The Gospel According to Paul

paulJohn MacArthur, The Gospel According to Paul, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2017, 256 pp. $13.20

Nearly thirty years ago, Dr. John MacArthur wrote The Gospel According to Jesus. The book was a clear articulation of the gospel and a sharp repudiation of antinomianism and other views that failed to affirm the lordship of Jesus Christ in salvation. A firestorm erupted and sparked heated debate among evangelicals as a result of the book. Since that time, MacArthur has written several books that articulated the gospel and defended it from attacks, most of which were coming from professing evangelicals leaders.

MacArthur’s latest offering, The Gospel According to Paul, is less polemical in tone but no less powerful than his previous works. His intent is to survey the gospel through the eyes of Paul the apostle and consider several questions that are of utmost importance:

What is the gospel?

What are the essential elements of the gospel?

How can we be certain we have it right?

How should Christians be proclaiming the gospel to the world?

MacArthur adds, “The gospel was no sideline for the apostle Paul. ‘Jesus Christ and Him crucified’ was the principle theme of everything the apostle taught or preached” (129). So with passion and biblical precision, the author showcases the gospel according to Paul.

A wonderful summary of the book may be found in MacArthur’s explanation of Philippians 3:4-11:

“That is a remarkable testimony because of the way Paul weaves in several of his favorite gospel themes: the worthlessness of human works as a means of gaining merit with God; the pivotal role of faith; the principles of grace and imputed righteousness; the death and resurrection of the Savior; and above all the supreme value of knowing Christ over any earthly benefit, privilege, or treasure.”

MacArthur not only provides a masterful articulation of the gospel and penal substitutionary atonement; he defends it against the pernicious threat of antinomians, Pharisees, and other dangerous heretics.

The Gospel According to Paul is a clear explanation of the most important reality in the universe, namely, that “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor. 5:19). It unfolds the gospel with a decisively Reformed framework and rightly points readers to the magisterial Reformers and the truths they unearthed in the sixteenth century. And it is basic enough for new believers but also contains a treasure chest of Christ-glorifying truths that are guaranteed to encourage and equip longtime followers of Jesus.

Highly recommended!

Gospel Reformation

bold

The excommunicated monk sits alone in silence. Beads of sweat accumulate on his brow as he reads from the pages of the Greek text. A dark cloud casts a shadow over his homeland as the grace of the gospel is obscured by a church that cares more about tradition than truth.

For the next ten months, Luther will pour over every word, translating the Greek into the heart language of the German people. When his work is complete, the German people will be able to read the Bible for themselves. They will no longer be dependent upon a priest who has misrepresented God, mangled the truth of his Word, and maligned the gospel of Jesus Christ.

For hundreds of years, the gospel had been buried and replaced by a system of “man-made righteousness.” The Roman Catholic Church exchanged truth for tradition. The power-brokers of tradition maintained a chokehold on people who didn’t know any better.  Confessing sin to a priest replaced confessing sin to a holy God.

Yet, Luther unearthed the precious jewel of the gospel, a reality which is unveiled in my new book, Bold Reformer:Celebrating the Gospel-Centered Convictions of Martin Luther. Only $0.99 for a limited time on Amazon.com.

HIDDEN IN THE GOSPEL – William Farley (2014)

new farleyIt’s short and sweet.  It is an easy read.  It is also one of the best books you will read this year.  William Farley’s Hidden in the Gospel: Truths You Forget to Tell Yourself Every Day is a treasure trove filled with timeless principles that will enrich your Christian life.

Farley builds upon the dictum popularized by Jerry Bridges: “Preach the gospel to yourself.”  The author takes readers on a journey they should never forget.

The gospel of course is spelled out in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4.  Paul says,

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures …

William Farley presents the gospel in a series of eight movements which include:

  1. Election
  2. Incarnation
  3. Active Obedience
  4. Penal Substitutionary Atonement
  5. Resurrection
  6. Ascension
  7. Return and Final Judgment
  8. New Creation and Consummation

Each of these eight ingredients which make up the gospel are presented with biblical support and appropriate illustrations.  Farley is a master teacher who not only understands the redemptive plot line; he communicates the gospel with precision and skill.

After Pastor Farley unpacks each doctrinal reality, he helps readers preach the given gospel truth to themselves.  He presents the notion of preaching the gospel to oneself as an essential aspect of the Christian life:

“It is key to robust spiritual experience.  We can either listen to ourselves – our fears, doubts, insecurities, hurts, and failures – or we can preach to ourselves.”

Hidden in the Gospel is another home run by William Farley.  This author fails to disappoint.  He is locked and loaded onto the gospel message.  As a reader, you will no doubt walk away from reading his book a transformed person.

5 stars

 

FEARLESS FAITH: JOHN KNOX – Steven J. Lawson (2014)

knox2014 marks the 500th anniversary of the birth of John Knox, the Protestant Reformer who risked life and limb for the sake of the gospel in Scotland and much of western Europe.  Steven Lawson retells the story in his newest work, John Knox Fearless Faith.

The author guides readers though the fascinating account of Knox’s life – a life filled with pain and persecution, powerful preaching, and passionate appeals.  He portrays the Protestant Reformer as one who “remained stout of heart and strong in conviction” even as he neared the end of his life.  Lawson observes, “To the very end, Knox was preaching Christ and Him crucified, exalting his Savior and extolling his Lord.”

John Knox Fearless Faith is a boon for discouraged pastors who have experienced the sting of false accusation and the pain of persecution.  It serves a sort of theological balm for pastors who are lonely in ministry and on the verge of throwing in the ecclesiastical towel.  In a few short sentences, Dr. Lawson rightly summarizes the fiery Reformers passion for truth and his steely resolve:

Through these many dangers, Knox persevered in his ministry, boldly preaching the Word and trusting God for the outcome.  Beneath his frail body was an unshakeable confidence in the sovereignty of God.  He believed that his times were appointed for him by an all-powerful God.  He knew that he was invincible within the allotted time of the divine will.  His faith remained strong in the One who orders all things.

As Knox approached his final years, his commitment to God grew yet deeper.  The opposition he faced never subsided, even to the end, but neither did his confidence in God.

May pastors find strength in this godly man whose birth 500 years ago marked church history and changed a generation.  May John Knox fuel our resolve to boldly preach God’s Word and wield the mighty sword of Reformed truth for the world to see and savor.  May pastors lead the next generation of Christians who live with the integrity and the zeal of Knox.  May they rebuke and admonish carnal professors who seek to divide Christ’s church.  May they be inspired by his example as they champion the cause of truth and challenge every rival from Rome, Mecca, Salt Lake City and every heresy that poses a threat to the gospel!

Semper Reformanda!

5 stars

THE GOSPEL – Ray Ortlund (2014)

1433540835_bThe “gospel” has become somewhat of a buzzword in evangelical circles.  It’s a funny thing because the gospel is at the very center of the Bible and God’s redemptive purposes.  So it’s counterintuitive to claim the very idea that the gospel has become a buzzword.  Christ-followers knowingly or unknowingly validate a ministry, band, or organization by attaching the label, “gospel.”  In most cases, this approach is a good measuring rod of the validity of anything or anyone which claims to adhere to the historic Christian faith.  But in some cases, it is a mere word that carries no more meaning that a sticker on a product.  In this sense, the word becomes another piece of Jesus junk.  Thankfully, the book under consideration does not fall into the later category.

The Gospel by Ray Ortlund is the latest in a series of books in the 9Marks series, edited by Mark Dever.  I’ve read nearly all the books in the series.  They’re all good and are chock-full of sound biblical counsel.  Each of the books is designed to help establish and nurture healthy churches.  I commend each book to pastors, leaders, and Christ-followers who love the church and have a passion to see Christ’s glory penetrate the nations.  It’s almost unfair to compare the books because each one stands alone and is an important contribution.  Having said that, Ray Ortlund’s book stands head and shoulders above the others.

Ortlund establishes the beauty of the gospel in the introduction: “God, through the perfect life, atoning death, and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, rescues all his people from the wrath of God, with a promise of the full restoration of his created order forever – all to the praise of the glory of his grace.”  With this definition of the gospel in place, the author defines the purpose of the book, namely -“to show how Christ puts his beauty into our churches by his gospel.”

The first sentence in the book provides a framework for the rest of the journey through this wonderful little treatise: “Gospel doctrine creates a gospel culture.  The doctrine of grace creates a culture of grace.”  He adds, “Truth without grace is harsh and ugly.  Grace without truth is sentimental and cowardly.”  Unfortunately, many churches reflect the later.  But Ortlund is not deterred.  In a short chapter devoted to expositing John 3:16, he unpacks the wonder and majesty of the gospel of grace.  The gospel is compared to other so-called hopes that are offered up in the marketplace of ideas.  But the conclusion is simple: “Every other hope is based, explicitly or implicitly, on how deserving we are.  Only the Christian gospel is based – clearly, boldly, and insistently – on how loving God is to the undeserving.”  In short, “Gospel doctrine creates a gospel culture, and it matters.”

Ortund maintains the gospel is for the church: “The doctrine of grace creates a culture of grace where good things happen to bad people.”  As such, the author guides readers through a stunning exposition of Ephesians 5:25 – “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”  Again, the culture is ultimately affected by the power of the gospel.  It is the gospel that makes us holy.  It is the gospel that makes us acceptable in the sight of a holy God.

The author draws the attention of readers to the comprehensive nature of the gospel.  The new heaven and earth are presented.  In other words, as Ortund writes, “This present heaven and earth, will be renewed.  God will restore this creation that he made, owns, and loves – this creation where we ourselves feel at home.”  At the end of the day, the gospel produces a culture which is brimming with hope – the hope that Christ will make all things new!

This is a book worth reading and re-reading.  It is a book that needs to be absorbed and assimilated into the fabric of every local church.  The Gospel should be placed in the hands of new believers and veteran believers.  It should be gifted to non-believers who express an interest in the gospel.

5 stars

SINNERS IN THE HANDS OF AN ANGRY GOD – Jonathan Edwards (1741)

Jonathan_Edwards_engravingI’ll never forget a very special evening with a small group of Christ-followers at the McLean home.  My good friend, Don suggested that we read Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God by Jonathan Edwards in one sitting – on our knees.  And so a group of middle-aged adults gathered in Don’s living room alongside several children (whose knees were much more nimble) – and we read Edward’s classic sermon – on our knees.  It is a moment I will not soon forget.  We were humbled.  We were drawn into the very presence of God.  And like the 18th century congregation in Enfield – we were cut to the quick.

Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God is not only one of the most well-known sermons in American history; it is one of the most powerful sermons every preached on American soil.  In one sermon, the Puritan divine highlights both the awesome wrath of a holy God and the matchless grace of Jesus Christ.

This is a sermon which has received a fair amount of criticism over the years.  It is maligned and caricatured.  Often found on a list of required reading for college English courses, the sermon is mocked for its candid language and scary images.  Many readers simply cannot stomach the God that Edwards presents or submit to the God that Edwards loves and serves.

The sermon is derived from Deuteronomy 32:35 – “Their foot shall slide in due time.”  The doctrine that Edwards sets forth is simple: “There is nothing that keeps wicked men at one moment out of hell, but the mere pleasure of God.”  This doctrine is undergirded by ten propositions:

1. There is no want of power in God to cast wicked men into hell at any moment.

2. They deserve to be cast into hell; so that divine justice never stands in the way, it makes no objection against God’s using his power at any moment to destroy them.

3. They are already under a sentence of condemnation to hell.

4. They are not the objects of that very same anger and wrath of God, that is expressed in the torments of hell: “The wrath of God burns against them, their damnation does not slumber; the pit is prepared, the fire is made ready, the furnace is now hot, ready to receive them; the flames do now rage and glow.

5. The devil stands ready to fall upon them, and seize them as his own, at what moment God shall permit him.

6. There are in the souls of wicked men those hellish principles reigning, that would presently kindle and flame out into hell-fire, if it were not for God’s restraints.  There is laid in the very nature of carnal men, a foundation for the torments of hell.

7. It is no security to wicked men for one moment, that there are no visible means of death at hand.

8. Natural men’s prudence and care to preserve their own lives, or the care of others to preserve them, do not secure them a moment.

9. All wicked men’s pains and contrivance which they use to escape hell, while they continue to reject Christ, and so remain wicked men, do not secure them from hell one moment.

10. God has laid himself under no obligation, by any promise, to keep any natural man out of hell one moment.

Edwards concludes with a strong application which is meant to awaken sinners and flee from the wrath of God.  Readers are faced with a momentous decision as Edward alerts them to the painful reality of God’s wrath: “There is the dreadful pit of the glowing flames of the wrath of God; there is hell’s wide gaping mouth open; and you have nothing to stand upon, nor anything to take hold of; there is nothing between you and hell but the air; it is only the power and mere pleasure of God that holds you up.”

Readers are challenged to take advantage of “the door of mercy wide open” which beckons them to receive the grace of God in Christ.  Edwards concluding words leave sinners with an important decision; the most decision they will ever make: “Therefore, let every one that is out of Christ, now awake and fly from the wrath to come.  The wrath of Almighty God is now undoubtedly hanging over a great part of this congregation.  Let every one fly out of Sodom: “Haste and escape for your lives, look not behind you , escape to the mountain, lest you be consumed.”

The “flag” of tolerance is flying in America.  The “flag” of relativism has been unfurled in this land.  The “flag” of compromise flies high and is accepted, even within the church.  Indeed, a God-dishonoring “flag” celebrating homosexuality was unveiled at Safeco Field in Seattle a few days ago.  Jonathan Edwards raises his “flag” higher and reminds sinners (homosexuals and heterosexuals alike) that God will not tolerate their sin.  God hates their sin.  And this great God offers mercy and forgiveness for anyone who repents and believes in the Lord Jesus Christ!

WORDS, PROPOSITIONS, AND PROCLAMATION


We live in a day where words, propositions, and proclamation is met with suspicion and skepticism.  But living in postmodern times should not prevent Christ-followers from faithfully proclaiming the Word of God.  Paul the apostle instructs the believers in Colossae:

Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” (Colossians 1:28, ESV)

The ministry that Paul demands here involves strong proclamation.  The Greek verb, καταγγέλλω [kataggello] means “to declare plainly, openly, and aloud; to announce, to celebrate, to preach.”  In Acts 17:2-3, we find Paul engaged in the ministry that he demands from the Colossian believers: “And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ”” (Acts 17:2–3, ESV).  J.I. Packer refers to the gospel as “a proclamation of Divine sovereignty in mercy and judgment, a summons to bow down and worship the mighty Lord on whom man depends for all good … Its center of reference was unambiguously God.”

Notice several features of strong proclamation:

1. Strong proclamation must be Christ-centered

Christ-centered preaching does not water-down the hard edges of the gospel.  This kind of preaching refuses to proclaim a health and wealth gospel.  It refuses to elevate man’s free will.  And it refuses to minimize God’s sovereignty.  Christ-centered preaching must be gospel preaching; preaching that proclaims that Jesus died for sinners who was raised for our justification (Rom. 4:25); preaching that proclaims sinners may be forgiven (Acts 13:48); preaching that proclaims the way of salvation (Acts 16:17).  Packer adds, “The preacher’s task … is to display Christ: to explain man’s need of him, his sufficiency to save, and his offer of himself in the promises as Savior to all who truly turn to him; and to show as fully and plainly as he can how these truths apply to the congregation before him.”  Strong proclamation must be Christ-centered.

2. Strong proclamation must be unabashedly bold

Paul modeled this bold proclamation in his preaching ministry: “This I proclaim to you …” (Acts 17:23ff).  We must commit ourselves to boldness when we proclaim the Word of God.  “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes …” (Rom. 1:16).  Timid proclamation is tantamount to cowardice.

3. Strong proclamation must be fearless

Of course we live in a cowardly culture, where many preachers back-peddle and compromise the precious doctrinal realities of Scripture.  We can scarcely recall the days of the Puritans when the doctrines of hell, unconditional election, the sovereignty of God, the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and the lordship of Christ were powerfully proclaimed from their pulpits.  Paul the apostle “did not shrink” from declaring the truth of God’s Word (Acts 20:20).  We should do no less!

4. Strong proclamation must be comprehensive

Strong proclamation must include the whole of Scripture.  We must resist the urge to present bits and pieces:  “For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).  The only way of proclaiming the Scripture in a comprehensive way is expository preaching.

5. Strong proclamation must lay the foundation for the Christian worldview

Strong proclamation must drive home the reality that Christ is at the center of all things.  The Scripture tells us that Christ is the creator of all things (Col. 1:16), Christ is the sustainer of all things (Col. 1:17), Christ is the Redeemer of sinful men (Col. 1:13-14), and Christ will make all things new (Rev. 21:5).  So faithful Christ-f0llowers have a responsibility to present the Christian worldview which will strengthen believers and challenge the pagan presuppositions of the unbelieving world.

6. Strong proclamation must carry the full weight of biblical authority

Strong proclamation must reprove, rebuke, exhort, and include solid teaching in keeping with 2 Timothy 4:-4.  It must confront worldly ideology (Col. 2:8).  Lloyd-Jones referred to preaching as “logic on fire.”  Therefore, faithful Christians are faced with the challenge of presenting the weighty truths of Scripture with passion and God-centered logic.

7. Strong proclamation must have a sense of urgency

Strong proclamation must be blood-earnest and have a sense of gravitas: “Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears” (Acts 20:31, ESV).  Boring preaching should be considered a capital crime.  Woe to the preacher who puts his people asleep.

8. Strong proclamation must be intensely theological

Al Mohler rightly says, “As a theologian, the pastor must be known for what he teaches as well as what he knows, affirms, and believes.  The health of the church depends upon pastors who infuse their congregations with deep biblical and theological conviction, and the primary means of this transfer of conviction is the preaching of the Word of God.”  Therefore, theological categories should be taught relentlessly for the building up of the body of Christ.

9. Strong proclamation must make a lasting difference in the hearts and minds of people

Lloyd-Jones writes, “Preaching should make such a difference to a man who is listening that he is never the same again.”  The photo above marks the location in Wartburg where Luther translated the Greek New Testament into the German language.  His tireless work and faithful proclamation made a difference in the lives of the German people, not to mention the continent of Europe.  His strong proclamation made a lasting difference in the hearts and minds of people.

So words, propositions, and proclamation matter.  May the courage and conviction of the “wild boar in the vineyard” captures the hearts and minds of pastors all around the world.  And they proclaim the message of the gospel so the nations might rest and rely on the all-sufficient Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ!