Fitted with the Gospel of Peace

The apostle Paul describes the tools of spiritual warfare in the new covenant world, naming it the Armor of God in the final chapter of Ephesians. In verse 15 we encounter a phrase unique in the Bible when he speaks of feet fitted with readiness, the readiness coming from “the gospel of peace”, a phrase found only here in the Greek New Testament. Paul gives this command as the foundation of our spiritual armor, steadying our life as each of the component parts works together.

This imagery echoes back to the messenger of peace prophesied in Isaiah 52: How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation”.  Though barefoot, this messenger carried the ‘good news’ of peace to those in exile that restoration would be on the way, that their long bondage would be ending. He shouts a message from the mountaintops that peace had been made with the King, enmity had ended. For the reader [hearer] of Paul’s epistle, this imagery could not be missed and was, in fact, amplified by the Apostle’s magisterial writing in Romans.

“For if, when we were god’s enemies, we were reconciled to him though the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved though his life!”  Romans 5:10

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” Romans 8:1

Those set free by Christ know this peace. The Gospel brought this peace and emboldens the peacemakers. The good news sent from the King to the exiles brought hope and in Jesus, the message came to life. As believers have embraced the message, they have surrendered their sovereignty to the true Sovereign. The announcement of the treaty that followed the Lord’s sacrifice gave definition to peace. Knowing, truly knowing, the peace that comes of the gospel propels the freed soul to share this good news with others. We want those around us to know the same freedom, to enjoy the same peace.

The blessing that comes of the gospel of peace is likewise twofold. We are blessed in salvation and in knowing the peace with God that the forgiveness of sins provides. Blessings are also inherent in the calling to proclaim the good news of peace. To be entrusted with such a precious task and message is to feel the love of God, to know the trust of the King.

“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news…” Isaiah 52:7

Book Review | A Christological Must Read

High King of Heaven Ed. John MacArthur

One of the most difficult tasks in theological writing is to bridge the technical with the practical. Pastors are challenged to do this each week, studying and understanding God’s Word in its language and context and then putting that technical knowledge to use by the hearer of the sermon. Greek forms and cross-references are interesting but the task at hand is help the Christian hear God speak through the Bible. This challenge applies to an even greater degree when it comes to theological literature. Numerous are the excellent technical tomes in the pastor’s library as are the numbers of practical books on the shelf. Few offer a bridge between the two worlds, but “High King of Heaven” succeeds in being one of the small number that offer this link.

Edited by John MacArthur, High King of Heaven is a compendium of articles touching on the person, work and the Bible’s witness to Jesus Christ who “after he had provided purification for sins, eh sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” (Heb 1:3) The 23 authors of the individual chapters might cause you hesitate to engage the book, thinking that the potential unevenness might not be worth the effort but let me allay your fears. MacArthur has done a wonderful job as editor (no doubt aided by Phil Johnson) and the book reads smoothly from page to page. Though each author has a unique style, the book as a whole speaks of the magnificence of Jesus Christ with a single voice.

Who should read this book? Though labeled as a contribution to the Systematic Theology library, the chapters are accessible by any Christian familiar with the Bible. There are technical points that are explained well enough that almost anyone can understand them and there are practical points that can be filed for later use if they don’t fit the reader’s immediate context today. “High King of Heaven” is a book that invites you to engage it deeply, marking it up, planning for a second full read. This is not a volume that will be read and then shelved with so many others. This is going to become a standard reference volume, even for those theologians outside of the MacArthur-Calvinist circle.

Gospel Blessing | The Gospel Saves

“The time has come” With this announcement, Jesus proclaimed that the single most radical shift in all of history had begun. The plan that God had made for the salvation of His beloved creatures and the redemption of His world was entering the final phase, one that would lead the Savior from Galilee to Cavalry. His announcement was earthshaking, “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”

As Mark states in the first verse of his gospel, the good news is about Jesus Christ, the son of God. But the good news is also Jesus Christ, the son of God. The rightful king had come, bringing the kingdom of God near to His creatures in the incarnate form of Jesus. Repent, Jesus says, and believe this incredible news; turn back to God, turn back to home and be blessed by this act of your loving Father.

The gospel is more than an idea, it is a divine force. Among its countless blessings is the power to salvation (Rom 1:16). St. Paul repeats this idea in the first letter that he wrote to the church at Corinth. In that letter he dealt with several disturbing issues that had come to cause weakness in the church and required correction. Having dealt with those issues, rebuking in some cases and gently correcting and others, Paul reminds them of their common foundation, their unity in the gospel. He reminds them that all believers share one common truth; each was saved by the gospel of Jesus crucified and risen again:

“Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you.” (1 Corinthians 15:1 – 2)

The power of the gospel is inherent in its content. God in Christ died to pay the penalty due sinful man. Penalty paid, life is restored as Jesus demonstrates his mastery over the grave, removing for all believers the sting of death. And none of this is left to conjecture: three days hence Jesus rose from the tomb appearing to those with eyes to see. All good news, all gospel, but also a call to action.

The gospel calls us to pause and consider the great sacrifice made on our behalf, our undeserving behalf. Because Jesus endured this, because God planned this, because you are hearing this good news the invitation to turn back toward God – to repent – is seen in a whole new light. No longer is it just one man calling another to change their behavior. It is an invitation to turn back toward home, to turn back toward the life that you were created for, to turn back to the one who sacrificially loves you. This is the gospel. This is the gospel that saves.

Book Review: Feels Like Home by Lee Eclove

Let me say this up front, this belongs in every pastor’s library and should be read regularly. Pastor Eclov has given the Church a necessary corrective to the attractive, grow bigger at all costs attitude that can become the dominant outlook in your church. This was not the intent of the Lord when he handed Peter the keys; we were not to adopt the worlds values and methods in the hope that we might be able to ‘share’ the gospel with those who come to the show. The Lord’s plan was to live the gospel, joyful and sacrificially, showing (not telling) what Jesus has brought about in our lives together.

Eclov emphasizes the community of believers over the show. The Church is to be family, celebrating and worshipping and bearing one another’s burdens, all in testimony to what Jesus has done for us. This is the picture of church St. Francis had in mind when gave that famous proclamation to ‘Preach the Gospel at all time times, and if necessary use words.’ Though unsaid in the book, Eclov’s guidance reminds the church that the Gospel is not just for evangelizing, it is for us to give to one another to lift, to calm, to encourage, to love.

Church as home, church as family. Reminders of the sometimes forgotten nature of ministry that Pastor Eclov walks through in encouraging chapter after convicting chapter. Growth for growth’s sake is not a biblical guiding principle, church as family is. Read this excellent book (ignoring the mid 70’s cover art) and then prepare to read it again, little by little. Thank you Lee.

Gospel Blessing: The Gospel Calls Us

“…God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  2 Thessalonians 2:13-14

Our calling as Christians from death to life is a blessing of the gospel. We would know no hope and remain in rebellion with God without the gracious intervention of the Holy Spirit of Christ moving us to respond to the good news. So oppressed by the deleterious effects of sin in our lives are we that only the divine Gospel power has the ability to break us free (1 Cor 2:14). The Bible bears witness to the Lord’s own invitation to salvation, the message often falling on spiritually deaf ears.

“…Our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.”  1 Thessalonians 1:5

The blessing of calling overcomes our inability to respond. The gospel message is proclaimed verbally, inviting the listener to repent of their sin and be saved. This sin, however, blinds and deafens us. The louder sound that convinces us that we are not that bad and certainly worthy of heaven prevents us from hearing and responding to the humility of repentance. Our eyes are blinded by the self-idolatry of our independence, not needing or wanting the Creator to be involved in our existence.

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them.”  (John 6:44)

Recognizing our helplessness, God mercifully goes beyond the general, external call and calls us. In His time and way, God effectually calls us internally to respond (1 Co 1:9). The Holy Spirit gently sharpens the vision and hearing of the stubborn soul, turning the heart back toward God. The Gospel invitation suddenly reverberates with hope. The formerly blind eyes can see gift before them. Ears that were deaf can hear the gentle voice of God inviting the soul to come and relinquish one’s burden and be saved.

What a blessing!

Judgment and The Gospel

In the magisterial book of Romans, the apostle Paul lays out the good news of salvation. He methodically proceeds in presenting this doctrine from our natural state of rebellion to the hope of reconciliation in Jesus Christ and on to what this means for all of humanity. The arguments are complex, but accessible when approached passage by passage. For example, he speaks of the coming judgment to Jewish readers in Rome:

For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.) This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.    (Romans 2: 13 – 16)

When we work to unravel this challenging bit of Scripture, we’re caught off guard by the last line in which the apostle associates the day of God’s wrath being exercised in the fullness of its fury with the good news. How in the world is this good news?  The answer, of course, is grace. When the Christian stands before their Lord on that day of judgment barren of all works, we have confidence in grace. It is the condition of our hearts that will be judged, and it is the humbled acceptance of the righteousness of Christ that determines this state. As the apostle restates this good news later in his letter to the church at Philippi, his hope is “be[ing] found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ — the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.” (Phil 3:9)

Tim Keller says this, “… God’s just judgment is fundamental to his declaration about God’s son. Without judgment, salvation has no meaning. Without the reality of God’s present and future wrath, the cross is emptied of its glory.” Oh! how this expands our meditation. Not only is the day of judgment good news because we have, in Christ, no fear, but the horror of the cross is gospel as well. That God placed the fullness of my sin on the shoulders of his Beloved Son rather than my own, that is unimaginable good news. I stand before the Judge in full confidence knowing that my Savior -actually the Judge Himself!– has taken the penalty that belongs to me as his own.

Judgment for the Christian is good news as we already know the outcome. Our gratitude and humility for the atonement of our sin should be reflected in the effort that we devote to sharing this gospel truth with others.

Book Review: The Unsaved Christian by Dean Inserra

A Mission Field Nobody Wants to Engage

The presence of the unsaved thinking of themselves as Christians has been a reality forever. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus himself warns against putting stock in a false conversion saying, “not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus says it, but the state of the modern church is often resistant to hearing and heeding the admonishment. As author Inserra relates, cultural Christianity has embedded itself deeply in the Church, its comforting lack of accountability enveloping people in a warm embrace of false belief.

Inserra structures is excellent book along the lines of a missionary guide for an unreached people group. The interaction that he shares at the beginning of the book with his seminary classmate sets a challenging tone. While Pastor Inserra looked at his brother’s assignment to Northern California as an incredible challenge (the land of proud unbelief), his brother turned the table to warn him against the assumptions that came with an assignment to the Bible Belt. This bracing moment is when he began to really examine the reality of faith amongst those who proclaimed a belief in Christ as a part of their everyday life. Examination proved that this belief was anecdotal in some cases, cultural in most of them and simply a part of being a citizen of the South for many. The chapters of the book that follow the analysis give the reader excellent study points for ways in which to approach each of these groups and more.

“Unsaved” is a quick read but not shallow. As someone involved in ministry, I can see a face to go along with each of the belief types that he describes. This personalization gives the reader the opportunity to think through the conversation that you want to have in the way that you want to approach that person. It didn’t begin the book with high hopes because I thought it was simply stating the obvious, but Inserra has performed a valuable service for Christ’s church, saying the hard things that need to be said in love.