13 — What We Believe: “Once a Christian always a Christian?”

I read a blog post recently by a minister who no longer believes in God. The amazing thing of course is that he’s still a minister – which doesn’t make a lot of sense but the puzzlement didn’t end there. The reason he wrote was to protest those who keep telling him he is no longer a Christian. In other words, he claims to be an unbeliever and a Christian.

There are basic things one must believe and do in order to become a Christian. There are also basic things one must believe and practice in order to live out the calling of Christ. But let’s be perfectly clear: once one becomes a Christian, regardless of belief or practice, one never ceases to be a Christian, a child of God. One may lose his way, leave the way, lose his heavenly inheritance and bring shame on the family of God by poor behavior, but no matter what, that person remains a child of God.

When talking about essentials of the faith, the really important items are those whose absence cause us to fail at being children of God.

For example: The Corinthian Christians were Paul’s “problem children.” Some were haughty, some immoral, some disruptive. All these things compromised their Christian claim and threatened their eternal inheritance, but it did not change who they were. They were still Christians, God’s holy people.[1] They just weren’t living like God’s holy people, and that was the problem. The sham that was their lives shamed God’s name.

The really big issue is whether a Christian can lose his inheritance in the kingdom of God. It is an inheritance promised by God[2] and can never, on its own perish, spoil, or fade.[3] Like an inheritance in any family however, it can be lost.[4]

But there is something else.

There is not only eternal loss of inheritance awaiting the impenitent. There is the prospect of increased punishment.[5] Why increased punishment? Because we are God’s children, and are responsible for knowing better.

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Footnotes
[1] Paul refers to them as the “church of God,” those “sanctified.” The word “sanctified” means to “be made holy.” But Paul goes on to say that these who have been made holy are called to be holy (see 1 Corinthians 1:2). In other words, you’ve got to live up to what God has made of you.

[2] Hebrews 6:12; 9:15

[3] 1 Peter 1:4

[4] 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:20-21; Ephesians 5:5. The reader should note that Paul, in all of these passages, is not writing about non-christians, but about Christians who engage in these behaviors.

[5] Hebrews 10:26-31 – 26 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. 28 Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

12 — What We Believe About Worship (Part 2)

After the Exodus, God commanded regular and special assemblies to remember what He had done for His people and to honor Him. Wherever they were, whatever they were doing, they were to drop everything and gather as the blessed people. Just giving Him that priority was the beginning of those worship seasons.

Jesus required his followers to remember what God had done for them in a special memorial[1] made up of unleavened bread and wine. Paul called it “the Lord’s Supper.” Early Christians gathered for this purpose on the first day of the week,[2] the day of the completion of Christ’s saving act (his resurrection which declared him to Be God’s son).[3]

The focal point of our Sunday assembly is the Lord’s Supper. It’s observance, accompanied by prayer, is the only required act. Early Christians expanded on this worship of God by reading and teaching God’s word (another manner of worship) and singing hymns of praise to Him. But the Supper is paramount.

The bread represents the body of Christ and by each of us eating it, we remember that Christ, through His sacrifice, has not only made us a part of himself, but has united us all in his body.[4] The unity with Him we have as a group requires us to be united with one another. The fact that the bread is unleavened reminds us that God has, in Christ, made us pure and we are to behave that way every day.[5]

The wine reminds us that our place before God did not come cheap. It cost the blood of Christ. In addition, it reminds us that in drinking it, we have entered into a special relationship with God, a covenant, that in God’s eyes, separates us from the world and makes us special to Him. It is a reminder to be supremely thankful and humble, and to keep a close watch on our behavior because God has made us to be His people.

The worship assembly is not something to be taken lightly, but is to have such priority in our lives that each day is lived in view of the next meeting of God’s gathered people.

Footnotes:

[1] Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:17-20

[2] It is the “first day of the week” that is given prominence in the New Testament. See Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:2, 9; Luke 24:1; John 20:1, 19; Acts 20:7.

[3] Romans 1:4

[4] 1 Corinthians 1:17 – 17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.

[5] Paul uses this thought in 1 Corinthians 5:6-8 when he refers to the Corinthian Christians’ behavior – 6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 7 Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

10 — What We Believe About the Christian Life (Part 3)

The guiding principle for all Christian living is this: We must live to please the Lord.

This includes living a devotional life that begins, first and foremost, with a focus on scripture, the Bible.[1]  No one is born knowing what pleases the Lord, and no one can know it without coming into contact with the book that makes God’s will known.

This focus on Scripture must be comprehensive, for it is all of the Bible that guides us into the will of God.[2]  As we read, we will need to be introspective, thinking about how the word of God applies in our lives and that will lead us to prayer.  We cannot possibly be what God has called us to be without His help.[3]  While doing these things, we must challenge ourselves to adopt practices that will facilitate becoming more Christlike in our behavior.

Pleasing God requires living in community with Christian people.  God has made us to be His people, separating us from all others in His eyes.  He has not just saved you, but in saving you He adopted you into His family.  We must find our place in that family and serve.[4]  As one writer puts it: There are two things we cannot do alone: One is to be married, and the other is to be a Christian. [5]

Since we are the “pillar and ground of truth” for the world,[6] we must live responsibly, adhering to sexual purity and ethical behavior.  The Psalmist reminds us who can live in the house (family) of God: he whose walk is blameless, who does what is righteous, speaks the truth from his heart, has no slander on his tongue, does his neighbor no wrong and casts no slur on his fellowman.  It is the person who despises that which is vile, honors those who fear the Lord, keeps his word even when it hurts, and who lends his money without interest and does not accept a bribe against the innocent.[8]

Footnotes

[1] The focus begins with scripture and not with God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit, for nothing can be known about the will of God for our lives – or much about God for that matter – without the revelation of scripture.

[2] 2 Timothy 3:16-17 – All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

[3] The New Testament letters are full of reminders that it is God who works in us to desire and act according to His good purpose (cf. Philippians 2:13).

[4] In writing about this relationship in the body of Christ, Paul emphasizes this point writing: From [Christ] the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Ephesians 4:16).

[5] Paul Tournier, cited by Philip Yancy, Church: Why Bother? (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998) p. 37.

[6] 1 Timothy 3:15

[7] Psalm 5:1-4

9 — What We Believe About the Christian Life (Part 2)

In his earliest letter, the Apostle Paul reviewed elementary Christian teaching with some of his new converts. As he came to the end of that letter he wrote: “Finally, brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more.”

We believe that the Christian life is first and foremost about pleasing the Lord. Not ourselves. Not our neighbors. Not even our spouses.

Scripture emphasizes this repeatedly.

In his second Corinthian letter Paul wrote: “we make it our goal to please [Christ], . . . For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”

To the Galatians he wrote: “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

And to the Colossians he wrote: “. . . we have not stopped praying for you . . . in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way . . .”

The example of Jesus is that he did not live to please Himself, sought to please His heavenly Father[1] and that led him to seek the best interests of others before his own. Why? Because that’s what was pleasing to God.

Whatever we believe about the Christian life, everything must fall under this heading. Our eternal destiny depends on it.[2] It is why the Christian life can never be about check lists or rote or ritualistic behavior. Pleasing God can never be accomplished while on auto-pilot.

Footnotes:

[1] This fact means that everything comes before pleasing self. So Paul writes in Romans 15:1-3 “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”

[2] Galatians 6:8

8 — What We Believe About the Christian Life (Part 1)

Correct beliefs are critical to correct behavior. Tenets of faith are of little account if they do not impact our lives.  As I bring this series of essays to an end, in a way, these on the Christian life are the most important.

We believe that to be a Christian is the highest privilege, and being a Christian makes us more special to God than anyone else.  We constitute the family of God[1], the salt of the earth, the light of the world[2], and the pillar and ground of truth [3].  There is no higher calling.  To underscore our special status, God calls us “priests.”[4]

We didn’t attain this status on our own.  We were given it when we placed our faith in Christ and aligned our lives with His in His death.

The Old Testament priesthood serves as the model for our own.  The standard for their behavior was higher than that of the rest of Israel; they set the bar.  They were to teach this behavior to others and nothing on earth was to come between them and their devotion to the Lord.  Jesus said the same thing of us: “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”[5]  Priests modeled dignity and honor and the life they lived was to be completely devoted to the Lord.

We believe this response of life to God should proceed from our hearts, for if it does not, it will not be genuine, nor will it last.[6]

It is to be a life totally dependent on God, and that brings me to the final point this time: The Christian life is a faithful one.  It is full of faith, trust in God that He will transform us if we will desire it and allow it.  Faithful also means “trustworthy.”  God is trustworthy, that’s why we believe in Him.  As his children, we must be trustworthy too.  The world must trust that we will not lead them astray, that it can count on us to be the great people we’ve been called to be.

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Footnotes:

[1] Ephesians 2:19

[2] Matthew 5:14-19

[3] 1 Timothy 3:15

[4] 1 Peter 2:9

[5] Matthew 10:37

7 — What We Believe About the Church

The Greek New Testament uses the word “ekklesia” 110 times to refer to God’s people.[1] Our English Bibles translate that term  “church.” The word originally referred to the gathering of the free Greek citizens to vote on matters of importance in the community.  To be a member of this assembly was the highest status in a Greek community.  The use of the term among Christians was to convey the exalted status given to them by God.[2] They are, as the Church, the family of God, citizens of God’s community, and the dwelling place of the Lord.[3]

The Church is important because it is the Kingdom of God on the earth, that realm where God is seen to rule His people.[4]  It is also important because it is the body of Christ on the earth.  Just as Jesus was God in the flesh when he was on the earth, so it is that we, the Church, are Christ upon the earth.  The Bible speaks of Jesus as being the “fullness of God” (Colossians 1:19; 2:9), and speaks of the Church as being the fullness of Christ.

The Church is also important because, as the body of Christ, it is the place where adoption into God’s family and redemption and forgiveness of sins takes place.[5]  These blessings take place nowhere else, and so the Church, and only the Church, constitutes the community of the saved.  It is important because it is the only thing Jesus ever promised to build,[6] and important because it belongs to Him.

Because Christ had only one body, there is only one Church, and only one way into that Church.  It is God who adds us to that community when we, as a response of personal faith, are baptized.[7]

It is the work of the Church to exhibit the Christ-life on this earth, to call others to that Christ-life, and to encourage one another in living the Christ-like life until finally, God brings us home into His presence where we will dwell with Him.

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Footnotes
[1] The New Testament was originally written in Greek.

[2] The word “church” comes from a Greek adjective meaning “belonging to the Lord.” In the early centuries following New Testament times, it came to mark the place where Christians gathered to worship. Later, it was used to refer to the gathering itself. Though early translations of the New Testament translated “ekklesia” with “assembly,” the word “church” came to be the dominant translation.

[3] Ephesians 2:19-22 – 19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

[4] The close relationship between the Church and the Kingdom can be seen in the following comparisons: Both belong to Christ (Matthew 16:18; Luke 22:29-30). Both belong to God (2 Corinthians 1:1; Luke 9:1-2). Those in one are in the other (compare Revelation 1:4 and 9).

[5] Ephesians 1:3-7 – 3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace . . .

[6] Matthew 16:18

[7] Note these two texts: First Acts 2:38-47 – 38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. . . .40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. . . And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. Second: 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 – 12 The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

6 — What We Believe About Baptism

Baptism is a fundamental rite of the Christian Church.  Some call it a “sacrament”; our fellowship often calls it an “ordinance.”[1] It has always been such an important part of the Christian belief system that even the word for baptism has been transliterated into other languages rather than translated.[2] The idea of an unbaptized believer does not seem to be entertained in the New Testament.[3]

The word “baptism” means “immersion.” It does not mean to “sprinkle” or “pour” water over something.  Sometimes used as a synonym for drowning, it was even used to refer to the sinking of a ship.[4]  This is why, when we baptize, we use immersion in water.

In the New Testament, baptism is inseparably connected to becoming a disciple of Jesus,[5] to salvation,[6] to the forgiveness of sins,[7] and to the reception of the Holy Spirit.  It is in baptism that we enter the death of Christ[8] where we find reconciliation with God.[9]  It is from baptism that we enter a new life as a child of God, clothed with Christ.[10]  It is in baptism that the Spirit of God connects us with the body of Christ.[11]  Christianity requires all of these things, and so Christianity requires baptism.

Baptism and faith are inseparably connected.  In fact, it is safe to say that baptism, faith, reception of the Spirit, repentance and confession of Christ are one complex of events that all occur at conversion.  Paul refers to believers as baptized because un-baptized Christians would be an anomaly.  Repentance is a response of faith, and so is baptism, but all three go together.

Because baptism is a response of personal faith, it must be undertaken as a personal choice.  There are no clear instances of infant baptism in the New Testament and no literary references to infant baptism until the 4th century.[14] Even then, the reference is in opposition to the practice.  There is no need to baptize children.  The Kingdom of Heaven is made up of them.

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Footnotes
[1] The reason for staying away from sacramental terminology is due to what is often meant by “sacrament”: an action whereby grace is conferred. The Catholic Church teaches that baptism, administered correctly, conveys God’s grace to the recipient whether or not the recipient understands what is happening or not or even wants it or not (cf. Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, p. 355 cited by Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994) p. 971.)

[2] When Jerome translated the Bible into Latin in the 4th century, rather than translate the Greek “baptizo” (verb) or “baptisma” (noun) by its Latin equivalent “immergere” (noun) or immerge (vb),” he created the words “baptizare” (verb) and “baptismi” (noun). The act evidently seemed so sacrosanct that even the word needed to be preserved.

[3] F.F. Bruce, The Acts of the Apostles (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988) p. 70.

[4] cf. Examples cited from Aesop and Hippocrates in Everett Ferguson, Baptism in the Early Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009) p. 48.

[5] Matthew 28:18-20 – Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

[6] Mark 16:15-16 – 15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

[7] Acts 2:38 – 38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. See also Acts 22:16.

[8] Romans 6:1-3 – 1 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

[9] Romans 5:10 – 10 For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!

[10] Galatians 3:26-27 – 26 You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. Note also the connection with the “new life” in Romans 6:4 mentioned in note 7.

[11] 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 – 12 The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

[12] Consider the unity of baptism and faith in the New Testament: Both baptism and faith are connected with union with Christ (Galatians 3:27; Ephesians 3:17); both are connected with sanctification and justification, the setting apart for God and the making right with God (1 Corinthians 6:11; Romans 5:1-2); both connect us to the death of Christ (Galatians 2:20; 3:27) and the new life freed from the sins of the past (Colossians 2:11-12; Romans 6:3-4).

[13] Everett Ferguson, Baptism in the early Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009) p. 362.

5 — What We Believe About Salvation

The wickedness of the ancient city of Nineveh got God’s attention – so much so that He determined to destroy it and everything that breathed within her walls.  What she needed was forgiveness – salvation.  But God did not offer her that.  Instead, if she repented, He offered her a stay of execution.  Nineveh was not the community of God.  Salvation was not a blessing open to her.[1]

The idea of salvation involves three things: First, the forgiveness of sins that are past.[2] Second, citizenship in the community where God’s forgiveness, protection, guidance and strength are provided in the present.[3]  Third, salvation involves hope for the future.  All three blessings become ours at once when we are “saved.”

Salvation comes by God’s grace.[5]  We could never be worthy of rescue in the eyes of God. Nor is there any way we could pay the price for our own sinfulness.  So in Christ, God became human, and offered Himself as the sacrifice for our sins once for all.[6]

When we trust that what Jesus has done for us provides that salvation, we move toward Him, turning from the past life of sin[7] that separated us from God in the first place, entering his death that provides the payment price, and clothing ourselves with his life so that when people look at us they see Jesus.[8] This response is called “faith” and it is expressed in repentance and baptism and a different way of living.

The result of this move is that God forgives us of our sins and places us in Christ, making us a part of His body, His family, the community of the redeemed, the Church.  Here, we have hope for the future, an inheritance from God reserved by Him for us in heaven.

Can we lose our salvation?  Certainly not the forgiveness of sins that are past – God no longer remembers those sins.  Certainly not our place in the family of God.  But the future inheritance?  Yes.  Behaving badly is cause for loss of inheritance.

Can we regain our inheritance?  Yes.  When a wayward child of God returns in penitence and requests forgiveness, God’s love does not bear a grudge.  Forgiveness is assured, and the inheritance is restored.[9]

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Footnotes:
[1] This is the story of Jonah in the Old Testament. Nineveh is not promised an inheritance. She is not offered a chance to become God’s people. Her choices are two: change or die. Forgiveness is offered only within Israel in the Old Testament. It is exclusively the blessing of the people of God.

[2] 1 Peter 1:5-9 – 5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. 8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

[3] Note the following from Ephesians 2 – 1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. 11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)—12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. 19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.

[4] 1 Peter 1:3-9 – 3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

[5] Ephesians 2:8-9

[6] Jesus is called the “atoning sacrifice” (Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:2; 4:10)

[7] This is called “repentance” in the New Testament.

[8] Note these passages that speak of baptism – Romans 6:3-4 – 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. Galatians 3:26-27 – 26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

[9] So John writes: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

4 — What We Believe About the Holy Spirit

As the Bible opens, God’s presence is emphasized with these words: “The Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” From that point forward, the “Spirit of God” (sometimes called “the Spirit of the Lord” or the “Holy Spirit”) most often simply points to God’s presence.[1]

The presence of God’s Spirit within us designates us as special to God, separating us in the eyes of God from all other people, making us His children[2] and a temple for His dwelling.[3] The Spirit, however, is not just a mark proclaiming us as different. He is real divine help to make us different. The Spirit is the power by which we put to death our sinfulness[4] and become the kind of people God has called us to be. Those led by the Spirit of God, who endeavor to match the pace he sets for us, will find Him producing within us the kind of traits we find so difficult: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control.[5] The strength of the Spirit empowers us to become like Christ.[6] This is the real work of the Spirit. He even helps our prayer life (Romans 8:26-27)! Unfortunately, because we so often forget who we are, and the power at our disposal, we miss out on being who we could be because we depend on ourselves and ignore God’s very real and close presence.

Too often the subject of the Spirit of God gets hijacked with the discussion of miracles. While the Bible certainly teaches the Spirit’s ability to empower people to do amazing – even miraculous – things, we should remember this is not the Spirit’s main work. The main work is to make us mature children of God. In fact, the Bible teaches that as we mature, the need for the miraculous, and the miraculous itself, disappears.[7] There is no text that teaches God cannot do miracles now, but miracles are not the focus of the Spirit.

How do we receive the Holy Spirit?

In discussing this very issue Peter called on people of faith to “Repent and be baptized . . . in the name of Jesus Christ and thus receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).
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Footnotes:
[1] Notice David’s words in Psalm 139, paralleling God’s presence with His Spirit: Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. The prophet Ezekiel wrote to Babylonian captives who believed they were less righteous than those who were not captive. Ezekiel shows that those left behind were not more righteous, but were in danger of losing the presence of God. Slowly, in chapters 9 -11, God moves from the Holy Place to the threshold of the temple to the east gate of the Lord’s house, to the mountain east of the city. There is, however, the promise that God’s presence will return to His people and that presence is to be found in His Spirit (compare Ezekiel 11:17-21 and 36:24-27).

[2] The presence of God among Israel, separating them from all other nations is a prominent feature of Isaiah 63. This presence is discussed in terms of the presence of His Spirit. God’s Spirit on or within certain people made them special to God and for His purposes (note Bezalel in Exodus 31, Moses and the Elders of Israel in Numbers 11, a number of the Judges, and kings Saul – 1 Samuel 10:6 – and David in Psalm 51. In the New Testament, it is the indwelling of God’s Spirit that makes us God’s family, his children. Paul writes in Galatians 4:4-7 “4 But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. 6 Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.”

[3] Ephesians 2:21-22

[4] Romans 8:13

[5] Galatians 5:22-25

[6] Ephesians 3:16-19 – I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

[7] Prophecies and tongues and miraculous knowledge are examples of the miraculous in 1 Corinthians 13. Paul says these will pass away when “perfection” comes. The word translated “perfection” occurs three times in 1 Corinthians. In 2:6 it is translated “maturity” and in 14:20 it is translated “adult.” The book itself focuses on the business of the maturing disciple – contrasted with those disciples who act like children. It seems better to maintain the notion of “mature” in 1 Corinthians 13. Those who claim it refers to the return of the “perfect” one (i.e. Jesus) or to the closing of the biblical canon (often referred to as the “perfect law of liberty”) will find themselves hard-pressed to justify such interpretation from the context of 1 Corinthians itself.

3 — What We Believe About Jesus

I believe that Jesus was God, come in the flesh. It is the express statement of Jesus’ close friend John (John 1:1-2, 14). Paul wrote that in Christ, the fullness of God lives in bodily form (Colossians 2:9). The gospel writers tell us Jesus affirmed this idea repeatedly.

Recently, in conversation with a friend who takes great delight in ridiculing Christianity, he said: “What’s this big deal about a god giving himself for me? He dies on a cross. But he comes back to life. What’s so sacrificial about that? If I give something away, and take it back, what really did I give?”

But my friend missed the point. God became a man. If there really is a god, for him to do such a thing is astonishing. Why would he do that? It is a unique teaching of Christianity.

God became human to show us it’s possible for humans to live as God expects. He did it to show us what that kind of life looks like, and to restore a relationship with Him through the forgiveness of sins. He did it to assure us that He knows how we feel and how we struggle so that we will be confident He can and will help us. In the sacrifice of Himself, he created a covenant relationship humans would enter of their own free will, secure in the fact that this life is not all there is and that there is hope beyond it for the covenant people.

Yes, God gave his life, then took it back. But you see, the point is, He gave it in the first place.

Interestingly, in coming to earth, God gave up something He never seems to get totally back. He is born in a human body, dies with a human body and is raised with a human body (flesh and bones). He ascends with a human body.

Changed?

Yes, but seemingly never back to the same as it was before He came. The sacrifice began long before the cross and continues to this present day.

Why? Because He loves us so and in that huge sacrifice, he sets the example for our dealings with one another.