By / Jun 14

The study of Christian ethics is an underdeveloped area within the evangelical tradition, as many of the resources on biblical ethics come from the Roman Catholic moral tradition. While this is an area that has seen a recent surge of interest in the last few decades, there are several older works that the church would do well to pick up and read with a discerning mind. One of these volumes, written in the 1950s, is Principles of Conduct by theologian John Murray. 

It may seem odd to look back at a past work on biblical ethics given the rapidly shifting culture all around the church today. But many of these works are not only prescient in their insights but remind today’s believers that the core of the Christian moral tradition remains unchanged from generation to generation. This is because the biblical witness and the metaphysical realities do not fluctuate with the passing winds of society.

John Murray spent nearly his entire teaching career at Westminster Theological Seminary, where he taught systematic theology from 1930 to 1966. He began his teaching career at Princeton Theological Seminary, studying under J. Gresham Machen and Geerhardus Vos. He left Princeton after one year to help found Westminster Seminary. He is the author of numerous works, including Redemption: Accomplished and Applied and an exposition of Romans in the New International Commentary on the New Testament. 

Although the present volume is one of his only primary works on ethics, originally delivered as the 1955 Payton Lectures at Fuller Theological Seminary, Murray serves as a seasoned and experienced model of Christian ethics, offering readers a robust biblical ethic that is refreshingly grounded in God’s Word and focused on the “goodness, purity, and holiness” that flows from a life lived in pursuit of godliness (11). 

The biblical ethic

Murray’s work is primarily organized around the creation ordinances of marriage (the sexual union) and labor before shifting to the sanctity of life (focusing primarily on the death penalty, warfare, and seeking justice as a society) and truth-telling (lying, social order, and Jesus as the Truth). These topics are followed by chapters on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, the relationship of law and grace, and the dynamic of the biblical ethic and the fear of God. The 1957 volume also contains four appendices on various scriptural questions and two essays on slavery in the Presbyterian Church in the USA and antinomianism. 

One of the most striking features of the book comes at the outset. The subtitle of the book is Aspect of Biblical Ethics. But almost immediately, Murray states that his goal is “to show the basic unity and continuity of the biblical ethic” (7, emphasis mine). This shift from the plural to the singular biblical ethic is strategic because he is focused on showing readers that there is a single ethic that arises from the biblical text, not multiple truths or conflicting accounts. This ethic not only considers the individual, but he states that there is a “corporate responsibility and there is corporate action” (13). This action flows from Scripture, which does not solely focus on the individual’s heart or relationship with God, but also on the corporate nature of the church and society.

This work was heavily influenced by Geerhardus Vos and the biblical theology movement. Vos’ 1954 work, Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments, significantly shaped Murray, as well as his approach to ethics. His stated goal is to apply the biblico-theological methods to the ethic of Scripture (7). Murray agrees with Vos that biblical theology is the “process of self-revelation of God deposited in the Bible.” Vos is highlighted throughout the volume as Murray dissects various themes and passages in Scripture, building this biblical ethic. For Murray, the Bible has an organic unity of divine revelation “of which the Bible itself is the depository” (9). The sum of this revelation is found in the greatest commandments of loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves.

Murray states at the beginning that the people of God are commanded to love God and love neighbor, which speaks to the deontological focus of Murray’s understanding of the biblical ethic. This theme is reiterated throughout the volume and featured prominently again near the end where Murray reminds readers that these commands have often “been used (we should say abused) as vague generalizations to conceal antipathy to the particulars of divine demand which these commandments require us to fulfill” (227). This two-fold emphasis on the actual text of Scripture and the pursuit of godliness is foundational to Murray’s entire work and serves as one of the primary strengths of the volume.

While Murray does not touch on some of the moral modern moral issues we have become accustomed to seeing in books on ethics, the principles he articulates are directly applicable to today’s complexities. For example, his emphasis on truth in chapter 6 is directly applicable today given the rise of conspiracy theories and misinformation with the ubiquity of social media and digital communication today. The church would do well to heed the biblical ethic charted by Murray as we seek to apply the timeless truths of Christianity to the important matters of today.

Foundational truths

One of Murray’s primary concerns for the church and her moral witness is shown in how he models a robust, biblical, and theological foundation especially in regard to the relationships of law and grace, epitomized in how many pit the Old and New Testaments against one another in some formulations of Christian ethics. Murray sees this move as a misunderstanding springing from a misinterpretation of Paul’s statement in Romans 6:14, which may lead some to create a false division between the Mosaic economy and covenant in relation to the new covenant found in the New Testament. (195) Murray focused this debate over law and grace on the fulfillment of the law in Christ, as well as on the constant call toward a life of godliness for the believer and by extension the entire church. He brilliantly states, “the fear of God is the soul of godliness,” which encapsulates the biblical ethic he models of seeing God as the center of the Christian life and the Scriptures as divine revelation calling God’s people to live in light of the gospel in every aspect of their lives. (229) Grace doesn’t free us from obligation, but nor does duty bring about salvation.

While this robust and thoroughly biblical volume is a testament to Murray’s own teaching career, one area of weakness is that the volume lacks a substantive discussion of the imago Dei and its implications on the biblical ethic, even though the concept of human dignity is prevalent throughout the work. Opening the book with the biblical ordinances would have been even more forceful had he set a foundation of the value of each human being as created in God’s image. As mentioned, human dignity is touched on numerous times in the work, but Murray doesn’t delve into the doctrine or show how it functions within the biblico-theological storyline. Though this omission could be based on how Murray seeks to stick to the biblical theological thread since the Bible does not spend considerable amounts of time on the doctrine even though, based on creation, it undergirds the entirety of the biblical ethic.

Overall, Murray’s volume on the biblical ethic is a classic text within the Reformed moral and ethical tradition for good reason. While he doesn’t address every particular issue of Christian ethics, he lays a solid foundation, grounded in God’s unchanging word and a deep knowledge of the Scriptures unlike many modern treatments of Christian ethics which tend to be organized around issues but lack an in-depth exposition of the Scriptures themselves. He does not simply apply Scripture to ethical debates but rather walks through the text showing their ethical value and calling upon God’s people to pursue a life of godliness. Murray’s ultimate vision for Christians ethics is that “the ethics of the bible reflect the character of God,” thus God’s people are to seek to become more like God as his unique image bearers as they follow him. (202)

By / Jun 3

Western culture would say abundant life is a one free from the rules and commands that weigh us down and hold us back. Unlike King David, our culture sees boundary lines, whether religious or not, as oppressive. Naturally, the Ten Commandments have never been more suspect than they are now, even among the people of God.

But Jen Wilkin, in her new book, Ten Words to Live By: Delighting in and Doing What God Commands, has called the church to “an exercise in remembrance” that the law of God is life-giving and beautiful. In the face of the misunderstandings of our culture, Wilkin argues that these Ten Words of God, when understood right, will “steady and strengthen us on the narrow path that leads us home.” She recently answered some of our questions about this latest word. 

In your new book, Ten Words to Live By, you write about the Ten Commandments recorded in the book of Exodus, with which many Christians are familiar. What prompted you to write a book on this topic?

I find that we’re actually only familiar with them in passing. Few of us are able to recall all 10 off the top of our heads, and even fewer could recall them in order. If we do remember them, we tend to view them as straightforward and simplistic. I know I certainly did for a very long time. I wrote the book to help deepen our understanding of what they ask of us, what they offer us, and how they relate to the grace we receive through Christ.

While many, especially non-Christians, may view the Ten Commandments as a set of rigid and restrictive rules, you argue that the law of God is “life-giving” and “beautiful.” Can you explain why these “Ten Words” are life-giving and not life-depriving? 

James speaks of “the law that gives freedom.” The psalmist speaks of the law as his delight. Ezekiel 20:11 says, “I gave them my statutes and made known to them my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live.” Since Eden, humans have responded to boundaries as restrictive, as a violation of our will. But laws exist for a reason: they help us to live in community. God’s laws show us how to live in right relationship with him and one another by establishing good boundaries for our flourishing.

Picking up on that, how do God’s laws help us live in community, and why is that important for the church to remember?

The church is the family of God. All healthy families have household rules to help them live at peace with one another and ensure all are committed to the flourishing of the home: speak kindly to each other, apologize quickly and often, don’t hit or bite your siblings, pick up your belongings, etc. God’s laws are the household rules that help us care for each other and honor him as we should. The “one anothers” of the New Testament are grace-driven expressions of these laws.

Christians may assume that since the Ten Commandments were given to the people of God in the Old Testament, we can disregard them today. How would you counsel Christians today to view the Ten Commandments?

God’s law is a reflection of his unchanging character. While our relationship to the law changes once we are in Christ, our duty to it remains. Whereas before we were condemned by it, now we are sanctified by it. Whereas before we offered only a grudging obedience out of fear or a hope to earn God’s favor, now we offer a joyful obedience out of gratitude for already having his favor. The law was obeyed perfectly by Christ, and those who wish to be conformed to his image will eagerly seek to obey it.

What are some ways we continue to violate these ancient commands still today? 

Perhaps the most pervasive example can be seen in social media usage. The Third Word commands us not to defame the name of the Lord. The Ninth Word commands us not to defame the name of our neighbor. It is easier to defame an “invisible” person than one standing right next to us. We say hurtful things about others in their absence that we would never say to their faces. Social media makes everyone invisible. We unleash our vitriol on one another with no sense that an actual person is the recipient of our attack. But every time we defame someone made in the image of God, we defame their Maker. All sin is first and foremost against God. It may be possible to break the Third Word without breaking the Ninth, but it is impossible to break the Ninth without also breaking the Third.

For lawbreakers like us, what does it mean that Jesus Christ fulfilled the law? What kind of hope does that offer for Christians?

He obeyed it perfectly on our behalf to redeem us. We are saved by his good works! But he also obeyed it perfectly as our example. We are sanctified by following in his footsteps!

For those of us who continue to “stumble and falter along the way,” in light of the person and work of Jesus, what sort of encouragement and strength can we draw from these Ten Words now carved on our hearts?

The Ten Words are for our sanctification, but while our sanctification is certain, it is not sudden. We will spend our lives pressing on toward the mark, and often missing it. For the unbeliever, there is only increased wrath for every failure. For the children of God, there is grace without measure. I can’t think of better “good news” than that — to be given a lamp for our feet along life’s dark path, and to be given a healing balm for when we stumble and fall. We will indeed stumble, but we will stand again and resume the race. God is faithful to complete what he begins!

By / Apr 14

Jesus’s healing of the man by the pool of Bethesda was an impressive miracle, except in the religious leaders’ estimation. They were more concerned that Jesus had healed the man on the Sabbath, so they began attacking Jesus. In the middle of Jesus’s lengthy reply to these hard-hearted leaders, we read this: “You pore over the Scriptures because you think you have eternal life in them, and yet they testify about me. But you are not willing to come to me so that you may have life” (John 5:39–40 CSB).

Our temptation is to read this with a “Yeah they got what they deserved!” mentality. While that’s understandable, we need to read these verses with humility instead. In the Savior’s words, we find a sobering warning to us as disciple-makers, especially those of us who are discipling kids. 

These religious leaders knew the Scriptures. They were the Bible trivia champions of their day. But what did that amount to? Death. All of their meticulous study of the Scriptures didn’t move them even a fraction of an inch from death toward life. In this passage, we see that there is much more than just knowing Scripture; we have to know Jesus through Scripture

We don’t want to follow in the religious leaders’ steps and train up kids who know the Bible but are still dead in their sins because they haven’t come to know the One the Bible is all about. Rather, we want to disciple kids who have learned about Jesus through the Bible, love him, and live for him. 

Learn, love, live: The foundation of the Shema

It shouldn’t be surprising, then, to find this three-part structure of discipleship woven into what many consider to be the seminal passage on discipling kids in the Bible—the passage known as the Shema—Deuteronomy 6:4–9. 

Learn. Notice how the Shema begins:

Listen, Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one (Deut. 6:4 CSB).

The foundation of discipling kids is orthodoxy—having a right knowledge and belief about who God is. You cannot love whom you do not know, and you cannot live out what you do not know. So, in many ways, discipleship must begin with our targeting a child’s thinking—the head. We need to help kids understand God and his ways. We need to help kids engage their minds and think deeply about the gospel. But if discipleship ended here, it would be just a matter of information transfer; the religious leaders and even the demons would be excellent disciples (James 2:19).

Love. The Shema continues:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart (Deut. 6:5–6 CSB).

God’s intention is that the truth of who he is and the beauty of what he has done to restore our broken relationship with him should stir our affections for him and others. This is why Jesus pointed to the commands to love God (in Deuteronomy) and to love one’s neighbor (Lev. 19:18) as the two greatest commands in Scripture (Matt. 22:34–40). Love is the divinely appointed conduit that helps us to put what we know into practice.

As critical as love is in discipleship, it’s often neglected. The tendency is to move straight from learning to living. This robs kids of the opportunity to engage their feelings rightly. Orthodoxy should lead to orthopathy; right doctrine to rightly directed affections. Being moved deeply, that is, being filled with gratitude, love, and awe is the only reasonable response to what we learn. So, those who teach kids don’t just target right thinking, we also go after the heart. 

But if discipleship ended with the head and heart, it would be incomplete. Love is not love without action.

Live. The Shema concludes:

Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them be a symbol on your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your city gates (Deut. 6:7–9 CSB).

Whether or not these commands to bind and write the law are to be taken literally or metaphorically, the result is the same: obedience to God’s commands should mark his people such that they are easily recognized by others.1For more on whether these instructions were intended to be literal or metaphorical, see Peter C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013), 170–71; Duane L. Christensen, Deuteronomy 1:1–21:9, Revised, vol. 6A, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2001), 142; Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, vol. 4, The New American Commentary (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 1994), 167–68. Knowing and loving God rightly will result in living rightly; this is called orthopraxy. Living on mission is not just extra credit for the spiritual elites; it is a requirement for all who believe, and it’s a test to determine whether a person has indeed learned and loved.

Required action is what Jesus had in mind when he explained what separates the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:31–46. Jesus pointed to each group’s action or inaction as the reason they were judged as either saved or perishing. Jesus was not teaching a works-based salvation, but he was assuming a holistic discipleship process. His premise is that the righteous will do what they do because he knows them and has already transformed their heads and hearts It will be their natural and reasonable response to being in relationship with God. The inverse is just as true: it is unreasonable to contend that a person is a disciple of Jesus if he or she fails to live any differently. Our goal is not just to aim for the heads and hearts of those we are discipling, but also for their hands. 

Learn, love, and live: Putting discipleship into practice

How, then, do we put this learn-love-live discipleship triad into practice in our children’s ministries? Here are three tips to get you started:

  • Ensure your curriculum is balanced. Grab three different highlighters and a few sessions of your curriculum. Go through each, highlighting everything that focuses on learning in one color, loving in another color, and living in yet another. When you are done, if you notice a lack of one or more areas, consider how you can work with your teachers to include or expand those areas beyond what is in the leader guides. 
  • Ensure your ministry is balanced. Your impact on kids goes beyond your curriculum. Consider a similar exercise with your calendar and highlight your events according to what each one’s major win is or should be. Not only will this help you balance your ministry, but it will also help you as you plan each event—making sure each one is faithful to its purpose. 
  • Ensure your kids are balanced. We all have a bent toward either learning, loving, or living. There is nothing wrong with that; in fact, it should be encouraged. But at the same time, we want to make sure that each child (and leader, too) is growing holistically as a disciple. So that kid who is a learner by nature may need to be stretched to love and live more. That kid who is quick to live may need to be encouraged to slow down and learn at times. We don’t want to stifle natural growth, but neither do we want to encourage disproportionate growth. 

Learn, love, and live: An inseparable triad

Learn. Love. Live. Learning the gospel must result in a love for the God of the gospel and then living out the gospel in our context. Orthodoxy develops orthopathy which prompts orthopraxy. But once the process begins, each propels a person toward the other two as a person grows to become a more faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. In this way, all three work together in a beautiful and fruitful symbiotic relationship. None of the parts can be removed.

  • Learning and living without loving is legalism. We see this in Jesus’s description of the Pharisees in in Matthew 23:27–28. He said they were whitewashed tombs, beautiful on the outside but dead on the inside.
  • Loving and living without learning is liberalism. We see this in many cults where people live passionately under their leaders’ errant guidance rather than under God’s inerrant truth.
  • Learning and loving without living is libertinism. We see this in church history in the monks, who withdrew from society to learn about God and love him in vacuum, without being salt and light in their communities. 

Learning, loving, and living are like the three legs of a stool. Remove any one, and it all topples over. But when all three work together, they provide a solid foundation. 

The newest cycle of Lifeway’s Gospel Project curriculum was revised with this Learn, Love, Live paradigm in mind. Learn more at

  • 1
    For more on whether these instructions were intended to be literal or metaphorical, see Peter C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013), 170–71; Duane L. Christensen, Deuteronomy 1:1–21:9, Revised, vol. 6A, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2001), 142; Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, vol. 4, The New American Commentary (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 1994), 167–68.
By / Mar 31

Unlike some of the other disciples, we don’t really have the exact details of Thomas’ early life and his calling. The three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) only record Thomas as being part of the list of those called to be part of the 12 men Jesus called to leave their lives behind and follow him. The only detail we know from Thomas is that he was a twin (John 11:16). It’s likely that, like the other disciples, except for Judas, he was from the Galilee region. 

But while we don’t hear much from Thomas in most of the Gospels, we can see him there as Jesus commissions the 12 and sends them out to preach the good news of the kingdom. We can observe him in the ship, watching Jesus walk on the water. We can envision his stunned silence when Jesus calms a raging sea or makes the lame walk or raises dead people from the grave. His hands were full of food when Jesus took a little boy’s lunch that day on the hillside and fed his people in the wilderness. 

We do know that Thomas left everything to follow this itinerant rabbi. Something in Jesus compelled this young man to abandon his livelihood and risk his entire life on Jesus. When others left or faded away, Thomas was one of the few who stayed. When Judas slipped out of the Upper Room, Thomas was still there, hearing Jesus’ haunting and prophetic words about his arrest, death, and resurrection. He listened, likely with bewilderment, as Jesus taught about a new future he was creating, a Spirit-fueled movement that would be built on the foundation of these 11 ordinary men. Thomas cringed when Jesus prophesied Judas’ betrayal, wondering, like the others, if he had the seed of disloyalty in his own heart. He heard the footsteps of the soldiers as they came for Jesus. He saw the images of a bloody Jesus. He experienced the loss and separation of the One who had called him friend. 

Thomas, the brave

This is what Thomas saw. So while “doubting” has become the favorite adjective for Thomas, we must first know him as a brave follower of Jesus, who risked it all. 

Only the Gospel of John gives us any words from Thomas, and though they are few, they are profound and give us insight into his character. In John 11, Jesus was in a small town on the other side of the Jordan from Judea, near the place where John the Baptist began his ministry of baptism. Word got back to them that one of Jesus’ dearest friends, Lazarus, brother of Mary and Martha, was dying. Lazarus was in Bethany, a four-day journey away, so it was imperative for Jesus to go back and see his friend. Strangely, Jesus didn’t rush back but instead lingered for two more days. He reassured the disciples that Lazarus was not merely dead, but sleeping. He was referring, they wouldn’t know at the time, of his ability to raise Lazarus physically from the dead. His desire in waiting was for Lazarus to be so dead, four days dead, that nobody could doubt the miracle of his resurrection. Jesus purpose in returning to Bethany was not just to raise his friend, but to raise faith in those who witnessed the miracle, including the disciples. 

But there were also other worries about going back toward Judea. The anger of Jesus’ enemies among the religious leaders was rising, and there were plots to take Jesus and possibly kill him. Jesus’ growing movement and his claims to be the Son of God, the Savior of the world, so incensed them that they had tried to seize him (John 10:38-39). They had just slipped away across the Jordan river to this hideaway where they’d be safe. So the disciples were understandably nervous. They weighed the risks, discussing a trip back into the hot zone. Of course they loved their friend Lazarus, but if he was already dead, was it worth going back and risking Jesus’ death and their own? You can hear them carefully weighing the pros and cons. 

Jesus is determined to go, to show the world a glimpse of his resurrection power, a porthole into the new creation. And so Thomas, after hearing and perhaps participating in this heated deliberation, is the first one to volunteer to go with Jesus. “Let’s go too so that we may die with him (John 1116).” It’s kind of a macabre response, perhaps giving us insight into Thomas’ more pessimistic personality. It seems Thomas was the one always counting the cost, weighing the facts, looking for certainty when others like Peter were guided by the more emotional and subjective compass of the heart. And Thomas didn’t understand all that he even said. Thomas or any of the other disciples couldn’t really go with Jesus to die. To pay for the sins of the world, Jesus had to go alone to the garden, alone to the cross, alone to the grave.

And yet in a sense, Thomas understood the call Jesus gives every disciple to come and die with him. Because he went alone, we too can take up our cross and we can die with him. Paul would later say that he was “crucified with Christ” and “no longer lives” so that the life of Christ can be lived through him (Gal. 2:2). 

This is a bold statement. Thomas seems like the silent one, who carefully weighs and thinks before coming to a conclusion and yet when he speaks, it is a profound statement of courage and loyalty. “Let’s go die with Jesus” could be a life verse, the call of everyone who sees and believes Jesus. 

Which is why, I think, if we only think of Thomas as “doubting” we miss out on Thomas altogether. Before he was “Doubting Thomas” he was “Brave Thomas”, willing to put it all on the line for the one he loved. 

Adapted and reprinted with permission from The Characters of Easter, “Chapter Six: The Doubter – Thomas,” Moody Press, 2021.

By / Mar 11

Moses was about to die. His 40-year journey in the wilderness with the Israelites had undeniably proven God’s people needed a circumcision much deeper than the flesh. They needed a circumcision of the heart—a fundamental revolution of their innermost being that was resistant to loving God (Deut. 10:16). This need would echo throughout the Old Testament until the Savior came, followed by the powerful indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.

As Moses laid before the people of Israel “life and death, blessing and curse” (Deut. 30:19) he made sure to not leave the future generations of Israelites without testimonies of God’s holiness, righteousness, and faithfulness. He promised that the day would come when “the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Deut. 30:6). But until then, he called three lasting witnesses against Israel’s chronic unfaithfulness: heaven and earth (Deut. 31:28), the Book of the Law (Deut. 31:26), and . . . a song (Deut. 31:19). 

The centrality of God’s Word

The Book of the Law, which Moses wrote down at God’s direction, was to be put alongside God’s very presence—the ark of the covenant (Deut. 31:26). It was to be read aloud by the priests to the whole congregation of Israelites every seven years at the Feast of Booths “that they may hear and learn to fear the LORD your God” (Deut. 31:12). God also instituted this tradition for the sake of the children who didn’t yet know God’s Word (Deut. 31:13). 

The community commitment to hearing God’s Word wasn’t only a concern every seven years. God had called Israel to “teach them diligently to your children” inside and outside of the home (Deut. 6:7). The Word of God was to be central in the life of his people—“it is no empty word for you, but your very life” (Deut. 32:47). It was vital that God’s people passed down the testimonies of his redemptive work in Egypt and his faithfulness in the wilderness from generation to generation. 

