Sunday, March 31, 2013

Happy Easter!

Picture a mean bunch of guys, big rocks in their hands, hate on their faces, kicking up dust in the ancient Judean sun.
“For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God!”
With these amazing words in John 10, the Jews gave their reason for trying once again to stone Jesus.
Not yet ready to die, and certainly not by stoning, Jesus escaped Judea and crossed the Jordan River to where John the Baptist had once baptized repentant Israelites, probably Perea.  He stayed there for a while, and many believed in Him there.
When word came to Jesus that his beloved friend Lazarus was deathly sick, He didn’t cross the Jordan back to Bethany near Jerusalem to visit his friend on his death bed.  No one could blame Him for staying .  After all, hadn’t the Jews repeatedly tried to seize and stone Him?  So the disciples didn’t blame Him, and they weren’t surprised that He stayed in Perea.  It only made sense.  Lazarus would have to rely on the comfort of His immediate family, Mary and Martha.
But the disciples were surprised a couple of days later, when Jesus said, “Let us go to Judea again.”  What?!
They said to Him, “Rabbi, lately the Jews sought to stone You, and are you going there again?”
And He told them He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead.  Do you think they believed Him?  I don’t.  I think Thomas spoke for all the disciples when he said, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.”  They thought this was it.  The end.  Crazy, but hey, He’s the Lord.  We will follow Him and we will die with Him if necessary.
But they didn’t die that day.  They went to Bethany, and Jesus spoke the words that thrill our hearts, as believers in Him:


And he raised Lazarus from the dead.
And later He died on the Cross.  They finally got Him.  They finally put an end to the One whom they said blasphemed because He said He was God.  And the brave disciples who went to Bethany with Him, willing to die, cowered behind a closed door, mourning the loss of their Rabbi, and their dreams.
We appreciate His death now.  We know that it paid for our sins.  We cringe at the horror of the Innocent One being beaten and scourged and crucified and separated from His Father as He took the fury of the Wrath of God on Himself.  We appreciate it.  But we don’t exactly celebrate it.
What we celebrate is that on the third day, He rose from the dead.  He authenticated that He is Who He said He was.  He is the Anointed One, God the Son, the Christ, the Messiah!  And He is alive!  And we say Hallelujah!  He is risen!
Even as a historical event, it’s noteworthy.  But He did it for a purpose.  He was “raised for our justification”.  He was crucified, buried, and raised from the dead, that we might live.  He said He came that we might have life and have it more abundantly.  And in some mysterious way, when He died on the Cross, we died with Him, and when He was raised, we were raised with Him, and seated with Him in the heavenlies, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion.
We were made alive spiritually, with the promise that we will be raised physically as well, on that Great Gettin’ Up Morning!  We became New Creations!  Old things have passed away, behold all things have become new!  There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus!  Hallelujah, what a Savior!
And all because He died for our sins.  He became sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in Christ!
He Is Risen!

Friday, March 29, 2013

It Is Finished

by Michele Rayburn
We have died once to the penalty of sin, and so we have peace with God. (“I have been crucified with Christ…”)
We are able to die daily to the power of sin because we stand in grace. (“… it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me…”)
And someday when we are present with the Lord, we will be free from the presence of sin. (“…and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God Who died for me and gave Himself for me.” – Galatians 2:20)
Jesus died once for our sins, and shed His blood for us, so that we can rest completely in His finished work on the cross.
Sometimes we as Christians live as if it isn’t “finished”. We live as if our sins are not forgiven, past, present and future. And we find ourselves trying to earn God’s favor each day.
But we stand in grace, in a permanent state of forgiveness, precisely because “It is finished.”

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Why Christ Dying For Your Sins Was Not Enough

It’s easy to read over Romans 5:10 rapidly and miss its point.
And yet it’s one of the most sublime and poignant passages of Scripture.
“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”
See, we were reconciled to God through the death of Christ. And that is a great truth. Our sins were paid for, the curtain of separation between us and God was taken out of the way. Nothing stood any longer between us and God.
Yet Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 that if Christ was not risen from the dead, then we Christians would be pitiful, because we would still be dead in our sins.
How can this be? Wasn’t His death on the Cross enough?
Being separated from God by our sins was only part of the problem. We also were spiritually dead. And even if our sins were paid for, it would have been no more valuable than paying for the Purina Dog Chow of a dead Doberman.
There also needed to be Life. New Life. A New Creation.
Being reconciled to God, as wonderful as that is, was not enough, and so the death of Jesus was not enough. He had to be risen from the dead, so that we too could be risen from our awful state, dead in our sins and trespasses.
“…according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead….even when we were dead in trespasses, [He] made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…”, (Ephesians 1:19,20; 2:5,6)
And so Jesus had to rise from the dead, or we would be lost. And fools. And blind leading the blind.
But He did rise from the dead.
And so we have not only the reconciling to God from the death of Christ, but our salvation through New Life, given as a free gift by God through the same power He used to raise Christ from the dead!
And so we have Romans 5:10, with profound meaning that might escape us if we simply read over it rapidly. Romans 5:10…
“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, WE SHALL BE SAVED BY HIS LIFE.”
To All You Readers of Grace For Life,
We Love You.
Happy Easter!
He Is Risen!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Church Membership Or Biblical Fellowship? (Notes)

Over the years the question of Church Membership swirls around the Christian world, and is debated and discussed, sometimes fought over, and sometimes just taken for granted.
Now by “Church Membership” here, I mean it in the commonly used sense of the phrase, referring to formally joining a particular local church, in a formal way, maybe agreeing to some doctrinal statement, or agreeing to some written covenant, and actually being put on a list of “Members”.
Is that Biblical? Is it O.K.? Is it demanded? Is it optional? And so forth.
Today I want to open a discussion in what I think is a new direction regarding Church Membership, especially as it relates to Fellowship.
See, I believe that the discussion of Church Membership is in one sense missing the real point of what the Church is to be about.
Is Membership Fellowship?
There’s a big elephant in the room that no one mentions. This elephant is ignored, walked around, or maybe mentioned only in passing. The big elephant in the room is Fellowship.
Now I’ve read many extensive studies which attempt to prove from Scripture that Membership Lists are taught in the Bible. And I will admit some of them SEEM logical, and SEEM to make sense in a certain way.
But the truth is, there are no commands for Church Membership Lists in the Bible. There are no examples of Church Membership Lists in the Bible. And there are no examples of formal joining of the local church in the Bible.
Because of this, and in relation to Biblical Fellowship, I have come to believe that Church Membership Lists, and the formal joining of a local church, is a man-made result of a lack of true Biblical Fellowship, or what the Bible in Greek calls Koinonia.
No let me make a disclaimer, before I go any further. If you attend a local church that practices Membership Lists, I’m not saying you shouldn’t join, or formally become a member. Because the Bible also does not PROHIBIT the making of Membership Lists. So I want to be clear on that. The Membership List itself is not the problem.
Three Aspects
With that, I want to look at three aspects of this question of Church Membership:
1. What does the Bible teach about membership in general?
2. What made one a member of a local church?
3. What does Fellowship have to do with it?
1. What does the Bible teach about membership in general?
Romans 12:4,5, “For as we have many MEMBERS in one body, but all the MEMBERS do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually MEMBERS of one another.”
1 Cor 6:15, “Do you not know that your bodies are MEMBERS of Christ? Shall I then take the MEMBERS of Christ and make them MEMBERS of a harlot? Certainly not!”
1 Cor 12:12, “For as the body is one and has many MEMBERS, but all the MEMBERS of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ.”
1 Cor 12:18, “But now God has set the MEMBERS, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased.”
1 Cor 12:20, “But now indeed there are many members, yet one body.”
1 Cor 12:25, “…that there should be no schism in the body, but that the MEMBERS should have the same care for one another.”
1 Cor 12:26, “And if one MEMBER suffers, all the MEMBERS suffer with it; or if one MEMBER is honored, all the MEMBERS rejoice with it.”
1 Cor 12:27, “Now you are the body of Christ, and MEMBERS individually.”
Ephesians 2:19, “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and MEMBERS of the household of God.”
Ephesians 4:25, “Therefore, putting away lying, let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor, for we are MEMBERS of one another.”
Ephesians 5:30, “For we are MEMBERS of His body, of His flesh and of His bones.”
Acts 2:47, “…praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.”
2. What made one a member of the local church?
Acts 15:41, “And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.”
Acts 16:5, “So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily.”
“The Church” vs. “the churches”
Belief in Jesus Christ, baptism, and then practicing “church”.
Acts 2:42, “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.”
3. What does fellowship have to do with it?
Fellowship = “koinonia”, “commonality”, as in “koine” greek.
1 John 1:3, “…that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have FELLOWSHIP with us; and truly our FELLOWSHIP is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.”
1 John 1:6, “If we say that we have FELLOWSHIP with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.”
1 John 1:7, “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.”
Now we get back to Membership Lists, regarding church discipline and dis-fellowshiping a member.
Biblical “membership” involves “fellowship” — a commonality of spiritual Life in prayer, teaching, breaking of bread, drinking of cup, knowing one another, bearing one another’s burdens, sharing in one another’s financial needs, fervently loving one another, recognizing the hurt in one another and applying the balm of Jesus with warmth, stirring one another up to good works, exhorting, encouraging, blessing, hugging, welcoming, caring about, feeding with the true Bread, Who is Christ.
In other words, church discipline which may lead to dis-fellowshiping someone presupposes there is something to be dis-fellowshiped *from*. Something infinitely valuable, something one doesn’t want to miss, if they are a believer.
The modern American “church service”, where everyone files in at 11 and files out at Noon, with a, “How you doing?”, “I’m gr-r-r-eat!, how about you?” to a few people, followed by going home for another week apart from everyone else (or maybe till Wednesday for the truly “spiritual”) — doesn’t know what fellowship is. So it substitutes Membership Lists.
Then it either never dis-fellowships anyone, because “who cares?”, or it practices the church discipline of taking the unrepentent publicly sinful “off the Membership List”, whereupon the unrepentent publicly sinful either goes to the next church, or is “shamed” back onto the Membership List, not because they really miss the so-called “fellowship”, but because they are humiliated (too often they remain humiliated, with a red letter on their back…marked as a lesser being, not ike “us” who are incapable of falling so low…”How are you doing, Lesser Being?…O.K.?…go-o-o-d…see you next week…Ciao!”).
This is not meant to be a cynical comment at all, but a mere observation of many churches over many years, and a heart’s cry for a continual renewal of Biblical Fellowship.
“Church Membership Lists” is not primarily an exegetical question, it’s a spiritual one.
May God work His Fellowship in the churches.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Does God Love The Whole World?

An Open Letter To A Friend
By Michele Rayburn
I don’t think that the Church has only been teaching that God is love. The unsaved world may seem to be, but it seems that the Church is teaching doctrine (often legalistic doctrine) to the exclusion of love.
The Bible says that we are nothing without love, and yet I do not see its principles expounded upon very often. And I believe that it has had its effect on the body of Christ. If the Church is not “walking in love” then we are not spiritually mature…we are not “walking by the Spirit”. And that is what is so lacking.
I don’t think that we should deny that God loves the lost just because you think too much emphasis is being given to “For God so loved the world…”. That would not be a biblical approach. Because the concept that “God so loved the world” may confuse the unbeliever is no reason to downplay it. It’s not a matter of giving them “false hope” by telling them that God loves them, but rather, it is biblically accurate.
We can say that God will not save all people, even though “God so loves the world”, and it doesn’t matter if it confuses them, because it is the truth. “God’s ways are higher than our ways” and we can’t always understand His ways. “The deep things belong to God”. And, “The natural man cannot understand spiritual things”. The clay is not to ask the Potter, “Why did you make me this way?”
But, we know from John 3:16 that God loves the world (the whole world) because in that same verse, God says “whosoever believes”. This is a recognition that some (the “whosoevers”) in the world will “come out from them” (come out from the world) and believe.
And, nowhere does the Bible say God did not love His elect before He saved them. The Bible says that God chose you before the foundation of the world, which is an act of His love. He sees the end from the beginning and He still set His love upon you before you were created. When John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world…”, was it before He knew them or after? God so loved the world always. There is no mention of time limitations on God’s love or preconditions for His love.
God’s love is the motivating reason (or, at least, the best known reason) for our salvation. It is because He loved us that He saved us. You said the Gospel begins not with love. But even the giving of the Law to convict man of sin was an act of love.
John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world [His love comes first] that He gave His only begotten Son [the good news comes second]“. The reason God gave His Son is because He so loved the world. God was motivated by His love.
“We love Him [why?] because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)
Here are more Scriptures that show that God’s love came first and that His love was the motivation for His salvation plan:
Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
1 John 3:16, “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us.”
1 John 3:9, “In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.
1 John 4:10 “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
This last verse, 1 John 4:10, by the way, together with 1 John 2:2 “And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the whole world” is a clear Biblical statement of fact. For 1 John 2:2 to say “not for ours only, but also for the whole world” clearly states that God means “the whole world”. Because, who is left over after He is the propitiation for our sins?
The word “propitiation” does not mean “turn away God’s wrath”, but rather, it more closely means “to satisfy God’s wrath” (“It does not make God merciful; it makes divine forgiveness possible“–The New Compact Bible Dictionary). It means that Jesus Christ’s offer of Himself is a sacrifice that is sufficient for all. But it is not describing an act that is accomplished in all. The turning away of God’s wrath comes after the act of propitiation is received by those who repent.
The love of God is the motivation for the salvation of man, and the law is used to convict lost souls in order to show them their need for salvation.
If we see God as only angry toward unbelievers, I think we could very well become angry Christians, since we are imitators of God. God has the right to be angry because He knows how to be angry and not sin. He has a righteous anger, because underlying His anger is His perfect love.
A Twitter follower made the following comment:
“He loves the whole world, but not everyone in it.” Then he gave the Bible verse “Jacob I loved, Esau I hated” from Romans 9:13.
This was my husband Terry’s response via TwitLonger:
The question of whether God loves every individual person can’t be settled by a single verse, or even several individual verses.
It must be REASONED from the whole of Scripture, for two reasons:
A. There are different kinds of “love” and “hate”.
In the case of “love”, for example, it’s clear that Jesus loved both Judas Iscariot and the “rich young ruler”, yet both showed no repentance and faith for salvation.
In the case of “hate”, Jesus told us that we must “hate” our families. Yet we must “love” even our enemies. Obviously this “hate” is a relative prioritizing kind of hate, indicating that our love and prioritizing of Christ must be first, relative [no pun intended] to our families.
Thus God can, and does, both “love” (in some sense) His enemy, and “hate” them (in some sense).
Romans 9:13, “Jacob I loved, Esau I hated”, is not a verse explaining love and hate. It’s a verse explaining God’s sovereignty in election.
B. When God tells us to love our enemies, He says that when we do we are being like Him, Who gives rain, for example, to the just and the unjust.
This makes no sense whatsoever [we're REASONING, remember] if He did not in fact love every individual.
Here’s the syllogism:
Premise 1: We are to love every individual, even our enemy.
Premise 2: This makes us like our Father.
Conclusion: Our Father loves every individual.
Now for that to be true we have to understand point “A” above, that is, there are different kinds of love.
Obviously, God does not love every individual in the same sense as He loves His elect, His children. But that doesn’t mean He doesn’t love them.
He has love (of a sort we might call “felt compassion”) for even His enemies, the wicked, even to the point that He says in Ezekiel, “I take NO PLEASURE in the death of the wicked,” while he yet justly consigns them to the lake of fire.
It’s as if the Dad of a mass murderer was a Circuit Court Judge, and justly sent his son to Death Row, yet with tears streaming down his eyes. (Of course no human analogy can fully satisfy).
But because God IS “love”, He cannot NOT love, any more than He cannot NOT execute justice as the JUST ONE. (Even in the case of the elect, Justice is not avoided, but is exercised in Christ on the cross.)
Again, if we don’t REASON from the whole of Scripture, we may conclude that there are some that God does not love in any sense, and I believe this violates His very nature and dishonors Him (though I’m certainly not implying that you would do so intentionally).
Terry Rayburn