Daily Light – Oct 30, 2020

A Temple and Priesthood 

From his current study in 1 Peter, morning devotional by David Niednagel, Pastor/Teacher, Evansville, IN.  David uses the S.O.A.P. method for his morning study time.  (study, observe, apply pray) 

 1 Peter 2:4-8      

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”  So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone, and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.   ESV 

This passage is very similar to what Paul said in Ephesians 2:18-22. Jesus is not only the cornerstone, but He is living, and the rest of the temple built on Him is also living. People have always venerated their temples and made them as grand as possible. This temple surpasses them all – it is living, and we are that temple. 

But we are not only the temple, we also have the honor of being a holy priesthood – people who help connect sinful people with our Holy God in His Holy Temple. We do not have to be Levites, but we do have to have a special birth position – we must be born again. And as recipients of grace and this new identity, we can usher others into the same blessings we know. If we have understood the gospel enough to be born again, we understand it enough to share it with others. 

Not everyone who heard Jesus believed in Him, and not all who hear us will believe.  Jesus said “No one can come to Me unless the Father draws him.” (John 6:44) The same thing is still true. Some have not been chosen or called, and will not believe. This is the one verse in the NT that seems most clearly to teach that some are destined not to believe. That grieves me, especially when I think of loved ones that did not believe in Him. But our job is to preach the good news of Jesus wherever we go, and trust that He will call some to Himself. (Acts 13:48)  

Lord God, more than ever this makes me so grateful that You chose me before the foundation of the world to belong to You. (Eph 1:3) It is ALL GRACE! And thank You for making me alive, and a holy temple where You live, and a special priest – with the privilege of telling others of Your sacrifice and offering them the same life You have given me. Help me be a faithful and zealous priest to bring others who have failed to You, who took their failure and gives Your victory.  Amen 

Daily Light – Oct 29, 2020

The Merciful Mystery of Unconditional Election 

Article by Jon Bloom, Staff writer, desiringGod.org 

Election is a topic currently absorbing the attention of Americans (and a watching world), given the significant political event about to take place in the United States. In our democratic republic, qualified citizens cast free and secret ballots to elect those we wish to represent us in our executive and legislative branches of state and national government. 

This is an example of conditional election, meaning the “elect” are chosen based on their superior merits relative to opposing candidates. The elect merit or win their election. 

In this sense (and others, of course), the American doctrine of election is quite different from the biblical doctrine of election. Whenever the term election or elect is mentioned in Scripture, it always refers to God’s choosing those he has purposed to redeem from fallen humanity. God does the choosing — the electing — not man (Ephesians 1:3–6). And when God chooses to redeem a person, he does so based not on that person’s merit, but on his mercy alone (Romans 9:10–16). 

Theologians have termed this unconditional election, which John Piper concisely defines as “God’s free choice before creation, not based on foreseen faith, to which traitors he will grant faith and repentance, pardoning them and adopting them into his everlasting family of joy.” In this case, the elect do not merit or win their election, but receive it as a free gift from God based solely on his grace toward them (Ephesians 2:8–10). 

Many over the centuries have found the biblical doctrine of election a source of great hope and comfort. But many others have found it a source of confusion, anxiety, and even offense. God means for us to experience the former, not the latter. He has revealed election in Scripture not so we will comprehend all its mysteries, nor so we can easily identify all who are elect, but so we will put our full confidence and trust in Jesus Christ and find him our all in all (1 Corinthians 15:28). 

Great Clarity and Great Mystery 

Scripture’s revelation regarding election is clear: God “chose us [in Christ] before the foundation of the world” and “predestined us for adoption to himself . . . according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace” (Ephesians 1:4–6). If there’s any question as to the unconditional nature of this election, all we need to do is follow the apostle Paul’s logic in Romans chapter 9

But Scripture does not reveal the mechanics of election. The Bible tells us God is completely sovereign and free in his choosing those to whom he will and will not grant the gift of repentance and saving faith (Romans 9:15–16), and that humans are morally accountable if they do not repent and trust Christ (John 3:18). But the formula for how this works is a mystery known to God alone. 

In an American political (conditional) election, mystery surrounding the results could signal a corrupted process. The founders of our nation had a healthy respect for human depravity and designed the American systems of government with that in mind. They wisely devised many forms of accountability in order to mitigate the myriad forms of corruption that inevitably occur whenever humans pursue and possess power. That’s why American elections should be as transparent and unmysterious as possible. 

But with divine election, the opposite is true. In this case, mystery is a great mercy to us for at least two reasons. 

Two Mercies of Mystery 

First, we simply do not possess the intellectual or perspectival capacities to comprehend God’s purposes in election. As Michael Horton says, 

All of the great truths of God’s Word are mysteries in this sense. They elude our ability to capture their essence. They do not contradict reason, but transcend it. (For Calvinism, 111) 

Second, and even more important, as fallen, depraved creatures who tend to corrupt election processes we do comprehend, we lack the moral capacities to be entrusted with such knowledge. Our great downfall was desiring and aspiring to “be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). We must trust God’s wisdom and kindness when he withholds information from us. This is why John Calvin gave this wise pastoral warning against probing the mysteries of election: 

[The curious] will obtain no satisfaction to his curiosity, but will enter a labyrinth from which he will find no way to depart. For it is unreasonable that man should scrutinize with impunity those things which the Lord has determined to be hidden in himself. . . . As soon as the Lord closes his sacred mouth, [we] shall also desist from further inquiry. (For Calvinism, 113) 

The wise will say with Moses, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29). For the wise understand that God is merciful not to tell us everything

How Does God Reveal His Elect? 

After the voting deadline for next week’s national elections has passed, determining the “elect” hopefully will be fairly straightforward. The ballots will be painstakingly collected and counted, and the candidates who receive the majority of their citizens’ votes will be publicly declared the winners (unless, as in 2016, the electoral college presidential vote totals differ from the popular vote totals). 

Once again, this is very different from how God reveals his (unconditionally) elect children whom, through Christ, he has ransomed and redeemed “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9). Jesus described his method with a parable: 

“A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As he said these things, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Luke 8:5–8

God calls out his elect through the indiscriminate broadcasting of gospel “seeds.” He makes his appeal to all through us, the messengers of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:20). Those planted in good soil, those with seed that takes root, those who have ears to hear, they prove to be the elect. 

Fruit of and Endurance by the Spirit 

This parable illustrates not only Jesus’s method, but also our limitations. Both the rocky and thorny soils appear to us as good soil at first. Only later, after faith has been tested (Luke 8:13), or the cares and pleasures of life have choked out what looked like gospel life (Luke 8:14), do we realize that someone may not be elect. 

Note my words: “may not be elect.” God does not grant us knowledge of who his elect are in this age. He mercifully hides this knowledge, which is too heavy for us to bear. Some soils can remain path-hardened for eighty years, only to become soft and receive the seed at the end. Other soils can appear good for decades, only to have the stem wither and die from rocks or thorns. 

When the apostles assessed the faith of professing Christians, they looked for the evidence of the Spirit, especially faithful enduring of trials (1 Thessalonians 1:4–7), and were quick to encourage what they observed: “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge” (1 Corinthians 1:4–5). But if later other evidence gave them concerns, they could say to the same Christians, 

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? — unless indeed you fail to meet the test! (2 Corinthians 13:5

One reason they issued such warnings is because they knew the Spirit would use them as a means to keep the elect fighting to persevere in the faith. Exhortations help saints resist “the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:12–13). 

But at the end of the day, it’s not our job to determine who ultimately is or isn’t the good soil of the elect. That’s God’s job. Our job is to sow gospel seeds or water them, and trust God to give the growth (1 Corinthians 3:7). 

‘Abide in Me’: The Place of Assurance 

So, if God veils not only his purposes in election but even the elect themselves in mystery, can we ever be sure that we are among the elect? 

God most certainly wants everyone he’s given the right to be called children of God (John 1:12) to live in the holy comfort of knowing they are children of God (Romans 8:16). But he does not want us to seek this comfort in our spiritual gifts, ministry effectiveness, past experiences, or the deceitful labyrinthian corridors of introspection. He wants us to find this comfort by finding Christ our all in all, our very life (Colossians 3:4). Which is why the invitation to assurance Jesus extended to his disciples was this: 

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:5–11

The joy of assurance, Jesus’s very joy in us, comes from one place: abiding (remaining) in him — trusting him solely for the forgiveness of our sins (Colossians 1:14), every grace needed in this age (Hebrews 4:16), and in the age to come, eternal life (Luke 18:30). 

