Saturday, March 24, 2018

doctrine lies at the roots of faith

"In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following."  (1 Timothy 4:6 NASV)

There is an ongoing concern in many evangelical churches that we need to move on from Christian doctrine to the more practical aspects of the Christian life.  After all, Christianity is more relational and practical.  It's more about life and relationships than it is about the content of the teachings of the church.  This is a fair enough concern, since all biblical doctrine needs to be worked out in real life.  

But the danger here is that we separate doctrine from faith and life, and so remove the very foundation (and motivation) for living faithfully to God in this world. Those of us who are studying Romans together are seeing that the Apostle Paul lays out eleven chapters of doctrinal groundwork before he comes to the more practical section in Romans chapter 12.  In Gresham Machen's classic work, Christianity and Liberalism, the author has this to say about doctrine:  

"The truth is that when men speak of trust in Jesus’ Person, as being possible without acceptance of the message of His death and resurrection, they do not really mean trust at all. What they designate as trust is really admiration or reverence. They reverence Jesus as the supreme Person of all history and the supreme revealer of God. But trust can come only when the supreme Person extends His saving power to us. ‘He went about doing good,’ ‘He spake words such as never man spake,’ ‘He is the express image of God’—that is reverence; ‘He loved me and gave Himself for me’—that is faith.

"But the words ‘He loved me and gave Himself for me’ are in historical form; they constitute an account of something that happened. And they add to the fact the meaning of the fact; they contain in essence the whole profound theology of redemption through the blood of Christ. Christian doctrine lies at the very roots of faith. It must be admitted, then, that if we are to have a non-doctrinal religion, or a doctrinal religion founded merely on general truth, we must give up not only Paul, not only the primitive Jerusalem Church, but also Jesus Himself. 

"But what is meant by doctrine? It has been interpreted here as meaning any presentation of the facts which lie at the basis of the Christian religion with the true meaning of the facts. But is that the only sense of the word? May the word not also be taken in a narrower sense? May it not also mean a systematic and minute and one-sidedly scientific presentation of the facts? And if the word is taken in this narrower sense, may not the modern objection to doctrine involve merely an objection to the excessive subtlety of controversial theology, and not at all an objection to the glowing words of the New Testament, an objection to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and not at all to the first century? 

"Undoubtedly the word is so taken by many occupants of the pews when they listen to the modern exaltation of ‘life’ at the expense of ‘doctrine.’ The pious hearer labors under the impression that he is merely being asked to return to the simplicity of the New Testament, instead of attending to the subtleties of the theologians. Since it has never occurred to him to attend to the subtleties of the theologians, he has that comfortable feeling which always comes to the churchgoer when some one else’s sins are being attacked. It is no wonder that the modern invectives against doctrine constitute a popular type of preaching. At any rate, an attack upon Calvin or Turretin or the Westminster divines does not seem to the modern churchgoer to be a very dangerous thing. In point of fact, however, the attack upon doctrine is not nearly so innocent a matter as our simple churchgoer supposes; for the things objected to in the theology of the Church are also at the very heart of the New Testament. Ultimately the attack is not against the seventeenth century, but against the Bible and against Jesus Himself.

"Even if it were an attack not upon the Bible but only upon the great historic presentations of Biblical teaching, it would still be unfortunate. If the Church were led to wipe out of existence all products of the thinking of nineteen Christian centuries and start fresh, the loss, even if the Bible were retained, would be immense. When it is once admitted that a body of facts lies at the basis of the Christian religion, the efforts which past generations have made toward the classification of the facts will have to be treated with respect. In no branch of science would there be any real advance if every generation started fresh with no dependence upon what past generations have achieved. Yet in theology, vituperation of the past seems to be thought essential to progress. And upon what base slanders the vituperation is based! After listening to modern tirades against the great creeds of the Church, one receives rather a shock when one turns to the Westminster Confession, for example, or to that tenderest and most theological of books, the ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ of John Bunyan, and discovers that in doing so one has turned from shallow modern phrases to a ‘dead orthodoxy’ that is pulsating with life in every word. In such orthodoxy there is life enough to set the whole world aglow with Christian love.

"As a matter of fact, however, in the modern vituperation of ‘doctrine,’ it is not merely the great theologians or the great creeds that are being attacked, but the New Testament and our Lord Himself. In rejecting doctrine, the liberal preacher is rejecting the simple words of Paul, ‘Who loved me and gave Himself for me,’ just as much as the homoousion of the Nicene Creed. For the word ‘doctrine’ is really used not in its narrowest, but in its broadest sense. The liberal preacher is really rejecting the whole basis of Christianity, which is a religion founded not on aspirations, but on facts. Here is found the most fundamental difference between liberalism and Christianity—liberalism is altogether in the imperative mood, while Christianity begins with a triumphant indicative; liberalism appeals to man’s will, while Christianity announces, first, a gracious act of God."

~ J. Gresham Machen, from Christianity and Liberalism (1923).  Read more of the context here.

Friday, March 23, 2018

following Christ

"I hope the Lord will make you willing to be guided by him in all things, to leave him to choose your way, and to follow him wherever it leads through thick and thin.  While we follow him we are sure to go right, if we take one step before him it will prove a wrong one. What he calls us to do he will strengthen us for and own us in.  What he lays upon us he will support us under.  But if we set ourselves to work we shall have [hard] labour for our pains.  If we cut out our own crosses we shall find them heavier than his."  

~ John Newton to John Rylands, May, 1773, in Wise Counsel, edited by Grant Gordon (Banner of Truth, 2009).

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

eyes on the road

Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them.  Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go.  This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.  (Joshua 1:6-8 ESV)

Carefulness is a theme in the book of Joshua (1:7, 8; 22:3-5; 23:11).   Some of the problems the Israelites faced were due to carelessness on their part, for example, the failed attack on Ai, and the Gibeonite deception.  The word used in Joshua for being careful means to "keep, watch, guard, or protect".  It is the same word used in Genesis 2:15 for the command given to Adam to "guard" or "protect" the Garden of Eden.  

This word is used in the OT for tending a flock, protecting property, or keeping watch over a city.  Throughout the Bible there are repeated calls to believers to be careful, to stay alert, to be watchful.  The opposite of this is to be careless, distracted, and forgetful about the things of God.   

Carefulness involves "not turning to the right hand or to the left" (1:7), that is, keeping focus on God's path for us and walking faithfully in his ways.  Sometimes, when driving on the road with my family, I'll point out some of the scenery I notice.  My family always reminds me, "You drive.  We'll look at the scenery."  In other words, keep your eyes on the road. 


Carefulness in biblical teaching involves meditation upon God's Word, which is concentrated and continued thought upon biblical truth.  It involves meditating upon it "day and night" (Josh. 1:8) This is Christian meditation.    

Carefulness is similar to, but not identical to, what today is termed, "mindfulness."  It is similar in that we are concentrating and having greater awareness.  Both involve keeping focus.  In today's world this is more of a technique, of being aware of one's own body, sensations, and thoughts. An article in Psychology Today states, "Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you're mindful, you carefully observe your thoughts and feelings without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to your current experience, rather than dwelling on the past or anticipating the future."  ( 

But "carefulness" (and meditation) from a biblical perspective is more about content than technique.  It is more outward (God-ward) rather than inward (breathing or sensations).  It involves past, present, and future, from God's perspective.  It involves focused thought and careful attention to what God has authoritatively revealed in his Word.  

The call to carefulness is echoed in the New Testament, as well. The Apostle Paul called upon believers to "look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise...", "keep watch on yourself... be on the alert..." (Eph. 5:15; 6:1, 18), and "continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving" (Col. 4:2).  The Lord Jesus, in teaching his disciples to be prepared for his return, said, "Be on guard, keep awake..." (Mark 13:33) and "watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down... stay awake..." (Luke 21:34, 36).   

This is also why church leaders, specifically elders (pastors / overseers) are to "keep watch over your souls" (Heb. 13:17), especially, in guarding the church from false teaching (Acts 20:28-31).  Every false teaching which the church faces is a temptation to "turn to the right or to the left" from God's word and ways. 

Monday, March 12, 2018

the dwelling place of God

"Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God."  (Revelation 21:3 ESV)

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of - throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.” 

~C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Sunday, March 11, 2018

sand castle

Photo by Karl Frederickson on Unsplash
The other day we received an email from a friend visiting family in California. This is the story he shared...

Guys, as most of you know from past emails, a 45-minute walk to the coffee shop happens with me while here in California several times a week.

Yesterday, after arriving and seated with my freshly made ham sandwich from the grocery store and with my usual pour-over, my life was perfect in every way.  An occurrence then happened which I had never experienced and will probably never forget.  

Facing the two front doors of the coffee shop, they were both pulled open, and a motorized wheelchair appeared with a man inside being operated by his wife (I believe).....This was not the ordinary wheelchair that we are all familiar . This was the Stephen Hawking variety (in some ways).

The normal talking, and noise of the coffee shop came to an abrupt stop.  Everyone was just mesmerized. The couple proceeded to a table next to mine. I never watched anyone as attentive as she was to this man.  She bent down in front of him and told him the coffee flavors. His head was cushioned so he could not move it. He responded by moving his eyebrows (not eyelids)  and his eyes would move....never saw him move any other part of his body.  She would rearrange his arms and hands from time to time.  She would take his soft sandals off and turn them over  from time to time. They were soft on both sides.

She ordered one small coffee for the two of them.  Added sweetener and milk.  Gave him a very small amount in a spoon and asked him if sweet enough.  He replied with his eyebrows. She went back to add small amount of sweetener.

I could hear everything that she said.  So loving and kind.  I assumed he could hear, or he could read her lips. She talked about bringing blankets so they would be warm when they watched the sunset. She pulled out her phone and pulled up a photo and put the phone so he could see it and said, "Remember this sand castle that Rob built? I brought his bucket and shovel so I could make one like it when we go to see the sunset."

We take so much for granted.

Photo by Frank Mckenna on Unsplash

Saturday, March 3, 2018

born of God

"Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.  No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God."  (1 John 3:8-9 ESV)

"This means that God's people in Christ, far from regarding sin with weary resignation or fearful foreboding, are assured that their struggle against it has both purpose and promise.  Christ himself stands behind them as they wrestle with the forces and ideas and behavior against which John warns.  The dramatic portrait of Christus victor dominates the literary horizon as the section comes to a close.  The epistle's key counsel -- to abide in Christ and receive eternal life--is not a counsel of despair but a straightforward and compelling application of what Christ has already accomplished."  

~ Robert Yarbrough, 1-3 John (Baker Exegetical Commentary), p. 189.

Painting above, a study of Nicodemus visiting Jesus, is by Henry Ossawa Tanner (1899).