Welcome to the DBG website for Christian blogs and articles written by Josh Buice.

Enjoy the following resources:

  • Christian Blogs
  • Christian Resources
  • Theology Articles
  • Preaching Resources
  • Audio and Video Sermons
  • Family Worship Recommendations

Providing Christian blogs, articles, and sermons on various topics from a biblical perspective.

  • Expository Preaching
  • The Exclusivity of Christ
  • Dangers of the Health, Wealth, and Prosperity Theology
  • Biblical Manhood and Womanhood
DBG Weekend Spotlight (8-26-16)

DBG Weekend Spotlight (8-26-16)

In this short excerpt, Derek Thomas explains Vanity Fair in The Pilgrim’s Progress.  This is extremely important as we consider our own journey through Vanity Fair.

The First Seminary – Nathan Busenitz says “there is a short passage in Acts that provides a biblical precedent for seminary education in a particularly insightful way.”

We Have Been Warned – This article is helpful in forecasting the complexities facing the church in our present culture.  The warning is not the first to be sounded, but it’s a good reminder of what’s at stake.

$5 Friday: Scripture, Angels, & Evangelism – As always, Ligonier has some good deals on Friday worthy of your time.

Mom sues Snapchat over sexual content – “When Evan Spiegel launched Snapchat in 2011, he advertised the messaging app with a racy photoshoot of two bikini-clad girls.”  Not much has changed – and now a mother is suing the company.

7 Blessings Of Studying Your Bible – These blessings are sure to help remind you of the importance of studying your Bible.

Help Me Teach the Bible: Rosaria Butterfield on Teaching with Openness, Unhindered – You will appreciate this interview with Rosaria Butterfield.

Cultivating a Culture of Discipling – This sermon by Mark Dever is a good one, and much needed in the local church.

Theology Word of the Week: Deism

The belief that understands God as distant, in that God created the universe but then left it to run its course on its own, following certain “laws of nature” that God had built into the universe. An analogy often used to illustrate the deist view is that of an artisan who creates a mechanical clock, winds it up and then leaves the clock alone to “run out.” Deism became popular in the early modern era and was prevalent among several of the founding fathers of the United States of America, including George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. [1]

  1. Sinclair B. Ferguson and J.I. Packer, New Dictionary of Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 37.

Perseverance in the Spiritual Disciplines

Perseverance in the Spiritual Disciplines

This summer, we have been reading Don Whitney’s book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life together. With certain goals for us as individuals, we all desire to grow in grace and personal holiness. The purpose of this study is to help us make necessary adjustments in our spiritual lives that will enable us to achieve such goals by incorporating the use of spiritual disciplines.  Today marks the end of this study and I trust it has been profitable to your soul.  If you would like to add to the discussion, as always, post your comments below.

The Role of the Holy Spirit

In this section, Don Whitney reminds us that the Holy Spirit makes us more like Jesus through the Disciplines. It’s not our effort in the Disciplines that produces the change.  Don Whitney quotes D. A. Carson in a needful warning regarding the pursuit of godliness.

D. A. Carson warns, “What is universally presupposed by the expression ‘spiritual discipline’ is that such disciplines are intended to increase our spirituality From a Christian perspective, however, it is simply not possible to increase one’s spirituality without possessing the Holy Spirit and submitting to his transforming instruction and power.”

The point is clearly made in this final chapter that no matter how dedicated a person is in practicing the Spiritual Disciplines, without the Holy Spirit the effort will be in vain.  However, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the child of God will have a desire for godly pursuits.  Don Whitney writes, “Wherever the Holy Spirit dwells, His holy presence creates a hunger for holiness” (290).

The Role of Fellowship

One of the most important statements in this book is found on page 293 as Don Whitney writes, “No one should read of these Disciplines and imagine that by practicing them in isolation from other believers he or she can be as Christlike—perhaps even more so—than Christians who are active members of a local body of Christ” (293).  He goes on to write, “One obvious reason we can’t take the Spiritual Disciplines and become spiritual recluses is that many biblical Disciplines—public worship, united prayer, participation in the lord’s Supper, serving other disciplines, and more—cannot be practiced without other Christians” (293).

No matter how dedicated a person is regarding the Spiritual Disciplines, they will never reach true godliness apart from the local church.  The point is, we need one another for fellowship and we need the corporate worship and service as a means of Spiritual Discipline in our lives.  What a critical mistake it is when people pursue godliness apart from the local church.  Consider Acts 2 and the fellowship of the early church.  Consider 1 John 1:3-4 and the mention of fellowship.  Consider Hebrews 10:25 and the necessity of assembling with the church.  Consider the model put forth in Titus 2 for the older people to train the younger people within the church.  You can’t pursue spiritual maturity while remaining disconnected from the local church.  It’s an impossible and fruitless pursuit.

The Role of Struggle

Don Whitney reminds his readers, and appropriately so, that the Christian life is not an easy life. He seeks to encourage us all by warning us of the struggle that accompanies the Christian life.  Paul makes this point clear as he writes in 1 Timothy.

1 Timothy 4:7-8 – Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; [8] for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.

1 Timothy 4:10 – For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.

When we hear sermons and read books where people suggest that the Christian life is easy if you follow a certain rules or steps along the way – they’ve missed true Christianity.  Read the New Testament. Look at the struggle. Look at the hardships. Look at the challenges. Look at the tears. Look at the death. Look at the persecution. Look at the discouragement. Look at the pain.  Christianity – real Christianity – is not an easy journey. We must discipline ourselves for the race of life.

Chapter 17 of the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith is on Perseverance. In paragraph three, the statement reads:

In various ways-the temptations of Satan and of the world, the striving of indwelling sin to get the upper hand, the neglect of the means appointed for their preservation-saints may fall into fearful sins, and may even continue in them for a time.  In this way they incur God’s displeasure, grieve His Holy Spirit, do injury to their graces, diminish their comforts, experience hardness of heart and accusations of conscience, hurt and scandalize others, and bring God’s chastisements on themselves.  Yet being saints their repentance will be renewed, and through faith they will be preserved in Christ Jesus to the end.

Catch up in this series:

Opening Article
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12

Questions to Consider:

  1. Would you be godly? Then practice the Spiritual Disciplines in light of eternity.
  2. Would you be godly? There’s no other way by through the Spiritual Disciplines.

This is the final post in this study of Don Whitney’s book.  I trust that you have found it profitable to your soul and challenging at the same time.  If you’re interested in purchasing the book, you can do so through the following:

Where to Buy the Book

Spiritual-DisciplinesIt’s quite possible to find the book in your local bookstore, but you can likewise find it online.

I look forward to reading this book with you this summer.  All that’s required of you is to purchase the book and read chapter 1 before June 2nd when the first article will appear here on the blog.

Ephesians 4:11-14 – And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.

Discussion: Post your comments, thoughts, and questions in the comments section. I will engage with you at times, but the purpose is to allow everyone to have a conversation regarding what we are learning and considering through this book. I do hope you will be encouraged.

DBG Spotlight (8-24-16)

DBG Spotlight (8-24-16)

Recently, Albert Mohler preached in the opening Convocation in chapel at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. This is nothing new, since he serves as the president of the school. However, it was a really good sermon worthy of your time.


In Praise of Low-Budget, Non-Professional Music Ministries [HT: Challies] – Mark Dever explains why he supports the non-professional and more low key music ministry of his church.  Having worshipped in his church on the Lord’s day, I can validate that it was nothing special, but it was really good to hear the entire congregation singing.

Prayer and Pastoral Ministry – “So, how consistently do you pray for your people? The apostles devoted themselves both to the Word and to prayer (Acts 6:4).”

Church, State, and the Authority of Jesus – Jonathan Leeman’s book, Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus is a worthy read and this post is taken directly from his book.

The flawed theory of “social” missions – A wrong view of missions will be catastrophic for a local church and will not deliver the good news of Jesus Christ.

Should We Help Believers Escape Persecution? – This was a good look at an important cultural and theological issue we’re facing today.

How to Hit the Ground Running in Logos 7 – In case you haven’t heard, Logos 7 is now out and here’s some helpful tips on how to harness the powerful software.

Apple rolls out macOS Sierra developer beta 7 & public beta 6 – ” Apple has just dropped the 7th developer beta for macOS Sierra, along with the macOS Sierra Public Beta 6, for other early adopters of the new version of the Mac operating system first shown off at this year’s WWDC 2016.”

The Injustice of Flattery

The Injustice of Flattery

An injustice occurs daily on social media, in the break room at the office, within church congregations, and among gathered friends called flattery.  The public exaggerated or elevated statement of someone’s character, abilities, giftedness, or performance that is beyond the truth.  Gossip and flattery are cousins, but they’re not the same.  Gossip is saying something about someone behind their back that would never be said to their face.  Flattery is something said about someone in public that would never be said about someone in private.  While this type of thing has become extremely popular in our public lives on social media, it’s a true injustice to the person that’s being praised.

