Christianity 201

April 21, 2017

Intentional Followership

Today we’re paying a fourth visit to Paul Steele at the blog Paul’s Ponderings. Usually at this point I encourage you to click the title below to read at source, but I also want to point you to a blog post Paul did in the form of an infographic. Before or after you’re done here, check out 6 Helpful Scriptures to Guide our Choices.

3 Components to Spiritual Formation

Intention in spiritual formation is essential. Our faith cannot, and will not, remain static. Every day our spirits are either being molded into the likeness of Jesus or into the likeness of the world.

Passivity is not an option.

Without intentional action our spirits will be conformed to the way of the world. If we are not moving towards Christ we are moving away from him.

The Apostle Peter was very aware of the importance of spiritual formation.

In 2 Peter 3:17-18 he wrote:

I am warning you ahead of time, dear friends. Be on guard so that you will not be carried away by the errors of these wicked people and lose your own secure footing. Rather, you must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
All glory to him, both now and forever! Amen. (NLT)

There is a great danger in not being intentional about our spiritual formation in Jesus Christ.

Peter pointed out 3 dangers that we face when we are not serious about our spiritual formation:  (1) losing our faith, (2) being led astray, and (3) living in error.

No matter how strong we believe our faith is right now, it is not enough to sustain us through all of life’s ups and downs. The faith that is sufficient today will not be sufficient tomorrow.

The writer of Hebrews shared a similar sentiment when he wrote:

 So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. Surely we don’t need to start again with the fundamental importance of repenting from evil deeds* and placing our faith in God. (Hebrews 6:1, NLT)

God expects us to be engaged in spiritual formation. Maturity will only happen through intentional effort.

If we are not willing to do what it takes grow spiritually and to deepen our relationship with God, then we will continue to miss out on the life He created us to live. We cannot remain the same and remain with Jesus. Either we are moving with him or we are allowing ourselves to be left behind.

If spiritual formation is this important, how do we make it a part of our lives?

The entire Bible is filled with instruction and example of how we can partner with the Holy Spirit to bring maturity to our spirits.

Today I want to share with you a little bit of what the Apostle Paul told the Colossians about spiritual formation.

And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.

Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers* of this world, rather than from Christ.(Colossians 2:6-8; NLT)

Let’s take a moment and examine what Paul wrote about spiritual formation:

1. We need to be consistent – Vs. 6

Faith is the key.

We came to salvation because we trusted in Jesus to deal with our sins. We experience spiritual maturity because we trust Jesus to lead us to the life God created us to live. Without this faith in Jesus we are unable to grow. If we cannot be consistent in our trust (trusting Jesus to take away our sins but not to lead us to life) means that we will be stunted in our maturity and our relationship with God will begin to die.

The consistency we need becomes visible through our obedience.  We need to ask ourselves these questions: Am I willing to follow Jesus wherever he leads me? Will  I risk my life, career, and reputation for the sake of the Gospel?

By being obedient we demonstrate that we trust God.

2. We need to be concrete – Vs. 7

Remember the parable Jesus told about the wise man and the foolish man?

The point of the story is people need to build on a firm foundation. The wise man is able to survive the storms because his house is built on the rock, which was able to withstand the power of the waves. The foolish man is destroyed because his house is built on the sand, which washed away with the raging water.

Being concrete is about holding on to truth. Jesus’ teachings are a firm foundation because they are truth. We receive truth through instruction, reading, relationships, and experiences. By constantly seeking and applying  truth to our lives we are building on a firm foundation. This foundation will provide us with the security we need to survive any situation.

3. We need to be cautious – Vs. 8

It is easy to be led astray by something that seems credible.

Proverbs 14:12 reads; There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death.  (NLT). What seems to be right and what sounds good are not the best indicators of what is truth. We can get very lost following what seems to be right to us.

This is about influence. Who will we allow to influence us? What type of media will we use? Is their message in agreement with the message of Jesus?

The best way we can safe guard ourselves from being led astray is to know and live the teachings of Jesus. Only when we are familiar with the truth are we able to identify the lie.

Spiritual formation is essential for our relationship with God. We need to remain consistent in our faith, we need to be concrete in our belief, and we need cautious about what influences us.

These 3 components will help us stay on the path of spiritual formation. Without them we will be prevented from living the life that Jesus has for us to live.

Don’t neglect your spiritual formation. Be intentional about the person you are becoming and make an effort to become like Jesus.

 What is an essential component to your spiritual formation?

March 12, 2017

A Fractured Gospel

by Russell Young
Although the gospel message has been around for about two thousand years, its understanding remains muddled. The Word has presented that eternal salvation comes through a person’s “doings,” through obedience, and through belief. It seems that many have selected from these the option that appeals to them and have concluded a means of meeting God’s condition so that they might rest their hope in him. The truth is that all three are components of the same gospel truth and they need to be appreciated as such. Belief (faith) motivates obedience and obedience compels the believer to act in ways that are pleasing and acceptable to God.
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It gets tiresome to attend to debates, written or verbal, about the validity of one component while disregarding the others. The disputes are endless and where eternal salvation continues to be perceived as through a single factor the debates will continue to persist and will achieve nothing except division and lost souls. Time and energy are wasted and confusion is produced as many self-righteously defend their position. Unfortunately, after two thousand years, church practitioners have often become entrenched in reliance upon a singular aspect of the gospel and objectivity has been lost. Consequently, many who now claim to be called to present the gospel cannot even clearly define it. This ought not to be so. Too many people are being left stillborn in churches while others are dying in the deserts of their communities.
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Jesus taught: “Do not be amazed at this (the Son of Man having authority as judge), for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out-those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.” (JN 5:28─29 NIV; See also 1 Pet 1:17; Mt 7:2; 12:36; Jn 5:28─29; 2 Cor 5:10) A person’s doings or practices should not be confused with the issue of “works” which applies to salvation through the works of the law. The Lord taught that evidence of faith, a person’s testimony through his or her practices, matters.
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In Hebrews it is recorded: “he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Heb 5:9 NIV) Christ also presented the need for obedience-Mt 7:21; 2 Thess 1:8─9; Rev 12:17, 14:12, Rev 22:14 (KJV), etc. The Lord is the Spirit and one purpose of his indwelling presence is to sanctify the obedient believer and to fit him or her for God’s heavenly kingdom. The believer must be made into the likeness of God’s Son (Rom 8:29) if he is to enter God’s kingdom.
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Many times the Lord has proclaimed that salvation comes through belief or faith in his person and ministry. However, belief is revealed through the practice of obedience. It is recorded: “And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.” (Heb 3:18─19 NIV) Those who do not obey Christ, the Spirit, lack saving faith and will not dwell with him.
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Faith/Belief resulting in obedience and “doing good” is what saves a person from judgment and into God’s glorious kingdom and presence. Without righteousness, which is the result of God’s “handiwork” (Eph 2:10) and is achieved through the Spirit (Gal 5:5), the confessor must remain forever separated from the Lord. (Heb 12:14)
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The truth of the gospel needs to be appreciated and clearly proclaimed if the dead are to be brought to life. Confusion is destroying the church of God and making it powerless is a depraved generation. Those who loudly proclaim a component of the gospel as being the necessary and full truth will be accountable for much one day. Those who are confident that they have brought many into the kingdom may find that they, like their sheep, will be shut out from the wedding feast and from God’s holy kingdom. Many false promises through a fractured gospel are being persuasively proclaimed to win the lost to church communities. In the end, many are presenting no gospel at all.


eternal-salvation-russell-youngRussell Young is a Sunday contributor to Christianity 201 and the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  9781512757514

 

January 14, 2017

6 Roadblock to Christian Growth

We’ve featured popular Charismatic Christian author J. Lee Grady here several times, but not in the past few years. I really enjoy the balance his writing provides. This appeared at Charisma News a few days ago; his writing can also be found at the Charisma blog Fire in my Bones. I encourage you to read it there by clicking the link in the title below.

6 Roadblocks That Will Stop Your Spiritual Growth

J. Lee GradyA few days ago, I was driving from my home in Georgia to a church in Alabama to preach for five days. I didn’t think the predicted “snowpocalypse” would hinder my trip until I arrived in the town of Anniston—where state troopers had blocked the main road due to ice on bridges.

The road was closed, and I couldn’t get to Birmingham on Highway 431. When I tried a different route, I ran into more ice and more roadblocks. This had never happened to me in Florida—we don’t have ice on roads. So I was stuck. I had to turn around and go home.

Thankfully, my host rescheduled our meetings, and I arrived at his church two days later, after all the feared ice had melted. But the whole experience reminded me that there are times when we can’t get where we need to go because our roads are blocked.

As Christians, we are called to move forward in our faith. The apostle Paul set the example for us when he said: “I press toward the goal to the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14). You are not supposed to stay in the same place spiritually year after year. God wants you to grow. But often we get stuck, usually because of one of these six roadblocks:

1. Lack of spiritual hunger. Let’s face it: The main reason many Christians get stuck in a rut is they are happy to be there. But God is looking for people who refuse to be content with where they were last year. He is calling you higher. You must ask the Holy Spirit to set your heart ablaze with a desire for more of His presence and power.

David is our example of spiritual hunger. He wrote: “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants after You, O God” (Ps. 42:1). He actually felt lousy when he wrote those words, so we can’t use our discouragement as an excuse. David fanned the flames of spiritual fervor even when he felt like quitting.

2. Plain old laziness. Many of us become motivated at the beginning of the year to pray, study the Bible, go back to school or lose weight. But nobody wins a race by sprinting the first 50 feet and then sitting down. Winners must stay in the game. You must be determined to finish what you start instead of leaving a trail of aborted attempts.

Paul exhorted the Romans to be “fervent in spirit,” but first he warned them not to be “lazy” (see Romans 12:11-12). The Greek word used here, okneros, is the same word Jesus used in the parable of the “lazy servant” who didn’t invest the money he was given by his master. If you are sitting on your dreams or procrastinating when you should be growing your faith, the “lazy” label applies. Don’t just start and then give up. Be consistent and keep going.

3. Unpacked baggage. The Israelites who left Egypt could have marched into the Promised Land in a matter of weeks, but they ended up in a holding pattern for 40 years. Why? They were dragging their sin with them. The more weight you drag behind you, the less likely it is that you will reach your destination.

I knew a Christian guy who had a thriving ministry to college students. But because he refused to get help for his pornography habit, his addiction prevented him from functioning normally. It finally weighed him down so much that it destroyed both his marriage and ministry. You may think you can “manage” your sin, but it is more powerful than you are. You can’t move forward while carrying a load of shame and addictions. Repent, confess your weakness to someone else and get free.

4. Fear of change. Many people feel a tug in their hearts that says: Start that Bible study. Go on that mission trip. Write that book. Launch that business. But they never get past step one because they feel frozen in their tracks. Nothing will keep you in spiritual limbo like fear. It paralyzes.

Some people keep their dreams inside them for decades—and then they take them to the grave. If you want to grow, you must take risks. Don’t let your fear of public speaking, airplanes, crowds, strangers or people’s criticism stop you from trusting in the God who is bigger than all those things.

5. Shallow relationships. Who are you hanging around with? Abraham had to part ways with Lot because they had very different goals. Lot had a selfish motive, and Abraham was fully surrendered to God’s plan. If you spend all your time with selfish people who are content to live spiritually fruitless lives, you will end up just like them.

If you want to move forward spiritually in 2017, don’t expect the crowd to go with you. Some people don’t want God’s presence. Don’t let them drag you down. Be willing to find new friends who will support your spiritual commitment.

6. A religious spirit. Religious people build memorials to honor what God did in 1967, sing songs from that era and write books about “the way we’ve always done it.” Yet when the Holy Spirit calls them to “sing … a new song” (Psalm 96:1), or if He starts doing “a new thing” (Isaiah 43:19a), they get offended. They insist God must move the exact same way He did 50 years ago.

But God does not stay in the same place or do things the same way. His character is unchangeable, but He always has a fresh word and a new anointing to pour on His people. He loves to surprise and overwhelm us. Don’t let religious inflexibility keep you from experiencing the adventure of following His Spirit.

J. Lee Grady was editor of Charisma for 11 years before he launched into full-time ministry in 2010. Today he directs The Mordecai Project, a Christian charitable organization that is taking the healing of Jesus to women and girls who suffer abuse and cultural oppression.

November 13, 2016

Relish Meat in Your Spiritual Life

by Russell Young

Teachings about spiritual maturity are of more importance than might be appreciated at first glance.  The Word speaks of the necessity of being “born again,” but a new birth is the production of a baby, or in a spiritual sense, of a spiritual infant.  An infant is incapable of doing anything; he or she is there in body, soul, and spirit but needs constant attention and cannot function as a contributor to the kingdom.  This is not the permanent state to which the believer has been called.

The believer has been delivered from the law and from his or her sinful state so that they might be useful to the kingdom of God. (Ep 2:10; 1 Cor 11─15) The writer of Hebrews has recorded: “Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teachings about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” (Heb 5:13─14 NIV) Spiritual maturity comes from training about righteousness and it is something that every believer needs to pursue if he or she is to grow to spiritual adulthood. The teachings that are often presented as being of greatest importance have been referenced in Hebrews as being elementary or “milk.”  “Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.” (Heb 6:1─3 NIV)

As important as the foundational teachings are, they do not provide the understandings that develop spiritual maturity.  In fact, the writer has revealed that if a person falls away through lack of righteous practices after having “tasted” the presence and the power of the Spirit—enjoying milk–, it is impossible to bring him or her back to repentance.  They are not to become “lazy” or indifferent concerning issues of righteousness. Paul stated that, “Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness.” (Rom 6:19 NIV) “Without holiness no one will see the Lord.” (Heb 12:14 NIV)

Spiritual maturity is a matter of applying the knowledge that the believer has that compels him or her to live righteously before the Lord.  During the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Mt 5:6 NIV) To hunger after and to thirst for demands an earnest seeking for righteousness so that their thirst and hunger might be quenched. The Lord is eager to assist in this matter. Righteousness is not given at the time of confession of faith; Paul said that it is being “awaited” through the Spirit (Gal 5:5), but those seeking it must deliberately train themselves to distinguish good from bad. Spiritual maturity comes through training and practice, from seeking and following, from crucifying one’s interests and through suffering in order to defeat temptations. Its development often requires the Lord’s discipline and the acceptance of punishment. Paul taught that we must “offer [ourselves] to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.” (Rom 6:13 NIV) If a person is to live he or she must “put to death the misdeeds of the body.” (Rom 8:13 NIV) Spiritual maturity demands the development of a special kind of living where a person’s natural spirit with its interests is put to death and the life of Christ is lived. It is obedience that brings righteousness and life. (Rom 6:16)

Spiritual maturity comes from dedication to obeying the Spirit; it is not freely given.  Those who rest in the nourishment of milk as their spiritual food will remain unskilled in in achieving spiritual maturity and even risk dwelling apart from the Lord. (Mt 13:41; 1 Jn 3:10; 2 Pet 2:21) And, those who teach that milk is sufficient food for life will produce spiritual babies and are even deceptive in their teachings. (1 Jn 3:6; Gal 6:7─8)

Spiritual maturity is to be sought; it is to be pursed with all a person’s heart, soul, mind, and body so that the believer can gain victory over the flesh, the evil one, and the world.  It is those who “overcome” who will dwell with the Lord in the New Jerusalem. (Rev 21:7)


eternal-salvation-russell-youngRussell Young’s book is available now in print and eBook.  The title is Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? It is available through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  9781512757514 $17.99 US


 

August 30, 2016

Settling for Less than All

A fuller title might be, Settling for Less than All Christ Desires for Me.

Do not let your zeal subside; keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
 – Romans 12:11, Berean Study Bible

This is a little different from what we normally do here and you need to click to look up some of the scriptures. When I saw this I thought it would fit well here.

We’re also breaking our six-month rule here since we’ve included Alabama pastor Scott McCown here on six other occasions, the last just a month ago.  So I hope you’ll visit his blog, The Morning Drive, or click the title below.

 

 The World’s ______

This weekend while at a “superstore,” I walked past the back to school / college section. I was not looking for anything in that section but something caught my eye. I had to do a double-take. A cup that read, “World’s Okayest Student.”

I did an image search for the cup and found there are cups, t-shirts, coffee mugs, bags, badges, and more with similar phrases: World’s Okayest Boss – Nurse – Mom – Dad – Child – Teacher – Husband – Wife – Principal – Employee . . .

The World’s Okayest . . .

I get the humor. I catch the sarcasm. It is funny, well it would be if.

If it weren’t true. Too many in life whether at school or in the workplace do just enough. They are not the worst but they are not striving to improve. They are just average, they are just okay and they are okay with that.

What ever happened to trying to improve? What happened to setting your sites a little higher and striving for better?

Sadly, there is probably a version that says, “World’s Okayest Christian.” If not I wonder if I could sometimes be the face of the “World’s Okayest Christian.”

Let’s not be just okay. Let’s become more. Let’s grow in Christ, in service, in love, and in faith.

I refuse to be just an Okay Christian!

  • Jesus condemned the church at Laodicea for not being cold or hot, but for being lukewarm – okay.  Laodicea was Asia’s “okayest” church. (Rev 3:15-16).
  • The Hebrew writer challenges his readers that they ought to be teachers, but they were satisfied with where they were- they were the “okayest” and he knew they should be more. (Heb 5:12-14).
  • Paul similarly corrects the Corinthians for not growing and still being the “okayest” – 1 Cor 3:1.
  • Peter would tell us, Don’t just be the okayest. Grow in grace.” In fact he does tell us togrow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Pet 3:18).
  • Paul says of himself,Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.” Phil 3:12-15).

I will be more that okay. I will be the best I can be. I will strive for better than I am in what ever I do, school, work, parenting, marriage, and especially as a disciple of Christ. Will you join me?


Q.: Why are the scriptures at C201 always in green?

A.: This week we were cutting some branches that were growing into our neighbor’s lawn and I was again reminded when I looked at the green color inside how there is so much difference between a dead branch and a living branch.  In Psalm 119:25 we read,

My soul is laid in the dust. Give me new life because of Your Word. (NIV)
and again in vs. 28,
My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your word. (NASB)
My words, or the words of our daily writers, may be helpful, but the power lies in God’s word.

August 14, 2016

Servants, Friends, and Brothers

•••by Russell Young

  “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” (Jn 15:15, NIV)

Many apply the encouragement of being friends with Christ to themselves, although the Lord was clearly speaking to his disciples. The wording contains several points that might enlighten the reader concerning the status that the Lord has presented for friendship with him.

He said, “I no longer call…” All of redeemed humankind start their lives as servants (Rom 6:22; Eph 6:6; Rev 22:6).  They have been bought with the blood of Christ (1 Cor 6:20) and belong to him (Rom 7:4; Jas 2:7). He is their lord and master and without obedience to his call upon their lives they cannot achieve the holy state that is required for eternal salvation. (Heb 5:9) Those who are Christ’s must be led by him. “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” (Jn 10:27, NIV) It is against human nature to want to be ruled by another; but, without the instruction, leadership, and power of Christ no one can live righteously. Those who are blind need a leader. The believer is to live humbly before Christ. (Mt 23:12; Jas 4:6; 1 Pet 5:6) His beginning is that of a servant.

The reason that Christ elevated the relationship of his disciples from servant to “friend” was because they knew his business and what he was about.  He had revealed his business to them and they had heard and had chosen to participate in its accomplishment.  They knew him and had forged an honourable and loving relationship with him. They no longer needed the level of guidance that a servant requires because they understood his will and had responded according to it.  His mission became their mission. Friends take seriously the heart and the goals of friends.  The requirement for service had not changed, but oversight and direction for it was no longer necessary; the Lord’s purposes were being mutually achieved.

Readers of God’s Word should not confuse the issue; they are servants until their heart is in tune with God’s will and their practices reflect his purposes…until his will has become their will.  Until such a state exists, the believer remains a servant and requires direct and personal leadership from the Lord; he remains a servant.

“Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right [“power”, KJV] to become children of God.”  (Jn 1:12, NIV) John’s teaching is that believers have the power (The power comes through the Holy Spirit.) to become children of God. Paul has recorded, “those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (Rom 8:14, NIV) It is Paul’s teaching that believers (those who follow the Lord’s leadership) “are predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.” (Rom 8:29) They will no longer display the characteristics and interests of their old nature, but will have been conformed to his.

servants friends and brothers  Being classified as a son of God is an even greater elevation.  A son of the Father is also a brother of Christ. “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister, and mother.” (Mk 3:35, NIV)

The privilege and honour of being elevated to the status of a brother of Christ from being a friend is not one that is given freely and without cost.  The believer’s adoption comes at the redemption of his body (Rom 8:23); it follows his conformation to the likeness of Christ. The person who would enjoy the privilege of a brother of Christ and of a son of God must warrant it. He or she must have the characteristics of a son so that they might belong in the family.  They must honour and love their brothers, including Christ, and they must obey their Father. (Mt 7:21)

A son or daughter knows the affairs of the household because they are in it and commune personally with those in it and especially with their Father, loving him, seeking direction from him, and honouring him. Those who in their arrogance reject the authority of the Father through his Son and who continue to disregard his admonitions for righteousness and obedient service, who remain slaves to sin and their own interests, will not be a permanent part of God’s family. (Jn 8:35)

Those of this world are God’s enemies, alienated from him; their interests are not his interests. As they separate themselves from the world through the ministries of Christ they will be brought to the various relationship stages…first as a servant, then a friend, and into the relationship of a son of the Father and as a brother of Christ.

August 7, 2016

The Signs of Eternal Salvation

•••by Russell Young

Each of us wants assurance of an eternal hope.  The apostle John has provided clarification concerning this matter, but did not let assurance rest on a confession of faith once made.  Near the end of his first epistle he has recorded: “I wrote these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 Jn 5:13, NIV) The things that he wrote were contained in his first letter. From his epistle fifteen characteristics have been identified that expose knowledge of the believer’s hope. A person may know that he or she has eternal life if they:

  1. img 080716enjoy fellowship with Christ and the Father. (1:3, 2:24)
  2. do not keep on sinning. (2:29, 3:6,9)
  3. obey God’s commands (2:3, 3:24, 5:3)
  4. do not love this world or the things in it (2:15, 16, 5:4)
  5. purify themselves. (3:3)
  6. see a decreasing pattern of sin in his or her life. (3:3, 6, 9, 5:18)
  7. love other Christians. (2:9, 10, 3:10, 14, 4: 7, 11, 12, 4:19-20)
  8. experience answered prayer. (3:22)
  9. experience the ministry of the Holy Spirit. (2:27, 3:20, 24, 4:13)
  10. know the truth; can discern between spiritual truth and error. (2:21, 3:6)
  11. suffer rejection (hated) because of their faith. (3:13)
  12. love others. (4:7)
  13. have concern about the material needs of others. (3:17)
  14. are like Christ in this world. (4:17)
  15. have a clear conscience. (3:21)

No one can “work” to achieve what is required for eternal life and a single confession of faith will not accomplish it.  Without the Spirit the believer does not have the capacity to accomplish that which is needed, but would be left with his or her own sinful nature and a demanding body.  The life that manifests these characteristics is being worked in the believer by the Spirit of Christ in order that the Lord might be the first-born among many brothers and sisters in his likeness.  A person’s work is to believe and to believe to the extent that he or she is willing to submit to the leadership of the Holy Spirit (Heb 5:9; Rom 8:4).  The transformed believer will display the identified characteristics.

A person’s eternal salvation is not accomplished by adhering to the practices of an institution, nor living by a list of rules.  It does not take place through a specific religious experience or by engaging in a certain type of service.  Neither is it superficial “belief” that lacks trust and obedience.  Eternal salvation comes through Christ and the believer’s personal relationship with him.  The hopeful person must practice obedience so that Christ might live in and through the person who claims his name. (Col 1:27) A relationship must develop that leads the believer in a righteous walk because that is the only walk engaged by the Lord.

The apostle Paul said, “I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I might be disqualified.” (1 Cor 9:27, NLT) He did not rest in the belief that he had mastered the life of faith.

God does not want his people to walk in fear but in love for him and in obedience to his will. Perfect love (which is obedience) casts out all fear and like the Israelites of old, his people have been told of his expectations. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Mt 22:37, NIV)

The love that God expects is revealed in a close relationship with him.  It requires reading his Word so that the Spirit might use it for any cleansing that is necessary to accomplish the believer’s transformation and develop holiness. And, it is based on an active prayer life through which sin is confessed and forgiveness sought so that a clean conscience can be maintained.  The importance of being made holy, washed by the cleansing of God’s Word (Eph 5:26), was made clear by Paul.  Righteous thoughts and actions lead to holiness (Rom 6:19, 22) and without holiness no one will see the Lord. (Heb 12:14)

All of God’s creation was fashioned for his good pleasure.  Humankind is part of that creation.  When all is said and done, God will be eternally satisfied with his work and the transformed believer.  Those who have listened to his voice, who possess the characteristics of his Son and those revealed by John, will be part of his eternal joy.

July 24, 2016

Sanctification by the Blood and Sanctification by the Spirit

•••by Russell Young

A person’s understanding of sanctification and its application is significant when it comes to his or her knowing the truths of the Word of God and in understanding the doctrine of salvation.  Sanctification is revealed as coming by the Spirit, by the blood of the covenant, by the truth, and by the Word.

sanctificationThe Greek word hagiazo which has been translated as sanctification means “to sanctify, to consecrate, or devote a person or thing to a particular, especially to a sacred, use in service to God.”  The Greek hagiasmos, also translated as sanctification, is “intended to express a state or attitude of voluntary consecration to God, a continued act of consecration; or a state of choice as distinct from a mere act of choice, an abiding act or state of choice, a standing and controlling preference of mind, a continuous committal of the will to the highest well-being of God and of the universe.” (Charles Finney, Lecture LVIII) Accordingly, a person is sanctified or consecrated to God by the blood of Christ when he makes a confession of faith and proclaims the Lordship of Christ.  However, continued consecration must be realized through a person’s abiding attitude to God as revealed through his or her practices.

The believer cannot be sanctified or consecrated to God and seek his or her own interests.  Sanctification following confession of faith necessitates death to self, a voluntary state of devotion to the Lord’s purposes.  “Sanctification is nothing more nor less than entire obedience, for the time being, to the moral law.” (Finney) It is the attitude or abiding in a sanctified state of consecration to God that requires the Spirit and his ministry.  Although a person might be set aside in part for building the kingdom, he may yet not be cleansed (transformed) in heart and mind for that purpose or to dwell in the kingdom.

Paul taught that he had been chosen “to be a minister of Christ Jesus so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” (Rom 15:16, NIV) He was not addressing sanctification by the blood of Christ, although that is essential. Accordingly, his teaching addressed the need for a person to have the attitude or the will to walk righteously so that he or she would become an offering acceptable to God “sanctified by the Holy Spirit.”  To Titus and to the Thessalonians Paul revealed that salvation came through the sanctifying work of the Spirit.  “From the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” (2 Thess 2:13, NIV) To Titus he wrote: “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:5) The Holy Spirit provides renewal (transformation) through the indwelling presence (Col 1:27) of the Spirit of Christ as he washes away the darkness that pervades the believer’s heart and mind.

Vessels that are unclean, including people, cannot be used for noble kingdom purposes.  It is necessary for the believer to live righteously and to be transformed through the sanctifying work of the Spirit if he or she is to be used for noble purposes by God.  Paul wrote to Timothy: “In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble.  If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.” (2 Tim 2:20-21, NIV)

Neither is sanctification a singular event as by the blood of Christ as some accept.  Its state must be maintained or kept. (1 Thess 5:23) The writer of Hebrews recorded that those who deliberately keep on sinning are treating “as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them.” (Heb 10:29, NIV) The “blood of the covenant” is the shed blood of Christ that brought the Old Covenant to a close and allowed the believer right to the New Covenant.  It purified him or her and set them aside for use in God’s service. (Eph 2:10) The blood of the covenant sanctified the believer concerning the sins committed under the first covenant. (Heb 9:15; 2 Pet 1:9) The sinner had been dead in his trespasses and sins and has been given new life for service to God. This is sanctification through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, through his willingness to take on himself all of the sins of the world.  The believer’s sins were washed away and he was left pure. Sanctification by the Spirit is to follow.

The Lord spoke to His disciples concerning the need for continued cleaning.  Before His crucifixion, He washed His disciples’ feet.  Peter had objected to act of what he perceived as being humiliating to his Lord and told Him, “You shall never wash my feet.”  The Lord responded, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”  Peter then wanted to be washed all over.  The Lord again addressed him: “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean.” (Jn 13:10, NIV) Although many take this as representing a person’s need to be humble in service, the issue is really one of spiritual cleansing or of sanctification.  The disciples had been sanctified or as He has stated, have had a “bath.”  However, throughout the day their feet had become dirty.  In a spiritual sense, throughout the day they had been dirtied by sin.  He needed to cleanse them of this if they were to have any part of Him.  The “bath” is “the sanctification of the blood” while the washing of the feet (one’s daily sins- sanctification by the Spirit) still needed to be done.

When the writer of Hebrews related, “How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?”, he is stating those who deliberately continue to sin are showing disregard for Christ and His sanctifying ministry for the believer, both on the cross and following.  The Spirit of grace is insulted when a person has failed to honor the Lord’s ministry in his or her life.

Sanctification by the Word and by the truth refer to the same issue. (Jn 17:17) God has revealed his gospel and the truths that he expects to be honored concerning his law and through his covenants.

The Spirit, if followed (“obeyed”-Heb 5:9) will accomplish the righteous requirements of God’s moral law (Rom 8:4) and leave the one who is believing sanctified, holy in his sight, and suitable for his Kingdom.

 

February 7, 2016

Beware the Teachings of Man

We’ve asked Russell Young to become a regular contributor here; in addition to being active in our comments section. This article got me thinking about how we have a clergy class who we expect to be the arbiters of all things spiritual, instead of learning how to go to the source

 

See that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. (Colossians 2:8, NIV)

A god of this age is philosophical thought. Its expression has been seen in teaching about the issues of life (abortion, euthanasia, same-sex marriage, tolerance, etc.) and even in spiritual teachings. Our institutions of “higher learning” have derailed the gospel message; philosopher-theologians often leave the confines of God’s Word in search of understanding so that Believers might be ‘better informed.’ Their proclamations are often accepted as “truth” and they are honored as being the source of all knowledge and the founts of wisdom. The problem is that their “truths” often come from “principles of this world” as Paul has warned. Their philosophies are deceptive.

The reason why our pastor/teachers are accepting the deceptions of these philosopher-theologians must be discerned by themselves. Is it that the Holy Spirit only speaks to a few? Is it that they do not hear the whisperings of the Spirit? Is it due to the ease that comes from relying on another’s mind? Is it that they have been convinced of authenticity of a world system that honors institutional learning?

Why is it that our theological institutions have replaced the ministry of the Holy Spirit in His teaching role with that of esteemed men? Through John’s gospel our Lord stated,

“When he, the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you in all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.” (John 16:13-14, NIV)

Modern ChurchThe neglect of cherishing the Spirit and of seeking Him as the source of truth, and the practice of relenting to human understanding has led many astray and is resulting in the destruction of the modern church. The LORD said that He would not give His glory to another, and in the end He will not give it to those who have honored themselves or who honor others for their human thought. This is a serious matter!

Paul wrote,

“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please the sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:7-8, NIV)

This passage is straight-forward. How do believers know the leading of the Spirit if they are led by men? What teaching is being provided to help them avoid destruction? Teachings about righteousness that allow the believer to mature and to “train himself to distinguish good from evil” are the “solid food” of God’s Word. (Hebrews 5:14) The nature of one’s “sowing” will lead to his eternal life or to his destruction. This teaching and the many that require the practice of righteousness, the transformation of the heart to one that pleases God, and the awaiting judgment have all be cast aside in favor of man’s persuasions of provision provided through God’s grace. This is a very serious matter!

Paul taught that “the righteous requirements of the law are fully met in us who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:4, NIV) It is the teaching of our Lord that He did “not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17) He fulfills them through His life lived in the believer which is one’s hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27) In the end the LORD is going to destroy the earth and its inhabitants because “it has been defiled by its people; they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken his everlasting covenant.” (Isaiah 24:5)

What disappointment awaits those who have relied upon man rather than upon God! Woe to those who teach man’s philosophies rather than God’s truths. Those who do so will face God’s wrath. Concerning the “distortion” of truth and the destruction that follows, Peter wrote:

“He [Paul] writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do other Scriptures, to their own destruction.” (2 Peter 3:16)

Teachers will be judged for their deceptions!

The world has a great pull on the interests of man. The Israelites wanted a king so that they might be like the rest of the world and the Lord gave them one. Philosophical-theologians want to honor the institutions of man just as do teachers of other disciplines and the body is reaping its reward.

It is “hollow and deceptive philosophy,” as Paul has presented, that is deceiving many. The church needs to rest its understanding on the teachings of God’s Word through the Spirit’s revelations and not on the musings of man. Destruction is going to fall on many for their neglect of the precious “gift” of the Spirit and of His ordained ministry. In the end the wisest philosopher will receive no exaltation over the humblest servant of the Lord. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. (Psalm 111:10)

January 8, 2016

A Different Type of Fishing

ESV Matt. 4:18 While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

ESV Luke 5:1 On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”[a] 11 And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.

Today we pay a return visit to Georgia pastor Clark Bunch (who we tend to interact with more at Thinking Out Loud) sourcing today from his church website at Unity Baptist Church. Click the title below to read at source.

Things Change After Jesus

Fishers of Men

Jesus began his public ministry by being baptized by John in the Jordan. After spending 40 days fasting in the wilderness he began preaching in Galilee and almost immediately called the first disciples. Mark 1 and Matthew 4 share an almost identical account of Jesus calling Simon (Peter) and his brother Andrew by saying “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” Luke 5 records the miraculous catch of fish and a very similar statement (from now on you will catch men). Things changed for Peter when Jesus got on his boat and called him to follow.

They used to fish with nets. All of the fishermen in the New Testament fished with nets. They cast the nets off the side of the boat, drug them through the water and then hauled up whatever was caught up along the way. Many of us have never fished that way but you’ve probably seen it. Tuna are caught by the hundreds as nets drag them up from the sea. It was a big deal in the late 80’s, early 90’s because dolphins were being trapped in the tuna nets and drowned. In the Luke 5 account the nets were so filled with fish they were breaking and they had to call for backup. Jesus said “I will make you fishers of men” and taught them how to cast the net of the Gospel. Some days you don’t catch anything; Peter and company had just had a bad night the first time they met Jesus. But our call as believers is to cast the Gospel and let the Holy Spirit do what he does to draw people to Jesus. Don’t worry about the days you don’t seem to be catching anything; our calling is to love God, love our neighbor as ourselves, and keep casting the net.

Peter did not fish with bait. I learned from my grandfather how to bait a hook. Most of us here today cast a hook with a rod and reel and catch one fish at a time; catfish, bluegill, trout, that’s how it’s done. When Jesus said “I will make you fishers of men” he was talking to fishermen that cast net which they traded in for casting the Gospel. We are not to fish for men with bait. See where I’m going with this? The prosperity gospel, the health and wealth preachers, are baiting people they hope to hook and do not cast the Gospel net. When praise and worship hymns we sing together are replaced by a rock concert, and when preaching the Word is replaced by a guy promising you will have everything you ever wished for and be richly blessed beyond your wildest dreams, then we’ve quit casting the net. You can fill a stadium with people that have itching ears and are willing to take the bait. People show up for the show. We must not replace authentic worship with worshiptainment.

Peter never stopped fishing. After the resurrection, in John 21:3, Peter says to about half a dozen other disciples “I am going fishing” and they went with him. They weren’t taking a new bass boat out to the lake for the first time or going on a fishing trip to get away from everything a few days. They had spent the past several years with Jesus, listening to his teaching, witnessing miracles and learning to do those same things themselves.  They most likely had no clue what to do next. Things changed when Jesus came, how would they change again when he left them? Peter said “I am going fishing” because that’s what he knew how to do. If the Jesus movement was over there were still bills to pay and food would have to be put on the table. Many of the disciples had been fishermen by trade and when Peter announced he was going back to work Nathanael, the sons of Zebedee and two other unnamed disciples went with him. Jesus appeared to them, the miraculous catch of fish was repeated, and Peter found out that his work and ministry were not over yet. In fact that work was just beginning.

Things change after Jesus. Your life may not change as dramatically as Peter’s did but our goals in life are reshaped as we redefine what is important. One of the things believers do is share with others. Think about intentionally casting the Gospel net this week and we’ll continue next with considering things that change after Jesus comes.

January 2, 2016

Give Attention to Reading

 
1 Timothy 4:13
 
Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. (ESV)
 
Until I get there, concentrate on reading Scripture in worship, giving encouraging messages, and teaching people. (GW)
 
Until I get there, focus on reading the Scriptures to the church, encouraging the believers, and teaching them. (NLT)
 
Till I come, give heed to the reading, to the exhortation, to the teaching; (YLT) BIble

I didn’t know where this verse would take me today, but it led me to a longer excerpt from the IVP Bible Commentary, as found at BibleGateway.com that discusses the apparent differences between preaching and teaching.

First however is the matter of reading. In context, the idea of public reading of scripture fits, but wasn’t part of the KJV text used for many centuries. Clearly, to be able to exhort and to teach, one would need to begin with a personal study of scripture, but we also need to look at this in the light of the eliminating of the public scripture reading in many modern churches. Yes, I know that now we have the scripture texts on a giant screen for closer inspection, and don’t even ask my opinion about the ping-pong style of what were called responsive readings. Still, I think this is an area where the modern Evangelical church loses out to the liturgical churches, with their inclusion of an Old Testament reading, a Psalm, a Gospel reading, an Epistle, or some combination of those.

My original intention here was simply to focus on the importance of personal reading as we start a new year. (Admittedly, the verse was a bit of a proof-text when I first selected it.) But then my study took me into so many other areas. Here is the aforementioned commentary:

First, he urges consistent practice of the public reading of Scripture (v. 13). This is by no means an innovation; it was already part of Christian worship, having been adopted naturally from Jewish synagogue worship (Lk 4:16; Acts 15:21; 2 Cor 3:14). Its import lies in the way it centers attention on God, who, communicating with his people, initiates and sustains a covenant relationship. Practically, the reading of the lesson also prepares the people for the exposition and application of Scripture.
Then the writer goes on however to deal with the other two elements of the verse, and there was so much good here I could not leave it aside:

[P]roper Christian worship will include preaching. The term used here could mean exhortation, encouragement, comfort or an appeal, and it is linked to the Scriptures in Romans 15:4 and Hebrews 12:5. Romans 12:8 reveals that preaching is a Spirit-directed activity (that is, a charisma) of communicating God’s message to the people (compare 1 Cor 12:8). The starting point is the conviction that Scripture is always relevant to God’s people (2 Tim 3:16-17).

Teaching is the third activity to be consistently practiced in the worship assembly. As with preaching, a special gift is associated with this activity (Rom 12:7).

But how do these two activities differ? Passages such as this one and 1 Timothy 5:17 and Romans 12:7-8 (see also 1 Tim 2:7; 2 Tim 1:11) seem to make a distinction between preaching and teaching, though the Greek terms may vary. But the precise distinction is difficult to pin down. The term used here for preaching (paraklesis) refers to appeals made to believers (Rom 15:4; Heb 13:22) and unbelievers (see 2 Cor 5:20). Teaching, however, is usually linked to the church. Knight may be correct to see the distinction in terms of purpose, preaching being the call to respond to God’s Word (which would fit an audience of believers or unbelievers), teaching being the more intellectually oriented communication of Scripture’s principles (1992:208).

It may be also that the two activities differed in style and tone of delivery. But distinctions based on content (for example, limiting teaching to Christian ethics and preaching to theology) do not seem to be in mind (see Tit 2:10-14). Yet often the two activities must have overlapped considerably: it is hard to imagine teaching without leading the people to response, or preaching without providing a reasoned exposition of a text’s principles. Nevertheless, as long as we make room for overlap and avoid distinctions that are too rigid, it seems safe to think of preaching and teaching as two applications of God’s Word in the church: (1) the call to response, whether that entails confession, receiving God’s encouragement or appropriating his promise, and (2) the building of a solid foundation for living through the systematic teaching of biblical principles that coherently and practically express God’s will.

Certainly a worship service includes a good deal more than these three activities, especially elements that are response-oriented: prayer, the singing of hymns, testimony and practical ministering of one to another, observance of the Lord’s Supper. Paul was here correcting tendencies introduced by the enthusiasts, and he focuses on the primary tasks of the minister. God’s Word, through its reading, preaching and teaching, initiates and sustains spiritual life, and its place in Christian worship is central. Without it there can be no effective ministry.


August 5, 2015

Knowing Our History

Church History 2


Luke 24:27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

 

Today we pay a return visit to the website GCD (Gospel-Centered Discipleship) and this time around the featured writer is Dallas-Fort Worth pastor Zachary Lee. To read this at source, click the title below.

9 Basic Reasons to Study Church History

For many, just the word “history” brings up bad memories from high school.  When I hear the word “history,” I think of random things such as Charlemagne, carpet-baggers, Huguenots, dates, times, presidents, and a bunch of things I forgot until we studied WWII (which was actually interesting).

For most Christians, church history is the same way. We don’t really know much about it. We know a little about the Apostles in the book of Acts, then there is a bunch of stuff we think is weird and too “Catholic,” and then there is the Reformation, and here we are today with prosperity preachers and Joel Osteen.

So is church history important? Is it useful for discipleship? How much should we study it? My hope is to briefly sketch why I think church history is important for evangelicals today and is actually a gift from God to help us understand how to apply his Word. Why study church history?

1. Church history reminds us that we are part of a larger family of faith.

We have a tendency to think the church really began in our lifetime with cool pastors, conferences, and podcasts. Or, we have a tendency to think the church really began at the Reformation. We forget that there has always been a remnant. There has always been a true church. Jesus promised that the gates of Hades would not prevail against his church and the gates of Hades never have. People loved Jesus in the early church (Irenaeus, Athanasius, Augustine, et. al.), in the middle ages (Thomas Aquinas, Anselm, et. al.), in the Reformation (Luther, Calvin, et. al.), in the early modern era (Edwards, Whitfield, Wesley, et. al.), and in the modern era (Machen, Henry, Barth, et. al.). On the one hand, church history protects us from thinking our denomination is right and everyone else is wrong (most of our denominations are less than 400 years old), and, on the other hand, it reminds us that we are part of a larger family of faith dating back more than 2,000 years.

2. Church history helps us rightly interpret the Bible.

God’s Word is meant to be interpreted within the community of faith. When an individual just runs away from the church and doesn’t listen to instruction from others, he usually starts a cult. We must interpret the Bible as we bounce ideas and interpretations off one another. And we don’t just bounce ideas off of those around us. We use the larger community of faith including the writings of Christian brothers and sisters who have passed away.

3. Church history helps us hold to correct doctrine.

Though God’s people may err in certain doctrinal matters, certain teachings like the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the resurrection, and the second coming are always held as truth by all true Christians. Church history helps us see what God’s people have always believed and what doctrines the majority of Christians have seen as essential. It helps us continue to pass on the “once-for-all-delivered-to-the-saints” gospel (Jude 1:3). There is a saying that, “new kinds of ‘christians’ are really just old kinds of heretics.” Knowing correct doctrine helps us guard against false teachers and religious sects today.

4. Church history helps us guard against reading our culture onto the biblical text.

Church history helps us see how other cultures have interpreted the Bible and see where some of our biases and prejudices pop up. For example, the topics of homosexuality and gender roles are rather controversial subjects today but almost completely agreed upon throughout most of church history. If we are teaching about these subjects in new ways, this should cause us to ask if we are reading our culture onto the Bible and making it say what we think is important today instead of what it actually says. Another example is that in America many Evangelicals think drinking alcohol is sinful. Seeing that this is a unique idea in post-prohibition America (and is not thought to be sinful in almost all other times and countries in church history) helps us put this issue in perspective.

5. Church history helps us see where we might be defending our traditions instead of the teachings of Scripture.

It is vitally important to know what the church has believed at each point in our history and why. That keeps us from “drinking the Kool-aid” and just doing what our denomination says. It is important for a Lutheran to know what Luther thought. It is important for a Presbyterian to know what Calvin thought. It is important for a Baptist to know about the radical reformation and English separatism. It is important for a Pentecostal to know about the Wesleyan holiness movement. It is important for an Episcopalian to know about the Anglican Church, the Reformation, and Thomas Cranmer. The list could go on and on. Knowing which historical actions caused certain beliefs is essential for challenging our views according to the Bible.

6. Church history helps us know how to address situations today.

I can’t think of any issues today that the church has not already dealt with in its past whether that be grace, politics, denominations, ethics, pastoral ministry, etc. The old adage, “Those who fail to study history are doomed to repeat it” is true of church history as well. By studying church history we can avoid stepping on landmines by seeing who has stepped on them before. We can copy what the past has done well and avoid some of the mistakes they made.

7. Church history brings humility.

If you hold a theological view or an interpretation of Scripture that almost nobody has ever held then you can know that 99% of the time you will almost certainly be wrong. The burden of proof is on the person who is holding a “new” view. This should humble us and keep us from thinking that everyone else was just too silly to see things like we see them today.

8. Church history helps us minister to others.

If I know the history of someone else’s ideas, denomination, or theology, it allows me to know how best to minister to them. It lets me know where they might be off and what issues they may misunderstand.

9. Church history is a reminder of God’s grace

Instead of looking like a bride we as God’s people have a history of looking more like a harlot. What is interesting to me is just how un-Christian so much of church history is. We have a history of shooting ourselves in the foot. However, just like Israel in the Old Testament, God loves his beautiful, messy, disobedient, lovely bride . . . the church. It is a reminder of how kind God has been to keep his promises despite our failures to be faithful to him. It is true that “if we are faithless he remains faithful for he cannot deny himself” (2 Tim 2:13).

In all this we know that only God’s Word is perfect and history is our imperfect attempt to play that out. However, church history is a helpful guide and companion on our journey in the Christian life and it is God’s gift to help us be faithful.

 


Church History


 

I was impressed again with the thought-provoking articles at GCD, so tomorrow we’ll spend an extra day there, this time hearing from a different writer.

July 13, 2015

Prayer: Uses and Abuses

The Heavens Declare 1Three times previously we’ve borrowed material from Alabama pastor Scott McCown’s blog, The Morning Drive. I can’t recommend his writing enough. Each Tuesday he’s been running insights on the subject of prayer. You can investigate all the articles at this link. We’re going to run one today, and then choose a second one for tomorrow. Click the title below to read this one at its source…

Using Prayer

How do you use prayer? Do you use prayer as an avenue for you or as a way to talk to God?  Before you answer think about these “uses” of prayer.

We disUSE prayer when we are:

  • Not praying for national, state, local, and Church leaders.
  • Not praying for strength for the Body of Christ
  • Not praying for spiritual growth in ourselves and in the Church.
  • Not praying.
  • In Acts 13:1-3 we read of the early church’s reliance on God through prayer, Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.”

We misUSE prayer when we see it as:

  • A tool for manipulation. Like the misbehaving child who’s parents sent him to his room to pray about his misbehavior.  He came back later and was still acting up. When asked if he prayed about his behavior, he said, “Yes, I prayed you would be more patient with me.” Sometimes we pray aloud with the intent of our words changing those that hear us pray and not a sincere prayer to God.
  • As a substitute for preparation / work. Someone said, “As long as there are tests in school there will be prayer in school.”  Prayer-peration is not a substitute for preparation.  Prayer is inviting God to walk and work along-side us and to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves, not what we are unwilling to do for ourselves. Maybe that is what James is warning about in Jas 2:15-17, “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” Don’t just pray that someone’s needs are taken care of if you are not willing to act to relieve those needs. Prayer is communication with the Father.

We abUSE prayer when

  • We make demands of God. To hear television preachers tell people to pray in a way that demands God act concerns me. God is sovereign, I am not.  God knows what is best for me, I do not.  I ask for God’s blessing, I do not demand it. Again James speaks to this, “Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (Jas 4:15).
  • We pray to “look good” or pious. Jesus said, “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.” (Mat 6:5-7).

How do you use prayer?  Use it to open your life to God letting Him know your struggles, needs, and desires.  Trust that He will work what is TRULY best for you.


Go Deeper: Here’s a link to another article by Scott on a different subject that we considered running today, but it’s a bit longer. Check out Who Is Jesus? Really?

February 19, 2015

A Vessel for Honorable Use

Today we want to introduce you to servantsofgrace.org and if you click the title below, you’ll not only get the article, but links to a large number of quality articles just like it. In today’s reading Zach Barnhart looks at four distinctive marks of holiness we can apply to our own spiritual diagnostics test.

Holiness: Becoming a Vessel For Honor

Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.” (2 Timothy 2:20-21)

The discussion of holiness in Christian circles is inescapable. There are hundreds of books on the subject, and thousands of articles and blog posts on it. The word “holy” appears in the Bible over 600 times. This conversation is not only inevitable, but can often be burdensome to believers trying to live the Christian life.

HolinessIt’s easy to talk about holiness and feel utterly disheveled. Oftentimes it’s because we, as heirs of grace need to acquire an honest view of the difficult process of sanctification. In order to discover this, God’s people need to understand their sin nature. We do this by understanding that Satan hasn’t left God’s people alone. Not to mention, it’s growing seemingly more difficult to live a holy life in a pleasure-driven, tolerance-demanding, all-things-go culture. Holiness, in short, is hard. Take heart and find Paul’s encouraging spirit in these words in 2 Timothy 2:20-21. Only then will you not feel bogged down, but motivated by His grace. Christians should not feel stripped of their armor, but equipped with it. Paul writes Timothy from a heart of encouragement, calling him “my beloved child” (2 Tim. 1:2). He encourages Timothy to be “strengthened by the grace” of Christ (2:1), reminding him “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power” (1:7). Paul aims to encourage both Timothy and you.

In 2 Timothy 2:20, Paul begins an illustration: in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver…” Just as a house holds various kinds of vessels, so the Church has many different members and gifts. Some vessels are gold, others are silver. Both are precious metals, with some more refined (gold) than others (silver). These precious metals are all a sight worth displaying in the home; they are treasures we love. But there are also vessels of wood and clay.” Wood and clay are certainly inferior to any gold or silver. A necklace made of wood is of fractional value when compared to a necklace of pure gold. These are “vessels of dishonor,” referring to the hypocrites, or those who stand in moral or doctrinal error in the Church. The Church will be full of not only vessels of honor (running towards holiness), but vessels of dishonor (running from holiness).

As believers, we have to ask ourselves, “How am I doing?” Sometimes it’s difficult to interpret the data of our own spiritual diagnostics test. What are the signs and indicators? How can believers tell if they are moving in the right direction? How does the Christian become a vessel of gold and silver, and avoid becoming like wood and clay? Thankfully, here Paul has provided four distinctive marks of a Christian who is running the race of holiness.

He will be a vessel for honorable use”
The first mark of spiritual holiness is that we embrace our transformation. What is a vessel after all? A vessel is best used when first emptied, then filled. All are born incapable of achieving righteousness by their own strength (Isa. 64:6, Rom. 3:10-12). Any chance we have, then, of being counted righteous before God is to be completely emptied of ourselves, and, in the new birth of regeneration, being transformed into new life, a life “filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18). Only the power and grace of Jesus can accomplish this feat, and when He does, He fills His people with His spirit “for honorable use.” Whether filled to the brim or down to the last drip, God is filling His people with His Spirit, for His use, for His glory. The end result of this is His people embracing true transformation.

Set apart as holy”
One of the main differences between a gold or silver vessel as opposed to a wood or clay vessel is the physical appearance of the vessels. A vessel of gold shines; it illuminates when a light is shined on it, and it is more eye-catching than other elements. Similarly, we must also reflect the King to an unseeing world. Scripture shows the importance of being set apart. Christians must evaluate themselves and ask, “Am I living a life that walks the walk and talks the talk?” We don’t ask out of unhealthy piety or competition, but rather to determine what our life is reflecting to a lost world. When the light shines on us, do we reflect it back, as gold and silver? Or do we, like wood and clay, look dull, dark, and unfazed by the light? To live in holiness is to live a life of non-conformity (Rom. 12:2), putting on the new self (Col. 3:10), walking in wisdom (Col. 4:5), “for we are His workmanship” (Eph. 2:10).

“useful to the master of the house”
A third distinctive mark of our holiness is when we serve a purpose for the Kingdom of God. I recently heard the illustration from a friend on how we must approach our duty as the Church like a battleship, not a cruise ship. Cruise ships are consumer-driven. People eat at will, soak up the sun, etc. No one is there to be working or sacrificing. But on a battleship, everyone works. Everyone has a purpose and desire to be useful, because there is a fight to be fought. People don’t go to a battleship to be served – they go to be useful. We cannot approach God and His Word and His Church as an opportunity to merely be filled, but as an opportunity to be useful (1 Cor. 4:1, Gal. 5:13). Christians must accept the call, and put their hands to work for Christ’s Kingdom.

“ready for every good work”
The fourth mark of holiness Paul outlines is when we prepare for battle. There is a level of desire and preparation that we should have in wanting to be a vessel of honor. I am not suggesting that preparedness affects God’s control in situations or opinion of us. I think what Paul is saying is, “Do not tarry. Be on guard.” When preparing to become vessels for honor, our battle sword doesn’t need to be sharpened, because it already is. There’s no need to go rummaging around for our armor, because we’re already wearing it.

You and I are not worthy to receive righteous on our own. But let this truth fill you with deep longing for the power of Christ. Don’t let the scorching sun of holiness wither you; let it root you. Be a radiant, cultivated picture-in-progress of the Spirit’s working power. Be encouraged. Your journey in holiness is designed to give you Kingdom purpose, and passion for it. It helps you shine reflections of Him to a dark world. It helps you be eager to fight in Jesus name.

In summation: Embrace your transformation. Reflect the King. Serve a purpose. Prepare for battle.

December 26, 2014

Endorsing What You Read Here

Gal 6:11(NIV) See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if the Apostle Paul lived in a world that had our technology? Would he have a blog? It would definitely get his letters delivered faster to the various spiritual communities to whom he wrote.

Or what if Paul were spreading his message through political advertising. Not all candidates in North America elections run to win, many are just trying to get a position in front of the greatest number of people, and an election campaign is a good way to do that. I can just hear the voice-over announcer finishing his script and then we hear words so common in the U.S. and Canada,

“My name is Paul and I approve this message.”

Paul’s “large letters” type of comment at the end of Galatians is repeated three other times in the New Testament…

Colossians 4:18
I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.

2 Thessalonians 3:17
I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand, which is the distinguishing mark in all my letters. This is how I write.

Philemon 1:19
I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self.

…but it’s the “large letters” comment that lend to the belief that Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was his poor eyesight. Were his eyes always bad, or was this a leftover consequence of that moment on the Damascus Road?

However our focus today is the idea of Paul endorsing the message content that precedes his personal sign-off.

If Paul lived in our day and had a blog he wouldn’t simply be re-blogging other people’s content or having the scribe he employed finish off the epistle with ideas that were not Paul’s. No, his signature is not just a sign-off (in the sense of a signature) but he is personally signing off (in the sense of taking responsibility) on everything you’ve read up to that point.

Though, with the technological metaphor still in view, Paul would definitely copy-and-paste parts of previous letters into future ones: We see many parallels in the epistles; two examples are his advice to husbands, wives, children and slaves; or his direction to put off the clothing of sin and clothe yourself (literally ‘put on’) in holiness and righteousness.

But wait a minute! I can hear some of you saying, “Isn’t this very blog one which appropriates the content from other writers?” Yes, that is its very point. But while I probably don’t agree with every doctrinal/theological thing in every site to which this blog links, I do read and respect the quality of Biblical or doctrinal examination that takes place in the posts that are used here.

The problem, moving forward into 2015, is the proliferation of blogs that copy-and-paste material from other blogs because they feel it is expected of them to do so, or that they earn higher standing or greater acceptance with their blogging peers because of their perceived association with bloggers, writers or pastors of greater renown. They want to identify with some ideal they have of the Christian blogging community. Perhaps they get it from pastors who feel they add weight to their sermons by quoting from popular Christian sources.

And that’s just wrong.

And so as I myself move forward into 2015, I want to be more forthright in terms of what I personally believe, while at the same time maintaining a forum here that is a melting pot for divergent doctrinal and theological positions. I want this to be a space that defies categories and classifications. I want this to be a taste of something deeper for those who have never experienced greater depth.

Not every day will hit the mark. And the blog post you feel is weak may be someone else’s personal favorite. But I will stand behind everything that appears here as being worthy of consideration. I’ll take responsibility for it, signing off on it just as the Apostle Paul put his stamp of approval on the communications that bore his name.

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