Many things are important in life, and when assessing the value of material and immaterial things—we must not forget the immense value of words. Consider how people fight over the meaning of terms found in the Constitution of the United States of America. At times, political leaders from polar opposite ideological backgrounds fight over words and the meaning of those words. This is not only true of the world of politics—it’s likewise true of the religious world. Political skirmishes will have an affect upon a society, but none is greater than religious skirmishes over the definition of words.
The very word theology comes from two Greek words (Theos meaning “God” and logos meaning “word”). Therefore, theology literally means words about God. That’s why words matter—especially in the study of God. Some have suggested that we “preach the gospel and use words if necessary,” but that statement is flawed from the start. For, God’s Word is made up of sixty-six books which are comprised of thousands of paragraphs, sentences, and individual words. It was John Gerstner who once said, “[We] may have knowledge of God and not be saved, but he can never be saved without knowledge of God.”  It was Theodore Beza who described the preaching of John Calvin by saying, “Every word weighed a pound.”
Words matter, but often words change. Read through the King James version of the Scriptures and you will likely run across many terms that are antiquarian—and in some cases nearly completely dead altogether. Consider the term, filthy lucre as an example. Who uses that phrase to describe greed for money in our present day? As it pertains to the morphology of specific terms, one can hope for the best as modernity consistently presses the limits on language and adds new vocabulary each year. However, when it comes to theology, words matter. Such words must be guarded. This is why a commitment to the single meaning of the text is essential when interpreting the Bible. The author’s original meaning matters. Unless carefully guarded—the words of Scripture will be redefined and such a process of change will lead to an assault on the theological foundation of the word which is an assault upon God himself. Take the definition of marriage and family as an example of this truth.
Take for example the word evangelical. As we see the rise and fall of this term, it finds it’s roots in the rise and fall of another term, fundamentalism. When skepticism was popular in the early 1900s, the Christian community rallied behind the term, fundamentalism as a means of intellectually defending the veracity, authority, and sufficiency of Scripture. However, over time that very term morphed into a banner for legalism and still to this day if you call someone a fundamentalist—it’s likely used as a term of derision rather than a compliment.
During this time period, Carl F. H. Henry used his platform with Christianity Today to promote an alternative term that could be used to describe faithful, conservative, and intellectual Christianity that did not blush at the authority and inerrancy of the Bible. That term was evangelical. The term itself is rooted in Scripture and derived from the “εὐαγγέλιον” which is a Greek term meaning “good news” and is often translated “gospel” in the English translations. The Latin term evangel meaning “gospel” is also derived from this term. While Carl F. H. Henry and other religious leaders didn’t coin the term, they popularized it at the time when many Christians were in the midst of an identity crisis and fundamentalism had morphed into a narrow movement that isolated itself and marginalized many believers.
Through time, evangelicalism grew to encompass many believers from across denominational lines. While many good things have come out of the evangelical movement, today the term has been redefined so much that it has lost its original meaning and attractiveness. When evangelicalism became so wide that it lost its distinction, it likewise lost its meaning. Today, much of what we call evangelicalism encompasses the teaching of John MacArthur to Sarah Young. Beneath the umbrella of evangelical, you will find studies from Banner of Truth and Beth Moore. People who voted for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump both claim to be committed evangelicals. The term is certainly stretched and in many cases—completely broken.
Words are representatives of truth. This is especially true and vitally important in the world of theology. Such terms serve as stakes in the ground to mark what God says and how we as God’s people must live, worship, and serve. If God’s Word regulates what we believe and how we live out our faith—God’s Word likewise regulates the boundary of vocabulary. The boundary of theological all terms must be carefully examined from God’s sufficient Word. Since God’s Word is indeed sufficient for every age and every people group in human history—the terms and boundaries of such theological terms should not shift and change with the winds of culture. Pastors of local churches and members of those local assemblies are called to guard the truth. Any attempt to accommodate the culture is a recipe for theological disaster. Unfortunately we are living in such times.
Years ago, a term was introduced in order to help us understand the distinct roles of men and women in the church, home, and society. This term is complementarianism. It served as a weighty word that put a line in the sand and sought to reveal the boundaries of God’s Word on the calling, responsibilities, and roles of both men and women. Such boundaries are necessary in order to see how one must function within the household of faith. These God-ordained boundaries are likewise necessary to establish the governance of God’s church in local assemblies around the world. Therefore, it’s clearly an important subject and complementarianism remains an important term.
The problem arises in our present evangelical culture when modern definitions of complementarianism are being offered. Such new definitions seem to stretch the boundaries set forth in God’s Word and it’s causing a rift among many who claim to be evangelical. Once again, when the tent of evangelicalism encompasses such diverse groups of people across denominational lines with such sweeping theological convictions—it’s no wonder that a shared term such as complementarianism would eventually find itself in the crosshairs of religious attack. When a group of people claim to be complementarian in their positions, they could likewise be using several different definitions.
Undoubtedly there is a battle for the dictionary in our day. We are all bound by words and definitions. This is not true for the professional theologian alone. It’s also true for the pastor-theologian. It’s true for the homeschool-mom-theologian, the mechanic-theologian, the father-theologian, and the academic-theologian. Every Christian has a responsibility to rightly divide the Word of Truth—in the teaching of women’s Bible studies and while writing systematic theology textbooks. Words matter, but unless carefully guarded, they will morph, change, and be redefined to accommodate a liberal devil-glorifying culture.
When we see new terms surfacing within the Christian community such as “woke Christianity” or “woke church”—we should pause and carefully examine the agenda. To redeem a word such as “woke” that found its origins in the Black Nationalist Movement and seek to use it within evangelicalism to push the social justice agenda is another example of how words matter. Sometimes one word is introduced in order to help shift a people’s understanding of another word. So, what does justice actually mean these days? Must a person be woke in order to be just?
Read the Bible. Think. Exercise discernment. Words are the building blocks of meaning and serve as foundational components of representing the social, religious, and political views of human beings. Fight for the true meaning of words.
John Gerstner, Theology for Everyman, (Chicago: Moody, 1965), Chapter 1.
Yesterday, I preached from Isaiah 9:6 as we celebrate the incarnation of Jesus Christ and the hope we have in the gospel. In this short verse, we see massive statements about Jesus Christ that provide reasons to rejoice and be glad in our God!
The prophet Isaiah was writing to Israel regarding the Assyrian conflict. Assyria had overtaken the northern Kingdom and what Isaiah promised them was victory. How? Through a military conquest? Through a powerful dictator? No! Through the birth of a baby. It was a shocking statement in his day, but even more so when it actually came to pass hundreds of years later. Jesus was born of a virgin and the child given was the Savior of the world.
In this verse, Isaiah tells of the child who is the Son of God, the One who will rule the nations, the One who is the wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting Father of eternity, and Prince of Peace. The resume of this promised child is beyond comprehension, but not one of these descriptions transcends higher than the claim of deity. This is the heart of the gospel and the true reason of joy at Christmas.
In Isaiah 6, the prophet was encouraging his people in a time when the king had died. The people were scrambling around and looking for leadership when the throne was empty. It was then that God provided the vision of the enthroned King of kings who was worshipped by angels and positioned high and lifted up on a sovereign throne. Just one chapter removed from that majestic scene we hear the promise of a virgin conception and his name shall be called Immanuel. When Isaiah pens the words in Isaiah 9:6, and claims that this child will be mighty God—there is no doubt that this is a reference to the deity of the Messiah—Christ the Lord. The child promised is none other than the Lord of hosts of Isaiah 6. God with his people is the message of joy and the hope of the gospel.
When the Jehovah’s Witnesses try to suggest that Jesus is Michael the Archangel—it becomes clear that they are attacking the heart of the gospel. Not only does Hebrews 1:6-14 quote Psalm 102:25-27 which reveals the truth that Jesus is Jehovah—but all through the Bible we see references to the deity of Jesus such as:
John 1:1 – In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
John 20:28 – Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!
Titus 2:13 – waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ
2 Peter 1:1 – Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ
Romans 9:5 – To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.
Colossians 1:16 – For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.
Philippians 2:5-6 – Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,  who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped
John 8:58-59 – Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”  So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.
John 18:6 – When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground.
Isaiah 9:6 – For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
This is why the Nicene Creed uses the language of “Very God of Very God” and it’s why the hymn penned by Charles Wesley in his hymn titled, “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing!” writes:
Hail, th’ incarnate Deity:
Pleased, as man, with men to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel!
Without a sovereign Savior—Christmas has no hope. Remember as you celebrate this Christmas—Jesus is God!
The world around us is broken and filled with sin. We are surrounded by human depravity at every level (from childhood relationships to political leaders). Yet, we long for the day when God will make all things new and our broken world will be renewed, changed, and filled with the glory and splendor of God. In short, we await the second coming of Christ.
As we await the second coming of Christ, we celebrate his first coming. This was something the prophets wrote about and pointed to even as Isaiah did some 700 years before Jesus was born. Isaiah records one of the most eloquent prophecies of Jesus that is filled with hope. Read it and think of the already and not yet aspects of how Jesus fulfills (and will fulfill) this glorious verse of Scripture.
Isaiah 9:6 — For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
The prophecy of a child to be born and a son given was not a reference to just any child. It was a reference to the most glorious birth that has ever occurred in human history. It’s a reference to Emmanuel. When God took upon himself human flesh and entered his very own creation, what a glorious hope. Isaiah longed for the day and yet that day has come and gone and we live on the other side of this prophecy. We celebrate the birth that has already occurred.
There is no doubt about our corrupt political system in America and while can see such depraved political strategies here, around the world in various other nations the corruption is far worse. Like Isaiah, we long for the sovereign King of kings and Lord of lords to rule visibly. Every part of Isaiah’s words in this single verse has already been fulfilled except this reference to the government being upon his shoulder.
In actuality, this has been partially fulfilled, but we long for the visible reign of Christ. Some believe that Jesus will rule in the future and the government will be upon his shoulder in the future, but in actuality, he is ruling now from heaven’s throne. In supremacy he sits on the throne and he is unchallenged and unflinching at all of the marching armies of this world. Jesus said in Matthew 28:18, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” As Jesus rules now, we await his second coming where he will rule in our visible presence.
Because of sin, we have to navigate the broken road of human depravity on a daily basis. For that reason, we need good counsel. We seek the counsel of close friends, family members, parents, pastors, and fellow church members. However, there is none who can provide greater counsel than our Lord. We come to him in his Word, we seek him and look into the great wisdom of his teaching, and we follow him as we submit to his commands. Not one time has Jesus given bad counsel or provided for us failed promises. We can trust him and we should find hope in his words (words of comfort, hope, and truth).
The central truth of the gospel is that Jesus is more than a gifted rabbi. When you examine the cults around the world, often they want to attack the deity of Jesus. They want to relegate him to the level of a prophet or a good moral teacher, but that cannot be so if Jesus isn’t God while he made such lavish claims to be God (see John 8:58 and John 17). In John’s prologue, he writes, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God (John 1:1).” The grand truth we celebrate at Christmas is that far greater than angels appearing to shepherds in a field was the reality that God had clothed himself in human flesh and was lying in a manger. He came to save his people from their sins (Matt. 1:21), and it was only possible if Jesus is very God of very God.
As “Everlasting Father” Jesus is not the Father. Isaiah is not suggesting that the Son is the Father in the sense of confusing the persons of the Trinity (which is a heretical position). He is using the tern “father” in perhaps two ways in this statement. First, Jesus can show compassion as a father shows compassion to his children (Ps. 103:13). Secondly, Jesus is the everlasting father of the universe and he upholds everything but he word of his power (Col. 1:15-20).
Finally, Isaiah speaks of Jesus as the “Prince of Peace.” Only in Jesus can rebel sinners find peace with God (Rom. 5:10). Only in Christ can a world that is filled with sin, brokenness, murder, and violence find peace. It’s only in Christ that God’s children can navigate this broken world with peace that passes all understanding (Phil. 4:7). While we as believers live in a world of sin and experience the peace of God, we will one day live in a peaceful world. We long for that day to come. As we celebrate the first coming of Jesus we anticipate the second coming of Jesus. As John said, “Come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20).
Seasons of spiritual drought seize the heart and mind of Christians—far too often without notice. It’s often through a busy time of life that a person comes to the realization that they’re spiritually dry and in need of revival. What caused it? Was it the result of a spiritual attack or was it a self-inflicted wound? How can such a state of drought be avoided?
One of the greatest ways to find yourself spiritually dry is by isolating yourself from the local church. It might be through over serving or it could be for lack of commitment to assemble with the gathered church for worship (and fellowship), but either way, you find yourself alone, discouraged, and lacking spiritually. This is one of the greatest tools of the enemy.
God never saved anyone and intended for them to be journeying alone. The Christian life involves community and this community is not a religious club. It’s far more than the gathering of people around athletics or other recreational outlets. The church of Jesus Christ is a body of believers who are united with Christ and as a result—united with one another in the faith. In short, every believer (no matter of age and spiritual maturity) needs other believers for the Christian life. There is a real, raw, and dangerous world that will suck the life out of you and consume you without the support, wisdom, and assistance of the gathered church.
One way to isolate yourself is by not showing up for church services altogether. This follows the pattern that’s condemned in 1 John 2:19, but there are more ways to isolate yourself—even while attending on a weekly basis. For instance, it’s possible to work with children to the point that you have zero interaction with other adults in the life of the church. That’s one form of isolation that you should avoid. It’s likewise possible to isolate yourself by intentionally avoiding everyone in the church by arriving just as the service begins (or a few minutes after) and sliding out just as the benediction is being offered. Such isolation can lead to a spiritual drought. Sometimes such isolation is intentional while for others it could be a total accident. Either way, it’s extremely dangerous for your soul.
Serving without Worshipping
While over serving is always a danger for the zealous Christian who desires to see his or her church reach certain goals, another danger involves serving without worshipping. There are several ways that a person can do this, and one obvious category is over serving. However, it’s also possible to be present in the room with the gathered church for the worship service and to serve through song, instruments, ushers, choir, door greeters, security, and various other ministry outlets within the worship service without worshipping.
It’s very possible to perform a duty or complete a job on a weekly basis while remaining isolated from the church and isolated from worship. This is often a danger for larger churches, but it can likewise be a danger for smaller churches who don’t seem to have enough people to serve. I can recall a particular woman years ago who served faithfully and worked hard in her area of ministry in the church, but I noticed that she was rarely present with the gathered church body for worship. She was serving, but she was not worshipping. She and her family eventually left our church.
It must be noted that worship is about us praising God, but it’s also about us knowing God. When we come to know God through his Word, we grow in Christ through the Scriptures. This is critical for all ages and levels of maturity within the life of the church and will be a consistent process until we stand in the presence of King Jesus. Worship is not about feelings and emotions—it’s about knowledge and the consistent pursuit of knowing God. Therefore, how is it possible to continue to pour out in service (teaching or other practical areas of service) without growing in the knowledge of God through His Word? It will result in a spiritual dryness and lethargy that overcomes a person in due time.
One of the most common and yet most deadly ways of reaching a spiritual drought is through the ongoing practice or harboring of sin. The Christian is a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17) and is called to walk in newness of life in Jesus (Rom. 6:4). When Christians continue to harbor sin in their hearts, they become polluted spiritually and often this results in a lack of desire for God and his people (through your local church). People who walk in this pattern often find themselves having a lack of love for fellow Christians and a lack of patience in relationships. This pattern often leads a person to be grumpy and constantly finding ways to criticize leadership or other Christians in the church.
Another element of this problem involves the fact that it leads to isolation. When a Christian is living in sin, he or she often desires to surround themselves with unbelievers and as a result they find themselves having little time for God’s people. This is why it’s so dangerous to allow sin to remain in your life. The Christian is called to a life pursuit of God which involves the mortification of sin (Eph. 4:22-24).
Take time to evaluate your spiritual life and see if you’re serving on empty, harboring sin, or isolating yourself from the church. If so, you must remember that the enemy is crafty and is looking for ways to destroy you. Keep your guard up and draw near to the Lord.
Yesterday as we continued in our series through Romans, I was able to preach Romans 6:8-11. As Paul explained the reality of the believer’s death in Christ (we are crucified with Christ) and subsequent burial, he goes on to explain the meaning of what it means to be raised to walk in newness of life. The Christian life is a resurrected life.
In short, that means that we are transformed by the power of God and the new birth causes us to be raised into a new life that is marked by our union with Christ. This new life is different than the life we once lived through our union with Adam. The old things have now been passed away and we now live a life that honors God.
We were born in bondage to sin. This bondage provided us freedom to exercise human depravity. Our depraved human life provided us freedom, but not freedom that leads to righteousness.
Free to disobey God.
Free to hate God.
Free to walk according to the prince of the power of the air.
Free to dishonor God.
Free to ignore God and focus on self.
Free to serve the world, the flesh, and the devil.
Only through the new birth were we given true freedom in Christ. This spiritual resurrection results in a life of freedom to live to the glory of God. The truth of the gospel gave us freedom in Christ (John 8:32-36). In Christ, through his work of redemption, we are freed from this bondage and now we enjoy true freedom to glorify God.
Free to live in obedience to God.
Free to love God.
Free to walk with God.
Free to honor God.
Free to obey God.
Free to worship God.
Free to serve God.
The new Christian life is a resurrected life. We live between the already and the not yet. Not only do we have a new life with Christ in this present age, but we will one day live with Christ in his visible presence in glory. The future return of Christ – that great eschatological hope – is what we long for each day as a believer. One day we will enjoy a resurrected body that will dwell in the very presence of our God (1 Cor. 15:22; Rev. 21).
Because of this truth, we overcome sin. Christ died once – and will never die again. His death and resurrection provides true victory and we as his children should walk in a manner that overcomes sin. The response of the Christian life is connected to Jesus’ work. Paul now sums up all of this grand theology by demonstrating how we respond to God (Rom. 12:1-2; Eph. 4:22-24).
It’s the work of God that produces a change, but we are called to strive for holiness. That is the calling of the Christian life.
Hebrews 12:14 – Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
What Does a Holy Man or Woman Look Like? — “What are some key characteristics of someone who is truly walking and growing in holiness? The following video touches on three qualities of personal holiness for which every Christian should long and strive.”
Yesterday in our Romans series, I preached from Romans 6:5-7 on the subject of our union with Christ. Considered by many theologians as one of the central doctrines of the gospel—our union with Christ is essential for our position and our life of freedom. Without our union with Christ there is no true Christianity at all.
The word translated, united is the Greek term, “σύμφυτος” meaning, “to being associated in a related experience, or far from the divine, but growing up in the very midst of it; indeed, one might aver, growing up together with it.”  Verse five serves as the thesis statement for this section and verses six and seven serve as an explanation of the first half of verse five. Paul launches off into a statement about the believer’s union with Jesus in both his death and resurrection. As it pertains to his death, we were crucified with Christ. Not only does Paul mention our union with Jesus in his death, but then he speaks of us being crucified with Jesus. Why is this so vitally important?
For the Jew, the Roman cross and the system of crucifixion was a statement of finality. Nobody came home for supper after being crucified. Therefore, to state that our old identity in Adam was crucified with Christ—it’s like stating that we will never be the same again. We are now identified with Jesus completely and never will we be identified with Adam. Our old position has now been crucified and there has been a change of ownership that will never be altered.
Following that statement, Paul then moves on to demonstrate that while our position has changed through our union with Jesus in his death, we will still have an ongoing battle with sin since our body of sin is still alive. This will be a constant struggle until we are glorified. We see this in Romans 7:16-18 as Paul writes, “Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.”
While the old self connected to Adam has died – our body remains alive and we live in the era between the already and not yet. Christ already rules and yet he hasn’t returned. We have died in Christ, but our sinful flesh remains. We anticipate a day when Christ will return and make all things new – including our sinful flesh – in a glorified body like Christ.
However, we must surrender to Christ and live for the glory of God. As Paul wrote elsewhere in Galatians 2:20-21, “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. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” We are called to be imitators of God (Eph. 5:1). We are called to produce good works that bring glory to God and cause others to praise God (Matt. 5:16; James 2:26; Eph. 2:10).
A person who claims to be a follower of Christ and yet remains in a constant unbroken pattern of sin has no right to claim the name of Jesus. When God saves a person, he not only saves them from their sin, but he removes sin from them as well. Sanctification is the pattern of a life changed by Christ.
J.C. Ryle stated, “We must be holy, because this is the one grand end and purpose for which Christ came into the world… Jesus is a complete Savior. He does not merely take away the guilt of a believer’s sin, He does more – He breaks its power.”