Tag Archives: word of God

Naked and Exposed Before the Living God (Sermon)

The word of God reveals our hearts, leaving us naked and exposed before God. When God’s word comes to us, we are forced to respond, and how we respond reveals what is in our hearts.

First, we respond by our actions, which reveal either faith or unbelief in God’s word. Second, on the Last Day we will be called to give a word of response to God’s word, a word about the condition of our own hearts. On that day—as already now—it will be pointless to make our word deviate from God’s word, for the thoughts and intentions of our hearts are open before God.

Thus God’s word exposes us,  leaving us defenseless. It demands faith, and it demands a word in response—a word that matches God’s word.

These sobering thoughts come from Hebrews 4:12-13:

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (ESV)

This passage was the central text in a sermon I recently preached on the danger of secret sin. I am generally more of a teacher than a preacher, but this was preaching. It was definitely more of a message of warning than I have ever shared before. I felt God’s grace as I shared. You can download the sermon or listen to it here:

Here is a summary of what I shared:

  • God tested Israel in the wilderness, between Egypt and the Promised Land of rest, revealing what was in their hearts. (Ex. 17:1-7; Num. 13-14; Deut. 8:2; 31:20-21; etc.)
  • God spoke to Israel “today” in the Promised Land, testing whether they would believe and enter eternal rest. (Ps. 95)
  • God is also speaking to us “today” in the wilderness, between our initial salvation and our eternal rest, testing our hearts. (Heb. 3:5–4:13; etc.)
  • God’s knows every secret of our hearts. (Many Scriptures, including Lk 8:17.)
  • “Are You in the Dangerous Time In Between?” —Tim Challies.
  • What should you do if you have hidden sin? Confess it, own it, repent of it, forsake it, replace evil desires with good desires, rely on divine help, seek human help. (Plead for the gift of repentance, which will not always be possible: Heb 6:4-8; 12:17. “Six Signs of Genuine Repentance”—Bryce Klabunde.)
  • Faithful response to God’s word is a community effort. We must exhort each other and sometimes even act urgently to “remove the evil from our midst.” (Heb. 3:12-13; 12:15; Deut. 29:18; 13:1-18; 1 Cor. 5; etc.)
  • “The Damning Devastation of a Single Coddled Sin”—Tim Challies.
  • Final warning from Hebrews—from the passage that is set in literary parallel to the sermon’s main text (Heb. 4:11-13):

For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Heb. 10:26-31 ESV)

  • Comfort: Your love for God is also “naked and exposed” before him, and he will not overlook it. (Heb. 6:9-12)

Here was the final exhortation we heard, summarizing God’s word to us:

Brothers and sisters! God has rescued you from Egypt! He is leading you to the Promised Land of eternal rest! But you are in danger of missing that rest! Today God is speaking to you! Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts!

God is speaking to you, and his word will reveal the secret thoughts and intentions of your heart! There is no hiding from God! You lie naked and helplessly exposed before him! “Nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light.”

Confess your sin to God! Own it! Repent of it! Forsake it! Replace your evil desires with good desires! Rely on divine help to live a holy life! Seek the help of your brothers and sisters!

Do not let your brothers and sisters coddle secret sins! Urge them to repentance! Don’t play around with fire that could burn the whole community! Don’t ignore any bitter root that will spring up and defile many! Purge the evil from your midst!

Determine today that you will no longer coddle a single persistent, deliberate, knowing sin! It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God!

May the God who knows our hearts turn our hearts anew to him in faith and obedience each day.

And may we help each other, for faithfulness is a community effort! What do you have to share that will help the rest of us live with pure hearts before God? Share your thoughts in the comments below. Thank you!


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God’s Word and the Pastor’s Authority (Hebrews 1:1-4)

Pastor, why should anyone listen to your words? What is the basis of your authority? The answer is both simple and demanding: people should listen to your words to the extent that your words express the word of God.

I have been too busy to blog for a month now, which doesn’t sit well with me at all! But (a) this too shall pass, God willing, after we are settled properly into our Atlanta house, and (b) I can’t help sharing a little nugget this morning.

First, a happy random note: I’m sitting here in our new kitchen as I blog. In the past five minutes, right here in our own backyard, I have seen both a great blue heron and a hawk! Much nicer than the baby snake (harmless variety) I found in our basement yesterday morning. The wrens nesting in our basement will need to be removed after this season, too, despite the cheer they bring. Truly we are moving to an urban jungle!

Back to God’s word and ours. I have just begun reading Gareth Lee Cockerill’s recent Hebrews commentary as part of my morning Bible time. I’m really liking his insights and assessments so far.

CockerillHebrews

Here is the passage from his commentary introduction that provoked this little post today. Enjoy!

The pastor’s authority rests on the gospel message (2:1-4) that he holds in common with his hearers and on the persuasive quality of his exegesis.

I’ll interrupt briefly to say “Read that again!” When Cockerill says “pastor,” he is describing the author of Hebrews. But his words are equally valid for pastors today! Back to the quote:

Heb 1:1-4 enunciates the fundamental principles that underlie his interpretation of the OT. First, the God who “spoke” through the OT has now “spoken” in one who is Son. The inclusion of the OT under the rubric of “the prophets” (1:1) indicates that it anticipated God’s ultimate self-revelation. Thus this final word in the Son is both continuous with, and the fulfillment of, all that God said before the Son assumed humanity. Second, to the continuity of the divine Speaker one must add the continuity of the human recipients. Those to whom God spoke through the prophets were the “fathers” of those he addresses in his Son (1:1-2). God’s people have always consisted of those who hear, embrace, and persevere in the word of God. Both those who live before and after Christ have received the same call, the same promise, the same “gospel,” and are on pilgrimage to the same heavenly “city,” which all the faithful will obtain through Christ. There is one God and one people of God.

This firm confidence in the continuity of the divine speaker and of the human addressees underlies the pastor’s sense of the immediacy of God’s word. Thus it is no surprise that he prefers OT passages that are in the form of direct address and that he introduces them with verbs denoting speech rather than with “it is written.” What God has said in the past is of more than antiquarian interest. God “speaks” to his people in the present both by the words that he spoke to his people of old (Heb 3:7–4:11; 10:36-39) and by his conversations with his Son concerning the Son’s incarnation and exaltation (1:1-14; 2:11-13; 7:1-28); 10:5-10). God’s final revelation embraces more than what the Son has said. God’s final revelation is found in the fully adequate Savior he has become through his incarnation, obedience, self-offering, and session. The work of the Son enables God’s people to grasp his previous revelation more clearly and obey it more diligently. (Pp. 43-45)

Nearly every sentence there deserves meditation, helping us think more clearly about topics as varied as preaching, biblical interpretation, monotheism, and the identity of the people of God. God bless you as you listen to, obey, and proclaim the word of God today!

Share your insights in the comments below. Thanks!


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The Church of Christ — Ferguson (1): Introduction

One of my primary goals on this blog is to help us think biblically about church. As I seek to grow in my own understanding, I find it helpful to read authors who wrestle directly with Scripture, form conclusions, and send me back to Scripture myself to weigh their conclusions.

Recently I’ve finally begun one such book, one that has been calling my name for several years: The Church of Christ: A Biblical Ecclesiology for Today, by Everett Ferguson.

ChurchofChristFerguson

Ferguson is best known as an historian of the early church, having written books such as the seminary standard Backgrounds of Early Christianity and, more recently, a massive book on Baptism in the Early Church. I recommend both.

But in this book Ferguson aims to speak as a biblical student, not as an historian. Here is how he explains things in his Preface:

Recent scholarship has emphasized the diversity of theologies within the New Testament… I have chosen to pay more attention in this study to the melody than to the individual instruments.

Although the synthetic approach adopted in this book may be out of fashion, the recognition of the authority of a canon of scripture… justifies the effort to bring together the teaching of the various New Testament documents… This kind of reading does not serve the purposes of historians well, but it is a necessary task for theologians.

The book is written by one whose academic training is primarily that of a historian, but a historian interested in theology who has used history as a way of understanding theological questions. I have set my hand in this work to a book that is completely theological and systematic…

The “Today” in the subtitle does not mean a tailoring of biblical ecclesiology to the interests of the present but is meant to emphasize that biblical ecclesiology is viable today… (pp. xiv-xv)

So far I am only about 136 pages into Ferguson’s 443-page book. But I’m starting to like it enough that I’ve decided I’d like to share a series of posts quoting and interacting with this book.

Ferguson arranges his book in a way that is unexpected but exactly right: around Jesus. After the Preface and Introduction, the book consists of six long chapters, each building on some aspect of Jesus’ identity and work:

  1. The People and the Messiah: History and Eschatology
  2. The Church and Her Lord: The Nature of the Church
  3. The Church and Her Savior: Salvation and Church Membership
  4. The Church and Her High Priest: Worship and Assembly
  5. The Church and Her Bishop: The Continuing Ministry
  6. The Church and Her Teacher: The New Way of Life

Don’t let these titles overwhelm you. They repay close reading. For example, note that Jesus is identified by six titles: Messiah, Lord, Savior, High Priest, Bishop, and Teacher. Ferguson uses these titles of Jesus to understand the church. Thus (in chapter three), if Jesus is “Savior,” how should this shape our understanding of church membership? Or (in chapter five), if Jesus is “Bishop,” how should this shape our understanding of human leaders and servants within the church?

This means that all the “practical” topics you may be curious about are probably found in one of those chapters. For example, subheadings address things such as this:

  • The Body of Christ
  • The Family of God
  • The Meaning of Ekklesia
  • Attitudes toward Worship
  • Activities in the Assembly
  • Shepherds, Preachers, and Servants
  • Discipline
  • Unity

I’m thinking I’ll share about seven posts on this book—this one plus one for each chapter. If I am bursting with extra thoughts and time, one more concluding post may appear.

To wrap up this first post, here are some highlights I enjoyed from the book’s Introduction:

God gave a person, then a proclamation, and then a people. This is the historical and theological order.

God gave first a person, Jesus Christ…

The proclamation centers in the person…

The proclaimed word calls and gathers a people… This book studies the people, the church. As such it is concerned with what is derivative and in third position… I seek to relate every aspect of the doctrine about the church to Christ…

The oral message about Jesus Christ gathered a people and so created a church. That word was put in written form… In a historical sense, one may say that “the church gave us the Bible.”… Although the church was historically prior to the Bible as a given collection of books, the word contained in the Bible was theologically prior to the church. The recognition of a canon of scripture was an acknowledgment by the church that it was not its own authority and was an act of submission to the authority of  apostolic preaching inscripturated in the apostolic writings…

The witness of the first generations of Christians about what was authoritative for them is an irreversible decision and remains determinative of what the essence of Christianity is… The historical circumstances of the first century are not normative for Christians in later centuries, but the apostolic teaching given in those historical circumstances is normative…

The effort to find an authoritative word in scriptures on the matters discussed does not mean adopting the kind of “proof-text” approach that often takes verses out of context. The effort has been made to show the interconnectedness of themes…

There is such an interconnectedness of themes that this book could almost be considered a New Testament theology organized with reference to ecclesiology. It is not that; there are too many aspects of New Testament theology that are not included…

The person of Jesus is more attractive than those who claim to follow him are. But… one cannot have Jesus without the church. We hope to show that Christ or the church is a false alternative… To emphasize Christ is to make his church important.

Sometimes people, finding the heart of the gospel, want to treat the rest of biblical teaching as irrelevant. It may be secondary, but it is not irrelevant. The proper procedure is to work out from the center of the gospel to other things and apply the gospel to other aspects of doctrine. On our topic, that means working from Christ to the nature of the church and its activities…

Perhaps the problem for many has been in taking the church too much in an institutional sense and not sufficiently in terms of a people, a redeemed community… The church may often have been presented in such a way as to obscure Christ…

The first three chapters of this book develop the theological axiom that Christology and soteriology determine ecclesiology. The last three chapters then apply this insight to the ministry, worship, and life of the church. We want to take seriously that this study concerns the church of Christ. He gives existence, meaning, and purpose to the church. Christology is the norm for ecclesiology, and that is what justifies the title of the book. (pp. xvii-xx, bold added)

I won’t add much to that except to say that typing those excerpts renews my excitement about Ferguson’s focus as he examines ecclesiology. Whatever points of disagreement we may discover with him along the way, he has certainly started his study very well indeed!


What stands out to you from these introductory thoughts from Ferguson? What do you want to say Amen to? Is there anything you’d balance differently? What do you hope he addresses (and I review) in his book? Share your insights below.


Note: I participate in an Amazon affiliates program, so if you buy a book using the links above, I will earn pennies. Thanks!


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