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Archive for Christians

Christian Carnality

The Corinthian church was a divided church – one group following Paul, another Peter, another Apollos, etc. (1 Cor. 1:12). In fact, they were split over many issues and were publicly fussing about them – acting like children. Paul wrote First Corinthians to administer a little corrective surgery. He began by unveiling some of the most amazing truth in the Bible – the mystery of God’s hidden wisdom (1 Cor. 1:7). He implied that the deeper truths of God – the truths that no human eye had seen, nor ear hear, nor every entered the mind of man – could be and should be known by every believer. This truth is clearly revealed by God the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 1:10-13). God’s wisdom produces real ministry, repairs divisions and heals wounds.
So why were the Corinthians still divided? Paul made the huge observation that the Corinthian division could be much deeper than they realized. He described three possible slots that his readers could fit in. The first slot he called natural people. He said that natural people – soulish people – do not receive the things (the truths) of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to them; nor can they know them, because these truths are spiritually understood (1 Cor. 2:14). The natural person is void of the Holy Spirit. Paul was aware that there were unbelievers within the Corinthian church.
The next slot was the spiritual people. These were people who had believed the gospel and received the Holy Spirit. They had the capacity to understand the mysterious wisdom of God – the Scripture. In fact, they had the mind of Christ, the God/man (1 Cor. 2:15-16). So why was the mind of Christ not being used at Corinth?
Paul mentioned a third slot – a third group of people. He referred to this group as “brethren” (1 Cor. 3:1). By his use of this term, he was saying that he considered them spiritual people having the Holy Spirit. But they certainly were not acting like it. Paul called them carnal minded Christians – fleshly acting Christians – as babes in Christ. They had the Spirit of God living within them but had not utilized His ministry (Gal. 5:16). One of my early mentors put this group of believers into two categories: carnal weak and carnal willful. The carnal weak would be new believers needing time and teaching to grow (1 Peter 2:2).
Paul had fed the Corinthians the milk of the word and felt he had given them sufficient time to progress to the solid food of Scripture. But they had failed to make the trip. He made this clear by using the term “even now, you are still not able” (1 Cor. 3:2). This was so true that they could not even be spoken to as spiritual people. They were still living like Spiritless people. These would be believers saved for many years, yet continuously “spitting out” the deeper wisdom of God truths (1 Cor. 2:10). They become carnal willful. They would be classified by the writer of Hebrews as children who by a certain time should have reached the point of becoming teachers but still needed the elementary portions of Scripture (Heb. 5:11-14). They were children tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, falling prey to the trickery of men and their cunning crafty deception (Eph. 4:14). They acted like children – selfish, always wanting their own way; easily tricked; easily falling for the slightest deception; lacking stability; happy one moment, mad the next; lacking proportion; fussing over trivial matters allowing the important matters to pass on by. They failed to study the Scripture as the Bereans did to see what wonders the Word holds (Acts 17:11; 2 Tim. 2:15). They may have fallen prey to the lusts of their flesh, constantly going after Satan’s worldly lures that keep them from the Scripture (1 Pet. 5:8). They may have spent an inordinate amount of time in God’s woodshed of discipline (Heb.12:6). These believers would have been saved for many years, yet they fail to grow in grace and the knowledge of Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3:18). Paul measured the Corinthians’ lack of spiritual maturity by the fact that they should have long since become united together, doing the work of God. But there was still envy, strife, and divisions among them. Just like children! Paul mentioned later that when he was a child, he spoke, understood, and thought as a child. But when he became a man, he put away childish things (1 Cor. 13:11).
Paul asked the Corinthians this question; “Are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not carnal?” They were carnal and willfully so! Blessings!

Personal Relationship versus Personal Responsibility

We are responsible to God as His children to live our lives pleasing to Him. Our challenge is to allow the Spirit of God to glorify (shed light upon) Christ through us. The way to do this is to keep short sin accounts with God. However, we do not always cooperate with the Spirit. We either grieve Him by consciously doing that which displeases Him (Ephesians 4:25–32) or we quench Him by not allowing Him to lead us (1 Thessalonians 5:19). Both will result in God’s discipline.

Always remember that God’s discipline is proof positive that we belong to Him and that He loves us. When the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, we can adjust ourselves to God’s righteous standard by judging ourselves (confession) and enduring God’s discipline (1 John 1:9; 1 Corinthians 11:31). Unbelievers do not have this option. They stand condemned before God because they have not believed in His Son (John 3:18).

Another area of personal accountability other than our personal relationship with Christ concerns our work of faith. Again, the Bible makes it quite clear that we are not declared right before God by our good deeds (Titus 3:5). However, we have learned that God has uniquely gifted every Christian to perform a stewardship responsibility to help build the body of Christ (1 Corinthians12:11;1 Peter 4:10). We are one body in Christ, but we have not been given the same responsibilities (Romans 12:4). If a choir all sang the same parts where would be the harmony? I really like the harmony. But we all have one very important thing in common.

God will one day judge each of us for spiritual productivity, especially the effort we make.  Paul asked a simple question. Why are we quick to judge other believers? As someone said, why do we have umpires’ hearts, or the desire to call balls and strikes on other people. Why are we quick to show contempt for fellow members? After all, we are all going to stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written: “As I live say the Lord, every knee shall bow to me. And every tongue shall confess to God” (REF). Each of us shall give account of himself to God (Romans 14:10–12; 2 Corinthians 5:10).

Judgment seat is the word bema. The bema was a rewarding stand for judges. It was established to reward those competing in the sporting games of the ancient world. Our righteous judge will one day reward believers for the race we have run. This judgment has nothing to do with the sin that condemned us before God. That debt was paid in full on Christ’s cross (John 19:30; Matthew 27:45-46).

Paul connected the basis for this judgment with the grace gifts given to believers. He used three can’t miss symbols to help us understand (1 Corinthians 3:5-15):

We are God’s fellow workers. Paul had the apostles in mind. He is saying that the apostles’ work was not their own. God gave to them this responsibility. The church at Corinth was Christ’s body, not Paul’s or Apollos’s or Peter’s. They were just workers working together for the building of the church.

You are God’s field. The church here is pictured as God’s cultivated field. These people were familiar with agriculture. There must be preparation of the soil, the planting of the seed, the fertilizing, the watering, the weeding, and then the harvesting. That is what ministry is all about! All need the seed of the gospel to be planted in their minds (1 Peter 1:23-25). If germination comes, the plants will need special care. All will need to be taught (watered and fertilized), will need encouragement (the soil loosened around them), and will need mercy (the weeds and vines removed).

You are God’s building. The Corinthian church also understood how a building was put together. Some are just beginning to lay a foundation in the Scripture and are in need of the milk of the word; some have the walls already built, and they are sturdy, and need deeper teaching.  Some are ready for the roof to be put in place and are mature and in need of meat.

First you have those who lay the foundation (the apostles and prophets, Ephesians 2:20), then the framers, the construction crew, the bricklayers, the dry-wallers, and the painters (all the gifted believers) (Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11; Ephesians 4:7-16). Since the servants work on the same team, and since God is the one giving the increase, does the quality of each work make any difference at all? Oh Yes! Take careful note of these words: “each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor, for we are all God’s fellow workers, take heed how you build on it” (1 Corinthians 3:5-15). We may not heed these warnings but there is coming a day when they will matter. Stay safe and stay tuned. 

 

What is “the Christian life”?

I am assuming that the reader has believed the gospel and given testimony to that fact through baptism. My short definition of “the Christian life” is “a close, personal, private, intimate, relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, that begins with knowledge and ends with obedience.” It is a close relationship. Those who know Christ become His children and members of His body.  “For you are all the sons of God though faith in Jesus Christ” (Galatians 3:26). “Now you are the body of Christ and members individually” (1 Corinthians 12:27).

It is a personal relationship because we are to fellowship with Him daily. “If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).

It is a private relationship. When Christ says that He stands at the door knocking and if invited in, He will dine with us and us with Him (Revelation 3:20). This is an invitation to an intimate family meeting and is not speaking of gaining salvation (Revelation 3:20).

Speaking of intimacy, we are to cultivate an intimate relationship with Christ. This is based on the words that we have become dead to the law through the body of Christ – that you may be married to another – to Him who was raised from the dead (Romans 7:4). Married to Christ! This marriage is to bear the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

The Christian life is not a religion, it is a personal relationship with the living God. This relationship is based on love and trust, not law and judgment. That sums up the freedom that grace affords us. Since we did absolutely nothing to earn this relationship, we can do nothing to lose it (Romans 8:35-39). (See the Glimpses Facebook post from April 20.) Our salvation was once and forever bought and paid for in full at the cross of Calvary.

Since the Christian life is a personal relationship with our living Christ, our fellowship can and will be broken at times. No relationship runs smooth all the time. It is broken by sin. Yes, Christians still sin after salvation. The Bible does not hide this fact. But God has made provision.  He writes this little note to His children: “If anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). The word “advocate” is a mediator, or one who speaks in our defense. Our Advocate (Jesus Christ) has been where we are and knows well the temptations that we face. He was tempted as we are – yet without sin. He always provides us a way out, but we do not always take it (1 Corinthians 10:13).

When we sin (not “if” but “when”), we lose fellowship with Christ in time, but never are we removed from His family. What are we to do? We are to confess our sin personally and privately to God – not to a man.  We are given special permission to come boldly before God’s throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace when we need it (Hebrews 4:16). 

“And if we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1: 9). To “confess” means to say the same or to agree. The very instant the Holy Spirit convicts us of a wrong thought, a wrong word, or a wrong action, we are to immediately agree with Him. God, you are right; I am wrong. How long does it take to mentally agree? We can and should do so instantly. If we ever entertain the thought that we do not sin, we deceive ourselves. Self-deception is the worst kind. That is because we lie to ourselves (1 John 1:8). As one man said, “We are to confess them as we commit them. We are not to bunch ‘em up and then confess them.” We are to maintain fellowship. God has His way of encouraging fellowship with Him. We do sin, but we can never get away with it! The reason? “For whom the Lord loves, He chastens (this means he takes us to His heavenly woodshed) and scourges every child that He receives” (REF).

Not only does our Father love us, but His discipline affirms that we belong to Him. Why? Fathers discipline their own children. And discipline never appears cheerful but is painful. But, in fact, it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness. It firms the relationship (Hebrews 12:5-11). And did I mention that we should grow to love Him in return? Our goal in this life should be to spend longer and longer times in fellowship with our living Lord. The more we do, the more we love Him. Are there other strong reasons to walk in fellowship with Jesus Christ? Yes! Remember that our relationship with Christ begins with knowledge. Stay safe and stay tuned.    

 

 

Formula for Church Growth

Some of the most famous words spoken by Jesus Christ are “I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). Some of the most important words penned by Paul are “Now you are the body of Christ and members individually” (1 Corinthians 12:27). So what?  As an individual part of Christ’s body, we are on this earth to help build His church. We are not talking about a physical building made of wood and steel, lined with soft carpet laced with padded pews, with stained glass windows, and of course, the steeple on top. We are talking of a building made of people. We are here on this earth to be used by God to build His people building. God did not leave us here for the task without the proper equipment. Oh no! As Jesus ascended back into heaven, He gave gifted people to the church: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers (Ephesians 4:11). It was not Paul’s desire here to mention all the gifted. He was teaching why the gifted. He gave each His specific purpose – and there can be no mistake.

Here is his major point. “We are here to equip the saints for the work of ministry for the building up of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12). This is clear! Let’s elaborate on this for a moment. The word equip means “to train or to prepare.” How are we equipped to equip? The Bible is eerily silent on information concerning seminaries or Bible colleges. Well then, who teaches the teachers?  The Bible is not silent on this one. God gave us His Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth. Does it really say“all truth?” Yep! (John 16:13-14). He obviously does not mean all truth as in the arts and sciences, but all truth concerning the Bible.

There are many passages that instruct the church to take the gospel into the world, share the gospel, then bring believers to a local assembly to be trained.  Don’t get me wrong! Bible colleges and seminaries have been used of God in very significant ways – my own life included – but only because the church has long since stopped doing a major work of the church. The local church is the school of the Holy Spirit, just as the desert in Arabia was for Paul.  The local church is designed to train Christians. Notice, we are to equip the saints for the work of ministry.

Work is the Greek word ergon. It implies energy being used. Ministry is the word diakinos. It means “to serve.” Paul was not speaking specifically of elders, pastors, or deacons but of the special contribution of every member of the body. Every Christian has a work of faith to do, and they are to be trained in the local church to do it.

Note that the ultimate goal of God’s gifted people is to edify the body. Edify is a combination word made up of oiko, “to build,” and dome, the “top or roof.” Together, the word means “build from the ground floor all the way to the top.” We are to grow believers from spiritual infancy – up to spiritual maturity.

Spiritual maturity is to be measured against the stature of the fullness of Christ. The characteristics of our lives are to reflect the characteristics of His life – love, compassion, servanthood – serving the body.  How will we know when this is being achieved? When church members no longer act like children – fussing, fighting, throwing temper tantrums over little things – just like the world. When we are no longer tossed here and there by every wind of teaching that blows our way. When we are no longer taken prisoner by deceitful teachers and fabricated teaching led by Satan to corrupt our Lord’s ministry (2 Corinthians 11:13-14). Appealing? Yes! Moving compassionate words? Yes! But deadly. We are to be trained until we are solid in what we know to be true – true to the gospel, true to the Bible, true to the doctrines of grace. And we stand firm in them. When we learn to speak the truth in love (not in a condescending way) and grow up in all things into Christ (become mature in Christ).

Here is God’s no-spin formula for church growth: “Speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ. From whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies.” Please note the words “grow up” and “every joint supplies.”  There are to be no perpetual bystanders or spectators. And now this is it: “According to the effective working by which every part (please note – every part) does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love (Ephesians 4:14–16). In summary, every believer knowing their part and faithfully doing their part will always result in growth. It is my opinion that we have totally abandoned this formula and the church of Jesus Christ is reaping the result. We now are left with the entertainers and the entertained. Stay safe and stay tuned.

We Are to Live by Faith

We are to live by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). Abraham left his home in Chaldea to follow the living God by faith. He received his inheritance in Canaan by faith. He lived in a tent his entire life. Not much protection against rain, robbers, or critters – for 175 years.  How would you like to be living in a tent while sheltering in place? He knew his home was not here. Abraham trusted in the promise of God and not what he could see.

Noah also trusted in the unseen when he heard God’s Word and went to work. We know he did because he built an ark. He believed that the rain was coming though he had never seen it. His faith moved him to work. Board by board, for 120 years he proclaimed his work of faith. He was ridiculed and mocked, yet he worked on – by faith. God says that it is impossible to please Him without faith (Hebrews 11:6). You might be thinking, If God would only give me some visible proof, then I would follow Christ. But faith does not need visible proof. Faith does not need sight or touch. God has given us His Word – it is enough. By faith, we are to work to understand what He has said, and then do it – by faith.

Hebrews highlighted several Old Testament saints, giving credibility to their living faith. Each one was given few details, but they put their trust and hope in the teaching that God gave them. That defines the substance of faith. Though many lived and died without seeing the reality behind their faith, they trusted God’s Word, nonetheless. Note the recorded work of faith of these saints. By faith, Abel offered a better sacrifice than Cain. By faith, Enoch was taken away. By faith, Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau. By faith, Jacob blessed Joseph’s sons. By faith, Joseph gave instructions about his bones. By faith, Moses refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter but esteemed the reproaches of Christ greater than the riches of Egypt. By faith, the walls of Jericho fell down. 

Then the long list of those who lived solely for the gospel; Gideon and Barak, Sampson and Jephthah, David and Samuel, and all the prophets. They subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, and turned to flight the armies of aliens. They were imprisoned, tortured, and martyred. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins. They were said to be those of whom this world is not worthy (Hebrews 11:32–38).

The Scripture never gives any details about the saving faith of most of these people, but we know that the root was there because we read of its fruit. All of these testimonies had one common link. Catch this glimpse! Their faith all worked together to get Jesus Christ to Calvary and to the empty tomb. God’s the Genius! Abel pictured Him. Enoch pictured Him. Noah and the ark pictured Him. Abraham’s offering of Isaac pictured Him. Jacob’s ladder pictured Him. Joseph pictured Him. In a remarkable way they all had Jesus Christ as the object of their faith. Amazing! 

Every person listed in Hebrews 11 had a part to play in God’s big grace picture. What about you and me? The list concludes with a challenge. Since we have this long list of examples, let them motivate us to lay aside every hindering burden or any sin that would trip us up and let us run with patience the race set before us keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus(Hebrews 12:1–2). But wait!  

Did I mention that this list is still being written? Our faith work is obviously not to get Christ to Calvary and the empty tomb but to make His gospel known to the world and to prepare for His coming. We are still to bear fruit pleasing to Him. The work will be done more effectively when we lay aside everything that holds us back and the sin that traps us and run with patience the race that is before us. We are to stay on course by fixing our eyes on the prize – Jesus Christ. Amazing! Stay safe and stay tuned.

 


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