Essentials of the Faith

September 12, 2013

Almost every Christian makes some distinction between essentials of the faith and non-essentials. The distinction itself is fairly uncontroversial. But what exactly are the essentials? That’s a bit tougher.

There are a number of ways to answer that question. We could look at church history and what God’s people have always believed. We could look at the ancient creeds and confessions of the church. We could look at the biggest themes of Scripture (e.g., covenant, love, glory, atonement) and the most important passages (e.g., Genesis 1, Exodus 20, Matthew 5-7, John 3, Romans 8). I want to take a little different route and consider what are the behaviors and beliefs without which Scripture say we are not saved. These are not requirement we must meet in order to save ourselves and earn God’s favor. Rather these are the essential beliefs and behaviors that will be manifest in the true Christian.

I don’t pretend that this is anywhere close to a comprehensive list from the Bible. But a list like this may be helpful in guarding against false teaching and examining our own lives.

Ten Essential Christian Behaviors

1. We repent and turn from our sins (Matt. 5:29-30; 11:20-24; Acts 2:38; 3:19; Heb. 10:26-27).

2. We forgive others (Matt. 6:14-15; 18:33-35).

3. We are undivided in our devotion to God and to Jesus Christ (Matt. 6:24; 10:38-39; 19:16-30; John 12:24-26).

4. We publicly acknowledge Jesus before others (Matt. 10:32-33; 21:33-44; 22:1-14; 26:24; John 5:23)

5. We obey God’s commands and do not make a practice of sinning (John 14:15; 1 John 3:9-10; 1 John 5:2).

6. We live a life that is fruitful and not fleshly (Matt. 12:33-37; 21:43; 24:36-51; 25:1-46; Gal. 5:18-24; 6:5; Heb 13:4; 1 Cor. 6:9-10).

7. We are humble and broken-hearted for our sin (Matt. 5:3; 18:3-4; 1 John 1:8-10).

8. We love God and love others (Matt. 22:34-40; John 11:35; 15:12; 1 Cor. 13:1-3; 1 John 3:14-15).

9. We must persevere in the faith (Heb. 6:4-6; 10:29-31; 12:12-17; 1 Cor. 9:24-27; 1 Tim. 5:11-12).

10. We help our natural family and church family when there are physical needs (1 Tim. 5:8; 6:18-19; 1 John 3:17).

Ten Essential Christian Beliefs

1. We must be born again by the Spirit of God (John 3:5).

2. Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (John 3:18, 36; 6:35, 40, 47, 53-58; 8:19, 24; 11:25-26; 12:48; 14:6; 15:23; 20:30-31; Gal. 3:7-9).

3. The benefits of the gospel come by faith, not by works of the law (Acts 15:8-11; Gal. 1:6-9; 2:16, 21; 3:10-12, 22).

4. Salvation comes from Jesus Christ, our faithful high priest, the radiance of God’s glory and our brother in the flesh (Col. 1:15-23; Heb. 2:4).

5. God exists and rewards those who seek him (Heb. 11:6, 16).

6. We are saved by Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Cor. 1:18).

7. The good news of the gospel is that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and he appeared to many witnesses (1 Cor. 15:1-11).

8. Jesus Christ was bodily resurrected and our bodies will be resurrected (1 Cor. 15:12-19).

9. Jesus was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory (1 Tim. 3:16; 1:3, 18-20; 6:3-4, 20-21).

10. God saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel (2 Tim. 1:8-14).

You could multiply lists like this tenfold. The point is not to be exhaustive, but to show by way of example just how many things the Bible considers to be essential and how precious these truths should be to the Christian. There are a number of behaviors in Scripture which serve to prove or disprove our Christian commitment. Likewise, there are a number of beliefs in Scripture without which we cannot be saved and which must be true if salvation is even possible. We would do well to study these beliefs and behaviors, embrace them, and promote and protect them with our fullest zeal and efforts.

-Kevin DeYoung

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The Trinity

September 8, 2013

“If there were no Trinity, there could be no incarnation, no objective redemption, and therefore no salvation; for there would then be no one capable of acting as Mediator between God and man. In his fallen condition man has neither the inclination nor the ability to redeem himself. All merely human works are defective and incapable of redeeming a single soul. Between the Holy God and sinful man there is an infinite gulf; and only through One who is Deity, who takes man’s nature upon Himself and suffers and dies in his stead, thus giving infinite value and dignity to that suffering and death, can man’s debt be paid. Nor could a Holy Spirit who comes short of Deity apply that redemption to human souls. Hence if salvation is to be had at all it must be of divine origin. If God were only unity, but not plurality, He might be our judge, but, so far as we can see, could not be our Saviour and sanctifier. The fact of the matter is that God is the way back to Himself, and that all of the hopes of our fallen race are centered in the truth of the Trinity.”

– Loraine Boettner, “The Trinity”

Picture of an Elder

August 27, 2013

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In the Christian Classic, Pilgrim’s Progress, written by John Bunyan in the 1670’s, the main character, Christian, arrives at the Interpreter’s house:

“Then said Interpreter, Come in; I will show you that which will be profitable to you. So he commanded his man to light the candle, and bid Christian to follow him; so he led him into a private room, and bid his man to open a door; the which when he had done, Christian saw the picture of a serious person hanging on the wall; and this was the fashion of it: he had eyes lifted up to Heaven, the best of books in his hand, the Law of truth was written upon his lips, the world was behind his back; he stood as if he pleaded with men and a crown of gold did hang over his head.

Then said Christian, What does this mean? The Interpreter answered: The man whose picture this is, is one of a thousand: he can beget children, travail in birth with children, and nurse them himself when they are born. And whereas you see him with his eyes lift up to heaven, the best of books in his hand, and the law of truth written on his lips: it is to show you, that his work is to know and unfold dark things to sinners; even as also you see him stand as if he pleaded with men. And whereas you see the world as cast behind him, and that a crown hands over his head; that is to show you, that slighting and despising the things that are present, for the love that he has to his Master’s service, he is sure in the world that comes next to have glory for his reward.

Now, said the Interpreter, I have shown you this picture first, because the man whose picture this is, is the only man whom the Lord of the place where you are going has authorized to be your guide in all difficult places you may meet with in the way: wherefore take good heed to what I have shown you, and bear well in your mind what you have seen, lest in your Journey you meet with some that pretend to lead you right, but their way goes down to death.”

Here is a portrait of a man whose eyes are lifted up to Heaven, hands hold tightly to the best of books, lips speak the Law of truth, back is turned resolutely away from the world, position is to stand and plead with men… This is a portrait of a faithful pastor.

The New Testament assumes that every Christian will be part of a local church and, as such, under the guidance of faithful elders who are watching over his/her soul. More explicitly, passages such as 1Thessalonians 5:12-13, Hebrews 13:7-18, and 1Timothy 5:17-25 exhort Christians, and the church in general, as to the kind of relationship and responsibilities we have to the elders that Christ has given.

As you consider nine primary responsibilities found in these three texts, ask yourself if you have the kind of relationship with your elders that you see described here.

1 Thessalonians 5:12-13
1. HONOR the work of your elders. (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13)

Hebrews 13:7-18
2. IMITATE the faith of your elders. (Hebrews 13:7-8)
3. FOLLOW the teaching of your elders. (Hebrews 13:9-16)
4. SUBMIT to the authority of your elders. (Hebrews 13:17)
5. PRAY for the faithfulness of your elders. (Hebrews 13:18)

1 Timothy 5:17-25
6. PROVIDE for the ministry of your elders. (1 Timothy 5:17-18)
7. PROTECT the reputation of your elders. (1 Timothy 5:19)
8. REBUKE the sin of your unrepentant elders. (1 Timothy 5:20-21)
9. PARTICIPATE in the selection of your elders. (1 Timothy 5:22)

-White

Repent and Believe

August 21, 2013

Amen!

It’s amazing how often people think they are giving the Christian message or have heard the gospel and yet there is nothing about sin and repentance.

The message of the gospel is not simply an invitation to know God’s love or enter his family or to live forever. That is all true. But the call to saving faith must always include a call to repentance.

Acts 13:38-39 “Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man [Jesus] forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the Law of Moses.”

The Law of Moses cannot free you. You cannot go to sleep at night knowing for certain that you are righteous before God based on your observance of the Decalogue. The law cannot set you free of your condemnation, that is why the High Priest had to offer sacrifices year after year, for centuries.

You cannot be freed from your sins by the intercession of your ancestors, or your moral religiosity. You cannot be set free from your sins because you have an active social conscience and you’re very engaged in issues of justice, or because you are a very fastidious homeschooling family. Only Jesus, the Savior, can set you free.

We have a problem. We are slaves to sin. We are under the curse and penalty of sin. We love sin. We live in sin. We were born in sin and apart from Christ, we die in sin.

The only freedom: repent and believe.

-DeYoung

Work

August 21, 2013

When I graduated college, I saw many of my Christian friends apply for campus ministry and rush to missions work in Africa for fear they would not find significance at a standard 9-to-5 desk job.

I watched plans to become dance teachers, chiropractors, and entrepreneurs dissolve as my peers gave up their dreams in order to pursue “full-time ministry.” They feared one day waking up and feeling they weren’t changing the world or advancing the kingdom of God. They were ready to do anything to avoid that gnawing feeling.

They aren’t alone. Today, three-quarters of Americans feel unfulfilled in their work — and job dissatisfaction may be an even greater struggle in the Christian community. What do we do, then, when we feel our work is useless?
Biblical Basis of Work

When thinking about our vocations, we should remember God created us to work. According to Genesis 2:15, work is not a curse, but a gift from God given to us before the fall. Work was—and still is—a tool for us to develop the creation and be salt and light in the world for the glory of God and his kingdom.

As a result of the fall, however, our work will at times be frustrating and difficult. So work can often seem useless. But Christ came to restore all things, which means even the most boring job is redeemable.
All Work Is God’s Work

Though some work may seem useless, Christians understand that all work is God’s work. Our work only seems insignificant because we fail to grasp the big picture. This is what economists refer to as the “knowledge problem.” The knowledge problem means we can’t always see the big picture because knowledge is dispersed among many people; no one person knows everything. In the vocational sense, this means we may not understand how our work is part of a much larger economic dynamic. If we can’t easily see how our work contributes to the common good, we may understate the effect of what we do.

Some positions make it difficult for workers to see the end product, but that certainly does not mean that their work is insignificant. Just because a factory worker doesn’t receive the instant gratification of seeing the final product that he helped to create doesn’t change the reality that his effort contributed to that product.

Hugh Whelchel articulates this idea well when he writes,
The work of believers possesses a significance which goes far beyond the visible results of that work. . . . All human work, however lowly, is capable of glorifying God. Work is the potentially productive act of praise.

It’s important to remember that the value of our work may never be fully realized in our lifetime. In medieval times, it could take hundreds of years to build a single cathedral. The laborer laying the cornerstone might never live to see the top of the steeple.

Clearly, the knowledge problem is also a faith problem. Rather than being discouraged in seemingly insignificant work, we can humbly rest in the confidence of God’s master plan.

However, there are a few cases in which work is truly useless. They occur in industries where demand for a product or service is immoral or if the product or service doesn’t meet the intended purpose. Examples include anything from pornographic material to goods that do not function properly.
Every Task Significant

All good work can be “Christian” and no work that serves mankind is useless. Even interns who enter contact names into a spreadsheet add significant value to their organization—and the organization’s mission—through their labor. Likewise, the factory worker who churns out widgets day after day is actively participating in the work of God.

Though some routine assignments seem unimportant, every task is significant if God has called you to it. We fulfill our call to Christian work when we put our hands to the task he has called us to do—and leave it to God to see the final outcome.

-Amyx

Ingredients for Evangelism

August 15, 2013

I’m convinced it’s better for your church to have an evangelistic culture than just a series of evangelistic programs.

In a church with a program-driven approach to evangelism, sharing the gospel can become something mostly for certain people at certain times, like when the evangelism team goes out visiting.

But in a church with an evangelistic culture, each member is encouraged to play a role within the larger church’s effort to reach the people around them with the message of salvation in Jesus. It becomes a part of every believer’s life.

THREE INGREDIENTS OF AN EVANGELISTIC CULTURE

If you are looking to create an evangelistic culture in your local church, here are three ingredients that may help.

1. The Gospel: the Fuel for an Evangelistic Culture

The gospel message is the fuel that feeds an evangelistic culture in a church. We all naturally share the things that excite our hearts. If the Philadelphia Eagles ever won the Super Bowl (I know…), you wouldn’t have much luck shutting me up about it. In the same way, if we want to create cultures in our churches where it’s natural for members to talk to about the gospel message with non-Christians, then we need to help our members fall deeply in love with the gospel.

That means they must understand the gospel message. It also means that the beauty of the gospel message must be put on display week in and week out in our churches. When Christians truly grasp the depth of their sin, the wonderful holiness of God, the perfection of Christ and the depth of his suffering for them, the power of his resurrection and the gift of eternal life for all who repent and believe, our affections for Christ will grow.

The gospel message also frees Christians from motivations that might lead them to dislike evangelism. The gospel says that we don’t have to evangelize in order to earn God’s love. Our position in God’s family isn’t dependent on how often or how well we share the gospel. Instead we can be certain of God’s love, which frees us from the overwhelming concern for the opinions of people around us that makes us afraid to speak up about Jesus.

2. Prayer: the Power of an Evangelistic Culture

Second, a church that is sharing the gospel must be committed to prayer. Evangelism seems a hopeless task. We are calling spiritually dead people to embrace life. How are we going to equip and encourage people for that work? It seems utterly futile.

That’s why an evangelistic culture must begin with a culture of prayer. In prayer, Christians go to the Lord with a confession of their insufficiency for the task of evangelism and his sufficient strength. God alone can make the seeds that we sow spring up to eternal life in our hearers, and so we must begin with prayer.

In our church, this particularly happens on Sunday evenings. We gather together as a congregation to pray that the Lord would spread his gospel through us. People share gospel conversations that they’ve had during the previous week, or opportunities that they hope to have in the coming week.

This prayer time serves a few purposes. First, it commits these things to the Lord, who normally has us ask before we receive in these matters (James 4:2).

Second, it involves the whole church in the work of sharing the gospel. It’s not a burden or a project that we undertake alone, but we have brothers and sisters to pray and encourage us.

Third, this sharing makes it clear that evangelism is the work of “normal” Christians. The people asking for prayer aren’t usually pastors or elders or gifted evangelists. They are just believers who have embraced their calling to share the good news with the people around them.

Finally, this prayer time gives people a good place to begin reaching out to their neighbors and co-workers. If people are nervous or uncertain about sharing the good news, we encourage them to begin with prayer. They can pray that the Lord would give them opportunities, and that he would bring people who need the gospel to their attention. That’s a much less intimidating first step than rushing out with a tract in hand.

3. Training: the Blueprint for an Evangelistic Culture.

A third ingredient is training, the blueprint for an evangelistic culture. Remember that the goal is for our churches to have evangelistic cultures rather than merely evangelistic programs. But that doesn’t mean that there is no place for church leaders to organize and equip people to share the gospel. In fact, a love for the gospel and prayer may not be enough to motivate Christians to a lifestyle of evangelism.

While evangelism will come naturally to some people in your congregation, there will be many people who love the gospel and pray faithfully but still need to be equipped to share the gospel. Here are a few ways church leaders can equip the congregation:

Recommend good books on the topic. J.I. Packer’s Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God and Mack Stiles’ Speaking of Jesus are two of my favorites. Read these books with the people you are discipling, give them away to people who will read them, or make them available through you church library.

Bring people with you when you have a chance to share the gospel. When I am invited to give an evangelistic talk, I bring a younger person from the church with me. It’s a good opportunity to model for them how to share the good news.

Address unbelievers in your sermons. Your people will grow from listening to you engage people who don’t know Jesus with the claims of the gospel. Take time to thoughtfully consider the questions or objections that an unbeliever might have to your sermon’s message, and then speak to those issues.

Run evangelistic meetings where people can bring friends and get help sharing the gospel. If your church can host an evangelistic coffee house meeting or a program like Christianity Explored, you will give opportunities for your people to invite their friends and observe how they can share the gospel as well.

BETTER THAN THE BEST PROGRAM

There is no program that can create an evangelistic culture in your church. Instead, it will require church leaders to teach, model, and pray until members of the church realize that sharing the gospel is their privilege and responsibility. A church with such a culture will be far more fruitful and effective than a church with even the most effective programs and strategies.

Mike McKinley is the senior pastor of Sterling Park Baptist Church in Sterling, Virginia, and is the author, most recently, of The Devil Made Me Do It (Good Book Company, 2013).

Managing Conflict

August 13, 2013

Which one are you?

Relationships break down for a variety of reasons, but some feuds and fights could easily be prevented if, during the initial stages of conflict, disagreements were handled wisely. Relationships are more likely preserved when people on both sides recognize the different ways that people go about managing and resolving conflict.

In Cross-Cultural Conflict: Building Relationships for Effective Ministry, Duane Elmer draws on the work of R. H. Thomas and K. W. Kilmann to summarize five ways those of us in the West handle conflict:

1. The Win-Lose Strategy

“Win-lose people assume that everything should be seen as right or wrong,” Elmer writes (34). For this reason, they see things in black and white and resist any notion of “gray.” Negotiation is a form of compromise. When differences of opinion arise, the win-lose person assumes that the one who disagrees is the one who is wrong.

Flexibility is a sign of weakness. Energy should be expended not in trying to find common ground, but in trying to convince the other person of the wrongness of their viewpoint. Elmer lists a variety of tactics used to convince others to change their minds: physical force, threats, intimidation, silence, verbiage and volume, pointing out past failures, pulling rank, rewarding or spiritual one-upmanship (35).

It is not surprising that a win-lose person is willing to sacrifice relationships in order to get their way and remain “right.” The way to confront a win-lose person is to avoid an argument and instead rely on a group to show the person where they are wrong and why it is important for them to resist being dogmatic or stubborn in areas of preference, not principle.

There are, of course, certain areas we should be dogmatically unchanging in (certain doctrinal commitments or moral standards). But to allow convictions on personal matters become all-encompassing, to the point where relationships break down due to unbending dogmatism, is to go beyond Scripture and fail to take into consideration the possible flaws in one’s own thinking. Elmer recommends we “be dogmatic and stubborn where God is, and flexible where He is” (36). This is good advice, but win-lose people too often assume that their position and God’s are the same!

2. Avoidance

On the opposite spectrum of the win-lose person, those who avoid disagreement assume that differences are always bad because they might lead to relational breakdown. Confrontational conflict may cause a rupture in the relationship; therefore, we ought to minimize the opportunities for confrontation and hope that the disagreements will resolve themselves.

There may be times when avoidance of conflict is the best approach. After all, we should not crave confrontation in our relationships. Wisdom may dictate a season of silence, in which heated emotions have time to cool off so that reason can prevail.

But those who tend to avoid conflict usually wind up with weak and superficial relationships that are unable to stand up under the strain of differing opinions. Important decisions are postponed. Issues bubbling up under the surface are never addressed, and as a result, relationships remain surface level. Avoiding conflict at all costs is often a sign of weakness and insecurity.

3. Giving In

Another approach to managing conflict is to give in to the stronger person. In order to accommodate another point of view or smooth over the differences, this person yields to others and maintains peace.

Like those who avoid conflict, relationships are seen as more important than “being right.” But unlike the “avoiders,” those who give in are more likely to yield so that the relationship can still be robust and disagreement be minimized.

Elmer calls this person a “people-pleaser.” They tend to minimize their difference of opinion to the point their own personal goals and values are forfeited. Occasionally, the one who gives in will be pushed to the limit and will adopt a win-lose posture on other issues. But for the most part, they are likely to give up their own viewpoint in order to keep the peace.

There are times when giving in is the wisest option. Elmer points out certain times when giving in is the preferred choice. For example, when the issue is of little consequence and the relationship is obviously more important than the disagreement, it is wise to admit you may be wrong.

Another example would be to give in at one point in order to win at a different point. Every relationship has a built-in amount of give-and-take.

Or perhaps you might give in so that others may have room to make their own mistakes, face the consequences, and grow as a result. The difficulty is in knowing when to give in and when to stand firm.

4. Compromise

For the win-lose person, compromise is the same as capitulation and should always be avoided. But there are many people who choose to view conflict from a “realistic” perspective in which it is already assumed that no one will get everything they want all the time. Because it is impossible for everyone to have everything, they believe all people should be willing to give a little in order to get a little. “Life is the art of negotiating to some happy middle ground,” Elmer writes (41).

Compromise is the best approach when both sides are pushing to extremes, asking for more than they want, so that in the end all are expected to meet in the middle and still walk away with most of their desires met. In theory, everyone should be happy with the end result.

But, as Elmer points out, this method means both parties must be willing to give up something important to them (42). The risk is that the “happy middle ground” will make both sides unsatisfied and unhappy. Compromise is also problematic if one of the negotiating parties has disproportionate power. At this point, it is likely that the powerful party will get more of its demands and the other party will walk away dissatisfied with the results.

5. Carefronting

According to Elmer, “carefronting means directly approaching the other person in a caring way so that achieving a win-win solution is most likely” (42). In order to accomplish this task, the two parties must agree to come together, commit to preserve the relationship, creatively find a solution that satisfies both sides, utilize reason over emotion, separate the person from the issue, and strive for a solution that will bring peace.

Many assume that carefronting is the biblical approach to resolving conflict. Indeed, there are similarities with Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 18:15-17 for confronting a wayward brother or sister in Christ.

But Elmer cautions us against thinking that carefronting is the only model of conflict resolution. Certain cultural tendencies may make this model more applicable in some settings as opposed to others.

What About You?

Which of these approaches do you tend toward? How have you resolved conflicts with people who manage conflict differently than you do?

Trevin Wax

Forgiveness

August 13, 2013

Christianity is all about forgiveness. And a great marriage is, in the words of Ruth Bell Graham, “the union of two good forgivers.” Two imperfect people living together will need to forgive each other multiple times–maybe even each day. And by the way, If you add children to the family, the need for forgiveness will be compounded because of the increased number of sinful people who are living under one roof!

Forgive

August 12, 2013

As Henri Nouwen wrote, “Forgiveness is the name of love practiced among people who love poorly.” And because we love poorly, we must forgive frequently.

Reasoning

August 9, 2013

Francis Schaeffer once described moral relativists as those “who have both feet firmly planted in mid-air.” (See Koukl and Beckwith’s helpful book built on that title.)

An even more vivid illustration is that of Cornelius Van Til who sought to describe the impossibility of unbelieving reasoning if their worldview is employed consistently:

Suppose we think of a man made of water in an infinitely extended and bottomless ocean of water.

Desiring to get out of water, he makes a ladder of water.

He sets this ladder upon the water and against the water and then attempts to climb out of the water.

So hopeless and senseless a picture must be drawn of the natural man’s methodology based as it is upon the assumption that time or chance is ultimate. On his assumption his own rationality is a product of chance. On his assumption even the laws of logic which he employs are products of chance. The rationality and purpose that he may be searching for are still bound to be products of chance.

—Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith (P&R, 1972), p. 102. (The link is to the newer edition edited by K. Scott Oliphint, but the page number is from the original edition.)

For a similar argument from C.S. Lewis, see Victor Reppert’s C.S. Lewis’s Dangerous Idea: In Defense of the Argument from Reason (IVP, 2003).

Justin Taylor