The State of Discipleship in the Evangelical world

Posted by on Nov 30, 2010 in Contemporary Culture, Evangelism and Culture, Gospel, The Gospel and the Christian Life, The Gospel and the Ministry, What We Write About

Discipleship is under attack by those who dismiss doctrine as unimportant, and by those who believe that it ends with a certain level of progress in the Christian life. Is discipleship unimportant today? Does one ever outgrow the need for discipleship? These questions are relevant because people believe that discipleship seemingly ends when one reaches a certain level of maturity in Christ. If discipleship ends when one progresses to a certain level of maturity then there is no more need to learn because one has become God. It is precisely this attitude that saps the Church of Jesus Christ from any form of credibility outside the Church today. The other concern related to discipleship is the expressed desire of some to have a conversation about how to redesign the Church at the expense of doctrine.

How one defines knowledge demonstrates their view of what discipleship is. The popular approach to knowledge among evangelicals suggests that one never has anything to learn “after” believers “arrive” at a certain place in he/she walk with Christ. Proverbs 1:7 says, “The beginning of knowledge is the fear of the Lord and fools despise wisdom and correction.” No one ever achieves perfect knowledge as every believer even the most “mature” believer only knows in part not in whole. Ultimately only God knows everything, because He knows every hair on every head of every person in the world. Knowledge has its origins in one’s view of God. If discipleship is to be correctly understood how one thinks and understands God is of primary importance since the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge”.

How should one “Fear the Lord?” Is the fear of the Lord the fear of man? Many people have fears of all kinds but this is not the fear of the Lord. The fear of the Lord, Solomon says, is the beginning of all knowledge. Knowledge relates to one’s understanding of the world and oneself as a creature of a magnificent and loving God. “Wisdom”, is the acquired skill of applying knowledge rightly or the skill of godly living. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of both wisdom and knowledge because both have at their root humility. In order to live a moral reverent life the believer has to understand who they are before their Maker and Redeemer.

The Greek’s pursuit of knowledge has at its basis the quest for perfection. It was this pursuit of knowledge which formed the basis for much of Western civilization. The Bible is clear that there is only one who lived a perfect life, and that is Jesus Christ the God-Man. Unlike the pursuit of knowledge through philosophy or any other academic discipline, biblical wisdom and knowledge asserts that submission to the Lord is foundational to the attainment of real understanding (Ps. 111:10; Proverbs 9:10). The covenant name of the Lord is used rather than the generic “God”, which makes the point of this verse (Proverbs 1:7), which is simply that truth is found only through Israel’s God. Solomon contrasts between the two ways of knowledge and folly, which dominates the whole book of Proverbs as the way of wisdom, righteousness, and the fear of the Lord is set against the way of folly, evil and scoffing.

Jesus “call to discipleship” is the call to abandon all, take up the Cross and follow Him. Jesus in [Luke 9:23-27] says, “Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.”

“Come after Me” means to become a disciple of Jesus (Luke 14:27) and requires that one first deny himself (not just denying certain things they may prefer but denying sovereign control of one’s life). Take up his cross (Luke 14:27), means making a commitment that will lead to rejection and even death. And “follow me” (refers to following the example and teachings of Jesus). In Jesus’ day “follow me” also meant joining the company of his disciples who traveled in ministry with Jesus around Palestine. Gaining even the whole world is infinitely less valuable than one’s eternal destiny in relation to God (Mark 8:36). Being ashamed of Jesus means to deny any link with him (Luke 22:54-61) and is the opposite of acknowledging him as one’s Lord and teacher (Luke 12:8-9). The person and message of Jesus (me and my words) are indivisible: “When He comes in glory” refers to the second coming. Luke emphasizes the glory of Jesus (Luke 21:27; 24:27). Some standing here refers to Peter, John, and James, who will witness the transfiguration (Matthew 16:28).

Jesus the Lord of all Creation, the Master who paid for sin through His bloody death and resurrection, calls every born again believer to discipleship. Discipleship is not just a pursuit of knowledge, or the achievement of titles, degrees, or the accumulation of more money. Discipleship according to Jesus is following after His Word which sets forth His example. Jesus went to a Cross to die a bloody death and even before Jesus carried the Cross- He was beaten, scourged and whipped. As He walked with the Cross, Jesus fell down, and they beat Him again. Jesus went through the horrendous ordeal of cruxification and rose again triumphantly to not only give us an “eternal life prize”, but to also call believers to a life of discipleship where His followers rest, learn, exalt, glory, and worship Him.

Believers often look to the Cross as the place where salvation begins, but they should look at it as foundational to discipleship. The Cross, while a one-time event where Jesus died a bloody death and now offers forgiveness of sin and is more than just an object for the basis of discipleship in Jesus. The forgiveness of sins is offered by Christ through His death on the Cross, and the resurrection empowers believers to live new lives. As a result of what Christ has done; believers can not only look to the Cross for victory over sin, but live Cross-Centered lives that glorify Jesus.

A disciple knows who the Master is, and the Master calls His disciples to go forth and make disciples. Matthew 28:18-19 says, “18And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Jesus the Lord, who alone can draw people to Himself (John 6:44), calls His followers to be His disciples. Jesus calls His disciples to go forth and make disciples for His glory; baptizing them, and teaching them to observe His teachings. The all authority here refers to the fact that Jesus, in his risen state, exercises absolute authority throughout heaven and earth, which shows his deity. His authority has been given by the Father, which indicates that he remains subject to the Father (1 Cor 15:28). The imperative make disciples, that is, call individuals to commit to Jesus as Master and Lord explains the central focus of the Great Commission, while the Greek participles (go, baptizing, and teachingv.20) describe aspects of the process. Jesus’ ministry in Israel was to be the beginning point of what would later be a proclamation of the Gospel to all the peoples of the earth, including Jews and Gentiles alike. Teaching is the means by which disciples of Jesus are continually transformed in order to become more like Christ (Matthew 10:24-25; Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18). “I am with you always” is where Jesus concludes the commission, and Matthew’s gospel ends with the crucial element of discipleship: The presence of the master, who is “God with us” (Matt. 1:23).

Discipleship is not a program, but the very mission Jesus gave the Church to fulfill. Discipleship is not just an object to be achieved because that focuses on the numbers of people while biblical discipleship focuses on becoming like Jesus. Jesus in His ministry cared about where people were going, and spent time with people who were hurting, ill, sick, afflicted, and demonized. Jesus shows people in His life how not only to care for people, but how to love people the way they were created to experience love. Biblical discipleship is thoroughly grounded in the person and work of Jesus.
The story of the Bible revolves around the person and work of Jesus Christ. A believers’ salvation does not rest in what is done for Jesus’ name, but in Jesus. Jesus died for sin, and rose again. Since this truth is fundamental it ought not be overlooked, but be central to the thought of every disciple of Jesus. If the story of the Bible is the story of Jesus, and Jesus calls us to be His disciples; then the more one knows of the Bible should lead to knowing Jesus better. Jesus- as the central point of the Bible- calls us to a life of discipleship whereby believers are to focuses their lives on His teachings, example, and mission. With so much talk about “reformation” and change in the Church, it’s about high time that the Church refocus the attention upon Jesus.

Jesus is not just some Savior (or some Lord), but the Lord who gave us this great hope through His death and resurrection. Without Jesus’ death and resurrection, believers are dead in their sins. Jesus, who is great in mercy and faithful to His children, died for sin to bring the ungodly to Him. It is through Jesus that believers are justified. Discipleship should be grounded in the finished work of Jesus because it is there that discipleship is grounded. Discipleship is not grounded in some program, or teaching, but in the finished work of the Savior who died for sin, and rose again. Jesus calls His children to be His disciples which means that believers must take up their Cross, follow Him, learn from Him, exalt Him, and glorify Him by living Cross centered lives that bear the marks of what a true disciple of Jesus is.

The state of discipleship is only going to change within evangelicalism when the Church returns to the Bible as the final authority for faith and practice instead of worshipping the latest teacher, fad, idea, or theology. Salvation is not grounded in what man can accomplish but in what Christ accomplished. Discipleship is thoroughly biblical, and it is Jesus who calls His disciples to pick up their Crosses, and follow Him. Follow Jesus, and make disciples for His glory, and majesty.

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Review of Life of Luther

Posted by on Nov 29, 2010 in Book Reviews, Reviews

The Life of Luther is a historic and comprehensive biography of one of the Protestant Reformations most influential leaders, Martin Luther. In this book by Doctor Barnas Sears originally published in 1850, Luther principle stand on biblical authority, and his work as an educator and church leader are presented. From childhood to being educated in the Scripture, as well as the rest of his life- this book seeks to draw a personal and historical perspective on the life of Martin Luther.

If you’re interested in learning more about Martin Luther pick up this book- it will help you to understand the events that shaped the Protestant Reformation. If you like to read biographies and moving stories- there are few more moving than that of Martin Luther in church history. I believe you’ll find reading this book to be very informative, but challenging in that Luther’s life will confront you with a life lived living for and proclaiming the glory of God in Christ.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the New Leaf Press book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Review of Living in Two Kingdoms

Posted by on Nov 29, 2010 in Book Reviews, Reviews

David VanDrunen is Robert B. Strimple Professor of Systematic Theology and Christian Ethics at Westminster Seminary California, an ordained minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and a licensed attorney. Dr. VanDrunen book Living in God’s Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture is a helpful treatment on the often controversial issue of how Christians interact with culture.

Dr. VanDrunen argument for the two kingdoms is thoroughly grounded in the Scriptures. The fact that VanDrunen’s argument is thoroughly grounded in Scripture helps the reader as he moves from the Old Testament to the New Testament not just examining various passages but engaging the Scriptures with solid explanation of the passages he considers relevant to his argument for the two kingdoms.

The two kingdoms doctrine affirms that God had made all things, that sin corrupts all aspects of life, that Christians should be active in human culture, that all lawful cultural vocations are honorable, that all people are accountable to God in every activity, and that Christians should seek to live out the implications of their faith in their daily vocations.

This book is a helpful treatment on the topic of Christianity and culture. In two hundred and five pages, VanDrunen clarifies why he wrote the book, why the topic of Christianity and culture is so important, and presents his arguments for the two kingdoms in a biblically faithful way.

For such a short book, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms can be said to be an extended exegetical and theological treatment on the topic of Christianity and Culture. This book will help you to understand why the issue of Christianity and Culture is so important to the Christian life. This book will challenge and confront you as a Christian to not just sit on the sidelines but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and then go out and then proclaim the glory of God in Christ in culture.

You should read this book, but do so slowly and reflectively. You will be challenged and you may not agree with what the author says, but the author does not write to give his opinions but to confront, and edify the Body of Christ with the Word of God.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Crossway book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Review of Entrusted with the Gospel Pastoral Expositions of 2nd Timothy

Posted by on Nov 8, 2010 in Book Reviews, Reviews

Entrusted with the Gospel: Pastoral Expositions of 2nd Timothy is a collection of six sermons from the six plenary sessions of the 2009 Gospel Coalition Conference. The plenary speakers at the conference were John Piper, Philip Ryken, Mark Driscoll, K. Edward Copeland, Bryan Chapell and J. Ligon Duncan.  These sermons are exemplary in that they are thoroughly grounded in the Bible are Christ-Centered in their focus and Gospel-focused in their application. These sermons will confront you, rebuke you, exhort you, and cause you to worship and praise the God of all grace.

Having attended churches that were program driven rather than Gospel-Driven- words cannot even express how much I appreciate the Gospel Coalition and their work. This book is just a reflection of their overall work. Through blogs, conferences, audio/video and more, the Gospel Coalition seeks to be thoroughly grounded in, by and for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In other words the Gospel is not just a slogan for the Gospel Coalition- it is something that this ministry and movement seeks to think about, breathe, live under and proclaim to the entire world.

This book will challenge you in several ways. First it will challenge you to grow in personal holiness. These messages are delivered by Pastors and Professors who love Jesus and the Church. These are men who have committed their lives to the task of eating, breathing, studying, living and proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ contained in the Word of God. Whether you agree with every point they make is irrelevant but you should at least consider their arguments and counsel as they are experienced men whom God is using for the sake of His glory.

Dr. Piper in chapter one challenges us to feed the white hot flame of the Gospel by growing in personal holiness and service unto the Lord. In chapter two Dr. Ryken challenges us to follow the pattern of sound words that Paul gave to Timothy. In chapter three Pastor Mark Driscoll challenges us on the marks of positive ministry and how to deal with difficult people. In chapter four K. Edward Copeland stresses how to deal with the pitfalls and parodies of Gospel-Centered Ministry. In chapter five Dr. Bryan Chapell exhorts us from the Word on “Preaching the Word”. In chapter six Dr. Ligon Duncan teaches us to finish well.

These sermons as I said earlier will challenge you. The Gospel is necessary for your salvation but it is equally necessary for your sanctification and growth in discipleship. If you are seeking to grow in what it means to live under the Gospel, I encourage you to read this book. Whether you are a Pastor, in a full-time, bi-vocational ministry, or just a layman or lay woman- this book will challenge you to see that the Gospel is for all of life. This book will rightly orient your life and ministry around the Gospel by stressing the importance of personal growth in holiness as you serve in ministry.

Picking up this book will challenge you and at times make you uncomfortable. It will challenge your apathy and pride. It will challenge the way you do ministry. In the end though the Christian life isn’t about living a comfortable life of easy it is about following the rugged road to the Cross. I recommend you pick up Entrusted for the Gospel that you may grow in personal holiness unto the Lord even as you minister for His glory in whatever capacity He has you in.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Crossway book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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The Difference Grace Makes

Posted by on Nov 1, 2010 in The Gospel and the Christian Life, What We Write About

Paul in chapter 1 of Ephesians opens with an introduction and blessing (vv.1-14) where he expresses the main themes of the letter: Christ has reconciled all of creation and has united the Church to Himself. In Ephesians 1:15-23, Paul gives his prayer of thanksgiving. Paul prays here that the church will gain deep insight into the Lord’s powerful working and rich gifts in Christ. The overarching theme in Ephesians 2:1-10 is that God lavishes his grace on Christians through his saving initiative.

Ephesians two opens with a brief sub-section of three verses which describe man’s hopelessness and helplessness without Christ. The world often thinks that God helps those who help themselves; however Paul in this section makes the opposite point- God helps those who are helpless.

Paul describes the human condition in verse one of Ephesians 2. He teaches that “you were dead” which reflects the fact that human beings as sons and daughters of Adam enter the world spiritually dead. Men and women have no inclination or responsiveness towards God and no ability to please Him. Paul furthers this argument when he mentions trespasses and sins. Transgressions are violations of divine commandments while sins are offenses against God in thought, word and deed.

The words prince and spirit in Ephesians 2:2 refer to Satan as he dominates his human subjects called sons of disobedience. Sons of disobedience refer to sons of this world in contrast to sons of light in Luke 16:8. These sons of disobedience belong to the family of those who rebel against the holy and true God. By nature means that by being a son or daughter of Adam is to be born into a fallen state (Psalm 51:5) and to be subject to condemnation as children of wrath.

Paul then turns from talking about man’s hopelessness and helplessness without Christ to explaining hope believers have in Christ. In contrast to the hopeless state of the nonbeliever, Christians exult in hope because of God’s incredible grace and free salvation. Paul accents this grace in contrast to the pre-Christ hopelessness in vv.1-3.

No hopeless fate looked any worse than that which awaits the company of mankind marching behind the prince of the power of the air (v.2) to their destruction under divine wrath. Even when things look their darkest, Paul utters the greatest short phrase in the history of human speech, but God being rich in mercy. God’s mercy on his helpless enemies flows from his own loving heart, not from anything they have done to deserve it.

Paul with “when we were dead” in verse 5 resumes his original thought from verse 1 which began “you were dead” in v.1. Made us alive refers to God giving us regeneration (new spiritual life within). Since Christians were dead, they first had to be made alive before they could believe and God did that together with Christ. This is why salvation is by grace alone.

Raised us up with Him in Ephesians 2:6-7 means that, because of Christ’s resurrection, those who believe in Him are given new life spiritually in this age (regeneration). They will be given renewed physical bodies when Christ returns (future resurrection). God has allowed His people even now to share in a measure of the authority that Christ has, seated at the right hand of God (1:20-22; 6:10-18; James 4:7; 1 John 4:4), a truth that would be especially important in Ephesus with all of its occult practices. Ephesians 2:7 answers the question of why God lavished such love upon his people: so that they will marvel for all eternity over the incredible kindness and love of God. It will take all of eternity to fathom God’s love, and those who are saved will never plumb the depths of it.

By grace in Ephesians 2:8 refers to God’s favor upon those who have transgressed his law and sinned against him. Grace may also be understood here as “power” in these verses. God’s grace not only offers salvation it also secures it. Saved refers to deliverance from God’s wrath at the final judgment (Rom. 5:9). “by grace you have been saved” is repeated from Ephesians 2:5 for emphasis. The verb form “have been saved” communicates that the Christian’s salvation is fully secured. Faith is a confident trust and reliance upon Christ Jesus and is the only means by which one can obtain salvation. The whole process of salvation by grace through faith as being the gift of God is that it is not something that we can accomplish ourselves. Salvation is not of our own doing. Furthermore salvation is not by works. If salvation were according to our works then man would get the glory. Instead man was created for good works which highlights that salvation is not based on works, but the good works Christians do are the result and consequence of God’s new creation work.

Application
At first glance when one reads Ephesians 2:1-10 it may appear easy to understand. Paul makes the point that outside of Christ there is no hope that our sin keeps us away from God, and that only hope man has of salvation is because of the work of Christ who now makes man alive unto Him by grace through faith.

At the core of the Protestant Reformation are five ideas- first Sola Scriptura the belief that the Scriptures are inspired, inerrant, authoritative and sufficient Word of God. Secondly is sola gratia the belief that man is saved by grace. Paul articulates this principle here in Ephesians 2:8 “by grace you have been saved.” The third is sola fide by faith alone. Paul makes this point clear also in verse 8, “for by grace you have been saved through faith.” The fourth point is Solus Christus that is by Christ alone. The source of our salvation is through the work of Christ. Therefore it follows that since salvation is by grace through faith then it must be in Christ alone. The final principle is Soli Deo Gloria- to the glory of God. God gets the glory in our salvation for it is at His initiative that He makes us alive together with Christ.
Ephesians 2:1-10 is an incredible set of Scriptures to reflect upon. Here within a brief ten verses Paul expounds the central Truths of biblical Christianity that not only confront man’s pride but also provide the ground and means for believers’ salvation.

Paul wrote this letter to the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 1:1). After explaining the reason for his writing and giving a blessing to the people of God- Paul launches out with his two themes which he will explain in the letter- that Christ has reconciled all of creation and united the Church to Himself. All of this is for one point- Paul is addressing believers in this letter which means in Ephesians 2:1-10 he is speaking to remind them of the depths from which they have been delivered. Paul twice in verse one and verse five reminds them of the depths of their sin. Sandwiched between verse one and three is Paul explanation of our sin which offends a holy God, that we former according to the way of the world and were children of wrath.

Paul emphasizes the sinfulness of man so that the believers at Ephesus and Christians today will not forget the depths from which they have been delivered. Before Paul ever explains the good news of what Christ has done, he explains why the sacrifice of Christ was necessary, because of our sin. Our disobedience was the reason why Christ had to come to die. Our sin offends a holy God. Paul’s point here is that in order to truly appreciate all that Christ has done we need to see and understand that our sin is offensive to a holy God. Once we do that we will be able to taste, and the goodness of God in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. It is going to take all of eternity for believers to fathom the love of such a God who showered His love upon us in Christ and we will never plumb the depths of it.

Conclusion
If you’re like me, and you’ve been a Christian for any length of time you know how easy it is to become complacent even apathetic to what Paul describes here in Ephesians 2:1-10. You may even be thinking right now, “Well Dave, I know what you’re talking about.” The truth though is that Paul not only wants Christians to know the truth of our sin and the glory of Christ, but he wants us to experience these truths at work within our lives.

It’s not enough to just sit in the pew and listen to hundreds if not thousands upon thousands of sermons. It’s not enough to just grow in knowledge of God. Paul wants the people of God to not only know the Truth but to experience the truth of grace at work within our lives. It is exactly this truth- the truth of experiencing what we know that is often missed in explanations on this passage. Paul clearly teaches that we are saved by grace through faith, but he doesn’t leave it at that. He continues on to point out the difference this grace has made.

After explaining our sin, and how salvation is by grace through faith, Paul turns to teach in verse 9-10 that salvation is “not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

The Lord Jesus saved you for a purpose. The Lord Jesus saved you for good works which He prepared beforehand. He saved you to set apart a people for His own possession. He saved you to sanctify you and prepare you for work He has assigned for you. Do you see the difference grace makes? Are you in awe of a God who not only saved you from your own sin but saved you and set you apart for His own purposes?

If one truth has become evident in my walk own walk with God- it is that too often I take this all for granted. Often I get into the idea of reading and knowing, but I miss the precious truth of experiencing Christ. I don’t know if you’re like me or not, but if you are, I want to invite you to read Ephesians 2:1-10 and behold the God of all grace who exposes our sin so that His children may live lives that honor God and bring Him glory.

See this God- the God who inspired Paul to write these words in Ephesians 2:1-10 calls you to come to Him. He calls the non-believer to come and be made alive together with Christ. He calls the believer to growth and service for Him. Wherever you are today in your walk with God- behold the God of all grace! It is this God who saves. It is this God who sanctifies. It is this God who secures His children in the palm of His sovereign hand. It is this God who calls His people to serve Him. Wherever you are today, and whatever you do- may you know the Truth of Christ, and experience that Truth at work within your life, and through your life in service to Him. Then you will know and experience the difference the grace of God makes.

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