One Flesh – According to Scripture #2

Faith Recovery Podcast
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One Flesh - According to Scripture #2
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Marriage is a living expression of God’s purpose for humankind.

One Seat on the Throne

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One Seat on the Throne
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In the kingdom of God, there’s only one seat on the throne.

In “One Seat on the Throne,” Alex, Kent, and Nathan look at God’s plan for leadership under the gospel and conclude that God doesn’t need human control to protect his people.

“One Seat on the Throne” – Episode Notes:

It may sound strange to talk about letting God rule. Is he not sovereign over his creation? Doesn’t he have the wisdom to hand down righteous decrees and the power to enforce them? Won’t he eventually call all people to account?

God rules creation and orchestrates history, but he won’t force anyone under his reign. We won’t experience his rule in our lives until we submit ourselves to him – until we let him rule. Any despot can make people conform but God is no despot. He deserves the job of universal ruler, but he won’t impose his will on the unwilling. This is true of individuals and groups. The gospel invites individuals under God’s reign, but it also grants them the opportunity to reject him. The Holy Spirit has come to guide the church, but we can grieve, quench, and despise his leading.[i]

If it’s up to us to let God rule, how can we ensure that’s what we do?

Since we are realized Israel, let’s look to the history of our nation to learn how God wants to rule his kingdom.

“I will restore your judges.”

Do you remember that time Israel deposed God in a coup?

So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”

But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD. And the LORD told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you.” (1 Samuel 8:4-8 NIV)

Israel’s demand for a king wasn’t just a rejection of Samuel or even of the office of judge which Samuel held, it was a rejection of God as their king. God responded to this insult by agreeing to give them a king. This exchange demonstrates God’s insistence that people obey him willingly.

God told Samuel that Israel had rejected him as king from the day he brought them out of Egypt. God became Israel’s king through the defeat of Pharaoh and his gods. At Mount Sinai he declared them a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, his own treasured possession. He gave them his law. He provided for their needs. His Presence remained among them to guide them and to enforce his law. He put his Spirit on Moses to empower and enable him to serve as a judge among them. When the job got too big for Moses, God took some of the Spirit that was on him and distributed it among seventy(two) elders[1] who then judged Israel with him. This was God’s administration over his own kingdom.

This governmental structure continued in Israel as they entered the land of promise. God’s Presence went ahead of them as the Commander of the LORD’s Army[ii] to conquer the land. His provision changed from manna to the produce of the land. By his Spirit, he enabled Joshua to succeed Moses as leader of the people. Neither Moses nor Joshua took the title of king because God continued to rule as king over Israel. Moses and Joshua served as stewards in God’s kingdom.[iii] They moved under God’s explicit instructions and wielded his power to carry out his will.  

After the death of Joshua, the Messenger of God’s Presence continued to rule as king in Israel. In the book of Judges, we find him walking around in Canaan rebuking the nation from a mountain top, accosting Gideon from under an oak tree, setting stuff on fire, telling a woman how to raise her kid, and hitching a ride on a plume of smoke. He enforced his law directly by raising up the nations in the land to punish Israel. Once the nation learned its lesson, God’s Spirit empowered judges to deliver them from their oppressors. It was a time of miracles and personal freedom, but that freedom proved too much for Israel to bear.

By the end of the book of Judges we find the nation on the brink of total collapse resulting from sin’s corrosive influence. God’s call was to each person to fear him and obey his law. In this way they could live together in peace with no need to be controlled by earthly leaders. But Israel was still made up of fallen people. Through two horrific tales of religious and moral degradation we find the refrain, “There was no king in Israel and everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” God had set his people free, but their rebellious hearts turned that freedom into anarchy. God gave them a king at their request because each person’s rejection of him as their personal king was destroying the nation.

I think it’s noteworthy that once God gave Israel their king, he stopped appearing bodily in Israel as the Messenger of Yahweh. God had ruled directly as king in Israel from the time of Moses through the era of the judges. All the while Israel had resisted God’s reign, so he gave them a human king according to their request. This wasn’t God’s first choice for them because he knew that power corrupts and that nearly all their kings would mislead the nation. It was to a corrupt kingdom of Israel that Isaiah penned these words:

Your princes are rebels

and companions of thieves.

Everyone loves a bribe

and runs after gifts.

They do not bring justice to the fatherless,

and the widow’s cause does not come to them.

Therefore the Lord declares,

the LORD of hosts,

the Mighty One of Israel:

“Ah, I will get relief from my enemies

and avenge myself on my foes.

I will turn my hand against you

and will smelt away your dross as with lye

and remove all your alloy.

And I will restore your judges as at the first,

and your counselors as at the beginning.

Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness,

the faithful city.” (Isaiah 1:23-26 ESV)

God would remediate Israel’s corruption by resuming his role as king in a return to the era of the judges. I believe that era has commenced with the exaltation of Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Our God Reigns

Jesus promised that some in his audience would see the kingdom of God come with power.[iv] On the day of Pentecost that promise was fulfilled. In Christ, God has resumed his direct reign over his people. Like in the era of the judges, Christ, the Messenger of Yahweh lives among us. Unlike the era of the judges Christ also lives within us. Like in the era of the judges, God has given his law. Unlike that time, this law is written on our hearts by his own Spirit. As under the Moses, Joshua, and the judges God personally punishes wrongdoers like Ananias and Saphira.[v] And true to his word he has restored Spirit-empowered ad hoc leaders, judges, over his people.

Judges aren’t kings. They have spiritual authority instead of positional authority. Just like Gideon’s leadership was contingent on the power of God or Deborah’s on her ability to prophesy, so Paul based his authority on God’s power at work in him. Consider Paul’s leadership credentials in the following passage:

I have made a fool of myself, but you drove me to it. I ought to have been commended by you, for I am not in the least inferior to the “super-apostles,” even though I am nothing. I persevered in demonstrating among you the marks of a true apostle, including signs, wonders and miracles. (2 Corinthians 12:11-12 NIV)

But what if some despised his authority or what if they were rebellious? How could Paul as God’s regent enforce his word?

I already gave you a warning when I was with you the second time. I now repeat it while absent: On my return I will not spare those who sinned earlier or any of the others, since you are demanding proof that Christ is speaking through me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you.

This is why I write these things when I am absent, that when I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority—the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down. (2 Corinthians 13:2-3, 10 NIV)

Paul didn’t have or need organizational endorsement. His suffering for Christ and the power of the Spirit were his credentials. As Christ’s duly appointed representative, he warned them that if they didn’t repent, he would once again demonstrate Christ’s power to punish their wrongs. He didn’t need a majority vote to carry out church discipline because Christ had given him authority and Christ would do the disciplining.

It’s important that we acknowledge the only legitimate authority in God’s kingdom is that which flows powerfully from Christ. As his Spirit-enabled leaders wield that authority he remains king and they are spared the corruption that comes with office. In the era of the judges a person didn’t need to wonder whether God endorsed the judge. The evident power of God with them was his endorsement. This system is self-regulating as Paul wrote, “For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth.” (2 Corinthians 13:8 NIV)

Lest we think Paul and the other apostles possessed a unique leadership dispensation, we should consider that Paul expected other would-be leaders to put their power where their mouth is.

Some of you have become arrogant, as if I were not coming to you. But I will come to you very soon, if the Lord is willing, and then I will find out not only how these arrogant people are talking, but what power they have. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power. What do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a rod of discipline, or shall I come in love and with a gentle spirit? (1 Corinthians 4:18-21 NIV)

God’s promise through Isaiah to restore the judges was a promise to resume direct reign over his kingdom. Kings command; but judges minister. Paul’s authority came from the power of the Holy Spirit. He didn’t expect other people to defer to him based on his title but on his work. He was an apostle because God had empowered him to perform that role. Leaders in the kingdom of God don’t resort to positional authority to make God’s people obey them. They minister their God-given gifts to feed and protect God’s flock.

The ancient judges were empowered by God to serve their generation and not to build a dynasty. Christ rules his kingdom and will never pass it on to another, so leadership succession has been done away. We have the same Holy Spirit today as Paul or Peter or James did. What possible need could we have for “apostolic succession”? We can certainly benefit from the gifting of those men through reading the New Testament, but we shouldn’t allow their rulings to set timeless precedent while the king continues to reign in our midst. We have the gospel which is the very spirit of prophecy.[vi] Can it not teach us something for today? Might God not raise up Spirit-empowered teachers and prophets to share mighty truths for our generation? We want to borrow authority from the apostles, but the source of their authority belongs to us today.

Let me be very clear. Every hierarchical church, denomination, association, or alliance is an affront to God’s kingdom reign. They arise from the same faithlessness that caused Israel to ask for a king. They traffic in contrived authority which they generate, define, and celebrate according to the rudimentary principles of this world. “Let us build,” they say, “and make a name for ourselves. Lest all our progress die with our generation and our legacy be scattered to the wind.”   

Someone might defend Christian institutions by pointing to the need to defend the church from heresy. That thinking supposes God needs our help to defend his gospel.

A great house with a firm foundation

When the Reformers elevated the Bible to the place of final authority in place of the Catholic hierarchy, the Christian movement immediately began to fracture. Differing interpretations became the bases for various sects. To combat this proliferation of Christian variants they codified their biblical interpretations into creeds and catechisms. Sects trained new leaders in their version of orthodoxy. Those leaders were then ordained to indoctrinate their parishioners in the same. In this system, everyone must be told in detail what to believe. The transition from church authority to biblical authority produced yet another form of ecclesiastical control. Inclusion required conformity. Dissent brought expulsion.

While the authors of the New Testament seem to have been concerned about heresy, their methods indicate a different perspective on protecting orthodoxy. For instance, leaders who took upon themselves to throw doctrinal dissenters out of the Christian community were seen as unorthodox. Diotrephes was such a leader and John censured him for his actions:

I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us. So when I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, spreading malicious nonsense about us. Not satisfied with that, he even refuses to welcome other believers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church. (3 John 10-11 NIV)

John certainly took exception to Diotrephes’ slander, but he counted his top-down control of church membership the greater offense. By way of contrast, consider Paul’s response to reports of factions in the Corinthian church:

But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. (1 Corinthians 11:17-19 ESV)

Paul never attempted to control the composition of any congregation. In this time before the return of Christ we long for unity and work toward it, but we also know that divisions will persist. Because God is sovereign even factions will come to serve his greater purpose. They will serve as a backdrop to highlight the glory of his gospel. The heretics and hypocrites in the church have job to do as well. Consider how Paul depicts the purpose of even false believers in God’s household:

Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have departed from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some. Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.”

In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for special purposes and some for common use. Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work. (2 Timothy 2:16-21 NIV)

Notice that even though Paul doesn’t mince words about the status of these false teachers he also assumes that they and their ilk will be present in the church. Not only will they be present but God has placed them there and has a place for them there. One of the greatest challenges to letting go of biblicism to follow the gospel standard has always been the fear of heresy. Paul could live above a prescriptive, written standard because he didn’t entertain the pretense that he had the power or even the right to extinguish heresy. Paul knew that Christ was on the throne and there was only one seat there. That’s still true today. If we find false teachers among us, we surely can’t believe it’s because Christ needs us to remove them. We must commit to submitting to his kingdom authority over our own lives and over the life of the church.


