No Gospel at All

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned. Galatians 1:6 – 8

The gospel that is “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” is sure and unchanging. The gospel of God’s grace is not subject to the vagaries of history or culture or religious tradition or human desire. It is the sure and steadfast gospel, consistent from beginning to end, that saves. The Apostle repeated the good news to the church in Corinth as pressures threatened to wrest the true gospel from their grasp, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures…” This is the gospel that saves.

“Repent and be baptized, everyone of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” Acts 2:38

A gospel that presents itself as little more than a golden ticket to heaven is only one half of a gospel. A gospel that requires no more than your assent to the idea of Jesus or even that you like His offer of salvation from an eternity in Hell is only a part of the good news. Jesus Christ comes into the world as both Savior (Acts 5:31) and Lord (Rom 5:11), the two not divisible. A gospel then that proposes grace and an eternity in God’s presence without humble repentance is not a gospel that saves.

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.” Luke 9:23-24

A gospel that does not lead the hearer to pick up their cross and follow the Lordship of Jesus Christ is not a gospel that saves. A gospel of “grace” that enables a one-time proclamation of belief (Rom 10:9) but does not require a subsequent adherence to the commands of Jesus to continuing and ongoing repentance, belief and service is a partial gospel. Works! Works! Not at all! Yes, one must “confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” but the requirement continues that this same person must believe this fact “in your heart” in order to be saved. To believe in your heart is to believe in the depths of your soul, to a transforming degree. A gospel that does not result in transformation of the earthly desires to follow ones own will and submit to the Lordship of Christ is but a part of the good news.

The true gospel sets men and women free. Once enemies of God, belief in the true gospel reconciles a person in this most important relationship. The true gospel is an invitation and the power to bring humanity back into right relationship with God, to be restored to a place in the kingdom of heaven (Col 1:21-22). We must not allow any partial or false gospel replace this good news and we who believe must continue in our faith, “not moved from the hope held out in the gospel (Col 1:23).

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I Am Not Ashamed of the Gospel

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes…” Romans 1:16

Gospel Square 1The gospel that the Apostle spoke of is good news, stupendously good news. God had intervened in history, entering personally into the morass of human rebellion against Him and making a way out, a way to be freed from the entanglements that drew them to destruction. Jesus Christ entered the world in purity, lived a life of perfect holiness and died as the sacrifice for the sins of the world. His death atoned for all sin. When Jesus was then resurrected on that third day, He demonstrated indisputably that He had overcome death and broken the entrapping bonds of sin. The long-awaited promises to Israel were fulfilled and the blessing of God extended to all who would believe that Jesus was their only avenue of freedom from the bondage of the Fall.

That is fabulously good news. “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” Romans 10:15

The Apostle quoted the prophet Isaiah in this assuring statement. The prophet communicated to God’s people Israel that their exile would end, that they would be released from their captivity in Babylon, that freedom was imminent. Good news to be sure, fantastic even. Except, the power sin remained and, while physically freed, people were still held in its vise-like grip. Better news was still to come.

The better news is Jesus. Jesus, the savior who died for the “sins of the whole world” 1 John 2:2. The amazing news is Jesus who overcame death and its sting (1 Corinthians 15:55-57) and gives all who will believe that victory. Jesus not only makes the way of atonement, He shepherds believers along the path of life (Hebrews 7:25) until they are rejoined with God in perfect communion.

This is good news. This is the gospel.

 

Doing Good or Doing Well

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The Metrics of Mission

Measuring the performance of a missional church community is not performed using the same yardstick as many modern churches utilize. While the paramount measure of success in some church circles is bottoms in seats, the missional church evaluates their adherence to the missio dei by how many seats are provided for bottoms. Rather than making a mission of increasing the budget year over year, a missional community will consider the percentage of their budget turned around into the mission field. Tallying the noses of the churched kids who attend a VBS is one number, taking the VBS under various guises to the unreached children of the area is an entirely different count. In every missional metric the priority is reaching, touching and influencing the lives of our neighbors with the truth and reality of the gospel.

As Willow Creek discovered years ago, the metric used to evaluate success doesn’t always align with God’s intention for the church. Their numbers in terms of attendance and conversion were staggering by any measure but the culture that generated those numbers also came at a high cost. As the adage goes, they were a mile wide and an inch deep. “Go and make disciples” had reduced to “baptize them”, a crucial measure but only half the mission. The Commission is holistic and intended to build a self-replicating community of believers who will join the cycle and further the mission.

The missional church may never attain the size of a market-entertainment-self help driven church. That will always be more attractive to the itching ears of our time. The missional body will grow, perhaps not as numerically quickly, but in a more important aspect, they will grow spiritually. The numbers in this world may not impress but the results in the Kingdom ahead will be staggering.

image by Roland Tanglao

The Way to a Positive Alternative

2589059730_be5d058882_mIn a culture that is hostile to Christians one has to admit to asking the question, why engage in the social issues of the day? The price is high, victories are few and far between and the culture at large seems to continue its inexorable slide each day. When the Christian stops to consider the definition of a “win” there is often silence. If our goal is to bend people to our will we find ourselves woefully off track and defeated.

Perhaps our objective should be colored with more humility. Rather than being seen as attempting to enforce a moral code at the end of a pointing finger we can be known for presenting a positive alternative. Painting a different picture of the good life, liberty and freedom that is winsome to those who stand in opposition to your beliefs, moral code and ethics. It will gain you an audience faster than vitriol and accusation and even if the recipient ultimately rejects your positive alternative they will have bared—if only to themselves—their true reason for choosing the social path that they are living.

Consider St. Paul’s imperative in the fifth chapter of Ephesians – “Be imitators of God”. The imitator takes on the characteristics of the original in such a way that the viewer gains the impression that they are seeing the real thing. Paul is certainly not recommending an idolatrous path to making ourselves into little-G gods. Rather, he compels us to model the attributes of God as He has revealed them to us in forming a positive alternative to share with the world at large.

If we recognize that God is patient [trusting in His Spirit to be work] and He does not want anyone to perish (2 Pet 3:8-9) and God’s kindness in this respect leads to repentance (Rom 2:4), we will also discover that He wants all men to be saved and to come to know the truth (1 Tim 2:3-4). If we further come to know that God is compassionate towards even those who are His enemies (Rom 5:6-8) and that His love for the world (John 3:16), we will better comprehend this love in terms of Christ dying for the ungodly (Rom 5:6) and that Christ had the same compassion for people (Mt 9:36-38). We can marinate in these twin threads of compassionate desire for the salvation of all people and develop from it a powerful positive social alternative.

If we are to be imitators of God then we must reflect to all we encounter the desire for their ultimate redemption and do so with compassion.

Image by Loreen Liberty

Church is Not a Spectator Sport

Why Church Matters by Joshua Harris

image“…When your heart begins to beat for God’s glory and God’s people and you begin to glimpse His longing to visit you, Sunday changes. Actually, it becomes something extraordinary. Something sacred. Something essential.”

Let’s get this out of the way right up front; this is a delightful gem of a book that belongs in the hands of every person sitting in the pews on Sunday. Distracted by something that happened at home. Bored by the preacher. Perturbed at the fact that the praise team went astray from the hymnal again. All of these feelings and more are brought into the church for the most important hours of the week, and we wonder why our body doesn’t seem to be more dynamic, activist or interesting.

Could it be us?

It is far too easy for modern Christians to view church from the perspective of a shopper or spectator says Joshua Harris. Our attitude is what can the church do for me or does this church serve my needs. With a little review of the Bible and our hearts, he says, we can ask different questions: what can I contribute to this church or for what purpose did God place me and my family in this church? In seven brief chapters, Harris provokes Christians to view the bride of Christ in a different light, understanding how important the privilege of worshipping and serving together is.

There are a number of volumes that delve into this same topic in much greater depth but that is not the purpose of this volume. Harris has written a conversational book, quick to read and digest that will get the reader thinking. If you don’t see yourself on one page, read a few more paragraphs and you will see something that reminds you of an attitude that may have flirted with. Pastor Harris is looking you in the eye and asking you to think differently. Think about what it means to be a part of a family where you are important, missed when you are absent and cared for when infirm.

I am grateful to Waterbrook Multnomah who provided this book for review.

The Ordinance of Baptism

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Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20

With this commission our Lord instituted the rite of baptism as practiced by the Church since. In the centuries that have passed, the Church has interpreted the rite’s meaning, effect and administration in myriad ways. It has provided moments of unmatched joy for participants and their beloved, and it has also evoked bitter division within the Body.

Christian discuss and divide over the mode and meaning of baptism, over who the appropriate subjects of the rite are and even what the effect of the baptism is. Catholic theology insists that the rite of baptism causes regeneration, making it a necessity for salvation. The Reformation division is rooted in these sacramental ideas and insistence that salvation is by faith alone. Therefore, the predominant belief in the Protestant church is that the rite is symbolic in nature and that it is practiced out of obedience to the command of the Lord.

Understanding the practice of baptism requires careful research and exegesis. Other than the command to practice the ordinance, there are no explicit instructions for administration, purpose or effect in the New Testament. The doctrine of a church is therefore devised from existing belief, historical practice and what can be understood in the text. Understanding this, baptism should be looked at as a non-critical doctrine and one that should not be a cause of division, though it remains so.

A series of posts will follow this in the coming weeks. The first will explore the predominant Protestant position of a believer’s only baptism, administered by immersion. A word study of Baptizo is a necessary component for understanding the practice of immersion versus affussion, and that will follow these initial posts. We will then explore infant baptism and the theology behind that doctrine. The objective of these posts is not to advocate for a single position but to explore and discuss the theology behind a doctrine that we often take for granted. I’ll look forward to interacting with readers on this topic.

Grace and peace to you..

image Lawrence OP

Psalm 76 – He Is Feared By The Kings Of The Earth

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From heaven you pronounced judgment, and the land feared and was quiet–

when you, O God, rose up to judge, to save all the afflicted of the land.

Surely your wrath against men brings you praise, and the survivors of your wrath are restrained. (Ps 76:8-10)

Political correctness would tear psalms such as this one from the pages of the Bible. A cheer for the God who destroys enemies and brings rulers to heel? This sounds so foreign because we want a God who stands off at a distance and rolls His eyes at our interpersonal and international battles. No longer does God favor one nation over another or even condone the exclusivity of one religious path.

In Judah God is known; his name is great in Israel.

His tent is in Salem, his dwelling place in Zion.

There he broke the flashing arrows, the shields and the swords, the weapons of war. (vv 1-3)

Modern Christianity is personal. We call it our faith but do not extol its superiority over all others. Why not? We have here in the scriptures proclamations of God’s choice of Israel as His people and the Temple as His dwelling place. Dare we not say the same thing? God has chosen us in Christ and our soul is His dwelling place? Is this defeat for all competing belief systems?

Grace and peace to you..

 

image by musumemiyuki