Book Announcement: Are We United?

October 31, 2017 will mark the 500th anniversary of the birth of the Reformation. Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the Wittenburg Castle Church on October 31, 1517 put in motion a call for the Church to return to biblical truth and an exhortation to submit to Scripture alone in reforming believers and the church in belief and practice, namely how one is saved. The events of the Reformation drew the dividing line between Protestants and Catholics. The reaction of the Catholic church to the Reformation made clear Protestants and Catholics were not unified in the gospel. One was in line with the gospel and the other was out of step and headed toward destruction. The Reformation, resting on the authority of Scripture alone, revealed Protestants who believed salvation was found in trusting Christ alone by grace through faith alone were those in line with the gospel.Yet, today there seems to be a call for unity between Protestants and Catholics. The problem is not that we stand together on social issues. Protestants should stand beside their Catholic friends to speak for the unborn and to care for the poor. However, does this mean Protestants and Catholics ought to unite in the gospel? Pastor Brandon Sutton answers this question is his new book, Are We United? The Question for Protestants and Catholics. Are We United? looks to the truth of God’s Word and asks whether Protestants and Catholics are united in the gospel. Pastor Sutton examines the material cause of the Reformation, justification, and the formal cause of the Reformation, authority. 500 years after the birth of the Reformation, we still need to answer this question clearly. It makes all the eternal difference. May this book serve you well in pointing you to The Book. Purchase your copy HERE! (If you use BOOKSHIP17, you will receive 10% off and free shipping; discount ends October 9!)

Heart-Revealing Treatment (Matthew 25:31–46)

Matthew 25:31-46 is a worthy passage for reflection and thought. In this passage, Jesus describes the moment when He will return to establish His Kingdom here on Earth. Upon His arrival, “He will sit on his glorious throne” and “Before Him will be gathered all the nations” (25:32). In this moment, every eye will see Him, and every person will be obligated to stand before His presence. He’s going to bring everyone into account for the lives they have lived (Romans 2:6-8).

When He arrives, the King has some work lined up. He plans to separate those who come before Him. On His right will stand believers (the sheep), and on His left, unbelievers (the goats). The believers shall be welcomed by the King and invited into His Kingdom. Unbelievers will be cursed and condemned into everlasting torment.

What’s the determining factor? How does the King decide who will enter His Kingdom and who will not? Their works (25:35-46). The sheep are commended and blessed because they fed the hungry, clothed the naked, and visited the sick and imprisoned. The goats, however, are cursed because they didn’t do these things. In the end, their manner of life determined their destiny.

Now, let’s be clear. Right standing with God (justification) is by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8). It is not a “result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:9). But, if this is the case, then why does Jesus make it very clear that entrance into the Kingdom is based on whether you have engaged in good works, such as assisting the needy? He almost seems to imply that you have to earn your way into His Kingdom.

But, Jesus does not mean that at all. He is not teaching that you have to earn your salvation. So, why does His judgment seem to depend on what the people did? It’s simple, your treatment of others reveals your heart.

The sheep have saving faith in Christ, and they expressed their faith through good works. Conversely, the goats didn’t have faith in Christ, and they showed this by their lack of love and concern for those in need. This is because genuine believers have transformed hearts, renewed by the Holy Spirit and unbelievers do not.

One of the top-tier evidences that you have received a new heart leading to saving faith is that you demonstrate love towards those in need. It’s feeding the hungry. It’s giving water to those who thirst. It’s clothing the naked. It’s comforting the afflicted. Christians have been radically changed by the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the proof of their salvation is a life committed to serving other people, particularly the needy and helpless.

If you follow Jesus, I hope, to some extent, this describes you. We cannot live for ourselves. We must live sacrificially for Christ’s glory and the good of others. We must be willing to give ourselves to Jesus and be His servants. We cannot reduce our Christianity to mere church attendance and nothing else. If that describes you, then you’re missing the point.

If you look down on people and judge them as those who deserve hardship because they’ve made poor choices, you’re probably a goat, not a sheep. Sheep extend the love they’ve received. Goats self-righteously hoard all the goodness God has bestowed upon them.

So, which are you: a sheep or a goat? Where will you be when Jesus returns, on the right or the left? Look at how you treat the lowly and needy. There you will find your answer.

Reflection Questions:

  • What does the treatment of others reveal about your heart?
  • How can you extend the love you have received from God to others in your life?

This devotional was written by EBG Contributing Writer Brandon Sutton. He serves as the Lead Pastor of Blue Ridge Christian Union Church in Shelbyville, Indiana. He is currently a Master of Divinity student at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He is the grateful husband of Sherrie and the proud father of Emma.

Out of Darkness (Matthew 4:12-17)

If you would have asked any Jew during the day of Jesus, the majority of them would have assumed Israel’s Messiah would start His ministry in the religious epicenter of the world—Jerusalem. Israel’s capital is the city of God, the city of the great King and the location where all the religious elites spent their time. But our Lord didn’t inaugurate His ministry there. His ministry began in Galilee, an obscure and despised region in Israel.

After being tempted by Satan, Jesus left the wilderness when He heard that John the Baptist was arrested (see Matthew 4:12-17). I’m certain our Lord was avoiding facing the same fate. It was too early in His ministry to endure similar opposition.

When He arrived, His first stop was Nazareth (4:13), but we know from Luke’s gospel that Jesus didn’t spend much time there because He was rejected and nearly killed (Luke 4:16-30). Therefore, He left His hometown for a nearby village called Capernaum. It would seem many human circumstances were sending Jesus all around Israel. John is arrested. Jesus leaves for Galilee. His hometown rejects Him. Jesus leaves for Capernaum.

Though the human element is certainly a factor, you can be sure God’s sovereign will is being accomplished. Upon His arrival to Capernaum, Jesus fulfills ancient prophecy (4:14-16). Capernaum is the old territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, two of the twelve tribes of Israel.

A little background is helpful at this point. In the days of Joshua, Israel was commanded to overtake the land of Canaan. God also commanded them to drive out the inhabitants of the land lest their gods and false religions become a snare to the children of Israel. Israel obeyed God’s command to raid the land. However, they failed to drive out all of its inhabitants. Many Gentiles were left and this caused endless problems for the Jews. By the time Jesus came on the scene, this region is full of false religion and the worship of false gods. Galilee was called “Galilee of the Gentiles” (4:15). The religious established scorned them and steered clear of going there.

Jesus, on the other hand, began His ministry in the midst of spiritual darkness and death (4:16). The light of the world went to those who needed Him most. Our Lord called them out of the darkness and into the light, and He did this with a simple but profound message that still preaches today: “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Jesus didn’t merely call these people out of darkness. He commanded them.

The way we come out of darkness is by repenting of the darkness we love so much. I’m talking about sin. If you’re like me, you know sin all too well. It’s a part of the fabric of our being. And if you’re honest, apart from God’s grace, you love your sin more than you love Christ. Left to our own devices, we would all choose our sin and perish apart from the Lord.

But Jesus shines a light into our lives. He lets us know there is a different way. If we repent and turn to Christ, we’ll be saved. Repentance consists of three things—confession, contrition and conversion. We confess our sins to God. We agree that we’re wrong and we ask for forgiveness. We also express genuine contrition and sorrow for our sin. And then we turn to Christ, we trust in Him and are converted.

When we do this, we find inclusion into this Kingdom that Jesus promises is so near. While the fullness of His Kingdom is a future reality yet to come, Jesus reigns upon the thrones of everyone’s hearts that trust in Him.

Reflection Questions:

  • What does it mean that Jesus calls us out of the darkness and into the light?
  • How does knowing the three elements of repentance bring us to a better understanding of how to deal with our sin in responding to the gospel?

This devotional was written by EBG Contributing Writer Brandon Sutton. He serves as the Lead Pastor of Blue Ridge Christian Union Church in Shelbyville, Indiana. He is currently a Master of Divinity student at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He is the grateful husband of Sherrie and the proud father of Emma.

Don’t Settle for Lesser Things

sutton_famThis post was written by EBG Contributing Writer Brandon Sutton. He serves as the Lead Pastor of Blue Ridge Christian Union Church in Shelbyville, Indiana and as the Director of Grace House Ministries, a Christ-centered men’s recovery home. He is the grateful husband of Sherrie and the proud father of Emma.

In his sermon entitled, “The Weight of Glory”, C.S. Lewis wrote,

“If we consider the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Oh, how true this statement is! God does not see us as creatures who are too passionate. He sees dont_settleus as creatures who have misplaced true passion. We’ve settled for lesser things. As Lewis said, we’re like children who are content playing in the mud. We don’t know the true joys of soaking in the warm sun on a beach overlooking the Pacific.

The truth is we are all seeking for joy. That’s indisputable. Whether you’re the drunk or the businessmen, the mother of three or the prostitute, the athlete or the lazy glutton…whatever you do on a daily basis, you do it because you are seeking some kind of joy and fulfillment. And here’s the thing, there’s nothing wrong with seeking joy. There is nothing sinful about wanting fulfillment. What makes seeking joy right or wrong, however, is not the pursuit itself but where you seek it.

Consider Israel. Through Jeremiah, the Lord chastised them saying, “Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:12-13). Israel “committed two evils.” First, they abandoned the Lord. Second, they pursued idols in the place of God. Jeremiah compared these idols to broken cisterns, underground water storage devices for rainwater. These cisterns, however, were broken and let the water seep out, proving to be useless. Water was stored because it is necessary for life. Water also satisfies when we’re thirsty. But, if the cisterns can hold no water, they are useless.

The analogy is crystal clear. When we forsake God, pursuing joy and satisfaction in the things of the world (idols), it’s like turning to broken water cisterns when we’re thirsty. We come up spiritually dry and empty. Yet, this is what so many of us do. Again, like the children in Lewis’ sermon, we settle for lesser things.

We need a holiday at the sea. We need to be introduced to something greater that reveals we’ve settled for lesser joy. What we need is an awe-inspiring view of God’s glory in Jesus Christ; to believe Jesus when He said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).

We were made to pursue joy and satisfaction. This is how our hearts function. Our hearts are like a bottomless pit, a void which the finite idols of the world cannot fill. Yet, our hearts overflow when we turn to the infinite Christ for whom we were made (Colossians 1:16). Christians should pursue joy in Christ. Once we’ve been introduced to joys of God’s Son, we’ll never again return to the mud pies in the slum. Once we drink from the everlasting waters of Jesus, we’ll stop tapping into dry cisterns.

So, dear Christians, let us obey the words of Scripture which say, “Delight yourself (literally, seek joy) in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).

What Your Heart Desires

What We All Want

What if I told you that I know exactly what you want? Perhaps, you’re thinking: How could I possibly know such a thing? I know because it’s the same thing we all want. You want happiness, joy, fulfillment, peace and satisfaction. You want to feel as if everything is going to be okay. You want security and the hope of a positive future.

You want what Israel wanted when they were traveling through the desert from Egypt to Canaan (Exodus 17:1-7). In this particular event, God’s people were thirsty. They needed water and they were ready to call for Moses’ head if they didn’t get it. So, Israel’s noble leader called upon the Lord. Moses was told to “strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink” (Exodus 17:6). Moses did as the Lord commanded. From the rock flowed enough water for every man and beast.

You might be wondering how that addresses my initial assertion. Well, in itself, perhaps it doesn’t. But, in 1 Corinthians 10:3, Paul tells us this: “the Rock was Christ.” The apostle spiritualizes Exodus 17:1-7 (as only he can do). He shows us that something far greater than history is meant to be learned.

A Spiritual Thirst

Israel’s physical thirst pointed to a greater reality, their spiritual thirst. Not only were their tongues dry, their souls were dry as well. You see, they, like all of us, desired fulfillment. They wanted joy, satisfaction and security, but they looked for it in all the wrong places.heart_desires

That tends to be all of our problems. We all want the same thing because that’s how were made. But, we look for fulfillment in the things of the world rather than in Christ. We look for satisfaction in sex, drugs, food, money, our health, our work, our friends, our lovers…the list goes on, ad infinitum. Point being, we look for what only God can provide in the things of the world. When we do that, we’ll always come up empty and thirsty.

Back to Exodus 17. In order for the people to receive the water, Moses had to strike the rock. Unless it was struck, water could not come. In the same, unless Christ was struck with the torments of the cross we could not receive the waters of His grace. When our Savior hung upon that tree, He was struck with the full force of God’s rod of fury. The lawgiver poured out all the curses of divine judgment and our Savior died. Yet, it was this act of sacrifice that enabled Jesus to say, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:37-38).

Available in Christ

Satisfaction, peace, joy, fulfillment, happiness, security, and all the blessings of God are available in Christ. He is our spiritual food and drink. He alone can fill the void that is our hearts…the void we so often try to fill worldly things. But, trying to fill our hearts with things of the world is like trying to pour water into a strainer. It doesn’t work. But, when we come to Christ, He is like Niagara Falls and our hearts are like little Dixie cups. He is more than enough to meet our needs.

Friends, do hear the Savior saying, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy…come to me…that your soul may live” (Isaiah 55:1-3).

sutton_famThis post was written by EBG Contributing Writer Brandon Sutton. He serves as the Lead Pastor of Blue Ridge Christian Union Church in Shelbyville, Indiana and as the Director of Grace House Ministries, a Christ-centered men’s recovery home. He is the grateful husband of Sherrie and the proud father of Emma.