United with Christ

United with Christ

Yesterday in our Romans series, I preached from Romans 6:5-7 on the subject of our union with Christ. Considered by many theologians as one of the central doctrines of the gospel—our union with Christ is essential for our position and our life of freedom. Without our union with Christ there is no true Christianity at all.

The word translated, united is the Greek term, “σύμφυτος” meaning, “to being associated in a related experience, or far from the divine, but growing up in the very midst of it; indeed, one might aver, growing up together with it.” [1] Verse five serves as the thesis statement for this section and verses six and seven serve as an explanation of the first half of verse five. Paul launches off into a statement about the believer’s union with Jesus in both his death and resurrection. As it pertains to his death, we were crucified with Christ. Not only does Paul mention our union with Jesus in his death, but then he speaks of us being crucified with Jesus. Why is this so vitally important?

For the Jew, the Roman cross and the system of crucifixion was a statement of finality. Nobody came home for supper after being crucified. Therefore, to state that our old identity in Adam was crucified with Christ—it’s like stating that we will never be the same again. We are now identified with Jesus completely and never will we be identified with Adam. Our old position has now been crucified and there has been a change of ownership that will never be altered.

Following that statement, Paul then moves on to demonstrate that while our position has changed through our union with Jesus in his death, we will still have an ongoing battle with sin since our body of sin is still alive. This will be a constant struggle until we are glorified. We see this in Romans 7:16-18 as Paul writes, “Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.”

While the old self connected to Adam has died – our body remains alive and we live in the era between the already and not yet. Christ already rules and yet he hasn’t returned. We have died in Christ, but our sinful flesh remains. We anticipate a day when Christ will return and make all things new – including our sinful flesh – in a glorified body like Christ.

However, we must surrender to Christ and live for the glory of God. As Paul wrote elsewhere in Galatians 2:20-21, “I have been crucified with Christ. 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. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” We are called to be imitators of God (Eph. 5:1). We are called to produce good works that bring glory to God and cause others to praise God (Matt. 5:16; James 2:26; Eph. 2:10).

A person who claims to be a follower of Christ and yet remains in a constant unbroken pattern of sin has no right to claim the name of Jesus. When God saves a person, he not only saves them from their sin, but he removes sin from them as well. Sanctification is the pattern of a life changed by Christ.

J.C. Ryle stated, “We must be holy, because this is the one grand end and purpose for which Christ came into the world… Jesus is a complete Savior. He does not merely take away the guilt of a believer’s sin, He does more – He breaks its power.”

  1. William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 960.
The Call to Holiness

The Call to Holiness

Yesterday I preached from Romans 6:1-4 in our series through Romans titled, “The Gospel According to Paul.” Through chapter four and five, the emphasis of Paul’s message was centered on the subject of justification. How is a person justified? Is it based on works or the grace of God alone? Paul labored his point and emphasized justification by faith alone in Christ alone. As we turned the page into chapter six, the focus shifts from justification to sanctification. Paul drives home the clear call to holy living.

Paul takes up the issue of a serious problem that plagued the Church in the early days – apparently in Rome and elsewhere – as Paul places his cross hairs upon the idea of antinomianism. The false teaching and system of thought known as antinomianism is the idea that the law is invalid and unnecessary since the grace of God super-abounds where sin increases. This is a teaching that produces lips that profess the name of Jesus, but a lifestyle that refuses to submit to Jesus. For Paul, this was a sickening system of thought.

Some people live by the idea “once saved always saved” and think that they possess a privileged status that will keep them out of hell and allow them to enter heaven, but we must be reminded that an attitude that desires to live in sin is the product of an unconverted soul. Any desire to have Jesus as Savior while maintaining a love and affection for the world is the fruit of Adam rather than the fruit of the Spirit.

Paul makes the point that we can’t live in sin that grace may abound. This does not glorify God. He then moves on to ask the question, since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? This is an obvious question for those who walk in sin and profess Jesus with their lips. This is an important question because as Paul makes clear, it’s the difference between a true conversion and false one.

To illustrate his point, Paul points to our baptism into Jesus’ death. This is obviously not talking about water baptism since he’s referencing a permanent change that takes place as a result of the baptism. Any teaching that claims water baptism provides a permanent spiritual change (washing away of sin or the receiving of the Holy Spirit) is heretical. That would be to add something to the work of salvation which would contradict Paul’s entire theological framework.

Sometimes the word baptism (βαπτίζω) can be used for something other than plunging or immersing under water as an ordinance of the church. It was used outside of the Greek New Testament by Josephus who used it metaphorically as he described the crowds who flooded into Jerusalem and wrecked the city. It was used in the New Testament as a mark of identification as when the Israelites were identified with Moses their leader after crossing the Red Sea (1 Cor. 10:1-2). In this case, Paul uses it to refer to the spiritual union between an unbeliever and Christ that takes place at conversion. This causes the unconverted sinner to die to sin (which is buried with Christ) and then he is raised to walk in a new life as a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17).

This being true, this new life should look, sound, and function in a new way altogether. The new believer suddenly finds himself loving the things that God loves and hating the things that God hates. The Christian will desire to obey Christ and to follow after him. The child of God as led by the Holy Spirit will have interest in what God’s Word says and will have a commitment to the local church—in a way that can only be explained by the person’s union with Christ. The life of a Christian will be marked by movement of sanctification—a true pursuit of holiness (Gal 2:20-21).

Moralism can only take a person so far in life, but a pursuit of holiness is a life marked by submission to God in a joyful manner. Jerry Bridges once stated, “Holiness is nothing less than conformity to the character of God.” It must be stated, holiness is not an optional choice for the child of God. Hebrews 12:14 states, “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” Peter writes, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy'” (1 Pet. 1:14-16). Remember, holiness is not legalism. Holiness is the product of a life changed by Jesus. There is no such thing as a carnal Christian.

J.C. Ryle has stated, “There is a common, worldly kind of Christianity in this day, which many have, and think they have enough – a cheap Christianity which offends nobody, and requires no sacrifice – which costs nothing, and is worth nothing.”


The Gift of Eternal Life

The Gift of Eternal Life

Yesterday I preached from Romans 5:18-21 in our series titled, “The Gospel According to Paul” (an exposition of Romans) on Sunday morning. Flowing from Romans 5:12 are verses 13-21 which provide an explanation of verse twelve while also comparing and contrasting Adam and Christ. In the final section, Paul drives home the excellency of Christ and points to the gift of eternal life that comes through Christ.

In verses 18-19, we see two comparisons. The first half of verse 18 points to the work of Adam in providing all of humanity with the curse of condemnation by sin. In the last half of verse 18, we see Christ and his work of justification. The next verse follows the same pattern with the first half of verse 19 pointing to the work of Adam in disobeying God and leading all men into sin. The last half of the verse points to Christ’s work of obedience and how he obeyed the law, submitted to the Father’s will, upheld the Word, and accomplished our salvation.

Moving on to verse 20, Paul points out that the law increases the trespass of our sin by pointing to the knowledge and reality of our sin. In other words, the law is incapable of saving us. It can only condemn us and in doing so it points to our need for an alien righteousness—namely the righteousness of Jesus Christ. We receive this righteousness in the great exchange as God places our sin on his Son and then imputes to our account the righteousness of Jesus thereby making us just before God. We are justified by faith alone in Christ alone and we receive eternal life according to verse 21.

Interestingly enough, in the verses that begin this section (18-19), there are two comparisons that provide categories that must be explained properly.

  • “All Men” — Romans 5:18 – Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.
  • “The Many” — Romans 5:19 – For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

Some people teach that in Adam, all humanity (all men) are condemned as sinners and that in Christ, all of humanity (all men) are justified and receive the righteousness of Jesus Christ. While the same words are used in both verses to describe the work of Adam and Christ, we must understand the art of comparison and contrast and furthermore realize that this would lead to a heresy if pressed to the end. If all of humanity receive the guilt of Adam’s transgression and the same exact group without exception receive justification through Christ—that would mean that hell is empty today. Not one person who has received the righteousness of Christ has entered the gates of hell.

This is known as the doctrine of universalism which states that all people will eventually be saved through Jesus no matter what they do or believe in this life. That is heretical and certainly not the teaching of the Bible. Furthermore, sometimes words are used in Scripture to make a point, but we shouldn’t take it to the fullest end. One example is when the Pharisees were becoming angry with the popularity of Jesus, and they responded by saying, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him” (John 12:19). Obviously, the whole world without exception did not follow after Jesus, but to make the point of his popularity, the Pharisees spoke with that language.

What is happening in verses 18-19 is clearly an example of comparison where Adam and Christ are being contrasted closely by using the same words. So, what Paul is saying is that all of Adam’s people are condemned by his sin while all of Christ’s people are justified by his work of righteousness. Adam condemned the entire human race, and Christ will save every one of his people who were given to him by the Father before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1; John 10:28-29; Matt. 1:21).

Everyone who is in Christ receives their justification by faith and become the heirs of the promise and eternal life. What a reason to rejoice. Christ is far better to save than Adam is to condemn.

Effective Preaching Delivers Truth

Effective Preaching Delivers Truth

When the sermon comes to a close, the church should remember the truth of the text rather than the personality, stories, application, and other component points of the sermon. The most important part of the sermon is not the preacher—it’s the truth of the text of Scripture. Communication is key when it comes to preaching and teaching, and one thing is for sure—we must not preach with dispassionate and cold hearts as if God is dead and truth is boing.

Illustrative Stories

There is an art to illustration. Some people are better at it than others, but such stories could be in the form of serious illustrations that point to the truth of the Scripture or humorous stories that help illustrate truth with a lighter touch. When preaching the New Testament, skilled preachers often weave into their sermon such examples from the Old Testament in order to illustrate the truth of the passage. It’s always better to bring in a Bible story rather than a personal story when possible. The Bible is the best commentary on the Word of God. However, using personal stories can often personalize the sermon that brings warmth and realness to the surface which causes people to see and understand easily.

One thing to consider when using stories is that it requires skill to tell stories well. Just throwing information at people randomly is not the best way to illustrate a passage. If we want people to leave with truth, our stories should be used with precision and should never overshadow the text. If people leave remembering the story better than the truth of the Scripture—that would be a tragedy. This is why using humor must be done with care and precision so that the joke or funny story is not the highlight of the sermon. The truth of the text must be the highlight of the sermon or Bible lesson.

Practical Application

Connecting the dots from the theology to the everyday ebb and flow of life for the believer is essential in preaching. However, there is a balance to strike in relationship to the preacher and the congregation in this process. Often times, people in the congregation expect for the pastor to do all of the studying, all of the exposition, all of the explanation, and all of the application. In all actuality, part of the work of receiving the Word of God is to seek to make application to yourself as the Spirit of the Lord guides.

In preaching and teaching the Bible, it’s good to point to a big sovereign God from the pages of the Bible and to put the cookies on the bottom shelf as often as possible. Connecting the dots from the truth to the front porch of people allows the people to understand and gain the truth of the passage. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once described preaching as “logic on fire.” This theo-logic was more than dispensing information to people from a pulpit. The aim of preaching is to make the truth come alive. We see glimpses of this as we read Nehemiah 8, when the priests gave the people the sense. In other words, they made sure the people understood the truth that was being proclaimed by Ezra the scribe.

Pithy Quotes

Another tool or method for delivering truth is the use of quotations by other noteworthy teachers, preachers, or theologians. We must remember, there is no new truth under the sun. All truth comes from God and has been delivered to us in his Word. Truth finds its source in God and is passed on and explained through the years. We all stand upon the shoulders of men and women who have gone before us.

If the ultimate goal is to deliver truth to people’s hearts rather than building up a big personality before the people while pretending to come to such understanding in a vacuum—the use of quotations can help people see and grasp the truth. One person might describe a verse with one set of vocabulary and descriptive word choices while another uses a different set of words and descriptions and sometimes as you stand there in a conversation with two or three people conversing about a subject, one person may communicate in a way that causes the lights to come on for you. In preaching and teaching, the same thing can happen by simply using a quote from someone who has a helpful way to describing the truth.

Whatever we do in preaching, we must be sure that we do not come across as brilliant and boring. The skill of preaching and teaching is to make the truth move in the hearts of people. This is not possible by a cold and dispassionate delivery. Dispassionate preachers produce dispassionate church members. At the end of the sermon, it’s not about the dramatic story or the personal application. The main emphasis isn’t focused upon the use of a really nice quote or even the personality of the preacher. People in the congregation need truth and they must leave remembering and rejoicing in the truth of God’s Word. After all, it’s not the joke, the story, or the quote that sanctifies a person—it’s God’s truth (John 17:17).


Christ Is Far Better Than Adam

Christ Is Far Better Than Adam

Yesterday I preached from Romans 5:15-17 in our series through Romans. In this paragraph, we see Paul explaining how Christ is far superior to bless than Adam was to curse. In verse 14, he called Adam a type of Christ, but now suddenly, he dives off into a three part comparison as to how and why Christ is far more superior to redeem than Adam is to ruin.

First, we see Paul’s explanation that human depravity is replaced by God’s righteousness. Through Adam, we inherited by imputation the depravity of the human heart. This leaves us helpless and hopeless in a state of spiritual death. However, it’s through Christ that lost and rebel sinners are brought to faith and redeemed from the curse of sin. In order for this to take place, we receive by imputation the righteousness of God in Christ. Paul repeats this pattern in this section of verses twice, but he writes, “much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many” (Rom. 5:15).

Secondly, Paul notes that condemnation is replaced by justification in Christ. The result of human depravity is that we are condemned by God. Yet, in order to be welcomed into heaven and reconciled to God, we must be justified. Justification is a legal verdict and pronouncement of our status before God. God declares us just. This is the only way to escape the wrath of God in the condemnation of sinners. This is only possible through the miracle of conversion that happens through Christ. It is the last Adam who is far greater in his work of redemption than the first Adam is in his work of corruption.

Finally, Paul makes it clear that Christ is far superior to Adam in the fact that death is replaced by life. Adam brought death into the world and it reigned through Adam. Through one man’s transgression, sin entered the world and death was the result. Not only physical death, but spiritual death. In Adam all die physically and spiritually. The very moment that Adam ate of the forbidden tree, he died spiritually. He would later die at 930 years of age a physical death. Genesis began with an explosion of light and life, but it ended with the veil of darkness and death.

However, that’s not the end of the story. Christ is the light of life and through his work of redemption, he defeated death. The gospel (good news) is the announcement of the reverse of the curse of Adam. The degeneration of Adam’s curse is overcome by the regeneration of life through Jesus Christ. The gospel denounces sin in the death of Christ and it announces hope in the resurrection of Christ. Christ is far more powerful to save than Adam is to curse.

Through Adam’s one sin spiritual death death came which introduced degeneration, pollution, corruption, rebellion, sickness, pain, brokenness and lawlessness—resulting in physical death.

Through Christ’s work of redemption we see the following work of God’s saving grace:

  • Sins are forgiven.
  • Atonement is made.
  • Propitiation is accomplished.
  • Death is defeated.
  • Righteousness is granted.
  • Justice is satisfied.
    Reconciliation is achieved.
  • The head of the serpent is crushed.
  • The curse of sin is reversed.
  • One day – Christ will return – and make all things new!
  • The entire world will be renewed.
  • Death will be no more.
  • No more weeping.
  • No more pain.
  • No more sorrow.

All of this is the work of Christ. The work of Christ in redemption is far more superior than Adam’s work in rebellion.

Lectio Continua for the Pulpit and Pew

Lectio Continua for the Pulpit and Pew

If the church is unified in a lectio continua approach to Bible reading and Bible preaching—it will create a solid and healthy foundation that will mark the life of the church. Lectio continua is a Latin phrase that means, continuous reading. This phrase has been used to describe the continuous approach to systematic expository preaching—the popular method of the Reformers and towering giants of church history.

The long cherished lectio continua approach to preaching has been a healthy method for many years throughout church history. Unfortunately, in recent years, preaching has fallen on hard times—even among those who claim to be Reformed expositors. There seems to be a wide and shallow definition of exposition within even the most healthy pockets of evangelicalism. The typical pulpit method today is fad-driven and man-centered. This pragmatic approach to the pulpit ministry results in informal and often immature talks that are shallow, short, chatty, and filled with more cultural cliches than biblical theology. After all—it works.

If the church today will indeed see a revival—it will be based on a firm commitment to God’s Word rather than the shallowness of man-centered gimmicks. We need a return to the lectio continua approach to reading and preaching that will cause the church to gain massive theological growth. Those old paths were walked once before and it brought great results. May the Lord be pleased to do it again.

Lectio Continua as a Bible Study Methodology

How can we expect the people in the church to have an appetite for sequential expository preaching if they are not practicing sequential expository Bible reading in their home? If your personal Bible study looks like a cherry picked verse or paragraph from day to day—it will not only leave you with a superficial understanding of the Bible, but it will likewise leave you with a discontented spirit on the Lord’s Day when your pastor is seeking to preach verse-by-verse through books of the Bible.

The random Bible verse approach or the mainstream boxed devotional approach to Bible study will often lead a person to adopt poor study habits as well as a low view of a expository preaching. Why would you approach the pages of the Bible in a way that you would never approach your mother’s will after her death or a legal document that you received in the mail? Why would you read those documents line-by-line in an attempt to understand the meaning, intent, and message of the documents rather than merely picking out a line or two from the center of the letter? With that in mind—why would anyone dare to read the Bible with that type of approach?

The benefits of a continual and sequential reading of the Bible in your personal study is that it allows you to deal with the original author, his grammar, his intent, and his meaning in each verse and the entire book as a whole. With all of this information, you can then have a good grasp of the entire book of the Bible and its place within the canon of Scripture as a whole. At this juncture, you can begin to connect the dots to your personal life and make proper application.

Before a church can learn to love expository preaching—the people must first be capable of expository listening which emerges from expository reading on a personal level. Solid corporate worship begins in the home.

Lectio Continua as a Preaching Ministry

As stated previously, the lectio continua approach to the pulpit was the common method of the early church and the patristic eras. When Huldrych Zwingli sought to lead his congregation back to this historic approach in 1519—he was met with many questions and concerns. However, his commitment to a sequential exposition of God’s Word proved to be the right move. John Calvin would adopt this same approach as he labored in the pulpit. As we read church history, we get a glimpse into the ministry of Calvin:

  • He began his series through Acts in 1549. He completed it in 1554.
  • He preached 46 sermons through 1 and 2 Thessalonians.
  • 1 and 2 Corinthians – 186 sermons.
  • He preached 86 sermons through the pastoral epistles.
  • His series through Galatians was 43 sermons.
  • He preached 48 sermons through Ephesians.
  • 159 sermons through Job. Many modern preachers haven’t preached one sermon from a text in Job.
  • His series through Deuteronomy was 200 sermons long.
  • He labored through Isaiah in 353 sermons.
  • His series through Genesis was 123 sermons in length.

We get a glimpse into his commitment to lectio continua preaching as he finished his sermon on Easter in 1538 and was banished by the City Council from his pulpit. Calvin would not return for more than 3 years. On the first Sunday back in the pulpit, he picked up in the very next verse. He was communicating something to the people. He was making it known that he was committed to sequential preaching through books of the Bible. He wasn’t finished. His work was not complete.

Standing upon the shoulders of the Reformers have been men like D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, James Montgomery Boice, and in modern times—John MacArthur. It seems that God blesses the faithful proclamation of his Word—yet modern man-centered preaching styles are headed in a different direction.  In an interview with Ed Stetzer in 2009 regarding his book titled, Communicating for a Change, Stetzer asked Stanley about preaching.  The question was, “What do you think about preaching verse-by-verse messages through books of the Bible?”  Andy Stanley responded, “Guys that preach verse-by-verse through books of the Bible– that is just cheating. It’s cheating because that would be easy, first of all. That isn’t how you grow people. No one in the Scripture modeled that. There’s not one example of that.”

Not only does Andy Stanley have a skewed understanding of expository preaching, he apparently has a skewed understanding of preaching throughout church history—beginning with the apostles. Yet, Andy Stanley is not alone. The popular church growth techniques are rolled out at conferences each year and those methods get results. Often, they get fast results. Such pragmatism fills empty seats and offering plates and so for that reason, lectio continua has been pushed to the backseat in modern times.

Historically, the first mark of an authentic church is the right preaching of the Word. If you get this mark wrong, everything else will be negatively impacted. Yet, today, when you ask someone why they chose their church, they will talk about the choir, the programs for the children, the way the church made them feel, and various other things—but they rarely if ever discuss the fact that the church has a proper expository preaching methodology. Sadly, this doesn’t seem to be the top priority in many professing Christian homes.

Shallow preaching leaves people spiritually dry and hungry. The evangelical church is not a picture of health. Modern preaching is using every gimmick known to man in order to fill worship centers including rock concerts, slick movie clips with media presentations, and every other trick you can imagine. Only through a robust pulpit where the Bible is sequentially explained verse-by-verse on a weekly basis can we have confidence that God will usher in a revival, change people’s hearts, and ultimately reach the world.

God doesn’t need our tricks and gimmicks. God’s Word is sufficient. Sola Scriptura lives on. Preach the Word!