Friday, September 28, 2012

Individualistic Christianity

For many years I took an individualistic approach to the Christian life. I was concerned about my growth as a Christian, my progress in holiness, my acquisition of ministry skills.  I prayed that God would enable me to be more holy in my personal life and more effective in my evangelism.  I asked God’s blessing on my church and the Christian organization worked for. But as I learned about true fellowship, I began to pray that we as the Body of Christ would grow in holiness, that we would be more effective witnesses to the saving grace of Christ. It is the entire Body–not just me–that needs to grow. Jerry Bridges

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Praying in the Spirit

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.  And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Rom 8:26-27 ESV)
Wit so much confusion on 'praying in the Spirit,' Paul's description here is plain.  Praying in the Spirit is praying according to God's will, which is revealed by God's word!  

Yes, we had premarital sex while dating, but why did he commit adultery in marriage?

Ryan and Sally came in for counseling because Sally caught Ryan in an adulterous relationship. She was hurt and angry and the most important thing in the moment was to care for her soul.
While many things needed to be sorted out because of missing details, it was the pain she was experiencing that needed immediate counseling attention. Adultery is unlike most other sins because of the deep hurt it presses into a person’s soul and marriage.

Adultery is a hate sin

This sin has a unique aspect to it. If you sin normally, it’s between you and God. If your sin is adultery, it’s not just between you and God, but it trashes another soul too. But it’s worse than that–you are sinning against yourself because you and your spouse are one flesh.
Did you get that? Ryan sinned against himself, but the “himself” he sinned against was Sally because she is him–they are one flesh, not two people. Adultery is a strange sin.
In Ephesians Paul talked about how a lack of care for one’s spouse is a way to hate her. Some may recoil at the word hate, but that is God’s Word, not mine. The victims of adultery would not argue with Paul or God. It has the deep pain of hatred that is felt to the core of her being.
For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church. – Ephesians 5:29 (ESV)
After a number of sessions things began to level out and Ryan and Sally were being cared for, restored to God, and restored to each other. Part of the counseling process needed to have a preventative measure to it. I did not want them go back to this place again, but in order to accomplish this we were going to have to do some deep digging.
Sally certainly did not want it to happen again. Therefore, we had to think about why it happened and how both Ryan and Sally needed to change their views about God, each other, and their marriage.
One of the interesting things that came out of this conversation was how the adultery was not an anomaly, but a continuation of a lifestyle that had been in place for nearly thirty years. Let me explain.

The complexity of the sinning victim

Sally and Ryan have known each other since they were in high school. They both are in their late forties now. They began dating in their junior year of high school and separated briefly during college and resumed their relationship in full after their respective college graduations.
Essentially, they were dating for six years before they were married. During this time they engaged in premarital sex, what the Bible calls fornication. I was not surprised by this, which is why I always ask a couple going through adultery if they fornicated during their dating years.
In almost every case the couple had indulged in premarital sexual sin. Adultery usually has a tail that can be decades old. Adultery does not just happen. There are patterns, as well as a lifestyle that precedes the spouse hopping in bed with another person.
It was hard for Sally to hear she was part of the problem and part of the pattern in her husband’s life. While she was not responsible for his sin, she was grossly irresponsible during the dating relationship and during the marriage.
She never made this connection. As noted by the title of the article, somehow she had convinced herself that sexual fornication and sexual adultery were on different planes and had no relationship to each other.

The complexity of intellectual dishonesty

Truthfully, there is hardly a difference between sexual sin before marriage and sexual sin while married. Who wants to parse out those differences? It’s futile and wrongheaded.
Somehow she had compartmentalized their fornication and recast it as love. The adultery, according to her self-denial, was another story altogether. It was sin, wrong, harsh, uncalled for, against God, against her, evil, of the devil, and a few other condemnatory things.
While I agree on all her descriptors about what adultery is, I would also say those descriptors apply to fornication too. Her guilt before God is no different than Ryan’s guilt before God when it comes to their choice to commit sexual sin.
Do you think God would say, “Sally, your fornicating sexual sin before you were married is not as bad as your husband’s adulterous, sexual sin after you were married.”
There may be a difference in shades of black, but if you group one sexual sin as “better” than another sexual sin, you’re playing intellectual games, while trying to protect something.
Rather than Sally trying to set herself apart as a better sinner, lesser sinner, not-as-bad-as-him-sinner, it would be more honest for her to own what she did and seek to repent to God and Ryan. It would be wise and humble for Ryan to do the same.
The reason this is important is because it is honest and until they come full circle and deal with all the sinful sexual dysfunction in their lives, they will not be able to get real life-changing help.
You can’t divorce the sexual sin during the pre-marriage years from the sexual sin during the married years. They are contiguous and progressive. Sally wanted to think her husband loved her and they were making loveas teens.
She also wanted to think her husband did not love the adulterous woman and it was sinful sexual lust. She was right only on the latter assessment. Her husband was in love with himself when they were dating and that has never changed.

Rooting out the painful causes of adultery

If you would like to read the rest of this article click Fornication and Adultery and head over to our Member Site.

For further reading

I have written one eBook and other articles on the devastating short-term and long-term effect of sexual sin.
photo credit: pasukaru76 via photo pin cc

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Thanking God

Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also. Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up. I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.  (1 Corinthians 14:13-19 ESV)

Paul corrects the self centered perspective of the Corinthian church on the use of tongues.  Praying in tongues edifies the individuals praying (unless interpreted) thus is not a means of corporate edification or evangelism.  When one prays in tongues, they may be thanking God but those gathered to worship together cannot thank God with them.  The body of Christ, the church, gathers for mutual and corporate edification, not personal edification.  So Paul concludes that he would rather communicate to instruct or edify others when the body is gathered.  
Thanksgiving is the overflow of heart of the work of grace in our lives or  the work of grace in the lives of others (2 Cor. 4:1; 9:11).  As this grace is communicated to others in the body of Christ, thanksgiving to God increases and his fame spreads.  We can thank God for his work in the lives of others because we are one body and share in that work of grace in the lives of others.  That work is ours also by virtue of us being in Christ with them.  The point I want to make is that if we are a people who are committed to faming the name of God, glorifying God, then we have a moral obligation to share the work of grace in our lives with others so that they can be encouraged and in turn give thanksgiving to God! 

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Suffering and Sign and Wonders

Paul's commitment to suffer and die for Christ is the means by which the strength of Jesus and his life are revealed through Paul. The opponents insisted that signs and wonders were indications that God's Spirit was working, but Paul maintains that one must suffer for the life of Jesus to be revealed.  Signs and wonders are not evil, but in themselves they do not provide a basis for legitimacy since those who are evil can also perform the miraculous (2 Thes 2:9).    Thomas Schreiner, Paul, Apostle of God's Glory in Christ, p. 96. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Seven Common Comments Non-Christians Make about Christians

From Thom Rainer
In this article, I group the seven most common types of comments in order of frequency. I then follow that representative statement with a direct quote from a non-Christian. Read these comments and see if you learn some of the lessons I learned.
  1. Christians are against more things than they are for. “It just seems to me that Christians are mad at the world and mad at each other. They are so negative that they seem unhappy. I have no desire to be like them and stay upset all the time.”
  2. I would like to develop a friendship with a Christian. “I’m really interested in what they believe and how they carry out their beliefs. I wish I could find a Christian that would be willing to spend some time with me.”
  3. I would like to learn about the Bible from a Christian. “The Bible really fascinates me, but I don’t want to go to a stuffy and legalistic church to learn about it. I would be nice if a Christian invited me to study the Bible in his home or at a place like Starbucks.”
  4. I don’t see much difference in the way Christians live compared to others. “I really can’t tell what a Christian believes because he doesn’t seem much different than other people I know. The only exception would be Mormons. They really seem to take their beliefs seriously.”
  5. I wish I could learn to be a better husband, wife, dad, mom, etc., from a Christian.“My wife is threatening to divorce me, and I think she means it this time. My neighbor is a Christian, and he seems to have it together. I am swallowing my pride and asking him to help me.”
  6. Some Christians try to act like they have no problems. “Harriett works in my department. She is one of those Christians who seem to have a mask on. I would respect her more if she didn’t put on such an act. I know better.”
  7. I wish a Christian would take me to his or her church. “I really would like to visit a church, but I’m not particularly comfortable going by myself. What is weird is that I am 32-years old, and I’ve never had a Christian invite me to church in my entire life.”
Do you see the pattern? Non-Christians want to interact with Christians. They want to see Christians’ actions match their beliefs. They want Christians to be real.

Misplaced Emphasis on Pastors and Leaders

To be entranced by Paul or Apollos betrays an astounding lack of wisdom, for these men are simply servants and all growth comes from God (1 Cor. 3:5-9).  Boasting in human ministers is foolish, and it is a manifestation of the wisdom of the present world because it loses sight of God and the truth that all things are gifts to believers (1 Cor 3:18-23).  Paul's suffering and weakness, then, are not incidental to his ministry but constitutive of it.  His suffering reminded his hearers that the glory and power belonged to God rather than Paul.  Any cult-like devotion to Paul or Apollos was fundamentally misguided since it detracted from the glory of God and honored servants rather than the only Lord.
Thomas Schreiner, Paul, Apostle of God's Glory in Christ

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Theology Can Be Overrated

Theology can be overrated.  It can also be underrated.  If a person does not have clear, biblical convictions in alignment with the Doctrinal Statement of Immanuel Church, the elders here will not call that person to our ministry.  But theology can be overrated too.
The Bible shows us enough of God to assure us and draw us in.  This creates conviction.  It also shows us that there is more, a lot more, that we don’t know about God.  This creates humility.  John Calvin called the doctrine of the sovereignty of God, for example, “a secret so much excelling the insight of the human mind that I am not ashamed to confess ignorance.  Far be it from any of the faithful to be ashamed of ignorance of what the Lord withdraws into the glory of His inaccessible light” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, J. K. S. Reid, translator, page 124).  The Bible gives us backbone about what we can know and honesty about what we can’t know.  Theology has limitations.  It is meant to.
I am not saying that theology doesn’t matter.  It does.  But I am saying that there are other things that matter too.  And if those other things are underrated and theology is overrated, bad things start happening.  Churches with robust theology can be infested with strife and misery.  Obviously, we need more than theology.  Not less.  More.
The Beatitudes of our Lord do not say, “Blessed are the orthodox.”  What he did say, first and foremost, was, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3).  Among people of strong and rich theological conviction, the Lord looks first and foremost for weakness and poverty.  Personally, I resonate more with an Arminian whose heart beats with self-reproach and need than with a Calvinist whose heart beats with self-assurance and demand.  But it’s the Calvinist whose own principles should humble him the more.
The religious flesh relishes theology, because it requires no death of ego, no surrender of control, no apologies.  Theological disputation can feed a spirit of superiority.  But because it’s about truth and right, our smugness can go undiscerned.
When we all open our Bibles with hunger for more mercy from God, everything starts getting better.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Revival: Ways and Means

Originally posted at Redeemer City to City by Tim Keller.

How do seasons of revival come? One set of answers comes from Charles Finney, who turned revivals into a “science.” Finney insisted that any group could have a revival any time or place, as long as they applied the right methods in the right way. Finney’s distortions, I think, led to much of the weakness in modern evangelicalism today, as has been well argued by Michael Horton over the years. Especially under Finney’s influence, revivalism undermined the more traditional way of doing Christian formation. That traditional way of Christian growth was gradual – whole family catechetical instruction – and church-centric. Revivalism under Finney, however, shifted the emphasis to seasons of crisis. Preaching became less oriented to long-term teaching and more directed to stirring up the affections of the heart toward decision. Not surprisingly, these emphases demoted the importance of the church in general and of careful, sound doctrine and put all the weight on an individual’s personal, subjective experience. And this is one of the reasons (though not the only reason) that we have the highly individualistic, consumerist evangelicalism of today.
There has been a withering critique of revivalism going on now for twenty years within evangelical circles. Most of it is fair, but it often goes beyond the criticism of the technique-driven revivalism of Finney to insist that even Edwards and the Puritans were badly mistaken about how people should embrace and grow in Christ. In this limited space I can’t respond to that here other than to say I think that goes way too far. However, this critique trend explains why there is so much less enthusiasm for revival than when I was a young minister. It also explains why someone like D.M. Lloyd-Jones was so loathe to say that there was anything that we can do to bring about revivals (other than pray.) He knew that Finney-esque revivalism led to many spiritual pathologies.
Nevertheless, I think we can carefully talk about some factors that, when present, often become associated with revival by God’s blessing. My favorite book on this (highly recommended by Lloyd-Jones) is William B. Sprague’s Lectures on Revivals of Religion (1832). Sprague studied under both Timothy Dwight, Edwards’ grandson, at Yale and also Archibald Alexander at Princeton. The Princetonians – the Alexanders, Samuel Miller, and Charles Hodge – did a good job of combining the basics of revivalism with a healthy emphasis on doctrine and the importance of the church. Sprague’s lectures include a chapter on “General Means” for promoting revivals, and his chapters on counseling seekers and new converts are particularly helpful.


The primary means-of-revival that everyone agrees upon is extraordinary prayer. That’s the clearest of all and so I won’t spend time on it. The second means is a recovery of the grace-gospel. One of the main vehicles sparking the first awakening in Northampton, Massachusetts was Edwards’ two sermons on Romans 4:5, “Justification by Faith Alone,” in November, 1734. For both John Wesley and George Whitefield, the main leaders of the British Great Awakening, it was an understanding of salvation by grace rather than moral effort that touched off personal renewal and made them agents of revival. Lloyd-Jones taught that the gospel of justification could be lost at two levels. A church might simply become heterodox and lose the very belief in justification by faith alone. But just as deadly, it might keep the doctrine “on the shelf” as it were and not preach it publicly in such a way that connects to people’s hearts and lives.
The third factor I would mention is renewed individuals. Sprague points out how certain church leaders can be characterized by the infectious marks of spiritual revival – a joyful, affectionate seriousness, and “unction” – a sense of God’s presence. In addition, often several visible, dramatic life-turnarounds (“surprising conversions”) may cause others to do deep self-examination and create a sense of spiritual longing and expectation in the community. The personal revivals going on in these individuals spread informally to others through conversation and relationship. More and more people begin to look at themselves and seek God.
A fourth factor I will call the use of the gospel on the heart in counseling. Sprague and John Newton in his letters do a good job of showing how the gospel must be used on both seekers, new believers, and non-growing Christians. The gospel must cut away both the moralism and the licentiousness that destroys real spiritual life and power. There must be venues and meetings and settings in which this is done, both one-on-one and in groups. See William Williams, The Experience Meeting, a leaders’ manual for revival-promoting small group meetings in Wales during the first great awakening.


Finally, Sprague rightly points out that revivals occur mainly through the ordinary, “instituted means of grace” – preaching, pastoring, worship, prayer. It is a mistake to identify some specific programmatic method (e.g. Billy Graham-like mass evangelism) too closely with revivals. Lloyd-Jones points to some sad cases where people who came through the Welsh revival of 1904-05 became wedded to particular ways of holding meetings and hymn-singing as the way God brings revival. Nevertheless, Sprague grants that sometimes God will temporarily use some new method to propagate the gospel and spark revival. For example, under Wesley and Whitefield, outdoor preaching was a new, galvanizing method. Mid-day public prayer meetings were important to the Fulton Street revival in downtown NYC in 1857-58. I’m ready to say that creativity might be one of the marks of revival, because so often some new way of communicating the gospel has been part of the mix that God used to bring a mighty revival.
Timothy Keller is the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, which he started in 1989 with his wife, Kathy, and three young sons.  For over twenty years he has led a diverse congregation of young professionals that has grown to a weekly attendance of over 5,000. Dr. Keller’s books, including the New York Times bestselling The Reason for God and The Prodigal God, have sold over 1 million copies and been translated into 15 languages.
For more ideas on inspiring revival, check out Tony Merida’s Proclaiming Jesus.
For more free articles on evangelism & revival, read: For the City-Excerpt by Matt Carter & Darrin Patrick, Taking the Long View by Bill Streger, & What Does Revival Look Like? by Winfield Bevins

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Why Posture Matters in Worship

From Stephen Miller who serves as pastor of worship arts at The Journey in St Louis. He writes regularly at, and you find him on Twitter @StephenMiller and on Facebook at He and his band are currently in the studio recording a new Hymns album, which will release in mid-October.

Growing up, I was Michael Jordan's biggest fan. I regularly wrote him to ask for his autograph and invite him to my birthday parties. I was convinced I would one day be great like him, so finally after much pleading, my parents sent me to basketball camp when I was a pre-teen.
I hated it. It was nothing but drills on proper free throw techniques. Coach would shout, "Bend your knees. Follow through. MILLER! BEND YOUR KNEES! FOLLOW THROUGH!" I was not a natural-born athlete, and it felt awkward. Eventually I realized that I would never be the next Air Jordan, but I did get to a point that shooting with the proper posture didn't feel so uncomfortably awkward---it felt natural.

