April 30, 2008
This is the third installment in a series entitled “How Do I Know If I’m a Christian?”
Matthew 16:13-18 (ESV) – 13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
The key distinction between the multitudes and the disciples is that, by God’s grace, the disciples know who Jesus is. They understand that He is the Christ (the Messiah, God’s Anointed King and promised Savior), the Son of the Living God (implying deity.) Jesus states that upon this confession of faith, proclaimed through the apostles, He would build His Church (cf. Eph 2:19-22.)
We have been examining how we can know if we are a Christian. We have been examining this topic from the First Epistle of John, in which the Apostle John provides a series of tests for whether or not we are a Christian. We have seen four tests of whether or not we are a Christian:
1) Christians have fellowship with God (I Jn 1:1-4.)
2) Christians strive to avoid sin and seek righteousness (I Jn 3:4-10.)
3) Christians love one another (I Jn 3:14, 4:20-21.)
4) Christians do not love the world or the things in the world (I Jn 2:15-17.)
The fifth test of whether or not we are a Christian is, “Do we believe the biblical teaching regarding the person and work of Jesus?”
1 John 2:18-22 (ESV) – 18 Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. 20 But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. 21 I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth. 22 Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son.
John is warning Christians about the presence of many “antichrists” in the world. The term translated “antichrist” (ἀντίχριστος, pronounced antichristos) literally refers to someone or something which is “in the place of Christ” and which “opposes Christ” (Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary on First John, Baker, I Jn 2:18.) These “antichrists” oppose Christ by presenting false understandings of Christ in an attempt to deceive the unsuspecting.
Following is a list of the characteristics of “antichrists” in I John:
1) They have separated from “us” (from the church and an orthodox understanding of apostolic doctrine)
1 John 2:19 (ESV) – 19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.
Unfortunately, we see this all the time today. Given our present, postmodern context, it is quite common for teachers to “reinvent” or “re-imagine” doctrine. Christians must take care to hold fast to the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3.)
2) They deny that Jesus is the Christ.
1 John 2:22 (ESV) – 22 Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son.
To deny that Jesus is the Christ is to deny that He is God’s Anointed King and promised Savior. This is probably a denial of the work which Jesus was commissioned by the Father to accomplish (i.e. I Jn 4:14.)
We see this among theological liberals and those in the emergent church. Many have rejected the biblical doctrine of the substitutionary atonement of Christ (I Jn 2:1-2) and have redefined the intended work of Jesus as being simply that of an example for us to follow. Although Jesus certainly is our example (for example: Phil 2:5-8), the overwhelming evidence of Scripture is that the purpose of God in sending Jesus into the world was to die for the sins of His people (see Old Testament sacrificial system, Isaiah 53, Mk 10:45, Lk 19:10, etc…) When someone redefines the work of Christ in another way, then they are an “antichrist.”
3) They deny that Jesus came in the flesh.
1 John 4:1-3 (ESV) – 1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.
John was probably arguing against a proto-Gnostic heresy which stated that Jesus was not truly human, but only appeared to be human (i.e. Docetism.) However, the full humanity of Christ is absolutely essential for the completion of Jesus’ mission to provide a substitutionary atonement for His people.
Hebrews 2:14-18 (ESV) – 14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. 16 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
Apart from possessing full humanity, Jesus could not function as our representative (“high priest.”) Apart from possessing full humanity, Jesus could not make propitiation for the sins of His people.
This heretical view of the person of Christ is not particularly prevalent today. However, we might find some variations of this in certain new age spiritualities.
4) They are from the world… and the world listens to them.
1 John 4:5-6 (ESV) – 5 They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
Notice that antichrists are accepted by the world. The world listens to them, because they are from the world. At the same time, the world “does not listen to us” (cf. I Cor 1:18 – the gospel is foolishness to them.)
This should be a strong warning sign for us as Christians. If the world accepts a particular teaching, then we should examine it closely to ascertain whether or not it is biblical, because the world does not accept that which is of God.
5) They deny that Jesus is the Son of God.
1 John 5:4-5 (ESV) – 4 For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
The world… and the world’s teachers (i.e. antichrists) are overcome by the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.
Although the doctrine of the deity of Christ has been constantly disputed throughout church history, Scripture is abundantly clear that Jesus is “very God of very God.”
