Fruit of Following God #13: Sacrificial Living for Christ

Frans Floris painting, The Sacrifice of Jesus Christ Son of God Gathering and Protecting Mankind

Eventually a growing disciple realizes that not only does Christ call His followers to deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Him (Luke 9:23), but he also calls them to live sacrificially. The self-life must die and Christ must live. Christ Himself was a sacrifice for us. Paul writes, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1).

In daily living, believers are to sacrifice themselves as an act of worship. Paul lived out this admonition in his own life and ministry. Writing to the believers at Philippi he says, “Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all” (Philippians 2:17). The author of the book of Hebrews also states, “Through [Jesus] then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.

Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Hebrews 13:15-16).  Giving up ourselves, our possessions, our time, our personal rights and perceived privileges should be part of the Christian life. Each disciple must understand the will of the Lord in such personal matters and decisions but each disciple must also ask himself, “What am I giving up in order to serve Christ and/or help fulfill the Great Commission?” C.T. Studd, the missionary pioneer to Belgian Congo in the early 1900’s, once made this compelling statement, “If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for Him” (Grubb, 141). A growing disciple becomes sensitive to what he can give up for the Savior who gave Himself for His own.

Loving Two Brides

(The reflections below were published in the Hickory Daily Record June 4, 2011 and also at http://corinthpastorbob.com/2011/06/loving-two-brides/ on the same date.)  The entry is used here with permission from Rev. Dr. Bob Thompson of Corinth Reformed Church in Hickory, NC.  Bob has posted on Red Door’s Blog before.  Check out his last entry “When You Give Yourself a B.”


I have loved two brides in my life.  Only one of them is mine.

My wife and I will celebrate our thirty-third anniversary July 1.  We vowed our love, loyalty and faithfulness before our 22nd birthdays.  We have kept those promises through every phase of life from honeymoon to empty nest, during seminary or sickness, facing opposition or enjoying stability.  Linda is still my best friend, my partner in life and ministry.  I protect and defend her, valuing her above anyone else and treasuring the times we can be together.  I would give my life for her if I had the opportunity.

The other love of my life is the bride of Christ.  He loves his bride as I do mine – only infinitely better and deeper.  The Apostle Paul made that analogy in Ephesians 5 when he instructed husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church.  Giving his life for his bride was more than theoretical for Jesus.

A man and a woman marry, at least in our culture in time, because of a combination of attraction and friendship we call “falling in love.”  Couples whose marriages endure learn that the “enchantment,” as C. S. Lewis called it, is transient – or cyclical at best.  The glue that keeps a marriage together is rather a commitment to mutual sacrifice and submission that includes patience, forgiveness, and a choice to keep loving when the enchantment wanes.  When Linda and I wrote our own wedding vows, we both promised to love the other in full knowledge we would at times be disappointed in each other.  The Greek word for that kind of love is agape.

Agape describes Christ’s self-sacrificing love for his bride.  He loves her as she is, and claims her as his own.  He knows her flaws better than she knows them.  He protects, defends, forgives, and waits for her, even with the realities of her imperfections.

Given Christ’s love for his church, I am sometimes surprised at the disdain and apathy of his followers toward his bride.  I am not surprised at the cynicism and distance of non-believers toward the church.  I find it, in fact, understandable for those who have not experienced grace.

Long before your church or mine ever came into being, Jesus’ Plan A was to gather his people into communities for worship, encouragement, learning, service, and witness.  It does not surprise Jesus that these faith communities would be imperfect.  He was aware from the beginning that within the church we would encounter hypocrisy, gossip, power struggles, anger, immorality, pride, error, greed, racism, envy, and deceit.  The biggest problem with churches has always been that they’re full of sinners.

Is it frustrating to pastor a congregation of the imperfect?  It would be, if I weren’t among those deeply flawed.  As in marriage, disappointment with another’s brokenness should cause me to name my own, and then be merciful.  The church is where sinners gather to name and share the benefits of grace.

The Fruit of Following God – Part 4: A Servant Life

Christian discipleship always results in the creation of servants. The Christian disciple’s motto should inevitably reflect the words of Jesus found in the Gospel of Mark, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many,” (10:45, ESV). Some scholars believe that this verse is the summary or key verse of the entire gospel of Mark as the author’s theme is to demonstrate that Christ came as a man in order to serve and die for humanity. In order for a disciple of Christ to live for the glory of God, he must learn to be a servant. This service is displayed in the local congregation (or the local church), in the surrounding community as well as among the broken and those needing mercy.

