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About lifecoach4God

I am a Pastoral Life Coach, born and raised in Huntington Beach, Ca,, and currently living in Tustin, California. I am married to my best friend of 21 years - Dana - and have one teenager still living at home; four adult children; and three grand children. I have been a Teaching Pastor for over twenty years. I was privileged to study at Multnomah University (B.S. - 1988); Talbot School of Theology (M.Div. - 1991); Westminster Theological Seminary & Northwest Graduate School (D. Min. - 2003). I founded Vertical Living Ministries in 2008 with the goal of encouraging Christian Disciples and Leaders to be more intentionally Christ-Centered in how they live by bringing glory to God in nine key areas of life: personal spiritually, in marriage, in their families, with friends, vocationally, physical health, finances, discipleship, and mentoring .

Jonathan Edwards: Why Did God Create The World?

The theological riches of the Puritans’ writings are often hid from modern readers because of the archaic language. As Ben Stevens says in his introduction to Why God Created the World: A Jonathan Edwards Adaption, Edwards’s “tone and grammatical acrobatics make the original text nearly impossible to read.”

In his new book, Stevens reworks the tone and style of Edward’s brilliant work, Dissertation Concerning the End for Which God Created the World (1765). Stevens’s efforts have resulted in making a daunting and difficult text accessible for a general audience.

We’re pleased to provide an excerpt from chapter two of the book that provides “first steps toward an answer” to the question, “Why did God create world?”

Let’s begin by considering the implications of what Christians already agree on about God’s personality. That will greatly reduce the scope of the things we need to consider, and given the size of this topic, that reduction would be a relief. Christians from across the spectrum agree on a surprising number of things on this point, but let me list the two that I think help us zero in on an answer.

First, we agree that God is glorious and happy, independent of any external circumstances. His glory and happiness are eternal, and he doesn’t live in fear that someone will steal or wound his joy. Second, we agree that the universe receives everything from God’s hand and consequently has nothing to give back to him that he didn’t already have before creation.

These are not radical Christian convictions, but they go a long way toward eliminating many popular suggestions about why God created the world. I would summarize their implications like this: If God does not need, and cannot receive, anything new from something he creates, then he must not have created in order to fill a need he had.

With one stroke this point wipes out much of what the world’s pagan religions have thought about their gods for millennia. But at the same time, it raises another question: If God didn’t create because of a need he had, then what prompted him to create at all? I think the most logical conclusion is that if creation does not arise to fulfill some need that God has, then it must arise because of the way it promotes something he values.

This short set of considerations has already carried us most of the way to our answer. Let’s take a final step by thinking about what makes things valuable. I think that piece will complete the puzzle.

Value

As I explained in the last chapter, some things have value because of the way they serve a greater purpose. We might say they have a preliminary value. In this case, however, we are talking about things that are inherently valuable, things that God valued before there was any creation. Broadly speaking, we might say we’re looking for things that are, in and of themselves, good, true, and beautiful.

With this point in mind, ask yourself the question: What existed before the creation of the world that was good, true, and beautiful? I believe you will see that everything that existed before the creation of the world, which was good, true, and beautiful . . . was God. If there is a God who created the universe as we know it, then that means there was also a time when everything we love, which inspires us, and which gives us goose bumps, was all simply an aspect of his personality.

Life as we experience it now doesn’t force us to recognize this point. A man can experience love, for example, whether he believes in or acknowledges God at all. But this is a result of creation. It’s a result of the fact that God has diffused himself throughout human experience. There was a time before the creation of the world when the distinction would have been invalid, a time in which the thing we have come to know as love was literally embodied entirely in one (triune) being.

Creation must have arisen because of the way it accomplishes something God values. God values things like goodness, truth, and beauty. And yet those words are simply labels we have come up with to describe things that were, before creation, all him. So I think we are logical to conclude that if God could have created the universe to expand and increase himself—and, implicitly, all the things that we have come to know in the abstract as goodness, truth, and beauty—then that best explains the logic behind his decision to create a universe in the first place.

Perfect Priorities

At first this may all sound very odd, but I am simply suggesting that God makes the same connection that we make in the course of properly setting our values and priorities. For example, we value things like paintings. But we would never value a single painting more than the artist who painted it. In fact we value the artist more because he is the source of such great beauty. Setting his value higher actually acknowledges the value of any one of his individual paintings. And Christians would want to take the last logical step and affirm that God, who first had the idea to make artists, should have an even higher place in our priorities for the same reason: that he is the source of artists.

The idea I want to propose is that the logic that leads us to value God more than anything else . . . must also lead God himself to value God more than anything else. He must, or at least ought to, come to the same conclusion about the importance and value of his role that we do: that he should have the greatest priority because his existence and work lead to the existence and work of all other good.

Let me take this a step further. We believe that God is good, not just because he’s divine, but because he makes perfect judgments, and because he faithfully evaluates and appraises whatever he sees. In contrast to the often haphazard way humans put one thing before another, God uses accurate weights and measures. So, although it seems strange at first, we put God’s judgment into question if we assume that he doesn’t accurately esteem the most valuable entity imaginable: himself.

Conclusion

I recognize that in some ways, the thesis I have offered here raises as many questions as it answers. But we still have plenty of time to fill in the gaps and think through the implications. For now, I believe it is logical to conclude that:

1. God created not out of a need he had but because of the way creation accomplished something he valued.

2. God ought to value himself and his attributes more than anything.

3. Creation must have resulted from the way God saw the value of expanding himself: his goodness, truth, beauty, and all the things that are a part of him.

That is my theory in its most essential form. What it means, whether it is true, and whether we can know it’s true—that’s where we’re headed next.

* * * * *

Excerpt taken from Why God Created the World by Ben Stevens. Copyright © 2014. A NavPress resource published in alliance with Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.

Ben Stevens (MDiv, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) works for Greater Europe Mission in Berlin, Germany. Keep up with him on Twitter and at www.benstevens.de.

 

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Os Guiness on Church Growth

Church Growth—First Things First

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When all is said and done, the church-growth movement will stand or fall by one question: In implementing its vision of church growth, is the church of Christ primarily guided and shaped by its own character and calling—or by considerations and circumstances alien to itself? Or, to put the question differently, is the church of Christ a social reality truly shaped by a theological cause, namely the Word and Spirit of God?

Behind this question lies the fact that the church of God only “lets God be God,” and is only the church, and is free when she lives and thrives finally by God’s truths and God’s resources. If the church makes anything else the principle of her existence, Christians risk living unauthorized lives of faith, exercising unauthorized ministries, and proclaiming an unauthorized Gospel.

Yet, that is precisely the temptation modernity gives to us—the very brilliance and power of its tools and insights mean that eventually, there is no need to let God be God. In fact, there is no need for God at all in order to achieve measurable success. Modernity creates the illusion that when God commanded us not to live by bread alone but by every word that comes from His mouth, He was not aware of the twentieth century. The very success of modernity undercuts the authority and driving power of faith until religion becomes merely religious rhetoric, or organizational growth without spiritual reality.

In light of this, it is curious that the church-growth movement’s use of modernity is one of its most prominent but least examined features. Modernity poses the greatest problem for the church-growth movement— because it appears to be no problem at all. It is most dangerous at its best—not its worst—when its benefits and blessings are unarguable. No civilization in history has amplified the temptation of living “by bread alone” with such power and variety and to such effect. In today’s convenient, climate-controlled spiritual world created by the managerial and therapeutic revolutions, nothing is easier than living apart from God.

