Repent and Believe

Today we get to the second command in the Win – Infant – Membership level; Repent and Believe the Gospel (Mark 1:14-15). Here is the overview of the six commands at this level:

  1. Come and See – Invitation – John 1:35-51
  2. Repent and Believe – Salvation – Mark 1:14-15, Luke 4:14-15
  3. Fear, a Barrier to Faith – Luke 12:4-12
  4. Greed, a Barrier to Faith – Luke 12:13-21
  5. Baptism – Matthew 28:19-20
  6. Evangelism – John 4:3-42

Why did Jesus withdraw to Galilee? (Mark 1:14)

  1. Political pressure of the Pharisees (John 4:1).
  2. John the Baptist into prison by Herod (Matthew 4:12, Mark 1:14, Luke 3:19-20).
  3. The influence of the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:14).

On the way, Jesus ministers to non-religious people (John 4:5-42, John 4:46-54).

This section and command is about the essence of the Good News, if we receive the gospel in faith and repent of our sin. It also involves humility since I am admitting that I need forgiveness, am a sinner, and I cannot trust in in myself for my salvation. Notice that Jesus’ teaching is identical to the message of John the Baptist (Matthew 3:2, 8, 11, Mark 1:4, 1:15, Luke 3:3, 8, Acts 13:24, 19:4).

Repentance is a central theme in the gospel:

  1. Jesus preached the necessity of repentance, (Matthew 4:17, 9:13, 11:20-21, 12:41, Mark 1:15, 2:17, Luke 5:31-32, 11:32, 13:3-5, 15:7, 10, 16:30, 24:47).
  2. Disciples preached the message of repentance (Mark 6:12).
  3. Repentance is illustrated in the book of Acts:
    1. Peter, Acts 2:38, 3:19, 8:22, 11:18.
    2. Paul, Acts 17:30, 20:21, 26:20.
  4. Repentance is amplified in the epistles:
    1. By Paul writes about repentance in Romans 2:4, 2 Corinthians 7:9-10, 2 Timothy 2:25.
    2. By the writer of Hebrews 6:1, 6, 12:17.
    3. By Peter, 2 Peter 3:9.
    4. By John, Revelation 9:20-21, 16:9, 11.

What was the message of Jesus? (Matthew 4:17, Mark 1:14-15, Galatians 1:6-9, 1 Corinthians 15:1-4).

  1. Repent and believe IN the gospel
  2. The kingdom of heaven (or kingdom of God) is at hand.
  3. Hope and mercy, not accusation and condemnation (John 3:16-17).

What is the gospel?

  1. Romans chapters 1-6 is a clear presentation and reality of the gospel.
  2. Galatians 1:6-9, 3:8, is a clarification of the gospel, which people had distorted.
  3. A concise synopsis of the gospel is found in 1 Corinthians 15:1-5, an early creed, according to the Scriptures…
    1. The death of Jesus
    2. The resurrection of Jesus

What is the kingdom of God?
The coming of the kingdom of God is the initial, central, and final declaration of Christ.

  1. It began with repent and believe, Mark 1:14-15.
  2. It is expanded in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7.
  3. It would set a dawning course of this age, Matthew 24:14.

Seven aspects unfolded in God’s revelation:

  1. God as Creator is proprietor and ruler of all (Psalm 10:16, 24:1-2, 9-10).
  2. God is Israel’s king, even if they wanted an earthly king (Judges 8:22-23, 1 Samuel 8:4-9).
  3. While allowing a line of human kings, God establishes a theocracy through his prophets (1 Samuel 13:14, 2 Samuel 7:15-16, Isaiah 11:1-9, Daniel 7:13-14)
  4. Jesus comes from the Davidic line (Matthew 1:1, Luke 1:23-33) and offers the kingdom promised through the prophets, which the people of God rejected (Luke 19:11).
  5. Jewish rejection of the Good News opened the door of salvation to the Gentiles, the new aspect took the form of the mystery of the church, in which, Christ reigns (John 3:3-5, Colossians 1:13).
  6. The kingdom is temporarily hidden in the hearts of men, but Jesus will one day appear, ushering in a new kingdom (Revelation 20:4-6).
  7. God’s reign is forever, but the earthly kingdom will one day end and give way to the Messiah’s eternal kingdom (1 Corinthians 15:24-26, 28, 2 Timothy 4:18, Revelation 22:3, 5).

What does “is at hand” mean?

  1. Supernatural powers: these powers came upon those who heard the proclamation and witnessed the signs (Matthew 12:28, Luke 11:20).
  2. Personal presence of the king: he was actually in their midst (Luke 17:21). Luke 17:21 KJV says “within” but in no sense would the kingdom be within the Pharisees, in context, they had just charged Jesus with blasphemy! (Matthew 12:24-28).
  3. An actual kingdom: an actual establishment of a government on earth, the tense is “has drawn near.” Jesus established and built his church (Matthew 16:18), which he governs the citizens of his kingdom. A long-awaited kingdom of OT prophecy was now seen in the face of Jesus, and others witnessed the kingdom in the miracles Jesus performed.

What is saving faith?

  1. An intellectual assent, or belief? (James 2:19). If this were true, even the demons would be saved.
  2. Is it trusting God in the here and now for temporal relief? (John 2:23-25)
  3. Transferring trust OFF of ourselves and ONTO Jesus alone for eternal relief from the wrath to come (Matthew 3:7-10, Romans 5:8-9)
  4. GRACE = God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense, Jesus paid the debt I could not pay.
    1. Grace alone will save us (Titus 2:11, 1 Corinthians 15:1-4)
    2. Our works contribute nothing to our salvation (Romans 3:23-24, 4:2-5, Ephesians 2:8-9, Titus 3:5, 2 Timothy 2:9)

What does repentance mean?

  1. Metanioa means change of mind.
    1. About sin (Revelation 9:20-21)
    2. About God (Acts 2:38, 20:21)
    3. About Dead works (Hebrews 6:1)
  2. More than a change of mind, but a change of behavior.
  3. Repentance is changing FROM something TO something; about-face, a 180 degree turn.

Is repentance necessary for salvation?

  1. Repentance that leads to life (Acts 11:18)
  2. For all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). To change one’s mind regarding Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38).
  3. Repentance does not save (since salvation is by grace through faith, Ephesians 2:8-9) but how can you be saved without repentance of mind and behavior?

What is the result of true repentance?

  1. Bearing fruit (Matthew 3:8, Luke 3:8-14), the question, “what shall we do?” are examples.
  2. Turn to God, and perform deeds appropriate to repentance (Acts 26:19-20).
  3. Jesus commissioned his followers to preach repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Luke 24:47).

What four things lead to repentance?

  1. God’s Word (Luke 16:29-31)
  2. God’s goodness or kindness (Romans 2:4)
  3. Godly sorrow (2 Corinthians 7:9-11)
  4. God’s intervention (2 Timothy 2:25)

What is godly sorrow vs. worldly sorrow?

  1. The example in the Corinthians church (2 Corinthians 7:9-11). A person had been involved with open and grievous sin, church discipline had worked, and the offender had repented.
  2. Judas had worldly sorrow (Matthew 27:3-5, Acts 1:18-20), remorse that led to suicide.
  3. Peter had godly sorrow (Matthew 26:75).

What are the characteristics of godly sorrow? (2 Corinthians 7:11)

  1. “What earnestness” – diligence to try to change things in contrast to previous indifference.
  2. “What vindication of yourselves” – eagerness to clear oneself.
  3. “What indignation” – anger that they have troubled others with their sin.
  4. “What fear” – fear over God’s displeasure.
  5. “What longing” – yearning to see the matter rectified and relationships restored.
  6. “What zeal” – enthusiasm to do what is right.
  7. “What avenging of wrong” – a readiness to turn against oneself.

[Based on my classes with Richard D. Leineweber, Jr. c. 2000]

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The Importance of Godly Faith

The last part of James chapter 2 teaches us about various kinds of faith… and we thought faith was something we already understood and often take for granted. James wants to let us know that faith is more than just the things we believe about Jesus. “Faith” and “belief” are the same root word in the original language of the New Testament. Faith can be described as a verb rather than a noun, and we generally translate the word “believes” because is seems weird to say, “Everyone who faiths that Jesus is the Christ has become a child of God” (1 John 5:1).

Here is a brief overview of this section on Godly Faith (James 2:14-26): James contrasts having only head faith with having head, heart, and hand faith.

  1. Two examples of having only head faith (James 2:14-20)
    1. In regard to the destitute (James 2:14-18): Head faith by itself is empty faith and attempts to minister to the poor by pious words not accompanied by works.
    2. In regard to the demons (James 2:19-20)
      1. The fiction (James 2:19a): “Do you still think it’s enough just to believe that there is one God?”
      2. The facts (James 2:19b-20): “Well, even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.”
  2. Two examples of having head, heart, and hand faith (James 2:21-26)
    1. Abraham (James 2:21-24): He proved his faith by his willingness to offer up his son Isaac.
    2. Rahab (James 2:25-26): She proved her faith by protecting the two Israelite spies.

Here is the meat of what James is teaching us about faith:

Faith is certainly an essential element in the Christian life:

  1. Without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6)
  2. We are saved by faith (Ephesians 2:8)
  3. Believers are challenged to walk (live) by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7)
  4. When you think about it, whatever we do apart from faith is described as sin (Romans 14:23)

It is important to realize, however, that there are different kinds of faith, but only one that is truly “saving faith.” In James 2:14-26, we find James discussing the different kinds of faith, with an emphasis upon faith which works toward salvation. According to Warren Weirsbe, let’s take a look at three kinds of faith.

Dead Faith (James 2:14-17)

This kind of faith substitutes words for actions. People with this kind of faith know the correct Christian vocabulary for prayer and sound doctrine, and can even quote the right verses from the Bible, but their “walk” does not measure up to their “talk.” Is only an intellectual faith. In one’s mind, he or she knows the doctrine of salvation, but they have never really submitted themselves to God and trusted in Jesus for salvation. They know the right “words,” but they don’t back up their words with their “works.”

James gives an illustration: a poor believer comes to you without proper clothing or food. Dead faith notices the person but does nothing to meet their needs (James 2:16). These are two basic needs for anyone addressed elsewhere in Scripture (1 Timothy 6:8, Matthew 6:31, 32, Genesis 28:20). Believers are called to help (Matthew 25:40), and this help is an expression of love (Galatians 5:6, 1 John 3:17, 18, Luke 10:25-37).

So the question is, can this faith save someone? The answer is, “no.” Three times in this passage, James emphasizes that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:17, 20, 26). So, any declaration of faith that does not result in a changed life
and good works is a false declaration: a dead faith; a faith that has reached only the head. Dead faith is counterfeit faith and lulls the person into a false confidence that he has everlasting life.

Check your own faith:

  1. Does your walk measure up to your talk?
  2. Do your works measure up to your words?

Demonic Faith (James 2:18-19)

James reminds us that even demons believe in God (there are no atheists or agnostics here). Isn’t that a shock to know that even the demons have faith?

  1. They believe in the deity of Christ (Mark 3:11-12)
  2. They believe in the existence of a place of condemnation (Luke 8:31)
  3. They believe that Jesus will be the Judge (Matthew 8:28-29)

So, what sort of faith do the demons have? We saw that the man with “dead faith” was “touched only in his intellect” so perhaps the demons are “touched in their emotions” (note that they “believe and tremble”). This is probably only one step above a “dead faith” (it involves both intellect and emotions). Maybe the location of this faith is in the heart.

Does this faith save anyone? James is again saying, “no.” A person can be enlightened in his mind and even stirred in his heart and still be lost. True saving faith involves something more, something that can be seen and recognized: a changed life (James 2:18). Being a Christian involves trusting Christ and living for him. This is a true statement: you first receive the life, then you reveal the life (Ephesians 2:10). James 2:20 brings an image to barren or idle faith, like money drawing no interest.

Do you have this kind of faith? You do if you just believe the right things and feel the right things. Perhaps if your service to God does not go beyond intellectually embracing the right doctrines and emotional experiences (just attending services).

Dynamic Faith (James 2:20-26)

We know from other passages that such faith is based upon the Word of God (Romans 10:17). Dynamic faith involves the whole person and leads to action.

  1. Dead faith touches only the intellect: the head understands the truth.
  2. Demonic faith involves both the mind and the emotions: the heart desires and rejoices in the truth.
  3. Dynamic faith involves the intellect, the emotions, and the will: our hands lead us toward action.

James illustrates his points in two well known character from the Old Testament: two people who could not be more different from one another.

  1. Abraham was the father of the Jews; Rahab was a Gentile
  2. Abraham was a godly man; Rahab had been a sinful woman, a prostitute (side note: oddly enough the word can also be translated “innkeeper” so she really ran a guest house). The word in James 2:25 actually means an immoral person.
  3. Abraham was the friend of God; Rahab had belonged to the enemies of God

So what did they have in common? Both exercised saving faith in God.

  1. Abraham demonstrated his saving faith by his works (James 2:20-24). He was justified before God and his righteousness was declared; he was justified before men and his righteousness was demonstrated.
  2. Rahab demonstrated her saving faith by her works (James 2:25-26). She is even listed in the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11:31. She believed God’s Word and knew the city was doomed (Joshua 2:11) yet she responded with her mind and heart, and also her will; her hands went into action. Even with her limited information about God, she was a giant in dynamic faith and one of the first soul winners in the Bible.

The emphasis of this passage that faith without works is a dead faith (James 2:20, 26). “Faith only” (the only time this phrase is found in the Scriptures) cannot justify anyone (James 2:24). Perfect faith brings out good works in us (James 2:22).

It is important that each professing Christian examine his or her own heart and life, and make sure that they possess true saving faith, which is a dynamic faith. Satan is the great deceiver and one of his schemes is imitation. If he can convince a person that counterfeit (lesser or limited) faith is true faith, then he has that person in his power.

How often do we profess to know God but our actions deny him (Titus 1:16)? We need to carefully maintain good works (Titus 3:8).

Application: It is time for evaluation and examination. Here are some questions we can ask ourselves as we examine our personal faith:

  1. Was there a time when I honestly realized I was a sinner and admitted this to myself and to God?
  2. Was there a time when my heart stirred me to flee from the wrath to come? Have I ever been seriously worked up over my sins?
  3. Do I truly understand the gospel, that Christ died for MY sins and then rose again? Do I understand and confess that I cannot save myself?
  4. Did I sincerely repent of my sins, making the decision to turn from them? Do I hate sin and love God? Or do I secretly love sin and want to enjoy it?
  5. Have I trusted Christ and him alone for my salvation by responding to the commands He has given?
  6. Has there been a change in my life? Do I maintain good works, or are my good works occasional and weak?
  7. Do I seek to grow in the things of the Lord? Can others tell that I have been with Jesus?
  8. Do I have a desire to share Christ with others? Or am I ashamed of him?
  9. Do I enjoy the fellowship of God’s people? Is worship a delight to me?
  10. Am I ready for the Lord’s return? Or will I be ashamed when he comes for me?

To be sure, not every Christian has the same degree of faith; those who have had more time to grow should be stronger in faith, but for the most part, this spiritual inventory above can help a person determine his or her true standing before God.

