Take Up Your Cross

Michael Lawrence offers a few quick examples of what it might look like for a believer to “deny himself and take up his cross and follow me (Jesus)” (Matt. 16:24). He wrote:

That means Jesus might make a difference in your marriage by giving you the grace to persevere with a spouse who no longer loves you. He might bring love, joy, and peace to your home by making you an agent rather than a recipient of those things. He might give you renewed purpose at work by changing your attitude rather than your job description. (Conversion, pg. 22)

What does the call to deny yourself look like in your life right now?

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“Rolling-Stone Christians”

In a sermon preached on October 24, 1869, Charles Spurgeon said:

Now I know there are some who say, “Well, I hope I have given myself to the Lord, but I do not intend to give myself to any church, because…” Now, why not? “Because I can be a Christian without it.” Now, are you quite clear about that? You can be as good a Christian by disobedience to your Lord’s commands as by being obedient?

Well, suppose everybody else did the same? Suppose all Christians in the world said, “I shall not join the Church.” Why there would be no visible Church! There would be no ordinances! That would be a very bad thing and yet, one doing it—what is right for one is right for all—why should not all of us do it? Then you believe that if you were to do an act which has a tendency to destroy the visible Church of God, you would be as good a Christian as if you did your best to build up that Church? I do not believe it, Sir! Nor do you, either. You have not any such a belief—it is only a trumpery excuse for something else.

There is a brick—a very good one. What is the brick made for? To help to build a house with. It is of no use for that brick to tell you that it is just as good a brick while it is kicking about on the ground as it would be in the house. It is a good-for-nothing brick! Until it is built into the wall, it is no good! So you rolling-stone Christians, I do not believe that you are answering your purpose—you are living contrary to the life which Christ would have you live—and you are much to blame for the injury you do!

Now, of course we can formally belong to a local church while at the same time functionally it is as if we didn’t belong to any church. In other words, we can be a church member without actively seeking to do our “best to build up that Church” as Spurgeon said above. The calling to be a part of a local church is a calling to actively and consistently pour into that body seeking to build one another up in love (Eph. 4:15-16). Let us, by God’s grace, avoid being “rolling-stone Christians” both formally and functionally.

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Christian Growth 101

In his book, What is a Healthy Church Member?, Thabiti Anyabwile wrote:

This is the first and most important ministry of every Christian in the local church. Being present, being known, and being active are the only ways to make Christian love possible. (Heb. 10:24-25) (pg. 68, emphasis mine)

He later expounded this point saying:

Hebrews 10:25 instructs us not to neglect the assembly of the saints. Instead, we are to gather and encourage one another more and more as we await Jesus’ return. The public assembly is meant for the edification, the building up, the growth of the Christian. Neglecting to participate in the corporate life of the church or failing to actively serve and be served is a sure-fire way to limit our growth. Ephesians 4:11-16 offers a pretty strong argument that participation in the body of Christ is the main way in which Christ strengthens and matures us. When we serve others in the church, bear with one another, love one another, correct one another, and encourage one another, we participate in a kind of “spiritual maturity co-op” where our stores and supplies are multiplied. The end result is growth and discipleship. (pg. 91, emphasis mine)

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Did The Reformers Think Their Doctrine Was New?

In the previous post, I offered a quick survey of historical church figures leading up to the Reformation. The purpose was to show that the doctrines emphasized by the Reformers were not completely new, but that the Reformation was, in fact, a recovery of gospel doctrine. What did the Reformers themselves think about their teaching? They did not think their teaching was novel. Below I will offer a few quick remarks from them displaying their thoughts on the subject.

Luther wrote:

People should stop using my name, and instead of calling themselves Lutheran, they should be willing to be called Christian. What is Luther? The doctrine is not mine. And I have not been crucified for anybody…How would I, a bag full of maggots, come to the point that people, the children of Christ, call themselves after my unwholesome name? (quoted in Martin Luther: A Spiritual Biography, pg. 171, emphasis mine)

Luther’s main emphasis in this statement is his desire for people to cling to and honor Christ instead of himself. However, his statement “the doctrine is not mine” shows that he believes it is the Lord’s and comes from Scripture. Thus, it is certainly not new doctrine, but rather Biblical doctrine.

During the First Disputation in Zurich (1523), Zwingli was accused of preaching new doctrine. Zwingli responded:

“What is the gospel? Why, that is 1,522 years old.” (quoted in Rescuing the Gospel, pg. 145)

In his famous exchange with Cardinal Sadoleto, Calvin wrote:

…our (the Reformers) agreement with antiquity is far closer than yours (Roman Church)…all we have attempted has been to renew that ancient form of the Church. (quoted in Unquenchable Flame, pg. 105)

All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever. And this word is the good news that was preached to you. –1 Peter 1:24-25

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What about before Luther?

Several nights ago, a group of us from the church were having a conversation about the Reformation. One of the Ladies participating asked about the time before Luther and the other Reformers. Were there any in the church leading up to the Reformation who rightly understood the gospel? We discussed how the Reformers would quote early church fathers approvingly in their writings when making arguments for gospel doctrine. We then made mention of Augustine, Anselm, Wycliffe, and Hus. However, our conversation didn’t go much deeper.

Yesterday, I was in a bookstore and spotted a new book, Long Before Luther: Tracing the Heart of the Gospel from Christ to the Reformation. With the recent conversation on my mind, I purchased a copy and devoured it. Nathan Busenitz has done a real service to the church by surveying the writing of many throughout church history and synthesizing their views on the gospel in an accessible volume.

