What does “God so loved the world” mean?

It is so easy to think John 3.16 means “God loves every single human being so much” and leave it at that. But it has to mean more than that. It says “God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son.”

It still might be easy to think it means “God loves every single human being so much, so He gave Jesus.” But it has to mean more than that. It says “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son.” John 3.16 starts with the word “for”! And right before that, Jesus says, “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up.” So just like Moses lifted a bronze serpent (a symbol of a cursed and defeated enemy) for the life of the Israelites, so Jesus must be lifted up (on the cross, as a crushed enemy of God!) for the life of believers. God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son to die!

It still might be easy to think it means “God loves every single human being so much, so He gave His Son to die.” But it has to mean more than that. For what does dying have to do with love? If you know the gospel, you know that Jesus died in the place of sinners, so that sinners would not have to die. So that does sound loving. But John 3.16 says “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son (to die), that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.”

So many conclude John 3.16 means “God loves every human being so much, so he gave Jesus to die in their place, to give them a chance to be saved.” That is where good old fashioned logic helps. In John 3.16 God’s love leads to the sending of the Son, which leads to every believer being saved. The end of God’s love is every believer being saved. Go ahead and read John 3.16 again, and see if that is not what it actually says. In other words, God’s love does not merely produce a chance. God’s love produces salvation for believers!

Good Friday is good because it is the day God loved the world!

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Struggle with vs living in sin

If you cannot distinguish between struggling with sin vs living in sin, you undercut much of the work of the church. Consider the following:

  • “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9.23)- Suppose a person professes they want to follow Christ, but looks at pornography everyday, and you say to him/her, “Let me help you turn away from sexual immorality,” and they say to you, “everybody struggles with sin.” Are you just going to say, “yes, you’re right,” or are you going to help them deny self?
  • “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples” (John 8.31)- Suppose a married couple says they are disciples of Jesus, but they fight all the time, so they are getting a divorce, and when you press them on the covenant they made before God, they say, “we’re all sinners. What makes my sin worse than yours?” Are you just going to say, “you’re right, all sin is equal,” or are you going to help them abide in Christ?
  • “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6.2)- Suppose a girl wants to get baptized, but lives with her boyfriend, and when you call her to repent she says, “we all struggle with sin; give me time to grow.” Are you going to say, “yes, you’re right, we all struggle with sin,” or are you going to call her to stop living in it?

The final judgment will be a judgment for the “cowardly, the faithless, the detestable…murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars” (Revelation 21.8). For those who struggle with sin, there is good news: trust in Christ and you will be saved! Then the Church can help you struggle against sin for the rest of your life.

For those who live in sin, you still have time to repent! But if you refuse to repent, that’s you in Revelation 21.8, no matter how much you say you love Jesus. God knows the difference between “struggle” and “living.”

 

Reflections on the book of Revelation

By God’s grace, I am finishing up Revelation in a couple weeks. It has been about an eight month journey. It has been more fulfilling than I ever anticipated. Just a few reflections:

  • Revelation is relevant for today- not because we have finally reached the “end times” now, but because we have been in the “end times” ever since Jesus rose from the dead. And when John wrote Revelation, the time (for the book to begin to be fulfilled) was near (Rev 1.3).
  • The point of this book is the victory of Christ over Satan through His resurrection- all  debates about this book take a back seat to that main point.
  • This book is full of symbols- the modern resistance to that betrays a desire in Christians to have every book of the bible be as easy to interpret for the 21st century reader as it was for the 1st century reader.
  • You have to choose a perspective to read from- the four major perspectives on reading Revelation are the Preterist, Idealist, Futurist, and Historicist views. You can be a combination of these (as I am), but you still have to choose a way to read this book, and then interpret it through that philosophy. Otherwise, you will be inconsistent, and your interpretations just will not stand the test of literature.
  • You have to be aware of your biases- at the same time, there is a fine line between interpretive perspectives and interpretive biases. You have to pray your way through this book, that the Lord would make you a humble reader, not afraid to be wrong about things you currently believe.
  • Dispensationalists are Christians. But many of them are not gospel-centered. So many of them can sit through a sermon that exalts Christ and His saving work, but leave troubled that you might not think there is a future for national Israel. That is the definition of not-gospel-centered.
  • Greg Beale has written the best commentary in the history of the world on Revelation.
  • If this book does not make you love the gospel and desire to evangelize the lost more,  nothing will!

Immanuel Network

Last week I got to spend time with my old church, Immanuel Baptist Church in Louisville, KY. If you have not heard of Ryan Fullerton, you need to add him to your podcast list. He is an anointed preacher. And I mean Lloyd-Jones-type anointed.

But Ryan is just one of 14 pastors at Immanuel. They have led that church toward greater and greater health and vitality over the years. They continue to grow, and continue to be a great blessing to me many years after leaving there.

They started the Immanuel Network a few years ago, and this year was the first year we had an open conference, where about 100 of us gathered for a conference on what gospel-loving church life looks like. The Immanuel Network is a partnership of like-minded churches and leaders around the world, who all were sent out by Immanuel Baptist at some point in time. Including Immanuel, there are currently 5 partnering churches in the network (KBC is one of them). There are also 10 partnering individual ministry/church leaders spread around North America. There are also 8 or 9 missionaries spread out around the world. Everyone in the Network is Reformed and Baptistic. This past year there were 7 churches planted around the world through this network!

