Archive for Commentary
Just last month, we celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday. This month we celebrate Black History Month. At this point in the 2017 calendar, some may wonder why we need to keep talking about race. Ironically there are others, primarily people of color, who argue that we aren’t talking about it enough. If the recent presidential election showed us anything it’s the fact that we, as a nation, are far more fractured than many of us realized. Not only are we fractured among political lines, we are still severely fractured among ethnic lines. I used to think that we were simply talking past each other, but it now seems opinions and positions have become so hardened that we’re no longer even listening to one another. We must continue talking about racial issues because the racial fracture that remains in our nation is evidence of deeply rooted sin against God as the creator of humanity—in his image (Genesis 1:26-28)—and God as redeemer of a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural people (Revelation 7:9-17). The existence of a fractured humanity is not new. Adam’s rebellion caused him to turn against Eve (Genesis 3:9-12). And because humanity inherited Adam’s sin, corruption, and guilt, a human race united in language and culture rebelled against God, resulting in human division among ethnic, language, and cultural lines (Genesis 11). Because of sin, brother turned against brother (Genesis 4; 27; 37); nations turned against nations (Genesis 14); and peoples discriminated against peoples based on ethnic identity (Exodus 1; Numbers 12:1). There is nothing new under the sun.
But, contrary to much of the public talk on race and ethnicity, I do not believe reconciliation occurs apart from the gospel. You see, as I spelled out above, the race issue is a sin problem that has been around long before us. And sin problems can only be dealt with by gospel solutions. In Ephesians, the apostle Paul explains that God’s eternal plan is to exalt Jesus as King and Lord over all things (1:21-22) and to unite all things, whether in heaven or on earth, in Christ (1:10). Specifically, in Ephesians 2, Paul argues that in Christ, God is uniting a fractured humanity—Jew and Gentile. As a result, this new humanity, united in Christ by his Spirit through the gospel, now displays the multi-faceted wisdom of God to the cosmic powers (3:10). In other words, as this new humanity lives together as a church in unified diversity (4:1-6), it displays how wise our God is in saving this multi-ethnic, multi-cultural people of God, and it causes the heavens to declare the glory of God (Revelation 7:11-12).
As the display of God’s glory and wisdom, the church reveals to the world what it’s like to live as God’s people under God’s rule. We are God’s ambassadors representing his kingdom to a world fractured by sin. Therefore, we are to show the world the transforming love of God that unites those who were formerly fractured and at war with one another. That is to say, we are to show the world the unified diversity of the kingdom of heaven. To be sure, we are not born again as “mature adults” in Christ. No! We are born again as “infants” in Christ, needing the milk of the word. But, we are not to remain infants in Christ! And Paul explains how we are to grow up into maturity (Ephesians 4). The ministers of the word are given to the church by the ascended Christ (4:11), and they, in turn, equip the church with the word of God (4:12). This preached/taught word is then spoken throughout the congregation—that’s discipleship: speaking the truth in love to one another so that we would all grow up and look more and more like Jesus (4:13).
So, yes, we need to keep talking about racial issues because these are gospel and discipleship issues, just like marriage, parenting, holiness, obedience, etc. Those who are mature need to help those who are still infants (discipleship). We need to encourage one another to represent well God and his rule over our lives while we’re still in this fractured world. We need to show the world true reconciliation and peace so that they may glorify our Father in heaven and embrace his Son as Lord.
How are we to keep talking about these issues? Let’s start by doing it in the proper context. Don’t carry this conversation on in social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.)! It is a dangerous place because we can say things online we would never say to someone’s face. Second, avoid stereotypes. Generalizations describe a general truth about a population: i.e, people born in Puerto Rico generally speak Spanish. Stereotypes, on the other hand, are harmful, even sinful. Stereotypes apply a characteristic (usually negative one) of an individual or small group to an entire demographic: i.e., undocumented immigrants are rapists and murderers. When we classify people with stereotypes, we fail to see them as individuals created as God’s image. Thirdly, listen more than you speak. Learn from one another. Sit down and get to know people who are different than you; ask them lots of questions; hear their stories; and tell them yours. Finally, read! Read various authors on the topic of race, ethnicity. Read the Bible to see what it says; read biblical scholars who explain what the Bible says about race and ethnicity; read African-Americans and Latinos and Asians on race and ethnicity; and read the people who disagree with you to understand where they’re coming from. If you’re only reading the people who agree with you, then you will be stuck in an echo chamber, and you’ll never grow out of infancy. I’ll paraphrase Tim Keller here: “If you read only one person, you’ll become a clone; if you read only a couple of people, you’ll become confused; but if you read many authors, you’ll be able to form your own conclusions.”
