November 24, 2010 by C.J. Mahaney
Categories: God's love
Because of my sinful tendency to complain, I study the topic of gratefulness regularly. What a fitting time of year to be reminded of what theologian Peter T. O’Brien writes:
Paul mentions the subject of thanksgiving in his letters more often, line for line, than any other Hellenistic author, pagan or Christian. The eucharisteō word group turns up forty-six times in the Pauline corpus and appears in many important contexts of every letter except Galatians and Titus. The apostle’s thanksgiving terms consistently express the notion of gratitude which finds outward, and often public, expression in thanksgiving. By mentioning what God has graciously done in his Son, other Christians are encouraged to thank him also. As thanksgivings abound, so God is glorified (2 Cor 4:15; cf. 2 Cor 1:11).…
The grounds for the offering of thanks are wide-ranging: from the personal expression of gratitude offered to Christ for showing mercy to Paul (1 Tim 1:12), to the triumph over sin and death which Christ has effected on behalf of his people (1 Cor 15:54–55, 57; cf. Rom 7:25) and to the ultimate gift of God’s Son (2 Cor 8:16; cf. 2 Cor 8:9).*
To encounter Paul was to experience gratefulness.
* Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin and Daniel G. Reid, eds., Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 69, 71.
March 5, 2010 by Tony Reinke
Categories: God's love | Parenting
In his recent sermons on Jude
, C.J. spoke about the tendency of Christians to have an inaccurate view of God the Father and to have “hard thoughts about God.”
In the first message C.J. said, “I have interacted with many Christians over the years who are not certain of God’s love for them. They can be reluctant to admit it, but they aren’t convinced in their heart and mind that God loves them. In light of their sin and the holiness of God they wonder whether God does indeed love them.”
After the message C.J. received an email from a father who fears that he is unintentionally introducing to his children these hard thoughts about God. He wants to know what to do to model the grace and love of God to his children. Here is the email exchange between C.J. and John (not his real name).
Thanks for your message from Jude on Sunday. It is always a privilege to hear God's Word through you. I am reminded of His grace to me through the truths preached by you over decades now.
When you noted how we often have hard thoughts of God and fail to appreciate His initiating love, I immediately thought of my example and communication about God to my kids. And when you asked at the end, "What are you most worried about?", I think it is that I will hinder my children from knowing that God not only rightly expects their obedience and submission—a bar they cannot possibly reach—but also that he loves them as a Father so deeply that He sent His son for them.
I am afraid they do have hard thoughts of God and that’s largely because of my own sinfulness (anger, impatience, anxiety), which I am eager to continue killing by the Spirit. But apart from that, the question I have is, how do we as parents insist that our children obey us in the Lord without cultivating hard thoughts of Him?
Grateful for any thoughts you would have on this.
This a great question that I can’t possibly cover fully in one email. But here are a few thoughts that I hope are helpful.
- You have the privilege of introducing them to God the Father and describing the ways in which he is different from you, different from all sinful fathers, and how in any way you are like him it’s only because of grace that you reflect him. See Luke 11:11–13.
- Your honest confession of your sin to your children will protect them from having hard thoughts about you or God.
- Communicating your affection for them—and joy when you are with them—promotes both good and accurate thoughts about God.
- Initiate time with them at both planned and spontaneous times. Don’t leave them with the impression that they get most of your attention when they disobey. Let them know you are so grateful for them and love being with them as much as possible.
- Bless your children with many gifts in many forms! See Luke 11 again. Study your children in order to discern what gifts would genuinely bless them and then purpose to surprise them as often as possible.
- Requiring appropriate obedience does not promote hard thoughts about God. This only happens when we do so in self-righteousness or anger. See point 2 again.
- Frequently preach the gospel to them (and not at them). Reveal to your children just how far God has gone to show his love for sinners like us.
My friend, if you follow the example of our gracious God, your children will not have hard thoughts about him. They will have accurate thoughts about him—and a deep love for you.
I hope these brief thoughts help, John.
I was having a wide-ranging conversation with a friend the other day when we wandered onto the topic of the gospel. I casually observed how frequently the word gospel
was freighted with elements that belong more precisely to the realm of discipleship or ethics—e.g., what we do in response
to the gospel, or how we live in light of
My friend responded with puzzlement: “Aren’t those things part of the gospel? Didn’t Jesus say in the Great Commission, ‘teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you’?”
A lively and edifying conversation ensued in which we found ourselves largely in agreement, but also in which a crucial issue surfaced: what precisely is
Perhaps it’s foolish to tackle such a question in a medium that militates against nuance and formulaic clarity. No doubt my comments will be parsed and found wanting by many who discern neglect of this or that biblical theme or emphasis—ah, well, such are the joys of blogging. It is, however, a question that lies at the very heart of our faith, and therefore at the heart of pastoral ministry.
So what does the New Testament present as the gospel?
A good place to begin is Mark’s gospel. At the outset of the book, the author immediately alerts us to the significance of what will follow: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). Syntactically, this heading flows directly into the remainder of the prologue (Isaiah’s prophecy, John the Baptist, and Jesus’s baptism/temptations)—indicating that these introductory events are the “beginning of the gospel,” while the balance of Mark’s narrative presents the rest
of the gospel.
What’s the point? For Mark, the gospel is the story about Jesus—the good news of all that Jesus did in his life and ministry and death and resurrection.
We see a similar idea in the early preaching of the church. When Peter is summoned to Cornelius’s home and discovers that God is behind this miraculous chain of events, his presentation of the gospel (“proclaiming the good news of peace”—Acts 10:36b) is an outline of Jesus’s ministry, beginning with John the Baptist on through to his resurrection and commissioning of the apostles to proclaim forgiveness through his name (Acts 10:36-41; cf. 2:22-24; 3:13-15). As far back as C.H. Dodd, commentators have viewed this as a summary of apostolic preaching and noted its basic agreement with the structure of Mark’s gospel. Once again, the gospel is the news of what God was doing through Jesus in his life, death, and resurrection.
Paul uses the term gospel
more than any other NT writer. Of course, one of the most familiar renditions of “gospel” in the NT is Paul’s summary statement in 1 Corinthians 15:1ff: “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you...For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…” Again, the gospel consists of what Jesus did
to save us. Paul’s presentation is more narrow, focusing on the pinnacle of Christ’s work—his substitutionary death and resurrection—but that focus is also embedded into the very structures of the canonical gospels themselves, which reserve far more space for, and place the greatest emphasis on, the death and resurrection of Jesus.
So what is the gospel?
Although this brief survey is far from complete, it consistently reveals that the gospel is good news concerning Jesus and what he did to accomplish salvation for sinners.
In other words, the gospel is objective
. It tells us what God has done to save his people. It consists of concrete, historical events, rooted in Old Testament promises, types, and institutions that were fulfilled in Jesus. It promises that all who trust in Christ and his work will receive forgiveness and life. Of course, this isn’t merely a catalogue of events of only historical interest; all of this has massive implications for our lives. But we must not confuse the gospel message itself with the outworking of those implications.
So, for example, although the gospel calls me to respond to what Jesus has done, strictly speaking it doesn’t include
my response—repentance is not
the gospel. Although the gospel introduces me to a life lived in glad obedience to God, strictly speaking it doesn’t include that life of obedience. Our existence as Christians involves unspeakable privileges, significant responsibilities, and untold promise. But those things themselves are not
Why is all this important? It’s important because the very nature of the gospel is at stake—and there is no higher priority for the pastor than to guard the gospel from neglect, distortion, or redefinition (1 Timothy 6:20; 2 Timothy 1:14).
If the gospel message expands to include “discipleship in the kingdom,” then the objective nature of Christ’s work is minimized. When the gospel is redefined as a call to a social or political movement, Christ’s work is replaced with ours. When the gospel includes my response, then the ground of my assurance lies in me rather than in Christ. Indeed, anytime we shift the definition of the gospel from God’s objective accomplishment to our subjective appropriation, the rock-solid foundation of our faith is misplaced—and the glory of God in the gospel is obscured.
Of course, we can be clear on the gospel message and make other mistakes. We can neglect the entailments
of the gospel (a life of self-denial and obedience to Christ). We can focus only
on spiritual salvation to the exclusion of any concern for the material or physical well-being of others. We can so focus on a heavenly home that we neglect our responsibilities of loving others in a fallen world, and that our ultimate future lies in a “new heavens and new earth” that have been fully renewed by God’s power.
None of these mistakes, however, minimizes the importance of holding fast to the gospel of our salvation. For it is through the power of the gospel that we are transformed to live new lives by the power of the Spirit. It is through the gospel that we are freed from selfishness to give our lives in service of others. Sure, the scope of Christ’s redemption is the whole cosmos (Colossians 1:20), but at the center
of his redemptive concern are rebellious image-bearers whom he is ransoming to be his children. But all of these entailments, implications, and promises are founded upon the rock-solid, unchanging accomplishment of God through the gospel of his Son. It is this message that is God’s power to save sinners, to comfort the grieving, to motivate the listless, to encourage the downhearted, to assure the guilt-stricken.
This message never changes; this message is always true; and so our hope is always secure.
And it precisely when those erstwhile rebels grasp God’s accomplishment in the gospel—the greatest display of “the breadth and length and height and depth of Christ’s love”—that they will be “filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:17-19) and marvel with wonder at the gospel’s display of God’s glorious grace.
Jeff Purswell serves as the Dean of the Sovereign Grace Pastors College and a pastor at Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, MD.
Next week I plan to resume the series on procrastination (unless of course I don’t get to it until the following week).
But today I have the privilege of featuring a recent interview with my friend Jerry Bridges. Jerry is the author of numerous excellent books such as The Discipline of Grace (NavPress, 2006) and The Gospel for Real Life (NavPress, 2003). Last week I invited him to join me in the studio to discuss a very helpful practice for living a cross-centered life, captured in the little phrase “preach the gospel to yourself.”
It was in the writings of Mr. Bridges that I was introduced to this phrase. The interview provided an opportunity to ask him where the phrase originated, what it means, and what difference this practice has made in his life.
The interview also includes some discussion of sports. It’s in this section of the interview that you will hear Jerry Bridges and me deliver a special joint message for all New York Yankee baseball fans. Be listening for that.
As you listen to this short interview I think you will discover for yourselves why I am so thankful to God for this man.
You will find the audio download of the interview here. Or listen to the interview online:
Related: Interview with Sinclair Ferguson
The audio recording of C.J.’s first message at the 2008 Resolved Conference is online.
God As Father
Saturday, June 14, 2008
Palm Springs, CA
1:15:23 run time; 34.6MB MP3
Pic by Lukas.
June 4, 2008 by Tony Reinke
Categories: God's love | Joy | Legalism
The question “Do I love God?” is often overshadowed by a bigger question—“Does God love me?” This personal doubt of God's love has haunted Christians for centuries and remains a common question today. So it was not surprising to see the Sovereign Grace (e)mailbag receive a number of requests for more information on a particular quote C.J. shared at the end of his second New Attitude message.
Over a century ago a woman posed the same question to pastor Charles Haddon Spurgeon.
I once knew a good woman who was the subject of many doubts, and when I got to the bottom of her doubt, it was this: she knew she loved Christ, but she was afraid he did not love her. “Oh!” I said, “that is a doubt that will never trouble me; never, by any possibility, because I am sure of this, that the heart is so corrupt, naturally, that love to God never did get there without God’s putting it there.” You may rest quite certain, that if you love God, it is a fruit, and not a root. It is the fruit of God’s love to you, and did not get there by the force of any goodness in you. You may conclude, with absolute certainty, that God loves you if you love God.
It was this succinct and biblically rich counsel C.J. shared in his second address at the Na conference.
Spurgeon’s entire sermon can be read online for free here. C.J.’s Na message—“God as Father: Understanding the Doctrine of Adoption”—can be downloaded here.
The audio recording of C.J.'s second and final message delivered at the New Attitude conference is now online.
God as Father: Understanding the Doctrine of Adoption in God's Word
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
(A continuation of C.J.’s interview with pastor and author Dr. Sinclair Ferguson)
C.J. Mahaney: This quote I have used numerous times in preaching. I don’t think I have ever used this quote without it affecting me. And I would anticipate this would happen even this moment. I think once readers hear the contents of this quote they will understand why:
When we think of Christ dying on the cross we are shown the lengths to which God’s love goes in order to win us back to himself. We would almost think that God loved us more than he loves his Son! We cannot measure such love by any other standard. He is saying to us: I love you this much. The cross is the heart of the gospel. It makes the gospel good news: Christ died for us. He has stood in our place before God’s judgment seat. He has borne our sins. God has done something on the cross we could never do for ourselves. But God does something to us as well as for us through the cross. He persuades us that he loves us.
And this is the phrase that I find just affects me every time: “We would almost think that God loved us more than he loves his Son.” Please, the origin of that quote. And please elaborate for us.
Sinclair Ferguson: Well, there are probably several origins when I begin to think about the different parts of that quote. I think actually the statement that most affects you was stimulated by something that Spurgeon says somewhere—“We would almost think that God loved us more than he loves his Son.” I can’t remember exactly where the quote originates, but I do remember Spurgeon is somewhere there in the stimulus. And that was because he had such a tremendous sense in his preaching about the love of God in Christ.
It is one thing to say love, isn’t it? It is another thing to exude that in preaching. We were talking about Dr. Lloyd-Jones earlier, and I think he says somewhere in his book on preaching that looking back, the one thing that he feels was missing was pathos. I don’t know that it was more missing in him than others. I think I can understand why he felt it was missing, because he was so committed to this notion of preaching being logic on fire. I can see, knowing what he knew about preachers in the past, he realized that there was something that they would have called an “affecting character” that maybe was more than just logic on fire. And Spurgeon certainly had this pathos in his preaching.
When you do look at the cross, there is something full of pathos, not because of sentiment (the poor man is dying on the cross), but because of theology. God so loved the world that he gave his only Son. And the connectedness between John 3 and Romans 8:32: If he who did not spare his own Son but delivered him up for us all how shall he not also with him freely give us all things?
Capturing that truth in a world of the unloved—I can’t work myself up to that truth. That truth has got to break into my heart with its pathos: that he has given his own Son. And that is not just a theological construction. Therefore the heart of the atonement actually takes place not wholly outside of God but within. This is his own Son who is our Savior.
And then the logic we now have is that “if I have given my Son for you, I will stop short of nothing else for you.” Couple that with what Paul said earlier in Romans 5:8--"But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (NASB).
The cross should never be expounded simply as a demonstration of the love of God in a sense of being overwhelmed with his love, like it doesn’t matter if anything else was accomplished on the cross as long as we are overwhelmed by his love and swept along into fellowship with him, and that is the atonement. No. But while wrath is satisfied and Christ dies for our sins, it would be erroneous for us to reduce this to the kind of mathematical formulation of “this is how God has merely dealt with our sins.” No, this is also how God actually proves to us he really loves us!
So it is both the effecting of the atonement and the persuading of his love. And that really takes us back to what we were talking about earlier on, in Eden. The situation with the fall of Adam, it seems to me—among the dimensions that need to be dealt with, there is the satanic dimension: the one who has now taken over the universe needs to be crushed, and in Genesis 3:15 his head will be crushed. But in that there also needs to be an atonement for guilt, but with that atonement for guilt we need to be persuaded of what was originally true, that Satan sought to destroy. This issue of being persuaded of God’s love, not in a facile way, but through the work of the cross, goes very much along with how is it that God is going to deal with the natural legalism of my heart that says, “He will only begin to love me when I do things to please him.”
Also, I think this is a powerful reality in difficult providences. There are times when I bump into somebody unexpectedly that I will say, “This is a happy providence.” And then I will stop and think, “Would it have been an unhappy providence if I hadn’t bumped into you?” We have this tendency—especially if you are inclined to this legalism—to measure how God’s love is doing for you these days by the providences that surround your life. Our ability to read providences are a very inaccurate measure of God’s love for us.
So again, it’s back to the cross. This is where God demonstrates his love. I don’t know that Christ loves me because I am in the boat with him and the seas are calm. And therefore I don’t know that Christ doesn’t love me because I am in the boat with him and the seas are not calm. I know my heart will say to him, “Don’t you care that we are perishing?”
But with the cross I know he is saying to me, “The reason I am in the boat and the reason I am going to the cross is because I care. So my love is demonstrated towards you in this way.”
CJM: Well, I only wish everyone could be here in this room right now. I hope that what is taking place in this room is transferred to people’s hearts and that God’s love, as so eloquently just expressed by Sinclair, in and through the cross, would transform people’s hearts and make an immediate and dramatic difference. I pray that everyone reading would be persuaded that he loves us because of what took place upon the cross.
The Ferguson quote at the top is taken from Grow in Grace (Banner of Truth, 1989), pp. 56, 58.
Photo © 2008, Lukas VanDyke