When this passing world is done,
When has sunk yon glaring sun,
When we stand with Christ in glory,
Looking o’er life’s finished story;
Then, Lord, shall I fully know—
Not till then—how much I owe.
When I stand before the throne,
Dressed in beauty not my own;
When I see Thee as Thou art,
Love Thee with unsinning heart;
Then, Lord, shall I fully know—
Not till then—how much I owe.
Even on earth, as through a glass,
Darkly, let Thy glory pass;
Make forgiveness feel so sweet,
Make Thy Spirit’s help so meet;
Even on earth, Lord, make me know
Something of how much I owe.
Chosen not for good in me,
Wakened up from wrath to flee;
Hidden in the Saviour’s side,
By the Spirit sanctified;
Teach me, Lord, on earth to show,
By my love, how much I owe.
– Robert Murray M’Cheyne, 1837
You Might also like
By Kenneth Hayward — 2 years ago
It’s easy to be against something. Within any wrong system (i.e., Church Planting Movements theory), we find much fodder for articles on why a particular method isn’t biblical. But it’s not always as easy to write the articles on positive alternatives. So, while not shirking our responsibility to point out error, let’s make extra effort to champion what is biblical.
This essay focuses on sanctification in the task of making disciples and details the discipleship “plan” once someone has trusted Christ.
Fruit and the Centrality of the Bible
The biblical text must be our guide. All of us want to be fruitful, especially those of us overseas. First Timothy 4:16 says, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” The Bible is all sufficient. Yet certain teachers of popular methods, while affirming the sufficiency of Scripture, smuggle in extrabiblical formulas for rapid growth: encouraging lost people to share the gospel, the preeminence of goal setting, and an overemphasis on participative Bible study groups. Our fruitfulness is intertwined with the biblical text, not popular methods.
Second Peter 1:3-8 says, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him…. to supplement your faith with virtue… knowledge… self-control… steadfastness… godliness… brotherly affection… love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Christian growth isn’t so much about goals and a disciple’s activity, but about God-centeredness.
If we think we earn God’s blessing through our outward behavior, we end up with little joy.
We also see God’s work and faithfulness in making disciples more like himself. “His divine power has granted….” While we know the Lord uses the means of grace to grow us in Christ, this only happens as we keep leaning into the gospel. If each time we gather, we taste God’s greatness and mercy in the biblical text, disciples will bear fruit. God makes sure it happens (2 Corinthians 3:18). As we gather to hear his Word, we can become entranced with God himself and realize we bring him nothing (Psalm 50:12). Our growth is character transformation from the inside out, as saved sinners help each other look to Jesus. We can only grow or serve because of what Christ has done for us. For instance, in 1 Thessalonians 5:22-24, Paul says to abstain from evil. Apparently, the Christian life is filled with things to do, but the foundation is God’s faithfulness, not our performance. We will put forth effort, but that effort must be fueled by what the Lord has done through his resurrection. We need him desperately, and many Christians need to celebrate more that Christ did what redeemed sinners never can do. Believers keep resting in what Christ has done on the cross. The biblical text guides us to trust God’s faithfulness.
A Simple Way Forward in Missionary Work
The pathway toward healthy discipleship is fleshed out well in the article, “Gospel-Driven Sanctification” by the late Jerry Bridges. He carefully distinguishes between healthy Christian growth and a performance mentality. He avoids some common pitfalls of Obedience Based Discipleship theory. Too many churches base the Christian life on performance. While the process of healthy discipleship isn’t formulaic, leaning into the biblical text (and not primarily in what we can do for God) ultimately will be more biblically fruitful.
An overview of Bridges’ article reveals the gems in his basic “plan.” Bridges points out real dangers of too much focus on performance in the Christian life. Bridges shows us how our mentality can be close to the biblical picture, yet slightly off. We might think God’s blessing depends on our disciplines. How many believers, especially missionaries, live under constant guilt for not sharing the gospel more? Bridges does not encourage disobedience but promotes a proper emphasis on how grace works in us to obey Christ’s commands. Obedience is in order, but driven by something deeper than outward behavior: dependence on the Holy Spirit. Bridges wisely points out that God’s blessing doesn’t depend on how we perform. If we think we earn God’s blessing through our outward behavior, we end up with little joy.
Bridges quotes Galatians 2:20, “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.” We are free to obey Christ because we already are accepted. We must daily return to passages that remind us of what the gospel is, objectively in history, and what it means in our lives. Our Father accepts us because of Jesus, not because we got our act together after salvation. Bridges stresses definitive (or positional) sanctification, that believers are dead to the penalty and dominion of sin. To walk actively in this dead-to-sin life, we consider ourselves dead to sin (Romans 6:11). Bridges shows this is not something to do but something to believe. Struggling with sin is a sign that Christ lives inside. This truth has helped our disciples overseas.
The gospel is not just a tool for the overseas worker; it’s the Christian’s key to growth.
Bridges notes that, while we’re positionally seated with Christ in our sanctification, ongoing daily growth involves our progress in the faith. We cannot grow by our own strength but must have what he labels “dependent effort.” It’s not earning (performance and bad); it’s effort (good). As we grow in holiness, we see our sinfulness. Such insight into our badness keeps us going back to the gospel for help, not merely trying harder with outward behavior. We’ve tried to apply these truths to the lives of our national disciples in Asia, and they have found them helpful. We suggest it’s because all disciples need encouragement in these areas more than they need certain methods about evangelism or discipleship. Some methods are appropriate, but gospel truth always is profitable for life and godliness because it’s a foundational element in Scripture. It nourishes growth but isn’t reducible to mere church planting principles or how to evangelize or multiply disciples. It’s basic and paramount, yet not something we can put in a spreadsheet to report back home.
Fuel for our souls
The key is God using the gospel, which gives us what we need to bear fruit, as we keep looking to Jesus. We must live prayerfully dependent on the Holy Spirit. The more gospel-oriented we are, the more we’re going to bear fruit and, hopefully, the more our national friends will bear fruit. Bearing fruit, however, must be more than seeing the lost repent. Christ died because of sin and has risen to destroy the works of the devil. Such truth aids the believer not just with information for the lost, but to help himself fight sin—and to assist other disciples.
The gospel is not just a tool for the overseas worker; it’s the Christian’s key to growth. So, while discipleship may be a process, it’s not so much a strategized plan. It certainly shouldn’t be formulaic, even though many teachers of CPM and Disciple Making Movements disagree with that. Bridges himself states it best: “But the success of our struggle with sin begins with our believing deep down in our hearts that regardless of our failures and our struggle, we have died to sin’s guilt. We must believe that however often we fail, there is no condemnation for us (Romans 8:1).”
We can’t guarantee this approach will lead to a movement, but it will lead to solid disciples and healthier churches.
*Kenneth Hayward (pseudonym for security reasons) has been overseas with his organization for approximately 15 years, lives in Asia with his family, and can be contacted at: stand4truth 777 at hotmail.com (no spaces and with @).
By Tom Nettles — 4 weeks ago
This article is part 8 in a series by Tom Nettles on Remembering Jesus Christ. (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7).
Parts of this post were published on this site in 2016.
What we find on the pages of the New Testament concerning the true humanity of Christ and the concerns stated by the Apostles concerning those that deny it continued into the second and third centuries in a variety of forms of Gnosticism. Among other problems presented by Gnosticism, two embrace all the others. One, salvation comes through intuitive knowledge resident within certain spiritual persons. Two, the world of matter is intrinsically evil and was generated by an inferior deity. Implications include a denial of the final authority of the written word of the apostles and a denial of the full humanity of Christ, particularly the redemptive work accomplished in his flesh. In short, they denied all that Paul included in his admonition to “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, of a seed of David, according to my gospel” (2 Timothy 2:8).
In response to the insidious influence of this dualistic mysticism, the post-apostolic church developed the “rule of faith.” The various recensions of the rule of faith eventually were synthesized into a statement that most succinctly, clearly, and economically expressed universally received Christian truth known as the Apostle’s Creed. The finalized text of the Apostles’ Creed appeared in the work of Pirminius (d ca. 753) in A. D. 750. Pirminius used the succinct outline of biblical assertions to give instructions in Christian doctrine and morals to recently baptized Christians. Its twelve articles, according to pious legend, were given in order by the twelve apostles beginning with Peter and ending with Matthias. The creed is trinitarian.
