What Is A Christian?

Sunday we talked about what it means to be a Christian. There are two billion people in the world that call themselves Christians. But with so many different denominations and faith perspectives claiming differing definitions of what a Christian really is, it is really important that we understand what the Bible indicates determines a Christian, and that we coldly proclaim it with clarity.

There is no indication in the New Testament that Jesus was starting a new religion. For the most part, religion is about giving definition to practices and beliefs that describe what is believed to be required by a Deity. But Jesus calls us to a relationship. Jesus calls us to follow Him. A Christian is someone who has committed to following Jesus in a dynamic, growing relationship.

The problem is that many who claim to be Christians are mistaken about what it means to follow Christ. Many think they are Christians simply because they believe that Jesus died and rose again. However, even Satan believes that; though Satan will not surrender to following Him as Lord. Numerous others think they are following Jesus when, in reality, they are following a Jesus of their imagination, or tradition they have inherited. In fact, I would suggest that one cannot truly follow Christ without a Biblical understanding of Who He claimed to be and what He claims about His mission and message.

For instance, surveys indicate that there are a sizable numbers of individuals who claim to be Christians, while maintaining that it is arrogant to suggest that Jesus alone is sufficient and indispensable to one’s salvation. But Jesus Himself claimed, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:5–7)  Not only did claim to be the exclusive way to be reconciled to the Father; Jesus claimed to be one with the Father. A close reading of the New Testament indicates that Jesus was executed because He claimed to be God. In fact, on more than one occasion, He predicted that He would be killed and then rise again in three days. The evidence that He did exactly that is overwhelming, and His resurrection from the dead verifies and vindicates both His person and His claims.

In other words, while people might claim the name of Jesus, if they (we) are to truly follow Him we must believe His claims and respond before Him accordingly. To say that I am a Christian, but that I believe there are other means by which people can get to Heaven and be reconciled to God is to imply that either Jesus is mistaken or deceptive; or just as tragically, that His death on our behalf was, in fact, unnecessary and wasted (if there is indeed another way).

Jesus calls us to an ongoing relationship of walking with Him in the way in which He leads us. If Jesus is the only way, it is imperative that we understand Who He is and how to discern His voice. We dare not trust our imagination. We must allow Jesus to describe Himself and His path for us, and the only place to find that is in God’s Holy Word.

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Jesus said that if we abide in Him and His words abide in us that we will bear much fruit. Jesus also makes it clear that we, the branches, cannot bear fruit on our own, but that if we remain connected to the Vine (Jesus), we will see fruit in keeping with Him. That, of course, begs the question … What kind of fruit should we see, and is it indeed present in our lives? We know that it will glorify God, and we know that it will verify that we are truly disciples of Jesus.

It seems rather clear to me that the fruit we are looking for fits under the heading of love. Consider how Jesus proceeds in the verses that follow.

“By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:7–11)

Jesus seems to identify the fruit here. The fruit of the true Vine is seen as the Father loves the Son; as that same love is then evidenced in Jesus for us; and now should be displayed in our lives for others. We stay connected with His love by walking with Him in obedience. Ultimately that will result in joy for us.

We can’t help but be reminded of Galatians 5.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Gal 5:21–23)

The fruit of the Spirit in our lives begins with love and joy. So, we ask ourselves, “Do I see the fruit of love and joy in my life?” What should it look like? And is it glorifying God as we hope? Does the culture around us recognize that we are true followers of Christ because they see this fruit? Or another way of approaching the question is: When the world looks at what is growing and hanging from our lives, do they see an authentic representation of the character and life of Jesus? It seems to me that it is critical for everyone one of us who claim the name of Christ to give the question serious reflection.

 

 

 

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Effective Prayer

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When I was a child I learned Matthew 7:7. ““Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (Matt 7:7) Even as a child, I realized that this couldn’t be a blank check that God would answer whatever I asked. There must be some sort of conditions that enabled it to be true.

I remember having the same thoughts when I read “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matt 18:18) What an incredible amount of power that implies. Surely there must be conditions that enable that to be true. It’s hard to imagine that we can control what is done in heaven. Who do we think we are? Are we assume that if we say it, God must do it? And yet, Jesus makes this statement, not once, but twice in Matthew’s gospel and clearly on different occasions, In chapter 18 it follows His instructions on church discipline; and in chapter 16 it is part of His promise to establish His church and His declaration, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”” (Matt 16:19) So it clearly refers to the the church and is important enough to be mentioned more than once. So what are we to make of this promise? Can we ask for anything and believe heaven is compelled to fulfill the request?

Watchmen Nee speaks about this in his book entitled “Let Us Pray.”

By asking all these questions we come to realize that prayer is a great mystery. For here we see a principle of God’s working, which is, that God’s people must pray before God himself will rise up and work: His will is only to be realized through the prayers of those who belong to Him: the prayers of the believers are to accomplish His will: God will not fulfill His will alone —He will perform only after His people show their sympathy in prayers.     

 Such being the case, it can therefore be said that prayer is none other than an act of the believer working together with God. Prayer is the union of the believer’s thought with the will of God. The prayer which a believer utters on earth is but the voicing of the Lord’s will in heaven. Prayer is not the expressing of our wish for God to yield to our petition and fill up our selfish desire .  [Nee, Watchman (2009-09-15). Let Us Pray (Kindle Locations 42-49). Christian Fellowship Publishers. Kindle Edition.]

This, of course, calls to mind numerous other references to prayer:

 “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. (John 14:13)
If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  (John  15:7)
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.  (John 15: 16)
 In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.” (John 16:23)

Clearly these passages indicate that those prayers that are offered ‘in Jesus Name’ by those who ‘abide in Him’ are those that are assured of God’s response. Nee is suggesting that abiding in Christ and praying in His name is to pray in accordance with His will. Therefore, our prayers do not dictate God’s response, but instead, discern what God is already prepared to do and join with Him in seeking it’s fulfillment.

Most of us, I’m sure, are more naturally prone to pray according to our sense of need than we are according to God’s will. That’s certainly understandable, because our needs demand our attention. If you are suffering from a strained hip, the pain itself makes it the first thing you think of. But just because it is understandable doesn’t mean that it is preferable. The discipline of considering what God’s will is should push us beyond seeking His will for our need to the point of seeking God’s  willoverall. Praying that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven will hopefully rearrange our own priories to the point that we are participating with God in those things that God deems most necessary. God not only wants our support and participation; He may very well be waiting on it, so that what we bind on earth is bound in heaven and when we as His church loose things through praying in God’s will and acting accordingly, God will loose the power of heaven in response.

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Joy In The Holy Spirit

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Sunday we talked about friendship with the Holy Spirit. It was not suggested that we reduce the Holy Spirit to our ‘Best Bud’ as it were, because the Holy Spirit is still God. The point is that He wants to be our closest Confidant and Friend. He abides in us always and intends to be our Helper in our spiritual lives so that we will become more like Jesus and carry out His work in the world. The Bible tells us we should be filled with the Spirit and that we should walk in the Spirit. That sounds like a pretty close relationship; true koinonia.

We all know that it is important to choose our friends wisely. We tend to become like those we hang out with. Therefore, if we are hanging out with the Spirit of Jesus Christ, we should begin to display His characteristics, like joy.

In Romans, Paul emphasizes that “…the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Rom 14:16–17)  Clearly, our fellowship with the Holy Spirit should produce joy. Joy is also listed in Galatians 5 as part of the fruit of the Spirit.

According to Hebrews 1:8-9, Jesus was anointed with the oil of gladness. The Lord Himself was filled with joy and gladness. And then that reminds me of Nehemiah 8:10 where we read that “the joy of the Lord is our strength.”

While none of these passages explicitly say so, I can’t help but think that we are strengthened for life as we fellowship with the Holy Spirit. One of the by-products of friendship with the Holy Spirit is that we enjoy His joy over us and that we are then strengthened to face life. Knowing that the Lord is pleased with our devotion, praise, trust and service strengthens us to endure all challenges. It seems to me that our intimate friendship with the Spirit of God is increases both our joy and strength in life.

What do you think about the relationship between your joy and God. What are other factors that come into play?

What do you see as the benefits of increased friendship with the Holy Spirit? What keeps us from taking advantage of the best relationship ever made available to us? What advice might you suggest to best enhance our fellowship with the indwelling Spirit?

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Mindful Of The Spirit

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This passage from Nehemiah 9 highlights God’s abundant provision for His people during their journey through the wilderness. As believers in Jesus, we serve the same all-sufficient God. Sadly, the Israelites were so caught up in the difficulties of the journey, that they failed to truely appreciate God’s provision and blessing.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I can’t help but recognize that we too are struggling through a sort of wilderness. As the people of God, we should rest and rejoice in God’s provision. Reading through this passage we can’t help but realize the similarities between the Lord’s provision then and His provision for us now. Especially in verse 20, when we read,  “You gave your good Spirit to instruct them.”  How much more have we been blessed by the Holy Spirit residing within us always. It’s almost more than the mind can fathom.

Charles Spurgeon wrote:

Common, too common, is the sin of forgetting the Holy Spirit. This is folly and ingratitude. He deserves better from us, for He is good, supremely good. As God, He is good essentially. He shares in the threefold ascription of “Holy, holy, holy” that ascends to the Triune God. He is unmixed purity, truth, and grace. He is good benevolently, tenderly bearing with our waywardness, striving with our rebellious wills, quickening us from our death in sin, and then training us for heaven as a loving father trains his children. How generous, forgiving, and tender is this patient Spirit of God. He is good operatively.

All His works are good in the most eminent degree: He suggests good thoughts, prompts good actions, reveals good truths, applies good promises, assists in good attainments, and leads to good results. There is no spiritual good in all the world of which He is not the author and sustainer, and heaven itself will owe the perfect character of its redeemed inhabitants to His work. He is good officially: Whether as Comforter, Instructor, Guide, Sanctifier, Quickener, or Intercessor, He fulfills His office well, and each work is filled with the highest good to the church of God.

As you consider these uniquely sufficient qualities that the Holy Spirit brings to our lives, which might you appreciate the most? In what ways might we better honor the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives and be more mindful of Him? Personally, I have to say that it certainly expands my perception of what it might mean to grieve the Holy Spirit.

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What’s Your Attitude Toward The Gifts Of The Spirit?

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In thinking about spiritual gifts, we suggested Sunday that the gifts are not functioning as Jesus intended for His Church. Particularly in America, the Church seems to be growing more and more impotent. While certain churches may be growing in popularity and growing in attendance, the Christian impact on our culture is diminishing and followers of Christ are not spreading the Good News of Jesus as the Master would want us to.

I saw a shocking statistic from a Gallup survey which discovered that only 10% of American church members are active in any kind of ministry. How do you think Jesus feels about that? Is it any wonder that the Church is a sleeping giant? But maybe even more disappointing is that the Gallup survey said that 50% of church members have no interest in serving in any ministry at all. Imagine! Half of all church members say that they would rather remain as spectators. 

Of course, Jesus’ expectation for His Church, the Body of Christ, is that every Christian, saved by His personal sacrifice, would then actively use the gifts and talents given by the Holy Spirit for Christ honoring ministry. While the Lord certainly understands our weakness even better than we do ourselves, I can’t help but think that He is disappointed, having given us His indwelling Spirit and whatever gifts we need to carry out our assignment, only to find half the church doesn’t seem to care..

What thoughts might you have about this? Do you think the Gallop pole is accurate? What is the problem for those who responded to the survey with little enthusiasm for ministry? Is it that we have failed to identify our spiritual gifts and therefore don’t feel adequately equipped? Is the lack of desire caused by something different? If we have been redeemed, called and enlisted in the Lord’s mission and given gifts for service, what prevents us from responding as the Master had hoped? Particularly as you read 1 Peter 4:9-11, what should be our attitude toward spiritual gifts and our role as Christians?

 

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What Is The Baptism With The Holy Spirit?

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This past Sunday we discussed the Biblical promise that Jesus would baptize His followers with the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist makes it clear before Jesus’ ministry began (Luke 3:16) and Jesus reemphasized the same in Acts 1:4-5. There are those who feel that because Paul states in 1 Corinthians 12:13 that we are baptized by the Spirit into the Body of Christ, that the same meaning is to be applied in Luke and Acts. Those who hold to this perspective  understand that when we are born again, we receive the Holy Spirit and are baptized into the Body of Christ at that time, which is the baptism of the Holy Spirit. John MacArthur is  an example of someone I greatly respect who I think holds to this view.

However, Sunday I explained why I believe that the baptism that both John the Baptist and Jesus spoke of was a different experience where the Holy Spirit is poured out on believers to empower them for bold and effective ministry for Christ. This view is supported by John Piper, for instance. The reasons I lean toward this understanding are, in my opinion, pretty strong. For instance when the promised baptism actually happened at Pentecost, Luke says that they were all filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4), and the eventual result was that 3,000 were added to the church (Acts 2:41) (a pattern that occurs repeatedly throughout the book of Acts). Furthermore, Jesus’ parallel statements in Acts 1:5 and Luke 24:49 indicate that baptism with the Holy Spirit is to be understood as being “clothed with power from on high.”

More essential to our blog discussion is that when Peter interprets the baptism with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, he quotes Joel 2:28. As I stated in church, if the baptism with the Holy Spirit was the same as receiving the indwelling Spirit when we are born again, we might expect Peter to have quoted Ezekiel 11:19 or Ezekiel 36:26-27. Peter uses Joel, where we read of visions and prophetic proclamation rather than Ezekiel’s description of the change of heart that the Holy Spirit brings.

I would be interested in your thoughts concerning Peter’s choice in references. Does it make any difference in your understanding of the baptism with the Holy Spirit as it is described in Acts?  Do you see a difference between being filled with the Spirit and being baptized with the Spirit? Do you think the baptism being spoken of in 1 Corinthians 12 is the same as that in Acts 1 & 2? Do you see a problem with the two referring to different aspects of the Holy Spirit’s ministry, or can both be true … and please defend your opinion with Scripture. Finally, what difference does it make in your life and the life of the Church? Personally, I think that part of the reason the Church lacks in it’s ability to reach the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and transform our culture for Him is because we are trying to do the best we can, but without the baptism or filling of the Holy Spirit. I’m reminded of God’s words to Zerubbabel in Zechariah 4:6

“Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts.” (Zech 4:6)

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