Imitate These Things Not Those

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Not everything in church culture is good for us. How can we tell the difference between authentic discipleship and unholy peer pressure?

Katie had a solid Christian pedigree. She’d grown up in the church, committed her life to Jesus at youth camp, attended a Christian college, and married Jeff, her college sweetheart, immediately after graduation. At the church they’d begun attending, the couple served as Sunday school teachers. Katie also made time in her busy schedule to volunteer with a ministry serving the homeless in their new community. Yet after nearly three years at their church, Katie told me she wondered if she’d ever fit in. “I’m still treated as an outsider by the other women, and it’s not because I’m a relative newcomer. It’s because I work full-time outside the home.” She explained that almost all the other women her age in the congregation were stay-at-home moms who homeschooled their children, and a few older women focused most of their attention on nurturing this group. Besides meeting during the day for Bible studies on how to be better wives and mothers, they often arranged informal play dates and field trips. Katie’s work schedule meant she and her young son couldn’t join them. But it wasn’t the lack of invitations from the other women that troubled her.

After nearly three years at their church, Katie told me she wondered if she’d ever fit in.

“When we first came to the church, Jeff and I knew that my job put me in the minority among the stay-at-home moms, but the pastor assured us it shouldn’t matter, as we were all seeking Jesus together. We appreciated his emphasis on discipleship. As the years have passed, however, I’m noticing that most of the women seem to be copying each other in terms of lifestyle, convictions, and calling. It feels more like a clique than a church,” Katie said sadly. She and Jeff were considering leaving the congregation.

Scripture portrays discipleship as the way in which a mature believer lives out faith in the everyday and ongoing companionship of a younger student. This maturity references age, experience, and faithfulness. It’s a description of the ongoing process of spiritual growth, not the arrival at some state of spiritual perfection (Deut. 6:4-9). The late Dallas Willard called this whole-life learning model apprenticeship, a word that is helpful in translating an ancient concept into our modern context.

Like my friend Katie, I’ve found that sometimes a Christianized form of peer pressure takes the place of true apprenticeship. If your church culture implies that all real believers end up looking, acting, voting, or talking the same, pay close attention. It’s possible you’re seeing peer pressure at work. And though it’s simply a more sophisticated version of what you may have experienced in middle school, the social push to conform to a group’s standards can be just as powerful. Some examples:

  • We tell new believers (or inquirers) that they need to learn to “act like a Christian” in order to fit in at church.
  • We subtly (or not so subtly) discourage young believers from pursuing careers in academia or the arts because those vocational paths are “too secular.”
  • We shun or shame people who, on a theological non-essential—such as politics—may not share the prevailing opinion of our congregation.

The challenge for the more mature in an apprenticeship relationship is to remember that learning happens in different ways at different stages of our spiritual development. There is a time and a season in our spiritual life for imitation. Just as young children parrot sounds and words as they’re learning to communicate for themselves, we learn how to walk with Jesus by patterning our lives after those who’ve gone before us. Imitation serves an instructional purpose.

Peer pressure has “fear of missing out” at its root, and not fitting into the group is viewed as a cardinal sin. If you sense everyone around you competing in an unspoken contest to conform to the group’s standards, it’s a pretty safe bet you’re noticing the effects of peer pressure. The imitation of godly women and men, on the other hand, teaches us essential patterns and practices while honoring individual calling and giftedness.

First-century rabbis would assess a potential apprentice via a long period of living and learning together: They would look for someone who had the capacity and desire to mold himself to be like his teacher. Author Doug Greenwold explained, “Throughout the Gospels, the phrase ‘follow me’ is a Jewish idiom used by the rabbis to mean, ‘Come and be with me as my disciple, and submit to my authoritative teaching.’” Jesus’ words “follow Me” mean far more than “join my team.” They are words that tell us He believes we will seek to pattern every aspect of our life after His.

However, His goal isn’t that we remain perpetual infants, repeating basic lessons over and over again as though we’re in an endlessly looping game of Simon Says. Instead, wanting us to move toward maturity, He empowers us to then apprentice others who will delight in imitating Him as we’re learning to do (Matt. 28:18-20). The writer of Hebrews expressed frustration with his readers’ seemingly plateaued spiritual growth: “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God” (Heb. 5:12).

