(If you would like to see the sermon video, click here.)
I’ve talked previously about the importance of having foundational, fundamental, bedrock beliefs that every Christian can affirm, no matter where they are, what tradition they come from, and what language they speak.
The central theme of this series I’m calling “The True Gospel” was the introduction of the Five Solas – five core beliefs that historical, protestant Christianity has held as the baseline from which they work out the rest of their faith. They are Scripture Alone, Grace Alone, Faith Alone, Christ Alone and the Glory of God Alone.
There are many other important discussions that can be had that go beyond these five… like worship styles, membership requirements, church leadership and government options, the emphasis of the church ministries, and the location of the building (or even if the church puts up a building at all!)… but these five are the non-negotiable points that the church must be built on, or it ceases to be a Christian church.
We have already covered:
Sola Scriptura, or Scripture Alone, which is the foundational belief and conviction that the Bible is the “inspired and authoritative Word of God, is the only source of Christian doctrine.” (http://www.answers.com/topic/five-solas)
Sola Gratia, or Grace Alone which reminds us that we are not saved from the consequences of our sins by anything we can do, but only by the unmerited favour (Grace) of God. Today I want to explore the next one.
Grace & Justice
Let’s continue with Sola Fide, Faith Alone – We are saved through Faith Alone in Jesus Christ. Now, at first glance, this might sound like a repeat of Sola Gratia, or Grace Alone, which stated that we are saved not by works, but by the it grace of God alone.
The reason this is different is because of the emphasis of scripture on both the Grace of God and the Justice of God. It is not enough to say that we have been saved by grace, as though somehow God just dismissed all of our sins because He was being nice. No, Sola Fide has to do with the legal aspect of being saved. Let me explain:
We Are Guilty, Jesus Is Innocent
We have sinned, and are condemned. We broke the law. We stand under judgement. The Judge looks at us and says, “you did not keep the law, but have broken it, and therefore, to uphold the law, you must be punished.” God is a good God who will not let anyone get away with anything. Sin must be paid for, injustice must be set right, and unrighteous behaviour must be accounted for.
The punishment for sin is death. Romans 6:23, “The wages of sin is death…”. It has been since the very beginning of time. God warned Adam that if he sinned, the consequence would be death, and every human being has sinned, and therefore every human being has died. We have all broken God’s law. Everyone. Everyone, that is, except Jesus.
So God, in His Grace, chose to send His Son to come to earth, to take on the form of a human being, and to live a perfect life, free of sin, free of the curse, free from punishment. He would be the only one to ever face temptation and not fall. He would be the only one to have the opportunity to sin, and never take it. He would be what Adam should have been, the perfect human, the perfect Son of God, the one who would do it right. (Romans 5)
And so, even though He had never done anything wrong, the Lord Jesus was sentenced by His own creation, and in agreement with the Father to die in the most excruciating way humanity has ever conceived – a Roman Crucifix. He could have gotten off the cross at any time. He could have made a perfect argument at any time. He could have brought down a legion of angels at any time that would have wiped out those who were judging and persecuting Him, but He didn’t. Why?
Because He was not just dying to fulfil some broken human law, but to fulfil the perfect law of God (Romans 10:4). The law that said that anyone who broke His Holy, Perfect Law must be put to death – physical and spiritual death (spiritual death is the punishment and torment in Hell).
But He wasn’t dying for His own sin… He had no sin… He was instead dying for ours. He was making possible our reconciliation to God because we couldn’t.
“The Great Exchange”
“16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:16-21)
Verse 21 that makes the point so clearly. This is what theologians call the Doctrine of Justification. Martin Luther called this “The Great Exchange”. It is this doctrine that truly separates Christianity from being a list of do’s and don’ts which attempt to appease or impress God.
“God made him who had no sin…” Who’s that? Jesus Christ. He had no sin. And he “made him… to be sin”. In other words, God the Father, the perfect Judge of sin, make Christ to be regarded and treated as though he was a sinner, as though He was the absolute personification of sin, even though He had never sinned. Why? “…so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
You, the moment you had faith and believed in Jesus as the one who saved you from Sin, became “the righteousness of God”. I know that you may not feel like it, or even act like it, but that’s your nature now. Before, you had a nature of sin and rebellion, now you have a nature of righteousness. That’s why you don’t want to sin now. It didn’t bother you before, but now it bothers you. You used to have a lot of go-to excuses for why you sinned, but now, because of your new nature, your excuses are thin and instead you have conviction. That is your new nature crying out and showing you how different you are now!
This is so crucial to understand. When Satan comes to you and says, “You did something so bad that God won’t forgive you” or “You need to punish that person because they did something to you” – either side of that coin – the one where you feel as though you can’t be forgiven, or where you won’t forgive someone else – remember The Great Exchange.
Isaiah 53, a prophecy written 700 years before Jesus walked the earth, describes in detail, what Jesus would go through for us, and why.
1“Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4 Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken.
9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
11 After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”
Jesus, who had done nothing, became the personification of sin, taking the full wrath of God for all of humanity’s sin. Is it any wonder he was sweating blood in the Garden of Gethsemane? Is it any wonder why He asked for the cup to be taken from Him – that if there was any other way, to take it? But there was no other way. In order to free those who would believe from the consequences of their sins, He would have to be punished in accordance with the Law, and according to the severity of the Law, pour out “his life unto death” and be “numbered with the transgressors” (in other words, treated like a sinner), for the sake of all who would believe.
Diminishing the Cross
Therefore we do not say that we must punish ourselves to be forgiven, or that we have done something too sinful to be forgiven, because that diminishes what Jesus did on the cross. We also do not punish others for their sins, because that too diminishes what Jesus did for them, as though His punishment wasn’t enough.
Sola Fide is an amazing truth because it explains to us how we can be justified by Grace. God doesn’t let people get away with their sin and merely forget about it, but instead, pours out His wrath on the one person who never deserved it, and the only person who could have stood as our substitute. That’s why Jesus came. That’s was His greatest work for us. That is why we can pray, and sing, and be forgiven. Because of His work for us on the cross… not because of any work we do for ourselves.
Consequences of Faith
Now, there are some natural consequences of Faith too. When God affects our hearts, opens our eyes to see our sin and our need for a Saviour, shares with us the Gospel of Salvation by Grace, and then gives us the gift of faith to believe it – our lives change forever. Here are two of the changes that happen after we have been justified by faith and the work of Jesus on the cross.
Made New by Faith
I, and many here, love quoting verse 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” We say that all the time, but we must believe it and let that truth take hold of our hearts. It is not, as some people believe, that we are saved by grace and then we have to work hard and fight tooth-and-nail to stay saved or try to be good. No, once we have faith in Jesus, we are made new.
You know what Christians are called throughout the New Testament? “Saints”. You who are saved are Saints. Holy Ones. Consecrated people. That’s your title, even if you don’t believe it, or if you don’t feel it right now. You have been justified by faith and now have the same righteousness as Jesus. You don’t have to act like your old self. You don’t have to live and think the way you once did, because you have a new nature.
Your Old Self Died
Satan and His demons will continuously come to us and say:
“You are still dirty”
“You are a mess”
“You sin because you are a sinner”
“You are still broken”
“You’ll never be really right with God or others.”
But the truth of scripture is that you have been completely changed, the very moment you had faith. We can say, “No, I don’t have to do that, I’m not that person anymore. That person is dead.”
Read Romans 6:1-7:
“What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. 5 If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.”
Look closely at verse 6:
“6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7 because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.”
Do you see that? That’s the power of faith in Jesus Christ and what it means to be justified by grace and the power of God. You are no longer a slave to sin. When you died to sin, you died to the requirement of being the servant of sin. There’s not much a slave-master can do with a dead servant, and so upon the death of your old nature, your former master released you. Now you live with a new nature, one that, because of your faith in Jesus, is no longer bound to sin. You won’t like it. You may fall for temptation now and again, but now you see the temptation, and you hate the sin, and you have the power to walk away from it. That is something you didn’t have the power, or the will, to do before.
You may contend with what Ephesians calls the “Old Man”, your old nature that you lived in before, because you are still part of this fallen world, in fallen flesh, living with the physical and emotional consequences of your choices and the choices of those around you, but the point is that you are now contending, or fighting against, your old nature – not succumbing to it and living out of it.
That is the first consequence of faith – a new nature.
Working Out our Faith
The other consequence of having faith is it will create a need to work out that faith. This is important to understand properly because somewhere within you will believe that now that you have accepted the free gift of salvation you should either – 1. Not work at all because you are saved and can’t get any more saved, or 2. Work like crazy because you are afraid you might lose your salvation if you don’t do enough to show how thankful you are.
Neither is Christian. In the first place, the bible warns Christians, in 2 Thessalonians 3, against idleness (not working and being a helpful, productive member of society and the church). On the other hand it also says, in Romans 8, that God will never let us go, will never revoke His gift of salvation, and no one in the universe can take it away from you.
The proper response to faith is to work it out. We are not saved by our good works, we are saved unto good works. Do you see the difference? We are not saved by anything good we do, but we are saved so that we can do good things.
To help us understand this, let’s define faith. (I borrowed some of this outline from Reformation Study Bible, Pg 1804.)
Faith is incorporated into your entire being. Faith is not a feeling, nor is it an optimistic decision where you choose to hope something good will happen. Faith is far deeper than that.
Faith is responsive. It is a response to something already defined, not a feeling about something without substance. God made promises, Jesus secured those promises, the Gospel explains those promises, and each is grounded in reality and is able to be understood. Believing those promises, having faith, involves the mind, the heart and the will and is directed towards a very real, very personal God… not an idea, but a person.
Knowledge, Agreement & Trust
There are three words that smarter people than I use to describe faith: Knowledge, Agreement, & Trust. First we gain Knowledge and understanding of something – in this case, the Gospel. Then we Agree with it, we recognize that it is true. And then we Trust it and make a step of commitment that requires us to act on what we now know and agree with.
We’re talking about the gospel, but we could just as simply be talking about a chair. Say you are looking at a chair and you want to sit down. It’s not a kind of chair you’ve ever seen before, and you don’t know if it will support you. So you learn about the chair, read the specs and find out how it is built. Now you have Knowledge.
But now you need Agreement. Do you agree with what you have just learned? Have you seen others sit on it? Are you prepared to agree with the manufacturer that they can make a chair you can sit on? What’s their track record? So now you have come into Agreement with the person who made the chair and wrote the specs… what is next?
Sitting down! You have to trust what you know, what you’ve agreed with, and then sit down! This is the action of faith. You trust it. It’s all just an idea until you sit down.
In the same way, Faith isn’t faith until it is worked out. Through faith we are justified, and then we “walk by faith” (2 Cor 5:7). We step forward and live our lives in the new reality we have just accepted and make choices based on that Knowledge, Agreement and Trust relationship with God.
Faith & Works
James 2:14 says quite simply, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” The answer is simply “no” because they have not demonstrated real “faith” – they haven’t sat down in the chair yet. They’ve talked about sitting down, know about sitting down, read the books about sitting down, told their friends that they want to sit down, sang songs about sitting down, listened to lots of sermons about sitting down, have wandered around the chair, can describe the chair… but they have not sat down. Therefore they do not have faith.
James continues in verse 17 saying “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” In other words, knowing something and living something is not the same thing. In verse 24 he says, “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.”, which seems exactly opposite to what we’ve been saying, but remember the context. Remember that we are not saved by good works, but for good works. When James says “faith alone” he means the bogus faith where people are only in intellectual agreement (as he said before), but not putting boots to their faith and showing that their faith in Jesus is bearing fruit in their life.
It is my deep and great hope that you will find peace and a reason to worship because of these Five Solas. As Paul did, I “implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled with God.”
I pray that Sola Fide, Faith Alone, gives you comfort when Satan attacks and makes you doubt your salvation and your new nature.
I pray it gives you strength to combat temptation as you say to Satan, “I’m not who I was, that person is dead, I am new.”
I pray that Sola Fide will relieve you of the stress of having to try to impress God, or the fear that you have not done enough.
And I pray that it will also drive you to exercise your faith and divine purpose through good works in your home, your church and community.
My nephew was asked to put together a report on Mardi Gras which reminded me of a reflection piece I had written that might be of help to him, and hopefully you too.
Throwing the Baby Out With the Bath Water
The traditional Christian season of Lent starts on February 13 this year. Christians have been practicing the 40 days of Lent for literally hundreds of years, since the third century. It’s only recently, in the grand scheme of things, that many believers have decided that they are not going to participate anymore. Some avoid it because it’s associated with the Catholicism or old-school Christianity, and I can understand that, but as with many other modernizations of the practices of our faith, I believe we’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater and have lost a lot of traditions that were very powerful tools in Christian discipleship.
The Reformation was all about combatting the false teachers in the church who were telling people that they had to do certain things (like pay money, go on pilgrimages, say so many prayers, do penance before God would forgive them) and had moved away from the true message of salvation which says that we are saved only and fully by the penal substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ – the exchange of His life for ours on the cross. In correcting this error and walking away from this corrupt teaching they also walked away from many of the practices and disciplines that were part of the church.
Ancient practices like Advent, Lent, and Good Friday, were given up because they had been corrupted by false teachers who were using them to manipulate the faithful. They were started with the best intentions to be regular times on the calendar where Christians would remember and celebrate the life of Jesus and practice various spiritual disciplines, but then the false teachers started saying that Christians had to do them in order to be saved. Protestants rightly said, “No we don’t.”, but then many stopped participating in the holidays and disciplines surrounding them.
It is my belief that we should recapture some of the old ways because many of them are still good ideas, and powerful ways to experience God.
Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, and goes until Easter. It is a period of 40 days, which is a number we find all over the bible. The rains that brought the flood lasted 40 days and 40 nights, the Hebrews spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness. Moses fasted 40 days before receiving the 10 commandments, Goliath came out and insulted the Israelites for 40 days before David came, God told Jonah to give Nineveh 40 days to repent, and Jesus spent 40 days in the desert fasting and confronting Satan. It’s a spiritually significant number.
Lent is to be a time of reflection and preparation before we get into the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus at Easter. Instead of being like the world and avoiding sadness, lamenting and sacrifice, we choose to embrace it and seek to be more like Jesus as we meditate, mourn, repent and fast. We stop eating certain foods and avoid parties and celebrations for a time, so we can contemplate the meaning and significance of crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Instead of skipping straight to the resurrection, we take a long time to think about why Jesus was crucified, what He went through, what our personal salvation cost, and what consequences that has for us, our family and our church.
It is a time of prayer and repentance, of fasting and meditation, of consideration and mortification of sin, a time to think less of ourselves and more about Jesus, a time to give a sacrifice of our time, energy, and efforts to God in a special way. To practice self-discipline and open ourselves for God to show His amazing provision for our souls.
The Corruption of Shrove Tuesday
The day before Lent is called Shrove Tuesday and the story of the corruption of this day emphasizes a serious problem in the Church.
Shrove Tuesday gets its name from the word “shrive”, which means to confess sin. It was a day set aside to clean out our hearts before the special season of Lent began. To prepare ourselves for this very serious and spiritually significant time of the year. It was a day of becoming real with ourselves and our sin. A day to pray to God with David in Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!
Pancake Day = Fat Tuesday = Mardi Gras?
But here’s what happened. There were certain foods that people would traditionally give up for Lent, foods like meat, fish, fats, eggs and milk. Like the Israelites with their unleavened bread, they would let their diet show what was going on in their hearts. And since they were going to give them up, and they would certainly spoil before the 40 days was over, Shrove Tuesday became the day that people would use up these foods.
And what’s the best way to get rid of fats, eggs, milk and meat? A pancake meal. So it became tradition that on this day of confession and repentance, of getting right with God, there would also be a large feast where families would get together on Shrove Tuesday and eat up all the foods they wouldn’t be eating during Lent.
And so Shrove Tuesday became Pancake Tuesday… or Fat Tuesday, because it was the day you would eat pancakes and use up your fatty foods. The French name for Fat Tuesday is Mardi Gras — maybe you’ve heard of it.
And when you and I think of Mardi Gras, the first thing that comes to mind is Repentance, Confession, and getting right with God, right? No, it went from a day of getting right with God to a day to tell God to get lost so we could indulge in as much sinful behaviour as we can!
It’s incredibly ironic what some of the customs for Mardi Gras have become. In place of opening our hearts to God, coming clean, and letting God shine His light on our lives, we have the “Mardi Gras mask” where people cover up their identities and be someone else for a day so they can get away with whatever they want without people knowing who they are.
Instead of preparing ourselves for a time to remember the sacrifice of Christ and to fast in His name, Mardi Gras has become a time to indulge ones self, to go overboard, to do everything to excess!
Where Shrove Tuesday was a time to confront temptation and sin, Mardi Gras has become an overly sexual, hedonistic day where men and women give up their dignity and “flash” the crowd to win some beads.
A Mardi Gras Heart
Now, believe me, I would love to spend the rest of our time pointing out other people’s sins, pointing out what’s wrong with the world and everyone one else… and say “Wow! Those guys are really bad!” But I can’t because you know what? I do the same things they do. Except I’m worse because I’m supposed to know better.
This is classic human, sinful behaviour, and something we all need to watch ourselves for! How many of us really act the way we are supposed to act as a Christian? How many of us are truly walking the walk of faith? The truth is that not many of us are. Not really.
Please understand that I’m talking to the more mature believers, not the new believers and the non-believers. Right now I’m talking to the people who have claimed to be believers for a while. Those who should be remarkably different after a long walk with Jesus. Those who claim that Jesus resides in their hearts, and who have listened to the Holy Spirit for a while. And that’s me included.
The “Christian Atheist”
Pastor Craig Groeschel wrote a book a while back called “Christian Atheist” which is all about people who claim to be Christians, but live as though God doesn’t exist. In other words, Christians who talk about Shrove Tuesday, but live with a Mardi Gras heart.
He begins with a very common story about two different kinds of atheists. The first are common atheist who doesn’t believe in God and doesn’t claim to. He then introduces another kind of atheist – the Christian Atheist. Check out this story from the book:
“Before our plane took off, Michelle struck up a conversation. Somewhat nervous about flying, she seemed eager to talk, as if our chat might make the flight pass more quickly. After describing her difficulties with balancing her checkbook and handling her divorced parents and her live-in boyfriend— who’s scared to death of marriage— she asked me about my life.
Creating a diversion from my “I’m a pastor” answer, I explained that I am married and have six children. “Six kids?! Don’t you know what causes kids?” she joked. After some more small talk, Michelle asked me what I do for a living. No longer able to dodge the inevitable, I answered, “Well, as a matter of fact, I’m the pastor of a church.”
This revelation gave Michelle permission to unleash a stream of Christian words and stories. Dropping the occasional “God told me” and “God is good,” she smiled softly as she described how she “gave her life to Jesus” at the age of fifteen at a Christian youth camp. After praying sincerely, she was eager to get back to school to share her faith and live a life of purity and spiritual integrity.
Michelle held on to her new belief in God but soon slipped back into her old way of life. As if in a confessional, Michelle continued pouring out her life’s darker details. She looked down as she admitted that she was doing things with her live-in boyfriend that she knew she shouldn’t. She told me she wanted to go to church but was simply too busy working and studying. She did pray many nights— mostly that her boyfriend would become a Christian like she was. “If only he believed in Jesus, then he might want to marry me,” she said, wiping her tears.
At last, Michelle expressed one final confession: “I know my life doesn’t look like a Christian’s life should look, but I do believe in God.”
Welcome to Christian Atheism, where people believe in God but live as if he doesn’t exist.”
I really understand where that girl is coming from, because I often act the same way. I see this kind of Christian Atheism — this Mardi Gras Heart — in myself quite often. I can’t speak for you because I don’t know your heart – but I know mine. Saying one thing, and doing another. Struggling with the same sins and temptations, time after time. Going days without praying or reading my bible. Going through the motions in worship and my devotional times. I may not have a huge, public sin to confess that would cost me my position as pastor… but I can certainly understand what it means to be a hypocrite in my own eyes – and in the eyes of God.
A Holy, Different People
God has been teaching me something over the past while, and I encourage you to ask yourself these questions: How are Christians different than other people? Why are we different? What makes you different than you were before you met Jesus? What does being a Christian look like on the inside and the outside? How do we keep from turning the parts of our life that are supposed to look like Shrove Tuesdays into the self-indulgent hedonism of Mardi Gras?
God describes His chosen people in Exodus 19:4-6 saying, “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”
Some of us think, “Well sure, Israel was special! They were the people of God! They had Mt. Sinai, the 10 Commandments, and were the people God chose to bring the Messiah Jesus Christ through. That’s true, but read 1 Peter 2:9 which was written to Christians, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.”
That’s what a Christian is:
A Prayer of Confession
Lord, you have made me special. You said you knitted me together in my mother’s womb, set me apart from before creation, and have appointed good deeds for me to do in advance. You are the giver of good gifts, the author of salvation, and my personal redeemer. You bought me back from death, from captivity, from the rightful consequences of my sin. I rightly deserved Hell and you came for me. Lord, you demonstrated your love for me in this: while I was yet a sinner, you died for me.
And yet, in so many ways I live as though you don’t exist. In my daily life, I forget about you. I reject you. I disappoint you. I refuse to listen, and sometimes even ignore you. I take control of my life when I should be giving it to you.
I know that it is not my deeds, my good works, or anything that I do, that saves me. Yet, I also know that faith without works is dead. I know there is nothing I can do to make you love me more or love me less. But I also know that your love should spur me on to good deeds, and that your Son’s life is the perfect example of how I should live.
Lord, there are some areas of my life that I need you to deal with. Areas that I’m not proud of… and, in fact, I’m ashamed of. Areas of sin, rebellion and pride, idolatry and disobedience. Lord, you say in your word that if we confess our sins, that you are faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. I want to confess to you because I need cleansing.
I pray with David the words of Psalm 51, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment….”
Lord, there are areas of my life that are not pure, and times when I have chosen filth over purity… I’ve chosen to look upon sin… to listen to sin… to touch sin… to taste sin… to revel in and think about sinful things… and I’ve gone back for more… forgive me. Cleanse me.
Lord, I have made places of my heart and life off limits to you. I’ve heard you knocking on the door, and I’ve refused to answer. I’ve loved my secret places more than I’ve loved you. Please open up those doors and let your light in… no matter how painful it might be. I need you to clean those areas out.
Lord, I have lived dishonourably, and dishonoured others. I have taken the reputation of Christ and dragged it through the mud. I have been dishonest and disloyal. I have not let my yes be yes, and my no be no… and I have broken promises. Forgive me. And help me make it right with those I’ve hurt.
Lord, I have rejected your word. I have read parts of your bible and argued with you. I’ve even chosen to avoid parts of your word because they make me feel uncomfortable. When someone has asked me about what I believe, I have told them my opinion, which was not in line with your word, because I was ashamed of what you said. Forgive me for my arrogance and my fear of man.
Lord, You have given me opportunities to share my faith, and I have not taken them. You have given me chances to inject your truth, and I have kept my mouth closed. You have stirred my spirit to speak, and I disobeyed and walked away. There were chances to give you glory, to give you credit, to say that you are the one who did it… and I stole your fame… or I gave it to someone else… or simply didn’t say anything. Forgive me.
Lord, there are times when I have sought out the darkness. You call me to live as a child of light, but there are times when I have closed the blinds, locked the doors, turned off the lights, and preferred the darkness because it covered my sin. I have hidden my sins from my brothers and sisters in the faith. They have asked me, and I have lied to their face. You have given me chances to flee temptation, and I have dismissed them, and continued to walk towards sin, invited you to leave… and then I committed sin, on purpose… in the darkness of my private life. Forgive me.
Lord, I have rejected your church. I don’t really love your people, the body of Christ, as I should. In fact, I avoid them. I prefer the company of non-believers. I give my service to other places. I give my time to other people. I have come to church time and again, and then left quickly to avoid your people. I don’t ask how other people are doing because I don’t want to get involved. I make myself busy so I have an excuse to stay away. I do not treat other believers as my family. I have even mocked them, ridiculed them, and gossiped behind their back. Lord, forgive me for how I treat your beloved bride… your church.
Lord, I life too much as a citizen of this world, and not of your kingdom. I embrace many worldly things unquestionably. I have put idols in my home, idols in my work, idols in my car. I live by the world’s standards, not yours. I have spent money I don’t have, on things I don’t need, to impress people I don’t even really know. I am in debt because I want to be more like the world. I’m not different than the non-believers around me… in fact there is almost no discernible difference between me and them. Lord, forgive me for not living as the salt and light I should be.
Lord, I don’t acknowledge the spiritual realm. I live as though what I see is all that there is. I do not store my treasures in heaven, but instead spend time building bigger and bigger barns here on earth. I do not put on my spiritual armour… the armour of God which you have given me… but leave it off to the side every day as I go into the world. And then I blame you when I fall. When a battle is waged in my soul, I give up far too easily because I do not want to fight… I am too lazy… too selfish… too worldly. I love my flesh and the god of my stomach too much. Forgive me for not thirsting for You alone.
Lord, I ask you to “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit…. to sustain me”
(This is a follow-up post to The Foundations: The True Gospel)
The Second is Sola Gratia, or Grace Alone, was the overarching theme of the Reformationists, not because the Roman Catholic Church was teaching that salvation isn’t from the Grace of God found in Jesus, but because they teach that other things must to be done as well. They teach that it is Jesus PLUS something that equals salvation. They teach that humanity is saved by the grace of God, and by our own merit.
Some people paint the picture of salvation of being someone who is drowning, and all they need to do is reach up their hand, and God will grab them and save them. They say it’s mostly God’s work, but it requires us to do a little something.
Others will say that God requires certain steps. A Catholic sees salvation as a decision made by faith in Jesus, but also something that has to be maintained through good works, participation in church, and taking the sacraments. An Islamic person is taught that Jesus is a good man, and a great profit, but the only way to get into paradise is to earn it through keeping the Five Pillars of saying the creed, daily prayers, almsgiving, fasting, and going to Mecca. Buddhists and Hindus have to build good karma through positive actions that will eventually lead them to a better state of being. Jehovah Witnesses and Mormons have to work towards trying to be saved too.
It is only the teaching of the True Christian Gospel that has this idea of Grace Alone. Anything outside of this will not lead to being saved! Believing we are saved by works will either lead to pride where we think we save ourselves and are in the place and doing the work of God, or will lead to depression because we never know if we’ve done enough to warrant salvation.
Grace Alone in Scripture
Look at Paul’s explanation of our spiritual condition in Ephesians 2;
“1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”
Look how we are described here! We are “dead in our trespasses and sins”. When we sin, the consequence is death. Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 6:23, “The wages of sin is death…” We are spiritually dead because we have all broken God’s law. Not one of us can look at even the 10 Commandments and say that we have kept them perfectly in our heart, soul, mind and body.
We “follow the prince of the power of the air”, which is another name for Satan. The Bible says there are only two teams – Team Jesus and Team Satan, and you are (or were, by God’s grace) on the wrong team.
We are “disobedient… lived in the passions of our flesh”. We live for ourselves, do what we want, and don’t obey God unless it suits us and our own desires.
We are “children of wrath”. The NIV says it this way, “Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.” That is the word for God’s enemies. We were under judgement – guilty and sentenced.
Then comes verse 4:
“4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
Saved by Grace, Grace Alone. Dead people can’t save themselves. Enemies don’t become friends. Team Satan doesn’t change sides. We love our flesh and our desires too much to put them aside to follow anyone but ourselves.
But God, in His grace, though we were in a state of total deprivation, decided to change our hearts, redeem us from the consequences of our sin – which we rightfully deserved, and in an amazing act of love, exchanged the life of His Perfect Son, for the lives of worthless wretches like you and me.
“Because of the great love with which he loved us… so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus”.
Sola Gratia, Grace Alone, is the answer to the deepest question of our heart: How can I know that I’m saved? The answer is that there is nothing we can do to be saved, and if we have acknowledged we are a sinner, asked for forgiveness, believed that it was the sacrifice of Jesus Christ which paid the penalty for our sin, and then accepted the free gift of salvation… we are saved. There is nothing more we can do. There is nothing we ever did.
God changed our hearts. Jesus died on the cross. The Holy Spirit seals us and reminds us and lives in us. None of that is us, and it is all for His glory! Christians worship, pray, read scripture, do good works, tithe, evangelize… not because we have to, but because we want to, in response to the Amazing Grace God has shown us.
(Thanks to Guy Waters who wrote an amazing article for Ligonier Ministries which inspired this blogpost)
(This is a follow-up post to The Foundations: The True Gospel)
Sola Scriptura, or Scripture Alone, is the principal and belief that The Bible is the supreme authority in all spiritual matters. It is the acknowledgement that the Bible contains the very Words of God. They are not, as 2 Peter 1:16 puts it, “cleverly devised myths”, but are divine revelations and eye witness accounts which contain, as 2 Timothy 3:15-17 says, “sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
It is not A BOOK about God, it is THE BOOK about God.
It is not A BOOK about humanity’s history, purpose, worth and destiny, it is THE BOOK about humanity’s history, purpose, worth and destiny.
It is not a confusing book because it was intended to be read and understood.
It is not a simple book, because it contains immense truths about everything that truly matters to the human heart.
It is not a nice book meant to make us feel happy all the time, it is a truthful book that will bring us face-to-face with who we really are, the depravity of our souls, and our desperate need for a Saviour, and then bring us elation and joy beyond any other human experience as it teaches us how to restore our relationship with our beloved Creator who did everything possible to restore us back to Him when we would not and could not.
Some will tell you this is one book of many religious books that point to God. That’s an impossibility because this book and it’s author claim absolute exclusivity.
Some will tell you that this book is full of ancient truths for a different time. That’s wrong because this is the living, breathing, perfect for every human being ever, Word of an Eternal God who chose every single word, and has protected from corruption for generations.
Some will argue that since the bible is not a scientific textbook, it must be wrong, but it was never intended to be and it has been proven right and accurate in every area it has been tested against.
Certainly Christians are helped by many other kinds of books, but every Christian must believe in Sola Scriptura, that Scripture Alone is the source of the perfect revelation of God, or they will open themselves to falsehood, lies, and deception. Everything is tested by scripture. God is absolutely clear that no one is to add or take away from what He has written (Rev 20:18-19, Deut 4:2) and the true church has been vigilant to correct and combat anyone who has tried to do so because within this Book are the words of life.
Controversy & Division
The church deals with a lot of issues, and there are a lot of controversies swirling around both inside and outside the body of believers. Moral questions, political affiliations, missional differences, a million stylistic opinions, global concerns and theological interpretations are only a part of the everyday life and conversation for believers around the world.
But, amazingly, though the divisions seem to be a problem for us, God actually does allow for a lot of debate, dialogue and differences among His people in the way they practice and perform their religious activities and commune with Him and each other.
Some people talk about how sad it is that the Christian church is so divided – by denominations, cultures, locations, styles – and consider our lack of uniformity to be a weakness. I would ask them to consider that these divisions are not only necessary, but can be a source of great strength as we choose to express our love for God, the church and the unsaved in a variety of ways, learn from one another, and give God praise in a rainbow of different ways. God doesn’t desire our uniformity, He desires our unity.
It’s remarkable that I can attend different churches in different places, with a different language, different clothing style, different taste in music, different architectural style, and be worshipping the same God, for the same reason, with people who would be considered my brothers and sisters in Christ, and whom I will spend all eternity with. That’s amazing! I may not prefer their style, but that doesn’t mean that they are wrong – only different – and I’m learning to praise God for those differences, because as I experience them, I learn more about the heart of God and His work in the world.
Spot The Difference
But as wonderful as some of these differences are, there are some things in every Christian church that must be absolutely the same or they are not Christian churches. There is a standard, a baseline, a fundamental, foundational group of beliefs and professions that cannot, and must-not be altered, or the people in that place are no longer Christians.
It’s like those “Spot The Difference” puzzles where two images are side by side, and they look the same, but when you look closer, the details make them very different. These churches may sing Christian songs, use Christian language, hold and read the Christian Bible, and even practice Christian traditions, but if they do not hold to these rock bottom beliefs, then they make themselves different from a church of Jesus Christ (that is drawing people towards the one and only Saviour of the world) and turn into a worldly, demonic corruption (that is misleading people with a message that cannot save and will lead its followers to hell). These are absolutely critical matters. We are talking about more than life and death issues, but issues of eternal-life and eternal-punishment.
What we are talking about is the difference between the True Gospel and the many, many False Gospels that have come about through the ages. On one hand is the True Gospel that points to the One Saviour, the One God, and the One Way, One Truth, and One Source of Life… and on the other are the False Gospels that sound right, are often more agreeable and understandable, and sometimes even feel more right to us than the True Gospel.
A Faith Smorgasbord
When people think of religion, the church, or even Christianity, they see it less as a singular way – a straight and narrow path not to be deviated from, and more like a buffet where they can come and fill their plate with many different options, choosing the things they like, passing by the things they don’t, and creating something that sounds right, feels right, and is most understandable to them.
The prevailing thought about what people would call “going to heaven”, “being saved”, “being religious”, “getting in touch with God” or simply “being spiritual”, seems to be that as long as you are thinking about something, doing something, believing something, then God (or whoever the higher-power you have designed is) will honour your choices and create for you the heaven/paradise that you have designed for yourself, using the criteria that you have set. None of that makes any kind of rational sense when you think about it.
It’s like walking into a building in downtown Ottawa and saying, “Ok everyone, I work here now. I’m going to choose the job I want, the hours I want to work, the boss I want, get paid what I want to get paid with the benefits I want, and retire whenever I want to and however I want to.” I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t work, right? (Though I haven’t tried it…)
It’s like walking into a kitchen and saying “I’m going to bake a cake, but I don’t like the way Betty Crocker does it, so I’m going to put in all my favourite ingredients and call it cake. I like hot wings, cheese, chocolate, hamburgers, asparagus, camomile tea, oysters, miracle whip, fried chicken, and ice-cream. I’ll put them in a bowl, mix them for however long I feel like, and then stick it in the oven… no wait… microwave… for as long as I want, and since I’m so dang smart, it will be a delicious cake.”
Nothing in the world works like that, and somehow we think that’s how our relationship with God and the rest of eternity is supposed to work.
What is sad is that this isn’t just out there in the world among the “foolish heathens”, but is also prevalent in the Christian church. The True Gospel has been under attack forever, but is supposed to be attacked from the outside. Now, even the churches who call themselves mainstream, evangelical, and conservative, are altering, silencing and even avoiding the True Gospel.
My favourite example of this, and one that infuriates me to no end, is something that has become popular among some churches, is changing of the words to Amazing Grace. We all know the first line, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.” Well, some people find the word “wretch” too harsh. In the words of one article, it has been changed “to downplay a sense of imposed self-loathing by its singers.” (Wiki). So now they sing, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a soul like me” or “that saved and set me free”. Being a “wretch”, calling ourselves “wretched”, doesn’t feel right… it’s not understandable, relatable, comforting… and therefore it must be changed so we can feel better about it. I know that Amazing Grace isn’t scripture, but this certainly does show an altering of the perception of how Christians see themselves and the True Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Know the Counterfeit
The old illustration that is often used is still true: when the police are trying to identify a counterfeit $20 bill, they do not spend their time studying only the counterfeiters; it is far more important that they study, memorize and ingrain in their minds the true $20 bill. Therefore, anything that is different from that perfect example, must be a counterfeit.
In the same way, I want for you to know the True Gospel so wholly that whenever you are presented with something false, even though it may feel right, sound right, or even seem more understandable, you will know it is a counterfeit.
When Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformers were rallying against the heresies of the Roman Catholic Church they were fiercely passionate, even to the point of losing their lives, because of what was at stake – the salvation of sinners, a right relationship with God, the full meaning of the scriptures, the person of Jesus Christ as the only One who can take humanity and the world from being marred by sin and destined for destruction, to make new, reborn, and destined for glory. They were fighting for the True Gospel because a counterfeit gospel was being put in its place.
And as they were fighting, debating and writing, they articulated what would be long recognized as the essentials of Christian life and practice. They were not fighting for a worship style, where to put the religious furniture, what should be worn in church, for a certain governmental style, or which was the right translation of the Bible – they were fighting for the bedrock beliefs of the Christian faith, which were being altered by the church for their own ends and profits.
These five fundamental beliefs are known today as the Five Solas (or Five Solae) and are a powerful tool to stay true to the Biblical Gospel of Jesus Christ that leads to Salvation. They are the Latin phrases, in no particular order: Sola Gratia, Sola Fida, Solus Cristus, Sola Scriptura, Soli Deo Gloria. In English they translate to: Grace Alone, Faith Alone, Christ Alone, Scripture Alone, and The Glory of God Alone.
Knowing and understanding these, will help you to know the True Gospel of Salvation through Jesus Christ, and be able to identify any counterfeits – heresies, alterations, changes, additions, etc – that will ultimately lead you and others away from Jesus.
I’ll go through Sola Scriptura, in my next post.
A Daunting Task
I have a deep and abiding passion for discipleship, which is probably why this series is has been hard to write – because I want to get it right. I don’t want to leave out anything important. I want to give you everything you need to be forgiven, know God, and to develop your faith and trust in Jesus Christ. I want you to be able to defend your faith, trust the bible, know sound theology, and have access to resources that will broaden your understanding of the church of Jesus Christ, what He has done throughout history, is doing today, and will be doing in the future. And I want to do that in six weeks. A daunting task at which I will inevitably fail miserably.
I previously showed you “Two Sheets of Paper that have Captivated my Life”. The first paper I shared was where the whole process started. One day, and I can’t remember how it came up, I asked myself, “What does a Christian need to know?”, which immediately brought up the next question, “What does a church need to do for people?” So I got out my computer and some books and started making a list… a list that made me feel very overwhelmed.
So, armed with this list I asked myself the even scarier question, “So, as their pastor, how can I make sure that the people who come to this church are able to get all this into their mind, spirit and lives?” And then my brain exploded. The task I set before myself was impossible, and it wasn’t long until God told me as much.
Discipleship Is A Lifestyle
He reminded me that discipleship is not something that you go through once, check the box, and then say you’ve done it. It’s not a class that you need to take, a test you need to pass, or a sermon series that I can preach.
Discipleship is a lifestyle, lived out every day, moment by moment, choice by choice, day by day, relationship by relationship. I can’t make you into a disciple. I can’t make you into anything. My job is to simply set the table and invite you to eat. I can only say with the Psalmist, “Taste and see that the Lord is good…” (Psalm 34:8). The rest is up to the Spirit of God working in you, and your willingness to obey Him.
Intentional Discipleship training has been a preoccupation of mine for a long while, and I have seen far too many churches that have little interest in it. There are LOTS of ministries dedicated to it, but a low percentage of churches who are engaged in it. As I said a while back, everyone loves to see the effect of good discipline, but there are not enough that will go through what it takes to become disciplined. Think about your own spiritual journey. How intentional has it been? What steps have you followed? Who has laid out those steps for you?
I know this because I myself have struggled along the path of discipleship, not knowing what to do or where to go for my next spiritual step. I grew up in a Christian family, but like most people, Christianity was about attending church, going to the various holiday and food-related functions, reading the bible and praying. I didn’t know much more than that and it was all I did for the first 15 years of my faith.
It wasn’t until I went to BibleCollege that I was introduced to other forms of discipleship, and the amazing amount there is to know about God, the church and Christianity. I’m a natural born sceptic, so I had lots of questions and was fascinated by how much thought people had put into, what I considered, the basics of the faith and obscure scriptures and concepts I’d never heard of.
As I matured in those years in college I learned a lot about the bible, prayer, spiritual disciplines, theology, history… and so much more. Christianity became more than something I grew up knowing because my parents were Christian, God was far more than just a person that I closed my eyes and talked to now and again, and Jesus became someone important to me… not just someone who died on a cross for the world… but someone who died on the cross for me.
I began to experience worship that touched my heart, spiritual attacks that I needed the community of believers to pray for me to overcome, freedom from burdens I’d been carrying for years, and a love for the gospel and the church.
And, as I entered seminary, I began to learn more about the depth of scripture, how each Word is a fountain of wisdom and knowledge, and about lofty thoughts I could never begin to understand or explain. Through each of these steps I was guided by teachers, professors, curriculum, pastors and mentors, leaders in the church, and fellow brothers and sisters who challenged me further.
As I entered into ministry I discovered that as far as I had come, much of my relationship with God was still in my head. I knew a lot of answers to a lot of questions, but not enough of it had taken the twelve inch journey from my head to my heart.
I learned that because God brought me to a place where my head knowledge and my natural talents would be useless, and where I would feel bitter pain, embarrassment, disappointment and failure. I would learn what a spiritual life that is lived only in the head accomplishes – nothing.
I was fortunate to have good counsellors and mentors who kept giving me books, challenging me to grow, pushing me to pray, and pointing me at resources that would fix my eyes, mind, and heart on Jesus.
And though I still struggle, I have a strong relationship with God today. I hear His voice often. I know His scriptures… maybe not as well as I would like… but enough to know to trust Him and to bring myself – and give – comfort when hurting. I feel the Holy Spirit’s presence when I am tempted, or when I am exercising my spiritual gifts. I am learning what it means to love Jesus, and to have Him love me.
And that’s what I want for you. I want that for each of you. I want you to go beyond what I have experienced and have far more than I. I want you to develop skills and abilities you never thought you could have, and experience life in a way you never thought possible. And the way to do that – and I believe this deep in my heart – is to be on an intentional path of discipleship.
It makes me sad that what I have experienced is the exception and not the rule. There are not many Christians around us that have a close relationship with God and are growing in their faith.
That said, however, I do believe that discipleship can be guided. Jesus guided His disciples (who we call apostles today) through a discipleship process, taking them from fearful fishermen who didn’t know what was going on to fishers of men who were boldly preaching the gospel even in the face of great persecution. And I believe he wants to do the same for us.
As I was researching this topic, and putting together the series, and the subsequent materials that the church will be using to do intentional discipleship, I did some reading and research online, called some of my pastor friends, and talked to others who were leaders in their churches and did not discover one church that had an intentional plan of discipleship. The conversations almost all went the same way:
“We have no real plan to get people saved, but when they do we have a baptism class or a membership class… and then we leave it up to them to join things that we offer in hopes that they will grow all by themselves. Eventually, we take the good ones that manage to figure out some kind of maturity and we beg them to be leaders because there are so few people who even come close to being spiritually mature enough to be called by God to lead and teach in the church.”
I’ve done a lot of reading on that subject, and the “do-it-yourself” approach simply doesn’t work. It doesn’t work in school, at work, or any other place I can think of.
My daughter, Eowyn, just turned five a couple days ago and is a very smart little girl, but she needs guidance about what she needs to know and encouragement to practice what she is learning. Imagine if every week we asked her “What would you like to learn this week?” and just let her choose. She doesn’t even know what she’s supposed to be asking for, let alone what order she needs to learn it in. She could say “I don’t want to learn anything this week.” or, “I really like colouring, I want to colour for the next year.”… and never learn how to read, write, or do math.
No job would ever do that. Imagine walking into a new job and having the boss say, “Ok, there’s some equipment, go build me something.” “There’s the computer, get to work.” “There’s the kitchen, feed people.” “Here’s the classroom, go teach them something.” No, they have safety courses, training courses, requirements people have to meet, meetings about expectations, efficiency and product knowledge. They can’t expect their workers to do well and be successful unless they are taught what they need to know to do their job.
Salvation Is An Intentional Process
Why would we think it works in church? You come in to church and listen to some sermons, sing some songs, meet some nice people, and then God does something in your heart and you want to know more. But how can you know what to do if no one tells you.
Listen to the conundrum posed in Romans 10:13-15 says,
“‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ 14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent?”
There is a delineated process of getting someone to the point of salvation, isn’t there? Someone has to be sent to tell them the gospel, then they have to believe it, then they call on the Lord’s name and are saved. It’s an intentional process – with steps to follow, and I believe that our spiritual journey, under God, towards Christ, guided by the Holy Spirit, is as well.
We could extend the questions in the passage: How can someone be sent if they are not trained? How can someone be trained if there are no teachers? How can someone teach if they have not learned? How can someone learn if there is no one to help them study? And so on…
It is my desire and I believe strongly in my heart, that it is the deep desire of many Christians, to create a culture of intentional discipleship in the church – they just don’t know how to do it.
An Intentional Discipleship Path
As I said before, armed with the “needs, knows does” list I asked myself, “So, as their pastor, how can I make sure that the people who come to this church are able to get all this into their mind, spirit and lives?” And then my brain exploded.
After picking myself (and my grey matter) off the floor, and praying A LOT, I sat down to make a plan which I’ve been working on and adapting for quite a while now – literally years – which means that it’s going to take a while to go through, but hopefully it’s simple enough to get the basics from without that. Check it out here.
Why an Intentional Path?
I’ve already described part of the reason, but there are three more.
First, people like to know what to expect. Whether it’s a menu at a restaurant, a college course syllabus, a job description, or the introduction to a book, people like to know what’s coming. As much as we like to watch mystery shows, it’s the resolution that we are watching for – we want to know who did it, how they did it, and why they did it. So I’ve set up this path to help you know what to expect from the church and from yourself when it comes to your individual plan of discipleship.
Second, because people like to know where they stand. This tool will give you a kind of standard to look at to see where you are on the path of maturity. Is it perfect? No. Can you have some aspects from each of the phases? Sure. But this can help you see where you are at, and hopefully, challenge you to take the next step in maturity. I encourage you to take some time to go through the plan and then let’s discuss it on Wednesday night.
Third, and most importantly, discipleship is a command from God. We are compelled to do this and do it right. Read the great commission from Matthew 19:20 again: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
Jesus says, “Go and Make” those are very proactive words. He does not say, “let them do it themselves and hope for the best”, He said, “Go and Make disciples”. He commands us to “baptize them” – in other words, lead them down a practical path of discipleship that isn’t just head knowledge, but practice too. He commands us to “teach them to obey”, which again says, “make a path, be intentional, give them good knowledge, and then teach them what to do with it.”
The Table is Set, Will You Eat?
My deepest desire is that you will evaluate yourself and see where you are at. That you will engage in this discipleship path, and journey towards maturity. That we will, together, make the church into a disciples-of-Jesus-Christ factory. That each of you will “taste and see that the Lord is good”, and then draw others to the table.
Let me close by repeating what I said before: This is an intentional process, but I can’t make you engage in it. It is to your own detriment, and your own loss, if you choose to let these opportunities pass by – but that is your choice. I have learned over throughout my Christian life, and my life as a pastor, that the church can set the table, and make good food, but it is the choice of the individual believer to come to the table, to choose good food, to chew on it themselves, to swallow it and let it get deep inside, and to let it nourish them. And it is the individual’s choice to use the energy and nourishment which they have been given to serve God and others. I can set the table… we can set the table… but we cannot feed you.
The choice is laid before you, and there are a few responses you can have:
— You can choose not to come to the table at all, but instead eat what the world feeds you and live in sickness.
— You can eat a little at the table, but then go out and eat what the world offers too, which will give me a sour stomach and the life of a hypocrite.
— You can come to the table, complain about what’s on it, and go from table to table (church to church) looking for the perfect, designer, exactly-what-I-want-the-way-I-want-it food. And in doing so you will starve to death.
— You can come to the table, and stay at the table forever, and gorge yourself… never leaving to use the energy that you’ve consumed, and be just that – a Christian consumer.
— Or, you can come to the table, eat well, refuse the food the world offers, but instead tell others of the good food found at the table, and use the nourishment you’ve graciously received to serve God and others. That is a healthy life, and a life that will see blessing.
I shared this devotional at a Christmas Eve Service last night:
Over the past month both our churches have been celebrating the season of Christmas by using Advent candles. They are a wonderful tool to remind us that the story of Christmas doesn’t just surround the baby in the manger, but encompasses the whole gospel.
I’ve been preaching a sermon series where each week we’ve gone over a different theme that the candle represents. Today we lit the Christ candle at the centre of the wreath. The outside candles, which represent Hope, Love, Peace and Joy, surround the Christ Candle to remind us that all of those things are ultimately and perfectly found in Christ. Without Him at the centre, none of those things are truly possible.
The Advent Tradition
The church has kept the season of Advent for hundreds of years. The idea is that instead of jumping straight into Christmas, the forefathers of the church put together four weeks where everyone could take some time to practice two important things that we don’t normally do unless we have to: Waiting and Preparing. To hone these disciplines so we can learn more about God, His Son and ourselves.
As a culture we aren’t very good at waiting, are we? In fact, we’ve almost turned waiting into a dirty word. Consider how the commercial industry begins the Christmas season. While the church is saying it’s time to reflect, pause and prepare ourselves for celebrating the amazing story of Jesus Christ… to take a month to get ready… to meditate over one aspect of the gospel for an entire week… everywhere else seems to be ramping us up with as much commercialism, noise, and craziness they can. The inaugurating the season is called“ Black Friday” which is an all night shopping spree.
“Don’t wait… get it now. In fact, don’t even wait until the store opens! Go ahead and camp outside and we’ll open extra early so you can stampede over people to be first to get what you want. Then you can stay up all night on Sunday night so you can be there at midnight for the beginning of Cyber Monday, another sale to begin the season.” Most people aren’t even buying presents for others, but are actually buying for themselves!
Not exactly the “true meaning of Christmas”, is it? Jesus teaches us that being first, getting the most, and filling up our homes and credit cards isn’t what life’s all about. Instead Jesus calls us to stop, listen and prioritize what really matters: our relationship with Him and with each other. And that can’t be done at the pace this world wants us to move – it requires time and patience.
So, I hope you’ve had a chance to practice waiting lately–that you’ve embraced not getting what you want when you want it, but having to wait for it. I know my kids are learning this… as they look at the presents under the tree… they know Christmas is coming… counting down the days. We let the kids open one present on Christmas Eve, so we’ve been getting the countdown for a long time now… 30 more days until we get to open a present… 10 more days… 3 more days…
That’s good practice for building our relationship with God because He doesn’t work on our schedule… but instead invites us to step outside of our agendas and live by His timetable instead.
So I hope you’ve been able to slow down, evaluate your priorities, and reawaken the lost art of waiting. And if you haven’t then let me encourage you to do that tonight. Instead of ramping up for tomorrow, just relax tonight and embrace the concept of Christmas EVE… the day before the day. Why did you come here tonight? What is at the heart of your celebration? Consider those around you and how you’ve been caring for them over the past days. Have you been pressuring them to live by your agenda or have you been able to take this “holiday season” and actually have it be just that… a “holiday”. A holy-day, set aside to be different and special. It’s never too late to learn to wait.
The other thing Advent asks of us is to Prepare. Each week we have a different candle to light, and a different theme to ponder.
The first candle was Hope and for 7 days we were invited to ask some big questions. Where does my hope lie? When things around me and inside me are falling apart, what do I look to in order to gain strength, and does it work? What do I think about the life-path I’m on right now? Where is it leading me? Is the path that I’ve chosen going to lead to a better place, or have I settled for that I know in my heart will ultimately reduce me to rubble?
And where is God in all of this? The week of Hope is meant to help us prepare our hearts to realize that if our hope is built on anything other than the foundation of the person and work of Jesus Christ, then it will fail us. To not have our hope in something temporary, but in a living hope that is assured because of a living Christ As 1 Peter 1:3-4 says, “3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.”
The second candle was the Love candle. We are invited to prepare our hearts by pondering our need for Love, what our desire for love leads us to do, and where our love comes from. Many here today have a love deficit in their hearts. You don’t feel loved. You can’t remember the last time your heart was bursting with the knowledge that you are loved… not because of what you can produce, or a gift you’ve given, or something you’ve done… but just because of who you are.
To those people, let me tell you this: You’re right. You don’t get the love you deserve from the people around you. You are worth more and should be valued for who you are… not just for what you can do for people. But people can never do that for you. Maybe temporarily, but there is no human who can give you the kind of love you need.
That’s why it’s so important to know that God loves you. There’s nothing you can give Him that He doesn’t already have. There’s nothing you can do for Him that He can’t do better. There’s nothing He needs from you because He is perfectly sufficient. And so, His love for you is a matter of choice, not self-interest.
He designed you before you were born, wrote out your future, gave you experiences that shaped you into who you are, and has promised to walk with you throughout your life. He wants to be with you because He loves you. He loves you so much that He couldn’t leave you stuck in your sin, but traded His life for yours, and now invites you into a relationship with Him so that you can know Him even more. In Him is where love is truly and completely found.
In the third candle was Peace – something we all desperately want, but none of us can find. That’s because peace isn’t found in our circumstances… but in a person. You may think that you can do something today to have peace tomorrow, but it won’t work. You can save and plan for years… enough money to buy your own island, move there, and bring only your favourite people… or go all by yourself… and you still won’t find perfect peace there.
Jesus came into the world during a very difficult time in Jewish history. His life never got easier, but only harder, busier and more complicated. And yet, He had throughout it a supernatural peace because of His relationship with His Father. He now invites you and I to share that peace. So that no matter where we are, or what we’re doing, we can know peace. Isaiah 9:6, a prophecy about the coming of Jesus says, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” He is the only one qualified to bring us true peace.
And finally, when we lit the final candle we pondered the theme of Joy. We sing about it in many songs! Joy to the world, the Lord is Come. That’s the whole message of Christmas! We say Merry Christmas because it means “Have a Joyful Christmas”! Because there is no better news than that because of the coming of Jesus Christ, the blind can see, the lame can walk, the captives can be set free, and anyone who believes in Jesus Christ can spend eternity in the presence of God. This is a season of Joy!
Jesus gives to us the greatest joy, and in turn we give that joy to others. I hope that’s what you’re feeling tonight. Joy because of a relationship with God where you know He loves you… because of the Hope that He has given you… all because of His Son, the Prince of Peace.