Posts Tagged 'Fellowship'

Is God Your Father?

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“Is God really your Father?” That looks like an trick question, but it isn’t. However, it is a loaded question that isn’t all that easy to answer. Roman Catholics and a great many Protestants believe that God is the Father of all people. There seems to be some Biblical support for this idea:

‘In him we live and move and exist.’ As some of your own poets have also said, ‘We are his children.’ (Acts 17:28 NIrV)

In a sense, God is the Father of people because He created all of us. Malachi 2:10 provides us with that bit of truth –

People of Judah, all of us have one Father. One God created us. (NIrV)

Over in the New Testament, the apostle Paul taught something very similar –

In him we live and move and exist.’ As some of your own poets have also said, ‘We are his children.’

“Yes, we are God’s children. So we shouldn’t think that God is made out of gold or silver or stone. He isn’t a statue planned and made by clever people.” (Acts 17:28, 29 NIrV)

God is the creator of all people. That essential Biblical truth was taught to the Jews in the Old Testament and to the Gentiles in the New. But that isn’t the end of it. Charles Spurgeon wrote this of the Fatherhood of God –

Believe the doctrine of the Fatherhood of God to His people. Abhor the doctrine of the universal Fatherhood of God, for it is a lie and a deep deception.

He’s right about that, of course. The very sad fact is that most people have become “children of the wicked one” because they have chosen to live in sin.

The field is the world. The good seed stands for the people who belong to the kingdom. The weeds are the people who belong to the evil one. (Matthew 13:38 NIrV)

You can’t “belong to the evil one” if you are a child of God. The great Biblical truth of the fatherhood of God is that He is indeed the Father of those who belong to Him. We are made children of God in the relational sense by faith.

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born again because of what God has done. And everyone who loves the Father loves his children as well. (1 John 5:1 NIrV)

The teaching of “the universal Fatherhood of God” is an outright contradiction of Christ’s own teaching. Only those who have confessed Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and are actively living for Him have a right to call God their Father. That very nice person who lives down the street, who is kind and courteous to all, cannot call God his Father if he is not born again. Our Lord put it this way –

Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me. I came from God, and now I am here. I have not come on my own. He sent me.” (John 8:42 NIrV)

Love with corresponding devotion to Jesus Christ is the evidence that a person is under the Fatherhood of God. Knowing about God or even claiming to love God does not make Him your Father. That’s the essence of Jesus’ teaching in John 8. He declared this in John 8:12 –

Jesus spoke to the people again. He said, “I am the light of the world. Those who follow me will never walk in darkness. They will have the light that leads to life.” (NIrV)

The relationship between Jesus and the Father is such that they are really inseparable. That’s why Jesus could say something like this –

If you knew me, you would know my Father also. (John 8:19 NIrV)

That assertion is probably the most striking one Jesus ever made. He was speaking to “nice people,” highly educated, respected, very religious people. They were sure that they knew God; they thought they understood His ways. They thought they were His children. However, their rejection of Jesus Christ showed that they really didn’t know God at all. The only things they knew for sure were their own ideas about God.

If these religious people really loved God as they claimed to, they would have loved God’s Son. Merrill C. Tenney’s remarks on this issue are worthwhile noting –

Love for God is a family affair; it involves loving all whom the Father has sent. This love should especially be manifested toward the Father’s most beloved representative, his Son.

Just so. So is God really your Father? Are you in love with Jesus? How do you know for sure? Love for Christ shows itself in the following ways:

Love for Christ is manifested by trusting Him

You can’t say that you love God without having faith in His Son. Specifically, you must trust in what the Son did for you on the Cross. You must know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that He bore your sins to the Cross, was punished and died in your stead, taking away all your guilt. You have to believe He did all that and you have to claim your position in Christ as a genuine child of God. All that takes faith. All that takes an attitude of trust toward Jesus.

When a man works, his pay is not considered a gift. It is owed to him. But things are different with God. He makes evil people right with himself. If people trust in him, their faith is accepted even though they do not work. Their faith makes them right with God. (Romans 4:4, 5 NIrV)

Love for Christ is manifested by listening to His Word.

But because I tell the truth, you don’t believe me! (John 8:45 NIrV)

If you love Jesus, and thereby you love God, you will pay attention to the Word of God. James Stephenson wrote –

Where there is love there will be a joyful reception of His words into the heart.

Does that describe you? Is your Bible covered with dust? Or is it well-read? Do you struggle to stay awake during the sermon? Do you think Bible study is a waste of time? If God is really your Father, you’ll love His Word.

We live in a world that is very hostile to the Word of God. What does that say about the state of our nation? The vast majority of people today do not know or do not acknowledge the truth of God’s Word. People today are too busy trying to live in a “politically correct” manner instead of living in the light of the objective truths contained in the Bible. Pilate was like that. He famously uttered those words, “What is truth?” Here was a man who was so bogged down in the politics of his day he could no longer recognize the truth even as it was standing there in front of him.

It’s sad but true, but most people today live in a world of lies and delusion, of distortions and falseness. For those religious people listening to Jesus and for far too many of your neighbors, truth is a foreign language they do not understand.

Love for Christ is manifested by a desire for fellowship.

When you love someone, you want to be with them. When you love someone, you can’t wait to see them. Are you that way with Jesus? Is prayer a burden to you? When was the last time – not counting grace – you spent time in prayer?

But there is more to fellowshipping with Christ than praying. The truth is, fellowshipping with other believers is also fellowshipping with Christ. A true child of God prefers the company of other true children of God. Does that describe you? Do look forward to fellowshipping with other Christians? What kind of people do you like to spend your time with the most? How you answer those questions speaks volumes about what you think of Jesus.

In 1545, William Turner wrote this famous verse –

Byrdes of on kynde and color flok and flye allwayes together.

We say it like this today –

Birds of feather flock together.

People in love with Jesus love to spend time with Him and with others like Him.

Love for Christ is manifested by talking about Him

If you love Jesus, and if God is really your father, then you’ll talk about Him. It’s human nature to enjoy talking about things we’re interested in; things we spend the most time thinking about. What do you spend time talking about? Your favorite sports team? The latest blockbuster in the theater? Your children? There’s nothing wrong with any of that “small talk,” by the way. But there’s this –

So be very careful how you live. Do not live like people who aren’t wise. Live like people who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity. The days are evil. So don’t be foolish. Instead, understand what the Lord wants.

Don’t fill yourself up with wine. Getting drunk will lead to wild living. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Speak to each other with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord. Always give thanks to God the Father for everything. Give thanks to him in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5:15 – 20 NIrV)

That’s how you should be living. It’s not that Paul wants you to run around singing at each other necessarily, but God the Father and Jesus the Son shouldn’t be too far from your thoughts. It’s good to talk about spiritual things. It builds up the faith and encourages the heart.

Love for Christ is manifested by willingly suffering for Him

If God doesn’t punish you when you need it, as other fathers punish their sons, then it means that you aren’t really God’s son at all—that you don’t really belong in his family. (Hebrews 12:8 TLB)

As Leon Morris observed,

It is the universal experience of children that life means discipline.

So much so that if there is somebody who has never been disciplined, then, that person is “illegitimate.” Verse 7 actually clarifies verse 8 –

Let God train you, for he is doing what any loving father does for his children. Whoever heard of a son who was never corrected? (Hebrews 12:7 TLB)

In the Greek, “train you” is in the emphatic position, meaning that’s what you’re supposed to remember from this verse. Suffering should never be looked upon as misery, or by chance, or bad luck for the Christian. Difficult times show that God is teaching you and disciplining you. It sounds so trite, but God uses difficult times to teach His children something.

If God is really your Father, you will be tried and tested because you are His heir – a legitimate child of God.

Love for Christ is manifested by a desire to be like Him

Christ suffered for you. He left you an example. He expects you to follow in his steps. You too were chosen to suffer. (1 Peter 2:21 NIrV)

Without regard to the bit about being “chosen to suffer,” Christ is our example and if God is your Father, you’ll want to live your life the way Jesus did. In living like Jesus, you’ll be living like God. That’s how you should want to live because that’s how God wants you to live –

God planned that those he had chosen would become like his Son. (Romans 8:29 NIrV)

Is God really your Father? He’s not everybody’s Father. The Fatherhood of God is exclusive to those who have confessed Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Don’t believe otherwise.

 

Yes, You Have To!

Yes, you have to

You’ve probably heard, and maybe even said, something that goes like this: Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to McDonalds makes you a Big Mac. That’s true, as far as it goes. Faithfully attending church doesn’t save anybody. We are saved by faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ. We are not saved by performing acts of good work or penance. We stand justified before God through the saving grace of Christ. That being the case, no true believer will lose his salvation by skipping church.

It was hard for me to type that last sentence. As a pastor who has been in the ministry for many years, the habitual church-skipper has become the absolute bane of my existence. You probably know people like this. They join your church, attend services faithfully for a few months, then they start skipping services. A Sunday spent away on vacation. The grandkids have strep. A birthday. These people always have a good reason for skipping church. You run into them at Wal-Mart and the first thing that comes out of their mouth is, “I know we’ve missed a lot of church, but we’ve been busy. We’ll see you this Sunday, though!” Right. If I had a dollar for every time a lazy church member spoke those words to me, I’d be a rich man today; my wife and I would be engaged in some “beach ministry” somewhere in the Caribbean. The fact is, words are cheap and so are habitual church skippers. They’re cheap with the blessings God has given them. They are stingy with yielding themselves to the Holy Spirit. And they hoard the gifts of the Spirit they possess.

Still, you have to love these people. You can’t kill them. So, what do you do with the lazy, habitual church skipper? Let’s lay some groundwork, first.

Christians are supposed to be in church.

While going to church doesn’t save you, the Bible is very clear that the Christian life is meant to be lived within the context of a local church.

His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms… (Ephesians 3:10 NIV)

We know that Paul here is referring to the local church because he’s writing to a local church, extolling the virtues of God’s wisdom as manifested by and through the local church for all the world to see. That’s a very big reason to regularly attend church – to be a part of God’s plan for showing the lost world His wisdom. When you habitually skip church, you are hindering God’s plan. Among other reasons, that’s why the Christian life (as designed by God) was never meant to be lived in isolation, away from the Body of Christ. Our very fellowship together with other believers is meant to be a stark testimony to a lost world.

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:23 – 25 NIV)

Here are some more good reasons to regularly attend services. The writer to the Hebrews links it to “the hope we profess.” In other words, part of being Christian is being a part of His Body, in the context of the local church. In addition, attending services gives us a chance to encourage fellow members in their walk with Christ and vice versa.

The writer to the Hebrews hints at something else in these verses: it is tempting to “give up meeting together.” Every pastor knows this to be true, and honest church members also know how easy it is to find reasons to miss church. It’s always tempting to lay out of church, hence the strong admonition to the Hebrew Christians.

A matter of priorities

Since attending church services is God’s will for His people, when we choose put the activities of the world ahead of church, we are saying to God, “I don’t have time for you.” That’s not a good position to be in! Can you imagine saying to God that you had “better things to do” on Sundays than fellowship with Him and other believers in His House? The title of this article is “Yes, You Have To Go To Church”, but it should probably be, “Do I Have to Put God First?”  Laying out of church so you can “spend time with your family,” by the way, is not putting God first and counts for nothing.  Atheists spend time with their families.  Walking in the woods, appreciating creation may be a wonderful way to lower your blood pressure, but it’s not putting God first, at least when you ought to be in church.

Even Christians who rarely skip church can fall into the dreaded “one hour only” mentality. Think about it. Do you complain about church running past noon? Most of us do, yet most of us never complain about services being too short. It’s about priorities. Are the things of your life more important than God? Regular church attenders would do well to think about this. If you’re in a rush to get out of church so you can “get on with your Sunday,” you’re insulting God. Let’s check our attitude about church often.

It all comes down to priorities. Do you, if you call yourself a Christian, put God first in your life or not? Part of putting Him first is living in obedience to what He wants for your life, and one thing He wants is for Christians – for you – to attend church services regularly. Of course, there are many other important things going on in your life, but it’s when you habitually put those things ahead of God, you find yourself on the outs with Him.

Christians are made to worship corporately – together. It is certainly true that you can worship God any time, anywhere. You don’t have to be in church to worship God. Nowhere in the Bible will find a verse that says believers in God should wait until they are in church to worship God. The Bible assumes believers will live a life of worship. Worship is a lot more than singing hymns and choruses, or taking Communion. And yet, that same Bible admonishes Christians to do these things:

Meet together on the first day of the week.

No kidding! It’s in there.

On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. (Acts 20:7 NIV)

Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. (1 Corinthians 16:1, 2 NIV)

The Lord wants His people to get into the habit of meeting together regularly.

We can’t do what we’re supposed to do unless we meet together

You really can’t be all that God wants you to be unless you are in regular fellowship with other believers in the local church. You may be living a good life, enjoying peace and prosperity, but you’ll never know the full blessing of God until you are in church.

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5:18 – 20 NIV)

Those are things Christians are supposed to be doing for each other in church. There’s no getting away from the fact that God intends for His people to live out their Christian lives in the church. Of course, you should live like a Christian all the time, everywhere you go, but doing the things Paul admonished his Ephesian friends to do can only be done in church!

On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. (1 Corinthians 16:2 NIV)

Offerings can’t be taken up except in church. The offering Paul referred to here was one to meet the needs of another church. Christians looking after other Christians can best take place within a local church. It is there the needs of the Body of Christ are meant to be met.

You can’t follow the example of the early Christians except in church

There’s a lot of talk about “getting back” to the way the church used to be. It seems as though a lot Christians have grown disenchanted with the way the modern church has become. Well, if you want to “get back” to the New Testament church, you had better get used to meeting at least once a week at a central location. Of course, there were “house churches” in the early days, but there were also large congregations that met at a regular location. They had a structure and they were organized  (1 Corinthians 11 and 14).

If you read those two chapters (there are many others like them, by the way) you’ll see why it’s imperative to be in church. You can watch a church service on TV, you can read your Bibles with your husband or wife, and neighbors, but you can’t do what the Lord wants you to do; you can’t follow the example of the early church unless you are in an organized, structured church.

You can only encourage and uplift the saints in church

We’ve already looked at Hebrews 10:23 – 25, but there are other verses that talk about the importance of gathering together, not only to worship God, but also to encourage and uplift other believers. Naturally we can do this any time we happen to run into a fellow believer at the grocery store or at a ball game, but it best takes place in the local church.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. (Colossians 3:15, 16 NIV)

All those things are to take place in the local church. Just a quick reading of Colossians 3 shows the context. When we habitually miss church services, we are quite literally robbing other believers of our encouragement. Not only that, we run the risk of becoming a stumbling block to other Christians when we skip out of church all the time.

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. (Romans 14:13 NIV)

How does skipping church make you a stumbling block? Among other reasons it’s encouraging the already habitual  skippers to keep on skipping services; it’s setting a terrible example for them to follow.

Respecting God’s authority

Here’s one last thing to think about. When you habitually skip church, you are rejecting God-ordained leadership authority. Churches are led by elders, men (and sometimes women) who, being led by God themselves, decide the days and times of church services. When you choose to disregard the authoritative decisions made by these men of God, you are essentially disregarding the authority of God Himself. It’s no small thing to play fast and lose with your church. The odds are good that if you have this kind of attitude toward the church you have the same attitude toward God.

And now, a word to you elders of the church. I, too, am an elder; with my own eyes I saw Christ dying on the cross; and I, too, will share his glory and his honor when he returns. Fellow elders, this is my plea to you: Feed the flock of God; care for it willingly, not grudgingly; not for what you will get out of it but because you are eager to serve the Lord.

Don’t be tyrants, but lead them by your good example, and when the Head Shepherd comes, your reward will be a never-ending share in his glory and honor.

You younger men, follow the leadership of those who are older. And all of you serve each other with humble spirits, for God gives special blessings to those who are humble, but sets himself against those who are proud. (1 Peter 5:1 – 5 TLB)

Is the question, “Do I have to go to church?” Maybe it should be, “Is it permissible to disregard the authority of God and His leaders?”

A word about churches

Maybe you live in a community like the one I live in. There is a church every ten feet here it seems. Everywhere you look there’s another red door. When I talk about being faithful in church attendance, I am assuming you are attending a healthy, well-balanced church that is preaching the Word of God and respects the teachings and traditions of historical, orthodox Christianity. There are all kinds of groups that get together, sometimes calling themselves a “church,” yet have no relationship with the vital essentials of Christianity. Those “vital essentials” include things like: honoring the final authority of Scripture, belief in the great doctrines of the Bible, like the Trinity, the Deity of Christ, the substitutionary, atoning death of Christ, His resurrection, salvation by grace, living a life of holiness, and so on. A real church is faithful in administering the ordinances of the church – Communion and water baptism.

But a true church not only worships God together, they fellowship with each other.  They sometimes discipline each other.  They encourage each other and build each other up. Members of a true church are being equipped to reach out to the lost, offering them eternal life in Christ.

Ultimately, the real question should never be, “Do I have to go to church?” Rather, Christians should want to be in church because they have the right heart before God. No, the real question should be, “Why do you choose not to be in church every time the doors are open?”

Fellowship

BeFunky_Fellowship_1c.jpg

“God is light.”  In the Bible, especially in John’s writing, God is presented as “light.”  Did you ever stop to wonder why “light?”  Why not “sound?”  Why is God described as “light?”  Bible scholars and teachers give all kinds of reasons for this description of God, some are quite good and imaginative, others not so much.  In the end, though, “God is light” suggests that God is interested in making Himself known to the people He created in His image.  If man is in moral and spiritual darkness, then he needs some kind of light to lead him out; that light is God.

God is also described as “love.” This is makes sense.  The devil is evil; therefore God must be the polar opposite.  “God is love” means much more than “God loves me” or “At least He doesn’t hate me.”  No, “God is love” is not so much a description of what God does as who He is.  “Love” is the essential part of His nature and His character.  We breathe in the air around us, and God is love.

But it doesn’t stop there.  God is also known as “life,” as in “God is life.”  Of course, He is!  From God we receive the gift of eternal life through His Son.  How in the world is this possible? Well, the truth is, we are born with eternal life.  For better or for worse, the moment we are born, we shall never die.  The only question is, where will we live out our eternal life?  In a good place or a bad place?  When we say, “God is life,” we are, once again, referring to an essential component of God’s nature.  And, praise God, when we become Christians, here is what happens:

And by that same mighty power he has given us all the other rich and wonderful blessings he promised; for instance, the promise to save us from the lust and rottenness all around us, and to give us his own character.  (2 Peter 1:4  TLB)

Did you notice that last phrase?  God gives us “his own character”!  Or, to put in the KJV, we become “partakers of the divine nature.”  That’s a pretty good deal for sinful man.

But what does all this lofty theology have to do with fellowship among Christians?  The answer is:  Everything!  Let’s find out how.

Fellowship with God and others, 1 John 1:1—6 

The word of life, verses 1—4 

Even if the authorship of 1 John was in doubt, if you compare the first verse of John’s Gospel to the first verse of 1 John, you’ll see they are so similar, the same person must have written both works—

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  (John 1:1 NKJV) 

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life…  (1 John 1:1  NKJV)

The fact that Jesus came in the flesh was a controversial thing in John’s day.  That’s why he went to such great length to choose the opening words of his first letter with such care.  He wanted his readers to know beyond any doubt that he and others had seen, touched, and heard this Son of God, Jesus Christ.

…the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us…  (1 John 1:2  NKJV)

Jesus was no myth.  Nor was He an illusion or a ghost.  Jesus Christ was truly the Son of God, clothed in human flesh; for all intents and purposes, the divine Son of God became the Son of Man so as to reveal something of God to man hitherto obscured from man’s ability to see and comprehend.

…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 1:3  NKJV) 

This verse says a lot more than you may think.  True believers have fellowship with Jesus Christ and with God the Father.  It was John’s desire that his readers, who were also in fellowship with the Father through Jesus the Son, have fellowship with “we,” that is, himself, John and all the apostles.  This was the whole purpose of this letter.  What John probably has in mind here is fellowship in terms of eternal life.  Stop and think about what that means.  Thanks to what Jesus did, our fellowship with Him will never end and our fellowship with other believers will never end.  This is the very heart of the Easter message!  Jesus didn’t die and merely come back to life; He actually arose from the dead victoriously.  For Christians, this means that the fellowship we enjoy with the Son and with the Father and with each other cannot be broken by either suffering or death.

According to verse 4, this fellowship (with God and other believers) ought to be the basis of our greatest joy.

God is light, verses 5, 6 

This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.  (NKJV)

This is a fundamental truth about the nature of God:  God is light.  God wants to reveal something of Himself to us, or at least as much as our finite minds can understand, which isn’t much.  But notice God is all light, with not so much as a smidgen of darkness.  This is very suggestive of a kind purity—a moral purity, a spiritual purity, an emotional purity, and even a mental purity.  Every aspect of God’s character is absolutely pure; there are no shadows in His personality.  God isn’t “up” one day and “down” the next!  He’ll never change His mind about you.  He’ll never have second thoughts about anything, especially concerning His love for you!

If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.  (1 John 1:6  NKJV) 

Here’s the rub:  we are to be as pure as our Father is.  God has revealed as much of Himself to us as is possible given our limitations for the purpose of imparting His life and light to us.  John makes it clear that it is impossible for any man to have any kind of fellowship with God if that man is still living in the darkness.

The condition for fellowship, 1 John 1:7—2:2 

That great disciple of Christ, Dietrich Bonheoffer wrote:

Christian brotherhood is not an ideal we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate.  The more clearly we learn to recognize that the ground and strength and promise of all our fellowship is in Jesus Christ alone, the more serenely shall we think of our fellowship and pray and hope for it. 

When a man chooses to walk in darkness, there is no possible way for him to have fellowship with God OR with believers.  This was a familiar line of thinking for John; he wrote about in his Gospel:

For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.  (John 3:20  NKJV) 

Little wonder, then, non-Christians don’t want to have much to do with true believers!  Those who don’t know Jesus instinctively know the closer they get to Him, the greater chance their wrongdoing will come to light.  In fact, the same holds true for Christians in a backslidden state.  While they are living in sin they fight tooth-and-nail to stay out of church and away from other Christians.

But the opposite is true for real believers.  True believers in Jesus are not only drawn to Him, but to each other!  John declares this to be self-evident truth:

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.  (1 John 1:7  NKJV)

One truth follows after another:  if we are in Christ, then we will be in fellowship with other believers.

Confessing our sins, verses 8—10 

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.  (NKJV) 

Men are in real trouble, and that trouble goes back to the very beginning.  When Adam sinned and fell from grace, the whole human race fell with him.

…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…  (Romans 3:20  NKJV)

Living in sin is walking in darkness—it is walking away from God.  He is walking away into oblivion with no hope. No, it’s worse even than that; it is really self-destruction; a willful and stubborn refusal to look into the Light, that is God.  It is also self-deception; a mistaken belief that one is “all right” and “not that bad.”  To think that and to live a life in the darkness is to make God out to be liar.  Can you imagine!  Refusing to confess your sins and repent of them not only seals your doom but it defames God, all at the same time!

Sin is a choice, and in one way, so is salvation.  It is up to sinful man to confess his sins to God; God won’t force him to do that.  And the process of salvation begins with man’s confession of his sin.  John’s view of salvation parallels his idea of sin.  Sin is something all men can control—we make the choice to embrace it or not.  Of course, sin is both the act of evil (sin) and the propensity to sin (unrighteousness).  In John’s thinking, there is complete forgiveness of our sins; our acts of evil.  As for the propensity to sin; the unrighteous state of our hearts, the only answer is cleansing.

Writing about the importance of confession, British evangelist and pastor Alan Redpath offers this insight:

It is Satan’s delight to tell me that once he’s got me, he will keep me.  But at that moment I can go back to God.  And I know that if I confess my sins, God is faithful and just to forgive me.

We can all say “Amen!” to Rev. Redpath!

To “confess our sins,” by the way, means a lot more than just admitting them.  The Greek verb means literally, “to agree with.”  When we come to God to “confess our sins,” we not only own up to them, but we are agreeing with God’s assessment of our guilt.  So, we admit what we did and we admit our guilt.

Our advocate, 2:1, 2 

My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.  (NKJV) 

This letter was written to a man named Gaius, John’s “dear friend.”  John knew others would read this letter, and he calls them, “my little children.”  This is a term of genuine affection that speaks to their relationship—teacher and students.  John was their teacher.  And yet, the term goes beyond this relationship to another one; the fellowship Christians have with each other through Jesus Christ as a result of the new birth.

John took the time to teach his friends that it is possible for all believers avoid sin.  Remember, sin is a choice.  And John’s hope is that he may encourage his readers not to choose to sin.  But, human nature is what it is, and the odds were good that his readers would, sadly, be overcome by one temptation or another.  Fortunately, if and when that unfortunate thing happens, “we have an advocate.”  The Greek word is paracleton, referring to “one called in to help.”

Here, in John’s letter, the “one called in to help” is Jesus.  He is the “propitiation” or “expiation” for our sins.  The idea behind the “propitiation” interpretation is that of “placating or pacifying one who has been wronged.”  But it means even more than that.  God may have been wronged by our sins, but through the work of Jesus, we have been reconciled to God.  Like the returning prodigal, Jesus made it possible for us to come back to God.

As to the other interpretation, “expiation,” it means “removal” or “forgiveness.”  It is through the work of Jesus that ours sins have been removed from our person.

Two different interpretations of a single Greek word shows how deep and profound the work of Jesus was on man’s behalf.  As to whether “propitiation” or “expiation” was intended, that debate should be left up to people smarter than we.  Perhaps both are correct; both interpretations are needed to give us an adequate understanding of what Jesus did on the Cross.  His work is big enough to deal with those Christians who stumble along the way and need a helping hand from above, but also it deals with “the sins of the whole world.”  Anybody can know Jesus and be allowed into the fellowship of the saints.

THE CROSS OF CHRIST, PART 8

Fellowship of the Cross

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

We sing hymns and worship choruses with phrases just like Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ,” but rarely do we stop to consider what those words really mean and what their implications may be. The crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the Second Adam, was potentially the crucifixion of the human race because all humanity is represented in Him, just as all humanity is represented in the first Adam. The unredeemed name Adam as their head, but the redeemed name Christ as theirs. It is a profound discovery when a Christian discovers Galatians 2:20 and realizes it applies as much to them as it did to Paul. It’s a profound, life changing thought—a true “lightbulb-over-the-head” moment—when you discover that you have already been crucified for your sins on the Cross of Christ.

How is this possible? you may ask. Jesus was crucified two thousands years ago; how could I have been crucified with Him? In the case of the apostle Paul, his conversion occurred over year after Jesus was crucified, yet he made the startling discovery that he had been crucified with Christ. It was a done deal before he became a believer—while he was yet a sinner! Paul, arguably the greatest thinker of all time, made the discovery that His Savior, Jesus Christ, had so identified Himself with him and his sins that he, Paul, had been put to death for them with Christ. That’s why he could now say, “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” The man that Paul used to be—the man who persecuted Christians—died with Christ on His Cross. When Paul named Jesus as His Lord and appropriated the work of the Cross, the moment he accepted by faith what Jesus did for him, Paul’s old self died and he became born again! The man he used to be was dead and gone!

What we should note is that Paul did not write that he crucified himself; nobody can do that! Nobody could drive the nails through his own hands. But we are commanded to crucify the flesh and put to death the sinful desires and lusts that are part of the old human nature. That command puts every Christian in quandary; how can you do something that’s impossible? Paul faced this impossibly and wrote about it Romans 7:24, 25—

What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!

That’s Paul’s “lightbulb-over-the-head” moment: By the death of the Jesus Christ, Paul became dead to sin.

The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:10, 11)

“Count yourselves dead to sin,” wrote Paul. In other words, you are to consider yourselves already dead, as far as sin is concerned. After all, if Christ lives in you, should you expose Him to your old, sinful desires? IF you are a Christian, then Christ lives in you. IF you have been crucified with Christ, then you must consider your old, sinful self as already judged by God in His Son on the Cross in your place. What an incredible paradox: dead, yet alive! What a deep mystery: Christ living in us!

...don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. (Romans 6:3—5)

Of course, we reckon all this has happened by faith; it takes faith to believe all this had occurred two thousand years ago!

Let’s look closer at what happened all those generations ago:

1. The world was crucified, Galatians 6:14

May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

We don’t often make the connection Paul made in this verse: the world was crucified on the Cross. As far as Paul was concerned, the world had been stripped naked of all of its outward trappings of beauty and power and nailed to the Cross, helpless and shameful. The world was exposed that day on the Cross in all of its hideous, wicked glory. To Paul, the world had become a pathetic, withered up and dying thing, devoid of any power to tempt him in any way. The glory of the grace of God manifested in Christ on the Cross so blinded Paul to the things of this world that they began to appear to him as rotting, dead zombie-like corpses. The power of God on the Cross put the world in its proper light and forever put to death the notion that things of this world are beautiful and helpful to man. The light of God’s glory showed the exact opposite, in fact. To view the world through the prism of the Cross is to see the world for what it really is. And whatever else the world is, it is not a pretty sight.

It wasn’t just Paul that came to this conclusion, John also found this truth:

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (1 John 2:15)

How could you love a stinking, rotten zombie husk? The world is supposed to be dead to you, assuming you are a Christian. What a nasty thing it is for a Christian to love something so rotten; what does that say about his estimation of Christ?

2. Self was crucified, Romans 6:6

For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin…

The death of Christ not only separated the world from you, but it also separated you from the world. The mighty, glorious Cross of Christ now stands between you and the world, and has crucified it to you and you to it. The “old self” that loved the world and lusted after the things of the world is now dead. In fact, it died two thousand years ago.

The one who has paid the penalty for his sin is now free from that sin. Sin no longer has a claim on him. That person is you, if you have come to Christ and by faith claimed what He did for you. Thanks to the Cross of Christ, you have NO obligation left owing to sin. If you owe sin nothing, why would you want to go back to it? If you know Christ is living in you, why would you want to expose Him to it? It’s a profound truth that carries a profound responsibility: you are dead to sin, the world has been crucified, Christ lives in you, so now live like you believe all that to be true! That is what “living by faith” is all about.

Once when Paul had grown exasperated with the worldly attitude of his Corinthian friends, he wrote this:

You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? (1 Corinthians 3:3)

To act “worldly” is to act like a mere man. In other words, Christians are NOT mere men, any longer! A Christian is more than a “mere man.” Or he’s supposed to. As we look around at the state of the Church, it is glaringly apparent that there are a whole of “mere men” sitting in the pews, living life far, far below where they could be.

You, if you call yourself a Christian, have been set free from the old way. You have been given a second chance to live a full life; a life full of satisfaction and peace and joy. Why in the world would any believer choose to live like a “mere man” when they are so much more? If only we could latch on to the truth of 1 Peter 1:4—

And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires. (NLT)

Do you understand the profundity of that verse? As Christians, it is our right and privilege to share in God’s essential nature—we are able to somehow take on His attitudes towards things; to share His thoughts and opinions towards the things of this world. How is this possible? Paul gave us a clue:

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. (Romans 12:2)

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

We become more and more like God—we take on more and more of His characteristics—as our minds are transformed through the work of His Spirit in us. It is Christ in us, which Paul once referred to as “the glorious riches” and “the hope of glory” who remakes us into the person HE wants us to become.

3. A new life of power

Returning to Galatians 2:20, Paul concluded that: “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” What does that mean? In Romans 6:5, the apostle sheds some light on this deep mystery:

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.

Like they say, “In for a penny, in for a pound.” If we died with Christ, then we must surely rise with Christ; what happened to Him must happen to us.

If the Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from death, lives in you, then he who raised Christ from death will also give life to your mortal bodies by the presence of his Spirit in you. (Romans 8:11)

This is not referring to the eventual resurrection of your bodies, which will happen some time in the future. It is referring to the here and now. Thanks to the work of Christ on the Cross, you are guaranteed entrance into heaven—which is a great thing! But the real marvel of the Cross is that you don’t have to wait until you’re dead to start reaping the benefits of what Christ did for you! According to what Paul wrote—under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, mind you—you are already full of the same power that raised Christ from the dead. That same Spirit is in YOU right now, and will give life to your mortal body now. Imagine this: the life of Jesus Christ is being manifested in YOU right now!

At all times we carry in our mortal bodies the death of Jesus, so that his life also may be seen in our bodies. (2 Corinthians 4:10, GNT)

What a powerful verse! People in the world—mere men—can’t see the Jesus we serve. But, they do see us. The question becomes: Do they see Jesus in us?

You’re the only Jesus some will ever see,
You’re the only words of life some will ever hear,
So let them see in you the One in whom there’s all they’ll ever need,
You’re the only Jesus some will ever see.

The Cross of Christ changed everything; it changed YOU. Let’s start living like the new creations we are. When some see the Cross, they see a horrible thing. Others see the Cross for what it is: a second chance to get life right. Take the chance that leads to life.


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