Favor: Finding Life at the Center of God’s Affection

favorGreg Gilbert, Favor: Finding Life at the Center of God’s Affection Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2017, 172 pp. $9.47

The prosperity gospel has been an influential force within the ranks of evangelicalism for some time. This God-dishonoring approach to the Christian life misinterprets Scripture and misrepresents the gospel. Tragically, many people are led astray by the idea that God’s gifts may be earned and that financial remuneration is at the center of God’s kingdom.

Greg Gilbert’s book, Favor: Finding Life at the Center of God’s Affection takes a different approach, one that is steeped in Scripture and offers people an eternal hope.

Part One: The Favor of God and How to Get It

Part one lays the theological foundation. The author defines his terms clearly by describing the essence of favor which means that you please someone or bring them joy or gladness. Therefore, “to be favored by God,” writes Gilbert, “is to be pleasing to him, to bring him joy … This is not a question of whether you’ll live your best life now; it’s a matter of whether you’ll live at all.”

The author wrestles with the idea of “earned favor.” In other words, humans have a built-in propensity to earn what they receive. For example, a worker receives wages for his hard work. A student receives a diploma for diligent study.

At the core of this study is the reality that most people are unwilling to admit: They do not deserve the favor of God. “You deserve to be condemned, to die, and to spend eternity under God’s wrath …” Gilbert writes. When creatures fail to glorify the living God, they commit cosmic treason against the throne of heaven. Gilbert adds, “It is rebellion and insurrection against the throne and crown and authority of God.”

Simply put, God’s favor must be earned. Yet it is not earned in the way that most people imagine. God’s favor must be earned for us and the only Person qualified to carry this out is the Lord Jesus Christ. He perfectly fulfilled the law of God and thus earned his favor. But then he died. The author explains,

But the fact that Jesus died, the fact that the One who actually earned life submitted to death, tells us that something more was happening. And that something more is the whole glory and joy of the Christian gospel. When Jesus won the favor of God and all its rewards, he wasn’t doing it just for himself. He was doing it for others too. He was acting as a representative, a substitute, a champion.

Gilbert’s winsome presentation of penal substitutionary atonement is stunning, to say the least. This breathtaking portrayal of the atonement leads to an important discussion that concerns union with Christ, a doctrine that is underemphasized in many churches. Gilbert goes so far to say, “Union with Christ … is the most under-appreciated, underemphasized, and overlooked doctrine in all of Christian theology.” Gilbert does his part to put a proper biblical emphasis on this crucial doctrine.

Part Two: The Blessings of God’s Favor

Part two focuses on the blessings of God’s favor by alerting readers to four important topics, namely, the blessing of contentment, peace with God, new life, and fighting as favored sons and daughters in the kingdom. These blessings are obviously practical and multi-faceted. Gilbert does a good job linking these blessings to real-life examples. But more importantly, he shows where these blessings appear in the Bible.

Favor: Finding Life at the Center of God’s Affection is perfect for new believers but will also benefit seasoned Christians as well. It wonderfully articulates the gospel and causes readers to rejoice in the blessings which are theirs in Christ!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

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THE MANNER IN WHICH THE SALVATION OF THE SOUL IS TO BE SOUGHT – Jonathan Edwards (1740)

imagesJonathan Edwards presents his doctrine at the front end of the sermon: We should be willing to engage in and go through undertakings, in order to our own salvation.

Noah, in this case is the exemplar.  As Noah obeyed when God commanded him to build the ark, so we too, should go through “great undertakings, in order to our own salvation.”

Three specific propositions undergird the doctrine.

Proposition # 1: There is a work of business which must be undertaken by men, if they would be saved.

“If we would be saved, we must seek salvation,” Edwards argues.  He explains, “It is on account of the works which Christ hath done for us.  Works are the fixed price of eternal life; it is fixed by an eternal, unalterable rule of righteousness.  But since the fall there is no hope of our doing these works, without salvation offered freely without money and without price.”

Proposition # 2: This business is a great undertaking.  Six statements describe this great undertaking:

  1. It is a business of great labor and care.
  2. It is a constant business.
  3. It is an undertaking of great expense.
  4. Sometimes the fear, trouble, and exercise of mind, which are undergone respecting this business, and the salvation of the soul, are great and long continued, before any comfort is obtained.
  5. It is a business which, by reason of the many difficulties, snares, and dangers that attend it, requires much instruction, consideration, and counsel.
  6. This business never ends till life ends.

Proposition # 3: Men should be willing to enter upon and go through this undertaking, though it be great, seeing it is for their own salvation.  Edwards notes four reasons for seeking salvation:

  1. A deluge of wrath will surely come.
  2. All such as do not seasonably undertake and go through the great work mentioned will surely be swallowed up in this deluge.
  3. The destruction, when it shall come, will be infinitely terrible.
  4. Though the work which is necessary in order to man’s salvation be a great work, yet it is not impossible.

Application

Edwards concludes with five pointed statements which serve as points of application for his hearers:

  1. How often you have been warned of the approach flood of God’s wrath.
  2. Consider the Spirit of God will not always strive with you; nor will his long-suffering always wait upon you.
  3. Consider how mighty the billows of divine wrath will be when they shall come.  Edwards adds, “The misery of the damned in hell can be better represented by nothing, than by a deluge of misery, a mighty deluge of misery, a mighty deluge of wrath, which will be ten thousand times worse than a deluge of waters; for it will be a deluge of liquid fire, as in the Scriptures it is called a lake of fire and brimstone.”
  4. This flood of wrath will probably come upon you suddenly, when you shall think little of it, and it shall seem far from you.
  5. If you will not hearken to the many warnings which are given you of approaching destruction, you will be guilty of more than brutish madness.

Edwards utilizes the historical narrative surrounding the events of Noah’s life to alert his congregation to the reality of God’s wrath and the importance of seeking salvation.  Included are his strong words; words of vivacity and intensity which seek to awaken sinners to the reality of sin, salvation, and final judgment.  Listen to the final warnings he utters in his sermon, warnings which are rarely heard from American pulpits in this generation.

“You have been once more warned today, while the door of the ark yet stands open.  You have, as it were, once again heard the knocks of the hammer and axe in the building of the ark, to put you in mind that a flood is approaching.  Take heed therefore that you do not still stop your ears, treat these warnings with a regardless heart, and still neglect the great work which you have to do, lest the flood of wrath suddenly come upon you, sweep you away, and there be no remedy.”

PARDON FOR THE GREATEST SINNERS – Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan_Edwards_engravingIt is unclear when the sermon under consideration was preached by Jonathan Edwards.  The best records seem to indicate that the Puritan divine preached this magnificent sermon before 1733, when Edwards was still in his 20’s.  The full title is Great Guilt No Obstacle to the Pardon of the Returning Sinner.  The subject was as relevant in the 18th century is it is now.  For large numbers of professing Christ-followers have abandoned their first love, in search of a “better way” which in the final analysis is the pathway to hell.

The sermon text is Psalm 25:11.

For your name’s sake, O Lord, pardon my guilt, for it is great.

From the outset, Edwards remarks about the heinousness of sin.  The Psalmist does not minimize his sin.  Rather, he maximizes the depth of his sin and acknowledges his deep great for pardon.

In typical Edwardsean fashion, America’s greatest intellectual reveals the doctrineIf we truly come to God for mercy, the greatness of our sin will be no impediment to pardon.

The established doctrine enables Edwards to  address the things which are needful in order for sinners to come to God for mercy.

1. That we should see our misery, and be sensible of our need for mercy.

“They must be sensible that they are the children of wrath; that the law is against them, and that they are exposed to the curse of it: that the wrath of God abideth on them; and that he is angry with them every day while they are under the guilt of sin.”

2. They must be sensible that they are not worthy that God should have mercy on them.

“They who come to God for mercy in a right manner are not disposed to find fault with his severity; but they come in a sense of their own utter unworthiness, as with ropes about their necks, and lying in the dust at the foot of mercy.”

3. They must come to God for mercy in and through Jesus Christ alone.

Edwards reveals four crucial supporting points to help bolster this proposition:

  • The mercy of God is as sufficient for the pardon of the greatest sins, as for the least; and that because his mercy is infinite.
  • That the satisfaction of Christ is as sufficient for the removal of the greatest guilt, as the least (1 John 1:7).
  • Christ will not refuse to save the greatest sinners, who in a right manner come to God for mercy: for this is his work.
  • Herein doth the glory of grace by the redemption of Christ much consist, viz. in its sufficiency for the pardoning of the greatest sinners.  The whole contrivance of the way of salvation is for this end, to glorify the free grace of God.
  • Pardon is as much offered and promised to the greatest sinners as any, if they will come aright to God for mercy.  The invitations of the gospel are always in universal terms.