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth, And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord: Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried: He descended into hell: the third day he rose again from the dead: He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; From thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the flesh, the life eternal. Amen.
One can see the immediate significance, in light of the claims of Gnosticism, of phrases such as “the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the flesh.” What claims our energy presently are those early numbered 3 through 8, beginning “And in Jesus Christ,” and ending with “judge the living and dead.” Its affirmative sentences give a simple reflection of the facts of redemptive history as presented in biblical revelation. One can see in the focus on Christ’s incarnation and redemptive labors in the human nature as of central concern. As we found it in its incipient stage in the New Testament, Gnosticism in its denial of the true humanity of Christ had come to full flower.
Likewise, in the letters of Ignatius at the end of the first decade of the second century, we find a deep and clear commitment to Trinitarian doctrine, the real humanity as well as true divine sonship of Jesus Christ, the efficacy of his true bodily suffering and resurrection, the person of the Holy Spirit, and the necessity of unity of doctrine in the church. He warned the church at Trallia, to “partake only of Christian food, and keep away from every strange plant, which is heresy.” “There is only one physician,” Ignatius insisted, “who is both flesh and spirit, born and unborn, God in man, true life in death, both from Mary and from God, first subject to suffering and then beyond it, Jesus Christ our Lord.” [ Holmes, 88.]. Again, focused on the false teachers that presented Christ as a phantom-like creature, Ignatius proclaimed, “For our God, Jesus the Christ, was conceived by Mary according to God’s plan, both from the seed of David and of the Holy Spirit.” [Holmes, 92] In writing to the Trallians, Ignatius gives evidence of a confessional formula similar to this creed. His language shows that he understood the trickery of the verbal circumlocutions used by heretics in seeming to exalt Christ while in truth they denied both his true humanity and his eternal deity. Note how Ignatius seeks to cut through their façade. “Be deaf, therefore, whenever anyone speaks to you apart from Jesus Christ, who was of the family of David, who was the son of Mary, who really was born, who both ate and drank, who really was persecuted under Pontius Pilate, who really was crucified, and died while those in heaven and on earth and under the earth looked on; who, moreover, really was raised from the dead when his Father raised him up, who—his Father, that is, in the same way will likewise raise us up in Christ Jesus who believe in him, apart from whom we have no true life.” [Holmes, 100].
Throughout the writings of Justin Martyr (ca. 150) we find doctrinal assertions and phrases that show his familiarity with an early development of the “rule of faith” and his ability to apply those doctrinal principles in a variety of situations. For example, in his first Apology, Justin argued, “From all that has been said an intelligent man can understand why, through the power of the Word, in accordance with the will of God, the Father and Lord of all, he [the Word, or Son] was born as a man, was named Jesus, was crucified, died, rose again, and ascended into heaven.” [Apology, 46] Scattered throughout his Apology, we find these phrases “Jesus Christ our Savior was made flesh through the word of God, and took flesh and blood for out salvation.” Another says, “by the will of God he became man,… he came as a man among men.” In showing the truthfulness of the prophets, Justin narrated, “In these books, then, of the prophets we have found it predicted that Jesus our Christ would come, born of a virgin, growing up to manhood, and healing every disease and every sickness and raising the dead, and hated, and unrecognized and crucified, and dying and rising again and ascending into heaven, and both being and being called Son of God.” [Apology, 44] In his second Apology, Justin wrote, “For next to God [the Father], we worship and love the logos who is from the unbegotten and ineffable God, since also He became man for our sakes, that, becoming partaker of our sufferings, he might also bring us healing.”
So it is in the writings of Irenaeus (ca. 180), who in writing Against Heresies, said, “The church . . . received from the apostles and their disciples the faith in one God, the Father almighty, ‘who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is,’ and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, incarnate for our salvation, and in the Holy Ghost, who preached through the prophets the dispensations of God and the comings and the birth of the virgin and the passion and the resurrection from the dead, and the reception into heaven of the beloved, Christ Jesus our Lord, in the flesh, and his coming from heaven in the glory of the Father to sum up all things and to raise up all flesh of all mankind, that unto Christ Jesus our Lord and God our Saviour and King, according to the good pleasure of the invisible Father, ‘every knee should bow, of things in the heaven, and things on earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess’ him, and to execute just judgment upon all.” In describing how in the person of Christ we discover both god and man, Irenaeus wrote, “His word is out Lord Jesus Christ who in these last times became man among men, the he might unite the end with the beginning, that is, Man with God..” Later Irenaeus again summarized a discussion in saying “Our Lord Jesus Christ, the word of God, of his boundless love, became what we are that he might make us what he himself is.” Irenaeus’s description of Christ’s incarnation includes a description as to how each stage of human life was sanctified by him from infancy to adulthood. This led to his statement on recapitulation in which the unity of his person in both natures, God and man, is essential. “Therefore the Lord confesses himself to be the Son of man, restoring in himself that original man from whom is derived that part of creation which is born of woman; that as it was through a man that our race was overcome and went down to death, so through a victorious man we may rise up to life; and as through a man death won the prize of victory over us, so through a man we may win the prize of victory over death. … He has been united with his own handiwork and made man, capable of suffering. …. He existed always with the Father; but he was incarnate and made man.”
Tertullian (ca. 225) in his Prescriptions Against Heretics put much confidence in the reception of “The Rule of Faith” given, at least in its essential content, by Christ himself and proclaimed in the apostolic teaching, preserved in Scripture, and retained in the teaching of the apostolic churches. He wavered not in his conviction that “Christ laid down one definite system of truth which the world must believe without qualification, and which we must seek precisely in order to believe it when we find it.” He went on to report that the Rule of Faith is “that by which we believe that there is but one God, who is none other than the Creator of the world, who produced everything from nothing through his Word, sent forth before all things; that this Word is called his Son, and in the name of God was seen in divers ways by the patriarchs, was ever heard in the prophets and finally was brought down by the Spirit and Power of God the Father into the Virgin Mary, was made flesh in her womb, was born of her and lived as Jesus Christ; who thereafter proclaimed a new law and a new promise of the kingdom of heaven, worked miracles, was crucified, on the third day rose again, was caught up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of the Father; that he sent in his place the power of the Holy Spirit to guide believers; that he will come with glory to take the saints up into the fruition of the life eternal and the heavenly promises and to judge the wicked to everlasting fire, after the resurrection of both good and evil with restoration of their flesh.”
Augustine (ca. 421) used the order of the creed in writing his Enchiridion probably alternating between the version of Hippo and the version of Milan for precise wording. The Creed served as the basis for several other writings and sermons. He pointed to the Lord’s Prayer and “the Creed” as easily memorized and constituting the sum of faith, hope and love. “Because the human race was oppressed with great misery because of sin, and stood in need of the divine mercy, the prophet foretold the time of God’s grace and said Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved (Jl 2:32). That is the reason for the prayer. But when the apostle quoted this testimony of the prophet in order actually to proclaim God’s grace, he immediately added But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? (Rom 10:14). That is why we have the Creed.”
Having its basis in the biblical revelation of the Trinity and the focus on the work of Christ in his incarnation, these teachers shared the truth of the apostolic revelation that had Christ not been truly like us in all things pertaining to our humanity, the corrupting power of original sin excepted, he could in no sense be a redeemer of this race. While Gnostics such as Valentinus sought to deny the true humanity of Christ and Marcion sought to destroy the unity between the God of creation and the God of redemption, biblically sound Christian teachers found these synthesized assertions helpful in exposing the faulty steps of heresy. They focused on the unity of Scripture, the unity of God, the truth and necessity of the incarnation, the reality of Christ’s fully redemptive death and resurrection accomplished in his human nature in indivisible unity with his eternal sonship. The presence of the Holy Spirit, the unity of the church, the resurrection of the just and the unjust, and the reality of eternal states of each gave biblical symmetry to the whole of the truths confessed. In order to defend, teach, and confess the truth as well as test its existence in others this creed served the cause of orthodoxy well and still stands as one of the truly ecumenical expressions of biblical faith.
Those who saw the “Rule of Faith” as faithful to Scripture, who served in the development of this rule into the Apostles’ Creed did so in obedience to the Pauline admonition, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, of a seed of David, according to my gospel.”
Join us at the 2024 National Founders Conference on January 18-20 as we consider what it means to “Remember Jesus Christ” under the teaching of Tom Ascol, Joel Beeke, Paul Washer, Phil Johnson, Conrad Mbewe and Travis Allen.
By Tom Ascol — 2 years ago
Life is all about relationships. A significant part of what it means for us to be created in the image of God is to be relational. God Himself is a relational being. Not only does He relate personally to us as His image-bearers, He also has enjoyed perfect relational harmony as Father, Son, and Spirit from all eternity.
Our greatest joys and sorrows come because of relationships. In order for us to live as we ought, we must have our relationships properly ordered. This means that we must relate to the right things in the right way. God has not left us to figure out on our own how to do this. He has spoken very simply and clearly about the essence and priority of all human relationships. Jesus explained it when answering a question from a lawyer.
“Which is the great commandment in the Law?” (Matt. 22:36). The question seems innocent enough until we consider its background and context. The Jewish leaders had plotted against Jesus and were trying to “entangle him in his talk” (v. 15). After turning the tables on them when they asked Him about taxes, exposing their ignorance of Scripture and God’s power concerning the resurrection, He entertained this question about the law.
Rabbis had lengthy debates over this question. They had divided the Mosaic Law into 613 commands — 248 positive ones and 365 negative ones. Their arguments focused on which ones are great and heavy versus those that are small and light.
In order for us to live as we ought, we must have our relationships properly ordered.
Jesus dismissed all of those niggling debates by giving a comprehensive answer that both satisfied the inquisitor and revealed God’s overarching will for those who bear His image. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt: 22:37–40).
Jesus’ answer gives the point and purpose of the whole law. He summarizes our complete responsibility in terms of relationships, specifically, our relationships to God and to people. The essence of all our relationships, He says, is love.
The first priority of love is God Himself. We are to love God comprehensively and supremely. Heart, soul, and mind are each qualified by “all,” indicating that we are obligated to love God with every part of every faculty that we possess.
What does such love look like? Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). So obedience is closely connected to loving the Lord, but it is not enough to say that they are the same thing. Love is more than an act of the will. It includes that, but it first arises in the affections.
John makes this connection in 1 John 5:3 where he writes, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.” Loving God involves keeping His commandments — not as a burden but as a delight. More than a dozen times this attitude of delighting in God’s law is expressed in Psalm 119.
Augustine described the love that we are to have for God as “the motion of the soul toward the enjoyment of God for His own sake, and the enjoyment of one’s self and of one’s neighbor for the sake of God.” To love God is to enjoy Him above everything and everyone else and out of that joy to live in glad obedience to His will.
But Jesus does not stop there. He goes on to teach us that, after loving God supremely, our next greatest responsibility is to love people sincerely. Contrary to what some teach about this, Jesus is not commanding self-love. Nor should His words be taken to imply that we cannot love others until we learn to love ourselves.
To love God is to enjoy Him above everything and everyone else and out of that joy to live in glad obedience to His will.
Jesus assumes that we already do love ourselves. Paul explicitly makes this point by noting that “no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it” (Eph. 5:29). This kind of natural self-love is manifested by the choices that we make to serve our own interests. No matter how destructive such choices are, they are expressions of self-love.
Once we understand the inevitability of self-love, Jesus’ command that we love others as much as we love ourselves becomes incredibly broad. The health, comfort, companionship, and benefits that I desire for myself I am also to desire for my neighbors.
This means that while I must never love people — even my closest relations — more than God, I must love them as much as I love myself.
All of this, of course, shows how completely dependent we are on the grace of Jesus Christ. We cannot love God supremely or people sincerely apart from His love first reaching us through the power of the Gospel. Only as we are so loved will we be set free to love in return.
Follow Tom Ascol: