Whatever Happened to Holiness?

I am becoming increasingly aware of the lack of consideration for this disposition called holiness. The name of Christ is constantly slandered by those who honor Him with their lips but trash Him with their lives. But, more than that, it seems as if those whose lives do not honor Him as Lord are completely ignorant of the dishonor; they do not tend to care, preferring to live their own lives by their own fleshly leadings without any attentiveness to the psalmist’s proposition of setting Christ before us always – that is, that we might have our Lord before us, that every step we take may be evaluated in light and rememberance and reference to Him, that we might capture His mind, His affections, His aim and see and think and act as we look through that holy lens.

Perhaps it is thought that holiness is a bore, a drudgery, an ideal of the long since deceased saints of old. And the greater truth is that the one who does not practice Christian holiness is in point of fact not a Christian, for “by their fruits you shall know them.” One thing certain is the thought of it as a purely human empowered thing and therefore when the reality of our unholiness hits time and time again we become vexed, discouraged, and morally complacent, giving in to the ease of the “old self”. It is no doubt a complication of realities, for though holiness is a personal matter, it is a corporate matter too; and although holiness attends to the individual so that the accountability of one’s own life will be the matter judged by God, yet certainly the pride of many pastors confounds the notion of internal progressive sanctity and its necessary root of Christ’s holiness imputed and the precious gift of that holy principle of God’s Spirit; and the sinful depravity of the world in which we live our apparently “unguarded and intoxicated” “Christian lives” attends to our corporate and personal insobriety and disciplinary laziness. It does not help that many in the church do not know exactly what holiness is, nor do they truly understand the Gospel of Christ, so that the thing called holiness is not at all a self-made disciplinary guide whereby we merit favor with God after we have “walked the aisle”, but rather the overflow of the heart that has truly grasped the reality of the Gospel – that Christ fulfilled all demands of actual holiness for us so that we might rest from our self-righteous attempts through faith in Him and being infused with God’s Spirit we are made alive to His principle of leadership designed to check us constantly and satisfy us both now and eternally in God preeminently, whereby, being satisfied in Him, the temptations of the world and of the flesh and of the devil, himself, are like a foul stinch that we endeavor by all means to be rid of. And if we be not rid of it then what assurance do we have that our tastes have been truly changed!? If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature! How is it possible that one can be filled with the God of the universe and not be changed by it – forever!?

But I find something else of mention – that God would call sinners holy! Have we gotten used to being called by this godly disposition? Have we grown to comfortable with the grace of this characteristic? For a sinner is a sinner and not at all a holy being. Our nature is to be unholy, opposed to God, murderous towards Christ and His saving work and testimony; we are born enemies of God, rebellious towards Him, angry fist-shakers in His glorious and patient Face; we harbor the seed of hell, of death; human beings breed sinners! We are worms, and lower than maggots in the light of His holy fire! If we were to enter His holy presence without the cloak of Christ, we would dissipate into nothing – this is why hell is a place separated from God, that our just punishment might last for all eternity! And this is our place, our wage, our very being!

It is a thing too wonderful for words that God who is transcendenly holy calls us holy, and as I see it, there is only one way in which this grace is possible – that God would dwell within the sinner! We are not holy because we are inherently holy, beloved! No, we are holy because God dwells in us, and God is Holy! 1 Peter 1:14-16 demands the Christian attention – “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy,'” – to which we ought to stand silent and amazed! God demands our holiness! But how are sinners to be holy? Sinners are to be holy in this way and for this reason – the God who called you is holy! Do not depend on yourselves for this, beloved! God makes you holy, and demands your holy obedience to the imperatives of Christ and the law of Christ precisely because in Christ God fulfilled all saving holiness for you and gave Him, Jesus Christ, to you, within you, in your mind, in your heart, in your will and mouth, so that by that principle of holiness given to you through your faith in Christ, you might actually practice holiness on a daily basis! Simply put, God has fulfilled in Christ what you could not do, and filled you with Christ’s Spirit, and you are a holy person, and the church a holy nation precisely because God is holy and God is in us, not because you had a natural epiphany of internal transformation via therapeutic methods, etc. Or even more simply, “you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God,” to which the apostle continues, “put to death therefore what is earthly in you…you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator,” Colossians 3:3, 5, 9-10. That is, being hidden with Christ in God or accounted as perfectly holy, be growing in Christ’s likness, i.e., holiness in a progressive manner.

