we should do constantly. Paul exhorted Timothy to “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.” (2 Tim. 2:7)

All of us should be prepared to hold up our preconceived notions to the light of Scripture to see if these assumptions are valid or not. The result of this process often involves the killing of some sacred cows, but that’s a good thing, if what we have held to be true cannot actually be supported by the biblical text. We all have our blind spots and traditions but we are not always aware of them. Therefore, the serious Bible student asks questions of himself and of the text constantly in order to determine what the sacred text actually says and then he builds his thinking on that.

Here’s one text as an example: John 20:19 says, “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

Many people read this text and conclude that Jesus walked through the locked door in order to present Himself to His disciples. But does the text actually say that? No, it does not. The text might be teaching that. It is certainly a possible inference drawn from the text, but by no means a necessary one. There are other possible explanations.

Concerning this verse the ESV Study Bible says, “Some interpreters understand the doors being locked to imply that Jesus miraculously passed through the door or the walls of the room, though the text does not explicitly say this. Since Jesus clearly had a real physical body with flesh and bones after he rose from the dead”¦ one possibility is that the door was miraculously opened so that the physical body of Jesus could enter, which is consistent with the passage about Peter going through a locked door some time later (see Acts 12:10).”

To state the principle again: we should build all doctrine on necessary rather than possible inferences. All else is speculation.

15. Interpret the unclear passages in Scripture in light of the clear. Though all Scripture is God breathed, every passage is not equally clear (easy to understand). Even the Apostle Peter struggled with Paul’s writings at times, as he found some of it “hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.” (2 Peter 3:16)

When determining what the Bible teaches on a particular topic, find the passages which CLEARLY address the issue at hand and make this the starting point of your doctrine, rather than an obscure (or less than clear) passage. Once that which is clear is firmly grasped and understood, then proceed to study the passages which at first seem to be unclear, using the above rules.

16. Think for yourself but not by yourself. We are not at all wise when we isolate ourselves. God has gifted others with tremendous insights, not only in our own day, but throughout the history of the Church. These teachers are Christ’s gifts to His people (Ephesians 4:8-12). Use their help.

Here are four helpful quotes in this regard:

“The best way to guard a true interpretation of Scripture, the Reformers insisted, was neither to naively embrace the infallibility of tradition, or the infallibility of the individual, but to recognize the communal interpretation of Scripture. The best way to ensure faithfulness to the text is to read it together, not only with the churches of our own time and place, but with the wider “˜communion of saints’ down through the age.” – Michael Horton, “What Still Keeps Us Apart?”

“It seems odd, that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves, should think so little of what he has revealed to others.” – C. H. Spurgeon, Commenting and Commentaries

“Tradition is the fruit of the Spirit’s teaching activity from the ages as God’s people have sought understanding of Scripture. It is not infallible, but neither is it negligible, and we impoverish ourselves if we disregard it.” – J.I. Packer, “Upholding the Unity of Scripture Today”

“Although tradition does not rule our interpretation, it does guide it. If upon reading a particular passage you have come up with an interpretation that has escaped the notice of every other Christian for two-thousand years, or has been championed by universally recognized heretics, chances are pretty good that you had better abandon your interpretation.” – R. C. Sproul

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“Exegesis (correct interpretation) involves much more than the bare analysis of words. It involves context, train of thought, historical considerations, situational considerations, cultural considerations, etc. The analysis of words is merely the starting point.” Eric Svendsen

Justification And Sanctification

Pastor John Samson

We can make a distinction between the body and the head of a man and he suffers no loss, but if there is a separation, the man will be dead. The head and the body must stay together for life to continue. Similarly, though we can make a distinction between justification and sanctification, we must never separate the two.

JUSTIFICATION

Justification is a legal court room term defined as the act of God when He declares a person just or righteous in His sight. This takes place the moment a sinner places their trust in the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. For the sinner who has faith in Jesus, God pronounces the sentence “I find you not guilty! I reckon (I count, I declare) you righteous in My sight, and you and I are forever at peace with each other. All of your sins were transferred to your sin bearing Substitute, the Lord Jesus Christ, who took the full brunt of My holy wrath for them, and what has been transferred to your account is the righteousness of My Son, who lived not only a sinless life, but a life fully pleasing to Me. This very real righteousness is yours now and forever.”

Romans 5:1 says, “Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The Christian is a justified person. God has declared him right in His sight because of Christ.

What is amazing to us (and what is at the heart of the gospel message) is that God does not wait until we are inherently righteous before He declares us righteous. He justifies “the ungodly.” Romans 4:5 says, “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.”

How can God do this without compromising His holiness and justice? He does this because the very real righteousness of Christ has been given as a gift to the one who believes in Him. Christ’s righteousness is a real righteousness and “God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor 5:21). Christ is our righteousness (1 Cor. 1:30).

What about sanctification then? Justification happens in an instant – the moment a sinner places faith in the Savior. Sanctification is the process of becoming more and more holy and separated to God in daily life.

SANCTIFICATION

In the Old Testament, vessels used for the house of God (the Tabernacle or the Temple) were “sanctified” and set apart for that purpose, never to be used for more mundane purposes. In one sense, the Christian is already sanctified in that he is set apart to God (1 Cor 6:11). Yet there is another dimension of sanctification for although set apart to God, there is still much work to do because in all actuality, no Christian on earth is entirely sanctified. The battle between the flesh and spirit is a life long battle. The flesh still wants its independence, and in contrast, the spirit wishes to live in absolute dependence upon God. Sanctification is an ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian.

Having made the distinction between justification and sanctification, let me affirm straight away that these two cannot be separated. That is because the truly justified person will be involved in this process of sanctification. If someone claims to be justified, but there is no desire to be sanctified, the claim to justification is proven to be fraudulent. The justified man possesses the Holy Spirit and He sets about the task of sanctification the moment He comes in to the human heart. He desires holiness, and He stirs up that desire in the heart of the true Christian. The Christian still sins, but there is now a struggle against sin, whereas before there was no struggle at all. The fact that you wish to be free from sin is an indication that the Holy Spirit is at work in the heart. When a person is happy to stay in a lifestyle that knowingly displeases the Master, it raises huge red warning flags to indicate that we need to analyze any claim to true justification.

Martin Luther gave the following analogy: When we are justified, it is as though a doctor has just administered a sure and certain remedy for a fatal disease. Though the patient may still endure a temporary struggle with the residual effects of his illness, the outcome is no longer in doubt. The physician pronounces the patient cured even though a rehabilitation process must still be carried out.

So it is with our justification. In Christ, God pronounces us just by the imputation of the merits of His Son. Along with that declaration, God administers something to us; He gives us the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit begins immediately to work within us to bring us to holy living.

John Piper said it this way, “Justification by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone does not lead to more sinning. On the contrary, it is the only sure and hopeful base of operations from which the fight against sin can be launched. All the bombers that go out to drop bombs on the strongholds of sin remaining in our lives take off from the runway of justification by faith alone. The missiles that we shoot against the incoming attack of temptation are launched from the base of justification by faith alone. The whole lifelong triumphant offensive called “operation sanctification” – by which we wage war against all the remaining corruption in our lives – is sustained by the supply line of the Spirit that comes from the secure, unassailable home-base of justification by faith alone. And it will be a successful operation – but only because of the unassailable home base.”