Mingling Faith with Error

Have you ever heard the word syncretism? It means to attempt to fuse or unite different religions or views. It is the concept of mingling two religions together. And it is something that the word of God warns us against.


When I lived in Asia, I saw a great deal of syncretism among Christians. I saw people who were very committed to worship and prayer also bring into their faith elements of Buddhism or Confucianism. Believers who ought to know better would, on a particular holiday, set out dishes of food to nourish long-dead relatives.


The word of God is clear that we do not want to attempt to mingle the true Christian faith with elements of other religions. God is not pleased when people attempt to reshape Christianity with man-made practices.


Galatians 4:9-11 – 9 But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? 10 You observe days and months and seasons and years! 11 I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.


Paul, when writing to the Galatian church saw quite clearly some of the same problems. The Galatians were attempting to blend biblical Christianity with Old Testament Jewish practices and perhaps with elements of the other religions of the day. They wanted to keep the grace of Christ, but to add to the faith standards and practices of faiths that deny him.


All of that is an interesting sort of anthropological study, but the question should arise as to how we might be tempted toward the same thing. Is it possible that we could fall victim to the same sort of God-dishonoring thinking that made Paul fear for the salvation of the Galatian church?


So, let’s simply ask ourselves if our faith, our standards, our beliefs, our worship practices are actually Christian. Are we thinking and acting in accord with faithful, biblical Christianity, or are we at risk of bringing into the faith beliefs and actions and celebrations that are from other religions? How would we know?


The Bible is how we should know. Ask yourself if the things you say, the things you think, the things you practice in worship are in Scripture. So often, things that we will say, that we will accept as truth, are actually diametrically opposed to what is in Scripture. But, since the things we hold to sound true, we assume they must be in the Bible somewhere. We assume that our practices, if we like them, if they make us feel good, they must be acceptable in the worship of the Lord.


But looking at what Paul wrote to the Galatians should cause us all to stop and really test ourselves. Test your doctrine, not against your feelings or against tradition, but against the word of God faithfully taught and applied. Do the same for the practices of your church in worship. Test what you do in a worship service, not against whether it appeals to the body or applies to the lost, but test it against the word of God. Has the Lord called the church to do what you are doing? Has the Lord called the church to value what you are valuing?


The warning from the passage in Galatians should be clear to us. We, when we are not careful, can become complacent. We can assume that our thoughts and actions please
God. We can fail to notice that we have corrupted the faith with worldly thinking and worldly practices or with the doctrines and practices of false religion. May we be careful. May we rethink what we do, all that we do, in the light of Holy Scripture. May we ask, with any doctrine if Scripture really teaches it. May we ask with any part of our worship services if Scripture actually calls us to do it or to do it this way. Do not stop guarding your life and practice with the word of God. If you do, a mingled faith with worldliness or false religion is ready to jump in and change your worship to what dishonors the Lord. And I do not believe that any of us want that.

Balaam’s Scheme and Our Downfall

In Numbers 22-24, we get the story of the pagan prophet Balaam. It is a story made for children’s Sunday School, as Balaam’s donkey is enabled to speak to him and show him the error of his ways.
And Balaam, though wanting to curse the Israelites, is not allowed to do so. Instead, God makes Balaam speak a blessing on Israel.


The story seems to end in chapter 24 with Balaam going home and King Balak being angry with him. Later, we find in Numbers 31:8 that Balaam died when Israel defeated Midian. But this does not tell us the real rest of the story.


Look at the words of Moses speaking about the Midianite women.


Numbers 31:16 – Behold, these, on Balaam’s advice, caused the people of Israel to act treacherously against the Lord in the incident of Peor, and so the plague came among the congregation of the Lord


If you do not know what Moses was talking about, you would have to go back and see Numbers 25. There we see that the nation of Israel, though recently blessed by Balaam, is experiencing the judgment of God. Why? The Israelites are defying the commands of the Lord in several ways. The Midianite women have seduced the Israelite men. The Israelite men are committing sexual immorality with the women of Midian. This also draws the men to participate in the idolatry of the Midianites. And all of this results in God’s judgment on Israel. (This is no longer a good children’s Sunday School idea, by the way.)


Interestingly, in chapter 31, we learn that this happening was not by happenstance. Instead, we learn that this was a scheme of Balaam. Balaam advised Balak to send the women of Midian to tempt the Israelite men into sinning. And the scheme worked. Thus, even though the Lord would not permit Balaam to speak a curse against Israel, Israel earns the curse of God by worshipping idols and committing sexual immorality.


Now, where is a life lesson for the modern Christian? Perhaps it is found in the truth that, when our enemy cannot attack us and defeat us from without, he will move to attack us from within. Israel was shielded against the physical attacks of Midian. But Israel willingly walked into sin and brought about their own hurt.


I wonder how often this is true for churches. How often do we have things go well on the outside only to see ourselves self-destruct internally? How often are our buildings clean, our people well-fed, and our sermons solid even while our hearts, in sin, turn us against the Lord and against one another?


Note as well the specific plan. Balaam used the lusts of the men to bring judgment on them. When nothing would work externally, the enemy attacked the men with the temptation toward sexual immorality.


How many of our men in our churches are outwardly strong, but eaten up inside with sexual sin? How many of our women are in the same boat? How many men are putting on a good outward face, but are watching porn in secret and thinking all is OK? How many of our Christians are turning from the commands of God regarding sex, marriage, gender, and all the rest?


Friends, what God has said to us about sex and marriage is vital to our ability to worship him and serve him. This is not popular today. But you can be assured that, if the devil would use the strategy of sexual immorality and compromise with the neighboring culture in Numbers 31, he will certainly use it against the church today. Accepting sexual immorality was destructive in the days of Moses, and it is destructive today. May we be strengthened by the Lord to withstand these attacks from without and from within.

An Unwilling Prophet

The story of Balaam in Numbers 22-24 is fascinating, perhaps a little funny. Balak offers Balaam a bribe to get him to speak a curse against Israel. Balaam is willing, though he knows that he is limited to speak only what the Lord will allow. Thus, Balaam would like to be able to say things that have power, but he knows that the words of true prophecy only come from the Lord.


When Balaam sees Israel, and when Balak tells him to let them have it, Balaam opens his mouth. But the only words that come out are words of blessing over Israel. It reminds me, in a sad way, of the movie “Liar Liar,” when the main character wants to lie, but as he speaks, he unwillingly tells the truth.


It is strange, but in the midst of Balaam’s frustration, God allows him to speak an amazing word that points to God’s ultimate plan for Israel and for all the saved.


Numbers 24:17-19


17 I see him, but not now;

I behold him, but not near:

a star shall come out of Jacob,

and a scepter shall rise out of Israel;

it shall crush the forehead of Moab

and break down all the sons of Sheth.

18 Edom shall be dispossessed;

Seir also, his enemies, shall be dispossessed.

Israel is doing valiantly.

19 And one from Jacob shall exercise dominion

and destroy the survivors of cities!”


Consider those words of prophecy. A  star and scepter will come out of Israel. The one to come will crush the enemies of God and rule the world, having dominion (v 19). This is Messiah, the one who will rescue, the promised king sent by God. And Balaam predicts it.


The plan of God is amazing. Nobody can stop it. Balak did not want to hear it. Balaam did not want to speak it. But the Lord told us anyway. He promised a King to come who will reign. Jesus is that King to come.

The Onion Rebellion

Human beings are amazing creatures. We can be sacrificial, giving, caring, and creative. We can mirror some of the attributes of God such as love, mercy, and justice. We can harness electricity, predict the weather with a certain degree of accuracy, and send rockets into space.


And yet, if you look at humans, think about what messes us up. Think about what happens to us that just turns us inside-out. People who are otherwise smart, often wise, people who know the consequences of bad choices, willingly make bad choices. You know it will cost you. You know it is going to do you damage. You know, when you are willing to actually think, that the reward is not going to be as great as promised, but you jump in anyway.


This all reminds me of something we see in the book of Numbers. In fact, if you ever want to see folly of humanity, and if you want to get a glimpse as to what messes us up, take a peek at what I am, at least this morning, calling the onion rebellion.


For background, the people of Israel have lived their entire lives as slaves in Egypt. They have been forced to work against their will under the whips of brutal task-masters. The Egyptians even attempted to put to death the male children born to the Israelites in order to slow down their population growth. This people cried out to God for mercy, and God delivered them.


As you know, the Lord led the people up out of Egypt in a miraculous salvation. They crossed the Red Sea, saw the Egyptians crushed by the waves, and began a trek in the desert back to their homeland.


As the Israelites walked in the desert, God did more miracles. God provided for the people supernaturally food to eat every day. God provided water for the people to drink. God provided supernatural, visible guidance to lead the people to where he wanted them to camp. God took care of all their needs. 


Numbers 11:4-6 – 4 Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! 5 We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. 6 But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.”


And here is what happened. The people got tired of the healthy, supernaturally provided, perfect food that the lord gave them. They suddenly began to think longingly of their slavery. They wanted the fish, the leeks, and the onions. And so they began to grumble and complain, dishonoring God out of their desire for onions.


What does this make you think of these people? God is there. They should know he is doing amazing things to care for them. They should know that he is giving them what they actually need. He is making sure that they get where they are going. This is an uncomfortable couple of months, to be sure, but it is surely not as bad as slavery.


But all the rabble can think of is, “We want onions!” They are letting a drive, a simple desire, an unimportant flavor lead them to destruction. They are willing to turn their back on God, to disparage his holy name, to damage their actual lives because they want a new taste in their mouths and they just cannot wait for the promises of the Lord to be fulfilled.


And as we want to look down on these people for their folly, we have to ask where we face our own onion rebellion. Where do you turn your back on God for the fulfillment of drives and desires that are actually not worth it? WE do this in so many ways.


Food is one example. We know what is healthy and safe to eat. We know what eating too much unhealthy food does to us. Obesity, diabetes, heart disease, back problems, poor self-image, all these can be contributed to by our making foolish choices regarding what we eat. We know this. WE have seen the science. We have had the teachers tell us this in school And yet, when we have a craving, what do many people do? Many throw wisdom and insight out the window and wreck their health for something that gives a brief moment of pleasure.


How about in marriages? Think of the destructive things people do, things they know are wrong, hoping for a flash of pleasure. A husband gives into the temptation to watch porn on the Internet. A wife gives into the pleasure of flirting with a coworker. Neither one, if you sat them down in an honest conversation, would tell you that they really, thoughtfully, truthfully believe that their actions are going to lead to good. They know that their pleasures, their drives, their hungers actually lead them to pain. But they give in anyway.


Friends, Let’s not be onion rebellion kind of people. Let us seek the Lord and plead with him for the ability to take hold of our desires and our drives. There are things that might give us temporary pleasure and lead to our hurt. There are things that might give us temporary pleasure, but lead to our damnation. Pray. Ask God to help you have the strength to say no to your desire for things that mean nothing in the eternal scheme of things. Do not turn your back on God because you want a sexual rush, a moment of telling someone off, the good opinion of someone you barely know, a bit more money, or the taste of food for just a moment. Do not be like the people who walk away from God because they miss the  onions in Egypt.  

A Mixed Bag of Thoughts

I honestly do not know how to shape things from today’s reading into a single, coherent, devotional thought. Yet there are big thoughts from the Lord to see in Deuteronomy 4.


Deuteronomy 4:2 – You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you.


Verse 2 caught my attention, because it is so very familiar, and yet it is not where I expected to find it. I know that the Proverbs and the book of Revelation have verses that warn against adding to or taking from or changing the word of God. But I had honestly forgotten that the same command happens right here at the end of the ministry of Moses. And because it feels new to me, it helps me to stop and realize the significant point that the Lord is making in his word time-and-time again.


