Wednesday, September 23, 2020

WHO ARE WE? We are Driven by Our Mission

Over the last several weeks we have been learning about our identity, purpose, and call as the church. So far in our “Who are We?” series we have learned that we are what we confess (in Romans 10:9-10), we are greater than the sum of our parts (1 Corinthians 12:12-26), we are exposed by what we do (Galatian 6:7-10), and we are a product of what we are willing to invest for the kingdom of God (2 Corinthians 9:6-8). Today we are going to learn that in answering the question “Who are we?” we must consider that we are people of mission. When I say “mission” I’m talking about the mission of God that is articulated in places like Matthew 28:19-20-“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”




 

Though the mission is clearly articulated in the scriptures (see also Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8; Rom. 10:13-14), many believers today do not live as though they are a part of this glorious enterprise. Instead, many live like they are on retreat. Many so-called Christians today trade adventure for passivity or sacrifice and service for comfort and security. Instead of playing offense, they are perfectly satisfied exclusively on defense. However, when Jesus told Peter, “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (Matthew 16:18), he envisioned hell as powerless against a robust offense, he assumed courageous action would be required, and he intended for mission to be at the forefront of the church and her people.

 

Therefore, in an effort to remind us of what our mission is, explain how our church is supposed to carry it out, and inspire us to action, we are going to peruse several verses today (carefully expositing each one). These passages will define and explain each of the components of our mission as a church (to see people Know Christ, Grow in Christ, and Show Christ to others). This reminder of our mission will have us looking beyond our walls to see those who are yet to be a part of the kingdom of God and considering how we can reach the lost with the gospel of Christ. Consider this quote by William Tyndale: “The church is the one institution that exists for those outside it.” But what about discipleship? What good is discipleship if it does not result in disciples making new disciples? What about fellowship? What good is fellowship (really) if those outside the church are not being invited to experience it? What about preaching? What good are the messages preached if they are not applied in our everyday lives and shared with those outside the church?

 

It is my prayer that as we reexamine our mission, we will turn our gaze outward and might be equipped through God’s word to extend our worship experience outside the walls of this church in the real world among those who are without a relationship with Jesus. After all, this is our mission. This is our adventure. This is our calling.

 

I. PHASE #1: KNOW (The Seed falls on Fertile Ground)-John 20:26-31

 

Phase 1 of the mission is KNOW Christ. In John 20:26-31. we read the account of someone who was not easily convinced that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead. Although we could make a compelling case that this account only teaches how we shouldn’t doubt, I believe that it also teaches us how God is pleased to provide more than enough evidence of Himself to doubters and skeptics in order that they might be know something about Him. Thomas, as a result of this encounter with Jesus Christ, knew Jesus  in the purist sense—in a deep and meaningful salvific kind of a way. “My Lord, and My God” is the exclamation that highlights the climax of John’s Gospel as He works to show Jesus is indeed God Almighty in flesh.

 

Knowing Christ is a theme throughout the New Testament that must be echoed in churches today, in this church today. If we want to be a church that is on mission, we will concern ourselves with bringing people to encounter Jesus Christ and experience His love so that they might Know Him in the same way Thomas came to know Him. This is the first phase of the mission.

 

John’s account continues with “Therefore, many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book, but these things have been written…” (John 20:30-31a). What was true of Thomas and true of everyone who comes to know Jesus is that they have responded positively to some sort of revelation. Revelation is, quite simply, anything that speaks of God’s character or will. In this passage, John speaks of “many other signs Jesus also performed,…” These signs that Jesus gave to the disciples were ways in which He divulged more about who He was, giving the disciples a chance to respond to that information. Today, many things testify to who God is in unique ways. The Bible says creation itself speaks of His glory. The talents and gifts of people also testify to the creativity and diversity of God Himself. While many phenomena are a revelation of God that has been made known to man, the greatest means by which God has divulged His character and will is the Word of God itself and Jesus Christ who is the WORD of God incarnate. John writes, “but these things have been written…” The inspired and perfect Word of God is the greatest resource of God’s attributes and will.  It is the primary source by which all things are judged and understood.

 

However, what is the purpose for God having made himself known to the world?

 

John 20:31 continues with “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name…”. Revelation has as its purpose the salvation of men. God reveals Himself in order that people may KNOW Him for who he is. This phase of the mission has as its purpose the salvation of men through a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

 

Romans 10:17-“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of (that is from, about, concerning) Christ.”

 

Phase 1 of the church’s mission is to share the revelation of God—His Word about Christ—with others so that they might hear, understand, and believe the message of the gospel (KNOW Christ). The same transforming power that changed Thomas’ life is available to change the lives of those doubters, cynics, and disenfranchised that you know. Part of your adventure and this church’s mission is sharing the message of salvation with them! It is more than our mission, it ought to be who we are—sharers of the gospel message!

 

II. PHASE #2: GROW (The Seed Begins to Germinate and Develop)-Acts 2:42

 

Phase 2 of the mission is GROW. Growing in one’s relationship with Christ is paramount to seeing the mission completed. Remember, Matthew 28:19-20 does not say “go into all the world and make converts.” It says, “go into all the world, making disciples.” A beautiful picture of this is illustrated for us in Acts 2:42—“ They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” The verb “continually devoting” is important. It means to do something with intense effort with the possible implication of difficulty. The tense and form of this verb suggest that Luke is talking about a devotion that becomes a part of someone’s character and takes place continuously. Also, the connotation of this verb does not describe a passive activity (i.e. sitting in a service of some kind and listening to what is being presented and leaving unchanged). It describes vigorous action that leads to growth. The growth of the church or the individual believer is not the responsibility of some third party like a pastor or priest—it is the responsibility of every follower of Christ.

 

The first direction of intense effort and focus required in growth/discipleship is on the apostles teaching. For those in the Book of Acts, these were the words preached and spoken of by the twelve who ministered with Jesus. However, for you and me, the teaching that God decided to preserve in the Bible is the primary source of information that leads to growth and development in Christ (the same word that saves is the word that sanctifies). The teaching of the apostles for these new believers and for us today provides the nourishment and nutrition required to mature and grow in one’s understanding. Much like soil feeds a plant, the teaching of the apostles fertilized the hearts of their listeners.

 

The second direction of intense devotion is toward fellowship. Fellowship is an association involving close mutual relations and involvement. We read about this type of association in Acts 2:43-47.

 

CR: Acts 2:43-47 –“Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

 

It is this type of fellowship that warms the heart of each believer and allows one to grow by association. Much as the sunlight gives a plant warmth and the ability to grow, fellowship involves a bunch of light-bearers coming together to encourage and love each other in a way that fosters growth.

 

The breaking of bread and prayer that follows fellowship renames or defines what the fellowship is/consists of.  It was customary for New Testament believers to gather and eat a meal. This was their primary means of entertaining and experiencing life together. One thing that often accompanied such meetings was the sharing of the Lord’s supper. Ultimately, fellowship and/or the breaking of bread simply means doing life together in spiritual community. Participating in this kind of community is crucial for proper spiritual growth.

 

Along with doing life together, prayer was understood to be an essential element to corporate meetings and integral to Spiritual growth. If the Word brings the nutrients, and fellowship is the sunlight, then prayer is the life giving and refreshing water that is necessary for the believer to grow in Christ.

 

“Prayer is where the action is”-John Wesley.

 

“The most important thing a born again Christian can do is pray”-Chuck Smith.

 

In Acts 2:42, commitment to the Word of God, community, and prayer, were understood as the only proper response to knowing Jesus. The picture of growth portrayed in this passage is spiritual and relational. All of these considerations make up the second phase of the mission and ought to preoccupy believers in the great mission to which God has called his people. Scenes of meaningful fellowship punctuated by Bible study and prayer ought to fill the motion picture of our lives as we see those who know Christ grow in Him. We ought to “do life” together, recognizing that our mission is “our” mission—not yours, not mine, ours, and that any great adventure worth having is one that is shared with like-minded people and any mission worth accepting is for the benefit of others.  Phase 2 is growing in Christ together. More than just a phase of our mission, it ought to be who we are—disciples. However, this is not where things end.

 

III. PHASE #3: SHOW (The Seed Flowers, and Spreads its Seed)-Col. 1:28

 

Now that we understand Phase 1 and Phase 2 (knowing Christ and growing in Christ), this leaves only the third—SHOW Christ. Understanding phase 3 takes us to Colossians 1:28. When one considers how insignificant of town Colossae was and how small the church that met there would have been, you might begin to wonder why this letter from Paul was preserved in our Scriptures and important enough to include in the Bible. The truth is, although this letter was addressed to an unlikely destination, the problem they were dealing with in Colossae was very disturbing to Paul and the message of the Gospel. Heresy and false doctrine had already begun to infiltrate the church and Paul wanted to confront this head on before it got out of hand. This is why, after introducing his letter, the apostle concludes his opening remarks with this exhortation—“We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ” (Col. 1:28).

 

The plural pronoun here refers not just to Paul, but to the church which shares the responsibility of showing Christ to others. While most people will readily insist that Paul and certain others are more gifted to proclaim Christ to others, some fail to realize that they are also included in this phase of the mission. After all, are we not all a “priesthood of believers” (1 Pet. 2:9)? Are we not all gifted by God for the purpose of showing him to others (1 Pet. 4:10)?

 

Showing Christ well involves two things: teaching and admonishing. While many think of “teaching” or “admonishing” in a formal sense, one need not limit these terms to popular connotations. Rather, anything that provides instruction or warning to the lost of this world is included in the call to show Christ to others. This includes, but is not limited to serving people in love, encouraging those around you, taking initiative to have conversations, and the like. This also involves discovering and using the gifts God has given every one of us. The truth is, there are as many ways to teach and admonish as there are people. Notice the repetition of “every” in this verse. You would think that Paul was trying to get something across.  Showing everyone around us who Christ is by anything and everything we say and do is how we show Christ to others.

 

The purpose for this mission is so that every man and woman might join God’s mission/great adventure and be taken through these phases themselves to maturity in Christ—“so that we may present everyman complete in Christ” (1:28). The end product of this process is maturity. Much as a flower matures and gives forth seed of its own after it blossoms, Christians who know and grow do not reach maturity until they show Christ to others and scatter seed of their own into the lives of those around them. The process began with believers responding to revelation by knowing Christ on a deep and meaningful level in phase 1, and ends with these same believers communicating that revelation in all wisdom to those around them so that others might join in on this glorious process in phase 3.

 

These are the three phases of the mission of Crystal Spring Baptist Church. These are the activities that ought to galvanize us to action in the great adventure to which we have been called. More than phases of our mission, these ought to be characteristic of who we are.

 

So What?

No matter how you label these three phases or what type of illustration you use to explain them, ultimately, the mission of this church is the mission spelled out throughout the New Testament. It is not something cute that I or somebody else cooked up to sound religious. It is not a meaningless phrase or slogan that looks good on paper or in a poster. It is the process every disciple is designed to complete. We have examined three passages in the Bible that have spanned the Gospels, Acts, and a letter from Paul that explicitly define a biblical understanding of evangelism, discipleship, and service both for the individual and the church. What will you now do about it?

 

 Many are content with just knowing Christ and coming to Church on Sunday Morning and leaving unchanged. Some are comfortable Knowing Christ and even praying with others and attempting to grow in His likeness. However, very few are willing to complete the final phase of the process we have described in an actively show Christ to others. May we choose today to be a church of the few. And may we begin praying for those we know right now who need to know Christ, grow in Christ, and show Christ to others.


Monday, September 14, 2020

WHO ARE WE? We are a Product what What We are Willing to Invest- 2 Cor. 9:6-8

 

Over the last several weeks we have been learning about our identity, purpose, and call as the church. So far in our “Who are We?” series we have learned that we are what we confess (in Romans 10:9-10), we are greater than the sum of our parts (1 Corinthians 12:12-26), and we are exposed by what we do (Galatians 6:7-10). Today we are going to learn that in many ways we are a product of what we are willing to invest for the kingdom of God. A sermon on giving/investing in the church and what she is doing is one of the most difficult to sit through and most tedious to prepare for in any community of believers. However, passages associated with giving and finances are among the most prolific in all of the Scriptures and must be addressed by any Bible believing church. With that said, let me immediately set your minds at ease by getting me off the hook. First, in no way am I made aware of who gives or how much any one individual or family has given to this church.  Second, I will be preaching as I always do, by using the Bible. In other words, the ideas, principles, and message you will hear are not from my own mind but from the mind of God. This means two things. On the one hand you can rest easy, knowing that I am not targeting any one person in this room with this message. However, on the other hand, whatever challenges or convictions you may or may not receive will  be from God by means of His Word and through the Holy Spirit. In other words, my agenda (as it is every week) is to preach the Word. God’s agenda may be to instruct, challenge, and correct as necessary. Therefore, without further ado, let us take a close look at a profound series of verses from 2 Corinthians 9:6-8.



I. PRINCIPLE #1: GODLY GIVERS GIVE AND REVEIVE PROPORTIONALLY-9:6

A couple of weeks ago we provided some background on the church of Corinth. We explained that this church required a lot of attention from Paul (4 letters) because of its own internal struggles and because of the context in which it found itself. What we call 2 Corinthians is the 4th letter Paul writes to this church and by this time the church had successfully dealt with many of the problems that Paul had addressed in previous correspondences. With maturity and unity on the rise, Paul is prepared to give further instructions that are fitting for a healthier church kicking on all cylinders. The fact that Paul is able to address giving means that the church is spiritually capable of handling these kinds of discussions. A healthy church is a giving church.

Anytime giving is mentioned or discussed, the harvest is always in view. In order to illustrate this, Paul asks the Corinthians church to consider a farmer. Although Corinth was not known as a primarily agrarian region, ancient societies in Paul’s day had closer ties to farming than the West does today. The original audience’s familiarity with the field came also with familiarity with common-sense growing principles. Therefore, the image of a farmer sowing seed in the field, harvesting, and brining his produce to the marketplace would have been a no brainer for the recipients of this letter from Paul.  

Therefore, with this in mind, Paul presents two scenarios for the church’s evaluation. First, Paul simply states, “he who sows sparingly, will also reap sparingly” (9:6). In other words, the more seed you put in the ground, the more yield you are going to get.  To sow sparingly means to sow a limited or even negligible quantity of seed.

