Tagged: salvation

Who Benefits From Your Faith?

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I have no regrets about my faith upbringing. My family and small church nurtured and encouraged my faith. They gave me opportunities to ask questions, exercise gifts, and participate in the mission of God.

However, somewhere along the line I began to assume the idea that there was one correct answer to every faith question. If my answer was “I don’t know”, that was acceptable, but it meant that I didn’t know the correct answer.

As my faith has grown I’ve come to appreciate that the bigness of God often means that limiting ourselves to just one correct answer sells God short.

One example of narrowing an answer too much concerns our salvation. Why did I become a disciple of Jesus? My standard answer sounds something like, “I became a Christian because I didn’t want to spend eternity in Hell and I wanted my sins forgiven.”

I’m confident millions of other Christians through the years have responded to the Gospel for similar reasons.

While in an ideal world people would respond to the Gospel as a loving response to the love of God our motives are usually much more self-centred than that. But we don’t need stay that way.

In Ephesians 3:1 Paul describes himself as “the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles.” Most scholars agree that Paul probably wrote this letter from a Roman prison. They also agree that he was imprisoned as a consequence of his ministry. However, it’s notable that Paul doesn’t describe himself as “the prisoner of Rome…“, but as the prisoner of Christ Jesus.

As a prisoner of Christ Jesus, Paul was committed to the person and mission of Jesus. In Romans 6:19 Paul describes how we’re all captive slaves to something,

 Forgive me for using casual language to compensate for your natural weakness of human understanding. I want to be perfectly clear. In the same way you gave your bodily members away as slaves to corrupt and lawless living and found yourselves deeper in your unruly lives, now devote your members as slaves to right and reconciled lives so you will find yourselves deeper in holy living.”  (VOICE)

By calling himself a “prisoner of Christ Jesus” Paul  references his status as a disciple of Christ. With that in mind the next phrase challenges our generally accepted understanding of salvation.

conversation-coffee-01Paul is a prisoner of Christ, a disciple of Christ, a follower of Jesus, for the sake of you Gentiles.

We might not describe ourselves as followers of Jesus for the sake of ME. But when escaping hell is our primary reason for accepting God’s salvation, then it really is all about me.

The problem here is not that I need forgiveness. There’s nothing wrong with preferring to spend eternity with God than without God. The difficulty arises when our primary reason for relationship with God revolves around my well-being.

This naturally brings us to the vital question, “For whose sake are you a prisoner of Christ Jesus?”  “Who benefits from you being a Christian?

Jesus lived his life for the benefit of others. Paul lived his life for the benefit of others.

  • Who do we live to benefit?
  • Who does our church exist to bless?
  • Who notices our faith?
  • Who would miss God’s presence if we weren’t present?

Too often it seems Christians feel like prisoners of Christ, trapped in a list of wrongs and right. How that picture changes when we’re prisoners of Christ Jesus for the sake of our neighbors.

 

Transformation from the Inside Out

AChurch Inside Outs the Summer Blog Tour continues… Remember that you can win a copy of Tim Archer’s new release Church Inside Out, both the book and workbook, by leaving a comment on this page and completing the form over HERE.

 

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As I observe the Christian world around me (or maybe the entire world around me for that matter), it seems that extremes win the day. I grew up like many Christians have over the past 30 or more years in a faith tradition that was steeped in legalism. God was seen as this angry God who really did not much like his people, but he could be “bought off” with good deeds.

As a reaction to that, we lean over into a world of “justification by faith” to talk about the gospel in such a way that it seems like simply an endeavor of the mind. Believe this, think that, say these words, be immersed in water, and you are “good”. The goal is simply to think certain things and confess certain things with your mouth, and then go to heaven when you die.

For some reason, we never settle in the middle of these extremes with the biblical view that you are loved by God simply because, and that you are saved by faith alone. Therefore, live out your salvation and embark upon a journey of following Christ. We love the extremes it seems.

There has been a lot of scholarship over the past 30 years that has led us to believe that Paul wasn’t plagued with guilt when he wrote Romans, like  say Martin Luther was when he read it. It seems that Paul’s goal was not simply to help get people to heaven when they die (though that is important), but it was to get heaven inside of Christ followers. The gospel was not simply something to be believed, or a formula for salvation from hell at death, but it was a good news event that should dramatically alter the life of those who believe it and follow after this Crucified Christ. To follow Christ is to orient one’s life toward Christ and begin a journey of being formed into His image. It is why Paul would say things about us being transformed from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18).

So I don’t know if you are like me, but I find myself often frustrated. I want to be more patient, loving, kind, gentle, generous, and self-controlled. I want to react differently, or perhaps be less reactionary at times. I wish I was less impatient, less rash, less compulsive, less…well, you name it. It is a bit like my golf game.

golf ball 01I love golf. I don’t think my swing and my game are that bad. In my head, I know how to play the game really well and I can see myself playing well. However, I continually am amazed and frustrated when I go play and I’m not much better than the last time I played. Yet I never think that part of the problem is I don’t practice.

