5 Scripture Passages I Wish Every Christian Knew: Galatians 3.2-7

If you’re a Christian, chances are you’ve heard John 3.16 or Psalm 23. The other day I asked myself, “If I could choose 5 passages that would instantly cement themselves in the mind of my church members which ones would I choose?” For the next 5 Fridays I’m going to share one a week. I’m sure that if I created this list 5 years from now I’d likely choose 5 different passages, so in a sense, these are 5 passages that have meant more to me in the past few years than any others. Here’s week one:

Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. – Galatians 3.2-7 (ESV)

Now, before I comment, read it again from The Message:

2-4 Let me put this question to you: How did your new life begin? Was it by working your heads off to please God? Or was it by responding to God’s Message to you? Are you going to continue this craziness? For only crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God. If you weren’t smart enough or strong enough to begin it, how do you suppose you could perfect it? Did you go through this whole painful learning process for nothing? It is not yet a total loss, but it certainly will be if you keep this up!

5-6 Answer this question: Does the God who lavishly provides you with his own presence, his Holy Spirit, working things in your lives you could never do for yourselves, does he do these things because of your strenuous moral striving or because you trust him to do them in you? Don’t these things happen among you just as they happened with Abraham? He believed God, and that act of belief was turned into a life that was right with God.

7-8 Is it not obvious to you that persons who put their trust in Christ (not persons who put their trust in the law!) are like Abraham: children of faith? – Galatians 3.2-7 (The Message)


No other Scripture passage has spoken into and rocked my life like those six verses. For close to 25 years I lived as if my justification was by the free gift of grace through faith in Jesus, yet my sanctification could only come through what Peterson calls “strenuous moral striving.” If I ever get a tattoo (which is highly unlikely) it will be Galatians 3.3: “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” That’s exactly what I had been doing. Having gladly received free salvation with tears, I moved on to pursuing holiness as something in addition to justification; only earned, never a gift. This verse spoke so deeply to my heart, and the spiritual life it gave me felt stronger than that at my first profession of faith.

Dear Christian, you are saved by grace through faith in Christ alone. You are daily sanctified by grace through faith in Christ alone. You don’t save yourself. You don’t purify yourself. All is gift. You and I never sanctify ourselves through moral striving. We are sanctified as we constantly go back over, relive, re-die, remember our justification in Christ. This is not the outward work of our hands, but the inward work of the Spirit in our hearts.

I wish ever Christian knew these verses.

The Poverty of Prayer: Sermon by Dr. Richard Gaffin

“26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”


“We never know what we ought to pray for.” That’s what the text literally says. We’re ignorant. What is Paul trying to teach us here? And, what hope is there for our prayer life? Dr. Richard Gaffin from Westminster Seminary walks us through the text:

Listen to the entire sermon here.

How to Meditate: George Müller and Scripture as Food

For years I would read my Bible then move directly into prayer. While my time in the Word seemed profitable my prayers more often than not seemed dry, cold, and unfeeling. Many times I would finish prayer more anxious than when I had started. About 2 years ago I made a change. Instead of reading the Bible then jumping to prayer, I began to insert meditation between Bible reading and prayer. What a change! Now two years later I was blessed to see this same thing happen in the life of a famous Christian.

George Müller (1805-1898), a founding member of the Plymouth Brethren movement and the Ashley Down orphanage in Bristol England, developed life of prayer that Christians marvel at to this day. In his memoirs he tells of a personal breakthrough he experienced in his prayer life.

The difference between my former practice and my present one is this. Formerly, when I rose, I began to pray as soon as possible, and generally spent all my time till breakfast in prayer, or almost all the time. At all events I almost invariably began with prayer… But what was the result? I often spent a quarter of an hour, or half an hour, or even an hour on my knees, before being conscious to myself of having derived comfort, encouragement, humbling of soul, etc.; and often after having suffered much from wandering of mind for the first ten minutes, or a quarter of an hour, or even half an hour, I only then began really to pray.
I scarcely ever suffer now in this way. For my heart being nourished by the truth, being brought into experimental fellowship with God, I speak to my Father, and to my Friend (vile though I am, and unworthy of it!) about the things that He has brought before me in His precious Word.
It often now astonished me that I did not sooner see this. In no book did I ever read about it. No public ministry ever brought the matter before me. No private intercourse with a brother stirred me up to this matter. And yet now, since God has taught me this point, it is as plain to me as anything, that the first thing the child of God has to do morning-by-morning is to obtain food for his inner man.

As the outward man is not fit for work for any length of time, except we take food, and as this is one of the first things we do in the morning, so it should be with the inner man. We should take food for that, as every one must allow. Now what is the food for the inner man; not prayer, but the Word of God; and here again not the simple reading of the Word of God, so that it only passes through our minds, just as water runs through a pipe, but considering what we read, pondering over it, and applying it to our hearts….

Müller realized the same thing I had. The secret to powerful moving prayer, in which the mind doesn’t wander is meditation. Don’t read the word so that is runs like water through a pipe.

Commentaries for New Bible Students

I constantly get asked by church members about resources for Bible study. Most of them read their Bibles daily, but would like to have a resource or two from trusted Bible scholars. A problem arises when they step into a book store and realize there are commentaries on every book of the Bible that range from pamphlet size up to several hundred pages. Which one should they buy? Which one can they trust? Which one will be accessible, yet teach them? If this is you here are some suggestions:

1. New Bible Commentary

81XWK+SFVRLEdited by two of my favorite Bible teachers, D.A. Carson and Alec Motyer, the New Bible Commentary is your one stop shop for studying every book of the Bible. Tim Keller, Pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC, recommends that new Bible students buy this commentary, a journal and spend 2-3 years reading slowly through the Bible from cover to cover. At around $20 this you can’t go wrong.

Buy on Amazon

2. The Bible Exposition (BE) Commentary Series

51QrlGm0OdLFor a more devotional style commentary I’d recommend Wiersbe’s BE series. The commentaries are around $10 apiece and you can also buy study guides that follow them. I’ve used the commentary study guides for small group curriculum (at the time of this post my small group is working its way through the study guide on the Minor Prophets).

Buy on Amazon

3. Expositor’s Bible Commentary

51LeCEbSaILWhere the New Bible Commentary will be brief and Wiersbe will lean more towards devotion then in-depth study, the Expositor’s Bible Commentary series is your step up into more academic material. Don’t worry. You can handle this. I own and use every commentary in this series every time I preach.

Buy on Amazon

How to Meditate: Luther’s Garland Prayer



5 centuries ago Martin Luther’s barber asked him how to pray. Luther responded with a 40 page letter entitled A Simple Way to Pray that has been read and practiced by Christians ever since. Last night I shared one of Luther’s methods for meditating on God’s word with our church. It’s called garland prayer.

As a garland is made by intertwining multiple strands of greenery, Luther teaches us to weave a 4 strand prayer. Here’s a simplified, and somewhat modified, outline of Luther’s method:

1. Find a Quiet Regular Place for Morning and Evening Prayer

First, when I feel that I have become cool and joyless in prayer because of other tasks or thoughts (for the flesh and the devil always impede and obstruct prayer), I take my little psalter, hurry to my room,

It is a good thing to let prayer be the first business of the morning and the last at night. Guard yourself carefully against those false, deluding ideas which tell you, “Wait a little while. I will pray in an hour; first I must attend to this or that.” Such thoughts get you away from prayer into other affairs which so hold your attention and involve you that nothing comes of prayer for that day.

2. Begin with a Prayer of Acknowledgement

… kneel or stand with your hands folded and your eyes toward heaven and speak or think as briefly as you can:

O heavenly Father, dear God, I am a poor unworthy sinner. I do not deserve to raise my eyes or hands toward You or to pray. But because You have commanded us all to pray and have promised to hear us and through Your dear Son, Jesus Christ, have taught us both how and what to pray, I come to You in obedience to Your Word, trusting in Your gracious promises. I pray in the name of my Lord Jesus Christ together with all Your saints and Christians on earth as He has taught us

I’ll typically begin my time of reading and meditation by echoing this prayer. I am usually sitting and I open my hands. There’s nothing super spiritual about opening my palms to God. It’s just a cue to my heart that I am opening myself up to receive from God whatever he chooses to give me.

3. Read Slowly

as time permits, I say quietly to myself and word-for-word the Lord’s Prayer, Ten Commandments, the Creed, and, if I have time, some words of Christ or of Paul, or some psalms, just as a child might do.

This is where meditation begins. You must read slowly, word for word. And do not just read. Taste. See. Hear. Meditation is sensing with the mind. Theophan the Recluse defined prayer and meditation like this, “To meditate is to descend with the mind into the heart, and there to stand before the face of the Lord, ever present all seeing, within you.” George Muller encouraged us to not let our Bible reading become like water flowing through a pipe.

4. Practice Garland Prayer

I divide each commandment into four parts, thereby fashioning a garland of four strands. That is, I think of each commandment as first, instruction, which is really what it is intended to be and consider what the Lord God demands of me so earnestly. Second, I turn it into a thanksgiving; third, a confession; and fourth, a prayer.

Luther applies the garland concept specifically to the Ten Commandments, but it can be applied to any passage. When you read the passage ask two simple questions to find the instruction:

  • What does this teach me about God/Christ?
  • What does this say about who I am or who I should be?

Here’s an example of taking a short passage and practicing the garland method:

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.

Instruction: Our Father. Jesus doesn’t say, “My Father.” He says, “Our.” Now what does that mean? It means that we aren’t just saved as individuals. We’re saved into a family. We have brothers and sisters in Christ.

Thanksgiving: Thank you God, that you’ve given me a family. I don’t have to be alone in this world because of what you’ve done!

Confession: Forgive me God, some of my brothers and sisters irritate me. I don’t like being around them, and I certainly don’t feel like loving them in your name. Jesus died for me just as much as them. Forgive me.

Supplication: Make me more aware and thankful for my family in you. Change my heart towards that family member I can’t stand. Give me an opportunity to serve them in love

5. When Your Heart Begins to Flood with Goodness, Stop. Do Not Move On.

If such an abundance of good thoughts comes to us we ought to disregard the other petitions, make room for such thoughts, listen in silence, and under no circumstances obstruct them. The Holy Spirit Himself preaches here, and one word of His sermon is far better than a thousand of our prayers.

6. Proceed with Vocal Prayer

Having devoted yourself to meditating on God’s Word, then move on to normal, vocal prayer. Pray through your requests.

When you practice this method your Bible reading will cease being like water running through a pipe.


What are Spiritual Disciplines?

Growing up as a left handed person can be a real challenge. At times it feels as if everything in the world is made for right handed people. Have you righties noticed that your desks in school had an extended support for your forearm when you write? Lefties don’t have that. Have you ever realized that doors typically open toward your right? The English language, written from left to right, means that left handed people smudge ink or graphite onto their hand. Many left handed people are never taught to write properly, and for most of my life I had the ugliest handwriting.

About two years ago I was finally sick of my “chicken scratch” thank you cards and decided to improve my penmanship. In order to do that I had to practice handwriting disciplines. I’d print off these sheets from the internet on how to properly form letters. Whenever I had five or ten minutes to spare I’d pull out a sheet and slowly start writing. Let me tell you, when I first started it was atrocious. I couldn’t even follow a dotted line on paper. It looked about the same as if my 2 year old tried it.

But slowly, over time, my writing became comfortable. I could trace the exact movement of the line with fluidity. I didn’t have to exert nearly as much effort to see results. And even though my handwriting is far better now, I’ve noticed that if I go for any period of time without coming back to those sheets my handwriting suffers. I make slight changes. I don’t form the letters exactly right. A little sloppiness creeps into my thank you notes.

Now, the spiritual disciplines are for your spiritual growth what those handwriting sheets are for my penmanship.


Donald Whitney, in his Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, says:

The Spiritual Disciplines are those personal and corporate disciplines that promote spiritual growth. They are the habits of devotion and experiential Christianity that have been practiced by the people of God since biblical times.

Just as there are disciplines that help you develop mentally and physically there are disciplines that God’s people have recognized help develop and mature our spiritual life. Just like my hand didn’t naturally know how to form letters properly our fallen souls don’t naturally know how to properly devote ourselves to God and experience his life on an ongoing basis. Christian’s throughout the centuries have realized this and devoted themselves to various practices designed to foster spiritual life. Below is a list I have adapted from Kenneth Boa’s book Conformed to His Image.

  • Solitude and Silence
  • Prayer
  • Journaling/Reflection
  • Bible Reading and Study
  • Meditation
  • Fasting
  • Chastity
  • Secrecy
  • Confession
  • Fellowship
  • Simplicity/Stewardship/Sacrifice
  • Corporate Worship
  • Service
  • Witness

Disciplined spirituality makes a concerted effort at shaping the affections of the heart and the will towards love for God and obedience to his Word. These practices train the soul towards what it does not do naturally. I’m sure you probably observe a few of these disciplines and have thought about some of the others. In future posts I’ll fill out more detail for the individual disciplines, but for now I’d love to hear about your experience with the spiritual disciplines, what books have helped you understand/practice them etc.

20 Questions to Gauge Your Bible Reading

It’s the middle of January. How’s your Bible reading going? How can you know how it’s going. These certainly aren’t the only questions you’d want to ask to gauge your Bible reading. There’s a host interpretive questions I’ll post later. For now, ask some penetrating questions about your Bible reading, and share some thoughts in the comments.

  1. Do I believe the Bible is primarily about me or Jesus?photo-1450101215322-bf5cd27642fc
  2. Do I primarily read the Bible to find something to try harder at today?
  3. Do I primarily read the Bible to understand my life?
  4. Do I primarily read the Bible to know God?
  5. Do I primarily read the Bible to be closer to God?
  6. Do I read the Bible in order to feel better about myself?
  7. Do I read the Bible in order to feel guilt over my sin?
  8. Does my Bible study result in guilt, shame, and condemnation?
  9. Do I feel like a failure when I read the Bible?
  10. Does my Bible study result in a sense of accomplishment, pride, and condescension to others?
  11. Do I feel assured in my obedience to God’s commands when I read the Bible?
  12. Does my Bible study result in confidence before God because of the finished work of Jesus?
  13. Does my Bible study result in action that stems from fear or pride?
  14. Does my Bible study result in action that wells up from a heart of love for God?
  15. When I study my Bible do I equally sense God’s hatred of my sin and God’s mercy towards me?
  16. When I read my Bible do I feel more like a hopeless case, a self-assured worker, or a chosen son/daughter?
  17. Am I reading the Bible in order to say I’ve read the Bible?
  18. Is my Bible reading generally refreshing or dry?
  19. Am I working to see Jesus on every page?
  20. Does reading my Bible cause me to lift my heart to Jesus on the spot?

What is Discipleship?

What is discipleship? Read 10 different books on the subject and you may get 10 different answers. Discipleship means many things in many contexts. When hearing the word many people think of the spiritual disciplines: prayer, Bible study, Scripture memorization. Others think of a class or course of study; a set of facts that once learned make the student a disciple.

At our church we often use a slogan to explain discipleship. I’m sure we didn’t invent it, so if you know it’s source feel free to offer it in the comments. Here it is:

Disciples don’t just know what their masters know. They do what their masters do.

That’s obviously a pithy saying, but every time I use it I have Ephesians 4 in the back of my mind. It’s one of Paul’s richest characterizations of the life of the Christian and the church. There’s nothing pithy about it:

11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. Ephesians 4.11-17


Loads of passages in the Bible explain what discipleship is and how to do it. This one is my favorite because of those two lines I emphasized. At its most basic, discipleship can be described by these two poles: children who are tossed around by waves and maturing in every way to Christ. Discipleship is the process of moving from worldly immaturity and instability towards spiritual maturity and buoyancy found in Christ. I love that these two poles aren’t a method. They don’t offer a program. For myself, I find that a method can often be a shortcut. We find one spiritual discipline that ministers to us and make it the answer to all our problems. Paul offers no shortcuts here. He offers a gauge:

Am I being tossed around by waves? Then on some level I haven’t grown up into Christ.

This kind of personal analysis requires intense reflection combined with broad reading and application of Scripture. It focuses on the gospel of Christ as the solution instead of a method or practice.

The Upside Down, Inside Out Gospel

Melissa Kruger reminds us that the Christian life is entirely paradoxical. She wrote the following in a recent blog at Ligonier:

He who gains the most trinkets and toys does not win contentment in the game of life. When the world is gained, it may provide momentary happiness, but it is impossible for lasting joy to be sustained from temporary pleasure.

In contrast, the upside down way of the gospel leads us to deny ourselves, and in doing so, we encounter a surprising result: we find life. Contentment is won not by gaining, but by giving. Not by addition, but by subtraction.


Years ago I heard it put this way, “He who dies with the most toys still dies.” One secret of contentment, Kruger says, lies in your ability to sacrifice instead of gain. Clinched fists can never know contentment. Contented hands open to whatever God brings and willingly let go of whatever God takes. Your thoughts?


Recommended Resource: Prayer by Tim Keller

prayerI recently finished Tim Keller’s new book, Prayer. Per usual, Keller has found the balance between writing accessibly while leading the reader through deep waters. His book on prayer will be my go-to book (outside of the Bible, of course) to recommend to Christians who want to learn to pray. Keller spends the first half of the book explaining what prayer is, why it’s important and why we should want it. In the second half Keller leans on Augustine, Luther, Calvin and other famous Christians from history to help us learn to pray, and pray deeply. Here are a few quotes to mull over:

  • We are so used to being empty that we do not recognize the emptiness as such until we start to try to pray.
  • Prayer is the only entryway into genuine self-knowledge.
  • Prayer is continuing a conversation that God has started through his Word and his grace, which eventually becomes a full encounter with him.
  • If we give priority to the outer life, our inner life will be dark and scary. We will not know what to do with solitude. We will be deeply uncomfortable with self-examination, and we will have an increasingly short attention span for any kind of reflection.
  • Meditation is spiritually “tasting” the Scripture— delighting in it, sensing the sweetness of the teaching, feeling the conviction of what it tells us about ourselves, and thanking God and praising God for what it shows us about him.