Discipleship Culture

Discipleship CultureWhy Discipleship?

In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  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.”

To be a Christian is to be a “disciple” – someone who is learning the way of Christ and following the way of Christ – as Jesus says, learning to obey all that he has commanded.  The Apostle Paul even called it “learning Christ” (Ephesians 4:20), being transformed into his image.  The goal of discipleship is Christlikeness.

But how does that happen?  How do you grow as a disciple and grow up into Christ and become transformed into his image?

 

Ephesians 4:11-16 gives a picture of how discipleship happens…

“[God] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

These verses give you a picture of the process of growing up into Christ.  They show two main elements of discipleship…

First, the Apostle Paul mentions the formal offices in the church – apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.  (Some of these offices, we believe, were foundational and have passed away.)  These formal church leaders have a primary responsibility for discipleship.  Put another way, part of discipleship happens through the official ministry of the church.  Theologians use the phrase – “the public and ordinary means of grace” – which are the preaching of the Word, the Lord’s Supper, Baptism, and prayer.  These are formal, public and corporate means of discipleship.

In other words, coming to church is discipleship.  Discipleship is what happens in Sunday School, in the worship service, in prayer meeting, at the Lord’s Supper.  These are the corporate means of grace.

But Ephesians 4 also shows us a second element to discipleship, which is a “culture of discipleship” – the mutual discipleship of the Body, where all the saints are equipped for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all grow up into maturity in Christ, every part doing its share.

The key point is: Everyone is a disciple and everyone is a discipler.  Everyone receives and gives discipleship.  Everyone has a responsibility and a role to play.  There is no place in church for consumers.  We were all appointed to be producers, to bear fruit.  In John 15:16, Jesus said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit.”  In the Christian life, we all receive ministry, but we all also are to minister.  We are disciples but we also disciple one another.

 

2 Timothy 2:2 says,

What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”

Titus 2:3 says,

Older women likewise are to be reverence in behavior, not slanderers, or slaves to much wine.  They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women…”

1 Thessalonians 1:8 says,

For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything.”

The people that Paul discipled were now discipling others.

Everyone is a disciple and everyone is a discipler.  Is that how you think of your Christian life?  Is that how you think when you come to church?  When you have children, you may think that way – that you have responsibility to disciple your own children.  But what about with other people at church – even people your own age, even your own pastors?  Do you any responsibility to disciple them?

 

What Is “A Culture of Discipleship”?

Biblically, discipleship is not a program, but is a culture.  Some churches have developed discipleship programs, which are kind of like classes that people complete.  These may have some value, but Biblically, discipleship is not a quantifiable skill-set, with set goals that can be achieved.  It cannot ultimately be a program, but is a culture.  Discipleship is what should happen in the ordinary ebb and flow of life.

Deuteronomy 6:6-7 says, “These words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”  Discipleship should be part of your daily life!

According to the New Testament, discipleship happens not just through instruction, but through relationships and imitation.

In 1 Corinthians 4:14-16, the Apostle Paul writes, “I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me.”

He repeats himself in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”

In Philippians 4:9, he says, “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

This kind of discipleship can only happen through the sharing of lives.  In 1 Thessalonians 2:8, the Apostle says, “Being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves.”

The dictionary defines a culture as “The shared values, goals and practices that characterize a group.”  So what is a “culture of discipleship”?  It is a group of people habitually demonstrating through their values and daily practices mutual love for one another and mutual encouragement to be like Christ.

On an individual level, it is being someone constantly looking to others for help in being like Christ  and looking to help others be like Christ.

When my wife and I were young Christians, we were very affected by relationships we had with other Christians, particularly older Christians.  By God’s grace, we were very much the initiative takers in pursuing those relationships.  We were constantly inviting ourselves over to people’s houses, offering to babysit their kids, watching their marriages, watching how they raised their kids, watching how they lived their lives.  We were ruthless in asking people questions:  “We’re struggling with this… How do we get through this? … Why did you do that? … How do you do that? …”  We were hungry to learn how to live practically in godly ways.  We benefited from inserting ourselves into people’s lives and proactively and persistently pursuing people – looking for help in being like Christ.  We knew we needed help.  Fortunately, there were older Christians who made themselves available to us, who were completely open towards us.  They were people putting themselves in our path to let us in.  We were constantly seeking them out, but they were constantly putting themselves in our path.

That’s what a culture of discipleship means – a group of people who are ruthlessly and seriously looking to others for help in being like Christ and looking to help others be like Christ.  

It is younger Christians pursuing older Christians, pursuing relationships, asking questions.  It is older Christians opening up their lives, putting yourselves in the paths of the younger.  It is also Christians of the same age and station of life mutually pursuing and encouraging one another.

One very important rule when it comes to discipleship is: The initiative for discipleship depends on you.  You have to be hungry and thirsty for discipleship.  You have to seek it out.  If you wait for someone else to initiate towards you – offer to disciple you, or ask you to disciple them – this culture will never develop.  It happens as you live this way yourself and open up your life to others.  Sometimes you might pursue others for help or seek to help others, and it may not be reciprocated or appreciated, for various reasons.  But beginning with you, so much depends on you having your heart open.  The Apostle Paul said, “Our heart is wide open…widen your hearts also” (2 Cor.7:11-13).

How ‘Discipleship’?

So what does initiative in discipleship look like?  What practical steps can you take to engage in discipleship?

First, it is important to emphasize the place of prayer for discipleship.  Do you regularly pray for other Christians in your church or your small group?  When you don’t pray for other Christians, you’re not thoughtful about them.  But when you pray, your mind and your heart are stirred to care for your brothers and sisters in Christ.  You’re thoughtful about ways they are struggling, thoughtful about their needs, and about how you might be an encouragement to them.  Your prayers for them are pleasing to God and near to his heart.  And he stirs your heart to be more purposeful in caring for one another.

Second, be thinking about ways you can use your natural gifts in discipleship What are you good at?  What are you interested in?  Could others be blessed by your sharing of these gifts with others?  A musician in our church mentioned specifically choosing hymns to play during the offertory that would encourage people she knew in the church who were struggling.  Instead of just picking a song by default, she was being thoughtful to use her gifts to encourage and disciple others. Are you a writer?  Are you a handyman?  Are you a baker?  Are you artistic?  Are there ways you can use these gifts to bless others?  Are there ways you could include others while you do these things?

Third, you cannot overstate the importance of hospitality for discipleship Particularly in our culture, which keeps people so far apart, inviting people into your home, allowing them in to observe your life and family, is incredibly powerful.  This was an important part of the early church (Acts 2:44-47, 4:32; see also 1 Peter 4:7-11).

 

The Fall issue of the 9Marks Journal on discipleship listed the following practical steps for discipleship:

In practice, how can I disciple other Christians?  