God has given us his word. God has given us his commands. His word is solid and sure. To add to his word, take from his word, change his word, manipulate his word, ignore his word, or battle against his word is to sin against the Lord. His word is how we know him. His word is how we serve him. His word is central to any relationship with God.


So, first, we must ask if we truly understand the unfathomable gift of the word of God. The Bible is God allowing us to know him and to obey him. Do we treasure his word enough? Do we learn it? Do we keep it? O may we not allow our own minds, our own best guesses, our own sinfully tainted hearts develop for us our view of the Lord. Instead, may we keep his word.


Deuteronomy 4:9-13 – 9 “Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children— 10 how on the day that you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb, the Lord said to me, ‘Gather the people to me, that I may let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me all the days that they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children so.’ 11 And you came near and stood at the foot of the mountain, while the mountain burned with fire to the heart of heaven, wrapped in darkness, cloud, and gloom. 12 Then the Lord spoke to you out of the midst of the fire. You heard the sound of words, but saw no form; there was only a voice. 13 And he declared to you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments, and he wrote them on two tablets of stone.


As Moses reminds the Israelites of the things they have experienced, the revelation of God at Mt. Sinai 38 years before, he says something that grabs my heart today. The Lord revealed himself to his people and he commands them to remember. The Lord calls on the present generation not to turn up their noses at the things they learned as children, at the things their parents saw as adults, at the things which shook their souls to their core as they realized they stood in the presence of a holy God.


Consider the command of verse 9: keep your soul diligently. God calls on his people to battle to keep our souls. This is no argument against a New Testament doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. Rather, it is the means by which we participate in that doctrine. The Lord keeps his own. But the Lord commands his own to keep their souls.


We face a hard world full of skeptics, critics, and temptations. It is so very easy for us to let the sinful thoughts and evil practices of the world seep into our souls. Eventually, if we are not diligent, we will find that our thinking is turned away from the Lord. We will find that our hearts grow cold against the Lord. We will find that our desires are no longer those of the Lord. We must fight. Yes, God will keep his own. Yes, God’s Spirit in us will preserve us. Yes, God will move us. But we must pray, repent, love his word, and battle to keep our souls in these evil days.


And, finally in this section, notice the word “commanded” in verse 13. As God leads Moses to point the people to the Ten Commandments, the terms of his covenant with national Israel, God says that he commanded them to keep those words. Please note that God did not grovel to persuade Israel. God did not beg or plead. Instead, God identified himself as the Lord. God showed them he is God, the Creator and Ruler of all. And God commanded the people to obey his word. He commanded repentance. He commanded obedience.


I wonder, in our day, if we are preaching strongly enough that repentance is not simply a persuasive option we are to hold out to others. I wonder if we are spending time trying to get people to like God enough to maybe give him their time. I wonder if we are acting as though God is having a sale and they should at least drop by and check out the prices. No! This is not the way of the Lord. God is God. God is Lord. God commands all people everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30). We are not to turn to God based on emotion or our liking of his offer—though it is great if we do. Rather, we are to bow to our God as Lord and submit to his authority as the God over all.

Worship in Reverence and Awe

The tendency in modern churches and modern worship is toward the casual. Churches emphasize their casual, laid-back atmosphere. Groups shape their services not to cause discomfort for those who are outside of the faith. Believers think and speak of God as one might speak of a neighbor or grandpa.


The modern shift toward the casual is understandable in a way, but our actions have grown far from the source. We have learned to reject the notion of requiring a shirt and tie to enter the building. WE have learned to welcome the downtrodden, and that forces a relaxing of dress codes and such. WE have walked away from a false rigidity in how we think of the service so that children are no longer receiving a thump on the ear if they accidentally swing their feet or wiggle in their seat. 


But, dear Christian friends, there ought be nothing casual about worship. I’m not here saying that we are to be joyless, but we are not to be casual. God is bigger than all that. God is holier than to deserve our second-rate attentions or our leftover time. God’s holiness demands a reverence that modern folks may no longer know how to give.


Consider Hebrews 12. In that chapter, the author has called his readers to holy living. He called the church to battle sin, to keep marriages pure, to live holy lives in their present world. This is a common message. But watch the way that the author then aims the reader at the holiness of God and our proper response.


Hebrews 12:18-21 – 18 For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest 19 and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. 20 For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” 21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”


First, the author sets the stage. WE have not come to Mount Sinai as did the Israelites in the Exodus. That scene was terrifying, so scary that the people could not handle it. The mountain shook. The cloud descended. The people begged Moses not to let God speak again, for his holy voice shook them to their core. And Moses and the land, and the mountain, and the people quaked at the thought of being near the holy presence of God.


But the author is saying that such a mountain is not what we have come to. If you know the book of Hebrews, you should already be able to anticipate what is next. It will not be a minimizing of the holiness of God. Instead, the comparison from Moses to Jesus is always one of the lesser to the greater.


Hebrews 12:22-24 – 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.


And here it is. You have not approached the old covenant at Mount Sinai. We are approaching something greater. Instead of a mountain smoking to conceal the presence of the Lord, we are approaching the real heavenly city. The Father, the Son, the angels are all there.


How should our response to this change? If the modern Christian is right, our response would include less fear, less trembling, less formality, more casualness, more light-heartedness. Is this the way the Scripture speaks?


Hebrews 12:25-29 – 25 See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.


God will shake more than the mountains. He will shake the universe. If Moses trembled, how much more should we? The danger of refusing the will of this God is clear.


But I want us to specifically notice the way that this impacts worship. In verses 28-29, the author tells us, “and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” Reverence and awe are to be what characterizes our worship. That is not a ra-ra rock concert feel under anyone’s definition who is paying attention. Reverence and awe are not the product of light shows, smoke machines, and cheap U2 guitar rip-offs. Nor are reverence and awe the characteristics of services that are shaped to appeal to those who do not know Christ, who do not love the Lord, and whose feelings we do not want to hurt by using too much Scripture. God is a consuming fire, and we would never approach a consuming fire flippantly, casually, or carelessly.