[1] In Numbers 11:10-30 God called out seventy elders to share the burden of leadership with Moses. When he poured out his Spirit on them, they all prophesied. In addition to those seventy, another two prophesied in the camp.


[i] Verses on don’t grieve or quench the Spirit and not to despise prophecy

[ii] Joshua 5:13-15

[iii] Numbers 12:7

[iv] Mark 9:1

[v] Acts 5:1-9

[vi] Revelation about the gospel is the spirit of prophecy.

Win Friends and Love People

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Win Friends and Love People
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In God’s kingdom we don’t need influence over others so let’s just win friends and love people.

In our 40th episode, the Three Failed Pastors talk about a church mission statement that requires no interpersonal control. It’s our job simply to win friends and love people for his sake who loved us.

While it’s our 40th episode overall, it’s only the 16th installment in our current series, “Recovering Faith” where so far we’ve argued that the gospel rescues us from the clear and present danger of cultural corruption and internal personal corruption, leading to interpersonal breakdown. And it rescues us by transferring to us the faith of the Son, so that living by the faith of the son, by sonship faith, we have the resources to live free personally and live in free and loving community with one another.

Last week in Episode 15, we said that some common healthy expressions of cruciform love and resurrection faith are: corporate prayer, gospel rehearsal, and loving confrontation.

“Win Friends and Love People” Episode Notes:

Ministry is my second career. I used to be a UPS delivery driver. In some ways I think I was a better disciple back then. Even though I spent most of my time in secular activities I was always looking for an unbeliever to convert or a fellow Christian to connect with. I remember delivering a package to an office and glancing down at the desk and across the man’s keys. His keychain had three words on it that knocked my head upright, “Releasing spiritual leaders.” I asked him what it meant. He said it was his church’s mission statement.

I left his office reciting those three words under my breath. I contemplated them through the rest of the day. I recognized the name of my customer’s church. It’s one of the largest in our area. Having grown up Baptist in the church-growth era, I knew that large churches result from inviting not releasing. Attendance records and visitation all aimed at retaining, not releasing. I understood church as centripetal, but here was a church that had boiled its purpose down to three centrifugal words. How could a church grow so large by investing its energies into individuals who it would then send away?

This mission isn’t a PR stunt either. Their founding pastor once told me, “Whenever our best people leave, we say, ‘Mission accomplished.’” Over their history, they have developed leaders who’ve gone on to start ministries and churches. They have spent millions of dollars to establish those efforts and then completely released them under their own independent leadership.

For all their sending leaders and even whole segments of their congregation away, they have continued to grow. I think God has blessed them for their faithfulness to him. I also think sincere disciples are repulsed by the stench of institutional self-interest and this church offers them a breath of fresh air.

By most metrics, this church is a testament to the benefits of a well-crafted and faithfully followed mission statement. They’ve consistently grown in numbers while devoting their energies to the development of their members who they hope to send away. That kind of church doesn’t happen every day. While I’ve never been a member there, much of my ministry career has been in their orbit. Because of their example, I’ve attempted to articulate a clear mission statement in every ministry or church I’ve led. I haven’t yet come up with anything so compelling, though.

At my breakfast with the founding pastor, I told him the keychain story. He let me know that those three words were shorthand for the whole mission statement which goes:

To produce and release spiritual leaders who know and express the authentic Christ to Northwest Arkansas and the world.

About Us | Fellowship NWA

Somehow knowing the whole thing took some of the magic out of it, but I thought it was still great. I asked him how he came up with it. He told me that it was just the Great Commandment and the Great Commission compiled and expressed in more vernacular language. According to the church’s website:

…we seek to love God and love others by making disciples. We’ve established our Mission and Vision on these Biblical mandates and let that vision drive all that we do.

When he told me that, I realized that while this church has brilliantly articulated their mission, it’s essentially the same as thousands of other church mission statements around the world. Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church, for instance, has simply adopted these two famous passages as their mission. The Great Commission and the Great Commandment seem to focus the church on external growth and internal health. No wonder these churches have achieved results.

God’s mission statement

This all begs the question, “Out of the whole Bible, why these two passages?” It does seem that Matthew highlights them as particularly important. For instance, he records Christ as saying that the whole law hangs on the commands to love God and neighbor. The Great Commission lands on our ears with the weight of the final word. I don’t question the importance of these instructions, but I do question how they’ve come to such dominance in the way we formulate the mission of the church.

Maybe we should begin by asking, “Who are we to formulate the mission of the church in the first place?” There’s a presumption in writing a church mission and vision. If Christ really does have all authority in heaven and on earth, shouldn’t we defer to him? Someone might rebut that the Great Commission is his mission for the church but that doesn’t seem to be the case. He has commissioned us to make disciples, but that instruction was given to a collection of individuals rather than to the church as a whole. It’s individuals who go, baptize, and teach. The same can be said of the Great Commandment. Organizations don’t love; people do. When we apply those instructions to the church, we countermand Christ. We nullify his word to individuals and coopt them for our organization.

Crafting our church mission from passages we select from scripture won’t do. It requires visionary dreaming on the part of the leader/leaders. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote these words almost in anticipation of the megachurch phenomenon:

God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself.

He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together.

“Life Together”

These words ring true even when the dreamer constructs his vision from passages in the Bible. Even in the healthy examples I’ve cited, the mission of the church defines faithful participation. Leaders celebrate members who participate in the church’s program for making disciples. Members whom God has called to a different approach must operate against the tide. Wherever humans craft the mission of the church there will be human control. We mustn’t use scripture as raw materials from which to build our own church.

We need to understand the purpose of the church as it springs from the gospel of God. Thankfully, the New Testament articulates this purpose:

His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.

(Ephesians 3:10-11 NIV)

Unlike the Great Commission and the Great Commandment, these verses explicitly state God’s purpose for the church. God means to display his wisdom to heavenly beings through the church. That’s God’s mission statement for the church, but we’d rather synthesize one of our own. Surely church leaders know about this passage, but they look elsewhere because this one doesn’t inspire buy-in. God’s mission as written here doesn’t capture our attention like, “Releasing spiritual leaders” did for me.

Does that mean the pastor up the road is a better organizational leader than God? Maybe it just means we resonate more easily with human thinking than with the divine. As we will see, we aren’t compelled by this mission statement because it’s too big for our human expectations.

To begin to perceive the significance of God’s mission statement we’ll need to examine its context. In doing so, we’ll find that God’s mission for the church is based on a mystery and expressed through a prayer.

The revelation of the mystery

I confess the idea of heavenly rulers saying, “Oh wow,” when they look at the church does nothing for me. I don’t give their opinion (whatever “they” are) a second thought. From my perspective what God puts on display matters more than who will see it. If God counts the church as a personal achievement, it must be truly glorious.

Such was the glory of God’s church that he veiled her beauty for long ages until the time came for her big reveal. Notice the anticipation in Paul’s words:

Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets.

(Ephesians 3:2-5 NIV)

People couldn’t discover God’s mystery on their own. It had to be made known by revelation. Even after its revelation it remained obscured to those without insight. This mystery had been hidden from all generations to await its revelation by the Spirit. What truth could merit such a build-up or require such rare insight? Surely this mystery concerns the very nature of God or the basis of existence!

After the long ages of waiting, Paul makes his readers wait no longer. He plainly tells them the mystery:

This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

(Ephesians 3:6 NIV)

Does that seem like a letdown? Chances are you’re a Gentile. If you consider yourself a Christian, it’s probably because you responded to an invitation to put your faith in Christ. I’m sure nobody told you that you had to be included in Israel to be saved and you’ve probably never thanked God that he included you there. In preaching the gospel, Paul shared his birthright with a bunch of unwashed pagans. It was a big deal to him, but the pagans might have even taken it for granted. In his pre-converted life, Paul saw an insurmountable divide between Jew and Gentile. Now through the gospel, that partition had disintegrated and blown away. Based on faith, God has included Gentiles in Israel without requiring them to become Jews.

The inclusion of the Gentiles was Paul’s theme and ultimately the reason he suffered such persecution. But the mystery is deeper still. We weren’t just included in Israel; we were all made members of one body. To make two people groups into one nation is a major feat but knitting them into one body is a miracle. This is no détente. It’s a deeply intimate union based on ultimate sameness and redeeming inherent differences. God means to show his wisdom to the heavenly authorities by uniting people across every human divide into one.

This union is at the very heart of the gospel as Paul wrote in Galatians 3:26-28:

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

(NIV)

Christ supersedes all human distinctions to make us one. Such unity has long been a human aspiration, but never a human accomplishment. Our sin and lust for power have kept it out of our reach. We mistrust each other and keep score. Nobody in the fray that we call life has the wherewithal to create unity, so God must do it. This is why Paul’s reflection on God’s purpose for the church sent him into prayer for them.

The view from the floor

God has worked through the long ages and in Christ to bring people together across every divide into one body. He did this to demonstrate his manifold wisdom to the heavenly rulers. It seems like a lot was riding on the Ephesians coming together in unity. The stakes were so high that they drove Paul to his knees.

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

(Ephesians 3:14-19 NIV)

Christians need to do more than accept the mystery of the Trinity, they must participate in it. Just as God is three persons in one being, so we are many members in one body. Just as God is love, so we in one body are rooted in love so we can grasp the scope of his love and come to an intimate knowledge of it. Love isn’t a free-floating virtue. It only exists in relationship. God is love because God is a relationship. His love takes residence in us as it is expressed among us. The church is called to become persons in loving unity and so we become filled with God’s fullness.  

This union is the work of God. If we want it, we must join Paul on our knees. We must call on our Father to strengthen us with his Spirit so that Christ will be reproduced in each of us through his faith in our hearts. Christ in me must actively love Christ in you so his love can grow until it consumes every other motive and knits us into one. This is God’s calling for the church and he will carry it out. We just need to stop messing it up.

Paul goes on in Ephesians to write:

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

(Ephesians 4:1-6 NIV)

We can’t create the unity of the Spirit. God has already done that. Also, our unity is predicated on realities over which we have no control. We are one because “There is one…” All we can and must do is “make every effort to keep” the unity that is.

And it will require our every effort because coming together across cultural, racial, gender, socio-economic, and ethnic divides will afront the prevailing regime. Our old friends will come to hate us for hanging out with “those people,” and those people will make us miserable with their strange habits. It takes strategy, creativity, and charisma to pursue human mission statements. To fulfill God’s calling on the church, we’ll need to employ humility, gentleness, patience and longsuffering. It’s not very sexy on the ground, but this unity is what God celebrates.

Any vision for church beyond God’s purpose will undermine our call to keep the unity we’ve been given. For a while, we may put up with those backward members who refuse to take this thing to the next level, but we’ll eventually deem them liabilities which Christ’s cause will be better without. Then we’ll choose the work of our own hands over his handiwork. While we celebrate our ministry accomplishments, the Spirit will weep, and the heavenly powers will scoff.

