Episode 57: The Glory, Unity, and Triumphs of the Church

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Our first consideration should not be, “Now I am here, how can I be comfortable?” but “I am here, how can I please others for their good? How can I relieve the distressed, help the weary, or cheer the sad?” It is a grand thing to do good in little ways. It is a glory to be the sweetener of life at home, the self-forgetting friend of all around. The world before long confesses that Christ is in such a man. The true Christian is Jesus Personified.

Charles Spurgeon, sermon 1472: “The Glory, Unity, and Triumph of the Church”

This sermon was honestly one of my favorite ones to read so far, and especially so because it’s rooted in such an important passage in my favorite book of the Bible, the gospel of John. Likewise, it has also been a tremendously convicting one in many positive ways, and I would echo my good brother’s words in that I “confess that I have not yet attained all that I have said to you.” Indeed, I feel that I am a lot farther from that than Charles Spurgeon would have been at this time in his life. But it is in pursuit of that, that we all continue to run towards the cross as we do.

And it is of that unified goal and unified struggle that I want to continue speaking on in this podcast. I want to look at two passages that sit heavily on my own heart. As Charles Spurgeon said in this sermon, I as much as anyone else am very sensitive to the ways in which I have fallen short, and must trust to the transforming work of the Holy Spirit for my desire to grow more in step with these words of Scripture. The first passage, like our sermon text, is from John, the words of Jesus:

“I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

John 13:34-35 CSB

The second is from Romans 12, where Paul talks about the outworkings of this, what it really looks like for the disciples of Jesus to love one another:

Let love be without hypocrisy. Detest evil; cling to what is good. Love one another deeply as brothers and sisters. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lack diligence in zeal; be fervent in the Spirit; serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer. Share with the saints in their needs; pursue hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud; instead, associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Give careful thought to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes. If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for God’s wrath, because it is written, Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says the Lord. But
If your enemy is hungry, feed him.
If he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
For in so doing
you will be heaping fiery coals on his head.
Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.

Romans 12:9-21 CSB

Unity in grace

This is why unity has to begin with the gospel and therefore work out into our lives; our works must bear the fruit of our faith. So how is it that we can live in such a way that we may reflect that need, in such a way that we can carry out the words of Paul, while engaging with each other over issues that bring deep divides, in calling for repentance from sin?

We must realize that it is entirely God’s grace that we have what we are able to enjoy in this life. And, we must look to showing that grace out in how we use what we have in light of the human divisions that we still have. I think that it’s important to lay a foundation of love and service. And I have to press myself most of all on this: where am I seeking to directly serve and share with those whom I disagree with, to display our brotherhood that runs deeper than an opinion? Where am I hiding from either my own sin or from speaking to a brother to encourage him to repent of his own? Where am I failing to love a brother or sister? Where am I being lazy in seeking to root out the hypocrisy of my life? Where am I not hating what is evil and not loving what is good?

Unified in abundance and in suffering

The struggle is real to remember the unifying factor of the cross between believers. What’s the difference between engaging error or heresy, and being a divider of the brethren? It seems to be a fine line, and all the harder to discern when the primary mode of engagement is 280 characters a pop rather than seeking to truly know someone. It won’t be my place to try to establish that in full here (though there will be future episodes of King’s Highway Radio to discuss some of the issues that bring that division). But let’s look at a few of the things from those passages just to get an idea of what I think it should look like:

Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. These words of Jesus lay the standard from the beginning: Himself, and His love. What greater example of the self-sacrificial love is there than Jesus giving Himself up to the horrors of death by crucifixion? And after that, His loving forgiveness and restoration of Peter for his betrayal, displaying the depths of His mercy not as simply an impersonal setting aside of wrong, but of a personal act that transforms the hearts of His people in ways that we can scarcely consider.

Let love be without hypocrisy. Detest evil; cling to what is good. This is truly a challenge in our modern world, where the idea of something being evil or good is convoluted beyond belief. Indeed, the words of Isaiah in “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil” echo throughout the world today. But let’s take a moment to think about, how do we apply these words to a situation where sin has entered into the life of a member of our church?

What is evil? This sin is evil, and its destructive power is clearly seen in the impact it’s having on the life of this person and those around them. I don’t think I need to be more specific than that to have anyone listening to me be able to instantly bring to mind an example they’ve personally experienced. We are to detest it, to abhor that sin, to hate it and desire its destruction. Yet we are also to cling to the good, to hold fast to it and not let it go. What is good? It’s what we remind that struggling saint of in calling them to repentance. It’s the foundation that we as believers have to call out sin in the world as a whole: we are made by God, in His image, and it is that image that shines through and demands to be seen in the light of His glory. Sin dims that glory, it takes what is beautiful and turns it into an evil mockery of God’s goodness. We are to hate that evil, but to love the good and call for repentance on that foundation: let your lives be made not on twisted sinful distortions of God, but truly in His image, seen perfectly in the person and work of Jesus.

Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer. Finally, let’s truly rely upon God in all circumstances. The pain of persecution was fully upon the early church often, yet they endured it in the hope that was rooted in Christ and poured out in them through the Holy Spirit. Their rejoicing was in the finished work of Jesus, but also in knowing that they had a hope that was stronger than any meager temporary reprieve from discomfort the world might offer them. And this is the conviction that rests on my heart, that I’m going to share with you all now: am I truly being patient when affliction comes, or am I griping and groaning under it until it passes? Am I persistently seeking the Lord in prayer, or am I being lazy in exercising this amazing right I have as a child of the Living God to enter His throne room and seek His face?

Brothers and sisters, I think we all need to wrestle with these questions, yet in hope, not in despair. Do we fall short? Then trust Jesus. Cry out with the words of the father of the possessed boy, “I believe, help my unbelief!” God is happy to hear our cries and always gives good gifts to His children.

Conclusion

So here’s my challenge to my brothers and sisters in Christ: let’s apply these words to our walk, to our conversation, to our thoughts. I hope we will all put ourselves into positions to be accountable to our brothers and sisters of our local church in seeking holiness and obedience in showing this love. We cannot separate God’s love from holiness, or vice versa. Let’s encourage one another in showing gracious love through enduring the suffering of this present life, knowing that we have a hope that shines far beyond anything we could ever have in this world.

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Coming to Facebook: Scripture Sunday

I’ve enjoyed interacting with people through the podcast’s social media platforms. One of the most enjoyable and yet exhausting methods has been livestreaming through Facebook. I have on a couple occasions livestreamed the recording of the sermon audio for an episode, but since I normally don’t just read straight through stumble-free in a single sitting this was a somewhat exhausting venture.

However, I had an idea recently I’ve decided to implement: Sunday afternoons around 3pm Central, I will be livestreaming a live reading of Scripture on the Spurgeon Audio Facebook page. What and how long I read may vary, and I am also wide open to suggestions. Scripture will be read from my current favorite version, the Christian Standard Bible (in the form of my Spurgeon Study Bible). I’ll also post the audio from this on the podcast feed.

Please tune in and consider sharing!

King’s Highway Radio: Gifts and Fruit

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Kings Highway Radio is continuing down the road! This time, Jarod and I tackle a somewhat controversial subject in the church, that of the nature of spiritual gifts and in particular, the difficulty often found in addressing the way these ought to be taught and experienced in the church today.

This discussion was inspired by a recent series of episodes from Apologia Radio’s new podcast Cultish. Former Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry student Lindsay Davis discusses a number of issues in a discussion inspired by her expulsion from the school, and they dig into the (hence the name) cult-like way the church and its related school is led. I highly encourage you to listen to all three episodes if you want to know more about Bethel and why so many express concerns about them.

Jarod and I spend time talking about this as well as related issues often found within that movement. We encourage anyone who would like to discuss this further or who wants to take issues with where we fall to email us, as we welcome feedback and disagreement. Our goal is to have brotherly dialogue on this and everything else we discuss in the course of this podcast.

If you enjoy this, please consider subscribing to the Spurgeon Audio podcast feed and sharing!

Episode 56: What The Church Should Be

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The Church is not a number of unregenerate people coming together entirely of their own notion to defend such-and-such dogmas. Such persons may form a club, but they cannot make a Church! There must be a coming together of renewed men, in the name of Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit–and these must meet for purposes which God Himself ordains–and be joined together after His own fashion.

Charles Spurgeon, sermon 1436: What The Church Should Be

We are returning to the Unity in Christ series with today’s episode. The preceding two episodes on this point I have focused on particular aspects of unity: what it is founded on and what its fruit is to be, and I want to continue in that today. I’ve talked about the foundation of unity, which is the gospel, and the law of love which guides that unity, for God above all and for neighbor as for ourselves. Today I want to talk about another component of unity, one that builds upon and refines the idea of what love looks like in the church: we are unified in our humility.