The reality of God calling sinners holy, with the full knowledge that He alone is truly and transcendently holy, is a completely humbling truth. For as it was in Luther’s mind that to be truly free in the will was to be as God is – literally that to entertain the notion of true freedom one would have to be free as God is free – so it is with the disposition of holiness; only God is truly holy! Our holiness, then, is not an inherent thing (oh, the folly of every other world religion that would boast in human works), a thing we are born with, or a thing that we grow up into with age and settling, for children and grandfathers alike are wretched apart from Christ. Beloved, your holiness is a thing alien to you, given to you by the grace of God who alone is truly holy and has at His disposal the ability and power to make holy any sinner at any time by the effectual call of that sinner to repent of sin and believe in the truth as it is in Jesus Christ to the praise of His glorious grace. Our “life is hidden with Christ in God.”

Moreover, death to the elemental things of the world is to be alive to the eternal things of the kingdom of God. Our participation in the cross of Christ is the precursor and necessary thing to our resurrection life in Him. By the grace of God and faith in Christ, we have “died” to the world and the world to us (Galatians 6:14), though we live in the world, which is to say that we have been made “alive” to God having been “raised with Christ” (Colossians 3:1), the outcome being that we “seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God,” (Colossians 3:1). In other words, holiness consists in our death to the world, by which is meant that we have become alive to the preeminent satisfaction and triumphant joy of who God is, and who God is for us and in us and through us for His glory. All the sensualities of the world become colorless and tasteless in comparison to the new passion and desires, colors and tastes that God has given to us in Christ. Holiness is not a negative thing, beloved, but an infinitely wonderful gift of God; it is not a drudgery but a thing altogether pleasing for us to honor Him with – though He, Himself has given it to us so that He owns it altogether (1 Chronicles 29:14)!

Therefore, let us say that holiness is a thing given by God apart from our own doing; that true holiness is a preeminent satisfaction and enjoyment of and rejoicing in God through Christ whereby the overflow of the heart is to drench everything and everybody with the reflection of our Lord unto the glory of God, as it is written, “You shall be holy, (because) I am holy.” To mistake these things is detrimental to the authenticity of our profession of faith. To deny them with your lifestyle is to deny that you ever truly believed. And by that reckoning, let us be fearful if our lives do not reflect Christ, and humbled and enjoyably holy if by His grace we are by these things encouraged – in Jesus’ name. Amen.

"Love Is Not Always Lenient"

This phrase and the one that came after it (“love does not always let”) come from the Nine Marks website, specifically in the section concerning the biblical understanding of church discipline, or mark #7 of a healthy church.

I found the information there quite helpful due to a circumstance of discipline currently in my own church by the providence of God. The truths related on this topic at the Nine Marks website served to reveal my own insobriety and carelessness in consideration of my disciplinary tactics. To this end, I highly recommend to all in the Christian vocation and laity to check out the site. You can read the “marks” by clicking on them at the top of the page.

As to the phrase that called my reflection to attention, that “love is not always lenient – love does not always let”, I see uncovered an intolerable tolerance in the contemporary church, the allowance of a little leaven which leavens the whole lump, a disconnect and common sloth in the biblical injunction that the Church be a pure bride, and that we ought to endeavor by all means to carry out the multiplication of personal holiness within its members. Moreover, the disservice done to the identity of Christianity, the mindset of the many in the pews on Sunday mornings is that sin is not serious, that it is rather tolerable, that one may call himself a Christian and yet be the most miserable and wretched sinner without conviction or hesitation or repentance.

But God disciplines – and His discipline is deemed as love (Hebrews 12:5-11), the love of a Father towards a child, but when the discipline of sinning church members comes upon them, they deem it (and the disciplinary – God and the man/men of God/the Church) as unloving. As if a parent, seeing their child enjoying something that places them in grave danger and in the clutches of death, like playing in heavy traffic or being an amateur pyrotechnic, is unloving when they discipline their child not to do those things; but it is rather the opposite, that the discipline of the parent is the most loving thing that they could do in that instance and it serves to restore and save the child from certain destruction and to train them to love the obedience that brings them safely into the parents arms. This kind of discipline with this kind of intention is hardly unloving. If we are not experiencing the discipline of God, then we ought to begin to be fearful, wondering whether or not we are in fact His children, for God disciplines those whom He loves, namely, His children. But God does not let us continue in sin without correction. As Dever writes, “love is not always lenient – love does not always let.”

It is a cultural ideal that love is that strict emotion by which we let others do their own thing without consideration of consequence, either temporal or eternal. This idea must not be that which drives the life of the Church. We are not to stand idly by while “brothers and sisters” in Christ “continue in sin” thinking that “grace will abound”. The apostle says that this type of thinking ought not to exist in the affection of him who is rightly called “Christ-ian”. “How can we who died to sin still live in it? (Romans 6:2)” And how should we be tolerant of such things as the body of Christ – unless we are not truly in Jesus Christ!? Impenitence is not the mark of an authentic believer in Christ, no, bearing fruit in keeping with repentance is (Matt. 3:8)!

But the intention of the disciplinarian cannot be anger or control or condemnation, but rather restoration, and salvation (See James 1:20 cf. 1 Corinthians 5:5b). That is, Christ is not interested in the kind of discipline exercised by the world to bring about behavioral change, where physical force is used and abused along with various other methods of violent mental technique. And Christ is no more interested in the church’s adaptation to the culture and its reflecting the values of the culture with respect to the tolerance of sin than what was previously mentioned. Christ is interested in the kind of discipline that confronts the sin of a person with an attitude of humility, gentleness, compassion, and love, but intolerance, with the intention of seeing that person restored to Christ through repentance or saved through Christ by grace through faith in Him. Severity to the body and self-made religion are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh though they may have the appearance of wisdom; rather, being made alive in Christ whereby one is clothed with His righteousness and equipped with His Holy Spirit is one empowered to overcome the indulgence of that mighty evil within us called “the flesh” (See Colossians 2:20-23).

In all church discipline, truly, in everything we undertake, this is to be the aim – that sinners put on Jesus Christ; if he be a Christian, then let him repent of his sin and be restored to Christ; if he be a sinner, then let him repent as well of his personal sin and believe in Christ for righteousness that he may be saved in the last day. Therefore, let us love one another rightly – with encouragement and rebuke – knowing that loving is not always synonymous with letting, with the earnest intention of bringing each other to our Lord Jesus Christ, for He alone is able to keep us from stumbling and to present us before the presence of His glory blamelessly and with great joy (Jude 24). God be glorified in Jesus’ name. Amen.

A Christian Imperative: Bringing Children to Christ – Part 3 of 3

Luke 18:15-17 reads,

“Now they were bringing even infants to Him that He might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to Him, saying, ‘Let the children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.'”

In parts 1 and 2 we have addressed two kinds of people involved in the ministry of a church and specifically the youth within that church – parental figures and disciples. In this part, we will turn our attention to a third Person, our Lord Jesus Christ and His priorities for youth ministry.

Part 3: The Priorities of Youth Ministry

“But Jesus called them to Him, saying, ‘Let the children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.’”

I have listed three priorities from this text that are simple staples to a successful youth ministry. And I am going to address them in reverse order. Therefore,

Priority #3: This church body must be made up of people who have received the kingdom of God like a child.

This is important in three facets;
One, we must be born again Christians. We live in a day and age when many who profess Christianity do not practice Christianity – and the authenticity of one’s faith is not in a mere profession but in the practice of Christ. Billy Graham has estimated that seventy-five to eighty percent of the people sitting in the pews on Sunday morning are lost. Have you attempted to force your way into God’s kingdom, or like a child receives a gift on Christmas morning, have you received the kingdom of God? By the one you will die lost and condemned; by the other you are fitted for glory.

Two, we must be born again Christians aimed at holiness. The kingdom of God implies the rule of God. When a person believes in Jesus Christ, they have believed in Jesus Christ as Lord over every aspect of their lives or not at all. Two-faced Christianity will serve to hinder a child from coming to Christ, but a true passion for holiness that glorifies Christ will serve to bring a child to Christ.

Three, we must be born again Christians aimed at holiness and humility, or who endeavor as servants of Christ to bring children to Christ. Jesus said in Luke 9:48, “whoever receives a child in my name receives me, and whoever receives Me receives Him who sent Me.” One characteristic of a child that Christ continually drew upon was the characteristic of humility. As such, children teach us a valuable lesson in bringing them to Christ – we must be humble servants.

Priority #2: We must give careful attention to our lives to avoid being a hindrance.

Christ said, “Do not hinder them.” This is an imperative of Christ, and as such, we would do well to obey Him. In Matthew 18:1-6, it is recorded that the disciples were arguing over “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And Jesus calls a young child to Himself and sets the child in the midst of them and says, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”

In that day, the worst of criminals experienced this very punishment. If we in any way hinder children from coming to Christ, Christ says we are counted among the worst of them. We must give careful attention to our lives, to our doctrine, to our words, to our thoughts, and to our priorities, for by them a sponge-like child will either fill up with sin or the truth that leads to salvation.

Priority #1: Jesus said, “Let the children come to Me.”

I believe that there are at least two things wrapped up in the “Me” of this greatest imperative of Christ, “Let the children come to Me.”

First, Christ’s preeminence as the definitive priority or a matter of Christ’s preeminence. When Jesus says, “Let the children come to Me,” He means that in contrast to anything else. Parents, it is good for you to set education as a priority for your child. It is good for you to set athletics as a priority for your child. It is good for you to set certain hobbies or friendships as priorities for your children. It is good for you to raise them with good manners and a solid moral foundation. But these all become sinful when they take preeminence over Jesus Christ as the definitive priority of your child’s life. When your child misses worship for a hobby, or Sunday school because of a spend the night party, or a family Bible study because of athletics, or a monumental discipleship weekend because of other forms of entertainment, then a sinful shift of priorities has occurred. Christ says, “Let the children come to Me.” When I misrepresent a text on Wednesday nights or teach them more about morals than the Gospel, or prefer that they follow me instead of Jesus Christ, I have hindered them from coming to Christ. And Christ says to me, “Let the children come to Me.” What good will it be, beloved, for a child to be well-educated if on the day of judgment he has not “come to Christ?” What good will athleticism be for a child when they stand before God in paralytic awe and horror that they had never “run to Christ?” What will there manners and morality be on the day when God requires of them the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ, if they have not been “clothed with Christ?” God help us to honor Christ as the definitive priority in the life of this youth ministry. Jesus says, “Let the children come to Me.”

Secondly, Christ’s biblical Person and Work are revealed in His word “Me”, or a matter of Christ’s Person. We must bring the children to the biblical Jesus, the Jesus who reveals Himself even in our text as Prophet, Priest, and King. We must not fashion for ourselves an idol, beloved, and present “him” to the youth. No, we must speak of Him as He is in truth.

A well-known Christian publication recently sent out its Easter Sunday school study for children. In it they purposefully removed the crucifixion of Christ, His Priestly Work on our behalf, claiming that the crucifixion of Christ was too graphic for young children. I would ask them, “How can we celebrate Easter if we omit the substitutionary death of Christ?”

Beloved, in our living, loving, praying, serving, preaching, and teaching, we must hold up the biblical Christ as central to this youth ministry.

When He rebukes the disciples for their sin in our text, we see Christ the Prophet.

When Jesus speaks with the authority of God and gives the decree of the kingdom, we see Christ the King.

And when our Lord lovingly and compassionately calls the children to Himself in order to bless them, we see Christ our Priest and Intercessor before God.

In this youth ministry we must contend for the Christ who points out our sin, paid for our sin, and exercises Lordship over every aspect of our Christian lives. Anything less and we will hinder the children from coming to Christ. May it never be! Jesus says, “Let the children come to Me.” Let us, therefore, endeavor to bring them to Him. To God be the glory. Amen.

A Christian Imperative: Bringing Children to Christ – Part 2 of 3

Luke 18:15-17 reads,

“Now they were bringing even infants to Him that He might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to Him, saying, ‘Let the children come to Me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.'”

In Part 1 of this series we looked at the biblical makeup and ideal involvement of these parental figures in youth ministry (verse 15a). Now we turn our attention to the second part of verse 15.

Having addressed the issue of parents and youth ministry, let us now examine the problems of youth ministry within the confines of this text.

Part 2: The Problems of Youth Ministry

Notice again our text:

“And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them,” 18:15b.

The greatest assault on youth ministry is sin – the sin of the children, the sin of the parents, and the sin of the world. Sin is the greatest problem in youth ministry. But if you would look to your right and to your left, in front of you and behind you, and in your mirror tonight, then you will see the problem of youth ministry in this text – the problem is us!

It is not the Pharisees that rebuke the people from bringing their children to Christ, who so often rebuke Christ; it is not the Sadducees or the Hellenists or the pagans; and contemporarily, it is not the naturalist or the spiritualist or the postmodern man. These who would prevent children from coming to Christ are the disciples’ of Christ – those closest to Him.

The disciples, here, make a critical error in their understanding of Christ’s mission and their place in it. Christ came to seek and to save sinners, and the disciples were set free to be servants to all in bringing everyone to Christ!

Though this is not an exhaustive list, I have recognized four kinds of problematic disciples who stand in the pathway of children coming to Christ, starting with these disciples:

First, the elitist disciple; as Calvin rightly states, these disciples preferred to introduce to the world a “fancied Christ.” They rebuked the parents who would have their children blessed by Christ because they perceived Christ as a King to important to extend love and grace and compassion and time to infants and young children. These disciples had forgotten that they too were lost in sin, and that Christ sought each one of them out. They had forgotten that they were sinners saved by the grace of Christ. Because of this, they tended to be unevangelical and separatist. They thought of themselves like bodyguards to a famous individual. Under these disciples, children will grow in the shadows of legalism and partiality, while missing the compassion and love of the true Gospel of Jesus Christ – that is, if they can get past these disciples into the arms of Christ.

I would give these disciples credit, for at least they believed in a powerful Christ, and would, obviously, come to grow to know Him more intimately as time passed and the exaltation of our Lord occurred. Today, the problematic disciples are not of the kind that believe Christ to be too high and lofty to fool with infants. Rather, many disciples today follow a Christ who is much less than what He has revealed Himself to be.

Here are a few more problematic disciples:

Secondly, the hypocritical disciple who would witness of a “powerless Christ”. On Sunday morning, these disciples wear a smile and say their “amen’s”, but Monday through Saturday, fail to spend any meaningful time with Christ. They say they believe Him to be powerful, but they never pray for salvations, and they never expect much from the youth ministry of the church. They masquerade as one thing, and practice something else.

Thirdly, the shallow disciple who would witness of an “unentertaining Christ.” They prefer the youth to watch Christian videos, play Christian games, have Christian parties, and listen to sappy Christian music, but they stand to rebuke anyone, parents, pastors, or laity who rather bring the children to Christ through expositional preaching of God’s Word, and a seriousness about the realities of sin, Satan, death, hell, and Christ crucified and raised as victor over them all.

Fourthly, the lawless disciple who would witness of a “tolerant Christ.” These disciples cling to the love and grace and compassion of Christ and His authority to give these things to them, but they cannot fathom a Christ who is coming a second time to judge the world in His righteousness. To these, Christ does not speak about personal sin, nor does He demand fruit and holiness. They profess to know much about Christ, while practicing very little of Christ.

Lastly, the material disciple who would witness of a “prosperity Christ.” These disciples are very dangerous because they are entrenched deeply into the thinking of the world. Christ alone does not satisfy, they say, and God is unhappy with you if you are not prospering materially. This disciple is, perhaps, the most tempting for youth to follow, because many pass this garbage off as “The Gospel”, and it is not. God is the ultimate satisfaction; in Him shall we be truly satisfied.

Regardless, all of these problematic disciples have one thing in common. They disdained what they saw. We must ask ourselves from the text, “What did they see that they felt so strongly to rebuke?” And the answer is – passionate people who having truly tasted of the goodness of Christ endeavored with every ounce of their strength to bring the children to Jesus Christ! That’s it! They saw undeniable passion put to practice and the outcome was evangelism – the parents were bringing the children to Christ!

I pray that instead we would all unite as faithful disciples whose desire is to introduce not a fancied Christ, or a powerless Christ, or an unentertaining Christ, or a Christ who tolerates disobedience, but rather the biblical Christ, the Jesus who says, “Let the children come to Me, and do not hinder them.”

In Part 3 we will address the priorities in youth ministry as Christ identifies them in verses 16 and 17 of Luke 18.

No Groom? No Bride!: Emphatic About the Name!

What would the union between a man and a woman be without the bridegroom? This is a ridiculous question, is it not? Obviously, it would not be a union at all, and the woman not a bride. There is no stand alone marriage where a woman may marry herself or a man himself and it rightly be called “marriage”. This is not a relationship – or if it is, it is not a sane one or a logical one, no it is insane and illogical. It is a stupid and senseless thought!

But what of a Christless church? A church without Christ is no church! We are the church because we have believed in Christ by the grace of God, and we have thereby been united to God. Christ has wed us, sinners saved by grace, and therefore, we are not our own but His. Christ died for the church; His love demonstrated towards us as particular, separate from any other love – a love with the intentionality of God’s purpose preeminent over the generic love with which God upholds a sinful world. And so we husbands understand that the love that we have for our brides is a particular love juxtaposed against our love for any other woman in the world – we chose her out of the mass, and so Christ called His bride out of the world.

It is a thing burdensome and alarming to me that many who would clothe themselves with the name of Christ are so quick to remain destitute of Him in their language, thoughts, actions, and opportunities. There was a time when we were much concerned over the ignorance of the Holy Spirit. But it seems now that we are oft to speak of God in general, and of the Spirit of God (albeit with much abuse), while being silent with the name of Jesus Christ. I wonder if many of us who would claim the name of Christ for our own have not fallen under the heading of Titus 1:16, “They profess to know God, but they deny Him by their works.” Nevertheless –

Christian musical groups are inclined these days to sing of many things, including the greatness and vastness and wonder of God, and of amazing grace, and the renewal of the Spirit of God, while these same albums are devoid of the mention of the name of Christ.