More than One Body, One Flesh

The image of the church as Christ’s body pervades the Ephesian letter, but then Paul mixes in the idea of the church as Christ’s bride. And he doesn’t even do us the courtesy of transitioning out of the-church-as-Christ’s-body before broaching the-church-as-Christ’s-bride.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.  After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.

(Ephesians 5:28-32 NIV)

So, husbands should love their wives as Christ loves his bride the church which is the way everyone loves their own body since the church is Christ’s body.
Huh?

My Bible has a heading before vs. 21 of Ephesians 5 that reads, “Instructions for Christian Households.” The NIV translators put that there because Paul in this section is borrowing from a common genre in the Greco-Roman world called, “household codes.” It was common for philosophers to demonstrate the practical outworking of their ideas by prescribing rules of conduct for various members of the household.[2] The heading is accurate but would be more accurate if Paul hadn’t jumped onto a tangent. When seen as instructions on how husbands should treat their wives, this passage quickly becomes confusingly circuitous. But Paul tells us that his primary focus at least by the time he gets to verse 31 is the profound mystery of Christ and the church.

The profound mystery to which Paul refers harmonizes the idea of the church as Christ’s body and that of the church as Christ’s bride into a central idea – One Flesh. The church is both his body and his bride because of the prophecy contained in Genesis 2:24:

For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.

(NASB95)

Christian premarital counseling always includes a section on “leave and cleave” which teaches the importance of the new couple distancing themselves from their respective families of origin. I suppose that’s fine, but the Jews didn’t do that. The man would build a bridal suite onto his parents’ home and move his wife into it. That disparity could be problematic if this passage was primarily meant to establish marital norms. It doesn’t seem that Paul saw that as its primary meaning. What looks like an axiom once again gets interpreted as a prophecy through the Christological hermeneutic.

“A man” who is Christ.

“Will leave his father” and join humanity through the incarnation.

“And his mother” in death on a cross.

“And be joined to his wife” in one inheritance and destiny.

“And they shall become one flesh” through one Spirit.

God became flesh in Christ. Through the Spirit, God remains flesh. The church is the continuation of the incarnation. We aren’t “like” his body. We are his body. Since we were made to be united with Christ as his companion and partner, we have become his bride. Again, not “like” his bride. The church is the extension and companion to Christ. We can only be both through this mystical union called One Flesh. He experiences our pleasure and pain because we are his body. We offer our bodies for his pleasure and in doing so receive pleasure in return because we are his bride.

As Paul said, this is a profound mystery.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t experience it right now.

True and proper worship

We offer our bodies for his pleasure. That sounds sexual. That’s because it is. If Paul was right about Genesis 2:24 pointing to Christ, then the sexual union points to the One Flesh mystery of Christ and his church. This doesn’t mean that the church has sex with Christ or anything as crass as that. It means the One Flesh union includes mutual pleasure. In the creature-creator relationship, this happens through worship.

If you’re very familiar with the New Testament you might have recognized the phrase “offer our bodies.” It’s from a well-known verse that goes like this:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.

(Romans 12:1 NIV)

This verse has always been just out of my reach. How could I offer my body as a living sacrifice? Without a clear idea as to its application, I’ve defaulted to thinking it must be some sort of inner commitment to give God everything should he wish to collect. Or it could be a decision to serve him in some dramatic way should he lead me there. I would “put myself on the altar” through some private decision in my heart.

Yeah, that’s not what it’s talking about.

This verse opened to me when I realized that it’s tightly connected to what comes immediately before. Paul first connects it by using “therefore.” Then he specifies that his instruction to offer our bodies comes “in view of God’s mercy.” Romans 12:1 is based on something about God’s mercy which can be found in the preceding chapter:

Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their (the Jews’) disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.

(Romans 11:30-32 NIV)

By God’s mercy, we Gentiles have been included in Israel. We must consider Paul’s call for us to offer our bodies from that perspective. This isn’t some personal choice to devote ourselves completely to God but the fulfillment of Israel’s cult of worship. Just as the Jews would come to the temple and offer a sacrifice, so we now come to the temple and leave a gift for God.

During his earthly ministry Christ called his body the temple. For centuries, the pre-incarnate Christ who was known as The Presence dwelt in Israel first in the tabernacle and then in Solomon’s temple. In the incarnation, God the Son took on flesh and tabernacled among us. His body became the temple. Since we are his body, we are also the temple. In view of God’s mercy, then, we must offer our bodies to his body.

It just so happens that Romans 12:3-8 depicts worship at Israel’s true temple:

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

(NIV)

God has given me the faith of Christ, but I’m not its only recipient. I’m part of a body of people in whom Christ dwells. If Christ dwells in this body, then whatever I offer to its members I offer to Christ. As someone in whom Christ dwells, I offer his gifts to his people on his behalf. Because we are his body which is God’s temple, God receives our gifts as “holy and pleasing.” Because he truly indwells his people by his Spirit he truly receives the gifts they offer to one another. While physical Israel worshiped God in symbol, our worship is true (aka “real”) because he truly benefits from the gifts offered to him through his people.

Christian worship can’t be reduced to singing. Just as with Israel, worship requires an offering. We worship in Spirit and truth when we as Christ’s body give our gifts to Christ’s body for God’s pleasure. Worship might be the offering of a song to encourage God’s people. It could also be paying our sister’s water bill or cleaning our brother’s house. If we limit worship to an event that happens once per week, most of the body of Christ will never obey Paul’s instruction in Romans 12:1. However we express the kingdom of God through the visible church, it must encourage and facilitate the full expression of the gifts through the daily life of the community.

The two will become one.

In Ephesians 5, Paul quotes from the Septuagint translation of Genesis 2:24 which specifies that the two will become one flesh. The Hebrew texts say, “they will become one flesh.” Paul obviously used both the Hebrew and the Greek Old Testaments, but the latter seems to serve his purpose better in this case.

As we’ve seen, Paul’s thesis in Ephesians is that through the gospel Jew and Gentile, the two, come together into one people of God.

Not only do Christ and his church become One Flesh, but in the union, all other twos become one. 

Consider the following passage:

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

(Ephesians 2:14-18 NIV emphasis mine NAW)

It seems that Paul understood Genesis 2:24 as a promise of unity between humankind. The union between Christ and his church finds its earthly expression whenever two people lay down their differences to join his one new humanity. The church fulfills God’s ancient vision in Christ through her unity. Nothing matters more. In a culture of throw-away relationships, the world needs to see Christians who stay together.  

A couple of years ago, a family left our church because some of the members were Trump supporters. They felt they couldn’t be associated with such “evil.” I lamented their decision. I considered them spiritual family and then they were gone. I couldn’t stop them. I didn’t know what to say.

I know now.

If I had another chance, I’d point them to Romans 15:1-3:

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”

(NIV)

Paul had no idealistic notions about his fellow Christians. He knew how costly unity would be. He knew that participating in a group of transforming people would mean putting up with their shortcomings. He knew that membership in a group of flawed people would come with guilt by association. But we’re not too good to be dirtied by our brother’s misdeeds because Christ carried our sins and bore our shame. Going to church with Trump supporters is what Jesus would do. Leaving because you don’t want to be associated means you’re better than your Lord.

We’re not moralists; we’re Christians. We keep loving our spiritual family even when we have moral objections to their actions. When most of our fellow believers behave so poorly that the name, “Christian,” takes on reproach, we continue to wear that name and identify with those people. We do this because nothing we do as individuals will ever measure up to the mystery of One Flesh. In that mystery, the “two” across every human divide come together into the “one” who is Christ. In him, there is neither Jew nor Gentile, Democrat nor Republican, vaxxer nor anti-vaxxer, black nor white, poor nor rich, male nor female, conservative nor progressive. Those labels may continue to describe us, but they won’t define us. Nor should they affect the way we treat one another.

The One Flesh must be paramount for the Christian movement because it is God’s mission for the church. Every other vision must fade to bring this one to the fore. As One Flesh with Christ, we offer pleasing worship to God. As One Flesh with each other, we demonstrate God’s glory to every spectator in heaven and on earth. After all, Christ said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Sadly, we never get around to becoming a famously loving group because we always find a reason to distance ourselves from one another. This must end.


Three Tips for Growth

Faith Recovery Podcast
Faith Recovery Podcast
Three Tips for Growth
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We continue discussing how to retool discipleship with three tips for growth.

In “Three Tips for Growth” Alex, Kent, and Nathan discuss some gospel-based practices for churches to disciple their members.

Three Tips for Growth – Episode Notes:

How do we minister the living experience of the gospel to one another? While an exhaustive list of possible ministry activities would be difficult if not impossible to produce, there seem to be some basic practices mentioned in the New Testament which the church would do well to adopt until it becomes skilled enough in the word to innovate.

Below, I will list and unpack three New Testament ministry practices from a gospel perspective. They are:

  • Corporate Prayer
  • Gospel Rehearsal
  • Loving Confrontation

I’ll survey each practice in turn.

Corporate Prayer

The Christian life consists of obedience to the gospel. We can’t obey it directly, though, since it is simply the announcement about Christ. We obey the gospel when we conduct our lives in response to reality as the gospel reveals it. When Paul wrote, “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.” (Ephesians 4:25 NIV) he rooted his truthfulness ethic in the gospel rather than simply saying, “Don’t lie.”

Since the gospel is the message of reconciliation between sinners and God, it calls forth prayer from its very core. A believer can obey the gospel at any time simply by praying confidently to God her Father. Through prayer, we identify with the experience of Christ and we enter our own experience of the Father. Disciples pray and the act of praying disciples.

While any believer can pray powerfully at any time, there seems to be a particular benefit to praying together. Through the book of Acts, the disciples gathered regularly to pray. Indeed, it was the first thing they did together after Christ’s ascension. When they were threatened, they came together to pray. When Peter was imprisoned the church gathered to pray. In the first Gentile church, prayer activated the missionary enterprise:

Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.

(Acts 13:1-3 NIV)

These were teachers in the church who weren’t too busy teaching to pray. I get the sense that this gathering of five had spent quite a bit of time addressing God together before the Holy Spirit spoke. Then, after his commission, they spent more time in fasting and prayer. These men were called to teach and preach, but prayer was their central focus.

Corporate prayer gets things done, but the practice of corporate prayer also builds disciples. As we pray together, we expand our vision of what God might do through us. That vision, in turn, pulls us to pray for his guidance and supply. As the disciples witness God perform his own will through them, their faith grows exponentially.

Notice the interplay between Christlike love, confidence before God, and effective prayer in this passage from 1 John:

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him.

1 John 3:16-22 NIV

Notice how faith and love orbit a life of prayer and increase with every revolution. Think of a believer who has enough material goods for today and tomorrow encountering a sister in Christ who doesn’t have enough for today. He obeys the gospel and gives her what he has for tomorrow. That act of giving causes joy and confidence to flood his heart. From that confidence, he asks God to supply his needs for tomorrow. When that prayer is answered his faith grows, prompting him to do more acts of love and the cycle begins again.

Gospel Rehearsal

Nobody in God’s kingdom needs to be taught, but we often need reminding. The gospel is an alien presence in our hearts and in our midst. Our previous tendencies threaten to reject its graft into our hearts. The surrounding society entices and coerces us to compromise this message that refuses black-and-white norms. In short order, we can begin to convert the gospel rather than allowing it to convert us.

The early church seems to have gathered to rehearse the essence of the gospel by various means. This aspect of church life is depicted in elegant detail in this passage:

Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.

(Colossians 3:16 NIV)

The gospel lives at the center of the faith community as they gather to celebrate it in a spiritual dance with God and one another. We gather to celebrate our salvation, compare notes, and remind each other where to find true north. The Christ hymns which we can find in Paul’s letters seem to have been designed to facilitate gospel rehearsal. Here is one such hymn as an example:

Here is a trustworthy saying:
If we died with him,
we will also live with him;
if we endure,
we will also reign with him.
If we disown him,
he will also disown us;
if we are faithless,
he remains faithful,
for he cannot disown himself.

(2 Timothy 2:11-13 NIV)

This hymn both recites the essence of the gospel and encourages faithfulness to it. The last stanzas strongly suggest a movement under pressure to renounce Christ. Believers in such circumstances would need to gather to remind one another of the truth and their stake in it.

We need to rehearse the gospel to keep it from accommodating culture or serving our sensibilities. The church has been tasked with upholding the gospel but often usurps it instead. Rather than preserve its integrity she’s given birth to twisted perversions like sacramentalism, easy believism, the social gospel, liberation theology, and the prosperity gospel. Should the church become once again subject to the gospel it will again produce powerful disciples as it provides the place to rehearse its simple truth.

Loving confrontation

Sin is insidious. Scripture wastes no time depicting it as a beast waiting to consume the unwary. In Genesis 4:7, God warns Cain:

 “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

(NIV)

There’s an enemy at the gate, but it presents itself as a friend. An injustice stirs righteous indignation that hardens into judgment. Compassion becomes control. Relational reciprocity becomes indebtedness and then personal compromise. Workaholism demolishes lives under the banner of a high calling.

Not only does sin operate in secret, but its operation also dulls our awareness of its presence. We, like Cain, must be wary of sin before it has come through the door lest it becomes our welcome guest. We also need others to minister God’s warning to us in real-time. We need proactive accountability.

The church values accountability in theory but fails in execution. Retrospectives of the fall of Ravi Zacharias or Mark Driscoll condemn their opacity. More troubling, their inner circle protected their secrecy. Accountability among the rank and file is more selective. Churches publicly brand someone for adultery while turning a blind eye to the questionable business practices of a major donor. This double standard indicates the core malfunction in church accountability which is a fundamental misunderstanding of sin.

We hesitate to confront others when we define sin as a violation of a written standard. Since a standard has been broken, accountability must come with accusation. As with the secular legal system, we’re slow to prosecute unless the optics of the situation require that we do. We don’t want “to make a federal case” out of gossip when this sin seems so common. Wouldn’t it be more “grace based” to model the right behavior without pointing any fingers? Besides, aren’t we all sinners without legitimate stones to throw? But that’s just the problem, we see confrontation as an injury while the New Testament writers saw it as protection and help.

We can align our view of accountability with that of the first Christians when we return to the gospel standard. Since there is no condemnation in Christ, we have no basis to accuse each other. We no longer ask whether our brother’s actions were lawful because such a question is nonsensical for God’s children. Without prohibitions, the more challenging question emerges, “Is it helpful?” This type of confrontation elicits no shame over the past because it concerns itself with progress toward our shared goal.

Without the trauma and trepidation of prosecution, we’re free to weave confrontation into our ordinary life as a community. While infractions and accusations create upheaval, loving confrontation smooths the road and energizes the recipient. Why wouldn’t we share and receive it liberally?

An American Christian who maintains a basic moral veneer may never experience confrontation today. How different that experience is from the advice of Hebrews:

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said,

“Today, if you hear his voice,

do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

(Hebrews 3:12-15 ESV)

We are not under a law of works but a law of faith. Rather than concerning ourselves with prohibitions we attend to one continuous imperative, “Believe.” That’s the law of faith. This law doesn’t require prescribed penalties because it’s self-enforcing. Unbelieving actions produce unbelieving hearts which exclude themselves from eternal life. This hardening can begin in a moment and happen at any time. So, the author of Hebrews calls on believers to warn each other on the day of rebellion – the day called, “today.”

Each disciple needs the church to help them faithfully follow the path marked out by Christ. That’s a practical principle of the gospel.

From Seed to Fruit

Faith Recovery Podcast
Faith Recovery Podcast
From Seed to Fruit
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By planting the gospel new life of the gospel goes from seed to fruit.

In “From Seed to Fruit,” Alex, Kent, and Nathan demonstrate how the gospel is the only legitimate evangelistic method and discipleship tool.


“From Seed to Fruit” Episode Notes:

Evangelize. Don’t proselytize.

Can you imagine Jesus publicly rebuking a group for working hard to bring a pagan into a covenant relationship with God?

He did.

The ends don’t justify the means because the means are the end.

Jesus blasted the Pharisees with 7 “woes” in Matthew 23. As you might imagine, a “woe” was a stern public rebuke. What had they been doing to merit official censure from the Son of God?

  • Using their status and expertise to keep people from believing in Jesus.
  • Creating legal loopholes which would allow them to foreswear themselves in business dealings while remaining “innocent” of any real violation of the Torah.
  • Meticulous tithing of even their garden herbs while completely ignoring matters like justice, mercy and faithfulness.
  • Fastidious observance of washing rituals while harboring greed and self-indulgence.
  • Making a public show of their religiosity to be admired by others while the rot of hypocrisy and wickedness polluted their souls.
  • Trying to both celebrate the prophets while imitating those who killed them.

The list turns my stomach even though I’ve been guilty of probably everything on it. Maybe that’s the reason for my visceral response. I know the malignancy of hypocrisy firsthand and I have no trouble identifying with Christ’s ire.

One among the woes doesn’t seem to fit, though. Woe 2 of 7 goes like this:

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.

(Matthew 23:15 NIV)

Surely, it’s bad to make someone twice as much a child of hell as you are, but what if you don’t know you’re a child of hell? Would a child of hell expend so much effort to convince someone to leave paganism and worship Yahweh? That must have been a noble aspiration, but Jesus doesn’t seem to agree. His woe doesn’t come back and affirm their proselytizing like he does with the one about tithing. It would have sounded strange if he had since his tone about their missionary journeys seems altogether derisive. The juxtaposition between “you travel over land and sea” and “to win a single convert,” lampoons (and harpoons) them. Their noble pursuit was neither laudable in its intent nor justifiable in its outcome.

Their methods made their converts children of hell because they made the Pharisees children of hell. Proselytizing is a dirty business fraught with moral hazards along the way. The proselytizer must gain his quarry’s trust which often requires at least some duplicity. They must think he is genuinely interested in them and not just in adding their foreskin to his collection, which is the real motive.[i] Judaism doesn’t prescribe proselytizing per se, so those who set out on the endeavor were necessarily seen as super Jews. Those who expended great effort were super-duper Jews. And those who won a proselyte would have been national heroes. The whole process of proselytization dehumanizes its object to prove the superiority of the proselytizer and his tribe.

Most Christians are familiar with the Great Commission. We know it says that we should go and make converts of all nations. Doesn’t that sound a lot like what Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for? Here is the passage:

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

(Matthew 28:18-20 NIV)

The difference between Christ’s rebuke of the Pharisees five chapters ago and this commission from him lies largely in the means. Our English translations lead most to believe that Christ’s primary imperative here is “go,” but that’s wrong. In the Greek, the word for “go” is in the participle form like the one for “baptizing” and for “teaching.” Only “make disciples” (actually just “disciple”) thumps with the force of a command in this text. That makes a lot more sense since one of Jesus’ last instructions to his disciples before ascending was, “stay.”[2] The Great Commission doesn’t tell us how to work for Christ, but how to work with him. Nothing between “all authority has been given to me” and “I will be with you always” is within our ability to perform. Christ is the goal, and he is the means.

Here’s the big difference: Religions gain adherents through proselytization while God’s kingdom expands through evangelization.

The former requires tons of resources because it requires the convert to adopt new manners, dress, language, friendships, recreational behavior, and rhythm of life. The latter requires that the convert believe a story. Since we can’t make anyone believe anything, we’re left with nothing but the telling.

Christ’s Parable of the Sower offers insight into the dynamics of discipling through evangelization. The farmer performs one function – he throws seed. He doesn’t perform soil tests or cultivate his land or plow furrows; he just throws everywhere. Later in the parable, Jesus explains that the seed is the word of God which I’ve demonstrated to be the gospel. While Mark 16:15’s “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” is probably not authentic, it does correctly give the ”how” to Matthew 28’s what. We, like the farmer, just need to recklessly scatter the gospel seed everywhere. Every time we do, we must let it truly leave our hands because the whole Christian life is contained in that germ. Attempts to “win” others through our efforts will only cause harm to us and to them.

Don’t hang out a shingle, hold up the cross.

Paul traveled sea and land to make converts, but his efforts have yielded good fruit because he planted good seed. In his words:

And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

(1 Corinthians 2:1-2 NIV)

According to Luke in Acts 18, Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half. That’s one of his longest stays with his three weeks in Thessalonica as a point of comparison. While in Corinth, he was probably not able to devote as much time as he may have wanted since he worked a fulltime job through the day and ministered in the evenings. He didn’t have a family, though, so he could devote every discretionary minute in ministry. That’s a lot of time! And he filled it all with, “Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Though he was bi-vocational, Paul’s one job was to proclaim the gospel. He knew that anything he might have done beyond that would have been proselytizing, so he left it out.

Paul had one job because the gospel is the seed of the kingdom but planting alone won’t produce a crop. That he was limited to preaching this “foolish” and simple message meant he had to look to God for the results. As he goes on to say in this same passage:

I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

(1 Corinthians 2:3-4 NIV)

Can you imagine a pastor search committee hiring someone whose résumé said he was nervous, timid, not particularly wise-sounding, nor persuasive?

Because the gospel is news the clearest, least embellished presentation is always the best. The power to make disciples is in the seed. The power to make that seed germinate must come from God. Paul’s choice to just tell the gospel made room for his hearers to encounter God personally. That kind of thing happens when the messenger has the faith of Christ to minister the faith of Christ to others. I’ve been saying that Paul had one; he also had one great privilege – the eager ear of God. Proselytizers put faith in their efforts, but evangelizers must trust in God who empowers us by his Spirit. Where the Pharisees through their great effort had made double sons of hell, Paul effortlessly produced people of sterling faith by God’s power.

Paul favored the simplest possible presentation of the gospel, but he did use visual aids. And they were good ones, too, because Paul berated the Galatians for not benefiting from them:

You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified.

(Galatians 3:1 NIV)

The Greek here translated, “clearly portrayed as,” connotes a public portrayal. No, Paul didn’t stage a Passion Play. He was the visual aid. Where Christ had been rejected by Israel and accused by her leaders, so jealous Galatian Jews turned out even from surrounding regions to oppose Paul. Christ was subject to unjust legal treatment from a consortium of Jew and Gentile leaders. Similarly, Paul was banished from Pisidian Antioch by influential Gentiles stirred up by the Jewish leaders.[iii] Paul didn’t have PowerPoint (gasp!) but he could still depict the gospel visually through participation in Christ’s suffering and demonstration of resurrection power. Just as Christ’s death resulted in victory, so Paul’s banishment cemented the faith of his converts. Acts 13 doesn’t end in defeat, but with, “And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.”

Paul preached the gospel with words and without because the two presentations were inseparable. Look at how he describes his ministry method:

For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself.

(2 Corinthians 4:11-14 NIV)

A taste of Christ’s death awaits anyone who believes enough to open their mouth and proclaim the unvarnished gospel. Attempts to “gain a hearing” or “earn the right to be heard” or “contextualize the message” seek to skirt the offense of the cross. They are all a shift from evangelization toward proselytization. Making a disciple is tantamount to raising the dead, but just as a student is not above his teacher neither will we be able to perform this feat while unwilling to partake of the cross.

From “children of hell” to kids of the King

There’s no easy way to say this so I’ll come out with it – the predominant outreach model in the American church is proselytization and not evangelization. American churches spend hundreds of billions of dollars every year on lavish facilities, professional music, stunning multimedia, sunshiny kids’ ministries, and “sticky” youth ministries. Does this sound a bit like a modern equivalent to traveling sea and land? They may wordsmith some transcendent purpose for each of the copious investments, but the bottom line is more bottoms lined up in our plush conference chairs.

Church growth can feel synonymous to advancing the kingdom, so we justify the ends with the means. But in this time of crisis for the American church, the fires of trial are revealing just how much wood, hay, and straw have gone into its edifice. In the kingdom of God, the ends don’t justify the means, but they sure can condemn them. The attractional church has been churning out children of hell. They’re still greedy so we sell the lie that giving a little money now will result in God making them rich in this life. They’re filled with lust, so we get them hooked up with a recovery ministry. Their vanity punishes their gluttony, so we start a Christian weight loss ministry to help their vanity win. They love their children more than Christ, so we offer them childcare, child discipleship, and parenting training in the name of Christ. All of this grievously makes their kids twice the children of hell than they are.

Before you dismiss me as an idealogue (or something less charitable) let me share an example of how a large church maintained its gospel edge while responding to administrative demands.

In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”

(Acts 6:1-4 NIV)

Notice that this food distribution program wasn’t an outreach of the church but their way of expressing the Kingdom norm of justice. And yet a concern over injustice arose regarding the administration of the food. This wasn’t a small issue. Widows were going hungry, and the church was beginning to split along ethnic lines. Against this swell of controversy, the apostles’ commitment to the main thing remained stalwart. They would not deviate from their calling to pray and distribute the gospel. These are the lub and dub of outreach and nothing can be allowed to detract from it.

As we will see in the next sections, church life encompasses more than prayer and preaching but these are the one proper method of kingdom expansion. An understanding of this point will focus our activity. Rather than attempting to entice lost people to church we can equip the church to prayerfully proclaim the gospel as they go to the store, the bank, school, communities, jobs, etc. There could be no more powerful force to reach the world than an army of the unashamed marching into persecution with signs following.

This brings me to the second of my four exhortations.

Retool discipleship.

A 2002 survey of over 3000 American teenagers found that nearly all of them saw morality as the purpose of religion and that they didn’t think religion was particularly necessary for a person to become moral. As the authors commented:

Most U.S. teens think that one of religion’s primary functions is to help people be good. But they do not view religion as necessary for anyone being good, because they see many means to being good and many good nonreligious people. Hence, most U.S. teenagers conclude that religion is a nonnecessary condition for achieving one of its primary functions. In other words, the thing religion specializes in does not actually require religion to achieve.

Is it any wonder that 2007 witnessed the beginning of a sharp decline away from affiliation with religion in America?

Speaking of 2007, that year Willowcreek Community Church conducted an intensive survey of their 20,000+ members to discover how the church’s ministry had helped them grow spiritually. The results published in a document aptly named “Reveal” showed that it hadn’t. Their most involved members were the least enthusiastic about their faith and nearly 40% had contemplated finding another church over the previous year.[v]

In 2016 several influential Christian leaders endorsed the Trump campaign going on record to christen a philandering, bloviating, elitist, thug as God’s choice for America. It was a shocking moment for many when the underbelly of Americanism hiding under evangelicalism finally showed itself openly. A rift formed within the evangelical church that has continued to widen to this day.[vi]

In 2018, Christian author and pastor, Joshua Harris announced that he was deconstructing his faith and no longer identified as “Christian.”[vii] He wasn’t the first high-profile Christian to go through that process or use that terminology, but his case brought the term, “deconstructing,” into the mainstream. As more Christian leaders have come forward to say they too have renounced their faith, “deconstruction” has come to refer to an overall trend. More than a trend, a harbinger fraught with dread and portents of American Christianity finally falling into ruin with the rest of the west.

As devoted Christians have grasped for the cause of these troubling trends, one answer always comes to the fore – bad discipleship in the church. There is surely truth in that conclusion, but the problem goes a bit deeper. While the teens in the 2002 survey obviously missed out on basic Christian education, it probably wouldn’t be fair to say that Joshua Harris had been inadequately discipled in his church. The disaffected at Willowcreek had received the most Christian content of any of the other demographics which they surveyed. Christians dismayed over their brothers’ political stance would likely find them as informed about the Bible as anyone. Bad discipleship in the church is the cause but the fix won’t involve a change in church as much as a change in our basic understanding of discipleship.

Everything is not a nail.

Bible learning isn’t discipleship. It was the Bible teachers of Christ’s day who conspired to have him crucified. How could this have happened if Bible knowledge equates to spiritual growth? Christ himself was a rabbi, but he almost never taught from the Bible. The apostle Paul blatantly disparaged religious knowledge in this passage:

Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. But whoever loves God is known by God.

(1 Corinthians 8:1-3 NIV)

It seems that not only does Bible study not grow people, but it might also even get in the way of their growth. Most serious Christians know from experience that this is true. In times of dryness or besetting sin reading the Bible rarely remedies.

Despite being obviously false, we continue to equate Bible study and discipleship. If you asked a pastor fifty years ago how his church was discipling its members, he would have pointed to the Sunday School program. Thirty years ago, he would have shown you his cutting-edge small group ministry along with reams of men’s, women’s and student study materials. If (since) that wasn’t enough parachurch has produced multiple additional learning tracks like Promise Keepers, Bible Study Fellowship and YoungLife. And yet when “What went wrong?” gets asked, the answer continues to be, “Not enough Bible learning.”

Some have attempted to push back against the glut of knowledge with an emphasis on obedience rather than scholastics. They might say they’ve transitioned from a Bible learning model to a Bible doing model. Depending on the amount of top-down control from disciple-maker to disciple these movements have exploded to reach millions of people. It’s a fascinating study in exponential growth but it’s also social control. Accountability is important in the Christian movement, but freedom is essential. It’s little wonder that yesterday’s dynamic disciple-making movement tends to become today’s controlling cult.[viii] And all the participants in these movements receive in exchange for their freedom is more of the same. Trading Bible learning for Bible doing retains the Bible as the discipling tool with a different methodology. They might perform better than the average churchgoer, but they won’t grow because the Bible is the wrong tool for the job no matter how it gets used.

There’s a saying that goes, “If all you have is a hammer, everything will look like a nail.” Churches continue to whack away at their members with the Bible (Bible thumpers?) because it’s the only tool they have. Someone might propose that we instead choose to simply “follow Jesus” but that just means they should focus primarily on the four Gospels. Someone else could suggest that everyone listen to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, but that approach never works in practice because somebody always starts saying the Holy Spirit wants them to sleep with their girlfriend or something like that. Then the leaders must open the Bible to correct the convenient calling. They vow next time to make that kid learn his Bible before telling him to follow the Holy Spirit.

Whack!

We know that a disciple must follow his master to become like him but we’re not sure how to follow someone who’s not physically present. We can’t walk with him like his first disciples did. Even if we could, the opportunity doesn’t seem to have had much of a transformative effect on any of them. At the end of their time with him, they seem to have been every much as ignorant, fearful, and failing as they were when he called them. Jesus promised that the one who follows him will become like him, so physically walking behind Jesus doesn’t seem to have been what he meant. If literally walking with Jesus produced one betrayer, one denier, and ten defectors, maybe we shouldn’t idealize that period in salvation history. Maybe we should spend less time reading the Gospels and trying to imitate the life we find there.  

Jesus told his disciples that his ministry years would be brief and preparatory for his real work on the cross. He promised that he would send them the Holy Spirit in his absence. Far from being a consolation prize, the coming of the Holy Spirit would improve upon their experience of him as he would live inside of them instead of just with them. Jesus said that only his disciples would be able to receive the Spirit since the gift would only be for those who knew Jesus.[ix] The disciples may have wondered why Christ didn’t just give them the Holy Spirit if he came to those who know him, and they had come to know him. And what about people who never met Jesus, how were they to come to know him if the Holy Spirit only came on the ones who know him? According to John, the Holy Spirit would not come until Christ’s glorification,[x] but why?

The Holy Spirit is the divine mentor, but he needed the right training tool which only Christ’s passion could provide.

Take up your cross and follow me.

We know we’re supposed to follow Christ, but we don’t even know what that means. Should we read about him in the Gospels and attempt to reproduce the details of his life? Should we learn his teachings and conform our lives to them? Maybe a combination of both? This probably sounds right to most. It’s been the thrust of a recent movement led by teachers like Francis Chan and David Plat.[xi] Unfortunately, it doesn’t work. As I’ve already observed, it didn’t work for the guys who originally walked with Jesus, and it won’t work now. Following Christ isn’t about imitating the life of Jesus of Nazareth or about trying to keep up with a new litany of commands. Rather than reproducing the character of Christ, this approach produces new, more judgmental Pharisees celebrating dramatic ministry achievements and looking down on more pedestrian callings.

Simply put, we follow Christ by walking in his steps. According to that guy who denied Christ after three and a half years in his inner circle:

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

“He committed no sin,

and no deceit was found in his mouth.”

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.

(1 Peter 2:21-23 NIV)

Peter denied Jesus on that fateful night because he still didn’t really know who he was. He hadn’t even begun to follow him. There just before the cock crowed, Peter declined to take up his cross and follow Jesus. The call to discipleship comes with a cross and only in taking it up can anyone begin to follow. That’s a steep demand. It’s too steep which is why even Peter couldn’t meet it. Only after Christ’s vindication could Peter see the beauty of the cross which his master offered him.

Not only was Peter now able take up his own cross he learned to help others take up theirs as well. That’s discipleship. The Christians Peter addressed in the passage above were slaves. They couldn’t chase a life of radical missional living. They were too occupied with literal planting and harvesting. But this didn’t mean they couldn’t follow Christ as closely as anyone else. Their circumstances provided all the identification with Christ they could want. And Peter didn’t want them to miss it. Through his letter, he discipled those slaves by insisting that they live by the faith of Christ in the grind of their daily lives.

The cross is the only training tool which can transform a sinner into the image of Christ. Under the weight of our cross we exercise the faith of Christ which is his essence. By the Spirit of his resurrection, we find joy and power flooding the vacuum dug in our hearts by the cross. So, discipleship is simply the repeated dying and rising with Christ that multiplies the faith and love of the Son of God with each revolution.

This was Paul’s understanding of his own pursuit of Christ:

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

(Philippians 3:10-12 NIV)

Death and resurrection are the only process of discipleship. But Paul also looked forward to another resurrection. He doesn’t seem to mean the bodily resurrection at the end of the age since that’s not something we strive to earn and because he speaks of it as something he might have considered himself to have reached. So, Paul lived in a pattern of dying and rising in pursuit of a personal resurrection yet ahead of him, but not beyond his own horizon.

This resurrection provided a concrete focus for Paul’s personal spiritual growth. “Becoming Christlike” is too nebulous to strain toward. We can’t see it out there and we can’t recognize our own progress toward it. Of course, Paul wanted to become like Christ but for him that meant the achievement of the resurrection from the dead. As we will see, this resurrection was the conquest of sin within his body.

Life to your mortal bodies

The gospel transforms into the image of Christ because the cross is God’s one remedy for sin. The writers of the New Testament viewed spiritual growth as the death of sin’s influence in our bodies and the springing to life of the divine character out of its ashes. Spiritual maturity and mastery over sin were directly related for them. After centuries of collective failure against sin, these sincere Jews had found real victory over its power through the gospel.

Sinlessness is the goal of discipleship but that doesn’t mean we should devote our energies to sin management. We can’t return to a law of written requirements which would provoke the law of sin which would activate the law of death. Paul called his stalemate with sin, “death.” If that’s the case, we’ll never break the impasse in our own strength since we’re dead in sin. The only way to overcome sin, then, must be through resurrection.

After disarming sin through his declaration in Romans 8:1 that there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, Paul goes on to point to a fourth law which sets free from the law of sin and the law of death, “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.”

(Romans 8:2 ESV emphasis mine NAW)

The law of the Spirit of life begins with sin as already defeated. The work of Christ had already put sin on death row where it can’t threaten any of his people. They now become a threat to sin as they learn to renounce their own striving (flesh) at his cross and imbibe the life of his resurrection. Just as the law of death manifested in a consistent, degenerative experience, so now the law of the Spirit of life must manifest in consistent, regenerative experience. As Paul wrote:

But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

(Romans 8:10-11 ESV)

Paul speaks of a future, but penultimate resurrection here just like he did in Philippians 3. Notice that he doesn’t say, “he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give you a new body.” Instead, he promises that resurrection life will flow into their current, mortal bodies through the Spirit. Since “death” has meant the inability to overcome sin, “life” must mean power and even victory over it. The disciple must take up her cross to follow Christ because only through consigning her own efforts to the grave can she find resurrection power over sin.

The idea of consigning our efforts to the grave may sound like a cop-out but it’s so much harder than attempting to conform to religious rules. As a former legalist, I can attest that for all the misery of legalism it did have one perk. I could piecemeal my service to God and retain my illusions of autonomy and relative worth. At the cross we lay down our efforts because we acknowledge our inability. We take up his shame because he took ours. Our pretensions die and our rights are cast aside at the cross. At the cross we find that even our most noble aspirations and laudable achievements were born of ego and contributed to our downfall. The cross is the solution because we are the problem, but the cross is not the end.

We go to the cross to die, but death is never God’s goal. We take up our cross to receive resurrection power over sin. That’s the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. As Paul continues in Romans 8, he gives us a clearer idea of the dynamic of this law:

So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

(Romans 8:12-17 ESV)

Rather than attempting to suppress wicked urges we kill them at the cross. All the precipitators of overt sin arise from our ego. We get stuck between lust and shame because lust attempts to bolster our deficiencies while shame arrogates our potential. Putting the deeds of the body to death means that we renounce ourselves altogether. No, we’re not entitled to “blow off steam” because our bodies are dead with Christ. No, we don’t get to wallow in self-loathing because there is no more self to loathe.

And yet we subject ourselves to this death to receive eternal life in Christ. The pursuit of the penultimate resurrection results in confidence for the ultimate resurrection. While some death may remain in our bodies, we continue to give them over to the cross of Christ which is what the Spirit leads us to do. We might have to confess with Paul that we’ve not yet attained the resurrection of the dead in our mortal bodies, but we know that we’re on our way. And being on the way is enough since just being led by the Spirit makes one a Son of God. And being a Son of God means being an heir with Christ.

Through the death and resurrection of Christ we enter confidently into the covenant of faith. We participate in that covenant as that faith urges us to die with Christ and as that faith find vindication in power to overcome sin. Through Christ’s death and resurrection, we can be assured that even though we’re still in process our identification with him means we’re saved now and will be saved forever. This faith isn’t mere agreement with a credal statement, though. It’s the faith of Christ that calls us to suffer with him and thereby share his glory.

But what does it mean to suffer with him? Did Paul mean to say that only people who live in restricted countries can be glorified with Christ? Not at all! Every person in this fallen world faces a plethora of opportunities to suffer with Christ every day.


The Spirit of the Law

Faith Recovery Podcast
Faith Recovery Podcast
The Spirit of the Law
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The Spirit of the Law is Christ

Through the gospel, we see through the letter of scripture to Christ who is the spirit of the law.

“The Spirit of the Law” episode notes:

While we strongly reject biblicism, we wholeheartedly accept the entire Bible as a blessed gift from God for the benefit of his people. We agree with Paul that:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

(2 Timothy 3:16-17 NIV)

Through Reformation lenses, this passage might look like it refutes everything we’ve said. Let’s lay that eyewear aside for a minute and take a fresh look at the legitimate role of Scripture.

Once we’re free from Scripture as a taskmaster, we can come to love it as a mentor and friend. That sword from Hebrews 4:12 ceases to be an implement of death and takes on a therapeutic role as it reads us and the people we’re called to serve. That’s how the author of the Hebrew letter used Psalm 95:7-8 to provide insight into God’s plan and our tendency to resist it.

As a highly literate society with unprecedented access to Scripture in our language, we understand 2 Timothy 3:16-17 to mean that Scripture is useful to teach, rebuke, correct, and train us as we read it. But Timothy lived among a largely illiterate population with almost no direct personal access to copies of Scripture. Instead of a road map or a user’s manual to guide his life, Paul commended the Bible to Timothy as a ministry multi-tool. Notice that the functions for which Paul says Scripture is useful are all ministry related. The Bible equips God’s servant to teach, rebuke, correct, and train in righteousness.

We may be accustomed to ministers dictating Christian behavior to us from the Bible, but this isn’t what Paul meant. How can we know? Context. Historically, neither Paul nor Timothy had a New Testament so for them the Old Testament was “all Scripture.” And we know that Paul opposed requiring people to observe the Torah. Even so, Paul affirmed the wonderful value of the Hebrew scriptures for Christian ministers. The immediate context gives us a picture of the kind of person who can properly wield Scripture:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

(2 Timothy 3:14-15 NIV)

Timothy had been taught a message which he had become persuaded through the lives of his teachers was true. Before that, though, he had been taught the Holy Scriptures which equipped him to join the saved by faith in Christ. 2 Timothy 3:14-17 depicts the way Scripture, and the gospel should relate to one another:

  • Scripture points toward the gospel.
  • Saving faith enables access to the lifegiving spirit of Scripture.
  • New Scripture arises from God’s presence in the redeemed community.

I’ll briefly unpack each interrelation below.

Scripture points towards the gospel

The preaching of the gospel didn’t begin in Acts 2; it began with Genesis 1. The apostle John in both his Gospel and his first letter claims that the message they preached was what was heard at the beginning. He then goes on to root the proclamation of eternal life through Christ in the revelation that God is light, the source of all light. Yes, he had had an encounter with God in the flesh, but he doesn’t suggest that encounter was the beginning of God’s self-revelation. Rather, it was the revelation that had been given to Israel all along now come in person. The Holy Scriptures had made Timothy wise for salvation because that was their intent.

Paul opens his letter to the Romans like this:

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures…

(Romans 1:1-2 NIV)

God had spent nearly two thousand years preparing Israel to ask the question for which the gospel was the answer. Even though nationalist pride kept the majority of Israel from receiving the answer, Gentile seekers all over the Roman Empire had begun to ask the question after years of listening in at the synagogue window. The gospel answer found those humble Jews and hopeful Gentiles through the preaching of Christ’s chosen ambassadors. The synagogues which had sprung up from the Jewish dispersion became tinderboxes for a movement that would consume the Roman Empire.

We can learn from God’s example and take the time to help others know what questions to ask before giving them the gospel as the answer. In previous eras of ubiquitous Sunday Schools, bus ministries, and Vacation Bible Schools, most people had at least some inkling of the question. That can no longer be assumed. We must put an end to canned evangelistic presentations aimed at pushing for immediate decisions. At best, they luck into reaching someone with a Bible background. As those people become scarcer, these presentations will be more likely to inoculate unbelievers against the gospel or, even worse, produce false disciples.

One great example of the synergy between the Scripture and the gospel is Chronological Bible Storying. In this approach the evangelist tells a series of between five and twelve particularly relevant Old Testament stories to share with a seeker over several sessions.[i] At the final session, the evangelist presents the gospel and shows how it answers the question. A hearer who shows interest throughout the entire series of studies will most likely be ready to believe the gospel when she hears it. Others may self-eliminate, sparing the evangelist’s time. If someone goes through all the sessions and still rejects Christ, we can be confident at least that they know what they are rejecting.

Paul’s sermon to the Athenians in Acts 17 serves as a case study for Scripture as evangelistic aid. One needn’t refer to Scripture to present the gospel and they probably shouldn’t where the Bible is rejected or held in low regard. This was the case with the Athenians who took Paul to Mars Hill. Paul reasoned from creation and referred to their own religious and cultural insights about God. Then he told them about Jesus Christ raised from the dead. While this was a solid gospel presentation without reliance on Scripture, it wasn’t nearly as fruitful as when he proclaimed it in the synagogues.

The gospel validates Scripture as it depicts Christ, the spirit of the law.

55% of all ethnic Jews are atheists. Something has gone wrong with Israel’s understanding of God. Christians know it was an unwillingness to relinquish their pretentions of ethnic superiority. This doesn’t in anyway suggest a disdain for Jewish people on the part of Christians. As Paul wrote:

Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.

(Romans 10:1-4 NIV)

Because the gospel arose from God’s relationship with the Jewish race, every true believer longs for their salvation. We acknowledge God’s love for them for the sake of the patriarchs and even for the very earth upon which they walked. Until physical Israel unites with spiritual Israel our hopes will remain unfulfilled.[iii]

But the rejection of Christ by Jewish people didn’t end God’s relationship with Israel. Instead, Christ realized God’s purpose for Israel to become a nation made up of people of all nations. Christ didn’t institute a new religion but removed the provisional props of law, temple, and nation to call forth a people with the faith of Abraham.[iv]

When seen as the story of God’s preference for one race of people, the Old Testament looks despicably racist and utterly untrustworthy. Surely the one true God wouldn’t limit his interest to one politically insignificant nation. How could he exclude millions around the world through the ages who’d never heard of Abraham, or circumcision, or the temple cult? While I acknowledge that a sovereign God can do as he pleases, these considerations raise serious questions for non-Jews about God’s fairness.

For the Jews, it must seem that God’s promises have utterly failed after the destruction of their temple in 70 AD (after prophetic promises that it would not be destroyed).[v] From that time until 1948 the Jews were scattered, hated, hounded, and nearly exterminated. Even now Israel exists as a besieged client state astride a high-pressure political fault line. The promises of Scripture must sound to modern-day Jews like the empty bluster of a fictional tribal deity.

Through the lens of the gospel of the kingdom, though, the promises of Scripture come alive as the Suffering Servant[vi] assumes sin’s penalty, conquers death, and pours out his Spirit on all flesh.[vii] Even as the nation of Israel met its nadir in 70 AD, the kingdom of God advanced around the known world eventually toppling the mighty Roman Empire according to Daniel’s visions.[viii] No longer limited to one bloodline or even one culture, this kingdom encompasses every human that takes hold of the Abrahamic faith. Through the gospel, God’s promise in Genesis 17 continues to find fulfillment through the expansion of a worldwide nation – ever more diverse, ever more unified under the Davidic King, the Son of the God of Israel.[ix]

Saving faith enables access to the life-giving spirit of Scripture.

The Decalogue is famously negative. As I’ve already pointed out, Paul found it deadly as well. The only way for him to find freedom from the disintegration between his flesh and his spirit was for the law to lose its grip on him. The answer to his plea for deliverance from the law of death in Romans 7 began with Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (ESV)

Christ’s salvation includes absolution but that’s certainly not the end of his work. Having banished the law of written ordinances, God has replaced it with an unwritten law of the Spirit.[x] This isn’t a flight into subjectivism, but a dynamic relationship guided by objective facts. Only from a literate, legalist bias would we assume “unwritten” means “amorphous.” If we can get past this false dichotomy, we’ll see that Paul clearly defines the unwritten law:

For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

(Romans 8:2-4 ESV)

We no longer concern ourselves with meeting a prescribed standard because Christ conquered sin not through the effort of the flesh but through its utter weakness, that is death. We now follow him by relinquishing our every pretense of personal virtue so we can live by his Spirit. He is the Spirit of Christ and so he leads us to express the death and resurrection of Christ which is the unwritten standard. Paul goes on to describe “law of the Spirit of life” in Romans 8:10-13:

But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. (NIV)

Those who put their faith in Christ receive the gift of God’s Spirit. By that Spirit we reenact Christ’s death and resurrection[xi] as we put sin to death in our bodies and find resurrection power to overcome it in these mortal bodies. This dynamic is the hallmark of the Israel of God[xii] as circumcision and the letter of the law were for physical Israel.

Since those who belong to Christ have the law of his kingdom already written on their hearts, they go to Scripture not to receive specific guidance per se, but to encounter the one who indwells them. According to Paul, Christ is the spirit of Scripture and through the eye of gospel faith we can see him there. Every believer has the means to find Christ in the Old Testament and know they have encountered the true Spirit of the Lord.[xiii] This truth opens a trove of spiritual resources if we will learn to use the Christological hermeneutic when reading the Hebrew Scriptures.

The authors of the New Testament books showed no reticence over teaching Christ from the figures and forms of their Scriptures which was the Hebrew Bible. They surgically removed verses and segments from their original context and applied them to the work of Christ in their day.[xiv] Their confidence over this approach arose from their presupposition that their Scriptures were written to attest to Christ. Where we share that presupposition, we will find that the Spirit of Christ is truly there even though we may initially be too obtuse to find it.

The Book of Ruth presents a helpful example of the potential for finding the Spirit of Christ in the Old Testament. Christian expositors for years have seen the connection between Boaz as the kinsman redeemer and Christ, but there’s so much more to glean. The story of Naomi’s decline, unlikely alliance, role as matchmaker, and ultimate restoration to her inheritance follows the history of Israel from the time of the judges to the return of Christ in glory. While Paul doesn’t seem to reference it, Ruth dramatizes his Romans 11 eschatology point by point.[2]

Insights such as the one I’ve described are often met with accusations of eisegesis from the hermeneutically cautious. That concern is only warranted if Scripture is the final authority. If that were the case, then we couldn’t afford to interpret Old Testament passages outside of their original historical context for fear of undermining the integrity of the text. It seems this is the wrong approach since the authors of the New Testament show no regard for such concerns.

The fear of misusing Scripture to illuminate and be illuminated by the gospel falls to the side when we accept the gospel as the final authority.

New Scripture arises from God’s presence in the redeemed community.

Except for Revelation, the books of the New Testament don’t present as Scripture in the same way that the Old Testament does. In the Prophets, we get “Thus sayeth the LORD,” but in the Gospels we get, “Thus did the Lord say as nearly as we can remember it.”[xv] Even though they also contain promises purportedly from Christ that the Holy Spirit would help them to remember, the Gospels are still a human recollection or in some cases just a collection. The array of discrepant details between the Gospels suggests that the help of the Holy Spirit didn’t guarantee word-perfect accuracy.

The Acts of the Apostles, while encouraging, offers very little usable instruction except to the most-lockstep ecclesiastical mimics. If anything, the work should tell us that the Holy Spirit is too wild and free to fit into any prescriptive template. Absent any presumed precedential pattern, Acts reads just like many later missionary accounts even up to the present day. Assuming that Jesus Christ is indeed the same yesterday, today, and forever that should be expected. Why should we canonize Acts and minimize The Narrative of God’s Dealings with George Muller? From the prologue, it doesn’t seem that Luke meant for his account to reach beyond the desk of Theophilus anyway. I’m thankful that it did, but I’m not thankful for the people who’ve turned it into something it was never meant to be.

As with Luke’s account, it doesn’t seem that any of the writers of the letters which make up the bulk of the New Testament expected that their correspondence would be read much past their own lifespans. They express immediate concerns and offer advice that is situational and at times even contradictory from author to author and even letter to letter.[xvi] Near the end of the letter to the Romans, Paul admits that the church already had enough knowledge of the gospel before receiving his treatise.[xvii] In 1 Corinthians 7 he offers extended advice through equivocation about it being from his own insight and in the hope that the Spirit of God might be with him in his ruling.[xviii] Paul writes to the Galatians that the apostles in Jerusalem were nobody special even though he went to present his gospel for their review and approval.[xix] The other authors of New Testament letters take the trouble to support their teaching from the Hebrew Scriptures and even refer to Paul.[xx] These features suggest the writers saw their authority as contingent rather than implicit. The definition of apostolic authority seems to have been elevated by later despots to wield it first by a claim of succession and then by a claim of exposition. Surely self-doubting Paul and hypocritical Peter didn’t become greater in death than in life. Why would we elevate their writings to timeless utterances of the divine?  

Of the 27 books in the New Testament, only Revelation reads like words directly from the Lord. From its literary genius and insight, I’m persuaded that it is. Not coincidentally, it’s the only book in the New Testament to call down curses on any who would deign to add to it or take away from it.[xxi] Ironically, it’s probably the work we’re most likely to ignore or augment.

None of what I’ve said has been meant to disparage the New Testament. It should be read and reread by everyone blessed enough to own a copy. Within its pages we hear the words of Christ, and we receive great insights from those who were singularly equipped to comment on his work and kingdom. The New Testament is a compilation of the wisdom of unrivaled spiritual masters. Its value is in the spiritual value we derive from it and not from any pretension of infallibility or timeless dictates. Those who wrote it made no such claims. Surely those who later insisted otherwise have sought to return to the yoke of legalism with all its institutional benefits.


[1] Through this section, the word “Scripture” will refer to the Old Testament.

[2] See Appendix ___ on the comparative structure of The Book of Ruth


[i] Share links and resources for CBS

[ii] Reference for statistics on Jewish atheism

[iii] Romans 11

[iv] Lots of references from Romans and Galatians about the faith of Abraham

[v] Reference in Isaiah about the temple never again being destroyed

[vi] Isaiah 52-53

[vii] Joel 2

[viii] Daniel 4 and Daniel 7

[ix] Stuff from Ephesians about unity in diversity

[x] Romans 7:6

[xi] Christ offered himself by the eternal Spirit and by the Spirit he was raised from the dead – add references.

[xii] Galatians 6:14-16, Col. 2:11-13

[xiii] 2 Corinthians 3

[xiv] Share examples such as in Romans 8 and the virgin birth in Isaiah 7

[xv] See Luke 1

[xvi] Paul tells women to both cover their hair and to refrain from overly adorning their hair.

[xvii] Romans 15:14

[xviii] 1 Corinthians 7:25-40

[xix] Galatians 2:1-6

[xx] Cite from James, Peter, Hebrews, Jude, and especially 2nd Peter

[xxi] Revelation 22:18-19

Obey the Gospel

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Faith Recovery Podcast
Obey the Gospel
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We must obey the gospel because it is the final standard in all matters of faith and life.

In “Obey the Gospel,” the Three Failed Pastors discuss the Christian system as guided not by a written text but by an oral announcement.


“Obey the Gospel” Episode Notes:

In saying that the gospel is the final authority for all matters of Christian faith and practice I have intentionally coopted the formula traditionally applied to the Bible.[1] The church must look to the gospel and not to the Bible as the authoritative guide for the individual Christian and as the basis of unity within the Christian movement.

In this section we will:

  • Survey the failings of the Bible as the authoritative guide
  • Outline God’s intent for a scriptural use of Scripture
  • Make a biblical case for the gospel as our standard
  • Explore the practical implications of making the switch.  

The Bible won’t cut it.

Astute readers will instantly recognize the irony of the heading above. It’s common in Christian vernacular to refer to the Bible as a sword. We make the association based on a couple of iconic scriptures:

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12 NIV)

Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:17 NIV)

“Word of God” in the Hebrews verse obviously refers to the Scriptures available to the author since he (or she) had been expounding Psalm 95 just prior. Paul in the Ephesian passage refers to something else since this preliterate Gentile church didn’t have access to a leather-bound volume they could wave around. That should be obvious at least to Bible scholars. As we will see not only does “word of God” refer to something else in Ephesians, none of the instances of its use in Paul’s writings refer to the Bible.
As nearly as we can tell, the passage in Hebrews is the only place in the New Testament where Scripture (not including the New Testament) is specifically called “the word of God.”

If this is the case (and we will prove that it is) why does every Christian everywhere immediately envision a gold-leafed volume whenever “word of God” is uttered? We contend that the association has come down from the Reformers and not from the apostles. Not only is the doctrine of sola scriptura[2] unbiblical (ironically) it’s also destructive.

