The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the most celebrated truth in the history of the church. Yet it is also the most misunderstood doctrine in modern day Christianity. Simply put, the Gospel means ‘good news.’ But what is this good news that we Christians call Gospel? Many believers would waste no time in saying that the good news of the Gospel is that Christ died for our sins. And although this answer is correct, it is an inadequate response. To say that the Gospel is good news because of Christ dying for the sins of man and then leave it at that is like dipping the tip of your toe into a vastly deep sea. The depths have still yet to be explored.
The real question we must ask is “Why is it good news that Christ died for sinners?”
When pressed, this inquiry would cause many to be left without an answer. To understand the Gospel, we must start with a look at God. Because without an understanding of the character and nature of God, it is impossible for man to know his plight. It is impossible to understand why the Gospel is such great news. And it is impossible to understand grace.
Of all the attributes of God, the one that all other attributes must be evaluated through is His Holiness. God is Holy. I’ve found that there are many faithful believers who have been in church all of their lives, yet that have no understanding of the Holiness of God. And if we fail to grasp this great, all encompassing attribute of God, our understanding of the Gospel will be greatly distorted.
To say God is Holy is to infer that He is set apart. It is to say that God is separate, and unlike anything that is in His creation. The late R.C. Sproul once asked, “Which is more like God, an angel or a worm?” His answer was neither. An angel is no more close to being like God than a mere earth worm. God is in a category unto Himself, and there is nothing that He may be compared to. The writers of scripture understood this truth.
“To whom can you compare God? What image can you find to resemble him?” Isaiah 40:18.
“There is none like You, O LORD; You are great, and great is Your name in might.” Jeremiah 10:6.
“For this reason You are great, O Lord GOD; for there is none like You.” 2 Samuel 7:22.
“There is no one holy like the LORD, Indeed, there is no one besides You, Nor is there any rock like our God. 1 Samuel 2:2.
“Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me.” Isaiah 46:9.
There is no one like God. And there is nothing we can come close to comparing Him to. When Moses asked what God was like, God did not point to anything under creation to say “I am like this…or that.” God could not, because there was nothing like Him. God simply said “I AM.” And then one day God the Father sent His only Son Jesus to walk among men, in essence to say, “I am like Him.”
Again, most professing Christians would agree to this truth. But what is so surprising is that a great many misunderstand the Gospel because they fail to see that God is not like them. It is a great fallacy to mold an image of the Lord that dismisses His Holiness and makes Him like us.
The great dilemma of man centers around the Holiness of God. In Isaiah 6, we see a picture of the seraphim proclaiming that God is thrice Holy. This image is magnified in that these seraphim covered their face, because the Holiness of God was to great to look upon. And with two wings they covered their feet to hide the shame of their creatureliness from God. Yet we do not see this great fear and reverence for God in many modern day churches. Man tries to bring God down to our level and make Him to be seen as more of a buddy rather than standing in awe of His Holiness.
Isaiah, one of God’s prophets and one who would be considered a righteous man saw the Lord in a vision, and cried out that he was an undeserving man of unclean lips. The most righteous of men trembled before the Lord in seeing His Holy nature. In looking at the great majority of modern day evangelicals, I have to ask, “Why don’t we?”
The obvious question is, “What makes God Holy?” Among many of His attributes, one of the things that makes God different from us is that He has nothing to do with sin. All of the many purifying rituals mandated in the Old Testament were mere pointers to the Holiness of God. God cannot have anything to do with sin. God cannot have anything to do with impurity. He is set apart from all that is unrighteous.
“You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong,” Habakkuk 1:13.
If man truly understood the Holiness of God, then He would stand in great fear. Because if this is true, that God cannot co mingle with sinners, then where does that leave us? Most professing Christians say that the good news of Christianity is that God forgives sinners. And because God is a loving God He must forgive all of our trespasses as long as we try to do our best.
But there are two problems with this ideology. For starters, this way of thinking would make God a debtor to us. That is to say, since we are trying to do good, God now owes forgiveness to us. God is not in our debt and He owes us nothing.
And secondly, if God is Holy, He is a Just and righteous God. And if He is a God of justice, then God cannot forgive sin. This would make Him unrighteous. Imagine that someone committed a horrible crime against someone in your family. This person is arrested and tried in.a court of law.
The judge stands to give his judgement. And he says, “Although the crime committed was great, Ive examined the life of this criminal and he has done many good things, so Ive decided to forgive all the charges and set him free.” This judge would not be seen as righteous, but crooked.
By our earthly laws, when a crime is committed, there must be justice. When we have been wronged, we want justice. Our society celebrates justice. There are more CSI and Law and Order television shows than anything else on tv. We as a people love the idea of justice. Except when it comes to our view of God. And much of this confusion comes from a misunderstanding of ourselves.
Man does not consider his sin to as heinous as it truly is. We compare ourselves by ourselves. We know that we are sinners, but we can always think of someone that we consider to be a worse sinner than we are, and therefore feel as if God must be more pleased with our attempts at morality. When we compare ourselves to others that we consider to be far worse sinners, then prove ourselves to be ignorant and without understanding.
“But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.” 2 Corinthians 10:12.
For us to properly understand ourselves and how great our transgresses are, we must examine God’s law. Revelation 21:8 states that all liars will have their part in the lake of fire. This does not dismiss little white lies or false truths told with good intentions. The scripture says “All liars.”
Most people that I have shared this with consider the fact that God would send someone to Hell just for lying to be an example of the punishment not fitting the crime. But again, we only have a problem with this when it pertains to God judging us.
Consider again our worldly court system. If someone lies to their spouse, they may have marital problems. If someone lies to the police, they may spend the night in jail. And if someone lies to the government, that is called treason. And the punishment for treason is death. Do you see the commonality here?
As the authority of the one trespassed against increases, so does the punishment. The sin stayed the same. It was a lie. The only thing that changed was the authority of the one who was sinned against. So if we agree to this in our system of worldly laws, how much greater should the punishment be when we sin against the God of all creation?
The Apostle Paul wrote, “For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” (Galatians 3:10).
Paul didn’t say cursed is the person who does more bad than good. Paul said cursed is the person who does not uphold all of the commands of God’s law. We are criminals who stand guilty and fully deserving of spending an eternity in Hell due to the very smallest of our sins. One white lie was enough for God to sentence us to that eternal prison.
Jesus Himself said, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48).
Our morality earns us no merits before God. The prophet said that our best works are like filthy rags before God.(Isaiah 64:6). We see the example of lepers in the Bible often. Leprosy was a terrible disease. The skin of a person would literally begin to rot away while they were still alive. Puss and terrible bloody sores were extremely common in leprosy.
Imagine for a moment that someone took a leper and decided to try and make him presentable by cleaning him up. The leper was bathed, perfumed, his sores were bandaged, and he was then dressed in the most beautiful white linen robes. He would look presentable only for a short time. Because in a matter of moments, the rot of his flesh would begin to overpower the perfume, and his sore would begin to bleed through the white linen, soiling it.
In the same manner, man cannot make Himself presentable to God by the greatest acts of morality. Because it is only a matter of time before our infectious sin nature will Marr our best works.
Jesus said in Matthew 5:20 “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” The scribes and the Pharisees were the most moral and righteous of men, and they paid careful attention to uphold the laws of God. Yet Christ has just said that there is no level of human righteousness that can entitle us to a right standing before God.
These statements were meant to be shocking. They were meant to drive us to despair. These statements were meant to drive us to take a serious look at our critical state before God. And cause even the most self righteous of us to look unto the Heavens and cry out, “What must I do to be saved?”
The good news of the Gospel not just that Christ died for our sins, but that God did not give us what we deserved. A price had to be paid for our trespasses. Our sins could not go unpunished. So God sent His only Son, Himself incarnate, to the earth. He was born of a virgin birth, He lived the perfect life that we could not live and died the death that we should have died. And three days later Christ rose victorious over death. On the cross, a great exchange took place. Christ took upon Himself the curse that was due us, and gave to the Christian His righteousness.
All of the wrath and fury of God that we desired was poured out upon the perfect Lamb of God. Jesus drank our Hell. The cup of God’s wrath was swallowed by Christ, every last drop. Therefore when God the Father now looks upon the sinner who has believed upon Christ and begun to repent of His sins, He no longer sees our transgresses, but rather He sees the perfect blood of His Son.And henceforth God can declare us righteous and still be Just and Holy. It is only through the shed blood of Jesus that God can have fellowship with sinners like us.
“but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8.
This is the Gospel.
We are guilty sinners. And the God of the universe died in our place and for our sins. We strive to obey the law of God not because we are under the law, but because we are under Christ. Believers find the law of God as beautiful because we know the price that we paid for our sins. Unless we are first humbled and brought to our knees by a right view of the law of God, we can never truly be brought to faith.
This short excerpt that I have written on the Gospel is merely a glancing overview of this great truth that we shall spend an eternity of eternities exploring its rich depths and still never reach the bottom of the sea floor. As one great puritan theologian said, “The more I know, I realize the less I understand.”
We have been freed from the curse of the law which rightly condemned us by the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Man is not saved due to his works, but only through the atoning and sacrificial work of Christ. The Gospel calls fallen man to do two thing; to repent of his sins, and believe the Gospel. And because of His grace towards us, this great Gospel should become the magnificent obsession of all professing believers.
“For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.” The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “The person who does these things will live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.” He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.” Galatians 3:10-14.
I grew up as a huge fan of professional wresting. This was long before the product had become vulgar with swearing and vulgarity. Wrestling in the 80’s was basically a comic book that had come to life. There was nothing better than to wake up on Saturday mornings, turn on the television, and seeing Hulk Hogan preaching the importance of hard works and taking your vitamins. Or Rowdy Roddy Piper being put in his place by the charismatic Macho Man Randy Savage. To a twelve year old boy this was entertainment at its finest. These larger than life characters with their amazing athletic abilities and feats of strength constantly amazed me. And I was pro wrestlings biggest fan.
So you can imagine my excitement when I found out that the middle school I was attending holding wrestling practice for anyone who wanted to attend after school. I remember bursting through the door when I got home from school in a rush to tell my parents about wrestling practice. They were fully supportive. However, they asked if I would do a little research on exactly what middle school wrestling would entail. “Attend a collegiate wrestling match” my father said.
But being asked to study up on the sport that I loved was almost an insult to me. I saw no need to learn about collegiate wrestling, because I knew what to expect! The school would most likely have a wrestling ring like the ones on television, the coaches would give us cool character names, and we’d be taught the art of the body slam as well as how to fly off of the top rope like Super Fly Jimmy Snuka. I didn’t need to study any more about wrestling. I loved wrestling. And I knew all I needed to know about it, or so I thought.
When I finally attended my very first wrestling practice at the middle school, I was extremely perplexed. There were no wrestling rings with turnbuckles to jump off of. There were no announcers sitting in the corner with microphones ready to call the action. And there were no theatrics and cool costumes for us to put on. Instead, we were all gathered into a room with foam mats on the floor.
