The Common Delusions of John Bunyan, David Brainerd and John Wesley

It’s possible that you came to read this out of curiosity about what delusions that I would be writing about here that was common to John Bunyan, David Brainerd and John Wesley. It’s not about their faith in Jesus Christ alone as a Savior that they came to in their lives, or their conviction that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity, or in the eternal destinies of heaven and hell. Those were all convictions that they came to as a part of their conversions to Christ, and I would not only not consider those delusions but I would concur with these declarations of their faith as I would concur with everything that is a part of our common faith in Christ as based in the Bible.

Rather, the delusions that I speak of are the common delusions that the unconverted John Bunyan, David Brainerd and John Wesley had, and about which they wrote about in their own journals and testimonies. And I think that understanding these delusions that they openly admitted were a part of their lives before they came to Christ will give us a greater insight in how to preach the gospel from the pulpit and how to deal with people when we’re sharing the gospel one on one. The common delusion that they all had was this: that they could do something in their unregenerate state to recommend themselves to God apart from trust in Jesus Christ alone. They became hard religious workers, but had no assurance of salvation in Christ and were not even sure that they had saving faith. In fact, you can find within their testimonies evidence that their hard religious work before their conversion was an attempt to try to find salvation apart from putting their trust in Jesus Christ alone for their salvation – and that they were deeply convicted by the example of ordinary believers who had the assurance of salvation, knew that they had been born again of the Spirit of God and who were living out their faith in Christ.

All three testify to the following process to their coming to a scriptural faith in Christ, a scriptural conversion and a full assurance of regeneration and salvation:

  • Insensitivity to their true state of being unregenerate (see Isaiah 6:10 and Romans 3:10-18).
  • Awakening to the reality of Christ (John 15:26-27, Acts 1:8, 5:32).
  • Conviction of sin and of their utter inadequacy of earning salvation (John 16:8-11).
  • Full trust in Christ alone for salvation (Acts 16:31).

I think that our current lack of understanding of these stages may mean that we are persuading people that they are saved before they have really been awakened to Christ and convicted of sin. None of these stages have to happen over a protracted period of time – a person can pass from death to life through faith in Christ in a very short time from a state of insensitivity, such as Lydia through the personal evangelism of Paul and Silas (Acts 16:13-5) or the 300o who were converted on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:36-41). But I do think that this helps to explain why people may pray a prayer with perfectly orthodox words about repentance and faith and remain substantially unchanged afterwards. They never came to a full sense of their need for Christ alone because we never explained the gospel clearly and fully and we never realized the need for so many to go through these stages to receive salvation through faith in Christ alone. We rushed them to pray a prayer instead of explaining their full need for Christ and how in the gospel Christ satisfies their need fully and eternally.

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Up From the Old Life to New Lives in Christ

Albert Benjamin Simpson, the founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, had been raised as a staunch Calvinist Presbyterian, and ministered as a staunch Calvinist Presbyterian pastor. In his poetry, hymns and testimony, though, there’s a longing that’s visible for something more than stumbling and confessing, something more than just ‘continuous repentance.’ Rather, it was a longing after a victory over sin in this life – not sinless perfection – but rather the victory that he saw written and explained in the New Testament. Here’s what he had to say:

“I’m weary of sinning and stumbling,
Repenting and falling again;
I’m tired of resolving and striving,
And finding the struggle so vain.
I long for an arm to uphold me,
A will that is stronger than mine,
A Savior to cleanse me and fill me,
And keep me by power divine.”
(I Want to be Holy, A.B. Simpson)

Is this the desire of your heart? Have you been coming to church for years, and finding that in your heart that before even the opening prayer has begun that you are under conviction for the way that you’ve been living throughout the week and especially on Friday and Saturday evening? Do you sense that y0u’re continually having to try to dig yourself out of a spiritual hole, to try to keep on trying and confessing, to get back some of the joy of salvation that you once experienced?

The answer to this longing is to go back to the scriptures and to grow deeper into the understanding of the gospel, to understand the depth of the provision of the salvation of God for your life through Jesus Christ. So often I think that some of the people who leave off attendance at the public services of our churches do so because they do not find an answer to the conviction that they feel when they come in being beaten down by their own besetting sins. Sometimes they settle for less than the promised victory over sin promised in the salvation of God, and they become accustomed to what we can call ‘cheap grace.’ They come to accept the idea that a person can grow deeper and continue onward in the ways of sin and self-indulgence because of the depth of the free mercy and grace of God.

The scriptures themselves provide the the strongest correction to the dangerous misconception of cheap grace, that the preaching and teaching of freedom from the eternal consequences of sin means a divine permission slip for self-indulgence in more and more sin. This is what we could call ‘antinomian orthodoxy’ – the idea that if you just have faith in Christ you are not responsible to grow in Christlike holiness and love. While there is often today a rightful reproof of legalism, the idea that salvation comes from adding on additional rules and regulations to faith in Christ, there is a tendency also today towards antinomian orthodoxy. This is where some may take the truth of the gospel of grace to a seemingly logical conclusion but in the totally wrong direction. This is the dangerous misconception that the gospel is permission to sin and can even be taken as an encouragement just to sin more and more. Make no mistake, the result of antinomian orthodoxy is that it discredits the gospel as truth from the holy God and leaves professed believers wallowing in rampant hypocrisy.

The key passage for the understanding of victory over sin in this life is Romans 6:1-13 .This passage gives the proper understanding of our position in Christ, our new standing and our new identity in Christ and our special privileges, as those who have been brought from death to life in Christ. This passage is key to understanding the scriptural teaching on sanctification which is so necessary to live for Christ in this world . It is key to growing deeper in what Christ has for us, and to grow beyond spiritual babyhood to maturity in the scriptural truth of who we are in Christ.

“So what then are we saying? Should we remain in sin, so that grace may overflow? Never, never, never! We who have died to sin – how can we live any longer it it? Or don’t you know that as many of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried with him through baptism into his death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also might continue to live in newness of life. For if we were united with him in the likeness of his death, we will also be united with him in the likeness of his resurrection, since we know this, that our old Man was crucified with him, so that the body of sin would be destroyed, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin, because the person who has died has been freed from sin. And if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him, since we know that Christ, once he had been raised from the dead, no longer dies – death no longer is his master. For that death that he died, he died to sin one and for all; that life that he lives, he lives for God. In the same way consider yourselves to be dead to sin but living for God in Christ Jesus.”

“Then don’t let sin have dominion in your mortal body so that you obey its desires, and don’t keep on presenting your bodily members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin. But rather present yourselves to God as if you were alive from the dead and your bodily members as instruments of righteousness to God.”

THE TRUTH OF OUR DEATH WITH CHRIST MEANS FREEDOM FROM THE POWER OF SIN. This  is truth that some believers may have heard at some time and may no longer be part of their awareness, but it is truth for the heart which needs to be regularly remembered, considered, and reviewed before God. It is part of the Emancipation Proclamation for all believers from God through Christ of freedom from the slavery to the power of sin and part our legal standing and privileges in Christ. So then, it is truth which we need to understand well and remember often.

The full message of the gospel means that the free grace of forgiven sins includes freedom from the power of sin through Christ. His death to provide a full pardon from the penalty of our past, present and future sins also means freedom from the power of sin both now and forever. This freedom is made possible by something done outside of us, our past death with Christ, and it already has been completed for us, whether it is part of our personal experience or not.

So, in verses 1-5  — “So what then are we saying? Should we remain in sin, so that grace may overflow? Never, never, never! We who have died to sin – how can we live any longer it it? Or don’t you know that as many of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried with him through baptism into his death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also might continue to live in newness of life. For if we were united with him in the likeness of his death, we will also be united with him in the likeness of his resurrection . . .” Paul confronts antinomian orthodoxy as he anticipates a possible objection to what he has just had written about justification by grace through faith. He understands that someone might consider what he had just written about justification by grace through faith as a license for sin, as the permission slip to do what had been considered impermissible. He meets this possible objection with an extremely indignant rejection of that as an impossibility. It’s hard to represent in English without resorting to profanity (so I won’t). He strongly rejects antinomian orthodoxy, the gospel as a permission slip for sin, as something unnatural for those who have already died to sin in Christ. Incidentally, here he also gives a fuller answer to reported slander of 3:8;

So as Paul starts to explain what it means for believers in Christ to have died to sin in Christ, he assumes that they as believers have been baptized. And likewise he assumes that this significance of baptism has been explained to them as a part of their having been baptized. So he then reminds them of the meaning of water baptism ,as identification with Christ in his death and resurrection, as an enactment after the fact of the believer’s incorporation into Christ, and the legal position of the believer as being acted out before God as they had already submitted to water baptism in obedience to Christ from about the time of their conversion. His explanation is a reminder of the original practice of believer’s baptism by immersion by the early church from the earliest time of the apostles – something which even acknowledged by Roman Catholic commentators on this very passage and on the history of baptism in the church. His explanation here has nothing to do with any kind of assertion of baptismal regeneration but is rather an explanation of the significance of believer’s baptism for believers after they have already been baptized. So what a believer is in Christ through death and resurrection with Christ, what a believer is assumed to have publicly professed through baptism Paul shows to be contrary and unnatural to a life lived in full surrender to sin.

So here we see the apostolic explanation and scriptural meaning of baptism as something that has been based in the full scriptural meaning of salvation through Jesus Christ. The scriptures do not teach and the apostles did not teach not that baptism leads to salvation, but that salvation by grace through faith, in the full apostolic and scriptural teaching of salvation, leads to baptism. So if we understand baptism in this way from the apostolic teaching and the scriptures, we realize that it is just and outward ceremony without power or meaning for anyone who does not already have faith in Christ and has not already been genuinely born again by the Spirit of God. Rather it is adequate to explain it as a ‘regular procedure of Christian discipleship’ and as a signpost act, of the end of an old life and beginning of a new life in Christ. There is no need for it to be area of controversy but let us leave it in its scriptural significance as part of a new life in Christ and an act of obedience to a new life of fellowship with Christ. And this is what we will see. I know of a church several years ago that made a real attempt to start to evangelize intentionally again, after years of benign neglect. They were then surprised first by seeing a number of people come to Christ – they had forgotten that the gospel works, that it is the power of salvation to those who trust in Christ. But even more, they were surprised when they saw a number of people explicitly asking for water baptism, and that they needed to have a number of baptisms of adults in their worship services.

The general practice of baptism in the Christian and Missionary Alliance simply follows the practice of A.B. Simpson, back in the Gospel Tabernacle in New York City, the grandmommy of all CMA churches. He himself was from a Presbyterian background and had been baptized as an infant, but he came to be baptized as an adult by immersion after he had spent some time studying the scriptures and after he had left his New York Presbyterian pastorate. In the old Gospel Tabernacle, only believers were baptized by immersion. But there was no one who was excluded from membership who was satisfied by infant baptism. But during the ministry A.B. Simpson, he presented the identification of the believer with the Lord Jesus in his crucifixion and resurrection was so clear that many were baptized during the conferences he led once they had accepted his explanation who had no intention of leaving their churches where infant baptism was taught.

So then, baptism shows the change in life that comes for the believer shows the first reason to live a life of newness in Christ. But then, as we understand that the scriptural significance of having died with Christ means freedom from the heritage of enslavement to sin that has been part of the heritage of the entire human race. This long sentence introduces a concept that is difficult to understand at first, since it is something that it is outside our normal ways of thinking and acting, but it is definitely part of the truth of scripture for believers in all ages. The apostle explains further that the freedom from the power of sin for the believers comes from liberation from the inheritance from Adam through the believer having died with Christ.

So, in verses 6-7, the apostle Paul goes on to write, “ . . .since we know this, that our old Man was crucified with him, so that the body of sin would be destroyed, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin, because the person who has died has been freed from sin.”  So consider this, which seems to have been common knowledge among believers in the time of Paul: the incorporation into Christ, into his death and resurrection, cancels the legal authority of the power of sin over the believer. This means no legal authority in the universe can compel the believer to sin. This means that freedom from the consequences of sin in Christ also means freedom from the power and the legal compulsion to sin.

And this was accomplished by the crucifixion of the old Man with Christ – and that requires some further explanation. So we are to understand this term, the old Man, not as being our immediate earthly father, but rather our distant earthly father, our father Adam. So here Paul takes up something from previous context of chapter 5:12-21 when he speaks of the old Man, as the old Mankind as summed up in Adam. So we can understand this term the old Man, as modern commentators on the book of Romans do, as a collective technical term for the old Mankind as summed up in Adam. So Paul is here explaining that the old Mankind has been crucified with Christ, so that the body of sin rendered a useless, incapacitated corpse with no authority to make us sin anymore. He has then presented as a gospel statement not of experience or feeling but of fact, as having already been accomplished once for all in the death of Christ, as part of the truth that the past death and resurrection of Christ included us with Christ, and that is to be the truth that is to rule over our present and future. He describes our position in Christ, and our death with Christ, as an already completed and decisive event, as surely as forgiveness has completely been provided, past present and future through the death of Christ for us. So the apostle explains for us critical benefits of the atonement and resurrection that have been often not very well understood within our churches and less well communicated by Christian leaders among our churches – but still crucial to understand who we are in Christ and how we are to live in Christ.

The death of the old Man means the death of our heritage to sin, and we need to let this sink in to our awareness of who we are in Christ. The death of the old Man means the removal of the legal enslavement of the old Mankind in Adam from the death of Chris, from the heritage of slavery to sin. It means that believers are not legally under the dominion of sin and are not legally obligated to sin by any power in the universe. The past death to sin with Christ is part of the legal standing of the believer, one of the benefits of the atonement, whether we live in it or not. And because of that there is no need for slavery to sin, to the bondage to the old life among believers who have truly been born again and incorporated into the new Mankind as summed up in Christ. And so, as we continue with this passage, as well as the whole of scripture,  will find nothing in scripture to excuse continuation in bondage to sin as a master of our lives, as if we had never come to Christ.

This understanding of our legal freedom in Christ from the power of sin is comparable to the remarkable statement of the former slave Frederick Douglass. He came to the conclusion, after he had carefully read the Constitution of the United States , that it was actually contrary to slavery: “The Constitution will afford slavery no protection.” Slavery, Douglass tells us, “dreads the presence of an advanced civilization. It flourishes best where it meets no reproving frowns, and hears no condemning voices.”  So it is the same where there is careful understanding of the teaching of the apostles and scripture about freedom from slavery to sin. Antinomian orthodoxy can only flourish where there is only a superficial preaching and teaching of scripture, and where there is no one who will stand up and preach and teach the whole gospel of Jesus Christ, which includes freedom from the slavery to sin, to the compulsion to sin.

But wait! There’s even more to what scripture has to say to us about who we are and what we have in Christ. Even more, the death to our heritage of slavery to sin through Christ means the participation in the resurrection life of Christ now and in the future. And the freedom through Christ and with Christ means freedom for the dominion of righteousness, for the will of God in our lives now.

The apostle goes on to explain, in verses 8-10, that the reality of our resurrection with Christ: “And if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him, since we know that Christ, once he had been raised from the dead, no longer dies – death no longer is his master. For that death that he died, he died to sin one and for all; that life that he lives, he lives for God.” So the outcome of our death with Christ means that our life  is then to be ruled by the resurrection of Christ, to live in newness of life rather than in oldness of life  — and we can identify that oldness of life as self-indulgence in sin. In this explanation, the apostle is moving from our legal position in Christ the definition of newness of life. He defines newness of life in Christ as living like Christ in resurrection life and completely for the will of God as Christ lives in his risen life. The explanation is that as the resurrection of Christ was the victory of Christ over sin and death, so our resurrection with him also becomes our victory over sin and death and newness of life now. Make no mistake, this is definitely part of apostolic teaching – see Colossians 3:1-4 and I Peter 2:24. And note now carefully the apostle defines what this means for our life now: newness of life. He does not describe it as complete sinless perfection in in this life – that will wait until glorification, the complete physical resurrection of our bodies to be like Christ. So here we have a comprehensive scriptural explanation of what Christ has done for us, what we have in Christ, how we are to live now in Christ and what we still have awaiting us in Christ). So the scripture asserts that we are not to live as if sin were still our master, but but rather we are to live as those who are living with Christ for the will of God.

The scriptural depiction of the risen life in Christ for us now was common in the past in the preaching and teaching of the church, particularly in the 19th century, but rarely heard today in the preaching and teaching of the church. It is, though, liberating truth, truth for the heart, truth that means that we as believers always have a new beginning, that comes not from ourselves, but from having died with Christ and being given his life, to live in newness of life now. So it is something the calls for regular inclusion in the preaching and teaching of the church, based in careful exegesis of the scriptures, and presented as something for very serious consideration, as basis of our lives as believers now and forever.

The great educator Booker T. Washington recalled  in his autobiography how, as a child, he had heard a stranger made a little speech and then read a rather long paper to a himself and a number of other slaves. That man turned out to be an officer of the Union Army and that paper was the Emancipation Proclamation.  He wrote, “After the reading we were told that we were all free, and could go when and where we pleased. My mother, who was standing by my side, leaned over and kissed her children, while tears of joy ran down her cheeks. She explained to us what it all meant, that this was the day for which she had been so long praying, but fearing she would never live to see.” And he went on to say that there then scenes of great rejoicing and thanksgiving, but that the next day then realization of the great responsibility of freedom took hold of them: “To some it seemed that, now that they were in actual possession of it, freedom was a more serious thing than they had expected to find it.” And this is what I think that we would find from the scriptures, that the freedom from the power of sin that we have in Christ is a very, very serious thing, something that should change the direction and purpose of our lives on this earth forever, and something that calls for serious understanding of who we are in Christ.

So then, the freedom from the power of sin through Christ is truth that means freedom for the believer in Christ. It means freedom from the life of resolutions to do better, falling and asking forgiveness over and over Freedom from the power of sin in Christ is, moreover, critical to finding freedom from the past, from addictions, bitterness and abuse, to finding newness of life in Christ. And for the believer who may not be caught in spectacular life dominating sins of addiction and abuse, it also means freedom from a double life, from rampant hypocrisy, from rollercoaster Christian life. It means that as believers it is not necessary to to live as if we were spiritually having to dig ourselves out of a ditch again and again and again because of falling into habitual sins, but that we can live in freedom through understanding and embracing who we are in Christ.

The truth of who were are in Christ meant for our heart, to guide us in what newness of life is, but it does not stop there. THE TRUTH OF OUR DEATH AND RESURRECTION WITH CHRIST CALLS US TO ENTIRE CONSECRATION TO GOD THROUGH CHRIST. The truth of who we are in Christ calls for a response from us; the truth of who we are in Christ needs to change our understanding of ourselves and the direction that we follow in life. It calls for a radical change in our lives that often becomes decisive and radical when we realize who we are in Christ.

Our new identity, as those who have died to sin but are alive to God in Christ, is to  be fundamental to our understanding of ourselves. Then this consideration of ourselves as not under the authority or compulsion of sin, as alive to God becomes the basis of our total consecration to the will of God.

The apostle explains and calls for the response to God appropriate to our new standing in Christ in verses 11-13: “In the same way consider yourselves to be dead to sin but living for God in Christ Jesus. Then don’t let sin have dominion in your mortal body so that you obey its desires, and don’t keep on presenting your bodily members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin. But rather present yourselves to God as if you were alive from the dead and your bodily members as instruments of righteousness to God.”

The word ‘consider’ is translated ‘reckon’ in the King James Version, and what it means is the serious and continued consideration and the taking up of the statement of the truth of the gospel concerning who we are in Christ to be who we consider ourselves to be now. It is taking up of the identity and standing into our hearts which God says is true of us now. This is the farthest thing from any kind of psychological self-esteem based on anything that we are in ourselves. Rather, our identification with Christ and our position in Christ is to become the new fundamental understanding of ourselves, all that we have and all that we are. But we need to be careful here – the apostle does not ascribe to our ‘reckoning’ in itself as having any power over sin  or granting us any power over sin – he does not use the phrase ‘make it real’ in our lives as many preachers and teachers in the past have explained it. He will, of course, later explain the source of power in the Holy Spirit in chapter 8 in the progression of scripture, after he has completed his explanation of our legal standing here.

But rather the apostle Paul explains  our standing in Christ, our having died with him and having been raised with him, as the reason for consecration to Christ, as those who are dead to sin but alive to God in Christ. Thus his call is for our position in Christ to lead us to the refusal to surrender to the rule of sin over us. He calls us rather to the presentation of ourselves to God, each one of us,  as someone who is alive from the dead. This is the logical conclusion of our  incorporation into Christ, identification with Christ, the new standing in grace: it is to lead to that once for all consecration of oneself to God through Jesus Christ. The apostle’s teaching this shows how much he thought that this was lacking in the lives of believers in Rome, particularly those who seemed to be drawn into the paths of antinomian orthodoxy. And this was something he wanted to correct, both in a possible misunderstanding of his teaching and of the Christian life in general, now and for all eternity.

So as we approach this scripture, it has called for careful understanding of the scripture, what it says, in the order and manner that it says, and thus we have come to a place where we can avoid the hoary formulas that make it say more or less than what it says and more or less than what is necessary to understand what this means for us to know and do now. What the apostle is calling for is not something that would be called an ‘inward crucifixion’ and it is not a ‘reckoning’ that ‘makes it real’ in our experience. The real point is the continuing realization of who we are now in Christ calls for us to make a complete consecration to God through Christ in this life. Though the King James uses the word ‘yield,’ what the apostle calls for is not a passive ‘surrender’, but rather a positive refusal to let sin rule over us and actually to present ourselves to God. It is a positive, active presentation of ourselves to God, as  conscious act. So the scriptural terminology is crucial to understand and put into practice the new realization, the new direction of the new life in Christ. And the correction of the terminology that we’ve often heard in our songs and some of our holiness literature from the past gives a new appreciation of who we are in Christ and often forms the basis of a fresh consecration (the crisis experience of sanctification) into an new life of holiness (experiential sanctification).

This is what we have often enough sung about in the past, such as in this verse by Isaac Watts:

“Lord, we have long abused thy love,
Our e’en bled to see
What rebels we have been.
No more, ye lusts, shall ye command,
No more will we obey . . .”

The power of identity as determining what a person will live for something is extremely important, and too often far too little understood from the standpoint of scripture. So unscriptural understanding of oneself, even after salvation, will mean surrendering one’s life to the wrong things. But even more, the power of a new identity in Christ, means understanding that Christlikeness is not up to us. Becoming like him and living like him in this life is not about trying harder, learning more rules and regulations. Rather the understanding of what freedom from sin, from careful examination of the explanation of scripture, means freedom to look beyond ourselves, our abilities and liabilities, to consider ourselves as God in scripture has defined us. We are now those who have died to sin and are alive to God in Christ. And the real revolution in this world happens when believers consecrate themselves to god as those who are dead to sin and alive to God and then step out to live in the newness of life which Christ provides for us now.

THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST THEREFORE PROMISES MORE THAN JUST THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS. BY OUR UNION WITH CHRIST IN HIS DEATH AND RESURRECTION THE POWER AND AUTHORITY OF SIN HAS ALREADY BEEN BROKEN FOR US. THIS IS NOT SOMETHING THAT IS BASED IN WHO WE ARE IN OURSELVES BUT ON WHAT CHRIST HAS DONE FOR US AND WHO WE ARE IN HIM. AND THIS MEANS THAT GOD HAS PROVIDED IN CHRIST AN ENTRANCE INTO A SUBSTANTIAL FREEDOM FROM THE POWER OF SIN IN OUR LIVES NOW. A NEW LIFE IN THE WILL OF GOD HAS BEEN MADE AVAILABLE FOR US IN CHRIST; IT IS OUR POSSESSION AND PRIVILEGE IN CHRIST NOW, AND HE CALLS US TO UNDERSTAND IT AND LIVE IT OUT.

So the first step is the freedom from the guilt of sin by his faith and resurrection through faith in him; to receive eternal life in the first place. This message  so far is for believers who have already received eternal life by faith in Christ primarily. And it does answer the question of why some professed believers are hypocrites. It is not a problem with the gospel, but what they have taken the gospel to mean. And it can allay any fear you may have of being a hypocrite if you receive eternal life by faith in Christ. The full gospel of Jesus is that that Christ provides freedom from the consequences and power of sin, so that forgiven people can live with victory over sin in Christ. this means that God has provided the power in Christ for you not to have ever to live as a hypocrite if you turn to Christ.  So then, have you received the forgiveness of sins in Christ, and been born again of his Spirit through faith in Christ?

So, if you have put your faith in Christ for your eternal salvation, have you sealed your commitment to Jesus Christ by water baptism? Look beyond the traditions and opinions of others, but rather to the Word of God, as the only rule of what we believe, what we do as believers. Follow through with whatever the Word calls you to do.

Finally, have you consecrated your entire life to Christ? Make a conscious decision before God against the rule of sin in your life, as the scripture calls you to do. Turn from the dominion of sin and self-indulgence and decide for entire obedience to God Present yourself to God as a conscious act before him, upon the basis of who you are in Jesus Christ – someone who has die to sin and who is alive to God.

Are Our Churches Reaching Out to Working Class Men?

A few years ago I asked the question on my personal blog on, with all the complaints about the secular universities, what the white evangelical churches have done to evangelize and disciple on major university campuses over the past generation. But now let’s consider something else:  have evangelical churches sought to evangelize and disciple blue collar, working class men over the past generation? Consider the spiritual darkness and despair that you’ll see in the following article:

The Privileged vs. the White Working Class

For the past generation we’ve been accustomed to look for answers in politics and government, and I don’t think that the answers here are primarily political or have much to do with government. And I don’t think that things are any easier for a black, Hispanic or Asian working class man. So, again, have evangelical churches sought to evangelize and disciple blue collar, working class class men over the past generation?

Do working class men see us as trying to do something besides trying to pull the beer and cigarettes out of their hands, to stop swearing and watching porn, and to act like good little Christian boys? Or are we rather to introduce them to the Jesus who said, “I have come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly”? Weren’t Peter, John, James and Andrew all working class men? And didn’t John and Charles Wesley, for example, reach out explicitly to working class men? This is just as convicting to me as to anyone else as I write it.

What Contemporary Christians Seem to Undervalue and Underestimate the Most

The revival preacher and teacher Roy Hession once told the story about a gold mine in South Africa that sank shaft after shaft in a quest to find new gold. Finally, they came to the conclusion that all the new shafts that they were sinking were finding nothing, and they faced the fact that they were being misled and disappointed in trying to find gold in these new shafts. They finally went back and started to dig deeper in the first shaft of the mine, and there they found all the gold that they needed and wanted.

Hession then drew a very apt comparison of that South African gold mine to many modern believers. They are trying to find more ‘inspiration’ in many sources, such as new books, conferences and speakers, the most popular musician of the present and the latest spiritual fad. But they constantly find that they are being misled and disappointed. Rather, they need to go back and fix their attention on the one true source of life and love, that which they received through the relationship with the living Lord Jesus himself. If one has truly been saved by Christ and born again of his Spirit, there will always be an inner hunger there that only Christ will satisfy.

