Category: Bible Study Articles

The Five Solas:
God’s Glory Alone

Posted by on 11/01/2017 in:

SOLI DEO GLORIA

Sola scriptura. Sola Fide. Sola Gratia. Solus Christus. Each of these on their own is a strong rallying cry and doctrine worth defending. Yet, each becomes stronger when joined with the final sola, soli deo gloria. Glory to God alone. This is the glue that holds all the other solas together.

Compared to the other four, the need to defend God’s glory seems unnecessary. Who in their right mind would not give God glory for all he has done? For the Reformers, all five pillars stood on one key word: alone. Scripture alone is our final authority. Salvation is in Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone. The Reformers protested that the Roman Catholic Church was altering and adding to the gospel. It was the Bible and tradition and the Pope; it was us working with Christ; faith and good works; and so on.

With these additions to the gospel, it was no longer God alone who could glory in our salvation. In other words, if we have a hand in even the slightest part of our salvation we have reason to boast & glory in ourselves. Yet, the Reformation sought to rightly teach the gospel as a work solely in the hands of God from beginning to end. It is glory to God alone for our salvation. No one else can share in his credit.

WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

With so many subtleties and nuances, why do these solas even matter? Why should we care about making sure God alone gets all glory? It matters because it puts us in our proper place. We like to tell self-centered people that the world does not revolve around them. But, we do the same thing when we skew these doctrines from how they ought to be understood. We put ourselves at the center of the gospel story. It’s all about us. Yet, the Bible paints a different picture: it’s all about God. He does it out of his own good pleasure and he is the center of the story.

Isaiah 42:8 tells us that God will not share his glory with another. In Revelation we see the saints placing their crowns at Jesus’ feet and praising God. Even the wicked will bow and recognize his glory. All glory is God’s alone, especially when it comes to our salvation. He did all the work, so let’s make sure we give him all the credit he’s due.

LEARN MORE

To learn more about the doctrine of Christ alone check out God’s Glory Alone: The Majestic Heart of Christian Faith and Life by David VanDrunen and the rest of the Five Solas Series.

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What’s a Topical Bible?

Posted by on 10/25/2017 in: ,

When you don’t know a word, your first inclination is to find a dictionary definition of it. Although that information is helpful, you can learn so much more by hearing the word used in a sentence. When you experience the word being used, you learn how to use it for yourself. So, in this blog, I’ll tell you what a topical Bible is, but we won’t stop there. I’ll show you how to use one and how it can change the way you study the Bible.

WHAT’S A TOPICAL BIBLE?

Simply put, a topical Bible takes passages of Scripture and organizes them by topic. Our most recently acquired topical Bible looks like this in the app:

You can search through the resource like a dictionary, finding important Biblical themes, people, and places. When you pull one up, you’ll see a long list Scripture references. These are all linked. Just tap on it to open a pop-up window showing you the verse in context.

A TOPICAL BIBLE IN ACTION

I was asking myself this question not too long ago. I knew what a topical Bible was, and how I might use it… but I wondered how the authors of this resource envisioned others using it. Lucky enough, John MacArthur provides that information in the foreword of his MacArthur Topical Bible.

1. WHY USE A TOPICAL BIBLE?

When reading the Bible, we may first ask ourselves, “What does this mean to me?” But we should probably first ask, “What does the Bible mean by what it says?” MacArthur shares us the typical four steps for interpretation and which step he envisions his tool being used:

  • LITERAL: The Bible often speaks in literal terms. Let it speak for itself! What plain observations can you make?
  • HISTORICAL: The Bible talks about history. Learn about the historical context of the passage.
  • GRAMMATICAL: The Bible was written in a different language. Is there anything you might interpret differently after looking at a definition of a word in the original language?
  • SYNTHESIS: The Bible can interpret the Bible—it never contradicts itself! So, other passages of Scripture can help us understand the current passage we are reading… and this is where a topical Bible is handy!

When you’re doing your daily Bible reading, you can pick out the main themes and ideas you see presented. Then, look those up in a topical Bible. Then you can quickly read about the theme in other parts of the Bible by opening those pop-up windows we talked about earlier.

How does this help us? It keeps us from interpreting the Bible our way. Instead, we are looking to God’s Word for clarification.

1. HOW DO I USE A TOPICAL BIBLE?

We’ve already covered this a little bit, but I thought I could give you a real-life example!

Perhaps you’re reading Micah 6 and come across that well-know verse: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

God requires you to walk humbly. But what does “humbly” mean? Well, let’s see how God uses that word in other places in the Bible!

One example I pulled up is in Isaiah 57. This verse talks about God reviving or instilling joy in those who are low in spirit. Does being humble mean being sad or having poor self-image? Let’s check out another verse:

James 4 shows that when we are humble, God exalts us. What theme do we see between these passages?

  1. Micah 6: walk humbly with God
  2. Isaiah 57: when we are low, God will revive us
  3. James 4: when we are humble, God exalts us

Being humble appears to be more about our relationship with God. Do we try to exalt ourselves? Are we trying to please ourselves, puffing up with pride and acting like we have it all together? Are we doing things our own way?

Those actions and motives are the opposite of humility. You don’t have to be dreary and think poorly of yourself to be humble. But you do need to recognize your flaws and God’s perfection.

LEARN MORE

Start interpreting Scripture with Scripture in your Bible study time. We’ve got the MacArthur Topical Bible on sale right now, and you can learn more about it on our website.

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The Five Solas:
Christ Alone

Posted by on 10/24/2017 in:

“… for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” – Acts 4:12

CHRIST ALONE

Of the five solas, solus Christus is the most important. This sola unifies all the others. Without the person and work of Jesus Christ we have nothing to talk about. Jesus is the interpretative key of the Bible (sola scriptura). Christ is the means by which we receive God’s grace (sola gratia). By itself faith merits nothing, it is Christ as the object of our faith that matters (sola fide). Finally, Jesus did it all for God’s glory alone (soli deo gloria).

While it’s easy to understand how Jesus is at the center of the solas, what do we mean when we say “Christ alone”? The answer is multifaceted. First, “Christ alone” is the only way man can enter heaven. 1 Timothy 2:5 tells us that Jesus is the sole mediator between God and man. There is no reconciliation except through him. Second, “Christ alone” means Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are wholly sufficient to secure our salvation. There is no “Christ and…,” but “Christ alone.” We do not need anymore priests, sacrifices, or good works. Christ has done it all. Finally, it means that “Christ alone” is the central purpose of God’s work in redemption. He alone is the cornerstone of our faith & theology.

THE DOCTRINE TODAY

Why does this doctrine matter to the church today? Simply put, all our theology stands or falls on this doctrine. Our understanding of Christ can either shape or destroy our Christian theology. Let me ask the question another way: what is your hope for entering heaven? Christ alone is our only hope. He is the image of God and the only one to perfectly keep God’s law. Without everything Christ did, we are hopeless and our faith is meaningless. Jesus is how we know God. He is how we restore our broken fellowship with God. Jesus is the means of our pardon. Jesus did it all.

Our salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. His work was perfect and we can add nothing to it. He has always been the only way to salvation.

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” – Jesus (John 14:6)

LEARN MORE

To learn more about the doctrine of Christ alone check out Christ Alone: The Uniqueness of Jesus as Savior by Stephen Wellum and the rest of the Five Solas Series.

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The Five Solas:
Grace Alone

Posted by on 10/18/2017 in:

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people
Titus 2:11

SOLA GRATIA – GRACE ALONE

Three of the five solas are so intertwined that it’s hard to distinguish their nuances. The Reformers believed that salvation is through faith alone, by grace alone, in Christ alone. These three solas operate synergistically & describe how man can be made right with God.

Grace is throughout all the Bible’s pages, from Genesis to Revelation. It is at the heart of the gospel and an essential part of God’s character. In it’s simplest terms, grace can be defined as getting something you do not deserve. Of the five solas, this is the least disputed, but often the most overlooked.

HISTORY

While oft agreed upon, that is not to say it has been without dispute in Church history. The most memorable dispute occurred between Pelagius and Augustine. Pelagius believed man was not entirely affected by the Fall, and was able to perform good works that pleased God, thus earning salvation. His teachings denied the need for God to provide grace in order to be saved. In his view, man was good enough to earn his own salvation & Jesus was more a model to be followed. With the help of Augustine’s rebuttal, the Church found Pelagius to be a heretic & excommunicated him. Church counsels throughout the centuries continued to stomp out any attempted resurrection of this heresy.

During the Reformation era this heresy once again raised its head through the teachings of Jacob Arminius, albeit in a modified form. Arminius’ view is often labeled as Semi-Pelagianism. It teaches that while man is tainted by sin, he is not unable to cooperate with God’s free offer of grace. This is the battle that the Reformers waged, hence the cry sola gratia.

The Reformers taught that man is totally depraved and wholly incapable of choosing God. This is all a result of Adam’s fall in the Garden, which brought about spiritual death for all humanity. Therefore, it took a work of God to redeem and make us spiritually alive. God’s grace is the only reason we have salvation. Protestantism has held this view throughout subsequent centuries.

WHY SHOULD YOU CARE?

So, why does any of this matter? Because it is core to the gospel! Your understanding of this doctrine comes as a direct result of your understanding of the Fall and man’s depravity. The doctrine of grace alone draws us back to what Adam lost for all humanity: communion with God. To restore this lost fellowship God sent his son, Jesus Christ, to pay the penalty for our sin. Being a perfect judge, God cannot overlook sin, thus Christ’s sacrifice. Like the common Christian acronym for grace says, it is truly “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.” We get everything we do not deserve because Jesus bore our sin. That is why this doctrine matters!

LEARN MORE

To learn more about the doctrine of faith alone check out Grace Alone: Salvation as a Gift of God by Carl Trueman and the rest of the Five Solas Series.

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Learn to Read Books of the Bible as Books

Posted by on 10/16/2017 in: ,

APPROACHING THE BIBLE AS LITERATURE

There’s no doubt you’ve realized that the Bible is a book, but have you ever thought about what that means? If you took a literature class is high school or college, you may remember that there’s a lot more to studying books than simply reading them. There’s a storyline, plot, characters, themes, motifs, genre and literary devices. Sometimes, the author’s intentions are easy to understand. And sometimes, the author’s intentions lie deep beneath the surface. Just like reading Shakespeare or Nathaniel Hawthorne, if we hope to understand the Bible, we have to understand how and why it was written.

But what will you gain by approaching the Bible as literature? First, you will be able to see the Bible as a metanarrative (a fancy word that means “one big story”). It’s incredibly neat to see patterns throughout not only books of the Bible, but the Bible itself. Secondly, you will be able to better understand and apply some of the more confusing books of the Bible—like Ecclesiastes.

WHAT RESOURCES DO I USE?

There are so many different ways to study the Bible, and it can be hard to know which resources will give you the information you want. Some study Bibles and commentaries are more vague, providing you with an array of different types of information. But recently we were able to add the ESV Literary Study Bible to our store—and it is the perfect resource for solving this problem.

READING THE BOOK OF ECCLESIASTES AS… A BOOK

Before you start reading Ecclesiastes, it’s probably good to get some background. The ESV Literary Study Bible loads their introduction notes with helpful information to get you ready. It covers the basics (such as format, patterns, rhetoric, and genres), but it also gives you a heads-up on some inferred literary intentions and theological themes.

One of the most helpful sections is called: “Ecclesiastes as a chapter in the master story of the Bible.” This resource always tries to teach you how each book of the Bible fits into the whole Bible. Here’s a snippet of what it shares:

“The book of Ecclesiastes has been called a Christ-shaped vacuum. Its contribution to the story line of the Bible is to record the longing of the human soul to find satisfaction and to point us toward the satisfaction of that longing in a Christ-centered experience of life. Jesus is the meaning of life, and if he is not at the center of our daily experience, we will find only futility and frustration.”

The Futile Quest to Find Meaning in Pleasure

Now, we’ll look at two examples of how this resource teaches you to read the Bible as literature and apply it to your life. Under this heading, you’ll find information on Ecclesiastes 2:1-11. In this passage, Solomon is telling his listeners about all the items he acquired in his search for pleasure. Because of his wealth, he was able to have anything he desired and yet, in the end, it was useless to him.

The study notes are helpful in revealing what is being communicated and how it applies to us:

 “The passage gives us a catalog of acquisitions and attempted avenues of pleasure. Even as we observe a courtly version of the acquisitive lifestyle, it is easy for us to see real-life applications: a fancy house and yard (vv. 5–6); possessions (v. 7); money, entertainment, and sex (v. 8). The passage asserts the paradox of hedonism: the more one searches for pleasure, the less of it one finds.

The World’s Most Famous Poem on the Subject of Time

In this section, the ESV Literary Study Bible covers the famous poem on time (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, “a time to be born, and a time to die…”). Poetry definitely requires more literary analysis in order to understand. Here’s what the resource shares on this section of Scripture:

The poem illustrates the haunting and cumulative effect of Hebrew poetry: by the time we finish the poem, we are emotionally convinced that there is, indeed, a time for everything. In terms of the rhythm of the book of Ecclesiastes, the poem is positive in mood: within the given that we cannot control the events of life, the poem (a) implies that life is as much good as bad, (b) embodies a spirit of calm resignation rather than protest in regard to the time-bound nature of human life, (c) affirms an order to human life, and (d) asserts the positive theme of timeliness (if we cannot control time, we can plug into its flow).

LEARN MORE

If you’re using these notes and you come across a term you don’t know—that’s okay! Many of the literary devices are hyperlinked to a glossary. Also, all of the verses are hyperlinked for easy study.

Want to starting reading books of the Bible as literature? Check out the ESV Literary Study Bible.

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The Five Solas:
Faith Alone

Posted by on 10/09/2017 in:

FAITH ALONE?

One of the pillars of the Reformation was the belief that we are saved by faith alone. The cry sola fide declared that we come to salvation, not through any righteousness of our own, but solely through the work and person of Jesus Christ.

What does faith alone mean? This is the doctrine of justification. Here are some of the questions the Reformers sought to answer:

  • Are we saved by faith alone or faith plus works?
  • Does Christ’s righteousness only clean our slate of past sins (before salvation)?
  • Does Christ’s righteousness wholly replace our own?

Sola fide declares that we are saved by faith alone and all of Christ’s righteousness is credited to our account. There is nothing more we can or need to do to achieve our salvation. If there were remaining work on our end, then salvation would be in our hands, not God’s.

DOES IT MATTER?

While this may have been an important question for the Reformers, does it still matter 500 years later? The answer is a resounding yes! Throughout history the question has not changed: How can a person be made right with God? We all must confront this question, and sola fide gives us our answer. This doctrine reminds us of the grace of God and his gospel. We can testify that God is good because he is the one who ultimately and completely accomplishes our salvation. He loves us so much that he did all the work. How we are justified and able to stand before God is one of the key components of the gospel, and one that is worth fighting for.

When this doctrine is rightly understood, you can join Christian rapper Shai Linne in saying, “It feels so good to be justified!”

LEARN MORE

To learn more about the doctrine of faith alone check out Faith Alone: The Doctrine of Justification by Thomas Schreiner and the rest of the Five Solas Series.

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The Five Solas:
Scripture Alone

Posted by on 10/03/2017 in:

THE HISTORY

When the Reformation began the doctrine of Scripture was central. During this time the Bible was not something for the common man. Through the centuries the Roman Catholic church had elevated the authority of tradition and the papal office’s interpretation over that of scripture itself. The Bible had not authority in the lives of Christians or even its teachers.

In 1516, a year before Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Erasmus of Rotterdam published a Greek New Testament alongside the Latin text of the Vulgate. Through his own reading of the Bible and reading this Greek New Testament, Luther was led away from Roman Catholic traditions that had obscured the gospel. No longer relying on tradition but scripture alone, Luther rediscovered the heart of the gospel. Others like Ulrich Zwingli were also affected and began preaching through the New Testament.

SOLA SCRIPTURA

What does “sola scriptura” mean? In a nutshell, it speaks to the authority of the Bible for the church. Because God’s Word is inspired, inerrant, and wholly sufficient, it alone is the final authority for the church and the Christian. This means, Christians are not to place feelings, tradition, or teachings of men above that of the Bible. While some of these may have a authority, they all must submit to and agree with God’s written word.

This quote from Martin Luther sums it up well:

Scripture alone is the true lord and master of all writings and doctrine on earth. If that is not granted, what is Scripture good for? The more we reject it, the more we become satisfied with men’s books and human teachers.

IT STILL MATTERS

In as much as the authority of the Bible mattered for Martin Luther and the reformers, it is just as important today. Part of the Reformation included putting the Bible in the hands of everyone, not just those who were given authority to teach it. Instead of taking your pastor or favorite Christian author’s word for what the Bible says, read it yourself. Let the Bible always be your final authority. With the Olive Tree Bible App the final authority is always at your fingertips!

To learn more about the doctrine of scripture alone check out God’s Word Alone by Mathew Barrett and the rest of the Five Solas Series.

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Church History & Why It Matters

Posted by on 08/17/2017 in:

MY OWN STORY

A couple months ago I talked about how I learned to love church history. Around that time, I started work on another history project: my family tree. I don’t remember what motivated me, but I spent countless hours stitching together my family’s history on Ancestry.com. While working on this, I learned some interesting things. The most notable tidbit is that my second great-grandfather was a pastor & founded the church that my grandparents still attend. On my grandfather’s 90th birthday two years ago, I got to preach at that church. How awesome is that?!

OUR STORY

Now, what does my story have to do with church history? Well, Scripture teaches us in Ephesians 2:19 that Christians are members of the “household of God” because we’ve been adopted into his family. This means we’re reading about our own family & heritage when we study church history. Knowing that we’re learning about our own family should motivate us to dive into church history with fervor. These aren’t random people we’re learning about; no, the great theologians of times past are our spiritual family, and we should relish the opportunity to learn about them!

7 TITLES TO GET YOU STARTED

It doesn’t matter if you’re heading into Bible college or seminary or just looking to brush up on your church history, Olive Tree has some great resources that’ll meet your needs. I challenge you to pick up at least one of these titles and begin learning about your spiritual family’s history.

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From Nothing to Everything

Posted by on 07/12/2017 in: ,

I look absolutely nothing like the rest of my family, sporting stick-straight blonde hair and blue eyes. My mother is a quarter Native American, my dad is an Irishman, and my sister is half African American. We always look like an odd bunch of people when we go out for dinner. I’ve even been asked by a waiter how we all know each other. I looked around the table at all our contrasting faces; “They’re my family,” I said.

Throughout my life I’ve been asked many questions about this characteristic, such as:

Do you wonder about your biological family?

If you could live with them, would you?

Do you really consider your mom to be your mom?

When you say dad… you mean your adopted dad, right?

Is it weird?

I honestly don’t mind the questions, but that’s probably because I don’t mind being adopted. Instead, it’s this one characteristic that brought about a deep understanding of God’s love for me—and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

You see, in Romans 8, the apostle Paul talks about adoption. He says, “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father’” (Romans 8:14-15, NIV).

From my personal experience and observation, I took a few key points away from this passage. When I watched my parents adopt my little sister, I saw them dedicate time, money, and energy so that they could leave the courtroom saying, “This is my daughter. I love her. She’s mine.” And it doesn’t stop there. They then embarked on a life-long journey of caring for my sister, teaching her and shaping her. God does this for us, too. We leave the courtroom with him, calling him Father.

My personal understanding of adoption speaks volumes into my understanding of God. But it is also so important to investigate the cultural understanding of adoption during the time of the apostle Paul. The Archaeological Study Bible explains that, in the ancient Greco-Roman world, “only free men (not women or slaves) could adopt, and the adoptee was often an adult rather than a child.” Additionally, an adoptee “took the adopter’s name and rank and became his legal heir.”

When Paul embraced the metaphor of adoption, he meant so much more than receiving a new guardian. Where an adopted child may learn the new family’s customs, share in the labor, and easily fit into the new societal ranking, a grown adult may not. An adopted adult would cling to their old ways. An adopted adult would struggle to transition into their new identity. But, despite these challenges, the adoptee is welcomed in, being brought from poverty to riches, from shame to honor, from slave to free, from nothing to everything.

We, too, can welcome this change in our identity. We can rejoice in the eternal relationship we have with our God. We can call him Abba, Father, and he calls us his children.

Interested in learning more about the archaeological, historical, and cultural information tucked inside your Bible? The Archaeological Study Bible contains over 500 articles and 500 full-color photos. Best part? It’s on sale right now.

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Introduction to the Gospels

Posted by on 05/25/2017 in: , ,

Originally posted at Bible Connection.

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe[a] that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” —John 20:30–31

The English word “gospel” derives from the Anglo–Saxon word godspell, which can mean either “a story about God,” or “a good story.” The latter meaning is in harmony with the Greek word translated “gospel,” euangellion, which means “good news.” In secular Greek, euangellion referred to a good report about an important event. The four gospels are the good news about the most significant events in all of history—the life, sacrificial death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

The gospels are not biographies in the modern sense of the word, since they do not intend to present a complete life of Jesus (cf. Jn 20:30; 21:25). Apart from the birth narratives, they give little information about the first 30 years of Jesus’ life. While Jesus’ public ministry lasted over three years, the gospels focus much of their attention on the last week of His life (cf. Jn 12–20). Though they are completely accurate historically, and present important biographical details of Jesus’ life, the primary purposes of the gospels are theological and apologetic (Jn 20:31). They provide authoritative answers to questions about Jesus’ life and ministry, and they strengthen believers’ assurance regarding the reality of their faith (Lk 1:4).

Although many spurious gospels were written, the church from earliest times has accepted only Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as inspired Scripture. While each Gospel has its unique perspective, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, when compared to John, share a common point of view. Because of that, they are known as the synoptic (from a Greek word meaning “to see together,” or “to share a common point of view”) Gospels. Matthew, Mark, and Luke, for example, focus on Christ’s Galilean ministry, while John focuses on His ministry in Judea. The synoptic Gospels contain numerous parables, while John records none. John and the synoptic Gospels record only two common events (Jesus’ walking on the water, and the feeding of the 5,000) prior to Passion Week. These differences between John and the synoptic Gospels, however, are not contradictory, but complementary.

Each Gospel writer wrote from a unique perspective, for a different audience. As a result, each Gospel contains distinctive elements. Taken together, the four Gospels weave a complete portrait of the God–Man, Jesus of Nazareth. In Him were blended perfect humanity and deity, making Him the only sacrifice for the sins of the world, and the worthy Lord of those who believe.

Learn something new? Share your thoughts!

Excerpted from the Introduction to the Gospels in The MacArthur Study Bible.

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