Why Do I Doubt? The One (Major) Reason Christians Doubt Their Salvation

When Christians begin to have doubts about their salvation, they usually consult their pastor or another trusted spiritual advisor. If you ask your pastor why you are doubting, you will typically get three responses: unconfessed sin, hidden sin, or you’re under conviction, needing true salvation.

I remember sitting in my pastor’s office during great times of doubt and despair and hearing these things. Time after time, I would return home and begin the process of self-examination. Certainly there were times of unconfessed sin and I knew it. But confession and turning away from that sin didn’t seem to ease my conscience. Eventually, I came to the conclusion (about a thousand different times) that I just wasn’t saved, that I was one of those Matthew 7:21 people. You know? The ones that think they’re saved because they appear to have a sliver of holiness but are really on their way to Hell.

The entire process was painful. Every. Single. Time.

But the real culprit for my despair was something that I had never considered. This enemy had slipped into my church, sneakily subverting the comforts of the gospel from mine and thousands of other Christians minds. His name was False Teaching!

Most of us think of false teaching as a blatant perversion of the gospel; things like works-salvation, denial of the deity of Christ, rejection of the Trinity, etc. But there is a more subtle form of false teaching that has invaded our modern-day churches. This teaching tends to distract the eyes from the objective promises of the gospel to focus inwardly or elsewhere. Specifically, there are four areas of false teaching that causes Christians to go into despair and doubt their salvation. Let’s examine them, together.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio: https://www.pexels.com/photo/desperate-evicted-male-entrepreneur-standing-near-window-3771129/

Conflation of Law & Gospel

Mixing of the Law & Gospel is perhaps the main premise of Christian doubt. In Scripture, these were meant to be separated but not mutually exclusive to each other. For this reason, it’s easy to conflate the two and launch our consciences into terror. Keeping these two aspects of Scripture within their proper places is vital. The Law demands that we fulfill obligations to God, threatening us with punishments if we do not fulfill them and promising blessings if we do fulfill them. The gospel, on the other hand, only offers us promises without the expectations of performance. It is based entirely upon the mercy of God in Christ Jesus. While the Law pays its dues for kept or unkept covenants, the Gospel knows no such payment. The payment was made at the cross. Let the Law, therefore, be proclaimed to yourself if you find you are reveling in your sin. But if you have cried out to God for mercy and forgiveness, let the comforts of His promise to forgive your sins soothe your heart and conscience.

Checklist

One of the greatest dangers to Christians is the checklist. When we fall prey to it, we begin to not only judge others but ourselves also. We concoct an idea that holiness comes from avoiding certain activities that God is unpleased with. If we avoid these, God is happy. On the flip side, if we exert our energies in certain areas we know we should be engaging, God is sure to smile upon us and bless us. The checklist is simply another way of commingling Law and Gospel. The only difference is that we have made the conditions of blessings and curses instead letting Scripture dictate them. The negative of the checklist is that our consciences go into the self-loathing gear when we don’t or can’t check off our presupposed holy activities. If we do happen to go several days ticking all the boxes, we become conceited, looking at others and wondering why they have not yet attained to the joy of supernatural living. Obviously God demands holiness of His people. We are not to avoid the whisperings of the Law in our ear when we sin but neither can we replace the Gospel with our checklists. It will always be a fine line and we must develop the skill of properly dividing the two.

A focus on self

When I talk about self-focus, I’m not talking about meditation or yoga or some other form of Eastern religion. Self-focus is the habit Christians have of inner reflection of their sanctification. In other words, if they have been a Christian for 𝓍 number of years but seem to have only come 𝓍 miles in their Christian walk, they begin to doubt their salvation. After all, the pastor stated this in his last sermon. He is the spiritual leader. He has had the theological training. He must be right.

Wrong!

Most of us view the Christian life as a continual upward journey. But the Christian life is full of ups and downs, failings and victories. It looks more like a jagged mountain edge than a gradual ascending. When we focus on our own progress and sanctification, we will see nothing but sin and failing. As the hymn writer wrote with all truth,
prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.
Even after we are saved, we are prone to follow our flesh. We continually fight our sinful desires. The majority of self-examination passages in Scripture have to do with those indulging in gross sin while naming Christ as their Savior. When these verses are taken out of context by well-meaning pastors, it often harms much more than helps. The only solution is to look to the objective promises of the Gospel. What does this mean? An objective promise is something that is ultimately true, regardless of your feelings and doubts. It is an objective fact that Jesus was crucified for your sins and raised from the dead for your justification. It is an objective fact that He promises forgiveness of sins in His Name. It is an objective fact that all who believe on Him and call upon Him receive this promise. Instead of trying to find the goodness within yourself (you won’t find it) look instead to these objective promises and let your heart be assured.

Rejection of the Sacraments

Many scoff at the idea that the sacraments can ease our consciences and bring assurance of the gospel to us. This comes from a misunderstanding of what a sacrament is. It is an earthly, visible element which has a promised Word of God attached to the element. For example, in baptism we are promised the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit (Mk 16:16, Acts 2:38). The Lord’s Supper promises that all who partake of the body and blood of the Lord receive the forgiveness of sins (Mt 26:26-29). The majority of today’s churches have reduced the sacraments down to mere symbolism, thereby rejecting the efficacy of those sacraments. Baptism symbolizes our union with Christ. The Lord’s Supper symbolizes our participation in His death.

The sacraments were instituted by Christ for a reason. He never spoke of them symbolically and neither should we. For the first 1500 years of the Church, these promises were taken as they stand in Scripture, literally not symbolically. When pastors began to forsake the plain meaning of these passages for a symbolic view, their laity lost with it the precious promise of assurance and comfort with it. God knows our weaknesses and considers our plight to need these visual reminders that His promises are for us. Most would object and accuse those who hold to this view of living by sight instead of living by faith. “After all,” they would argue, “true faith needs no other object but Christ.”

