Matt Chandler at Catalyst 2014.
Perhaps you have heard the story from Stanley Weintraub’s book Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce?
In December of 1914 something amazing happened along the Western front during World War 1. During the weeks leading up to Christmas, parties of German and British soldiers began exchanging Christmas songs across the trenches. Essentially, they were battling each other with season’s greetings, at some points individual soldiers walked across enemy lines bearing Christmas gifts. On Christmas eve and Christmas day both sides agreed to a truce, an unofficial cease fire. These enemy war units ventured into what they called “no mans land”, neutral territory, to share their rations of food and sing Christmas carols together.
What a beautiful picture. Enemy troops coming together under the banner of Christmas. Coming together in peace to celebrate with one another. Just a small taste of what’s to come when Christ returns. As Isaiah 2:4 reads:
“He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”
In a world of chaos and war, where the effects of sin ripple through our lives and our lands – we all long for peace. And every now and then, we catch a glimpse of what is to come.
This fall, The Gospel Project for Adults and Students have been on a journey through the story line of Scripture once again, this time looking at the theme of God’s kingdom. With every study we run a corresponding blog series as an additional resource for churches and groups using The Gospel Project. Here are the posts focused on the kingdom of God, and its implications for everyday life.
- What Is The Kingdom of God? – Tullian Tchividjian
- Jesus and The Kingdom of God – Phillip Bethancourt
- Jesus, Our Long Awaited King – Matt Capps
- Culture and The Kingdom of God – Bruce Ashford
- Family Life and The Kingdom of God – Gloria Furman
- Mission and The Kingdom of God – Ed Stetzer
- Political Engagement and The Kingdom of God – Russell Moore
- Work and The Kingdom of God – Matt Perman
Every week, we pray for people studying the Bible and using The Gospel Project. This fall, we are praying God reveals the hidden idols of our hearts, magnifies the greatness of King Jesus, and transforms us into heralds of the returning King. May God make us a people who live under the lordship of Christ and speak of His excellency to those around us who have not yet bent the knee. The King has a mission, and we are His messengers.
In seminary I first read J.I. Packer’s Evangelism and the Sovereignty God as part of my reading in an independent study on evangelism with Dr. John Hammett at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Packer (Ph.D., Oxford) is a British-born Canadian Christian theologian in the low church Anglican and Reformed traditions. Packer is the author of numerous books, and is considered one of the most influential Christian theologians today. Here is an introduction to Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God:
“Divine sovereignty is a vast subject: it embraces everything that comes into the biblical picture of God as Lord and King in His world, the One who ‘worketh all things after the counsel of his own will’ (Eph. i. I I), directing every process and ordering every event for the fulfilling of his own eternal plan.”
“The only aspect of divine sovereignty that will concern us in these pages is God’s sovereignty in grace: His almighty action in bringing helpless sinners home through Christ to Himself.”
“I shall try to show further that, so far from inhibiting evangelism, faith in the sovereignty of God’s government and grace is the only thing that can sustain it, for it is the only thing that can give us the resilience that we need if we are to evangelize boldly and persistently, and not to be daunted by temporary setbacks.”
“The prayer of a Christian is not an attempt to force God’s hand, but a humble acknowledgement of helpless dependence…what we do every time we pray is to confess our own impotence and God’s sovereignty.”
First, “you give God thanks for your conversion…because you know in your heart that God was entirely responsible for it.” Secondly, “You pray for the conversion of others…when you pray for unconverted people, you do so on the assumption that it is in God’s power to bring them to faith.”
“The root cause is the same as in most cases of error in the Church- the intruding of rationalistic speculations, the passion for systematic consistency, a reluctance to recognize the existence of mystery and let God be wiser than men, and a consequent subjecting of Scripture to the supposed demands of human logic. People see that the Bible teaches man’s responsibility for his actions; they do not see (man, indeed, cannot see) how this is consistent with the sovereign Lordship of God over those actions.”
“This is because thinking through it we have to deal with an antinomy in biblical revelation, in such circumstances our finite, fallen minds are more than ordinarily apt to go astray.”
“It is an apparent incompatibility between two truths. An antinomy exists when a pair of principles stand side by side, seemingly irreconcilable, yet both undeniable…You see that each must be true on its own, but you do not see how they can both be true together.”
“An antinomy is neither dispensable nor comprehensible…an observed relation between two statements of fact…Accept it for what it is, and learn to live with it….think of the two principles as complementary to each other…Use each within the limits of its own sphere of reference.”
“Hearers of the gospel are responsible for their reaction; if they reject the good news, they are guilty of unbelief.”
“Man is a responsible moral agent, though he is also divinely controlled; man is divinely controlled, though he is also a responsible moral agent.”
“The temptation is to undercut and maim the one truth by the way in which we stress the other: to assert man’s responsibility in a way that excludes God from being sovereign, or to affirm God’s sovereignty in a way that destroys the responsibility of man.”
First, “there is the temptation to an exclusive concern with human responsibility.” Secondly, “there is an opposite temptation that threatens us also: namely, the temptation to an exclusive concern with divine sovereignty.”
“Our evangelistic work is the instrument He uses for this purpose….it is God’s prerogative to give results when the Gospel is preached.”
“Only by letting our knowledge of God’s sovereignty control the way in which we plan, and pray, and work in His service, can we avoid becoming guilty of this fault.”
“God’s way of saving men is to send out His servants to tell them the gospel, and the Church has been charged to go into all the world for that very purpose.”
“To evangelize, is to present Christ Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit, that men shall come to put their trust in God through Him, to accept Him as their Saviour, and serve Him as their King in the fellowship of His Church.”
“…evangelism is the issuing of a call to turn, as well as to trust; it is the delivering, not merely of a divine invitation to receive a Saviour, but of a divine command to repent of sin.”
“Evangelism is man’s work, but the giving of the faith is God’s.”
“it is by teaching that the gospel preacher fulfills his ministry. To teach the gospel is his first responsibility: to reduce it to its simplest essentials, to analyze it point by point, to fix its meaning by positive and negative definition, to show how each part of the message links up with the rest- and go on explaining it till he is quite sure that his listeners have grasped it.”
“Evangelizing includes the endeavor to elicit a response to the truth taught.”
“Evangelism it to be defined, not institutionally, in terms of the kind of meeting held, but theologically, in terms of what is taught, and for what purpose.”
“In a word, the evangelistic message is the gospel of Christ, and Him crucified, the message of man’s sin and God’s grace, of human guilt and divine forgiveness, of new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit.”
The Gospel is a message about Christ, and a message about sin.
- Conviction of sin is essentially an awareness of a wrong relationship with God
- Conviction of sin always includes conviction of sins
- Conviction of sin always includes conviction of sinfulness.
A message about Christ.
- We must not present the Person of Christ apart from His saving work.
- We must not present the saving work of Christ apart from His person.
“The question about the extent of the atonement…has no bearing on the content of the evangelistic message…” (Good discussion points)
On the summons to faith and repentance. “Faith is essentially the casting and resting of oneself and one’s confidence on the promises and mercy which Christ has given to sinners, and on the Christ who gave those promises…repentance is a change of mind and heart, a new life of denying self and serving the Savior as king in self’s place.”
- The demand is for faith as well as repentance.
- The demand is for repentance as well as faith.
“In common honesty, we must not conceal the fact that free forgiveness in one sense will cost everything.”
“They [the Disciples] did not need to be told to do this; they did it naturally and spontaneously, just as one would naturally and spontaneously share with one’s family and friends any other piece of news that vitally affected them…it was a great privilege to evangelize.”
“personal evangelism needs normally to be founded on friendship. You are not normally justified in choosing the subject of conversation with another till you have already begun to give yourself to him in friendship and established a relationship with him in which he feels that you respect him, and are interested in him, and are treating him as a human being, and not just some kind of ‘case’.”
“The seemingly inevitable glamorizing of Christian experience in the testimonies is pastorally irresponsible, and gives a falsely romanticized impression of what being a Christian is like. This together with the tendency to indulge in long drawn-out wheedling for decisions and the deliberate use of luscious music to stir sentiment, tends to produce ‘conversions’ which are simply psychological and emotional upheavals, and not the fruit of spiritual conviction and renewal at all,”
“There is only one means of evangelism: namely, the gospel of Christ explained and applied…There is only one agent of evangelism: namely the Lord Jesus Christ…There is only one method of evangelism: namely, the faithful explanation and application of the gospel message.”
