The Christian’s relationship with God is certain. All those who are the children of God have and will forever have fellowship with Him. The Christian’s relationship with God is contingent upon obedience to His commands. Those who are the children of God must live in accord with His Word to enjoy the blessings of relationship with Him. Though apparently contradictory both statements are true.
How does one view his relationship with God to be dependent on righteous living and still have the comfort of the assurance that his relationship with God is eternally secure? A simple family analogy may help. A son has the confidence he is his father’s son loved and secure in his care at home. Through disobedience this same son can lose the delights of that relationship. He may fall under condemnation and punishment. He may suffer for a time the just wrath of his father. He may displease his dad yet face no danger of losing his position in the family. While the Christian’s ternal relationship is secure and his position in Christ is unchanging, the temporal experience of the relationship is directly impacted by his obedience. The refusal to do that which is commanded by God is rebellion and hinders the immediate relationship with God.
The certainty of eternal fellowship with God does not hinder obedience, nor should it promote any kind of lackadaisical attitude about obedience. Resting in the finished work of Jesus is no justification for hard work in the Christian life. Diligent and disciplined obedience is not legalistic. Because Jesus’ work is finished, the faithful Christian labors diligently to live out the work accomplished by Christ. Active obedience is the proper response to a completed salvation.
Energetic obedience is the response modeled by New Testament believers. A faithful Christian works strenuously to please His Father. In 1 Corinthians 5 Paul expresses his commitment to labor exhaustively to be pleasing to God. 1 John 3:22 speaks of us doing those things which are pleasing in His sight. Our confidence is secure and yet our relationship is dependent. Paul prays repeatedly for believers to live in a manner appropriate to their position in Jesus and to please Him in all things. The manner of life which is appropriate is clearly described in the Bible. The things that hinder relationship with God are plainly warned about in the Word. Failing to abide by God’s Word will mean the individual believer is not right with God and he will suffer the loss of the joy of relationship with his Father. Because the Christian is secure in Christ he will go to great lengths to work hard to obey all of Jesus’ commands. Did not Jesus Himself say, “Ye are my friends if ye do whatsoever I command you.”? Rejoice because your position in Christ is secure. Do not let that security diminish personal discipline and daily diligence to live obedient to Jesus’ commands.
“Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil.” Paul’s words are a call to discernment in all avenues of life. Preachers are not the only ones who preach a message or teach a world view. Every television show you watch presents a worldview. Every commercial and piece of advertising you see presents a worldview and tries to convince you to accept that way of thinking about life. News shows present a worldview. Of course talk show hosts, politicians and experts have a world view they actively promote. Your co-workers, neighbors, family members and friends all have a set way of thinking about the world. Most people don’t think about how they think, but a Christians should think seriously about every proposition presented to him.
The command to test everything is simple. Scrutinize and examine everything to determine what is good and valuable. A jeweler examines anything brought to him. He has a set standard of purity and quality that determines the value of the metal, the setting and the stones. He will not be duped by a piece of tin covered with gold paint. He will not mistake silver for platinum. He will not accept a zircon as a diamond. He will examine every piece and determine each one’s true worth. So must the child of God do with all the world offers. When it tells you how to think about your money, examine the proposition in light of the Bible. When you are told how to think about recreation, examine those sentiments in light of the Bible. When you are told you deserve this and that you should go buy that and that you should believe this about yourself, test it all in light of the Bible.
When everything has been tested, embrace those things which are good. After you examine everything, the obvious response is to hold tightly to that which is excellent. Don’t settle for mediocre things Don’t settle for counterfeits. Cling tightly to the excellent. Hold to the good and do not let it go. Reject that which is evil in all it’s forms. Satan is master of wrapping evil in a very shiny package. The world has a wide collection of masterful counterfeits for true Godliness. The stone pyrite is a very impressive looking shiny rock, but every one knows fools gold is just that. A counterfeit is still a counterfeit, no matter how skillfully made and how much it looks like the real thing. A counterfeit is still worthless no matter how beautiful it may be. Throw away the frauds, the scraps and the worthless sparkles. Keep only the precious metals. Reject evil in all its forms. Hold tightly to that which is good.
How do you respond to someone who does evil against you? When you are sinned against what should your reaction be? 1 Thessalonians 5:15 describes how the Christian should reply when another sins against him. “See that none render evil for evil.” In Matthew 5 Jesus says much the same thing during the sermon on the mount. We understand and, for the most part, try to practice one part of this command. We know it is wrong to seek revenge when one does wrong to us. We teach our kids “she hit me first” is not a valid justification for socking your sister. We know it is unchristian to swear at a person just because he swore at you first. We know that we cannot actively retaliate when someone does wrong against us. This is all true and right application of this verse.
This command is not just against retaliating with evil. The prohibition is against any evil reply. Do not respond with any kind of evil when another does evil to you. What else are evil responses? Gossiping about the person is sinful. Running around telling others about the awful actions of the one who sinned is an evil response. Resentment returns evil for evil. You must not harbor well hidden animosity, distrust or disfavor of another because of the wrong done. Disregard of another is another evil we tend to return towards others. The attitude that doesn’t care one way or another. It may be polite, it may not. It just doesn’t care about the person. A professional disattchment is evil. The attitude that we don’t have to like each other, but we will be civil towards one another while we are at church is not righteous. Any response which seeks revenge or cuts off the relationship is one which replies with evil to wrong done against us.
Paul does not just say not to repay evil with evil. Paul also says to be always pursuing that which is good. In 1 Thessalonians 5:15 Paul is talking about relationships within the church. He has already said to warn the disorderly, encourage the discouraged, support the weak and be patient toward all. As you live together in the church community others will sin against you. Do not respond to their sin with evil, but with good. Hunt down the good that you can do to them. This is what Jesus is saying when He says to bless them that curse you and pray for them which scorn you. The Christian response is always more than the absence of evil. The Christian response is one of goodness in return. Paul says to feed your hungry enemy and give drink to your thirsty foe. Though you have been sinned against, you cannot neglect another’s spiritual well being. You cannot refuse to minister grace to them. You must continue to serve them for their good to edifiying. You must be patient with them, uphold them, correct them, encourage them and actively love them. The right reply when sinned against is to do good in return.
Some read words like this and imagine a sweet, forced smile kind of response that overlooks any sin and accepts all evil as a matter of course. Turning a blind eye to evil is not good but is only replying to evil with another form of evil. Goodness does not accept or consent to evil. Goodness opposes evil with grace and compassion. Chasing after goodness is the unending pursuit for that which is excellent and edifying. When the unruly one lashes out respond with a gracious warning. When the discouraged drops the ball and leaves you holding the bag respond with words of encouragement. When the weak falls down on the job or falls into sin don’t give a harsh retort. Come alongside and help him back up. Though many specific applications could be given, the basic principle is this: when you are sinned against, actively and aggressively seek the response that will be promote holiness in the sinner’s life.
The concept of “mystical” is rather nebulous to define. The dictionary defines mystical as a spiritual experience of something that cannot be directly perceived by the senses or emotions. John Denver sang about the mystical as a Rocky Mountain High. Those who walk on the beach during a beautiful sunset may feel something mystical, an unexplainable connection to something bigger in the universe. The mystical is not directly sensed, but is “felt”. A mystical experience can be attributed to many things: God, Satan, devils, angels, ghosts, aliens, spirits, premonitions or “a bit of underdone potato”. The mystical is not a definable emotion but often produces a sense of awe, wonder, fear or peace. The very nature of the mystical defies any rigid explanation.
The spiritual, as used in the Bible, is that which relates to the Spirit of God and the spirit of man. That which is spiritual is such because it reaches to the heart and soul of man. The spiritual necessarily involves the supernatural. The Holy Spirit convicts men of sin. That is a spiritual event. Conviction does not only take place in the intellect and the will. Conviction takes place in the heart and spirit. Conviction is not only a result of learning and reason. Conviction is the working of the Holy Spirit upon the heart. Conviction is a rational process and an intangible work of God.
