The Driving Force of You (Prayer) Life

by Mike Riccardi

“Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. …”
– Matthew 6:9 –

This first petition of “the Lord’s Prayer” (probably better termed “The Disciple’s Prayer”) is first by design. This premier petition that God’s name be glorified acts a controlling grid through which Jesus’ disciples are to pray. Everything we ask for in prayer and everything we do in our lives is to be asked for and done so thatGod would be glorified—so that the beauty of His manifold perfections would be magnified for all to see.

This is the highest request we could ever attain to make of God, for it is this which is His own most foundational and most ultimate commitment. He Himself has stated that He does all He does with a chief regard for the glory of His own name.

  • Isaiah 42:8 – I am Yahweh, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another.
  • Isaiah 43:7 – Everyone…whom I have created for My glory.
  • Isaiah 43:25 – I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake.
  • Isaiah 48:11 – For My own sake, for My own sake, I will act; for how can My name be profaned? And My glory I will not give to another.
  • Ezekiel 36:22-23 – It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you went.…I will vindicate the holiness of My great name.
  • Ephesians 1:11-12 – …according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory.

And He has given us the same command: to glorify Him—to make much of Him—in all that we do. Every way in which we conduct our lives must be controlled by the desire for God’s name to be hallowed by all people, for His glory to be magnified in the sight of all creation.

  • 1 Corinthians 10:31 – Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
  • 1 Peter 4:11 – Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Jesus Himself prayed this way:

  • John 12:28 – As He acknowledges that His soul has become troubled as He contemplates His work to be completed on the cross, the request He makes to God for the comfort of His soul is: “Father, glorify Your name.”
  • John 17:1 – As He began to pray concerning His crucifixion, He opened with these words: “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You.”


And so a great cloud of witnesses counsels us on what this instruction means for our prayer lives:

  • R. C. Sproul: “He is teaching us to ask that God’s name would be regarded as sacred, that it would be treated with reverence, and that it would be seen as holy. We must see this if we are to pray according to the pattern Jesus set for us.”
  •  John Piper: “We pray for ourselves and for other followers of Jesus and for the world that we would reverence and cherish the name of God above things. This is the first function of prayer — to pray that people would pursue the glory of God.”
  • Martyn Lloyd-Jones: “It means a burning desire that the whole world may bow down before God in adoration, in reverence, in praise, in worship, in honour and in thanksgiving. Is that our supreme desire? Is that the thing that is always uppermost in our minds whenever we pray to God? I would remind you again that it should be so whatever our circumstances.”

Is that your supreme desire? Is that the thing uppermost in your affections, in whatever you do? May God grant that it would be so.

This first petition of the Disciple’s Prayer teaches us that we must re-orient all our thinking and all our desires to be entirely in tune with God’s glory. As a disciple of Christ, I want to follow Him. I want to think like He thought, and be concerned about what He was concerned about. And, as He makes evident both by His example and by giving priority to this first petition, Jesus was concerned about glorifying the Father.

Therefore, the desire for the name of God to be glorified in the sight of all people must drive all of our lives as followers of Jesus Christ. This includes our prayer lives.”

-Mike Riccardi,

Is a Wife’s Submission Culturally Outdated?

by Tony Reinke

“In our egalitarian culture, the debate over a wife’s submission to her husband is not going away anytime soon. Of course we start with Scripture, and the Bible is clear in calling the first-century Greco-Roman wife to submit to her own husband (Ephesians 5:2224,Colossians 3:181 Peter 3:1). But is this command now applicable to 21st-century Christian wives?

Many say no, and one opposing argument goes something like this:

Paul commanded Greco-Roman slaves to submit themselves to their masters (Ephesians 6:5Colossians 3:221 Peter 2:18). It is in those same contexts that Paul commands a woman to submit herself to her husband (Ephesians 5:2224Colossians 3:181 Peter 3:1). Therefore, since these words to slaves and wives comprise one unified Greco-Roman household structure, and since a slave’s submission has obviously passed away, therefore the call for a wife to submit has likewise ended.

To respond requires that we take a careful look at both the theology of slavery and the theology of marriage — which is what Everett Berry does in a 2008 journal article critiquing the egalitarian views of Gordon Fee. Berry writes the following:

When Paul addresses slavery, he instructs believers on how to emulate a Christ-like spirit. We see this in his admonishment to Philemon as a slave owner to forgive and receive his former servant Onesimus back as a brother (Philemon 16). Obviously this makes perfect sense because this is a virtue that is indicative of all believers regardless of whether they are slaves or masters. Likewise, in another setting Paul claims believing slaves have permission to obtain their freedom if the opportunity presents itself (1 Corinthians 7:21–22). For Paul then, choosing to become or remain a slave is optional for believers, but the proper conduct as a Christian slave is not.

