Strive for Biblical Faithfulness

Depending upon where you are in the world right now this will either be a closing or opening thought for the day – strive for biblical faithfulness!  I do not mean for this to be so simple that it appears profound.  It is, however simple, the overflow of my heart in these days.  By “these days,” I mean an evangelical age of pragmatism, of books that seek but fail to propound the notion of true biblical “success,” of law and legalism as supposed standards of godliness, of the excessive application and adherence to the data of secular research groups, the adoption of alien strategic planning gurus, of denominational reports that in some cases encourage pastors to all of the aforementioned mistakes, of health and wealth and prosperity, of full pews and choir lofts, of busy people doing many things, of a multitude of programs and flowcharts and entertainment, of – dare I say – excellence in our ministries (an excellence that tends to exclude the rest of the body not quite so, well, “excellent”).  Brothers, preach the Word!  Love God, do not neglect your love relationship with Jesus, love the body, love people.  Live God-entranced, Christ-centered lives worthy of the Gospel of Christ; strive for biblical faithfulness, endure in this, and be patient with all joy – and whether none or one or ten million are converted by God as a result of these things, you will have been truly, biblically successful.  Know Christ and make Him known, and He will be glorified.

Ideas for Family Worship

In God’s lavish grace, I am coming to see the importance of family worship, and the fruits that may be gleaned and tasted from it.  With this in mind, I want to ask you: “What do you do in your time of family worship?”  – what have you found to be helpful, unhelpful?  You may mention time, place, method, etc.  I hope that this will be an edifying exercise and one that challenges us to pursue the biblical imperative of family ministry and worship.  Here is our general methodology:

Time doesn’t matter for us – I am constantly seeking free or odd times to administer the Word to our family.  Generally, I will pray for (with) my wife in the morning.  We have begun to read and pray through a Psalm as our blessing before dinner.  After dinner, we have been reading through the Gospels, one chapter at a time; before reading I mention that the goal of the Scriptures is Christ, and for that reason, we seek to listen carefully to the text and understand what the text is teaching us about Christ; moreover, we are seeking to be mindful of those for whom we can pray on the basis of the text, or in general; having read the text, we discuss the excellencies of Christ in it, and we pray for those who come to mind.  This takes 15-30 minutes for us – most of the time.  (Additionally, we take walks together for the purpose of finding God’s sermons in the nature around us – sermons that the Bible confirms.  Example:  we see some ants!  Then, we ask what is God teaching us in ants?  The Bible, then, teaches us that the ants preach to us about avoiding sloth – not being a sluggard!)

What are your ideas?

Increasing in the Knowledge of God

A good friend of mine, Todd Morikawa, asked me a question that I’d like to reflect upon here.  His question was, “How did you (me) grow in your understanding of theology prior to seminary?”  It was not a question of unbelief, like “You can’t know anything about theology without going to seminary!”  It was the opposite – “You can know something about theology without a seminary degree, and therefore, how does one go about ascertaining a biblical understanding of the things of God?”  The following are brief reflections gleaned from my personal study prior to seminary, and thus, are in no way binding upon you; nevertheless, it is my hope that these and other similar reflections may be helpful to you in Christian education.

1.  Get a study Bible and make use of its notes.  As you read the text, read it as a whole, and then go back and stop at each letter or number that denotes an interrelated passage.  Follow the rabbit trail wherever it leads you.  This enabled me to see the Bible as a related whole, how it fits together, and not as individual texts isolated from a greater whole and revelatory goal.

2.  Read Romans as often as possible – while you’re at it, try memorizing it!  Romans is, quite simply, the most magnificent letter ever written; an exegesis of the Gospel of Christ at its apex.

3.  Make time to meditate on God’s Word.  Meditation sets fuel on the fire of God’s Word.  This discipline runs the Word of God through your heart and applies it directly to one’s own condition.

4.  Make friends with someone who doesn’t agree with you at every theological point.  This person was my wife, originally (though God has graciously refined and closed/ or better yet united what was a significant gap).  God will use this person to humble you, and to set you on a path of intentional Bible study – you will want to know why you believe what you believe, hold what you hold.

5.  On the other hand, have friends that affirm many of the Gospel truths that you have discovered in God’s Word.  These people will also serve to sharpen you and solidify those essential doctrines.

6.  Communicate what you have learned from the Lord.  Many in the world will disagree with what you are saying, if what you are saying is orthodox (not always, but usually), that is, Christ-centered, God-exalting, and man debasing.  Speaking the truth about Christ to the world that hates Christ, the world from which you have been redeemed, brings suffering in various degrees, and God, in His providence, makes use of such incidents to deepen the roots of your faith and theological conviction.

7.  Be intentional about knowing the theological positions of the church you may attend.  As good as seminary has been, the seminary exists because the churches have not all answered the call to “equip the saints for the work of ministry.”  The work of ministry is not just that of the pastor(s).  Their stewardship is to equip “the saints” for “the work of ministry.”  Seek such theological equipment.  Seek churches with sound, biblical, theological teaching; likewise for the content of its music; a church that desires to teach the body of Christ church history, parenting, systematic theology, Gospel basics, biblical manhood and womanhood, Old Testament and New Testament surveys, apologetics, etc. – real Bible classes!

8.  Search for and read great theological books.  You can see my short list in the tab above, or pretty much on any other blog that I have provided in that tab as well.

9.  Journal – that’s right; take pen or pencil and paper, or your computer; set the Bible down beside you and record the thoughts that stream in as you read and consider the text; be sure to set to paper resolutions to do what you have studied.

10.  Pray to the Lord for humility, for God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.  Pride immediately hampers in growth in the true knowledge of Christ our Savior.  Humility pleases the Lord, for it recognizes the Creator – creation distinction and gives Him all the glory, as it manifests our dependency upon Him for all knowledge of Him and the practice thereof.

I am certain that there are others, but these are ten that came to mind as I reflected on the grace of God in my walk with Jesus Christ prior to seminary.  May the Lord give you hope and bless you in your endeavors to increase always in the knowledge of God, in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Question and Answer/Essay 3 of 3 on Practical Christ-Centeredness

As Christ Loved the Church: The Joy of Loving Our Wives

Matt: What does it mean for a Christian husband to love his wife?

Brian: Sometimes a topic is much too overwhelming to write upon.  “What does it mean for a Christian husband to love his wife?” is one of those.  So, it is with great humility that I intend to tackle this subject.  Experientially, I am under-equipped; only time with this particular bride will bring the situations of life upon us from which I might gain further understanding of the realities of this great mystery, the truest sense of which is Christ and His Church.  But as we approach our third wedding anniversary, God has granted some insight upon the reality of Christ’s relationship to His Bride in ever practical ways.  The rule is love.  But what does it mean for Christian husband’s to love their wives?  Allow me one observation from Ephesians 5:25.

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”  The one thing from this verse that has helped me in this ministry of love is the idea of her particularity.  Our wives must be to us what God intended them to be – particular.  They are particular amongst the backdrop of a billion feminine faces.  Notice the particularity: Paul writes, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”  The point?  Know your wife!  Do not know another!  Do not compare her to another!  Do not entertain the thoughts of another!  Know your wife!  From this, love your wife!  Your wife is particular in her desires, needs, talents, gifts, affections, attitudes, styles, sanctification, habits, hobbies, likes, dislikes, and absorption of your attempts at ministering to her.  Know your wife!  Love your wife!  This love is manifest as giving.  Giving what?  In short, your whole being with delight!  We must not give anything of ourselves to another woman in this way.  We must pour out ourselves completely into our wives, knowing and loving them as wholly set apart in our affections – even as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.  Now, what does this particular love look like?  What does it mean to love our Christian wives particularly?

First, it means being personally Spirit-filled, that is, full of Christ.  The well-known text in Ephesians 5:22-33 is set within a context.  This cannot be stressed enough:  in order to love our wives biblically, we must be men who love and pursue deep intimacy with Jesus Christ both privately and publicly.  The days that I find myself struggling the most to love and minister to my wife, are those days that I have slumbered in or slept-walked through communion with Christ.  It is impossible to minister the Gospel of Christ to our wives when we, as men, have not our affections set ablaze for that Gospel, for our Lord Jesus Christ.  A biblical love for our wives is the overflow of a lifestyle of worshiping Jesus Christ in the power of His Spirit.

