Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Good isn't good enough...part three

It's impossible to be good while rejecting Christ because rejecting Christ is a terrible sin.

When a person says I am a good person while rejecting Christ he is contradicting himself.

Let me explain.

We need to remember, Jesus Christ is a person. He's not just an abstract idea - He's a person.

And obviously there is a big difference between rejecting an abstract idea and rejecting a person. For example, we all know someone who rejects math is in an entirely different category than someone who rejects his mom.

It's not in and of itself morally wrong to reject math. You are going to have a hard time getting much done if you reject math; but if a person severs his relationship with math, most of us would just shake our heads and say that's too bad.

But if someone rejected his mom, we'd respond in a completely different way. Rejecting your mom is not something that is morally neutral. There may be some extenuating circumstances where you would be forced to sever ties with your mom, but you wouldn't do that lightly...because your mom is not just an idea, she's a person.

Sometimes when unbelievers reject the gospel they act as if they are just rejecting a way of life. "I hear what you are saying, but that kind of lifestyle is not for me." The reality is however when an unbeliever rejects Jesus he is not merely rejecting a lifestyle, a philosophy, a perspective on life, he is rejecting a person, a person who actually exists.

What's more, when someone rejects Christ he is not merely rejecting another person, he is rejecting the most important person who ever existed.

Most of you wouldn't be too upset if someone came up to you and said they rejected Saddam Hussein. Saddam's committed to doing evil, he's our nation's enemy, and besides that, hopefully most of us don't have a relationship with him.

But certainly you would react in a much different way if someone came up to you and said they rejected their own daughter. Even non-Christians look down upon someone who runs away from his responsibilities to his family. We all feel in our gut that there's is something different between rejecting Saddam and rejecting one's own daughter.

Why?

For one, because of who your daughter is in relation to you. The relationship you have with her affects your responsibilities to her.

We don't take a man to court because he is failing to feed starving children he doesn't know and has no relation to in Africa.

But we certainly would take someone to court if he failed to feed his own children.

Why?

Again -relationship.

The writers of Scripture go to great lengths to show taht Jesus is not just some other man who lived and died and went down in the history books. They make it clear that whether a person wants to admit or not, they have a relationship with Him. As a result, rejecting Jesus is not like rejecting Buddha or Mohammed or any other earthly teacher. The responsibility you have to Jesus is different than the responsibility you have to these other men because of who Jesus is in relation to you.

For one thing, when a person rejects Jesus he is rejecting the One who created Him.

You remember when you were children, your mother and father had authority and thus had certain rights in relation to you that no one else had. You may have moaned and whined about that, you may have complained about them telling you when to go to bed, but all your moaning and whining didn't change things, because they were your parents.

Likewise, Jesus as Creator has authority and certain rights in respect to His creation that no one else has. But not only is Jesus the authority over all He has created, he is all the point. Thus, when a person rejects Jesus he is rejecting the very reason He exists. On top of that, when a person rejects Jesus He is rejecting the one who sustains Him.

You've probably all heard stories of sons disowning their parents. Perhaps you've even heard stories where a sons betrays his parents. A son who was given everything, treated wonderfully, using that which he was given as a knife to stab his parents in the back.

Despicable.

Yet when someone rejects Christ, they are doing something much worse than that. They are rejecting someone who has given them more than any other human has ever given them, they are rejecting the one who gives them life.

They are rejecting God Himself.

And God is, as we know, the very definition of beauty, of perfection, of glory, of holiness, of righteousness, of majesty, of all that is good and awesome and right...which measn if a person rejects Jesus, he is at the same time rejecting all of that...spitting in the face of pure beauty, absolute perfection, complete righteousness, sovereign majesty and glory...trampling on all that is good and awesome and right.

When a person rejects Jesus he is committing a great evil...which is why we might say, trying to be good while rejecting Jesus is pretty much a sad, sick joke. I mean saying you are a good person while denying Jesus is a little like murdering your mother and then excusing it by saying you were going to give her a nice funeral. You and I know there is no way you can be doing good at the same time you are murdering your mom. In the same way there is no way a person can be doing real good while rejecting Christ because rejecting Christ is the wrost evil anyone can possibly do.

Strong words I know...but in light of what we say we believe about Jesus, aren't they true?

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Good isn't good enough...part two

It's impossible to be good apart from Christ because Christ is the definition of what is good.

When we as believers talk about being good we're not just making stuff up.

Good is not arbitrary.

It's not what you want to be good.

It's not what I want to be good.

It's what God says is good.

And God's standard of good is Jesus Christ.

He's the standard of what's true and false. "See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ." (Col.2:8)

And he's the standard of what's right and wrong. It's interesting to note how often Paul, in forbidding certain behaviors, will say that reason those behaviors are not acceptable because they are not 'according to Christ.' Just check out Colossians 3.

Why do certain things need to be put off? They are earthly and not according to Christ.

Why do certain things need to be put on? They are the kinds of practices that are in accordance with Christ.

Christ is the standard.

The unbeliever, in rejecting Christ, has rejected the standard of what is good.

Sometimes they do that blatantly.

They reject all absolutes...which leaves them in a difficult position if they claim they are good people, because how you can be a good person when you have rejected the standard of what is good. The person who rejects the external standard of what is good, God's Word, only has his opinion about what is good. If he believes in good at all, he makes decisions about good and evil on the basis of what he feels in his gut, or what he's heard, or what he's read.

He rejects Christ as the standard and sets himself up in his place...which might feel good, but doesn't fly because it's not reality.

Saying that you are a good person on the basis of what you think is good is like going into a grocery store and picking up a bottle of milk and saying I believe this bottle of mik is free. Just holding the milk bottle above your head walking through the store shouting out that you believe the bottle of milk is free, probably won't do you much good. If the clerk doesn't toss you out the store, at the very least he'll tell you that while it's nice you think it's free, you are not the one who gets to decide.

Ultimately Christ and His Word are the standard of right and wrong. We can go around saying otherwise but when we do, we are ignoring the way things really are. If we have substituted our standard of what is good and what is not good for God's standard of what is good, we're going to be very disappointed when we face Him on judgment day.

You can imagine a criminal going before a judge and when asked his defense, responds "I don't think murder is wrong." To which the judge replies, "But the law says it is." The criminal becomes indignant and replies, "I don't think so." To which the judge replies, "Bailiff...take this man away." The criminal may have his opinion about the law, but it won't stand in court.

Yet that's what those who are trusting in their own goodness while rejecting Christ are planning on doing when they stand before God one day. They've rejected God's standard and replaced it with their own and think he's going to accept.

When someone says to you they are a good person, you might ask "Why do you say that?"

If they are merely resting in their own opinion of what is good, when they call themselves a good person, they are saying something completely meaningless.

Imagine a person who picks up a book and says I feel like this weighs two pounds. Then another person picks it up and says no I feel like it weights forty pounds. Then another person picks it up and says I feel like it weighs nothing at all.

Those statements don't mean much. It doesn't really matter what any of them feels the book weighs. It matters what it weighs. If you've rejected the scale, you have nothing left but a whole bunch of basically meaningless statements.

Once you throw the scale out trying to weigh things is pretty silly.

Sometimes people aren't quite that bold however. They are religious and they believe in absolutes, they just don't think Christ is the absolute.

You look at many world religions and they'll say compassion is important, they'll emphasize the importance of love. And so there are many who will say, the important thing is that we are compassionate and loving. How could God possibly say that what they are doing isn't good if what they are doing is in accordance with the kinds of actions the Bible describes?

That's a good question isn't it?

If I'm doing what Christ says is good, why isn't that enough?

That'll have to wait until tomorrow...

Monday, August 29, 2005

Is being good good enough? part one

I once heard someone say that it used to be people understood God came first and being good came second. In recent days, however, a change has taken place. Now good comes first, and God comes second.

Talk to the average person on the street and ask them which is more important: Jesus or being good, and he'll pick being good every time. The average person honestly believes that what you believe about being Christ is secondary. If there is a God, He's more interested in what you do than what you believe.

To put it real simply, the typical unbeliever believes he doesn't need Christ...he just needs to be nice.

Which is why, if we as believers just decided we weren't going to talk about Jesus so much any more I can pretty much guarantee you that we would be a much more popular group of people.

Even if we toned down the message a bit...instead of talking about Jesus as the Savior, instead of talking about our absolute dependence on Jesus, if we just talked about Him as an example, as a path to God, as one way among many, as a great leader, as a model for us to follow, if we didn't focus so much on the exclusivity of Christ, the average unbeliever wouldn't have many problems with what we were saying.

Even better, if we decided to talk more about being good and less about trusting Jesus...

The world by and large doesn't mind much if we talk about being good. Most people don't have a problem with someone talking about being patient. They may have more of a problem when they learn how the Bible defines it, but the idea of patience in and of itself is not very offensive. What's more, I haven't met too many unbelievers who have a problem with someone talking about being loving or kind.

The fact is, there are many people who are interested in being good people. Trying to be a good person, talking about being a good person, this is not something very controversial. But talking about putting your faith in Christ is.

You know that. Most people will hang with you as long as you are talking about being nice, but once you start talking about the importance of Jesus Christ, the conversation shuts down. As a result, there is a great demand for us as believers to change our message...and a great temptation to cave in; which is why over the next few blogs, I want us to think about why being good is not good enough.

