Quotes put together by Justin Taylor
If you want a quick and easy way to memorize the traditional four attributes of Scripture, just put them in the order of S.C.A.N.:
- the Sufficiency of Scripture
- the Clarity of Scripture
- the Authority of Scripture, and
- the Necessity of Scripture
Below are some definitions and thoughts from Wayne Grudem (Systematic Theology) and Timothy Ward (Words of Life: Scripture as the Living and Active Word of God).
Ward: “Because of the ways in which God has chosen to relate himself to Scripture, Scripture is sufficient as the means by which God continues to present himself to us such that we can know him, repeating through Scripture the covenant promise he has brought to fulfillment in Jesus Christ.” (p. 113)
Grudem: “The idea that Scripture contained all the words of God he intended his people to have at stage of redemptive history and that it now contains all the words of God we need for salvation, for trusting him perfectly, and for obeying him perfectly.”
Grudem: “The idea that the Bible is written in such a way that its teachings are able to be understood by all who read it seeking God’s help and are willing to follow it” (p. 108).
Ward: “Scripture is the written word of the living Word, God’s communicative act, and the Spirit who authored it chooses to continue to speak most directly through it. Therefore we are right to trust that God in Scripture has spoken and continues to speak sufficiently clearly for us to base our saving knowledge of him and of ourselves, and our beliefs and our actions, on the content of Scripture alone, without ultimately validating our understanding of these things or our confidence in them by appeal to any individual or institution” (pp. 126-127).
Grudem: “The idea that all the words in Scripture are God’s words in such a way that to disbelieve or disobey any word of Scripture is to disbelieve or disobey God.”
“The phrase “˜the authority of Scripture’ must be understood to be shorthand for “˜the authority of God as he speaks through Scripture.’ . . . The authority of Scripture is a statement about what God did in authoring Scripture, and about how he continues to act in relation to Scripture” (p. 128).
Grudem: “The idea that the Bible is necessary for knowing the gospel, for maintaining spiritual life, and for knowing God’s will, but is not necessary for knowing that God exists or for knowing something about his character and moral laws.”
Ward: “Necessity sits right at the heart of the ways in which sola scriptura is explicated and defended. If Scripture alone is claimed to be the supreme authority in Christian thinking and living, that is because both its content (the verbal revelation) and its form (the written Scriptures) are indispensable” (p. 102).
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.
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
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.
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.