Second, it involves the primacy and supremacy of Christ in our lives and in our speech.  We may well know that this is the reality that we are to be manifesting before those believers with whom we do not dwell.  But this becomes much more difficult to tease out amongst the one with whom we share a bed.  And yet, this relationship constitutes our greatest efforts to do so with utmost joy.  Being filled with Christ is evidenced by our obedience to Him, and our love for Him.  Our wives must be able to say of us, “He is in love with Christ.  My husband is a Christ-entranced man.  He speaks to me of Christ in every situation; he races for Christ at every opportunity; his life is a commentary on Christ – indeed, this is how he washes me – he sets Christ about me all the day until my own affections are raised Christward.”  Husbands, let us love Jesus supremely; then you shall love your wife biblically, even as your own body.

Third, it means appropriating justification by faith alone.  By this I simply mean to say that we must reckon our wives fully accepted at all times in our own minds, and then, to let them frequently know of it.  This is one of the more difficult applications.  In Christ, we are fully accepted by the Father.  In Christ, then, our acceptance with our Father is Christ’s own acceptance, and as such, it can be no higher (being Christ’s), and it certainly will never be any lower.  Our acceptance is based upon the grace of justification by faith in Christ alone, and therefore, it is not based on what we do or do not do.  However, the freedom of this full and gracious acceptance is simultaneously the basis of our love for obedience to God and a joyful servitude, rather than licentiousness.  Our relationships with other people are to be so modeled.  And as our relationship with our wives is the preeminent human relationship in this life, so such relating should be nowhere more manifest than in one’s own marriage.  It is a glorious thing to be able to look at your wife and tell her – despite her repeated attempts to tell you how short she has fallen of being a good wife this very day – that she is fully accepted with you and that that acceptance is based upon the grace of Christ.  The practice of this is gut-wrenchingly sanctifying!  It means that her shortcomings, her sins, her offenses against you, her doings and not doings, should in no way change your acceptance of her.  Why?  Because your acceptance of her is not based upon her merits – just as, thank the Lord, her acceptance is not based upon ours or the lack thereof – but rather upon the principle of grace.  There could be much said on this point, but I must press on for lack of space.

Fourth, it means embracing the indicative of leading.  Recently, one of my pastors made a good point about the headship of Christ in relationship to that of the Christian husband – headship or leadership is not only in imperative in the Ephesians text, but an indicative.  That is, husbands are never not leading.  We do not lead some times, and then not lead at others.  As Christ is always the Head of the Church, so husbands are all of the time leading their wives.  So what?  Brothers, this means that we are leading our wives even when we are not leading well; even when we are sinning, being lazy, being spiritually slothful, pursuing ungodly ideals, speaking of others and things in unbiblical ways, acting passively in daily ordeals – yes, even then we are leading our wives – we are simply leading them poorly!  Leading is not only a command to husbands, it is what we do all of the time by virtue of our being husbands.  Oh, brothers, let us take care of our lives, our doctrine, our spiritual activity, our love, so that we are ever conscious of the imprint that we are leaving upon our wives.  To know and understand and embrace the reality of our constant leadership and how we are mysteriously impacting our wives by it, should stir us to ever greater sobriety in the course and subject (our wives) of our activities.

Fifth, and briefly as two extensions of the fourth principle, it means leading in family worship, and watching our reflection in them.  Concerning family worship, we should aim at the daily practice of prayer, Scripture reading, and soul-discussion with our wives.  I emphasize aim, because there is no guilt to be found in missing such family practices due to the providential turnings of the day, but aim nevertheless at such marital engagement in the things of God.  Concerning watchfulness, it is a mysterious reality (particular also to pastors) that (as we never cease to lead whether for good or ill) we will see our greatest strengths and also our greatest weaknesses reflected back to us in our wives (and, pastorally, in the church that we serve).  With that in mind, should not our souls be stirred to the highest sensitivity and wisdom and dependency upon our Lord Jesus in all of our thousands of interactions with our wives throughout the course of any given day?  Let us be humbled by such knowledge.

Sixth, it means understanding a greater relationship in the Lord.  It has often been asked with great concern, “Will I be married in heaven, or will I know my spouse as such?”  These are reasonable questions, humanly speaking, but they reveal an inadequate understanding of the hierarchy of relationships and the greater glory of that new sort of relationship that even now has begun between you and your wife in Jesus Christ.  The relationship between husband and wives is one of the greatest human relationships, second only to that which many of husbands and wives fail to adequately recognize – they are brothers and sisters in the Lord.  They have a spiritual relationship to one another that transcends and rises infinitely higher, yes, even unto glory, than that of husband and wife.  Of wives, Peter writes, “They are heirs with you of the grace of life” 1 Peter 3:7c.  In heaven, we shall see our wives most fully and indescribably as our sisters in the Lord, as heirs with us of Christ’s eternal kingdom, and it is this relationship that even now must be preeminently upon our hearts as we undertake the joy of loving and ministering to them.  Oh, to think upon seeing my bride in her heavenly attire – this dear brothers, changes the way I want to love her.  She is my sister, the queen of my heart.

Seventh, as extensions of the sixth principle, it means treasuring her femininity and honoring her.  Again Peter writes, “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel” 1 Peter 3:7a-b.  Your wife is particular; understand her as such!  Honor her for who and how God has made her – the weaker vessel.  Your wife is a girl!  This is not a biblical cut on women or our wives, but notice, a creational reality to honor.  We should treasure her femininity, compliment her girlish oddities, fan in to flame her particular passions – and be her hero in doing so!  

Eighth, it means being passionate about cultivating, affirming, and encouraging biblical beauty.  Let us not allow our wives to be consumed in hours of primping, and yet, in primping, having spent absolutely no time on becoming more beautiful!  “Do not let your adorning be external – the braiding of hair, the wearing of gold, the putting on of clothing – but let your adornment be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is God’s sight is very precious” 1 Peter 3: 3-4.  How easy is it for us to tell our wives that they need to take a jog, and yet neglect the care and consequent encouragement to pray or read their Bible’s or love people?  Loving our wives as Christian husbands means facilitating their pursuit of that which makes them imperishably beautiful and precious in God’s sight.

Ninth, it means bearing in mind how gospel order witnesses of Christ and the new creation.  A Christian husband and a Christian wife, their marriage, and its order bears witness, good or bad, to the glory of Christ and the Church.  Gospel-ordered marriages are live testimonies of the outworking of the new creation in Christ Jesus to a sin-ordered world.  How you love your wife speaks to the world around you of Christ and the Church.

In sum, how Christian husbands love their particular wives is foundational to our personal fellowship with God.  In fact, to love them unbiblically hinders our prayers, our conversation with our Father in heaven.  Let us then endeavor to love our wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, for only then will we have fulfilled our gracious marital stewardship in a manner worthy of the Lord.  Let us be filled with a Christocentric love for the wives of our youth, those graceful does, those rare rubies in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Question and Answer/Essay 2 of 3 on Practical Christ-Centerdness

The Eternal RELEVANCY of Christ’s Self-Identification

Matt: Who is Jesus Christ and how is His identity applicable to our lives?

Brian: In a culture filled with a thousand voices, each with their own understanding of the Person and work of Jesus Christ, I am especially grateful that God has revealed Himself in the Bible according to His will such that we may go to Christ Himself for the answer to the question, “Who is Jesus Christ?”  In answer to this question you may hear that Jesus is your homeboy, a rabbi, a moral exemplar, a long-haired hippy, a great philanthropist, or a lunatic among other things.  Even amongst His contemporaries, He was deemed one born of sexual immorality, a sinner, a drunkard and a glutton, a blasphemer, a political threat.  

