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Crown Him | Bible Gleanings – May 27-28, 2023

Behind John stood a roaring Lion, while in front of him stood a butchered Lamb with a bloody white coat. This is what he said while he was “in the Spirit” (Rev. 1:10), receiving the Revelation of Jesus Christ: “And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth” (Rev. 5:5-6). How can Jesus be both a sovereign Lion and a slaughtered Lamb? How can Christ be both the Lord and lowly?

Because He earned the right to be the triumphal Lion by first becoming a humble Lamb. This is the great paradox of Christ: He was brought low in humiliation in order to be raised to the highest position of supremacy in the universe. He is exalted because He became a lowly man. He is seated on a throne because He was nailed to a cross. He became the Lord of life by submitting to the curse of death.

That is why Paul said, “[Jesus], though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:6-11).

Interestingly, one of John’s final glimpses of Jesus in Revelation is of a Lamb ruling and reigning. He described one scene like this, “For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes” (Rev. 7:17). The slaughtered Lamb rules as the sovereign Lord. And He forgives all of those who bow to Him in repentance and faith: “Behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). It is no wonder Matthew Bridges (1800-1894) penned these words in the Christ-exalting hymn, Crown Him with Many Crowns:

“Crown him with many crowns,

the Lamb upon his throne.

Hark! how the heavenly anthem drowns

all music but its own.

Awake, my soul, and sing

of him who died for thee,

and hail him as thy matchless king

through all eternity.”

Bible Gleanings is a widely-read weekend devotional column, written for the Murray Ledger & Times in Calloway County, Kentucky. 

Brandon is the founder and main contributor to Brandon’s Desk, the blog with biblical resources from his ministry. He is proud to be the pastor of the family of believers at Locust Grove Baptist Church in Murray, Kentucky. He and his wife Dakota live there with their three dogs, Susie (Jack Russell), Aries (English Shepherd), and Dot (Bluetick Beagle).

For more devotional entries like this, check out Brandon’s latest book, Bible Gleanings Volume II, which features 100 daily devotionals gleaned from God’s word:

A Foretaste of Glory Divine: Rightly Understanding the Kingdom of God

The old hymn by Fanny Crosby begins with these words: “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine! Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!” This remarkable stanza reflects a lovely reality in Scripture that gives believers unwavering hope in times of tumultuous trials and troublesome temptations: we fellowship with Jesus Christ now, but this is only a preview of the eternal fellowship that is yet to come. This is what theologians refer to as the “already/not yet” tension of eschatology (that branch of theology which deals with the future and last things). The “already” refers to the blessings of salvation and the kingdom of God that believers enjoy in this age, and the “not yet” refers to those same blessings which will be fully realized in the consummation when Christ returns. And this tension between the “already” and the “not yet” may be seen primarily in the Bible’s teaching regarding the kingdom of God.

The Nature of the Kingdom of God

One of the great themes of Scripture is the “kingdom of God,” which simply refers to God’s rule and reign in the hearts of His people who have submitted to His kingly dominion.1 The concept of the kingdom of God begins in and continues throughout the Old Testament,2 as it is dominated by a forward-looking anticipation of its arrival with the advent of the Messiah, who would restore God’s rule in the hearts of sinners whose rebellion is the result of the Fall. And at first glance, all the Old Testament expectations and prophecies regarding the kingdom of God appear to depict a literal kingdom characterized by triumphal victory, nationwide prowess, and Israel’s restoration to supremacy. After all, God promised that He would gather His people, establish the throne of David forever, and send a Messiah upon whose shoulders would be everlasting government (Jer. 23:3-4; 2 Sam. 7:9-13; Isaiah 9:6). Therefore, it is only natural that the most popular Jewish vision of the kingdom of God was interpreted solely in physical and political terms. For them, the arrival of the kingdom of God would entail God’s ultimate victory over evil, Israel’s vindication and restoration, and the fulfillment of all the promises made to David regarding his throne and rule.3

However, it is not until one turns the page from Malachi to Matthew that the kingdom of God is defined in terms of an invisible and spiritual nature, which is primarily emphasized by Christ’s own testimony regarding the kingdom. As Jesus begins His public ministry, He repeatedly demonstrates that the kingdom promised in the Old Testament was not to be reduced to a purely political or geographical concept. Rather, as theologian Herman Bavinck observed, “Jesus introduces a new understanding of the kingdom: it is religious-ethical and not political; it is present in repentance, faith, and rebirth, and is yet to come as a full eschatological reality.”4 And nowhere is this spiritual understanding of the kingdom more clearly expressed than in Jesus’ response to the question of the Pharisees about the coming of God’s kingdom: “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Luke 17:20b-21, emphasis mine). Thus, according to Christ, the kingdom of God that He came to usher in was initially a spiritual one, inaugurated as He thwarted demonic oppression and restored the rule of God within the rebellious hearts of sinners.