Posture matters.
When a young man meets a young woman that he wants to impress, he stands up straight, shoulders back, gut sucked in. He maintains eye contact and a smile. When he wants to propose, he gets down on one knee. When he has messed up royally and needs to apologize, it's two knees. If someone points a gun at you, your hands rise in surrender. If your children want you to hold them or lavish affection on them, they raise their arms. At sporting events, when your team scores, you jump in the air, pump your fists, and shout as loudly as you can. When the ref makes a bad call, you throw your hands up in frustration and boo vigorously. Your heart is caught up in the experience of the moment, which causes your body to respond outwardly.
We were created as holistic beings with intellects, emotions, and bodies all working in concert with one another to express ourselves. Depending on the study, we learn that anywhere from 70 percent to 95 percent of communication is non-verbal. We say a lot about what we think and feel without uttering a single word.
Outward Expression, Inward Reality
Paul writes in 1 Timothy 2:8, "I desire then that in every place [people] should pray, lifting holy hands." He is referring back to many passages in the Old Testament where people were encouraged to pray and worship using specific postures---in this instance, the raising of hands.
King David, the innovator of music in corporate worship, wrote hundreds of songs for the purpose of engaging the mind, heart, and body in worship. He understood that posture outwardly expresses an inward reality. Our body naturally acts the way our hearts feel. So we see encouragements throughout Scripture to bow humbly, raise hands joyfully, shout and sing loudly, clap hands, and even dance before the Lord. This must have felt awkward to the people of the day, who had never before seen anything like this.
Similarly, we have been shaped by our experiences and may be tempted to forego these postures to avoid feeling awkward or uncomfortable, saying, "That's for other people. I was raised (whatever denomination), and we never did that." In doing so, we do not realize how our posture is shaped by our heart. Outward expressiveness in corporate worship is not the only indicator of our delight in the Lord, but it can be a telling one.
God Wants All of Us
Still, worship posture does not mean the same thing in every context and congregation. In more traditional Western congregations, expressive worship of God may look like smiling as we loudly and fervently sing rich doctrinal truths and our hearts delight in him. In more contemporary contexts, we might raise our hands as we grow more fully consumed with adoration of God. We might bow before God as we become more fully immersed in a deep sense of humble, reverential awe.
Yet no matter the context, as we experience the inward heart reality of worshiping God with all we are, our bodies reveal our heart's condition. That is why God wants more than for us to go through the outward motions without actually worshiping. The fruit of our outward expressiveness reveals the root of our hearts.
Certainly there are moments when we should stand still in silence before the Lord---that in itself is a posture of worship. However, if we consistently find ourselves in corporate worship with our arms folded, mouthing the words with a blank, glazed over or bored look on our face, this posture indicates we may not be experiencing an inward heart of adoration, wonder, and awe that is characteristic of true, spiritual worship. But rather than forcing our hands in the air, we should ask God to draw us nearer to him and seek how he desires to be worshiped. We should plead with him to captivate our hearts and reveal any sin that might be keeping us from seeing and savoring him with all we are.
God wants our hearts, not just our fake smiles, arms raised or our knees bent. He wants more than just our shouts or our songs. He wants more than just our theological intellects. He wants all of us.

The ESV Study Bible: An Introduction

I am preparing for this weeks Sunday School lesson on Bible translations and thinking about study bibles and found this introduction video on the ESV Study Bible. I think this is the best study bible available today.

Your Power As A Leader

From Michael Hyatt

Years ago, I had a very difficult boss. One-on-one he wasn’t a bad guy. He was warm and likable. But in a group—particularly in meetings—he become another person. Dr. Jekyll became Mr. Hyde. 
 He would suddenly become cold and aloof. If I, or someone on my team, reported good news, he either didn’t acknowledge it or quickly dismissed it.

“Okay, we get it. You had a great month. Can we move on?” he would snap.
If we confessed bad news, he would begin his interrogation. He would bludgeon us with questions, one after another. He often asked the same question more than once, wearing us down and sucking the life out of us. We would leave these meetings depleted and discouraged.
I was very much aware of the impact he had on me. I vowed I would never lead this way when I got promoted.
As leaders, we possess more power than we think. But we can only use it for good if we understand it and embrace it. We need to remind ourselves of these four leadership realities:
  1. People are aware of our role. As much as we may want to be “just one of the troops,” our people can’t separate us from our role in the organization. Even if it’s only subconscious, they know we can advance, hold back, or derail their careers. This colors their perception and interactions with us.
  2. People notice our behavior. This is easy to forget. When I was just beginning my career, I noticed how my boss treated his assistant, whether or not he was punctual to meetings, and what he did when he was angry. So did my colleagues. We often spoke of it to one another. We noticed the most trivial details.
  3. People amplify our words and actions. This is the scary part. We may think we are just being firm, but our people see us as angry. “He chewed me out,” she reports to her friends. Or we ask a question, and our people interpret this as a lack of trust. Everything gets dialed up a click or two.
  4. People create stories to explain our behavior. This is just human nature. We inherently try to see the patterns behind the facts and create meaning. Sometimes we get the story right; often we get it wrong. Regardless, we knit together the facts and create narratives to make sense of our world.
As leaders, we don’t need to resist these truths. Instead, we need to be intentional with our words and actions, aware we are constantly modeling what we believe and expect. It’s not unlike parenting. More is caught than taught.
This is a challenge but also a great opportunity.
Questions: What impact do you want to have on others? How do you want them to feel after their interactions with you? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

The Nature of Saving Faith

[Faith] is not a meritorious work, one facet of human righteousness, but rather an appropriating instrument, an empty hand outstretched to receive the free gift of God’s righteousness in Christ; that faith is God-given, and is itself the animating principle from which love and good works spontaneously spring; and that communion with God means, not an exotic rapture of mystical ecstasy but faith’s everyday commerce with the Savior.” - JI Packer

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Jews and Gentiles: Two People of God or One?

This is a large theological but very important issue. My present task is a bit daunting because it is such a large issue to address in such a short space but I feel compelled to address it for a couple of reasons. First, I just preached through 1 Peter 2:9-10 which adresses the issue head on and was barely able to adress this issue or even deal with related passages!  The second reason is that the discussion surrounding this issue shows a lack of biblical understanding and theological framework that I see all too often.  So here is a brief statement of my present understanding of Israel and the church.  

It is clear from the Old Testament that Israel was God's chosen people, he was their God. The reason God chose Israel and gave them these privileges is clear from Isaiah 49:3, And [God] said to me, "You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified." Or in Jeremiah 13:11, God says that he chose Israel and made them his own possession "that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory." God's aim was to fill the universe with his glory and praise through what he did with this people Israel.
Now in Ephesians 2:11-22, Paul is saying that this is the destiny of the church. Starting at verse 12, Paul describes what our condition was as Gentiles before Jesus the Messiah came. "Remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world." That's where we start. Then Jesus comes, and all that changes. Look at verse 19, "So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household."
The same summary statement is given in Ephesians 3:6 where Paul defines the mystery of Christ that he preaches: "to be specific, [the mystery of Christ is] that the Gentiles are fellow-heirs [with the Jews] and fellow-members of the body, and fellow-partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel."
What happened? Once we were separated from Christ, now Christ himself has drawn near to us. Once we were excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, now we are fellow citizens in Israel. Once we were strangers to the covenants of promise, now we are fellow partakers of the promise. Once we were without hope, now we are fellow heirs of all God has to give. Once we were without God in the world, now we are members of God's household.
And the whole picture here is not that we move into these blessings on separate, parallel tracks apart from Israel--them, without Jesus, and us, with Jesus--but that we move into them together on one track--through one Savior, one cross, one body, one new man, one Spirit to one Father. The picture here is that the church of Christ, made up of a remnant of believing Jews and believing Gentiles, fulfilled the identity and destiny of Israel. The church, are the new people of Jesus.  Not Jew and Greek, not slave and free, not male and female, not barbarian, Scythian, free but Christ is all and in all (cf. Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:11)
Now let's be more precise and notice the actual words that prove this oneness of Jew and Gentile in the new people of God. Verse 14: "He is our peace, who made both groups (Jews and gentiles) into one." Christ did not come to open a second alternative way to God. He came to make Jew and Gentile one in his church.
Verse 15b: "...that in himself he might make the two (Jew and Gentile) into one new man, thus establishing peace." Here he pictures the church as a single person. Once there were Jewish persons and Gentile persons. Now Christ comes and unites them to himself so that "in himself" there would be only one new person, namely Christ: There is neither Jew nor gentile, but Christ is all and in all (Col. 3:11). Christ is the one new man. Which leads us naturally to verse 16 where Jew and gentile are the one body of the one new man. There are not two people of God but one new man.
Verse 16: "...and [that Christ] might reconcile them both (Jew and gentile) in one body to God." The reconciling work of Christ brings people to God not in two alien bodies, one rejecting him (Jewish) and one trusting him (Christian). Christ brings Jew and gentile to God in one body, the church.
And not only in one body, but also in one Spirit. "For through him (Christ) we have access in one Spirit to the Father (v. 18)." So Paul sums up this great unified work of salvation in 4:4-6, "There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called into the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all."
So what is Paul's answer to the problem that God chose Israel to be the fullness of his glory and yet now promises that glory to the church? His answer is that Israel is fulfilled in the church and the church has emerged as the new people of God.
There had always been a faithful remnant of believing Jews in physical, ethnic Israel. These were the true Israel. Not all Israel (physical) was true Israel (spiritual) (Romans 9:6). When Jesus the Messiah came, the proof of whether a Jew was part of the true Israel was whether he confessed Jesus as the Son of God or denied him. Jesus said, "He who does not honor the Son, does not honor the Father who sent him" (John 5:23). If you reject Jesus you reject God; and if you reject God you are not part of true Israel.
Jesus is the point in redemptive history where the true Israel becomes the church of Christ and the church (Jew & Gentile).
There are not two saving covenants. There are not two saved peoples. And the reason is that there are not two ways of salvation. Verse 16 shows us the unifying foundation of salvation and the people of God. "[Christ] reconciled them both (Jew and Gentile) in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity." Jews needed the cross and gentiles needed the cross. After centuries of animal sacrifices that pointed forward to the True Sacrifice, Jews needed to be reconciled to God and gentiles needed to be reconciled to God. There was enmity not only between Jew and gentile, but at root there was enmity between Jews and God and gentiles and God that needed to be overcome by the peace-making work of Christ.
So there was one great work of salvation on the cross when Jesus died to remove the enmity between God and Jew and between God and gentile. And he did this reconciling work not separately but in one body, the church. Jew and Gentile are reconciled to God in Christ. That is why being reconciled to God means being reconciled to each other. That is why there cannot be two peoples and two tracks to heaven. For there is one way to be reconciled to God: Christ reconciles us to God by uniting us to himself. And that means we become one body, Jew and Gentile.  Maybe I will tackle this some more later this week.

God's Strength is Stronger than my Sin

I blew it this past Sunday while I was preaching.  From the recesses of my memory a spontaneous quote came to my mind when speaking about coming boldly before the throne of grace (Heb 4:16).  As I was speaking it, I knew I blew it as the words came from my mouth as I only could remember the first half of the quote, and that only a paraphrase, "sin boldly and come before the throne boldly."  I blew the point of the quote, which one of the elders made celar to me this evening!  Thank God for fellow elders!  Well, so to clarify my point and show that I do not believe in antinomianism, I have included the complete quote below.  

"If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy.  If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary sin.  God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners.   Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we  are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides.  We, however, says Peter (2 Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign.  It suffices that through God’s glory we have recognized the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.  No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day.  Do you think such an exalted Lamb paid merely a small price with a meager sacrifice for our sins?   Pray hard for you are quite a sinner. " -Martin Luther

Twisting Words

By God's grace, I know Satan very well. If Satan can turn God's Word upside down and pervert the Scriptures, what will he do with my words -- or the words of others?  - Martin Luther

Monday, September 3, 2012

Jerks in the Church are Closer Than You Think

Churches must not look for people who are never jerks, but for the people who admit that they are jerks and are willing to fight it.  Kind of like me.  Maybe like you?

Believing Prayer

Believing prayer is prevailing, successful prayer. It assails the kingdom of heaven with holy violence, and carries it as by storm. It believes that God has both the heart and the arm; both the love that moves Him, and the power that enables Him; to do all and to grant all that His pleading child requests of Him. - Ocatvius Winslow: