Christianity 201

December 29, 2012

God Is Looking for a People, Not a Person

This was written several years ago by Sally Fingas, a friend of ours, and appeared on the religion page of our local newspaper.

I encountered a beautiful new word… ubuntu. It comes from the Bantu languages of Southern Africa and means I am what I am because of who we all are. This word speaks of me, an individual deriving my purpose and fulfillment through dedication to my community. Ubuntu celebrates the opposite world view to the individualism that is so admired in North American society.

The Church as God intends it is all about ubuntu. In the Old Testament, God repeatedly states his objective: “They shall be my people and I will be their God.” The Lord’s Prayer is all about community: “Our Father… give us this day… forgive us our trespasses… deliver us from evil.”

Christ, our Good Shepherd, spoke of His flock:

“… I lay down my life for the sheep… and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.” (John 10:15-16)

One sheep does not make a flock!

Paul describes the Church thus:

“You are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household…. And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19, 22)

One brick does not make a dwelling place for Almighty God! One hand does not make the body of Christ.

Has the Church drifted along with our society into the thinking that characterizes the ‘me generation’? Many of our modern worship songs are all about ‘I’, ‘me’ and ‘my’.

To quote just one refrain, from Above All by Michael W. Smith,

“Like a rose trampled on the ground
You took the fall
and thought of me
above all.”

The Church isn’t about me. God is looking for a people, not a person. It’s time to embrace the concept of ubuntu.

November 22, 2012

You Are Among The Saints

This appeared recently at the blog of Kevin Sanders aka Kuya Kevin — an American living in The Philippines for a decade — under the title, What is a Saint in the Bible?

“Do you believe in saints?”

I’ve been asked this question many times since moving here to the Philippines. I always affirm my belief in the saints since they are mentioned in the Bible. But I also do my best to clarify what the Scriptures really mean when this term is used.

Many people believe that saints are an elite group of Christians who did remarkable acts of piety before dying. This is a common teaching in some religious traditions. But I would simply encourage you to look at the way this word is used in the Scriptures.

To put it simply, the word “saint” or “saints” is always used as a general reference to God’s people. Anyone who is a true follower of Christ is, according to the Bible, a saint.

Let’s look at a few New Testament references for the sake of simplicity. Notice who Paul is writing to and how he addresses them:

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours 
-1st Corinthians 1:2

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 
-Ephesians 1:1-2

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:1-2

A couple of things are clear from these Scriptures:

1. Paul was not addressing dead people.
2. Paul was addressing the entire church—all believers.

Why does this teaching matter? Let’s study a little more deeply.

The word translated “saint” literally means “holy one” in the original language of the New Testament. This is why some English translations (New Living Translation, for example) use “God’s holy people” instead of “saint” for the before-mentioned verses.

We should not overlook the significance of this adjective. “Holy” is a word that belongs exclusively to the God. He alone is holy, therefore only He can make someone holy. The Scriptures never present sainthood/holiness as something that is achieved through good works or religious service. You also won’t find “saint” used as a title given to a select few by the church leadership.

I believe the New Living Translation of 1st Corinthians 1:2 is particularly helpful for clarifying this:

I am writing to God’s church in Corinth, to you who have been called by God to be his own holy people. He made you holy by means of Christ Jesus, just as he did for all people everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.

I’ll point out two truths from this verse:

1. God has made all His children holy through Jesus Christ.
2. God has called all His followers to live in holiness

Tragic consequences come from altering the original meaning of “saint.” First and foremost, the focus has been taken off of God and placed it on human beings. Some go so far as to pray to the saints, even though the Scriptures teach that Jesus alone is our intercessor to God the Father (see 1st Timothy 2:5). This is a form of idolatry.

Some may object to my last statement, claiming they are only honoring or venerating the departed people of faith. But let’s think about this: how can a mere mortal answer hundreds (or thousands) of prayers? Can an American saint who has passed away now understand Tagalog and Mandarin prayers? Is the Lord God not the only one who has the power to understand and answer millions of prayers? Is it right to attribute this kind of power to mere flesh and blood?

This leads into a second, yet equally important issue: salvation. According to the Scriptures, salvation is a gift of God’s grace. We are made holy in the sight of God by trusting Christ—not due to our own efforts. Here’s what Paul told the Ephesian believers:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. 
-Ephesians 2:8-9

But canonizing an individual shifts the emphasis from grace to good works. I’ll clarify something here: there’s nothing wrong with celebrating the lives of God’s servants. But what I have seen goes far beyond celebration by claiming an elite group has achieved special status/favor with God by their own merits.

The last consequence has to do with Christian living. Just as all believers are made holy, we are also called to live and grow in holiness (a process known as sanctification). Creating an artificial category of “super-Christians” sends the message that only a select few can really live holy lives. The rest of us are thus demoted to second-class citizen status in God’s kingdom.

Final Thoughts/Summary:

A saint is anyone who has trusted Christ and chosen to follow Him. We are made holy in God’s eyes through our relationship with Christ. We can be inspired by the lives of faithful believers who have gone before us. But we should not give them exclusive titles, pray to them, or do anything else that may rob God of the glory He fully deserves.

I am the Lord; that is my name;
 
my glory I give to no other,
 
nor my praise to carved idols. 
-Isaiah 42:8

October 15, 2010

Justification, Regeneration, Divine Nature, Witness of the Spirit

Blogger Rick Roehm brings clarity to some basic doctrines from the blog Christian Blessings. “The intent … is to first bring clarity to the Biblical terms Justification, Regeneration, and Witness of the Spirit unused in everyday language and second, to confirm an actual Christian experience and its relation to the scriptural reference given…”

Biblical Justification is a pardon granted by God upon the soul of man who trusts in Christ for the forgiveness of sins. After repentance and trusting in the death of Christ alone, God’s justice declares a sinner innocent from all sins committed in the past. Justification by Grace removes the guilt of sin from the human conscience. In a judicial sense a believer is declared righteous by the Justification of God through faith alone in the redemptive work of Christ on the cross. God’s Justification deals with the acts of sin and not the inherited sinful nature.

• Acts 13:38-39…Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.

• Rom 3:24-25…being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past

Regeneration is the Spirit’s restoration of the human soul that saves a believer from eternal death and separation from the mercy of God. A justified man right in the presence of God is passed to life through regeneration. Life in the New Testament is two fold: First, a present life consisting of holiness of heart and obedience to God: Second, to an inherited eternal life which follows death to the physical body beyond the grave. Washing of regeneration, an inward work of the Holy Ghost is granted to a believer by the Mercy and Grace of God through Justification.

• Titus 3:5…Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;

• Titus 3:6-7…Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

When a penitent sinner is cleansed from all sin the moral make-up is also restored in Christ. The Holy Spirit re-creates the inner being of a believer through the new birth. This re-creation includes a Divine nature. The mind, conduct, and desires of one born of God are conscious to the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. This person knows God from the heart because of communion in the Spirit. Unlike the sinner, a regenerate man has strength to stop sinning and quit doing wrong as consciousness to the presence of the Holy Spirit takes away sinful desire. The divine nature produces a new desire to live holy and without sin as a child of God should.

• 1 John 3:9…Whosoever is born of God does not commit sin.

• 1 John 4:4… because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.

Through God’s regenerative work the Holy Spirit bears witness with the spirit of man. This union confirms in the heart of a believer that he’s a child of God and his sins are forgiven.

The witness of the Holy Spirit testifies Christ inwardly to a believer and brings to knowledge a life of holiness and obedience to God. Every believer has this witness in himself.

• Rom 8:16…The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God

• 1 John 5:10…He that believes on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: