Doxology: How Worship Works (New Book!)

Books, Music, Prayer, Preaching, The Church, The Gospel, Theology, Worship

(by: Nicolas Alford)

I’m so excited to share that Free Grace Press is publishing Doxology: How Worship Works, a book I’ve written to assist the church in offering faithful praise to God. I love the cover art that the publisher put together, and I’m humbled by the kind endorsements from men I respect:

Screen Shot 2017-07-26 at 12.51.34 PM

The Kindle Edition is available now; the paperback should be ready in a few days. A deep thanks to all who have already purchased a copy and sent some encouraging words– it’s satisfying to know the Lord is already using it among his people.

If you’re interested in receiving a copy for review on your blog or other media platform, please reach out via social media or the contact form on The Decablog. If you’ve read a copy (and liked it 😉 ), don’t hesitate to leave a short review on Amazon.

May the Lord use this little effort to promote the praise of his glorious name.

Baptism as Clothing in Galatians 3:27: A Crucial Insight

Christian Living, The Church, Theology, Worship

[By: Matt Foreman]

“As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ”
– Galatians 3:27

In Galatians 3:27, the Apostle Paul brings up baptism seemingly ‘out of the blue’.  Baptism is not mentioned anywhere else in the book.  He doesn’t expand on the point or give much explanation.  But the short statement he makes, and the context in which he says it – actually reveal a lot.  Galatians 3:27 becomes a very revealing and important verse for understanding baptism.

The Context
The verse occurs as part of one long argument that begins in 3:23 and runs down to 4:7.  And Baptism is actually the ‘pivot point’ of the argument.

Paul’s opponents, the Judaizer false teachers in Galatia, were teaching that the Gentiles were second class citizens, not yet fully part of the people of God.  They were teaching that the Gentiles needed to do more to become truly acceptable to God and truly heirs of God’s covenant promises.  Specifically, they needed to keep the Old Testament ceremonial law – to be circumcised, ritually pure and culturally Jewish.

But Paul argues that those outward Old Covenant signs like circumcision were temporary, anticipatory, and no longer necessary, because a new and better covenant reality had come.  As a result, Paul finally says in vs.26, “For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith.”  Believers are already full sons of God.  Tim Keller writes, “It is not something we are aiming at, it is not a future attainment.  It is something that we have already, in our present state.”1  Believers are not “looking forward” to the date of their adoption, where afterwards they’ll be fully sons.  Paul is saying, You already are sons!

Furthermore, he argues, it’s not something had by virtue of birth.  It’s not something people have naturally – just because they’re born into a believing family.  Paul has argued – only “those of faith are the sons of Abraham” – see 3:7…  Only through faith do we “receive adoption as sons” – ch.4:5. (Notice: If we needed to be adopted, that means we’re not natural sons.  God only has one natural-born son – who is Christ.)  But now, all who believe in Christ, whether Jew or Gentile, Paul says, are already fully and completely adopted as sons, and already made to feel the benefits of that adoption through the Spirit sent into their hearts: “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying ‘Abba, Father’.”

The Meaning of Baptism
But in the middle of this argument, right after saying, “In Christ Jesus, you are all sons of God through faith”, Paul refers to Baptism:  “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”  Obviously, for Paul, baptism is a sign signifying the present spiritual reality of sonship.  The fact of Baptism should be a sign to Christians affirming their identity and relationship to Christ.  For Paul, the Baptism of a Christian was a definitive moment in their life that should have ongoing significance for their life

But why?  What does Baptism add to Paul’s argument?  What exactly does Paul think Baptism means?

The answer is found in the somewhat surprising metaphor Paul uses.  Paul connects Baptism with the imagery of putting on clothes.  He says, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” [or literally, “clothed yourselves (ἐνεδύσασθε) with Christ].  Where did Paul get this image? And why does he use it?

Three Connections for ‘Clothing’
The first intriguing connection is with the Roman practice of the toga virilis – the garment of manhood.  When a Roman boy reached the age of 15-16, he would finally be allowed through a ceremony to take off the crimson bordered toga praetexta (toga of childhood) and put on the pure white toga of manhood.  It was a coming of age ceremony, a rite of passage.  Interestingly, Paul had just been using the image of Old Testament believers as being like children under a chaperone (see 3:24-25 – “we are no longer under a guardian” – a pedagogue), whereas New Testament believers are spiritually come of age by virtue of faith in Christ.  Therefore, Baptism marks that spiritual coming of age ceremony: putting on the garments of manhood, of spiritual maturity.

A second intriguing source for this imagery of baptism as clothing may have been the early Christian baptismal rite itself.  When the early Christians were baptized (similar to Jewish proselyte baptism), the candidates would take off their outer garments, go into the water to be baptized, and after exiting the water, they would be re-clothed (possibly even in white linen – as a sign of cleanliness and righteousness in Christ).2  So the image connecting baptism with clothing would have been very naturally fixed in the minds of believers.

A third and related source for the imagery of baptism as clothing is actually far older, and is found in the Old Testament ceremony for the consecration of priests (see Exodus 29:4-5).  When a priest entered into his priestly service, he would first be washed with water…and then clothed with the garments of the priesthood, marking his endowment and readiness for service.  In fact, this practice probably provided something of the original background for the development of the baptismal rite.

In other words, Paul didn’t “create” the clothing metaphor for baptism.  It was a conceptual part of the rite itself and extremely relevant and fitting for his argument.  Baptism was a rite of passage, signifying entrance into consecrated service, spiritual maturity and adulthood with the full rights as sons.  Paul was signifying: New Testament believers are not in need of a tutor.  In Christ and with baptism, they are spiritually come of age.

‘Putting On Christ’
Even more powerfully, Paul calls it a ‘putting on’ of Christ himself.  Baptized believers “have put on Christ!”  What does he mean?  What does it mean to put on a Person?

Guthrie writes, “This is a favorite metaphor of Paul’s (cf. Rom.13:12; Eph.4:24; Col.3:12).  But here (and in Rom.13:14) is his most daring use of it, in which he likens Christ himself to a garment.  The expression conveys a striking suggestion of the closeness which exists between Christ and the believer.  Those who put on Christ can do no other than act in accordance with the Spirit of Christ…  The metaphor conveys essentially a new kind of life.  Everything is now to be related to Christ.”3  (Thus, for Paul, this imagery of baptism as clothing, though only seeming to appear once, was actually a central and controlling metaphor in Paul’s thought.  When Paul speaks in Colossians 3:9-12 or Ephessians 4:22-24 about “putting off” and “putting on” – this was likely baptismal language!)

Tim Keller calls it a “daring and comprehensive metaphor for a whole new life.”  What does it mean to put on Christ like a garment?  Keller develops the idea by saying, “This idea of clothing ourselves with Christ implies four amazing things: 1) Our primary identity is in Christ.  Our clothing tells people who we are… 2) The closeness of our relationship to Christ.  Your clothes are kept closer to you than any other possession…[It calls] us to moment-by-moment dependence and existential awareness of Christ… 3) The imitation of Christ…We are to ‘dress up like Jesus’… 4) Our acceptability to God…It covers our nakedness…The Lord Jesus has given us His righteousness, His perfection, to wear.”  Keller concludes,“This goes so far beyond the keeping of rules and regulations.  This goes even beyond simple obedience.  This is to be in love with him, bathed in him, awash in him.”4

‘Putting on Christ’ then is so important!  If believers have been baptized “into Christ”, then, through faith in Christ, they are, by definition, sons of God.  Paul wants every believer to know that he or she is already a fully adopted child of God.  It’s a status that is a present reality in their life.  It is a sign of full, conscious sonship by faith. Paul says, ‘You have the spiritual reality; you’ve been adopted as a full son.  You’ve been included in the unconditional covenant promise to Abraham.  You are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise – because you’ve been clothed in the Offspring, the true Offspring, who is Christ.’
Baptism thus encompasses and includes full redemption, adoption, and the experience of sonship through the Spirit (see 4:6).  The whole argument, after all, is connected.  So Paul makes deliberate connection between the sign of baptism and the spiritual baptism of the Spirit.  It’s a present reality in the life of believers that they’ve been baptized in the Spirit as sons; they have the experience of it in their hearts.  Rom.8:9 says, “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Him”.

[In forthcoming articles, I will draw out some implications for paedobaptism, and for baptism as a means of grace…]



1. Keller, Timothy. Galatians For You, p.89-90.  The Good Book Company, 2013.

2. See Everett Ferguson, Baptism in the Early Church.

3. Guthrie, Donald.  Galatians, p.110. Eerdmans, 1981.

4. Keller, Timothy. Galatians For You, p.91-92.  The Good Book Company, 2013.

Singing As A Means of Grace: Singing With Grace In Our Hearts

Music, Worship

4) We Need to Sing with Grace in Our Hearts

Finally, Colossians 3:16 says, we need to sing “with grace in our hearts…

In the New Testament, grace is practically a “thing”.  Paul says repeatedly in his letters, “Grace to you…”  Grace is God’s undeserved, unmerited love and favor.   To draw an important distinction between mercy and grace:  Mercy is God forgiving you, wiping the slate clean, canceling your debt.  If you’ve got a big debt to God, mercy is a good thing; you want your debt cancelled.  But if your debts are just cancelled, you still have a problem: you’re still broke, you’re just not in debt anymore.  Grace is not just God canceling your debt; grace is God giving you his riches and favor.  He doesn’t just wipe the slate clean; he invites you into his adopted family as a prince of the kingdom, makes you his son and daughter, covers you with robes of righteousness, adopts you.  That’s grace!

So, Paul says, We’re to sing with grace in our hearts!  Our singing is meant to be a response and a meditation of all of God’s grace poured out on us through the blood of Christ.  In Colossians 3:12, Paul had said, “Put on as God’s chosen ones, holy and dearly loved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience…”  He was saying: Live in light of the riches of grace.  Remember that you are chosen and dearly loved.  Live in light of that grace you have received.  He then said in 3:16, “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly.”  It’s a Word about Christ, about the grace of Christ: That’s why we sing!

It’s why we sing: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.”  To hear the “sweetness” of the sound, sometimes we need to sing it!

Titus 2:11 says, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people…”  Titus 3:4-7 echoes, “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Grace from God “appeared” in history in the Person of Jesus Christ.  But then Jesus “appears” to us by the Spirit through the ministry of the Word (2 Cor. 4:6, 2 Tim.1:9-11).

Has grace “appeared” to you?  It disappears from our minds all the time.  That’s one reason why you need to sing! —to have grace appear, to remind yourself: the goodness and lovingkindness of God has appeared!  When we meditate on that, we should start to sing.  There should be a movement in our heart to sing that!

At great moments of redemption, people sang.  When the people of Israel crossed the Red Sea and reached on the other side – they sang!  When God did great things for David – he sang!  When God did great things for Hannah – she sang…for Mary – she sang…for Zechariah – he sang.  Has God done great things for you?  Have you started to sing?

Psalm 40:1-3 says, “I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry.  He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.  He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to God.  Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.”  Did you catch that last part?  “Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord”…when I sing of what he’s done for me.

My life goes on in endless song, above earth’s lamentations.
I hear the real, though far-off hymn, that hails a new creation.
Above the tumult and the strife, I hear its music ringing.
It sounds an echo in my soul. How can I keep from singing?

When tyrants tremble, sick with fear, and hear their death-knell ringing,
When friends rejoice both far and near, how can I keep from singing?
In prison cell and dungeon vile our thoughts to them are winging.
When friends by shame are undefiled, how can I keep from singing?

What though my joys and comforts die, the Lord my Savior liveth.
And though the darkness round me close, songs in the night he giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm while to that Rock I’m clinging.
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?

Author Unknown

(By: Matt Foreman)

Singing As A Means of Grace: Different Types of Songs

Music, Worship

3) We Need to Sing Different Types of Songs

Col.3:16 tells us we need to sing different types of songs – “singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs”.  Some people in history have tried to make very specific definitions of those three words – asserting that these were different divisions of the psalter.  There is very little historical evidence for that view.  I think he’s just saying – sing different kinds of songs.

Obviously, the Psalms were meant to be sung.  Jesus and the disciples, growing up in Jewish society, sang Psalms regularly as part of their worship.  We need to glean from and sing the Psalms.

But when Paul says, “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly…singing with grace in your hearts”, I believe that implies singing songs also in light of Christ and the grace revealed in the Gospel.  In fact, there are examples in the New Testament of verses with a metrical flavor that may have actually been early Christian hymns.  (Scholars point to 1 Tim.3:16, 1 Tim.6:15-16, 2 Tim.2:11-13, and Philippians 2:6-11 as the most likely.  But the list also may include Col.1:15-20, Titus 3:4-7, and Heb.1:3-4.  Certainly, there are examples in the book of Revelation.)  Also, there are clear examples in the early church of hymns based on the New Testament work of Christ.  The Christians were writing and singing new songs as part of their worship.

But “different types of songs” should also include the content of the songs, the mood and expression of the songs.  If we need to be taught the whole counsel of God in his Word, we need to sing the entire range of songs needed by God’s people.  So our repertoire needs to be more nuanced than some of the ‘happy-clappy’ songs that are sometimes the staple in churches today.  Dr. Carl Trueman wrote a (now famous) article several years ago entitled, “What Do Sad Christians Sing?” – pointing out that many popular Christians songs don’t express the kinds of lamentations you sometimes see in Scripture and that believers can certainly experience.  The Psalms are sometimes very raw and honest.  Believers need those types of songs, that express truths about our experience in this fallen world.

Sometimes this diversity is best reflected in the liturgy itself.  ‘Liturgy’ just means the order of your service.  Christian churches for centuries have often practiced a liturgy that follows a certain order of thought – such as: Adoration (beginning with praise to God), Confession (confession of sin, confession of need for God), Assurance (detailing the promises of the Gospel, objectively what God has done to forgive us of our sins), Commitment (exhortations to live lives pleasing to God).  This order can be reflected and practiced in the songs that are sung.  Another way of thinking about it is that Christian liturgy has often been a recapitulation of Biblical history: of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration.  God created the world (we praise him), man fell (we confess our sins), Christ brought redemption (through the Gospel), and now we try to live our lives pleasing to him.  Our worship services, I believe, both in the readings and the songs we sing, should follow something of that order, as a re-expression of the Gospel every week – and expressing the diversity that Christians need.  We need to adore him, we need to confess our sins and weaknesses and griefs and sorrows, we need to assure ourselves of his love in Christ, and we need to compel ourselves to live for him.

The idea of “different types of songs” can also impact the style of songs.  Sometimes people struggle with the idea that style is attuned to cultural preferences and traditions that are not strictly Biblical.  But musicologists can demonstrate how musical style develops over regions and over time and can be compared to ‘different musical dialects’.  The music that was sung in the New Testament era and in the early church would have sounded very different and alien to our ears.  The music that has been sung by Christians over the centuries has been as diverse as the cultures that have been impacted by the Gospel.  It can be appropriate then to think about the musical ‘vernacular’ of our church and culture (as a ‘circumstance of worship’).  It can also be appropriate to express some musical diversity in our corporate singing, especially if our churches begin to reflect the ethnic diversity of the body of Christ, which we long to be expressed.

(By: Matt Foreman)

The Cemetery and The Shopping Center

Christian Living, Culture, Devotional, The Gospel

I’ve always been fascinated by graveyards. This stems, I think, not from an undue interest in the macabre, but rather with the sense of solemnity and connection to previous generations that a cemetery holds. Today as I walked from home to my office at church I stopped off at something that I only noticed yesterday even though I’ve passed it almost daily for the last two years- a small cemetery delineated by crude and crumbling stack-stone walls.

Here’s the first of several pictures I took:



As you can see it appears this graveyard is a small family plot dating at least back into the mid 1800s. As such, it is not much of a novelty in a state like South Carolina; yet for a recent transplant like myself who hails from a region of the country where anything older than about a hundred years tends to be Native American and thus tragically neglected and ill preserved, such distant dates hand-chiseled in stone still hold a real appeal.

Yet even more than the graveyard itself, I was struck today by the fact that this solemn little place has become something of a sacred island in a sea of secular advance. It sits perched just feet from a sprawling parking lot and shopping center. In fact, the edge of the cemetery is only about five feet away from the closest building, meaning that it might actually be closer to the people inside than the people below, if you go by the traditional six foot reckoning.




Three reflections seem apropos.

1. Remember how Quickly We Will Be Forgotten

The names on these headstones once conjured up a lifetime of memories and feeling at their mere mention. December 25 (!), 1774 was probably a date of intense joy for many. May 8, 1853, was probably a date of intense mourning and loss. Now they are just dates on a weathered slab of stone most people will never notice.

I doubt that even the descendants of the departed feel much of an emotional attachment to the names inscribed. Everyone who knew them is also dead. The world has moved on, quite literally, all around their final resting place. The most important events in their lives are forgotten. Their most precious moments don’t matter anymore. No one knows, no one remembers, and so no one cares.

We make way too much of our own staying power. It’s like the old quote (with various attributions) says:

You are going to die. They are going to drop you in a hole. They are going to throw dirt in your face and go back inside the church and eat potato salad.

The point is not the detract from the dignity of death and the solemnity of the moment, the point is to arrest our own self importance. We let controversy and conflict ruin our lives, but after we’re dead it’s very likely no one will even remember what we were fighting about, let alone care. Remember how quickly we will all be forgotten, and try to care about the stuff that actually matters.

Which leads us well into the next reflection.

2. Don’t Gain the World at the Cost of Your Soul

Remember that building that’s about five feet away from the graveyard wall? It’s actually a fitness center. It’s full of people running and jumping and lifting and trying desperately to stave off the inevitable. With hard work you can make yourself look ten years younger, but you can’t really stop the clock. That chiseled physique is going six feet deep.

Jesus asked:

What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, yet lose his soul?

The answer to the rhetorical question is obvious: nothing. It gains you nothing to be the fittest, richest, most powerful person on earth if you neglect the one thing you actually can take with you after death- your eternal soul. You are not merely a body, you have a spiritual life that death can never kill. That’s how God made you, and one day you’re going to stand in his presence.

This isn’t a sentimental post about trying to motivate you to spend more time with family or give money to charity, noble as those efforts may be. This is about you and God, face to face. It will happen. You will be there. And all that will matter in that moment is your sin. Your sin will condemn you and you will go through something that feels like a second death- only it will go on forever and ever into eternity. Hell is for real.

But the gospel held out to you (from God himself, no less) is that Jesus Christ has lived a perfect life in your place. He never sinned, and he offers his perfect record to you for the taking. It’s free. Furthermore, he has suffered on the cross the penalty that sin requires. He suffered it until it killed him, but after three days he rose from the dead. He fought sin on your behalf, and he won.

Having the things that Jesus did applied to you so that you will go to heaven instead of hell is what salvation is all about. God has graciously provided a way to to saved, really and truly saved.

Please, please, please go to a church that preaches this gospel and talk to them about it. Don’t chose the escapism of the shopping center and ignore the cemetery that’s only five feet away.

What a blessing it is to have this third reflection:

3. Christians Do Not Need to Sorrow as Others Who Have No Hope

It only seems fitting to end these reflections with a quotation of what the Apostle Paul wrote to Christians as they struggle with the sorrowful reality of death’s awful advance:

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13–18 ESV)

If you are trusting in this gospel for your forgiveness and living a life a faith in Jesus Christ, be encouraged. If you are not, be encouraged to come and meet Jesus in a real and saving way for the very first time. Don’t put it off.

Don’t be so focused on the shopping center that you ignore the inevitable cemetery. Be ready.

(By: Nicolas Alford)