“Behold, The Lamb of God…”

Those were the words of John (inspired by the Holy Spirit) when he saw the Lord Jesus Christ according to his own account in John 1:29, “The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).

What John said about Jesus in this verse is very important for us all to grasp.  The truth contained in these words concerning Jesus matter for all eternity.  Simply put, John is telling us that Jesus is the only One who has the power to take away our sins.  Jesus is the only One who can forgive us all of our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).  In Jesus, we have redemption in His blood, the forgiveness of sin according to the abundance of His glorious grace (Ephesians 1:7).  It is Jesus alone who can cleanse our guilty consciences by His blood which was shed for us on the cross (Hebrews 9:9, 11-14).

In referring to Christ as the “Lamb of God,” John identifies Jesus as the One to whom all the Old Testament sacrifices pointed.  Jesus is the Great Sacrifice by which the sin of man is atoned for and by which man is reconciled to God.  Matthew Henry, commenting on this verse writes:

Of all the legal sacrifices he chooses to allude to the lambs that were offered, not only because a lamb is an emblem of meekness, and Christ must be led as a lamb to the slaughter (Isa. 53:7), but with a special reference, [1.] To the daily sacrifice, which was offered every morning and evening continually, and that was always a lamb (Ex. 29:38), which was a type of Christ, as the everlasting propitiation, whose blood continually speaks. [2.] To the paschal lamb, the blood of which, being sprinkled upon the door-posts, secured the Israelites from the stroke of the destroying angel. Christ is our passover, 1 Co. 5:7. He is the Lamb of God; he is appointed by him (Rom. 3:25), he was devoted to him (ch. 17:19), and he was accepted with him; in him he was well pleased. The lot which fell on the goat that was to be offered for a sin-offering was called the Lord’s lot (Lev. 16:8, 9); so Christ, who was to make atonement for sin, is called the Lamb of God.

But there is something else that John wants us to see – rather something that he wants us to do in response to the fact that Jesus Christ is the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”  John wants us to cast the eye of faith upon the Lord Jesus Christ and trust Him alone for forgiveness and cleansing from sin.  Henry’s comment on this sums it all:

It is our duty, with an eye of faith, to behold the Lamb of God thus taking away the sin of the world. See him taking away sin, and let that increase our hatred of sin, and resolutions against it. Let not us hold that fast which the Lamb of God came to take away: for Christ will either take our sins away or take us away. Let it increase our love to Christ, who loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, Rev. 1:5. Whatever God is pleased to take away from us, if withal he take away our sins, we have reason to be thankful, and no reason to complain.

And so with John’s testimony concerning Jesus, comes the call of faith to all sinners.  John is calling us all to look to Christ and be saved.  We are not to look to ourselves, but to Christ and Him alone.  We must not look to our families, but to Christ alone.  We must not look to our congregations or denominations.  No, we must all look to Christ and Christ alone.  Not once, not twice, but always!  It must be Christ and Christ alone!  He alone is the One who is able to cleanse us from our sin!  He is the ONLY perfect and acceptable Lamb of God’s own choosing.  He alone is the Author and Perfector our faith who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross and despised the shame and is now seated at the right hand of God Almighty (Hebrews 12:2) where He intercedes for us daily.

The gospel call to us all is, “Look to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth!  For I am God, and there is no other” (Isaiah 45:22).

NEEDED! DEAD OR ALIVE: FAITHFUL PREACHERS!!

As a minister of the gospel, there is no subject that interests me more than the preaching.  I am not just interested in a “fanciful” manner, but I am captivated by this subject because it sums up God’s call upon my life this side of heaven.  But it’s not just preaching in general that interests me.  Rather it is Christ who is to be the Grand Theme and Subject of all faithful preaching!  I am not only called to preach.  I am called to “preach Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23).  “…We do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord…” 2 Cor. 4:5).  All true preaching is Christ-centered, and all Christ-centered preaching is true preaching.  There are no two ways about it!  Those who are committed to the faithful exposition of Scripture will necessarily preach Christ because all of the Scriptures testify about Him (Luke 24:25-27,44-48; John 5:39).

Sadly, there is a dearth of preaching in our day.  Many are the pulpits which have been severely afflicted and inflicted by this terminal disease.  We do not lack “preachers” capable of giving interesting talks, moral advice or motivational speeches.  There are plenty of those around – everywhere you turn!  But faithful, Christ-centered preachers!  Oh, no!  Those are scarce!  Only a few of them are still standing!  I think the sign below needs to be hang on just about every church door today.

William Still in his book entitled, The Work of The Pastor writes:  “…If the hope of the world is Christ, it is Christ in all the Scriptures, and that hope can only be fulfilled by men pouring out the riches of Christ’s saving grace upon the Lord’s people through the Scriptures” (p. 93)

Why then is there such a dearth of faithful, Christ-centered preaching in our day?  Well, that’s a very good question.  Many reasons can be given as to why this is the case.  But one thing is for certain, there has been a great lost of confidence in Scriptures among both preachers and hearers as Alistair Begg points out in his book, Preaching for God’s Glory (pages 18-19):

The absence of expository preaching is directly related to an erosion of confidence in the authority of and sufficiency of Scripture.  At the beginning of the nineteenth the battle lines were drawn against the forces of liberalism.  Liberals were challenging the miraculous, questioning the divine, and opposing the historicity of the New Testament documents.  Evangelicals weathered that storm, and empty liberal churches testify to the futility of the liberal quest for a demythologized Christ.  But today the battle is more subtle.  The Scriptures are neglected and debased and are used only as a springboard for all kinds of “talks” that are far removed from genuine biblical exposition…There is little, if any, sense of either the preacher or the congregation bowing under the majestic authority of God’s written Word.

I couldn’t agree more!  Let me end this post by asking you to do three things in light of what I have shared here:

First, pray with me that the Lord will raise up a new generation of preachers who will not be afraid or ashamed to preach the “whole counsel of God” and point people to the Lord Jesus Christ in every sermon.

Secondly, pray for your pastors that by God’s grace and the working of God’s Holy Spirit they may be kept faithful and true to their calling. In my view, that is the best way to keep your ministers accountable before God and their congregations.

Secondly, pray for me also that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel…that I may proclaim it clearly and boldly, as I should (see Ephesians 6:19-20; Colossians 4:3-4).  Thank you!

For more on this, please click on this link:  Contending for the Faith in America.

I also recommend the following additional resources:

Essays:  Is Christ-Centered Preaching a Biblical Mandate? by Fred A. Malone;  A Listener’s Guide to the Pulpit by Todd Wilken; Preaching Christ, by Charles McIlvaine (1799-1873)

Books:  Preaching Christ in All Scripture, by Edmund Clowney; Him We Proclaim, by Dennis Johnson, Christ-Centered Preaching, by Bryan Chapell

Amazing Grace in the Life of William Wilberforce

In my previous post, I wrote of the importance of reading Christian biographies.  What I plan to do over the next few days is to share some of the biographies which the Lord has used to inspire, challenge and teach me over the years.  Typically, I will do this every Monday, but for this week, I will share some of them with you in between the other posts praying that the Lord will be pleased to use them to bless you too even as He has used them to blessed me.

I will start with William Wilberforce.  I do so simply because my wife and I just finished re-watching the movie Amazing Grace (released in 2006) which is based on Wilberforce particularly on his fight for the abolition of slave trade in Great Britain.  If you have high-speed internet, you can watch this movie for FREE online.

 

Eric Metaxas as well as John Piper wrote wonderful biographies on William Wilberforce.  I highly commend them to you.  The one by Metaxas is entitled, Amazing Grace:  William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery.  Piper’s is entitled, Amazing Grace in the Life of William Wilberforce.  I hope you will get a copy of one or both of these for yourself.

William Wilberforce was a man of great courage, tenacity and endurance.  Though there were discouraging moments in his life when he would have been tempted to give up the “fight,” he courageously kept on fighting for his cause and the Lord granted him success in the end.  He was blessed to have people like John Newton by his side encouraging him to keep going.  The move to abolish slave trade was near and dear to Newton’s heart as well. For many years, he was the captain of an African slave ship.  He lived a very grotesque life steeped in sin.  But by the grace of God, he was later converted and became a minister of the very gospel he once despised.  He authored the famous hymn, Amazing Grace whose melody (some believe) was taken from a West African sorrow chant which some of the slaves on Newton’s ship would have sung.  Watch Wintley Phipps talk about that in this video below:

 

Kevin DeYoung blogged on William Wilberforce and concluded his post with the following words:

In Revelation 13 John warns of a terrible beast who is allowed to make war on God’s people. Saints will be taken captive and destroyed. That’s the reality John outlines in verse 10. But the response to such antagonism is not to retreat but to entrench. “Here is a call for the endurance and the faith of the saints.” Some of us may be called to accomplish great things in the cause of Christ like Wilberforce.  Others will be called to endure great trials and suffering and even persecution on account of Christ.  All of us, in a world often unfriendly and unsympathetic to genuine Christian faith, are called to perseverance and faithfulness. There is no hope, no holiness, and no influence without it.

Praise the Lord for His amazing grace given to us through Jesus Christ.

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace those fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear,
The hour I first believed!

Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
‘Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

What Constitutes Saving Faith? Part 2

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen…And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:1 & 6).

Faith by its very nature has to do with unseen realities.  Realities that are outside of us and beyond us.  Nowhere else is this more true than in the matter of our salvation through the gospel.  The gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ calls us to receive and rest in a salvation that has been worked out outside of us, apart from us and in spite of us.  I find the F.A.I.T.H. acronym below is helpful in this regard:

Forsaking

All

I

Take

Him

This is essentially what happens or what needs to happen for the sinner to receive eternal life and forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ, our Savior.  Everything must be forsaken!  The sinner must turn away from his sins and his supposed righteousness and embrace Christ alone for salvation.  He must rest in Christ’s perfect righteousness and atoning sacrifice for sin on the cross.  That is what is meant by saving faith!  Remember our definition from Q & A 86 in the Westminster Shorter Catechism:  “Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon Him alone for salvation, as He is offered to us in the gospel.”  But we must also note that this faith is given to us as a gift from our gracious God and Savior.  What saves us is not our faith (our act of believing), but God who gives us that faith and offers us eternal life in Jesus’ Name.  Thus faith is only but the hand (or channel) by which we receive God’s salvation.  I like what Alistair Begg once said in his sermon on Titus 3:3-7.  He said:

This is one of the reasons that people hate the gospel.  The average person if you tell them that they can go to heaven based on philanthropy or based on their endeavors in some way, they might actually step up for that.  But if you tell them that the message of the Bible is that we are entirely dependent upon God’s grace and upon His goodness and that we contribute nothing to our salvation save the sin from which we need to be forgiven, they say, ‘Uuh, I don’t really like the sound of that.’

Our salvation is not based upon our act of believing, but rather on God’s mercy and grace through Jesus Christ.  We look away from ourselves to the perfect righteousness of Christ and His atoning death as the only sure basis for our salvation.  As Begg further says, it’s “all of grace, all in Christ, all of faith, all of God.”

The 16th Century Reformers employed the following three Latin words to define and describe saving faith:  Notitia, Assensus, Fiducia.  I am not a Latin scholar and I am not trying to be one.  So I will try to explain these terms in a layman’s language.

Notitia (Knowledge):  This refers to the intellectual aspect of saving faith.  Faith is not the antithesis of fact.  Faith is based on historical, accurate and reliable information.  Saving faith is not a blind leap into the dark as the Danish philosopher/theologian, Søren Kierkegaard said.  One does not have to lose his mind to win God as Kierkegaard suggested.  True, saving faith is founded on facts.  True, saving faith is rational.  B. B. Warfield, the old Princeton theologian was right when he said, “We do not believe even though it is irrational, we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ because it is the most rational thing that we can do.”  God, through His Word, has provided everything that we need to know in order to make a credible profession of faith in Him.  Some of these facts include:  the virgin birth of Christ; His sinless perfection; His duo nature (God & Man at the same time); His death; His resurrection; His ascent into heaven; His Second Coming, etc.  For those of you who would like to explore this further, I recommend Tim Keller’s book, A Reason for God.  In that book, Keller writes about the intellectual credibility of the Christian faith.  Among other things, he gives examples of former atheists who are now Christians because they examined the facts about the Christian Faith and found that it is credible and rational.  C.S. Lewis’ book, Mere Christianity is also helpful in this regard.  But one could have the right knowledge about Christ or the Christian faith and still not be saved.  The second element (assensus) is necessary and it builds on the first (notitia):

Assensus (Assent):  This refers to the emotional aspect of saving faith.  At this stage, one is caught up in the facts of Christianity and personally acknowledges them to be true concerning himself.  It’s like walking into a room and you see a box sitting in the corner of the room.  The box contains a gift for you, but you don’t know that yet.  You notice the box, you analyze it, but you have no personal attachment to it.  It’s just another box.  But when the owner of the house takes that box and gives it to you and says, “This is for you,” everything changes!  You are now all of a sudden personally involved with the box.  The gift remains impersonal until it has been given to you.  You are not personally involved with it until it has been declared yours.  So you take the facts about Christ and make them personal.  You come to a point of saying:  Christ’s virgin birth was for me; He lived a sinless life for me; He is God and became Man for me; He died for me, He rose again from the dead for me; He ascended into heaven for me; He is coming again for me; etc.  It’s like the Psalmist saying in Psalm 56:9, “…This I know, that God is for me;” or Thomas saying to Christ in John 20:28, “My Lord and My God.”  The Apostle Paul expresses this very clearly in Galatians 2:20 where he writes, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  Archibald Alexander (first principal and professor at the Princeton Theological Seminary) said of his conversion, that as he read more and more, his heart was hardened.  Then he says, “I had a vision of the Crucified One as has never been paralleled in my experience.  The grace of God came to me as clear as day and I understood, God accepted me.”  He had personally come to believe that these things were true for him.  But, a personal belief in all the right facts about Christ or Christianity is not enough to save anyone.  The third aspect (fiducia) is also necessary and builds on the first two (notitia and assensus).

Fiducia (Trust):  This refers to the volitional aspect of saving faith.  Trust is a required, personal response to the truth claims of Christ and of Christianity.  It’s an act of the will.  Without it, everything that you believe remains outside of you.  Until you trust in Christ, you are not born again, you are not going to heaven and you are not saved.  Trust says, “I accept Jesus Christ; I give myself to Christ; I look to Him alone for my salvation; I accept God’s forgiveness and invite Him into my life.”  If Christ is not living in you today, you are not a Christian.  I have a friend who is so afraid to fly.  The funny thing about him is that he works for Boeing.  He actually has worked in the department that manufactures and services the parts of a plane.  He knows how all the parts of a plane fit together so that it can go up in the air and be safe.  But the problem is that he can’t trust any of the planes to fly him!  Saving faith in Christ requires us to put our whole weight on Christ and trust that He will carry us through this life into a joyful eternity with God our Creator.  It is faith, faith and faith from beginning to end!  Without this third aspect of faith (trust), salvation is absolutely impossible.  The rich young ruler (in Mark 10:17-22), knew the facts about Jesus Christ and the Christian Faith.  He was even personally involved at some superficial level.  But he stumbled and failed at this third and very important step.  He could not get himself to “trust” the Lord Jesus Christ and forsake all that he had.  His wealth was too precious to him.  Christ was right there before Him.  In Christ, was his only hope for salvation!  Yet he missed it!  At Christ’s words, his face fell and “he went away sad because he had great wealth.”  May the Lord grant us the grace to trust Him alone for our salvation that we might truly “receive and rest in Christ alone as He is offered to us in the gospel.”

Forsaking       All          I       Take             Him

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:3-7