Reformation: Yesterday, Today and TomorrowReformation: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow by Carl R. Trueman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received this book as a T4G giveaway in 2012, and had it in my to-read stack for quite awhile. I am sad that it took me this long to read it.
In my opinion, in this book Trueman does what he does best: he lectures on the Reformation.
This brief book, however, is very focused on how the theological principles that sparked Reformation, and flowed from it, can still guide us today. I very much benefited from Trueman’s expansion on Luther’s Theology of the Cross, and its implications for pastoral ministry in the church. I also appreciated his emphasis on the love of God and the work of Christ as the basis for our assurance.

Although, a tad bit of prerequisite knowledge of Reformation history is helpful, this book can be read in a matter of hours, and is very beneficial to those in pastoral ministry.

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The Gospel is on a mission.

Gospel in a nutshell: There are many verses in the Bible that divulge the essence of the Gospel. One of them is Paul’s message to the Corinthian church.

2 Corinthians 5:21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (NASB)

One of the things I have come to understand about the Gospel is that it is causal. It is intended, and superintended, by God to have an effect on those who believe it. It’s effect is righteousness, in both declaration and in practice. The declaration of righteousness over us is instant, the practice of righteousness in us takes time. With this in mind, we will ponder three questions of God’s Word, seeking help from God. Continue Reading…

What does it mean that God regrets?

In an upcoming Sunday School lesson we will be in 1 Samuel 15. This is a sad passage that tells the story of Saul, his meteoric rise and rapid decline. In Saul, we see a man, plucked out of nowhere, made to be Israel’s first human king, who, as we learn, is a complete train-wreck morally, emotionally, spiritually. He is impetuous, disobedient, and lives for the approval of man. He is such a disaster as king that the Biblical writer makes this astounding statement:

Then the word of the Lord came to Samuel, “I regret that I made Saul king, for he has turned away from following Me and has not carried out My instructions.” So Samuel became angry and cried out to the Lord all night. – 1 Samuel 15:10, 11 HCSB

It’s bad enough that Scripture would speak of God regretting He made Saul king, but it says it again!

Even to the day of his death, Samuel never again visited Saul. Samuel mourned for Saul, and the Lord regretted He had made Saul king over Israel.
– 1 Samuel 15:35 HCSB

There exists in this text a question that needs to be asked and considered. What does it mean that God regrets or repents? We are told twice in this chapter that God regrets or repents. Then we are told that God does not change His mind.

Furthermore, the Eternal One of Israel does not lie or change His mind, for He is not man who changes his mind.” [Emphasis mine]
– 1 Samuel 15:29 HCSB

So, how can these truths be reconciled? How can God be sorry, or regret, something He did, but not be a God who changes His mind, or makes mistakes. How are we to understand this? Did the writer make an error?

The issue, as always, is dependent on context.The Hebrew word naw-kham has quite a few meanings and its meaning is based on context. The word can mean “to suffer grief”, “to be moved to pity”, “to be sorry”, or “to change one’s mind”. So, first we have a word that has not just one meaning or sense, but that is flavored by the context. We have this in English, as well. We have all bumped into someone and said, “I’m sorry.” And we’ve all had that wise-cracking friend to remark, “I know you’re sorry, but what am I?” Depending on the context, the word can mean two entirely different things. But, still that does not resolve this apparent conflict. Does God regret, or doesn’t He? How can He regret and not regret at the same time?

Two Options

To some, the issue of God’s regretting is a problem. This problem is made even worse by the fact that some translations use the word “repent.” Some use the word “grieve.” Depending on how this is interpreted, this can be seen as a challenge to God’s omniscience, His ability to know the future, as well as His Immutability, also understood as God’s unchangeableness. So, I want to take a few minutes and attempt to deal with this matter faithfully, pastorally, and in a way that brings glory to God.

Here are two options:

Option 1. When God chose Saul to be king he did not foresee Saul’s willful disobedience, and thus after realizing He made a mistake in choosing Saul, He regretted His decision and decided to try again because He had not achieved His purposes.

Option 2. When God chose Saul to be king he did foresee Saul’s willful disobedience, and though it grieved God, He had not made a mistake in choosing Saul. Rather, it served His long-term purpose.

I will argue for Option 2 and against Option 1, at the same time.

First, let’s look at what Scripture confirms about God’s knowledge of the future.
God’s knowledge of the future is one of the things God Himself says separates Him from other would-be gods.

“Remember this and be brave;
take it to heart, you transgressors!
Remember what happened long ago,
for I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and no one is like Me.
I declare the end from the beginning,
and from long ago what is not yet done,
saying: My plan will take place,
and I will do all My will.
Isaiah 46:8-10 HCSB

Jesus uses God’s foreknowledge to comfort us in prayer; Matthew 6:8 “your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

Therefore, if God knows the future, in what way does He “regret” or “repent” concerning Saul’s rebellion (vv. 11,35). I believe the difference is found in the context. It is based on relationship. The short answer is this; God grieves over our sin, and He grieves over the consequences. God has true emotions and thoughts, and when we sin, He experiences real sorrow and grief, even wrath in response to our sin. Yet, He has also pity on sinners.

The Lord is gracious and merciful,
    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
The Lord is good to all,
    and his mercy is over all that he has made.
– Psalm 145:8-9 HCSB

Another attribute of God that is important to consider is the Immutability of God, also referred to as God’s unchangeableness. Berkhof spoke of God’s immutability in 4 categories. God is immutable in His Being, in His Perfections (moral character), in His Purposes (plans), and in His Promises (blessings, curses, things to come). So, God remains the same, always right, merciful and loving, working out His eternal plans, and responding to people and situations.  Scripture affirms that He is the “Divine Being” not the “divine becoming”.

God loves us, and in a very real way He grieves over our sin, He grieves when we reject Him. God is loving and feels emotional pain when His creatures rebel against Him.

So, what does it mean that God does not “regret” or “repent”? (v. 29)

Here, the context is judgment. Unlike man, which is subject to change, is unfaithful, as seen clearly in Saul, God is faithful and consistent, not arbitrary.

While He has compassion and grieves over having to punish sinners, He will not relent from punishing sin and rejecting sinners, though that in itself is grievous to Him, and brings Him sorrow. Yet, He will not change His mind in regards to condemning sin. He hates it. He always has and He always will. In a very real sense this is a picture of God loving the sinner but hating the sin, because of the broken relationship and the necessity of judgment. God defends His glory, even at great personal cost. That, I think, is what is meant by God’s regretting: His sorrow at the judgment that will befall the house of Saul.

So, what about other examples of God seemingly changing His mind?

We see what appears to be a change of heart and mind in God in passages like Moses’ prayer for Israel in Ex. 32:9-14; in Hezekiah’s prayer for more years in Is. 38:1-6; in God’s relenting from calamity in Jonah 3:4-10. Rather than seeing some mental flip-flop in God, I believe the Word of God is teaching us the importance of prayer. We see, in these examples, prayer as the response to the warnings of God. When there is an appropriate, prayerful, repentant response to God, He will withhold His judgment. God is merciful to warn us, and His purpose is to bring about repentance. God responds to prayer – prayer is a new situation, and God will relent in response to repentant prayer.

This is a truth fixed in heaven: God can, and does, reverse previous declarations of blessing that are based on, or conditioned upon, human response.

When all these things happen to you—the blessings and curses I have set before you—and you come to your senses while you are in all the nations where the Lord your God has driven you,  and you and your children return to the Lord your God and obey Him with all your heart and all your soul by doing everything I am giving you today, then He will restore your fortunes, have compassion on you, and gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you. – Deuteronomy 30:1-3, HCSB

The “blessings and curses” are conditional. God has said, I set before you life and death, blessings and curses. You make the choice which way you’ll go.

Back to Saul

As for God and Saul, I believe that God knew how Saul would end up, just as God knew Israel would reject God’s king-ship, and desire a human king like the nations around them. (See Deut. 17:14-15) He knew of Saul’s many flaws, yet it did not soften the blow to God’s loving heart. He was grieved at Saul’s sin, and He was grieved to have to remove the king-ship from the house of Saul because of the causative sin, and because of the devastation that it would bring about. Yet, even in Saul’s kingship, God was preparing Israel for a greater King in David, who was a type of the King who was to come, Jesus Christ, the King of all kings.

Personal Application So, consider this today. God in heaven is personally concerned with your relationship to Him. Even if you are not a believer, God is gracious and merciful to you. He has been slow to anger, and He has abounded in steadfast love to you. God has been good to you and has shown you mercy. He desires to bless you. Yet, in your unrepentant sin, in your unwillingness to come to Him, worship Him, serve Him, love Him as the only soul-satisfying object in the entire universe, you grieve Him.

Repentance, the turning from your rejection of Him, and turning to His Son as the only means of forgiveness and acceptance to God is the path to God’s relenting from the calamity He has promised all who reject His Son.

Why will you die in your sins? Confess them. Turn from them. Call on the Lord today, submit your past and future, your heart, mind, and strength to Him today. He is is good, He is unchangeable, and He will save you today.

As always I’d love to hear your feedback, insight and comments. Please keep it civil and let’s show the world that people can agree or disagree with grace and class. 

Evangelism – What is it?

Our term evangelism comes from the Greek work euangellizo. It’s the verb form of the noun euangellion, which means good news or gospel. So, evangelism involves sharing the good news, sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ and calling people to repent and believe. It is communicating the message of all that God has done to save sinners from their sin and calling them to respond. It requires showing them their lostness, communicating God’s claim upon them, and pleading with them to respond in repentance and faith.

The church’s role is to inform and proclaim.

The Holy Spirit convicts and converts.

God’s expectation is that all men are to respond in repentance from sin and saving faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, which requires dying to self and living for Jesus in love and in gratitude for His saving work. Continue Reading…

Sanctification is anything but passive. Though it does not occur without God, both by His calling and by His power, we have a part to play. It is in the continual yielding to His grace, day by day, moment by moment (a la Francis Schaeffer). Sanctification is either hindered or helped by our decisions and actions. We can choose whether to grow in sanctification, or not, even though it is God alone who enables it. Continue Reading…

We, as Americans, enjoy, for now, a form of government known as a Republic. This form of government was wisely intended by our Founding Fathers to be a middle way between despotic rule and pure democratic forms of self-rule. Representatives duly elected by the citizenry are to enact laws. There are processes in place whereby those laws can be challenged and overturned. Good laws can be passed, and bad laws can be passed. Good laws can be overturned, and bad laws can be overturned. We must also not be so naïve as to think our form of government will remain as it was, or even as it is. As the oft-quoted Benjamin Franklin famously replied, when asked about the form of government that emerged out of the Constitutional deliberations, we have “A republic, if you can keep it.”

As such, Christian citizens should use our influence to represent God’s voice by seeking moral and helpful legislation, by electing men and women of moral character, and by holding them accountable for their decisions and actions through involvement and how we use our votes. We also must understand that the political machine will not always work in our favor. God’s design for human flourishing will not always be reflected in our human government. In fact, we can expect that over time all human government will drift further away.

The Founding Fathers wisely, I think, feared a pure democracy, and formed a republic to protect “certain unalienable Rights” granted by our Creator. The majority is not always in the right. Our move from an informed “republican” (little R, not the political party) form of government to more “democratic” (little D, not the political party) tendencies will eventually lead to the very despotism the Founding Fathers sought to counter. A suspicious, wariness of the ills of Democracy are echoed in James Russell Lowell’s quote, “Democracy gives every man the right to be his own oppressor.” As Christians being fully aware of the human tendency to foolishly enslave itself, we should not succumb to the pressure to compromise on our convictions, nor should we bow the knee to the culture.

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. – Jeremiah 29:7, ESV

Biblical Christians understand that this world is not our home, it is not our end-game. As such, we should not aim to use the political system as a means to “heaven on earth”, nor do we aspire to “Christianize” our nation. The former will not happen until Christ returns, the latter is not necessarily equivalent to making disciples of all nations. But we should believe that Jeremiah 29:7 is completely applicable to us, and thus live out the Christian faith in full view, including our principled, biblically informed involvement in political issues in order to work for human flourishing.

One of the ways we seek human flourishing here on earth is through political means. However, we must remain steadfast in this:

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” – Romans 1:16-17, ESV

Christians, in full dependence on the Gospel of Jesus Christ to save and change hearts, should be active in the political process. As best they can, they should vote in accordance with Biblical values, and work to winsomely persuade others to do the same. Always keep this in mind: Political victory is always short-lived. Proclaim mostly the victory that was won at the cross on Calvary. There hung a King the likes of which the world does not deserve. A King who offered Himself completely on behalf of His subjects. A King who is always just, always kind, always good. A King who will reign forever and ever, and a King that allows us to share in His reign. He will return one day, and we will all answer for our lives, including our participation in the political process.

Parting thoughts

As we enter into another heavy political cycle, I want to encourage you with these questions for self-evaluation.

  • Do you ever ponder the truth that the way you vote is reflection of your thoughts, and where you put your trust?
  • What is your motivation for being involved in politics?
  • On what basis do you choose positions, and vote for candidates?
  • Where is your ultimate trust?

As always I’d love to hear your feedback, insight and comments. Please keep it civil and let’s show the world that people can agree or disagree with grace and class. 

A Blog Reboot

June 1, 2016 — Leave a comment

I am not famous, nor influential, but I am this: Committed to God’s Word, and helping others hear His Voice. It is their only hope.

I waded into the blogosphere a few years back while serving as a Pastor. I felt it was a good way to extend my teaching ministry beyond Sunday Sermons and church newsletters. While I never reached the masses, and my posts never engender loads of responses (other than spam comments), there have been occasional bits of encouragement from readers.

So, today, I am firing up the blog again. I am not currently pastoring, though that is my desire. But, I learn so much when writing that I feel it’s something I must do.

I hope you will benefit from my writing, and I hope you will read this post: Listen to God’s Voice. In it you begin to grasp the reason I write.

Minute by minute, decision by decision, day after day, we are incited, tempted, seduced, and drawn into the battle within in our hearts and minds for the supremacy of the Universe.

Our battlefield is our mind, and the goal of our conquest is for happiness, for peace, for fulfillment. Oftentimes, though, our battle objectives fail us in the life-long pursuit of our goal because we lack the insight, true wisdom, and a self-awareness of how our desires actually work to short-circuit the achievement of our goal. Continue Reading…

Is it worthwhile for Christians to be involved or informed about politics?
To what degree should a Christian be involved?
Will political involvement distract us from evangelism and discipleship?

I have heard it said that a good way to destroy a relationship is to discuss religion or politics. Well, at great risk, I am about to do both in this series on The Christian and Politics. I will think out loud on some biblical motivations for involvement in the process. Of course, growing up as an American, my thinking and application will be slanted towards Christian life in the Western world, but I believe the biblical principles are universal, spanning all peoples in all times. Continue Reading…

As Evangelicals we don’t often look to the Puritans for spiritual and practical advice in the face of persecution. But, I am becoming increasingly convinced that many Puritan writers and writings are indeed a great and largely untapped resource for the Evangelical church in America. Continue Reading…