I used to believe… Now I believe…

by Alan Knox

I used to believe that preaching a 30-45 minute sermon on Sunday morning or night was the epitome of the Christian life. Now I believe that neither preaching nor listening to a sermon on Sunday morning should be the center of a Christian’s life. Instead, serving and loving others in the name of Christ is much more important. Plus, many times, a five minute personal exhortation is much more effective than a general sermon.

I used to believe that leadership was the greatest type of service. Now I believe that service is the greatest type of service. However, I do believe that we should follow those who serve. But, those who serve are not so concerned about gathering followers. Instead, they are concerned with serving.

I used to believe that the 501(c)3 organization was the church. Now I believe that the people are the church… really… no, really. The church can organize, but the organization is not the church.

I used to believe that the senior pastor (and the staff under his direction) was responsible for all teaching and discipleship. I now believe that while elders (pastors) should teach and disciple, this responsibility is for every follower of Jesus Christ, regardless of the education, gifting, training, abilities, positions, etc.

I used to believe that discipleship was a 1-2 hour per week class with a workbook to be completed by those who were very spiritual. I now believe that biblical discipleship occurs 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. We must live life with one another in order to disciple one another. This cannot happen in a classroom alone, or in a programmed event alone.

I used to believe that it was the leaders’ (elders/pastors) responsibility to “run” the church meeting so that the church benefited. I now believe that it is every believer’s responsibility to think about the others in their community, and speak/serve during the meeting in a way that encourages others towards love, good works, and maturity in Christ.

I used to believe that education and knowledge were the same as maturity. I now believe that education and knowledge often have very little to do with maturity, and can be a source of pride and immaturity.

I used to believe that if I could sit quietly during and learn from the pastor’s sermon, then I was spiritual. I now believe that if I can listen to the Holy Spirit and obey him, then I am spiritual.

If you’d like to take part in this meme, please leave a note here, or on one of Lew’s posts.

Conversion requires an alteration of the will

by CS Lewis

Conversion requires an alteration of the will which does not occur without the intervention of the supernatural.

A lasting work of spiritual renewal

by Richard F. Lovelace

Only a fraction of the present body of professing Christians are solidly appropriating the justifying work of Christ in their lives. . . . In their day-to-day existence they rely on their sanctification for justification. . . . Few know enough to start each day with a thoroughgoing stand upon Luther’s platform: you are accepted, looking outward in faith and claiming the wholly alien righteousness of Christ as the only ground for acceptance, relaxing in that quality of trust which will produce increasing sanctification as faith is active in love and gratitude.

In order for a pure and lasting work of spiritual renewal to take place within the church, multitudes within it must be led to build their lives on this foundation.  This means that they must be conducted into the light of a full conscious awareness of God’s holiness, the depth of their sin and the sufficiency of the atoning work of Christ for their acceptance with God, not just at the outset of their Christian lives but in every succeeding day.

Dynamics of Spiritual Life ( 1979), pp 101-102

So great a hope

Thoughts by Paul D. Adams 

“We do not just got to heaven when we are raised from the dead; we are transformed (1 Cor. 15:35-58). Life after the resurrection takes place in a transformed community, where sin on longer exists. We live in a world so full of sin, including our own, that it is hard to appreciate how wonderful such an existence will be. Yet God assures us that he will make us like himself. It is not just where we are going that makes the hope so great, but who we will be when we get there.

Darrell Bock, Luke (The NIV Application Commentary), p. 521

Great words from Dr. Bock. I know Easter has come and gone but it’s never untimely to reflect on our eternal state (every pun intended). What will our heavenly existence be like? Philippians 3:20-21 says our resurrected bodies will be like Jesus’ resurrected body. “And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” At least this means that for us to learn more about our future, resurrected bodies, we must glean what we can about Jesus’ resurrected body. 1 Corinthians 15 has some important insights.

The resurrected body of Jesus was not entirely identical to his human body. 1 Cor. 15:42-44 lists four essential differences between an earthly body and a resurrected body. Where as the human body was 1) mortal, 2) dishonorable, 3) weak, and 4) fleshly/natural, the resurrected body is 1) immortal, 2) glorious, 3) powerful, and 4) spiritual.

God’s power did not merely resuscitate the body of Jesus from the dead, but transformed its very nature. Paul did not say Jesus was a bodily spirit, but had a “spiritual body” (1 Cor. 15:44), i.e., a physical body suited for the spiritual realm of heaven and empowered with new capacities. The distinctions and features of the material and immaterial appearances of Jesus are astounding.

Material Immaterial
“They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him.” Matt. 28:9 “he disappeared from their sight.” Lk. 24:31
“As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them.” Lk. 24:15 “While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them” Lk. 24:36
“Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” Lk. 24:39 “when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them” Jn. 20:19
“and he took it and ate it in their presence” Lk 24:43 “A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them” Jn. 20:26
“When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.” Lk. 24:50-51 “He appeared to them over a period of forty days”
Acts 1:3
“After he said this, he showed them his hands and side.” Jn. 20:20 “God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen” Acts 10:40-41
“Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’” Jn. 20:27  N/A
“On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: ‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.’” Acts 1:4  N/A
“by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.” Acts 10:41  N/A

Jesus’ post-resurrected state was not like his pre-incarnate state (without body), nor entirely like his incarnate state (fully human, albeit with spatial limitations), but profoundly transformed into a new physical existence with extended capabilities that did not include spatial/temporal limitations. I suspect that our constitutional makeup will include all of those features of the resurrected Jesus, but will continue to include spatial limitations.

The Heart of Forgiveness

by Lou Priolo

According to Priolo, true forgiveness looks something like this:

  1. Acknowledge that you have sinned. Let the party you’ve offended know that you acknowledge wrongdoing. This is humbling but necessary. Acknowledge not only that you sin and are a sinner but that you have actually sinned against this person.
  2. Identify your sin by its specific biblical name. Do not simply acknowledge generic sin but acknowledge specific sin and call it by its biblical name (which keeps you from acknowledging something society may label as sin but the Bible does not). This ensures that you have thought deeply about your sin and have seen how it fits into what the Bible calls sin.
  3. Acknowledge the harm your offense caused. This is also humbling. You must acknowledge that your sin has had consequences and that you are owning up not only to the sin but also to the harmful consequences your sin brought about.
  4. Demonstrate repentance by identifying an alternative biblical behavior. Show that you have truly considered your sin by explaining what you should have done instead. Show what the appropriate alternative behavior would have been.
  5. Ask for forgiveness. This puts the onus on the offended party to accept your repentance and to extend forgiveness to you. It completes the reconciliation between the offender and the one who has been offended.
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Definition: Church (or Ekklesia)

by Alan Knox

Look in an English dictionary under the letter “C”, somewhere between “chocolate” and “cider”, and you’ll find the word “church.” “Church” is an English term that has many different definitions. In that dictionary, you will probably find five or six different definitions for “church.” Many of those words are related, which makes this process even harder.

What process is that? I’m talking about defining the word “church” as it’s used in the New Testament. In other words, I’m trying to answer this question: When we read the New Testament and come across the word “church,” what does this word mean?

Unfortunately, because of the many definitions of the modern term “church,” the meaning of the word when we read it in the New Testament is often muddled. Some of that ambiguity has arisen because the English term “church” did not originate from the Greek term ekklesia that it translates in the New Testament. (For more information, see my post “The ekklesia and the kuriakon.”)

The Greek term ekklesia did not and could not carry all of the definitions of the English term “church.” Instead, the term ekklesia always referred to an assembly of people. (For more information, see my posts “The ekklesia of Josephus” and “The ekklesia in context.”) In the instances that interest me, the term ekklesia refer to an assembly of God’s people.

In some cases, the term ekklesia refers to all of God’s people which he has “assembled” or “gathered” out of the world. In other cases – most cases – the term refers to actual gatherings of God’s people, often designated by geography or location. Interestingly, in this latter case, the term ekklesia does seem to refer to subset of a largerekklesia (i.e. the “church” in someone’s house as a subset of the “church” in a city). However, these subsets are never set against one another; they remain part of the larger ekklesia.

Therefore, when we read the word “church” in the New Testament, we should always remember that the author is talking about a group of people. The New Testament writers are constantly talking about the “church” in relational terms. Primarily, I divide these relationships into three types (although they are interrelated): 1) the relationships between God and his people, 2) the relationships among God’s people, and 3) the relationships between God’s people and others (i.e., those who are not God’s people).

I think that if we understand “church” as a group of people, and we understand the importance of relationships to the church, then the way we live as the church and the way we study the church will be different (than it normally is today).

As with my definition of ecclesiology, this blog post is by necessity only an introduction. It is not complete or exhaustive. What would you add to my definition of church? What would you change? Why?

Answers to prayer

by CS Lewis

In Gethsemane the holiest of all petitioners prayed three times that a certain cup might pass from Him. It did not.

6 Things Christ Accomplished By His Death

by  Matt Perman

Here’s a very brief summary of the six core things Christ accomplished in his death,

1. Expiation

Expiation means the removal of our sin and guilt. Christ’s death removes — expiates — our sin and guilt. The guilt of our sin was taken away from us and placed on Christ, who discharged it by his death.

Thus, in John 1:29, John the Baptist calls Jesus “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Jesus takes away, that is, expiates, our sins. Likewise, Isaiah 53:6 says, “The Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on him,” and Hebrews 9:26 says “He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.”

2. Propitiation

Whereas expiation refers to the removal of our sins, propitiation refers to the removal of God’s wrath.

By dying in our place for our sins, Christ removed the wrath of God that we justly deserved. In fact, it goes even further: a propitiation is not simply a sacrifice that removes wrath, but a sacrifice that removes wrath and turns it into favor. (Note: a propitiation does not turn wrath into love — God already loved us fully, which is the reason he sent Christ to die; it turns his wrath into favor so that his love may realize its purpose of doing good to us every day, in all things, forever, without sacrificing his justice and holiness.)

Several passages speak of Christ’s death as a propitiation for our sins. Romans 3:25-26 says that God “displayed [Christ] publicly as a propitiation in his blood through faith. This was to demonstrate his righteousness, because in the forbearance of God he passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration of his righteousness at the present time, that he might be just and the justifier of him who has faith in Jesus.”

Likewise, Hebrews 2:17 says that Christ made “propitiation for the sins of the people” and 1 John 3:10 says “in this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

3. Reconciliation

Whereas expiation refers to the removal of our sins, and propitiation refers to the removal of God’s wrath, reconciliation refers to the removal of our alienation from God.

Because of our sins, we were alienated – separated — from God. Christ’s death removed this alienation and thus reconciled us to God. We see this, for example, in Romans 5:10-11: “For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.”

4. Redemption

Our sins had put us in captivity from which we need to be delivered. The price that is paid to deliver someone from captivity is called a “ransom.” To say that Christ’s death accomplished redemption for us means that it accomplished deliverance from our captivity through the payment of a price.

There are three things we had to be released from: the curse of the law, the guilt of sin, and the power of sin. Christ redeemed us from each of these.

  • Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13-14).
  • Christ redeemed us from the guilt of our sin. We are “justified as a gift by his grace, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24).
  • Christ redeemed us from the power of sin: “knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your fathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18-19).

Note that we are not simply redeemed from the guilt of sin; to be redeemed from the power of sin means that our slavery to sin is broken. We are now free to live to righteousness. Our redemption from the power of sin is thus the basis of our ability to live holy lives: “You have been bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your bodies” (1 Corinthians 6:20).

5. Defeat of the Powers of Darkness

Christ’s death was a defeat of the power of Satan. “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Colossians 3:15). Satan’s only weapon that can ultimately hurt people is unforgiven sin. Christ took this weapon away from him for all who would believe, defeating him and all the powers of darkness in his death by, as the verse right before this says, “having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14).

6. And he Did All of This By Dying As Our Substitute

The reality of substitution is at the heart of the atonement. Christ accomplished all of the above benefits for us by dying in our place – that is, by dying instead of us. We deserved to die, and he took our sin upon him and paid the penalty himself.

This is what it means that Christ died for us (Romans 5:8) and gave himself for us (Galatians 2:20). As Isaiah says, “he was pierced throughfor our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities . . . the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on him” (Isaiah 53:5-6).

You see the reality of substitution underlying all of the benefits discussed above, as the means by which Christ accomplished them. For example, substitution is the means by which we were ransomed: “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). Christ’s death was a ransom forus — that is, instead of us. Likewise, Paul writes that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13).

Substitution is the means by which we were reconciled: “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). It is the means of expiation: “He made him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21) and “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Peter 3:24). And by dying in our place, taking the penalty for our sins upon himself, Christ’s death is also the means of propitiation.

To close: Two implications. First, this is very humbling.

Second, “Greater love has no one than this, than he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

The fellowship of the Cross

by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

It is the fellowship of the Cross to experience the burden of the other. If one does not experience it, the fellowship he belongs to is not Christian. If any member refuses to bear that burden, he denies the law of Christ.

~ Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community

Jesus is the final expression of God’s revelation

by Graeme Goldsworthy

“…the soundest methodological starting point for doing theology is the gospel since the person of Jesus is set forth as the final and fullest expression of God’s revelation of His kingdom. Jesus is the goal and fulfillment of the whole Old Testament, and, as the embodiment of the truth of God, He is the interpretative key to the Bible.”

~ Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, p. 3