Christian pastors, counselors, and chaplains who are given public opportunities to bear witness to the name of Jesus Christ have dropped the proverbial ball and settled (compromised) to speak of God, and of spirituality, but not of Jesus Christ and Him crucified, lest by that name they might actually offend someone.

Christian family members are more and more adamant that their relative be silent about Christ; and they excuse it by means of danger; and when the relative holds true to the Scriptures and actually loves Christ preeminently to the exclusion of their families wishes, they are dubbed hard-headed, uncompromising, insane, and “different” – titles I would gladly wear for Christ.

And the Church – well, three out of one hundred share the name of Jesus Christ in a given day! Is this the church? What would the state of a marriage be if we only spoke passionately or kindly of our spouse three percent of the time? The fact of the matter is that this is not only a bad marriage in need of much repair, but hardly a marriage at all, and if it is a marriage, it is certainly not expected to be a very romantic covenant.

It is a terribly damning thing for we who comprise the church to be silent about our bridegroom, who loved us and chose us and redeemed us from sin and utter ruin! We would be worse than the whorish wife of the prophet Hosea, for at least, though she slept around, yet she bore him children, but we are childless – we not only whore against God, but we are silent about Him, about the name of Christ – that name wherein is embedded the salvific mission and purpose of God, that name by which we were called into His glorious light and love. Will we bear the children of another “god”, speaking and living in such a way that bears the fruit of sinful adolescence and Christian immaturity? The fact of the matter is that if there is no Groom, then there is no bride!

The name of Christ concerning which we have grown seemingly silent is the only name in heaven or on earth by which a man may be saved. Only by being grafted into that name are we safe from God’s holy fury against our sin. John the Baptist knew this name quite well and rejoiced in the bridegroom – “The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears Him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete,” John 3:29.

John’s joy was complete because the bridegroom had come to claim His bride – and he was part of her (the Church). Moreover, John, rejoicing in Him, did not conceal the name of Jesus Christ from the world – “He must increase but I must decrease,” John 3:30.

Let us speak of God – Father, SON, and Holy Spirit! Let us rejoice in our bridegroom, being overwhelmed by the salvation in His name that we may overflow with the truth and praises of His name that every sinner may be overcome for the sake of His name. Let us not conceal the name of Jesus Christ, but like the Baptist cry out, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” In JESUS’ NAME. Amen.

God’s Immensity and the Omnipotence of the Consequential Power of God

I had a conversation this morning with a seventy-something year old microbiologist with a slight English accent, named Malcolm. Having been a professor at UC-Davis and at Clemson University, the discussion was intriguing. Uncertain of his stance on creation, God, and the like, I decided to adapt the conversation to end up at those worldviews. I wasn’t surprised that he believed in the Big Bang Theory – multiple one’s at that – but that the immensity of the cosmos, of even a single human cell proved too much to be comprehended. Malcolm was of the mind that we cannot prove anything of that immensity with any kind of certainty in order to come to dogmatic conclusions about origin and life.

But it appeared that the reality of the vastness of the cosmos and of the amount of information in a single strand of DNA captured his wonder if not his interest. It turns out that God would give me a foothold with Malcolm upon which I could speak to him of the immensity of God.

During the summer session between my freshman and sophomore years at Clemson I took my biology requirement – it was the only other class besides a liberal Old Testament class that I made an “A” in! Malcolm knew my professor, and it was this professor with whom I had several discussions concerning the origin and meaning of life. This was the open door that I was graciously given to become what I needed to be in order to speak with Malcolm about God. And that was my endeavor in this particular meeting – to set God and God’s immensity in relation to and demonstrated in the immensity of the creation that Malcolm studied and taught. By God’s grace, next will come the reality of God in Christ!

So it was, that by means of creation and natural revelation that I set before Malcolm the Almighty, and the meaningfulness of life found in relation to Him and His creative work. And I found, also, my own affections and mind drawn up into the greatness of the infinite God whose habitation is eternity.

I recently heard by the providence of God the inherited instruction of a Christian cosmologist and apologist. This man uses his study and understanding of the universe to make the case for intelligent design and meaning. He shows slides of the universe, for example, a slide of nothing but stars, and says that if you were to count every star on that slide that it would take you 2800 years to finish; or a slide of a pillar of dust in the universe where we are looking at multiple galaxies; and after these things he places a white slide on the screen and hands someone a fine tipped pencil and asks them, with pencil in hand, to place any sized dot on that screen corresponding to your significance in the immensity of the universe – point being that even the slightest dot would seem to be an overstatement. However, as he begins to speak about carbon based life forms and all of the elements and aspects in the universe that had to be exactly right in order for their to be any kind of sustained carbon based life form, he mentions that the sphere in which we live for various reasons has to be about 15 million light years across to sustain life – and that the one in which we live is approximately 15 million light years across; and he concludes by saying, “now how significant are you in the universe?” And the answer is very significant, but I would add, and I think he would as well, how significant and valuable is God? If the universe is what it is, or if the amount of information in a single cell boggles the cleverest minds, then what of its infinite Creator – “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived , ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse,” Romans 1:19-20.

