Calvin on Jesus as Shepherd

John CalvinCommenting on Jesus as Shepherd in Psalm 110, John Calvin says,

“As a shepherd he is gentle towards his flock, but fierce and formidable towards wolves and thieves; in like manner, Christ is kind and gentle towards those who commit themselves to his care, while they who willfully and obstinately reject his yoke, shall feel with what awful and terrible power he is armed.”

Evangelism and the Day of the Lord

Locust

There is a day coming when the Lord will return and judge all nations. All those not following Jesus will be slain by the Lord.

Joel 2 Pictures this Day

As a watchman, Joel sounds the trumpet warning of an approaching enemy. An enemy that ultimately destroys Israel. Their destruction points to the Day of the Lord.

Commenting on Joel 2:1-11, John Calvin says,

The object of the narrative, then, is to make the people sensible, that it was now no time for taking rest; for the Lord, having long tolerated their wickedness, was now resolved to pour upon them in full torrent his whole fury.

Table Talk magazine commenting on Calvin says,

Calvin reminds us the final end is not to preach judgment for judgement’s sake, but to warn people to turn from sin.

Challenge

The many disasters lately – New Orleans; New York; Moore, OK; West, TX – should bring to mind the Day of the Lord. Knowing it is approaching and may occur at any moment, should cause us to eagerly call others to repent. Friends, neighbors, family members, and even strangers need the gospel. It is our only hope as the Day draws near. May we bravely and boldly proclaim it to all who will listen.

Questions for Reflection

  1. Does impending judgment motivate you to preach the gospel to your neighbors?
  2. Are you satisfied others will face judgment, or does it motivate you to share Jesus?

Resources

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Table Talk Magazine, June 2013, The Army of the Lord, Friday, June 14

What are the Types of Idols We Make?

Idolatry is just as common today as it was in the ancient world. While we often do not make man-made statues, we do produce idols. John Calvin once said that the heart is an idol factory. He meant that we constantly produce idols because we are good at making just about anything into an idol.

What is an Idol?

An idol can be anything that comes before or occupies the place of God in our lives. It is anything other than God that we allow to dominate and control us. It is any activity that we do more for our own self-image and unmet emotional needs than for the pure pursuit of Christ’s Kingdom [1]. We can make idols out of just about anything: our children, our work, our success, our church involvement, our home maintenance, our family obligations, or anything else that we find more joy, peace, acceptance, or worth in other than God. We all have them, we just need to know how to find them, so we can uproot them.

Three Categories of Idols

In Subversive Kingdom, Ed Stetzer, pulling from one of Tim Keller’s sermons, says that our idols tend to orient themselves around three broad categories: Personal, Religious, and Cultural [2]. Here is how he defines each of these categories:

Personal Idols

These are those desires and temptations that individuals commonly pursue: greed, sex, power, various forms of personal indulgence and experience.

Religious Idols

These are those beliefs and practices we employ to quiet our fears and invite inner comfort without having to resort to dependent devotion toward God.

Cultural Idols

These are those idols that present themselves whenever we pursue our hopes and ambitions through the deceptive promises of our world’s ideologies and values.

Conclusion

While we are good at making idols, we have been given the power through Jesus Christ to root these idols out of our lives, and that we must do. As Christians, we are to have no other gods before the One true God (Ex. 20:2). Our God is a jealous God (Ex. 20:5). He desires our singular devotion. So we must fight to shut down the idol making factory in our heart, keeping it closed for business.

The first way for us to rid idols from our lives is to understand the types of idols we make, those being personal, religious, and cultural. In addition, we must then pray that God, through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, would shut our idol factory down. After which, we must preach the gospel to ourselves. Always reminding ourselves of what Jesus has done for us, that we are fully accepted in Him, and that we have more joy, peace, and worth in Him than in any man-made object.

Questions for Reflection

  • Do you know the common idols in your life?
  • Are you willing to ask God to reveal your idols?
  • What do you think about the three categories Stetzer uses? Are they helpful?
  • Do you see your heart as an idol making factory?

Resources

[1] Ed Stetzer, Subversive Kingdom, 144-145.
[2] Ibid.

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Do You Have An Idol?

Lately, I have been reading J.D. Greear’s new book Gospel. If you do not have a copy, I would highly recommend it. While preparing for my latest sermon, I happened to read his section on idolatry. In that section, he gives several questions we can ask ourselves to determine what may be an idol in our lives.

Idol: Can you define that, please?

An idol is anything that we allow to take the place of God in our lives. It is those things we give the most weight to, or think are necessary for life and happiness. Ultimately, an idol is anything that stands between us and God, hindering our relationship with Him because we are giving it our love, affections, and worship instead of God.

John Calvin likened our hearts to an idol factory because we are good at making things into idols. If our hearts are little idol making factories, how do we know if we have made something into an idol? J.D. Greear’s list of questions is helpful at this point.

Questions to Ask Yourself

(1) What thing have you sacrificed most for?

  • A scholarship?
  • A successful career?
  • The perfect body?

Sacrifice and worship often go hand in hand. What you worship and prize the most is often shown by what you pursue the most. What you pursue the most could very well be your idol.

(2) Who is there in your life that you feel like you can’t forgive and why?

An inability to forgive could be connected to the fact that someone took away from you something you can’t be happy without. Something you depended on for your life, happiness, and security. Determining why you cannot forgive someone, could help you discover an idol in your life.

(3) What one thing do you most hope is in your future?

  • Career success?
  • A certain salary?
  • Owning your own home? Or even a second one?
  • Having the respect of your peers?

If you believe having these things will bring you happiness or acceptance, then the one thing you most hope for in your future could be your idol.

(4) What is the one thing you most worry about losing?

  • Your job?
  • Your family?
  • The respect of your kids?
  • The love of your spouse?
  • Your money?

If you believe the loss of these things would be life ending, then the thing you most worry about losing could be your idol.

(5) If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

  • Your looks?
  • Your job?
  • Your zipcode?
  • Your car?

If you believe you would be happier by changing these things, then these could be your idol.

(6) When you do you feel the most significant?

  • In other words:
    • When do you hold your head up the highest?
    • What is there that you hope people find out about you?
    • Do you constantly mention:
      • Your job?
      • The job you hope you get ?
      • Your new car?
      • Your house?
      • Your college degree?
      • Does your heart soar with pride when you talk about your kids or grandkids?

Your identity is often wrapped up in what makes you feel the most significant. Discovering what makes you feel the most significant could help you determine your idol.

(7) Where do you turn for comfort when things are not going well?

  • Your work?
  • Pornography?
  • Food?
  • Alcohol?
  • Drugs?
  • A truth about yourself? Like, I may not be a great athlete, but academically I am far above my peers.

Where you turn for comfort when things are not going well could reveal your idol.

(8) What triggers depression in you?

  • Your kids not calling?
  • The struggles in your marriage?
  • Not getting the recognition you think you deserve?
  • How little you think you have accomplished?

Barring any medical complications, depression is often triggered when something you deem essential for life is denied or taken away. The things that most often trigger depression in you could be your idol.

Conclusion

By honestly answering these questions, you should have a good idea if something is an idol in your life.

Resources

J.D. Greear Gospel: Recovering the power that made Christianity revolutionary, 70-75.

The Great Paradigm Shifting Gospel

I have been reading through John Calvin’s Institutes. I picked up a read through the Institutes in a year plan, and it has been a blessing. Even though he wrote hundreds of years ago, his writings are still applicable to our times.

Right now, I am reading in chapter 8, where Calvin is establishing the credibility of Scripture. In talking about Sacred Scripture, Calvin says,

“Nevertheless it [Scripture] clearly is crammed with thoughts that could not be humanly conceived”[1].

He is right. Scripture is crammed with thoughts that those writing without the inspiration of the Holy Spirit would never conceive. The reason a non-inspired writer would not conceive of them is because Scripture is often paradigm shifting in nature.

What does it mean for Scripture to be paradigm shifting?

It means what we think should be the case is not. How we think things should go is not the way God thinks they should go. Our normal model is not God’s model. I believe we do not have to look far to see where our model is different than God’s.

The Gospel

We do not have to look any further than the gospel message. You see, the gospel tells us that God’s Son left His heavenly abode, descended to the earth by being born of a virgin. He lived a holy and sinless life, being 100% God and 100% man. Instead of people worshipping Him for who He is, namely, God. He was ridiculed, mocked, beaten, and crucified. Even so, His crucifixion was not contrary to God’s plan, it was His plan (Eph. 1). Through Jesus’ person, life, death, and subsequent resurrection from the tomb, we, sinful man, who deserve nothing but punishment, can have life, if we believe it is Jesus who reconciles us to God.

The Paradigm Shift

Here is the paradigm shift in the gospel message. It is not through our works, our goodness, or our own self-righteousness that we are reconciled to God (Eph. 2:8-9). We cannot clean ourselves up, thinking somehow our works will earn us favor with the Father. The Pharisees tried, but Jesus condemned them (Luke 11:37-44).

Even after salvation, we cannot earn favor with God through our works. God has poured out His grace on us. He has filled our grace tank full. Our works cannot add anything to the tank.

Even though our works cannot earn us favor with God, we often live as if they do. Thinking if I don’t read my Bible or pray first thing in the morning, somehow I have lost God’s favor, and His hand will not be upon me that day. The gospel tells us that type of thinking is wrong.

Even though it is wrong, that type of thinking is natural to us. It is how we are hardwired. We do something and we expect it to earn us something. Not so with God. Instead of living the Christian life to get something from God, which would be a way for us to control God.

We live the Christian life not to get something from God, but because we can.

When God saves us, He changes our heart, releases us from the bondage of sin, and provides us with the Holy Spirit, empowering us to follow His commands. Commands we follow, not because they will earn us favor with God, but commands we follow because we are now able to and desire to (Phil. 2:13).

Conclusion

The Scripture is often paradigm shifting. Taking what we think to be the case, and showing us what we thought was the way things are, is not how they are with God. The gospel is the greatest example of a shift from man’s model to God’ model. We often believe we have to earn our salvation, but God tells us we are freely given salvation. All we have to do is believe, which is also made possible through God giving us the faith to believe (Rom. 8:28-30).

Even after we are saved, we believe we have to do good works to keep our salvation, or we have to do good works to merit God’s favor. The gospel tells us that is simple not true. We have been saved by God’s grace and we are kept until the last day when He will pour out a final measure of His grace on us, bringing us into a state of glorification and ushering us into eternal life (1 Peter 1:13). There is no amount of works we could do to earn our salvation, and there are no amount of works we can do to keep our salvation, or merit God’s favor.

This does not mean we do not live differently as Christians. It means the reason we live differently is a complete paradigm shift from what we thought. We live differently because we are now able and willing to. When we are saved, we are released from the bondage of sin, given a new heart, new desires, and the Holy Spirit who empowers us to do the will of the Father. In short, we live the Christian life because we delight in God and God is most glorified when we are most happy in Him.

Resources

[1] John Calvin, The Institues, Book 1, Ch. 8, Sec. 2, pg 83.

Image: worradmu / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Necessity of God’s Word

In my last two posts, I argued for the relevance of Scripture. You can check those out here: The Relevance of Scripture (Part 1) and The Relevance of Scripture (Part 2). In this post, I would like to argue for the necessity of God’s Word. God’s Word is necessary because it alone tells us about our Creator, Savior, and Lord. Creation alone can only take us so far. Without God’s written Word, we would not know who God is and what He has done for mankind.

John Calvin on Scripture

John Calvin, one of the greatest theologians of all times, writes in his institutes concerning Scripture. Here is what he says,

Scripture, gathering up the otherwise confused knowledge of God in our minds, having dispersed our dullness, clearly shows us the true God. This, therefore, is a special gift, where God, to instruct the church, not merely uses mute teachers but also opens his own most hallowed lips. Not only does he teach the elect to look upon a god, but also shows himself as the God upon whom they are to look. He has from the beginning maintained this plan for his church…put[ting] forth his Word, which is a more direct and more certain mark whereby he is to be recognized [1].

From this, one should gather that God’s Word is a special gift. Scripture is a special gift because it instructs man as to who God is and how they are to live as a result. Without Scripture, man would not know God, nor would man know who he is, namely, a sinner in need of a Savior.

Creation Declares There is a God, But It is Not Enough

The Psalmist tells us creation declares there is a God, but creation itself is not enough, man needs Scripture to tell them who God, the Creator of the universe is. Read what David writes in Psalm 19:1-3:

The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words
whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.

Paul agrees with the Psalmist, but also tells us that man, even though he knows there is a God, does not worship Him as God. Here is what Paul has to say,

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened (Rom. 1:18-21)

From this, we should see that man understands there is a God because creation evidences His handiwork, but because of man’s fallen nature he creates idols to worship. Instead of seeking the Creator of the world and worshipping Him, man fashions a god of his own making.

Even Though Man Knows God Exists, He Needs God’s Word

Paul’s visit to the Areopagus, where he found “an altar to the unknown god” is evidence man knows God exists (Acts 17:23). However, even though man knows God exists, he does not “know” Him because nature can only tell us there is a God, it cannot tell us anything personal about God, which is why the Psalmist continues in Psalm 19:7-11 saying,

The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is clean,
enduring forever;
the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey,
and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.

Without God’s Word, we would not understand His law, testimony, precepts, or commandments. In short, we would not know who God is, nor would we know we are sinners who are in need of a Savior (Rom. 3:21-23; see also Luke 24:27).

By Faith and By God’s Word We Know God

Before I conclude, I want to return once again to Calvin. Commenting on Hebrews 11:3, Calvin makes it evident man can only see God if he is illumined by God through faith. He says,

For this reason, the apostle, in that very passage where he calls the world the images of things invisible, adds that through faith we understand that they have been fashioned by God’s word [Heb. 11:3]. He means by this that the invisible divinity is made manifest in such spectacles, but that we have not the eyes to see this unless they are illumined by the inner revelation of God through faith [2].

So then, unless God illumines our eyes to see Him, we will not. And unless God provides us with His Word, then we are not able to truly “know” Him as our Creator, Lord, and Savior because it is His Word that tells us who God is and who we are. Calvin continues,

Nevertheless, all things will tend to this end, that God, the Artificer of the universe, is made manifest to us in Scripture, and that what we ought to think of him is set forth there, lest we seek some uncertain deity by devious paths [3].

Conclusion

So then, we see that unless we have God’s Word, we cannot know God as Creator, Savior, or Lord. We can only know there is a God, but the details about Him and about us are unknown. The only way we can come to know God is through His written, innerant, and inspired Word, known as the Bible. Therefore, the Word of God is not only relevant, it is necessary, for without it we are without knowledge of God and ourselves.

Resources

[1] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. Mcneil, Book 1, Ch VI,I, pg 70
[2] Ibid., Book 1, Ch V, 14, pg 68.
[3] Ibid., Book 1, Ch V, 15, pg 69.