Discipleship and Christian Discipline Part 6

fruitfulness

Part 6 “Multiply and Fill the Earth: The Extraordinary Sense”

If the only way to obey the “Creation Mandate” to “multiply and fill the earth” is to marry, and then to have children, there would be several categories of disciples that would be unable to practically obey it. Children are not emotionally or sexually mature, and so cannot engage in marriage and procreation. Single persons may have a desire for both marriage and children, but may have not yet found a suitable person to enter into a covenant of such a magnitude as marriage. And without the covenant of marriage the practice of sex is referred to in the Bible as “sexual immorality”, and is prohibited as sinful. Then there are those who have chosen celibacy as a way of life in order to serve the King of Kings without earthly distraction or worldly obligation. Jesus calls these people “eunuchs… for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew 19:12

12 For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”

 In my experience as a reformed Protestant Christian in the U.S., we tend to be reactionary people. We are often not taking a Biblical action, but responding to past errors in Roman Catholicism or the excesses of American Evangelicalism. We are trying so hard “not to be something” that we don’t declare well who we really are and what we really believe. I could write several blogs on this subject. But a single denominational example will help.

I served in a Baptist church for many years as an associate pastor. I have seen myriads of children and adults baptized in the Baptist church. I in fact grew up Baptist, and became a Christian later, in a Baptist church. In all those years, and in all the baptisms I witnessed throughout the years, until I read the Reformers at least, I never once heard anyone coherently explain what baptism actually was. I only heard explained what it was not, and what it did not do. It was not the blood. Which is true, and is said in response to the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. It does not save you. Which is also true, and is said in response to both Roman Catholicism (and other traditions too) and in the southern U.S. at least, to refute the indigenous members of the Churches of Christ. But what is baptism. What I found was that Baptists were generally anti-Catholic and reactionary, defining the very sacrament from which they take their name only in negative terms. They were virtually devoid of positive statements as to what baptism really is. I am not referring to their ancient doctrinal statements, which were generally clear. I am referring to the average church members experience. Compounding this problem was also the reactionary idea that there was “no creed but Christ.” This caused most Baptists to (again reacting to Roman Catholicism) not even know what their own church believed prior to the  1920s.

I came to understand, through my own experiencing of sharing Christ with a perishing world, that almost everyone knew what I, as a Christian was against, but almost no one knew what I, as Christian was for. I came to be convinced that many Protestants never moved beyond the act of protesting, and that it was time for me personally to do so. I encourage you as well to consider how to discuss the difficult subjects of the day in positive terms by starting with what God is for, rather than what He is against. It helps you to frame the actual reasons He is against a thing, rather than just blindly stating that this or that is sin. It helps us deepen our own knowledge of how to take positive action in life, rather than always sitting around trying NOT to do some sin or another. Again most Protestants nowadays are trying not to sin, but if you encourage them to do good works, they throw “justification by faith” apart from the works of the Law at you. Which is a Majestic Truth! Amen and Amen! But if the only truth you really understand is “Justification by Faith Alone”, it is like having a single tool that is a hammer, every problem becomes a nail. Most people who are struggling in sin in the Protestant Church today, if you encourage them to commune with God more in prayer and fasting, and to consecrate themselves to the Lord, they will just retort that you are a “legalist” and go back to white-knuckling their way through life, attempting to believe more or harder. This is the contradiction that a reactionary Faith that is almost purely against things causes. The reactionary nature then of the Protestant church has caused us to neglect in meaningful ways categories of singleness and the infertile.

Surrendering to a call to celibacy is an area of practice virtually unheard of in the modern Protestant Church…. but not in the early Church. Here is Justin Martyr (100 AD to 165 AD) born within a decade of the Apostle John’s death, writing in his “First Apology”, around 130 AD, which you can find here.

“”And, there are some who have been made eunuchs of men, and some who were born eunuchs, and some who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake; but all cannot receive this saying.” Matthew 19:12 So that all who, by human law, are twice married, are in the eye of our Master sinners, and those who look upon a woman to lust after her. For not only he who in act commits adultery is rejected by Him, but also he who desires to commit adultery: since not only our works, but also our thoughts, are open before God. And many, both men and women, who have been Christ’s disciples from childhood, remain pure at the age of sixty or seventy years; and I boast that I could produce such from every race of men”( Justin Martyr’s First Apology Chapter 14 “Demons Misrepresent Christian Doctrine)

 Justin Martyr is clearly saying that wherever you find the church in his day, you also find some who have chosen to be “eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake.” I could multiply this witness many times, but for the sake of brevity, I won’t. The point that I am making here is to demonstrate that both in Scripture and in early church history there is the idea that there are some who make a conscious choice to not engage in marriage in order to dedicate themselves to Christ and the churches service as a way of life.

One of my modern heroes in the faith, Amy Carmichael (1867-1951), was such a person. She had the opportunity to marry in the early years of her mission work. I believe she was still in the Orient during that time, before she relocated to India, where the bulk of her work was done. Both her and the gentleman had obvious feelings and leanings towards one another, working closely together in mission. In the end they both declined to act on them, choosing the path of singleness, dying as Eunuch’s for Christ. Did Amy Carmichael not “multiply and fill the earth?” Of course she did. She saw women and children saved from temple slavery, gave them new names, and she taught them a pattern of life to follow. She still teaches us today if we will listen. For a good book on her life see Elizabeth Elliot’s “A Chance to Die.”

These same things can be said about children and married couple who are infertile. Sharing the Gospel and our whole way of life with others is also “multiplying and filling the earth” with the “seed” of God. Infertile couples who desire children are called to adoption as a way of extending the Kingdom of God. They in fact are mimicking God’s personal actions toward us, His elect people, who are his own adopted children. While “multiplying and filling the earth” has an ordinary sense, it also has an extraordinary one too. And in some ways children, the infertile, and the single can excel their married and fertile counterparts in “multiplying and filling the earth.”

Discipleship and Christian Discipline Part 1

Discipleship and Christian Discipline Part 2

Discipleship and Christian Discipline Part 3

Discipleship and Christian Discipline Part 4

Discipleship and Christian Discipline Part 5

fruitfulness

Discipleship and Christian Discipline Part 5

fruitfulness

Part 5 “Multiply and Fill the Earth: The Ordinary Sense”

Once someone crosses the thresh-hold of adulthood as a generous, self-sacrificial, and stable person, the ordinary means of multiplying and filling the earth is first marriage and then children. I am not going to say much about the order now as it will be elaborated on extensively in a later group of blogs about the “Stations of Life” that will occur in this series on “Discipleship and Christian Discipline.” But I do want to emphasize that “first marriage and then children” is the proper order. Yes, there is grace and forgiveness from God for breaking this order. We do not live in a perfectly moral world. Christians themselves are being progressively sanctified throughout this life, and so they are not perfectly moral people. But grace and forgiveness do not erase consequence. Violations of created order come with consequences, often massive ones that remain with us most or all of our lives. The order of “multiplying and filling the earth” is particularly susceptible to creating life-long personal and  financial consequences. But more on that later.

The ordinary sense of fulfilling the Creation Mandate of “multiplying and filling the earth” is marriage and family. Adam and Eve were to remain in the Garden of Eden. But one of their key tasks was to have children and to expand the Garden’s size until the earth was as “full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.(Isaiah 11:9) Glorifying God is mimicking God, doing work as He has done it, thinking His thoughts after Him. The Garden was the pattern, and the earth was given to humans mostly unordered so that we could “subdue it” (as we will see) as God subdued the Garden when He created it. Through work, organization, creativity, and a love of truth and beauty man is to the expand his “dominion” and “glorify” God. Family is the first place children should observe fruitful people in a fruitful community. It is also the best place to learn about the subduing of the earth that has already been done my humans before them. We call the first marriage, and we call the second education.

Marriage and families should be formed by two fruitful people. Community calls for massive amounts of public generosity and self-sacrifice. But both those can be seen and celebrated by others in their public capacity, and so they have a reward attached to them. Marriage, the source and building block of all culture and community require private generosity and self-sacrifice, and so they go largely unseen. It is the children of the virtuous woman that rise up and call her blessed. It is possible (highly probably in our society) for her to be thought of as an undesirable moral prude by her neighbors. Men and women of biblical integrity are not likely to move easily through a corporate business structure due to their unwillingness to live an unauthentic and pragmatic existence. Doing good often comes with a price hear on the earth.

1 Peter 3:13-17

13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.

 It is the private nature of being fruitful in your marriage and family that makes it such a compelling case for leadership in the Kingdom of God. How can a man rule or exercise “dominion” in the Church, the household of God, if he has not properly done it in his own household?

1 Timothy 3:1-5

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer[a] must be above reproach, the husband of one wife,[b] sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?

 And so we see marriage and family become proving grounds for our fruitfulness. The foundry where the metal is heated and the dross removed. The forge where our fruitfulness is further hammered out by the difficult blows of endurance and repentance. The most authentic circumstances of our life are found there, and so, generally speaking, both our real virtue and our real capacity for spiritual leadership are found there as well.

I say “generally” speaking many times throughout this essay. Marriage and children are the “general” means by which fruitful expansion in the earth takes place, but they are not the only means. The American Church has given in to a commercialized and consumer-driven culture. It hires consultants and builds its “advertising” campaigns” around “youth and children’s ministries”, mainly in the suburbs, effectively targeting families and leaving the infertile and single out to dry. We have done a terrible, terrible job discussing the categories of singleness, and encouraging some to give their lives completely and fully to God as Jesus did, as Paul did, as John the Baptist did, and as many in the early church did as well, following the pattern of chosen singleness those first New Covenant examples. In our next blog or two, we will be discussing “multiplying and filling the earth” not in its ordinary sense, but in its extraordinary one.

Soli Deo Gloria,

JM

 

Discipleship and Christian Discipline Part 1

Discipleship and Christian Discipline Part 2

Discipleship and Christian Discipline Part 3

Discipleship and Christian Discipline Part 4

Discipleship and Christian Discipline Part 4

fruitfulness

Part 4 “Fruitfulness Must Precede Multiplying and Filling the Earth”

Being fruitful in life must precede multiplying and filling the earth, as marriage and child rearing are the ordinary fulfillment of this creation mandate. They both require personal generosity, faithfulness, and stability in order to be a nourishing and meaningful part of life. Marriage has fallen on hard times because fruitfulness has fallen on hard times. As America has slipped further and further into a society of consumption personal generosity has been sacrificed. Consumers consume and use, they are by nature takers not givers. Words like duty and obligation are now by-words in our society. Vows are made lightly. Personal sacrifice, which is the giving of one’s self, is uniquely related to being a generous person. People are taught that it is happiness that brings them satisfaction, yet happiness is a fleeting feeling, so satisfaction in life is elusive. We become unhappy in our marriage, but since we believe happiness brings satisfaction, we end our marriage. Children, we believe will understand when they are older, and so we teach them the same malicious lie about happiness and satisfaction. And happiness is as elusive for them as it is for us. Popularity, the right clothes, the right friends, the newest tech products, and multiple sexual liaisons all bring fleeting pleasure and momentary happiness, but they do not result in satisfaction. They are taught the ethics of a consumer and grow to be takers too. Thus multiplying and filling the earth with consumers results in a destruction of the culture and society rather than a flourishing of them. This is what we are all experiencing in America today. Consumers consuming one another in pursuit of satisfaction. When there is nothing left to consume, the civilization perishes.

 

Fruitfulness must precede multiplying and filling the earth. God’s dominion is brought about by personal generosity and the sacrificing of self. It is the pattern of Jesus Christ, King of all kings and Lord of all lords. He has dominion, “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to” (Matthew 28:18) Him by the Father because of His person generosity. Salvation was brought to the human race through his sacrifice of himself for us all. He is the pattern for all human persons. Husbands and wives are to emulate His Gospel to each other by giving themselves too each other and for each other, modeling their relationship after Christ’s relationship to His church.

 

Ephesians 5:22-27

22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

 

If ever a passage of Scripture called for the Gospel obedience of personal generosity and self- sacrifice it is this one. For a wife to surrender herself to an extremely flawed husband is impossible and senseless if she is a consumer married to happiness more than her Lord or her husband. For a husband, who is himself a consumer, to be willing to die for his extremely flawed wife is as equally impossible and senseless. This is how marriage and family have really been destroyed among us. Two unfruitful consumers marry and have children in a search for personal happiness, and find both difficult, with periods of deep unhappiness. So they end the one and begrudgingly continue the other because it can’t be easily dissolved. Children grow to adulthood with a resolve to not endure the unhappiness of their parents, which they believe marriage contributed to, and so they cease to see marriage as a desirable arrangement for life. Some come to believe that marriage as an arrangement for life is still desirable, just not with someone of the opposite sex. It was the abusing male or the conniving female that was the issue. Sexual satisfaction can be gained in other ways. Men don’t need women. Women don’t need men. Homosexuality, Misogyny, and Feminism all find their root in consumption and the pursuit of happiness. I can’t say it too often or emphasize it too much, Biblical fruitfulness is being personally generous and living a life of self-sacrifice. It must precede multiplying and filling the earth.

 

Soli Deo Gloria,

JM

 

Discipleship and Christian Discipline Part 1

Discipleship and Christian Discipline Part 2

Discipleship and Christian Discipline Part 3

Discipleship and Christian Discipline Part 3

fruitfulness

Part 3 “A Fruitful Life”

Being “fruitful” is often mashed together with “mutltiply and fill the earth”, but they are not the same thing. As I will write about in a later post, marriage and children do not necessarily make one fruitful. There are categories of singleness that allow for an even more fruitful life in the Kingdom than marriage. Jesus and Paul both mention them. (Matthew 19:12, 1 Corinthians 7) Protestants, due to our general reactionary bent, in an attempt to not be Roman Catholic, do not often write about or think about these subjects very well. What of those who cannot bear children? What of those who choose to live the life of a “Eunuch” for the Kingdom? I’ll leave these questions for another post, but suffice it to say that marriage and children, or “multiply and fill the earth”, are not the same as fruitfulness.

What is fruitfulness then? We are take dominion on the earth by doing the good, not by simply trying to do no harm to others. We are to seek the good of others. We are to be givers and not takers. This means personal self-sufficiency and the care for one’s own life is paramount. If there is no physical impediment, we are to provide abundance for ourselves and for others, since there are those who cannot care for themselves. Children, the elderly, those with special-needs, or those relocating due to famine, war, or disaster are in need of subsistence. Self-sufficiency is not something to be done out of pride. I am not calling others to pursue individualism. Fruitfulness is to live a life that considers how we may best do the good and provide for ourselves and those that are in need.

We are not to live in our parent’s basement. We were not put here to take up space like a mushroom on a rotting log. Being fruitful means bearing fruit. A tree that bears fruit has endured much. Storms and withering heat have tested it and caused it to put down deep roots. Fruitfulness involves being faithful, stable, and dependable. It is to grow, endure, and ultimately to mature into a person capable of reproducing our life in others. When God mandates that humans be fruitful as part of carrying out dominion in Genesis 1:28, the very next verse he reminds them that

Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.(Genesis 1:29)

 A tree that is fruitful is a tree that can reproduce its life and provide abundance., For humans, who are not like inanimate trees, this has as much to do with our spiritual life as our physical life.

Fruitful people build a legacy of loving relationships and good works. I have been to many funerals where only a few people came to pay their respects. And those few came out of obligation not devotion. The person who had passed was bitter and unforgiving. They were takers who sucked the life out of the few healthy relationships they had once had. All that was left in their wake was a fragmented family and an even more bitter, in many cases, next generation. I have buried people in my own family who, upon their death, simply vanished. No spouse, children, career, real friends, possessions, or any other sign that they had once been among us.

We are to be fruitful. This is the first of four “Creation Mandates.” It is key to understanding what the Bible means when it says we were given “dominion” on the earth, and the rest of the “Creation Mandates” follow from it. Go forth in repentance and give yourself to being a fruitful person, faithful, stable, and dependable. Provide stability and a pattern of good works that others can follow. Build a legacy of truth, beauty, and goodness. Do good in every way in which God has gifted and called you. And above all, “do not grow weary” in doing it, “for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)

Soli Deo Gloria,

JM

Discipleship and Christian Discipline Part 1

Discipleship and Christian Discipline Part 2

Discipleship and Christian Discipline Part 2

Part 2 “Dominion: The Purpose for the Creation Mandates”

What makes man different from all the animals? Why don’t dogs wrestle with the meaning of life? Why don’t animals develop justice systems, or debate morality, or develop language for that matter? Why don’t they develop systems of governance, or thoughtfully improve the world around them? Why don’t they write songs or poetry? Why don’t they engage in monogamous romantic relationships? Why don’t they invent or create? Stated very simply, humans are not advanced or highly evolved animals. We are not now, nor have we ever been, primates. While we may have similar physiologies to animals, the comparison really ends there. Humans were given a gift that the animals were not. Humans were created in the image of God.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…. So God created man in his own image,  in the image of God he created him;  male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26a;27)

 God stamped into the human nature an image of himself. Intelligent, emotional, creative, with an internal sense of justice, a desire for order, and a desire to take their surroundings and improve them. They, male and female, are a royal-creatures. They are vice-regents who serve under God as caretakers of the earth.

“And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26b)

 Humans were given by God what the Bible calls, “dominion” in the earth. That does not mean that we are to be petty dictators. We are to reflect the power, beauty, and glory of our creator. We are to rule as He rules, graciously and mercifully, always seeking the good of others, and the good of the world in which we live. We are to think God’s thoughts after Him and to do the actions that He himself would do. This is what it means to glorify God. It is to mimic Him, to imitate Him. It is also the essence of what it means to be human.

But, what specifically does it mean to glorify God? The above is true, but vague. People have different notions of good, truth, and beauty. They understand purpose and meaning differently. The Scriptures solve this issue of disunity by providing for all of mankind four basic mandates that we are all to fulfill. These are the ways we extend a gracious dominion in the earth, taking the decision from out of our hands. These are the “Creation Mandates”… (1) Fruitfulness, (2) Marriage and family, (3) Learning and Laboring, and (4) Resting and worshiping the Triune God.

“And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth…. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. (Genesis 1:28;2:3)

Soli Deo Gloria!

JM

Discipleship and Christian Discipline Part 1 “The Creation Mandates”

Discipleship and Christian Discipline Part 1

fruitfulness

Part 1 “Introduction to the Creation Mandates”

Christianity has several words that begin with the prefix, “re”. Regeneration and Redemption being two of the more important ones. Regeneration etymologically means basically “to bring life again.” Redemption of course, thinking back (if you are old enough) to the time when grocery stores used to “purchase back” the glass bottles from our favorite soft drink after we had emptied them of their sweet content, means to “buy again.” The point being that the prefix “re” means to do something again. Jesus in the Gospel is regenerating the human race, redeeming them from sin, and thus restoring them to their former created estate as righteous in the just eyes of God. The wonderful work of the Gospel is not just that we are restored to our former created estate, but that we will be brought eventually to a new estate, “glorification”, which is an unflawed and un-failable eternal state of being.

But for now, if you are reading this, you are still yet dwelling in the restored estate (justification) here in the old creation, and are awaiting the new estate (glorification) that is to come. But when we say, as Christians, that we are now enjoying the restoration of the created estate, what does that mean for us in our lives as they are now? How does it contribute to our understanding of human purpose? How does it contribute to our understanding of what it means to live a meaningful life on the earth?

If you understand yourself by faith to be restored to the created order in Christ, then you should also be renewing your participation in the original “Creation Mandates”. It is there that finding satisfaction and purpose begin for the whole human race in its original estate, and it is also there that those who are restored to that former estate should begin their discipleship to the second Adam, Christ himself. Man’s purpose has not changed on the earth. He is still, as the old catechism states, “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”  The meaningful life that the disciples of Jesus are to live are not at cross purposes with creation. They are at cross purposes to the world, which is a corrupt spiritual system fathered by a corrupt spiritual entity, Satan. But the created order remains unchanged and is still “very good.”

So what are the “Creation Mandates” and where are they found. The Creation Mandates are, (1) Fruitfulness, (2) Marriage and family, (3) Learning and Laboring, and (4) Resting and worshiping the Triune God. They are found in Genesis 1:26-28; 2:1-3.

Genesis 1:26-2:3

26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 So God created man in his own image,  in the image of God he created him;  male and female he created them. 28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.

Over the next few blogs we are going to take some time to unpack each “Creation Mandate” at least a little. The blogs will not be anywhere near comprehensive, but they should give a disciple of Jesus a starting point to begin to explore the four main branches of human purpose. I hope also that they will help Christian’s see the rich meaning that they are capable of providing for the whole human race. The recovery of purpose and meaning within the church, I believe, is absolutely necessary for the discipleship of new (and many older) believers. But it is also paramount for evangelism and broad engagement with a hostile culture that is bent on destroying the church and itself in one fatal swoop…. By destroying forever (in the West at least) both the purpose and the meaning of life for all of our children.

Soli Deo Gloria!

JM

Discipleship and Christian Discipline Part 2 “Dominion: The Purpose for the Creation Mandates”

H.I.V.E. Christian Accountability Model

The purpose of personal accountability in the Christian Church is to confess. We need to say out loud to another human being both “who we are now” and “who we want to become”. Once those two confessions are made, we can then form a personal discipleship plan that confesses further, “what we are going to do”, in order to become the ideal we believe the Bible puts forth. Sanctification, or the progressive of achieving the biblical ideal doesn’t just happen by accident. There is the cultivation of the work of the Holy Spirit in obedience to Scripture for us to do. The will is freed from sin (imperfectly) so that it can be surrendered to the will of God. But there is no real surrender to God that doesn’t bring about surrender to a local community of disciples, the church. And there is no real surrender to the church that doesn’t have its end in surrendering ourselves to specific people, like pastors, mentors, and spiritual friends.

Accountability, if practiced rightly, brings humility, intentionality, vulnerability, and expansion to the Christian personally and to the Church corporately. It is why we live in community. It is why there were Apostles who were themselves disciples first. We are to entrust what we hear and see in them to “faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2) It is not just a matter of hearing truths in sermons and assimilating them into a theological framework, though that is important. Truth is to be lived out, observed and imitated as well. Christ embodied the faith in the incarnation for the Apostles to see and imitate. They, in turn, embodied it for the first post-ascension disciples. It is from that seminal stage that the world has come to know “the only True God, and Jesus Christ Whom” (John 17:3) He sent. Christianity is an embodied Faith. It changes our minds and our actions.

It also spreads through the ancient means of confession too, as the Word is combined with an observable witness in the local church. How will the world know that we are disciples of Jesus? By the way “you have love for one another”. (John 13:35) This an observable phenomenon that cannot be denied by a skeptic. The Gospel calls sinners to life from out of the world, indwells them with the Holy Spirit, and brings them into a community of people that should provide for them a pattern of life to follow. This community itself is a powerful witness for Gospel expansion. Tim Chester and Steve Timnis hit the nail on the head in their book “Total Church: A Radical Reshaping around Gospel and Community” where they wrote,

“if church is central to the purposes of God, the local congregation must be central to the practice of mission. There cannot be mission apart from the local church. The local church is the agent of mission. It is the context in which people are discipled. There can be no sustainable Christian mission without sustainable local Christian communities. The life of the Christian community is part of the gospel message of reconciliation and part of the way by which that message is communicated.”[1]

Further, quoting Leslie Newbigin, Chester and Timins say, “the only heremeneutic of the Gospel is a local congregation of men and women who believe it and live by it.”[2]

In the process of confessing what we believe the Christian ideal is, and confessing our short comings we become able to see the places in our life that we need to focus on in order to bring them under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Peter encourages us to take this approach to our spiritual progress when he writes in his second letter,

 

” His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:3-8) 

Thomas a’ Kempis agrees, writing in his famous work, “The Imitation of Christ”, “If each year should see one fault rooted out from us, we should quickly go on to perfection.”

Confessing “who we are” and “who we want to become” enables us to put together an actionable plan for our spiritual progress with another mature believer. It allows us to see more clearly the areas we need to focus our daily prayer and other spiritual disciplines around. It provides the climate for several other positive things to occur in our life as well.

Firstly, forming our spiritual ideal and voicing it to someone else can give rise to correction as most of us have a woefully narrow understanding of what it means to be a disciple who is being formed into the image of Jesus Christ. Accountability with another believer opens up the possibility of having our understanding of discipleship enlarged by challenging the narrow nature of our personal ideal. This provides the potential for us to grow in humility.

Secondly, we are forced to consider what the ideal really is. The Christian may say Jesus Christ is my ideal, yet, they may have never really considered what it means to imitate the life of Jesus and His Apostles. This provides the potential for us to grow in intentionality.

Thirdly, it also creates the incredible blessing of finding, in the modern era, what early Celtic Christians called, “Anamchara” or “soul friend”. Human relationships are not currently flourishing for many different reasons. The invention of social media, longer more erratic work hours, atomization of society, divorce, proliferation of entertainment and hand held devices have all contributed to our de-humanization. Few people have deep long term friendships outside the Church, and fewer Christians than ever before have a “soul friend” within it. This provides the potential for us to grow in vulnerability.

Finally, Gospel-centered growth in humility, intentionality, and vulnerability brings deep transformation to the lives of individual Christians. The Kingdom expands and grows within like leaven hidden in flour. But when those individual Christians are dedicated to one another in a loving network of accountability and worship (a Community of Disciples/Church) a deep abiding love that is not of the world proves the veracity of the Gospel to watching family, friends, and co-workers. This provides the potential for fruitful expansion of the Christian Gospel outside the existing community as well.

H.I.V.E.

honeycomb

[1] Total Church: A Radical Reshaping Around Gospel and Community pg 88

[2] ibid pg 89

Luther and the Five Solas

Luther-nailing-theses-560x538Martin Luther was born to November 10th 1483 and died February 18th 1546. He began and ended his life in the same city Eisleben, Germany. He had what one might call a foxhole conversion. Caught out in open country on horseback in a terrible thunderstorm he made a vow to God that if God would save his life, he would serve him the rest of his life. For Luther, a Roman Catholic, serving God with your life meant becoming a monk. Erfurt was Luther’s spiritual home. It was where he studied and where he would the monastery as an Augustinian Monk in 1505.

 

Luther threw himself into the life of a monk. Torturing himself in an extreme ascetic lifestyle. Going without sleep and food for long periods, exposing himself to cold, beating himself with a leather strap. He once said that if anyone could’ve earned their way into heaven through being a monk it was him. He confessed his sins in confessional for hours each day. He had bouts with Satan, crying out in his monastic cell against the enemies accusations against him which he keenly felt. He could gain no assurance of peace with God and his mind was constantly fixed on the wrath of God due to sinners. He was a sinner. He was guilty before God. And he could find no way to undo his own condition before the Judge of the World.

 

The text that would begin to change his life was Romans 1:17, “For in it (the Gospel) the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” He had read this passage many times. The “righteous shall live by faith”, but he was not righteous and so excluded himself from it applying to him. But one day he saw that “the righteousness of God was revealed from faith for faith” and that the righteousness of God proceeded from the Gospel, which is Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. His perfect work. Luther could place his faith in the righteousness of Jesus Christ and be justified or made innocent before God. Luther would not have to fear the wrath of God any more. His long nights battling with Satan and enduring bodily suffering as well as his long days of misery in mortal terror of hell were over in a moment. He was freely justified by for God by faith in Jesus Christ. He began to write, talk, and debate others openly about the Roman Church’s error concerning how man is justified before God. At first this involved complicated arguments from Scripture, early Church Fathers, and other Roman Catholic authoritative writings. But Luther began to see the problem more clearly once the debating began. The Roman Church had elevated the writings of men to be equal in authority to sacred Scripture. And so from Luther’s early work, and from other Reformers of his era that followed him the Five Solas were developed. In the beginning these Five Solas were mainly discussed and applied around the doctrine of Justification. But over time their utility grew to help form the backbone of all the reforms that would eventually bring into being a Church that existed apart from the Roman Catholic Church, the Protestant Church. What began as a re-discovery of a single lost doctrine, Justification, became a full-fledge recovery movement to excavate the foundation of the original Apostolic Church. The reformers, including Luther, eventually left that corrupt and false union built around the “doctrines of men” and set out to bring to light the “One True Religion” that was established by Jesus Christ and to form a more perfect union established on the Gospel.

 

The Five Solas, or the five Latin phrases used at first to define how man was made innocent before God, or Justification, but which later came to also help uncover the foundation of the “One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church” are as follows

 

Sola Scriptura-             Scripture Alone

Sola Gratia-                  Grace Alone

Sola Fide-                    Faith Alone

Solus Christus-             Christ Alone

Soli Deo Gloria-          To God Alone Be The Glory

Communion With God: Overcoming Resistance Part 5

cutting down a treeLast week I shared some rather intimate details with you all to try and demonstrate a very important aspect of sin often overlooked in the modern church. Because we are Western, we tend to categorize things in order to teach them. That’s not bad, it has given us a highly developed and robust theology. But, in the case of sin it has caused us to miss some important connections between the kinds of sin. Things that used to be understood by the Church when she had more spiritual fathers within her.  1 John 2:15-17 describes “the World” or the mystery of sin unleashed in the human heart by the Fall of Man as, “the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and the pride of life.” Instead of thinking of these three descriptions of sin as categories, think of them as a tree.

The desires of the flesh are the fruit of the tree. Often these are the things that bring us to Christ. Our lives and bodies are raging and out of control. We cannot hide these sins very well or for very long generally speaking. They are the first sins the Holy Spirit reveals to us and grants us repentance from. We are not talking about perfection here. We are talking about growth in grace and repentance.

The desire of the eyes, or what Paul calls “the passions” lead us into the more physical sins of the flesh. So anger grows into wrath. Sexual lust grows into sexual immorality. Desire for entertainment grows into sloth. Desire for food grows into gluttony. None of these things are bad. In fact, most of them are natural to the image of God within us. Anger is often due to a sense of justice placed in us by God. Sex is a natural passion and the most intimate action that a man and woman can share. Ease gives us time to meditate on God or enjoy His creation. Food is necessary for the body. The fruit of the desires of the flesh grow on the limbs of the passions.

I spent about five years in and out of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) before I became a Christian. It is to the shame of American Christians today that often AA understands the human soul better than the church. AA understands that a) a spiritual change has to take place and b) that a fearless moral inventory has to be taken. So every alcoholic that ever succeeds in their program has to deal with him/herself. They have to tunnel down to the “why they drink?” Funny, when I became a Christian in the mid-1990’s I was told two things that have served me very well. First, spend time with God every day. Second, keep a short sin list. I spent most of the first year I was a believer having God reveal to me almost daily some sin I had committed against someone else. I made a lot of phone calls. I went to a lot of peoples houses to ask forgiveness. I made a lot of embarrassing phone calls to other Christians that I had met since I had become a believer to tell them that I had lied to them or sinned against them in some way. It was humiliating. I had gotten two DUI’s before I became a believer. I spent the first two years I was a Christian begging for rides to Bible Studies and church services. Every time I met someone new I had to explain why I didn’t have a car. It was humiliating. Or should I say, humbling.

During those first two years I unburdened my soul from sin like Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress. Look folks I’m going to tell you something almost no one will tell you anymore. Jesus Christ has purchased your pardon. You are completely forgiven of all sin past, present, and future. It is a finished work. But you, by grace and the power of the Holy Spirit must apply that finished work. There is spiritual work to be done. Which brings me to the very roots of sin, the pride of life.

Let’s go back to my own story. I was mess inside when I became a Christian. I had been angry for so long that I didn’t know I was angry. When the Holy Spirit revealed to me my anger I had to start down that rabbit hole to find out where it led. Where it led me was to my father’s living room. Not to confront him for being relatively absent from my life, but to ask him to forgive me for being a bad son. I had been a terrible son. I had been in trouble for a decade. I’m sure I had caused him a great deal of embarrassment. So I went to his house and asked his forgiveness. And he forgave me. I had envisioned a Hollywood ending where he asked for my forgiveness and we embraced. That did not happen. My father died a few years later having never sought my forgiveness for anything. I left his house that day upset with God. Why did you make me go there? Why was that so necessary? But in the quiet of my heart I heard God clearly say, “because you have to die son.”

tree by the roots

The root, the very root of my reckless addictions had been an insidious pride. My father had sinned against me. He owed me an apology. I was angry because what others had done to me. ME! At the bottom of my sin I didn’t find others, I found only me, always me. This is why many people are unsuccessful in the spiritual life. They are always picking fruit off their tree, or sawing limbs away. But if you know anything about fruit trees you know that these actions cause fruit trees to be more productive not less. These things have to be dealt with at the roots. You have to “take up your cross and follow Christ.” A person on their way to their execution doesn’t care what people think of them. Things become crystal clear to the dying. It is those that want to live that are always confused. “Any man that will save his life will lose it” eternally. Any man that wants to keep it eternally has to lose it in the here and now. In the clearest terms, you and I have to put ourselves to death. But how do we do that. Well it is easy and hard.

First, you have to spend time with God in His Word frequently. Second, you have to keep a short sin list. Here’s what that means. You have to stop fitting God into your life. He has to become your life. You must bend yourself, by His grace and Spirit, to Him and His Word. Anything else is not discipleship and will not put you to death. How do you do that? Find a group of believers and give your life to them. Secondly, within that group of believers find a mature believer that you can trust absolutely, and spill your guts to them. Tell them everything you struggle with. Everything. Even the most embarrassing and hidden things. Hold nothing back. There is a reason why Christians are instructed to “confess your sins one to another and pray one for another”. There is a reason the Scriptures tell you that “he that covers his sin will not prosper.” Any sin that you leave hidden is a sin that generally is a deep idol, with deep roots, that you alone are not strong enough to pull up yourself. You hide that sin because of pride. That sin inhabits your passions and continues to erupt above the surface like a semi-dormant volcano occasionally spews lava through the cracks in the earth. Be careful, there was once a man after God’s own heart who did that and it ruined his family and his kingdom. Years later and in an intensified form it ruined his son and divided Israel for centuries. You must die. God has given you His Son, His Holy Spirit, His grace, and His Word to deal with you. He’s given you everything for life and faith.