Do you ever get the feeling at the beginning of a contemporary church service that so many are trying to dig themselves out of a spiritual pit and recapture a feeling which they’ve sinned away by what they were doing on Friday and Saturday nights? Does it seem like they come in empty and under heavy conviction of the Holy Spirit because they’ve been whooping it up and engaging in immorality like the world without Christ, so they make a frantic effort to deal with their sin and hypocrisy? Does it seem like they’re trying and begging to get back a feeling of closeness with God that they once had, without dealing scripturally with the sin, instability and hypocrisy of their own lives?

So there needs to be a renewed emphasis on remaining in this relationship with Christ, since so often it seems like so many in our churches seem simply to be coming back Sunday after Sunday to try to stumble back into a stability which they never should have either neglected nor wandered from. And even more, when we talk about revival in the scriptural sense, it simply is the return and restoration to  then in this relationship, the way of scriptural revival and restoration a return to this relationship with Christ that means spiritual stability and spiritual reality. This relationship with the living Lord Jesus is the only source, basis and foundation of  of true spiritual stability in this life. And I would submit to you that this is what too many contemporary Christians woefully undervalue and underestimate.

This is the same kind of problem that the apostle Paul was addressing in the letter to the believers in Christ at Colossae. The latest fad teachings were leading the Colossian believers astray from their relationship with Christ. These fad teachings of the spiritual hipsters were not based in scriptural truth, but rather a strange mixture of pagan philosophy, mysticism and Jewish legalism added on to some ideas borrowed from apostolic teaching. These ‘add-on’s to scriptural teaching, to what the apostles had been passing on, which went back to what Jesus had taught and what he had done for them in his death and resurrection, were in fact a wholesale subversion of their walk with Christ that began at their conversion. They were in fact iron pyrite – fool’s gold – which sparkles like gold but is of little real value in comparison to the real thing.

So the intention of this whole letter to the Colossians was Paul’s attempt to persuade them to come back to and stay in, without any wavering or distractions,  in the saving relationship with Jesus Christ. And the center of this letter is a sentence which remains significant for every believer today since we also life in the middle of many, many  the distractions and falsehoods that attempt to entice us away from the one fundamental and precious reality, that is the saving fellowship with the Savior, Jesus Christ. And here is what the apostle had to write to them, and the sentence through which God speaks to us today:

“So then, as you have received Christ Jesus as Lord, conduct your life in him, as you are rooted and built up in him and are made stable in the faith just as you were taught and as you overflow with thankfulness.” (Colossians 2:6-7, Dale’s sight translation).

The whole point of genuine saving faith is continuing on in the daily relationship with Christ.  A genuine reception of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior has as its logical outcome this daily relationship with Christ. The initial reception of salvation from Christ by repentance and faith should then mean continued trust in him and obedience to him, and this will then mean that the believer in Christ will remain in that wonderful saving relationship with him.

Genuine saving faith in Christ is the beginning of the relationship with Christ. We need to keep emphasizing that the reception of salvation, when a person comes to that point of receiving him by faith as Lord and Savior, is only the beginning point the time of that saving relationship that is intended to continue through this earthly life and through to eternity. It is true that for many, many years many believers and churches have held fast to the gospel of salvation, the foundational truth of salvation by grace through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ alone, so that the Biblical truth about how to receive salvation through Christ is familiar to many in our churches. Unfortunately though, the basis of living in that saving relationship afterwards is not very well explained often enough, so that many who make professions of faith in Christ often only stumble toward spiritual stability in Christ while they desperately try to find some way out of the sins from their past and the foolish notions of the surrounding culture that continue to try to ensnare them again.  But even more, I would submit before the North American churches and their pastors and leaders that they have fallen into a trap of underestimating and even disdaining the value of a consistent and stable lifelong walk of faith in and obedience to Jesus Christ as Lord. Too many see that as not enough – or that horrible distractions, spiritual infatuations and backslidings are no big thing and do not extract a horrible spiritual cost from the life of the believer and the lives of those around the spiritually unstable, distracted and infatuated.

This, then, is right where Paul finds and addresses the Christians in the ancient city of Colossae. This is why the apostle Paul starts out with this phrase: “So then, as you have received Christ Jesus as Lord.” This was Paul’s way of describing how the Colossian believers had received salvation by faith in Christ. The words are almost exactly like what Paul had also written in Romans 10:9-10, about “ . . . the word of faith which we proclaim, that if you confess with your mouth that,”Jesus is Lord,” and you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved, because it is with your mouth that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved”. Paul was giving them his reminder to them of how they had responded to the gospel, which they had heard from his associate Ephaphras and had received eternal life some months or years beforehand. Note also that he gave an emphasis that salvation had to do with acknowledging Jesus as Lord, and for someone in the first century in this situation that word ‘Lord’ was not a merely honorific title but the acknowledgment of Jesus as Lord and Master of one’s life.

In some years past it was fairly common among many believers in our culture to talk about Jesus as either ‘the Master’ or ‘my Master’, but that rarely seems to be heard anymore. The Colossian believers would have instantly understood that, and they would have come to remember and understand that the reception of salvation was for them not only the reception of a gift by faith but also the commitment to a new Master of one’s life. While there was a brief controversy a few years ago about the matter of ‘Lordship salvation’, it is indisputable that the apostles were not afraid at all to talk about and to expect a change of loyalties, to where Christ would be the new Lord and Master of one’s life, as being the expected and reasonable outcome when someone passed from death to life through by salvation through faith in Christ alone. Everyone knew in those days that repentance and faith was the entrance to a new life of transformation with Christ as Lord, Savior and Master.

In modern times there may be a number of paths where believers hear the gospel come to faith in Christ, and it’s possible to describe the circumstances of their conversion experience. Some believers may have had what could be called the “sawdust trail” experience, where they went forward in a church service or evangelistic meeting in response to an appeal to come forward and receive Christ. Others may have come to Christ in an experience of corporate worship, the in the emotional atmosphere which could be described as the “raised hands together” experience. Still others may have come to hear the gospel in a small group Bible study, perhaps even in their college years, and we could call this the “parachurch” experience. Still others may have received Christ as very young children, perhaps under the influence of their parents or a Sunday school class, and we could call this the “mother’s knee” experience. What does not matter so much is the experience but that in the midst of a pagan world, where “  . . . even if there are so-called ‘gods,’ whether in heaven or upon earth, just as there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’, but for us there is one God, the Father, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things exist and we ourselves are through him” (I Corinthians 8:5-6, Dale’s sight translation). And what matters is not the particular sins which dominated and tyrannized our lives, but that “  . . . such some of you used to be, but you have been washed, but you have been made holy, but you have been declared righteous and innocent in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (I Corinthians 6:10-11, Dale’s sight translation). And this is the salvation to which Christ has brought us through faith in him, and the starting place to the life of spiritual stability in Christ, from where we first ceased to trust in anything else for our eternal salvation, even ourselves, and put our trust entirely in Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, as our Lord.

So then, the first thing that we need to address with any professed believer who is distracted to being infatuated with unBiblical forms of spirituality and ideologies and stumbling into pride, defiance, hardheartedness and other more visible sins, is to bring that person back to remember where he or she first received salvation through Christ as Lord. When we would ask them when and how they might have received salvation through Christ, we’re not looking to try to lead anyone who can give a scripturally sound account of having placed his or her faith in Christ to repeat a prayer so that we can crow about it afterwards, or to try to steal them away from another church. Rather, it is reasonable to ask to remind them of where and when they might have entered the relationship of salvation so that they can move forward in that saving relationship with Christ.

So often the beginning of revival is when professed believers in Christ remember the beginnings of their faith in Christ. They may then come to another realization, the realization that things were different then than with the way that their spiritual life has become right now. And furthermore, the realization that things have changed in some way may bring the further realization that somehow by little compromises and distractions added gradually, one upon another, they have moved from Christ as Lord of all their lives. Sometimes this did come from a fall into a heartbreaking sin of which they have become heartily ashamed, but sometimes this has come in a life where all the formulas are followed and the meetings are services are attended, but the heart has simply become cold, chilly and distant toward the Lord Jesus. And this is how Vance Havner described revival: “We hear much about revival these days, but the heart of revival is the Lordship of Christ. A mere emotional upheaval, a spurt of religious excitement, is not revival. When Christians become convicted of rebellion against the rule of Christ in their lives, confess their sins, renounce self, take the cross and let Jesus have the first and last word in everything, that is revival by whatever name you call it.”

And then, having started right, having a saving relationship with Christ, then calls for the believer to live daily in harmony with Christ. This daily relationship means fellowship with him, trust in him, and submission to his will. But this relationship is not simply a minor optional add on to a life which is still primarily caught up in oneself and doing everything that for self satisfaction and personal enjoyment and entertainment. Rather, this means one’s attention, loyalty and obedience must be to Christ alone even amongst the other seductions, distractions and enticements around us.

In the second half of verse 6, Paul continues with a phrase which I have translated, “ . . . conduct your life in him.” The New International Version translates this “ . . . continue to live in him . . . “ The King James Version translates the phrase literally: “. . . walk in him . . .” Paul often described the Christian life described as a continued walk with Christ, and this meant following him and trusting him. It could be described as a long and continued faith in and obedience to Christ. The word ‘walk’ would come naturally to Paul because of his background as the rabbi Saul, where conducting oneself as a loyal and faithful Jew in following the Law of God was also described as a ‘walk’ (halakhah). So, what Paul was calling for was the true Halakhah in Christ from the Colossians. The Colossians may have rubbed shoulders closely enough to their Jewish neighbors in Colossae to have some understanding of the term, and the false teachers of their time may have actually used a similar term to describe the life that they were calling for in the strange mix of pagan mysticism and Jewish legalism which seems to have been the distraction in Colossae.

As Paul continued in chapter 2 of Colossians, it becomes clear that he was calling them back to the reality from which the false teaching was trying to lead them, away from Christ. There was someone, perhaps more than one who was making false claims of spiritual experiences and seeking to entice them to false acts which looked pious and worshipful – fool’s gold — but were not a part of the gospel that they had received. Paul was pointing out that the spiritually misled among them were seeking and claiming relationship with the wrong spiritual beings – angels and not Christ. Even more, Paul was pointing out that the false notions they were receiving and the false experiences someone was claiming were missing the whole point of the saving relationship with Christ and the daily fellowship with the person of Jesus Christ, the Christ  in whom “. . . are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3). Even more, this is the supreme Christ whom Paul has already described in chapter one as “ . . . the image of the unseen God, the firstborn of all creation, because in him all things in the heavens and on earth have been created, both seen and unseen, whether thrones or lordships or authorities. All things are through in and all things were created for him, and he is before all things and all things maintain their existence in him. . .” (Colossians 1:15-17). So Paul emphasized not that angels and other spiritual powers do not exist, but that Christ, as the eternal Son of God, supreme Lord of all creation and eternal Savior, is so far superior to any that do exist that any attempt to live in fellowship with them and follow them is a sadly mistaken quest and settling in what is by far second best.

So, even though there is that call to spiritual reality in the call for the believer in Christ to walk daily with Christ, sadly, experiences with other believers with false ideas, false professions of spiritual experience, and unnecessary and unscriptural actions can distract and even discourage some away from Christ. But despite what others may say and do, nothing will ever be deeper than the saving relationship with Christ, nor the truth of the Word of God. The faith in and obedience to the Lord Jesus has always and will always be the true foundation and expression of the Christian life. The way of entrance into the saving relationship is also the way of continuing onward in the saving relationship. And so, therefore,  backsliding is not inevitable for anyone. Nor is even any period of prolonged spiritual dryness or prolonged spiritual darkness.  Rather those are strong warning signs of the critical need to return to that relationship with Christ wholeheartedly in faith and obedience, and to let that be the central reality of one’s life.

Make no mistake about how spiritually dangerous the descent into alternative spirituality can be for the believer in Jesus Christ who descends through feeling and enticement but without spiritual discernment. Make no mistake about how damaging this can be. For instance, I once heard Chuck Colson tell about two young women who had been drawn into Wicca through the influence of other women. Eventually they came back to Christ, but they then had to deal with the deep spiritual and psychological damage which came from a first hand, face to face encounter with the demonic. They came to know that the occult, despite an initial appeal of power and knowledge, leads to the encounter with utter evil. 

So then, this also means following Christ through faith and obedience without a stringent structure or secondhand script of rules, regulations and adherence to human authorities claiming heady, authoritative, but unscriptural spiritual experiences and position. Too many believers are enticed here by the externally self confident, glib and superficial person into situations where eventually they realize that they’ve been had. So much in the current evangelical religious complex comes down to unscriptural, unreasonable, delusional, magical thinking and fantasies. Too many get caught up in following trends of the hipsters with itching ears, when the real need was to remain centered in faith and obedience to Christ with a dispassionate discernment of the truth. Beyond the exaggerated, distorted, one sided, hyped, sentimental ideas and enticements is the person who is most valuable and precious – the Lord Jesus Christ himself. When we’ve viewed eternal realities with passivity, inattention, laziness and sloppiness, though, he is still there, the most precious and valuable far above the idiocies that have distracted us.

Certainly, then, this need to follow Christ in faith and obedience after the reception of salvation also addresses the problem, throughout our churches, not only of the spiritually and ideologically compromised but also of the secularized saint. This is the person who had not wandered into the counterfeit ideologies and spirituality of this world but who has built a wall of separation between a past experience of salvation and a nominal church life and his or her life otherwise lived just like anyone else in the culture. Most of this person’s life is dedicated rather to the idols of personal peace, affluence, entertainment, prosperity and personal autonomy.  And strangely enough, in this pack we will also find the disappointed and embittered religious narcissists who are starting to come to the end of themselves, as God in his providence is crushing their exaggerated self esteem, hubris and personal Messiah complexes. This call to follow Christ comes to them as his call to take up the cross, glorify God rather than yourselves and then to follow Jesus as Lord.

So what this will mean will be new life for the religious zombies among us. They may lifelessly lurch along jerkily, deathly and mechanically in a life of religious legalism and in pet formulas when what they’re missing and what they’re in critical need of is the lifegiving fellowship of walking with the Savior and Lord in faith and obedience. And make no mistake about how hard it can be to deal with an obsessed, legalistic or formula driven Christian with the Word of God. The growing hardness of heart means that they often react to the plain teaching of the Word of God with complete, lifeless indifference. And trying to stop them from unscriptural behavior is often like trying to take out a zombie with a Winchester rifle. They momentarily recoil but keep on going in their lifeless, mechanical and deathly lurching!

When we find Christ, we find the one in whom are all the treasures of knowledge and wisdom, as the apostle states in Colossians, and the life of highest wisdom and knowledge is that of continuing to live in him, as the apostle states. Fundamentally, though, continuing in the life with Christ therefore is the simply the honest and ethical fulfillment of the commitment made to him to receive salvation. And the person who pursues this daily fellowship with Christ will then find the kind of results for which he or she and so many other distracted and compromised believers were looking in the first place.

Genuine spiritual stability results from the daily relationship with Christ. This is the true path to security in salvation and growth in Christ. This cannot be reduced to any kind of pat formulas, but rather comes from the living relationship with the Savior and Lord of the universe. And through this relationship his people find everything that they may have thought that they could have found in the counterfeits, in the fool’s gold, and more.

Deepening the relationship with Christ over the course of days, months and years is what produces real spiritual stability. This is the path to  the firm, unshakable conviction of a maturing faith in Christ. This is the path to the faith in and walk with Christ of a mature and continually maturing adult in Christ. This is the way to become the spiritually stable believer in Christ who is sure of what he believes and certain of the direction of his commitment. And this is the adult faith and walk with Christ that so many who have grown up in the church have failed to find because they’ve never been challenged to seek it, find it, and never to leave it for any reason or for any one else – they went for the fool’s gold because they never realized the value of the real gold that was within their reach and within their grasp.

The apostle went on to describe spiritual stability in the first part of verse 7: “ . . . rooted and built up in him . . . “ Make no mistake, closeness to the Savior is the real source of spiritual stability. The word rooted means stability and, built up (being built up) means growth. For the person who has these qualities, it would mean that all the false experiences and teachings in this world, all that there were in the ancient world, would be useless to entice them from Christ. They would be, through their relationship with Christ, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day, month by month and year by year, would produce the kind of stability and growth. They would be  unshakable, not because of any of their own strength or power, but because they are firmly rooted and grounded in and walking with the Lord who is unshakeable and secure.

Isn’t this something that should be extraordinarily appealing to anyone who has lived in a life of spiritual, moral and emotional turmoil, chaos, confusion and insanity. And, again, this stability and growth through walking in Christ is absolutely necessary for modern believers with the challenges to faith and obedience to Christ that they meet in the modern, or postmodern, or contemporary world.  What is more necessary for believers than to be utterly assured in their faith in Christ, immovable in their devotion and articulate in the expression of their faith? What is more necessary than to have an adult faith in and walk with Christ, which has learned to see and live beyond the trite and often childish formulas from our evangelical religious complex, that will not only withstand the challenges to faith, but also provide the most persuasive witness necessary to this world?

This being rooted and grounded in Christ, being built up and growing in him, is  the most necessary thing for the wandering spiritual adultescent. We do not need to revamp our worship services for that person nor wail and cry for that prodigal, but rather to point them to what they needed in the first place. We need to recognize that the wandering adultescent is the kind of person that A. W. Tozer called the  spiritual tramp. These are the spiritual street people whose spiritual lives consists of no lasting commitment and stability. They rather wander picking up the scraps and handouts of the religious places and people they visit, the latest song which tickles their emotions or the book which contains the formulas seem to promise peace and prosperity now. But rather, what they needed from the beginning was a regular and consistent walk with Christ which would produce the spiritual stability, growth and resilience which is the basis of what they were really seeking and which they would find by walking closely with the eternal Prince of Peace.

But, as the infomercial announcer promises, there’s even more: depth in the relationship with the Savior will then mean growing strength and resilience in saving truth. It will mean strength in the foundational truths of faith in Christ, in the truth which makes all the difference between life and death for all eternity. Here’s how the apostle describes it: “ . . . strengthened in the faith as you were taught . . .” This is a strong reminder that the foundational truth necessary to receive salvation is the basis of growth in Christ afterward and the nourishment for spiritual muscle. The Colossians had already been taught and believed saving truth, but they still needed, through that walk with Christ, to keep on growing in it and to become strong in it. Though they were aware of the basic truths, spiritual stability and its consequence, spiritual strength in Christ, would come from a deeper experience of them and persuasion of them through the life with the Lord of all truth.

Certainly the realization that the foundational truths of saving faith are also the foundational truths of spiritual growth must make believers more receptive to learning to understand the Word of God. The certainty of the truths of salvation not a matter of knowledge only but of keeping the truths fresh in practice and experience. And this means the realization that the daily relationship with Christ not a matter of personal experience – of some kind of emotional high or uplift –but in reality a personal experience with the Lord based upon eternal, unshakeable truth. And certainly for us today, this means learning the Word of God in fellowship with Christ and in fellowship with other believers through the preaching and teaching ministry of the church. Certainly there will be new insights and applications that one will find as one walks with Christ daily but, no matter what saving truth itself will remain the same.

But despite the idea that stability and growth in Christ may lack the excitement and drama that the other enticements and fool’s gold of this world promises – rather it results in a deep spiritual and emotional stability in a life of thankfulness. This is not a mere respectful gratitude but an overflowing gratitude to God through Christ. It’s not an emotional high that anyone has to strive after or beg God to restore as part of trying to dig oneself out of a spiritual hole. Rather, the apostle describes it as: “ . . . and overflowing with thankfulness.” So then, Paul’s conclusion to his directions to them then is the declaration that the daily relationship with Christ would be the kind of life that they were already looking for.  A believer overflowing with thankfulness, after all, is someone who knows in his or her deepest thoughts and emotions that he or she has been wonderfully and eternally blessed by God and that he or she has already found full satisfaction in Christ. Worship then naturally flows from this stable, daily relationship with Christ.

So what has been missed in the past thirty years in so many churches is that it is not the other way around: that worship does not lead to a stable and satisfying relationship with Christ but it is the other way around. Continuing in the relationship with God through Jesus Christ means a continual exposure to, awareness of the greatness of God. The realization of his holiness, wisdom, might and justice and the realization of the greatness of his love to such sinners as we are isn’t something that someone can work up within himself or herself. Rather the continuous walk with Jesus in spiritual stability and eternal truth will mean a continuing awareness of his greatness and will build up a wonder and joy that must express itself in gratitude and worship. So let no one think that a stable walk with Jesus is boring!

So then, the question comes to each one of us today, to each one of us who has trusted in Jesus Christ for our eternal salvation: have we been living as if the most valuable and precious thing in the world is our relationship with Jesus Christ? Do we live as if the most valuable and precious thing for ourselves, our family members, our friends and everyone of us who has also trusted in Jesus Christ is a stable, growing and overflowing relationship with Christ? And if so, how fresh and growing is your Christian life? This question addresses not where you may have been at some time in the past, but where you are now, at this present moment, with the Lord. Though there will be other struggles and temptations, the reality of eternal life with Christ calls us not to lose that which is most important among other things, namely, our daily relationship with Jesus Christ.

 Are you now abiding in Christ? Can you say that at this time that you are living at a place of greater spiritual maturity and stability and of closer fellowship with him than at any other time that you can remember? If you are, continue to live in him, as the apostle directs. This means trusting him at all times; in all the circumstances of your life. This means taking him as being more than Savior from eternal death, as being Teacher, Savior from sins in this life as well. This means following him at all cost, and this means taking him as the Lord in the circumstances of your life. And this means loving him with all your heart as the best, closest Friend to return of your love to him for his eternal love for you.

Has your heart become cooler toward the Lord Jesus? The way back is through repentance for whatever has come between you and the Lord Jesus. This the route to the personal revival and restoration.

What has deceived you and drawn you away from Christ? Could it be:

  • Pride and self righteousness – the idolatry of self
  • Hypocritical and rigid in unBiblical standards and legalism – the idolatry of self effort
  • Irrational stubbornness in the ways of error and sin – the idolatry of my own way
  • Disdain for others who are not like them, like the praying Pharisee in the parable, who do not measure up to their own self righteousness
  • Outward show of religiosity rather than following Christ from the heart

Make a definite confession before God of where you have failed. The first step is honesty before God on the matter of sin and compromise. Then receive his forgiveness and seek the fullness of his Spirit to have his overcoming power for the challenges before you and, to remove the causes for your backsliding – for that is what that coolness is. There is no way to dig yourself out of that spiritual hole you’re in except through confession of your sin, backsliding and compromise and turning away from that which drew you away from Christ.

Then, once you have set your heart right with God and made the confession of whatever has been your sin and compromise, resume whatever obedience you have neglected. Take that hard look back where the failure has been, where you have fallen and then come back to full obedience to Christ.

Finally,  do you have the assurance of eternal life in Christ now? This security of daily fellowship with Christ is for those who have received eternal life by trust in him in the first place. If you have not, enter into it back at the very beginning, with repentance for your sins and putting your faith in Jesus Christ as your eternal Savior and Lord.

Fool Proofing Our Churches

A few weeks ago, I read through Jan Silvious’s book Foolproofing Your Life: How to Deal Effectively with the Impossible People in Your Life. It is a wonderful book, based in the scriptures, and it does have a lot to say about dealing with a person, even a Christian or a Christian leader, who fits the Biblical definition of a fool in some way.

The question that I came away with was: Why are there so many in our churches who live like the Biblical definition of a fool? Why do they find it easy to live like fools in the middle of a church which ostensibly believes the Bible and follows the Bible? Is there some sense in which our churches function as fool factories?

I confess that I do not have much of an answer at this point to that question, but there is a situation from my pastoral experience which comes to mind. Some years ago, a young husband attended my church who was experiencing deep problems in his life and marriage. It came out over the course of time that he had had at one time a connection with a fellowship of believers and had even been on at least one overseas mission trip with that fellowship, though he had left any kind of regular church attendance and involvement before he was married. His profession of being a Christian was quite over-the-top, we may say; it was beyond assertive to be quite defiant, oppositional and antagonistic to be a kind of personal power trip, that when he went into a kind of short term self immersion in what he thought was Christian behavior that he felt strong and powerful and superior. Naturally, this kind of behavior was a tremendous provocation to his wife, since it was almost as if he was trying to be a Christian version of the cartoon character He-Man and his Christianity was a kind of strutting, crowing and and immersing himself in an in-your-face psycho-drama that ‘I have the power!’

It came out that when I shared the two diagnostic questions from Evangelism Explosion that he had never really come to a Biblically based saving faith. His outward profession of faith was all about him living up to what he thought was a manly, powerful Christian, but no trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of his sins and for eternal life. This was no conclusion that I had to force upon him at all, but when I gently and caringly shared the questions and then led him to such passages as Ephesians 2:8-9 he came to that conclusion himself. He was visibly shocked and astonished when he himself realized that he had never really even understood the gospel in the first place and what it meant to be saved by the grace of God through Jesus Christ. There were some hopeful signs at first, since he did pray with me to express repentance for his sins and trust in Christ as his Savior, and there was enough of a change at first for his wife to show up at church wondering what had happened and wanting to know for herself. Unfortunately, someone who attended my church with ambitions to be a pastor and an elder (but who would not submit to any educational course of pastoral preparation nor to any evaluation by any established denominational licensing and ordaining council but who would simply try to copy little things he saw pastors doing) showed up at his door, and we never saw him again at church, and my efforts to visit him again were unavailing.

I’m not losing any sleep over my church losing the attendance of a grown man who had all the resources of any number of easily understandable Bibles and the gospel preaching churches of North America to get the gospel straight and follow Jesus. I have prayed for him and his wife and I would rejoice in the news that he and his wife found a stable, Bible believing church and have been growing in Christ. Rather, I think that there are several things right here which indicate why our churches may seem to be fool factories.

First, we often seem to accept people who show up and say some of the correct things to have been truly saved. It is neither intrusive nor rude to ask someone gently and lovingly  who attends our church and seeks to be a part of the fellowship about the nature and history of his or her profession of faith in Jesus Christ. For what it’s worth, I’ve found that our body language can be of great help to draw people out to disclose what is really in their hearts; if we don’t stand in front of them and stare right into their eyes with an expectant, pressurizing smile that seems to be demanding an immediate answer, but sit beside them and let them speak freely, we can often find out their basis of trust for salvation. It’s usually possible to find out fairly easily those who have experienced a change of opinions and association from those who have experienced the saving power of Jesus Christ by faith in him alone for their eternal salvation. Jan Silvious does mention in her Foolproofing book that many fools who profess to be Christians were probably never saved to begin with, and I would definitely agree. I know that there are risks in putting numbers to this, but I would personally estimate that probably about a third, if not more, of the fools who profess to be Christians fall into this category. (And this brings up a problem that I think there has not been sufficient prayer and scriptural discussion: the problem of North American evangelical nominalism. I’ll leave the pastors and other Christian leaders who read this to chew on that for a while.)

Second, in addition, I don’t think that we say it often enough and loudly enough that our reception of the salvation of Jesus Christ does not make us in ourselves better than any other human being. The very heart of true repentance, the abject humility of the broken and contrite heart (Psalm 51:17), which is part of the Biblical reception of salvation, in itself entails the renunciation of any self pretensions of superiority, since it involves the admission of personal sinfulness, and this cannot include any pretensions to be a better person than any other sinner on this earth. In the classic work The Pilgrim’s Progress, in fact, John Bunyan made this awareness of personal sinfulness as the difference between a Mr. Faithful and a Mr. Talkative, and someone who came into the kingdom of Jesus by the Wicket-Gate of repentance and faith and someone who tried to slip in by some other way.