Spiritual must not be confused with mystical. The mystical is that which has no substance and is believed to consist in the vague world of impressions and sensations. Spiritual is that which involves the part of man that relates to God. This does not occur through vague notions, but clear revelation. The experience of internal impressions do not equal genuine fellowship with God and are not reliable guides to determine God’s will. The Bible is the objective basis for evaluating one’s relationship with God and for directing the believer’s life.
The commandments are spiritual. The commandments are not at all vague or subjective. The commandments are clear, objective and declare themselves to be from God. The commands are spiritual, they have come through the Spirit of God and can only be obeyed by the power of the Spirit of God. This does not mean obedience is subject to individual interpretation or only takes place in the invisible, inner man. Obedience to the commands can be objectively measured and contains a very definite physical aspect. This physical aspect does not deny the spiritual substance.
Sadly, many Christians have replaced the spiritual with the mystical. The mystical Christian believes he has experienced God because the church service has had a unique emotional impact upon him. The mystical Christian experiences God through a variety of indefinable impressions. That which is spiritual in the Biblical sense of the term, is an objective reality. The mystical is by definition subjective. For too many Christians have replaced the definitive revelation of God through His Word with the sensation of an awareness of God or a feeling of the prompting of God.
The mystic believes the experience of the Divine is what brings him close to God. A moving worship service, powerful sermon, stirring drama or awesome sunset can produce feelings of transcendence which are mistaken for relationship with God. The ability to reproduce feelings of transcendence does not equal spiritual growth. Though the Christian life is not devoid of emotion it is not defined by feelings. True spirituality is seen in the mundane practices of Bible study and prayer, service and fellowship, learning and teaching. The spiritual life is not filled with dramatic and stirring internal experiences. The spiritual life takes place through the normal, God given means of growth. At times those means will feel more effective. At times those means will feel ineffective. Christianity is not a search for a feeling. Christianity is an obedient walk with God in the normal routines of life.
Everyone knows the pastor has an obligation to care for the spiritual well being of the church. Not every knows that the individual members of the church have an obligation to care for each other’s spiritual well being. The Christian must not see another with a need and say someone should talk to that person. You should talk to that person. You cannot say someone else should visit, encourage or help one in need. You should visit, encourage and help. These things are the responsibilities of every member. This ministry is necessary because Jesus is returning. Because our Lord is coming soon we must edifiy one another. Edification is the process of one believer helping another to be more like Jesus. Edification is interacting with one another to strengthen each other in Christlikeness. Because Jesus is returning promote the imitation of Jesus in each other’s lives.
1 Thessalonians 5:14 tells how to edify others. “Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.” Genuine ministry is never one size fits all. We do not treat everyone in the same fashion and respond to each person the same at all times. Ministry is not a set of memorized, cue card responses. Ministry does not take place when another struggles with a specific sin and I say a specific, preplanned verse to them. A Christian does not genuinely minister to one grieving by repeating a specific Psalm that is repeated to every other grieving person, regardless of the cause of their grief. Ministry does not match need a to verse b and pithy quote c. Ministry responds to the specific needs of the individual. Genuine ministry does not even respond to the same person in the same way each time. Ministry seeks to serve one another in their spiritual need at that time. Ministry takes place when a Christian recognizes the time to warn, the time to encourage and the time to support.
The need to minister carefully to a specific individual in a particular situation renders drive by ministry impossible. You can’t hear of a need, swing by, shoot a few poorly aimed verse in someone’s direction and race off again. Ministry is up close and personal. It is hand to hand. Ministry requires knowing the person and knowing the situation. Ministry requires listening and learning before speaking. Ministry requires patience, wisdom and compassion. Ministry requires personal investment in the lives of others.
You have been supernaturally gifted for ministry, commanded to do the work of the ministry and placed in a local church to minister. Comfort and edify one another. Be at peace with one another and live with patience toward all. Warn. Encourage. Support. In all things serve one another for their growth in Christlikeness.
Inertia can be a terrible thing. If you’ve ever tried to push a car you know how much harder it is to get a vehicle moving than it is to keep it moving. That is because of inertia. Things at rest tend to stay at rest and things in motion tend to stay in motion. The habits of life tend to follow similar principles of inertia. The habit of church attendance tends to propagate itself and the habit of staying home on Sunday morning tends to resist movement towards returning to church.
