Most Influential Books Part 3

This is part three (and final post) in a series on the most influential books I’ve read.  I’ve also listed some “runners up” at the end.  To be honest, there are so many good books that I read each year, that a list like this is necessarily subjective, and its always growing. Not that some books don’t have obvious merit for all people, but I also recognize that some may have had impacted me more than they will you. Not only that – but there’s a good chance that next week I could read something that blows me away and it won’t be on the list. Just this past week I read two books that were pretty darn good – Matt Chandler’s ‘Explicit Gospel’ and Michael Reeves ‘Delighting in the Trinity’. Nevertheless, I have to draw the line somewhere!

I hope you enjoy this third installment!

11. The Power of Positive Thinking – No one will accuse Norman Vincent Peale of being a theological genius, in fact much of his teaching undermines the basic Christian message that we are all sinner who need a Savior extra nos, but early in my theological awakening I didn’t seem to realize much of his incorrect teaching. So despite a deeply flawed message, God graciously used this book to help me learn two important things: 1. I need to be praying for others regularly and 2. The importance of Scripture memorization. This book literally pointed me back to the Bible’s importance for my physical and emotional well-being. I was suffering a great deal of anxiety and my doctor had prescribed anti-anxiety medication. My stomach was constantly in knots and I wasn’t sure how I was going to deal with the problem…medication seemed like the only option. But when I fervently began to memorize scripture and pray for others and bigger items besides just my own desires, I began to slowly be cured of my anxiety. I stopped taking medication. I was a free man. And its not a big mystery as to why – this wasn’t magic, it was simply allowing the Word of the Lord and the power of the Spirit to become my top priority and renew my mind. The Bible can do that like no other book.  In addition, praying for others got my mind off my own troubles and focused on loving others (even if I didn’t know them). This book helped point me in the right direction. Would I recommend it now?  No way – but its prescriptions, most certainly. In fact if you want to learn more about Peale’s false teaching you can read Tim Challies’ write up on his bio: http://www.challies.com/articles/the-false-teachers-norman-vincent-peale

12. The Loveliness of Christ – During some of my darkest, most stressed-filled days this book has been a balm of healing. I have quoted it, memorized portions of it, I’ve taken it to the hospital multiple times, and it’s been a great tool of perspective in the midst of suffering. It is a small book, but a powerful book. Samuel Rutherford is probably one of the most influential puritan writers of all time, and his influence on me has been significant. If you were to add any one book to your collection as a result of this blog post, this would be the one I’d start with. The book is comprised of probably 100 (small) pages of quotes which are simply excerpts from his letters to other believers. In another way, if you are a Christian, Rutherford’s caring love for others around him ought to be a model for you as you seek to live in a way that is caring and reflective of the Savior.

13. Kingdom Through Covenant – Perhaps no book to date has had such an outsized impact on the way I understand the way in which the Biblical story is put together and unfolds throughout history. It made me feel good to be a Baptist (truth be told), and assured me that I wasn’t giving up any intellectual ground on that score (perhaps an intramural joke there)! It also explained for me a lot of the flow of events in the Old Testament and how they culminate in Christ – especially O.T. promises. This was an important book in my deeper theological development, and for those who have been Christians for a while and have always wondered at the dispensational and covenant approaches (i.e. you are/were head-scratchers like me), then this will prove very fruitful ground for you. You’ll have to ignore all the Hebrew and Greek text that the authors slip in from time to time. They are the scholars in that field and they do that to show their work (like you did in long division in 8th grade). My best advice is to do your best to read around it and not let it bog you down…its well worth it!

14. The Lord of the Rings – Growing up I was somewhat of a stranger to Tolkein’s work. I was aware of The Hobbit (I had seen a play, and perhaps had it read to me by my mom), but had no idea there was more to the story. Finally, while I was in college, my brother Alex introduced me to the story when Peter Jackson’s silver screen rendition of The Fellowship of the Ring came out in the theaters. I went as a skeptic, and left as a man head over heals in love. Later, in the weeks and days leading up to my wedding, I read The Lord of the Rings almost nonstop. I carried it with me everywhere, and my bookmark was our wedding vows which I was endeavoring to memorize. I still read this book whenever I can, and appreciate its depth and literary value more with each passing year.

15. Henry Drummond – This is not a book, it is an author (is that cheating?). During the 2007/2008 Romney Presidential Campaign I lived on the short sayings of Drummond. He gave me hope that science and Christian intellectualism could co-exist, and helped add perspective to my busy life away from home when I was sad and often feeling lost. Drummond lived and wrote in the mid-nineteenth century and devoted a substantial amount of time to standing up to the popular new scientific theory of evolution. He had a sharp logical mind, and I think just about anything he wrote is really fascinating.
Runners up – books that have taught me at least one major concept that has stuck with me:

God’s Greater Glory – In this sequel to Bruce Ware’s ‘God’s Lesser Glory’, Dr. Ware explains God’s “meticulous sovereignty”, a concept that has really been important in my own studies over the past year or so.  His Biblical and logical arguments are beyond arguing with from what I can tell of all I’ve read thus far. If you’ve read Chosen by God, and don’t want to blow your brains out with a puritan reading (i.e. Freedom of the Will) on the topic of God’s sovereignty, then this is the next step in your educational endeavors.

William Shakespeare’s Star Wars – This is a recent purchase and read and makes the list for how much it makes me laugh. It is easily one of the most enjoyable and hilarious books I have ever read! What I love the most about it is its trueness to the story as well as to Shakespeare’s famous writing style (the entire book is written in iambic pentameter).  If you love star wars and literature, this is the perfect combination – but be warned, this book is not to be read in any location where laughing out loud might be frowned upon!

The Transforming Power of the Gospel – Jerry Bridges explains “dependent responsibility”, which is the concept that men and women are both responsible for their actions and obedience to God’s laws, while at the same time dependent upon God for help to obey.  The tension here is worked out beautifully, and helpfully.

Give them Grace – Elyse Fitzpatrick examines parenting using the gospel. It is probably the best parenting book I’ve ever read, and it is easily the most challenging. There aren’t a lot of “to-do’s” from here, but there is a significant philosophical boost and reexamination that will likely take place.  If you don’t yet understand how the gospel fits into everyday life, this is one you must read.

A Case for Amillenialism – Kim Riddlebarger opened my mind to eschatology and taught me to enjoy it and not be scared to study it. I don’t think he’s the best writer, it seems a little clunky at times.  But he is really helpful in this area, and I find myself going back to his book and his blog again and again for wisdom.

The Trinity – Bruce ware explains divine roles better than anyone I had ever read. Especially subordination in role and co-equality in ontology.  If you’ve never understood the Trinity, this book will be huge for you.

The Freedom of the Will – Edwards proved to me beyond a shadow of a doubt that God initiates salvation.  Extremely difficult read though, so don’t read this unless you’re ready to pop a few Advil along with it! In fact, I would recommend not reading this unless you are an advanced scholar whose already read some other puritan works (or even other works by Edwards). But if you are pretty advanced in your reading and understanding of doctrine, then make sure to put this on your bucket list.

Bonhoeffer – This almost made my original list. I read it at a time when I was going through much pain and angst and it helped distract me and keep my mind fresh. It was a very very good book and a very interesting biography.  It will not leave you satisfied though, I warn you there…but I think that is for the best (though I know some who disagree).

The Pleasures of God – Piper explained how it was the will and pleasure of the Father to crush the Son. This concept just blew me away.  He goes into many other “pleasures” of God in this series, and they are worth reading or listening (there is a sermon series) through.

Holiness – J.C. Ryle explained to me that in order to enjoy heaven later I need to pursue holiness now. That concept is meted out over some three or four hundred pages. It was a very impactful book and showed example after example of how men and women from the Bible lived their lives in pursuit of holiness all pointing forward to the One who lived a perfect life of holiness so that when we fail that goodness, that righteousness, is there for us and keeps us in right standing before God.

The 5000 Year Leap – I read this in 2009 (I think) and it was one of the first books to awaken me to how far off course our country has gotten. It’s a great foundational book for anyone trying to figure out for themselves “what’s really wrong with this country?”

The Children of Hurin – This is one of J.R.R. Tolkein’s posthumously published works and probably the greatest thriller/tragedy I’ve ever read hands down. It was published with the help of his son Christopher and if you get the right edition it will have sketches by Alan Lee, which are really good. Just a fantastic piece of fiction.

Knowing God – This classic work of J.I. Packer helped shape a lot of my thinking on the nature of the Christian life.  Perhaps chapter 19 (on adoption) was most influential because it stuck with me the best. You can hardly go wrong by reading this book multiple times until its truth seeps in and helps you better grasp your life’s purpose, and more of who and what God is all about.

Battling Unbelief – John Piper works out some important ideas here in a book that is basically a boiled down version of ‘Future Grace’ and the idea behind the book is that most of our anxiety and sinfulness (and many issues in our lives) derive from a Christian’s failure to have faith in God.  In other words, we don’t believe Him and don’t trust in His promises etc. It’s astonishing how many times Piper is able to get to the root of things in this small book. I’d recommend this one to anyone who wants to get to the root of the problems facing them each day.

The Story of Christianity Volume I – I read this 500 (or so) page history book last year as part of a seminary class on the history of the Christian church. It was so easy to read and so good that I picked up its sequel (volume II) for reading on my own. What I liked so much about this book was Justo Gonzalez’ ability to simplify complex political and religious issues, and help the reader traverse hundreds of years of history without missing the small things, yet without losing site of the bigger picture.  It’s easily the best volume on the church I’ve read thus far (at least for a beginner like me).

Holy, Holy, Holy: Proclaiming the Perfections of God – This book is a compilation of essays written about the holiness of God by noted scholars and theologians.  The essay by Sinclair Ferguson entitled ‘Hallowed be Your Name: The Holiness of the Father’ left a lasting impression on me and I refer back to it again and again.

Conclusion: One of the things that is inevitably left off a list like this are the dozens of commentaries and study aides I read each year as I teach through books of the Bible. Men like Carson, Calvin, Ridderbos, Vos, Stott, Augustine, Boice, MacArthur, Morris, Kostenberger, Frame, Schreiner, Grudem, Beale and others who didn’t get mentioned in my book list have been equally influential on my thinking and understanding of life, death, Scripture, and many other topics under the sun. There have also been men and women whose books I have read and have been helpful or enjoyable, but if I listed them all it would take way too long!

But what I have learned is that reading changes lives, it does this in the way that Bruce Ware describes the study of theology: first it changes your mind, then your heart, then the actions of your hands, which in turn affects your habitat.  But it starts in the minds and hearts of those who seek wisdom. You’ll notice that many of my books are theological or Biblically based, and that isn’t because I haven’t read a slew of Gresham or my fair share of Star Wars, and it isn’t because I haven’t read the classic works from Dickens and Dumas (becauseI have), but its because the books that have shaped me, influenced me, and changed me for the better have largely been books whose topic is heavenly, and whose aim is joy in life and after it.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the postings – feel free to comment with any questions!

Advertisements

Study Notes 7-7-13: Following Christ

Today’s passage takes us from the 26th verse of John 12 through verse 30, although we didn’t get much time this morning to discuss verses 29 and 30 and will do so next week.

This week we will be meditating on verse 26, and asking ourselves questions about the verse and asking God to help give us insight into its meaning. How, for instance, does it speak to our need to obey Christ? What does it tell us about where Christ is? What does it remind us of in terms of Christ’s own character? What does it really look like in my life to “follow” after Christ? And, perhaps, we ought to ask ourselves “where is Christ that I should follow Him to?”

John 12:26-30

12:26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

The Cost of Discipleship

When Christ says that those who serve him must also follow him, we can see plainly enough in the context of this passage, and the view to the cross he had, that this is a call for us to take up our cross. This conclusion is simple based on the fact that “where” He is can plainly be seen as suffering and death. Although there can also be a secondary meaning which I will explore in a minute.

The idea that we would be called by Christ to follow Him even to death had been enumerated at other times in Jesus’ ministry. For example Matthew 16:24-26 says explicitly, and ties well in with what Christ says in John 12:25:

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?

What Jesus is saying here and in the John passage, is that we must obey His Word even if it doing so comes with difficulty. Obedience is not without cost. The life of a Christian is not promised to be easy. For one, we are constantly being put to the test, and molded by our Father into the likeness of His Son. This is a grand, albeit painful process. For two, we are identified with Jesus, which in this world can mean anything from snarky comments to the death sentence.

But what is wonderful about what Jesus is saying here is that the there is a real, tangible benefit to all of this difficulty – not only life itself, eternal life – but also honor from the father.

The Reward for Following Christ is Christ Himself

And so, that leads me to explore the flip side, if you will, of what it means to be with Christ where He is, because in a very real sense the verse above shows us that the reward of God’s people is God Himself. It says, “and where I am, there will my servant be also” and this, to me, seems to indicate that Christ Himself and His presence with us will be a great portion of our reward. For we follow Christ not only into the battlements of war here on earth, but also into the blessedness of heaven to come.

In his book ‘Holiness’ J.C. Ryle explains that our striving toward holiness on this earth is as much to please God here on earth, as it is to prepare us to enjoy heaven.  For heaven will be a holy place, and for those who imagine heaven as otherwise are quite mistaken.

“What could an unsanctified man do in Heaven, if by any chance he got there? No man can possibly be happy in a place where he is not in his element, and where all around him is not congenial to his tastes, habits, and character.” – J.C. Ryle

In his short discipleship book ‘In Our Joy’ John Piper talks about this, and its worth quoting him on this extensively due to the impact his own thinking has had on mine, and millions of others in this area:

Jesus bases our present joy explicitly on the hope for great reward. “Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven” (Luke 6:23). He does not define the reward. But in the whole context of his life and message, the essential reward is fellowship with Jesus himself and with God the Father through him (John 17:3, 24).

There are several pointers to this understanding. For example, Jesus says to his disciples just before his death, “You have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22). The indomitable joy that Jesus promises is based on his own presence: “I will see you again.” Similarly Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). This fullness of joy is mentioned by John the Baptist, and he bases it on the presence of Jesus, comparing Jesus to a bridegroom and himself to his friend: “The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete” (John 3:29) John’s “complete” joy is based on the presence of Jesus.

Therefore, I conclude that the essence of the reward that we count on to complete our joy is the fullness of the presence of Jesus experienced in the age to come. The reason that we can rejoice now is not only that we taste that future fellowship in hope, but also that Jesus is with us now by his Spirit. He promised us, as he left to return to the Father, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18). “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). He said that the Spirit of truth would come and make Jesus gloriously real to us even though he is physically absent. “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will . . . glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:13-14). Therefore, even though we can’t see Jesus now, we hope in him with great joy, and he sustains that joy by his continual presence.

Honor from the Father

There seems to be a second part of this reward, which Jesus says is “honor” from the Father. It would be really easy to simply pass by this and not really think much about it, but I think we’d do well to linger here just a bit, if only to marvel at the revelation we’ve been given.

I honestly can only make a few educated guesses as to what “honor” from God might look like, but I know that in relative contrast to being honored by men, it must evoke awe from the honoree!  What I’m saying here is that so often we love the praise of other men – I know that I enjoy a good “attaboy!” from friends or colleagues. In fact I think we often seek the praise of men to the detriment of what God would have us do.

Many times in the past I have been convicted about how often I relish the praise of men, and each time my mind turns to this weakness, the third stanza of ‘Be Thou My Vision’ often brings me to my knees. The words are as follows:

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,

Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:

Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,

High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.

Notice how man’s empty praise is here contrasted with God being our inheritance. Samuel Rutherford once said, “His well done is worth a shipful of good-days and earthly honours.”

I would ask you to examine yourselves and see if this is your mindset.  Can you agree with the hymnist and with Rutherford? Can you truly say that your reward is an imperishable one?  And if so, is your mindset such that the praise you receive on earth is not worthy to be compared to the glory to be revealed to us?

12:27 “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour.

Troubled in Soul

His human psyche must have been overwhelmed by the painful thought of that death. Why? Because He knew what pain was. He had spent the last 33 years on this earth and knew physical and emotional pain.

But more than that, He knows that what He values most is about to be ripped away from Him –His communion with the Father. During His time on the cross Jesus will suffer something He has never faced – separation from His Father. When the Father turns His back on the Son, the Son in agony cries out “why have you forsaken me!?”  The anguish that the Son goes through at this moment is pure Hell.

The word “troubled” here is significant. Carson says, “The verb is a strong one, and signifies revulsion, horror, anxiety, agitation.

I do not suppose to know whether Jesus truly knew in His humanity that this would happen as it did, but I do not doubt for a moment that Jesus understood the ramifications of what He was undertaking. And this is why John records for us Jesus’ words and we must ponder them carefully if we’re to understand the sacrifice and the depth of pain that our Savior endured on our account.

Not My Will, But Thy Will be Done

Now, as to the latter part of the verse, and whether Jesus is asking a true question, or actually praying a prayer (Carson), I do not know entirely and am not wholly convinced of Carson’s argument that this is not a question in the true sense, but rather a prayer asking for deliverance as in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Nevertheless, because of the fact that Jesus was in constant communion with the Father, and was filled with the Holy Spirit, He knew His purpose, and He knew it wasn’t going to be a pleasant end. You can see the human and the divine nature here so clearly. He is troubled in the weakness of His flesh. His souls is shaken. He is probably greatly afflicted with intense emotion and perhaps anxiety of a kind that shakes you to the core. Yet, at the same time, He knows what He has to do. He says, “And what shall I say?” It is as if we are witnessing here an internal discussion, almost as if Jesus is thinking out loud and we see the back and forth.  Carson aptly quotes Bengel, “The horror of death, and the ardour of His obedience, were meeting together.”

Note that in His flesh He acknowledges the painful proposition ahead, but then He answers it by saying that will not pray something that He knows is outside of God’s will.  As Carson remarks, “This request is nothing other than an articulation of the principle that has controlled his life and ministry. The servant who does not stoop to his own will, but who performs the will of the one who sent him – even to death on a cross – is the one who glorified God.”

More than Restraint

So Christ restrains Himself from asking something of God that He knows will displease Him and run counter to the purpose for which He came to this earth. But it is more than simply restraint, as Carson argues, it is an active passionate obedience.  Carson says, “But the focus of the prayer transcends mere acquiescence; it betrays acquiescence that is subsumed under the passionate desire to bring glory to God, in much the same way that the petition ‘hallowed be your name’ in the Lord’s model prayer presupposes the active obedience of the one who is praying.”

As we have looked closely at this, it has humbled me greatly. I think of how often I have thought that merely acquiescing to the Lord’s will or my life’s circumstances was pleasing to God.  As if my formalist obedience was a sacrifice of some great magnitude. But Christ here shows us something more. He didn’t go to sulking to the cross with a drooping head. Christ does not model stoicism or begrudging obedience, rather He models for us a passion for God’s glory that completely subsumed His mind.  Like the angels of Zechariah 3 were consumed with glorifying God through the dressing of the high priest, so we too much be like Christ and His angelic creations and be completely subsumed with the thought: how can I glorify God in every action, every thought, every breathe I take?

So often we think the least common denominator will please God, we think of how much we can get away with and how far we can stretch His law and His patience, when we ought to be thinking, “Is this reflective of holiness? Or: Does this please God?”  In his book ‘The Hole in our Holiness’ Kevin DeYoung points out that this is a frequent mistake we make – especially seen in our dating/pre-marital relationships.  We think about our physical interaction with our fiancé and ask the question “how far is too far?”  When we ought to be asking, “How can we best tailor our actions toward holiness and righteousness?” Or, “Is this pleasing to God?”

Let us also seek to do more than simply curb the sinful impulses of our nature, or bow begrudgingly under the rule of God’s law; let us seek to develop holiness in our character, mind, and actions. Let us always be seeking to please God – for if we love Him, we will certainly seek to please Him!

12:28-30 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine.

The fact that Jesus had his prayer answered so quickly by an audible voice from heaven may not stun us, the reader, living 2000 years later and reading this in black and white type. But to those around him it must have been a shocking, and even scary site to behold. The fact that some in the crowd thought it was an angel that spoke, while others thought that it was simply thunder, has not been fully understood by several theologians except to say that some seemed to be more discerning than others that there was an audible voice of some kind, though they misinterpreted its author as an angel. Though it didn’t seem as though any of them really understood what was said from the way the text is laid out, so Christ must have told them the thing after the fact (Carson).

Taking Measure of Our Desires

Now Jesus ends His prayer showcasing His strongest desire: that God’s name would be glorified. I think its fair to say that very often our strongest desires bubble up in our prayers. We secretly let God know what it is that we want most in the world. Some of these things are very noble and good things.  But I think of the times I have prayed to God, and I can hardly recall very many instances wherein I truly desired for God’s name to be magnified and glorified in the way that I imagine Jesus desired it to be. To hear Jesus pray is so humbling – it’s a heart check for us.  Hearing Him pray ought to cause us to ask ourselves this: what are our greatest desires?

I am reminded of Psalm 37:4-6:

Delight yourself in the LORD,

and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the LORD;

trust in him, and he will act.

He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,

and your justice as the noonday

How is He Glorified?

If one cross references the last time such an instance had occurred in the life of Jesus one would think immediately of two instances, the baptism of Jesus and the Mount of Transfiguration. In both of these two other scenes Jesus had been in the midst of several people when a voice had come booming from the heavens.  What is the purpose of these events? I believe it is to attest to the deity of Christ and to point us to the event of the cross, which would be the one place where Christ is most glorified.

John MacArthur explains why:

God receives glory when His attributes are manifested, and nowhere was His magnanimous love for helpless sinners, His holy wrath against sin, His perfect justice, His redeeming grace, his forgiving mercy, or His infinite wisdom more clearly seen than in the substitutionary, propitiatory death of His Son.

For Your Sake

Finally, look at verse 30 and we’ll see that Jesus has directed us to turn our attention to the fact that the voice was not for his sake primarily, but rather for “your sake.”

As I mentioned above, all of these supernatural events were happening in the life of Jesus as a way to point us toward the realization of who Jesus is.  You have to ask the question: who is this man, and what is He all about?

What makes me shudder is to see that a voice literally spoke from heavens attesting that this Jesus is who He says He is, and yet there are still people who remain in their unbelief. The old joke of people not believing a thing even if it was “written in the sky” comes to mind. I don’t know how you can get much more plain than this. This man Jesus had done super human miracle after miracle from healing people, to casting out demons, to walking on water and calming a sea. He seems to know their thoughts and their hearts, and their pasts (John 1:48-49; 4:16-19), and now, to top it all, he is the subject (for a third time) of a literal voice addressing Him from heaven.  At this point, you continue in your unbelief at your own peril.

Enslaved to Merit or Enslaved to Christ?

This past Sunday, I briefly mentioned near the end of the lesson that we ought not to think about earning any merit or grace with God.  I stressed that we need to get out of this cycle of thinking that as Christians we need to strive to “be good” as a way to earn something in heaven. For all of our reward has been purchased by Christ, and given by grace. Now, I realize, and as humans we sometimes have difficulty balancing the role of grace and merit, and understanding the purpose of Christian works here on earth.

Though we are prone to either excessive legalism, or sinful liberty, what I want to stress is that the principles of living holy lives, and understanding God’s grace in our lives are not mutually exclusive.  We need to be seeking holiness while also seeking to please God and love others through our actions. In order to do this, we must understand why we are to love others, and where our “merit” in heaven ultimately comes from.  Our motivation for loving others and doing good works is gratitude and enjoyment of God.  Likewise, any merit we have before God, ultimately, has already been won by Christ.

Let me explore these two co-existing principles further with some perspective from those who are wiser than myself.

First, we are called to holiness. JC Ryle said this about seeking holiness as it relates to our relationship to reward and closeness with Chrirst:

Above all, grieve not the Spirit. Quench not the Spirit. Vex not the Spirit. . . . Little jarrings between husbands and wives make unhappy homes; and petty inconsistencies, known and allowed, will bring in strangeness between you and the Spirit. . . . The man who walks with God in Christ most closely, will generally be kept in the greatest peace. The believer who follows the Lord most fully and aims at the highest degree of holiness will ordinarily enjoy the most assured hope, and have the clearest persuasion of his own salvation

And commenting on this passage from Ryle, John Piper says:

Can you really “drive [God] to a distance, by tampering with small bad habits”? Do “petty inconsistencies bring strangeness between you and the Spirit”? Is the greatest peace really enjoyed by those who “walk with God most closely”? Is the greatest assurance known by those who “aim at the highest degree of holiness”?  Yes. This is clearly taught in Scripture. “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you” (James 4:8).

This means that there is a precious experience of peace and assurance and harmony and intimacy that is not unconditional. It depends on our not grieving the Spirit. It depends on our putting away bad habits. It depends on forsaking the petty inconsistencies of our Christian lives. It depends on our walking closely with God and aiming at the highest degree of holiness. If this is true, I fear that the unguarded reassurances today that God’s love is unconditional may stop people from doing the very things the Bible says they need to do in order to have the peace that they so desperately crave. In trying to give peace through “unconditionality” we may be cutting people off from the very remedy the Bible prescribes. Let us declare untiringly the good news that our justification is based on the worth of Christ’s obedience and sacrifice, not ours (Romans 5:19, “as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous”).

But let us also declare the biblical truth that the enjoyment of that justification in its effect on our joy and confidence and power to grow in likeness to Jesus is conditioned on our actively forsaking sins and forsaking bad habits and mortifying lusts and pursuing intimacy with Christ, and not grieving the Spirit.

To give an even fuller perspective on the merit of Christ in all of this, Jerry Bridges labors how it is by God’s grace that we are what we are.  In his book ‘Transforming Grace’, Bridges has some great remarks on the matter.  Here are a few of them:

  • We believe God’s blessings are at least partially earned by our obedience and our spiritual disciplines. We know we are saved by grace, but we think we must live by our spiritual “sweat.”
  • If you are trusting to any degree in your own morality or religious attainments, or if you believe God will somehow recognize any of your good works as merit toward your salvation, you need to seriously consider if you are truly a Christian.
  • The generosity and the magnanimity of God are so great that he accepts nothing from us without rewarding it beyond all computation…. The vast disproportion existing between our work and God’s reward of it already displays his boundless grace, to say nothing of the gift of salvation which made before we have even begun to do any work.’
  • That is what Peter experienced. His failures and his sins abounded. There is no question about that. But however much his sin increased, God’s grace increased all the more. It superabounded. God blessed Peter, not in spite of his sins, but without regard to his sins. That’s the way His grace operates. It looks not to our sins or even to our good deeds but only to the merit of Christ.

In conclusion, let us strive toward holiness and intimacy with Christ, drawing near the throne of grace with confidence, while also realizing that we deserve not this grace, nor do our feeble works merit further blessing. The blessings we received were already purchased for us by Jesus Christ. His merit has earned our blessings, and even in our state of continual sin He is anxious to restore us, to bless us, and to conform us to His image – by His own power, not ours.  What a relief this is! How comforting! Let me close with the words of Paul in Romans 6:

What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! [16] Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? [17] But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, [18] and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:15-18 ESV)

Soli Deo Gloria

‘Christ is All’ in the Bible

I have mentioned in this space before how I have been slowly reading through J.C. Ryle’s book ‘Holiness’, which is a volume dedicated to the christian’s sanctification.  It is easily one of the best books I’ve ever read, and as I finish up the book, I’m finding some gems that I’d like to share with you all.

In the 20th chapter, Ryle addresses the centrality of Christ in several ways.  The verse this chapter is built upon is part of Colossians 3:11, which simply states that “Christ is all.”  One of those ways is how Christ is “all” is in the whole of Scripture.  Often we forget this – we forget that Christ is the central theme and person and subject of scripture.  Ryle gives a beautiful overview of this truth, and I have put this portion of the chapter below for your enjoyment.  I’m sure it will be a blessing to you!

 

Let us understand that “Christ is all” in the inspired books which make up the Bible.

From Chapter 20, ‘Christ is All’, in ‘Holiness’, by J.C. Ryle

In every part of both Testaments, Christ is to be found – dimly and indistinctly at the beginning – more clearly and plainly in the middle – fully and completely at the end – but really and substantially everywhere.

Christ’s sacrifice and death for sinners, and Christ’s kingdom and future glory, are the light we must bring to bear on any book of Scripture we read. Christ’s cross and Christ’s crown are the clue we must hold fast if we would find our way through Scripture difficulties. Christ is the only key that will unlock many of the dark places of the Word. Some people complain that they do not understand the Bible. And the reason is very simple. They do not use the key. To them the Bible is like the hieroglyphics in Egypt. It is a mystery, just because they do not know and employ the key.

(a) It was Christ crucified who was set forth in every Old Testament sacrifice. Every animal slain and offered on an altar was a practical confession that a Saviour was looked for who would die for sinners – a Saviour who should take away man’s sin, by suffering, as his Substitute and Sin-bearer, in his stead, (1 Peter iii. 18.) It is absurd to suppose that an unmeaning slaughter of innocent beasts, without a distinct object in view, could please the eternal God!

(b) It was Christ to whom Abel looked when he offered a better sacrifice than Cain. Not only was the heart of Abel better than that of his brother, but he showed his knowledge of vicarious sacrifice and his faith in an atonement. He offered the firstlings of his flock, with the blood thereof, and in so doing declared his belief that without shedding of blood there is no remission. (Heb. xi. 4.)

(c) It was Christ of whom Enoch prophesied in the days of abounding wickedness before the flood. – “Behold,” he said, “the Lord cometh with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment upon all.” (Jude 15.)

(d) It was Christ to whom Abraham looked when he dwelt in tents in the land of promise. He believed that in his seed – in one born of his family – all the nations of the earth should be blessed. By faith he saw Christ’s day, and was glad. (John viii. 56.)

(e) It was Christ of whom Jacob spoke to his sons, as he lay dying. He marked out the tribe out of which He would be born, and foretold that “gathering together” unto Him which is yet to be accomplished. “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor the law-giver from between his feet, until Shiloh come, and unto Him shall the gathering of the people be.” (Gen. xlix. 10.)

(f) It was Christ who was the substance of the ceremonial law which God gave to Israel by the hand of Moses. The morning and evening sacrifice – the continual shedding of blood – the altar – the mercy-seat – the high priest – the passover – the day of atonement – the scapegoat: – all these were so many pictures, types, and emblems of Christ and His work. God had compassion upon the weakness of His people. He taught them “Christ” line upon line, and, as we teach little children, by similitudes. It was in this sense especially that “the law was a schoolmaster to lead” the Jews “unto Christ.” (Gal. iii. 24.)

(g) It was Christ to whom God directed the attention of Israel by all the daily miracles which were done before their eyes in the wilderness. The pillar of cloud and fire which guided them – the manna from heaven which every morning fed them – the water from the smitten rock which followed them – all and each were figures of Christ. The brazen serpent, on that memorable occasion when the plague of fiery serpents was sent upon them, was an emblem of Christ. (1 Cor. x. 4; John iii. 14.)

(h) It was Christ of whom all the Judges were types. Joshua, and David, and Gideon, and Jephthah, and Samson, and all the rest whom God raised up to deliver Israel from captivity – all were emblems of Christ. Weak and unstable and faulty as some of them were, they were set for example of better things in the distant future. All were meant to remind the tribes of that far higher Deliverer who was yet to come.

(i) It was Christ of whom David the king was a type. Anointed and chosen when few gave him honour – despised and rejected by Saul and all the tribes of Israel – persecuted and obliged to flee for his life – a man of sorrow all his life, and yet at length a conqueror – in all these things David represented Christ.

(j) It was Christ of whom all the prophets from Isaiah to Malachi spoke. They saw through a glass darkly. They sometimes dwelt on His sufferings, and sometimes on His glory that should follow. (1 Peter i. 11.) They did not always mark out for us the distinction between Christ’s first coming and Christ’s second coming. Like two candles in a straight line, one behind the other, they sometimes saw both the advents at the same time, and spoke of them in one breath. They were sometimes moved by the Holy Ghost to write of the times of Christ crucified, and sometimes of Christ’s kingdom in the latter days. But Jesus dying, or Jesus reigning, was the thought you will ever find uppermost in their minds.

(k) It is Christ, I need hardly say, of whom the whole New Testament is full. The Gospels are “Christ” living, speaking, and moving among men. The Acts are “Christ” preached, published, and proclaimed. The Epistles are “Christ” written of, explained, and exalted. But all through, from first to last, there is one name above every other, and that is the name of Christ.

I charge every reader of this paper to ask himself frequently what the Bible is to him. Is it a Bible in which you have found nothing more than good moral precepts and sound advice? Or is it a Bible in which you have found Christ? Is it a Bible in which “Christ is all “? If not, I tell you plainly, you have hitherto used your Bible to very little purpose. You are like a man who studies the solar system and leaves out in his studies the sun, which is the centre of all. It is no wonder if you find your Bible a dull book!

Study Notes 8-5-12

I have re-adjusted this text to include only my notes for verse 45, as that is all we covered last week.  Enjoy!

John 6:45

6:45 It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me—

There are really two parts to this verse, or at least two ideas that I think are important.  One corresponds with salvation, the other with sanctification.  First I will deal with that which is dealing with salvation and then move onto the upshot of the salvific teaching (sanctification), which is driven by several passages in the Old Testament.

Teaching = Drawing

As we see in verse 44, there’s a sine qua non (a necessary precondition) involved in the act of coming to God.  That precondition is that He first “draw” us to Himself.  In the previous section, I mentioned the “why” as well as the overarching “how” as it pertains to the mode of operation in the drawing process.  Now, with this verse before us, I want to get into more specifics of the “how” operation of the spirit in our lives, and some of the distinctions we need to make to understand this process more accurately.  I think we all want to know “what happened to me?” as John Piper puts it.  We all want to know what it is that God did to change our lives and bring us into His everlasting kingdom.

In the context of this verse, what does it mean to be “taught by God”?  Well the “teaching” that John refers to here is in direct connection to the “drawing” that He mentioned in verse 44 (see also 1 Cor. 2:13, 1 Thess. 4:9, and 1 John 2:20).  As John Piper says, “So the connection between drawing and teaching is clear. The drawn are the taught. They are drawn by being taught.”

Thus the thrust of verse 45 is that Jesus is explaining more of the how of this drawing. How does He do that?  Well, Jesus seems to indicate that not only is this teaching in coordination with the drawing, but that the teaching of God is effective – it can’t fail.

Piper’s longer explanation for this is as follows:

The answer John gives to how the Father draws people to the Son is by teaching them. “No one can come unless the Father draws him…It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’” So the connection between drawing and teaching is clear. The drawn are the taught. They are drawn by being taught.

And the connection between being taught and coming to Christ is unbreakable. No one is taught and then decides not to come. The teaching produces the coming. You see that most clearly in the second half of verse 45.

Verse 45 says, “Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.” (This is why I said this verse confirms our understanding of John 12:32.) Not some of them come. All of them come. So Jesus uses at least three phrases to describe how the Father draws people to Jesus. He calls it “being taught,” and he calls it “hearing from” God, and he calls it “learning from” God. “‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.”

Beale and Carson agree with Piper that there is a strong link between the “drawing” in verse 44 and the “teaching” in verse 45, “In light of the Jews’ largely negative response to his message, Jesus points out that while his ministry in fact fulfills the prophetic vision that one day – which has now arrived – all people will be taught by God, this applies only to those who are drawn by the Father (vs. 44), the sender of Jesus and who subsequently come to believe in him as the Messiah.”

Leon Morris mentions that liberal theologian Rudolph Bultmann got it wrong when he said, “any man is free to be among those drawn by the Father.”  The statement itself sounds so ridiculous that it almost need not be refuted. But this is, in effect, what Armenians hold to, when they hold to the complete dominion of man over his fate.  Surely the very thrust of the text here is quite the opposite of Bultmann’s conclusion.  Such is the fate of errant theologians who come to Scripture in an eisegetical (so to speak) fashion.

Calvin agrees, “It is a false and profane assertion, therefore, that none are drawn but those who are willing to be drawn, as if man made himself obedient to God by his own efforts; for the willingness with which men follow God is what they already have from himself, who has formed their hearts to obey him.”

The Old Testament Connection and Fulfillment

In teaching us, the Holy Spirit is “implanting” (as MacArthur says) a new desire and a new understanding of the ways and law of God. This is why Christ says to us that it is “written in the prophets.”  He is saying that in Isaiah and Jeremiah and others, we are promised to one day have the law of God written on our hearts.  As Piper says, “Both Isaiah and Jeremiah explicitly promise the day when the God’s teaching will no longer merely be external on tablets of stone, but will be internal written on the heart.  God will teach us in the New Covenant first by sending Christ as the sum of all truth, the fulfillment of the law, and then by making that truth real to hour hearts.”

Interestingly, MacArthur notes that, “Jesus’ statement was also a subtle rebuke of His Jewish opponents, who prided themselves on their knowledge of Scripture. But had they truly understood the Old Testament, they would have eagerly embraced Him (5:39).”

The passage Christ quotes is from Isaiah 54:13 and says:

All your children shall be taught by the Lord, and great shall be the peace of your children.

This also holds a close connections with Jeremiah 31:33-34 which says:

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

Carson and Beale paraphrase Young by noting that “the greatest spiritual wealth that Isaiah is able to imagine for God’s people is that all their children ‘will be taught by [literally “become disciples of”] the Lord.”

Note especially that Jeremiah says that “they shall all know me”, why?  Because “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.”  And therefore, “no longer shall each one teach his neighbor” – because, as Isaiah says, “all your children will be taught by the Lord.”

So the inward work of the Spirit will help people “know” the Lord.  Calvin says, “The way of teaching, of which the prophet speaks, does not consist merely in the external voice, but likewise in the secret operation of the Holy Spirit.”

What does this mean? What does it mean to “know” the Lord?  To understand this, we must look at the close ties between knowing the Lord, and knowing His law (since Christ is quoting the Old Testament here, we do well to draw our conclusions by first looking at the context in which Isaiah and other wrote). The law was an outward guide and revelation to the holiness of God.  It showed us His standard of perfection, as well as our own sinfulness.  In other words, it showed us who we were in comparison to who God was, and in that way made us aware inwardly of a need to repent and rely completely on God.  Once under the new covenant, we no longer needed to be taught by men, because we had an inward law – one written on our hearts.  The law, which was a schoolmaster (or “guardian”) to lead us to Christ (Galatians 3:24), was now implanted on the hearts of those who are quickened by the Holy Spirit (John 16:13).

The reason I mentioned 1 Corinthians 2:13 earlier as a reference is because it so excellently reminds us that the great truths of Christ are only able to be discerned by us with the help of the Holy Spirit.   It says, “And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.”

As He’s wrapping up the discourse here, as we’ll see later, Christ explains why they can’t understand what He’s talking about.  He says in verses 63-65, “‘It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe. (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.)’ And he said, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.’”

If by now you cannot see the sovereignty of God in salvation then you must not be reading or listening to the Words of Christ – you must not have “ears to hear”, for Christ is saying again and again that from the beginning of time through the end of time, He and the Father have chosen a people, and elect group of people, for themselves.  They have not only determined who these people will be, but have seen to it that by their power, and theirs alone, these people are brought to a saving knowledge of themselves (the trinity).  The operation of salvation is synergistic only in the sense that it is carried out by the three members of the Trinity acting in full knowledge and power, for their own purposes and glory and enjoyment.  The Godhead does not share power for salvation with man.

Conformity

Now I want to look at this inward work of the Spirit as it pertains to being continually “taught” by the Spirit of God and how we were all “taught” of God for a purposes.

As I mentioned earlier, the Old Testament prophecy that is connected with being “taught” by God has to do with His law being written on our hearts.  Galatians tells us the law “was added because of transgression” (Gal. 3:19) to keep the people of Israel in constant remembrance of the character and standards of their God, that they might conform their lives to His standard (a sort of Old Testament sanctification process minus the Spirit’s help, of course). Now we have that law written on our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit, and we also have His help to guide us and conform us to Christ’s mind and complete image. This is significant, and ought to lead us to understand how Christ would want us to act, and live. That is part of the Spirit’s grand work in us to conform us to the image of Christ until that day when this work is complete (in heaven).

Taught for a Purpose

Remember, we have been saved not only from something (Hell), but for something (good works and conformity to the image of Christ).  As Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

Now, as you can see, not only is Christ explaining how we were first quickened and “taught” of God and our deficit before Him, but He is also explaining how we are taught of God continually for the purpose of growth in grace and truth. You were saved for a reason, to become holy.  You aren’t saved so that you can simply enjoy the fact that you aren’t going to Hell. You aren’t saved simply so that you can enjoy heaven with Christ (although that is certainly a part of it – see John 17), but rather you are saved so that you can be made holy.  Why?  So that you can glorify your Father who is in heaven.

Christians today have lost a focus on practical holiness.  We don’t wake up in the morning thinking, “how can I be more holy today?”  We have no driving desire to be “taught” of God.  Instead we have minds full of trivial and temporary desires.  We need to refocus our attention as Christians back onto the process and goal of sanctification, and becoming a holy people.

Jerry Bridges says, “But here is a basic truth: We will not grow unless we see our need to grown, we will not pursue holiness unless we see how much we are still unholy, and we will not see our unholiness unless we look at the holiness of God instead of what we perceive to be the unholiness of our neighbor. This is why we must face up to the sinfulness of our sin.”

We also need to remember that when Christ was raised from the dead and was going to go back to heaven, He says to Mary, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (Jon 20:17b).  Therefore we now have been included in His family, and must be made fit for the family.  We must be made ready to enjoy this blessing in its fullness.

“Everyone”

In the last part of verse 45 Christ says, “everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.”  Note that He purposefully uses the word “everyone” to establish the fact that in the “teaching” or “drawing” of people, God the Father does not fail to bring to fruition that which He planted in the hearts of His elect.

As J.C. Ryle says, “The words do not mean that under the Gospel all mankind, or all members of the professing Christian Church, shall be ‘taught of God.’ It rather means that all who are God’s children, and come to Christ under the Gospel, shall be taught of God.”

Note also that Christ says “the Father” instead of the Spirit, and that is because while it is the Spirit doing the “drawing”, He acts on the eternal unchangeable will of the Father.  From the first, God had intended to “teach” certain people about Himself, and here we learn that “everyone” who is taught of God comes to Christ.  Not one of His pupils fails to come to Christ.  We’ve already talked briefly about why this is, but it doesn’t hurt to go over it again.

God is effective in all that He sets out to do because He is God and His purposes cannot fail.  When He teaches men of Himself (they have “heard” and “learned” of Him) they always come to Christ.  What is He teaching them?  The gospel.  He is teaching them of a (new) covenant (Jeremiah 31) that He is making with them, that if they believe on His Son Jesus Christ, they will be saved. That is why Christ goes on to say in verse 47 that, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.”  This fact comes with a promise – if they believe, they will be saved and will also (an added benefit) have “eternal life.”

The heart which “hears” this message from God cannot refuse it.  It is irresistible! It is so not because God has cajoled them into belief, but because the sweetness of it is such that they flee to the cross.  Of course there are two elements to learning of the gospel of God.  It is not simply that a man learns of the benefit of eternal life, but that he also learns of his own sinfulness in light of the cross.  This is what inevitably happens when we are taught by God, we learn who He is and who we are in light of His holiness.  This is what happened to Isaiah in chapter 6 of his book.  We see that not only did he learn about who God was and what His surroundings looked like, but he immediately realized who he was in light of who God is.

Isaiah did not see the holy majesty of God and respond by saying “well, since I have free will to choose whether or not to believe in you, and since you seem to have laid out all the proper facts about things, I will make the choice now to believe what you have to say.”  No indeed.  His response was compelled – not forced by God – but he was compelled I say to do the obvious thing, and that was to repent of his utter sinfulness and throw himself on the mercy of God.  This is what happens when men and women are “taught” of God.  They do the obvious thing when their eyes are opened to His holiness, they repent and run quickly to the cross!  This happens without exception, and that is why it is that Christ can use the word “everyone.”