Servanthood flows out of one’s understanding of both God’s greatness and being, as well as His worthiness, and also out of the realization of Christ’s own condescension to earth in order to procure our salvation. The Apostle Paul clearly reinforces this concept from the example of Christ himself, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross,” (Philippians 2. 5-8, ESV).  And according to the passage in Deuteronomy, this spirit of servanthood is not simply a dutiful, obligatory activity. Whenever and wherever we serve the Lord, it is to be with all of our hearts and souls.

Jesus Is Better

There’s a lot we don’t know about the Letter to the Hebrews. In fact, some of the most basic facts about the epistle (for example, the author and its original audience) still aren’t clear to us today. While the church has always appreciated it for its elegant style and sophisticated presentation of the gospel, Hebrews can be a puzzle to those who study it. (But then again, who doesn’t love a puzzle?)

For all the mystery and complexity that makes Hebrews a special part of the New Testament, the letter is very easy to summarize. In various ways, the author writes to convince us of something perfectly simple: Jesus Christ is better than every possible rival. No one can compare to who he is, and nothing can match the power of what he’s done for humanity. Since that’s true, rejecting him and his message is the most foolish and dangerous decision that a person can make.

The writer doesn’t waste time in his introduction to the letter:

In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.
—Hebrews 1:1-3 (NIV)

In just three verses, the author makes a number of profound points. First, Christianity accepts and depends on the truth of the Old Testament. Those who accuse the New Testament of being antisemitic can find no support here! Rather than denounce them as corrupt or write them off as “un-Christian,” Hebrews says that the Jewish Scriptures accurately communicate God’s word to God’s people. But secondly, the writer goes on to say that God’s message in the person and work of Jesus is even more authoritative and more relevant. If the Old Testament is good, then the message of Jesus and his apostles is even better. Any why is that? Because (thirdly) Jesus himself is a more perfect and more powerful representative of God than any other figure in history. He is the perfect prophet, teaching us God’s will better than anyone else. He’s the perfect priest, dying for his people’s sins and praying for them effectively and continually. And he’s the perfect king, ruling over all things that he himself created with an authority that is both total and incorruptible. In short, he is everything we need. Calling him “the best man who ever lived” or “the wisest teacher in history” is an insult, not a compliment, to Jesus. Is he both of those things? Yes — but he is so, so much more. And because of that, his message is all the more important. Do you believe it?

 

 

The Fruit of Following God, Part 3: Walking With God and A Life of Love

Below, we continue our survey  describing what it means for a believer in Christ to follow Him.  What does a true follower of Christ look like?  We looked at the first major quality a couple of weeks ago, the fear of the Lordnow we take up qualities two and three (all stemming from Deuteronomy 10:11-12).

Quality Two: A Walk with God

The Christian life is so often pictured in the Scriptures as a walk. The word “live” (peripateo) in the New Testament is also the word for “walk.” The picture is one of step by step progress. Slow, methodical forward moving progress and that done by faith. This is indeed the portrayal of discipleship, whether as an Old Testament saint (did they ever understand walking!) or a New Testament believer who is trusting in the One who came and revealed the Father. The follower of Christ faces the day-to-day grind of daily life and prepares to face each new sunrise as a forward moving walk, holding the hand of the Savior and more importantly taking those baby steps of faith knowing that ultimately the Savior is holding his or her hand.

Quality Three: A Life of Love

The Christian life and indeed the life of the disciple of Christ is a life that resonates with love. First and foremost this love must be a deep love for the Lord and not simply being in love with an ill-defined concept of love. We love because He first loved us. The Apostle Paul recognized that the love he had for the Lord, particularly for the saints and extending even unto the many lost and needy souls in the world, was a love derived from God through Christ, “For the love of Christ controls us….” (2 Corinthians 5:12, ESV). Until we comprehend God’s love for us, a love that exists in spite of the fact that we were his enemies, ungodly and sinners and a love demonstrated through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, we cannot exude the love of God from our hearts.

May each of us engage in a daily (even a moment by moment) walk with Christ, a walk of faith that is exhibited by a life of deep love, both for Him and for others!

Is It Still Good News?

This post was written by Christian Crouch of SC.  He writes of himself:

“Christian, a native Tennessean, is the pastoral assistant at Grace Fellowship Church, an independent Reformed congregation in Irmo, South Carolina. He is the grateful husband of Chelsey and the proud father of Stephen and Cohen. Christian is a graduate of the University of the South and Reformed Theological Seminary. Among his other interests, he especially delights in seeing people understand, love, and obey the good news of Jesus Christ.”


Several years ago I played hooky from church so I could go to church. That is to say, I skipped my own congregation’s Sunday service and headed a few blocks over to another local church, where a visiting speaker was scheduled to preach. The speaker was also an author and had written several books that, as a brand-new Christian, I had devoured for their clear explanation of the Bible and warm, fatherly writing style. In my mind, he was a hybrid of John Calvin and Mike Brady. And believe me, if you knew somebody like that was preaching six blocks away, you would’ve played hooky, too.

What I discovered was something considerably less entertaining (but substantially more helpful) than that hybrid (a “Crady”? A “Bralvin”?). The author (who is not an ordained clergyman) began his sermon by reading a quote from a famous pastor (you’d know him) that went along these lines: Becoming a Christian is an act of God’s sheer grace, a totally undeserved gift;  however, your progress and growth as a Christian are completely up to you. The dramatic pause after he finished reading seemed to last forever. Then he simply asked, “Is that true?” How would you have answered?

After another awkward silence, he read the following verse from the Paul’s letter to the Galatians:

Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?
—Galatians 3:3

In a measured tone, the speaker carefully explained the message of the apostle, a man who had been personally sent by the Lord to preach the good news of Jesus (see the Book of Acts for the full story). Having proclaimed Jesus to people with little to no knowledge of the Bible, and having seen many come to a life-changing faith in Jesus, Paul was dumbstruck that these same people were now denying the basis of that good news: the simple power of trusting Jesus alone as the only means of rescue from sin and misery. By saying, in effect, that their maturity as disciples of Jesus depended entirely on their own hard work and dedication was, to the apostle Paul, a sign that the Galatian Christians had forgotten one of the most basic truths of the faith.

I wonder if you see yourself as guilty of the same mistake. I certainly am. And so are many of the Christians I know. Ask yourself: Does the good news of who Jesus is and what he has done feel important to you right now? Or was it something that really only applied to you before you became a Christian? To put it another way, is the gospel still good news, or is it just news?

Christians need to hear Paul’s message loud and clear: You still can’t save yourselves! You can’t try hard enough, succeed enough, or grow enough apart from God’s undeserved love. The gospel doesn’t just get us out of the principal’s office; in the words of one pastor, it brings us all the way home. Put another way (and in the words of yet another pastor), the gospel is not the ABC’s of the Christian life, but the A to Z of the Christian life. If you know Jesus, you still need daily reminders that you are not able to save yourself and must depend on God’s promised help for any progress in your efforts to be more like him. That is good news for people who, when faced with the hard realities of following Jesus in our broken world, are tempted toward the exhausting hamster wheel of self-righteousness. The power of the Holy Spirit is always necessary to change sinners, even those who put their faith in Jesus Christ. But the good news is this: He loves to change us and is even more willing than we are to see that change happen.

The Fullness of Time

Even so, we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world.  But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons... — Galatians 4:3-5

It records that the Son of God was sent to this world at the fullness of time.  To what does this refer?  Well, we know that it cannot refer to Heaven and eternity, because they exist beyond time.  So it must refer to this earth and the times that it passes through.  It is to the history books we must turn to gain our insight.  And although there are many histories to which we could turn, we will use one with divine authority, the book of Daniel.

In Daniel chapter 2, it records that Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, had a wondrous dream of an image made with a head of gold, breast and arms of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, legs of iron, and feet mixed of iron and clay.  And behold, the image was struck by a stone cut out of a mountain without human hand and was destroyed.  And the stone became a mountain that filled the entire earth.  When Daniel interpreted the dream for the king he said, The great God has made known to the king what will come to pass after this; the dream is certain, and its interpretation is sure.  What Daniel was saying is that God had chosen to reveal to Nebuchadnezzar the future history of the world from his present time to the time of the Lord’s Messiah and the beginning of the eternal kingdom.  We have here an amazing opportunity to view history from God’s perspective.

Daniel interpreted the dream to rightly refer to the succession of earthly kingdoms which would hold domination in the earth.  He began with the head of gold, Babylon and its king.  We must remember that at this time the nation of Judah had been led into captivity by Babylon, and the nations of Israel had fallen some years previously to the hands of Assyria.  The Jewish people were scattered and taken captive, their cities and temple destroyed, their land plundered, and their glory a thing of the past.  Only the promise of God to send a redeemer, their Messiah, gave them any hope at all.  The age of the great Kings of Israel had passed away until it could be fulfilled for all time by the One who would rise up from the seed of David.

Babylon, the head of gold, was one of the greatest kingdoms of its time.  It held sway over the entire Mesopotamian region and was unsurpassed in wealth, glory, and splendor.  It represented the pagan kingdom risen to the greatest heights to which man’s power could bring it.  The kingdom of silver, which followed Babylon, the kingdom of the Medes and Persians, was similar.  It was established by Darius when he overthrew the Chaldeans.  This kingdom the Lord used to show mercy to His people and to turn back their captivity under Cyrus.  But God-fearing paganism is still paganism, and little true light shone out in a very darkened world.  There was still so much more to order and put in place before all was ready.

The kingdom of bronze which followed was Greece, which developed new avenues of civilization and expanded their influence in the Mediterranean.  Under Alexander the Great they dominated the entire known world for a time.  As a result of this the Greek culture and language was spread far and wide, so that all men held culture and language in common allowing for clear communication and interaction.  The kingdom of iron was Rome, known for its legions of iron.  Under Rome a system of law and structure was established which instilled a peace in the kingdom that made for a stable life, but it was a peace maintained by the strength of Rome’s legions.  And like all kingdoms on earth, some of it was strong, sound, and pure; but much of it was weakened by an admixture of paganism and humanism which are alien to true virtue and goodness.

So where does that bring us?  It brings us to the reign of Augustus Caesar and a decree in his days that a census be taken of the entire kingdom.  It brings us to the city of Bethlehem, small and of little account amount the clan of Judah, and now stretched to its limits by the influx of its sons and daughters seeking to be registered (among whom, we notice, are a carpenter from Nazareth and his very pregnant wife).  it brings us to a humble stable, small, clean, a still-point in the midst of the bustle of the census.  It brings us to a manger filled with straw, a feed trough for beasts of burden now turned to a higher purpose.  It brings us to the fullness of time.  And within the manger there lies a baby, a first-born son wrapped in swaddling clothes.  But this is no ordinary baby, this is Emmanuel, the God with us of Whom the prophet spoke.  And in Him, the entire scope and breadth, the beginning and ending of this earth and its ages and times have found their fullness.

This is He Who sang forth the words of creation in the beginning.  This is He Who has come to save men from their sins and give them the adoption of sons.  This is He Who will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.  This is the fullness of time and the earth could no longer be the same because of His coming.  Hear the words of the prophet as he fore-sees Him in a vision.  The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined…For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulders.  And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom... — Isaiah 9:2, 6-7

To the pagan who worshipped the things of creation instead of the Creator, He was a light that pushed back the darkness.  To the Greek philosopher who sought the higher wisdom and good that always seemed to lie beyond his grasp, He was the wonderful Counselor, the fount of wisdom.  To the Roman legionnaire who relied on his armor and weapons to forge a peace as best as he was able, He was the Mighty God, the literal Prince of Peace.  And to the Jew, the people of promise, He was the Everlasting Father, the Deliverer who would sit on the eternal throne of His father David.  To all men, in every place, in every age, He was the fullness of all that their hearts and minds and souls cried out for.  This is what we have come to Bethlehem to see, travelling over long ages and epochs in human history.  This is what draws us irresistibly to a stable, and we fall without reservation upon our knees before a manger filled with straw.  This is why we must strive to keep Christmas every year with all our strength and heart and mind.  It is literally the most important event in the history of our world; all ages preceding and those that followed find their fullness and completeness in this day.   This is the day on which God visited His creation as  a baby in a manger, and we have seen Him with our eyes.  For this moment, at least, let us lay aside our theology, our heritage, and our social prejudices and merely be content to come and gaze upon the desire of the ages now made present in our midst.  To see past, present and future, and even more so, to see eternity laid before our gaze is wondrous.  To receive Him into our hearts is miraculous.  Seek no more for things with which to clutter up your life; here lies the fullness of all human desire and purpose, Jesus.  Receive Him anew this Christmas.

The Fruit of Following God, Part 2: The Fear of the Lord

Here is the second part in the series brought to us by Dr. Culbertson of Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte.  Read Part 1 here.


 

The Fear of the Lord

I would like to look briefly at one prominent passage from the Old Testament that provides extensive insight into the calling that God places upon His followers after he delivers them from Egyptian bondage (the exodus). This Scripture is delivered by Moses to the second generation of those who were saved from slavery to Pharaoh. Their parents, in their flagrant rebellion and disobedience (Numbers 11-12) perished in the wilderness wandering. But God still had His people and this second giving of the Law underscores what type of disciples (followers) the Living God desires.

This beautiful passage is from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy (10:12-13). Here we discover the attributes of a [Christian] disciple.

And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good? (ESV*).

These characteristics may be summed up as one who fears the Lord, walks in all His ways, loves Him, serves Him with all of his/her heart, soul, mind and strength and observes His commands and decrees.  These five qualities would transform both the believer and the church today if only her people would take them to heart.

Quality 1: To Fear the Lord

I believe the first verb contained in this passage is the most crucial word in the string of verbs here. To fear the Lord should be the driving force of every believer. A. W. Tozer states, The greatness of God rouses fear within us, but His goodness encourages us not to be afraid of Him. To fear and not be afraid–that is the paradox of faith (The Knowledge of the Holy, p. 84). The true follower of Jesus is motivated by the greatness of his God – this is a reverence, regard and respect in the heart for the Lord that is deeply embedded.

What is this fear of the Lord? The greatest resource I have found and one that succinctly explains a Biblical view of the “fear of the Lord” is from the final chapter of John Murray’s classic text on Christian ethics, Principles of Conduct. In this chapter entitled, The Fear of God, Dr. Murray defines the fear of God as awe, reverence, honour and worship (p. 236). He further states, The fear of God is the soul of godliness (p. 229). Applying it personally, he writes, The fear of God in us is that frame of heart and mind which reflects our apprehension of who and what God is, and who and what God is will tolerate nothing less than totality commitment to him.

Dr. Murray also says, The highest reaches of sanctification [becoming Christ-like] are realized only in the fear of God (cf. II Corinthians 7:1), (p. 231). He writes further, But whatever the reason, the eclipse of the fear of God, whether viewed as doctrinal or as attitude, evidences the deterioration of faith in the living God (p. 241).

Dr. Murray breaks down the concept of the fear of God into these helpful categories:

  1. There is the all pervasive sense of the presence of God (God consciousness and relationship to Him).
  2. There is the all pervasive sense of our dependence upon him and responsibility to Him.
  3. There is trust in His promises and providence (faith spawns obedience).
  4. It is the apprehension of God’s glory that constrains the fear of his name. It is that same glory that commands our totality commitment to him, our totality trust and obedience (p. 242).

To properly revere and fear the Lord as the Almighty, Sovereign, Holy, Creator God of the universe is the first and grandest attitude of the serious follower of Jesus Christ. I might suggest that the fear of the Lord is the starting point for any progress in growth as a disciple and thus I have spent an extraordinary amount of space elaborating upon this obscure and rarely emphasized quality of the heart.

The Fruit of Following God, Part 1

The following entry is given by Dr. Rod Culbertson (D. Min.), Associate Professor of Practical Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC.  Dr. Culbertson has a wealth of experience in Christian ministry as a pastor, campus minister, professor, and other venues. Read Dr. Rod Culbertson’s full online bio here.


I would like for us to consider what a disciple of Christ looks like in today’s world. Of course, the categories and measurements could be innumerable but I would like to whittle down the attributes of a follower of Jesus to a manageable number and cover at least the basic qualities that can often be easily observable in the life of the growing believer. We want to answer the question:

“What does a true believer in Christ look like? How is their life changed?”

I will begin by taking a quick look at a short Old Testament passage because when the Lord called His people, Israel, He expressed very high standards for those who would follow and represent Him. Then we will look briefly at 20 distinct attributes that ought to be evident in any follower of Jesus today.

What are the Attributes of a Disciple or Follower of the Living God?  Some Answers from the Old Testament

The Lord God has always called out a people to follow Him. He has not done so without giving them explicit guidance. Of course, His original call of the Hebrew nation to be His special and beloved people included an immediate provision of His moral will as communicated through the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20). He also gave them many other mandates to help them maintain their holy calling as His chosen people. The gospel of God’s grace can be found in the Old Testament in many places and especially notable is evidence of His forgiveness and pardon. God’s expectations of His followers are also found in many Old Testament passages and much can be learned from God’s explicit instructions to His chosen ones. Old Testament believers in the Lord should never be viewed as simply a law driven people who responded to their Deliverer with only rote and perfunctory obedience. Their Savior was always concerned about their hearts and that they would willingly give their loyalty and obedience to Him.

I would like to look briefly at one prominent passage from the Old Testament that provides extensive insight into the calling that God places upon His followers after he delivers them from Egyptian bondage (the exodus). This Scripture is delivered by Moses to the second generation of those who were saved from slavery to Pharaoh. Their parents, in their flagrant rebellion and disobedience (Numbers 11-12) perished in the wilderness wandering. But God still had His people and this second giving of the Law underscores what type of disciples or followers the Living God desires.

This beautiful passage is from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy (10:12-13). Here we discover the attributes of a [Christian] disciple.

“And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good?” (ESV*).

These characteristics may be summed up as “one who fears the Lord, walks in all His ways, loves Him, serves Him with all of his/her heart, soul, mind and strength and observes His commands and decrees.

In the weeks to come I will take each quality from this passage one at a time and break it down for us.  I look forward to sharing with you.

photo credit: Adrian Kingsley-Hughes via photopin cc