This website represents an effort to bring together members of the body of Christ in fellowship around His word and seeking the guidance of His Spirit to abide in Jesus. Our discussions will usually center around Scriptures I am preaching from on Sunday mornings at Berean Baptist Church, but will also involve other areas of theology and current events as they relate to God’s Word. My prayer is that it will be a forum for edification and equipping of the saints for ministry. Soli Deo Gloria!
Soteriology is the study of the doctrine of salvation. It comes from the Greek word “soter”, which means savior. This is appropriate, since, as we discussed last week, our salvation is firmly rooted not in a process, but in a person and his work on our behalf. In the 2nd century Christians used the symbol of a fish to symbolize their commitment to their savior, Jesus, and used the Greek word for fish (“Icthus”) as an acronym for their most basic beliefs about him. ”I” = Iesus (Jesus) “C” = Chirstos (Christ/Messiah) “Th” = Theou (of God) “U” = Uios (the Son) “S” = Soter (Savior). This emphasis on Jesus’ role as Savior reflects the Old Testament approach to Yahweh as a redeeming God seen in passages like Isaiah 44:21-45:25. This passage features the recurring use of salvation terminology, especially the title “redeemer”, used repeatedly of God. This redeeming action of Yahweh is tied to his absolute sovereignty over his universe that he created. From large-scale historical movements (the rise of Persia conquering and replacing Babylon as the superpower of the Ancient Near East) to minute and intimate human decisions (the birth and naming of Cyrus), Yahweh perfectly directs events towards his purpose of delivering a people for his glory. This echoes the tone of the book of Ephesians, which we will be looking at this Sunday. Our focus will be on how the accomplishment of Jesus on the cross (which was the foundation of Yahweh’s redemption) can be appropriated to our benefit. As I have said many times, Scripture says that those who have trusted in Christ have been saved, are being saved and will be saved. Salvation is a process which many theologians express in what is called the “Ordo Salutis” (Order of Salvation):
Pre-temporal aspect of salvation
Changes within the person at the moment of salvation
Baptism with the Holy Spirit
Changes in status of the person at the moment of salvation
Union with Christ
Ongoing aspects of salvation until death
Final completion of salvation at resurrection
In our evening service we will discuss the aspect of salvation referred to as election, which has been a contentious one in church history with people either following the Reformed/Calvinist perspective or the Arminian/Wesleyan perspective. Contrary to what many people have suggested, these are not equivalent systems. That is to say, one of them must be right and the other wrong, since they are saying opposite things. At the same time, it is not my view that a difference on this issue should formally separate believers in fellowship and is certainly not a matter of orthodoxy vs. heresy (as say, one’s view of the Trinity is). The differences between the two views is often summarized using the “TULIP” acronym of the Reformed system, although these “5 points” were a response to the 17th century challenge to Reformed theology in Holland brought by Jakob Arminius. Here they are:
Reformed System Arminian System
Total Depravity/Inability to respond to God Prevenient Grace removed every human’s inability
Unconditional Election Election based on God’s foreknowledge of a person’s response of faith
Limited Atonement intended for the elect Unlimited Atonement intended for the whole world
Irresistible Grace Grace can be resisted
Perseverance of the elect Possibility of the loss of salvation
When talking about election, I believe Scripture says 8 things clearly enough that to deny them is not appropriate. These statements can seem contradictory and the two systems above are each trying to explain the relationship between divine sovereignty and human freedom/responsibility.
1. God wills all to be saved (I Tim. 2:1-6; II Pet. 3:9, Ez. 33:11)
2. God extends the gospel command to all men (Acts 17:30, Rev. 22:17)
3. Men are responsible to respond to the command (Matt. 23:37, Jn. 5:40)
4. God does choose some to be saved (Matt. 22:14, John 15:16, 19, Acts 9:15, 13:48, Rom. 8:28-30, 11:7-8, I Cor. 1:26-31, Eph. 1:4-5, 11, Col. 3:12, I Thess. 1:4-5, II Tim. 2:10, Tit. 1:1, I Pet. 1:1, 2:9, 5:13, II Jn. 1, 13, Rev. 13:7-8, 17:8, 14)
5. God does pass over others to be condemned (Matt. 11:25-26, Rom. 9:17-22, I Pet. 2:8, Jude 4)
6. God’s election is linked to His foreknowledge (Jn. 6:64, Rom. 8:29, I Pet. 1:1-2)
7. God’s election is linked to His sovereign grace (Rom. 9:10-16, 11:5-6, Eph. 1:6, II Tim. 1:9)
8. God’s election serves to further His glory (Rom. 9:23, Eph. 1:12, I Thess. 1:2, II Thess. 2:13)
Given those eight statements, the question is not whether God chooses who will be saved or not, but why He chooses whom He does? The question is also not whether or not we make a choice to be saved, but rather why we make the choice we do. The two systems are offering different answers to those questions without denying any of the 8 statements made above. As we turn to Ephesians 2:1-10 this Sunday morning and then discuss the doctrine of election in the evening, it will become clear that however we explain the mysterious interaction of divine sovereignty and human choice, no one can ever claim any credit for their salvation. Indeed, Isaiah, Paul and the early church recognized, our salvation is 100% the work of our redeemer, our “soter”, our savior, Yahweh and his messiah Jesus. All glory be unto the God who saves!
This Sunday we will be considering the central element of Christian doctrine, which is our teaching about the person and work of Jesus. If we get Jesus wrong, we do not have a savior capable of rescuing us from our sin. If we get some element of Jesus wrong, we will wander into error in some other area of doctrine as a result. We cannot pay too close attention then to what we believe about Jesus of Nazareth. The early church understood this and of the 7 ecumenical councils that hammered out fundamental statements of the faith, at least two were focused on this question. Nicea in AD 325 gave us the creed that lays the groundwork for Trinitarian thinking, which we considered 3 weeks ago. Chalcedon in AD 451 gave us what has been called the “box” that defines the necessary elements of the person of Jesus. The creed states the following:
“We then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable soul and body; consubstantial with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of the natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ, as the prophets from the beginning [have declared] concerning him, and the Lord Jesus Christ himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.”
The box then, has four sides: 1) Jesus is God, meaning that everything that is an essential aspect of being God is true of Jesus; 2) Jesus is human, meaning that everything that is an essential aspect of being human is true of Jesus; 3) Jesus has two distinct natures, a divine and a human, such that He is a “God-man” with each nature being unchanged by being united in His person; 4) Jesus is only one person, not two persons each with a separate nature. Take away one of the sides (open the box in other words) and you have an insufficient Jesus. This identity of Jesus is critical to appreciating his qualifications to perform the work of salvation on our behalf. There is too much material here for us to cover in a single message and so on Sunday morning we will be focusing on the work of Christ as explained in Romans 5. As background, below I have gone over some of the biblical teaching on the person of Christ that is summarized in the Chalcedonian Creed.
Scriptures that teach Jesus’ divinity:
1) Direct declarations or clear statements (there are more of these than you might think: Is. 7:14, 9:6, Jn. 1:1, 14, 5:18, 10:30, 20:28, Acts 20:28, Rom. 9:5, Phil. 2:6, Titus 2:13, Heb. 1:8, II Pet. 1:1, I Jn. 5:20).
2) Divine Titles and Names: Yahweh/LORD (Is. 40:3/Matt. 3:3, Ps. 110:1/Matt. 22:44, Ps. 102:25- 27/Heb. 1:10-12), Shepherd (Ps. 23:1, Jn. 10:11), Bridegroom (Is. 62:5, Matt. 25:1-13), Judge (Joel 3:12; 2 Tim. 4:1)
3) Divine Essence, shares the nature of the Father (Phil. 2:6, Col. 1:15, Heb. 1:3)
4) Divine Attributes: Aseity (Jn. 5:26), Eternality (Prov. 8, Is. 9:6, Mic. 5:2, Jn. 1:1-3, 18 8:58, 17:5, 24, I Cor. 8:6, Col. 1:16-17, Heb. 1:1), Immortality (Jn. 2:19-22, 10:17-18, Heb. 7:16, I Tim. 6:16), Immutability (Heb. 13:8), Omnipotence (Is. 9:6, Matt. 28:18, Rev. 1:8, also his nature miracles), Omnipresence (Matt. 18:20, 28:20, Eph. 1:23, Col. 3:11), Omniscience (Jn. 16:30, 21:17)
5) Divine Works: Creation (Jn. 1:3, Col. 1:16, Heb. 1:2), Providence (Col. 1:17, Heb. 1:3), Forgives sins (Mk. 2:5-10)
6) Receives Worship (Mt. 2:11, 14:33, 21:15-16, 28:9, 17, Jn. 9:38, Heb. 1:6, Rev. 5:4-14, cf. Acts 10:25, 14:14-15, Rev. 19:10, 22:8-9)
With all of that being said, it must now be born in mind that Jesus is also fully human, and that being human brings with it limitations that do not seem consistent with being divine. This is what is meant when we say that Jesus cloaked His divinity and did not avail Himself of all of those benefits during His ministry on earth. In this way He experienced the following things in the same way that we do:
Being born (Gal. 4:4), He grew (Lk. 2:40, 52), He hungered (Matt. 4:2), He thirsted (Jn. 19:28), He tired (Jn. 4:6), He died (Jn. 19:32-35), He resurrected (Lk. 24:39) He possessed limited knowledge (Matt. 24:36), He was astonished (Mk. 6:6, Lk. 7:9), troubled (Jn. 12:27, 13:21), sorrowed (Jn. 11:35), expressed great emotion (Matt. 23, Heb. 5:7), and grew in wisdom and maturity (Lk. 2:40, Heb. 5:8-9).
According to the creed, in one very important respect, He was not like us, however, and that is with regard to sin. Jesus was morally perfect (Heb. 9:14). This means that there was never a temptation that even for a millisecond seemed attractive to Him. And yet He was genuinely tempted (Matt. 4, Heb. 2:10, 17-18; 4:15; 1 Jn. 2:15). Yet because the root of His personality is the divine nature and because whatever one of Jesus’ natures does, the whole person does, He could never have sinned because God cannot sin, and yet the temptations were real. The reality of an attack does not depend on its chances of success. A mosquito cannot succeed in penetrating a tank’s armor, but that does not mean it cannot try. This explains the relative ease with which Jesus dismissively deals with Satan’s temptations in the wilderness.
So since Jesus is the perfect God-man, He can pay the price for our sins. Because He is God, He can offer an infinite sacrifice. As a sinless man, His sacrifice can be accepted in exchange for other humans. He must have both natures, but it must be one person on that cross such that we can say that God experienced death on the cross in order to effect our salvation. It is this work of Christ that we will be considering in our message on Sunday and indeed there is nothing more significant we could choose to talk about.
On my shelf I have a book written in the 17th century by a Puritan author named Ralph Venning entitled “The Sinfulness of Sin”. In one of the opening sections, as part of a catalogue of the ways in which sin is sinful, brother Venning describes it under the heading of “Contrariety to God” in the following way:
“…sinners are called by the name of enemies to God (Romans 5:8 with 10; Colossians 1:21); but the carnal mind or sin is called enmity itself (Romans 8:7). Accordingly, it and its acts are expressed by names of enmity and acts of hostility, such as, walking contrary to God (Leviticus 26:21), rebelling against God (Isaiah 1:2), rising up against him as an enemy (Micah 2:8), striving and contending with God (Isaiah 45:9), and despising God (Numbers 11:20). It makes men haters of God (Romans 1:30), resisters of God (Acts 7:51), fighters against God (Acts 5:39 and 23:9), even blasphemers of God, and in short very atheists, who say there is no God (Psalm 14:1). It goes about to ungod God, and is by some of the ancients called Deicidium, God-murder or God-killing.“
In reading the above selection, one is instantly made aware of the fact that, for better or worse, the modern church does not regard sin as seriously as it once did. It is rare to hear a prolonged discussion of what makes sin bad and of how bad it is. We are more often assured that our sin is much more like a sickness we have succumbed to than a fault for which we can be blamed. Scripture makes no such allowance though. We are, as the bible-thumping revivalist preachers used to say “guilty as sin”, quite literally.
On Sunday we will be looking at our doctrine of humans and sin, which will take us to the very heights of God’s original intention in creation, to the depths of depravity into which we have now plunged it as we examine Genesis 2-3. While brother Venning’s volume and its perspective from 400 or os years ago strikes us as both severe and quaint, it is sobering to realize that it is very much in line with Scripture. We tend to categorize Scripture primarily in terms of bad deeds, words, attitudes and thoughts that disrupt our neighbor’s well-being. Venning makes it clear that even the most civil and well-mannered person is in the grips of debilitating sin, since at root he or she hates God and all that he stands for and longs to be independent of him. Everything our culture tells us speaks that submission is to be equated with weakness and subservience and produces misery and evil. Scripture paints a very different picture, however. It insists that it is precisely in submitting ourselves to our creator that we find the significance and joy and life that we long for.
This weekend we celebrate the 4th of July, our Independence Day. Now, I, as much as the next red-blooded American am grateful for the socio-political system created by our Revolution and the rights that it has secured and that are given by God. In the subsequent 238 years, however, it has spawned a culture that is increasingly autonomous and fragmented. I think this weekend it might be worth composing a Declaration of Dependence, acknowledging our need for our Sovereign to rule over us, repenting of our treason and rebellion, and accepting his offer of amnesty to once again become citizens of his kingdom.
In the film “Rudy”, a priest who is counseling the title character tells him that in all his years of study and ministry he has become certain of only two things “There is a God, and I am not him.” As we continue our study of foundational Christian teachings this week, we will turn our attention to the very nature of God. At root in the Christian tradition is a unique conception of God as one in being and yet a plurality of persons. This way of existing is utterly foreign to our experience. It defies analogy and every attempt to illustrate it not only falls short of accurately explaining it, but actually communicates heresy. This Trinitarian formula, itself a mystery, touches on the mysterious tension in Christian doctrine that exists between what theologians call God’s transcendence and his immanence. By transcendence we mean that he is above and beyond and outside of any sort of created reality or categories. He is not bound by time or space. He is wholly “other” to us. This is of course reflected in the very nature of his existence in a tri-unity which has no parallel in the created order. By immanence we mean that he is intimately near to, and involved in, the created order. He cares deeply and implicates himself personally into the lives of his creatures at the most detailed level. This is necessitated by the fact that God is a community within his Trintarian existence. All other religious systems tilt decidedly towards one or the other of those poles. In radical monotheism (such as in Islam), God’s otherness is emphasized and he is someone to dread more than to love. Most other false religions tend towards pantheistic polytheism (Hinduism and New Age spirituality) and emphasize God’s nearness such that any sense of holiness or sovereignty are eroded. Christianity, as in so many other categories of theology, insists on maintaining a delicate and mysterious balance between these two extremes. While utter transcendence might cause us to think of God as distant and irrelevant and utter immanence might tempt us to think of him as ordinary and tame, the Christian vision compels us with a God who is larger than we can conceive and who cares deeply how we respond to him.
Our text on Sunday will be John 1:1-18 and I would encourage you to read it several times before then, even though it is probably a familiar passage to you. The text is a cornerstone of trinitarian belief, but it is so much more than that. It is a beautiful revelation of the very intimate interactions of the persons of the Godhead and how they spill over into our lives through the person of Jesus. This is why I think the priest’s statement, while not the only thing we can be certain of, should certainly be the foundational thing we should be certain of. This is what Scripture calls “the fear of YAHWEH”. We must, at gut-level, be living moment by moment in the awesome reality of God’s existence, convinced that no effort to contain or domesticate him will succeed, and responding not by running from him, but running to him in the amazement that he desires us to be his children. To God alone be the glory!
This Sunday we will begin a summer-long sermon series around the topic of Christian Doctrine entitled “We Believe…”. We will be using the new Statement of Faith that Berean Baptist Church adopted in April as our outline. As we begin, I think it will be helpful to lay out four of my central values in approaching the topic of doctrine generally as a foundation for the conversation.
1) Biblically-based: It is my contention that the study of theology is just like any other discipline of academic study in one very important respect: there is a field from which to collect data upon which conclusions can be based. In science, for instance, it is the natural world. In history, it is primary source documents from the past. In Christian theology, it is the Bible. Thus, this should not be seen as doing something different than studying the Bible. It is rather an attempt to synthesize all of what Scripture says on any given topic into a coherent system. Our most basic doctrine, the Trinity, is a prime example of this. You only come to an understanding that God exists in a Triune form from reading many Scriptures together. There is no one verse that explicitly articulates the doctrine. Thus, in order to have sound theology one must have solid bible knowledge. Furthermore, sound theology will also prevent one from twisting a single passage’s meaning by removing it from the unified context of the rest of Scripture. This is why we are beginning our series by examining the second article of our statement of faith since it deals with Scripture. It is in Scripture that we find God’s perfect revelation of Himself. The only source more perfect is Christ Himself, which brings me to my second value.
2) Christ-centered: It is my contention that every doctrine of Christianity is rooted in an understanding of who Christ is. If we get Christ right, than all other doctrines fall into place. If we get Christ wrong, than our doctrine, like a rifle tilted even half a degree, will end up wide of the mark. It is for this reason that historically the church has most vigorously defended its statements about Christ and why those are the doctrines most aggressively attacked by heretics and liberal theologies. It is interesting to note that the attacks did not start with a defective view of Scripture (bibliology). Rather they devalued Scripture because of it’s portrayal of a Christ that they felt was alien to the “Jesus of History”. Harnack, a noted liberal theologian, referred to Christianity as a “kernel” bound up in a “husk”, much of which was derived from the New Testament (and especially the Epistles). This makes sense, because Jesus claimed that the Old Testament spoke about Him and we would not have a New Testament without Him. Our whole approach to and confidence in the Scriptures rests on our faith in Christ. In the same way, our view of Christ affects our doctrine of God (theology proper), necessitating a Trinitarian doctrine and implicating Christ in the eternal decree encompassing creation, the fall, redemption and the coming consummation. The doctrine of Christ’s incarnation radically affects our doctrine of man (anthropology) as we see both the value God gives human beings as well as a perfect man “in the flesh” as an example and challenge to us. In the same way, His atonement informs our view of sin (hamartiology) and salvation (soteriology), and with a defective Christ we have a defective atonement such that our sin is not so bad and His death is not really that important and His resurrection might not have happened at all, or needed to for that matter. The Spirit (pneumatology) which indwells us, and empowers us to overcome our “flesh” is understood to have been sent by Him and to mediate His presence with us while He is seated at the right hand of the majesty in heaven interceding for us with the Father. Our understanding of the church (ecclesiology) is undergirded with the idea that it is, in a very real way, His body, His flock, His family, His building of which He is the chief cornerstone and not merely a positive human social institution. Finally, our view of the future and the end (eschatology, a much maligned and overlooked doctrine these days, I’m afraid) is understood solely in terms of the hope we have in Christ’s real and personal return to consummate all things. If at any point we have a deficient view of Christ and His work, every other area of doctrine suffers. This brings me to my third value:
3) Maturing: It is my contention that while it does not take a great deal of theological content to be saved by Christ (although the thief on the cross, for all his simplicity of faith, was a better theologian than many evangelicals), remaining a simpleton theologically will not produce a growing faith but a stagnant, atrophied faith. Conversely, if we apply ourselves to the doctrines of the faith we will find ourselves more robustly confident of the God we serve and bolder in our service to Him. Peter tells us therefore to “add” to our faith, knowledge and a host of other virtues so that we will not be useless as believers (2 Peter 1:1-11). The author of Hebrews admonished his immature audience who should have been teachers to leave the elementary things of the faith and press on to maturity (Heb. 5:11-6:4). Finally, Paul in the Pastoral Epistles (1, 2 Timothy, Titus), writing as he anticipates finishing his race, seemed to place a primary emphasis on doctrine being taught and passed on if the church were to not only survive but thrive. The 3 short letters use the family of Greek words related to teaching of doctrine (“didasko”) 27 times in 242 verses, a frequency far greater than any other NT books and accounting for 10% of the overall use of the words in the NT. We would do well to heed this example and admonition to apply ourselves to this study as Paul encouraged Timothy that “If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed.” (1 Timothy 4:6). We cannot be committed to what we do not know. This brings me to my final value for doctrine.
