Archive for Theology
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.
On Sunday, September 11, 2016, we tackled the weighty issue of religion and politics. In the morning service, I preached from 1 Peter 2:13-17, in order to help us think biblically about how Christians should relate to governing authorities and how to think about the upcoming presidential elections. If you would like to listen to that message, you can find it here: Thinking Biblically About Government and Politics (1 Peter 2:13-17).
On Sunday evening, we had the privilege of hosting a forum on God and Politics. You can find it here: High Pointe Forum on Christianity & Politics. Pastor Ben Wright’s 35 points were so helpful that I asked his permission to provide them to you in full. Here they are below. Please carefully, thoughtfully, and prayerfully work through each one.
9/11/16 God & Politics Forum | 35 principles Christians can agree on
Why do we need to talk about this?
- We have to because Jesus Christ reigns over all. As his ambassadors, our job is to live as his representatives and declare his message.
What’s government for?
- Government’s mission to punish evil and reward good (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17).
Should we be favorably inclined toward government?
- Almost any government is better than no government.
- Because we are a representative or constitutional democracy, the responsibilities delegated to government in Scripture fall ultimately to American citizens.
- We owe government prayer, taxes, respect, and honor.
- You are not in sin if you oppose elected officials or their policies. You are in sin if you do not honor them and pray for them.
- Christians should be engaged in politics and government.
- Opportunities abound at local levels to engage influentially.
- It is right to be grateful for how our government has fought evil and promoted good.
- It is easy for white middle class people to believe our government did a great job fighting evil and promoting good throughout our history.
- Whatever era of American history you look back to as the ideal certainly wasn’t ideal for everyone. In every era, people have suffered under injustice that was tolerated, if not propagated, by our government and our culture.
- It is possible to be both compassionate & treat people with the dignity of divine image-bearers, and at the same time to favor enforcing the law & supporting law enforcement.
- Government is neither the fundamental problem nor the fundamental solution.
- Politicians often identify real problems but propose terrible solutions.
- We should be grateful but realistic, knowing government officials are fallen humans, just as we are.
How might we be thinking poorly about Christianity & politics?
- Our membership in a church and our citizenship in Jesus’ Kingdom are more fundamental to our identity than our American citizenship (When we forget this, we are thinking poorly about Christianity & politics).
- It is possible, if not common, for Christians to prioritize political convictions over the Church’s mission.
- What happens in elections has zero impact on Jesus’ promise to build his Church and the Holy Spirit’s work to make that happen.
- Our political opponents are our neighbors, not our enemies. They are people we are sent on a mission to reach, not to war against.
- Religious freedom is good and desirable.
- God doesn’t need religious freedom in America to accomplish his plan.
- It is possible to possess righteous anger over government’s failure to fulfill its God-given mission.
- Other people may perceive real failures of government that are invisible to us, and we should learn from them.
- Unrighteous anger reveals how shallow is our trust in God.
- It is dangerous, if not common, to treasure American laws and freedom more than souls being set free from the penalty of sin and power of the devil.
- It is possible, if not likely, to cast a morally justifiable vote while possessing immoral motivations.
- People who argue there’s only one choice for Christians to make in this election year are placing a constraint on the Christian conscience that Scripture does not permit.
- Disagreements among Christians over how to vote often emerge less from disagreements over principles, and more from disagreements over how we weigh our principles.
- We need to figure out what principles we really stand on. Until then, we should guard our pronouncements.
- It is possible, if not likely, that in this election Satan is executing a strategy designed to divide the Church & distract it from its mission.
- From an eternal perspective, we should be far more concerned about the disunity of the Church and distraction from our mission than the disintegration of historic American political principles.
- Christians need to be people who are committed to work through these issues without allowing them to divide us.
- The normal standing of Christians is on the margins of society. We should expect opposition and suffering.
- Anger, fear, and despair over the loss of a privileged standing are not marks of people who understand what it means to follow Christ. They may be marks of people who treasure American citizenship more than citizenship in the kingdom of God.
- If this election season drives American Christians to dislodge our hope in political parties and presidential candidates and to fix our hope on the gospel of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, then this election season will be God’s grace to his Church.
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!
“Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry!”
(1 Corinthians 10:14, ESV)
In a city full of temples for false gods (Poseidon, Aphrodite, Asklepios, Apollo, Demeter, Kore . . .), the apostle Paul warned the Corinthians to flee idolatry (1 Cor. 10:14). Paul’s heart was to present everyone mature in Christ (Col. 1:28-29), so in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Paul exhorted the Corinthians to run in such a way as to win the prize! The Corinthian Christians found themselves at a crossroads – whether to continue in Christ or be swept away by their idolatry just as had happened to Israel (1 Cor. 10:1-5). Paul urged them to press on!
Now, we may not have temples to such gods in our cities, but rest assured that we have created manageable deities that function similarly; therefore, we require the same warnings today. In such a context the Bible’s message is clear: Those who crave sin, that is idolaters, will not enter into the kingdom of God. This is a consistent warning from the apostle Paul (Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 5:3-5). It is because of such sinful cravings that the wrath of God is coming (Eph. 5:6).
This is the example (type) unbelieving Israel leaves for us (1 Cor. 10:6-11). Unbelieving Israel loved self and pleasure and craved sin (Ex. 32-Golden Calf; Num. 25-Baal of Peor; Num. 21-craving food and water; Num. 11-craving food and grumbling) more than they craved God – this is idolatry!
This is the danger in which the Corinthians found themselves (1 Cor. 6:9-10). If the Corinthians persisted in craving sin, which is idolatry, then like Israel before them, they too would be disqualified from entering God’s kingdom (1 Cor. 10:5). Paul’s basic argument is that you cannot participate in Christ (represented by the celebratory meal-Lord’s Supper) and at the same time participate in demons (represented by the celebratory meal in the temples) (1 Cor. 10:14-22). The sad truth is that we face the same danger today in our culture (Matt. 6:24), though not with physical idols. Our temptation is with idols of the heart. The evidence of our idolatry is in the sacrifices we make to our substitute gods: marriage, children (born and unborn), health, work, play, money, possessions, power, popularity, etc.
If this is the case (that we are prone to idolatry of the heart), then what can we do? What must we do? Paul points us in two directions. First, Paul warns that we should take heed lest while we think we have stood, we fall (1 Cor. 10:12). In other words, we should examine ourselves (2 Cor. 13:5). I suggest we begin with examining ourselves in order to identify and expose our idols. Secondly, we are to flee idolatry (1 Cor. 10:7, 14).
In next week’s Straight to the Heart, I will define idolatry in order that we may identify and expose our idols by asking certain questions of ourselves. Then the following week I will address the issue of fleeing idols. In the meantime, I highly encourage you to do three things:
- Listen to Tim Keller’s address at The 2009 Gospel Coalition Conference where he addresses the issue of idolatry – “The Grand Demythologizer: The Gospel and idolatry: available at http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/resources/video/The-Grand-Demythologizer-The-Gospel-and-Idolatry.
- Read David Clarkson’s sermon titled, “Soul Idolatry Excludes Men from Heaven,” available at http://spurgeon.wordpress.com/2009/04/24/david-clarkson-soul-idolatry-excludes-men-out-of-heaven/
- Read Tim Keller’s Counterfeit Gods.
“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.
“If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come”
(1 Timothy 4:6-8, ESV).
As Americans, we spend lots of money, time and energy trying to either get fit or stay fit. While being or getting physically fit is important and may even be God-glorifying (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), the apostle Paul reminds us that it is only of limited value. Training for spiritual fitness, however, is of eternal value (1 Timothy 4:8). Therefore, argues Paul, we are to train ourselves for godliness because it is of value for this life and the life to come. But what does it mean to train for godliness? Let’s follow Paul’s argument.
Note the command and Paul’s argument. Stated negatively, Paul warns against having anything to do with irreverent (godless) babble and silly myths. Positively, Paul commands that we train ourselves for godliness (1 Timothy 4:7). To train for godliness, then, seems to be the opposite of giving oneself over to the false knowledge that comes from false teaching. It is giving oneself over to “the words of the faith” (i.e., the gospel), and the good doctrine that flows out of that gospel (1 Timothy 4:6). In other words, to train for godliness is to train oneself in the true knowledge of God that comes from giving oneself over to God’s Word.
At this point some may argue that such training sounds and smells like legalism. But training for godliness is not legalism because this true knowledge of God begins as a gift of grace at salvation, and this true knowledge of God is a gift of grace for sanctification (2 Peter 1:3-4). Having received this knowledge of God and His saving power, we must continue to grow in this knowledge – this is what it means to train in godliness. It is only legalistic if you believe yourself to be gaining God’s favor by your actions. But if we receive God’s gracious Word and take it in by faith, then we are seeking to grow in our knowledge of God through Christ by His revelation to us. But you may still wonder how to go about such training?
