Changed By Glory

"And we all… beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another." II Cor. 3:18



A Crucial Text For Testing Preaching

As the pastor of an international church in a region known for rapid transience, one of the greatest burdens that I developed for my congregation was that they would be able to discern what right, biblical teaching is. Wherever the turnstyle of life takes them they will doubtless not find a church that is a copy of mine, which is perfectly fine! But when they walk into a church in the next city of their sojourn, will they be able to see beyond the charisma or oratorical skill of the pastor – or lack thereof? Furthermore, will be equipped to tell if that sermon clip from YouTube is actually helpful? Will they be able to discern what is right, biblical teaching? How will they know if the preaching they are hearing is from the Spirit of Christ or the spirit of antichrist? 

Whatever preacher they encounter, that preacher will likely invoke the Spirit’s presence in their preaching, they will likely quote from the Scriptures. And so how will they know whether or not to trust their message? How will they know if it is truly from the Spirit and truly faithful to Scripture? 

In order to answer this question, there is a text of Scripture that I believe is crucial for testing the rightness of someone’s preaching. 

The text is John 15:26-27. And we find this passage in the middle of a precious passage where Jesus is preparing his disciples for his departure, giving them a realistic view of days ahead, joined together with precious promises so that when hardship, and persecution, and confusion, and falsehood arises, they will not stumble (John 16:1). And if we think carefully about this text, it can help keep us from stumbling as well by providing at least two vital tests, each of which is indispensable, for whether preaching/teaching is right and biblical. 

“When the Counselor comes, the one I will send to you from the Father ​— ​the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father ​— ​he will testify about me. 27 You also will testify, because you have been with me from the beginning. — John 15:26-27 (CSB)

The Counselor, which is the “Spirit of truth” who guides into all truth as it relates to Jesus Christ, has now come and in the purpose of his coming we see two crucial tests for whether or not teaching is from the Spirit, whether or not it is right and biblical. 


1) Is this about Jesus?

The defining mark of the sermons delivered in the days following the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was that they were about Jesus and the unfolding of God’s promises and redemptive purposes in and through him. 


Notice in that crucial text in question, the Holy Spirit testifies about Jesus and the Jesus says “you also will testify”. Preaching that comes from the Spirit points Jesus, teaching that is right brings clarity to who Christ is and what he has done, is doing, and will do. The fundamental attribute of Spirit-filled preaching is that it magnifies Christ. It puts him on display to be seen and marvelled at. 

Therefore, it makes sense that Paul points out the simple purity of his ministry as deciding “to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” — 1 Corinthians 2:2 (CSB) And “For we are not proclaiming ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord.” — 2 Corinthians 4:5 (CSB) He believed his teaching ministry was summed up as “to proclaim… the incalculable riches of Christ” — Ephesians 3:8 (CSB)

Right biblical preaching, that comes from the Spirit will help you know and love Jesus better. Such that even the imperatives of the Christian life are all implications of knowing Christ (i.e. Eph. 5:2; Col 3:1; 1 Peter 2:21, etc). 


2) Is it faithful to the apostolic witness found in the New Testament?


Notice that Jesus says, “You also will testify because you have been with me from the beginning.” The ministry of the apostles was the result of the Spirit giving them understanding of their own eyewitness encounters with Jesus. It is to this which John himself appeals in his first epistle when he says, “That which was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have observed and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life ​— ​2 that life was revealed, and we have seen it and we testify and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us ​— ​3 what we have seen and heard we also declare to you, so that you may also have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. — 1 John 1:1-3 (CSB)

The apostolic witness was one of transmitting what they had seen and received to be held onto until the day when Jesus comes to be marvelled at by his church. Therefore, Paul instructs Timothy to guard the good deposit he had been entrusted with and he rebukes the Galatians, telling them that if even an angel delivers to them another message than what we (the apostles) have delivered to you that they should be regarded as accursed. 

Preaching that is new, that is innovative, that appeals to fresh revelation or a “coming of age” in Christian doctrine, is not in line with the apostolic witness in the New Testament. A witness which is guarded as we take what they proclaimed and we hold on to it, passing it on to faithful men who will teach it to others also. Preaching that is right and biblical, in other words, from the Spirit, will confirm, clarify, and apply the apostles’ witness contained in the Scriptures. 


According to Jesus, to have eternal life is to know God through him (John 17:3,26). The Spirit gives this life by showing us Christ through the Apostolic witness contained in the Scriptures and proclaimed by the Church. Therefore, right preaching is always going to have the aim of showing Christ in a manner faithful to the testimony of the Apostles. Even preaching and teaching from the Old Testament must be done through the lens of its relation to who Jesus is and what he has done.

Therefore, when you listen to preaching or pick up a book teaching about the Christian life, apply this test to see if it comes from the Spirit of God. Is it about the Jesus the Apostles bore witness to? Does it help you know him, and love him, and live in a way that flows from knowing him? Does it help you treasure him above everything else? 

These two questions that flow from this text in John are not fool-proof, but they are a good starting place for discerning the rightness of someone’s teaching – starting with the rightness of your own thoughts and convictions. 

If it is right, if it is biblical, if it is from the Holy Spirit, it will point to Jesus and it will agree with the witness of the Apostles. 


The Novelty of Good Intentions

Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice, (Philippians 1:15-18 ESV)

As time passes I am more and more convinced that God does not need my skills, my eloquence, my cultural insight, and apparently not even my good intentions for his Word to be effective. As I have considered the God in Scripture and his Gospel, it has become apparent to me that what we proclaim, not skillfully spun, but plainly spoken, will always have its intended result. Those men that God has used as his mouthpieces in Scripture certainly were convinced of this – as was the Word-made-flesh himself.

When one carefully considers Paul, he finds someone who I would argue eschewed pragmatism. He had one method – “preach Christ”. Paul’s ministry flowed out of his theology. He knew that where the word was supposed to have its saving effect it would and where it was meant to harden it would. His confidence was not in eloquence or reason – but was in the Spirit working through the word. Even Paul himself, a doctor of the Scriptures, had rejected Christ even though he beheld with blind eyes for years his image in the law and prophets. Nothing was going to cause Paul to see the truth of the Gospel and embrace it except for a work of the Holy Spirit. And so it was.

This simple confidence that Paul had in the message which he proclaimed can be seen with shocking clarity in Philippians 1:15-18. Paul applauded the proclamation of the Gospel even by those that did it with wrong motives. He wasn’t begrudgingly thankful that the word was getting out, but he rejoiced! Why? Because he was completely confident that the power of the message was found in its source and not in its delivery. Such was Paul’s confidence in the simple proclamation of the Gospel that it did not matter to him who proclaimed it or why they did, as long as it was proclaimed. For he knew that it is the word falling on deaf ears and dead hearts that the Spirit of God uses to awaken sinners to life – if he so pleases.

The encouragement here is plentiful:

First it should encourage us as Christians – and especially as pastors – to be humbled, recognizing that the power for effective ministry does not rest in us but in the message we proclaim, if in fact we proclaim the Gospel that Paul preached.

Second, we should also rejoice when the Gospel is preached, even if the personality of the one preaching it is abrasive or in some way obnoxious. We should rejoice that the fragrance of Christ is spread, even if it is from a crude vessel. There are preachers I can barely stand to listen to, but they proclaim the Gospel and by it many are saved. I should rejoice.

Third, abandon hope in pragmatism and cultural intelligence. Focus instead on the purity of the message you proclaim. For if God does not even need your good intentions to exalt Christ and save sinners, he certainly doesn’t need your good ideas, however well-intentioned they may be.

Know the message of the Gospel. And desire that it be preached. More than you desire fruit or freedom or approval, desire that the Gospel be preached.



Defending the Flock in the Age of Information

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert…. (Acts 20:28-31)


Nearly every New Testament letter can be found with portions directed at refuting contemporary false teaching. It is likely that when Paul and John wrote their epistles that they had specific false teachers and false apostles in mind. For instance, many believe that John wrote his first epistle with the proto-gnostic Cerinthus in mind. Whatever the individual cases may have been in Corinth, Crete, or Ephesus, Paul was clear on one thing when he spoke to the elders at Ephesus in Acts 20 – this problem of false teachers was not going away and before the end it would only get worse.

Moving to the present day we can see that there are plenty of wolves and the damage they do is devastating. Prosperity Gospel, cheap grace, attacks on the authority of Scripture, distortions of doctrine of all kind abound. Now as much as ever church leaders need to be called to “follow the pattern of sound words” delivered by the apostles and to “guard the deposit” that has been entrusted to the church (2 Tim. 1:13-14). But this task is becoming more and more difficult, perhaps more so than Paul or John could have imagined in their time. And the task is becoming more difficult not because the heresies we face are really that new, but because we live in the age of information.

On a good note ease of access to information is not entirely detrimental. The Reformation spread across Europe like it did because the invention of the printing press and the increase in literacy stemming from the rise of humanism allowed the pamphlets of Luther and other reformers to flood the market. But as a result of this technological development, the print medium also became a channel for the counter-reformation and later works of the Enlightenment which would begin to erode the authority of Scripture.

In the last half century with various television preachers and now with the widespread access to the internet, new challenges have arisen for defending the flock from wolves. Challenges that I believe are unprecedented. Between God TV, YouTube, and numberless other access points people can have their “itching ears” scratched without their pastor knowing exactly what they are getting exposed to. Under-shepherds of Christ’s church might be able to call out the teachings of well-known teachers, but now there are blogs, memes, Facebook, and Twitter where many people –well-meaning but deceived – post things that sound so good but are laden with poison. Young believers surf the web where they are exposed to all sorts of teaching that they lack the discernment and the knowledge to refute.

Pastors can no longer be content to be reactionary when it comes to sound doctrine. Shepherds cannot afford to wait until a person becomes indoctrinated by online false-teachers, at which point they are no longer protecting but rescuing.

As I have contemplated the defense of sound doctrine and the protection of the flock in the age of information I have become convinced that I cannot afford to be reactive and I cannot be so naïve as to think that my flock is only listening to my sermons and reading the books I promote. In fact, I am reminded constantly that they are often exposed to stuff that sounds so right and is just so wrong! What then is the answer? I don’t think turning every sermon into a rant is the answer. Rather, now more than ever, we need to defend the sheep by arming the sheep. I know that invokes funny images of sheep wearing bandoliers with their hooves sharpened to shanks, but I think that arming the sheep is the best way you can protect the sheep.

How do we arm the sheep?

  1. We can do this by first of all making the sheep aware of the danger. Make sure that the flock knows that spiritual warfare is primarily an issue of truth and lies. They need to know that the favorite weapon of the enemy is delicious cake laced with a slow-acting poison. The people should be nearly paranoid of false teaching (hyperbole for emphasis).
  2. Then we must equip them with a robust understanding of biblical theology. The great themes that tie Scripture together should run through our sermons. This will help the sheep identify teaching that does not fit into that narrative.
  3. Encourage dialogue between people and elders about what they are hearing, and when something alarming comes up don’t just brush it off, but elevate the authority of Scripture and take them to it, showing them where the problem really lies with the teaching in question. Make it clear that the problem is not that it disagrees with you, but with God. We owe the flock careful, biblical answers to their questions.
  4. Pastors should model humble confidence in God’s word. We need to show people that we don’t feel threatened personally by the teaching of others, but that we ourselves are teachable, but still unwavering in our confidence of the truth that we proclaim. This means that when we find our doctrine in need of being corrected we don’t hang onto a viewpoint that we can’t biblically defend.
  5. Finally, by repetition drive home the foundational doctrines of the Gospel. Help people see that ideas, true and untrue, have consequences and that they need to filter what they hear and read through these founding doctrines of Scripture. Help them see that everyone is a theologian – good or bad. Guide the flock in thinking carefully about the domino effect of certain ideas. Remind them again of why this is so important – because wolves wear sheep’s clothing and devils dress as angels.

The answer to defending the flock in the age of information is to equip the flock to identify and refute harmful teaching. Heighten their senses to warning signs – the taste, smell, and feel of heresy. In doing this you will be able to know that when you are gone the sheep will be safe. And at the end of the day, defend knowing that the battle is the Lord’s and that he preserves his own from being overcome by lies. But know he has ordained that shepherds be a means for protecting the flock. My prayer is that we would be alert and confident, that we would not fear “for God hath willed his truth to triumph through us.”

Happy Reformation Day

This is the desire and passion of my heart, that the glory and majesty of God mediated through the preaching of the Word of God, would be on display for all to see!
Soli Deo Gloria!

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