Down the Hill of Grace

God commands His people to proclaim Christ’s death as they gather around the Lord’s table regularly. However frequently Christians do it, there is the danger that they would fall into the thinking that God is pleased that they’re doing it. Maybe. It depends.

The Lord is not pleased, in fact it is loathsome to Him, if we eat and drink because we think He needs us to. He rebukes those who think that the reenactment or the symbolism itself is powerful. We bring nothing to this table except empty hands and hopefully a hunger for righteousness.

Dependence makes the difference. Eating and drinking because we need to pleases Him. Giving thanks for our justification–depending on His payment of our debt–and trusting Him for our sanctification–crying out for His help and grace for deliverance from sin–pleases Him.

It is a real danger that our liturgy would become loathsome, and it will be loathsome anytime we do it by works and not by grace. But our Lord’s table liturgy is intended to prick our hearts towards more thanks and towards greater trust. Giving thanks leans us forward. Gratitude is like a step down the hill, making it easier to take the second step of trust, which pulls us like gravity down the hill of grace.

The True Excellency of a Gospel Minister

The True Excellency of a Gospel Minister

This is a sermon by Jonathan Edwards at the ordination of another minister. He took John 5:35 as his text, noting Jesus’ description of John the Baptist as a “burning and a shining light.” Edwards shows that a “burning” light is one that is fervent, zealous, energetic, with a “holy flame enkindled in the soul.” A “shining” light is one that is pure and clear, that brings truth to the souls of men.

Edwards illustrates the need for both heat and light:

It is the glory of the sun that such a bright and glorious light, and such a powerful, refreshing, vivifying heat, are both together diffused from that luminary. When there is light in a minister…without a spiritual warmth and ardor in his heart, and a holy zeal in his ministrations, his light is like the light of an ignis fatuus, and some kinds of putrefying carcasses that shine in the dark, though they are of a stinking savor.

Truly excellent ministers must burn and shine. Edwards observes that, as we pursue both,

hereby our ministry will be likely to be as beneficial as our office is honorable.

Too many men love the honor of the office and do not consider if they are actually beneficial. They do not consider if their religion remains “only in the head,” or consists in “outward morality, or forms of religion” but if it “reaches the heart” and “burns there.” Those who fail in personal, spiritual fervency not only suffer an ineffectual ministry, they are also “so much the more hurtful and pernicious” to men and “the more abominable and inexcusable” before God.

Sunday Followed Friday

There is no more pivotal day in history than the Sunday morning when Jesus rose from the dead. “Up from the grave He arose, with a mighty triumph o’er His foes.” “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14). “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (v. 17). “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead” (v. 20); He is risen indeed.

The resurrection was necessary, obviously, because He was dead; “Low in the grave he lay, Jesus my Savior.” “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures” and “he was buried” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). Sunday followed Friday, and that Friday is the second most important day in history, the day when Jesus laid down His life, gave up His spirit, and endured the fulness of the Father’s wrath on our sin. The righteous took on unrighteousness; the just took the judgment; He was made sin who knew no sin. He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities.

50 days after the crucifixion, Peter preached about Jesus in Jerusalem (Acts 2:). Many who heard his message were “cut to the heart” (v.37), and asked, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter answered, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (v.38).

The resurrection celebration is for “every one,” but only each one, who acknowledges that Jesus is Lord and believes that God raised Him from the dead (Romans 10:9). Christians are those who hear the gospel, confess their sin, turn away from their sin, and trust in Christ. That’s the only way to be saved, the only path to share in the sin-forgiving death and life-giving resurrection of Christ.

Even as Christians, we continue to confess our sins because we don’t forget that the empty tomb we celebrate on Sunday is glorious because our sin caused His death on Friday.

The Ones Everyone Else See

We take it very seriously when someone says something wrong about Jesus, rightly so. Beliefs can only be true or false, and false things about Jesus, false teaching about the Logos, makes the difference between life and death, between heaven and hell. An elder must “hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able…to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9). We work toward the day when the saints in the church are no longer “carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14). It is dangerous and sinful to say and think the wrong things about Jesus.

Do we take it equally seriously when someone does, when we do, something false about Jesus? That’s a clumsy way of stating it, but perhaps the bloody knees that came from stumbling grammar will get our attention. Do we do wrong things about Jesus? Yes, every time we fail to act as He taught, commanded, or modeled. We can live truly or falsely just as we say truly or falsely.

Why do we take our sentences so much more seriously than our behavior? Perhaps because we know that what we think governs what we do. That’s true.

But think about that truth backwards: what we do comes from what we think. If we are not serious about accurately yielding to Him can we really say that we are truly serious about accurately reasoning about Him? The eternal Logos is a majestic Person who we want to know faithfully and live intimately. I realize we don’t usually live about it that way, but it’s something to think about.

Let’s be courageous to speak accurately about Christ when Jehovah’s Witnesses knock on our door. Let’s also be committed to act like Christ with our family once the door is shut.

Father, forgive us for not killing our fleshly desires and then living in the Spirit in our flesh. Forgive us for love, joy, peace, and patience that live on paper rather than in person. Forgive us for thinking that our living isn’t as important as our thinking, and for being proud about our thinking that obviously isn’t as good as we thought. Forgive us for not confessing all our sins, especially the ones everyone else see.

Fathers Who Give Hope

Fathers Who Give Hope

I listen to this sermon from John Piper regularly. The message comes from Colossians 3:12-21, especially verse 21:

Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. (ESV)

His outline is:

  1. The Address – “Fathers”
  2. The Command – “Do not provoke your children”
  3. The Purpose – “lest they become discouraged”

Paul requires Christians to rear children who are not discouraged. Initially, that requires rearing children away from hope in money, health, a spouse, or self (all of which will disappoint), and instead toward hope in God.

Fathers bear the unique burden of giving hope to their kids, though not independent of their wives. We ought to lead our sons and daughters in such a way that they would see the heavenly Father through our dim reflection.

Perhaps the most daunting, and encouraging, counsel is that what we are as fathers is what our children will become. Giving hope is not a program, it is primarily about living and growing as hope-filled Christians.

That is the first thing that fathers can do to provoke their children to long-term discouragement and hopelessness—they can fail to BE hopeful, happy, and confident in God.

A Weekly Refrain

Doing almost anything on a regular basis, especially religious anythings, can make it mechanical, stale, and/or hollow. There is no shortage of externally busy, highly liturgical, religious churches that dutifully go through many motions but do not do them the right way, with the right heart. A weekly observance of the Lord’s table is certainly not beyond this danger.

As the Israelites remembered God’s salvation repeatedly at their Passover feast1, Christians remember the cross at communion. How did they, how do we, guard against a frequent act of worship becoming the futile kind of familiar? There is infused into this ordinance, by Jesus Himself, a life-giving element. In remembering His death and resurrection the proper way, we will be protected from the dangers of religiosity to the degree that we celebrate with thankfulness!

Thankfulness is a powerful force. It crowds up our hearts with the right kind of affections, keeping our hearts from empty, hollow remembrance. It’s hard to find a truly thankful hypocrite. Thankfulness also crowds out all sorts of self sins such as self-sufficiency and self-righteousness. Conviction of sin rings the doorbell to humility’s house, but thankfulness comes into the living room. Or, conviction cleans the gun but puts no bullet in the chamber.

Herein is another danger of leaving communion at the confession level: it leaves us weaponless. Confession is important, but not potent. Thankfulness, on the other hand, fights for us and honors Christ. This table says something, and we say something by how we come to it. If we come with thankfulness, we cannot come too often. We will find our hearts made strong in the steadfast love of the Lord, acknowledged and celebrated as a weekly refrain.


  1. Think perhaps of the repetitive, responsive reading in Psalm 136.

The Other Gutter

While I wouldn’t say that the Bible requires us to celebrate the Lord’s table every week, it does seem that the early church observed it often. As an act of corporate worship, it unites the congregation together in Christ (cf 1 Corinthians 10:16-17) so regular observance befits the symbol.

There is also a certain tone or perspective that befits communion. While we dare not cherish our sin while commemorating Christ’s death for our sin, the remembrance of His sacrifice is not primarily about making ourselves feel miserable. We remember the cross and the empty tomb with growing gladness because He took our misery on Himself. This glad approach may seem refreshing, but is it okay?

We’ve recently been making bread for our weekly communion rather than using the typical pre-packaged cracker fragments. Many seem to think it’s tasty. They like it. They want the recipe. And, more than that, they discreetly wonder if it’s really okay to like the communion bread.

Questions about the tone of communion observance and the taste of the bread are not totally unrelated. Now, the goal with this bread wasn’t to make people focus on the bread. But is it an indication that something is wrong when we’re afraid to like it?

At the last supper, what kind of bread did Jesus break and share with His disciples? It was normal (to them) bread, normal for eating and for fellowshipping and for enjoying together. When Paul wrote the Corinthians to correct their communion behavior, he basically said, “Me thinks ye feasteth too much.” But while he told them to make sure they were taking sin seriously, he didn’t tell them to make everything tasteless.

We have been warned that people should not come to Christ in order to be made happy. We have been warned about man-centeredness and easy believism. But it is easier to act miserable than to be really glad that Christ is a great Savior. That is man-centered in its own way. It’s much more simple to be unhappy than to be truly happy in Christ.

Is our theological bowling ball just in the other gutter when we’re reluctant to embrace something because it is tasty? I also wonder, does our “sorrow makes it more spiritual” approach mean that we’re missing our opportunity to proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes in a way that people would actually want it? It’s almost as if we believe that the Holy Spirit would never let us have sweet bread.

Christ broke bread with and for His disciples to share. Christ died and rose again for all His disciples to share life. We don’t need to be afraid that we like it or want more.

A Hole in the Boldness Tank

Unbelief as sin justifies God’s judgment because it is an affront to Him. Unbelief goes about as if He weren’t trustworthy, as if His demonstrations were insufficient, and as if His commands were optional. Not only does unbelief deserve God’s wrath, unbelief also damages our witness and worship.

Unbelief torpedos our courage to witness. If I don’t believe that eating fruits and vegetables will help me be healthy, then I won’t eat them and I’m likely to be silent about their benefits in conversation. Worse, if I don’t believe that in Christ is life and that abiding in Him produces fruit, I will not be fruitful or faithful to call others to Christ. Unbelief blows a hole in the boldness tank and we will not acknowledge Him before men (Matthew 10:32-33) if our faith is empty.

Unbelief also bankrupts our convictions for worship. I will not praise what I do not prize, and I will not prize something I’m suspicious about. I will have no confidence to sing if I’m uncertain of His ability to come through or unsure that He is who He says He is. Doubt siphons off our confidence for worship until our faith is belly up.

“Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6). We sin when we do not believe, we cannot please Him without faith, and our unbelief cuts off our courage and convictions. Disbelief isn’t something to play with, it’s something to confess as sin.

No Less Wrath Deserving

We usually think about (our) wrath-deserving sin as transgression, as leaping over the fence He forbids us from jumping. Our spiritual death certainly activates transgressions (see Ephesians 2:1), but our spiritual death also animates unbelief. Unbelief is no less a wrath-deserving sin.

Unbelief deserves wrath because, whether we would say it like this or not, unbelief questions God’s honesty, His trustworthiness. God never lies (Titus 1:2) and He never fails to fulfill His promises (Romans 11:29). I don’t appreciate when my kids don’t believe me, but how much more wrong is it to doubt God?

Unbelief also warrants judgment in light of the many evidences God has given. He graciously substantiates His claims, even to us doubting Thomases. “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe” (John 20:27). He provides many proofs of His believability and men will be judged according to the revelation they’ve disbelieved.

The sin of unbelief also earns wrath as direct disobedience to the commands to believe. Faith is important because it is necessary for salvation. But faith is also imperative, so it is necessary for obedience. Disbelief is disobedience.

We who call ourselves believers, who profess faith, cannot let our belief slump or slip or wane. God still is trustworthy, He still manifests sign upon sign, and He still commands us to believe.