Friends, I believe there is a balance to be had here. I’m not trying to suggest that we not enjoy our time together in our services. We gather as family. Such gatherings should be full of joy, of love, of laughter, of comfort. But I wonder if we moderns are missing the reverence and awe. I wonder if choosing music that sounds just like the stuff on the radio—light-hearted, shallow, simple—music that is no different than our day-to-day, prevents us from the awe that should come from us as we sing the holiness of God. I wonder if the common practices of seeking sermons that give us basic life hacks on parenting, fear, depression, or whatever are just far too shallow when compared to opening the Scripture to present the depths of doctrine and the glories of God.


Ultimately, the word of God calls us to come before our Lord in the freedom and confidence of Christ. But the word also calls us to worship the Lord in holiness, with awe and reverence. The one we approach is not our next-door neighbor. The one we approach is not a politician we do not respect. The one we approach is not our grandpa. Yes, God is our heavenly Father. But we need to remember that our culture no longer understands father as a respected leader as did cultures of the past. God loves us. God welcomes us. But the God who loves us, welcomes us, comforts us, heals us, encourages us, forgives us, that God is holy, pure, a consuming fire. That God is the God who shook the mountain so that the people begged not to hear his terrifying voice. That God is the God in whose presence Isaiah feared he would disintegrate. That God is the God who is so blazing in his glory that angels cover their faces with their wings in respectful adoration. And so we approach that God in love and under grace even as we approach him in reverence and awe.

Shepherds Conference 2018 Session 10 Notes

Steven Lawson

Christ: The Head of the Church


During the Reformation, there was a crisis of authority.

Who speaks for God: the church or Scripture?

Who is the head of the church?

Rome says it is the Pope.

The authority of heaven, they claim, is invested in the Pope.

The reformers pushed back and called him antichrist.

They argue that the only head of the church is Jesus Christ.

In England, Henry VIII proclaimed himself to be head of the church of England.

English reformers defied the monarch and claimed that Christ is the only head of the church.

The same happened in Scotland.


This is not an incidental matter; it is a fundamental matter.

No Pope is the head of the church.

No hierarchy of men is the head of the church.

No pastor, elder board, or congregational vote is the head of the church.

There is but one head of the church, and he is the one who is seated at the right hand of God the Father and who purchased the church by the shedding of his own blood.


The meaning of Christ’ headship

The ministries of Christ’s headship

The Mandate of Christ’s headship


The meaning of Christ’s headship

Two concepts in Ephesians 1:20-ff


First, Jesus is our ruling head.

Jesus is sovereign, having supreme authority over all matters that transpire in the church.

He is the ruler of the church.

He is of superior authority and rank.

This is somewhat like when we call a person a head of state or the head of a corporation.


Verse 20

God the Father raised Jesus from the dead.

He is a living head.

The Father seated Jesus at his own right hand.

The Father enthroned Jesus and invested in him all authority.

Verse 21

Jesus is far above all other powers or authorities.

This is supremely supreme.

He is above all angels in any hierarchy.

He is above any name that is named.

That includes all worldly rulers.

Not only is this true in this age, but in eternity future.

There are no term limits upon the sovereignty of the Lord Jesus Christ.

He will never step aside.

Verse 22

God the Father put all things in subjection to the Son.

Subjection is a military term for subordinates lining up under a superior.

Everything in the universe is in submission and subordination under the supreme sovereignty of God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus is a conquering king.

All things are like a defeated adversary under the victorious king’s feet.


None of us can comprehend just how sovereign Jesus is.

In Revelation 19, Jesus returns with many crowns.

He is sovereign.

Our minds cannot grasp how in control the Lord Jesus is.

Matthew 28:18

Jesus has all authority.

There is no authority outside of Jesus Christ.


Verse 22

The Father has given Jesus as head over all things to the church.

Head means ruling authority.

It is supreme to the extreme.

Jesus’ will is supreme in all matters, his word is final.

Jesus is the head and we are the body.

Jesus is Lord and we are the slaves.

Jesus is King and we are the subjects.


Second, Jesus is the organic head.

He is also the source of all life to the church.

He infuses life and grace into the church.

He gives his wisdom and power and love and peace to the church.

We have no need but that Jesus is all-sufficient to meet that need.


The fullness of him…

Everything he is.

… of him who fills all…

He pours himself into us.

He fills us and lives within us.

He is our ample supply.

He lives within us as we live for him.

Verse 23

He fills all in all.

In all places, all times, he fills all in all.


The meaning of his headship is that he is over us as ruling head and is in us as organic head.

He is lord and life.

He is over us as sovereign and in us as source and supply for all we need.


The ministries’ of Christ’s headship

Acts 1:1

… all that Jesus began to do and teach…

There is more he will do and teach in the church.


First, as head, he has the authority to choose his leaders.

Acts 1:24

The head of the church has to supply the replacement for Judas.

They prayed and said to Jesus, “you Lord…”

They pray, looking to Jesus.

Only Jesus knows the hearts of all men.

They ask Jesus to show which man Jesus has chosen.

Jesus controls the casting of the lot into the lap.

The head of the church sovereignly controlled the choice of the replacement.

They do not ask Jesus to confirm their choice.

They humble themselves and ask Jesus to show which one he had chosen.

The head of the church will move to bring leaders into the local church.

God is the one who calls and Christ appoints the leadership in the church.


Second, as head he has the authority to call a people to himself.

Acts 2:39

Jesus fulfills what he said in Matthew 16:18.

He begins to build his church by his sovereign grace.

Not every person on earth is built into the church.

Verse 39

as many as the Lord our God will call to himself.

Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Jesus is the name upon which we call for salvation.

God the Father has made him Lord and Christ.

It is this Lord, in verse 39, who is calling out a people to himself.

This is an effectual call.

The Bible talks about 2 types of calls.

There is the external call.

That comes from all sorts and goes to the ear.

There is the internal call of the Lord Jesus.

This call actually summons subpoenas the one who is called.

When Jesus calls like this, those called come.

John 10:22

Jesus calls his sheep and they come.

Jesus as the ruling head is sovereign over who he calls into the church.

No one comes into the true church except Jesus calls them.

And all he calls will come.

Thus Jesus assures the effectiveness of gospel preaching.

We give the external call.

Jesus gives the internal, effectual call.

The only way we know the Father is because Jesus willed to show us the father.


Acts 3:16

All whom he calls believe.


Jesus gives them faith to believe.

Acts 3:16, faith is in Jesus and it comes from Jesus.

The faith comes through him.

As Jesus builds his church, he gives people saving faith so that they can exercise faith in him.

He is both the source and the object of saving faith.

Faith that is in Jesus is faith that is through Jesus is a faith that comes from Jesus.

Hebrews calls Jesus the author and perfecter of faith.

Philippians 1:29

It was granted to you to believe.

George Whitfield said that man has free will to go to hell, but no free will to go to heaven.

Spurgeon said that he has heard much about free will, but he has never yet seen it.


As head of the church, he has authority to grant repentance.

Acts 5:31

We are talking about how Jesus builds his church one soul at a time.

We have no ability to conjure up our own forgiveness.

But there is only one active agent who grants repentance.

The one who gives forgiveness is also the one who gives repentance.

Also in Acts 11, same thing.

God grants the gentiles the repentance that leads to life.


As we proclaim the gospel, God has gone before us and God works with us and he calls out his chosen, gives them faith, and grants them repentance.

This is what Jesus does to build his church.


He has authority to convert his enemies.

Acts 9:1

Jesus can overcome any and all resistance.

If God can do this with Saul, he can do this with anybody.

Saul was breathing threats and murders against the disciples of the Lord.

He was hunting Christians.

Suddenly Christ appeared.

Saul fell to the ground.

Saul asks, Who are you, Lord?”

He answered the question himself before the end of the sentence.

Jesus brought an enemy to his knees and brought him to a place of self-denial.

This is a prototype of every conversion.

This is what Jesus did in your life if you are actually converted.

He humbled you and brought you low.

Verse 15

Saul is a chosen instrument of Christ’s.

No way could Saul have resisted that mighty call.

When Jesus calls, we come.


Acts 16

As head, he has authority to open closed hearts.

Verse 13-ff

God opened Lydia’s heart to respond to the things spoken…

Her heart had been closed.

God opened it.

Paul gave the external call.

Jesus gave the internal call.

Lydia then responded.

Verse 14, opened.

Verse 26, the same opened is used of the prison doors opened.

The earthquake opened the doors.

God opened Lydia’s heart.

This is how Jesus builds his church.

He blows the doors open in hardened hearts.

He sends spiritual earthquakes to open our hearts.


Acts 18

As head, he has authority to guarantee gospel success.

He has his people who will believe and who will respond.

Verse 9

The Lord tells Paul to keep preaching.

Jesus says that he is with Paul.

Jesus says that he has many people in the city.

This included those who would be saved.


Acts 20

As head, Jesus has authority to purchase and possess the church.

Verse 28

Paul is speaking to the elders in Ephesus.

Speaking of the church,

Which he purchased with his own blood.

Jesus purchased the church of God with his own blood.

The church belongs to him by right of ownership.

As the good shepherd, Jesus laid down his life for the sheep, his sheep.

Jesus did not die in vain.

All for whom he died he calls.

All whom he calls, he gives saving faith.

Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.

Ephesians 5:1, Jesus gave himself up for us.


The mandate of Christ’s headship

None of us are free to reinvent church.

None of us are free to come up with our own way of doing church.

The head of the church has already instructed us how he desires to be worshipped.

He has shown us how he desires the body to function.

This is the regulative principle.

The activities of the church will be regulated by what Jesus says.

He has every right to govern every square inch of our church because he is the head of the church.

Shepherds Conference 2018 Session 8 Notes

Tom Pennington

The Mission of the Church


What is our primary mission?

We have multiple categories of responsibility.

To God

To the church

To the world


What is the primary task that Christ assigned the church when it comes to the world?

This question has become more clouded over the past century or two.

Liberalism removed a belief in the need for salvation.

Liberal Protestantism believed the church’s mission is the salvation of society, not of individuals.

Fundamentalism knew this was not our goal.

Stott said that mission is the whole Christian lifestyle, including evangelism and social responsibility.

Emergent church tried to combine the social and individual spheres.

Social gospel became social justice, a rebranding of the ethics of liberalism.

Chan, Keller, and N. T. Wright also promote social justice.


As believers, we cannot be indifferent to the needs of those around us.

We ought to do what we can to alleviate the suffering of those whom God brings across our paths.

Is this redefinition of mission a biblical definition?

Is social justice part of, or all of, the primary mission of the church?


Matthew 28:16-20

Familiar text.

What it actually says may be different than what many think it says.


This is our primary mission.

4 crucial truths about our mission in these verses


Truth 1: Its singular importance.


Why do we consider this command to be so important?

Because of Matthew’s placement of it in his gospel

Matthew did not record the ascension or other teachings of that month.

Jesus made this Jesus’ last words he recorded.


Because of Jesus’ emphasis on this particular meeting.

The NT records multiple meetings between the resurrected Jesus and his disciples.

Multiple meetings on Resurrection Sunday.

One meeting 8 days later.

But Matthew focuses on this meeting.

About 9 days after the resurrection, the 11 left for Galilee.

Jesus gave them this command to go to Galilee several times.

The trip would have taken at least 3 days.

7 of them went fishing after they arrived.

After that, Jesus met them on the mountain in Galilee.

Jesus clearly considered this meeting strategic.


Because of the disciples to whom he gave it

Jesus directed this command to the 11.

But he gave it to others as well.

In verse 10 of Mat 28, Jesus’ brethren were told to go to Galilee.

That refers to more than the 11.

Jesus plans to speak to a larger group in Galilee.

In 1 Cor 15, Jesus appeared to more than 500 at once.

Many think this would have been the crowd when the Commission was given.

Most of Jesus’ disciples were in Galilee.

Verse 17 says that some doubted while others worshipped.

The 11 had already come to confidence that Jesus was raised.

It is others, Galilean disciples, who struggled to believe.

Jesus gave the commission to all who had come to believe in him.

Thus, this is for us too.


Because of the deliberate comprehensiveness of this command.

Jesus uses the word all 4 times.

All authority

All nations

All things I have commanded you

I am with you all the days.


Because of the repetition of the commission

This same basic command is repeated 3 other times.

Luke 24, John 20, Acts 1

Mark 16 in the long ending shows us that the early church knew this was important.

It is impossible to overstate the singular importance of this commission and command outlined here.


Truth 2: Its supreme authority


Jesus makes a great claim.

Verse 18

All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth.

Jesus had always possessed supreme authority.

Jesus had authority on earth even before his death.

Matthew 7:29; 9:6; 10:8; 11:25-ff.

In Matthew 11:25-ff, all things have been handed over to me by my Father.

Everything necessary for Jesus to accomplish his ministry is under his authority.

After the resurrection, the sphere of his authority is absolute.

All authority is his.


Eph 1:20

The Father seated Jesus in the supreme place of authority.

Philippians 2, Jesus is exalted to the highest place.


Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth.

He rules everything in the universe.

That was prophesied of the messiah.

Daniel 7:13-ff

Jesus had already claimed that passage to himself.

His dominion is everlasting, over all, never destroyed.


Why point this out?

Jesus is about to give his church an audacious mission.

Jesus has supreme authority.

He has the authority to establish the mission of your church.

He has the right to define the mission and the power to carry it out.

Christ will build his church.


Truth 3: Its specific orders

Verse 19


Therefore, because Jesus has the right to rule the church, he gives us our marching orders.

These orders have not changed over 2,000 years.



This is a contrast to the command of chapter 10:5.

Do not go in the way of gentiles in chapter 10.

Now Jesus says to go to the nations.

Go is a participle

Having gone, make disciples.

Is this a command to go?

Yes it is.

This participle is an attendant circumstance.

It ties to the main verb.

It is right for translations to translate the participle as an imperative.

You could not make disciples of the nations if you stayed in Israel.


Of course Jesus intended that some of his disciples were to relocate to carry out the mission.

Peter went to Italy.

Thomas when to India.

The stoning of Stephen sent others out.

Jesus wanted some of those who heard him to leave home and go.

He still expects some of our church members to go too.

We should pray that God will raise up people in our churches and families to go.

We need to challenge our people to go.

We need to consider going ourselves.


But Jesus did not intend that all 500 would relocate.

Many, think James, remained in Israel for the rest of their lives.

All nations included their nation.

We are called to carry out the Great Commission.

We may do so in our neighborhood or around the world.

But we do not get a pass from this Commission.


Every disciple and every church must own the world-wide mission of the church.

Jesus says go.


Make disciples

This is the main verb of the sentence.

It is not optional.

What does it mean?

Carson – disciples are those who hear, understand, and obey Jesus’ teaching.

Acts 11:26 – the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch

To be a Christian is to be a disciple.

The mission is making disciples.

We do not call people to ourselves or to a cause.

We call people to follow a person, our Lord Jesus Christ.

The goal is not decisions, but disciples.


What is the nature of a spiritual relationship with Jesus?

Call Jesus teacher and Lord, John 13.

He is our teacher, we are the students.

We are the slaves, he is the master.

This is not about a simple prayer or momentary faith.

It is not about a simple acceptance of facts.

It is a call to follow Jesus as Master and Teacher.


Acts 14:21

They preached the gospel and made many disciples.

Acts 13:48 – The ones appointed to eternal life believed.

Preach the gospel, proclaim the word, and that is how you make disciples.


Let us not get so excited in our goals to help people and fix the city that we lose track of what makes Christian mission Christian.


All the nations

Jesus means all nations, including Israel.

Luke 24:47, repentance is proclaimed to all nations beginning from Jerusalem.

Ephesians 3:11, the eternal plan.

Jesus says he came to seek and save the lost.


The theme of the Bible: God is redeeming a people by his Son, for his Son, to his own glory.


What does the command to make disciples of all nations mean?

Some leave and go to other nations.

For others, this command may be a call to take vacation, travel overseas, and help missionaries.

Even if you do not go to the nations, you are responsible for the nations.

Pray, give, care for missionaries.

Do the people in our churches understand that every believer must actively support Christ’s international mission.


What always accompanies true disciple-making?



We baptize into the name (singular) of the one God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Jesus puts himself in the middle of the trinity.

Jesus claims deity right here.

Baptize means to dip or plunge under water.

It was often accompanied by the verbal affirmation that Jesus is Lord.

True disciples profess submission to Jesus’ authority.


Baptism is important.

Do not downplay it if Jesus put it right here in the commission.


1 Corinthians 12:13

All believers are baptized into the body of Christ.

Acts 2:41, water baptism serves as a picture of that spiritual reality and as initiation to the church.



Every disciple is to be taught all Jesus has commanded.

There is a demand that preachers have a biblically-centered teaching ministry.

We do not teach our own ideas, we teach all Jesus has commanded.

If you do not teach all Jesus has commanded, you do not fulfill the Great Commission.

Teach them to obey.

Our goal is not information but transformation.

We help saved sinners move toward being sanctified saints.

True disciples practice what they have heard.

John 8:31

The Bible knows nothing of a believer who glories in justification and ignores sanctification.


That Jesus includes baptism and instruction should transform our understanding of the Commission.

This happens in the local church.

The mission is only accomplished when we have made true disciples and when they are baptized and when they are taught the Scriptures and when they are taught to obey.

We send people to make disciples.


Truth 4: Its sustaining promise

Verse 20


I am with you always.

Surely, for certain, I am with you.

The pronoun is included interestingly in the original.

Certainly, I myself am with you.

Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us.

He is still God with us.

Always, in all days, all the time, in the whole of every day

He is with us through the end of every age.


The end of our mission is when He determines human history will end.

The promise is for us.

The Commission is for us.


How inadequate do you feel?

We are never alone.

This is our hope.


Acts 18:9-11 – Jesus told Paul he was with him.

Paul settled there for a year and a half.

Settle down in the ministry and be faithful.

He is with you.


3 implications


First, commit yourself and your church to this mission.

Pray for global missions and our own missionaries.

Pray for God to raise up missionaries from our own church.

Support generously our missionaries.


Second, don’t let yourself or your church be distracted from the mission that Jesus assigned the church.

Do not give a higher priority to social issues or culture.


Third, Don’t forget or let your church forget that this mission is the main reason that Christ has left us here.

Go and report what great things the Lord has done for you.

We want to be with Jesus, but we are still here.

Shepherds Conference 2018 Session 7 Notes

Ligon Duncan

The Power of the Church – The Ministry of the Holy Spirit

Galatians 4:19; 5:1; 5:13-ff


The ministry of the Holy Spirit is the answer to antinomianism and legalism.

The Spirit sets you free from bondage to sin and the yoke of the Mosaic ceremonial code.

he sets you free to be what God created you to be.


We want Christ formed in the members of the church (4:19)

How does that happen?

By what power are believers remade in the image of God?

The ministry of the Holy Spirit


How often is the power of the HS emphasized?

Ezekiel 36:26-27

New heart, new Spirit, causing you to walk in my statutes.

Jeremiah 31:31-34

Law of God written on our hearts

The prophets see this as uniquely the work of the Spirit.

Their ministries are ministries of the Spirit.

Micah 3:8

I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the Lord…


Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit says the Lord of Hosts.

Joel 2:28-ff

I will pour out my Spirit…

The later prophets see their ministries in terms of the operative power of the HS.

They look forward to a time to come when the Spirit works in a unique way in the people of God.

Luke 1

The angel comes to tell about John the Baptist.

The angel says, “He is going to be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

Zechariah asks the same question as Abraham asked in Genesis 15.

How can I know this is true?

How will you know? I am Gabriel.

Last time we saw Gabriel was Daniel 9.

Gabriel came to tell Daniel what was to come.

Gabriel tells Zechariah that his son will be the forerunner.

Then Gabriel goes to Mary.

How can a virgin have a child?

Luke 1:35-ff

The HS will come upon you…

Luke 4:1

Jesus was full of the Spirit.

He was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted.

Adam fell in one temptation in a garden of perfection, Jesus in a howling wilderness three times refutes the evil one.

Three times, “It is written…”

Luke 4:14

Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit.

Acts 1:8

You will receive power when the HS has come upon you…

Acts 10:38

God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the HS and power…

Romans 1:4

Christ Jesus was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection…

Romans 15:13

By the power of the Spirit, you may abound in hope…

Romans 15:18-19

By the power of the Spirit, I have fulfilled the ministry…

1 Corinthians 2:4

My ministry was in demonstration of the Spirit and of Power

Ephesians 3:16

1 Thessalonians 1:5

Not only in word… power and the HS with full conviction


The ministry of the Holy Spirit is indeed depicted as the power of the church.

All through the canon, this is true.

Why and in what way?


Two things to see:


The pouring out of the Holy Spirit in the New Covenant is depicted as a fulfillment of a promise that is older than Jeremiah 31.


Acts 2

If Jesus had not rebuked Peter when Peter tried to get in his way to go to the cross, he could never have preached the sermon of Acts 2.

Peter cites Joel 2.

Acts 2:22-ff

God planned this.

Jesus was not a victim of your designs.

Jesus decides when he is going to die.

And you nailed him to the cross by the hands of sinful men.

Sovereignty and responsibility are together with no questions.

Peter shows that Jesus is the Messiah.

Peter shows what Jesus was doing in the world.

Then, verse 36, Jesus is Lord and Christ.

The people are convicted.

They killed the Messiah.

What do we do?


He died in order that your sins would be forgiven.

The one you killed is your only hope, and his killing is the basis of your hope as you put your trust in him.

Repent, be baptized, you will receive the Spirit.

For the promise is for you

What promise?

Context is crucial.

Has Luke mentioned the promise before?

Luke 24

Jesus explains things to the disciples.

Luke 24:45-ff

It is written that the Christ should suffer…

Jesus had already said all of acts 2 in Luke 24:47.

Now I am sending the promise of my Father upon you.

What is that promise?

Acts 1:4

Wait for what the Father had promised.

You heard of this from me.

John baptized with water, but  you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.

Galatians 3:13-15

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law…

In Christ Jesus, the blessing of Abraham might come to the gentiles so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

The ministry of the Spirit is the fulfillment of the promise of God to Abraham.

It is not for super-believers.

It is for all who repent and believe.

The ministry of the Spirit is the proof and the substance that the Abrahamic promises are yours in Christ Jesus.

That is the promise of the Father.

The pouring out of the Spirit is the promise of God to Abraham so that the inheritance of Abraham comes to all who believe, Jew and gentile.

What empowers our ministry is a promise 4,000 years old, fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

What does it do?

The role of the Holy Spirit in the New Covenant ministry is to seal and confirm the promises to the believer and to secure them in the sanctification that those promises entail.

Ephesians 1:13

You were sealed in him with the Holy Spirit of promise.

This is a pledge of our inheritance.

The HS assures us of our inheritance in Christ, the fulfillment of the Abrahamic promises.

I will be your God and you will be my people.


Ephesians 1:18

… His inheritance in the saints…

  In the covenant, you get an inheritance.

But did you know that in the covenant, God gets an inheritance?

What does God get as an inheritance?


The thing that God wants is his blood bought people.

He will be our God, we will be his people.

He will be our inheritance. WE will be his inheritance.

The Spirit seals, marks, confirms, assures us of that.

The Spirit shows us that we are co-heirs with Christ.

We need this for the church.

If we do not know this, we are crippled.


The Holy Spirit empowers our sanctification so that our enjoyment of the Abrahamic blessings is realized.

Ephesians 3:14-19

Comprehend the breadth and length and height and depth

Be filled up to the fullness of God

Four clauses in the passage.

There is a compounding prayer, 4 parts leading in the same direction 16-ff

Be strengthened with power.

Christ would dwell in your hearts through faith.

Know the love of Christ that surpassed knowledge

Be filled up to the fullness of God.

The power of the HS in your life.

You need strength.

You need that strength, because the Christian life is lived at the level of the heart and desires.

We need strength put inside us that comes from outside of us.

That strength comes from the promised HS.

The HS strengthens us so that Christ will take over our desires.

He helps us love what Jesus loves and hate what Jesus hates.

We need this so we are not controlled by the desires of the world, flesh, and devil.


You need the HS so you will know that love that surpasses knowledge.

You should know a love that you cannot actually understand.

Like peace that passes understanding


This fills you up to the fullness of God.

You become what God created and redeemed you to be.

The serpent told Eve that she would become like God.

What should Eve and Adam have said?

What do you mean will become like him?

Look at 1:27

We already are like him.

We are made in his image.

Nothing in the world is more like God than we are; we are his image.

But they took the bait.

And they became less like God.

The image was not erased but it was effaced.

It was not lost, but it was marred.

In salvation we are not only forgiven, but God, by the Spirit, goes about the work of restoring us so that we are finally, again, like our Heavenly Father.


Galatians 5

All Paul is doing in 13-26 is working out what we just saw in the prayer or Ephesians 3:14-19.

What does it look like when this works out?

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control

Crucifying the flesh with its passions and desires.

If we live by the Spirit.

The ministry of the Holy Spirit is the power of the church.

Only the Holy Spirit can do that.


Do you want Christ to be formed in the church?

Preach the Spirit’s word and watch him do the work.




Shepherds Conference 2018 Session 6 Notes

Session 6

Art Azurdia

“The Influence of The Church”

John 17:17-18


In Luke and Acts, the direction of movement changes.

In Luke, the direction of movement is toward Jerusalem.

In Acts, the movement is out from Jerusalem.

The movement will reach to the ends of the earth.


John 17-15 – Jesus prays for himself.

6-19 – Jesus prays for his disciples minus Judas

20-26 – Jesus prays for the church to come.


Jesus prays for his disciples:

Unity – that they may be one

Protection – protect them from the evil one.


An authentic Christianity assumes a meaningful worldliness.

Verse 18

As you sent me, I am sending them.

Jesus said that the Father sanctified him and sent him into the world.

Sanctification is for mission.

Jesus is doing with his disciples what his Father did with him.

Jesus is sending them with authority.


If we intend our people to take these commands seriously, we must see that they must be in the world.


There are a pair of vulnerabilities to watch out for:

Cultural gluttony

Cultural anorexia


Do not gorge on the world.

This is often cloaked in the guise of wanting to win the world.

We become just like the world.

The world’s values, objectives, and attitudes become ours.

Those who seek to become like the world end up like the world, but they are not liked by the world because the world recognizes their hypocrisy.

We are called to be the salt of the earth, not its sugar.


Cultural anorexia is a radical withdrawal from the world.

This is isolating and then insulating.

The church becomes a ghetto.

It is pure, but irrelevant.

When  is the last time you shared a meal with an unbeliever in your home?


Parents should be preparing their children to enter the world, not hide from the world.

The people of the world are not the enemy but the victims of the enemy.


We need meaningful engagement with the world for the sake of the gospel.


A meaningful worldliness presupposes a consistent sanctification.

Sanctify them in the truth. Your word is truth.

Sanctify is a holiness word.

Sanctified is to be set apart for God, set apart for a sacred duty.


How is this sanctification accomplished?

Sanctification comes with the word of God.

Jesus does not say God’s word is true (using an adjective), but truth (a noun).

He said the Bible was true, we could ask, “What is the standard of measure by which you test the truthfulness of the Scripture?

But if the Bible is truth, we must understand that all other claims of truth are measured against the Scriptures, not the other way round.


Earlier, Jesus said he is the truth (14:6).

The Bible is Christocentric.

WE must recognize that.


The Bible is not a book of virtues.

Don’t preach it that way.

It is not a textbook of systematic theology.

Don’t preach it that way.

It is a book that tells one overarching story centered on one person.


We as a church tend toward a profound biblical illiteracy.

And we wonder why we are not sanctified.

And we wonder why we cannot engage the world.


There is also an implicit means of sanctification.

The Bible is the explicit one in verse 17.

Jesus is talking to the Father.

While sanctification is brought about by the instrumentality of the word, it is still a work that only the Father can produce.


Pastors, if praying is not in your job description, you should see to it that it gets in there, because this is your work.

Samuel told the people,

Far be it from me to sin by not praying for you.


Dozens of times in Psalm 119, David asks God to do in him what only God can do.


The sanctifying work of the Father is accomplished by the work of the Son.


A consistent sanctification requires the self-consecration of the Son. 


On the basis of Jesus’ act of self-consecration, he will purchase the grace that he asks the Father to give his followers.

For them I sanctify myself.

Jesus is talking about the disciples.


This is called Jesus’ high priestly prayer.

The high priest would pray for the people and make atonement for the people.

Those for whom he prayed are those for whom he made atonement.


Jesus said he was not praying for the world.

He was praying for his own.

He also made atonement for his own.

For them I sanctify myself.


Sanctification for mission is the achievement of the crucifixion.