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.

Who's the Real Seeker?

During my early church years, the “seeker sensitive” movement was spreading like a wildfire in Australia. A great many churches were tailoring their styling and messaging toward a sincere desire to show hospitality to “seekers.” There has been much debate about the methods and strategies of the seeker sensitive movement. Some people believe that tailoring to “seekers” has resulted in a watering down of truth. Others have complained that the result of seeker sensitive strategies has simply made the church more like the world. On the other hand, some seeker-based churches may simply point to their growing attendances and claim success.

The biggest problem I have with a seeker-based approach is not necessarily on the basis of styling, and I certainly wouldn’t want to see a watering down of the truth of Scripture. The issue that I have is on the basis of where we place our confidence for the success of the gospel. Is it in our strategies or is it in the sovereign work of a saving God through the proclamation of the gospel? When we understand God’s work in the gospel, we understand who the real seeker is.

As I read Scripture, I find it difficult to find a biblical definition of a human seeker. God has often spoken about the human heart in the opposite way. In sin we are desperately wicked and full of evil (Jeremiah 17:9). We are dead in our transgressions and sins (Eph 2:1-3). Paul spends three chapters in Romans coming to the conclusion that it doesn’t even matter if you are a Jew or Greek. Romans 3:9-12 What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: "None is righteous, no, not one, no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one."

It seems that everywhere I seek in the Scriptures, I only end up finding one seeker.

God consistently reminds Israel that he is the God who called them (Isaiah 48:12). Even though God called Israel and formed them as his chosen people, they rejected him and broke his covenant with them. Isaiah warned that national Israel’s rejection of God would bring about an inclusion from the Gentiles who do not seek him. Isaiah 65:1 “I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me; I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, "Here I am, here I am," to a nation that was not called by my name.” Paul makes it clear to the Romans that we have now seen this gentile inclusion through Christ. Romans 10:20-21 “Then Isaiah is so bold as to say, "I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me." But of Israel he says, "All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people."

So, what do we make of this? Israel did not call out to God, but God called out and formed Israel. The Gentiles had no thought of God, but God sought out the Gentiles who were not seeking him. Once we include both Jews and Gentiles in the list of non-seekers, who else is there to include? In the whole world, God is the seeker. The reason that Jesus came into this world was to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). Where does our confidence lie for the lost in this world? 1 Corinthians 1:22-25 “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

Regardless of what you think of the methodologies of the seeker movement, the Bible says that God is the seeker and that when he calls, he is always successful. John 10:27-29 “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.”

Where does that leave us? Our call is to faithfully and indiscriminately proclaim the gospel so that God might call and save his lost sheep. Our call is not to methodologies and strategies, but to a message. This is a message that is often proclaimed to people who don’t want to hear it. These are the very ones that God so often saves because when he calls, the weakness of his message is stronger than mankind’s obstinance.

It's Good To Be Needy

All of us have had situations in our lives where we have deemed a certain person to be needy.  We might use terms like “high maintenance,” or call a needy girl a ‘princess.”  When we think of neediness like this, we consider it in a negative light.  Either we don’t like to be put out or someone really is just that needy that they are a constant source of requests and a consistent drain on time. So…. how can someone say that it is good to be needy?

If we are honest, we will understand that every single person in the world is needy.  Truly needy people are those who have no ability of their own to solve their problem.  Truly needy people are those who are also able to evaluate what is ultimately a true need.  In his book, When People are Big and God is Small, Ed Welch describes the situation in which so many people misinterpret our true needs.  We categorize our needs into emotional, relational, physical, and spiritual baskets. At the end of the day, when our needs become greater than God, we are making people big and God small. Man’s greatest and ultimate need is reconciliation with our Creator through Jesus Christ and His work on the cross.

Does God look at neediness in the same way as most humans do? Absolutely not.  God actually desires for us to be needy. He calls us to come.  He desires that we are not only reliant upon Him but in desperate need for Him every day.  Often when needy people come to us for help, they may come with a little embarrassment and concern.  God does not tell us to come to Him this way.  In every instance we are to know that God is eager, willing and able to hear our needs in Him and answer in the best way possible according to our good as He conforms us to His image.

Let’s take note from the author of Hebrews in how we are invited to approach God as His people in complete and utter need of Him.

1.     Our need is plain to God.  He sees us like nobody else does and everything about us is already exposed to Him.

Hebrews 4:13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

2.     Our need is not only plain to God but intimately known by God.

Hebrews 4:14-15A Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,

3.     Our need is not only plain, and intimately known, but Christ has overcome what we could not.  He has resisted what was too much for us.

Hebrews 4:15B but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.

4.     Therefore, God beckons us to draw near to His throne in confidence to find mercy and grace that only He can give.

Hebrews 4:16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

God does not see need like we do.  He knows our true need and He Himself is our solution.  When we see the Grace of God in Christ and how we can approach our God as needy people, it helps us to have more compassion and love for the ‘neediness’ of others. 

Bottom line – When it comes to our human sin and frailty, we are all high maintenance princesses before the Lord.  Isn’t it good to know that this is exactly who God calls to approach Him? God actually desires the needy to come to Him. 

Is God Your Policeman or Your Delight?

What is your motivation for following Jesus?

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Psalm 16:11.

When we read the gospels and the epistles in the New Testament, we continually face that the gospel comes to sinners. Jesus made it clear in Matthew 9:9-13 that he came not for the righteous but for sinners. Jesus came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). Paul says that we were dead in our trespasses and sin and by nature we were children of wrath. In the same passage, Paul also says that God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He has loved us, made us alive together with Christ (Romans 2:1-5). Paul is essentially saying that while there was nothing in us worthy of salvation, God saved us. Christ came for sinners.

While it is important to note that we come to salvation through faith, and a faith that is repentant of sin, God does not save us because he first sees any faith or repentance or righteousness in us. He doesn't save us because we are good law keepers. In fact, His law only proves that we aren’t (Romans 7). Salvation is all of grace given to sinners who have no righteousness of their own. The appeal of the gospel is not to get right with the Law Keeper and come to Christ, but to come to Christ so that He might give you His righteousness in exchange for your lawlessness.

Why is this important? It’s important because just as many have misunderstood that Christ himself is the prime motivation for the gospel in salvation, many Christians have overlooked that Christ himself is the prime motivation for holiness in the Christian life. A distorted view of the Christian life often comes from a distorted view of God. When we view God as a big policeman, he simply becomes a forbidding God – a God of do’s and don’ts. If we live our life this way, we live with the constant idea that God is always depriving. It doesn’t help us to understand why God’s commands are actually beautiful in their keeping.

The Psalmist says that God’s paths are the paths of light and that in His presence there is fulness of Joy. God is not a big policeman in the sky, He is the Holy God of limitless grace and His grace is stunningly beautiful. If God has given statutes and commands (and He has), then those statutes and commands are given that we might know how to be in loving communion with a God who delights in us. That was the purpose for the tree of life in the Garden of Eden, it was the purpose of the law for the nation of Israel and it is also the purpose of the law of Christ, the law of love, in the New Testament.

When we are enamored by the beauty and grace of Christ, we are so much more likely to live according to His beautiful holiness. We can see that in Him is fullness of Joy and pleasures forevermore. In the beauty of Christ’s grace, all the things that we can’t have are ugly in comparison. When we live under a policeman, the things we can’t have are things that we believe God is depriving us of. Law doesn’t change our hearts, grace does - Christ does. He is more beautiful than all the things we can’t have. He is the reason not to have them. He is fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore. He is not our policeman, He is our delight!

(Note: Thankful for the work of Sinclair Ferguson in his book, The Whole Christ: The thoughts in this blog are thoroughly explained in his book which is highly recommended.)

Are You Guilty of Gospel Profiling?

We love five-star ratings. If a movie has a five-star rating, we want to see it. If a restaurant has a five-star rating, we want to eat at it. If a product has a five-star rating, we want to buy it. If a hotel has a five-star rating, we want to stay in it.

Unfortunately, sometimes we look at evangelism in the same way as we look at purchases and services. Sometimes we are reticent to share the gospel with people if we judge that they don’t seem to want to hear it. We rate their readiness to hear or even receive the good news. Perhaps that clean living neighbor who loves her children and never cusses has a high rating. Perhaps it’s worth stepping out and talking with her. Perhaps she’s worth the investment. Perhaps that work colleague who always seems angry with the world and treats you like dirt has a low enough rating for you to simply avoid whenever you can.

When we look at people this way, we inadvertently place conditions on the gospel. At least in practice we can unconsciously judge a person’s worthiness to hear the good news. This type of unconscious profiling plagues so many of us and it is not a new phenomenon. We see this type of behavior all through the gospels displayed in the words and actions of the Pharisees who opposed Jesus (Matthew 9:9-13, Luke 15). They could not understand why Jesus would associate with the very sinners that they would avoid.

Understanding the nature of grace is one of the most important concepts for any Christian as we look at every other human being in this world. Grace promotes an indiscriminate attitude toward others. When we understand that we have been saved by grace, we have to place ourselves in the category of the underserving. God had no need of a rating survey to see anything worthy of his investment of shed blood for us. In fact, we all have an infinitely negative-star rating. There is no reason for God to watch our movie, eat at our restaurant, stay in our hotel or by our product. When Christ bled and died for us, he did so for those who had absolutely no merit of their own. “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person--though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die--but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:7-8).

If Christ has saved you, he has saved the undeserving. How can we possibly look at any other human being in this world and require God to expect more in them than he did in us? Grace is the very factor that removes discrimination in evangelism. Let’s therefore do exactly as Jesus says, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” (Mark 16:15).

Is Your Selfishness Hurting Your Church?

There is a well-known saying that I often use for people who are Church hunting. “If you find the perfect Church, don’t go there because you’ll ruin it.” For people who haven’t heard this statement before, they will give me a look of shock. For people who have, they realize that the statement really means that there is no such thing as a perfect church. If there was such a thing as a perfect church, we could only add to it by bringing imperfection.

If you are brave enough to read this blog after reading the title, it probably means that you are willing to acknowledge that you are one of the people who make your Church imperfect. We all are. Hopefully Christians gather together to help strengthen each other as we seek to honor Christ and become more like him. But….in this world, none of us have arrived. Too often it is possible in our fleshly struggles to allow our desire for self to have its effect among our brothers and sisters. A great description of the effect of selfishness on the Church is found in Paul’s first letter to Corinth.

Corinth presented a great many problems. I always find it fascinating that Paul introduces this letter by talking about this Church as those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus and appealing to them as beloved brethren. Immediately after Paul’s introduction, he seems to be answering all sorts of questions about all sorts of selfishly motivated sins happening in the life of this church.

In chapters 1 -3, Paul appeals to them to stop following their favorite personality. It is not about your preferred teacher, it’s about Christ. You don’t judge what is wise according to your own human philosophy, but true wisdom is found in the gospel. In chapter 4 Paul has to remind Corinth of what it means to be a faithful servant. In chapter 5 they seem to allow self-rule when it comes to sexual pursuits. In chapter 6 they are greedy for their own rights and taking each other to court. In chapters 11-14 the selfishness of the Corinthian church was impacting their time of gathering. Some were selfishly hoarding food in the meal that they were supposed to be having together to remember Christ’s sacrifice. It also seems that some were seeking to use gifts to show themselves as having greater standing with God through having a more powerful manifestation in giftedness. They were being selfish with the use of tongues to the degree that their ability to speak another language was flaunted in a way that it had no concern for the edification of others.

When we bring selfishness to a Church, we bring an attitude of being first and seek to be recognized as superior or more deserving than others. This is completely opposite to who Christ has called us to be. Jesus is the great Servant who has called us to serve and his example is the cross. In chapters 11-14 Paul consistently repeats that the purpose of meeting together. It is so we might serve each other in building each other up. Often our selfishness takes us in the direction that we desire to be built up by others and assess our Church by what we get.

In our time, we might look at a Church like Corinth and be tempted to say that we are glad that we are not like them. Well, we might not have a letter from an Apostle outlining every major aspect of selfishness in our congregation, but I would suggest that we could name a lot of selfish motivations that are hurting the Church even when they are not about sexual immorality, drunkenness, or taking each other to court.

Do you…

seek recognition for yourself?

let insufficient reasons stop you from turning up to edify your brothers and sisters in Christ?

leave your Church family because of secondary issues?

come to Church to be served rather than to serve?

complain when you don’t think the Church is meeting your standard?

judge Churches on the basis of what you get rather than what you give?

We could keep building a big list here, but I think you get the point. Really, we are all tempted to point our finger at Corinth. In God’s eyes, selfishness is selfishness, and selfishness hurts the Church. Let’s all consider ways in which we are selfish to examine how we might be who God has really called us to be as a Church – vital members of a vibrantly functioning body!