Right away I know a lot of folks will scoff at this, and certainly I don’t blame them. In the West, in the United States, sadly it’s rare to find a more arrogant and self-important person than one who is outwardly-identifying as a Christian. Years ago when I worked in food service, whenever I encountered someone with a fish on their bumper and terrible Christian t-shirts (think “ABreadcrumb and Fish” or some such other quasi-parody of an established trademark), I knew two things were almost sure to be true: I was probably not going to get a tip, and there was a very high likelihood that this person was going to complain in attempts to get discounts. Sadly, my suspicions were often found to be true.

But this is why it’s important to talk about this, and hopefully to begin to push us all, myself included, towards greater humility and, by extension, greater love and holiness. Remember back to the Beatitudes series: blessed are…who? The meek, the humble, for they shall inherit the earth. So often we believe that we have to win ground by our own doings and wisdom, and then hold it by any means necessary, when what we ought to be doing is trusting our ways and thoughts to the means God has ordained for us.

Meek inheritance

What does that mean? It means that if you see someone being wrong on the Internet, pulling out the proverbial sword and running them through is probably not the best way to handle it, but rather to remember that “a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Prov. 15:1) That even includes situations where we may sincerely believe the other person is deeply wrong and misguided. Certainly we see the way that Jesus responded to the Pharisees. He was never arrogant towards them. He was firm, founded on the truth of the Scriptures, and direct, but he never spoke to them without the end goal being the proclamation of the truth or without their own need in mind.

Yes, even for the Pharisees, what Jesus said was to point to their need first: they believed themselves holy by the nature of their birth and then by their adherence to rules above and beyond the law. That is the starting point of the gospel for everyone: our need in the face of the truth of God’s holiness. Jesus pointed to the truth of their wicked and lusting hearts, their selfishness and arrogance that led them to take what was meant to lead the people of Israel to repentance and hope, and instead turn it into a crushing burden and misery.

The image of Christ: the humble servant

It was humility that led the Son of God to come to live among us as a man. Look to Paul’s words in Philippians 2:

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, if any consolation of love,if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, make my joy complete by thinking the same way, having the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
Adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus,

who, existing in the form of God,
did not consider equality with God
as something to be exploited.
Instead he emptied himself
by assuming the form of a servant,
taking on the likeness of humanity.
And when he had come as a man,
he humbled himself by becoming obedient
to the point of death—
even to death on a cross.
For this reason God highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee will bow—
in heaven and on earth
and under the earth—
and every tongue will confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:1-11, CSB

We are not to act out of selfishness…yet how often have our thoughts, words, and deeds been marked by them? I know mine have far more often than I would ever care to admit. We are to put conceit to death, yet how often do we prize our own judgments over God’s, and over others’? Again, the weight of conviction presses on my own heart here as much as it may against any other. Our hope lies in the truth that, as His beloved children, we have the right to drag these sins into the light again and again, nailing them to the cross, and trusting to the truth that, in Christ, we have truly died to them in God’s eyes even if in this moment we still feel their scars on us.

Submission to truth

Will we dare to believe that the truth of Christ, then, is not sufficient to serve as the rock upon which the church can be built? I saw recently online an individual proclaiming essentially that, that because those who insufficiently opposed or even supported certain evils of the past also proclaimed the truth of Jesus’ vicarious atonement of our sins, that this is not enough, that we need some kind of further conviction and action in the church. How can we as those who stand in God’s grace dare to find His means insufficient?

Do we know more than our God who sees fit to bring to nothing a man’s mighty work, only to replace it with His own, founded on the work of the cross? Do we know more about the heart of a man for God than God Himself? And dare we forget that each of us in Christ has had the same insurmountable debt paid by the Son? There can be no other standard for us than God’s holiness.

I’ve also encountered the argument, mainly from those in the secular mindset, that to believe in the concept of a set and firm truth at all, let alone to proclaim that truth to the world, is itself arrogant. I’ve been told essentially, “You have your truth, but that doesn’t affect my truth,” as though “truth” is something that can oppose itself. But at its root, this too is a deeply arrogant position. It says that God is unable to make Himself known to His creation, and that revealed truth is the product of men rather than God. But in making that argument, they deny their own claims, because to say such a thing itself demands a sort of foundation of universal truth, albeit a twisted and confused one.

As Christians we don’t simply live with information in our heads. It must transform our hearts, inform our words and deeds, and lead us to become more like the image of Christ each day. “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble,” so let us seek that humble path. This is a hard thing to consider, because it includes things like making peace where enmity reigns, serving a person who shows no love in return, and even giving up our own pursuits for the good of another–all things that are echoes of the life and work of Christ. It is to Him that we look for the image of humility, Him that deserves all glory and worship, and yet chose to become a man and suffer a life of ignominy, and a death of treachery and horror, for the sake of destroying the hold of sin and death over man.

The Lord said to His disciples that the one who would be greatest in the kingdom of heaven must be the servant of all. The path to this humility is one that the we must model as the church, and our leaders most of all. Charles Spurgeon said of the path by which we grow in this quality, “God comes into our heart—He finds it full—He begins to break our comforts and make it empty; then there is more room for grace. The humbler a man lies, the more comfort he will always have because he will be more fitted to receive it.” As we still walk in what we consider wise, God’s wisdom overrides and leads us through what we must, so that we can come to find ourselves before Him with holy hearts that long to love and serve our Lord and our brethren.

We can’t pretend. We can’t hide from that breaking, and if we could we would only miss what would lead us closer to Him–what Romans 8:28 promises will work together for our good, no matter how painful it may be. Obey the apostle Paul when he commends the church of Philippi, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves.” Let’s embrace this truth with all seriousness, and look for the ways we can best reflect Christ in our words and deeds.

King’s Highway Radio: Power Corrupts

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I made mention to this in recent Spurgeon Audio episodes, but it’s finally here! My friend and fellow worker in the faith Jarod Grice sat down with me and we recorded the first episode of King’s Highway Radio. Our hope is to develop this into a format that lets us have more informal discussions about current events, theological thoughts, good books, as well as hopefully be joined by guests from time to time.

For now this will be shared on the same RSS feed as Spurgeon Audio, so if you are already subscribed you’ll receive these episodes automatically. I’m hoping to eventually create a second feed for it, but for now it will be right here. Please also consider following the podcast’s Twitter feed. If you enjoy what you here, share it with your friends and drop us a line to let us know what you would like to hear us talk about.

Episode 54: Unity in Christ

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The one Church of God, of what is it composed then? Is it composed of the Church of England, the Congregational Union, the Wesleyan Conference, and the Baptist body? No, it is not. Is not then the Church of England a part of the Church of Christ, and the Baptist denomination a part? No; I deny that these bodies, as such, unrefined and in the gross, are a part of the great unity for which Jesus prayed; but there are believers united with the Church of England who are a part of the body of Christ, and there are believers in all denominations of Christians, ay! and many in no visible Church at all, who are in Christ Jesus, and consequently in the great unity. The Church of England is not a part of Christ’s true body, nor any other denomination as such; the spiritual unity is made up of spiritual men, separated, picked out, cleared away from all the mass with which they happen to be united.

Charles H. Spurgeon

The main idea I am hoping to drive home in the course of this series is clear by now, I hope: the church, the body of Christ, is unified in and by Jesus, and therefore is moved to act by that union. As a result, the gospel is to be preached clearly and constantly, and that which brings disunity and dissension is to be rejected.

But what is the difference between “bringing dissension” and “geniune disagreement?” What is the guiding factor that leads us to determining the way we ought to serve and sacrifice and suffer? That word, that key that unlocks the great gate to the King’s Highway, is love.

The superior way

Love is the key to the greatest commandment, as well as the second. When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment is, He didn’t just provide an answer like someone in a trivia contest. He said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

When the church is looking to understand the direction they are being led in the Scriptures by the Holy Spirit, they can see clearly when they apply the truth of this fundamental commandment: they are to pursue ultimate love for God, which involves true worship, humility in all things, and trust to His goodness and provision. It involves a desire to serve one another and to minister to the need for godliness as much as for any physical need. And loving God with every aspect of your being is itself a sacrifice, putting the selfish sinful desires of your humanity to death as the Holy Spirit refreshes you with new, holy desires.

The fruit of love for God

And just as much, loving your neighbor as yourself is an outgrowth of that sacrifice. It is not normal to a human to love another person the same as he loves himself–especially given the definition of neighbor Jesus gives later in the parable of the good Samaritan. Certainly it isn’t normal for a man to sacrifice his time, his money, and, under the levitical laws, his cleanliness, to help someone who under normal circumstances would despise him, as the man in the story did.

This love, furthermore, is informed and driven forward by our preeminent love for God. In the parable of the unforgiving servant, Jesus uses the example of a servant forgiven a massive debt by his master immediately turning on another servant who owes him, essentially, fifty bucks, and mercilessly demands payment. He heard his master’s forgiving words–but what effect did they have on him? Did he really love his master if his own love for another over a trifling sum is so easily quashed? Love for neighbor and everything entailed in that–mercy, forgiveness, generosity, and more–descends from a deep and abiding love for God above all.

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Coming soon…

Episode 53: A Solemn Warning for All Churches

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Take our churches at large—there is no lack of names, but there is a lack of life. Else, how is it that our prayer-meetings are so badly attended? Where is the zeal or the energy shown by the apostles? Where is the Spirit of the living God? Is he not departed? Might not “Ichabod” be written on the walls of many a sanctuary? They have a name to live, but are dead.

Charles H. Spurgeon

Read the full sermon text at Spurgeon.org

I worked through a series of episodes on the Beatitudes for the bulk of the last year, and as I began to work into the latter half of it, a new issue began to press on my heart. I was watching people that I respected deeply begin to clash over all manner of issues, though certainly one of the biggest was that of “social justice” as defined within a particular scope. I don’t intend to address those issues directly at this time, though once I have worked through everything I want to talk about in the course of the next few episodes, I may turn to those issues.

But my desire, in this new six-part series, is to air both Charles Spurgeon’s and my own voice on the most critical issue of unity in Christ for the church. I spent time over the holidays in 1 Corinthians, and Paul has unity as a central part of his thesis for the book. He does not call for a notion of unity that simply means “don’t fight over stuff.” Paul spends a lot of time both defining that around which Christians are to unify–namely, the gospel of Jesus Christ–and what disrupts that unity–such as sin, making another man central in place of Christ, arrogant unteachability, and a lack of love.

Cornerstone of faith

So I want to begin at the beginning, at the central and most unmovable point: unity in the church must be around Christ, and must be rooted in the truth of His gospel. This is one of Charles Spurgeon’s earlier sermons and certainly he minces no words in calling out the church of his day for “defiling their garments” by not both preaching the gospel clearly and boldly, and calling Christians within them to pursue Christ’s holiness as a result. But why is he so vociferous and direct in his criticism? It’s because he sees the church in his day abandoning their role as ministers of reconciliation with God, through the preaching of the gospel of Jesus. Churches were building out their own kingdom and focused on their own comfort, and were not giving themselves over to serving the kingdom of God.

And while he speaks of it as though such a thing is unique to his time or worse than in previous times, I would say that this is one of those areas where the words of Ecclesiastes ring true: “There is nothing new under the sun.” Certainly in the West today, we have no shortage of churches with no gospel, no clear understanding of who God is and who we are, and no hope. I recall some years ago being in a church where the pastor stated that he absolutely believed that Jesus had been born of a virgin, that He had died on a cross and risen again on Easter…and he had no application to make. The sermon, if I recall, was something along the lines of “hope is good, and Jesus rose again so that we can have hope.” But there was zero understanding of why Jesus had to die, or what He accomplished in His death and resurrection.

But why did Jesus have to die?

Think back to the levitical priesthood, and to the sacrifices made first in the tabernacle and then in the temple. It was constant, and it consumed a great deal of the livestock raised by the Israelites. After all, they had multiple sacrifices that each had their own requirements and purposes that God intended them for, and the priests worked constantly in leading worshipers through them. Think about the burnt sacrifice in particular, which you can read about in Leviticus 1: the worshiper would lay his hands on the animal he had brought. He wasn’t just touching it, but the terms used in the Hebrew imply that he is pressing into the animal. (As a side note, I highly recommend Gordon Wenham’s excellent commentary on Leviticus to help clarify this book that seems obscure to many Christians today.)

