Understanding the Plain Sense of the Text

I am truly delighted to be a part of a congregation that seem to be serious about understanding the Scripture. We say and believe that the bible is the word of God. We believe the claims that Scripture is God-breathed and inspired. We stand by the doctrines of inerrancy and infallibility. We desire to seek to understand the plain sense of the text.

The problem is that sometimes we say this and ignore that the text we are reading happens within the scope of the wider narrative of the whole bible. There is one Author who has progressively revealed himself and his purpose through the written Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation. As you read through the scriptures you find later authors under the inspiration of God quoting and alluding to previous authors to reveal more and more of the Divine narrative. The pinnacle of the Divine narrative is Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection. This is why on the road to Emmaus Jesus taught his disciples about everything that was taught about him in the law, the writings (represented as the Psalms) and the prophets (Luke 24:44). He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures (24:45). We then read something very significant in the next two verses. Luke 24:46-47 and said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. When Jesus says, “Thus it is written,” it is literally translated as “in this manner it is written,” or “it is written thusly.” The Scriptures have been written in a way that as you understand the progression of God’s narrative, it points to the death and resurrection of Christ as his name is spread across the world as a blessing to the nations.

As we read New Testament authors who are the apostolic witnesses (or directly with) of Christ, we often find them quoting Old Testament scriptures in a way that may not be immediately plain to us unless we understand these Scriptures in the light of their function of pointing to Christ in the redemptive thread of history. An example of this is where Paul is talking about a singular offspring in Galatians 3:16. “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, "And to offsprings," referring to many, but referring to one, "And to your offspring," who is Christ.” As we read Genesis 12-22 and find many references to God’s covenant promise to Abraham, we are often drawn to thinking about his physical seed through Isaac, Jacob and the people of Israel. We are drawn to a growing nation among the nations. We are drawn to a geographical border of land in the middle east. In Galatains 3:16-18 Paul expressly says that the blessing and inheritance promised to Abraham are for his one singular Offspring who is Christ. When we accept the plain reading of the text in Galatians 3, we must do so in the way Paul is expressing it. He is saying that whatever place the physical people, land and blessings might play in the covenant God has with Abraham, it is all ultimately for and fulfilled in Jesus. In the scope of redemptive history, we see that God was using the real events of history, with real nations, real places as types and shadows that would ultimately point to the greater and originally purposed fulfillment in Christ.

The plain reading of the text happens in the scope of the historical redemptive setting of a progressive revelation of the Divine Author. In other words, God has used the progression of real history to point to his ultimate focus of everything finding it’s yes and amen in the Son of God, Jesus Christ. For any promise or inheritance or blessing to bypass Christ and the cross ultimately means that Paul’s focus on the singular Offspring is off base. We know it is not, because it is inspired by God who is the Divine Author of the entire bible.

For some of us this is a little difficult to understand and so let me simply give you one encouragement. The more you read the big narrative of the bible from beginning to end, the more you will see how every part of biblical history moves to find its fulfillment in Jesus. Jesus is truly the center and pinnacle of the whole Bible and history. To know the plain meaning of the text is to understand this point as we read our bibles. It is to see that the New Testament authors have taught us to see it this way as Christ has taught them. The Scriptures plainly point to Jesus.

Are Humans Really Cursed?

If you read the third chapter of Genesis, you might be tempted to say that humans are not cursed. After Adam and Eve betray God and eat of the forbidden fruit, God gives them an overview of the ramifications of their sin. Among the consequences of mankind’s sin, the serpent is cursed beyond all animals and the ground is cursed so that working it will be a painful toil. There is no explicit reference to the word “curse” in direct reference to Adam and Eve. Does this mean that Adam as the representative of humanity was not cursed? Can we really say that humans in sin are cursed? I believe we can.

The first time that we see the word “curse” used upon a human is in Genesis 4:11. When Cain had killed his brother Abel and committed the first murder, God said to Cain, “Now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brothers blood from your hand.” The ground declared Cain’s guilt and as a result he was under a curse because of his sin. Cain’s curse is that he would be a wanderer and under constant threat of someone taking his life for the murder of Abel.

In the Septuagint (the Greek language version of the Old Testament) this word for curse is katara. It means to place a word of judgment or imprecation upon someone/something. This seems to be the way it is used with Cain. A judgment is placed upon Cain and continually hangs over his head. Cain understands the nature of this judgment and tells God that it is too much for him to bear. With a curse comes the stigma of the curse and the shame of the judgment that remains upon sin. This same Greek word for curse is used in the New Testament when Paul talks about being under a curse if you rely on law keeping. Paul also uses this word in Galatians to say that Jesus became a curse for us. (Gal 3:10-14).

Paul makes a very clear point in Galatians. We are unable to save ourselves in any way. No human is able to meet God’s perfect standard and keep his law and all those who try are under a curse – judgment is declared and hanging over our heads until executed. We all fall short and are under a curse. It is clear from Scripture that humans can indeed be under a curse because Cain was and anyone who didn’t keep the law in Israel was (Deut 27-28). Paul also says anyone who falls short of God’s perfect standard is under a curse. Adam and Eve were created in that perfect standard and were the first humans to fall short of it by bringing original sin into the world. Paul says that the work of the cross removes the curse because Jesus became a curse for us, that is, for all who trust him (or the promise of him) from all time.

One possibility for why we may not find the word ‘curse’ used for Adam and Eve in Genesis 3 is because of the promise immediately given by God. Perhaps this might even suggest that Adam and Eve believed God’s promise of a seed to crush the serpent’s head and in his provision of a sacrifice to point to the blood being shed for the remission of sin. Jesus (the Seed) didn’t become a curse for the serpent or the ground, just for humans who believe in him. One thing is for sure. Sin has brought every human without exclusion under a curse. That includes Adam and Eve. None of us can remove it on our own merits, but Christ has done it for us.

Do You Have a Confident Faith?

The biggest problem with answering this question is the question itself. If faith isn’t confident, it’s not faith. In our culture, the way we have discussed faith is to undermine its very essence. So often we hear people say that they wished they had a faith as strong as another’s. When we hear statements like this, it is as if assurance and confidence can only be present with people who we deem to have the strongest of faith. By thinking this way, we are essentially saying that our faith is in our faith.

This is not the way that the biblical authors write about faith. One of the clearest descriptions of faith is found in Hebrews 11:1. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” This comment associates faith with assurance but it does not say that assurance is ultimately achieved when your faith is strong enough. You cannot have faith without having assurance. The words of assurance and conviction are never disconnected from faith.

Consider the example that the writer of Hebrews then gives.

Vs. 3. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God so that what was seen was not made out of things that are visible. We know that God’s word makes sense when we read that he created the universe because it is only logical that matter doesn’t make itself. Faith in our Creator makes sense whereas naturalism has no basis of logic. Our faith is assured not because of the strength of our faith but because we have a God of logic and power.

