A Review of “A Dozen Things God Did with Your Sin” by Sam Storms

Christians often perceive God dealing with sin in a binary fashion. He forgives sin, or he holds people accountable for sin and judgment. It’s difficult to argue with that equation because it is factually correct, but it doesn’t encourage much in the way of meditation. This new volume by Sam storms seeks to broaden our perception of what God does with our sin. He does so by enumerating 12 different facets of forgiveness that give us weeks and months of scripture and devotion to draw our souls deeper into the love and goodness of God’s grace.

As an example of the depth that the reader is encouraged to explore, Storms steps to either side of the key point: God forgives you of your sin. On one side of that truth lies the fact that the forgiveness that we enjoy came about because God laid our sin upon his son, Jesus. This draws our devotion from simple gratitude at being forgiven, to considering the cost of that grace. Bringing those two truths together deepens our gratitude and makes it less likely that we will take it for granted. On the other side of forgiveness is the truth that God has cleansed us of our sin. This draws us to an entirely other meditation and degree of gratitude. Not only have we been judicially redeemed, the Christian is washed clean and set apart. As with the previous thought, we are again drawn away from cheap grace.

After giving a dozen positive truths about what God has done with our sin, Dr. Storms adds an important chapter about three things that God does not, and will never do with our sin. I found this chapter to be very important in light of discussions I’ve had with people through the years. Lacking a firm hold on the concept of forgiveness, well-meaning Christians have looked at God’s grace in the same way that we might be tempted to look at human grace, as though it could be rescinded at anytime. Storms makes clear through scripture that this is definitely not the case.

This book is excellent reading for the individual Christian, but I can see this being the basis for a small group or a discipleship relationship study. Each of the topics he touches on can create an opening for a brother or sister to open up and share their concerns with the answer close at hand. Put this book on your reading list today.

3 Signs Your Church Needs Spiritual Renewal

A church may be filled to overflowing week after week, with visitors regularly adding to the attendance and pushing the numbers ever higher. The generous giving of all those people may account for a budget that builds a grand edifice and fills it with the latest technology to stream the pastor’s message around the globe. During the week, there may be programs scheduled every day, enough to fill the family’s wide and varied interests. From the outside, the church gives the appearance of success, and yet, it might be a valley of dry bones on the inside.

Despite the external measures of health that many churches use–attendance, budget and program reach–it may be the case that internally the church is in deep need of spiritual renewal. The same metrics used by a baseball team to judge success are not the same measures that determine the spiritual vitality of a church. We measure her health on a different scale and by a different authority. The Church’s health is measured in the spiritual life of the people of God. Here are three signs that point to a need for renewal within a church.

3. Discipleship Does Not Transform

The outcome of disciple-making is the third measure of spiritual health. Discipleship should transform. To disciple is to affect the obedience of a Christian and shape their spiritual lives as their Christlikeness grows. Influenced by the world, much of discipleship has become knowledge acquisition in programmatic chunks. People, for example, participate in a program on improving marriage, fill out the study guide, have a potluck at completion and put the book on their shelves. Very few marriages are transformed, but, hey, the participants can recite from memory 5 bible verses about relationships. If the discipleship within a church does not transform the lives of Christians, it is not serving the needs of a body on mission.

 2. Worship is Not Inspired

Any worship where there are performers and an audience is most likely not inspired. If no one is convicted of their rebellion while singing choruses of God’s incredible grace, spiritual vitality is diminished. This measure of inspiration requires keen insight because it’s possible to confuse emotion with spiritual practice and they might look a lot alike. Singing 5 prom-songs to Jesus can lead the ‘worshipper’ to a feeling of euphoria without once drawing attention to the lingering sin of a “wretch like me.” Singing praises to God or praying over the congregation or even standing to read the word of God should give a spiritual lift as we see and hear and feel the grace of God. At the same time that we are in awe of His mercy, we should be convicted of our own spiritual condition in His presence. Worship that does not remind us of the undeserved grace that redeems the Christian from destruction is empty.

1. The Church Doesn’t Pray Together

As Leonard Ravenhill said, no man and no church will be greater than their prayer life. Praying together, voicing our praise and petition and penance aloud in the hearing of other Christians is a unique and transformative experience. It’s also an experience most likely to be avoided by church members, and the lack of congregational prayer is usually (but not always) indicative of little individual prayer. If the Lord Jesus relied on prayer to carry Him through life, who are we Christians to say that we don’t need this discipline in our lives? The lack of a vibrant prayer life is the greatest sign that spiritual renewal is needed.

The encouraging news is that none of these traits are fatal. God encourages even the slightest move toward Him, rewarding the Christian with a new sense of spiritual depth. If this spiritual growth is recognized, it has the effect of becoming self-motivating, drawing the whole church into the life-giving practices. As the church is drawn toward a transformative discipleship that includes a vibrant life of prayer and deep, God-glorifying worship, the dry bones of the church click and clack as they come to life. The vine grows and bears fruit. The church is invigorated and returns to the gospel mission. The world is changed. Isn’t this worth it?

Keep in Step with the Spirit by J.I. Packer

The Missing Element

In a blurb commending the book, Ray Ortlund says this about J.I. Packer, “When we face a debated theological topic, we need a guide who has no ax to grind, who is fair, honest, reasonable, and—above all—carefully biblical. We Christians do debate the ministries of the Holy Spirit. But we have a reliable guide in J.I. Packer.” I read that in opening the second of my 10 out of 5 books from 2021, and found small dispute with Ortlund on this point: Packer does take sides in debate. In the volumes that have enriched me, Mr. Packer always takes the side of the biblical text. Unlike so many other authors, he does not read his theology back into the text, instead allowing his position to be discovered inductively. This trait (exhibited by so many of our senior scholars and theologians) makes reading a pleasure and his positions trustworthy.

If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Galatians 5:25

So Packer enters the theological scrum concerning a biblical understanding of the person and ministry of the Holy Spirit. His aim in this book is to restore the centrality of the Holy Spirit in the Church, a ministry that is often tossed and torn between the intellectualism of theologians and doctrine and unrestrained charismatic practices. Packer envisioned the book as a corrective to these extremes, a biblical call to Christians to restore the place of the Spirit and His gifts in their faith and lives. Unlike other authors that plant both feet in their camp and refuse to consider positions other than their own, Packer takes a much more irenic tone, insisting that the Bible speak louder than he does.

A point that Packer makes that is important for the reader to engage is that the Holy Spirit is not a discrete ministry on His own. The Spirit is inseparable from the Godhead and will always act in concert with the Father and the Son. He mediates Christ (John 16:14) to us. All the Spirit’s power and gifts are  Jesus working through the Spirit in us. It is in the self-effacing nature of the Spirit’s ministry that we gain the perspective to evaluate spiritual claims attributed to the movement of the Spirit. He will always be directing attention back to the Son, and anything that does not achieve that end is to be considered much more carefully.

The mediation of Christ to His people involves the Spirit in spurring on holiness in their lives. We often refer to this growth using the term sanctification, and it is yet another idea that gets drawn to the edges of the Church. In some quarters it is a practice through which we grow intellectually through Bible study and discipleship. At the other side of the yard, the term sanctification points to a growing perfectionism in behavior. Packer draws the idea back to the center, saying that holiness in the Bible is evidenced by growth in the fruit of the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit conforming us to Christlikeness and our pursuit of holiness is governed by our beliefs about the Spirit.

Packer takes this axiom to his examination of modern charismatic theology and practices, giving support where appropriate and critique where warranted. This evaluation includes a valuable chapter on different schools of thought and practice pursuing holiness. This part of the book is valuable from two different directions. First, when we locate our generalized tribe within the chapter it helps the Christian to see where their beliefs on this subject derive from. The reader that approaches the text fairly finds a second benefit in learning where other tribes have come from as well, preventing some of less loving criticisms that find their way into our speech. It seems to be Packer’s hope that brothers and sisters in Christ will find their own attitudes becoming as irenic as the one he displays in his words.

Keep in Step with the Spirit is a valuable contribution to the church and written at a slightly above popular level. It is worth every effort in working your way through the text, bible close by so you can read the many references in full context. More than reading the text and placing the book on your library shelves, let it affect your meditation on the Holy Spirit and His work in your life. He was never meant to be divisive within the Church. His ministry is to draw us all closer to Christ as we grow together in the Lord’s image. If this book contributes in some small way to unity within the body, Packer’s efforts will be the blessing it was intended to be.

No More Prayer Ministry

Cancel your prayer ministry. Do away with scheduled prayer meetings and seasons of special prayer focus. End the prayer chain and your email list.

Blasphemy? Unchristian advice? Neither! Each of these activities is an important part of the life of the Church, the ‘House of Prayer’ our Lord and the Bible command us to be. It’s the granularity that damages the whole. A prayer ministry, for example, is a segmentation of that spiritual practice within the holistic life of the Christian. The result is that prayer becomes just one among many activities that the believer can choose from in their life of discipleship. In our hurried, over-scheduled lives, prayer becomes a choice on the schedule.

One that often loses out to other choices.

When the Apostle Paul commended continual prayer to the believers in Thessalonica, he placed this emphasis within the spectrum of a complete life. While 1 Thessalonians 5:17 (pray without ceasing) often finds its way onto throw pillows and coffee cups, the Apostle was much more intentional in emphasizing that prayer is an irreducible part of life. The complete passage reads, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” [1 Thessalonians 5:16-18] Do we schedule “rejoicing” meetings? Do you need to receive an email reminder to be thankful? Most likely ‘no’ on both, so why prayer? The answer is hard to type and harder to hear: because many churches and Christians have not made prayer central to their identity.

Prayer should be as natural a part of our lives as is breathing. The culture identified with Christ’s Church should be a culture of prayer. The Lord modeled continual, natural prayer with the Father during his time in the world. While he set off times of quiet communion, Jesus did not schedule prayer time with his disciples separate from the ongoing ministry they pursued. It was a natural part of the life of discipleship. If we study the relationship between Jesus and his guys, we come to recognize how our separation of spiritual activities has affected the church. Prayer should not be a separate ministry; it must be the air that we breathe as we become more Christlike. Prayer should define our culture.

It is better to let the work go by default than to let the praying go by neglect. Whatever affects the intensity of our praying affects the value of our work…Nothing is well done without prayer for the simple reason that it leaves God out of the account.

E.M. Bounds

This is easier said than done. A culture of prayer for an individual or a church requires extraordinary commitment, from yourself personally or from the leadership within the body of believers. It will feel unnatural at first and this will cause hesitation, grumbling and questions of motivation, but you must persevere to find the blessing. We must model spontaneous prayer at every opportunity. A good place to start is the Sunday gathering, where everyone can use their gifts and seek an audience with the Lord on behalf of the body. Prayer as a regular part of Christian fellowship can strengthen those relationships. Pray for your brother aloud as he confides his struggle to you. Pray immediately–not say you will pray–for the family in crisis. As prayer becomes second nature over time, it will also become more comfortable and natural. We won’t see prayer as a separate part of the whole where participation is subject to the whims of choice. Prayer will not be a ministry, we will rightfully see it as ‘the’ ministry. The culture will change. Your church will change. You will change… and be blessed for it.

Longing for Revival

I passionately believe in the possibility of renewal in the church, particularly the legacy church where the devotion to the Missio Dei has grown cold in favor of comfort and familiarity. I believe that the best way, but not the only, for revival to come to the church is through a return to first principles, a devotion to prayer and worship.

As a matter of regular meditation, I consider the list of things I believe:

  • The eternal God of the Bible created, sustains, and has a purpose for the universe and my life within it
  • Jesus gave His life to atone for the sins of the world (Mark 10:45) and by vesting belief in Him, people are saved (1 Corinthians 1:21)
  • The Holy Spirit of Christ miraculously indwells redeemed people (1 Corinthians 6:19)
  • The Colorado Rockies will win the World Series (someday, no scripture reference)
  • Many churches need and can have revival

I passionately believe in the possibility of renewal in the church, particularly the legacy church where the devotion to the Missio Dei has grown cold in favor of comfort and familiarity. I believe that the best way, but not the only, for revival to come to the church is through a return to first principles, a devotion to prayer and worship. A renewed sense of the mission of disciple-making results from the first sparks of spiritual life that ignite, giving evidence to my belief. I believe these things are Scripture honoring and God glorifying.

There are doubtless many reasons that churches fall into decline, some beyond their control. As we talk about revival, it’s important to distinguish between spiritual and material poverty as a contributing factor. Geographic factors and demographic shifts can be the reasons that churches find themselves in material decline, making closure a choice that has to be made. We can identify numerous other external factors as reasons for the death of a church, and we need to be clear-eyed in assessing these realities. Conversely, spiritual decline has but a single source, the dimming of the passion of the members of a body for the gospel mission. Jesus spoke of this as forsaking “your first love” (Revelation 2:4).

While external factors may be beyond the control of a local church, the spiritual fire they exhibit is not. I believe that the Lord’s promise to be with His Church always (Matthew 28:20) assures us that any spiritual spark can be fanned into a roaring flame through His power. What does it require? I believe this inferno lies at the juncture of a return to heartfelt worship and the restoration of the Church as a house of prayer. Does this guarantee revival? Perhaps not, but it ensures that any ministry that emanates from a church is glorifying to God.

Good News | Hopelessness Defeated

29863962483_562ceffb39_zVarying degrees of hopelessness are an accepted part of life in our world. Better stated, hopelessness has marked life since the moment that rebellion against God entered the mortal plane. Hope requires a foundation, and when it is vested in the ever shifting, rapidly changing, only marginally trustworthy structures of the human world, that foundation can crumble in an instant. Claiming hope while secretly wondering when the ground beneath our feet will give way is no hope at all.

True hope is found in the one thing that never changes; true hope is found in the promises and assurances of God. Through the prophet Malachi, God gives hope to the descendants of Jacob saying I the Lord do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. (Mal 3:6)  God gave similar assurance in the midst of the words of doom that the prophet Isaiah was charged with proclaiming, God gives this hopeful reminder about the proper placement of hope, The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever. (Isa 40:8)

The Savior Jesus Christ, Son of Man and second member of the Trinity, never changes. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Heb 13:8) Faith in Christ results in an unchanging hope. This is a hope that may be buffeted by the challenges and trials of life but whose roots driven deep in the rock allow it to bend like a reed and not be broken. This is a hope that may be challenged by the many worldviews that swirl about but are ultimately found wanting. Hope rooted in Jesus is hope that will carry you through the worst storm, shine light in your darkest hour and can be counted on when all else inevitably fails.

The gospel of the life, sacrificial death and the glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ fuels the hope of all those who put their faith in this good news of God’s love through His Son. God’s eternal promises from the seconds after the hope-stealing rebellion in the garden come to fruition in the Savior and remain, unchanging, into eternity. The deeper the good news settles in our soul, the greater our hope. The more the good news defines our lives, the greater our hope.

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. An I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Eph 3:16-19)

Be hopeful.

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.

Gospel By Faith

The good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ, is anchored in faith. This is incredible news for many reasons, not the least of which is that it removes the giving or receiving of this gift of grace from our hands. The apostle Paul speaks about the result of the good news, the power of the gospel and our utter dependence on God for its application; “for it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8 – 9) We must hear the good news in faith, respond to the gospel in faith and continue to believe in faith for the gift of salvation to have its effect on our life.

It is good news that the gospel of Jesus Christ is anchored in faith. This means that on our part we take no action that we can claim as our own. This means that nothing on our part is worthy of note. We hear and respond to the gospel of Jesus by faith alone. This means that

  • we do no preparation to make ourselves worthy of the gospel
  • there are no works that we perform their worthy of the good news of Jesus
  • there is no ritual that we must perfect and perform for the gospel to have its effect
  • there will be no wondering on our part whether we have done enough, or done anything properly for the good news to be good news

In the midst of the magnificent “Hall of Fame of Faith”, the author of Hebrews cements this good news:

“(And) without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6)

What sets this chapter apart is that the heroes of faith listed all exercise that faith before the gospel of Jesus Christ was realized in full. Their faith was rooted in the promise of the care and the mercy and the benevolence of God, all of these fully realized in the gospel: that Jesus Christ, God incarnate came into the world of man, lived and gave his life as the atonement for sin for those highlighted in Hebrews, those in our day and those who will come after us until that glorious day when Jesus returns again.

The good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ, is anchored in faith. We believe the incredible news that God has dealt with our greatest problem – our separation from him by sin – in Jesus. We believe in the full sufficiency of the Lord’s sacrifice to atone from our sin, no matter its degree. We believe that on that earth-shaking Sunday morning the Lord rose and lives again, continuing to this day his ministry of intercession and care for those who have placed their faith in this good news. We believe and keep on believing.