I thank God for High Pointe! We are striving to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ in all areas of our Christian lives, including what the Bible says about race and ethnicity. To be sure, some of us are just getting started in this journey, while others are more mature. But, let us speak the truth in love to one another, and let us grow up together in Christ until we all attain a mature manhood that reflects the image of Christ.
Sadly, all the violence around us and in our world no longer shocks us. But that is not to deny that the current violence is evil and leaves behind a sea of suffering and grief. In this midst of such evil, questions abound as a nation attempts to make sense of these tragedies. Unfortunately, many will be left wanting because their worldviews cannot account for such evil. How can a worldview that has such a high view of man and holds that man is basically good provide answers when man commits such horrific evils?
As Christians, when we face such evil and grief and suffering, we must face it with several biblical assumptions. (1) There is such a thing as evil. (2) Because of Adam’s sin, we are all born sinful and capable of great evil. (3) God is absolutely sovereign. (4) God is always good, no matter how bad things seem. (5) God Himself has addressed evil and sin at the cross of His one and only Son, Jesus Christ (Hebrews 2:14-18). With such a biblical foundation, we can face evil and suffering and grief with hope. What might grief look like from a Christian perspective? Let’s look at just one example from Psalm 6.
In Psalm 6, David has fallen into deep depression for some reason that is not immediately apparent to us. Perhaps David’s depression is a direct result of a personal sin; perhaps it is a result of his adversaries (6:8, 10). Whatever the source of David’s dismay, we hear him cry out to God in utter desperation.
First we hear the cry for mercy and grace. He pleads with God to withhold His wrath. God’s wrath is what all sin deserves. If David had sinned, He is asking God to be merciful to him in judging sin. If David had not sinned, then he is merely pleading with God because his suffering seems unbearable. His suffering is such that he feels he is “pining away” (6:2) and wonders how long it will be before God delivers him (6:3).
It is at this point that we hear David’s second cry: the cry for deliverance. David is at a point where he no longer senses God’s presence, so he asks God to “return” so that He would rescue him. David knows he does not deserve such salvation, but he knows that God is a covenant God, so he pleads for salvation based on God’s promise to love His covenant people; this is the lovingkindness of God (6:4).
Next we hear David’s cry of grief. His suffering is so great that he is weary of weeping; he has shed so many tears that his bed is ready to float away (6:6); David is so overwhelmed by suffering that his physical strength has left him (6:7). If you have ever been in such a state of depression then you know what David experienced. You know how difficult it is to get out of bed because you do not have enough strength. You have cried to the point where you think you have no more tears left inside of you, and you wonder if there is anyone to hear your cries; is there anyone who can come to your rescue?
The good news is that there is. David understood this, so he offered a final cry of assurance. He recognized that just like every other time in the past that this time also, the Lord heard his weeping; the Lord heard his prayer. He had confidence that the Lord would answer his prayers (6:8-9) and would make all things right (6:10). Friends, do you have such assurance? Do you have such confidence? You can if you turn to the God who is our ever-present help in time of trouble. God works all His children’s circumstances and sufferings for His ultimate glory and our complete joy and eternal good (Romans 8:28). In the midst of tragedy and grief and suffering put your hope in God!
I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you,
but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.
(1 Corinthians 7:35, ESV)
Let’s face it; singleness is hard! Singleness in our present cultural climate is really hard! While the 1960s led to free sex, where sex outside of marriage became the norm, today there is great cultural pressure to redefine sexuality, gender, and marriage. Christian singles today must navigate this sea of cultural confusion, and they will be tested as to what they believe. In fact, the church itself will be tested as to what it believes about sexuality, gender, and marriage.
However, it does not get any easier for those singles who remain committed to what the Bible teaches regarding sexuality, gender, and marriage. No! For them, they still have to consider all the difficulties and temptations of being single in a sex-crazed, culturally-confused world. So, just what does the Bible teach about being Christian and single? Here are six truths the Bible affirms about singleness.
1. To be single is to be celibate (1 Corinthians 7:1-5). Celibacy is practicing self-control in order to abstain from satisfying sexual desire. Evidently, in Corinth there were some who were married who were practicing such self-control for religious reasons. The apostle Paul argues that celibacy within marriage is contrary to God’s design for sexuality (7:1-5). In fact, marriage is the only place where sexual desire is to be satisfied. Sexual desire is good; it is a part of our humanity. But sex may only be enjoyed within a life-long covenant marriage between one man and one woman (Genesis 2:18-25).