To begin though, I'm interested, how would you answer this question? What are some of the responses you give to someone who says that it is rude and intolerant to talk about the exclusivity of Christ?

Friday, August 26, 2005

An Accepting Ministry...part two

The difference between Jesus and the Pharisees is not in the fact that the Pharisees took sin seriously and Jesus didn’t. The difference between Jesus and the Pharisees is found rather in the way that they related to people they knew to have sinned - the way they treated sinners.

I don’t want to take the time to get into exactly how the Pharisees treated ‘sinners. I want to make some unbelievably obvious comments about the way Jesus did.

The first one being, he didn’t just avoid them.

He could have you know, stayed up in heaven.

When we read everything Jesus did we need to remind ourselves that we are reading about someone completely unique.

While none of us chose to be born, Jesus actually had a choice in the matter. He chose to become a human being, which I think is pretty amazing considering everything He knew about us. I mean, I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about what a blessing it is not to know everything about everyone else. It would be hard to want to be friends with anyone if we somehow knew absolutely every one of each other’s thoughts. I think the truth is if we knew each other’s thoughts, there are whole lot of times we’d be upset with each other, disappointed with each other, maybe even grossed out by each other.

And we’re not even all that holy.

If we could see the whole of another person’s life, there’d be some things that would sicken us and we don’t even hate sin that much.

Imagine being Jesus.

He knew everything. We see time and time again that he could read people’s thoughts. Just look at Mark 2:7,8. The Pharisees were thinking bad thoughts about Jesus, and he responds. He knew all the bad stuff that was going on inside people’s heads.

And he was actually holy.

He never dressed sin up. He always saw it for the ugly, horrifying beast it really was.

And yet in spite of all that, He didn’t just stay up in heaven, pointing his finger at us, saying “Ooh, aren’t those people gross.”

He chose to become a human being. He incarnated. What’s more, He identified with us.

That’s really the second thing that stands out to me about the way we see Jesus relating to sinners. It’s not simply that He didn’t avoid them, He went as far as He could go in identifying with them.

That’s really one of the main lessons we can draw from what Mark tells us about Jesus’ baptism and subsequent temptation.

People always ask why was Jesus baptized?

There are a number of different answers to that, but one of the answers has to be, to identify with sinners. That for sure is one of the things that was going on with his temptation. Hebrews tells us, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”

I’m not sure it would be possible to describe how much better off Jesus had it up in heaven. No insults, no temptation, no human limitations. It's hard to find words to describe the sacrifice Jesus made in becoming man. In one place Paul describes it as "making Himself nothing..." in other he talks about it like a rich person choosing to become poor.

I’m trying to get at how committed Jesus was to his ministry to sinners. It definitely wasn’t simply that he didn’t go out of his way to keep away from them, he made the greatest possible sacrifice in order to help them.

He subjected himself to a whole lot of things he didn’t need to subject himself to, for their good. He took on burdens that he didn’t need to take on, he suffered in ways that he didn’t need to suffer, he gave up his legitimate rights…in order to identify with sinners.

Third, he initiated relationships with them.

One of the things that stands out to me about 1:16-20 and then again in 2:13-14 where Mark talks about the way Jesus got disciples is the fact that in both cases, he makes it clear Jesus is the one who went out after them. He went to where they were, He chose them, He called them, He said follow me.

That stands out to me, because most of the time people who are really good at things don’t like to hang out with people who aren’t. If you know how to do something really well, it can be frustrating to work alongside someone who doesn’t.

Try knowing it all.

I mean absolutely everything.

What amazes me about the way Jesus went about doing ministry with sinners, about how he took the initiative, and he entered into relationship with them, is that He was one hundred percent sure to be disappointed.

It could have been any other way.

It wasn’t like he was just a bit better than them. He was in a class by himself.

And it wasn’t even ultimately, like he needed them. I think we can safely assume that someone who could walk on water and feed five thousand people with a couple pieces of toast could have come up with a different plan.

But he didn’t.

Even with everything he knew about these men, about sinners, he didn’t avoid them, he incarnated and identified with them, he entered into relationships with them, and what’s more, the fourth thing we see about Jesus’ ministry to sinners, is that he was willing to risk his reputation to do so.

We often find the important religious people of Jesus’ day looking down on him because he was associating with the wrong kind of people, dare I say it, thinking Jesus unspiritual because of who He was spending time with.

Now obviously, Jesus had a purpose for what he was doing. He says that he came to call sinners to repentance. He wasn’t hanging out with sinners because he secretly enjoyed sin. But the point I’m making is that when we look at the way Jesus ministered, we see it didn’t sit well with the religious elite. And you know, I guarantee you, he knew that. He totally knew before he decided to associate with sinners that doing so was going to upset the Pharisees.

But he wasn’t going to let what a group of people who didn’t really know the gospel thought stop Him from doing that which God Himself had called Him to do.

I say all that because I want you to understand if we are really going to have an open, accepting ministry like Jesus we are going to have to work very hard at maintaining a delicate balance.

WE NEED TO BE A GROUP OF PEOPLE WHO TAKE SIN SERIOUSLY AND YET AT THE SAME TIME TREAT SINNERS MERCIFULLY.

I’m not sure exactly about all the specifics of how we do that.

I know for sure it’s going to involve us working at avoiding the error the Pharisees made, thinking we’re somehow above sinners while at the same time avoiding the error our culture makes, minimizing the seriousness of sin.

I think it starts with a proper appreciation of the gospel, of who Jesus is, who you are, and what Jesus has done. It seems to me that when you are flat on your face before Jesus, in awe of the fact that He would save a sinner, a wretch like you, it’s kind of hard to be looking down your nose at anyone else. You’ll take sin seriously because you love Jesus, but you won’t have a holier than thou kind of attitude.

I think it will involve consciously and deliberately patterning our ministry in the ways that we can, after Jesus’.

1.) Not isolating ourselves from the world all around us.

I'm pretty sure none of us would ever run off and join a monaster. I think most of us would tell nayone who was thinking about doing that, not to. But some of us basically live our lives like we are in a monastery; avoiding people who are different kinds of sinners than us not because we don't want to fall into sin, but because their kind of sin kind of grosses us out.

I'm not saying that we don't need to be careful. We obviously need to be very careful that we don’t become like the world. There are plenty of Bible verses which tell us that. But at the same time, we have to make sure that we don’t so isolate ourselves from people in the world that we don’t know anyone who isn’t a Christian.

2.) Finding ways to identify with sinners without engaging in or encouraging their sin.

What I’m talking about is us viewing our lives as about more than just us and our rights and what we want but instead seeing ourselves as people who have been called to follow in Jesus’ footsteps and not just avoid people who are sinners but actively pursue them, making the kinds of sacrifices we need to make in order to win them to Jesus Christ.

Paul was a man who caught a vision for that. I think of 1 Corinthians 9:27ff, “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.” He willingly adjusted his lifestyle in order to identify with the people to whom he was witnessing. “To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not myself being under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.”

This is not about compromising the gospel. Paul never did that. This is about loving people. If a person is offended by the gospel, well that’s going to happen. But you know what, a lot of times people aren’t offended by the gospel, they are offended by us.

I’m convinced we as a church need to take this seriously. We need to ask ourselves if there are any ways that we are making sacrifices so that we can identify with people who don’t know Christ so that they can come to know Christ and so Christ can be glorified in their lives.

3.) Taking the initiative and enter into friendships with people whose lives are messed up.

I for one am glad Jesus didn’t wait until we all had it all together to come to earth. I'm sure the disciples were glad Jesus didn't wait until they had it all together before He went after them. If we're going to minister to sinners the way Jesus did, we have to be willing to do what he did, go after them. We can't just sit around in church waiting for them to come through the front doors saying, 'oh man would you please share the gospel with me.' We need to go out there and develop relationships with them.

I think one of the simplest ways to do that honestly, is not all that complex.

Slow down and notice the person in front of you.

If we did that one thing, if we just slowed down and treated the person in front of us, wherever we are, like a person and if we became interested in what was going on in their lives, not in a freaky way, but you know what I mean, if we showed concern abou thtem, I think we'd be amazed at the opportunities for sharing the gospel that came into our lives.

I want us to be people who minister like Jesus. I don't want to be the kind of Christian who has more in common with the Pharisees than I do with Jesus. That doesn't mean we're going to ignore sin, but it does mean we're going to reach out and love sinners.

I remember a story Paul Miller tells about a missionary translator who was translating the Bible in Southeast Asia.

They told him the word for love was 'pa.' But he didn't think 'pa' really captured the biblical definition of love. It was too tame.

One day the missionary was crossing a stream on a raft with two native women, when the raft overturned. Even though it was dangerous, he risked his own life to rescue the women. Later, the tribesmen described what he did as 'che.'

The difference between pa and che? Pa is helping from a safe position. Che is making sacrifices, risking your neck for the people you are helping.

Christlike love is 'che.' When Jesus became a man, he got down 'in the water' with the people he was helping. And if we're going to have a ministry like his, that's what we need to be doing with others.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Gospel Submission

How knowing the gospel should help me submit when it's difficult:

1.) It gives me an example of perfect submission in Jesus. I look to my hero and I see Him submitting to His Father's will even when it meant the cross.

2.) It reminds me that my life is not about me. My life is about Jesus Christ. Therefore, what brings me the greatest joy is not when things are easy but when He is glorified.

3.) It has changed my opinion of myself. In the gospel I see myself for who I really am. I am not someone great, someone important. I am a sinner, just like the person who is leading me. If I have knowledge, if I have abilities, they are a gift of God. To act like a know it all, like someone who is better than the person leading me, is anti-gospel.

4.) It helps me have compassion when people are sinning against me because in the gospel I see how much I have sinned against God and how much He has forgiven me.

5.) It frees me up from having to be the most important person in the room. I recognize that I am accepted by God and because of that I don't have to everybody think I am someone really important. I don't have to fight for position. I can be content where God has placed me, because my 'worth' isn't dependent on what people think of me.

6.) It gives me courage. I realize that even if I am in a terrible position, even if things turn out bad, eventually they are going to turn out good - if not here, in heaven. I look at the cross and see how Jesus' submission at first might have looked like a failure, but God had a plan and He has taken that terrible tragedy and turned into the greatest triumph ever. If He can do something like that with Jesus, I can be confident He can do that with my difficult situations. Plus, I know He is for me. On top of that, I know He sees it all. One better, I know that He loves it when His people do what's right even when it's difficult if they do it because they love Him.

7.) It has changed my purpose in life. To follow Christ, I have made a decision to deny myself. When I have to submit, I have a great opportunity to do just that. I can go back to the decision I made when I became a Christian and remember, that submitting is just a practical implication of that initial decision. I am saying when I submit, I am not my own Lord. I submit because Jesus is Lord, my life is His, and I exist to do what He wants.

(If you have any others, please share...)

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Submit is not a bad word!

You'll read alot of books on leadership before you'll find one that talks about the importance of a submissive attitude.

It's a concept that most people in the world look down upon.

"Weak"; "Doormat"; "Mamby-Pamby" (how do you like that last one?) are all words that people might use to describe what they think of someone who is submissive.

We've even got anti-submissive slogans: "Question Authority..." "Sometimes you've got to break the rules..." "Just Do It..."

Submission definitely gets lots of bad press.

Not just from our culture, also from our own hearts.

Yet it's an idea the Bible sees as very important. We've been talking alot at church about the kinds of qualities we're working towards in people we're discipling, in ourselves, and being submissive is definitely got to be towards the top of the list.

For one thing their all kinds of commands to be submissive. (And not just regarding women!)

For another thing, God tells us to deal with people within the church who are not submissively, very quickly and decisively. "Reject the factious man..."

On top of that, Peter (check out 1 Peter 2) describes it as one of the primary ways we live the kind of life that attracts unbelievers to the gospel.

But what is it?

It's definitely not not having an opinion or idea. After all we're called to be discerning. It's possible to be discerning and submissive.

It's not not struggling. Moses struggled quite a bit, and he was the world's meekest man.

It's not not using your gifts. We're all called to do that.

It's recognizing the authority God has given in your life.

It's choosing to follow that authority as much as is biblically possible.

More than that, (see 1 Thessalonians 5:12,13) it seems to include the ideas of respect and esteem. In Hebrews 13:17, it's connected with the word obey - and we're told to work hard at it so we can bring the leaders in the church joy.

I think this is a concept that is definitely lost in the church today, and I'm not just talking about wives to their husbands - I'm talking about the idea of submitting to the leadership of the local church.

What does it look like to be a submissive person at church?

If you have ideas about that, please share!

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Are you correctable?

One of the main differences between a wise person and a stupid one, is the way they take correction.

Stupid people take correction poorly.

(Hey, don't get mad at me! Solomon said it first.)

I've been thinking lately though, what does it look like to take correction poorly? In other words, what are some things that people who don't take correction well, do?

Proverbs gives us a few hints:

1. They babble. (Proverbs 10:8)

When I am corrected or get the feeling that I am about to be corrected, do I try to dominate the conversation? Do I just talk and talk and talk and make it hard for people to get a word in edgewise?

2. They act like they are sure of themselves, all the time, no matter what. (Prov. 12:5)

Am I the kind of person who always knows the right answer? Am I willing to even acknowledge that I might not know the whole story? That their might be areas for improvement in my life? Do I defend myself immediately when corrected?

3. They don't listen. (Proverbs 13:1)

Am I the kind of person who wants to hear what someone else has to say, even if it is negative about me? Do I actively look for help in my life? When someone is correcting me, do I try to work at understanding what they are saying? Even if I don't defend myself, do I tune out?

4. They won't go to a person who knows more than them for instruction if they think it might mean hearing something they don't want to hear. (Proverbs 15:12)

Do all my friends always agree with me? Why is that? Do I have friends that know more than me and are willing to tell me when I'm doing wrong? Do I get upset when my friends aren't "yes" men?

5.) They hate being corrected. (Prov.12:1)

Do I avoid correction? Do I find ways to make people stop correcting me? Do I get angry and attack other people when they correct me? When someone points something out to me that I'm doing wrong, do I find ten things that they are doing wrong immediately?

6.) They don't even want to know the truth. (Prov. 15:14)

Do I just want to share my own opinion when I'm talking with someone? Am I in the conversation to grow up or just to show off?

Friday, August 19, 2005

An Accepting Ministry...

In Jesus’ day people had a caricature of what it meant to be holy. They thought it meant not ever hanging out with anyone who might be considered a sinner.

In our day, people have a caricature of what it means to be accepting. They think it means never ever directly confronting sin.

There are whole lot of people today who think that if we are going to avoid being like the Pharisees and if we are going to have an open, accepting ministry like Jesus we must by definition minimize the seriousness of sin.

The thing is, whatever it means to have an open, accepting ministry, we know for sure it doesn’t mean that, because the fact of the matter is that Jesus took sin more seriously than the Pharisees.

You couldn’t take sin more seriously than Jesus did.

For starters, just take a look at the terms he used for it.

Jesus wasn’t bashful in the least about calling sin sin, or even call people sinners.

There were times when Jesus looked at a group of people and called them flat out evil. Luke 11:29, “When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, ‘This generation is an evil generation.’” On one occasion he actually told a group of people they were worse than Sodom, which you have to admit was a pretty stunning thing to say considering the fact that God actually sent fire down from heaven to destroy Sodom, it was so wicked.
In Matthew 23, Jesus is very blunt. He starts by calling a specific group of people hypocrites, then blind guides, and ends by calling them children of hell, which no matter you parse it, couldn’t have been a compliment.

I always think it’s funny when people say they don’t want to talk about sin or identify it in people’s lives because they want to have a ministry like Jesus, because the fact is if you really want to have a ministry like Jesus, you absolutely have to be willing to do that.

It might help you get an idea of just how seriously Jesus took sin, by contrasting his attitude towards sin with the Pharisees.

I know at first, it might seem like the Pharisees took sin seriously, that is after all why they were called Pharisees…separatists.

It wasn’t like a person became a Pharisee for the fun of it, no, it was because of their intense concern for holiness. They made sure of that. To become a Pharisee you had to go through all sorts of tests. One particular school of Pharisees watched you for a month, testing you to see if you even knew how to protect your fruits and vegetables from unclean dew. They watched you to see if you ate the right foods, spent time with the right people, knew how to keep yourself clean.

And it wasn’t like when the Pharisees went around wagging their fingers at Jesus for not fasting enough, for doing things he shouldn’t on the Sabbath, for eating with sinners, they would have said it was because they were being mean or because they were being overly picky about miniscule things.

No, in their minds, they would have said it was because they took sin so seriously.

What Jesus shows them in the gospels however is that their real problem was that they didn’t take sin seriously enough.

They thought of sin as primarily something external.

That’s why they got upset when Jesus touched lepers, ate with tax collectors. That’s why they did things like complain to Jesus when they saw his disciples were eating a meal without having first washed their hands.

What they didn’t understand was that the problem of sin was much worse than that.

Just check out Mark 7.

Quoting Jesus, verses 14,15 “Hear me, all of you and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” Verses 20 through 23, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

To Jesus sin wasn’t merely something outside of you. It was something that came from inside of you.

That’s why he can say the kinds of things he does in Matthew 5.

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.”

Or

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

It was like Jesus was going down a list of the Pharisees favorite sins to talk about and saying, 1, 2, 3 you boys never take what you say about sin far enough.

To Jesus, sin wasn’t just as something you did – an action. It went way beyond that. It goes all the way down to what is going on in your heart.

It’s absolute craziness to act as if Jesus didn’t take sin seriously. I mean think about the attitude he said we should have towards it.

Let me give you two of my favorites.

Matthew 5:29, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.”

I was reading a book on sin this week, chapter number one, ‘But I like my eyeballs.”

I don’t know about you, but I do too. I like my eyeballs. If I had to pluck one out, well I don’t know exactly how I’d go about doing that, but I’m pretty sure if I did have to do that, and I actually survived, I’d look back on the day I plucked out my own eyeball as one of my worst days, ever.

In fact, I’d kind of be like, can it get worse than that?

Can it really get much worse than actually plucking out your own eyeball? Or even to be more graphic, can it really get much worse than sawing off your own hand?

According to Jesus, it can.

In Jesus’ mind, sawing off your own hand and plucking out your own eyeball weren’t nearly as terrible as choosing to sin. It’s actually better to pluck out your eye and saw off your own hand than it is to sin.

Now, if that little image doesn’t grab you, just check out Matthew 18:6. “whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”

I’m not sure what you’d say, but on a bad day, given the choice between causing someone to sin, i.e. to lie, to dishonor their parents, and having a gigantic, heavy millstone hung around my neck and being drowned in the depths of the sea I might at least be a tiny bit tempted to choose causing someone to sin.

Not Jesus.

Given the choice between sin and the absolute worst, most horrifying kind of death, he took death – that’s how much he hated sin.

Jesus never minimized the seriousness of sin. Think about the way he described its consequences.

Nobody talked about hell more than Jesus did.

You wonder whether Jesus took sin seriously, this is the reason he died on a cross.

The difference between Jesus and the Pharisees is not in the fact that the Pharisees took sin seriously and Jesus didn’t: Jesus called people sinners, his idea of sin was much more intense, he saw how awful it truly was, he talked about hell, he died on a cross.

The difference between Jesus and the Pharisees is found rather in the way that they related to people they knew to have sinned - the way they treated sinners.

I want us to think more about just that next week...

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Killing Sexual Sin before Sexual Sin Kills You...Part Three

At first Paul's counsel on dealing with sexual sin seems almost too simple. It’s actually tempting to overlook it. But looking closer, we'll see it provides such important insight into overcoming sexual sin that we dare not ignore it.

"Put to death therefore what is earthly in you..."

When Paul says we must put to death what is earthly in us he is indicating that we have a responsibility to war against sexual sin.

This is a duty. There are no exemptions.

I really feel a little silly saying something so obvious, but unfortunately in this day and age it needs to be said. If you are a believer, there are no biblically legitimate excuses for falling into these types of sin. Oh, the world will be glad to give you some illegitimate ones. That’s for sure.

One of the big ones in our day being, genetics.

When it comes to many types of sexual sins the world just says that is the way you have to be, you have no choice. You are a homosexual because you were born a homosexual. You are struggling with pornography because you are a teenager and that is just what you have to do, your genes won’t let you do anything else.

The thing is, if you are a believer, those kinds of excuses just don’t cut it.

Paul says in verse 7, “You used to live in these kinds of sins but no longer…

You can’t just sit there and say well I’m a homosexual, or I’m just naturally lustful, or I used to watch a lot of bad movies, or I come from a long line of adulterers, or whatever, no you have a responsibility no matter what your past was like to war against these kinds of sins, you have a duty to put them to death.

Now, some people think that’s harsh.

"I can’t believe you just said that a homosexual has to war against those homosexual desires that sometimes plague him. Just let him be."

I think that’s harsh.

I, for one, am so glad that I don’t have to be all the wrong desires that I have ever been tempted by. I’m very thankful to God that I'm not determined by the things that Satan has tempted me to do.

There’s great hope in that.

If you are a believer you may be tempted to sin in some sort of sordid way, but when confronted with those kinds of temptations, you can rejoice because that’s not who you are, you are a new creature in Christ and so when you are tempted you don’t have to give in and say this is what I have to do because I’m facing this evil desire, no you say that’s not who I am, I’ve been washed, I’ve been set apart, I’ve been given a new life in Christ, and so there is no way that I am going to act on that temptation. I’m going to put that kind of desire to death.

The first step as a believer to overcoming sexual sin is a refusal to make excuses.

The second step is to go to war.

When Paul says that we are to put to death what is earthly in us he is saying that we have to commit ourselves to, on a day-to-day basis, vigilantly and vigorously opposing and destroying the sinful desires which remain in us and seek to control us.

I realize that’s a long, drawn out sentence, so let me kind of pick it apart.

We're talking about a day to day battle. Paul’s not describing something that is just once and done here. There’s no little magical pill you can take once a day that will take all the temptation away. You are going to struggle with sin on a daily basis, and so you have to seek to put it to death on a daily basis.

To say it another way, this “putting to death” is a continual act. It’s to be our daily occupation.
Sometimes people act as if they’ve come to a point in their Christian life where they don’t need to fight so hard against sin. The truth is, if that’s what they are thinking, they have come to a point in their Christian life where they are the perfect set-up to fall into serious sin. Other times people become lazy. They’re just trying to deal with sin on a once a month basis or a once a year basis. You know, when they get fired up after a real good sermon. Not enough. The kind of putting to death that Paul is talking about here, requires great diligence.

We’re talking about vigilant and vigorous opposition to these sinful desires. In other words, we’re talking about work.

There’s no short cut to holiness. If you are carelessly and kind of haphazardly dealing with your sin you aren’t going to do so very effectively. That’s why the Bible says “Discipline yourself for godliness…” And Paul here is saying “Continually put to death what is earthly in you…”

You’ve got to kill sin or it’s going to kill you.

That’s what the word Paul uses for put to death here means. It’s sometimes translated to mortify - you could even translate it to slay. When you kill or slay or mortify something, what you are shooting for is complete destruction. You are not just trying to make it really, really sick. You are not just trying to wound it. You are attempting to destroy it.

In dealing with sexual sin, there’s no middle ground. There’s no room for compromise. You can’t try to get along with sin, or just give it a small little place in your life. You can't start feeling like you’ve dealt with your sin because you’ve got it cornered and it’s not taking over your whole house... it’s just living in the closet.

No sin is a beast, a monster. You put it in your closet and it’s going to do everything it can to get out. You can’t play with it. You can't just try to mollify or appease it, instead you’ve got to do everything you can to squeeze the life out of it.

This is not some passive process. Paul doesn’t say lull your sin to sleep. He doesn’t simply say wait out your sin. He’s talking about taking action and going on the offensive and viciously attacking the sin in your life.

Murder it.

If you think that’s strong language, you ought to check out the way Jesus talked about dealing with sin in Matthew 5. He says, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut if off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of our members than that your whole body go into hell.”

Both Paul and Jesus are making the same point, to overcome sin you’ve got to go against your feelings and do things that are sometimes painful.

Painful because there are times when you are going to want to sin, times when everything within you is going to be saying, say yes to sin, and part of killing sin is saying no to those desires.

Specifically, to kill sin you need to make a commitment to as Paul puts it in Romans 13:14, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” If you are going to overcome sexual temptation and other temptations you can’t give your flesh a fighting chance.

If you’ve got this enemy that you know wants to murder you, you aren’t going to invite him into your house for dinner. You aren’t going to say, hey do you mind if I just fall asleep right in front of you, do what you will. No you are going to be on your guard. You are going to do everything you can not to give him an opportunity to attack. Or if you had a beast in your basement, (work with me here, I know it’s far-fetched) but if you have this man-eating beast in your basement, you aren’t going to leave the basement door open. You aren’t going to throw scraps of meat down there for that killer to eat. You are going to pad-lock the door, you are going to put chairs in front of it, and you are going to try to starve that monster to death.

That’s the attitude we’ve got to have towards sin and our own sinful desires. That’s part of mortifying it. You don’t put yourself in positions where you know you are going to be tempted to sin.

You struggle with lust and looking at bad images, you don’t go on the internet when you are by yourself and think oh you know what I can handle it. No you don’t make any provision for the flesh in regards to its lusts. You don’t open the basement door. No you keep that thing pad-locked.

Think of sin like a murderer who is knocking on your door and wanting in. No matter how nice that murderer sounds, no matter all the things he offers you, there’s no way you are going to let him in. You don’t just stand there and say, o.k. let’s talk, why don’t you come in and have a seat and we’ll see what you have to offer. No you say, get off my porch. Then you run and you get the phone and you call the police.

Sometimes people have the attitude towards sin that a mother or father has towards her child. They make excuses for it. I remember watching on the news recently a father whose son was just picked up for conspiracy to commit murder. The son had purchased a gun, he had a list of people on a little piece of paper, that he wrote out, a list of people he wanted to kill, the police found all this; and yet there the father was on t.v. saying, Oh my son really is a nice boy and all that was just a big practical joke.

Come on. I understand that because as a father you love your children, but let's get real.

Get real about sin. Whatever you do, don’t treat sin like that father treated his son. Don’t minimize your sin. Expose it for what it really is. If you are going to deal with sin you’ve got to see it as a big deal. Otherwise you aren’t going to war against sin the way Paul commands you to here, and if you don’t war against sin the way Paul commands you to here, you aren’t going to be successful.

To be a little more positive, you mortify sin by using the means God has given you to grow spiritually. To deal with lust, work hard at getting to know God and growing in your love of Jesus Christ. Overcoming sexual sin is not just about not doing this, not doing that, it involves “setting your minds on the things that are above, not on things that are on the earth.”

We as believers are new creatures, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to be faced with temptations; sometimes temptation to sin in very grievous ways. We need something more than simply knowing that these kinds of sins are wrong, and we need something more than simply knowing why they are wrong, we need to know how to win the battle against these temptations if we are going to live holy lives in this sin-saturated world...which is exactly what we've seen Paul gives us in Colossians 3:5.

"Put it to death..."

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Killing Sexual Sin Before Sexual Sin Kills You...part two

God does not stutter when He talks about the consequences of unrepentant sexual sin.

“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality…will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality…that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you.” (1 Thessalonians 4:3,6)

“Let the marriage bed be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.” (Hebrews 13:4)

It's clear God takes these kinds of sins very seriously, so seriously that He’s going to pour out His wrath on those who don’t repent.

I know you know that.

I guess it might be conceivable that this might be a new thought for people like the Colossians. But it's definitely not a new thought for people like us. We, though in our society this seems to be changing, but at least for the most part, we still know that sexual sin in thought, or in deed, is serious because it’s idolatry and it’s going to be judged.

