How to Become a Prayer Warrior?

Have you ever wanted to become a prayer warrior? Do you want to get beyond the basic (not unimportant) mentality that prayer is asking God to “touch everyone, heal everyone, help everyone, and bless everyone?” What if you began to pray about God’s will even more than your will?

Perhaps the next step if for you to take a deep dive into the prayers and desires that heroes in the faith had.

I believe to be effective in our prayer life we must train our perspective on prayer. Prayer is a vital part of our relationship with Christ. Further, we must know how to use this weapon we’ve been given by God — especially when in seasons like the one we’re in.

Though not exhaustive regarding all the prayers in the N.T., this post will train your perspective on what to pray by showing you 41 of Paul’s N.T. prayers (or desires). I’ve taken the list from D.A. Carson’s A Call to Spiritual Reformationand added some commentary in “focus” portion of the graph below. Does God care about “Aunt Sally’s knee surgery?” and “Little Johnny’s ‘sniffles?'” Of course He does. But when prayers for physical ailments dominate our prayer lists and church prayer chains, perhaps it’s worth considering a chart like the one below and asking ourselves, what else can I be praying for? What is God’s will in this situation? What brings Him ultimate glory? Is my will aligned with His? 

Relief, provision, healing, and protection are excellent things to pray for. But, the gospel is why we are here on earth and God’s glory is what we must long for most. Until heaven, let us pray with that perspective!

Here are some ways to use this chart:

  1. Pray one of Paul’s prayers daily, in addition to your normal prayers. Apply his prayers for other believers to the ones in your own life.
  2. Use his prayers a way to invite the conviction of the Holy Spirit into your own prayer life. Are you focusing on mostly physical things? Are your prayers (though this might sting) shallow and earthly? Do you hold the gospel as primary and all else secondary?
  3. Share this list with a small group or Bible study cohort and work through it as a study tool.
  4. Try praying for only gospel-centered things for 3 straight days — multiple times per day.
  5. Try praying prayers that only loaded with thanksgiving to God for 3 straight days — multiple times per day.
  6. Make a list of all the ways that you could be the answer to the prayer you’ve been praying. For example, instead of praying that “someone share the gospel with your family member,” why don’t you share the gospel with your family member (even if it’s the 50th time)?
  7. Start listing out your prayers and keep track of how many revolve around you and your wants. Work to balance spiritual and physical requests.

The list above is only to spark your thoughts. Use this chart however is best for your prayer life training.

Paul’s 41 New Testament Prayers

Scripture Reference Quoted Passage  Prayer Focus
Romans 1:8–10 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you 10 always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. Thanksgiving, and that Paul would be able to come see them.
Romans 10:1 Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. Salvation for others.
Romans 12:12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Encouragement to pray.
Romans 15:5–6 May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Harmony and unity between believers.
Romans 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. For joy and peace to fill their lives.
Romans 15:30–33 I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company. May the God of peace be with you all. Amen. That Paul’s gospel efforts would succeed.
1 Corinthians 1:4–9 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Thanksgiving, that believers would be strengthened and be found faithful when Christ returns.
1 Corinthians 16:23 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. God’s grace.
2 Corinthians 1:3–7 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. Praising God for who He is as our comfort and our everlasting hope in hard times.
2 Corinthians 2:14–16 But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? Thanksgiving to God for the victory we have in His Son Jesus Christ.
2 Corinthians 9:12–15 For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift! Thanksgiving to God for provision, generosity, and the grace of God through others.
2 Corinthians 13:7–9 But we pray to God that you may not do wrong—not that we may appear to have met the test, but that you may do what is right, though we may seem to have failed. For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. Your restoration is what we pray for. Asking that God would keep them from sin.
Galatians 6:18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen. God’s grace.
Ephesians 1:3–5 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, Praising God for mercifully saving us as His children and blessing us spiritually through Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 1:15–23  For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers,  that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 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. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. Thanksgiving for what God is doing through their faith, that wisdom and knowledge would illuminate them to the hope and inheritance that they have in Christ. Praise and adoration to Jesus for His victory over sin both now and when He returns to reign over all.
Ephesians 3:14–21 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Reverence and adoration to God the Father for who He is, that the saints would be spiritually strengthened, knowing the love of Christ. Glorifying God for His power.
Ephesians 6:19–20 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. That the gospel would be preached boldly.
Philippians 1:3–6 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Thanksgiving for faithful saints who partner to spread the Gospel.
Philippians 1:9–11 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. That love would abound in the believers, that they would live holy lives and be found faithful.
Philippians 4:6–7 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Pray without worry, with total thanksgiving, and receive peace no matter what.
Philippians 4:23 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. God’s grace.
Colossians 1:3–14 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit. And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Thanksgiving for the faith that saints are living with and their whole-hearted example as Christians. For strength, endurance, patience, joy. Praise and adoration to God for His power and victory. Praise to God for His merciful redemption and fogiveness of our sins through Christ.
Colossians 4:2–4 Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. Be faithful and alert in your prayer life, be thankful, pray that the gospel would be spread.
1 Thessalonians 1:2–3 We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. Thanksgiving for what God is doing in the lives of believers.
1 Thessalonians 2:13–16  And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them at last! Thanksgiving for the way believers received the word. Praise for the Word’s work in their lives.
1 Thessalonians 3:9–13 For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God,  as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith? Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. Praise and thanksgiving to God for the joy that comes from seeing believers live out their faith. Requesting that the Lord would grow their love for each other, that they’d be blameless/holy.
1 Thessalonians 5:23–24 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. That God would sanctify(cleanse) the believers and they would be found blamess when Christ returns.
1 Thessalonians 5:28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. God’s grace.
2 Thessalonians 1:3–5 We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring. This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— Thankgiving because the faith in God and love for each other is growing.
2 Thessalonians 1:11–12 To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. That God would grow them in their faith and in good works. That their spiritual fruit would glorify God.
2 Thessalonians 2:16–17 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word. That they would be comforted and strengthened in their walk.
2 Thessalonians 3:1–5 Finally, brethren, pray for us that the word of the Lord will spread rapidly and be glorified, just as it did also with you; and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ. For the Gospel to spread quickly, God to be glorified, deliverance from wicked men who were stifling their efforts, for direction and steadfastness.
2 Thessalonians 3:16 Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all. For peace from God.
1 Timothy 1:12 I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, Thanksgiving to God.
1 Timothy 2:1–3 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, Pray for government and leaders, for saints to live quiet and dignified lives to please God.
2 Timothy 1:3–7 I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. Thanksgiving, thoughtful affection for a brother in the Lord. That they would be reunited to labor for the kingdom together again one day.
2 Timothy 1:16–18 May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains, but when he arrived in Rome he searched for me earnestly and found me— may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that Day!—and you well know all the service he rendered at Ephesus. Mercy (and approval) for Paul’s friend and supporter when the he stands before the Lord one day because of his faithfulness and loyalty.
2 Timothy 4:22 The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you. God be with you.
Titus 3:15 All who are with me send greetings to you. Greet those who love us in the faith. Grace be with you all. God’s grace.
Philemon 4–7 I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers,  because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you. Thanksgiving for the faith and love they have for Christ and others. That their witness would be effective for Christ.
Philemon 25 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. God’s grace.

4 Ways to Leverage “Social Distancing”

COVID-19 has changed the way we can “do church” for the foreseeable future, but that doesn’t mean pastors, leaders, and people can’t stay connected.

While some Christian leaders may get sucked into the vortex of social revolution or cavalier rebellion, Romans 13:1 reminds us to be law-abiding citizens by respecting governing authorities. This means that instead of reacting with anger or indifference, we bring the most glory to God by leveraging the situation for the gospel and the church; making the best of opportunities afforded to us.

Here are 4 ways that church leaders can leverage “social distancing.”

1. Go “LIVE” on Facebook, YouTube, or Instagram
I am not certain we fully realize how powerful social media can be for the gospel. Hundreds of millions of people are at the tip of our fingertips on any given day, and content stays out there indefinitely. If you’ve never gone “LIVE” on social media to connect with people, now is perfect to learn how. There is no limit to how much preaching and teaching you can do. While COVID-19 can contain us, it cannot contain God’s word. Unleash sermons by using the “LIVE” feature on social media sites and get people together in real-time. Certain platforms like Facebook have comment sections that allow your team to interact with views during the message. Lastly, if you’re a small group leader, consider shifting to a “LIVE” model or another video platform to keep your group connected.

2. Produce that discipleship content you’ve been meaning to get to
Most church leaders I interact with have more ideas than they have time to implement them. With quarantines changing the way leaders spend and manage their time, now is the perfect opportunity to create content that will bless people now and in the years to come. Great leaders don’t wait for work, they create work! Be a self-starter and think of what could bless the people you serve in creative (long-term) ways. Short videos on giving, serving, evangelism, doctrine, marriage, parenting, and trials are all a fitting place to start. I genuinely believe that a church can still grow in times like these. The question is, will you keep coming up with excuses not to create content? 

3. Send personal, hand-written notes
This may not seem innovative or cutting-edge, but it is. Very few leaders do this anymore and even few would think of it unless “social distancing” forced us apart. People are so used to email, social media posts, and text messages that they might burst into tears after reading a note from their pastor. I’ve seen this happen before! In fact, just yesterday I received a hand-written note from another pastor in East LA. It was one of the highlights of my day! During the COVID-19 outbreak, most of us will e-communicate as much as possible, and that’s a loving thing to do for our neighbors. However, mixing in a personal touch (minus the touching) could speak volumes to people in need of personal and loving interaction. So, wash your hands, use stick-on stamps only, seal the envelop w/ glue or a sticker too, spray it all with Lysol (twice!), and send some love to those who need to know you care.

4. Start a Facebook support group
One of the best ways to share and meet needs during this season of social-distancing is to start a support group for your church or small group. This also helps work around Facebook algorithms which aren’t always promotion-friendly to religious organizations trying to reach an audience. Groups reach the newsfeed of participants much more than other posts on FB that don’t relate to a special group — especially from religious sources. Group interaction allows pastors, leaders, and people to share prayer requests, ask questions, and delegate needs and resources as needed. Best of all, you can use #1 here too and go “LIVE” specifically to address the group with important updates.

Perhaps COVID-19 will trigger new ways of thinking and a new perspective when it comes to using media to equip Christians (Ephesians 4:11-12). Or, perhaps it will remind us all how powerful a simple hand-written note can be for a lonely Christian wondering if anyone has thought of them.

Why not use this season of change to see what you can change? Who knows. You might even keep using some of these helpful tools after the virus has passed.

The Prosperity Gospel’s Slam-Dunk Verse?

Prosperity-gospel preachers are notorious for taking Scripture out of context and misapplying it. The passages they twist are primarily used as proof-texts to back up their claim that God’s will for every Christian is that they be rich, rich, rich! They promise that with enough faith (and a big enough offering), you can hit the divine jackpot. It all seems too good to be true; and on this side of heaven, many would argue it is.

But are they completely wrong? Could it be that there is one “slam dunk” passage that gives credence to their health-and-wealth scheme? If so, it’s undoubtedly 2 Corinthians 8:9, where Paul declares:

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.

There it is! Jesus became “poor” so you could become “rich”! Time to cash in, right? Not so fast. As with all sound interpretation, we must begin by looking at the context.

Beautiful Picture of Generous Grace

To overlook the beautiful picture that Paul is painting in this chapter is to miss his entire point. Writing to the church about generosity, Paul emphasizes God’s grace as a model for our giving, not as a lottery ticket for riches. Nothing about this passage focuses on what we can get, but rather, on what we can give. And what should motivate us to give generously and care for others? God’s grace.

Writing to the church about generosity, Paul emphasizes the grace of God as a model for our giving, not as a lottery ticket for riches.

Look at some of the key phrases in the verses leading up to our passage in question:

8:1 — “We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God

8:2 — “. . . overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part”

8:4 — “. . . for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints

8:6 — “. . . this act of grace

8:7 — “But as you excel in everything . . . see that you excel in this act of grace also”

8:8 — “. . . your love is also genuine”

8:9 — “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ

When we let the text do the talking this isn’t a “get rich” strategy, but a call for sacrificial generosity like the “churches of Macedonia” (8:1), who gave generously even when living in poverty (8:2). Did Paul declare them healthy and wealthy because they filled the offering buckets? Not in the least. Instead, he praised them for modeling the true heart of Christian giving: non-transactional love for others and a desire to see the church cared for.

Using Jesus as the original model for sacrifice, this passage calls us to remember how generous God has been with us, and to do likewise.

When we let the text do the talking this is not a ‘get rich’ strategy, but a call for sacrificial, unconditional generosity.

Christ came to earth, left his seat at the right hand of God’s throne, humbled himself by taking on flesh, and gave himself as a ransom for broken sinners (John 1:1; Phil. 2:7–8; 1 Tim. 2:5–6). He possessed heaven’s riches and celestial glories this world has never seen, yet he came to earth, became poor both spiritually and physically in comparison to his eternal dwelling place, in order to die to die for undeserving sinners like us. Because of him, we who are in Christ have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Eph. 1:3), and we now possess an eternally abundant life (John 10:10).

Regardless of how much (or little) you have in the bank right now, your net worth on earth is temporary, but your true riches in heaven are eternal because of Jesus. What could be more generous than that?

Putting God’s Generous Grace into Practice

Understanding a passage is one thing; living it is another. Here are three key principles you can begin putting into practice today.

1. Commit to giving generously regardless of your financial situation.

The Macedonians were poor, yet they were “begging” to help in the “relief of the saints” (8:4). It could be one dollar or it could be a million, but if we’re not giving, we should start somewhere today. God isn’t interested in amounts; he’s after your heart.

Are you clinging tightly to what he’s given you? Do you sometimes forget that he has blessed you to be a blessing to others? Maybe it’s time to start following the example of the Macedonians and, ultimately, of the Messiah.

2. Consider giving as a means of God’s grace.

It can feel loathsome to give, but Christians are called to see it as a privilege. When you give to others, God is literally pouring out his grace on their life through you. Is there any other purpose for which we live than to be God-glorifying conduits of his grace?

Remember, wealth is not a sin; it’s a responsibility. Handle with care.

3. Carefully examine where you’re giving what God has given you.

Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21). Simply put, it matters where your money goes—and that includes what ministries you give to. God owns all. We’re simply managers of what he’s entrusted us.

Show me where you spend your paychecks, and I’ll show you your priorities. Does your giving reflect God’s will? Do you partner with trusted and proven ministries? Are the priorities of family care, needy souls, the poor, and missional efforts easy to see on your bank statements? Is materialism in check?

Remember, wealth is not a sin; it’s a responsibility. Handle with care.

Final Word

Absolutely nothing about 2 Corinthians 8:9 and the surrounding context teaches or affirms the prosperity gospel. If anything, one could argue that this passage would demand prosperity preachers empty their coffers and follow Christ’s example—generously becoming “poor” so that others could become “rich.”

Surely, if even the impoverished Macedonians could eagerly care for others as a means of God’s grace, we all can as well.

***This article was originally published on March 9th, 2020 as a part of TGC’s “Read the Bible in a Year” initiative. 

Signs of Christian Maturity

Some of the most important questions that arise in a Christian’s mind will (and should) have to do with spiritual maturity.

Am I growing? How am I growing? Is “maturity” evident in my life? Have I been consistently (even if slowly) become more like Jesus?

The Bible repeatedly teaches that Christians are supposed to be maturing in many ways — all of which enable us to bring glory to God and fulfill our purpose on earth (Ephesians 2:8-10). In other words, “cruise control” Christianity is not genuine Christianity. Salvation is not merely eternal life insurance. Salvation is not a get-rich, get-healed, get-famous formula either. Scripture teaches that once we are saved, Christians are to be imitating Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1), loving others like Christ (1 John 4:7), giving themselves up like Christ (Ephesians 5:1-2), keeping the commandments of Christ (John 14:15), growing in holiness like Christ (1 Peter 1:16), and even suffering like Christ (1 Peter 2:21).

The question begs: By the grace of God are you seeing signs of Christian maturity in your life?

Here are four signs that can help you make a prayerful assessment:

1. You see trials as training
This one is not fun. But since when is growth ever painless? In the gym, athletes hire trainers who “make them sore,” push their limits and provide resistance so they grow stronger. So it is in the Christian life when it comes to trials.

A mature Christian has natural feelings just like anyone else, but those feelings follow faith — they don’t lead it.

Do you see trials as cosmic abuse? Do you shake your fist at God; demanding He does what you are commanding? Have you come to rest in His sovereignty even when your life takes an unexpected turn into trial and suffering? Romans 5:3-5 reminds us to “rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

For the Christian, trials equal training.

2. You pray with a wide perspective
Prayer can be a sensitive subject for many Christians because they view it as personal and outside of anyone else’s opinion. It’s my prayer life.
However, we must sober up to the reality that God’s divine opinion matters when it comes to your prayer life. Your prayer life is also a significant indicator of maturity. For example, our physical and emotional needs are incredibly important to God (Matthews 6:25-34; 2 Corinthians 12:7-9; 1 Peter 5:7), but there is so much more to prayer than simply asking God to do everything we want.

I recently completed a study on forty-one prayers or statements of prayer by the apostle Paul in an effort to see the kind of prayer life he fostered. It was eye-opening to see how most of his written prayers were focused on the salvation of souls, freedom from sin, open doors for the gospel, Christ-centered peace, joy in trials, and thanksgiving to God for all that He was doing in the hearts of believers (2 Corinthians 13:7-9; Ephesians 1:15-23, 3:14-21; Colossians 4:2-4; 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3; Philemon 4-7).

Does your prayer life resemble Paul’s? Do you adore God in prayer like David repeatedly extols Him in the Psalms? Are you actively surrendering your will to His as Jesus did on the way to the cross?

Yes, pray for physical and emotional needs. But, seek a wider perspective than your own temporal needs.

3. You respond to rebuke with receptivity
When people play offense, we have a tendency to play defense. It is innate. It can also be a sign of spiritual immaturity.

Maturity is the antidote to the type of pride that always assumes it is right and reacts to being called out on sin. Proverbs offers convicting insight asking, “Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him” (Proverbs 26:12).

Sometimes our immaturity rears its ugly head when we react defensively (and even aggressively) to someone lovingly pointing out our need for repentance.

Do you freely admit that you very likely could be the problem in some scenarios? Are you open to others shining the light of truth on your darkened blind spots? Christian maturity reflects the heart of Psalm 51:17 with the kind of brokenness and contrite response that “the Lord will not despise.”

4. Habitual sins are fading
Nobody is called to perfection, but every Christian is called to progression. The plain truth is, putting off the old self and being renewed by the Holy Spirit is going to transform you (Ephesians 4:22-24). Even if it seems agonizingly slow sometimes.

By the grace of God, certain sins like unbelief, addiction, or hatred may be shattered upon conversion, while the habitual cycle of other sins may fade over time as you saturated your mind with God’s word (Romans 12:2; Colossians 3:16). The Lord may use counseling, accountability, preaching, and prayer as a means of grace by which certain nagging sins get addressed. When it comes to sin and temptation, God always provides a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13), and a Christian is — without question — implored to work out their salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). All the while, a mature Christian trusts in the power of grace that is greater than all sin, knowing that it is “God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).

Are you confessing sin (1 John 1:9)? Do you see a pattern of holiness growing in your life and the flippant, habitual practice of sin decreasing (1 Peter 1:14-16; 1 John 3:6)?

As you strive by grace to grow in your faith, be encouraged by Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:10:

“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain…”

Video: Pastoral Response to #WakeUpOlive (Bethel’s Dead-Raising Charade)

After an immense amount of feedback poured in regarding Bethel Church’s attempt at raising a two-year old little girl from the dead, it became clear that a pastoral response would help provide clarity for many confused people.

The sweet little girl who died is named Olive. She is the daughter of two major leaders involved with Bethel Music. The fog of confusion only intensified when Kari Jobe and other mainstream radio artists began to claim that their “Jesus” guaranteed that the dead would be raised, and others commanded God to do what Jesus’ death paid for. Namely, that He produce “guaranteed” signs and wonders, and in this case, a resurrected little girl.

This theological viewpoint on raising the dead stems from their belief that when Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live…” (John 11:25), that He meant we could raise someone from the dead “in Jesus’ name,” under the guarantee that Jesus said He was “the resurrection.” Unfortunately, those who hold this view have been poorly taught and severely misguided; missing the eternal resurrection that Jesus was referring to. All of this only multiples the heart-breaking reality surrounding this situation.

In the end, our concern is for the hearts of people involved, and the wave of confusion this sort of misguided effort causes. Scripture is clear about our supernatural God! I personally believe that we should pray for miracles, but this sort of circus is not how the scene looked surrounding the tomb of Lazarus or how God has called us to pray for the miraculous to occur. Most of all, if someone claims to wield supernatural gifts (as the leaders of Bethel do), then why not simple go the morgue and command her to raise from the dead? Further, why not do that for the other dead people in the morgue?

To shed further light on this issue and provide biblical truths in contrast to the confusion propagated by Bethel, we filmed this 25-minute video for you:

6 Ways to Stifle Your Small Group

Small groups can be an incredible blessing, but they are not fail-proof. At times, churches “sell” small group involvement as the secret sauce to a thriving spiritual life; overflowing with friendships and community that fills hearts and saves marriages!

Don’t get me wrong. I love small groups. For six years I had the privilege of overseeing the small group ministry in our church and some of the most incredible testimonies came from small group participants. They are an excellent vehicle for discipleship.

Still, even when the bible is present and optimism is high, there are several ways to do the right thing the wrong way. Small groups are no exception.

Here are six ways you (or someone in your group) could be stifling the abundant potential waiting to be unlocked through your small group:

1. Say, “Here is what this passage means to me, what does it mean to you?”
This language stifles because it bypasses the very foundation of healthy small groups. Namely, the faithful interpretation of the bible based on the biblical author’s intent and the context a given passage is set in. Far too often, small group leaders share what a passage means “to them,” then they ask what it means, “to you.” After the circle of participants has fired off with their best take, one might think they were aiming at a moving target.

The truth is, those who do this are likely getting application and interpretation confused. The solution? First ask, “What does this passage mean. To the original audience. In proper context. Period.” Then ask, “How can I apply this to my life as someone living in the 21st century.” Over time, you’ll find personal opinions being outshone by God’s will through His word.

2. Let the single-issue-crusaders and dominant speakers run wild
Single-issue-crusaders are the people who always seem to veer the conversation into the same “pet topic” that they are passionate about. I’ve seen crusaders drive well-meaning small group attendees right out of a group and into a different church because they went unchecked; ruining deep discussions by constantly bringing up politics, personal drama, or spewing unvetted opinions about the same issue over and over. These passionate individuals have value, but they rarely achieve their full potential if allowed to go unchecked.

Dominant speakers can be a leader’s greatest asset. They talk when few are willing, their example encourages others to be open and honest, and they usually offer helpful wisdom. However, when they speak too much, it can stifle the entire group. It may be one of the hardest conversations you have in small group life, but single-issue-crusaders and dominant speakers need loving correction for the health of the whole.

3. Don’t show them how you came to understand a biblical truth
If you want to stifle a small group, keep all your bible study wisdom, interpretation tools, and trusted processes to yourself. That way, your group will depend on you like needy children and develop an attachment to you; requiring that you always be their feeder and leader. This will make you feel very important; fueling your ego as the “anointed source” of wisdom and leadership for the group.

What’s more? It will be a mask for your insecurity, inability to raise up others, and ultimately lead to your demise as a leader. Quite possibly, it could prove you were never a real leader in the first place.

Nobody benefits from this!

Set your group on fire by showing them how you’ve grown, how you’ve studied, and how you’ve learned to apply God’s word and live it out. Ask them questions. Lead them to helpful resources, buy them books, and send them articles. Help them cross reference, root out theological themes in a text, identify key phrases and terms, and apply it all to their own life. They aren’t “yours.” They are God’s. Steward them well and emulate Paul’s instructions to Timothy when he commanded, “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:1-2).

4. Undermine church leadership by teaching contradictory doctrinal views
Small groups can be sweet, but can quickly turn sour when leaders begin using their influence like Absalom did (2 Samuel 13-19). David’s son became infamous for his scandalous attempt to undermine his father’s throne. Under the deceitful veneer of being a good listener and a leader the people could trust, Absalom paid the ultimate price for his sinful pride.

The moral of this story is not that you will be slain if you undermine your church leaders (that’s a ridiculous scare-tactic some false teachers use!).

However, the lessons in the story about unity and integrity can still apply to us today.

As a leader who has been allowed to steward people, be loyal to qualified leaders and be sensitive to how God views discord (Proverbs 6:16:19). Small group leaders should be unified in doctrine and unified in practice with their church leaders; holding to the statement of faith that their church abides by. If you feel tempted to contradict, or you suddenly disagree with the church’s doctrinal convictions, don’t divide or sow discord amongst your small group. Leave humbly. Your reputation will follow you to the next church.

5. Be closed-minded and abrasive towards adding new people to the group
Closing groups or limiting their capacity is advisable in certain scenarios. Homes and locations are not limitless when it comes to space, and everyone can agree that consistency and trust can occur more rapidly if a small group is not a revolving door of flaky participants; jolting the groups dynamic with each sporadic entrance (or exit).

However, the “frozen chosen” mentality is deadly for group health, and more importantly, church health. This mentality sees new people as a threat, and expanding the reach of the group is seen as detrimental to comfort and familiarity. For groups like this, the idea that a new person or couple would disrupt the tight-knit group dynamic takes precedence over the command we have to make disciples (Matthew 28:16-20).

You don’t have to invite the entire neighborhood or make it hard to find seating in your home, but every believer should ask, “How can we give others the kind of community we’re experiencing?”

6. Resist the idea of “commissioning” potential leaders to start new groups
This final item on the list closely parallels #5 but focuses on stifling leadership development. Similar to being unwilling to invest in new people, a leader who refuses to release mature people will stifle group health and missional effectiveness. Some argue that small groups should endlessly divide and conquer; splitting in half at every turn and adding new people into those split groups. Others suggests different methods and argue that dividing groups is nonsensical. Whatever you choose as a method, the mindset must be the same. Commissioning new leaders to “strike out” and start new groups is a healthy way to duplicate and be faithful to the Great Commission.

Small groups don’t exist to merely give people a safe space, baked goods, and bible study. They exist to duplicate! If stewarded effectively, small groups should be reproducing mature, stable, honest, authentic, passionate, servant-leading disciples who in turn begin to lead others where they have been led.

When centered on faithfulness, unity, and the word of God, small groups can be a thriving vehicle for making disciples and deploying a new generation of leaders for the glory of God.

10 Lessons from Online Seminary

This article may ruffle the feathers of those who teach, attend, or believe in mandated on-campus seminary training, but don’t get too fired up just yet. Let’s start by agreeing on this: physically going to seminary can be vitally important for a ministry leader.

As valuable as physically attending seminary can be, the local church has always proven to be the most ideal breeding and training ground for future leaders. You could say that the church (when fulfilling its task) is the ultimate “Bible institute.” Unfortunately, not every church has the resources to do this. Therefore, seminaries are incredibly valuable to compliment — not supplement — local church training and experience.

Seminaries must exist today to support the local church, not replace it. Even further, seminarians must acknowledge this and realize they are not the end in themselves. Seminaries are merely a means to an end. Al Mohler once wrote, “Seminaries do not call pastors. God does. And seminaries do not make pastors. Churches do. Keeping that straight is important.”

I’ve attended seminary in person (Talbot School of Theology) and on two occasions considered leaving my local church and job as a pastor in order to move my family to Los Angeles and go “all in” at The Master’s Seminary. Eventually, I chose to stay at my church, serve under the elders and be discipled by the lead pastor, and finish my seminary education online through Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Here are ten lessons I learned along the way:

1. I learned to rise early and manage my time in the real world
No sleeping in. No hoody and messy hair. No wasted hours. Going to school online as a married man with kids meant that I had to read books, write papers, do my full-time job on the church staff, and win at home all at the same time. More than that, losing control of my body and getting overweight because of stress eating was inexcusable (but tempting!). Therefore, waking up 4am or 5am was something I learned to embrace — and even, love sometimes. As a certified “night owl,” I enjoy staying up late and spending time with people. But if I wanted to study to show myself approved (2 Timothy 2:15), and be sane when it was over, discipline was mandatory. I remember one semester I put on twenty-eight pounds and was a mess from trying to “do it all” and please people. Stress eating and Netflix binging became a dangerously soothing escape. That was a painful but helpful lesson. Soon after, I used my calendar to track nearly every minute of every day, and I learned to only do what was important, no matter what people-pleasing temptations arose.

2. I learned that systematic theology classes don’t teach you how to build teams, created processes, and implement systems
Pastoring seven years is not that long, but it’s long enough to learn a very hard but necessary lesson. If I can write 10,000-word papers on systematic theology but I can’t get a ministry off the ground, there is going to be pastoral pain once on staff. As an online learner, I was able to still get the knowledge I needed, while learning to fail and succeed at what matters most: leading people in ministry and moving them towards a biblical vision. Knowing all your “ologies” can help you answer questions like a sage, but it’s not going to guarantee that you know how to build teams and execute strategic initiatives like Nehemiah. The latter is going to be equally as important for a pastor.

3. I learned that knowing Koine Greek isn’t a superpower
I was sitting my first ever Greek class at Talbot and Doug Geringer stepped up to the front of the class. He was a soft-spoken, caring, and wise professor who started things off in a way that etched in mind forever. He began by saying, “Open up your Bibles.” We did. “The translation you are looking at is incredibly close to the original language it was written in.” We pondered. “Therefore, if you think that taking this class is going to give you superpowers, you will be sincerely disappointed.” We deflated. Professor Geringer began to explain that God chose a simple, commoners language (Koine) to convey divine truths. The lesson that day was clear: We should be humbled, not haughty. We should see that knowing Greek is a tool to preach more faithfully, not a badge of pompous honor to hold above people’s heads. This stuck with me in the years that I continued my education online.

4. I learned that an online seminary wife needs a Titus 2 woman too
One benefit of in-person seminary training is the programs that they have for wives if you’re a married man. What was I to do without this valuable part of seminary life? I was an online student and could easily live and study on an island. I prayed and asked God to provide what was needed and he did. It was that simple. Shortly after I prayed, a 60-year-old woman who was a pastor’s wife and a pastor’s mother approached my wife and offered to disciple her. The rest was history.

5. I learned more from doing funerals and weddings than some classes
I can still name them and see their faces in the hospitals and at hospice bedsides. My pastor during the online seminary years often needed to focus on preaching and other hats he wore, and my role was focused mostly on people. Therefore, during any given online semester I found myself praying with dying members and preaching funerals by day, and studying hamartiology and church history by night. There were many failures, but there were many victories. I learned from hospital visits where death filled the room, from funerals that forced me to preach the gospel without fear, and from weddings where unsaved attendees laughed at God’s design for marriage. I could have learned a lot about death and marriage in a classroom, but nothing knocks you around and thickens your skin like the field.

6. I learned that I need my church even more than it needs me
In a book titled, “15 Things Seminary Couldn’t Teach Me,” Jeff Robinson Sr. gives a valuable lesson about humility in the chapter titled, “Knowledge and Credentials Aren’t Enough.” As much as pastors can be “gifts” to the local church, the local church is a gift to every pastor. I learned that my knowledge makes me useful when questions arise, and gaining wisdom allows a pastor to serve better. Better is good. But I also learned that I desperately need my church. I need their prayers, their friendships, their encouragement, and even their critiques, rebukes, and complaints. These shaping and sanctifying facets of the local church are good for the soul.

7. I learned that theory and practice are two very different things
You can talk about it, read about it, get straight “A’s” on it, and have fancy letters behind your name because you wrote the papers on it, but can you apply it? Theories and information are great to study and know, but they represent only half of any ministry equation. Can you implement what you know? Does it work? I remember having a “genius” idea during a staff meeting because of something I had heard in a class. I got everybody fired up about my idea, cast a hypothetical vision for it, and we were off to the races! I was certain it would work because I learned about it in a class. After a faceplant, some team drama, and a failed initiative, I realized that theory and practice are two very different things.

8. I learned that getting an “A” was not as important in winning at home and church
In the classroom or online, wise professors will teach the same lesson. A student who passes with flying colors in the classroom but fails at home or in the church has their priorities out of order. Year after year at MBTS I had professors reach out who would push me to make sure family priorities were in balance. Every semester the online professor calls students and quite often they would reiterate the importance of being faithful with home, church, then assignment obligations.

9. I learned that pain, trials, and local church service are the best classroom there is
No amount of classroom learning can replace what trials will do to every seminarian. The pain of loss, failure, pride, and suffering shapes like nothing else can. God uses the classroom to enhance the head knowledge of a pastor, but he uses suffering and trials to shape their holiness. Reading textbooks will never test and train like the school of suffering.

10. I learned that seminary doesn’t make you a pastor
Charles Spurgeon didn’t have one. Martyn-Lloyd Jones didn’t have one. And numerous others throughout church history didn’t have a seminary degree. This is not something to boast about or a reason not to go to seminary, but it is a humbling reminder that a degree doesn’t make the man — God does. He does that through the process of a man studying, serving, and suffering in the local church. At the same time, we wouldn’t want to go to a heart surgeon who hasn’t studied to be one and proven to be a successful one. Similarly, we need pastors who are trained and who have proven to be faithful in their calling. Once more, Al Mohler offers valuable and balanced wisdom as a seminary president explaining,

Though a faithful pastor needs an education in exegesis, he is made in the preparation and delivery of sermons to the people of God. He needs the theological studies gained in seminary, but that theology is eventually hammered out when the pastor is called to preach the funeral of a child. A background in hermeneutics and homiletics is vital, but the preacher discovers his real method of interpretation and his real understanding of preaching when deciding how to preach a specific text to a specific people—and then preaching to the same congregation again and again and again.

So what should you do if you’re trying to decide between going to seminary or completing your seminary degree online? Pray, talk to your spouse, pastor, and even some professors. Make a “T-chart” of pros and cons, analyze your age, current financial reality, current opportunities, elder affirmations (or lack thereof), expenses and revenues, job opportunities, and long-term goals. Then, make your decision and give it all you’ve got with no regrets. Just remember: it’s only a means to an end (Matthew 16:18).

Recommended Reading:

15 Things Seminary Couldn’t Teach Me (ed. Colin Hansen and Robinson)

Discerning Your Call to Ministry (Jason K. Allen)

Dangerous Calling (Paul Tripp)

Found: God’s Will (Jon MacArthur)

One With a Shepherd (Mary Somerville)

The Character of Leadership (Jeff Iorg)

Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (Stephen Covey)

8 Ways Expository Preaching Changed Our Church

The following article is a guest post by Anthony G. Wood and was originally published in the Fall edition of VOICE magazine. 

I was thankful to not be in the front row of class that morning. The famed old expositor leaned over his lectern with a glare. Tensions rose, and the air conditioner silently kicked on. Did the older man rise on his toes? Suddenly, with the growl of a mama bear over cubs, he roared, “Every sermon is an argument where I argue, and you must believe!” Then, as quickly as they’d lifted, the heels settled back to the gray linoleum floor. The glare behind the glasses softened. The wrinkled brow disappeared. The moment passed.  The patriarch’s grandfatherly tone returned, and he began instructing us on the 20th-century failures of experiential preaching, sentimental preaching, analogical preaching, cultural preaching, so on, and so forth.

I’ll never forget that day. Of all my years in school, that one sentence – along with the glare, guts, and ferocity – marked me for life. I’d grown up viewing preaching as pastor talking “about” the Bible. I’d attended a typical evangelical bible school and been told that good preaching was telling people “about” God. Thus, my pulpit resume came lined with quips about the Bible, a menagerie of popular theologies, and a boatload of emotional anecdotes. However, in class that day, the preaching “semi-truck” plowed over my heart –preaching wasn’t talking about God but speaking for God.

Faithful expository preaching meant that the Word of God is presented as the words of God. It sounds funny to write it that way, in tautology, but this was earth-shaking news. Every word of Scripture was pure ‘truth’ and ‘argument’ of God, flowing out upon people, forcing they either accept or reject His holy position. The light had dawned: expositional preaching was the only preaching that had any power. Faithful preaching could only be expositional preaching.

After class, I went home and began tracing through old books, writing out the family tree of historic bible expositors. I was ecstatic to learn that God didn’t speak with multiple meanings. I was humbled to learn that those who studied the grammatical, historical, and literary context of God’s Word could know precisely what God said. I was encouraged to know that faithful preaching wasn’t fancy. The goal wasn’t to be inventive or funny; the goal was to be right…God would do the rest! My studies began in earnest: What did the author write? What did the author mean? What are the primary verbs? What is the supporting syntax? How does it correlate to the remainder of God’s revealed Word?

Through tears, I learned that inerrancy demands exposition. If I believed the Bible was true (which I did!), I didn’t have a choice but to preach what it said. If I had an inerrant text, that meant God wrote it. If God wrote it, I couldn’t change it. Thus, my only option was to preach it. Exposition was the single type of preaching that brought the full text to the hearer and allowed the hearer to know the Bible. Only the expositor walked in the full assurance of God, knowing it was irrelevant what people thought, and only relevant what God thinks. People needed to hear from God. Our young church plant needed to hear from God. So, that’s what we did. And, expository preaching changed our church:

  1. Exposition Showcased the Authority of God. When we began to teach God’s Word in a verse-by-verse manner, people came to realize who was really in charge. John Piper well describes the danger of non-exposition, “The entertainment-oriented preacher seems to be at ease talking about many things not drawn out of the Bible. In his message, he seems to enjoy talking about other things more than what the Bible teaches. On the other hand, the Bible oriented preacher says, ‘I am God’s representative sent to God’s people to deliver a message from God.’ He feels the weight and the joy of his trust.”[1] As long as we are circling God’s Word, preaching the latest news clippings, hijacking from online sources, or pushing sentimental self-help fixes, people know (consciously and subconsciously!) that we somehow view ourselves as the authority (Ps. 19:7-9). However, preaching God’s Word in God’s way proves once and for all who is sovereign King.
  2. Exposition Spiritually Deepened Praise and Worship. People who know the Word know to worship. Instead of continuing our emotionally stimulating Sunday morning experiences, we worked to ground our church in the Word, emphasizing the depths of truth, instead of the shallows of emotionalism. In his short manual Why Johnny Can’t Preach, T. David Gordon cajoled the plight of evangelical pulpits, “Even when one can discern a unified point in a sermon, it’s rarely a point worth making, and certainly not worth making in a Christian pulpit during a service of worship.”[2] Pastors must be preachers, not entertainers. There must be a depth of truth that leads to the extent of praise. Expositors understand they are not The Entertainer, but the Worship Leader, informing people of truth that will drive their devotion. Exposition slowly turns the church from being a place where consumers our king to a place where Christ is King.
  3. Exposition Signaled the Lordship of Christ. Many modern preachers have returned to slick titles (e.g., Bishop, Pastrix, Lead) to signal their power over a church. In our early days, we tried all the titles, all the tactics, and all the taglines. However, expositors know that Jesus is the Head of the Church (Eph. 1:17). There are only two ways to lead a church – revelation or manipulation – manipulation works through channels of fear, money, popularity, curt maxims, or supposed signs and wonders. Churches built on forms of manipulation elevate the ‘holy men’ lauded, applauded, self-focused, and money-hungry. Not expositors — expositors have elected revelation as the source of church authority. Scripture, not influence, is the rule of faith and practice for their church, and the pastor is merely the facilitator of truth for the Great Shepherd.
  4. Exposition Synced Saints With Their Heritage. We found that modern gimmick preaching based on relevance, trends, and viral videos, didn’t connect Christians with their hallowed halls of Christian history. [Often, it disdains the past!] And, every time one of my “hip” trendy pastor friends flamed out due to finances or immorality, the congregation he’d jumpstarted in some strip mall or school gymnasium was left orphaned and without a family tree or denomination to rescue. Within days, his jaded people would disappear, and the church building sold to a condo developer. Conversely, expositors ground their people in the ancestry of historic Christianity, the progeny of patristics, reformers, and redemptive history. What Christian isn’t encouraged to find hundreds of generations have held their theology?
  5. Exposition Sanctified Saints by the Holy Spirit. We had to fire the entire worship team. Early on in our ministry, it became clear that many of our leaders and their spouses weren’t regenerate. There’d been professions of faith, but no possession of faith and the nasty fruit proved the reprobate root. Expositors know the Holy Spirit uses the Word, so only proper exposition facilitates the work of the Word to save and sanctify (Jn. 17:17). Jonathan Edwards famously called this spiritual surgery, “(The preacher) has put his patient to great pain, but goes on to thrust his lance in further, till he comes to the core of the wound. Such a compassionate physician, who as soon as his patient began to flinch, should withdraw his hand…would be one that would heal the hurt slightly, crying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.”[3] Edwards’ point is clear; expositors keep driving the scalpel until there’s complete healing! Those who communicate around the Word (e.g., Joel Osteen, Judah Smith, Bill Johnson, Steven Furtick) are in open rebellion against God. Luther reacted against the Catholic Church because it didn’t speak for God. It’s been well said, “True ministers are brokers of one book.” By not expositing the Word, we undermine God and His heart for sanctification, because we neglect the very tool the Spirit promised to use.
  6. Exposition Submerged Pastors in Sanctifying Grace. In the early days when I borrowed sermons or composed anecdotal talks, filled with fad illustrations, and light stories, I (the supposed pastor) wasn’t being exposed to the sanctifying Scriptures. I wasn’t drinking of God. However, expositors know that weekly study becomes the harbinger of God’s sanctifying grace – He touches His man in the trenches of exegetical “spade” work – When preaching verse-by-verse, searching out God’s proposition, connecting doctrines of Scripture, the expositor will naturally find himself at God’s mercy. Have we not all begged God for illumination? Do we not arrive at a point where the pen and prayer flow almost simultaneously? A mentor, Dr. Steven Lawson, once told us, “Too many men cry out for more giftedness but feign the quest for more godliness. To write like Calvin, you must become Calvin.”
  7. Exposition Simplified the Tough Truths. When we were an entertainment-oriented church, we rarely touched so-called “tough” truths. As with much of evangelicalism, we were nervous the “tough” facts might scare people. But, expositors know that all truth, regardless of popularity, comes from God. Thus, only an expositor can preach every truth with equal vigor, knowing the soul-battle is between the listener and God, not the listener and the preacher. Alec Motyer writes, “Of the ninety-seven verbs used in the N.T. for communicating God’s truth – at least fifty-six are declarative – verbs like kyrusso, to ‘herald, proclaim’ or didasko, ‘to teach,’ even laleo, ‘to speak, chat.’ Our primary task is to make the truth plain!”[4] To this end, Paul encourages, “We have the mind of Christ…” (1 Cor. 2:16) How do we speak the mind of Christ? Preach the Word! How do we respond to questions? Preach the Word! It is alarming how many modern preachers dance around cultural issues like homosexuality. All they need to say, no matter the subject or audience, is, “The Word of God says…” Preaching by nature will offend. However, we are not heralds of self…we are heralds of the King. A holy God demands sinners repent and believe. If they do not, they will face judgment. That’s God’s message, not ours. Expositors don’t pull punches. Expositors know that if we don’t declare the things that offend the sinful, then we forfeit the right to report grace that makes cheerful.[5]
  8. Exposition Satisfied People in the Glory of God. For years my preaching was typical evangelical fluff centered on “you” instead of God. Expositors know “you” preaching doesn’t help anyone. Expositors know that when preaching stops being about the pain, struggles, platitudes, and depressions, and starts being about God’s holiness, providence, self-existence, omnipotence, omniscience, goodness, faithfulness, etc., they have a hope beyond the grave (e.g., 1 Cor. 10:31; 2 Cor. 5:1). Topical entertainment preaching is a band-aid that won’t cure. Jeremiah called this “superficial wound treatment.” People leave church pumped for an hour then can’t recall one truth in their hours of distress. Expositors don’t let their church slap on a band-aid of analogy, intuition, quotes, maxims, and humor, for their death-wound! Expositors want their people dependent on God’s revealed truth, so all their thinking is Christ-centered. Expositors know life will eventually imitate theology. People will live out their beliefs. People don’t live on emotion, but what is embedded below emotion. The fewer convictions a church has, the more susceptible it is to temptation. A sheep unfed has no strength to stand.

F.W. Boreham once shared a story depicting the passion of Scottish preacher Robert Murray McCheyne:

Years after McCheyne’s passing, a young man visited the famous minister’s church. Approaching the associate minister, he questioned, “Where did McCheyne get his preaching power?” The associate took the youthful inquirer into the vestry and asked him to open his Bible and sit in the chair used by the great preacher.

“Now put your elbows on the table,” he said. “Now, put your face in your hands.” The visitor obeyed. “Now let the tears fall. That was the way Mr. McCheyne used to do it!”

The man then led the young minister to the pulpit and gave a fresh series of instructions. “Put your elbows down. Now, put your face in your hands.” The young man did as he was told. “Now let the tears fall again. That was the way Mr. McCheyne used to do it!”[6]

This is the way to do it. An expositor is moved over his Bible in the study then stands moved over people in the pulpit. Expository preaching changes a church.

Anthony G. Wood is the pastor-teacher of Mission Bible Church in Tustin, California and has been leading the church since planting it in 2011. He is the co-author of Defining Deception, and is currently completing his doctorate at The Master’s Seminary. Anthony and his wife, Breanne, have three children.

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[1] John Piper, The Supremacy of God in Preaching (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2015), 124.

[2] T. David Gordon, Why Johnny Can’t Preach (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2009), 69.

[3] Jonathan Edward, Some Thoughts Concerning the Revival, in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 4, ed. C.C. Goen (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1972) 390-91.

[4] Alec Motyer, Preaching: Simple Teaching on Simply Preaching, (Fearn: Christian Focus, 2013), 103

[5] For an insightful explanation of ‘quiet confidence’ in preaching, see John Stott, Between Two Worlds (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 35-36.

[6] See F.W. Boreham, A Late Lark Singing (London: Epworth Press, 1945), 66.

 

The True and Better Judas Iscariot

It happens every once and a while. A big-name “sinner” claims he or she has been wrong.

On hearing such a claim, some scoff: “Ha! Impossible!” Conversely, others start preparing the victory parade and inviting all to come celebrate—the sinner has repented!

Each side makes a valid point. Yes, we should be cautious before simply believing everything we hear. And only God can bring change that bears lasting fruit. We should be ready to celebrate the return of a prodigal heart, believe the best about others, and guard our hearts from needless cynicism.

But how do we know the difference between mere remorse and full-blown repentance?

To this question, the Bible speaks—loudly. And in the end, it causes us to ask one more.

Compelling Story

There once lived a man who was a horrific sinner. He was an expert swindler. Money was his god. His religion was gain.

There was another man, a different man. He was the religious sort, playing the role of treasurer for a non-profit, if you will. He looked trustworthy, though he loved money too—for spiritual reasons, of course. He followed Jesus. He had witnessed mighty works and compassionate deeds. And one day this man, Judas, saw true repentance firsthand.

As he followed Jesus through Jericho, they suddenly stopped because Jesus saw a man sitting up in a sycamore tree. Jesus called the man to come down and host him for a meal.

The man descended the tree and, as he drew closer, the crowd gasped. It was the horrific sinner himself! Here was the swindler, the scammer, the greed monger. Zacchaeus. Just his name made the blood boil. If only Jesus had known how many old ladies had lost their last dollar to this man’s tricks (Luke 19:5–7).

The crowd pressed in, peering through the doorway and the windows in hopes of seeing Jesus put Zacchaeus in his place. Perhaps some even thought Zacchaeus set up the whole encounter himself, to polish his image in the public eye. That’s it! This was nothing more than a publicity stunt to manufacture grace after pilfering the community with salacious greed. Here it comes, they think. Let him have it, Jesus!

But instead of Jesus, it was the swindler who spoke:

And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:8–10)

The onlookers could hardly believe their ears. From greedy fraud to godly follower? From exploiting the poor to paying them back?

It was more than they could take. Some probably erupted into tears of joy because they had been wounded for years by Zacchaeus’s gimmicks. His penitent action was a healing balm to their anxious souls. Others embraced those around them in relief that the falsehood was finished. One less wolf to threaten the sheep. Still others, though, refused to accept this as true repentance.

As days turned to weeks, and weeks to months and years, Zacchaeus made good on his promises and continued in his newfound faith. His repentance was real, his eternal peace secure.

Lesson in the Aftermath

Back at the table that day, I imagine Judas looking on somewhat indifferently. He doesn’t seem to know that he would become the “son of perdition” (John 17:12) and that Satan would enter him during history’s most heinous betrayal (Luke 22:3; John 13:2).

But I can also see Judas looking on somewhat nervously—perhaps even annoyed with conviction. I can imagine him clutching the money bag just a little bit tighter, pondering whether anyone could tell that his own actions were no different from Zacchaeus’s—though he was much better at hiding them.

In his Gospel account, the apostle John shows his readers what was in Judas’s heart. During Mary’s beautiful display of worship, she had used expensive perfume and her own hair to wash the feet of Jesus (John 12:3). Judas, protesting that such an act was a waste of money, showed his true colors. John points out that Judas “was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it” (John 12:6).

Later, overridden with guilt after betraying Jesus unto death, Judas was remorseful but not repentant. He tried to undo what he had done by throwing the dirty money back at the feet of his shady business partners (Matt. 27:4–5). It was blood money, dripping pure and red from the righteous Lamb himself. Even still, that same blood could’ve covered his sin—if he would truly have repented and turned to Christ. Surely, Judas remembered what repentance looked like. Repentance is self-exposure, the heart laid bare, the mind determined to head in a new direction! Surely he knew that all it would take to make things right was running to Christ in confession. Instead, he hid in the shadow of shame. Indeed, Judas’s effort was nothing more than a feeble attempt to hang fruit on a dead tree. But only genuine repentance produces genuine fruit (Matt. 3:8). After all he had seen firsthand, Judas undoubtedly knew that mere remorse couldn’t account for his sin against God.

Through the lives of both Zacchaeus and Judas, the Bible speaks with unwavering clarity. Zacchaeus was truly repentant, showing faith through his confession and open accountability. Judas was merely remorseful, remaining in the shadows of guilt because he’d betrayed the Son of God.

Judas knew remorse would not do. Why, Judas, did you not repent?

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This article was originally published at The Gospel Coalition on October 17th, 2019. 

How Do I Know If I Am Really Saved?

This is one of the most common questions a pastor gets asked: How do I know if I am really saved?

Some believe that you just need to say, “I believe!” Others might insist that you hand over a resume of faith plus some good works — including regular church attendance and a giving record to boot.

With the vast majority of opinions being hit or miss, we are compelled to ask, What does the Bible have to say? For those seeking assurance of salvation, that’s all that matters.

Is it a one-time decision or a lifestyle?

The first question needing serious consideration: Is being a true Christian — as in, a “saved individual” — a one-time decision or an ongoing lifestyle? Take, for example, three individuals who make “decisions” to follow Jesus Christ. Now, fast forward ten years and the first of those individuals live in rampant sin but claims, “I am a Christian. I believe. I walked the aisle, prayed the sinner’s prayer, accepted the free gift of grace from God, and punched my ticket to heaven.” Meanwhile, the second individual made a similar decision to follow Jesus, but eventually walked away from their faith and decided not to believe. Finally, the third individual was completely different. Sin was present in their life at times, but not as a rampant lifestyle. They humbly acknowledge shortcomings but could confidently point to the fruit of the Spirit as being present in them (Galatians 5:22-23). Their life is not marked by perfection, but a definite progression in holiness, righteous living, devotion to Jesus, and love for others.

All three made decisions. All three claim to be Christians. Which one is?

Continually believing…

If you take the original meaning of Paul’s words in Romans 1:16 literally, you’ll see that the truly saved will be known by continual belief.  Paul explains that the gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…”

“Believes” here is to have faith or to entrust, and comes from the Greek word pistis that means persuasion or conviction. Grammatically, this word is a present active participle meaning, it is an ongoing repetitious action. This passage could be read as saying, “to everyone who is continually believing” or in broader (but still accurate) terms, “to everyone who continues to walk in deeply persuaded convictions that Jesus Christ is Lord!”

The bottom line is that the truly saved will stay saved. “Backsliding” was the term we used growing up for people who “lost their salvation.” But the fact is, based on the Scriptures, they were never genuinely saved. The parable of the Four Soils (Matthew 13:1-23) reminds us that some will look saved, but in the end, they weren’t. 1 John 2:19 is a sobering expression concerning those who “went out from among us because they were never really one of us.”

If you genuinely believe something, you won’t just say you believe it. Your actions will back up your words. The Bible is clear that you are not saved by good works, but you were saved for good works (Ephesians 2:8-10). Jesus told His disciples, “If you love Me, keep My commands” (John 14:15). James tells us that “faith without works is dead” and that even the demons believe! (James 2:17, 19).

How do I know if I have truly believed and am saved?

You confess Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and trust in Him by faith (Romans 10:9)

Every true believer must come to Christ declaring, “You are God! Your way is better. My way doesn’t work. I need you. I believe in you. I trust in you by faith for my salvation. I will follow you for the rest of my life!” Have you believed in your heart and confessed with your mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord?

You confess sin; no longer indifferent towards it (1 John 1:9)

True believers care about sin, not because they like committing it, but because they want to deal with it. Confession is the mark of genuine faith. Those who are following after Jesus bring their sin and shame to His feet claiming, “I repent! I hate this sin that keeps waging war against my soul. Please forgive me. Help me escape it.”

Habitual patterns of sin are decreasing and fading (1 Cor. 6:11; 2 Cor. 5:17)

If you’re a “new creation” you’re not going to look like “old” for long. Genuine faith transforms us! When the Bible lists horrible sins and says things like, “such were some of you,” the genuine believer can joyously say, “Yes, I was!”

You desire to be obedient to Christ (James 1:22)

If you truly desire to follow Jesus and He has won victory in your heart, you’re not just going to want to hear the word of God, you’re going to want to do it!

Your love for others is increasing (1 John 3:14)

Hateful Christian is an oxymoron. Yes, being a follower of Jesus means telling it like it is and speaking truth no matter the cost, but that is always to be done in love (Eph. 4:15). More than that, true believers are marked by a love for others that goes way beyond what they say — it’s about what they do.

You hunger for God’s word (1 Peter 2:2)

A genuine for love for Jesus and a true conversion of your soul is going to result in a passionate hunger to know what He has said and what He has called you to do. True Christians are not indifferent to God’s word.

You are filled with a desire to see others saved (2 Cor. 5:18-20)

People who have been reconciled to God want to see the same happen for others! It’s that simple.

You love to serve the body of Christ with good works (Eph. 2:10; 1 Peter 4:7-11)

There is no such thing as “lone ranger” Christianity or a genuine belief that does not want to genuinely serve! Good works are not required for salvation, they are the result of salvation. Christians are given spiritual gifts to build up the body of Christ.

You experience the discipline of God (Hebrews 12:6-8; Romans 1:18-32; Psalm 11:5)

This may seem crazy, but experiencing the discipline of God means that He loves you! Only a cruel parent lets their child run into harm’s way. God’s correction is done with love. Like a gracious Father, He is not content to let His children continue in sin that harms them. He guides the truly saved as a faithful shepherd guides his, even if that means using the “staff” sometimes to correct their crooked path.

You are bearing the fruit of the Spirit; persevering to the end (Luke 6:43; Galatians 5:22)

Bad trees don’t produce good fruit. Good trees don’t produce bad fruit. So it is for people as well. A fake Christian will be known by false fruit or no fruit at all. A genuine believer will look at the list in Galatians 5:22-23 and by God’s grace rejoice saying, “My life looks like that more than it used to!” In the end, they’ll have witnessed God finishing the work He began in them when their earthly life ends and they meet Christ face to face (Philippians 1:16).

It may be hard to face certain realities in your life, but the wise and prudent Christian finds comfort in Paul’s words to Corinthians when he exhorted them, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you — unless indeed you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5).