Christianity’s Image Problem!

-It Seemed Boring!

It seemed to me that Christianity had an image problem, back in the 70’s, when I came to faith as a Junior High Boy. Here’s what I mean—if you decided to trust Jesus, as your Savior, you’d get heaven when your life ended HERE; but, the rest of your life HERE would be boring and blasé. But, for me, the “tradeoff” certainly seemed worth it; so, I asked Jesus to be my Savior. I’ll take the 80 years of blasé; but, eternity in heaven vs. 80 years of fun & happiness; but, eternity in hell at the end! But, that didn’t “sell” real well with my friends! I had a difficult time convincing them that the tradeoff was worth it.

-Enduring The Christian Life!

I think many believers still suffer with some sever misconceptions about the “Christian life”, don’t you? It’s been my observation that many believers just ENDURE the Christian life! Secretly, they still pine for the pleasures & happiness they think the world enjoys. In their hearts, they’re earthly hedonists! Like the children of Israel, during the Exodus, still looking back with longing for the old life they left behind in Egypt. Somehow, we’ve come to this erroneous conclusion that life’s just not going to be fun or happy as a Christian; but, we put up with it because…. Well, we get heaven at the END!

-The Most Happiness Possible!

But, there’s a great text of Scripture that debunks the notion that the life that follows Christ & adheres to the Scriptures is a boring life. In fact, what this Psalm says is quite the opposite. The writer sets the record straight—we don’t just ENDURE the Christian life, putting in our time here, until we get to heaven & hangout with Jesus for ever and ever! No! This Psalm tells us that it’s the life that submits to God & His Word that provides us with the greatest fulfillment & the most happiness possible! This is a message that the Church desperately needs! You need this message! I need this message! Happiness & prosperity, in this life & the next, only follows the God-centered life. Here’s how I’d summarize the Psalmist’s big idea—We overcome the pleasures of the world by taking greater pleasure in the Word of God! A significant part of your spiritual growth involves the things in which you find pleasure & happiness! Don’t be surprised that God is concerned with your happiness!

-Here’s A Happy Man!

Listen to what He says: “1How happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked or take the path of sinners or join a group of mockers! Instead, his delight is in the Lord’s instruction, and he meditates on it day and night. He is like a tree planted beside streams of water that bears its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. The wicked are not like this; instead, they are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not survive the judgment, and sinners will not be in the community of the righteous. For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to ruin.” (Psalm 1) For some believers, it’s a debate over “JOY” & “HAPPINESS”! JOY is a fruit of the Spirit, they say; and, that’s what we should concern ourselves with! Not HAPPINESS! But, read that text again—it makes me HAPPY!

 

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God Makes You New (Part II)

-He Doesn’t Condemn You Anymore!

One of the most powerful Scriptures for a believer to hold onto is this:  “Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).  God no longer condemns you if you’ve placed faith, for your salvation, in Jesus’ work on the cross! So, we need to quit condemning ourselves! When you mess up & sin, CONFESS it—that means you AGREE with God that what you did was sin! (1 John 1:8-10) But, after you confess it, thank Him for forgiveness; and, get back into fellowship with Him!

-You’re Part Of The Family!

God has adopted you into His family; and, no one is going to overpower Him and rip you away! You belong to Him! That’s your “identity”—it’s WHO you are! Until you live by faith, knowing who you are in Christ, you will struggle to experience spiritual growth! Unlike “JUSTIFICATION”—which is an instantaneous judicious act of pardon by God; and, a passing from death to life—”SANCTIFICATION” is a process that God begins IN YOU the moment you’ve been JUSTIFIED! God frees us from the power of sin as He SANCTIFIES us! The Apostle Paul, in Romans, speaks of our sin as DOMINATING us BEFORE “JUSTIFICATION”—i.e. we were chained to sin; and, we couldn’t help but sin! But, at the moment of our “JUSTIFICATION”, the Holy Spirit indwells us; and, empowers us in a battle to “mortify”—or, “put to death”—the deeds of our flesh; or, the “old man” Paul calls it!

-We’re Saved! And, Being Saved!

So, at “JUSTIFICATION” we WERE saved; and, “regenerated” or made alive! In our “SANCTIFICATION” we are BEING saved! Don’t be concerned by that! It’s a good thing! Theologically, we mean that God’s “SANCTIFICATION” work, in us, is PROGRESSIVE & ACTIVE! The Holy Spirit is not passive about purging sin from our lives! He’s aggressive! In the Spirit, we now have the power or the capacity to overcome sin; and, at the same time, a growing DESIRE to be rid of it! That is one of my greatest PASSIONS—to BEAT SIN! If you have no desire to overcome sin, your “salvation” is in question! Perhaps you’ve been deceived! It’s in the “SANCTIFICATION” process that you are progressively becoming MORE like Jesus; and, LESS like you! It’s a work that only God can do in you!

-Trying Harder Doesn’t Work!

Unfortunately, it’s pretty typical for believers to try hard, do good & FAIL. That didn’t work; so, try HARDER, do BETTER & FAIL again! Until they stop trying so hard; and, just give in and FAKE IT. Can you relate to that? I know I can!  Listen, God’s “SANCTIFICATION” process tells us to take off the masks & quit pretending we’ve reached perfection! We’re all broken! We all need to be made complete in Christ! So, make yourselves accountable to each other to strengthen the Spirit’s effort to crucify your flesh! And, finally one day we will all become who we already are “positionally” in Christ—we’ll be “GLORIFIED”; and, set FREE from the very PRESENCE of sin! We’ll be like Jesus, Amen! No more corruption! No more sin!

 

God Makes You New (Part I)

-You Need To Know This Stuff!

If you’re a believer, in Jesus Christ, you’re no longer the OLD you! You’ve become—and, you are becoming— a NEW you; a work that God promises to finish once our lives end here! I love how the Amplified Bible renders 2 Corinthians 5:17—“Therefore if anyone is in Christ [that is, grafted in, joined to Him by faith in Him as Savior], he is a new creature [reborn and renewed by the Holy Spirit]; the old things [the previous moral and spiritual condition] have passed away. Behold, all things have become new [because spiritual awakening brings a new life].” Throughout his writings, the Apostle Paul breaks down our salvation into 3 parts; and, understanding this is VITAL to your spiritual growth & to your spiritual sanity!

-3 Big Theological Words!

He uses 3 big theological words—our “JUSTIFICATION”; our “SANCTIFICATION”; and, our “GLORIFICATION.” Now, don’t start snoring on me! Give me a chance to help you understand. You need this; because, it’s all about your “identity” as a disciple of Jesus Christ. If you ever struggle in your faith, it’s because you don’t understand how your faith works—your “JUSTIFICATION” is all about the “WAS” of your salvation; your “SANCTIFICATION” is all about the “IS” of your faith right now; and, your “GLORIFICATION” is all about the “IS TO COME” part of your salvation! Paul explains it like this in 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14— “But we must always thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God has chosen you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, so that you might obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

-Write This Down In Your Bible!

In your Bible, write down “JUSTIFICATION” next to “…belief in the truth…”  At the moment you believed, in Christ, you were JUSTIFIED by God; and, set free from the “PENALTY” of sin—ALL of it! As far as God is concerned, it’s just as if you’d never sinned because Jesus already paid the price for ALL the sin of ALL humanity for ALL time when He died, as a substitutionary atonement, on the cross! I’ve known believers who struggle with that truth—they believe all their sin, up to their salvation, was forgiven; but, they think they have to keep asking for forgiveness of future sins!

-How Far Is The East From The West?

But, that’s faulty thinking; because, ALL of our sin was “FUTURE” sin when Jesus died on the cross 2000 years ago! When God saves us, He tells us that He’s removed our sin “…as far as the east is from the west…” (Psalm 103:12). He says He “…buries them in the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19); and, my favorite is that He “…chooses to remember our sins no more” (Heb 10:17). ALL our sins—past, present & future—are GONE! That’s what it means to be JUSTIFIED! Satan doesn’t want you to know that! He wants you to grovel in your sin & your inadequacies! Every time you stumble & fall he wants to accuse you; but, don’t listen to his lies! God no longer condemns you—Romans 8:1. (Next Week: Part II)

 

More Like Jesus & Less Like You!

-So, How Are You Doing Spiritually?

At a recent Small Group meeting I asked this series of questions: “How are you doing Spiritually? And, on what criteria do you base your answer? How are you measuring your walk with Christ?” I’ve found when I just ask the 1st question—“How are you doing spiritually?”—that everyone says, “Good! Good!” Have you noticed that? I mean, that’s MY typical response to that question! It’s a question that needs qualifying! It needs those follow-up questions. On what basis can I say, “Good! Good!” when someone asks me how I’m doing spiritually?

-Is It About What We Do?

Do we measure our spiritual progress by the things we DO? Be careful! Don’t quickly dismiss the things we DO & say that, “…it’s only what’s in the HEART that matters.” If our HEART is right with God it WILL impact the things we DO, right? Jesus said: “If you love Me, you WILL KEEP my commandments.” At the same time, we can DO all the RIGHT things for the WRONG reasons, can’t we? We can do things to be SEEN of men; and, Jesus called that hypocrisy!

-Practicing The Spiritual Disciplines

Several months back I received a call from a young man who got saved in my youth group, in Colorado, several years ago. He asked if he could interview me for a seminary class he was taking. The interview included a line of questions based on how I lived my life according to the so-called “Spiritual Disciplines”—or, practices found in Scripture that promote spiritual growth. They’re habits of devotion—like prayer, fasting, public & private worship, meditation, making disciples—and, they’re all activities that Jesus’ followers are commanded to do! In fact, Jesus practiced most of them Himself! In answering the question, for the interview, I prefaced my answer with this caution—we are NOT godly just because we practice certain spiritual disciplines!

-The Error Of The Pharisees

That was the great error of the Pharisees, wasn’t it? They believed that they were godly BECAUSE they practiced certain things!  You cannot separate what you’re doing on the OUTSIDE by who you ARE on the INSIDE. What you DO matters! But, who you ARE matters even more! Here’s what I’m trying to say—Spiritual growth happens, in your life, as you become MORE like Jesus & LESS like you! That’s what’s expected if you’re truly His disciple!

-Where Spiritual Growth Happens

Based on several NT passages, I believe that our spiritual development occurs BEST in the context of a “faith community”; or, a church! Being a disciple of Christ does not begin with something WE do; but, with something that Christ DID! That’s the Gospel! He redeemed our broken relationship with the Father by His substitutionary atonement on the cross! He took away our sin! He paid the penalty we should have paid so that the Father might grant us forgiveness, grace, mercy & love! He adopts us into His “family”; and, it’s His family that makes up the church!  That becomes our new identity! We’re no longer citizens of this world; rather, Scripture says we’re “temporary residents” here! And, it’s within the “family” atmosphere, of the “church”, that God prunes us so that He might accomplish our sanctification!

 

Church Community Encourages Growth!

-Celebrate The Differences!

During our nearly 35 years of marriage & ministry together, my wife and I have had several opportunities to minister to some married couples who were struggling with their relationship.  And, more often than not, they were fighting over the very things they originally found attractive about each other—their differences! Oh yes, indeed, opposites do attract! And, if you don’t celebrate the differences from the start of the marriage, you’ll begin to see them as irritants after while.

-Diversity Is God’s Blessing!

Those differences were obvious early on; and, they were seen as complimentary because each one filled in some deficiency in the other person. That’s also true in the faith community that makes up every local church.  Have you noticed how different each individual member is in your church? We all have different backgrounds & upbringings; and, that diversity adds strength to the faith community! But—like marriage—those differences can become problematic to our fellowship if we’re not careful. We can look at how different we are & conclude that we just can’t fellowship with those people! When we “go there” we make the same mistake as the troubled married couple!

-Differences Give Us Perspective!

The differences that my wife & I brought into the marriage gave us perspective; and, stretched us because they exposed our individual weaknesses & our need to make some changes in our lives. I believe we are each a better person because we’ve grown, in those areas, to actually be more like the other person. God uses His church to accomplish the same thing in our lives—our differences make us stronger! God often exposes our weaknesses & our sinful tendencies through the strengths of others.

-No Traction Without Friction!

In fact, our interaction, within the faith community, is one of the MOST significant ways that God grows us spiritually! It’s the friction that we encounter, in our church family, that gives the Holy Spirit the necessary traction to grow us! So, don’t ever look condescendingly at anyone! In Romans 15:1-6 the Apostle Paul points out the fact that there are individuals—within the church—who are strong spiritually; and, others who are weak! And, that can be said of every local church!

-Spiritual Infants Need Your Help!

In every faith community there are some who are spiritually weak in their faith. Perhaps they’re a spiritual “infant” because they’ve never been discipled. Their greatest need is for someone spiritually mature, in the faith, to come alongside them & show them how to grow.  There are others who are weak because they’ve been wounded or hurt—could be spiritual, emotional, or physical pain that they’re dealing with! Again, they just need someone to love them enough to come alongside them & take the time to listen; and, to help! God intends for the Church of Christ to do the work of Christ! That’s why He sent the Holy Spirit to indwell every believer so that we could reconcile people to God!

 

Your Good Works Offend God!

-Because Jesus Already Did It!

Being a disciple of Jesus does not begin with something we do; but, with something Jesus already did! When Jesus went to the cross, He redeemed our relationship with the Father.  A relationship broken by our sin against Him! By Jesus’ death on the cross, He paid the penalty, for our sin, that we should have paid so that the Father would be just to grant us forgiveness, grace, mercy & love.  By Jesus sacrificial act, He made a way for the Father to actually adopt us into His family when we accept the work of His Son & His payment on our behalf.

-Don’t Disrespect Jesus’ Sacrifice!

But, Jesus’ work, on our behalf, is only effective when we quit trying to work our own way into the Father’s favor! We must accept God’s offer of salvation through Christ alone by grace alone; and, cast aside any hope that our good deeds might impress the Father.  Can you see how offensive it is to God when we try to make ourselves presentable to Him? We trample on His Son’s sacrifice when we try to impress God with our “perceived” good deeds! We spit in His face & tell Him His Son’s work on the cross wasn’t good enough; that, we need to “add” our own. What God requires of us is nothing more than humility & brokenness, along with a confession that we’re not worthy & incapable of ever becoming worthy of the salvation He offers us!

-Are You Heaven’s Citizen?

What we need is a new start; a new beginning; a new birth! “You MUST be born again,” Jesus said. He was referencing a “SPIRITUAL” birth. Your “physical” birth makes you a citizen of this world; but, only your “spiritual” birth can make you a citizen of heaven! That becomes your new identity! You’re no longer a citizen of this world; rather, Scripture calls you a “temporary resident” here! Your citizenship is heaven! And, that’s where we have to begin when we start a conversation about “spiritual growth.”

-An Identity In Christ!

You have to be sure of your identity—in Christ—before you can ever hope to mature as a disciple of Christ. That, in fact, is what Paul said happens at the moment of faith. Here’s how the Amplified Bible expands on the meaning of Paul’s words:  “Therefore if anyone is in Christ [that is, grafted in, joined to Him by faith in Him as Savior], he is a new creature [reborn and renewed by the Holy Spirit]; the old things [the previous moral and spiritual condition] have passed away. Behold, all things have become new [because spiritual awakening brings a new life]” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

-You’re Not The Old You!

If you’re a believer—or, a disciple—of Jesus, you’re no longer that OLD you. You’ve become; and, are becoming the NEW you—the spiritually born again you! And, one day God will finish the work He began in you that day you were converted—that’s the coming day of “glorification”! Until that day, God will be at work, in you, sanctifying you. That’s a big word—SANCTIFICATION—but, break it down to it’s simplest form & it’s the process by which God makes you more like Jesus and less like you! He does that, in part, by revealing to us our sin, convincing us to forsake it, and, empowering us to actually overcome it!

 

More Like Jesus, Less Like Me!

-Measuring Spiritual Progress!

Have you ever tried asking someone, “How are you doing spiritually?” They always say, “Good, Good,” right? Probably not a very good question. It’s not likely to get the real answer you’re looking for! Next time, try this instead: “So, where are you at in your walk with the Lord? And, on what criteria do you base your answer? How are you measuring your walk with Christ?” When we enter into that kind of conversation with someone, we need those “qualifying” or “follow-up” questions too! On what basis can we say we’re doing “good” when someone asks us how we’re doing spiritually?

-Does It Matter What We Do?

Do we measure spiritual progress by the things we DO? Be careful! Don’t quickly dismiss the things we DO & SAY, that, “it’s only what’s in the heart that matters!” If our heart is right with God, it will impact the things we DO, right? Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will KEEP my commandments.” At the same time, we can DO all the RIGHT things for the WRONG reasons, can’t we? We can DO things to be SEEN of men; and, Jesus called that hypocrisy!

-What About “Spiritual Disciplines”?

I received a phone call, some time ago, from a young man who was saved years ago in my youth group in Colorado. He was on the pastoral staff of a church in Oregon; and, he called to ask if he could conduct an interview with me for a seminary class he was taking! The interview was based on how I lived my life according to the “spiritual disciplines.” If that’s a new term to you, suffice it to say that “spiritual disciplines” are practices found, in Scripture, that can promote spiritual growth. They are “habits” of devotion, like prayer, fasting, public & private worship, meditation & making disciples—all activities that we’re commanded to do, right? Jesus practiced them! But, I prefaced my answer, in the interview, with this caution: “We are NOT GODLY just because we practice certain spiritual disciplines!

-The Error Of The Pharisees!

That was the great error of the Pharisees! They believed they were godly BECAUSE they did certain things! You can’t separate what you’re DOING on the OUTSIDE by who you ARE on the INSIDE! WHAT you do matters! But, WHO you are matters even more! Here’s the point—spiritual growth happens as you become more like Jesus; and, less like you!

-Become Like Your Teacher!

It is our goal, as a local church, that our community of believers would become mature disciples of Christ in their personal spiritual development. That’s a core value! That we’d all grow in spiritual maturity! As disciples of Christ, that we’d all become more like Him! That’s what a disciple does! He becomes like his Teacher! And, it is our belief that individual spiritual development occurs BEST in the context of a local church! Faith grows best where it is challenged, not isolated! And, crucial to that is the realization that being a disciple of Christ does not begin with something we DO; but, with something that Christ already DID! He redeemed our broken relationship with the Father by His death on the cross! He took my sin! And, He paid the penalty that I should have paid so that I might receive forgiveness! That’s the Gospel!