  1. Join a church.
  2. Arrive early at church gatherings and stay late.
  3. Practice hospitality with members of your church.
  4. Ask God for strategic friendships.
  5. If possible, include a line-item in your family or pastoral budget for weekly time with fellow Christians. Discuss this matter with your spouse. If possible, provide such a budget line for your spouse as well.
  6. Schedule regular breakfasts, lunches, or some other culturally-acceptable social engagement with teachable individuals (of the same sex). Depending on the person, you may decide to meet once, indefinitely, or for a set number of times (say, five). If you and the individual share a pastime, look for ways to share that pastime together.
  7. Ask them about themselves. Ask them about their parents, spouse, children, testimony, job, walk with Christ, and so on. In asking questions, however, do so in a manner that’s appropriate for your cultural context (don’t scare them!).
  8. Share about yourself.
  9. Look for ways to have spiritual conversations. Maybe decide to read the Bible or some other Christian literature together.
  10. Consider their physical or material needs. Would they benefit from your help?
  11. Pray with them.
  12. Depending on your home situation, invite the person to drop by your house or spend time with your family. Let them watch you live life.
  13. Look for ways to pray for the person throughout the week by yourself and/or with your spouse.

Appendix – Suggested Resources

Gospel-Centered Discipleship.  By Jonathan Dodson, Crossway/GoodNews Publishers.

Growing One Another: Discipleship In the Church (9Marks Healthy Church Study Guides).  By Bobby Jamieson, Crossway/Good News Publishers.

Instruments In the Redeemer’s Hands.  By Paul David Tripp, P&R Publishing.

A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society.  By Eugene Peterson, Intervarsity Press.

What Is A Healthy Church Member.  By Thabiti Anyabwile, Crossway Books.
Matt Foreman– Matt Foreman, studied at Furman University and Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pastor of Faith Church in Media PA where he serves with his wife Mary Scott and a bunch of adorable red headed kids! Matt and Mary Scott are both Furman WDA alumni. Go Paladins! Read more of Matt’s blogs at http://blog.faithchurchpa.org/

power of words

power of words“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”

Really?

Let’s not kid ourselves. Words are potent. Words brought galaxies into being when “God said…and there was”(Gen 1:3). God’s words have impact (Isa 55:11), are living, active, and sharp (Heb 4:12), illuminate dark places (Ps 119:105), nourish souls (Mt 4:4), and defeat death (Lk 11:43). The words of the gospel are “the power (literally, dynamite) of God.”

Words transform. They heal. And they can “hurt me.” I will never forget Mariah Carey saying in an interview that for her, one criticism will instantly overrule 1,000 praises. There is something to this. Words have power.

Words can wound and steal life. Gossip and slander bring a cheap thrill to some, while exploiting and objectifying others (the similarities to pornography are striking). False testimony uses words to misrepresent, caricature, or malign the reputation of fellow humans, usually for selfish gain. Words of condemnation, accusation, and cutting sarcasm create pain as they shame, belittle, and discourage. Coarse joking uses humor to draw attention to oneself, while sending rotten fruit in the atmosphere.

There are also “healing words” (Prov 12:18). Words of praise have healing power. Communities thrive in a culture of mutual celebration, of “catching each other doing good.” This is a hallmark of life together as Spirit-filled daughters and sons. Words of encouragement will “put courage into” those who are weak, afraid, and torn down. A timely rebuke protects a friend from self-destructive patterns. A gentle word turns away wrath (Pr 15:1) and halts the cycle of evil. Grace-filled words engage skeptical minds and doubting hearts (1 Pet 3:15-16).

The question remains, how are toxic words transformed into healing words? Scripture tells us how. It begins by identifying the source of our words: “…out of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Lk 6:45). Our words are healed as we replace what fills our hearts.

Why do we gossip, slander, condemn, accuse, slash with sarcasm, joke crudely, boast, and lie? Every toxic word traces to some sort of pseudo-savior—something that the heart is clinging to more tightly than Jesus. The comedian Tom Arnold once admitted that he uses humor in order to have something out there so people will like him. “It’s the reason behind almost everything I do,” he said. For some, human approval is the preferred narcotic. For others like Rachel, it’s having children: “Give me children or I’ll die” (Gen 30:1). For the Pharisee, it’s the feeling of superiority: “Thank you, my God, that I’m not like other men” (Lk 18:9-14). The options are endless. Our words echo the beat of our hearts.

Words are transformed through what Chalmers called “the expulsive power of a new affection.” For our words to become life-giving, and for toxic words to fade from our vocabularies, this new affection must be Jesus. Hearts taken by the beauty of Jesus will yield beautiful words.

What makes Jesus beautiful? He only spoke beautiful words—never careless, unkind, hateful, or untruthful. Even his sharp, strong words were beautiful, always perfectly suited for the occasion. But there’s more. Jesus also is the Beautiful Word Incarnate, the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:1-14). His perfect words flowed naturally from his perfect life, which secured the benediction or “good word” of his Father: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased.” This same benediction has since been transferred to and secured for us who believe—when we are at our best and when we are at our worst.

Since our daughters’ births, at bedtime I have regularly pronounced a benediction over them: “God made you beautiful and special, and he loves you so much. So does your Daddy. Don’t ever forget that.” My hope is that these last words of today will register as the first words of tomorrow. Abby and Ellie crave a paternal blessing that overrules the negative verdicts that the outside world, as well as their own hearts, so easily pronounce against them. Words of life hearken them back to their true identity as daughters, precious and beloved—an identity that’s fixed when they’re at their best and when they’re at their worst.

The Father’s benediction is ours. Through Christ and because of Christ, we are pronounced as his beloved. We can enjoy deep rest because the last word of Jesus’ life—“It is finished”—is the first word for ours. With us he is well pleased. Nothing can change this.

There’s one more thing. For us to gain the Father’s benediction, Jesus had to lose it. At his baptism, Jesus received the “good word” from on high. On the cross, he heard no word from the Father. Just shaming, condemning, deafening silence. The silence did not break Jesus’ bones like sticks and stones, but it broke every other part of him. This was for our healing. The Word Incarnate receiving silence from heaven opened heaven’s heart, and secured the Father’s “good word” toward us. If this does not melt our hearts and transform our words, what will?

 

Editors Note: This article was first published by Scott Sauls who is a Furman WDA Alumni at Sticks, Stones, and the Power of Words

scott SaulsRev. Scott Sauls, a graduate of Furman University (BA, Business) and Covenant Seminary (MDiv), began serving as our Senior Pastor in March of 2012. Scott is married to Patti and is Dad to Abby and Ellie. Prior to CPC, Scott was a Lead and Preaching Pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. He has also planted, organized, and been the Lead Pastor of churches in Kansas City and Saint Louis. While in Saint Louis, Scott also taught Advanced Homiletics (preaching) at Covenant Theological Seminary. Formative experiences for Scott have included being an athlete, living in a multi-cultural, economically diverse neighborhood, and being carried by Jesus through a season of anxiety and depression. Influential voices in Scott’s life include Tim Keller, Jonathan Edwards, Johnny Cash, CS Lewis, Sally Lloyd-Jones, Paul Tripp, Martin Luther King, Jr., Flannery O’Connor, and NT Wright. In his free time, you might find Scott relaxing with family, friends, or a book, playing his Gibson J-45 guitar, hiking in a park, eating at Edley’s BBQ, enjoying live music at some fabulous Nashville venue, or cheering for the North Carolina Tar Heels.

prayer

Unknown“In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” John 16:26-27

Have you ever really thought about what it means to pray “in Jesus’ name”? Often, it can just become a mantra or tag-line we say at the end of our prayers. But for Jesus, it was a matter of theological significance. It was a paradigm-shift in the practice of prayer. It opened the flood-gates to power in prayer. He told his disciples, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”

However, prayer “in Jesus’ name” may be easily misunderstood. In fact, Jesus warns disciples about misunderstanding prayer “in his name” (in John 16:26-27). He warns that we can be confused about what praying “in his name” is designed to accomplish. We can act presumptuously in thinking of it as “saying the magic word”. But we can also act disbelievingly in thinking that we need to convince God.