To be sure, the Lord grants us many different means of grace (ordinances, one another, gathering as a church, etc.), but here I want to emphasize the foundational means of grace for our sanctification: God’s Word illuminated by God’s Spirit. Donald Whitney in his book The Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian life calls this Bible intake. God has mercifully not left us in the dark to figure things out. Our Lord Jesus promised to be with us by His Spirit, and the Holy Spirit guided certain men to record the Word of God about Christ. That’s what the Bible is: God’s Word about Jesus. If we are to know God, that is, understand who He is (character, attributes) and His ways, then we must take up the gracious gift of God’s Word and read it, study it, memorize it, meditate on it, hear it read and preached, and even sing it. If we are to understand the Bible itself, we must read it because earlier passages of Scripture shed light on later passages of Scripture and vice versa.
To train in godliness, then, is to train diligently in the knowledge of God in Christ by giving yourself over to the gospel and the doctrines that flow from the gospel – that’s Bible intake (Hos. 4:6)! So, establish a time and a place, then find a plan and begin by faith. It is hard work; after all, Paul calls it training. Taking the Bible in and hearing it, reading it, studying it, memorizing it, meditating on it, singing it is merely hearing God and getting to know Him in the manner in which He has graciously revealed Himself to us. Let us train together and grow in spiritual fitness!
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)?
Tonight I have the joy of gathering with those who help lead our corporate worship gatherings at High Pointe. As I was preparing for our teaching on John 4, I was reminded of D. A. Carson’s comprehensive definition of worship in Worship by the Book (26):
Worship is the proper response of all moral, sentient beings to God, ascribing all honor and worth to their Creator-God precisely because he is worthy, delightfully so. This side of the fall, human worship of God properly responds to the redemptive provisions that God has graciously made. While all true worship is God-centered, Christian worship is no less Christ-centered. Empowered by the Spirit and in line with the stipulations of the new covenant, it manifests itself in all our living, finding its impulse in the gospel, which restores our relationship with our Redeemer-God and therefore also with our fellow image-bearers, our co-worshipers. Such worship therefore manifests itself both in adoration and in action, both in the individual believer and in corporate worship, which is worship offered up in the context of the body of believers, who strive to align all the forms of their devout ascription of all worth to God with the panoply of new covenant mandates and examples that bring to fulfillment the glories of antecedent revelation and anticipate consummation.
Here is David Peterson’s initial definition of worship from Engaging with God: A Biblical Theology of Worship (20):
The worship of the living and true God is essentially an engagement with him on the terms that he proposes and in the way that he alone makes possible.
“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”
(James 3:17-18, ESV)
The gospel is a gospel of peace. It declares that since the time of Adam’s sin we have been born into this world as God’s enemy: hostile in mind and engaged in evil deeds (Colossians 1:21) against God (Romans 8:7). The most holy God had every right to declare the differences between Him and us irreconcilable. Yet, in His wisdom and love God chose to reconcile us to Himself through Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:5). By judging our sin at the cross of Christ, Holy God is able to reconcile to Himself us who receive Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf by faith.
Through Christ, we who have been reconciled to God have also been given a ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-21). As ministers of reconciliation, we proclaim this gospel of reconciliation to the world in order that all peoples may be reconciled to God through the death of Christ. But our ministry of reconciliation does not end there, for we must continue living in the light of the reconciling work of Christ. Consequently, we must live our lives reconciled to one another.
Even though we Christians have been reconciled to God through Christ, far too many professing Christians still live in conflict with others. Such conflict is manifested in marriages, homes, workplaces, even church relationships. Unfortunately, many of us address such conflicts according to worldly wisdom rather than heavenly wisdom. This is why Christians have as many divorces as non-Christians, why they stop talking to fellow Christians, why they leave churches over conflict, and why churches even split over conflict.
What kind of Christian testimony do we offer this world if we are reconciled to God through Christ but fail to be reconciled to one another? One of the most powerful witnesses we can provide our community is the witness of reconciled relationships that flow from being reconciled to God. If we are to live in such an atmosphere, then we must cultivate a culture of peace. According to Ken Sande, author of The Peacemaker, a culture of peace is a culture where “people are eager and able to resolve conflict and reconcile relationships in a way that clearly reflects the love and power of Jesus Christ” (291). If we are to cultivate such a culture of peace, then we must have a biblical strategy for resolving conflict. Sande offers the following counsel (the four “G’s”):
Glorify God (1 Corinthians 10:31). Our entire lives must be motivated by a desire to glorify God. Get the log out of your eye (Matthew 7:5). We must first look at our own hearts in order to discern our contributions to conflicts. Gently restore (Galatians 6:1). The Bible gives us clear instruction in approaching those with whom we have conflict. Go and be reconciled (Matthew 5:24). Once we have addressed conflict, we must be willing to restore relationships.
Let us cultivate a culture of peace in our home and in our church. May we be about God’s glory, and address conflict biblically by first looking at our own hearts, then approaching one another with the goal of reconciled relationships that give evidence to the fact that we are a people reconciled to God through Jesus Christ.