4) Unifying: I find the most common objection to the detailed, in-depth study of doctrine to be a fear that it will divide rather than unify the body. That can hardly be the case though, because if doctrine matures us (and we’ve seen that it does) than it must produce unity, because a believer that is mature will also love well. It is also true though that as we study theology in detail we come to opinions that differ from those of other believers. So how to resolve the apparent contradiction? The secret lies in not only developing views on doctrines such that our own faith is strengthened and more well-defined so we can serve God as He has called us to in increasing confidence, but also to identify which doctrines are ones we need to encourage others to hold and to what degree. Someone once gave me a three-fold classification for doctrines to help with this. 1) An essential doctrine is one that is necessary in order to be considered a professing Christian as opposed to a heretic. Here would belong such things as the deity of Christ, the Trinity, and salvation by grace through faith. These are what unite us. 2) A sustaining doctrine is one that while not necessary in order to be saved, is necessary in order to grow and mature in your faith. Here I would put such things as the sovereignty of God, the inerrancy of Scripture and the physical resurrection of the just and the unjust. These things are core to Christianity and yet one can doubt their truthfulness without immediate eternal peril. 3) Tertiary or Non-essential doctrines are those things that differentiate one believer or denomination from another but should not be causes for utterly breaking fellowship or co-laboring in ministry. Here are things such as one’s understanding of creation as six days or six “ages”, the use of tongues and other sign gifts, how one reconciles God’s sovereignty and human free will (Calvinism/Arminianism), forms of church government and all of the myriad options when it comes to end-times beliefs. If we learn to practice “Unity in essential things, diversity in other things, and charity in all things” we will find that doctrine really will unify us for the cause of Christ’s kingdom.
John Piper, in his book “Let The Nations Be Glad!” describes two varying approaches to how Christians use prayer. One is as an intercom in a mansion used to summon creature comforts from the butler. The other is as a radio on the field of battle used to call in air support. His contention is that the latter is reflective of the biblical view and this Sunday in both our AM and PM services we will look to Scripture to see what the early church’s view and practice of prayer was. In the AM service we will examine one of the few quoted prayers (and certainly the longest) in the book. In the evening service, we will be looking at Paul’s two prayers in Ephesians 1 and 3 and his instructions on prayer in chapter 6. As we do that, it occurs to me that the same disciples who pray in Acts 4:23-31 (our text for the morning) once asked Jesus to teach them to pray. One approach to examining their prayer in Acts then, might be to see if it lines up with the instructions Jesus gave them when he responded to their request for instruction in this area. The incident comes from Luke 11:2-4 and is commonly referred to as the Lord’s Prayer but should more appropriately be called the Disciples’ Prayer. It consists of 5 separate petitions of God. They are essentially the same requests as are found in Matthew’s version of the prayer, given on a different occasion in Jesus’ ministry (the Sermon on the Mount) in Matthew 6:9-13, although a couple of phrases are added in Matthew’s version.
The first request is “Father, hallowed be your name”. This request seeks that God’s name, by which we mean His identity, character, attributes, work and authority would be revered and thought of as sacred. The best description I have heard of this request (and I forget now to whom I owe this phrase) is that God’s name would be made much of in the world. In other words, we are asking God to glorify Himself. It is instructive that this is how we are to begin our prayers. It prevents us from making prayer about us, but rather subordinating our needs and desires to the larger purposes of God.
The second request flows quite naturally from the first then. It reads “Your kingdom come” and Matthew follows it with the parallel line of “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” which is just another way of saying the same thing. We are asking that God’s rule, reign and authority would be established effectively in such a way that everyone would submit to HIs will. Of course this includes us, so we are really asking that God would bring about our own gospel obedience with a view to others being brought along as well. This is of course the way that God is glorified (request #1) so we see that the requests are building on each other.
Request #3 (“Give us each day our daily bread) is now put in proper perspective as our dependence on God for our daily bread affirms our status as finite creatures who owe their very existence to God. In this way it is demonstrated why God’s name should be glorified and His will obeyed absolutely by humans. It further becomes clear that asking God to supply our physical needs is not an end in itself but rather a means to sustain our lives such that we might live out the desires expressed in the first two requests. It also indicates that prayer is to be at least a daily occurrence for us. An Israelite audience would have hearkened back to their ancestors’ wilderness wanderings and the daily manna that Yahweh provided them as a demonstration of their need for His own presence more than any physical thing. This is why the request for physical nourishment precedes those for spiritual needs as the one reminds us of the other.
The last two requests are mirror images of each other, one seeking forgiveness of sins and the other asking for assistance in avoiding sins in the first place. The request for forgiveness is unique in that it is the only one which is conditioned. We are told to pray this provided we have forgiven others. The reason for this is simple. If we are ambassadors of Christ’s kingdom, our role is to extend an offer of amnesty (forgiveness) to rebels and traitors to the king. If we fail to extend this sort of forgiveness, we deny that we need the same ourselves and have therefore not received it. Understanding that until Jesus comes back, this window is open for rebellious humanity, if we fail to forgive, we elevate ourselves into Christ’s place and take his role of judge upon ourselves before the time has come. It is this act of making ourselves out to be God that makes us unable to receive forgiveness since it reflects a heart attitude of trusting oneself and not God. The final request is a plea to our shepherd to keep us away from temptation. Since he certainly does not lead us there Himself, this is a plea for His discipline when we wander away from the fold, asking Him to pursue us.
This is how the disciples were taught to pray. Look at our passage in Acts and see if they learned their lesson well. As a final note, the significance of the conditional statement in request #4 is that the other requests are guaranteed to be answered. An important principle of prayer in Scripture is to pray for things God has promised and purposed to do. That is the surest way for our prayers to be answered. I look forward to continuing the conversation on Sunday!
We are nearing the end of our series in Acts, asking the question “What If…” regarding the church’s character, mission and make-up as exemplified by the first believers in Acts. We have seen that the basis of the church is rooted in the successful Messianic ministry of Jesus Christ, whose resurrection vindicated His death, inaugurating the New Covenant and whose ascension made possible the pouring out of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, who empowers the church to accomplish its mission. We have seen that the church is built by its members living radically others-focused lives towards those who are members within it, but also to those outside it regardless of their background, creating a new transcendent identity as a family of those who have surrendered to Jesus as Lord. In the next two weeks, we will turn our attention to the two things that batter and buttress the church: persecution and prayer.
Persecution in Scripture is seen as the inevitable outcome of being a member of God’s people living in a world that is in outright rebellion against Him. At no time have God’s people been immune to hostility as they live out their covenant identity faithfully. This is a hard truth to swallow, but one that we find dominating the pages of the book of Acts. In the book there are no fewer than 20 discrete instances of persecution* which Luke narrates. This does not include the 1/4 of the book (Chapters 21-28) that details Paul’s arrest, two-year imprisonment in Caesarea, numerous legal trials during that time and his shipwrecked voyage to Rome where the book ends abruptly with him under house arrest awaiting a trial before Caesar. Clearly, we must wrestle with this theme and what it means for us in a 21st century American context.
So this week we will look at Acts 5:17-42 as but one example of faithful followers of Jesus being persecuted for His sake. As we do, I would encourage you to read the passage in advance (and maybe the others listed below). Try to identify what prompts the persecution, what the motives of the persecutors are, what the persecution consists of and how the believers respond. Beyond all of that, however, as we should do whenever we look at Scripture, try to determine what God is doing in these events. Share any thoughts or insights you glean from this in the comments section here. I was surprised by some of the things I discovered and look forward to what you will see that I may have missed. I look forward to learning from God’s word with you this week!
*4:1-22; 5:17-42; 6:9-8:1a; 8:1b; 8:3; 9:1-2; 9:23-25; 12:1-2; 12:3-19; 13:45, 50; 14:5-6; 14:19-22; 16:19-40; 17:5-9; 17:13; 18:6; 18:12-17; 19:9; 19:23-41; 20:3
We are in the midst of a two-week discussion about the nature of the church’s fellowship as we continue our “What If?” series. Last Sunday we discussed the radical way the early church loved and cared for its own members. This led to a powerful witness to those outside of the church, with the result that they were in awe of the church and the church enjoyed their favor. This sort of tangible benefit to church membership is only possible when membership carries a high level of commitment with it. We saw in the story of Ananias and Sapphira an example of what happened when that level of commitment was not present. The church is nothing less than the dwelling place of God in the person of His Spirit. To compromise the integrity of the fellowship’s love for its members is to treat God’s Spirit with contempt and jeopardize the mission of Jesus’ church. I introduced us to the complementary concepts of relational solidarity and robust moral boundaries as being foundational to the early church’s life and practice. I indicated that I borrowed these from an author who was a professor of mine at Talbot named Joseph Hellerman. His book is entitled “When the Church Was a Family: Recapturing Jesus’ Vision for Authentic Christian Community”. He is not an ivory-tower academic, but serves part-time as a pastor in his church in the L.A. area and has implemented the principles outlined in his book in a thriving local church setting. His book takes a hard look at how the modern American concept of the church falls short of the sort of community Jesus intended us to be. Much of our difficulty is in the set of values that American culture celebrates which differ from those of the ancient cultures (Jewish and Greco-Roman) that the church was birthed among. He does an excellent job of unveiling that world for us and then helping us understand the language and teaching of the New Testament in light of their culture’s norms. As I mentioned on Sunday, the Deacons and Staff will be reading and discussing this book together at our monthly meetings beginning a few weeks. I will begin hosting discussion groups in July once a month for anyone who would like to read along with us and be a part of the discussion. I will also be posting reviews of each chapter so that as many as possible can participate in the discussion.
This Sunday, we will be continuing to discuss the nature of the community that the early church created by examining the conversion of Cornelius from Acts 10:1-11:18. Whereas last week we considered the definition of who was “in” the church and the need to guard against spurious members who were not “all in”; this week we will be exploring how the Holy Spirit broke down barriers in order to welcome people from all nations into the church. This has profound implications for how we view our role in the body and the role it should play in our lives. As we come together this Sunday, I would ask us to consider the question of how important the church is as a group or community in our lives. I’m not asking how diligent we are in attending or how faithful we are in giving or how enthusiastic we are in serving. Those are signs of how important the church as an institution is in our lives, but they are not necessarily signs of the priority that the church as a group of people is for us. Where do the folks of Berean rate among your human relationships? Does the fact that God calls people from an unlimited variety of backgrounds to be a part of His church suggest something of what that priority should be? Feel free to start the discussion with a question or comment here. I look forward to continuing it together on Sunday, and beyond!
This past Sunday we went over the content of the early church’s gospel message. We saw that the good news is a lot like other news items in that it is a story. It is more than just a story, however, it is the sweeping, epic saga of how God has initiated, executed and will bring to fulfillment a plan of redemption in the person of Jesus Christ through His death and resurrection. Its scope is all of human history, with every event moving that plan forward under the sovereign direction of the great I AM whose covenant name is YAHWEH. It can be briefly summed up in four words: relationship, rebellion, redemption, and restoration. Frequently, however, we reduce the gospel to the middle two words: rebellion and redemption (“You are a sinner, but Jesus offers forgiveness”). This reduces the gospel to a story about us as individuals, rather than locating us within God’s own story, the center of which is Jesus. Below is a synopsis of that story as I described it in the message Sunday, since many people wanted it in written form to go over on their own. My prayer is that we all become familiar enough with the details of this story to be able to relate it to others in a way that meets them where they are.
- ADAM&EVE: YAHWEH God created humanity for His glory through representation (the role of prophet), relationship (the role of priest), and reign (the role of king). This would allow for the blessing of life: “Be fruitful and multiply.” – Gen. 1:28
- FALL: The adversary (“Satan”) prompted rebellion against this arrangement (a covenant), which converted humanity to pursuing their own glory and a loss of our roles.
- PROTOEVANGELION (FIRST GOOD NEWS): God initiated a plan to restore His creation and mankind to its intended purpose which would involve the death of a man in our place (Gen. 3:15)
- NOAH: Satan now targeted humanity for death, seeking to finish what he started, inspiring unspeakable violence on earth, so YAHWEH God intervened, judging sin and offering salvation through faith. The covenant with Adam was renewed with Noah.
- ABRAM: 400 years later, God initiated a covenant with Abraham, which included a promise of many descendants (life) who would be prophets (all nations blessed through them), priests (relationship, my people) and kings (land promised as a possession).
- EGYPT: Abraham’s descendants were targeted by Satan in Egypt, marked for destruction through slavery and infanticide.
- MOSES: 400 years later, God delivered them from Egypt by the hand of Moses who led them through the wilderness for 40 years due to their continued rebellion but gave them His law, His festivals, His tabernacle and priests and promised them a land. This was the Mosaic covenant, which spelled out the terms by which Yahweh would be able to dwell with His people. He also spoke of one who would come and be a leader-prophet like Moses (Deut. 18:15-19).
- JOSHUA: God brought them into the land under Joshua but they persistently rebelled and suffered at the hands of foreigners.
- JUDGES: After 400 years of being delivered by judges that God raised up for them, they asked Samuel, the last judge and first prophet since Moses, for a king and God appointed Saul for them. Saul also rebelled against Him and so God rejected him as king.
- DAVID: YAHWEH God sent Samuel to anoint David to replace Saul as king and made a covenant with him that one of his descendants would always sit on the throne of Israel. Through David, God established Israel as a secure kingdom, defeating their enemies on every side and prepared for building a temple.
- SOLOMON: David’s son Solomon built the temple and God’s presence filled it and promised to remain as long as His people sought Him faithfully. However, Solomon and his sons turned away from God, and as a result, the kingdom was divided.
- EXILE: Over the next 400 years a downward spiral of increasing idolatry and rebellion eventually resulted in God’s presence being withdrawn and the temple being destroyed and God’s people being removed from the land He had promised them and the kings descended from David were dethroned.
- PROPHETS: God’s prophets gave messages before and during the exile that a day was coming when God would send His messiah to be a prophet, priest and king who would restore His people and establish a New Covenant based not on the law and conformity to the badges of identity associated with Israel but on the inward change produced by the Holy Spirit taking up residence in the hearts of His servants. God kept His promise and brought His people back to their land where they rebuilt the temple but still did not have a king.
- JESUS: After 400 years, God sent His messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, who lived a perfect life, had a ministry of teaching and healing and miracle-working in which he announced that the Kingdom of God had arrived in His own person and commanding everyone to repent and become part of it. The leaders and people did not recognize him as the fulfillment of God’s covenant and had him killed on a cross, though he was innocent of any wrongdoing. This was in keeping with God’s eternal purpose and plan. On the third day He rose from the dead, demonstrating that He was God’s messiah and His death had been sufficient to appease God’s wrath and to secure the inauguration of the New Covenant. He appeared to hundreds of people over the course of the next 40 days, proving He had risen and then ascended to heaven where He is enthroned as King over God’s people.
- CHURCH: Having received His reward, He poured out His Holy Spirit on all of His followers so that they might continue the work of bringing about the obedience of repentance and trusting in Him among all the nations.
- RETURN: He will return to bring all things to fulfillment on a day of God’s own choosing in which His kingdom will be fully established.
This is the story that we all as followers of Jesus have been caught up into. This means we have a part to play in His sovereign plan. We cannot afford to live our lives as though they were our own, but must seek to surrender our lives’ purposes to His glory and the advancement of His kingdom in our midst. To YAHWEH God be the Glory!
We are continuing this week our series from the book of Acts in which we are asking the question “What If?” As I indicated last week, this is a question of optimism, which assumes that the church can be and do exactly what Jesus desires and calls it to. We are examining the key characteristics (not so much the specific practices) of the church in the early chapters of Acts to cast a vision of what the church can and should be like. I mentioned that while each week we will focus on one of these characteristics, they are really parts of a whole that cannot be separated. So it is actually one question we are asking: “What If the church were full of the Holy Spirit, who gave power to proclaim Jesus, living as salt and light, producing a genuine fellowship not bound by culture, that was worth persecuting, driving it to be devoted to prayer?”
Last Sunday we saw from Acts 2 and Ephesians 4 that Jesus’ ministry did not conclude at His ascension, but continues now through the ministry of His body, the church. The means of bringing this about was the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost onto every single believer. This implies that every believer has a “ministry” (which is another word for “service”) to perform in their life. As we saw last week, all 120 followers of Jesus on Pentecost were declaring the mighty works of the Lord to the crowds before Peter stood up to explain what was happening. This was in fulfillment of the prophecy in Joel 2 that all of God’s people would prophesy. Also, in Ephesians 4, Paul instructs all of the believers to “speak the truth in love”. This means that every believer is expected to be able to proclaim the core message of Christianity to those they come into relationship with in the world. That message is referred to most frequently as “the Gospel” so it behooves us to ask what it refers to exactly.
The word has been so frequently used, in so many different contexts that I wonder if sometimes we haven’t lost a sense of what it originally meant. The word in english combines two Old Saxon words: “god” which became “good” in later English, and “spell” which stood for “history, relation, narration, word, speech, that which is uttered, announced, sent or communicated”. This old English word is the usual translation for the Greek word euangelion which is likewise formed of two words: eu, meaning “good” and angelion meaning “message”. From this we get our word family of “evangelism”, “evangelical”, “evangelist”, etc. The question for us then becomes, what exactly is this good word? This will be our topic this Sunday in our morning service and I would invite you to give it some thought before then. As you do, use the comment section here to post your version of the gospel as we will consider what the early church considered essential to their proclamation. Our text will be Acts 3:12-26 but I would suggest that you survey the passage from last week which included Peter’s message in Acts 2:14-40. Also, the other sermons in Acts are worth looking at for common content and themes. You’ll find them in 4:8-12; 5:29-32; 7:2-53; 10:34-43; 13:13-43. I pray that you are blessed and challenged as you consider how you define the gospel and as you read these early proclamations of it in the book of Acts. See you Sunday!