John 1:1-3 (ESV) – 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
Colossians 1:15-20 (ESV) – 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
Colossians 2:9 (ESV) - 9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,
Hebrews 1:1-3 (ESV) – 1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,
Given all this, the biblical teaching regarding Jesus in First John can be summed up as follows:
1) Jesus is the eternal Son of God.
2) Jesus is fully human, like us in every way, but without sin.
3) Jesus is the Christ, God’s Anointed King and the Savior of His people through His substitutionary death upon the cross.
If a person does not adhere to this understanding of Jesus, then they are not a Christian.
1 John 2:23-25 (ESV) – 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. 24 Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father. 25 And this is the promise that he made to us—eternal life.
Christians hold fast to the gospel (“what you heard from the beginning”, cf. I Jn 1:1-4.) Those who deny the biblical teaching regarding Jesus do not have a relationship with the Father. Those who know Jesus and are trusting in Him “abide in the Father” and they have eternal life. They are Christians!
Who do you say Jesus is?
Do you believe that He is the eternal Son of God?
Do you believe that He is fully human and fully divine?
Do you believe that Jesus died for your sins, that He was buried and that He rose again the third day?
Do you pass the test?
Many of you may have already read this brief sermon which most attribute to Charles Spurgeon (the authorship is sometimes debated) but in case you haven’t…
Feeding Sheep or Amusing Goats?
Charles Haddon Spurgeon
An evil is in the professed camp of the Lord, so gross in its impudence, that the most shortsighted can hardly fail to notice it during the past few years. It has developed at an abnormal rate, even for evil. It has worked like leaven until the whole lump ferments. The devil has seldom done a cleverer thing than hinting to the church that part of their mission is to provide entertainment for the people, with a view to winning them.
From speaking out as the Puritans did, the church has gradually toned down her testimony, then winked at and excused the frivolities of the day. Then she tolerated them in her borders. Now she has adopted them under the plea of reaching the masses.
My first contention is that providing amusement for the people is nowhere spoken of in the Scriptures as a function of the church. If it is a Christian work, why did not Christ speak of it? “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). That is clear enough. So it would have been if He had added, “and provide amusement for those who do not relish the gospel.” No such words, however, are to be found. It did not seem to occur to him.
Then again, “He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some evangelists; and some pastors and teachers .., for the work of the ministry” (Eph. 4:11-12). Where do entertainers come in? The Holy Spirit is silent concerning them. Were the prophets persecuted because they amused the people or because they refused? The concert has no martyr roll.
Again, providing amusement is in direct antagonism to the teaching and life of Christ and all his apostles. What was the attitude of the church to the world? Ye are the salt” (Matt. 5:13), not the sugar candy—something the world will spit out not swallow. Short and sharp was the utterance, “Let the dead bury their dead” (Matt. 8:22) He was in awful earnestness.
Had Christ introduced more of the bright and pleasant elements into his mission, he would have been more popular when they went back, because of the searching nature of His teaching. I do not hear him say, “Run after these people Peter and tell them we will have a different style of service tomorrow, something short and attractive with little preaching. We will have a pleasant evening for the people. Tell them they will be sure to enjoy it. Be quick Peter, we must get the people somehow.” Jesus pitied sinners, sighed and wept over them, but never sought to amuse them.
In vain will the Epistles be searched to find any trace of this gospel of amusement! Their message is, “Come out, keep out, keep clean out!” Anything approaching fooling is conspicuous by its absence. They had boundless confidence in the gospel and employed no other weapon.
After Peter and John were locked up for preaching, the church had a prayer meeting but they did not pray, “Lord grant unto thy servants that by a wise and discriminating use of innocent recreation we may show these people how happy we are.” If they ceased not from preaching Christ, they had not time for arranging entertainments. Scattered by persecution, they went everywhere preaching the gospel. They turned the world upside down (Acts 17:6). That is the only difference! Lord, clear the church of all the rot and rubbish the devil has imposed on her, and bring us back to apostolic methods.Lastly, the mission of amusement fails to effect the end desired. It works havoc among young converts. Let the careless and scoffers, who thank God because the church met them halfway, speak and testify. Let the heavy laden who found peace through the concert not keep silent! Let the drunkard to whom the dramatic entertainment has been God’s link in the chain of the conversion, stand up! There are none to answer. The mission of amusement produces no converts. The need of the hour for today’s ministry is believing scholarship joined with earnest spirituality, the one springing from the other as fruit from the root. The need is biblical doctrine, so understood and felt, that it sets men on fire.