Then the worshiper would slaughter the animal and, in the case of livestock, drains the animal’s blood and the priest would sprinkle it over the sides of the altar. Then the animal would be completely burned up. The other sacrifices are described in great detail as well. Why am I bringing this up? Think back to what I mentioned about pressing into the animal. The priests aren’t involved in this constant rotation of animal slaughter, blood sprinkling, and burning because they believe that God is hungry. They aren’t doing it because the priests enjoy watching livestock burn. The worshiper is pressing his hands into this animal because by doing so he is saying, “This animal stands in my place. All that I am guilty of before the Lord, let it take my place in death.” But because no bull or goat, as Hebrews says, can truly atone for sin, all it served to do was to be a constant reminder of their sin and of the hope that was coming in the work of the Messiah.

So when Jesus came and gave Himself up to death in the place of His people, He wasn’t coming because “Well, this will make things more convenient for believers. No more sacrifices over and over, Jesus is a one-stop shop for sin atonement!” Jesus gave Himself up because in His sacrifice, He completely and perfectly fulfilled the purpose of each of those sacrifices: He paid the price for sin, an immense and unpayable price by any mortal man stained with sin; He gave His righteousness to all who are in Him, who follow after Him; and He has brought us near to Him. Us, we who are sinful and evil in ways that ought to guarantee our destruction and eternal punishment, instead have a seat at the wedding supper of the Lamb. We have the right and joy to come into the throne room of God and speak with Him not as prisoners begging mercy, but as sons and daughters speaking with their beloved Father who bought them with the greatest possible price.

So when Paul asks rhetorically in Romans 6, “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” his meaning is clear, steeped in the long history of what it really meant for sin to be atoned for by blood and in Jesus’ completed work of that atonement. When Jesus died on the cross, all of us who believe died with Him. Though we still walk and breathe and work and do what we do in life, our death is finished in Him and because it is finished, sin has no claim to us and no power over us.

No other gospel

If a church is a church, this is understood to be central. Whether a church has lots of high church liturgy and order or consists of twenty people in a house, the centrality of the gospel and the immutability of the truth that Jesus’ complete and finished work on the cross is what gives us the ability to know and love God rightly is not up for debate. Jesus is the Christ, and that truth is the Rock upon which the church rests as it proclaims the truth of the gospel to anyone and everyone.

But it doesn’t stop there: this must be the foundation from which what the church does must flow. We must love our neighbors as ourselves because of how God has faithfully and sacrificially loved us far beyond what we could ever deserve. We must be generous and free with what God has given us, because in doing so we show that we trust in God’s promise to give us all things, and most importantly to provide what we need each day. And, again looking back at Romans 6, we do not make peace with our sin, but we strive for holiness. Because we have been crucified with Christ and are dead to sin before God, we do not rest but we strive and fight to kill sin in our lives.

So no matter the differences two specific churches or denominations may have, if they are living together rooted in that truth and bearing that fruit, they have unity in the gospel. But if there is denial of that–whether it is denial of who Jesus is or of His work on the cross, if there is refusal to let the truth of the cross drive you to action in loving others, there cannot be unity.

I can’t be in unity with the church that says “Well, we don’t really believe that Jesus’ death is necessary to save sinners from the wrath of God.” And just as pointedly, I can’t be in unity with a church that says “Well, we know that Jesus basically said that everyone is our neighbor but we’re just gonna build a little fort around ourselves here and take potshots at everyone who’s not within our tiny structure.” If the truth of the gospel is not central both to theology and to action, then unity in Christ is fractured.

You might say “Well isn’t that just disunity?” But how can you be in unity with those who deny the fundamentals of the faith? How can Christ and sin be one? They can’t. “No man can serve two masters” is certainly true here, and the church can’t any more than a man can.

I hope you will stay with me here as we walk through the next five sermons on this subject. I also want to give big thanks to my friend Ed Romine who attends Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and who works with the Spurgeon Library there for helping me to select these sermons.

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Episode 52: Susie – An Interview

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A few months ago I heard about an upcoming book from Moody Publishers, a biography on the wife of Charles Spurgeon. Naturally I was excited as that sounded exactly like the kind of thing I should be reading and talking about. I went on Amazon and set up a preorder and then, on a whim, sent off a note through the book’s website to see if I might get to talk with the author for the podcast.

Not only were they able to arrange an interview with the author, Ray Rhodes Jr., but they were also gracious enough to send me a review copy to read ahead of time and prepare. I wound up absolutely loving the book, and still purchasing another copy to give to my mom.

This book is a detailed and well-resourced biography, but it is also a devotional in the life of someone who knew a great deal of both joy and sadness, success and suffering, and who walked through all of it by God’s grace through faith. The book is wonderfully detailed both with lots of notes referring to other sources for the interested researcher, as well as many pictures of locations and people surrounding the Spurgeons and their work to minister to the heart of the city.

The book is chronological but not strictly so, and focuses on different threads of events within a particular issue in particular chapters rather than trying to be strictly chronological. This makes it a little easier to understand how different events work together, as the author revisits where one event started to talk about how another one began.

I can’t recommend this book enough, and if you are looking for a gift for someone who enjoys reading this is a wonderful choice. You can follow the link below to an Amazon page to order, but of course there are many sources you can purchase this book from:

Susie: The Life and Legacy of Susannah Spurgeon at Amazon.com
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Episode 51: The Peacemaker (Part 8)

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…[Y]ou will observe that the text not only says he is blessed; but it adds, that he is one of the children of God. This he is by adoption and grace; but peacemaking is a sweet evidence of the work of the peaceful Spirit within. As the child of God, moreover, he hath a likeness to his Father who is in heaven. God is peaceful, longsuffering, and tender, full of lovingkindness, pity, and compassion. So is this peacemaker. Being like to God, he beareth his Father’s image. Thus doth he testify to men that he is one of God’s children. As one of God’s children, the peacemaker hath access to his Father. He goeth to him with confidence, saying, “Our Father which art in heaven,” which he dare not say unless he could plead with a clear conscience, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”–Charles Spurgeon

Read the full sermon text at the Spurgeon Archive

I started this series back in February  because I wanted to explore this particularly famous passage in Matthew, and in the aftermath of reading R.C. Sproul’s “The Holiness of God.”  All that finally wraps up in this last episode of the Beatitudes series, and as I’ve gone through it (admittedly, very slowly), God has certainly been at work in my own life.  He has been constantly sanctifying me and blessing me in ways that have led me here and to this last sermon, and how the words our good brother preached so many years ago apply to us today, as we seek to unpack the Scriptures.

But first, a bit of background

The last sermon on the previous verse was sermon number 3158.  This sermon was number 424.  That is a pretty big jump back, but it’s made necessary by the fact that Charles didn’t preach through whole books in general, at least not for his recorded sermons as I’m going through them here.  But while this sermon was given by a much younger man than the preceding one, a man who had been through much less suffering and experienced a lot less of life than the one who delivered the sermon on the blessings for the merciful, the truth he preached did not change.

All of Scripture should press on our hearts as Christians.  It may be in different ways, since while God’s truth is constant our lives are not, and the work of the Holy Spirit continues.  I mentioned that this passage felt very important to me in the aftermath of reading “Holiness of God,” and it continues to.  The truth is that in the West, and especially in the US, for a lot of people you become a Christian by saying a certain prayer…and that’s it.  That’s the end of worrying about your relationship with God, and so many people do that with the belief that once they’ve said the magic words, it’s all good and they can go on back to life as it was.

Dissatisfaction in a lifeless walk

God’s mercy to me, thankfully, was that He did not let me roam through life believing that I could conjure and control Him through words, but to show me the same things we’ve seen as we’ve passed through this passage of Scripture together: He showed me that I had nothing that was not from Him and did not point to His glory, and that by contrast He was my immensely generous and loving Father.  He showed me that my debt was likewise immense, and my guilt deep, and I felt the weight of them.  I mourned the many, many ways I had sinned against God, the ways I had harmed others, the ways I had taken the good things He had given me and abused them for my own selfish desires.

When faced with that, when God opened my eyes to the reality of who I was–not who I wanted to imagine I was–there wasn’t room for anything else but to be on my knees.  At the same time though, God began the process of transforming me, granting me a renewed heart and, step by step, changing my desires and tastes.  The hunger for righteousness in the face of my great lack of it has been strong.  

And I felt convicted to reexamine a lot of my ways of thinking and talking from over the years.  I had been unkind to a lot of people.  I had prioritized being the smartest, being the rightest, the most prepared adversary and the most talented man in the room.  The result was that I was very unmerciful in a lot of ways, in the ways I thought of others and spoke to others.  I certainly was not pure of heart, either in the ways I spent a lot of my private time or in the motivations I had for much of life.  I certainly didn’t value peacefulness except insofar as it served to keep my life comfortable.

But God

So when God broke my heart over my sins, He didn’t just leave me on the ground and say “Clean yourself up.”  With that realization of my poverty came the truth that He has made me an heir to His kingdom–not because of anything I had ever done, certainly not!  If anything it was in spite of everything I had ever done.  It was pure love that led me to love in turn, and that has allowed me to love in ways I never could before.  It is mercy shown that lets mercy show through me, as I remember the debt of grace I owe to my fellow man.  

And so, I value peacemaking and peacefulness in a way that is rooted in the fact that God first made peace with me, by the blood of Jesus on the cross.  I am not looking for some sort of humanistic “lack of conflict” peace, because such a peace is never really peaceful.  What I desire is a true peace, under the rule of the true King.  A peace where mercy has triumphed over judgment, with liberty for the captives and freedom for the oppressed.  That is not something that will be known on earth apart from the name of Christ.

From peacemaker to persecuted

But the man who would see such a peace must also be willing to endure the persecution and hatred of the world.  I’m not talking about the kind of “persecution” that gets Christians in America in a tizzy, but the real kind that involves suffering, loss, and worse.  It’s the kind that will require us as believers to make hard choices between comfort and faithfulness.  But my brothers and sisters…my faith rests in Christ for that day.  My faith is in God, who has proven over and over again that He is faithful, that He will prove in the darkness what He has in the light.

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Episode 49: The Sixth Beatitude (Part 7)

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The impure in heart cannot see any need of being born again. They say, “We admit that we are not quite all that we should be, but we can easily be made all right. As to the talk about a new creation, we do not see any need of that. We have made a few mistakes which will be rectified by experience. And there have been some errors of life which we trust may be condoned by future watchfulness and care.” But if the unrenewed man’s heart were pure, he would see that his nature has been an evil thing from the beginning and he would realize that thoughts of evil as naturally rise in us as sparks do from a fire! And he would feel that it would be a dreadful thing that such a nature as that should remain unchanged.–C.H. Spurgeon

Read the sermon text at Spurgeon Gems

We’re getting near the end of the Beatitudes series, and I am grateful to all of you for bearing with me in the incredible slowness of producing this series. I won’t belabor you all with my tales of busyness of late but suffice it to say, I have desires to have this podcast ramp up and be produced more frequently. I will probably talk or write more about what that looks like at a later date but for now I want to talk about the text.

Jesus tells us that the pure in heart are blessed because they will see God. There are a lot of ways to understand that idea. First, I want to remind you that this section, as Charles Spurgeon noted heavily in the earlier sermons, is not about classes of Christians, but about what someone does and what someone is when they are in Christ. All of it, including and especially purity of heart, is the sovereign and gracious work of God in the hearts of His children, and by it we come to see Him.

Certainly we will see Him in the life to come, not just that He will be before our eyes, but we will see Him as He truly is—our King, our Father, our Lord, who we will live with and worship in ways far deeper than we can conceive of in this present world full of sin and death. Those things will be gone, and forgotten. Work will not be full of drudgery and disappointment, but will bear perfect fruit in accordance with what is set before us. Rest will be complete in Christ, and joy will be the byword of eternal life in a remade and perfect world.

But I think there is a way that we see God in this life as well, though invisibly. Then we will see perfectly, but now we see with eyes of faith that let us see God’s hand in our circumstances and in those around us. Not in some kind of superstitious way, but in the way that lets us trust fully in the truth of the words of Paul in Romans 8, that all things truly do work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose.

This way of seeing God in this world involves seeing Him in the midst of suffering and happiness, in our deepest and most heartfelt needs and in times of abundance. We see Him because He demonstrates His faithfulness to us in all those times, even when we turn faithless, even when we are seeking solace in fleshly foolishness, because He is God and because He is good. And as we walk in humility, we rest fully in Him because we see Him working faithfully.

So I pray that I will remain faithful and continue to look to Him with eyes of faith, and I pray that the same is true of you. Not because faith is some kind of blind thing, but because with the faith granted to us by the Holy Spirit we look to Christ, and see the perfect will of God worked out in our lives and in our world. Let us worship Him together, my brothers and sisters, because He is good and faithful, and because He is so gracious to purify our hearts in the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

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