One Christian advertising agent, who represented both the Coca-Cola Corporation and engineered the “I Found It” campaign, stated the point brazenly: “Back in Jerusalem where the church started, God performed a miracle there on the day of Pentecost. They didn’t have the benefits of buttons and media, so God had to do a little supernatural work there. But today, with our technology, we have available to us the opportunity to create the same kind of interest in a secular society.”

This warning should not be confused with the superspiritual fallacy that flatters the church as being purely spiritual and theological, turning up its nose at all lesser, “unspiritual” insights or techniques. That error is simply the opposite extreme. Just as Christians are flesh and blood as well as spirit, so the church of Christ is in the business of pews, parking lots, and planning committees as well as prayer and preaching.

There is, therefore, a place for the latest scientific study on parking lots. But we are told by church-growth gurus that “the No. 1 rule of church growth is that a church will never get bigger than its parking lot.”

No. 1? Above growth in faith? Before growth in the Word and Spirit? God forbid. For the church of Christ, the latest sociological study never has more than a low-level place—even in a “freeway fellowship” culture such as California. What truly matters after the accumulated wisdom of modernity has been put to good use is that the real character of the church remains to be demonstrated, the real growth of the church remains to be seen. Otherwise we fall foul of the charge leveled by rock star Michael Been of The Call: “Everything that goes on in every major corporation goes on inside the church, except as a sideline the church teaches religion.”

If Jesus Christ is true, the church is more than just another human institution. He alone is her head. He is her sole source and single goal. His grace uniquely is her effective principle. What moves her is not finally interchangeable with the dynamics of even the closest of sister institutions. When the best of modern insights and tools are in full swing, there should always be a remainder, an irreducible character that is more than the sum of all the human, the natural, and the organizational.

Hans Kung writes: “Given that Jesus Christ is the head of the church and hence the origin and goal of its growth, growth is only possible in obedience to its head. If the church is disobedient to its head and His Word, it cannot grow however busy and active it may seem to be; it can only wither. Its development, no matter how spectacular, will prove basically misdirected; its progress, no matter how grandiose, will prove ultimately a disastrous retrogression. The valid movements in the church are those that are set in motion by God’s grace.”

The notion of the remainder, the irreducible, the noninterchangeable, and the unquantifiable is fundamental to grace and to the church. The church of Christ is more than spiritual and theological, but never less. Only when first things are truly first, over even the best and most attractive of second things, will the church be free of idols, free to let God be God, free to be herself, and free to experience the growth that matters.

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REPLANT by Mark Devine and Darrin Patrick: Book Review

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A Story of Hope For Dying Churches – Review By David P. Craig

Estimates from some church experts (e.g. Ed Stetzer) on the state of churches in America say that approximately 4,000 churches close their doors every year. This book is the story of a one time mega church in downtown Kansas City that began in the 1800’s and how it was in danger of dying in the early 2,000’s and how it was turned around into a thriving church again.

It’s a good story of how “cartel’s” work to bring about paralysis and decline in churches (lots of churches have these types of cartels) and how an interim pastor (Mark Devine – a professor at Midwestern Seminary) had the wisdom and wherewithal to weather the storm and in God’s good providence see a positive outcome for this particular church – with the help of another mega church from St.Louis led by Darrin Patrick (author of Church Planter and For The City).

The book isn’t really a handbook or manual on “how to” replant a church, so much as it is just the story of how two churches came together to save a dying a church. It is a story of God’s grace and providence in bringing together the right people at the right place at just the right time to make a big difference in Kansas City.

I think it’s a wonderful story that I hope will “play out” in different venues around the world. If there are any principles to be gleaned from the book it would be the following: (1) The importance of a shared vision among the leadership team; (2) The importance of wise and godly leaders praying fervently for their local church; (3) The importance of being flexible and willing to change as a church (not changing the gospel – but changing forms and functions for the sake of the gospel); (4) The importance of cooperating with the greater body of Christ and taking risks for the sake of Christ’s Church (that it’s something worth risking for!).

I recommend this book especially for leaders that are in churches that have plateaued or are in decline. It will give you some ideas, warnings, red flags to watch for, and will also encourage you by giving you some positive steps to glean from in the St.Louis and Kansas City connection. There is not just one way to “replant” a church, but it will encourage you to know that God loves His Church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it. My hope is that God will use this book to motivate, encourage, and give ideas to struggling churches and that they will thrive once again for His glory and His Kingdom!

 

 
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Posted by on August 17, 2014 in Book Reviews

 

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Dr. Donald Whitney: Why Join A Church?

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Why Join a Church?

by Dr. Donald S. Whitney

“Scripture makes abundantly clear that we are to be members of a local church.” Kenneth Kantzer

“Why should I join the church?”
Despite my seminary training and pastoral experience, I was unprepared for this new

Christian’s question. He agreed from our study of the Scripture that he needed to identify himself as a disciple of Christ through baptism, but then he asked, “Can you show me from the New Testament that I’m supposed to officially join anything?”

Now he really had me.

“If I come and worship as often as the members,” he continued, “if I fellowship with these believers as much as anyone else, if I profit from the teaching and other ministries of the church, and if I actively demonstrate love for my brothers and sisters in Christ here, why should I formally join the church?”

His question struck me with an uncomfortable logic.

I began to realize that many of my conclusions about church membership were actually nothing more than previously unchallenged assumptions. These assumptions were now melting into questions of my own. Can I give reasons from Scripture why anyone should join a church? Did the Christians in New Testament times formally join churches or did they more of an informal relationship? Did the churches in the days of the Apostle Paul have a membership list? How do I respond to the rising tide of opinion that says church membership is merely an unchallenged, but unbiblical tradition and an unnecessary formality?

Here’s what I found.

BIBLICAL INDICATIONS OF CHURCH MEMBERSHIP IN NEW TESTAMENT TIMES

To start with, we encounter the word church throughout the New Testament. In the great majority of instances the term refers to a specific local church like that in Rome or Corinth. Sometimes when we read of the church the reference is to what’s often called the church universal, that is, all Christians everywhere. But when you read “church” in the Bible, it almost always means “local church.”

At the very least, the local church was the fellowship of the followers of Jesus Christ in a particular area. We know that they met together, worshiped together, prayed together etc., as the born-again family of God. But did people actually join this fellowship in some official way, or was it a mutually-assumed and less formal association?

The New Testament church practice of keeping a list of widows makes sense in the context of membership

We know that churches in the days of the Apostle Paul made and maintained at least one type of list. “No widow may be put on the list of widows,” Paul instructs Timothy, “unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband,” etc., (1 Timothy 5:9, NIV). As easily as the churches had lists of widows, they could have had lists of members. There would be no difference except for length for a church to keep a widows’ list and a membership list.

The instructions for church discipline make sense only in the context of membership

In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus gave us instructions on how the church should respond when someone within the church persists in living like an unbeliever. We read of a specific case of this in 1 Corinthians 5 and how the Apostle Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, instructed the Christians in the church at Corinth to handle it. In verses 11-13 Paul says, “But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner-not even to eat with such a person. For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges. Therefore ‘put away from yourselves the evil person.'”

There was a sexually immoral man in this church. Was Paul simply telling them not to let this man come to church with them because he was acting like an unbeliever instead of a Christian? No, he couldn’t have meant that, for we know from other places in this letter (cf. 14:24-25) that unbelievers were welcome to attend church meetings. Even when they obeyed Paul’s instructions to “put away from yourselves the evil person” and considered the man an unbeliever, they would have allowed (even welcomed) him to come and sit under the preaching of God’s Word like any other person in town. So in what sense would they have “put away” (“remove”-NASB, “expel”- NIV) this man?

The best way of explaining how they would have “put away” this man is to understand that they removed him from the membership of the church and generally stopped associating with him outside the church meetings.

Notice that Paul refers to those who are “inside” and to those who are “outside.” Outside of what? As we’ve noted, anyone could attend their meetings. This kind of language can only refer to a definite church membership of converted people. For what authority does a group have to remove someone who is already “outside” and not a member of the group? You can’t fire someone who doesn’t work for you. You can’t vote in your country to remove a government official elected by another country. You can’t appeal to a court to discipline someone who isn’t within its jurisdiction. In the same way, you can’t formally discipline someone who is in an informal relationship with you; you have no authority to do so. These people in Corinth had voluntarily committed themselves to a formal relationship and they knew who were official members of the church and who were “outside.”

Church discipline must be done by the “church” (Matthew 18:17) and occur “when you are gathered together” (1 Corinthians 5:4). Who is to gather together? How do you know who the “church” is? How do you determine who does and does not have the right to speak and vote on such matters? Does the person subject to discipline have the liberty to bring in his extended family or coworkers who have never been to the church, or even people off the street, and expect them to be given an equal say with those who have been faithful to the church for years? No? Why not? Do you exclude them from involvement because they’ve never been part of the church? Then what about the person who attended once five years ago? Or those who came at Easter and Christmas last year? Or those who regularly watch the church services on television or listen to them on the radio, and perhaps even send money, but never enter the building? Or those from distant cities who visit several times each year because of family members in the church? Obviously, Biblical church discipline must be limited to a specific group and that must mean the church members.

The meaning of the word “join” in Acts. 5:13 makes sense only in the context of membership

In Acts 5:13 we read of the reaction of the non-Christians in Jerusalem after a couple within the church, Ananias and Sapphira, had died on the spot when it was revealed that they had lied to the church. It says, “Yet none of the rest dared join them, but the people esteemed them highly.” The unbelievers had great respect for the Christians, but after this incident none of them who claimed to be converted but were outward-only believers wanted to join the church.

In the Greek language in which Paul wrote this letter, the word he used that’s translated here as “join” literally means “to glue or cement together, to unite, to join firmly.” It doesn’t refer to an informal, merely assumed sort of relationship, but one where you choose to “glue” or “join” yourself firmly to the others. Again, that kind of language only makes sense in the context of membership.

That same “glue word” is used in the New Testament to describe being joined together in a sexual relationship (1 Corinthians 6:16) and being joined to the Lord in one spirit in salvation (1 Corinthians 6:17). And it’s the very same word Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 5:11 when he says “not to keep company with” any so-called brother who continues in immorality, but rather to “put away from yourselves the evil person.” Clearly this kind of language doesn’t refer to a casual, superficial, or informal relationship.

So when it says in Acts 5:13 that no insincere believer “dared join them,” the “glue word” used there speaks of such a cohesive, bonding relationship that it must be referring to a recognized church membership.

The meaning of “the whole church” in 1 Corinthians 14:23 makes sense only in the context of membership

The earthly founder of the church at Corinth, the Apostle Paul, wrote to this new body of Christians about their many difficulties, including how to bring order to their public worship. He began 1 Corinthians 14:23 with, “Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place, . . .” Who did he have in mind when he referred to “the whole church”? The only realistic answer is “the church members.” That’s why one commentator, working with the original language of this text, translates it “If then the whole church assembles together and all its members” [emphasis mine] and notes “(the last two words are not in the Greek but are naturally to be understood).”(1)

Imagine the leaders of the Corinthian Christians walking into the gathering of the church for worship one Sunday. Would they have known by looking, or would they have had some way of deciding, whether “the whole church” was there? Surely they would have known who was supposed to be present in a churchwide meeting and who was missing. But how else could they have known when “the whole church” was “together in one place” without knowing who was a member and who wasn’t? This implies a verifiable membership.

The instructions for pastoral oversight and spiritual leadership make sense only in the context of membership

“This is a faithful saying:,” said Paul to Timothy, “If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work” (1 Timothy 3:1). In other places the New Testament also refers to a bishop, or “overseer” as the NIV and NASB render it, as a pastor or elder (Acts 20:17, 28; Philippians 1:1; Titus 1:5-7). But what or whom does he oversee? How can he provide spiritual oversight if he doesn’t know exactly those for whom he is responsible? A distinguishable, mutually-understood membership is required for him to fulfill his charge.

Down in verse 5 it says of an overseer, “for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?” The local church is compared to a family. Is anyone a casual member of a family? No, membership in a family is a very definite thing.

“Take heed to yourselves,” Paul instructed the elders of the church of Ephesus, “and to all the flock” (Acts 20:28). How could they fulfill their responsibility as undershepherds to “all” the flock unless they knew who was part of “the flock” and who was not? These leaders of a growing church in a large city needed some means of identification of those for whom they were to “take heed.” A simple membership list is the logical solution.

In Hebrews 13:17 is a word addressed to those under such overseers: “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.” For whom will the leaders of a church give an account-everyone who comes in and out of their church services? No, it has to be a limited group of people-the members of the church-for whom they will be answerable. Otherwise, how can church leaders be responsible for someone until they know he or she is committed to their care? The Bible’s instructions for pastoral oversight and spiritual leadership can best be obeyed when there is a well-defined church membership.

The metaphors used to describe local churches (flock, temple, body, household) make sense only in the context of membership

The New Testament uses several metaphors to describe churches. Some of these metaphors describe the church of Christ collectively throughout the world. While all of them could potentially apply to the local church also, at least four of these metaphors- flock, temple, body, and household-are definitely used to refer to individual churches (in Acts 20:28; Ephesians 2:21; 1 Corinthians 12:27, and 1 Timothy 3:15). And each metaphor is best understood in a setting of specific church membership.

A flock of sheep isn’t a random collection of ewes, rams, and lambs. Shepherds know their flocks. They know which sheep are theirs to care for and which are not.

Sheep belong to specific flocks. This is also the way it should be for God’s spiritual sheep. A temple building, just like a church building, shouldn’t have any loose bricks or blocks. If it does, something’s wrong. Each one of them has a definite place. “There is no place,” said an English preacher long ago, “for any loose stone in God’s edifice.” (2) The same analogy is true for a human body. Your body isn’t a casual collection of loosely related parts. You don’t keep your fingers in your pocket until you need them. They are joined. They are members of the body. The local body of Christ should be like this also-those joined to Christ, who are members of His body-should express that relationship through a visible membership. And in a household, a family, you’re either a member or you’re not. So if you are part of the family of God, show it by joining a local expression of God’s family.

British pastor Eric Lane sees additional significance in this quartet of metaphors:

God has given us four pictures of the church, not one. This is not just to emphasize and prove the point by repetition, but also to say four different things about what it means to be a member of a church. To be a stone in his temple means to belong to a worshipping community. To be part of a body means to belong to a living, functioning, serving, witnessing community. To be a sheep in the flock means belonging to a community dependent on him for food, protection, and direction. To be a member of a family is to belong to a community bound by a common fatherhood. Put together you have the main functions of an individual Christian. Evidently we are meant to fulfill these not on our own but together in the church. Now can you see the answer to the question why you should join a church? (3)

We’ve just seen five Biblical indications that New Testament churches had membership lists of some sort. They knew who was a member and who was not. When people became followers of Jesus, or when followers of Jesus moved to another town, they formally identified themselves with a local church-they joined it. “In the New Testament there is no such person as a Christian who is not a church member,” writes Douglas G. Millar. Conversion was described as ‘the Lord adding to the church’ (Acts 2:47). There was no spiritual drifting.” (4)

Perhaps you are persuaded that the churches in the days of the New Testament had membership lists and that people joined the churches instead of “drifting.” Are there other Biblical reasons why Christians should be members of a church today? Here are some . . .

BIBLICAL REASONS FOR JOINING A CHURCH

You prove that you’re not ashamed to identify with Christ or His people

Jesus said (in Mark 8:38) that if anyone is ashamed to identify himself with Him on earth then He will not identify Himself with that person when he or she stands before God in the Judgment. Joining a church is one of the plainest ways of saying you’re not ashamed to identify yourself with Jesus and with His people. Jesus certainly made a formal commitment to identify Himself with His people when He left Heaven to come to earth and die as a man. Can, then, one for whom Christ died be reluctant to identify himself formally with the others for whom Christ died? California pastor John MacArthur explains and asks further, “You have been joined together with Christ. . . . You bear His name. Are you ashamed to belong? Are you ashamed to bear that identification with other believers of like precious faith? . . . Shouldn’t you be willing outwardly to identify with the visible, gathered members of that group to which you eternally belong?” (5)

When you join a church you make it clear whose side you’re on. You’re telling the family of God that you’re part of the family too, and that you don’t want to be considered on the “outside” (1 Corinthians 5:12-13) any longer.

You stop being an independent Christian and place yourself under the discipline and protection of other Christians

In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus set up an accountability system. When a professing believer starts living like an unbeliever, those in the church who know about it are to confront him about his sin. First, one is to go to this person, and then, if he will not listen, the one is to bring one or two others along for a second conversation. The goal is to restore him back to full fellowship with the Lord and his fellow believers. If he persistently and unrepentantly refuses to return to the Lord, the final step is to report the matter to the church. Then everyone in the church has the chance to win the person back. And if he continues in his sin, the church is to withdraw fellowship from him as the final means of showing him his need to repent.

If you aren’t part of the church, they have no authority over you and cannot do what Jesus said to do. Unless you join the church, your independence places you outside the way Jesus wants things to happen. Incidentally, when Jesus says in verse 17 to bring this matter “to the church,” how do you know who should be notified (and who should not be) unless there is a formally recognized membership?

Related to this idea of spiritual authority, recall Hebrews 13:17, the passage we examined which tells us to obey the leaders of the church and submit to them because they keep watch over our souls. The leaders of the church are to “watch over” you by providing spiritual protection for you and caring about your growth in Christ. You place yourself outside that spiritual watchcare unless you join a local church.

You participate in a stronger, more unified effort of God’s people to obey Christ’s command to reach others

The last thing Jesus said before returning to Heaven is known to Christians today as the Great Commission. It’s found in Matthew 28:19-20 where Jesus told His disciples (and us), “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen.”

I’ve met a few people who weren’t interested in church membership but who were zealously witnessing to others about Christ and trying to make disciples for Him. Since they do so well what relatively few Christians do at all (i.e., share their faith), why emphasize church membership to them? They need to see that joining a church is like putting one candle with many others. They will give off more light collectively than the one lone candle ever could, and together they will have a greater penetration into the world’s darkness.

And as your local church reaches across the country and around the world in direct and indirect support of missionary work, you can participate in ways of reaching the world for Christ that you could have never dreamed otherwise.

In contrast, consider the potential negative impact on your efforts to talk about Jesus if you don’t join His earthly body. John MacArthur says we should ask ourselves, “How wonderful can Christ be if we’re not even committed to being associated with His church?” (6) How believable is our testimony of the goodness and greatness of Christ if we don’t want to identify openly with Christ’s family?

You have a greater opportunity to use your spiritual gift “for the profit of all”

At the moment of salvation when the Holy Spirit comes to live within a believer in Christ, He brings a gift with Him. “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit,” Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:4. He continues in verse 11, “But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.” For what purpose does God gift each Christian? The answer is in verse 7: “But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all.” God gifts you individually so that you will use your gift “for the profit” of others. You have a greater opportunity to do that when you use your gift in and through local church membership.

Yes, you can use your spiritual gift for the good of God’s people without joining a church. But in a lot of churches, many of the ministry opportunities are available for church members only. That’s because the church wants to know that you stand with her doctrinally and support her ministry goals before you’re asked to minister in certain positions. Besides, remaining outside the membership of the church may say more about your desire to serve than you intend. “Not joining the church,” according to MacArthur, ‘is saying, ‘I don’t want to serve the only institution Christ ever built.” (7) So the best way to maximize the effectiveness of your spiritual gift is to use it “for the profit of all” in a local church as a member.

You openly demonstrate the reality of the body of Christ

“Now you are the body of Christ,” Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, “and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27, NIV). But how can we see the body of Christ? When you join a church, you make it visible. You give a living demonstration of the spiritual reality of the body of Christ. You show that even though you are an individual, you are a part of the body, you are joined together with others. You take the body of Christ out of the realm of the theoretical and give it a meaning that people can see.

As pastor and author Ben Patterson puts it, “To join a particular part of the body of Christ is not to bring something into existence that was not there before. It is simply to make actual what is spiritual, to prove that the spiritual is real.” (8)

You participate in a more balanced ministry than you can otherwise experience

In Ephesians 4:11-16 we read of the Lord giving gifted men such as evangelists and pastor-teachers to the church. We’re taught that each part-every member-of the church body has a job to do for the body to function properly and grow. It’s a picture of wholeness and balance. We need this God-ordained mutual ministry to be what God intends.

Further, God has designed us so that we can’t get this well-rounded ministry on our own. No one develops the proper spiritual symmetry just by listening to Christian radio, watching Christian television, or reading Christian books. You can’t get this kind of maturity merely by participating in a group Bible study. Unless you’re an active part of a local church, your Christian life and ministry will be imbalanced.

You demonstrate your commitment, not to “spiritual hitchhiking,” but to “the proper working of each individual part” in the visible body of Christ

Some time ago in the magazine of the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, a writer made an interesting observation about the hitchhiker. He wants a free ride. He assumes no responsibility for the money needed to buy the car, the gas to run it, or the cost of maintenance. He expects a comfortable ride and adequate safety. He assumes the driver has insurance covering him in case of an accident. He thinks little of asking the driver to take him to a certain place even though it may involve extra miles or inconvenience.

Think about the “spiritual hitchhiker” who has settled all his major questions about the matters and has definitely decided where he wants to attend church, but now wants all the benefits and privileges of that church’s ministry without taking any responsibility for it. His attitude is all take and no give. He wants no accountability, just a free ride.

This is not meant to discourage those who are attending a church to find answers about Jesus Christ and are still uncertain about their eternal destiny. If that describes you, your first priority is to come to Christ rather than to come for church membership.

Neither is this intended to deter those who are sincerely and actively seeking God’s will in a decision about a church home. Sometimes that decision cannot be made quickly. A wise person evaluates a church carefully before joining its membership.

