Passing on the Faith

I have a strong and passionate faith in Jesus Christ. The Spirit is strongly at work in me through his presence and his word daily. My personal life is a never-ending pursuit of Jesus. My marriage is led by him, my parenting, my work, my preaching, my friendships, etc. With God as my witness I truly believe with a joyous heart as I write this in my office today that if I were to spend the rest of my life opening up just the chapter of his Scripture from which I’ll have the opportunity to preach this weekend, that it would not be a wasted life! I get stirred up by God in his word. It takes my breath away, at times, when he opens up inscripturated wisdom to me. I am very zealous for his truth. At other times it punches me in the gut. In energetic bounces, at times, I bound away from my computer screen sometimes in an emotion I can only describe as something I’d like to shout from the highest pulpit in my land. I have to take walks to dive into it. I have to take drives in my car. If anyone, by the same Faith, could see God as I see him in those moments in his word it’d cause them to hate their sin as much as I hate mine. I am in a war against the sin that would rob me of that fellowship daily. And I am a very religious man. I don’t use religion as a curse word. I understand why some might, but it’s a beautiful word for me. James 1:27.

But what troubles me in my church culture is the laziness of so many of my people. A distracted Christianity. A bottom shelf theology. A “no creed but Christ” madness. God gives only one sort of religion. A living and passionate one. That religion must permeate a person or it shows itself to be something God did not give them. It is precise because truth always has to be by definition. We cannot with finality diagnose someone’s heart, but we can recognize someone’s heart by what fruit God produces on their branches by it. So in some ways we, even us non-God believers, can diagnose a heart. Truth from and obedience to God’s word is fruit we should be cultivating. But how does one have such a faith that’s biblical—strong, rooted, sure, hopeful, gentle and glorious? Is it simply a gift, or do we need to work for it? I’m a Reformed Baptist. When I speak of work here I’m not talking about a synergistic regeneration. No, I’m talking about work that produces enlightenment in someone already in the Faith. I have been served very well for years by a statement from Jonathan Edwards that went something like, “Every preacher must die to two ideas: the first is that true spiritual enlightenment does not require hard work. The second is that any amount of hard work can produce true spiritual enlightenment.” I first heard this quote from John Piper who then quoted Paul to Timothy where Paul exhorts and equips this junior pastor by saying, “The hardworking farmer must be first to partake of the crops. Consider what I say, and may the Lord give you understanding in all things.” 2 Timothy 2:6-7. So, how does Timothy grow? Answer: it’s all over the epistles written to him. Timothy was to be built by the Faith God gives. It’s read, meditate on the Old Covenant (1 Timothy 4:12-16; 2 Timothy 2:15; etc.). It’s what we now call “Sola Scriptura” really. And since Timothy was also receiving from Paul by letter what God was delivering in his own day (actually addressed to him) a part of God’s New Covenant canon of the Scriptures, he was to consider all that Paul was writing to him and had taught him. 2 Timothy 3:15-16. Timothy must be the “hard working farmer” in the Scriptures, but unless the Lord “gives Timothy understanding” there will be no harvest. It takes work, but God gives understanding only to those hard at work after it. I love this. We work, but it’s God alone who grants wisdom…even in our work. Paul’s exhortation to Timothy on how to grow is directing him to devote himself to study. To get after doctrine. I look at it like this. God has opened a school. It’s been open since Adam really, but the Christian one, by that name, hung out its shingle about two-thousand years ago. God picks his students. They’re usually not who anyone would suspect. Those students who go on to be the school’s sophomores through seniors become God’s means of recruitment for new freshmen. It’s still God picking, but he has means. Where are all the students taught? In one school. Who ultimately is the teacher who approves the diverse curriculum in that school? God. So, “graduates” of that school (and we never really graduate by the way) but “graduates” have an education from “insert your name for the institution” university education. They will teach what that school is known to teach. I wish it was always that simple in history. We study and point others to study also who are members of the school by faith. It is the University of the Spirit. You don’t come out of it a heretic. We all have varying alumnus’s and laureates, they may look wildly different going back to even the earliest classes, but the perfect curriculum needn’t ever change. It’s not like medicine or law school where it has to. God is our teacher. He has taught others who also teach us for the purposes he grants them, but God is our immediate teacher. Timothy, having been picked for the school, was to study for the 4.0 GPA. That’s the principle job of a pastor for sure, but also the principle job of any disciple wherever God’s called them. Sola Scriptura. In Acts 20, Paul warns about destructive heresies that would surely creep in after he departs. He gives a similar instruction to his listeners there that he gave to Timothy later saying, “So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” Acts 20:32. The word of God’s grace is the Bible Jesus read, the Old Covenant. And, in their own day, they were also receiving a part of what we now hold as the only example of divine revelation anyone can point to—the 66 books of the Bible.

My point in all this is doctrine. We must have it! We must have sound doctrine or we do not have Jesus. If God is our anointing as John writes in 1 John 2:20, then we must show ourselves to have been trained by our teacher. How do we show that? By a right division of the word! As a Reformed Baptist, I believe that my confession of faith, the 1689 London Baptist Confession is the single finest example of sound division of Scripture ever written in confessional form. It is not the only one by any means, but I will argue it’s the best one from its day on to today. It’s the most accurate. It’s the most biblical in what it touches upon. Through whichever community college level tradition we approach the doctoral level of Scripture from, however, it’s Jesus who remains the finest systematic theologian ever. He does not come with imprecision. He comes to us and teaches us through his word. IT IS NOT ENOUGH TO SAY WE HAVE THE BIBLE AND THAT’S IT. That’s not enough! It never has been. Many false religions all have the Bible and yet they’re all wrong. We must work…if God is with us. We should all seek to graduate with honors. We have to pour over the text. We have to begin to relate ideas from it to others from it to search out consistency in our local church doctrines and practices. We have to learn certain tools of hermeneutics and apply them over our philosophies and experiences. Culture doesn’t dictate learning in this thing. We must learn the languages. We have to remember we’re not two-thousand years old, but our Christian Faith is. We are all coming into the Faith on the shoulders of so many. How is it preserved? Sola Scriptura! We learn through right doctrine and the passing on of the Faith. We all have traditions. We need to. Each and every one of them together are still not inspired. How will Christianity survive this culture? In the same way it’s survived every other—by those working hard to produce a harvest of truth in their lives.

The Bible is all we need. It is sufficient. Our precise statements from it form a lens through which we can protect each other who have it from the errors that affect us. So, no confession replaces or equals Scripture. But the deductions we must make regarding the Faith are to be clearly outlined in our confessions. Here’s an example of mine:

Christianity isn’t about an “it.” It’s about Jesus the Christ.

“Then they said to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.” John 6:28-29.

There are many false Jesuses out there and many false gospels too. Believe rightly, reader!

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