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Archive for The Christian Life

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.

 

First Comes the Root, Then the Fruit

As you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk you in Him (Colossians 2:6). How do we receive Christ? We receive Him by faith alone (Ephesians 2:8).  The Christian life is to be lived by faith alone. We are to walk (one moment at a time) by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). I’ve often asked God to allow me to see. Faith does not need to see. It is not blind faith, because we trust the One who guides us even in the darkness – one step at a time.

God has given to every believer a special task to accomplish for His glory. This is what James is teaching (James 2:14-20). I call it our faith-work!  James immediately gave two clear illustrations that saving faith will be productive. He used Abraham’s offering of Isaac his son on the altar (James 2:21). Abraham had already received life before God by faith (Genesis 15:6). The object of Abraham’s faith was the Lord Jesus Christ. He believed in Jehovah. Jehovah of the Old Testament is Jesus Christ of the New (John 14:9). Abraham’s faith righteousness becomes the pattern for all of us(Galatians 3:5–13; Romans 4:1–5; James 2:23).

But what about Abraham’s faith-work? God had promised Abraham and Sarah a son. Abraham grew old and Sarah was barren. After trying to help God help them, they finally had to rest all their hope in God. If Isaac was to be, then God alone must make him happen. God responded by miraculously giving Sarah a son. No child could have ever been treasured more.

God then asked Abraham to do something incredible. He asked him to make an offering, not of an animal but of his most cherished possession: his son. What? This seemed completely irrational from man’s view, but Abraham had learned to trust totally in the Giver and not in the gift. He realized that as long as he had the Giver, he could never lose the gift.Abraham rose early in the morning, took Isaac, and departed to do what God had instructed him to do. Evidently there was no reluctance, and there were no second thoughts.

Just before Abraham was to take his son’s life, God miraculously stepped into the picture and spared Isaac (Hebrews 11:17). God said that He knew that Abraham feared Him (Genesis 22:12). In Abraham’s mind, he had actually taken the boy’s life. Abraham’s offering of Isaac was his faith-work. It was the work that God had planned for him to do long before Abraham was born (Ephesians 2:10). Abraham and his son walked together down that hill that day. In Abraham’s mind, Isaac had died and was now alive. What a beautiful picture of the resurrection! Wow! That work confirmed that his faith was genuine (James 2:14). The act of offering Isaac did not justify Abraham before God, but offering Isaac was clear evidence that Abraham had truly learned to trust in the Giver of life (James 2:22; Genesis 22:12). Amazing!

James continued with another illustration: Rahab the harlot (James 2:25). Rahab also illustrated that saving faith is productive faith. The Jews had left Egypt, winding their way to Canaan. They came to a small bump in the road called Kadesh Barnea. There they had a committee meeting. They decided to send twelve spies into Canaan to see what they were up against. In the city of Jericho, some of the spies were discovered and the authorities attempted to capture them. A harlot named Rahab hid the spies, sparing them from certain death. God amazingly used this woman, a harlot of all people, to preserve the entire Jewish nation. This was her faith-work (Hebrews 11:31). There is no written record that Rahab had ever believed in the Lord as Abraham had, but obviously she had. Why? Her faith-work proved it. She hid the spies because she had believed in the Lord. Her work revealed that her faith was a living faith in the living God. The seed of the Word of God in her had produced fruit after its kind.

Both James and Paul were right! Personal faith in Jesus Christ is the root of our salvation, our faith-work is the fruit. God leaves us in this world to produce fruit for His glory. First comes the root, then the fruit. God’s faith-work is proof that the seed of the gospel has been germinated in us. God has foreordained it to be so. Our work may not be giving to the poor, as in James’s day. Attempting to recognize the faith-work in our life or in the life of others is futile. We are never given the responsibility to become fruit inspectors. God alone knows when, where, and how our faith will become productive. We see this divine formula being played out through the list of faithful believers found in Hebrews 11. The writer of Hebrews said that faith is the substance of things hoped for (Hebrews 11:1). This hope becomes the evidence of things not seen. Stay safe and stay tuned.

Ministry of the Holy Spirit: Control (part 1)

More pondering from the Ponderosa. The last ministry of the Holy Spirit that I will cover is His controlling ministry, or His filling. This will take a few posts, but please bear with me. We are told to walk by means of the Holy Spirit and not by the flesh (Galatians 5:16). The reason is clear.  The flesh – the old Adamic nature that still remains in us – lusts (wars)against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish (Galatians 5:17).  It’s an ongoing inner battle that we will wage as long as we are in this fallen body.

Christians are by our very nature people of faith. We are given life from God by personal faith in Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9). We are not only saved by faith, but we are to grow in faith and learn to live our entire lives by faith. Paul said that we are to walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). What did he mean by this? Catch this glimpse!

Walking is an interesting physical movement. We push forward into the walking motion by putting weight on one leg and then shifting that weight to the other. Our bodies move forward, one step at a time. There is a brief moment (ever so slight) when we must trust that the next leg will hold us up. We really do not know for sure, but we learn to trust it. When we are very young, we take short unsteady steps learning to trust our legs.  But as we grow older, we no longer even think about it.  We just walk and run. This is why God used walking as a picture of learning to live by faith. He’s a genius, is He not!

Walking by faith is placing our spiritual weight upon the truth of the Word of God, moment by moment, throughout our lives. At first, we take small steps of faith, learning to trust God for little things. But as we mature in Christ, we take larger steps of faith, trusting God for more important things.

Moses told the Jews that God had humbled them, allowing them to go hungry in the wilderness so that He could supply their need. God creates needs in order to teach us to trust Him. He fed the Jews in the wilderness with manna. The word actually means “what is it.” That would be an appropriate description (Exodus 16:31-21).  God gave exactly what was needed by each one for that day – no more, no less.  If they gathered too much, it would spoil and rot. God was teaching them to trust the Giver and not the gift. He was teaching them that He is true to His word and that man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds out of His mouth (Deuteronomy 8:3). God wanted them to realize that He was faithful! They were to learn to walk by faith.

Paul was growing old. His body was wearing out, but that which was going on inside him—in his spirit—grew stronger with each passing day (2 Corinthians 4:16–17). He called the problems he faced in this life “momentary light affliction.” What was this momentary light affliction? In labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times he received forty stripes minus one. Three times he was beaten with rods; once he was stoned; three times he was shipwrecked; a night and a day he was in the sea; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of his own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fasting’s often, in cold and nakedness—besides the other things, including his deep concern for all the churches (2 Corinthians 11:23–28). I don’t know if Paul ever had to endure a novel virus of any kind, but there is a good chance that he did. 

 This was momentary light affliction?! Compared to the exceeding and eternal weight of glory awaiting Paul beyond this world, it was. Paul wrote that the fleeting trials that we face here are crushed by the weight of the glory that awaits us. He then told us how to strengthen our faith in the things to come. We are to learn not to look at the things that are seen but at the things which are not seen. Things that are visible with human eyes are temporary, but the things that our eyes cannot see are eternal things (2 Corinthians 4:18).

We are not to put our confidence in the visible things that are locked in time and space in this physical world. Walking by faith means that we work hard to understand the clear teaching of God’s Word and allow the Spirit to unravel for us the divine wisdom found there. We then submit our human wills to what is written. The Bible is to become the absolute source of our faith. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing comes by the Word of God (Romans 10:17). We are not to build our lives by becoming attached to the stuff in this life. Why? Because all that is seen with the eyes is said to be temporary and destined to perish. We are to learn to trust in the Giver, not the gift. Stay safe and stay tuned.