Godward Forgiveness


Here is my latest contribution to the local paper’s Pastor’s Column.

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As the hectic holiday season comes upon us, we will be interacting with a variety of people we don’t normally see during our average week. Relatives and acquaintances, friends and foes, will scurry in and out of our lives in the upcoming weeks. Some connections will be joyfully embraced while others will be moderately endured (at best). Because of some unaddressed sin (our own or the sin of others), we barely tolerate the presence of some people.

We struggle with relationships because we struggle with sin. We generally don’t know how to deal with the sins of others as well as our own sins because we don’t really know how God deals with sin. In Ephesians 4:32, the apostle Paul reminds the Christians in Ephesus that they are to be “forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you.” The forgiveness is part of the demonstration of kindness and tenderheartedness God commands in the first part of the verse.

Now the context is obviously about how Christian people in a congregation ought to treat one another. The standard for their practical, interpersonal forgiveness of each other is how God forgave each of them in Christ at the moment of salvation. The standard seems impossibly high from a human perspective. But let’s break it down into smaller bite-size pieces so we can digest it easier.

First, there must be recognition of the holiness of God against Whom we have sinned. We have willfully violated His standard and deserve whatever penalty He deems appropriate because He is the Judge. We must admit our guilt and our sin. Second, the Judge has graciously paid the penalty for our sin by sending His eternal Son to die in our place. As someone once said, He paid a debt He did not owe, because we owed a debt we could not pay. Third, we must repent of our sin and turn to Him in faith, calling on the name of Jesus Christ as the basis for our forgiveness. In other words, there is no forgiveness without asking for it. It is not Biblically accurate to claim to forgive everyone no matter what, whether they ever ask for forgiveness or not. God’s forgiveness is qualified by our asking. “For whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Acts 2:21; Romans 10:13) There must be a calling for forgiveness.

So, in our horizontal relations, the process is the same. People must acknowledge their guilt and sin before we can grant forgiveness. Saying “I’m sorry” is simply acknowledging our emotional response and is not enough. Saying something akin to, “I was wrong; I sinned; will you forgive me?” is the Biblical approach. This puts the ball in the other person’s court. They now have a choice to either forgive or not forgive.

Two questions: first, have you experienced God’s forgiveness? Second, have you imitated God’s forgiveness?

The Test of Conversion to Christ


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David Wells, in his helpful book Turning to God, reminds his readers:

The test of conversion, then, is whether a sinner continues to see sin as displeasing to God and continues to turn from it, continues to seek Christ and trust him for life, forgiveness, grace, and guidance. It is whether believing in Christ leads to following him by denying ourselves and daily taking up our cross and following him, seeking his kingdom above our interests, loving and serving his people because of his love for us. It is whether the graces of Christian character begin to appear. It is whether we begin to learn how to live in God’s world on his terms, recognizing him as the sovereign creator and sustainer of all, thankfully accepting from him the good gifts and experiences he gives us and accepting the disappointments with the kind of submission that can come only from a deep sense of his abiding goodness. When conversion leads to a love of God and his glory and a commitment to serve and honor him in all that we do, then the conversion is genuine. It is in these ways, the ways of the life of faith, that we are given the only evidence of the reality of a person’s profession of faith. (177)

Jesus Preaching About Jesus


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Over the years I have heard some self-professed Bible teachers say that every Bible passage has to be taught in such a way that Jesus is the focus of every verse. I myself have been castigated by some listeners for not making every sermon about Jesus. In some recent reading, I was reminded of what Walter Kaiser wrote in 2009 in Recovering the Unity of the Bible (Zondervan).

Not to be left out of the hall of great preachers is none other than our Lord Jesus himself. Luke 24:27 reads: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, [Jesus] explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (emphasis added). The word translated “explained,” or “expounded” is the Greek word diermeneuo. The idea here is once again that of “explaining thoroughly” or “expounding” a passage.

This Lukan text is an important description of what is involved in expository preaching. Exposition emphasizes the systematic presentation of Scripture. Jesus “explained” the Old Testament systematically as he began with Moses and then went on to the Prophets, telling what Scripture said about himself as the predicted Messiah.

