How can I know what God’s will is?

One of the questions I receive often is, “how can I know God’s will in my life?” Perhaps you have pondered that question yourself; I know I have.

Initially, when I hear that question I usually think of It in a broad and general sense: God’s will is pretty clear, to worship and glorify God and make disciples of all nations—or, as my church has verbalized it: “to pursue maturity by making disciples.”

But what I think is on people’s minds when they ask that question is what specifically and particularly does God want me to do to fulfill that general will? We know God’s will in this broad sense, but is there a specific thing he wants me to do?

God’s particular will for my specific context is not as easy to answer. The reason is because we, unlike God, do not have omniscience. Omniscience is one of those incommunicable attributes that is unique to Him. So while God knows every minute detail of our lives, down to the very hairs on our head, we do not. Thus, our limited perspective about the future erodes certainty concerning particular decisions in the present.

Allow Me To Illustrate

For example, I made the decision at the age of twenty-seven to take a pastoral position in a church in South Carolina, and cease serving as an associate in a church in Tennessee.

Or take the minister I had served with in Tennessee who had three adopted boys. He and his wife gained custody of them when they were just newborns, and their first three children were already grown and out of the house at the time. They could have moved into the second half of their lives and enjoyed the empty-nester phase. However, they chose to take on three newborn babies, and start the rearing children phase all over again.

A minister I worked with in my early twenties was a gentleman who was in the business world before taking the call to pastor a church. He had a good job, lots of benefits, and had room to move up in the company. However, in his early 30’s he chose to let go of it all and pursue full time ministry. It involved a pay decrease, hours of seminary preparation, and no doubt a good bit of sacrifice.

In the three examples above the following questions might be asked: Was this the will of God in each situation? Was the right decision made? What if in each situation a different decision was chosen and if so would that mean that the person in question was out of God’s will?

These cases address the heart of the issue. How do we discern and decide what God’s will is in our particular circumstances?

Should Paul Have Gone To Jerusalem?

There is a narrative in the book of Acts that I believe offers some very helpful principles for guiding us through these seemingly difficult questions. It involves the Apostle Paul and his particular decision to travel to Jerusalem, despite numerous voices advising him not to do so. I want to observe a few interesting points that develop in light of this story and then offer five suggestions when it comes to discerning God’s particular will in our lives today.

The passage under consideration is Acts 21:1-16. Paul is on route to Jerusalem. In the previous pericope we are told that Paul was eager to get there before Pentecost (see 20:16). When Paul arrives at Tyre and shares with the disciples where he is headed the disciples “were telling Paul not to go to Jerusalem (21:4).” In fact, this is what the elders in Ephesus days prior were communicating (20:37-38), and the same was said to Paul in Ptolemais in 21:12. Everyone it seemed was urging Paul to not go to Jerusalem.

But why? The text makes it clear—Paul would face extreme suffering if he went. The Holy Spirit himself told Paul that this would happen . In Acts 20:23 Paul tells the Ephesian elders, “the holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me.” Later on this testimony was verified by the prophet Agabus, “thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘this is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles (Acts 21:11).’”

Paul on the other hand seemed confident and determined to go to Jerusalem. Despite the knowledge that he would experience suffering in Jerusalem he was resolved to go. When Paul was first converted on the road to Damascus the Lord Jesus himself explained to Ananias that “he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and children of Israel *Acts 9:15).” During his third missionary journey it is evident that Paul has made up his mind concerning Jerusalem, “Paul resolved in the spirit to…go to Jerusalem (Acts 19:21).” And the inevitable suffering he would face was no deterrent for him, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus (Acts 21:13).”

Why Did Paul Go To Jerusalem?

Why was Jerusalem so important to Paul? 2 reasons: First, during Paul’s travels he not only encouraged and admonished the various churches he had planted, he also was collecting money to take back as a relief effort for the church in Jerusalem (see 1 Corinthians 16:1-9 for details about this collection). The second reason was that Jerusalem was the last stop before he would head toward Rome. Paul’s travel to Rome was really his ultimate desire. But why Rome? Because Paul’s ultimate desire and purpose in life was to take the Gospel to the Gentile world. And because Rome in Paul’s day was the apex of the Gentile mission it would fulfill his life endeavor to preach the Gospel there. Paul summarizes this ida in Romans 15:19-20, “so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation.”

So, Paul was determined to go to Jerusalem and ultimately Rome. However, all of his friends were begging him not to go because of the possibility that he may be hurt, arrested, or worse, killed. This leads us to one more peculiar observation in the text. In Acts 21:4 we have an unusual statement recorded by Luke: “And having sought out the disciples, we stayed there for seven days. And through the Spirit they were telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.” This is peculiar because it seems at first glance that Luke is making the Holy Spirit contradict himself. The reason is because the Holy Spirit has already made it abundantly clear that Paul must go to Jerusalem. Or has He?

Did The Holy Spirit Communicate Different Things?

It is not always clear in Greek when the word translated “Spirit” is referring to the Holy Spirit or ones human spirit (that is, when the adjective “holy” is not in front of the word “spirit.”). In our English translations this is distinguished when the word spirit has a capital “S” or lowercase “s.” It is context that must be the deciding factor in these cases. With this in mind consider the following verses:

Now after these events Paul resolved in the spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.”(Acts 19:21)

And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there (Acts 20:22)

except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me (Acts 20:23)

“Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’”

Perhaps what we have in these texts is Paul’s human spirit resolved to go to Jerusalem because of his deep desire to take the Gospel eventually to those in Rome, while at the same time The Holy Spirit clearly communicating to Paul that IF he does go he will face extreme difficulty when he arrives. But what then do we do with the seemingly contradictory verse in 21:4? Let’s remind ourselves— “And through the Spirit they were telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.”

The best way to reconcile this verse with what we know of the others is to conclude that the phrase “Through the Spirit” does in fact refer to the Holy Spirit. But perhaps it is Luke’s way of saying something like, “through what the Holy Spirit had made clear about what would happen to Paul in Jerusalem…” The phrase “ They were telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem” refers to the response these disciples had in light of what the Holy Spirit had revealed about Paul’s trials that lay ahead of him. In other words, throughout these narratives the Holy Spirit ONLY reveals WHAT would happen if Paul was to go to Jerusalem, but he never reveals to Paul, or anyone else for that matter, that Paul MUST GO to Jerusalem. Stott says it well, “perhaps Luke’s statement is a condensed way of saying that the warning was divine while the urging was human (Stott John, Acts).” This is why there is division on whether or not Paul should go. Paul is resolved in his spirit to go because he has a gut wrenching purpose fueling him. His friends are all begging him not to go because they have a deep love for their mentor of the faith and fear they will lose him. Both parties are having to make decisions based on their convictions.

Lessons to Learn from this Passage about discerning the Will of God

What then can we take away from this passage about discerning God’s particular will for our lives? Let me offer five:

Obeying the Will of the Lord is usually not easy.

It was plain to Paul that if he were to go to Jerusalem he would face very troublesome times. Nevertheless, Paul chose to go because he had resolved in his spirit that he needed to do it. When we are faced with multiple choices regarding something we feel God is calling us to do, we shouldn’t simply default to the easiest option. In fact, more times than not, the road less traveled is the one in which we are to take. Paul himself seemed to lean this way in general:

strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.(Acts 14:22)

Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,(2 Timothy 3:12)

When seeking to discern the will of God we need to ask: what will bring the most glory to Christ and what will further the mission of the Gospel?

Paul had resolved to go to Jerusalem because it was the path that would lead him to carry his mission to the Gentile world. For Paul the Gospel was the map that pointed him to his proper destination. It wasn’t about ease, comfort, or what would bring him the most satisfaction personally. Paul had one thing in mind when it came to deciding where to go and what choice to make—what will bring the Gospel to the most amount of people? The answer to that question guided his decision.

When you have determined what God’s will is resolve to obey it no matter what the cost.

On his way to Jerusalem every stop Paul would make his friends all would say the same thing—“don’t go!.” Can you imagine the pressure? You get a glimpse of it while Paul is in Ptolemais: “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? (Acts 21:13).” Can you sense the emotional struggle Paul had as they begged him not to go? And yet, Paul was resolved! He knew no matter what that God was calling him to go to Jerusalem. We too, must seek this kind of resolve. Of course much council should be sought after, we must bathe our decision in prayer, but at some point we must get off the fence, and determine to do what God is calling us to do.

If you are counseling someone who is seeking advice about what they should do show compassion, care, and concern. However, afterward leave the consequences and results to the will of the Lord.

This is what the disciples at Ptolemais eventually decided to do. “And since he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, “Let the will of the Lord be done (Acts 21:14).”

Trust God’s sovereign Will as you seek to obey it.

When Paul finally reaches Jerusalem the prophecy of the Holy Spirit came to pass just as He had said. Paul is met with an angry mob, is beaten, and arrested. I’m sure that it must have ran through his mind, “did I make the right choice?” And as we seek to wisely make decisions about where God is leading us we too will face moments of doubt and trouble. It is here that we find the Lord’s words to Paul just as relevant to us today: “The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome (Acts 23:11).” In the middle of that Cell the Lord verified that Paul was on the right track. I think as we seek to follow God’s particular will for our lives we also can hear the Lord say to us, “take courage.”


God’s will is to Love Him and tell others to do the same. But how that will play out in each of our individual lives is going to take some good discernment and wisdom. I find it fascinating that a few years later, in one of the letters written, while in Rome under house arrest, Paul gives the church at Ephesus two statements, that had to come, in part, from his experience getting there:

try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord…Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is (Ephesians 5:10, 15-17).”

Being Bereans: 8 Steps for Studying Scripture

In the book of Acts during Paul’s second missionary Journey, Luke records two contrasting pictures of how someone receives and pursues the truth of God’s Word. On the one hand there are those in Thessalonica. These Jews heard Paul and only a few were persuaded. The majority rejected Paul’s teaching because they were unwilling to honesty hear what he had to say. On the other hand were the Bereans. Here’s what Luke says of them:

Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.

Acts 17:11

It’s not as if these Bereans naively accepted Paul’s words without any challenge or investigation. No, they “examined the scriptures to see if these things were so.” G. Campbell Morgan expresses this well:

“It was not a quick belief that made them noble, for they were skeptical; but their skepticism was accompanied by determined anxiety to find out. The noble hearer is not the man who immediately says yes to the interpretation of the preacher. The noble hearer is the man who appeals again and again to the scriptures themselves, to find out if these things be true.”

G. Campbell Morgan

The noble Bereans set an example not just for skeptics who hear the gospel for the first time; they exemplify principles that every believer should desire. We should all desire to “examine the scriptures.”

That said, how are we to go about examining the scriptures? I want to offer 8 simple steps in examining your Bible carefully in order to get the most out of it, with the desire to know the author of the Bible deeper.

  1. Read the text—I don’t mean your 30 minute devotional each morning. No, I mean start with a book of the Bible, take one paragraph at a time, and read that paragraph over and over again. Read it, and then read it again. Read it. Pause. Reflect. And then read it again.
  2. Observe the Text—After you read the passage before you, take out a pen and interact with the words on the page. If you don’t like to write in your Bible then print the passage out on a piece of paper. Circle words that stick out to you. Underline phrases you may not understand. Notice words that repeat. Point out important connecting words like conjunctions and adverbs that connect phrases together. Exhaust with your pen everything you see in the text. By doing this you can begin to make sense of how the passage fits together.
  3. Ask the text questions—After you have observed all you can in the passage begin asking the text questions. What is this place mentioned here? What does this word mean? Why does the author use this term? How does this passage connect with what comes before and after? How does this passage fit into the larger context of the chapter; the book; the Bible? Are there people, places, words, anything that you don’t now? Right it down! What you are trying to do at this point is get to the heart of what the author intended to communicate in the words he has written down. The answers to these questions will supply the meaning of the text before you.
  4. Summarize the text—After you have attempted to answer all of the questions you will inevitably have a concoction of material before you. Now you can begin summarizing all of your material into a terse proposition. Ask yourself this question—“if I could summarize this passage in a sentence or two what would it be?” By doing this you will be able to get a grip on what the author was seeking to communicate. All of your study up to this point has been for the purpose of grasping the main idea of the passage. It is summarizing all of the details in the passage into a succinct idea.
  5. Ask a “Paul” about the text—One of my sayings is that every Christian needs a “Paul” and a “Timothy.” That is, each of us need someone to help guide us in understanding the scriptures, and we need to be guiding someone in the scriptures. Thus, after you have poured hours into your passage take all of your conclusions and discuss them with someone who is mature in their knowledge of the Bible. Articulate how you have come to your conclusions and see what wisdom they have to offer about your findings.
    Additionally, this may be a good time to consult a few good Bible Commentaries. Bible commentaries are like inviting top Bible scholars over to your house to discuss what they think about the text. As I read their comments on my passage I listen to what they say, glean insight, disagree, agree, wrestle with them, etc. All of this is helpful in me gaining understanding and clarifying the truth of the passage.
  6. Teach a “Timothy” what you have discovered in the text—Now you are ready to share what you have learned with another person. Find someone who is not as far as you are in their spiritual maturity and offer to disciple them. Take what you are learning and allow them to ask you questions. Now you can offer confident answers as you have invested much time in study. This will also allow the Bible to plant deeply in your heart. I have discovered the greatest way for the Bible to stick with me is to communicate its truth to another person. When someone else can then articulate what you have taught them you have mastered the material!
  7. Pray—It would be inappropriate for me not to mention this crucial step. Throughout the entire process you must seek the Lord in asking him to lead and guide you into all truth. Pray your whole process through. Never stop seeking the Lord’s guidance as you seek to understand the Bible’s content.
  8. Repeat—Alright, do you feel good about that passage? Now move to the next one and repeat each step above! Do this year after year, day after day, and you will grow in your knowledge of the scriptures! And like the noble Bereans you will “receive the word with eagerness!”

Seeking Truth in a Confused World.

Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”(John 18:37-38)

What is Truth?

Pilate’s question to Jesus, “what is truth?” Is the quintessential question for our day and age. Each of us are faced with this question daily as our culture debates and argues over numerous moral and ethical controversies. Can a practicing homosexual be a Christian? Is abortion sinful? Is there systemic racism in our country? Is critical race theory beneficial to our ethical framework? Is the Bible inerrant? Is Christianity the only true religion? Is Jesus the only way to salvation? These and a plethora of other questions knock on our mental front doors on a regular basis. We can’t ignore them because, if for no other reason, our young children are curious, and they need answers.


Every generation has to wrestle with the question of what is true. Rewind a few hundred years ago and leaders in the modern era of the 18th and 19th centuries decided that truth was absolutely certain. They emphasized that reality could be rationally observed through the scientific method. Modernist scientist were elated that science had paved the way to certainty. However, the downside to this discovery was the demythologizing of a biblical worldview. Liberal theology, influenced by the modern era, decided that the supernatural elements of scripture couldn’t be true. Thus, Jesus was a good moral teacher but not the son of God; he was a master of ethics but not one who bore the sins of the world. Today the modern era is embodied by the most proactive atheists such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens. They, along with many others, proclaim the words of Nietzche, “God is dead.”


Postmodernism reacted to the arrogance they saw in the modernists. As often is the case, post modernists of the 20th century moved the pendulum to the opposite side of the table. If modernists prided themselves in absolute certainty, postmodernists prided themselves in ambiguity. Postmodernism says there is no absolute truth, which is ironically an absolute truth claim. Nevertheless, popular church leaders, eventually calling their movement “the emergent church,” took postmodernism and baptized it into their local churches. Leaders like Brian Mclaren and Rob Bell began popularizing the virtue of uncertainty. Truth became what one individual made it, and truth was ever evolving. In an interview, Brian Mclaren was asked about his stance on homosexuality. His answer: “ask me in five years.” That answer reveals the heart of post modernism. It denies any concrete truth.


Finally, we come to our current era, what some have called the “post truth” era. It says that there is objective truth but it is subordinated by our feelings and preferences. Post truth proponents see objective facts as less influential in shaping public opinion, than appeals to emotion and personal belief. This is clear by observing the sexual revolution happening in our culture today. For example, despite the overwhelming, and commonsensical, biological evidence of male and female, transgenderism says “I base my biological sex on how I feel and not what is obviously real.” Despite one’s biological makeup, maleness and femaleness is determined by subjective feelings. This by definition is preposterous.

The Answer to the Question

Let’s return to Pilate’s question, “what is truth?” How do we know what is true? Notice our text again—“everyone on the side of truth LISTENS TO ME.” According to Jesus He must become the final authority for what is moral, right, good, and true. Jesus must be the filter by which Christians govern their lives. Questions about sexuality, marriage, life, race, justice, righteousness, morality, Heaven, hell, good, bad. . . every aspect of our lives must be interpreted through a christological, gospel-centered, lens.

We also need to avoid what Jack Cottrell calls the Christological fallacy. This is the fallacy that says the red letters of our Bibles are more important than everything else in the Bible. In fact, there is a particular group that brands themselves “red letter Christians.” But when Jesus says to Pilate “everyone on the side of truth listens to me” he means truth as recorded and preserved in our sixty-six books of the Bible. Jesus said just a chapter earlier in John’s gospel that God’s “word is truth (John 17:17).” The Apostle Paul says “all scripture is God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16).” Jude says that we have the “faith once for all delivered to the Saints (Jude 3).”

Pilate’s question, “what is truth?” is heart breaking because he was looking into the eyes of truth himself. Similarly, the search for truth through the last 200 years is equally disappointing because God’s word is truth, and yet its pages are either completely ignored or twisted to such a degree truth is misrepresented. Wisdom and truth begin by seeking our creator and listening to what He has revealed. As the sage said many years ago: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5).”

Kevin Max deconstructing his faith and my plea to the struggling Christian.

Another popular, evangelical leader has decided to leave the faith. This time it is Kevin Max, former singer of DC Talk. He announced his exiting of the evangelical scene with the hashtag “exvangelical.” Later, he would tweet, “Hey, it’s ok to be estranged from everything that you were taught.” This would be good advice, except the thing he is estranging himself from is ironically the truth he is so desperately looking for! The apostle Paul would offer our brother some different words. If Paul were using the medium of twitter today I can imagine he would respond to brother Max’s tweet with the following:

“Cling to your faith in Christ, and keep your conscience clear. For some people have deliberately violated their consciences; as a result, their faith has been shipwrecked.” (1 Timothy 1:19.) #truthisinJesus

If I can be so bold, may I encourage any fellow believer who may be thinking of following a similar path as the DC Talk superstar—Don’t! Oh how painful, how dreadful, how sorrowful a decision! To walk away from the “faith once for all delivered to the saints” is as grievous as Judas kissing the face of Jesus, only to sell him for the price of a slave. Or as preposterous as Pontius Pilate staring truth in the eyes and asking him, “what is truth?!”

Oh shaken and confused friend, can’t you see that the truth is in Jesus (Eph 4:21)? Can’t you see that enveloped in his word is the truth you seek, for his word is truth (John 17: 17)? Stop looking to the worldly philosophers on twitter and the social activists filling your media feeds for answers. Look to the Bible; look to the revealed word of God for the truth. There, you will discover a “lamp for your feet and a light to your path” (Psalm 119:105). How my heart breaks with each of these gut-wrenching stories. The Lord grieves for our generation just as he did those alive when he walked our sod. Jesus is saying now what he said then—“oh exvangelical, how I would have gathered you as a hen gathers her chicks, under her wings, but you were unwilling (Matthew 23:37).”

Tools to help you Ignite a Passion for the Bible

On a number of occasions while discussing with a fellow Christian about their Christian life the area of personal Bible study comes up.It soon becomes apparent that my fellow brother or sister is embarrassed to confess that for them, studying the Bible is hard—where do I start? Is a common question.  Unfortunately, many Christians grow frustrated because the Bible can seem overwhelming in its scope and unattainable in its content. Feeling defeated, many may feel tempted to pick up the remote rather than peruse through the Bible. But I believe the Bible is alive and active, and the treasures of truth that await each of us make the effort to pick up and read so worth it. 

Admittedly, seeking to study the Bible can feel challenging. But one of the reasons I think Christians struggle in this area is because for many, the only way they study their Bibles is by simply reading it. One may rightfully interject at this point and say,”but isn’t that the point? Studying the Bible is reading the Bible, correct?” Well…yes and no. On the one hand, reading the Bible is essential to studying the Bible. You can’t study a text without reading it! But on the other hand, reading the text is only the beginning. Studying the Bible involves moving from simply reading (Observing) the text to interpreting the text. The Bible comes alive when you begin to understand it in its original historical and literary context. And this takes particular tools the reader must use, in order to help get a full grasp of what the biblical authors meant to say, by what they wrote. 

Like a mechanic who needs tools to fix cars, or a doctor who needs tools to perform an operation, so students of the Bible need tools to help them exegete (i.e. draw out the meaning of a passage) scripture. So, here are four tools I think every Christian should put in their belt in order to become better Bible students, as well as reignite a passion for God’s holy, and inspired Word. 

#1 Get a good Study Bible

A study Bible is a Bible (found in all the major translations)  loaded with helps that aid the Bible student in their understanding. A good study Bible will include helpful introductions to each book of the Bible so that one gains familiarity with the author, date, place, and setting of each book. Below the biblical text there are footnotes that supply a sort of commentary on various verses, that offer information that may be unfamiliar to the lay reader (e.g. defining terms, historical background info, various interpretive positions on a controversial passage). Cross references are given in the margin of a good study Bible that point the reader to other texts that relate to the verse one is reading. Other helps included in a good study Bible are maps, theological articles, word studies, and archeological details. A good study Bible is a one stop shop for helping the serious Bible student study the Bible well.

Suggested Study Bibles:

ESV Study Bible
NIV Study Bible
Nelson Study Bible

#2 Invest in Bible Commentaries

Some may be weary of reading bible commentaries or even scoff at such an idea. Some may protest because perhaps one gets skeptical about having a scholar tell them what a passage means. Or maybe it’s as practical as one not having an interest in reading seemingly dull and dry material! But I would lovingly push back on such resistance. Ephesians 4:11 tells us that Christ gave the church “Pastor-Teachers.” In that light, biblical faithful scholars have much to contribute to our understanding of scripture. To say that we do not need the wisdom and insight from hours of research and study; that one can learn the Bible on their own, is a bit arrogant.

Bible commentaries come in all shapes and sizes. Some are more technical while others are more devotional. Nevertheless, I would encourage every Christian to invest in a few commentaries on the whole Bible as well as commentaries on each individual book of the Bible. The benefit of Bible commentaries is the depth of explanation one gets on a particular passage. The notes in a study Bible offer only a surface level explanation of the text. A commentary will offer a richer and fuller explanation of a given passage. When reading a commentary you will discover insights into the text that otherwise you may have never known.

For a full list and of available commentaries see

Suggested whole Bible (or all NT) Commentaries:
Matthew Henry Commentary
The Wiersbe Bible Commentary
William Barclay
John Stott

#3 Read Good Books about the Bible

In order to deepen your love and understanding of the scriptures, read books from faithful Bible teachers that will help you mediate on the principles of scripture. While reading books like “Knowing God” by J.I. Packer, or “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis I find myself having certain  “aha” moments. I’ll sit back in my chair and think—“Man! That is such a good insight!” Or, “wow, that’s a paradigm shift in my thinking.” Books like “Christianity and Liberalism” by Gresham Machen fuels my love for doctrine. Saint Augustine’s “Confessions” remind me of the grace of God. Reading some of the Puritans help me see my sin for what it is, and desire the holiness of Christ. Reading a systematic Theology like Jack Cottrell’s “The Faith Once for All,” or Grudem’s “Systematic Theology” helps me see how scripture relates to other scripture.  Reading good books by godly, Bible-believing authors help the Christian understand and treasure scripture. 

#4 Listen to Good Preaching

Finally, I would encourage every Christian to get into a habit of listening to good preaching. Preaching is the event in which a Bible passage is explained and then applied to the hearer. Listening to someone walk through a particular text, explain it, and then show how the biblical principles apply to our lives today will not only assist us in our own personal study, but will also call us to put what we are learning into action. Every Great sermon will not simply explain what a text means but will also apply that text so that the scriptures can be lived out as well.

Preachers I enjoy:

Bob Russell,
John Macarthur, Grace to You
Alistair Begg, Truth for Life
Chuck Swindoll, Insight for Living
Adrian Rogers, Love Worth Finding

Stop asking when Jesus is coming again

Inevitably, in every generation, talks and speculations concerning the second coming of Christ crop up. But these conversations intensify when certain worrisome circumstances collide with our every day lives. The past year’s dealings with the Coronavirus, political divides, and the increase of immorality, are no exceptions to this phenomenon. The rise of such circumstances increase Christian conversations concerning the imminent return of Jesus. From T.V. prophets to local Pastors, there are all sorts of theories about when Jesus will be returning.

I want to challenge the entire enterprise of so called “Prophetic voices” regarding Jesus’ return. And I want to encourage anyone who may find such theories intriguing to do an about-face and run away as fast as you can, grab your Bibles, and listen to the words of Jesus:

“It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.”

Acts 1:7

These words from our Lord came in response to his disciples the day Jesus was to return back to his Father in Heaven. After Jesus’ resurrection the disciples were curious to know when Jesus was going to “restore the Kingdom to Israel (see Acts 1:6).” This question posed by the disciples indicates that they were wanting to know if the end of the age had come. Like many today, the disciples were observing their surroundings, trying to connect their biblical dots, and inquire about when the end was to come. But Jesus’ response directed the disciples to think differently. According to Jesus God has a fixed time when for the end of time. He’s got this entire plan, from beginning to the end, all mapped out. He knows everything. Therefore, to ask the question “when” is the wrong question altogether. We are not to concern our selves with times or seasons.

Jesus is refreshingly helpful isn’t he? In a day when eschatological speculation runs rampant, it is assuring to know that (1) God has the end “fixed by his own authority,” and (2) we don’t have to worry about it! “Don’t worry about tomorrow,” Jesus said elsewhere, and that includes when He will return!

Instead, let us not be concerned about when Jesus will return but what we are to do until he does. This question is the right one, and we are given a clear and defining answer to it. In the very next verse Jesus directs his disciples to the right concentration:

“‘But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.'”

Acts 1:8

I.Howard Marshall was right when he wrote,

“Since this is God’s secret, there is no place for human speculation—a point that might well be borne in mind by those who still anxiously try to calculate the probable course of events in the last days. Instead of indulging in wishful thinking or apocalyptic speculation, the disciples must accomplish their task of being witnesses to Jesus”

I. Howard, Marshall

So, Christian, in the midst of times when it seems Christ’s return is near, resist the temptation to ask when Jesus is coming? Instead, ask “what can I do to be a witness!”



What to do when we don’t agree about masks.

It has been nearly a year since our world was turned upside down from the novel coronavirus. The church in which I serve has gone through a familiar process of returning to some type of normalcy. We initially canceled our church services and went solely to online; we opened back up mid May; and we have slowly gained about 70 percent of our regular attendees to date. It has been weird, frustrating, and complicated.

Speaking of complicated. . . one of the most difficult issues to discern and lead through has been the one concerning masks and social distancing regulations. Some churches have led a more strict and conservative approach. Masks are mandated, chairs have been appropriately separated to secure proper social distancing, and even the singers on the stage must wear masks the entire time (some churches don’t even allow singing to be done by the congregation). Other churches have taken a more liberal approach and allow attendees to decide for themselves whether to wear a mask, seating is not manipulated to promote social distancing, but each person is to use common sense and respect each other’s individual space. Singing is encouraged and without masks.

The church I serve in has taken the more liberal approach. The elders along with a select few in the church met, discussed, and came up with a plan that involved allowing each member to use common sense when gathering for worship. We however, did not see it necessary to mandate masks or make seating fit social distancing protocol. We called upon the church as a whole to use their own discretion and discernment, and to respect others as they did the same. The majority that attend do not wear masks, a few do. It should be said as well that we are a small church (less than 100 attendees) and we acknowledged that churches larger than us would have to make different decisions depending on their space and how many were in attendance. For us it became a Romans 14 issue. As Paul says,

“As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him.”