Therefore, when the Bible speaks of Christians who are single, it does not merely refer to someone who is not married. To the world, singles are simply those who are not yet married. One of the reasons singles are putting off marriage today is because sex and marriage have been separated. Therefore, singles may enjoy the benefits of marriage, namely satisfying sexual desire (men) and companionship (women), without any of its responsibilities (commitment). But according to Scripture, since marriage is the only place where sexual desire is to be satisfied (cf. 7:5, 9), then to be single is to be celibate. Having been married now almost 25 years, I can only imagine how hard it is in today’s world for singles to remain celibate. Yet, God does not abandon us to pursue holiness in our own strength.
2. Singleness is a gift of grace from God (1 Corinthians 7:6-9). If singles are to persevere in purity and holiness, then they will need to recognize that celibacy/singleness is a gift of God’s grace. In fact, Paul uses the same word for gift (charisma) that he uses of such spiritual gifts as prophecy, miracles, and tongues. Additionally, Paul reminds us that, like all other spiritual gifts, celibacy is a gift of grace given by God.
Because celibacy/singleness is a gift of grace given by God to certain individuals, then it’s a good gift (cf. 7:38). That means that those of us who are married cannot look down on singles and feel sorry for them, as if somehow they are incomplete. It also means that singles must recognize their season of singleness as a good thing, a good gift, and give thanks to God.
If celibacy/singleness is a good gift from God, then that also means that biblical manhood and womanhood do not depend on being married. In other words, marriage does not make one a true biblical man or woman. Singles, you are to pursue biblical manhood and womanhood as men and women. The clearest picture of biblical manhood we have is that of our Lord Jesus Christ who was never married. So singles are not second class Christians; however, nor are they more spiritual for being single. After all, not everyone has this gift (7:7).
3. Singleness is also a calling that requires a fight of faith (1 Corinthians 7:17-27). Sometimes there is a misunderstanding that because singleness is a gift of God’s grace, then that means that sexual desire is removed, and it is easy to remain celibate. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Admittedly, there may be (rare) individuals who may offer such a testimony, but I suspect that the common experience of every human being is the natural longing for sexual desires to be satisfied.
Celibacy/singleness is not only a gift; it is a calling. Paul says as much in 1 Corinthians 7:17. The “theme” of 1 Corinthians 7 is “remain as you are.” Paul urges the Corinthians to “lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him” (7:17). That includes celibacy. Yet, as we’ve already admitted, celibate singleness is NOT easy; it is hard. It is hard precisely because sexual desire is natural, and celibacy is a call to practice self-control and not satisfy those desires.
Celibacy/singleness, then, is a call to remain unmarried and pursue godliness and sexual purity while unmarried. It is a call that requires a fight of faith to believe that celibacy is a good gift, and that Christ is sufficiently satisfying for every need. It is a fight of faith to believe that sexual desire is only to be satisfied within a life-long marital covenant, and therefore, sexual desire is not to be satisfied alone (self-satisfaction) or with anyone else. And that fight does not have to be entered into alone. So singles, don’t fight alone, gather with the church-older/younger; married/single; those like you/those not like you.
But also know that it is not wrong to pursue marriage. That is much better than to burn with passion and fall into temptation and sin (7:9). Yet, don’t make marriage an idol. If a relationship or marriage becomes an idol, then you will willingly sacrifice all (your purity, convictions, etc.) at its altar. If you are dissatisfied, cynical, and bitter while you are single, you will likely be dissatisfied, cynical, and bitter while you are married.
4. Singleness has certain advantages (1 Corinthians 7:32-34). Being single has certain advantages over being married. Singles have certain freedoms with their finances. They can invest more freely; they can reduce debt more aggressively; they can give more sacrificially. Singles also have certain freedoms with their time. They don’t have to go directly home to a spouse or children; they can freely choose where to invest their time. Singles also have certain freedoms with their plans. They can be flexible about future plans, where marrieds cannot.
There is much freedom and flexibility during singleness that is not available to those who are married. So singles, consider how you are spending your time, your money. Consider the flexibility of your plans. What are you doing with those freedoms? Utilize those freedoms and flexibility to the glory of God.
5. Singleness is purposeful (1 Corinthians 7:35). The freedoms and flexibility of singleness do not exist for personal convenience and benefit, though they may be real blessings. Paul reminds us that the real reason for the advantages of singleness is to secure undivided devotion to the Lord. And if spiritual gifts are for the edification of the church (cf. 12:7), then clearly, the gift of singleness is granted by God to certain individuals for the sake of the Lord and the good of the church.
So singles, ask yourselves how you can serve Christ. Ask yourselves how you can serve the church. I am sure there are multiple opportunities to serve where you are right now. But also remember that with your flexibility, be willing to change your plans and spend some time on the mission field for a few weeks, months, or even years. Who knows but that you may meet your spouse as you pursue Christ in undivided devotion.
6. Like earthly marriage, singleness is temporary. Though Paul does not address this directly in 1 Corinthians 7, he does point us to this truth in Ephesians 5:32. There he says that the profound mystery of the first marriage (cf. Genesis 2:18-25) refers to Christ and his church. In other words, the first marriage was always meant to point to the last marriage (Revelation 19). It is no surprise, then, that the Bible both begins and ends with a marriage. The first marriage ends in death (1 Corinthians 7:39); the last marriage is eternal.
But what’s important for singles to remember is that, while earthly marriage pictures the gospel by showing Christ’s love for his church and the church’s love for Christ, singles picture the gospel by showing the church patiently awaiting her bridegroom to come for her. Jesus is the bridegroom who came to earth, and died to pay the price for the adultery of his bride. He was raised on the third day and is now exalted to the Father’s right hand where he intercedes for his awaiting bride. He is now cleaning us up and preparing us for that great wedding day when we will wear that spotless white wedding dress. And that means that all can come to him and find forgiveness and cleansing, no matter how unscrupulous their past. Jesus receives all who disregard all other lovers and give themselves to him alone.
I thank God for singles, for they remind us of our always faithful bridegroom, and they show us how to wait patiently precisely because Jesus is all-satisfying. You see, singleness is a gift from God with a purpose. Singles, what will you do with that gift?
Resource: @high_pointe sermon media
Singleness: Freedom from Anxiety for Undivided Devotion to the Lord
1 Corinthians 7:1-35
“On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together. . .”
(Acts 20:7, ESV)
Having argued that the Lord’s day (Sunday) is the day chosen by the early church for distinctly Christian corporate worship, how should we approach the Lord’s Day as 21st Century believers? I want to offer four simple exhortations that will help us as we consider gathering together each Lord’s Day.
SET ASIDE the Lord’s day for distinctly Christian worship gatherings! If you are free and able, you should gather with the Lord’s people on the Lord’s day (Sunday). If you are free and able, then set aside the entire day for Christian worship. I say this not as a command (It wasn’t REQUIRED until Constantine), but for concern for your welfare. Use this day to gather with God’s people both formally as we assemble together and informally to eat meals together, pray together, read together, sing together. When you set aside the Lord’s Day and don’t let other things crowd out your schedule, you will find that this day will become much more meaningful as you share it with the brethren. If you are not a faithful part of a local assembly, then commit yourself to a gospel-driven, Christ-exalting church.
PREPARE yourself for gathering with God’s people on the Lord’s day – on Saturday evening and on Sunday morning. Too many times we come to the Christian assembly consumed by the cares of this world. Also, we often arrive distracted by tiredness due to the activities we choose to participate in the previous evening. Consider using Saturday evenings to prepare your hearts and minds for the Lord’s day gathering. Consider the texts that will be preached on Sunday. At High Pointe, we offer meditation passages related to the preaching texts via our weekly email. Read through these passages on Saturday night; share them with your family. And be sure to get a good nights rest.
When you arrive to assemble greet the brethren, then consider the passages that will be read publicly. At High Pointe, they are written in the bulletin for your convenience. Finally, when you hear the pre-praise music begin, join in as we sing praises to our Lord and prepare your minds and hearts for what is about to happen.
DECLARE the Lordship of Christ with God’s people as you gather on the Lord’s day!
1. SING – In singing, we are jointly declaring the Lordship of Christ over all things. Declare with your lips that Jesus is Lord and worthy to receive all glory and honor and praise!
2. PRAY – In praying, we jointly declare our dependence upon Jesus, the Lord who provides for the needs of His people. Therefore, cast all your anxieties upon the Lord.
3. GIVE – In giving, we are declaring the Lordship of Jesus Christ over all our wealth and possessions. Since Jesus is the sovereign Lord who provides everything we need, He is the Lord of everything we have.
4. READ/LISTEN TO THE WORD – In preaching the Word, we are declaring the Lordship of Christ and urging those who do not presently submit to Jesus’ Lordship to repent, bow down or be consumed in His wrath. Be careful how we listen; pray for the preacher; obey the Word!
In all things REST in Christ! Do not rest in what you do: i.e., Lord’s day attendance/participation, membership, giving, etc. Rest in Christ, the Lord of the Sabbath, for His yoke is easy and His burden is light.
“On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together” (Acts 20:7, ESV).
It’s been a while since I’ve posted on this blog. It may be a while before I post again. However, in light of substantial discussion within certain Christian circles, I’ve decided to write a brief series of posts. Specifically, I have had to answer questions regarding some Christians who have become convinced that they should observe the old covenant legal requirements, particularly, forsaking assembling on the Lord’s Day in order to “keep the Sabbath” and gather with a small group or even just their family on Saturdays.
Now, I want to be careful here. Admittedly, the role of the Christian and the Law is one of the more difficult theological issues facing us today. In fact, this is not a new problem; the early Jerusalem church made up of mostly Jewish Christians had to answer the same question when Gentiles began to be converted (see Acts 15).
To be fair, some who profess faith in Christ and trust in Christ (and His work) alone for their justification may enjoy learning about the Passover. Other such Christians may want to restrict their diet and abstain from various foods, say pork. So long as these Christians understand that we can do nothing to gain God’s favor (justification) except to trust in Christ and his saving work on our behalf, we are free concerning diets, days, and personal convictions (cf. Romans 14; Colossians 2).
HOWEVER, the moment someone believes that they MUST observe old covenant regulations such as dietary restrictions (pork) and Sabbaths and feast days, then they condemn themselves. They place themselves under the curse of the Law (Galatians 3:10-14).
Sadly, I am hearing of more and more professing Christians who have fallen prey to false, or at the very least confused, teachers who demand that in order to be faithful, Christians must return to the old covenant and keep Sabbath (meet on Saturday), observe dietary restrictions, and celebrate the festivals. Sadly, such professing Christians isolate themselves from the body of Christ because they refuse to meet with the body of Christ on the Lord’s Day (Sunday). Some, in fact, go as far as to condemn new covenant Christians for meeting on the Lord’s Day. Without realizing it, such professing Christians have fallen for what theologians have called the Galatian heresy (read all of Galatians).
Allow me in what remains of this post to address the question of the day for distinctly Christian worship.
Why is Sunday the traditional gathering day for Christians?
If Christians are no longer under the old covenant/Law, then, we are free from the Mosaic covenant and its sign: the Sabbath. Yet, being free from the Law raises several questions: If Christians are no longer required to keep/observe the Sabbath (Saturday), then . . . (1) Did the early Christians gather at all? (2) If they did gather, then when did they gather: i.e., what day and why that day? (3) What was the purpose of early Christian gatherings? (4) Why should we gather as a church in the 21st century?
After thinking through these questions more carefully, I have come to the following conclusion: the Lord’s Day is, and has been, the gathering day for distinctly Christian worship. The early Jerusalem (mostly Jewish) church observed the Sabbath at first but also gathered on the Lord’s Day/first day of the week for distinctly Christian worship (Acts 2:42-47; 20:7). The fact that the early church observed both means they did not see Sunday as a Christian Sabbath. Sabbath observance for the early Jewish Christians is understandable, but why meet also on the Lord’s Day? Richard Bauckham provides some helpful insight to these questions, making the argument that the Lord’s Day (first day of the week/Sunday) was the distinctly Christian gathering day (see R. J. Bauckham, “Lord’s Day”, in From Sabbath to Lord’s Day, ed. D. A. Carson, pages 221-250). Bauckham’s arguments are carefully made and humbly presented. At the risk of oversimplification, I want to summarize them in three points:
1. The early church met on the Lord’s Day to commemorate Jesus’ Resurrection (Bauckham, 232-245): All four gospels emphasize Jesus’ resurrection on the first day of the week. Though it cannot be proven that this was the reason established for Sunday worship, early Christians did connect gathering on the first day of the week with the Lord’s resurrection (Bauckham, 236, 240). Early church history attests to this fact as well (see Didache, Justin Martyr’s, First Apology, “Christian Worship,” chapter 67).
2. By the end of the first century, “Lord’s Day” is seen to be a technical term already in use in reference to the first day of the week/Sunday, the Christian gathering day (see Bauckham, “Lord’s Day,” 222-232). In fact, the apostle John can say that he was “caught up in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day” without having to provide any further explanation (Revelation 1:10).
3. By the middle of second century, Lord’s Day worship gatherings are the universal practice of the church (Bauckham, “Lord’s Day,” 230).
Some summary implications regarding the Lord’s Day (Sunday) worship gatherings:
1. To those who say “it just doesn’t matter what day we gather,” we’ve already seen above the pattern which begins in the New Testament (Acts 20; Revelation 1) and is attested to early in the history of the church – the Lord’s Day was the chosen gathering day for distinctly Christian worship.
2. To those who insist that everyone keep the Sabbath (meet on Saturday), the apostle Paul reminds us that because of what God has done for us in Christ, we are no longer under the copies and shadows of the old covenant. The old covenant pointed forward to the time when Christ would come. In His life, death, and resurrection Christ has now fulfilled the old covenant; therefore, let no one pass judgment on you, saying that Christians must meet on the Sabbath (Saturday) or abstain from pork or celebrate the Jewish feast days (Col. 2:16-23).
3. To those who apply Sabbath language to the Lord’s Day (Sunday) and suggest that new covenant Christians must keep the “Christian” Sabbath, I would remind you that the apostle Paul gives room to differ on such personal convictions regarding days; nevertheless, if that is your conviction, you must be true to it (sabbatarian or not). Since Paul places such observance of days under the category of personal conviction (see Romans 14:5-9), he also reminds us that we are not to pass judgment on one another on such matters (see Romans 14:10-23). Instead, we are to love one another and not pass judgment (Romans 14:1-13).
However, we cannot confuse the category of personal conviction with foundational doctrines such as justification. It is our duty to warn those we love that no one is justified before God by keeping the Law (Galatians 3:2:15-3:14). Instead, we are all to look to Christ and embrace all He has done on our behalf.
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
(1 Corinthians 13:13, ESV)
If you have ever been a part of any church for any amount of time, then chances are you have witnessed conflict, perhaps even major conflict. This is a sad reality of life and ministry. You would think that a church full of professing Christians would be able to avoid divisions, but the truth of the matter is they don’t. Why is that?
Why are so many churches marked by conflict and animosity? The Corinthian church situation allows us to look into a divided church full of corporate and personal conflicts. There are several facts that may help us to see why conflict arises in churches.
First, divisions arose because of spiritual immaturity (3:1-4:21). Those who were immature placed their favorite “preacher” above the others. Instead, Paul reminded them that they should not boast in men, but in God (3:18-23). After all, ministers are God’s servants (4:1-21).
Second, divisions arose because of spiritual apathy. They simply refused to address sin in the congregation. Whether it was the case of incest (5:1-13), the personal conflicts and unforgiveness (6:1-11), or the sexual immorality (6:12-20), Paul knew that a little leaven leavens the whole lump. Since we are called to be holy, we must address sin in our midst.
Third, and primarily, divisions arose because of spiritual arrogance. This pride raised its ugly head in doctrinal matters. Some of their beliefs led to marital conflicts (7:1-40); others simply looked down at the younger believers (8:1-11:1). Yet others showed spiritual elitism because they were wealthy. The most arrogant, however, were the ones who thought they were really spiritual because of their spiritual gifts. Regardless, though, the root of all conflict is sin. As James reminds us, we have conflict because we think only of ourselves (James 4:1-4). So then, what is the solution?
Christians are united by the foolish message of Jesus Christ crucified as revealed by the Holy Spirit: For this world, the message of the cross is foolishness (1:18-25), “but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1:18). This gospel message reminds us that we were nothing when God called us to salvation; therefore, we cannot boast in self (1:26-31).
This gospel message comes in the power of the Holy Spirit, not in flashy or impressive speech so that our faith would rest in God, not preachers (2:1-5). Of course, the natural (unbelieving) person does not accept these things (2:14-16) because they are revealed by the Holy Spirit (2:6-13). But those whom God calls and sanctifies (makes holy), Christ sustains until the end (1:2, 8). So when Christ changes a life, what should it look like?
Christians who are united by the gospel should be marked by love: when we are marked by love (for God and others), then we will be of one mind. As Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). So, I ask you Christian—are you marked by love? Love is, after all, the mark of the Christian.
Sermon Resource: The Mark of the Christian (Matthew 22:34-40)
Book Resource: The Mark of the Christian, Francis Schaeffer
“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared;
but we know that when he appears we will be like him, because we shall see him as he is.
And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.”
(1 John 3:2-3, ESV)
Parenting is the hardest task I’ve ever been given. It’s like a roller coaster ride. Sometimes things are up; sometimes they’re down; it’s always a fast ride, and you can never anticipate all the turns. The sad thing is that even though I’ve been parenting for over twenty two years, it hasn’t gotten any easier; the truth is that oftentimes I feel like an utter failure. Nevertheless, I will continue to cherish the opportunity God has given me to raise our girls in the discipline and instruction that the Lord requires.
Like all parents, I too want what’s best for my children. Jeanine and I diligently work at home to make sure we are teaching them God’s word in an effort to bring them along to a proper understanding of a gracious and holy God. There is only one problem; children tend to be very much like their parents. Have you noticed? The most humbling moments in our home are when we have realized that our children not only look like us; they act like us. This truth is a double-edged sword.
I believe God gives us these reflections of grace in order that we may understand Him better. I am speaking of reflections such as marriage and parenting, for God has revealed Himself as Father, and we know Jesus as the bridegroom. For example, we received our girls into our family when they were born. Similarly, God receives us into His family when we are born again (John 1:12-13). The good news for us is that as God’s children, we begin to take on the characteristics of our heavenly Father, for God is conforming us to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29).
When you read through 1 John, you will see that John sets out the characteristics of a child of God in contradistinction from the characteristics of a child of the devil. In 1 John you will discover that God is love; therefore, if we are born of God we too will love as a reflection of our Father’s love (1 John 4:7-8). As you read through 1 John, you will notice that the apostle John also emphasizes that God is light; therefore, if we are born of God, we will walk in the light as He is in the light (1 John 1:5-7).
For now, consider how John combines the idea of the holiness of God with the second coming of Christ. Knowing that Christ is righteous, those who are born of God will also be righteous (1 John 2:28). When Christ returns for His bride (the church), those who are His will have no cause for shame, for we will have remained in Him and His righteousness (1 John 2:27). This is the ultimate hope for the Christian, that when Jesus returns we will see Him as He is, and we will be like Him (1 John 3:2-3). This being the case, do not be conformed to this world, “but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2, ESV). If Christ were to come today, would you have any cause for shame? Or, are you in the process of becoming more and more like Him? If you are being conformed to the image of Christ, then you have no need to fear His return.
“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared;
but we know that when he appears we will be like him, because we shall see him as he is.
And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.”
(1 John 3:2-3, ESV)
One of the features of Christian liberalism in the early 1900’s was the teaching of the “Fatherhood of God and the universal brotherhood of man” (see Adolf von Harnack, What is Christianity?, 1900). In other words, liberalism denied that the true gospel message was about exclusive faith in Christ. The result of this understanding is that God is the Father of all, and we are all brothers and sisters. But is this the message of the Bible?
To even propose that God is not the Father of all is at a minimum disturbing for some and at most heretical for others. Therefore, allow me to give two points of clarification before answering the question, “Who is a child of God?” First, all of humanity is God’s offspring in creational terms, that is, in the sense that all humans derive their being from God (Acts 17:22-31). John Stott says it well when he declares that, “Although in redemption terms God is the Father only of those who are in Christ, and we are his children only by adoption and grace, yet in creation terms God is the Father of all humankind, and all are his offspring, his creatures, receiving their life from him” (The Spirit, the Church and The World, 1990).
Second, the Bible affirms God’s love for His creation, particularly His human creation. We were created in His image (Genesis 1:27), and upon His creation of humankind, God declared it was very good (Genesis 1:31). Further, the Bible also affirms that God sent Jesus into the world to save sinners because of His great love for the world (John 3:16) and that He desires all people to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4).
Therefore, to say that God is not the Father of all people is not to deny His role in creation or His great love for the world. However, when we deal with the issue of salvation, the Bible makes a clear distinction between those who are God’s children and those who are children of the Devil (1 John 3:8-10). The Bible clearly states that only those who have been born of God have the right to become children of God (John 1:12-13; see also Romans 8:12-17). How did we become Children of God? The Bible says that although we were by nature children of wrath (Ephesians 2:1-3) and were formerly hostile to God (Colossians 1:21), God has now reconciled us to Himself through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross (Colossians 1:20). In other words, “God rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13). The result of this new birth by which we have been transferred into God’s kingdom is eternal life. Thus, we have a future hope; Jesus is coming again for us (John 14:1-3). Having this hope, we now live, not for this world, but for the world to come. Are you a child of God?
After this He went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And He said to him, “Follow Me.” And leaving everything, he rose and followed Him (Luke 5:27-28, ESV).
Have you ever wondered what Jesus would say about those who profess to be Christians on Sunday, yet live like the world the rest of the week? When we look at Scripture, it’s clear that to be a Christian is to be a whole-hearted follower of Jesus Christ. In Luke 5:27, Jesus noticed a tax collector named Levi and commanded him to follow Him. When Jesus says, “Follow Me” we must follow! And to follow Christ we must be willing to leave everything behind (Luke 5:28). This is what Levi (Matthew) did, and this is what it means to follow Christ.
Notice that there is a cost to following Christ. Jesus said it is foolish to follow Him without counting the cost (Luke 14:28-30). It seems that some today want to follow Christ, but they simply have not counted the cost. What is the cost of following Christ? Let me highlight only three from Luke’s gospel:
Following Christ may cost you your life (Luke 9:23-26). Christ demands your life. In the same way that He lived His life with a focus on His cross of death, so too we who follow Him must be willing to live our lives for His glory and His gospel, realizing it may cost us our lives. This is the reality that Paul spoke of when he said, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).
Following Christ may cost you your family and friends (Luke 12:51-53; 14:25-26). It’s hard for some to understand that our relationship with Christ comes before all other human relationships. Only when we realize this will we truly be able to love those around us. I was the first one to follow Christ in our family, and it created great turmoil. My parents were angry, but realizing the riches of God’s grace, I had to follow Christ. To have followed my parents’ desires would have been to reject Christ and be condemned to eternal damnation. Nevertheless, in God’s great grace, my entire family came to faith in Christ six months later. Thus, though following Christ cost me my family for six months, what I gained was much greater: brothers and sisters in Christ for eternity (Luke 18:29-30).
Following Christ may cost you your possessions (Luke 18:18-27). Jesus warned His disciples about how hard it was for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven: not because God is opposed to wealth but because wealth tends to become people’s master. Jesus warned, “No one can serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24).
The issue of following Christ is not that it WILL cost you these things; the issue is that it MAY. It’s not about having to give these things up when you come to Christ; it’s about being willing to forsake everything to follow Him. Are you a follower of Christ? If not, then what is keeping you from following Christ: fear, friends, family, wealth? “What is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits his own life” (Luke 9:25)?
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4, ESV).
Much confusion exists today over just exactly what the gospel is. In an effort to clarify the gospel some begin with a via negativa. Highlighting what the gospel is not can be very helpful because, unfortunately, the word “gospel” is thrown around quite a bit, and we need to be reminded that just because we use the word “gospel” does not mean we are gospel people. But stating what the gospel is not isn’t sufficient. We must continually remind ourselves what the gospel is, for IT is the power of God for salvation to all who believe and IT is what we need to fight against sin by faith and grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ. There are several places in Scripture where the gospel is briefly summarized; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, is just one of those places. There the apostle Paul reminds us:
The gospel is the revelation of God’s plan to reconcile sinners to Himself (1 Corinthians 15:3). This saving plan was prophesied long ago (1 Peter 1:10-12), revealed to the New Testament apostles and prophets (Ephesians 2:20) and inscripturated for our sake under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:16-21). In other words, the gospel is not a man-made message (Galatians 1:11-2:11) but a divine revelation received (1 Corinthians 15:3).
The gospel is about Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). This saving plan that was revealed in a progressive but limited fashion to the Old Testament prophets, then fully disclosed to the New Testament apostles and prophets concerns Jesus Christ (Romans 1:1-4). God reconciles all things to Himself through Jesus (Colossians 1:19-21). Consequently, the Father sent Jesus at the appropriate time in history to face the “hour” of His death on the cross for us (John 12:23-28; 17:1). In this sense we may also say that the gospel is an unrepeatable event in history.
Thus, the heart of the gospel is the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, for this historical event was the plan which has now been revealed (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).
1. Jesus Christ died as a propitiatory sacrifice for sin (1 Corinthians 15:3; Hebrews 2:14-17). We are sinners born in sin who owe a debt too large to pay (Romans 6:23). Thus, the gospel is not a message of what we must do to redeem ourselves—that’s religion. The gospel message announces that only the Father can cancel the debt of sin that we owe by counting it against Jesus, His own Son (Colossians 2:13-14; cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21). This penal-substitutionary death was according to the Scriptures (Isaiah 53:4-5).
2. Jesus Christ was buried. The point here is that contrary to Greek philosophical ideas that Jesus only appeared to die, He really died, and He really was buried (cf. Isaiah 53:9).
3. Jesus Christ was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:4; see also Acts 2:23-32). Without the resurrection there is no gospel, no good news. Without the resurrection we are still in our sins (1 Corinthians 15:12-18). The resurrection reminds us that in the same way Jesus was raised, all who hope in Him will also be raised.
What are we to do with this gospel?
1. We are to repent (turn away) from our sins and receive Jesus’ work on our behalf by faith (1 Corinthians 15:1-2; Mark 1:14-15).
2. We are to remain in this gospel by faith (1 Corinthians 15:1-2), for the gospel is that on which Christians stand. In other words, we will never outgrow the gospel.
3. We are to proclaim this gospel, for it is the only hope of salvation to the world (1 Corinthians 15:1, 3). This is the gospel priority (1 Corinthians 15:3). It was Jesus’ priority (Luke 4:18, 42-44); it was Paul’s priority (Acts 20:24; 1 Corinthians 1:17; 9:23); it should be our priority (Mark 16:15; Luke 24:44-47).