Application

The heart of Edwards is to encourage sinners burdened with guilt to run to God for mercy: “If you go in the manner we have described, the arms of mercy are open to embrace you.”

I stand with Jonathan Edwards and beg my friends who are rebelling against God to run to the cross of Christ for mercy.  Run to Christ before it is too late.  Edwards speaks in vivid terms: “If you had as much guilt lying on each of your souls as all the wicked men in the world, and all the damned souls in hell; yet if you come to God for mercy, sensible of your own vileness, and seeking pardon only through the free mercy of God in Christ, you would not need to be afraid; the greatness of your sins would be no impediment to your pardon.  Therefore, if your souls be burdened, and you are distressed for fear of hell, you need not bear that burden and distress any longer.  If you are but willing, you may freely come and unload yourselves, and cast all your burdens on Christ, and rest in him.”

Edwards includes one final plea for sinners: “Spread all your wickedness before him, and do not plead your goodness; but plead your badness, and your necessity on that account: and say, as the psalmist in the text, not Pardon mine iniquity, for it is not as great as it was, but ‘Pardon mine iniquity, for it is great.'”

May sinners find rest in a Savior whose mercy runs deep and flows freely from the foot of the cross!

CAN I BE SURE I’M SAVED? – R.C. Sproul (2010)

One of the most pressing and urgent questions that pastors receive is the title of R.C. Sproul’s book, “Can I Be Sure I’m Saved?” – No. 7 in his Crucial Questions Series.   But Sproul is quick to reassure readers that we can in fact know that we are in a state of grace.  Not only that, “we can have full assurance that we still will be in a state of grace at the time of of death.”  While the book is short (only 72 pages), it is packed with God-honoring Reformed theology that is sure to encourage anyone who struggles with doubt and assurance.

The author identifies some popular faulty conceptions of salvation at the outset.  These views, which encourage a false sense of assurance include universalism (see Rob Bell’s, Love Wins), sacerdotalism (see the dominant teaching in the Roman Catholic Church), and legalism.

Sproul  encourages readers to seek assurance and to “work out their salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12).    He argues that developing an accurate view of election is an important step to shoring up one’s assurance.  Various views are presented but the author spends the most time on the Reformed view – the view that is consistent with Scripture.

The final chapter examines the doctrine of regeneration – a watershed doctrine for anyone wrestling with assurance.  False views of regeneration are presented and contrasted with the teaching of God’s Word.

A highly recommended resource for anyone struggling with doubt and for pastors who need a good resource to encourage the flock.

JESUS: THE ONLY WAY TO GOD – John Piper (2010)

For several years, we have been drowning in a sea of relativism.  This is certainly no secret to anyone who has strolled the postmodern beach that is littered with tolerance trash and the rubbish of situational ethics.  What comes as a shock is that this relativism is slowly creeping into the church.  Like an unnoticed leaky pipe, this diabolical worldview is creeping into the fabric of the church.  If we are not careful, we will soon find ourselves adrift – with no shore in sight.

John Piper addresses these concerns in his little book, Jesus: The Only Way to God.  He aggressively tackles the thorny question, “Must you hear the gospel in order to be saved?”  Piper’s passion is to “convince our minds and strengthen our hearts to do the loving thing, namely, t0 spread to all peoples the good news  of God’s work in Jesus to rescue sinners and someday renew the world.”  His mission is accomplished in six short chapters as he obliterates the heretical ideas of annihilationism and universalism.  He effectively answers the question that concerns whether or not a sincere person can receive eternal life, while never hearing the good news of Jesus’ gospel.  And the answer is a resounding “No!”

“The question for the church in every generation,” Piper writes, is: “Will we submit gladly to the Scriptures?  Will we devote ourselves to understanding them truly, valuing them supremely, applying them properly, obeying them wholeheartedly, and speaking them courageously and publicly?”  Piper’s work is a clarion call to the evangelical world.  It is a clear warning that utters the indispensable need for gospel proclamation – no matter the cost.  Followers of Christ have been duly warned.  Our task is to clearly communicate the Word of God.  Our task is to herald the truth concerning God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.  Our task is to faithfully utter the gospel to the nations!

4.5 stars