May our prayer be similar to that of the Psalmist:

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
try me and know my anxieties;
And see if there is any wicked way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23-24)

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People’s Hearts are Carnal

When you take a look at the American church today, it appears that those inside the church have a lifestyle quite similar to those outside the church. The question arises about how to be in the world but not of it (John 18:36, 17:14, Philippians 3:20, James 4:14, 1 Peter 5:10).

So, the age old debate goes on, can a true Christian be carnal? We first define the term “carnal” which is translated from the Greek word sarkikos, which literally means “fleshly.” Check out this passage:

And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? (1 Corinthians 3:1-3)

According to Paul, there are three classifications of believers:

  1. The Natural Man: has not received Christ.
  2. The Spiritual Man: is led and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
  3. The Carnal Man (or man of flesh): is supposedly saved, but shows no evidence of life transformation.

Notice Paul is addressing the readers as “brethren,” a term he uses almost exclusively to refer to other Christians (male or female). We can assume then that Christians can be carnal. The Bible is clear that no one is sinless (1 John 1:8), so every time we sin, we are acting carnally. The goal of the believer is to sin less this week than we did last week.

The key here is to understand that while a Christian can for a time, be carnal, a true Christian will not remain carnal for a lifetime. We are all sinners, no one is perfect. Think about how many church people today have abused the idea of a “carnal Christian” by saying that it is possible to be saved and then go on to live the rest of their lives in a completely carnal manner? They reason that since they have their “fire insurance” they can live as they please, after all, “once saved, always saved.” But how can there be no evidence of being born again or being a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17)? Such a concept is completely unbiblical. We are to be changed, not living our lives the same old way we did before Christ.

  1. James 2:14, 26 make it clear that genuine faith will always result in good works.
  2. Ephesians 2:8-10 declares that while we are saved by grace alone through faith alone, that salvation will result in works.

So, can a Christian, in a time of failure or rebellion, appear to be carnal? Yes. Will a true Christian remain carnal? No (Hebrews 10:26).

Since eternal security is found Scripture, the carnal Christian is still saved. Salvation cannot be lost, because salvation is a gift of God that He will not take away (see John 10:28; Romans 8:37-39; 1 John 5:13). No one wakes in the morning wondering if he is saved or not, like salvation slipped away in the night. We can be secure and assured of our salvation. Paul reminds us that the even carnal Christian can be assured of salvation:

If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. (1 Corinthians 3:15)

The question is not whether a person who claims to be a Christian and lives carnally has lost his salvation, but whether that person was truly saved in the first place (1 John 2:19). W. A. Crisswell once said that “the faith that fizzles at the finish was faulty at the first.” It makes sense.

Christians who become carnal in their behavior can expect God to discipline them (Hebrews 12:5-11) so they can be restored to close fellowship with Him. God’s desire in saving us is that we:

  1. Become progressively grow closer to the image of Christ (Romans 12:1-2, 8:29).
  2. Become increasingly spiritual and decreasingly carnal, which is a lifelong process known as sanctification.

What about bearing fruit? Beliefs determine actions. So, we can determine if someone is of the faith by looking at the results of faith in their lives (not just those who claim to have faith). What we have to ask ourselves when judging something is whether it bears good fruit or not. It’s not about how popular, socially acceptable or how politically correct the person is. Actions speak louder than words. These questions can be helpful when judging fruit. When properly applied, does it lead to:

  1. More good or more evil?
  2. More closeness or distance from Jesus Christ?
  3. More light or more darkness?
  4. More truth or more error?
  5. More peace or more confusion?
  6. More happiness or more misery?
  7. More friendship or more animosity?
  8. More love or more hate?

We live in a world that exchanges the truth for a lie and says evil is good and dark is light (Isaiah 5:20). Until we are delivered from our sinful flesh, there will be outbreaks of carnality. For a genuine believer in Christ, though, these outbreaks of carnality will be the exception, not the rule. We are not to judge others, but we can encourage others to move toward higher levels of commitment to Christ and his church.

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What Defines You as a Believer?

Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthian church to help instruct the new church on what it means to be a follower of Jesus. One topic he addressed is the problem of division among the Christians in Corinth. For whatever reason, these believers were not getting along, and were dividing up into little cliques rather than living as the unified church of Jesus Christ. Take a look at this passage:

I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose. For some members of Chloe’s household have told me about your quarrels, my dear brothers and sisters. Some of you are saying, “I am a follower of Paul.” Others are saying, “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Peter,” or “I follow only Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:10-12)

One of the central factors for their disunity in Corinth was the tendency of these new and therefore immature believers to bring into the church elements of their culture that were inconsistent with the Christian life. For instance, in their previous “pagan” experience they were led into “religious mysteries” by a special person designated as a spiritual guide. They strongly identified with this mentor as their doorway into “the divine.” For others, certain Corinthian converts may have studied with a certain philosopher whose teaching and personality defined their intellectual and moral lives. So it felt natural for the Corinthian Christians to identify themselves according to the one who introduced them to Christ, perhaps Paul, Apollos, or Peter. But they must have been extremists because they seemed to define themselves in terms of the old human mentoring relationship, which was threatening the unity of the Christian community in Corinth.

Are we so much unlike them? For some people, denominational identity (or nondenominational identity) says who we really are as Christians. For others, it is our theological position or perhaps the teaching of our favorite theologian. Denominational or theological distinctions aren’t necessarily wrong, but they are harmful when they threaten our unity in Christ. If I let my identity as a Baptist become so elevated that it threatens my relationship with Methodists or Presbyterians, then I am falling into the same Corinthian trap. We have our theological differences based on interpretation of Scripture, but our identity in Christ brings unity. My identity as a Christian is my relationship with Jesus Christ. Everything else pales in comparison to this essential fellowship, through which we are bound to others who have put their trust in Christ.

On Facebook, they give the opportunity to display one’s religious preference. On questionnaires there may be a question asking the same. How often do people use the word “Christian” when asked their religious preference, rather than Catholic, Baptist, or nondenominational?

How do you define yourself as a Christian? How important to you are denominational labels? Have you ever identified so thoroughly with some Christian leader that it threatened your relationship with other believers? How can we be unified in Christ when we who have put our faith in Jesus differ theologically?

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Amazed at Their Unbelief

Have you ever thought about the awesome power of God, and that we have the power to stop him? A few things that God cannot do: believe in Jesus for me; make me love and obey him; but also consider this:

And because of their unbelief, he couldn’t do any miracles among them except to place his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their unbelief. – Mark 6:5-6

Jesus did few miracles in his hometown “because of their unbelief.” Unbelief blinds people to the truth and robs them of hope. These people missed the Messiah and the blessing of seeing him work in their midst. Perhaps they were all too familiar with Jesus since they knew him as a boy.

At King’s Grant, are we going to miss the blessings of God? Do you enter the sanctuary with expectation that God is going to do great things in the lives of those attending and participating? Do you look for and see God at work in your life and in the lives of those around you? Do you know personally people who seem to have a special connection with God, and therefore you are drawn toward them? Do you have the faith to see Jesus for who he is? 1 John 4:14 tells that the Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. Pretty point blank on who Jesus really is.

How does your faith measure up? If you can’t see God’s work, perhaps it is because of your unbelief. Believe, ask God for a mighty work in your life, and expect him to act. Look at life and the Lord with the eyes of faith. Let Jesus be amazed at our faith, not our lack of faith.

That is so far from what we read in Luke 2:52!

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Christianity and Conflict

The Jews were by law separatists. You are likely familiar with many passages of Scripture where Jews had no dealings with Samaritans (John 4:9) or were forbidden to enter the house of a Gentile (Matthew 8:8, John 18:28) so these events in the life of Peter are best understood when we understand the culture of Peter’s day. There was sometimes a volatile religious mix that required strong leaders like Peter and Paul to break down barriers. God blessed them with strength, faith, revelation, and lots of grace–because sorting out the truth among so many competing beliefs would usually lead to some mistakes and misjudgments. Peter, well familiar with all sorts of social missteps, would play a key role.

A Course Correction: Acts 10:1-11:18 (Primarily Acts 10:1-19, 44-48)
Peter will later be known as the apostle to the Jews, while Paul will become famous as the apostle to the Gentiles (Galatians 2:7). But it’s through Peter that God first chooses to swing open the door of salvation to the Gentiles. This vision on a rooftop is a radical departure for the early church and gives it a straight path to reaching Greeks and Romans with the gospel.

Cornelius was a man of considerable means, power, and authority. As a centurion, he was in charge of a fighting force of one hundred Roman soldiers. He was also what the Jews call a God-fearer, a Gentile who had accepted the Jewish God and faith but stopped short of adopting the practices, like circumcision and dietary laws, necessary to become an authentic Jew.

God gave Cornelius and Peter complementary visions. He told Cornelius to send men to bring Peter to his house, and he showed Peter that keeping one’s distance from Gentiles for dietary and other reasons is no longer necessary. Salvation is for the Gentiles too, and the church will generate a few gatherings where Jews and Gentiles fellowship together, work alongside each other, and eat together. They can’t do this while thinking a fellow believer is unclean. No walls should separate Jews and Gentiles, slave or free, male or female. The body of Christ should be a united whole.

At Cornelius’s house, Peter explained the gospel, and as he was speaking, the Spirit fell on everyone there. I see this as evidence that God is making no distinction between Jew and Gentile, and the only reasonable response is praise.

  1. How would you respond if God told you to do something that would violate one of your long-held personal values?
  2. If the Spirit dramatically manifested himself among people who had never been to church or read the Bible, would you be more likely to feel jealous or praise God? Why?

A Council Convened: Acts 15:1-35 (Primarily Acts 15:4-21)
Some Pharisees who had become Christians were finding the Gentile mission very difficult to accept. It was clear in the Law that circumcision was to be a sign God’s people (Exodus 12:48-49; Leviticus 12:3). Actually, all of the laws of God were to be a sign that set his people apart from the rest of the world. It isn’t possible for the Spirit to contradict himself, so, Gentiles who accept the Jewish Messiah should be circumcised and observe the Law of Moses.

But salvation is by grace through faith alone, and neither circumcision nor any other work is a prerequisite of God’s grace, which was hard for the Jews to understand. So a council of church leaders convened in Jerusalem to settle the issue. Jew and Gentile believers, apostles, and elders offered their views. And then after much discussion, Peter stood up and laid out his simple, evidence-based argument: “God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:8-9). In other words, if the Spirit isn’t keeping his distance from uncircumcised Gentiles, why should we?

In the end, James, the leader of the Jerusalem church, spoke up declaring new believers need not become Jewish before they come to Christ. He then added that the council strongly urges Gentiles to reject the rituals of paganism, like eating meat sacrificed to idols and rites of sexual immorality (Acts 15:29). Basically, the Holy Spirit will conform Gentile believers into the image of Christ and the character of God. This new freedom is not a license to sin, but the liberty to believe, worship and be filled with the Holy Spirit apart from Jewish rites becomes official church policy.

  1. How difficult do you think it was for Peter to advocate for Gentiles among his Jewish brothers?
  2. How difficult do you think it might have been for him to endorse the ministry of Paul, who was once an enemy of the disciples?
  3. How well do you think Christians today affirm ministries that employ unfamiliar methods? Why?

A Confrontation Commences: Galatians 2:1-21 (Primarily Galatians 2:11-21)
Peter’s conviction on the issue of accepting Gentile believers had wavered since the Jerusalem council. He had been accepting invitations to dine with Greek friends in Antioch, but when some disciples of James come to visit, he began to distance himself from the Gentile believers in order to appease the Jewish believers (Galatians 2:12).

The change in Peter’s behavior was noticeable; he had suddenly allowed the pressure of Jewish guests to intimidate him. Even Barnabas, Paul’s companion, joined in this “hypocrisy” (Galatians 2:13). Since it had become a public issue, Paul confronted Peter publicly. There is no evidence in the New Testament that Peter ever rejected the criticism. I suppose in his maturity, he had become correctable.

  1. How do we know where to draw the line between the absolutes of our faith and the freedom we’re given in Christ?
  2. When is it right to confront others who may be abusing their freedom in Christ?
  3. Paul was adamant that Peter shouldn’t avoid eating with Gentiles just to appease Jewish believers. However, he also taught that we shouldn’t use our freedom to offend others (Romans 14:19-20; 1 Corinthians 10:31-33). Why do you think Paul was less concerned about offending strict Jewish Christians in this particular case?

Think About It:
Suppose you grew up in a very conservative Christian area that discouraged all forms of interaction with the secular world except the most unavoidable. But new people within your community had recently begun preaching a new interpretation of the group’s principles, saying that the only way to impact the world is to mix and mingle with it (to get involved in secular organizations and to try to understand secular culture, including its media and entertainment and ideologies). Needless to say, there’s quite a conflict between the traditional faction and the contemporary one. Your concept of holiness is being stretched beyond your comfort level.

  1. Why is change, especially in matters of faith, so controversial and contested?
  2. How is it possible to know when a new direction is initiated by God and when it isn’t?
  3. How do we balance our faithfulness to long-held values with our willingness to be moved by God’s Spirit?
  4. What was Paul’s answer to this tension between old and new perspectives? What was Peter’s?

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Inspiration, Faith & Integrity

My Sunday morning Bible study is taking a fresh look at Peter and how his life often mirrors our own at various times in life. This week we are looking at the power of God that filled Peter’s life, and how that made a difference.

Pilate’s wife warned him not to mess with Jesus (Matthew 27:19). The guards who stood at the tomb didn’t really know what happened that night (Matthew 28:11-15) but were paid to give false testimony. Right at seven weeks after these amazing events, the next Jewish feast had arrived. We find the disciples gathered in an upper room praying. They saw Jesus ascend to heaven but had not yet received what Jesus had promised, the Spirit, power, and they did not even know what to look for. Would they even recognize it when it came?

Inspired Words: Acts 2:1-40 (primarily Acts 2:1-14)
On the streets below the room where the believers are gathered, Jerusalem is busy. Jewish pilgrims from all over the world have come to Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost. The believers have been in prayer (Acts 1:14), as instructed by Jesus, and waiting to see what he promised (Acts 1:8). Suddenly, a roaring wind fills the house and tongues of fire fall on each person. The visitation is unmistakable, and the promised power has arrived.

Peter is filled with words to explain the amazing event. A miracle occurs as visitors in town for the feast hear the good news about Jesus in their native tongue (Acts 2:11). They are touched by the message and confused by the messengers (Acts 2:12-13). Then Peter takes the lead. He stands up and preaches the world’s first post-ascension sermon (Acts 2:14). He steps into the role he will fill for the rest of his life: a vocal leader of the Jesus movement.

  1. Peter’s regrets and failures are nowhere evident in Acts 2. It’s as though they never happened. He has “moved on” and gotten busy doing what God called him to do. Is anything from your past hindering your ability to be completely available to God?
  2. If so, how do you think God would want you to deal with it? Why is it so hard sometimes to move on?

Daring Faith: Acts 3:1-26 (primarily Acts 3:1-10)
Peter and John encounter a familiar scene on their way to the temple to pray. A crippled man is being carried to the gate so he can beg for alms from people (Acts 3:2). Today is different than most other days; the disciples are now filled with boldness in their faith, like they never experienced while Jesus walked in the flesh. They look the man in the eyes and offer him something far better than silver or gold. Peter grabs his hand, pulls him to his feet before seeing any evidence of healing, and tells him to walk (Acts 3:7). Only then do the man’s ankles and legs grow strong. He walks, jumps, and praises God vocally and visibly.

It’s a very public miracle. People who have know this man for years are amazed at the sight. They are filled with wonder and awe, and Peter sees another opportunity. Again, he begins to preach.

  1. People all around you are hurting physically, emotionally, and/or spiritually. How much of your reputation or your dignity would you be willing to risk to help them?
  2. How much faith do you have that your intervention can change their lives?
  3. Peter seized an opportunity to display the glory of Jesus. How diligently do you look for those kinds of opportunities?
  4. What is one act of faith you can do this week to help someone who’s hurting?

Courageous Leadership: Acts 5:1-10
Many believers are selling their possessions, pooling their resources, and sharing with each other so that no one would have any needs. It’s a remarkable reflection of the love of Christ in their lives. Though the generosity isn’t required of anyone, it’s a natural response to the Spirit’s presence.

But there are always those who try to see how little they can get by with. In this case, it’s a married couple named Ananias and Sapphira who boast greater generosity than they actually have. They secretly keep a portion of a land sale for themselves (Acts 5:1-2).

But there are no secrets with the Holy Spirit, and there is no room for a lack of integrity. The couple has lied to God, to Peter and the other leaders, and to the fellowship of believers (Acts 5:4). Unlike many later church leaders who would ignore the deception as a personal issue, Peter confronts the couple. When he bluntly exposes Ananias’ lie, the deceiver falls down dead (Acts 5:5). Later, his wife does the same when she is confronted (Acts 5:10). In these first days of the new church, integrity seems to be a vital issue both to the Spirit and to Peter.

  1. To what degree do you think the church today is known for its integrity?
  2. Do you think the Spirit does (or will) have as harsh a response to deception as he did with Ananias and Sapphira? Why or why not?
  3. How meticulous are you about your own integrity?
  4. Do you present yourself as more generous, loving, or honest than you really are? If so, why?

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Passionate About God?

My Sunday morning Bible study is taking a fresh look at Peter and how his life often mirrors our own at various times in life. Many Christians are sports nuts, real fanatics when it comes to their favorite team. There is excitement, confidence, discussions, and even boasting about the greatest team ever. Take this same sports fans and follow him to his local church, and what might we find? Rather than a game face he puts on his hymn face, he’s looking at his watch rather than the game clock. He might be more familiar with the team’s program and statistics than with God’s playbook, the Bible. Peter’s zeal for God put him in a few interesting situations:

Walking on Water (Matthew 14:22-23)

His zeal brought out a bold attempt at the impossible, to walk on the water. Jesus is not with them; He sends them into the boat while he dismisses the crowd (Matthew 14:22) and then he goes to the mountain to pray (Matthew 14:23). The boat is fighting with the waves while the wind was against them (Matthew 14:24). Jesus comes to them walking on the water (Matthew 14:25) and the disciples become afraid (Matthew 14:26). Peter makes an amazing statement, “Lord, if it’s you, command me to come to you on the water” (Matthew 14:28). He does not necessarily ask to walk on the water; he asks that Jesus command him.

Jesus gives one command, “Come” (Matthew 14:29). There is no assurance that everything will be alright, that he would be safe, even that he would be able to walk on the water. Peter knew nothing except his Lord gave him a command and in obedience he steps over the rail and starts walking toward Jesus. From our perspective we see eleven frightened men sitting in the boat, and one guy stepping into the unknown for no other reason than, out on the water is where Jesus is. Jesus is not in the boat, he’s out on the water, so that’s where Peter wants to be. Jesus invites him to come.

After a moment, Peter sees the wind and waves, perhaps realizing where he is, and that water walking is impossible, so he sinks (Matthew 14:30). So, where are we in this story? Imagine what God can do through you if you would only keep your eyes on Jesus. When Jesus calls you to step out of the boat and attempt something great for the kingdom, on what do you typically focus your attention?

Witnessing the Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-8, Matthew 17:1-8)

Only a week after some extended teaching time with his disciples, Jesus takes the inner circle (Peter, James and John) to a high mountain (Mark 9:2). Scholars tell us this was probably Mt. Hermon or Mt. Tabor, but location is not as significant as what happened there, Jesus was transformed before their eyes (Mark 9:2-3). They had a vision of Jesus in all his glory. After the vision came the visitors, Moses and Elijah, appearing and talking with Jesus (Mark 9: 4). Moses represented the Law of God and Elijah represented the prince of prophets. Impulsive Peter then speaks up and interrupts their conversation, something about it’s good for them to be there and three shelters (or tabernacles) should be built (Mark 9:5). Fear also surrounds them, not knowing what to say (Mark 9:6).

Catch this. Matthew 17:5 adds an interesting comment, “While he was still speaking.” God interrupts Peter to tell him that “This is My beloved Son, listen to Him.” Scholars tell us that the word for “beloved” is actually “unique” or “priceless.” Peter had Jesus in a box called, “Great Men of History” and did not see the uniqueness of Jesus. Notice he recommended three tabernacles be built, rather than only one (Matthew 17:4); because only one person deserved to be honored. Stop speaking, stop planning, and just listen to Jesus. After we encounter God, the proper response should be the same as the inner circle, fear (Matthew 17:6). When we finally “get it” and realize the awesomeness of God, we should fear. Max Lucado says, “Fear of the Lord is the deeply sane recognition that we are not God.”

So, Peter was passionate about God, even though he did not have all of his theology in order. How can we develop a similar passion? How can we get out of our comfort zones?

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Assurance of Salvation

This section is part of a class that I am teaching called Discipleship 101, the Lost Art of Disciple Making, where we are going to cover the basics of the Christian faith. I have in my class those who have never been discipled as well as those who have been with Christ for a long time, but are seeking tools and strategies for helping or mentoring others toward becoming disciple makers.

This is a brief section of reasons to believe and trust, and several verses to look up, which is done easily on this site.

Assurance of Salvation
We find direct statements in God’s Word: John 5:24, 1 John 5:13, Titus 1:2

But can We Believe the Bible?
The Bible claims to be the Word of God: expressions in the Bible, like “and God said…” or “Thus says the Lord…” and “God spoke to Moses…” – Genesis 1:3, Exodus 20:1, Joshua 14:5, Luke 24:27, 44, John 10:35, Acts 1:16, 17:2, 2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 1:21

The Bible is proved to be the Word of God.

  1. Unity: recorded over 1600 years, three languages, men and women from different countries and ages, with a unified message, it is one Book.
  2. Fulfilled Prophecy: hundreds of Old Testament prophecies about Jesus, the Jews, the Gentiles.
  3. Archaeology: always proves the Bible’s story, if it hasn’t, just wait.
  4. The Test of Time: through sword and flame, atheism and paganism, cold indifference and false prophets, it’s still here.
  5. Universal Demand: the world’s bestselling book.
  6. Denunciation of Sin: evil is never tolerated, but is dealt with openly, nothing in secret, characters are recorded as fallen, never perfect (Exodus 17:5-7, Numbers 20:7-13).
  7. Power to Change Lives: George Muller of Bristol, as an example.

The Witness of the Holy Spirit – Romans 8:16.

  1. What That Means:
    1. He is a Person, not a force.
    2. He is a Trinity, co-equal with the Son and Father.
    3. We are His temple, 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, 1 John 4:13
  2. How This Happens:
    1. He is the believer’s teacher – John 14:26, 15:26-27, 16:12-15
    2. He is the believer’s comforter – John 14:16, paraclete, John 14:26, 15:26, 16:7
    3. He is the believer’s guide – John 16:13, to lead the way (Matthew 15:14), Romans 8:1, 14
    4. He is the believer’s helper and intercessor – Romans 8:16
  3. A New Life – Transformation, 2 Corinthians 5:17
    1. A new attitude toward sin: Romans 7:19-20, they hate it, a new heart.
    2. New desires and new friends: new primary fellowship, community and growth.
    3. Fruit of the Spirit: Galatians 5:22-23, Matthew 7:20, Acts 4:13
    4. Assurance through Christian growth: Titus 3:5, Philippians 3:14, 1 Corinthians 3:11-15

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Actions that Take Courage

I’ve been thinking about how the Men of Steel can take knowledge and principles and put them into practice. We have been doing it all along, but I recently read this list of actions that take courage and wanted to pass it on, after all the Bible commands us to take courage and be men (1 Samuel 4:9 – although in this case it is said of the Philistines). Here’s the courageous list:

 

  1. Admitting when we are wrong.
  2. Doing what is right when everyone else isn’t.
  3. Speaking to someone you don’t know.
  4. Saying “no” when someone is trying to get you to do something you know you shouldn’t do.
  5. Telling the truth and accepting the consequences.
  6. Standing up for something you believe in even though it might mean rejection, ridicule of physical harm.
  7. Defending someone who is considered unpopular or unacceptable.
  8. Facing a limitation and giving it your very best regardless of pain or discomfort.
  9. Confronting a fear without running away.
  10. Giving sacrificially to protect or promote either someone you love, someone who has been wronged, or someone who is in need.
  11. Being the only one.
  12. Taking a risk.
  13. Sharing your heart honestly; including your fears, feelings and failures.
  14. Living your faith with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength regardless of the cost.

 

Not a bad list to live by. How many times do we find ourselves lacking courage; like the cowardly lion. His problem was that he had no heart. Seems that without a heart he would have asked for compassion or feelings or love… but courage? Courage is a lot like love; it must be expressed, or demonstrated. Courage is an action and not a feeling. As an example, God loved, and took action (Romans 5:8, John 3:16).

 

The Bible has a lot to say about courage:

  • Joshua 1:6, 7, 9, 18, 10:25 – Take courage when you are called to lead.
  • 1 Samuel 4:9 – Take courage and be men.
  • 2 Samuel 10:12 – Be strong and courageous for the sake of your family.
  • 1 Chronicles 28:10, 20, Ezra 10:4 – Be courageous and act.
  • 2 Chronicles 15:7 – Don’t lose courage, for there is reward for your work.
  • Psalm 27:14 – Take courage and wait on God.
  • Psalm 31:24 – Take courage since we hope in the Lord.
  • Isaiah 35:4 – Take courage, God will save you.
  • In the New Testament: Matthew 9:2, 22, Mark 6:50, 10:49, John 16:33, Acts 23:11, 27:25, 2 Corinthians 5:6, 8, Philippians 1:14.

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