Scripture is replete with God’s visual signs for His people. Again, most people would object by claiming that the majority of these signs were Old Testament signs, before the promised word of the Gospel. But are we now any different than those Israelites? Are we any less prone to unbelief when they had the physical manifestations of God in their midst while we have the presence of God dwelling within us? Even in the New Testament, God’s people were given physical, visible signs of Jesus’ coming. Even the book of Hebrews classifies spiritual gifts with the physical manifestation of God’s promises. If God used ordinary physical means to assure us that His promises are true and real, we have no reason to reject the sacraments based solely upon a different theological perspective. Receive the sacraments and rest assured that the promise attached to it is indeed a promise you may objectively cling to.

Conclusion

Doubt comes through the false teaching of failing to properly distinguish between Law & Gospel. All of the things mentioned above are some form of mixing the two together. Our hearts will be more assured and our consciences will find the peace we search for as we learn the skill of properly dividing Law & Gospel. For more information on properly dividing Law & Gospel, you can read this section of Luther’s Large Catechism. God bless you as you seek to cling to His precious promises of forgiveness and assurance.

Fear Not. 10 Biblical Reasons You Can Stop Doubting Your Salvation

Inevitably it happens. You commit sin and are grieved over it. You repent and try to move on. But that nagging feeling in the back of your mind gets you every time. You start to ask yourself if you were sincere enough or sorry enough for that sin. Doubt creeps in and depression takes hold. Eventually, doubt gives way to fear and fear metamorphs to anger. The cycle you experience is much like that of the Israelites in the book o f Judges. They sin and call on God time and again. And time and again they fall back into apostasy.

Like the Israelites, you feel powerless. The only thing you know to do is to call on the Lord. And my friend, that is enough! It may seem too simple a thing that God can simply forgive you. But in Christ Jesus, He already has. Here are 10 biblical reasons you can stop doubting your salvation or stop doubting that God has forgiven you after you cry out to Him.

1. God desires to be gracious to you (Isaiah 55:1) Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.

God’s offer of forgiveness to you is one that requires nothing in return but acceptance. Remember that the context of this passage is God talking to His own rebellious people who continually swayed back and forth into apostasy. When you are in doubt, you may indeed have forgiveness without cost. You may simply call out to the Lord and know that He has heard and forgiven you.

2. God swears by His own Name (Hebrews 6:13) For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself.

The entire book of Hebrews focuses on the superiority of God’s covenant in Jesus as superior to any other covenant or divine thing, even the heavenly angels. God promised the blessing of Abraham’s Seed (Jesus) to the entire world and He ratified this promise by swearing upon His own Name. The International Critical Commentary focuses on the Greek word ὀμνύω (swear) and states,

Taking Abraham as the first or as a typical instance of steadfast faith in God’s promises, the writer now (vv. 13–19) lays stress not upon the human quality, but upon the divine basis for this undaunted reliance. Constancy means an effort. But it is evoked by a divine revelation; what stirs and sustains it is a word of God. From the first the supreme Promise of God has been guaranteed by him to men so securely that there need be no uncertainty or hesitation in committing oneself to this Hope

(Moffatt, J. (1924). A critical and exegetical commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews p. 85. T&T Clark International) [emphasis are mine]

You can rest assured that God’s promise to you in Christ is certain and unchangeable.

3. God cannot lie. (Hebrews 6:17-18) So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath,  so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us

The writer of Hebrews follows up his former example of God swearing an oath by Himself by grounding that promise in the fact that God cannot lie. Your salvation, and mine, are based solely upon this oath. If you’re looking for a reason to ground this hope within yourself, you will fall into despair. While we falter and waiver in our commitment to the Lord, He never waivers with us because He cannot lie about His promise of Christ to you!

4. God’s plan to save you was written in eternity past. (Ephesians 1:3-4) Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.

According to Ephesians, God chose you in Christ before He created the world. He did not leave to chance all those that will be finally saved. Our election in Christ should be a great source of comfort, knowing that the security of our election is in God’s own hands.

5. God’s promise of salvation is objective. (Luke 24:45-47) Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

When we talk about something being objective, we mean something that does not depend on us or something that is outside of us. The Latin phrase Extra Nos is used to describe this objective standard. In Luke 24:45-47 Jesus places Himself as the object for the forgiveness of sins.This means that He is the objective standard, He is the object of faith, and He is the one who decides the basis upon which forgiveness is granted. HIs only requirement is faith in His finished work which causes us to turn to Him in repentance. Believer, the object of your faith and the assurance of forgiveness rests on Christ alone.

6. God’s promise is not dependent upon your failures or successes. (Genesis 28:15) Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.

This may seem like an odd Scripture to put forth as proof of God’s promises. But think closely on the context: Jacob is fleeing for his life. He. with the help of his mother, has just swindled the birthright of his brother for himself. And the odd thing about this? God had already promised Rebekah back in Genesis 25:22-23 that Jacob would receive the blessing. In other words, Jacob didn’t have to steal it. It was already his. And in the passage above, God appears to Jacob after he stole, cheated, swindled the promise and yet God reaffirms this covenant to him. Christian, God is faithful to His promises even when you fail. And just like Jacob, His promises are not dependent upon your own failures. Let this be a source of comfort to you in times of failure.

7. Your “feelings” don’t sway God’s feelings. (Psalm 5:1-2, 7) Give ear to my words, O Lord; consider my groaning. Give attention to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to you do I pray…But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love, will enter your house. I will bow down toward your holy temple in the fear of you.

The Psalms are full of every kind of emotion imaginable to the human heart. They speak of joy and sorrow, anxiety and peace, sorrow and gladness. While mortals express these emotions to the Almighty in prayer, He will still hear and fulfill His promises. Consider what Augustine says of this particular Psalm in his commentary:

The Psalmist well shows what this cry is; how from within, from the chamber of the heart, without the body’s utterance, it reaches unto God: for the bodily voice is heard, but the spiritual is understood. Although this too may be God’s hearing, not with carnal ear, but in the omnipresence of His Majesty

Schaff, P., ed. (1888). Saint Augustin: Expositions on the Book of Psalms (Vol. 8, p. 12). Christian Literature Company.

God heard David when he cried for deliverance. And He will certainly not hide from you when you cry.

8. God was faithful even to those who “blew” it. (Judges 16:20, 28) And he [Samson] awoke from his sleep and said, “I will go out as at other times and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the Lord had left him…Then Samson called to the Lord and said, “O Lord God, please remember me and please strengthen me only this once, O God, that I may be avenged on the Philistines for my two eyes.”

Samson is a man who squandered what God had given him. Reading through the story of Samson in Judges 16-18, we see that he broke every single vow of the Nazarite, one that was supposed to make him holy and set apart to God. While God’s chastisement finally caught up to him, Samson cried out to God in the midst of it and God heard him. Samson is recored in the Hebrews 11 Hall of Faith amongst those who received their due from God by faith. How is it that Samson could be so sinful and God hear him? Because God’s deliverance of His people was not about Samson. It was about God’s promise. God’s promise will never be nullified when you fail. Like Samson, when you cry out to God, He will hear you and deliver you once again.

9. God saved the worst people in the Bible. (Matthew 10:2-4) The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

If ever there was an example of God saving bad people in the Bible, it would be amongst His very own disciples. Peter was brash and quick to speak. James and John wanted Jesus to kill a bunch of Samaritans. Judas betrayed Jesus. but one in particular, Simon the Zealot, comes to mind. He belonged to a radical political group that wanted liberation from the Romans. Many of these Zealots would go even as far as political assassination. Easton’s Bible Dictionary gives us a bit of insight into what a Zealot was.

A sect of Jews which originated with Judas the Gaulonite (Acts 5:37). They refused to pay tribute to the Romans, on the ground that this was a violation of the principle that God was the only king of Israel. They rebelled against the Romans, but were soon scattered, and became a lawless band of mere brigands. They were afterwards called Sicarii, from their use of the sica, i.e., the Roman dagger.

Easton, M. G. (1893). In Illustrated Bible Dictionary and Treasury of Biblical History, Biography, Geography, Doctrine, and Literature p. 701. Harper & Brothers.

Though we are not privy to Simon’s role within this group, we are told that he was a part of it. This implies that Jesus didn’t care about money or status when He called the disciples. They were bad men. We are bad people. Yet God still desires to save and change us. Thank God for His mercy!

10. God promises to forgive those who confess their sin. (1John 1:9) If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

John was writing to a group of believers to combat the heresy of a form of Gnosticism known as Doceticism. This “philosophy” stated that the flesh was evil and the spirit was good. As a consequence, people began to deny Jesus’ humanity and believe that how they lived in the flesh had no eternal consequences. John emphatically denies this and tells his hearers that those who deny their sins do not have the Spirit of God living in them. In contrast, he states that those who do acknowledge and confess their sins before God are assured of forgiveness. The Lutheran scholar, Lenski, gives us a bit of insight.

“Faithful is he and righteous” refers to God. John has just mentioned “his Son” and the fellowship effected by the blood of his Son and the fact that the remission of our sins is fellowship with God. “Faithful” means true to his promise, and this is placed first; “and righteous” with its forensic sense as it is here added to “faithful” and its connotation of promise states that, when he acquits us according to his promise, God, our Judge, is and remains “righteous.” 

Lenski, R. C. H. (1966). The interpretation of the epistles of St. Peter, St. John and St. Jude, pp. 392-93. Augsburg Publishing House. [emphasis are mine]

Oh! what blessedness to know that God is faithful first to His own promise and that by being faithful, He is justified in forgiving us. It should never be a question of “how can God forgive my awful sin?” but it should only be a matter of, “He has promised to do it and I believe Him.” God’s faithfulness to His own promise is rooted in His word and Name.

Conclusion

Dear friend, we are all prone to be swayed and be tossed along with our emotions. In our times of failure and depression, let us remember these ten Scriptural promises God has given to us. Let us rehearse them in our minds and preach them to our hearts daily. Then we will sing and exclaim with the Psalmist, Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit (Psalm 32:1-2).

Let Not This Word Depart–3 Reasons for Diagramming the Biblical Text

I don’t think any dialogue about the study of Scripture can be had without introducing some form of analyzing the text. Most times, this type of discussion centers around diagramming.

I used to blow such discussion off with a, “Pffft—who needs to diagram to accurately understand the text?” I quickly changed my mind when I began to actually take the time to do it. It has become an invaluable tool for me. Below are my three main reasons why one should bother with this strenuous exercise.

It Causes Meditation

One of the key elements of carefully studying any passage of Scripture is the ability to carefully read it. And because any sentence diagram you attempt must place every word according to its function in a particular place, you are forced to slow down and consider every part of speech. You will begin to see how every clause, phrase, noun and verb fulfills their individual role within the sentence. You will unknowingly, and probably often, make an exegetical decision, unaware. Sentences can be complicated and diagraming helps sort out the syntactical puzzle.

Galatians 1:6-7 (diagrams help you see the complicated sentence)

This type of reading slows you down as you consider the sentence as a whole. There have been many times diagramming a text has caused me to stop and ponder the truth of God’s word simply by allowing the text to be displayed in a grammatical way.

It Conveys a Graphical Representation

John 3:16 in diagram form

I’m a visual learner. When I see pictures it helps me grasp the concept that is being presented. Diagrams are a “theological” pictograph in their own way. Diagrams are the very God-breathed words represented by lines, shelves, connectors, and other shapes that convey the main thoughts and their subordinate thoughts in picture. Without diagramming, it would be tough to grasp the main points of some passages. The first thirteen verses in the book of Ephesians, for example, is a single sentence in the original language. Imagine trying to wade through that to find Paul’s main point!

Being able to physically see a picture of the laid-out sentence speaks volumes to visual learners. Each slot holds words according to certain functions. The top horizontal line with the vertical slash protruding through the base, for example, shows where the the main subject and verb are placed.

Graphical representation of the placement of the main subject & verb

This may seem a bit obtuse at first, but in many Biblical passages you may find the main verb separated from the main subject by several phrases and clauses. 1Peter 1:10 is a prime example:

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully

At first glance, it may appear that prophet is the main subject and prophesied is the main verb. In actuality, there are two relative clauses and a prepositional phrase in between the main subject prophets and the main compound verb search and inquired, as illustrated below:

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully

In the John 3:16 pic above, the phrase whoever believes in Him is placed on a stilt in the subject slot. With but a glance, I can see that this relative clause is acting as the subject of the entire clause itself, hence the stilts are used to graphically represent this.

Diagraming is a useful graphical tool that aids in the overall exegetical process. If you’re a visual learner, it is definitely worth your time to learn this new skill, if you haven’t already begun.

It unCovers the Structure

The dictionary defines structure as the arrangement of and relations between the parts or elements of something complex. Diagrams definitely accomplish this job! The elements of the sentence are placed according to their function: nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs and all the other parts are arranged on their lines and shelves, displayed in a particular format as to expose the structure of the sentence. It is helpful to sometimes think of this structure in a block-like format, as per the example below.

The structural “blocks” of John 3:16

We see the main clause God loved the world at the head, followed by two supporting clauses, one that shows the result of God’s love and the other that demonstrates the purpose of God’s love, both which are connected by subordinating conjunctions. Of course, not all diagrams will be so easily structured but the idea is that, as a whole, diagrams will show the grammatical structures of a sentence. Understanding first how it all fits together lays the foundation for later exegesis and the proper interpretation of a the passage.

Next Steps

Hopefully this post has encouraged you to at least consider diagramming. If you’re wondering where to start, this section will give you some starting points. I would like to suggest a structured format that will take you step-by-step through the diagramming process. I think the best way to begin is to start with the very basics.

  1. The parts of speech
  2. Clauses and Phrases (these are two separate links)
  3. Sentence Types
  4. Sentence Structure
  5. Diagramming Tutorial

The website I have referred you to is Grammar Revolution. It is an excellent site that offers a complete English grammar course, as well as a book with exercises and answer keys. And when you are ready to practice your diagramming, there is a wonderful web app called Let’s Diagram that allows you to type or paste any sentence and drag the words to their corresponding shapes and shelves. Watch the video below to see how the app works.

(note: the video is NOT a diagramming tutorial. See the links in the list above to learn diagram).

The Let’s Diagram App at work!

6th Sunday of Easter

Psalm 98

The following is from the lectionary reading, Year B, of the Lutheran Lectionary.

A Psalm. 1 Oh sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things! His right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him. 2 The Lord has made known his salvation; he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations. 3 He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God. 4 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises! 5 Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody! 6 With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord! 7 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who dwell in it! 8 Let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills sing for joy together 9 before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.


The Text

No attribution is given to this psalm and many commentators point out the language of praise which parallels several passages in Isaiah. The occasion of the writing is said to have been the return of the exiles from Babylonian captivity (Leupold, 691-92) although Leupold freely admits that the historical events are not directly alluded to within the psalm. According to Leupold, several verses within the Psalm allude to or are cited from Isaiah. They can be seen in the chart below.

Psalm 98Isaiah
98:1b59:16
98:252:10
98:363:7
98:66:5
98:855:12
Parallel passages between Psalm 98 and Isaiah

Indeed these verses do parallel the Isaiah passages in language and idea. The Psalm itself is broken into three refrains of three verses each and can be divided as such: verses 1-3, verses 4-6, verses 7-9. The main theme is the praise of Yahweh/Elohim. The centrality for this praise is seen because He has made known His salvation. This salvation is manifested in two ways:

  1. He has made salvation known to all the nations. As God’s covenant people, Israel had the privilege of receiving His Law. When they were faithful to the covenant, God protected them in miraculous ways. The nations surrounding Israel were witnesses of these miracles. Time and time again, God acted on behalf of His people. The Psalmists draws from these times to proclaim how the nations have seen God’s salvation.
  2. He has made salvation known through His faithfulness. Israel had a long history of apostasy. The book of Judges records their darkest times of a continual cycle of apostatizing and return to the Yahweh. Eventually, both the Northern and Southern kingdoms are ejected from their inheritance and led captive to other nations. But as God is faithful, He brought His covenant people back into the land, causing a great rejoicing and praise.

Below, are some of my own observations of the Psalm with important parts marked in bold.

The Psalm concludes with the final praise of God’s judgment upon the nations. He will judge (1) with righteousness – God will show no partiality with His judgment. Political, economical, and social status will all be judged according to His own standards rather than man’s standards. No one will have “an edge” in this judgement. All will stand on equal ground. (2) with equity – This goes hand-in-hand with God’s righteous judgment. His judgment will be fair. The poor & rich, king & pauper, man & woman will receive just judgment/penalty for their actions.

This judgment will be either frightful or as the Psalmist declares, something to rejoice in.


Law/Gospel
Courtesy Covenant Orthodox Presbyterian Church

gospel

Salvation has been made known to the nations through Jesus Christ and all the world has seen it (John 12:32). This is a great cause of rejoicing, knowing that God is faithful to His people on account of the atoning work of Jesus. He is our King and our Lord. We are to praise Him unceasingly as He continues to show His steadfast love and faithfulness to His sheep.

law

Judgment is coming. It is for those who refuse the offer of the gracious King and insist in either their own brand of righteousness or their own autonomous rule. This judgment will be fair and impartial and no man, woman, or child will elude the judgement with Him whom we must give an account (Hebrew 4:13).

Salvation is found in no other Person but Jesus. On the final Day it will be a cause of rejoicing for many and a time of wailing for others. Will you rejoice in Christ and praise Him for His judgment? or will you curse Him as you are cast into the Lake of Fire for the rejection of His free offer of life and salvation?.

3 Scriptural Reasons Why the Office of Apostle Has Ceased

It’s Sunday morning. You got up early, read your Bible, drank your coffee, and went to church to hear from your favorite apostle. Only—you didn’t hear from any apostles.

Surprise!

Yup, you read that correctly. Many churches boast of having apostles in the pulpit and many self-proclaimed apostles tote bragging rights in order to launch their “ministries.” Most people never question whether or not these men and women are true apostles. They blindly follow them and do their every bidding out of fear that if they do not, they are “touching God’s anointed.”

With the apostolic daze-craze in church culture it is especially important now more than ever to examine Scripture and understand exactly what a true apostle is. Believe it or not, the Bible does give the qualifications of an apostle. There are three main qualifications we see in Scripture: (1) the apostle was sent by someone specific, (2) the apostle was vested with a certain authority, and (3) the apostle was sent with a specific message. Using Mark 3:13-14 as our jumping off passage we will take a look at each of these qualifications in more detail and attempt to rebut some common arguments that try to circumvent the Bible on this teaching.

The apostle was sent by someone specific

13 And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. And He appointed twelve (whom he named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach…

It is important to notice the pronouns in these verses. The ‘he’ and ‘him’ in verse 13 are referring to Jesus. But let us note two specific things about this verse:

  • Jesus chose those He desired to be apostles
  • Jesus Himself designated them as apostles
  • Many of today’s self-proclaimed apostles would rebut this by saying that Jesus has also sent them to be apostles. But in the book of Acts we find something different. Those who were designated apostles had to have two special qualifications in order to claim the title apostle: (1) they had to be with Jesus at the start of His ministry or, (2) they had to have witnessed His resurrection. One of these qualifications had to be met before apostleship could be considered.

Acts 1:15-22

15 In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said, 16 “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. 17 For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” 18 (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. 19 And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) 20 “For it is written in the Book of Psalms, “ ‘May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it’; and “ ‘Let another take his office.’ 21 So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.”

Many other passages are clear that it is the Godhead Trinity that appoints and designates these apostles (1Corinthians 12:28, Ephesians 4:11).

The apostle was vested with a certain authority

Mk 3:14-15 14 And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach 15 and have authority to cast out demons.

Lk 10 20: Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven

Most of us think about power when we think about apostles. And it is for good reason. Jesus gave His apostles the power to cast out demons and perform miracles in His Name. This was for a specific reason as well as a sign of something greater than themselves, as we will examine in our final point of this post.

But this power was not like the kind of power that you may think about. It was not a super power or something you see in a comic book. This kind of power did not originate from themselves. The word we are thinking of is better thought of as a vested power, or a delegated power. This was much like an envoy sent by a king with specific authorities to accomplish specific tasks. For example, during the crucifixion of Jesus, the Jews had no power of their own to enact punishment. They had to get that permission, or power, from Pontus Pilate. In fact, our verse, Mark 3:14-15 translates the word as authority, which is a better suited word. The Greek word is exousia and conveys a broad range of meaning in the New Testament, which all have to do semantically with some form of delegation. Consider the word below:

Bible Word Study-Exousia (Logos Bible Software)

The larger blue ring represents the way the word is translated the most throughout Scripture. The word is authority, the same as in Mark 3:14. But note that it is also translated as a charge, jurisdiction, and even domain. Why is this important for our topic? Many of today’s fake apostles focus solely on the power of their apostleship. But Jesus told His true apostles not to rejoice in the power given to them, but to rejoice that their names had been written in Heaven (Luke 10:20).

The apostle was sent with a specific message

33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.

We come at last to the anchoring text of apostleship. The apostles were sent with a specific message and that message was their witness of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. The phrase to the resurrection is something we should give attention to. In Greek, it is known as a Genitive phrase. And more specifically, it is called a Genitive of Content. What does all this jargon mean? Greek scholar, Dan Wallace gives us some insight.

The genitive substantive specifies the contents of the word to which it is related. This word may be either a noun, adjective or verb. This is fairly common in the NT, though only with certain kinds of words. There are two kinds of genitive of content: one related to a noun or adjective (nominal gen. of content), the other to a verb (verbal gen. of content). A genitive of content is a lexico-syntactic category in that the verb or head noun will be a term indicating quantity…A genitive of content is a lexico-syntactic category in that the verb or head noun will be a term indicating quantity. The nominal genitive of content is distinct from the genitive of material in that content indicates the item contained while material indicates the material made out of…For the nominal use, the genitive term bears the brunt of the semantic weight. It is the important word rather than the head noun. Typically this construction is used in figurative language as a rhetorical device.


Wallace, D. B. (1996). Greek Grammar beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. (pp. 92-93)

In other words, the apostles’ message of the resurrection (the content) was more important than the miracles themselves. The miracles simply showed that their message truly was from the Living Lord. This is why we see large droves of people turning to God in a single day. It was the sign and the working of God through those signs to coordinate the message and the miracle.

Again, many who believe that apostles are still commissioned today will point out that the apostles of their churches do indeed witness to Jesus’ resurrection. However, the true apostles’ testimony about the resurrection was accompanied by miracles. The first was that of tongues. But then we have the miracles of healing the lame, blind, even those who were near death. Many no doubt claim miracles in their ministries, as well. But this passage speaks about miracles that could be attested to; real miracles that took place instantaneously, not over time like many you encounter today.

Recap

The office of apostle has been done away with in our modern context. This is chiefly because there are none alive today that was present with Jesus during His ministry or none that have physically witnessed His resurrection.

Second, no one has been commissioned by God Himself to be an apostle. One may attempt to argue they have been commissioned by God’s calling and testified by the laying on of hands. Therefore they are apostles by that standard. But Scripture never gives this method of designating apostles, only elders and pastors.

Third, one cannot claim apostleship simply because he/she attests to Christ’s resurrection. All believers are called to give an answer for the hope that lies within [us] (1Peter 3:15) If that standard were to be used, we could indeed call all believers apostles.

It is important that we be discerning about those who designate themselves as apostles. Certainly, many mean no harm and take the moniker simply to show forth their calling by God into a preaching ministry. But beware of those who flaunt the title. Most are simply after fame, prestige, and wealth. Let us use Scripture as our plumb-line and guide for all of life, even something seemingly as small as a title.

Feed My Sheep: 3 Exhortations for our Pastors

Dear Pastors of Christ’s True Church:

We felt the urgency to write to you and detail some things that we as a congregation and holy assembly of God’s people feel the need to bring to your attention. We know life has been different since the whole COVID thing. We understand “regular” services have been a thing of the past for well over a year, now. And we certainly get that you are constantly under pressure from within and without the congregation, juggling life’s responsibilities and pastoral duties.

But truthfully, we’ve been feeling a little malnourished as of late. To be honest, it’s been going on for sometime, even well before the lockdowns started. We are simply asking you to fulfill the oath which you swore to our Lord Jesus, the Great Shepherd, to shepherd us until that Day when we will all be with Him. Here are three things we would like to see you begin to include in our time of worship together:


preach the Word

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Norfolk VA

Please let us clarify what exactly we mean when we say, “Preach the Word.” Many pastors feel they can reach their congregations a little easier if they ignore Scripture and talk about relevant issues of today. This always leads to ignoring large parts of the Bible in favor of a more Ted Talk style of sermons. But isn’t Scripture the very God-breathed words given to us? Doesn’t Scripture contain all the answers to the “relevant” issues they are so craving? Yes! It is the very foundation upon which the true Christian lives his life. We are seeing our services turned into an entertainment venue that looks oddly like a rock concert or a Times Square ball drop. We are supposed to be different, holy, set apart; it is our calling. Much of the service seems to be spent in pep talks rather than actual preaching. In short, we would like the Word to be front and center! Here is our plan for making it happen:

  • Be expository. Topical sermons are useful and sometimes necessary. But this should not come at the sacrifice of a verse-by-verse sermon. Exegete the passage and tell us what it means. Explain some of the harder things in it so that we understand. Don’t treat us as if we are dumb because we may not have the same theological training that you received. Be gentle with our lack of understanding and give us the Word. Give it to us until we are full.
  • Be Law/Gospel oriented. It is extremely important that you learn to divide the Scripture properly into its two distinct sections of Law & Gospel. When you confuse and commingle the two, we become confused, especially in our own minds. Many pastors will say something like, “If you believe that Christ has died for your sins and trust in His perfect work, you have the assurance of Eternal life. BUT…”

    When conditional emphasis is placed upon a text that already states a simplistic truth, it is confusing to our souls. Is faith all that is required for salvation? If so, why is there a “but” thrown in there? Many of us are keenly aware of our sin and it terrifies us that God, at any moment could bring down His hand of wrath upon us. Please take extra care to properly give us the Law when the Law is needed. But when the Gospel is clear and present within the passage, preach it without any other conditions.

Incorporate the liturgy

The assembling of the local Body of Christ is the place where we are supposed to be nourished each and every week. It is a place we are to be participants in worship. Unfortunately, it usually consists of a couple of congregational songs, special music, and a sermon by the pastor. We rarely, if ever, truly participate in the service alongside you. The early church participated in the services through the reading of the Scriptures, recitation of pivotal creeds and the giving and receiving of blessings. They were catechized, a fancy way of saying they were taught the elemental doctrines of Scripture through recitation and repetition. In fact, did you know that catechesis in the early Church lasted for three years! This was to ensure that the catechumen would be prepared for the coming persecutions. This is certainly a far cry from the way we receive church members today. We would love for you to begin to teach us our catechisms and creeds.

Lectionary of John’s gospel. No date given

It is also in this liturgy where we may receive the sacraments, Christ’s gifts to us for the forgiveness of sins through baptism and the Eucharist. These means of grace strengthen us from week to week and do two things for us: (1) they are reminders that we need forgiveness of sins daily, and (2) they are real, physical elements that show us Christ’s compassion on His Church and impart to our consciences the assurance of forgiveness of sin. It may sound strange in your ears and there has been debate over the efficacy of these sacraments since the time of the Reformation. Many have taken these to be mere symbols or figurative language to represent something. But those in the early Church certainly took them as literal.


Teach us to study

There is nothing quite like the joy of reading a passage of Scripture and seeing something there we had never noticed! We know this is the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit in us, guiding us into all truth. And while we understand the Holy Spirit is our teacher, we still would like to understand how we can gain knowledge through study. The only way this can be achieved is for you to begin teaching us the method of feeding ourselves. We certainly do not expect seminary-level classes. We only want to understand the methods of objective Bible study known as Observation, Interpretation and Application.

We know this is asking more work of you, but what is more important than investing in the eternal aspects of the congregation? We desire to understand God’s word better. We want to follow along with you as you preach. This is not only a way for us to be prepared but also a way that we may hold you accountable for what you are teaching. Our souls are more valuable than anything else and we do not wish to be led astray by slick-sounding arguments or doctrine.

Do not take this letter as berating you. It is actually written out of humility and necessity. As the people of God, we desire to follow Him in every holy way, with every ounce of strength, and in all purity until the time as He sees fit to come for us or call us individually into His presence.

Thank you kindly for taking the time to read and consider our petition.

Sincerely,

the Laity.

The Objective Work of Christ Is Your Surety

Struggling with assurance of salvation seems to be a common thing. Like the Israelites in the book of Judges, we sin, experience God’s chastising hand, repent, return to God, and sin once again.

It is a depressing cycle. It is the constant battle of the spirit and the flesh. Through your Christian walk, you have certainly come to realize that truly the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak (Matthew 26:41). These emotions are powerful and run deep within our souls. If we let them, they will paralyze us in fear and keep us from serving our God.

What can we do then, to get us through these difficult moments? We turn to the Word of God! Here are three things that we can remeber during these weak moments:

Firstly, remember that God knows our weaknesses

Psalm 103:14 declares, For he knows our frame;  he remembers that we are dust. This is a beautiful Psalm about the goodness and care of God over His people. It begins with the Psalmist praising God for His goodness and benefits, which include:

  • forgiveness of sin (verse 3)
  • redemption (verse 4)
  • earthly gifts (verse 5)

He then moves to the theme of God’s compassion. Verses 6-9 tells us that though God could deal with us according to our sin, He is merciful and instead chooses to show us love and compassion. By the time we reach verses 13 and 14, we get a clear understanding of how David views God: God, like an earthly father, shows compassion on us because of our frailty. He knows and understands our weaknesses. Let this thought be a comfort when you are in doubt because of your sin.

Secondly, remember your baptism

Modern Evangelicalism has duped many into believing that baptism is nothing more than a mere symbol or act of obedience. Scripture proclaims our baptism as so much more. It depicts baptism as our entrance into Christ’s death. In Romans 6, Paul demonstrates that just as we were buried with Christ through baptism, we also will be raised to live a life of righteousness to the glory of God the Father.

Baptism is our “anchor” into Christ’s atoning work. Peter tells us that baptism saves as an appeal to God for a good conscience. We must daily drown the old Adam in our baptism and allow the new Adam to come forth. It is a daily thing. We will fail. We will give in to our flesh. We will sin. But we have the promise of our baptism, that through Christ’s work and resurrection, we are forgiven and washed (Eph 5:26, Titus 3:5, 1Pe 3:21).

For more info on the efficacy of baptism, download the PDF article, New Life Through Baptism from the Lutheran Study Bible.

Lastly, remember Christ’s atoning work

Of the many verses that capture the reason behind the Son’s incarnation into our world, this verse says it the best. It is simplistic yet profound. Lutheran scholar R.H. Lenski said of John 3:16, “The “must,” the compulsion, lies in the wonder of God’s love and purpose. By telling Nicodemus this in such lucid, simple language Jesus sums up the entire gospel in one lovely sentence, so rich in content that, if a man had only these words and nothing of the rest of the Bible, he could by truly apprehending them be saved”. (Lenski, R. C. H. The Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel, p.258, Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961.)

It is indeed one of the most beautiful verses in the Bible. It matters not whether you “feel” saved or if you’ve sinned greatly, or you think there is no returning because this time you really blew it. Stop using subjectivity to ascertain your standing before God! Your surety lies in the objective work of Christ alone. It is the promise of forgiveness through His death and resurrection and His word does not change, regardless of your feelings.

Take comfort in this and understand that your assurance rests with Him, not your feelings.

My soul hath naught a reason for despairing/in times of doubt mine eyes will look above/for Jesus, bless-ed Consolation/secures me fast with mercy and with love

The Law revealing, self-merit dare not stand/its accusations doth my conscience sting/But Jesus, bless-ed Consolation/Thy perfect work, my guilty conscience pleads

Salvation wrought, my weary soul rejoices/The Law, with all its power o’er me hath lost/This Jesus, bless-ed Consolation/His love, His blood, hath nailed it to the cross

In desert drought or valley lows descending/even death as its last breath shall groan/My Jesus, bless-ed Consolation/with joy and laude I’ll worship at Thy throne

Jesus Did Not Die to Fulfill God’s Plan for Your Life

I listen to Christian radio sometimes while I’m driving. I’m not too big a fan of Contemporary Christian Music but I do enjoy some of the worship and praise songs that my local station plays on occasion. Most times, I hear self-absorbed, self-centered music with a few God and Jesus lyrics thrown in for good measure.

Our culture seems to be on an ever-spiraling decline of selfishness and it is no wonder the church has followed suit. With a large majority of churches now catering sermons about improving your life in general, it didn’t take too long for Christian music to pick up the mantle. I’m certainly not accusing all Christian artists of being plagued with the self-help mentality but by and large, a good number of songs reflect the current trend of that culture.

Just on the way home today I heard a song with the lyrics (I’m paraphrasing) that talked about trusting God because what else do you have to lose? You were made for something more.

There is nothing maniacal at all with the concept. But I still have a problem with it. A HUGE problem! The main problem is that the gospel seems to have been reduced to a Savior that died for the sake of fulfilling God’s plan for your life. The majority of songs that I hear reflect this same thing. It is no surprise that many Christians have bought into this lie. I am sorry to inform you, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, but Jesus did not die to fulfill God’s wonderful plan for your life. Jesus did not die to heal your broken heart because your boyfriend or girlfriend broke up with you. Jesus did not die to give you a second shot at fulfilling your dreams. Jesus did not die to give you better self-esteem. Jesus did not die so that you could pursue a dream of becoming the next American idol. Scripture gives us many reasons why Jesus did die. Here are a few of them:

  1. Jesus died to satisfy the wrath of God (Isa 53:5, 10, 1John 2:2)
  2. Jesus died to demonstrate the justice of God in punishing sin and imputing righteousness to the undeserving (Rom 3:21-26)
  3. Jesus died to save His own people from their sin (Mt 1:21)
  4. Jesus died to fulfill the Law for sinners because it was impossible for us to meet the demands ourselves (Gal 3:10-14)
  5. Jesus died to show His incomparable love to humanity (Eph 2:1-10)
  6. Jesus died to make His people His workmanship (Eph 2:10)
  7. Jesus died to reconcile sinners to God (Rom 5:10)
  8. Jesus died to present His people as holy and blameless unto the Father (Jude 24-25)

I could go on and on but I think you get the picture. The most important thing to remember is that Jesus died for the glory of God! So the next time you’re sharing the gospel with someone please, please, please, do not tell them that Jesus died so that He could fulfill God’s wonderful plan for their life. Just tell them that Christ died to save sinners. 

The Messed Up Church Podcast

The Messed Up Church is a group of independent contributors who focus on some of the zany, whacky, ridiculous things going on in the mainstream Evangelical church. As of late, they began exploring the podcast arena. This episode is an interview with Robert M. Bowman, Jr., author of The Word of Faith Controversy. Take s listen to the podcast and jump over to the MUC site and relish in the resources that will help you avoid false teachers like COVID!

5 Ways Bible Software Streamlines Your Bible Study

Teachers and preachers are often crunched for time. Many pastors are bi-vocational and must dedicate the necessary hours to their supervisors. At the same time, they have an obligation to God to tend the flock they have been charged with. But what do you do when you begin to run out of time and have to prepare your sermon on teaching lesson? This is where most Bible software shines. Most of them are geared towards streamlining your study. Here are my top five reasons for using Bible software:

  1. Programmed to help you get behind the English. A lot of pastors may not have the time to upkeep their language studies once they graduate seminary and step into ministry. Bible software can help quickly inform you of Hebrew and Greek words right along in the text with just a glance. Many software programs are also geared towards those who have little to no experience in the original languages, even going so far as to add sound clips of how the words are pronounced. Notice the bottom portion of the below photo. It follows along word-for-word with the English text, making easier to see which Greek words are being used.
Word-for=word translation

2. Go beyond simple word studies. Bible software is great for digging into the original languages. Most of the free ones allow you to access basic definitions along with the morphology of any given word. But sometimes you want to, you need to go further. Paid software will usually have these types of features. The screenshot below shows the Greek word logos with its basic definition as well as with the senses (how it is used in each verse) of each individual context.

Logos as used by basic definitions and its sense use

3. Built-in tools to help you exercise your understanding of a passage. It’s important to grasp the full meaning of a text you are studying to present to your class or congregation. One of the best methods of slowing down and meditating on a passage is diagramming. There are basically two types of diagrams: line diagrams, which take each word individually, and text flow diagrams, which take entire clauses and phrases into account. Both are vital for understanding a passage. Examples of both can be seen below.

Line diagram of John 3:16
Text flow of John 3:16 in Greek & English

4. Robust note-taking systems. You’ve studied and studied a passage and have lots of things in your head. You grab a piece of paper and begin to jot down insights about the passage as they come to you. Luckily, just about every software program, free or paid, has some form of taking notes. Most of these can be highly organized. The software I use, Logos Bible Software, allows me to not only create these notes but to create notebooks for each study. So if I am studying the topic of Personal Holiness, while at the same time studying through the book of 1Peter, I can create notebooks for both and place the notes in their proper places.

Notes with their notebooks

5. Helpful aids for time-saving study. The goal of Bible software is to make it as useful and time saving as possible. Many developers really pack in the the tools that allow you to look up and read a wealth of material within seconds. In Logos Bible Software these tools are called guides. They focus on two major aspects: (1)Passage Guides, bringing together all of your commentaries and dictionaries for whatever passage or topic you’re studying, and (2) Exegetical guides, which link to your original language texts, apparatuses, and lexicons. Having the power to pull this information up lightning quick is invaluable for those who may find themselves crunched for time. Check out these videos from Logos to see both types of guide in action:

Passage Guide

Exegetical Guide

Passage Guide of John 1:1. This is only a small portion of the guide as the entirety would not fit into one screenshot

While some people are adamant about studying with book and pencil the “old fashioned way,” the usefulness of Bible software should not be overlooked. We love in a day and age where technology is rapidly consuming our daily lives. As students of God’s unchanging eternal word we have an obligation to study and be prepared at our best to present these truths. Bible software is the tool, I believe, that God has gifted us with in order to faithfully serve and love Him while teaching and reaching out to our neighbors.