Questions to assess ones gospel preaching:
- “Is this way of presenting Christ calculated to impress on people that the gospel is a word from God?”…
- Is this way of presenting Christ calculated to promote, or impede, the work of the word in men’s minds?…
- Is this way of presenting Christ calculated to convey to people the doctrine of the gospel, not just part of it, but the whole of it?…
- Is this way of presenting Christ calculated to convey to people the application of the gospel, not just part of it, but the whole of it?…
- Is this way of presenting Christ calculated to convey gospel truth in a manner that is appropriately serious?…”
“Older theology distinguishes the two as God’s will of precept and His will of purpose, the former being His published declaration of what man ought to do, the latter His (largely secret) decision as to what He Himself will do. The former tells man what he should be; the latter settles what he will be. Both aspects of God are facts, though how they are related in the mind of God is inscrutable to us.”
“The sovereignty of God in grace does not affect anything that we have said about the nature and duty of evangelism.”
- It does not affect the necessity of evangelism.
- It does not affect the urgency of evangelism.
- It does not affect the genuineness of gospel invitations.
“It is true that God has from all eternity chosen whom He will save. It is true that Christ came specifically to save those whom the Father has given Him. But it is also true that Christ offers Himself freely to all men as their Savior, and guarantees to bring to glory everyone who trusts in Him as such.”
- It does not affect the responsibility of the sinner for his reaction to the gospel.
“The sovereignty of God in grace gives us our only hope of success in evangelism. It should make us bold.”
- It should make us patient.
- It should make us prayerful.
I’ve read several other books on prayer for personal enrichment and pastoral ministry, and so far two books have stood out as the most insightful and nourishing.
- Prayer and The Knowledge of God by Graeme Goldsworthy: Goldsworthy examines prayer through a biblical-theological approach and grounds all of his discussion in particular texts of Scripture. One of the most insightful aspects of this book is how Goldsworthy maps out the progress of prayer from Genesis to Revelation. Like always, Goldsworthy maintains a pastoral tone while writing with a scholars pen.
- A Praying Life by Paul MIller: Miller’s book is refreshing for several reasons. First, each chapter is written in a devotional tone that is grounded in deep theological reflection. Miller also get’s to the heart of prayer, and gets to the heart of the issues that distract us from prayer.
What intrigued me about Keller’s book was his endorsement of “radically biblical mysticism”, what John Owen and Jonathan Edwards – or what John Murray called an “intelligent mysticism.” Here is what Keller said in an interview with my friend Matt Smethurst at The Gospel Coalition.
Biblical meditation means, first, to think out your theology. (That means having it clearly in your mind. Know what you believe.) Second, it means to work in your theology. (That means self-communion, talking to yourself. For example, “Why are you cast down, O my soul?” It is asking yourself, “How would I be different if I took this theological truth seriously? How would it change my attitudes and actions if I really believed this from the bottom of my heart?”) Third, it means to pray up your theology. (That means turning your theology into prayer, letting it trigger adoration, confession, and supplication.) Do those things, and your theology will intersect with your experience.
I look forward to learning from Keller on this point. What about you? What books on prayer have been most helpful for your spiritual formation?
We All Long for a True King
Most of us have not experienced what it is like to live in a kingdom, under the true reign of a king. We are familiar with kingdom language. Michael Jackson once reigned as the “king of pop.” Budweiser notoriously declares in their advertisements that they are “the king of beers.” Even LeBron James refers to himself as “King James” and supposedly rules the hardwood. But in reality, this language is devoid of any lasting meaning, missing the essence of true kingship.
Why does this matter? In every society, there is the structure for leadership, a particular person or a body of people to reign over its citizens. Human society needs the structure of justice to deliver its people from the cruelty of the sinful acts of men. Human civilization needs to provide protection over its people to promote what is good and guard peace in the land. We all want someone to look to, to lead the way, to make the difficult calls in order to seek our welfare. However, as history has shown, we have never seen that perfect king-like leader. We have never experienced the perfect and pure rule of a king. Even our best leaders are flawed, and our worst leaders can be tyrants.
However, while the human experience leaves us longing for the perfect rule of a perfect king, the Bible provides us with a more meaningful, hope-filled understanding of true kingdom reign. In the Bible, kings are to reign over every domain of life in their land; they are to have real authority to be used for the good of the people. And while God rules sovereignly over the universe, in the Bible, kings are called to mediate God’s justice to the people. In other words, the kings of earth are to rule as God’s vice-regents, His under-kings. Nevertheless, even the promising kings of the Old Testament left the people longing for a greater king.
The Kings of the Bible
While Adam did not have the title of king, he was called to rule as a king on the earth. Before the fall in Genesis 3, Adam and Eve were appointed by God to rule as His vice-regents to govern the earth and everything in it on His behalf. They were not only called to represent God’s sovereign rule by subduing creation but also to spread His dominion throughout the earth (Gen. 1:26-28). Eden was established as God’s kingdom on earth – the place where God’s people would dwell in God’s place, under God’s rule. However, in Genesis 3 we see that Adam attempted to dethrone God and forfeit his under-king status by siding with the enemy. And Eden was lost.
Later on, once God had established Israel as His covenant people and brought them to the promised land, He appointed judges as rulers over them. In a sense, the judges represented God’s rule in the lives of God’s people by delivering them from the folly of their sin (Judg. 2:14-23). The judges came, they delivered, but with no lasting blessing or security. There was some relief but no lasting solution. The people of Israel then cried out for a king to bring security and to lead them in faithfulness to God. And partially, they received what they asked for.
The reigns of Saul, David, and Solomon gave Israel a glimpse of hope. With each new king, Israel yearned anew. However, with great hope came also great disappointment. Saul turns out to be corrupt and downright crazy (1 Sam. 15). While David was a man after God’s own heart, his adultery with Bathsheba and his crime of murder revealed that he was not the perfect king (2 Sam.11). David’s son Solomon may have ruled in wisdom and with great riches, but while Solomon’s reign began with such hope, it ended in horror (1 Kings 11:1-4).
As the king went, so did the people. One of the lessons we learn from the Old Testament is that unless there is a good king, no aspect of life will be as it should be. The Old Testament leaves us longing. Along with the people of Israel we cry out, “There must be someone better than this!” There must be someone better than these men.
The True and Greater King
“Kingdom” is one of the primary themes of the Bible’s storyline, and this storyline finds its climax in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Our hopes for a greater king are fulfilled in the coming of Jesus Christ.
In the Gospel accounts alone, there are more than one hundred references to the kingdom of God (or “kingdom of heaven,” as in Matthew). In John, Jesus speaks of the kingdom of God as His kingdom (3:3,5; 18:36). Moreover, the New Testament writers indicate that the kingdom of Christ is the same thing as the kingdom of God (Eph. 5:5; Rev. 11:15; 12:10). According to Jesus, He is the true King for whom all of humanity has longed.
Jesus is the perfect King who rules with justice. Jesus not only seeks but is able to bring lasting welfare for the people. So, even with their flaws, the good aspects of the Old Testament kings give us a glimpse of what was to come. In other words, all of the biblical accounts of earlier kings cast King Jesus’ shadow. Jesus is the last Adam who will reign and exercise dominion over the restored Eden (Rev. 22:1-5). Jesus is the true Judge and King who reigns in His unshakable kingdom (Heb. 12:22-24,28). Jesus is both the son of David and the Son of God, the king from the line of David whose throne and dominion is everlasting (Luke 1:32-33).
With the coming of Jesus, the kingdom is present (Luke 17:20-22; Rev. 1:9). Yet, the kingdom is also future (Rev. 11:15). As Christians, we know that the full reality of His rule awaits His second coming (Matt. 13:30,39,47-50; 25:1-13; 2 Tim. 4:1). We also know that in Him, all of our hopes are fulfilled. Jesus is the true and greater King we have all been waiting for. Therefore, let us bow before the true King. He is worthy of our adoration and allegiance. Jesus’ rule extends to every aspect of our lives and therefore we serve him as under-kings in every realm of life (e.g., work, school, parenting, household chores, recreation, etc.).
And let us longingly wait for His return, when all things will be as they should. Eden may have been lost by the failures of the first king Adam, and no other human king has been able to restore it. But one day, Jesus will return, and with His return, His kingdom will be consummated and a greater Eden be restored.
The ERLC National Conference begins today, October 27th. During this conference, the speakers will address “The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage” to equip Christians to apply the gospel on these issues with convictional kindness in their communities, their families and their churches.
During this conference, speakers will equip you to defend marriage in the culture and strengthen marriage in the church by preparing you to address issues like:
- How do we effectively minister to those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender?
- How has the divorce culture impacted marriage in our communities and our churches?
- What does sexual faithfulness look like for a same-sex attracted Christian?
- Why did God create marriage and why did he design it for the common good?
- How should a pastor counsel a same-sex couple that wants to join his church?
- How can churches minister to those who are single, dating, divorced or celibate?
- How can Christians show the love of Christ to gay family members or neighbors?
Join all of us in attendance at the ERLC to explore what the gospel means for the future of marriage and sexual identity. The conference will be live streamed here: http://live.erlc.com/