Vs. 4 By faith Abel offered an acceptable sacrifice to God. His sacrifice was made knowing that God alone could accept his sacrifice and therefore he made sure his sacrifice was acceptable. His hope in salvation was not in himself but to whom the sacrifice would be received. He did this in faith because his confidence was in God alone.

Vs. 5-6 Enoch’s faith is described as that which was evident in a life seeking to please God. The object of his faith was in the God in whom he lived to please. His confidence was in his self-existent God and the promise of his reward.

We could go on and see how each of the men of faith described in Hebrews 11 were defined as acting in accordance with their knowledge of God and the promise of his salvation. This also includes Noah who spent decades building an ark, and Abraham who moved away from his own people to become a father of a new people when he and his own wife were too old to have children.

In Hebrews 11:13 we read, “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” They all died with the assurance of receiving a promise given from the God in whom they knew was all powerful and faithful. They knew that the eternal promise of God for his people was a reality. Their faith was in God and his promise. Their faith was not in their faith. They died in faith because they were persuaded that their God would keep his promise.

We find Paul explicitly discussing this with reference to Abraham. “No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.” (Romans 4:20-21). Abraham’s faith was not in his faith but in the promise of God. His faith was defined in the way that he was fully convinced that God would keep his promise. Abraham’s assurance is not in his faith but in the God in whom he trusted.

If we desire to have a confident faith, we must remind ourselves of a fundamental reality. Our confidence is not in our faith but in the object of our faith. We have faith in the God of the universe who has promised to save all those who would put their trust in his Son, Jesus Christ. Assurance is not in your faith. Your faith is in the one in whom you can have full assurance.

Sanctification: All of God, All of Grace?

If you talk to any Christian who has a biblical understanding of the doctrine of salvation, they will tell you that a saved person is a regenerate person. To be regenerate means that we are given life. This is what God does in the elect when he illuminates us to the truth of the gospel and puts faith and life in a recalcitrant corpse. They might then go on to say that it is this new life that enables the believer to obey God’s truth and work in step with the Spirit as we grow in holiness. In this way they might say that justification (being made right with God through faith in Christ) is a work that is all of God and all of grace, but sanctification (growing in holiness) is a work of the regenerate believer in step with God.

We might immediately find reason to agree with this. After all, Peter wrote, “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.” (2 Pet 1:5-7). At first glance we might look at a verse like this and agree with the statement that sanctification is a work of the regenerate believer as he/she “supplement’s faith” in step with God using it to grow us in holiness. Does this supplementing of faith necessitate attributing the believer with a partnering achievement in resulting sanctification? Is it not possible that the very supplementing is only possible through faith in the complete reliance and power of the Spirit? Was there any cooperative effort outside the power of the Spirit working in tandem so that he might sanctify? Perhaps other Scriptures will shed light on this.

These are deep questions that theologians have argued about through the centuries. Two passages that stubbornly hold me captive on this matter are Galatians 3:3 and Philippians 2:12-13. In Philippians 2:12, Paul talks about a salvation that the Philippians clearly already possess. He talks about working out that salvation in fear and trembling. “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Isolated from verse 13 we might again agree that the ongoing working out of our life as believers is a matter of our own effort. Verse 13 clarifies how this all happens. “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

In the Galatians passage, Paul’s main subject is justification by faith in Christ and not by works of the law. Even as Paul talks in the context of justification, he makes an extraordinary statement about our continuing life in the Spirit. “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3). Paul was writing to a church who were being led astray by thoughts that they needed to add their own work of circumcision and law keeping to Christ in Justification. Even so, their ongoing confidence in the Christian life has nothing to do with their own ability. If this doesn’t at least point toward the process of sanctification I don’t know what does.

Why should we care about whether sanctification is God in tandem with the believer or the believer living by faith in the power of the Spirit? Isn’t it possible we all mean the same thing? Why is it worth chewing over? In both justification and sanctification, the mystery of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility are equally present. For me, wording is important because it comes down to the issues of confidence and glory.

1. Paul seems to attribute confidence for both justification and sanctification to God in the same way. We are certainly called and responsible to repent and believe in Christ for Justification and yet we understand that we can only do so because of God’s grace alone. In this way we would all agree that justification is all of God and all of grace. In Sanctification there is again human responsibility to obey the imperatives of Scripture as we seek to grow in holiness. Surely we would also say that we cannot do so except by God and his grace. Why then are we not willing to say that sanctification is all of God and grace? Having begun by the Spirit are we now being perfected by the flesh? I think Paul is telling us that we cannot attribute human works in either situation. We rely completely on God for all including our ability to fulfill human responsibility. My confidence is in God alone in everything I think, say and do. At the very least this should make me more prayerful and reliant upon God and his word every day as I seek to live in Christ and in obedience to his word.

2. The second aspect is glory. There is never a situation where I can claim my own glory. We shut the door on this when it comes to justification, but should we not do the same for sanctification? Should we not again drop to our knees in utter praise both for God’s justifying grace and sanctifying grace in our life? He works in us both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Regardless of the debate about sanctification, I believe all orthodox Christians would agree that when we stand before God, we won’t be thanking ourselves for anything. Thank God for his sanctifying work in our life. Thank God that he both gives us a new nature through faith in Christ and equips us to live according to that nature through faith in Christ. He is always active in our life. That’s a thought worthy of daily consciousness.

Is it Lawlessness to Give up the Law?

When it comes to the New Covenant, a major question so many of us have is what to do with the Old Covenant law. Some people have divided the law into categories (moral, civil, and ceremonial) in an attempt to show what continues and what doesn’t. While categories can be helpful in considering the functions of the Old Covenant law, we need to understand that the bible doesn’t propose such categories and often talks about the law as a whole. In Exodus 20:1 Moses gives what we have called the “Ten Commandments,” but they are simply introduced as the “words” of the Lord. In Exodus 21:1 a list of “rules” is given that extend to what many theologians would class in the categories of civil and ceremonial law. In Exodus 24:3-8 Moses talks about all the rules and laws that are in one book of the covenant – the law. These were all the codes that the people of Israel were to live by in faithfulness to their God. They were to be his people and he was to be their God and they were to do all that was in the book of the law.

In Galatians, Paul makes it very apparent that there is a major difference in the New Covenant. Jesus has fulfilled the law. He kept the standard that we could never keep. Paul then makes a very clear statement that if anyone is to seek to be right before God through law keeping, they need to keep the whole law (without distinction of categories) perfectly (Gal. 3:10,5:3). It is clear then that when Paul is saying that we are not justified by works of the law (Gal 2:16), he is clearly talking about the whole law. Only through faith in Jesus Christ can we by right with God. And here in lies the question. What do we do about the law? Well, Paul goes on to say that we also no longer live by the law but through faith in Jesus Christ (Gal 2:20). This is possible because in the New Covenant it is no longer we who live but Christ who lives in us. The law is dead, long live spirit filled living in the New Covenant.

Before you throw rotten tomatoes, I have a question for you. What is your understanding of what happens to us when we come to faith in Jesus? In Galatians 2:20, Paul makes an explicit statement about being crucified with Christ and then no longer living for himself. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” In believing the gospel, I believe that I have been crucified with Christ and risen to new life with him and that he now lives in me. Jesus, who completely fulfilled the law (all of it), has taken it to the cross and risen to new life now giving us a New Covenant in his blood. The old has gone, the new has come. So, what about standards of holiness?

It’s not that life in Christ is lawless at all. The fact that Paul has to ask a similar question is further proof that the whole law of the Old Covenant written code is done. Paul asks if we are to sin because we are not under law but under grace (Romans 6:15). The answer is “By no means!” How little do we value the indwelling presence of Christ in our life? Do we really think that that the Spirit of Christ within us gives us freedom to sin as and when we please? Do we really think that unless we keep a written code of commandments, we have no way to please God and live and stand rightly before him? Is the Holy Spirit impotent? Does he give us no concern for holiness?

In the New Testament there is not one aspect of God’s perfect character missing in New Covenant ethics. The fact that the ten commandments are fulfilled in Christ along with all the rest of the law does not mean that the ethics of those commands is abolished in the New Testament. Actually, they are often explained to their fuller ramifications in Christ. Hate amounts to murder. Lust amounts to adultery. Jesus did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it (Mat. 5:17). And yet, he abolished the law of commandments expressed in ordinances (Eph. 2:15). We live according to the Spirit of Christ, not according to the written statutes of a moral code (or civil, or ceremonial). If we are in Christ, there will be a manifest difference in us in our pursuit of holiness and in our love for his truth. We will live it in faith. We will pursue him in gratitude. We will have no confidence in law keeping. We will have every confidence in the Christ who died for us and loves us and lives us. His instruction will be our delight.

So, no, to die to the law is not to be lawless.

- Romans 8:9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.

- Romans 8:10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.

- Ephesians 2:22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

- 2 Corinthians 13:5 Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?--unless indeed you fail to meet the test!

- Galatians 4:6-7 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" So, you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

- Ephesians 4:22-24 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

Justification Changes Your Identity Forever

So often when we read the Apostle Paul, he is writing to Gentile churches who would be very aware that there are Jewish roots associated with this new way in Christ. Often Paul is dealing with Jewish false teachers that come among the Gentile churches and strive to revert the church back to the Old Covenant. I can only imagine the pressure on first century churches from the Roman empire on one side requiring worship of Caesar and the Jews on the other requiring adherence to Old Covenant laws. In between these two pressures are people who have come to know that Christ is the risen Lord who has died for their sin and that they can stand right before God through faith in Jesus.

You can pick just about any of Paul’s letters and see these pressures within his words of admonition, rebuke and encouragement to stand strong in the faith. We particularly see it in the book of Galatians where Paul even uses an account of rebuking Peter for withdrawing from gentile believers out of fear of pressure from Jews. In Galatians 2:15-16, Paul makes it clear that both he and Peter may have been born as Jews and not gentile sinners, but they know that their natural birth and previous practice of the law means nothing to them in obtaining right standing with God (justification). They are now identified in the same way as the rest of the Antioch Church, as Christians.

It would seem that losing Jewish identity was a difficult thing for many Christians. I can understand how cultural pressures would be a huge obstacle when taking on an identity that seems to be so counter cultural. To Jews who could not see that the law always pointed toward our need for God’s grace, the law was everything to them. The fact that Christians were proclaiming that righteousness does not come through law keeping struck at the very heart of many Jews perceived identity. So, in Galatians 2:15 when Paul says to Peter, “We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners,” he is actually using this statement as an example for his next sentence where he basically states that neither of these identities mean anything when you consider that justification is through faith in Christ alone.

As I was reading through the book of Ephesians, I was struck by the fact that Paul makes a similar statement to Ephesian Gentiles. “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.” (Ephesians 4:17). How can Paul tell Gentiles not be Gentiles? Previously Paul had told these Ephesians to no longer be like children tossed to and fro by every wind and wave of doctrine (vs. 14). He also told them to put off their old self which belongs to their former way of life. In other words, Paul was saying that they should forget their former birth and practices as Gentiles because justification through faith in Christ has given them a new life. With this comes a new identity. This is the same sort of thing that he was saying to Peter in Galatians. “Peter, forget your birth and practice as a Jew, you have been justified not by works of the law but by faith in Christ Jesus. You have been given a new life in your identity in Christ.”

One thing we should all understand when it comes to justification is that we never stand before God with a righteousness that comes from any other source than Christ. The only identity that has eternal status in the court room of the Judge of all the universe is Christ. The only real identity questions that ever matter are whether you have been justified through faith in Christ or whether you remain under the eternal condemnation of your sin before God.

Galatians 3:26-28: “for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.” And…. we could add many more identities to that list.

"Prosperity" Doesn't Have to Be a Dirty Word

So often I participate and hear in the warnings against prosperity doctrine. We find easy targets in the Copelands of the world who promise earthly prosperity as they make pleas for you to empty your wallets and max out your cards. At least, we perceive them that that way. But…do we ever consider that conservative evangelicals may have reacted to prosperity doctrine in a way that ignores that there is a true biblical prosperity?

While the prosperity teachers seem to place great burden upon people in teaching that they are not prospering because they are not giving, some evangelicals swing to the other end of the pendulum. We almost hear that prosperity has absolutely nothing to do with God’s purposes. Neither is true.

In Isaiah 53, Isaiah describes the Suffering Servant who will come and be despised and rejected and go silently like a lamb to the slaughter. By his stripes we are healed because he numbers himself with transgressors and suffers in their place. Because of this great Servant, Isaiah 55 brings even greater hope to exiles by telling them (us) what we can expect. "Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” (Isaiah 55:1).

Through Isaiah, God calls us to come without any money and drink and eat in abundance without any cost. The prosperity that God promises to give is absolutely free. We can also argue that it is an eternal prosperity that is not subject to the temporary nature of earthly materialism. The water and food Isaiah talks about is the abundance of the eternal and providential God of the universe. It is an abundance that far outweighs the fleeting pleasures of this world. It is not given to them that give the most, but it is given to them who have nothing. It cannot be bought. The very heart of God is shown in that he appeals to us to come and enjoy his eternal provision knowing that we can bring nothing to the table to obtain it. That’s true prosperity.

How can it be that such an eternal prosperity could be ours? Who is paying for this great abundance? The answer is, the Suffering Servant has paid and has numbered himself among us and we now share in his conquering victory over death and sin. He has paid for our inheritance with his blood and he is the abundant owner of all things who has capacity to give infinitely.