Some take a second principle from this passage. They argue that every exposition of the Scripture must be a Christ-centered presentation. Many at this point appeal to Charles Spurgeon, who said that when he took a text of Scripture, he quickly beat a straight path to Jesus. However, said he, if there was no path to Jesus in the text, he made one! That is quite an admission–one I would not recommend for interpreters today.

Beating a path that is not in the text poses a serious problem. To impose even a christological meaning on a text, even if it is done with a good heart and for a great cause, is still eisegesis and an imposition of meaning over a text that in many cases has nothing to do with the Messiah or the second person of the Trinity. The texts that our Lord used, you can be sure, were those he had originally inspired to carry just such a meaning as could be determined by following the author’s asserted meanings. (213-214)

The wise will listen, understand, and teach accordingly.

In Delight of the Deca-Church


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We live in a culture saturated with mega-this and giga-that. Sadly this concept has oozed into our Christian sub-culture vocabulary as well. A mega-church is a church that averages more than 2,000 attenders at their Sunday service. Not to be left out, there is apparently now the category of giga-church that that marketing folks reserve for those churches that average more than 10,000 or more every Sunday.

I would like to propose a new category of church: the deca-church. This moniker is to be reserved for those churches that average less than 100. In fact, attendance may often be marked by averaging less than 50 on any given Sunday.

Someone has observed that 90% of all American churches average 350 attenders or less. Half of all US churches average 75 people or less. These are can be labeled deca-churches.

There is an apparent disdain for deca-churches as compared with mega- or giga-churches. The day of small things is seemingly despised (Zechariah 4:10). There seems to be the assumption that God can only work effectively with large numbers (1st Samuel 14:6).

With the exception of a couple of year during my formal education process, my life has been spent in deca-churches. I have seen numerous lives transformed by the grace of God throughout these years. So please, do not sit in judgment of deca-churches from your numerical high-horse. Instead, bless God with me in His powerful work of grace in these smaller ministries. Pray for the congregations and the shepherds of these deca-flocks of God. Encourage them. Support them. Love them.

Impressionable Women



When Paul writes to Timothy in his last letter, he refers to self-professed Bible teachers who infiltrate into households and captivate impressionable women. These gullible women are said to have piles of sin overwhelming them and are being led away with a variety of desires. (2nd Timothy 3:6). These women are constantly seeking to acquire more knowledge but are never able to arrive at the knowledge of the truth. This is a tragic situation indeed. It is characteristic of the dangerous times associated with the last days (3:1).

As I have communicated with various pastors over the decades, I have heard a variety of sad stories that illustrate this Biblical truth. Too many pastors and congregations have experienced the wrath of spiritually gullible women who have listened to bad doctrine from false teachers and taken upon themselves the responsibility of attempting to “correct” the pastor and the congregation. Too often the husband stands on the sidelines with a befuddled look, shrugging his shoulders as if to say, “Well, you know how she can be at times.”

One pastor has noted the pattern that when certain men have come to his office to talk about their “concerns” with the pastor or congregation, it almost always goes back to, “Well, my wife has been reading/listening/studying, and she thinks you are wrong about ….” One church member stated, “If you want to know why Mr. ____ is upset, it’s probably his wife. She makes him tick.”

One pastor mentioned that of the most scathing letters their congregation had received from upset people, the vast majority were from strong-willed women with spiritually weak husbands. I think I would have to concur.

So what to do about it? Men, be aware of what your wife is reading/listening to. Guide her to sound theology. So much of what passes for Christian books for women today is actually unbiblical and full of dangerous theology. Are there sound books available for women? Yes, but one has to exercise great caution in this area. This demands that husbands know sound doctrine themselves in order to evaluate potential resources for your wife.

Women, guard your heart with all diligence. Just because a book claims to be Biblical doesn’t mean that it is. Don’t be gullible. Be sober-minded. Don’t believe everything you read or hear. Talk about sound doctrine with your husband (1st Corinthians 14:35). Don’t be led astray by attractive front covers and the promotional blurbs on the back cover. Use the standard of God’s Word to sift what you hear/read. As a general rule publishers are after you and your money. They are not genuinely concerned for your soul. Your husband is. Your pastor is. Your congregation is. Listen submissively with tranquility of spirit (1st Timothy 2:11).

Biblical pastors have watched too many women over the years get a burr under their proverbial saddle and get increasingly unsettled, to the point of not listening to what is actually being said. One pastor shared the following story. It seems that Mr. & Mrs. ____ were now officially upset with the pastor and congregation. They came to express their concerns with what said pastor had taught during his Sunday morning sermon. He secured a recording of the sermon and listened to it with the couple right there in his office. Wise move. When the alleged teaching was not found in the recording, the wife responded with, “Well, you must have edited the recording. I know what I heard!” This is a good example of a bad example. Women, don’t be like this. This dishonors God and your husband.

The Gracelessness of “It’s All Grace” Advocates


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Ever noticed the irony of certain theological positions? For instance, those who hold to the “It’s All Grace” (neo-antinomianism) position can be quite legalistic in their condemnation of those with whom they disagree. They condemn those who hold on to the Biblical expectations for believers. They condemn any attempts of holding believers accountable to the negative aspects of grace. And by their harsh criticisms they demonstrate a lack of grace.

Titus 2:11-12 clearly tells us that God’s grace trains genuine believers to say No to ungodliness and world desires but also to say Yes to sobermindedness, righteousness, and godliness. Grace has both a negative and a positive aspect.

Sadly, these individuals (Dan Phillips refers to them as “gutless gracers”) blur the line between justification and sanctification. They misunderstand, as Phillips wisely reminds us, that “He is not justified because he grows in holiness; and when his growth has a setback, his justification is completely unaffected. But he will grow in holiness, because he has been justified.” (192)

Pastors I know have been the recipients of various condemnations because they were unwilling to accept the confused theology of gutless gracers. The phone calls and emails have been, at times, (shall we say?) intense. Anything other than words of grace fell from their lips or fingertips. It’s the sort of thing that causes you to reach for asbestos-lined gloves while reading it.

I find it ironic that people who attempt to emphasize grace actually distort and diminish grace in their attitudes and words. One congregation received a scathing letter from a gutless gracer. It was a verbal inferno, showing no grace whatsoever. This was not merely salty verbiage, but rather a linguistic nuclear habanero. It was curious that somehow one’s professed theology did not rich to their words. No wonder God reminds us through Paul that our speech is to always be with grace (Colossians 4:6).

If we rightly emphasize God’s grace, we will reflect Jesus Christ as we do so (Luke 4:22). There will be words of grace, acts of grace, attitudes of grace, and a spirit of grace, even with those with whom we may disagree.

The Danger of Calling Evil Good


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I recently wrote the following for our local paper. Will have to wait to see if it gets published.

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Twice in the Old Testament book of the prophet Jeremiah one finds the following condemnation: Are they ashamed because they have done such shameful things? No, they are not at all ashamed. They do not even know how to blush! (Jeremiah 6:16; 8:12) God clearly states that certain sins are accompanied by public shame and embarrassment. But some people are so fixated on their sin that they are somehow ignorant of the disgrace that accompanies such behavior.

Our society has rapidly degenerated to such a position. The various media elevate such immodest people to their 15 minutes of shame fame. And anyone who dares to publicly, or at times privately, disagree with such sinful behavior is threatened with organized protests, lawsuits, and fines because of their alleged intolerance. We are now told, “You will embrace such behavior or else.”

Such heroes of indecency are applauded for their supposed courage and bravery. These folks live with a deluded mindset. God says to us through the prophet Isaiah, “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.” (Isaiah 5:20)

Changing the name of something does not change its character. Calling a tail a leg does not make a dog have 5 legs. Truth cannot be ignored without consequences, no matter how much we protest otherwise.

Yet even this shamelessness is a symptom of a more significant problem. Like the people referred to in Isaiah 5, we too “have rejected the law of the LORD of hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 5:24) Therefore we as a society no longer have a standard by which to judge any behavior as right or wrong (except those who condemn the “harmful intolerance” of those who stand against sin).

What can we do in a culture that is determined to destroy itself? This has happened before throughout history. What we are observing in our day is nothing new. The apostle Paul wrote to the Roman believers in the corrupt capital of a sin-filled empire: “Although they fully know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but also approve of those who practice them.” (Rom. 1:32 NET) He then proceeded to outline the doctrines of sin and salvation from God’s perspective. That too is our responsibility.

The problem cannot be fixed by simply having a surgery in a failed attempt to change one’s gender, or by irrationally claiming to be a different skin color in our mind. The problem is internal; in our hearts before a holy God. We are the problem.

Christ died and rose again to rescue unrighteous individuals from His wrath and the eternal consequences of their sin. All those who genuinely repent and turn to Christ in faith can be rescued. There is hope for the individual. The culture may fall, but the individual can be rescued. There is hope.

Ryle on Repentance


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Anglican Bishop John Charles Ryle (1816-1900) wrote in his helpful commentary on Luke:

We must carefully bear in mind, that no repentance can make atone for sin. The blood of Christ, and nothing else, can wash away sin from man’s soul. No quantity of repentance can ever justify us in the sight of God. ‘We are accounted righteous before God, only for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ, by faith, and no for our own works or deservings.’ It is of the utmost importance to understand this clearly. The trouble that men bring upon their souls, by misunderstanding this subject, is more than can be expressed.

But while we say all this, we must carefully remember that without repentance no soul was ever yet saved. We must know our sins, mourn over them, forsake them, abhor them, or else we shall never enter the kingdom of heaven. There is nothing meritorious in this. It forms no part whatever of the price of our redemption. Our salvation is all of grace, from first to last. But the great fact still remains, that saved souls are always penitent souls, and saving faith in Christ, and true repentance toward God, are never found asunder. This is a mighty truth, and one that ought never to be forgotten.

Do we ourselves repent? This, after all, is the question which most nearly concerns us. Have we been convinced of sin by the Holy Ghost? Have we fled to Jesus for deliverance from the wrath to come? Done know anything of a broken and contrite heart, and a thorough hatred of sin? Can we say, ‘I repent,’ as well as ‘I believe?’ If not, let us not delude our minds with the idea that our sins are yet forgiven. It is written, ‘Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish’ (Luke 13:3). (Expository Thoughts on Luke, 1:67)

Odd Study Bible Footnotes


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Occasionally people from the congregation will show me what their study Bible footnotes say. Often the notes are quite helpful, and other times … not so much. Sometimes they are ridiculous (i.e. worthy of ridicule). The image below is one such ridiculous study Bible note.

Ezekiel's Temple RefSBOne can easily see that the first sentences contradict the printed illustration. They read: Ezekiel’s restored temple is not a blueprint, but a vision that stresses the purity and spiritual vitality of the ideal place of worship and those who will worship there. It is not intended for an earthly, physical fulfillment ….” My question is this: why engage an artist to produce a detailed diagram of a building if the information revealed in Ezekiel about the temple is not a blueprint? That makes no sense to me. Draw a picture of something else, but leave the blueprint out of it. This is silly, and worthy of laughter. Perhaps this particular study Bible has an updated edition, so things might have changed since my edition was published.

Just remember, only the text of your Bible is inspired, not the footnotes. Don’t do what one former classmate of mine did. He took a black permanent marker and crossed out ALL the footnotes in his Bible. Made it hard to read the back side of the printed page. Don’t overreact. Be sober-minded, and, at times, enjoy a good laugh.

The Privileges and Responsibilities of Being Christ’s Freedman



For he who is called in the Lord while a slave is the Lord’s freedman. Likewise he who is called while free is Christ’s slave. (1st Corinthians 7:22 NKJ)

In the New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament, Rogers and Rogers highlight the following observations in their comments on 1st Corinthians 7:22 (p. 363). I reproduce their list with a small amount of editing.

There were certain obligations the freedman had to the one who purchased his freedom:

  • He bore the family name of the one providing the freedom
  • He lived in the house (paramone) of the one providing the freedom
  • He rendered service (operaeto the one providing the freedom
  • He received gifts (munera) from the one providing the freedom
  • He rendered respect (obsequium) to the one providing the freedom

The wise will understand the applications to the Christian life. What privileges are ours because of the finished work of Christ!


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