Furthermore, when Jesus was pressed to claim literal kingship by Pilate, He replied, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” (John 18:36). Similarly, when Jesus was given the best opportunity to become an earthly king, He abandoned the scene, demonstrating that He had no interest in ruling over a purely earthly kingdom. As John wrote, “Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself” (John 6:15). Finally, that the kingdom Jesus ushered in was spiritual and not physical is apparent from His statement that entrance into the kingdom requires one to be, “born again.” As Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).5

The Inauguration of the Kingdom of God

Now that it is abundantly clear that the arrival of God’s kingdom was meant to be understood in spiritual terms, it must also be emphasized that the Scripture teaches that the coming of God’s kingdom is to occur in two stages. That is, the “inauguration” of the kingdom of God began with the first advent of Jesus, and the “consummation” of the kingdom will commence with the second advent of Jesus. Jesus ushered in the “beginnings” of the kingdom by His first coming, and the kingdom will be fully realized when Jesus returns bodily to subject all things to Himself and finish the work of redemption that He began. Thus, the kingdom of God manifests itself in two of the most significant redemptive events: the first and second coming of Christ.6 As Cornelis Venema observed, “What from the vantage point of Old Testament expectation appeared to be a single movement has now in the New Testament become a twostage movement. Whereas the Old Testament saw only one great, future Messianic age, coinciding with the coming of the Messiah, the New Testament further reveals that the present Messianic age awaits its consummation at Christ’s coming again.”7

The kingdom of God first appeared with the arrival of the King, Jesus. He preached that the kingdom of God was “at hand” (Matthew 3:2; Mark 1:15). He also declared that the kingdom of God had “come upon” the people because of His ministry through the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:28). He even instructed His disciples to preach that the kingdom of God had arrived (Luke 10:9). Thus, according to Jesus’ own testimony, the kingdom of God became dynamically active and present in His person and mission.8 Indeed, all throughout the Gospels, Jesus has an awareness that He was the promised “son of man” depicted in the book of Daniel as receiving and ushering in “glory and a kingdom” (Daniel 7:13-14).9

The Consummation of the Kingdom of God

However, as Jesus’ own words make clear, only the inauguration of God’s kingdom occurred during His first coming—there was more to come. Jesus instructed His disciples to pray, “Your kingdom come” (Matt. 6:10a), indicating that the kingdom of God had not yet arrived in its totality. Jesus also spoke of a future day when He would “recline at table” with His disciples (Matt. 8:11-12). And most notably, Jesus assured His disciples during the Passover meal, “I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matt. 26:29, emphasis mine). Even Jesus’ sayings in the Beatitudes imply that His followers currently possess the kingdom of God, but have yet to fully possess it.10 As Christ said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven . . . Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:3, 5, emphasis mine).

The Already/Not Yet Tension

Because of this, author George Eldon Ladd observed, “For Jesus, the Kingdom of God was the dynamic rule of God which had invaded history in his own person and mission to bring men in the present age the blessings of the messianic age, and which would manifest itself yet again at the end of the age to bring this same messianic salvation to its consummation.”11 Thus, because of this “already/not yet” paradigm regarding the kingdom of God, there is no contradiction between Jesus’ proclamation that the kingdom of God was “at hand” and John’s promise that the kingdom would be fully realized at some point in the future (Rev. 11:15). This is why Paul can rightly call Jesus the Lord who is “highly exalted” (Eph. 1:22-23; Phil. 2:9) without contradicting the writer of Hebrews, who said, “At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him” (Heb. 2:8c). Paul even stated that Christ is King now, but the kingdom of God over which He reigns has yet to be fully effectuated: “[Christ will deliver] the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet” (1 Cor. 15:24b-25). The kingdom of Christ is thus present still now, but not yet fully established—which is why it is sometimes called a “semirealized” kingdom.12

And this is the tension the believer is currently experiencing. Those who are saved by grace through faith are members of “the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Col. 1:13), but are living in a world dominated by the “prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2). Believers have been made “a kingdom, priests to his God and Father” (Rev. 1:6a), but they must wait for the day when they shall reign in the new heavens and new earth with God and the Lamb (Rev. 22:5). For the believer, being part of God’s kingdom is joy-producing now, but the best is yet to come.13 And the good news is that the believer may still experience the profound blessings of the “already” while awaiting the “not yet.” As John Calvin aptly stated, “Earth is where we begin to taste the sweetness of God’s blessings, and where we are roused by the hope and the desire to see them fulfilled in heaven.”14

  1. A similar definition is found in Akin, Daniel, A Theology for the Church (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2014), 674.
  2. Granted, the Old Testament never uses the phrase, “the kingdom of God.”
  3. For more on the Jewish viewpoint of the kingdom of God, see especially Storms, Sam, Kingdom Come: The Amillennial Alternative (Scotland: Christian Focus Publications Ltd, 2012), 337.
  4. Bavinck, Herman, Reformed Dogmatics (Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing Group, 2011), 405.
  5. I owe this final observation to Wiersbe, Warren, The Bible Exposition Commentary, Volume I (Colorado Springs: Victor Books, 1989), 112).
  6. George Eldon Ladd said it well: “The Kingdom of God involves two great moments: fulfillment within history, and consummation at the end of history.” Ladd, George E., The Presence of the Future (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1974), 218.
  7. Venema, Cornelius P., The Promise of the Future (Edinburgh, UK: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2000), 28.
  8. This is Anthony Hoekema’s argument in The Bible and the Future (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1979), 43.
  9. Bavinck, 406.
  10. This is the assertion of George R. Beasley-Murray in Jesus and the Kingdom of God (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1986), 157-168.
  11. Ladd, 307.
  12. This is how it is referred to by Michael Horton in Pilgrim Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 219.
  13. Akin, 701-702.
  14. Calvin, John, A Guide to Christian Living (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2009), 96.
Brandon is the founder and main contributor to Brandon’s Desk, the blog with biblical resources from his ministry. He is proud to be the pastor of the family of believers at Locust Grove Baptist Church in Murray, Kentucky. He and his wife Dakota live there with their three dogs, Susie (Jack Russell), Aries (English shepherd), and Dot (beagle).

Doctrine Matters for the Church, and Here’s Why

Because doctrine is fundamentally defining, a church will not know what it is or why it exists until it understands the Bible’s clear teaching on the doctrine of the church. If the church were merely a human organization, such as a country club or sports team, little would be lost or forfeited if it did not possess a basic knowledge of itself. However, because the church is an institution founded by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, the church and the world suffer eternal repercussions if a church doesn’t perceive itself according to biblical doctrine. Moreover, even human organizations have at least a basic notion of who they are and what their purposes are. Therefore, a biblical understanding of the doctrine of the church is both natural and eternally significant, and the importance of such may be seen in the six main areas which a comprehension of this doctrine affects:1

First, the doctrine of the church matters for the leadership of the church. Pastors (also called bishops and overseers in Scripture) are commanded to “preach the word,” and “shepherd the flock of God” (2 Tim. 4:2; 1 Peter 5:2). Such God-called pastors must understand these primary responsibilities in order to feed congregants with the “pure milk” of God’s word (1 Peter 2:2) and care for their wandering souls (Rom. 3:11), lest he starve the children of God of the spiritual food they require, and risk appearing ashamedly before the chief Shepherd (2 Tim. 4:1). The Scripture also teaches that pastors must be qualified by living “above reproach” (1 Tim. 3:1; Titus 1:6). Ignoring this high and holy standard results in wolves behind the pulpit and the wolf in sheep’s clothing laying snares for both the pastor and the church (1 Tim. 3:7; cf. Heb. 13:17).

Additionally, the pastor must understand the Bible’s teaching on church discipline and the proper administration of the Christ-ordained ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The Scripture teaches that those living in unrepentant sin must be properly disciplined (Matt. 18:15-20; 1 Cor. 5:1-5, 13). Without this, churches incur the displeasure and judgment of God (Rev. 2:12-29), and they reproach the holy name of Christ that they claim to represent (cf. 1 Pet. 3:15-16). Furthermore, baptism and the Lord’s Supper must be administered with careful consideration of a member’s salvation and standing with the Lord (Matt. 28:19-20; 1 Cor. 11:23-32). When this is neglected, the pastor risks offering unbelievers false assurance, and he blatantly contradicts the rich symbolism of the ordinances, which are solely for believers.

Second, the doctrine of the church matters for the members of a church. According to the Scripture, there are prerequisites and qualifications for church members. The prerequisites are simple: those who wish to join a local church must be baptized believers. That is, one must be a member of the universal body of Christ by faith and be baptized by immersion in water, with the latter symbolizing the former (1 Cor. 12:13). It is perfectly permissible for unbaptized believers to become part of a church upon their baptism, but not before it. The qualifications for members of a local church are also straightforward: personal holiness, love for one another, and involvement in the life of the church, to name a few. And such qualifications are evident not only in the commands to live holy (1 Pet. 1:15-16), love one another (1 Pet. 4:8), and use one’s spiritual gifts (1 Pet. 4:10-11), but also in the biblical prescriptions for disciplining such members who openly disregard such commands (as noted in the discussion above). Neglect of either the prerequisites or qualifications for membership leads to false assurance to unbelievers and false assurance to unrepentant believers.

Third, the doctrine of the church matters for the structure of the church. The Scripture teaches that churches must have qualified pastors, and that members must submit to such men in humility. Nowhere in Scripture is this more plainly stated than in Hebrews 13:17, which says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” God has uniquely gifted pastors to “equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Eph. 4:12), and this work will never begin (or continue) unless shepherds are competent to equip and members are willing to be equipped. The Bible’s teaching on church structure is truly the rebar that holds it together, and it crumbles apart without it. Unfortunately, many evangelical denominations have abandoned biblical teaching on church structure through the ordination of women to the pastorate, exaltation of mere men as “apostles,” and restoration of morally fallen men who have no business near a pulpit.

Fourth, the doctrine of the church matters for the culture of the church. Churches are communities, and all communities are cultures. Thus, a church will inevitably cultivate a culture, with or without understanding the Bible’s teaching about the church’s identity or mission. However, with a proper understanding of the church’s identity and mission, a church cultivates a culture of Christ-centeredness, ongoing discipleship, multitude-of-sins-covering love, accountability, prayerfulness, and evangelism. Simply put, the word of God rightly understood and applied will transform the people of God. When a biblical understanding of the church is not prioritized, a church’s culture falls prey to pragmatism and emotionalism.

Fifth, the doctrine of the church matters for the character of the church. The character or testimony/witness of a local church matters in the eyes of both God and the world. A church must strive for holiness in order to prevent displeasing the Lord, who is the church’s “husband” (Eph. 5:32). But the church must likewise strive for holiness in order to testify to the world that she is set apart and transformed by the gospel. And such holiness is greatly promoted through personal holiness and the difficult, but biblical practice of church discipline. Through church discipline, unrepentant believers are lovingly warned, compassionately rebuked, and if necessary, excommunicated. And while this is a painful process, the eternal consequences of not doing so are far more painful.

Sixth, the doctrine of the church ultimately matters for God’s glory. God glorifies Himself primarily through the gospel—and the church is the Christ-founded institution commanded to proclaim it (Matt. 28:16-20). But, without a thorough knowledge of the doctrine of the church, a church stifles its gospel proclamation, robbing God of glory. Moreover, a church living in unholiness (due to ignorance of the doctrine of the church) contradicts the life-transforming power of the gospel that it claims to believe.

Here’s the sum of it all: right doctrine is a pillar for the church to stand upon, whereas wrong doctrine is sinking sand that will swallow her whole. Therefore, it is imperative that we get our doctrine right, and right from the Scriptures.

“I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.” — Romans 16:17-18

  1. This list originally came Mark Dever’s contribution to the systematic theology, A Theology for the Church. See: Akin, Daniel. A Theology for the Church (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2014), 660-668. All of the explanations and expositions of the points are my own.
Brandon is the founder and main contributor to Brandon’s Desk, the blog with biblical resources from his ministry. He is proud to be the pastor of the family of believers at Locust Grove Baptist Church in Murray, Kentucky. He and his wife Dakota live there with their three dogs, Susie (Jack Russell), Aries (English shepherd), and Dot (beagle).

Is Baptism Required for Salvation?

Simply put, the ordinance of baptism is a rich symbol of the believer’s salvation. Baptism is an emblematic “watery grave” and a visual sermon which announces that the one being baptized has died to the old life and has been spiritually raised to live a new life. It is a visual testimony of a spiritual reality and an outward expression of an inward manifestation. Baptism is not required for salvation, but it is required for obedience to Christ, as the New Testament model makes abundantly clear. As a matter of fact, those who neglect being baptized publicly are actually denying what has happened to them spiritually and are living in contradiction to the truth.

Of course, many falsely believe that baptism is absolutely necessary for salvation and that the Scriptures teach what is known as “baptismal regeneration,” in which God the Spirit literally regenerates a person when they are immersed in water. This is an essential teaching among Lutherans and restorationists (“churches of Christ”). I have actually heard local restorationists ministers state that the water is the means by which the believer “comes into contact” with the blood of Christ. And this blatant misinterpretation of baptism stems from both a literal reading of the word “baptism” wherever it appears in the New Testament, and an extreme good-works-centered understanding of salvation which proposes that the Holy Spirit needs water to regenerate a sinner’s heart. But nothing could be farther from the truth: baptism is not a necessary component to bring about regeneration; baptism is a necessary visual which declares that regeneration has already occurred within a believer’s heart.

The most compelling argument for baptismal regeneration comes from a surface-level reading of Peter’s declaration in Acts 2:38, where he said, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” It would seem that repentance and baptism are prerequisites for being forgiven and receiving the Holy Spirit. However, there are several obvious problems with this interpretation. First, the Greek preposition “for” could actually be translated as, “on the basis of” or “because of,” essentially meaning, “Be baptized because of the forgiveness of sins (which you already possess).” Second, Peter and the apostles omit baptism many times in their gospel sermons, thus emphasizing that faith in Christ alone is what saves sinners (Acts 3:19-20; 10:34-43; 17:29-31). And third, the typical pattern in the Book of Acts is salvation leading to baptism, not baptism leading to salvation (Acts 8:34-38; 9:10-19; 10:44-48).

Ultimately, therefore, physical baptism is a visual representation of this spiritual reality: 

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:1-4).

Brandon is the founder and main contributor to Brandon’s Desk, the blog with biblical resources from his ministry. He is proud to be the pastor of the family of believers at Locust Grove Baptist Church in Murray, Kentucky. He and his wife Dakota live there with their three dogs, Susie (Jack Russell), Aries (English shepherd), and Dot (beagle).

Why Justification Must be By Faith Alone

Far from something we can acquire by meritorious works, justification is the legal act whereby God declares sinners as righteous solely because of the finished work of Christ. In the once-for-all work of justification, the Judge of all the earth (Gen. 18:25) pronounces guilty sinners as “not guilty” because of the double imputation which occurred on the cross, where God imputed the believer’s sin to Christ and imputed His perfect righteousness to them. Thus, justification has “two sides,” namely, the removal of sin’s punishment (since it was paid by Christ), and the “crediting” of righteousness to the believer’s account (since Christ lived a perfectly righteous life). Therefore, it can rightly be said that Jesus did not merely die for sinners; He lived for them. The great exchange of justification, then, is the transferal of the sinner’s guilt to Christ (although He was sinless) and the transferal of Christ’s righteousness to the sinner (although he is sinful). As Paul aptly stated in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Moreover, justification via the finished work of Christ is the only legitimate and just way for sinners to become righteous in God’s sight without jeopardizing God’s own moral demands or holiness (cf. Romans 3:21-26). The Scripture is clear that God is too just to ignore, forget, or even forgive sin without full payment of its penalty. The “wages of sin” and “the record of debt” must be paid in order to satisfy God’s righteous indignation toward sin and sinners (Rom. 6:23; Col. 2:14). Additionally, God is too holy to allow anything less than absolute righteousness and perfection to dwell in His eternal presence (Psalm 15:1-5; Matt. 5:48). And in Christ’s work of justification, He meets both demands: God’s just wrath is propitiated by His atoning sacrifice, and God’s demand for righteousness is met by the crediting of Christ’s righteousness to those who lay hold of justification by faith.

Furthermore, justification is evidently a single decisive event, rather than a continuous process to which we contribute through good works. Because justification is a legal act of acquittal, it fundamentally cannot be a “process of reform.” A judge’s sentence cannot be reversed, revoked, or revised; once the gavel is swung, the case is closed. Likewise, the Lord as Judge has “closed the case” for those who are justified by faith, and His word that is “firmly fixed in the heavens” (Psalm 119:89) is this: “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies” (Rom. 8:33). Additionally, the Scripture attests to the finality of justification in saying that Jesus’ death was, “once for all” (Rom. 6:10; Heb. 9:26), as even Jesus proclaimed from the cross: “It is finished” (John 19:30).

Ultimately, believers are “justified by his grace as a gift” (Romans 3:24a; cf. Eph. 2:8-9). This is because, by definition, justification cannot be achieved through good works (as stated above). As Paul taught in Galatians, “Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified” (Galatians 2:16). Paul also taught just as Abraham believed and it was “counted to him as righteousness,” so God also counts Christ’s righteousness to the believer when they believe in Him and receive justification as a gift of His grace (Romans 4:1-12; cf. also Romans 5:1). Moreover, Paul stated that Christ died for no reason if justification is by any other work than His meritorious work: “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose” (Gal. 2:21).

God would simply be an unjust judge if justification could be received by good works. A corrupt judge is one who reduces a criminal’s sentence or fully pardons him based on the “good” he has done in his life. The criminal cannot tip the scales in his favor, as though his good deeds could outweigh his guilt. Justice demands that he be punished for his misdeeds, and a good judge will make certain that he is. And in the work of justification, God not only justly punished sin in punishing Christ, He also bestows Christ’s “alien righteousness” (Phil. 3:8-9) upon sinners who claim it by faith alone. Therefore, the only good work one needs in order to obtain justification is the finished work of Jesus Christ.

Brandon is the founder and main contributor to Brandon’s Desk, the blog with biblical resources from his ministry. He is proud to be the pastor of the family of believers at Locust Grove Baptist Church in Murray, Kentucky. He and his wife Dakota live there with their three dogs, Susie (Jack Russell), Aries (English shepherd), and Dot (beagle).

What’s Missing In Our Evangelism (It’s Not What You Think)

It is incontestably true that, with the exception of Jesus, the apostle Paul made the deepest spiritual impact upon the world and spread the gospel further than anyone else in history. It is also fair to say that, as believers, we all have a desire to transform our world and reach lost souls the same way Paul did. But, as painful as it is to admit, it is observably true that we are not doing so for the most part. So, what are we missing in our evangelism? Why aren’t we impacting the world like Paul did? 

We have a plethora of evangelistic resources and tools at our disposal—much more than Paul had—so that’s not the problem. We mostly know how to share the gospel with sinners who will listen, so that’s not the issue. And, we certainly have ample opportunities and plenty of “open doors” to proclaim the gospel every week, so that’s not the hang-up either. What we don’t have oftentimes is the heart Paul had. 

What we need in order to reach the world like Paul is a burning and broken heart—a heart that burns hot for God’s glory, and one that is broken and shattered for the sinfulness of man. That’s the heart Paul possessed, and it drove him to evangelize a place as depraved as Athens, Greece. Paul was consumed by a conviction that compelled him to preach the gospel and point idolatrous sinners to the only God who is worthy of worship:

“Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.  So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him” (Acts 17:16-18)

As soon as Paul arrived in Athens, he wasn’t struck by the alluring ancient architecture; he was struck by the awful idolatry that filled the streets. “The city was full of idols,” Luke says. In Greek, this literally means the city streets were “smothered in idols.” And people who passed through Athens confirmed this, as they would often say that it was easier to find a god than a man. 

Athens was an idol-factory that never ceased operations. Temples to mythical gods towered thousands of feet high. Every street corner had an altar. Marble busts depicting every fictitious deity imaginable were almost innumerable. And, at the sight of this, Paul was “provoked” within his spirit.

His heart simultaneously erupted in righteous indignation and fractured into a thousand pieces. He was enraged that wood and stone idols were given glory that belongs to God (cf. Deut. 9:7), and he was saddened because he knew that all sinners are hopelessly enslaved to such idolatry. And a burning and broken heart drove him to proclaim the gospel—the only remedy for sinners steeped in perverted idolatry. 

Thus, Luke says: “So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him” (vv. 17-18a).

Paul did not raid temples or topple idols. He didn’t grab robes or protest in the streets. And most importantly, he didn’t stand idly by while people sailed merrily to eternal torment. Instead, he patiently and boldly preached the gospel to anyone who would listen.

He “reasoned” with the Jews, proving to them that Jesus was the Christ, just as he had done in many other cities. He conversed with people in the public marketplace, engaging in street evangelism with pedestrians. And he debated the philosophers of the day, arguing that Jesus was the way, the truth, and the life (cf. John 14:6).

Here’s the bottom line: Paul saw sinners the way they truly were, and it compelled him to impact the world for Christ and proclaim the gospel to every listening ear. And thus, we have the missing ingredient in our evangelism. If we want to transform the world the way Paul did, we must speak the way Paul spoke. If we desire to speak the way Paul did, we must feel the way he felt about the world. And, if we want to feel the way Paul felt, we must see the way Paul saw the world: steeped in idolatry and in need of redemption from the Lord.

Seeing the world’s pitiful idolatry through biblical eyes is what fuels our zeal to point lost sinners to the only God who is worthy of worship.

How do you see your unsaved family, friends, and neighbors? Do you see them the same way Paul saw the world? Do you see them as helplessly and hopelessly enslaved to idolatry? That’s the conviction that will compel you to proclaim the gospel to a place as sinful and unreachable as Athens.

The Lord Blesses an Evangelistic Church

“Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord” (Acts 11:19-21).

Any church whose members offer their hands to labor in preaching the gospel will have God’s hand of favor resting upon them. He blesses churches who “bring in the sheaves.” His blessing will come inside the church when believers go outside the church with the gospel of grace. He fills the barn with wheat when laborers work the field for a harvest.

We often experience a shortage of God’s blessing on our churches because of a shortage of gospel-laborers gleaning in the field. There is no undersupply of gospel seed. There is no lack of fields ripe for planting. What is in short measure are grace-empowered, Spirit-compelled believers sowing the gospel seed in fertile fields. That is precisely why Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few, therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:37-38).

The gospel harvest was abundant in the city of Antioch, according to St. Luke in the passage above. Believers fleeing persecution in Jerusalem took the gospel seed with them, scattering it in the soil of many unsaved hearts (cf. Acts 8:1, 4). As a result, multitudes came to Christ, eventually forming a large church in the city.

As the scattered saints sounded the saving message of Christ, they experienced the spectacular blessing of God, for, “the hand of the Lord was with them.” You can’t stifle the outstandingly powerful hand of God Almighty. The Scripture declares, “None can stay his hand” (Daniel 4:35b). His hand of grace can lift any sinner drowning in the mire pit of iniquity. His hand of salvation can reach the farthest wandering soul, no matter how vehemently they run hellbound on the broad road to destruction. His hand of mercy can pry open the most impenetrable prison cell to liberate even the most enslaved sinner.

By God’s hand of blessing and grace, a growing church was born without seminary training, strategic planning, or the spending of money. Believers preached. God saved souls. Membership skyrocketed. That’s it.

The hand of the Lord—that’s what it takes. Of course, offering your hands to sow the gospel seed in evangelism is essential, too. God does the saving, but no one can be saved unless they first hear the gospel—from you (cf. Romans 10:14-17). Faith comes by hearing the word of Christ.

Moreover, we would be foolish to try to channel growth into our churches any other way. Solomon warned, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain” (Psalm 127:1a). And God’s chosen means of building His house, the church, is evangelism, where we take the gospel to the unsaved in faith that God will save them, and lay them as living stones in His ever-growing spiritual house (1 Peter 2:5). Let’s stick to it.

An Unexpected Obstacle That Hinders Evangelism and Fellowship

“Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” — Acts 11:1-3

The Jerusalem church received an incredible report: the Gentiles embraced the gospel with open arms. The gospel ship landed on the Gentile shores of pigs and pagans. The sweet sound of salvation in Jesus’ name echoed from Jerusalem to Caesarea (Acts 4:12; 10:1). The promises Jesus made about His gospel reaching the nations were being fulfilled (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8).

The only right response is, “To God be the glory, great things He hath done!” But strikingly, that is not the way the church in Jerusalem responded. Instead, they scorned Peter, saying, “What have you done?”

They were appalled that Peter made friends with the Gentiles, glossing over the awesome reality that the Gentiles became friends of God. They criticized Peter for socializing with Gentiles, slighting the fact that Peter evangelized the Gentiles. They reprimanded him for welcoming Gentiles with a hand of fellowship, disregarding that God had welcomed Gentiles into His kingdom by His righteous right hand.

Genuine believers like Andrew, James, and John criticized Peter for doing good—taking the gospel to the ends of the earth. Of course, they were stirred up by the devout Jews of the “circumcision party,” but isn’t this bizarre? How could true believers be so frustrated by a trivial issue such as eating with Gentiles? And why were they hesitant to welcome the Gentile believers into the church?

On the one hand, you have to cut them a break. They did not yet understand what God was doing by expanding His kingdom beyond Jerusalem. We have the books of Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, and Hebrews to explain the union of Jew and Gentile into one body; they did not. Additionally, the Lord had only spoken to Peter in a vision about including Gentiles in His saving plan (Acts 10:9-16).

On the other hand, this was a grave error. Because of their fixation on circumcision and the Law of Moses, they instinctually required Gentiles to do more than embrace Christ as Savior and Lord—they also had to embrace Judaism. Thankfully, they later understood their error and addressed the issue as a congregation (Acts 11:18; 15:1-35). But at this point, their high regard for circumcision and law-keeping was a barrier to unity and a roadblock to evangelization. Their imposition of criteria and conditions that had no saving value were a clenched fist to communion and a locked door to fellowship.

We should be careful in pointing fingers at these Jewish Christians for their subtle favoritism, however, because the Lord points His finger at us for precisely the same sin. Sometimes, we tend to focus on trivial issues that have no saving value. Whether we realize it or not, we sometimes erect artificial barriers that disrupt unity and discourage evangelism. This is what we refer to as legalism, when we knowingly or unknowingly bind others to observe man-made rules.

This may sound shocking, but sometimes what hinders evangelism of unbelievers and fellowship with fellow believers is not cultural differences, geographical distance, or even Satan—it is us. And believe me, I want to shout, “Say it ain’t so!” But if believers were totally immune to such partiality, Paul would have saved his ink in Romans 14 where he wrote, “Don’t quarrel over opinions” (v. 1), “Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God” (v. 10), and “Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother” (v. 13).

Every true believer should be enthusiastically offered the hand of fellowship, regardless of whether they vote differently, look differently, or hold contrary opinions. External and superficial matters like these do not matter to the Lord who sees the heart—what matters is that one’s heart has been changed by the Lord.

Furthermore, the gospel message should be fervently carried to every unbeliever, regardless of whether they are alcoholics, addicted to drugs, immersed in false religion, stubborn to the things of God, liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, black or white, or pro- or anti-vaccine.

All those guilty of such partiality will give an account to the Lord for standing in the way of the saving gospel and sanctifying fellowship. Such a discriminatory spirit is anti-gospel, satanic, and should be immediately repented of when found in the heart. Don’t let inconsequential things get in the way of fellowship or evangelism. Every believer should be embraced. Every unbeliever should be evangelized.

Brandon is the founder and main contributor to Brandon’s Desk, the blog with biblical resources from his ministry. He is proud to be the pastor of the family of believers at Locust Grove Baptist Church in Murray, Kentucky. He and his wife Dakota live there with their three dogs, Susie (Jack Russell), Aries (English shepherd), and Dot (beagle).

The Holy Spirit Doesn’t Need Your Help

“While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word.” — Acts‬ ‭10:44‬ ‭KJV‬‬

One of the most essential and encouraging truths in all Scripture about preaching the gospel is that the Spirit of God works mightily while we preach.

The Spirit of God punches His timecard when you proclaim the full gospel to the lost. The Spirit engages in CPR, reviving a heart once dead when you engage in evangelism (Eph. 2:1). He shines gospel light in darkened hearts when the blazing gospel torch is carried to those in darkness (2 Cor. 4:6). The Spirit opens blinded eyes when you call the unregenerate to look away from themselves to Christ (2 Cor. 4:4).

The very first thing He does is convict, according to Jesus. He said, “And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). The Spirit puts a person’s conscience on trial when the gospel is published. And He says to them, “You are in serious trouble with God, and you are in serious need of salvation. Wake up! God is holy and you are not. You need Jesus!”

Furthermore, the Spirit converts a sinner’s soul. Paul said:

“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:4-6).

He regenerates the unregenerate soul. He creates new life within a person devoid of spiritual life.

The Spirit does it all, and oftentimes in the very moment we present the gospel.

This does not mean that every person who hears the gospel will be saved. Sometimes your gospel preaching falls on deaf ears. Unsaved sinners still resist grace (cf. Acts 7:51).

What it does mean is that Spirit can penetrate the hardest heart, loosen the stiffest neck, and overcome anyone’s resistance to His call when He wills (John 6:37-40; Acts 16:4; Romans 8:29-30).

What it does mean is that you can faithfully present the gospel and walk away with a full heart, knowing that the Spirit leads a person to Christ.

What it does mean is that you don’t have to worry about whether your presentation of the gospel was eloquent or sophisticated enough to convince someone to believe.

What it means is that you don’t have to use gimmicks, tactics, bouncy-houses, potlucks, or concerts to win a person to Christ.

And it means that no amount of therapy, theories, or prescriptions make a person a better candidate for salvation.

The Spirit of God alone convicts and converts lost souls—and He doesn’t need any help. Just preach the gospel (Romans 10:14-17).

Brandon is the founder and main contributor to Brandon’s Desk, the blog with biblical resources from his ministry. He is proud to be the pastor of the family of believers at Locust Grove Baptist Church in Murray, Kentucky. He and his wife Dakota live there with their three dogs, Susie (Jack Russell), Aries (English shepherd), and Dot (beagle).

What Ed Litton and the SBC Need to Do Right Now

“Take it from Fred, vote for Ed!” he thundered. During the recent Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville, Fred Luter, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention (2012-14), gave an absolutely glowing nomination speech in which he praised and promoted Ed Litton as the man most qualified to head the SBC as president. Thousands of messengers surged to their feet in ovation after Luter’s pithy conclusion. Thousands also cast their ballots for Ed Litton, who is now the president of the country’s largest Protestant denomination.

I did not vote for pastor Ed Litton. I had reservations because he shared the pulpit with his wife, which is in clear violation of both Scripture and the Southern Baptist Faith and Message of 2000. But, to be honest, I didn’t care that my guy lost. It’s just an election. I’m just thankful to be a member of a denomination that holds free and fair elections. Accepting the outcome, I pledged to pray for Ed Litton and support him.

I still accept the outcome. Pastor Litton is still in my prayers. But I am unable to support him in good conscience. And I stand alongside hundreds of other pastors and messengers who are calling for his immediate resignation. If you are a Southern Baptist, you should know why.

Why Should Ed Litton Resign?

Shortly after Litton was elected, there were allegations that he plagiarized a few sermons. “This is probably nothing,” I reasoned. “It is likely some ‘discernment blogger’ unhappy with the election results, and they’ve edited or doctored videos to smear him.” However, I felt compelled to look into these claims myself, especially when Litton repeated J.D. Greear’s famous (and erroneous) statement that “The Bible appears more to whisper when it comes to sexual sin compared to its shouts about materialism and religious pride.”

What I discovered was shocking: sermon after sermon where Ed Litton blatantly plagiarized sermons by J.D. Greear. Litton reused identical sermon outlines, illustrations, and titles. He even repeated many of Greear’s quips and words word-for-word. This was the most egregious case of plagiarism I had ever seen, and I am not exaggerating.

Not long after these allegations were made, Litton apologized for not properly crediting Greear for using a few of his ideas, which I appreciated. He wrote, “But I am sorry for not mentioning J.D.’s generosity and ownership of these points. I should have given him credit as I shared these insights.” Additionally, Greear revealed that Litton actually had his permission to use some of his insights and outlines. The old idiom is, “If my bullets fit your gun, then fire away!” Apparently, they had an arrangement for Litton to fire Greear’s bullets. And that is fine and good.

However, Litton used a lot more than a “few of his insights,” and he never admitted to plagiarizing. For instance, he bizarrely employs the exact same personal mannerisms as Greear, as seen in the dozens of videos. He tells the same jokes, interacts with his congregation in the same way (literally the same), and even uses Greear’s personal experiences as his own. Worse, Litton commits the same exegetical errors as Greear. Litton has plagiarized not just Greear’s sermons, but he has even imitated his personality and copied his mistakes! The evidence is here, here, here, and in all the links above.

Please hear me: if you have any doubts about the credibility of these plagiarism allegations, watch the videos for yourself. There is no denying it: Ed Litton has plagiarized dozens of J.D. Greear’s sermons.

Is Plagiarism Really That Bad?

Plagiarism is a serious sin. Plagiarism violates the Eighth Commandment where God said, “You shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15). Plagiarism is laziness (Prov. 18:9; 2 Thess. 3:6). And above all, pastors should be above plagiarism. The primary qualification for a pastor or elder is that he must be “above reproach” (1 Timothy 3:1-2), and if a pastor is caught undeniably plagiarizing, as in this case, he should at the very least come under the discipline of his church.

Litton serves in a high and holy position, not just as president of the SBC, but also as a pastor of a local church. This conduct is inappropriate for any man who holds the office of pastor and president. Moreover, his hesitancy to resign (or own up) sends a terrible message to the rest of the world and to our churches: Southern Baptists do not care about pastoral integrity. As a Southern Baptist pastor myself, I am deeply grieved in my soul, and I detest this assertion. And I know I am not alone.

Therefore, resigning immediately is the righteous, good, and humble thing to do.

I am not trying to cause a ruckus. I don’t want to slander a fellow brother in Christ. And I pray that any brethren who disagree with me will look into these matters, set disagreements aside, and continue to work together to fulfill the Great Commission.

I am still proud to be a Southern Baptist. I have no plans to leave the SBC or withhold Cooperative Program dollars, although I definitely understand why many churches have already done so. I am simply extremely concerned about the leadership and reputation of our Southern Baptist Convention. And I cannot stay silent about this unbiblical and unacceptable conduct for which there have been no repercussions.

At the SBC in Nashville, our messengers called for transparency. Well, now is the moment for transparency. This is the time for accountability. Ignoring these claims is not transparency. And privatizing over 100 sermon videos doesn’t exactly scream transparency.

Shocking Silence and Support

And while I am shocked at Ed Litton’s conduct, I am appalled by the silence from SBC leaders on this matter. This is how it should have gone down: prominent leaders of the SBC should have spoken up and graciously called for his resignation. But leaders whom I love and respect have not said a word. If they did, Ed Litton may take the advice of his friends and do the right thing.

I am even more shocked that many have risen to his defense. Some have even written articles claiming that it is impossible for pastors to plagiarize. “There’s nothing new under the sun, so you are bound to repeat what someone has already said,” they say. But this is a different matter. This is blatant theft and repurposing of sermon content (and much more).

What Can We Do?

I have felt hopeless and helpless regarding this situation. Pastors that are concerned, like me, are mostly underrepresented in the SBC. In fact, Tom Ascol and Jared Longshore of Founders Ministries are the only prominent leaders that have spoken extensively on this issue (to my knowledge).

Although discouraged, I still had to do something. So, I emailed the SBC’s Executive Committee, to see what they might do. Here is the reply I received:

“Thank you for your inquiry, but the EC does not have the authority to investigate and sanction the duly elected President of the Convention. Nevertheless, the Baptist Press, maintained by the EC has publicized the story including Pastor Litton’s address concerning the issue. Only the Convention itself, in which does not meet again until June of 2022 can do this—through the election process. We hope our note was helpful.”

In other words, “Sorry, but the Executive Committee can do nothing.” Would they be as powerless if Litton was involved in a sexual abuse scandal? I have a hunch that they would respond quite differently. Although the Executive Committee serves as the SBC’s ad interim, apparently there is nothing they can do regarding Litton’s integrity.

From what I have gathered, there are only three things a concerned Southern Baptist can do under these circumstances. We can (1) pray and continue to call on Ed Litton to resign, (2) vote against him in 2022, and/or (3) take to the newly formed Credentials Committee.

#1 Continuing to Pray and Call for Resignation

I am still praying and hoping that Litton will do the right thing and resign. That would send a great message to the world about who we are as Southern Baptists and how important it is to have honesty and integrity in the pulpit. Whether directly or indirectly, this scandal is satanic, an effort from the enemy to discourage us from preaching the gospel. Therefore, we must pray as we engage in what is clearly spiritual warfare. Let us continue to call on the Lord to convict president Litton. And let us relentlessly call on Ed Litton to resign.

#2 Voting Litton Out

In 2022, the SBC will meet in the Southern-Baptist-rich territory (not) of Anaheim, California. Given the public nature of this scandal, the chances are high that Litton will be contested. Under normal circumstances, a good SBC president serves another consecutive term. If Litton refuses to resign, we will have the chance to remove him with our ballots next year.

#3 Talk to the Credentials Committee

The Credentials Committee is a newly formed committee within the SBC that makes inquiries of churches that are found to be not in friendly cooperation with the SBC. They don’t have the authority to remove churches, but they communicate with churches in question and present their findings to the Executive Committee. I have quoted their Statement of Assignment for clarity’s sake on what they can and can’t do:

If a church is deemed not to be in friendly cooperation with the Convention’s adopted statement of faith and practice, the Convention has the autonomous authority to declare it will no longer recognize the church as a cooperating church with the Convention and to sever its relationship with the church. Upon receipt of a submission, the Credentials Committee may inform the church of the concerns raised against it. If necessary to adequately garner the information necessary to fully vet the concern, the identity of the individual or individuals making the allegations may be shared with the church . . . If a church is deemed not in friendly cooperation, the Credentials Committee will notify the SBC Executive Committee in accordance with its assignment in SBC Bylaw 8. After this assessment is made the following steps would ensue. The Executive Committee, upon the next scheduled meeting, will consider the recommendation of the Credentials Committee. The Credentials Committee will issue statements concerning a church’s relationship with the Convention as follows: a recommendation to ask the Executive Committee to declare a church not in friendly cooperation with the SBC, which will be incorporated into the Executive Committee agenda which is distributed to Executive Committee members, Baptist media, and other elected Southern Baptist leaders prior to each of its scheduled meetings.

You can express your concerns about Ed Litton on the Credentials Committee’s webpage, as the congregation he pastors does not appear to have subjected him to official church discipline. He is the lead pastor of Redemption Church in Saraland, Alabama. It is the leadership’s biblical obligation to deal with Litton’s plagiarism. Their pastor is making a grave error, which they do not appear to have rectified.


In this moment, we ought to remember these sober words:

“Without a sacred weight of character, the most splendid rhetoric will win only a short-lived applause; with it, the plainest scriptural instructions are eloquent to win souls. Eloquence may dazzle and please; holiness of life convinces. The pastor’s character speaks more loudly than his tongue.” — R. L. Dabney

Ed Litton, please repent of your plagiarism and resign as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, for the sake of character my dear brother. It is the right thing to do.