Sermon Notes: “Believing The Shepherd”

sheep

(These are the notes from a sermon that I preached a while back. Feel free to use them for your own study. Note, this is not a manuscript so some of the thoughts may seem scattered.)

Text: John 10:22-30

Introduction
I like using the Lectionary when I’m trying to decide what passage I need to preach because it will force you deal with things in the passage you may not feel comfortable dealing with. In a way, I think we should all (preacher or layman) get on some kind of a reading plan that will force us to read the Bible as a whole because you will find yourself in parts of the Bible that you ordinarily wouldn’t read and you’ll end up learning some things you didn’t know before, and you end up in a situation where the Bible confronts you and begins to tear at the fabric of what you were always taught to believe, and when this happens we need to let the Bible drive any of our pre-conceived notions that do not line up with what we’re reading in Scripture.

“We must allow the Word of God to confront us, to disturb our security, to undermine our complacency and to overthrow our patterns of thought and behavior.” ― John R.W. Stott

So tonight, I’ll be using John 10:22-30 as my main passage, but I will be jumping around to different parts of Scripture so that I can show you what the Bible forces us to deal with as we read this passage and seek to understand it’s meaning.

At the beginning of this passage, there’s three things we need to notice about the setting. There’s an important place, an important person, and an important party.

Important Person – Jesus the Messiah, the Jewish leaders have been hounding Him to tell them plainly if He is, in fact, the Messiah. And if you are paying attention to the chronology of John, then you’ll notice that this actually one of the more humorous passages in the Gospels and you’ll see why in a little bit.

Important Place – The Temple, more specifically, Solomon’s porch. “This place is important; it was the porch or portico on the east side of the Temple and was called the “Porch of Judgment.” From this location, the King would make his judgments and exercise justice for those who were brought before him. And here is Jesus strolling through this historic location, physically embodying justice in this place of justice — something his life and teachings were all about.”

Important Party – The Feast of Dedication, sometimes called the Festival of Lights, and today this event is known as Hanukkah. The Jews celebrated (and still celebrate) Hanukkah to remember a time when God kept the lamps in the temple burning for eight days even though there was only enough oil to last one day due to an oil shortage because of war in the land at that time.

As we keep these things in mind, let’s also notice that Jesus has been in Jerusalem since the Feast of Tabernacles which you read about in John 7 and He has been periodically teaching in the temple and revealing Himself as the Messiah that was promised in the Old Testament.

Our 3 points will be the following:
The Reason for Unbelief (verses 24-26)
The Reason for Belief (verse 27)
The End Result (verses 28-29)

The Reason for Unbelief (verses 24-26)
Notice what verse 26 says, “But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep.” It doesn’t say “you are not of my sheep because you do not believe.” See, we can’t simply look at the passage and say, “Well then, their problem is that they simply do not believe. They’re just blatantly ignoring the facts.” While there’s truth to that, the problem isn’t simply unbelief, unbelief is only a symptom of a greater disease. The greater disease is deadness in sin. Remember what Paul says in Ephesians 2, “You were dead in your sins.”

We often like to imagine Jesus as a lifeguard that throws us a life saver as we’re drowning in the sea of sin, but that analogy wrong, because Paul says the wages of sin is death. So, if you’re not saved, then you’re not sick in your sins, you’re not the brink of death in your sins, you’re dead in your sins.

So then, Jesus isn’t some lifeguard that throws you a life saver, He actually swims to the bottom of the ocean and carries your corpse up out of the sea, and breathes into you, the breath of life. So, then the problem people do not believe what Jesus is plainly telling them isn’t simply unbelief, it’s unbelief as a result of dead men walking in their sin.

In another place, Jesus makes a clear distinction between sheep and goats, so if Jesus is telling these Jews, “you do not believe because you are not my sheep” then it must follow that they are goats. And Jesus says, there will come a day when He separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on His right hand, and the goats on His left hand.
“Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” [Matthew 25:41 NRSV]

Jesus is making the clear distinction, unless you believe what He says about Himself in the Scriptures and follow Him, then you are nothing more than unbelieving goat.
“How do I know if I’m a sheep or a goat?” It’s simple. Do you desire to follow Christ and believe what He says? Then you’re a sheep. If you’re confronted with Scripture, and it doesn’t phase you or change you, then you’re a goat. Sheep love and follow Jesus.

The Reason for Belief (verse 27)

“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.” – [John 10:27 NRSV]

“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” – [John 10:1-5 NRSV]

What is He saying here? When the shepherd calls, the sheep follow.

Do you remember that old song, “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus”? In the old school, when someone would make a decision for Christ, we would strike up the band and sing “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back.” That’s all well and good as long as we understand we don’t make the decision on our own apart from the inward drawing of the Father, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

“No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me.”
– [John 6:44-45 KJV]

Let’s look at verse 45 in the NRSV just to good grasp of the meaning…
“It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.” – [John 6:45 NRSV]

Notice, Jesus says, “It is written in the prophets…” Anytime you see that phrase mentioned, you need to look in the Old Testament to the passage that is being quoted and read it in context.

“And they all shall be taught by God.” – Although this is not a direct, word for word quote, Jesus pulls this from two passages in the Old Testament that speak of the same event – the promise of the New Covenant.

“But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says 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. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the LORD,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”
– [Jeremiah 31:33-34 NRSV]

“All your children shall be taught by the LORD, and great shall be the prosperity of your children.” – [Isaiah 54:13 NRSV]

Here’s the big question: What does all this mean for us? It means that God, in love, has brought us into His covenant and placed us in fellowship with a covenant community of believers.

It means that our belief does not come from within us, it comes from God who loves us, draws us, saves us, sanctifies us, and will one day, glorify us. God is the cheif operator in our salvation, not us. John makes that clear at the beginning of His gospel account in John 1.

“He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”
– [John 1:11-13 KJV]

Prior to being born again, we were enemies of God without hope in the world, but the will of God intervened for us, and drew us to a point in our lives where we knew we had to come to Jesus or be lost forever.

The End Result (verses 28-29)

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.” – [John 10:27-29 KJV]

Let’s think about John 3:16 for a second. We know John 3:16, we love John 3:16, we can all quote John 3:16. We don’t dispute it. Yet, when it comes to verses like John 10:28-29, we want to say, “God gives them eternal life, but…” or “I know it says no one can pluck us out of God’s hand, but…” There are no ‘buts.’ There is nothing in the text that indicates that Jesus DOES NOT mean what He says.

There’s only one condition here. The sheep must follow, and He gives them eternal life.

Here’s how it works.

The Shepherd calls, the sheep follow, He gives them eternal life.

The Shepherd ALWAYS calls. The sheep ALWAYS follow. The Shepherd ALWAYS grants eternal life to the sheep. This is the beauty of Unconditional Election. Our election in Christ is sure. Our salvation is secure. There is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING that can be done for our salvation to be lost.

I can hear someone asking now, “But what if the sheep ever stop following?” Then that’s not a sheep, that’s a goat. The sheep may stray, but shepherd always brings the sheep back.

“How do we know who is a sheep and who is a goat?” It’s none of our business, Jesus will separate them Himself.

Now, here’s the big question for you tonight? Are you a lost sheep? Do you need Jesus to find you? Do you need hope that only salvation can give? You may be here, and you may be saved, but you need the joy of your salvation restored. Jesus can grant you joy unspeakable and full of glory.

 

Truth, Love, Discernment: My Thoughts on Philippians 1:1-11

If you love people then you will want them to know the truth because it’s the truth that sets us free according to John 8:32.

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Image Credit: Georgie Dee

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God. – [Philippians 1:1-11 NRSV]

At my church, I am preparing to preach through the book of Philippians on Wednesday nights. Studying for this has been a daunting task filled with prayer, Scripture reading, and a good soak in dead commentators of days gone by.

As I contemplate on this epistle as a whole and particularly on these opening 11 verses, I can’t help but see Paul sitting in his home under house arrest and letting the thought of this congregation’s progress in their corporate walk with God fill him with joy.

What we see here is a pastor resting in the work that Christ has accomplished through His death, burial, and resurrection, is accomplishing through the Holy Spirit that’s dwelling in them, and will accomplish at the last day. I believe all of this is captured in Philippians 1:6, “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.”

In verses 9-11, we see this deep, heartfelt, pastoral prayer. And what is it that Paul is praying for? He’s praying, first of all, for them to have love and discernment. I would like to point out that I believe that real discernment comes from love – both a love for God and a love for people. First of all, if you love God then you will love the truth because you understand that He is the ultimate source of truth, and you understand that God desires “truth in the inward parts” (Psalm 51:6, KJV). If you love people then you will want them to know the truth because it’s the truth that sets us free according to John 8:32. I think Penn Jillette, a famous magician and confessed atheist, illustrates this well in the following statement:

“I’ve always said that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward—and atheists who think people shouldn’t proselytize and who say just leave me along and keep your religion to yourself—how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?

“I mean, if I believed, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that a truck was coming at you, and you didn’t believe that truck was bearing down on you, there is a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that.”

Basically, I think he’s saying that if you know there to be such a thing as absolute truth in this relativistic culture, and you’re refraining from speaking that truth to someone, then you cannot claim to love them. So, in the context of love and discernment, what this means is that if you love God and love you neighbor, then you will discern the truth and defend the truth from those that would try to distort to their own advantage.

In conclusion, I think we need to take this text to heart and understand that Jesus is working in by the Holy Spirit to cultivate our love for the Father, and out of that love for the Father, we have desire to display, discern, and defend the truth.

 

Sermon Notes: “How Majestic Is Your Name”

Hey Guys,
These are some sermon notes from a message I preached at Newton Springs Full Gospel Church in Hector, Arkansas about a year and a half ago. This isn’t meant to be a transcript just some verses, quotes, and thoughts I jotted down to preach from. You’re welcome to use this for personal or group Bible study, or to even preach from. Just give God the credit for it, since He’s the One who gave it anyway. Soli Deo Gloria!

How Majestic is Your Name
“O LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! who hast set thy glory above the heavens. [2] Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger. [3] When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; [4] What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? [5] For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. [6] Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet: [7] All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field; [8] The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas. [9] O LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!” 

– [Psalms 8:1-9 KJV]

2 Purposes For This Psalm:
1. To Make Us See How Sufficient God is
2. To Make Us See How Insufficient We Are

1. To Make Us See How Sufficient God is
“O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.”
– [Psalm 8:1 ESV]

“O LORD, our Lord…” – YAHWEH our Adonai Just in this little fragment of the first verse two big truths are presented. Almighty God is lord of the universe and He is Lord over the Church.

LORD – All caps means Yahweh (I AM WHO I AM, Exodus 3:14).
He is self-sustaining, all powerful, all knowing, all sovereign, king of the Universe. He doesn’t need our help. He doesn’t our opinion. He doesn’t need our input. He is God all by Himself and that’s the end of it.

“When God says I AM WHO I AM, he summons us to humble objectivity. He puts an end to the notion that everybody’s view of God is as good as everybody else’s. God is who he is and nobody’s opinion of him makes any difference. Therefore, our calling as His creatures is to strive to know him for who he is, not for who we would like him to be. ” – John Piper, Sermon: “I AM WHO I AM”

The idols of the Old Testament had to be built and created from the ideas of men by the hands of men, but the very men that created those idols were formed by the hand of the God they denied.

“Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them. For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not. They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must needs be borne, because they cannot go. Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good…But the LORD is the true God, he is the living God, and an everlasting king: at his wrath the earth shall tremble, and the nations shall not be able to abide his indignation.” – [Jeremiah 10:2-5, 10 KJV]

“Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them.” – [Psalms 115:3-8 ESV]

“Descend, if you will, into the lowest depths of the ocean, where undisturbed the water sleeps, and the very sand is motionless in unbroken quiet, but the glory of the Lord is there, revealing its excellence in the silent palace of the sea.” – Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of David

He is Creator of the Universe (Genesis 1:1; Colossians 1:16)
“A state of mind that sees God in everything is evidence of growth in grace and a thankful heart.” – Charles G. Finney

“Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power not one is missing.” – [Isaiah 40:26 ESV]

He is Sustainer of the Universe (Colossians 1:17)
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. [16] For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. [17] And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” – [Colossians 1:15-17 ESV]

“The meaning is, that they are kept in the present state; their existence, order, and arrangement are continued by his power. If unsupported by him, they would fall into disorder, or sink back to nothing.” – Albert Barnes

Literally, if Christ were not holding the universe together then the earth and all of creation would fall and sink back into the dark abysmal void that it was found in in Genesis 1:2, “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep…” I am held together in the very same way.

If Christ should take His hand off of me then I would slip back into the dark sin and despair that He found me in, but because He is still holding the world in place I know that He will still hold me in place. He has sealed me to the day of redemption (Ephesians 4:30).I cannot hold myself together. I am held together by the fact that Christ holds the universe together and He is Lord over all.

2. How Insufficient We Are
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? – [Psalms 8:3-4 ESV]

God has no reason to be mindful of us because we’ve willingly sinned against him.

“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” – [Romans 3:23 ESV]

“Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.” – [Isaiah 59:1-2 ESV]

He doesn’t leave us in a hopeless and helpless state. He sends a Redeemer to save us!

“And a Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who turn from transgression,” declares the LORD. “And as for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the LORD: “My Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of your children’s offspring,” says the LORD, “from this time forth and forevermore.” – [Isaiah 59:20-21 ESV]

CONCLUSION
“The only thing of our very own which we contribute to our salvation is the sin which makes it necessary.” – William Temple “We sinned for no reason but an incomprehensible lack of love, and He saved us for no reason but an incomprehensible excess of love.” ― Peter Kreeft, Jesus-Shock

We need Jesus to save us and sustain. We can’t do this ourselves.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” – [Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV]

Our sin has separated us from us from God and we need Him to saturate with His love and His Spirit and bring us into right relationship with Him. We can’t go to church enough. We can’t do enough good works. We can’t knock on enough doors. We can’t sing enough hymns during the congregational singing. Only the grace of God can bring us to life in Him. We need Jesus. It’s that simple.

John’s Love Letters, Part 7: Acting On Our Knowledge

“And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” – 1 John 2:3-6, ESV

The text presents us with a very real truth, we cannot simply claim to know God and do nothing else. We must act on our knowledge of God as Creator, Sustainer, King, Sovereign, Master, Savior, etc. We cannot simply tell people that we know this awesome God without showing them. So, how do we show them? By Keeping His word.

I’m almost utterly rendered verbally paralyzed when I read this passage because I know that I don’t always keep His word. As a matter of fact, I feel like I’m bad at keeping His word. I feel almost as if there’s no way that I can possibly keep God’s Word, and then I realize, I’m right. I can’t keep God’s Word, but God can.

You see, when you and I were saved Jesus came to live on the inside of us through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit teaches us how to live, worship, and even work for God’s Kingdom. He does this by giving us gifts and equiping us for the ministry (1 Corinthians 12-14; Ephesians 4). We can’t do anything in the way of God’s Kingdom unless He sends the Holy Spirit to empower us for the work of the ministry.

When we say we know him, and we simply do nothing but attend church and act like it’s a holy social club, we then prove that we actually don’t know Him. We prove that we don’t actually acknowledge the real Jesus of the Scriptures, but rather a God and a Jesus of our own making.

Even as I write this blog post, I acknowledge that I have done this before. My sin is ever before and I pray God would grant me repentance and empower me to do more for Him. So, today, think and pray over 1st John 2:3-6. Let the Holy Spirit empower you for the service of the Lord.

John’s Love Letter’s, Part 6: Little Children

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” – [1 John 2:1-6 ESV] 

Okay, so I’m not going to lie, in our last installment of the ‘John’s Love Letters’ I guess I was feeling angry at Cessationists decided that it would be a good chance to bash them (which it was) and we ended up getting off track a little, so we’re going to go over the passage again and get down to business about what John is trying to tell us.

In verse 1, he calls us “Little Children.” This isn’t to smack us around about our spiritual immaturity, this is just John’s style. He’s an old man. That’s what old people do. They call us, “Kid,” “Sport,” “Son,” and in John’s case, “Little children.” It is said that as John was dying his final words were, “Little Children, love one another.” To know everything that I know about John and then to read his letters, I think if we listen hard enough we can still hear him call us, “Little Children” and we should feel honored that such a saint refers to us as his children. It means he loves us because the Father has loved us, and for that reason he wants to lead us closer to the Father.

Next, he tells that he’s writing to us so that we may not sin, “Little Children, I am writing these things that you may not sin.” I read that and I thought, “umm… I hate to tell you this, but it’s a little late John.” I’ve messed up big time. I’ve blown it. I’m not talking about once or twice since I got saved, but I’m talking about today. But John didn’t finish there, and I’m glad he didn’t, “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” The word, “advocate” is legal term that says basically means that Jesus is our defense attorney. The Book of Revelation tells us that Satan is the accuser of the brethren. What that means is that Satan tries to stand before God and tell Him everything wrong we’ve done and try to give Him every reason in the book why we shouldn’t be redeemed.

That in mind, I can see Satan telling God, “Logan’s blown it! He really dropped the ball today!” And God in a condescending manner, looks at with sarcastically raised eyebrow and asks, “Well, what did he do?” Satan replies, “He lost his temper and flipped off an old lady in traffic.” God, already knowing the answer to the question, looks to Jesus, His son and my defense attorney, and asks, “Well, did he do it?” Jesus replies, “Nope.” Satan says, “But I saw him do it!” Jesus says, “I didn’t. All I saw was my perfect work accomplished, and my blood poured out over all his sins.” God dismisses the case, and that’s the end of the story. One day, Satan and his angels will be thrown into the lake of fire, and they’ll pay for all the harm that they’ve caused God’s children all the way down through history, and most of all, they’ll pay for offending Almighty God Himself.

I’ll deal with verses 3-6 again from a different angle in the next post. I’m tired. I’m going to get Chinese food, go home, and watch the first season of House. Good night, God bless, and thanks for reading.

John’s Love Letters, Part 5: Walking In Obedience to the Mission

“And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” -1 John 2:3-6 ESV 

In William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible series, he lays out the three ways in which the phrase ‘know God’ was interpreted by Jews and Greeks and I couldn’t help but notice that the first two views is how a lot of Christians today view the concept of ‘knowing God.’

To know God, to abide in God, to have fellowship with God has always been the quest of the human spirit, for Augustine was right when he said that God had made men for himself and that they were restless until they found their rest in him. We may say that in the ancient world there were three lines of thought in regard to knowing God. 

 (i) In the great classical age of their thought and literature, in the sixth and fifth centuries before Christ, the Greeks were convinced that they could arrive at God by the sheer process of intellectual reasoning and argument. In The World of the New Testament, T. R. Glover has a chapter on The Greek in which he brilliantly and vividly sketches the character of the Greek mind in its greatest days when the Greek glorified the intellect. “A harder and more precise thinker than Plato it will be difficult to discover,” said Marshall Macgregor. Xenophon tells how Socrates had a conversation with a young man. “How do you know that?” asked Socrates. “Do you know it or are you guessing?” The young man had to say, “I am guessing.” “Very well,” answered Socrates, “when we are done with guessing and when we know, shall we talk about it then?” Guesses were not good enough for the Greek thinker. 

To the classical Greek curiosity was not a fault but was the greatest of the virtues, for it was the mother of philosophy. Glover writes of this outlook: “Everything must be examined; all the world is the proper study of man; there is no question which it is wrong for man to ask; nature in the long run must stand and deliver; God too must explain himself, for did he not make man so?” For the Greeks of the great classical age the way to God was by the intellect. 

(ii) The later Greeks, in the immediate background time of the New Testament, sought to find God in emotional experience. The characteristic religious phenomenon of these days was the Mystery Religions. In any view of the history of religion they are an amazing feature. Their aim was union with the divine and they were all in the form of passion plays. They were all founded on the story of some god who lived, and suffered terribly, and died a cruel death, and rose again. The initiate was given a long course of instruction; he was made to practise ascetic discipline. He was worked up to an intense pitch of expectation and emotional sensitivity. He was then allowed to come to a passion play in which the story of the suffering, dying, and rising god was played out on the stage. Everything was designed to heighten the emotional atmosphere. There was cunning lighting; sensuous music; perfumed incense; a marvellous liturgy. In this atmosphere the story was played out and the worshipper identified himself with the experiences of the god until he could cry out: “I am thou, and thou art I”; until he shared the god’s suffering and also shared his victory and immortality. 

This was not so much knowing God as feeling God. But it was a highly emotional experience and, as such, it was necessarily transient. It was a kind of religious drug. It quite definitely found God in an abnormal experience and its aim was to escape from ordinary life. 

(iii) Lastly, there was the Jewish way of knowing God which is closely allied with the Christian way. To the Jew knowledge of God came, not by man’s speculation or by an exotic experience of emotion, but by God’s own revelation. The God who revealed himself was a holy God and his holiness brought the obligation to his worshipper to be holy, too. A. E. Brooke says, “John can conceive of no real knowledge of God which does not issue in obedience.” Knowledge of God can be proved only by obedience to God; and knowledge of God can be gained only by obedience to God. C. H. Dodd says, “To know God is to experience his love in Christ, and to return that love in obedience.” – William Barclay, Daily Study Bible 

Imagine, if you will, a road. On both sides of the road is a very deep ditch. The left side of the ditch is called ‘cessationism.’ The right side of the ditch is called, ‘charis-mania.’ On the side of cessationism you have those who reject God’s sovereign operation of His gifts and working of miracles in the Church to the point that they are dry and stagnant in their mission. (Let’s face it. There’s virtually no such thing as a growing cessationist church.) On the other side, you have those who only desire to have an emotional experience with God and reject sound doctrine and teaching on the basis that they just don’t ‘feel’ it. Not to be confused with mainline charismatics (e.g. Assemblies of God, COGIC, IPHC, etc. ),  charis-maniacs often believe that modern-day ‘prophecy’ supersedes the authority of the real Word of God, the 66 books of canonized Scripture that we call the Bible.

Now, if you can’t tell, these are caricatures of both sides, but in some cases they are very real.

Both of these camps are wrong, and I would even argue that some individuals in both camps have no real relationship with God because they’re too busy feeding and worshipping their intellect or their emotions, but back to the analogy.

In the middle of this road you have a balance that applies both knowledge of God’s Word and fiery adoration for Jesus Christ and uses them both as a propeller in the mission of God through action.

Churches that will be driving forces in the Kingdom of God will always be ones that preach the uncompromised Gospel and demand action from their people to be a community of Gospel-preaching, Christ-saturated, Spirit and fire-baptized believers on mission.

So, what does 1 John 2:3-6 have to do with all of this? Our passage teaches that radical intimacy with God is born out of a true knowledge of God and is fueled by obedience to God. This does not mean that we never disobey God, but it means that are lives are generally characterized by obedient living and we are always seeking to live out our knowledge and understanding of God through our fulfillment of the Great Commission.

How do we do that? We simply be the Church. In “Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe,” Mark Driscoll offers this insight about fulfilling the Great Commission.

“The church is to be an evangelistic people on mission in the world, passionate to see lost people meet Jesus Christ as Savior, God, and Lord. Any church submitting to the Holy Spirit and obedient to Scripture wants fewer divorces, addictions, thefts, and abuses and knows the only way to see that happen is to make more disciples. The church loves people and is continually and painfully aware of the devastation that is wrought in this life and in the life to come for those who are not reconciled to God. Therefore, while not imposing religion on anyone, the church of Jesus Christ is to constantly be proposing reconciliation with God to everyone.” – Mark Driscoll, Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe

In conclusion, walking in obedience out of love for God reveals the faith that’s within us. We live out our knowledge of God by preaching gospel, making disciples, and living missional lives.

John’s Love Letters, Part 4: Atonement

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. -1 John 2:1-2 ESV

 There are two theological camps within Christianity, Calvinism and Arminianism. As a general rule, I associate myself with the Calvinist camp 9 times out of 10 on any given theological debate. However, when it comes to the issue of the atonement, verse 2 of today’s passage in 1st John always runs through my mind. “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”

You see, the Calvinist would argue that Jesus’ atonement is effective for God’s elect. The Arminian would say that Jesus’ atonement if effective for the whole world. Who is correct? Both. There are passages in Scripture that cannot be denied that point to God’s particular love for His elect people. There are also passages that point to God’s plan of Salvation that invites ‘whosoever will.’ You see, salvation is all at once inclusive yet exclusive, inviting yet restrictive. This subject of salvation, this passage alone is worth more than a 5 minute blog post so I encourage you to meditate on it and study it more in depth, but that aside, let’s get into our topic, Atonement.

The very root word, ‘atone’, is made up of two words, ‘at one.’ That’s exactly what atonement means, to make one with something or someone. Sin separates. Isaiah 59 tells us that our iniquities have separated us from God. Romans 3:23 tells us that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and as a result of that sin we deserve death according to Romans 6:23, but Jesus came to offer and give eternal life. He does that by taking away our sin and giving us the priceless gift of salvation by His atonement. Today, think on this wonderful subject. Rest in the finished work of Christ.