Even more, we need to say it much more often and much more assertively that  the fruit in our lives which comes after we have received salvation by faith in Christ is not something that we can crow about, but it is for the glory of God, to demonstrate his power and glory and not our own (John 15:6, Ephesians 2:10). Even more, if we find ourselves in a position of leadership in the church, it can never be about ourselves and our personal glory (“looking good” in front of fellow believers). This was something that I tried to make clear in my earlier post Who Is the Greatest?, and I would repeat: In Christ we are blessed with all his spiritual blessings in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3), and there is no indication that there’s anything in being a leader that adds anything on to all the spiritual blessings in Christ with which we have already been blessed.

As a final note, I want to go back to a point that I was making in my earlier post, Called to Follow, Not to Be Radical, that we need to back off of the hype and rhetoric about being radical and extreme as Christians. Quite frankly, I think that such hype may very well feed an underlying sense of self superiority and a foolish power and superiority trip such as I described earlier. It may well be a good idea for youth pastors and other leaders in the church now to issue an apology and disclaimer to the previously fashionable rhetoric and hype about being extreme and radical. It’s not about being radical or extreme – and no believer can find anything to crow about in whether he or she thinks that he or she is a radical or extreme Christian, and especially not if this includes any sense of being superior to any other believer or any other human being. Rather, it’s about denying ourselves, taking up our cross daily, and following him (Luke 9:23).

The One Relationship That Saves

This is how a man in prison once described himself: “This is my fifth time in prison. I’m serving eight years for fraud. I was dirty outside my body, and I never used to wash. I was dirty inside my heart: lust, hatred, revenge, anger and malice.”

Then he gave the description of the change Christ had made in his life: “I was able to stop reading dirty books, I was able to stop using dirty words, and the greatest of all, I was able to love the people whom I had hated . . . For the first time in my life I am . . . free of the filth that has been inside me for years. The truth has made me free, the truth being our Lord Jesus Christ.”

This kind of changed life, cleansed from the inside out, is incontrovertible evidence for the reality of the salvation of Jesus Christ. Even more, the living evidence for the reception of salvation by Jesus Christ, the only Savior, is the new direction and control of the person’s life. The living evidence is a life that is not ruled by sin anymore, but that the new Master is Jesus, and his word guides that person’s life. 

During the time of his earthly ministry, the Lord Jesus himself gave this same challenge to show this kind of changed, cleansed life to some Jews who had professed to believe in him as the Messiah. They had made some kind of profession of faith in him as the Messiah, but he then challenged them to a deeper and more accurate understanding of who he truly is and what he has promised to do. They might have seen him as not much more than a political Messiah, who had come to free Israel from the Romans and to restore the kingship of David. Jesus, though, gave them an invitation something deeper, and something that was part of the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah. He challenged them to be his disciples in more than name only, and then to find the freedom from the bondage of sin as they followed his Word. Through that way, they would come to experience the truth of who he is as the Son of God, and they would experience the true freedom which he had come to bring them.

“Jesus then said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you remain in my Word, you are really my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’ “

“They answered him, ‘We are the descendants of Abraham, and we have never been in slavery to anyone. What do you mean that, ‘You will become free?’’”

“Jesus answered them, ‘I tell you the truth that everyone who continues in sin is the slave of sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever, but the Son remains forever. If, then, the Son sets you free, you will really be free. I know that you are the descendants of Abraham; but you are seeking to kill me, because my Word does not find a place to stay in you. I am speaking what I have seen from the Father; and you are doing what you have heard from your father’” (John 8:31-38).

Following the Word of Jesus shows a genuine saving relationship with him.  That relationship with the Savior, which he calls being his genuine disciple, is  demonstrated by following him as Teacher and Master. The evidence that discipleship is genuine is following the Word of Jesus. 

The challenge to follow the word of Jesus means a personal encounter with saving and liberating truth. This challenge is not to learn new ideas and notions, but to know Truth in Person, to know Jesus himself in the fullness of that saving relationship. This challenge that Jesus gave and continues to give then finds its response from the person who has truly received salvation through Christ, and that response is to follow the Word of Jesus.

In verses 31-32, Jesus gave another one of his challenges to those who were around him: “Jesus then said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you remain in my Word, you are really my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’” This challenge does not seem to have been given to the twelve apostles, but it is most likely that John the apostle, the author of the gospel, was there to hear it and to witness what followed later. Jesus gave this challenge given to a group of Jews, and it probably took place in or somewhere around Jerusalem. Throughout the gospel John doesn’t give much more than a bare setting for these long discourses where the emphasis is on the words of Jesus and his interaction with the people to whom he was peaching and teaching. The group of Jews that Jesus addressed seem to have been a group who had made had made some kind of public professions of faith that Jesus was the promised Messiah. I don’t think that it’s too much to say that they had probably said something about Jesus being the Messiah and had been baptized as disciples of Jesus. We don’t know how many of them there were; I think that it may have been somewhere around twenty in this group, but it could easily have been many more, since the prior verse, verse 30 says, “As he was saying these things many put their faith in him.” So, Jesus then came back with this challenge to them to prove it and to follow his teaching thereafter. He called them to the reasonable outcome of that declaration of their belief and that was  to accept his teaching as the new direction of their lives. 

Jesus often gave this kind of challenge to those who wanted to be his disciples or made some kind of profession of faith in him as Messiah. He expected their full attention, belief, submission and obedience to him first. This was not something entirely new here in the gospel of John, but it is more like a statement of something that he called for many other places in his teaching, such as in the conclusions to the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:21-23 and the Sermon on the Plateau in Luke 6:46-49 — which were probably different accounts of the same discourse. In those other places he gave the implied promise of safety in the final and eternal judgment of God, but here he promises something different, and it will later become clear why he promises something different. His promise is that they will come to know the personal experience of the truth, the liberating power of Christ himself, Truth in Person (for more on Jesus as the Truth in Person, see John  1:14, 1:27 and 14:6). Here, as compared to the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plateau, he starts with the conclusion as the introduction. Rather than give them the fuller explanation of his promises and the practices that he expected that he gave to his disciples in Galilee, he starts here with his expectation of obedience to his Word.

Through the Word of Jesus himself that has come down to us, the challenge of obedience to the teaching of Jesus is still what he calls for as the demonstration of a true saving faith in Christ. It is the culmination of a genuine trust in him for all that he said that he is and all that he has showed that he is. It is what changes the terms of Christian commitment from the repetition of accepted words or a prayer to words and actions that show submission to the word of Jesus as the outcome of a true profession of faith. This cannot be against the grace of God in any way unless someone is willing to go to the self contradictory extreme that Jesus himself, the grace of God in person (John 1:14), was expecting something contrary to the grace of God. Jesus was calling them to pretty much what the apostle Paul called, “. . . the obedience of faith  . . .” (Romans 1:5). He was calling for those who had professed faith in him to show the demonstration of the genuine faith that has truly received the grace of God for salvation. He was calling for them to be more than disciples in name only but to come to the full realization of what it means to be his disciple, to experience the freedom that he brings from the guilt and power of sin. And for them, this would mean continued adherence to his preaching and teaching, and after his death and resurrection, continued fellowship with his church and adherence his Word as it continued through the preaching and teaching of his apostles (Acts 2:47) and became the complete inspired written Word of God (II Timothy 3:16-17).s

This wholehearted discipleship to Jesus Christ, to follow his Word, is truly the outcome of a faith that believes that he truly is the Son of God and the promised Messiah of God. Unfortunately, many have over the centuries and in our own day preferred to treat the Word of Jesus as something less than fully reliable and the Lord Jesus as someone to be relied upon less than themselves. They show some of the unnecessary reluctance that amounts to actual unbelief that an airline passenger discovered who was sitting next to a Boeing engineer on a piston engine, propeller driven airliner in 1958. It was shortly after the first flight of the Boeing 707 which was the first American commercial jet propelled airliner. The engineer mentioned the extensive testing on the engines of the 707, and the experience of Boeing with large aircraft and engines from the World War II B-17 Flying Fortress bomber to the mighty B-52 Stratofortress bomber. Then the other passenger asked the Boeing engineer if he had flown on the 707 and received the reply, “I think I’ll wait until it’s been in service awhile.”

Ultimately, then, the reality of a genuine decision to trust in Christ is not in saying some accepted and familiar Christian buzzwords. Nor is it found in association with church people and following the socially acceptable ways of thinking, speaking and acting within an evangelical social circle. Unfortunately, that is about all many have within our churches, and it explains why so many do not think, speak and act as if they were following the Word of God. Surveys consistently show that there are anywhere from 25%-40% within our evangelical churches that are in that area of repeating and imitating what they see and hear but are not being ruled by Jesus Christ as Lord through his Word. So, there does need definitely to be a renewed emphasis that the reality of a genuine decision to trust in Christ is a complete reset of the direction of the will, and it resets away from doing what I want and what I find convenient and self serving to the direction of the that follows the Word of Jesus Christ. And this does bring about a need for the renewed emphasis on the disciplemaking as the normal ministry of the gathered church that can never, ever be neglected for the next shiny new trend.

So then,  the first outward discernment of saving faith is the response to the expressed will of the Lord Jesus in his Word. And then, the true discipleship, the true saving relationship to Jesus finds that Jesus continues to impart the power of his salvation to the believer. And then obedience to the will as expressed in the Word of Jesus shows for all the world a real faith and submission to allow Jesus to be one’s Savior from sin in daily life and eternity. And then, it is as a believer continues in obedience to the Word of Jesus that he or she shows true discipleship to Jesus. And then this true discipleship to Jesus, living in a genuine saving relationship to him, means freedom from bondage to sin. And this is true of all the benefits of salvation: they come from that personal relationship with Jesus, and that relationship is the only relationship which saves. This true discipleship, the reception and sharing of life with the Son of God, means that he brings in his power to conquer the bondage of people in sin, in the way that they naturally are in themselves. So many times we can only come down to the conclusion that the problem with the way things are in our lives, in our families and around is simply comes down to the way that we are in ourselves. But only the almighty Son of God can deliver anyone from the way that he or she is in himself or herself.

The power of the Son of God brings true freedom from the natural tendencies to sin that are part of all of us as human beings. Only he can give the power to break the settled tendencies of human nature in a fallen world. Only the almighty Son of God, who is greater than the way that people are by nature and by choice, can provide them with the escape from the way that they are. And here Jesus does something that he does throughout the gospel of John: he ties all the promises of salvation to the relationship with himself as the Savior. And this brings us back to the truth of scripture that all the grace of God is in Jesus Christ and the promises and power of salvation are in the possession of that person that is in that saving relationship.

In verses 33-36, this specific group of Jews who had professed in Jesus showed that they didn’t get where he was going with what he had said about being set free, and so they went back to their reliance on their Jewish heritage, as the descendants of Abraham. So Jesus went on to clarify what he meant.

“They answered him, ‘We are the descendants of Abraham, and we have never been in slavery to anyone. What do you mean that, ‘You will become free?’’”

“Jesus answered them, ‘I tell you the truth that everyone who continues in sin is the slave of sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever, but the Son remains forever. If, then, the Son sets you free, you will really be free!’”

This group seemed to be argumentative and willing to contradict what Jesus had told them. Jesus really did want them to experience the reality of what he had said, so he furnishes them a further explanation of his meaning. This is so much like the personality of the  Jesus of the gospels, that he makes a radical statement to those around them, and they need to find out more from him of what he meant. But this group seemed to be more contradictory and argumentative than some of the others that Jesus had his discussions and explanations with throughout the gospels, and it will soon be apparent why. When Jesus talked about true freedom, they fell back on their presumed relationship to God as sons by their association with their common ancestor Abraham (v. 41). Even more, they looked at their civil standing as freeborn citizens are their reasons to start out their request for more information with a contradiction of Jesus. But Jesus exposed that their presumed position as freeborn descendants of Abraham was contradictory to their actual status as slaves to sin. Their actual status and habitual practice and attitude was the same as that of every human being by nature, heritage and direction. Their actual status was the same as that of everyone else in their lifetime defiance and resistance of the will of God the heritage that they had received from Adam.

So Jesus went on to explain the facts as they knew them in a society where slave holding was legal. The slave can be bought or sold, and has no natural, permanent place in the household. And the household that Jesus was talking about was the household of God the Father, and only the the eternal Son had a legitimate place there. He was stating to them that their real freedom would come from him, who is the eternal Son, and that it would be freedom from the bondage of sin. So then, that relationship with him is the true saving relationship, as he would later state in his great High Priestly prayer to God the Father, in the presence of his disciples: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou has sent” (John 17:3, King James Version).  And here, in his explanation, he specifically ties the power to be set free from sin to being and remaining in that saving relationship through obedience to his Word. He calls them away from their trust in what they thought was their birthright and heritage as Jews, as the descendants of Abraham, and their civil freedom, to see their true need and that he was there to provide for it.

This promise is also tied to the identity which Jesus had already been showing them by their words and their deeds. He was claiming to the the Son of God, their promised Messiah, and to be the truth that sets them free. This would have been an utterly preposterous claim to make if Jesus had been merely a human teacher, and if Jesus had come merely to show people how to live better. But the stupendous promise which Jesus is making here is that he is not here just to make them better than they were before – to be slaves more dressed up and presentable than they were before, but still to be slaves – but to set them free, and to make them, by implication, as free as he himself is from the penalty and power of sin. This is how I would describe living as a believer in Christ, then, and as an obedient disciple: living in the freedom of the Son, and learning how to live like sons and daughters of God. And the apostle John took this into two of the different diagnostic criteria in the letter of I John as to whether a person’s profession of faith in Jesus is genuine: “By this we know that we are in him (Jesus): the person who says the he or she is abiding in him ought to live as he himself lived . . . Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness, because sin is lawlessness. And we know that he was manifested so that he might take away sin, and there is no sin in him. Everyone remaining in him (continuous present in the original language) does not continue to sin (continuous present in the original language)  . . .” (I John 2:6, 3:4-6).

The way that people are, as natural sinners, means that someone else must save not only from the guilt of sin but also from its power. The Savior from sin comes from the outside to bring his life and power. The salvation of Jesus thus means growing conquest of sin rather than the reverse. And thus the fellowship with Jesus as Savior means his freedom comes to the obedient disciple. This, then, has a great bearing on two things what I have seen happening in the lives of many believers in many churches across the United States.

The first thing which I see happening is that many professed believers in Christ have too little grasp on the understanding that it is the one relationship that saves that can save themselves and others from  our sins and the social and psychological effects of our sins and the sins of others. Understanding this should bring an end to what I have often called the growing psychological perfectionism of many believers, where they seem to place more trust in psychological terms and methods than plain adherence to scripture and following Jesus Christ as Lord of one’s life and Savior from all sins. There does seem to be a scrambling of many after giving and receiving one more bit of amateur therapy or to find and pass on and this little nugget or magical little formula that I think that can rescue you or me from something that I think needs to be fixed, or to find and digest that  one more book by a Christian author that seems to promise rescue from something. We forget that Jesus Christ alone is the Son of God who can bring freedom, that the relationship with him is what will save, and that no one will ever be rescued from sin by a word of supposed wisdom from another believer, that none of us can be the Messiah for ourselves or anyone else ever at any time.

The second thing which I see happening is the tendency of Christian parents to trust the salvation of their own children to association with other believers. I can call this the expectation of salvation through immersion, which even gets to be a kind of forced immersion where it comes through controlling parents, in the evangelical environment and infrastructure, where the ‘right’ way to bring up children becomes keeping them in church and then sending them to  Christian schools, colleges, etc., and expecting that that kind of immersion will save my children. What this kind of coerced and forced immersion often amounts to is trusting Jesus for my own salvation, but trusting churchianity to save my children. They may have not come to know the Son of God as Lord and Savior, but simply to say and do what pleases the others in their environment and infrastructure. The hope in this means that when they walk away that they may not be rejecting Jesus but the controlling, stifling and suffocating infrastructure that they have been raised in, and that they may never have truly come to know the freedom that the Son of God offers them – and that gives a real opportunity to the church, to make it clear what salvation is really about, that one relationship that really saves.

Even more, this brings out the often extensive lack of understanding and experience of the real victory in Jesus that he brings us. He has not promised to make us perfect in this life, but there is much, much more in close relationship and fellowship with Jesus that provides us with conquering grace over sin. I’m often appalled by the shallow songs which are circulating in many worship services. They seem to offer more of a generic forgiveness based up0n a good guy, easygoing God rather than the pardon from sins and reprieve from an eternal hell and conquering grace that Jesus provides. This kind of generic forgiveness is more like the cheap grace that Dietrich Bonhoeffer described rather than the life and freedom which the scriptural Jesus offered. If, as Tim Keller has said, people come to church to seek victory over their sins, can we say that we are we offering it as the promise of the Jesus of scripture? Or are we  nitpicking them with rules or repeating to the same kind of silly, second hand, dumbed down psychological constructs that they can find in any secular self help book?

The power of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, to free from slavery to sin is something that is unique to him and something that must be unique, consistent and continuous in the message of the church. It means hope for anyone who is coming from the depths of the consequences and misery of his or her own sin. It means that there’s hope for conquest for that person who started drinking with friends to be sociable and finds himself of herself getting drunk on Friday and Saturday nights and coming to church with a strong case of guilt and misery. It means the hope of conquering grace for that person who tried the stick of marijuana, and finds that he or she is having difficulty putting behind even if he or she has received salvation by faith in Jesus Christ. It means hope of freedom for that person who has been falling into bed with someone with whom he or she is not married despite the growing agony of his or her conscience, and who comes to church on Sunday mornings hearing about and asking for forgiveness but not being pointed to the freedom that the Son of God brings. It means the hope of freedom for that man, or nowadays, woman, as well, who has become trapped in gazing at naked people and sexual acts between other people. It also means hope for people who have been or who are being pigeonholed by other believers for something, anything, that may have happened in their past –that tendency of dying churches and proud, self righteous professed believers to hold those who sinned in ways that they did not approve under the shadowy cloud of those sins, that incident or incidents in their past – in short, that tendency of some professed believers to try to chain other believers to their past and to make them slaves to their past. Jesus is not the person to make a person a slave to his or her past, but to free a person from his or her past, and we need to keep on saying that as long as it takes until the day that Jesus returns. He is not the person to try to define people by what they may have done at one time or another that was legitimately sin or socially disapproved. Rather, as the Savior, he offers each one who comes to him in repentance and faith a new present and future of freedom of life in the Son.

It does bear repeating that this is not salvation by works, by earning or attempting to earn any credit before God by doing any kind of good deed. The freedom which comes through being a freed slave brings no glory or credit to the freed slave, but to the person who frees the slave. Rather, the is freedom is the human will freed from the power of sin living in the power of the freedom that the Son of God brings. It is living in the power of that one relationship that saves. It is like what the former professional football player Steve Foley told about. He had discovered that some other players and coaches had peace no matter if they won or lost, but he had found only emptiness in his life. Then one night so he knelt by his bed and asked Jesus to come into his life and change him. And the change then came. Here’s how he described it: “My language used to be filthy. One day a guy beat me for a touchdown in practice, and I started to let loose my usual barrage. But this time I was brought up short. I can’t explain it, except that the Holy Spirit was at work. I knew that God wasn’t getting any glory from my mouth. Soon I quit swearing completely.”

The wonderful reality, then, is that the disciple who puts his faith in Jesus as his Savior, who makes the choice to follow his will, will find that the risen Lord is there to free the broken and fallen will from the power of sin. This is then the path of freedom, which the disciple has, so that the disciple  can follow through with that choice of obedience. But unfortunately, there are those who refuse to follow Jesus and thus show that they see no need of him. What this amounts to is a virtual refusal of him as Savior when there is no response to his words.

Jesus went on to speak further to this group of Jews about their spiritual condition based upon the answers that they gave him and the agenda which they had kept hidden. This then shows that habitual resistance to the Word of Jesus is evidence of a false profession of faith in Jesus. Though there may be an outward profession of faith in Jesus and association with his disciples, there may still be a continual, habitual, uncaring resistance and defiance to the Word of Jesus, and even a real, underlying hostility to him. This ultimately shows that there has never been a change of masters in that person’s life.  

In this conversation Jesus gets to the bottom of false and spurious professions of faith, and he shows that they come when people attempt to fit Jesus into their expectations and ways of doing things. At the bottom there is that desire ultimately for that person to retain personal control of the life rather than live for the Master. And this is what Jesus exposed with this group of Jews who had made professions of faith in Jesus as Messiah but who were starting to argue with him and contradict his Word.

In verses 37-38, Jesus exposes the underlying agenda of this group of Jews who had professed faith in him: “ . . . but you are seeking to kill me, because my Word does not find a place to stay in you. I am speaking what I have seen from the Father; and you are doing what you have heard from your father.’” Thus the evidence that he holds up in front of them of their true state before him is their own underlying hostility to Jesus and their contradiction of his own utterances. They had made seemingly some outward profession of him as the Messiah, but they had already shown to him the incontrovertible evidence of the falseness of their faith. In their contradiction of what he had said to them about their need, they had made a virtual declaration that they did not feel the need of him either to save them or direct them. They were satisfied with what they had by birth and tradition. Thus they had given him a demonstration that their faith was no more than a concession to the atmosphere of Messianic expectancy that came with the ministry of Jesus. Their faith in him was only going along with the social atmosphere, and it was not a personal trust and loyalty to Jesus. With some of them, their profession of faith in him was then exposed as covering something much more sinister. So when he put to the test of their profession of faith simply by calling them to obedience to him as the Messiah, they refused his word and turned back to trust in their own heritage and traditions.  

Jesus went on to show them the nature of what they were refusing and where the ultimate source and nature of their refusal. Jesus asserted, as he did many times throughout his ministry, that his teaching, his word came from his direct personal communion with the Father as the eternal Son, and the implication that he gives, as he states plainly elsewhere throughout his ministry, that to reject him was to reject God. But then he gave his own diagnosis of them as unsaved (v. 47) because of their rejection of his word and their underlying hostility to them. They showed their true nature to him by their underlying agenda and their arguing with him. They were showing that they were under the influence of their own sinful tendencies and that their own underlying sinful tendencies were being directed by the unseen spiritual influence of the devil. Their true spiritual state was revealed with their underlying and hidden murderous hostility to the truth and habitual falsehood. It is certainly not a far leap from Jesus’s diagnosis of this group to what the apostle Paul had to say about the state of mankind apart from the salvation of Christ: “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and sins,  in which you used to live according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who is now at work in the sons of disobedience . . .” (Ephesians 2:1-2).

Certainly no church leader or member should take it upon himself or herself to make it a quest or a habit to seek out and judge the reality of the professions of faith among other believers, although the tendencies of human judgmentalism, criticism and antagonism may incline some to try. Rather, the quality of the professions of faith among believers demonstrate themselves  when the word of Jesus through the Spirit of God reveals the heart and life of that person over the course of time. Those who have made spurious professions of faith show their true colors either in personal confession and genuine repentance and faith when the Holy Spirit reveals their real need to them and they truly receive salvation, or in moral and spiritual degeneration over time due to habitual resistance to the truth. Even more, those who have made spurious professions of faith often demonstrate a pattern of continuous hostility to the truth of the gospel and surreptitious or even overt harassment of other believers in Christ who are seeking to follow Jesus faithfully. They may not be a part of hidden plans to kill Jesus, but they may claim to be saved by faith in Christ but oppose his gospel and seek to abuse and harass his people. 

At this point this may sound theoretical, but any length of pastoral experience or experience with leadership in the church can find a number of such examples. For instance, during a time of revival in 1970, a respected businessman and church member rose to reveal that he had been an active church member and had even run youth camps but had never come to Christ. He revealed his life of antagonism toward and surreptitious harassment of people in the church, and how it had been part of the personal turmoil he had practiced since his childhood. He then revealed how he had come to Christ just a few days before, and how he had been spending the next few days apologizing and making amends to the people he had hurt and offended. I’ve heard the testimony of another couple who came to a church for their wedding ceremony, told the pastor in the premarital counseling that they were believers, and came back years later when they came to Christ in reality for salvation and apologized for their earlier mendacity. There are other stories that come out from time to time – the man who pretended to be a Christian to win the woman who became his wife, only to confess later on that he had lied, or the person who came to church to find a venue for his or her musical talent, and so on. There are a lot of personal and social reasons that some people may say the words which they think will please, impress or manipulate others in regard to their own experience of salvation, and church people need not to be naïve about them.

Nevertheless, I encourage everyone that only with greatest care and consideration should anyone approach to question the reality of the salvation of another person who has had a strong background in church attendance and involvement. As a matter of pastoral care, a simple private conversation can often clear things up. It’s a good idea for a pastor or concerned elders to go over the circumstances of conversion, nature of faith, personal habits of reading the word, occasions of past disobedience and conquest of past sins by the power of Jesus of each church member and regular attender, and certainly with each one in any position of leadership and ministry responsibility. This may be done when a person asks for church membership, but my experience is that too many of these discussions simply rubber stamp anyone who says anything that sounds at all like a belief in God. This private and compassionate discussion is certainly not in any way a quest for something to nail someone with or to discredit that person with from his or her past. Rather, it is to give everyone within the church a compassionate checkup and diagnosis of their standing before God based upon the scriptures. This will often result in opportunities for sharing the gospel in depth with a person with a suspect profession of faith, but it will just as often result in a deeper assurance for the person who does give a scriptural account of salvation and the others who hear it.

So then, the point at which a person demonstrates that he or she has rejected trust in Jesus and the Lordship of Jesus shows, in these cases, that the person probably never genuinely received the Lord in the first place. But that does not have to be the end of the story. The person who made a false profession can also make a new, real and genuine decision and truly experience eternal life in Christ. But it also points out the need to avoid the kind of songs, preaching and teaching that does not assume that people who come to our churches are all right with God just because they show up, even if they do so Sunday after Sunday.

That same Jesus who spoke to that group about the freedom that he offers then went to pay the price for the freedom that he gives by his own death. His cry of, “It is finished!” – “TETELESTAI!” (John 19:30) was his cry proclaiming his freedom for his people. His cry of “It is finished!” during his last few moments of life on the cross was his dying declaration that the freedom that he brings is not cheap grace, but the most expensive gift that he could give. Though there were false professions of faith within his own ministry, our faith is not in the consistency of people but in the reality of the Savior and his saving power. Even though some may say the accepted words and  associate with the people of the church for a while, this may be contrary to reality, but this is no reason for an unreasonable suspicion of other, but rather for each one to consider his or her own profession of faith and experience of salvation before God. To examine our own hearts and experience according to what scripture says about salvation is the responsibility of each one of us, to see whether your faith corresponds to the scriptural depiction of someone who has received eternal life by faith in Jesus Christ. If, then, our own faith declares Jesus Christ as the eternal Son of God, fully God and fully man, who died on the cross for the sins of the world, and who has risen again, to be the risen Lord in heaven who is returning for his people, if we can truly say that we have responded in the scriptural manner of repentance, the decision to turn from one’s sin as the direction of one’s life to the will of God, and faith in Jesus Christ alone for one’s own salvation. Consider then whether your scriptural confession of Christ and the response of repentance and faith has then resulted in a personal, daily relationship with the risen Lord, who has now been imparting to you his victory over sin and death in your life.

If your confession and experience correspond to what the Word of God says, then praise God for your reception of eternal life, and continue then to live in daily faith in Christ and submission to his Word. Make his Word the direction of your life, and humble submission to his will your greatest desire and highest pleasure. If Jesus is a real Savior, his Word is worth following and worth trusting more than anything you may hear from others and anything else that you will ever learn, think or conclude even from within yourself.

If you have truly received eternal life by faith in Jesus Christ, continue to trust Jesus for daily victory over sin. While you can and should certainly trust him for forgiveness daily, to keep the relationship close and the conscience clear with God, there will be less sin to hinder your testimony and grieve the Holy Spirit and more of a testimony to glorify God and reason for joy in God if you experience his victory over sin. So then, come clean, and confess the quick temper, the arrogant stubbornness, the easy deceit, the lustful thought and look, the rebellious selfishness and impatience for what they are before God. But then ask God to change you and for the Lord Jesus to give you his freedom and his victory in your life, to live in and experience his conquering grace to his glory.

If, then,  you find now that you have not truly put your faith in Christ, that he is not the Lord of your life and your only hope for heaven, don’t care about how it appears before anyone else, especially if you have a religious association and reputation. Embarrassment before other people, even people you love and seek to impress, is the least of your problems.  Rather seek for the reality of a life changed by faith in Jesus Christ, and confess your faking it before the God who really is there first of all. Renounce any hopes for heaven except the Lord Jesus who died on the cross for you, and renounce any other Master than the Lord who rose from the dead and has all authority in heaven and on earth.

John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter, Paul and the Imperative Mood in Evangelism

Many years ago I heard Dr. Lewis Foster, professor of New Testament at Cincinnati Bible Seminary and one of the translators of the New International Version, give this illustration at a college age retreat for the Christian Student Fellowship ministries at Miami University, The University of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky University. The camera that he had at the time, which was quite high-tech for the 1970s, had a feature in the view finder which split the image horizontally down the middle. As he explained it, when he would focus the image, both halves of the image would eventually come into sync and eventually  merge into one, and the camera would be in focus. He told us this to tell us how we needed to bring the Jesus of our experience and the Jesus of scripture into sync to give us a clear picture of Jesus and put our Christian lives into correct focus.

Ultimately, the only Jesus worth knowing and worth believing is the one of scripture. The gospels are the trustworthy accounts that were set down for us to tell us who Jesus Christ is, and to tell us about his birth, life, ministry, and especially his death and resurrection. The Christ of the Bible is the Christ of our experience, if we have been born again of his Spirit by faith in him. The inspired Word of the Bible is the guide to the truth about the Lord that we claim to believe in, to his will that we claim to follow, and to the glory of the one  we claim to love and praise.

It can be quite startling for someone who has seen, heard or read some of the distorted pictures of Jesus in our movies, our history classes and texts or even in some of our religious institutions, to read how Jesus began his ministry in the gospel of Mark. This summary of the habitual message of Jesus, from Mark, the recorder and translator of the eyewitness and apostle Peter, describes Jesus as someone who burst onto the scene with good news. He started his ministry preaching the gospel, as Mark put it, and calling people to repentance and faith. It tells of how Jesus came with good news to the pity party of first century Judaism as they smarted under the domination and oppression of Rome. It tells of how he came with good news that called for a response, of repentance and faith.

So here is what Mark wrote down for us: “After John [the Baptist] was sent up to prison, Jesus came into Galilee and proclaimed the gospel of the kingdom of God, and was saying, ‘The time has been fulfilled and the kingdom of God has arrived. Repent and believe the good news!’”

The real message of Jesus Christ is that the kingdom of God has arrived. His ministry centered around the message that the time of God’s intervention into our world which had been promised by the prophets had begun. So he came and gave the message that was the fulfillment of the longings of the people of God, then and in all ages, had arrived in him and through his ministry.

Jesus began his ministry with the good news of the kingdom of God. He did not point to anything else or anyone else as the reason why he could make that stupendous claim.  Rather, he himself was the fulfillment. He was the kingdom of God in person, the center and the fulfillment of the promises which came through the Old Testament prophets. His sovereign authority and power were the demonstration of the truth of the promises, and in Jesus Christ the promises of God become reality.

When Jesus began his ministry in Galilee, Jesus took up where the ministry of John the Baptist left off. Herod Antipas, one of the sons of the Herod who had been king of Judea when Jesus was born, had John the Baptist apprehended and imprisoned. Jesus had already spent some time with John and his disciples in the area of Jordan in Judea, but now returned to Galilee where he had grown up in Nazareth. John had declared that there was a more powerful one to follow, and Jesus took up his ministry as the one that John had been predicting would come.  And so Mark wrote, “After John [the Baptist] was sent up to prison, Jesus came into Galilee and proclaimed the gospel of the kingdom of God . . . “ Jesus  came as the good news of the kingdom of God both in his person and in his message. He came as the anointed King, with the authority and power of the Son of God, with the power over sin, disease and death. But his message was summarized as the good news of the kingdom, because it was good news that the King whom God had appointed had come. Indeed, the wording of Mark also shows a real intention to show Jesus as the fulfillment of the prediction of Isaiah on his return to Galilee:

“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the one who brings good news,
Proclaiming peace, bringing good news of good things, proclaiming salvation,
Saying to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’”

(Isaiah 52:7 — Dale’s sight translation of the Hebrew, informed also by the Septuagint).

Indeed, in the original Hebrew, there’s that word for salvation, yeshuah, which sounds a lot like Jesus’s name – Yeshua — in Aramaic. This may well be  And this takes up and continues the opening words and prophecy of Isaiah with which Mark’s gospel opened: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God – just as it has been written in the book of Isaiah the prophet . . .” . So, the good news of the kingdom of God is the the King has come with the salvation of God.

Now, the gospel of the kingdom is not the physical presence of the anointed King, and his conscious use of his sovereign authority over sin, disease, death and the kingdom of Satan. Rather, it has become the gospel of the crucified and risen Son of God. He is still the same anointed King, though, and still has the same authority over sin, disease, death and the kingdom of Satan. Since his ascension into heaven, he still gives eternal life and righteousness through those who come under his sovereignty and enter his kingdom by being born again of his Spirit. This is still the good news that the King has come, and that now through his spiritual presence through his Holy Spirit in his people he still brings salvation. This good news is still the stupendous news that brings hope in the midst of this world. This gospel is the same gospel that once came to Winston Churchill once said to Billy Graham: “I am an old man. Life has lost all meaning. I am ready to take a fateful leap into the unknown. Young man, can you give me a ray of hope?”

So then, the message of Jesus that the kingdom of God had arrived meant that the time had come when God was fulfilling his promises made in centuries past. God had announced his purposes long ago through the Old Testament prophets, and now these promises had begun to reach their fulfillment in him. All the goodness that God had for his people had arrived, in the person and ministry of his anointed King from the line of David, Jesus of Nazareth.

The summary of the form of the gospel that Jesus proclaimed, appropriate to the opening of his ministry, was, “The time has been fulfilled and the kingdom of God has arrived.” Though there are many Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament, when Jesus said that the time was fulfilled and the kingdom of God had arrived, he is specifically referring back to Daniel 2:44 and 7:22. The first reference came in the dream that God gave to the Babylonian emperor Nebuchadnezzar, which the prophet Daniel had to interpret for him, of the four empires that there would be, including his own. In the days of the fourth empire, which we now know as the Roman empire, God was to set up his own kingdom. In the second reference, as part of the interpretation of a vision that Daniel himself had of the Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven, God would set up a kingdom for his people. So Jesus was saying that the time had come when this kingdom was being set up and being given to the people of God, and it was coming at the prophesied time and according to its predicted schedule. Therefore Jesus, who himself would call himself the Son of Man throughout his ministry in conscious identification of himself with the Son of Man of Daniel’s vision in Daniel 7:13-14, was announcing the fulfillment of prophecy to them. He came as the King to the people who had the Old Testament revelation, all the Bible that there was up to that time, who were looking for its fulfillment. He did not bring a new ritual, a new set of rules or anything else, but in him, God came in person, in the person of God the Son, to set up his kingdom. This brings the understanding that the good news that came through Jesus was fulfillment of the promises of God.

Though the content of the gospel itself has changed through addition, as more of God’s promises were fulfilled through Jesus, even to the death and resurrection of Jesus, the reality is that the message is fulfillment of the promises of God and the prophecies of the Old Testament. So often, when we go over the central events of the gospel, as the life and ministry of Jesus came then to the cross and the empty tomb, we may miss the stupendous understanding that it was all fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament and the promises of God. But Jesus took special care to keep on explaining this in depth to the apostles after his resurrection, in a time which some have called his post-resurrection ministry, on how his the circumstances of his life, ministry, death and resurrection were the fulfillment of what God had already declared through the Old Testament (Luke 24:27, 44-45). Even in the statement of the outline of the gospel, the apostle Paul repeated several times that it was according to the scriptures: “I make known among you, brothers and sisters, the gospel with which I evangelized you, which you have received, in which you stand and by which you are saved — by that word with which I evangelized you, if indeed you are holding fast to it – apart from which you would have believed in vain. I passed on to you as of first importance that which I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that he was buried, and that he arose on the third day according to the scriptures . . .”   (I Corinthians 15:1 -4 ).

So, even in this day and age, where some voices are coming up again that say that the Old Testament is not really necessary, and some may even want to do like the ancient heretic Marcion and ditch the Old Testament, the gospel of Jesus Christ establishes for all time the continuing validity and relevance of the Old Testament, since his coming was in fulfillment of the Old Testament. Even more, it becomes necessary to chop all the passages out of the gospels where they point out the different places in his life, ministry, death and resurrection where he fulfilled the prophecies of the Old Testament. And then whatever gospel that there may be left of Jesus seems as if it lacks foundation and context, and all that is left are some moralizing stories, some miracles which they usually gloss over as well, and a death that seems more tragic than purposeful and a resurrection that seems more gratuitous than victorious.

And because the content of the message began in the prophetic Word of God in the Old Testament, and was fulfilled and explained by Jesus Christ himself through his ministry, there is no authority on earth for anyone ever to change or alter the gospel message. Again, there are some who may try to excise parts of the message out to try to make it more appealing to those who make no profession of following Christ – the parts that they say that the post modern mind cannot accept. We’ve heard that kind of thing before for almost every generation  in the church in the Western world for the past five hundred years or so. In fact, from before and after the First World War, the attempt was to downplay the parts that some said that the modern mind cannot accept. One word added to the cliché – the post modern mind instead of the modern mind, and the same error that emptied mainline churches pops up again. But the center of the gospel has always remained Jesus Christ, the promised King, the Son of God crucified and risen, despite the reappearance of the same readiness to cave in to the intellectual fashions of the moment.

And so the question comes on where anyone else can come into a church of Jesus Christ and claim any kind of authority for changing the content of the gospel, and changing proclaiming the message of the good news of the gospel into something else – like doing some kind of good deed or church task. In the past pastors and teachers within the body of Christ, in clarifying what Biblical evangelism really is, have often had to say that inviting people to church is a good thing and a good deed, but in itself it is not evangelism as defined and practiced by Jesus and the apostles. We’ve also had to say that doing some church support ministry such as teaching Sunday School or playing the piano is not in itself evangelism, though there may be opportunities for evangelism. (And sometimes I’ve startled some people within churches by saying that church musicians – directors, composers, instrumentalists and singers – need themselves to be grounded in the Word of God and to be able to share their faith – and that may transform much of the current music from its current emotionality and superficiality to something that reflects more of a Biblical faith and universal Christian experience. ) And we’ve had to say that doing humanitarian deeds as Christian service is not itself evangelism, though again it may well furnish opportunities for witness and corroborate the reality of how the gospel transforms people.

But when we read about Jesus proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom of God, we can correct a misleading picture and cultural stereotype which many may have of evangelizing – of a man in a tie and suspenders, yelling, huffing and puffing in a microphone in a deep accent from the southern United States, as he is “preaching the gospel”  — like a character from the movie, “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” Certainly many who may have fit that stereotype during the 1920s and the 1930s did preach a Biblical gospel, were not corrupt as the fictional Elmer Gantry, and did lead many to a real salvation in Christ.The reaction of some to that kind of straw man character is to the style, and they may consider themselves more sophisticated. But we can see Jesus speaking in his normal calm, controlled, direct and forthright style – sometimes stupendously compassionate and kind, at other times commanding with all the authority of the Son of God — as he did so much throughout the gospels. So then he showed us a genuinely Christlike way to proclaim the gospel and truly evangelize – the Biblical content in a truly Christlike way, without the stereotypical style that some have associated with evangelism, and which they have avoided because they want to appear more sophisticated and intelligent than a straw man stereotype.

But even further — the very coming of Jesus Christ as the promised King was therefore the corroboration of the truthfulness and faithfulness of the God of the Bible. He is the God who stands by his promises and purposes, even if others might forget them, be indifferent to them, or even be skeptical or dismissive of them. The good that he has promised will come about just as he had said. And this is a reason for every believer in Jesus Christ to  look forward with anticipation for the fulfillment of all the promises of God for his people and to live in the strength of his promises. Though the kingdom came in its opening installment in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, and continues since his death and resurrection in his church, the citizens of his kingdom, yet there is all the fullness of his kingdom yet to come, when he returns in glory. This will mean that we can continue to live in  hope and anticipation, with the knowledge that through Jesus Christ we know, love and serve an eternally faithful, truthful and trustworthy God. It is like the reply of a Marine during the Korean War to the reporter Marguerite Higgins, when she found him eating beans in –42 degree Fahrenheit weather. She asked him, “If I were God, and could grant you anything you wished, what would you like?”

The Marine replied, “Give me tomorrow!”

In the fulfillment of his promises to bring his kingdom into this world, and the fulfillment of his promises through Jesus, God has given us tomorrow. The coming of Jesus Christ into this world meant that God’s kingdom has already arrived, and there is yet more to come, when it comes in its fullness. The saving sovereignty of Jesus Christ means freedom from the power of sin, disease and death through the power of his death and resurrection. God’s message to this world began in the ministry of his Son and continues with us today. This means that the good news for us today started with the good news that Jesus came with both in his message and in his presence so many years ago. And this is the good news which he has passed on for us to share with the entire world until he returns.

The reality of the kingdom being present now is not something that brings the goodness of God to everyone and anyone without a personal response. The reality of the kingdom of God through Jesus Christ calls for repentance and faith. The reality that came with Jesus still calls for our response and acceptance. The valid, expected responses to the good news of the kingdom of God still remains exactly what Jesus was calling for in his ministry.

The call for repentance was very definitely part of the ministry of Jesus. The reality of the presence of the kingdom called for this response, and Jesus was plain in calling for it. He himself had all the authority in himself to call for repentance, and he did so as part of the condition for anyone to participate in the kingdom of God. His call reflects the impossibility of acknowledging and coming under the sovereignty of God, becoming a part of the kingdom, while remaining in selfish charge of one’s own life. His call was for a complete change of life as the proper response to the good news of the kingdom of God, for people to turn from sin to follow the will of God.

Jesus simply used that one word, “Repent!” This verb came in the imperative mood, as a command to the people whom he heard. In this command to repentance he followed clearly the Old Testament prophets who called the people of God to repentance, and here as the anointed King he also fulfilled the ministry and office of prophet – not a moralizing teacher, but someone clearly echoing the message of the Old Testament prophets.

This is why Jesus didn’t have to spend much time defining repentance for those who heard him. First century Jews were well aware of what repentance meant from the prophets. Here is how Isaiah defined it:

“Seek the LORD while he may be found,
Call on him while he is near!
Let the wicked man forget about his own way,
And the evil man his own thoughts and plans,
And let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him,
And to our God, because he will abundantly pardon.”

(Isaiah 55:6-7, Dale’s sight translation).

Turning away from sin – and not just from an outward act, but also the very thoughts, intentions, plans and schemes to think, speak and act outside the will of God — and turning to God for pardon and mercy – that is the scriptural definition of repentance. And the prophet Hosea even went so far as to give the Israelites some specific words to say to God to express repentance, to tell him of their turning away from sin to him:

“Turn, Israel, to the LORD your God,
Take these words with you to him, and turn to the LORD,
Say to him, ‘Forgive our sin, And receive us for good, so that we may offer you the fruit of our lips.’”

(Hosea 14:2-3, Dale’s sight translation).

And just as Mark already wrote a few words earlier, the baptism with which John the Baptist came was a baptism of repentance, and as the people were baptized they confessed their sins. So, with this emphasis on repentance, John was recognized as a prophet clearly taking up the Old Testament call to repentance, and Jesus took it up as well. Though they both made predictions – John of the immediate appearance of Jesus, and Jesus of his own crucifixion and resurrection, as well as the events leading up to his second coming (Matthew 24-25, Mark 13, Luke 21), they were not regarded as prophets for making predictions. Rather, the call for repentance marked them clearly as prophets consistent with the prophets God sent to Israel during the centuries of the Old Testament. So it’s noteworthy that while during his ministry, then, that Jesus was recognized not just as a teacher, but also as a prophet – just like his forerunner, John the Baptist.

So then, it can be quite shocking to some when they really pay attention to what Jesus said when he once defined his mission as, “I have not come to call the ‘righteous’, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31). And even more startling to anyone who has been propagandized by the picture of  Jesus as a moralizing story teller, is this declaration of Jesus: “I say to you, unless you repent, you will likewise perish” (Luke 13:4). And in his post resurrection ministry, he put the emphasis on repentance as a clear part of the expected response to the message of the gospel (Luke 24:47) in practically the same words which he had used earlier and which had been characteristic of the ministry of John the Baptist.

So on the day of Pentecost, at the conclusion of his great proclamation of the gospel, it’s no wonder that the apostle Peter concluded, “Repent! And be baptized, each one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). These words clearly echoed the prophecies of John the Baptist and of Jesus, but were now being fulfilled in the age of the gospel. And apparently at the conclusion of his sermon he went on to plead at length with those who heard to “Save yourselves from this broken generation” (Acts 2:40). And this call to repentance was a part of the ministry of Paul as well – but more on that shortly.

So then, this was part of the expected response to the good news of the kingdom of God in Jesus Christ: becoming part of his kingdom calls for repentance. This means the renunciation of all self righteous pretensions, of holding to getting one’s own way at all costs to oneself and to others, and it means trusting in God’s readiness to forgive. The message of repentance was not intended to put anyone down, but to give people the truth about themselves so that they could enter the blessings of the kingdom. This message of repentance is the invitation of love and grace to receive forgiveness and to change the direction of one’s life into the direction of the kingdom of God.

This message of repentance needs regularly to be asserted in every age of the church of Jesus Christ, and it is in full accord with the direction of his earthly ministry and his stated expectations during his post resurrection ministry. It addresses the reality of a person which is known deep inside each person’s conscience, about the reality of one’s own sin, but it also demonstrates genuine faith in the readiness of God to forgive. This means turning from sin, and even the thoughts, intentions and schemes of sin, and turning toward following the will of God, so that the direction of one’s own personal life is turned into the direction of the kingdom of God.

How repentance is a change of heart leading to a change of life and a change of sides can be understood from an incident which happened during the ministry of John Wesley. There was a group of his followers that were planning to hold a meeting in a barn, and there was a group that opposed them. So one man hid inside the barn inside a sack. He was planning to open the door after the meeting started, to let the others from his group in to break up the meeting. But after the singing, prayer and preaching of the gospel began, the man hiding inside the sack came under deep conviction, and came to Christ that evening. He never opened the door to let the others in, because he had repented and he had changed sides.

But repentance was not all that Jesus called for in response to the good news that he brought. He expected to be believed and trusted as the anointed King of God, the Savior who had come at the predicted time. So, coming into the blessings of his kingdom means trusting the word of the King.

Jesus called for faith in himself as a part of the response that he expected to himself and to his ministry. As Mark recorded, he said, “ . . .believe the good news!” Faith in the good news meant confidence in the word of the messenger, and the bearer of the good news was the King himself. As he came and presented himself as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, of all the hopes of the people of Israel, he expected those who heard him to accept his word and believe him. He called for confidence in his words and promises, as the Son of God, God’s chosen ruler of his people. This entailed more than just acceptance of the facts of monotheism, of belief that there is one God, but also of the claims and trustworthiness of the messenger from God, the Messiah himself, the promised King. And as it would become evident throughout his ministry, the reality of this faith would mean following the King. And this new emphasis on faith in the Messiah as leading to personal salvation as being central to the personal conversations and public teaching of Jesus is also the central theme to the gospel of John.

This was a new emphasis, then, in the response that was expected with the inception of the age of the kingdom of God with the ministry of Jesus. Faith in the Old Testament was belief in one God, the God of Israel and the renunciation of idolatry, and while trust in him was expected and encouraged, the explicit call to faith becomes much more prominent with the arrival of Jesus and start of his ministry. But with the coming of John the Baptist, who pointed to the people to the Messiah in their midst, and with the ministry of Jesus, faith in the Messiah became paramount to become a partaker of the blessings of the kingdom of God. And this emphasis on faith continued after the life and ministry of Jesus came to the culmination of his earthly mission in his crucifixion and resurrection, so that belief in the gospel came to its full New Covenant meaning of faith in Jesus, King Messiah, the Son of God, who died on the cross for our sins and rose again to life. He is now the crucified and risen Son of God who calls for our full trust and allegiance still, and for faith in his good news of his salvation that he has brought. Certainly belief in his gospel means concurrence with the facts of his death and resurrection, but even more, it is a personal, conscious trust and allegiance to him. It is trust in his good new which opens our lives to where we can receive all the goodness of God in his kingdom, as we trust in his word and the trustworthiness of the messenger, who was the King himself.

This call to faith in the crucified and risen Son of God continued onward in the New Testament ministry of the gospel. The apostle Peter concluded his message to the household of the Roman centurion Cornelius, “All the prophets bear witness that everyone who puts his or her faith in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:43). The apostle Paul told the jailer of Philippi, “Put your faith in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved . . .” (Acts 16:31). And Paul joined repentance and faith together as the expected response to the gospel when he said that he had “ . . . testified to both Jews and Greek about repentance to God and faith in our Lord Jesus” (Acts 20:21). And it was Paul who defined what it meant to come to saving faith in Jesus when he wrote in the epistle to the Romans, “ . . .  if you acknowledge with your mouth that, ‘Jesus is Lord!’ and you believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved . . .” (Romans 10:9).

This is also an emphasis that needs to be kept paramount in the preaching and teaching of the church of Jesus Christ in all places and in all times. Belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ is saving faith. J. Gresham Machen once wrote, “  . . . saving faith is acceptance of Christ, not merely in general, but as he is offered to us in the gospel.” It involves acceptance of the truth about Jesus as in the New Testament, not merely as a historical figure, but as the Son of God who came, suffered and died and rose again, and trusting him alone for one’s eternal salvation. And this is what brings anyone now into his Kingdom and into the fullness of the goodness of God that his Kingdom brings.

In the Old Testament, God told his people, “I set before you the way of life and the way of death. Now choose life!” ( In Jesus Christ, God came as the sovereign King, God’s own anointed Son, as the bearer and messenger of the Kingdom of God, came near to us and in person to set before us the way of life and the way of death, and call us to choose life by repentance and faith in his good news. In his preaching and teaching, then, Jesus expected response to his message. He expected no complacency or a business as usual attitude to his message. Moreover, he, as well as John the Baptist, the apostle Peter and the apostle Paul and the Old Testament prophets were totally unashamed of using the imperative mood to call people to repentance and faith. They did not deliver requests to think about it for a little while. They called for, and expected response to their message. And responses they received as they called for repentance and faith: 300o on the of Pentecost, some several thousand more after another time of great preaching and teaching in the Jerusalem Temple, the household of Cornelius, the Philippian jailer, Lydia the seller of purple dye, and so on. They would all take the time to explain the gospel in depth and to explain repentance and faith in depth, as well as to answer honest questions with honest answers, but they were all calling for a verdict and a decision in response to the gospel of God.

The nature of the kingdom of God, as the salvation and sovereignty of God through Jesus Christ, then, calls for the response of repentance and faith. The people of God today do not need to have any kind of reluctance in making this known. Some will question our authority to command this; we can point to the command that we received from the Word of God and our own response to the command to do just that. Some will dislike it because of their theological position that repentance and faith are the gifts from God, and must come from the working of God. We can point to the reality that the Holy Spirit who inspired the scriptures is present when the gospel is proclaimed to bestow those gifts of repentance and faith, and that he inspired the Word which set forth the direct commands to men and women of all ages to repent and believe in the gospel. Some will simply not like the style of directly calling men and women to repent and believe in the gospel. But there is no need for any kind of false dichotomy between immediate response or allowing people more time to consider their response of repentance and faith. It would be scriptural to give a clear understanding of the gospel and clear directions of what repentance and faith, as well as making it clear that an immediate response is possible and that a delay can be eternally fatal as to anyone who wants to consider his or her response at length. There does not need to be great pressure on anyone but rather loving clarity and even loving pleading, much as Peter gave on the day of Pentecost.

But even more, making clear the expected response of the human will to the gospel in repentance and faith – which can be understood themselves to be good works brought about in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, as John and Charles Wesley asserted – can correct an impression that some may have that being born again means waiting for God to zap them with the same kind of experience of overwhelming love and joy that so many believers may give witness. The reality of the turning to God through repentance and faith in Christ as he is presented in the gospel does not require any kind of passive waiting on God to provide anyone with any kind of experience. Rather, there is the conscious response to the gospel in repentance and faith and many may have an overwhelming experience of the joy of salvation at that time, but there is no need to seek or look for that same kind of experience. At the same time, there is no gradual sliding into the kingdom of God, but rather a real point of decision in response to the call of the gospel through Jesus Christ to repentance and faith. It is as Henry Wright once wrote: “No man or woman oozes unconsciously into the Kingdom of God. In the final analysis, all enlist, and every soldier knows when he enlisted.”

Through the message of his gospel, then, King Jesus has challenged each of us personally to enter his kingdom. This good news comes from the risen Lord himself, and he himself, in his death and resurrection, is the gospel himself. Life, righteousness and healing are the blessings of his kingdom to those who respond to him, who come to him by repentance and faith and then find out how good the good news really is.

The sovereignty of Jesus Christ means freedom from the reign of sin, death, disease and Satan, and entrance into his reign of salvation, to eternal life and righteousness. This is the good news that calls for our response in repentance and faith: repentance to receive forgiveness and faith to receive eternal life from the King. It means for each one who comes to the King in repentance and faith a place of personal place of acceptance in his kingdom, pardon for sins, acceptance with God and the possession of eternal life. So the question comes to each one of us: have you responded to the invitation of the King?

The sovereignty of Jesus Christ, in his saving power and authority, is our message to the world. The salvation which was secured by his death and resurrection is available to everyone. That is the reason for our witness to others, and for our working together to bring his message to all the world. The entrance of the kingdom of God to our world is good news for everyone, and we cannot keep that message to ourselves.

But finally, the sovereignty of Jesus Christ is the reason for our praise and rejoicing. We cannot remain sullen and self pitying, as if he had never come to our world as the kingdom of God and salvation of God incarnate. He came to give freedom from the penalty and power of sin, and living in that freedom means the joy and the celebration of how the kingdom of God has come into our world and how it has entered and changed our lives.