This means Fee is right to assert that Paul did not endorse slavery as a practice. He instructed believers on how to live in relation to it. What Fee refuses to acknowledge, however, is that Paul never claims that Greco-Roman slavery has its institutional roots in the theological fibers of creation or eschatological expectation. Only the family and the church are described as such (e.g., 1 Corinthians 11:7–9Ephesians 5:311 Timothy 2:12–15) because marital and ecclesiological concerns have theological strings attached to them that slavery does not.

When it comes to marriage, for example, Paul does not speak to husbands and wives in the same way he does to slaves or masters. He does not endorse a husband seeking freedom from his wife or vice versa in the same way that he advises Christian slaves to possibly obtain release (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:2127). Nor does he call a master the head of his slave as Christ is the head of the church, or command slaves to obey their masters as the church obeys Christ.

But he clearly interprets the marriage relationship with such constructs. Husbands typify Christ by sacrificially loving their wives, and wives typify the church by following their husbands. And as they do so, the balance between leadership and trust not only highlights the original reciprocation that Adam and Eve forfeited, but it also points to the unending submission that the church will experience under Christ’s headship (Ephesians 5:24–25). The eternal relationship that Christ will always have with his people is to be exemplified currently through the temporal relationship between husbands and wives.*

In other words, Paul does not root Greco-Roman slavery in creation or in eschatology. But the marriage pattern is clearly rooted in both. Thus, the Christian complementary relationship between husband and wife is established by God in a way that the Greco-Roman hierarchical relationship between slaves and masters is not. Therefore, Paul’s message to Christian husbands and wives remains timeless and valid. Paul treats marriage and slavery differently.

Meanwhile, some Christian men and women may believe submission is intuitively correct because it is a practice rooted in traditional American culture (rather than in Scripture). That would be a wrong basis. And submission may emerge out of a chauvinism or kind of patriarchalism that believes men are superior to women. And that most certainly contradicts the equality of men and women in God’s eyes. Worse, submission may be abused by men who use it as permission to abuse their wives. Such men are acting from cowardice, and not from the Christ-like sacrifice and love the gospel calls for.

But in the end, a wise wife will not take her cues about submission from ancient Greco-Roman cultural history. She will find her conviction rooted in something that stretches back to the beginning of time and that stretches into a future beyond her. And that is where a conviction about submission is to be found. In Scripture submission is embedded in the marriage pattern established in the pre-fall marriage of Adam and Eve, and remains to this day a bold and counter-cultural drama to our watching world of the Church’s submission to Christ.


For more on the beauty and joy of a gospel-reflecting marriage see John Piper’s, Desiring God (Multnomah, 2011), 205–221. See also John Piper’s sermons, “The Beautiful Faith of Fearless Submission” (2007), and “Lionhearted and Lamblike: The Christian Husband as Head” (2007).

* Everett Berry, “Complementarianism and Eschatology: Engaging Gordon Fee’s ‘New Creation’ Egalitarianism [PDF],” Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, 13.2 (Fall 2008), 64–65.”

-Tony Reinke,

Melchizedek and Superstition

by J.D. Greear

“Melchizedek is one of those enigmatic figures that invites all manner of speculation. I don’t get many opportunities to go into detail about “Mel-chizzle,” so I thought I’d take advantage of this one. Nerds, enjoy.

Some of the language the author of Hebrews uses about Melchizedek—specifically 7:3—implies that he had a miraculous birth and never died. This coincides with information in 2 Enoch, a non-canonical book that relates some bizarre stories about Melchizedek: He was born of a virgin, fully clothed and able to speak, he escaped the flood during Noah’s time by hiding out in the Garden of Eden, etc. Did the author of Hebrews believe these things about Melchizedek? And isn’t it a problem that he gives authority to a non-canonical work?

Did the author of Hebrews believe these crazy things about Melchizedek?

In short—probably not. The statement in Hebrews 7:3 doesn’t necessarily imply agreement with 2 Enoch. It is clear that Melchizedek is the only priest for whom we don’t have a genealogy, which is odd, since in Jewish narrative the genealogy is essential for priesthood. The author of Hebrews notices that and makes a big deal of it. But the author of 2 Enoch takes it a place the author of Hebrews does not. Just because the author of Hebrews makes an observation about Melchizedek similar to that of 2 Enoch does not mean that he agrees with everything else Enoch says.

Verse 3 is not intended to be an ontological statement about Melchizedek, but a typological observation. I read it to say, ”without mother or father in the literary record” and “without a recorded beginning of days or end of life,” and thus “resembling the Son of God who was actually without those things.”

To say that Melchizedek is truly an eternal priest, co-existent with God, thoughtechnically plausible in the language used, is not required, and would clearly contradict other biblical passages.

Admittedly, the phrasing in verse 3 is strange, but we have to interpret ancient authors according to ancient writing styles. We tend to read through a 21st century American lens, not a 1st century Hebrew one. Think of it this way: if 2,000 years from now someone were to pick up a 21st century novel and read, “The sun rose at 5:30 am,” he might say, “They believed that the sun actually rose!” But that would be an error on his part, showing that he doesn’t understand how we use language.

Then there are some scholars who suggest that Melchizedek was aChristophany, in which case the differentiation in language is moot. They appeal to verse 8 that implies Melchizedek was not a mortal man. Again, I read that typologically, to say that Melchizedek resembled one who was not mortal. That’s what verse 3 says–Melchizedek “resembled” the Son of God, not  wasthe Son of God.

Isn’t it a problem that the author of Hebrews interacts with a non-canonical work?

Don’t be thrown off by the fact that the author of Hebrews appears to be dealing with a commonly believed, though erroneous 1st century superstition without first thoroughly discrediting the source.

When missionaries go into a place in which there is an overly superstitious, harmful belief in demons and angels, they can either (a) try to prove that much of what they attribute to the demonic is imagined or (b) proclaim Christ’s Lordship over all of it regardless of the source, so that fear vanishes, in which case the superstition usually does as well.

Missionaries often choose the latter strategy, as it is much more effective, and the writer of Hebrews does as well.”

-J.D. Greear,

What Melchizedek Teaches Us About Jesus

by J.D. Greear

“We continued our series through Hebrews this weekend with a passage on Melchizedek, one of the more obscure figures in the Old Testament. It’s tempting to skip over Melchizedek, but the author of Hebrews mentions this seemingly minor OT character to teach us four important lessons about Jesus.

1. All of the Old Testament points to Jesus.

Other than the passage in Hebrews, Melchizedek is only mentioned twice. He shows up in Genesis 14 just long enough to receive a tithe from Abram, and then disappears until David mentions him in a prophetic psalm 1,000 years later. And that’s it—outside of Hebrews, Melchizedek gets four verses.

But the author of Hebrews sees Jesus even in this minor Old Testament character. This is what I love so much about reading and re-reading the Old Testament. You begin to see that the entire Bible is woven together to teachone story, the story of the gospel. As Jesus himself said, all of the Old Testament stories—even the obscure ones—ultimately point to him (Luke 24:27).

2. Jesus was both a King and a Priest.

One of the few details we know about Melchizedek is that he was both a king and a priest. This is true of no one else in the Old Testament, and for good reason. The kingly and priestly offices were ones you would not want combined. Just imagine combining the roles of pastor and police officer! Each one had a very specific function to fulfill. The king was the lawgiver, the priest was the counselor. The king stood firmly for truth; the priest sympathized with people in their weaknesses.  The king represented God to the people; the priest represented the people to God.

In Jesus, however, the offices of king and priest converged. With his death on the cross, Jesus brought together absolute justice and the fullness of God’s mercy. By taking our place, Jesus accomplished what justice required for our sin, but in a way that he could still approach us with the tenderness of a priest.

3. Jesus can save anyone, anywhere.

The problem with the OT priests, as the author of Hebrews says, is that they could only represent other Jews. Besides that, they had their own sins to deal with, and even the best of them eventually died. Melchizedek, though, has no genealogy, so he represents a new type of priest, not bound to the nation of Israel.

Jesus is the fulfillment of that new type of priest, not bound to the nation of Israel, nor bound by sin or death. He did not die for a certain type of person. He died for all people everywhere, so that anyone, anywhere could be saved. Or as the author of Hebrews says, He can save to the uttermost (7:25).Jesus’ death opened salvation to all people, so what keeps us from God now is not our sin, but only our unbelief.

4. Jesus deserves our first and best.

When Abram met Melchizedek, he was looking for a way of giving thanks to God. So he tithed to Melchizedek, offering to this king and priest as to a shadow of the King and Priest to come, Jesus Christ. In the same way, we who have been saved by Jesus ought to offer to Him our first and our best. How can we say we have any concept of God’s free grace if we persist in thinking of our money, time, and talents as things that we deserve because we earned them? Certainly our efforts matter, but so much depends on our health, where we were born, and our innate abilities—which all come from God! When we see that it all comes from God anyway, it is much easier to offer back to Jesus our first and our best.”

-J.D. Greear,

Preachers on Preaching

by Nathan Busenitz

“Here are ten reminders for those who preach and teach the Word of God … as confirmed by some of history’s greatest preachers.

1. Effective ministry consists not of fads or gimicks, but of faithfully preaching the truth.

Charles Spurgeon: Ah, my dear friends, we want nothing in these times for revival in the world but the simple preaching of the gospel. This is the great battering ram that shall dash down the bulwarks of iniquity. This is the great light that shall scatter the darkness. We need not that men should be adopting new schemes and new plans. We are glad of the agencies and assistances which are continually arising; but after all, the true Jerusalem blade, the sword that can cut to the piercing asunder of the joints and marrow, is preaching the Word of God. We must never neglect it, never despise it. The age in which the pulpit it despised, will be an age in which gospel truth will cease to be honored. . . . God forbid that we should begin to depreciate preaching. Let us still honor it; let us look to it as God’s ordained instrumentality, and we shall yet see in the world a repetition of great wonders wrought by the preaching in the name of Jesus Christ.

Source: Charles Spurgeon, “Preaching! Man’s Privilege and God’s Power,” Sermon (Nov. 25, 1860).

2. Preaching is a far more serious task than most preachers realize.

Richard Baxter: And for myself, as I am ashamed of my dull and careless heart, and of my slow and unprofitable course of life, so, the Lord knows, I am ashamed of every sermon I preach; when I think what I have been speaking of, and who sent me, and that men’s salvation or damnation is so much concerned in it, I am ready to tremble lest God should judge me as a slighter of His truths and the souls of men, and lest in the best sermon I should be guilty of their blood. Me thinks we should not speak a word to men in matters of such consequence without tears, or the greatest earnestness that possibly we can; were not we too much guilty of the sin which we reprove, it would be so.

Source: Richard Baxter, “The Need for Personal Revival.” Cited from Historical Collections Relating to Remarkable Periods of the Success of the Gospel, ed. John Gillies (Kelso: John Rutherfurd, 1845), 147.

3. Faithfulness in the pulpit begins with the pursuit of personal holiness.

Robert Murray M’Cheyne: Take heed to thyself. Your own soul is your first and greatest care. You know a sound body alone can work with power; much more a healthy soul. Keep a clear conscience through the blood of the Lamb. Keep up close communion with God. Study likeness to Him in all things. Read the Bible for your own growth first, then for your people. Expound much; it is through the truth that souls are to be sanctified, not through essays upon the truth.

Source: Robert Murray M’Cheyne, letter dated March 22, 1839, to Rev W.C. Burns, who had been named to take M’Cheyne’s pulpit during the latter’s trip to Palestine. Andrew Bonar, ed, Memoir and Remains of Robert Murray M’Cheyne(Banner of Truth, 1966), 273-74.

4. Powerful preaching flows from powerful prayer.

E. M. Bounds: The real sermon is made in the closet. The man – God’s man – is made in the closet. His life and his profoundest convictions were born in his secret communion with God. The burdened and tearful agony of his spirit, his weightiest and sweetest messages were got when alone with God. Prayer makes the man; prayer makes the preacher; prayer makes the pastor. . . . Every preacher who does not make prayer a mighty factor in his own life and ministry is weak as a factor in God’s work and is powerless to project God’s cause in this world.

Source: E.M. Bounds, Power Through Prayer. From chapter 1, “Men of Prayer Needed.”

5. Passionate preaching starts with one’s passion for Christ

Phillip Brooks: Nothing but fire kindles fire. To know in one’s whole nature what it is to live by Christ; to be His, not our own; to be so occupied with gratitude for what He did for us and for what He continually is to us that His will and His glory shall be the sole desires of our life . . . that is the first necessity of the preacher.

Source: Phillips Brooks, Lectures on Preaching, originally published in 1877. Republished in 1989 by Kregel under the title The Joy of Preaching. As cited in “The Priority of Prayer in Preaching” by James Rosscup, The Masters Seminary Journal, Spring 1991.

6. The preacher is a herald, not an innovator.

R. L. Dabney: The preacher is a herald; his work is heralding the King’s message. . . . Now the herald does not invent his message; he merely transmits and explains it. It is not his to criticize its wisdom or fitness; this belongs to his sovereign alone. On the one hand, . . . he is an intelligent medium of communication with the king’s enemies; he has brains as well as a tongue; and he is expected so to deliver and explain his master’s mind, that the other party shall receive not only the mechanical sounds, but the true meaning of the message. On the other hand, it wholly transcends his office to presume to correct the tenor of the propositions he conveys, by either additions or change. . . . The preacher’s business is to take what is given him in the Scriptures, as it is given to him, and to endeavor to imprint it on the souls of men. All else is God’s work.

Source: R.L. Dabney, Evangelical Eloquence: A Course of Lectures on Preaching(Banner of Truth, 1999; originally published as Sacred Rhetoric, 1870), 36-37.

7. The faithful preacher stays focused on what matters.

G. Campbell Morgan: Nothing is more needed among preachers today than that we should have the courage to shake ourselves free from the thousand and one trivialities in which we are asked to waste our time and strength, and resolutely return to the apostolic ideal which made necessary the office of the diaconate. [We must resolve that] “we will continue steadfastly in prayer, and in the ministry of the Word.”

Source: G. Campbell Morgan, This Was His Faith: The Expository Letters of G. Campbell Morgan, edited by Jill Morgan (Fleming Revell, Westwood, NJ), 1952.

8. The preacher’s task is to make the text come alive for his hearers.

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: As preachers we must not forget this. We are not merely imparters of information. We should tell our people to read certain books themselves and get the information there. The business of preaching is to make such knowledge live. The same applies to lecturers in Colleges. The tragedy is that many lecturers simply dictate notes and the wretched students take them down. That is not the business of a lecturer or a professor. The students can read the books for themselves; the business of the professor is to put that on fire, to enthuse, to stimulate, to enliven. And that is the primary business of preaching. Let us take this to heart. … What we need above everything else today is moving, passionate, powerful preaching. It must be ‘warm’ and it must be ‘earnest’.

Source: D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “Jonathan Edwards and the Crucial Importance of Revival.” Lecture delivered at the Puritan and Westminster Conference (1976).

9. The preacher is to be Christ-exalting, not self-promoting.

R. B. Kuiper: The minister must always remember that the dignity of his office adheres not in his person but in his office itself. He is not at all important, but his office is extremely important. Therefore he should take his work most seriously without taking himself seriously. He should preach the Word in season and out of season in forgetfulness of self. He should ever have an eye single to the glory of Christ, whom he preaches, and count himself out. It should be his constant aim that Christ, whom he represents, may increase while he himself decreases. Remembering that ministermeans nothing but servant, he should humbly, yet passionately, serve the Lord Christ and His church.

Source: R.B. Kuiper, The Glorious Body of Christ (Banner of Truth, 1966), 140-42.

10. Faithful preaching requires great personal discipline and sacrifice.

Arthur W. Pink: The great work of the pulpit is to press the authoritative claims of the Creator and Judge of all the earth—to show how short we have come of meeting God’s just requirements, to announce His imperative demand of repentance. . . . It requires a “workman” and not a lazy man—a student and not a slothful one—who studies to “show himself approved unto God” (2 Tim. 9:15) and not one who seeks the applause and the shekels of men.”

Complements of:

Source: A. W. Pink, “Preaching False and True,” Online Source.

Give to our God Immortal Praise

(paraphrase of Psalm 136)

Give to our God immortal praise;
Mercy and truth are all His ways:
Wonders of grace to God belong,
Repeat His mercies in your song.

Give to the Lord of lords renown,
The King of kings with glory crown:
His mercies ever shall endure,
When lords and kings are known no more.

He built the earth, He spread the sky,
And fixed the starry lights on high:
Wonders of grace to God belong,
Repeat His mercies in your song.

He fills the sun with morning light;
He bids the moon direct the night:
His mercies ever shall endure,
When suns and moons shall shine no more.

The Jews He freed from Pharaoh’s hand,
And brought them to the promised land
Wonders of grace to God belong,
Repeat His mercies in your song.

He saw the Gentiles dead in sin,
And felt His pity work within
His mercies ever shall endure,
When death and sin shall reign no more.

He sent His Son with power to save
From guilt, and darkness, and the grave
Wonders of grace to God belong,
Repeat His mercies in your song.

Through this vain world He guides our feet,
And leads us to His heav’nly seat
His mercies ever shall endure,
When this vain world shall be no more.

-Isaac Watts, 1719

Assurance: Every Believer’s Birthright

By Phil Johnson

“I was listening to a sermon by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones not long ago in which he pointed out thatassurance is one of the most prominent subjects in the New Testament. Virtually every New Testament epistle was written to address some doubt, answer some question, settle some uncertainty—all of them aimed at stimulating or reinforcing the assurance of believers. Scripture encourages us to have assurance. It is not inherently brash or presumptuous to be confident in your faith.

Shortly after reading that comment by Lloyd-Jones, while doing some research on a totally different theme, I had occasion to review The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent. Trent was the Roman Catholic Council that was convened in the mid-1500s in order to hammer out an official response from the Roman Catholic Church to the Protestant Reformation.

And let’s be candid: the Protestant Reformation had embarrassed the whole Roman Catholic hierarchy in a major way, because in addition to the many doctrinal errors and patently unbiblical and extrabiblical teachings the Reformers challenged, they also shone the bright light of biblical truth on centuries of exploitation of Papal power, gross corruption of the priesthood, spiritual abuse for material profit (including the sale of indulgences and the sale of church offices and political favors for money). Underneath all of this was the most shocking kind of moral rot that went right to the top in the Papal hierarchy. The Roman Catholic Church was totally corrupt.

The council of Trent cleaned up or papered over some of the more obvious exhibitions of rank clerical debauchery. At the very least we could say that Trent somewhat subdued the unbridled corruption of the medieval priesthood, after generations of abuse and corruption that were the hallmark of the priesthood right across Europe.

One other thing that the Council of Trent accomplished was this: They gave clear definition to certain Catholic doctrines that had always been rather hazy and abstruse—such as the doctrine of justification.

But fundamentally, the Council of Trent was a backlash against Protestant teaching.

The popes and bishops of the 16th century were not at all eager to convene a council to discuss the areas of church life and doctrine that needed Reform. It took years to get the council going. Meetings stretched out over about thirty years’ time. The bishops convened in fits and starts, working more or less halfheartedly for the first couple of decades. Only in the council’s final stages did they show any enthusiasm for the work. By then, they were so eager to antagonize the Protestants and their doctrines that they cranked out document after document pronouncing anathemas on the Reformers.

And in the process (mainly, I think, because they were more interested in countering the Protestants than they were in clarifying biblical truth on the issues they dealt with), they got major points of doctrine wrong in every set of decrees they issued.

For example, in their decree on the doctrine of justification (Council of Trent, Sixth session, chapter 9), they said this:“It is not to be said, that sins are forgiven, or have been forgiven, to any one who boasts of his confidence and certainty of the remission of his sins.” In other words, while we can know with certainty that God doesforgive sins, no individual can say with any settled certainty—based on faith alone—”My sins are forgiven.” Even the priest’s declaration of absolution is only good until the next time you sin.

The Council of Trent went on to draw this conclusion: “No one can know with a certainty of faith, which cannot be subject to error, that he has obtained the grace of God.”

That’s why no faithful Roman Catholic can ever really be sure of his or her salvation, even though they have thousands of priests in thousands of confessionals every day telling people that the sins they confess to the priests are forgiven. Those priests are giving people a deadly false assurance, and even Rome’s official doctrine acknowledges that.

But Scripture says this (1 John 5:13): “You may know that you have eternal life.” “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:15). “Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar” (1 John 5:10). We’re supposed to “be . . . diligent to make [our] calling and election sure” (2 Peter 1:10). Far from saying what the Roman Catholic Church says, that it’s sinful—even damnably evil—to be certain that our sins are forgiven and we have received the grace of God—Scripture says, “do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward” (Hebrews 10:35).

Scripture everywhere commends and encourages assurance. Nowhere are we taught to live in a state of perpetual doubt about our personal standing before God. Never does the Bible suggest that we should rely on the false promises of a mere man in a confessional booth who can never offer anything more than a kind of temporary absolution; a spiritual bait-and-switch offer that can never usher anyone into the true rest that is the birthright of those whose faith is authentic.”

-Phil Johnson,

7 reasons movie illustrations are lame

by Jesse Johnson

“A good friend of mine recently asked me what I think of pastors using illustrations from movies in their sermons. My friend uses them because he thinks they are helpful in relating to a culture that increasingly has their world view formed through entertainment. In that sense I guess using an illustration from the cinema is a form of condesencion—God uses language to speak to us, we use stories from movies to speak to post-post-moderns.

But I don’t buy it. In my experience, illustrations sparked by the golden screen (or Netflix, or what have you) generally fail, and are almost always unhelpful. Here are seven reasons why:

1) They don’t communicate well. These kind of illustrations almost always go this way: “Ok, so I don’t know if you have seen the Avengers or not, but if you haven’t, Samuel L. Jackson is this one guy—I forget his name—and he is good, even though he is making the other people do things they don’t want to do. Anyway, he has this ledger, but it is not an actual ledger, it is just in his head. And some people have red in their ledger, because they have done bad things. And they need to do good things to get that red taken away. But Jesus, he takes our red away by being our red!” Or something.

It takes a lot of work to even communicate an illustration from a movie clearly. The pastor has to tell a story that was conveyed visually, bring the audience up to speed on something they may or may not have seen to begin with, and then clearly draw out his point—which more than likely was not the point of original scene anyway.

It is difficult to do because a movie conveys its message visually, and over time. There are medium issues here. For a pastor to bring his people into the movie, they have to tell the plot verbally. This takes a while, is generally confusing, and unnecessarily complicated. Ultimately, even if it is told well, it is a long walk for a short drink of water.

2) People haven’t seen the movie. No matter what the movie is, there are people who haven’t seen it that are in your audience. Just because all of your friends have seen Avengers, and other Christian bloggers have declared it the best movie ever, and you have seen it three times, does not mean that all of your listeners have.

Even movies that are cultural icons have this same problem. As inconceivable as it is, there may be people listening to you that have not seen Star Wars. If you are a college pastor, you could have international students in your congregation. They didn’t grow up with HBO, and they definitely didn’t grow up with ubiquitous presence of The Christmas Story on TV. So if you use an illustration from a movie, you have to either lose some of your audience, or waste so much time in your sermon telling the story, that the whole illustration is burdensome. You have 40 minutes; do you really want to waste five of them describing some scene from a movie that probably doesn’t even help your sermon that much?

3) People have seen the movie. And when you start down the movie illustration road, for everyone in the congregation who has seen it, they are immediately critiquing your version of events. Was Samuel L. Jackson really good? Why did he lie to get others to do his bidding? Didn’t he make the Black Widow do bad things to begin with? How come she has red in her ledger, if she was made to do that interrogation anyway?

So you lose/bore the people who haven’t seen the movie, and the ones who have simply spend then next few minutes thinking of all the ways you are wrong. For movie nerds, they get offended, and immediately start wondering what else you are messing up in your sermon. You thought the point about getting red out of your ledger was cool, and that it would illuminate your point. In reality, a handful of people will agree with you, others probably made the connection without your illustration anyway, and the rest of the audience is just wondering why we’ve spent the last four minutes talking about superheroes.

4) Biblical principles in movies are a one-way street. Entertainment, movies, literature, etc., all have value and moral intelligibility as they correspond to a biblical word view. The Bible does not derive its value and moral intelligibility by corresponding to movies. In other words, this is a one-way street, and using movie illustrations in sermons is not going with the flow of traffic.

In evaluating the themes of movies, it is helpful to compare them to events in the Bible. In understanding the word view and implications of a film, obviously applying Scripture and seeing how the two correlate is essential. The Word of God is a flashlight and it illuminates the moral content of every story, even those told in 3-D. To use stories from movies to illustrate passages in the Bible is to hold the flash light backwards. Even if the light is on, and even if it is bright enough, its not going to help you see what you are looking for. The concept of the ledger from Avengers is cool because it relates to a biblical world view. But the concepts of atonement and imputation are not illuminated by comparing them cinematic superhero ledgers.

5) I also have fundamentalist issues with movies in sermons. I eschew the idea of worldly entertainment creeping into the church. I loathe the notion that the church needs producers to make God’s plot really come together. Our people live in an entertainment-driven, visually stimulating world. They are surrounded by movies, art, videos, and a 24-hour news cycle. The church on the Lord’s Day should be an island from that. It should be the place where their instruments are calibrated, and their compass aligns to True North. We should be a refuge from the world, and not act as if we need to borrow the world to make our point.

But my fundamentalism keeps going: when you use a movie illustration, you are unknowingly harnessing yourself to the moral baggage which that movie brings. Take The Christmas Story. You have only seen the TV version (and that—if you are 35-years-old, times seven viewings per Christmas—245 times). It is clean. So you use an illustration from it (materialism never delivers; remember that one time when Ralphie really, really wanted some kind of decoder ring? And he wasn’t happy when he got it?…). But you don’t realize that the actual version of the movie, the version people rent, actually has offensive language all over it. They cleaned that out for TV. And now, on the Lord’s Day, you are using an illustration from a movie that has troublesome language in it, and people in your congregation think that you must approve of that language. You probably let your kids use it too.  Finally, you also have offended not only those people, but the parents who are sitting there with their kids, who do not let their kids watch that movie. And you did all this so that you can make a lame point about materialism?

6) Using movie illustrations fosters biblical illiteracy. Instead of telling the story from Avengers to illustrate the concept of a ledger, how about a story from Kings? Or 2 Samuel? Is there a king, or maybe a general, who did bad things in his life, and who needed to make up for them before he died? Is there a captain who had red in his ledger who had others with enough merit to spare ransom him out of the penalty he deserved? Then use those illustrations instead.

7)  No, these objections don’t apply to literature. This may seem incongruous, but these same objections are not necessarily true of illustrations from literature. While certainly they can apply, often/occasionally it is helpful to illustrate points by using scenes from books, history, Shakespeare, the news, your life, etc. With movies, you are describing a visual scene verbally. With other illustrations, you are describing a written scene (or a scene from real life). That is easier to do with clarity. People don’t critique your description of the scene, because if you describe it with the same words used in the book, you are creating the same picture that was in their mind when they read it. And literature illustrations don’t cater to the lowest-common-cultural-denominator. Using an illustration from the book Braveheart avoids offending parents who don’t let their kids watch R-rated movies, while still letting you feel cool.

Just don’t say, “Mel Gibson, I mean William Wallace…”

-Jesse Johnson,

Loving the Law

by R. C. Sproul

“”In giving a summary of what constitutes the true knowledge of God, we showed that we cannot form any just conception of the character of God, without feeling overawed by His majesty, and bound to do Him service.”

—John Calvin

Yesterday, a man I met for the first time asked me, “And what is the Lord doing in your life?” (Something about how he asked the question, the tone of his voice, and his manner in it disturbed me.) The manner of asking was a bit too casual, as if the utterance was mechanical. I suppressed my annoyance and answered as if the question were sincere. I said, “He is impressing upon me the beauty and sweetness of His law.” The man obviously was not prepared for my answer. He looked at me as though I was from another planet. He visibly recoiled from my words as if I was weird for uttering them.

We are living in an era in which the law of God is not given much attention either by secularists or by Christians. The law, we assume, is a relic of the past, part of the history of Judaeo-Christianity to be sure, but of no abiding relevance to the Christian life. We are living out, in practice, the antinomian heresy.

A recent survey by George Gallup Jr. revealed a startling trend in our culture. According to Gallup the evidence seems to indicate that there are not clear behavioral patterns that distinguish Christians from non- Christians in our society. We all seem to be marching to the same drummer, looking to the shifting standards of contemporary culture for the basis of what is acceptable conduct. What everybody else is doing seems to be our only ethical norm.

This pattern can only emerge in a society or a church wherein the law of God is eclipsed. The very word law seems to have an unpleasant ring to it in our evangelical circles.

Let’s try an experiment. I’m going to cite a few passages from Psalm 119 for our reflection. I’m asking that you read them existentially in the sense that you try to crawl into the skin of the writer and experience empathy. Try to feel what he felt when he wrote these lines thousands of years ago:

 Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day (v. 97).

• Your testimonies I have taken as a heritage forever, for they are the rejoicing of my heart. I have inclined my heart to perform Your statutes forever, to the very end (vv. 111–112).

• I opened my mouth and panted, for I longed for Your commandments (vs. 131).

• Trouble and anguish have overtaken me. Yet Your commandments are my delights (vs. 143).

Does this sound like a modern Christian? Do we hear people talk about longing passionately for the law of God? Do we hear our friends expressing joy and delight in God’s commandments?

These sentiments are foreign to our culture. Some will surely say, “But that is Old Testament stuff. We’ve been redeemed from the law, now our focus is on the Gospel, not the law.”

Let’s continue the experiment. Let’s read some excerpts from another biblical writer, only this time from the New Testament. Let’s hear from a man who loved the Gospel, preached it, and taught it as much as any mortal. Let’s hear from Paul:

 But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter (Romans 7:6).

• What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through law (Romans 7:8).

• Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good (Romans 7:12).

• For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man (Romans 7:22).

Does this sound like a man who believed the law of God has no place in the Christian life? Read Paul carefully and you will find a man whose heart longed for the law of God as much as David’s.

Church history witnesses that at periods of revival and reformation there has been a profound awakening to the sweetness of God’s law that can easily degenerate into legalism, which usually provokes a response of antinomianism. Neither is biblical. The law drives us to the Gospel. The Gospel saves us from the curse of the law but in turn directs us back to the law to search its spirit, its goodness and its beauty. The law of God is still a lamp unto our feet. Without it we stumble and trip and grope in darkness.

For the Christian the greatest benefit of the law of God is its revelatory character. The law reveals to us the Law-Giver. It teaches us what is pleasing in His sight. We need to seek the law of God—to pant after it—to delight in it. Anything less is an offense against the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”

-R. C. Sproul,

Am I Called To Preach?

by Colin Adams

“This makes me think back to my own call to ministry. What ejected me from the comfortable pew and thrust me into the exposed pulpit?  Several strands weaved themselves together. Not independently-  but cumulatively –  these elements formed a strong chord which have ‘bound me’ to the pulpit ever since!

I’ll untangle these strands in the form of four questions.¹

1. The Gift Question – ‘Do people benefit spiritually when I preach and teach the bible’?

You will not be preaching like Don Carson after your first few sermons! ²  But are people ‘profiting spiritually’ when you teach from the Scriptures?  God plants a teaching gift in the lives of certain men (1 Tim 3:2). This gift cannot be self-generated. It can only be identified and cultivated (1 Tim 4:14. 2 Tim 1:6).  If a gift is inherent, even our first and worst sermons will likely be somewhat helpful to those who hear them.

2. The Church Question – ‘Does the church increasingly recognise the presence of my gift’? 

While it is important that I have a desire to preach, it is equally important that the church desires to hear me preach! The external call must meet the internal call. Normally, any church worth its salt will soon recognise a man with raw teaching gift.  In light of this, a  brother should ask himself: “Do I keep being asked to speak in church contexts”? “Am I gradually being invited to preach longer“? “Is there any encouragement coming from the eldership/pastor of my church to pursue further training”?

3. The Character Question –  ‘Do I desire to be an elder and am I striving to meet the biblical qualifications for eldership’?

It is my understanding of the NT that the primary teachers in a corporate church context should be elders, who have a particular strength in teaching (1 Tim 3:2, 5:17). If that might be my future role, it makes sense to ask, ‘is there a desire in my heart  now for the role of eldership? (1 Tim 3:1).  We can similarly ask, “am I aspiring to the qualifications for eldership?”

4. The Motive Question – ‘Do I want to see unbelievers saved, believers sanctified and God glorified’?

A would-be-preacher mustn’t enter this realm of sacred duty merely because he likes the sound of his own voice! Far less for his self-aggrandisement and glory! Do I desire salvation and sanctification in the lives of people around me?! Do I long for God to be magnified through the preaching of His Word?!


¹  These questions – especially Q’s 1 and 2 – assume that a man is receiving some opportunity to share God’s Word in a public context. It is impossible to assess a man’s gift without giving him some avenue in which to test the gifts he has.”

² Fair warning:  you may never preach like Don Carson!

-Colin Adams,