Attending church is more than a physical act. Participation in the local church is a God given means of Christian growth. Going back to church requires more than dredging up the physical discipline to get out of bed on Sunday morning. Church attendance is a spiritual discipline. As a result, the Christian who has neglected church attendance needs to recognize the spiritual battle. He needs to respond to the failure of church attendance as a spiritual ailment that requires Divine resources to remedy. God has given His Word to renew the Christian’s mind so he will think rightly about the gathering of God’s people.
Consider the great value of the church. If you have dropped out of church you have begun to think less of the church. You have devalued it to be less important than your personal feelings, your comfort, your plans or your own expectations. Elevate your estimation of the church by saturating your mind with the Bible’s teachings on the infinite worth of the church.
Remember the church is built by Jesus.
“I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)
The church is His creation. Though it has problems and it will go through times in which it seems to be losing the battle the church will be victorious. Hell will not prevail against the church of Jesus. Why not be a part of the local expression of the eternally victorious church? The church is Jesus’ own work and will stand victorious because He is actively working in the gathering of His children.
Remember the church is gifted by Jesus to make each Christian like Himself.
“And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:” (Ephesians 4:11-13)
Jesus has gifted the leaders of your church to equip its members to serve one another for His glory. He has ordained and supernaturally enabled the church for your spiritual benefit. Jesus poured out supernatural ability on every member of the church so you will become more like Jesus. He has given you specific, spiritual gifts for the benefit of the church. Jesus has given lavish gifts to His church. Why not gather together to enjoy the great gifts of God?
The local church has been purchased with the most valuable currency in the universe.
“Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:” (1 Peter 1:18-19)
Jesus loved the church so much He paid for it with His own suffering and death. He loved the church so much He set aside His Divine prerogatives and glory to gather a people to Himself. He did not consider His ease, comfort, praise or life as more important than the church. He gave all for the good of the church. Since He loves His church so much, why do you love it so little? Since He gave so much for His church, how can you neglect His precious bride?
The Triune Godhead is actively involved in the local church. The Father ordained the church, elected the church and adopts its members. The Son purchased the church and forgives each member by His blood. The Spirit seals the church, secures it to the end and gifts its members for ministry. The entire Godhead is actively involved in the church. Shouldn’t you be?
The redeemed need have no dread of the judgment of God. The day of the Lord should hold no personal terror for the Christian because the wrath of God will not be poured out on him. Every one who is the child of God has been made ready for the day of the Lord. Consequently, every child of God must stand in readiness for the day of the Lord’s sudden arrival.
The day of the Lord, though it will be filled with terrible catastrophes unlike anything the world has ever seen, should not captivate our attention because of the sensational nature of the coming cataclysms. What should enthrall our hearts about the day of the Lord is the arrival of our King, the vindication of His justice and the exaltation of His glory. We should long for the day of the Lord because we love our Lord. We want to see His victory. We want to see Him receiving the glory that He deserves. We understand this feeling when it comes to our favorite team. We want them to win. We long for the day they win the playoffs and take home the championship trophy. We feel the sadness when our team languishes. We long for the day they will return to glory and be victorious. This for a game! What do we feel about the victory of our Lord? We should be anxiously awaiting the day when our Savior is no longer scorned by men. We should be longing for the day when all the world bows before Him. We should be looking forward to the time when He is seated in majesty on His throne to rule His world.
We should look forward to the return of Jesus when we will reap all that God has promised. The hope of salvation is the glorious assurance that because I have been redeemed I will be redeemed. The salvation which God has given He will bring to its full completion. He has forgiven your sin and made you a new creature. He will return to give His children glorified bodies that are free from sin and suffering. He will bring His own into His righteous kingdom. He will lead them into eternity. He will fill them with joy forever. He will make them His people forever. Salvation is not just a promise that sin has been forgiven and you have a new heart. Salvation is a promise that you have a future. You have an eternal future with the great King of Heaven. Arm yourself with this eternal delight!
During the Cold War many were fearful of bombings by Russia. Today many people are fearful of terrorists attack. People are purchasing guns, signing up for concealed weapons courses and taking steps to protect themselves in case of attack. It is the responsibility of every Christian to be armed and ready for conflict. Every Christian must be ready for the spiritual battle. We are in the middle of a war much more serious than the war on terror. We are on the front lines of a great spiritual battle against the enemies of the sould and must always be ready to fight. Stand in readiness and stand with rejoicing. Rejoice because you are saved and in the day of the Lord you will be saved.
One of my favorite modern quotes is this, “Unchurched Christians are like unicorns. They are fictional creatures.” The Bible knows nothing of a Christian who lives apart from the church. Those who refuse to participate in a local church reveal a profound lack of understanding regarding the role of the church in the Christian’s life. The Christian life cannot be rightly lived apart from a local church. God created the Christian to grow best in a community of believers. The believer has been uniquely gifted by the Spirit of God to serve the local congregation. The child of God is commanded to do good to all, with a priority of doing good within the local church. The New Testament gives dozens of one another commands that cannot be obeyed without active involvement with “anothers”. Pastoral care for the Christian’s soul will never take place apart from submission to a specific local pastor. The pastor on TV is not your pastor. He will not preach your funeral, visit you in the hospital or even send you a personal note. You cannot consider one another, provoke one another, serve one another, love one another, comfort one another, submit to one another, speak truth to one another, fellowship with one another or have the same mind with one another if you refuse to gather with other Christians.
The refusal to gather with other believers takes God’s good gift intended for the benefit of others and attempts to use it in isolation for one’s own benefit. The gifts given for the edification of the church are used, if used at all, for personal gratification. The difficulty of interacting with others is taken away and with it goes the opportunity to grow as you discover areas of sanctification that are lacking in your own life. The humbling process of being taught by others whose imperfections you know is neglected and thus the pride of the heart festers unchecked. The polished performance of radio and television ministry becomes an unreal replacement for the real church service with it’s bad singers, stammering preachers and irritating people. The church service becomes a polished experience used for the personal gratification of the individual enjoyed in the isolation of his own home.
A Christianity which has no challenges, no higher authority, no confrontation, no discipline and no disappointment is also lacking genuine growth, mutual compassion, the joy of doing the work of the ministry and fruit in the personal life. The Christian grows most in mutual communion with other Christians. Isolated Christianity is lacking many of the difficulties that come with interacting with others, but it is also lacking all the blessings God designed to be ours through regular participation in the body of Christ. Christianity is a corporate experience. To neglect the church is to neglect the good of your own soul and the growth of the body of Christ. The neglect of the church is prideful selfishness which prefers to sit at home and imagines an experience of worship rather than going through the hard work of gathering with God’s people to genuinely exalt His glory.
The Bible says volumes about the end of the world. Nineteen of Revelation’s twenty-two chapters describe the end of this age and the beginning of eternity. Nearly one third of the book of Isaiah describes Messiah’s kingdom that will be. One of the longest of Jesus’ recorded discourses is primarily concerned with the end of the age. Scattered throughout the Psalms and the epistles are promises and warnings about the end of this world. Prophecy about the end makes up a significant portion of the Bible. The Christian does well to seriously consider the Bible’s teachings on the things that are coming. The wise Christian will also consider the purpose of Biblical prophecy. God does not tell of coming events to satisfy human curiosity. Prophecy is consistently applied to the child of God to comfort saints in time of trouble, to challenge Christians to continued obedience and to encourage of believers to remain faithful.
The day of the Lord is a descriptive term used of many different events. Though the specific events vary, the day of the Lord always has several features. The day of the Lord is a description of monumental, historic events. For an event to be the day of the Lord, it must be dramatic in nature. The day of the Lord marks a major turning point in the history of God’s people or of another great nation. For an event to be the day of the Lord is also must have been spoken of by the prophets. Not all historic catastrophes are the day of the Lord. The day of the Lord is foretold by the prophets. Dramatic, prophesied events are also ones of judgment, some of which were judgments to restore of Israel. For example, God’s judgment of Babylon is referred to as the day of the Lord. The conquest of the Babylonian empire was historic, it was prophesied by Jeremiah and it set the stage for Jerusalem to be rebuilt. In the New Testament the day of the Lord refers to three specific events: the tribulation (1 Thessalonians 5), the second coming of Jesus (Acts 2:20) and the destruction of the present, sin cursed universe (2 Peter 3:10). In 1 Thessalonians 5 the sudden destruction of the day of the Lord is applied to the believer exhorting Christians to live watchful, sober lives.
The application of prophecy to the child of God is to be watchful. Take heed. Pay attention. Go with caution. Watchfulness does not mean fearfulness about what might happen. Watchfulness does not mean speculation about how close world events might be to the return of Jesus. Such speculative thinking is contrary to Jesus’ warning that we are not to know the times or seasons. (Acts 1:7) Watchfulness is not filling our minds with the difficulties of the world so we may say we think Jesus is coming soon. In the letter to the Thessalonians watchfulness is associated with faith, love and hope. The coming judgments of God should motivate each Christian to give attention to the increase of basic Christian virtues in his life. Watchfulness is being on the alert for the attacks of Satan, the temptations of your flesh and the allure of the world. The watchful Christian stands in readiness for the onslaught of foes so he will not be ambushed or overthrown.
The prophetic call to Christians is a call to sobriety. Because Jesus is returning those who are His must not give control of themselves to any substance or any desire. Paul tells the Ephesians, “Be not drunk with wine, but be filled with the Spirit.” The Christian must not be out of control, nor should he be ruled by his desires and passions. The sober Christian is under the Spirit’s control. The coming judgmeng of God teaches His children to not be led about after all the pleasures promised by this world. Because Jesus is returning, be under control, temperate and serious minded in all things.
Radical, revolutionary, world-changing, daring, amazing, influential, epic. Some popular authors and speakers have described the Christian life using terms more reminiscent of movie reviews than apostolic epistles. Calls to live undaunted, culture shaking Christian lives resonate with the longing of many believers to do something grand for the cause of Christ. Whether they be expendable or radical, every new generation desires to do that which will go down in the pages of history. The stories of men like Jim Elliott and David Brainerd capture the attention and stir this secret longing for greatness in the work of the Lord. Every generation has a few individuals who go down in the annals of history because of their sacrifice, courage or influence. The vast majority of Christians will never be considered among the great ones. They will plod along through regular lives and will die unnoticed by anyone outside a small handful of close friends and family.
Mundane does not have the same stirring tone as radical. Epic creates a longing that prosaic never can rouse. We all want to be something more. In the Christian’s life, more is not found by being radical. More is found by being faithful. New Testament Christianity is expressed by simple obedience all through the mundane affairs of life. “Be ye kind to one another” is not a command focused on how to treat refugees, or a guiding principle for journeying to an isolated Asian tribe. “Be ye kind” is a command for daily interactions with one another. Reflect on the many commands giving to believers in the New Testament. How many of those commands are ones to sell everything and move to a foreign country to live out the gospel? The overwhelming majority of the commands in the New Testament reflect the daily routines of life. Treat your spouse well, obey your parents, do good work, honor and obey the government, be hospitable, live a quiet and peaceful life. These are not radical, subversive actions. These are not things that will prompt a biography of your life or bring fame to your doorstep. The majority of the commands to the Christian are obeyed in the day to day routines of life. Kindness that is only expressed towards someone on the other side of the globe is not kindness. Love that is only shown towards distant villages is not love. Kindness is kind to your next door neighbor, the guy bagging groceries and the person who just cut you off in traffic. Love is shown to those people you see every single day: your children, your wife, and your fellow workers.
God is not necessarily commanding us to go out and do dramatic deeds to change the world for Him. He has commanded every Christian to faithfulness. I remember hearing a preacher proclaim “I would rather burn out than rust out.” Some may be called to go out in a blaze of glory, but most are called to wear out in steadfast faithfulness. Instead of being Nascar engines pushed to the limit for a few hundred miles, most Christians are called to be Japanese 4 cylinder motors that faithfully keep going for a few hundred thousand miles. Biblical Christianity is expressed in the dozens of little things that happen over and over again every day. God has not called His servants to be radical, just faithful. Such Christianity may rightly be called “Mere Christianity” but it is far from insignificant.