Saturday, October 3, 2015
The word awesome gets thrown around for a lot of different things, but it genuinely applies to Jesus. The more we get to know Him, the more awe He inspires.
I know that is is not really popular for many Christians to study the Old Testament, especially the book of Leviticus. Yet, the books of Moses are extremely helpful in understanding the awe-inspiring nature of Jesus. In fact, Jesus plainly taught that Moses wrote about Him:
"You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life. I do not receive glory from men; but I know you, that you do not have the love of God in yourselves. I have come in My Father's name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, you will receive him. How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God? Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; the one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?" (John 5:39-47, NASB, bold added for emphasis)
One thing that always stands out to me as I read through Leviticus is how often the Law instructs about how to avoid becoming unclean. This term is a ceremonial and religious term, not necessarily a sanitary term. That is, it speaks more about a spiritual condition that separates the unclean, at least temporarily, from the fellowship of the community and from the Lord.
The book of Leviticus speaks about being unclean or uncleanness 128 times in 90 verses, which means that some verses mention these things two or three times. The book of Leviticus itself is composed of 859 verses, which means that the words "unclean" or "uncleanness" appear explicitly in more than 10% of the book, with the surrounding verses often continuing the discussion.
While this may be boring to some New Testament believers, the reality is that for the nation of Israel, it was incredibly important that they know and understand how to remain ceremonially clean. This was huge for their life and worship of the God of the Bible.
In order to maintain their ritual cleanness, one of the most important factors was keeping away from unclean things, because making contact with unclean things would transmit uncleanness to whatever touched it. For example, "Or if a person touches any unclean thing, whether a carcass of an unclean beast or the carcass of unclean cattle or a carcass of unclean swarming things, though it is hidden from him and he is unclean, then he will be guilty. Or if he touches human uncleanness, of whatever sort his uncleanness may be with which he becomes unclean, and it is hidden from him, and then he comes to know it, he will be guilty." (Leviticus 5:2-3, NASB)
The prophet Haggai was sent to prophecy to the remnant that returned to Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile. They had been living among an unclean people for 70 years! One of his prophetic purposes was to stir the people to rebuild the Temple that had been destroyed. After they had begun working to rebuild the Temple, Haggai was given a word from the Lord and he asked the priests a question regarding holiness and uncleanness. This summary is helpful for those of us who do not fully grasp the teaching of the Old Testament Law on clean and unclean.
"Thus says the LORD of hosts, 'Ask now the priests for a ruling: If a man carries holy meat in the fold of his garment, and touches bread with this fold, or cooked food, wine, oil, or any other food, will it become holy?'" And the priests answered, "No." Then Haggai said, "If one who is unclean from a corpse touches any of these, will the latter become unclean?" And the priests answered, "It will become unclean." Then Haggai said, "'So is this people. And so is this nation before Me,' declares the LORD, 'and so is every work of their hands; and what they offer there is unclean." (Haggai 2:11-14, NASB)
The priests rightly understood that holiness is not transmitted from one thing to another, but uncleanness is. Put another way, the uncleanness of a thing is able to infect and corrupt even holy things and make them unclean.
This is incredibly important for understanding the nature of the gospel and the difference from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant.
Under the Old Covenant, remaining clean was important, and since uncleanness is transmitted by contact, a prime strategy for remaining clean is to eliminate any contact with the unclean.
This entire idea is exemplified in the holiness of the nation of Israel, being called to be "set apart" from the surrounding nations. Israel was not to mingle with the nations, lest the uncleanness of the nations defile and corrupt God's holy people. There was a way for the nations to become incorporated and "cleansed" through taking the Law upon themselves and becoming proselytes. However, the Jewish nation as a whole was to remain set apart and this was exemplified within the lives of individuals.
It's why the Pharisees were so disgusted about Jesus and His ease around sinners, who were the unclean in their midst. For example, when Jesus was visiting with Simon the Pharisee and a woman came and washed Jesus' feet with her tears and anointed His feet with perfume: "Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, 'If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner.'" (Luke 7:39, NASB)
The Pharisee's attitude is understandable, since the contact from an unclean person would be transmitted to whoever touches them. Therefore, in their view, Jesus was allowing Himself to be made unclean and didn't seem all that concerned about it.
While many professing Christians can read accounts like this one and scoff at the attitude of the Pharisees, it is this same attitude that causes many in our day to separate themselves from the "bad" people in the world and create a Christian-bubble around our own families, belongings, and lives.
We don't want to be around those that may corrupt us.
We may use different language, but the concept is the same. We are living as though our ritual cleanliness will be spoiled by contact with the unclean.
