Ministerial Meanderings

God centered theology in a man centered world.

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Location: Springfield, Missouri, United States

I was born in Washington D.C. and raised in Laurel, Maryland. I served in the United States Air Force for 20 years then retired. Then God led me to become a pastor. I was converted to Christ in the summer of 1966. I enjoy the company of my wife, children and grandchildren. I live with my three cats Taz.

Friday, February 29, 2008

What is Pelagianism?

Pelagianism is a system of theology named after it's chief proponent, Pelagius. Pelagius was a British monk who opposed Augustine's doctrines of God sovereignty over men. In Augustine's Confessions he wrote a prayer that said essentially "God, command what thou will; and will what thou commandest." Put into modern language Augustine says "God command what you want and give us the power to obey your commands." Augustine knew that depraved sinners were totally reliant on God to enable them to do anything spiritual. We cannot do a godly thing unless God empowers us to do it.

Pelagius saw this prayer and rebelled at the theology it was based on. Pelagius believed that men have the natural capacity to do what God commands. He believed God would not command men to do anything they were not capable of doing. Pelagius built a system of theology around this idea of man's natural ability to obey.

So what does Pelagianism teach? Pelagius denied that the sin of Adam is passed onto men and that men are born with a sin nature. Instead, he believed humans were born morally neutral. They were neither saint nor sinner. He taught they were tabula rasa, a blank slate. Men (and I use this term generically in this article), learned to be sinners by copying the examples of the people around them. If we are raised by sinners then we will be nurtured to be sinners. But our wills are free and can choose to follow better people. Pelagius taught that Jesus came to the earth to give men a better example to follow. By rejecting the sinfulness we had been taught and choosing to obey the example set by Jesus, men could learn to become holy and thereby, save themselves. Pelagius taught that Jesus' death on the cross was an example of a person's supreme sacrifice in service to humanity. He taught that Christians were people who followed Jesus' way of life and his teachings. He believed that following Jesus would lead to a life of service to humankind and ultimately to a righteousness that was worthy of salvation. The bottom line in all this was that it was by men's free choices to be obedient to the commands of God as given through the life of Jesus that brought men to salvation. In short, it was a salvation earned completely by men. Man saved himself.

The universal Church at the time gathered together at the Council of Orange and considered the controversy between Pelagius and Augustine. In the end, they declared Augustine to be the defender of the biblical viewpoint and they called Pelagianism a heresy.

You may be asking what difference all this makes. I will answer with this ... every ancient heresy of the Church is being taught somewhere today. You may say to yourself that "No one believes they save themselves." But I will tell you honestly that Pelagianism is being taught today in many places. Not just in cults and off the wall churches, but you can find Pelagius' teachings in some pretty well known and even well respected ministries.

The heart of Pelagianism is man contributing to his own salvation. That is an idea that sets well with a lot of people today. It is popular for men to want to be the captains of their own souls. The idea that God rules over men's souls is not well received in many places today. Biblically, God always brings men to the point of helplessness before he steps in. In Exodus, we see God leading the Hebrews to the shores of the Red Sea, giving them nowhere to run when Pharaoh's chariots came to attack them. The Hebrews were defenseless, helpless, and out of options. One could say that there was no way they could have saved themselves. But Moses commands them to "Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord." At that time, God saved the Hebrews. God opened the sea. God blocked the Egyptians with fire. God lead the people through the waters. God closed the sea on the Egyptian army. Salvation was all of the Lord.

Friend, God is the same, yesterday, today and forever. Salvation is still all of God. Beware Pelagius' heresy. Reject every teaching that says that you help God with your salvation. Any concept that God does his part and you do yours ought to be shunned like the plague. We are not co redeemers with God. We are slaves of sin and helpless beggars, pleading with God for mercy. We offer him nothing and He owes us nothing. But we have his promise that everyone who comes to Christ for salvation will find it and be saved. Beloved, plead with God for that salvation that He purchased with the blood of the God-man Jesus Christ. Plead until God assures you that the promise is yours and that you are Christ's. And when that day comes and you know that you know that Christ died for YOUR sins personally then, praise God that even though you were a sinner ... that He SAVED YOU anyway.

As the Reformers taught ... Soli Deo Gloria .. to God alone be the glory! That is the way it always should be. Amen.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

That Your Joy May Be Full

"That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship [is] with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full." (1 John 1:3, 4).

One mistake that is common among Christians, especially the younger ones, is to mistake happiness with joy. I wanted to talk a little bit about our joy as Christians. I want to specifically answer three main questions. What is a Christians joy? What is the warrant for it? How does it affect my Christian life? Using the passage above, I think I can give a good answer to these questions.

It is common today to have people focus on worldly happiness and to call that joy. This can be seen clearly among the "Word-Faith" movement (although it appears elsewhere too). The focus there is on the gathering of material blessings as signs of God's spiritual blessings. Health, wealth, happiness, expensive cars, large houses, big bank accounts ... these are considered to be signs that God is blessing you. It is easy to feel "joy" when you think you are being blessed by God. Conversely, if you don't have good health, or lots of money, or a big house, or expensive cars, it is a sign of God's curse, or at least the withholding of His blessing from your life. In this situation, it is hard to feel "joy." But you see that, good or bad, joy is tied to physical happiness. But this is not what biblical joy, Christian joy, is about.

Paul said, "Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, [therewith] to be content." (Phil. 4:11). Paul learned to be content no matter what state (condition) he found himself in. There is a joy that can be ours whether we have plenty or whether we have very little. We can have joy in every circumstance.

So what do we mean when we use the word "joy"? One dictionary calls it "exuberant rejoicing." One person who has written a great deal on this is Dr. John Piper. His book "Desiring God" was a groundbreaking book dealing with how we think about our relationship with God. The Apostle John, in the passage mentioned above talks about our joy being full. Whatever this joy is, it is not meant to be ours in a small measure. It is supposed to be "exuberant," bubbling up, overflowing. And since this exuberant rejoicing is supposed to be ours in "every circumstance" it is not tied to our physical happiness. It is ours when we are happy. It is ours when we are sad. It is ours when we are healthy. It is ours when we are hurting.

Most importantly, what is our warrant for having this joy? What is it based on or grounded in? Again, John answers for us. He says that he is proclaiming to us what he has seen and heard. He is referring to the Lord Jesus Christ. Follow his argument from verse 1 and you can see he is proclaiming Jesus. Through this proclamation of Jesus we come to have fellowship with John and the Apostles, and by extension, the Church Universal. But then, look what follows. "And truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ." The proclamation of the gospel, when brought to life by the work of the Holy Spirit in the sinner's heart, brings us, not only into fellowship with the Church, but with the Father and the Son. But now comes verse 4 ... "These things write we unto you, that your joy may be full." Understanding that we are in fellowship with the Father and the Son is the source of a Christian's joy. We belong to Christ! We are adopted children of God! We are kings and priests! We are the inheritors of every spiritual blessing! We will one day judge angels. We were chosen by God, by name, to belong to Him and to be the special recipients of His love. We are His and He will never leave us or forsake us. He is working in us to conform us to the image of Jesus Christ, our Brother, the God-man. We are always moving from glory TO glory. God is working ALL THINGS together for good ... everything that happens to us is being used by God for good. In good times and bad, God is still on the throne and He loves us with an everlasting love.

In all this, we find the ground, the reason, for a Christian's joy. It is ours no matter what. I recall a magazine article by one of the groups that watches and reports on Christian persecution around the world. They told the story of an African man whose village was raided by Muslim soldiers. They tied this man to a cross bar and took a long knife. They used it to cut the words "There is no God but Allah" into the man's chest. Not with surface cuts, but as deep as they could go and get the knife to move. After a few letters, the man's tormentors asked him "Where is your Christian God now?" The dying man smiled (it was reported) and said "He is here." And looking right into the face of his attacker he said "I love you. I forgive you." And he died.

Now, that man was not happy. No one would be under such circumstances. But he had the joy of being a Christian. He knew that, even as he was being tortured, God was with him. He still had fellowship with God. And he smiled and forgave his attackers.

Paul said in 1 Cor. 15, that if Christ is not raised from the dead then we, of all men, are the most miserable. But if Christ IS raised from the dead, then we have the most reason to rejoice. Having our joy be full ought to make a difference in our Christian lives. We ought to live like our joy is full. There are a lot of Christians who look like the Disney character Eeyore as they go through life. They have the perpetual black rain cloud hanging over them all the time. But that is not the picture we get from contemplating our joy as Christians. Think about it! We are in fellowship with the Father and the Son! We have fellowship (in every circumstance) with the Sovereign God of all creation. It should make us stand our in the world. Lost people ought to know something is different about us. Whether we are happy or sad, it should be clear that we belong to God.

We lose our joy when we set our eyes and hearts on lesser things. But when we meditate on the fact that we are in fellowship with the Living God, we can always find a reason for joy. Remember, joy is not the same thing as happiness. Christians today are persecuted, martyred, they live in squalid conditions, they suffer as missionaries to carry the gospel into the world ... all for Jesus. And they do it with a smile on their face. How? By knowing they are in fellowship with God. John wrote his whole letter so that we could KNOW that we were saved, and by knowing that, we could have our joy be full (topped off, overflowing). As David said in Psalm 23, in light of all that he had professed before he proclaimed "My cup runneth over." The cup of blessings that were his came from knowing God intimately. It is the same for us.

Beloved, know God and know that you are His. Know it and let your joy be filled to overflowing.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Downgrade is Alive and Well

In the latter part of his ministry, Charles Spurgeon wrote a lot about the "downgrade" of the Church (collectively). His chief focus was churches within the Baptist Union of Great Britain, and other churches more generally. His writings, and those of his opponents came to be known as the "Downgrade Controversy." It was a controversy that eventually took Spurgeon's life.

Spurgeon came to understand that when the Church begins to use the ways of the world to reach and teach believers that compromise with truth was inevitable. Churches began to use entertainers to draw people in. They were substituting plays and skits for preaching. They came to believe that worldliness could be turned to good and used for Christian ends. Spurgeon believed that eventually such churches would have to begin to compromise the truth to continue. He knew very well that when you compromise once, it becomes easier to do it again ... and again and so on. His opponents called him an alarmist. Ultimately, he was censured and expelled from the Baptist Union for being a troublemaker. However, it seems history has vindicated Spurgeon.

What Spurgeon saw happening in England has been repeated in the United States. This is very well documented by such scholars as Dr. John MacArthur (Ashamed of the Gospel), and Dr. David Wells (No Place for Truth). Writer Steve Camp seems to have an almost prophetic insight into the decay of the modern American Church.

What they are all saying, and what ought to be concerning us, is how far American Evangelical Christianity has fallen from the biblical ideal. I recall a quote by J. Vernon McGee in which he said "Today's Christians would have been considered backslidden 25 years ago. And 50 years ago they would have been considered lost!" We have come to accept a weak and anemic Christianity as the "norm." By and large, the Christian Church in North America (and I am not talking about outright liberals) are worldly churches. It used to be we flirted with the world, to see how close we could get to the world and still be walking in holiness. Now we don't even care. One pastor I know quipped "It used to be when you went to a person's house, if they were drinking a beer, when they saw you, they would try to hide it. Now, they offer you one." We have lost a sense, I think, of the holiness of God, and so, we have lost our sense of what God has called us to be.

In Isaiah 6, the prophet sees God high and lifted up, seated on his throne. The vision throws him to the ground in agony. He says of himself "I am undone." That word "undone" in the Hebrew means to be shredded or torn apart. As Isaiah sees God, he is thrown to the ground feeling as though his skin is being shredded off his body. He is screaming in agony and only when the angel touches his lips with the burning coal and his sins are forgiven is he able to stand in God's holy Presence. Think. When was the last time you have heard a sermon on holiness? Or worldliness? Or God's transcendent holiness? These are not common themes in today's churches, by and large.

Friends, we need to remember who God is and who we are. We need to be pressing towards the high calling of Christ Jesus. We are supposed to be growing every day more and more holy. Every day we are supposed to be conformed a little bit more to the image of Jesus Christ. We are salt and light in this world. We are Kings and Priests in the Kingdom of Heaven and Ambassadors of Jesus Christ to the people of this sinful world. We are a peculiar (different) people. We are a holy nation. We are to stand out in the world as disciples of Jesus Christ. We are supposed to be marked with such a quality of love (for our fellow believers) that even lost people note it and mark us as followers of Jesus. We are sons of the Living God. We are heralds of truth. All these things are true. Ultimately, we are slaves of Jesus Christ. Our will does not matter. Only His.

Once theology used to be the "Queen of the sciences." The highest thing a person could study was the study of God. The highest calling on earth was to full time Christian ministry. It is not that way anymore. And it will not be again until Christians begin to act like Christians. Until people can tell the saved from the lost, the Church will continue to look just like the world around us. And God has said that friendship with the world is enmity with God.

