Archive for August, 2015

Matthew 7.6 – Dogs, Swine, Pearls, and Holy Things

The sermon recording from August 30, 2015. The text is Matthew 7:6.

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1 John 5:1-3

Yesterday we looked at 1 John 5:1a, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God.” Today we will continue with the same verse.

and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him.

Once again, John is making his relentless point that to love the Father is to love those whom he loves. If you love the Father, you will love other Christians.

By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.

John connects our love for the children of God with our love of God and obedience to God. First, if we love God we will love the children of  God. John has established this point well. Second, if we obey God we will be loving the children of God. God commands us to love one another. We have seen this repeatedly in 1 John, and it is found throughout the rest of Scripture as well. We cannot walk in obedience to God and not be sacrificially loving our brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus summed up the law and the prophets in two commands, love God and love others. If we love God we will do what he says. What God says is to love him and love others. This is John’s next point.

For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. 

Loving God and obeying God are inseparable. We want to find a way to love God and do what our flesh wants and knows, but that is impossible. However, part of the wonderful impact that the gospel has on us is the shaping of our desires and the renewing of our minds so that we know God and desire God. It is simply a false claim to say that we love God if we are not walking according to his commandments.

And his commandments are not burdensome.

When considered from our flesh, the commands of God can be quite burdensome because they are quite opposed to our flesh. However, by God’s grace and the transformative power of the Holy Spirit applying the gospel to us, our eyes are opened to see that life does have a design to it and that God’s commands teach us to walk according to life’s design. When our life is reoriented toward God, and away from ourselves, we see that his commands are beautiful. This is the consistent testimony of Scripture consider Psalm 2 and Psalm 119:97-104

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

Therefore the wicked will not
stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the LORD knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish (Psalm 1, ESV).

Oh how I love your law!
It is my meditation all the day.
Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies,
for it is ever with me.
I have more understanding than all my teachers,
for your testimonies are my meditation.
I understand more than the aged,
for I keep your precepts.
I hold back my feet from every evil way,
in order to keep your word.
I do not turn aside from your rules,
for you have taught me.
How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Through your precepts I get understanding;
therefore I hate every false way (Psalm 119:97-104, ESV).

In both of these Psalms, the Psalmist, writing from a transformed heart, acknowledges the inherent value of God’s law and living a life of faith accordingly. When we are called to believe we are not called simply to believe that by believing in Christ as the Son of God we are saved, we are called to believe that in Christ God has come to us as prophet, priest, and king. He did not simply come a priest, offering himself up in our place and for our sins. He also came as prophet, proclaiming God’s will to us, and as king, leading us to walk according to his will, God’s will. Part of faith is believing that God knows better than we do not only for our salvation, but also for our life.

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Notes on 1 John – 5:1a

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God,

John points again to the necessity of faith (or belief) for being born again. Three important points are made regarding faith in this clause.

First, John reminds us that faith has a particular content. We are not called to a general faith in God or belief in the spiritual. We are called to believe something very specific. We are called to believe that Jesus is the Christ. This is specific in two ways. One, we are called to believe something about a specific person, Jesus. By rooting the gospel in a belief about a specific person, John is reminding us that the gospel is historical and objective. If there was no Jesus, there is no gospel. The historicity of Jesus of Nazareth (his life, death, and resurrection) is the linchpin of the gospel. Paul also recognized the importance of the historicity of the person and work of Jesus writing,

And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied (1 Corinthians 15:14-19, ESV).

Two, we are called to believe something specific about this person. John is calling us to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the anointed one who is the ultimate prophet “in revealing to us, by his word and Spirit, the will of God for our salvation” (WSC #24), priest “in once offering up of himself a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice, and reconcile us to God; and in making continual intercession for us” (WSC #25), and king “in subduing us to himself, in ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies” (WSC #26). To believe anything else about Jesus is to not believe the gospel. Christianity is not a general faith, it is a very specific faith.

Second, John reminds us that faith is not a one time event. He writes, “Everyone who believes” using a present, active participle (in the Greek). The present tense indicates an ongoing action. Belief isn’t just a thing we did on such and such date in the past. Belief is an ongoing looking to Jesus for salvation, and ongoing resting in the finished work of Christ. One of the detriments of religious freedom and the cultural acceptance of Christianity is that we don’t really have any skin in the game; therefore, we feel the freedom to be creative with our theology and talk about and celebrate things like “spiritual birthdays.” The problem we run into with such creativity is twofold.  On the one hand, it makes us the primary actor in our salvation as we celebrate our making a decision for Jesus. On the other hand it makes faith a one time thing that we did and then celebrate for the rest of our lives because that moment of belief is all we have to hold on to – like the Razorbacks’ 1964 national championship in football. However, John’s use of the present tense to talk about belief makes belief an ongoing reality rather than a one time event to be celebrated. Recognizing faith as an ongoing reality forces us to take our eyes off of our faith, an incomplete and ongoing reality that is merely instrumental in our salvation, and fix them again on Jesus Christ who is the one that actually accomplished our salvation for us.

Third, faith follows regeneration. We have already seen that belief is communicated using a present tense participle that indicates an ongoing, incomplete reality. When John says that those who are believing have been born again, he uses a passive, perfect tense verb to communicate the reality of being born again. The import of a passive, perfect tense verb is that it communicates both something that has been accomplished, a completed action, typically in the past, and that we were acted on by someone else. The best way to makes sense of the grammar of this verse is to recognize that regeneration precedes faith. In other words, faith is not something we come up with in our dead-in-sin state of existence thereby bringing life to ourselves. “No one seeks for God” (Romans 3:10, ESV). We are as dead and dry as the bones in Ezekiel’s valley (Ezekiel 37). We do not, by our faith, conjure up life. Rather, by God’s breathing new life into us we come to believe that Jesus is the Christ.

Salvation, beginning to end, is all of grace.

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Notes on 1 John – 4:19-21

We love because he first loved us.

There it is, plain and simple, and it really is that plain and that simple. We do not love out of our own loving nature. God loved us while were still sinners (Romans 5:8) sending his only begotten Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10). This gospel love is necessarily transformative for those who are its objects. Many, of course, object that this is a fantastically and unfortunately low view of people, citing all of the apparently altruistic acts that are carried out by various sectors of humanity. However, when we accept that Scripture does not leave love to be defined by us, and we seek to apply the biblical definition of love, our naivety is undone. The only reason we are capable of love is because we have been loved in such a way by such a God that our hearts have been set free from their own self-defined ideologies.

We can also come at this statement from another direction. As John has made clear throughout his letter, and as he will state again in the next verse, our loving our Christian brothers is not merely a possible result of being loved by God but a necessary result.

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar;

Again, it is just that simple. You cannot love God and hate those whom he loved, doing so proves that you are a liar. John then tells us what we are lying about is loving God.

for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.

First, note what the lie is that we are telling. John says we are lying about loving God. Let that sink it. If we do not love those whom God loves, we do not love God. Already, there are about one-million different excuses and self-justifying thoughts running through our heads as we try to explain why our lack of love for this person, or this group of people, who bear the name of Christ, does not make us such a liar. And so, I say to us, “Rather than arguing with Scripture, accusing it of wrong, we should repent.”

Second, John is very practical in his line of argumentation. He understands how we work. We will claim love for something or someone far off in order to excuse our lack of love for those close. We will demand people in our socio-economic group love those from another socio-economic group and despise our group for not doing so. We will demand people from our ethnic group love for those from another ethnic group and despise our group for not doing so. When we do this, we are not actually loving the other group, we are simply using them as an instrument of self-justification. Claiming our love for the “other side” and despising those on the “same side” is not love; it is co-opting another’s pain and plight for the sake of making ourselves look and feel better about ourselves. The ultimate example of this is claiming to love God and hating those he loved. Not only is it co-opting God for our personal agenda, it is also ignoring the heart of the One we are using. If you don’t love what is close to you, you don’t and can’t love what is far off.

And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

I am grateful that John understands how dense we are and writes accordingly. John repeats – We do not get to love God and hate those he loves. We do not get to love God and not love those he loves. If you were to say, “I love Kevin, but I do not love his kids,” or “I love Kevin, but not Annie,” it would be abundantly clear to me that you do not love me. Annie and I are one, and my kids are, by and large, who I am raising them up to be. However, when it comes to my love for God and my love for the brethren, I am all too willing to try and justify just such an irrational claim. John refuses to let us go down that vile, sinful road.

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Matthew 7.7-11 – Ask

The sermon recording from August 23, 2015. The text is Matthew 7.7-11.

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Notes on 1 John – 4:17-18

By this is love perfected with us,

John uses this phrase, “by this,” repeatedly throughout his letter, and it can refer either to what precedes it or to what follows it. At times it can be quite difficult to decide what the referent of John’s “by this” is. As it happens, John’s use of “by this” in 1 John 4:17 is somewhat difficult to determine in the original Greek. This difficulty is easily seen when you look at various English translations. The NIV and KJV translate the passage in a way that has “by this” referring to one of the two clauses immediately following, while the NLT, NASB, and ESV all translate the passage with the referent being that which precedes, that is the final clauses of verse 16 – “whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 John 4:16, ESV). For a number of reasons, the best option is to follow the NLT, NASB, and ESV in taking what precedes “by this” as its referent. The best reason for this exegetical decision is 1 John 4:12, “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” When we looked at that verse we maintained that loving one another was not the path to but the necessary result of God abiding in us and his love being perfected in us. Therefore, in that verse we have a clear statement associating God’s abiding in us with his love being perfected in us. John has been fairly repetitive throughout his letter, so it should not surprise us that he is making the same point in 4:16-17 that he made earlier in 4:12. So, to be clear, how is God’s love perfected in us? By our abiding in him and he in us. The next two clauses explain the reason for his love being perfected in us.

so that we may have confidence on the day of judgment,

John has made clear throughout his letter that it is only by abiding in God and he in us that love can be perfected in us and that our love is only a result of God having loved us and given his Son as the propitiation for our sin. Therefore, John can take God’s love being perfected in us as a sign of both God’s abiding in us and us in him and of his Son being the propitiation for our sin. If we are abiding in God and he in us and our sins have been dealt with fully through the finished work of Jesus Christ, then we have nothing to fear when we stand before God on the day of judgment because he will recognize us as those who belong to him and who have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus.

because as he is so also are we in this world.

We have confidence because, by God’s love being perfected in us, we are made to be like Christ in this world. Jesus loved freely. He loved all those whom the Father had given him to the point of dying in their place. As we have already noted in 1 John, this sacrificial love for the body of Christ is precisely what John is calling believers to. As God’s love is perfected in us, we will love others this way more and more.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.

When we find ourselves loving in this sacrificial way, John has said we have confidence before God on the day of judgment. Now John comes from the opposite direction to make the same point. When we find ourselves loving in the sacrificial manner to which he has called us, we have no fear before God because God’s love perfected in us casts out fear. This begins a beautiful cycle in us of love inspiring confidence (not arrogance) inspiring love inspiring confidence… On the one hand God’s love being perfected in us casts out fear and inspires confidence on the day of judgment. On the other hand knowing that we are secure before God on the day of judgment gives us the freedom to love sacrificially because we do not have to secure ourselves. We can literally sacrifice everything in this life for the sake of loving the brothers and have lost nothing before God.

For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.

Does God discipline those he loves? Well, of course he does, the Bible is clear about that. However, the Bible distinguishes between discipline from a loving Father and punishment from a just judge. Discipline is designed to set us back on the path of love, punishment is designed to pay the debt we owe for past wrongs. Listen to this. If we are abiding in God, if his love is perfected in us, if Jesus was made the propitiation for our sins, we have nothing to fear before God! If you are a child of God, you do not have to live in fear before him and your doing so betrays your understanding of God as your Father. If you still live in fear before God, John is telling you that you have missed the point of the gospel and need to go back to square one – “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10, ESV). If Jesus is the propitiation for you sins, then God’s wrath against you has been utterly satisfied and you have nothing to fear before God.

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Notes on 1 John – 4:15-16

Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.

Confession can have a couple meanings. We typically think of confession in terms of admitting that you have sinned. However, it can also have the sense of positively affirming some truth, such as with a confession of faith. When we affirm our faith using a creed, such as the Nicene’s Creed, we are confessing, “This is what we believe.” John is using confess in the sense of positively affirming what we believe. Paul uses the same term in Romans 10 when he writes,

For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame” (Romans 10:5-11, ESV).

John clearly sees confessing that Jesus is the Son of God as connected with faith (see v16 below). This verse has many parallels in John’s writing, including the purpose statement of his gospel. “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31, ESV). The result of such a confession is our abiding in God and he in us. Through out his letter John has called his readers to abide in God, here, as he did in 1 John 2:24, John tells us that we abide through faith.

The content of the confession is Jesus’ divine sonship. He is the only begotten Son of God, the unique Son of God. Such is the point affirmed by the Nicene Creed when it states we believe, “…in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.”

So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us.

Here John joins confession with knowledge and belief, or faith. In acknowledging Jesus is the Son of God, which he claimed to be and which he claimed defined his work, we acknowledge the manifestation of God’s love in the world of which John wrote in 4:9. We cannot divorce the person of Jesus from the work of Jesus or from the effect of his work or any of these from the love God has for his people. We cannot acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God without also acknowledging the truth of the gospel, including our need for the gospel. To deny any aspect of the person and work of Jesus is to deny the whole of it. When we confess that Jesus is the Son of God, we see the profound love of God for us.

God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.

John again asserts that God is love not as the exclusive attribute of God but as the attribute of God that is central to his point. Additionally, John again states the connection of abiding in love with abiding in God. John states this truth in such a way that again reminds his readers that the transformational reality of the gospel simply cannot be denied. To confess Jesus is the Son of God is to know and believe the love of God for us and to abide in love.

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Notes on 1 John – 4:13-14

By this we know that we abide in him and he in us,

As we have seen time and again throughout this short letter, John is writing to give his readers some assurance of of their relationship with God. They were being challenged on this point, so John encourages them on this point. John wants his readers to be confident in the mutually abiding relationship they have with God. That it is a mutually abiding relationship is enormously comforting in that it speaks not only to the future hope that we have in Christ, but also to the present help that we have have from the Spirit in Christ. Jesus told his disciples, “I will not leave you as orphans” (John 14:18, ESV). Indeed we have not been left alone in this broken world to fend for ourselves. We have help. Further, this reminds us that Christians are not escapists. Yes, we have a certain future secured by Jesus Christ for which we long, but we do not prematurely leave this world. Rather, God has come here to save us and then to dwell with, even in, us.

because he has given us of his Spirit.

John’s wording here is interesting. He does not comfort his readers by the ongoing ministry of the Holy Spirit as Paul does in Romans 8, but by his presence, by the fact that he has even been given at all. Of course we cannot divorce the ongoing ministry of the Holy Spirit from his presence, but God coming to us at all leads us to call out with the Psalmist, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him” (Psalm 8:3-4, ESV)? Indeed, who are we that God should dwell in us? Who are we that God should give us of himself, as Creator, Redeemer, and now as Helper? We are those whom God determined before the foundation of the World to save for his glory. God has given of himself in this way because he determined and promised to do so, and by his giving we see that he is faithful, he has not and will not forsake us his people. The Christian cannot say that he has been forgotten or abandoned by God. Though we may feel this way in the midst of some trial, and though some, falsely claiming to speak in the name of Christ, may say that some sin we have committed has separated us again from God and we must make amends if we would be restored, yet the Scripture leads us in a different direction altogether. The Scripture teaches us to remember that God has given of himself and abides in us and we in him, and Scripture speaks a better word than our circumstance or our emotional interpretation of our circumstances.

And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.

John now moves to another point of God giving himself to and for his people. Drawing on his apostolic and eyewitness perspective, he reminds his readers of the truth of person and work of Jesus Christ. John began his letter with this same point.

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete (1 John 1:1-4, ESV).

Jesus, the Son of God, took on flesh in order to save his people from their sins. On what grounds can those for whom Jesus came and died and to whom God has given his Spirit doubt God’s abiding care? John is making this point in the midst of his call to love another; because, it is God’s abiding presence that mandates our love for one another, teaches what it is to love one another, and enables us to love one another.

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Exodus 24 – Redemption and Sanctification

The sermon recording from August 16, 2015. The text is Exodus 24.

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Notes on 1 John – 4:11-12

Beloved, if God so loved us,

John is setting God’s love for his people as a pattern for his people loving one another. This verse could fairly be translated, “Beloved, if God loved us in this way…” So, let’s recall what we learned of God’s love from the previous verses.

Here is what we have learned about God’s love so far:

First, it is in fact God’s love that is being set as the pattern for our love.

Second, God’s love “was made manifest,” it was revealed or shown.

Third, the verb is passive because the subject is “love” not “God.” Love requires and agent and that agent is God.

Fourth, God’s love “was made manifest among us.” God come to us revealing his love.

Fifth, God’s love does not generate with us.

Sixth, We did not love God first. His love for us is prior to our love for him.

Seventh, God’s love generates with God.

Eighth, God loved us.

Ninth, God’s love was manifest factually.

Tenth, God’s love was manifest in action.

Eleventh, God’s love provided what we actually need, atonement for sin.

Of course, we must understand the logical limits, for instance, we cannot atone for another’s sin, but we can, in like pattern, love and serve one another sacrificially. The conditional statement, “if God so loved us,” has already been shown to be the case.

we also ought to love one another.

We are called to love the people of God. We “ought” to do this. It is right to love the people of God and it is wrong not to love the people of God if you are a Christian. We ought to love one another, laying down our lives in sacrificial service for one another. We don’t get to be more “discerning” with our love than God was with his. I, and many others, have said, “I would rather spend time with unbelievers than I would with other Christians,” or “I am more comfortable around non-believers than believers.” Just the other day, I heard this idea touted as a sign of having the gift of evangelism. The problem is that this does not jive with Scripture. We don’t get to love Christians in theory and non-believers actually. I am not saying that we should not love non-believers, I am saying, with John, if we are comfortable withholding love from those whom God has shown love then we are in sin. I think, if we we were to be honest, we would say that one of the main reasons we prefer spending time with non-believers is not because we have some great evangelistic love for the lost but because we have a great self-preserving love for ourselves and our fleshy passions and can’t stand the conviction that comes with being around folks who really love Jesus.

No one has ever seen God;

What about _______ (fill in the blank)? Apart from Adam and Eve in the Garden before they were kicked our for their sin and Jesus, we have no clear record of anyone seeing God in any way that was not filtered in some way. Even Moses, who was said to have seen God face to face, was hidden in a rock and saw the back of God as he passed by so that he would not die. Why is John bringing up this reality about God in the middle of a discourse on Christians loving one another? By loving one another we put the love of God on display for the world. We participate in God’s manifestation of his love.

if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.

Our love for one another is a result of and proof of God abiding in us. John will not let us escape the necessary relationship between knowing God and loving those he loves. Here he states it in a different way saying our love for one another is the perfection, or completion, of God’s love in us. God’s love in us will bring about a love for our fellow Christians.

This has been a very convicting few days in 1 John for me. In God’s providence, the following sermon excerpt from John Piper showed up in my Facebook feed yesterday (Yes, God is sovereign over Facebook and can use it or ignore it as he wills). Dr. Piper is preaching on Psalm 16, but making the same point John makes in his letter. I found this both convicting and encouraging.

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