The question offered by Matt for this post is even more nuanced, and I believe presupposes rightly that Christ is the authority on Himself, and on how His self-identification matters for us two thousand years after His earthly existence: “How did Christ view Himself, and why does it matter for us today?”  Allow me to offer a brief discussion of Jesus’ self-identification as the Son of God in Luke 2:49, and then, from His Sonship, nine relevancies for you and me and the entirety of the human race, indeed, for the whole creation that groans with eager expectation for the revealing of the sons of God.

It is not my intention to take up all of the titles and realities into this one idea of Jesus as the Son of God.  I highlight 2:49 for this reason – it is the earliest self-identification of Jesus that we have to my knowledge.  He is 12 years old.  At 12 most youths are wanting to be athletic icons, firefighters, models or a vet (or in my case, a teenage mutant ninja turtle), though at 12 we are not these things, and many of us do not become them.  But Christ, at 12, identifies Himself as the Son of God, calling God His Father!  He doesn’t become this; He is this, and His life is the evidence of it.  Having been “lost”, Joseph and Mary begin to look for Him.  When they find Him in the temple, they are astonished and say, “Son, why have you treated us so?  Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress” (Luke 2:48).  This is the 12 year old Jesus’ reply in verse 49: “Why were you looking for me?  Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”  

A few things must be mentioned here.  First, the temple is not Joseph’s house; it is the place where the Shekinah glory of God rested in 1 Kings 8:11.  And therefore, secondly, Jesus is identifying God as His Father, and as such identifying Himself as God’s Son.  Thirdly, that this identification is the very reason that the Jews sought to kill Him and by the sovereign plan of God succeeded in so doing.  John 5:18, “This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because . . . he was even calling God his own Father, making Himself equal with God.”  Fourthly, that He expected His earthly parents to know this about Him, and rightly so for at least two reasons – first, because angels had told them that this child would be the Son of God (Luke 1:32, 35; Matthew 1:23), and secondly, because the Bible is very plain about this Sonship.  Jesus’ expectation indicates the relevancy of His Sonship, that this was some extremely important for them to know and cherish.  All of this means that the Sonship of Jesus is eternally relevant for you and me.  So exactly how is this relevant to any of us?  Why does Jesus’ identification of Himself as the unique Son of God matter to us?

First, the reality that Jesus is the Son of God divides one man from another into one of two families: you are either a child of God through faith in Jesus, or you are a child of the devil against this Jesus.  Jesus said to the Pharisees who rejected Him, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here.  I came not of my own accord, but he sent me.  Why do you not understand what I say?  It is because you cannot bear to hear my word.  You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. . . . Whoever is of God hears the words of God.  The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God’” John 7:38-44, 47.  Jesus divides those who are children by creation from those who are children by regeneration.   

Second, Jesus’ Sonship uniquely qualified Him to do the work of salvation.  How does it qualify Him?  When Jesus says that He is the Son of God, He is claiming equality with God, and on that basis, He is uniquely qualified for the work of salvation.  Jesus was uniquely qualified to accomplish salvation because He, Himself, is God in the flesh, and only God can save sinners from God.  But Jesus is still further qualified, for not only is He God, but God in the flesh.  In putting on full humanity, Jesus identified with sinners in order to save us from our sins (Hebrews 2:17-18).  His unique Sonship disqualifies everyone and everything else as a way of salvation.

Third, As the Son of God, Jesus is uniquely qualified to atone for sins.  John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  Only the Son of God could do what Jesus did on the cross.  The cross was specifically determined for Jesus alone.  As the God-man Son of God, Jesus by virtue of His infinite value and sinless life, is uniquely qualified to atone for sins.

Fourth, As the Son of God, Jesus is uniquely qualified for enthronement.  Only the Son could inherit God’s throne.  Hebrews 1:8, “But of the Son he (that is, God the Father) says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.’”   As the Son, Jesus is enthroned as the King of kings, and His inheritance includes the nations.

Fifth, And friends, this may or may not be good for you, though I hope it is, that having been uniquely qualified for enthronement, Jesus, as the Son, is uniquely qualified to render judgment.  Acts 17:31 says that God “will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”  Who is the man?  The One raised from the dead – Jesus, the Son of God.  Jesus puts it this way in John’s Gospel, “The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son . . . whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life.  He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:22, 24).  The Son is both the Judge and the standard of judgment; we must repent of our sins, then, and embrace the Son who is the only One whose death on the cross can save sinners, who is the only One who can make guilty sinners innocent.

Sixth, the reality that Jesus is the Son of God means that those who are not children of God can become children of God because God adopts those who trust in His Son, Jesus.  Galatians 4:4-5, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”  In Jesus Christ, God adopts those who were slaves to sin into His family, and makes them sons, princes of His kingdom.  When you embrace Jesus for salvation, God cleanses you of your sin, and makes you just as much a son as Jesus, His only begotten.  

Seventh, having been adopted as sons in Jesus, God blesses us with the Spirit of adoption to help us be what we now are in Jesus, namely, sons of God.  Galatians 4:6, “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’”  God gives His children the Spirit of His Son, Jesus, so that our lives begin to look more and more like that of Jesus, that is, God is our Father and as such He is our refuge when we are tempted to sin.  To be a son of God in Jesus is to desire to love and please the Father supremely.  In our strivings against sin, and pursuits for holiness, we strain for our Father for help and to no one or nothing else.  We are no longer a slave to sin, but cry out to our Father – this cry assures us that we are no longer slaves, for slaves do not care to cry out against that which they love.  But if we love God, then we cry out to him, “Abba! Father!”

Eighth, having been adopted as sons in Jesus, the Father grants us an inheritance.  Galatians 4:7, “So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”  This means that anyone who has believed in Jesus and has thus been adopted by God in Him, receives the inheritance of a son – we receive the Spirit of Christ and new life right now, we receive eternal blessings that have not been uttered, we receive eternal life, we receive eternal enjoyment in everything, we receive eternal freedom from sin and death, disease and discomforts, but best of all, we receive the eternal privilege of communion with God that will never end.  As sons in Jesus, we inherit eternal glory.

Lastly, in light of these things, the Sonship of Jesus commands our affections for Jesus.  When we return to the passage in Luke, we remember that thirteen years earlier, Joseph and Mary had been told of the beauty and grandeur and majesty of this child, Jesus Christ, and they treasured these things up in their hearts.  And then, thirteen years pass by, and the affections grow cold.  The parents of Jesus had forgotten His majesty.  He was their earthly son, and they did not understand Him when He said to them, “Why were looking for me?  Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”  They did not understand such a radically new statement.  Jesus speaks as if they ought to have known the great realities concerning Him.  But they had forgotten with time, and with time downplayed the majesty of Jesus’ deity in favor of His humanity.  This is what happens with everyone of us, even if you are a child of God this morning, having believed in Jesus.  Over time, we become used to Jesus and our hearts are no longer stirred by who He truly is and what He has truly done for us.  Let us consider the full and biblically balanced Christ of glory, the Son of God and perhaps we will be like Mary in Luke 2:51, who at last having seen both His divine majesty (v. 49), and full humanity (v. 51), saw the glory of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and “treasured up all these things in her heart” once more.  So, as we consider the Son, let us also treasure Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Question and Answer/Essay 1 of 3 on Practical Christ-Centeredness (Written For My Good Friend Matt Click)

Matt: What is the danger of a Christ-less Christianity (for example, in our churches and sermons and self-defined holiness), and how can we prevent it?

Brian: In order to examine a Christ-less Christianity, one must first know the biblical Christ.  For while some truly have none of Christ in their “Christianity”, others have only parts of Him, but as Christ is not divided, so to have only elements of the biblical Christ is to have no true Christ at all either.  When God graced humanity with His Word, the Word revealed the biblical Christ, and in Him, the Father.  Therefore, to confess something less than Him whom God has graciously revealed is to fall infinitely short of the Jesus in whom the sinner can be saved and the church sanctified and prepared for eternal glory.

