Archives for January 2007

on a definition of conscience

In my studies today, I ran across this little line defining the conscience:

“Conscience is the capacity to feel guilt.”

Tom Constable. (2003; 2003). Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Ac 24:16). Galaxie Software.

… just something to think about …

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

on the question of conscience – advice from D. L. Moody

My wife frequents thrift stores. The last two days she has been coming home with some real treasures, another church apparently discarded books from their library so I got Hodge on Romans for $1 and several others. Among the books she picked up was a little Moody Press book, Talks to Christians by D. L. Moody. In a message to Young Converts [apparently at a meeting in New York state somewhere], he had this to say:


Some people ask me questions about their daily walk and conduct. They say, “I would like to know whether it is right for me to go to the theater?” “I would like to know whether it is right for me to smoke?” Or “Is it all right to drink moderately?” I cannot carry your consciences; Christ does not lay down rules; He lays down principles. One rule I have had is this: If there is anything I am troubled about in my conscience, and am uncertain whether it is right or not, I give Christ the benefit of the doubt. It is better to be a little too strict than too liberal. And let me say to you young converts and you Christians here, the eyes of the world are upon you; they are watching.

For myself, I could not go to the theater; I would not like to have my children go. I do not do anything myself that I would not like to have them do. I could not smoke, because I would not want my boy to smoke. I could not read those flashy novels. I have no taste for them, no desire to read them; but if I did I would not do it. But, if you live to please Him, you will not have any trouble in these things. He says, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally.”

Another rule is: Don’t do anything you cannot feel like praying over. Once I received an invitation to be at the opening of a large billiard hall. I suppose they thought it was a good joke to invite me. I went before the time came and asked the man if he meant it. He said yes. I asked him if I might bring a Friend along. He said I might.

I said, “If you say or do anything that will grieve my Friend I may speak to Him during your exercises.”

They didn’t know what I meant, and knitted their brows and looked puzzled. At last he asked, “You are not going to pray, are you? We never want any praying here.”

“Well,” I said, “I never go where I cannot pray; but I’ll come round.”

“No,” said he, “we don’t want you.”

“Well, I’ll come anyway, since you invited me,” said I. But he rather insisted that I shouldn’t, and finally I told him: “We’ll compromise the matter. I won’t come if you will let me pray with you now.” So he agreed to that, and I got down with one rum-seller on each side of me, and prayed that they might fail in their business, and never have any more success in it from that day. Well, they went on for about two months, and then, sure enough, they failed. God answered prayer that time.

In Europe in a place where there was a good deal of whiskey distilled, one of the men in the business was a church member, and he got a little anxious in his conscience about his business. He came and asked me if I thought that a man could not be an honest distiller.

I said, “You should do, whatever you do, for the glory of God. If you can get down and pray about a barrel of whiskey, and say, for instance, when you sell it, ‘O Lord God, let this whiskey be blessed to the world,’ it is probably honest.”

Do not live to please yourself. Live to please Christ. If you cannot do a thing honestly, give it up, let the consequences be what they may. If you take my advice you will never touch strong drink as long as you live. Nearly all the young converts that have fallen in Europe have been led into it by that cursed cup. “Yes, but,” you say, “some of the church members, some of the Christians that stand. high, drink moderately.” Well, don’t you touch it if they do. Some men have strong will and can tell where to stop; but bear in mind that ninety-nine out of a hundred have not strong wills, and your son may be the very next one to go too far. If it is not an injury to yourselves, give it up for Christ’s sake, and for the sake of others. Any of you who have once been slaves to it, come out and try to rescue others who are still slaves to it. As Dr. Bonner, of Philadelphia, said, “Be sure you do not tarnish the old family name. You have been born into the family of God, and you must sustain its high credit.” Some of these old families of New York think a good deal of their names; and that is right. A good name is worth more than riches. Now that you have become the sons and daughters of God, do not disgrace the old family name. The eyes of the world are upon you; walk as a son of the King, as a daughter of Heaven, a. child of God, and the world will become better for you, and by your walk and conversation you will light others to Christ.

