Posted by: forbygrace | November 28, 2009

Christmas Activism

As I surfed some news sights in the early morning waiting for my coffee to finish brewing I stumbled on an article about Best-Buy putting out a Black Friday print ad with an “Happy Eid al-Adha” holiday greeting. It seems Best-Buy made the decision to exclude the greeting “Merry Christmas” a few years back and now there is no small stir over the inclusion of a Muslim holiday. I was a little offended myself, I say a little as I am reminded of Jesus’ own words that “the gospel is foolishness to those perishing” and “you will be hated by all for my name’s sake” and yet there is a wake-up call to be heeded.

What is Christmas all about to you? Do we say it’s primarily of Christian themed season of commerce? Let me ask you: Why should commercial enterprises feel compelled to advertise about the birth of Jesus when it’s that very same Jesus that we seldom talk to anyone about? I like to use the term “Merry Christmas”, but that’s not enough. If every retailer on earth hung a sign in their store proclaiming, “Merry Christmas”, would it change anything? The reason there is ambivalence, and outright hostility in some cases, to the message of Christmas is most people have never been made a new creation. To try to bring more attention to the message of Christmas by means of boycotting stores and wearing pins on our coats is nothing more than than trying to cover a wicked and unbelieving culture with a thin veneer of Christianity—it will never work! The many that are still dead in their sins are not going to believe unless they hear the gospel. So what if Best-Buy or the Gap or Abercrombie and Fitch are pressured and rescind their policy against using “Merry Christmas”. Does it bring honor to Christ that they are compelled to show a friendly gesture if their heart is not changed? Jesus’ charge against the Pharisees still holds true, “These people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me”. Do we really need anymore hypocrites?  Those that want to serve Christ, serve him and those that don’t, don’t—there is no middle ground.

And Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” And the people did not answer him a word.” 1 Kings 18:21

If we as Christians are really concerned about the honor of Christ, let us go out and proclaim the glad tidings of the that life from the dead that brought life for the dead.

Posted by: forbygrace | August 28, 2009

Conversations with a Universalist

Sometimes you meet up with people in unexpected ways as was the case when I found myself engaged in an e-mail dialogue with a man on the website Tangle. Tangle is a site that has a variety of videos, from Christian music to sermons to short messages and people regularly comment on posts.   A few minutes of reading his comments on an evangelistic message made it clear, the man was a Universalist.    Universalism is the belief that all of mankind will ultimately be saved and enjoy an eternity with God in heaven. This is not a Christian view, but a decidedly un-Christian view. The amazing thing about most heresy is that it’s propagators usually find ways to isolate certain texts from the bible to make their point while at the same time creatively interpreting other passages that would otherwise refute their point. Through several e-mails, I found this to be the case with Tony the Universalist.

His line of thought on a few points, in a nut shell, went something like this: since “forever” is sometimes used to mean a long temporal period of time, “eternal” destruction must be temporal as well. Another error Tony made is to look at the passages where the word “all” is used in connection with God’s redemptive plan and assume that it must mean all of mankind will be saved. So according to Tony a passage like 1 Timothy 2:4 does not mean that God desires (sovereignly wills) in that He has decreed the gospel to go out to every type of person: the rich and the poor, the slave and the free, the Greek and the Jew, etc (a mainline view which the context shows quite clearly), but he holds that God sovereignly wills (not just desires) every single individual to be saved. It’s no surprise that someone like Tony comes up with views that are antithetical to Christian orthodoxy when almost every passage which he attempts to use as a proof text is nothing more than his own opinion re-read into the text. In fact I would be surprised if most heresies would not die if the person would merely look at the context—the context of the subject, the audience and the whole of scripture. What should be a terrifying wake-up call to those who dig in against the truth often isn’t and proves to be of no effect as they continue holding to opinions plainly outside of the bible. How tragic it is to see the truth of 2 Thessalonians 11-12 lived out in those who embrace Satan’s lie?

And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

You might not run into too many people in such a clear error as Universalism, but the same sort of stubborn holding to a position and not letting the biblical text speak for itself can have devastating effects even if they are less obvious. Make no mistake about it, it’s hard to let the bible speak to you—it can demand you change your mind, it can tell you you’ve been wrong, it can prick your conscience in a way no other message can. I just finished reading a book last night in which the author posed the question: “How many people are there who have read their bibles for 50 years and have never had a single view of theirs change?” It’s not that all change is always good, but as the old man dies and the new man is renewed there is bound to be an ever increasing understanding of what God is saying in is word. It would seem incredible that one walking with God wouldn’t look back and see where pride, fear or just being lazy has led to a wrong understanding of a passage and that he must now see it rightly.

I’m thankful for the conversation I had with Tony even though he was not willing to concede on even the plainest points. Why am I thankful? Because my understanding of God’s word grew as I searched scripture to prove points that are at the core of Christianity. History shows us that God often uses heresy as a means of driving his children into the word—think of the Protestant Reformation! So the next you hear something that just doesn’t “sound right”, make the decision to test all things and hold to what is good. 1 Thessalonians 5:21.

Posted by: forbygrace | May 15, 2009

Living out the Sufficiency of Scripture

What does it mean to say scripture is sufficient?  That we believe it?  That is without error?  That God commands us to heed it?  I would venture to guess most reading this post would say, “ah yes, I agree with all those points”.  The question I hope you ask though is: sufficient for what?  After all, we can probably make the argument that the Devil believes that the bible is without error and that God commands it to be followed.  What did the Devil use in tempting Christ?  The scripture!  Yet I fear today we are more likely to use the scripture in a manner like the old serpent did, than how it prescribed by Christ.

One of the pillars of the Protestant Reformation was Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone).  What the reformers were protesting was the Catholic Church’s practice of placing tradition, councils and the words of the Pope on an equal, and often superior, footing with the bible.  What was affirmed by the reformers was that the bible and it alone, was the final authority in all matters of Christian belief and practice.  I am reminded of Martin Luther’s meeting where before Holy Roman Emperor Charles V at the Diet of Worms he was called to recant and responded:

Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Holy Scriptures or by evident reason-for I can believe neither pope nor councils alone, as it is clear that they have erred repeatedly and contradicted themselves-I consider myself convicted by the testimony of Holy Scripture, which is my basis; my conscience is captive to the Word of God. Thus I cannot and will not recant, because acting against one’s conscience is neither safe nor sound. God help me. Amen.

I am particularly struck by the one thing; it was scripture which ruled his conscience.  So the question is does scripture rule the conscience of our churches today?  I don’t mean select biblical principles and promises.  Does the whole of scripture rule the heart and mind of the church? Paul tells Timothy: all scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training up in righteousness so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.  This means that the same God that said “come unto me all that labor and are heavy laden” also said, “No man can come to me unless it is given him from above”.  It means the same Spirit who gives us the fruit of joy and peace also tells us that we who are born again are crucified with Christ.  The One who gives salvation as a free gift also commands us to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.  There is no disharmony in any passages of scripture–we are to heed them all, we are to teach them all.

What concerns me is a modern church leader that can carry on proclaiming with much enthusiasm that they are committed to all of scripture, that they believe it cover to cover; but at the same time, gloss over vital truths.  Why?  Because they happen to be hard to grasp?  Because they don’t want people to think God makes demands on them?  Because they think some topics are too divisive?  Because they want to be liked or have a large church?  If many in the church today won’t preach and teach on all of what scripture teaches, then maybe it’s time to get out the scissors and cut passages out of the bible.  If we want to be honest, then we either need to affirm all of scripture and teach all of scripture; or we need to have the guts to say we only affirm parts of scripture and then go on teaching in a way that seems right in our own eyes.

This is not a call for mere intellectual knowledge, but a greater knowledge of God that comes by diligent study of all his word.  His word is supremely sufficient to grow us up in the knowledge of God.  It was ignorance that Hosea spoke of when declaring: my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.  In Hosea’s day the priests were not teaching and the people were not seeking knowledge.  It was not that they did not have the light, but that they did not have a heart to come to the light. They shut their eyes to the light and God justly rejected them.  It is the same today for all who will not rightly rest in the sufficiency of scripture.  To pick and choose only parts of scripture to suit ones own agenda is to reject scripture.

It is my hope that the church today will return to its first love–that it will seek to know and teach on all that God has so lovingly given us in his word.

Posted by: forbygrace | May 5, 2009

Hell’s Best Kept Secret

Listen to Way of the Master’s Ray Comfort in the message: Hell’s Best Kept Secret

This is a message that really hits on what many are leaving out of the gospel–listen to it and see if you are not changed.

Posted by: forbygrace | April 1, 2009

The Risk with the Prodigal Son – Part 1

One of the most beloved and detailed parables which Jesus shared with us is that of the Prodigal Son.  You can read the account here in Luke 15:11-32.  I have many times heard this parable shared with people in the church as a means of encouragement when they suffer guilt over some failure.  Praise to God that He does in fact forgive us when we sin as we know from 1 John 1:9; 1 John 2:1; and other places in scripture.

