Friday Sermon | 4 Spiritual Laws?

frisermonToday I want to share an episode of Issues, ETC where Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller tackles the Evangelical Cliché: “God Loves You and Has a Wonderful Plan for Your Life”. If you’ve been to a college campus or had dealing with Campus Crusade for Christ (or CRU), you should be familiar with this cliche as the first of Bill Bright’s “4 Spiritual Laws“. This is NOT a good way to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s a sales technique for getting someone to sign up for a membership to something they don’t really understand they need.

Pr Wolfmueller addresses the core of the cliche and works through these so-called “4 Spiritual Laws”.

 

In Christ Jesus,
Jorge

CTT | Gospel Tract Needs More Gospel

CTTWe don’t see a lot of Gospel Tracts these days while we are out and about. Two weeks ago while shopping at a local Home Improvement store, my son announced his need to use the restroom. While waiting for him to finish his business, I noticed what looked like a gospel tract lying on the toilet paper dispenser. I thought, “hmmm… don’t see that very often these days”. I picked it up quickly and read the cover, “You Say You’re Saved But…” Huh? Okay, then… wasn’t going to leave this behind. Today we’ll work through this tract and the need to distinguish Law and Gospel.

Audience for the Tract

So the front of this tract says this:

You
Say
You’re
Saved

But…

Who is the target audience of this tract? This is a common question we ask here during our Discernment in Music (DiM) posts, so there is clearly a force of habit at play, but seriously, who is the target audience of this tract? Someone who says they are “saved”. That is a particularly Christian turn of phrase. It’s a churchism. So this is a tract that was left in the bathroom stall of a Home Improvement store targeting professing Christians? I agree that there is a lot of bad teaching out there and that the problem of false converts is real, but this is an odd approach to addressing that problem. Without opening the tract, I’m already wondering, “why isn’t this at a Christian bookstore or Megachurch?” I’m concerned about the “but…” in bold letters. What is this tract going to use to counter the reader’s profession of faith?

Does your life magnify Jesus Christ?

Ouch. So, okay… the test for “am I saved” is “Does my life magnify Jesus Christ”? The tract then says

Colossians 3:17a, 1:18c, “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus…that in all things he might have the preeminence.”
SO, LET ME ASK YOU. ARE YOU SAVED?

It was at this point that I almost lost it in that store. We’ll get to the proof-texting at play in just a minute, but taken at face value, is there ANYONE alive who can rightly claimed to be saved if this is the first test? No. Only Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, Son of the Living God passed this test. And because He did and then gave His Life as a substitutionary atonement for our sin, by the Grace of God and through Faith in Christ Jesus our unrighteousness is exchanged for His righteousness.

Now, let’s deal with the proof-texting. They didn’t even bother to let the Scripture speak for itself. The took a phrase from a verse in Chapter 3 and closed its thought with a phrase pulled from Chapter 1. Does the Bible not plainly teach on salvation anywhere in scripture, such that we are left to matrix the most fundamental of doctrines? In truth, Chapter 3 does contain the Gospel… but since this tract is trying to beat up the reader with Law right out of the chute, the author has taken a Gospel passage and turned into a commandment. The book of Colossians isn’t a dictionary or a lexicon where we strip mine ideas and phrases to construct new thoughts, laws, or principles. It was a letter, written by the Apostle Paul to the Christians in Colossae. This is the only reference to Colossians made in this tract, and they literally flipped the message backwards in their only proof-text. Paul begins with the Preeminence of Christ and builds up the reader into good works as the outflow of the work of the Gospel, yet this proof-text takes good works as that which gives the Lord Jesus preeminence in our lives, proving our salvation. Let’s look at the text in order.

Colossians 1:1-23 (ESV)

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.

Thanksgiving and Prayer

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit. And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.11 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

The Preeminence of Christ

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.

There are so many places to look for the Law of God which convicts us of sin… why do violence to the text, twisting the Gospel into a Law that cannot be fulfilled by our flesh (proof-text portion was underlined above)? Paul goes on in Chapter 2 to warn against being led away or shifting from the hope of the Gospel that was preached to them, particularly for those who would seek to enslave them once again under the elementary principles of law-keeping as a means of proving their salvation (like this tract seems to want to do).

Colossians 2 (ESV)

For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.

Alive in Christ

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. 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.For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. 11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

Let No One Disqualify You

16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

Colossians 3:1-17 (ESV) | Put On the New Self

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity,passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. 12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

This is a Gospel Epistle… not a test of proving your salvation. Salvation isn’t something you prove by how well you’ve maintained the preeminence of Jesus Christ in your works. What does Paul point his readers to, their good works? Absolutely not! He points them to the preeminence of Christ, His finished work on the Cross for our sake, the Gospel of Hope that was preached to them, the forgiveness of sin by faith in Jesus Christ, for God took our debts of sin and transgressions and left them nailed to the cross of Jesus Christ. Paul transitions, painting a picture of our having joined in the death of Christ in water baptism, and Paul urges us to walk in newness of life by faith. You see, good works flows as the result of our regeneration in Christ, but Paul isn’t making them the proof of salvation here. We will continue to fall short and we will continually need to forgive one another, as we ask for forgiveness in our daily prayers.

This tract continues to take the Gospel passages and twists them into Law, accusing the professing Christian reader of not truly being saved since they cannot live up to standard of Jesus Christ. We’ll continue with the tract for a bit longer.

Does it show in your Lifestyle?

Now, we need to be careful here. We agree that a life of faith should look differently from a life of unbelief, we know this from the Epistle of James. If there is no visible difference in our lives, then can such a faith that produces no good work truly be saving faith? That’s a fair question and that should be where this question is pointing. Sadly, the tract goes back into the burden of law while skipping Gospel passages.

2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold all things are become new.”
The “old things” here are the desires one had prior to salvation in Christ Jesus. When someone gets truly born again they are brand new. All the sins they once enjoyed are no longer a part of the will or the life of the new believer, and have been replaced…

See what they did there? If sin is still tempting to you, you aren’t truly born again. Because when you are born again, those desires go away and are replaced with Godly desires. Is that what the Bible teaches? That our flesh becomes perfect once we are born again? Not in this life. Will we be able to measure our salvation by our earthly perfection? Nope. Am I exaggerating the points being made by this tract? Let’s look at the remaining headings:

  • Does it show in your love? Do you love Jesus more than ANYTHING? The only way that is possible is if you are saved….John 14:15, “if ye love me, keep my commandments.”
  • Does it show that he is your LORD? Luke 6:46, “and why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?”…if you profess Jesus Christ as Lord, but have never given Him full control of your life, you say you are saved, but it seems just to be a mere profession without salvation.

So, when the tract finally gets around to the Gospel, we get a list of commands:

YOU MUST:

  1. Accept that you are a sinner Romans 3:23, For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”
  2. Agree with God, and repent of your ins 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering toward us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”
    Acts 17:30, “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent:”
  3. Call on Jesus and ask Him to save you Romans 10:9-10,13, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, though shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Okay, so the reader goes through this list… and within an hour (I’m being generous), the believer will still fail every single one of the tests of salvation presented in the tract. The closing paragraph just before the contact information for the local church that purchased the tract breaks my heart.

God tells us to examine ourselves whether we be in the faith. Let the Lord search your heart. Will you listen to what He has to say to you? If you are not saved, are you willing to call upon the Lord Jesus and ask Him to forgive your sins and save you? Will you give Him your HEART and LIFE? REMEMBER, HE WANT TO SAVE YOU!

If only the Gospel had been clearly presented in the tract… without being crumpled into law. The professing Christian who still struggles with sin, with making Jesus Christ preeminent in his works (words and deeds) isn’t saved? This Gospel tract is an example of confusing Law and Gospel, and it provides no rest for the reader, no hope for the believer, nothing but works-based assurance.

Conclusion

Don’t share tracts like these. Get rid of them. Learn the proper distinction between Law and Gospel. It isn’t your place to measure the good works of one of Christ’s servants, merely to preach law and gospel and let the Holy Spirit work in His people. The Law is holy, and profitable for exposing sin and putting it to death in our flesh. We will all die. Our flesh is cursed, it is rotten and decayed due to sin. Please read through 1 Corinthians 15… Paul repeats the Gospel and then goes on to explain the Resurrection that is to come. We are indeed made new creatures by faith in Christ Jesus, but as long as the old flesh remains, it is being brought to death (by the Law of God as punishment for sin) so that when that which is our flesh finally passes away, that which is Spiritual will rise again in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 (ESV)

23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

In Christ Jesus,
Jorge

Church History | Missional Church Movement

churchhistoryWhat does it mean when a church declares itself a “Missional Church”? This is a fairly recent movement found mostly within Reformed and Baptist circles, though it is embraced by many non-denominational churches. It is a movement that seeks to redefine or re-envision the Church and its mission.  Today, I’d like to take address the topic of the “Missional Church Movement”. This is the result of my personal research on the topic, because I just needed to know what this whole thing was about. I have done my best to cite sources friendly to the movement and provide links to those sources for your own reading. Your feedback is most appreciated on this one, it’s a little bit outside of my wheelhouse.

Recent History of Missional Church Movement

Let’s begin with an excerpt from an article from GotQuestions.org that is supportive of the Missional Church Movement.

“Missional” or “missional living” is a Christian term that in essence describes a missionary lifestyle. Being missional includes embracing the posture, the thinking, behaviors, and practices of a missionary in order to reach others with the message of the gospel. The term “missional” gained its popularity towards the end of the 20th century with the influence of Tim Keller, Alan Hirsch, and others, as well as the Gospel and Our Culture Network. Their basic premise is that all Christians should be involved in the Great Commission of Jesus (Matthew 28:19-20).

Essentially, the idea of being missional teaches that the church has a mission because Jesus had a mission. There is one mission which says that the “missional church is a community of God’s people that defines itself, and organizes its life around, its real purpose of being an agent of God’s mission to the world. In other words, the church’s true and authentic organizing principle is mission. When the church is in mission, it is the true church.” Yet there has been some confusion regarding the term “missional.”

Alan Hirsch, one its proponents, says that “missional” is not synonymous with “emerging.” The emerging church is primarily a renewal movement attempting to contextualize Christianity for a postmodern generation. “Missional” is also not the same as “evangelistic” or “seeker-sensitive.” These terms generally apply to what he calls the “attractional” model of church that has dominated our understanding for many years. Missional is not a new way to talk about church growth. Although God clearly desires the church to grow numerically, it is only one part of the larger missional agenda. Finally, missional is more than social justice. Engaging the poor and correcting inequalities is part of being God’s agent in the world, but should not be confused with the whole.

Hirsch also says that a proper understanding of missional living begins with recovering a missionary understanding of God. By His very nature God is a “sending God” who takes the initiative to redeem His creation. This doctrine, known as missio Dei is causing many to redefine their understanding of the church. Because the church is comprised of the “sent” people of God, the church is the instrument of God’s mission in the world. However, most people believe that missions is an instrument of the church, a means by which the church is grown. Although Christians frequently say, “The church has a mission,” according to missional theology a more correct statement would be “the mission has a church.”

Though many churches have mission statements or talk about the importance of having a mission, where missional churches differ is in their attitude toward the world. A missional church sees the mission as both its originating impulse and its organizing principle. It is patterned after what God has done in Jesus Christ, that is, to be missional means to be sent into the world; not to expect people to come to us. This idea differentiates a missional church from an “attractional” church.

The attractional church seeks to reach out to the culture and draw people into the church. But this practice only works where no significant cultural shift is required when moving from outside to inside the church. And as Western culture has become increasingly post-Christian, the attractional church has lost its effectiveness. The West looks more like a cross-cultural missionary context in which attractional churches are self-defeating. The process of extracting people from the culture and assimilating them into the church diminishes their ability to speak to those outside. As a result, people cease to be missional and instead leave that work to the clergy.

Missional represents a significant shift in the way one thinks about the church. Being missional means we should engage the world the same way Jesus did—by going out rather than just reaching out. Missional means that when a church is in mission, it is then the true church. [Continue Reading…]

A couple of thoughts that jump out at me when reading through this article. First, it seems to be a very current write-up focused on distinguishing “Missional” from “emergent” and “seeker-sensitive”. It also highlights the “attractional” model of implementing church activities and campaigns designed to make the church attractive to potential church-goers. I think is important for any modern-day church movement to recognize the blatant errors of the seeker-mergent movements and to properly distinguish themselves from those movements. However, defining a movement by how it isn’t one of the bad movements, falls short for me. The biggest problem with this article is that it seems to define a man-made term “Missional” like a slogan or a vision statement for an organization. That’s fine for a parachurch organization or even a church small group or group activity, but if we are talking about defining the Church, the argument needs to be exegeted from Scripture.

Older History of the Missional Church Movement

The document formed by Tim Keller, Alan Hirsch, et al, was not created out of nothing. They gave the movement a name, but much of the theological and ecclesial groundwork for their Missional Church is grounded in the 1950s inspired largely by the work of Leslie Newbigin. To get a better handle on the history of what would become the Missional Church Movement, I recommend reading Historical Perspectives on the Missional Church Movement: Probing Lesslie Newbigin’s Formative Influence  by Michael W. Goheen (pdf). It is a lengthy document, but well worth reading if you are in a Reformed Church who defines itself as Missional. It does a good job of describing the differing paradigms of “emergent” (Johannes Hoekendijk) vice “missional” (Leslie Newbigin).

There are two important years in the development of a missional ecclesiology that provide a structure for our reflection – 1952 and 1998. 1952 was the year of the Willingen meeting of the International Missionary Council (IMC). It was then that the theological framework (although not the term) of the missio Dei was clearly articulated. An important part of this formulation was the recognition that mission was central to the church’s being. The church’s identity was to be found in the role it played in God’s mission. The next stage, theologically speaking, should have been to articulate what this missional identity looks like in the ecclesial structures of the local congregation, ecumenical church, and cross-cultural missions. Unfortunately, this next stage was blown off course by the powerful secular winds of the 1960s that can be associated, within the church itself, with the name Johannes Hoekendijk.

[Leslie Newbigin] authored the Willingen statement; he was a significant voice in opposition to the Hoekendijkian vision of the church and mission; he was the inspiration behind the 1998 publication of Missional Church; and he remains the recognized father and, for many, the tacit authority in much missional and emergent church literature. A fruitful question might be to ask how faithful the missional church conversation has been to Newbigin’s original vision.

The final statement adopted by the Willingen assembly was primarily the work of Newbigin.  It was entitled “The Missionary Calling of the Church.” It begins: “The missionary movement of which we are a part has its source in the Triune God Himself.” The most important legacy of Willingen is the concept of God’s mission found in this statement. This provided a framework for gathering and relating many theological and missiological insights that had developed over the first half of the 20th century into a consistent missional ecclesiology. Mission has its source in the love of the Father who sent His Son to reconcile all things to himself. The Son has sent the Spirit to gather his church together and empower it for mission. This church is sent by Jesus to continue his mission and this defines its very nature: “There is no participation in Christ without participation in his mission to the world. That by which the Church receives its existence is that by which it is also given its world-mission. ‘As the Father has sent Me, so send I you.’”

Hoekendijk and others believed that the reigning ecumenical view of mission was too Christocentric and needed to be Trinitarian, and was too church-centric and needed to find its center in the world instead. The contrast can be made in this way: the traditional paradigm of mission that developed from Tambaram to Willingen found its primary focus in the ecclesial community that had its origin in the work of Jesus Christ and continued his mission in the world; the new paradigm featured a shift in missional focus from God’s work through Christ in the church to His providential and salvific work by His Spirit in the world. The traditional paradigm is Christocentric and ecclesiocentric; the new paradigm is pneumocentric and cosmocentric.
[Read the full document here]

Okay, so I’ve tried to include snippets of the document that summarize the split between emergent and missional thinking. The article presents the Missional Church Movement as one that started in 1952 but was hijacked by what we know see as emergent theology of the secular waves of the 60s. The article then catches up with the book written by Tim Keller, Alan Hirsch, et al in 1998, citing that moment as an attempt to reach back to the Newbigin’s foundational work. Despite the author’s detailed efforts to distinguish between the good of Newbigin’s theology from the hijacking of his work, in the end we have “Missional” appearing in churches that are indeed seeker-mergent.

Concerns with the Movement

The glaring issue I have with this movement is its attempt to define the mission of the Church by trimming back what it is now or what it has become and reshaping it by examining our modern context. While it seems Newbigin’s writing was grounded in Scripture, there seems to be little work currently being done to ground it in the New Testament prescriptives of what the Body of Christ, the Church, is to be about. If the movement were truly confined to Reformed churches, one might consider the theological underpinnings to be covered in by their Confessions. However, the emergent church is clearly outside of Reformed theology, thus in order to rightly define the Missional Church Movement it needs to be rightly exegeted from scripture outright.

Michael Horton wrote a thoughtful and engaging critique of the Missional Movement in an article for Modern Reformation Magazine. In his article, his primary concern is with the practical implications of a Church that defines itself by what it does in the world, and how such a redefinition might lean heavily toward monasticism.

Some of us remember the Tears for Fears song, “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” Yet the mantra today is more about changing the world than ruling it. Lots of younger Christians are tired of spiritual consumerism and evangelism pitches about inviting Jesus into your heart so you can go to heaven when you die. There has to be more to Christianity than “soul-saving.” Isn’t there something in there about “the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting”? About a new creation? Don’t we sing “Joy to the World,” anticipating the blessings of Christ’s kingdom extending “far as the curse is found”?

Nevertheless, a legitimate question can be raised as to whether this newfound interest in creation redeemed is still guided by a paradigm that owes more to monasticism than to the world-affirming piety of the Reformation. [Continue Reading]

Conclusion

Personally, I’m tired of “evangelical movements”. Growing up under NAR thinking, I’ve had my fill of being tossed about by every wind of doctrine… jabez prayer, spiritual warfare, purpose drivenness, triumphalism, dominionism, radical christianity, promise keepers, etc. I’m not the least bit interested in creating a new word for Church, or some marketing campaign for why people should join my church as opposed to their church… none of that. I don’t care what you call your church. What I do care about is what is preached from the pulpit, what is studied in your home groups, and what whether your congregation behaves as one body of believers. For me, the word “Missional” has become as unreliable as “Evangelical”.

Ephesians 4:1-7 (ESV) | Unity in the Body of Christ

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith,one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.

In Christ Jesus,
Jorge

CTT | A Thought on Christian Liberty

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALet’s take a look at a systematic approach to proselytizing, and see if you can identify what is being presented as good news here:

  1. You’re sick. You aren’t nearly as healthy as you think you are. Somewhere, deep down inside, you know you’re not complete. There’s something missing in your life and you’ve filled your life full of empty or even poisonous things that are killing you. Don’t you feel like life could be better?
  2. Have you settled for surviving, when you should be thriving and living prosperously and in great health? Whether it’s pride, rebellion, or fear of failure, you need to humble yourself and accept that how you’ve been living life all this time has been wrong, self-indulgent, and self-destructive.
  3. There is a way out. There are a lot of counterfeits out there, lots of empty promises, lots of people claiming that their truth is THE truth only for their systems to crumble into falsehood and despair. I have good news for you, and I stand here before you as a witness to its power and meaning. I’m not selling anything, I’m sharing what I believe to be the Truth.
  4. But it won’t be easy. While some might issue challenges to “give it a try”, I’m here to tell you that this isn’t about experimenting with something incrementally. If you’re ready for real change, meaningful change, your entire life will have to change. You must turn away from the way you’ve been doing life, and follow the narrow path to new life that I’m presenting to you today.
  5. You’ll need to throw out the old, don’t hold onto the things of the past, they will only hold you down and tempt you to fall away. They might even cause you pain. Your friends won’t understand why you no longer live life the way they do. But once they see how much more happy and healthy and powerful you’ve become, they’ll ask you what is different in your life, and then they’ll be ready to listen. Then they’ll taste and see. And perhaps, they, too, will come out of the dead-end, fruitless life, they’ve grown up in.

The list I’ve just provided probably looks a lot like a jab at western evangelical “give your life to Jesus” pitch. It actually wasn’t. What I presented above is what I’ve witnessed from the gospel of Atkins, Gluten-free, Vegan, and Paleo diets. Definitely a works-based religion. Are any of them inherently evil? Not at all. In fact, if you are celiac, I’ll recommend a gluten-free diet right along with the medical community. If you struggle with self-control in the area of junk foods, I might recommend a more Paleo-like diet. If you simply (for whatever reason) find meat and dairy un-palatable, I’d recommend researching vegan-best-practices. Some of these diets serve a purpose for some people who for various reasons need help making basic food decisions. None of these things is a panacea, and none of them save. Yet, I see far more aggressive food-evangelism than I do Christian.

America is Sick

However, more important than the pervasive general obesity in America, is the rampant unbelief and false doctrine that is filling society. Society is rejecting the Authority of the Bible. That’s a problem that needs constant attention. That is the role of the church, and our charge as Christians, stewards of the Gospel of God’s Grace. We are to be witness of the Truth of God’s Word.  Yes, America is overweight and generally unhealthy. Yes, we should be better stewards of the life we live by God’s grace.  As Christians, we need to keep the message clear… and sometimes proselytizing a diet (or vehemently opposing one) distracts from the Gospel. It did in the early church, with the Judeaizers. Paul dealt with it explicitly in his letter to the Romans, and he did so in a way that still find applicability today.

Romans 14 (ESV)

Do Not Pass Judgment on One Another

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables.Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; 11 for it is written,

“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
    and every tongue shall confess to God.”

12 So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.

13 Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. 14 I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. 15 For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. 16 So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.18 Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. 19 So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual up building.

20 Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats.21 It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. 22 The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. 23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.

As long as we are living our lives in humility and Worship of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, our diet (fad or real) is a matter of Christian Liberty. Only when your diet becomes an idol for you or a stumbling block for you or a brother/sister who is weak in the Faith, does Scripture have a hard say. For the mature, the prohibition from drunkenness doesn’t mandate a rejection of all things alcoholic. For the immature, such abstinence may be necessary as a guardian until maturity in self control is achieved.

Conclusion

I truly do not care how a brother or sister in the faith has chosen to eat or drink. Vegan, Paleo, Vegetarian, Gluten-free, Omnivore, Kosher, doesn’t matter. Your diet isn’t a Gospel matter; your tastes in food or drink, your food allergies, or your personal distrust of processed food products are not Gospel matters. Crash diets are a concern, and the motive for such diets are generally what need to be addressed, Biblically. Faith, and the object of our Faith, is the concern, not diet. As an ominvore, I will poke fun at trendy diets and fad diets. I won’t make fun of anyone’d diet that is forced by allergies/ailments/injuries, though, that’s no fad or trend. What does draw my ire, and what has led to this post, is when Christians lose sight of the line between nutrition and Gospel. The Scriptures are quite clear that God has declared all food clean. So there is no Scriptural basis for insisting on any particular diet, or even suggesting that one diet is morally superior to another. I fell victim to this before, where I noticed I was proselytizing a diet more naturally and aggressively than I was the Gospel. That was a problem for me, and I am now hyper sensitive to it.

Dear Christians, in your desire to live a more healthy lifestyle, guard your hearts. It is far too easy for our sinful hearts to slip into idolatry, where our faith gets misplaced in our health, our beauty, our fitness, our diet, our uniqueness, etc. And while we will not agree on the best flavor of ice-cream… or on whether or not one should even eat ice-cream, we will live in unity of the Faith, the Gospel of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.

Romans 15:1-7 (ESV) | The Example of Christ

We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.

Amen. In Christ Jesus,
Jorge

Gospel Wednesday | Matthew 10

bibleLast week, we saw Jesus start to focus on His disciples. He said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:37-8 ESV). This week, we will see Matthew’s account of Jesus calling His 12 Apostles from among His disciples and sending them out in training. Jesus is specifically teaching His apostles what they need to know in ministry. Given that these men (minus Judas and later including Paul) would form the foundation of Christ’s Church, with Jesus as its cornerstone, we need to pay close attention to what He is teaching here. For our ministry of evangelism, of the Church, is built upon this foundation and none other. There will not be any more Apostles, for there is no further need of foundation, but we need to understand the foundation upon which we stand. 

Jesus Sends Out the Twelve Apostles

Matthew 10 (ESV)

And [Jesus] called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction.The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother;Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, 10 no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food. 11 And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart.12 As you enter the house, greet it. 13 And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14 And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. 15 Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.

In the Matthew’s account, this is where Jesus selected 12 from His disciples to appoint them as His Apostles, sent-ones from God the Son. He gave them authority over unclean spirits to cast them out, and authority to heal every disease and every affliction. Why? Was their charge to eradicate sickness and disease from the land of Israel? Was it to expel all demons from the Land of Israel? Well, let us look at the rest of His charge. In verse 5 we see they are not to go to the Samaritans or the Gentiles… but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. What was their charge, to eradicate sickness and disease from Israel? No. They were given such authority, but their primary charge was to proclaim, “the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand”. They were to proclaim the time for the Promise was at hand, to preach repentance just as John the Baptist did and how they saw Jesus proclaim the Kingdom. Notice the conditional statement He provided regarding the towns/houses in which they stay. If anyone will not receive you or listen to your words… the miracles of casting out demons, healing the sick, raising the dead, or cleansing lepers wouldn’t be enough. Some would still not receive them as Apostles nor listen to their preaching. The authority to perform miracles was granted as a testimony of the Truth of what they preached. There would still be those who witness the miracles and reject the message. Why? Because they lacked faith, and held fast to the teaching of the Elders and Pharisees who taught as commandments the doctrines of men. Those who reject the Gospel and remain in their unbelief remain condemned (John 3:16-18)… and these who reject the proclamation of the Gospel in this manner, full of power and authority will face a tougher judgement than those destroyed in Sodom and Gomorrah in the days of Abram.

What Jesus tells His 12 for this immediate mission, carries on into the first leg of the Great Commission we will see in Chapter 28. Thankfully, the Gospel isn’t limited to the lost sheep of Israel, because the Promise was for all of mankind, for you and for me. I appreciate how the ESV splits this up into sections, because the portions that follow apply to the Church, the Body of Christ. We will face persecution, this isn’t limited to His 12 apostles. He sent them out to lay the foundation, with Himself as its cornerstone, and we are being built up on that foundation as the Holy Temple of God, a temple of living stones indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God. We will see persecution… and it will continue getting worse until the Great Day of Christ’s return.

Matthew 10 | Persecution Will Come

16 “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. 19 When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. 20 For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21 Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, 22 and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 23 When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

24 “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.

Anyone selling a gospel of victorious living, health and wealth, or “living your best life now” is either flat-out lying or simply has never actually read the Bible. In Christ we have our victory in the resurrection. Until then, we will face trials, tribulation, and the open seething hate of a world that first hated Him. Take heart, Jesus goes on to say…

Matthew 10 | Have No Fear

26 “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. 28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven,33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.

Have no fear of men who can only kill the body. Our treasure is in Heaven.

Matthew 10 | Not Peace, but a Sword

34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had my fill of the media’s wimpy portrayal of Jesus. Even the self-identified Christian production companies seem to fail in this regard. Jesus didn’t come to coddle sinners in their sinfulness, He came to call them out of the Kingdom of Darkness. He preached repentance. Families will be split because of Him, but not because of what He does; rather, for who He is. Don’t treat verses 34-39 in isolation from verses 26-33. It is all connected. Those who follow Jesus, die to themselves and to sin daily, will be saved while those who deny Him will continue to hate Him and those who follow Him. The message of the Gospel isn’t to eradicate sin, death, sickness, or poverty on the earth. The earth is cursed because of the sin of Adam. Dominionists, Open Theists, Universalists, all of them are completely confused in their thinking. The Gospel of Jesus Christ calls sinners to repentance and separation from this world of sin and unbelief. When we proclaim the “Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” to this dying world, we are proclaiming “leave the building of destruction” not “all clear, the bomb was defused”. Christ made a way of escape, the ONLY way of escape from the judgment that is due our sin. It is a narrow gate that few will find, though we proclaim loudly and firmly the Way of Salvation in the Name of Jesus.

Matthew 10 | Rewards

40 “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. 41 The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward.42 And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”

The Apostles are being sent out as prophets, proclaiming the Word of the Lord (the Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand). Whoever receives them as speaking the Word of God, receives the prophet’s reward. Jesus is the only righteous person who has ever lived… and whoever receives Him, receives His reward. Whoever received the Apostles, received Christ. Whoever receives Christ, receives His Righteousness.

Romans 3:19-28 (ESV) | The Righteousness of God Through Faith

19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. 21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. 27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

By faith we have been saved. Faith comes by hearing the word of Christ. Hearing the Word of Christ comes by having it faithfully preached, both Law (conviction of sin leading to repentance) and Gospel (for the forgiveness of sin).

Romans 10:14-17 (ESV) 14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

Until Next Week…

Be faithful stewards of the Gospel of Grace, and preach the Word. Miracles, signs, and wonders belong to God and are His to work, not ours. We proclaim Christ and Him crucified for our sin. That He was raised from the dead, ascended to heaven at the Right Hand of God the Father, and returning soon to judge the living and the dead. Nothing we come up with, devise, or scheme has any chance of building or granting faith to the unbelievers… only the Word of Christ has that power. Until next week, spend some time in His word. Read in larger chunks, making note of the immediate and general context of what you are reading. Pray for understanding and wisdom from the Holy Spirit.

Amen.
In Christ Jesus,
Jorge