We can misconstrue the need to pray in Jesus’ name by thinking that the Father is distant and reluctant in his attitude towards us. To be sure, Jesus acts as a mediator between us and the Father; he propitiates the wrath of God. But none of that should lead you to think that there is tension between Jesus’ heart and the Father’s heart, and that the Father’s heart is distant from us and needs to be convinced. Prayer in Jesus’ name does not mean that Jesus must convey the request to the Father and convince the Father on your behalf. Instead, Jesus wants us to be assured, “The Father himself loves you” and needs no prompting from the Son (see 2 Cor.13:14).

Too often, I think that I have fallen into this trap. I doubt that God actually wants to hear me. I doubt that my prayers are effective. So I pray using Jesus like a bargaining chip to convince God to listen – “for the sake of his Son”. While there is truth in the practice of claiming God’s promises in prayer, this kind of attitude towards God is dead wrong.

It’s not like you come to the gate of heaven and they crack the door and look out at you suspiciously and ask, “Why should I hear your prayer? Why should I let you in?” And you say, “Because of Jesus.” And they reluctantly respond, “Oh, all right, fine”, and open the door just wide enough for you to dart through. And Jesus is like the bargaining chip to convince them to let you in. No! Prayer in Jesus’ name means – prayer knowing that the gate is flung wide open and the red carpet rolled out and the Father running to welcome you.

How does that change your prayer life?!?

Prayer in Jesus’ name is prayer on the basis of Christ’s finished work. It is prayer confident in all that he has done for you and accomplished. It is praying with confidence that the door is already wide open. John Calvin wrote, “We have the heart of God as soon as we place before him the name of his Son.”

Hebrews 10:19-22 says, “Since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”

Prayer “in Jesus’ name” means that we are invited to pray like we’ve never prayed before. We are invited to prayer with the knowledge that the Father is waiting at the door to hear our prayers. Oh, that we might take up with joy such an awesome invitation and pray “in Jesus’ name”.

Today thy gate is open, and all who enter in,
will find a Father’s welcome and pardon for their sin.
The past shall be forgotten, a present joy be given,
a future grace be promised, a glorious crown in heaven.

O all embracing mercy, O ever-open door,
what should we do without thee, when heart and eye run o’er.
When all things seem against us to drive us to despair,
we know one gate is open, one ear will hear our prayer.

Matt Foreman– Matt Foreman, studied at Furman University and Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pastor of Faith Church in Media PA where he serves with his wife Mary Scott and a bunch of adorable red headed kids! Matt and Mary Scott are both Furman WDA alumni. Go Paladins! Read more of Matt’s blogs at http://blog.faithchurchpa.org/

easter sunrise

easter sunriseOne of my favorite women of the New Testament is without a doubt Mary of Bethany. When I think of Mary, I can’t help but think of her in three snapshots. In each one, she is at the feet of her beloved Jesus: first, learning, then weeping, and finally worshipping. Yes, this is the woman who to her sister Martha’s dismay, sat at the feet of Rabbi Jesus instead of manning the kitchen(Luke 10:38-42). Yes, this is the one who sobbed at the feet of a Jesus, who seemed to have come too late when her beloved Lazarus lay reeking 4-days-dead behind the stone (John 11). And yes, this is the one who unabashedly worshipped at the feet of Jesus as she anointed him with precious perfume just 6 days before Passover and the unleashing of all events that would lead him to the cross(John 12:1-10). Mary of Bethany—learning, weeping, worshipping, Mary what can you teach us about the way a heart readies itself for the climax of salvation history?

1.) Recall and celebrate what the Lord has done for you…

We find Mary’s story of anointing Jesus in John 12:1-10. A similar story appears in Matthew 26:6-10 and Mark 14:3-9 (although there is some disagreement as to whether these last two tellings represent an anointing by a different woman—since the woman in these accounts is unnamed—or whether this too is Mary of Bethany). At any rate, we know that a dinner is being thrown in Jesus’ honor, most likely as a way to thank him for having brought Lazarus back from the dead. If the woman in Matthew and Mark represent synoptic accounts, then we also know the party was hosted in the home of Simon, the Leper, a man whom in many regards had been brought back into the land of the living. Mary, Martha, Lazarus and Simon remembered what Christ had done for them and celebrated it.

As you prepare your heart this Easter, think back on what God has done for you and thank him. Celebrate the new life you have seen Him bring forth.

2.) Remember and take to heart what God has taught you…

We know Mary had spent a considerable amount of time learning at Jesus’ feet. The fact that she brought a burial perfume is either God supernaturally moving her to bring this particular gift without her understanding or a testimony that she had been listening to Jesus, and that she understood at least in part what was about to occur. I tend to think that by God’s grace, Mary had put the pieces together and brought this costly burial perfume because she had been meditating on and taking to heart what God had taught her.

As you prepare your heart this Easter, what has God been teaching you this year? Ask Him if there is something He wants you to apply or a step of faith He wants you to take.

3.) Don’t skip to the happy ending…

If Mary did understand that Jesus was about to face his death, it might have been tempting for her to skip to the happy ending. After all, she knew Jesus personally as “The Resurrection and the Life,” (John 11:25) and would have at least considered the fact that He might be able to conquer death when He Himself was in its grip. But perhaps, Mary understood more than most the importance of being with someone in the moment. Jesus, after all, had paused to weep with her when He knew that in just a few moments He would raise Lazarus to life. Likewise, Mary honored the suffering of our Lord Jesus and the solemn pain of what was to come by anointing him with this burial perfume.

As you prepare for Easter, resist the temptation to skip blithely by Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Take these days to meditate on the depth of Christ’s sacrifice for you, on His pain and your sin. Let His agony and your desperate state without Him sink in and linger with you awhile before turning your attention to His victory on Easter morning.

4.) Forget about everyone around you…

Although the evening was most likely marked by a festive atmosphere—after all this was a time to honor Jesus and the new life he’d brought—Mary didn’t try to please others and keep the mood light. In fact, she ignored what everyone around her might think, and she broke open this costly perfume on the feet of Jesus. She even humbled herself to wipe his feet with her hair—when women of her day never even let their hair down in public. She refused to care about the opinion of others and instead cared about the one thing needful, worshipping Jesus.

As you prepare for Easter, don’t let the fact that others take this day as one simply for chocolate and Easter Egg Hunts deter you from approaching Jesus and these special days with unashamed worship. Ignore the crowd and focus on the One who deserves all our worship.

5.) Give Him that which is most precious to you…

The perfume Mary anointed Jesus with was no trivial gesture. As Judas’ incredulously points out, this precious mixture would have been worth a year’s wages. Mary poured out one of her most precious possessions in an act of lavish love because she knew the lavish love of Christ was so much greater.

As you prepare for Easter, ask God to show you if there is any area of your life that is off limits to Him. Think about what is most precious to you and ask yourself if you are willing to lay it at the feet of Jesus as a testimony to Christ’s own lavish love for you.

6.) Bless Jesus by your unashamed worship…

For me one of the most mind-numbing aspects of this story of Mary anointing Jesus is the fact that somehow, in God’s infinite wisdom and kindness, He allowed a humble woman like Mary to actually minister to Jesus in an hour of need and bless Him. That is hard for me to wrap my mind around. Jesus was blessed by Mary’s act of faith. And because of it, He promised that wherever the Gospel would be preached her story would be told.

As you prepare for Easter, humbly ask God to allow your worship to be a pure and pleasing blessing to Him. Bless the Lord who has so mightily blessed you.

 

catherine claire larsonCatherine Claire Larson is a graduate of Furman University, Reformed Theological Seminary and a WDA Alumna. She is the author of two books, “As We Forgive: Stories of Reconciliation from Rwanda and the upcoming Waiting in Wonder: Growing in Faith While You’re Expecting. Catherine has graciously allowed us to share her post for Easter. Please enjoy her other writing and blogs at http://www.catherineclairelarson.com Follow her on Twitter @CatherineLarson

The article is also found at http://www.catherineclairelarson.com/6-ways-to-prepare-your-heart-for-easter/

targeting the heart

targeting the heart

 TARGETING THE HEART WITH GRACE AND TRUTH

We need to pay close attention at all times to the motivational dynamics of the Christian life—the primary reasons (from a human perspective) why people do not see Jesus as precious, and therefore do not see the appeal of following Him with their whole hearts, are in fact motivational reasons. Specifically, the “sin beneath the sin” of all sins is idolatry—the elevation of a created thing to a place where it becomes one’s functional “Lord” and “Savior,” the ultimate object of worship and service (Romans 1). Therefore, the key to persuading people to trust and follow Jesus (grace and truth!) rests in persuading hearts that Jesus is more precious and lovely than the idols that we are all prone to worship and serve. Remember, it is the Gospel (the fantastically great news of Jesus) that alone is the power of God for salvation—it is the only power for true, heart-level transformation.

For every one look you take at your sin, take ten looks at Jesus.

– Robert Murray McCheyne

The reason I preach the Gospel to you every single week is precisely because you forget the Gospel every single week!

– Martin Luther

The first and greatest commandment is that you “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind.”

– Jesus

 

We must directly address why the Gospel does not “take” with many—idolatry is that reason.

John Calvin rightly said that the human heart is an idol factory. Our hearts will instinctively erect counterfeit gods or pseudo-saviors to whom we give our allegiance, our ultimate affections, and our obedience.

A working definition of idolatry. An idol is any person or idea, any created thing that captures the loyalties and affections of our hearts more than God Himself. An idol is anything that becomes more essential to us than Him.

An idol is anything which occupies God’s place—it is anything upon which you will base your life. It is what you look to for your sense of meaning, happiness, and validation. When something becomes your idol, you will give it your unquestioned loyalty. You will let it run your life, determine your choices, and govern the use of your money and time. You will give yourself to it effortlessly.           – Timothy Keller

We must assume that everyone is religious by nature. Every human being, whether Christian, religious, agnostic, or atheist, will worship something or someone. One of our primary tasks is to understand what is capturing the ultimate affections of people’s hearts. Ecclesiastes reminds us that God has put eternity into the heart of man (Ecclesiastes 3:11). We were created to be in relationship with God. He designed us to love, honor, adore, and obey Him. If we don’t do this, by necessity we will have to love, honor, adore, and obey something or someone else! Our idols are our “rather-than’s” that capture and sabotage our hearts’ affections that belong first to God.

 

This is part 5 of a series of articles by Scott Sauls. 

Read the rest starting here – A Jesus-like Culture Part 1

Scott Sauls, a graduate of Furman University and Covenant Seminary, is foremost a son of God and the husband of one beautiful wife (Patti), the father of two fabulous daughters (Abby and Ellie), and the primary source of love and affection for a small dog (Lulu). Professionally, Scott serves as the Senior Pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee. Prior to Nashville, Scott was a Lead and Preaching Pastor, as well as the writer of small group studies, for Redeemer Presbyterian of New York City. Twitter: @scottsauls

Editor’s Note: Scott was a member of our WDA Campus Ministry (Next Generation Ministry) while at Furman University. We are excited to see our alumni continuing to carry a vision for discipleship!

This is a repost of A Jesus-Like Church Culture  by Scott Sauls. It appears here with the author’s permission. Website: cpcblogs.blogspot.com.

 

freedom in Christ

What does it mean to have a ministry atmosphere that is “full of grace” (John 1:14)?

freedom in ChristWe must emphasize the many rewards of obedience.

God’s commands, when followed from a Gospel-motivation, enhance life. His commands are not given to hold us down, but to free us to be the fullest and best version of ourselves. Here are just some of the rewards of obeying God’s life-giving commands:

Fulfillment. As Augustine once prayed, “You have made us for yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.” Obedience to God’s commands connects us with the “true us”—with the design of our Designer, which gives life! Remember Joshua’s words, “Do not let this book of the Law depart from your mouth. Meditate on it day and night, and be careful to do everything that is written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful” (Joshua 1:8)! When we teach any command of God, we must be careful to highlight how that command will bring fulfillment and blessedness (happiness!) to those who obey.

Inner peace. There should be no fear that God’s Laws will bite us when we obey them. They are not merely laws, but loving, life-giving laws. When we depart from God’s design, it brings distortions, anxiety, and disruption to our inner lives. But when we surrender to Him, there is inner peace…an integration of life! Remember the fish-in-water, fish-out-of-water picture.

Intimacy with God. Once we belong to God through faith in Christ, our position with Him can never be threatened or weakened. Nothing in all creation (including ourselves) can separate us from His love (Romans 8). However, our fellowship with God, our experience of intimacy with Him, is always weakened by disobedience, and strengthened by obedience to His commands. Jesus said, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23).

We must find joy in owning our struggle, even our failure, to follow God’s commands.

It is both ironic and wonderful that both obedience and failure to obey can lead to deeper joy and deeper intimacy with God. The rewards of obedience are as stated above. But there are also deep rewards for those who have come to terms with the fact that they fall short of the mark every day:

Joyful humility. As ironic as it may sound, there are few things that are more life-giving than admitting our failure to obey God’s commands. As Paul says, “Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.” Knowing that we are saved by grace and not by our efforts is liberating. It also changes us. We become tender rather than harsh, gracious rather than judgmental, humble rather than defensive. Don’t we all want to be this kind of person? The grumpy people in the Bible were those who would not face their failures, because they had built an identity based on their performance, offering moral and behavioral resumes to God and other people (and to themselves—remember the Pharisee who prayed “to himself” in Luke 18, so as to feel confident in his own righteousness). This left them in the awful position of either being puffed up with pride (because they thought they were being righteous), despair (because they failed at the laws upon which they built their identities), or denial (because they couldn’t handle the thought of being seen as sinful). Those whose hearts were set free, on the other hand, were those like the tax collector who prayed, “God have mercy on me, the sinner,” and went home justified and healed (Luke 18:9-14).

God’s delight in our imperfect efforts to obey. Isaiah reminds us that even our best efforts to obey God are tainted with motives that are sinful and therefore damnable—like “filthy rags” (literally from the Hebrew, like a used menstrual cloth). Yet, surprisingly, even our weakest desires and attempts to obey bring pleasure to God’s heart! Zephaniah 3:17 is breathtaking, “The Lord…will take great delight in you…He will rejoice over you with loud singing!” I’ll never forget the scene in the movie Radio, where the football coach tries to teach the mentally challenged man named “Radio” how to write his name. The coach writes it down for him: R-A-D-I-O, and then says, “Now you try it.” Radio then smiles, takes a pencil and paper, and proceeds to scribble inarticulate nothingness onto the piece of paper. He looks up at the coach and smiles, and the coach, rather than showing disappointment or frustration, looks at Radio and says, “YOU DID IT!” If the people under our care are to ever be motivated to attempt obedience (even while knowing their very best efforts will still fall short), we need to regularly pour grace all over even their weakest attempts to follow Jesus. This is how the Gospel is applied to the Law.

Having a big and powerful Jesus versus a small, impotent Jesus. Our failure to keep the Law enlarges our sense of Jesus, who He is, how much we need Him, and how willing and eager He is to meet our deepest need. The paradox of the Gospel is that the more we see our sin and the more vivid it becomes to our senses, the more vivid the grace and love of Jesus become to us as well. Consider Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 1:15-17 to see the truth of this!

This is part 4 of a series of articles by Scott Sauls. 

Begin the Series  – A Jesus-Like Culture Part 1

Continue the Series – Part 5 – Targeting the Heart with Grace and Truth

Scott Sauls, a graduate of Furman University and Covenant Seminary, is foremost a son of God and the husband of one beautiful wife (Patti), the father of two fabulous daughters (Abby and Ellie), and the primary source of love and affection for a small dog (Lulu). Professionally, Scott serves as the Senior Pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee. Prior to Nashville, Scott was a Lead and Preaching Pastor, as well as the writer of small group studies, for Redeemer Presbyterian of New York City. Twitter: @scottsauls

Editor’s Note: Scott was a member of our WDA Campus Ministry (Next Generation Ministry) while at Furman University. We are excited to see our alumni continuing to carry a vision for discipleship!

This is a repost of A Jesus-Like Church Culture  by Scott Sauls. It appears here with the author’s permission. Website: cpcblogs.blogspot.com.

 

telling the truth

CULTIVATING AN ATMOSPHERE THAT IS “FULL OF TRUTH”

Now, we will consider how specifically to encourage an atmosphere that is “full of truth” (John 1:14), to the end that people become convinced over time that there is nothing more wonderful, nothing more exciting, and nothing more life-giving than becoming an obedient follower of Jesus.

telling the truthAs we think about forming environments that are full of truth, we must consider several factors with regard to our use and presentation of the Law of God. As was the case with Paul, our goal is for Christ to be formed in everyone (Galatians 4:19), meaning that personal character gradually becomes like His. But this is tricky, because true obedience to Jesus is obedience from the inside-out. It is the kind of obedience that aims not to use God and put Him in our debt, but to honor Him and taste His loveliness and worth. In short, we must encourage an obedience that responds to the love of Jesus. Any other kind is moralism, not Christianity.

First, we must discern and to reject the three primary misuses of God’s Law.

The three “misuses” that must be resisted are as follows:

The secular misuse. Those who come from this perspective will resist the notion of all people being accountable to a higher power. Secular people may see biblical commands as oppressive and may then replace them with a new law—the law of tolerance. For this person, the sole “absolute” is that there are no absolutes. All people, views, and behaviors should be tolerated, except for those that are not tolerant! The problem with this approach should be obvious—to add to or to take away from the Word of God puts one in great danger (Revelation 22)! It also sets the human community up for systemic and relational chaos. If there is no truth in the world that applies to everybody, then everybody will do what is right in his/her own eyes—acting in personal interest versus in the interest of others.

The religious misuse. Those who come from this perspective tend to view God’s commands primarily in terms of duty. If you keep the commands, you have done your duty. If you don’t, you will be judged and things will not go well for you. Period. Religious people see God’s Law more in legal terms and less in relational terms. For the religious person, there is very little dancing in the heart over the beauty of God’s commands. In some religious circles, one might be tempted to assume that you are in the center of God’s will to the degree that you are grumpy! The Bible gives such a different picture, however. Psalm 1 teaches us that the Law of God is the believer’s delight! The writer of Psalm 119 says, “O how I love Your law!” The Psalmist enjoys God’s commands and in no way sees them as “a burden I must bear” or “a duty around which I must center my life.” While the Law is duty, it is so much more than duty! If people are consistently burdened by our presentation of God’s commands, if they are left feeling weighted down versus liberated, it is likely that we are missing the heart of the Law altogether. 1 John tells us that for the believer, God’s commands are not burdensome!

The antinomian misuse. Antinomians tend to treat God’s commands as optional. Antinomian means “against law”—the thought being that one can receive Jesus as Savior but refuse Jesus as King. The problems with this are obvious. Jesus Himself said, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and not do what I say?” James reminds us that “Faith without works is dead.” Martin Luther, the Reformation’s champion of grace, said that we are saved by faith alone, but never by a faith that is alone.

The following chart attempts to distinguish between the various uses (and misuses) of God’s Law. We must labor passionately to present the Law of God, but to do so from a Christ-centered approach and none other.

approach to God's Law

Secularized “The Law is oppressive.”
The Bible’s commands are primitive and un-enlightened. They take away my freedom. “Tolerance” and “Freedom.” Resistance to all authority except self. Disdain for anyone who challenges my personal “freedom” to think, believe, and do as I please.

Religious “The Law is legal in nature.”
The Bible’s commands are everyone’s duty. If you don’t follow them, you will pay. Treadmill-living. Self-righteousness and condemnation of others (I think I am keeping the law and others are not), Anxiety (I have failed at the law), or Denial (I can’t deal with the fact that I have failed at the law). Lack of inner joy.

Antinomian “The Law is optional.”
The Bible’s commands are fine and good. They are a good ideal but not necessary for me as a Christian. Trust in the sinner’s prayer. Self-deception (I can be a Christian without being a follower of Christ). Self-centered living (proving that I really love sin, not Jesus).

Gospel “God’s Law is relational and lovely.”
The Bible’s commands are a gift, and are the key to enjoying the “abundant life” Jesus came to give! They show me what it is to be truly human! None. Confidence in the finished work of Jesus for my standing with God—I’m not crushed when I fail at obedience, but am driven once again into Jesus’ loving arms. I love God’s commands because I know they are motivated by His deep passion for my well-being!

Second, we must receive and share God’s commands as an expression of His love.

Remember, God’s Law is not merely legal. While it does have a legal component, it is also deeply relational. God gives us His law in order to set us free, not to burden us. Consider the following:

God’s commands, rightly understood, are a gift. The overwhelming testimony of Scripture is that the Law of God is beautiful and good. It is not oppressive and freedom-robbing, but life-giving. It is not merely duty but delight. It is not an option but a blessed treasure. It was the only thing that made sense!

God’s commands provide freedom. It is important to understand the original meaning and context of the word torah (Law). For Jews living in the time of Moses, this was the word used to describe a loving father’s instruction to his children. When considering any command of God, we must start with the question, “What motivates a parent to tell his/her children to stay out of the street, or to eat vegetables, or to get 10 hours of sleep?” The answer to this question, without exception, is that the parent is committed to the child being healthy and happy. This is the purpose of loving, life-giving parental laws! This is but a reflection of God who gives His Law because He intends for His children to flourish. His Law is our pathway to becoming more fully human, the very best version of ourselves.

God’s commands promote human flourishing. God’s Law shows us what it is to be truly human. It tells us how we can pursue our potential, how we can be all we can be! If you take a fish out of water, it becomes anxious and afraid. All sorts of distortions are thrust into the fish’s existence. Only when you put the fish back in its natural habitat will the fish thrive again. It is no different with a human being concerning the Law of God. The Law is humanity’s natural, life-giving habitat! So, when we present the Law of God to our own hearts and to the hearts of others, we must constantly be communicating the following things about it:

  • The Law will benefit you! It enhances quality of life and promotes human flourishing.
  • The Law will protect you! All distortions in life come from some form of departure from the Creator’s design. Just as ignoring dietary wisdom will damage the body, ignoring biblical wisdom will damage the soul as well as relationships. God’s Law is our protection here.
  • The Law is lovely! We must learn to embrace God’s Law as the writers of Scripture did—as beautiful, the only thing that truly makes sense for those who wish to live life to the fullest.

Third, we must emphasize that obedience is motivational, not merely behavioral.

Jesus said it is a good root that makes a good tree bear good fruit. We obey God because of the people we have become on the inside, and for no other reason. We love God because God first loved us. It is only due to a clear vision of the loveliness of Jesus and the Gospel that anyone will obey in a way that will honor God and set the heart free. This has several implications for us:

We must encourage a want-to obedience versus a have-to obedience. True obedience comes from a heart that loves and enjoys the things of God, not from a heart that is duty-bound. So we want obedience to become second-nature for ourselves and others. Think of Michael Jordan as an example. He is known as one of the hardest working athletes ever—spending unparalleled amounts of time and energy honing his skills (just as we as believers must “train ourselves for godliness!”). But when Jordan got to game time, basketball had become so much a part of him that he dominated the game effortlessly.

Take, for example, the methods often used to get Christians to tell others about Jesus. Evangelism courses can be helpful in some instances, but to be honest, very few of them lead to a long-term commitment to tell others about Jesus. Why is this the case? It is because many courses fail to address the why of evangelism. Focusing so much on technique, they can miss the heart! Consider the New Testament on the other hand. The Samaritan woman (John 4) went immediately into Samaria to tell as many as she could about Jesus. The Gerasene demoniac (Mark 5), when told by Jesus to go and tell his family what the Lord had done to heal him, instead goes into the Decapolis (Ten cities!) to tell as many people as he could about the healing he had received! What motivated these people to tell others about Jesus? It was the fact that Jesus had become so irresistible to them that they absolutely had to tell others! When something becomes meaningful to us, our enjoyment of it is not complete until we have shared it with others.

If we present the Law as primarily a means toward modifying behavior, the behavior will happen on the outside but the heart will not change. Obedience will fizzle as soon as the guilt wears off. On the other hand, if we present the Law as a loving expression of God’s care for us, we will begin to see people change at the motivational level, it will produce lasting fruit that is in keeping with repentance. I think it was Steve Brown who once said, “I love to sin, but the reason I choose not to is because I love Jesus more!”

So, our “strategy” for encouraging people to obey God is to show them the beauty of Jesus on a regular basis. When Jesus becomes truly beautiful, truly lovely to people, they cannot help but follow Him. We will always give our lives effortlessly to the things that give our lives the most meaning. We don’t become like Jesus by trying to be like Jesus. We become like Him because we have been with Him, and in this have tasted His irresistible grace, kindness, and love.

This is part 3 of a series of articles by Scott Sauls. 

Begin the Series: Part 1

Next in the Series Part 4

Scott Sauls, a graduate of Furman University and Covenant Seminary, is foremost a son of God and the husband of one beautiful wife (Patti), the father of two fabulous daughters (Abby and Ellie), and the primary source of love and affection for a small dog (Lulu). Professionally, Scott serves as the Senior Pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee. Prior to Nashville, Scott was a Lead and Preaching Pastor, as well as the writer of small group studies, for Redeemer Presbyterian of New York City. Twitter: @scottsauls

Editor’s Note: Scott was a member of our WDA Campus Ministry (Next Generation Ministry) while at Furman University. We are excited to see our alumni continuing to carry a vision for discipleship!

This is a repost of A Jesus-Like Church Culture  by Scott Sauls. It appears here with the author’s permission. Website: cpcblogs.blogspot.com.

What does it mean to have a ministry atmosphere that is “full of grace” (John 1:14)?

imagesOur communities must be sinner-safe.

There was a reason why all the sinners ran to Jesus on a regular basis (Luke 15:1-2). Though they knew He was against their sin—he never watered down the law’s demands—they wanted to be around Him because they knew the reason why He was against their sin—because He was for their flourishing! If we want to be His ambassadors, therefore, several commitments must characterize us, our ministries, and our message:

Respecting and valuing all people. People must sense us relating to them on the basis of their God-given dignity, not on the basis of their shortcomings. If we are not careful, we can easily fall into the trap of diminishing the worth of a human being by thinking first of the ways they need to be fixed versus valuing them as bearers of the divine image, made for glory.

The following quote from CS Lewis offers helpful perspective:

It is maybe possible to think too much of your own potential glory hereafter. But it is impossible to think too often or too deeply about that of your neighbors. The weight of my neighbor’s glory should be laid daily on my back. So heavy a weight it is that only humility can carry it. It’s a serious thing to live in a society of immortals. To remember that millions of years from now, the dullest and most uninteresting person you meet may one day be an incredible creature, who if you saw him now you would be strongly tempted to worship…All day long we are in some degrees helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is therefore in light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the proper amount of awe and circumspection that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations, these are mortal, and their life is to our life as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals with whom we joke, work, marry, snub and exploit…your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses. (CS Lewis, The Weight of Glory)

A biblical view of sin. Treating people with dignity does not imply a reluctance to challenge sin. If we are going to love people as Jesus does, we will be committed to their flourishing, which means we will deeply desire that they be obedient to God! So, the question is not, “Will we challenge sin?” but rather “How will we challenge sin, and with what motivation will we challenge it?” We must be on God’s agenda here—He is so vehemently opposed to sin both for His own glory and (how easily we can forget) very much for the person. God’s desire is that we live by His design, which is life to us,

A grace-filled posture toward sinners like ourselves. Whenever we challenge sin of any kind, our motivation must be because we care so deeply for those, like ourselves, who sin. Otherwise, we shouldn’t say anything at all about sin. You are no doubt familiar with the group from Topeka, Kansas who picketed the funeral (!) of Mathew Sheppard (the young gay man who was beaten to death by some of his peers) with signs that read “God hates fags” and “Thank God for AIDS,” among other horrible, evil things. This example is certainly extreme. However, there are going to be seeds in our own hearts that are prone to look down on those to whom we feel superior. It is an evil thing to desire or celebrate someone’s harm instead of his/her well-being. As Jesus stood over Jerusalem (who had rejected His love), He wept for them. Do people, especially people who are “not like us,” sense this kind of love from us? Jesus did much more than merely tolerate sinful people in His midst. He cherished them, and pursued their hearts that they might become free indeed. We have no option but to do the same.

We must keep first things first.

This essentially means two things:

Jesus, and nothing else, must be our “main thing” at all times. Our main emphasis must always be on the Person and work of Christ. Even Paul the Apostle decided to know nothing except Jesus Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2). Therefore…

Everything else takes a back seat to Jesus. Often we will equate “outreach” to converting others to the norms of our particular tribe (our political views, our theological tradition, our dress code, our ethics, our parenting philosophy, etc.) instead of converting them to a love and adoration of Jesus. But the norms of our tribe must always be secondary to, and in many cases discarded because of, a greater vision for people to see Jesus and know Him for who He really is. Additionally, in all things we must lead with the grace of God versus with the law of God. When we require people to “get their act together” before we give them access to Jesus and His grace, we fail to follow the methods of the Lord, who welcomed and “graced” people before He called them to change (Luke 7:36-50, Luke 15:1-2, John 8:1-11, etc.). A cosmetic, outside-in, second-things-first approach to change contradicts the inside-out, first-things-first approach of the Bible.

Consider the following quote from Rev. Timothy Keller:

We (need to) be careful with the order in which we communicate the parts of the faith. Pushing moral behaviors before we lift up Christ is religion. The church today is calling people to God with a tone of voice that seems to confirm their worst fears. Religion has always been outside-in—”if I behave out here in all these ways, then I will have God’s blessing and love inside.” But the Gospel is inside-out—”If I know the blessing and grace of God inside, then I can behave out here in all these ways.” A woman who had been attending our church for several months came to see me. “Do you think abortion is wrong?” she asked. I said that I did. “I’m coming now to see that maybe there is something wrong with it,” she replied, “now that I have become a Christian here and have started studying the faith in the classes.” As we spoke, I discovered that she was an Ivy League graduate, a lawyer, a long-time Manhattan resident, and an active member of the ACLU. She volunteered that she had experienced three abortions. “I want you to know,” she said, “that if I had seen any literature or reference to the ‘pro-life’ movement, I would not have stayed through the first service. But I did stay, and I found faith in Christ. If abortion is wrong, you should certainly speak out against it, but I’m glad about the order in which you do it.” This woman had had her faith incubated into birth in our Sunday services. In worship, we center on the question “what is truth?” and the one who had the audacity to say, “I am the truth.” That is the big issue for postmodern people, and it’s hard to swallow. Nothing is more subversive and prophetic than to say Truth has become a real person…We, of all people, ought to understand and agree with fears about religion, for Jesus Himself warned us to be wary of it, and not to mistake a call for moral virtue for the good news of God’s salvation provided in Christ. (Timothy Keller, Religion-less Spirituality)

In summary…

In cultivating a “full of grace” ministry atmosphere, we must carefully consider how we are presenting Christ to people who are either not Christian or somewhere along the journey of overcoming sin (that’s all of us, isn’t it?). The following chart is given as an aid for preparing our community to be in line with the Gospel of grace. Obviously, we want to lean against both the religious grid and the secular grid, and saturate everything we think, say, and do from the perspective of the Gospel grid.

Different models of ministry and the “hurdles” people feel they must overcome in order to become “insiders:”

hurdles_Scott_Sauls

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is part 2 of a series of articles by Scott Sauls.

Part 1 is here 

Continue Read  Part 3 Here

Scott Sauls, a graduate of Furman University and Covenant Seminary, is foremost a son of God and the husband of one beautiful wife (Patti), the father of two fabulous daughters (Abby and Ellie), and the primary source of love and affection for a small dog (Lulu). Professionally, Scott serves as the Senior Pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee. Prior to Nashville, Scott was a Lead and Preaching Pastor, as well as the writer of small group studies, for Redeemer Presbyterian of New York City. Twitter: @scottsauls

Editor’s Note: Scott was a member of our WDA Campus Ministry (Next Generation Ministry) while at Furman University. We are excited to see our alumni continuing to carry a vision for discipleship!

This is a repost of A Jesus-Like Church Culture  by Scott Sauls. It appears here with the author’s permission. Website: cpcblogs.blogspot.com.

jesus like

“Beginning with Moses and the prophets, Jesus interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.”

—Luke 24:27

 

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

—John 1:14

jesus like

WHAT ARE CHURCHES SUPPOSED TO BE ABOUT, ANYWAY?

In a very real sense, the work of Jesus is complete. When it comes to our standing as beloved, forgiven, delighted-in sons and daughters of God, “It is finished,” just as He said. His sinless life secured for us a new and irrevocable status—holy and blameless in God’s sight. His death fulfilled the requirements of God’s justice toward our sins. Jesus lived the life we should have lived, and He died the death we should have died. Because of this, we are free. What a wonderful and humbling reality in which we now live—God does not treat us as our sins deserve, because on the cross He has already treated Jesus as our sins deserve.

This being true, there is still much work that Jesus intends to do! Acts 1:1 indicates that the work of Jesus on earth was not completed with His death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and seating at the right hand of God. Luke writes, “In the first book (the Gospel of Luke), O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach.” Began to do and teach? How could there be more for Jesus to do than He what has already done? That’s where we as Christ’s “ambassadors” come into the picture. We are sent into the world, filled with His Spirit and enriched by His grace and truth, to represent him. In short, the work of Jesus continues through Christians.

As Jesus’ ambassadors, Christians have been set apart to faithfully mirror Him in our neighborhoods, our places of work and play, and our realms of influence. Therefore, our calling is to labor in every way possible to model our ministry and message after His. We are to live as those who are “full of grace and truth,” whose churches and ministries, because we are walking in the path of Jesus, will attract the types of people who were attracted to Him, and, by unfortunate necessity, will draw criticism from the types of people who criticized Him.

This purpose of this essay, then, is to consider what constitutes a ministry that is full of grace and truth. In other words, our task is to align our collective life and ministry to the life and ministry of Jesus.

CULTIVATING AN ATMOSPHERE THAT IS “FULL OF GRACE”

What does it mean to have a ministry atmosphere that is “full of grace” (John 1:14)? We will consider this question from a few different angles.

First, we must address the barriers created by Christians—barriers that have hidden the real Jesus from the world.

Gandhi was once asked why He never became a Christian. His answer was, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Gandhi had an admiration for Jesus, but could not reconcile how Christians were such poor representatives of their master. In his mind, this is what kept him from becoming a follower of Jesus.

If we are serious about being Jesus’ ambassadors, we need to listen very carefully to statements like this one. We must examine the most common barriers that stand between the real Jesus and people’s false impressions of Him—impressions which, unfortunately, have been projected to a watching world by many sincere yet misguided Christians. These barriers include:

Condemnation. Philip Yancey often asks people he meets what they think of Christians. The answer he hears, with very little exception, is that Christians are judgmental, intolerant, and holier-than-thou. When the September 11 terrorist attacks took place on the World Trade Center, one very well-known Christian leader confirmed this stance by saying on national television, “If you are a homosexual, a member of the ACLU, in favor of abortion, or part of the People of the American Way, then I point my finger in your face and say you did this. You made this happen.” A Christian friend of mine who is an actor once invited a gay friend over to have dinner with him and his wife. Their guest soon realized (from the Bible on the coffee table) that they were Christians. He then said to my friend, “You are a Christian, and you actually like me?” This is tragic, yet all too common.

If we are serious about being Christ’s ambassadors, we must humbly own the fact that many people, especially those who are secular or irreligious, believe that Christians dislike them. Whether this is actually true or not, it is our starting point in the minds of most non-Christian people. If we are not guilty ourselves, then we are at the very least guilty by association with believers who have misrepresented the biblical Jesus to our culture. So we must take personal responsibility, as far as it depends on us, to reorient people’s perception of Christians, and especially of Christ Himself.

Separation. In a day when many Christians want to separate themselves and their children from people and things that are considered secular, Christ’s ambassadors must resist this “us against them” mindset. We must do everything in our power to become friends with as many non-Christians as we can—no conditions attached. This must be a central, core value of our Christian communities. It is helpful to look at the life of Jesus in this regard. Luke 15:1-2 says plainly that all of the “sinners” made a habit of hanging around Jesus. They wanted to be near Him, and they wanted to hear what He had to say. Meanwhile, religious folk were accusing Jesus of being a glutton, a drunk, and a friend of sinners (Luke 7:34). We know that these accusations were false—Jesus was tempted in every way but without sin. But He was unapologetically a true friend to the least and the lost, to all who were alien to the religious communities of His day. He seemed to prefer parting ways with religious folks if that was necessary in order to get close to sinners. The one who “welcomed sinners and ate with them” now insists that His followers assume the same posture. “God’s grace is for real sinners” must be more than a statement on our church websites. It must characterize the life and practice of our ministries.

Reputation. There is a price to pay if we get serious about cultivating atmospheres that are full of grace. In becoming a friend of sinners as Jesus was, we should expect some resistance. When we pursue friendship with those who are outside the faith, some fellow believers will be suspicious of us. Consider Luke 7, for example, when a “sinful woman” enters the home of Simon the Pharisee. In the name of love, and in the spirit of demonstrable grace, Jesus received her very un-orthodox display of affection toward Him. He breaks with religious customs, allowing the woman to touch His feet (feet were considered unclean—one could not even ask a slave to touch them for this reason). He breaks with social customs also, receiving her as His disciple. It was scandalous in Jesus’ day for a rabbi to receive a woman as a disciple, much less a woman with a scandalous history. Most scandalous, however, is the way that Jesus breaks with moral customs. The woman lets down her hair (this was grounds for divorce in that culture—a woman could do this only in the presence of her immediate family). She touches Him with the tools of her trade…a prostitute’s perfume and kiss Him with a prostitute’s lips…and he allows it! Of course we know the rest of the story—Jesus was shunned as a man of ill repute. Giving positive attention to this woman, who to them was clearly “a sinner,” was evidence enough of moral compromise.

This has serious ramifications for those who wish to follow Jesus in a modern context. We must come to terms with the fact that if Jesus were a 21st century American, He would not associate godliness with membership in a political party. He would not tell a lesbian she was outside of God’s will without also offering her a personal, no-strings-attached friendship. He would not talk about how smoking destroys God’s temple while simultaneously devouring his third piece of fried chicken at a church potluck. He would not condemn adultery as being any worse than studying the Bible for the wrong reasons. If we are accustomed to setting up our own Mishnah, our own set of “clean laws” that define one’s worthiness to be received into Jesus’ company, we need to give serious re-evaluation to our methods and priorities!

Pride. Becoming a friend of sinners begins with the understanding that we are much more like the “chief of sinners” than we are like Jesus Christ. Our approach with all people, no matter who they are or what their history, must assume the posture of “fellow beggars humbly telling others where to find the bread” (Steve Brown). If we really want people to be impacted by the Gospel and to enjoy the riches of God’s grace, they must first see in us the humility of those who have been, and continue to be, genuinely impacted by grace ourselves. Our humility must be authentic and not just an act. Paul was not above humbling himself. In Romans 7 he gives us a window into his personal struggle with the sin of coveting—a sin nobody would see unless he told them—and the ways in which the Gospel heals that sin. In 1 Timothy Paul identifies himself as the chief of all sinners. If we intend to be the aroma of Jesus in our ministries and our messages, we need to move past our love for reputation and image. Without realizing it, we can begin to build our identities on how good we look—on being “model Christians” that people are supposed to admire because of how put-together we appear to be. This is a trap and it will rob our ministries of power. If people in our midst are going to be changed by the grace of Jesus, they must regularly witness the Gospel working effectively in our lives—healing us of our sins and deepest wounds and fears.

 

This is part 1 of a series of articles by Scott Sauls.  Part 2 is Here

Scott Sauls, a graduate of Furman University and Covenant Seminary, is foremost a son of God and the husband of one beautiful wife (Patti), the father of two fabulous daughters (Abby and Ellie), and the primary source of love and affection for a small dog (Lulu). Professionally, Scott serves as the Senior Pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee. Prior to Nashville, Scott was a Lead and Preaching Pastor, as well as the writer of small group studies, for Redeemer Presbyterian of New York City. Twitter: @scottsauls

Editor’s Note: Scott was a member of our WDA Campus Ministry (Next Generation Ministry) while at Furman University. We are excited to see our alumni continuing to carry a vision for discipleship!

This is a repost of A Jesus-Like Church Culture  by Scott Sauls. It appears here with the author’s permission. Website: cpcblogs.blogspot.com.