Growing in Grace

The Christian life is predicated upon the finished work of Jesus. He died and was raised to life so that we might find life in Him. Once we by faith receive that life, we begin a new journey of life as we walk with Him through life. Tim Challis recently wrote an article that addressed the subject of growth in the Christian life. I hope the article will encouragement your grip on God’s grace as it did mine. Pastor Chris
 
 

“The great goal of the Christian life is to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. The Christian longs to be influenced by Christ to such an extent that every thought is one Jesus would think, that every action is one he would take. Such conformity depends upon a renewed mind, for it is only once our minds are renewed that our desires and actions can follow (Romans 12:2). The Christian life, then, is one of taking off the “old self with its practices” and putting on “the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (Colossians 3:9-10).

So noble a goal can only be achieved with great effort and lifelong commitment, for we are sinful people, only recently liberated from our captivity to the world, the flesh, and the devil. The Christian life is not a leisurely stroll but a purposeful journey. Jesus tells us we must “strive to enter through the narrow door,” knowing that the Christian life permits no complacency, that salvation must be “worked out,” not waited out (Luke 13:24; Philippians 2:12). The Christian is not a passive spectator in sanctification but an active participant….Every Christian is responsible to diligently search out and discover the disciplines through which God grants increased godliness. Then he is to make a lifelong, whole-hearted commitment to each of them.

How Do Christians Grow?

With spiritual growth comes increased knowledge of God, trust in God, and conformity to God. The one who had little knowledge of God’s works and ways comes to know them both deeply. The one of weak faith comes to have immovable trust. The one who was depraved in desire and behavior comes to display Christ-like character and conduct. Such growth leads inexorably to delight, for to know and to imitate God is to enjoy him.

How, then, can we experience such an increase in knowledge, trust, conformity, and delight? Primarily through what we call “means of grace,” disciplines through which God communicates his sanctifying grace to us. While there are many such means, we can summarize them under three headings: Word, prayer, and fellowship. They are experienced in private devotion, family and corporate worship, and whenever we are with other Christians.

Though growth may come through other means, God promises growth will come through these ones.

J.C. Ryle speaks of their importance when he says, “I lay it down as a simple matter of fact that no one who is careless about such things must ever expect to make much progress in sanctification. I can find no record of any eminent saint who ever neglected them.”

Ordinary Means

Christians have often referred to these activities as the ordinary means of grace. The word ordinary is meant to address the common temptation to lose confidence in the means God has ordained, and to look instead to those that are foreign or forbidden. Deeply embedded within the sinful human heart is a desire for more than God has mandated, for other than what God has prescribed. Though God gave Adam and Eve knowledge of good, their sinful temptation was to add to it the knowledge of evil. When God held back nothing except the fruit of a single tree, they found themselves obsessed with that very one. Similarly, we may grow weary of entrusting ourselves to the ordinary ministry of the Word and veer instead into mysticism. We may grow discouraged in our ordinary prayers and search for new forms of communication with God. We may grow weary of worshipping in Christian community and pursue selfish worship.

Yet God means for us to commit ourselves to these activities, to trust that they are the means through which he accomplishes his work within us. His extraordinary work is achieved through ordinary means. Thus, we must not only make use of the means of grace but trust them. We must trust they are God’s appointed means to promote zeal for godliness, to foster godliness, and to preserve godliness to the end.

God’s Means

God’s means of grace are the Word, prayer, and fellowship. These, according to John MacArthur, are the “instruments through which God’s Spirit graciously grows believers in Christlikeness and fortifies them in the faith and conforms them into the image of the Son.” Ryle describes them as “appointed channels through which the Holy Spirit conveys fresh supplies of grace to the soul and strengthens the work which He has begun in the inward man.” Let’s look briefly at each of them.

Word. The Word of God, the Bible, is God’s revelation to humanity—his revelation of himself, his character, and his works. It is his voice to the world. And it is through the Bible, more than any other means, that God sanctifies us. The Bible first reveals the gospel, which is “the power of God for salvation” (Romans 1:16). We cannot be saved without it. Then it is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” so that every Christian may be “complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). We cannot grow in godliness without it. Therefore, the Bible must be read, taught, absorbed, and applied. We must read it as individuals, families, and churches. Parents must teach it to their children, pastors to their congregations, Christians to their peers. We must meditate upon it, diligently and prayerfully seeking to understand it, and we must apply it, shaping our lives according to its every truth and every command. As Christians we are, and must always be, people of The Book.

Prayer. As the Bible is the means through which God speaks to humanity, prayer is the means through which we speak to God. Christians are to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), to make life a conversation in which we hear from God and speak in return, or in which we speak to God and hear in return. We are to offer prayers of adoration, confession, thanksgiving, intercession, and supplication. We are to pray privately, with our family, with our friends, and with our congregation, to pray both as individuals and gathered congregations. In certain seasons, we are to pray with fasting, specially consecrating ourselves to the work of prayer. As we pray, God blesses us with increased trust in him, increased fellowship with him, and increased confidence in his character and works.

Fellowship. When we become Christians, we enter into a fellowship of believers that spans the earth and the ages. We grow in godliness in community, not isolation. This is why the author of Hebrews wrote, “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (10:24-25). It is in Christian community that we read the Word and hear it preached (2 Timothy 4:2), that we join our voices together in prayer (Acts 4:24), that we sing praises to God (Colossians 3:16), that we bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), speak truth to one another (Ephesians 4:25), and encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11). It is here that we celebrate the ordinances of the Lord’s Supper and baptism, and here that we experience the blessings of church membership and the tough love of church discipline. The Bible knows nothing of Christians who willfully separate themselves from Christian fellowship. It is a means through which God pours out his sanctifying grace upon us and through us.

Conclusion

Ray Ortlund points out that the means of grace are God’s answer to questions every Christian must ask: “How do I, as a believer, access the grace of the Lord for my many needs? Where do I go, what do I do, to connect with the real help He gives to sinners and sufferers here in this world?” We access the Lord’s grace and receive the Lord’s help through these ordinary means. We cannot expect to grow or thrive apart from them. But we can confidently expect to grow and thrive in proportion to the degree we commit ourselves to them, for God has ordained them for this very purpose.

Thus, the first rule of godliness is trust the ordinary means of grace. We must take full advantage of the disciplines God provides, and we must ensure we do not lose our confidence that God can and will work through such ordinary means. It is his desire and delight to do so.”


Godly Leadership

One of the more important topics in the assembly of the saints today is the topic of leadership. The Bible addresses the topic of leadership from many angles. Steven Cole explores several qualities of biblical leadership in the article below. As I read it, my faith in Christ was strengthened and my desire to be a godly leader was fueled with fire from heaven. I hope as you read it, the article will have a similar effect upon your life in Christ. Pastor Chris
 
 
 
 

“In a day when many church leaders have fallen into serious sin, the vitality of the church depends on our recovering these godly leadership qualities. Even if you are not a church leader, every fruitful Christian should be growing in these four qualities seen in our text:

A godly leader is marked by a servant attitude, transparent integrity, godly character, and faithful biblical teaching.

1. A godly leader is marked by a servant attitude.

Paul’s servant attitude flavors this entire message, but he mentions specifically that he was “serving the Lord” (20:19). The word “serving” is the verb related to the noun “bond-servant” or slave. Paul often referred to himself as a bond-servant of Jesus Christ (Rom. 1:1; Gal. 1:10; Col. 1:7; 4:7; Titus 1:1). It was the way he viewed himself, and the way that every Christian should view himself. We do not belong to ourselves; we are slaves of Jesus Christ. We should do all that we do to please Him. If we have a sphere of service, we received it from Him (Acts 20:24).

This means that a leader primarily serves the Lord, and only secondarily serves the church. He will answer to God someday for how he fulfilled the stewardship entrusted to Him. I realize that sometimes a self-willed man will use that as an excuse for being unaccountable to anyone. If his board questions his behavior, he piously answers, “I don’t need to answer to you; I answer to God!” That is a cop out. Everyone needs to be accountable.

But there is a legitimate sense in which a godly leader realizes that he will answer to God, and it keeps him from becoming a man-pleaser. As Paul said (Gal. 1:10), “For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ” (see also, 1 Thess. 2:4). This sense of pleasing God rather than men allows a godly leader to confront sin when necessary, and to preach difficult truth when necessary (more on this in a moment).

When a man truly sees himself as a servant of Jesus Christ, he will take up the towel and basin as Jesus did (John 13:1-17), and serve others out of love. Lording it over others is the world’s way. Christ’s way is that the greatest among us should be the servant of all (Mark 10:42-45).

2. A godly leader is marked by transparent integrity.

Paul said, “You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time” (20:18). He later mentions that he was with them “night and day for a period of three years” (20:31). He was referring to spending a lot of time with these men, but I think that he was also referring to living his life openly before them. They had seen how he lived. He didn’t put on a front when he was with them, but then live differently when he was away from them. He had nothing to hide.

Integrity means that what you are in private or at home is the same as what you are in public. Your life is a single fabric. This stems from the first quality, that you are aware that you are serving the Lord, who knows every thought and motive of the heart.

In the 1940’s, a preacher named Will Houghton served as the President of Moody Bible Institute. An agnostic man, who was contemplating suicide, decided that if he could find a minister who lived his faith, he would listen to him. So he hired a private detective to watch Houghton. When the investigator’s report came back, it revealed that this preacher’s life was above reproach. He was for real. The agnostic went to Houghton’s church, trusted in Christ, and later sent his daughter to Moody Bible Institute (“Our Daily Bread,” 11/83). Leaders must be men of godly integrity.

3. A godly leader is marked by godly character.

Many godly character qualities could be listed, such as the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). But three qualities stand out here:

A. GODLY CHARACTER INCLUDES HUMILITY.

You have probably heard it said that as soon as you think that you’ve attained humility, you’ve lost it. But that’s not true. Paul here mentions his own humility. Jesus described Himself as gentle and humble in heart (Matt. 11:29). Moses described himself as the most humble man on the face of the earth (Num. 12:3)! So apparently, you can know when you are humble without being proud of it. What does it mean to be humble?

In a nutshell, biblical humility is a conscious awareness of your utter dependence on Jesus Christ. We see it in Paul when he explains, “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God” (2 Cor. 3:5). We see it when he says, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves” (2 Cor. 4:4). He confronts the pride of the Corinthians when he asks, “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (1 Cor. 4:7). A humble person is continually aware that all that he is stems from God’s grace. His confidence is not in himself, but in the Lord, so that he is quick to give the glory to God in every situation.

I recently received a promotional letter from some folks in the church growth movement that reported a study that reveals “that although successful leaders have many strengths and various factors in common, there is only one factor that all successful leaders have in common—self-confidence” (emphasis in original). Having concluded that self-confidence is an essential quality for successful leaders, they proceeded to develop a tool that would help pastors develop confidence in themselves (I’m not making this up!).

But in the context of warning us about the deceitfulness of the heart, the Bible strongly warns against self-confidence (Jer. 17:5-9). True, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Phil. 4:13). But there is a huge difference between confidence in Christ in us and confidence in ourselves. A godly leader depends on Christ and is quick to share his own weaknesses (2 Chron. 20:12; 2 Cor. 12:5-10). That is the essence of biblical humility.

B. GODLY CHARACTER INCLUDES LOVE, CONCERN, AND COMPASSION.

These qualities are behind the word “tears” (20:19). He again mentions his tears in 20:31, in the context of admonishing these elders, especially with regard to false teaching. There are more tears, both on Paul’s and the elders’ part, when they accompany Paul to the ship for their final goodbye (20:37). Paul’s tears showed how much he cared about these men, and the feelings were mutual. As the old saying goes, “People don’t care how much you know unless they know how much you care.”

Paul was moved to tears when he heard of Christians who were not walking obediently to Christ. He wrote to the Corinthians, “For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears; not so that you would be made sorrowful, but that you might know the love which I have especially for you” (2 Cor. 2:4). If you need to correct someone who has fallen into sin or serious error, make sure that the person senses your genuine love and concern.

C. GODLY CHARACTER INCLUDES STEADFASTNESS IN TRIALS.

The Ephesian elders had seen Paul go through the trials that came upon him through the plots of the Jews (20:19). The Book of Acts does not record any such plots in Ephesus, although it does report several other such plots of the Jews in other cities (9:23; 20:3; 23:12), and so it is not difficult to assume that the same thing had happened in Ephesus. The Ephesian elders had also seen Paul’s behavior when the Gentiles rioted against him. In all of these situations, they saw Paul, even though he despaired of life itself, trust all the more in God (2 Cor. 1:8-10). He didn’t grow bitter and rage against God that He wasn’t being fair. He didn’t lash out at the Jews in vengeance. He submitted to God’s mighty hand and cast his cares upon Him (1 Pet. 5:6-7).

Thus a godly leader is marked by a servant attitude, by transparent integrity, and by godly character that includes humility, love, and steadfastness in trials. Finally,

4. A godly leader is marked by faithful biblical teaching.

Verses 20 & 21 reveal five aspects of faithful teaching:

A. FAITHFUL BIBLICAL TEACHING REQUIRES NOT DODGING DIFFICULT TRUTHS.

“I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable.” This implies that some things that are profitable are difficult to receive, and thus difficult to teach. If Paul had been seeking to please men, he would have dodged these truths. If he had wanted to be a popular speaker, he would have chosen other subjects. But because he sought to please God, and because he knew that these truths were profitable for spiritual growth and health, he plainly taught what God wanted him to teach.

What were some of these truths? I think that we can surmise a few of them by reading Ephesians, which he later wrote to this church. He begins by talking about the doctrines of God’s sovereign election and predestination (1:4-5). He goes on to talk about human depravity, that we were all dead in our trespasses and sins (2:1). Because of this, salvation is totally from God’s grace, not from our merit or works (2:5-9). He shows how the wall of separation between Jews and Gentiles is broken down in Christ (2:11-22). All of these doctrines level human pride and exalt the cross of Jesus Christ. Because they rob man of any basis for pride, people stumble over these truths. But like health food, they are profitable for spiritual health, and so Paul taught them, and so should we.

B. FAITHFUL BIBLICAL TEACHING REQUIRES PRACTICAL APPLICATION THAT HELPS PEOPLE TO GROW IN THEIR FAITH.

Paul taught what was profitable or helpful for spiritual growth and health. He warns Timothy about those who teach things that lead to mere speculation and fruitless discussion, rather than furthering God’s provision which is by faith (1 Tim. 1:4-7). As he studies the Bible, a faithful Bible teacher always asks, “So what? What difference should this Scripture make in my life (first), and in the lives of those whom I teach?” Sound application always comes out of sound interpretation of a biblical text in its context. You should be able to look at your Bible and say, “Yes, I see that this is what God wants me to do.”

C. FAITHFUL BIBLICAL TEACHING SHOULD TAKE PLACE BOTH IN FORMAL AND INFORMAL SETTINGS.

Paul taught these men publicly and from house to house. Paul taught these men in the school of Tyrannus, in the house church meetings, when they heard him preach in the Jewish synagogues, and in their various homes as they shared meals or got together socially. Sometimes it was the entire group at once. At other times, he met individually with one man to help him understand some doctrine or work through a personal problem biblically. The informal times reveal that Paul always loved to talk about the things of God with these men. He was constantly interacting with them about Scripture because it was central in his life.

