What is the Gospel

26 07 2013

The shortest definition of the Gospel that I know of is that God saves sinners through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.[1] For a succinct definition from Paul see 1 Cor. 15:1-4.

It’s important to stress that the Gospel is an announcement.  It is good news!  What exactly is the good news? We are separated from God from our willful act of rebellion against Him.  This has rendered us dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1-5) thus making us unwilling and unable to reconcile ourselves to God by any good thing that we can do.  The very best one can do is filthy rags before God, not to mention the worst one can do (Isaiah 64). But, in Christ there is forgiveness of sins for all those who will repent and believe Him to be the only hope of reconciliation between God and man by His perfect life, vicarious death on the cross, and victorious resurrection.

What is required to stand in the presence of the one true holy sovereign God of the universe on the last day is righteousness.  The problem? We have no inherent righteousness.  An unrighteous person cannot become righteous because our unrighteousness is not just external acts, it’s our very nature! (Rom. 3:10-18, Jer. 17:9, etc.).

So, what can be done? Left up to us, nothing.  But God… Maybe two of the greatest words in Scripture! But God had a different plan.  This will be important in a moment but that plan began in eternity past and the first hint of the Gospel is actually not in the New Testament, it’s in Genesis 3:15.  God promised that He would send someone, born of the seed of the woman, to crush the serpent’s head.  That someone would be God Himself, the 2nd Person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ.

Jesus steps onto the world scene taking on human flesh beginning humbly as a fertilized egg in the womb of Mary (eternally existed as the Son but of course not eternally in human flesh John 1:1ff), conceived by the Holy Spirit.  100% God and 100% Man. Two separate and distinct natures yet one person.  Only man can atone for man’s sin. The problem? All men are sinful! Yet, God in His wisdom had the solution to the problem by taking on human flesh Himself, laying down the splendors of heaven to live among us (Phil. 2:5-11).

He did not live among us to be our example but to proclaim to us the fulfillment of all God had promised in the Old Testament. He came to die for our sins and to be our righteousness!  He lived the perfect life of obedience to the Law, something no man has ever done, and then died a substitutionary, propitiatory[2], death on the cross so that all who would believe on Him would be saved (2 Cor. 5:21, 1 John 2:2, etc.).  He was raised for our justification, ascended into heaven, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father, ruling and reigning (Rom. 4:25, Heb. 1:3).

We must repent of our sin and take hold of these truths, by faith in Christ. We must feel our need for Christ.  People who hear the Gospel and reject do not feel their need for a Savior.  They do not feel the weight of their own sinfulness and rebellion against the One true God of the universe.  They think of their sin as a trivial matter and feel no need for reconciliation.

In the four gospels Jesus continually stresses that He has come to give His life as a ransom to God[3] and calls on people to repent of their sins and believe the Gospel.  Jesus didn’t come to abolish the Law but to fulfill the Law.  The demand on a lost man’s life is not to “obey” God by being “like Jesus” because we cannot be like Jesus!  The demand is to lay down your arms and through faith bow down to the King of kings and the Lord of lords.

Now, is obedience part of salvation? It depends on what you mean by that question.  On one hand, absolutely!  Not our obedience, but Jesus’ perfect obedience!  Also, if you mean by obedience that once God removes our heart of stone and gives us a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:25-27) we will live lives holy and separated unto God, then yes! In other words we cannot work to be saved.  We cannot work to be accepted by God.  We can’t clean up and get our act together to earn salvation.  We must repent and believe the WORK Jesus has finished on our behalf.  And the result WILL BE us living out what God has wrought new in our hearts, i.e. we will pursue obedience to God, even though imperfectly. This obedience is grounded in the gospel (which is one reason btw that Christians need to be constantly reminded of the Gospel!) and rooted in the fact that we have been given a new nature, our desires, affections, plans, dreams, wants, have all changed and are pointed at Christ! (cf. Philippians 2:12-13)

Anyway, the Gospel is an announcement.  It’s deep, wide, rich, full but also very simple. God saves sinners through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  By the way, when did God start saving people in this way?

Read Galatians 3:8.  How were Old Testament saints saved? Through the Gospel!  Remember Genesis 3:15? God’s promise all along is that He would restore fellowship with man, through a man conquering the serpent.

Genesis 15:6 And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness.

This is crucial to understand.  The Old Testament saints were saved through faith by looking forward to the promise of God (Galatians 3).  We are saved through faith looking to the finished work of Christ in our stead.

God is the holy, righteous, just Creator. Man lives in fallen rebellion. Jesus lived a perfect life and died the substitutionary death on the cross for sinners, and was raised again. We must repent of our rebellion and believe that message to be saved. That’s the Gospel.

Will you believe this?

Allen S. Nelson IV


[1] I think I first read this definition in Jared Wilson’s Gospel Deeps.

[2] Wrath absorbing

[3] How can God be just and at the same time justifier? An atonement had to be made. God is just in saving sinners because the payment for sin has been rendered.

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How to Prepare for the Lord’s Day

15 02 2013

Puritan-Prayer_church

Because of the glorious resurrection of Jesus on the “first day of the week”, early Christians began gathering corporately on Sundays (Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 16:2).  In the New Testament Sunday is referred to as the “Lord’s Day” and I’d like to take a few moments and explore how we can better prepare ourselves for the weekly corporate gathering of the local church.This post assumes a few things.  It assumes that you agree with the New Testament example and mandate to gather regularly with the local church to worship God.  It assumes that you understand the Christian “Lord’s Day” is not the exact same thing as the Old Testament Sabbath. Finally, it assumes that you understand that the Lord’s Day is something that is a priority for the Christian.

How can we better prepare our hearts for gathering together with God’s people to worship? I’d like to explain that by going over specifically how the folks at First Baptist Oppelo can prepare to worship together this Sunday, February 17th, 2013.  Hopefully you’ll find these suggestions practical for your own life.

First, it will helpful to look at this Sunday’s Bulletin: February 17th, 2013 Bulletin

Know the Songs:

You’ll notice we have listed the songs we are singing Sunday.  Have you considred looking up those songs, reading over them, reflecting on their meaning and purpose?  Perhaps you could even sing them together as a family sometime before Sunday.  The lyrics to each of these songs can be found here:

Knowing the songs before Sunday will help you to sing well and worship well understanding what the song is about and knowing what the words are conveying.  Perhaps you can’t access your church’s bulletin online.  You could try talking to your church’s worship leader and see if you could get a copy of the songs for Sunday early.  Make this easy on him! Maybe you could meet him somewhere every Thursday afternoon, etc.

Pray for your music and worship leader:

Maybe you can’t get access to the songs that will be sang Sunday. Maybe the worship leader doesn’t even know what the songs are going to be until Sunday morning!  Well, you can still pray for your church’s singing.  Spend some time meditating over Colossians 3:16 to see the important role singing plays in your church.  Take some time during the week to pray for the congregational singing. Pray that the people would sing to worship the One True God and not worship a particular style of music.  Pray also for your worship leader. Pray that he would lead the people to worship together in spirit and truth.  Pray that he would pick out songs that are God and Gospel-Centered (see here for more).

Meditate on the sermon text:

This may be harder for some depending on your pastor’s preaching habits. Our pastor does not necessarily publish what his next text will be but going through the book of Colossians our people know he finished with Col. 1:29 last Sunday and that he will pick up with Colossians 2:1-? this week.  If you attend Oppelo, then you know that you can begin digging into Colossians 2.  You can begin meditating on God’s truth revealed in this chapter.  This will prepare your heart to get the most out of Sunday’s message. If you don’t know what your Pastor’s text will be for the coming Sunday, you could ask him.  Pray through the text and pray that the people’s hearts will be saturated with the Word of God. Pray that the Holy Spirit would do His work in His people’s lives, breaking them, encouraging them, sustaining them, pointing them to Christ, etc.  Pray for the lost that may be attending your church and that through this week’s passage God will reveal to them their great need for Christ and lead them to repent and believe the Gospel.

Pray for your pastor:

Your pastor needs your prayers! Not long ago Kevin Deyoung wrote a great post about this here. Pray that your pastor would have ample time to spend in prayer and preparation for the sermon.  Pray that your pastor would medidate on the passage he is prepearing to preach and that God would reveal the truth of the passage and your pastor’s need for it first before he thinks about preaching it to the people.  Pray that your pastor would be clear on the Gospel and point to Christ, no matter what section of Scripture he is preaching from.  Pray that your pastor would feel his great inadequacy for the task at hand but also that he would feel encouragment from the Holy Spirit that he is empowered by God Himslef to fulfill this task.

Your pastor may need encouragment from you to keep preaching the Gospel faithfully no matter the response from the people.  There may also be some tangible things you could do to help ensure your pastor has enough time to pray and prepare for Sunday’s sermon. Maybe you could print the bulletins this week? Make a visit for him? Take up some of the other duties that distract from preparation for Sunday?

Guard Saturday Night:

Don’t stay out late on Saturday night.  Inevitably this may happen from time to time but don’t make it a habit.  Being well rested to gather with God’s people is important.  How many times have you woke up late on a Sunday morning only to fight with your spouse, or kids, rushed hurridly off to church, only to feel tired and irritable the whole morning.  God is not honored in that.  We should desire gathering with God’s people (more here)! So, plan late outings for Friday, or a different night of the week.

Wake up early Sunday:

I’m not saying you have to wake up at 5am or anything.  I’m just saying wake up early enough that you have time to pray, read the Word, and prepare yourself for Sunday morning. This may just mean setting the alarm an extra 30 minutes early.  If we wake up on Sunday at the last possible second and then rush around to get ready, are we really ready once we enter the place of worship to meet with God?

Schedule your week around the Lord’s Day not the Lord’s Day around your week:

Don’t leave stuff undone for Sunday.  Clean, mow, wash the car, etc. on other days of the week instead of putting them off until Sunday.  Your mind won’t be so anxious to rush out the door Sunday morning if you’ve prepared well throughout the week, setting aside Sunday for the priority of corporate worship.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
Hebrews 10:24-25





Pointing People to Jesus in Congregational Singing

9 02 2013

Here’s an extended quote from Creature of the Word: The Jesus-Centered Church by Matt Chandler, Josh Patterson, and Eric Geiger.  It’s found on pg. 43 and emphasizes the importance of being intentional in picking out congregational songs that point us to Christ and His work.

“As you consider selecting songs for your worship services, consider them in light of the truth of the gospel.  Imagine the songs as teachers-because they are! If your people could understand your doctrine only through the music you sing, what would they know about God and His pursuit of us? If your people could understand your church’s beliefs only through the music, what would they know? These are good questions to ask yourself in order to stay Jesus-centered.

Too often the songs we sing in many churches are bold declarations of what we can do for God, of what we have that we can offer Him.  And while the character of God and His work on our behalf does demand an active response from us, we must be careful not to teach people unintentionally that the Christian faith is about our personal resolve and commitments.  Choose songs instead that remind people about the greatness of God.  Choose songs that boldly remind people of the gospel – how He found is in the hopelessness of our sin and redeemed us for His own pleasure and glory – because only the gospel can stir the Creature to worship authentically and live.  Without consistent reminders of the gospel, our worship services quickly become empty religious feasts that (according to Scripture) disgust the Lord.”

Creature of the Word trailer

Creature of the Word on Amazon





Crucial Aspects of a Disciple Making Pastor

4 02 2013

These are my notes from Mark Dever’s session on the  Centrality of the Church in Disciple-Making at the 2013 Desiring God National Pastor’s conference. I listened via live-stream and you can do so too by clicking HERE. To hear audio of the message click here.

4 Crucial Aspects of a Disciple Making Pastor:

  1. Preaching: Don’t think that making disciples is something that happens in just 1 on 1 meetings.  The most fundamental way for a Pastor to make disciples is through preaching God’s Word. God uses His word to create faith- 1 Thess. 2:13, Heb. 4:12, James 1:21.  God creates His people by His Word.  If you want life, health, and holiness in your local church it must be done God’s way- through His Word. We must teach our congregations to value God’s Word over programs.  Preaching God’s Word is primary.  The heart of your public ministry as a Pastor is your private study of God’s Word; pouring over it, praying over it.  You must give yourself to the study of God’s Word. What did Paul say to Timothy? “Preach the Word!”
  2. Prayer: In your personal life, pray. In your home, pray. In your meetings with others, pray. In your public services devote so much time to prayer that nominal Christians are bored with so much time committed to talking with the God they claim to know. Lead your people into praying to God.  Diligently call upon God by prayer, so that you may able to teach and exhort with wholesome doctrine. Prayer shows our dependence upon God.

How should pastors pray/what should they pray for?

      •    Prayers of Paul 2 Thess. 1, etc. Allow the prayers of Paul to guide your prayers.
      •    Pray that your preaching the gospel would be faithful accurate and clear.
      •    Pray for the increasing maturity of the congregation- growth in love, sound doctrine, etc.
      •    Pray for sinners to be converted and the church built up through the preaching of the Gospel
      •    Pray for opportunities for yourself and others for personal evangelism.

Dever also gave these practical examples: In Capitol Hill’s regular gathering of believers they have 3 different types of prayers offered publically during the service- Prayers of praise, prayers of confession, Pastoral prayer of intercession.  Dever also suggested to use church directory to pray for church members individually , prayers for church members don’t have to be long, just biblical

3. PersonalDiscipling Relationships: If you’re in the type of congregation that people get upset about the pastor having “friends” confront that and call the people to repentance. Through your discipleship relationships the church as a whole will be built up.  Suggest a book to others and go through it together weekly, or every other week, or as often as you can.  The goal is to get to know them and to love them and to be a blessing to them spiritually. Initiate these types of relationships. Personal discipleship is another channel in which the Word can flow into people’s lives. Encourage a culture of discipleship within the church. What do you mean that you are following Christ if you’re not helping others follow Jesus? Hard-bake that into your definition of being a Christian. Another byproduct of personal discipling relationships is it will help in breaking down the resistance some may have to your leadership as a Pastor. Helps break down the “we vs. him” barrier.

4. Patience: Run at a pace your congregation can keep. The key to having patience is having a right perspective of time, eternity, and success.

      1. Time: Think in terms of 10, 20, 30,40, or even 50 years of ministry! We don’t often have this type of perspective. Are you in it with your church for the long haul or moving up the ladder by taking another church? Are you building a congregation or a career. Stay with them. Keep bleeding, keep loving.
      2. Eternity: One day we will be held accountable by God for the way we fed His lambs.  He will know how we handled His sheep. Shepherd the flock in a way that you will not be ashamed before the Lord (cf. Col 3:23ff).
      3. Success: If you define success by numbers you will result to methods that draw crowds without the preaching of the Gospel.  If you define success by faithfulness then you are freed to be faithful to God and His Word and let Him do His work.  Confidence in the Christian ministry is in the presence, power, and promises of God.  Confidence comes from the power of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit makes us adequate through God’s Word (2 Tim. 3:16). Stake your ministry on the power of the Gospel.  Success in ministry is faithfulness in that. So, be patient.

Summary: Preach and pray, love and stay. We will never be faithful ministers if we only consider the ministry in terms of this life. “I know the vanity of your heart, and that you will feel mortified that your congregation is very small, in comparison with those of your brethren around you; but assure yourself on the word of an old man, that when you come to give an account of them to the Lord Christ at his judgment seat, you will think you have had enough.” 19th Century Scottish Pastor, John Brown





Reading the New Testament together in 2013

1 01 2013

The following is a letter I wrote to our Sunday School classes at First Baptist Church of Oppelo to encourage them to read through the New Testament together in 2013. The plan is for everyone to keep up with their daily readings throughout the week and have a few minutes for discussion, encouragement, and accountability at the beginning of each Sunday School lesson.

[CLICK HERE FOR A COPY OF THE PLAN]

[CLICK HERE FOR MY POST ON READING THROUGH THE BIBLE IN 2013]

Several Sunday School classes at FBC Oppelo are planning to use this plan to read through the New Testament together for the 1st 6 months of 2013. Here’s a few thoughts on why you should be reading your bible daily, and some practical tips on how to accomplish this.

  • First, remember, this is God’s Word.  It is the Word of God.  Jesus repeats the words of Moses (Deut. 8:3) in Matt. 4:4 “But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” So, Christians believe the Bible is composed of 66 individual books, written by men who were divinely inspired by God, meaning that the Bible is “God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16) or in other words, it is the Word of God.
  • Secondly, God uses His Word to transform us into the likeness of Christ (see again 2 Tim. 3:16-17). Two things to remember here: 1st we don’t read the bible just for information but for transformation. 2nd if we want to be transformed into the likeness of Christ then we must read the Bible!  If God uses His own precious Word to transform you isn’t it to our great detriment to waste so much of our year on Facebook, Twitter, television, movies, etc., while our Bibles remain unread?
  • Thirdly, it is through God’s Word that we come to know Him more.  If you want to know God in a deeper way, then you must get into His Word.  Sadly, too many Christians (and “christians”) are satisfied with how well they know (or think they know) God.  Don’t be that person.  May Christ be your treasure! Your satisfaction! And if He is, you will want to know Him more, do this through reading, studying, meditating, and memorizing His Word. Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”
    Jer. 9:23-24

Practical Tips:

  1. Don’t find time, make time.  Personally, I like to read in the morning but that may not work for everyone.  If you do the morning try setting the alarm 15 minutes earlier than normal. It’s just 15 minutes.  The important thing here is make a plan and stick to it.
  2. If you miss a day don’t get discouraged. I promise you, inevitably you will miss a day, or at least miss reading as much as the plan suggests.  On those days, don’t get discouraged. Carve out some extra time to catch up, or resolve that you will give up a TV show or something else to have the time to catch up.  In some cases it could take you some time to catch up but keep at it and you’ll get there!
  3. Accountability. Each Sunday morning have a discussion with your class about what you’ve been reading. This could be as little time as just a few minutes, but sharpen one another’s understanding of the Word and challenge one another to continue with the plan.
  4. Pray. Pray that God will transform you through His Word. Use the Scriptures you read to voice your prayers to God. For example, if you’re reading Matthew 4, part of your prayer could be “God, give me a hunger for your Word. May I desire it more than food. I repent of not cherishing your precious Word as I ought, give me grace to discipline myself to read your Word daily…” etc. from v.4




Bible Reading 2013

28 12 2012

Bible on table
I certainly don’t think proof of your conversion can be based on whether or not you’ve read the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation.  With that out of the way however, I’d like to encourage you to set a goal of reading through the Bible in 2013.  While I don’t think you are an apostate if you haven’t read through the Bible, I do think it should be every Christian’s desire to read God’s Word.  We believe Jesus’ words spoken to the Evil One in the wilderness right?: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.”  And this sentence, God’s very words, had already been recorded in the book of Deuteronomy, God’s very Word.

So, if you believe that we don’t just need cheeseburgers to live but the Word of God, why not commit yourself to actually read every word of God recorded for us in the 66 canonical books we call the Bible?  If you can’t get through it in one year, try two, or if necessary three.  The point is the Bible isn’t just for you to get information but it was written for our transformation (I’m sure I should cite someone here but I’m not sure who said something similar to this!). If God uses His own precious Word to transform you isn’t it to our great detriment to waste so much of our year on Facebook, Twitter, television, movies, etc., while our Bibles remain unread? Won’t you commit to being a student of the Word in 2013?

There are already tons of great plans out there.  Here’s a post by Justin Taylor that has several plansHere’s a plan from Denny BurkHere’s a plan from Grace For Sinners that will have you go through the whole Bible twice and the NT Epistles four times.

And here’s what I’m doing: The OT twice using this planAnd the NT twice using this plan.

So there you go.  Get a plan and stick with it! Print it out, keep it in your bible, post it on your fridge, set reminders in your phone, whatever you need to do!  Here’s a helpful reminder from John Piper on why you should “Read the Bible More and More.”





Regeneration

30 09 2012

“Regeneration is the work of God’s invincible power and mere grace, wherein by his Spirit accompanying his Word he quickeneth a redeemed person lying dead in his sins and reneweth him in his mind, his will and all the powers of his soul, convincing him savingly of sin and righteousness and judgment, and making him heartily to embrace Christ and salvation, and to consecrate himself to the service of God in Christ all the days of his life.”*

*David Dickson, Select Practical Writings of David Dickson, Vol. 1 (Edinburgh: Printed for the Assemblies Committee, 1845), p. 211.