Flattery Is Cheating

If you’re trying to gain ground in the business world or in friendship circles, flattery is a broken road.  It’s like using personal growth hormones to grow muscles.  You may indeed bulk up, but it’s not natural.  In the end, you may also discover that those shortcuts could do damage to organs and in attempt to get bigger, you may shorten your life in the process.  The same dangers occur in the flattery game.  Using exaggerated compliments of people who don’t deserve it in order to seek advancement is not only an dishonest method, it’s dangerous.

What happens if you’re caught?  What happens if your methods are discovered?  What will your business career look like at that point?  What will that do to your friends?  What will that do within your church community?  Flattery may seem like a good way to get ahead, but in the end – it’s just another broken road to avoid in this short life.  Honesty is always better!  Christians never want to be aligned with false teachers and methods of the unconverted as mentioned in Romans 16:18 – “For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.”

Guard your words, your likes on Facebook, your retweets on Twitter, and your motives.  Using flattery to gain friends, to gain promotions, or to politically maneuver within the church is sinful.

Flattery Harms People

It’s one thing to give a well deserved compliment, but it’s something different to be guilty of a flattering tongue.  A compliment helps, but flattery harms.  John Flavel once stated, “It is a dangerous crisis when a proud heart meets with flattering lips.”  How many times have you witnessed people use flattery on social media as they give excessive praise to a person’s character on their birthday, Father’s Day, or even worse – at a funeral service?

For those on social media who read one thing but see something quite different, it sends a very confusing message.  For those receiving such exaggerated praise, they don’t deserve it, and what they need more than anything is someone to be honest with them.  We live in a day where honesty is a rarity and where plastic lives are the new normal.  In short, flattery is a positive lie about someone who needs the truth.

I’m not suggesting that we should look for ways to call out people’s shortcomings on social media for the world to see.  I would actually suggest the exact opposite.  What I’m suggesting is that we refrain from showering people with undue applause when we can give them a dose of honest love and kindness in public and when necessary – the truth in private.  Don’t feed a dark heart flattering words.  It will not help them practically or spiritually.

We should all work diligently – especially within the church – to avoid being a backslapping flatterer.


Jesus Saves Terrorists

Jesus Saves Terrorists

Yesterday I had the privilege to preach in the South Orlando Baptist Church after a week of vacation with my family.  The text for the missions emphasis Sunday was Acts 9:1-19, the conversion of Saul of Tarsus.  As we consider how we often give up on praying for certain people and overlook others because they are too far gone and beyond the reach of the gospel, it was good to be reminded once again that God saves really bad people.

As Saul was on his way to Damascus to put a stop to the people of the Way (later to be called Christians), something really dramatic happened.  Saul was blinded by the radiance and brilliant light of God’s glory.  Jesus appeared to him causing him to be brought low to the ground in submission.  Saul was blinded by Christ.  When Jesus called out to Saul accusing him of persecuting Him, Saul realized for the very first time that he was wrong.  He realized that Stephen was correct.  Jesus is very God of very God – the God man – and He is alive.

What a humbling place to find oneself.  Yet, that Damascus road humbling experience is exactly what Saul needed.  He needed to know that although he was a licensed terrorist with papers in hand from the Sanhedrin to persecute Christians, he was in error.  All of Saul’s intellect, pride, and self-righteousness came to a sudden stop on the Damascus road when he was confronted by the risen Savior Jesus Christ.

Not long after this event, Saul met Ananias on a street called Straight and after he prayed over Saul, he regained his sight and received the Holy Spirit.  Saul followed the Lord in baptism and immediately was thrust into gospel ministry.  His life was completely changed.  Once a persecutor and now a preacher.  Once a murderer and now a missionary.  Once a terrorist, and now one of the greatest teachers of the Christian church.

Each time I read this text, I’m reminded that if God would save Saul of Tarsus, there is nobody beyond the reach of the God’s sovereign grace.  What a wonderful reminder.  One that I need to receive often.

DBG Weekend Spotlight (8-19-16)

DBG Weekend Spotlight (8-19-16)

The fear of God is lacking in our nation today and the wrath of God is treated as if it’s a myth.  This sermon by John MacArthur is worthy of your time.

All 42 Episodes of My Romans Bible Study (in HD) Are Now Available On Youtube – You will find all of Michael Kruger’s lessons through Romans helpful.

How to Identify Idioms in the ESV and NASB – If you use Logos Bible Software, you need to checkout their helpful articles and tips regarding how to efficiently use their powerful software.