And so it is with my faith. I wish I saw more of the fruit of the Spirit pouring forth in my life, but I do nothing toward that goal.

As Paul is concluding his theological masterpiece, he says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” – Romans 12:2 (emphasis mine).

Paul seems to believe we can be different, and that we can be transformed from the inside out by the renewing of our minds. The gospel can and ought to transform us now, not just at the end. The deal is though, it isn’t a magic formula that you believe and confess and all of the sudden your life is dramatically changed. Sure there are these monumental moments in our faith, but more and more I think it is about the daily process of pursuing Christ. And it is into this thinking that I believe the spiritual disciplines call out to us. The spiritual disciplines are no magic formula, but they can position us for the Spirit to do its work.

I love the teaching of people like Dallas Willard and Richard Foster. They have a holistic and full view of salvation that it isn’t simply a one time conversion moment, but it is a journey or a process of transformation. Both of these guys also believe that the spiritual disciplines are the “practice” so to speak of the faith. If we want to see transformation in our lives, if we want to be less compulsive and reactionary and more patient and kind, perhaps we ought to do things that position us for the Spirit to make these changes in our lives.

Maybe we incorporate into our daily lives what St. Benedict called a “rule of life”, or “rhythm of life” that practices the spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting, solitude, silence, hospitality, submission to others, etc. If the goal isn’t simply to get to heaven one day, but to get heaven inside of us, to become people who begin to look and act more like Christ, then maybe these spiritual disciplines are a very practical tool for this inside out transformation, or what Paul calls the “renewing of your mind”.

The western story of Christianity has been hijacked into one that sounds like Jesus came into the world so we could get out of it. The problem is, that is not a very biblical picture of faith. Rather, what if we let go of that story and began seeing that Christ came into this world to get His image inside of it, or inside of us? No we don’t want to conform to the ways of this world, but neither do we want to hide from it. Rather, let us be transformed from the inside out by the renewing of our minds, and through this bear His image to a lost and broken world.

I can guarantee you that practicing the spiritual disciplines will position you for this transformation because I have seen it in my own life. The deal is though, no one can teach you into this change. Rather, you will have to try it. We can talk about the disciplines, but if you really want to see how it might could work in your life, then do it. Slow down, carve out space in your life, and lean into these disciplines. And don’t be surprised if you notice yourself reacting a bit differently, perhaps a bit more like Jesus would react. The Holy Spirit wants to transform you into the image of Christ, but this can only be done from the inside out.

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Ryan LassiterRyan Lassiter is the preaching minister at the Hunter Hills Church of Christ in Prattville AL. Prior to that he served as a minster at the Golf Course Road Church of Christ in Midland TX. He and his wife Sarah have also spent time as missionaries. Ryan graduated with his masters in Missional Leadership from Rochester College and his passion is helping people join God in his mission of redemption and restoration. He blogs at www.ryanlassiter.com.

5 Phases of Transformation

The Apostle Paul displays a life of spiritual transformation as dramatic as anyone in Scripture. This week I highlight 5 points about his conversion experience that may give us a different perspective on our call to follow Christ.

Acts 9 records the conversion of Saul from “Persecutor of the Christians” to “Champion of the Gospel of Jesus”. In studying this chapter I noticed what I’m calling “5 Phases of Transformation”. I don’t see these phases as exhaustive, or absolutely sequential. In fact, I’m not even sure that “phases” is the best word. Other, perhaps better, options include: stages, moments, events, or elements. They are definitely NOT “steps”!!

From the chart you’ll notice that each phase involves a person, or actor, and an action. I’ll expand on each phase below.

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A Christian Accepts (Acts 9:10-17)

The opening words of v17 are tremendously important to this story. “Then Ananias went…” Ananias was a Christian who knew that Saul was coming to Damascus to persecute him and those who worshiped with him. Ananias seems to naturally fear and dislike Saul. But when God tells Ananias to “Go” because Saul “is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name…” Ananias accepts God’s mission.

Ananias also accepts Saul. The first two words he says to Saul acknowledge Saul’s submission to God, “Brother Saul…”. Ananias is no Jonah reluctantly sharing a message of Good News. Ananias overcame his fears and preconceived ideas about Saul to call him brother, sit with him and discuss Jesus, baptize him and welcome him into the body of Christ. Verse 19 concludes with Saul hanging out with the local disciples. It’s reasonable to conclude that Ananias was also responsible for integrating the reborn Saul into the local church there in Damascus.

Unless Christians open our hearts and put away our prejudices so that we willingly accept sinful people of all stripes into our presence, those people will never experience the love of God. Saul experienced Jesus on the highway between Jerusalem and Damascus. Today most people don’t meet Jesus on the highway. They meet Jesus when they meet his disciples.