More amazing is the conclusion of Jonathan Edwards about that which will consume our stay in eternal glory, that glory is in fact eternal because it will take eternity to comprehend in an ever-increasing way the infinite and unending glory of God and all that His glory encompasses. We will forever be growing in the knowledge and worship of Him because the knowledge and glory of Him is everlasting. God is eternally immense. The sheer thought of the volume of Him collapses the most brilliant human mind at once.

If this immense and eternal volume be placed upon God, indeed, a volume that we cannot measure, nor ever come to the end of, then what of the power of this Almighty God? What vast effulgence overflows from Him? If God declares that there is a power at His disposal, what in heaven or on earth or under the earth may equally rival Him and His power? But God has said through His apostle, “the Gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” (Romans 1:16)

The Gospel is the power of this eternally voluminous God to save wretched worms like us. The power of the President, or the Pope, or a King, or a tyrant is great and extends quite far, but has its limitations in all spheres of life. But all of these are inferior to the power of God and the throne of Christ in the culmination of the Gospel. No human will may stand before the power of God to save, which He calls the Gospel. What sinner can withstand the power of God in the Gospel? What degree of sinner can resist the Almighty’s effectual Gospel call? What political party or religious group can redeem like God’s Gospel of gracious salvation by the righteousness of Christ and not of man’s works? God’s Gospel delivers from Mormonism, Nihilism, Buddhism, Postmodernism, Hinduism, Islam, and any other world religion or spirituality – nothing stands in the way of the power of God’s Gospel when in effectual grace He rips you out of darkness and sets you in the light of Christ! As former Muslim turned Christian Thabiti Anyabwile writes, “The Gospel triumphed where no other power had or could. The Gospel of Jesus Christ freed me from the clutches of sin and the darkness of Islam…The Gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…I’ve received and experienced that power myself through faith in Christ.” (The Triumph of the Gospel in a Muslim’s Life; thegospelcoalition.org/articles.php?a=51)

The consequential effulgence of the glorious immensity of God is manifest in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the revelation of the gift of God’s righteousness for sinner’s imputed through faith in Him. Therefore, the Gospel carries with it the effectual omnipotence of the God who saves sinners from any bondage and sets them securely in the invincible promise of faith in Christ. That this God would love sinners and deliver sinners from His wrath, and empower that message with the might of His Spirit, is the reality of what may be called the omnipotent Gospel – it is the power of God to save without distinction. What is microbiology when pitted against the Gospel of God, but the servant of it which inevitably witnesses to it. Praise God for the inherent, omnipotent power and call of the Gospel of Christ – that He who created the universe by the power of His Word, also creates Christians out of His enemies by the power of His Gospel, in Jesus’ name.

A Christian Imperative: Bringing Children to Christ – Part 1 of 3

In the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) Christ has given us the Divine imperative and preeminent endeavor in youth ministry: “Let the children come to Me, and do not hinder them.” The text that I will use is predominantly Luke’s account in Luke 18:15-17. I will address three important issues in youth ministry in three parts: first, the parental figures and youth ministry; secondly, the problems in youth ministry; and lastly, the priorities and Preeminent in youth ministry. I do not intend to exhaustively cover the issues concerning parents, problems, and the priorities in youth ministry, but, rather to allow Luke’s account make up and shape the contours of what is written here. Simply put, I humbly intend this as an exposition of Luke 18:15-17.

PART 1: The Parental Figures and Youth Ministry

I use the term parental figures so as not to exclude grandparents and relatives in bringing their children to Christ. Some would desire to use that term because of the current state of thought concerning marriage, homosexuality, divorce, live-in relationships, etc. in the hopes of not offending anyone – I am not one of those people! By parental figures I mean, primarily, two adults within the bonds of heterosexual covenant with one another, so joined in the presence of God, and are the biological parents of their children, but not to the exclusion of those circumstances that arise where a child’s parents have passed away so that the grandparent’s or other relatives have taken over parental responsibilities, or in the instance of adoption into such a united couple, etc. Ideally, biological parents are the child’s primary teacher and accountability in the things of God – though often times in the world we live, unideal situations arise.

Recently, as I was scanning Headline News, I became privy to a tragic story of nine teenagers in Polk County, Florida. Two of the teens were boys, the other seven were girls, ranging in age from fourteen to eighteen years young. One of the girls was kidnapped by the other eight; the two boys stood outside guarding the door so that the impending assault might transition uninterruptedly. In what transpired as an act of revenge, six girls took turns video taping and attacking another girl. After they had smashed her head into a wall, knocking her unconscious, they continued to pound on her body and face after she had been revived. At one point the girl holding the camera said, “There’s only 17 seconds of battery left – make it good!” They continued to savagely beat this girl to the point where she now has no vision in her left eye or hearing in her left ear as well as severe swelling all over her body. The truth is that they might have murdered this girl and cared less. These girls were cheerleaders and honor roll students! Afterwards, one of the girls questioned a policeman asking if she was going to be out of custody in time to make it to cheerleading practice the next day! No remorse, no conviction, not even a hint of regret. There intention was to put the video of the beating on YouTube, a popular website for the younger generations.

At least three things come to mind: first, that these kids external accolades had no bearing upon their spiritual condition – no remorse or conviction about their murderous actions and intentions, often heard encouraging one another on in the assault. A question that arises from this consideration for a parent concerns the priorities of life that a parent takes with their child. After school activities? Intellectual studies? Condition of the eternal soul?
Secondly, though this was no doubt a great tragedy, it pales in comparison to the tragedy of a lost soul. What if in a moment any one of those girls had entered into eternity as swiftly as they appeared to be trying to send the one girl in murderous fashion? A fifteen year old honor roll student consigned to hell is an infinitely greater tragedy. We might be appalled at the sight of this video, but I wonder, how often are we silenced by the reality of hell and the lost condition of the young soul? Lastly, how great, then, is the responsibility of parents, pastors, and laity – the entire church – in youth ministry, in bringing children to Jesus Christ?

For our purposes, let us look at our text and point out at least four short principles with regards to the right dispositions of parents and youth ministry that arise from the 15th verse of Luke 18.

“Now they were bringing even infants to Him that He might touch them,” Luke 18:15.

I find four principles concerning the right condition of parental figures and youth ministry.

First, that these parental figures had experienced the blessing and reality of Christ’s ministry themselves. John Calvin is right to note Luke’s use of the particle “also”, or as it is in my translation, “even”. That is to say that these figures, having been previously blessed by Christ’s ministry, now anticipated that He would bless their children as well. Perhaps the most important element of youth ministry is the spiritual condition of the parents. In other words, the biblical ideal is that the parents are themselves believers in Jesus Christ.

Secondly, having experienced the blessing of Christ themselves, their sole desire was that Christ might bless their children also. This is a mark of having truly tasted the grace of Christ, that you greatest desire is that others may taste of Him as well; and for parents, the foremost desire is that Christ may touch your child.

Thirdly, that these parents had obtained a right expectation of Christ’s ministry. They were bringing their children to Him “that He might touch them.” Again, the parents, having been blessed freely by Christ expected nothing less than that Jesus would bless their children too – that He would equally and freely confer blessing upon the children.
They expected that He would “touch them.” Matthew’s account secures the meaning of the parent’s expectation when he writes that Christ would “lay His hands on them and pray,” (19:13). Simply, they expected Jesus to bless their children.
In Jewish culture, to have someone bless you or bless your children was to honor that person with a superior status. Therefore, Melchizedek blessed Abraham, and Hebrews 7:7, giving the understanding of that Old Testament text, reveals, “It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior.”
These parents honored Christ as the superior, and humbled themselves as the inferior. And out of this understanding came their great passion and expectation of Him. It is likely that they held out Christ to be of a high Prophetical office. Therefore, they expected rightly that Christ would bless them and pray for them, granting the children a participation in His grace.

Lastly, these parents were rightly aligned with the heart and will of God. As we shall see, Christ calls them to Him, beckoning the children to come to Him, and as our text makes clear, “Now they were bringing even infants to Him that He might touch them.” In a day when many parents allow the child to be their own spiritual guide, or when many parents are insensitive to the heart of God for their children, these parental figures were perfectly aligned with God’s heart for the children.

Now we have a biblical sketch of parents who effectively minister to their children – believing parents who have a biblical desire for the salvation of their children, a biblical expectation of Christ’s gracious ministry, and a biblical alignment with the heart and will of God, that by every means necessary, they will bring their children to Jesus Christ.

In Part 2 we will examine “The Problems in Youth Ministry (according to Luke 18:15)”.