The letter kills

It has been said that rules were made to be broken. To that maxim I would add, “And it doesn’t matter who made them.” Far from being a sin deterrent, Paul describes God’s law as “the power of sin.”[i] He unpacks that shocking statement in Romans 7 where he describes three different laws weaving us into a web of sinful behavior. The law of sin is an innate rebellious tendency residing within each person. The law of sin becomes activated when it encounters the law of God. The law of God on one hand and the law of sin on the other pull the person in two. The inner self longs to be righteous but fallen physical person craves what is now forbidden. It seems that the writers of the New Testament conceived of death was the separation of body from spirit.[ii] So Paul aptly calls this personal disintegration “the law of death.” At the end of the chapter the tension forces Paul to cry out, “Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?”

As Paul repeatedly reminds his readers in Romans 7, there was nothing wrong with God’s law except who it was addressed to. And yet the repeated violation of God’s law was no indication that it had been given in vain. According to Romans 5:20a “The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase.” It doesn’t seem that God has ever been a moralist, but that he will even incite sin for a higher purpose:

But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:20b-21 NIV)

Grace doesn’t mitigate sin; it converts it to more grace. And having in desperation come for grace we find freedom from sin’s grip. Since the law is the power of sin, God’s grace breaks that power through this truth, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…” (Romans 8:1 NIV)

These dynamics of sin, law, and death aren’t specific to the Torah. It’s not the content of the law but the nature of law that awakens sin and kills the sinner.[iii] We affirm that Scripture comes from God and is good, but that it can become deadly when used to produce a litany of religious rules.

While Protestant and evangelical traditions insist that salvation is by grace through faith apart from works, they’ve continued to formulate behavioral prescriptions from Bible passages. The church might agree that “There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus,” but not with the basis of that confidence which was:

All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify. (1 Corinthians 10:23 NASB95)

The church’s tendency to retain the Bible as a legal standard appears in the way the above verse is rendered in the NIV.[3]

“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive.

Since nothing in the Greek text indicates a need for quotation marks around any part of this verse and with no Greek analogue to “you say” there must be some other reason why these additions were made to this translation.[iv] It seems obvious that it was to steer readers away from an antinomian reading of Paul. At yet, in so far as law is defined as written rules, Paul was antinomian. The gospel of grace cannot coexist with any written code.

How ironic that the church has turned Paul’s letters into the very thing he abhorred.

I have the right to do anything—but not everything is beneficial. I have the right to do anything—but not everything is constructive.

Much disputing

Nobody fully understands the Bible. We should, and do, suspect anyone who claims to. The church has spent two millennia collecting, rejecting, losing, canonizing, translating, updating, studying, and expositing a collection of writings by various authors we relate to less and less with the passage of time. While various attempts have been made to affirm the utility of Scripture because of divine aid, nobody has called off the interpretive enterprise citing the achievement of complete understanding. We find this dynamic among literary and even legal scholars, but their texts don’t carry the weight of divine authority. If the Bible is God’s standard, we don’t get to get it wrong and yet we’ve yet to get it right.

Since no one understands the Bible, no two people understand it exactly alike. If we really treated the Bible as our sole standard no congregations could exist because each person would find all others out of compliance with his or her interpretation. Unity among Christians only exists where the Bible has come under some other authority whether or not the group admits it. Denominations are built not on the Bible but on Bible interpreters. Historically, the more actual authority a group delegates to Scripture the less cohesive it becomes.[4]

It’s good that the Bible prohibits using the Bible as our standard since it also commands us to be unified.[v] According to Paul, the removal of a legal code was a precondition to unity among God’s redeemed people:

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. (Ephesians 2:13-15a NIV)

It’s easy for the modern Christian to read this text and casually agree that requirements like circumcision needed to be removed to allow Gentiles to join Israel, but circumcision was no mere tradition or cultural phenomenon. Genesis 17 unequivocally decrees that uncircumcised males must be excluded from God’s people. If Scripture can be set aside for unity in one place, by what rationale do we make Scripture the arbiter of unity in another?

From the time Christians started treating the Bible as their supreme authority it has stood in the way of unity. The Colloquy of Marburg[vi] poignantly demonstrates the Bible’s ability to divide God’s people. Held just 12 years after Luther nailed up his 95 Theses, this meeting aimed at resolving a doctrinal difference over the unity feast of Christ – the eucharist. Martin Luther and Huldrich Zwingli were called together by German nobility to consolidate their respective reform movements. Of the 15 points of doctrine to be discussed at the colloquy, 14 were summarily accepted by both camps. On the 15th issue, the significance of communion, Luther chose “biblical authority” over his brother. With the New Testament as with the Old, the letter still kills, and the law still divides.


“Obey the Gospel” corrections:

In this episode, Nathan made up some statistics on the spot regarding mandatory drug sentencing for crack cocaine vs. cocaine powder. Here are the correct statistics:

The U.S. Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, which allocated $1.7 billion to the War on Drugs and established a series of “mandatory minimum” prison sentences for various drug offenses. A notable feature of mandatory minimums was the massive gap between the amounts of crack and of powder cocaine that resulted in the same minimum sentence: possession of five grams of crack led to an automatic five-year sentence while it took the possession of 500 grams of powder cocaine to trigger that sentence. Since approximately 80% of crack users were African American, mandatory minimums led to an unequal increase of incarceration rates for nonviolent Black drug offenders, as well as claims that the War on Drugs was a racist institution.

“War on Drugs,” Encyclopedia Britannica Online

“Obey the Gospel” Footnotes:

[1] Westminster Larger Catechism, Question 3: “What is the Word of God?” Answer: “The holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the word of God, the only rule of faith and obedience.”

[2] We understand that there are differences in the way various traditions define this doctrine, but we use it to refer to the belief that the Bible is the final authority by which all others must be evaluated.

[3] We don’t mean to pick on the NIV. It’s our preferred translation. But since it is recent and applies a functional equivalence method of translation, it sometimes displays the biases of contemporary biblical scholars.

[4] The “American Restoration Movement” grew out of the proposition that all human authority should be rejected in favor of a simple reading of Scripture. It immediately splintered into over 60 factions.


References:

[i] 1 Corinthians 15:56

[ii] James 2:26

[iii] 2 Corinthians 3:6

[iv] The NIV makes the same modifications in a parallel passage – 1 Corinthians 6:12

[v] Romans 15:5-6; 1 Corinthians 1:10; Philippians 2:1-2

[vi] https://www.britannica.com/event/Colloquy-of-Marburg

The Economy of Worship

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Faith Recovery Podcast
The Economy of Worship
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In The Economy of Worship, the Three Failed Pastors discuss what God saved us for.

Why is God saving people? What does he want for them and from them? We think he wants to make them a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. As God’s people live together in the economy of worship, his nature is revealed to the rest of creation.


Episode Notes:

Saved for what?

Those who have been rescued from this present evil age constitute a new society. We are “the called out” which is a literal rendering of the Greek word, “ecclesia,” which English bibles translate, “church.” This transition from the evil age into the new society is neatly depicted in Acts 2:40-41:

With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. (NIV)

First Church

Some have called this moment “the birth of the church,” but it’s not. If the church is the people whom God has liberated from an evil society, then we must look much earlier for that pivotal moment. After the tale of God’s judgment on a corrupt society in Mesopotamia,[1] we find these words:

The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

 “I will make you into a great nation…

(Genesis 12:1-2a)

If we understand, “church,” to mean God’s called out people, it is with the call of Abram that the church began. God chose this person to be the progenitor of a called-out nation.

Fifteen years later, God spoke to Abram further about his destiny:

 “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations.”

(Genesis 17:4-5 NIV)

Abraham would become the father of a nation and the father of many nations. While Abraham had other sons whose families formed other peoples, the Bible doesn’t again speak of those descendants except in passing.  The Bible is the account of how God will save people of all nations through inclusion in the nation of Israel. This promise would be fulfilled when Israel became a single nation comprised of many nations. Paul argues in his letters that Christ expanded Israel’s borders to include the redeemed from every nation. Since the church is the Israel of God[i] a look at God’s purpose for Israel will reveal his reason for saving us.

Mission Statement

Four hundred-plus years after Abraham, God made his descendants a nation by rescuing them from bondage in a corrupt society.[2] At the crossing of the Red Sea their deliverance was made complete[3], but their journey didn’t end there. Moses brought them to God’s mountain to worship.[ii] When the whole church arrived at the base of Mount Sinai God told them:

“You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

(Exodus 19:4-6a)

God saves people to make them a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

Scripture makes clear that physical Israel failed to realize God’s vision since they continually broke the Sinai Covenant. By the time of Christ, physical Israel had become the corrupt generation from which spiritual Israel needed to be saved. Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled the Mosaic covenant and entered a relationship with God mediated by the Holy Spirit. Through the justification of faith that comes through the gospel, people from every nation enter Christ’s relationship with the Father by the Spirit. In Christ, we become realized Israel.

As Israel, we take up and express our identity as a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. This call is political since we are a kingdom and a nation. We are also called “priests” and “holy,” so it is a religious call as well. The redeemed community must worship as a kingdom and represent God as a nation. The individual Christian participates in the kingdom of priests as she offers worship to God in loving service to his church which is his body and his temple. The disciple contributes to the holy nation as he identifies with Christ as a suffering servant to the world around him.[iii]

The Anointed ONE

This vision for living is contained in the simple gospel and accessed by God’s people when they know what they were saved for. Really, God’s vision for the church as a kingdom of priests and a holy nation is compacted into one word – “Christ.”

The title, “Christ,” comes from the Greek translation of the Hebrew word, “Messiah,” which means “anointed one.” When reading that phrase we tend to emphasize “anointed” when the emphasis should fall on “one.” Through Israel’s history, the political and religious domains were kept separate under two mutually exclusive anointings – one for the king and another for the priest. Despite that practice, several passages in the Hebrew scriptures spoke of a coming priest-king.[iv] Rather than an anointed two there would be Messiah, the anointed one.

Through his sacrificial death Christ has become the true high priest. In his resurrection and ascension, he has been crowned king of all. Jesus is God’s chosen priest-king and those who belong to him are God’s kingdom of priests and holy nation. We obey the gospel[v] when we sacrificially love God’s people and live holy lives before the surrounding nations. In this way we will be fit for the coming kingdom and subdue Christ’s enemies for the day of his return.

This is what we were saved for.

And yet, as Israel’s history attests, this vision won’t be realized through human effort. We must learn to rely on God’s saving strength which means we’ll need to know how we are saved.


[1] Where Abram lived prior to the LORD’s call.

[2] See Exodus 1-14 for the account.

[3] Making baptism analogous to this event.


[i] Galatians 6:16

[ii] Exodus 3:12

[iii] Romans 12-13 contains a treatise on how to live as a kingdom of priest and a holy nation.

[iv] Psalm 110 and Zechariah 6 most notably.

[v] A little discussed phrase used by Paul in 2 Thessalonians 1:8 and by Peter in 1 Peter 4:17.

Conjugating Salvation

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Faith Recovery Podcast
Conjugating Salvation
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In Conjugating Salvation we’re conjugating “salvation.”

If salvation were just the forgiveness of sins the authors of the New Testament would have only talked about how believers in Christ had been saved in their past. They didn’t, though. In “Conjugating Salvation” the Three Failed Pastors explore salvation as the past, present, and future reality of Christ-followers.