Romans 14:1-3

Though this has been our position it has not been resistant to complaint and disagreement. When an issue like this arises there are always individuals across the whole spectrum of perspectives. Some think we still take it too seriously while others are frustrated we take such a lackadaisical approach. When this happens what is a church to do?

I think the answer is simple—we don’t despise and we don’t judge; we simply respect each other’s consciences and live in unity despite the disagreement. Isn’t this what Paul says in Romans 14? When the one who thinks masks and social distancing are to be mandated, begins criticizing those who don’t feel the same way, they have moved beyond their authority. To do this is to wrongfully judge another. However, if those who think they are free to not wear masks and social distance, begin criticizing those who do wear masks, they likewise, have moved beyond their authority.

Paul says in Romans 14 that “one believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables…” It could be modernized by saying this, “one person believes he doesn’t have to wear a mask while the other says he must…” When we have polar opposite opinions on matters such as these the answer is to respect each other’s opinion. We are to live in harmony.

Some will argue, “but if you don’t wear a mask you are not loving your neighbor!” We must be careful because to take this position runs into the danger of what Jesus admonished the religious leaders of his day:

They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.”

Matthew 23:4

When we take a hard stance on mask wearing and begin requiring it of our other brothers and sisters in Christ, we come dangerously close to legalism, and legalism always begets hypocrisy.

The other side counters—“if you wear masks you are living in fear; I have faith over fear!” It sounds pious but it definitely isn’t holy. When we slander our brothers and sisters who feel convicted to wear masks we are equally guilty of sin. When we do this we are in danger of Jesus’ words elsewhere: “Do not judge lest you be judged (Matthew 7:1).”

I don’t know where you stand on these issues. What I do know is that you stand somewhere. You have convictions and opinions about it all. That’s good, we are reasonable human beings who have opinions on all kinds of matters. My encouragement is that we don’t make these strong opinions quarrelsome issues. Let’s hold our personal convictions on matters of opinion while simultaneously respecting those who differ.

I’m a Christian but I never talk about Jesus?

In his letter to the Corinthians the Apostle Paul offers a weighty admonition for Christians to “examine [themselves] to see whether [they] are in the faith (2 Cor 13:5).” A number of personal assessments could be applied. The apostle John offers several in his first epistle: Do you live an unholy life while claiming to be a Christian (1 John 1:5)? Do you refuse to acknowledge your sin ( 1:8-10)? Do you show love to others (2:10)?

One that I think is particularly helpful is this: do you think and speak often of your Christian faith? Do you talk about your adoration for Christ? Do you speak highly of the Church and the mission to make disciples? Do you speak often against the horrors of sin, and the desire of a holy life? Do those in your community know plainly how much your christian walk means to you? If one was to peruse your social media pages, listen in on your daily conversations, observe your regular musings about life, would they discover a heart that is completely sold out to Christ?

A true, regenerated, born again Christian will inevitably express his love for Christ, his passion for the Church, and his sorrow of sin. The Christian cannot help but speak of Jesus. As the early Christians agreed, “we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard (Acts 4:20).” Therefore, the Christian’s social media thread will inevitably be a platform for proclaiming Jesus, his conversations with others will eventually lead to spiritual things, and repentance of sin will be confessed regularly.

When Paul urges us to “examine ourselves” we may want to do some personal inventory on how much we speak publicly about our Christian faith. If upon reflection you discover that your conversations, private thinking, and public reputation admittedly lacks mention of Jesus, you may want to ask the question “why?” If, in fact, you are a Christian who has “taken up his cross and followed Jesus (Matthew 16:24-26),” why doesn’t it come up in conversation? If you are “unashamed of the Gospel (Rom 1:16)” why do your unbelieving friends not hear much about Jesus? Examine yourself fellow Christian. If you are truly saved, your mouth will prove it. As Jesus said, “out of the heart the mouth speaks (Luke 6:45).”

We are at War!

I don’t know if you have heard, but there is a war going on. It’s real and it’s happening all around us, each and every day. It happened this morning when you and your spouse chose to belittle and hurt each other with your words. It happened when you fell prey to pornography once again. It happened when the your difficult circumstance began to eat away at your faith in God. It happened when your anger turned into unforgiveness, and your unforgiveness gave way to hatred. It happened when you convinced yourself that despite your habitual immoral secrets, your external religious piety has secured your salvation in Christ.

We are in a war my friend. And because of this war there is a divine call to arms; the call to fight is increasingly becoming more and more prevalent in our day. Our world is increasingly godless. There are ideologies, secular world-views, worldly philosophies, that are completely at odds—completely hostile—to the Kingdom of God. We are at war my friends, and it is vitally important that we stand up and fight, lest we be taken hostage by the evil one.

What am I talking about? Paul calls it a spiritual war, and we as Christins are in combat every day for the truth of Jesus Christ! As Warren Wiersbe has said, “sooner or later every believer discovers that the Christian life is a battleground, not a playground.”

In Ephesians 6:10-20 Paul addresses this spiritual war more so than any other place in the entire Biblical text. Rhetorically, Paul is using what is called a “Perarato.” It is a climax of a first century letter. A sort of rally cry for the Ephesians to take all that he has said and put it into action!

Thankfully, we are not left to figure this out alone. God through the words of scripture has equipped us to prepare for this battle—he has given us a battle plan for this spiritual war. In this passage I want to help you see what Paul says about this spiritual war and what our battle strategy is by asking four questions. We will address the first question here and the other three in subsequent posts.

Who is our Commander and Chief?

First, who is our commander and Chief? Who is the one that leads us into battle and gives us the resources to stand our ground against the enemy? It is, thankfully, no human commander. It is no Pastor or church leader offering the strength we need in battle. No, Paul says our commander and chief is “the Lord!” Oh what peace, comfort, and assurance in knowing Christ is our leader! Because he leads we can be assured of some wonderful truths:

The battle is already won!