Turn now to Acts 20:32: “And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.” That was Paul’s farewell to the Ephesians. Oh, how sweet it is! “He is able to lift you up.” Some of the young converts have got their Bibles out, I see. That is right. I marked that a good many years ago. It has been a great help to me. Paul had been three years among them, and had prayed and wept over them. If you learn your Bible well, you are certain to be good Christians. If the Word of God is not hid in our hearts, how can the Holy Ghost work through us?

That is pretty good wisdom, I’d say. I believe that we can argue against alcohol specifically a little more strenuously from the Bible, but what Moody offers here is good practical wisdom, infused with Biblical principle and Spirit-filled wisdom. If Christians lived with this kind of wisdom, we would have less confusion and a good deal less moral lapses.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

on Christian essentials

A long-time friend of mine wrote me yesterday concerning a project he is working on. He was requesting the opinions of several people on this question:

In your opinion what are the cardinal doctrines of the faith that ALL Christians worldwide would have to believe to be Christians?

Having just done some thinking on this, I was ready to give the following reply.

I am just now going through Romans in a NT survey series. The apostle Paul says he is set apart to the gospel in 1.1. Then he gives us some components of the gospel in 1.2-4:

ESV Romans 1:2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, 34 and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,
concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh

Notice these features:

descended from David according to the flesh – this involves the incarnation and must include, I believe acceptance of the virgin birth. The incarnation could have occured without a virgin birth, but the credibility of the claim would be extremely damaged. Any daughter of David could say they had been impregnated by the Holy Spirit, not her husband, but how could anyone believe such a claim?

declared to be the Son of God in power – this involves incarnation from the divine aspect, God became man, the hypostatic union.

by his resurrection – the resurrection would be a key component that cannot be overlooked.

Paul refers to ‘my gospel’ three times in the scriptures:

Romans 2:16 In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.

From this one, I infer that a future judgement is an essential part of the gospel.

Romans 16:25 Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began,

I am not sure if any new theology is added by this one.

2 Timothy 2:8 Remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead according to my gospel:

Again we see incarnation, Messiahship, resurrection as essential components.

To this I would add Paul’s summary of the gospel in 1 Cor 15.3-4:

ESV 1 Corinthians 15:3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,

Here we have substitutionary atonement by a sacrificial death and the resurrection.

John also has some information that I think points to essentials. I call it “John’s confession”:

ESV 1 John 4:2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God,

The confession includes humanity, messiahship, incarnation. This particular theme is found throughout 1 Jn, especially in the 4th and 5th chapters. See also:

ESV 2 John 1:7 For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.

I believe that you will find elements of the confession in Peter as well, but I don’t recall the passages right off.

I hope this is some help to you. It is a little difficult to untangle all the threads that are absolutely essential. If I was summing up, I think I would say that these things are essential (although there may be more)

  1. Incarnation by a particular virgin birth (not just any virgin would do)
  2. Hypostatic union – full humanity and full deity
  3. Substitutionary atonement (probably a broad term that includes several particular doctrines)
  4. Bodily Resurrection (and ascenscion as perhaps a secondary aspect of this doctrine)
  5. Judgement (the point of it all, if no judgement, who needs a saviour?)

Thinking this over a bit, I sent a follow-up e-mail with this line:

Just a quick follow-up, I think that one has to accept the miracles if one accepts the hypostatic union. I suppose that is a given. If Jesus is God, there is no problem with the miracles.


I would be interested in any comments others have to refine this summary a bit.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

on Romans 1-5 (sermon summaries)

Today we come to Romans. After the fight was settled between Paul and the Corinthians, Paul visited Corinth for three months. We know the fight was settled because we have 2 Corinthians. After the things Paul said to the Corinthians, would you have saved the letter if you had not repented? We also know the fight was settled because when Paul took the offering from the Gentile churches to Jerusalem, no representatives from Corinth accompanied Paul in Ac 20. I take it that they wanted to demonstrate their trust in Paul (and their brethren) and declined to send representatives with their offering.

