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Reading Classics Together

4 Great Reasons to Read Romans
October 29, 2015

Many Christians have declared Romans to be the finest book of the Bible, the high peak of Scripture. J.I. Packer echoes many pastors and theologians when he says, “All roads in the Bible lead to Romans, and all views afforded by the Bible are seen most clearly from Romans, and when the message of Romans gets into a person’s heart there is no telling what may happen.” He goes on to give 4 reasons that we ought to read, study, and know the book of Romans.

Romans is a book of doctrine. Romans is a book of truth about God taught by God. “You will find that Romans gives you all the main themes integrated together: God, man, sin, law, judgment, faith, works, grace, creation, redemption, justification, sanctification, the plan of salvation, election, reprobation, the person and work of Christ, the work of the Spirit, the Christian hope, the nature of the church, the place of Jew and Gentile in God’s purpose, the philosophy of church and world history, the meaning and message of the Old Testament, the significance of baptism, the principles of personal piety and ethics, the duties of Christian citizenship — et cetera!

Romans is a book of life. It shows “by exposition and example what it means to serve God and not to serve him, to find him, and to lose him in actual human experience. What has Romans to offer here? The answer is: the fullest cross-section of the life of sin and the life of grace, and the deepest analysis of the way of faith, that the Bibles gives anywhere.”

Romans is a book of the church. In Romans “the God-given faith and self-understanding of the believing fellowship is voiced. From this standpoint, Romans, just because it is the classic statement of the gospel by which the church lives, is also the classic account of the church’s identity. What is the church? It is the true seed of faithful Abraham, Jew and non-Jew together, chosen by God, justified through faith, and free from sin for a new life of personal righteousness and mutual ministry. It is the family of a loving heavenly Father, living in hope of inheriting his entire fortune. It is the community of the resurrection, in which the powers of Christ’s historic death and present heavenly life are already at work.”

Romans is a personal letterRomans is a personal letter from God to each one of his spiritual children. “Read Romans this way, and you will find that it has unique power to search out and deal with things that are so much part of you that ordinarily you do not give them a thought—your sinful habits and attitudes; your instinct for hypocrisy; your natural self-righteousness and self-reliance; your constant unbelief; your moral frivolity, and shallowness in repentance; your half-heartedness, worldliness, fearfulness, despondency; your spiritual conceit and insensitiveness. And you will also find that this shattering letter has unique power to evoke the joy, assurance, boldness, liberty, and ardour of spirit which God both requires of and gives to those who love him.”

Interested in learning more about Romans? Here are a few suggested resources:

Reading Classics

Thanks to all who read the book Knowing God with me as part of Reading Classics Together. This brings us to the end of the book.

Image credit: Shutterstock


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October 22, 2015

Of all the privileges that are ours through the gospel, which is the greatest? According to many theologians, there is no privilege higher than adoption. J.I. Packer says it like this: “Adoption is the highest privilege that the gospel offers: higher even than justification.” He doesn’t just say it, but also defends it, and his defense is worth pondering.

Packer acknowledges that justification is God’s supreme blessing to sinners. Justification is the primary blessing because it meets our primary spiritual need. It is also the fundamental blessing because it is foundational to everything else. But that is not to say that it is the highest blessing of the gospel. No, adoption is the highest blessing “because of the richer relationship with God that it involves.” Justification is a legal or forensic idea which deals with God as judge declaring that Christians are now free from the demands of the law. But adoption is a much richer family relationship, “conceived in terms of love, and viewing God as father. In adoption, God takes us into his family and fellowship, and establishes us as his children and heirs. Closeness, affection, and generosity are at the heart of the relationship. To be right with God the judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the father is greater.”

But that is not all. Packer points to the truth that adoption is a blessing that abides.

Social experts drum into us these days that the family unit needs to be stable and secure, and that any unsteadiness in the parent-child relationship takes its toll in strain, neurosis, and arrested development in the child himself. The depressions, randomnesses, and immaturities that mark the children of broken homes are known to us all. But things are not like that in God’s family. There you have absolute stability and security; the parent is entirely wise and good, and the child’s position is permanently assured. The very concept of adoption is itself a proof and guarantee of the preservation of the saints, for only bad fathers throw their children out of the family, even under provocation; and God is not a bad father, but a good one.

Packer is not alone in his belief that adoption is our highest privilege. And if he is correct, it leads to a simple point of application: Do you thank God for your adoption? Shouldn’t you? If it is your highest privilege, then it should be your highest joy to thank God for what he has so graciously given.

Next Week

If you are reading Knowing God with me as part of Reading Classics Together, please read the final chapters for next week. And then we will be done!

Your Turn

The purpose of Reading Classics Together is to read these books together. This time around the bulk of the discussion is happening in a dedicated Facebook group. You can find it right here.


I am now accepting (and encouraging) letters to the editor. This is an experimental feature meant to replace the comments section. If you would like to write a letter to the editor, you can do so here.

October 15, 2015

Nobody would imagine a jealous God. That’s what J.I. Packer says in Knowing God, and I think he might be right. There are lots of gods we might fabricate in our own minds, but we would naturally create ones who had only the characteristics we admire: Love, mercy, patience, and attributes like that. But jealousy? That’s far less likely.

Yet time and time again, God reveals himself as a jealous God. He even goes as far as to give his name as Jealous (Exodus 34:14). So we do well to ask: “What is the nature of this divine jealousy? How can jealousy be a virtue in God when it is a vice in humans? God’s perfections are a matter for praise; but how can we praise God for being jealous?”

To appreciate God’s jealousy we first need to properly understand it. His jealousy is the kind that zealously protects a love-relationship and which avenges it when it is broken. This is, then, the same kind of jealousy with which a husband longs for the attention and affection of his wife, and reacts strongly when they are directed elsewhere. “This sort of jealousy is a positive virtue, for it shows a grasp of the true meaning of the husband-wife relationship, together with a proper zeal to keep it intact.” We expect and admire this kind of jealousy. We are concerned when it is missing.

So when God tells us that he is jealous, he means “that he demands from those whom he has loved and redeemed utter and absolute loyalty, and will vindicate his claim by stern action against them if they betray his love by unfaithfulness.” There is encouragement here. God is jealous of us because he loves us. Where there is no love there is none of this kind of jealousy. “God’s jealousy over his people … presupposes his covenantal love; and this love is no transitory affection, accidental and aimless, but is the expression of a sovereign purpose. The goal of the covenant love of God is that he should have a people on earth as long as history lasts, and after that should have all his faithful ones of every age with him in glory. Covenant love is the heart of God’s plan for his world.” Thus God’s jealousy is “precisely ‘this zeal of the Lord Almighty’ for fulfilling his own purpose of justice and mercy.” The only good God is, in fact, a jealous God.

Next Week

If you are reading Knowing God with me as part of Reading Classics Together, please read chapters 19 and 20 for next Thursday. If you are not yet doing so, feel free to join us (and catch up with the reading). We are very nearly at the end of the book!

Your Turn

The purpose of Reading Classics Together is to read these books together. This time around the bulk of the discussion is happening in a dedicated Facebook group. You can find it right here. A thousand people are already interacting there and would be glad to have you join in or just read along.


I am now accepting (and encouraging) letters to the editor. This is an experimental feature meant to replace the comments section. If you would like to write a letter to the editor, you can do so here.

October 08, 2015

There may be no theological topic more controversial than divine wrath. While most of humanity is eager to acknowledge the existence of God, and while most love to acknowledge his traits of grace and mercy and kindness, very few want to acknowledge his wrath. Yet wrath is a consistent theme in the Bible and a defining characteristic of the God we meet in its pages. Divine wrath suffers when we fail to understand it aright. Here are two serious, common misconceptions.

The first misconception is that God’s wrath is cruel. Too many people associate God’s wrath with human anger which, indeed, is often arbitrary and mean. The truth is that God’s wrath is always the wrath of God as Judge. Thus, God’s wrath is always a measured, just, judicial wrath.

According to J.I. Packer, “the explicit presupposition of all that we find in the Bible … on the torments of those who experience the fullness of God’s wrath is that each receives precisely what he deserves. ‘The day of God’s wrath’, Paul tells us, is also the day ‘when his righteous judgment will be revealed.’ And in that day ‘God will give to each person according to what he has done’ (Romans 2:5ff).” Just as our justice systems dole out punishments fitting for particular crimes, Jesus himself taught that God’s retribution will be proportionate to the individual and his offense (see Luke 12:47ff) .

Of course that is precisely why God’s wrath is so fearsome. No one will suffer beyond what he deserves. But what he deserves is unspeakably terrible. “If it is asked: can disobedience to our Creator really deserve great and grievous punishment? anyone who has ever been convicted of sin knows beyond any shadow of doubt that the answer is yes, and knows too that those whose consciences have not yet been awaked to consider, as Anselm put it, ‘how weighty sin is’ are not yet qualified to give an opinion.” God will serve as Judge and will judge justly.

The second misconception is that God’s wrath is something God inflicts upon ignorant, innocent people. This misconception teaches that God inflicts hell upon people who would have chosen God if only they had the option or the appropriate understanding. But

God’s wrath in the Bible is something which people choose for themselves. Before hell is an experience inflicted by God, it is a state for which a person himself opts, by retreating from the light which God shines in his heart to lead him to himself. … The decisive act of judgment upon the lost is the judgment which they pass upon themselves, by rejecting the light that comes to them in and through Jesus Christ. In the last analysis, all that God does subsequently in judicial action towards the unbeliever, whether in this life or beyond it, is to show him, and lead him into, the full implications of the choice he has made.

Packer goes on to say, “Nobody stands under the wrath of God save those who have chosen to do so. The essence of God’s action in wrath is to give people what they choose in all its implications: nothing more, and equally nothing less. God’s readiness to respect human choice to this extent may appear disconcerting and even terrifying, but it is plain that his attitude here is supremely just, and poles apart from the wanton and irresponsible inflicting of pain which is what we mean by cruelty.” And then he provides this memorable line: “What God is hereby doing is no more than to ratify and confirm judgments which those whom he ‘visits’ have already passed on themselves by the course they have chosen to follow.”

God is not cruel in his wrath. He is not arbitrary. And his wrath will never extend to the ignorant or innocent. He will apportion his wrath with perfect fairness upon those who have chosen to face it.

Next Week

If you are reading Knowing God with me as part of Reading Classics Together, please read chapters 16 and 17 for next Thursday. If you are not yet doing so, feel free to join us (and catch up with the reading).

Your Turn

The purpose of Reading Classics Together is to read these books together. This time around the bulk of the discussion is happening in a dedicated Facebook group. You can find it right here. A thousand people are already interacting there and would be glad to have you join in or just read along.

October 01, 2015

What is involved in the idea of the Father, or Jesus, being a judge? This is something J.I. Packer deals with extraordinarily well in his book Knowing God. Let’s track with him just briefly to see our good God in his function of just judge. Here are 4 characteristics of the judge.

The judge is a Person with authority. “In the Bible world, the king was always the supreme authority because his was the supreme ruling authority. It is on that basis, according to the Bible, that God is judge of his world. As our Maker, he owns us, and as our Owner, he has a right to dispose of us; he has, therefore, a right to make laws for us, and to reward us according to whether or not we keep them. In most modern states, the legislature and judiciary are divided, so that the judge does not make the laws he administers; but in the ancient world this was not so, and it is not so with God. He is both the Lawgiver and the Judge.

The judge is a person identified with what is good and right. “The modern idea that a judge should be cold and dispassionate has no place in the Bible. The biblical judge is expected to love justice and fair play and to loathe all ill-treatment of one person by another. An unjust judge, one who has no interest in seeing right triumph over wrong, is by biblical standards a monstrosity. The Bible leaves us in no doubt that God loves righteousness and hates iniquity, and that the ideal of a judge wholly identified with what is good and right is perfectly fulfilled in him.

The judge is a person of wisdom, to discern truth. In the biblical world, the judge’s first task is to ascertain the facts in the case that is before him. There is no jury; it is his responsibility, and his alone, to question, and cross-examine, and detect lies and pierce through evasions and establish how matters really stand. When the Bible pictures God judging, it emphasises his omniscience and wisdom as the searcher of hearts and the finder of facts. Nothing can escape him; we may fool men, but we cannot fool God. He knows us, and judges us, as we really are. … God will know. His judgment is according to truth—factual truth, as well as moral truth. He judges ‘the secrets of men,’ not just by their public facade. Not for nothing does Paul say, ‘we must all be made manifest before the judgment-seat of Christ’.”

The judge is a person of power, to execute sentence. The modern judge does no more than pronounce the sentence; another department of the judicial executive then carries it out. The same was true in the ancient world. But God is his own executioner. As he legislates, and sentences, so he punishes. All judicial functions coalesce in him.

Next Week

If you are reading Knowing God with me as part of Reading Classics Together, please read chapters 15 and 16 for next Thursday. If you are not yet doing so, why don’t you join us? We aren’t that far into the book yet, so you will not have a difficult time catching up.

Your Turn

The purpose of Reading Classics Together is to read these books together. This time around the bulk of the discussion is happening in a dedicated Facebook group. You can find it right here. A thousand people are already interacting there and would be glad to have you join in or just read along.

September 24, 2015

We are easily distracted by the things that matter less, and preoccupied with the things that matter least. This is exactly the case—too often, at least—when it comes to talk of revival and when it comes to our desire to see the Spirit’s work in our lives and in the church. J.I. Packer makes the case that it is the Spirit’s regular ministry, and not his extraordinary or miraculous ministry, that should preoccupy us. Give this a read and consider it:

The instilling of the knowledge of [God’s love] is described as part of the regular ministry of the Spirit to those who receive him—to all, that is, who are born again, who are true believers. One could wish that this aspect of his ministry was prized more highly than it is at the present time. With a perversity as pathetic as it is impoverishing, we have become preoccupied today with the extraordinary, sporadic, non-universal ministries of the Spirit to the neglect of the ordinary, general ones. Thus, we show a great deal more interest in the gifts of healing and tongues—gifts of which, as Paul pointed out, not all Christians are meant to partake anyway (1 Cor. 12:28-30)—than in the Spirit’s ordinary work of giving peace, joy, hope, and love, through the shedding abroad in our hearts of knowledge of the love of God. Yet the latter is much more important than the former. To the Corinthians, who had taken it for granted that the more tongues the merrier, and the godlier too, Paul had to insist that without love—sanctification, Christlikeness—tongues were worth precisely nothing (1 Cor. 13:1ff.).

He would undoubtedly see reason to issue a similar caveat today. It will be tragic if the concern for revival that is stirring at the present time in many places gets diverted into the cul-de-sac of a new Corinthianism. The best thing that Paul could desire for the Ephesians in connection with the Spirit was that he might continue towards them the Romans 5:5 ministry with ever-increasing power, leading them deeper and deeper into knowledge of the love of God in Christ. …

Revival means the work of God restoring to a moribund church, in a manner out of the ordinary, those standards of Christian life and experience which the New Testament sets forth as being entirely ordinary; and a right-minded concern for revival will express itself, not in a hankering after tongues (ultimately it is of no importance whether we speak in tongues or not), but rather in a longing that the Spirit may shed God’s love abroad in our hearts with greater power. For it is with this (to which deep exercise of soul about sin is often preliminary) that personal revival begins, and by this that revival in the church, once begun, is sustained.

The challenge here is to delight in those ordinary gifts, and not to shun them in the hope or expectation of something I deem better.

Next Week

If you are reading Knowing God with me as part of Reading Classics Together, please read chapters 13 and 14 for next Thursday. If you are not yet doing so, why don’t you join us? We aren’t that far into the book yet, so you will not have a difficult time catching up.

Your Turn

The purpose of Reading Classics Together is to read these books together. This time around the bulk of the discussion is happening in a dedicated Facebook group. You can find it right here. A thousand people are already interacting there and would be glad to have you join in or just read along.

The Wise God and the Suffering Christian
September 17, 2015

Why do Christians suffer? Why aren’t Christians relieved from trouble, from pain, from suffering? If God is powerful and wise, why doesn’t he direct his power and wisdom toward more comfortable lives for the ones he loves and redeems? J.I. Packer helpfully addresses this in the ninth chapter of Knowing God and I have condensed the chapter down to its essence.

For us to be truly wise, in the Bible sense, our intelligence and cleverness must be harnessed to a right end. Wisdom is the power to see, and the inclination to choose, the best and highest goal, together with the surest means of attaining it.

Wisdom is, in fact, the practical side of moral goodness. As such, it is found in its fullness only in God. He alone is naturally and entirely and invariably wise.

Human wisdom can be frustrated by circumstantial factors outside the wise person’s control. … But God’s wisdom cannot be frustrated. Power is as much God’s essence as wisdom is. Omniscience governing omnipotence, infinite power ruled by infinite wisdom, is a basic biblical description of the divine character.

Wisdom without power would be pathetic, a broken reed; power without wisdom would be merely frightening; but in God boundless wisdom and endless power are united, and this makes him utterly worthy of our fullest trust.

God’s wisdom is not, and never was, pledged to keep a fallen world happy, or to make ungodliness comfortable. Not even to Christians has he promised a trouble-free life; rather the reverse. He has other ends in view for life in this world than simply to make it easy for everyone.

What is he after, then? What is his goal? What does he aim at? When he made us, his purpose was that we should love and honor him, praising him for the wonderfully ordered complexity and variety of his world, using it according to his will, and so enjoying both it and him. And though we have fallen, God has not abandoned his first purpose.

In the fulfillment of each part of this purpose the Lord Jesus Christ is central, for God has set him forth both as Savior from sin, whom we must trust, and as Lord of the church, whom we must obey.

We should not be too taken aback when unexpected and discouraging things happen to us now. What do they mean? Why, simply that God in his wisdom means to make something of us which we have not attained yet, and is dealing with us accordingly. God knows exactly what he is doing, and what he is after, in his handling of our affairs.

Whatever further purpose a Christian’s troubles may or may not have in equipping him for future service, they will always have at least that purpose which Paul’s thorn in the flesh had: they will have been sent to make us and keep us humble, and to give us a new opportunity of showing forth the power of Christ in our mortal lives. And do we ever need to know any more about them than that? Is not this enough of itself to convince us of the wisdom of God in them? Once Paul saw that his trouble was sent to enable him to glorify Christ, he accepted it as wisely appointed, and rejoiced in it. God give us grace, in all our own troubles, and do likewise.

Next Week

If you are reading Knowing God with me as part of Reading Classics Together, please read chapters 11 and 12 for next Thursday. If you are not yet doing so, why don’t you join us? We aren’t that far into the book yet, so you will not have a difficult time catching up.

Your Turn

The purpose of Reading Classics Together is to read these books together. This time around the bulk of the discussion is happening in a dedicated Facebook group. You can find it right here. A thousand people are already interacting there and would be glad to have you join in or just read along.

Stop Look Consider
September 10, 2015

It is easy to look at the world around us, the culture around us, the institutions around us, and to despair. It is easy to see all that is wrong, all that looks so dark and dangerous, and to lose our hope, to lose our confidence. I have been helped here by J.I. Packer in a powerful little part of Knowing God. Packer teaches the benefit of comparing God with whatever forces and powers we regard as great, and then he does that very thing, drawing on Isaiah 40. It is a powerful and encouraging bit of writing that I’ve adapted right here. God speaks to his people and simply asks them to look and consider.

Look at the tasks I have done. “Could you do them? Could any man do them? ‘Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance?’ (verse 12). Are you wise enough and mighty enough to do things like that?” “I am,” says God. Behold your God!

Look at the nations. Look at all those nations that you fear, that you stand in awe of because of their vast armies and great power. “But now consider how God stands related to those mighty forces which you fear so much. “Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as the dust on the scales; … All the nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness’ (verse 15, 17). You tremble before the nations, because you are much weaker than they; but God is so much greater than the nations that they are as nothing to him.” Behold your God!

Look at the world. “Consider the size of it, the variety and complexity of it; think of the [billions] who populate it, and of the vast sky above it. What puny figures you and I are, by comparison with the whole planet on which we live. Yet what is this whole planet by comparison with God? ‘It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in’ (verse 22). The world dwarfs us all, but God dwarfs the world.” Behold your God!

Look at the world’s great ones. Look at the people who rule this world, the great kings and presidents, “the governors whose laws and policies determine the welfare of millions; the would-be-world-rulers, the dictators and empire-builders, who have it in their power to plunge the globe into war. … Do you suppose that it is really these great men who determine which way the world shall go? Think again; for God is greater than the world’s great men. He is the one ‘who brings princes to nothing, and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness’ (verse 23).” Behold your God!

Look at the stars. “The most universally awesome experience that mankind knows is to stand alone on a clear night and look at the stars. Nothing gives a greater sense of remoteness and distance; nothing makes one feel more strongly one’s own littleness and insignificance. And we, who live in the space age, can supplement this universal experience with our scientific knowledge of the actual factors involved. … But what is this to God? ‘Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power not one is missing’ (verse 26).” Behold your God!

Next Week

If you are reading Knowing God with me as part of Reading Classics Together, please read chapters 9 and 10 for next Thursday. If you are not yet doing so, why don’t you join us? We aren’t that far into the book yet, so you will not have a difficult time catching up.

Your Turn

The purpose of Reading Classics Together is to read these books together. This time around the bulk of the discussion is happening in a dedicated Facebook group. You can find it right here. A thousand people are already interacting there and would be glad to have you join in or just read along.