These dingy, blue wrestling mats had many circles strewn about in which served as our wrestling ring. We were not taught how to do pile drivers or power bombs, but rather how to take your opponent to the floor and pin him to the mat for a count of one.
I knew wrestling. I loved wrestling. But I soon realized I knew nothing about real wrestling. I only knew the popular commercialized version that was so popular among my friends at school.
As I begin to really study the sport, I saw that it had been around for hundreds of years. That the ancient Roman and Greek cultures would hold Olympic type games where wrestling was highlight of the event. The more I learned and participated in the real version of wrestling, the more I grew to love it even more than I did professional wrestling.
Claiming to possess any knowledge without a desire to study its truths is ignorance.
One of the most pervasive statements that I hear from many evangelicals when it comes to the topic of theology and doctrine is, “We don’t need all that theology, all that matters is that we love Jesus.”
Theology is the study of God’s Word. And doctrine is orthodox, Biblical teachings found all throughout scripture. To neglect the need for a deeper study of the attributes of God and claim that all we need is to love Jesus is a grievous error. It is a wonderful thing to love Jesus. But without knowing Him through a more intensive study of the Word can leave us worshipping a very popular and commercialized Jesus, but not the Jesus of scripture.
Sadly there are many professing believers that are enamored with the idea of loving Jesus, but they have no desire to know Him through a study of Biblical doctrine.
Without being grounded in Biblical theology, the Jesus we claim to love can easily become a God of our own creation. There are even churches that refuse to have a definitive statement of faith on their websites and instead state their beliefs as, “We love Jesus, We love People.”
Although these are fine statements, they tell me nothing regarding what they believe about God. It tells me nothing about what they believe about the perseverance of the saints. It tells me nothing about their view of the trinity. It says nothing of their view of the atonement of our sins through the cross of Christ. It tells me nothing of their view of the infallibility of the Word of God. Nothing about the depravity of man and the sovereignty of God. Nothing about their view of Grace.
It is not enough to know that a church or a person loves Jesus. We must know what they believe about Him through the scriptures in order to discern properly.
Without knowing the theology and grasp of doctrine that a church or person has, we are left to ask the question, “What Jesus are you referring to?” It is quite possible to profess a love for a Jesus that is loosely based on the teachings of the Bible, and to be so passionate about this Jesus that we neglect to see that we have in fact believe in a false Gospel.
All throughout the scriptures, the apostles were adamant that our faith be grounded not some untethered idea of love, but in truth. They were never proponents of basing our affections of God on what we feel, but rather what we know. When the Apostle Paul was training up Titus to be a pastor on the island of Crete, one of the first things he impressed him was the need for knowing sound doctrine.
“But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.” Titus 2:1.
Notice Paul didn’t tell Titus to just rely on his love for Jesus. Paul knew that it is impossible to truly love Jesus unless we know Him through a proper study of biblical theology. Furthermore we are to teach our families doctrine. It is impossible for men to lead our families or even disciple our children properly unless we are teaching them theology and not just fluffy stories about the cute animals in Noah’s ark.
“He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” Titus 1:9.
On this side note of discipling our children, it boils down to asking what we want them to know about God. Do we want them to know the commercialized Jesus of the world that is all butterflies and love? Or do we desire that our children know the Christ of the Bible. Sadly, parents that neglect the study of theology do so because having a generic love of Jesus is not offensive to them. The belief in a Jesus void of theology makes us feel better about ourselves and makes for a cute bedtime story for the kids.
However, when study and teach Biblical theology, there will be blood. There will be God’s wrath. And we will begin to see ourselves as not only sinners, but heinous transgressors who rightly deserve the fires of Hell.
These are not popular views of God nor man. Many people avoid the study of theology because they prefer a version of Jesus that is all love but no wrath and a Christ that is begging sinners to repent instead of sovereignly demanding and brining to pass their conversion.
There is no doubt, a study of theology strips us of fluffy, man centered views of God. But when we begin to see God rightly through the Bible, our understanding of grace abounds. And our love for Christ is now anchored to solid truth and extreme gratitude.
“Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.” 1 Corinthians 16:13.
Again, it is impossible to stand firm in our faith if we are not students of the Word ourselves. If we profess a love for God, to have a disdain for the study of theology is a contradiction. It stands to reason that if we love something, we want to know all there is to know about it. This holds true in relationships, hobbies, and everything that sparks a passion in our hearts.
It is very troubling that in the world, the things that we love we pursue in knowledge. However for some reason some believe it should not apply to our love for Christ. To claim we love Jesus yet have no desire for theology is to prove ourselves to be liars. Because that line of reasoning does not apply to any other passions in our lives.
C.S. Lewis once wrote, “If you do not listen to theology, that will not mean you have no ideas about God, rather it will mean you have a lot of wrong ones.” When it comes to your daily study of God’s Word, is it attained from reading uplifting devotions that stimulate positive feelings? Or is it grounded in the scriptures and in Biblical theology? When you are choosing a church to attend, is the deciding factor made based how relevant and funny the sermons are or how hip the worship band appears to be? Or is your decision based on the theological truths that are sung and preached?
It is a fine thing to love Jesus. But as Christians, we need to be able to tell the world which Jesus we love. If we claim to love Jesus yet believe things that are not found in scripture, then our version of Him is a modern-day golden calf.
“but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,” 1 Peter 3:15.
An untethered, etherial, love of some generic Christ was never outlined in Bible. Rather, Peter writes that we are to have a doctrinal knowledge of the scriptures so that we are able to give a defense to those who oppose it and a reason for our love for those that are curious.
The late R.C. Sproul once said, “Everyone is a theologian. Some people just aren’t very good ones.” All people have ideas about Jesus. But the only ones that will point us to the real Jesus are those ideas that are reamed from the scriptures. If you truly love Jesus, be sure that you are able to give reasoning that goes deeper than merely saying “He forgave me.”
Begin to emerge your study of God into topics such as propitiation and regeneration. Find a book on the attributes of God that will drive you to the scriptures. Contemplate the Biblical meaning of Holiness. Pick up a resource on typology. These may sound like scary academic words, but once you begin to study these doctrines, the scriptures will come to life in a whole new way.
True love for Christ begins with a knowledge of what He has done. I pray your love for Him is rooted in your study of theology, so that you may be equipped to give a reason for the hope that is within you.
Below I have placed links to some wonderful and easy to digest resources for anyone seeking to go deeper in their knowledge and love of Christ. As with any resource, these are never to take the place of your study of scripture, but instead be used to drive you to the Word and expand your understanding of it’s truths.
The love of a parent is a fierce love. It is a selfless love and a protective love. When it comes to the protection and well being of our children, there is nothing that a good parent will not do in order to safeguard the family. From a young age we begin to take preventative measures in preparing our young ones against the dangers of the world.
We teach our children to be kind to others, but never to talk to strangers. We teach them to always put on their seat belt, and to never cross the street without looking both ways. And when it comes to things like swimming, we take every precaution to teach them the proper swimming techniques before allowing them to remove those annoying arm floatees.
As a parent, much time is spent in teaching and training our children so that they may be well prepared to navigate the many pitfalls of life. We do this because we love them, and want them to have an abundant life.
What is so surprising is that so many Christian parents will spend countless hours in the day instructing their children in how to stay safe from the physical dangers of the world, but almost completely neglect their eternal and spiritual well being.
It has become common place for believers to rely fully on the church in regards to the discipleship of their children. But this mindset is not only wrong, it is sinful. Here are five reasons why parents need to practice family worship daily with their children at home.
1. Family Worship is Important Because God Has Commanded It
In Deuteronomy 11 Moses speaks the words of the Lord to the Israelites, relaying to them commandments from the Lord in how they are to conduct themselves and how God is to be worshipped. Moses also addresses the importance of family worship. Speaking of God’s commandments, Moses says;
“You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth.” Deuteronomy 11:19-21.
Notice that worship within the home is not a suggestion, but a command. Also take note of the many different ways that this discipline takes shape. Family worship was never meant to be just programmatic. We teach our children about God consistently throughout the day. When we rise in the morning and before we lie down at the end of the day.
When Moses writes that we are to write the commands of God on our doorposts, he was not instructing us to drive down to the local Lifeway and purchase a Bible verse plaque to hang on our door. Rather, it means that the worship love of God should be so prevalent in our families, that it is a known fact to everyone who may enter the doorposts of our family.
2. Family Worship is Important Because Your Child’s Eternity is at Stake
Statistically a great majority of children who are raised in church and have grown up participating in youth group end up leaving the church by the time they’ve reached adulthood. Part of this tragedy can be attributed to the pragmatism of many churches who placed more of an emphasis on entertainment rather than teaching. But as parents and particularly fathers, God will first hold you responsible for the discipleship of your family, not the church that you attended.
The prophet Isaiah writes,
“All your children shall be taught by the Lord, and great shall be the peace of your children.” Isaiah 54:13.
Far too often we read verses like this too casually without considering the dangerous implications that are in plan sight. The prophet writes that children that are brought up and taught in the Lord will receive great peace upon them.
But what about the children that are not brought up in the knowledge of the Lord? All humanity is born into sin. And in such a state, all people who have reached an age of being capable to possess the knowledge of the God and yet do not call Him Lord do not have the peace of God upon them, but the wrath of God. Even our children.
“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” John 3:36.
Notice John does not write that if a person does not obey God, the wrath of God will come upon him. Instead John writes that if a person remains in unbelief, the wrath of God “remains on him.” Again, the implication is clear. We are enemies of God from birth. And His wrath abides on all who live in rebellion to Christ.
“Pour out Your wrath on the nations that do not know You, And on the families that do not call Your name;” Jeremiah 10:25.
Just as a parent would waste not a second in running to the rescue of their child who is standing in the road before an oncoming truck, so should we act with urgency in discipling our children. Knowing that God’s wrath resides on all who do not profess Him as Lord, family worship should be our utmost priority.
The Apostle Paul said this of his protegé Timothy’s upbringing.
“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” 2 Timothy 3:14-15.
In 1 Timothy, Paul more light is shed on Timothy’s childhood when he praises God for the faith of Timothy’s mother and grandmother. Timothy’s family did not just take him to church and sign him up for the local youth group. Timothy was discipled by his family. Family worship was the focal point of his upbringing where he was taught the scriptures and which led to his salvation.
When speaking of the Godly influence of his own mother, the great preacher Charles Spurgeon said, “Fathers and mothers are the most natural agents for God to use in the salvation of their children. I am sure that, in my early youth, no teaching ever made such an impression upon my mind as the instruction of my mother.”
