Rise Up O Men of God!

“This is not a moment for timid souls. Boldness comes easily when you are in the presence of those who agree with you; it is difficult when you are standing alone in the midst of people who seek your demise. Boldness behind a pulpit is one thing; boldness in a city council meeting is another. Boldness is seen most clearly when you have burned the bridge that would have enabled you to retreat to safety.”

Erwin Lutzer, We Will Not Be Silenced: Responding Courageously to Our Cultures Assault on Christianity, 120.

We are at a critical point in the history of the world and the Church. Should the Lord tarry, our children will look back on these dark and trying days and judge whether we were courageous in the face of great opposition or see evidence of compromise and capitulation. What will make the difference? Can I suggest a few things from Acts 4:8-12, where the disciples ran into their first major confrontation with aggression?

“Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:8-12)

1. The disciples were filled with the Spirit.

This is the only way a group of Christ-followers who were cowering behind locked doors only a few days before could be so radically different. Courage and boldness is not for those of this type of personality. Boldness and courage filled the hearts of those filled with the Spirit.

2. The disciples testified to Jesus Christ.

The evangelical church is scattered and divided about a lot of things today—spiritual gifts, baptism modes, music, methodology, women in ministry, and more. Don’t get me wrong, hese are all incredibly important things. But the primary need for standing firm against the onslaught of the enemy is the gospel message. The heart and focus must highlight the cross of Jesus Christ and the atoning work accomplished. Everything else must be seen in its subordinate place.

3. The disciples upheld the importance of the resurrection of Christ.

The resurrection points to the acceptance of the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf. It is not tangential, but central. The resurrection of Christ points to our own future resurrection and glorification. If you grasp this, then courage is sure to come because nothing—NOTHING—can stop you. Not even death.

4. The disciples never forgot that Jesus was rejected too.

If you forget that they hated Jesus, you might be tempted into the sin of seeking to please man. But if you remember that they hated our Lord and crucified the Lord of glory, then we will not be surprised when they hate us as well—no matter how winsome or loving or kind we might be.

5. The disciples knew that there is no other hope for the world than Jesus.

If a person could be saved through Islam, or Mormonism, or liberation theology, then it would be much easier to just quietly practice our faith privately without any care about others because they’ll eventually get to heaven too. But the message of Jesus was clear—He is the only way to the Father. And that should embolden us because although some people might want to silence us or shout us down, we can’t be silent if we truly love them.

Brothers and sisters, don;t lose heart. Jesus is coming soon, but we have work to do and we can’t allow the shouts of the world to drown us out.

How the Believer and Unbeliever Critically Differ in their Study of the Bible

“I mull over the text, I pray. I meditate and exegete. I talk to my Bible, and ask questions of the text. I take notes. I think. I sweat. And then God gives me what he wants me to have.”—Warren Wiersbe

Like many things in the Christian life, the preparation and delivery of a sermon is neither solely the work of the Holy Spirit nor is it solely the work of the preacher. The former leads to mysticism and poorly prepared sermons that are more heat than light and the latter leads to sermons that are devoid of the power of God.

In order to gain a better grasp of how the Holy Spirit acts within the preparation of biblical exposition we must first recognize that any study of the text which seeks to be accurate and God empowered is a work of the Spirit which carries along the expositor in his study as much as in his delivery.

A Preliminary Distinction

Before we can launch into the working of the Spirit in the study of the Scripture by a regenerate Christian, we must understand how it is that an unbeliever can accurately study any given text and still accurately understand what the text is saying to a certain extent. By examining how this is possible, we will be able to better understand how the Christian expositor is different and how his resultant study will yield spiritual fruit. To accomplish this, it is helpful to distinguish between comprehension of a biblical text and apprehension of the Word of God.

Comprehension

Comprehension as I am using it here is the ability to gain a knowledge of the text of Scripture through the technical sciences and application of hermeneutical principles. Comprehension allows for the accurate observation of such elements as grammar, syntax, and other exegetical and linguistic features of the text, i.e. the unbelieving exegete is not prevented by the noetic effects of sin from recognizing the verb forms of a biblical passage. He may gain additional insights regarding the biblical text from his knowledge of archaeology, background, culture and a multitude of other disciplines. 

However, it must be acknowledged that the unregenerate exegete cannot come to the text in a purely “scientific” way because his presuppositions will taint his methodology and will not allow for the Bible’s claim to be the voice of God. His comprehension will be flawed and be limited as he or she seeks to understand the fact of the text in light of their intended meaning.

Apprehension

Different from a raw knowledge of the facts of a text’s features and most basic meaning is what can perhaps be referred to as “apprehension.” Apprehension would include in addition to the comprehension of the text the additional aspect of the reception of the meaning of the Word of God in heart and conscience and communicates the intention of the passage and the desired response of the Holy Spirit to those that hear the message “with ears to hear.” This apprehension may include the preacher as well as those who hear the message. Paul wrote about this reception of the Word in 1Thessalonians 2:13, “And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.” (1 Thessalonians 2:13, ESV) 

The contrast between the understanding of the biblical text by the unbeliever and the believer is most markedly different in the comparison of these two aspects—comprehension and apprehension. 

The inability of unredeemed men to comprehend the meaning of Scripture nor can they hear the revelation of God in any form is expressed in such passages as:

  • Romans 1:18–20—They are “truth suppressors” and cannot grasp what God has made plain, yet they are without excuse.
  • 1Cor 1:18-25; 2:14—The Word of God is “folly” (Gk. moros) to the world’s wise men. Not only are they foolishness to the natural person, but they are incapable of understanding them. 
  • Eph 4:17-19—Unbelievers are marked as living “in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding…”

This suppression, mocking and darkened understanding affects some comprehension and prohibits apprehension of the Word of God when it is studied by the unbeliever, no matter his depth of knowledge in biblical studies.

Biblical Examples of Comprehension without Apprehension

  • The murderous Jews who searched the Scriptures but could not accept Jesus as the Christ—John 5:18, 39-47
  • The indifferent chief priests and scribes who had no apparent desire to seek the Christ-child in spite of knowing some were seeking his birthplace—Matt 2:1-6
  • The ignorant, yet searching Ethiopian who studied the prophet Isaiah but could not find Christ on his own—Acts 8:26-30

The missing element that links Comprehension and joins exegesis to the heart is the Holy Spirit’s work of illumination.

Comprehension and the Work of the Preacher

“Exegetical imprecision is the mother of liberal theology. When pastors can no longer articulate and defend doctrine by a reasonable and careful appeal to the original meaning of Biblical texts, they will tend to become closed-minded traditionalists who clutch their inherited ideas, or open-ended pluralists who don’t put much stock in doctrinal formulations. In both cases the succeeding generations will be theologically impoverished and susceptible to error.”—John Piper

It is necessary to state that the necessity of Holy Spirit working through the believer for the comprehension of the biblical text does not guarantee that the interpretation of the text is the correct one. Many passages in the Bible have been a matter of debate by believers and Christian scholars for centuries. Simply because the Holy Spirit is present does not automatically mean that serious exegetical study is not required, nor that such study guarantees the outcome of that study.

However, without Spirit dependent exegesis and the careful application of hermeneutical principles, the correct understanding of any given passage of Scripture will not be able to correctly interpret the passage as the Holy Spirit intended it to the original audience then applied to the present audience being addressed.

Accuracy with the biblical text assures that the message of the Scripture is understood accurately, but the work of the Holy Spirit is not complete. He must still work to bring about the apprehension of the message he intends.

Apprehension and the Work of the Preacher

Beyond the need for proper hermeneutical principles and accurate exegesis, there is the necessity of the work of God’s Spirit. As Paul reminded the church in Corinth:

“and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:4–5, ESV)

Accompanying the words of the message there must be the Spirit and his power. A sermon that is empowered by God himself must be more than simply an accurate message, although it cannot be less. The inerrant Word will only successfully penetrate the heart when the Spirit acts.

I. Howard Marshall is correct when he writes:

“Once the sense of the text has been understood, there is the task of seeing what it has to say to a particular audience, be it the probable readers of a book or a congregation listening to a sermon. The sense of Scripture is something that can be determined with a measure of objectivity as something that is fixed; it is what the original writer intended his original readers to learn from what he wrote. The application of this to new sets of readers in new situations can be very varied. It is here that the expositor particularly feels his dependence upon the Spirit in the task of making Scripture speak again in the new situation. In a sense he is trying to repeat what the original authors had to do—to speak forth God’s Word in a way that would grip their audiences; receiving Scripture as God’s Word, he now has the task of speaking it forth so as to grip his audience. If the original authors were dependent upon the inspiration of the Spirit to do so, how much more is the modern expositor thrown back upon the guidance and illumination of the Spirit in his task?”

Conclusion

The illuminating work of the Holy Spirit refers to the Spirit-given ability to understand the Word of God as it is studied or as one considers its implications for life. Paul referred to the inability of the natural mind to understand the spiritual mind of God in 1 Corinthians: “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (2:14). It is not that the unbeliever is not able to understand the bare words and thoughts of the Bible, but he cannot understand their spiritual meaning or their application to his own soul. This is best illustrated in the account of Nicodemus in John 3. Although he was a preeminent teacher of Israel, Nicodemus could not conceive of the new birth, even though Jesus condescended to teach him these things in natural pictures, relating the new birth to a human birth.

Jonathan Edwards related this to the unregenerate man having some sense of what is being referred to, but being incapable of having a total understanding of the matters of Scripture:

“The natural man discerns nothing of it (agreeable to 1 Cor. ii.14) and conceives of it no more than a man without the sense of tasting can conceive of the sweet taste of honey, or a man without the sense of hearing can conceive of the melody of a tune, or a man born blind can have a notion of the beauty of the rainbow.”

Although every believer has the ability to understand the Word of God because he has the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16), the remaining effects of sin nature impede thinking and understanding. Thus, a preacher needs to be continually renewing his mind with the Word of God (Rom 12:2), asking God for clarity and understanding as he searches the Scriptures to glean its truths and apply them to his life and the lives of his hearers. 

The Pastor in His Study

The effect of illumination on the heart in preaching is two-fold. Illumination must occur as the pastor prays over Scriptures and wrestles with the text that is to be preached to his congregation. The doctrine of illumination is not meant to be pitted against the need for careful study and preparation. Millard Erickson has written that, 

“…illumination by the Holy Spirit helps the Scripture reader or hearer understand the Bible and creates the conviction that it is true and is the Word of God. This, however, should not be regarded as a substitute for the use of hermeneutical methods. These methods play a complementary, not competitive role.”

Illumination also occurs as the pastor stands in the pulpit and preaches the Word to the congregation. The words that are spoken, though they have illumined the heart and mind of the pastor in his study, will fall dead if the hearts and minds of the congregation are not also illumined by the Spirit to hear and understand. It is here that one sees most clearly the interrelatedness of the Spirit and His Word working through the Spirit-filled man of God.

John MacArthur, well known for his dedication to diligently present the Word of God, describes the necessity of illumination:

“What is our responsibility? The answer is in Ps. 119:130; “The unfolding of Thy words gives light.” God’s words are unfolded to us first by discovery. Through diligent Bible study, we unfold or unwrap God’s truth. We discover that meditation with a view to applying the truth deepens its impact. Discovery and meditation combined bring the brightest light of illumination to our hearts.”

Recognizing that the Word of God energizes the preacher and the hearer does not give pastors the right to become lazy. The Spirit most frequently works through means rather than directly in applying His Word to the human mind. Believers have been commanded to love the Lord God with their whole being, and that includes the mind (Matt 22:37). Erickson writes that even though the Spirit gives an inner testimony of the truthfulness of His Word:

“He [the Holy Spirit] creates certainty of the divine nature of Scripture by providing evidences that reason can evaluate. He also gives understanding of the text through the exegete’s work of interpretation. Even Calvin, with his strong emphasis on the internal witness of the Holy Spirit, called attention to the indicia of the credibility of the Scripture, and in his commentaries used the best of classical scholarship to get at the meaning of the Bible. Thus, the exegete and the apologist will use the very best methods and data, but will do so with a reiterated prayer for the Holy Spirit to work through these means.”

Is Your Sunday Worship Driven by the Holy Spirit or an Entrepreneurial Spirit? (weekend repost)

“The light of nature showeth that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all; is good, and doeth good unto all; and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the might. But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture.”

Read the rest of the post here: Is Your Sunday Worship Driven by the Holy Spirit or an Entrepreneurial Spirit?

Is Your Sunday Worship Driven by the Holy Spirit or an Entrepreneurial Spirit?

“The light of nature showeth that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all; is good, and doeth good unto all; and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the might. But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture.”

CHAPTER XXI. Of Religious Worship, and the Sabbath-day, The Westminster Confession of Faith, Edinburgh edition.

What are the limitations of acceptable worship to God? In other words, what is allowable and not allowable when we go before the Lord in corporate worship. This question has been answered by many in the past under what has been called the “regulative principle.”

As a Christian who comes from a stream of the conservative Bible Church movement, there have been some who have decried the use of creeds such as the above Westminster Confession, instead desiring to have “no creed but the Bible.” Those of my Christian brethren that are creedal would respond that the place of confessions such as the WCF does not supersede or have any authority apart from Scripture, but organizes, categorizes, and systematizes the great biblical themes of Scripture for ease of learning and memorization. For this, I am grateful and can appreciate the beauty of such statements.

The issue of what is allowable and what is not is a good example of why such statements can be a help and benefit to the church. Today the evangelical church is awash with self-made men and ministries that are part vaudeville acts and entrepreneurial businesses. Whereas God does give us liberty in many areas regarding how He would have His Church worship, we are not given a blank check to conduct worship in any way we see fit as if God does not care so long as we are sincere. Freedom in some things does not equate to freedom in all things.

If the Lord was detailed in His prescription for Israel, it doesn’t make any sense that the Church of the New Testament was given absolutely no parameters. And although many godly men have disagreements over specific areas of worship, the point is that they are seeking to know God’s desire and not simply worshipping according to popularity or emotional responses by the congregation.

Covid-19 has pushed a lot of churches, pastors, and elders to re-examine their ecclesiology. Some started the shut-down of their churches by touting that online church is the same as in-person services, but simply an online version. But as things have dragged on, I have noticed that some of those same voices are now worried that people are not going to come back, and they are now trying to convince their congregation that online church is not the same! Of course, it is not the same.

The same is true for the ordinances. How can the Lord’s Supper be given via video? Doesn’t it represent the gathered Body of Christ? How can that be represented when we are not gathered? Some pastors have gone so far as to suggest that at-home communion include substitutes of grape soda pop or another fruit juice, and snack foods for the bread if nothing else is available!

These are not small things, dear brethren. Many in Church history have died over the sacredness of the Lord’s Table and the proper use of it. And more importantly, these things involve the worship of our God. When I hear or see the flippant and worldly worship of our God, I am reminded of God’s judgment upon Nadab and Abihu for offering strange fire upon the altar. I am reminded of God striking Uzzah dead for touching the Ark of the Covenant. I think of God’s judgment of Ananias and Sapphira for lying to the Spirit. God takes worship seriously! So should we.

Whether you subscribe to a creedal statement or not, it cannot be denied that we must worship God according to His desire, not our own.

Praying for True Revival

Restore us, O God of our salvation, And cause Your indignation toward us to cease. Will You be angry with us forever? Will You prolong Your anger to all generations? Will You not Yourself revive us again, That Your people may rejoice in You? Show us Your lovingkindness, O Lord, And grant us Your salvation.

(Psalm 85:4–7, NASB95) 

What is true biblical revival? Where does revival come from and what needs to precede true revival in order for heartfelt change to occur in each person? And what about the broader culture? How does a revival in the Church spread to a revival in society? All of these questions are answered in these verses, leading us to seek the only true source of life–God Himself! 

Although verse 4 is a cry for restoration, restoration was not enough for Israel. They knew that their disobedience betrayed an ugly truth about their spiritual state. They were spiritually dead. They needed to be brought back to life; they needed revival.

When the Bible refers to “revival” we need to know that it is not simply whipping up some experience in the church. It’s not a tent meeting. It isn’t where the Holy Spirit shows up with a special outpouring in a new and fresh way like being slain in the Spirit, or some other ecstatic experience. These aren’t even biblical practices. So, what is a revival?

Walter Chantry helps us to understand it a little better when he writes, 

“There have been outstanding periods in the history of the church when the intensified activity of the Holy Spirit has amazed her. Such times are known as revivals. True revivals do not result from some special work of the Spirit of God different from his normal gracious influences! Rather they are the effect of an increased measure of precisely the same power and grace which operate at every time and in every place that the church has been found since Pentecost. In revival times the Spirit’s work remains what it has ever been since Pentecost, namely, the work of inwardly convincing the unconverted by the Word, inwardly regenerating sinners by the Wordinwardly teaching and sanctifying saints by the Word, and inwardly prompting worship of Father and Son by the Word.[i]

What I want you to see in Chantry’s definition and as seen in Psalm 85:4-7 is that revival, as biblically defined, is a mighty work of God, and not of man. Just like forgiveness, which must come from God’s mercy, so too revival is a result of the mercy of God, or else we would never have it.

Secondly, I want you to see that revival is an inward work of God that results in soul-work—reviving of a person who is dead in their trespasses and sins, bringing them to new life. They are vivified, they are born again. So, when a church wants to see revival, it must recognize that it is speaking of two related but different matters—either it recognizes that it is spiritually dead and filled with many unbelievers who think that they are believers and need new life, or it is speaking of evangelism outside of the church. Often true revival of the church will have the effect of spreading out to the community around it when those newborn Christians begin to live and speak for the glory of God.

With these things in mind, let us turn tour attention to Psalm 85:6-7. Again, “revive” refers to being made alive, to recover life. This verb in Hebrew is in the piel form, which means that God must put into action what the psalmist is asking. To say it differently, just like normal human life finds its origins in God, so too God must bring revival. If God does not bring it about, it will not happen.

There is an amazing picture of revival found in Ezekiel 37:1-14. I’ll leave you to read the passage for yourself. But in it the prophet Ezekiel is shown an old battlefield where there are probably hundreds of human skeletons lying about on the ground. These bones have been here for a long time because they no longer have flesh on them and are bleached out from being exposed to the sun. The Lord asks Ezekiel if these bones can once again become alive. The prophet wisely says that it depends upon God, who alone knows. After all, unless God raises dead bones, they will remain dead. 

Then God tells the prophet to speak to the bones….

Notice a few things about this biblical illustration:

  • The question of whether the bones could be made alive again was not dependent upon the response of the bones, but God-v. 3.
  • Although it was ridiculous, the means that God chose to “activate” these dry bones was the Word of God as spoken by his servant Ezekiel-vv. 4-10.
  • Also notice in those words of prophecy that the power for life comes not from the bones, nor from the prophet, but from God alone who can cause these dry bones to live-v. 5.
  • Finally note that this whole scenario was set by God to show Ezekiel that God alone revives the spiritually dead.

Every time that God saves a person, he revives their dead souls. But that isn’t what we mean by revival—a soul saved here and there. That happens all the time. Revival is the accelerated work of God, whereby a small stream of people saved join together to become a torrent of saved souls. When this happens, the work of God is the same, but He acts in a wider and broader way with more people.

But with an increasing work of God in revival, there is more than just increased activity of the Spirit bringing about saving faith—there is a sudden influx of new Christians whose changed hearts are producing changed lives and then changing society around them. 

We need to keep ever before us that when the gospel message changes a heart, it will change a life, and that means changed actions. This makes sense because our allegiances and loyalties are radically altered from darkness to light and from the evil one to Christ. When God changes a heart, he changes a whole life.

In the New Testament, as the gospel swept through the world, people were changed. These changes weren’t a fad, or even popular among unbelievers. These new Christians were despised and rejected of men, like their Savior. They had to survive wave after wave of persecution from the unbelieving world around them.

But they did it. 

And as Psalm 85:6 says, if God will bring about revival, it will bring about the result that his people will rejoice in him. You see, rejoicing will not come until revival in the heart has occurred. Revival will not happen until God does his cleansing and saving work in us. 


[i] Chantry, Walter, Signs of the Apostles: Observations on Pentacostalism Old and New. Banner of Truth, 1976, 129-30. Italics in the original.