A “spiritual hitchhiker,” however, has no real intention of joining the church, at least not soon. He only wants to enjoy its advantages without any obligation on his part. He wants convenience without commitment, to be served rather than to serve. But every true Christian is to be committed to “the proper working of each individual part” (Ephesians 4:16, NASB) in a local church. When you join a church, you’re saying you believe in taking your “individual part” and that you don’t want to be a “spiritual hitchhiker.”

You “exhort” new believers to the same “good works” of commitment to the local body of Christ

In the familiar passage on church commitment, Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” Notice the command to “consider one another” that is associated here with church involvement. Bear in mind the message you give to other believers, especially new believers, if you do not join a church. What are you modeling to new believers when you remain uncommitted to the local church? Do they see your example and learn that the church isn’t important enough to join? Do they get the message that the Kingdom of God is not worth such an investment of yourself? Do they interpret your actions as saying that the work of God does not deserve a full commitment?

On the other hand, joining a church is one way of “exhorting one another” as this passage puts it, “to love and good works.” When you do join the local church you provide a positive example that says, “This is worth being a part of and I recommend it to you.”

You encourage a ministry when you consider it faithful and join it

Suppose John loves Mary and sees no one else but her for ten years. Every time they are together he tells her that he loves her, but never proposes to her. Finally, after a decade she has enough nerve to ask him, “John, why haven’t you wanted to marry me?”

If he says, “I’m just trying to make sure,” how do you think she would feel? Of course, she’s glad he says he loves her, and she’s thankful for all he does for her, and she’s pleased that he doesn’t see anyone else, but in spite of all that, she’s going to be somewhat discouraged because he doesn’t love her enough to decisively commit himself to her.

The people and pastor of a church are glad whenever you attend. But if you keep coming and never join, they may begin to wonder what Mary wondered about John, despite how happy you seem to be with the church and how many wonderful things you say about it. So there is a sense in which your attendance and involvement can actually discourage the church and its leaders if, after a reasonable time, you do not join it.

Conversely, the church is encouraged (the NASB and NIV render “exhort” in Hebrews 10:25 as “encourage”), and its leadership is encouraged, when you indicate by joining the church that you love it and think it is a Biblically faithful ministry worthy of your commitment.

BIBLICAL RESPONSES TO THIS MESSAGE

Now that you’ve read these things about church membership, what should you do?

Turn from living for yourself and follow Christ, the Head of the church

Membership in a local church does not mean that you are part of the body of Christ. Without Christ, church membership means nothing. Hell is filled with people who were church members. Before you respond to the challenge of church membership, you must make sure you know Jesus Christ, who is “head over all things to the church” (Ephesians 1:22). Your greatest need in life is not to be on the membership roll of a church; it is to be made right with God by the One who died for the church, who created the church, who loves the church, and who is returning someday for His true church.

What should you do? The Bible says you should repent and believe in the Gospel (Mark 1:15), i.e., the message about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. To repent and believe in this way involves turning from living for yourself and turning in faith to Jesus Christ. Recognize that your sin has separated you from God (Isaiah 59:2; Romans 3:23). You’ve repeatedly broken God’s laws and this excludes you from His family and from eternity with Him. Come to Christ, however, and He can make you right with God. Believe that His death can cleanse you from all guilt before God and provide you with all the righteousness God requires. This is infinitely more important than church membership.

Present yourself to the church for baptism as a symbol of identification with Christ and His church

Ten days after Jesus had ascended back to Heaven, the Holy Spirit of God descended upon the believers who were gathered in Jerusalem. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter preached that morning to the crowd that had gathered because of the Jewish Feast of Pentecost. About three thousand people turned from their sin and believed that the crucified and risen Jesus was their Messiah and God. Then, according to Acts 2:41, “those who had gladly received his word were baptized.” If you have received (i.e., believed) the word about Jesus Christ, you should be baptized.

Baptism is a church ordinance commanded by Christ (Matthew 28:19). If you have trusted Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, you should present yourself to a local church as a candidate for baptism. By this means you will openly identify yourself as a follower of Christ and a member of His body.

Present yourself for membership in a local, New Testament church if you’ve been Scripturally baptized and your membership is elsewhere

Have you come to Christ and been baptized? Then you should formally identify yourself with the people of Christ where you live. If you have moved, or for some other reason have membership in a church you no longer attend, you should unite with the believers of a Biblically-based, Christ-centered church where you can participate faithfully. (See Acts 18:27 and Romans 16:1-2 for a New Testament example of Christians who identified with and served with a local congregation even when they were in a place which might not have been their permanent residence.)

When I was in college I faithfully attended a local church. After about a year I realized that my membership needed to be in that church, not the one back home that I grew up in but now rarely visited. So I presented myself for membership in the church where I was worshiping regularly. Today I encourage students to become members of a church in their college town, because that’s where they are most of the time. If they are home for the summer, I suggest that, if practical, they move their membership back to their hometown church for those three months. There are two good reasons for doing this. One, there’s no guarantee that their plans won’t change and that they won’t be back either at their school or at that particular church in the fall. Two, this develops a healthy pattern of thinking “Join a church here” whenever they relocate. This habit will serve them well when they graduate and move away from college to who-knows-where, not to mention each of the several times they are likely to move in the coming decades.

Reaffirm the commitment implied in your present church membership

If you are presently a member of the local church you attend, you should exercise your spiritual gifts in and through that church (see Romans 12:5-6a). Membership implies commitment and activity. All the living parts of the body of Christ should be working and fulfilling their God-intended function.

Think about this: a member of a human body, such as a heart or kidney, cannot exist apart from the body, except by some temporary and artificial sustenance. But this isn’t what it’s designed for. In this sheer existence the organ doesn’t fulfill its function in the body. It isn’t nourished in the way God intended through the body, but subsists only through some synthetic way that provides mere maintenance but doesn’t stimulate growth or development.

In the same way, a true member of Christ’s body is not designed to operate independently or outside the body. An authentic part of Christ’s spiritual body cannot be content while separated from the rest of His earthly body. That’s because he or she is made for interdependence, not independence.

As wonderful and sophisticated as the heart is, it was never made to be just a heart, but a part of a body. It has no value to the body outside the body. And the heart itself can’t thrive outside the body. As incredible and wonderful as you are, Christian, you were never made just to be an individual Christian, but a part of body. As every organ and every cell is God-created to be an active member of the human body, so every true Christian is God-created to be a active member of a localbody of Christ.

Are you a true Christian? Are you an actively and Biblically involved member of a local body of Christ? “Belonging to the church,” says John MacArthur, “is at the very heart of Christianity.” (9)

Church membership involves many responsibilities, but we must never lose sight of the great privilege that it really is. “We must grasp once again,” said Martyn Lloyd-Jones of London in the mid-twentieth century, “the idea of church membership as being the membership of the body of Christ and as the biggest honour which can come a man’s way in this world.” (10)

(1) C. K. Barrett, A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians (New York: Harper & Row, 1968), p. 324.

(2) Joseph Hall, as quoted in John Blanchard, More Gathered Gold (Welwyn, England: Evangelical Press, 1986), p. 43.

(3) G. Eric Lane, I Want to Be A Church Member (Bryntirion, Wales: Evangelical Press of Wales, 1992), p. 21.

(4) Douglas G. Millar, “Should I Join A Church?”, The Banner of Truth, Issue 62, Nov. 1968, p. 21.

(5) John F. MacArthur, Jr., “Commitment to the Church,” Tape GC 80-130 (Panorama City, CA: Grace to You, 1994.