3. Family Worship Teaches Them the Purpose of Church
The church was created by God first and foremost for the glorification and worship of God. In our current day and age church has become akin to shopping for a new car, especially for youth. They want a church that is fun, entertaining, and cool enough to attract their friends. Basically the purpose of a good church is to meet their desires and expectations. And worshipping God only takes place if and when those expectations are satisfied.
Sadly, there are many parents who will actually allow their children to choose the church that they want the family to attend. Pastor Josh Buice has written a great article on the dangers of this that can be accessed at this LINK.
Within the context of family worship we can teach our children to hold a high view of God and the scriptures. From an early age, Lacy and I have tried our best to instilled in our children that the marks of a good church are grounded not in our preferences but in their reliance on the scriptures and their proclamation of the Gospel.
Recently our family visited a church where the worship music was very showy and entertaining and the preacher was more of a comedian than an expositor. After the experience, our nine year old son Lincoln said that he didn’t want to go back to that church. When I asked why, he said, “Because they seemed more concerned with pleasing men than pleasing and glorifying God.”
When we teach our children the importance and the beauty of seeking God and holding high His Word, they learn to discern the difference between Biblical churches and more worldly churches from an early age. And this will safeguard against them leaving the church when the are grown. Because they will properly know that church is not about our entertainment, but about God’s glorification. And corporate worship will become a desire rather than a weekly duty.
4. Family Worship Will Lead to Their Greatest Joys
When we first introduced broccoli to our son Luke, he despised it. But as his parents who knew what was best for him, we didn’t give in. We didn’t compromise and let Luke follow his own desires. We insisted that Luke eat his broccoli. We didn’t load his plate up with tons of it. Lacy only put a few bites so that he could develop a taste for it.
One night we looked over at Luke’s plate and he had finished his broccoli without us having to beg and plead with him. What was even more surprising was that Luke asked for a second helping. Currently, Broccoli is Luke’s favorite vegetable. He can’t get enough of the stuff! If we would have given in to his initial distaste for it, he would have never realized the joy he found it eating it today.
From day one, we never made family worship an option. And with young children, there have been many times where it was apparent that eating broccoli would have been more to their liking than gathering for family worship. But the more we expose our families to the Word of God, the more it begins to take root. And it’s not long before what was once a forced discipline is now the highlight of their day.
Matthew wrote of the Lord as being like a precious treasure hidden in a field (Matt 12:44). We live in a world where the preciousness of the Gospel has been buried in a field of television, toys, fun, and self-gratification. And removing these blinders which our children hold so dear can be a fight at times. But when they begin to be taught of their own depravity and the grace of God, the knowledge of God will not just be tolerated, but desired.
5. Family Worship Teaches Our Children to Make God Top Priority
The old saying “Monkey see, monkey do” holds very true within the family. Many parents who raise their children in church only to have their children walk away from the church when they reach adulthood scratch their head and wonder why. Yet they have failed to examine the example they set in making God a priority.
Parents, do you exemplify that knowing God is precious to you? Or is God just a weekly staple like going to school or the grocery store? Fathers, do your children see you gathering the family with joy to read the scriptures? Do they see delight in your eyes when you speak of the things of God? Do they see you and their mother on their knees regularly praying to the Lord? Or do they see God as being a burden?
Monkey see, monkey do.
The passions of the father will in most cases be passed down to the son. We do not have the ability nor the power to save our children. Only God can do that. It is our job as parents to surround our children with the kindling of the Holy Spirit and pray that the Lord would ignite it.
If family worship is not a priority or current discipline in your home, it is never too late to begin. The reasons family worship is not a more common practice in Christian homes is because of laziness, selfishness, and out right disobedience to what God has commanded us to do as leaders of our homes.
There is no doubt that family worship will require self sacrifice and work. But as fathers and mothers, we have been charged with the responsibility of plowing the fields of the knowledge of our Lord within our homes. It will require us to turn off the television. It will require us to set aside hobbies. It will require us to wake up earlier or go to bed later.
Family Worship will require you to die to yourself. But isnt that what the Christian life is all about? And when we die to ourselves, we become more like the savior that we worship. Therefore, family worship is commanded by God not just for the salvation of your home, but because it conforms you more into the image of Christ. Ask yourself, is there anything more important than our families being households that are firmly planted in the Lord?
Make family worship a staple in your home. If we truly love our children, there can be no greater priority. Below I have listed a few resources to aid in beginning to implement the practice of family worship in your home.
Our two year old little girl has a problem. Her name is Haven, and she is a certified chocoholic. M & M’s, Hershey Kisses, and Kit Kat’s are her drugs of choice. And I’m her dealer. My wife Lacy is very good at telling Haven “no” when it comes to sweets and giving her healthier choices instead of the sugar that she desires. But I just can’t resist when she points to the candy and says, “Daddy please?” When I give her sweets to eat I am daddy of the year in her little mind. But recently, as hard as it is, I have been cutting Haven off from her chocolate fix.
Last night before bed, she came to me with a sweet smile on her little face and said “chocolate daddy.” And I said to her, “No ma’am, let’s get some fruit instead.” This is about the time the fit pitching began. Haven stomped her foot and instead of asking for chocolate nicely, she now repeated her request in a very demanding tone. And again, I refused to give her what she wanted. Tears, confusion, and anger followed. Haven just couldn’t understand why her father, who is supposed to love her, would deprive her of what she thought she needed, that being the sweet taste of processed sugar.
No matter how much I told her that I had her best interests in mind, all Haven heard was that her daddy wasn’t giving her what she wanted. Furthermore, she knew that other children ate chocolate because when we take her to story time at the library each week, the librarian always gives out candy to all of the toddlers in attendance.
Haven is only two years old and she doesn’t have the life experience that her mother and I possess. She doesn’t realize the health dangers that could stem from a steady diet of sugar and the importance of eating more fruits and vegetables. She doesn’t have the ability to look past her own selfish desires and actually see that even though mommy and daddy are depriving her of what she wants, we actually are looking out for what is best for her.
It is in these types of situations with my children that God shows me how similar we are to toddlers. We praise God and have no problem quoting scriptures about Christian suffering and perseverance in hard times, except when those hard times actually hit us. We have no problem remembering the account of the disciples caught in the storm in Matthew 8, and correlating that to the storms in our lives when times are good. But what about when we are caught in the midst of a storm?
We make plans for our lives. It is human nature to set a path for where we want our lives to go. And then tragedy hits, and those plans often become derailed. The loss of a career, a death in the family, or a financial set back are among a few of these derailments that are most common. And when our plans and desires are unexpectedly taken away, the immediate reaction is not to trust God, but rather to question Him.
Why would God allow this tragedy if He truly loved me?
Have you been here before? Have you said these words? If you haven’t, chances are you will. And for believers in these times of trial, we tend to look at our track record of faithfulness as well as the unbelievers who are seemingly prospering and we begin to contemplate, “Is the Christian life really worth it?”
In Psalm 73, we see that Asaph was at this place.
“Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” Psalm 73:1-3.
Right away at the beginning of his Psalm, Asaph recalls what he knew to be true in his heart; that God is good to His people regardless of the immediate circumstances. However, Asaph then testifies that he almost forgot that in the midst of a trial. He almost lost his foothold on what he knew to be true about God in His heart. And in his confusion, Asaph gazed upon the wicked who were prospering and doubted the goodness of God towards His own people.
I ask again, have you been here? Are you here now? Has there been a time in your life where your desires and or plans had been unexpected shattered. And as you scramble to pick up the broken pieces, you begin to doubt the goodness of God in full sight of wicked people who are getting the best out of life. Asaph knew this slippery slope all too well. Lets continue to explore his account as Asaph begins to describe why he envied the wicked.
“They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from common human burdens; they are not plagued by human ills. Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence. From their callous hearts comes iniquity, their evil imaginations have no limits. They scoff, and speak with malice; with arrogance they threaten oppression. Their mouths lay claim to heaven, and their tongues take possession of the earth. Therefore their people turn to them and drink up waters in abundance.” Psalm 73:4-10.
Put yourself in Asaph’s place. Asaph, who was a man of God, was looking at his own life with the trials and hardships he was facing. And then also comparatively looking at the lives of the un-Godly.
Asaph said that the wicked seem to have no struggles. They seem to live longer, healthier lives than the children of God. With their evil mouths they blaspheme God yet their lives seem to be on a continual prosperous climb while the saints of God seem to be riddled with hardships. Asaph knew that God was good to His people, but was judging the goodness of God by the fulfillment of his own desires. Asaph continues his assessment of the wicked.
“They say, “How would God know? Does the Most High know anything?” This is what the wicked are like—always free of care, they go on amassing wealth.” Psalm 73:11-12.
Where as the believer abstains from reveling in the evil desires of his flesh and is obedience to Christ, the wicked not only prosper in health and wealth, but they divulge themselves in activities of carnality without a care in the world. The wicked say to themselves that God has no reign over their lives. Asaph now goes from observing the wicked straight into doubting God and even calling into question his own faithfulness to this God who seems to not care.
“Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and have washed my hands in innocence. All day long I have been afflicted, and every morning brings new punishments.” Psalm 73:13-14.
Asaph is doubting his faith. He is doubting that following Christ is even worth it if all that comes from his obedience is heartache. Asaph begins to believe that his pursuit of the Lord and adherence to living a life of holiness was in vain. Affliction seems to come at him all day, and each new morning seems to be worse than the former.
In short, just when Asaph thought that he had hit the very bottom of life’s barrel, the floor gave way and he continued to fall deeper and deeper into despair.
How often do we find ourselves in the foible of Asaph, asking the same questions and wrestling with the same doubts? But Asaph did not let this doubt consume him. He didn’t allow this deception to lead him away from God.
“If I had spoken out like that, I would have betrayed your children. When I tried to understand all this, it troubled me deeply till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.” Psalm 73:15-17.
All of his doubts deeply troubled Asaph. He wrestled with trying to reconcile the goodness of God in light of the suffering of His children. Confusion, anger, and doubt had consumed Asaph until he began to dwell on the truth that was buried deep in His heart.
“Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin. How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors! They are like a dream when one awakes; when you arise, Lord, you will despise them as fantasies.” Psalm 73:18-20.
Asaph concludes that although the wicked seem to be prospering, the Lord has placed them on very slippery ground. For in an instance, their lives will be over and they will stand in judgement before the Lord of all creation. Romans chapter one is a great depiction of the passive wrath of God which Asaph is describing.
“And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.” Romans 1:28.
The wicked live by the creed “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” They pay no mind to God and live for the sinful desires of their flesh. Why is it then that the wicked prosper? The Apostle Paul tells us in the first chapter of Romans. God looks upon these evil people and sees that they desire the garbage of the world over the glory found in knowing Christ. And the Lord in essence says, “You want your sins instead of fellowship with me…take them.”
God gives them over to their debased mind to do whatever pleases them. But there will be a day, as Asaph pointed out, where the wicked will awaken from their sinful fantasy and stand before God with no defense, and eternal suffering in His wrath to come.
“When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you.” Psalm 73:21-22.
What a beautiful confession from Asaph. Even in the midst of his doubt, Asaph knew that he was being ignorant and part of the grief he felt during that time was due to his own embittered spirit. Asaph had the sense to know the truth of God’s goodness all along, even when he was questioning God.
I am ashamed to say that there have been many times in my own life where unforeseen tragic circumstances have caused me to doubt the goodness of our Lord. But I can relate to Asaph in saying that even in these times of doubt, I knew deep in my heart that I was the fool, and that God was working for my good despite the proverbial chocolate being taken away from me.
“Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 73:23-26.
The truth of God’s goodness begins to replace the doubt that had once subsided within the heart of Asaph. There is a saying that says “God will never give you more than you can handle.” That is a lie. Most of the time God will purposely give us more than we can handle, so that in our weakness we will put our trust in Christ. Life’s burden’s may be more than we can handle, but never more than the Christ in us can bear.
“Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you. But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.” Psalm 73:27-28.
Although the wicked may prosper, they are far from God. And in their unfaithfulness, they will be destroyed in judgement. The wrath of God will be the only reward when their last breath has been drawn.
And the absence of the blood of Christ will leave them without excuse. But as for the believer, though we face trials and tribulations that at times seem to be down right crippling, we can rest in the knowledge that even in our hardships, God has already poured His goodness out upon us.
In the book of Malachi, God’s people cried out against the Lord in the midst of their troubles and asked the Lord “How have you loved us?” (Malachi 1:2). And through pointing them back to the account of Jacob and Esau, God essentially says to His people, “My love is seen in that I saved you.” To quote the words of evangelist Paul Washer, Isn’t salvation enough? What more proof do we need of God’s goodness?
Though our lives may not always turn out as we had hoped, and our dreams and plans may come to a crushing halt, we have reason to rejoice! Because we who were once enemies of God have been called sons and daughters. We who were once outside the family of God have been adopted by the King. We have been washed and redeemed. God owes us nothing in return.
Our reward is not found in this earthly life, as if God owed us a reward in the first place. Just the fact that He has taken our guilt sentence away through the death of His own Son, dying in our place and for our sins, is proof of His grace. And like Asaph in remembrance of this great truth, we can praise His great name, even in the hardest of times.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28.
I recently visited a church that was going Henry Blackaby’s “Experiencing God” study on Wednesday evenings. The book by Blackaby has been a very popular mainstay in many evangelical churches for the past few decades. Although I was familiar with Henry Blackaby and his Experiencing God study through its reputation, I had never actually read the book. So I looked forward to learning more about it on this particular Wednesday night.
The pastor leading the study is a very Godly man, and it was a joy to sit under his teachings. His consistent focus on the scriptures and apparent desire to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ was so refreshing to see. And this pastor’s love for his congregation was made evident in his taking time to speak to each and every person that was in attendance. A true man of God.
After we had opened the study in prayer, a video of Henry Blackaby personally introducing his study was played for all to see. In Blackaby’s introduction, he expressed his deep desire for those participating in the study to come to saving faith in Jesus Christ. Blackaby’s burden to see men saved was apparent, and his love for the Lord unquestionable.
However, when Blackaby gave his reasoning for why he chose to name his book ‘Experiencing God’, his answer was a bit unsettling. Blackaby said that the reason he did not name his book ‘Knowing God’ and instead chose to call it ‘Experiencing God’ is because God wants us to experience Him.
Blackaby went on to say that to know God merely implies a dry book knowledge of our Lord, and what people really needed was an experience with the Divine. “God doesn’t just want His children to know Him, He wants them to experience Him”, said Blackaby.
While I have no doubt that Blackaby desired to see people come to Christ, his statement of placing an experience with God over knowing God is not only unbiblical, but it actual diminishes the relationship to which God has called His elect to have with Him.
This is not my opinion, but rather what the scriptures plainly teach. Not once in the Bible does the Lord request that His people experience Him. What God does consistently say is that He desires His people to know Him. This plea from the Lord is repeated over and over throughout the scriptures.
The original Greek words for “to know” are “oida” and “ginosko.” Both words imply a much deeper definition than simply book knowledge. When God uses the word “know”, He is implying an intimate relationship with Him. In the garden of Eden, the scriptures say of the relationship between Adam and Eve;
“Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD.” Genesis 4:1.
When Moses wrote that Adam “KNEW” his wife, he did not mean that Adam had a mere knowledge of her existence. The word “know” meant that they had an intimate relationship. Now it goes without saying that the Lord is not implying that His children have a romantic relationship with Him (as the New Apostolic Reformation movement often implies), but rather that our knowledge of Him leads us to know and trust Him more than our closest family member.
Jesus used the same word “know” when speaking to His disciples about eternal life. Jesus did not say that eternal life was found in experiencing Him.
“And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” John 17:3.
Experiencing God is impossible unless we KNOW Him through His Word. Furthermore, salvation is only found through knowing our Lord in a personal relationship. Salvation is not grounded in our feelings or emotions about God. Again, there are false sects of Christianity like the NAR that promote having an emotive experience with God over knowing Him as He has presented Himself in scripture.
Basing our perception of God on feelings or our experience of Him makes God subservient to what pleases us. But when our perception of God is strictly based on knowing Him through His Word, we are at His mercy. And the knowledge of our depravity in light of His grace drives us deep into repentance, thankfulness, and adoration.
“Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” Jeremiah 9:23-24.
Again, the prophet Jeremiah did not write that God demands an experience of Himself. Rather, the same word for intimacy, to KNOW, is used. To say that knowing God implies a dry book knowledge is due to a misunderstanding of the depth of meaning behind the Lord’s command for us to know Him.
“That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,” Philippians 3:10.
The greatest longing of the Apostle Paul wasn’t to experience God. Paul desired more than anything to know Him through His Word. Even when Paul experienced seeing Christ on the road to Damascus, it was not the blinding light that changed Paul. It was Christ speaking the Word of the Lord to Him. It was the power of the spoken Word of God that brought Paul to saving faith.
It is impossible to have a relationship with God apart from head knowledge of Him.
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2.
Christ desires that our minds be renewed through the knowledge of God. Peter did not wish for his followers to experience God, but rather to have knowledge of Him that would press them into an intimate relationship with Him.
“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” 2 Peter 3:18.
When John wrote His epistle of 1 John, he distinguished how he could tell that a person had been regenerated and born again. He did not say that whoever has experienced God listens to them. Instead, he said whoever knows God. And those without the knowledge of God have no love for His Word. If we desire an experience of God over truly knowing the Lord, it is not Christ we seek, but our own preferences.
“We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us.” 1 John 4:6.
Remember, the golden calf that the Israelites built to worship in the book of Exodus was a cumulation of what they wanted to experience in their worship of God. As the worshipped, they indulged in drunkeness and sexual immorality. Had they possessed true knowledge of God, they would have been broken over their sins and have never acted in that manner. An experience of God that is not grounded in knowledge is very dangerous.
Jesus told a parable of a rich man and a poor man who both died. The poor man Lazarus went to be by Abraham’s side in Heaven, while the rich man went to Hell. As the rich man was in anguish, he recalled that he had five unbelieving brothers. And he knew that when they died, they would likewise join him in Hell. So the rich man made this plea with Abraham;
“And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’” Luke 16:27-28.
The rich man wanted the spirit of the poor man Lazarus to be sent to his brothers to warn them of the consequences of unbelief. The rich man wanted his unbelieving brothers to have an experience that was from God. Like many today, the rich man wrongly assumed that an experience from God would lead to salvation. But Abraham said this in response to the rich man’s request;
“But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”Luke 16:29-31.”
The rich man argued that if only his brothers could have an experience sent from God, then they would be saved. But Abraham refused, saying that if the written Word, which is written by Moses and the Prophets, did not regenerate them, then no experience would be stronger than the Word of God. Abraham placed knowing God through His Word over having a Divine experience.
In Matthew 7, Jesus gives us the picture of many church going and religious people standing before Him on judgement day. The Lord goes on to say that these people listed all of their good works and piety as the reason that they should be allowed into His Kingdom. But although these people would claim Christ as Lord, they had no true love for Him in their heart. The Lord tells these hypocrites to depart from Him into Hell. Notice that the Lord does not say “Depart from me, for you never experienced me.” Rather He says;
“And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” Matthew 7:23.
Once again, I have no doubt that Henry Blackaby loved the Lord with all of His heart and had the best of intentions in His ministry. In fact, many of the things that Blackaby says in his book are spot on and very useful in leading us into this knowledge of the Lord. But our experience of God can only come through a reverent knowledge of Him. And that knowledge can only be found in His Word. Sola Scriptura.
There are many iconic staples that come to mind when we think of our American culture. Baseball, apple pie, and rock rock and roll, just to name a few. But no cornerstone has embedded itself into mainstream Americana like the fast food restaurant McDonald’s. Whenever we take a family road trip, it is inevitable that one of our kids will make their requests for chicken nugget or cheeseburger Happy Meals.
Founded in 1940, the fast food chain has become known for its hamburgers and golden French fries. McDonald’s even branded itself with child friendly characters such as the burger loving bandit “Hambuglar” and of course, the french fry loving clown, Ronald McDonald.
There is no doubt that the purpose of the McDonald’s franchise is to sell burgers. For goodness sake, they even boast of how many billions of burgers that have been sold under their Golden Arches. It is certain that when you hear someone say McDonald’s, a nice greasy burger is the first thing that comes to mind.
In the late 1980’s, Mcdonald’s decided to alter it’s successful and proven image of being known for hamburgers and started to offer a new item, the McPizza. The McPizza was their version of a fast food pizza and it closely resembled a mini calzone.
McDonald’s marketing team began to push the McPizza in its advertising just as much as it did their burgers. No expense was spared in their attempt to add to their image. Of course this was done in hopes of reaching a new batch of consumers.
However, the result was very disappointing for McDonald’s. The McPizza failed miserably. With top pizza chains like Dominos and Pizza Hut already dominating the market, competition was extremely intense. But more than anything, the addition of the McPizza just was not consistent with the purpose that McDonald’s had always been known for. And that was great tasting burgers. As one person said, “People went to MacDonalds for burgers and fries, not pizza.”
Ironically in the mid 80’s, Coca Cola did the same thing as McDonald’s. They tried to alter their formula from the original, calling it “New Coke” in an attempt to reach a wider audience. And much like McDonald’s, their attempts to add to the original formula concluded with disastrous results.
When something is altered or changed, for better or worse, the original purpose becomes lost. The idea is no longer what it had originally set out to be, because even the slightest deviation from the origin causes a transformation.
To want to improve upon something is human. When results appear seemingly stagnant, the immediate knee jerk reaction is to change the status quo, even if it means altering the original purpose. In the corporate world, sometimes altering the purpose works. And sometimes, as seen in the examples above, it does not. Ultimately, the decision to change must be given approval by the man who is in charge of that particular organization.
In my previous two blogs, I touched on an ever growing deception that is infiltrating the modern day church. That being the man centered trend to attempt to improve upon God’s mandates for the church. We see this in the increasing emphasis of many churches to try and look, sound, and appear more hip than holy in an attempt to attract people with more worldly affinities. In doing this, we basically are saying that the glorious Gospel of Christ is not attractive enough, and God needs us to give it a modern day makeover. Without saying it, we doubt the power of the Gospel with our actions.
My great fear is that this mindset of improvement has infiltrated the church to our detrament. R.C. Sproul once said that he believed less than five percent of pastors truly believed in the power of the spoken word of God to save men. This was the Lord’s original game plan for church growth.
To coincide with the analogy of the corporation, if the CEO is the only one who can change the purpose statement, then as Christians and church leaders, God is our CEO. And God has mandated that the only means to church growth and salvation is the preaching of the Gospel, and calling people to repentance. There are no other means.
Sadly as Dr. Sproul had commented, a great many ministries and their leaders have lost sight of the original purpose of the church. The preaching of the Gospel has not yielded the results (or numbers of members) that they had hoped for. And so, they begin to add to the Gospel. Sometimes they will even change it all together.
The Gospel is not enough, we need lights and smoke during worship.
The Gospel is not enough, we need comedians and story tellers instead of preachers.
The Gospel is not enough, we need more acceptance and less repentance.
The Gospel is not enough, we need an image that is less holy and more culturally relevant.
No church leader would ever say these things verbally, but by their methods of operating the church, actions speak louder than words. To be sure, it is very easy to rationalize their reasons for doing this. Plenty of church pastors have boasted of how many people are being brought to the Lord as a result of their pragmatic methods.
But are we really seeing people coming to the Lord as a result of our changes or additions to the Gospel? Or are we merely seeing more warm bodies that are seeking a worldly experience with God’s name stamped on it? To answer this question, just ask the congregation why it is that they attend their church.
Many have answered this question by saying they attend their church because it makes them feel loved. And to feel loved is a good thing. But the Gospel is not about what we feel, it is grounded in what we know. The reality of God’s grace in light of our depravity is what leads men to repentance. So knowledge, not emotions, leads men to salvation.
Many have said that the music style of worship or the relaxed atmosphere is why they attend a certain church. And while these things are well and good, they are not reasons for attending a church. Any reason other than the proclamation of the Word of God are faulty primary reasons for church attendance. Justin Peters rightly said, “We are letting the goats in and calling them sheep.”
This begs the obvious question, “What is the purpose of the church?”
A brief study of the church in Corinth will be of great benefit to us in answering this question. The church in Corinth was founded by the Apostle Paul while on his second missionary journey. Corinth was a large trade city, so it had great wealth and was the location of many Olympic type games. The city of Corinth also was extremely immersed in the world, worshipping such Gods as Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love.
Paul preached the Gospel in Corinth for almost two years before departing. The church was no doubt on solid ground while Paul was there. But very soon after he left, the church at Corinth began to depart from the Gospel of faith alone through Christ alone that was preached to them. They began to become enamored with different personalities in the pulpit, as some claimed they were followers of Paul and others Apollos.
But the most serious problem of the Corinthian church was worldliness, and an unwillingness to divorce the culture around them. Paul received word of many sins that the church was now accepting, and he addressed them in his epistles to the Corinthians.
“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality” 1 Corinthians 6:9.
Again, Paul did not write these words to pagans. He wrote to the church.
Obviously the message of repentance and sternly crying out against sin was not being preached. The church began to hold an attitude of acceptance of sin, not rejection of it. And with most of the society putting a great emphasis on love, as seen by its affinity for the goddess Aphrodite, apparently the church was influenced by the culture. The church was allowing itself to look more and more like the world in the hopes of being accepted.
The state of the church at Corinth is very similar to many churches today. In an attempt to win the culture, they begin to dress, speak, and act more worldly. And with the growing number of evangelical preachers that only desire to preach love and acceptance while shying away from preaching repentance, its as if our culture has begun to worship the false goddess Aphrodite. Just like the Corinthians.
Therefore what happens is that these churches end up drawing the world to a similar version of itself, but not to Christ. Just because a church calls itself a church, doesn’t mean it is truly the bride of Christ. Because if the Gospel that is preached is not what is used to attract men, then its not the true Gospel.
“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, a curse be on him!” 1 Corinthians 1:8.
So the questions remains, “What is the purpose of the church?” Paul gives us the answers through his example.
“And I, when I came to you, brothers, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 2:1-16.
Too many churches believe the power of God unto salvation lies in the charismatic ability of the preacher. These churches tend to want the preacher to tell more entertaining stories rather than exposition of scripture. The mentally is that if the preacher is just the right mix of relevant and funny, then maybe people will be saved.
However, Paul didn’t believe this. And Paul for sure didn’t exemplify this. According to what Paul wrote, he was not an eloquent or gifted communicator (2 Corinthians 11:6). He was not worried about if people would like him or his message. Paul was concerned with proclaiming truth.
Paul came proclaiming the testimony of Jesus Christ only. He was not there to entertain or to promote himself. The proclamation of the Gospel was the only trick he had in his bag. Paul went on to talk about the church participating in the Lord’s supper in 1 Corinthians 11. The supper itself is a proclamation of the atoning death of Christ and the redemption of sinful man.
And in 1 Corinthians 12, Paul emphasized the baptism of all men, Jew and Gentile. Once again, baptism being a mirror image and proclamation of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Also baptism represents the shedding of man’s sins and new life in holiness.
There are many more verses that beautifully expound on the purpose of the church. But they all center on one God given and defined purpose. The purpose of the church was never to try and fit in with the world. And our goal given by Christ was never to seek acceptance from the world by attempting to act and look more like them. This is conformity, not separation. We are called to stand firm in our separateness.
“Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you,” 2 Corinthians 6:17.
The purpose of the church is to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to edify & equip the saints through the sacraments and the preaching of the Word of the Lord.
As Christians as well as church leaders, our job is not to be the coolest church on the block. Our job is not to create an atmosphere where sinners can feel comfortable in their sins. And our job is not make sure congregants feel amused and entertained with their Sunday morning experience. Our purpose is to proclaim all of the scriptures, both the popular verses and the hard to swallow text. Our purpose is to proclaim the Gospel.
Are we hospitable and loving in our purpose? Absolutely we are. But not at the cost of altering or shifting the emphasis off of the purpose to which God called His bride. And not in an attempt to help God out by adding to the Gospel.
The lost cannot and will never be reached with worldly means. Both John the Baptist and Christ began their ministry by calling sinners to repent. They were not ashamed of the offense it might cause, because they knew that the Gospel was the only means to salvation.
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” Romans 1:16.
Do we believe this today? Or are we allowing the church to become a modern day version of Corinth? Is the modern day church influencing culture with its separateness from the world? Or is it being influenced more by its apparent conformity to the world? Remember, the definition of Holy is to be separate or set apart. Therefore a church that strives to look more like the world is not Holy.
“…without holiness no one will see the Lord.” Hebrews 12:14.
If what the writer of Hebrews wrote in the verse above is true, then conformity to the world should absolutely terrify us as believers. I fear that there are many modern day churches, much like Corinth, who should heed the warning that Christ gave the church in Ephesus.
“But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.” Revelation 2:4.
For those churches that have strayed, Jesus gives words of conviction and comfort…
“Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.” Revelation 2:5.
If your purpose is to serve hamburgers, then you cannot reach your customers by serving them pizza. Sure, you can add pizza to the menu. But you are no longer a hamburger joint. And if the preaching of the Word is not primary within the church, then it is not a church.
It was John Calvin who said, “The preacher has nothing to say outside of the Word of God.”
What is the purpose of your church? Is it image driven or Gospel grounded? Is your church more concerned with being relevant to everyone with its conformity to the world or glorifying Christ with it’s Holy separateness?
In Isaiah chapter 6, when Isaiah was brought to a state of repentance as a result of getting a glimpse of God, it was not that Isaiah saw the Lord to be so much like him that caused him to be in awe of God. Rather, it was the Holiness and separateness of God that led Isaiah to repentance. In the same manner, the church will be used by God to lead people to repentance not because of how similar we are to the world, but because of how separate we are from it.
The seraphim in chapter 6 of Isaiah were not declaring that God was “Relevant, relevant, relevant.” Rather, they cried out “Holy, Holy, Holy,” as they covered their eyes from His blinding glory. If the Holiness of God and His non conformity to the world is what leads men to repentance, shouldn’t we as the church embrace the same example?
If God has ordained that our purpose as the church is to reach the lost by means of His Gospel, then all other alterations and additions to it will be in vain. Never be ashamed of the Gospel. For it is our only hope, and the power unto salvation.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. ”Matthew 28:19-20.
We live in a very consumerist culture. Most everything that we do is guided by our personal preferences. We want to find satisfaction with the decisions that we make. From the clothes we buy, to the televisions shows we watch, our personal desires mold the choices we make each day. This mentality even affects our preferences in worship.
The most common question Christians will ask one another has to do with their preferences in style of worship. Contemporary or traditional? I’ve met traditionalists who think contemporary Christian music is of the devil quite literally. And I’ve known contemporary loving believers who consider the traditionalist to be legalistic in their choice of music.
The truth is that both contemporary and traditional worship can become idols within church. Both forms of worship can be glorifying to the Lord. And both can become stumbling blocks that rob God of His glory. Anytime we filter our worship preferences and judge them by our own personal opinion, it creates an environment where the worship of God is in crisis.
Far too often, people will base their preferences of worship style on their feelings. Some feel that the traditional sound of an organ puts them in a spiritual mood. And others feel that the upbeat twang of an electric guitar makes them want to raise their hands in praise. And the problem lies not in the musicians choice of instrument, but in the motives behind those singing praises.
David Garland wrote, “The danger for us is that we will want to keep up with our entertainment culture and its focus on the eyes by turning our worship into a religious stage show. We must walk a fine line between offering worship that is appealing and engaging without becoming simply a splashy performance, and worship that has depth without becoming tedious and flat.”
When we allow our feelings to play a determining factor in our preferences of worship, we unintentionally enter into worship with praising ourselves and not God. We are basically saying that we gravitate towards a certain worship style because it makes us feel a certain way and not because it glorifies God.
Also, music should never be used to coerce feelings of spirituality. Our feelings in worship should spring forth from the words that we are singing. And our words of praise must be grounded in the truth of God’s Word. True Christ centered worship cannot be fabricated.
The words that we are singing should be the focus of our worship, not the tempo of the song or the instruments that are being used. We should always ask, “Who is being glorified in this song?”
There are traditional songs that are very Christ honoring and totally focused on God’s glory. One of my personal favorite traditional songs of praise is ‘Behold Our God.” I also love to sing “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” written by the reformer Martin Luther.
I love these two traditional hymns not because of their beat, how they make me feel, or the instruments that are used, but because of the words. They are totally void of praising man and solely focused on glorifying God.
However, there are songs in the traditional genre are very popular but void of praising the Lord. My general rule of thumb when listening to the words in worship is to ask who is being sung about, God or me? For example, there is a widely renowned traditional hymn called “I Am a Friend of God.” The lyrics are very repetitive with the congregation repeating that they are a friend of God, and that He calls them friends.
Is the song heretical? No.
Who is the focus of this song? Me.
Also there are some very Christ honoring contemporary worship songs. Some of my personal favorites from the contemporary genre are “All I have is Christ” and “Show us Christ.” There are other contemporary forms of urban Christian music by artist such as Tripp Lee or Lecrae that are saturated with Gospel truth. Many are quick to dismiss these forms of music based on their fast tempo, but their lyrics are more Christ centered than many traditional hymns.
And there are also contemporary songs that make the hearers want to raise their hands, but give no praise to the Lord. On of the biggest pitfalls of modern contemporary Christian music is vain repetition. Saying the same thing over and over, and what is being said is based more on how we feel about God rather than speaking the truth of who He is.
Some contemporary songs unfortunately speak of God as if He was their spouse and not the sovereign Lord. One contemporary song that is very popular with younger believers describes the love of God as being like, “…a sloppy wet kiss.” Jesus is not our romantic interest. And to sing songs that portray Him as such is very disturbing, not to mention extremely man centered.
If the words that we sing could just as easily be sung as a love song to our significant other, then it’s not praise to God. Again, praise should be centered around leading our minds to dwell on truth. The purpose of praise is not to promote warm and fuzzy feelings within us. Worship should not be void of emotions, but it should not be led by emotion either. Singing Gospel truth leads us to experience emotions of thankfulness and gratitude towards God.
Genuine Worship is driven by what we KNOW to be true about God, not by what we feel. And it is the knowledge of His truth that should drive us into the emotional state of thankfulness and praise. Knowledge leads to emotion, not the other way around.
Also we should ask “Who does the worship draw attention to?” Some of the most God glorifying, humble worship that I’ve attended has been contemporary praise. But I have also seen contemporary worship being sung by bands that jumped all around the stage and gave the impression that you were attending a rock concert. The attention was primarily on the musicians and the excitement they created, and glorifying God was secondary to their performance.
Kent Hughes wrote, “Congregational worship has taken the form of something done for an audience as opposed to something done by a congregation. Stages, theater-seating, programs, “special music,” and the adoption of the posture and gestures of secular performers by worship leaders all suggest that the priority of the contemporary church is entertaining congregations, not worshiping God.”
So the issue at hand is not musical style. Both traditional and contemporary can be glorifying to God. The crux of this issue is in the content that is being sung. The question we must ask centers around if the lyrics are grounded in the character of God and in Biblical truth. Or are they aimed more towards generating an emotional reaction from a crowd.
When planning the Sunday morning songs, far too many worship leaders ask the question, “What do the people want to hear and experience?” Rather than asking, “What songs would speak the greatest truth and bring the most glory to God?” Sadly, there are far too many churches that are more concerned with their “image” rather than the glory of the Lord.
Praise is not performed for our preferences, but for God’s glory.
Aside from the Gospel of Jesus Christ, one of the greatest influences on me as a pastor has been the life and ministry of Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones. Even though he passed away in March of 1981, his sermons still speak volumes to modern-day Christians. Lloyd Jones has served as an example of what an evangelist should look like, particularly in how he viewed the church.
In 1943, Lloyd Jones became the pastor of Westminster Chapel. And he quickly became known for his utter dependance upon God as well as his belief in the power of the Gospel to draw men. Dr. Lloyd Jones didn’t believe in pragmatics and worldly means to draw people to the church. Rather, he believed that the preaching of the Word of God was all that was needed to draw men to Christ.
Lloyd Jones was also known for his passionate expository preaching. He did not preach sermons that started with the problems of man and then make his way to the scriptures. Instead, he always began with God’s Word and let it then speak to men. He held a very high view of God and the Church of Jesus Christ.
When planning his worship services, Lloyd Jones did not concern himself with what would please his congregation. His sole purpose in worship was to focus on pleasing and glorifying the Lord. His view of the church was not considered cool, and he was not worried about being culturally relevant.
Lloyd Jones was so opposed to pragmatic means taking the place of Gospel proclamation within the church that one of the first things he did when he became the pastor of the Westminster Chapel in London was to nail the pulpit to the floor. Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones unapologetically preached the Gospel as it was. And as a result thousands were drawn to Christ.
Unfortunately, this mindset of seeking the desires of the Lord in worship has been replaced with the seeker sensitive movement of modern-day culture. The seeker sensitive movement does just what it sounds like. It is predominantly concerned with pleasing the people (or seekers) rather than pleasing God.
Churches in this movement desire to look more like the world in order to become appealing to the masses. For many of these churches, Christ centered worship has been replaced with an environment resembling that of a secular rock concert, putting the spotlight on performers. Sermons that contain a rebuke of sin are considered judgmental. And calling people to a life of holiness and repentance is viewed as legalistic.
Seeker sensitive churches do not ask the question, “How far away from the line of sin can we flee?” Rather, they ask, “How close to the line can we get without stepping over?” Or in some extreme cases, they just move the line altogether.
Preachers in this movement are encouraged to be entertainers in part, and a serious focus on the scriptures is frowned upon. The concern is not how many people are growing in their sanctification, but how many warm bodies are in attendance.
“When amusement is necessary to get people to listen to the gospel there will be failure. This is not the method of Christ. To form an organization and provide all kinds of entertainment for young people, in order that they may come to the Bible classes, is to be foredoomed to failure.” -G. Campbell Morgan.
The concept of church discipline is almost non-existent within the seeker sensitive movement. Many times, the sins of the people in seeker sensitive churches (and their leaders) is tolerated or all together ignored. Transgressions go unaddressed as to not offend anyone who may be dealing with sin. And no mind is given to the fact that the Lord is offended by their tolerance of sin.
The seeker sensitive movement is driven by pragmatics and not the Gospel. It hopes to draw more people into the church with entertainment and a more worldly look. While some may have the best of intentions with these additions to worship, they actually belittle the Lord with their church makeover.
They are basically saying that the preaching of the Word of God is not enough to draw men, so we need to add more into it. And in doing this, they portray to everyone a very low view of God.
The high view of God and of the church that Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones held was not concocted by him, but rather had its roots traced back to the times of the reformation and even to the back to the Old Testament itself.
Throughout the scriptures, it is God who has detailed to man how He desires to be worshipped. In both the Old Testament and New, the worshipers of God would come to the temple in a spirit of reverence with no intentions except to give praise to the Lord. Man has always strayed into disobedience when either he began to twist or add to how the Lord asked to be worshipped.
We can see this perversion of worship in the historical account of Cain and Abel. The Lord told the brothers how he desired to be worshipped through the bringing of their sacrifices. The Lord had required an animal sacrifice of the flock’s first-born which Abel brought forth. However, Cain’s offering was an offering of fruit and not animal. Abel’s worship was acceptable to God, and Cain’s was not.
When the people of God were transporting the Ark of the Covenant in the book of 1 Samuel, one of the many requirements of the Lord was that no one touch the Ark. It was to be carried with poles. However, as the Ark was being carried, the men stumbled. Uzzah reached in an attempt to keep the Ark from falling and touched the Ark. And the Lord killed him on spot.
Why did God kill Uzzah for merely trying to do what he thought was best for the preservation of the Ark? No doubt, Uzzah was only trying to help! So why the harsh reaction from the Lord?
Because our worship and obedience should never be based on what we think is best, despite the circumstances. Rather worship and obedience to God should always be done as God requires, regardless of circumstances.
We see a similar scenario when the sons of Aaron came to worship the Lord. Again, God had laid out how he desire to be worshipped. But the brothers added strange fire to the Lord’s commands in hopes of pleasing Him. But instead of pleasing God with their additions, the Lord kills them.
This is so important to grasp.
Why did God kill the sons of Aaron? To read the account, they were only attempting to enhance their worship with the addition of this strange fire. During this time period, fire was used by the people who worshipped false pagan Gods. No doubt, it was seen as a cutting edge way of worship. It was alluring to people. And maybe even viewed as entertaining.
But again, we learn that worship is not defined by man. We do not get to decide how God might be better worshipped. It is not our job to give God a makeover so that He might seem less offensive and more relevant to the world.
Many modern-day seeker sensitive churches attempt to make their worship more worldly in hopes of alluring or entertaining their congregants. And in doing so, they fall into the same folly as did the sons of Aaron. Adding strange fire, in any form, to the worship of God is a dangerous game.
In Exodus, we find God’s people building a Golden Calf.
“And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.” And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” Exodus 32:4-6.
What many have failed to realize is that the Israelites were actually following some of the guidelines for worship that the Lord had laid out for them. They said in the midst of their pagan worship, “And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” They had heard this saying before from the Lord Himself when He rescued them from enslavement.
“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” Exodus 20:2.
They even offered sacrifices to their false God. But in the midst of this worship, they added in elements that were desirable to their flesh and not in the commands of God. The scripture says that as they worshipped, they rose up to play, which translates that they participated in sexual sin. Sin was tolerated, and repentance was shunned.
They were adhering to some of the Lord’s guidelines for worship, but also adding in their own elements and allowing sin to go unaddressed. It’s quite easy to shake our heads in disdain at the Israelites, and wonder how they could be so ignorant. When ironically, much of our church culture has molded their own golden calves in the form of entertaining worship services and sermons that are more or less inspirational speeches that are void of an urgent plea for repentance. This is the seeker sensitive movement.
Ezekiel chapter 37 is one of my favorite passages of scripture. It is the vision of the prophet Ezekiel standing in a valley of dead, dry, human bones. The Lord asks Ezekiel how the bones may live again? Ezekiel responds, “Lord, only you know.”
The Lord told Ezekiel to speak the Word of the Lord to the bones, and they came to life. But this didn’t happen immediately. Ezekiel spoke the Words of the Lord to the bones, and the bones came together with muscle and ligament, but still there was no breath in them. Ezekiel had to continue speaking the Word of the Lord, and eventually it was God who breathed new life into them.
Ezekiel could have easily grown frustrated. He could have said to the Lord, “I know a faster way to bring them to life.” The Word of the Lord is one that rebukes sinners and calls them to turn from their worldly ways.
What if Ezekiel would have said, “You know God, your Word is very harsh. So why don’t I just speak a word of encouragement to the bones and create an inviting environment so they might be more receptive?” Do you think God needed Ezekiel to add to the Word of the Lord in order for those bones to live? Absolutely not.
The dead bones were a shadow of the dead state of men in their sins. And Ezekiel represents the one speaking or preaching the Word of the Lord. Again, the Lord rhetorically asks the evangelist, “How can these bones live again?”
Many seeker sensitive preachers would respond, “The bones can live again by making worship fun and exciting!” Or perhaps they can live again if we just were not so hard on sin and we portrayed ourselves as being more relevant!”
But not Ezekiel. His response was one of utter helplessness. “Lord, only you know.”
There is no doubt that if our definition of church growth refers to how many people are in attendance on Sunday mornings, there is no doubt we could get faster results with seeker sensitive outreaches. But if we draw people to the Gospel with pragmatic means, we will have to continue to provide pragmatics to keep them. It’s easy to fill a church will proverbial dead bones. Its much more difficult to breathe life into them.
Consider this allegory. Imagine there was a King that was going away for a long time. And before his departure, he gave orders to his servants to take care of his bride.
His bride was beautiful and pure. And the kings orders were very detailed. He wanted her to be presented to the kingdom in a reverent manner. The king ordered that she wear no make up and be clothed in pure white.
After the king had departed, the servants noticed that very few people were coming to the kingdom. So in an attempt to draw more people into the kingdom, the servants changed the appearance of the king’s bride. They added make up, and clothed her in the most popular clothing of the day.
As a result thousands were drawn to the kingdom. But it was not the purity of the kingdom that drew them, but rather they came as a result of the new worldly make over. When the King the servants were elated. They expected a pat on the back for all the new people who had come to the kingdom.
But the king saw what they had done to his bride, and he knew that they had gone against what he had requested. They had made his Kingdom into a mockery, and had drawn people who wanted a more worldly kingdom, and not one that represented purity.
The king sent the servants away from the kingdom into outer darkness along with all of those who had praised the perversion of his bride.
Thomas Aquinas was once told that it seemed that many people in the world were seeking after God. This was contrary to Romans chapter 3, where Paul wrote that no man seeks after God. Aquinas responded that men were seeking after the benefits of God, but did not actually want God Himself. They did not want to submit to God. They merely wanted to paint Him in their own image. They wanted a golden calf.
Sadly, this remains true in our day. Seeker sensitive churches desire to be more pleasing to man rather than God. They tend to shy away from preaching against sin and obedience in exchange for sermons about life improvement and mood enhancement. They shutter at preaching the wrath and Holiness of God and focus most of the messages on love and acceptance. And they celebrate teachings centered around their church ‘image’ or ‘branding’ rather than Biblical doctrine.
Seeker sensitive churches would rather be relevant to the culture rather than reverent to God. And in essence, they focus on the attributes of God that build man up while watering down or all together casting away the truths of God that expose our human depravity and inability.
Pastor Voddie Baucham rightly said, “Seeker sensitive churches cherish the addition of an 11th commandment, which says ‘Thou shalt be nice.’ And this added commandment from man tends to trump the former ten from God.”
The church is the very bride of Christ. And the Lord has given specific instructions on how men are to be drawn to His kingdom through His bride. And it is God alone through the proclamation of His word that does the drawing. The church doesn’t need a worldly makeover in order to draw more people. It needs obedient saints that realize their inabilities and cling to the Word of the Lord.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5.
On the day of Judgement, we should not fear so much for the lost person as we should for those who considered themselves servants of God and took liberties with His church. When the King comes back, His bride should be a place of reverence. She should be prepared to be appealing to the King, and not dressed up to be attractive to those outside of the Kingdom.
In reality there is no such thing as a seeker sensitive church. Because again, the apostle Paul wrote in Romans chapter 3 that no one seeks God. All men, in their dead state of sin are born haters of God. They want the benefits of God without bowing their knees to Him. That is until God breaths life into them through the means of His spoken Word. So there are no true seekers except the Lord. And if we are going to be sensitive to someone, it should be to HIM.
I will conclude with a short video that mockingly spoofs these seeker sensitive churches. It would be quite comical if sadly it were not so true of many popular churches that we are currently seeing today. Christians should never seek a church that caters to meet their personal preferences. Rather we should seek a church that desires to glorify the Lord through the proclaiming the full council of His Word and one that stands on truth, regardless of how offensive it may be to our sinful flesh.
When believers are asked if they are of the Christian faith, most would have no problem confidently answering by saying, “Absolutely.” However, it is when the questions become more probing that some feel lost as to how to respond.
This primarily occurs when they are asked the question, “What does it mean to be a Christian?” What most people who are curious about Christianity mean when they ask this question is, “What had to occur in order for you to become a Christian?
Have you ever been asked this question personally?
If you are a believer in Jesus Christ and are outspoken about your faith, eventually you will. There are two overarching problems that cause many evangelicals to answer this question wrongly. First, there is the problem of tradition. And secondly, there is the problem of bad theology. Both of which I will address in this post.
When asked how they became a Christian, most people resort to answering that question by thinking back to personal experiences or the external traditions that surrounded their conversion. While traditions are not in and of themselves a bad thing, they can at times be elevated above the scriptures when not kept in their proper perspective.
In the South, the most common answer given by many when asked how they know that they are a Christian sounds something like this; “Well I’ve said a sinners prayer, I joined the church, and I stopped cussing.” All of these things are well and good, but none of them are correct when telling someone how to become a Christian. And much of this error is attributed to elevating man-made traditions over the Bible.
Sadly, there are even church websites that claim that the two things one must do in order to be saved is recite a prayer of invitation to Jesus and then to join a local body of believers. Again, both of these are good things, but they are not what makes a person Christian. And furthermore, Jesus doesn’t need an invitation to save.
As one pastor rightly said, “When God saves you, He doesn’t do it because you gave Him permission. He did it because He’s God.”
It is a good thing to pray to God. However, no where in the scriptures does it say that our words have the power to make us righteous before the Lord. And just because a person has a membership in a church doesn’t mean that they are saved.
C.S. Lewis once wrote, ““Going to church won’t make you a Christian any more that being in a garage makes you a car.”
If we tell people that we’ve gained our salvation by praying a prayer and committing to regular church attendance, it is telling them some of the effects of salvation but not the cause. It is not Biblical truth, but rather human tradition. We’ve made these very good things into God things.
There are many pastors that hold this formula of “A Sinners prayer plus church membership equals salvation” in such high esteem that to question it would be viewed as sacrilegious in their opinion. Our traditions are often given more authority than they deserve. Let me use an example to illustrate my point.
Sam loved it when his wife cooked her infamous roast beef. The recipe had been passed down from generation to generation in her family. But Sam noticed that before cooking the meal, his bride always would cut off the very end corners of the beef.
One day out of curiosity, Sam asked his wife, “Why is it that you cut the end corners of the beef off of the meat before cooking?” His wife answered that her mother had taught her to do it this way and she assumed that it was done to make the meat more moist.
At the next family get together, Sam asked his wife’s mother why it was that she always cut the ends off of the roast beef. His mother in law responded that her mother had taught her to do it that way, and she assumed that it was to make it more appealing to the eye.
Finally Sam asked his wife’s grandmother why she cut the ends off the roast beef. Sam said to her, “Your granddaughter said the reason is because it makes the beef more moist, and your daughter said it makes the meat more aesthetically pleasing.”
The old lady responded, “It doesn’t make the beef more moist and it has nothing to do with appearance. I cut off the ends off of the roast beef because my pans were always too small.”
When telling someone how to become a Christian, it is important that we answer them with truth, not tradition. Jesus said that a person must do only two things. That is to believe that Jesus Christ is Lord, and to repent (or turn from) our sins (Mark 1:15).
But what does it mean to be a Christian? What does it mean to repent of our sins as a result of our believe in Christ? This leads us into the theological fallacy that causes Christians to stumble when presented with questions regarding their faith.
Imagine that a pastor comes to the house of one of his partitioners who hasn’t been to church in a few months. During his visit, the pastor learns that this man has been out drinking and partying, and these sinful actions have kept him from having time for church.
Feeling guilty in front of his pastor, the man responds, “You are right pastor, I need to just stop going to the bars and quit the womanizing and starting coming to church.” Although these may be the exact words that the pastor wanted to hear, the answer was prompted by guilt, and not true repentance.
Essentially what the man was saying to the pastor was, “I know that I need to stop chasing after the sins that I love and begin doing the righteous things that I hate.” Constantly throughout the scriptures we see that God is not so much interested with our external actions as much as He is with our internal motivations for those actions.
Unless people understand The Gospel and the amazing grace of God they will never desire biblical repentance in their lives. It’s not enough to just tell people to repent. Because even repentance is something that must be granted to man by God (2 Timothy 2:25). We must lead them to feel the weight of their transgressions by exposing them to the holiness of God. And this is done with God’s Word.
Once a person begins to grasp the holiness of God, a right view of our sin comes clearly into focus. Once they begin to understand the undeserved grace that the Lord extends in spite of their sins, repentance becomes a desire rather than an unwanted burden. For more on this topic, see our book study on J.C. Ryle’s ‘Holiness’.
It isn’t behavioral modification that leads men to repentance. It’s a proper understanding of the Gospel. It is the love and kindness of God that leads a person to view repentance as a delight and not a duty.
“Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” Romans 2:4.
Finally, the question that tends to theologically stump many believers is when they are asked, “Why is it that God saves men?”
Many would say that the reason God saves men is in order to have fellowship with them. Others have said it was because He loved us so much. And although our salvation does bring us into fellowship with God due to His great love, neither God’s desire for fellowship or love for man were His motivations for saving. Both of these reasons given for why God saves are wrong because they center around us rather than Christ.
First off, God does not need us in order to have fellowship. We bring nothing to the table and are no benefit to God. To say that God needed man in order to have fellowship is to essentially say that there was harmony lacking within the Godhead. It is to say that there was not perfect preexisting fellowship between the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, and that what was lacking was man. This is blasphemy.
There is perfect fellowship within the trinity, and it has existed eternally. God didn’t save man because he needed something from us.
“…and human hands can’t serve his needs–for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need.” Acts 17:25.
And although God is love, His love for man is not rooted in us, but in Christ. God the Father doesn’t save because of His great affection for people, but because of His great love for Jesus. Our salvation is rooted in the Father’s love for His Son. Consider the words of the high priestly prayer of Christ in John 17.
“When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.
“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.
All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.” John 17:1-11.
Notice in the prayer of Jesus how many times Christ referred to believers as “...those you have given me.“ In eternity past, God the Father gave His Son a gift. The Father gave the Son a people, that He would receive glory, honor, and praise from them.
If you are a Christian, it is not because of something you did by your own power. And it is not primarily because God loved you so much that He just couldn’t live without you. We are Christian because of God’s great love for His Son Jesus. And as a result of this love, God the Father gave a group of people (believers) to the Son for no other reason than for Him to receive all honor and glory.
God doesn’t save because of us. The Father saved man because of His love for Christ the Son. There are those who have considered this truth to be extremely offensive. But this is only so because in our flesh, we want to view ourselves as the center piece to God’s affection.
The sole purpose of God creating man was so that Christ would be glorified by them.
“Bring all who claim me as their God, for I have made them for my glory. It was I who created them.'” Isaiah 43:7.
In our sinful flesh we would rather take Christ off of the throne and seat ourselves upon it, having Jesus then act as a servant to us. Sadly, this is a picture of a great majority of American Christianity. The cross was not a secondary reaction to man’s sin. The cross planned by the Father for the glory of the Son in eternity past.
“But God knew what would happen, and his prearranged plan was carried out when Jesus was betrayed.” Acts 2:23.
Christ is the centerpiece and the reason for the grace of God. And this is such an amazing thing for man. Because that same eternal love God the Father has for His Son covers all of those who are in Christ. God no longer sees believers as being covered in their sins, but rather covered in the precious blood of Jesus. The blood of Christ marks the believer as loved, righteous, and justified before the Lord.
What does it mean to be a Christian?
It means that we are eternally loved, forgiven, and kept by God the Father through Christ the Son. It means that we have been given a righteous standing that we could have never attained on our own. It means that we’ve had a change of mind, and we now desire the very righteousness that we once hated. It means that Jesus died in our place, and for our sins.
It means that we see the salvation that we’ve been given as something that we did not earn nor were we entitled to, but rather as an undeserved gift. And it means that we find our greatest joys emanating from conformity to Christ. Our salvation is of the Lord, and our reason for being is found in glorifying Him.
Mutt and Jeff.
That’s what people called us when my wife and I first began dating. It wasn’t until years later that I realized that Mutt and Jeff were iconic comic strip characters from the early 1900’s who were together all the time. Mutt was very tall and Jeff was extremely short. I stood at an abnormally proportioned 6 feet five inches tall weighing around 225 lbs. And my wife Lacy measured in at 5 feet 5 inches in height weighing around 100 lbs.
Ergo the nickname, Mutt and Jeff.
Now imagine for a moment that someone came up to me and said, “I’m very good friends with your wife, Lacy Parish.” However, this person then goes on to describe Lacy as being a very tall, heavy-set woman with red hair.
I have two options at this point in our conversation. I can say to them, “Well that’s just your interpretation of what my wife looks like.” Or I can personally introduce the person to my wife and let the truth of what is plainly before them speak for itself. I would have made my point and a defense against their erroneous statement by simply presenting them with the facts.
We defend against false statements not with opinion or interpretation, but by presenting truth.
This is an example of apologetics.
Apologetics comes from the greek word which means “to speak in defense.” Expository apologetics is the study of defending the Christian faith through the use of scripture. And it is a discipline that has been greatly neglected by many modern day Christians.
Contrary to what some may say, there is no such thing as a private faith in Christ. The scriptures themselves contradict this notion. We are called by Christ proclaim His name to the world (Matthew 28:19). Every Christian is considered and appointed to be a ‘Royal Priesthood’ (1 Peter 2:9), preaching His Gospel to everyone.
And in preaching the Gospel, opposition to our message is unavoidable. Therefore as believers in Christ we must be properly equipped and ready to make a defense of our faith. And if that defense is based on opinions, feelings, or anything other than the Word itself, our proclamation will be powerless.
Unfortunately, a great majority of professing believers stay relatively quite about their faith in Christ around unbelievers. Their reasoning for this is two-fold. First, because they don’t want to offend anyone with their beliefs. And secondly, they don’t feel up to the task if a situation arises where they may have to defend their beliefs.
So instead of standing on the truth of God’s Word, Christians will either try to change the subject or resort to saying, “Well that’s your interpretation.” If someone were to point to a fire and tell me that it was actually cold to touch, I wouldn’t say to them, “That is your interpretation of what fire feels like.” Rather I would tell them to touch it and see what happens.
Pastor Voddie Baucham used a similar illustration. Baucham asked his listeners to picture two medieval knights getting ready to do battle. The first knight draws his sword. The opposing knight then says, “I do not believe in your sword.” The first knight can either put his sword away and try to explain through his own reasoning why his sword really does exist. Or as Pastor Voddie says, “He can cut him with the sword.”
Instead of defending the truth of God’s Word, far too often many feel like they have to make apologies for the offense or sharp edge that it brings. As believers in Christ, we should be less concerned about offending people with God’s Word and more concerned about offending God with our sins.
But we live in a day and age where the golden rule is quoted more by Christians than the scriptures. Many will not defend their faith because of the possible offense that doing so may cause. Being nice to others is seen as better than speaking truth. And goodness knows that if Jesus Christ was known for anything, it was being non offensive, peaceful, and polite….right?
The scriptures describe God’s Word as a sword. So when our faith is questioned, and we answer with anything other than the Word of God, we are in essence putting away our sword and trying to explain why it exists. That is why it is so vital that Christians don’t merely believe in Christ, but they also know Him intimately through His word. Jesus specifically said in the Gospel of Matthew;
““Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Matthew 10:34.
This is not a Bible verse that is quoted too often in our world today. The sword Christ spoke of was the word of God. Jesus wasn’t concerned about offending others with the truth of scripture. Jesus was not concerned with being nice. He was concerned with speaking the truth. And He was unapologetic in doing so.
At the passover celebration when Jesus saw His Father’s house being blasphemed by setting up shop in the temple, Jesus didn’t ask them to Kindly remove their wares with a smile on His face. Jesus was outraged that their sin was offensive to God the Father, and He thrashed the temple in a rage. (Matthew 21:12-13).
Some would say that Jesus was only harsh with the self righteous Pharisees, and that He was meek and gentle with those who were not religious and lived in their sin out of ignorance. However this is not true. The Lord consistently rebuked unbelieving Israel as a whole for their rebellion all throughout the Old Testament.
“…and say to the land of Israel, ‘Thus says the LORD, “Behold, I am against you; and I will draw My sword out of its sheath and cut off from you the righteous and the wicked.” Ezekiel 21:3
Also when we read the book of Revelation, we see Christ returning with wrath against all those who are unGodly, not just those who are self righteous. And certainly not just the religious leaders.
When Jesus came as God incarnate the first time, the golden rule was not his priority. And when He returns, it will not be in hopes of making new friends. Read what John wrote in Revelation about the second coming of Christ.
“From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.” Revelation 19:15.
When Christ returns, the word of God, (which is the sword) will place a guilty sentence on those who are enemies of God. And the Lord Jesus Christ will destroy all of those who have opposed Him.
“If I sharpen My flashing sword, And My hand takes hold on justice, I will render vengeance on My adversaries, And I will repay those who hate Me.” Deuteronomy 32:41.
After the resurrection, when Peter was preaching to the thousands of unbelieving Jews at Pentecost, he didn’t resort to using human reasoning or give them his personal opinions on why they should believe in the risen Christ. And Peter didn’t tell them that if they didn’t believe that Christ had risen, then they could just agree to disagree based on differing interpretations of the resurrection.
Rather, Peter began quoting the prophet Joel from the Old Testament scriptures and King David regarding the prophecies of the Messiah. Peter did not coddle their sin, but rather pointed out that it was their unbelief that led to the crucifixion of their long awaited Messiah. In essence, Peter put all of Israel on trial by making a defense of his faith.
“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”Acts 2:36.
Peter was not worried about offending the Jews. He was offended by their unbelief. And Peter didn’t just explain to the Jews why they should believe that his sword existed. He pulled it out of its sheath and pierced them with it.
“Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart,” Acts 2:37.
Thousands came to faith in Christ that day as a result of Peter’s sermon. And it wasn’t Peter’s kindness that led them to repentance. It was his defense of the truth and the piercing blade of the Word of God pricking their hearts.
There are people who sit in churches each Sunday who have a problem with preachers that preach against sin in a serious manner from the pulpit. They are more concerned and afraid that someone who may be dealing with sin might get their feelings hurt if it is addressed rather than telling them the truth.
And unlike Peter, they are more offended that God’s Word cuts like a sword rather than realizing that the very sin they don’t want spoken of is an offense to God. Granted we should always speak the truth in love. But therein lies the issue. Because whenever you speak the truth of God’s Word to a lost person, it will cut and offend.
Regardless of how much proverbial honey you put on the Word of God, it’s still a sword. In order to defend our faith in our postmodern culture, we must be less concerned with being nice and more concerned with speaking truth.
Let me use an example. If your child were playing ball in the middle of the road and an 18 wheel truck we barreling down the road, just moments away from hitting your child, what would you rather I do? Would you rather I speak softly as not to hurt your child’s feelings? Maybe say something like, “I really wish you would get out of the road, but if you don’t feel like it that’s ok.”
Of course not! No one would be concerned about the feelings of the child when death could be seconds away. Any parent would want someone to scream as harshly and seriously as they could, “GET OUT OF THE ROAD…NOW!!!!!” The most unloving thing that I could do in that situation would be to focus on not offending the child.
Or if out of ignorance the child ignored the warning, claiming that there was no truck, is the correct response to agree to disagree based on differing interpretations of the situation? Absolutely not. The truth is that death is imminent. The response would be to do everything possible to put the child’s eyes upon the truth!
We shy away from presenting truth, because the truth of God’s Word is offensive to those who live in rebellion to it. This is our problem when it comes to defending the faith. We don’t like apologetics because it is not viewed by the world as nice. We don’t like apologetics because the Gospel is no longer viewed as life or death. It’s urgent message has been replaced by a soft plea that is referred to as an interpretation rather than truth.
“I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Luke 13:3.
This warning from our Lord is not a passive plea. It’s an urgent warning. And in our evangelism we should treat it as such. Countless people who do not know the Lord die unexpectedly on a daily basis who are walking down the middle of the eternal highway. And Hell is about to hit them full force. We speak truth because we love. We fight because souls are at stake.
“…but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,” 1 Peter 3:15.
Why are apologetics important?
Because we are called to be prepared to make a defense of our faith. Always. Who are we to defend it too? Anyone that may challenge it or ask the reason for our hope.
We speak truth with kindness and gentleness. But we dare not dull the blade of God’s sword that we present to them. And we had better not be concerned that it might pierce their sinful consciences. Lest the sword of almighty God be used upon us.
The sword of God’s Word will indeed cut down those who are flaunting their sins in His face. But this same sword of truth will be the salvation of His people. The lost will not be saved by our human reasoning or giving them our opinions or interpretations of what we think about His Word. The captives can only be set free by a sword.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is serious, not jovial. It is truth, and not personal preference or up to interpretation. In your evangelism and defense of the Gospel, place the truth of God’s word before your hearers and not your opinions. Only it has the power to save.
“Blessed are you, O Israel; Who is like you, a people saved by the LORD, Who is the shield of your help And the sword of your majesty! So your enemies will cringe before you, And you will tread upon their high places.” Deuteronomy 33:29.