Where Are Your Sins?

Where are your sins? The question must be answered by all. Those who refuse the legitimacy of the question deny the fundamental flaw of humanity.

J. C. Ryle posed that question at the end of a sermon that he began with the point obvious to most of us: you have many sins. “Every ten years of your life your have sinned, at the lowest computation, more than one hundred thousand sins.” (2 sins per hour, 15 hours per day, remembering that thoughts, words, and deeds can all be offensive to God).

He proceeds in this way:

  1. You have many sins
  2. It is of the utmost importance to have our sins cleansed away
  3. You cannot cleanse away your own sins
  4. The blood of Jesus Christ can cleanse away all your sins
  5. Faith is absolutely necessary, and the only thing necessary, in order to give you an interest in the cleansing blood of Christ.

“The atoning blood of the Son of God is the grand exhibition of God’s love toward sinners.”  In the blood of Jesus, Ryle says, we see the love of God most clearly. Or as John Owen puts it, “In the pouring out of his love, there is not one drop that falls to us apart from the Lord Christ.” [1]

Ryle concludes by asking, “Where are your sins?” There is no important question for us to settle in our hearts and minds. “I tell you that at this moment there are only two places in which your sins can be, and I defy the wisdom of the world to find out a third. Either your sins are upon yourself, unpardoned, unforgiven, uncleansed, inducing misery upon yourself. Or else your sins are upon Christ, taken away, forgiven, blotted out and cleansed away.” So the question stands, where are your sins?

The Christian must hear this question and immediately say to himself, “Cling to Christ.” Our sins are decidedly upon him, so they must no longer bring condemnation (Romans 8:1). Guilt leading to repentance must be followed by joy and a sense of freedom. But guilt leading to despair has no ground in reality for those whose sins are upon Christ.

The troubling anxiety caused by awareness of sin must be countered not by suppressing  guilt or by recycling prayers of repentance, but rather by clinging to Christ and recalling the greatness of his mercy (Romans 5:20).


[1] John Owen, Communion With God (Christian Heritage, 2007), 57.

Appointed to Good Works (thoughts on reading Titus)

I’ve been reading through the apostle Paul’s short letter to Titus over the past week. Last year I actually read through the Bible, but as many have also experienced, the project left little time for deep thought. So this year, I started the project of reading through each book of the Bible twenty times. Titus is the fifth book I’ve gotten to since January 1, 2016. Since I’m doing the short ones first.

As I was reading Titus this week, I was struck by the emphasis on good works from beginning to end (godliness in 1:1, devoted to good works, 3:14).

In the twin peaks of the gospel sections (2:11-14 and 3:4-8), salvation is portrayed not in terms of the substitution of Christ’s death in our place, nor even in terms of erasure of guilt. There’s no mention of forgiveness. But rather, the “salvation that has appeared” is portrayed as an appointment unto a new way of life (2:11-12).

We were brought out of lawlessness in order to be pure and zealous for good works (2:14). And the whole “gospel saying” of 3:4-7 is aimed at provoking devotion to good works (3:8, “…so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works”).

Every major piece of the letter revolves around the exercise of good works. The elder’s way of life should be above reproach. The way of life of the false teachers is denying God by their works; they are unfit for any good work (1:16). The various demographics of 2:1-10 should each learn what kind of actions are in accord with sound doctrine in their particular sphere (2:1, cf. 1:1). And so on.

So what? I think Paul has a few different gears for speaking about the effects of salvation. Other letters from his hand seem to focus more on penal substitution, which I think constitutes the core of the gospel message. But Paul also seems comfortable here in Titus to speak of salvation largely as an appointment to good works.

The challenge is to try to capture this balance in our preaching and teaching, giving the weight to whatever passage we’re in, but also acknowledging the other lenses through which the gospel might be viewed.

Oddly Symmetrical Qualities in Jesus

Christus_Ravenna_MosaicA friend pointed out to me, “God has wired us with personalities that are double edge swords, as it were. Each sword has a side to defend and deliver and another that can bring destruction. The key is building on the good and mitigating the weak. I think we underestimate the complexity of our human personalities as well as the personality of Jesus.” It’s true. Our experience of personality traits usually finds that particular strengths also have associated weaknesses. In this sense our personalities are asymmetrical.

But Jesus has a striking symmetry of personality. His gentleness and tenderness toward the woman in Matthew 9—“Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well”—is oddly matched by boldness and severity in Matthew 23, where he excoriates the Pharisees for their religious oppression. Warmth in the one case, force in the other. Perfectly combined in one person.

This calls for reflection on the nature of our personalities. Where we see particular strengths, we must be careful to cultivate Christlikeness in the associated weakness.

It’s also a caution for us to be tethered to Scripture in our thoughts about Jesus. The way we conceive of Jesus will more or less unfold into a blueprint for living. If we think of him as a social revolutionary, or a religious genius, or a wise sage, or merely forgiver of sins, in each case our way of life will reflect our thoughts about him.

So we must not be too narrow in our thoughts of him. He is at least all four of these things (revolutionary, sage, genius, forgiver) but also much more. Our thoughts of him must be always expanding and never contracting.

Some Thoughts on Daily Bible Reading

lightstock_4192_xsmall_nikolas_Lots of people use Bible reading plans to guide their daily Bible reading. I’m in favor of reading plans – I use M’Cheynes One Year Reading Plan myself. But I also think it’s important to remember that reading plans are man-made tools, not divine mandates.This means you’re free not to read the Bible today.

One reason this is helpful to remember is that many of us feel burdened at times by obligatory Bible reading. Our minds are racing for one reason or another. Our hearts are melancholy and unresponsive to gospel truths. In this condition a hurried and distracted heart easily finds that following a reading plan feels like a chore. Maybe on a mind-chaos day it would be better not to read, but to rest.

John Owen was very realistic about the difficulty and distractions of our minds. In his writings about meditation he says, “When, after this preparation, you find yourselves yet perplexed and entangled, not able comfortably to persist in spiritual thoughts unto your refreshment…cry and sigh to God for help and relief.” And then he advises to end the time and come back to it tomorrow.

So maybe you’re not “feelin it” today. Your mind is in a thousand places and try as you might, it refuses to be reined in. What should you do? I humbly suggest you close your Bible and instead fix your mind on one verse or prayer that you might take with you through the day. “Lord, set in my heart a sense of the joy and freedom that are mine as a child whose Father is God.”

Remember, the Bible doesn’t demand for itself to be read every day. Thou shalt read the Bible daily is not one of the ten commands. Many (perhaps most?) Christians throughout history have not had access to the Bible at all, or at least not in a language they could read. One of the clearest calls to the constant use of Scripture is found in the first psalm, “Blessed is the man…[whose] delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” There is no call for daily Bible reading, but rather for constant meditation. The expectation is both less and more.

Bible reading is aimed at preparation for heaven. Like trees don’t grow overnight, so the fruit of devotion to Scripture is cumulative not instantaneous. We read as preparation for heaven, not just for today. This future orientation removes the pressure from immediate daily obligations. The goal is larger and longer. Thus we should read the Bible regularly in preparation for heaven, but this does not demand daily reading. If it seems more prudent to forego Bible reading for a day, our preparations for reunion with God are not thereby thwarted. Geoffrey Thomas encourages persistence in Bible reading with heaven as the goal:

Do not expect always to get an emotional charge or a feeling of quiet peace when you read the Bible. By the grace of God you may expect that to be a frequent experience, but often you will get no emotional response at all. Let the Word break over your heart and mind again and again as the years go by, and imperceptibly there will come great changes in your attitude and outlook and conduct. You will probably be the last to recognize these… Go on reading it until you can read no longer, and then you will not need the Bible any more, because when your eyes close for the last time in death, and never again read the Word of God in Scripture you will open them to the Word of God in the flesh, that same Jesus of the Bible whom you have known for so long, standing before you to take you forever to his eternal home.

G. Thomas is speaking about the necessity of persistence in Bible reading. We should certainly persist even when feelings do not align. I’m not so much talking here about persistence over the course of ten years as I am about frequency from day to day. So  if you haven’t read your Bible in thirty days, then these thoughts are not for you. You should probably commit to daily Bible reading for the next thirty days and revive the experience of its constant benefits. But for those whose hearts feel bound to mechanical daily duties, go breathe the fresh air of freedom. As you walk in fellowship with the Father, there will be many days of joy and freedom in reading the Bible, but it won’t be every day. And there will come a day when reading the text is outmoded, giving way to the greater glory, “that same Jesus of the Bible whom you have known for so long, standing before you to take you forever to his eternal home.”

Five Ways to Preach to the Heart

Tim Keller describes preaching to the heart as preaching affectionately, imaginatively, practically, wondrously and Christocentrically. Keller’s book Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism will be released next month.

The notes below are from the fourth and final lecture in a series on preaching Keller did at RTS in November 2014 (see notes from lecture 1, lecture 2, and lecture 3).

[The notes pick up at the seventeen-minute mark after the introductory comments about the nature of “the heart” from a biblical perspective.]

Preaching to the Heart (17:00)

1. Preach Affectionately

The main way to preach to the heart is to preach from the heart. There are only three possible ways to preach: 1) flat affect, unengaged emotionally 2) acting, performance of emotions, 3) engaged heart, genuine emotions.

  • Know your material so well that you are able to preach from the heart, so you won’t be distracted by the fact that you don’t know what to say next. You must not be tied to your notes. You can’t look down at your notes and read to your audience about how wonderful Jesus is.
  • Watch the subtext, the non-verbal message that comes across because of your attitude. Derek Thomas says one of the possible subtexts is “I read Louis Berkhoff this week and I want you to know it.” The two subtexts to be careful about: 1) “Aren’t we great?” We believe this and not that. 2) “Don’t you think I’m great?” Someone who tries very hard to look good and confident. 3) The subtext should be, “Isn’t Jesus great?”
  • Have a great prayer life. When you talk about the holiness or wisdom or love of God, the people ought to sense your awe of his holiness, dependence on his wisdom and delight in his love. You should be tasting the food you’re feeding the children. When you talk about God, they should see you yearning for him. This genuine awe/dependence/delight is developed through prayer.

2. Preach Imaginatively (28:00)

The heart is more affected by illustrations than propositions in general. Jonathan Edwards didn’t tell many stories but used metaphors all the time. Stories elicit emotions, but metaphors both instruct and affect. “Turn the ear into any eye” (Spurgeon).

Example 1. Proposition: Your good deeds cannot save you. Metaphor: Your good deeds cannot save you, any more than a spider web can stop a falling rock. This appeals to the senses because you’ve seen this kind of thing happen. It informs the mind, but also affects the heart.

Example 2. Cain in Genesis 4. God says, “Sin is crouching at the door.” Rather than just saying, “Sin wants to destroy you,” God says, “Sin is like an animal crouching at the door ready to spring on you in attack.”

Example 3. in 2 Samuel 12 Nathan the prophet tells King David the story of the rich man who stole the poor man’s beloved lamb. The most direct sermon illustration/application in the history of the world. “You are the man!” (v. 7)

Example 4. Murder on the Orient Express (Agatha Christie). The occupants of the railway car were all accomplices to the murder. If we wonder what’s wrong with the world, we must conclude, “We’re all in on it.”

3. Preach Practically (39:00)

Dan Doriani has written the most comprehensive books on how to apply. Mark Dever has a lot of great stuff on application 9Marks site. There is some debate on the extent to which we should apply the text to begin with. For instance, Andy Stanley says in Preaching for a Change says we shouldn’t do expositional preaching, but rather we should lift up a human need and then bring in the Bible to address that human need. Stanley’s concern (appropriate) is that often people who stress expositional preaching spend time on exegesis but do not spend enough thought effort on helpful application. Stanley’s solution to the problem may not be right, but he’s addressing a real problem.

Example. Once when preaching on the topic of honesty, Keller called up a few people and asked what common lies were in their field of work. Political lies: “I’d love to go but I’ll be out of town that day.” Or, “I think your writing is too sophisticated for our readers,” when really it is terrible. Business lies. Don’t say publicly that things are fine when everyone on staff know they are not.

  • Be careful your applications don’t all have the same personality. They can’t all be warning. They can’t all be comfort/encouragement. Sometimes, we should beware of this, that our applications are guided more by our personalities than they are by the text. But application should be guided by the text.
  • Think of different kinds of people. What in this text for a non-Christian? What’s in this text for a mature believer? What’s in this text for a immature, struggling, or new Christian?
  • Get into dialogs. Imagine the objections to your application and tease it out in your application. “Some of you might think….” When it comes to application, this is a good place to go off script…when you sense a pliable moment.

4. Preach Wondrously (47:25)

J.R.R. Tolkien wrote an essay On Fairy Stories trying to explain the appeal of fantasy writing. The reason we can’t get enough of such stories is that there is something in the human heart that longs for stories where people 1) escape from time, 2) escape from death 3) have love without parting, 4) have communication with non-human beings, and 5) where good finally triumphs over evil.

If Jesus was raised from the dead, then all these things Tolkien says we long for will be our experience. Do you preach as if these things are realities? The gospel fulfills the deepest longings of the human heart.

For non-Christians, you might point out, “Don’t you at least want this to be true?” For Christians, urge them to live as if these wonderful truths are true.

5. Preach Christocentrically (53:00)

Kathy often says that when I get to Jesus the sermon goes from being a Sunday school lecture to being a sermon.

Example. The Beatitudes describe not different groups of people but rather the complete portrait of what every Christian should be. Lloyd-Jones said in one sense this is how you become a Christian. But how’s it possible? (following Iain Duguid a bit…)

  • Why is it possible for us to be rich as kings? Because Jesus was stripped and became poor.
  • Why is it possible for us to be comforted? Because Jesus cried mourned and cried in the garden in the dark and on the cross.
  • Why is it possible for us to be filled with righteousness? Because Jesus said, “I thirst.”
  • Why is it possible for us to inherit the earth? Because Jesus became the meek Lamb of God.

When you get to Jesus, people stop taking notes and the Sunday school lesson becomes a sermon.

Keller’s Six Ways to Preach Christ

Tim-Keller-3These notes are from Keller’s lecture “How to Preach the Gospel Every Time,” which is the third in his series on preaching at Reformed Theological Seminary (see my notes on Part 1 and Part 2). The third point in this lecture is Keller’s list of six ways to preach Christ. These directives are especially helpful for preachers when approaching Old Testament passages. No doubt much of this will also appear in Keller’s forthcoming Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism (which Amazon already lists as a #1 Best Seller though it won’t be released until June).


Many others have addressed this topic already.

The basic idea is this, that every time you preach in any text of the Bible you must not only expound the text in its historical context, but you must show how the text fits into the canonical context, which is to say how it points us to Christ and salvation, which is what the canon is all about. Therefore you must always, no matter where you are in the Bible, show how the text tells us about or points to Christ and his salvation. This basic idea used to be controversial. But in part due to all these works that have been written in the past generation, there is less controversy. This is a more accepted thesis these days. So I am not trying to chart new territory, but rather coming as a practitioner giving my insights on this.

1. Why we should preach Christ from every text (3:40)

It honors the nature of Scripture

  • Luke 24:25, 44. Jesus is saying, “You knew all the sub-stories of the Bible but you didn’t know the story of the Bible.” For example, a chapter in a Dickens novel makes very little sense apart from the context of the novel as a whole narrative arc. The narrative arc of the Bible is creation, fall, promises to Israel, Jesus as fulfillment of the promises, the promises extend to all nations rather than just one nation, the promises will culminate in new creation.
  • Edmund Clowney: “If you tell a particular Bible story without putting it into the Bible story about Christ, you actually change the meaning of the particular story for us. Because the story becomes a moralistic exhortation to try harder to live up to the example of the person in the story instead of a call to live by faith in Christ.”

It fits the nature of human beings

  • We are so deeply oriented to self-salvation, that if you preach on a text and the lesson of the text is “Thou shalt not…” then unless you emphatically put that into the context of the whole Bible pointing to salvation in Jesus Christ, then it will be heard essentially as a moralistic lesson that if you basically live a good life then God will bless you.
  • When you slide back into thinking that your justification is based on you sanctification, two things happen: 1) Motivation is all self-centered, fear and pride. Fear of punishment, pride thinking that you’re better than most. Thus nurtures the essence of sin in the heart of your religious life. 2) Religious experience becomes a yo-yo. When you’re having a good week you have a big head, and when you’re having a bad week you beat yourself up in self-hating.\
  • Preaching Christ, rooting motivation in Christ fulfilled righteousness as opposed to our self-salvation, then constantly pulls us back from

2. Two Mistakes to Avoid (13:20)

First, You can preach a text about Jesus without actually preaching the gospel, which often happens in the NT

Example of two sermons preached on Mark 5:1-20, the healing of the demoniac.

The first sermon: Jesus saves this man: liberates the man in chains, bring the isolated man into community, clothes the naked man, stopped is anguished cries, and puts his life back together. The key point: Come to Jesus with your problems. Whatever your problem is, come to Jesus and he can make it right. Followed by stories of people whose lives have been put back together (exconvicts, etc.)

The second sermon: The demoniac is not a type of people with unusually bad problems. But rather he is a picture of us because we’re sinner and thus all enslaved, isolated, in the darkness, crying out with unfulfilled longings. The demoniac is a type of all people in sin. Why can Jesus forgive this man? At the end of Jesus’ life we see him stripped naked on the cross, a prisoner, isolated and alone outside the gate, crying out in agony of abandonment. Jesus was able to heal and forgive because he himself went to the cross and bore all those things. He was stripped so we can be clothed, etc.

Assessment: The second sermon makes the gospel really clear. Not that the first sermon wasn’t true. But you could walk away from the first thinking if you really surrender then God will make everything okay. But that’s only half true. We need to hear the message of substitution which is the heart of salvation in Jesus Christ.

Second, there is a way of preaching Christ without actually preaching the text, which often happens in the OT (20:20)

One of the reasons we miss how often the Bible talks about justice, oppression, etc. is because we jump to Jesus too quickly from the Old Testament and overlook the context of the original writing. Amos really is about justice and compassion for the poor. Of course this is fulfilled in Jesus, but this does not diminish the way that Amos actually condemns injustice and oppression in Israel and surrounding nations.

Interlude (23:15)

Charles Spurgeon on preaching Christ. Sermon 242, March 13, 1859. Christ Precious to Believers.

“I often hear sermons that are very learned…but there is not a word about Christ in those sermons. I say, ‘They have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid him.’” Spurgeon goes on to tell the story of a Welsh preacher who heard a young preacher give a sermon with no Christ in it. The older man pointed this out to him, and explained that every text has some road to Christ, just as every town, village or hamlet has a road to London. And so from every text in Scripture there is a road to the metropolis of the Scriptures, which is Christ.

Keller notes, every text has a major point, a main street in the village. This is the main point in the original context the author was trying to get across. But the fact is that there is a road out of town that leads to London.

3. Six Ways to Preach Christ (28:50)

  1. From every part of the Bible
    • He is the hope of the patriarchs, rock of Moses, the fulfiller of the law (ceremonial and moral), the true temple/priest/sacrifice, the commander of the Lord’s hosts, the divine warrior, the true Israel, the sweet singer of Israel, the true wisdom of God.
    • There’s a certain sense in which every chunk of the Bible looks to Jesus in a particular way. And you need to know how each chunk looks to Jesus
    • The Dillard/Longman Old Testament Survey has a section at the end of each book called “Approaching the New Testament” which is an excellent compass in this regard. Iaian Duguid’s commentaries and Christopher Wright’s commentaries are not afraid to point to Christ.
  2. From every theme of the Bible
    • Don Carson thinks there are about 20 inter-canonical themes that run through both OT and NT. Some of them are kingdom, covenant, exile, God vs. Idols, face/presence of God, rest/Sabbath, justice/judgment, shalom/peace, righteousness/nakedness, marriag/faithfulness, image/likeness, wisdom/word.
    • Every one of these themes climaxes in Jesus Christ. For example…
      • Kingdom. Jesus is the true king, and the preaching point is that unless you are under the true king you are a slave. Every other king is a tyrant. As Bob Dylan said, “Everybody is serving somebody. You gotta serve somebody.” Something is the king of your life. If not the true king, then you are a slave.
      • Covenant. We are made for relationship. A relationship always has law and love in it— binding solemn promise on the one hand, but relationship on the other hand. God enters into covenant with his people. But the question is this: Is the covenant with God conditional or unconditional? Ray Dillard says this is one of the main narrative tensions that drives the OT. The covenant seems both conditional and unconditional in the OT. Always faithful God, yet dependent on Israel’s obedience. The entire OT is on gigantic plot thickening, in which the main question is can we have relationship with God? And is that conditional or unconditional? And when you get to the cross, you finally see the answer to both questions is yes. God’s love is unconditional through Christ,
      • Exile. N.T. Wright makes this the major theme of the Bible. That Jesus was exiled and rejected outside the gate. Exiled so we could be brought home.
  1. From every major figure in the Bible (39:45)
    • Jesus is the true and better. John Calvin in his introduction to the New Testament, “He Christ is Isaac. Christ is Jacob, the watchful shepherd. Christ is the good and compassionate brother Joseph. Jesus is the great sacrificer and bishop Melchizedek. Jesus is the sovereign lawgiver Moses. He is the faithful captain and guide Joshua….”
  2. From every deliverance storyline in the Bible.
    • Every one actually reflects what Jesus did in the ultimate act of deliverance. So you can go to any prophet, priest, judge or deliverer and from all of them there will be a road to Jesus.
  3. From every single command in the Bible
    • How Jesus Transforms the Ten Commandments (Edmund Clowney) shows that when Paul in Ephesians 5 calls husbands to Christ-like love and faithfulness to wives, this is the fulfillment of “Don’t commit adultery.” Here’s how you don’t commit adultery, by reflecting the spousal love of Jesus Christ.
  4. From Jesus’ varied reflections
    • [skipped explanation because of time]


Sinclair Ferguson. Some of the best preachers of Christ don’t really know how they do it. “Perhaps most outstanding preachers of the Bible and of Christ in all of Scripture are so instinctively.” They might say something like, I don’t really know how I got Jesus out of this, and yet I don’t really know how you couldn’t get Jesus out of it.


Tremper Longman thinks reading the Bible is a little bit like watching the movie The Sixth Sense. Once you learn the key fact at the end of the movie, you can’t ever watch the movie the same way again. You can’t possibly ignore the key fact. Similarly with the Bible, once you learn of Jesus you can’t read the rest of the Bible without seeing him (whether or not he fits into one of the technical categories).


Convincing Skeptics of Christianity

Timothy_KellerAdaptation of gospel communication to persuade secular skeptics is a skill that Tim Keller has carefully developed. Those who want to communicate the gospel in the current cultural milieu would do well to listen to Keller’s advice in this areas. Below are notes from his lecture on his topic, the second in a series on preaching.


There are three components to good preaching (and a fourth…but not really). You must preach biblically, attractively and powerfully [from the first lecture: What is Good Preaching?]. The fourth is to preach Christ, but this is actually the only right means to doing the other three. You will never really restructure the affections of the heart apart from preaching Christ.

The goal of this lecture: How to convince people who are skeptical about Christianity because they’ve been secularized (whether secularized Christian or non-Christian). This topic is a sub-category of contextualization (definition: the unavoidable way in which you culturally incarnate any explanation of the gospel: your cadence, emotional expressiveness, illustrations you choose, your language. As soon as you open your mouth, you move yourself toward some and away from others).

Three Problems With Contextualization

1. There are problems on both sides: you can overtextualize or undercontextualize. If you overcontextualize, your church will be full but no one will be changing, because largely you’re just confirming with them. If you undercontextualize no one will come. You may be preaching valiant-for-truth sermons, but they’re off-putting in style.

2. Your culture is largely invisible to you, so it is difficult to see where you’re communication decisions are reflections of your own culture. Don’t ask a fish to write an essay on water.

3. The idea of contextualization is difficult to define.

Four Principles for Adaptation (9:00)

Four things that Paul does when adapting to various groups of non-Christians. These are drawn particularly from Eckhard Schnabel’s book Paul the Missionary.

1. Paul used shared or well-explained vocabulary.

Our evangelical churches used to stand within a canopy of basic Christian understanding in the broader culture (knew the terms and doctrines), but this is increasingly not the case. Therefore…

Be careful about using theological terms without giving explanation

E.g. dispensational, hermeneutics, amillennial. If you act like everyone in the audience is a Christian, then your people will not bring non-Christian friends. How you preach will largely determine the makeup of your audience.

Be careful about using biblical words that are actually evangelical jargon

E.g. backsliding, lukewarm, spiritual warfare, seeing fruit, great fellowship, blessing, opening up doors, walking with the Lord. These are fine terms, but although people understand them within the subculture, “outsiders” don’t necessarily comprehend.

Be careful of using “prayer language” that is unnecessarily archaic and sentimental

E.g. just really, I echo that, I’ve really been released from that, your witness, your testimony, a God thing, a total God thing. People may find these kinds of terms cloying, sentimental, abnormal. Some of this language may “feel spiritual” but in effect excludes the outsider. At Redeemer Presbyterian, we get rid of that. People say we don’t feel very spiritual. Not that we are disrespectful or lack elegance, but it makes people from the evangelical world feel alienated. However it doesn’t make secular people feel alienated.

2. Paul used respected authorities to supplement what he was saying from the Bible. (20:00)

Paul quotes Eratus in Acts 17. Some feel like its not a great idea to cite secular authorities, but if you’re talking to people who don’t trust the Bible, then what’s wrong with quoting people they respect who happen to agree with the Bible?

Idolatry: If you’re talking about idolatry, have no other gods before me, then quote David Foster Wallace (postmodern, novelist, non-Christian, cool and sophisticated): “Everbody worships something. Everbody’s worshiping,” from his Kenyon College commencement address.

Absolute Morality: If you’re talking about God as lawgiver and absolute moral laws. Quote MLKJ Letters from Birmingham Jail. He points out that the only way you can judge if a human law is unjust is if it contradicts God’s law (then quotes Aquinas). Or go to W.H. Auden, who went into a theatre and saw a news reel with depictions of Jewish people yelling “Kill the Jews.” He was shaken up because he realized he had no way of saying they were wrong. “I always thought civilized people would be enlightened.” Auden eventually moved back toward Christianity because of this.

The Devil: If you’re speaking about the Devil, quote Andrew Delbanco, The Death of Satan. “Secular people have no vocabulary to deal with evil.” He cites FDR who was slow to believe in the death camps of WWII. Delbanco tells the story of FDR going to church and asking the pastor about Kiekegaard, who taught him about original sin. C.E.M. Joad (British intellectual, atheist) Recovery of Belief, “It was because we rejected the doctrine of original sin that we on the Left were always being disillusioned by the behavior of the peoples, nations, and politicians and by the recurring fact of war. Because I didn’t believe in original sin I couldn’t understand why nothing was working.”

Nature reveals God: If you’re speaking from Psalm 19 and the evidence of God in nature, then cite Leonard Bernstein, “Listening to Beethoven’s Fifth, you can’t help but get the feeling that there’s something right with the world, something that checks throughout, something we can trust, something that will never let us down.” Keller says, this is Bernstein’s way of saying he can never believe in God…except sometimes.

Sin: If you’re saying something about sin, quote Lauren Slater, “The Trouble of Self-Esteem” (article in NYT magazine)  “The higher the self esteem the more bad things the person does. Its actually the people with low self-esteem who are usually better citizens.”

3. Paul ratified some of their beliefs, and then confronts them on the basis of that shared belief (found points of contact and contradiction)

In Acts 17:28, Paul quotes a pagan, “We are his offspring.” Then Paul argues that since we are his offspring, we should not think of the divine being as material substance we can fashion into images. Schnabel says, “Paul uses the quotation as an argument against his listeners’ rapprochement with the reality and diversity of the religious cults.” Paul uses their own belief “against” them. This is how all persuasion works.

Example 1: How do you get across to people that the Bible is authoritative in everything it says? This is difficult because secular culture is a culture of self-autonomy. You could say, “Isn’t it true that there is no perfect culture? No ultimate, superior culture? Every culture has good and bad elements?” This is a baseline narrative of secularism, pluralism. Next step: But what if the Bible is not from any particular culture, but rather from God? Then it would have to offend everyone at some point. It would have to confront every culture at some point. In other words, the Bible agrees that no culture is perfect.

Example 2: The baseline cultural narrative of loving relationship. You could say, “If there was a God, wouldn’t you want a personal loving relationship with him?” In a personal relationship, isn’t it true that if one person always wins the arguments, then the other person is being trampled on or not being honest to self. So if you’re in a personal relationship with God, then he must be able to contradict you at times.

Key Point: Take the baseline cultural narrative and use it “against” them.

Example 3: Cultural diversity. People need to live together despite differences. Richard Bauckham, Bible and Mission, Points out that 90% of all Muslims live in one part of the world (Middle East/North Africa/South Asia), 88% of Buddhists live in East Asia, 98% of Hindus live in India. But about 25% of Christians live in Europe, about 25% live in Central/South America, 22% in Africa, 15% in Asia, 12-15% in North America. “Christianity is the only major religion that has spread out. Almost certainly Christianity exhibits greater cultural diversity than any other religion and that must say something about it.” So we must ask why. Whose Religion is Christianity? Lammin Sanneh says that Africans have turned to Christianity because it is the most culturally flexible of all worldviews. The gospel has no Leviticus…it undermines cultural superiority by rooting identity in Jesus Christ, rather than a particular cultural identity.

4. Paul solved people’s personal problems by presenting Jesus as the solution. (47:30)

When you’re preaching, you don’t want to spend Sunday morning only evangelizing non-Christians but not edifying the saints. So you must preach the gospel as the answer to every problem. The gospel is the motivation to do the things that you are calling people to do. “If you always exhort believers…grounded in what Jesus Christ did, then every time you are preaching to the Christians, you’re also preaching the gospel.” What’s great about that is that then secular people who are coming are hearing the gospel every week. Late moderns actually want to know how the gospel works in someone’s life. What does it look like fleshed out?

What is Good Preaching?

tim-kellerBelow are notes from the first of Keller’s four lectures delivered at the 2014 John Reed Miller Lectures on Preaching at RTS Jackson (November 11-13). The four lectures cover Kellers three things to do in order to be a good preacher: preach biblically, attractively, and powerfully. The first lecture includes introduction and a briefer explanation of preaching biblically. The remaining three lectures cover preaching attractively and powerfully. Keller is currently writing Preaching: Communicating Faith in a Skeptical Age (June 9, 2015).

Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Colossians 1:28-29)

Good vs. Great Preaching

This lecture is not about great preaching, but about how to do good preaching.You can’t take responsibility for whether you preach a great sermon, but you should take responsibility for whether or not you’re a good preacher.  Acts 16:34, “the Lord opened Lydia’s heart to respond to Paul’s message.” Paul gave a message and it was his responsibility to deliver it well, and yet it was God who opened Lydia’s heart.

It’s your job for the sermon to be good (study the passage, be accurate, skill with language, etc.) but it’s up to God to make it great. He has to work on the heart; you can’t control that.

What makes a sermon great is the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit; what makes a sermon good is how well you have worked at it. Good preaching is the altar. Great preaching is the fire that God sends down on the altar. Its not your job to try to light the altar; but simply to build the altar with good preaching.

3 Things To Do In Order to Be A Good Preacher

Here are three “witnesses” that agree on three components of good preaching.

Theodore Beza said there were three great preachers in Geneva: William Farel, Pierre Viret, amd John Calvin. “The most fiery and passionate and forceful was Farel; the most eloquent was Viret – audiences hung on his skillful and beautiful words; Calvin however had the weightiest of insight. Calvin had the most substance, Viret had the most eloquence, and Farel had the most vehemence. If any preacher could be a composite of these three men, he would be absolutely perfect.”

J.R.R. Tolkien wrote his son a letter about sermons, specifically homilies in Catholic churches (1944), “They are bad aren’t they, most of them from any point of view. The answer to the mystery is probably not simple. For preaching is an art, yet preaching is complicated by the fact that we expect in it not a performance, but truth and sincerity and also at least no word, tone or note that suggests the possession of vices such as pride or hypocrisy, or defects such as folly or ignorance in the preacher. Good sermons therefore require some art, some virtue and some knowledge” [basically, the same three things Beza was talking about].

St. Augustine wrote the first homiletical manual in the history of the church, part four of his work on Christian doctrine. There he remarked on the instruction of Cicero, the prince of Greek rhetoricians, who believed there were three components to rhetoric: 1) plain style – to prove and to reason, 2) middle style – to rivet and delight, and 3) grand style – to stir people to act. There were best practices for each of these styles. Which style was emphasized was to be based on one’s own personality as well as the occasion. Augustine says the preacher must employ all three of Cicero’s styles if you are going to honor the authority of the Bible. Because people need not just their reason informed but also their imagination captured. And yet you are also trying to get people to give their entire lives. You musn’t separate these three from each other. “Nobody should preach every text the same way. You need to honor the rhetorical style of the passage. You must let the Scriptures inform the proportion or your rhetorical style.”

Galatians 4 is the plain style – instruction, didactic, logical
1 Corinthians 13 is the middle style – beautiful
Romans 8 is the grand style – soaring

Now for the three components of good preaching…

1. Preach Biblically (Word, Text)

“Him we proclaim.” Seminaries tend to put ninety percent of emphasis on this point, but far less on skillful language, persuasiveness, connecting with people’s emotions, culture, and hearts. Thus this series will begin here, but spend more time on the following two points in the coming lectures.

Preach the text, not your opinion. Know the authorial intent – what does the text say in original historical context? And what about canonical context?

Expostory preaching…
grounds the sermon in the text
grounds all the points of the sermon in the text
majors in general in the majors of the text
is doctrinally sound (systematic theology)
is Christocentric (biblical theology; canonical context of the Bible is that it is about Jesus)

Hughes Oliphant Old (7 volumes on preaching) says there have been five kinds of sermons in the history of the world: expository, catechetical, evangelistic, festal, and prophetic. Basically this can be distilled into two types: expository and all the rest (thematic/topical). Thematic: topic determines the text. Expository: text determines the topic. So basically these are the two kinds of preaching, expository and topical.

Hughes Oliphant Old makes the case that in the Bible you have both types. Paul does not do expository preaching in Acts 17, but rather thematic oratory; though in Acts 13 in the synagogue he does expository preaching. But the normal diet for a congregation should be expository (Derek Thomas’ article “Expository Preaching” in Feed My Sheep).

Five Benefits of Expository Preaching
1) Teaches about the authority of God’s word.
2) Let’s God set the agenda for what will be discussed.
3) Rests the authority of what you say on the text.
4) Exposes your people to a greater range of topics and avoids hobby horses.
5) Teaches your people how to study the Bible as well

P.T. Forsyth, “The true ancestor of the Christian preacher is not the Greek orator, but the Hebrew prophet.” (Forsyth, Positive Preaching and Modern Mind)

5 Dangers of Expository Preaching
1) Doesn’t recognize the mobility of our society – given the transience where people may only be in the church for two years, do you really want them to only hear one book of the Bible that entire tenure?
2) Can be boring because if you spend too long in one particular book of the Bible, the fact is that most books of the Bible have only one or two main themes. Thus staying in one book for a year or more doesn’t expose people to the full range of biblical teaching.
3) Tendency is to only explain the text but not connect to people culturally and emotionally. There is a tendency among expository preachers to say, “As long as I’m telling people the truth, the other aspects of preaching don’t matter.”
4) Restricts your speaking ability to expounding a text, which means you are not developing skill at speaking evangelistically.
5) Every place I’ve seen expository preaching emphasized, it ends up being over-defined.

2. Preach Attractively (Heart, Imagination)

“Warning everyone.” How do I penetrate through barriers to belief in Jesus? This means preaching contextually and going after cultural blindness. Not just stating propositions but using metaphors that get the imagination going. Preaching practically and interestingly.

3. Preach Powerfully (Spirit, Move People)

“Struggling with all his energy.” Preaching and embodying the sermon personally. The love joy peace wisdom that you exhibit as you are speaking have to be such that you are showing people a gospel-changed soul such that they want it to, and yet this must not be a performance. But genuinely a soul that has been broken and repaired by the truth of the gospel.

Non-deliberate transparency – not just telling self-deprecating stories to appear to others to be transparent. But non-programmed spiritual authenticity. This is the result of your prayer life, experience, spiritual maturity as time goes on.

Discerning Satan’s Work: Three Clues

dynamicsSpiritual renewal is a daily process with daily setbacks. And as C.S. Lewis imaginatively reminded us (Screwtape Letters), the Biblical worldview includes a realm of activity beyond physical awareness, from which many of those setbacks originate.

The lineage of human brokenness is mixed. Sin derives from many sources. Envy and arrogance from within led Eve to eat the fruit. Yet as the story goes it was clearly the serpent that lured her in. But surely Adam’s absence had something to do with her transgression as well. As with Eve, so with us.  Sin springs from many fountains.

The flesh, the world, and the devil conspire to preclude our progress in being transformed to look more and more like Jesus in the way we live. While Christians are usually somewhat sensitive to the presence of personal sin (both acts and condition, e.g. 1 John 1:5-10), and also alert to the allures of the world (1 John 2:15-17), there seems to be less perceptiveness regarding the ways of the devil (1 John 3:8-11).

Paul expressed concern for the church in Corinth regarding this potential imperceptiveness of the devil’s work, “…so that we would not be outwitted by Satan: for we are not ignorant of his designs” (2 Cor. 2:11).

I recently finished reading Renewal As a Way of Life: A Guidebook for Spiritual Growth by Richard Lovelace, which emphasizes our need for awareness of Satan’s role in our downfalls. Lovelace brings a balanced approach, neither attributing all sin to the devil nor ignoring the devil’s influence. Lovelace highlights three “clues” for discerning the devil’s work, calling them the “Stratagems of Darkness.”

  1. Temptation: Steering God’s children into forms of sin which are in obvious conformity to the world. “Temptation is not his most dangerous technique with believers, for they cannot be led away from Christ into damnation.” Nonetheless, sin can sideline believers, both through discouragement and discrediting.
  2. Accusation: There is no activity which is more characteristic of the devil (106). How do we become sensitized to spiritual conflict? How do we know when we are up against the devil? Based on the situation in 2 Corinthians 2, where believers are being tempted toward mutual resentment and unhealed relationships due to lack of forgiveness, Lovelace suggests that there are two ways in which the devil normally works: “dividing the body of Christ and using unhealed resentment as a gun emplacement for firing accusations” (153). He goes on to say, “Whenever we find accusation dominating our minds or the minds of others, especially with an apparent admixture of lies, we may be dealing with the devil” (153).
  3. Lying: Jesus said of the devil, “When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (Jn 8:44). “Every part of the church…shows some marks of the devil’s ability to lead us into believing falsehood, causing us to ignore or doubt biblical truth” (108). There are those doctrines which directly contradict biblical teaching, and yet appeal to human arrogance. But there are also innovative philosophies which have a distinct biblical “ring” to them, and yet subtly subvert the teachings of Jesus.

There is one further “clue” to be aware of. Lovelace asks “How can we tell that we are dealing with demonic agents when many of their characteristic strategies employ the temptations, doubts, lies and slanders common to the flesh and the world?” (153).

There is a simple answer to this question. The powers of darkness do not afflict us aimlessly. There is usually design in their operations, and the design centers on blocking the expansion of the Messianic kingdom. Much of our discernment of Satanic powers come as we follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance in mission and ministry. As we begin initiatives for the kingdom, events will turn in a direction precisely calculated to block our efforts….If all of this comes with an especially disabling power behind it, Satan is probably involved.

If you feel the onslaught of temptations, accusations and lies, remember this: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 Jn 1:8). Or as Lovelace put it, “To topple the power structure created by the interlocking operation of the flesh, the world and the devil, we need a liberator of cosmic dimensions and a Messianic people fully enlightened concerning the difficulty and the supernatural grandeur of the work yet to be done.”

And in addition to the Messiah’s conquering/delivering achievements (Heb 2:14-18), we must remember that we also have the Holy Spirit’s enabling achievement, as Paul directs in Romans 8:13, “If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” The Holy Spirit is the active agency by which the remaining sin in us will be killed.

But to the extent that we are deficient in understanding Satan’s role in influencing, and the Spirit’s role in killing sin, to that extent we will be deficient in the fight and thus flagging in faith and joy.

So go forth and conquer in the confidence of the Messiah and the power of the Spirit.


Resources for further consideration:

Dynamics of Spiritual Life: An Evangelical Theology of Renewal, Richard Lovelace. The original work, from which Renewal As a Way of Life is distilled. More historical/theological context.

The Enemy Within: Straight Talk About the Power and Defeat of Sin, Kris Lundgaard. Drawn heavily from the teaching of John Owen, but much briefer and easier to read.

Overcoming Sin and TemptationJohn Owen. The evangelical standard from which so many others take their cues.

Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis. The classic masterpiece that imagines an expert demon who writes to his novice nephew, instructing him on best methods of tempting humans.

What Is Discipling?

Print“Discipling is deliberately doing spiritual good to someone else so that they will be more like Christ.”

So says Mark Dever in “Presenting Them Perfect: What It Means To Disciple Others” (part two in a five-part series on discipling). Below are notes on this sermon from Colossians 1:28-29 which says, “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.”

1. What does it mean to disciple others?

At its core discipling is teaching. Less like a classroom and more like an apprenticeship at a job. Perhaps even more like what our dads and moms have been to us: teaching both facts, but also teaching how to live.

Very intentional. Means picking this person and not that person. There are more people to spend time with than you have time to spend. So you have to make a decision. Who needs the help? Who wants the help (knowing they need it)? Are you able practically to make it happen?

May not always be clear who is the teachers and who is the student. Discipling relationships are always two-way: from one to the other and back again (Col 3:16 – “admonish one another”).

To disciple is to help someone live each day in light of the final day.

Our role in discipling: Intense involvement combined with humble openhandedness. Intense involvement can make us too concerned about our own input. Humble openhandedness reminds us this is God’s work not ours. For his glory and not for the satisfaction we might get out of it.

2. Who are you deliberately loving like this through discipling?

This is what the church is for. So find someone in the congregation who may benefit from a relationship with you. Intentionally invest in their spiritual good.

3. Objections to discipling

Concern 1: This discipler is not ideal. (I wanted an older woman, not a woman just merely older than meAnswer: Neither are you. The more humble you are, the more surprised you’ll be at the wisdom of others

Concern 2: I’m concerned this will undermine other good authority. Answer: Discipling done well encourages submission

Concern 3: This whole thing seems self-centered and prideful. Answer: This only means to follow someone else as they follow Christ.

Concern 4: Isn’t this pushy and imposing? Answer: No, because this is a relationship voluntary on both sides.

Concern 5: I don’t need this. Answer: That’s lone ranger Christianity. But in contrast Jesus set up the local church. Calling us to make his commands to love very real by loving particular people. Christianity is personal but it is not private. God is the only one who doesn’t need to be taught.

Concern 6: This is just for extroverts. Answer: No. This is for all Christians.

Concern 7: I can’t disciple – I’m too imperfect and make too many mistakes. Answer: Discipling is sharing what you do know with love, not sharing what you don’t know. Begin simply by sharing the gospel. Proceed simply by asking questions, climbing into their lives. Anyone truly following Christ can disciple.


Discipling is part of discipleship, not an optional extra to following Jesus.

Think about your approach to church: do you come just wondering when someone else is going to disciple you, or do you come prepared to contribute the progress of others in faith?

What do you mean by saying that you are following Christ, who laid down his life for other, if you are not helping others to follow Christ? How are you following him?