(6) MacArthur tape GC 80-130.

(7) MacArthur tape GC 80-130.

(8) Ben Patterson, “Why Join A Church?”, Leadership, Fall Quarter, 1984, p. 80.

(9) MacArthur tape GC 80-130.

(10) D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Knowing the Times (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1989), p. 30.

*Adapted from Spiritual Disciplines Within The Church by Donald S. Whitney, Moody Press, copyright 1996. Used with permission.

 

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Thoughts About Grieving the Loss of Robin Williams

Help for Those Fighting or Grieving a Suicide

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by Jon Bloom

Robin Williams’s alleged suicide has sent shock waves through the world. Williams was a man bursting with manic energy, an out-sized personality, prodigious dramatic talent, and a completely unique comic genius. He could make us roll on the floor in laughter and he could move us deeply to tears. Many of us have memories of his performances that stretch back into our childhood. Now, suddenly, at age 63, it appears that he has taken his own life. For this tragedy it is too early for any more words. Let us cover our mouths, weep, and pray for his family.

But for some of us in the household of Jesus, Williams’s death hits hard for very personal reasons. For some, a profound, oppressive darkness is threatening to douse the little light and hope they see. They are fighting for dear life to remember and believe that life is worth living. And Robin Williams’s surrender is sucking the hope that they will be able to keep fighting. If that’s you, I simply want to point you to hope by recommending a few things: Read the book of Ecclesiastes. That may sound strange because some find that book depressing. But I have appreciated this book most in my darkest times. Reading it will remind you that the Bible deals straight up with the bleakness of futility — finding hope in the world apart from God in this age. And it has clear pointers to hope.

Then read the book of John. Here is the Hope. The Light of the world shines with unique brightness in this book and in his light we see light (Psalm 36:9). When despairing of life, we need to spend concentrated time listening to the Life (John 14:6). Look through our list of free resources for help dealing with depression and despair. A while back I wrote about what I learned in one of my dark spiritual storms. It might be helpful to you. You Are Not Alone And one thing you need to remember is that the oppressive darkness and the temptation to despair is common to man. You are not alone. About ¼ of the Psalms are written to help you. And one man’s surrender to the darkness does not at all mean that’s where you’ll end up. This precious promise is for you: No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

The Fight for Hope

For others in the household of Jesus, Robin Williams’s death is a reminder of another precious, precious loved life that ended in a similar incomprehensible surrender, and has reopened the wound that will never fully heal in this age. Ineffable love and sorrow and confusion and maybe anger has been stirred up again and they are fighting for hope that suicide may not be the final word on that life and that the God who did not intervene to prevent it is good — or is there at all. If that’s you, I’d like to point you also to a few helpful resources: Suicide is not the unforgivable sin. John Piper shared some very helpful thoughts on an episode of “Ask Pastor John” last May titled, “Suicide and Salvation.” John also has preached a number of funerals for believers who committed suicide. This one from 1988 and this one from 2007 are particularly hopeful and helpful. Our National Conference from 2005 focused entirely on suffering. I recommend every session. But a particularly poignant one might be Mark Talbot’s message, “Seeing God’s Gracious Hand in the Hurts Others Do to Us.” Listen to the Light One thing for you to remember is what C. S. Lewis’s Aslan once said, “I tell no one any story but his own.” Essentially that was what Jesus replied to Peter who wanted to know Jesus’s plans for the Apostle John: “What is that to you? You follow me” (John 21:22). We dare not speculate too much about what we cannot see and cannot know about another’s story. We must rest in the trust that the Judge of all the earth will do what is just (Genesis 18:25). And remember that someday: He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Revelation 21:4) For most of us, depression is an indication of what we are believing. Let us not listen to the darkness and it’s seductive, hope-depleting half-truthed lies. It leads to a black hole. Listen to and move toward the Light. Light will dawn for those who trust him (Psalm 112:4). It’s a promise.

Related resources: The Joy Will Come When God Says Wait Worship in the Dark Jon Bloom (@Bloom_Jon) is the author of Not by Sight: A Fresh Look at Old Stories of Walking by Faith and serves as the President of Desiring God, which he and John Piper launched together in 1994. He lives in the Twin Cities with his wife, Pam, their five children, and one naughty dog.

 
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Posted by on August 12, 2014 in Suffering

 

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Tim Keller on Christ Centered Exposition of the Scriptures

Moralism vs. Christ-Centered Exposition 

Tim Keller seated image

We have said that you must preach the gospel every week–to edify and grow Christians and to convert non-Christians. But if that is the case, you cannot simply ‘instruct in Biblical principles.’ You have to ‘get to Jesus’ every week.

For example, look at the story of David and Goliath. What is the meaning of that narrative for us? Without reference to Christ, the story may be (usually is!) preached as: “The bigger they come, the harder they’ll fall, if you just go into your battles with faith in the Lord. You may not be real big and powerful in yourself, but with God on your side, you can overcome giants.” But as soon as we ask: “how is David foreshadowing the work of his greater Son”? We begin to see the same features of the story in a different light. The story is telling us that the Israelites can not go up against Goliath. They can’t do it. They need a substitute. When David goes in on their behalf, he is not a full-grown man, but a vulnerable and weak figure, a mere boy. He goes virtually as a sacrificial lamb. But God uses his apparent weakness as the means to destroy the giant, and David becomes Israel’s champion-redeemer, so that his victory will be imputed to them. They get all the fruit of having fought the battle themselves.

This is a fundamentally different meaning than the one that arises from the non-Christocentric reading. There is, in the end, only two ways to read the Bible: is it basically about me or basically about Jesus? In other words, is it basically about what I must do, or basically about what he has done? If I read David and Goliath as basically giving me an example, then the story is really about me. I must summons up the faith and courage to fight the giants in my life. But if I read David and Goliath as basically showing me salvation through Jesus, then the story is really about him. Until I see that Jesus fought the real giants (sin, law, death) for me, I will never have the courage to be able to fight ordinary giants in life (suffering, disappointment, failure, criticism, hardship). For example how can I ever fight the “giant” of failure, unless I have a deep security that God will not abandon me? If I see David as my example, the story will never help me fight the failure/giant. But if I see David/Jesus as my substitute, whose victory is imputed to me, then I can stand before the failure/giant. As another example, how can I ever fight the “giant” of persecution or criticism? Unless I can see him forgiving me on the cross, I won’t be able to forgive others. Unless I see him as forgiving me for falling asleep on him (Matt.27:45) I won’t be able to stay awake for him.

In the Old Testament we are continually told that our good works are not enough, that God has made a provision. This provision is pointed to at every place in the Old Testament. We see it in the clothes God makes Adam and Eve in Genesis, to the promises made to Abraham and the patriarchs, to the Tabernacle and the whole sacrificial system, to the innumerable references to a Messiah, a suffering servant, and so on. Therefore, to say that the Bible is about Christ is to say that the main theme of the Bible is the gospel–Salvation is of the Lord (Jonah 2:9).

So reading the Old Testament Christocentrically is not just a “additional” dimension. It is not something you can just tack on – to the end of a study and sermon. (“Oh, and by the way, this also points us to Christ”.) Rather, the Christocentric reading provides a fundamentally different application and meaning to the text. Without relating it to Christ, the story of Abraham and Isaac means: “You must be willing to even kill your own son for him.” Without relating it to Christ, the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel means: “You have to wrestle with God, even when he is inexplicable-even when he is crippling you. You must never give up.” These ‘morals-of-the-story’ are crushing because they essentially are read as being about us and what we must do.