We see this pattern in action in Paul’s counsel to the church at Corinth. He urges the young church to imitate him while learning to navigate their lives as immature followers of Jesus: “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). However, in the personal greetings he uses to conclude the first letter to the Corinthians—those words we tend to zip past because they seem like personal bits of housekeeping—we see how Paul celebrates the diversity of gifts and ministries among those who’ve been mature leaders among those believers.

He asks the Christians in Corinth to treat his protégé Timothy with respect, because though a different person than Paul, the younger man was carrying on a similar, complementary ministry to the apostle’s (1 Corinthians 16:10-11). Without denigrating Apollos, Paul noted that this co-laborer in Christ didn’t initially want to visit the church but then reconsidered—a recognition that Apollos was his own man, with his own mind and faith (1 Corinthians 16:12). Paul then offers a shout-out to Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus. Their ministry to him came in the form of practical financial assistance (1 Corinthians 16:15-18). Finally, he mentions mature church leaders Priscilla and Aquila, who led a congregation in their home, apprenticing young believers in the faith (1 Corinthians 16:19Acts 18:24-26).

The pattern of follow-the-leader was formalized in the early decades of the church. The Didache, a document that dates from perhaps as early as A.D. 100, is an example of an early catechism—a set of questions and answers new believers had to learn or memorize as part of their membership process in the local congregation. The Didache and eventually other forms of catechesis were Discipleship 101 for the early church, focusing on both the essential teachings of Jesus and the baseline practices of corporate confession, communion, and the authority structure God has ordained for life together. Young Christians learned to follow Jesus by following their leaders.

However, imitation should never result in uniformity. Musician Steve Taylor’s 1983 satirical song entitled “I Want to Be a Clone” named the fear driving Christian peer pressure: “They told me that I’d fall away / unless I followed what they say.” Aping the beliefs and behaviors of the influencers in their church may seem to promise a sort of spiritual insurance policy that will seal their salvation—or at least their place in the group. But a life shaped by a healthy fear of God will produce very different fruit than one shaped by fear of being excluded by the in-crowd. Fear of God offers us freedom. Fear of others enslaves.

A better “discipleship program” will not fix this problem, because it runs as deep in each one of us as our fear of being abandoned or left behind. That unexposed, un-discipled fear leaves us vulnerable to peer pressure whether we’re a young Christian or a seasoned leader. As my friend Katie and her husband assessed their experience at the church, they asked God first to reveal their own fears of being left out or forgotten, and then to confirm that they were being obedient in the ways their family was serving Him through work, parenting, and lifestyle decisions.

Jeff and Katie were asking good questions. Those questions led to them seeking the prayer and counsel of other mature believers—their pastor, a friend at church, and other friends in their social network, including my husband and me. The process clarified for them their own calling at this stage of their lives. It also helped them to better recognize the unhealthy peer-dependent dynamics among many of the young families at church. Instead of feeling excluded or judged by them, Katie told me she found new compassion for them. They decided to stay and brought their concerns to the pastor, who told them he was noticing the same issues as they were.

J. Oswald Sanders said, “No living thing comes to maturity instantaneously. In the attainment of intellectual maturity, there is no alternative to the student painfully working through the prescribed courses. Nor is it any different in the spiritual life. Growth toward spiritual maturity will of necessity involve moral effort, discipline, renunciation, and perseverance in pursuit of the goal. There are no shortcuts.”

Christian peer pressure is a counterproductive shortcut. And recognizing it for what it is becomes a powerful step in an apprentice’s journey toward maturity.

Illustrations by Jack Richardson

https://www.intouch.org/read/magazine/features/imitate-these-things-not-those

The Root of Idolatry

by John MacArthur, June 3, 2019

Idolatry is the product of rebellion, not confusion. While hearts and minds darkened by sin can’t find God on their own apart from His Word, the apostle Paul makes it clear that the root of idolatry is man’s rejection of creation’s testimony to its Creator.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. (Romans 1:18-23)

The sinner’s attempt to suppress the truth about God is foundational to all forms of idolatry and false religion. The unrepentant heart will subscribe to all sorts of farcical notions and obvious lies in the vain hope of shielding itself from the universe’s Creator and Judge.

Paul understood the unbelief that undergirded the plethora of deities in Athens. The closing words of his sermon on Mars’ Hill were a fatal shot at Athenian paganism, “Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man” (Acts 17:29). In other words, if God made us, God Himself must be greater than any man-made image. This is a critical point. It was as if Paul took one enormous philosophical sledgehammer and smashed all their idols. If God is really the sovereign, infinite being even the poets acknowledged He must be, we can’t blasphemously reduce Him to a statue, a shrine, or any other graven image.

And while our culture isn’t dominated by temples, idol worship, and polytheism the way the first-century world was, we are not immune to the threat of idolatry. John Calvin said, “The human mind is, so to speak, a perpetual forge of idols.” [1] Sinners still excel at erecting idols—today it simply takes place in individual hearts rather than the public square. It could be money, influence, career goals, athletic achievements, high-priced indulgences, or even another person—the vast galaxy of idols that rule in sinners’ hearts today likely dwarfs the gods of the ancient world.

Even Christians can at times succumb to the rebellious tendency to create false gods—or to simply redefine the God of the Bible. Every time the church attempts to define God on its own terms—contrary to His self-revelation in Scripture—it bands together with the idolaters of Mars’ Hill. That’s a particular danger today, when so many in the church want to round off the sharp edges of God’s attributes and reimagine Him as a kindly cosmic grandfather rather than a holy Judge. In that sense, there is very little difference between pretending God is not who He says He is, and worshiping the rocks and trees in a local park.

We need to understand that Paul’s blunt exchange with the philosophers of Athens is far more than a historical account from a distant land. It’s a timely warning about the futility of idolatry, and a call to repent of such foolishness while there is still time.

Paul’s sermon on Mars’ Hill comes to a climax with these urgent words of warning:

Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead. (Acts 17:30–31)

Paul’s direct approach with his unbelieving audience defies a lot of modern conventional wisdom regarding cross-cultural ministry. He didn’t pander to the false beliefs of his audience. He didn’t try to accommodate the Epicureans by promising them a wonderful and pleasure-filled life. And he didn’t attempt to win the Stoics by trying to make the gospel sound as much like their philosophy as possible. He called both groups and all other sinners present to repentance, referring to the golden age of Greek philosophy as “times of ignorance.”

The word “ignorance” comes from the same Greek root as “unknown” in verse twenty-three. And the word “overlooked” comes from a word that means “to not interfere.” It doesn’t mean God disregarded or was indifferent to sinful idolatry. It means He chose not to intervene in judgment by wiping Athens off the face of the earth.

As Paul told them, however, God has appointed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness. The agent of that judgment will be a Man whom He has ordained and given testimony to by raising Him from the dead. We know who that Man is, of course. It is Jesus Christ, to whom God has given all judgment (John 5:22).

But at this point Paul was interrupted, and he evidently never even got to name the name of Christ. “When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, ‘We shall hear you again concerning this.’ So Paul went out of their midst” (Acts 17:32–33). The Epicureans did not believe in a resurrection at all, while the Stoics believed in a spiritual resurrection but not the resurrection of the body. Perhaps stung by his call for repentance, they responded by collectively mocking Paul. In fact, as soon as he mentioned the resurrection, the skeptics began to scoff. Evidently some had heard enough to reject Paul’s message without even hearing him out. Others said they would hear more later. So Paul simply went out of their midst.

Not everyone doubted or delayed, however. “Some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them” (Acts 17:34). Enough of the truth had penetrated their hearts so that these people followed Paul to find out more. Obviously, Paul continued his sermon for those who wanted to hear, and some of them were converted. One of the converts was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus court. Another was a woman named Damaris. Since she is given no title, we can assume she was a common woman. So this sermon reached people at both ends of the social spectrum—philosophers and housewives, men and women, intellectuals and ordinary people. This little band of converts joined Paul and became the first Christians in Athens.

That seemingly meager harvest did not discourage Paul, nor did it provoke him to go back to Mars’ Hill and engage in a more culturally-sensitive discourse. As we’ll see next time, Paul had unshakable confidence in the unvarnished message of the gospel and God’s power at work through its faithful proclamation. As he would later write, the gospel “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).

(Adapted from Ashamed of the Gospel)

https://www.gty.org/library/blog/B190603

The Church is on the Move

Christianity is and always will be a mobile faith.
ED STETZER

The Church is on the Move

Often, we forget to consider the spread of Christianity across the globe from a geographical perspective. We read the New Testament with eyes and ears that are largely ignorant to the places Luke mentions in Acts or Paul writes about in the prison epistles.

Most Christians have heard of Jerusalem—the place where Jesus was crucified and risen. The geographical center of the Christian faith was clearly, early on, in and around Israel.

But while the Ancient Near East was the birthplace of our faith, it didn’t just stay there. By God’s grace, the gospel began to spread all around the world. We read about the Ethiopian eunuch who first heard the gospel message from Philip. Some disciples went to Asia Minor, Thomas goes as far as India, Paul tries to get to Spain, etc. Places like Cyprus, Caesarea, Damascus, Greece, Rome, and Carthage are mentioned throughout the book of Acts as Paul and his followers embark on four long missionary journeys.

All that to say, the gospel has been moving and spreading for centuries. The Holy Spirit has compelled believers everywhere to share the message of Christ crucified and risen in places both near and far. As demonstrated by Paul and Christ’s own disciples, this was to include continents and people groups far from the place where the Christian faith was first founded.

Despite this, Christianity has for centuries been associated with the West. Going back just a century ago, Pew Research found that “about two-thirds of the world’s Christians lived in Europe.” This, according to historical estimates by the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, is “where the bulk of Christians had been for a millennium.”

But today, these numbers have changed considerably. In 2010, almost a decade ago now, Pew Research found that only a quarter of all Christians live in Europe (roughly 26 percent).

Thankfully, what we’re seeing is not that Christianity is disappearing—instead, it’s spreading and shifting its geographical center.

In 1910, Europe and North America (the West) contained 80 percent of the world’s self-identified Christians. Today, it’s 40 percent and declining. Meanwhile in the 21st century, almost 24 percent of the world’s Christians live in Sub-Saharan Africa compared to less than 2 percent a hundred years earlier.

These changes shouldn’t surprise or alarm us for many reasons. The first of which is this: Christianity is and always will be a message on the move.

This isn’t the first time in the history of the faith that its geographical center has shifted and it likely will not be the last. For centuries, Europe was the center, but after the reformation and the spread of European missionaries and immigrants to the Americas, many would say that the center of density moved to North America.

Now we’re seeing a reengagement of the Southern Hemisphere in the practicing of the Christian faith. At this point, there will likely be more evangelicals in Brazil by 2040 than there are in the United States. I’ve stood on the beach at João Pessoa with 10,000 Brazilians who put their hands out and prayed that they would be a part of a mission for the faith to reach the rest of the world—Africa, Asia, and beyond.

Of course, North America was uniquely impactful on the condition of global Christianity as it currently stands today—few would dispute that. But, the presence of believers and vitality of churches in North America and Europe nonetheless continue to decline in comparison to their respective growth in the Southern Hemisphere.

For those of us living in the West, we must remember never to despair. What we observe happening in our culture and to the life of the church isn’t a done deal—these things are always changing and shifting. The gospel is continuing to spread and people are accepting the message even if it’s becoming harder and harder to see God at work in our own communities.

For our brothers and sisters in the Global South, we pray for God’s continued blessing on the growth of the church. When appropriate, we might even find ways to use our time and resources to contribute to the work that God is already doing in these places.

Believers—wherever they live—should ultimately concern themselves not only with the health and well-being of their place of worship down the street, but with that of the global church all across the world.

Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, serves as Dean of the School of Mission, Ministry, and Leadership at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.

 

Original here

Battle Scars

As we endure life in this world, walking by faith and not by sight, walking in the Spirit of God and not in the flesh, seeking to serve the Lord and His Kingdom, doing that which He has commanded us — and entrusted us to do — it can get very lonely sometimes.

I think of the apostle Paul, whose letters — which he wrote from prison — are filled with sound doctrine and teaching; but also, his deepest personal feelings, as he endured great loneliness, being separated from his friends and fellow believers in Christ.

Look at Second Timothy 1.  He clearly missed his young friend, as he wrote:

“I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day.   As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy.  I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.  For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear, but of power and love and self-control. 

“Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of His own purpose and grace, which He gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, — and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. 

“But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that He is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me.  Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.   By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.”

And then Paul added:

“You are aware that all who are in Asia abandoned me.”

Yes, Paul was there, writing to Timothy from prison.  He was jailed for preaching the Gospel of our Savior, and he was alone.  No one stood with him.  All had abandoned him.

Then in Chapter 4, we have this:

“Do your best to come to me soon.   For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia.  Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry…. When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments.   Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds.   Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message.   At my first defense, no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them!   But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it.”

In Second Corinthians, Paul describes what Christian ministry is REALLY like.  Starting at verse 24:

“Five times I received, at the hands of the Jews, the forty lashes less one.  Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea;  on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.  And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.”

There are many today, who will tell you the Christian life is all joy and happiness.  “Just walk the aisle,” they say, “repeat the ‘sinners prayer,’ and MEAN IT,” they’ll tell you…  And “Jesus has a wonderful plan for your life!”  “Just ask Jesus into your heart and you will go from misery to ‘your best life NOW!”  But friends, this isn’t true.  This is a false Gospel…  The fact of the matter is, the Christian life is NOT an easy one.  It’s NOT all happiness and joy.  If you are TRULY living out your faith and serving Christ, you will find yourself in frequent persecution, you’ll be mocked and ridiculed.  You’ll lose your friends.   You may even find yourself being sued in court; you may lose your business, your home, your freedom, and yes, in some cases, even your family.

Jesus Himself said in Matthew 10:

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have NOT come to bring peace, but a sword.   For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.   And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.”

You absolutely will NOT fit in with the modern culture if you are following Christ today.  It is at that point you have a choice:  keep your mouth shut and practice your “religion” in secret, in which case you will NOT endure any persecution and you can just “get along” with everyone — or you can be a faithful servant, obey the commands of Jesus and season this world with salt — being a beacon of light in a dark and dying culture.  Yes, you HAVE that choice.  So, what will you choose?

Those who choose the latter often find themselves very lonely and very misunderstood.  Because they walk by the Spirit and not by the flesh, the world cannot understand them.    Spiritual things are spiritually discerned; and those without the Holy Spirit CANNOT understand.  It’s not that they don’t want to… they just don’t have the Holy Spirit inside them, and therefore they CAN’T understand you.

“Religious” people will not understand you either.  Many times, you’ll even be viewed as a “troublemaker” or a “crazy zealot” by those in your own church, if you dare step outside the box and actually DO the work Christ called you to.  You WILL endure hardship and you WILL experience persecution if you’re openly and faithfully and unashamedly living the Christian life.  Those who preach “health, wealth, prosperity, happiness, roses and rainbows” are lying to you.  You should ask yourself what their motivation is… and oftentimes, you’ll find it’s very simple: it’s so that THEY can be well liked and popular among the people… and well PAID.

How lonely it must have been for Jesus Himself — MANY times — as even His own disciples had a hard time understanding some of His teachings.  Yet He patiently taught them and explained to them the parables the world could not understand.  And though they walked closely with Him for 3 1/2 years during His earthly ministry, on the night of His arrest, they all abandoned Him, when He needed His friends the most.

Look at Luke 22.  Here, Jesus was on the Mount of Olives, following the Last Supper.  He went there to pray with His disciples.  But His disciples couldn’t stay awake and watch with Him even one hour.  How lonely our Savior must have been as He prayed:

“‘Father, if You are willing, take this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.’  An angel from heaven appeared to Him and strengthened Him.  And being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.”

Not exactly “health, wealth, prosperity, happiness, roses and rainbows”… is it?  That was NEVER Jesus’ message.  That’s a false Gospel, that creates false converts, who quickly fall away.  As it has been said, “everyone wants to follow Jesus — until they find out where He is going.”  Now, I am NOT saying that the Christian life is miserable.  As a matter of fact, I don’t know how ANYONE can make it through this life without Christ.  There IS a peace.  Though the world around you continues to spin out of control into chaos and evil, as a true believer in Jesus, you DO have peace in your heart.

As Paul wrote to the Philippians:

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;  and the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

Friends, we would NOT NEED “peace that passes all understanding” if the Christian life were EASY.  But BECAUSE we know Christ as our Savior, BECAUSE we have His Holy Spirit within us, we can have a peace of mind and heart that the world just cannot ever comprehend.  But it’s still, often, very lonely.

In the ministry work I do,  I get a great many phone calls, emails and letters from those who are seeking answers, and often seeking my counsel.  Some have grown children who have become wayward and left their faith behind.  Some have unbelieving spouses who are carnal and worldly, rather than spiritual.  Some deal with ridicule from co-workers.  Most all of them have very shallow “friendships,” with only a few at the churches they attend.  They often have NO ONE they can fellowship with, or commune with or talk to about the deep and rich things of God.  They feel so ALONE.

All of us, who carry the name of Christ and live out our faith — FOR REAL — have endured great emotional and physical hardships.  It often seems we’ve been in one battle after another, and we have the battle scars to prove it.  And it is when we are alone in the battle that things are most difficult and heart-wrenching;  when all have abandoned us, when even those we thought were our friends turn away.  This is also the time when the enemy likes to come and attack; and unless we remain in prayer and communion with GOD, we can easily become discouraged and depressed.

This is why we are exhorted — in the book of Hebrews:

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.   And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” 

How sweet it is to have REAL, GOOD fellowship with like-minded believers.  Not shallow small talk, fake smiles and handshakes during “greet your neighbor time” at your Sunday service… but deep, meaningful fellowship and friendships with the saints of God.  How wonderful to have a support system like that.  It is so refreshing to our souls when we have friends we can be open, honest and transparent with as we share our Christian walk together.  We can “compare notes,” and we can relate to one another as we let our “Battle Scars” show.

When I quoted from Hebrews about not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, I’m not just talking about GOING to church.  I’m talking about BEING the church — all in one accord — with fellow saints you KNOW are true believers and true friends that stick closer than a brother.

Some of the greatest times in my own spiritual walk have been with friends like this.  Recently, one evening, following a busy day at a Christian conference, I sat with a friend, one on one, and we just talked together.  We shared with one another our experiences in ministry, as well as the heavy burdens we both carry.  Though our ministries — and our battles — are different, and though some of our battle scars run deeper than others, they are all part of the same spiritual warfare we’re both involved in.

And then, after we talked a long time, we PRAYED a long time, with each other and FOR each other.  I’ve never felt such peace in my heart as I do at times like this.  As disciples of Jesus living in the times we are living in, I UNDERSTAND what the writer of Hebrews meant when he said, — “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together” —  how it is even MORE important as we see the Day of the Lord approaching.

The spiritual warfare continues to wage all around us.  Those of us who are engaged in this warfare NEED one another.  We need real, deep, intimate friendships; fellow believers we know we can TRUST in any and every circumstance.  We need to KNOW they “have our backs” in our times of need.  We need such friends we can talk to and pray with on a deep, intimate level — and not have to worry about gossip being spread.  We need MORE than shallow, vain, repetitious corporate prayer time.  We need more than “small talk” — we need REAL brothers and sisters in Christ.

It’s like a little glimpse of heaven during these intimate times with our fellow believers.  As Jesus said in Matthew 18:

“For where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I among them.”

If you don’t have this in your life, I encourage you to seek it out.  Pray that the Lord open those doors for you and then, even though you may have deep wounds and battle scars, let yourself be vulnerable enough to let them show, and let others know your needs.  Fellowship together, PRAY together…  build an intimate, close bond of friendship.  Because it’s HARD living a faithful and obedient Christian life.  And it’s even harder doing it all alone, with none who understand.  So, stand firm to the end, fellow believers… and if you need or want to talk with ME, I’d be honored to be your friend.  God bless you.

© 2019 Rob Pue, Publisher

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How to Kill Sin

Three weeks ago I blew the trumpet for “Planting a Passion” to waken a dream in you of being a part of spreading a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples by starting a new, strong, God-centered, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated, missions-mobilizing, soul-winning, justice-pursuing church somewhere else in the Twin Cities. I pray that this vision of Planting a Passion is simmering in all of you.

The Call for Justice-Pursuing, Coronary Christians

Then in the last two weeks, we fleshed out some of what it means to be a justice-pursuing church. We focused two weeks ago on racial justice, and we focused last week on justice for the unborn. And in general my plea was that God would create justice-pursuing, coronary Christians at Bethlehem — not adrenal Christians. Christians who keep on pumping the blood of life hour after hour, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, decade after decade into a Cause bigger than yourself or your family or your church. Marathon Christians, not sprinters. William Wilberforce-likeChristians who gave all his life to defeat the slave trade in Britain two hundred years ago.

“Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”

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One of his adversaries said, “It is necessary to watch him as he is blessed with a very sufficient quantity of that Enthusiastic spirit, which so far from yielding that it grows more vigorous from blows.” In other words, knock him down and he gets up stronger. There are not many people like that in America today. Most people who get knocked down for righteousness’ sake feel sorry for themselves, then they ask where God was, and then they take someone to court. A coronary Christian learns from the defeat, gets up, sets a new goal, and presses on in the cause.

Coronary Christians Fight Warfare Against Their Sin

Now, this morning we have returned to Romans 8 to pick up where we left off on December 16th. But I am still trumpeting Planting a Passion, and I am still working to build “justice-pursuing” churches, and I am still pleading for God to create coronary Christians, because that is what verses 12–13 help me do.

If you are going to be the kind of person who gets up when you get knocked down and instead of planning revenge, plans fresh strategies of love; and instead of questioning God, submits to his wise and good sovereignty; and instead of whining, rejoices in tribulation and is refined like steel, then you will have to learn to kill the sins of self-pity and pride and grudge-holding and loving the praise of man. In other words, coronary Christians who joyfully press on in some great cause of love and justice don’t come out of nowhere. They come out of the fiery furnace of warfare with sin — fought mainly in their own souls.

Let’s look at verses 12-13: “So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh [literally: we are debtors not to the flesh], to live according to the flesh — for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”

If you are going to be a coronary, justice-pursuing, passion-planting Christian — or, for that matter, any kind of Christian who inherits life and not death — Paul says you must not be the debt-paying slave of the flesh — that old rebellious, insubordinate, self-sufficient nature we all have (Romans 8:7). “Brethren, we are debtors not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh” — we owe the flesh nothing but enmity and war. Don’t dally with your destroyer. Don’t be a debtor to your destroyer. Get out debt to the flesh, don’t pay for your own destruction.

How, we ask? That’s what verse 13 describes. If you are going to be a coronary, justice-pursuing, passion-planting, free-from-debt-to-fatal-flesh Christian, you must be skilled at killing your own sins. This is dangerous language here, so be careful. Don’t think about other people’s sins. Don’t think about how people wrong you. Think about your own sins. That’s what Paul is talking about. Verse 13b: “But if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of [your!] body, you will live.”

John Owen on Mortification of Sin

The great teacher of the church on this doctrine is John Owen. Nobody has probed it more deeply, probably. He wrote a little 86-page book called Mortification of Sin in Believers. “Mortify” means “kill” in 17th century English. Today it just means “embarrass” or “shame.” But Owen was talking about this verse. In fact, his whole book is an exposition of this verse — Romans 8:13. He put it like this: “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”

My mother wrote in my Bible when I was fifteen years old — I still have the Bible — “This book will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from this book.” Now Owen says, based on Romans 8:13, “Be killing sin or [sin] will be killing you.” We will see that these two mottos are very closely connected, because Romans 8:13 says that we are to put be putting sin to death by the Spirit: “If by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live” — and what is the instrument of death wielded by the Spirit? The answer is given in Ephesians 6:1: “the sword of the Spirit, the word of God.” This book will keep you from sin — this book will kill sin.

I just want you to see how everything in these recent weeks is connected. We thought we were taking a detour from Romans since December 16, but it turns out that we were really simply giving application of what happens when Christians put to death the deeds of the body. They become coronary, marathon, God-centered, Christ-exalting, justice-pursuing, passion-planting Christians.

So now what would be helpful to know in order to experience what Romans 8:13 is calling for? Well, I see four questions that would be helpful to answer so that we can be about this crucial duty of killing sin.

“If you have been justified by faith you will be glorified.”

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  1. What are “the deeds of the body” when Paul says, “If by the Spirit you kill the deeds of the body, you will live”? Surely not all the deeds of the body are to be killed. The body is supposed to be an instrument of righteousness. So what are the deeds of the body that are to be killed?
  2. What does killing them mean? Do they have life that we should take away? What will killing them involve?
  3. What does “by the Spirit” mean? The Spirit is himself God. He is not a lifeless instrument in our hands to wield as we wish. The very thought of having the Spirit in my hand gives me the shivers of disrespect. I am in his hand, aren’t I? Not he in mine. He is the power, not me. How am I to understand this killing of sin “by the Spirit”?
  4. Does this threat of death mean that I can lose my salvation? Verse 13a: “If you are living according to the flesh, you must die.” This is spoken to the whole church at Rome. And death here is eternal death and judgment. We know that because everyone — whether you live according to the flesh or not — dies a physical death. So the death this verse warns about is something more, something that happens only to some and not to others. So the question remains: can we die eternally if we have justified by faith? If so what becomes of our assurance, and if not why does Paul threaten us all with death if we live according to the flesh and tell us to be about the business of killing sin?