D. FAITHFUL BIBLICAL TEACHING REFLECTS A SERIOUSNESS ABOUT ETERNAL TRUTHS.

Paul “solemnly testified” both to Jews and Greeks about repentance and faith. The word pictures a person under oath in a courtroom, solemnly swearing to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Paul realized that the eternal destiny of souls was at stake, and he didn’t take his preaching assignment lightly.

There is a place for some humor in the pulpit, but it is easy to abuse humor so as to convey that we are not in dead earnest about eternal issues. I recently heard a sermon on a cassette, and I came away thinking that the preacher came across like a stand up comedian. His content would have been fine if he had conveyed it in earnest, but his repeated humor made it seem like a light-hearted, don’t take it too seriously, kind of message. A faithful biblical teacher should convey the seriousness of the gospel.

E. FAITHFUL BIBLICAL TEACHING PROCLAIMS REPENTANCE AND FAITH AS THE CORE REQUIREMENTS FOR THOSE WHO WANT TO BE RIGHT WITH GOD.

Some say that repentance toward God applies to the Gentiles, and faith in our Lord Jesus to the Jews. But there is no grammatical reason to take it that way, and the fact is, both groups need both qualities. Repentance and faith are the flip sides of the same coin. They are different ways of looking at the requirement for salvation, but you can’t separate them from one another. Repentance means turning from our sin toward God. It is impossible to turn toward the holy God and at the same time consciously holding on to your sin. Repentance is the heart-felt cry, “O God, I have sinned against You, but I don’t want to live that way any longer. Have mercy on me, the sinner!”

Faith is the hand that lays hold of God’s provision in Christ. Faith looks to Christ as the righteousness that I need to stand before a holy God. Faith looks to Christ as the pardon for all my sins through His shed blood. Faith in the Lord Jesus means that I am not trusting in my own righteousness in any way, but only in Jesus as my mediator and advocate. Both faith and repentance are God’s gifts, not a matter of human merit (Acts 11:18; Eph. 2:8-9).

And just as we begin the Christian life through repentance and faith, so we should go on living daily by repentance and faith (Col. 2:6). As God’s Word shines into the dark areas of our lives, we turn from our sins and we trust in all that Christ is for us and in us. That is the Christian walk, repenting and believing, repenting and believing. Christ Himself is the object and sum of our faith.

Conclusion

Whether you are in an official leadership position or not, you should be growing in these four areas. Are you just living for yourself, or are you developing a servant’s attitude? Are you living a double life, or are you growing in godly integrity? What about your character? Are you growing in humility, in love and concern for others, and in steadfastness in trials? And, while you may not have the gift of teaching, you should be growing in understanding and applying all of God’s Word to all of your life and then sharing what you are learning with others. Congressman J. C. Watts said, “To say America can have strong leadership without strong character is to say we can get water without the wet” (Reader’s Digest [12/98], p. 39). The same is true for the church!”



Resurrection and Life

The resurrection of Jesus is a celebration of life. That life, however, cost Jesus everything. Rick Warren and Kurt Bubna capture the events surrounding the resurrection which leaves us with hope through the Gospel. May your faith be strengthened as you celebrate the event that changed the world forever. Pastor Chris
 
 

 
 “Two thousand years ago, in the Middle East, an event occurred that permanently changed the world. Because of that event, history was split. Every time you write a date, you’re using the resurrection of Jesus Christ as the focal point.  What’s so important about Easter? It’s important because it proved that Jesus was who he claimed to be. He was God in the flesh, and he came to earth to save us.  Three events occurred in a dramatic succession on that Easter weekend: the trial of Jesus, then the death of Jesus, and finally the resurrection of Jesus. Let’s look at each of those events and their implications.
    “The Trial:  Jesus actually went through six trials. In that one night, he was brought before Annas, Caiaphas (the high priest), the Sanhedrin (the religious Supreme Court), Pilate (the governor of Jerusalem), Herod (the governor of Galilee), and then back to Pilate. At the end of those six trials, what did they find to accuse him of? Nothing. He had done nothing wrong. They brought in people to make up phony charges, but those didn’t stick. Finally they convicted him on one count: claiming to be the Son of God. That’s the sole reason Jesus went to the cross. They didn’t like that claim.  Everyone who has ever been presented with Jesus has already made some kind of decision about who he is. You either believe he’s a liar, or you believe he’s a lunatic, or you believe he’s the Lord. It can’t just be: “I believe he was a good teacher.” He couldn’t be just a good teacher, because a good teacher would not say, “I’m God, and I’m the only way to Heaven.” A good person would not say that unless it was the truth.  Jesus claimed to be the Savior of the world. In John 12:47b, he is recorded as saying: ‘I have come to save the world and not to judge’ (NLT). He allowed himself to be put on trial so there would be no doubt about who he was. He could have stopped the trial at any moment. He knew he would be proven guilty and put on the cross — but he allowed it to happen. It was all part of the plan.
     “The Death:  After a night of beatings and mocking, after being crowned with painful thorns, Jesus was crucified. Crucifixion is probably the most brutal and torturous death penalty ever devised by men. His hands were stretched out wide against the cross and nailed through the two bones in each wrist. As the nails went through this part of the flesh, they would strike the nerve that travels up the arm and cause excruciating pain.  If you hung this way for any period of time, the muscles around your chest cavity began to be paralyzed. You’d be able to breathe in but you couldn’t breathe out. Death on a cross would have been a simple matter of suffocation — except the Romans didn’t want to make it that easy. They’d take a person’s knees and bend them a little bit and nail the feet to the cross. So a man would hang there in absolute agony until the pain in his chest was about to explode — and then he would lift himself up on his nailed feet to grab a breath. When the pain in his feet grew unbearable, he’d let himself back down again — until the pain in his lungs became unbearable. It was an incredibly torturous event. Eventually, the soldiers would break the legs of the criminal to hasten death by suffocation.  In the case of Jesus, they didn’t have to break his legs, because he had already died. But just to make sure, they stuck a spear in his side. Water and blood came out of the chest cavity, which, doctors say, only happens if the heart rips. You can call it what you want, but Jesus died of a broken heart.  Why did Jesus have to die? Because he alone was able to pay for our sins. We deserved punishment, but Jesus paid the penalty.
     “The Resurrection:  After Jesus died, they took his body down and put him in the tomb, and a giant millstone was set in front of the cave. The religious leaders — worried that Jesus’ body might be stolen — asked for Roman guards to be posted in front of the tomb. They didn’t want him coming out! But of course, he did.  You know the story. But it’s important to remember that Easter is not some memorial to a nice, good religious teacher who lived 2,000 years ago. It’s a celebration of the fact that he is alive today. I’m living proof — and so are the billions of  Christians who will celebrate Easter this weekend.  ‘By being raised from the dead he was proved to be the mighty Son of God, with the holy nature of God himself’ (Romans 1:4 TLB).
     “Easter is the Good News about God’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who came as a human baby, born into King David’s royal family line. Four historical records say he showed himself to 500 people at one gathering. Can you imagine witnessing his death and then seeing him walking around Jerusalem three days later? What an amazing thing! When Jesus was hanging on the cross, the skeptics and critics mocked him and in effect said, If you’re the Son of God, why don’t you just pull yourself down from that cross? Why don’t you just come down and show that you’re really God? Jesus had something more spectacular planned. He essentially said, I’m going to let you bury me for three days, then I’ll come back to life to prove that I am what I am.  What does this mean to us today? In one sense, Jesus Christ is still on trial. He’s on trial in the heart and mind of every person who has not yet acknowledged him as the Son of God, the Savior of the world.
     “What’s your verdict? You see, Easter really boils down to only two issues. One, is Jesus who he says he is? Is he God? Or is he a lunatic or a liar? And two, if he is who he says he is, when are you going to start following what he says to do with your life?”


Salvation

The teaching of the Bible on the topic of salvation has been a benefit to believers during this age of grace. Two ways that biblical salvation has been explored has been by examining the subjects of justification and sanctification. Below, Greg Herrick, explains those two topics in a way that I trust will strengthen your faith in Jesus and build your understanding of this important subject of the Bible. Pastor Chris
 
 
 
 
Justification
 
“The doctrine of justification is crucial to a proper view of the gospel and is not simply a doctrine developed in the heat of the battle in Galatians. Several things should be noted briefly about this doctrine. 
Firstjustification refers to a legal declaration by God that our sins—past, present, and future—are forgiven through Christ and Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us. Second, it is a once-for-all decision to declare (not make) us righteous in his sight so that there remains no longer any legal recourse or accusation against us. This is the meaning Paul intends when he asks in Romans 8:33-34: “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? God is the One who justifies.” Third, since justification involves forgiveness of sin and dealing with actual condemnation, it ultimately settles the question of our guilt; we are no longer in a state of guilt. Fourth, we possess, in God’s sight, the righteousness of Christ, and since God views it this way, this is indeed reality. It is not fiction as some have argued, but real, though the doctrine of justification does not deal directly with practice, but standingbefore God’s holy law. Our standing has been forever changed and we are no longer guilty; the law no longer has recourse against us. Fifth, justification comes through faith and not by works as Paul makes clear in Romans 3:26-28; 4:4-5. We do not earn this standing, but rather it is credited to our account through faith in Christ. Sixth, it is dangerous to the purity of the gospel of God’s grace to introduce ideas of moral improvement into the doctrine of justification. While justification is related inextricably to sanctification, they are not the same reality and should not be confused. Justification does not mean that God infuses righteousness into us in order to prepare us to receive his grace (which is really not NT grace at all). Again, justification deals with our legal standing and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us; it does not refer directly to our day to day growth in the Lord. Seventh, there is an eschatology to justification. As N. T Wright says, “The verdict issued in the present on the basis of faith (Rom 3:21-26correctly anticipates the verdict to be issued in the final judgment 
on the basis of the total life.”
 

The doctrine of sanctification can be spoken of in three tenses. With respect to the past, we have been set apart, both to belong to God, positionally speaking, and to serve him, practically speaking. We were sanctified at the moment of conversion and were declared legally holy and belonging to the Lord (1 Cor 6:11). With respect to the future, we will be totally sanctified someday in our glorified bodies. At that time our practice will completely match our position or standing before God. At the present time we are being sanctified, that is, increasingly being transformed into the image of the Lord (2 Cor 3:18). Thus the nature of sanctification is transformation; we are being progressively conformed into the image of the Son who died for us. This is God’s decreed purpose (Rom 8:29). 

 
Sanctification
 
Sanctification in the present time, then, is the process of transformation into the image of Christ and the efficient cause of this glorious change is the Spirit living in us (2 Cor 3:18). He mediates the presence of Christ to us and unfolds the moral will of God to us (John 16:13-141 Cor 3:16; 6:19-20). The Spirit uses the people of God (Col 3:16), the word of God (2 Tim 3:16-17), circumstances God ordains to mold and shape us (Rom 8:28), and the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Matt 28:19-201 Cor 11:23-26). We are on his potter’s wheel, not a treadmill; relationship, transformation, and holiness are the goals, not exhaustion.

Therefore, the purpose for which the Spirit is aiming in our lives is Christlikeness and the degree to which we are conformed to him is the degree to which we are sanctified. The fruit that should characterize our lives, then, ought to be love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control (Gal 5:23-24). The root of this transformation lies in our co-crucifixion and co-resurrection with Christ (Rom 6:3-4), and the process is never completed in this life (Phil 3:12-13). Nonetheless, we shoot for perfection (1 Peter 1:15-16), knowing that such will not be the case until the Savior comes from heaven to transform our lowly bodies (Phil 3:20). Until then, the process is colored by struggle against the world (1 John 2:15-16), the flesh (Rom 8:6-7Gal 5:17), and the devil (Eph 6:12). 

Our role in the process of sanctification relates directly only to the present time. It involves mortifying the deeds of the body, that is, putting to death those things that belong to our earthly (carnal) natures (Col 3:5) and conversely, putting on Christ (Rom 13:14). If, by the Spirit, we put to death the misdeeds of the body, we will certainly enjoy all the power, comforts, and joys of the spiritual life (cf. Rom 8:13). We must remember in our struggle against sin (and, for righteousness), however, that we live in relationship with God on the solid foundation of justification. Though we strive to please him, it is not so that he will become our Father and take us in, rather it is because he has already declared his Fatherhood over us and because he is the One who works in us to this end. Again, our responsibility can be summed up in the word: “cooperation.” God is the one who works in us both “the willing and the doing” (Phil 2:12-13).”



The Blessing of Peace

One of the more beneficial topics in the Word is the biblical teaching on peace. Often peace is understood as simply the absence of conflict. But that reduces peace to a single concept, which is contrary to the biblical understanding of peace. Mark D. Roberts, in the post below, unpacks for us the depth of peace as revealed in the Word. May your life reflect the peace of Christ as He rules in your heart. Pastor Chris 
 
 

The Zealot desire for “peace” apart from Roman rule ultimately led to the destruction of Jerusalem by Rome, a sad fact of history that is memorialized on the Arch of Titus in the Roman Forum.

Peace Among People, Part 1

“Peace with God and peace within our souls do not exhaust the potentialities of peace through Christ. Scripture connects inner peace specifically to peace among people: “Let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are all called to live in peace” (Col 3:15). If divine peace reigns within us, it should touch the rest our lives, especially our most important relationships in

family, among friends, and in church

. But the peace Christ impacts an even broader set of human relationships than these.

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians lays the spiritual foundation for peace among people. After first showing that the death of Christ leads to our personal salvation (Eph 2:4-10), Ephesians 2 goes on to explore the corporate implications of the cross, focusing on the fundamental division between Jews and Gentiles. 

For Christ himself has made peace between us Jews and you Gentiles by making us all one people. He has broken down the wall of hostility that used to separate us. By his death he ended the whole system of Jewish law that excluded the Gentiles. His purpose was to make peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new person from the two groups. Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death, and our hostility toward each other was put to death (Eph 2:14-16).

The death of Jesus not only brings reconciliation between individuals and God, but also creates reconciliation among people by exploding the hostility that keeps us from living peacefully together. It’s crucial that we pay attention to what Paul is teaching here because sometimes we get so excited about the personal relevance of the cross that we neglect its corporate implications. We end up proclaiming the possibility of peace with God and peace within ourselves without mentioning peace among people.

But God’s plan for you includes more than reconciliation with him, however essential and foundational this reconciliation is. On the basis of peace with God, you can have peace with others as well, an essential dimension of God’s perfect peace. Notice, too, that peace among people is not limited to a few close relationships. It transforms the relationship between Jews and Gentiles. It impacts races, ethnicities, and even nations. The Old Testament foresaw that the righteous king who comes humbly, “riding on a donkey . . . will bring peace to the nations” (Zech 9:9-10). When Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, he came to die so that God’s peace would pervade all peoples and nations. 

I didn’t always think of God’s peace in this way. I grew up focusing on Christ’s provision of peace with God, within my own soul, and with my closest companions. Biblical passages that spoke of the social and political dimensions of divine peace could be reinterpreted to fit my preconceived notions of peace. I could easily ignore the texts that connect peace with righteousness and justice, or else relegate them to the future when Christ returns. 

But when I was in graduate school, my best friend was a Mennonite pastor who conceived of God’s peace much more fully. While not denying the central importance of peace with God or the blessings of inner peace, Tom spoke passionately of the broad dimensions of biblical peace. He helped me take seriously passages from Scripture that I had ignored or misinterpreted, especially the latter half of Ephesians 2, which shows how Christ’s death makes peace between hostile peoples. He also showed me the rich meanings of the Hebrew term shalom, a word that I had understood to refer primarily to the absence of conflict. Through Tom, I realized that I had truncated biblical peace to fit my own values, needs, and preconceptions. By his influence, I came to embrace the richer and truer sense of biblical peace, recognizing its interconnectedness with righteousness, justice, and wholeness in all of life.  

Peace Among People, Part 2

In my last post I began to lay out some of the broader implications of Jesus’ life and death. He came to bring peace, not only between God and people, but also among people. Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose from the grave to restore peace to a broken world. Wherever there is conflict, whether inside individual hearts, or within families, or among brothers and sisters in church, or between different ethnic groups, or even between warring nations, Christ “wages peace” as his disciples wield the paradoxical power of the cross. This power is paradoxical because victory comes through the embodied proclamation of Christ’s own powerlessness.

It would be a great error to think of the social dimensions of peace as simply whitewashing social evil in a grand attempt to “make nice.” It’s all too easy for us to confuse peacemaking with “nice-making.” This was also true in Jesus’ own day. Some Jews believed that, if he were the Messiah, Jesus would usher in a season of painless prosperity. To these mistaken folk Jesus said, 

Do you think that I have come to bring peace on earth? No, I have come to bring strife and division! From now on families will be split apart, three in favor of me, and two against – or the other way around. There will be a division between father and son, mother and daughter, mother-in-law and daughter-in-law (Luke 12:52-53).

Does this passage contradict everything else we have read about the peacemaking work of Christ? No, because it must be interpreted in its unique context. Jesus is speaking in Luke 12 to those who expected a superficial peace, a peace that was really no peace at all because it failed to deal with the true cause of human brokenness. Many of the Jews in the first-century equated peace with the expulsion of the Romans. “Get rid of foreign rule and we’ll have peace,” they thought. But Jesus came to bring an unanticipated kind of peace. His peace would address the root cause of human suffering. His peace would be offered to people who were not Jews, even to the hated Romans. 


 

As Jesus pursued his peculiar peacemaking mission, he engendered plenty of strife. His failure to fulfill Jewish expectations led to his being rejected by his own people, while his insistence on the presence of God’s reign brought about his crucifixion at Roman hands. It would have been so much easier for Jesus if he had simply joined the Zealots, who fomented violence against Rome, or the Sadducees, who tolerated partnership with the Romans, or the Pharisees, who by the time of Jesus focused on personal piety instead of social reformation. But Jesus was unwilling to settle for a peace that was no peace. He resolutely pursued the all-encompassing peace that comes only when sin is abolished and God’s rule is reestablished on the earth.

Jesus’ statement about strife and division should warn us not to equate the absence of conflict with true peace. There are families, for example, which appear to be peaceful only because the head of the household is a tyrant who uses emotional and sometimes physical violence to institute order. Churches sometimes pride themselves on avoiding conflict, but they do so only because the pastor has learned to silence open discussion through his authoritarian leadership. And there are nations that are not at war, but in which wholistic peace cannot be found. 

When we look for peace, we must keep before us the concept we find throughout Scripture. True peace will always include right-relationships, just treatment of all persons, wholeness in all dimensions of life, and divine blessing to boot. Sometimes the path to true peace must pass through strife and division before it arrives at its destination. 

What does all of this mean for you personally? It means that, no matter how much you enjoy peace with God and within your own heart, you must also pursue the corporate aspects of shalom. In a nutshell, you must be a peacemaker.” 



The Harvest is Great

Jesus asked his disciples to pray that the Lord would send forth His laborers into the field to harvest souls for His glory. Yesterday morning we examined one of those people the Lord sent into His field, the Apostle Paul. In Acts 9, Luke tells of Paul’s salvation experience and subsequent ministry. 
Below, Steve Jennings wrote an article about the need to be not only passionate about missions but prepared for missions by being established in the faith. May the article encourage your faith as it did my faith. Pastor Chris
 
 

“Here am I, send me.” Isaiah 6:8

“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray for the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers into his harvest.” Matt. 9:37-38

“These passages of Scripture have been slapped on the prayer cards of many hopeful missionaries getting ready to enter the field. They’ve been burned on the hearts of many churches and people who recognize that we Christians have been given a task: to make disciples of all nations.

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These nations were sadly neglected by the church for generations, so it is praiseworthy that, in recent generations, we have corrected our “mission drift” and pursued with vigor its task to make known to a watching world the wisdom of God (Eph 3:10).

But, in my admittedly few years working among the nations—square in the middle of the 10/40 window, surrounded by Unreached People Groups—I cannot help but wonder if the corrective has corrected too much. It appears the pendulum has swung too far the other way and needs a few nudges itself.

The Great Commission is immense, and just like any immense task it requires vision, dedication, and a lot of manpower. That being said, there are many times when I want to stop and say to the Western church: “Stop sending them! Stop sending under-qualified missionaries!”

To be sure, the workers are few, and the harvest is great. But that does not mean that more workers are necessarily better. It seems that the impatience that so marks the current generation has infiltrated the missionary movement under the guise of “urgency.” This impatience, rather than being curbed by church leaders, is often fostered and even encouraged.

And the result?

A lot of people are going to the nations who, frankly, shouldn’t be going—at least not yet.

Here’s the question I wish more churches would consider: Why would you send someone to plant churches abroad who you would never hire as a pastor or nominate as a lay elder? Why does it seem that “passion” rather than proven faithfulness is the main criterion for sending men and women to support those church planters? Why on earth is the bar set lower for the frontlines than it is for the local church?

The challenges of frontier ministry, its stresses and temptations, are very real, and time and again people are sent to face those challenges who have much zeal but lack understanding. So the wise man rightly said by the Holy Spirit,

“Desire without knowledge is not good, and whoever makes haste with his feet misses his way” (Prov. 19:2 ESV).

This proverb sums up the state of missions among some missions enterprises very well: desire without knowledge. And desire without knowledge in the business of missions is dangerous, even spiritually deadly.

This field that is white for harvest is being filled with laborers who destroy the crop, those who misuse or disuse the tools God has given them. Imagine a field full of people swinging a scythe in the wrong direction and sometimes from the wrong end. And too often—if I dare drag out the metaphor a bit further—they are not using the scythe at all. Their hands are empty—not a pretty picture.

It seems to me that many churches and sending agencies don’t spend enough time teaching people to discern between wheat and weeds. So, lacking discernment, these missionaries sheave weeds and write home about their sowing successes. Again, we as the church have been given a mission, a way in which we are to walk, but many feet that set out to proclaim the gospel of peace miss their way because they have desire without knowledge.

Indeed, the workers are few, but our impatience has become our undoing. When churches have initiatives to send a certain number of people by a certain time, their desire to meet that goal can short circuit discipleship and thus propel people into the field that will both be harmed and cause harm.

Instead, we should look to Paul as an example of zealous patience. From the moment of his conversion, he was told his purpose. But you’ll see in Acts that it was more than ten years before his first missionary journey. In the interim, he spent three formative years in Arabia, time in his home city of Tarsus, and finally a season at the church in Antioch until he was sent out with Barnabas. This is Paul, mind you, who at conversion already had an immense knowledge of the Scriptures. It appears Paul did not begin his mission in earnest until he was sent by his “home” church of Antioch at the Holy Spirit’s leading through the elders and congregation.

If you speak to an older generation of missionaries, you’ll find that in by-gone days Bible college was a requirement. If you read the biographies of guys like Adoniram Judson, you’ll find that ordination was required. But these days, once a church gives approval, folks can pass a few evaluations and attend a two-week boot-camp and be rather quickly approved for the field. Such a convenient and streamlined system is meant to enable more and more people to go to the unreached.

But more is not always better.

The challenges people will face as they take the gospel to hard places will require character that is mature and proven. The questions missionaries will be asked by those whom they evangelize will often require a theological knowledge that is deep and wide. And the raging enemy that is encountered requires a faith that is dug down deep.

Pragmatism is rampant in overseas ministries because too often ministers don’t really know how to talk about their God. Heresy proliferates because they don’t really know their message. Worldly living prevails because so many missionaries are spiritually immature and practically unaccountable. Church, stop sending people who don’t know their God, don’t know their message, and don’t know what it is like to submit to authority. Please, for the sake of God’s glory, stop.

Desire is commendable, but desire comes and goes. It is calling that should be required and celebrated. Not just any “calling,” mind you, but a calling rooted in truth and affirmed by others, particularly those who know you well and have for a long time, one that has accompanied years’ worth of fruitfulness, that has as its chief aims the glory of God and the sure promises of the gospel as revealed in Scripture.

Local churches should take the long view in their missions work, faithfully making many disciples who are able to go out and persevere in faithful gospel ministry. They should labor for quantity without sacrificing quality by a single degree.

It should be no wonder that the attrition rate among missionaries is so high, that doctrinal ambiguity is so pervasive, and that missionaries falling into gross sin is so common. People are sent that should not be sent because churches are sending people too soon.

So, at this point I want to leave behind a few suggestions on how to prepare people to go to the nations:

1) Teach them well so that they will be able to teach others well; don’t send them until they have shown they can do the same. (2 Tim. 2:2)

2) Make sure that they are able to articulate sound doctrine and refute false doctrine. An inability to answer objections and correct falsehood is a recipe for disaster when encountering other religions or worse—other errant missionaries. (Titus 1:9, Eph. 4:14)

3) Make sure they are able to submit to biblical authority. Are they mavericks who have never really had their autonomy challenged? If this is the case, they need to spend some time with gladly submitting to accountability before they can be sent with confidence. (Heb. 13:17-18)

4) Connected to #3 is the need for proven godly character. This is something that can only be ascertained over an extended period of close interaction and persistent discipleship, not a session with a counselor and a personality profile. Unchecked sins get worse on the frontlines, not better. (Heb. 12:1)

5) If you would not make a man an elder in your church, then don’t send him to plant churches anywhere, much less overseas. If you are sending someone who isn’t elder material or isn’t quite there yet, then I would suggest sending them somewhere with an established church where you know their spiritual development and ministry will be seen by faithful shepherds. (Heb. 10:24-25)

6) The aim of every pioneer worker you send should be one of two things: joining an existing church or gathering believers to start a new church as soon as possible. If there is no church, then I would suggest moving with a core of people as opposed to individually. No Christians were meant to be alone. Ecclesiology and missiology should be inseparably intertwined. Churches plant churches. Para-church organizations should serve the valuable and specialized role of helping churches do this job, not overtake them. (Acts 20:28, 16:13)

7) Finally, let there be consensus in the sending church that these people being sent are called and ready. This will safeguard the ones being sent and give them an amazing boost of encouragement that they are part of something bigger than their own ambition, which can easily fade or redirect quickly. (Acts 13:3)

I write this not out of a desire to dampen a church’s missional drive, but to encourage a long view with enduring faithfulness as the aim. We run a marathon, not a sprint. Ministry is the same way. Godly urgency embraces careful preparation for ministry. This truth becomes unclear if the main aim of our sending is an always-growing number of converts. Instead, the main aim of our sending should be the glory of God—and it is for that we must prepare and be prepared.

So let’s feel the urgency, but not at the expense of wisdom. The glory of God is at stake.” 



Seeds of the Gospel

The biblical presentation of sowing the seed of the Gospel can startle believers. Often the writers of the New Testament describe the suffering and hardship that believers endured for the cause of Christ. A byproduct of a godly life is persecution, which often spreads the Gospel. Tertullian commented on this phenomena when he said, “the blood the church is seed”. Recently, I read an article from Voice of the Martyrs that described how the suffering of some believers had lead to the seed of the Gospel being sown in the hearts of others. May the article encourage you to be courageous in your faith so that you might share the Gospel of Jesus with others. Pastor Chris
 
 

KENYA: THE NIGHT HINDI CHANGED

“The Christians and Muslims of Hindi had lived side by side for decades in the dusty trading center at the end of a rutted dirt road on Kenya’s coast. Most of the villagers survived through sustenance farming, living off the produce from their small plots of land.

But on the night of July 5, 2014, many of the villagers’ lives were forever changed.

As the villagers slept, invaders from Somalia, just 65 miles away, stole into town. They went from farm to farm, ransacking and burning homes, stealing food and even killing some of the villagers. At least 22 people were killed.

holding chickens
Samuel Kang’ethe and his mother, Jane, now have a small business raising poultry, with assistance from VOM.

It was after 10 p.m. when a group of about 50 Somali warriors reached the farm of Jane and Samuel Kang’ethe. After hearing a commotion near the road, Samuel went to investigate and was immediately shot to death. Jane, their children and grandchildren ran for the cover of some nearby bushes, but not before their oldest son, Kimani, was shot in the stomach. The family could hear the invaders looting their farm as they hid nearby, fearing for their lives, for more than 90 minutes.

The next day, the family joined about 5,000 other Hindi residents at the local prison, considered the safest place in town because of the police presence. The families were too traumatized and scared to stay at their homes, and many people had lost everything. VOM and others provided immediate relief in the form of food, clothing and mattresses.

Nearly everyone in the village was affected by the attacks, and healing took some time. Jane told a VOM worker that she took comfort from something she heard at a VOM-sponsored seminar. “They said Scripture says God is a husband to the widows, and do not worry about what you shall eat or drink, because God cannot leave you,” Jane said.

“For the last two years, we have been getting these aids and help from brothers we didn’t know,” said John Njenga, a local pastor. While the food aid was essential for survival, ongoing counsel and encouragement have greatly helped the Christians commit to staying in the area and reaching out to their Muslim neighbors.

Pastor Njenga also serves as headmaster of the local primary school, and all of the Christian students received VOM Christmas Care Packs in 2015. Like most of the children there, 10-year-old Mary Bestinah received the first Bible she’d ever owned, The Action Bible, in a Christmas Care Pack. Today, her favorite Bible story is of David and King Saul.

Pastor Njenga believes that the suffering they’ve experienced has lifted the Christians to a new spiritual level. He also has noticed that Muslims in their community are more open to the gospel as a result of the incredibly damaging attacks by Muslim, Somali warriors. “We are reaching them,” he said.”



Death to Life

How do you breath new life into a church? Tom Rainer recently wrote a brief article that listed some common characteristics of churches that came back from the brink of death. The list is thought provoking as we consider ways to increase our outreach with the Gospel. May your faith be challenged as you ponder his thoughts on the subject. Pastor Chris
 
 
 
 
Common Characteristics of Churches that have Gone from Death to Life.
  1. “A prolonged period of prayer. The members knew that only a miracle of God could save their church. So they decided to set aside a period of prayer, usually a few weeks or a couple of months. Members would gather after the worship service. Some would gather in homes. They would admit their total dependence on God. And they would place everything about their churches at His mercy and in His will.
  2. A covenant to forsake self. When a church dies, there is the predictable prologue of self-centered, self-serving membership. Church members argue about the style of music, the length of the sermon, the types of ministries and programs, and even the type of furniture in the church. Membership becomes about me, myself, and I. In the resuscitated church, the members covenant to put self last. They agree they will not demand their way, but seek to put others first. Some of the churches even create a written covenant.
  3. A willingness to kill sacred cows. This process is often an extension of the previous commitment. As the members covenant to forsake self, they commit to doing away with programs, ministries, events, rooms, furniture, or anything that has become a sacred cow. They often don’t see those sacred cows until their eyes have been opened in the prolonged period of prayer.
  4. A commitment to see through the eyes of the outsider. As the members continue to forsake self, they begin to ask how the church is viewed from the perspective of the outsider. They may actually engage a person to visit their church and share their experience. It is amazing to see how this process transforms facilities, worship, greeters’ ministry, and children’s ministries, to name a few.
  5. An agreement to connect and invite. Members commit to be intentional about developing relationships with people outside the church. They set prayer goals of how many people they will invite to church each month. The church begins moving from an inward focus to an outward focus.
  6. A decision to move beyond the negative naysayers. This core of members realizes that not everyone will be on board. There will always be those who view church as a spiritual country club with perks and privileges. Indeed, in most of these resuscitated churches, there was stiff resistance, adamant opposition, and financial threats. But the members were loving but firm. No longer would their church be controlled by the naysayers, critics, and bullies. They would stand together and stand with others who were attacked and maligned.”


The Great Commission

Over the last 10-15 years, I have grown in my appreciation for 9Marks ministries. Their dedication to the Lord, His Word and the advancement of the Gospel through healthy churches has consistently encouraged and challenged my faith. The post below is from Mark Dever. It discusses how local churches can fulfill the great commission – together. I hope it challenges your thinking as it did mine. Pastor Chris
 
 
 

“The Great Commission does not call for churches to act like the department of motor vehicles. Nor does it call for them to act like information booths. Now I have one more for you: the Great Commission does not call churches to act like professional sports teams.

The staff of my church likes to make fun of me for not knowing much about sports, which might be fair. But I do know the goal of every sports team is to win the championship. A team will try to hire the best players, build the best training facilities, and optimize its coaching staff all to win its league’s top trophy. Sure, a team is glad other teams exist. Without them there would be no league. But its main goal is to beat those other teams.

shutterstock_127409168Now, I doubt very many, if any, churches explicitly think to themselves, “We have to beat those other churches!” But let me ask a couple of diagnostic questions to test for an our-team-is-best mentality:
  • Do you happily give away your best players to other churches?
  • Do you rejoice if, after praying for revival, revival comes to the church down the street? (Thanks to Andy Johnson for this great question!)
  • Do you pray regularly for the church down the street as well as the other churches in your city?
  • Do you give any portion of your budget to revitalizing old or raising up new churches in your city, around the nation, or abroad?
Too often, a grotesque competitiveness between churches marks evangelical churches. But a Great Commission church does not compete with other gospel-preaching churches because it knows every gospel-preaching church is playing for the same team.

GREAT COMMISSION CHURCH = CHURCH PLANTING CHURCH

Here’s the broader point: a Great Commission church is an evangelizing and discipling church, but it is also a church-planting and church-revitalizing church. It wants to see the kingdom of God grow through its own ministry, but it also wants to see the kingdom expand beyond its own walls through other churches.

So a Great Commission church is interested in facilitating lots of evangelistic activity going out from itself in order to draw outsiders back to itself. But it is also interested in seeing its efforts culminate in planting or supporting other local churches. It is not satisfied with its own health, it wants to see lots of other healthy, Bible-believing, gospel-preaching congregations.

Such a church encourages other evangelical churches and plants, even if they are several blocks away. And it prays for them by name. It is willing to send out good folks who will help those other churches. It also works to plant or build up other churches on the other side of the world.

A Great Commission church works and prays to raise up men qualified to be elders, and then selflessly sends them out.

It works to align its budget with these Great Commission priorities. Some money is kept for ministry in its own location, but some money is assigned to helping other works, both near and far.

It works to reclaim dying congregations wherever it can.

It works in all sorts of public and private ways to cultivate this team mentality with other gospel-centered churches among its own members. The members and leaders are as happy about a new gospel-preaching church as they are about a new restaurant opening in a land of starvation.

So what does a Great Commission church do? I want to offer four strategic steps.

CULTIVATE A CULTURE OF DISCIPLING

First, a Great Commission church will cultivate a culture of discipling among its own members. It helps every member own the responsibility for helping other believers grow in the faith. Pastors equip the saints for the work of ministry, says Paul (Eph. 4:11-12), which means the work of the ministry belongs to all the saints. The whole body, speaking the truth in love, grows as it builds itself up, each part doing its work (Eph. 4:15-16; see also 1 Cor. 12,14).

Discipleship is my following Jesus. Discipling is me helping someone else follow Jesus (e.g. 2 Tim. 2:2). And in a Great Commission church, older men in the faith disciple younger men, and younger women seek out the older women. For instance, if you are a single woman, you might offer a stay-home mother in your church help with the laundry in exchange for the opportunity to ask lots of questions! If you are a lay-elder teaching an adult Sunday School class, you are sure to recruit a junior teacher. And your goal, in a sense, is to train and hand over the teaching job to him. Then you can go and start another class and bring on another junior teacher.

A Great Commission church possesses the geographic sensitivity implied by Jesus’ command to “Go.” For those who stay, therefore, “going” may well mean moving closer to the church or groups of its members. That way it is easy to minister to others throughout the week. Where do you live? Are you helping to cultivate a culture of discipling in your church in where you chose to rent an apartment or purchase a home?

A Great Commission church should be uncomfortable, even provocative, for a nominal Christian. If you show up as such a guest in such a church on Sunday only as part of your casual religious duty, you may not like it very much. You would be welcomed, but its members would not be what you are about. They are about giving their whole lives to follow Jesus, and they commit to help one another follow Jesus. Such a commitment and such activity is part of the very culture: intentional questions, meaningful conversations, prayer, and continual reminders of the gospel.

Take a look at Robert Coleman’s Master Plan of Evangelism, Colin Marshall and Tony Payne’s The Trellis and the Vine, or my own Discipling for more on this topic.

CULTIVATE A CULTURE OF EVANGELISM

Second, a Great Commission church will cultivate a culture of evangelism. On the one hand, members know that the gospel will be preached in every weekly gathering. So they are excited to invite their non-Christian friends. The gospel radiates through the singing, the praying, and every sermon.

Are you confident that any non-Christian you bring to your church will hear the gospel? If not, what can you do about it?

On the other hand, a Great Commission church works to train its members in evangelism, because it knows they will collectively see more non-Christians throughout the week than will ever be able to fit in the church building. So “success” in evangelism is not simply bringing your non-Christian friends to church so that they hear the gospel. Success is sharing the gospel with your non-Christian neighbors and friends.

So the church works to equip its members in evangelism so that they know how to share the gospel with others. My own church does this through adult Sunday Schools devoted to evangelism. I try to model how to engage with non-Christians in my preaching, particularly in the way I explicitly address non-Christians. We try to equip our members by offering them evangelistic tools like “Two Ways to Live” or resources like “Christianity Explained” or “Christianity Explored.” We hand out lots of Greg Gilbert’s Who Is Jesus? to members for them to give to their non-Christian friends. We also share about evangelistic opportunities through our Sunday evening meeting. Hearing and praying for other members’ evangelistic opportunities encourages people’s own attempts to spread the good news.

What does the Great Commission mean to you? It means Jesus has called you to be a disciple-maker. He calls you to both evangelize unbelievers and disciple the believers. You should be doing this personally—at home, at work, in your neighborhood, among your friends. You should be doing this in and through your church.

Therefore use your fellow church members to help you. Invite an elder to lunch, and ask him for counsel. Share and pray with your small group. Go out and evangelize with your friends.

For more on this topic, look at any book by Mack Stiles, especially Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus, or my book The Gospel and Personal Evangelism.

WORK TO REACH THE UNREACHED THROUGH MISSIONS

A Great Commission church, third, works to reach the unreached through missions. What’s the difference between missions and evangelism and church planting at home? Really, missions is just what we call evangelism and church planting when it travels across ethnic, cultural, and typically national boundaries.

Jesus commands us to “go and make disciples of all nations.” I have not said much on this topic because so many other books cover this idea so well. But it’s hard to know how a church might read this command and not commit itself to taking the gospel to nations that have never heard the gospel before.

No congregation can aim everywhere around the planet. Therefore I think churches are wise to concentrate their own mission efforts on a few places. My own church, for instance, concentrates on several countries in the so-called 10/40 window, which is that region of the Eastern hemisphere between 10 and 40 degrees north of the equator. It’s the area of the world where there are the fewest percentage of Christians.

If you are a member of our church, and you express an interest in pursuing missions, we will be able to put more of our resources behind you if you go to one of the locations we already invest in. We are simply unable to sponsor a hundred people going a hundred different places. By that token, we prefer supporting few missionaries with more money rather than lots of missionaries with only a little money. That enables the missionaries we do support to spend less time raising money and more time doing the work of church planting. Plus, it helps us to have a relationship with them and offer accountability.

Our church works with missionaries directly, and we work through missions organizations like the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board. We also work with amazing groups like Access Partners, who helps to place business people in strategic spots around the world in their business vocations, so that they can assist the long-term missionaries on the ground.

What role should you have as an individual Christian helping your church to reach the unreached? Certainly you should pray for your church’s missionaries. Get to know them when they are on furlough. Perhaps look into short-term mission trips that will allow you to support the long-term workers. Read missionary biographies. And maybe think about going. We will come back to that question a couple chapters from now.

There is one last thing you and your church can do for reaching the unreached: look for internationals in your own city. My own church works hard at reaching international students, but what international groups live in your city? If you reach them with the gospel right there in your hometown, there’s a pretty good chance that the gospel will spread back to where they came from.

Take a look at John Piper’s Let the Nations Be Glad for more on this topic.

WORK TO STRENGTHEN OTHER CHURCHES

Churches commonly have a missions budget line. I think it’s worth adding a “Fostering Healthy Churches” budget line as well. Working to strengthen other churches is a fourth practice of Great Commission churches.

My own church uses this line for supporting a number of things, such as our pastoral internship program. We pay twelve guys a year to do an internship with us, most of whom end up pastoring or otherwise serving other churches.

We also use the line to support the ministry of 9Marks, a ministry devoted as a ministry to building healthy churches.

We intentionally structure our staff so that guys get trained and are sent out. Pastoral assistants serve us for 2 to 3 years and are then expected to go. Assistant pastors serve us for 3 to 5 years and then go. Only myself and the associate pastors (together with any non-staff pastors or elders) are expected to remain in our church long-term. The rest we equip to go.

Our church sponsors weekend conferences, where pastors from around the world join us for our regularly scheduled meetings as well as several special lecturers and times of Q&A. I also participate in weekly phone calls with several other networks of pastors from around the world for the same purposes. Each one of these conversations gives me the opportunity to pray and work for healthy churches all around the world.

Much of the work we do of strengthening other churches through church planting and church revitalizing we do in our own area, which is the topic of the next chapter. (That whole chapter, in other words, is an extension of this section.) But we do some planting and revitalizing around the world, too. For instance, we sent one brother, John, to a church in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, when that church was looking for a pastor almost a decade ago. God has used John in mighty ways to revitalize that international church. One of his key elders, who helped to bring John there, was Mack, an old friend of mine. Once John and Mack got the church to a healthy place, Mack and another brother, Dave, left the church to plant another church 30 minutes away. We also sent a former pastoral assistant and a former intern to help Mack and Dave in that new work. Simultaneously, we sent another former pastoral intern to plant yet another church in another city of UAE.

Now we have three healthy churches up and running in this Muslim country. None of this was a part of some grand plan of ours. In fact, neither the one revitalizing opportunity nor the two planning opportunities were initiated by us. We were just there to pray, help, and send financial and human support where we could. By the way, a number of our members have relocated their jobs to the UAE to help the work of these churches. Our church gains in no particular way other than the sheer joy of seeing God’s kingdom expand in this foreign land.

A lot of these examples have focused on what I as the pastor have done. But assuming you are an ordinary church member, what can you do to help strengthen other churches, whether in your area or around the world? Obviously, you can pray for other works personally. You can pray for other works with your family at dinner. You can support other works financially.

Certainly you should be careful about criticizing other churches. Yes, there are places where your church’s practices or secondary doctrines might differ from those of other churches. And yes we have deliberate reasons for those areas of disagreement. I am not telling you to throw those disagreements out the window. But keep in mind that those secondary matters over which your church might disagree with other churches are as never as important as the gospel we all share. So guard against a critical spirit, and look for ways to rejoice in shared gospel partnerships.”



Speaking the Gospel

There is no greater imperative in the New Testament than sharing the Gospel with people. Often, however, that imperative gets lost in a blizzard of worthwhile activities or excuses that attempt to assuage our conscience. Recently, I read a brief post about Gospel fluency from Jeff Vanderstelt. I hope the portion copied below will encourage your faith as much as it did mine. Pastor Chris
 
 
 
“To become fluent in a new language, you must immerse yourself in it until you actually start to think about life through it. Becoming fluent in the gospel happens the same way—after believing it, we have to intentionally rehearse it (to ourselves and to others) and immerse ourselves in its truths. Only then will we start to see how everything in our lives, from the mundane to the magnificent, is transformed by the hope of the gospel….
 
I’m convinced more now than ever that people need to be equipped to speak the gospel into the everyday stuff of life. We live in a day and age where people are asking questions, but often we don’t have the answers. Instead of giving transforming information—a transforming hope—we often give people moralism or legalism. We tell them to try harder or to change their behavior, but what people need is not behavior modification—they need heart transformation.

We as a church need to grow in what it looks like to speak the truths of the gospel into the everyday stuff of life. To speak the truth of Jesus’s life, death, resurrection, present work on our behalf before God the Father, and future return to make all things new. 

And it’s not just the church— need it. I need to learn how to speak the truths of the gospel into the everyday stuff of life because I struggle with unbelief. I struggle with putting my confidence in my behavior instead of in Jesus and his work on my behalf. I often believe that it’s my work that saves people instead of the work of God that saves people. I need the gospel, we need the gospel, and the world needs the gospel. 

But we need to know how to speak the gospel fluently to the everyday stuff of life—the stuff that people struggle with, the unbelief they feel and experience, and the real issues our society is walking through. You and I need to grow in being gospel-fluent people.”