…We have to let God be God. His ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8) and we’ll never fully understand the mind of our sovereign and good creator. We have to trust him with our lives to work out all things for his glory and our good. We walk by faith in Christ and commit ourselves to sharing the gospel with other people so they can have the opportunity to place their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as well…
We had a lively conversation during our Bible Study on Wednesday morning as we studied Westminster Shorter Catechism Question #20, which asks, “Did God leave all mankind to perish in the estate of sin and misery?” The answer is: “God having, out of his mere good pleasure, from all eternity, elected some to everlasting life, did enter into a covenant of grace to deliver them out of the estate of sin and misery, and to bring them into an estate of salvation by a Redeemer.”
Our teacher, Buzzy Elder, did a good job unpacking the answer in three parts – God’s motivation for his salvation, the subjects of his salvation, and his method of salvation. We were encouraged to hear that God chooses to save his people (us) from their (our) sin and its effects out of his own pleasure and that he accomplished this salvation through the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, our Redeemer.
As Buzzy prepared to move on to Question #21, someone asked the question, “Well, who is actually saved?” I thought, “Here we go” and chuckled a little. Buzzy answered the question well and then led lively discussion about the doctrine of election that resulted in varying degrees of confusion, frustration, clarity, and concern among the group.
A Hard Line
The Doctrine of Election is one of the most discussed — even rejected — doctrines of the historic reformed faith. I believe this is because it forces us to draw a hard line between the just and the unjust, between those who are being saved by grace through faith and those who aren’t. We simply don’t like to think in such black and white terms.
Absolute religious truth offends our modern sensibilities. Whether we realize it or not, we have all been shaped by the philosophies of contemporary American civil religion, which teach that all men, women, and children are relatively good and walking in the same ultimate direction. Religion’s role is therapeutic in that it helps its adherents to feel happier, more relaxed, fulfilled, and healthier. Thus, no one religion is better than any other, for they all fulfill the same function: to help an individual get farther down the road to where we are all going.
The Just and the Unjust
But there is a difference between the just and the unjust, isn’t there? The Bible clearly distinguishes between those who profess faith in Christ and those who don’t (Matt. 7:13-14). Those who do (Christians) are just and those who don’t (Non-Christians) are unjust. The just and unjust aren’t going to the same place; they aren’t walking in the same direction. The just will receive eternal life with God and the unjust will receive eternal destruction.
Does this mean that Christians are inherently different than non-Christians? No. We are all the same. We have been created equally in the image of the same God. And, we have all sinned against our universal creator, as the Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans, “for we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory” – his holy standard (Romans 3:22-23). So, what makes the difference between the just and unjust? Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ made possible by the grace of Almighty God does. The just have trusted the Lord Jesus Christ and thus been made right before God through his life, death, and resurrection, while the unjust have not trusted Jesus and so remain unreconciled to God in their sin.
Therefore, we’re all equally guilty before God in our sin with our rebellious hearts, but God freely chooses to redeem his chosen people in his grace. And, he has the authority to do it however he wants to do it. He can redeem all, none, or some of those who’ve sinned against him simply because he is God. That is his prerogative, and it cannot be taken from him.
Let God Be God
Because we understand that salvation is God’s sovereign prerogative, our objection to the doctrine of election isn’t theoretically with God’s authority to save whom he wishes; rather, it is with our often precarious experience of his salvation in this life. We typically express our concern in two questions. First, there is the question about us personally: How do I know that I am elect? The answer is simple: If you have placed your faith in Christ and repented from your sins, then you are elect, for only those who are elect will be converted to faith in Christ. If your testimony is that you have been saved and transformed by grace through faith, then you are counted among the elect. In this sense, the doctrine of election is a doctrine of assurance (Eph. 2:1-10).
Second, there is the question about other people – our friends, our family members, people all over the globe. Are they elect, and if they are, how do we know it? The answer is two-fold. If they have placed their faith in Christ and repented of their sins, then they are in the number of the elect. Plain and simple. But, if they haven’t placed their faith in Christ, we don’t know if they are elect or not. God hasn’t published a list. However, we do know that they will never know the joy of salvation unless they are told of the good news of Jesus Christ in the gospel and are given the opportunity to place their faith in him and repent of their sins. In this sense, the doctrine of election is a doctrine of motivation for Christian missions (Rom. 10:14-17).
In conclusion, we have to let God be God. His ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8) and we’ll never fully understand the mind of our sovereign and good creator. We have to trust him with our lives to work out all things for his glory and our good. We walk by faith in Christ and commit ourselves to sharing the gospel with other people so they can have the opportunity to place their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as well, all the while holding fast to the biblical truth that “God having, out of his mere good pleasure, from all eternity, elected some to everlasting life…”
Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” — Matthew 9:37-38
Jesus calls us to participate in his mission to redeem sinners by prayer and action in Matthew 9:35-10:15. We are to pray to the Lord of the Harvest to send out laborers, and we are to participate in the harvest. Notice the following four points about Jesus’ life, ministry, and expectations for his disciples in this passage.
First, Jesus was actively involved in a ministry that demonstrated and exercised the power of his kingdom (9:35). He taught in the synagogues. He proclaimed the good news of his kingdom. And, he healed every disease and affliction.
Second, Jesus had compassion on the crowds of people who had gathered around him because they were harassed and helpless (9:36). They were weary, tired, exhausted, exposed, and dejected. Their leaders, who were supposed to care for them, had abandoned them, burdened them, and blamed them.
Third, Jesus relieved people’s burdens (9:35). He healed their afflictions in his grace and mercy. This healing, however, was not merely a physical one. Jesus proclaimed the good news of his kingdom while healing them of their diseases and afflictions. The outward healing illustrated the inner healing of the gospel in their lives.
Fourth, Jesus expects his disciples to have compassion on people as we participate in his ministry of relief (9:37-38). The harvest is plentiful. We need more laborers. And, the need is urgent.
Therefore, pray earnestly for laborers for the harvest (9:38). Pray for spiritual eyes and a compassionate heart so that you may see people as they really are and discern their needs (9:36). And, be prepared to be the answer to your prayer as you participate in the harvest by doing gospel ministry (9:35, 10:1-15).
“You’ve got to finish what you started.” is a sentence I have heard all my life from my coaches, teachers, and parents. I have a bad habit of not finishing the things I start. I start strong and then fade toward the end.
Recently, I made my way through J.D. Vance’s book Hillbilly Elegy (a book I highly recommend btw). When I read the last page, I remember thinking, “Wow, I finished it.” Out of the many volumes in my library, this is one of the few that I’ve read all the way through. I tend to lose interest quickly. I don’t know why; I just do.
While struggling to finish a book is trivial, finishing other things – like our journey of faith in Christ – is not. Repeatedly, the Bible tells us that we have to finish our lives in faith with Christ. We have to persevere in faith. We have to remain steadfast in our faith. We have to walk in repentance and faithful obedience in order to receive our reward at the end. Paul instructs us to “remain steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58).
So, let me encourage you to press on in faith. Make sure you are committed to finish what you started because finishing matters. May the Lord bless you richly in his grace by strengthening you in your faith.
In 1986, the late pastor James Montgomery Boice wrote, “There is a fatal defect in the life of Christ’s church in the twentieth century: a lack of true discipleship. Discipleship means forsaking everything to follow Christ. But for many of today’s supposed Christians – perhaps the majority – it is the case that while there is much talk about Christ and even much furious activity, there is actually very little following of Christ Himself. And that means in some circles there is very little genuine Christianity. Many who fervently call Him ‘Lord, Lord’ are not Christians [at all]” (Matt. 7:21).
Sadly, I think Boice’s assessment of general evangelical Christianity is as true today as it was 30 years ago. I’ve seen it in my own life. I talk a lot (as you know) about Christ and am consumed with furious activity. However, I’ve recently been convicted of how little time, energy, and emotional resources I spend actually following Jesus – going where he went, doing what he did, thinking how he thought, loving as he loved. I wondered if you are the same way.
Therefore, I have decided to focus our teaching and preaching time along with the rest of our congregational life on growing as active disciples of the Lord Jesus. You will hear a lot about discipleship as a whole and the five elements that make up our active pursuit of Christ: obedience, repentance, submission, commitment, and perseverance, in particular. By God’s grace, I pray we will end 2018 with a greater desire to forsake everything to follow Jesus.
May 2018 will be a wonderful Christ-centered year for you and your family!
H.A. Ironsides, in his sermon on Psalm 33, defines worship simply as adoration: worship is the soul’s adoration of God Himself. All of the things we do in worship are meant to assist us in adoring God, but none of those things are actually worship. We worship God when we adore him for who he is. Period.
Like any great song book, the Psalms have an order. It is:
The order is as divinely inspired as the hymns. As we read the Psalms, we often see the flow of thought from one psalm to the next. This is certainly the case with Psalms 32 and 33.
Forgiveness Leads to Worship
Psalm 32 is primarily about confessing sin and the gracious forgiveness that God offers to us. David is consumed by the effects of his sin, which he feels in the very core of his being. He suffers spiritually and physically. He confessed his sin before God and found joy in the blessed forgiveness of God. And the psalm concludes with verse 11.
Now, we begin Psalm 33 with these words:
Do you see the connection there? I hope so. Psalm 32 ends with a call to shout for joy and Psalm 33 begins with the same call. It is as if the psalms were ordered to flow after one another. They were.
We have a variety of ways that we think about worship.
All of these things assist our worship, but are they worship? No. H.A. Ironsides, in his sermon on Psalm 33, defines worship simply as adoration: worship is the soul’s adoration of God Himself. All of the things we do in worship are meant to assist us in adoring God, but none of those things are actually worship. We worship God when we adore him for who he is. Period. Ironside continues:
“It is occupation not with His gifts, not coming to Him to receives something, but occupation with the Giver; the heart going out in gratitude not only for what He has done for us but also what He is in Himself.”
This is true worship. We adore God for who He is.
Let me ask you: Can your worship of God be defined in this way? Do you come before Him simply to adore Him for who He is? Or, do you come to get something from Him? Do you do your devotions into order to ensure that you will continue to get your blessing from him?
I’m convicted. Maybe you are as well.
Why Do We Adore Him?
The Psalm gives us four reasons the Psalmist gives for adoring God. They are:
Jesus is the Word of God.
This all points to Jesus. He is the Word in the flesh. He is the creator. He is the king. He is our salvation. He is love. The word of God is central to this Psalm.
The Apostle Paul sums the point well.
The number of Americans not affiliated with Christian Churches is rising, and the Christian Church’s influence in our society is declining. This reality gives many Christians, myself included, a great sense of burden for non-Christians and for the future of the Christian Church, which we dearly love.
What can we do? The best thing we can do, out of the many possibilities, is to plant more Christ-centered churches. Planting new, biblical, Christ-centered, and confessional churches is the most effective way to impact the lost world for Christ. Period.
I have experienced this first hand over the past 4 years as I have overseen the church planting and revitalization efforts of Catawba Presbytery of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARPC). God has worked mightily and wonderfully in our church plants.
As the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church moves into the future, we must view our church planting efforts as intentional missionary endeavors of the denomination and our presbyteries. To do that, we must make the following three commitments.
1. We must commit to planting more churches.
Tim Keller has written, “The vigorous, continual planting of new congregations is the single most crucial strategy for (1) the numerical growth of the body of Christ in a city and (2) the continual corporate renewal and revival of the existing churches in a city. Nothing else — not crusades, outreach programs, para-church ministries, growing mega-churches, congregation consulting, nor church renewal processes — will have the consistent impact of dynamic, extensive church planting.”
He’s right. New and reclaimed Christians are often better served by new congregations because, unlike older, established ones, they do not have long-standing traditions, leadership and social structures, and other baggage that must be adopted, broken into, or carried. Additionally, new churches can think creatively about ministering to our diverse and transient society more so than established, mature congregations can. Research bears this out, indicating that 60-80% of attendees of church plants do not have any affiliation with other Christian congregations.
2. We must commit to viewing our church planters as missionaries.
Our church planters are missionaries, and they are planting in a “foreign” culture, full of idols with constantly changing norms. This is true even though their mission field oftentimes is within a 30-minute drive of our existing congregations. Planters must learn how to effectively communicate the gospel, the essence of the church, and the principles of the faith in a complex and changing environment. This takes time, and time takes a long-term financial commitment from those who support them.
3. We must commit to rethinking the timeline and funding paradigm for our church planters.
Our (ARPC) current funding paradigm was designed for a time when Christianity was the dominant influence in general culture. The social, political, moral, and intellectual landscape has changed drastically in the last 15 years, leaving Christianity to be simply one of the many voices being heard around the table of American religious and public life. Therefore, we can’t expect our planters to plant on the same timeline and have the same financial expectations now as they did in the early 2000s.
Presbyteries and the General Synod through Outreach North America should continue to support church planters financially with a lump sum to be disbursed over a period of 3-5 years. In addition, local congregations and individuals should be strongly encouraged to partner with the planters’ efforts by making long-term commitments to pray for and financially support our planters in much the same way as they partner with missionaries in foreign countries.
Furthermore, we must consider the church planting model that the planter has chosen and the context in which he will be planting when developing a timeline for his church plant. For instance, a church planter planting among the rural poor should take longer to develop solid leaders and become financially solvent than a planter planting among highly educated, upwardly mobile suburbanites. Any timeline that disregards these realities will be insufficient.
Christ will be faithful.
We plant churches expecting that Christ will be faithful to bless the work of his people as we go into the world and make disciples of all nations. Making disciples cannot be done completely apart from planting new churches. May we go forward and plant many churches for Christ’s glory, trusting him in his sovereignty.
 “Why Plant Churches,” Redeemer PCA, http://download.redeemer.com/pdf/learn/resources/Why_Plant_Churches-Keller.pdf