KBC is a Southern Baptist church. We are also affiliated with The Gospel Coalition. But I am probably most excited to be a part of the Immanuel Network. One simple reason: I can trust EVERYTHING that happens in our network will be faithful. We are not the only faithful network out there, but in God’s providence this is the actual network He has placed me in, with brothers and sisters around the world I actually know personally and love. And I am so thrilled that over time my own church will get to know them and pray for them, and be prayed for by them more and more.

For more info on the Network: http://www.immanuelnetwork.org

Doctrine “and” ethics

Everything in the Christian life is doctrine. Very often Christians equate “doctrine” with “theology.” That makes sense. We have the doctrine of God, doctrine of man, doctrine of Scripture, and so forth. Those are the Bible’s teachings on certain topics. Those doctrines are what we call theology.

But the word “doctrine” is simply the word “teaching.” Therefore, the Bible teaches us what to believe and how to live. The Bible teaches us theology and ethics. The Bible teaches us that God is a Trinity, and that we must worship Him. The Bible teaches us that man is sinful, and that we must confront sinners if we are to call ourselves Christians. The Bible teaches us that the church is God’s “called out” community, and that the church must love one another.

There is no dichotomy between doctrine and ethics, right theology and right living. The Bible teaches us what to believe is right theology, and what to believe is right living (i.e., “I believe God is one, and I believe a man should be faithful to his wife”). It is no wonder Paul would tell Timothy that the Law is meant to confront all who break the law– “lawless and disobedient…ungodly…murderers…sexually immoral…liars…and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine” (1 Tim 1.8-11). Everything in the Christian life is doctrine. God has taught us what to believe about everything that has to do with pleasing Him.

This is why our church has a Statement of Faith (theology) and Church Covenant (ethics). It is the only way we know how to uphold Christian doctrine.

Tom Schreiner is Amillenial

Dr. Tom Schreiner recently preached a sermon on Revelation 20 at our church. Regardless of your view on the Millennium, it was a blessing. He preached the gospel!

However, he did spend a few minutes discussing why he is now an Amillenial. He gives 6 reasons:

  1. A future, earthly Millenium is taught nowhere else explicitly in the Bible- a difficulty that all Premillenials accept
  2. Revelation is unquestionably full of recapitulation- so for Revelation 20 to re-tell history from another angle is not surprising
  3. The so-called Millenium texts of the OT are all over Revelation 21-22, not Rev 20- if the earthly Millennium was taught in places like Ezekiel 40-48 and Isaiah 60, you would expect Revelation 20 to allude to them. However Revelation 21-22 allude to them, and everyone agrees the last two chapters of the bible refer to the New Creation!
  4. The debates about the Millenium have always been around- I think Dr. Schreiner was saying Premillenials claim to have the historic position, but there have been forms of Postmillenialism and Amillenialism from the early church fathers period.
  5. Revelation 19 is the death of all the enemies of Christ- it is illogical to believe that all Christ’s enemies are killed at His Second Coming in chapter 19, then there is a 1000 year period where Satan can do nothing, then he’s released for a short time and there are innumerable enemies after the Millennium all of a sudden
  6. It’s the simplest- there is no doubt the simplicity of the Amillenial view is a part of its attractiveness. God does make important things in the Bible understandable to the unlearned

Numbers 3 and 5 are the two strongest arguments. And I would love to hear a reasoned defense by Premillenials against those objections. I am an Amillenial for all these reasons as well.

To these, I’ll add a seventh reason: Tom Schreiner is an Amillenial

Away with Personal Devotions! part 4

Three reasons:

  1. It is never commanded
  2. Christians need to be taught the Bible

And #3: The Christian life is never meant to be mainly “personal”

This could get “personal” for some of you. But I hope it is biblical. Before anything else let me be clear: the only way anyone becomes a Christian is by personally responding to the gospel with repentance and faith. Our relationship with God is a personal relationship through Christ. No doubt.

But then what does the Christian life look like after entering into a personal relationship? Consider the following:

Acts 2.42, after 3000 personally responded to the gospel: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

Acts 4.32: “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul.”

Acts 20.20, 31: “I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house...remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears.”

Romans 15.14: “you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another.

Ephesians 4.15-16: “speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

Hopefully that gives you a taste of the corporate nature of the Christian life. And I would challenge anyone to find the kind of emphasis on personal Christian walk in the Bible that would all of  a sudden make personal devotions such a trademark of spirituality. Some implications:

  • We have all probably been too quick to make personal, individualistic applications of passages, rather than corporate, local church applications. It does not need to be either/or, but I suspect for many it has only been the former instead of the latter.
  • Personal quiet time is not more spiritual than family quiet time or married couple quiet time or church quiet time
  • There is no better way to be of one heart and one soul with your church than to regularly read the bible and pray together.
  • If anything, there is much more emphasis on the corporate nature of the Christian life than the individual nature in the Bible. Therefore, there may be greater humility and accuracy in seeking to grow as a member of your church rather than just abstractly as a Christian. In other words, “Jesus loves me” probably should be replaced more often than not with “Jesus loves us.” Too much “Jesus loves me” apart from the church really starts to become a man-centered gospel after a while.

So with that, keep reading your bibles as much as you can!