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Mature Believers

As believers in the Great Commission, we must never become content just with winning people to Jesus Christ. Jesus told us to “make disciples,” not just make converts. Discipleship training must follow conversion or chaos will take place.

The church in Corinth is a good case study in how a new church should not run.

The new believers lived in a pagan city with a bad reputation. Throughout the Roman Empire, the stereotype of the typical Corinthian was a drunkard or a harlot. Many new Corinthian Christians came out of this mold. They were not use to self-discipline. They had multiple bad habits to overcome. Like young children, Corinthian Christians were divisive, loud, self-indulgent, disorderly, rude, selfish, manipulative and argumentative. They revealed a “me-first” attitude. They exhibited many impressive spiritual gifts, but they didn’t know how to use them wisely—like a ten-year-old boy behind the wheel of a car.

Paul indicates the Corinthian believers were truly Christ-followers, but they lacked maturity. Like a good father, Paul wrote to remind them that God is a God of order, not confusion. To remind them of their childish ways, Paul said, “Shall I come to you with a rod?”

The problem-filled Corinthian church was like many of our own churches today, and the new churches we plant in places where the gospel has never gone before. Whatever age or culture, many churches are often filled with disorder, threatening their ministries. In his letters to the Corinthians, Paul presents three metaphors to serve as models for a dynamic and orderly church:

  1. Mature-BelieversThe runner. Believers must train themselves like runners-in-training. Runners organize their diets, sleep, exercise and habits to prepare their bodies and minds for the coming race. The race becomes their chief priority, and all other things become secondary. Good pastors and elders serve as coaches to prepare their congregations for the coming race of life. Earthly races reward winners with perishable rewards. The final goal of the Christian’s race is resurrection and eternal life with an eternal God. This requires putting aside old habits of thought and action that distract us from effective preparation.
  2. The body of Christ. Just as the body has many parts that work together in unity, so the church is made up of many people with many gifts who must learn to work together in unity. Each person has a different but critical role to play. The Head of the Church is Jesus Christ. As we listen to our Head and respect each other’s role, we will accomplish much together for the glory of God and the advancement of His kingdom in the world around us.
  3. The virgin bride. In 2 Corinthians 11:2, Paul likens the church to a virgin bride awaiting her husband (Jesus Christ), untainted by impure doctrines by false teachers. Pure doctrine is essential for a truly dynamic church that bears much fruit.

Whether we live in the West or India, we all face the challenge of immaturity and disorder in our churches. We have much to learn from the Corinthians. Thank God for His patience with us! Let us reckon ourselves dead to sin and alive to Him, and learn to run the race together in unity and purity of doctrine, and the whole world will look on in wonder at His grace.

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He Welcomes You

Reconciliation does not equal intimacy. Two enemies may reconcile but never become true friends. They no longer fight, but they have little contact.

How many Christians secretly live lives like this? They know Jesus has reconciled them to God, but in heaven, they believe, they will dwell on the outskirts because they fail so miserably.

Is this a common Christian experience? Is this why many Christians judge others for their sins as they try to deal with their own uncertainties? Is this why so many Christians feel no joy, become over-involved in “church work,” or hang around the “fringes of faith?”

Many people are convinced that only certain special individuals can achieve true godliness. Catholics have their “saints,” but in different ways, Protestants do, too. These misled brothers and sisters are reconciled to God, but do not believe intimacy with Him is possible because they know their many flaws and failures.

How foreign to the Good News! In Romans 5, Paul tells us that we who are of Christ belong to a new kingdom, a new human race—now! We no longer belong to the kingdom of the first Adam, the kingdom of sin and death. Through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, we are “in” the Second Adam, Jesus Christ.

That means whatever is true about Jesus Christ is true of us. We have a new standing with God. Christ is forever, once and for all, dead to sin and death, so are we. Though Christ died, death did not have the last word. So it is with us.

He-Welcomes-YouChrist enjoys eternal fellowship with the Father. So do we. In Ephesians 2:18, Paul tells us that we have “access to the Father.” The Greek indicates the highest possible intimacy with God the Father, like Jesus has with Him. It doesn’t depend upon what we do or how we feel, it depends upon Him and what He has done on the cross.

All this requires us to dramatically rearrange our thinking. The Welsh preacher, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, compares our new position in Christ to that of a newly freed American slave. The laws changed, but many former slaves had difficulty accepting their new freedom. They didn’t know how to relate to their old masters. Only when they learned new habits of thinking did they live in the freedom the law said they already had.

Like Abraham, we must believe because God said it, not when we feel good about ourselves. In one of the most remarkable passages of scripture, Paul tells us to reckon ourselves dead to sin and alive to God (Romans 6:11). In other words, regard it as accomplished fact.

Paul tells us to become transformed by the renewing of our minds—by changing our habits of thinking—so we recognize that God already loves us and welcomes our company as He welcomes the company of His Son.

When we see Him face to face, we will be like Him. We will not live on the fringes of heaven, but become part of His inner circle. When we learn to see ourselves the way God already sees us, we will live in the freedom that is already ours.

This is Good News for everybody who will hear it! Let’s make sure they do!

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Purpose in Persecution

Purpose-in-PersecutionBenjamin Franklin once said, “In this world, nothing is certain except death and taxes.”

For the Christian, we can add one more item: persecution.

In recent days, we have read and heard much about persecuted Christians around the world. In the Middle East, we hear about attacks by ISIS and Christians driven from their homes because of their faith. Even young children experience beatings, beheading and crucifixion because they refuse to give up their faith in Jesus.

This is not new in the history of Christ’s church. Persecution is inevitable for all who truly follow Christ and reflect His life and character. As Jesus faced His own crucifixion and death, He told His disciples, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:21).

A truly godly person may even find himself rejected by religious people who call themselves “Christian.” They may be moral and upstanding citizens who have compromised with the standards of the world in some way. These are people who rely upon their own goodness to gain entry into heaven. Such people do not understand those who trust only the grace of God to save them.

When Jesus walked this earth, the religious people of the day were the Pharisees. John tells us that “even among the rulers, many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees, they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (John 12:42-44).

Persecution for Christians means to have a share in Jesus’ suffering and resurrection. Jesus suffered, died and rose again, bringing life to all who trust in Him. Our suffering echoes His. Christian suffering is not in vain. God uses persecution to bear much fruit for His kingdom. The gates of hell come against the believer, but in the end, cannot prevail.

Persecution often results in divided families. Some will follow Christ, others will not. Those who do not follow Christ will hate those who do. Families will disown, betray and even kill members who trust in Jesus.

Persecution does not mean shame and humiliation. Jesus tells us that those who experience persecution will receive words and wisdom from the Holy Spirit which will baffle their enemies (Luke 21:15).

How should the Christian respond to persecution? Jesus tells us we must love our persecutors, bless those who curse us, do good to those who hate us and pray for those who treat us with spite (Matthew 5:44). This makes us like God who shows His love to all, even those who hate Him. To follow the path of love and forgiveness has brought many others to Christ.

A good example of this is Elizabeth Elliot whose husband, Jim, died at the hands of savage Auca Indians to whom he tried to present the gospel. Instead of going home in defeat, Elizabeth Elliot and her young daughter went to the savages themselves, and today, most of these people have committed their lives to Jesus Christ.

We must choose now to suffer momentary affliction for the sake of eternal reward, trusting God who judges all people justly (1 Peter 2:24). We must keep in mind that God has later turned persecutors into messengers of the gospel. Paul, the greatest missionary of all, is witness to what God will do.

Not even persecution can stop the gospel from reaching all the peoples of the world, but God will use it to accomplish His holy purposes.

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Abide in Me

Abide In Me“Abide in me…he who abides in me bears much fruit.” This is the essence of maturity.

Jesus spoke these words to His disciples just before His crucifixion. They are not mystical or religious words, but relational.

God is sovereign. He is also a Person we can know and trust. His love for each of us has no measure. He is so trustworthy and loving, we can lean on His understanding rather than our own. Maturing Christians trust His inspired written Word because His Word speaks from His character, and His character speaks only truth.

What does it mean to “abide in Christ?”
“Abide.” This means to remain, to have consistency. Maturing Christian are not “in and out and back again.” They are not moved by outside forces, emotions or opinions of others.

“In.” In a good marriage, two people immerse themselves into the relationship and become “one.” As we immerse ourselves into our relationship with Christ, we learn to become “one” with His thoughts, passions, actions and strength. He already knows us completely and loves us.

“Me.” Trust in Christ alone. Maturing Christians don’t just read good books about Christ, but come to know Christ in the practical issues and challenges of life.

Maturing Christians know that a moral and religious life is not the same as to abide in Christ. Maturing Christians know Christ died and rose again, not for humanity in general but for them. They know He has done for them what no one else can do, and He did it when they were still sinners. That becomes a growing reason to trust Him in everything.

Jesus Christ gives His children the Holy Spirit to teach “all things.” Maturing Christians learn to fully trust only what Jesus Christ gives through His Spirit’s inspiration and His Word.

Maturing Christians become more aware of their imperfections, but they also become more aware of Christ’s perfections. They learn to put aside their lesser understanding for Christ’s greater understanding. Maturing Christians want to listen to God because every time God speaks to them, they receive life, truth and strength they receive from no other source. They learn to seek His word in all issues of life.

Maturing Christians learn that to abide in Christ means to bear much fruit. To bear fruit takes many forms, depending upon our personalities, abilities and circumstances:

  • We show the fruit of the Spirit.
  • We express gifts of the Spirit.
  • We carry God’s priceless treasure in bodies of clay.
  • We live in bodies that die, but our mortal lives reflect glimpses of heaven.
  • Even non-Christians see the difference, and many will hunger for it.

The greatest ministries come through people who give up on themselves and abide in Christ. They let His life flow through them into whatever calling God places upon them. This applies not only to pastors, evangelists and missionaries, but to all who abide in Christ.

Paul says it all: I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20).

Christian maturity is a continually growing relationship with Christ. As we learn to abide in Christ, others will see “Christ in us, the hope of glory.”

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His Witnesses

witnessThree years before he became President, Abraham Lincoln, then a lawyer, was called to defend an old family friend accused of murder. The murder took place at night, and a key witness said that he saw the defendant kill the man “by the light of the full moon.” This seemed compelling evidence, beyond reasonable doubt.

However, during cross-examination, Lincoln used a simple almanac to prove that on the night of the murder, there was no full moon. The accuser could not have seen what he claimed to see.

Today, we all stand accused by Satan of crimes against our Creator. His evidence against us appears beyond reasonable doubt: we all stand guilty before God. But through Jesus Christ, God has evidence on our behalf that saves us from our arch-accuser, Satan.

Before He ascended into heaven, Jesus told His disciples that they would become His witnesses to His power to save, and that their witness would carry them to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).

What kind of compelling “witness” did Jesus have in mind for us? How effective is our “witness” to others?

The Greek word for “witness” used by Luke has more than one meaning. First, a “witness” is one who speaks from first-hand experience about actions in which he participates. Specifically, this “witness” means our testimony to others of our relationship with Jesus Christ and what God has done in our lives.

Second, a “witness” is one who makes an evangelistic confession of specific truths. In Luke 24, Jesus said that this “witness” must include the truths involving His suffering and death on the cross and His resurrection on the third day—the key to our salvation. It must declare the need for repentance from sin to receive forgiveness and reconciliation with God.

Luke tells us that Jesus sent His disciples forth on their mission as “witnesses” with the promise of His Father and the power of the Holy Spirit. In other words, an effective witness depends upon trust in the word of God to empower us and bless our witness in great and marvelous ways.

Before He left them, Jesus grounded their “witness” firmly in the scriptures. He systematically showed them how the entire Old Testament—“the law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms”—was the foundation for His saving life, death and resurrection.

In short, effective “witness” comprises four major elements for compelling communication to others: (1) personal experience, (2) clear evangelistic confession, (3) trust in Holy Spirit power and (4) solid biblical foundations. If one or more of these elements is lacking, our “witness” suffers, and a needy world fails to hear the Good News and escape Satan’s accusations.

How well are we doing? Is our society becoming more or less committed to the Christ of our “witness”? Too often, we must admit, our words and actions have denied Jesus. Too often, we have played the coward, fleeing from opportunities and hiding from opposition.

Clearly, as we read our daily news today, we have much for which to repent. But let us not become discouraged. Let us remember that the success of the disciples’ witness followed only after their own abject failures and cowardice. Let us heed their example of repentance, for God’s forgiveness and renewal is the same yesterday, today and forever.

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