I am a big fan of expository preaching and teaching. To preach the Word of God verse by verse and “give the meaning” is one of the highest forms of honor to God’s Word, and the most fulfilling food to the sheep…unless…it is devoid of Christ and His Grace.
“The Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17). Jesus is the true Bread of life, and even the most accurate and well-delivered exposition will leave malnourished sheep hobbling along the path with their ribs sticking out, if that Bread is not a part of every meal.
Preachers and teachers, please don’t let a sermon or lesson leave your lips, without our precious Savior and Lord, and His wonderful Grace, being an integral part of it.
Hear Mr. Spurgeon’s little story:
A young man had been preaching in the presence of a venerable divine, and after he had done he went to the old minister, and said, “What do you think of my sermon?”
“A very poor sermon indeed,” said he.
“A poor sermon?” said the young man, “it took me a long time to study it.”
“Ay, no doubt of it.”
“Why, did you not think my explanation of the text a very good one?”
“Oh, yes,” said the old preacher, “very good indeed.”
“Well, then, why do you say it is a poor sermon? Didn’t you think the metaphors were appropriate and the arguments conclusive?”
“Yes, they were very good as far as that goes, but still it was a very poor sermon.”
“Will you tell me why you think it a poor sermon?”
“Because,” said he, “there was no Christ in it.”
“Well,” said the young man, “Christ was not in the text; we are not to be preaching Christ always, we must preach what is in the text.”
So the old man said, “Don’t you know young man that from every town, and every village, and every little hamlet in England, wherever it may be, there is a road to London?”
“Yes,” said the young man.
“Ah!” said the old divine “and so from every text in Scripture, there is a road to the metropolis of the Scriptures, that is Christ. And my dear brother, your business is when you get to a text, to say, ‘Now what is the road to Christ?’ and then preach a sermon, running along the road towards the great metropolis—Christ.
“And,” said he, “I have never yet found a text that had not got a road to Christ in it, and if I ever do find one that has not a road to Christ in it, I will make one; I will go over hedge and ditch but I would get at my Master, for the sermon cannot do any good unless there is a savour of Christ in it.”
(From “Christ Precious To Believers”, preached March 13th, 1859)
By Michele Rayburn
When I think about the cross, I think of what Christ’s death on the cross accomplished. What Christ did on the cross is not “the end” or “an end in and of itself”. But rather it is the beginning, and the means by which we are not only forgiven and our sins paid for, but we begin to experience eternal life right now, having received the Holy Spirit. And we are now able to “walk in the Spirit” and thereby grow and mature in our faith.
Without Christ’s crucifixion, we could not receive the Holy Spirit so as to experience His life and become ministers of the New Covenant, the gospel of our salvation to all that would believe. Because we have received the Holy Spirit, we glorify God in the earth and carry out His work as well.
When I think of Christ’s death on the cross, I think of Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
And Colossians 3:1-4 says, “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God…For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.”
Hebrews 12:2-3 says, “…looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross…consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.”
The author of Hebrews reminds us to look at how Jesus was able to endure such suffering because He was forward-looking, anticipating the joy that would follow, and encourages us to be like-minded…to not become weary and discouraged in our sufferings, but to look forward to the joy that is to come after this life.
Our church had to say goodbye to one of the members of our congregation a couple of Sundays ago. He came to church to see everyone one last time because he knew that he only had a few days left to live. He was a young man with inoperable brain cancer. I was so glad to see him just one more time, because I wanted to know how he was feeling spiritually…could he say, “It is well with my soul”.
Though he was very, very weak sitting in his wheelchair, barely able to speak or hear, and very frail, I was blessed by his countenance. He had an almost imperceptible smile on his face, and a glow about him. I could see that though outwardly he was perishing, inwardly he had the joy of the Lord. That’s what I needed to see.
I thought of how he must be looking forward to his new home in Heaven, that he was ready. He was looking forward to the joy that was to come. And that’s what the author of Hebrews is encouraging us to do in our sufferings. (This young man has since gone home to be with the Lord.)
When I think of Christ’s death on the cross, I think of the acceptance and unconditional love that we have in Him. Ephesians 1:4-7 says, “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself…by which He has made us accepted in the Beloved.”
One Pastor/theologian wrote, “…other religions cannot tell us of a dying Savior.” I would have to say that other religions not only cannot tell us of a “dying Savior”, (though “many Christs will come”) but they cannot tell us of a risen Savior either.
