Recommended approach

Sojourner's paradigm challenges atheists and skeptics to make a shift in the way they examine and approach the claims of the Bible and Christianity. It is best to first watch the gospel message video and read the foundational truth of God. Other blogs speak on a variety of topics.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

What is the "Church" and when did it begin?

Jesus Christ established the Church. He announced to his disciples that he would build it upon the revelation of God’s message to men. (Matt. 16:17-18) It seems a trivial matter to have to explain to some that the “Church” is not a building, although we commonly refer to it as such. The Church, rather, is the assemblage of believers both universally and locally. The word Church comes from the Greek word Ecclesia (or Ekklesia) which means “called out ones”. We are called out of the world for the purpose of proclaiming the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. Before Christ’s ascension into heaven, he gave his followers their great commission. His followers, the Church, were to, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matt. 28:19-20. This is the business to which we, the Church, are to be about. In essence, the Church is to continue the work and message of Christ. When Jesus first appeared to his disciples after his resurrection he gave them this message, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” John 20:21. Jesus first reassured them, as he also reassures us, that we have peace with God. After this reassurance he then tells them plainly that they are being given the very same mission as himself. Try and imagine the scene. Here were these disciples, meeting behind locked doors for fear of the Jews, who must have felt enormous shame and sense of failure, confusion, and fear. Then suddenly Jesus appears to them and tells them all is well. They are then told that they are being given the authority and mission as ambassadors of God to spread his message to the entire world. Now put yourself in that room and realize that you too, with all your history of failures and shame, as members of Christ’s church, are being given that same privilege.

The Church is referred to in several different ways throughout New Testament Scripture. In 1 Corinthians and Ephesians the Church is referred to as “The Body of Christ.” This conveys the principle of a living organism made up of many parts with each having a specific purpose. Christ is the “Head” of this body. (1 Cor. 12:27 & Eph. 5:23 & 30). The Church is sometimes referred to as a Fellowship of believers suggesting the idea of unity and mutual support. Paul referred to the Church as the “Bride of Christ” utilizing the concept of an intimate relationship and oneness with Christ. (Eph. 5:31-32). The book of Revelation also provides a glorious prophetic portrait of this reality. (Revelation chapters 19 & 21). We are also referred to as the household or family of God. (Gal 4:6-7). Jewish and Gentile believers are adopted into this family with all the privileges and inheritance son ship brings. We have the wonderful privilege of approaching God as our intimate Father. (Eph. 2:19 & Gal. 6:10). Jesus often referred to his followers as a flock or fold. He is our Shepherd. This suggests the idea of guidance and protection. (John 10:16). Both Peter and Paul referred to the Church as “living stones”. We are a structure which is full of life and constantly growing. (1 Cor. 3:9 & 1 Peter 2:5). Jesus employed the imagery of a garden when he indicated that we were the branches gaining our strength and nourishment from the Vine in a garden being attended to by our heavenly Gardener. (John 15). Paul also refers to us as “God’s field” where we are cared for, watered, pruned and given the opportunity to grow. (1 Cor. 3:9).

The Church age began on the day of Pentecost 50 days after Jesus’ ascension into heaven. We are the laborers planting seed and harvesting souls for the Kingdom. The Church will be about this task until the Lord returns. Once Christ redeems the world (not just our souls) and establishes his earthly Kingdom, we the Church will then rule with Christ on earth for 1000 years. The days of laboring under harsh elements will be over for the Lord’s Church as the final harvest will have finally been brought in. Then the whole earth will experience that seventh day of rest under the Lordship of Christ. The Church’s ultimate goal and mission has been and always will be to bring glory to God.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Is it faith or works which makes us right with God?

Paul stood up in the Synagogue in Pisidian Antioch in Galatia and preached these words, “Therefore my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the Law of Moses.” Acts 13:38-39. The Jews to whom Paul preached rejected this message. For they had devoted their entire lives to teaching the law of Moses as the means by which Israel would be found righteous before God. In so doing, they had completely over-looked the glorious portrait of forgiveness immersed within those words handed down to them by God.

The word “justification” is a judicial term meaning a pardon from wrong-doing. In Christian doctrine, it more specifically refers to sinners being pardoned from sin and then declared righteous before God. “Justification by faith alone” therefore, means that we are pardoned from sin and found righteous solely on the basis of our faith in Jesus Christ alone. This doctrine is not one developed by Protestants. It is a doctrine developed by God. It is this doctrine upon which the Church as well as every individual will either stand or fall. It is a doctrine which assaults the very pride of man. And yet, God’s Word over and over confronts man’s insistence that he must earn his uprightness. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, “But now righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Romans 3:21-24. And again in Galatians 2:16 Paul writes, “know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.” The message is quite clear that justification comes solely through faith in Christ alone.

What is the result of this faith in Christ? “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” Romans 5:1-2.

What then is the purpose of God’s law if it does not result in our being found righteous? “So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.” Galatians 3:24. How does it lead us to Christ? “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” Romans 3:20. We quickly discover that we cannot fully observe God’s laws. Even “grading on the curve” leaves us lacking.

Christ, however, commands us to be obedient. Here is where we discover another benefit and truth from faith in Christ. Once again we read in Romans chapter 8, “1Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. 3For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature,] God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, 4in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit. 5Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; 7the sinful mind] is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. 8Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. 9You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. 10But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” Romans 8:1-11. As these verses indicate, along with our justification we are given sanctification through the Holy Spirit. This same Holy Spirit is God’s promise of ultimate glorification of those who trust in Christ alone for salvation. “13And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession—to the praise of his glory.” Ephesians 1:13.

Who is the Holy Spirit and what's his job?

The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit is not a force as in Star Wars fame. We are first introduced to the Holy Spirit in the second verse of Genesis chapter one where we are told that the Spirit of God was “hovering over the waters”. The Holy Spirit was involved in creation. Another early reference to the Holy Spirit is found in Exodus where God tells Moses he has chosen Belzalel , filled him with the Spirit and gave him skill, ability, and knowledge of all kinds of crafts. Here we immediately discover that God’s Spirit is involved in enabling men to perform God’s purposes. The Holy Spirit also gave Moses his ability to lead the Israelites and then did the same for the seventy elders who assisted Moses with his duties. At the moment the Spirit came upon the elders, they began to prophesy (but only did so on one occasion). The Holy Spirit testified to God’s sovereign power. Each time the Holy Spirit is mentioned from this point on throughout the Old Testament, it is always said that the Holy Spirit “came upon” various individuals giving them power to perform specific purposes. The Holy Spirit does not appear to have dwelled within these individuals and only remained for a time until God’s purposes were fulfilled.

This is no longer the case. The Holy Spirit now resides within those who have placed their trust in Christ and his redeeming work on the cross.

Who is the Holy Spirit? He is the “Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power….” (Isa. 11:2). He is the “Spirit of truth” (John chapters 14-16). He is the “Spirit of grace.” (Heb. 10:29). He is the Spirit of glory (1 Peter 4:14). He is our comforter. He is our counselor. He is the giver of spiritual gifts. He produces spiritual fruit in our lives. He is our enabler. He opens our eyes and ears to God’s truth. He convicts us of sin. He empowers us to live our life in Christ and, in fact, brings us new life whereby we become “new creations.” (1 Cor. 5:17). More will be discussed later concerning the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a Christian.

Jesus’ disciples had been with him for three years during his earthly ministry. They heard the actual words of life spoken by this “Son of Man”. Their rabbi performed astonishing miracles before their very eyes, affirming his identity. Ancient prophecies were fulfilled through this man of God. Despite all of this, they had yet to fully grasp the full implications of the truth revealed to them by God. In Jesus’ final discourse to his disciples in the upper room he told them, “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me.” John 15:26. Jesus then went on to explain that when he goes away, the Counselor will come. The Spirit had not yet been poured out into their hearts. Jesus then explained that the Holy Spirit will, “… convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment.” John 16:8. This is the first task of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. God grants repentance to us through the conviction by the Holy Spirit. (ref. 2 Tim. 2:25).

Without the Holy Spirit revealing our sin to us, we would never come to a place of receiving the righteousness of Christ. It is the Holy Spirit who brings us to Christ. He is the essence of our new life in Christ and gives us rebirth. He is the One who “will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13a) and, in fact, is our teacher. (referencing 1 John 2:27). The Holy Spirit anoints us with spiritual gifts and enables us to fulfill our purpose in God’s Kingdom. He is the power to accomplish the work for which Christ has appointed us. He is the One who keeps us attached to our Savior and enables us to overcome sin and live in righteousness. He is the one who produces “fruit” in our lives. He can also be grieved when we ignore his sway.