Yet the sad fact of the matter is even though we know about how God is going to judge these kinds of sin and we know about how God wants us to hate these kinds of sin and some of us even have begun to understand why God wants us to war against these kinds of sin, in spite of all that head knowledge it seems that within the church there are almost as many who fall to these kinds of sins as without.

I don’t want to get too depressing here, but we do need to be realistic. We could just talk about Christian leaders. It seemed for a while there that you kept hearing about one leader after the other falling into these types of sins. I remember in college, there was a point when I was like 'will it ever end?'

But it’s obviously not just Christian leaders that struggle with this issue.

Professing Christian men and women are struggling with this issue big time. We could talk about outward acts of sexual sin – like sexually immorality or sexual impurity or we could talk about the inner desires – the thought life – either way this is a major problem within the church. I’m afraid if we could see the thoughts of many of those who are going to church today throughout the week we’d be pretty grossed out at all the sinful sexual passions and desires.

To keep going, it’s not just Christian leaders and Christian men and women it’s also our young people. I read recently a pastor who was saying that 75 percent of the people who come for pre-marital counseling within his church have fallen into some kind of sexual sin. That is within the church – and he happened to be the pastor of a good church.

That kind of statement is pretty much in line with what recent statistics are telling us about the activities of many of the young people within the church who claim to be believers.

Josh McDowell describes the results of one particular survey, saying “The [study] participants were youth who are intensely involved in church activity (Sunday school, worship, youth group, Bible study) Yet . . . the survey reveals that our youth are living on the moral edge, closer to disaster than we ever imagined. . . . Large proportions of our youth -- a majority of whom say they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ -- are involved in inappropriate, immoral, even illegal behavior. . . . The data show that young people from good Christian homes are succumbing to the pressures of our society. By the time they reach the age of 18, over half (55 percent) have engaged in fondling breasts, genitals, and/or sexual intercourse. These results illustrate that even Christian young people from committed Christian homes are adopting the world's view of morality and sexuality.”

The question of course is why?

I mean this is a serious problem.

You may have even asked that question of yourself. You’ve come to church for a long time, you’ve heard the Word of God, you know what the Bible says about this issue, but you are just trapped in sexual sin. For some it may be outward sins, for others it may be more inward. But either way you find yourself wanting just what the non-Christian wants, thinking the way the non-Christian thinks, desiring what the non-Christian desires, and living the way the non-Christian lives when it comes to this whole issue of sexual sin. And you want to know – why.

I think Paul gives us a couple of hints in Colossians 3:5ff.

There are some who claim to be Christians and yet are living in this kind of sin and are in bondage to this kind of sin because quite frankly they have a wrong idea of what it means to be a Christian.

This whole exhortation to deal with sexual immorality, impurity and these evil desires is founded on something. That’s what the therefore at the beginning of the verse is all about. Do this "because," Paul is saying..."because of what God's already done for us in Christ."

“If then you died,” chapter two verse 20 and “if then,” chapter three verse one, “you have been raised with Christ.”

That’s the reason we can and must say no to these types of sins. It’s not because we somehow have super self-control in and of ourselves, it’s not because of how we feel, it’s not because we are really religious and we had a super quiet time, it’s not because we’ve been going to church for a really long time, the reason we can obey Paul’s commands is because of what God has done for us in Christ.

If you are a believer it’s not just that you changed your opinion about Jesus it’s that Jesus changed you.

I think of how John Newton once put it after his conversion, “I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I wish to be, I am not even what I hope to be, but by the cross of Christ, I am not what I was.”

If you are a Christian, although you used to be in bondage to this world, that’s not true any longer, you now at this point in time have a new life. A definitive, once for all break has been made. You have been rescued from the power of sin. It no longer has the hold on you that it once had. You no longer live under the lordship of sin. That’s an essential part of what it means to be a true Christian. And any growth in godliness is completely based on that.

We don’t overcome sin because of our natural resources, we can only overcome sin because of what God has done and is doing in us.

The problem is there are people out there who take the name Christian, who go around calling themselves Christians who have never died with Christ and who have never been raised with Christ. They are religious and they maybe even like these false teachers here in Colossae are serious about going through the motions of worship, but they’ve never been transformed. And so it’s not surprising that they are living in sexual immorality and thinking like the world thinks because there has been no decisive break in their lives from the world. They are hypocrites. They may look real but they are in fact fakes. They are Christian in name only.

Sure they are religious, yet their religious activity, verse 23 of chapter two, looks good, sounds good, but is ultimately of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. It’s like they are taking a pit-bull for a walk and using a shoe-string as a leash. That little shoe-string may look a little like a leash, and it may make them feel a little better, but you and I know that little shoe-string is not going to do them any good stopping that pit-bull from doing whatever it wants to do.

I think it was John Owen who said, “Unless a man is a true believer – one who truly belongs to Christ – he can never mortify a single sin.” He’s absolutely right.

If you’ve got a person who is just given over to sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire and covetousness it’s not going to do you much good to just exhort them, exhort them, exhort them to stop – first you’ve got to take a step back and help them think through honestly whether or not the therefore of verse 5 is in place first, because before they can go about dealing with their sin they must first be converted. If they aren’t converted and you are exhorting them to deal with their sin, well, that’s like placing a gun in the hands of a dead man and telling him to protect himself.

But and we’ve got to keep going here because I don’t want you to get the wrong idea, non-Christians aren’t the only ones who fall into these kinds of sins. If a person falls to some of these sins that Paul describes, one explanation is that it may be that he is not a Christian in the first place, but that is not the only explanation that can be biblically given.

The fact that we have died a very real death with Christ to sin once for all in the past, the fact that God has transformed us in such an amazing, remarkable way, does not mean that we have somehow been so delivered from sin that we are not going to struggle with it, and I’m talking struggle with serious sins, while we are still in this world.

I could prove that to you in a whole number of different ways. We could just take a look at some examples in Scripture of true believers who fell into this kind of sin, think King David.

But probably the simplest way to prove this to you would be to look at our text. After all this command here in verse 5, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you…” is given to who? People who are already Christians.

This verse is not about how to become a Christian. This verse is about what we must do as Christians. Which indicates that Paul clearly realizes that Christians are going to face and struggle with these kinds of temptations. In a very real way. This is no imaginary battle. This is war.

You’ve got to hear that.

If you think that you become a Christian and then you are placed in this magic little bubble where you aren’t going to face temptations to do very bad things, then you are living in a fantasy land – and you are in for a rude awakening.

Whatever Paul means when he says that you died with Christ he doesn’t mean that you are not going to have to war against sin. Because here, Paul, the very one who preached that if you are a Christian you died with Christ meaning there’s been this definitive break in your life with sin, in the very next verse, the very next verse talks about how you need to on a daily basis die to sin.

He’s confronting us with a biblical reality.

It’s called the reality of indwelling sin.

To quote John Owen, ‘When God saves us sin loses it’s authority but not its being, it loses its rule but not its life.”

The fact you are a believer doesn’t mean you are not a sinner; which means if you are just kind of sitting back as a believer and not seeking to actively apply the gospel to your every day life, not obeying Paul’s command here, to put these kinds of sin to death, even as a believer you are placing yourself in a very dangerous position where you are likely to fall into these kinds of sins.

When we think about being a Christian in this world we can say, yes, we have died to the world with Christ, yes, we have put off the old nature in Him yet at the same time we are not in heaven yet, we are living in this sinful world in a mortal body and we are exposed to all sorts of temptations, and we’ve got these powerful desires within us that incline us to do the very thing we don’t ultimately want to do and the kinds of things we know that we should not do, which helps us begin to understand why even Christians sometimes fall and brings us really to the punch-line of Colossians 3:5 and 6.

The world’s perspective on sexual sin is very different from God’s. He hates it and he is going to judge it because ultimately it is rooted in idolatry. We as believers are new creatures, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to be faced with temptations; temptation to sin in very grievous ways so we need something more than simply knowing that these kinds of sins are wrong, and we need something more than simply knowing why they are wrong, we need to know how to win the battle against these temptations if we are going to live holy lives in this sin-saturated world.

We'll look at what Paul says about just that tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Killing Sexual Sin Before Sexual Sin Kills You...part 1

I haven’t read Alice in Wonderland in a while but if I remember correctly Wonderland was a world in which many of the ideas that people were so confident of in the "real" world were turned upside down. As a result we find Alice often feeling befuddled as she tries to reason with characters who have no problem not making any sense.

Sometimes as Christians, after reading the Bible in which God lays things out so clearly, and then looking at the ideas that our culture is presenting, it almost feels like we are Alice in Wonderland – only I guess it would be better to call it Disaster-land.

As we interact with our culture we find our society choosing to believe and act on ideas that are the exact opposite of what the Scripture teaches - the exact opposite, actually, of the way things really are.

That’s certainly true when it comes to sex.

We live in a sex-crazed culture, a culture that for the most part thinks about sex in a way that is completely warped. I could give you a number of specific examples of that, but I don’t think that I really need to because you are confronted with that fact day in day out. You want proof of how consumed our culture is with sex and how twisted the way our society thinks about sex really is, just turn on your television.

It’s embarrassing sometimes, and I’m not speaking so much as a pastor or even right this moment because I am a Christian, but just as a human being, it’s embarrassing as you go to the grocery store and glance at the magazines that are in the check-out stand or as you flip through the television shows that are on night after night, to note just how those shows and those magazines so often are just completely centered on sex.

There’s no dignity. For many people it seems sex equals life. Sex is their god. Sex is what life is about.

We could kind of amuse ourselves and say that is just true of people on the fringe of our society. But we know that’s not the case. Otherwise pornography wouldn’t be the billion dollar industry that it is. Whether we’re talking about the guy in a prison cell with girlie magazines on the wall or the congressman in Washington who is having affair after affair, it’s evident that we live in a society that worships sex.

One trap when talking about this problem is to start thinking that this problem is new.

We sometimes think that the struggles and temptations we face have never been faced before. Obviously, they are not. In fact, although our culture’s attitude towards sexual sin is often pretty revolting, it may be that the attitude of many in Paul’s day was even worse.

One author writes, “There was in that society a plethora of prostitutes, concubines, mistresses, homosexuals, pedophiles, transvestites, temple harlots, adulterers and adulteresses…In fact, it was from that very mass of people that the churches were plucked. They had experienced a sexual revolution which included homosexuality, which included pedophilia--sex with little boys, homosexual sex with little boys--which included effeminate transvestitism, men dressing up like women, which included every form of fornication and sexual perversion. It was true in the Roman world. And unlike today there wasn't any preliminary Christian culture to act as a sort of a small barrier along the way. And there apparently weren't even any laws in any of the societies to stop any of that kind of behavior. Consequently they had their venereal epidemics as we do and all the rest of the things that are attendant upon a fornicating society."

You see the early believers, like us, were living in a society that encouraged and promoted sexual sin and frowned on those who actually spoke up against it. This particular problem had so permeated the culture that there were numerous Greek terms used to describe sexual sins.

We find Paul using a number of them in Colossians 3:5-7.

"Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness..."

The first term translated, sexual immorality, actually comes from the Greek word porneo – from which we get our English word porn. It was used to describe basically every type of improper sexual intercourse, from an adulterous affair to lesbianism.

The next is impurity, another catch all phrase for morally impure sexual relationships.

With the terms passion and evil desire, this phrase moves beyond just what we do to what we want, referring not to passion in general, but instead to shameful passions, strong sinful desires of a sexual nature.

He wraps it up by talking about covetousness, which describes an insatiable longing to lay your hands on something of someone else’s. It’s interesting that Paul lumps this particular term with all these other terms describing various sexual sins. The fact that he does so, seems to indicate that most likely he’s specifically pinpointing sexual covetousness – a love and desire for a person or sin which becomes a substitute for one’s love and devotion for God.

These kinds of sins, sexual immorality, impurity, passions, evil desires and covetousness were all being promoted in the world in which the Colossians lived. They had been delivered from that kind of lifestyle yet Paul knew that they desperately needed to be reminded of what God desired from them. So he lays out real clearly why this is such a serious issue.

"Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire and covetousness, which is idolatry..."

This is a serious issue because it’s not just about sex - it’s about worship.

Paul here specifically says that covetousness is idolatry, but what’s true of coveting in this passage is certainly true of these other sexual sins as well. In fact, Paul himself links them all with idolatry over in Ephesians 5:3-5.

The reason he does so is because he wants us to understand these kinds of sins are not only sins on the horizontal level as far as our relationships with other people, they are also sins on the vertical level. They flow out of a problem in our relationship with God. They demonstrate that we have placed someone or something else in his place. We are worshiping sex, which means ultimately, we are worshiping ourselves rather than God.

The world may laugh and scoff at sexual sins but God doesn’t. The world may say that we can do what we want to do and there will be no consequences but God says something very different.

Paul writes, "On account of these the wrath of God is coming.”

People think they can do whatever they want to do sexually and that there’s no accountability because after all it is their body; but they are one hundred percent wrong because there is a day of accountability. They are created beings. And their Creator is in fact their Judge. He is going to hold them accountable. And He makes it crystal clear that He opposes those who give themselves over to this kind of lifestyle.

Which means you and I can mark it down: if a person is doing things God says he should not do sexually, if he is thinking about sex in ways that God says he should not, if he is making an idol out of sex, and refuses to repent, he is going to be judged.

That’s an absolute certainty.

Humbly introducing...

A new book by my Dad...

"Humility: The Forgotten Virtue

Most sins turn us away from God, but pride is a direct attack upon God. It lifts our hearts above Him and against Him. Pride seeks to dethrone God and enthrone itself. How can Christians fight against this sin and develop genuine humility? In this helpful new book, Wayne Mack guides readers through Scripture and shows us how we can take steps to develop humility and diminish the destructive pride in our lives. Readers will find here a resource that is practical, well illustrated and relevant to their lives. Now available from Strengthening Ministries for $10.00."

Monday, August 15, 2005

What's my problem?

1.) What problem am I struggling with right now?

2.) How have I attempted to solve this problem so far?

3.) How would the world describe my problem? What words would they use to identify it? If I asked an unbelieving friend at work about the problem I am struggling with, how might he respond?

4.) How does the Bible identify my problem? What words does the Bible use to describe it? If I talked to a godly person who knows the Bible well, what might he say about the problem I am struggling with?

5.) How do I describe my problem? Does my description look more like the world's or the Scriptures?

6.) How does the problem I am struggling with affect me? How does it affect my relationships?
How does it affect the way I think during the day? What impact does it make on my relationship with God?

7.) Are there any places in Scripture that talk about what causes the problem I am struggling with? How would the Bible answer the question: "Why do I do what I do?"

8.) What makes it difficult for me to deal with this problem?

Is it a lack of knowledge? How might I deal with that?
Is it a lack of desire? What can I do about that?
Are there "benefits" I get from not dealing with the problem? How might I handle that?
What are some idols I might have that are keeping me from really working on this problem?

9.) Why do I want to deal with the problem? What might be some wrong motivations I might have? Why might God want me to deal with the problem?

10.) Have I truly repented of the ways I have sinned in relation to this problem? Have I asked God for help in dealing with this problem? Do I have a strategy for responding to this problem? What specific steps am I going to take this week to grow in this particular area?

Friday, August 12, 2005

On communicating as a preacher...

I think it's easy to get side-tracked when we talk about communicating effectively as preachers. I can't tell you how many times I've sat in a class on preaching where we've spent a significant amount of time on things like, 'don't put your hands in your pocket' when you preach or 'don't scratch your nose' or whatever. Then I've gone out from the class and listened to preachers who have broken many of the established “rules” of effective communication, and yet somehow, are effective communicators.

Instead of getting side-tracked by relatively minor details, I believe it is more important to focus on certain fundamental ‘attitudes’ that are essential for effectively communicating as a preacher.

To communicate most effectively, the expository preacher must love the people to whom he is speaking. He should be able to say to his congregation what the apostle Paul said to the Philippians, “For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ
Jesus.” (Phil.1:8)

The expository preacher’s love for his congregation will be expressed in many different ways. He will want what is best for them. The congregation should have no doubt that even though the preacher has to say some hard things, he only says them because he has deep affection for them. His love for the congregation will keep him from having a cynical, holier than thou attitude as he preaches. When he is addressing specific areas of sin, he won’t arrogantly wag his finger at the congregation, ‘you people…’ but instead weep and plead with them because he doesn’t want to see them dishonor God and hurt themselves. He will not preach down to his congregation but speak with them as a father might to his children.

The preacher’s love for his congregation will show up in the way he speaks to them. He will think about the kinds of things they are interested in, the world in which they live, the kind of words they understand. He won’t stand behind the pulpit and think to himself, “These people better adjust themselves to my style…” but rather he will think to himself, “How can I, without compromising biblical truth, choose words and illustrations and methods of communication that will connect with my congregation and help them understand the biblical truths I am teaching.” His love for the congregation will cause him to listen even as he preaches. He won’t just spout of truths as if he were talking to a wall, but will keep a careful eye on the congregation, trying to gauge whether they are understanding or not, while thinking about how he can help them understand things even better. His love for his people will motivate him even as he structures his sermon, to put together an outline that is clear and easy to understand.

To communicate effectively, expository preachers must maintain an attitude of relaxed desperation. The preacher can enter the pulpit with confidence because he recognizes the sovereignty of God. Personally, it’s been both humbling and freeing for me to realize that while God uses me, He doesn’t need me. It’s humbling to realize the work of God in the world doesn’t hinge on my effectiveness as a communicator and that even my best sermon will accomplish nothing apart from His grace. It’s freeing because I realize that God’s purposes will prevail. If I were relying on myself and my abilities, I’d be freaking out every time I entered the pulpit, because I quite simply can’t get the job done. But because I can enter the pulpit relying on God’s strength, I can enter the pulpit relaxed and secure, because I know for sure God can and will get the job done.

While believing in God’s sovereignty enables preachers to preach confidently, it doesn’t mean that they should not preach passionately. Though God doesn’t need us, He does use us. God in His sovereignty has chosen to use human means to reach men. When I understand who I am speaking for, who I am speaking to, and what I am speaking about it causes me to preach with a sense of desperation, to preach as Richard Baxter once put it, “as a dying man to dying men.”

To communicate most effectively, the expository preacher must be fearful and fearless. He must fear God not man. The person who fears God will be sober-minded about the preaching task, not flippant. He will be most concerned about God’s approval and will be very concerned about lifting God up in the eyes of the congregation. He will not be a showboat. He will not use communication techniques to draw attention to himself.

The fear of man is a trap for the preacher. It obviously effects the content of the message. The fear of man keeps preachers from being concrete and specific and thus keeps them from saying anything very helpful. The fear of man keeps preachers from saying things they should the way they should. The fear of man causes preachers to ignore certain passages and emphasize others. But not only does the fear of man effect a preacher’s content, I believe the fear of man also effects the way preachers communicate.

Many communication “ticks” like ums, or wringing of hands, or not looking at people in the eye, etc. are not due to poor training, but rather the result of a fear of man. (I believe this is important to remember when training preachers. A person by hard work can train himself to look someone in the eye, not use ums, etc. but if he hasn’t dealt with the fear of man, his inordinate longing for people’s approval, then he really hasn’t dealt with the real problem. In fact, he may work hard at overcoming those ticks for the same reason he developed them, he is focused on himself and what other people think of him!)

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Things I ask myself...

A couple questions I ask myself before I preach...

Is what I'm preaching Bible-based and Bible-centered?

When I'm finished those listening 1.) should know what text of Scripture the preacher is proclaiming, 2.) should be convinced that the message he is teaching comes from the text not his imagination, 3.) should understand what the original author meant when he first wrote that text and the reasons why he wrote what he wrote, 4.) should be able to explain why they can be sure that he meant that, 4.) should see the basic biblical truth being taught by that passage and 5.) how that biblical truth fits in with the message of the book and of all Scripture.

Why am I preaching?

Every sermon should be guided by a consideration of the purpose of Scripture as a whole and the purpose of the text in particular.

Paul describes the purpose of Scripture as a whole in 2 Timothy 3:16 and 17: teaching, correcting, rebuking, and training in righteousness. This means that in a very general way every sermon should be designed in some way or another perform these basic functions.

Every sermon should first, teach. The preacher should answer questions people are asking of the text and answer questions about the text that they didn’t even know they had. The preacher’s task is not to simply say what everybody knew before they came to church. Instead, people should go away from an expository sermon having learned something about the Bible.

Every sermon should secondly, demonstrate how people should change as a result of what is being taught in the text and also how exactly they can go about making those changes in their day to day lives. If people only learn more information about the Hizzites and the Jebusites, etc. in a sermon, but are not taught how what they learn should effect the way they think, how they feel, what they want, then that sermon isn’t accomplishing all God desires.

The sermon should not only be driven by the purposes of Scripture in general, but also by the purpose of the text in particular. Every passage of Scripture has a purpose. By purpose, I mean every passage is intended to effect the one reading it in some way. Jay Adams writes, “In every passage that He inspired, the Holy Spirit (unlike many preachers) had some intention, some purpose in view. It is the preacher’s task to discover not what He intended to do in the reader, but also make that same purpose his own in preaching to the listener. The preacher has no right to use a portion of Scripture for his own purposes; he must discover the Spirit’s purpose in a passage and preach from that passage to achieve that purpose and that purpose alone.”[1]

A sermon that does not explain the Spirit’s purpose in a particular text or that does not have the same purpose: misses the point, confuses the congregation, and lacks authority. Effective sermon structures work like a sling-shot. Through an orderly and logical sermon structure, the preacher puts the “purpose” in the sling-shot, swings and launches that single God-designed purpose at the heart of the congregation.”

Is this message gospel-saturated?

There are two fundamental questions every sermon should answer: 1.) what difference does Christ make on this passage and 2.) what difference does the gospel make on the way I respond to it? Tim Keller explains, “At the root…of all Christian failures to live right…is the sin under all sins, the sin of unbelief, of not rejoicing deeply in God’s grace in Christ, not living out of our new identity in Christ. This means that every week in a different way the minister must apply the gospel of salvation by grace through faith through Christ work. Thus every week non-Christians get exposed to the gospel, and in its most practical and varied forms, not just in a repetitious ‘Four Spiritual Laws’ way.”[2]

What difference does this message make?

Listeners should not go away from a message wondering what the sermon had to do with their life. Effective sermons clearly demonstrate how the biblical truths being presented apply either to the way in which the hearer thinks, how the hearer feels, or what the hearer wants. In the past, this has been called “experiential” or “experimental” preaching. As Joel Beeke explains, experiential preaching, “seeks to explain in terms of biblical truth how matters ought to go, how they do go, and what the goal is of the Christian life. It aims to apply divine truth to the whole range of the believer’s personal experience, including his relationships with the family, the church and the world around him.”[3]

This definition is important. Preaching must explain how matters ought to go, how they do go and what is the goal of the Christian life, and it must do so in terms of biblical truth.

In other words, there are two essential characteristics of good application: 1.) It is true to the text of Scripture. The preacher should be able to clearly demonstrate from the text why the application he is presenting to the congregation is reasonable. Too often, application fails here. Instead of making applications to life on the basis of the text of Scripture, the preacher uses the Scripture as a diving board for him to talk about his own personal opinion of how he thinks ought to go, how they do go, and what is the goal of the Christian life. 2.) It is true to real life.
I, for one, am tired of all the fuzzy generalities and worn out clich├ęs that preachers often use
when trying to apply Scripture to the lives of those listening. By their careful exegesis, many
expository preachers make it clear they are familiar with the world of the Bible, but by their out
of touch applications, they make people wonder whether they have a clue about the world in
which their contemporary audience lives.

The expository preacher must not only exegete Scripture, he must think carefully about how Scripture exegetes people. Specifically he might ask himself: 1.) What does this passage teach me about the way people think, feel, or do? 2.) What does this passage teach me about what people need? 3.) What problem does this passage address? What are several different ways that problem expresses itself in our lives today? 4.) What comfort does this passage give? What does that comfort tell me about people’s real needs? 5.) What are some common objections people have to what this passage teaches? How does my own heart object to what this passage teaches? 6.) What are some specific ways people live contrary to what this passage teaches? What are some biblical examples of ways characters in Scripture lived contrary to the teaching of this passage? 7.) What are some specific ways people have applied this passage to their lives effectively? What are some biblical examples of ways characters in Scripture applied the teaching of this passage to their lives?

[1] Jay Adams, Essays on Biblical Preaching, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing, 1983) p.10
[2] Tim Keller, Preaching in a Postmodern City,, http://www.redeemer2.com/themovement/issues/2004/june/postmoderncity_1_p2.html, accessed Jan. 28,2005.
[3] Joel Beeke, Puritan Reformed Spirituality, (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2005), p.425.

What's most important...

I need reminders about what is most important.

I've wanted to share a "reminder" God has used in my life. It's a letter written hundreds of years ago by a woman named by Mary Love the day before her husband Christopher was to be executed for his faith

She writes, "Before I write a word further, I beg you Christopher not to think that your wife is now writing rather a friend, I hope you have freely given up your wife and your children...Your maker will be my husband and a father to your children. Oh that the Lord would keep you from having one troubled thought about your family. I desire to freely give you up to the Father's hands. Look upon this as a crown of glory to die for Christ, and as a honor for me that I might have a husband to leave for Christ. I dare not speak to you nor have a thought within my own heart to my unspeakable loss but entirely keep my eye fixed on your inexpressible and inconceivable gain. You are leaving your children, your brothers and sisters to go to your eldest brother the Lord Jesus Christ. You are leaving friends on earth to go the enjoyment of saints, of just men made perfect in glory. You leave earth for heaven. You are exchanging a prison for a palace. If earthly affections should begin to arise I hope that the Spirit of grace that is within you will quell them, knowing that all things here are but dross in comparison with those things that are above. I know you keep your eye fixed on the hope of glory Christopher which makes your feet trample on the loss of earth. My dear I know God has prepared glory for you and you for it. When you are putting on your clothes tomorrow think I am putting on my wedding garments to go to be everlastingly married. When the messenger of death comes to get you, to take you to the block, let it not seem dreadful to you, but look to him as a messenger that brings you tidings of eternal life. When you go to the scaffold think as you told me you would that you are climbing aboard the fiery chariot to carry you to your Father's house. When you lay your precious head down to receive your Father's stroke, remember what you said to me, "Though my head should be severed from my body in that moment my soul will be united with my head the Lord Jesus Christ. And though it may seem bitter that I am leaving this life sooner than I wanted, let us consider it the will of my heavenly Father and it won't be long till we enjoy company with one another for all eternity together with Him. Let us comfort one another with these words. Be comforted my dear Christopher. It is but a little stroke and you shall be there where the weary shall be at rest. Farewell my dear. I shall never see your face until we behold the face of the Lord Jesus at that great day...Your affectionate wife, Mary.”[1]

[1] Don Kistler, Christopher Love: A Spectacle Unto God, Soli Deo Gloria Books, Morgan Pa., 1994.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

For Parents...

I have had a little more time to search the web while on vacation. I found several articles I thought those of you who are parents might appreciate.

Parenting with the Gospel - Rob Wilkerson

Embracing God's Plan for Authority - Tedd Tripp

The Duties of Christian Parents - J.C. Ryle

Parenting by Design - Faith Baptist Church Staff

And from Grace Fellowship's very own Joe Fleener

Vision Forum, Patriarchy and Federal Husband part one and two

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Never Stop...

I recently read this article. I'm not sure exactly who wrote it, so unfortunately I can't give credit but I think you'll appreciate it.

"Dr. Charles McCoy never married, he devoted his years instead to pastoring a church and pursuing a plethora of educational goals. At age seventy-two, when his denomination required that he retire from ministry, he reluctantly left his Baptist pulpit in Oyster Bay, New York. He wasn’t sure what to do with himself. Over the years, he had accumulated seven different college degrees, but now they all seemed futile: I just lie on my bed thinking that my life’s over, and I haven’t really done anything yet. I’ve been pastor of this church for so many years, and nobody really wants me much—and what have I done for Christ? I’ve spent an awful lot of time working for degrees, but I haven’t won very many people to the Lord.
But just a week after his retirement, he met a missionary who abruptly invited him to come to India to preach. Dr. McCoy deferred, citing his age. He had never been overseas, had never even traveled across America, had never flown in a plane. He couldn’t imagine traveling to India. Furthermore, he hadn’t the money.
The thought, however, nagged at him.
And so white-haired old Dr. Charles McCoy announced he was going to India. He sold his car and few possessions and bought a one-way plane ticket. “By yourself?” asked his horrified friends. “To India? What if you fall ill? What if you should die in India?”
“It’s just as close to heaven from there as it is from here,” he replied.
He arrived in Bombay with his billfold, his Bible, his passport—all of which were promptly taken by pickpockets. He was left with only the clothes on his back and the address of some missionaries that he had clipped from a magazine. The man who had originally invited him had remained in America, and when he showed up on the missionaries’ doorstep, they weren’t sure what to do with him.
After a day or so, McCoy declared he was going to visit the mayor of Bombay. Don’t waste your time, advised his new friends. After several years of trying, they had never been able to see the mayor. McCoy prayed about it and went anyway. He presented his calling card to the receptionist, and she looked at it carefully, then disappeared through a door. Returning, she told him to come back at 3 o’clock.
McCoy returned that afternoon to find a reception in his honor attended by the most important civic leaders in Bombay. It seems the city fathers had been greatly impressed by McCoy’s tall frame (he was 6’4"), his distinguished white hair, and especially by the long string of degrees after his name on his calling card. He is a very important man, they thought. Perhaps even a representative of the President of the United States.
Dr. McCoy spoke for a half-hour, giving his testimony about Jesus Christ. At the end, he was politely applauded by the assembled crowd, and afterward he was approached by a man in an impressive military uniform who invited him to speak to the students of his school. As it turned out, his school was India’s equivalent to West Point. After his first address, McCoy was invited back repeatedly.
Invitations soon poured in from all over India, and he began an itinerant ministry of preaching the Gospel. In Calcutta he started a Chinese church. He was asked to do the same in Hong Kong. He was invited to Egypt and the Middle East, traveling everywhere on a shoestring but with an energy that he had seldom before felt. His evangelistic ministry stretched to sixteen years, and at age 88, he again found himself in India, in Calcutta.
His host dropped him off at the Grand Hotel, and as he stepped from the car he said, “You know I’m speaking tonight at the YMCA. I have time for a cup of tea and a bit of rest. I don’t want to be late for the meeting.” He ducked into the hotel, took the elevator to his floor, and suddenly the Lord called him home.
It was just as close to heaven from India, he had said, as from America. Dr. Charles McCoy had wonderfully embodied the final words of Psalm 92:
Those who are planted in the house of the Lord
Shall flourish in the courts of our God.
They shall still bear fruit in old age;
They shall be fresh and flourishing,
To declare that the Lord is upright;
He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him."

Monday, August 08, 2005

On Vacation...

We're on vacation this week, so blogging will be a little slow.

I will pass on an article my father recently wrote though, on his understanding of what it means to be an evangelical for a F.I.R.E. newsletter.

“E” is for Evangelicals

On a number of occasions when people have asked me whether our church (Grace Fellowship Church in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania) is part of a denomination, I have responded by telling them, “No, but we are part of an association of churches that is called “F.I.R.E..” The first question is then followed by another question, “What is “F.I.R.E.”? In response to that question, I explain to them that the word “F.I.R.E.” is an acronym which stands for a group of like minded churches that have banded together in an organization that we call the Fellowship of Independent Reformed Evangelicals. This answer is usually followed by other questions, “What is the Fellowship of Independent Reformed Evangelicals? What does this group of churches stand for? What do they believe? Why does F.I.R.E. exist?”

In answer to these questions, I spend some time expounding the meaning of the four major words that the letter is the acronym. Every word in this title is important in that each word proclaims some of the core convictions of F.I.R.E. churches as well as common purposes to which we are committed. Since the first of the three main words in the title have been explained in former newsletters, I will not at this time repeat the explanations I usually give to my questioners. However, since the meaning of the word “evangelical” was not covered in former news letters, I will seek to clarify how I understand the meaning of this word .
What does it mean to say that a person or a church or a group of churches are
Evangelical? Basically it means that they believe the Gospel which declares God saves unworthy, guilty sinners by His grace through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ on their behalf; it means that that they are committed to proclaiming that Gospel to the ends of the earth. The Webster’s New World Dictionary rightly states that the word evangelical is referring to “those protestant churches … that emphasize salvation by faith in the atonement of Jesus, and reject the (saving) efficacy of the sacraments and good works alone.”

Being evangelical means that we believe that all men come into this world with three tremendous problems to which only the Gospel provides the solution. One of those problems is that we have a bad record; we have sinned and come short of the glory of God; we have engaged in evil deeds and therefore are guilty before God and deserve to be banished from the presence of a holy and righteous God in hell (Romans 3:23; Colossians 1:21). Our second great problem is that we come into this world with a bad heart; we have hearts that are deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; we are alienated and hostile to God in our minds; we live according to the lusts of the flesh and are by nature children of wrath (Jeremiah 17:9; Colossians 1:21; Ephesians 2:3). Out third great problem is that we have a bad master who rules our lives; we walk according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience; we are taken captive by him to do His will and we serve his purposes (Ephesians 2:3; John 8:44; 2 Timothy 2:26).

In keeping with these verses, it’s easy to see that our situation before God is extremely grave; it’s easy to see that we need to be delivered from these three great problems. And it’s also easy to see why we are so excited about the Gospel because it is through the Gospel and the Gospel alone that we can be set free from our bad record, our bad heart and our bad master.

The main stem of the word “evangelical” comes from the Greek word “euangellion”. This is the word which is translated Gospel in our Bibles; a word which means good news. We revel in being evangelicals because we revel in the good news that through repentance and faith in Christ men can be set free from their three greatest problems. We rejoice in the Gospel because through the Gospel their great need for forgiveness and for a clean heart and for a good master can be fulfilled. As evangelicals who know something of the greatness of the Gospel we boldly declare that we are not ashamed of the Gospel (the euangellion, the good news) of Jesus Christ because we believe that “it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes’.” (Romans 1:16)

Being evangelical means that we believe that “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:13) It means that we are Christ centered and cross centered in our message. It means that we glory in the cross of Christ by whom the world is crucified unto us and we unto the world (Galatians 6:14) It means we have a passion to “go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15)

Being evangelical means that our churches will have a compelling desire to reach out with the Gospel; to those who are still under the control of a bad master, a bad heart and a bad record. It means that our churches will seek to help people to appropriate the full benefits of the Gospel in their own personal lives and relationships. It means that we are committed to planting other churches who will also be committed to be actively and passionately presenting that Gospel to those who have never heard; It means that our churches will be involved in training people to live out the implications of the Gospel on a daily basis; It means that our churches will be helping people to understand that receiving the Gospel means that we should henceforth not live for ourselves, but for Him who loved us and gave Himself for us (2 Corinthians 5:14,15). It means that we who have been blessed by the Gospel will be motivated to lay down our lives for the brethren even as Christ laid down His life for us.

Being evangelical means, as Jerry Bridges has written, that we realize that there is never a day when we are so good that we don’t need the Gospel and never a day when we are so bad that we are beyond the reach of the Gospel. It means that we are motivated by the Gospel to live soberly, righteously and godly in this present world and to live looking for the blessed hope and the glorious appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Titus 2:11- 13). It means that we live as people who have been ransomed from our lawless deeds and who have been purified and set apart to live as a people of God’s own possession; a people who because of the Gospel are zealous for good works. (Titus 2:14) As evangelicals we recognize we have been bought with a price and that we are not our own and that it is our privilege and responsibility to glorify God in our bodies and spirits which belong to Him. (I Corinthians 6:19, 20) Because of what the euangellion (the Gospel) means to us and has done for us we love the Gospel and we dedicate our lives to carrying its message to the ends of the earth and to making disciples of all nations, baptizing those who receive it in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things that our Lord has commanded.” (Matthew 28:19)

This, in brief, is what it means to be an evangelical. This, in brief, is what the Gospel does for us and to us. To us the Gospel is everything; it is at the center of our Christian life and faith. It is why we are part of a church. It is why we function as churches. It is the foundation of all our counseling and all our ministry. Because of the Gospel we are motivated to say “Forbid it Lord that I should boast, same in the death of Christ my God, All the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to His blood. Were the whole realm of nature mine; that were a present far too small; love so amazing, so divine, shall have my life, my all.”

Note it well, we are a Fellowship of Independent Reformed churches because of the Gospel. We love it, we preach it; we rejoice in it; we are motivated by it. We live because of it and for it. We delight in being known as evangelicals for all the reasons that have previously been mentioned and many more. And we say, “To God be the glory, great things He has done! So loved He the World that He gave us His Son, who yielded His life an atonement for sin, and opened the life gate that we may go in. Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord, Let the earth hear His voice! Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, Let the people rejoice! O come to the Father, through Jesus the Son, and give Him the glory, great things He has done.”