Call To Die

Then [Jesus] said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24, HCSB)

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Follower of Christ, husband of Abby, member of Kosmosdale Baptist Church, and tutor/staff member at Sayers Classical Academy.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Provision: An Example of Sound Preaching (Not Just a Seminary Lecture)

Visiting New Georgia Baptist Church this past Lord's Day, I confess that-upon seeing that the sermon was from the opening verses of Luke 2-I was initially disappointed. My first thought was a complaint that most churches preach this same text every year. Then, when I looked at the points on the outline in the sermon (which were printed in the bulletin, and which are re-typed below), I thought, "How did anyone EVER get these points from this text?" HOWEVER, despite this unjust negativity on my part, Dr. Keith Stell preached this familiar passage in such a way that it both challenged me personally, and-I believe-provides an example of how sound preaching should differ from a seminary lecture.

The following is the outline of the sermon that Dr. Stell provided (in bold-face) with some of my notes from the sermon:

The Provision (Luke 2:1-20)

The Glorifying Response to the Christ, Jesus...

I. We Must Respond Personally (vv. 15-16)
A. The shepherds, like all of us, were not seeking a Savior.
B. The shepherd were considered to be very low in society.
C. The shepherds spoke words to one another, that were based on truth, with urgency.
D. The shepherds' words led to action.

II. We Must Tell Others Intentionally (v. 17)
A. "Virtual nobodies" were given the privilege of announcing the Messiah.
B. The shepherds, pointing to Christ, carried the message of salvation.

III. We Must Remain Amazed Intimately (v. 18): Are we, like those who heard the testimony from the shepherds, amazed at the good news?

IV. We Must Retain Hope Purposefully (v. 19): Do we, like Mary, repeatedly think of the truth we have heard and what God had done in our lives?

V. We Must Worship Unashamedly (v. 20)

TWO OBSERVATIONS REGARDING PREACHING, prompted by the above sermon:

1. Sound exegesis is the basis of sound preaching. The main point of the passage must be the main point of the sermon. Luke 2:1-20 is focused on the birth of "a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:11). Dr. Stell's sermon was focused on this truth as well.

2. Whereas (at least some) seminary lectures may begin and end with sound exegesis, sound preaching must go beyond exegesis by urgently applying the text to the congregation. Through looking at what the text says concerning different responses to the message of Christ (with no overly imaginative flights of fancy), Dr. Stell challenged the congregation to consider specific ways that we should respond to the gospel.

a. I've heard at least one objection against preaching that emphasizes application. The objection runs thus:
'The people in the congregation have such diverse issues in their lives that if I try to preach specific application, some people will think that the text does not apply to their lives, while others will think that I am trying to personally single them out. Therefore, I should just explain the text and trust the Holy Spirit to make application.'
b. However, consider the biblical model of preaching, as seen in the form of the New Testament epistles. The same gospel is proclaimed in 1 Corinthians, Galatians, and Philippians, yet it is clear that the audiences for these books need the gospel applied in different ways. The (largely) warm and encouraging epistle to the Philippians would have been out-of-place if written to the Corinthians, who stood in such need of correction. This should cause the preacher to consider: could your sermon be preached with no change whatsoever, at any time whatsoever, in any congregation whatsoever? Or are you-like the apostolic community who penned the New Testament-bringing a specific word from God that is focused on teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training (2 Tim 3:16) the particular congregation before which God has placed you?

c. Finally, consider the personal example set forth by the Apostle Paul. With a clear conscience, Paul could tell the Ephesians, "I did not cease day or night to admonish every one with tears" (Acts 20:31). Speaking of preaching the gospel, Paul wrote, "We beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God" (2 Cor 5:20 NASB). What is not evident from my meager notes on Dr. Stell's excellent sermon is that he issued a heartfelt call for the congregation to respond to the message of Christ, following the examples of how the shepherds responded to the Messiah.

DEAR BROTHERS: let us never allow our proper view of God's absolute sovereignty-let us never allow our necessary dependence upon the Holy Spirit-to prevent us from following the apostolic example, pleading with sinners to be reconciled to God. To fail in making a specific plea to the people God has placed before us is to misrepresent the serious nature of the coming judgment, in light of which the gospel is our only hope.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A Key Paragraph from The Fatal Flaw of the Theology Behind Infant Baptism

This year, whenever I have had the opportunity to teach at the Wednesday night prayer meeting of Kosmosdale Baptist Church, I have been teaching about the covenantal structure of Holy Scripture. Jeffrey Johnson's book, The Fatal Flaw of the Theology Behind Infant Baptism has been crucial in informing my own understanding of the biblical covenants. The benefit of Johnson's book consists in much more than a polemic against infant "baptism". Johnson demonstrates, from Scripture, the right way to understand the continuity and discontinuity of the divine covenants. The following is a key chapter from Fatal Flaw:

The Apostle Paul clearly teaches that the old covenant was a covenant of works. In Galatians 4:21-31 he does a side-by-side analysis of the old and new covenants. Moreover, rather than unifying them together under the umbrella of the covenant of grace, he defines them as being two distinct and separate covenants. His physical and natural seed signify the old covenant of works, while his spiritual and supernatural seed signify the new covenant of grace. From this he goes on to attach the Mosaic Covenant to the covenant of works and the new covenant to the covenant of grace. (83)
Johnson's chapter that focuses on exegesis of Galatians 4:21-31 is, in itself, worth the price of the book. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is thinking through God's covenantal relationships with Man. The Bible is (rightly) structured with an Old Testament and New Testament ["Testament" is another word for "covenant".] Therefore, it is important for every Christian to consider how the Old Covenant is related to the New.

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Monday, December 21, 2015

Christian Biographies Applied by Heather Thieneman

Heather Thieneman, one of my co-workers and friends at Sayers Classical Academy, has written a book called Christian Biographies Applied, which is available for $12.00 from www.lulu.com. I began reading this book awhile back (reading only the first few pages), but allowed other things to keep me from continuing with it. As my family took our seven-hour trip to Georgia from Kentucky for this Christmas Break (my wife [Abby] having to drive, due to her tendency to become car-sick), I finally returned to reading this wonderful series of biographical sketches.

I am certainly thankful to God, that-in His providence-He recalled Heather's book to my memory. The book is admirable on several levels. I would commend it to all of my brothers and sisters in Christ for the following five reasons.

1. Readability. I was able to easily complete this book during a seven-hour trip. Though I will certainly want to return to different parts of the book in the future, I was not simply skimming through it. Heather writes an a clear and concise manner. She is able to paint vivid pictures of various situations using just a few well-chosen words.

2. Interest. Because the circumstances recorded in the different biographical sketches vary so widely, sections of various chapters seem like they belong to separate genres of literature. Though each chapter is characterized by great trials, one section seems like it should be from an adventure, the next seems almost comedic, while the next may seem like a love-story from a Jane Austen novel. All of this serves to keep the reader riveted, making the book a real page-turner.

3. Well-chosen subject matter. The biographies outlined and applied in this book are of the following men:

-George Muller
-John Paton
-Adoniram Judson
-Hudson Taylor
-William Borden
-Charles Spurgeon

If you have been a Christian for a long time, you have likely heard of some of these men. But, unless you have a Ph.D in Church History, it is quite unlikely that you know the important details from all of these individuals' biographies. Each of these men, however, exemplifies a Christian life that is wholly dedicated to God and the spread of His gospel.

4. A heart for making disciples. Heather's purpose in this book is not just that readers would be impressed with the achievements or faithfulness of godly men. Rather, she consistently presses her readers to consider how the example each of these men has set should challenge us to a more consistent walk of faith. In this, she does not only focus on the good decisions each of these men made (though each of them is-on the whole-a very positive example); she also gives examples where some of these men could have acted with greater wisdom.

5. Theological sensitivity. Unlike many biographers I have read, Heather is quite sensitive to evaluate each of her subjects and their decisions in light of God's Word. While each of the men represented in her book sought to live in submission to scriptural authority, sometimes they came to conclusions that need further examination. To give two examples: Heather devotes careful thought to Taylor's view of sanctification and Borden's fundamentalist inclinations. She provides sound scriptural guidance to her readers concerning how these should be evaluated.

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Once again, I heartily commend this book to everyone. It is ideal for individual reading, or it could be used in a Sunday school setting. It is available to order HERE.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

A Brief Note on the Three-Fold Division of the Law


[The following post was originally published here on June 29, 2011. I recently had the opportunity to speak about this subject at Kosmosdale Baptist Church.]

Many theologians question the understanding of the Mosaic Law that says that there is a tripartite (three-fold) distinction in the Law: that the Law contains moral, civil, and ceremonial aspects, and that those moral aspects are everlasting, as reflective of God's character, while the civil and ceremonial aspects were specifically, directly applied only in the Old Covenant era.

Theologians who deny such a distinction as described above question where such a distinction is found in the biblical text.

It is acknowledged that there is no specific verse spelling out distinctions in the Mosaic Law in so many words; the three-fold distinction of the Law requires a systematic reading of Scripture. There is, however, no single verse or passage of contiguous verses granting a full doctrine of the Trinity or the hypostatic union, yet these concepts are received as “biblical” due to a systematic reading of the text.

Let us suppose that God intended to set apart a certain part of the Law as specially reflecting an everlasting moral law. God could have fulfilled this intention through inspiring a verse or series of verses that would have reflected Moses teaching about distinctions in the Law. On the other hand, God could have chosen to set apart a certain portion of the Law in a more dramatic, historical way: He could have chosen to write certain laws with His finger upon stone tablets, He could have then commanded His chosen nation to carry around those stone tablets for decades within an ornate, gold-plated box, and then He could have made the golden box containing those laws the center of worship for His chosen nation. Theologians who believe that there is a three-fold distinction in the Law, with a special, enduring place given to the moral law, believe that God, in fact, established a distinction in the Law historically, in the way just described.

Let us consider as well the different ways in which the New Testament applies specific laws from the Mosaic Law. For example, consider the following three New Testament quotes from the Old Testament.

1. 9 For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it about oxen that God is concerned? 10 Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because whoever plows and threshes should be able to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. 11 If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? 12 If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more?
But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ. (1 Corinthians 9:9-12 ESV)

2. …without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. (Hebrews 9:22b ESV)

3. Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” (Ephesians 6:1-2 ESV)

Notice the different way in which these various laws are treated. In the first case the law that is cited had regulated the civil actions of people within ancient Israel; a principle is gleaned from this law and is applied to the Church. In the second [the reader will have to look at the context of both Hebrews and Leviticus to see this], the law that is cited had regulated the ceremonial actions [especially] of the priestly class in regards to animal sacrifices; in the surrounding verses, this law is treated as a type, which is fulfilled by the sacrifice of Christ upon the Cross. In the third example, the Apostle cites the fifth of the Ten Commandments and directly applies it to individuals in the church who received his letter.

I will conclude this post with two assertions about the above consideration:

1. In these examples, we see the three-fold distinction of the Law. The above examples provide a model by which we are to understand how Old Covenant laws apply today. Principles should be gleaned from civil laws and applied, primarily to the Church, but also to society as a whole. The ceremonial laws should be seen (at least primarily) as typical of Christ, and we should worship and depend upon Him as the fulfillment of these laws. Moral laws should be embraced, and believers should seek to keep these laws by the power of the Holy Spirit, out of a heart of gratitude toward God; (just as Paul said to “obey” the fifth commandment, we should seek to “obey” the other commandments of the moral law).

2. In most cases it is not difficult to distinguish civil, ceremonial, and moral laws. Those who object to the three-fold distinction of the Law often act as if, because the laws are often not divided out in the biblical text, it is impossible to determine in which category a specific law should be placed. But notice that the attentive reader can make distinctions without much problem at all, though a series of basic questions, such as:
a. Is the law under consideration about sacrifices or forms of worship in the temple/tabernacle?
b. Is the law about family property rights or rules of ownership and reimbursement?
c. Is the law part of the Ten Commandments?

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Monday, December 14, 2015

The Levitical Covenant


The Old Covenant, in distinction from the New Covenant, was centered on Israel as a specific nation-state composed of people in a specific ethnic group. Salvation in the Old Covenant era was primarily in/through national/ethnic Israel. Israel, as a distinct ethnicity and nation, had its roots in the Abrahamic Covenant, particularly as more specific land promises and the rite of circumcision were added to the Abrahamic Covenant in Genesis 17. As a nation, Israel was fully constituted in the Mosaic Covenant, wherein the Jewish people were hemmed in by moral, civil, and ceremonial laws.

In time, God's covenant dealings with Israel came to focus on Israel's kings, through the Davidic Covenant. In the Old Testament economy, this covenant was particularly (though not exclusively) associated with the civil law. The Davidic Covenant re-established the principle of federal headship, which was first seen in the Adamic Covenant.

As God gave the Mosaic Covenant, He focused the ceremonial law on the priesthood. The priesthood was defined in terms of the Levitical Covenant. The Levitical Covenant clarified and codified the principle of substitutionary atonement, which was first seen when God clothed Adam and Eve in animal skins following their fall into sin.

There was no covenant explicitly mentioned when Aaron and his sons were ordained as priests in Exodus 28-29. However, the Levitical covenant is explicitly mentioned in later texts: Jer 33:21-22; Neh 13:29; Mal 2:1-9. Moreover, even in the giving of the Law, the holy contributions to the LORD, which the Levitical priests enjoyed, were named as “a covenant of salt” (Num 18:19). Williamson notes:

In [Numbers] 25:10-13 Phinehas, Aaron’s grandson, is awarded a ‘covenant of peace’ for his loyalty to Yahweh. This is further defined as a ‘covenant of perpetual priesthood.’ It appears that the latter was a reaffirmation of the covenant initiated with Aaron, the ancestor of the Zadokite priesthood (1 Chr 6:3-15) and perhaps the Maccabean priesthood (1 Mac 2:54). [P.R. Williamson, “Covenant,” New Dictionary of Biblical Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 425.]

There were two main acts in which the Levitical priests were to be involved:

1. Mediating the knowledge of God in the written Word to the people (instruction);
2. mediating the forgiveness of God through the sacrificial system to the people.
[Mitch Chase, "The Curse Upon Your Blessings," Kosmosdale Baptist Church.]

There is a crucial difference between the Covenant of Works given to Adam and the re-published Covenant of Works given to Moses. The Adamic Covenant contained no provision for forgiveness. Eating the forbidden fruit earned death and curses. It is only through another covenant arrangement–the Covenant of Grace–that hope came into the fallen world.

In God’s covenant dealings with Abraham’s offspring, He graciously extended covenant promises to a fallen people. God knew that the people were sinners. This did not excuse their sin. Any sin by any individual earns that individual the wrath of a holy God. On the other hand, an individual sin by a citizen of Israel did not automatically forfeit the Old Covenant or trigger all covenant curses under that arrangement. It was only when the leadership–the kings and the priesthood–became corrupt that the people were sent into exile. When the people returned from exile, the ongoing corruption of the priests–those who were meant to be mediators–was a cause of prophetic warnings (Mal 2:1-9), keeping the nation from ever again attaining its full glory. This set the stage for the coming Messiah, who would establish a better priesthood.

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