Tuesday, September 30, 2014

P2 The full story of man: spirit, soul and body

1 Thessalonians 5:23 "Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord
Jesus Christ."

Today's post will conclude the complete saga of man we began to tell yesterday in terms of how man is a soul with a spirit clothed in a body.  We are doing this short series through five main points covered in scripture: creation, fall, redemption, death and resurrection. In yesterday's post we discovered:

1. Man as a soul, with a spirit clothed in a body at creation.

2. Man as a living soul, clothed in a body, died in his spirit at the fall

3. Saved man is a soul who has a resurrected spirit and lives in a body

Today's post will cover this idea of man's three-fold nature as viewed through the final two points of death and resurrection.

Saved people are souls, with living spirits who die and leave behind a dead human body and go to heaven.  Unsaved people are souls, with dead spirits who leave behind a dead human body and go to hell to await judgment
So what occurs at death?  For the Christian, the Bible states in 2 Corinthians 5:6 "Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord"  The Christian as a soul with a spirit goes immediately into the hands of the Lord in Heaven, where he is welcomed with a glorious entrance. (2 Peter 1:11-12)  The body, called by Paul (2 Corinthians 5:1-5) and Peter (2 Peter 1:14) a tent, refers to the frail and temporary nature of our current physical body that eventually returns to the dust from whence it came.  Unbelievers, when they die, are souls with dead human spirits who immediately go to a place called Sheol, Hades or hell, as exampled by the Rich Man in Luke 16:29-31.  

Contrary to pop culture today, when a person dies, it is a one way trip to the immediate presence of God for believers and Hell for sinners.  With those sober realities outlined, we must understand that scripture reveals one more point in its saga of believers/unbelievers in the body, souls and spirits....

There is to be a resurrection for the righteous and a resurrection of the unrighteous
Though a Christian in their souls and spirit go immediately into the presence of the Lord, the totality of His salvation for them is not yet complete.  Yes they are free from the penalty of sin in their spirit - thus in that respect they are instantly saved.  Concerning their souls, they are progressively saved by the Spirit's sanctifying work, making them more and more like Jesus while they excercise their mind, emotions and will in His Word - hence the removal of sin's power.  

And even when they get to Heaven, believers certainly enjoy a dimension of existence whereby they are set free from the presence of sin - i.e glorification.  However the Christian in that state is looking forward to the day they get a resurrected body like their Lord.  At His return, Christ will resurrect every believer, Old and New Testament, transforming their bones and decay into a glorified resurrected body - setting the body free from the putrification of sin. (Daniel 12:1-3; 1 Corinthians 15:51-57; 1 John 3:1-3)  The ressurrection represents the goal of redemption, a hope that was first revealed to men such as Job (Job 14:14; 19:25-28) and Abraham (Hebrews 11:19)

Sadly for unbelievers, they await the final judgment which will occur a thousand years after the resurrection of the righteous.  Though not spelled out in near the detail as that of believers, unbelievers evidently will have a resurrected body capable of withstanding eternal judgment. Daniel 12:2b tells us that the resurrection of the wicked will receive a body that is "disgraceful, existing in everlasting contempt".  Christ at that final judgment will cast them into the Lake of Fire, along with the Devil and his fallen angels. (Matthew 25:31-46; Revelation 20:11-15)

The past two posts attempted to tell the complete saga of man, a soul with a spirit clothed in a body, through five main points covered in scripture: creation, fall, redemption, death and resurrection.  My prayer is that this will aid you in your study of the scripture and perhaps shed light on both your own life and your dealings with others.  Remember, what is done on this earth will pass, what is done for Christ will last. 

Monday, September 29, 2014

P1 The full story of man: spirit, soul and body

1 Thessalonians 5:23 "Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord
Jesus Christ."

Today and tomorrow's posts will attempt to tell the complete saga of man: a soul with a spirit clothed in a body.  We will do this through five main points covered in scripture: creation, fall, redemption, death and resurrection. Today's blog will focus on the first three of those areas.

Man as a soul, with a spirit clothed in a body at creation.
Man is a three-fold being who was created to know God and exercise authority in this world. Some Bible teachers advocate that man is essentially a two-fold being (also called di-chotomy): body and soul or body and spirit.  

It is the contention of this writer that tri-chotomy overall represents the Bible's testimony about man. With that said, we do not entirely dismiss that view out of hand.  Why?  The reason being is because from Genesis 1:26-27 and Genesis 2:7 we see God revealing the creation of man from two angles: a spiritual being in a physical body who was to walk with God and a soul clothed in a body who was to take dominion over his surroundings and be self-aware. 

In short, here is what we learn of mankind as originally created:

1. Humanity's body was perfect, capable of interracting and working the physical environment.  Being that the body of man was made from the earth, God endued the body with five senses and the capability to be aware of the world.

2. Humanity's soul is the life of the man.  The soul was breathed from the Spirit of God, resulting in physical life in the man.  Man was uniquely created with the ability to think, feel, choose and have conivictions or a conscience.  The soul is the man himself. We could say, with older Bible teachers of the past, that the soul is simply man's self awareness and the body is his center of world awareness.

3. Humanity's spirit was to be the aspect of man wherein he communed with God.  Being made in the image of God meant among other things that man alone could communicate and be communicated to by God in his spirit. 

Man as a living soul, clothed in a body, died in his spirit at the fall
When Adam and Eve heeded the voice of the serpent tempting them in the garden to partake of the tree, the scripture says that for Eve, the tree was pleasant to the eyes and desirable to eat.  She had already began to alter God's word in her mind and by her will she chose to abandon the grace of God on her life in preference to her soulish desires.  Adam willfully chose his wife over God and the two of them fell from the Grace that has been clothing their mortal bodies.  As souls they continued to live, however the curse of death through sin reaped its fruits. The result? Adam and his wife died in their spirit, affecting their soul totally to the point of where they could only live by their own desires.  

The bodies of the man and the woman would be subject to mortality or physical death.  The totality of how sin would affect the entirety of man's being is what Bible teachers call total depravity. Total depravity does not mean man is as bad as he could be. We see examples of unbelievers doing good things. Rather total depravity addresses the extent to which the fall affected Adam and his descendants - through and through and throughout their spirit, into their soul and upon their body. 

All of this of course ended up affecting every single person born into this world, with the sin and guilt of Adam passed down through the bloodline of the father's side. (1 Peter 1:17-18) In short:

1. Man died in his spirit
2. Is corrupted in his thinking, feeling and choosing in his soul.  Nothing he can do, apart from grace and saving faith can please God.
3. All people will die in their bodies, awaiting resurrection (believers in the resurrection of the righteous, unbelievers unto the resurrection of the wicked)

Saved man is a soul who has a resurrected spirit and lives in a body
When a man is born again by the Spirit of God and believes on Jesus Christ for the forgivness of sins, the Bible is clear on what takes place.  First, the Holy Spirit at saving faith has penetrated past my mind, emotions, will of my soul and through God Word, pierces the dividing wall between soul and spirit. (Hebrews 4:12) 

Then as He shows me the awfulness of my sin and the awesomeness of Jesus Christ, by the new birth I believe and am saved, born again, justified or declared righteous and adopted into God's family. (John 1:12-13; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:3; Romans 8:16-17)  At salvation I am instantly saved in my spirit or "inner man" by the New Birth or regeneration. As I grow in grace through the process of sanctification, I am being saved in my soul as I conform my mind, emotions and will to God's Word.  Though sin indwells my soul, my new nature in my spirit is the working of the Spirit who desires to affect me in my soul.  The body of course is still decaying.  In short:

1. My spirit or inner man is made alive by the New Birth
2. My soul is being saved and I through Christ am urged daily by the Spirit in my human spirit to go to the scriptures and be led by Him
3. My body is still decaying.  I realize now as a Christian I am to look forward to resurrection. 

Sadly not everyone will by grace through faith believe on Jesus Christ.  It is God's grace, His Spirit and His word which prevail upon people to choose and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.  It is man who choosing to reject Christ apart from grace deems himself unworthy of eternal life. (Acts 13:46) 

Unless the Spirit of God moves, and unless a person believes and repents of his sins, they will still be a soul with a dead human spirit living in a decaying body.  An unbeliever functions in their body, soul and dead spirit much like those who evidence never having been truly saved as seen in 1 Timothy 5:6 "she who gives herself to wanton pleasure is dead even while she lives."

More tomorrow...

Sunday, September 28, 2014

P2 The Gospel in Stereo - Believer's Baptism

1 Peter 3:21 "Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ".

I will never forget as a younger man the fascination I had with stereo equipment - the bigger the speaker and the louder the stereo, the bigger the smile. Whenver it became possible to attach a good stereo to a big t.v screen, what was a smile became a shout of jubilation! Why? Because watching t.v went from a passive activity to a full-fledged experience and event. Supreme audio and video to this day still gives me goose bumps whenever we are getting ready to watch a movie and that bass-rumbling "THX" monicker pops up on the screen.

Whenever God ordained the proclamation of salvation in the Old Testament, He did so through the audio of the preaching of His word and the visual of feasts and ceremonial ordinances. It was the scriptures that converted the human soul (Psalm 19:7) and it was the feasts and ceremonies that pictured for the people God's saga of redemption. 

When Jesus came and the New Testament era began following the Day of Pentecost, one of the Old Testament feasts - Passover, was succeeded by Jesus' institution of His Covenant meal, called by many Christian groups today "The Lord's Table". Likewise the Old Testament rite of circumcision which was a sign of the Abrahamic Covenant came to be replaced by the New Covenant rite of believer's baptism. The Gospel message in terms of its contents and method of converting people never changed. However the way God ordained the Gospel to be visualized did change. We looked yesterday at the Lord's table. Today we consider the second visualized portrayal of the Gospel - Baptism.

Principle motivations for baptism 
1 Peter 3:21 represents the final mention of baptism in the New Testament.  As one studies the nearly 100 passages on the subject of baptism, three motivations for getting baptized emerge:

1. Jesus mandated it, by modeling it at the beginning of his ministry (Mt 3:1-6; Mk 1:2-6; Lk 3:3-6; Jn 1:19-28) and commanding it (Matthew 28:18-20)

2. Its method is that of faith in Christ first, followed by baptism of the believer throughout the Gospels, Acts 2:38-42 and 16:31-33 and then the Epistles .

3. Its mode is meaningful, conveying the primary meaning of "immerse, dip".  This pictures the saint publically proclaiming their identity in Christ's death, burial and resurrection, something of which they would had done in a prior commitment of faith and repentance. 

So once we understand the mandate, the method of order and then the mode of baptism, we can grasp why the New Testament motivates believers to get baptized. With the primary motivations of baptism understood, we can now focus on the purposes.

Purposes of believer's baptism
The following purposes attached to believer's baptism enables us to see why God ordained it to visualized the Gospel and how along with its stereo partner, the Lord's supper, portrays the Gospel message. 

1. Public Profession of Faith. 
Jesus states in Luke 9:26 that if anyone is ashamed to mention Him before men, He will be ashamed to mention Him before His Father in Heaven.  As we already saw in 1 Peter 3:21, baptism enables the believer to "pledge a good conscience" before God or "unto God". 

2. Points to a prior response to Christ
Baptism is often like a mile marker in a Christian's life.  Just like Jacob, who took a stone and anointed it with oil to remind him of God's first encounter with Him, baptism functions as a "stone of remembrance for the believer. (Genesis 28:18) 

To illustrate further, God reveals that He gave Abraham the Covenant sign of circumcision to remind Abraham of the covenant he had been given by God. (Genesis 12:1-3;15; 17)  Certainly passages such as Colossians 2:12-13 draw such a parallel between baptism functioning as such a sign to the believer, signifying the prior work God had done in circumcising their hearts, and transforming their lives by grace through faith alone.  Just as circumcision was given to Abraham to point to a prior work done in His life, baptism has been given to the church to testify of the work of grace done and receive by faith prior to the baptism. 

1 Corinthians 10:2-4 reads - "and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; 3and all ate the same spiritual food; 4and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ."  Baptism in this text speaks of "in connection with or association with" a covenant head.  For the Jews in the Old Testament, they were connected with the covenant head of the Old Covenant - Moses; whereas the New Testament Christian is connected by faith to their head - Christ.  Sadly those Old Testament saints who crossed the Red Sea did not have saving faith accompanying journey.  If they would had, they would had seen the one to whom they needed to be ultimately connected to.  Even though Christ accompanied them by means of the rock, yet Christ was not truly "in them". 

1 Corinthians 12:12 reads - "For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit."  To be baptized here speaks of the Spirit's work of uniting the formerly lost sinner to Christ through saving faith in conversion.  This work is the "Spirit baptism" is where the new converted Christian is tied into the wider body of truly converted saints.  This is an invisible work of grace at salvation.  Spirit baptism is made "visible, illustrated, pictured" by subsequent water baptism.  The two are distinguished in terms of their sequence (Spirit baptism at salvation, water salvation following salvation), however their meaning is the same (Spirit baptism speaks of the reality of our salvation, water baptism pictures the reality). They are not two baptisms, but rather Spirit baptism and its corresponding sign water baptism are parts one and two of one baptism. (Ephesians 4:5) 

To state plainly, so as to ensure that what I am saying is clear to the reader: The Spirit's baptism in saving faith is another term for the believer's salvation, whereas water baptism is the believer re-enacting for physical eyes the prior work done in the heart at saving faith. 

Baptism's purposes include public profession of faith and pointing to a prior response of faith, and all that accompanies that saving event. Now notice the third purpose associated with baptism:

3. Baptism promotes the Gospel
Baptism goes hand and hand with the preaching of the gospel.  The preaching of God's word presents the word which alone can convert and save sinners. (Romans 10:9-15)  It is through the scriptures that the Holy Spirit penetrates the human heart, whereas in baptism we see pictured what takes place in the human heart.  Baptism on its own does not produce saving faith, rather it pictures it. So baptism has to to with one's public profession of faith, pointing to a prior response to Jesus Christ and promoting the Gospel. Now notice the fourth purpose... 

4. Baptism prioritizes illuminated obedience 
When a Christian convert goes into those baptismal waters, they are picturing a fully obedient Christian.  In the presence of the reading of or preaching of the scriptures, the Holy Spirit can take such a picture and press it before the child of God.  The picture points to the reality, the master, to whom all Christians owe their allegiance.  We are reminded too that love for Christ is chiefly expressed by obedience to Christ. (John 14:15,21,23).  This is why Christ has ordained the church to be the administrator of believer's baptism, since loving submission to Christ the Bridegroom demonstrates most effectively a people transformed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5:25-26; 1 Peter 1:15-16)

When we are walking in the known will of God, we are walking as it were under an open heaven of clarity. When Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, He was publically declaring His willingness to obey the Father. The scripture then says the Spirit of God came upon Christ and lighted upon Him. (Matthew 3:16-17) Baptism is the Christian's first major step of obedience. The Holy Spirit comes to indwell the Christian at saving faith. (1 Corinthians 3:16) We know also too that in obedience there is given extra light and illumination. (1 John 1:5-7) Hence when it comes to baptism, nothing resides within the waters of saving quality. When a new convert enters those baptismal waters and comes out, they have set the tone for their Christian walk of getting in order with God. Being that obedience and Divine illumination from the already indwelling Holy Spirit go hand-in-hand, we can say that Baptism reminds us of illuminating obedience. 

Closing thoughts
We have focused these past two posts on the Gospel in stereo. We observed both the Lord's Supper and Baptism. With baptism we considered the motivations for doing it and the purposes communicated by it. Both of these ordinances are ordained by Christ to communicate the Gospel visually, bringing into the visible realm what otherwise invisibile realities that accompany genuine salvation and the Christian life. 

Saturday, September 27, 2014

P1 - The Gospel in Stereo: The Lord's Table

1 Corinthians 11:28 "But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup."

I will never forget as a youngster the fascination I had with stereo equipment. The bigger the speaker and the louder the stereo yielded a bigger smile. Whenver it became possible to attach a good stereo to a big t.v screen, what was a smile became a shout of jubilation! Why? Because watching t.v went from a passive activity to a full-fledged experience and event. Supreme audio and video to this day still gives me goose bumps whenever we are getting ready to watch a movie and that bass-rumbling "THX" monicker pops up on the screen.

Whenever God ordained the proclamation of salvation, He did so through the audio of the preaching of His word and the visual aids of feasts and ceremonial ordinances in the Old Testament. It was the scriptures that converted the human soul (Psalm 19:7) and it was the feasts and ceremonies that pictured for the people God's saga of redemption. 

When Jesus came and the New Testament era began following the Day of Pentecost, one of the Old Testament feasts - Passover, was succeeded by Jesus' institution of His Covenant meal, called by many Christian groups today "The Lord's Table". Likewise the Old Testament rite of circumcision which was a sign of the Abrahamic Covenant came to be replaced by the New Covenant rite of believer's baptism. The Gospel message in terms of its contents and method of converting people never changed. However the way God ordained the Gospel to be visualized did change. Today's post and the next will feature the two visual means ordained by God to visualize the Gospel to both His church and to a watching world. For today we will deal with that first means - the Lord's Supper. Tomorrow's post will feature the second visualized portrayal of the Gospel - Baptism.

The Purposes for the Lord's Table and main point of application
In today's blog we want to understand the purposes for which the Lord's Supper was prescribed by the Lord Jesus Christ to His church.  Regular observance of this "meal" by the local church enables the body of Christ to maintain its corporate identity and grow closer together.  (1 Corinthians 10:16-17)  The point of application for today's post will be: The Lord's Supper's purposes enables Christians to visualize why they need Christ, the Gospel and One another. Below are four reasons why celebrating the Lord's supper is vital to Christians both individually and as members of the local church. Our key text will derive from 1 Corinthians 11:17-34. The reader is encouraged to read the text and use the headings and explanation below to work through the text.

1. The Lord's Supper is used by Christ to repair divisions. 1 Corinthians 11:17-22
The letter of 1 Corinthians was written to a church that was fractured in its fellowship.  Out of the 10 churches that the Apostle Paul wrote to in his 13 New Testament Epistles, the church at Corinth was the most heartbreaking.  Jesus had prayed in John 17:21 that His church as a whole would be one as He and the Father are one.  Clearly the church at Corinth was going in the opposite direction - which is why the Holy Ghost inserted instructions about the Lord's Supper.  The Lord's supper gives the church the opportunity to seek forgiveness, heal division and fix fellowship issues that may have arisen since the last Lord's supper. (1 Corinthians 11:28-34)

2. The Lord's Supper rejoices in the cross. 1 Cor 11:23-25
The cross in the scriptures was the event that the Holy Spirit used to point me to the source of my salvation.  Additionally, the cross is the place the Holy Spirit uses to cleanse me in my post-conversion sanctification.  The cross must never be forgotten. (1 Corinthians 2:2)  The Lord's table intentionally focuses the entire church on all the signifcance and daily need for the cross.  (1 Corinthians 10:16-17)

3.  The Lord's Supper repeats the Gospel. 1 Corinthians 11:26
The Gospel of Jesus Christ focuses upon what Jesus came to do in His first coming - accomplish salvation.  The Gospel also tells us how we can be saved from the reality of God's wrath that is coming upon this world in Christ's second coming. (Romans 5:9-10; 1 Thessalonians 1:10) As an ordinance, like Baptism, the Lord's table conveys the Gospel in picture rather than words.  By the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ communicates and reinforces these truths to the hearts of His church through their observance of His ordinance (1 Corinthians 10:16-17; 11:26)  This is why the Lord's table is celebrated in conjunction with the communication of the scriptures.

4. The Lord's Supper urges re-examination of the Christian walk. 1 Corinthians 11:27-34
We are told in 2 Corinthians 13:5 to "examine ourselves to see whether or not we are in the faith".  What kinds of questions are good to ask myself when getting ready to receive the Lord's Supper (or communion, as it is sometimes called)?  What if any unconfessed sin has crept into my life since I last partook of the Lord's supper?  Do I have any resentment towards anyone?  Have I grown cold in my love for Jesus, His Word or prayer?  How am I doing in the areas of supporting the local church of which I am a member through my giving of tithes and offerings? Am I mad at God? Have I done anything to grieve His Spirit?  Have I seen growth and change in my life for the glory of God?  What has God shown me about Himself since the last time I partook of His meal?

Questions like the ones above remind the Christian of the need for daily examination.  There is no cruise control on the steering column of the Christian life.  We don't coast, we aim to strive for all we can in Christ, since it is He who is working in us His perfect and pleasing will. (Philippians 3:12-13) 

This is the Gospel in stereo: the audio coming from the scripture, and the video (visual) coming from the Lord's supper. Tomorrow we will consider the second part of the Gospel in stereo when we examine believer's baptism. 

Friday, September 26, 2014

How we know God is for the Christian

Romans 8:31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?

It is no secret that we are living in a cynical age. The Christian can very quickly adopt such a suspicious attitude toward God if they're not careful. Let's be honest, if you are a Christian reading this post today, I'm certain you have asked from time to time: "Is God really there for me?" or "How do I know that God still cares"? The mistake you and I make too often is to guage God's love for us by the kinds of circumstances going on in our lives. Life and its events are not reliable indicators for determining how much God is for the believer. Certainly a person can be in the will of God and yet still experience cancer, loss or dissapointment, as well as times of abundance and ease. What specifically does Romans 8:31 mean when it mentions "these things" demonstrating the fact that God is for the Christian? As we fan out from Romans 8:31, I believe we can find three demonstrations of the fact that God is indeed for the Christian in Romans 8:28-32: 

1. The purpose of God for the Christian. Romans 8:28

2. The plan of God for the Christian. Romans 8:29-31

3. The promise of God for the Christian. Romans 8:32

So let's briefly look at each of these three things that demonstrate that God is truly for the believer in Jesus Christ.

1. The purpose of God demonstrates God is for the Christian.
Romans 8:28 is perhaps one of the most beloved passages in scripture. Notice what Romans 8:28 states: "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." Notice how Paul emphasizes God's Sovereignty operating in the believer's life. God "causes" all things. God is the Orchestrator of human affairs. Even when mankind sins, God can still use the foolish decisions of sinful men to achieve His ultimate purpose. Were it not for the Ultimate purpose of God at the end of this verse, the entirety of life and salvation as we know it would fall to the ground. God is for you dear Christian because of the purpose He has for your life. This speaks of the goal God has established for you dear Christian to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever. The end has been set by God, and whatever God begin He finishes, guaranteed. (Philippians 1:6) However, how does one know God's purposes are sure? This is where the purpose of God in Romans 8:28 is connected to the plan of God in Romans 8:29-31.

2. The plan of God demonstrates God is for the Christian. Romans 8:29-31
For years Bible teachers have referred to these verses as the unbreakable golden chain of salvation. The point of Romans 8:29-31 is to unfold what is meant by God's purpose in Romans 8:28. Sadly so many Christians skip over Romans 8:29-31 to hasten to Romans 8:32. However unless we grasp God's grand plan and design of Christian salvation from beginning to end, we will have no basis for assurance. 

Romans 8:29 introduces us to the anchors of God's plan: foreknowledge and predestination. These words are not revealed in scripture to scare us, but rather to comfort us. Foreknowledge could just as easily be rendered "foreloving" or "foreseeing". He knows where you're at before you ever arrive at where you're at.  Predestination has to do with God "marking out" the boundaries of each and every individual Christian's life before they were born. 

Foreknowledge speaks of God's loving intent for each believer before they were born and predestination can be likened unto a set of blue prints. 

In roughly 100 places in the Bible we find the truth of God's elective purpose of grace, whereby He chose every Christian based not upon anything they had done but soley upon His choice for them based upon His love for them in eternity. (Ephesians 1:4-5; 2 Peter 1:1-2) Why would God begin planning each believer's salvation in eternity? Paul tells us the point of plan: "to become conformed to the image of His Son". 
The Baptist Faith & Message 2000 explains for us God's elective purpose: "Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which He regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners. It is consistent with the free agency of man, and comprehends all the means in connection with the end. It is the glorious display of God's sovereign goodness, and is infinitely wise, holy, and unchangeable. It excludes boasting and promotes humility."

In Romans 8:30 we then see the so-called "golden chain" of salvation laid out in full length. We've already mentioned foreknowledge and predestination. The third link of the chain is God's calling. The Holy Spirit comes to people in their sins and calls them to leave their love affair with unbelief and trust in Jesus Christ for their salvation. 

The fourth link, justification, has to do with God's judicial declaration over the sinner at saving faith: not guilty. Let the reader be reminded that justification can only occur when the sinner believes. Salvation is taught consistently in scripture as including both God's Sovereignty (election, foreknowledge, predestination, calling) and human responsibility (justified). No man can be saved lest God draws them and yet, at the same time, no man can be saved until He repents and believes on the Lord Jesus Christ. 

Then the final link of God's plan of salvation is what Romans 8:30 calls "glorification". This speaks of the believer's completion in Heaven, from the removal of their sin once they leave this world in death to when their perfected soul and spirit is united with a glorified resurrected body at Christ's return. Those saints dying presently have just begun their glorification by having their soul/spirit purged of the presence of sin. When the rapture or catching away of the church takes place, those who died will raise from the dead first, followed by the living saints of God having their current bodies transformed. (see 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18) 

Why labor these verses? Because God's plan for every Christian stretches literally from eternity past to eternity future. We know God is for the Christian because of His purpose and plan but also notice lastly....

3. God's promises demonstrate that He is for the Christian. Romans 8:31-32
Romans 8:31-32 state - "What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?" How do we truly know whether or not God is for us? Read again that above underlined portion of Romans 8:32 - how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?" How much does God truly love His people? He loves them so much that He gave His only Begotten Son (John 3:16). God's promises are yes and amen in Jesus. (2 Corinthians 1:20-22) Why is it that we doubt God so often? Because we get our eyes off the cross. God's purpose and plan is tied to all that was achieved at the cross and empty tomb. Whenever we doubt Jesus' love for us: look to the cross and empty tomb, look to the scriptures. Emotions are o.k, but not infallible. The Bible alone is inerrant and infallible and the cross and empty tomb are the only proofs that everything that pertains to our salvation is true. As you read down to the end of Romans 8:33-39, you discover that everything Paul wrote about in Romans 8:28-32 is the guaranteed foundation of Romans 8:33-39. 

Closing thoughts:
In closing, remember that we know God is for the Christian based upon His purpose, plan and promises for each child of God. May we go and tell every person that they too can have the same opportunity as we if they will but respond to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and know that in Christ, God will always be there for them. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Jesus teaches on spiritual change

Luke 5:27-32 After that He went out and noticed a tax collector named Levi sitting in the tax booth, and He said to him, “Follow Me.” 28 And he left everything behind, and got up and began to follow Him. 29 And Levi gave a big reception for Him in his house; and there was a great crowd oftax collectors and other people who were reclining at the table with them. 30 The Pharisees and their scribes began grumbling at His disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with the tax collectors and sinners?” 31 And Jesus answered and said to them,“It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

Luke 5:27 introduces us to one of the most important conversions in redemptive history - the conversion of Matthew. Otherwise known as Levi, Matthew had been a lowly tax collector. No doubt the so-called "god" in his life was greed. I'm certain that on the day Jesus found Matthew (Levi), the tinkling of coins could had been heard as he counted up the profits he had taken from his fellow countrymen. When Jesus called his name and said: "Come, follow me", Matthew did an about-face in his heart. He left everything behind. The man who took it all now was willing to give it all away for Jesus'. Spiritual change had taken place.

Later on Jesus' disciples would be confronted by the Pharisees asking them about Jesus' seeming lack of discernment in keeping company with tax collectors and sinners. In the course of their conversation, Jesus interjects with a short pithy saying in Luke 5:31 “It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
Retaining their pride and self righteousness, the Pharisees demonstrate their lack of desire to change. 

How is it that one man - an outcast, a man who lived on the fringe, could so easily change and yet those who were religious, the teachers of the law, could not change? Today's lesson is about looking at spiritual change. What does Jesus have to say about the spiritual "about face" depicted here in Luke 5:27-39? Notice...

1. Spiritual change begins with repentance. Luke 5:27-32
As we already saw, Matthew did a total 180 from his love of money to loving Jesus. What brought about the change? As one begins to study God's Word on the subject of spiritual change, we see that it all begins with repentance and its twin grace faith. Repentance in its most basic definition has to do with a changing of one's mind, whereas faith deals with the firm persuasion of the heart. Both are Divinely wrought by the Holy Spirit, being Divine giftings that result in a decision of the will. We know for example that in salvation, sinners are commanded to repent, as seen in Acts 3:19  "Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord." And yet repentance is a Sovereignly bestowed grace as seen in 2 Timothy 2:25 "with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth."

Perhaps a way to illustrate faith and its twin repentance is by a simple magnet. On any given magnet there are two poles. Depending upon how I turn the magnet, one pole will repel and the other will attract. In the miracle of salvation, repentance is that repelling grace that convinces me of the awfulness of my sin. I am shown by the Holy Spirit how repulsive my sin is. At the same time faith is the attractive pole of salvation. Again the Holy Spirit shows me Jesus Christ in all His awesome splendor. In salvation I run from my sin and into the arms of Jesus. Repentance drives me from my sin and faith drives me to Jesus. This is what we see perfectly illustrated in Matthew's life. Spiritual change begins with repentance and its twin faith. But notice another truth about spiritual change as taught by Jesus....

2. Spiritual change requires the cross. Luke 5:33-35
Luke's account has the Pharisees asking Jesus about fasting whereas Matthew states that the disciples of John were proposing the question. Both accounts, when harmonized together, offer the simply conclusion that both were coming to Jesus at the same time. No doubt the Pharisees' motive was that of ill-intent whereas the disciples of John the Baptist were genuinely curious. To both groups Jesus gives the short little parable about the bridegroom and his attendants. John's disciples would had immediately recognized the illustration, since their Rabbi, John the Baptist, taught it earlier in his own ministry in John 3:29  "He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made full."

John the Baptist saw himself as the groomsman of the bridegroom Jesus Christ. John's job was to confirm that identity and fulfillment of Messiah coming, just as a friend of the bridegroom would had confirmed to the guests in attendance that the marriage covenant between the groom and bride had been consummated. As Jesus spoke this short little parable to John the Baptists disciples, he also would had been speaking to the Pharisees, who saw themselves as being in spiritual union with the God of Israel. Lest they were willing to repent and unite to Christ by faith, no union could be possible. 

Now herein is a major point made by Jesus in the short little parable that points us to the pending cross. Jesus says in Luke 5:35  "But the days will come; and when the bridegroom is taken away from them, then they will fast in those days.” With the Bridegroom being clearly Jesus Christ, how would he be "taken away"? Jesus Himself would eventually answer that question by His own statements about His death by crucifixion, followed by resurrection and then His ascent into Heaven 40 days after His resurrection. True spiritual change is always connected to the cross. Though Jesus was speaking pre-cross in Luke 5, yet in His mind and the mind of the Father, the cross was a done deal. Any spiritual change, even if appearing indirectly linked to the cross, is always and without exception tied to the cross and empty tomb. 

So spiritual change begins with repentance and requires the cross but notice lastly....

Spiritual change transforms the old into the new. Luke 5:36-39
Jesus then closes out His remarks in this chapter by stressing how spiritual change transforms things from old to new. Just as it would be absurd to patch up an old, hole-ridden garment by cutting up a brand new one to patch it, so it is in attempting to take the Christian life as nothing more than a "patch job" by Jesus. The Pharisees attempted spiritual change by hanging onto empty tradition and trying to achieve the fruits of the New Covenant by adhering to the Law under the Old Covenant. Jesus of course was inaugurating the New Covenant as its Mediator.  Only when people would by grace through faith unite with Him in repentance and faith can there be a genuine change from old to new. 2 Corinthians 5:17 states - "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation, the old things have passed away and behold, the new things have come."

Likewise Jesus hitches on another short parable about old wineskins and new wineskins with corresponding batches of old and new wine. The imagery is Jesus' way of digging back into Old Testament prophecies that use the "old/new wine" theme in predicting the coming New Covenant salvation that would be achieved by Jesus. Joel  2:23-25 states - "So rejoice, O sons of Zion,And be glad in the Lord your God; For He has given you the early rain for your vindication. And He has poured down for you the rain, The early and latter rain as before. 24 The threshing floors will be full of grain, And the vats will overflow with the new wine and oil. 25 “Then I will make up to you for the years That the swarming locust has eaten, The creeping locust, the stripping locust and the gnawing locust, My great army which I sent among you." It would be in the same chapter of Joel that Peter on the day of Pentecost would show that the coming of the Holy Spirit demonstrated Jesus' promise of the inauguration of the New Covenant church age wherein we are living. 

The old way of Judaism could not handle the realities of the New Covenant age of the Holy Spirit. To put it another way, the Christian's life is so different from their former life, that by attempting to revisit it, the result could lead to chaos, just as putting in fermenting wine could burst old, brittle wineskins. The old life of who the Christian once was has no place nor spot. The old man, old way of life is gone. The new has come and is being created in the image of the Savior. (Colossians 3:10)

Closing thoughts:
Today we considered what Jesus taught about spiritual change in Luke 5:27-39. We discovered that spiritual change begins with repentance (5:27-32); requires the cross (5:33-35) and transforms the old into the new (5:36-39). 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Living as God's House

1 Timothy 3:15 "but in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth."

When our church family gathers together for times of worship I often will tell them: "today we did not come to church, the church came here". When Paul is writing his first letter to Timothy, the key verse of the whole book, 1 Timothy 3:15, expresses his intent: ..."I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God." Pastor and Bible teacher Dr. John MacArthur expressed once in a sermon that the phrase used later in the verse, "household of God" could be easily rendered "the living God's house". As Paul instructs this young pastor named Timothy about his responsibilities as a Pastor and the responsibilities of the membership assigned to his care, we see clearly God's vision for what every local church should aim for in living as His house.

Where we see the church referred to as God's house
As individual Christians we are the temple of the living God. (1 Corinthians 3:16) Further study reveals that the concept of God's house extends over all true born again Christians who make up the true church the world-over. 1 Corinthians 6:16 reminds us that "...we are the temple of the living God...". Ephesians 2:21-22 is even more explicit - "in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit." With regards to what God's house, the church, looks like in action, 1 Peter 2:5 explains -  "you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." 1 Peter 4:17 draws the dividing line between true believers and non-believers by noting - "For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?"

Plainly scripture ascribes this description of the church the world over as being God's house. Local churches fit under this category and throughout the book of Acts, places such as Acts 2:38-42 indicate that the inaugural first church on Pentecost met together as a "flesh and blood" temple. To become a part of God's church the world over, one must be born again by the Spirit of God through faith. To become initiated into the local church, all truly regenerate believers must be subsequently baptized. The SBC Baptist Faith & Message 2000 explains: "A New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel". This description fits the Biblical pattern and order of Acts 2:38-42, where we see people believing and repenting of their sins in salvation, followed by believer's baptism and then counted among the membership of the church at Jerusalem. 

Point of Application
With the church defined Biblically as "God's house" and specifically here in 1 Timothy 3:15 as the living house of the living God, how is it that we are to live as God's house? The point of application for today's post is: "Living as God's house is rooted in God-centered details practices". In looking over 1 Timothy, we can note three major God-centered realities that make it possible for a church to live as God's house:
1. God-centered pastors. 1:1-14
2. God-centered fellowship. 2:1-3:16
3. God-centered living. 4:1-6:21

Living as God's house requires God-centered pastors. 1 Timothy 1:1-14
What is a God-centered pastor according to 1 Timothy 1? God-centered pastors are those men who are passionate (1:1-17), who preach the Gospel (1:8-14) and who point to the Great Shepherd (1:15-20). 

When we say that a God-centered pastor is to be passionate, what ought he to be passionate about? 1 Timothy 1:1-4 indicates that the pastor needs to be passionate about the truth, both in affirming it and defending it. The God-centered pastor secondly needs to be passionate about his people. As one preaching professor told me years ago: "pastors are not cattlemen driving a heard but shepherds leading a flock". 

We can also note that a God-centered pastor needs to preach the Gospel by beginning with the bad-news as found in the law of God (1 Tim 1:8-10) and then bringing sinners and lost church members alike to the cross (1 Tim 1:11-14) These two ideas of being passionate and preaching the Gospel leads naturally to the third responsibility of a God-centered pastor - pointing to the Great shepherd. (1 Timothy 1:15-20). The greatness of the Shepherd, Jesus Christ, is seen in how he saves us from our wretched condition (1 Tim 1:15-17) and how worthy He is to live for (1 Tim 1:18-20). So living as God's house requires a God-centered pastor. Now notice the second requirement...

Living as God's House requires God-centered fellowship. 1 Timothy 2:1-3:16
What is fellowship? Fellowship in the original language of the New Testament means to "have in common". What do we have in common? Jesus Christ and Him crucified, buried, risen and exalted. The fellowship of God's house has to do with life as it is within the walls of the church. What ought we to see when we come to the living God's house? 1 Timothy 2:1-3:16 spells out what ought to be present. 

First, spiritual membership. The emphasis upon both the men and women of the church engaging in prayer and holy living depicts life flowing from the heart to the actions within the body of believers toward one another, as expressed in 1 Tim 2:1-15. A second trait of God-centered fellowship has to do with sound-leadership. Now this may sound identical to what we just covered in the first part of this post, however the need for Godly leadership to lead a God-centered fellowship of saints can never be over expressed. Thus Paul spells out sound leadership in 1 Timothy 3:1-13 by way of describing Pastors and Deacons. Then the third characteristic of God-centered fellowship has to do with being saturated with Jesus as seen in 1 Timothy 3:14-16. Jesus' incarnation, life, mission and ascension ought to be second nature to those who are truly born-again. 

So we have seen that as Christians, living as God's house, the Holy Ghost in 1 Timothy expresses the necessity for God-centered pastors and God-centered fellowship. These first two components have to to with life within the walls of the church. However we are not called as the Living God's House to be a citadel within which we huddle but an embassy from which we tell others about Jesus until He comes. The final necessity for living as God's house is found in 1 Timothy 4:1-6:21, namely...

Living as God's House requires God-centered living. 1 Timothy 4:1-6:21 
So what should the world see of the church according to 1 Timothy 4:1-6:21? First, maturity. The local church and its members ought to be people who are spiritually mature, that is to say, people who know good from evil (1 Timothy 4:1-10) and who know their Bibles (1 Tim 4:11-16). One of the clearest definitions of spiritual maturity found anywhere in the Bible, Hebrews 5:12-14, emphasizes these two points. So God centered-fellowship in the church is characterized by maturity.

Secondly, God-centered living needs to be expressed in relationships (1 Timothy 5:1-16), as well as other areas such as the example of Godly leadership to others (5:17-25); the workplace (6:1-2); attitudes (6:3-5) and possessions (6:6-9). Why are these areas mentioned? Because it is in these key areas where a Christian's lifestyle is most sorely tested. Relationships stretch us, being an example brings with it accountability, how we act before co-workers, our attitudes and how we handle possessions all contribute to testing how serious we are in living for God in this world. 

How is success measured in God-centered living among pastors and church members living as God's House in an unbelieving world? Faithfulness. Notice 1 Timothy 6:20-21  "O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called “knowledge”— 21 which some have professed and thus gone astray from the faith.Grace be with you." As God's House, success is ,measured by faithfulness. As the old saying goes: "What is done on this earth will pass, but what is done for Christ will last."

Closing thoughts
The point of application for today's post was: "Living as God's house is rooted in God-centered details practices". In looking over 1 Timothy, we noted three major God-centered realities that make it possible for a church to live as God's house:
1. God-centered pastors. 1:1-14
2. God-centered fellowship. 2:1-3:16
3. God-centered living. 4:1-6:21 

May every local Bible-believing church, of whatever denomination and stripe, aim to adhere what is written in 1 Timothy regarding living as God's house. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

P2 - What to look for when picking a Bible

2 Timothy 2:15 "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth."

In today's blog we want to explore the various features to look for when trying to choose a Bible for purchase, regular reading and study.  Yesterday we consider the different types of translations, and now we want to note what features to look for in helping you grow in your Christian walk.

1. Cross References
When you open up your Bible, have you ever noticed those little Bible verses running down either the middle column or on the side.  Those little verses references are what we call "cross references".  Simply put, many study Bibles have a system that editors have included to guide the Bible student to other verses that have similar themes as the given verse.  Cross referencing helps you to learn and explore your Bible, and is the most effective way to grow in the scriptures.  By comparing scripture with other scripture, you begin to know what God has to say on a given matter.  Recommended Bibles that are strong in this area include The MacArthur Study Bible, Ryrie Study Bible, Reformation Study Bible, New Scofield Study Bible and Thompson Chain Reference Bible.

2. Study Notes
Most Study Bibles will not only have cross references, but also study notes either at the bottom of each page or on the side.  Some study Bibles will tell you what the verse means (deductive study Bibles), while others are designed to help you discover the meaning (inductive study Bibles).  The top study Bibles with the best notes that I have seen are the NIV Study Bible, MacArthur Study Bible, New Geneva Study Bible, Archaelogical Study Bible and New Scofield Reference Bible.

3. Articles
Some study Bibles, in addition to having cross references and study notes, will have feature articles that will sometimes be one or two pages in length.  Usually topics such as parenting or the Deity of Christ are included as aids in helping the Bible student to broaden their understanding of a given topic.  The top four Bibles that do this in my opinion are the Archaelogical Study Bible, New Open Bible and New Geneva Study Bible.

4. Topical index
All study Bibles will feature verses in the back arranged under different topics.  The NIV Topical Study Bible and the MacArthur Study Bible are fine examples of Bibles with incredible topical indexes.

5. Maps, Weights and Measures, Bible Dictionaries
Nearly all study Bibles have these features.  Bible dictionaries list main Bible words and concepts in alphabetical order, giving definitions and cross references.  Good colored maps that have clear ways of finding Biblical locations are a must.  Knowing what the difference is between a shekel and a cubit will be helpful if your Bible as a good weights and measure section.  The NIV Study Bible, New Open Bible, MacArthur Study Bible, Archaeological Study Bible and Reformation Study Bible are the finest examples with these features.

By using a checklist such as this, you can prayerfully compare which Study Bible is best for helping you to grow in your faith. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

P1 - What to look for when picking a Bible

2 Timothy 2:15 "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth."

Choosing the Right Bible is important for your Christian growth
Years ago I had worked for a Bible bookstore and was amazed at the wide variety of Bible translations and versions that were available.  Choosing a Bible is a major part of growing in the Christian faith, since Christian growth and stability cannot be done without the scriptures. (Romans 15:4; 2 Timothy 3:15-17)

3 general types of Bibles
When categorizing the way in which Bibles are translated from the Hebrew/Aramaic (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament) into English, three general categories are helpful in classifying Bible Translations and Versions:

a. Literal Translations (word for word faithful to the Original Languages, good for Bible Study)
This first grouping prioritizes faithfulness to the style and wording of the original language.  Preachers, Bible teachers and those who study the Bible regularly prize these versions for helping them get as close to the underlying Hebrew/Aramaic and Greek as much as possible.  The top four translations in this category tend to be the King James Version (KJV); the New King James Version (NKJV); the New American Standard Bible (NASB) and the English Standard Version (ESV).

b. Readable Translations (Good for regular Bible reading, devotions)
This second type of Bible translation aims more at being readable than corresponding to every word to the original Hebrew or Greek.  Thus if I were using this approach to Bible translation, I may take a sentence in the original that 10 words along and summarize it into 6 or 7 words to increase the understandability of the passage.  For everyday Bible reading or devotional reading, Bibles such as the New International Version (NIV) and the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) are the best examples of this category.

c. Paraphrases (Good for getting a summary or commentary on a verse)
This last category refers to those versions which function more like a commentary than a translation.  If the literal versions focus on the author's wording, and the second category aims more at the reader, then this final group emphasizes the interpretation given by the actual translator.  Bibles such as The Living Bible (TLB), Today's English Version (TEV) and the New Living Translation (NLT) are the best examples of those Bibles that are more on the paraphrase side.  Reading these alongside the first two categories can be sometimes helpful in gaining a clearer understanding of the text.

The Best Version is the One that Will help you grow in Christ
Using a literal translation as your primary Bible, along with a readable translation and a paraphrase as your secondary Bible is a suggested way to ensure you have all the bases covered in your understanding of the scriptures.  Each type will get you to study the Bible, read the Bible and have a clearer understanding.  

Sometimes reading a familiar passage like Psalm 23 or John 3 in each version helps in the choosing process.  Another rule of thumb to follow when choosing a translation is to find out what version your church uses in their services. Noting what Bible version your pastor preaches or what the congregation reads together in the worship service helps in your overall Christian growth with the body of Christ.   As a final note, if you desire to memorize Bible verses, using one of the more literal versions is the best approach, since the emphasis is on the translation corresponding to the original wording.  

With those categories defined, we can begin to look closer at determining what to look for when picking a Bible.  Tomorrow we will look at various features found in today's Bibles as a means in helping you choose your Bible. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

A suggested description of Biblical Preaching

2 Timothy 4:2 "preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with greatpatience and instruction."

The opening verse for today's post has special meaning to me because it was the verse God used to call me to preach. As a seventeen year old young man, those three opening words: "preach the word" lept off the page and reverberated in my heart. Though I still view myself as learning how to preach God's Word, I thought it may be important to jot down a suggested description of Biblical preaching. Today's post is simply a listing of characteristics to look for, listen for or if the reader is a preacher - aim for. What describes Biblical preaching? Here is a suggested list:

1. Biblical preaching's design is to expose or unpack God's Word in the manner it was revealed, verse by verse.

2. It's aim is to point the people of God to the Son of God to be called by God to live for God

3. Biblical preaching's methods include explanation, illustration, application and exhortation to obedience.

4. It's power is from the Holy Spirit

5. Biblical preaching's audience is God Himself, since its His word and He is the One whom I am to please.

6. It's concern is to bring today's world to the text, so that the text can transform my world

7. Biblical preaching's effectiveness is in direct proportion to what I spend in prayer

8. It's reach is to command all men everywhere to repent and to compel the saved to live for God.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The God-centered church - An Overview of 1 Timothy

1 Timothy 3:14-15 "I am writing these things to you, hoping to come to you before long; 15 but in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth."

1 Timothy 4:6 "In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a goodservant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following."

So many suggestions are made today as to how we ought to have church. Some suggest that the church ought to run like a business, with the pastor being like a CEO who has a head for business, implementing program strategies and casting a vision. Others picture the church being more like a team, where there is a coach and players. Still others suggest that the church is to be a place of entertainment where we do bigger events to draw people and keep them happy. Which is right? Is any of them right? Is there a little bit of truth to each one or is one more right than the others? 

Thankfully when it comes to figuring out how we ought to do church, there is a series of three Divinely Inspired Church manuals that tell us what do to and how to do it - what are commonly called the "Pastoral Epistles". The author of all three (1&2 Timothy and Titus) is the Apostle Paul. The recipients are young men who are pastoring their first churches and who need wise counsel. Though the letters themselves are 2,000 years old, the subjects they deal with are essentially no different than what is experienced in the 21st century church. Though we term them "Pastoral Epistles", their instruction and truth is just as much for the person in the pew as for the man behind the pulpit. 

A quick note about 1 Timothy
Today's post is specifically interested in looking at the first of these "Pastoral Epistles" - 1 Timothy. Timothy of course is the young pastor to whom the letter is written. Timothy's charge was to take the very strong Ephesian church and lead it. According to what we read in the background passages of Acts 19-20, the church at Ephesus was founded at the end of Paul's 2 1/2 year ministry in that city. Ephesus was the "crown jewel" of Asia Minor, and the church that would be planted would become the greatest church of the Apostolic age. 

Near the end of Paul's time in Ephesus a riot had broke out, and the aftermath required the establishment of strong spiritual leadership. In Acts 20 the Apostle Paul established Elders to provide the needed anchoring for the then fledgling congregation. By the time we come to Paul's letter of 1 Timothy, the church at Ephesus would had been a few years old. 

Timothy had been called by God to preach the Word and love the people. Many challenges would lie ahead: Timothy's timidity, increasing pressure from the pagan culture and competing heretical teachers operating within the church itself. 1 Timothy 3:14-4:6 operates as the heart of this first epistle to Timothy, with 1 Timothy 3:16 being the key verse. The theme of this letter is: "The God Centered Church". 

What does it take to be a God-centered Church
The value of the book of 1 Timothy in our New Testaments is that we learn what it takes to be a God-centered church. All ideas about how to do church and what it means to be the church must be measured against 1 Timothy and its two other companions (2 Timothy and Titus). As we briefly fly over the contents of 1 Timothy, I will submit to the reader the following four necessary ingredients for having a God centered church.

1. God-centered Pastors. 1 Timothy 1:1-14
In this opening section of 1 Timothy we find out that one cannot have a God-centered church without a God-centered leader. What does a God-centered Pastor do? According to 1 Timothy 1:1-7 the pastor needs to be a stable leader: doctrinally, morally, personally and spiritually. Then we discover in 1 Timothy 1:8-14 the God-centered Pastor is a man who preaches the Gospel faithfully. So a God-centered church needs a God-centered pastor, but notice secondly...

2. God-centered focus. 1 Timothy 1:15-17
Three times in 1 Timothy we find the Apostle Paul talking about "faithful sayings". In 1 Timothy 1:15 we comes across the first of these: "It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all." What ensures the God-centered focus of a church? The Gospel. The Pastor and the flock of God is charged to preach and live out the Gospel that saves the sheep. Whenever we get our eyes off of the Great Commission and its companion the Great Commandment, we have gotten our eyes focused on the wrong thing. If we ever expect to be a God-centered Christian and church, we must have God-centered pastors and a God-centered focus on the Gospel. Now notice the third necessary ingredient for the God-centered church...

3. God-centered fellowship. 1 Timothy 1:18-3:16
As Paul develops further this major theme of "The God-centered church", he deals with a subject that many Christians think they know about but often don't - fellowship. What is fellowship? Is it just about "dinner-on-the-grounds"? Certainly coming together and enjoying one another with food is Biblical (Israel had feasts and the early church had its love feasts!). 

However fellowship is far more than just about food. 1 Timothy 1:18-3:16 gives us a crystal clear picture about what constitutes God-centered fellowship. With God-centered pastors, focus and fellowship explained in the first three chapters of 1 Timothy, we can now focus on the final necessary ingredient for a God-centered church...

4. God-centered living. 1 Timothy 4:1-6:21
What is the purpose of God's people coming together? Why do we have houses of worship today? We come together in the walls so that we can be equipped to make Christ known outside the walls. As is the pattern of Paul's letters, the first half is devoted to right-doctrine and the second half is devoted to right living. You cannot live right unless you believe right. Likewise, one cannot prove they believe right unless they are living rightly. 

God-centered churches can only demonstrate they are such when they are living out what they believe. A God-centered church or Christian is one that not only has God at the center but also at the circumference of daily life. The subjects we see mentioned in 1 Timothy 4:1-6:21 include wise decision making, morality, health, handling of money, family, widowhood, compensation of the pastor, men's treatment of women, women's conduct before men, avoidance of gossip, one's testimony and other important issues. How many of those subjects do you find being experienced in the average church today? Answer: All of them! When we say we want to be God-centered, that not only includes the songs we sing and the sermons we preach but also the lives we live 24-7. 

Closing Thoughts:
Today was about doing a fly-over of 1 Timothy and understanding the main ingredients of a God-centered church:

1. God-centered pastors. 1 Tim 1:1-15

2. God-centered focus. 1 Tim 1:16-17

3. God-centered fellowship. 1 Tim 1:18-3:16

4. God-centered living.. 1 Tim 4:1-6:21