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!

Temples of the Living God: Maintaining Sexual Purity

Introduction

Almost as soon as I heard that I would be teaching on this topic, the idea hit me to approach it in a different sort of way. Moral, and indeed sexual purity, is something the church doesn’t like to talk much about because it’s uncomfortable. We like to think of this area as off limits, but we can’t do that. You see we can’t have lives that are compartmentalized in that way. Our lives, and indeed our body (and minds) as we will see today, are to be a fragrant offering to the Lord.

Paul says this:

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, (1 Thessalonians 4:3-4 ESV)

So today I want to look at two reasons why it is God’s will for us to abstain for sexual immorality, namely, that from His perspective, we are His holy temples, and from our perspective, we shouldn’t be satisfied with anything less than the pleasure and joy only He can bring!

Therefore, it is crucial for us to understand what it means to be a temple of the living God, and what ramifications this reality holds for our lives as Christians.

Examine Yourself

However, before we look at what it means to be a temple of the living God, I want to first look at an important passage in 1 Corinthians 6 which precedes Paul’s own discussion on the matter. He says:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, [10] nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. [11] And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 ESV)

What Paul is saying here is that if you practice these things over and over again and show no sign of repentance, then you need to ask yourself if you’re even in Christ to begin with.  As he says in another letter to the Corinthians:

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! [6] I hope you will find out that we have not failed the test. (2 Corinthians 13:5-6 ESV)

His point here is that if you are behaving this way continually, and show no guilt, remorse, or desire to change your ways, then it is likely that Jesus Christ is not in you.

Therefore, test yourselves. Examine your life.  Do you constantly desire evil?  Or do you run to the cross and the forgiveness of Christ when you sin. Do you live in order to please Him, or yourselves?

If you can’t answer this question in an affirmative way, then you need to consider the cross and what Christ has done for you.  You need to right now repent of your sins and stop walking in the dark – cast those cares upon Jesus, friend.  He loves you, He cares for you, and He is the only one who can set you free from the chains of sin – those chains will eventually drag you down to death and hell.

Now, let me continue on in our lesson…

1. We are Temples of the Living God

Numerous times throughout the New Testament we have Paul, Peter, and Christ referring to our (or even Jesus’) bodies as temples of the living God.

In the case of the first passage we read from Thessalonians, the authors of our study guide point out that Thessalonica was a place of immorality – as were many other places in the Roman Empire.  Their sexual practices were lewd, and some of the worship to pagan gods involved ritual prostitution.  Their temples were polluted and evil places.  Contrast that with the call to purity that God has commanded, and we see a major difference in how these early Christians were going to have to live.

One very good reference to our bodies being God’s temples comes in the Corinthians passage immediately following the passage we read earlier in chapter six, where Paul says this:

Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! [16] Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” [17] But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. [18] Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. [19] Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, [20] for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:15-20 ESV)

Therefore we are temples of God for two reasons.  First, we have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us.  God of very God who no longer simply meets the high priest behind the curtain in the temple in Jerusalem.  Now He is filling us, teaching us, guiding us and leading us into all righteousness.

Second (and this is very closely tied to the first) we are God’s temples because we are “in Christ.” The verse above says we are “members of Christ.” Because of His headship, and our being “in Him” as part of the mystical body of the church and bride of Christ, we are part of what He is, and we are joined to Him.

Christ is the Fulfillment of the Temple

Let me also elaborate on a point I just made about us being “in” Christ and that making us temples of God because I think this is a special piece of Christology that we need to treasure in our hearts. Keep that fact of us being “in” Christ in the back of your mind for a moment, and let us go to a passage from John 2, and I think what we will see here is that Jesus considered His own body to be the temple of the living God:

So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” [19] Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” [20] The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” [21] But he was speaking about the temple of his body. [22] When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. (John 2:18-22 ESV)

NOTE: There is also a prophetic element in the passage in 1 Corinthians 6 in that when Caiaphas defiled God’s temple (Jesus Christ) the physical temple inevitably had to be torn down. God destroyed the Herodian temple in 70 A.D. 

This is why we are “in Him” and why we are considered temples of God, namely we are temples because HE is a temple.  Our identity is in Him and who He is.  We have been adopted and added to the olive tree (Rom. 11).  We have been joined Christ through His amazing cross work and the Father’s plan of adoption.

Called to be Holy Temples

Now, if we are temples of the living God, does it not shed some light upon why Christ calls us to be holy?  This is a theme in the New Testament – you shall be holy for I am holy.

Notice how Paul connects the two concepts:

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? [17] If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. (1 Corinthians 3:16-17 ESV)

Peter affirms Paul:

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, [15] but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, [16] since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:14-16 ESV)

Consequently, when you hear the word “holy”, what do you think about?  In his book ‘The Holiness of God’, R.C. Sproul says that when the word “holy” is used of God it can take on “more than just separateness.” He says, “His holiness is also transcendent. The word transcendence means literally ‘to climb across.’ It is defined as ‘exceeding usual limits.’ To transcend is it so rise above something, to go above and beyond a certain limit. When we speak of the transcendence of God, we are talking about that sense in which God is above and beyond us. Transcendence describes His supreme and absolute greatness…When the Bible calls God holy, it means primarily that God is transcendentally separate. He is so far above and beyond us that He seems almost totally foreign to us. To be holy is to be ‘other’, to be different in a special way.”

Where does that leave us earthly beings who are called on by God to be “holy?”  Sproul says this, “In every case the word “holy” is used to express something other than a moral or ethical quality. The things that are holy are things that are set apart, separated from the rest. They have been consecrated to the Lord and to His service.

The temple of the Lord was designed to be a place where purity reigned. Where the sacred was held in honor.  Entering the temple meant leaving the profane and entering into the holy.  And like the temple of old, we are called to be different, holy not profane.  Pure and spotless lambs in the shepherds care.  As members of the church, we are by definition the “called out ones” (ecclesia).  We are to be different than the world.  What is the point of this?  Namely this: that the world is not pure and therefore because we are called to be pure, we will necessarily also be different. We are set apart and therefore our calling is to keep ourselves unstained by the pollution of the sin and sinful ideas of the world (James 1:27)

Driving Out Our Sin

In light of this, it makes sense, does it not, that Christ would drive out the moneychangers from the physical temple in order to cleanse it.  During our study of John we talked about this a little bit, but I want to show Jesus’ temple cleansing in a different light.

Let us go back to that passage in John 2, only this time picking up slightly earlier in the chapter:

The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. [14] In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. [15] And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. [16] And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” [17] His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” (John 2:13-17)

So we also must drive out the sin from our own temples in order that they be used to glorify God.

Therefore, we need to be extremely mindful of the fact that our bodies are a habitation for very God of God, the holy One, the Spirit of the Living God who created all things and spoke the world into existence.  This is the God who dwells in approachable light!  This is the God who, when Isaiah was called into his presence, curled up in the corner and shielded his eyes and realized the disgust of his mouth.

Why did Isaiah realize this sinfulness about himself?  When he encountered God in His glory he learned more about Isaiah I think, than he learned about God.  He realized that in the presence of God all things were revealed.  Nothing remained hidden!

Jesus said that, “For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light” (Luke 8:17).

What Christ said about the final Day of Judgment applies even to us today (a good example of Pauline “already/not yet” theology). We have the Spirit of God within us – we can’t hide anything from Him!  And if we pollute our temple, He is going to be grieved and we will know about it!

Therefore, we need to remember to view our bodies as a habitation of the living God. Think also about what kinds of activities went on in the temple during Bible times. There was reading, prayer, teaching, and sacrifices. Well listen to what Paul says in Romans:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2 ESV)

And..

For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, [16] to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? (2 Corinthians 2:15-16 ESV)

In other words, “wake up and realize that God is using your mind and your body for His service!”  You were created for God. Augustine said, “Man is one of your creatures, Lord, and his instinct is to praise you…The thought of you stirs him so deeply that he cannot be content unless he praises you, because you made us for yourself and our hearts find no peace until they rest in you.”

2. The Motivation to be Holy and Pure

During the Jewish feast of the tabernacles each year, the people would celebrate with joy and march from the poll of Siloam to the temple where they would carry water and pour out the water (and sometimes wine) before the alter into (I believe) other basins there.  On the way, they would sing Psalms and celebrate in gladness.  The temple was a place of joy and celebration, and in many ways it symbolized the peak of intimacy with God here on earth.  It was His dwelling place with man.  So being fulfilled as a human being meant to be in and around the presence of God – around His temple. Worshiping, singing, praying, learning and so on. Being at the temple was a little piece of heaven here on earth: A shallow glimpse of the eternal and the transcendent.

Therefore, we are called to be pure and holy and to treat our bodies as temples of the living God, first because God commands it, and second, because when we devote mind, body and emotions to God as living sacrifices we are joyful and fulfilled. God’s commands are for our joy!

Too often we settle for much less than we were meant for in this world – and the same goes with sexual purity, and sinful rebellion.  We drink of the pleasures of this world and are not satisfied because we are eating poison!

The Psalmist says, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11 ESV).

John Piper puts it this way:

“If you don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because you have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because you have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Your soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great.”

And C.S. Lewis famously said:

If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased

And in our book this week, Randy Alcorn says this:

“I must choose between sexual fantasies and intimacy with God. I cannot have both. When I see that God offers me joys and pleasures that sexual fantasies don’t, this is a breakthrough. But that breakthrough will come only when I pursue God, making Him the object of my quest – and when I realize that fantasies are only a cheap God-substitute. Running to them is running from God.”

And this really is the conclusion of the matter. God has made us to be like His Son.  We bear His image, and therefore it makes all the sense in the world that because we are “in” Him we are also to be temples of the living God. Temples are places of holiness, of otherness, of worship and sacrifice unto God. And finally, we are not going to fully realize what it is to be fully satisfied with God until we give up the paltry things of this world, until we exchange our mud pies for a holiday at the ocean. We need to see God for who He is, our living Head, and we need to see ourselves as His members: mind, body, and soul. Therefore let us act in such a manner that is pleasing to Him, and joyful for us.

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.”