“We will never properly understand the work of God which takes place in the Christian life unless we first of all have some kind of grasp of why we need the grace of God” (Sinclair Ferguson, “The Christian Life”, Banner of Truth, pg 11.)
If we are to even begin to appreciate the greatness o f the grace of God in the gospel, then we must grow in our understanding of sin.
In his book, “The Christian Life”, Dr. Sinclair Ferguson discusses four aspects of the fallen and sinful nature of humanity:
1) The image of God in man is defaced.
God created all things for His glory (Rom 11:36, Rev 4:11, I Cor 6:20, I Cor 10:31.) However, human beings are unique among all creation for we are created in the image of God to reflect His character within creation (Gen 1:26-27.) However, the sin of Adam brought death upon humanity (Gen 2:17, Gen 3) and a defacement of image of God within us. The image of God is not completely destroyed (Gen 9:6), but it is seriously defaced (Rom 3:23 – “for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God…”)
The gospel offers us hope in light of this problem, for in the gospel we have the promise of God that we are “a new creation” in Christ Jesus (II Cor 5:17.)
We have no ability to recreate ourselves… this work must come from God… and it is a consequence of regeneration (John 3:1-8, cf. Ezek 36:25-27.)
2) People are under the dominion of sin and death.
The apostle Paul says it better than I ever could…
Human beings under the dominion of death:
Romans 5:12 (ESV) – 12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—
Romans 6:23a (ESV) – 23 For the wages of sin is death…
Human beings are under the dominion of sin:
Romans 7:18-20 (ESV) – 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
The gospel alone is the answer to this problem…
Romans 6:6-11 (ESV) – 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
3) Human beings are guilty before God.
Read Romans 1-3 carefully. In this passage, the apostle Paul brings a devastating indictment against all humanity. All human beings, without exception, are guilty before God.
Romans 3:10-11, 23 (ESV) – 10 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God… 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
There is a consequence for our guilt before God…
Romans 6:23 (ESV) - 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 1:18 (ESV) - 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
Only through the work of Christ Jesus can the consequences of our sin be removed…
Isaiah 53:6 (ESV) – 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
Romans 8:1 (ESV) - 1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
4) Human beings are naturally in the grip of Satan.
Ephesians 2:1-3 (ESV) – 1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
The answer to this problem is found in the saving work of God alone…
Ephesians 2:4-7 (ESV) – 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
“We need recreation by Christ in order that the image of God, once distorted by sin, may be restored. We need deliverance form the dominion of sin in order that we may live freely for God. We need to be rescued from the power of Satan so that our lives may be given to Christ the Lord as His glad bondslaves. We need to be saved from the wrath of God so that, released from this most terrifying of all prospects, we may live the life of forgiven sinners. It is the glory of the gospel that it meets our need” (Sinclair Ferguson, “The Christian Life”, Banner of Truth, pg 16.)
April 29, 2008
In our Sunday morning message at Maranatha Baptist Church on April 27, 2008 (see previous post); we briefly examined the New Testament model of church leadership. In particular we noted the plurality of elders/pastors in every church and their appointment by the Holy Spirit, which is recognized by the other elders/pastors in the church, who publically set them apart for a specific ministry role.