First, because of Jesus the battle is technically already won! Earlier in the letter of Ephesians Paul has said that Jesus brought us peace through the blood of the cross (Eph 2:11-17). It is a wonderful thing to know that while the battle rages on we know the battle is already won in Christ!

Pastor Tony Evans remarked once that he was unable to attend a professional football game in which his son played in. However, he was able to record the game and watch it at his convenience. Before he tuned in to see the game he had missed, he had received news that his son’s team had won the game. So, as he watched the game unfold the anxiety of not knowing the outcome was absent. Yes, when the opposing team would recover a fumble, intercept a pass, or get ahead on the scoreboard, it brought some discomfort, but he was not shaken by the situation. He knew that in the end his son’s team would be victorious.

Similarly, we know that Christ has won and will ultimately win the battle for our souls. He will ultimatley defeat our foe bringing everlasting life to those who belong to Him!

Christ is over all

Secondly, our Commander and chief is over all things! While the enemy is seeking to attack us from all sides, our commander has full reign and power over him. Notice what Paul has already said in regards to this in chapter one:

that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come

Ephesians 1:20-21

What have we to fear then if our savior is totally and completely over all?

We have been seated in the heavenly places and have been brought from darkness into light!

Thirdly, we as Christ’ ambassadors, his soldiers, his workers of the kingdom, have been seated with Christ in the heavenly places. Paul in chapter 2 verses 5 and 6 says of us, “by grace you have been saved, and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” Not only is Jesus reigning with all authority and power in the heavenly places, we too have been seated with him there! Thus, we have nothing to fear in regards to our enemy’s attack on us. He can’t touch us while we sit in the heavenly places, covered by the grace, forgiveness, and redemption found in Christ Jesus!

We have been given the power to overcome the battle!

Finally, we have been given the power to overcome any difficulty the enemy may bring our way. Paul says in Ephesians 6:10, “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.” Elsewhere Paul says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13).”

It is vitally important for all Christians to confess daily that in our own strength we will always be exposed and vulnerable to Satan and his attacks. Only through the power of Christ can we stand toe to toe against the evil one. How do we attain this power you may wonder? How can we tap into the strength of Christ and his might to overcome any temptation Satan may use against us? This is the very question Paul answers in the next portion of this marvelous passage, and the one I’ll seek to articulate in the following post. Until then—keep your head up and find your power in Christ fellow Christian!

The Gospel is Not About Saving Systems

An Evangelical Conversation

I have to admit, my heart aches over the emotional tension, anger, and fear flooding our minds in these chaotic days. Harsh arguments, slanderous words, and yelling matches immerse our Facebook screens and news feeds. Amidst the numerous themes and topics creating these fiery and hostile debates is the issue of racism; a real and prevalent reality in our supposedly modern and civil time. But the concern that provokes me the most, the one that keeps lingering in my mind, is how evangelical Christians are approaching this issue. 

What is the solution to the so called systemic racism in our society today? How are we going to fix issues like white privilege, oppression on minorities; especially toward our black neighbors? The answers provided by some evangelicals, surprisingly have little to do with the gospel, and much to do with fixing systems. 

A well respected university recently held a service of “confession and lament.”The service sought to acknowledge the reality of racism for what it is, and call others to do the same; a respectable and good endeavor. However, as one began to read through the prayer service rhetoric one couldn’t help but notice  a concerning statement: 

“We confess: For far too long, we have bought into the evangelical lie that the gospel is about saving souls and not about saving structures.”

Confessing the sin of racism is one thing, implying that the gospel is about saving structures is another. After receiving some push back the university released clarification on the wording of their confession:

“To be clear, we do believe it is a lie to suggest the gospel is concerned about one and not also the other (from either perspective) as if personal evangelism and social justice are diametrically opposed. . .But we also recognize that God’s kingdom is always extended in the context of other kingdoms, structures, and empires. We are deeply concerned with making structures just, even as we devote ourselves to seeking and saving lost souls living within those structures.”

I am thankful they made clear that the gospel is about saving souls, what they plainly denied in their initial wording. However, the clarification is still unsettling. The statement sill implies that the gospel is about saving sinners AND about saving structures; as if essential in the Gospel of Christ is the requirement that Christians fix the social structures in which they live. If not, the implication being, they have fallen short of understanding the good news of Jesus Christ. 

Another well known, and articulate individual, Phil Vischer (Famous for creating the popular Veggietales cartoon) produced a viral video seeking to layout the issues of racism, white privilege, and how America’s past has set up an inevitable system by which blacks are oppressed. It is a well thought out video and offers much for us to consider in regards to racism in our country. Nevertheless, as the video climaxes to a close Vischer rhetorically asks what solution can be given for the state we are in. Answer, “I don’t know.” He then goes on to offer a starting point: “but what we can do is care.”

Really Phil? Even Bob the tomato could have anticipated the right answer to the conundrum you so craft-fully defined—obviously the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is the answer to these troubling times. These two examples are the type of responses that are fueling my frustration. While the answer seems as simple as “Christ crucified” I am hearing very little of that emphasized, in the midst of seeking a solution to the cultural chaos we find ourselves in. 

But is it that simple? Or does Vischer and our Christian universities have it right? The way out is by fixing our structures. As I pray and meditate on these things I am drawn to the scriptures. Because they are the final authority for faith and practice, and the lens by which we view our world, it seems that the Bible must be our “go to” as we seek to wade through these peculiar waters. Here are a few conclusions I have come to as I have meditated on these things. 

The Gospel, properly understood, is sufficient in changing our culture.

The Gospel as I understand it is simply this—Humanity stands before God condemned because of their sin against his holy Law. God as a just judge must punish the sins of the world. But because He loved the world He sent His only son to die on a cross for the forgiveness of their sins. If we repent of our sins, place our trust in the work of Christ, and are baptized into Christ, we will be justified and redeemed from our sin, and have reconciliation with the God of the universe. The heart of the gospel is that “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15).” 

This is the pure and saving Gospel. This is the Gospel that has the power unto salvation (Romans 1:16). Yet, the Gospel has been changed to include saving structures. That somehow Christ’ redeeming humanity from their sins is not enough—Christ also came to redeem systems of oppression. This I wholeheartedly reject. If Jesus came to save systems he did a poor job of exemplifying that in his earthly ministry. Jesus said he came to “seek and save those who were lost.” He did not come to save systems but to save people. A direct implication of Christ’ saving people from their sins involves a new and transformational life. Those who were once in the dark have now, by the regenerative power of the Holy Spirit, been completely changed. This involves seeking to love our neighbor and treating everyone in the world with loving kindness.

When we add to the saving gospel “saving structures” we are getting dangerously close to Paul’s admonition to the Galatian church. The church was embracing the idea that one had to put their faith in Christ AND be circumcised in order to be saved. However, Paul says clearly “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed (Galatians 1:8).” If we are being told that the Gospel includes faith in Christ Jesus atoning work on the cross for sin AND saving structures we have added to the gospel.

Saving humanity from their sins and not their structures is the emphasis in scripture.

The conversation so popular these days is the fight against “systemic racism.” The answer then to fixing the problem of racism is to fix the system. If we as a church can get the right leaders voted in, and pass the right type of legislation, then we can fix the social wrongs in our culture. But is this the mission of the Church? Is this the means by which the gospel compels us to see change? It seems not. 

When Gabriel came and delivered the message to Mary concerning the Messiah he did not say “and his name shall be called Jesus because he will save his people from their structures.” No, he said “he will save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).” When Paul, living in a system that promoted slavery, wrote to the church about living out the gospel, he did not command masters to free their slaves and revolt against the evil system. Rather, he called masters to treat their slaves with respect, and called slaves to obey their masters (Ephesians 6:5-9)! 

Paul knew it was the heart that had to be changed and not the system. Thus, when writing a letter to Philemon he calls this regenerated slave owner to receive his run away slave as his brother in Christ (Philemon 17). Paul did not say to Philemon fight the system. He said view your slave in light of the gospel. This heart change can ONLY come through a saving transformation by the power of the Gospel. Thus, I challenge those who say that the gospel is about saving structures to point to the biblical sources in which the Gospel is understood in that way. 

True racial reconciliation can only be pursued in the church of Jesus Christ.

When the world seeks racial justice and racial reconciliation it will always fall short of attaining that goal. The reason from a biblical perspective is because humanity is utterly sinful. At the core of our problem is the issue of selfish pride. Outside of Christ no one has the ability to selflessly love others, to the extent in which, hate for someone, merely because of their skin color, decimates. The reason is because outside of a saving relationship with Jesus Christ all of us are tainted in our thinking and behavior. Only because of common-grace-restraints, such as our conscience and governmental ordained laws, is humanity held from manifesting complete revolt and harm toward one another. In the epistle to the Ephesians the Apostle Paul makes this plain:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Ephesians 2:1-3)

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world (Ephesians 2:11-12)

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity (Ephesians 4:17-19)

This horrid state is the situation every human being faces without placing their trust in Christ. To then encourage the world, who is described in this manner, to then love each other, and seek racial reconciliation seems completely preposterous. There is only “ONE hope (Ephesians 4:4)” for changing the hearts and minds of those in the world. Notice Paul’s response: 

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved (Ephesians 2:4)

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace (Ephesians 2:13-15)

But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:20-24) 

Paul’s remedy for the helpless state of every unbeliever is the Gospel! This is relevant especially in regards to racism. Notice Paul’s explicit language—in Christ Jesus he has “broken down the wall of hostility.” The answer to racial reconciliation will never be through political activism, but ONLY through the precious blood of Jesus Christ. If you want to be freed from racial divides my recommendation would be to join the church of our Lord Jesus! 

Loving our neighbor is the result of a saving gospel.

Finally, it must be clear that as redeemed Christians, transformed by the renewing of our minds, we endeavor to love our neighbor as Christ loved us. Every Christian is compelled to ooze the love of Jesus. When we see injustices and hate toward others our righteous indignation flares up and is manifested in loving kindness toward those who are hurt. 1 John 3:17 says, “if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” If someone says they are a Christian and yet hates someone because of their skin color, they are NOT Christians. You can’t be a child of God and hate your neighbor. 

So while the church is not in the mission to save systems, it is in the mission of loving their neighbor because of the power of the Gospel in their lives. Christians therefore, are constantly reaching out to the marginalized, the oppressed, the downtrodden, and inviting them to their table of fellowship. We can say to our black friends and neighbors, “I am sorry you have experienced hate and bigotry. I would love to invite your family over for dinner and share with you our hospitality. Most importantly, I would love to share with you a story; a story about the savior of the world. Because of Him you can find true reconciliation and peace. 

Just The Gospel!

The intentions behind many of my evangelical friends are good. They want to see a change in our culture with regard to racial discrimination. I just think they are seeking this change with medicine that can never cure the disease. It gets more dangerous when they begin to imply that saving structures is not only a way of fixing our cultures problems, it is a part of the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

Humanity is broken; broken from sin and transgression. The only antidote to this is the blood of Christ. More than ever we as Christians must herald the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Only this message, and the Christian lives that vindicate it, will solve the world’s problem. As Christians let’s  leave it to the world to try to fix their system. Let’s not get distracted from our sole mission—to preach Christ crucified! Then and only then will we begin to see Christ’ Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven!