In this sermon, H.B. Charles Jr. encouraged his church to grow up to spiritual maturity. This is a good sermon worthy of your attention. According to H.B. Charles Jr., “The Christian life is a marathon, not a sprint.”
This past week, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention held their national conference in Nashville, Tennessee. One evening during the conference, Russell Moore, the president of the ERLC (my former professor at SBTS), sat down with Andy Stanley for a conversation about church, culture, and leadership. Andy Stanley serves as the pastor of Atlanta’s North Point Community Church. Within that conversation, Russell Moore asked the following question:
If you were, for real, the evangelical pope and you really had the authority to say ‘”this is how it’s gonna be within American evangelical Christianity,” what would you do?
Stanley responded by saying, “I would ask preachers and pastors and student pastors in their communications to get the spotlight off the Bible and back on the resurrection.” That statement may not seem earth shaking to many, but it deserves attention. In fact, it demands attention. As I begin, I should be clear that I’m not intending this article to be a personal attack upon Andy Stanley, but his public remarks deserve a public response.
Is It Possible to Arrive at the Empty Tomb Without a Bible?
In the conversation, Moore and Stanley did not agree on everything. In fact, they didn’t agree on many important things. When explaining his approach, Stanley said:
To have a discussion around the Resurrection is a much easier discussion than trying to defend the whole Bible. That’s my point. It’s not a lack of confidence in the Scripture, it’s an approach, again, based on culture and some cultural assumptions.
It became apparent that Andy Stanley, although serving as a pastor, spends much of his time formulating his message to unbelievers. What about the church? How must those who are already saved be discipled each week during the preaching and teaching of the Bible?
In a day where theological liberalism is celebrated, there must be a way to give an answer for the faith. If we must provide an answer for our faith to skeptics, what direction should we move if the Bible is insufficient? Is it possible to prove the resurrection of Christ without going to the Bible? Is there a video on YouTube that’s sufficient? Is there an mp3 of Paul thundering away in a sermon about the resurrected Jesus who changed him on the Damascus road? The fact is, no other valid evidence exists apart from the testimony of Scripture. In fact, Andy Stanley and all other Jesus followers had to come to the knowledge of the resurrection of Christ through the pages of the Bible.
We Must Spotlight the Bible
Just before Christmas in 2014, an article by Kurt Eichenwald was published in Newsweek magazine that stated the following:
No television preacher has ever read the Bible. Neither has any evangelical politician. Neither has the pope. Neither have I. And neither have you. At best, we’ve all read a bad translation—a translation of translations of translations of hand-copied copies of copies of copies of copies, and on and on, hundreds of times. 
No person can be saved by placing their faith in the Bible. However, it must be emphasized that no person will ever experience genuine faith in Jesus Christ apart from the knowledge of God that comes from the Bible. The Bible is God’s intended means of revelation to fallen sinners. All of the latest technological gadgets, websites, blogs, smart phones, tablets, and more can only serve as tools to communicate the good news of Jesus to broken sinners. The good news of Jesus is revealed to us in a book —the Bible.
There is no such thing as Bible-less Christianity. The earliest picture we have of the church immediately after the resurrection of Jesus is found in Acts. At the end of the second chapter, we see the early church gathered together under the apostle’s teaching (Acts 2:42). What were they teaching? Was it the resurrection of Jesus every sermon? The point is, the resurrection is essential and it’s the centerpiece of the entire Word of God, but every sermon can’t be about the resurrection of Jesus unless we want to build superficial churches.
When healthy emphasis is placed on the Bible, theological fruit emerges in the form of Christian intellectualism, missions, church planting, Christian education, and a proper response to a dying culture. A deemphasis of the Bible will lead to superficial churches, theological liberalism, cultural chaos, post-post modernism, and a host of other tributaries that feed off of that main stream. The false idea that we must focus on the resurrection apart from the Bible simply doesn’t work.
When leaving Ephesus, Paul didn’t gather the elders together to say, “Men, remain steadfast in the faith. The wolves will come in and attack, but I want you all to remember that I’ve been faithful to teach you the resurrection of Christ.” No, he said, “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). When Paul was preparing Timothy to pastor the church in Ephesus (a very dark city), he said, “preach the word” (2 Tim. 4:1). If the Word of God was sufficient to reach unbelievers in Paul’s day, can we have that same confidence for ministry today?
When we survey church history, we see the Reformers emerging from the shadows with the Bible in their hands. They placed a bright light upon the Word of God. The battlecry of the Reformation was sola Scriptura. That era of Christian history was marked by an unwavering commitment to the veracity, authority, and sufficiency of Scripture. What if William Tyndale could join Andy Stanley for a roundtable discussion about the Bible? What would emerge from that conversation? How would Tyndale respond to Stanley? That conversation will have to wait, but we must have a conversation about the Bible in our present day. We need to go far beyond what Michael Green once called “the age of the sermonette,” because the sermonette, as Green stated, “makes Christianettes.” 
When our children leave our church campuses and find themselves sitting in a college classroom listening to their college professor relentlessly attack the reliability of the Bible, they must be able to give an answer. When people who have been discipled in the community of our churches face attacks from men like Kurt Eichenwald or Bart Ehrman, they need more than a Bible verse about the resurrection of Jesus to stand upon. What happens when a theological liberal challenges them on Paul’s teaching about human sexuality? Will a robust message about the resurrection of Christ be sufficient in that hour?
We are guilty of creating functional atheism when we distance ourselves from the authority and reliability of God’s Word. The church needs tools that have been well established from the full counsel of God’s Word. A deemphasis of the Bible is the wrong direction for the evangelical church. A deemphasis of the Bible is a dangerous method of ministry. Mark Dever, in his excellent book, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church provides a helpful reminder:
God’s Holy Spirit creates His people by His Word. We can create a people by other means, and this is the great temptation of churches. We can create a people around a certain ethnicity. We can create a people around a fully-graded choir program. We can find people who will get excited about a building project or a denominational identity. We can create a people around a series of care groups, where each feels loved and cared for. We can create a people around a community service project. We can create a people around social opportunities for young mothers or Caribbean cruises for singles. We can create a people around men’s groups. We can even create a people around the personality of a preacher. And God can surely use all of these things. But in the final analysis the people of God, the church of God, can only be created around the Word of God. 
Kurt Eichenwald, “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin,” Newsweek, December 23, 2014.
Taken from the editor’s preface to John R. W. Stott, Between Two Worlds (Eerdmans, 1982), 7.
Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, (Crossway, 2000), 36.
Yesterday I preached the end of Mark (15:42-16:8). It was the end of a two year study as a church including nearly 70 sermons. As John Mark brings his Gospel to a close, the climax is focused upon the resurrection and then he simply ends with a look at the fearful women who discovered the empty tomb and were informed by an angel that Jesus had risen from the dead. For more on why I believe that Mark ends at 16:8, you can read my article on that subject. The Gospel of Mark ends with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Good news for wretched sinners!
Why Does the Death of Jesus Matter?
Many people throughout history have tried to disprove the resurrection of Christ by rejecting the death of Christ. The false religion of Islam teaches that Jesus ascended, but they reject the idea of Jesus’ death. Many Muslims believe the death of Jesus is merely an illustration and not actual. However, we must remember that the Romans had perfected the crucifixion by the time of Jesus’ death on the cross, and it was impossible for anyone to leave a Roman cross alive once they had been crucified. The death of Jesus matters because of the following reasons:
Prophecy Must be Fulfilled
Propitiation Must be Made
Atonement Must be Purchased
Justice Must be Satisfied
Faith Concealed Becomes Faith Revealed
Joseph of Arimathea, a rich man (Matt. 27:57) emerged from the shadows as a man who was “looking for the kingdom of God.” He made a request for the body of Jesus and Pilate handed over the corpse to him. Joseph was a respected member of the council and a prominent Jew. Apparently he had become a secret disciple of Jesus, but one cannot remain an undercover disciple for long. Jesus never called anyone into secret service. The time came for Joseph to make his faith known, and in a bold move, he identified himself with Jesus at the cross. Jesus’ body was taken, prepared for burial, and buried in a rock tomb owned by the wealthy Joseph.
The Fearful Disciples
On the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome approached the tomb of Jesus in order to anoint the body with spices. This was a Jewish custom to show respect and honor for the loved one and to counter the smell of a dead corpse. As they approached the tomb, they noticed the large rock was moved aside. They went inside and found an angel there and they were stunned. The angel encouraged them to not be afraid, and then made a shocking announcement – “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him” (Mark 16:6).
The women were afraid. The word used by Mark to explain their condition is astonishment = ἔκστασις – meaning amazement, astonishment, to be beside oneself, bewilderment, profoundly shocked. In one way, it seems odd that Mark would end his Gospel here. However, as we place ourselves in the shoes of these women for a brief moment, we would be astonished too. In the shadow of the looming Roman cross, their Savior has been raised from the dead. What does this mean? Will this lead to more executions? In another way, they were certainly overwhelmed with joy and excitement that Jesus was alive. But, this was almost too much to handle.
Although Mark ends with the fearful women at the tomb, they didn’t remain afraid. Their fear was replaced by bold witness as they would work alongside the apostles to spread the good news to the ends of the earth. From this small handful of Jesus followers, the world was turned upside down. Have you experienced the good news of Jesus Christ? He was put to death in the place of guilty sinners (Mark 10:45; Isaiah 53), buried in a borrowed tomb, and raised from the dead on the third day. Jesus proved to be the Savior of the world. Have you placed your faith and trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins? Today is the day of salvation. Today is the day of hope. Come to Him and trust Him with your entire life and eternal destiny.
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.
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.
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. 
Sinclair B. Ferguson and J.I. Packer, New Dictionary of Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 37.
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;  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.
Would you be godly? Then practice the Spiritual Disciplines in light of eternity.
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
It’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.
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).”