Now, certainly there are passages in the New Testament that warn about participating in the deeds of darkness, which Jesus never did. Although Jesus may have allowed sinners to hear His teaching and to wash His feet, Jesus was not a sinner. He did not participate in their deeds.
What is more amazing, is that Jesus never became unclean by this contact.
Leviticus 22:4-6 teaches that touching a leper (among other unclean things) makes the one who touches them unclean. God affirmed that the priests were correct when they answered Haggai by saying that holiness is not transmitted by contact, but uncleanness is.
Except with Jesus.
"And a leper came to Him and bowed down before Him, and said, 'Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.' Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, 'I am willing; be cleansed.' And immediately his leprosy was cleansed." (Matthew 8:2-3, NASB, bold added for emphasis)
Like I said before, Jesus is awesome.
All of the teaching on clean and unclean was meant to point us to Christ.
The nation of Israel was set up as an example.
Human beings are born with a sinful nature, and as such everything we touch, think, and do is defiled by our sin. This is why it is impossible for us, in our natural state, to do even one good thing.
"For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away." (Isaiah 64:6, NASB)
Yet, Jesus is able to make us clean. Jesus is able to cause us to be born-again and to receive a new nature. Jesus is able to purify us and make us acceptable in the sight of God.
Jesus can, because He is awesome.
Anyone who thinks that Jesus was just another guy, or a prophet, or whatever else, doesn't grasp that in order for Jesus to be able to transmit holiness, He must be so much more than just a human being. Jesus was and is God incarnate, come for the salvation of all who will repent and believe.
For those of us who have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus, we are now called to go into all the world and preach a crucified Messiah. We are not to participate in the deeds of the world, but we are also not called to "protect" ourselves from those who we deem to be unclean. Instead of setting ourselves apart from them, we are to bring them news of the One who is able to make them clean, if they will only repent and trust in Him.
Are you living like a Pharisee or are you living like Jesus?
Saturday, September 5, 2015
However, the march toward adulthood is inevitable. Every day, we all get older. As a parent, I must be aware that my children are growing up, whether I like it or not.
But maturity is not the same as age. It is possible to get older while never really growing up.
When I say that I desire for my children to grow up to full maturity, what I mean is that I desire for my children to realize their potential and grow to be responsible adults.
I don't want my three sons to live in my house indefinitely, expecting their mother to cook and clean for them, into their thirties and forties. Part of my responsibility as a father is to steward these children that God has so graciously given us properly, so that they can be delivered safely into maturity when the time arrives.
As Christians, we have a heavenly Father who likewise desires that we grow to full maturity in Christ. Like our natural growth, spiritual maturity is not the same as spiritual age. We are not necessarily more mature simply because we have been Christians for a long time. To think that maturity and age are the same is to be woefully deceived.
In Ephesians 5:17 the Apostle Paul writes, "So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is." This is good counsel. In order to understand what Paul means about the will of the Lord, we must understand what he has been writing about through the book of Ephesians.
Paul is writing about God's will that the church reach full maturity for the praise and glory of His name. This fullness comes by God's sovereign design.
The first chapter of Ephesians is filled with some of the deepest theology you will find anywhere in the Bible. This chapter touches on the work of the triune God is redeeming a people for Himself. It discusses the Father's plan to choose a people for Himself from before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before Him (Eph 1:3-4). It tells of His predetermined plan to adopt us into His family through Christ, to the praise of the glory of His grace (Eph 1:5-6). And, this chapter tells us that God made known to us His plan and that God revealed the mystery of His will which He has purposed in Christ, with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ (Eph 1:9-10).
That last part is so important to really understand.
God had a plan before He even made the world to redeem a people for Himself, in and through Christ, to be for the praise of His glory (Eph 1:12). This means that the very existence of the church - our very being - is supposed to bring glory to God's amazing, transformative, and redemptive grace which He has so lavishly and freely bestowed on us in Christ.
God then made known the mystery of His will, so that we who have been adopted into His family would understand what He is doing. When Paul states in Ephesians 5:11 that we are not to be foolish, but to understand what the will of the Lord is, it is safe to say that he expects his readers to remember what he is describing here in Ephesians 1.
God has a plan, and He has a means of achieving that plan. God has given grace to achieve His goals. God has designed an administration that is suitable to the fullness of the times, which is the summing up of all things in Christ (Eph 1:10). This administration points to God's gracious oversight of the process of transforming dead sinners into living saints, who will be for the praise of God's glorious grace. This is essentially the topic of Ephesians chapter 2.