Until we get that through our heads we are going to blindly go forward, mediocre, sub-biblical, sub-standard, weak, anemic, listless, pathetic, world loving, sin loving, Christians. We will fulfill that passage of scripture that says "There was no fear of God before their eyes." Oh beloved, Paul indicted the Jews with the words "The Gentiles blaspheme God because of you." (Romans 2). I pray that is never, ever said of us. Let us repent of our worldliness and be such Christians that when we die in the flesh, Satan and the world will remember that we were here.

It is something worth meditating on.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Poem

This is a little poem I wrote. It speaks of finding out how lost we were and God gave us life in Jesus. I hope you enjoy this.

God Saved Me

My blindness gone, my eyes can see,
no righteousness I find inside of me.
Nothing there that God might bless,
I am undone and hopeless and find no rest.
My sin is greater than I can bear,
my garment - the filthy rags that I wear.
O how can I be saved from this life of death?
My nature hates God and worships myself.

The Blessed God sends me the Word of Life,
Christ Jesus my savior, my God, my Light.
His horrible death and sinless years,
hold out the promises that dispel my fears.
Through Christ alone my sins are forgiven,
I am a child of God now fitted for heaven.
I'm an adopted son, a priest and a king!
Amazing Grace is the song that I sing!

When I was helpless God came to my aid,
and scooped me up out of the miry clay.
He brought me to life when I was dead in my sin,
He opened my eyes and called me to Him.
He showed me Lord Jesus - the Fairest of all,
by His love and His will picked me up from my fall.
Christ satisfied fully God's wrath against me,
By faith alone in Christ alone I have life abundant and free.

Author: John T. Sneed (February 19, 2008).

Monday, February 18, 2008

Spurgeon on the Bible

I have always loved this quote ...

"Oh, book of books! And wast thou written by my God? Then will I bow before thee. Thou book of vast authority! thou art a proclamation from the Emperor of Heaven; far be it from me to exercise my reason in contradicting thee. Reason, thy place is to stand and find out what this volume means, not to tell what this book ought to say. Come thou, my reason, my intellect, sit thou down and listen, for these words are the words of God. I do not know how to enlarge on this thought. Oh! if you could ever remember that this Bible was actually and really written by God. Oh! if ye had been let into the secret chambers of heaven, if ye had beheld God grasping his pen and writing down these letters--then surely ye would respect them; but they are just as much God's handwriting as if you had seen God write them. This Bible is a book of authority; it is an authorized book, for God has written it. Oh! tremble, lest any of you despise it; mark its authority, for it is the Word of God." (Spoken by Charles Spurgeon from his sermon "The Bible" preached to his church March 18, 1855. His text was Hosea 8:12).

I have always enjoyed this quote. It speaks to my heart. But you don't often find people who think like this anymore. Too bad.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Calvinist or Arminian? The Bottom Line

Calvinist. Arminian. Pelagian. Monergist. Synergist. Amyraldian. Lots of terms. Lots of things to keep up with. Free will. Predestination. Election. Depravity. Perseverence. Grace. There are many others. Sometimes it seems like more than a simple Christian can bear. What is a person to believe about all these things? Is there a clear answer? Can we really know?

Yes. The Bible says that the Bereans were more noble than the Christians in Thessolonica. Another way to think about it is that they had a better bloodline. Why? Because when Paul came and preached to them, they searched the scriptures to see if what they were being taught were true. They were concerned about whether or not Paul's teachings were biblical. And it is here that we draw the final line.

The Bible is our sole rule of faith and practice. That means that everything that is binding on the Christian as far as our beliefs and our way of life, is found in the Bible. God's word is the Bible. God reveals Himself to us through the Bible. It is by the word and the Spirit that God works. It is the Bible that is central to all this.

If you took Jonathan Edwards two volume works, Calvin's Institutes, Hodge's Systematic Theology, Spurgeon's collected sermons, the works of Pink, Gill, Owen, and others ... and if you read all these works with a clear understanding ... you would have a superior theological education. However, one page of scripture is more profitable for your soul than all the works I heave previously mentioned. Why? Because scripture was written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. While the others are, no doubt, good men of God, they are not writing under the same direction as those authors of holy scripture.

Calvinist or Arminian? How about learning to be a biblicist? More than anything else it ought to be the Christian's desire to be in conformity with scripture. Spurgeon said it well when he said "I would rather be a thousand times inconsistant with myself than once to be inconsistant with scripture." All of our beliefs ought to be tested against the anvil of scripture. If we find something we believe that does not agree with scripture then we are compelled to reject it and change our beliefs until we line up with the Bible.

I believe we will all align under some system of scripture interpretation. However, every system must be under scripture. Scripture above all!

Be a Calvinist, or be an Arminian, or be something else, but more than anything else be a biblicist! Not all Christians will be Calvinists. Not all will be Arminians. But every one of us, every one without exception, ought to be a Bible believer. And that is the bottom line. And that is the way it ought to be.

Another Quote

Napoleon expressed the following thoughts while he was exiled on the rock of St. Helena. There, the conqueror of civilized Europe had time to reflect on the measure of his accomplishments. He called Count Montholon to his side and asked him, "Can you tell me who Jesus Christ was?" The count declined to respond. Napoleon countered: "Well then, I will tell you. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne and I myself have founded great empires; but upon what did these creations of our genius depend? Upon force. Jesus alone founded His empire upon love, and to this very day millions will die for Him. . . . I think I understand something of human nature; and I tell you, all these were men, and I am a man; none else is like Him: Jesus Christ was more than a man. . . . I have inspired multitudes with such an enthusiastic devotion that they would have died for me . . . but to do this is was necessary that I should be visibly present with the electric influence of my looks, my words, of my voice. When I saw men and spoke to them, I lightened up the flame of self-devotion in their hearts. . . . Christ alone has succeeded in so raising the mind of man toward the unseen, that it becomes insensible to the barriers of time and space. Across a chasm of eighteen hundred years, Jesus Christ makes a demand which is beyond all others difficult to satisfy; He asks for that which a philosopher may often seek in vain at the hands of his friends, or a father of his children, or a bride of her spouse, or a man of his brother. He asks for the human heart; He will have it entirely to Himself. He demands it unconditionally; and forthwith His demand is granted. Wonderful! In defiance of time and space, the soul of man, with all its powers and faculties, becomes an annexation to the empire of Christ. All who sincerely believe in Him, experience that remarkable, supernatural love toward Him. This phenomenon is unaccountable; it is altogether beyond the scope of man's creative powers. Time, the great destroyer, is powerless to extinguish this sacred flame; time can neither exhaust its strength nor put a limit to its range. This is it, which strikes me most; I have often thought of it. This it is which proves to me quite convincingly the Divinity of Jesus Christ."

Worth pondering .. eh?


Friday, February 15, 2008

A Quote

"I would rather face a whole army than one Calvinist convinced he is doing the will of God.”
A 16th Century Spanish Soldier.

and then there is this one ...

"Queen Mary of England declared that she would rather "face all the armies of France than a praying Calvinist." source: Homeschooling Today magazine, Jan./Feb. 2003 (A book review of the book "Duncan's War").

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

If Election Is True, Why Evangelize?

This is a question that comes up a lot when opponents of Reformed Theology try to "disprove" Calvinism. But it is really a straw man argument. It is setting up something that does not really exist just to knock it down. Then, one can claim a symbolic victory over their opponent. Opponents of Calvinism use this argument in just that way. They will claim that a belief in the doctrine of election kills a need for evangelism. Or they will claim that people who believe the doctrine of election have a hard heart towards evangelism. The argument crops up in a number of different variations. They are all equally without foundation. So, let's answer the question ... if election is true, why evangelize?

First, because Jesus said to. In the Great Commission Jesus tells us to go into the world to preach the gospel to every creature (Matt. 28:19). That is enough there for any Christian who calls Jesus "Lord" to evangelize. Calvinist or non-calvinist, anyone who names the Name of Christ ought to be about being obedient to Christ. He said "go" that is enough.

Second, God ordains the means as well as the ends. God has chosen who will be saved, his elect people, and he has chosen the means by which they will be saved. It is through the preaching of the gospel that God calls his people out of the world. Three passages of scripture bring this out very well.

"For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek." (Rom. 1:16).

"For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!" (Rom. 10:13-15).

"For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe." (1 Cor. 1:21).

God the Holy Spirit works through the preached word in the hearts of his elect people to bring them to himself. But no human knows who the elect are before they believe. We cannot (and should not) be trying to decide who is elect and who is not. Our job is to preach the gospel to "every creature." God will call his people to himself as Paul pointed out when he said "I planted, Apollos watered, but God gives the increase." In the parable of the soils, the sower scattered the seed far and wide. That is the same thing we are called to do.

In the end, if election is true we still need to preach the gospel because that is how God has chosen to call the elect to himself and out of the world. And we do it in obedience to Christ's command. And that ought to be enough for any Christian.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

What Is The Gospel?

That was a question that was asked to me earlier in the week. It is a question every Christian ought to be able to answer. The Bible tells us to be ready to give an answer to every man for the hope that it within us. More importantly, this is the one questiion we dare not be wrong about. When I was in the Air Force we had a saying "It is good enough for government work." It meant that if it was close enough to what it was supposed to be it would be good enough. In the matter of the gospel, we dare not settle for "close enough." The gospel is the message of salvation. To be wrong about that is to be giving people a false message. One of the greatest evils that can be inflicted on men (generally) is to tell someone they are assured of going to heaven when they are not. If we are wrong about the gospel, we can put someone's immortal soul in danger. We dare not play games with the gospel.

The word gospel is the Hebrew equivilent of the Greek word evangel, from which we get our words Evangelical and evangelism. It literally means good news. But the good news of Jesus Christ contains both bad and good news. Ray Comfort tells it like this ... If I tell you I have a cure for cancer in my pocket, you would say that was good news. But if you are dying of cancer and I tell you I have a cure in my pocket, then the good news is really good news indeed! The power of Jesus Christ to save people from their sins is good news. But it is never really good news until a person is convinced that they (personally) need to be saved from their sins. As I tell it to my listeners at church, no one is saved believing that God so loved the world ... they get saved when they realize that God so loved them (personally) that He gave His only begotten Son. So the good news is both bad and good news together.

The bad news is that each and every one of us are sinners. God measures us against Himself and we all fall short of perfection. We are sinful in every part of our being so that there is nothing, not a word, an action, a thought, or even a good intent that we can offer God that is not somehow stained with sin. When God looks at us all He sees is sin. All we have to offer God is sin. The Bible says "All our righteousness is as filthy rags." Also, we are told "There is none righteous, no, not one."

And God has judged sin. The Bible says that the "wrath of God abides on them (sinners) already." God has already judged sin and has determined to send sinners to hell. If nothing happens to change this, every human in the world will go to hell.

Worse, there is really nothing we can do about it. Think about what I said above. We don't have anything to offer God except sin. We are already guilty and there is nothing we can capable of doing to make up for it. We are helpless. As the Bible says in one place, we are "without hope."

But God has purposed to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. We cannot go to Him. Human beings cannot bridge the separation between heaven and earth. So God came to us. God set aside his glory and took on the form of a human being. God became one of us. Jesus Christ, the baby born in Bethlehem, was the God-man. 100% God and 100% man and He did what no human could do. He lived a perfect, sinless life. And sinful men took him anyway, and killed him with a criminal's death. When Jesus hung on the cross and was crucified, God poured out all His anger and wrath against sin on Jesus. So Jesus paid the price for sin, Infinite God paid an infinite price and now God calls on sinners everywhere to turn to Jesus and believe that He died for them personally.

Let me be more clear. Jesus died for sinful men. And every sinner .... every sinner ... who comes to Jesus, confessing his sinful helplessness and asks for mercy ... finds it. A lot is made in some churches about a "sinner's prayer." There is only one sinner's prayer recorded in the Bible "God have mercy on me, a sinner."

The Bible tells us that such sinners have had their sins imputed to Jesus ... that means counted to his account. And at the time when you believe that Jesus died for YOU you have Jesus' perfect life counted to your account. Jesus was judged as though he were you so that you could be judged as though you were him! And that, my friend, is very good news.

If Jesus Christ is your savior ... you will know. Have you read this post and said to yourself, "I know that Jesus died for me"? The Bible says that "The Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are the sons of God." If Jesus is your savior than confess him as such. If we believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths the Lord Jesus Christ, then we will be saved.

And if Jesus is your savior then he is also your Lord. He is the God-man. He is savior and God. If you are his then he owns you. The Bible says that "If he died for us then we ought to live for him." Jesus is alive today, at the right hand of the Father. One day, he will return to gather all his people to himself and take them to be with him wherever he is at.

Sinful men have no hope to save themselves. But God comes and saves us. He does for us what we cannot do. He did it in the person of the God-man, Jesus Christ. Jesus saves every sinful person who comes to him for mercy and salvation. Even if we die in our physical bodies, God takes us to heaven to be with our Lord, Jesus. One day, Jesus will come again and gether all his people, those on earth and those in heaven, to himself so he can enjoy them forever. That is the good news.

The Bible says that God calls men everywhere to repent. That means to turn from your old ways of thinking and to believe in Jesus Christ. There is nothing you can add to what Jesus did for you. Believe it. Confess it. Live it. Remember the old Christian hymn ... "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I'm found, was blind but now I see."

Friday, February 08, 2008

What Would Jesus Think ...

of all these different denominations? A friend of mine asked me that question recently and asked me to comment on it here. It is a good question and deserves a good answer. But just as it deserves a good answer, there are several caveats that precede it.

There are different groups of churches for a number of different reasons. Some of them I am going to talk about here. But one thing is almost universal. There is something that sets each group apart from every other group. Some unique distinctive marks each group so that it is different from any other group, and thus, feels a need to exist.

Now some groups are different because they do not belong to the larger whole. I am speaking of cults and other non Christian groups. They exist because they are not Christian and cannot find fellowship with any genuine Christian group. Such groups would include (but not be limited only to) the Mormons, the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Christian Scientists, and others. Some groups exist because of an emphasis on some heretical doctrine, and again, the inability to find fellowship among Christians. The United Pentecostal Church would be a good example here. Some groups exist to push a particular message. The Seventh Day Adventist Church exists to propogate their particular end times views. This end times focus sets them apart from other Evangelical churches. All of these are some reasons why some groups exist.

But that still leaves a vast group of denominations out there. These are churches that have been accepted within the historic definitions of the Christian faith. They seem to be separated and not in real unity, but is that really true. Let me take a closer look.

Let's understand, that when we speak of unity, we need to focus first of all on the unity of the body of Christ, the Church (universal). There are some groups that teach that there is no universal Church. To them, all churches are local groups of believers. However, we see Christ saying he will build his Church and the Apostle Paul tells us that Christ died for his Church. This can only make sense when applied universally to all those who belong to Christ. Membership in this group comes only by faith alone in the Person of Jesus Christ and his finished work on behalf of his believers and in that alone. All such people who thus name the Name of Jesus are his. They hold what they believe because they find it taught to them in the scriptures and by the witness of the Holy Spirit. They are the ones who have been shown the truth by the Spirit and the word of God. They are his by grace through faith and all that in Christ alone. We are unified with all of these blessed believers, no matter what other matters separate us, we are one in the Spirit of the Lord. The Holy Spirit in us reaches out to the Holy Spirit in every other believer and joins us in one great Body, one Church, under one Lord, professing one common Faith. Never make a mistake about that .... if you are a Baptist, a Presbyterian, or something else ... if you are truly Christ's you are one with your brothers and sisters who are also in Christ.

But among all those professing believers there is a lot that seems to separate us. And it is true. One thing that separates us is our church polity, how we govern and operate our churches. Some churches are Episcopal (having bishops and so on to oversee them), some are Presbyterian, operating under elders and governing committees (Presbyteries), and others yet, are congregational .. having the congregation itself set it's own rules and policies. Some churches are pastor run and others have the deacon board running things. But a true church can exist within all these different kinds of structures.

Now, I am a Baptist. That means I believe in congregational rule over the church. I believe each church is an autonomous body. When I read the Bible, I see churches operating according to Baptist polity in the Bible. I see churches in the Bible doing things the way Baptists do them. My point is that, even though I am a Baptist, I allow that Christians can meet and worship God under a group of different settings and still be within the body of Christ.

Other groups of Christians separate over certain practices or styles of worship. There are many independent Evangelical churches out there today. Most have come into existence to show off a certain style of worship. Other groups, like Pentecostals and Charismatics focus on 'signs and wonders' being done among them. But true Christians can gather with and worship God among such crowds of people.

In all these ways which seem to separate us, there is still the essential unity of the Body of Christ. You see, the kingdom of heaven is not a one-note-guitar. It is a chorus. It is a huge group of different people, different languages, different customs, different styles of worship, different voices, all blending together to worship the One, True, Living God. We're going to gather with the Bishops, and the Elders, and the congregationalists, and the ones who pray in tongues and the ones who don't, and the ones who baptized their babies (and the ones who didn't). We're all going to be there. Every genuinely saved Christian, no matter where they are from or how they worshipped or governed their church... they're all going to gather at the throne. We'll see Whitefield with Wesley. There'll be Bunyan beside Owen. We may all be surprised at who we see standing near us around the throne.

So, what does Christ think of all these denominations? I think he looks out and sees his people ... drawn by the Father from every tongue, tribe, nation, and people. Drawn from every church polity, every church practice, every church imperfection. I think Christ sees his choir, those who'll sing his praises throughout all eternity. I think he sees you and me.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Why is the Doctrine of Election Important?

Election = to choose out of a group. Paul, in Ephesians 1:4 called believers "elect before the foundation of the world." Many Christians are offended, and some are greatly offended, at the idea that God chose who would and who would not be believers.

Some have fashioned systems of doctrine that teach that man elects himself. Others hold that God, through nothing that he found in man, chose some to be the recipients of his grace. These people, called the elect receive the gift of salvation from God.

From the Reformed, or Calvinistic, viewpoint, why is it important to believe in election? So many people try to connect a belief in the doctrine of election with their beliefs about evangelism. To these folks, a belief in election is to be used to determine who is and who is not among the people of God. But is this what election is really about? I think not. I will tell you why.

I was surprised, after everything I had heard about election, to learn that it's most famous proponent, John Calvin, did NOT connect election with evangelism. We know that every true believer is elect. But there is no way to know if someone is elect or not unless they believe. So, it is pointless to try to figure out ahead of time who is elect and who is not. The Bible tells us to avoid vain disputations. There is no more vain thing to dispute than something God has kept to Himself.

Instead, Calvin puts his section on election in the chapter (of his famous "Institutes of the Christian Religion") on a believer's assurance of salvation. Calvin saw election as a comforting doctrine for believers. It was never, in his mind, a tool for evangelism. However, Calvin cautioned that a mishandling of the doctrines of election and predestination could hurt one's faith. Therefore, it is important to put these doctrines in their proper place.

Election, according to Calvinistic belief, is God's choice of who He will save. It is based on His foreknowledge (1 Pet. 1:2). This foreknowledge is believed, by some who are not Calvinistic, to be God's foresight of future events. Such believers hold that God sees into history and finds the people who will freely choose to be believers in Jesus, and that He makes this group of people to be his "elect." But this view is wrong. Foreknowledge is not foresight. No! Foreknowledge is an experiential knowledge, an intimate knowledge of a person.

Friend, hear me here ... Jesus did not die so that you could be enabled to save yourself if you want to. Jesus died for a certain, particular group of people. Are you a believer? Then tell me this? Is this your testimony ... that Jesus died for you? Personally? It should be.

Let me use myself as an example. God, the whole Trinity, knew me before the foundation of the world. Before the universe was created, the Trinity knew me personally. God knew my sins, my failures, my habits, my heart .. everything I was, am, and will become ... God knew me. God knew me intimately. And still the Father chose me to be one of His people. He chose to adopt ME into His family. He chose ME to be a Priest and King in His kingdom. And He covananted with His Son to leave behind His glories in heaven and come to the earth to die a criminal's death for ME personally. He sent His Holy Spirit to find ME. He showed grace to ME. With all these things being true, He will keep me until that day when He calls me home. He will not lose me. He has loved ME for trillions or millions or however long I have been on His mind, He loved me that long already.

As one preacher wrote, God cannot love me more than He does now. But neither can He love me less than He does now. God sent Jesus to die for ME. It is true that God so loved the world. But that knowledge will not save you. What saves you is when you know in your heart that Jesus died for YOU personally. If your testimony is not that Jesus died for YOU, then it needs to be.

Such knowledge is a comfort to me and to every other believer. I know my sins and how often and how badly I fail God. I have trouble even chatting about the things of the Lord without falling into sin. It is good for me to know that, even in the darkest of my days, that God has loved me from the very start of all things. I rest in knowing that He moves heaven and earth for me, even to the point of giving Jesus Christ as a substitute for me. Knowing all these things, I draw comfort and strength from knowing I am one of God's elect.

Election is not a hammer to hit people with. It is not an x-ray machine with which we search for people to evangelize. It is a soft, warm blanket of God's love to wrap ourselves in .. in good times and bad. It assures us that if we are truly saved, we have been in God's plans from eternity past. And if that is true, we are assured we will be with Him in eternity yet to come. And that is why the doctrine of election is important.