One of the errors we can make as believers is to hold to a passage of scripture that doesn’t truly speak to the situation we find ourselves in.  I think for many people this is the case with the parable of the Prodigal Son.  A person reads it and comes away with the notion that the parable speaks to a believer who goes off and lives sinfully and then is embraced when he decides to return. The conclusion is subtly understood as being that believers are secure (which they are) and so they can live in sin and decide latter to turn back and all is well because God will embrace them.  But is that what this parable is saying?  Read on and let’s see.

I want to propose that the parable is not spoken to show how God restores believers who fall away; it’s written to show how God embraces and rejoices over one sinner who comes to Him.  Now how can I say that given that the text, which you may have just read, says that this man was a ‘son’?  Let me answer that, as we always must, by looking at scripture to interpret scripture.  We know believers in Jesus Christ are called sons and unbelievers are called sons of the devil so the question is in what way are they sons?  It should be obvious that being sons of God is spiritual for believers, but there is a certain sense of sonship that applies to all men by way of the created order.   We see this spoken of in Malachi 2:10; Romans 3:29 and 1 Timothy 4:10 and so we must conclude that it could be in this sense that he is represented as being a son–not representing a regenerated (born again) believer, but a sinner.  Now look at v.32 of the text where it says: But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found. He was dead, did you get that?  No believer is ever spoken of as being dead in this sense, but all unbelievers are considered dead in trespasses and sins.

Posted by: forbygrace | April 1, 2009

The Risk with the Prodigal Son – Part 2

Now, let us look at the exchange between the father and son.  In v.21, the son’s response to his father correlates to a sinner coming to God through Christ: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.  There is confession of sin, humility and a sense of his unworthiness.  In v.22 we see God’s grace: Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. This shows us that sinners who repent are clothed in righteousness (the best robe); that we are set apart and given power (put a ring on his finger–as Joseph in Pharaoh’s household when given the signet ring, we in Christ are given much more authority) and finally that we are established in our new family (the family of God) for good works (put sandals on his feet-that is the shoes of the readiness of the gospel spoken in Ephesians 6:15).

There is a risk in reading this parable and not understanding what it means. It is important to understand that while God does forgive believers when they sin, this parable does not speak to this.  The risk is for a person confident of their salvation to be encouraged in sin by thinking that God is out there waiting while they “sow their wild oats”.   I have heard well known preachers use this parable as a means to under gird the confidence of backsliding church-goers who live a life marked by rebellion.  How many lost people think they are saved because they had a religious or emotional experience one time at church or an evangelistic event, so they live like the prodigal son thinking all is well?   They think, “I’m okay, I can come back when I want to and God will take me back”.  My friend, if that’s how you think, you will find no encouragement in the bible that you are saved.  The fact is that some will delude themselves with this scripture to make them feel better while they sin all the way to hell. And the other side is that much of the responsibility falls on preachers and teachers, some of whom teach on this scripture without understanding it.  Don’t take my word for it and don’t take a well known preachers word either; fulfill God’s command and search the scripture as the Berean’s did.

Now what we must understand as we read the parable is that when God saves us, he gives us a new heart so that we desire to obey Him and love Him and serve Him.  Do we sin?  Yes.  Do we engage in a lifestyle ruled by persistent sin against God?  No!  Why is that?  Because when we do sin , we receive the discipline of a Heavenly Father who loves us and will not allow us to be slaves again to sin.  You see true salvation spoken of in this last verse in that he was dead (in his sins) and has begun to live (made a new creature through regeneration and continued unto sanctification).  Where it says and has begun to live is very significant as it speaks to salvation as not a one time act in your past, but an act that begins in us when we repent and believe and continues as we follow Christ.  The certainty of our hope rests with God for He is faithful.

Thanks to God that Christ did not come to save us in our sins, but from our sins.

Posted by: forbygrace | March 12, 2009

Modern Distortions

A few weeks ago I had the privilege to teach a lesson on how humanism has affected the church over the last 100 years or so.  Humanism is a philosophy that ascribes all meaning in life to man–his happiness, goals and accomplishments.  The way in which a humanistic philosophy affects our thinking is very subtle and the Christian is not immune. You see it’s disastrous results in a message that speaks to me, myself and I more than Father, Son and Holy Spirit; that speaks to happiness and satisfaction more than righteousness and sanctification.

The new path will help you understand how to be more happy and satisfied by following Him.  The old path will lead you to know Him and consequently you will be satisfied.  The pursuit of the old path is Him, not what He can give us.

If you do a word search for happiness in the bible and then do one for righteousness, here is what you get:

In the NASB:    Happiness-4     Righteousness-299

In the NIV:     Happiness-6     Righteousness-299

In the NKJV:    Happiness-2     Righteousness-301

IN the ESV: Happiness-2     Righteousness-273

As you meditate on scripture ask yourself how many of the people we read about would be happy by our standards.  How many would be looked upon as proof the Christian life “works”?  Would Job, Jeremiah or Noah–who labored for 120 years as a preacher of righteousness and only 7 came into the ark?  What about the New Testament saints who were often in poverty and suffering extreme persecution?

True happiness begins with pursuing God not by pursuing happiness.  God does make man happy but it is a happiness that is not of this world and that the world does not understand.

Stand in the ways and see,
And ask for the old paths, where the good way is,
And walk in it;
Then you will find rest for your souls.  Jeremiah 6:16

Posted by: forbygrace | March 11, 2009

Rightly Dividing the Love of God – Part 1

If someone were to walk up to you and say, “Jesus loves you”, what would that mean? Would it mean the same thing for a believer and an unbeliever? The love God has for His creation is beyond comprehension and the particular love He has for His children is more excellent still. All that is understood and has been written about God’s love can only be seen as a very faint image of that which we will ultimately behold and understand throughout all eternity in heaven. It is simply too vast and wonderful an attribute of His that we would have any ability to fully grasp it. It was, after all, His love and the exercise of mercy that we see in Jesus Christ coming to offer himself up as the Lamb without spot to pay the debt of sin on a Roman cross. It was love and not necessity that moved Him to have compassion on us. He could have left us all to be eternally damned and He would have been absolutely just, but He didn’t. It is this love that the apostle John beheld when he said, “what manner of love is this, that we should be called sons of the living God?”

Believers know themselves to be the recipients of God’s love even though we all have difficulty grasping it at times. Unbelievers, who reject God and His Son, simply don’t know of this love and at the root of it, they don’t care. A person dead in sin has none of the promises of God to hold on to and have nothing but wrath to look forward to. Yet even those that are daily in danger of eternal destruction are recipients of God’s love and compassion—it is not the same as the love God has for His children, but it is genuine. The love shown to a lost person is often that God provides the means of their bodily needs being met and often times (in this country at least) even many of their desires are met. It may also be that He continues to be patient with them by giving them the opportunity to hear the gospel again and again—we see this demonstrated in Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem in Luke 13:34: O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!

The children of God experience the love of a heavenly Father that is manifest in the covenant of grace and no unbeliever can lay claim to that. In the covenant of grace is the love that has washed us from our sins and made us heirs. Being born in corruption we will be raised in immortality to be with the Lord forever; we will see the day spoken in Revelation 21:3-4: Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.

Posted by: forbygrace | March 11, 2009

Rightly Dividing the Love of God – Part 2

In looking at God’s love, the point I want to bring up is to carefully consider whether we are rightly understanding God’s love for the lost when we walk up to a lost person and say, “Jesus loves you”. It’s not that Jesus doesn’t love them in a certain sense; it’s that to only say that is woefully inadequate. We read in Psalm 7:11: “God is a just judge, And God is angry with the wicked every day.” God shows compassion and love in being patient but God’s disposition is not the same for a believer as an unbeliever. The unbeliever is one who loves sin more than God; it is said of such in John 8:44: “You are of your father the devil and the desires of your father you want to do”. The simple fact is that while a sinner persists in unbelief, he is setting himself up as God’s enemy. God often shows mercy and patience but He is not obligated to extend it–it doesn’t matter how benevolent, religious, or “good” they otherwise are. The only thing that keeps an unbeliever out of hell at any moment is God’s uncovenanted, unobliged forbearance.

So the pressing question is should we present this truth to lost people. Is it vital for a person to understand that they have made themselves God’s enemy in order that they might be saved? I believe that there is no other way for a person to see they need the Savior then to see that they are bad people in trouble with a good God. The true need a sinner has for believing in Christ is not to have a life that makes sense or heals a hurt in their past—it’s to be reconciled to God. The ultimate problem for a sinner is not ignorance of God’s attribute of love; it’s separation from God because of their sin. Sin isn’t just some philosophical construct whereby we can say, “oh well, nobody’s perfect except God; I guess I fell short”. Sin is our declaration of war against a holy God—it represents personal, willful acts that are dreadfully provoking to God. The person without Christ is in an extremely dangerous position. It is because of this that we must be careful to rightly divide the word when witnessing (as a side note, you may be witnessing even when you think the person is saved, when in fact they are not but are deceived).

So where does the love of God fit in all this? The love of God shines brightest when viewed against the backdrop of sin. Romans 5:8 tells us: But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. So you see, to talk of God’s love without discussing sin doesn’t really communicate His love at all. If we tell a person who has no grasp of his sin that God loves them, we are not really telling them anything about God’s love because His love is a holy love. His love can pardon sin through Christ, but it will not overlook sin. So the next time you have an opportunity to tell someone God loves them, think about all that goes with it.

Posted by: forbygrace | February 27, 2009

The Foolishness of Preaching?

Walking through the park and handing a gospel tract to someone has proven a wonderful opportunity to speak to many different people with varying religious backgrounds. What the group I go out with does is called evangelism–a word which means to bring the good news. The good news is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

You see and hear many different types of gospel presentations as you should with a church that is made up of diverse peoples and personalities. What never changes is the gospel message. The question then comes up–what place does the gospel have in saving people from their sin and reconciling them to God? I have heard many gospel presentations that would say the gospel points us to Christ and gives the evangelist the foundation so they can convince a person of their present hopeless state and subsequent need for Christ. An analogy might be that the gospel is a tool a mechanic has in his shop and it us up to him to use it skillfully in order to restore that which is broken. Accordingly, if the gospel is to be useful, a great deal of persuasiveness and knowledge in presentation styles, apologetics, and logic, marketing and world religions becomes imperative.

I want to ask you if this paradigm is what we should hold to–is it what the bible says regarding the proclamation of the gospel? Whether you answer yes or no, depends a great deal in how you view the work of the message (the gospel) and the messenger (the evangelist/preacher). In evangelism, you cannot separate the two as God has chosen to save people through the people that share His word. We would all agree (I hope) that God could preach audibly from heaven and avoid using us at all if He wanted to, but He chose to use us to preach the word and through that preaching to save all who believe the word.

Paul in speaking to the church in Corinth says, “Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe(1 Cor 1:20-21). Take note that Paul is telling us that what is preached is foolishness to someone dead in their sins. The need to be reconciled to God would seem absurd to an unbeliever. So what does Paul tell us is the message preached? Christ crucified (v.23). This is the complete message that saves.

You might be saying, “Alright, then are you saying there’s no point in planning, learning, strategizing, etc”? God’s word tells us to always be ready to give a reason for the hope which lies within us (1 Peter 3:15). It should also be plain that our understanding of how the message fits in context to where we are and who we are speaking with is a powerful witness to the hearer. Look in Acts 17 and you see Paul speaking to the philosophers at the Areopagus (Mars Hill) and making use of his knowledge of some of the ruling philosophies of that time. In the end, there were some who sneered and others who wanted to know more, of whom a few became followers and believed. What did these men hear that divided them into two camps (those who believed and those who sneered)? The resurrection of Jesus Christ (v.32)–it was the gospel, that which is sharper than any two edged sword.

Take note of the centrality and efficacy of the gospel in the conversion of the Philippian jailer in Acts 16. We see the power of God bringing the jailer to the place where he would hear the words of Paul and Silas, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved–you and your household”.

God may use the man who preaches (witnesses, evangelizes) and call him to share from his background, understanding and experiences in areas related to the gospel and the hearer–but it is the gospel itself in salvation that changes the heart of the hearer. It is God saying to the unbeliever’s heart through the spoken word, “Let there be light!”

For this reason the gospel must be seen as paramount in preaching and evangelizing unbelievers. It’s not God doing 99% and us doing 1%–its God doing 100% through His word. We are ambassadors–we take the message our King has given us and proclaim to everyone who will listen.

Posted by: forbygrace | January 18, 2009

The Church and the Christian-Part 1

This is an excellent excerpt from a book by Mark Dever titled: What is a Healthy Church

It’s always vital for the believer to be biblical in his or her thinking even when it means going against the grain. This is nowhere more evident today than in the church where relativism and narcissism has penetrated.

Can you define what a Christian is without mentioning the church? If you can, your definition just might not line up with the Bible’s.

Think about it. If you’re an orphan, you don’t adopt parents; they adopt you. If your adoptive parents are named Smith, you now attend the Smith family dinners with the parents and all the children. You share a bedroom at night with the Smith siblings. When the teacher at school calls out attendance and says, “Smith?” you raise your hand like your older brother did before you and your younger sister will do after you. And you do this not because you decided to play the role of “Smith,” but because someone went to the orphanage and said, “You will be a Smith.” On that day, you became the child of someone and the sibling of others.

Only your name’s not Smith. It’s Christian, named after the one through whom you were adopted, Christ (Eph. 1:5). Now you’re part of the whole family of God. “The one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family” (Heb. 2:11).

And this is no dysfunctional family, with family members estranged from one another. It’s a fellowship. When God “called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Cor. 1:9), he also called you into “fellowship” with the whole family (1 Cor. 5:2).

And this is no polite and formal fellowship. It’s a body, bound together by our individual decisions but also bound together by far more than human decision—the person and work of Christ. You would be as foolish to say, “I’m not a part of the family,” as you would be to cut off your own hand or nose. As Paul said to the Corinthians, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’” (1 Cor. 12:21).

In short, it’s impossible to answer the question “What is a Christian?” without ending up in a conversation about the church; at least, in the Bible it is. Not only that, it’s hard to stick with just one metaphor for the church because the New Testament uses so many of them: a family and a fellowship, a body and a bride, a people and a temple, a lady and her children. And never does the New Testament conceive of the Christian existing on a prolonged basis outside the fellowship of the church. The church is not really a place. It’s a people—God’s people

Posted by: forbygrace | January 18, 2009

The Church and the Christian-Part 2

When a person becomes a Christian, he doesn’t just join a local church because it’s a good habit for growing in spiritual maturity. He joins a local church because it’s the expression of what Christ has made him—a member of the body of Christ. Being united to Christ means being united to every Christian. But that universal union must be given a living, breathing existence in a local church.

Sometimes theologians refer to a distinction between the universal church (all Christians everywhere throughout history) and the local church (those people who meet down the street from you to hear the Word preached and to practice baptism and the Lord’s Supper). Other than a few references to the universal church (such as Matt. 16:18 and the bulk of Ephesians), most references to the church in the New Testament are to local churches, as when Paul writes, “To the church of God in Corinth” or “To the churches in Galatia.”

Now what follows is a little intense, but it’s important. The relationship between our membership in the universal church and our membership in the local church is a lot like the relationship between the righteousness God gives us through faith and the actual practice of righteousness in our daily lives. When we become Christians by faith, God declares us righteous. Yet we are still called to actively be righteous. A person who happily goes on living in unrighteousness calls into question whether he ever possessed Christ’s righteousness in the first place (see Rom. 6:1–18; 8:5–14; James 2:14–15). So, too, it is with those who refuse to commit themselves to a local church. Committing to a local body is the natural outcome—it confirms what Christ has done. If you have no interest in actually committing yourself to an actual group of gospel-believing, Bible-teaching Christians, you might question whether you belong to the body of Christ at all! Listen to the author of Hebrews carefully:

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. (Heb. 10:23–27)

Our state before God, if authentic, will translate into our daily decisions, even if the process is slow and full of missteps. God really does change his people. Isn’t that good news? So please, friend, don’t grow complacent through some vague idea that you possess the righteousness of Christ if you’re not pursuing a life of righteousness. Likewise, please do not be deceived by a vague conception of the universal church to which you belong if you’re not pursuing that life together with an actual church.

Except for the rarest of circumstances, a true Christian builds his life into the lives of other believers through the concrete fellowship of a local church. He knows he has not yet “arrived.” He’s still fallen and needs the accountability and instruction of that local body of people called the church. And they need him.

As we gather to worship God and exercise love and good deeds toward one another, we demonstrate in real life, you might say, the fact that God has reconciled us to himself and to one another. We demonstrate to the world that we have been changed, not primarily because we memorize Bible verses, pray before meals, tithe a portion of our income, and listen to Christian radio stations, but because we increasingly show a willingness to put up with, to forgive, and even to love a bunch of fellow sinners.

You and I cannot demonstrate love or joy or peace or patience or kindness sitting all by ourselves on an island. No, we demonstrate it when the people we have committed to loving give us good reasons not to love them, but we do anyway.

Do you see it? It’s right there—right in the midst of a group of sinners who have committed to loving one another—that the gospel is displayed. The church gives a visual presentation of the gospel when we forgive one another as Christ has forgiven us, when we commit to one another as Christ has committed to us, and when we lay down our lives for one another as Christ laid down his life for us.

Together we can display the gospel of Jesus Christ in a way we just can’t by ourselves.

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