Uncategorized

The Ax and Ox – Chapter 7 – FAITH

In case you missed it,
there are 8 chapters total, and
all the published chapters
so far are listed here.


Jesus appears, after the resurrection, to the disciples

“You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” 
(Matthew 5:48)

This next chapter is about what we now are and do with the good news. A true Christian is a believer in Christ and his gospel, which itself, is a miracle of God. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” God’s Word in Romans 12:2 mentions being “transformed by the renewal of our minds.” This is no ordinary change of mind. Biblical scholars classify this verse as one that addresses a Biblical topic called “regeneration.” Regeneration, (Greek: παλιγγενεσία, palingenesia) is a word only found in Matt. 19:28 and Titus 3:5, but the idea itself is found throughout Scripture. The word literally means a “new birth.” In Matt. 19:28 the word is used to describe the new heavens and the new earth, translated “new world.” In Titus 3:5 it is used to describe the change of heart mentioned in Romans 12:2, or elsewhere spoken in Scripture as a passing from death to life (1 John 3:14); becoming a new creature in Christ Jesus (2 Cor. 5:17); being born again (John 3:5); a resurrection from the dead even before our physical death (Eph. 2:6); and a being quickened or “made alive” (Ephesians 2:1,5).

At this point I have explained what the gospel is, and you have made a choice. Either you believe it, or you don’t. Either it sounds good to you, or it sounds bad to you. If you believe it, you will want to know more about what to do with the good news you’ve just heard. That’s what this chapter is about. If you don’t believe the gospel yet, I still encourage you to read on, because you may be surprised at what it means to live a Christian life. 

BE HOLY

To live a Christian life is to be holy.

Throughout most of the Bible God has made one thing clear. He loves righteousness, and hates evil. God is holy and good, and it makes sense that he also wants his creatures to be holy and good.

To be Holy literally means to be “set apart.”  We are supposed to be completely set apart from evil.

Yet we are all unholy and not good (without the Spirit of God in us). We all sometimes do wrong and yet God wants us to never do wrong, no exceptions.

Our holy God would be unholy to simply gloss over evil, but instead, He is opposed to all evil. He makes the rules, and He said in his Word that the consequences of being unholy is complete and permanent separation from God. “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life.” (Romans 6:23)

To be unholy, then, means to die without any hope! Since none of us are holy, we are all doomed without additional help.

Lest you doubt that God actually holds us to that standard, the Bible says we need: “holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14) We will never see God without being holy.

Jesus said, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)

I used to read that verse and either do one of two things. I either skipped over it, ignoring it as something that just didn’t make sense, or I felt despair that I could never measure up.

One thing I’ve learned over time is that the Bible is written very plainly. It can be difficult to understand sometimes, but most of the time it’s difficult to understand because we don’t want to understand, or, it’s difficult to understand because we say to ourselves “surely that can’t mean what it seems to say.” Granted, there are some places in Scripture where clarification is helpful, but in general everything can be taken exactly as it seems. If it is hard to understand, that is okay. We can press in to understand, and ask questions. We don’t have to give up.

WHY ARE WE COMMANDED TO DO WHAT SEEMS IMPOSSIBLE?

God’s law is good, but it doesn’t save us, and was never meant to. It’s purpose is to show us our sin, like a mirror shows us our appearance. God’s law, which includes the 10 commandments, causes us to die because we can’t keep it perfectly. (See the entire chapter of Romans 7). God’s law is also called “the ministry of death.” (2 Corinthians 3:7).

We are supposed to be perfect. 100% good, and righteousness, just like God! What a standard. What an honor to be held to such a standard. But why would Jesus command us to do something that none of us can do? We are told to do what seems impossible and be perfect so that we will understand our desperate situation and find someone who can do the impossible for us: God in Christ.

First, it’s good for God to require us all to be perfectly good. It helps us all. Think about what our world will be like when all of us are only doing good all the time. (That’s the next chapter!)

Second, what a privilege that, of all the beasts that walk the earth, God seems to think (yes He knows) we can be good like Him one day in heaven, and invites us to do that now.

Third, God teaches in his Word that it is through our faith in Christ that God already accepts us and sees us as perfectly good. All of my past, present, and future sins are covered by the payment and infinite worth of the blood of God the Son. Read what the apostle Paul says in his letter to the Romans: He says we have “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” (Romans 3:22). 

He continues:

For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:17-19)

Through Adam’s disobedience we inherited unrighteousness. By faith in Jesus’ obedience we inherit righteousness. 

For those who believe, God has forgiven all past sin, sins of today and sins of tomorrow. We can trust Him completely for that. We otherwise doubt the worth of his sacrifice on the cross. Whatever big sins there are, our God’s sacrifice is weightier. Martin Luther put it this way: “When I look at myself, I do not see how I can be saved. But when I look at Jesus I don’t see how I can be lost.”

For many of us, this is such good news that we want to weep with joy and gratitude, and we should, as often as we can.

JESUS’S PERFECTION IS CREDITED TO HIS FOLLOWERS

There are many objections to this level of grace.

For some, it’s easy to receive grace for ourselves because many of us think we are pretty good, and that we kind-of deserve a little grace. However, if grace is defined as getting something we don’t deserve, (which it is) then no one would be forgiven, because no one deserves it. What we deserve is to receive justice and to pay for our crimes against God. This may sound harsh to our modern ears, but let’s see what God’s word has to say.  

The Bible is clear, apart from God Himself intervening, no one is good:

  • None is righteous, no, not one.” (Romans 3:9). 
  • And Jesus said to him, “No one is good except God alone. (Luke 18:19)

Evil deserves to be punished, and none of us are good. Then Jesus offers us eternal life, which is grace. 

Now, some of us have an easy time trusting in God’s grace for ourselves, but not for others, when we consider the wrongs made against us. If we’re not willing to let others off the hook, we really don’t have His grace for ourselves because we misunderstand the gospel. Such a person doesn’t even realize that if they accept God’s grace for themselves, but don’t forgive others, they have actually rejected His unmerited grace. (See Matthew 18:21-35) Jesus said, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15)

God hates my sin, and your sin, so much that He wont be insulted by our attempts to pay for it. Our sin is all the worse compared to the holiness of God. The repulsive feeling we get when we think of forgiving someone who doesn’t deserve it, is the way God feels about my sin and your sin. So we can’t receive God’s forgiveness and not give the same forgiveness to others.  

My sin and your sin is so bad, that no amount of goodness has ever or will ever be good enough to pay God off. God will not wink at evil. Only Jesus has been able to pay for sin by laying down his perfect life as an infinitely worthy payment. So we can either trust in the righteousness of Jesus, which he offers to us, or no one’s at all.

Forgiving doesn’t mean pretending a wrong never happened or that it was okay. It means putting it in God’s hands. Just because it might seem like God is unjustly letting other people off the hook for their sins, He is not. Either 1) He paid for their sin with His blood (with the same unmerited grace he gave you and me, and any natural consequences of sin may still occur), or 2) further justice will be paid on the day He returns.

We Are Not Worthy Of The Gift, But We Honor Him In Our Reception Of It

There is another category that people fall into regarding faith, and it is the opposite of the above scenario. Instead of thinking I was generally good and deserving of grace, I remember feeling so unworthy of the free gift of God’s grace, and so upset that there would be some who would not receive His grace, that I felt as though I wanted to reject the grace given to me. That may sound noble, but it’s not. 

The Apostle Peter had a similar thought when he told Jesus not to wash his feet. Jesus rebuked him and told him that unless he washed Peter’s feet, Peter would have no part with him. Peter was overwhelmed by the humility of Jesus that he didn’t want to accept it. But after hearing how Jesus responded, Peter said, “Then wash my whole body too!” This is the sentiment we should have in response to the grace of God. Take all of it. Celebrate it. We desperately need it.

Another illustration is that of receiving a large gift from someone. We’re tempted to say, “No, I can’t accept this.” But the most polite and honorable thing to do is to sincerely say something like, “Wow, I am astounded at your generosity, and I don’t know exactly why I’m receiving this, but thank you, I humbly accept.”

I also used to think, if grace is truly a gift (which it is by very definition), and if some won’t receive that gift, then I don’t want it either. What makes me worthy to receive this gift? Exactly! Nothing at all makes me worthy of grace! So while rejecting unmerited grace may feel noble to some, it really isn’t noble at all. It still puts the one thinking this way at the center of the universe instead of God, because, by these kinds of thoughts we say we know better than God. However undeserving of His grace we are, it is more noble to trust that those who will ultimately not receive eternal life are not a surprise to God, that somehow God knows what He is doing in history and with His universe, and we can proclaim His gospel in hopes that all who hear will come.

His Grace Really Is Astounding

All of us are sinning all the time many times sometimes without even knowing it. In fact, God shows us, in the Old Testament, that just because we don’t know something is a sin doesn’t let us off the hook. Sacrifices were symbols for atoning for unintentional sins! There were no regular sacrifices for intentional sins: “But anyone who sins defiantly, whether native- born or foreigner, blasphemes the Lord and must be cut off from the people of Israel.” (Numbers 15:29-30, NIV) The result of intentional sin was punishment. Unintentional sin could be covered by a sacrifice.

Without faith in Christ, we are going to be held responsible for things we did intentionally, but also thing that we don’t even know we did. I mention this not to cause anyone to despair, but to do the opposite: we should have a strong assurance about God’s love and grace for the very reason that we can’t possibly confess every sin. Only God knows the depth of our evil – and deep is our evil.

I used to think that if I sinned in thought or word or actions right before getting in a car accident, and I didn’t have time to “get my heart right” and feel sorry, and ask the Lord for forgiveness that I would wake up in hell. God’s grace is so much bigger than that. We are saved by grace alone, by faith alone in Christ alone, by Scripture alone to the glory of God alone! We don’t even “maintain” our salvation. Christ does that miraculous work in us. We “work out our salvation with fear and trembling because it is God who works in us.” (Philippians 2:12) Those that seek God do so because God enabled them: “But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:21.) This enables our good deeds and thoughts and actions to all be a complete “thank you” to God. For this reason we never have to feel like our goodness is a manipulation to get on God’s good side, or to make Him love us. God looks at all his children and sees them as perfect, because of God the Son’s perfect sacrifice. What a privilege to be able to say thank you to God with our good works without feeling like we are trying to earn his favor. 

This is why true followers of Christ do not hate and judge and despise non-Christians for their sinfulness because they understand they are just as guilty and undeserving of grace. Jesus explained this in a parable: “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18-9-14. 

This doesn’t mean we accept wickedness. In fact, we can now do the opposite by the power of God. He lives in us, so we can now live lives worthy of the grace we have received. (Philippians 1:27, Colossians 1:10) But none of that “keeps us saved.” God keeps us saved. Our goodness is only a thank you to God, and even the ability to thank God is a gift of God. Even our praise of God is a gift to us and the rest of the world.  

Good and bad fruit.

Something happened to me when I first began to preach as an associate pastor. I began to preach through the book of John and as I worked my way through it, chapter by chapter, verse by verse, what amazed me the most was Jesus’s continuous references in John to things like “vines” and “branches” and “trees” and “fruit.” One of the most important of these is the illustration of the fig tree. (Mark 11:12-25) Jesus cursed a fig tree and it withered! The disciples ask him about this and he says that good trees bear good fruit and bad trees bear bad fruit. He says a bad tree “can’t” bear good fruit and a good tree “cannot” bear good fruit. 

The trees represent us. Many of us are usually okay with accepting that there are so called good and bad people in the world, but what does it mean that bad people can’t bear good fruit? What is fruit, but what we do and produce? If bad people “cannot” bear good fruit, what hope do they have? Jesus didn’t say the bad tree could try harder and good fruit would come out of it. The tree, at its roots, was essentially incapable of bearing good fruit. What needed to change was the tree! Just as Jesus spoke and caused the tree to become withered at his command, he alone can change the tree itself to be a good tree. In other words he alone can make a “bad” person “good.” It starts with God. God’s hand reaches out with the Gospel and changes people at their core to be complete new creations. Not metaphorically. Truly new. These new creations then see God for who He is and believe and love and trust in Him and then, and only then, do they begin doing godly work. 

This is why Paul says in Romans that before we were in Christ, we could not submit to God’s law. It’s not that we just didn’t try hard enough. God said to Adam that he would surely die, and while his heart was still beating he and all humanity died spiritually with no ability to turn to God. Adam was the root, and we are the branches, poisoned by rebellion. The heart before knowing Christ “does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.” (Romans 8:7)

Again, regarding our faith being God’s gift, Paul says in Ephesians 5:8, “This is not your own doing!” Why else would he need to say this except that we all tend to think we saved ourselves by being smart enough to grab the proverbial life raft? God reminds us, no, “this is not your own doing!”  

Holiness Comes Not From Persuasion, But Instead Comes As A Natural Byproduct Of A New Creation 

When I first began to preach, I struggled with what I was asking from the people listening to me. What was the point of what I was saying if the good trees would bear good fruit and the bad trees couldn’t be good? Was my job to persuade them with clever words to be better people? No, instead it became incredibly obvious that the work of God is a complete miracle through and through. My job as a preacher was to share the good news of God’s grace found on every page of the Bible. God says in his Word that that His word is alive. Every sermon therefore is a way God Himself reaches out and makes bad trees into good trees. When the heart changes, thoughts, words and actions follow. Only God can perform that miracle where and when He wants.

The job of a preacher or pastor therefore is not mainly to persuade Christians to be good. The job of the pastor is to preach the Gospel from the entirety of God’s Word over and over and over so that by God’s Spirit cold dead hearts are made warm and alive, at which point they begin to desire to do what is good. (Ezekiel 36)

All the good that we do therefore is not some pitiful attempt at paying God off, or getting on his good side, but simply a thank you for his astounding grace. Believer, your holiness and righteous standing before God at this very moment is rooted in Christ’s work and not your own. That’s part of the astounding good news of the gospel.

The day a Christian first turns to Christ is the day they discover they were already loved! But what a privilege it is to be able to thank God with our lives for the rest of our lives: helping people, desiring to be holy and set apart for whatever pleases God, desiring to be perfect to the best of our ability, because we get to. That is how a “good tree” thinks.

Once a believer has been miraculously touched by the hand of God to believe in Christ in faith he or she is then able to please God. A new creation-born again, with spiritual eyes-sees the good they are to do and actually wants to do it. Desires change. True believers were slaves to doing evil and are now slaves to doing good. They will bear good fruit if they are truly rooted in Christ. 

Consistently proclaiming the simple gospel

By Christians consistently proclaiming the simple gospel, which includes news of the risk of hell and the grace of Jesus, new creatures are born, and become holy. 

You can spot churches that don’t quite understand this yet because their sermons are focused on persuading us to be better people, or they are focused on preaching only grace but never the realities of sin and hell. If churches instead focus on preaching through the entirety of the Word of God, without skipping over the so-called boring, confusing or offensive parts, reminding us to believe in Christ and root ourselves in Christ, in every message, and never be bored of that, good trees will be planted. Christ followers will be born.  

There is no point in simply telling unsaved sinners to repent and do good, except to condemn them. They need to know Christ first. And the gospel is news that all of us fallen men and women need to hear over and over.  The point of every Sunday sermon should be to preach the Word and the gospel. We’re not called to preach anything else. The Bible is not primarily a manual for Christian living. It’s the story of Jesus and what He has done. We are to behold this, and believe on Christ, and in so doing, the Holy Spirit will live in us and give His wisdom.

I’m not at all saying we ignore teaching the commands of the Bible. I’m saying the opposite. In fact we can preach holiness with more vigor. I’m saying we can embrace all of the commands of the Bible when we are made new, but only when we are new. We can preach holiness in church, but never without the very clear and obvious proclamation of the finished work of Jesus and his astounding grace. It is finished. Our salvation is free and secure.

If God is the one who saves the individual (and not the individual who saves themselves by mustering up saving faith) then we don’t have to fear that those who hear about his grace will be licentious. We can trust that God is the one building his church and that the Holy Spirit is the one who convicts the heart concerning sin. If the full council of the Word of God, including the grace of the gospel of Jesus Christ, is always the meat of our message, his followers will want to obey his laws and commands. 

The divine Word of God through the power of the Holy Spirit is what saves people, not clever human words or speech. And the Word of God tells us to preach the Gospel. We can and should teach the whole Bible, but never without the Gospel. We can preach about grace, but never without the Gospel, which includes the message that we have been saved from God’s rightful wrath. 

Only the dead who have been raised can walk. 

Only those born again can breathe. 

Only those whose eyes have been opened can see. 

Only those who know Christ as Lord can please God. 

Those who know Christ will please him, because they seek to obey his commands.

The Commands of Jesus

In my estimation, and I assume the estimation of other biblical scholars smarter than me, there are five major commands given by Jesus while he walked the earth. Most people know these as “The Great Commandments”, “The Great Commission” and “The Sacraments.” Jesus commanded his followers to 1) Love God, 2) love others, (Great commandments) 3) go into all the world and preach the gospel, (Great Commission) 4) be baptized, and 5) eat and drink in remembrance of him until he comes. (The Sacraments). Let me explain these in slightly more detail.

1 & 2 – Loving God and Neighbor

An individual can’t love God until God breathes into an individual, and as we read in Ezekiel, God raises dry bones to life. (Read Ezekiel 37) An individual can’t properly love his neighbor until his heart of stone is overcome by the Spirit and turned into a heart of flesh. (Read Ezekiel 36) When God breathes life into the nostrils of a spiritually dead person, that person can’t help but begin to love. He begins to see every person just as Christ sees him, saved by grace alone. The person who doesn’t see himself as saved by grace alone, but holds some part of his salvation as cooperation with God, claims for himself some part of his salvation, however small, and is therefore unable to fully love his neighbor the way Christ has loved: without merit.

So, we love Jesus’s commands to give to those who ask, not because they deserve it, but simply because, among other things, they asked: “Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back.” (Luke 6:30) Religion doesn’t save, but good religion proceeds from those who are saved. Jesus said, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:27)

So a true Christian loves God and loves others unconditionally, including non-christians, and “especially” fellow Christians. “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:10). We can’t “especially” love fellow Christians if we don’t know any. This makes going to a church regularly an essential part of what it means to be a true Christian. “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another” Hebrews 10:25. Jesus’ Apostle (which means “sent one”) John, refers to the “Lord’s day,” a reference to Jesus and the day he rose from the dead (Revelation 1:10). We do well to listen to Jesus’s sent one who models for us honoring the Lord on the Lord’s day. 

3. Be Baptized. 

Like any good thing we do, a person who has truly heard and understood the good news of the gospel wants to be baptized in water 1) because God the Son (Jesus) commanded it, and 2) because they are not ashamed and want the world to know. Some have said baptism is an outward sign of an inward reality. Baptism is more than that, but I like the point being made. Nothing we do saves ourselves from God’s coming wrath. Only God can save us. He is our only hope. Baptism is a celebration and thank you for what he has already done in us. The person who endeavors to be dunked in water to try to wash away their sin, without believing the gospel, is not saved by such a dunking. Baptism is a part of salvation only as it coincides “as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 3:21) This verse is one of the reasons I don’t believe we should baptize infants. While I believe God can cause an infant to have faith in the womb (Jeremiah 1:5, Luke 1:41) we don’t know when or if an infant has made “an appeal to God for a good conscience.” Only when we’re certain that is the intention should a church baptize a member. There is so much more to be said about baptism and I’m not going to attempt it here, but I do recommend the book Understanding Baptism by Bobby Jamieson and Jonathan Leeman (Editor). My main point here is simply that true Christians are baptized, and to do this, one needs to find a gospel believing church.

4. Take communion. 

We take communion (typically some bread and some grape juice) to remember and honor our Lord Jesus who died to save us. We don’t take communion because we think we become good people if we do. Christ has already called his people holy, but this is only possible because of his own goodness and worth. So we lovingly obey our Lord’s command to “do this remembrance of me,” and take communion. It’s a joy to honor him and celebrate his sacrifice, on Sunday, or “as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup” (1 Corinthians 11:26).  Yet it’s also a command that a true Christian obeys. One last important note I’d like to propose is that communion doesn’t happen in the living room with your family but together with the bride of Christ, with a pastor and with the church. So again, to obey the commands of Jesus, a Christian needs to find a church. How are we to be a Christian and obey Christ if we don’t take communion as he commanded? And how can we take communion if we are not part of a church where communion happens? R.C. Sproul said it pretty strongly: “If you’re not connected to a body of Christians at a local church, you are out of the will of God.” Taking communion doesn’t save you, but those who are saved take communion with the people of God. For more on this topic I recommend “Understanding The Lord’s Supper” by Bobbie Jamieson. 

5. Preach the Gospel

This book is meant to be an introduction to the Gospel. The gospel is so simple that as Christians we think that we can hear it once, believe and be saved, and then move on to greater things. It is true that we are to drink milk before we eat meat when it comes to Christian doctrine, and many think of the gospel as milk. But the gospel is really not that easy to explain and to comprehend. It sounds simple when you see it in a sentence, but to truly comprehend it, deeply, is a miracle that God works in us everyday with better understanding.

For this reason every sermon, every song, every conversation should be performed in light of making the simple gospel known so that everything else we desire to happen (new Christians and every good work done through believers), can happen. Let’s not grow bored of it, because it is “the power of God” for all who believe. (Romans 1:16, 1 Corinthians 1)

We need seminaries and Bible studies and Theology books and articles on right living but we need the simple gospel more than all that and in all that. All of those things should never exist without being saturated with the gospel.

We should be better parents, not simply because we want to obey Scripture, but because Jesus showed us the Father’s Love on the cross (the gospel).

We ought to have healthy relationships, not simply because that’s a biblical teaching but because The Father, Jesus, and The Holy Spirit model relationships for us in the trinity, the cross, and resurrection (the gospel).

We shouldn’t lie, not simply because it’s what we’re told to do in Exodus 20, but because the Truth of the gospel has made it pointless to lie, because we have all we need in Christ.

We should not lust and commit adultery, not simply because that’s wrong, but because Jesus showed his love for his bride the church by laying down his life for her (the gospel).

We can talk about how the book of Daniel encourages us to stand up for what’s right, but we need to make sure the point of every teaching makes Jesus the star of the show; that he is Lord over all kings, and Lord over all dreams and future affairs (the gospel).

The Gospel is the answer to every problem.

The gospel is not just the starting point, it is the point of everything and it is the answer to every problem. The Gospel of Christ is the beginning, the journey, and the destination. “For from him and through him and to him are all things.” (Romans 11:36)

The gospel is the answer, not simply to worldwide epidemics, but simply daily problems. For example, I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine about the difficulties of maintaining a healthy body weight. We went on talking as people usually do about eating better, exercising, or getting enough sleep, but none of those are really the answer. The gospel gets at the root of the problem. Eating right, exercising, sleeping and making a plan and sticking to it are all good things but they treat the symptoms of weight gain and not the cause of weight gain. 

Unless you have a medical problem, the thing that separates you from maintaining a healthy weight is believing the gospel anew every morning. Here are some examples of how this is true:

  1. The gospel encourages us that we are already loved and satisfied by Jesus, so we don’t need food to fill any voids. Jesus fulfills the spiritually void that hunger accentuates without Him. 
  2. Thankful for his unconditional love, we want to take care of the body he gave us. 
  3. Knowing the grace we’ve received freely from him already, we want to give grace to our friends and family by taking care of ourselves and even loving them by modeling to them how to eat and exercise well. 
  4. If we need help, we ask for it, because our identity is not wrapped up in how we are perceived by others but our identity is in Christ who is pleased with us and whose opinion has the most value. 

The extent of our ability to fix any problems in our life and lives of others is completely rooted in the extent to which we believe the gospel. 

A wicked generation asks for a sign. 

Some Christians focus on praying for healing, speaking in tongues, prophecy or other miracles. They forget that all of those things are meant to point us to the Gospel, to believe, and by believing receive final and lasting miracles, wonders and healing when Christ returns. The point of the Gospel is not so that we can reach the “next level” and be super-Christians. The point of miracles is not to restore the earth today. The point of the miracles in the Bible is to bring validity to Jesus’s ministry so we might have faith in him and live forever. Why do we lose sight of this? “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign.” (Matthew 12:39). Instead of preaching signs and asking for signs we should instead focus on proclaiming Jesus, our king! Miracles will follow Jesus, as he finds necessary, to magnify his name. The purpose of his miracles are not to bring “life change” and utopia here on earth before he comes. No, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:29). Our duty is to “preach the gospel” not preach signs and seek wonders. Christ will return and judge the earth, and then heaven and permanent real and lasting “life change” will come.

Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and lazarus died again. Healing and miracles are not permanent, so our time should not be focused on phenomenon but instead on the permanent and saving power of the preached Word. The gospel is like the pole that looked like a snake in the desert, and all that looked on it lived. (Numbers 21) Why don’t we spend more time showing people how Jesus hung the cross for their sins so people would have eternal life? That seems like a much better use of time than obsessing about things that are not permanent like healing, speculation about the end times, speaking in languages that no one can understand, and the ten ways to be a better you for this short life on earth.

We are in a period of time between worlds. We are no longer in the old covenant but we are not yet fully redeemed. We are waiting, yet we are not passive. We are actively and eagerly waiting for his return. “Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” (Hebrews 9:28)

As mentioned earlier, we are waiting by living rightly, out of thankfulness. We are waiting by doing our absolute best to do what Jesus told us to do. So, we are baptized because Jesus said to be baptized, not because it saves us. We take communion because Jesus said to remember him in that way, not because it saves us. And yet God’s word says those who are truly saved do those things. Faith without works is no faith at all. (James 2:26) If you have faith but your heart does not desire to obey God’s commands it means nothing. Even demons believe in God. “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” (James 2:19). 

How are we to be a Christian and obey Christ if we don’t take communion as he commanded? And how can we take communion if we are not part of a church where communion happens? As R.C. Sproul said, “If you’re not connected to a body of Christians at a local church, you are out of the will of God.” Taking communion doesn’t save you, but those who are saved take communion with the people of God.

We tell others about Jesus constantly because he commands us to! And we love doing what He commanded because He saved us from certain death to certain life. We are celebrating good news, not the possibility of good news. Christ said, “It is finished.” His promises and our destination is sure

There is so much more joy when you’re sure about your destination, as every day becomes a celebration of good news that has already happened. That’s what the news is! This is different from celebrating the anticipation of what “might” happen. If you are in Christ, your salvation will be completed. God will complete the good work he started. “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6). That’s cause for rejoicing. “rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Luke 10:20. Why would we rejoice if they simply might be written in heaven? No, it is written in permanent ink because of a permanent change! “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:3-4)

This joy overflows into everything we do. 

If you are not actively pursuing to obey what Jesus taught, you are not a Christian. A Christian is a new creation who follows Jesus, by learning and doing what he taught, not simply having positive thoughts and feelings toward Jesus. Following Jesus is more than having him listed on a series of “likes” on Facebook. Following Jesus is more than clicking “follow” on Instagram.

Following Jesus means denying ourselves and picking up our own cross. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Jesus, Matthew 16:24). When we follow Christ, our lives may become harder on this earth than if we didn’t follow him. 

We shouldn’t be surprised by this. I have been surprised at some of my own “suffering” and have been known to complain about following Jesus. Instead of becoming a computer programmer and pursuing riches, when I was 17 I felt God calling me away from a computer science degree. Instead I decided to go to a Bible college, which began a life in the world of ministry, and which was one of the worst things I could have done financially speaking (at least from a worldly perspective). At 17 I wanted to be wealthy, and I thought that if I followed Jesus and sought wisdom like Solomon, he would make me wealthy without ever experiencing poverty. I believed when Jesus said “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you,” that “all these things” would include eventually never struggling to pay bills, or ever struggling to take care of my family. I never thought I would live in a place that was infested with mice and rats, yet I have done so.

However, I nor anyone else should be surprised that following Jesus often results in at least some suffering. God may or may not give us riches, and He is still good to simply provide us with basic needs. “With food and clothing these we will be content.” (1 Timothy 6:8) Instead of grumbling and complaining (something we are called to avoid, Philippians 2:14) we ought to consider our sufferings as a joy. “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness..” (James 1:2-4).

I never understood this until I had a bigger picture of God’s grace, and a better understanding of what holiness really is. If we are new creations, then what we want is to be holy. When we do things for God that bring us joy, we are truly worshiping him. If we do things begrudgingly, we ought to consider stopping those things, since they don’t please God. Even the things that feel mundane, or that we do out of duty, can be a gift of thankfulness to God. I don’t often feel like standing and singing to God in church for a lot of songs, especially if the band isn’t doing so well that morning, but even then I can gladly give God my aching feet and tired body in song. 

Jesus endured the pain of the cross “for the joy set before him!” (Hebrews 12:2)

In other words, if we think about what things we ought to do for God, it becomes clear what those things are: those things that bring us the most joy in Him. 

This is why Augustine could say “Love God and do as you please,” meaning, if you truly love God, what you please will be His will. In this way, we can stop wondering desperately about what God’s will is for our lives. Here is God’s will for your life: while never sinning, do what brings you joy. That’s it. We have so much freedom in Christ. We ought to be the happiest people in the world. If you’re still wondering what God’s will is for your life, John F. MacArthur wrote a good short book on this topic called “Found” that I recommend.

At this point I’ve summarized the major purposes of church: to obey Christ in loving God, loving others, being baptized, taking communion, and constantly talking about the gospel. But I’m not naive enough to think that everyone who is reading this really understands everything I’m saying. What I’ve laid out here has taken me my whole life so far to feel like I know it well enough to write about it with an unshakable conviction. I only hope God has used it to give you a taste of his glory and that you would see that he is so good. Psalm 34:8 says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” The next chapter delves into discussion about the return of Christ and some of its implications.

IN SUMMARY

The Ax: True Christians are miracles of God who go to church to love God and others, are baptized, take communion, and preach the gospel.

The Ox: Obeying God doesn’t save us, but those who are saved by God obey Him in thankfulness.Good trees bear good fruit.

In this chapter we discussed

  • God’s holy justice
  • Regeneration
  • The command to be perfect and holy as God
  • God’s grace
  • Good and bad trees
  • The church
  • The Great Commandments
  • The Great Commission
  • Baptism
  • Communion
  • The gospel is the power of God

GOSPEL MEMORIZATION GRAPHIC

EXAMPLE OF HOW TO SHARE THE GOSPEL

After every couple chapters I will write example of how you can share what you’ve read with others, and we will build upon these sentences until the end of the book:“Let me tell you about the Gospel, which is the good news that we read about in God’s Word (the Bible): God exists and He is good. He made mankind good and upright, but we all have disobeyed God. God said the punishment for sin is eternal, wide-awake death. But God in love and mercy decided to bring men and women back into fellowship with Himself. Without ceasing to be God he became the man Jesus Christ, died on the cross for sins, and rose from the grave that all who put their hope in Him would also rise to eternal life. All who believe this are changed forever and seek to obey God out of a thankful heart…”

Chapter 8

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s