The Song of Moses 

And how would these testimonies get passed down from one generation to the next? The Song of Moses. God told Moses:

Now therefore write this song and teach it to the people of Israel. Put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for me against the people of Israel. For when I have brought them into the land flowing with milk and honey, which I swore to give to their fathers, and they have eaten and are full and grown fat, they will turn to other gods and serve them, and despise me and break my covenant. And when many evils and troubles have come upon them, this song shall confront them as a witness (for it will live unforgotten in the mouths of their offspring). For I know what they are inclined to do even today, before I have brought them into the land that I swore to give. (Deut. 31:19–21)

Though this song’s stated purpose was rather bleak, it ended with a triumphant proclamation of God’s future restoration of his people (Deut. 32:43). And this word of warning and judgment and hope would find residence in the mouths of generations of Israelites, carried on by a melody. 

God and the arts

God created the arts. He is, of course, the greatest artist of all time (and before time). Nature—God’s general revelation of himself—undeniably communicates his power and creativity (Ps. 19:1–6). And the Bible—God’s special revelation of himself—undeniably displays even more profound aspects of his creativity and glory (Ps. 19:7–11). 

The Bible is one grand story of God’s incredible redemptive work in history, which centers on the person and work of Jesus Christ. And this grand story is communicated through various text types, from law to discourse to narrative to poetry. Just as God didn’t communicate his Word solely through the Book of the Law but through the Song of Moses, God didn’t communicate the truth of who he is and what he has done through one literary genre. He filled the Bible with various literary masterpieces, which help us to feel, experience, and remember his glory.

The art we create in the Body of Christ, then, isn’t meant to replace Scripture’s centrality in our lives. Rather, the arts are meant to help us emotionally connect to the words of Scripture. Whether visual or poetic or storytelling or musical, the arts help bring color to our imagination as we read the Bible. They help us engage our senses in such a way that we feel we can almost embody the text

Do you remember how you learned the alphabet? I bet it was through a song. By putting melodies or rhythm and rhyme to Scripture, memorization becomes much easier. The Song of Moses illustrates this, as do the Psalms. 

Children and the arts 

But of course, any Sunday School or elementary school teacher could have told you the importance of the arts in their curriculum. When I had the privilege of teaching during Sunday School for four to six year-olds for about five years, I learned that what especially stuck with them were the songs (with a few dance moves thrown in there), the chants, and the storytelling through visuals and crafts. 

Now that I’m a mom of a five-year-old, I’m learning once again that it’s not my lectures about God’s Word that she tends to recite later on. It’s the storybooks and the YouTube animations that retell Bible stories and, of course, the songs. Apparently, children still learn best by singing, as they did in Moses’s day. 

How can we faithfully teach God’s Word to our children and the next generation? Moses tells us, “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deut. 6:7–9). 

In other words, make the Word of God your constant meditation, conversation, and yes, song. Utilizing the arts and the gazillion children’s Bible resources out there, share his Word with the little people in your life. 

By / Jan 26

Through the years, my wife and I have used and enjoyed many Bible paraphrases with our young kids. We loved seeing our kids’ imaginations come alive as the authors of these children’s Bibles communicated the story and truths of Scripture in artful and skillful ways. As our children grew up, however, we became eager to help them read and learn from an actual English translation of the Bible rather than from paraphrases. While a good children’s Bible is wonderful, there is no substitute for the actual words of God.

Though there are passages of the Bible—even entire books—that are difficult for children to understand, there are many sections that a typical 8- to 12-year-old child can easily grasp. Indeed, it could be argued that there are texts that a child may have an easier time understanding than an adult, as Charles Spurgeon does: “The opinion that children cannot receive the whole truth of the gospel is a great mistake, for their childlikeness is a help rather than a hindrance; older people must become as little children before they can enter the kingdom.”1Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Come Ye Children: Practical Help Telling Children About Jesus (Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2009) Due to their intrinsic childlike faith, children can often believe and internalize the simple and beautiful truths of Scripture faster and easier than adults can.

When my church wanted to develop a resource to help grade-school kids read the actual words of Scripture, we decided to use the same method we use to teach adults, contextualized for kids. This method, called the REAP method, walks through the inductive Bible study method in four steps: read, examine, apply, and pray.

READ: The goal of the first step, read, is to answer the question, “What does the Bible say?” This is the observation step of the inductive method. When guiding kids through this step, first read the passage together, and then ask them to retell the story or passage back to you in their own words. You could also act out the passage together, or ask simple comprehension questions. Ensure that the child understands what happened in the text before moving on to the next step.

Due to their intrinsic childlike faith, children can often believe and internalize the simple and beautiful truths of Scripture faster and easier than adults can.

EXAMINE: In the examine step, we answer the question, “What does it mean?” This moves beyond comprehension to interpretation. The key word to keep in mind here is “curiosity.” Ask a lot of questions of the text such as, “Why is it this word instead of another word?”, “What do you think God thinks about what happened?”, or, “Why did this character take that action?” The good news is that you can tap into a child’s natural curiosity during this section. You may even want to let them ask you questions in this step rather than the other way around.

APPLY: In the third step, apply, you will guide the child to think about what will be different about them as a result of their reading and understanding. Is there a specific action they want to do more of, or stop doing? Is there an attitude shift that would bring more honor and glory to God? Should time be set aside today to worship God for his goodness? While it is OK to be prescriptive in this step to children, try to hold back at first and see what they come up with. You may be surprised at what applications children glean from the text on their own.

PRAY: For the final step, pray, guide kids to answer the question, “How can I respond to what God has shown me today?” Remind kids that prayers don’t have to sound a certain way, or be a certain length. Help them simply think about what they’ve learned and say something back to God. At first, it may be helpful to prompt them with phrases like, “Dear God, thank You for teaching me . . .”, “Please help me to . . .”, or “I praise you because . . .” But over time kids will learn to pray without this additional help.

Of course, if the child has trusted in Christ and is a believer, this process will be greatly helped by the guidance of the Holy Spirit inside of them. He will help them as they read, examine, apply, and pray. However, even if the boy or girl is still on their journey to understanding and placing their faith in the gospel, this method is still beneficial! It teaches them the practice of reading and understanding the text of the Bible before attempting to apply it to themselves. And who knows? Perhaps even this exercise of REAPing together will be what God uses to bring your child to saving faith in him.

The major advantage of studying the Bible in this way with your kids is that it places God and his Word in the instructor seat rather than you. You, the parent or Sunday school teacher, are the guide and the helper, but the Bible is the one doing the teaching. Some of my favorite times in practicing this method with my kids have been when God has taught them something that I hadn’t yet seen, and I was able to learn and grow alongside them.

This new year, join with your kids in trying this new method of Scripture study together. I pray you will be blessed through this practice as my family and I have.

If you’re looking for more guidance on what passages of Scripture to read with kids or on how this method works, The Austin Stone has created a resource to help. Learn more about and purchase the Kids REAP Journal: Exploring the Bible & 7 Basic Truths Everyone Should Know at

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    Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Come Ye Children: Practical Help Telling Children About Jesus (Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2009)
By / Jan 5

Have the challenges, questions, and uncertainties of this past year motivated you to start the next year with a better approach to reading the Bible with your children? January is the time when a lot of Christians try (again) to read through the Bible as a family. But it’s not always an easy task. What’s a good approach to reading the Bible to children? 

We’ve heard lots of suggestions about how to do this. Years ago a pastor friend said simply, “start reading in Genesis 1:1 and just keep going.” He believed the best approach was the direct one. “Just read the text,” he said. We decided to try it. But as we encountered the stories of Abel’s murder, Abraham’s polygamy, Lot’s incest, and later, the moral madness of Judges 19, among others, we didn’t always feel equipped to explain the meaning of the text (Neh. 8:8). Then we ran into the well-known mid-March malaise that can affect even seasoned Bible readers after spending weeks-upon-weeks in Leviticus and Numbers. Add to that our restless toddlers and before long, we found ourselves floundering.

“You need a children’s version of the Bible,” others said, recommending books full of bold, colorful, even artistic illustrations of Bible stories. They were fun to look at with all their graphic art but often contained too little actual Bible. For example, the whole time we were reading through Acts (28 chapters), our youngest child was stuck on two pages. All his storybook Bible included from Acts was a short retelling of Paul’s shipwreck off the island of Malta (and there was nothing from the Epistles).

Other friends expressed frustration with a hit-or-miss approach––reading a Psalm or a Proverb here, a parable there––admitting they were sabotaged by their over-busy schedules and easily distracted offspring. Is there a better way?

A better way to read the Bible with children? 

When author Sally Michael was a young mom, she found herself frustrated with the shallowness of materials written for children. To make up for the lack, she would add to her Bible story reading. “I stopped and asked some questions,” she said, “I pushed them to think critically to discover the implications of what we read and to apply it to their lives.” Eventually, she decided to write the kind of book she wasn’t able to find. 

More Than a Story: Old Testament is the first of the two-volume set she’s written to help children explore the message of the Bible, with their parents, in a comprehensive and engaging way. Each chapter includes large amounts of actual biblical text, key Christian doctrines, realistic illustrations, and discussion questions to start conversations with children about the meaning of the stories and how to apply them. 

As we embark on a new year, let us pray that God will open his Word to our children and that he will open their eyes to behold the wonderful things it contains (Psa. 119:18).

Unlike many children’s story Bibles, More Than a Story shows children the problem of sin against a holy God. “Most children’s and Bible story books don’t teach children their plight,” Michael says, “because we don’t want children to feel uncomfortable. But I want them to feel uncomfortable because I want them to be driven to the cross so that they can be saved!” 

She attributes her approach to her former pastor, John Piper, who says, “You have to know your plight before you can recognize the rescue.” It is only with the realization of the very bad news about sin, that the very good news of salvation makes sense. 

Sally has been instrumental in my view of mothering as primarily a discipleship vocation, and I’ve long admired her ability to make massive biblical truths accessible to children. In More Than a Story, the Bible stories are both well-told and faithful to the original text. It also contains stories that other children’s Bibles tend to skip over. It’s written for children to understand, but not dumbed down; it’s age-appropriate, but doesn’t skip over big truths about God, his wisdom for living in a confusing age, and his unfolding plan of redemption. 

Michael wrote this book for parents, grandparents, and Sunday School teachers to help them introduce children to the big God of the Bible. She says her hope is that God will use this Bible storybook “to lead children to The Book––to give them a desire to read the Bible and know its author; to put their faith in Christ alone for the forgiveness of their sin and the fulfillment of all of His promises toward them, even eternal life.” Her prayer is that this and coming generations of children “might become mighty oaks of righteousness standing firm against the onslaught of untruth in this age.” 

I’m planning to read More Than a Story with our younger two sons in 2021 (the New Testament will be released in the fall). Even though they’re older than the target age, the content enriched my soul as I read it, and I’m 50! 

We can’t save our children. It is God who gives them new hearts and causes them to believe. But he works through means. He creates parents and charges them with the responsibility for teaching his Word to their children (Deut. 6:6-7). As we embark on a new year, let us pray that God will open his Word to our children and that he will open their eyes to behold the wonderful things it contains (Psa. 119:18). 

Make 2021 the year that you prioritize reading God’s Word to your children. Read it with them for their everlasting joy. And yours.

By / Oct 29

Let’s play a word association game. What immediately comes to mind when you read the following words?

  • Jesus
  • Salvation
  • Hope
  • Redemption
  • Love
  • Peace
  • Forgiveness
  • Grace
  • Heaven
  • Theology

These are all words found in Scripture except, of course, the last one. We daresay the first nine produce warm, pleasant feelings—even rapturous joy!—as we consider all their gospel truth.

But what about theology? For many Christians, this word evokes a different response. A sigh of boredom, perhaps? A slight wince? A nervous tic? A spine-tingling shiver, as if the very notion of theology could inspire a thriller movie.

We jest, of course. But too often, Christians equate theology with tedious concepts best reserved for pastors, textbooks, and the erudite halls of higher academia. We think, I’ve got a job, monthly bills, a pile of laundry that has learned how to procreate, and my kid’s science fair project is about to destroy the last shred of my sanity. Why should I bother with a bunch of fancy preacher terms—or teach them to my child, for that matter? I just want to follow Jesus.

But here’s the undeniable truth: As R.C. Sproul often said, everyone’s a theologian. It’s just a matter of what you believe about God.

The word “theology” simply means, “the study of God and how he relates to the world.” Theology teaches us about who the triune God is and how he has powerfully worked to redeem his people. It helps us know how to live as devoted followers of Christ. Every believer should be pursuing theological maturity.

In Colossians 1:10, the apostle Paul encouraged the believers to be “bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Emphasis added; see also Prov. 9:10 and 2 Pet. 3:18). Clearly, theology matters. We are called to grow in this knowledge.

But perhaps you’re thinking, That’s fine for adults. But is it possible, or even appropriate, for me to teach theological concepts to my child? The answer is unequivocally, Yes!

Let’s briefly consider eight reasons why it’s essential for every Christian parent to teach their child about God’s nature, character, and how he relates to his creation:

1. Theology is part of every Christian parent’s God-given calling. 

When a Christian becomes a parent, the theological pursuit that should mark their life now expands into a teaching role. As you trust God for your child’s ultimate salvation, you also have the joy of raising them “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). 

As God was bringing Israel into the Promised Land, he gave his children the Shema, a foundational text in Jewish life:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deut. 6:4–7).

While 21st-century American parents live a far different life than that of the ancient Hebrews, our calling has not changed. We must worship the Lord with all our being and increase our knowledge about him in order to live faithfully, and teach our children to do the same.

2. God is a God of self-revelation.

Unlike many of the gods of ancient pagan myths, God is not an aloof deity, tucked away into the nether regions of the cosmos. He is transcendent yet immanent. Since creation, God has been revealing himself to humanity through his spoken and written word (2 Tim. 3:16–17; 2 Peter 1:20–21), his Spirit (1 Cor. 2:10), and creation itself (Rom. 1:20). Of course, God’s greatest self-revelation was through his Son, Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word (John 1:14).

This means God wants us to know him. As a relational God, he wants to be studied and comprehended. In Psalm 27:8, David writes, “You have said, “Seek my face.’ My heart says to you, ‘Your face, Lord, do I seek.’”

Of course, because of God’s transcendence, there are things he hasn’t revealed to us. But he expects us to worship him with what he has made known. As Deuteronomy 29:29 says, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”

So we must teach God’s amazing self-revelation to our children.

3. God’s plan calls for a generational legacy of gospel-centered theology.

Psalm 78:4 says, “We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.”

What is this well-known verse if not a call for parents to pass along a spiritual heritage of knowing and loving God to their children? It’s generational theology at work.

In fact, if you look closely at verses 5–7, you’ll see four generations in view. The Ancient of Days wants us to spread his fame across centuries. But it begins with Christian parents lovingly instructing the current generation that is still potty training, playing tag, and learning fractions.

4. Laying a strong theological foundation for children encourages a lifetime of faith.

A child’s understanding of God ultimately will inform every aspect of their life. Consider these questions and corollaries:

If a child isn’t taught . . .

  • that God created all things, including humans as his image-bearers, how will they understand their true purpose in life?
  • the doctrine of sin, how will they understand God’s justice, recognize their desperate need for a Savior, and rejoice in God’s forgiveness?
  • that God’s Word is inspired, inerrant, and sufficient, they could be easily seduced by universalism and/or moral relativism later in life.
  • about God’s sovereignty and lovingkindness, they could easily lose hope and grow bitter when trials come.

We could say much more here, but the point is clear: With a strong theological foundation, our children will grow up—by God’s grace—into well-built houses of faith that can withstand life’s tempests (Matt. 7:24–27).

5. Parents are a child’s primary spiritual caretaker.

Perhaps you think this goes without saying. But admit it: There are times when you’ve felt inadequate, disinterested, discouraged, or just plain too busy to lead your child spiritually.

“Ugh … another long day at the office, and I still have to make dinner. Gather ‘round, kids. Tonight’s family devotions are brought to you by VeggieTales!”

We’ve all been there.

Being a primary spiritual caretaker isn’t easy. But it is a God-given calling—and privilege—that should top every Christian parent’s daily priority list, as Scripture clearly attests (Deut. 6:4–7; Ps. 78:1–8; Ps. 145:4; Eph. 6:4).

Need help knowing how to do this?

  • Slowly begin reading through the Bible with your child, one book at a time, and highlight aspects about God.
  • Use a gospel-centered devotional about God to supplement Scripture readings.
  • Find ways to start theological conversations on family outings (e.g. pointing out the majesty of God’s creation on hikes or at the beach).
  • Ask a pastor at church or some Christian friends for suggestions.

There’s no one right way to help your child grow in loving and knowing God. Be consistent, be creative, and saturate everything in Scripture and prayer.

6. Children can understand more than we think.

When my youngest daughter was about 6 years old, we were reading about the fall in Genesis 3 during family devotions. At one point, she asked, “Daddy, if God knows everything and he knew what would happen when sin entered the world, why did he create Satan in the first place?”


“That’s a great question, Sweetie,” I responded. “I’m so glad you asked.” (Note the classic parental stall tactic.) We talked about it for a while, as my answer led to more questions. It was fantastic. We were swimming in the deep end of the theological pool, and a 1st grader threw us in.

With a strong theological foundation, our children will grow up—by God’s grace—into well-built houses of faith that can withstand life’s tempests (Matt. 7:24–27).

Don’t think your child can’t handle theology. Kids can understand far more than we give them credit for. And even if they don’t fully grasp every nuance of what you share, it’s important to allow them to ask questions, process big ideas, and grapple with important truths.

7. You will grow in your own faith.

No seminary degree? No sweat. Few parents have one. The Bible never mandates an M.Div. or Ph.D. in theology as a prerequisite for Christian parenting. You’re not a college professor in a massive lecture hall—you’re Mom or Dad. If your child stumps you with a question, don’t be ashamed to say, “I don’t know. Let’s figure it out together.”

All teachers learn more by teaching. Wherever you’re at in your knowledge of God, watch how much you grow as you lead your child down this path.

8. Theology and the gospel go hand-in-hand.

After Jesus’ ascension, his disciples transformed history as they proclaimed the gospel throughout the Greco-Roman world. But early on, their theology needed work. During the Last Supper, both Thomas and Philip expressed confusion when Jesus said he was leaving to prepare a place for them in his Father’s house.

“Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us,” Philip said.

Jesus responded, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:8-9).

The more your child starts “seeing” the Father, the more they will “see” the Son and understand the gospel. Then, as you delight in this good news with them, it will lead you into richer theology, which in turn, will point you and your child toward a deeper appreciation of your salvation. What a wonderful cycle for your family to be in.

Good news: No finish line in sight

As you lead your child on this remarkable spiritual journey, remember: This is not a finish-line achievement. No one will ever walk across the theological graduation platform of life, raise a diploma, and boast, “Now, I have full knowledge of the Almighty!” As David says in Psalm 145:3, “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.”

Theology is a beautiful, lifelong expedition of exploring and loving an amazing God whose goodness, power, and wisdom are infinite. Then one day, when we enter eternity, we will rejoice in the unveiled presence of God and bathe ourselves in his knowledge, love, and holiness forever.

“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12).


By / Oct 1

Pastor Fred Luter, senior minister of the Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, brings a hopeful word for pastors to push through the difficult times and rejoice in the grace of God.

By / Sep 23

For a long time I’ve had a serious problem. And it is the kind of thing I’ve always thought I couldn’t talk about. My problem is doubt. I know that might not seem like a scandalous revelation. But to be honest, for most of my life I felt enormous pressure to keep my doubts a secret. And I think there are two reasons why.

The first reason is that I didn’t want to undermine the faith of anyone around me. It’s not as though I felt like the people in my life only believed in Jesus because of me. But I didn’t want to have anything to do with causing someone else to question their faith. The second reason is even more personal. I didn’t want to admit that I often struggle to believe in my best friend. And that is what Jesus has been ever since I was a small child—my very closest friend.

Doubt and despair

I was in junior high school when I first began to deal with doubt. And of all things, I think it was reading Greek mythology that kicked it off. As I began to learn about the vastness of our world and the multiplicity of beliefs about God and life after death, I began to question my beliefs. And for the first time I wondered if I was merely assuming my beliefs were true because they were the only ones I’d ever known.

As time went on, more things compounded these questions. I learned about other religions, each of which had its own perspective on both the divine and the meaning of life. I was introduced to agnosticism and atheism, and alongside these, secular humanism and Big Bang cosmology. And even as a teenager, I realized that Christianity wasn’t something I could believe by default. My faith was no longer something I could take for granted.

In college I was surrounded, for the first time, by smart people who rejected my beliefs. Not only that, but many of them were effective apologists for their own. And during those years, I went through something like the dark night of the soul.

I remember lying on my bedroom floor in the middle of the night, crying out to God, and feeling ridiculous because I was certain no one was listening. I was crushed and in despair. My faith that was once so certain was anything but secure. And Jesus, my best friend, felt so far away. But probably the worst part was that I was ashamed to reach out for help. I didn’t want to harm anyone else’s faith, and I didn’t want to admit where I was with my own. 

But thankfully, Jesus came through.

Help for my unbelief

One day during this time I wandered into a LifeWay bookstore and picked up a tiny book called, of all things, Doubting. In this little volume, the author, Alistair McGrath, offered real answers to my questions instead of merely brushing them to the side. Though I have not read it in many years, what I remember most is that McGrath helped me understand that my doubts didn’t erase my faith. He showed me, as strange as it may sound, that my faith was actually the best defense against my doubts. 

 Jesus is God. He can handle my doubts. And he can handle yours, too.

Around the same time, I started to dig into apologetics. I wanted to learn the answers to the questions people put forward to challenge Christianity. The more I learned about defending the faith, the more answers and hope I gained. Ultimately, I realized that if the Christian story is true, it is strong enough to withstand any challenge or scrutiny.

But as much as those things helped, nothing helped me more than Scripture. I learned that the Bible is a book for doubters and skeptics. And in my early 20s, I began to devour God’s Word, specifically the New Testament. The more I read, the more I found that my doubts were relieved.

The men and women featured within the pages of the New Testament who followed Jesus and continued to advance his ministry after his ascension laid everything on the line to do so. Nothing stills my doubts more than this reality. The Apostle Paul suffered greatly—stonings and shipwrecks and snakebites—all for the sake of the gospel. For me, his most comforting words were these: “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:19) Or as Lecrae put it, “If Christ ain’t resurrected, we’ve wasted our lives.”

Freedom to doubt, and believe

One of the most helpful passages of Scripture for doubters like me comes from Matthew 11, when John the Baptist—the cousin of Jesus, who declared him to be “the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”—is in prison. At this time, John knows he is about to die. But before he makes that final sacrifice, literally giving up his head for the sake of his faith, John sends his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

John is imprisoned because he made enemies by faithfully proclaiming the words of righteousness. But before he embraces martyrdom, he sends his disciples to ask Jesus if he really is the Christ, just to be sure. Instead of rejecting John because of his doubt, Jesus answers John’s disciples, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

Jesus assures John that indeed the kingdom has come and that he is the long-promised Messiah of Israel. Jesus was not ashamed of his cousin. In that very passage, Jesus offers John assurance, and then commends John as the greatest man ever born of a woman (high praise coming from the eternal king of the universe).

Meditating on that passage brought forth a realization for me. If Jesus wasn’t ashamed of John, he isn’t ashamed of me or my doubts either. Jesus is God. He can handle my doubts. And he can handle yours, too. After all, Jesus is also the good shepherd. He is patient and gentle with his sheep. If, like me, you are prone to wander in the midst of doubt, Jesus is always faithful to seek us out. And he will carry you, if necessary, in order to bring you back and help you believe.