So let’s start here with this last question and then take up the others in two weeks. What we should take away this morning is a general sense of how justification relates to sin-killing; and how crucial it is that we do it.

Does the Threat of Death Imply We Can Lose Our Salvation?

You know my answer: no, someone who is justified by faith alone apart from works of the law cannot die in this sense of eternal death. One of my main reasons for believing this is found in this chapter in verse 30. In this verse, Paul argues that salvation from beginning to end is a work of God with every part linked to the other in an unbreakable chain.

Romans 8:30: “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” Here the link between justification and glorification is certain. If you have been justified by faith you will be glorified. That is, you will be brought to eternal life and glory. The chain will not be broken: predestination, calling, justification, glorification.

Killing Sin Is the Result and Evidence of Justification

So the question then is why does Paul say to the church in Rome — and to Bethlehem — “If you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live”? The reason is this: Putting to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit — the daily practice of killing sin in your life — is the result of being justified and the evidence that you are justified by faith alone apart from works of the law. If you are making war on your sin, and walking by the Spirit, then you know that you have been united with Christ by faith alone. And if you have been united to Christ, then his blood and righteousness provide the unshakable ground of your justification.

On the other hand, if you are living according to the flesh — if you are not making war on the flesh, and not making a practice out of killing sin in your life, then there is no compelling reason for thinking that you are united to Christ by faith or that you are therefore justified. In other words, putting to death the deeds of the body is not the way we get justified, it’s one of the ways God shows that we are justified.

And so Paul commands us to do it — be killing sin — because if we don’t — if we don’t make war on the flesh and put to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit — if growth in grace and holiness mean nothing to us — then we show that we are probably false in our profession of faith, and that our church membership is a sham and our baptism is a fraud, and we are probably not Christians after all and never were.

Killing Sin Is the Effect, not the Cause

This is a good place to review and reestablish the great foundation for our call for coronary, justice-pursuing Christians. Are we calling for you to live this way so that you will get justified, or are we calling for you to live this way because this is the way justified sinners live? Is the pursuit of justice and love “by the Spirit” with life-long perseverance the cause or the effect of being set right with God?

Let Wilberforce answer. Here was a man who had a passion for holiness and righteousness and justice greater than anyone in his day perhaps. When he wrote his book, A Practical View of Christianity, to trumpet this passion for justice and for political engagement in the cause of righteousness, here is what he said,

Christianity is a scheme “for justifying the ungodly” [Romans 4:5], by Christ’s dying for them “when yet sinners” [Romans 5:6–8], a scheme “for reconciling us to God” — when enemies [Romans 5:10]; and for making the fruits of holiness the effects, not the cause, of our being justified and reconciled.

“If we died to sin by being united with Jesus in his death, we can’t stay married to sin.”

We have spent almost four years laying the foundation for understanding Romans 8. The first five chapters of Romans demonstrate that the only way for us sinners to be declared righteous in God’s sight is by having righteousness reckoned to us — credited to us, imputed to us — by grace, through faith, on the basis of Christ’s perfect life and death, and not on the basis of our own works. God is just and justifies the ungodly who have faith in Jesus (Romans 3:26).

With that stunning and unspeakably wonderful foundation laid, Paul has to ask in chapter 6, two times: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase” (verse 1)? “What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace” (verse 15)? And all of chapters 6 and 7 is written to show that justification by faith alone apart from works does notand cannot lead a person to make peace with sin.

Paul answers his own question in Romans 6:2, “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” We can’t. If we died to sin by being united with Jesus in his death, we can’t stay married to sin. The faith that unites us to Christ disunites from his competitors. The faith that makes peace with God makes war on our sin. If you are not at odds with sin, you are not at home with Jesus, not because being at odds with sin makes you at home with Jesus, but because being at home with Jesus makes you at odds with sin.

Therefore, I call you and urge you, for the sake of being God-centered, Christ-exalting, soul-winning, justice-pursuing, passion-planting, coronary Christians, don’t live according to the flesh but “by the Spirit put to death the deeds of the body.” Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you.