While Paul was in Corinth on this visit, Paul wrote Romans. What a book! I plan to start a series verse by verse through Romans next summer. For now, we have to settle for two weeks of it.

First is “The Glorious Gospel“. The gospel dominated Paul’s life. I subtitled the message, ‘the theme of a life set free’. That was Paul. Here is the proposition from our text, Rm 1.1-17: “The gospel reveals the righteousness of God as a real possibility for man – the one thing necessary to prepare a mortal life for eternity.” I noted the references to the gospel through the text. Paul was set apart to the gospel (1), serving in the gospel (9), stirred up with the gospel (15), and saved by the gospel (16-17). The gospel takes a man like Paul, or like you or like me, and makes him righteous with the righteousness of Christ. The whole life is changed. Paul said, “I am not ashamed of the gospel”. How could he be? How can you be?

Next came “The Utter Depravity of Man” from Rm 1.17-3.20. These are the dark chapters of Romans, the first point of the book. The proposition: “No one can save himself — all men are condemned.” The arguments Paul makes for the true state of the human condition are devastating. First the long dark descent into all kinds of wickedness (1.18-32) describes the excess of depravity we see all around us. But Paul doesn’t stop with evident depravity, he goes on to the hidden darkness of the moral man (2.1-3.9) where he first reveals that the good citizen who looks down on the obviously depraved is just as wicked at heart, then Paul goes after the Israelite who thinks that because of his privileges, he is a cut above even the best Gentile – Paul shows that sin is the issue, not privilege. The advantages of the Israelites only increase their condemnation by their failure to live up to the living law of God given them by the prophets. Having concluded that both Jew and Gentile are condemned, Paul proceeds to list the Scripture proof of human depravity (3.10-20), where he cites passage after passage that condemns all men in their sins, none of them righteous, without any hope of pleasing God. The passage is devastating to human self-confidence.

We closed the day, thankfully, with “But Now“. The title of my last message of the day comes from the first words of my favorite verse in Romans, the first verse of our text, Rm 3.21-5.21. “But now…” We cannot be justified by the deeds of the law, Paul says in 3.20, “but now…” But now there is righteousness without law! Proposition: “The righteousness of God works the salvation of men by the justice and grace of God.” We examined Rm 3.21-31 in a good deal of detail, then surveyed chapter 4 and 5. But now… we see the righteousness of God applied by the just justifier (3.21-26), we see that the righteousness of God eliminates boasting through faith (3.27-31), that the righteousness of God is illustrated by patriarchal faith (4.1-25), and that the righteousness of God provides peace with God (5.1-21). I closed with two illustrations, one a story that is told of something Mayor Laguardia did in New York many years ago (I don’t know if it is a true story, but it does illustrate the point.) Here is the story:

One winter night the mayor decided to visit a Manhattan night court, and ended up presiding over the proceedings. It was bitter cold that night, and an under-clothed man was brought before La Guardia, accused of stealing a loaf of bread. His family was starving, the man claimed. “I have to punish you,” the mayor pronounced. “The law makes no exceptions. I hereby fine you ten dollars.”

But then La Guardia added as he reached into his own pocket, “Here’s the ten dollars to pay your fine,” tossing a ten-dollar bill into his hat.

“Furthermore,” he went on, “I’m fining everybody in this courtroom fifty cents for living in a town where a man has to steal bread in order to feed his family. Mr. Bailiff, collect the fines and give them to this defendant!”

The hat was passed around, and the man left La Guardia’s courtroom, shaking his head and holding a stake of $47.50.

What did the man deserve? Judgement.

What did the man get? Grace.

Romans 3:20 Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. 21 But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;

But now!

I used another story of grace I found in the latest Frontline magazine, the Nov/Dec 2006 issue. It is the story of a former pastor who had quit on God, quit on the church, quit on everything. He lived instead for himself and rebellion. Six years ago, he heard a message ont he love of God that broke his spirit. He repented and is accepted in the beloved today. His testimony is written up in the magazine under the title “One Lost Sheep”.

What did he deserve? Judgement.

What did he get? Grace.

Romans 3:20 Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. 21 But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;

But now!


Listen, it was a great day!

We had one lady visiting for the first time today. She stayed for all three services and came to my wife after the last one with tears streaming down her face, asking for a visit from us this week. The Lord is working in her life, so pray for her this week if you think of it.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

on catching up the sermon summaries

I have a few minutes… can you summarize 2 Corinthians in a few minutes?

But before that, I have to finish 1 Corinthians. One of my favorite chapters of the Bible, 1 Cor 15, was the text for our Sunday AM message to begin the new year: The Resurrection of the Body. There is much to say about this chapter, 58 verses in all, but I chose to speak to a subject for which the doctrine provides some exhortation for spiritual stability: “The doctrine of the resurrection of the body provides a spiritual foundation to stabilize the morality and mission of the Christian life.” The whole content of the doctrine is aimed at verse 58, ‘Therefore… be steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding…’ The point of the resurrection for us should be that we live a life without regard to earthly reward – we have a much better, much more sure heavenly reward.

Our second message on 1/7 covered 1 Cor 16 and the last half of Ac 19 [the riot at Ephesus half]. I am afraid I didn’t cover the riot in as much detail as the passage deserves, mainly I used it as a historical fact to fit in with Paul’s discussion of travel plans in 1 Cor 16 along with some glimpses at his discussion of travel in 2 Cor. All of this helps us see how Paul’s plans changed with various events and puts the writing of 1 and 2 Corinthians into context. Basically, through this period, Paul was having a fight with the Corinthians. He announced travel plans in 1 Cor 16, apparently announced alternate plans in a ‘painful letter’, then changed his plans again. These changes were brought about by changes in the Corinthian issue, the Ephesus riot, and discerning the Lord’s leading. The title of the message was “Man Proposes, God Disposes” [a nice Calvinistic title for my reformed friends]. The theme was mainly this: we have to plan to serve God with the light we have, ready and flexible to be changed by God’s sovereign disposition of our affairs. My points for this message were very homiletically correct: Plan A, Plan B, Plan C. Plan C was broken into Plan C1 and Plan C2. I thought it was an interesting little device, anyway…

Our third message of the day dealt with 2 Cor 1-2: “Addressing Conflicted Saints“. Paul is writing to the Corinthians in the ‘cooling down’ phase of the fight he has had with them. Titus delivered the ‘painful letter’ mentioned earlier and was successful in getting the majority of the Corinthian church on side once again. 2 Corinthians is Paul’s final word before coming on an extended visit. The church has been severely rebuked and is turning towards the apostle now, but Paul still has a few items to clear up. Thus he begins his letter with a message of comfort in suffering. He also wants to clear up the discrepancies that arose in their minds over his travel plans (see above) and assure them of his motivation of love in the whole affair. Paul calls them to triumph with him in the gospel as a sweet savour to God of lives given over to the will of God in all things.

Our next Wednesday, 1/10, saw more snow in Victoria. We don’t do snow here. I am becoming more Victorian every day, so I found myself ‘freaking out’ at the renewed presence of the white stuff. We cancelled our Wednesday meeting. I’m getting old!

Sunday, 1/14: First off was a message from 2 Cor 3.1-5.10 entitled “Why We Keep Going“. The message dealt with some of the things Paul explained to the Corinthians about his ongoing ministry in spite of difficulty and rejection. The proposition: “The spark that lights the fire for any sort of Christian ministry is the transforming power of the gospel.” This is seen in the lives of the Corinthians as living epistles commending Paul’s ministry, it is seen in the glorious ministry of the new covenant, and in the privilege of proclaiming Christ though a mere man. The motivating power for gospel work is the gospel – in spite of rejection, trouble, what have you. The gospel outweighs it all.

The next message was “Why You Should Keep Coming” (2 Cor 5.11-7.16). In it I taught the doctrine of reconciliation, which means great spiritual change between man and God but also means great change in relationship between man and man. The point of the message was that the result of the gospel should be a change in our relationships, love the saints, separate from the world, make room in your hearts for those who preach the gospel. In the local church this should resolve itself into real commitment for one another and a valuing of the church relationships above those of the world.

We closed the day with “The Grace of Godly Giving” (2 Cor 8-9). The proposition for this message was “Christian giving measures the depth of the ministry of reconciliation.” In a way the apostle is putting the Corinthians to the test. Are they coming his way? Let them show how open their hearts are by opening their wallets.

Finally, last Wednesday night, we finished up 2 Corinthians with “We are Glad when We are Weak and You are Strong“. The last four chapters of the book are the strongest, where Paul lays down the gauntlet to the remaining holdouts who are considering the false apostles to have some credibility and have little regard to Paul. In the passage, Paul establishes apostolic authority. The authority of the apostle’s establish authority in the church. But apostolic authority is most effective when it doesn’t have to be exercised. This was the proposition: “Christian authority is seen best when its people accept apostolic teaching and have no need of apostolic discipline.” The title of the message is the theme that Paul expresses at the end – We are Glad when We are Weak and You are Strong. Paul would rather his people be spiritually strong, i.e., in submission to apostolic authority on their own, rather than having to exercise his authority directly.

Well, that catches us up and sums up 2 Corinthians somewhat. I don’t totally understand 2 Corinthians and found it a little difficult to preach through. I think that the book doesn’t lend itself to preaching in ‘broad sweeps’.

But now we are turning to Romans. We will be in the book for two weeks. This will be a little preview of my next series, after the NT survey is finished. I imagine we will be in Romans for several years.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

on the state of the blog

I am a little overdue on sermon summaries, etc. The reason is that I am crammed for time right now. I mentioned back in November how the Lord dramatically answered prayer for us in the sale of half the duplex I own up in Duncan, BC. (When my son was a little fellow, he called it ‘the town of ME’.) My tenant has moved out of the remaining half and we are busy at renovation. I can only commit two days a week to the project, and must go like mad on our New Testament series the other three/four days of the week. I will try to keep my hand in here, and I am still working on some very interesting stuff from my reading that I would like to post in the future. But my time is at a premium just now.

Today one of my deacons and I were up at the duplex. We are in the “Rip and Tear” stage. Last week we ripped out the bathroom and the carpeting. Yesterday my two youngest were with me and we ripped out the kitchen. Today we were tearing down a dilapidated shed on the property. We rented a reciprocal saw to help, but just as we were getting into it, the power went out. (We are having the wildest winter in a long time here…) So it was sledge hammer and crowbar time. And pouring rain. Lots of pouring rain. We managed to get it all down and stowed away in the 40 yd waste bin we had rented. The bin company should show up tomorrow to haul it all away. Just as we finished, the rain quit and the power came on… We headed to Walmart to buy some dry shirts. But it was a great day anyway.

The rest of the week will see me writing out my handouts on 2 Cor 11-13, Ac 20.2-3 and Rm 1-5. The handouts are essentially a commentary in outline format on these passages. It is not exactly verse by verse, but pretty close. It is very profitable to me to work my way through this material in chronological order, and our folks are telling me the same. (I do have last year’s OT notes available on CD if anyone is interested. The notes are not in as much detail as the NT since we were covering 25 chapters a week last year.)

So we are a little busy around here. I hope to somehow in the next little while launch my ‘real blog’ which will also see the launch of an experimental evangelistic blog I’ll be advertising here in our local paper. I hope to have more details soon, but I have very little time to really work on this at the moment. I may not be able to get this off the ground until March.

In any case, I thought I would update you as to my activities and future plans for my writing. I may be limited in posting for the next little while.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

on a site of archaeological interest

I subscribe to the Biblical Archaeology Review, sometimes referred to as BAR. The magazine is often (usually?) maddeningly liberal in its presentation of Biblical data, but it is a resource for interesting background information to Biblical passages. BAR recently announced a new site on the internet called “Find A“. The site has links to current archaeological digs in the Middle East and in Europe. Each link gives you a little background info on the dig.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

on something just a little lighthearted

I regularly read columns and blogs by the NY Times technology writer, David Pogue. Given his employer, I suspect that Mr. Pogue probably is quite far removed from my political and religious views, but he is an engaging writer on a subject that fascinates me, computer technology. On his blog today, he posted a link to an amazing website promoting a kitchen blender. You will want to check out the commercials on the ‘Don’t do this at home’ part of the site and see what kinds of things this amazing blender can blend….

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

UPDATE: There are some ads for movies, etc. at the end of some of the “Will It Blend” commercials that you might find objectionable. My apologies, I didn’t notice them before sending out the post.

on a return to the ‘thru the nt’ series (sermon summary 1.3.06)

We are jumping back into our New Testament series after the Christmas hiatus. We still have two of our college kids at home, so we had a bit bigger crowd for Wednesday PM. I wish we could motivate more people to make Wednesday a regular habit. I suspect that is a lament of many pastors.

We resume our survey with 1 Cor 12-14, entitled ‘Regulating Spiritual Gifts‘. The proposition was this: “The Lord intends for our hearts to be governed by the Spirit so that we exercise spiritual gifts with definite spiritual control.” The three chapter divisions in this section cover three ways in which the use of spiritual gifts are regulated. First, gifts are regulated by an understanding of the true nature of spiritual gifts. They come from one source, God, under divine supervision, are given individually, not sought, and each has a unique function in the body in order to benefit the whole body. Second, gifts are regulated by an elevation of the superior value of spiritual fruit. That is, spiritual fruit (especially love) is essential if gifts are to mean anything, the supreme quality of love is described, and the enduring permanence of love is seen in that it outlasts all gifts (especially the temporary tongues) and even other aspects of earthly spiritual fruit such as hope and faith. Thus, spiritual fruit should be our concern much more than spiritual gifts. Last, gifts are regulated by the discipline of the proper exercise of spiritual gifts. That involves putting tongues in their proper place, realizing that tongues are primarily a sign to unbelievers (and especially a sign that those hearing them are being cut off from God’s revelation), and finally regulating their use by strict rules that eliminate all of so-called tongues speaking today. The Spirit-led believer today needs these truths to be in our minds lest we be led astray by false teaching so prevalent around us.

Sunday we will finish 1 Corinthians and move on to 2 Corinthians with a brief stop in Acts 19 in between.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

on defining the conscience (Thurman Wisdom)

A little bit of a break to read today. In my new book by Dr. Wisdom, I discovered this description of human conscience, as good as any I have seen anywhere. Can we really add much to this definition?

The word conscience appears over thirty times in the New Testament, but the inspired writers never explained it. They did not have to. They correctly assumed that all people, in all cultures, were painfully aware of this inflexible judge. In fact, perhaps the best way to think of conscience is to personify it as an internal judge who holds court in the soul of man. Written indelibly on the walls of man’s soul is the divine law, and our internal, impartial judge rules in accordance with this law.

This judge will also make rulings based on other laws imposed upon it; but these laws — whatever temporary power they may have — can never supersede or erase the divine law written in the heart. A man’s conscience maybe weak because the principles of the law of God are not well ingrained and enforced in his soul (1 Cor 8.12). It may become defiled and — as a judge who has been bribed — become temporarily unclear in its judgments. And a man’s conscience may also be “seared with a hot iron” (1 Tim 4.2) — that is, so branded by Satan that it becomes insensitive to truth and judgment. But in none of these cases can Satan make conscience “wholly his.” The ancient laws of God are still embedded indelibly on man’s soul. Conscience still “remembers” these laws, and it rules in accordance with their standards.

[Thurman Wisdom, a Royal Destiny, Bob Jones University Press, 2006, p. xviii.]

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3