We should never say that God is not a God of abundance and prosperity. Indeed, God is a God who desires to share the splendor of his glory with his children in his infinite generosity. This is our God who saves. We should also never reduce God’s infinite generosity to fleeting earthly pleasures that are only attainable on the basis of what we give. This is the bankruptcy of the prosperity gospel that promises finite indulgences in the place of infinite glorious abundance.

The prosperity gospel keeps people in slavery to accumulation while the one true gospel brings freedom for generosity. Because we know that God has already paid for and given his abundance to us without any possibility of contribution from us, we know that there is no need to hoard selfishly. We know that we already have inherited the whole earth and have infinite abundance in Christ. Our resources have been freed to express our gratitude to God and our desire to see others experience the same generosity we have. We are not slaves to giving in order to get. We are freed from getting in order to give.

We can therefore say to everyone in every economic phase of life, “Come and drink freely from the Spring of Living Water.” Or as Isaiah says it… “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” (Isaiah 55:7).

Reading The Bible Self-Righteously Loses Grace

If there is one thing that is tempting for all of us, it’s that we love putting ourselves in the place of the hero. It is so easy for us to consider that we are Christians, and then as we read the bible, we say that we must surely put ourselves on God’s side in every biblical account.

The problem with this is that we are ultimately saying that, “this is the way I would have acted.” The Scriptures constantly teach us that we only act in accordance with God’s truth and righteousness by his grace. When we acknowledge this, we start realizing two things. 1. Our biblical heroes were actually depraved sinners like us. And 2. Without the intervening grace of God in our lives, we too would not be the Israelites, but the Egyptians.

It’s so easy for us to forget that Abraham was an idolater, but God called him by grace into a glorious promise. Jacob was a sinful deceiver but was chosen by God’s grace over Esau. These are just two of the Old Testament patriarchs, and yet we could say such things about them all. As you start reading in Genesis, you very quickly learn that nobody is in the position of the hero except for God.

If God is the only hero in the bible (particularly Christ), then who are we to see any human take that mantle, particularly when we place ourselves in that position. Without God’s grace, we are Cain, not Abel. Without God’s grace, we are buried deep in flood waters while the ark floats above us. We are Abimelech. We are Egypt. We are the grumblers in the desert. We are Jericho. We are the Philistines. We are Jezebel. We are Ahab. We are Assyria and Babylon. We are Sanballat and Tobiah. We are Herod. We are the Pharisees throwing stones. We are the woman at the well. We are Ananias and Saphira. We are Pilate. We cry crucify him.

In Galatians 2, Paul recounts a time that he came to Antioch and opposed Peter for acting in contradiction to the gospel. Even in a situation where two apostles come head to head, we want to be Paul when we are actually Peter. Our prideful self-righteousness always places us in a position whereby we think we would be God pleasing heroes by our own works when in actual fact we are so often Christ denying hypocrites like Peter. Our self-righteous reading of Scripture places us in a position in which we lose sight of grace.

We need Jesus. He is the only hero.

Good Christian Leaders Submit to the Church: An Example From Paul.

When Paul was writing to the Galatians and defending his gospel and apostleship, he made sure that the Galatian church knew that he was no lone ranger. While he had independent attestation of his apostolic call and gospel, Paul was very concerned to stand before the other apostles in submission to them. Galatians 2:1-2 “Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain.”

After seeing that Paul had the same gospel and calling as them, Paul also tells us that they extended to him the “right hand of fellowship” and sent him and Barnabas out on mission to the Gentiles.

We need to take stock of this important scenario. The Apostle Paul who was so instrumental in establishing churches and the spread of the gospel to the gentiles went out on this mission in submission to and with the endorsement of the Jerusalem apostles. He was commissioned to the gentiles by Christ and while he couldn’t get any higher commissioning than this, Paul ensured that he would not do such mission in isolation of the other apostles. He was accepted, endorsed and sent with blessing in the unity of the gospel. Galatians 2:9 “and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.”

We live in a culture today that has a low view of submission and authority and a high view of individualism. Coupled with this, many Christians have been impacted by the speech of bloggers and Christian leaders who tend to speak lowly of the church. This has created an unhealthy environment of people isolating themselves from established local churches to do their own thing in their own home or start a church (or parachurch ministry) somewhere on their own initiative. This is not the biblical model and it has one huge flaw – accountability for the gospel.

When Paul and Barnabas were sent on mission by the Jerusalem apostles, they were sent out with checks and balances based on the one true gospel and a legitimate call of Christ. This was recognized and acted upon in a right hand of fellowship and a commission to go. Many may say that God’s Word is all they need. It is true that there is no higher authority than God and the truth in his word. Yet, while our direction ultimately comes from God, his word also teaches that accountability to those sending us ultimately keeps us on track and shows a credibility to be kept accountable to the gospel call.

You might not want that sort of accountability because perhaps you think you can do it better. Can you do it better than Paul? Basically, if it’s good for the apostle Paul, it’s good for us. There are no lone rangers in gospel ministry. Isolation is simply dangerous, especially in initiating a new ministry.

When people tell me that they are going to a new start up church, my question is always, “Who commissioned it?” If I don’t hear that the work has an accountability to a biblical gospel preaching church, I am immediately dubious both about their leadership and ability to hold fast to the gospel. Any leader that has not been willing to consistently come under the submission of other local church elders will unlikely be a leader that will tolerate any deviation from his own teaching and direction. He is a man who has put himself above the gospel and is unlikely a leader to follow. Paul’s submission and fellowship with the other apostles is a great model for accountability and support in the mission of the gospel.

Your Wayward Child Relies on Sovereign Grace

As a parent, I know what it is like to be burdened over the salvation of my children. I pray regularly for the children in my family and church whether children or adults. For anyone I know who is not a disciple of Christ, my hope continually comes from the doctrines of sovereign grace.

Before you stop reading please allow me to explain that I hold dearly to two coinciding truths. When it comes to salvation, humans are entirely responsible before God for their sin and to respond in faith to the good news of Jesus. Alongside this, I firmly hold to the fact that Scriptures consistently teach that salvation is a work of God and we are completely reliant upon God’s grace in Christ for the remission of our sin. While as a human I cannot reconcile human responsibility and sovereign grace, I am completely reliant on the manifold wisdom of God and bow to his glorious mystery. The reality of both God’s sovereignty and human responsibility are best explained by simply reading chapters nine and ten of Romans side by side.

Sometimes in our theological differences we can become more agitated when we apply our own biases to the situations of those we love most. A father who vehemently disagrees with the doctrines of sovereign grace in salvation may find great agitation at the thought that his son or daughter may not be elect. Before I say anything further let me say that my response in this situation is not to come out with guns blazing and correct the theological biases of a heart broken father. I am deeply saddened by any child walking outside the grace of God and truly burdened to pray with every parent about the salvation of their child. I desperately desire opportunities to put the gospel before that child with much yearning for them to know Christ.

Did you notice that I said we must both pray, relying on God’s work, and proclaim as we appeal to the responsibility of this child? Whether we acknowledge it or not, in practice, both sides of the theological divide live out both truths of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility as we pray and proclaim.

Paul constantly appeals to the fact that any work of humans is meaningless in salvation. Our works only merit us an eternal hell. He consistently points to our need for God’s grace working regeneration in a cold dead heart to come to new life in Christ. A great example of all of this is in Titus 3:3-7. “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

When you read statements like this from Paul, you never find human initiative in salvation. It is always a work of God - a work of grace. What you do find is immense reason to hope. When mankind is disobedient and slaves to our own will, God is all-powerful and his goodness and loving kindness are able to work miraculous regeneration in our life. He alone, through the power of the Spirit and the work of Christ on the cross justifies us by grace and adopts us into his family. Because God is a God who saves and has omnipotence over every human heart my hope is not in the fallible ability to reason in a child, but in the complete sovereign will of God in Christ.

If you are a parent who is crying in pain for the salvation of your child, I suppose I just want you to know that I want to appeal to the strongest possible hope for your child. I don’t want to hope in a less than omnipotent ability in humans but in the complete and sovereign saving power of God. Please know, I cannot possibly pray in hope relying on anything less than infinite power and wisdom to bring your child home. God and God alone is my hope for your child. I pray with you. I yearn with you for the Lord to save.

Are You Covered With God's Favor?

Favor is a word that every Christian should cherish. It is not a word to be taken with complacency. Favor is a reason to live through difficulty. Favor is a reason to live every moment of our day in gratitude. Favor means to be pleased or accepted.

When David was facing enemies on every side, his joy and hope was found in God’s favor. Even when his own son was trying to take the kingdom of Israel away from him, David’s plea to God was accompanied by his rest in God’s favor. “But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you. For you bless the righteous, O LORD; you cover him with favor as with a shield.” (Psalm 5:11-12)

It is so easy to brush over words as we read through the bible, but ‘favor’ is one word that I suggest cannot be easily overlooked. When God gives his favor, it is through no work of our own. That is what makes it so amazing. David, an adulterous murderer, was able to say that he was covered by God’s favor. He was able to place himself in the number of the righteous. How could that be other than the forgiveness of an ever-merciful God through his righteous judgment upon sin.

In the New Testament, a word that describes God’s favor so aptly is the word translated as “propitiation.” Propitiation is God’s favor given to us through the appeasement of his wrath poured out on Christ. God acts favorably because Christ has endured the infinitely Divine anger upon sin. The wrath that Jesus takes on our behalf is what we deserve for all eternity. Instead, because of Christ’s substitutionary atonement, we, like David, are covered by God’s favor.

This is the most wonderful reason why we must defend the authentic message of the gospel. Without faith in Jesus Christ and his full payment on the cross for our sin, we have no way of knowing God’s eternal favor. This good news of Jesus is our entry into experiencing the God of the universe’s pleasure in us who were rebels against his will. What glorious news. We must uphold it with everything we have. We cannot be indifferent. To know what it is like to live in the favor of our almighty Creator, we must receive the good news of Jesus. We must know his sacrifice for us for this favor to be given. Then, we have only to live a life of complete gratitude in worship of our glorious God who has given us his favor that can never be taken.

Oh Lord, You cover us with your favor as with a shield.

What Is It to Be in This World and Not of It?

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Galatians 1:3-5). Paul explains that we are delivered from this present evil age/world.

So often Christians miss the importance of this little phrase. It is filled with so many considerations. This world is only present. It has an end date. It is destined for destruction. It is something that we need to be saved from.

One area of confusion for Christians is often around how we are to see ourselves as being saved out of this world and yet still live in it. This dilemma has caused so many differing opinions as to how we are to relate to this present world. Some people have seen it as our purpose to attempt to reform the world. Some others have seen our need to completely avoid this world. Some have seen the need to be at war with the world. I don’t think Paul really holds any of these positions. Paul knows that we must live and operate in this world.

We are still in the world.

In 1 Corinthians 5:9-10, Paul told the church in Corinth that they were not to associate with immoral people, but he specifically said that he was not talking about the immoral people of the world. Paul was making a very strong point that the church was to be seen as a reflection of God’s holiness and therefore the Corinthian church must not allow immorality to be common place among those who take the name of Christ. In saying this, Paul points out that we do still associate with immoral people in the world. This is something every Christian has to do. If we don’t, we have to say goodbye to the great commission.

It is not that we are to be at war with the world, or to avoid and disassociate from the world, but we are to engage with the world and shine out the holiness of God and proclaim the gospel of Christ. Jesus talks about this as being salt and light. We are to shine the holiness and hope of the gospel as a salty essence of Christ in the world. We are not to hide Christ or deny Christ in our words or practice. We must seek to remain salty for the sake of the gospel and bringing others to Christ.

While we are in this world, Paul also says that we need to be careful not to be conformed to it. If we are saved out of this world, we have been taken out of all the things that typify what we have been saved from. Paul says it this way in the first part of Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world.” While we are in this world, it is our responsibility not to be dragged into the dominion of all that is not God honoring.

But we are not OF this world.

When Paul talks of us being rescued from this present evil age, he is saying that we belong to another age. We belong to another Kingdom. We are not of this world because we have been rescued from the dominating power of sin. We have been rescued from the rule of Satan. We have been rescued from bondage to everything in this world that denies God’s glory. And…. We have been rescued from the coming judgment that will place all unbelievers in the conscious torment of hell.

When we think about Paul’s statement of rescue in this overview of the gospel, we must see it in light of the whole statement that points to the purpose of God. This rescue is, “according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen” It is to God’s glory through his eternal will that Jesus came to rescue us from this present evil world that is doomed for destruction. This now tells us something about our priority. When we look at this world, our priority is for us to go out with the message of Jesus to see people saved out of this present evil world to the glory of God. If Christians have a priority in the world that is different to this, we simply need a better understanding of the gospel. We are in this world but have been graciously saved out of it. Anyone left in this world/age will not know that same grace unless we live with them and tell them about their urgent need for Jesus.

Prayer Is Not Enough!

This sounds like an irresponsible statement at best. Christians rely so heavily on prayer. In fact, if there is one thing we need to grow in, it’s prayer. We don’t pray nearly enough. So why would we ever say that prayer isn’t enough? Well, simply because it isn’t. But….as a pastor of mine used to say, “Don’t hear what I am not saying.” I am not saying that prayer isn’t vitally important and an essential discipline of the Christian life. We desperately need to pray.

We pray because we are finite and fallible. We rely on God. We can never do anything without God, even take our next breath. The Christian realizes that God is in control of all things. King David sang and prayed in total acknowledgement that everything is under God’s control and we must rely completely on him. Psalm 103:19-22 “The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all. Bless the LORD, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word! Bless the LORD, all his hosts, his ministers, who do his will! Bless the LORD, all his works, in all places of his dominion. Bless the LORD, O my soul!”

We often see all the truth of God’s sovereignty in the Scripture and are tempted to reduce our responsibility to prayer alone. Sometimes we overlook our need for repentance. Sometimes we overlook our need for obedience and trust. Our right expectations of God’s sovereignty cannot veto God’s right demand for our repentance, faith and obedience. So often God has given us answers in the Scriptures that are already the answers to our prayer. We therefore pray for God’s strength to transform our hearts and align our minds and actions to his will.

One of my favorite verses to consider this is the very famous verse of Romans 12:2. This verse talks about God’s will. How often do you pray that God would guide you in his will? This is a very common prayer for Christians. Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” This verse is filled with imperatives for us to obey.

1. Don’t be conformed to the world. First, is your thinking worldly rather than biblical?

2. Be transformed by the renewal of your mind. Have you believed God’s truth and committed to follow his truth rather than the lies of the world (or our own hearts)?

3. By testing. Have you put God’s truth into action?

4. You may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Have you then seen that no matter the result, God’s truth leads us into what is good, acceptable and perfect? Have you seen that our own way is the opposite?

Prayer is essential in all things. So is conforming to God’s truth and living that truth by faith. The Christian life is not passive and the expectation that God has for prayer is not passive either. Prayer is a weapon that helps us to trust and prayer is a weapon that is used while we live in trust. This is why we never see the New Testament authors telling us to pray and do nothing. Resting in God doesn’t mean apathy and passivity in our Christian walk. It means confident satisfaction in God’s sovereignty while we serve him with all our heart and mind and strength.

Pray. Please pray. And…. please repent, please obey, please trust.

Is Your View of Christ Big Enough?

In a recent sermon, I suggested that we should exchange the term “worldview” for “Christ-view.” When we think of the worldview, we know that we are thinking about the framework by which we assess the world around us. It is the philosophy of life by which we respond to the world around us and live our life. It contains how we interpret physical evidence but also how we evaluate ethical dilemmas and plan for our future. This is why Christians so often talk about the importance of having the right authority in our worldview. The authority for our worldview needs to have an all-encompassing supremacy to ensure that we know we are seeing the world through reality and not simply our own fallible ideas. To be confident about our worldview we must be confident about our source of authority.

The Apostle Paul argues that the person of Jesus Christ is our most sufficient way of being confident about our worldview. This may sound somewhat strange to say that a person is the basis of our worldview, but we must see if everything we need to drive our worldview is manifest in that person.

Writing to the Colossians, Paul describes Jesus in six verses. “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 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. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 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. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” (Colossians 1:15-20).

If you look carefully at these verses, you will see a number of facts about Jesus that give us a comprehensive framework for understanding the world. He is God. He is Creator. He is supreme in time and rank and power. All things are subject to him. Every operation of the world is held by him. His church is specially connected to him as the authority. He is the proof and hope of resurrection life. He is the overcomer of death, sin and every evil force. He is the dwelling presence of God. He is the one who has brought and will finally consummate cosmic reconciliation of creation. He has sealed everything through a fully paid sacrifice of his own blood. All power, authority, truth, cosmic operational dependency, life, hope, and security is in and through Jesus Christ. There is nothing to fear, revere, or hold in greater authority or supremacy over Jesus Christ. Everything is in, through and for Jesus Christ for all of eternity. He IS our worldview.

If we have a doubt there is one thing that is outside the domain of Jesus Christ, just look at the descriptions of totality that Paul uses in these verses: All creation, all things, heaven and earth, Visible and invisible, thrones, dominions, rulers, authorities, everything, all the fullness, whether on earth or in heaven. In particular, the phrase “all things” is used 5 times.

Unfortunately, many of us seem to view other humans as more fearful that Jesus Christ. We tend to buckle under the pressure of perceived human power. But Paul made it clear that his worldview is not subject to human fallibility but in the personal reliability of Jesus. “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” (Colossians 2:8)

We should do the same!

Was Bill Hybels All Wrong?

I don’t believe Bill Hybels was all wrong in his teaching about evangelism. However, if there is a term I have not really agreed with, it’s the term “Seeker Sensitive.” I cannot agree that the bible gives any strong teaching about there being any such thing as a seeker. In fact, Paul very explicitly quotes that “no one understands, no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:11-12).

In saying this, I would also suggest that Bill Hybels highlighted something that was an extremely helpful observation for the church as we seek to reach people with the gospel. Hybels recognized that the Scriptures give examples of many different styles of evangelism. Matthew brings his known friends into his home and introduces them to Jesus in a social situation. Peter stands in front of an attentive crowd and confronts them with the death and resurrection of Christ. Paul moves into the circle of philosophers and engages in intellectual arguments for God and the gospel. The woman at the well invites the people of her town to come and hear the amazing message of Jesus. The blind man gave a testimony to everyone of what Jesus did in his life.

Bill Hybels helped us understand that evangelism happens in all avenues of real life. It can be an intellectual argument to the academic elite, but it can be a loving hospitality to ordinary everyday friends. It can be achieved in a one on one conversation, but it can also be done with the help of inviting someone to sit under gospel instruction. We can stand in front of a group of unknown people or help a hurting friend know how the hope of Jesus is greater than the despair of her cancer.

Sometimes, as conservative, bible-teaching evangelicals, we are quick to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Sure, I am not a Hybels fan. I completely disagree with his church growth strategies that miss the greater sense of intensive discipleship. At the same time, I am very thankful that he emphasized our need to see that none of us have an excuse. We all have opportunity to use our strengths and abilities for the sake of Christ and his good news. If we don’t have what it takes to stand in front of a group, we have friends. If we don’t know how to answer the tough questions, we can all use our own testimonies as a personal example of the regenerating power of Jesus. Whatever approach we use, the common denominator in all of them is the clear and verbal explanation of the gospel - the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for our sin to rescue us from this present evil age.

Where Do I Get the Courage to Evangelize?

Imagine two men willing to stand before officials that ban them from talking about Jesus. Imagine being so bold that no matter the consequences, you open your mouth to tell others that everything they thought about the way of salvation was wrong. Imagine if you are looking in the eyes of people to tell them that the Jesus that they crucified is the risen Lord who offers them salvation in him alone.

Where did Peter and John get such boldness to stand like this before the Jewish council? We might say that they were bold because they were overcome with compassion for their fellow Jewish people who were lost. No doubt we do see this in the actions of the apostles, but they still have to overcome that little voice inside that may taunt them about their own physical safety.

In the first part of Acts 4:13 we read, “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished.” If you and I are amazed at the courage of these men, we are not alone. Peter was courageously standing before the Jewish council no matter what the cost. Once before in his life he had cowered in denial before a servant girl, but now he stands before men who are ready to condemn him. What could possibly give Peter such boldness?

The second half of verse 13 simply states, “And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” Peter and John had sat with Jesus and heard his teaching. They had heard him tell them not to fear those who can kill the body, but rather to fear him who can kill both body and soul in hell. They had seen Jesus cast out demons with great authority and calm the seas. Most of all, they had seen the resurrected Lord. They had been taught by a man who had walked out of a tomb and showed them how all of the Scriptures had pointed to his work on the cross this whole time. They watched him ascend in triumphant glory to take his seat at the Fathers right hand. They had heard his promise to return. There was nothing that could possibly overcome their renewed drive to speak of their Lord of salvation. Nothing.

When you are truly impacted by spending time with Jesus, he fills you with the riches of his glory and emboldens you to pronounce his truth. We are not Peter or John. We are not the apostles who were direct witnesses of the resurrected Lord, but we are people who have equally experienced the saving power of our resurrected King in our lives. We can see his glory in his Word and in the experience of knowing him in our life. The more we look at Jesus the more emboldened we are to stand before councils and kings just like the Apostles. How much are you soaking in the glory of Christ and allowing Jesus to embolden you in his truth?

Matthew 10 Reasons to Overcome the Fear of Evangelism.

In Matthew 10, Jesus names and sends his disciples out on mission. The first ten verses might be thoroughly inviting to any prospective missionary, but when you get to verse eleven you start reading about the first signs of rejection. Sometimes the disciples are going to have to shake the dust off their feet and move to another town. If the thought of being rejected didn’t lose you, then Jesus describes the mission field as that which is full of wolves that devour his sheep. They will deliver you over to the courts, drag you before governors and kings, your own family will betray you, and you may be put to death and hated by all. That is truly enough to make anyone at least a little “sheepish” (pun intended) about evangelism and mission.

When we read these verses in Matthew 10:11-23, the hostility we see may all too easily override the overwhelming reasons that make evangelism worth it.  So, let’s recap Jesus’ encouragements for his disciples, and for us starting in the introductory verses from Matthew 9:35.


Matthew 9:35-38

Jesus has compassion for lost and hurting people.

The harvest is actually plentiful. There are lost sheep just waiting to be saved.

Matthew 10:1-5

The apostles were ordinary men and unlikely candidates for mission just like us.

When we go on mission, we go with the authority of Christ and not our own.

Matthew 10:5-15

Jesus prepares us and helps us to know how to deal with rejection.

Mission is a direct representation of Christ’s compassion.

To represent Christ is to receive the response to Christ. This is a great privilege.

Matthew 10:16-23

Jesus prepares us for mission, not self-preservation.

Jesus prepares with a mix of God-given biblical wisdom mixed with humble, gentle, innocence.

God never leaves us and gives us the Holy Spirit to help us with his words.

There is an eternal prize worth enduring for.

A rejection in one place never stops you from going to another.

When we face hostility, we get to be just like our Master.

Matthew 10:24-32

We can overcome fear in the knowledge of God’s infinitely good character.

God is omniscient and righteous in judgment of man.

Biblical Fear of God motivates us to witness to those who may even hate us.

Rather than living with fear, we live according to God’s providence now and his reward later.

Matthew 10:33-39

Allegiance to Christ turns the world’s badge of disgrace into a heavenly badge of honor.

Matthew 10:40-42

When we represent Jesus we have the opportunity to give God to people who really need him.

When people receive us, they receive Jesus.

Even the lowly childlike disciple can be received by people who will gain and never lose eternal reward. 

So, don’t read chapter ten and be fearful about the possible hostility in mission.  Read it thoughtfully and see Christ’s glorious preparation and encouragement for all those will accept his commission to take the gospel to every family member, neighbor, colleague, official, tribe, tongue, and nation. There is every reason for unlikely people like us to proclaim Christ to all.


A Culture Sympathetic to Christians is Abnormal

One thing I really appreciate about the Scriptures is that whenever I read them, I get reality. Jesus is compassionate toward his disciples, but he is also transparently honest about reality, especially when it comes to sending them on mission. When some American Christians read Jesus’ descriptions about what happens on the mission field, they struggle to find a like comparison to our present day. Jesus says that the disciples will be handed over to councils and governors and kings. They will be flogged. They will be given to death by their own family and they will be hated by all (Matthew 10:16-25).

Can we really describe our American suburban reality this way? We seem to have a very peaceful existence. Very few American (or western) Christians I know have been handed to authorities or beaten and certainly not killed. In the book of Acts, we read that all of Jesus’ predictions for his disciples become reality in the history of the birth of the church. We certainly see a glorious work of God in the salvation of souls and the establishment and spread of the church. We also see a constant flow of opposition as apostles stand before councils, receive beatings and floggings, are killed and even sent to Rome, the highest authority in the world at that time. Within a very short time, church history shows that Christianity is outlawed and becomes a capital offence. It gets in the way of profit, ambitions, desires, and the desire for man to be his own god.

There are periods of time where Christians have influenced to the degree that governments have legislated in favor of a peaceable existence for the church. Eventually, though, as authentic Christians have become more unpopular, persecution has increased. Christians such as Huss, Luther, Wycliffe and Tyndale, and many others where even persecuted by governments who claimed to be “Christian.” This tells us two things. Christian doesn't always mean Christian. And, when the truth of Christ gets in the way of the desires and ambitions of man, persecution abounds. Sadly, the reality is that the truth of Christ will eventually always get more in the way of the desires and ambitions of man. This is a problem that has abounded ever since Genesis 3 and the first murderous persecution of a believer started with a brother killing his own brother in Genesis 4. True believers have never been in the world’s favor. This is a biblical standard.

Within Jesus’ descriptions of what will happen to the disciples on mission, he gives a couple of general realities. Jesus tells them to “beware of men,” (10:17) and that they will “be hated by all for my name’s sake.” (10:22). These statements are encompassing statements that describe the general situation of humanity and the ongoing nature of the mission field for all Christians. Beware of men. Why? Because mankind is sinful. Mankind cannot be trusted and will generally be against the God they have rejected. This is the norm.

When we see a general peace in society toward Christians, we should be thankful that God has given this time for us to more openly serve him and reach others. Generally, in the world, this is not the case. If we are seeing some signs of the tide turning in America, it is because humans are doing what Jesus has already told us what humans will do. Beware of men. The problem is a human problem. We are all men. We need Christ. The problem is a human problem. The problem is a sin problem. The problem is our problem.

The descriptions that Jesus is giving his disciples for mission are the descriptions that he is giving for his whole church. America has some restrictions against Christian persecution that remain from a time when there was sympathy to a population that leaned more toward Christian teaching and morality. As time progresses, we should expect a culture to move more toward the norm. The norm is that we are to beware of men as Christ is hated by all.

Is there a solution? Yes. The solution is that people desperately need to be saved into a new kingdom. One that is not of this world. One where the King is the Christ who Christians follow. One where sins are forgiven, hearts regenerated, and men and women are sanctified in Christ. The Bible never promises the abnormal times of peace in the world, but it does promise an eternity of peace in the free gift of salvation that comes from Jesus alone. While there is not one single bible verse that gives the New Testament church a mandate to change or reform a culture, Christians are to take hope in the fact that our kingdom and the kingdom we offer is not of this world. We have something greater to live for. We have something greater to offer.

God Knows How to Rescue Us

2 Peter 2:9 “…then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment.”

So many of us find it difficult to face the opposition associated with evangelism. The unknown factor always comes down to response and reaction. Some people are very open to discuss Christ and some people are very offended, even to the point of physical violence. We live in a country where we do not often see a physically violent response to evangelism, but there are countries in the world where proclaiming the name of Christ means jail or possibly even death.

When Jesus sent his apostles out on mission, he gave them instructions to go through the area of Galilee and preach his Kingdom. It seems that there would be mixed response. Some would reject them. Some would accuse them, refuse them, disown them, and persecute them. These apostles would be vulnerable for the sake of Christ.

While it may not initially seem like an encouragement, Jesus tells his apostles that it will be worse for those Jews who reject his kingdom than for Sodom and Gomorrah. Why on earth should this information be helpful for apostles facing the difficulties of ministry? It is helpful because it says that they represent a power greater than themselves. They also represent a power greater than those who will reject them. I believe that Jesus wants them to know that even if they are rejected for the sake of his name, truth and authority is on their side. They are in the hands of the supreme King and Judge of the universe. He is the one with power to save and bring peace to anyone who accepts his good news. He is the one with power to eternally judge anyone who rejects his good news. We represent him!

The example of Sodom and Gomorrah is one that is used throughout the New Testament. Jesus uses this example a few times regarding the Jewish rejection of him as Messiah. Peter uses this example to encourage Christians that seem to be overwhelmed by the onslaught of false teachers and debauchery all around them. Often it seems like we are so alone. It seems as though evil is so much more powerful than us. The truth is, it’s not. In Peter’s example, Lot was one man within a whole city. God saved Lot from that city and brought destruction upon those who had rejected him. Peter says it this way, “the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment.

No matter what happens to us, if we are in union with Christ, God has given us an example in Sodom and Gomorrah to remember. No matter the circumstances, God knows how to save his own. If we are able to keep this in mind, doesn’t this then help us to be more emboldened to go out without counting personal cost? Can’t we believe and remind ourselves that whatever man might do, we are in God’s hands for all of eternity. God is using Christians as his means to go into an evil world and preach his salvation. For some people, this will mean salvation and peace with God. For others it will be a sealing of their judgment. No matter what the response or situation, God knows how to rescue us. We not only trust a greater power. We are in the hands of the Omnipotent – everyone is. That’s either terrifying or wonderfully comforting. What is it for you?

Seven Reasons Not to Fear Evil

To many of us look around this world and see the ascendancy of evil men and evil schemes and become overwhelmed. If we live our lives by what we see on the news through the internet and TV, it can intimidate us into shrinking away from our great commission responsibilities. It seems as if this world is out to eat us alive. Perhaps this is why Jesus described mission to his disciples as going out as sheep among wolves. It’s certainly often the way I feel, and I live in America. Imagine if you were in a country where Christianity was outlawed, like first and second century Rome.

When Jesus sent his apostles on mission, he sent them out with a whole discourse of instruction and encouragement. As I see it, there are at least seven good reasons not to fear evil as we think of our responsibility in the great commission.

1. We go with the gospel of the kingdom (Matthew 9:35). The gospel writers consistently show that the Kingdom of Christ has broken into this world as the all-conquering kingdom. When we are a part of this kingdom, we are a part of a kingdom that has overcome all evil, sent Satan hurtling from heaven, and defeated the god of this world. The good news of the kingdom is that people can come into right relationship with God and be on the winning side. While we await the final consummation, we can know that every Christian already has the victory that Jesus has won in establishing his kingdom on earth and sealing that victory in the work of the cross.

2. If we think that this world is too much for the gospel to overcome, we need to believe God when he says that he actually has a harvest out there. Jesus says to pray to the Lord of the harvest for more workers for the expansion of his kingdom (9:37-38). From this we can take away that there are no forces that can withhold God from his saving power and reaping his harvest. We can also know that if Christ commands us to pray for more laborers in this harvest, he would not ask for something that God would refuse to supply. So, pray.

3. Jesus has established his church by his unlimited authority. The authority of Christ spans beyond humanity, to creation itself, and the very forces of the spiritual realm. It is a comprehensive scope of authority. The authoritative power of Christ was given to his apostles on mission as they were given power over demons and diseases. These men then gave us the gospels and the New Testament (10:1). We don’t have the same specific outworking of this authority that was displayed in the apostles as they founded the church, but this authority has been vested in the gospels and New Testament letters that they wrote. When we go out with the gospel, we go out with the very authority of Christ.

4. We are never meant to think we can overcome every person with the gospel. That’s not how it works. Not everyone will respond to the gospel but only those that God calls to respond in repentance and faith. The apostles were told to go in and out of houses in Galilee and preach indiscriminately to all. If they met refusal and opposition they were to leave and move on knowing that unless these people repent, they would most certainly face ultimate judgment that is God’s alone to bring. (10:14-15). God seeks us to be obedient to his call and is ultimately concerned about our faithfulness. The result is his alone and therefore we need not worry about evil winning.

5. Yes, the opposition is fierce, but as the Christian perseveres through it, there is much greater reward for us. We are to keep going as we remind ourselves that persevering faith is saving faith (10:22).

6. Even if we were to lose our very life, we can be assured that our King is in charge of our eternity. For this reason, we are told not to fear those who can kill the body but fear the One who can destroy both body and soul in hell (10:28). Even in death, when we are persevering in Christ, we are overcomers with the eternal God who judges all.

7. Finally, you are in the hands of a God who knows you more intimately than you know yourself. He can number the very hairs on your head (10:30). If we are going to trust anyone with our life, surely it needs to be the One who intimately knows and cares for us. The God who has power over evil is immanently caring for you.

All of this makes a great point. We have good reason to proclaim the gospel and persevere in a world filled with evil. Ultimately, every Christian has nothing to lose including their life. Even if we lose that, in Christ we gain it. In Christ, we have no reason to fear evil.