This call to abide may sound like it places greater emphasis on our responsibility than on God’s electing power, like conditional election rather than unconditional election. But don’t be fooled. We’re simply experiencing the marvelous mystery that is divine election, the paradoxical place where God’s sovereign decree from eternity past and our call to respond here and now are shown to be, not at odds, but in perfect harmony. 

Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). The elect respond to Jesus’s call to follow him and abide in him. In mercy, God withholds from us mysteries of election we aren’t equipped to grasp, yet he graciously gives us a simple means by which we can find joyful assurance that we belong to and love Jesus: that we willingly respond to and obey him (John 14:15). 

Do you hear his voice? Will you follow? “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (Hebrews 4:7). 

Jon Bloom (@Bloom_Jon) serves as author, board chair, and co-founder of Desiring God. He is author of three books, Not by SightThings Not Seen, and Don’t Follow Your Heart. He and his wife have five children and make their home in the Twin Cities.

Daily Light – Oct 28, 2020

Grace Is Not a Thing 

Why Spiritual Renewal Begins with a Him 

Article by Scott Hubbard, Editor, desiringGod.org 

Few words are more precious in the Christian’s vocabulary than the word grace. And yet few words are more misunderstood and misapplied, even by those who treasure the gospel of Jesus. 

Already in the New Testament, we find the two basic ways grace can be twisted. The first is the legalist delusion, on display in Paul’s warning to the Galatians: “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace” (Galatians 5:4). The second is the antinomian error, as when “certain people . . . pervert the grace of our God into sensuality” (Jude 4). 

Both legalists and antinomians may herald “grace alone” — but the phrase really means “grace ignored” to the one and “grace abused” to the other. Either way, as Sinclair Ferguson powerfully shows in his book The Whole Christ, grace gets disgraced. 

Now, most of us are neither self-righteous legalists nor sensuality-loving antinomians. But every one of us is prone to lean toward one error or the other. And the farther we lean, the less amazing grace becomes, and the more burdensome the Christian life feels. Oh, how necessary, then, to stand firmly in “the true grace of God” (1 Peter 5:12). 

Blessed in the Beloved 

For all the differences between legalists and antinomians, the two often share one surprising similarity: they treat grace as a thing that God gives, rather than as God’s gift of himself. As Michael Reeves writes, 

When Christians talk of God giving us “grace” . . . we can quickly imagine that “grace” is some kind of spiritual pocket money he doles out. Even the old explanation that “grace” is “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense” can make it sound like stuff that God gives. 

Well then, what is grace? Reeves goes on: “The word grace is really just a shorthand way of speaking about the personal and loving kindness out of which, ultimately, God gives himself” (Delighting in the Trinity, 88). 

In Scripture, the grace of God is never separated from the God of grace — and in particular, from the God-man of grace, Jesus Christ. The two are so entwined that Paul can call the coming of Christ the coming of grace (Titus 2:11). All grace comes to us, therefore, “through” Christ (Romans 1:4–5), “in” Christ (2 Timothy 1:9) — or, as John puts it, “from his fullness” (John 1:16). Perhaps Paul describes it most gloriously of all when he writes, 

In love [the Father] predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:4–6) 

Grace comes to us “in the Beloved” — and nowhere else. Grace is sap from the true Vine, warmth from the true Light, affection from the true Bridegroom. In other words, when God gives us grace, he gives us Christ. 

Saved by Grace Alone 

What does this have to do with legalism and antinomianism? Everything, if we have eyes to see. For legalism and antinomianism thrive only when we separate the grace of Christ from Christ himself. Only when we treat grace as abstract “stuff” can we imagine that grace is sufficient for this, but not for that: for some righteousness, but not for all righteousness; for forgiveness, but not for holiness. 

But if grace comes to us in the Beloved, then grace gives us a full salvation, justifying us with his righteousness, sanctifying us with his holiness, and glorifying us with his glory. Like a mighty river rolling toward us from eternity, grace catches us up into all that Christ is and all he has done, rushing us forward from salvation past to salvation future. 


Many who struggle with legalism know how to speak the language of grace. Yet as Ferguson shows so powerfully, “Where the language of grace abounds, it is possible for the reality of legalism to abound all the more” (The Whole Christ, 91). 

Perhaps we can recite the five solas, renounce the idea of works-righteousness, and say with the apostle, “By grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:8). Yet all the while, we may hear the low inner whisper that this grace is not enough for us. We do not say that our good works justify us alongside God’s grace, but we may feel like it. As a result, we feel justified by God only when we feel good before him: when we can look on our Bible reading, evangelism, and other obedience with at least some satisfaction. 

When God gives us grace, however, we never need wonder if his grace will be enough for our justification. Such thinking treats grace as a thing, as currency toward the admission price of the kingdom. But if we have any grace at all, then we have it in union with Jesus Christ. And if we are united to Christ, then we have all that he has and all that he is. In him, we have righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30), redemption (Ephesians 1:7), adoption (Romans 8:16–17) — all that we need for God’s favor to rest on us forever. 

When we believe in Jesus, we do not “get” a certain amount of grace from him and then hope it will suffice for our justification. No, by faith we “put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27) such that now, even when we feel most ashamed of our sin, his righteousness covers us like a robe (Isaiah 61:10). 


The true grace of God is the remedy for our legalistic tendencies. It is also the remedy for our antinomian leanings. For if grace unites us to Christ, then we cannot enjoy only part of him; we cannot embrace him for justification without also embracing him for sanctification. All that Christ is in his perfect humanity must become ours, including his holiness. 

Few passages dismantle our one-dimensional ideas of grace like Romans 6 does. Paul, after celebrating the grace that comes to us in justification (Romans 5:15–21), anticipates the antinomian question: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means!” (Romans 6:1–2). And why? Because when Christ died under sin’s curse, he buried us with him (Romans 6:210–11), and when Christ rose up from sin’s dominion, he grasped us by the hand and led us into his freedom (Romans 6:4–58). 

Hence the victorious words: “Sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14). If grace is only forgiveness, Paul’s statement rings hollow. But grace is more than forgiveness. “Grace is power, not just pardon,” John Piper writes. Yes, and not just any power, but the same power that pulsed through Jesus’s veins when he walked out of the grave. Holiness runs on resurrection strength. 

Someone may wonder, “If we make sanctification necessary in the Christian life, don’t we veer into legalism?” No, we don’t veer into legalism; we rather collapse into grace. Sanctification, though it involves our total effort, is just as much a gift of grace as justification. We may strain and fight for holiness; we may even cut off a hand or gouge out an eye. But at every step, Christ teaches us to say, “It was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10). 


No one is justified in Christ who is not also sanctified in Christ — and no one is sanctified in Christ who is not also glorified in Christ. From the moment God unites us to Jesus, glory slowly grows within us: first the seed, then the stem, then the bud. And “when Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:4). In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, the bud will burst into full bloom. 

In Christ, grace not only fills our past (in justification) and pervades our present (in sanctification); it also adorns our future. So, Peter writes, “Set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13). 

Grace arrived at the first coming of Christ, bringing righteousness and sanctification (Titus 2:113:5–7). And grace will arrive at the second coming of Christ, bringing glorification. And what will happen? Jesus “will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:21). “We shall all be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51). In every way that we possibly can be, “we shall be like him” (1 John 3:2). 

Yet even then, when our conformity to Christ is complete, the river of grace will keep rolling. As we walk resurrected through the new heavens and earth, our glorification will become the backdrop for God to display, through all the coming ages, “the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7). Every beat of our glorified hearts will echo the grace of him who joined us in the grave so that he might take us up to glory. 

No Other Fountain 

Grace, then, is not an abstract quality we can possess apart from Christ. There is only one kind of grace: “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 13:14), the grace that flows freely “in the Beloved” (Ephesians 1:6). If we could imagine grace as less like a spiritual substance and more like a glorious Person, our own spiritual reformation may not be far behind. 

Not only would we find ourselves safer from both legalism and antinomianism; we may also find our hearts calmed and settled in the presence of our magnificent Christ. Instead of restlessly looking inward for our justification before God, we would look at his righteousness. Instead of leaning on spiritual tactics for our sanctification, we would lean on his resurrection. And instead of hoping in a vague heaven for our glorification, we would hope in his glorious coming. 

As John Calvin counsels us, “Since rich store of every kind of good abounds in him, let us drink our fill from this fountain, and from no other” (Institutes, 2.16.9). Yes, let us drink our fill from Christ and Christ alone, for grace has no other fountain. 

Scott Hubbard is a graduate of Bethlehem College & Seminary and an editor for desiringGod.org. He and his wife, Bethany, live with their son in Minneapolis. 

Daily Light – Oct 27, 2020

Temptation Is No Simple Enemy 

Article by Marshall Segal, Staff writer, desiringGod.org 

Temptation often prevails against us because of our simple and naive assumptions about temptation. 

We expect temptation will march through the front door, dressed like a wolf, announcing itself loudly as it comes. But temptation often prefers the back door, and the bedroom window, and that crack between the floorboards. Temptation relies on subtlety and nuance, on deception and surprise, on ignorance and naivete. To begin to taste victory, we have to start treating the war like a war. We have to study the enemy of our souls. 

We remember the story of Samson and Delilah because she overpowered the strongest man alive. But have we ever stopped to really ask how? How did Delilah subdue a man who had just killed a thousand men? When we unravel the secrets of her seduction, they can become weapons for us against whatever temptation we face. 

The Ambition of Temptation 

The first step in taking temptation more seriously is to remember that temptation has a mission: to ruin your soul and rob you of God. No temptation is innocent or trivial. All temptation schemes and plots for this one end: your never-ending misery. Temptation will please you to abuse you, seduce you to undo you, distract you to destroy you. 

Delilah may have been motivated by money rather than hatred, but she was still every bit as determined to destroy Samson. The Philistines, his murderous enemies, said to her, “Seduce him, and see where his great strength lies, and by what means we may overpower him, that we may bind him to humble him” (Judges 16:5). Just verses earlier, Samson had killed a thousand of them with only a jawbone (Judges 15:16). These men were thirsty for blood, his blood, and Delilah was all too willing to prepare the slaughter. 

Like the forbidden woman, the lips of temptation drip honey, “but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword” (Proverbs 5:4). Temptation robs us of honor and squanders our lives (Proverbs 5:9); it spoils our strength and ruins our work (Proverbs 5:10); it ends only in futility and regret (Proverbs 5:11). “The thief,” Jesus says, “comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). That is the mission of temptation, however sweet and pleasant it may seem for the moment. 

So, how did Delilah seek to destroy Samson? How did temptation overcome even the strongest man? 

Temptation Leads with Pleasure 

The first lesson may seem obvious: temptation seduces us by holding out pleasure. “Seduce him, and see where his great strength lies, and by what means we may overpower him” (Judges 16:5). Before temptation can betray us to destruction, it must woo us with some promise of satisfaction. 

“Please tell me where your great strength lies,” Delilah says to Samson, “and how you might be bound, that one could subdue you” (Judges 16:6). We might expect her to flatter or flirt, but instead she asks him directly for his secret. In black and white on the page, it may not even sound like seduction. But this kind of knowledge is intimacy. To ask was to test his love, and to invite him deeper into love with her. 

Clearly, Samson didn’t fully trust her (he lied to her), but he also clearly enjoyed her attention and affection. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have had a second hearing. He entertained her games because he had tasted her love — an empty love, to be sure, but one that pleased him all the same. All sin hangs on such love. As John Piper says, “The power of all temptation is the prospect that it will make me happier. No one sins out of a sense of duty.” What sins have beset you, and what happiness have they promised? 

Sinful pleasure will always be appealing if we have not set our hearts on a superior pleasure. “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). Fullness of joy, not the fractions we often settle for with sin. Pleasures forevermore, not the short-lived thrills of lust, or greed, or laziness, or envy. The power of temptation relies on us believing that sin is better than full and forever. It rests on us being tired or bored of God, the deepest, strongest pleasure in the universe. 

Temptation Heaps on Shame 

If sin cannot lure us with pleasure, it will assault us with shame. Delilah wasn’t making progress through seduction, so she started questioning Samson’s integrity instead. She said to him, “How can you say, ‘I love you,’ when your heart is not with me? You have mocked me these three times, and you have not told me where your great strength lies” (Judges 16:15). Do you hear the irony in her strategy? “How can you say, ‘I love you,’ when your heart is not with me?” All while her heart is in the pockets of the dangerous men outside. 

Like Delilah, temptation hides its own murderous motives in order to shame its target. Temptation may not say, with Delilah, “How can you say you love me?” but it may ask, “How can you say you love God?” 

One reason some give in so often is because they have believed that sin is who they are. Satan is an accuser. And he does not accuse occasionally, but day and night (Revelation 12:10). If he can convince you that you’re still that same old person — enslaved to pornography, consumed with envy, enraged with anger, defenseless before sloth — he can convince you to do almost anything. Our shame and self-pity are Satan’s food. Without them he, and all his schemes, will starve and expire. 

When Satan comes to accuse you — “How can you say you love God?” — know beforehand how you will answer. “I am not who I was (2 Corinthians 5:17). I have been crucified with my King (Galatians 2:20). My sin has been canceled (Colossians 2:14), and it no longer rules over me (Romans 6:14). In Christ, there is now no condemnation for me (Romans 8:1). God has given me all I need to resist temptation (2 Peter 1:31 Corinthians 10:13). Therefore, I will not be put to shame (Romans 10:11).” 

Temptation Wears You Out 

Delilah seduced Samson, then she shamed him, and eventually she exhausted him. “When she pressed him hard with her words day after day, and urged him, his soul was vexed to death” (Judges 16:16). What began as playful flirtation ended in fatigue and despair. She pressed and pleaded, pressed and pleaded, until he (even he!) could not bear the weight of her advances. Has temptation ever felt like that for you? 

Maybe you resisted blowing up in anger at your spouse at first, but he would not relent. Maybe you refused to click on that website at first, but a couple of hours later you were more tired and vulnerable. Maybe you worked hard all week and didn’t give in to laziness, only to crumble into more weekend binge-watching. Maybe you ate with self-control for several weeks, but the cravings slowly overwhelmed you. Temptation is rarely a single arrow to be avoided, but far more often a wide and prolonged wave of warfare meant to wear us down until we surrender. 

If temptation depends on exhaustion, the battle against temptation must be more than dos and don’ts in the moment. Alongside the weapons most of us are familiar with — the word of God, prayer and fasting, fellowship and accountability — our ability to withstand temptation’s attacks rests, at least in part, on the health and vitality of our bodies. Good sleep, a healthy diet, and regular exercise are far more effective weapons against our besetting sins than we may realize or expect. If we neglect or despise them, we invite Satan to wreak his havoc. 

So, if we want to overcome temptation, we must study temptation — its seducing, its shaming, its exhausting — and prepare our souls for warfare. Immerse yourself in a superior Joy, anchor your identity and security in who God says you are, and then get some sleep. Temptation is not a simple enemy, so ours will not be a simple victory. But in Christ it will be sure. 

Marshall Segal (@marshallsegal) is a writer and managing editor at desiringGod.org. He’s the author of Not Yet Married: The Pursuit of Joy in Singleness & Dating. He graduated from Bethlehem College & Seminary. He and his wife, Faye, have two children and live in Minneapolis. 

Daily Light – Oct 26, 2020

Five Points for All Peoples 

How Reformed Theology Is Transforming Africa 

Article by Dieudonné Tamfu , Professor, Bethlehem College & Seminary 

Recently a missionary to our country asked me about my ministry. I explained that we are planting a church and have started an extension site of Bethlehem College & Seminary in Cameroon to train gospel ministers. I mentioned that our seminary program places a major emphasis on teaching the biblical languages and God-centered theology. She expressed her surprise. She told me that in her ministry they do not teach Cameroonian pastors the biblical languages or theology. She said, “With all the problems in the church here, we consider it more important to give pastors practical teachings on ministry.” It was sad to hear. 

Good practices in ministry are driven by sound theology. We may think that practical teaching, void of theological discussion, is better because it gains faster results, but that change will not last. If we don’t aim to change people at the worldview level, we won’t change them at all. Yes, the African church is weak, but Christians and pastors here need more than instructions on what to do and what not to do. Missions should be more than crisis management. The people we serve on the mission field need a big, God-centered, Christ-glorifying theology. They need Reformed theology. If it is good for Americans, it is good for us. 

Africans need the same theology that Americans and Europeans need. We may look different and have different accents, different skin colors, different economic powers, different diseases, and different levels of scientific advancement, but we are the same at the core: sinners in need of a Savior. The relevance of sound doctrine is not contextual; it is global. People of all colors, tribes, and languages share in Adam’s sin. They are all depraved. God has unconditionally elected people from amongst all of them. And Reformed theology reforms every race of people. 

Humbled by Depravity 

Man, though created in the image of God, is born dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1). He is unwilling and unable to turn to God in repentance (Romans 8:7–8). By nature, man is only able to sin. No one does good; neither is anyone willing or able to do good, since the good works that God requires must flow out of faith in Christ, which we all lack by nature (Romans 14:231 Corinthians 2:14). 

No matter where one serves, this doctrine informs how we view the people we minister to. When we believe that all men are totally depraved, we do not view Africans or Americans as morally inferior. We have different skin colors, but our hearts are all black apart from Christ, darkened by our depravity. Americans are equally as depraved as Africans, and the same God who overcomes American depravity overcomes African depravity. 

This understanding is relevant for all ministers. God uses the gospel to triumph over depraved hearts. So, we preach the gospel boldly and confidently, and we encourage preachers of all nations to do the same. We plead with men to turn to God, while pleading with God to turn men to him. 

Motivated by Election 

God graciously and willingly, uncoerced or influenced by anything foreseen in us, appointed some for salvation before time began (Ephesians 1:4). God elected before time because it did not depend on time or anything within time. Even within time, we are slaves, sinners, fools, hell-deserving, with no merits before God. 

When God chooses undeserving sinners, he does not show partiality. Men of all colors, tribes, languages, and social backgrounds are part of God’s elect. So, Paul courageously traveled to distant lands to proclaim the same gospel because he knew God’s elect people were scattered around the world. He believed God already marked them out, but he also knew they could not be saved unless someone preached the truth to them (Romans 10:14). Even though he presented the truth in different ways, he presented the same truth. Ministers in every tribe need to understand this. The same truth that motivated Paul motivates Americans, and also motivates Africans. The same gospel that saves Americans will save the elect in Africa. Do not water down the gospel or minimize the importance of teaching the Reformed doctrines because you are in Africa. 

Someone once asked me why I was getting a PhD when I was planning to return to Cameroon. Although I do not know the person’s motives, that question assumes that Africans do not need a well-articulated gospel from well-trained and theologically sound ministers. Wrong! Wrong! If the elect in America need Reformed pastors with PhDs to teach them, so do Africans. Those preparing to serve in third-world countries should get an excellent — and I will add Reformed — education for the sake of the elect, and train African pastors in the same theology. They are worthy of that sacrifice. We need more than how-tos and do-nots. We need God-centered Reformed theology. 

Saved by Atonement 

Limited atonement means that Jesus died effectually for those whom God freely appointed for salvation. Christ died for his bride, the church (Ephesians 5:25). Although Christ’s death is not limited in its power, it is particularly applied toward the elect. Although Christ’s death is limited to the elect, by it, God saves from every tribe, race, language, and tongue through faith (Revelation 5:9). 

In ministry, our calling is to preach the limited, sufficient, and powerful redeeming work of Christ. We preach the limited atoning work of Christ limitlessly, praying that God would apply the limited atonement of Christ to all we minister to. 

So, when we evangelize, and evangelize, and the people do not believe, we do not lose heart. We say with Paul, “Even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:3–4). Understanding the doctrine of limited atonement protects us, African and American gospel ministers alike, from using manipulative strategies in evangelism. Like Paul, “we refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Corinthians 4:2). 

Overcome by Grace 

God’s Son died precisely for the appointed people of God, and God irresistibly applies the atoning work of his Son to those he has elected. Although our depraved hearts may resist it for a time, God’s saving grace cannot ultimately be resisted. God draws all the elect to his Son. 

No human — American, African, Asian, or European — is so depraved as to resist the saving grace of God in Christ. Thus, we labor in ministry, trusting God’s Spirit to overcome any human resistance. 

As an African pastor, this doctrine gives me confidence in evangelism and ministry at large. It helps me refrain from methodologies that are unbiblical. Because God’s saving grace is irresistible, we ministers of the gospel must refrain from approaches to ministry that may strengthen human resistance. I find Americans in Africa fronting their gospel ministries with financial and material gifts, perhaps to gain a hearing. While such generosity is good and biblical, we must be careful that we do not feed the money and material-mindedness driven by the so-called prosperity gospel. If God can save Westerners without our baits, he can save Africans and Asians without them. We must trust God’s irresistible grace and preach God’s word as it is. 

We must be careful that we do not come to Africa and approach Africans as though they are able to resist God’s grace. No gifts can overcome an African’s depravity. No financial support can. No relaxation of biblical expectations can. We make them more ready for hell with these things, if we are not careful. 

Kept by God 

When God saves, he also preserves. God guarantees every believer eternal life because he saves and safeguards every one of them. God will complete his work of salvation in every saint at the day of Christ (Philippians 1:6). God will keep his saved ones saved by his power through their faith in Christ, which he himself will sustain in them (Hebrews 13:20–211 Peter 1:4–5). The same gospel saves and keeps. 

What this means for ministry to an African, American, or Asian pastor is that we never cease proclaiming the gospel. We do not preach the gospel to bring in the elect and then go on to other practical things. The gospel, which is at the heart of God-centered Reformed theology, is the power of God for the salvation of the saved. We receive the gospel and get saved, we keep believing the gospel to stay saved, and it is that same gospel that will save us at the end. 

African, Asian, and every third-world saint needs a constant gospel diet for their perseverance, and we serve them best when we serve them the full, undiluted gospel of Christ. God keeps the third world the same way he does the first world. We must minister to them in like manner and train their native men with the same worldview to minister in the same fashion. 

My Prayer for African Churches 

A proper grasp of Reformed doctrines, relevant even for African village pastors, should make it easier for us to minister in any context, understanding that all men are fundamentally identical and need the same solution for their salvation. 

Let us transform gospel ministry globally by equipping every minister with Reformed theology, no matter where they serve. Every pastor must embrace and teach these doctrines to show his people how big our God is and how great a salvation he offers. When we give people great theology, we can expect great things. Expect lasting transformation. Expect reformation. That is what I am praying for the African church. 

Dieudonné Tamfu is assistant professor of Bible and theology, and coordinator of the Cameroon Extension Site for Bethlehem College & Seminary. He and his wife, Dominique, live in Yaoundé, Cameroon, with their two children. 

Daily Light – Oct 23, 2020

How Did God Call Me to Himself? 

From an Interview with John Piper, Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org 

Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:22–24

Call That Creates 

When the called look at Christ crucified, they don’t see a stumbling block; they don’t see folly. They see power. So, there are three groups in those verses: (1) Jews, (2) Gentiles, (3) called. That’s not quite accurate, is it? Let me say it a little more carefully. There are: (1) Jews who are not called, (2) Gentiles who are not called, and (3) Jews and Gentiles who are called. 

Those are the three groups. Are you with me? We’re considering our calling. We’re obeying 1 Corinthians 1:26. There are Jews not called, Gentiles not called, and Jews and Gentiles, some of whom are called. And then he describes the response of each to the cross. 

Jews: “Yeah, stumbling block. A crucified Messiah? Never heard of such a thing.” 

Gentiles: “Foolishness. A dying God? Silly — mythological.” 

Called: “Power — my God!” 

What kind of call is that? I’ll tell you what kind of call it is: it’s the kind of call that creates what it commands. The call gives light. The call creates sight. The call raises the dead. “Lazarus, come forth” (see John 11:43). He didn’t decide to. The call raised him from the dead. 

‘Wake Up!’ 

Let me give you an analogy that could be misleading. It helps me. Just to get your hand around it, because lots of you have never been taught about the call of God: the mighty, effectual, irresistible, powerful, saving, awakening, life-giving call of God that saved you. You’ve never been taught about this, so you need a little analogy to help you, instead of saying, “What is he talking about? I’ve never heard anything like this. I thought I just believed in Jesus.” 

Suppose somebody is asleep, and you want to wake them up. What do you do? They’re sound asleep. You bend over them and you say, “Wake up!” And they bolt right upright. Now, what are the dynamics of that moment? They were sound asleep, and then they were awake. Did they hear the call and say, “I’ll think about that before I wake up, and then I’ll decide if I want to wake up”? That is a good analogy. When God issues a call to your dead heart and says, “Wake up!” you wake up. You did not make yourself a Christian. Just face it: you didn’t make yourself a Christian, which is why you should feel so incredibly loved. 

In fact, if you need a text to say that, just go to Ephesians 2:4, where Paul says just as clearly as can be that, because of his “great love,” he made you alive when you were dead. It’s the only place he uses that phrase — “great love” — in all the New Testament. So, if you have any spiritual life in you at all, you have been greatly loved. It’s called regeneration; it’s called calling. You have been called, and you are greatly loved in this calling. 

God Put You in Christ 

God loved you by putting you in Christ. First Corinthians 1:30: “And because of him you are in Christ Jesus.” That’s pretty clear. In the original, very, very literally it would go, “From him are you in Christ Jesus,” or, “Of him are you in Christ Jesus.” “Because of him” is probably a pretty good translation: because of his doing, because of his work, you are in Christ Jesus. 

So, he chose you “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4). He, through Billy Graham, or a preacher, or your mom’s testimony, or reading the Bible, or hearing a worship song, or however he wanted to do it as far as human agency goes, he spoke the word, “Wake up!” or “Come!” or “Live!” And you suddenly stopped seeing the cross as folly. You stopped seeing the cross as boring. You stopped seeing the cross as mythological. You stopped seeing the cross as a stumbling block. Suddenly, it was what you needed, and true. And you embraced it. You embraced it. Because God woke you up, changed your heart. And in that, you were united to Christ. 

When we were talking about the doctrine of regeneration or the new birth, I tried to explain how calling, regeneration, faith, and union with Christ are simultaneous. There are causal connections here, but there aren’t temporal gaps. In an instant — in an instant — he awakened you from the dead. Your eyes were opened, and what you saw was a glorious Christ. And in seeing him as glorious, you were a believer; you were. That’s what being a believer means: “He’s glorious. He’s Savior. He’s Lord. He is mine.” That’s what it is to see him for what he really is. And in that moment, you were united to Jesus, which means God loved you by making Christ your wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. 

So, God awakened you, united you to Christ so that you have a vital union with Jesus. You’re connected with him — maybe like a vine and a branch? 

All He Is, You Are 

Look at verse 30 again: 

And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption. 

So, when you unite with Christ, all that he is, now you are — without making you God. All the benefits that are in him, all the inheritance that is in him, all that he ever purchased, all the obedience he ever performed, all the forgiveness he ever purchased, you now have by virtue of union with him, which you feel by faith and which God worked sovereignly. He has become, through God’s loving you this way, everything for you. 

When I walked in tonight and heard the worship team rehearsing, “Hallelujah, all I have is Christ. Hallelujah, Jesus is my life,” I said to Chuck, “Okay, I’m doing an audible here.” I had a hymn picked out for the end. But we’re going to do that: “All I Have Is Christ.” This is verse 30, right? If I need wisdom, he’s my wisdom. If I need righteousness, he’s my righteousness. If I need sanctification, redemption . .  

You are loved. You are loved sons and daughters of God because God chose you for himself. You are loved because he called you to himself. You are loved because he united you to Christ. And by making you one with Christ, Christ becomes everything you need. 

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Coronavirus and Christ

Daily Light – Oct 22, 2020

Humble Yourself — Like God 

The Power of Christ’s Lowliness 

Article by David Mathis, Executive Editor, desiringGod.org 

Behold, your king is coming to you . . . humble and mounted on a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9

God commands us to be humble. “Seek humility” (Zephaniah 2:3). “Put on . . . humility” (Colossians 3:12). “Have . . . a humble mind” (1 Peter 3:8). “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another” (1 Peter 5:5). Jesus’s promise that God will exalt the humble enjoins us to pursue it (Matthew 18:423:12Luke 14:1118:14). And his apostles too say, “Humble yourselves” (James 4:101 Peter 5:6). 

And yet, humility, according to the regular testimony of Scripture, is not something we can just up and do. As we consider the positive examples of those who humbled themselves (from Josiah and Hezekiah to Rehoboam, Ahab, and Manasseh) — as well as the negative examples of those who did not (Pharaoh, Amon, Zedekiah, Belshazzar) — what becomes clear is that humbling first belongs to the hand of God. He initiates the humbling of his creatures. And once he has, the question confronts us: Will you receive it? Will you humble yourself in response to his humbling hand, or will you kick against the goads? 

“Humble yourselves,” writes Peter, “under the mighty hand of God” (1 Peter 5:6). First descends his humbling hand. Then the creature has his turn: God is humbling me. Will I embrace it? Will I humble myself? 

Given this background, it is stunning to read about Christ in Philippians 2:8 — in perhaps one of the most striking assertions in all the Scriptures: “he humbled himself.” God himself, fully divine and fully human in the person of his Son, humbled himself. This is worth our slow meditation and our endless marveling. 

But before we assume too much, let’s ask what humility is in biblical terms. Get that wrong and we might marvel for the wrong reasons. And then, with some biblical bearings in place, let’s see what’s so marvelous about our self-humbling Christ. 

What Is Humility? 

Fittingly, the first mention of humility in all the Bible comes in the escalating showdown between Egypt’s Pharaoh and Israel’s God, mediated through Moses. 

Moses first dared to appear before Pharaoh in Exodus 5, and spoke on Yahweh’s behalf, “Let my people go” (Exodus 5:1). To which Pharaoh replied, “Who is Yahweh, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know Yahweh, and moreover, I will not let Israel go” (Exodus 5:2). Mark that. Pharaoh, swollen in pride, has miscalculated his status, as a creature, in relation to the Creator God. Through Moses, God speaks to Egypt’s head and calls for him to obey. And Pharaoh refuses. 

Exodus 10:3 then describes this as a call to humility. After seven plagues, on the cusp of an eighth, God speaks to Pharaoh, “How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me?” The piercing question, in the context of this extended power encounter, gives us this glimpse into the heart of humility: humility acknowledges and obeys the one who is truly Lord. Humility entails a right view of self, as created by and accountable to God, which requires a right view of God, as Creator and authoritative in relation to his creatures. Humility is not, then, preoccupied with self, and one’s own lowliness, but first mindful of and conscience of God, and his highness, and then of self in respect to him. 

Is God Humble? 

Put another way, humility embraces the reality that I am not God. Pride led to humanity’s fall when Adam and Eve desired to “be like God” (Genesis 3:5) contrary to his command. Humility would have obeyed his command — which is what we will see below in Christ. 

Humility, then, is a creaturely virtue. It is a posture of soul and body and life that acknowledges and embraces the godness of God and the humanness of self. Which means that “Is God humble?” is a tricky question. The answer is no, but not because God is the opposite of what we would consider humble. He is not arrogant or prideful. Rather, humility is a creaturely virtue, and he is God. The essence of humility, we might say with John Piper, is “to feel and think and say and act in a way that shows I am not God.” 

Which contributes to what makes us stand in awe as we read that the God-man, Jesus Christ, “humbled himself.” 

Christ Humbled Himself 

Let’s marvel, then, at this remarkable word from the apostle Paul — that Christ “humbled himself” (Philippians 2:8). Note first, confirming our definition above of humility as a creaturely virtue, that the eternal Son first became man (verse 7), then humbled himself (verse 8). The verb Paul uses to capture the action of the incarnation is not humbled but emptied: 

[Being] in the form of God, [he] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. (Philippians 2:6–7

The movement from heaven to earth, so to speak, is an “emptying.” The divine Son emptied himself not of divinity, as if that were possible, but of the privilege of not being human, not being a creature, not suffering the bounds and limitations of our finitude and the pains and afflictions of our fallen world. He could have grasped the divine privilege of not being subjected to the rules and realities of the creation, but instead he emptied himself by taking our humanity. His was an emptying not by subtraction (of divinity) but by addition (of humanity): “taking.” 

By Becoming Obedient 

So, first, he became man. Then, as man, came the creaturely virtue: “he humbled himself.” Paul confirms what we learned about humility in the negative example of Pharaoh in Exodus 10: 

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:8

How did Jesus “humble himself”? By becoming obedient. To humble oneself is to acknowledge God as Lord and to obey as servant. In order to do so, then, the Son had to take “the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7). 

It is a mark of the fullness of his humanity, and identification with us, that he didn’t come on special terms, to be spared the frustrations of our limits and the pains of our world. Rather, he was all in: fully human in body, mind, heart, will, and surroundings. Fully human in our finitude and common frustrations. Fully human in our vulnerability to the worst a sinful world can work. Nor was he, at bottom, spared the very essence of being human: being accountable to God. 

“Although he was a son,” Hebrews 5:8–9 celebrates, “he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.” We, as creatures, must obey our Creator — and he, as our brother, did the same. 

To the Point of Death 

But his self-humbling does not stop at obedience. The apostle adds, “to the point of death.” Christ’s obedience was an all-the-way obedience. A true obedience. He did not obey for a time, as long as it was comfortable, and then try another path. No, he obeyed to the point of death. 

Real obedience endures in obedience. Christ did not begin in obedience and then surrender to disobedience once the greatest of threats loomed. He obeyed his parents (Luke 2:51), and obeyed his Father, in childhood, in adolescence, in adulthood, in Nazareth and Galilee, and all the way to Jerusalem. Genuine obedience sees the word of God all the way through in our lives — both right away and for the long haul. 

Humility not only obeys God as Lord, but continues to obey even as obedience mounts its increasing costs. It doesn’t say, “I will obey for a time, until I’ve had enough, and then I’ll do it my way.” It says, “Your way, all the way, to the end, God.” It begins in Galilee, sets its face like flint to Jerusalem, and in the garden, at the point of no return — even through sweat drops like blood — it trusts the Father, stays the course, and rises to meet its foes. 

One more phrase then puts the exclamation point on Jesus’s humility: “even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). Of all ends, his was the cruelest: the Roman cross, emblem of suffering and shame. It’s one thing to die; another to suffer torture; another still to be utterly shamed for the public eye as you are tortured to death. 

And this obedience — this acknowledging and obeying his Father’s word and will to the point of death, even death on a cross — is how Paul expands that most remarkable claim “he humbled himself.” 

Humbled with Him 

God indeed does command our humility. His hand and plan conspire to humble us, whether through pandemics or through the consequences of personal sins. And there in our humbling, whether our own sin played a part in it or not, he invites us to humble ourselves — and in no small measure by learning from the self-humbling of Christ. 

The humility of Christ shows us that true humility is not the denigrating of humanity, but God’s image shining in its fullness. To humble oneself is not to be less than human. Rather, it is pride that is the cancer, pride that corrodes our true dignity. To humble ourselves is to come ever closer, step by step, to the bliss and full flourishing for which we were made. 

The humility of Christ also clarifies that not all our humblings are owing to our own sin. Christ had none, yet humbled himself. Sometimes repentance is the first step in self-humbling; other times it is not. Our self-humblings may often come in response to the exposure of our sin, but even Christ, sinless as he was, heeded the Father’s call to humble himself. 

The humility of Christ also means God’s command is not to something he himself has not experienced. As lonely as we may feel in our most humbling moments, we are not there alone. Christ has been there, and is there with us, fulfilling his pledge to be with you always (Matthew 28:20), and all the more tangibly when it’s hardest. He humbled himself, and draws near in your humbling, to release you to receive it, welcome it, repent, declare his Father righteous, learn from it, and chart a new course with his guidance and presence. 

He Will Lift You Up 

The humility of Christ, in his life and death and resurrection, also testifies to one of God’s clearest and most memorable promises in all the Scriptures: he humbles the proud, and exalts the humble. So it was with Christ. He humbled himself, and “God has highly exalted him” (Philippians 2:9) — literally, “super-exalted” (Greek hyperypsōsen). And so too will our God, without exception, exalt those who are his in Christ. 

No matter how deep your valley, no matter how long it feels like you’ve been left to rot in your humbling, no matter how alone you’ve felt, he will raise you. In Christ, you will be super-exalted, in time. God’s favor for the humble will shine out. His rescuing grace will arrive. He will not leave his humbled unexalted. 

David Mathis (@davidcmathis) is executive editor for desiringGod.org and pastor at Cities Church in Minneapolis/St. Paul. He is a husband, father of four, and author of Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines

Daily Light – Oct 21, 2020

Friends:   the article of yesterday, and today, contain gold nuggets of eternal truth and light that are found in the deeper parts of the mine. 🙂  They require more time and work in excavation to find, see, and possess.  The goal is to come to truth that is useful in our growth process ‘so that’ we can use such truth to ‘go out’ and produce eternal fruit.  We will return to easier mining tomorrow 🙂. 

Worse Than We Think 

What Total Depravity Is (and Is Not) 

Article by Robert Letham, Professor, Wales Evangelical School of Theology 

The doctrine of total depravity is widely misunderstood. It is almost as important to know what it does not mean as what it affirms. Moreover, we will not grasp its full import unless we see it in a wider context. 

In the phrase total depravity, the word depravity refers to a corrupt nature inherent in humanity ever since the sin of Adam. The necessary presupposition on which the doctrine of inherited depravity rests is the solidarity of the human race. Without that presupposition, the doctrine does not make sense. 

We are not individuals in isolation. We are part of a collective whole, rather like slices of a gigantic pizza. In the Old Testament, people were seen in connection with their ancestors from the past and their tribal connections in the present; you were A the son of B the son of C of the tribe N. Hence, when Achan sinned, all Israel sinned (Joshua 7:1120). Likewise, the actions of the one man Adam directly affected the many (Romans 5:12–21). 

Not only did we all incur guilt in Adam’s sin, but his vitiated nature was and is communicated to all his descendants. As the Westminster Confession of Faith puts it, 

By this sin they [our first parents] fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and so became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the parts and faculties of soul and body. (6.2) 

They being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed; and the same death in sin, and corrupted nature, conveyed to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation. (6.3) 

The modifier total in total depravity denotes that sin affects every facet of our nature. It does not mean that sinners are as bad as they possibly can be or that any one person is as bad as he possibly can be. Nor does it mean that fallen humans lack a conscience or that the world since the fall is entirely miserable and incapable of making any progress or appreciating the beauty evident all around. It means that no part of the personality is uncorrupted: the mind, the emotions, and so on. In William Shedd’s words, total depravity means “the entire absence of holiness, not the highest intensity of sin” (Dogmatic Theology, 2:257). 

Real and Total Corruption 

In contrast, Thomas Aquinas, whose treatment of this topic had a defining effect on later Roman Catholic theology, held that original sin simply wounded human nature. He argued that it does not make us averse to virtue, although it weakens us in this pursuit and brings the penalty of death, all stemming from our inheriting Adam’s loss of original innocence. Sin stains us and makes us guilty, deserving punishment. It is like an illness, some sins being curable, others mortal (see Summa Theologiae, 1a2ae.85–87). Rome came to define corruption in purely negative terms, as the loss of the righteousness that was given by God as an addition to humanity’s naturally created condition. 

On the other hand, the Reformers stressed that the depravity we inherited from Adam was real, total corruption (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.1.8). The biblical basis for their position is clear in that sin is universal (Genesis 6:5Romans 1:18–3:20). It renders humans blind to the gospel (1 Corinthians 2:142 Corinthians 4:1–6) and enemies of God (Romans 8:7Ephesians 2:1–3), and is deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9). This sinful nature is the source of evil thoughts and actions (Matthew 15:16–20). 

Blindness and Inability 

In practice, total depravity means that there is no human faculty left untouched by sin, even in relative terms. The mind, as well as the emotions and appetites, is biased against God. We need renewal in the whole person. Moreover, the aesthetic sensibilities are also corrupted. The aversion of fallen people to all that reflects the evidence of the Creator in the world renders them incapable of appreciating his glory and beauty. The creation is viewed in itself rather than as the ravishing and resplendent gift of God. 

Because of this, there is an inevitable distortion in humanity’s reception of God’s creation, for it is not seen as in reality it is. The joy is absent that should arise from grasping the real identity of the creation as penultimate and seeing beyond it the beauty of God. Only the renewing work of the Holy Spirit can take the scales from our eyes and turn us around to appreciate the creation appropriately, for otherwise we idolize it for its own sake or denigrate it out of spiritual blindness and indifference. 

A direct corollary of total depravity is that fallen people cannot rescue themselves from their guilt and depravity. This is an ethical “cannot”; they cannot because they will not. “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:6–8), cannot receive the revelation of God (Matthew 16:171 Corinthians 2:14John 6:44–4564–65), cannot submit to the law of God (Romans 8:7), cannot respond of themselves to the grace of God in Christ, and cannot rescue themselves because they are covenantally dead (Ezekiel 37:1–6Ephesians 2:1–3). 

It is true that fallen people can do much good of a moral, social, and cultural nature. They can show love to family, perform acts of kindness, produce great works of art, and make major contributions to civic welfare. However, apart from regeneration by the Spirit, they cannot do these activities to the glory of God. Nor, as a consequence, can they share the exultant joy of the psalmists in the wonders of God’s works (Psalms 19, 145, 147, 148). It requires a radical change, altering the entire bias of the human will, in order to respond positively to the gospel, a change that can be brought about only by the Holy Spirit. 

Hearts Made Willing 

Augustine put his finger on the consequences that arise from the denial of original sin and its impact throughout the depraved mind. In Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, he lists a number of elements of the Pelagian heresy. Its denial of original sin led to their supposition that salvation is based on our own merits and so is not properly grace at all. Augustine opposed both Manicheism and Pelagianism in his saying human nature is healable, since according to the Pelagians it did not need to be healed, whereas according to the Manicheans it cannot be healed since they considered evil to be coeternal and immutable. 

For Pelagianism, faith and obedience are to be attributed to those who exercise them and so any failure is due to their not trying hard enough. J.I. Packer maintained that Pelagianism is the default position of zealous Christians who have little interest in doctrine (“‘Keswick’ and the Reformed Doctrine of Sanctification”). Leaving other matters aside, this heresy eradicated Christian joy, since it encouraged dependence on the constant uncertainties of our own efforts. 

The root of Pelagianism, flowing from its denial of original sin and the totality of depravity, was a focus on morality, with an assertion of the ability of fallen people to respond to the gospel unaided by divine grace. It rested on the assumption that a command of God entailed the ability of those commanded to fulfill it. Augustine argued in reply that humans respond, but we do so since God makes us willing, and changes our hearts, so that we believe freely. 

In short, the reality of total depravity leaves no possibility of salvation by our own efforts. It points to our dire condition from the fall and the sovereign work of God in rescuing us. Only the Holy Spirit can change us and transform us into the image of Christ, who is the image of the invisible God. This is a cause for unbounded thanksgiving to God and delight in his grace and goodness in Christ. 

Robert Letham is a lecturer in systematic and historical theology at Wales Evangelical School of Theology and author of Systematic Theology

Daily Light – Oct 20, 2020

Friends:  This piece is deep and requires some study and prayerful contemplation.  So many chunks of gold to be found herein.  The good stuff is rarely on the surface…you have to dive-in and dig-deep, sort- through.   To find the gold chunks…you have to ‘pan’ through the whole…’panning’, as in panning for gold…and the process of panning is prayer and contemplation.   So dive-in, dig, pan, and grow…and then ‘go’ out and be light to the world.  dh

Today’s Daily Light

He Died to Have Her 


Article by Marshall Segal, Staff writer, desiringGod.org 

What happened for you at the cross? 

Jesus died for my sins, many might rush to say (and rightly so). However easily those five simple and beautiful words come, though, they are often misunderstood and unexplored. Who was Jesus, and what had he planned to do? And if he is God the Son, the Word become flesh, what would it mean for him to die? And how do we understand sin, and what does it really cost? 

If we’re not careful, our gospel can easily become a shallow and superficial anthem to relieve guilty consciences and dismiss fears of hell. The cross is no longer really about reconciling us to God, but about calming God and skipping punishment. We end up clinging to a sentimental and superficial cross, not the cross of Christ. We need greater and greater clarity, through the eyes of Scripture, to know the real wonders of the cross. 

Perhaps the most controversial word of the five, though, is my. What does it mean that Christ died for me? When he was pinned to that wood in my place, his lungs collapsing and blood spilling, what did he achieve for me? 

What Did the Cross Achieve? 

What happened for you at the cross? Jesus did not just die so that you might be saved; he died to save you. Christ did not die so that you might have him, but so that he would, without a doubt, have you. When he died, your salvation was not only made possible, but made sure. That is the beauty and promise of definite atonement. If it feels peripheral or unimportant, like theological hairsplitting, we have not yet felt just how dead and hopeless we really were in our sin. 

Definite atonement (or limited atonement) says that Christ died for a definite people — a definite church, a definite flock, a definite and chosen bride. “Husbands, love your wives,” the apostle Paul says, “as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). Not for everyone, but for her. 

“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:14–15). For his own, for the sheep, for his friends (John 15:13). For all those whose names were “written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain” (Revelation 13:8). 

“I have been crucified with Christ,” the apostle Paul says. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). Not just for anyone, but for me — and everyone who lives by such faith. 

John Piper says, “You will never know how much God loves you if you continue to think of his love for you as only one instance of his love for all the world” (From Heaven He Came and Sought Her, 640). When Jesus received the nails, the thorns, the spear in his side, he was not saving everyone in the world, but securing those he had chosen from all over the world. He did not die wondering if you would believe; he died so that you would believe. 

The doctrine of limited atonement arose as part of a five-part response (now remembered by the acronym TULIP) to a theological revolt four hundred years ago. In the Remonstrance, followers of Jacob Arminius falsely taught, “Jesus Christ the Savior of the world died for all men and for every man.” They sought to make the atonement “unlimited,” applying to all and not only those chosen by God for salvation. Ironically, by doing so, they limited the atonement far more than they realized. By trying to preserve, feature, and widen the glory of the cross, they unwittingly restrained and diminished it. 

The Cross Purchases Hearts 

Perhaps no better place exists to discover the certainty of God securing salvation for his people than by going to the heart of the new covenant promises, literally. These precious promises show that the cross not only makes salvation possible, but actually creates in us what salvation requires of us. Through the cross, through “the blood of the covenant” (Hebrews 9:20), God sovereignly forms the faith in us by which he saves us. 

The prophet Jeremiah declares, 

Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares 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. (Jeremiah 31:31–33

What is different about this new covenant? God will not merely give his people the law to obey, but he will write his law on their hearts. He will put it within them. He continues in the next chapter, 

I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. (Jeremiah 32:39–40

God will not wait for them to fear him, but he will put the fear of himself in their hearts. Or, as the prophet Ezekiel says, “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezekiel 36:26–27). 

These are not pictures of a God waiting for us to let him in by faith, but pictures of a God who levels all the walls of our resistance to cause us to repent, believe, rejoice, and obey. And this spiritual heart surgery happens because of the blood of the new covenant (Matthew 26:28) — the death of Christ for his bride, his sheep, his church. Those who argue for unlimited atonement, far from extending the atonement, rob the atonement of its deepest, most vital purchase: the gift of faith for all who would believe. 

Savior of the World? 

But didn’t Jesus die for the whole world? “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Arminians base their argument for unlimited atonement on a handful of familiar verses in the Bible, verses we dare not set aside or minimize. No debate over Scripture should be settled by which proof texts are more true, but instead by what holds the utter truthfulness of every verse together. 

So, while John 3:16 may seem to contradict definite atonement, we must stop to ask what Jesus means by “the world” and what he means by “love.” Does world really mean every person everywhere at all times, or might he simply mean people from everywhere in the world (and not only Jews)? The same question applies to other similar texts: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people” (Titus 2:11). “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). 

Paul may provide the key for some texts like these when he calls Jesus “the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4:10). Jesus does love all in some real sense and offer himself as the only possible Savior. If it were not for the death of Christ, we all, without exception, would have been immediately buried in wrath. If it were not for the death of Christ, we could not genuinely offer the gospel to all people everywhere. Jesus is the Savior of all in some sense, but not in the same sense. There is an especially: “especially of those who believe.” He not only covers them in common grace, as he does with all people, but he also raises them with saving grace. As J.I. Packer says, “God loves all in some ways” and “God loves some in all ways” (From Heaven He Came, 564). 

Does God Love the World? 

God does love the whole world, though, and everyone in it. He desires, at one level, that all would be saved (Ezekiel 18:23Matthew 23:37), even if he decrees that only some ultimately are. The world in John 3:16 is the world without exception. In giving his own Son, God loved the world, the whole of sinful humanity. And because he crushed his Son, whoever believes in him, without exception, is covered by the blood of Christ. Through Christ and only because of Christ, God is offered to all. 

And yet, even in that very same chapter, we learn that we must be born again (John 3:7) and that the Spirit blows where he wishes (John 3:8). God loves all, and desires all to be saved, and yet he chooses some (Romans 9:18). He loves them more — in all ways. Jesus is the Savior of the world, especially of those who believe. 

Whatever texts like the ones above mean by world or all, they cannot mean Jesus truly dies for everyone in the world. Otherwise, no sin would ever be punished in hell. If Jesus died for those who reject him in the end, how then could they be sent to hell? What more is there to pay? While his death, as the sinless Son of God, surely could have hypothetically covered the sins of the whole world (and many more worlds beside), his death could not have literally covered all sins in this world, or all would be saved. 

And if he meant to cover the sins of all, did he then fail in his mission? Or, if he meant to cover the sins of all, did that set him against the Father, who elects some to salvation (Ephesians 1:3–4), and against the Spirit, who regenerates some to new life (John 3:3–8)? As Jonathan Gibson writes, “The works of the Trinity in the economy of salvation are indivisible. That is, the works of Father, Son, and Spirit are distinct but inseparable. Each person performs specific roles in the plan of salvation, but never in isolation from the others” (From Heaven He Came, 366). 

In the end, perhaps the most serious danger of unlimited atonement is that it appears to divide God, to put the Godhead at odds with himself, to separate what God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — has planned, executed, and achieved, from before the foundation of the world, together. 

Does This Harm Evangelism? 

But if Jesus only died for the elect, can we tell anyone and everyone we meet, “Jesus died for you”? In some ways, this is where the rubber of this debate meets the streets where we live. Many Arminians and Amyrauldians (those who affirm the other four points of Calvinism, but reject definite atonement) simply want to preserve the freedom to preach the gospel to all people. They want to preserve a “universal offer” of forgiveness and eternal life. Again, while trying to unleash the atonement, so-called unlimited atonement strangely limits it, because unlimited atonement shortens the saving arm of God — first for us, and then for all we love and want to come to Jesus. 

When we go to the lost, believing that Jesus not only bought the opportunity for them to believe, but bought the very faith of all who would believe, we can have far greater confidence in our sharing — and far less insecurity and anxiety about rejection. This person’s salvation does not ultimately hang on our persuasiveness, but on Christ’s purchase. Not on our argumentation, but on his propitiation. Not on their decision-making, but on his life-creating, soul-overturning, death-defeating, joy-producing love. 

The definite atoning work of Christ is a significant part of the glory of God’s grace. And to know this, by the working of God’s Spirit, inflames the cause of world missions and enables us to preach in such a way that our people experience deeper gratitude, greater assurance, sweeter fellowship with God, stronger affections in worship, more love for people, and greater courage and sacrifice in witness and service. (Piper, 637) 

If Christ died for all in the same way, we forfeit one of the most precious blessings he purchased — the faith by which we are saved — and we rob God of the full glory he deserves. Definite atonement, far from dulling love or blunting evangelism or blurring assurance, sets each ablaze with new confidence and zeal. The blood he spilled “is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28). For many, even you, if he has made you his own. 

Marshall Segal (@marshallsegal) is a writer and managing editor at desiringGod.org. He’s the author of Not Yet Married: The Pursuit of Joy in Singleness & Dating. He graduated from Bethlehem College & Seminary. He and his wife, Faye, have two children and live in Minneapolis. 

Daily Light – Oct 19, 2020

Some Learn and Never Grow 

A Lost Remedy for Spiritual Immaturity 

Article by Afshin Ziafat, Pastor, Frisco, Texas 

If you grew up going to church youth camps, you may remember that kid who would seem to have a spiritual breakthrough every summer, only to go back to his former way of living soon after. No matter what he did, he failed to make lasting progress. Maybe you were that kid. Maybe you feel like that kid today. 

The book of Hebrews addresses the danger of not living up to what we know is true. The author writes to a group of Christians struggling to continue pursuing Christ. They probably felt the pressure to return to their former Jewish faith, especially after facing persecution for not doing so. So, the author urges them (and us) to continue following Christ, to pay closer attention to what they have heard, lest they “drift away from it” (Hebrews 2:1), to not turn back to a life of mere pointers when they have seen the reality itself. 

As the author exhorts, warns, and woos, he stops mid-discussion to address something serious that hinders our continuing on in the faith. While reasoning with his readers not to return to the old covenant — because Jesus, of a new priestly order, is better than all the high priests of that covenant — he abruptly pauses to make an observation about his hearers: they suffer from spiritual arrested development. 

About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:11–14

They were grown-ups sipping bottles. Once they had enjoyed spiritual steak, but now they were regressing. Once they had learned “the basic principles of the oracles of God” — that the Old Testament Scriptures point to Christ, and are fulfilled in him — but now they needed someone to teach them again. Once they had heard and obeyed and acknowledged Jesus as Lord; now they had “become dull of hearing.” 

Lazy Listeners 

The author says that what he wants to teach them is hard to explain. Notice the reason he gives for this. It isn’t because the teaching is too technically deep and difficult to understand. It isn’t some esoteric mystery that only an enlightened few can comprehend. It isn’t because he considers himself a poor teacher. It isn’t because he considers them to be intellectually inferior. 

The diagnosis he gives is that they “have become dull of hearing.” Once their spiritual ears were in tune; now they are not. This is something that has happened to them over time. The word that is used for dull is the same word used for sluggish a chapter later (Hebrews 6:11–12). They have become lazy in their ability to hear truth. 

Biblically speaking, to hear is not just to listen but also to understand and obey. Earlier in Hebrews, the author speaks of the Israelites who heard God’s word but fell away and didn’t inherit the Promised Land. “Good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened” (Hebrews 4:2). They heard the very promises of God, in all their lavish mercy and grace, and yet they did not endure. They heard but did not continue in obedience. They heard God’s word, but fell away from their Lord. 

Moving On from Milk 

Lazy listening led to stunted development. He says that although by this time they should be teachers, they still need milk instead of solid food. They should be ready to graduate from college, but now they need to go back to elementary school. They should be enjoying steak, but instead they need spiritual milk, to learn again “the basic principles” of God’s word. 

It is important to note that the author isn’t downplaying the necessity of milk in extolling the virtues of solid food. A diet consisting merely of milk is not bad in itself. Diapers are not bad. Crawling on all fours everywhere you go is not bad. These things aren’t bad in themselves — not for an infant. What makes them bad is the phrase “by this time.” They aren’t babies anymore, and so behaving like one is a sign of concern. 

I remember when my youngest child was an infant. We would celebrate all the little things he would do, from crawling to his first mumbled words. But if my daughter, who is six years older, did the same things, we would not celebrate. We would be seriously worried. Similarly, the author of Hebrews is concerned that they seem to be returning to spiritual infancy. He defines this further in Hebrews 6:1–2

Let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 

Remember that the readers felt the pressure to return to their former Jewish faith, especially after facing persecution for not doing so. Now that Christ has come, Hebrews wants his readers to cling to the maturity of the new covenant, whatever persecution they face. They cannot go back to Judaism. They must leave it behind and go on to the maturity that is uncompromised life in Christ. 

It is very important to clarify what he means here by “leaving.” Leaving does not mean to throw away or dispense with and abandon. It is similar to the elementary student who has learned the alphabet: he doesn’t do away with the alphabet; the letters are essential to the communication of the most advanced learning. 

Whether in redemptive history, or in our own spiritual lives, progress to maturity is cumulative. The same is true of Christian doctrine. The first principles are foundational and are essential to every stage of development. The beginning foundation (the old covenant) is not the stopping point but rather the springboard to the new. So too the Christian life is not static. It progresses and grows and matures. Regression is reason for concern. 

How to Grow Up in God 

What about for us today? Most of us are not tempted to go back to Judaism apart from Christ, but many seem mired in stagnant or even regressed spiritual lives. 

Notice that Hebrews doesn’t suggest that they simply start eating solid food. It is dangerous to start feeding solid food to infants who cannot process that food. When my son was an infant, there was a period of time when he wasn’t keeping up with a healthy weight for his age. The problem was due to the fact that he wasn’t keeping milk down well. The solution wasn’t to start trying out steak, but to work toward his keeping the milk down. This is exactly how it works with our spiritual growth and maturity: we need to keep down what we already know. 

In the Western church, we too often make the mistake that spiritual maturity comes from obtaining more information. We sign up for Bible studies and theological classes to meet this need. While those classes may have much to offer, they don’t necessarily fix the problem of dull hearing. On their own, they don’t move you on to maturity. This is not merely an intellectual or educational issue. 

The author says the mature are “those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14). The issue isn’t a lack of knowledge but a lack of practice. Through obedience, we grow into maturity in order to be able to take in solid food. The pathway to Christian maturity isn’t just to become a more educated person, but a more obedient person. 

If God Permits 

Practice trains our powers of discernment to distinguish good from evil. Like an athlete who develops muscle memory, when we put God’s word into practice we train our muscles of faith to believe God and refuse sin. We train ourselves by tasting and seeing that God in fact is good when we follow his commands, and our powers of discernment continue to grow. This is what growing in Christian maturity looks like. 

But we do not achieve maturity by ourselves: “And this we will do if God permits” (Hebrews 6:3). This is a reminder to all of us that this work of maturity is one that is dependent and directed by God. At the end of the day, we can’t just pull ourselves up by the bootstraps to become mature. We turn to God in full dependence. 

Do you feel like you have a stunted or even arrested development when it comes to your spiritual growth? Do you long to go on to maturity in your faith? If your answer is yes, turn to God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and submit all your life to his word — to know it, love it, cherish it, and live it. 

Afshin Ziafat (@afshinziafat) is lead pastor of Providence Church in Frisco, Texas. His passion is to teach the word of God as the authority and guide for life, to preach Jesus Christ as the only Savior and Redeemer of mankind, and to proclaim the love of Christ as the greatest treasure and hope in life. He and his wife, Meredith, currently reside in Frisco with their three children.