You Need Your Church –  I found this statement helpful in this article, “I can’t live this faith on my own. It’s too hard. I’m too bad. I’m too easily flustered, angered, annoyed, weak, and wearied. I am too likely to lose all sense of what’s important. God, in His goodness, knew that we would need each other.”

Gossip Says More About Me – “Gossip is tasty to its speakers and hearers.”

2017 G3 Conference – If you’re planning to attend the historic Reformation 500 G3 Conference in January, it would be good to reserve your seat this weekend.  Sunday is the final day to register at the current rates before prices increase on August 22nd.

Theology Word of the Week: Foreknowledge

Foreknowledge. A biblical term (from Greek prognōsis) that literally means “to know in advance.” Some theologians view foreknowledge as referring to God’s selective choice of individuals or groups of people with whom to enter into a loving relationship. Foreknowledge understood in this sense is more than simply knowing events in advance of their happening (although this may be included) because the Scriptures seem to use the term in a more relational than chronological sense. Thus the foreknowledge of God involves God’s favorable disposition to certain people, even before they existed. [1]

  1. Sinclair B. Ferguson and J.I. Packer, New Dictionary of Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 58.

Learning. . . For the Purpose of Godliness

Learning. . . For the Purpose of Godliness

This summer, we are reading Don Whitney’s book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life together. With certain goals for us as individuals, we all desire to grow in grace and personal holiness. The purpose of this study is to help us make necessary adjustments in our spiritual lives that will enable us to achieve such goals by incorporating the use of spiritual disciplines.

In the previous chapters, Don Whitney has outlined the specifics of Bible reading, meditation, prayer, worship, evangelism, serving, stewardship, fasting and other spiritual disciplines of the Christian life. What exactly is taking place when we read the Bible, meditate on Scripture, and pray? Essentially, these disciplines should lead us to godliness and a life that reflects the glory of God.  In this chapter today, we look at the subject of learning.  Much of our worship and service to the Lord is done with our mind.

Learning Characterizes the Wise Person

Don Whitney does an excellent job of pointing to the wisdom literature and reminding us that wisdom is something we must learn.

  • Proverbs 9:9 – Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.
  • Proverbs 10:14 – The wise lay up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool brings ruin near.

Don Whitney writes, “Learning is a lifelong Discipline, a Spiritual Discipline that characterizes the wise person” (274).  Just as it is with anything else in this life, we must put effort into learning wisdom.

Fulfilling the Greatest Commandment

Don Whitney writes, “There is an intellectualism that is wrong, but it is also wrong to be anti-intellectual” (275).  To love the Lord our God with all of our mind is essential to the Christian faith.  To neglect Him with our mind and pursue everything else under the sun would be an unwise pursuit.  Don Whitney quotes R. C. Sproul as stating:

God has made us with a harmony of heart and head, of thought and action. . . . The more we know Him the more we are able to love Him.  The more we love Him the more we seek to know Him.  To be central in our hearts He must be foremost in our minds.  Religious thought is the prerequisite to religious affection and obedient action. [1]

Learning—Essential for Increased Godliness

Don Whitney quotes Martyn Lloyd-Jones as saying, “Let us never forget that the message of the Bible is addressed primarily to the mind, to the understanding” (quoted on 277).  If we are to increase in godliness, we must increase in learning.  We must grow in our knowledge of God, and in order to do that, we must learn some things about God.  To neglect learning God is to neglect the knowledge of God and it will result in a stale Christian life that’s joyless.

Learning is Mostly by Discipline, Not By Accident

Don Whitney writes, “As every dust ball gets bigger the longer it rolls around under the bed, so every mind picks up at least a little knowledge the longer it rolls around on the earth. But we must not assume that we have learned true wisdom just by growing older” (278).  Just as every marathon runner reaches the finish line by the consistent discipline of training and preparation, so it is with the Christian.  We can’t expect to grow in grace if we are not growing in the knowledge of God.  Learning requires discipline – not laziness.

Learning in a Variety of Ways

Don Whitney provides some helpful considerations regarding the different learning methods. Some people read well and others don’t. It helps to know how to learn and each person will be different.  Although some people may learn best through audio and lecture formats, everyone must read.  In fact, we must consider the reality that our God did not send us an .mp3 of the His Word.  He has communicated it to us in written format.  Don Whitney writes, “I’ve always found it true that growing Christians are reading Christians” (281).

Catch up in this series:

Opening Article
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11

Questions to Consider:

1. Will you discipline yourself to become an intentional learner?
2. Where will you start?
3. When will you start?

Next Week: Next week, we will turn to chapter 13 and look at the subject of perseverance in the disciplines for the glory of God. Read ahead and think through the content of that chapter, and we will gather here next week to discuss what we’re learning.

Discussion: Post your comments, thoughts, and questions in the comments section. I will engage with you at times, but the purpose is to allow everyone to have a conversation regarding what we are learning and considering through this book. I do hope you will be encouraged.

  1. R. C. Sproul, “Burning Hearts Are Not Nourished by Empty Heads,” Christianity Today, September 3, 1982, 100.

DBG Spotlight (8-17-16)

DBG Spotlight (8-17-16)

In the 2015 G3 Conference, James White addressed the topic Unashamed of Inerrancy: Jesus’ Plain, Unquestionable Teaching on the Authority of Scripture.  In a world where there’s a crises of confidence upon the Word of God, this sermon points to the inerrancy and authority of God’s Word.

Helpful Hints for Guest Preachers –  If you’re a guest preacher at times, you will find these hints helpful from H.B. Charles Jr.

Preach the Word – Steven Lawson writes, “Every season of reformation and every hour of spiritual awakening has been ushered in by a recovery of biblical preaching.”

Southern Baptists and the Quest for Theological Identity –  Albert Mohler has some very important words for Southern Baptists.

Twelve Steps to Regain Meaningful Membership – Mark Dever is known for addressing issues related to building healthy churches, and you will find this article helpful as well.

The difficulty of figuring out Martin Luther – Luther is respected, and for good reason, but we must also remember that he was certainly not a perfect man—nor was his theology.

Keeping an Eternal Perspective When You Need to Move – When planning a move, these words from Randy Alcorn are helpful considerations.

Was Paul Seeker Sensitive?

Was Paul Seeker Sensitive?

Guest Article:  Lita Cosner.  Lita is a specialist in New Testament studies and obtained a B.A. (summa cum laude) in Biblical Studies from Oklahoma Wesleyan University in 2008. She received an M.A. (cum laude) in New Testament from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in 2012. Her thesis is titled Jesus the Honorable Broker: A Social-Scientific Exegesis of Matthew 15:21–28.  She joined CMI as Information Officer in 2010, and is a prolific contributor to the website, Creation magazine, and the  Journal of Creation. You can find more information and articles by Lita at Creation.com.

In modern times, many people try to present the Gospel in ways that will make it seem more attractive to their ‘target audience’. Whether it is the ‘seeker-sensitive’ movement in churches, contextualization in Muslim-dominated countries, or reinterpreting the Bible’s teachings on marriage or creation, people often seem to want to make the Gospel as inoffensive as possible.

Paul’s address to the Areopagus is often cited as a model of ‘contextualization’ of the Gospel—presenting it in a way that is especially crafted to the sensibilities of his audience. In a way, this is correct—Paul did consider the sensibilities of his audience. But his specially crafted message challenged their core beliefs, and aimed to correct the critical errors in their thinking. In the process, he succeeded in offending and alienating most of his audience. This is quite a different approach from that of many people today!

The account of Paul’s time in Athens begins with a statement that “his spirit was provoked him as he saw that the city was full of idols” (Acts 17:16). In Paul’s day, the beautiful statues that many people now admire in museums were actually worshipped in temples as gods and goddesses.

Paul’s response was to go to the local synagogue to teach the Jews and Gentile God-fearers about Jesus the Messiah, as was his normal practice. But he also conversed in the open marketplace, where Greeks would traditionally gather for philosophical conversations and debate. Paul’s letters would show that he was skilled in the sort of structured arguments and rhetorical styles that would be expected in such a place.

But if the structure of Paul’s arguments was familiar to the Athenians, the content certainly wasn’t. Acts says that he was preaching “Jesus and the resurrection” (17:18). The Athenians called him a “preacher of foreign divinities”.

They took him from the informal setting of the marketplace to the formal setting of the Aeropagus—the appropriate place for serious debate where they could judge Paul’s claims. The reason everyone was gathered to hear Paul, Luke tells us, is because “all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new” (17:21). This regional generalization, like “all Cretans are liars” (Titus 1:12), reflects the broader cultural opinion about them. Thucydides said of the Athenians:

No men are better dupes, sooner deceived by novel notions, or slower to follow approved advice. You despise what is familiar, while you are worshippers of every new extravagance. … In a word, you are at the mercy of your own ears, and sit like spectators attending a performance of sophists, but very unlike counselors of a state. [1]

And commentator F.F. Bruce notes: “The Athenians themselves admitted that their passion for anything new could be carried to excess”. [2]

That Paul was addressing Epicureans and Stoics is important for understanding why Paul phrased his arguments the way he did. They represented two rival philosophies in Athens in that day. Epicureans were materialists who did not believe in any sort of afterlife. Rather, their highest ideal was found in the combination of tranquility and the absence of pain. They believed that the gods themselves were beings who lived in the empty spaces between the planets, and that their existence was characterized by the Epicurean ideals.

The Stoics, on the other hand, taught self control and determinism—one could not change one’s fate, so the best one could do is refuse to be emotionally influenced by things one has no control over. They believed in a sort of pantheism, and would have denied any meaningful distinction between God and the universe.

Paul was clearly aware of these philosophies, or he would not have been able to formulate such a direct attack on them in his address. It is important to remember that Acts gives us Luke’s summary of Paul’s speech—his actual address to the Areopagus would have been much longer. But Luke gives us the highlights and general structure, and the turns of phrase may be genuinely from Paul.

The unknown god

Paul’s first phrase is generally translated, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious”. But the word translated ‘religious’, δεισιδαίμων (deisidaimōn), could just as easily have a connotation of ‘superstitious’. And as we will see, this translation fits the overall tenor of his address. “By the end of the speech, the Athenians themselves would have little doubt about Paul’s real opinion of their religiosity.” [3]

Exhibit A of the Athenians’ superstition was their idol worship. The Athenians had gods for every area of life imaginable, but they were completely ignorant of the true God, who could not be represented by an idol and who did not need their temples and sacrifices.

There are several possible explanations for what the altar ‘to the unknown god’ might have been. Some scholars dispute the existence of such an altar, but F.F. Bruce presents a scenario in which it would be likely for such an altar to exist: “When a derelict altar was repaired and the original dedication could not be ascertained, the inscription, “To the (an) unknown god” would have been quite appropriate.” [4] Another is that the Athenians were covering all their bases with a generic altar to cover any gods they might otherwise inadvertently neglect. Some claim that Paul is saying that they are worshipping the true God in ignorance through this altar, but nothing could be further from the truth. Paul is driving home the point that they are superstitious and ignorant of the true God.

Paul makes his speech even more offensive when he says, “Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you”. He is speaking to the religious, cultural, and intellectual elite, and claiming to know better than they do! This would be particularly galling to the Stoics, who considered it their duty to examine nature because they believed all nature had a ‘divine spark’ in it. Ignorance was something like a ‘cardinal sin’ for them, and that is precisely what Paul is accusing them of. [5]

Paul establishes that both the Epicureans and the Stoics are wrong. God is neither the universe nor part of the universe; rather, “God … made the world and everything in it” (Acts 17:24). This would have been hard for the Greeks to grasp. As Polhill explains:

Paul began with the basic premise that runs throughout his speech: God is Creator. He referred to God as the maker of the “world” (kosmos), a term that would be familiar to every Greek. The concept of God as absolute Creator, however, would not be so easy for them to grasp. For them divinity was to be found in the heavens, in nature, in humanity. The idea of a single supreme being who stood over the world, who created all that exists, was totally foreign to them. [6]

Furthermore, the Epicureans were also wrong about God’s non-intervention in the world. In fact, our existence is dependent on God’s continual provision. Paul’s God is not a deistic god who simply created the universe and left it to its own devices: “God is a personal God who not only creates but also sustains everything he has made. This self-sufficient God daily cares for man and for his great creation in the minutest details. God is the source of life, for he gives breath to all living creatures.” [7]  Paul establishes the immanence and transcendence of the Creator God in a sweeping statement that contradicts as much of the Greeks’ beliefs as possible.

Man and his relationship to God

Having countered their core errors about God, he moves on to their errors about man. Historically, the Athenians belonged to the earliest migration into Greece, and they were also the only Greeks on the mainland who had no tradition of their ancestors’ migration. They prided themselves “on being autochthonous—sprung from the soil of their native Attica”. [8] Paul counters this unfounded exceptionalism with the biblical message that all humanity is descended from one man, Adam. It is speculative, but Paul may have filled out this part of the discourse with details about how God created mankind and how the nations spread out from Babel. It was important for Paul’s argument for the Athenians to know where they came from.

This also has implications for how he wants the Athenians to understand God. “The God whom Paul proclaimed was no local Jewish cult God, He was the one sovereign Lord of all humankind.” [9]

Paul goes on to explain God’s reasons for providing for humanity: “that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us …” (Acts 17:27). The reason God ordered everything as He did was to enable one to seek God. The Stoics would have agreed with this in principle, but their philosophy said that God could be understood through observation of nature. But we know from Romans 1 that Paul believed that all such general revelation was only sufficient to condemn people, not to save them. And the grammar here expresses strong doubt that this actually happens. As Polhill notes: “There is no question about God’s providence; there is about humanity’s ability to make the proper response.” [10]

Witness from Greek poets

Luke told us that the Athenians loved discussing new ideas, but Paul now quotes some very old ideas to support his argument. First, he quotes Epimenides who lived in the 7th–6th century BC, long before either the Epicurean or Stoic philosophy was created: “In him we live and move and have our being”. Epimenides was allegedly referring to the Cretans’ claim that Zeus, the king of the Greek pantheon, was mortal. He countered that Zeus was immortal and even the source of their own life. The only record we have of the context of this quote is from the 9th century commentary on Acts by Isho’dad of Merv:

They fashioned a tomb for you, high and holy one,
Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies. [11]
But you are not dead; you live and abide forever,
For in you we live and move and have our being. [12]

The second quotation is from a Stoic poet named Aratus, who was also referring to Zeus. However, in Stoicism, Zeus is not a personal god, rather, Zeus is the supreme ordering principle of the universe:

Let us begin with Zeus. Never, O men, let us leave him unmentioned. All the ways are full of Zeus, and all the market-places of human beings. The sea is full of him, and so are the harbors. In every way we have all to do with Zeus—for we are truly his offspring. [13]

Paul is not equating Zeus with the true God by quoting these poets. Neither is he saying that one can gain a true understanding of God from the pagan philosophers. He is, however, appropriating their ideas to make his own point.

If we are God’s children, God must be greater than us, not something we can mold with stone or metal. This polemic against idols is very much like what is found in Isaiah when he protests the utter senselessness of worshipping molded things as if they were gods.

A command to repent

Everything Paul has said to this point has been a foundation that was necessary to establish Paul’s position. He had to cut through the Greeks’ false ideas about God and man to get to the point where the Gospel would make sense to them. And he did not pull any punches, but got straight to the point. He said that God formerly overlooked the ‘times of ignorance’—keeping in mind how offensive it would be for Paul to call his audience ignorant. This is similar to Paul’s statement in Lystra that God formerly “allowed all the nations to go their own way” (Acts 14:16). Bruce claims, “It is implied in these places that the coming of Christ marks a fresh start in God’s dealings with the human race.” [14]

Paul just argued that God was the Creator and Father of all people. Now he warns that God is also the judge of all people. And He will judge the world through a man—Jesus—whose chosen status was confirmed via the Resurrection. At the end of the discourse, he finally gets back to the key topics that so intrigued the Athenians to begin with—Jesus and the Resurrection.

A message most rejected

There were a variety of reactions to Paul’s message. To most Greeks, the ‘ideal state’ was thought to be a disembodied spiritual existence. They perceived the idea of physical resurrection as impossible, ridiculous, and grotesque. Yet it is a central doctrine, which is why Paul took such a long time to explain and defend it in 1 Corinthians 15. However, this doctrine caused most of his audience to immediately dismiss his claims.

Others said that they would like to hear Paul speak again. Some people would interpret this as positive interest, but we have to remember Luke’s mockery of the Athenians as people who simply wanted to hear new ideas. Christianity is not some lofty philosophy that one can just listen to over and over again—it demands a response.
Only a few people responded in genuine faith. If Paul was contextualizing, he did not do a very good job, because only a few people were interested in hearing more after his first address! Rather, the lesson to learn from Paul’s addresses at Lystra and Athens is that evangelism must start with a correct understanding of the God to whom we must be reconciled.

The reason Paul’s message was so offensive was because it was far removed from and completely opposed to key Greek beliefs about reality. Paul’s offensiveness was necessary and came from undermining the false foundational beliefs the Athenians had about the nature of both God and themselves.

It is easy to see a parallel between Paul’s message and creation evangelism today. It’s often difficult to evangelize people today without telling them some very controversial, even offensive, things about God’s actions in history and their own need to repent from false beliefs, and even false worship. When we share the Gospel, we should expect to be ridiculed by the mainstream culture, because what we are saying runs deeply counter to many things that the culture holds dear.

Therefore, rather than trying to ‘contextualize’ a watered-down message in order to avoid persecution or ridicule, as many do today, one needs to determine what false beliefs people have, and to try to overcome them “with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).

  1. Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War 2.38.5, tr. Jowett, B., Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1881.
  2. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, p. 332.
  3. Polhill, J.B., Acts, NAC (Broadman & Holman: Nashville, TN, 2001), p. 371.
  4. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, pp. 335–336.
  5. Ibid., 336.
  6. Polhill, Acts, p. 372.
  7. Kistemaker, S.J. and Hendriksen, W., Exposition of the Acts of the Apostles, BNTC (Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1990), p. 634.
  8. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, p. 337.
  9. Polhill, Acts, p. 374.
  10. Ibid., 375.
  11. Paul cited this in Titus 1:12.
  12. Cited in Bruce, The Book of the Acts, p. 339.
  13. Aratus, cited in Bruce, The Book of the Acts, p. 339.
  14. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, p. 340.

The Cross of Christ

The Cross of Christ

Yesterday, I preached from Mark 15:16-41 on the cross of Christ.  While Caiaphas and Pilate had political motives in the death of Jesus, the overarching plan of redemption was governing the death of Christ on that dark Friday afternoon.  The Trinity was involved in the death of Christ, and we can rest assured that God accomplished everything necessary to save sinners as the Christ was crushed on a Roman cross.

The Mocking of the Messiah

Jesus had been turned over to the Romans for the legal execution since the Jews didn’t have the authority to do it themselves. They had the religious right under the Law, but not the civil right since they were occupied by Rome. The Jewish leaders told the Roman authorities that Jesus had claimed to be the King of the Jews. In other words, Jesus was claiming to be the long promised and awaited Messiah.

The Roman soldiers (an entire battalion) gathered together to mock the Jewish Messiah!  In their mocking of the Messiah of Israel, they clothed Him in a purple cloak and pressed a crown of thorns on His brow.

The Crucifixion of the Christ

When we read, “they crucified him” we must have the picture of a wooden cross and Jesus willfully laying Himself down on this torture device to die as the Lamb of God.  Crucifixion was invented by the Persians and practiced by the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Egyptians, and Romans.  The Romans perfected the art of crucifixion. They had crucified over 30k by the day that Jesus was hung on the cross.  The Romans referred to the cross as “the infamous stake.”

The place of the crucifixion was Golgotha, a place reserved for criminals to be executed.  On that hill, the Son of God was crucified.  Consider the immense physical pain of the crucifixion.  With each movement of the body, the pain of death was bearing down upon the body.  From the nails piercing the hands and feet to the slaughtered back rubbing up and down upon the wooden cross—the pain Jesus suffered was unthinkable.  Isaac Watts wrote:

Alas, and did my Saviour bleed?
And did my Sov’reign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?

The Death of the Deliverer

As Jesus was dying on the cross, darkness covered the sky.  Charles Spurgeon said, “It was midnight at midday!”  At the very moment of His death, Jesus cried out:  Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani? This is an Aramaic phrase meaning, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  The Father was crushing the Son (see Isaiah 53).

As Jesus died, the temple veil was torn in two from top to bottom.  This signified the fact that Jesus was the true Mediator between God and men. It likewise pointed out that Jews and Gentiles could approach the throne of grace through Jesus Christ.  After Jesus died, the centurion said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”  When faced with the death of Jesus, He was convinced.  He was brought from a state of unbelief to a state of faith in the Son of God.

Years ago, a renowned scholar named E.V. Rieu completed a translation of Homer into modern English for the Penguin Classics series. At the time of his work, he was 60 years of age. Soon thereafter, Penguin undertook a new translation of the Bible, but soon they had to abort their work due to some overlap with another translation that was taking place at the time. However, Penguin decided to enter into a project of the translation of the Gospels. They asked E.V. Rieu, an agnostic scholar, if he would take on the project. He agreed. E.V. Rieu’s son made a statement at the beginning of the project.  He said, “It will be interesting to see what Father will make of the four Gospels. It will be even more interesting to see what the four Gospels make of Father.”

Through his work of translating the four Gospels into English from the original Greek text, E.V. Rieu, this brilliant agnostic scholar, came to a point where he submitted to Jesus Christ as his Lord. The Christ he had long rejected and denied was clearly the risen Lord of glory – the Savior of sinners.

The gospel changed E.V. Rieu’s life.  What about you?

Social Connections

Featured: Dr. Steven Lawson, from the 2014 G3 Conference