Use of Imprecatory Psalms in Prayer Today

imprecatory-psalms

The use of Imprecatory Psalms, as a model for prayer, requires proper context. As John Day explains, “These psalms express the desire of God’s vengeance to fall on His [and His people’s] enemies and include the use of actual curses, or imprecations.”[1] At first glance, these psalms seem to stand in direct opposition to the teachings of Jesus who called His followers to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). Several implications result from this assumption: the Old Testament only involved cursing enemies, the New Testament only involved loving enemies, and the morality of Scripture evolved over time. Each of these false assumptions are self-refuting because the nature of God cannot change, as Day suggests, “The tension between loving and cursing [must] be harmonized, [since] the character of God does not change, so the essence of God’s ethical requirements does not change. Therefore, as the imprecatory psalms were at times appropriate on the lips of Old Testament believers, so they are at times appropriate on the lips of New Testament believers as well.”[2]

The psalms remain relevant because “They rooted their theology of cursing, of crying out for God’s vengeance, in the Torah – principally in the promise of divine vengeance expressed in the Song of Moses (Deut. 32:1-43), the principle of divine justice outlined in the lex talionis,[3] and the assurance of divine cursing as well as blessing in the Abrahamic Covenant (Gen. 12:2-3).”[4] To fully comprehend the imprecatory psalms, Day demonstrates four crucial truths:

First, the vengeance appealed for is not personally enacted; rather God is called on to execute vengeance. Second, these appeals are based on God’s covenant promises. Third, both testaments record examples of God’s people justly calling down curses or crying for vengeance.[5] Fourth, Scripture further records an instance in which God’s people in heaven, where there is no sin, cry out for divine vengeance and are comforted by the assurance of its near enactment[6] (Rev. 6:9-11).

Day illustrates the Book of Psalms contains nearly one hundred verses with imprecations, each one containing the cries of God’s people for vengeance for unspeakable atrocities against them as God’s people were oppressed, persecuted, and ultimately carried off to exile in Babylon. In Psalm 58, David is appealing to Yahweh to act justly against the unjust rulers. As Frank E. Gaebelein demonstrates, in this Psalm, “It may well be classified as a prophetic type of lament in which David speaks prophetically of God’s judgment on evil.[7] He charges the earthly system of justice with unfairness, commits his case to the Lord’s justice, and is confident of God’s vindication. The psalmist’s prophetic understanding is a comfort to God’s people[8] whenever they are harassed or maligned.”[9] The theological foundations are developed in the Pentateuch, but as Day furthers establishes, “The expression of exultation over the destruction of the enemies of God and His people is seen throughout Scripture. It begins in the Song of Moses (Deut. 32:43), finds utterance in the Psalms (58:10), is proclaimed in the prophets (Jer. 51:48), and climaxes in the Book of Revelation (18:20).”[10] Given these precedents, should a Christian follow David’s example? This writer believes David’s passionate cries should be emulated as David continually demonstrated immense faith in his God. Day then reminds the reader what is being voiced here is poetry, which often used vivid imagery and where a concept in narrative form may be described dispassionately; in poetry, it may well be expressed emotively. G. L. Peels perceives that the phraseology of Psalm 58:10b “Employs a powerful image, borrowed from the all too realistic situation of the battlefield following the fight (wading through the blood), to highlight the total destruction of the godless.”[11] Nancy deClaissé-Walford et al. illustrate “If God removes the rulers’ power, then they will be like toothless beasts.”[12] This shows David’s first wish was for the rulers to become powerless and ineffective, but ultimately, in the end, David knew the only way to end the suffering of the righteous was “bathing his feet in the blood of the wicked.”

Psalm 109 is an imprecation against a personal enemy and reads much like an individual lament. Day recognizes this psalm as being, above all others, highly criticized in its harsh and explicit appeal to the Lord. With the language found in this psalm, it is initially difficult to see any relation to the New Testament’s commands to love our enemies (Matt 5:44), turn the other cheek (Luke 6:29), and to pray for those who persecute you (Matt 5:44). However, in this psalm, David’s enemies had continually returned hatred for his sustained love, so David called out to the divine Judge, as Day puts it, “to extend to his enemy the demands of the lex talionis, [but] David did not react in private revenge; instead, he released the retaliatory demands of justice to the One in whose jurisdiction it rightfully lies. He voiced his cry for vengeance to God – a cry that would transform to public praise when divine deliverance was revealed.”[13] David looked to the Abrahamic Covenant and then appealed to God to curse those who had shown him only hatred. Now the question becomes: is this covenant promise of divine cursing relevant to Christians today? In this writer’s opinion it is and (Gal 3:6-29) makes it clear, “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants – heirs according to promise.” Here, Day demonstrates “the dual-edged promise blessing was not merely a spiritual abstraction; it applied as well to the physical life of God’s people in their times of extremity… [And] this psalm is the cry of the child of God who has no other recourse for justice…”[14]

Jesus felt the same oppression the psalmist and Israelites faced, but He called for one another to love his or her neighbor. This apparent contradiction in actuality shows the harmony that exists when one understands the character of God further demonstrating, Christians should use imprecatory psalms as a source of strength and honor, in their worship of God.[15]

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Broyles, Craig C. Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Psalms. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 1999.

Day, John N. “The imprecatory psalms and Christian ethics.” Bibliotheca Sacra 159, no. 634 (April 2002): 166-186. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed November 9, 2016).

deClaissé-Walford, Nancy, Rolf Jacobson, and Beth Tanner, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Psalms. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014.

Gaebelein, Frank E. ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Volume 5: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991.

Peel, G. L. The Vengeance of God: The Meaning of the Root NQM and the Function of the NQM-Texts in the Context of Divine Revelation in the Old Testament. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill Publishers, 1995.

Footnotes

[1] John N. Day, “The imprecatory psalms and Christian ethics,” Bibliotheca Sacra 159, no. 634 (April 2002): 166. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed November 9, 2016).

[2] Ibid., 168.

[3] The principle or law of retaliation that a punishment inflicted should correspond in degree and kind to the offense of the wrongdoer, as an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth; retributive justice.

[4] Day, “The imprecatory psalms and Christian ethics,” 168.

[5] Mark 11:14; Matthew 21:19; Galatians 1:8-9; 1 Corinthians 16:22; Acts 8:20; and Revelation 6:10

[6] Day, “The imprecatory psalms and Christian ethics,” 169.

[7] Psalm 14

[8] The righteous.

[9] Frank E. Gaebelein, ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Volume 5: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 405.

[10] Day, “The imprecatory psalms and Christian ethics,” 171.

[11] G. L. Peels, The Vengeance of God: The Meaning of the Root NQM and the Function of the NQM-Texts in the Context of Divine Revelation in the Old Testament (Leiden, Netherlands: Brill Publishers, 1995), 218.

[12] Nancy deClaissé-Walford, Rolf Jacobson, Beth Tanner, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Psalms (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014), 495.

[13] Day, “The imprecatory psalms and Christian ethics,” 178.

[14] Ibid., 179.

[15] Ibid., 186.

Power and Value of Prayer

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There is no denying prayer is arguably the most important task of the spiritual leader and Colossians 4:2 only serves as evidence that prayer and thanksgiving cannot be dissociated from one another in the Christian life or for the spiritual leader. F.F. Bruce further demonstrates how, “The remembrance of former mercies not only produces spontaneous praise and worship; it is also a powerful incentive to renewed believing prayer. Men and women of persistent prayer are those who are constantly on the alert, alive to the will of God and the need of the world, and ready to give an account of themselves and their stewardship.”[1] Christians are called to be Christlike, which means doing the things Christ did. Prayer can often be the determining factor and Dave Earley makes a great point asking: “If Jesus Christ, the Son of God, needed to pray, how much more do you I?”[2] Making time to pray was vital in the life of Jesus and it should be the same for every believer and especially for every spiritual leader. Earley could not be more correct in his assumption that, “Time spent praying can be the best time-saving device you have,” since God can accomplish in seconds what would take a human a lifetime, or longer to achieve. In life, one will always make time for what is important and the greatest indicators are often revealed by analyzing where a person’s time, talents, and treasure are being utilized. When God is not the priority, it is not a matter of if; it is only a matter of when life will come crashing in. For this writer, this was a lesson learned the hard way, but one that will never be forgotten. When God is first in all things, everything else in life will naturally line up. This does not mean life will not have challenges; in fact, Jesus told us, “In this world you will have trouble,” so this only makes prayer and intimacy with God even more important.

The first application is maintaining intimacy with God because this is the sustaining force behind any ministry and one of the primary ways to develop this relationship is through prayer. Earley shows, “Jesus viewed prayer as the secret source of spiritual strength and the reservoir of real refreshment. Even when He was very busy, He was never too busy to pray.”[3] The statistics are frightening how many pastors are leaving the ministry either due to burnout or moral failure and those that stay in ministry often feel unequipped, discouraged, and disillusioned in ministry. According to Maranatha Life, fifteen hundred pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout or contention in their churches. In addition, eighty percent of pastors and eighty-four percent of their spouses feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastors. Of these that choose to stay, fifty percent are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.[4] This is a huge problem!

The second application reveals how prayer is a vital lifeline to God and many spiritual leaders like Billy Graham believe that more can be accomplished through prayer than by any other means. However, Earley goes one step furthers stating, “Prayer is our greatest weapon.”[5] To this notion, one must truly ask themselves is prayer really a weapon? There is often talk of spiritual warfare and Paul alludes to a believer’s fight not being against flesh and blood, but against spiritual forces of evil. It can be easy to picture doing battle through prayer, but the only offensive weapon listed in the armor of God comes in the form of the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, not prayer. While a believer’s protection does come from the armor of God, prayer only becomes a weapon when it is coupled with the Word of God. There is a cataclysmic event that occurs as prayer is used in conjunction with the Word of God. This can be seen after Jesus was baptized and went into the wilderness and was tempted by Satan. In each occurrence, Jesus used the Word of God to counter every temptation. Knowing the Word of God is vital for every spiritual leader to understand because the quickest way to scatter the flock is to attack the shepherd.

A third application comes in knowing God certainly responds to His servants when they pray, but does this mean God acts only in concert with His servants’ prayers, must God wait until prayer occurs, or is God free to act as He chooses? To these questions, Earley does a great job explaining why eleven of the fifteen accounts of Jesus praying are found in Luke’s account because he sought to portray the human aspect of Jesus. Throughout the gospels, Jesus is seen retreating alone to commune with God in prayer and from His model, it becomes apparent every believer must make time for prayer. In Revelation 5:8, the notion that the prayers of the saints are stored up until the golden-bowl is full enough to be poured out is indicated. While this text may point more to end-time events, it still shows there is power in continued prayer efforts.

Ultimately, it is important to understand God is free to act whenever and however He likes. Isaiah 55:8-9 (ESV) demonstrates, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Some of God’s greatest gifts are often unanswered prayers and with finite minds it is impossible to see the bigger picture of what God is accomplishing in and through people and their situations. When humans see disaster, destruction, and atrocities, God may see countless people turning their lives over to Him and seeking His comfort and peace. While there are plenty of biblical accounts of God choosing to act due to the intercession of His followers, He is only bound by the promises in His own Word.[6] There are also examples of intercession occurring until God was moved. Abraham’s plea and God’s ultimate destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah are prime examples.[7] In this instance, Earley shows how Abraham issued God a challenge based on His character and His promises.[8]

Lastly, while God most certainly is free to act in anyway He sees fit, that does not diminish one’s need to pray. Followers of Christ are instructed to cast their burdens and cares upon the Lord. Prayer should then release one’s cares and concerns to God and one of Martin Luther’s famous quotes was spot on: “Pray and let God worry.” A beautiful illustration of what happens when prayers are lifted up is picturing Jesus at the right hand of God acting as the mediator between Christians and God. As prayers are lifted, Jesus takes those petitions directly to the Father, interceding on their behalf. Jesus interceding with and for the believer is a powerful picture and God’s Word even promises, when one does not know what to pray, the Spirit knows the heart and lifts those petitions before God.[9] Douglas Moo further illustrates:

God knows what the Spirit intends, and there is perfect harmony between the two, because it is in accordance with God’s will that the Spirit intercedes for the saints. There is one in heaven, the Son of God, who “intercedes on our behalf,” defending us from all charges that might be brought against us, guaranteeing salvation in the day of judgment (8:34). But there is also, Paul asserts in these verses, an intercessor “in the heart,” the Spirit of God, who effectively prays to the Father on our behalf throughout the difficulties and uncertainties of our lives here on earth.[10]

While praying is crucial to a successful ministry and spiritual wholeness, knowing what and how to pray are the most important aspects. To truly turn prayer into an offensive weapon, one must know the word of God and the promises found within it. Earley explains, “The Bible contains 7,487 promises, many of which contain God’s willingness to answer prayer. [This means,] when we pray for things that we are confident God wants to do, we can boldly quote His Word back to Him.”[11] While knowing the Word of God is important, it is also crucial to live a life of integrity and honesty so that nothing hinders the prayers being lifted to God. Love, acceptance, and forgiveness are some of the key ingredients to living a life above reproach and one focused on intimacy with God, but God also calls His followers to act justly, to walk humbly, and to love mercifully and intimacy through prayer is greatly needed to fulfill all of these commandments.

BIBIOGRAPHY

Bruce, F.F. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1984.

Earley, Dave. Prayer: The Timeless Secret of High-Impact Leaders. Chattanooga, TN: Living Ink Books, 2008.

Maranatha Life Website, “Statistics about Pastors,” http://www.maranathalife.com/lifeline/stats.htm (accessed October 26, 2016).

Moo, Douglas J. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996.

[1] F.F. Bruce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1984), 172.

[2] Dave Earley, Prayer: The Timeless Secret of High-Impact Leaders (Chattanooga, TN: Living Ink Books, 2008), 18.

[3] Earley, Prayer, 21.

[4] Maranatha Life Website, “Statistics about Pastors,” http://www.maranathalife.com/lifeline/stats.htm (accessed October 26, 2016).

[5] Earley, Prayer, 11.

[6] Exodus 32 & Psalm 106:23

[7] Genesis 18:22-25

[8] Earley, Prayer, 45.

[9] Romans 8:26

[10] Douglas J. Moo, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 527.

[11] Earley, Prayer, 116.

And He Dwelt Among Us: Book Critique

and-he-dwelt-among-us

Aiden Wilson Tozer (1897–1963) is considered by many to be one of the greatest theologians of the 20th century. Tozer was a minister in the Christian and Missionary Alliance churches in Toronto and Chicago, from 1919 up until his passing. However, it was not until 1950, when he became the editor of Alliance Witness that he began to put word to paper. Much like John Wesley, he was, “a man of one Book, but a student of many.”[1]

The Gospel of John captivated Tozer’s imagination, as he would preach weekly Spirit-filled and anointed sermons, which had profound impacts on the congregation, to the point following the conclusion of the service, many were paralyzed in silence by the intensity of the message and the truth Tozer had clarified. Tozer believed, “any doctrine that did not rise to the height of identification with the Lord Jesus Christ was either misunderstood or not properly rooted in Scripture.”[2] On this assumption, Tozer sought to show doctrine must always establish truth, while also acting as a pathway to an intimate knowledge of God. Tozer understood in order to preach from John, a sound doctrinal foundation was imperative, especially since John was such a mystical thinker. James Snyder goes as far to describe Tozer being a “mystic with his feet on solid doctrinal ground.”[3] Another core reason, which compelled Tozer’s writing and preaching was the “spiritual boredom” that had overtaken the evangelical church. Tozer recognized the familiarity and complacency, which was taking root, especially in America and he sought to cast light on the darkness, which had attempted to eclipse the truth of the Word. “The heavens declare the glory of God,”[4] was a profound truth that resonated in Tozer’s soul as he saw John’s Gospel as a bright lens to view the love and nature of Jesus through. He recognized, “We are resting in the truth of the Word and are forgetting that there is a Spirit of the Word without which the truth of the Word means nothing to the human spirit at last.”[5]

Analysis

Tozer saw John’s way of presenting Christ in a mystical setting insightful, while other scholars viewed mysticism as something to avoid. Gnosticism was partly to blame for this and mid-nineteenth century literary criticism sought to discredit Johannine authorship as well. Instead, Tozer sought to highlight how John used sound theology in a way to truly define Christ’s nature. Right from the start of John, “In the beginning,” Tozer shows how mankind has been elevated into the realm of everlasting. This is an interesting point and something many fail to realize. Everyone has everlasting life, the only thing that determines where it will be spent is if one has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. “From everlasting to everlasting, God is God” is profound, and the thought of an eternal separation from the Father should compel every follower of Christ to seek to help the lost and hurting comprehend the everlasting nature and love of God. Tozer demonstrates, “To ascend into the heart of God in this fashion is to begin to experience the Old Testament encouragement, ‘the eternal God is thy refuge.”[6] [7]

There is a God-shaped hole inside every man and woman and the reality of this statement means, “everywhere you go you see people who manifest a deep-seated restlessness, [which] shows there is something deep within the soul, put there by God, that yearns for the everlastingness that is only found in God.” Being created in the image of God and understanding He has put eternity into the mind of man, demonstrates why He puts the “everlasting beginningless” into the hearts of His children. God’s design was for mankind to always have freewill, however, hardwired into every mind, there has always been a longing for the everlastingness of God. Some call this quest for immortality a conditioned human response, but Tozer demonstrates, “God made man in His own image, and though man fell, He keeps the longing after eternity there and the appreciation of everlastingness there.”[8] There are many human responses God has placed inside men and women, but as Tozer highlights, “the most natural thing for a person who has been redeemed is for that person to lift his or her heart in prayer and praise to God. God put that response there, and redemption unleashes its capacity… [However,] when man fell in the Garden, it brought a dark cloud over the soul of all mankind.” This dark cloud is evidenced in the moral decline seen all across the world, as it attempts to suffocate the dreams, aspirations, and longings for a relationship with the Creator. Satan cannot stand anything God loves, so he attempts to counterfeit, destroy, or pervert anything that would create unity and oneness with God. This is evidenced by his early actions in the Garden of Eden.

Since mankind was cast out of Eden, everything has been tainted and Tozer argues everything is wrong until Jesus sets it right stating, “the kiss of death rests upon everything in our world [and] nothing in this world will help anybody toward God.”[9] Tozer rightly identifies the war being raged between the desires of the mind and the longings of the heart. He also demonstrates how the brain wants improvement and advancement, while the heart longs for everlastingness. The battlefield of the mind is a treacherous place where the greatest enemy is you. This is so true because the heart will never be satisfied with the desires of the depraved mind. An important concept here is the transient and finite nature of this world. Everything in it attempts to captivate one’s time, talents, and treasures, yet true meaning and happiness is only found in God. Toys, conveniences, games, hobbies, careers, will never satisfy because each of them is fleeting, here one moment, but gone the next. Only God is eternal and our souls will only be satisfied found in the divine everlastingness of the Word made flesh.

Tozer skillfully illustrates how God has no beginning and no end, making Him completely self-sufficient and self-existent. He needs nothing outside of Himself and that includes His creation. Tozer uses this truth to show, “We are likely to forget that God once lived without help and without creation… [and] when we give God anything, we are only giving God what He gave us in the first place.”[10] As humans, it can be remarkably easy to forget one’s place in the metanarrative of God’s story and how everything is dependent on everything, except God. Created things only lead to other created things, but each of them can be traced back to God, Who had no beginning and will have no end. The governing laws of the universe attempt to place restraints on God, essentially trying to put Him a box, so He can be defined or quantified. This is impossible, as Tozer shows, “God Himself established all the laws of creation and He created life and spirit, in order that there might be creatures conscious of Him. Christ has every claim over His creation and He has prepared a hell for those who do not respond to His call. This is heartbreaking to contemplate, but as Tozer highlights, “We should never come to God as a gesture of pity, thinking that God desperately wants us; we should give ourselves to God because He is worthy.”[11] This section of the book would have considerable impact to any freethinkers or individuals wrestling with intelligent design or science versus God dilemmas.

Tozer’s unpacking of, “He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not”[12] is enlightening. He shows the cause and effect relationship as the world is always an effect and the Word is always a cause. God created the world with order, beauty, harmony, and purpose. Tozer then explains, “Everything He created brought pleasure to Him in some way: ‘Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power, for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.’”[13] [14] The world was filled with the presence of God, first in the form of the Shekinah of the Word, and then in the incarnate form of Jesus Christ, becoming the light into the world.[15] John’s use of light and darkness is not accidental as light reveals was darkness attempts to hide. Pleasure, comfort, and luxury are dangerous in this sense, especially when there is no want or desire, as God can easily be forgotten. This writer believes Satan learned a valuable lesson when he persecuted Job. The worst things became and the more loss Job suffered, the closer he drew to God. The same thing is evident today as the church is being persecuted in many areas of the world, causing them to go underground, for fear of torture or death. The harder things become and the darker things get, the more people turn to God, but when man has no burdens and instead has all the comforts, desires, and pleasures one could hope for, God can quickly be forgotten. This is a profound truth!

This writer believes one of Jesus’s favorite miracles was the healing of the blind, so it is tragic how the very people He came to save were blind to Him being the prophesied Messiah. Tozer cites five insightful reasons why people continue to reject Him, even today, but each of them comes back to the blatant fact, humanity simply loves sin more than God:

(1) Change in priorities, meaning placing Christ first in life and no compromise in life; (2) Change in habit, allowing the patterns of life to be disturbed; (3) Personal Cleansing, requiring a pure heart; (4) Change in Direction, asking followers to “take up his [or her] cross and follow Me;”[16] and (5) Risking Wholehearted Trust, by showing faith in the unseen.[17]

The finite thinking of humanity denies the mystery of Christ’s incarnation and sacrifice partly because they themselves would never be willing to do the same thing. Tozer demonstrates, “The most profound mystery of human flaw is how the Creator could join Himself to the creature… [making] the incarnation of Christ shrouded in an impenetrable mystery that we could never uncover with our finite thinking.”[18] Christ was no less deity when He became flesh and this would mark the first time since creation God was dwelt with man again. While God would sometimes appear in the form of a theophany, He never dwelt with man in quite the same way He did in the Garden, with Adam and Eve. Being in the physical presence of Christ must have been a fascinating experience, especially to those who believed during the time of Jesus. This was an area Tozer could have gone a little deeper in, as John’s Gospel is packed with Old Testament references. He mentions Moses briefly, but this work would have been even better if it included more references to Isaiah or some other encounters with prophets, priests, and kings.

Tozer, insightfully illustrates, “What God thinks about a man is more important than what a man thinks about himself, [because] as far as God is concerned, what a man is always is more important to God than what that man does.”[19] Christ came into the world to show how much God values His creation and it is only through Christ God chooses to dispense His blessings on creation. God’s grace is ultimately the all-in-all and Tozer does a good job showing how God’s grace precedes everything from creation to the incarnation, even the mystery of the sacrificial atonement. For many, this is the part of the story where one cannot fathom why this had to happen and “why the eternal Father turned His back upon the Son – the Son of man, the sacrificial Lamb to be slain – and in blind terror and pain of it all, the sacrifice, the Lamb, temporarily became sin for us and knew Himself forsaken.”[20] Due to the requirements of the Law, atonement and the shedding of blood was needed for the remission of sins and Jesus allowed us to be redeemed, by taking upon Himself every sin and curse of the world. Through His crucifixion, He revealed God’s grace and mercy and made a way for humanity to have restored communion with the Father.

Tozer does demonstrate John’s strategic use of some Old Testament Scripture to confirm the Messianic prophecy had been fulfilled. John the Baptist rightly speaks of Jesus as the Lamb of God Who had come to take away the sins of the world[21] and he points out Jesus was the only hope for salvation. Christ is often referred to as the second Adam and Tozer explains, “God began the redemption of the human race within the race so that there are now two races running parallel to each other. The unregenerate race that goes back to the loins of Adam and the regenerate race that goes back to the start of Jesus.”[22] The world, ruled by the unregenerate had a choice to make, as every sinner belongs to the old race, but every Christian becomes redeemed and part of the new race. Every person matters to God, yet Satan wants everyone to believe they have no worth or purpose, and many fall prey to this pernicious lie.

Understanding why Jesus came into the world is a crucial point many discount or simply do not comprehend. He did not come to pronounce judgment; instead, He came that the world might be saved. When mankind becomes aware of sin, there is a natural feeling of judgment because sin separates mankind from God and the “wages of sin is death.”[23] Fortunately, the last part of this verse is, “but the gift of God is eternal life found in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Contemplating how Jesus came into this world, as a baby born to a virgin, is even more complex. Tozer further explains Jesus had a fondness for babies, regularly performing miracles on them, so it makes one ponder the early life of Christ, especially since there is very little evidence found in Scripture. This, perhaps, is another area Tozer could have added some additional insight in, pertaining to the relationship Jesus as a child had with the Father. If Christ had come in the form of a grown man or a theophany, John 3:16 would probably be needed to assure people destruction and judgment were not imminent. Instead, Jesus came as a baby to a lowly family to begin His mission of saving the world. At Christmas time, Christians celebrate the birth of the Savior, but Easter represents a much different occasion. Tozer demonstrates, “Without the cross on which the Savior died, there could be no Scripture, no revelation, and no redemption, but [even in John 3:16] there is no mention of the cross.”[24] God simply reveals He sent and gave His Son, which has deep meaning when used in conjunction with the story of the prodigal son.[25] Mankind, living a life apart from God is like the prodigal son, as everything is only about him or her. This mindset leads one further and further away, until he or she hopefully has the realization how much better things were back at home. For many, this takes humility and courage to face what awaits one’s return, but this story represents the true heart of the heavenly Father as the earthly father runs out to meet his son when he sees him on the horizon. He runs to his son, to protect him from shame and because what was lost was now found, and he embraces his son with grace and mercy by putting a ring on his finger, by placing the best robe around him, and throwing a feast in his honor. This is the celebration God must experience every time one of His children come to his or her senses and comes back to His loving embrace. With over twenty-five million children in America growing up in a fatherless home, this section of the book will help anyone struggling with how a heavenly Father could love them when his or her earthly father abandoned or abused them.

As one comes to faith in Christ, he or she is being invited into the Godhead, which exists in perfect harmony. Tozer beautifully explains, “Whatever the Father does, the Son sees Him do and works in harmony. And the Holy Ghost is the perfect bond between the Father and the Son, energizing the eternal Son with the energies of the Father and so working harmoniously to a preordained end.”[26] The holy trinity has been a topic of debate in some scholarly circles, as Jesus possessed the nature of man and the nature of God, but Tozer rightly shows how even these seemingly contradictory states harmonized into one perfect personality.[27] The mystery of the three-in-one and the unbroken fellowship, which exists, is hard to fathom with finite minds and it is even harder to picture given mankind’s fallen and sinful nature. Despite this, even when Jesus walked the earth, He maintained perfect visibility with God and He remained in perfect love within the Godhead. Tozer offers great insight into the inadequate concepts of judgment, as “mankind did whatever was right in his [or her] own eyes.”[28] During this time period, God equipped the Israelites with Judges, but today’s moral decay only demonstrates the depravity and misunderstanding, which exists, as Tozer shows:

(1) the law of compensation only serves to counterbalance any action; (2) we are accountable only to our society has partial truth, [however,] when we do something against God, we are accountable to Him for our actions; (3) we are accountable to human law, which demonstrates an outlaw is never a happy man because he is accountable to the law even while he is breaking it, and he is miserable even while he is flaunting the law; and (4) man’s accountability is to himself alone, which seeks to show man is a law unto himself and is the worst concept of judgment in all of society.[29]

Ultimately, every human being is accountable to God and Scripture is quite clear on this point.[30] Fortunately, God is all knowing, impartial, and empathetic, acting as both Savior and judge. Tozer says, “Those of you who do not want Jesus as a judge, had better think seriously now about Him as a Savior and stand like a penitent or kneel like one and confess your sin.”[31]

When Jesus ascended into heaven, He passed on His mission to the church. During His earthly ministry, “He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.”[32] Even though Jesus had left earth, He had not abandoned humanity. The omnipresence of God assures He is infinitely everywhere at all times. This concept can be hard to fathom, especially given mankind’s coexistence in two worlds: we are in this world, but not of it.[33] The dualistic physical and spiritual worlds are at odds with each other, but Tozer explains, “When I say there are two worlds, I do not mean to out the material world. God made it also, but not to last. He only made it temporarily…”[34]

There is no denying religion has improved morality and culture, but at the same time, the legalism found in many denominations has caused immense heartache and pain. America, while founded on biblical principles and responsible for much of the early evangelism and missions around the world, is now a nation where Christianity is no longer the fastest growing religion. Tozer further explains, “No religion ever rose higher than its concept of God and a nation can go below its religion.”[35] As a result, America is no longer one nation under God, America is far from being one church under God, and very few people can truly attest to being one people under God. The only hope is, “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”[36]

Conclusion

John could not be clearer about the mission of Jesus. He became flesh, so everyone could know Him and thus know God. Previously, The Pursuit of God was this writer’s favorite Tozer work, but And He Dwelt Among Us is now a close second. Tozer masterfully tackles the mystery of the incarnation. He then shows how God is calling His children to come home to Him, just as the father of the prodigal son awaited his son’s return, God is waiting for us to call upon His name. He calls out to the weary and the broken and wants to give them the bread of life and living water, so he or she will no longer hunger or thirst anymore. He wants to give them rest by taking on Himself all the burdens and worries of life. That is why God sent His Son to save the world, so if anyone would simply believe in Him, God would grant forgiveness of sins and give the gift of eternal life. This promise releases the believer from judgment and condemnation, but one will only find Jesus Christ through faith, confession, and humility. Tozer closes saying, “Humility is a beautiful thing, but not very many people have it.”[37] This is tragic because when one seeks Christ in humility, He will reveal Himself to us and as we know Christ, we will know God. This masterpiece would be well suited for anyone wanting to know the true nature of God, regardless of where one is on his or her spiritual journey. It also would be beneficial to anyone taught since John was not considered part of the Synoptic Gospels, it did not deserve as much attention.

Tozer, A.W. And He Dwelt Among Us: Teachings From the Gospel of John, Edited by James L. Snyder. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishing Group, 2009, 218 pp. $14.99 (Paperback).

 Bibliography

Tozer, A.W. And He Dwelt Among Us: Teachings From the Gospel of John, Edited by James L. Snyder. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishing Group, 2009.


[1] A. W. Tozer Theological Seminary, (Redding, CA), “Who is Tozer?” http://tozer.simpsonu.edu/Pages/About/Tozer-AWTozer.htm (accessed September 16, 2016).

[2] A.W. Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us: Teachings From the Gospel of John, Ed. by James L. Snyder, (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishing Group, 2009), 8.

[3] Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us, 9.

[4] Psalm 19:1

[5] Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us, 11.

[6] Ibid., 17.

[7] Deuteronomy 33:27

[8] Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us, 20.

[9] Ibid., 23.

[10] Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us, 32-33.

[11] Ibid., 41.

[12] John 1:10

[13] Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us, 48.

[14] Revelation 4:11

[15] Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us, 53.

[16] Matthew 16:24

[17] Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us, 70-73.

[18] Ibid., 78-79.

[19] Ibid., 83.

[20] Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us, 91.

[21] John 1:29

[22] Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us, 103.

[23] Romans 6:23

[24] Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us, 134.

[25] Luke 15:11-32

[26] Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us, 140.

[27] Ibid., 141.

[28] Judges 17:6

[29] Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us, 156-158.

[30] John 5:22, Romans 14:10 & Philippians 2:10-11

[31] Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us, 168.

[32] Isaiah 53:5 (ESV)

[33] John 17:16

[34] Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us, 194.

[35] Ibid., 204.

[36] 2 Chronicles 7:14 (ESV)

[37] Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us, 217.

Apologetic Methods

cslewis

While there are an array of methods and strategies used in apologetics, they all should seek to define truth, defend the faith, and move individuals closer to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Truth, faith, and reason are among some of the most contested topics debated over in philosophical engagements, so a proper understanding of each of them is crucial. Douglas Groothuis defines faith as:

Believing something without or against evidence and logic, [meaning] the less evidence and logic [available], the more need for faith, [while] the more evidence [present,] means the less of a need for faith… Fideism is the term Groothuis uses to designate the highest and most commendable faith in an attempt to protect Christian faith against the assaults of reason by means of intellectual insulation and isolation.[1]

The logic of truth began with Aristotle’s logic of law, which classified specific laws of logic and contradictions to enforce, “Nothing can both be and not be at the same time, in the same respect.” Groothuis uses this law to demonstrate, “anyone who claims this basic principle of thought is false must also assert to the principle, in order to deny it.”[2] When dealing with worldviews, Groothuis claims:

The best method of apologetic reasoning is hypothesis evaluation and verification, which first commends the Christian worldview, secondly, presents itself as a candidate for the most important truths, and lastly, presents an apologetic argument for the Christian worldview by applying the same criteria or tests of truths to each of the contending worldviews.[3]

Interestingly, as Groothuis points out, some argue that the criteria for truth are worldview dependent, meaning specific criteria cannot be used to assess competing worldviews. To overcome this obstacle, the apologist must be able to develop objective criteria for any contending worldviews. For example, since God is ultimately the source of all objective truth, this declaration becomes a core aspect of any Christian’s worldview. Competing worldviews, such as truth relativism teaches there is nothing that is objectively true, but rather everything is subjectively true. Edward Martin further defines truth as a property of propositions, and knowing as having reasonable justification or confidence about truth. Martin then demonstrates how knowing is a human exercise, whereas truth is an extra-human exercise.[4]

While there is no clear apologetic method, which can be used in all cases, there has been success by using a variety and combination of methods. The relationship between faith and reason have become bookends to the question of whether, “do we start with faith and only then try to explain or justify it, or do we provide reasons for Christianity and only then, on the basis of those reasons commit in faith?”[5] Within the continuum of faith and reason, this writer relates most to the Reformed Theology popularized by Augustine and Calvin, who “gave universal primacy to neither reason nor faith. In some contexts and for some people, reason will lead; in other contexts and for other people, faith. Moreover, faith is absolutely reasonable, and utilizing one’s reason is, in an important sense, an act of faith.”[6] James Beilby, thus proposes doing apologetics well requires three things:

(1) One’s argument must be effective, [meaning] they must be logically valid and persuasive, and they must directly address the objections offered by the skeptics; (2) one must have a proper conceptualization of the nature of both Christian belief and unbelief; and (3) most important, one’s attitude and approach to apologetic conversions must be appropriate, [because] too often, Christians are condescending, arrogant, and dismissive in their apologetic encounters.[7]

Three popular schools of apologetics include: evidentialists, presuppositionalists, and experientialists. Groothuis defines evidentialistism as, “a method in apologetics that argues that the most significant historical events in Christianity – particularly the resurrection of Jesus are matters that can be established through proper historical argumentation, even apart from any prior arguments for the existence of God.”[8] Evidentialists rely on the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible and the truth claims of Jesus. An area of caution for evidentialists occurs when one is convinced a supernatural event occurred in history, but he or she lacks the ability to place the event in a coherent worldview. Beilby adds, “Evidentialist apologetics needs to be distinguished from evidentualism, a position that involves a claim that one who accepts a belief without basing it on arguments is irrational.”[9] Within the Evidentialist family, there are classical apologetics, which use a two-step approach, historical apologetics, which emphasize rational and evidential arguments, and cumulative-case apologetics, which converges a multiplicity of arguments.

Groothuis explains, “presuppositionalism as a school of apologetics influenced by Reformed Christianity that rejects the tools of classical apologetics… claiming that the Christian should presuppose the entire Christian worldview and reason from this conviction with unbelievers.”[10] Groothuis then demonstrates, “The problem with this approach is it limits positive apologetics and claims unless a person presupposes Christianity, he or she cannot make any sense of the world morally, logically, or scientifically, since Christianity alone supplies the required conditions for these areas of life to be intelligible.”[11] Beilby further explains, “Presuppositionalists believe the problem with non-Christians is not a lack of good reasons, but innate sinfulness manifested as rebellion against God, a rebellion that first and foremost amounts to a refusal to acknowledge God’s proper place.”[12] Revelational presuppositionalism teaches, truth, logic, meaning, and value can exist only on the presupposition that the Christian God exists. The rational counterpart places a higher value on logical arguments, while the practical side emphasizes the necessity of starting from fundamental Christian truths, rather than arguing to them.[13]

Lastly, proponents of experientialism view God as being infinite and omniscient. Beilby illustrates, “experiential apologists do not rely on logical arguments or evidences, because their reasons for rejecting an exclusively rational approach is different. They do not hold that the truth of Christianity must be presupposed; rather they hold that is must be experienced.”[14] However, the major issue with this approach is it limits one’s perception of God due to humanity’s finite minds. This approach also prevents the individual from aspiring to anything more than some metaphysical union or religious experience.

Once again, each of these strategies contains strengths and weaknesses, so this writer believes an eclectic apologetic approach and strategy will be most effective. That being said, it is necessary to not view one’s own approach as the only viable one, while at the same time not viewing other methods as being only problematic or ineffective.

Bibliography

Beilby, James K. Thinking About Christian Apologetics: What It Is and Why We Do It. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011.

Groothuis, Douglas. Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011.

Martin, Edward. Liberty University. APOL 500, Week Three Presentation “Truth.” (Video), 2013, 18:38, https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_317469_1&content_id=_13462356_1 (accessed September 14, 2016).


[1] Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011), 45 & 60.

[2] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 46.

[3] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 49-51.

[4]Edward Martin, Liberty University, APOL 500, Week Three Presentation “Truth.” (Video), 2013, 18:38, https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_317469_1&content_id=_13462356_1 (accessed September 14, 2016).

[5] James K. Beilby, Thinking About Christian Apologetics: What It Is and Why We Do It, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011), 88.

[6] Beilby, Thinking About Christian Apologetics, 89.

[7] Ibid., 157.

[8] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 69.

[9] Beilby, Thinking About Christian Apologetics, 96.

[10] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 62.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Beilby, Thinking About Christian Apologetics, 99.

[13] Ibid., 100.

[14] Ibid.

The Emotionally Healthy Church

The Emotionally Healthy Church

          Peter Scazzero is the founder of New Life Fellowship Church in Queens, New York, which is a large, multiracial church with more than seventy-three countries represented. After serving as the senior pastor for twenty-six years, Scazzero now serves as a teaching pastor with a primary focus on a groundbreaking ministry that equips churches in deep, beneath-the-surface spiritual formation, and integrates emotional health with contemplative spirituality.[1] Scazzero takes real life experiences from both his own personal life and those from New Life Fellowship members, no matter how painful, and uses them to take the reader on a liberating journey of freedom found through emotional and spiritual healing. During a crisis of faith, Scazzero came to realize, “The sad reality is that too many people in our churches are fixated at a stage of spiritual immaturity that current models of discipleship have not addressed, [exposing] the link between emotional health and spiritual maturity, [which] is a large unexplored area of discipleship.”[2] This is a central problem because there is also a direct correlation between the overall health of a church and that of its leadership.[3] In addition, Scazzero demonstrates, “The starting point for change in any nation, church, or ministry has always been with the leader first.”[4] Scazzero then found people could not be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature, especially when conflict was involved. This profound realization came after Scazzero’s wife Geri said, “I quit” to New Life, but after a brief sabbatical and counseling, God restored and equipped the Scazzero’s marriage, to bring about real change in the culture at New Life, and now countless others have been impacted. Through this restoration process, Scazzero discovered the degree to which people live in truth is also the degree to which people are truly free.

            Scazzero breaks his strategy of discipleship into four parts: (1) discipleship’s missing link, which focuses on leaders initiating the change; (2) biblical basis for a new paradigm of discipleship, which shows the relationship between emotional health and spiritual maturity; (3) seven principles of an emotionally healthy church, which takes inventory of where the church finds herself and forces a hard internal look, by pulling back the multiple layers to uncover areas for potential growth; and (4) where do we go from here? This last part demonstrates, “In the same way, our growth into Christlikeness requires we get rid of our old, hard, protective shells and allow God to take us to a new place in him, [it also] calls for a commitment to do the hard work – one day at a time,[5] so Scazzero’s model shows love and listening as a core components.

       One of the most compelling areas of Scazzero’s work involves a new paradigm shift in the discipleship process. What made this section so valuable was its application to both the individual and the corporate setting. When New Life began to implement what Scazzero uncovered, the church moved from being “human doings to human beings, [but this process started first with] Scazzero’s understanding of what it meant to minister out of who you are, not what you do.”[6] The concentric circles of applying emotional health[7] properly demonstrate the necessity for change to occur from the top down in terms of leadership and influence. In a church setting, this would start with the senior pastor, then his or her family and spouse, staff and interns, elders and board, actively serving leaders, leaders in development, rest of the congregation, and the wider community influenced by the church.

       Scazzero then demonstrates the necessity of understanding mankind is created in the image of God, which encompasses much more than merely the spiritual dimension; it also includes the physical, emotional, social, and intellectual dimensions. Scazzero illustrates by “Denying any aspect of what it means to be a fully human person made in the image of God carries with it catastrophic, long-term consequences – in our relationship with God, with others, and with ourselves. Unhealthy developments are inevitable when we fail to understand ourselves as whole people, made in the image of our Creator God.”[8] Regarding this writer’s current emotional and spiritual health, there will always be areas to improve, as one of the best indicators of a good leader is being teachable and open to the guiding of the Spirit. However, being engrossed in fulltime ministry while also being a fulltime student has created a constant battle for time and priorities. The inventory and assessment of spiritual and emotional maturity illuminates strengths and areas for improvement, while also making sure the priorities in life are reflected in where time, talents, and treasures are spent. Scazzero’s principles can then be applied in the vision and mission of the church and for individuals, by affirming in all matters, God comes first. Scazzero also does a brilliant job demonstrating when people operate out of hurt or an underdeveloped character, he or she will not allow people to get close. Ultimately, past hurt leaves deep wounds, making it difficult to trust people. Scazzero concludes by showing how leadership is lonely, making it vital to surround oneself with like-minded individuals because another important part of being healthy is to surround oneself with healthy people. Unfortunately, this is not easy at churches, since the church is a place for broken and hurt people to come in order to find wholeness and restoration. As a result, Scazzero also lists self-care and forgiveness as challenges of anyone who serves, since forgiveness in not a quick process.[9]

Bibliography

New Life Fellowship Website, http://newlifefellowship.org/about-us/about-new-life/our-staff/  (accessed August 9, 2016).

Scazzero, Peter. The Emotionally Healthy Church: A Strategy for Discipleship that Actually Changes Lives, Updated and Expanded Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010.


[1] New Life Fellowship Website, http://newlifefellowship.org/about-us/about-new-life/our-staff/ (accessed August 9, 2016).

[2] Peter Scazzero, The Emotionally Healthy Church: A Strategy for Discipleship that Actually Changes Lives, Updated and Expanded Edition, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 17-19.

[3] Ibid., 20.

[4] Scazzero, The Emotionally Healthy Church, 36.

[5] Scazzero, The Emotionally Healthy Church, 217.

[6] Ibid., 34.

[7] Ibid., 35.

[8] Scazzero, The Emotionally Healthy Church, 54 & 164.

[9] Ibid., 151.

Explanation & Response to the Gospel

JESUS_NOTHING

            Greg Gilbert best describes the gospel as, “The proclamation that Jesus, the crucified and risen Messiah, is the one, true, and only Lord of the world.”[1] Gilbert also demonstrates how Paul’s letter to the Romans is a great place to find the most basic explanation of the gospel. In chapters 1-4, Paul first wants his readers to know they are accountable. Gilbert illustrates, “We are made by Him, owned by Him, dependent on Him, and therefore accountable to Him.”[2] Secondly, Paul tells his readers that their problem is that they rebelled against God. This applies to Jews and Gentiles alike because every single person in the world had sinned against God.[3] Thirdly, Paul says that God’s solution to humanity’s sin is the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Gilbert demonstrates, “Having laid out the bad news of the predicament we face as sinners before our righteous God, Paul turns now to the good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ.”[4] Lastly, Paul tells his readers how they themselves can be included in this salvation. This is where every individual must decide if the gospel is good news for him or her or not. Gilbert summarizes these four points as: God, man, Christ, and response.[5]

How One Properly Responds to Gospel

            Gregory Faulls provides four steps as a response to the gospel: (1) Confess before God any sin and responsibility. The first response to the gospel always begins with repentance and then faith.[6] (2) Turn away from life apart from Christ and toward a life of following Christ. This step is critical as many Christians are currently asking Christ to follow them instead of following Christ’s lead. (3) A Christian must believe that Jesus died on the cross for his or her sin and that He rose again. The believing has to do with personally trusting what Jesus did for the believer’s salvation.[7] (4) The believer must completely surrender his or her life to His leadership.[8] Using these four declarations as a foundation, every believer should strive to spread the gospel while also showing love and compassion to everyone. A true response to the gospel causes a transformation to take place in the believer’s life, one in which the work of the cross is central to what is said and done. Gilbert demonstrates by keeping the cross at the center of one’s life, he or she will become dependent on the cross both for salvation and sanctification.[9]

Vital Connection Between Evangelism and a Believer’s Spiritual Growth

            Spiritual growth is vital in the life of a believer because if one is not growing, then he or she is essentially dying. For growth to occur, the believer must maintain intimacy with God in the form of praise, prayer, and daily reading of God’s Word. The natural progression of spiritual growth leads to evangelism, as the believer is transformed more and more into the image and likeness of Christ. Another crucial component to spiritual growth is obedience, which combines the Great Commandment[10] with the Great Commission[11] to form powerful evangelism as the believer shares the love and mission of Christ with others. Gilbert reminds the reader that despite all the evangelism efforts, “The kingdom promised in the Bible will only come about when the King Jesus Himself returns to make it happen, [so] our social and cultural [evangelistic] victories will never bring about the kingdom of God. Only God Himself can do that since the heavenly Jerusalem comes down from heaven and is not built from the ground up.”[12]

Ways to Improve Evangelistic Commitment

            For something so life-changing, it is a mystery why people are so afraid to share the gospel with friends, family, co-workers, and the people they interact with on a daily basis. Fear of rejection, insecurity of not having all the answers, or any other number of excuses prevent the spread of the gospel. For this writer, watching what is said as well as what is done remains at the forefront of daily living. People are always watching and since actions speak louder than words, a Christian’s life should be his or her testimony to God’s love and forgiveness. Scripture says, “They have overcome [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.”[13] Robert Mounce shows, “Not only does Satan suffer defeat at the hands of the archangel, but he is overcome by faithful believers as well. The primary cause of their victory is the blood of the Lamb. The great redemptive act that freed them from their sins and established their right to reign is the basis for their victory. Their share in the conquest then stems from their testimony.”[14] These saints’ willingness to proclaim the message overcame even the natural fear of death, so it is interesting to look at the areas of the world where Christians are experiencing great persecution and witnessing that those are the only areas that are experiencing real growth. In America, the culture has made everything about them by providing things, easier, cheaper, and faster. A real relationship with God cannot be obtained through some six-minute video to get six-pack abs routine. Instead, God must come before all other things, so that He becomes the motivator behind everything the believer says and does. It ultimately boils down to loving God and loving others.

Bibliography

Faulls, Greg. From Dust to Destiny. http://prevailinglife.com 2014. (accessed July 27, 2016).

Gilbert, Gregory D. What is the Gospel? (gǒs’pəl). Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010.

Mounce, Robert H. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Book of Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.


[1] Gregory D. Gilbert, What is the Gospel? (gǒs’pəl), (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 19.

[2] Gilbert, What is the Gospel?, 28.

[3] Ibid., 29.

[4] Gilbert, What is the Gospel?, 30.

[5] Gilbert, What is the Gospel?, 31.

[6] I John 1:9

[7] Romans 10:9-11

[8] Greg Faulls, From Dust to Destiny. http://prevailinglife.com 2014, 39. (accessed July 27, 2016).

[9] Gilbert, What is the Gospel?, 110-111.

[10] Matthew 22:36-40

[11] Matthew 28:16-20

[12] Gilbert, What is the Gospel?, 92-93.

[13] Revelation 12:11

[14] Robert H. Mounce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Book of Revelation, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 238.

Importance of Knowing Church History

our_history_2

     It is important to study Church history, because one must know where they came from to determine where they are headed and history is His story. Past performance is generally the best indicator for future behavior. Some refer to this as the principle of the path as it does not matter how far you have traveled or fast you have gone if you are headed in the wrong direction. History is full of good and bad decisions and impossible circumstances, but when surrendered over to God, they all can be used for the good of those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose.

God can use anyone and anything to accomplish His plan. Also, without a true understanding of the past, not only are we blindly accepting what people have told us; we too are asking those we attempt to evangelize to do the same thing. We are only human and in our fallen state, we are bound to make mistakes and history best shows what took place after mistakes were made. People either rise up, or they conform and we alone decide if the fiery trials we face are going to burn us or purify us. Another important reason to understand church history and practice sound biblical exegesis is our congregations’ understanding will rarely be greater than our own. Without sound teaching and an understanding of church history, we become the lid to those around us, causing them not to grow in their wisdom and understanding of history and God’s Word.

The value of examining the past is vital, since those who forget the past are often condemned to repeat it. Humanity’s pride and lust for sin has caused a schism between the righteousness of God and the fallen state of man. As a result, Jesus Christ became the atonement of sin and has now become our mediator, as He sits at the right hand of God, interceding on our behalf. Still though, people like Milan Kundera think,  “People are always shouting they want to create a better future. It’s not true. The future is an apathetic void of no interest to anyone. The past is full of life, eager to irritate us, provoke and insult us, tempt us to destroy or repaint it. The only reason people want to be masters of the future is to change the past.” George Orwell best illustrates this principle when he said, “Those who control the present, control the past and those who control the past control the future.” Historical revisionism is something every Christian must be aware of because everything God stands for, Satan will either try to counterfeit, pervert, or destroy. This knowledge will be crucial in establishing a sound foundation from which we can build our faith and ministry on.

Philosophy of Small Groups

Small-Groups-Logo
INTRODUCTION

It takes personal relationships to earn the right to speak into someone’s life, it takes time to develop these personal relationships, and they are impossible to form within the four walls of the church during weekly services, so an approach must be found to use in the church’s endeavor to turn disciples into disciple makers.

For many churches, the answer has been found in small groups. Since every church is different, there will be diverse models, which correlate to the DNA of each church, but the premise behind all the models is you are either going to be a church “with” small groups, a church “of” small groups, or a church that “is” small groups.

As a new disciple is produced, they carry with them, in essence, genetic markers specific to their conversion experience, so making sure they are involved in proper discipleship and a small group is crucial in reproducing healthy disciples who will continue to share the same saving knowledge, love, and support they received. Too many believers think coming to faith is the finish line, but it is merely the beginning of the race to save humanity through faith in Christ.

With that understanding, this paper will explain this writer’s philosophy of small groups in general and in the context of Generations United’s ministry as well as the importance of relational groups in authentic disciple making. Because relationships are essential in the disciple making process, this paper will also show how missional groups can help the body of Christ move out into the community fulfilling the Great Commission. Lastly, this paper will demonstrate how to live within a community with other believers, while also maintaining a missional mindset inside that community.

PHILOSOPHY OF SMALL GROUPS

As Rick Warren said, “A church must grow larger and smaller at the same time. Larger through worship and smaller through small groups [And] when Jesus started His ministry, the very first thing He did was form a small group.” As Harley Atkinson demonstrates:

As the apostles proceeded to carry out the Great Commission, they utilized a two-fold approach of meeting in the temple courts for large-group meetings and in the homes for more intimate small-group encounters. Very quickly, the house church became the definitive expression of church in the early Christian movement. In the wake of the Apostle Paul’s missionary journeys, numerous churches sprang up and virtually all of the New Testament churches mentioned in the letters of Paul were in private homes. The house church remained the most significant context for early church worship, fellowship, and Christian education up to the early part of the fourth century, when Constantine legitimized Christianity.

Between the three small group options, a church “with” small groups is not a model that bears much fruit because the group acts detached from the vision and mission of the church, with no oversight from any staff member. Over time, these groups also tend to crystalize, preventing new people from joining and they also become more relational instead of being missional during their existence. Despite good intentions, even if they were started about the Father’s business, they end up just satisfying individual needs.

A church “of” small groups is intentional about getting people plugged into a group ministry as soon as possible. This group strategy has proven effective because they are connected to the church through a pastor and they carry the vision and the mission of the church as their ethos. The challenge in finding the right philosophy has to do with balance as Larry Osbourne proposes, “A group needs to be small enough that everyone has a chance to contribute, but large enough that no one feels forced to speak up or share more than they want to.” In addition, as Carl George suggests, “A healthy small group consists of people at various spiritual levels and must be led by a leadership nucleus.” As a result, this writer contends this system “of” small groups is the best system for most churches to strive for.

The final system is a church that “is” small groups and this is a complex system of groups that generally meets in their member’s homes, but is still connected to a senior pastor or point person in the organization. Perhaps the best example of this model is Larry Stockstill’s Bethany Church in Baton Rouge, LA who believes small groups are, “A group of people who have laid down their personal agendas to work together as a team and that as the relational “cauldron” heats up in a cell, the “scum” rises to the top [And is able to] be removed. It may not sound pretty, but it sure is healthy.” At one point in time, as Dave Earley discovered during his investigation of “cell groups,” “[Bethany had] more than six hundred cell groups and was growing like wild fire.”

As Joshua Knabb suggests, “Within the contemporary Christian church, community is heavily emphasized and encouraged. Drawing from the Acts of the Apostles, Christians are to, among other things, fellowship with one another, disciple one another, minister to those in need, evangelize, and worship together.” At Generations United, we have developed a small group system centered on care. The vision and mission of this church is rooted out of love, acceptance, and forgiveness to ensure that no one has to fight alone. With this mindset, we set out to place a leader over four to six families so when a need arose, that family or individual had someone to reach out to putting a cord of three not being easily broken to the test. The program has been in existence for just over a year now and we are already seeing the benefits. More people are becoming members so they can be involved in this ministry, we are finding out about more needs allowing the church to meet them, and we are putting action behind our vision and mission. As Knabb’s research showed, “Groups that scored higher on Care, i.e., loving one another and treating each other like a family, were more likely to add members to the group; whereas those who scored lower on Care had a smaller growth rate” and we are seeing the same results.

IMPORTANCE OF RELATIONAL GROUPS IN DISCIPLE MAKING

As Jim Putnam illustrates, “The relational group forms the backbone for discipleship [And] the key is that the small group’s purpose is defined as encouraging discipleship – not primarily fellowship or counseling or even outreach.” From the beginning, the nature of the small group must be defined because if this is not established it opens the door for the group to constantly be in transition and lacking purpose. Granted, each group starts at the relational level, but must strive to evolve into fulfilling some part of the vision and mission of the church they are attached too, unless they are using some version of the church “is” model. Over the last decade, there has been considerable literature geared towards small group ministry and as Knabb illustrates, “Several themes permeate this growing literature base for lay audiences, including a biblical emphasis both on deepening relationships within small groups and on utilizing small groups to further the Kingdom of God and become more like Christ. Thus, small groups play a central role in relational development within the contemporary Body of Christ.”

Putnam identifies the leader of the group as a shepherd with the primary goal of, “Creating an environment in which people shepherd one another [And] in the end, he [or she] seeks to teach the group’s members to become shepherds themselves in their families and in future groups they may lead.” Being relational is all about doing life together and that means helping strengthening the weak, caring and praying for the sick, and sharing one another’s burdens much like Jesus did during His ministry. Members of a small group are in essence a spiritual family where teaching takes place and where authenticity and accountability run deep. These traits make it possible for people to feel safe in the group setting while also allowing one another to speak truth and life into individuals without our natural human defenses going up. John Baergen adds that:

When stripped of their masks (and we of ours), there is invariably an underlying longing for connection. Loneliness stalks Christians and non-Christians alike. Belonging to a church provides no guarantee against this deep sense of aloneness. In reality, this does not occur in the Sunday worship service nor does it automatically transpire in smaller settings such as Sunday school or small group Bible studies. Small groups don’t simply happen; they require careful, intentional planning. Healthy small groups will share a similar profile of characteristics as they focus on questions and needs that are real to the participants.

Whether your church uses the “of” model, or the “is” model, Dr. Rod Dempsey offers great advice pertaining to building and maintaining healthy small groups and he stresses the importance of the why and who more than the what and where when dealing with relational small group discipleship. To be successful and relational, Dempsey offers the acronym “SMALL GROUPS” to highlight each trait or characteristic, which are imperative:

Secure God’s vision in fulfilling the Great Commission by enacting the Great Commandment while also engaging the entire body of Christ in the vision.

Make sure the senior pastor is in the lead position casting the vision and the group is part of the team working towards the same common goal. Without the support and backing of leadership, small group ministry is doomed to fail.

Adopt the model that fits who you are and where you are. This means you must understand the history of your church, location, and context, while also discovering and recognizing the DNA of the organization.

Leader training is essential as well as learning to recruit, empower, and deploy. Jerry Falwell said it best, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” Critical to the success of every small group are the qualifications of the leader because it is up to the leaders of the church to find capable people who, with a little help, can discover their giftings and put them to use. The training process should be a fun positive experience if done correctly, because you are not imposing or forcing someone outside their comfort zone; you are simply helping them develop the gifts God has already given them through the indwelling of the Spirit.

Launch the groups with the ultimate goal being groups forming new groups, as members become leaders through the discipleship process. This is a sink or swim moment, so making sure you set the ministry up for success is critical. Public relations, marketing, and recruiting are essential is this process and must be ongoing to ensure the survivability of the ministry.

Grow the groups in quality as well as quantity and make sure the group is lead by a strong leader or is overseen by a mentor who can act as a coach. Quantity and quality are not an either or; they are a both and status quo, so you must not sacrifice one for the sake of the other. Initially quantity is what everyone gauges success on and while quantitative growth is important, so is the qualitative aspect.

Reward the right behavior and continually retrain the leaders, while also understanding you cannot bring correction without first bringing instruction. By focusing on the good rather than the bad, you are encouraging future good behavior. Stressing the importance of having regular meeting times is also critical, so people can get used to meeting regularly every week or at the least twice a month.

Over-communicate the vision of the church to the small group so the end result is believers who know Christ, grow in Christ, and then go forth in Christ’s name proclaiming the good news. This process begins by opening God’s word, spending time in prayer, and meditating on what God is truly calling you to do. It is a pleasure to be involved in something especially when you know what is going on and even more so if you were involved from the inception. Lack of communication has destroyed everything from fortune 500 companies all the way down to small groups, so it is imperative to stay in constant contact with your leaders and members so they can continually feel the pulse of your vision and mission.

Utilize and develop coaches while also being united in serving is fundamental to showing members their role in the group and also by embodying how Jesus came to serve and not be served. As a general rule in life, you should always have someone in your circle who is less mature in faith who you can personally help grow and you should also have someone in your life who is more mature in faith who can help you grow by serving as a mentor. Tom Landry said it best, “Coaches make you do what you do not want to do, so that you can achieve what you have always wanted to achieve.”

Pray for one another, pray together, and use your interaction as a catalyst to fuel the mission God has called you to fulfill. Also, pray for the lost, the members in your church, your leaders, and for opportunities to share the Gospel and what God has done in your life personally. God answers prayers, so prayer must be vital in your small group ministry.

See God’s blessing in recognizing as you fulfill the Great Commission, God promises He will be with us as we make disciples.

These goals and initiatives form the umbrella of a healthy group and while the list is not exhaustive, it is a great starting point for those wanting to transform their small group ministry. Baergen also demonstrates:

Healthy churches know the fundamental difference of viewing small groups as one of many ministries of the church or as the basic building blocks of the church. When small groups are viewed only as a ministry, it becomes obvious the church does not understand that life-change occurs in small groups. Natural Church Development states, “The essence of true church is worked out in small groups.” When small groups are fully valued, pastors of healthy churches agree it is actually “more important … for people to be involved in a small group than to attend church.” That places small groups in proper perspective.

HOW TO USE MISSIONAL GROUPS IN THE COMMUNITY

This writer agrees with Steve Sjorgren that, “Every small group or church needs to have some form of evangelism going on in order to maintain health.” However, as Joel Comiskey highlights, “Small-group ministry constantly faces a dilemma: maintaining the intimacy of a small group while fulfilling Christ’s command to evangelize [with] the ultimate goal of each cell [being] to multiply itself as the group grows through evangelism and then conversions.” Ultimately, using missional groups in the community must first start with prayer and sound spiritual disciplines. Praying about what God is calling you and your group to do must be the priority because as Donald Whitney illustrates, “To abandon prayer is to fight the battle with our own resources at best, and to lose interest in the battle at worst.” As believers, we must continue steadfastly in prayer and pray without ceasing so that the line of communication with God is never broken. Dave Earley demonstrates, “After 25 years of leading small groups and coaching small group leaders, I have come to one clear conviction: prayer is the most important activity of the small group leader.”

Perhaps the best example in scripture of being mission minded in the community comes from the parable of the Good Samaritan. Just prior to this story, we are presented with an expert scholar attempting to perplex Jesus by asking, “Who is my neighbor.” Instead of answering the man’s question directly with a response to who his neighbor was, Jesus told the man what a neighbor was, He responded with what the neighbor needs, He told him what a neighbor looks like, and then He said, “Go and be a neighbor.” This story is so powerful because at the time the Jews hated and despised the Samaritans calling them half-breeds and would intentionally go out of their way to avoid traveling through Samaria. The art of community and God’s radical design to love your neighbor flows directly from His nature and it is from the heart of God that the Great and New Commandment resonate. He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap. The lowly He sets on high, and those who mourn are lifted to safety. Because of the oppression of the weak and the groaning of the needy, I will now arise, says the Lord and I will protect them from those who malign them. He will defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy; He will crush the oppressor. Though the Lord is on high, He looks upon the lowly, but the proud He knows from afar. God has a heart for the needy and He will always arise to protect them.
A great modern example of loving your neighbor is a paradigm shift that is taking place in South Africa where Jurgens Hendriks demonstrates how:

Congregations in South Africa empower [their members] to become involved in development work as a way of serving their neighbor. It also opens the possibility of working interdisciplinary without compromising theological and faith values… The new paradigm is a missional one, taking the focus on God as its point of departure and describing the identity and purpose of the church by looking at God’s identity and plan or mission with creation and humankind. Social development is seen, as being in line with God’s mission and as such the church should not have difficulty in working with those who pursue the same goals.

Part of understanding your community and how to be intentional in your missional focus comes from understanding who the needy are and how you can meet their needs. God hears the cries of the needy, even if they remain silent, so we must continually be looking for: orphans, widows, the poor, the sick, the unpopular, the outcasts, the neglected, and those who are left out because you can destroy someone’s’ life when you treat them like an outcast and the heart of God weeps for them. Christianity has already changed the world and it still has the power to continue doing so, but not until believers become active in evangelizing their communities. C.S. Lewis demonstrates how, “There are no ordinary people [and] you have never talked to a mere mortal…[because everyone is either an immortal horror or an everlasting splendor.]” Regardless of whether people believe it or not, they are going to have everlasting life; where they spend it rests solely on whether they have a relationship with God, so it is imperative in our mission to be Christ-like in order to love others to the same saving knowledge we have attained. Lewis believed, “Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.”

LIFE IN COMMUNITY WITH A MISSIONAL PUROSE

Jeffrey Arnold believes, “A small group is intent on participating with Christ in building his ever-expanding kingdom in the hearts of individuals, in the life of the group and, through believers, into the world.” The sad reality is the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few and the only way this dilemma will change is when missional groups become focused on making an impact in their local communities. Week after week, we go to church waiting for people just to wake up and decide today is the day they are finally going to go to church. This mindset is nothing more than a façade! For our communities to change, we as the body of Christ need to be active in showing the love, grace, and mercy of Christ to those in our own backyards. This only happens when as believers, we are intentional in making sure all we do and all we say is centered on bringing glory to God. The people in our lives should see Christ in us, but unfortunately because evangelism has barely made the radar in discipleship, the world knows more what the church is against than what we are for.

Seeing Christ in us is a mystery that Dietrich Bonhoeffer brilliantly explains as, “Our human eyes see Jesus the human being; faith knows Him as the Son of God. Our human eyes see the body of Jesus; faith knows him as the body of God incarnate. Our human eyes see Jesus in the flesh; faith knows him as bearing our flesh.” Understanding this depiction, Martin Luther would say, “To this human being you shall point and say, ‘Here is God’” If those in our life do not see something in our lives that they want, in most cases, then we are not living a life which reflects the image of Christ. Bonhoeffer further explains, “The body of the exalted Lord is likewise a visible body, taking form [in] the church-community… [And] a body lacking differentiation is in the process of decomposition.” As a result, our spirit, our reactions, our wants, and desires should represent the salt and light in this dark world. The definition of darkness is the absence of light, so the only way darkness can overtake people, communities, and nations is either when we as the body of Christ hide the light, or when Jesus ultimately removes the lampstand.

As Christopher Beard suggests, “The missional church movement has emerged as a voice calling for a return to the church’s inherent missionary nature and identity. As a part of that call, “discipleship” has been identified as the key to success of the movement as well as the success of the Western church as a whole.” One of the key components missing in most discipleship models is teaching believers how to make an impact in their neighborhoods, at their workplace, and in their daily interactions. Every day there are countless opportunities to speak truth and life into the people’s lives around us, but until we are intentional in how we conduct our lives, we will never earn the right to. We have to be willing to pay the price to earn the right to enter into a conversation about how Jesus loves us and how Jesus loves them. Beard suggests, “Missional discipleship is the experiential process of identity formation which results in a disciple who exhibits tangible evidence of mission, community, and obedience in his or her life.” This is the heart of what life in a community with a missional purpose is all about and Ralph Neighbour illustrates why the early church was so successful using homes as their base for ministry:

There is a very important reason for the early church to be shaped in homes. It is in this location that values are shared. It may be possible to transmit information in a neutral building, but few values are implanted there. Value systems are ingrained through living together in a household. Something stirs deep within when life is shared between the young and old, the strong and the weak, the wise and the foolish. In the house groups, all participated and all were impacted by the values of the others as Christ lived within them.

CONCLUSION

Small groups are all about relationships and it takes personal relationships to earn the right to speak into someone’s life and it also takes time to develop these personal relationships. Because these relationships are impossible to form within the four walls on the church during weekly services, small groups have become the ministry most churches are turning to. Since every church is different, this paper has detailed you are either going to be a church “with” small groups, a church “of” small groups, or a church that “is” small groups. As a new disciple, proper discipleship and being involved in a small group is crucial in reproducing healthy disciples. As demonstrated, everyone is our neighbor; this means the people we like, the people we dislike, and even the people who hate us. Jesus died on the cross for all of humanity, He gave his life even for the people who spat on Him, beat Him, and crucified Him. If He can forgive and love us, the least we can do is love and forgive our neighbors as ourselves. Lastly, maintaining a missional mindset in everything we do will keep us focused on fulfilling our purpose and destiny and it is through this process where we will find true joy, peace, and happiness. Baergen reminds us, “Where aloneness, disconnection and fragmentation define life, small groups offer the opportunity for a life-changing connection. Acts 2:46-47 sums this up: ‘They broke bread from house to house and ate together with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people’” and now as Banks stresses, “The challenge to the early Christians was to redeem a network of existing relationships; our challenge is… to create community where little has existed before.”

Bibliography

Arnold, Jeffrey. The Big Book on Small Groups. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004.

Atkinson, Harley T. and Joel Comiskey. “LESSONS FROM THE EARLY HOUSE CHURCH FOR TODAY’S CELL GROUPS.” Christian Education Journal 11, no. 1 Spring, 2014: 75-87, http://ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1517636268?accountid=12085 (accessed 12-10-15).

Baergen, G. J. “Cultivating Christian Community in Small Groups Series: Natural Church Development.” The Presbyterian Record, 03, 2000. 22, http://ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/214349456?accountid=12085 (accessed 12-10-15).

Banks, Robert J. and Julia Banks. The Church Comes Home. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1998.

Beard, Christopher. “Missional discipleship: Discerning spiritual-formation practices and goals within the missional movement,” American Society of Missiology, April 2015 vol. 43 no. 2 175-194. doi: 10.1177/0091829614563059 (accessed 12-10-15).

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 4: Discipleship. Minneapolis, MN: First Fortress Press, 2003.

Earley, Dave and Rod Dempsey. Disciple Making Is… How to Live the Great Commission with Passion and Confidence. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2013.

Hendriks, Jurgens H. “Missional theology and social development,” HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies. ISSN 2072-8050, 05/2007, Volume 63, Issue 3, pp. 999 – 1016 http://dx.doi.org/10.4102/hts.v71i3.3116 (accessed 12-10-15).

Knabb, Joshua J. and Joseph Pelletier. “”A Cord of Three Strands is Not Easily Broken”: An Empirical Investigation of Attachment-Based Small Group Functioning in the Christian Church.” Journal of Psychology and Theology 42, no. 4 (Winter, 2014): 343-58, http://ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1735314366?accountid=12085 (accessed 12-10-15).

Lewis, C.S. The Weight of Glory. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishing, 1980.

Putnam, Jim, Bobby Harrington, and Robert E. Coleman, Discipleshift: Five Steps That Help Your Church to Make Disciples Who Make Disciples. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013.

Whitney, Donald S. Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2014.

Discipleship and a Healthy Church

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Becoming a true disciple comes only after discovering God’s will for your life, while true discipleship involves discovering God’s will for your church and the role you will play in achieving that vision. Both of these stages only emanate after studying, interpreting, meditating, and applying the word of God to your life through sacrifice, relationships, and transformation, and in discipleship by developing healthy disciples who know Christ, grow in Christ, and go forth in Christ’s name sharing His love with others. To ensure the success of this process, it is the church’s primary mission to ensure this development takes place in a healthy environment. This paper will examine the characteristics of a healthy church and explain why a healthy church is the ultimate goal of discipleship. In addition, it will also highlight the specific roles and importance of the local church and emphasize specific ways to create a healthier body of Christ in preparing disciples to fulfill the Great Commission.

WHY A HEALTHY CHURCH IS THE GOAL OF DISCIPLESHIP

For an organism to be considered healthy it generally means all systems and parts are operating at optimum levels and are working in conjunction with each other. In a like manner, the church, which is the body of Christ must also be healthy by using all its parts to be effective in the mission and mandate that Jesus has passed on to the called out ones. In Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth relating to the body, Gordon Fee points out:

With a set of parallel rhetorical questions, Paul begins to apply the analogy, but does so by keeping the analogy itself alive. Taking up the two members of Ch. 12 v. 16 (eye/ear), he asks: “If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be?” Then, keeping to the sensory organs, he adds: “If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?” This interchange of the sense organs makes it clear that Paul’s point is not the “inferiority” of one to the other. The point is the need for all members; otherwise some function of the body would be missing.

As Dr. Jay Sulfridge further illustrates, “Christians are called out of the world and [are] called to a Savior who calls them to a mission. The church is a fulfillment of the kingdom and the kingdom is a fulfillment of the mission of God and the mission of God springs from His nature and love.” By engaging in this mission, the church essentially becomes a living organism as people find their role in His body and begin to engage in proclaiming the gospel. Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus broadens the emphasis on “His body” as F.F. Bruce explains:

Because “we are members of his body,” and collectively “his body,” Christ “nourishes and cherishes” us. The church as the body of Christ and the church as the bride of Christ are two concepts with distinct origins, but a link between the two is found in Gen. 2:24, where husband and wife become “one flesh.

If a healthy body equals a healthy church then a sick body would point to sick church. Using this methodology, understanding the vital signs of the church and the principle: if you take care of your body, the body will take care of you gives great insight to the importance of discipleship as a goal in becoming a healthy church. In the diagnosis, as Dave Earley points out, “The world tries to measure health by externals, [but] Jesus is looking deeper; He is looking inward to see the condition of the body… [And] Jesus… is analyzing the health of His body and we would be wise to follow His example.”

These passages of scripture denote an undeniable sense of unity, which must be attained within the church where despite diversity there is harmony and oneness. To accomplish this, there must be a deep connection that exists between disciples and leaders in the church to ensure the success of the mission. A true spiritual leader is someone who not only follows God’s will for their life, but also helps others to influence God’s will in their lives as well. It is the job of the spiritual leader to move people from their own agenda onto God’s plan for their lives. An effective spiritual leader also knows how to equip, empower, and then release disciples to do God’s will in fulfilling the Great Commission. Dietrich Bonhoeffer poses the question if it is harder to be a disciple today than it would have been when Jesus physically walked the earth. With the mindset that Jesus was physically with the twelve, but that He is not with us, Bonhoeffer illustrates:

This question refuses to take seriously that Jesus Christ is not dead, but alive and still speaking to us today through the testimony of scripture. He is present with us today, in bodily form and with His word. If we want to hear His call to discipleship, we need to hear it where Christ Himself is present [and] it is within the church.

Part of being a healthy church means you have healthy leaders who understand the importance of growing further in their spiritual disciplines because as Donald Whitney points out, “The greatest danger of neglecting the Spiritual Disciplines is the danger of missing God.” Leaders are meant to train and equip the saints so the saints can do the work of the church, but the problem is as John Maxwell highlights, “Most Christians are educated well beyond their level of obedience.” Obedience and submission are true signs of a healthy church, but our culture has twisted the meaning of these words to mean oppression and judgment.

Healthy leaders know their roles and giftings and understand how and why it is so important to grow new disciples and teach them spiritual disciplines. Thomas Frederick illustrates how, “Spirituality as defined from a purely psychological perspective is inadequate to capture the depth of this human experience because it misses the core of spirituality—discipleship and discipleship in the contemplative tradition fosters a deeper experience of the divine in the believer’s life.” This knowledge comes from proclaiming the gospel in word and deed. There must be no doubt of the importance of winning new believers to Christ and teaching them how to grow by surrendering and sacrificing for the kingdom of God, and by devoting time with them so they can truly appreciate the price that was paid to make them a new creation.

Healthy churches are vital to the advancement of the gospel and proper discipleship in the process is the only way people are going to grow closer to the Lord in understanding their role as disciples and the big picture role of the church. Baptism is a crucial act in this process, because as Sulfridge illustrates, “The person who accepts Jesus as Savior also accepts Him as Lord , and the evidence of this submission and surrender is baptism [and] the church that does not baptize new believers is not healthy.” This public declaration of faith should just be the beginning of their changed life and it should serve as a promise to fulfill the Great Commission.

The discipleship process is crucial in helping believers understand exactly what God is calling them to do and one of the most important principles to teach new believers is the principle of the tithe because a healthy church is one where the members understand where their time, talents, and treasures are, so will their hearts be also. Teaching the word of God is not enough because it is not truly effective in the discipleship process if you cannot add practical application. James tells his readers, “But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.” The scriptures should be taught for the purpose of obedience by understanding how they apply to the church today. Stressing the importance of missional discipleship, Christopher Beard believes, “The missional church movement has emerged as a voice calling for a return to the church’s inherent missionary nature and identity. As a part of that call, “discipleship” has been identified as the key to success of the movement as well as the success of the Western church as a whole.”

As the leaders begin to take a more active role in equipping and empowering the saints and the pastor begins to focus more on pouring into the leaders, the church will naturally begin to become healthy. Depending on how far removed from this model the church is determines how long the progression may take and how many parts may need to die off. Using the analogy of the human body, which is full of complex systems, we recognize when they are all working together, the body matures and grows with little effort. In a like manner, when all the systems and parts of a church are working together and you do not have people or ministries trying to go against the flow and vision of the church, the natural outcome is health, vitality, and longevity. As the saints begin to mature and truly recognize Christ as the head of the church they will begin to love others even more, so a healthy church must have an environment where love flows freely. In John 13:34-35, Jesus says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Another key indicator of a healthy church is one where people are plugged into areas of ministry where their spiritual gifts are being best utilized. In order for any church to be healthy, they must be intentional in helping believers identify, grow, and use their giftings. In just about any model you will see, eighty percent of the work being done by twenty percent of the people. This 80/20 principles carries over to almost every aspect of the church, especially in giving, so one of the priorities of any church that wants to become or remain healthy needs to focus on recognizing and developing the spiritual gifts of more of their members, so they will know how to use them properly and so they can become part of the Great Commission.

Finally, the importance of prayer cannot be overstated for believers, laborers and non-believers. For those currently serving, they need prayer so they do not burn out; for those who just started believing, they need prayer so they will get plugged in some form of ministry and for the non-believers, they need prayer for opportunities to arise for someone to speak life and truth into their lives and that their hearts would be receptive to God’s word. The sad reality is that the harvest is plentiful, but those willing to work are few. A healthy church understands what they do for the least of the people they do for the Master. The members of a healthy church through sound discipleship know they must practice what they preach, they must constantly be equipping and empowering new believers, and they must be moved by what moves the Lord’s heart.

PERSONAL CHURCH / MINISTRY AND AREAS FOR GROWTH

The mission for the church I am a pastor at is to create an environment where anyone at any stage of life can experience the dynamic presence of God. We are a church built on love, acceptance, and forgiveness with a heart to make sure that no on has to fight alone. Life can be brutal and is often the cruelest teacher, so the primary ministry of my church is to be a healing center. The DNA of our church is very multigenerational so we continually look for ways to use the wisdom of our Abrahams, the creativity of our Isaacs, and the energy of our Jacobs. Just as there are many parts to the body, we have found how much can be accomplished when all the generations work towards a common goal like advancing the kingdom.

Area One

The top three areas that our organization needs to focus on to become a healthier body of Christ starts first with getting people who are not serving into some role where their giftings can be identified and then utilized. There is a spirit of apathy and complacency that runs rampant in congregations where believers think once they are saved they can just sit back, relax, and turn church more into a club of whose who instead of actively becoming involved in the Great Commission. It is the role of the pastor to equip the saints so they are able to do the work of service. By helping saints grow spiritually, they will be able to grow closer to God and by equipping the saints, they will learn how to share the love of God with others. As a mother bird pushes a young chick out of the nest, there are full-grown individuals that need the same nudge. After getting people engaged in ministry, focusing on spiritual disciplines like Bible intake is crucial, because the more one reads the word of God, the more they will understand His ways; the more they understand His ways, the more they will learn to trust Him; and the more they trust the Lord, the more confidence they will have standing upon His promises and proclaiming them to others.

Area Two

The second area that will help develop a healthier body of Christ is by being better shepherds over our flock. In I Peter 5:2, we see Peter addressing the elders proclaiming, “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care.” As Putman points out, “This verse points to the pastor’s responsibility to see that the people are being cared for spiritually.” After we get a declaration of faith, we fail at moving the new believer immediately into a developmental stage where they can begin to serve and learn about their giftings and callings. Peter Davids elaborates further on this imagery illustrating how, “The image of shepherding God’s people ‘or His people’s being his flock’ is an OT image that is common in the NT, but the command to elders to shepherd is found only here and in Acts 20:28-29. Both places significantly connect shepherding with ‘watching over it,’ showing that shepherding is a job of oversight.” By failing to use our elders as mentors and teachers for new believers, we are also robbing them of the growth they can attain by pouring into someone’s life. Just as the body is made up of many parts, so too are there many gifts and when we do not allow them to operate fully, essentially we are quenching the work of the Spirit. As the church, we also need to make it as easy as possible for others to come to faith while at the same time providing goals and setting realistic expectations for new followers of Christ. In essence, the goal is to win them to Christ, grow them in Christ, and then to send them out in Christ’s name and this only happens by continually developing spiritual disciplines and through training them on how to evangelize and make new disciples.

Area Three

The third area our organization can still work on is the care and compassion of our attenders. We have a catchy motto of “no one fights alone,” but without a system in place to put action behind it; they are just empty words. My primary role as the care pastor is to keep up with all our members and the turmoil and disasters life often presents. Since our church has become a healing center for people who have been wounded in their past, this often presents many obstacles to speak truth and life into people who have been so broken as a result of deep hurt, legalism, or any other number of ways the church has handled issues poorly. This is an area I believe would drastically improve the overall spiritual health, if we were able to develop a discipleship program where individuals more mature in their faith could come along side and stake themselves next to new believers or spiritually wounded believers and help them navigate the stormy waters of life back to the calm waters of God’s will. As a church, we have chosen to operate with complete transparency because even as pastors, we have the same temptations and face many of the same struggles as the congregation faces. We want the congregation to know they are not alone and that we all have fallen short of the glory of God because we live in a fallen state. This has been well received by the majority, but for some, it was too much and as a result, they chose to leave the church. The interesting thing has been watching some of the same families who left come back when they were facing a crisis. Without a doubt, pastors are far from perfect and there is no way they can do all the ministry alone and I have never understood why some pastors insist on trying to because in the end, it spreads them too thin and makes them ineffective. Sara LeGrand conducted an amazing study of pastors, which revealed:

Female pastors felt guilty for taking personal time and experienced pressure to prove themselves; local pastors reported financial strain and utilized a variety of interpersonal relationships; young pastors indicated child-related stress but also greater interest in nutrition, exercise, and church-based health promotion; and large-sized church pastors expressed increased confidence in negotiating personal time and reported more sharing of pastoral duties.

Pastors should focus on excelling in their areas of giftings while looking for others who are strong in their areas of weakness. This is contrary to academia that says to turn your weaknesses into strengths. I disagree and submit that by concentrating on your strengths and delegating your weaknesses the entire organization will thrive and produce more healthy disciples. This lack of confidence and insecurity puts a lid on any organization and causes you to never hire someone or put someone in a leadership position that could be potentially better than you in an area.

INITIAL STEPS TO IMPROVE SPIRITUAL HEALTH

Just as when you are sick you go to the doctor to get a diagnosis by evaluating your overall condition and symptoms, the same can be done when establishing the spiritual health of a church. The first question you need to answer is, are your leaders spiritually healthy? Things have a way of trickling down and if the prominent people in your organization lack the spiritual maturity and discipline to be leaders; that is an immediate red flag. In addition, the church staff as William Tuck points out should model this standard:

In the total organizational structure of a church, it is essential that the paid professional staff base their understanding of each other and their varied ministries on a strong theological and biblical foundation. An understanding of the theological foundation on which healthy leadership rests will hopefully enable ministers to labor more effectively and respect and appreciate the services of their fellow workers. Attitude toward and treatment of one’s fellow staff workers are indications of one’s theology. The practice of ministry is intrinsically involved in one’s understanding of theological truth.

By allowing someone to serve or lead who violates God’s word or the bylaws of the church you are basically saying that behavior is acceptable since you have not dealt with it, but you must tread carefully here and you must always bring instruction before correction. Michael Beasley reminds us, “Quick-fix solutions to the challenges of enabling church growth simply do not exist. Rather, ensuring the growth of churches is incidental to the more important task of ensuring their health; an endeavor that demands time, honesty and commitment.”

The second question you should ask is do your leaders have the proper understanding of their role in helping to grow believers? The role of the spiritual leader must be to help move people closer to God’s agenda by encouraging, equipping, empowering, and then releasing them to continue the work God has started in them. To improve the spiritual health in the church, your spiritual leaders must understand the importance of communicating God’s plan and will in their lives, which involves knowing Christ, growing in Christ, and ultimately joining Him on His mission to save the world.

Each church is made up of multiple systems i.e. evangelism, stewardship, mobilization, discipleship, or other mission mindsets, so having a clear definition of these are crucial. By understanding the strengths and weaknesses in your systems, you not only can gauge the health of your church, but you can also implement a plan to improve the overall condition. Through strategic planning and accountability you will position yourself for maximum results.

CONCLUSION

A healthy system equals a healthy body of believers and a healthy body of believers leads to a reproducing church. As disciples learn God’s will for their life, through spiritual discipleship, they begin to see God’s will for their church and will become engaged in that mission. By ensuring this process takes place in a healthy environment, a healthy church full of healthy believers will be the end result. Lastly, by understanding the role of pastors is to equip the saints and the role of the spiritual leaders is to equip and empower new believers to do the same will multiply and reproduce new believers and will follow the teachings God has provided.

Bibliography

Beard, Christopher. “Missional discipleship: Discerning spiritual-formation practices and goals within the missional movement,” American Society of Missiology, April 2015 vol. 43 no. 2 175-194. doi: 10.1177/0091829614563059 (accessed 12-2-15).

Beasley, Michael. “The Healthy Churches Handbook Review.” Theology March 2013 vol. 116 no. 3 224-225 http://tjx.sagepub.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/content/116/3/224.full.pdf doi: 10.1177/0040571X13475404s (accessed 12-2-15).

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 4: Discipleship. Minneapolis, MN: First Fortress Press, 2003.

Bruce, F.F. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1984. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Davids, Peter H. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The First Epistle of Peter. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Earley, Dave and Rod Dempsey. Disciple Making Is… How to Live the Great Commission with Passion and Confidence. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2013.

Fee, Gordon D. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The First Epistle to the Corinthians. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Frederick, Thomas V. “Discipleship and Spirituality from a Christian Perspective,” Pastoral Psychology. July 2008, Volume 56, Issue 6, pp 553-560. http://link.springer.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/article/10.1007/s11089-008-0148-8/fulltext.html (accessed 12-2-15).

LeGrand, Sara et al. “Healthy Leaders: Multilevel Health Promotion Considerations for Diverse United Methodist Church Pastors,” Journal of Community Psychology. 41: 303–321. doi: 10.1002/jcop.21539. 2013. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/doi/10.1002/jcop.21539/abstract (accessed 12-2-15).

Putnam, Jim, Bobby Harrington, and Robert E. Coleman, Discipleshift: Five Steps That Help Your Church to Make Disciples Who Make Disciples. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013.

Tuck, William Powell. “A theology for healthy church staff relations.” Review & Expositor 78, no. 1 (1981 1981): 5-14. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed 12-2-15).

Whitney, Donald S. Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2014.

The Marks of a True Believer

Love is What Sets Us Apart

Jonathan Edwards was a pastor, a philosopher, and a missionary and he was also a part of the church’s spiritual great awakening. To Edwards, biblical Christianity meant true religion and he sought to quantify what a true encounter with God would look like. In his endeavors, he contrasted the diverse experiences of those who claimed to have received a special revelation. He took the two opposing views suggesting an experience only pertains to head knowledge, truth, and non-emotional rational thinking, with the other extreme which argued the experience itself was more important by discounting the truth, duty, and obedience claiming they are not as important. In the end, Edwards would attempt to combine the experience of truth with the feelings, emotions, and affections we have as Christians and how both of these experiences can come together to create an exponential transformation.

Often, using I Peter 1:8 to define spiritual affections, Edwards illustrated there are two great outcomes that come out of the Christian faith, especially when enduring trials. The first is that it reveals one’s true love for Christ and second; it reveals one’s true joy in Christ. As Peter Davids illustrates in this passage:

The focus of their joy is not the inheritance nor the glory, but the returning Christ. Here one finds a paradox. Unlike Peter and others of the first generation who had seen Jesus, they have neither seen him in the past nor do they see him at present; their faith is not based on their perceptual experience… This paradox of faith without sight… [Is] the really important thing [because it] is not what they can see (e.g., the trials they have and their enemies), but whom they love and are committed to even though they do not see him.

Upon this realization of unspeakable joy is when Edwards realized there were specific spiritual affections, which he then sought after. Edwards would classify these spiritual affections as sensible exercises or inclinations of a person’s will or soul because they could be felt. Ultimately, one’s heart is always either moving away from God or towards Him and this was the hypothesis Edwards used to define which behaviors enhanced one’s relationship with God. By recognizing the heart is either attracted by something or repelled by it, Edwards showed how the things of the world attempt to pull people away from God, while the things that are holy and righteous draws one closer to Him and the more one is drawn towards God; the deeper the spiritual transformation will be. While he defined many specific emotions, alone these emotions could not guarantee someone being a Christian, so he would further attempt to define twelve ways or guidelines to demonstrate the true desire of one’s heart. For example, someone who is truly about serving the Lord would turn their pride into humility as they allowed their love for God to flow through them. As Dr. Dwayne Miliani concludes, “When God works within a believer, He does so from the inside out and true spiritual affection always corresponds to the compassion and purity of a believer’s emotions best expressed by an understanding of Christ; they soften us and move us to holiness by revealing the fruit of Christ in our life.”
Real Christian by Todd Wilson Todd Smith, in Real Christian, defines “real” as something you can see, playing off the same message in I Peter 1:8 and he picks up exactly where Edwards in Religious Affections left off by showing it is by the fruit we bear as Christians that defines our true faith. Living a life of discipleship, transformation, and pure joy, even in times of persecution and trials, should be the evidence of a true Christian. As Preston Sprinkle says, “With a heart for people and a mind for God – and a mind for people and a heart for God Wilson unleashes a challenging message for a church drunk on safety and security.” Wilson’s primary goal is showing what it means to be a genuine child of God, just as Edward’s primary goal was enlightening spiritual truths in the hearts and minds of others by understanding what God’s word calls disciples to do. Wilson then demonstrates how easy it is to fake being a Christian by merely learning doctrine or by changing behaviors, but he makes it abundantly clear that professing faith does not mean one possesses faith.

By combing both of these author’s thesis, a biblical warrant for the necessary and requisite marks of true affections for the maturing believer starts with being real. Wilson illustrates how, “The greatest threat to the church’s witness is one of our own making – an image problem. Many outside the church view Christians as unchristian in their attitudes and actions – bigoted, homophobic, hypocritical, materialistic, judgmental, self-serving, and overly political.” As a result, the world knows more what the church is against than for. While Edwards defined twelve signs of genuine faith, Wilson has condensed those down to six: humility, meekness, contrition, wholeness, hunger, and perfected love. These traits are never outgrown and are fundamental to authentic faith by making Christ the center of one’s life. Our heart demonstrates not only the wellspring of our actions, but also the foundation of our character.

Wilson not only says humility is hard to define but also that it is often misunderstood. Perhaps C.S. Lewis offers the best definition as, “Humility involves being a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody.” Wilson goes on to insist humility is not merely lowly thoughts of self, but it is, “self-forgetful… [And] transcendent self-confidence [with its] purpose [not being] to make you think less of who you are, but to enable you to love others regardless of who they are.” The ultimate goal of humility is to have the mind of Christ, which Wilson demonstrates, “Means not holding on to status in a way that hinders love.” As followers of Christ, we can ask and pray for humility, which is vital so pride is not allowed to set in. True humility only comes from one’s genuine faith in God and it always has a cost.

The second mark of a maturing believer is meekness, which is not to be confused with weakness. Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek” and He is speaking to followers who were facing extreme suffering and persecution. One’s meekness must also flow out of one’s love for Christ as you respond with forgiveness instead of vengeance and as you remain patient and eager to learn in times of rejection or criticism. Meekness means obeying what Paul instructed the Romans to do, “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.” As Wilson says, “To become meek you must entrust yourself to the sovereign goodness of God.”

The third mark of a maturing believer is contrition and Wilson demonstrates that a broken and contrite heart is something God will never despise and is another mark of true authentic faith. Wilson shows how one’s response to sin may manifest itself in the form of guilt, embarrassment, or even regret, but how these responses are not truly contrition. Instead, Wilson portrays contrition as, “Not a fear of punishment, [but] it is a fear of displeasing the one who ought to be obeyed.” King David is one of the best examples of someone who grew to have contrite heart and as believers we have the assurance there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. A true change of heart is required of a contrite person because as Wilson illustrates, “Only a real Christian grieves over sin because it is sin rather than because it brings with it shame, embarrassment, guilt, regret, or punishment.” Another interesting paradox presents itself in this stage as Wilson shows, “While the fear of punishment decreases, if not altogether ceases, conviction of sin increases… As your fear of punishment decreases, your dread of sin and your dislike of it increase… While the fear of hell is removed, the fear of sin is enlarged.”

The fourth mark of a maturing believer is wholeness, which brings the full image of Christ into focus. Wilson demonstrates how, “Wholeness is one of the marks of a real Christian, because when you are real, you have received not half of Christ, but the whole Christ.” Wilson warns that those who are not real may love God’s justice, but care little for His grace. Wholeness means balance in thought, words, and action while bearing the image of Christ. The full image of Christ should permeate in every area of a believer’s life because as you allow Christ to fill you up, the only thing you can do is reflect the image of Christ in everything you do. Once again, Jesus is the perfect model for believers to follow as Wilson illustrates how balanced Jesus was, “He was meek before accusers, yet bold before Pharisees. He was compassionate toward the hurting, yet forthright with the crowds. He was patient with His disciples, yet overturned tables in the Temple. He blasted hypocrisy, yet humbly received scourging. He was eaten up with zeal for God, yet would often slip away quietly to pray.” Ultimately, real Christians should have wholeness by desiring a personal relationship with God as they seek to bear the image of Christ in all they are and in all they do.

The fifth mark of a maturing believer is hunger and as Wilson illustrates, “There is a difference between real hunger and what I will call ‘fake’ hunger. A real Christian’s hunger may begin slowly, but it will grow over time, so that by the end of life a real Christian is hungrier than ever for God.” However, those who are not real in their faith may start off with a strong hunger to know God more, but over time their hunger diminishes as they settle, instead of pursuing God with reckless abandonment even after they have found Him. The initial hunger starts off as wanting to know God more, but the more you begin to know the person of God, the more you will desire to do His will. God’s word is the wellspring of life, so continually reading scripture and meditating on it is paramount to creating and quenching your hunger for more. It is in this stage Wilson cautions that many downplay the importance of maintaining a hunger for God because apathy, complacency, and contentment will set in when one is satisfied with what they find. Ultimately, sin destroys one’s hunger for God, while worship breaths new life into a believer as a deer pants for flowing streams, so should a believer’s soul pant for God.

The final mark of a maturing believer is a perfected love and this is the surest evidence of authentic faith. God’s love is perfected in the believer , it casts out all fear and as Wilson concludes, “Perfected love is the goal of [all] the other marks.” Perfected love is at the core of the Godhead and it is visible, tangible, and sacrificial. As evidence by I John 3:16, “Perfected love is the person of Christ” as Christ laid down His life for us. Because perfected love comes from God, it must not have any conditions or motives attached. Instead, perfected love as Wilson defines it is, “To love God for no other reason than because God is lovely.” In one’s efforts to reach perfected love, many fall short by adhering only to imperfected love. Wilson contrasts the two by showing, “Imperfected love is love in thought, but not in practice. Imperfected love is not bad; it is just incomplete. It is good in principle; it just has not reached its goal.” Like a seed yet to be planted, it wants to grow, but has not yet been planted or watered. To turn imperfected love into perfected love, Wilson stresses the importance of prioritizing and protecting it by learning to abide in Christ. Wilson concludes by showing, “Often what hinders love from reaching its goal in our lives is [our own] insecurity.”

We all fall short of the glory of God at some point. Our righteousness is compared to filthy rags and our holiness is only found in Christ Jesus, but our perseverance is proof that we are real and that God and His promises are real as well. Wilson illustrates how, “Our perseverance vindicates God’s sustaining grace, proves God has given you a new heart, and proves you have been born again.” Charles Spurgeon said it best, “If you trust yourselves to God, He will preserve you; but if you try to keep yourselves, you will fail.”

Humility, Meekness, Contrition, Wholeness, Hunger, and Perfected Love all lead to becoming a real Christian. This book has illuminated several areas in my life, which will help lead me to a closer relationship with the Lord, and in my pursuit of holiness. My need for significance and approval if not kept in check can lead to looking to world for fulfillment. In addition, by appearing to have it all together, you are only fooling yourself, as it is nothing more than a façade, so maintaining transparency is crucial to staying humble. Real faith in Jesus Christ should change us from the inside out, so in the area of meekness I must always remember to forgive those who trespass against me, so that Christ will also forgive me. Holding un-forgiveness against someone only imprisons you to them, so giving everything to God removes the burden and need for retribution or revenge off of your shoulders. In the area of contrition, I must remind myself of the grace God has shown me with a spirit of gratitude. I also must not let past sin make me feel guilt, embarrassment, or regret. We can do nothing about the past, but we can do something about today and the best way to do that is by allowing God to use whatever mistakes may be in our past to advance the kingdom of God and bring Him glory. In the area of wholeness, I must continually allow God to fill me up daily with the intent to pour that love, compassion, and truth out in the lives of the people I interact with. When people see me, they should see Christ in me. My hunger for God must be unquenchable and the more I know Him, the more I should seek to do His will by allowing Him to work in and through me. Finally, in the area of perfected love I must allow my love for God and others to be visible, tangible, and sacrificial. In the Great Commandment, Jesus told His disciples; it was by their love for others that the world would know they were His disciples. The only motive behind our love should be because Christ first loved us and died on the cross for our sins while we were still sinners. My perfected love must be the priority in my life and my motivation in all I do. It also must be protected by the distractions, deceptions, and the illusions of the world. Out of perfected love comes the assurance that God is who He says He is, He can do what He says He can do, and that I am a child of His.

Bibliography

Davids, Peter H. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The First Epistle of Peter. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity. 1952; repr., New York, NY: Macmillan, 1960.

Spurgeon, Charles. “The Preservation of Christians in the World.” Spurgeon’s Expository Encyclopedia, vol. 12. 1951; repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1996.

Wilson, Todd. Real Christian: Bearing the Marks of Authentic Faith. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. 2014.