A Sinner Repents (Acts 9:3-9)

Transformation of any kind requires a catalyst. Perhaps it’s an epiphany as in Saul’s case. The consistent message of John the Baptiser (Matt. 3:2), Jesus (Mark 1:15), and the Apostles (Acts 2:38) is that we must acknowledge sin in our lives and turn from it in order to enter the kingdom of God.

Repentance as I’m using the term refers to more than just me changing my actions. As we recognise our past sins, we also recognise the eternal consequences of our sins. Saul’s repentance lead him to fast and pray for three days as he [presumably] confessed his sins and pleaded with God for mercy and forgiveness. In response to Saul’s repentance God sent Ananias to baptise him.

Repentance is the catalyst that God uses to bring Saul (and us) into the kingdom of God.

The Holy Spirit Indwells (Acts 9:17)

The Holy Spirit’s presence demonstrates to us that no matter how corrupt our lives to this point, Jesus cleanses us so completely that holy God can live within us.

The Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus at his baptism. Peter promises the Holy Spirit to those who repented at Pentecost. The Spirit’s presence within us is intrinsic to our spiritual transformation.

The Holy Spirit empowers our transformation. We’ve tried a life of holiness on our own, and failed. We can only live up to the ethic of the kingdom of God because of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives. Galatians 5:16-26 demonstrate the difference the Holy Spirit makes when we submit our lives to Him.

Jesus Commissions (Acts 9:20-22, 28-29)

If we think salvation is all about sin and its consequences we miss something significant. God does not forgive us so that we can continue to live as we always have while making a few moral adjustments.

When we immerse ourselves into the death and resurrection of Christ we also join the mission of God. God’s love for us and our love for God inspire us to love our neighbours. Paul enters the kingdom of God and immediately begins preaching “that Jesus is the Son of God!” The primary concern of the kingdom of God is not our personal piety, but the redemption of the world.

When we fail to infuse an urgent concern for the lost into the identity of new converts we undermine God’s design of his kingdom. Accepting Christ as the Lord of our lives requires us to adopt the mission of Christ.

Satan Attacks (Acts 9:23, 29)

Saul’s preaching led to death threats.

Jesus’ baptism led to a Satanic showdown in the wilderness.

Spiritual transformation does not occur in a vacuum. Spiritual warfare is a very real part of our journey toward God. In fact, God often teaches us that He uses these attacks as part of our transformation process. James writes (1:2-4) that we should, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

This final phase actually returns us to the first. As Saul experiences attempted murder from the Jews, God still requires him to love them, accept them and willingly share the Gospel with them. At some point in the future Saul may find himself face-to-face with those who now plot his execution. How will he respond? Will he run? Will he retaliate? Will he pray for their destruction? Or will he accept them as people needing the grace of God?

  • Do you have any “phases” you would add to this list?
  • Is this description a helpful way to think of the transformation God wants to produce in our lives?

ADDITIONAL READING

  • I have previously critiqued the “5 Steps of Salvation” HERE.
  • I have also written a serious of blog posts title “DAILY Steps of Salvation” that you can find HERE.

“All people” Means “That Person” Too

When we allow ourselves some honest reflection most of us will admit that we struggle to like some people. Some people make us uncomfortable. Some people offend us. Some people hurt us. Some people oppose God and our faith. Does God really want me to be thankful for these people?

  • Read 1 Timothy 2:1-7  here.
  • You can listen to the related sermon here.

Here’s my key text for this discussion, “I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them.” A little later (v4) Paul reaches the climax of his thought when he writes that God “wants everyone to be saved…”.

Pray for ALL people. God wants EVERYONE to be saved.

The first meaning of verse 1 is that we should pray for the salvation of everyone. This means that our prayers for others are not limited by class, by race, by nationality, or by any other distinction we humans have a habit of creating. God loves all people equally and wants all people to receive His salvation.

Apparently Paul felt he needed to make this point because the church in Ephesus had decided to stop praying for the salvation of some groups. William Mounce (WBC, 78) cites a comment by Chrysostom in the fourth century relating to this passage. He sarcastically asks, “Was Christ then a ransom for the Heathen? Undoubtedly Christ died even for Heathen; and you cannot bear to pray for them.

In the context of 1 Timothy I find it fascinating that this instruction to pray for the salvation of all people arises out of the previous paragraph where Paul describes how he handed two men “over to Satan so they might learn not to blaspheme God.” (The NIV and ESV include the word “then” right at the start of this verse. It could also be the word “therefore”. This word connects chapters 1 and two as a continuous and related thought.) Paul encountered opponents. Paul encountered people who turned their back on God. Paul encountered people who discouraged him. In all of this his response is to pray for their salvation.

But then Paul takes it a step further. Not only are we to pray that all people may be saved. Not only are we to petition God on their behalf. We are to give thanks for them.

Did you catch that?

We’re to pray for ALL people and give thanks for ALL people. I’ll be honest. There are some people I would like to pray for like this,

God, I know you created this person. I know that you love and care for them. I know that you see the possibility of good within them. BUT, they just ………… me. They make me mad. They hurt me. They scare me. I don’t like them. I will pray for their salvation because I know you died for them and you can perform miracles, but please keep them away from me because I wish I’d never met them and I hope I never need to talk to them again.

But through Paul God challenges me to give thanks for these people.

So how can I be thankful for people who do me wrong?

Ever person and situation is different. When we struggle to love people and see God’s nature within them it will require we spend extra time talking our reservations over with God in prayer. Here’s some other thoughts that might prove helpful:

  • God is the source of all life, including that person who offends us.
  • Christ died for me when I was his enemy.
  • Each person is made in God’s image and contains that image in some way.
  • Jesus asked God to forgive those crucifying him as he hung on the cross.
  • More often than not the biggest problem is with me, not the other person. I need to examine my heart.
  • Jesus tells us to love our enemies (Matt 5:44).
  • Sometimes our character is formed in fire. It’s not pleasant or easy, but it’s good for us.

I will leave with this exception. There are times when people have removed themselves so far from the influence of God in their lives and have caused so much hurt that it may not be humanly possible for us to give thanks for them. Certainly not in the short-term and maybe not ever. I think of a friend who had his wife and son shot by a church member. There’s nothing there to be thankful for. It would be macabre to insist that he thank God his family is dead or that he thank God he met the man who killed them. (You can follow God’s work in Les’ life at his blog, www.lesfergusonjr.com.)

In these extreme circumstances it is often all a person can do to present their grief, questions and accusations to God, rather than cursing Him.

Those of us blessed not to encounter these extreme circumstances need to work at praying for the salvation of all, and giving thanks for them. Yes, we should want to even give thanks for those who make our lives more difficult because they prompt us to grow our character in the image of Christ.

Is Grace Free, Cheap, or Outrageously Costly?

I’m currently teaching a Wednesday Bible class based on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book The Cost of Discipleship. Since I didn’t preach this past Sunday I thought I’d use this week’s post to summarise some of the discussions we’ve had in this class.

The first section of the The Cost of Discipleship bears the heading, “Grace and Discipleship”. Within this section Bonhoeffer presents a perspective on grace that has seriously impacted my understanding. He describes three types of grace:

  1. Free grace;
  2. Cheap grace; and
  3. Costly grace.

I’ll look at these one at a time in order to compare and differentiate them.

FREE GRACE

Grace must always be free. Conditional grace is not grace. Earned grace is not grace. By definition, grace cannot be merit based. It must be free. Consider these verses:broken heart 01

  • Acts 15:11 “…We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved…”
  • Romans 5:20b-21where sin increased, grace increased all the more,so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
  • Romans 6:23 “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life inChrist Jesus our Lord.”
  • Ephesians 2:4-5 “because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy,made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.

Our salvation is a result of God’s grace, not our behaviour, not our intentions, not our efforts. I particularly like Romans 6:23. The only thing earned (wages) is death. On the other hand, eternal life is a gift because of Jesus. When we try and deserve our salvation, we’re actually moving closer to death than life.

Grace must be FREE!

CHEAP GRACE

It would be very easy for me to fill up this section with Bonhoeffer quotes, but I’m not sure that would be helpful. The point of reading this post is that you don’t have to read the book. 🙂 So here’s my description of cheap grace with some help from Jon Walker in his book Costly Grace (Leafwood, 2010).

  • Cheap Grace is really Fake Grace. It deceives. It contradicts Romans 6:1-2 and says “As long as you’ve entered the church, you’ll be okay in the end. God’s grace will cover you.”
  • Cheap Grace thrives in impersonal broad and general discussions. The less we personalise faith, the more we cheapen it. Cheap Grace says, “Christ died for sin”, but doesn’t say “Christ died for the lie I told last week.”
  • Cheap Grace is grace we give ourselves. Cheap Grace prompts us to rationalize our behavior and conclude it wasn’t a sin. Or we maintain the delusion that “we’re not that bad”. Cheap Grace occurs when we tell ourselves that “nobody’s perfect”. Or we comfort ourselves with the reminder that “God will forgive me”. We find reasons to avoid dramatic transformation. Cheap Grace that we give ourselves makes our lives easier, rather than challenging us.
  • Cheap Grace says a person can have their sins washed away, but they don’t need to follow Jesus or make significant life changes. It teaches forgiveness, without obedience and reward without suffering.

COSTLY GRACE

Costly Grace recognises that forgiveness of sins cost God the life of his Son (John 3:16). It acknowledges that a person freely receives a gift, but that the transaction always involves a cost for the giver. Here are some verses to remind us what our adoption cost God.three crosses

  • John 12:23-26: A grain of wheat must die to bring a harvest.
  • Romans 6:3, 6-9: Grace = baptized in Christ Jesus; Cost = baptized into his death.
  • 1 Corinthians 6:20:Bought with a price
  • Philippians 2:5-11: Jesus humbled himself to the point of death.

Understanding “Real Grace” also inspires people risk everything to obtain it and retain it. A tension definitely exists between the concepts of Free Grace  and Costly Grace. Perhaps it is best explained by these teachings of Jesus:

  • Matthew 13:44-46: The Pearl of Great Price – Costly grace will prompt us to give up everything to receive it.
  • Matthew 5:27-30: Pluck out Your Eye – A person will cut off their hand rather than risk losing costly grace.
  • Matthew 7:7-8: Ask, Seek, Knock – Costly grace requires determination on our part to receive it.

Of these three examples the parable of the pearl best illustrates the relationship between grace and cost. The merchant can’t take credit for creating the pearl, but when he discovers it he gives up everything to obtain it.

This mirrors Jesus’ call to discipleship. Jesus extended grace to Levi, Peter & Andrew by calling them to follow him. He gave them the opportunity to spend three years at the feet of the Messiah. There was no American Idol audition. They didn’t beat out the competition. It was a gracious invite. Yet if they didn’t immediately leave their nets and change table they would not have benefited from that grace.

Christians will so value the gracious call to discipleship that we will give up everything to accept it. We will submit in obedience to Christ. We will die to self, and live in Christ. The old man is gone replaced by a new person of God’s creation.

As a closing contrast between Cheap (Fake) and Costly (For Real) Grace, consider Jesus’ call to “count the cost” of following him. (Luke 14:25-35) In contrast, we see a prime example of cheap grace in the ease that anyone in a “Christian nation” can call themselves Christian. You were baptised as an infant, you’re a Christian. You were born into a Christian family, you’re a Christian. You’re not a Buddhist and you celebrate Christmas, you’re a Christian. You live a good life and believe God will look after you in the next life, you’re a Christian. The entry bar is low or nonexistent. The cost has been removed.

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.  Bonhoeffer, “Cost of Discipleship” (44-45)

If you have any questions about these categories of grace, please leave a comment and perhaps the broader community can answer them with a clarity that I haven’t communicated. 🙂

For other discussion questions, please visit THIS BLOG POST on a similar topic. The discussion questions are at the bottom of the page.

Steps of Salvation – Concerns

The current final version of the Plan of Salvation taught in most Churches of Christ and Christian Churches looks like this:

  1. HEARRomans 10:17,
  2. BELIEVEJohn 1:11-12, Acts 8:36-37, Romans 10:9
  3. REPENTLuke 13:3, 5, Acts 2:38, 17:30, 2 Peter 3:9
  4. CONFESSMatt 10:32-33, Romans 10:9-10; Acts 8:37
  5. Be BAPTIZED1 Peter 3:21, Acts 22:16, Romans 6:3-5
  6. (GROW2 Peter3:18 and/or ENDURE to the End – Mark 13:13)

For more explanation of these steps see this post.

Although these Steps have been taught as Gospel for many years, I have a few concerns with them.  I also have some issues with this approach to Bible study.  However, I DO BELIEVE that each of these “Steps” is crucial to our relationship with God. We cannot have meaningful relationship with God while rejecting any of these commands.  The Bible clearly connects each of these attitudes and actions with the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.  We cannot simply choose to remove or ignore that connection.

I think the simplest way to discuss my concerns is the tried and true “list method”, so here goes:

  1. We often talk about the Steps of Salvation as though they have been handed down from heaven on stone tablets.  This is misleading.  The Steps of Salvation result from Bible scholars compiling a list of passages that connect a human action with the forgiveness of sins.  The list was then arranged into a logical sequence and presented as the “Plan of Salvation”.  ALWAYS REMEMBER, there is no list of the Steps of Salvation in the Bible.  Since they’re a human compilation, there’s always the risk that we’re using these verses incorrectly.  See my post here that discusses the evolution of the Steps. If the list of Steps we have now is “right”, what happened to the people who didn’t say the right confession prior to their baptism?
  2. Teaching the Steps of Salvation focuses attention upon a moment in time. We treat the moment one moves from the Kingdom of Darkness to the Kingdom of Light as though it is the focus of Scripture. Yet if it is the focus of Scripture, it’s a particularly fuzzy focus since the steps are never listed in any one place.  I once heard someone say “the success of the church should be measured in tombstones, not baptisms.”  I believe this is true.  This is why I always include the 6th point (Grow/Endure) whenever I refer to the Steps. But even then the conversion experience itself is often more of a process than a moment in time. While the conversion stories in Acts portray examples of people quickly persuaded by logical explanation that they need to commit their lives to following Jesus, that is not a uniform pattern in any age.  Many people come to a gradual realisation of their need for forgiveness and spiritual adoption.  The Steps of Salvation do not adequately address this process.  Rather than emphasising whether someone is In or Out, we need to emphasise the commitment we all need to make to a life of following Christ.
  3. Traditionally in Churches of Christ, the Steps of Salvation were included in the invitation at the end of every sermon.  The sermon could be about the sinfulness of gossip and not discuss the sacrifice of Christ on the cross at all. Then the preacher would invite people to be saved by hearing, believing, repenting, confessing, being immersed, and enduring.  This seems to make the individual responsible for our own salvation, rather than acknowledging it is a gift from God. There is a real risk that by emphasising Steps over the cross that we preach salvation by works.  I know the “Believe” step is fairly open ended and should of course include the belief that Jesus died so our sins could be forgiven, but the emphasis is still on me believing… and then moving onto the next step.
  4. The Plan of Salvation seems to be very much a product of the modernisitic worldview.  It fits the view that there is always a set “order” to the way God works.  Is it really impossible for someone to Believe and then Confess that Jesus is their Lord and only later Repent of their sins?  Aren’t there many Christians who still struggle to really Believe that their sins can be forgiven while living in faith and hope that God will forgive them?
  5. The Steps can at best only be part of the plan of salvation.  They must be preceded by a telling of the Gospel (Jesus’ incarnation, ministry, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and return. 1 Cor. 15:1-5) and followed by a description of how God responds when we complete the “Steps”.  To call the Steps a “Plan of Salvation” is at best a misnomer.
  6. I have often heard the Steps referred to as “obeying the Gospel”.  The sermon invitation often encourages people to “obey the Gospel”. I believe that we are to accept the Gospel, not obey it. I don’t accept that emphasising obedience is the right place to start a new life.  Consider Galatians 3:26-27 which describes baptism as an adoption and a “putting on of Christ” rather than an act of obedience.  I believe that the Steps can only ever be a response to the Gospel, not the Gospel itself.
  7. If the number of steps and sequence of steps are so important, why are they never grouped together in Scripture? Why did Paul just end his sermon on Mars Hill with a plea for repentance (Acts 17:30) and “overlook” the other steps?
  8. The Steps omit Faith. It can certainly be argued that each of the Steps is an act of faith.  I wouldn’t dispute that. Some preachers replace “Believe” with “Faith” but I think they still mean “believe”.  The “Believe” step usually has some associated teaching about the specific points a person must accept in order to receive salvation. Using the word Faith doesn’t alter the associated teaching to my knowledge.  Yet Scripture explicitly says that we are saved by Faith.  Romans 3:25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood — to be received by faith. Galatians 3:14 He redeemed us … so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.
  9. The Steps generally teach that the work of the Holy Spirit in a persons life begins after baptism.  They encourage a very linear view of how God works in the world.  Perhaps the greatest step a person needs to take is to open their minds and lives up to the working of the Holy Spirit.  Consider the Steps we’re told that God and the Holy Spirit take in our lives:  a. The Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin (John 16:8) b. God draws people to Jesus to receive eternal life (John 6:44) c. God can act to open hearts to the Gospel (Acts 16:14) d. God is described as “granting” (giving) repentance (Acts 11:18, 2 Tim 2:25) e. God distributes faith to people (Rom 12:3).
  10. The Steps do not point us toward the first and greatest command, Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. (Matt. 22:37-38)  Rather, they point us toward searching the Scriptures for every little command and making sure we keep them all. I believe that God wants us to keep all his commands, including the little ones.  But he doesn’t want us to focus on them and in the process lose our love for him or our view of grace. (Matt 23:23-25)

Let me reiterate that I am not suggesting that we no longer need to teach Belief, or Repentance, or Confession, or Baptism, or Endurance.  Rather, I am proposing that we rely less upon the one-size-fits-all teaching of the Plan of Salvation.  These steps make up one (or six) element of our response to the Gospel.  The story of God’s love for the world, and the commitment to love and serve God whole-heartedly for the rest of our lives should receive greater emphasis in our presentation of the Gospel than the mis-named “Steps of Salvation”.

Additional Reading:

  • Wes McAdams has written a similar, but more tactful, article HERE.

Taking the Next Step

  • Read 2 Peter 1:3-11 here.

    Via Dolorosa – Christ took the next step for me… and the one after that…

  • You can listen to this sermon here.

Quite correctly, Christians direct a lot of time and energy toward convincing the world that Jesus is the only Way, Truth and Life.  Jesus final words recorded in Matthew 28 direct his followers to perpetuate his teachings and spread his influence throughout all nations.  The world needs to hear and accept the Good News of Jesus, and we dream of God’s kingdom expanding to defeat Satan and the forces of evil.

The risk in emphasising conversion, or new births, or baptism, or whatever event you wish to count is just that: it’s an event.  It tends to create a mindset that I have moved from lost to found, from peril to rescue, from orphan to family.  In short, it tells us that we’ve arrived.

I don’t possess the words to describe the importance of my state of salvation to my life. While I was still a sinner, Christ died for me. However, Scripture teaches me that I have NOT yet arrived. (Eph. 4:11-16) I am still God’s work in progress. My redemption will culminate, not in my acceptance of Christ as my Saviour, but at the return of Christ and the ultimate establishment of his kingdom.

Jesus intends for his disciples to continually grow. The basic premise of the New Testament epistles indicates that Christians should grow. The NT authors are writing to Christians with instructions on beliefs, church life, personal and corporate ethics, etc.  There is never a hint that since these Christians have accepted Christ’s sacrifice for their sins they have fulfilled God’s expectations for them. Paul, John and others continue to prompt the new followers of Jesus to deeper levels of commitment.

In 2 Peter 3:18 the apostle concludes his letter by directing his readers to “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” Standing still was not an option.  This conclusion fits the letter, because in 1:5-7 Peter lays out a pathway of spiritual growth that his audience should take: one step at a time.

Add to your FAITH –> GOODNESS –> KNOWLEDGE –> SELF-CONTROL –> PERSEVERANCE –> GODLINESS –> MUTUAL AFFECTION (tNIV) –> LOVE.

Keep Moving.

I’m excited that our church has chosen this theme for 2012. It provides so many opportunities for congregational and personal growth.  It reminds us that God has something planned for us that is more that our present circumstances.  It prompts the congregational leadership to search for opportunities God is presenting to the church.  It prompts us individually to conduct a spiritual inventory and evaluate how we can deepen our relationship with Him. It directs us to spiritual disciplines, but also reminds us to put our faith into action: to keep moving, to take the next step.

Just two questions this week:

  • What thoughts does the phrase “Taking the Next Step” (in a context of faith) bring to mind for you?
  • What Next Step is God laying on your heart?

Church Theme: RESCUE

  • Read Colossians 1:12-14 here.
  • If you missed Sunday’s sermon (16 January) you can listen to it here (the first minute or two are missing).

Our congregational theme for 2011 plays on the initials of our name, Lawson Road (LR).  The first word was a no-brainer: LOVE.  The second word continues to have me second guessing myself: RESCUE.  While everyone on the planet should agree on the virtue and desirability of Love, perhaps only a minority would agree that they need Rescue.  This means there’s a reasonable chance that using this term as a congregational theme will offend someone.

An article I read today (Myron Augsberger, 1990) captured some of my reservations regarding the term Rescue.  Speaking as a well-educated white male moving to work in an inner city ministry, he wrote, I was going to the inner city, I explained, not to be like the people there or to rescue them heroically. I was going simply because I cared. Choosing the theme Rescue does not reflect our position of superiority in relationship to those around us.  However, we face a distinct risk of developing an attitude of arrogance, or that we at least portray arrogance to people we encounter.

In order for this word to truly motivate the church we must adopt the fundamental truth “we have all been rescued.”

  • For [God] has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves. (Col 1:13)
  • the Lord Jesus Christ… gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father. (Gal 1:3-4)
  • Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath. (1 Thess. 1:10)

In each of these verses, the word Rescue is not used as a missional statement for the church, but as a description of the church.  Only this consciousness can ensure we maintain our humility as we also pursue the mission of rescue.

Although Rescue doesn’t show up on every page of the Bible, we shouldn’t dismiss it as an insignificant word.  To me, it’s synonymous with the concept of Salvation, which is a lot more common. (but doesn’t being with “R”)  The logic may be a little convoluted, but I do believe the church has been given a mission of Rescue.

I don’t think there can be any argument that Christ has given the church the mission of spreading the message of the Gospel throughout the world.  Romans 1:16 states, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.”  The message of the Gospel brings salvation, or rescue, to everyone who believes.  Our commission is to spread that message of rescue as broadly afield as we can.

Jesus gives an example of how Love and Rescue complement each other in Matthew 9:36.  First, Jesus sees the crowds and is moved with compassion, or love, then he sends his disciples out to expand his mission of proclaiming the kingdom of heaven (10:5).  Likewise, our message of rescue must always be motivated by love to be effective, not personal or corporate ego.

So what do you think?  Please share your reaction below.

  • Do you think many people would find the term “Rescue” offensive as a church theme?
  • Can you suggest an alternative “R” word for a church theme?
  • What would you consider the biggest challenge: Getting the church to acknowledge their own rescue, or motivating them to share the Gospel of Rescue?

Colossians 2: The Gospel

  • Read Colossians 2:6-15 here.
  • If you missed Sunday’s sermon (24 October), you can listen to it here.

How do you define The Gospel?  I have often heard the Gospel mistaken for one’s response to the Gospel.  Some will argue that the Gospel means we can pray and invite Jesus into our heart and life.  Others define the Gospel as 5 Steps of Salvation culminating with baptism into Christ for the remission of sins.  However, both of these responses describe activity on our part without explaining why the forgiveness of sins is possible.  It’s like praising western civilization by pointing out that milk is readily available at the supermarket whenever we want it without ever mentioning the long hours worked by the farmer, or the role of cows in its production.

In 1 Corinthians 15: 1-5 the apostle, Paul, describes the Gospel as Jesus’ death for our sins, his burial, and his resurrection.  He Specifically says in v2 that “By this gospel you are saved” with no mention of prayer or baptism.  In this post I don’t want to spend a lot of time discussing the appropriate response to the Gospel, but I want to clarify our understanding of the Gospel.  The Good News of Jesus is that he died to remove our sins.  He was so dead he was buried.  God restored Christ to life and in the process gave us hope of life beyond the grave.  That’s Good News!  That saves us!

The overwhelming point of Paul’s letter to the church in Colossae is to reassure them that the Gospel message they received is the complete message (1:3-8).  This message, not surprisingly, centres on Jesus (2:8).  It seems to me that 2:6-15 reiterates 1:15-23.  The  basic outline is the same:

  1. Jesus is All-powerful God. (1:15-19; 2:9-10)
  2. The Colossians were separated from God – alienated & uncircumcised. (1:21; 2:11, 13)
  3. Jesus died to remove the separation, to forgive sins. (1:22; 2:11-12, 13-14)
  4. 1:23 explicitly says that “THIS IS THE GOSPEL!!”
  5. Chapter 2 also says THIS IS THE GOSPEL but not explicitly.

Do you remember Paul’s definition of the Gospel in 1 Cor 15 (Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection)?  In chapter 2 verses 14 & 15 mention the cross, referring of course to Jesus’ death.  Verse 12 tells us that through baptism (a response to the Gospel) we have been buried with him and resurrected with him.  Although Paul has several metaphors all working at the same time in a confusing manner the message is simple: THIS IS THE GOSPEL!

In total the description given of The Gospel in Colossians is larger than that given in 1 Corinthians.  The identity and majesty of Jesus are key components of the Gospel message here in Colossians.  By implication, given his emphasis on Christ’s majesty, the incarnation of Christ is also a vital point.  Paul also gives emphasis to spiritual consequences of sin and the need for reconciliation before moving to Christ’s death, burial and resurrection.  He also explains the significance of baptism as a response to this message, and makes no mention of asking Jesus into one’s heart.

  • How have you most often heard The Gospel presented?  What are the key points in your mind?
  • Why do you think we confuse the message and the response? (Of course the fact that we CAN respond and obtain forgiveness is Great News!)
  • What should we make of the fact that Paul’s summary is different in Romans and Colossians?  Isn’t there just one Gospel?

Luke 24: The Core Gospel

  • Read Luke 24:1-12 here.
  • If you missed Sunday’s sermon (April 4) you can listen to it here.

I routinely ponder the question, “What is the core of the Gospel?”  Perhaps, if I have to ponder the question it’s not as important as I think it is.

I think I ask this question because I don’t want to spend my time arguing about things that aren’t important.  So I try to create boxes.  One box for “Core Gospel” issues.  Another box for “Important, But Not Core” issues.  Another box for “Interesting, But Not Important”.  And another box for “I Really Don’t Think It Matters If We Disagree” issues.

Here are some candidates for the “Core Gospel” box, off the top of my head.

  • God is love. (Jn 3:16, 1 Jn 4:8, 16)
  • The death/sacrifice of Jesus. (Heb. 9:26, Rom 5:9)
  • The resurrection of Jesus. (1 Cor. 15:18-20)
  • The return of Christ. (1 Thess. 4:16-18)
  • Baptism for forgiveness (Acts 2:38, ).  (Personally, I see this as a response to the Gospel, not the Gospel itself, but I know not everyone sees it this way.)
  • Christian living/obedience (Jms. 2:24)

What else would you add to this list? I know my list isn’t exhaustive, or even accurate.  I just listed some of the things I’ve heard expressed as the “Core Gospel”.

One of the few occasions where Paul defines the “Gospel” is 1 Cor. 15:1-11 and he doesn’t restrict it to just one or two components.  He covers:

  • Christ died for our sins
  • He fulfilled prophecy
  • The resurrection
  • Jesus appeared to many after his resurrection
  • Paul’s inadequacy
  • God’s grace superseding our works.

Anyway, the Resurrection is a big one for me!  I agree with Paul in 1 Cor. 15.  If Christ wasn’t raised from the dead, his body just stolen or something, then we are to be pitied for living a fantasy.  On the other hand, if Jesus did rise from the dead to live eternally, then we have the most amazing future to look forward to.  A future that those who deny the resurrection don’t have.

An interesting verse on this topic is 1 Peter 3:21, which speaking of baptism says, “it saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ…”  I really believe that we seldom associate the resurrection with our salvation.  We generally view salvation as occurring on the cross, and the resurrection serving as a kind of promise, or bait, if we buy into the Jesus story and live a good life.  So I find that verse interesting.

  • Do you have a favorite element of the Gospel?
  • How do you understand 1 Peter 3:21?  How does the resurrection save us?