Anxiety is Killing You

Worry is common. There is no doubt about this. There is not a single person in this life that will escape anxious thoughts. But there is something to be said about the intensity and consistency of the anxiety in a person that reveals much about their faith. In a Christian worldview, worry is not virtuous. It’s not something we should aspire to, but rather, repent of. That may have struck a nerve, but please hear it from a fellow sufferer who has had to be called to repentance over this very issue. I want to address this issue with gentleness and seriousness, as I believe it is one of the most destructive things in the lives of God’s people. There are real mental issues at play when it comes to anxiety that can be helped by medical professionals, but even these are from the Lord and they often do not address the real issue lurking beneath the surface. Anxiety is a faith issue at it’s core.

The Longing for Control

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” – Matthew 6:25

At the sermon on the mount, Christ addressed the issue of anxiety and made clear that it is NOT something we should have as a constant in our lives. Hence the words, “do not be anxious”. He goes on to describe how it is God who cares for the smallest details of creation that we might deem insignificant. If God clothes the grass and feeds the birds, how much more will he care for you. Jesus is doing what he does throughout the entirety of the sermon on the mount. He is exposing the heart of the issue. In this case, it is a longing for control. When we worry about things, we do so because we feel like we should be able to change their outcome in an ultimate way. We may even say that God is in control with our lips, but our anxious hearts tell a different story. They reveal that we want to be in control. When a Christian struggling with anxiety feels at peace, not because they have surrendered their worry to God, but because they have accomplished much, they have rejected the sovereignty of God and claimed it as their own. This is why we must repent.

You of Little Faith

But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? – Matthew 6:30

When a anxious Christian is in the midst of terrible panic and worry, it is most likely a response to the fact that their faith in their own sovereignty has failed. I have been at the extreme end of this anxiety spectrum and it is not a fun place to be. Worrying about my own health, wondering if I am going to die, wondering how my family will be provided for if I die, and eventually on to the evil despair that says “I wish I would just go ahead and die”. We need to be loving with other believers who go through things like this, but we also need to be lovingly firm. This is sin that needs to be repented of. This is brokenness that is rooted in a heart that is not trusting the promises of God. Your anxiety, dear Christian, is not a joke or a light thing to be trifled with. This is why we must repent.

Repent and Believe The Gospel

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. – Matthew 6:33

Repentance is not just about turning from something, but turning towards something else. It is to change focus and direction. Jesus tells us our focus should be towards the kingdom of God and his righteousness. Instead of being anxious due to the fact that you are not in control, be joyful in fixing your eyes on the one who is. God the Father knows exactly what you need and he will care for you. Sometimes the things you need that he will “add to you” will not be things that you want. But he is Fatherly over all his creation, and in a more special way over all his people. We are called to turn away from our false sense of sovereignty and turn towards the true ruler of the cosmos who loves and cares for us. We are to continue in the path that we started on when he first saved us. We are to continue to repent and believe the gospel.

Interpret Scripture With Scripture (The Scriptures: Part 5)

How should we read the Bible? This seems like a simple question to answer at first, right? You pick it up, maybe dust it off if its been a while, and read it. Maybe you revisit some of your favorite passages that you know well. Maybe you decide to read it from Genesis to Revelation daily. You may choose to do a reading plan such as the chronological or the may others available. Of course none of these ways are wrong. But to read the scriptures in a way that will help you know the truth must be done in light of the whole of scripture. This is interpret scripture with scripture. Let’s look at what the 1689 says regarding this.

“We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the church of God to a high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scriptures; and the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, and the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, and many other incomparable excellencies, and entire perfections thereof, are arguments whereby it does abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God; yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth, and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.

THE SCOPE OF THE WHOLE

There is great danger in reading the Bible as if it were merely a book of inspirational quotes. You cannot take one verse ripped from its context and expect to have a true sound thinking about who God is. We must read in context. Not just the context of the paragraph, chapter, or book. Those are absolutely important, but not enough. We should read the Bible in context of the whole Bible. There may be 66 books in the Bible with multiple human authors, but there is one divine author behind the whole scope. He is wonderfully consistent. Themes of love, suffering, joy, worship, salvation, and sovereignty fill the pages across the Old and New Testaments. Everything that is said is vital and does not contradict. If we are too careless, picking and choosing the parts we like, we will miss the voice of God and replace it with our own. If we are too rigid, attempting to only read within the context of one book, we will miss the fullness of God’s voice. We need, as the 1689 puts it, the “full discovery”.

THE INWARD WORK

Along with seeking to interpret scripture with scripture, something else must be present in order for us to drink from the well of God’s word and receive true refreshment. We need “…the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.” This is the part of reading the Bible that is totally dependent on God and his work. Oh how this should humble us to our knees in prayer! We need God to know God. There are scholars who have read the Bible carefully in the original languages that are not able to hear the voice of God and know him fully because they have not been born again. The Spirit of God works through the Word of God in order that we would receive the grace of God. This is called regeneration. God’s redeemed people are able to read the Bible and truly hear God speaking as the Spirit bears witness to their hearts. This goes against our natural tendency to want to make things happen for ourselves. But we must read the Bible with a humble heart, knowing we are in need of God to do something in our hearts that we cannot make happen to ourselves. Read the Bible in light of the whole Bible, and read the Bible as one who is desperately dependent on God to speak truth into your heart as you read.

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. – 2 Corinthians 4:6

The Fleeting Life and Destructive Grace

It is very hard for me to see beyond what is in front of me. I have never had the type A personality that strives to meet goals that are set well into the future. I’m not saying I don’t do this, I’m just saying that I am not naturally very good at it. I have a task manager app on my phone that helps me, but I get no satisfaction whatsoever by checking a box off of my to-do list. I tend to work best when I spontaneously feel inspired to do something. This may not be you at all. You may be super organized and have a methodical plan to reach your future goal. Checking a box may be the peak of your enjoyment. Regardless of what personality type any of us have, one thing that I am confident that none of us do enough is look ahead to what is coming. I’m not talking about making plans to try to control what is coming, I am talking about what is actually, decisively coming. The end of our lives.

In the Psalms, David prays,

“O LORD, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!

Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! (Selah)

Surely a man goes about as a shadow! Surely for nothing they are in turmoil; man heaps up wealth and does not know who will gather!”

-Psalm 39:4-6

The king saw a need to better understand just how finite our time here is. We need this sobering from God because it is not in our nature to think about such things often, especially when we are young and healthy. David’s prayer here, it seems to me, is one that is in accord with the will of God. God answers this prayer for all of his true children in one way or another. Sometimes it is through health problems in those who are supposed to be young and strong. Sometimes it is through old age. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have been told by those older than me to appreciate what I have because it goes away with a few blinks. Sometimes it is through sudden tragedy that hits us like a truck out of nowhere. God, by his grace, will remind his children how fleeting their lives are in this current age. We cannot control the length of our days, and we cannot take anything with us when we die. If our hope is in this life only, then we have no hope at all.

Enter the gospel. The gospel helps us see that God uses the means mentioned above (old age, loss of health, tragedy, and loss of property) to lavish us with his grace. Our inability to see with clarity what is coming is a blindness that we cannot afford to live with. And our God is so gracious, that he will remove the scales from our eyes. He will make our temporal nature so obvious, that we can do nothing but turn to him for hope. Believing the gospel means living in light of its promises; and the Father is so gracious to us that he will not let us remain blind to his glorious promises that are not worth comparing to anything that is here and now. Are you afflicted with old age my brother? It is a kindness from the Father reminding you that this life is not about this life. Are you facing tragedy dear sister? It is grace from the LORD who is reminding you that he is your eternal comfort who one day will remove your tears forever. Have you, family of God, been robbed of earthly treasures or lost property that cannot be recovered? It is the mercy of God that is reminding you that he, alone, is your treasure.

Without him there would be nothing to look forward to. If you do not claim to be his child, then it makes sense for you to refrain from looking past the short vapor that is this life. But if you are his, then his grace destroys your idols for his glory and your good. It is an odd thing to think of the grace and mercy of God as tools of destruction. But they certainly are. They destroy everything that keeps his children from seeing the great hope they have in him. He cuts deep into our hearts, by his grace, and reveals the thirst of our affections by destroying the false gods that have kept us from drinking for so long. He does this so that we will turn to him in our thirst for genuine hope and drink of the living water he provides that will satisfy us in this life and beyond. When he ruins our lives according to our plans, he is near us to give comfort in what lies ahead that we were blind to see before. Thanks be to God for his destructive grace.

 

The Sower: The One’s Along the Path

Satan is one of the most misunderstood beings in the Bible. Many Christians do not fully grasp who he is and what he is capable of. The two biggest dangers I see regarding how Christians understand the devil are, (1) ascribing too much power to him (which leads to duel theism), and (2) not recognizing him as a real enemy to God’s people. It is vitally important that we understand who this deceiver is. We have many warnings about him in the scriptures that should not go unchecked, and ultimately our hope in knowing who our enemy is will lead us to further press in to God and hope in him who has crushed the serpent under his feet. Let’s get into it.

“And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them.” (Mark 4:15 ESV)

CAN SATAN REALLY TAKE AWAY THE WORD?

In the parable Jesus says the the seed that fell along the path was devoured by the “birds of the air”, and here in his explanation he reveals this to be satan. The most clear thing about the devil that we can gather from this parable is that he wickedly desires to damage anything that relates to the gospel. We know from the word that he is like a lion seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). He is a deceiver that we see in Genesis 3, as he subtly makes light of what God has said regarding the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. All of this is true, but can he take away the word from God’s people?

The scripture seems pretty clear that he does take away the word that is sown, so I think it would be helpful to ask the question another way. Can satan take away the word by his own power and authority? Thanks be to God that the answer to this question is a resounding “no”. First of all, we know from the book of Job that satan cannot do anything based on his own authority. In truth, he has no authority of his own, but is only able to do what God allows him to do. He is not able to cause any harm to anyone without the permission of God. Now this doesn’t totally satisfy all of our questions, but it does help us better understand what is happening in this parable. The enemy devours the word that is sown along the path because God grants him the ability to do so. He is compared to a bird, a creature that does nothing apart from God (Matthew 10:29).

The other thing we can be sure of is that the word of God does not return to him empty (Isaiah 55:11). This is true of all of the soil types in Jesus parable. Only one of the places that the seed lands will produce fruit, but that does not mean that there is no purpose to the seed being sown in the other types of ground. What those purposes are may remain mysterious to us, but we can trust that God is doing something. When he sends out his word, he has purpose behind it all. The enemy can do nothing apart from the will of God, and therefore we should not put him anywhere near the same level as God.

SHOULD WE DISREGARD SATAN THEN?

Just because the enemy has no authority apart from God does not mean that we should totally disregard him. He is a deceiver and tester of mankind. Though there is not much written about satan and the demonic in the scriptures, there is still enough for us to understand that he is an enemy to the church. We should not cast aside the reality of his hatred for us, but rather we should pray as Jesus taught us, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” We know that authority belongs to God, and thus we should pray that God would guard us from the enemy. We should pray that we would recognize our sin nature that the devil seeks to exploit, and that we would put to death the deeds of the flesh. As we will further unpack when we get into the other soil types, we cannot say “the devil made me do it” when it comes to disobeying God and his word. The enemy seeks to devour and deceive, but he is not without boundaries. He can only do what the sovereign God allows him to do. This does not mean we should disregard him, but rather we should realize that our sin is not because “the devil made us do it.”. Our sin is all our own, and when we overemphasize satan to the point of blame for our sin, then we become those along the path. If we believe the enemy is the cause of all our sin, then we do not have the gospel. The gospel pulls no punches about who is to blame for sin. It is OUR sin. We do it. And when you deny that, then you are (ironically) one who has had the seed devoured right in front of you. You miss the point.

CONCLUSION

Do not overestimate or underestimate the devil. He is real and he is the prince of the power of the air, but he can only do what God allows and he only has authority that has been given to him. Truly nothing is his. We need to know this, not simply to better understand our enemy, but to better understand God. The Bible does not present us with duel theism. In other words, it’s not God versus the devil. Contrary to posts you may see on social media, Jesus is not in an arm wrestling match with satan. He has already crushed his head. Christ has won, and there is no tension that should leave us wondering what will happen. The gospel tells us that Christ has triumphed, and the enemy has been defeated before time began. We should rejoice in this fact, and pray that our great God would continually deliver us from evil as he has promised to ultimately do.

The Authority of the Author (The Scriptures: Part 4)

What makes the Bible authoritative? Do we decide it is? Is it because a pastor says so? If the Bible was written by men, then how can we trust it? Should we treat it with reverence or as we would treat any other book? The answer to all these questions is given to us by the 1689 in a simple way. So simple that some will deem it unsatisfying. Here is what it says.

“The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, depends not upon the testimony of any man or church, but wholly upon God (who is truth itself), the author thereof; therefore it is to be received because it is the Word of God.”

NOT THE TESTIMONY OF ANY MAN

Man does not give scripture its authority. The only thing that makes preaching and teaching authoritative is if the preacher or teacher is doing so from the scriptures. And even here we must be careful. There are many who stand before a crowd with a Bible open and quote things from it in an attempt to make their own point and not the Bible’s. Scripture can be abused by man, and thus it is not dependent on man for its authority. All of the power of the message of the Bible is within the Bible itself because the Bible is the very word of God.

Some will object here and say that men wrote the Bible, and therefore it must have some dependency on the testimony of man. This is an understandable critique, but it falls flat when put up against what the Bible says about itself. A passage that has been referenced before here on the blog is 2 Peter 1:21, which says, “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” Men were certainly involved in the writing of the scriptures, but the men themselves had no authority of their own. The men spoke from God. Of course this is a matter of faith, but it is what the Bible says about itself. It does not need us to validate it. It simply claims to be valid.

NOT THE TESTIMONY OF THE CHURCH

In regards to the Bible’s relationship to the church, the 1689 is very clear. The church does not govern the Bible, but the Bible governs the church. Some of the darker times in church history were the times when the word was kept from the people. Church hierarchy began twisting the meaning of the word in favor of promoting their own agendas rather than obeying the gospel. It is easy to see how this would produce big problems, and that is exactly what happened. The Protestant reformation came to be because some began seeing that the teaching of the church was contrary to the teaching of the scriptures. We must not be dependent on leadership within the church to govern the church on their own authority, but rather we should stay grounded by submitting ourselves (as a church) to the word. When we do this, it not only holds the leadership accountable, but all the members. It removes our personal preferences and holds us all accountable to an authority that is higher than ourselves.

WHOLLY UPON GOD

The 1689 confession ascribes all the authority of the Bible to God himself. This position is uncomfortable for some because there are some very hard things in the Bible. Many would like to point out certain passages that they deem a problem, thinking to themselves it is impossible that a loving God would say such things. But many who would criticize in this way have not really read the Bible. Bits and pieces of the scriptures can be helpful to us. But the Bible is cohesive. It all works together to communicate who God is, and we need this full picture to know him more. He is just, holy, righteous, loving, merciful, gracious, faithful, unchanging, perfect, sovereign, wrathful, patient, kind, and so much more. And many of the passages that give us problems (such as passages about God’s wrath or his holiness) better help us understand the ones we tend to cling to most (such as passages about God’s grace or love). The word stands on its own, possessing its authority completely from God. This we confess, and in this we have hope.

 

The Sower: The Seed of the Word

After Jesus was accused of doing his works by the power of Satan, he began speaking in parables. The first major parable recorded in the gospel of Mark is the parable of the sower. He tells the story in a very large crowd, but then later explains it privately to his disciples. It is in this explanation that we see how proclaiming the gospel works for both the one proclaiming it and the those who are hearing it. Over the next several weeks we will dive into the various parts of the parable, starting today with the sower and his seed.

WHO IS THE SOWER

The one part of the parable that Jesus does not explicitly reveal is the identity of the sower. However, if we look into the text (and other texts surrounding the concept of proclaiming the gospel) we can see quite clearly who the sower is. The ultimate answer is that the sower is God himself. God is the one who scatters the gospel seed all around the world. Jesus was scattering seed as he taught the people (Matthew 13:37). God, who is rich in mercy, has chosen to proclaim his gospel. But the sower is also those who follow Jesus in this practice. Those of us that he has saved are commanded by the great commission to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. Christian you are commanded by Christ to scatter the seed just as Christ did. But this leads us to another important question.

WHAT IS THE SEED

Jesus explains that the sower sows the word. This truth cannot be pushed aside as unimportant, though many modern so-called followers of Christ would love to do so. The new hip thing to do for Christians today is to thrust aside the word as something that only needs to be used some times when it fits the narrative that we are trying to tell. There is an arrogance brewing today that seeks to evangelize by removing the authority of the Bible and replacing it with some assumed idea of what Jesus was “really” like. The new testaments accounts are not good enough for those who subscribe to this idea. Jesus in the New Testament constantly ascribed authority to the scriptures of the Old Testament (which he does in this very parable and several other places) and this does not fit within their own thinking about who Jesus was. They find the OT repulsive, and say things like “my God would never say that”. This reveals that their god is one of their own design, and not the God of the scriptures. Scriptures that Jesus proclaimed as true and unfailing. Of course one would have to believe in the Jesus that the new testament presents for this to matter. That is why many prefer to make up their own Jesus that fits their own worldview. This is done by both liberal theologians who do not trust the inerrancy of the Bible, as well as conservative ones who claim they do but twist the meanings to fit their own agendas. The seed that is scattered is not subject to our opinions and feelings. It is the very word of God, and it can stand on its own. As Charles Spurgeon once said, “Defend the Bible? I would as soon defend a lion! Unchain it and it will defend itself.”

THE SCATTERING OF THE SEED

The last thing to notice is that the seed is scattered indiscriminately. As we will study further, the seed is tossed in every direction liberally. This might seem inefficient, but it was a common method of farming during this time period. The seeds were scattered and then plowed. We, as ambassadors for Christ, are to be about the work of proclaiming the gospel indiscriminately. Yes, some of it will fall on bad soil and rocky ground. This is a harsh reality. But some of it will most definitely fall into good soil. Notice that the sower does not examine the soil before scattering, but he simply begins working. There is definitely time for strategy and careful thought, but those things should not dictate the work that God has called us to. He is sowing his gospel through us, and no matter what we are to walk in that. We can trust that he will give the increase that far surpasses the seed that did not bear fruit, as mentioned at the end of the parable. “20 But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” Mark 4:20.

Job 1:1-12 – Have You Considered My Servant

We often don’t like to think of suffering as being given by God. We despise suffering. We hate it. We would do anything to avoid it. And if we see it coming we will run from it like it is the worst possible thing. And to be fair, sometimes it is the worst possible thing. Sometimes it’s not as big of a deal as we would like to make it. Regardless of which brand of suffering we’re talking about, Christians have a tendency to explain it away from God. You won’t find many books with titles like “When God Allows Suffering” or “When God Removes the Hedge” and the like. Those don’t tend to sell very well. People use terms like “God is for me, not against me” and “God is on my side.” Generally, what they mean is God doesn’t want me to suffer and God will do what He can to take care of me. And for those who believe these half-truths don’t’ know what to do with the story of Job.

Job is a story about God allowing the suffering of one of His. The narrative suggests that God is the primary mover in Job’s suffering. Nowhere in the text does it suggest that Satan came looking to start something with Job. God offers Job as a candidate. God is not causing Job’s suffering, but He does allow it. We hate this. Our self-centeredness can’t abide a God who would allow something like this. We cry out at the injustice of it, and then we settle in, wait for the end of the book and rejoice that Job is better off in prosperity after the suffering. Unfortunately, when we focus on the prosperous bookends of the story and miss the whole counsel of God’s working through suffering, we are in danger of creating a false God instead of loving God of the Bible.

Job teaches us to expect suffering, struggle, and even pain. Job teaches us that God will be faithful to give us these things. Job and the testimony of the Spirit through the Scriptures teaches us that suffering pushes us to Christ, challenges our false notions about God, our righteousness, and what is eternally important. Job is a story of primary importance for understanding the Cross. We must be ready to embrace suffering as a means God will use in the lives of His children to draw us to Himself. God is faithful to give us suffering, just like He is faithful to walk with us through it.

The Only Good Man

11.05.16 | east pacific hotel South Richmond Hill, NY

I have had the honor of being surrounded by good men and good women most of my life. My family and my church is saturated with them, and I am thankful for that. But “goodness” has to be defined clearly. What makes someone good? Is it the way they treat people? Is it things they accomplish? Is it the amount of money they give to churches and charities? If you have been involved in a gospel preaching church for any length of time then you will, no doubt, know that those things don’t make a person good. And yet, most of us still aspire to be good by doing those things! What is it about us that drives us back to seeking goodness this way, even when we know that it does not work? It seems that it all has to do with glory.

BLINDING PRIDE

If we are honest with ourselves, we have the tendency to attempt to do things to be good because we want others to perceive us as good. We want people to look at our lives and covet them the way that we have coveted the lives of others who we see as good. We want people to want to be like us so that our egos will be fed and we will ultimately be worshiped. There is a subtle pride that creeps in the lives of Christians and whispers in our ears, “You may have been saved by grace, but you must convince people this is true by being a good person.” We attempt to rob God of our sanctification (being made holy) so that others will look at us and think that we are good. When we do this, we are being incredibly foolish.

The gospel tells us that we are made right with God by grace alone. We are so utterly depraved that the only way for God to forgive us and still be just was to become a man and live the life we could not live (a perfect life), die in our place on a cross to satisfy the wrath of God, and rise from the dead showing his power over sin and the grave. If it took all of that work on God’s part to forgive our sin and give us right standing with him, what makes us think that we now are able to say to God, “Thank you, but I’ll take it from here.” The grace that saved us from the wrath of God is still ever-present to sanctify us (Acts 26:18). We should not feel more pride in ourselves when we grow in holiness. As a matter of fact, it is quite the opposite. J.C. Ryle said it best, “Pride sits in all our hearts by nature. We are born proud. Pride makes us rest satisfied with ourselves, thinking we are good enough as we are. It closes our ears against all advice, refuses the gospel of Christ and turns every one to his own way.”

GOD DOESN’T SHARE

One particular passage of scripture really helps us understand what becoming “good” should look like.

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

-Philippians 2:12-13 ESV

We should “work-out” our salvation. We should try to be good. We should strive to live a holy life. But we should only do these things by trusting God who works in us. If he did not work in us, there would be no salvation to work out. God does not share his glory (Isaiah 42:8). He is more than able to accomplish the whole of our salvation. He justifies us, sanctifies us, and glorifies us. It is all his doing from start to finish, and therefore the prideful “good” we try to do on our own is really no good at all.

MOTIVATION

When our motivation changes from what others think about us to what others think about the God who works in us, then we are moving in the right direction. Jesus told us that we should have these good works in us so that others would see them and glorify God, not us (Matthew 5:15-16). When this happens, we are liberated from the exhausting and useless work of attempting to make others think well of us. It is far better to make much of God by the goodness of his Son than it is to attempt to manufacture goodness within ourselves. Jesus was the only truly good man to ever live, and the only reason I can say other Christians in my life are “good people” is because they have been covered in his goodness. Let us make much of Christ instead of attempting to make much of ourselves. When that is our motivation then we are free to have joy and peace. We cannot hold ourselves together, but he has us firmly in his grip where we can rest in his goodness.

The Exclusivity of the Bible

Part 3

Becoming enveloped in movies, books, and other forms of entertainment can be a great part of culture. Of course there are down sides to being overwhelmed with entertainment, but as a whole most of us really enjoy good story telling. But what happens when we are presented with another story that is supposedly “like” one that we already enjoy? Sometimes it holds up, and often times it does not. But even more offensive than failed attempts to be “like” stories that we enjoy is mistaken identity of a good story. A Star Trek fan is going to be a little chapped if you mistake their beloved series for a Star Wars movie. And no self-respecting fan of the Chronicles of Narnia is going to let someone get away with mistaking it for some other generic mythos. When I was a child I was a big fan of the Power Rangers, and due to the popularity of that show there were a lot of knock-offs that began surfacing. But no matter how much the tv network tried to get me to like the Big Bad Beetleborgs, they would never replace my beloved power rangers (it almost hurt to type that). The point is that if we are to be devoted to an original work, then we must be able to identify the difference between that work and other things that may be a little similar. This brings us to chapter 1, paragraph 3 of the 1689.

“The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the canon or rule of the Scripture, and, therefore, are of no authority to the church of God, nor to be any otherwise approved or made use of than other human writings.”

THE WHAT NOW?

If you have never heard of the apocrypha, then allow me to briefly explain. It is a collection of uninspired writings that have been printed between the Old and New Testaments along side inspired texts in some Bibles. You most likely won’t find the apocrypha in Bibles today unless you are specifically searching for it. It contains some recorded history of the Maccabean Revolt, which is no doubt a very important event in history. This is not the only thing found in the apocrypha, but possibly the most significant.

So is the apocrypha evil and to be completely avoided? No. That is not what the confession is saying at all. The point of including paragraph 3 is to make clear that the books listed in paragraph 2 are the only inspired books. No other writing, even the apocryphal writings, are inspired by the Holy Spirit and considered the very words of God. The apocrypha may read somewhat like the Bible, but it is not the Bible. We should not look to it in the same way we look to the scriptures for life and godliness, but rather we should treat it just like any other human writing. Even the 1689 confession itself is human writing that seeks to summarize the doctrines of the Bible, but we are never to treat it as the Bible. Just like a being able to tell the difference between Star Wars and Star Trek (or whatever narrative you are passionate about), we need to be able to tell the difference between the Bible and all other books.

WHAT ABOUT OTHER BOOKS?

We can apply this further by making some distinction between books that are simply uninspired versus books that are heretical (meaning that they are not only “not the Bible”, but actively push back against the truths of the Bible). We are blessed to have lots of resources that are “about” the Bible. These include commentaries, study notes, Bible studies, and books on Christian living. These can certainly be a great help to us, given that they actually teach and affirm the things in the Bible. But this is where we must be watchful. There are many “christian” books out there that do not seek to proclaim biblical truth, but rather seek to twist the scripture to a fit their own narrative. It would be like someone taking some things out of one of your favorite stories and attempting to insert them into their own story. Cheap imitation versions of biblical truth are sprinkled through many books from people claiming the name of Christ (yes, even at Christian bookstores), and we must be guarded against them. The best way to do this is to know the Bible well and with even more intensity that you give to your favorite fiction book, movie, or tv series. This will protect you against heresy in all of its subtle and not so subtle varieties. There are more “not so subtle” books out their such as the book of mormon and the nwt version of the bible (Jehovah’s Witness) that would seek to lead us astray, but the principle remains the same for guarding against these books. Read and know the 66 books listed in chapter 1, paragraph 2 of the 1689, and you will be more alert to the imitations that come up.

WHY DOES THIS MATTER SO MUCH

When we miss the gospel by adding things to it that do not belong, then we are doing great damage to ourselves and others. It’s not just missing the mark by a little bit, it’s aiming at a totally different target. In writing to the Galatians, Paul was dealing with this issue. He tells them this, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:6-9 ESV) When we get the gospel wrong then we are actually bringing a curse upon ourselves. The true gospel of Christ says that Jesus took our curse upon himself that we would be made right with God. The true gospel says that the wrath of God was poured out upon Jesus, and that those who trust in him are justified. But when we change this message by adding to it or taking away from it, then we bring the curse upon ourselves. That is why we must know the word and consider it exclusive from all other literary works. It is the difference between life and death.

 

Job 1:1-5 – God’s Glory in the Most Human Experience

The story of Job is a human one. It’s one that everyone can connect with on some level. We’ve all hurt. We’ve all lost. We’ve all felt the fallenness of this world. And because of that shared experience of suffering, God tells us this story of His glory. Many of us see God’s glory in the goodness of things, as we should, but we often struggle to see God’s glory and purpose in suffering. Job helps.

We are introduced to Job as the “ideal Christian” or at least what many of us believe the ideal Christian should be. Job is morally good. Job is prosperous. Job is religious. Job is safe, comfortable, and nothing in his behavior would suggest any of that would change. There is no reason why anyone would guess based on his intro why he would be a candidate for suffering like he does. And that’s one of the most relatable things we find in the book of Job. We tend to believe that being good will save us from suffering. We tend to believe that God is working hard on our behalf to ensure our comfort, especially when we’re good. The truth is that God’s glory is most effectively seen in our struggle. And Scripture testifies to this truth over and over again.

This sounds like cruelty on God’s part. He would let us get comfortable, feel like things are going well, and then pull the rug out from under us. And if our hearts were consistently trusting Him in the midst of prosperity, He would be cruel. But the reality is that the human heart often drifts towards self-righteousness when we are most comfortable. We get into a routine and begin to believe that our behavior has led us to such blessing. We believe our work has earned us the right enjoy the things that are passing away. We believe our merit has purchased our security. In short, we quickly give glory to ourselves when things start to go well. God has a purpose in suffering: to reset our proud hearts toward Him.

The introduction to Job is not to be taken from the context of the book. We are not to set His example up as a goal for our lives. Job before suffering is to help us remember that our treasure is not here. The rest of the story is to remind us that we serve a God who will graciously and relationally remind us of this. Our God is good and does good (Psalm 119:68) and in His goodness does whatever He pleases (Psalm 115:3). When He is pleased to allow suffering in our lives, may we be ready to turn to Him in the midst of it. This is what His Word teaches us. May our hearts find rest in Him.