Right before discussing God's transformative, redemptive grace in chapter 2, Paul makes this astonishing statement at the end of chapter 1: "And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all" (Eph 1:22-23).
Sometimes I hear professing Christians say disparaging things about the church. We should be very careful with such statements.
By divine design, the church is Christ's body on earth. By divine design, the church is the fullness of Him who fills all in all.
Let that sink in.
If what we perceive as the church does not fit this description, either we are looking at the wrong thing or we are failing to walk in the grace that God has given because we've decided that we have a better design for God's church.
Paul's expectation of God's working through His glorious church was extremely high, saying, "Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen" (Eph 3:20-21).
Since God has a plan and a design, since He has made His will known, and since He has already put all things in subjection under Christ because it is God's will that the church be the fullness of Him who fills all in all, Paul has no problem asserting that God's power is at work within us to bring glory to the church and Christ Jesus for all generations, forever and ever.
This is awesome stuff.
It also requires responsibility on our end, as God's adopted children. This is why in the very next sentence Paul writes, "Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called" (Eph 4:1). Paul implores the saints to understand the will of the Lord and to walk in a worthy way, according to God's grace and design.
It is in this line of thought that Paul describes most fully the administration that God has designed and given, by His grace, for the growth of the body into the fullness of Christ.
Really take a moment to wrap your mind around this.
God has a design and a will. He has made it known. He desires for the church to be the fullness of Him who fills all in all. He entrusted Paul with a stewardship of God's grace to proclaim this design (Eph 3:1-10) of God's administration, which is given to bring about the full maturity of the body.
Paul tells us that each individual member has received grace (Eph 4:7), and to the whole body the risen Jesus has given officials to equip the body "until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ" (Eph 4:13, emphasis added).
These officers are the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.
Fullness doesn't happen by accident. It happens by the grace of God, according to the administration that God designed for the purpose of bringing about full maturity.
It happens by the body of Christ understanding the will of the Lord and submitting themselves to Christ's design, to the praise of His glorious grace.
Without the apostles and prophets - the foundation (Eph 2:18-3:10) - we would have no idea what God's divine will was. Thankfully, God has revealed the mystery of His will through His apostles and prophets, and we have this revelation now recorded in the Scriptures.
Christians must submit ourselves to the biblical revelation, which is where the apostles and prophets have been preserved. The book of Ephesians is a part of this apostolic foundation.
If we survey the body of Christ, we see many pastors and teachers who exist for the equipping of the saints in every local church.
However, one element is conspicuously absent from God's revealed design: the evangelists.
Our modern idea of evangelists has pushed them out into para-church ministry and re-defined them as the primary ministers to the lost. But the apostolic foundation says that Christ gave these officers for the equipping of the church not for the reaching of the lost.
The church exists to reach the lost and make disciples, not just the evangelists.
By pushing out evangelists to the fringe (at best) of the church, it is no wonder many look at "the church" today and think it falls short of Paul's lofty comments.
We have strayed from the design, and as a result we are walking foolishly. We are walking according to our own designs, and not according to the fullness of God's revealed administration for bringing about full maturity in every member of the body of Christ.
By the grace of God, we can understand what the will of the Lord is and can once again walk wisely in His gracious plan, according to His power which is at work within us.
If you do not have the blessing of an evangelist in your local church leadership, Fourth Year Ministries can help. We would love to serve you and help the body of Christ re-discover God's glorious design for bringing about full maturity in the saints.
Saturday, August 1, 2015
Maybe you do, too.
I bet you can at least relate.
By nature, I think from my perspective and often (more often than I'd usually like to admit!) pursue my agenda.
I like to do, what I like to do, when I like to do it, where I like to do it, how I like to do it, and with whomever I like to do it.
I think you do, too.
Sometimes we are good at hiding this self-centeredness. I believe that it is possible to have genuinely altruistic moments--that is, moments where we put others self-interest above our own well-being. Sometimes powerful emotions, like love, hate, and disgust, can cause us to act contrary to our self-centered notions.
As Christians, we are given the gift of God's grace through His Son, Jesus Christ, when we repent of our self-centered ways and trust in Christ alone. In the modern noise that is "Christianity" - if you take the time to really listen - you will often hear a false gospel that appeals to the self-centered, invidualistic nature of human beings.
This false gospel appeals to the desires and felt-needs of the individual.
This false gospel fails to mention or emphasize biblical repentance.
A gospel without repentance is no gospel at all.
Don't take my word for it, just read what Jesus said in Luke 13:1-5, where He boldly tells His hearers that unless they repent they will perish. Those verses happen to be right before the parable where the name of our ministry comes from (Fourth Year Ministries), which are related to unrepentant, fruitless individuals and ministries.
The prophet Isaiah declared that we all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us to our own way (see Isa 53:6a), which is a prophetic description of our own self-centeredness. We each go astray, each to our own way.
This sin of self-centered, self-willed, rebellion against God-centered living (which is required) was put upon the Messiah, as prophesied by Isaiah in the second half of that same verse: But the LORD caused the iniquity of us all / To fall on Him (Isa 53:6b).
To receive this gift of salvation, we must repent and believe the good news. We must stop living self-centered lives (each of us going astray, each to his own way), and must turn toward the living God, and begin living God-centered lives.
This is the genuine gospel call, and Paul was excited to see that those who believed on Jesus for their salvation in Thessalonica did just this: For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come. (1 Thess 1:9-10)
Wrath from God is due towards our self-centeredness. To give people a gospel call without repentance is to encourage them to continue living self-centered lives that are not God centered, but God flavored.
This type of false conversion is an understandable response by a person who wants to continue living their own way, but also wants to go to heaven when they die. Their lives in this life are marked by professions of faith, which are denied by their deeds and lifestyles.
We are not the first generation of Christ followers to deal with this. In fact, it has happened since the beginning.
They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed. (Titus 1:16)
For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these. (2 Tim 3:2-5, bold added for emphasis)
When I notice the self-centeredness in myself, as a follower of Christ, I don't need to try harder. That's the self-centered, American way of responding. This is sin and going my own way, albeit in a God flavored way.
Instead, the biblical response is confess my self-centeredness is a sin, die to myself, so that Christ can live through me. In order to make this possible, Christ has given every follower of His the indwelling Holy Spirit, who desires to live in and through His people, for the praise and glory of God.
Hopefully, everything above is basic to you. After all, these are the fundamentals of the faith and simply are part of the foundational teaching of Christianity. Hebrews 6:1 makes this plain: Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God... (Heb 6:1).
The purpose of this post is to direct our attention to something else, that is less basic and more subtle: the affect of our self-centered nature on our theology.
Even Christians who understand biblical repentance still revert back to self-centered reading of the Scriptures and self-centered consumption of Christian teaching, seeking what they believe will best benefit themselves and their personal relationship with God.
The very terminology "personal relationship with God" emphasizes the self-centered and self-oriented emphasis of modern Christianity.
Don't get me wrong - one of the coolest truths of biblical Christianity is that individuals are redeemed to God through faith in Christ. I genuinely have a personal relationship with my Father, through Christ, and I hope you do, too. However, to stop here is to be too narrow in our focus.
God is not primarily interested in redeeming individuals.
I have heard it preached as part of teachings and also as calls to salvation that Jesus would have come and died if it was only for you. That is a powerful statement.
It is also false.
If Jesus came only for you, then He would be a failure and the entire mission of God - to redeem a people for Himself from every tribe, tongue, and nation - would be a failure, too.
This is self-centered, man-pleasing preaching at its finest. It appeals to the flesh and makes the individual the major focus of the gospel. That's what we want to hear, if we are self-centered.
The genuine gospel is much bigger than the individual. It is a genuinely God-sized gospel. A genuinely God-sized gospel is wayyyyy bigger than the supposed "hole" in any one individuals heart.
God is interested in redeeming a people for Himself. This people is to be reconciled to Himself, through Christ, from every tribe, tongue, and nation.
Listen to how Paul describes his personal ministry from the risen Christ:
To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him. (Eph 3:8-12)
To really understand this, we have to take off our "ME-centered" glasses and put on "God-centered" glasses. God gave a ministry to Paul, which was to proclaim the mystery which was previously hidden in the Creator God. Preaching this mystery is intended to bring to light the unfathomable riches of Christ and to reveal what God is really up to in this world that He has made.
This amazing wisdom of God is supposed to be made known through the church to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. All of this is in accordance with God's eternal purpose which he carried out in Christ. It is through Christ that we - all who have repented of their sin and put their faith in Him alone for salvation from the wrath that is to come - have boldness and confident access to our relationship with God.
Really let that sink in.
God has an eternal purpose, which is bound up in His eternal character. To think of this another way, this is related to answering the most important questions about meaning in all of existence: Why did God create the world at all? The answer is because it was His eternal purpose (before the world was made) to reconcile a people to Himself in Christ, and through those reconciled people to make known his amazing wisdom to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.
When I resort back to self-centered living, my self-centered reading of the Bible will naturally lead to me focusing on my individual relationship with God. However, if I allow a God-centered reading to dominate, then I can see that God intends for me to emphasize my relationship with him within the ministry of the church, which is to proclaim His excellencies and make His kingdom and gospel known.
God is reconciling a people to Himself through Christ. This completed work of the Messiah has disarmed the powers of the kingdom of darkness (Col 2:13-15) and made it possible for the captives of sin, death, and the devil to be set free in Christ. As a result, these who have been raised to spiritual life from spiritual death are now called to live God-centered lives, which means we are to live in accordance with God's eternal purpose.
We are supposed to live to declare the awesome grace of God.
This doesn't mean that I I should live my life like everyone else in the world, who is pursuing the various lusts and impulses of their flesh (things like retirement, memories, or anything else from this fading world), but that I get a "go directly to heaven when I die" card, even though their pursuit of their various lusts and impulses will result in judgment.
Your relationship with God is not about you.
Jesus did not die so that you could live however you want and escape the condemnation that is due to you. Following Jesus is so much more than "going to church."
Following Jesus means being the church, and being the church means living in accordance with God's eternal purpose in Christ.
Our relationship with God is about declaring to the world, including the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places, the manifold wisdom of a God who redeems sinners through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son Jesus in accordance with the Scriptures. We are reconciled to God through Christ, and we exist to make this awesome truth known.
It is no longer supposed to remain hidden. It is definitely not simply personal. It is both profoundly personal and public, at the same time.
It is meant to be declared boldly and publicly.
Are you a victim of self-centered theology? If so, repent. Let Christ live through you in accordance with His plan, which He determined before the world was even made.
We can trust Him - this is truly life.
This also explains why Paul is able to boldly assert that God is able to do abundantly more than all we ask or think, through His power which is at work through the church, just a few verses after declaring this eternal purpose of God in Ephesians 3:20-21.
It is also why it is so important to not stray from the leadership that Christ gave to ensure that His church grows up together in unity, maturity, love, and the knowledge of Him - growing up together as we all speak the truth in love (see Eph 4:11-16).
Our local churches are dominated by pastors and teachers, who compete for the "sheep" who sit in different local churches all around the same city. In order to keep many of these "sheep" interested and attending, the self-centered theology is emphasized, so that people feel fed and satisfied and do not go looking for greener pastures.
By forsaking Jesus' design, and leaving Evangelists out of the local church leadership, we have de-emphasized the main truth (the thing that makes pretty much all of us uncomfortable) that the church exists, each individual member, to proclaim the glory and grace of God which we have freely through Christ.
Until we repent of our man-made traditions - which elevate the "senior pastor" to the head of the church in direct rival of Christ Himself, and seek to honor Jesus' design of a plurality of elders in mutual submission to each other, with a genuine pastor/teacher and genuine evangelist to oversee the corresponding internal and external missions of the church, then we will continue to walk in our own ways and designs, nullifying the commandments of God with our man-made traditions.
Together, when we walk the narrow path with Christ, we can keep each other focused on Him and not be deluded by our own self-centered theology and lifestyle. If we're honest, our self-centered lifestyles are nothing more than God flavored worldiness. It is a form of godliness, which denies His power to really live in and through us, not according to our will, but according to His.
Lord, help us by your grace we pray - not because we deserve it, but for your Names' sake.
Saturday, July 25, 2015
"You've told me a lot about what you are doing to get to heaven ... can you tell me a little about who Jesus is and what he did for Christians?"
The most common response is exactly what you'd expect: "Jesus died for our sins."
While this answer rolls off the lips of many church-goers, it is astounding how many leave Jesus out of their path to heaven until explicitly asked. Their discussion of how they live their lives betrays the reality that they are trusting in themselves (at least a little bit), and not in Christ alone.
Often when I ask the follow-up question: "What does a guy who lived and died 2000 years ago have to do with us and our sins today?" I get a nervous chuckle and a head-shake, with the eventual response, "I'm not really sure."
When people take issue with our ministry of raising awareness of the vacancy of the office of evangelist in the local church, many people wonder what the big deal is. They think we live in a "Christian nation." They think everyone is familiar with the gospel, or at least has every opportunity to hear it because there is a church on every corner.
The problem is, many of the churches on these corners are churning out generations of professing Christians that are trusting in their own religious works, church attendance, and moral behavior to get them into heaven. Many of these churches are churning out generations of professing Christians that have no idea what Jesus was really doing here 2000 years ago, or what he is doing today (He is just as alive today as He was back then, ya know?).
If they do know what Jesus was doing, often they are completely incapable of expressing this important truth to others. Some Christians I meet can't verbalize these things, but after I verbalize it they agree, "Yeah, that's what I believe!"
I don't say this as some broad generalization. I say this as someone who has witnessed to many thousands of people personally over the past several years. If there are large numbers of mature Christians who are well equipped to verbalize the truth of the gospel - the truth of foremost importance in Christianity, and the truth by which we are saved according to the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 - then I haven't found many of them.
It is not for want of searching, I assure you!
I don't say this to try and condemn Christians (remember Romans 8:1). I say this because I love the church and want every member of Christ's body to be properly equipped and mature, because this is God's will for His people.
The book of Scripture that our ministry is built from is the book of Ephesians, where Paul discusses God's eternal purpose in His church. Paul outlines God's purpose in Christ and the structure of the church. Paul makes amazing claims about God's plans to do more than we can ask or think through the church in every generation. Paul describes the leadership the risen Christ gave, which includes some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers for the equipping of the saints.
I'll let Paul speak for himself:
And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love. (Eph 4:11-16 NASB)
The body of Christ must be built up until we all attain unity of the faith, knowledge of Jesus, and become mature according to the stature of the fullness of Christ.
All of us.
In order to achieve this, Jesus himself gave us leadership for the equipping of the saints and the building up of the body. The apostles and prophets laid the foundation, with Christ himself as the corner stone (see Eph 2:19-3:13). We have this foundation through the traditions of the Apostles and the inspired word of God (i.e., the Bible).
The apostolic and prophetic foundation only needed to be laid once (Jude 1:3; 2 Pet 3:2). Christ only needed to be sacrificed once (see Hebrews).
The on-going work of the church and the on-going equipping of Christians is to be governed by a plurality of elders, with both specialized functions of the evangelist and the pastor/teacher being necessary for proper discipleship, growth, and maturity. That's not my opinion or my design. This is what Christ gave for His church.
That is, these gifts Christ gave to His church are required if we want to no longer be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine by the trickery of men and deceitful schemes. Go back and re-read Ephesians 4:14 - this happens as a result of recognizing Christ's gift and allowing them to serve the body by equipping the saints.
It doesn't happen by accident.
And it doesn't stop there.
The text continues to say that speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him. Do you see why it is so important for us to be able to verbalize the gospel and to lovingly share it with others? If we don't - or even scarier, if we can't - then how are we expecting to grow? Paul received the mystery of the church from Jesus Himself, and Jesus revealed His plan to equip His people through the leaders He has given, so that speaking the truth in love we will all grow together.
This brings us to the armor of God, in the last chapter of Ephesians. In describing our battle as Christians, Paul pulls no punches in letting us know that this is a spiritual battle that can only be won by standing in the strength God provides.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, HAVING GIRDED YOUR LOINS WITH TRUTH, and HAVING PUT ON THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, and having shod YOUR FEET WITH THE PREPARATION OF THE GOSPEL OF PEACE; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take THE HELMET OF SALVATION, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak. (Eph 6:10-20 NASB)
The belt of truth (a.k.a. girded your loins with truth).
The breastplate of righteousness.
Having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace.
Shield of faith.
Helmet of salvation.
Sword of the spirit.
There is a lot of commentary of this passage. There is a lot here. I can't possibly try and bring out every aspect of truth that is contained here.
But I will point out the following: truth, righteousness, and salvation are all things that we receive from the Lord through Christ. He did the work, He testified to the truth (He is truth), and He gives the gift of everlasting life to all who repent and trust in Him alone for their salvation.
These parts of the armor are received and are to be put on by every Christian.
Three other aspects of this armor, if we desire to be fully clothed, require more participation on our part.
The sword of the Spirit is our offensive weapon. The Greek word for "word" in Ephesians 6:17 is not logos but rhema, which is a verbalized or spoken word.
That is, if you want to wield the sword of the Spirit, you need to do more than just carry your Bible around. You need to be able to speak God's truth and speak it accurately.
God's word is powerful. For a Christian to wield the sword, you must be able to speak it. This requires equipping, participation, and growth. It is not something that is simply received.
The shield of faith requires that we know God's word and person, so that we can trust what He has said (and conversely, not trust in what He has not said). This requires equipping, participation, and growth. We do not simply receive faith, but must grow in our knowledge of God so that we can exercise faith in Him.
Finally, Christians must shod their feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace. This aspect tells us explicitly that the armor requires preparation on our part. While some translations render this same word as "readiness" the idea is the same - we must be prepared and ready to share the gospel. This requires ... preparation. It requires equipping, participation, and growth.
In fact, this is what Paul asks for prayer about. He was prepared, and he asked for prayer for boldness so that he would speak as he ought to speak.
Preparation. Equipping. Readiness.
Thank Jesus for gifting His church with evangelists and pastors/teachers who exist to equip the body and get them ready. If we are not prepared, we are in the midst of battle without the full armor.
Sadly, many Christians are not prepared because they are lacking the ministry of a local church evangelist. Most churches do not recognize Christ's gift in this area, and as a result we have many people engaging in spiritual warfare with no shoes on. We have people who gauge their maturity - not by the things Paul writes about - but by the things our culture says are important; things like tithing, participation in a ministry, and church attendance.
Did you notice that none of those things were on Paul's list?
Speaking the truth in love? You betcha.
Yet, the vast majority of professing Christians will admit that they rarely, if ever, verbally share the gospel with others. Some people think they are sharing the gospel, but what they are actually sharing has no similarity at all to the gospel preached by Jesus, the Apostles, or the early church. It is a man-made gospel which carries no power of God for salvation.
Christian, if you are reading this, please hear me: You may be wearing the helmet of salvation. You may be wearing the breastplate of righteousness. You may have the belt of truth firmly secured around your waist.
But are you holding firmly the shield of faith and using it appropriately?
Are you properly and lovingly wielding the sword of the Spirit?
Are your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace?
If you are not, then I implore you on behalf of Christ to seek out the leadership He intends for you to be blessed with - an evangelist and a pastor.
If you are, then get out there and fight the good fight. People are perishing for lack of knowledge and we have the truth of Christ that is able to set them free.
All praise, glory and honor be unto our God - both now and forever. Amen.
Fourth Year Ministries would love to serve you by helping you get equipped and to grow in Christian maturity by the grace of God. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thursday, February 26, 2015
Thursday, January 8, 2015
A: The first full week of 2015 has come and gone. In just a short week, many people have already become frustrated because they have failed to keep their New Year's resolution(s). If you made some resolutions, how are you doing with them?
It is a fairly uncontroversial statement that change is hard. Many explanations for this reality are offered. The Bible is clear and straight-forward: Jesus taught that human beings are slaves to sin (John 8:34). This bleak truth works itself out in different ways. For our sinful ways that we enjoy, it doesn't bother us as much. We are slaves to various lusts and impulses in our flesh which we enjoy gratifying. When we enjoy gratifying them, we are usually good at justifying our behaviors.
This is a major reason why the spiritual discipline of fasting is not very popular. When we justify our appetites, and enjoy fulfilling them, we don't desire to die to self or crucify the flesh by denying those same appetites. If anyone tries to point out that these things may not be in accordance with God's will, it is easy to write these things off as the ravings of a legalistic and judgmental person.
On the other hand, when our slavery to sin is expressed in an area we don't particularly enjoy, then our slavery becomes more burdensome. This is often (not always) why New Year's resolutions fail. We see something in our lives that we don't like, but are hard-pressed to eliminate it because we are powerless to release ourselves from slavery to the sin in our flesh. Only Jesus can truly make us free through repentance and faith in Him. When we are successful in bringing about change in these areas, we are usually trading one form of slavery for another (more pleasant) form.
Jesus gave the answer to our bleak problem just two verses after telling people that the one who sins is a slave to sin: So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:36, NASB)
But the question that was asked points to a Christian struggling with resolutions and the freedom to genuinely walk with Jesus in obedience to Him, because that's what it means to love Him (e.g., John 14:15; 1 John 5:3). I think most professing Christians can relate to this struggle and have experienced it for some (if not all) of their Christian walk.
Questions like these are hard to answer definitively. There may be something wrong and maybe not. What I can suggest is that I think many resolutions to change - whether they are made at the beginning of a new year, or anytime else - fail for similar reasons: we have the wrong focus.
Often our resolutions are made to change things that we don't like about ourselves. That's the problem right there. When that's our motivation, then our resolutions are really about us.
You may be saying, "Well... duh! Of course my resolutions are about me!" But this idea needs to be explored further.
Christianity is not about us. It is not about you and it is not about me. Christianity is about the glory of God. If we fail to understand this foundational point, then whatever we build on a different foundation will be shaky at best. However, if we understand that God's grace in our lives - the reason Jesus came to set us free from slavery to sin and death - was not primarily for our benefit, but for the glory of God, then our understanding of the aim of God's grace also changes.
Many resolutions to change fail because we make our resolutions about changing things in our own lives that we find unpleasant. We may ask God to help us, but really we are attempting in our own strength to change our circumstances so that our life will be more enjoyable. We may succeed. We may fail. But ultimately, either way, we are aiming at the wrong goal.
Instead, as Christians we should be aiming at the glory of God and seeking to cooperate with the purpose that He intends for us. God's grace is amazingly powerful. The power that raised Jesus from the dead is at work in all of God's people!
When we forget God's purpose for His grace in our lives, then we are working against it.
Instead of seeking to change what we don't like about ourselves or changing circumstances that we find unpleasant, Christians ought to seek to participate with God's grace in being conformed to the image and likeness of Christ. This is God's goal for His grace in the lives of all His children (Romans 8:29). Instead of praying and asking God's power and grace to work in our lives to achieve our goals and purposes for ourselves, we should switch our prayers to ask God to cause His power and grace to work in us both to will and work for His good pleasure. After all, this is a much more biblical prayer (e.g. Philippians 2:13).
Something the Lord has been working on in me recently is opening my eyes to see that focusing on my inheritance in Christ is worthwhile, but it is not the full picture. In addition, Christians should focus not only on our inheritance, but also on God's inheritance!
Does that sound strange to you? Listen to the Apostle Paul's prayer for the church at Ephesus:
For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints, do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. (Ephesians 1:15-19a, NASB)
Paul says that he prays that God will give them a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him; specifically, that the eyes of their hearts will be enlightened so that they will know the hope of His calling, the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and the surpassing greatness of His power toward those who believe.
To understand these things, we must not separate this prayer from the surrounding description in Ephesians 1:3-23 of God's activity in salvation and His purposes for His people. Christ became a man to redeem a people for Himself. The hope of this calling is amazing! Ephesians 1:14 states that God saves people and seals them with His Holy Spirit, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God's own possession, to the praise of His glory (Ephesians 1:14).
As God's people, redeemed by Jesus, we are God's inheritance. Let that sink in for a moment.
So often we focus on the inheritance we receive as God's people, but God has saved us to be His inheritance to the praise of His own glory. Kind of puts a new perspective on our calling to live a life worthy of our calling, doesn't it? To live a life worthy of being an inheritance for the living God is a tall order!
This amazing truth is why Paul prayed for the Ephesians that God would give them a spirit of wisdom and revelation to understand the hope and glory of this reality. If God has saved you by the blood of Jesus, He has determined to conform you into the image of Jesus (Romans 8:28-30). God does this so that we will be a people fit for Him! God is serious about His inheritance - a people redeemed and conformed to the image of Jesus from every tribe, tongue, and nation.
We may reflect on our own lives and see failures, stumbles, and other things that are not fitting of the Lord. Paul continued to pray that we wouldn't just understand these first truths, but that we would also know about the surpassing greatness of God's power toward us who believe. God is at work in you and His power is surpassingly great. As we persevere in our walk with the Lord, we should conduct ourselves with wisdom as we allow His power to work in and through us for the praise of His name. We should set our aim on allowing Him to direct the course of change so that we will be fit for Him, instead of us attempting to direct the changes that seem best in our eyes (for whatever reason).
It is an interesting study to see the glory of the individual Christian's inheritance in the kingdom of God. It is equally as interesting to study God's own inheritance in a redeemed people, purchased by the precious blood of Jesus.
If you are a Christian, God's grace is at work in you to bring lasting change that is fit for Him and bring praise, honor, and glory to His name. Are you participating with this grace or are you seeking for God to change things in your life according to your own will and comfort? I pray for all of God's people (myself included!), that our God will give us all a spirit of wisdom and revelation so that our eyes will be opened to know the hope of His calling, the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. God's will cannot be thwarted and His purposes will be achieved. However, it is common to see that God's people all throughout history have worked against God's purposes for them - both individually and as a body. This is why repentance is necessary for both Christians and non-Christians alike. When we find we are struggling against God, we should immediately turn and once again submit ourselves to His will and participate with Him by the power of His grace. This is what resting in God looks like. It's not passive. It's active!
Genuine and lasting change should be the reality in each of God's people. If we are genuinely His, He is working towards the purpose of conforming us to the image of Jesus. Let's participate with a full heart and mind in what God is doing in 2015 and however many days the Lord is pleased to give us. We are called to be His ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:17-21). As representatives of Him, it is critical that we allow Him to work in and through us so that we will represent Him faithfully in the world He has made.
Friday, January 2, 2015
Q: As a Christian who has grown up in the church, sometimes I feel like I don't have a good testimony. How can I share my faith effectively if I've never had the amazing change in my life that I hear about in others who came to Jesus later in life?
A: For our answer to this important question, check out Episode 6 of E4 TV:
A: For our answer to this important question, check out Episode 6 of E4 TV: