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Vox Scriptura Vox Dei

Category: Soteriology

The Missing Element In Our Discipleship

As a new year approaches, most Christians desire a more intimate walk with the Lord. The transition from “last year” to “next year” is accompanied by hopes of a better tomorrow and plans to improve our lives through adjusted routines and habits. For followers of Jesus, this usually means resolutions to faithfully read our bibles, become more committed to church-related activities, memorize Scripture, spend additional time with family, and begin tithing to the local church.

And I think that’s great. The change of seasons – the passing of something old and the arrival of something new – is an appropriate time to ask questions and consider the quality and character of our lives. Self-reflection and evaluation is certainly a biblical concept (1 Timothy 4:16). But as we know, it tends to fall apart rather quickly.

There are many possible reasons why our new year discipleship resolutions are difficult to keep, but one of the most fundamental is our forgetfulness of the means through which we have power to pursue holiness – our union with Christ.

The last few weeks I have been preaching on the tendency in conservative evangelical theology to separate the work of Christ from the person of Christ.  By that I mean we emphasize (rightly so!) the concepts of justification and sanctification and glorification that are all possible because of the work Christ has accomplished on our behalf at the cross and through his resurrection. No doubt, those are essential truths of our faith that do not deserve to be less preached, less taught, or less modeled by the church.

But the problem is when we present these benefits of faith as “things” Jesus goes and gets for us, turning the theological concepts of justification and so forth into the primary gift of our faith, and creating Jesus as a kind of “errand boy” who runs to the cross and delivers for us a beautiful package called “justification.” What’s wrong with that, you might ask? Isn’t justification a primary gift of our faith?

Well, yes. But here’s the thing. Jesus doesn’t deliver a package labeled “justification” to us. He delivers himself. Jesus is our justification. Jesus is our sanctification. Jesus is our glorification.  And what happens when we unknowingly divorce the work of Christ from the person of Christ is the creation of a benefit-centered faith that Jesus handed to us instead of a Jesus-centered faith that Jesus is for us.  Every single blessing of our salvation – all those wonderful terms such as justification and adoption and sanctification and glorification – they are all possible because of our union with Christ. If our oneness with Jesus does not exist, then neither does our justification. If we are not found in Christ, then we are not found adopted into God’s family. All of it relies on Christ in us and us in Christ. All of it.

Consider 1 Corinthians 1:30 – “And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” Jesus became to us our righteousness. Jesus became to us our redemption. Jesus became to us our sanctification. And why? Because we are “in Christ Jesus.” The work must never be separate from the person. Anthony Hoekema has said, “If Christ is indeed our sanctification, we can only be sanctified through being one with him.” (Saved By Grace).

How does this relate to our discipleship and a new year? Well, if we divorce the work of Christ from the person of Christ, we will undoubtedly divorce our work of discipleship from the person of Christ. Although we would never consciously suggest that Jesus is left out of our plans for discipleship and personal sanctification, we will become convinced that the right bible reading plan or the appropriate small group or a better church or healthier life or a increased determination will accomplish our freshly written resolutions. “It’s all for Jesus” we might say. But it’s not. It’s all in Jesus.

Whatever resolutions and whatever plans you have for 2019, I wish you the very best. If it is a new Bible reading plan, that’s great! (I have a new one myself I am excited about). If it is a commitment to a small group, that’s great! The point here is not to dissuade us from pursuing holiness. The point is to persuade us that these things will not sanctify us; Jesus is our sanctification. Jesus is both the one who provides the power of grace to pursue holiness and he is the object of that pursuit. We toil in Jesus to be shaped by Jesus to look more like Jesus.  


Union With Christ – A FAQ Series

A Christian’s “union with Christ” has been a major doctrine of preaching and teaching at Graefenburg Baptist Church for the last 2 years. In January of 2014, I preached a series through the book of Colossians called “Transform” where we began helping our congregation notice the seemingly endless verses which emphasize the two words “in Christ.” When I was in middle school, there was a little game we would play where a person who notices a Volkswagen Beetle would shout the word “Bug!” and then give the person next to them a little punch in the arm. Well, it wasn’t a very nice game, but all of a sudden I started noticing Volkswagens all over the place. I mean, they had always been there on the road, but now I saw them all the time because I was looking for them. Anthony Hoekema wrote that “Once you have your eyes opened to this concept of union with Christ, you will find it almost everywhere in the New Testament.” The same thing started happening at GBC. Folks began to tell me that they were starting to notice how often the New Testament speaks of “Christ in us” and “in Him” and “through Him” and so forth.

Union with Christ is such an important and necessary doctrine that it naturally raises plenty of questions. As part of my “Question Vault” series of blog entries, I am going to write 3 or 4 articles responding to a few of these frequently asked questions . The first and most natural question with which we will begin is a reminder to us…

What does “Union With Christ” mean?

John Murray once wrote that union with Christ is “the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation.” When we speak of our union with Christ, we are talking about our identity, the very core of who we are and what we are capable of. It is sadly not a phrase that is well known in the church and has only recently seen a revival of sorts in Christian discipleship resources. When we think about who we are in relation to Jesus Christ, we tend to think of things such as “following” Jesus, “worshiping” Jesus, “submitting” to Jesus, “obeying” Jesus, and so forth. All of those descriptions are certainly true and clearly biblical, but they are only possible because of our union with Christ.

And let’s face it, most weeks we struggle to follow Jesus. Maybe we have found ourselves unhappy with the way we worship Jesus, as if we are just going through the motions. And obedience? If you are like me, then you are daily struggling in that department…big time.

What happens is that since we tend to think of our relationship to Jesus primarily through these kinds of things, we become guilt ridden when we have those bad weeks (or months) and our worship is off and our obedience is lacking. Guilt likewise leads to despair and feelings of worthlessness, that God might wreak havoc on us because of our shortcomings. Striving for holiness and living the Christian life will not only become a fruitless endeavor without a proper understanding of our union with Christ, but it will also become something we dread.

So, we must understand what Paul understood about his salvation that will do two things for us:
1. Keep us from feelings of guilt and condemnation.
2. Give us the power necessary for joyful Christian living and obedience.

What did Paul understand? His union with Christ. Here are just a few verses that show how Paul treasured and depended on this amazing truth:

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God,
who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
“For you have died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:3)
“Therefore if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation, the old has passed away and the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
“We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4)

All of these verses teach us a profound truth about the most fundamental aspect of our identity and our salvation:  Because of our position in Christ, his actions are our actions, just as if we had personally carried them out. Christ was crucified, therefore we were crucified. Christ was buried, therefore we were buried. Christ was raised to new life, therefore we were raised to new life. To be in Christ means that Jesus is our representative; what he has done, we have done!

Think about it and be amazed all over again – the reason Paul says we are “hidden” with Christ is because the work of Christ has been credited, or “imputed” to us through faith. Thus, our old nature is dead, it is hidden, it is gone. What’s left is Christ’s work in us, because we are in him!

God looks at us and pardons us for one reason only. God does not pardon us because:
-He is willing to overlook sin.
-He is willing to cut us a break if we do our best.
-He is satisfied with our own works.
-He shows grace instead of judgment.

So what is the one reason why God forgives us and calls us his children?
-He sees perfect righteousness when he looks at us. How is that possible? Because he sees Jesus Christ and his perfect righteousness.

But it doesn’t stop there. Not only does our union with Christ impute his righteousness to us so that we are approved by God, but it also provides for us spiritual power to do what we could never do before. Willpower Christianity does not work. We will never be able to muster enough power from within ourselves to stay consistent with the things of God and find joy in them. It doesn’t matter how many conferences you attend, how many decision cards you fill out, and how many times you “recommit” your life (all of which are great things), only the power of Christ in you is strong enough to carry you to the finish line with joy. That is why the gospel must not be viewed as the thing that gets us saved and then we take over. No, the gospel is our power for daily living.

Consider one more text. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul describes our union with Christ in a remarkable way. He demonstrates how all humans are currently united with one of two people. Either we are united with Adam, and are thus marked by his sinful rebellion, or we are united with Christ, and are thus marked by his righteousness. Listen to Paul:

“For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:21-22)

The rock band “Rush” once said, “if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.” That is certainly true here. You will experience a union with one of two men. In Adam, there is death. In Christ, there is life.

So, with this remarkable truth that author Jerry Bridges called “breathtaking,” also comes some important questions. I will begin to address those in the next article.

Soli Deo Gloria!


My Baptism Philosophy For Children

I believe it is time for me to outline my personal baptism philosophy as it pertains to children who have professed faith in Christ. The reasons for the clarification are twofold. First, there is a growing discussion/debate among evangelical pastors as to whether or not churches should be baptizing children, and if so, at what age? Second, we have thankfully been baptizing a few children at GBC lately and my hunch is that some church members and parents are curious as to why I might be baptizing one child at a certain age but not baptizing another child who is the same age.

Should We Baptize Children?
Baptist churches have historically stressed the necessity of a personal encounter with God through Jesus Christ as the means by which conversion, baptism, and church membership are experienced. Because of this, Baptists reject infant baptism, confirmation classes, rites of initiation, and a variety of other avenues that are employed by some denominations to bestow and announce a person’s salvation, baptism, or full church membership.

This creates a difficult and sensitive issue when children are asking to be baptized, or as the case may be, parents are encouraging and even expecting their child’s baptism. The fear among many pastors, understandably so, is that baptism is misunderstood as the means of salvation or as a magical passageway to faith, providing false security for children who have been prematurely baptized. How many times have you heard a testimony that went something like this:  “I was baptized when I was young, but didn’t really know what I was doing. It wasn’t until I was out of college that I realized my need for Jesus Christ.” We celebrate these testimonies for God’s continuing mercy, but these are nevertheless the kinds of stories we want to hear less of as the church continues to preach the gospel.

In order to avoid this, some churches have implemented a specific baptism policy for children. Typically, the policy will prohibit baptism until a certain age, such as 10 or 15 years old. So, if a child professes faith at 8, they must wait until they are 10 before they are baptized. This provides the church opportunity to witness the fruit of repentance and to affirm the child’s profession of faith.

I do not follow this model. Although I unapologetically place myself in the Reformed Baptist camp, I do not agree with every movement within that camp, and this move away from baptizing children upon their profession of faith seems to be growing in popularity. I very much identify and am sympathetic with the concerns of premature baptism, the consequences of which are devastating, but I do not believe Scripture teaches a probationary period between a person’s confession and their baptism. Therefore, I will baptize children.

When Will I Baptize Children?
So where does that leave me? If I am concerned about baptizing too early but I also believe a probationary period is not biblical, how do I handle children who profess faith?

I look for two clear markers of a child’s (and adults for that matter) desire to be a Christian. First, they must understand the gospel. My concern is that far too many children have been immersed in water without understanding sin. Without understanding the importance and necessity of both the crucifixion and resurrection.

My favorite gospel presentation for children is called, “Who will be King?” You can view an online version here. This presentation incorporates a visual representation of the written truth being discussed. The full picture of the Gospel – God, Man, Christ, Response – is offered. Children will hear about creation, God’s Kingship, man’s fall, sin, God’s love, Christ’s death and resurrection, and the free offer of salvation.

So, my first marker is understanding.

The second marker I look for is conviction. Understanding the gospel is necessary, but not enough. The child must believe these things are true and have a desire to repent so that their sins will be forgiven. Understanding the gospel does not necessarily correlate with a genuine belief in it and desire for it. Conviction is a mighty act of God by which our darkened hearts receive the light of the knowledge of the glory of God (2 Corinthians 4:6). It is a supernatural act of mercy.

These two things work together. When a child understands the gospel message and demonstrates a desire for forgiveness because they are convicted of their hopeless situation apart from Christ, I am then comfortable baptizing that child. At that point for me, baptism is not only acceptable but necessary.

Some children at a young age, like 7 or 8 or 9, might demonstrate a clear understanding of the gospel and show genuine conviction of their sin. Another child at the same age might not yet be there. It isn’t a race. A baptism does not “speed up” the process. As a matter of fact, when a child is baptized too soon before they understand and believe, the process is slowed down. Usually for many, many years.

So that is my position on baptizing children. I do not believe in a probationary period, but I do believe we should make sure there is clear understanding and conviction before we baptize.

*I recommend a little booklet called “Forbid Them Not” that explains in greater detail need to baptize children without a probationary period. I have also written a lengthy, more detailed of my position (20 pages) that I am happy to share with you if interested. Just shoot me a message and ask.

Leonard Nimoy and Christian Mission

Today the world was saddened by the heart-wrenching news of Leonard Nimoy’s death. Most fell in love with the American actor for his portrayal of Spock, a half-human, half-Vulcan First Officer on the starship Enterprise. Others of us remember Nimoy for his more obscure roles, like his brilliant performance as a heart surgeon turned murderer in the Columbo episode, “A Stitch In Crime.” Virtually everyone agrees that Nimoy was a rare talent who touched the most meaningful parts of our hearts with his sincere performances. He will most certainly be missed.

Because of this, it is no surprise that social media is lighting up today with sentimental status updates and tweets about Spock being “beamed up to God” and enjoying the “heavenly home he long sought after.” These kinds of remarks are expected upon the death of such a beloved icon and surely demonstrate the best wishes from generations of people who welcomed Nimoy into their lives. My concern is how many of these tweets and updates are coming from evangelical Christians.

My hunch is when an atheist reads how Spock has been “beamed up to God”, they simply roll their eyes. My hunch is when a Christian Universalist reads how Spock has been “beamed up to God”, they nod in agreement. My hunch is when a postmodern pluralist reads how Spock has been “beamed up to God”, they count his Jewish faith as one spoke on the wheel of faith leading to the same hub. But I’m not sure what evangelical Christians are thinking when they write or read how Spock has been “beamed up to God.”

I have no problem with those other groups who would respond based on their beliefs. But for those of us who maintain the exclusivity of Jesus Christ for reconciliation with the Father – an orthodox Christian soteriology – this is at best a confusing case of sentimentality or at worst a sneak peak into what we actually believe about the lives of those who pass on into the next life. It is one thing to affirm the reality of hell for the theoretical person who denies faith by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. It is quite another thing when it is the gentle voice of the one who taught us to “live long and prosper.”

C.S. Lewis once remarked how there are no ordinary humans. We are all immortal, we will all live forever. Indeed, the eternality of our soul is not in question; the haunting question is what we are becoming and will become in eternity. As Lewis says, we are becoming “noble beyond imagination or vile beyond redemption.” Although Facebook and Twitter updates might simply be an innocent way to express thanksgiving and grief for the loss of a dear friend, I am concerned their presence among evangelicals signals something far more sinister; that we don’t really believe the God of heaven and earth would pour his wrath on on this harmless Vulcan who promoted peace and prosperity his entire life.

I sure hope that is the case. I hope Nimoy has, in fact, been “beamed up to God” and is today found in that inexpressible joy of Paradise. But regardless of the peace he promoted on earth, if he did not find eternal peace by placing faith in Jesus Christ, then no such joy is available for him.

Christian mission will never fully connect with the local church evangelical until we see each living person as either under the blessing or under the curse. If the thought of Leonard Nimoy separated from God in hell seems horrific to you, then ask God to increase your desire to purposefully, intentionally, radically, and unashamedly share the Good News of Jesus Christ with those who are perishing.

I don’t know Leonard Nimoy’s resting place; only God judges the heart and only God separates the sheep from the goats. What I do know is that faith in Christ Jesus is essential. My profound hope is that Nimoy expressed that faith. That power alone will enable the transportation of us all into the heavenly places.

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