To explore this theme further, it might be helpful to read the following:
1) “Christian Elders in the New Testament” by Dr. John Piper. You can find it here http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Articles/ByTopic/40/2650_Christian_Elders_in_the_New_Testament/
2) “Answering the Key Questions About Elders” by Dr. John MacArthur. You can it here http://www.gty.org/Resources/positions/2164
3) “Should a Church Have Elders” by Dr. Mark Dever. You can find it here http://www.9marks.org/CC/article/0,,PTID314526%7CCHID598016%7CCIID1643290,00.html
4) “Electing Elders” by Burk Parsons. You can find it here http://www.9marks.org/CC/article/0,,PTID314526%7CCHID598016%7CCIID2301894,00.html
For more a more in-depth discussion of how a plurality of elders/pastors fits in specifically with a Baptist understanding of church government, read “Baptists and Elders” by Dr. Mark Dever. It can be found here http://www.9marks.org/CC/article/0,,PTID314526%7CCHID598016%7CCIID1744980,00.html
Building on my earlier post from Dr. Sinclair Ferguson’s book “The Christian Life”, Ligonier ministries is posting chapters from Dr. John Gerstner’s book “Theology For Everyman.” I find it interesting how much his comments reflect the same thought as that of Dr. Ferguson’s…
“Christian laymen, the average persons sitting in the pew on a Sunday morning, sometimes think they need not be theologians. That, however, is a very great mistake. They do need to be theologians–at least they should be amateur theologians. In fact, that is the one vocation every man is obliged to follow. A layman does not need to be a plumber, a carpenter, a lawyer, a doctor, a teacher, a laborer, or a housewife. These are all possibilities, but not necessities. A layman may be one or the other of these as he chooses. But he must be a theologian. This is not an option for him, but a requirement!” (John Gerstner, “Theology for Everyman.”)
You can find the whole post here http://www.ligonier.org/blog/2008/04/everyone-must-be-a-theologian.html
I must admit that I am more than a little ashamed of myself for not discovering the works of Dr. Sinclair Ferguson sooner. It isn’t that I had never heard of him, I had simply never read him or listened to any of his sermons. Since “discovering” him recently, I have been reading and listening to everything I can find by him and it has been an incredible blessing.
Let me a share a little bit with you from the first page of his book, “The Christian Life”:
“When I first became involved in teaching God’s word, I tended to assume that one of the great needs of Christians is to be instructed in the ‘deeper truths’ of the gospel. It was not long before experience (of my own life) and observation (of other’s lives) taught me how mistaken I have been. I began to see that in fact the ‘deeper truths’ (if there are such things) are really the old basic truths of the gospel. Far from being luxuries, they are necessities for Christian living. The rather disturbing thought began to dawn on me that many of us who are professing Christians are distressingly weak in our grasp of the basic framework of biblical doctrine. We assume that we know the elements of the message of the New Testament, but sometimes our understanding of them is like that of a child” (Sinclair Ferguson, “The Christian Life”, Banner of Truth Trust, pg 1.)
I have observed this tendency both in myself and others to seek after that which is new and “trendy”, rather than spending time meditating on and mastering basic Christian doctrine. Dr. Ferguson states that catering to this tendency in ourselves has resulted in the prevalence of stunted growth among modern evangelicals:
“But surely many Christians have lived their lives without much grasp of Christian truth and it has made very little difference? Often that is the unfortunate truth! Our lives have been no different from our contemporaries. We have made little or no impression upon the world, for the very reason that gospel doctrine has made a correspondingly slight impression upon us” (Sinclair Ferguson, “The Christian Life”, Banner of Truth, pg 6.)
If this describes us… then where should we start?
1 Corinthians 15:1-4 (ESV) – 1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,
Paul feels the need here to reiterate the gospel to the Corinthians, even though they are already Christians (Paul calls them “brethren”, cf. I Cor 1:4-9.) In fact, Paul unashamedly tells them in no uncertain terms that the gospel is to be “of first importance” to them.
How well do we really understand the gospel?
Is the gospel of first importance to us?
Could it be that the reason most evangelicals are so weak in sharing their faith is that we don’t really know what we believe?
Could it be that our lives reflect the world, rather than Christ, because we are not growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ?
How should we study and meditate on the gospel?
1) Meditate on the doctrine of God. Study His attributes and works. As you read Scripture, always ask the question, “What does this teach me about God?” A good exercise is to read through the Psalms over the course of a month (5 Psalms per day will get you through in 30 days) and mark every reference to God, His attributes and His works. At the end of the month, summarize your findings. Read solid Christian books dealing with theology proper (“The Attributes of God” by A.W. Pink is an excellent primer on the person and work of God. You can find it for free on the internet.)
2) Study the nature of man. Familiarize yourself with passages such as Genesis 1-3, Isaiah 59:1-20, Romans 1-3, 5:12-21, and I John 1:8-10.
3) Study the person and work of Christ. Read through the gospels regularly. Meditate often on passages such as John 1:1-18, Colossians 1:15-20, I Corinthians 15:1-8, and Revelation 5 (this is not a comprehensive list… just a few passages off the top of my head.) Ponder the cross!!! (Read C.J. Mahaney’s book “Living the Cross-Centered Life” or the recent release by Milton Vincent, “A Gospel Primer for Christians.” For a more indepth discussion of the cross, read “The Cross of Christ” by John Stott.)
“It is one of the enigmas of our day that in a world of great opportunities, many Christians have less knowledge of Christian doctrine than children at Sunday School had in previous centuries” (Sinclair Ferguson, “The Christian Life”, Banner of Truth, pg 8.)
May this not be true of us!!!
April 28, 2008
In an online post dated January 21, 2008, Dr. John MacArthur listed 7 good reasons why preachers must preach the Word of God:
1) Preaching the Word of God lets God speak rather than man, because it declares God’s own Word.
2) Preaching the Word is the only right way to preach because it brings the preacher into direct contact with the mind of the Holy Spirit, the author of Scripture.
3) Preaching the Word is the only right way to preach because it forces the preacher to proclaim all of God’s revelation, including those truths that even many believers find hard to learn or accept.
4) Preaching the Word is the only right way to preach because it promotes biblical literacy in a congregation, not only through what is learned from the sermon itself but also through the increased desire to study
5) Preaching the Word is the only right way to preach because it carries ultimate authority.
6) Preaching the Word is the only right way to preach because only that kind of preaching can transform both the preacher and the congregation.
7) It is His own Word, and only His own Word, that the Lord calls and commissions His preachers to proclaim.
Read the whole post here http://www.sfpulpit.com/2008/01/21/why-preach-the-word/
The following is a summary of the sermon preached at Maranatha Baptist Church on Sunday morning, April 27, 2008, entitled “The Leadership of the Holy Spirit in the Church.)
After the resurrection, Jesus Christ gave the following commission to His Church:
Matthew 28:18-20 (ESV) – 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
It is an awesome privilege which is given to us as Christians that we might be part of God’s world-wide plan of salvation. But we should also recognize that this is not an option. This is an imperative… a command from Him who has all authority in heaven and earth. We are to take part in His plan to bring the message of the gospel to men and women of all nations.
Does that mean that we all have to quit our jobs and pack up the family and move to the 10/40 window? Of course not… but we are all to take part in this commission. Some are called to go as missionaries… and some are called to send others out as missionaries.
How do we know who is called to go and who is called to send?
Notice that Jesus said “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me…I am with you always, to the end of the age.” The choice of who goes and who stays belongs to Jesus… and He is with us always.
How is Jesus with His people today? Through the abiding presence of His Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 1:8.)
How does Jesus exercise His authority over His people? By His Spirit through His Word.
We see that clearly in Acts 12:25-13:3…
Acts 12:25-13:3 (ESV) - 25 And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had completed their service, bringing with them John, whose other name was Mark. 1 Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.
Here we see the beginning of the intentional effort of the church to fulfill Christ’s commission to “make disciples of all nations” and, in the process, we get a unique glimpse into the leadership of the church in Antioch here.
We are told that the church in Antioch had “prophets and teachers.” Although there is debate among Christians as to the continuing ministry of prophets today, there seems to be little question that prophets in the apostolic era represented God to the people. God communicated with them by direct revelation and they communicated God’s truth to God’s people.
Teachers functioned in much the same way, except it seems that they communicated God’s truth to God’s people from the received text of Scripture and apostolic tradition (“apostles doctrine” – Acts 2:42. In many ways, they were Bible teachers.
These men seem to be functioning as the leadership in Antioch and there are several things we should notice:
1) Their leadership in the church seems to be exercised through the communication of God’s truth (i.e. “prophets and teachers.”)
2) There was great diversity among these men (ethnically, culturally and socially.)
3) There was a plurality of elders (pastors/overseers) in the church in Antioch. This was not a “one man show.” (Note: This is clearly the New Testament model. See Acts 11:30, 14:23, 20:17, Titus 1:5, I Tim 5:17 and James 5:14… all of which speak of plural elders (pastor/shepherds) in each church.)
Notice what these men are doing… they are “worshipping the Lord and fasting.”
The word translated “worshipping” is the Greek word λειτουργέω (pronounced leitourgeo). We get our English word “liturgy” from this word. It literally means “to render special formal service” (BDAG, λειτουργέω.) It is used in both the Greek translation of the Old Testament (LXX) and the New Testament (Luke 1:23) to describe priestly service in the temple.
Since these men are not engaged in priestly service in the temple, what are they doing? Although we cannot know for sure, since they are designated by Scripture as “prophets and teachers”, it is probably safe to assume that their religious service here involved the ministry of the Word, either public teaching or private study of the Word.
We are also told that they were “fasting.” In Scripture, fasting is primarily a means of demonstrating dependence upon God. It is choosing to lay aside the pursuit of our physical needs so that we can whole-heartedly seek God. It is almost always, if not always, accompanied by times of focused, passionate prayer.
It is important to note that they engaged in this activity TOGETHER.
Notice that what we see here is the manner in which church leaders are to conduct business in the church. Despite their differences, they come together and seek the Lord in His Word and prayer and out of these times of focused prayer and time in the Word, God reveals His will for those they shepherd in the church.
That is the opposite of the way many churches are led. Typically, church leaders gather to do the business of the church and time spent in the Word and prayer are an afterthought.
But that runs contradictory to what we see here… and elsewhere in the book of Acts. Compare this to Acts 6:1-4…
Acts 6:1-4 (ESV) - 1 Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. 2 And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3 Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
Although the business of the church is important (in this case, caring for the needs of the Hellenistic widows) and godly men are needed to meet these needs, the apostles (functioning as elders/pastors in the church in Jerusalem) are committed to time spent in prayer and the Word. The Greek is emphatic that they will be devoted to this TOGETHER.
This is exactly what we see taking place in the church at Antioch. The men called by God to shepherd the church in Antioch were not simply a board of directors for the church. They didn’t just gather together to do the business of the church. They were men who sought God together… and as they did this, God led them by His Holy Spirit.
It was during one of these times in the Word and prayer and fasting together that the Holy Spirit spoke to them in some unidentified way and directed them to set apart Barnabas and Saul for the work to which He had called them.
The authority to decide who goes out to the ends of the earth with the gospel and who stays and sends them out belongs with Jesus Christ, not with us. He decides, according to His will, and He makes His will clear in His time by His Spirit through His Word and prayer.
It is important for us to note that Barnabas and Saul did not set themselves apart to this task. They are appointed by the Holy Spirit and they are publically set apart to this ministry by the leaders of the church who recognize this call by the Holy Spirit.
This is the consistent, New Testament model for the appointment of men to any position of ministry. Those called to shepherd God’s people… or in this case, go off to the ends of the earth… are appointed to the task by the Holy Spirit, who uniquely gifts them to fulfill this ministry, and the church recognizes these gifts and the leaders set apart these men for this ministry (See Acts 14:23, I Tim 4:14, 5:22.)
Barnabas and Saul are set apart for this ministry by the laying on of hands. This symbol is probably derived from the Old Testament sacrificial system. When a sacrifice was offered, the worshipper would lay their hands on the animal, symbolizing their identification with that sacrifice. This animal was dying in their place.
In a similar way by laying hands on Barnabas and Saul, the leaders of the church in Antioch are saying, “We are with you. You are going out in our place. You are our representatives in this ministry to which the Holy Spirit has called you.” The church in Antioch was participating in Christ’s commission to make disciples of all nations through Barnabas and Saul, who were going out in their place to spread the gospel message.
The same is true in our churches today. When we send out men and women to the mission field, we are recognizing the appointment of the Holy Spirit to this ministry and they go out as our representatives in God’s plan to bring salvation to men and women of every tribe, tongue, people and nation.
Jesus said, “…All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 (ESV))
How do we know the will of God for our lives in this mission?
1) We don’t get to decide for ourselves. All authority in heaven and earth belongs to Jesus Christ. He is the Head of the Church and we are His Body (Eph 1:22-23.) He calls the shots and we follow. He appoints who He will to whatever role He desires.
2) The authority of Christ is exercised in His Church today by His Spirit through His Word. The way to know the will of God for our lives is to spend much time in the Word of God (Rom 12:2.) This should be done both personally and corporately.
How are church leaders to discern the will of God for the church they are called to shepherd? We will only know God’s will for the church we serve if we spend much time together in the Word and prayer.
April 25, 2008
What makes grace so amazing?
Dr. Sinclair Ferguson once wrote, “… grace makes sense to us only in light of the sin to which it provides remedy. Consequently, only those made sensitive to sin, its greatness, misery and danger, will grasp clearly the wonder of God’s salvation. Grace is only ‘amazing’ when we see that it is a ‘wretch like me’ that it saves” (Sinclair Ferguson, excerpted from “The Compromised Church”, edited by John Armstrong, page 273.)
How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.” (John Newton, “Amazing Grace.”)
When was the last time you truly pondered the sinfulness of your own sin? It is only as we remember our wretchedness that we begin to grasp the amazing grace and love of God in Christ Jesus.
“And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior’s blood!
Died He for me who caused His pain!
For me who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?” (Charles Wesley, “And Can It Be.”)
How can we meditate on our own sinfulness? Here are a couple of suggestions:
1) Examine yourself in light of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20.) Don’t make excuses for yourself. Remember and admit your sin… both to yourself and before God.
2) Examine yourself in light of the Beatitudes (Matt 5:3-10.) Ask yourself, “Am I poor in spirit? Do I mourn over sin? Am I gentle? Do I hunger and thirst for righteousness?” You get the idea. Walk through the Beatitudes and examine yourself in light of what Jesus says makes a person “blessed.”
Take some time in the days ahead to reflect on your own sinfulness… but don’t stop there. Remember that, if you are a Christian, then all the sins you have ever committed and all the sins you ever will commit were paid for by Jesus Christ. “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures…” (I Cor 15:3.) He suffered and died because of my sins… and yours. Remember the gospel… and rejoice!!!
Remember Dr. Ferguson’s words cited at the beginning of this post, “… grace makes sense to us only in light of the sin to which it provides remedy. Consequently, only those made sensitive to sin, its greatness, misery and danger, will grasp clearly the wonder of God’s salvation. Grace is only ‘amazing’ when we see that it is a ‘wretch like me’ that it saves” (Sinclair Ferguson, excerpted from “The Compromised Church”, edited by John Armstrong, page 273.)
Remember your sin… and rejoice in God’s amazing grace!
April 24, 2008
Do you remember the old bluegrass song “Keep on the Sunny Side of Life?” The lyrics go something like this…
“There’s a dark and a troubled side of life
There’s a bright and a sunny side, too
Though we meet with the darkness and strife
The sunny side we also may view.
Keep on the sunny side always on the sunny side
Keep on the sunny side of life
It will help us every day it will brighten all the way
If we keep on the sunny side of life.
The storm and its fury broke today
Brushing hopes that we’ve cherished so dear
Cloud and storm will in time pass away
The sun again will shine bright and clear.”
Stop here for a moment. There is nothing inherently wrong with what is said here. Often we are encouraged through the trials of life if we “keep on the sunny side of life.” However, there is nothing particularly Christian about this either. If it were not for the final verse of this song, then the theme of this song would be nothing more than “the power of positive thinking”:
“Let us breathe with a song of hope each day
Though the moments be cloudy or fair
Let us trust in our Savior away
He keepeth everyone in his care.”
Finally, we have a Christian sentiment here. “Let us trust in our Savior… He keepeth everyone in His care.” Why is it that the Christian can “keep on the sunny side of life”? It is only because of our Savior who keeps us in His care.
Sadly, I think a lot of Christians have forgotten this. There seems to be a common trend among many evangelicals which says that Christians never mourn or feel depressed… they just “keep on the sunny side of life.” For many people, this even equated with living the Christian life.
I thought about this after receiving the following email, entitled “Attitude is Everything”, which I will include for you in its entirety…
Attitude is Everything
LET IT REALLY SINK IN – THEN CHOOSE
John is the kind of guy you love to hate. He is always in a good mood and always has something positive to say. When someone would ask him how he was doing, he would reply, “If I were any better, I would be twins!”
He was a natural motivator.
If an employee was having a bad day, John was there telling the employee how to look on the positive side of the situation.
Seeing this style really made me curious, so one day I went up and asked him “I don’t get it!”
“You can’t be a positive person all of the time. How do you do it?”
He replied, “Each morning I wake up and say to myself, you have two choices today. You can choose to be in a good mood or…you can choose to be in a bad mood, I choose to be in a good mood.”
“Each time something bad happens, I can choose to be a victim or…I can choose to learn from it. I choose to learn from it. Every time someone comes to me complaining, I can choose to accept their complaining or…I can point out the positive side of life. I choose the positive side of life.”
“Yeah, right, it’s not that easy,” I protested.
“Yes, it is,” he said. “Life is all about choices. When you cut away all the junk, every situation is a choice. You choose how you react to situations. You choose how people affect your mood. You choose to be in a good mood or bad mood. The bottom line: It’s your choice how you live your life.”
I reflected on what he said. Soon hereafter, I left the Tower Industry to start my own business. We lost touch, but I often thought about him when I made a choice about life instead of reacting to it.
Several years later, I heard that he was involved in a serious accident, falling some 60 feet from a communications tower.
After 18 hours of surgery and weeks of intensive care, he was released from the hospital with rods placed in his back.
I saw him about six months after the accident.
When I asked him how he was, he replied, “If I were any better, I’d be twins…Wanna see my scars?”
I declined to see his wounds, but I did ask him what had gone through his mind as the accident took place.”
The first thing that went through my mind was the well-being of my soon-to-be born daughter,” he replied. “Then, as I lay on the ground, I remembered that I had two choices: I could choose to live or…I could choose to die. I chose to live.”
“Weren’t you scared? Did you lose consciousness?” I asked.
He continued, “…the paramedics were great. They kept telling me I was going to be fine. But when they wheeled me into the ER and I saw the expressions on the faces of the doctors and nurses, I got really scared. In their eyes, I read ‘he’s a dead man’. I knew I needed to take action.”
“What did you do?” I asked.
“Well, there was a big burly nurse shouting questions at me,” said John. She asked if I was allergic to anything ‘Yes, I replied.’ The doctors and nurses stopped working as they waited for my reply. I took a deep breath and yelled, ‘Gravity!’ Over their laughter, I told them, “I am choosing to live. Operate on me as if I am alive, not dead.”
He lived, thanks to the skill of his doctors, but also because of his amazing attitude…I learned from him that every day we have the choice to live fully.
Attitude, after all, is everything.
“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:34.
There are some good points to be had in this email… but I’m afraid that the title “Attitude Is Everything” serves to obscure the gospel. This certainly is not the point of the passage cited at the end of the email.
What is the point which Jesus is making in Matthew 6:34? It is not that our attitude is everything… it is that our God is everything. The verse that immediately precedes this is “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added to you” (Matt 6:33 (NKJV.))
What does Jesus tell us to do? Not have a good attitude… but to seek the kingdom of God (the reign of Christ over every sphere of our life) and His righteousness (the expression of Christ’s reign in our lives.) When we strive for this… then “all these things shall be added unto you.” What things will be added unto you? Go back two more verses (Matt 6:31-32(NKJV)) and Jesus says, “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your Heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.”
The point Jesus is making is that Christians are not to be overly concerned about our personal needs. This is the way the world lives life. Christians know the Father… and they realize that the Father knows their every need. Furthermore (jumping out of context), Christians know that our Heavenly Father cares for us, because He has demonstrated His unsurpassed and infinite love through giving His only begotten Son Jesus to die upon the cross for our sin (Rom 5:8-10.) Therefore, the Christian can live life without concern for their own personal needs, because they know that the Almighty and All-loving God knows their every need and cares for them. Because Christians are not weighed down by an inordinate desire to seek the things of this world, they are freed up to seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness, so that, ultimately, God might be glorified through the lives that we live on earth.
So… attitude is not everything… God is everything. What matters most is not that we put a positive spin on life (read the gospels and see how often Jesus groaned and wept over the ravages of sin upon this world – for a few specific examples, see Jn 11:35, 12:27, 13:21, Matt 26:38, not to mention the Psalms of lament…)… but what really matters is that we put a “God-spin” on life. We must see everything in terms of God… not ourselves and our personal wants and needs.
God is everything!!!
Soli Deo Gloria! (“For God’s glory alone!”)