I remember talking to my cousin about Jesus Christ years ago. She preferred to follow the teachings of Buddha. So, I finally said to her that all those other “prophets” from those other religions are dead, but Jesus Christ is alive…He has risen from the dead! I will never forget the look in her eyes. She was speechless. It was a moment I will never forget.
The gospel is not “the cross”, per se, as I sometimes hear people say. The gospel is “the good news”…that Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins, that He was buried, and that He rose again on the third day. (1 Cor.15:3-4) And so He promised that we would be raised up with Him, first spiritually, at the moment we first believe, and then physically, “on the last day”.
In dying, He fulfilled the prophecy that He would die on a cross as payment for our sins, with the promise that whoever believes in Him as their Savior and Lord would not perish, but have everlasting (eternal) life. (John 3:16)
We have all been separated from God because of sin, and there’s nothing we can do to earn favor with God in order to be reconciled with Him. All God calls us to do in order to be reconciled with Him is to trust in His Son because Jesus paid for our sins.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. -John 3:16
Baroness Margaret Thatcher, The Iron Lady, Britain’s first woman Prime Minister has passed away.
“The Iron Lady” was a great description of her because she had a statesman’s spine, but was indeed a Lady.
She once said something like, “Being powerful is like being a lady — if you have to tell people you are, you’re not.”
If you want to know the Source of her iron, it was Christ. One of the greatest speeches by a politician I have ever heard or read was her address to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1988.
Read it, if you like, and bask in the wisdom of this great friend of President Ronald Reagan: http://goo.gl/Iuplt
“For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God!”
With these amazing words in John 10, the Jews gave their reason for trying once again to stone Jesus.
Not yet ready to die, and certainly not by stoning, Jesus escaped Judea and crossed the Jordan River to where John the Baptist had once baptized repentant Israelites, probably Perea. He stayed there for a while, and many believed in Him there.
When word came to Jesus that his beloved friend Lazarus was deathly sick, He didn’t cross the Jordan back to Bethany near Jerusalem to visit his friend on his death bed. No one could blame Him for staying . After all, hadn’t the Jews repeatedly tried to seize and stone Him? So the disciples didn’t blame Him, and they weren’t surprised that He stayed in Perea. It only made sense. Lazarus would have to rely on the comfort of His immediate family, Mary and Martha.
But the disciples were surprised a couple of days later, when Jesus said, “Let us go to Judea again.” What?!
They said to Him, “Rabbi, lately the Jews sought to stone You, and are you going there again?”
And He told them He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead. Do you think they believed Him? I don’t. I think Thomas spoke for all the disciples when he said, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.” They thought this was it. The end. Crazy, but hey, He’s the Lord. We will follow Him and we will die with Him if necessary.
But they didn’t die that day. They went to Bethany, and Jesus spoke the words that thrill our hearts, as believers in Him:
“I AM THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE. HE WHO BELIEVES IN ME, THOUGH HE MAY DIE, HE SHALL LIVE. AND WHOEVER LIVES AND BELIEVES IN ME SHALL NEVER DIE…”
And he raised Lazarus from the dead.
And later He died on the Cross. They finally got Him. They finally put an end to the One whom they said blasphemed because He said He was God. And the brave disciples who went to Bethany with Him, willing to die, cowered behind a closed door, mourning the loss of their Rabbi, and their dreams.
We appreciate His death now. We know that it paid for our sins. We cringe at the horror of the Innocent One being beaten and scourged and crucified and separated from His Father as He took the fury of the Wrath of God on Himself. We appreciate it. But we don’t exactly celebrate it.
What we celebrate is that on the third day, He rose from the dead. He authenticated that He is Who He said He was. He is the Anointed One, God the Son, the Christ, the Messiah! And He is alive! And we say Hallelujah! He is risen!
Even as a historical event, it’s noteworthy. But He did it for a purpose. He was “raised for our justification”. He was crucified, buried, and raised from the dead, that we might live. He said He came that we might have life and have it more abundantly. And in some mysterious way, when He died on the Cross, we died with Him, and when He was raised, we were raised with Him, and seated with Him in the heavenlies, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion.
We were made alive spiritually, with the promise that we will be raised physically as well, on that Great Gettin’ Up Morning! We became New Creations! Old things have passed away, behold all things have become new! There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus! Hallelujah, what a Savior!
And all because He died for our sins. He became sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in Christ!
We have died once to the penalty of sin, and so we have peace with God. (“I have been crucified with Christ…”)
We are able to die daily to the power of sin because we stand in grace. (“… it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me…”)
And someday when we are present with the Lord, we will be free from the presence of sin. (“…and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God Who died for me and gave Himself for me.” – Galatians 2:20)
Jesus died once for our sins, and shed His blood for us, so that we can rest completely in His finished work on the cross.
Sometimes we as Christians live as if it isn’t “finished”. We live as if our sins are not forgiven, past, present and future. And we find ourselves trying to earn God’s favor each day.
But we stand in grace, in a permanent state of forgiveness, precisely because “It is finished.”
And yet it’s one of the most sublime and poignant passages of Scripture.
“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”
See, we were reconciled to God through the death of Christ. And that is a great truth. Our sins were paid for, the curtain of separation between us and God was taken out of the way. Nothing stood any longer between us and God.
Yet Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 that if Christ was not risen from the dead, then we Christians would be pitiful, because we would still be dead in our sins.
How can this be? Wasn’t His death on the Cross enough?
Being separated from God by our sins was only part of the problem. We also were spiritually dead. And even if our sins were paid for, it would have been no more valuable than paying for the Purina Dog Chow of a dead Doberman.
There also needed to be Life. New Life. A New Creation.
Being reconciled to God, as wonderful as that is, was not enough, and so the death of Jesus was not enough. He had to be risen from the dead, so that we too could be risen from our awful state, dead in our sins and trespasses.
“…according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead….even when we were dead in trespasses, [He] made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…”, (Ephesians 1:19,20; 2:5,6)
And so Jesus had to rise from the dead, or we would be lost. And fools. And blind leading the blind.
But He did rise from the dead.
And so we have not only the reconciling to God from the death of Christ, but our salvation through New Life, given as a free gift by God through the same power He used to raise Christ from the dead!
And so we have Romans 5:10, with profound meaning that might escape us if we simply read over it rapidly. Romans 5:10…
“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, WE SHALL BE SAVED BY HIS LIFE.”
To All You Readers of Grace For Life,
We Love You.
He Is Risen!
Over the years the question of Church Membership swirls around the Christian world, and is debated and discussed, sometimes fought over, and sometimes just taken for granted.
Now by “Church Membership” here, I mean it in the commonly used sense of the phrase, referring to formally joining a particular local church, in a formal way, maybe agreeing to some doctrinal statement, or agreeing to some written covenant, and actually being put on a list of “Members”.
Is that Biblical? Is it O.K.? Is it demanded? Is it optional? And so forth.
Today I want to open a discussion in what I think is a new direction regarding Church Membership, especially as it relates to Fellowship.
See, I believe that the discussion of Church Membership is in one sense missing the real point of what the Church is to be about.
Is Membership Fellowship?
There’s a big elephant in the room that no one mentions. This elephant is ignored, walked around, or maybe mentioned only in passing. The big elephant in the room is Fellowship.
Now I’ve read many extensive studies which attempt to prove from Scripture that Membership Lists are taught in the Bible. And I will admit some of them SEEM logical, and SEEM to make sense in a certain way.
But the truth is, there are no commands for Church Membership Lists in the Bible. There are no examples of Church Membership Lists in the Bible. And there are no examples of formal joining of the local church in the Bible.
Because of this, and in relation to Biblical Fellowship, I have come to believe that Church Membership Lists, and the formal joining of a local church, is a man-made result of a lack of true Biblical Fellowship, or what the Bible in Greek calls Koinonia.
No let me make a disclaimer, before I go any further. If you attend a local church that practices Membership Lists, I’m not saying you shouldn’t join, or formally become a member. Because the Bible also does not PROHIBIT the making of Membership Lists. So I want to be clear on that. The Membership List itself is not the problem.
With that, I want to look at three aspects of this question of Church Membership:
1. What does the Bible teach about membership in general?
2. What made one a member of a local church?
3. What does Fellowship have to do with it?
1. What does the Bible teach about membership in general?
Romans 12:4,5, “For as we have many MEMBERS in one body, but all the MEMBERS do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually MEMBERS of one another.”
1 Cor 6:15, “Do you not know that your bodies are MEMBERS of Christ? Shall I then take the MEMBERS of Christ and make them MEMBERS of a harlot? Certainly not!”
1 Cor 12:12, “For as the body is one and has many MEMBERS, but all the MEMBERS of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ.”
1 Cor 12:18, “But now God has set the MEMBERS, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased.”
1 Cor 12:20, “But now indeed there are many members, yet one body.”
1 Cor 12:25, “…that there should be no schism in the body, but that the MEMBERS should have the same care for one another.”
1 Cor 12:26, “And if one MEMBER suffers, all the MEMBERS suffer with it; or if one MEMBER is honored, all the MEMBERS rejoice with it.”
1 Cor 12:27, “Now you are the body of Christ, and MEMBERS individually.”
Ephesians 2:19, “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and MEMBERS of the household of God.”
Ephesians 4:25, “Therefore, putting away lying, let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor, for we are MEMBERS of one another.”
Ephesians 5:30, “For we are MEMBERS of His body, of His flesh and of His bones.”
Acts 2:47, “…praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.”
2. What made one a member of the local church?
Acts 15:41, “And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.”
Acts 16:5, “So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily.”
“The Church” vs. “the churches”
Belief in Jesus Christ, baptism, and then practicing “church”.
Acts 2:42, “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.”
3. What does fellowship have to do with it?
Fellowship = “koinonia”, “commonality”, as in “koine” greek.
1 John 1:3, “…that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have FELLOWSHIP with us; and truly our FELLOWSHIP is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.”
1 John 1:6, “If we say that we have FELLOWSHIP with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.”
1 John 1:7, “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.”
Now we get back to Membership Lists, regarding church discipline and dis-fellowshiping a member.
Biblical “membership” involves “fellowship” — a commonality of spiritual Life in prayer, teaching, breaking of bread, drinking of cup, knowing one another, bearing one another’s burdens, sharing in one another’s financial needs, fervently loving one another, recognizing the hurt in one another and applying the balm of Jesus with warmth, stirring one another up to good works, exhorting, encouraging, blessing, hugging, welcoming, caring about, feeding with the true Bread, Who is Christ.
In other words, church discipline which may lead to dis-fellowshiping someone presupposes there is something to be dis-fellowshiped *from*. Something infinitely valuable, something one doesn’t want to miss, if they are a believer.
The modern American “church service”, where everyone files in at 11 and files out at Noon, with a, “How you doing?”, “I’m gr-r-r-eat!, how about you?” to a few people, followed by going home for another week apart from everyone else (or maybe till Wednesday for the truly “spiritual”) — doesn’t know what fellowship is. So it substitutes Membership Lists.
Then it either never dis-fellowships anyone, because “who cares?”, or it practices the church discipline of taking the unrepentent publicly sinful “off the Membership List”, whereupon the unrepentent publicly sinful either goes to the next church, or is “shamed” back onto the Membership List, not because they really miss the so-called “fellowship”, but because they are humiliated (too often they remain humiliated, with a red letter on their back…marked as a lesser being, not ike “us” who are incapable of falling so low…”How are you doing, Lesser Being?…O.K.?…go-o-o-d…see you next week…Ciao!”).
This is not meant to be a cynical comment at all, but a mere observation of many churches over many years, and a heart’s cry for a continual renewal of Biblical Fellowship.
“Church Membership Lists” is not primarily an exegetical question, it’s a spiritual one.
May God work His Fellowship in the churches.
An Open Letter To A Friend
By Michele Rayburn
I don’t think that the Church has only been teaching that God is love. The unsaved world may seem to be, but it seems that the Church is teaching doctrine (often legalistic doctrine) to the exclusion of love.
The Bible says that we are nothing without love, and yet I do not see its principles expounded upon very often. And I believe that it has had its effect on the body of Christ. If the Church is not “walking in love” then we are not spiritually mature…we are not “walking by the Spirit”. And that is what is so lacking.
I don’t think that we should deny that God loves the lost just because you think too much emphasis is being given to “For God so loved the world…”. That would not be a biblical approach. Because the concept that “God so loved the world” may confuse the unbeliever is no reason to downplay it. It’s not a matter of giving them “false hope” by telling them that God loves them, but rather, it is biblically accurate.
We can say that God will not save all people, even though “God so loves the world”, and it doesn’t matter if it confuses them, because it is the truth. “God’s ways are higher than our ways” and we can’t always understand His ways. “The deep things belong to God”. And, “The natural man cannot understand spiritual things”. The clay is not to ask the Potter, “Why did you make me this way?”
But, we know from John 3:16 that God loves the world (the whole world) because in that same verse, God says “whosoever believes”. This is a recognition that some (the “whosoevers”) in the world will “come out from them” (come out from the world) and believe.
And, nowhere does the Bible say God did not love His elect before He saved them. The Bible says that God chose you before the foundation of the world, which is an act of His love. He sees the end from the beginning and He still set His love upon you before you were created. When John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world…”, was it before He knew them or after? God so loved the world always. There is no mention of time limitations on God’s love or preconditions for His love.
God’s love is the motivating reason (or, at least, the best known reason) for our salvation. It is because He loved us that He saved us. You said the Gospel begins not with love. But even the giving of the Law to convict man of sin was an act of love.
John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world [His love comes first] that He gave His only begotten Son [the good news comes second]“. The reason God gave His Son is because He so loved the world. God was motivated by His love.
“We love Him [why?] because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)
Here are more Scriptures that show that God’s love came first and that His love was the motivation for His salvation plan:
Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
1 John 3:16, “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us.”
1 John 3:9, “In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.
1 John 4:10 “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
This last verse, 1 John 4:10, by the way, together with 1 John 2:2 “And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the whole world” is a clear Biblical statement of fact. For 1 John 2:2 to say “not for ours only, but also for the whole world” clearly states that God means “the whole world”. Because, who is left over after He is the propitiation for our sins?
The word “propitiation” does not mean “turn away God’s wrath”, but rather, it more closely means “to satisfy God’s wrath” (“It does not make God merciful; it makes divine forgiveness possible“–The New Compact Bible Dictionary). It means that Jesus Christ’s offer of Himself is a sacrifice that is sufficient for all. But it is not describing an act that is accomplished in all. The turning away of God’s wrath comes after the act of propitiation is received by those who repent.
The love of God is the motivation for the salvation of man, and the law is used to convict lost souls in order to show them their need for salvation.
If we see God as only angry toward unbelievers, I think we could very well become angry Christians, since we are imitators of God. God has the right to be angry because He knows how to be angry and not sin. He has a righteous anger, because underlying His anger is His perfect love.
A Twitter follower made the following comment:
“He loves the whole world, but not everyone in it.” Then he gave the Bible verse “Jacob I loved, Esau I hated” from Romans 9:13.
This was my husband Terry’s response via TwitLonger:
The question of whether God loves every individual person can’t be settled by a single verse, or even several individual verses.
It must be REASONED from the whole of Scripture, for two reasons:
A. There are different kinds of “love” and “hate”.
In the case of “love”, for example, it’s clear that Jesus loved both Judas Iscariot and the “rich young ruler”, yet both showed no repentance and faith for salvation.
In the case of “hate”, Jesus told us that we must “hate” our families. Yet we must “love” even our enemies. Obviously this “hate” is a relative prioritizing kind of hate, indicating that our love and prioritizing of Christ must be first, relative [no pun intended] to our families.
Thus God can, and does, both “love” (in some sense) His enemy, and “hate” them (in some sense).
Romans 9:13, “Jacob I loved, Esau I hated”, is not a verse explaining love and hate. It’s a verse explaining God’s sovereignty in election.
B. When God tells us to love our enemies, He says that when we do we are being like Him, Who gives rain, for example, to the just and the unjust.
This makes no sense whatsoever [we're REASONING, remember] if He did not in fact love every individual.
Here’s the syllogism:
Premise 1: We are to love every individual, even our enemy.
Premise 2: This makes us like our Father.
Conclusion: Our Father loves every individual.
Now for that to be true we have to understand point “A” above, that is, there are different kinds of love.
Obviously, God does not love every individual in the same sense as He loves His elect, His children. But that doesn’t mean He doesn’t love them.
He has love (of a sort we might call “felt compassion”) for even His enemies, the wicked, even to the point that He says in Ezekiel, “I take NO PLEASURE in the death of the wicked,” while he yet justly consigns them to the lake of fire.
It’s as if the Dad of a mass murderer was a Circuit Court Judge, and justly sent his son to Death Row, yet with tears streaming down his eyes. (Of course no human analogy can fully satisfy).
But because God IS “love”, He cannot NOT love, any more than He cannot NOT execute justice as the JUST ONE. (Even in the case of the elect, Justice is not avoided, but is exercised in Christ on the cross.)
Again, if we don’t REASON from the whole of Scripture, we may conclude that there are some that God does not love in any sense, and I believe this violates His very nature and dishonors Him (though I’m certainly not implying that you would do so intentionally).