Staying Word-Centered

Has it really been almost a month since I’ve blogged? I apologize.

Here’s a great paragraph from Total Church by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis about staying word-centered and gospel-centered:

Imagine you are teaching the Bible to a group of young teenagers. Most of them are not taking a bit of notice. You have worked hard to be both true to the text and relevant to the youngsters. But they are just flicking pieces of paper at each other. It might be tempting to play some games to show that Christians can have fun too or to sing more songs so they will encounter God in the music. It is moments like these that we need to hold on to the conviction that God is known and God works through the words of Jesus. Christian ministry must be gospel-centered (p. 24).


John Calvin on Joy

Part 4 of a 4 part series. View series intro and index.


John Calvin believed in a God that blesses us so that we might rejoice.  God does this because he is a loving, joyful, happy Shepherd of his people.  Calvin puts it like this:

We ought to bear in mind, that our happiness consists in this, that his hand is stretched forth to govern us, that we live under his shadow, and that his providence keeps watch and ward over our welfare. Although, therefore, we have abundance of all temporal good things, yet let us be assured that we cannot be truly happy unless God vouchsafe to reckon us among the number of his flock. Besides, we then only attribute to God the office of a Shepherd with due and rightful honor, when we are persuaded that his providence alone is sufficient to supply all our necessities. As those who enjoy the greatest abundance of outward good things are empty and famished if God is not their shepherd; so it is beyond all doubt that those whom he has taken under his charge shall not want a full abundance of all good things.

This shows us that Calvin did not believe in a stale, dark, theoretical Christianity where God is unhappy, vengeful, and impersonal.  Quite the opposite actually.  God is a good Father, Calvin taught.  Commenting on Ephesians 3:21, he says, “However many blessings we expect from God, His infinite liberality will always exceed all our wishes and our thoughts.”

All of creation, Calvin said, was made by God to cause happiness: “There is not one little blade of grass, there is no color in this world that is not intended to make men rejoice.”  Furthermore, Calvin taught that prayer is a divine avenue to our happiness.  He encouraged his people by saying, “Joy and thanksgiving expressed in prayer and praise according to the Word of God are the heart of the Church’s worship.”

Did you catch that?  Joy and thanksgiving are the heart of the Church’s worship.  Calvin’s belief in God was anything but boring, lifeless, and cerebral.  It was heavily theological — make no mistake.  But at his core, John Calvin was a pastor, not an academic theologian.  He was a shepherd of a local flock, and he was intensely practical.  His desire was to show people the God of the Bible, not conjured up deity.  His passion was to make plain that this God transforms daily life and causes worship to move  from meaningless existence into everlasting joy in the greatest Being in the universe.

Calvin believed in a God that blesses us so that we might rejoice.  Commenting on Ephesians 3:21, he says, “However many blessings we expect from God, His infinite liberality will always exceed all our wishes and our thoughts.”  Regarding creation, Calvin said, “There is not one little blade of grass, there is no color in this world that is not intended to make men rejoice.”

John Calvin on Mercy

Part 3 of a 4 part series. View series intro and index.


It’s been said that because John Calvin preached election as a biblical truth, he could not have taught that God is merciful.  Some have written that Calvin’s view of God’s sovereignty distorts his attribute of mercy — that God cannot be sovereign and merciful.  Calvin’s God, people have said, must be an unloving God since he sends people to hell.

This couldn’t be farther from the truth.  John Calvin taught that the God of the Bible is a God of mercy.  In his commentary on Romans 4:5, he wrote:

This is a very important sentence, in which he expresses the substance and nature both of faith and of righteousness. He indeed clearly shews that faith brings us righteousness, not because it is a meritorious act, but because it obtains for us the favor of God. Nor does he declare only that God is the giver of righteousness, but he also arraigns us of unrighteousness, in order that the bounty of God may come to aid our necessity: in short, no one will seek the righteousness of faith except he who feels that he is ungodly; for this sentence is to be applied to what is said in this passage — that faith adorns us with the righteousness of another, which it seeks as a gift from God. And here again, God is said to justify us when he freely forgives sinners, and favors those, with whom he might justly be angry, with his love, that is, when his mercy obliterates our unrighteousness.

Calvin taught that God’s anger has a “long wick,” so to speak.  God is not quick on the trigger, but rather he is patient and kind and willing to forgive.  He wrote elsewhere, “God tolerates even our stammering, and pardons our ignorance whenever something inadvertently escapes us — as, indeed, without this mercy there would be no freedom to pray.”  Because God is merciful, sinners are welcome before God.

God’s mercy was a rock-solid truth to be depended on for Calvin, and he consistently taught and preached this to his congregation.  “The divine mercy,” Calvin wrote, “is a better foundation of trust than any life fashioned out to ourselves, and than all other supports taken together.”

No matter what life brings, the Christian can trust that “it is well with them, in the best sense of the term, when God is their friend.”  For the believer, God is truly a friend!  “Unbelievers, on the other hand,” he wrote, “must be miserable, even when all the world smile upon them; for God is their enemy, and curse necessarily attaches to their lot.”


John Calvin on Evangelism

Part 2 of a 4 part series. View series intro and index.


In his sermon on 1 Timothy 2, Calvin showed that, though he believed in the sovereign election of God, he also believed that all men were loved by God and it that it was the duty of Christians to spread the gospel to them.

Although we see a great diversity among men, yet we must not forget that God hath made us all in His own image and likeness, and that we are the workmanship of His hand; therefore He extends His goodness to those who are afar off, of which we have had sufficient proof: for when He drew us unto Him, were we not His enemies?…we must labor as much as possible to draw those to salvation who seem to be afar off. And above all things, let us pray to God for them, waiting patiently till it please Him to show His good will toward them, as He hath shown it to us.

Again, in another sermon on 1 Timothy 2, Calvin said, “God wants his grace to be known to all the world.  He has commanded his gospel be preached to all creatures.  We must, as we are able, seek the salvation of those who are today strangers to the faith, who seem completely deprived of God’s goodness.”

And in his sermon on Acts 2, Calvin asked, “Why did the Spirit come down at Pentecost?  It was for the gospel to reach all the ends and extremities of the world.”

Calvin believed, not in a God who hates the world, but in a God who loves the world and calls Christians to love nonbelievers, pray for them, and share the goodness of God with them.  Calvin had a global vision of the gospel, believing that God’s design was to reach all people and not just a few.