Pastor's Blog

Grace Life Baptist Church Blog

Because It's God's Word

Some of the stranger moments in my ministry have to be when people have asked, "Why would you preach that [topic]?  My answer on some of these occasions has been less than stellar but I have always tried to emphasize it's because it's God's Word.  But mostly, I think I have been dumbfounded by this question.  This is especially true given the fact that I preaching expositionally--meaning that I strive to draw my "topic" from whatever the topic the verses I am preaching presents.

It has been my experience that the "Why would you preach that?" question has been primarily in regard to more debated issues, and unless I preach those issues uniform to what the hearers have always been taught or have always assumed, then people tend to get upset.  Here are a two reasons I have heard over the years for their disgruntledness.

1)  "It's confusing for people"--While I completely understand this concern, I don't believe it is ever a reason to shy away from any biblical topic.  Certainly, some biblical topics must be taught age appropriately or even spiritual-age appropriately, but the Church must never back down from preaching the Word and trusting the Holy Spirit to apply it to hearts as He sees fit.  How often did Jesus teach His disciples something that only led to their being wholly confused?  One of many examples is when Jesus said, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up" (Jn.2:19), and the disciples had not a clue what Jesus meant (cf. Jn.2:22).

2) "It creates doubt in the hearts of people"--Again, I completely understand this concern, but I don't believe it is ever a reason to shy away from any biblical topic.  We should certainly anticipate the potential doubts that may arise, but that's part of the job of a pastor.  It is his responsibility to be patient with those who have doubts, but it would be irresponsible for a pastor to avoid a topic for fear of creating doubts.  After Jesus was raised from the dead, some of His disciples doubted it (Matt.28:17).  Does that mean Jesus was irresponsible in raising Himself from the dead?  Or does this mean that pastors who preach the resurrection are irresponsible for preaching it?  God forbid!  What we must realize is that oftentimes doubt is just a polished up word for unbelief.

I remember in particular being asked once why I would even bring up the doctrine of election because it only leads to confusion and causes people to doubt their salvation.  This person tried to defend his statement by saying, "What if someone has been a member of the church all their life and think that they're saved but they're not.  And when they hear about election it creates doubt that troubles their heart.  If they are not elect, wouldn't it be better for them to live in peace for the few years they have on earth before they die and go to hell."

Needless to say, I was astonished for several reasons.  First, I would never just "bring up" a difficult doctrine like election unless I think it necessary.  I would say that 9 times out of 10, I have only brought up election and similarly difficult doctrines only if the doctrines are mentioned or alluded to in the Scripture that I am preaching.

Second, I'm pretty sure Jesus never held back anything in His preaching that would discomfort unbelievers who thought they were believers.  On one occasion in which the Jews were arguing with Jesus about eternal life, the Jews said to Him, "Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died?  And the prophets died!  Who do you make yourself out to be?" (Jn.8:53).

Jesus ends this argument a few verses later by answering all of their questions with great finality: "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am" (Jn.8:58).

What do you think their response was to Jesus?  Great joy?  No, anything but.  Their reaction was unbelief and anger and murderous intentions (Jn.8:59).  Here are the Jews who thought they were "saved," but in reality they were not.  And here is Jesus who did the most loving thing He could in that situation--He taught them the truth.

So in the power of the Holy Spirit, and speaking the truth in love, may the Church proclaim all the counsel of God--because souls hang in the balance and it is better to trouble a soul a little here than to see an "untroubled" soul perish in hell.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta
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Confessions

I am thankful for the kindness of God in allowing me to read Saint Augustine's Confessions.  I can say that it has impacted my understanding of God and of myself as much as any other book that I have ever read (aside from the Bible mind you).  I only wish that someone would have clued me into this great treasure many years ago because it would have been helpful in so many spiritual battles.

One of the first things I noticed as I began reading is Augustine's utter awe of God.  Not one sentence in this book spoke of God flippantly.  Rather, God was held in the highest esteem, yet it was done without any hint of legalistic rigidity.

There is one thing evident above all others: Augustine had been changed by the sovereign grace of God, by the life-giving Spirit of God.  Whereas he was once enslaved to sexual promiscuity and man-centered philosophy, God awakended him to new life.  As he sat in a garden contemplating his spiritual state, he heard a voice of a child from a nearby house chanting, "Pick up and read, pick up and read."  So he did, and in the providence of God, Augustine opened to Romans 13:13-14, which said, "Not in riots and drunken parties, not in eroticism and indecencies, not in strife and rivalry, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in its lusts."  His often quoted conversion is recorded this way:

"I neither wished nor needed to read further.  At once, with the last words of this sentence, it was as if a light of relief from all anxiety flooded into my heart.  All the shadows of doubt were dispelled."

Later in the book Augustine described his conversion this way: "You called and cried out loud and shattered my deafness.  You were radiant and resplendent, you put to flight my blindness.  You were fragrant, and I drew in my breath and now pant after you.  I tasted you, and I feel but hunger and thirst for you.  You touched me, and I am set on fire to attain the peace which is yours."

These kinds of statements in the Confessions about the grace of God in salvation through Jesus Christ bring the Christian reader to a point of worship.  It would be hard to imagine how a genuine believer could read such words and be unmoved.  To think back and remember how God calls sinners like me out of darkness into spiritual light humbles me and brings me to worship God for His work of salvation.  My earnest prayer is that any reader of this article would read the testimony of Augustine and that God would do the same in them.  May He turn dark hearts to light!  May He turn light hearts to ever brighter lights!  May He show every reader that no good thing lies within us, and that we need Him more than our next breath!

Well, time and space would not permit me to share the numerous quotations that set my soul soaring and those that brought me to the depths of the valley, but suffice it to say that this book is worth the read.  It takes a little while to get used to reading a fourth-century document like this, but if you pick up a good translation of it, this will help immensely (I read the Oxford World's Classic printing translated by Henry Chadwick, and it was excellent).  Also the last two or three chapters are quite philosophical in their approach to the topic of time, so be aware of that as well.

Aside from these cautions, "Pick up and read, pick up and read!"

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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What Is the Gospel?

I recently read a great little book titled What Is the Gospel? by Greg Gilbert and published by Crossway.  In the same way he introduced his book, I introduce this book review with stating the obvious: You would think that answering the question, what is the gospel?,  would be easy for those professing to be Christians.  Gilbert noted, "It's like asking carpenters to sit around and ponder the question, What is a hammer?" (p.15). 

Therefore, Gilbert's book addresses a serious question for Christians to ponder, indeed the most serious of all questions.  If we get this one wrong, then it is a matter of eternal life or death.

In eight short chapters, Gilbert addresses the question, what is the gospel.  Chapter 1 begins by pointing inquirers to the Bible as our only sure hope of truth and authority.  The remaining chapters highlight what we find in the Bible that are inseparable pieces to the gospel puzzle.

Chapter 2 affirms God as the righteous Creator of man.  As such, God has Creator-rights over man and demands holiness from those who have been created in His image.

Chapter 3 affirms man's sinfulness by both nature and choice.  As such, man is completely unable to initiate any step toward God.  Rather, God must take the first step of spiritual birth referred to as regeneration in the Bible.  Gilbert noted, "The gospel of Jesus Christ is full of stumbling stones, and this is one of the largest.  To human hearts that stubbornly think of themselves as basically good and self-sufficient, this idea that human beings are fundamentally sinful and rebellious is not merely scandalous.  It is revolting." (p.51).

Chapter 4 affirms that Jesus Christ is the one and only Savior of mankind.  He is the long-awaited Messiah, fully God and fully man.  He lived the righteous life that man should have lived.  He died the horrendous death, enduring the wrath of God, that sinful man deserved.  He was raised from the dead victoriously as the first-fruit of resurrection.  He nows sits at the right hand of God the Father making intercession on behalf of His people.

Chapter 5 affirms the only appropriate response to the message of Christ's death, burial, and resurrection: faith and repentance.  Faith is relying on the truth of the gospel and the promise of eternal life to all who believe this truth.  Faith is relying on Jesus to secure a righteous verdict from God on our behalf.  Faith alone in Christ alone without any insulting human effort added is the simple message of the gospel.  Repentance is the flip-side of faith.  To believe in Christ is to turn from sin, and to turn from sin is to believe in Christ.  Repentance is not a life of sinless perfection, but it is characterized by a life of warring against sin, no longer living at peace with it.  As Gilbert stated, "We declare mortal war against it and dedicate ourselves to resisting it by God's power on every front in our lives."

Chapter 6 affirms that the gospel is really a command for all people to repent of sin and believe in the King who is building His kingdom.  The gospel is a call to live for the King now and to live with the King one day in His consummated heavenly Kingdom.

Chapter 7 affirms that the gospel must be cross-centered or it is no longer good news for anyone.  While the cross is offensive to many and a stumbling-block to others, it remains the only hope for those who are being saved.  By the foolishness of the cross, Christ put to death sin for all who believe on Him alone for eternal salvation.

Chapter 8 affirms the utter power of the gospel to save sinners to the uttermost.  From repentance and faith, to resting and rejoicing in Jesus, to loving fellow Christians, to loving lost sinners enough to call them to Christ, to longing to be with Jesus in heaven, the gospel has the power over us for God's glory.

And so I end with this plea to my fellow Christ-lovers: proclaim the good news of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, as revealed in Scripture alone, for God's glory alone.  And to any unbeliever that may be reading this I plead with you: turn from your sin that is leading you to eternal destruction and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ alone for your deliverance.

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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The Ephesians 4 Project: Article IV

Article IV: Salvation
Salvation involves the redemption of the whole man, and is offered freely to all who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, who by His own blood obtained eternal redemption for the believer. In its broadest sense salvation includes regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification. There is no salvation apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord.

A.  Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God's grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance and faith are inseparable experiences of grace.

Repentance is a genuine turning from sin toward God. Faith is the acceptance of Jesus Christ and commitment of the entire personality to Him as Lord and Saviour.”

B.  Justification is God's gracious and full acquittal upon principles of His righteousness of all sinners who repent and believe in Christ. Justification brings the believer unto a relationship of peace and favor with God.

C.  Sanctification is the experience, beginning in regeneration, by which the believer is set apart to God's purposes, and is enabled to progress toward moral and spiritual maturity through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in him. Growth in grace should continue throughout the regenerate person's life.

D.  Glorificationis the culmination of salvation and is the final blessed and abiding state of the redeemed.

Unifying Principles from Article IV
Here is where some disagreement, or at least potential disagreement, can rise up among Southern Baptists, but controversy over the doctrine of salvation should not surprise us.  I am convinced that battling spiritual darkness (Eph. 6:12) is no greater than in the arena of soteriology because Satan knows that it’s the difference between eternal life and death.  The fact is that the Bible is replete with examples of God’s people contending for the faith.  From the showdown with Baal’s prophets on Mt. Carmel to Paul’s defense of the gospel against Jewish legalism in Galatia, salvation has always been controversial.  Despite this fact, I believe that Southern Baptists should be united by the biblical foundation that has been established through the unifying principles set forth in the Baptist Faith & Message.  While not exhaustive, the following are some of the more critical principles that unify us within the SBC.

The opening statement of Article IV on the doctrine of salvation is solidly orthodox.  As such, Southern Baptist should be unified here, and I believe that we are for the most part.  We agree that God redeems “the whole man” by faith alone in Jesus Christ alone, “who by His own blood obtained eternal redemption for the believer.”   This is well-balanced for Southern Baptists of various theological stripes.  It confirms that salvation is offered to all who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, while acknowledging that eternal redemption was paid only for believers.

Regarding sections A-D, each section demonstrates that Southern Baptists ought to be unified on salvation as a gracious gift of God.  The statement on regeneration can be affirmed by Baptists of varying theological stripes because it includes both the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man.  God sovereignly regenerates believers through “a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit” who convicts the sinner of sin.  The regenerated man responds to this work “in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.”  Further, God sovereignly and graciously grants the regenerated man repentance and faith as “inseparable experiences of grace”

The statement on justification can be affirmed by Baptists of varying theological stripes because it roots justification in the grace of God that affects the “full acquittal” of every believer based on God's righteousness.  Thus, man has no righteousness of his own to add to the justifying act of God.  Further, the statements on sanctification and glorification can be affirmed by Baptists of varying theological stripes because each one affirms the doctrine of eternal security, or perseverance of the saints.

We may disagree on how the specifics of A-D work themselves out in God’s plan of salvation, but we agree that each of these understandings of Scripture is crucial for defending the true gospel.  Anything less than what the BF & M has stated regarding soteriology would relegate salvation to a work of man rather than the supreme work of God in human history.

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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