A BASIC OUTLINE FOR CHRIST-CENTERED, GOSPEL-MOTIVATED SERMONS
The following may actually be four points in a presentation, or they may be treated very quickly as the last point of a sermon. But more generally, this is a foundational outline for the basic moral reasoning and argument that lies at the heart of the application.

The Plot winds up: WHAT YOU MUST DO.
“This is what you have to do! Here is what the text/narrative tells us that we must do or what we must be.”

The Plot thickens: WHY YOU CAN’T DO IT.
“But you can’t do it! Here are all the reasons that you will never become like this just by trying very hard.”

The Plot resolves: HOW HE DID IT.
“But there’s One who did. Perfectly. Wholly. Jesus the—. He has done this for us, in our place.”

The Plot winds down: HOW, THROUGH HIM, YOU CAN DO IT.
“Our failure to do it is due to our functional rejection of what he did. Remembering him frees our heart so we can change like this…”

a) In every text of the Scripture there is somehow a moral principle. It may grow out of because of what it shows us about the character of God or Christ, or out of either the good or bad example of characters in the text, or because of explicit commands, promises, and warnings. This moral principle must be distilled clearly.

b) But then a crisis is created in the hearers as the preacher shows that his moral principle creates insurmountable problems. The sermon shows how this practical and moral obligation is impossible to meet. The hearers are led to a seemingly dead end.

c) Then a hidden door opens and light comes in. The sermon moves both into worship and into Christ-application when it shows how only Jesus Christ has fulfilled this. If the text is a narrative, you can show how Christ is the ultimate example of a particular character. If the text is didactic, you can show how Christ is the ultimate embodiment of the principle.

d) Finally, we show how our inability to live as we ought stems from our rejection of Christ as the Way, Truth, and Life (or whatever the theme is). The sermon points out how to repent and rejoice in Christ in such a way that we can live as we ought.

 

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Dr. J.I. Packer: What Are The Essential Ingredients of there Gospel?

Dr. J.I. Packer: What Is The Gospel Message? 

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4 Essential Ingredients of the Gospel

In a word, the evangelistic message is the gospel of Christ and Him crucified, the message of man’s sin and God’s grace, of human guilt and divine forgiveness, of new birth and new life through the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is a message made up of four essential ingredients.

1. The gospel is a message about God. It tells us who He is, what His character is, what His standards are, and what He requires of us, His creatures. It tells us that we owe our very existence to Him; that for good or ill, we are always in His hands and under His eye; and that He made us to worship and serve Him, to show forth His praise and to live for His glory. These truths are the foundation of theistic religion; and until they are grasped, the rest of the gospel message will seem neither cogent nor relevant. It is here with the assertion of man’s complete and constant dependence on his Creator that the Christian story starts.

We can learn again from Paul at this point. When preaching to Jews, as at Pisidian Antioch, he did not need to mention the fact that men were God’s creatures. He could take this knowledge for granted, for his hearers had the Old Testament faith behind them. He could begin at once to declare Christ to them as the fulfillment of Old Testament hopes. But when preaching to Gentiles, who knew nothing of the Old Testament, Paul had to go further back and start from the beginning. And the beginning from which Paul started in such cases was the doctrine of God’s Creatorship and man’s creaturehood. So, when the Athenians asked him to explain what his talk of Jesus and the resurrection was all about, he spoke to them first of God the Creator and what He made man for. “God…made the world…seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; And hath made…all nations…that they should seek the Lord” (Act 17:24-27). This was not, as some have supposed, a piece of philosophical apologetic of a kind that Paul afterwards renounced, but the first and basic lesson in theistic faith. The gospel starts by teaching us that we, as creatures, are absolutely dependent on God, and that He, as Creator, has an absolute claim on us. Only when we have learned this can we see what sin is, and only when we see what sin is can we understand the good news of salvation from sin. We must know what it means to call God Creator before we can grasp what it means to speak of Him as Redeemer. Nothing can be achieved by talking about sin and salvation where this preliminary lesson has not in some measure been learned.

2. The gospel is a message about sin. It tells us how we have fallen short of God’s standard, how we have become guilty, filthy, and helpless in sin, and now stand under the wrath of God. It tells us that the reason why we sin continually is that we are sinners by nature, and that nothing we do or try to do for ourselves can put us right or bring us back into God’s favor. It shows us ourselves as God sees us and teaches us to think of ourselves as God thinks of us. Thus, it leads us to self-despair. And this also is a necessary step. Not until we have learned our need to get right with God and our inability to do so by any effort of our own can we come to know the Christ Who saves from sin.

There is a pitfall here. Everybody’s life includes things that cause dissatisfaction and shame. Everyone has a bad conscience about some things in his past, matters in which he has fallen short of the standard that he set for himself or that was expected of him by others. The danger is that in our evangelism we should content ourselves with evoking thoughts of these things and making people feel uncomfortable about them, and then depicting Christ as the One who saves us from these elements of ourselves, without even raising the question of our relationship with God. But this is just the question that has to be raised when we speak about sin. For the very idea of sin in the Bible is of an offence against God that disrupts a man’s relationship with God. Unless we see our shortcomings in the light of the Law and holiness of God, we do not see them as sin at all. For sin is not a social concept; it is a theological concept. Though sin is committed by man, and many sins are against society, sin cannot be defined in terms of either man or society. We never know what sin really is until we have learned to think of it in terms of God and to measure it, not by human standards, but by the yardstick of His total demand on our lives.

What we have to grasp, then, is that the bad conscience of the natural man is not at all the same thing as conviction of sin. It does not, therefore, follow that a man is convicted of sin when he is distressed about his weaknesses and the wrong things he has done. It is not conviction of sin just to feel miserable about yourself, your failures, and your inadequacy to meet life’s demands. Nor would it be saving faith if a man in that condition called on the Lord Jesus Christ just to soothe him, and cheer him up, and make him feel confident again. Nor should we be preaching the gospel (though we might imagine we were) if all that we did was to present Christ in terms of a man’s felt wants: “Are you happy? Are you satisfied? Do you want peace of mind? Do you feel that you have failed? Are you fed up with yourself? Do you want a friend? Then come to Christ; He will meet your every need”—as if the Lord Jesus Christ were to be thought of as a fairy godmother or a super-psychiatrist…To be convicted of sin means not just to feel that one is an all-round flop, but to realize that one has offended God, and flouted His authority, and defied Him, and gone against Him, and put oneself in the wrong with Him. To preach Christ means to set Him forth as the One Who through His cross sets men right with God again…

It is indeed true that the real Christ, the Christ of the Bible, Who [reveals] Himself to us as a Savior from sin and an Advocate with God, does in fact give peace, and joy, and moral strength, and the privilege of His own friendship to those who trust Him. But the Christ who is depicted and desired merely to make the lot of life’s casualties easier by supplying them with aids and comforts is not the real Christ, but a misrepresented and misconceived Christ—in effect, an imaginary Christ. And if we taught people to look to an imaginary Christ, we should have no grounds for expecting that they would find a real salvation. We must be on our guard, therefore, against equating a natural bad conscience and sense of wretchedness with spiritual conviction of sin and so omitting in our evangelism to impress upon sinners the basic truth about their condition—namely, that their sin has alienated them from God and exposed them to His condemnation, and hostility, and wrath, so that their first need is for a restored relationship with Him…

3. The gospel is a message about Christ—Christ, the Son of God incarnate; Christ, the Lamb of God, dying for sin; Christ, the risen Lord; Christ, the perfect Savior.

Two points need to be made about the declaring of this part of the message: (i) We must not present the Person of Christ apart from His saving work. It is sometimes said that it is the presentation of Christ’s Person, rather than of doctrines about Him, that draws sinners to His feet. It is true that it is the living Christ Who saves and that a theory of the atonement, however orthodox, is no substitute. When this remark is made, however, what is usually being suggested is that doctrinal instruction is dispensable in evangelistic preaching, and that all the evangelist need do is paint a vivid word-picture of the man of Galilee who went about doing good, and then assure his hearers that this Jesus is still alive to help them in their troubles. But such a message could hardly be called the gospel. It would, in reality, be a mere conundrum, serving only to mystify…the truth is that you cannot make sense of the historic figure of Jesus until you know about the Incarnation—that this Jesus was in fact God the Son, made man to save sinners according to His Father’s eternal purpose. Nor can you make sense of His life until you know about the atonement—that He lived as man so that He might die as man for men, and that His passion, His judicial murder was really His saving action of bearing away the world’s sins. Nor can you tell on what terms to approach Him now until you know about the resurrection, ascension, and heavenly session—that Jesus has been raised, and enthroned, and made King, and lives to save to the uttermost all who acknowledge His Lordship. These doctrines, to mention no others, are essential to the gospel…In fact, without these doctrines you would have no gospel to preach at all.

(ii) But there is a second and complementary point: we must not present the saving work of Christ apart from His Person. Evangelistic preachers and personal workers have sometimes been known to make this mistake. In their concern to focus attention on the atoning death of Christ as the sole sufficient ground on which sinners may be accepted with God, they have expounded the summons to saving faith in these terms: “Believe that Christ died for your sins.” The effect of this exposition is to represent the saving work of Christ in the past, dissociated from His Person in the present, as the whole object of our trust. But it is not biblical thus to isolate the work from the Worker. Nowhere in the New Testament is the call to believe expressed in such terms. What the New Testament calls for is faith in (en) or into (eis) or upon (epi) Christ Himself—the placing of our trust in the living Savior Who died for sins. The object of saving faith is thus not, strictly speaking, the atonement, but the Lord Jesus Christ, Who made atonement. We must not, in presenting the gospel, isolate the cross and its benefits from the Christ Whose cross it was. For the persons to whom the benefits of Christ’s death belong are just those who trust His Person and believe, not upon His saving death simply, but upon Him, the living Savior. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved,” said Paul (Act 16:31). “Come unto me…and I will give you rest,” said our Lord (Mat 11:28).

This being so, one thing becomes clear straight away: namely, that the question about the extent of the atonement, which is being much agitated in some quarters, has no bearing on the content of the evangelistic message at this particular point. I do not propose to discuss this question now; I have done that elsewhere. I am not at present asking you whether you think it is true to say that Christ died in order to save every single human being, past, present, and future, or not. Nor am I at present inviting you to make up your mind on this question, if you have not done so already. All I want to say here is that even if you think the above assertion is true, your presentation of Christ in evangelism ought not to differ from that of the man who thinks it false.

What I mean is this: it is obvious that if a preacher thought that the statement, “Christ died for every one of you,” made to any congregation, would be unverifiable and probably not true, he would take care not to make it in his gospel preaching. You do not find such statements in the sermons of, for instance, George Whitefield or Charles Spurgeon. But now, my point is that, even if a man thinks that this statement would be true if he made it, it is not a thing that he ever needs to say or ever has reason to say when preaching the gospel. For preaching the gospel, as we have just seen, means [calling] sinners to come to Jesus Christ, the living Savior, Who, by virtue of His atoning death, is able to forgive and save all those who put their trust in Him. What has to be said about the cross when preaching the gospel is simply that Christ’s death is the ground on which Christ’s forgiveness is given. And this is all that has to be said. The question of the designed extent of the atonement does not come into the story at all…The fact is that the New Testament never calls on any man to repent on the ground that Christ died specifically and particularly for him.

The gospel is not, “Believe that Christ died for everybody’s sins, and therefore for yours,” any more than it is, “Believe that Christ died only for certain people’s sins, and so perhaps not for yours”…We have no business to ask them to put faith in any view of the extent of the atonement. Our job is to point them to the living Christ, and summon them to trust in Him…This brings us to the final ingredient in the gospel message.

4. The gospel is a summons to faith and repentance. All who hear the gospel are summoned by God to repent and believe. “God…commandeth all men every where to repent,” Paul told the Athenians (Act 17:30). When asked by His hearers what they should do in order to “work the works of God,” our Lord replied, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent” (Joh 6:29). And in 1 John 3:23 we read: “This is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ…”

Repentance and faith are rendered matters of duty by God’s direct command, and hence impenitence and unbelief are singled out in the New Testament as most grievous sins. With these universal commands, as we indicated above, go universal promises of salvation to all who obey them. “Through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins” (Act 10:43). “Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev 22:17). “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (Joh 3:16). These words are promises to which God will stand as long as time shall last.

It needs to be said that faith is not a mere optimistic feeling, any more than repentance is a mere regretful or remorseful feeling. Faith and repentance are both acts, and acts of the whole man…faith is essentially the casting and resting of oneself and one’s confidence on the promises of mercy which Christ has given to sinners, and on the Christ Who gave those promises. Equally, repentance is more than just sorrow for the past; repentance is a change of mind and heart, a new life of denying self and serving the Savior as King in self’s place…Two further points need to be made also:

(i) The demand is for faith as well as repentance. It is not enough to resolve to turn from sin, give up evil habits, and try to put Christ’s teaching into practice by being religious and doing all possible good to others. Aspiration, and resolution, and morality, and religiosity,[15] are no substitutes for faith…If there is to be faith, however, there must be a foundation of knowledge: a man must know of Christ, and of His cross, and of His promises before saving faith becomes a possibility for him. In our presentation of the gospel, therefore, we need to stress these things, in order to lead sinners to abandon all confidence in themselves and to trust wholly in Christ and the power of His redeeming blood to give them acceptance with God. For nothing less than this is faith.

(ii) The demand is for repentance as well as faith…If there is to be repentance, however, there must, again, be a foundation of knowledge…More than once, Christ deliberately called attention to the radical break with the past that repentance involves. “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me…whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” (Mat 16:24-25). “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also (i.e., put them all decisively second in his esteem), he cannot be my disciple…whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple” (Luk 14:26, 33). The repentance that Christ requires of His people consists in a settled refusal to set any limit to the claims that He may make on their lives…He had no interest in gathering vast crowds of professed adherents who would melt away as soon as they found out what following Him actually demanded of them. In our own presentation of Christ’s gospel, therefore, we need to lay a similar stress on the cost of following Christ, and make sinners face it soberly before we urge them to respond to the message of free forgiveness. In common honesty, we must not conceal the fact that free forgiveness in one sense will cost everything; or else our evangelizing becomes a sort of confidence trick. And where there is no clear knowledge, and hence no realistic recognition of the real claims that Christ makes, there can be no repentance, and therefore no salvation.

Such is the evangelistic message that we are sent to make known.

Excerpt From Evangelism & the Sovereignty of God  by J. I. Packer.

 

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