The question is not if the teachings of the Reformers are contained in Scripture. As Protestants, we obliviously believe the 5 Solas are Scriptural. Our Elders have been teaching on such over the last few weeks. The question the book addresses is, were the Reformers the first to come to these conclusions? (Was a correct understanding of the gospel completely lost all of those years before the Reformation? Were the Reformers recovering or revising the gospel?) The answer is they were not the first; the Reformation was a recovery of the Gospel.

I will provide a quick sample of quotes from Busenitz’s book. I would urge you to pick-up a copy of the book and be encouraged by the riches of historical theology contained within. Here’s a taste:

Justin Martyr (ca. 100-165)

For Abraham was declared by God to be righteous, not on account of circumcision, but on account of faith…And we, therefore, in the uncircumcision of our flesh, believing God through Christ, and having that circumcision which is of advantage to us who have acquired it—namely, that of the heart—we hope to appear righteous before and well-pleasing to God. (pg. 71)

Origen (182-254)

Who has been justified by faith alone without works of the law? Thus in my opinion that thief [who] was crucified with Christ should suffice for a suitable example. He called out to him form the cross, “Lord Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom!” In the Gospels, nothing else is recorded about his good works, but for the sake of this faith alone Jesus said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (pg. 65)

Gregory of Nazianzus (330-390)

For where sin abounded, grace did much more abound; and if a taste condemned [us], how much more does the passion of Christ justify us? (pg. 80, emphasis original)

Augustine (354-430)

No man can say that it is by the merit of his own works, or by the merit of his own prayers, or by the merit of his own faith, that God’s grace has been conferred upon him; nor suppose that the doctrine is true which those heretics hold, that the grace of God is given us in proportion to our own merit. (pg. 110)

Julian of Toledo (642-690)

[This is] the righteousness of faith, by which we are justified. This faith is that we believe in him whom we cannot see, and that, being cleansed by faith, we will eventually see him in whom we now believe. (pg. 183)

Bede (673-735)

The apostle Paul preached that we are justified by faith without works. (pg. 184)

Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

[Question] Do you hope and believe, that not by your own merits, but by the merits of the passion of Jesus Christ, you may attain to everlasting salvation? [Answer] I do. (pg. 187)

Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153)

For the sake of your sins He will die, for the sake of your justification He will rise, in order that you, having been justified through faith, may have peace with God. (pg. 155)

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Reformation Conversation

Here is a helpful panel discussion from the 2016 Together for the Gospel conference. The discussion is entitled “Courage from the Reformation,” and is a great introduction to a variety of Reformation figures. (The participants left to right are: Albert Mohler, John Piper, Ligon Duncan, Kevin DeYoung, and Mark Dever)

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That They May Know

Brett McCracken on the beauty of unity within the church:

A unified church is one of the strongest evidences of the truth of the gospel. This is especially true in a world as fragmented and divisive as ours, where countercultural unity among diverse people stands out. When the rest of the world can’t seem to agree on anything or bear to be around people who are different, a church where natural enemies become siblings in Christ is a powerful alternative. Unity is a critical manifestation of a Spirit-empowered church. That’s why Paul told the Ephesian Christians to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3)…Where division might normally reign, unity should instead lead to an uncommon love, where believers listen to and bear with one another. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples,” said Jesus, “if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). (Uncomfortable, pgs. 166-7, emphasis mine)

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Reading John Calvin

A couple of weeks ago, I offered some recommended reading on the Reformation and suggested reading John Calvin because he is surprisingly warm and easy to read. If you are interested in reading Calvin, a good place to start is, “A Little Book on the Christian Life” (It really is little…small and short!). Here is a taste:

The cross destroys the false notion of our own strength that we’ve dared to entertain, and it destroys that hypocrisy in which we have taken refuge and pleasure. It strips us of carnal self-confidence, and thus humbling us, instructs us to cast ourselves on God alone so that we won’t be crushed or defeated…It’s no little thing to be stripped of our blind self-love and thus to be made aware of our own weakness. Moreover, having been impressed with our own weakness, we learn to despair of ourselves. Then, having despaired of ourselves, we transfer our trust to God. (pgs. 63-4)

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We Need One Another

On Sunday, Lord willing, we will celebrate the sixth anniversary of Redeemer Fellowship Church. As I reflect on the Lord’s goodness to our church, I am reminded how much we all need the church. God’s plan is not for us go about our Christian walk alone, but instead with others in the local church. In his book, The Christian Life, Sinclair Ferguson says; Christians are like coals in a fire (pg. 180). If you remove a coal, isolating it from the others, it cannot produce the same amount of heat on its own and it will quickly go out. Yet, when those coals remain together they keep one another burning and produce far more heat together than they ever could separately.

So it is in the church. We are not to go at it alone. We need one another. With that in mind, reflect on these two passages and ask yourself; am I serving my church well according to these verses?

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.–Hebrews 3:12-14 (ESV)

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 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 10:23-25 (ESV)

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A Subtle Temptation

As we study the Sermon on the Mount together, we must beware of the sneaky temptation to be known for being godly, the hunger for the fame of holiness. D.A. Carson wrote:

We human beings are a strange lot. We hear high moral injunctions and glimpse just a little the genuine beauty of perfect holiness, and then prostitute the vision by dreaming about the way others would hold us in high esteem if we were like that. The demand for genuine perfection loses itself in the lesser goal of external piety; the goal of pleasing the Father is traded for its pygmy cousin, the goal of pleasing men. (The Sermon on the Mount, pg. 55)

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