On the flipside, in scenario #2 we learn that “he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (9:6). The word “bountifully” actually means “blessing” or “benefit,” suggesting here that those who plant much seed in the ground are going to take in a huge blessing come harvest time. Such sowing involves great giving and a great reward. These two scenarios work together to give Paul’s first principle for giving, “godly givers give and receive proportionally.”

If you are getting lost in the fields, consider this modern day analogy. In our world of 401K’s, IRA’s, Stocks, etc. people attempt grow wealth by the same general principle. The more you invest in these different assets or ventures, the more you are potentially going to receive. Giving to anything always takes into consideration the return. The farmer does not plant seed and then walk away, saying, “Well, I’ll never see that again.” Although it is out of sight (hidden in the ground) he knows he will someday see the harvest. Similarly, no one contributes to their IRA thinking, we there is more money gone.  Instead she has the big picture in mind, hoping that there will be a large nest egg/return in the future. This might seem obvious, however, people fail to recognize that this same phenomenon exists in the practice of giving to the work of God.

However, how do we know Paul is talking about money and giving to the church? At the beginning of this chapter, Paul mentions an anticipated gift. This gift would be used for the ministry of spreading the gospel message and was expected to be big, “So I thought it necessary to urge the brethren that they would go on ahead to you and arrange beforehand your previously promised bountiful gift, so that the same would be ready as a bountiful gift and not affected by covetousness” (9:5). Therefore, in order to encourage the biggest and best financial gift possible, Paul gives these four principles to the church for whenever they give toward God’s ministry. 

Applied today, this principle teaches that what we are going to experience this year, next year, and ten years down the line is going to be, at least in part, a direct reflection of what we are giving today. Here is a question: if everyone gave of their time, talents, and treasure in the same way you did, could the church expect great things? According to the first principles Paul offers the Corinthian church, Godly givers give and receive proportionally. The more investments that are made, the greater capacity there is to accomplish much for the kingdom of God.

II. PRINCIPLE #2: GODLY GIVERS GIVE WITH INTEGRITY AND CHEER-9:7

The second principle Paul gives concerning gifts involves integrity and cheer. Though Paul desired a “bountiful gift” (9:5) (i.e. a big donation), what was more important to Paul was an honest and willing heart—“each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart” (9:7a). Honesty in giving begins with being honest with oneself. People ought not give out of compulsion, obligation, manipulation, or guilt. Instead, they must give in compliance with the will of God for their lives. They should not give more because their proverbial arm is being twisted. They should not give less because they are holding back and lacking faith for God to provide. How much should people give? Exactly as much as God wants them to and in keeping with the Spirit’s leading in their lives.

With that said, the Bible does provide some guidelines for godly giving elsewhere. The Old Testament is clear that a tithe (that is 10% of one’s income) is an acceptable gift to God (see Gen. 14:20; Lev. 27:30-33; Num. 18:28-29; Deut. 12:11). But wait, you say, if tithing is such a big deal in the church today, why didn’t Jesus have much to say about it. I thought we were free from the Law? The New Testament confirms that Jesus came to fulfill the law, not to dismiss it (Matt. 5:17-19). 

Matthew 23:23-“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law; justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these (tithes) are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.”

In this verse, Jesus addresses tithing as something so understood/engrained/familiar that it is almost unworthy of a mention. While New Testament believers in Jesus’ day and in today’s world are free from the law, they have also been called to live by the higher standard of grace. A tithe was considered a starting point not an end goal. If anger was taught to be on the same level of murder and lust equal to adultery in Jesus’ eyes, does it not stand to reason that the tithe is now considered a base-level command—a minimum expectation.

“I never would have been able to tithe the first million dollars I ever made if I had not tithed my first salary, which was $1.50 per week.” –J.D. Rockefeller

Under the grace that we enjoy, the average, modern-day Christian gives only 2.5 percent of his or her income (not even a tithe). In Money, Possession, and Eternity, Randy Alcorn writes, “When we as  New Testament believers, living in a far more affluent society than ancient Israel, give only a fraction of that given by the poorest Old Testament believers, we surely must reevaluate our concept of …giving.”

Not only must a believer give with integrity according to Paul, he or she must give cheerfully—“not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (9:7). Motives play absolutely no role in the farming analogy Paul used earlier. It does not matter what kind of attitude the farmer had while he was sowing seed. If he sows good seed and has good weather, he will reap a harvest whether he is working for profit, pleasure, or pride. It makes no difference how he plans to use the money that he earns; the harvest will probably come just the same.

This is not so with giving in the church. Motives matter to God. As one commentator says, we must not be “sad givers” who cry as they see the money leaving their hands or “mad givers” who give because they feel like they have to. Instead, believers ought to be “glad givers” who cheerfully share what they bring because all that they have is a demonstration of God’s grace. God loves a cheerful giver.

Ask yourself these questions. How much do you give? Is it consistent with God’s will as expressed in His Word and according to His leadership in your life? Also, How do you give? Is it with great joy for your Creator and eagerness to participate with Him or is it grudgingly? Godly givers give with integrity and cheer.

“Giving should be an outward, material expression of a deep, spiritual commitment…an indication of a willing and obedient heart.” –Larry Burkett

III. PRINCIPLE #3: GODLY GIVERS GIVE OUT OF ABUNDANCE AND BLESSING-9:8

The third and final principle in these few verses reflects Paul’s understanding of God’s grace. Ultimately, Christians can only dispense of what they have received. All that the believer has received is a gift from God, who, is capable of making every grace available to the believer at all times. The universals of this verse are incredible. First, “God is able to make ALL grace abound to you” (9:8a). Every grace of God is available to the believer. This speaks not only to the grace afforded to the believer at salvation, but the grace that is afforded to the believer for their everyday needs. This first universal reveals the potentiality of God’s giving capacity to the godly giver.

The second “all” statement comes next, “so that ALWAYS have ALL sufficiency in EVERYTHING…” (9:8b). Here, Paul communicates that the Christian who practices godly giving will have what he or she needs when he or she needs it. This does not mean that God awards giving with wealth and material possessions. Instead, it means that God blesses those who give with what they need to do what He’s called them to do! No one who gives to the Lord in a godly way is lacking anything to do all that God desires for him.

Finally, Paul concludes with one more universal statement saying, “you may have an abundance for EVERY good deed.” God’s grace seen in the time, talents, and treasure He has bestowed on His people do not exist for the benefit of those who already have them. Instead, they are to be used to do good works for others. In other words, the reason God has been so generous with people is so that they might be generous with others for His kingdom-building work!

Our church is all about doing the best work that there is, proclaiming the name of Jesus Christ and building his kingdom by reaching the lost and developing disciples (to know Christ, grow in Christ, and show Christ to the world). God’s grace will provide all that is necessary for us to be effective in seeing this happen in our context. However, we have some needs that must be addressed in order for this good work to be made manifest. The good news is this—we have all of the money necessary to do all that God has called us to do in making this place a place where people can come to know Christ, grow in Christ, and show Christ to the world. All we must do is be faithful invest it to be used to these ends.

So What?

According to 2 Corinthians 9, Godly givers give and receive proportionally, give with integrity and cheer, and give for good. In many ways, the church in Corinth and the church today is a product of what it was willing to invest in the kingdom-building endeavor and these investments came by means of the faithful giving of its members. So, what might we do in response to a message like this? Malachi 3:10 might have an answer.

“’Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.’”

As you consider the investments you make for the kingdom of God (your time, talents, and/or treasure), test God. That’s right! (Don’t worry, the Bible gives permission.)  Test God and see how He will bless you and this church because of your godly gifts. 

When was the last time you prayed about what you give? Often giving becomes so familiar that we do not give it a second thought. Maybe today we ought to revisit this in our lives and make any changes necessary according to the Spirit’s leading in our lives. Maybe this means beginning to tithe. Maybe for you this means giving an offering (beyond a tithe). Perhaps, if you have been already been giving an offering, this means considering giving even more. When we ask the question “Who are we?” may we be able to say that we are investors in what God is doing in his church for the glory of God and the advancement of his kingdom.

Monday, September 7, 2020

WHO ARE WE? We are Exposed by What We Do- Galatians 6:7-10

 

Over the last several weeks we have been seeking to understand how the Bible defines the church and her role in this world. So far in our “Who are We?” series we have learned that we are what we confess (in Romans 10:9-10) and we are greater than the sum of our parts (1 Corinthians 12:12-26). Today we are going to continue answering the question “Who are We?” by taking a look at four statements Paul makes in Galatians 6:7-10 that will ultimately reveal that, at least in part, the church is defined by what it does. The proof, as they say is in the pudding or the walk speaks more than the talk. Therefore, let us crack open this important passage and learn what it is the church ought to be doing and in what direction it ought to be focusing its activity.



I. STATEMENT #1: PROVERB-6:7

The church in Galatia was established in Asia Minor during Paul’s time in the region (see Acts 13-14). The letter to the church of Galatia is one of the first letters Paul ever wrote and it is an important letter at that. Upon his departure from the region, false teachers infiltrated the area preaching a different gospel that insisted on keeping the Law of Moses as a means of salvation. Paul quickly corrects this at the beginning of this letter and then, after reestablishing accurate Christian theology, he provides some more practical things to keep in mind as they persevered in this part of the world for God’s glory. One of the things that is included in this lattermost discussion is a presentation on what the church (and those in it) ought to DO. He introduces his instructions on the church’s activity with a proverb in 6:7 that starts with a sobering reminder—“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked,..” (6:7b).

While some in the church in Galatia may have been able to fool their fellow brothers and sisters or those in and around their community concerning what they were all about and to whom they belong, God is able to see the truth. He sees through all pretense and hears beyond the rhetoric to arrive at the core of who a person or a church is.

Psalm 147:5-“Great is our Lord and abundant in strength; His understanding is infinite.”

Hebrews 4:13-“And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do”

In this case, God knew the nature of his people in Galatia and what gave them away is what they did. After all, people are, in many ways, a product of what they do.

Paul intimates as much when he says, “for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap” (6:7c). This prediction is as old as the Garden of Eden, what you yield in the field is determined by what you plant in the ground. The function of the verb “sows” suggests ongoing and consistent activity in the life of the subject and in this case, the activity involves the investing/planting of a particular seed—different kinds of activities that have the potential of producing different results and shaping people in different ways.

As sports continue to return in various capacities you are beginning to hear a lot about something called “game shape” as in “is he/she in game shape?”To be in game shape means to be in optimum physical condition to perform a specific role in the team. As you can imagine, with COVID-19, postponed seasons, lack of access to training facilities/gyms, and extended time at home, many analysts are wondering if many of the players are physically prepared for the emerging seasons. There is a big difference between an in-season body (both in look, capacity, and endurance) and an off-season body. Why? Because when the season is not on, many relax a bit, and, as a result, they change. When it comes time for training camp or scrimmages, that same body changes again. We are in many ways a product of what we do. In this analogy “sowing” may take the form of regular trips to the gym and “reaping” is being able to lift a certain amount of weight or last so many minutes in a game. However, the same applies spiritually to what people do in the context of the church. What we do (or not do) shapes who we are.

Notice, in this context, it is not what we say, but what we do that gives us away to God. A church and her people can say all they want, but who they really are is ultimately given away by what they do.

II. STATEMENT #2: CONTRAST-6:8

While many might be led to believe that, spiritually speaking, one can become any number of things based on what they do, Paul simplifies things down to their essence by drawing a stark contrast between two general directions one might take with their behaviors/investments. The first way that one might direct/focus their activity is toward the flesh—“For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption” (6:8a). Paul wanted the church to remember that investments limited to or preoccupied with the body’s impulses/cravings/desires were ultimately futile because our bodies, in and of themselves, are limited, fallen, and degenerating. The words “his own” in “for the one who sows to his own flesh” also adds the connotation of self-centeredness. Given these insights, one might paraphrase the first part of verse 8 as “energies and activities that solely focus on oneself to the neglect of others and are more concerned about immediate cravings than they are about lasting values lead to corruption.” In fact, the word used here for “corruption” might also be translated “decay.” Yikes! If the church in Galatia (or if those in the church today) feel a sense of decay, maybe they are sowing in the wrong direction (in a selfish or self-satisfying direction). If, in part, you are what you do and you are corrupt and decaying, you might want to change your activities.

Thankfully, there is another option (ultimately the only other option)—“but [note the contrasting conjunction here], the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (6:8b). You can invest in things limited to yourself and your desires or in the things of God and his desires. The former yields death and corruption, the latter yields eternal life! Wow! Why the difference? Because when we direct our energies and activities toward the Spirit of God we are investing in something that is not limited by flesh and or stained by sin. As a result, these things are not encumbered by decay and will last into eternity. How awesome is that! What Paul says here is consistent with what Jesus said in his ministry.

Matthew 6:19-21-“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

So what does it mean to “sow in the Spirit” or to invest/act in ways that are in keeping with the Spirit? For starters, one must know who the Spirit is. He is the Holy Spirit of God that indwells each believer. It is he who draws, convicts, converts, equips, and grows us more into the likeness of Jesus Christ. In fact, the Holy Spirit has a singular preoccupation—Jesus Christ. Anything that magnifies, draws attention to, celebrates, or explains the person, work and word of Jesus Christ is a Spirit-filled investment. Activities focused in this direction are used of God to bring people from death to eternal life. Therefore, such activities ought to be the focus of God’s church. If we are what we do, may we be found as sowers who invest in what the Spirit of God is doing.

III. STATEMENT #3: ENCOURAGEMENT-6:9

Because activities focused in this direction suffer eternal implications, Paul offers the following encouragement—“Let us not lose heard in doing good” (i.e. the kind of good in the latter part of verse 8). The verb means “do not grow weary” or “do not be discouraged” or even “do not lose enthusiasm.” The present tense also suggests a pattern of discouragement—a lingering funk if you will—that God’s people ought not allow themselves to slip into (i.e. “do not be slipping into patterns of discouragement”).

Friends, this is an easy thing to retreat to in today’s world. In our age of mass media, news alerts, the pandemic, economic crisis, social unrest, pressure/persecution, personal issues, social distancing, anxiety, and loneliness, the broken world has proven most recently to be a petri dish in which the bacteria of discouragement, despair, and depression thrive. These spiritual microbes can quench the motivation, drive, and willingness of even the most seasoned believer as they seek to “do good” in Jesus’ name. Lately you may have even quietly wondered to yourself, “What’s the point?” or “It is all going to change anyway.” Friends the same encouragement Paul gives to the church in Galatia echoes for us today “DO NOT LOSE HEART!” The work we have been tasked with by God is too important and eternity is in the balance! If God’s people give up doing the kind of good in the world that is used of God to bring people to eternal life, who will? Things may look different—do good. Things may be a bit more uncomfortable—do good. I may not get my way—do good. Where are the results?—do good. But I don’t feel like it—do good. After all, as we are learning, we are, in part, a product of what we do as God’s people.

To help spur on the church to perseverance Paul offers the following promise: “for in due time we will reap” (6:9b). What a promise! Labor in the Spirit for those things that direct people to Christ will reap a harvest! However, if you are like me, your next quest is “When?”

I must admit to you that as a result-oriented person waiting around for results or a lingering lack of perceived results from ongoing labor in any endeavor, let alone the gospel/kingdom-building endeavor, is troubling. I often find myself wondering “Where is the harvest?” However, while God does promise a lasting harvest for those who are investing in the Spirit, he does not say when that will come or even if we will get to see it this side of heaven. All Paul offers concerning a timetable for this harvest is “in due time.” He could have said “in God’s time.” The church may not always be privy to God’s time, but it ought to trust that whenever it is, it is perfect.

Even still, the reality of a coming harvest, regardless of when it may be seen, ought to inspire ongoing investment in the Spirit in the life of the Church among its many members. The church ought not labor in the service of the Lord as those who do not know the outcome. The outcome is sure.

However, Paul does offer one condition –“If we do not grow weary” (6:9c). The verbiage means “to give up” or “give out.” Paul doesn’t want the church body (or any member therein) to miss out on the opportunity of being a part of what God is doing in yielding the harvest because they give up in the field and head home too early. I like what Jimmy Draper shares at the very end of his book Don’t Quit Before You Finish:

“In all likelihood, there will be hours of despair and days of depression. There will be nights of unnoticed and tedious work and weeks of exhausting effort. There will be months of misunderstandings and ever years of criticism, but we must not quit. The devil will tempt us with greed and lust and laziness. He will send discouragement our way and a thousand other temptations, but we must not quit. We are to be found faithful, no matter what. In doing so, we provide the hope of Christ to the downtrodden and greedy; to the lustful and immoral; to the violent and addicted; and to all who live in our depraved and deprived world. Our hope is their only hope—faith in Christ Jesus. And our call is to stay the course for Christ.”

Do not grow weary church in your work done in and for the Spirit. The stakes are too high and the harvest is coming! If we are what we do, may we be found faithful as we work in the fields that are white for harvest.

IV. STATEMENT #4: APPLICATION-6:10

The fourth and final statement comes in the form of an application. Paul adds some urgency to what he has shared when he describes when to apply this—“So then, while we have opportunity” (6:10a). This suggests at least two things. First, the opportunities to be about the work of the Spirit that God uses to bring about transformation in the lives of others toward eternal life are limited. When Jesus returns at the end (and no one knows exactly when that may be), such planting, sowing, investing, will come to an end. Second, “while we have opportunity” assumes that the church (and the people therein) have opportunities to do what they are called to do according to this passage. Some in Galatia may have challenged this, but opportunities to make spiritual investments abound (then and now). The opportunities for you to do something of eternal significance in the lives of those around you are just as prevalent today as they were in Paul’s day.

Therefore, Paul says, “Let us do good to all people” (6:10a). There were and are plenty of opportunities to do good to all people and while she has opportunity, the church ought to take advantage of as many of these opportunities as possible. In fact, it is for this reason that Christ has saved the church, called the church, and commissioned the church according to Ephesians 2:10:“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them”?

While certainly “doing good” should be extended to all people, Paul adds an emphasis on the end of verse 10—“and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (6:10c). Why might Paul have added this? Is it perhaps, because there were skirmishes in the church of Galatia that existed in part because brothers and sisters were taking each other for granted? Or, perhaps is it because, as has already been intimated earlier, there is a strong undertow that seeks to pull people away from the task the church has been given in this difficult world? I imagine it is a little of both and I cannot help but appreciate just how poignantly this emphasis applies today.

Isn’t it often the case that, if we are not careful, we can take for granted those we most love or those with whom we are most familiar? It is a strange phenomenon, but very real, that the more familiar something/someone is, typically the less attention we give to actively engaging and/or investing in that thing or person (believing, perhaps that with it or him/her, we’re good and no more work needs to be done). This couldn’t be more incorrect and Paul cautions against this in the context of the church. Our brothers and sisters in Christ ought not receive the leftovers of our affections or attention. Instead, they are, for many reasons, those who might need such the most.  

So What?

If we are what we do, may we be those who understand that what we do often says more about us than what we say. May we be those who choose to invest in spiritual things that are greater than ourselves and suffer eternal implications. May we be those who never give up, regardless of how long the harvest takes or what comes against us in the sowing process. And may we be those who apply this passage by doing good to those both inside and outside the faith. It is my hope and prayer that this church and her people prove what they claim in the actions they take and that those actions demonstrate that we are people concerned with spiritual things and the mission at hand. What are you doing? What activities populate your schedule/routine? What might this say about who you are today?

Monday, August 31, 2020

WHO ARE WE? We are Greater than the Sum of our Parts- 1 Cor. 12:12-26

 

How many of you have ever belonged to a team? Maybe it was a sports team, theatre troop, marching band, board of directors, or some non-profit organization. Teams are able to accomplish more together than its individual members could do alone. In fact, this phenomenon is why teams continue to exist in so many capacities. There seems to be something instinctual, something engrained in us as human beings, that contributes to the formation and use of teams/groups/communities, etc. One of the teams that gets  underappreciated in today’s world is the church. That is right, the church! If you are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, you are a member of a compelling team. The Bible even promises that the church will be victorious over all its foes in the end! How exciting is that!




As we continue to ask and answer the important question, “Who are We?” we are going to look at the church as described in 1 Corinthians 12:12-26. In this text we will come to learn that the church of God is greater than the sum of its individual parts.  This we will do by paying close attention to four observations Paul makes about the church in this important text--observations that will help us appreciate the unity, diversity, dignity and care of God’s winning team—the Church.

I. The Unity of the Body-12:12-13

The church of Corinth was a church that suffered a host of issues (sexual scandal, division, heresy, etc.). YIKES! In fact, what we call 1 Corinthians is actually the second letter that Paul wrote to the church (of four—see 1 Cor. 5:9-11 and 2 Cor. 2:3-4; 7:8). Needless to say, this church needed a lot of correction and a lot of instruction. After re-establishing adequate theology as a foundation for his presentation early in 1 Corinthians, Paul provides healthy protocols so that this church can go about her business in an orderly and God-glorifying way. Such instructions were necessary as literally everything the church said and did was becoming an issue leading to discord. After addressing Christian order and the Lord’s Supper, Paul addresses the use of spiritual gifts (a discussion that spans chapters 12-14).  Yes, even the exercise of people’s spiritual gifts—a function of the church that ought to have built unity and encouragement—was a sore subject for this group of believers.

To correct this malady, Paul makes a case for unity in verses 12-13. Though many were uniquely gifted and employing their gifts in varying directions, the church needed to be reminded that they were still ONE body. He begins in verse 12, “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ,…”. The example Paul provides for the unity of the church body is the unity of Christ himself who, although an individual member of a Triune God, is still one God in Trinity. Just as there is unity and diversity in the context of the Trinity (Father, Son, and Spirit) so too ought there be unity and diversity in Triune God’s people—i.e. the church.

This unity amid such diversity in the context of the church is nothing short of a miracle. In fact, it is not something that the members of the church can create or maintain themselves. Instead, such unity comes by means of the Holy Spirit—“For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit,…” (12:13). The baptism and drinking language employed here is meant metaphorically and speaks of the miracle of conversion. Once people make a confession of Jesus as Lord based on compelling belief in Christ’s person and work (as we discussed last week in Romans 10:9-10), they are immediately baptized in the Spirit and from that moment on, the Spirit of God dwells within them.

Acts 2:38-“And Peter said, ‘Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’”

John 3:5-“Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.’”

Every single born-again member of God’s church has been buried with Christ in baptism and raised to walk in newness of life in the Spirit of God and as such has the living Spirit of God dwelling in them. Earlier in 1 Corinthians Paul even says “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?” (1 Corinthians 6:19).

The illustration of Christ and the description of the Spirit’s miraculous work in the lives of believers shows that the church ought to be radically unified. It is a reflection of the unity in the Trinity and a product of the unifying Spirit of God. Such unity is supernaturally wrought by God and demonstrates that the body of Christ is greater than the sum of its individual parts. Like the DNA embedded in each and every cell in your physical body, our salvation in Christ and regeneration by the Spirit makes us spiritually united, sharing the same spiritual DNA, with everyone in the body of Christ.

II. The Diversity of the Body-12:14-17

All this being said, the individual members of the church are not the same (they are not clones). Paul continues in his description of the Church with a discussion on her diversity—“For the body is not one member, but many…” (12:14). After all, a physical body, by its very definition, is “the physical structure of a person or an animal, including the bones, flesh, and organs” or “any mass or collection of material(s).” While all the cells in your body share the same DNA, there are different expressions of that DNA that produce different cells in different tissues, organs, and systems that serve different functions. The same is true in the body of Christ. Though we all share the same spiritual DNA because we were all born again by the power of the same Spirit, the expression of our spiritual DNA manifests in different ways to serve different functions in the life of the church.

Such diversity makes sense given the example the Paul cites in verses 15-16—“If the foot says, ‘Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,’ it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. And if the ear says, ‘Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,’ it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body…”. Neither the foot nor the hand nor the ear nor the eye is any more/less a part of the body than the other. Each and every “member” is connected, serving to function, and genetically similar to the body to which it is connected. Such unity and diversity doesn’t just make sense, it is essential that it be this way.

For, as Paul says, “If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?...” (12:17). For a body to function properly, each and every individual/unique member ought to be serving its special function well—hearing, seeing, carrying, breathing, pumping, regulating, thinking, moving, supporting, etc. An eye is an incredible piece of equipment; but it is not body. It is a body part. An ear is a wonderful gift, but again, it is not a body. It is merely a body part. Both an ear and an eye are worthless if disconnected or at odds with the rest of the body! Similarly, within the context of the church, no one member or group of members (no matter how talented/gifted/important/obvious, etc.) is, by itself, a body. Each is merely a body part and as such ought to realize itsunique giftedness and function only in the context of the greater whole so that the entire body can perform well for the glory of God.

III. The Dignity of the Body-12:18-24a

This renders every body part, no matter how small or unglamorous, wrought with special dignity. After all, “God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body just as he desired…” (12:18). Though we tend to appreciate the concept of the sovereignty of God as it pertains to global issues, salvation, and the like, how many of us can say that they have recently considered that the role they play in the life of the church is also ordained of God? The functions, gifts, and unique capabilities that we bring to bear in the life of the church are just as much God-appointed as anything else to which we give God credit. As such, every service rendered to the church, no matter how small or inconspicuous, is wrought with special dignity. Everyone from the volunteers who help run an event behind the scenes, to the selfless people who give time to update the website, to the childcare workers who invest meaningfully in the lives of our youngest, to the prayer warriors who intercede in special ways for our church and her leadership, to those who count the money or build the budget, are just as much a product of God’s unique choosing and gifting as the small group leaders, preacher, musicians, deacons, committee chairpersons, etc. Every member of every church carries with himself or herself the dignity that comes with God’s choosing him/her for the role in which he/she serves.

Not only is there special dignity granted to each member because of God’s choosing them to serve in a particular function, but there is dignity granted because of their unity to the rest of the body. Paul comments, “If they were all one member, where would the body be? But now there are many members but one body..” (12:19-20). Each body part, because of its connection to the greater whole and because of the miraculous DNA it houses in every one of its cells, is a wonder to behold and worthy of dignity. This is true in our bodies as well as in the body of Christ (and even more so with the latter). Part of the dignity we carry as individual believers comes from our connection to something bigger and more sophisticated than ourselves—the church. You and I are part of something greater than we could ever be on our own. Think of it, as great as a brain is for thinking or a tongue is for speaking or a hand is for writing, by itself, severed from the rest of the body to which it belongs, it would be a frightening thing to behold, not an asset. This is the point that Paul makes for the self-important in his original audience: individuals are not more important than the body to which they belong.

Not only do members of the body have dignity because of their special appointment (“God has placed each member…”-12:18) and because of their connection to the greater whole (“there are many members but one body”-12:19-20), they also have dignity because of their necessity—“And the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’; or again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’…” (12:21). What good would an eye be to see things the body needs with no way of picking things up? What good would it be to know where to go and have no way of getting there? Paul is hoping that the church in Corinth would avoid the pitfalls of assigning special significance and/or preference for one element of the body to the neglect of the others. ALL members of the body that God has brought together are essential in one way or another to do what God desires of the church. In our world where some are considered more essential than others and given special permissions to act in certain ways, God’s people can always count on being essential workers in the context of church life and mission. (1 Cor. 12) Paul’s message to the members of the church in Corinth extends to church members today: You are needed! You are Valued!

Given God’s leading, the connection each member has to the greater body, and the necessity of every member to the proper function of the whole, the apostle concludes “…it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, whereas our more presentable members have no need of it…” (12:22-24a). While the world would seek to subdivide and categorize the population in any number of ways, in the Body of Christ there is unique dignity for all members, regardless of how big or obvious your role may be.

IV. The Care of the Body-12:24b-26

This ushers Paul to his final observation of the body in verses 24-26—the care of the body. Members of the body ought to care about whole body because “God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked” (12:24b). Those the world has discarded, marginalized, written off, or undermined find a special place in the body of Christ upon confessing Jesus as Lord and believing in what he accomplished in redemption. This is consistent with what Paul has already shared in this particular letter: “but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong,” (1 Cor. 1:27).

Because God has so called, connected, and rendered necessary every member of the body of Christ, every member ought to care a great deal for all the others great and small.

This is important, as Paul says, “So that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another” (12:25). Humility is the glue that holds a church body together. Paul knew that a lack of consideration for others would quickly lead to discord (and perhaps this was already the case in Corinth). Therefore, he invites the church to have special regard for each of its members. The same sentiment is shared by Paul in Romans 12:3—“For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”

When the members of the body care for each other appropriately and are united in that care, something amazing happens—they share both the burden of tribulation and the blessing of triumph—“and if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it,…” (12:26). A group in unity rejoices with those who rejoice and weeps with those who weep. After all, does not an infection in one part of our physical body affect the general health of that same body? Does not a therapy applied to one part of a physical body generate wellness for the whole? Similarly, church members united in faith and serving in various capacities know that they are not alone in either the valleys or mountaintops of their spiritual walk. They celebrate together in the triumphs they share and rally together in response to the tribulations they traverse. This is what Paul hoped to see in Corinth and what God wants to see in his church today.

So What?

The observations that Paul makes in this passage illustrate that the church—that is the body of Christ made up of those who confess Jesus as Lord and believe in the completed work of redemption—is greater than the sum total of its individual parts. In other words, the question concerning who we are that we are raising in this series can be answered, at least per our passage today, with the following: we are a people in Christ brought together by the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit united as one body of unique and specially-equipped individuals who together make up the church and serve in various capacities, partnering together through thick and thin for the glory of God.  What a special thing of which to be a part. May we appreciate anew what God has created, brought together, equipped, supplied, and sent! And may we also recognize, as Paul hoped the church at Corinth would, that what we are together in the context of the church is greater than what any one of us could be by ourselves. May we thank God for bringing us together, celebrate the diverse gifts that are represented in and among our members (no matter how conspicuous), learn to value every member of the church (and their contribution) no matter how great or small, and care for her accordingly so as to stave off division and discord. May we also recognize that without the body of Christ, no matter how impressive we might be in and of ourselves, we are no better than a severed limb in God’s service.

Not yet a part of the body of Christ? Not yet a member of the church? We pray you will give special consideration to what you may be missing without a relationship with God and membership in his family. If we can answer any questions about how that can happen or pray for you to that end, please do not hesitate to reach out.

Monday, August 24, 2020

WHO ARE WE? You Are What You Confess- Rom. 10:1-10

 

There are many important questions that people confront in life—Will she say “yes”? Does this make me look fat? What is the meaning of life? What are women thinking/what are men thinking? How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop? What is next for me? What if I did this differently? Or, perhaps most precarious—where do you want to go for dinner? J While we may not take the time to answer some of these questions in this setting, we are, over the next several weeks, going to be asking and answering a very important question—Who are we? What is our identity and role as the church? This questions is an important thing to revisit from time to time, especially in a world that would cause us to doubt/question what we are, what we believe, and how we are supposed to exercise our faith. Thankfully, we do not have to come up with an answer to this important consideration ourselves. The Bible goes out of its way to bring clarity and definition to and for God’s people. Today we are going to begin answering this inquiry—who are we?—by looking at what the apostle Paul says in Romans 10:1-10. In this passage we will learn that, at least in part, we are what we confess.


Paul answers a lot of questions in Romans. Who is guilty and needs saving? How effective is the law? Who are God’s people? What is grace? Etc. However, in chapter 10, Paul answers what many in his original audience were wondering after hearing chapters 1-9: “How are people saved?” Paul’s presentation on means and method of salvation is given by means of four teachings in verses 1-10. These teachings will, once again, reveal that the church is, in many ways, a product of what it confesses/believes.

a) TEACHING #1: The Misconception of Salvation-10:1-3

Paul begins chapter 10 by reminding his audience what his entire ministry is all about—“Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation” (10:1). Paul leaves no doubt here that he desperately longed for his audience (especially the Jews in his audience) to be saved. Unfortunately, many were not being saved. However, this did not quench Paul’s desire to share and explain the gospel message to those who desperately needed it.  

But this begs a question. Why were so many of Paul’s compatriots in the dark concerning how to relate to God? How had this happened? An account of their failure is provided in verses 2-3. First, many had all the zeal they needed, they just weren’t directing that zeal in the right direction—“for I testify about them, that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge” (10:2). Throughout the New Testament, the idea of zeal is praised. The same is true here. However, zeal can only take one so far, especially if it is misplaced.  Andy Stanley is famous for having said, “Your direction, not your intention, determines your destination.” Paul reiterates here that the Jews had all the right intentions, they were just heading in the wrong direction.

There was no question that the Jewish people were zealous for God, unfortunately, their zeal was not guided by “knowledge.”  Attitude was great, information was lacking. They may have proven spiritual, the problem was, they were also ignorant. They were confessing something, but their confession was incorrect. What “knowledge” were they missing? What did they have wrong? 

Paul provides an answer in verse 3—“for not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God” (10:3). In other words the Jews were misinterpreting God’s plan for providing righteousness. As a result, they failed to recognize the righteousness that comes from God. (Mounce, 207). To be saved, one must be made righteous. This righteousness has to be granted and cannot be earned. This is something that the Jews did not seem to understand. However, failure to understand was not due to a lack of information or revelation. The verb for “not knowing” means to “ignore” as much as it does to “fail to understand.” The Jews had ignored the true message and meaning of the Old Testament law (which revealed that none are righteous) and failed to listen to the prophets (which anticipated the only one who could bestow righteousness). Because they misinterpreted this data and/or ignored it altogether, they did not understand what salvation was all about—God’s righteousness bestowed by His Son Jesus.

As a result, they “sought to establish their own,” righteousness. Paul has already pointed this out in the previous chapter. In chapter 9, Paul admitted that so many of his fellow Jews were not entering into a relationship with God because they were trading grace for performance and relying on their own patriarchy (family heritage and traditions) rather than Christ. The consequence—they replaced the standard of God’s righteousness with their own—“they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God” (10:3). Instead of confessing that they needed saving, they were saying, “I’m fine, I can save myself.”

b) TEACHING #2: The Foundation of Salvation-10:4

Taking salvation into one’s own hands and believing that one can perform their way to personal righteousness is misplaced for, as Paul reveals next, Christ’s righteousness, not man’s, is the foundation for salvation—“For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (10:4). In other words, the unreachable standard of God’s righteousness has been achieved, not by us, but by Christ. Jesus’ achievement makes righteousness available for all who believe in him. One commentator has translated this important verse this way: “For Christ means the end of the struggle for righteousness-by-the-Law for everyone who believes in him.”

How did Christ achieve this? The answer is found in 2 Corinthians 5:21.

2 Corinthians 5:21-“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

Christ, who was sinless (a.k.a. completely righteous), took on mankind’s sin (unrighteousness) so that by faith “we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (or exactly what we need to be in order to enter into a relationship with God). Christ has accomplished what man could—the righteousness of God.

A. M. Toplady: “Nothing in my hand I bring; simply to the cross I cling.”

”The only thing God requires of people is that they not persist in trying to earn what they can only receive as a totally free gift” (Mounce, 208).

c) TEACHING #3: The Clarification of Salvation-10:5-8

After laying this foundation before his audience (again), Paul juxtaposes two brands of righteousness (misplaced self-righteousness and God’s true righteousness) to further illustrate his point. Self-righteousness has its origin in the law, “For Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on the law shall live by that righteousness” (10:5).  What Paul quotes Leviticus 18:5 (see also Gal. 3:12) to say that if someone were to perfectly adhere to all that the law demands, it would, in fact, lead to life. However, NO ONE has nor ever will be able to perform on that level. Again “there is none righteous, not even one” (Rom. 3:10).

God’s righteousness, on the other hand, is “based on faith” (10:6; see also 9:30). Righteousness coming through faith is reiterated in Ephesians 2:8-9-“for by grace are you saved through faith and not by yourselves, it is a gift, not of works lest any man should boast.”  This kind of faith does not demand performance of any kind for effectiveness. This is what Paul means when he says that it “does not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down)” (10:6). Here, Paul interprets verses from Deuteronomy through the lens of Jesus coming to earth, dying on the cross, rising from the grave, and ascending into heave. “In Deuteronomy, Moses was telling the people that they did not have to climb up to heaven or cross the sea (in their own strength) to discover the will of God. Paul applied the passage to the availability of the message of salvation” (10:6).” Just as people couldn’t bridge the gap between themselves and God in the Old Testament, neither can they in the New Testament. God is the primary mover in the program of salvation and unless he condescends to reach us, we would be forever lost.

Not only do people not need to “storm the citadel of heaven,” in their own power to reach God, neither do they need to invade “the kingdom of the dead” (Hunter, Romans, 95)—“…or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead)…” (10:7). Instead, Christ has done all of this! It is He who has come down out of heaven to bring grace to the sinner by means of His incarnation (coming to earth). It is He who has conquered sin and death (through the cross) and has been brought back up from the dead to grant righteousness and salvation (in the resurrection). “Christ the Saviour is here, incarnate and risen” (Hunter, Romans, 95).

As good as this news is, what makes it even better is it has been revealed and is near—“”The Word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching…“ (10:8). Paul is, at present, preaching this gospel message and many along with him have spread the word across the known world. In fact, when Paul says “in your mouth and in your heart” he is hoping that some in his audience have accepted and embraced the information given and, as a result, could echo the truth back to him and others.

This reference to the mouth and heart tees up the final element of Paul’s teaching concerning salvation nicely.

d) TEACHING #4: The Application of Salvation-10:9-10

As Paul elucidates the application of salvation, he indicates that there are two related steps—First, “confess with your mouth, Jesus as Lord” (10:9a). “Confession” involves the expression of one’s allegiance to a proposition or person. Here, the content of the proposition being endorsed is “Jesus is Lord.” Though this is a short phrase, it is heavy with salvific implications. “Jesus is Lord” betrays at least two things when said in the context of confessing salvation. First, claiming “Jesus is Lord” is claiming that Jesus is God made flesh. “Lord” (kurioV) is the New Testament and Greek equivalent of the divine name of God used in the Old Testament (yhwh). The implications of this are immense as such a claim necessarily signals belief in Jesus’ unlimited, universal, and absolute authority/equality with God. Second, “Jesus is Lord” indicates subservience to Jesus in large part because of His amazing power and authority as God. “Those who come to Christ by faith are acknowledging that they have placed themselves entirely and with no reservation under his authority to carry out without hesitation whatever he may choose for them to do” (Mounce, 209). Jesus, in essence, is master over whoever confesses these words in faith.

The second step involved in the application of salvation, very much related to the first mentioned, is “believing in your heart that God raised Him from the dead” (10:9b). Though Paul only mentions one element of Christ’s redemptive work here—the resurrection—he has the entirety of Jesus’ work in mind. We know this because of how Paul speaks about the resurrection in other places.

1 Corinthians 15:14, 17-“…and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain,…And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins,”

These verses are offered after Paul defined the contents of his “preaching” and the proper elements of saving faith earlier in the chapter.

1 Corinthians 15:1, 3b-4-“Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received in which also you stand,…that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day, according to the Scriptures.”

In 1 Corinthians 15 we have a clear case of what is called synecdoche—a literary device in which part of something, sometimes the most important part of something, is used as shorthand for the whole. Here, Paul uses the resurrection to allude to Jesus’ entire program of salvation from start to finish. Therefore, “believing in your heart that God raised Him from the dead” is shorthand for believing in everything that Jesus did to accomplish salvation on one’s behalf. In fact, it logically follows that if you believe that God raised Jesus from the dead, you would necessarily believe that Jesus had died. Even further, if one believes that Jesus died, it would naturally follow that one believe that he had been sent in the flesh in the first place. 

Those who confess “Jesus is Lord” and trust in His completed work of redemption “will be saved” (10:9b).

Why? What is significant about these steps? Paul says “For with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness” (10:10a). Belief in something implies complete trust and reliance in the truths involved. Contrary to where many were placing their belief in Paul’s day—themselves, the law, other gods, etc.—those who place their complete trust in and reliance upon Christ’s completed work will received what He alone is capable of giving (God’s righteousness). This righteousness is what God demands for relationship with Him.

Complementary to saving belief is saving confession—“and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation” (10:10b). The Bible has much to say about the tongue and the mouth. After all, God spoke the world and everything in it into existence with his voice (Gen. 1). Jesus is called the Word of God and the Word become flesh (John 1). These references indicate a creative power behind speech. Speech, in other words is capable of doing things. However, in the hands of man, the tongue can prove to be a “fire” (James 3:6) and “restless evil full of deadly poison” (James 3:9) proving that although “the tongue is a small part of the body,… it boasts of great things” (James 3:5). The Bible also teaches that out of the heart, the mouth speaks. Applied here, any mouth that confesses “Jesus is Lord” indicates a heart that has fully trust in Christ’s work for salvation.

What we have in these final two verses (9-10) is an example of a chiasm (and A-B-B-A presentation) in which both belief in Christ’s completed work and confession of His corresponding Lordship is celebrated. Both are necessary for salvation to take place in the life of the believer.

So What?

In this passage Paul has answered a very important question—perhaps the most important question—“How are people saved?” His answer is twofold—(1) confessing that Jesus is Lord of your life because of one’s (2) trust in His completed work of redemption on your behalf. Ultimately, one must believe and confess who Jesus is and what He has done in order to receive the righteousness that only he can provide to save. We cannot earn this righteousness ourselves and we cannot find this righteousness anywhere else.

Applied to this series, “Who are we?” We are what we confess—we are the saved people of God who confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord and believe in our heart that God has raised Christ from the dead. This is of first importance in providing definition to our identity as God’s people here at Crystal Spring Baptist Church.

Have you made such a confession in your life? Is Jesus your Lord?...Do you trust in all that He has accomplished on your behalf for meaningful life both now and on into eternity? Or, are you the lord of your life? Do you trust yourself to pull yourself through to the end? As Paul reveals, this misplaced, ill-informed, ignorant. Such a confession will fail every time. My desire and the desire of this church is that you would not just have zeal for God or spiritual matters, but that this zeal would be accompanied by knowledge of Christ and what He has done to make it possible for you to enter into a relationship with God and be saved. You are, in part, what you confess. If you confess Christ, Paul teaches that you are saved. Praise the Lord!