Therefore, the danger of a Christ-less “Christianity” no matter the form it takes is that it is not Christianity in the biblical sense.  There is a clear dividing line here between many who call themselves “Christians”.  This makes understanding and intimately knowing the biblical Christ infinitely essential.  So, I will give one portrait from biblical theology: Jesus is the serpent-crushing seed of Abraham, in whom the nations are being blessed; He is Israel, the firstborn Son of God, perfectly abiding in every word of God’s law; He is the Son of the Father in the Davidic line, whose kingdom shall have no end; He is the Psalm 2 King of kings, indeed, He is the Isaianic Son of a virgin, whose name is Immanuel, “God with us”, and Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace; this Son is no less than God Himself, yes, God in the flesh; and God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us such that in Him we might become the very righteousness of God – this He did by a sinless life, a cross, a bodily resurrection from the dead, and an enthronement at the right hand of the Father in heaven, so that you and I, the worms, might be made princes and princesses of His Kingdom, united to God forever.  Jesus is the God-man, Lord, Savior, and Treasure.

“Christ”-ianity, then, becomes something quite different from what many profess.  One is not able to fashion the Christ that they are comfortable with; no, they must have this Jesus or none at all.  We will either be John’s who rest upon His breast, or Thomas’ who after doubting yet worship Him with the praise, “Lord of me, and God of me,” or we will be Judas’ who look very much like the rest only to discover that He never knew us – we looked good but were devoid of Christ.

The implications of Christ-less Christianity are legion, but they may be summed up in this: it is not Christianity, but a worldly guise.  Let a man call himself “Christian”, let him wear that name loosely, and then go about his life hoping in his morality to save him.  Such morality apart from Christ is only tinsel cast upon the prison cell of sin; it only beautifies the prison, but it remains a prison nonetheless.  No, there must be an earthquake in the soul that shakes the hinges of the prison doors open!  This is the irresistible call of God to Christ alone!  Let a man pray a thousand times over, let him be baptized at one, ten, and again at the age of 50, let him sing in the choir, let him preach sermons, yes, let him be of anthropological elite, but if he has cast not his sinful heart upon the biblical Christ alone, he has only a formalized religion on his side, which are mere trifling, and less than nothing before the holy gaze of God Almighty.  So where does this leave us?

First, Paul encourages the church to test herself.  “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith.  Test yourselves.  Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?-unless indeed you fail to meet the test” (2 Corinthians 13:5).  Notice that Paul is writing to the church at Corinth with this Christ-centered challenge.  The tenor of this verse really begs the question, “How could you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you?”  Faith in Christ alone unites to Christ alone, and where one has been united to Christ alone, the reality and vitality of Christ’s life will work itself inside out by the Spirit of Christ.  And so as not to leave you hanging, that life will be marked by at least 4 indispensable things (John 8:42-47): love for Jesus, love for and thus obedience to His Word, holy desires for God our Father, and as an overflowing stream, love for people without distinction.  Where these are not, there is surely no Christian, and no true Church, and no possibility of any distinctive witness to a Christ-less world.

Second, much blame can be laid at the feet of preachers and teachers in the church who themselves are not Christ-filled.  Now, of course, this is a polarity, but a real one.  But what of those believers whom God has given the desire to pastor, teach, and preach?  “Preach the word” (2 Timothy 4:2a)!  The Word of God is Christ-centered.  Jesus is the Word put on flesh, John 1:14; Christ is the goal of the Scriptures, Luke 24:27; the Bible bears witness to Christ, John 5:39-40, and so we must saturate every word of every sermon manuscript with the sweet honey of Jesus Christ.  Our sermons must be sticky with Christ.  Preach from the Old, yes, preach from the New, but preach Christ alone.  You may say, “I am topical and what has my topic to do with Christ,” or “my people are growing weary of Christ”; then, I say, dear friend, “Christ has everything to do with any topic, indeed, ‘all things were created through Him and for Him’” and to the next, “Preach Christ until they are sick of Him, and perhaps some may be saved, and if not, then at least Christ shall be honored!”  Where does our devotion land my brothers?  To Christ or the masses?  Shall we sacrifice Him again for the sake of popularity?  May it never be!  Let us preach Christ in all the Scriptures; let it be said of you: “He only preached one thing and that was Christ alone!”

Third, and though it has been mentioned above, self-defined holiness is not Christian holiness.  Christian holiness is Christ-defined.  Indeed, Christ is unto us “our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30).  Yes, dear brothers and sisters, go to your Bible studies, to your prayer meetings, flee to the worship service where you can listen to Christocentric preaching and sing songs that magnify His name, but do not trust in them lest you fall again into that damnable pattern of the world.  Christ is our righteousness.  In Christ, God has made us positionally holy, and in Christ, God is making us practically holy, and thus, our holiness is inseparable from that greatest gift of Jesus Christ.  Do not be confused, you who grace the doors of the church building but do not belong to the church of God – God is not mocked!  Christ is your answer; flee from structures you have built for yourself to save you in that day – they will fall woefully short of eternal glory!  Trust Christ, embrace Christ alone!  He will save you in that Day!  

And to close, God has so designed redemption that only His Son could accomplish it, and having done so with infinite perfection, that only His Son was appointed both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36).  Christ, then, must receive all of the glory; Christianity by definition, then, is a Christ-filled reality; herein, a Christ-less “Christianity” falls terribly short of that biblical ideal.

Summer Reading

Well, classes continue.  And with classes comes reading.  This summer I’m taking two classes – Introduction to Family Ministry, June 1-5, and Pastoral Ministry, July 20-24 – these will have their respective books.  In fact, I’ve already put down 2 of the 6 for “Intro” with the help of the Lord.  The first, A Parent Privilege, by Steve Wright was a biblical articulation of the role of parents in the discipling of their children – primary! – and the means by which they can be equipped for this task.  I would call it a necessary book for the majority of parents in the body of Christ.  The second, Humility, by C.J. Mahaney is a much needed discussion on this biblical grace which he calls “true greatness.”  In a sentence, our Lord came not to serve but to be served, and thus, the character of each who abides in Christ is to be marked by such humble servitude.  A good, practical guide into the means of mortifying pride and cultivating Christ-like humility.

The remaining 4 books for the class include:

Advanced Strategic Planning: A New Model for Church and Ministry Leaders, by Aubrey Malphurs (haven’t gotten riveting reviews on this one)

Pastoral Leadership for Manhood and Womanhood, ed. Wayne Grudem and Dennis Rainey

Peacemaking for Families: A Biblical Guide to Managing Conflict in Your Home, by Ken Sande (this sounds like it could go either way, but you can’t judge a book by its cover)

Leading the Team-Based Church: How Pastors and Church Staffs Can Grow Together into a Powerful Fellowship of Leaders, by George Cladis (sounds interesting?)

Between June 6 and the second week of July – call it a month or so – and from July 25 (after my second class of the summer) through the second week of August, I will be reading (hopefully) the following “summer list” of books in no particular order (drum roll please):

Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Psalms 1-50, Ezekiel, Habakkuk, Acts, Romans, Colossians in the Bible, by God

Biblical Theology: A History of Theology from Adam to Christ, by John Owen

The Supremacy of God in Preaching, by John Piper

Dominion and Dynasty: A Biblical Theology of the Hebrew Bible (New Studies in Biblical Theology), by Stephen Dempster

From Every People and Nation: A Biblical Theology of Race (New Studies in Biblical Theology), by Daniel Hays

Salvation to the Ends of the Earth: A Biblical Theology of Mission (New Studies in Biblical Theology), by Andreas Kostenberger and Peter T. O’Brien

The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God (New Studies in Biblical Theology), by G.K. Beale

The Mission of God, by Christopher Wright

The Cross of Christ, by John Stott

Christ and Culture, by D.A. Carson

Augustine of Hippo, by Peter Brown or The Life and Diary of David Brainerd, by Jonathan Edwards (haven’t decided between these two for the biography of the summer)

The Faith of Israel, by William Dumbrell

No Place for Truth: Or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology?, by David Wells

That’s all for now – I’ll let you know how I’m doing, what I’m gleaning, and how these agree or disagree with God’s Word – the standard by which all is judged.  Looks like a summer of fun and gracious expectation!