| Church and Gospel https://www.churchandgospel.com Helping South Carolina churches live out the gospel Mon, 22 Jun 2020 21:55:48 +0000 en hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.4.2 Virtual EPIC Registration Open https://www.churchandgospel.com/2020/04/08/virtual-epic-registration-open/ Wed, 08 Apr 2020 19:04:55 +0000 https://www.churchandgospel.com/?p=2358 Join us for our next upcoming EPIC Bible Study! This will be a virtual study FREE for anyone to join. Registration and details in the link below or found under the “Events” tab above.

https://www.churchandgospel.com/epic-bible-study-training/

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Lessons from Chinese House Church COVID-19 Response https://www.churchandgospel.com/2020/03/16/lessons-from-chinese-house-church-covid-19-response/ Mon, 16 Mar 2020 13:35:30 +0000 https://www.churchandgospel.com/?p=2348 As the U.S. enters a new phase of response to the COVID-19 pandemic, our churches will be pressed to respond. Our sister churches in China have already been responding in a Christ-honoring and community-loving manner. I’m in close communication with a Chinese Christian leader who is part of organizing a Christian response to the coronavirus, and below are lessons I’ve learned from the reports that he has sent and reflection on Scripture.

It’s not a secret that China’s government has been increasingly unfriendly to Christian churches over the past several years. Even under oppression, China’s churches have organized a loving, Christ-honoring and government-respecting response. As U.S. government health authorities roll-out a plan of response to the coronavirus, we can be thankful that we are not governed under an authoritarian government as the Chinese churches are, but we need not to use our freedom for evil.

Submit to every human authority because of the Lord, whether to the emperor as the supreme authority or to governors as those sent out by him to punish those who do what is evil and to praise those who do what is good. For it is God’s will that you silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good. 16 Submit as free people, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but as God’s slaves. Honor everyone. Love the brothers and sisters. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2:13-17 CSB)

Submitting to the authorities and cooperating with them is not only part of the solution for slowing the coronavirus, but it is also a way that we can give testimony to Christ and put his goodness on display. If the Chinese house churches could cooperate and submit to their authorities regarding the coronavirus outbreak, it should be comparatively easier for us to submit to our authorities in the U.S.

Chinese Christians partnered together across churches, with community organizations, and with local authorities to lovingly care for the communities. The one leader that I know cooperated with 28 partnering organizations, including numerous provincial level-administrative regions. The Chinese Christians did not act in a panic or a rebellion, but organized in an orderly way to support the efforts of the greater community. Christian volunteers worked together with community security guards to take temperatures of people coming in and out of residential areas under quarantine. Christian volunteers approached people who were not where they were supposed to be, providing a gentler pressure to submit to the quarantine measures. Christian volunteers donated, packed, and distributed emergency kits with preventative materials for the virus. Christians helped by donating a “disinfectant spraying machine” to their community, and helped distribute flyers about the epidemic in the community. They also mobilized teams to educate children about the virus and to educate rural villages about the virus. Christians reached out to care for those who were harshly affected by the quarantines, such as dialysis patients, people with special needs and mental disabilities, and the poor who had no reserves to live from.

What can we learn from this?

1) Proactively responding. The church is God’s people, the body of Christ, and brings the presence of God’s Spirit into a community. We are a light to the nations. The church should step forward and take active steps to help the community responding to a crisis.

2) Partnering with local authorities. Chinese Christians found ways to partner with local authorities. Rather than subverting them, they were honoring those in authority and helping them to manage the crisis. Our churches should also partner with local health authorities to provide a right response. We can mobilize the members of our churches to respond to the virus voluntarily in a way that helps our community, and doesn’t create additional burden on our community authorities.

3) Educating our communities. Churches are about making disciples, and so we already have established networks of disseminating information and of educating people. One way we can help our government and authorities is by appropriately communicating with our members and communities. We need to be careful not to pass on false information. By passing on accurate information from our local health authorities we can open new communicative paths for sharing the gospel.

4) Caring for the outcasts. The coronavirus is going to affect some people greatly, and others minimally. As Christians, we need to keep our eyes out for the outcasts, the lepers, the tax collectors, the widows and orphans. Jesus looked out for the marginalized. We need to find creative ways to care for those who are especially disadvantaged by the measures being taken to slow the spread of the virus. The world might overlook those who are hurt most by the measures taken to slow the coronavirus, but we should take notice and care.

5) Living and speaking as a people of hope. In a time in which some in our culture are reacting in extremes, panic on the left and dismissal on the right, Christians can be a people who face the problem squarely with the hope of the gospel of peace. Keep your boots on. We can put the kingdom on display by our caring actions and response in crisis. We do not live afraid, but we know the hope that is beyond death and greater than any virus. We live in submission to our authorities in loving service to others because we serve the King of Kings who has defeated death. How we live and speak amongst our culture’s varied challenges has eternal impact, and so let’s point our culture to the hope that is found only in Christ Jesus.

Our colleagues at Wheaton College have put together a response booklet to help churches prepare a Christ-honoring response to the coronavirus pandemic. It’s worth taking a look and adapting for use at your church. https://www.wheaton.edu/media/humanitarian-disaster-institute/Preparing-Your-Church-for-Coronavirus.pdf

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The Stories of Shipwrecks https://www.churchandgospel.com/2020/03/02/the-stories-of-shipwrecks/ Mon, 02 Mar 2020 12:45:23 +0000 https://www.churchandgospel.com/?p=2341 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.

1 Peter 5:6-9

I love stories. I love stories with heroes and action, with comedy and surprise endings. I do not like many dramatic stories, romance comedies and above all things, I do not like dog stories. (The dog in most stories dies every time. Why do we always kill off the dog?)

As I was thinking about stories this morning, I found myself considering what stories have happened in the lives around me, and I unfortunately remembered many about friends who had gone through some painful things.

As I was thinking about these stories in their lives, the image of a shipwreck passed through my mind. I thought about how many of my friends have shipwrecked their families, ministries, etc., all because of the sin they never saw coming.

This led me to think about pirate stories and how many of those that sailed their entire lives on the seas ended up dying because of the things they did not see in the water. Areas where they had seen others go before to their deaths, and yet they went in the same way. Maybe they assumed they would be different, maybe they thought they were stronger… But they were not.

In the verse above, Peter makes clear through the leading of the Holy Spirit, that Satan is “…seeking someone to devour.” Satan is not sitting idly by counting the days until Christ’s return, he is not bored or tired or lazy. Satan is active, he is “seeking.” He is not interested in merely harming or maiming you or me – no, the Scripture says, “devour.” He does not want anything left when he is done with you. Like Job, he wants to take everything away so that you curse God and die.[1]

So we have to be wary as Christians. We need to understand our Enemy and understand his desires and methods. If we do, then we may be wise to avoid past shipwrecks and navigate to safer waters. It may be narrower, but it is the only way through.

Looking at the earlier verses is the key to navigating these treacherous waters. Peter writes, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”

What would you think convinces captains of ships, people who other people’s lives depend on to drive to sail through areas prone to shipwreck? Pride. Pride has sent many men to their deaths, and Peter is asking us to have humility, to humble ourselves to the Lord and then in His time, He will lift us up. Not ourselves, not our leading… His.

Peter then warns us even as we humble ourselves to the Lord to “Be sober-minded; be watchful…” because he knows that while we may be striving to humble ourselves unto the Lord, that box will never be checked this side of heaven. There is no safety from sin and temptation while we are here on earth. The Christian may have a firm faith and a devout love for God, but even Billy Graham struggled with temptation and sin. Christ Himself was tempted in every way having a full knowledge of being human.[2]

Finally, Peter commands us to “Resist him [the Devil], firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.”

This is imperative, because it is in isolation that the Devil preys. If you ever watch a nature show, the lions rarely run into the middle of a herd and start attacking. No, they find the straggler who is weak and not close to anyone and they pick them off to devour.

Peter warns us to be sober-minded, to pay attention to the possible shipwrecks around us. To know our enemy and to know his ferocity towards the life of a believer sold-out to Jesus Christ. Lastly, he warns us to be encouraged and to know that we are not in this fight alone. We have the Holy Spirit living inside of us and fighting for us in temptation and trial. We should be of good cheer because we know that not only are we fighting off temptation, but our brothers and sisters in Christ are likewise doing the same.

We must seek the Lord and allow Him to navigate our lives and our choices. Humble ourselves before the cross and follow Jesus daily with all that we have. If we stay the course of Christ, He will guide us through the treacherous waters and onto the golden shore that He has prepared for those that love Him.

[1] Job 2:9

[2] Heb 4:15

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Friends, Lovers, and Family: What the New Testament Says About Marriage and Sex (and Waiting For Both) https://www.churchandgospel.com/2020/02/10/friends-lovers-and-family-what-the-new-testament-says-about-marriage-and-sex-and-waiting-for-both/ Mon, 10 Feb 2020 12:45:47 +0000 https://www.churchandgospel.com/?p=2334 (Editor’s Note: This post continues our series of the talks given at this year’s ENDURE Apologetics conference.)

There are many texts in the New Testament that discuss the Christian view of sexual ethics, but there are three key texts in the writings of Paul that, when taken together, best summarize what the New Testament teaches about marriage, sex, and sexual ethics. These texts are 1 Corinthians 7:1-9, 32-35; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8; and Ephesians 4:1-32. Here is a brief summary.

Pressing the Reset Button on Sex (1 Corinthians 7:1-9, 32-35)

The churches in Corinth were struggling (and failing) to obey the Lord in a whole host of areas. This is why Paul writes 1 and 2 Corinthians to them, to deal with serious issues in the church. One of those issues was the issue of sexual immorality in the church (1 Corinthians 5) and issues related to singleness, marriage, divorce, and remarriage (1 Corinthians 7). Paul begins 1 Corinthians 7 by pressing the reset button on all those issues, arguing that singleness and celibacy (i.e. not sexually active) are good (7:1, 8). There is nothing wrong with being single and celibate. Paul, however, is quite frank that it is also perfectly okay to want to have sex one day, and to get married in order to be able to have sex. Not only is it okay; it is clearly one part of God’s plan for humans (7:2-5, 9). Both singleness and marriage, are gifts from God, and not everyone has the same gift (7:6, 35). Paul concludes by explaining why he likes singleness so much. Singleness frees up Christians from worldly concerns to, single-mindedly serve Christ in God’s mission (7:32-34).

Paul’s teaching is shocking to modern ears. Culture wants everyone to believe that whether or not a person is having sex and whom that person is having sex are the most important things about him or her. To much of pop culture, a person’s sexual identity and sexual availability is their only value. And yet Jesus was the perfect human. He was entirely righteousness. He was entirely obedient. He is our example. He is perfect and complete in every way. There is no one in the universe more valuable than him, and he never had sex! God calls most to marriage and sex (in that order). God calls some to singleness, but humans are so much more than who they do or do not have sex with. This must be understood first, to press the reset button on our culture, if the rest of what the Bible says about sex and marriage is to be understood.

Living the Holiness of God in Relation to Sex (1 Thessalonians 4:1-8)

In the midst of two letters that he wrote to the Thessalonians, Paul encourages the Thessalonian to continue to be morally pure in relation to sex. Paul is clear that (1) God wants us to walk in a way that pleases him (4:1-2). (2) God’s will for us is that we become more and more holy (4:3). (3) God cares about what we do with our bodies (4:4-5). (4) God cares what we do with other people’s bodies (4:6-7). And (5) disobeying the Lord with your own body or with someone else’s body, brings judgment (4:6, 8).

This also sounds strange to modern ears, especially young ears. Culture wants everyone to believe that as long as both parties consent, they can do whatever they want with their own bodies and each other’s bodies. To suggest otherwise is oppressive. But the Christian must never forget that God loves him or her very much. And God loves the other person very much. In fact, Paul argues, that God loves both of them far too much to allow them to injure their own holiness and come out unscathed. Paul warns that the no one should “transgress and wrong his brother or sister in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things . . . and solemnly warned you.” This is a dire warning. God loves his people too much to allow them to do whatever they want with their bodies.

Practical Tips for Practical Holiness (Ephesians 4:1-32 )

While he is sitting in a prison cell, Paul writes to the Ephesians to encourage them to walk in a manner that is worthy of what God has done for them in Christ (4:1). Believers, Paul explains, are God’s gift to the church. That means we have both purpose and mission (4:2-16). The people of God must discard futile thinking and live as they were taught (17-24). Paul unpacks this for his readers as things we must “put off”—all impurity—and things we must “put on”—the new life of Christ.

Anyone who has been around church for very long has heard this before. They understand it and, to a degree, believe it. But younger Christians struggle here, because they have become hopeless that they will ever be able to live sexually moral lives in the face of our modern sexually promiscuous and pornographic culture. And our culture wants them to feel defeated. Culture is pushing them to believe they can’t help but be sexually immoral, that it is totally natural, human even.

Only the gospel gives us hope for how to live in the midst of this sexual revolution. The Scriptures promise that when a believer spends time “putting on” the new self, the “new person” that was created by God’s Spirit after the likeness of God, the self that is righteous and holy, it gets easier and easier to “put off” impurity. Most young Christians are convinced that their desires will never change and that the Christian life is suffering through life with those desires and occasionally giving in and acting on them. But the hope of the gospel is that God can change us from the inside out, even our desires, no matter who we are or where we’ve come from.

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Jesus’ Parable about Judgment https://www.churchandgospel.com/2019/12/31/jesus-parable-about-judgment/ Tue, 31 Dec 2019 18:04:27 +0000 https://www.churchandgospel.com/?p=2327 Note: This is the final blog in a year-long series of posts on the parables of JesusYou can find the first blog on the parables HERE.  

 Jesus spoke about the judgment of God as much as he spoke about any other subject. Jesus spoke about the judgment of God on those who reject the son (John 3:36). He spoke about the judgment of God in the here and now for rejecting the truth of God’s kingdom (John 9:39-41). And he spoke about the judgment in the last days (Matthew 12:37-37). There is a sense in which the Jews of Jesus day relished the message of judgment. They longed for the day when God would judge his enemies, especially the Romans, and restore Israel to its former economic and political glory. But Jesus always made his messages of judgment very personal. He often warned his hearers that there would be many in the last days waiting for the judgment to fall upon someone else only to find the judgment of God falling upon them instead. There are a number of parables of judgment in the New Testament to illustrate this trend in Jesus’ teaching. The most illustrative of these, for our purposes, is the parable of the “ten virgins” in Matthew 25:1-13. 

Question 1: What are the immediate circumstances of the parable?  

The final major discourse in Matthew’s Gospel is the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24 and 25. The discourse is introduced to us by Matthew by allowing us to listen in on a conversation between Jesus and his disciples. They are having a conversation about the temple grounds and buildings when Jesus points to all the buildings and says, “Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” This, obviously, gets the disciples’ attention. The disciples then ask two questions: 1) “When will what you said happen?” 2) “What will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age?” What follows is Jesus’ most lengthy discourse on the “end times,” and in Chapter 25, Matthew tells us three of Jesus “end times” parables. The parable about the “ten virgins” is the first of these. 

Question 2: What is the structure of the parable? 

The parable of the ten virgins has a story structure with rising action, a climax, and a resolution. It tells the story of a Mediterranean-style wedding party. If you were to read three Bible dictionaries and background commentaries on this passage, you’d probably get three very different explanations of exactly how these wedding parties happened in ancient Israel, but those kinds of details matter very little to this story. Ten unmarried women light their lamps and go out to meet the bridegroom when he returns from the wedding celebration. They are going in the evening and need to be prepared for the darkness, so they all take lamps with them. Five of the young women do not take any oil for their lamps because they are foolish. Five of the young women do take oil for their lamps. The bridegroom is delayed so they all go to sleep. This is the rising action. Then, at midnight, the bridegroom returns! It is time for the young women to go out to meet him and to join the party. The five wise, prepared virgins have oil to light their lamps, and off they go. The five foolish virgins do not. They are unprepared for the bridegroom. They rush out to try to buy more oil, and the wise virgins go into the marriage feast. The door to the feast is shut, and when the foolish virgins return, the lord of the feast says to them, “I do not know you.” This is the climax of the parable. The resolution is in Jesus final words: “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” 

Question 3: Is there anything in the details of the parable modern readers need to understand? 

Scholars have pressed hard to try to identify the various components of a Middle Eastern marriage ceremony and find them in the details of this parable, but the parable of the ten virgins requires little of that. In fact, the parable if filled with familiar language from the teaching of Jesus to make his meaning abundantly clear. The identification of the one they are waiting for as the “bridegroom” harkens back to a long list of Old Testament references identifying God as a bridegroom to his people (e.g. Jeremiah 2). The coming of the bridegroom in the middle of the night when people aren’t expecting it is a regular theme in both the Old and the New Testaments (e.g. Matthew 24:43Exodus 11-12, etc.). Nearly all the material about the “end times” in the New Testament talks about being prepared (e.g. 1 Thessalonians 5:4-8, Revelation 15:16, etc.). The cry of the foolish virgins of “Lord! Lord!” is familiar language from the teaching of Jesus regarding people who call on him but who don’t really believe in him (e.g. Matthew 7:21-23, Luke 6:46, etc.). And the final judgment of the Lord—“I do not know you”—is also familiar in the teaching of Jesus and familiar language from the Old Testament. There are those who are among God’s visible people that the Lord does not know (e.g. Matthew 7:21-23) and there are those whom God knows as his people (e.g. Genesis 18:18-19, Amos 3:2, etc.). 

Question 4: What is the meaning of the parable? 

Putting together the pieces of the parable of the ten virgins isn’t particularly difficult. It is, first of all, a declaration to God’s people. There will always be those who are among God’s people, who look like God’s people, but they are not truly God’s people. There is coming a day when no one will be able to hide. Their “foolishness” will be made manifest, and their true relationship to God will be revealed. He does not know them. It is also a warning to all who will listen. Proximity to God’s people does not make anyone known by God. Being a virgin, having a lamp, going to the party are not sufficient. In the same way having Christian parents, growing up in church, knowing the Bible are not sufficient. Only those known by the bridegroom get into the wedding feast. But notice there is not some secret knowledge at work here. Five virgins aren’t secretly selected for condemnation only to be surprised by their fate in the end. It is obvious to all who read this parable who will get into the wedding feast. The foolish virgins are only surprised at their fate because they are foolish. They knew to take oil, but they didn’t. They had the example of the wise virgins, but they ignored it. When push came to shove, they hoped to get by on the faithfulness of the wise virgins, but borrowed faithfulness is no faithfulness at all. Jesus understands that the human heart, upon hearing of this judgment, will be quick to conclude, “I need be different. I need to believe. I need to repent and be known by him someday.” Jesus concludes with a warning: “You might not have as much time as you think you do.” 

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I hope this blog series has helped you become a better reader of Jesus’ parables. I know it has helped me. As you read the parables for yourself, never forget that Jesus speaks in parables both to reveal and to obscure. Jesus often uses parables so that we might better see him and ourselves in a spiritual light. Parables are not morality tales that teach us to be nice to people or else we’ll get into troubleThey are extended metaphors to help the faithful (and often the skeptical) to understand the messiah, salvation, and the kingdom of God. The parables of Jesus have deep gospel roots. They are dramatic, powerful, and deeply spiritual conveyers of truth in terms so plain that only those who are intentionally spiritually blind cannot see.  

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Who Am I? Part 2: The Image of God and Human Relationships https://www.churchandgospel.com/2019/12/18/who-am-i-part-2-the-image-of-god-and-human-relationships/ Wed, 18 Dec 2019 12:45:50 +0000 https://www.churchandgospel.com/?p=2319 The previous chapter [available HERE] evaluated the naturalistic worldview approaches of relativism and utilitarianism to human relationships. Relativism leads to brokenness; utilitarianism, while focusing on what “works” for the majority, leads inevitably to oppression and injustice for the minority. In this chapter we want to lay a cornerstone for a Christian answer to any question that might be asked about human relationships. Two relevant questions emerge: (1) What is a human being? and (2) What is the purpose of a human being?

What is a Human Being?

Genesis 1–2 tell us that the last of God’s creative acts was the creation of humans. They were the pinnacle of God’s creative work, and everything that God created was for their enjoyment and their sustenance. Further, among the creatures of the earth, Adam and Eve were unique in an essential way: they were made in God’s image.

“[26] Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ [27] So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen 1:26–27).[1]

What is the image of God? The image of God in human beings is complex: it is not just one thing. It involves the whole person and his or her God-imaging capacities. Thus, the image of God is “[all the ways] that man is like God and represents God.”[2] While many have (and continue) to debate the specific meaning of the image, it is helpful to think of the image of God as both what we are and what we do: we have the image of God (what we are) so that we might image God (what we do). Anthony Hoekema writes, “The image of God in man must…be seen as involving both the structure of man (his gifts, capacities, and endowments) and the functioning of man (his actions, his relationships to God and to others, and the way he uses his gifts).”[3]

Several facets of the image of God should be noted. First, both men and women are created in God’s image (Gen 1:27). Second, the image was scarred but not destroyed in the Fall. For example, the possession of the image by all humans is the basis for capital punishment (Gen 9:6). We must not curse others because they “are made in the likeness of God” (Jas 3:9). A third and fourth facet are visible here: the image of God, while damaged, is still possessed by all human beings, and the image gives each human being inherent dignity and worth. Finally, Jesus Christ is the perfect image of God (Col 1:15; cf. Heb 1:3; 2 Cor 4:4), and it is only through a relationship with Christ by faith that the image will be restored in us (Rom 8:29). This image-renewal will not be complete until Christ’s return (1 John 3:2), but in light of this hope, believers pursues conformity to his image now (1 John 3:3).

What is the Purpose of a Human Being?

Human beings have been made in the image of God so that they might rightly relate to God and image him to the rest of the created order. All of our God-imaging capacities are designed to glorify God. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches us, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:16). “God’s glory is the sum total of who He is and what He does.”[4] The term translated “give glory” means “to glorify, extol, or venerate.” Jesus is teaching his followers to live in such a way that others will see our good works and praise the God whom we serve. Though we are the ones doing the works, our performance has the purpose of pointing them toward our Heavenly Father who is empowering us. Our works are helping others see God for who he is and what he has done. Furthermore, the apostle Paul tells us, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31). There is no phase of life that has been exempted from this God-glorifying purpose.

As image bearers, we have been made to glorify God by imaging or reflecting the beauty and perfections of his character to the world, and chief among the attributes of God’s character is love (1 John 4:8). Michael Reeves writes, “Made in the image of [the triune] God, we are created to delight in harmonious relationship, to love God, to love each other.”[5] So, human beings have been created to glorify the perfection and beauty of our God who not only loves but who is love. This has massive implications for our relationships.

Implications for Relationships

First, created in the image of God, “we belong to God” (cf. Mark 12:13–17)[6] and we are to love him with all that we are (Matt 22:37). This is not a one-way relationship, for God has loved us through his general providence and in the sending of his Son to redeem us and his Spirit to adopt us (Gal 4:4–7).

Second, we are in a unique relationship with fellow image bearers. Not only are we not to curse (Jas 3:9) or murder them (Gen 9:6), we are to love them as we love ourselves (Matt 22:39). This love will be expressed differently in different relationships (e.g., marriage, family, friendships). We must, however, not overlook that love is to qualify all our relationships (even with enemies; Matt 5:43–44). We know this love of God through Christ, and the Holy Spirit sheds this love abroad in our hearts (Rom 5:5).

Finally, the image of God means that human community is part of our purpose (Gen 2:18). The Father, Son, and Spirit have eternally existed as one God in loving community. Similarly, humans as image bearers are relational, created for loving community. Sin has profoundly disrupted human relationships. But God is drawing persons through the gospel into loving community with himself and with others. Isolation and antisocial behavior are antithetical to our purpose and design. Thus, we must pursue God-intended, loving community with others.

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NOTES

[1] Unless otherwise noted all quotations are from the ESV (English Standard Version).

[2] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994, 2000), 442. The initial phrase is an addition but seems in keeping with Grudem’s presentation. Grudem goes on to list a complex array of ways in which the image of God is found in human nature (e.g., moral, spiritual, mental, and relational aspects). He even highlights how our bodies reflect aspects of God even though God doesn’t have a body.

[3] Anthony A. Hoekema, Created in God’s Image (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1986), 73.

[4] Brandon D. Smith, Echoes of the Reformation: Five Truths that Shape the Christian Life (Nashville: LifeWay Press, 2017),  124.

[5] Michael Reeves, Delighting in the Trinity (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2012), 64.

[6] Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013).

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Christ Will Be Honored https://www.churchandgospel.com/2019/12/02/christ-will-be-honored/ Mon, 02 Dec 2019 12:45:14 +0000 https://www.churchandgospel.com/?p=2311 “Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” – Philippians 1:18b-21

In this passage to the Philippian believers Paul is addressing his current situation as a prisoner in Rome, and his resolve found in the Lord through the Holy Spirit. There are so many different emotions that Paul must be going through as he processes all that is surrounding him at this moment. And yet, his words are resolute and assured, that his hope is in Jesus Christ for not only this life, but for the next as well.

Believers, if the Lord tarries, we will face death. Each and every one of us must understand this will occur in the future. This understanding may be put on hold by the things of this world, but it is a reality that is coming. We may look to the good things of life: children, money, food, family, etc. and we may look to bad: disease, addiction, poverty, etc. but no matter where we are focused, time is ticking away.

And here in this letter, Paul is in one of those moments and yet, through the Holy Spirit, he uses it to encourage not only the Philippians, but also to encourage us now as we read this wonderful text.

Paul says that he will rejoice because of what he knows. So what does he know? Why can he rejoice in his current situation in life?

He knows that the Philippians are praying for him, and more so, he knows where he has placed his life. If someone said “Paul, aren’t you worried you might die?” He could respond, “I died on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-19), Paul died that day and now only Christ lives within me. My flesh is an earthly tent (2 Cor. 5:1) and I long for the day to see my Savior face-to-face.”

That is what Paul could say. But can we?

There is much that is still a blessing in this world, and they have been mentioned above: family, friends, etc. and yet, all of these things pale in comparison with the joy that leads to rejoicing that Paul has. Every believer who has died to themselves is aware of this same joy.

And while we are aware of this joy, we need a consistent daily reminder of it in our lives. This is why it is so vitally important that believers pray, that we read the Scripture, that we meditate on the truth of God reminding ourselves of His great grace and our great joy!

The joy that Paul is referencing, the same one that believers know, is the joy of the grace of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The fact that all of mankind is born sinful and separated from God, and yet God in His majestic glorious grace saw fit to step out of heaven and become flesh so that He could obediently and joyfully die a death in our place so that we might become sons and daughters of God (Phil 2:5-11).

That…is…grace. That is why Christians have joy! Because we know who we are, we know our thoughts, we know our mind, the words of our mouth, the things we feel in our flesh and bones and we know that justly and righteously we deserve Hell, and yet…we get grace!

Therefore, no matter the circumstances, whether beneficial or detrimental, our joy is not moved, it is not shaken, because circumstances did not dictate whether or not we received it, and they do not dictate whether or not it comes to fruition; it is all accomplished by a sovereign God who is all-powerful and who reigns in unapproachable light (1 Tim 6:16). This Jesus, who died for us and that tells us in His Word of His great love for us sinful people, He is the One where our joy is found.

The prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32 did not worry about his dirty clothes, his smell from the pigs, or his overall appearance. Why? Because he was in the arms of his father, and he was secure in who he was because of whose he was.

Paul says that he hopes “…Christ will be honored in my body whether by life or by death…” and the question we should ask ourselves is, “Is this true for me?” Do I honor Christ in my body?

The question isn’t asking you or guilting you into a workout routine or diet, but simply, do we honor Christ in our bodies?

How are our thoughts? Our actions? Our interactions with others? Are the things that we are doing, saying, thinking honoring to the Lord?

Perhaps occasionally they are, and other times they are not. This world pulls and pushes our beliefs held in Christ and if our eyes are not fixed on the author and perfector of our faith (Hebrews 12:2), then shortly we will be off the path and looking in this world for our joy that can only be satisfied in Christ.

If we seek to honor God with our bodies, we must also do so with our hearts and minds. We must seek the joy that is found in Christ and consistently, even hour by hour remind ourselves of the grace that flows from Christ Jesus.

So today, are you filled with the joy of the Lord? If not, then seek His face, spend time in His Word, remind yourself of the goodness of God and the sweetness of His grace.

We may be fully aware of Christ, and yet not honoring Him in how we live. Ask yourself if your life is one that is honoring to the Lord. Is it fully His? Have you died to yourself and your desires and enlisted fully in the joyful service of Christ?

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Who am I? Part 1: The Flawed Worldview of Naturalism https://www.churchandgospel.com/2019/11/18/who-am-i-part-1-the-flawed-worldview-of-naturalism/ Mon, 18 Nov 2019 12:45:43 +0000 https://www.churchandgospel.com/?p=2305 This article comes from the 2019 ENDURE Apologetics conference held at CSU.

Today in the realm of relationships, chaos and confusion reign. The traditional institution of marriage has been unstable for a long time now – way before same-sex marriage became legal in the U.S. and other countries. The hook-up culture tells us to have sexual encounters without getting emotionally involved, though the negative psychological effects of noncommittal sex are significant.[1] More and more people – especially men – don’t have strong friendships in their lives.

Many people will be quick to diagnose the causes of the relationship difficulties of our day. I submit that a fundamental contributor to the relationship chaos of our day is an erroneous worldview. Does that surprise you? Many people don’t even know what a worldview is, yet they have one, and it shapes how they live life with others. Your worldview is “the conceptual lens through which [you] see, understand, and interpret the world and [your] place within it.”[2]

A fundamental worldview question is, “Who am I?” Not just who am I as an individual (I’m a father, and professor, etc.) but who am I as a human being. Your answer to this question will affect your relationships. Broadly speaking, there are two major options when it comes to who we are as humans. You can think that humans are created by God, or you can think that humans are the product of random natural processes. The first option reflects a theistic worldview; the second comes from the worldview of naturalism.

Naturalism is the view that all of reality can be explained in terms of the material world. So, the naturalist worldview holds that human beings are the product of an evolutionary process that began with matter, and through time and chance resulted in the creatures we are today. The fundamental implication of naturalism for the question of human relationships is that there is no design or purpose for human nature. If was no intentionality in how humans came to be, then there is no truth about what a human ought to be.

The realm of human relationships is a part of ethics – how we should live and what we ought to do. To paint with very broad-brush strokes, there are two major ways to think about ethics as a naturalist. The first approach understands ethical truths as relative – this is ethical relativism. On this view, how I ought to live, and what things are right and wrong, are determined by my personal commitments. So, if you believe you should be kind to others, then that’s true for you. But if I believe that I should seek to amass the most stuff for myself that I can get, then that’s true for me. Now if moral relativism is true, the relationship chaos and confusion of our day isn’t surprising. Assuming relativism, if someone thinks that he should stay in a marriage only so long as it makes him feel happy, and now he’s no longer happy, then it’s right for him to leave.

Ultimately, though, we know deep down that moral relativism isn’t the true account of how we ought to live. We know that there are some things that a person should not do, even if they sincerely believe that it’s OK to do them. To take just one example, even if someone sincerely believes that it’s permissible to abuse another person because it brings the abuser pleasure, we know that’s wrong. In fact, there are very few consistent relativists. Most people, in their reflective moments, acknowledge that there are some actions that are right for everyone, and some actions that are wrong for everyone.

The second naturalist approach to ethics is utilitarianism. Utilitarians begin by claiming that it’s a natural fact that pleasure is good (with the corollary that pain is bad). We also recognize that it’s not just our own pleasure that’s good; other people’s pleasure is good as well. So, what each person should do in any situation is the act that brings the most pleasure for everyone involved. (This means that the consequences of our actions determine their moral value.) Utilitarianism recognizes that when we’re considering which action will bring about the most pleasure, we can’t just consider immediate pleasure; we must consider various factors, including the long-term effects on everyone involved in terms of pleasure and pain.

Utilitarianism is a more plausible approach to ethics than relativism. This view recognizes that there’s something outside of the individual that determines what is right and wrong. Utilitarianism acknowledges that there are times that I may have to act in a way that decreases my pleasure for the sake of bringing pleasure to others.

But there are major problems for utilitarianism. First, a naturalist has no basis for saying that pleasure ought to be pursued! If naturalism is true, then all we can say is that pleasure is something that people prefer. That’s a descriptive fact. But how can that mean that everyone ought to do the action that brings about the most pleasure for everyone?

Utilitarianism also faces another fundamental problem – if held consistently, it implies that injustice is right. Consider the following example:

A group of 25 people living in a small community is tired of doing all their day-to-day chores. So, they decide to choose 1 person and force that person to do all the chores in the community. They choose this person through a random drawing. The person who “wins” the drawing – Bob – is forced to do everyone’s chores. Bob is obviously experiencing pain through having to do everyone’s work, but everyone else is happy to have the leisure afforded to them through not having chores to do.[3]

For the sake of calculation, let us say that each day Bob experiences 20 units of pain. But each of the other members of the community experience 1 unit of pleasure. So, there is a surplus of pleasure over pain as a result of this decision, which means that, according to utilitarianism, this action was the right thing to do. But what we’ve just described is a situation where a community has enslaved a person! We recognize that regardless of the results, slavery is unjust and wrong. In light of these criticisms, we can see that utilitarianism is an inadequate approach to what is right and wrong in relationships.

Though exerting great influence on modern culture, naturalism is a false worldview.  It encourages relational chaos and injustice.  Naturalism is unable to account for moral truths that we all know, such as the fact that abuse and slavery are wrong. The Christian worldview, on the other hand, can make sense of truths we know deep down about how we should interact with one another, and it provides the only sure foundation for living well in the midst of the confusion and chaos of our day.

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[1] Justin R. Garcia et al., “Sexual Hookup Culture: A Review,” Review of General Psychology 16, no. 2 (2012): 161–76.

[2] Tawa Anderson, W. Michael Clark, and David K. Naugle, An Introduction to Christian Worldview: Pursuing God’s Perspective in a Pluralist World (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2017), 8.

[3] This example, as well as the analysis, is based on a similar discussion in Steven B. Cowan and James S. Spiegel, The Love of Wisdom: A Christian Introduction to Philosophy (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2009), 345.

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The Loneliness Epidemic: Christians Know the Cure! https://www.churchandgospel.com/2019/11/05/the-loneliness-epidemic-christians-know-the-cure/ Tue, 05 Nov 2019 12:45:13 +0000 https://www.churchandgospel.com/?p=2283 Editor’s Note: The theme of this year’s ENDURE Apologetics conference, held on Friday September 27th, was “Together: How Should We Live Life with Others?” Over the next few weeks, we will publish the talks that were given at the conference. The post below, by Ben Phillips (Dean of the College of Christian Studies at CSU) serves as an introduction to the theme of the conference and the talks that were given.

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Loneliness has become an epidemic problem in our culture.  Not simply social isolation, where one never interacts with others, but the absence of and inability to form deep, life-giving relationships.  A person can be lonely in a crowded room.

Failure to build relationships has led to elderly people dying in heat waves because no one cared to check on them.  In some places, insurers offer “lonely death” insurance to protect landlords from the cost of cleaning up apartments where the death of the tenant was only discovered when their corpse began to decompose. This is not material poverty; it is social poverty.

Loneliness is not just a problem for the elderly.  In fact, studies show that Generation-Z (18-22 year-olds) is the loneliest generation of all.  In a 2018 poll by Cigna Insurance, 47% of Gen-Z reported feeling left out, and 43% felt like their relationships are not meaningful.  Only 18% of young adults think they have someone they can “talk to.”

The stress created by this sense of loneliness not only has social implications, it also has a physical effect… equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes per day! Medical studies indicate that it raises the level of stress hormones and inflammation, which in turn raises the risk of heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, and suicide. What can be done?

In Britain, the government has started a “befriending program,” which pays social workers to visit lonely people for an hour, a few times a month.  Sociologists at the University of West Virginia have started a program which brings small groups of lonely people together to share their feelings of loneliness and desire for relationships.  Such programs are well-intentioned, but cannot possibly solve the problem.  Paying people to befriend someone is not genuine friendship—it is mercenary—it will not endure when the paycheck ends.  Healthy and deep relationships are unlikely to form when no-one in the room knows how to form them.

Christians, however, know the cure.

Applying a cure always begins with diagnosing the disease, and in this case, it is sin. Sin isolates us from God and from each other.  It’s ultimate payoff is death. But God sent His own Son to die as the sacrifice for the sins of the world, to rise again from the grave, and to reconcile us to God.  The gospel overcomes our inability to have a live-giving relationship with God.  But the gospel also impacts our relationships in this life, enabling us to develop life-affirming relationships with others.  It takes those who are “curved in” on themselves and redirects them towards others.  It not only enables us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, and soul; it teaches us to love our neighbors as ourselves.

The gospel is the cure for the loneliness epidemic.  It reconciles us to God.  It brings to us the Holy Spirit, who enables us to grow in sanctification, overcoming the sin that breaks our relationships with repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation.  Now, God’s Son has tasked Christians with the ministry of reconciliation.

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Vocation https://www.churchandgospel.com/2019/10/30/vocation/ Wed, 30 Oct 2019 11:48:32 +0000 https://www.churchandgospel.com/?p=2258 Introduction

The word “vocation” comes from a Latin term (vocatio) that means “a call” or “summons.” A key passage related to vocation is 1 Corinthians 7:17, where Paul writes, “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him.” (ESV)

While people today typically understand vocation as referring to one’s work, a biblical view recognizes that it also refers to other aspects of one’s life including: family relationships, church responsibilities, duties tied to the government and responsibilities related to society.

Vocation is thus not limited to one’s job. It includes many spheres of one’s life.

Defining Vocation

We may define vocation as follows: God’s means of “work[ing] through human beings, who, in their different capacities and according to their talents, serve [him and] each other.”[1] Vocation includes the actions people take in relation to others, whether in a formal job or other areas, to fulfill God’s will and purposes in the world.

A husband and wife bearing children is an example of a couple fulfilling their vocation as a father and mother. A new mother changing her baby’s diaper is an example of a woman fulfilling her vocation as a mother. A son caring for the needs of his parents in their old age is an example of a man fulfilling his vocation as a son. A believer singing in corporate worship on a Sunday morning is an example of someone fulfilling her vocation as a Christian worshiper. Our vocations cover many spheres of life.

Questions

(1) The definition above describes vocation in terms of God working through people and serving God and others. How do these descriptions of vocation influence your personal understanding of your actions when carrying out your diverse vocations?

(2) What are several specific ways you desire God to work through you? How would you like to serve as his instrument?

(3) What is the danger of seeing work as one’s only vocation or calling?

Vocation of Work

While vocation may refer to many areas of one’s life, the statements below focus specifically on the vocation of work.

— During the Middle Ages in Europe, people held incorrect understandings about the vocation of work, believing that those who served in full-time church work (e.g., priests) engaged in a superior vocation as compared to other workers (e.g., businessmen, carpenters, farmers). In contrast, Martin Luther (d. 1546) studied the Bible and came to a different conclusion: all vocations are sacred callings through which believers serve God and others.

— Luther also taught that in our vocation God works through his people. He uses our gifts and talents in our vocation to accomplish his will.

— In every vocation, a believer should carry out her duties as a calling from God, displaying excellence in all that she does. Dorothy Sayers (d. 1957), one of the first women to graduate from Oxford and an influential Christian thinker in the twentieth century, insisted that Christians integrate their faith and work and thus “make good tables” (i.e., do quality as opposed to shoddy work in their vocation).[2]

— On the one hand, you choose your work vocation based on your interests, passions and inclinations. On the other hand, your choice of work vocation is constrained by your limitations in regard to ability, talent, gifting and opportunity.

— At times, our vocation may seem boring, thankless, mundane, unsatisfying or pointless. Nevertheless, it is through our vocational activities that God blesses people and advances his purposes. God works through our works, in spite of what we think of them at times.

Questions

(1) Why do we sometimes view certain vocations as superior to others?

(2) Why is it important to remember that all vocations are holy callings? Do you view your work as a sacred calling?

(3) Consider again the following statements: “On the one hand, you choose your work vocation based on your interests, passions and inclinations. On the other hand, choice of your work vocation is constrained by your limitations in regard to ability, talent, gifting and opportunity.” How might these statements guide faculty when advising students who are exploring possible future vocations?

(4) The Welsh priest and poet George Herbert (d. 1633) wrote “The Elixir” (see below). In his poem, Herbert refers to the ancient practice of alchemy, which involved using an elixir or substance that some believed may possess the ability to change a base metal into gold. While not affirming this belief, Herbert nonetheless suggests that a task a believer regards as insignificant or mundane may be “transformed” into a noble work when he or she recognizes that God is present and that they perform the task for him. Recognizing God’s presence and why we perform even an unpleasant task, according to Herbert, “Makes drudgery divine.” What unpleasant tasks accompany your vocational work? How does viewing even the most disagreeable duty tied to one’s vocation as a noble work done for God in his presence influence one’s attitude toward his or her vocation?

 

The Elixir

Teach me, my God and King,

In all things Thee to see,

And what I do in anything

To do it as for Thee.

Not rudely, as a beast,

To run into an action;

But still to make Thee prepossest, [put you first]

And give it his perfection.

A man that looks on glass,

On it may stay his eye;

Or it he pleaseth, through it pass,

And then the heav’n espy [see].

All may of Thee partake:

Nothing can be so mean [insignificant],

 Which with his tincture [i.e., small amount that affects the whole] –“for Thy sake”–

Will not grow bright and clean.

A servant with this clause

Makes drudgery divine:

Who sweeps a room as for Thy laws,

Makes that and th’ action fine.

This is the famous stone

That turneth all to gold;

For that which God doth touch and own

Cannot for less be told.

 

Helpful Writings on Vocation

Timothy Keller, Every Good Work: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work

Gene Veith Jr., God at Work: Your Christian Calling in All of Life

 

NOTES:

[1] Gene Veith Jr., “The Christian’s Calling in the World.” Much of this study borrows from Veith.

[2] See Dorothy Sayers, “Why Work?” Colossians 3:23-24 also supports Sayers’ statement, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (ESV)

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