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Jesus is King — Take Dominion in His Name!

“Which he worked in Christ, raising him from the dead and sitting him at the right hand in the heavenly places above every ruler and authority and power and dominion and every name which has been named — not only in this age but also in that which is to come.”

(Ephesians 1:20-21)

One of the beauties of Paul’s letters is not only is he a systematic thinker who lays out the depths of theology before the church of Jesus Christ, but also that he occasionally breaks out into benedictions. It is an ongoing reminder to us that while the Christian faith does have intellectual content, that content of our faith ought always draw us to bask in the awe that we have for our savior. How remarkable and amazing is our God! Truth about Him and praise for Him must never be made separate. As the Sons of Korah wrote:

“Great is Yahweh! Worthy of Praise! 

In the city of our God and on his holy mountain!”

(Psalm 48:2, verse 1 in English translations)

Yet, we must not stop here, presuming that this is merely an expression of Paul’s awe for our Savior. For indeed, in praising Christ, he lays out an important principle. The principle is that Jesus is enthroned over all creation. He is not waiting for some future reign as some Christians would suggest, but he already reigns from heaven on high. And he reigns over all things. He certainly reigns over his church, which Paul will bring out in the verses that follow, but he rules over nations and powers and authorities in heaven and earth. He has been exalted on high and before him every knee shall bow and tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. Jesus’ reign over creation is not that of a coming and future King, but it is that of a present and eternal King.

One of the sad things in the world today is that many Christians behave and act as if they are a people without a king. They are waiting as it were, but they see no royal authority in power, only chaos reigning on earth. Many behave, then, as if it did not matter how they lived and many more behave as if this world is a fearful place. My friends, that is not the attitude of the Apostle Paul. No. He sees Christ exalted on his throne and ruling over the world. Indeed, the enemy has sought to usurp power and hold territory that is not his own, but it is our role as the church to attack such ideas and to engage the enemy with the confidence that only comes from the knowledge that our King reigns over all creation — things in heaven and on earth and under the earth. We have nothing to fear in the created order — only Him who has redeemed us from death. 

Think about how radically our culture would change if the church adopted the mindset of the Apostle Paul rather than the mindset of the defeatists. At times, I have been accused of being a “triumphalist” in my theology. To that, I say, “so be it,” for indeed, if I am triumphalistic, then the Apostle Paul is even mores. Christ reigns over all creation and he has commissioned us to take dominion of all creation through the Gospel — by making disciples of all nations. Shall we take dominion over the creation in the name of our glorious King or shall we return to our petty squabbles, fighting to preserve our own little insignificant places on the rock we call earth? What will it be?

Hourly Wages

At this stage in my life, I have pretty much worked under just about every form of remuneration that is out there. As with many, I began work collecting an hourly wage. As a manager for Domino’s Pizza, I was paid salary plus commission, where my salary was modest, but I was able to earn an additional commission based on the profitability of the store I operated. When I was a mechanic’s apprentice, I was paid by “flat-rate,” which meant every job was assigned to it an “hourly value” and thus, if I was efficient, I could be paid for 60 hours of work in a 40 hour week. Then again, I had to be present for those 40 hours whether there was work or not. When I installed carpet, I was paid piece-rate, which meant that I was paid for every square yard of carpet I installed, no matter how much time it took, and, when the work was done, I went home. Then, as a teacher and a pastor, I have been paid a salary. About the only way I have not been paid has been on straight-commission. 

The reality is that most of us don’t have a choice in how we get paid. If we want to go to work for so-in-so company, we will accept whatever arrangement of payment that they offer. At the same time, I must be forthright that the way I have most preferred to be paid has been via piece-rate. In this model, you get paid for what you produce, so there is a clear correlation between the paycheck and the work you have done. Also, if you happen to have extra expenses or financial needs, you can simply do more work (assuming that it is available) to earn the extra pay. It is the closest thing you will get to being self-employed…and in fact, for much of the time I spent being paid piece-rate, I was self-employed. 

My least favorite forms of payment have either been salary or hourly wages. The benefit, of course, with salary is that you always know what your paycheck will be — week in and week out — and thus, it is easy to budget. The drawback is that your time is never truly your own and you never really have the opportunity to make extra money by working more hours (unless you go to work for someone else!). It is assumed that busy weeks and slow weeks will balance themselves out and thus there is no “over-time” for busy weeks and there are no lean weeks.

My problem with hourly wages is that it causes me to watch the clock. I recognize that this is my own weakness, but I have known many who have shared similar experiences. Yes, you do get paid over-time for additional work done and thus there are avenues to make more money when you need it in the family budget (assuming there is work to justify it), but when it is slow, especially, my attention is regularly drawn to wondering, “what time is it?” or “how much longer before I can go home.” And, frankly, I don’t like thinking like that. We should thrive in the work we do and we should view it as a God-given task by which we are commissioned to build Christ’s Kingdom. And, it’s on this aspect of the hourly wage that I want to build my analogy.

It is my fear that too many Christians have become “clock-watchers,” just biding their time until Jesus comes again. If you have spent any time reading these missives, you know that one of my complaints about the “pop-theology” of our culture is that people have a defeatist attitude and assume that the only thing that will right the wrongs of this world is the return of Jesus and the best we can hope to do is to hold onto our faith and survive until that day. People are essentially “watching the clock,” waiting for Jesus’ return, so they can go home and be done the work that makes them miserable. 

Yet, Jesus says that we are to “engage in business until I come” (Luke 19:13). The King James, more famously, translates this phrase as “occupy until I come,” emphasizing the Dominion Mandate that is continued in the Great Commission. In fact, repeatedly in Jesus’ parables, the faithful servant is described as working to build the Kingdom while the lazy and wicked servant is simply biding his time. The thing is, we are not supposed to just watch the clock or bide our time; we are called to work, to do business, to take dominion of the world by making disciples of the nations. 

One of the devastating effects of the Evangelical sub-culture which has retreated from society is that the world is not being subdued and the strongholds of hell are growing rather than being torn down. Every thought is not being taken captive and the fools, who reject the knowledge of God, are rising to power. It is not our job to simply “survive with our faith in tact” until Jesus comes again to defeat his enemies, it is our job to destroy those strongholds with the weapons of our warfare (2 Corinthians 10:4-6). Do we not believe that we will be given victory in Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:57)? Do we not believe that our faith is the victory that has overcome the world (1 John 5:4)? Do we not believe that Jesus has disarmed the rulers and powers of this world so we may triumph over them in faith (Colossians 2:15)?

Where is the triumphant faith that turned the world upside down in the first centuries AD? Where is the bold and victorious faith that reshaped the mind and worship of Europe and then the world during the Reformation? Yes, it remains present in segments, but so much of the church has fallen into the trap of seeking an hourly wage and nothing more. Instead of living bold and triumphant, transforming the culture, too much of the church is subsistence-living, seeking entertainment that dulls the senses of one’s faith. How long will the Lord allow his church to sleep and what will he say to her when he stands in judgment and she returns but one “talent” of faith that she has kept hidden underground?

Learning War…the Christian Life

“And the Sons of Israel once again did the Evil in the eyes of Yahweh when Ehud died. Ans Yahweh sold them into the hand of Yabiyn who reigned in Chatsor; the commander of his army was Siysera, who dwelled in Charosheth-Hagoyim.

(Judges 4:1-2)

Again, note that Shamgar seems to be an overlapping judge as the account of the people’s fall into sin and God giving them into the hands of Jabin follows the death of Ehud. As for names, while we know the king of Hazor as Jabin in the English language (in fact, the letter “J” is more or less a more modern invention, originally being a variant of the letter “I” when “I” was used as a consonant and not as a vowel…). Similarly, the “Ch” of Chatsor would be pronounced as a hard sound, like the ch in “Loch Ness.”

Hazor is in the northern portion of Canaan, just north of what we would know as the Sea of Galilee.  We are also introduced to Sisera, the general of Jabin’s armies and the man who will become the enemy of God’s people due to his harsh oppression and his mighty force of chariots.

As we continue into this account, let us not lose sight of two things…first that the oppression is a direct result of the sin of the people…they continue to do “The Evil” in the eyes of God. And second, we must remember that God is disciplining his people in this specific way so that they will learn the art of war (see Judges 3:2). God could have chosen a variety of ways to discipline his own, but this was what God deemed proper, not only with respect to defending their homeland, but also to the end of taking the whole of the territory that God had promised to the people.

To put this notion into perspective requires us to look at history. At the creation, God gave Adam and Eve dominion over the whole of the world (Genesis 1:28). Of course, after the Fall everything changed. Yet, as God brings Abraham into the land, the promise of dominion is renewed, but on a smaller scale — the land of Canaan is promised, but with much larger borders than we typically think of — these borders extend from the Euphrates river to the Nile and as far north as what we would call modern-day Turkey (Genesis 15:18-21). Yet, once again, the people fell into sin and never took over the land.

Later, after the Resurrection of Christ, Jesus affirms in what we know as the Great Commission that the “Dominion Mandate” of Adam has been renewed in Christ, for “all” authority in “heaven and on earth” was given to Him (Matthew 28:18). We are told in that same passage that the dominion will be enacted through the spread of the Gospel and the process of making disciples of all the nations (Matthew 28:19-20). In turn, at the Ascension, the same commission is given to the Apostles — a restored Dominion Mandate, where they are to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

Sadly, much like the history of the Judges, the history of the church has been marked by falling into sin again and again and Christians have been unable to fulfill this mandate and commission. We are given the instruction that we are to tear down the strongholds of the devil in this world and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God (sounds an awful lot like the discipleship portion of the Great Commission! — 2 Corinthians 10:4-6), we are given the promise that the gates of Hell cannot prevail against the forward march of the church when we seek to tear down these strongholds (Matthew 16:18), and we are given spiritual armor to fight these battles (Ephesians 6:10-20; 1 Thessalonians 5:8; Romans 13:12). We are even given the weapons to do battle in the Word of God (Hebrews 4:12). This sounds a lot like military language, does it not? Has not God chosen to teach us war as well? Yet, this war is spiritual in nature as we fight against the spiritual forces of evil that have entrenched themselves in this world (Ephesians 6:12).

Ultimately a new Judge will come to restore us to peace…that is the Lord Jesus Christ who will destroy those who oppress his people and who will restore peace and freedom from “The Evil” all of the land that belongs to him — the whole earth. And, just as the people remain faithful during the lifetime of the Judge who delivers them, so too will the people remain faithful to Christ for his entire lifetime…and he lives and reigns forever! Praise be to God!

We are told that the things we find in the Old Testament are meant as shadows of the fulfillment found in Christ (Colossians 2:17; Hebrews 8:5; 10:1). Let us not lose sight of that. And let us also not lose sight of the reality that we have been called to a lifetime of war, not peace, as we live out the great Commission in this world…but note something, war is to be had with the enemy, not with those inside of the church body we might not agree with…how often the church has gotten that principle backwards.

The Inheritance of God

“He chose our inheritance for us — the splendor of Jacob, whom he loves! Selah!”

(Psalm 47:4 {verse 5 in English Translations})

 

In the immediate sense, the psalmist is clearly thinking about how God is the one who not only brought the people into Canaan, casting out the Canaanites, but also that it is God who set aside the promised land in the first place and that it is God who gave to each tribe of Jacob a portion and an inheritance in the land. The only exception being the Levites, who were scattered as ministers of grace throughout the land and whose inheritance was God himself.

That statement in itself is enough to dig deeply into, but there is more to what is in sight. You see, an inheritance is something that is secured by the Father and then given to the children. Indeed, such is the way that God brought Israel into the land, scattering armies and nations ahead of them by divine might, but that also takes us back to another inheritance that was given — that of the world to Adam and Eve and repeated in a slightly different form in the Great Commission. No longer is Christ’s church bounded by physical and geographic borders, but wherever the Spirit will lead we must go. As the old hymn goes, “In Christ there is no east or west, in him no south or north!”

What is very sad, as you look at ancient Israel, is how far shy of the original boundaries that God set that they came. The original promise given to Abraham included everything bounded by the Nile River in Egypt to the Euphrates River to the East (Genesis 15:18) — yet Israel never realized those borders because of their unfaithfulness to the inheritance they were given. Yet, are we as Christians any less culpable? Truly, in 2000 years of the church age, should we not have been able to spread the Gospel to every corner of the earth? Yet we have not. There are numerous people groups that have neither heard the Gospel nor have access to the scriptures in their native tongue. How sad it is that we too have failed to take the inheritance that our heavenly Father has secured in his Son and given to us.

May the “selah” — the triumphal lifting of ones voices — be a call to us today, here and now, to refocus our hearts and our lives. Let us not remain complacent, but with missionary zeal, may we fill the earth with the Gospel — for this is the inheritance that God has given to us — to we who are true Israel through faith in Jesus Christ — we for whom God has demonstrated his great love by giving us his son Jesus for our salvation.

 

The Seed and the Gates of Hell

“And the Angel of Yahweh called to Abraham — a second time from heaven. And he said, ‘In myself I swear, utters Yahweh; because of this thing that you have done in not sparing your son, your only one, I will surely bless you and your seed will surely be great as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the lip of the sea. And your seed will take possession of the gates of his enemies. And in your seed will all the nations of the earth be blessed on account of your obeying my voice.”

(Genesis 22:15-18)

 

“Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed; he did not say, ‘and to the seeds,’ as if it were to many, but to one. ‘And to your seed,’ which is Christ.”

(Galatians 3:16)

 

The promise of God’s blessing does not go out to all of Abraham’s children, but through Isaac and his line. But when we get to the New Testament, a greater depth to God’s plan and design is unfolded in a way that helps us to see the plan and work of God. For in the ultimate sense, it is not through one’s biology that one inherits the promise of God, but through the great “Seed” or “Offspring” of Abraham, that is Jesus Christ. Jesus is the seed that was always in view here and the promise finds its meaning and fulfillment in Christ Jesus. Through faith in him, not through our biological lineage, we are made part of the inheritance of God.

Indeed, such was always the case, for it has always been through faith that men have been saved. Abraham believed (had faith in) God and it was counted to him as righteousness (Romans 4:3). And Paul continues that the promised does not come through the Law or works of the Law, but through the Righteousness of Faith (Romans 4:13). Why is this? It is because if we were able to earn salvation on our own merit, not only would the idea of God sending a Savior become nonsensical, but then there would also be no room for grace (Romans 4:16).

But if it is by grace, it is no longer by works, for grace would no longer be grace.

(Romans 11:6)  

And thus, when God makes this promise to Abraham, he intentionally uses the singular of “seed” or “offspring” to make it clear that the inheritance is being guaranteed by one very special and distinct offspring of Abraham, Jesus the Christ. And in Christ, though faith, a multitude of believers from all of the nations have been brought in. How will the seed become a blessing to all of the nations? Surely, there is no greater blessing that comes than from hearing and believing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Even here, in the promise given to Abraham, is the anticipation of the worldwide evangelistic campaign of believers seeking to fulfill the Great Commission.

And what about the gates of their enemies? That sounds pretty militaristic, particularly for a nation that has spent most of its history under the dominion of other nations. Again, we find language that anticipates the church and the consummation of all things. For what is it that Jesus tells Peter when he establishes the church?

And now I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.  (Matthew 16:18)

Notice the language of the Gates of Hell? As Christians, who is our enemy? All too often we get stuck in the mindset that there is no spiritual reality. Yet, what is it that the Apostle Paul teaches us regarding our true enemies?

“Put on the whole armor of God so that you will be able to stand against the schemes of the devil because we are not engaged against blood and flesh but against rulers and against powers and against the cosmic powers over this darkness and against the spiritual powers of evil in the heavens.”

(Ephesians 6:11-12)

Indeed, the gates of the enemy promised to Abraham are the gates of the strongholds of our enemy the devil. And like the Israelites were to put the cities of the pagan Canaanites to the sword, devoting them to destruction, we too are given the call to devote the spiritual strongholds in this world to destruction as well, for God will give us the gate of our enemies (2 Corinthians 10:4-6).

Yet with promises like this, how is it that Christians live such a timid life? It seems that we have abandoned the weapons of our warfare. We have abandoned discipline and discipleship and we have abandoned prayer. Sure, we may pray over our meals or for a friend who is having a hard time, but do we really pray with the expectation that God will act in this world? We may do our Bible studies, but do we really study the Bible as if we really believe that it is profitable for us in every area and venture of our lives (2 Timothy 3:16-17)? We read about putting on the whole armor of God, guarding our mind with the helmet of salvation and our hearts with righteous activity, but do we really seek to live that out? When we have a headache, what is our first action? Take an aspirin or pray? Not that there is anything wrong with taking an aspirin, God has blessed us with many medications and remedies for our aches and pains, but what do we do first? Do we live and act as if there are spiritual realities around us? If we do not, we are engaged in warfare with the wrong enemy … and we wonder why we are not prevailing!

The Culture Wars

In Christian circles, we talk a lot about the culture wars and at least vaguely, I think, most people have some sense of what is meant by that. As we look around us, the western culture has grown more secular and less markedly “Christian” as a whole and the culture war is the crusade that many have engaged themselves in to turn back the cultural influence toward one that is more markedly Christian. And, as one who has spoken and written on the importance of Christians living out their faith in every aspect of life (both inside of the church and outside of the church), this cause is one toward which I am very sympathetic. Having said that, can we talk?

First of all, I am not entirely convinced that we are going about things the right way in terms of what we are trying to achieve. Is it the culture we are called by Jesus to redeem or is it the people we are called to evangelize? One might respond that both go hand in hand, and they do, but which comes first, the chicken or the egg? The group that would broadly be defined as leading the culture war would argue that as we see a change in the culture, we will see a change in the people. There is a certain degree of truth to this line of thinking as it would seem that most people will go with the flow and do what is acceptable to the culture.

When the “Blue Laws” were in place, people’s lives revolved around church because there was little else to do. There is no question as to the sociological benefit of these laws as even the most basic moral teaching of the Bible affects people’s lives and behavior. Yet, when the Blue Laws were repealed, church attendance dropped, which indicates that the percentage who left were only there because of the cultural expectations upon them and not because they had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Jesus did say that in the final judgment there will be many who will cry out, “Lord, Lord!” and to whom Jesus will say, “Get away from me, I never knew you” (Matthew 7:21-23). So, did the “Christianization” of the culture build the church? The church as an institution perhaps was built up, but the word “Church,” in a Biblical sense, normally refers to a body of believers that have been called out from the world and into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Arguably, then, the church was not built up by simply existing within a Christian culture.

It should be noted that we use the term “culture” in a variety of different ways. In addition, we talk about cultures and sub-cultures within a given culture. There are also various “cultural expressions” that people may embrace as well as the “culture” of certain pieces of music, art, or literature. In addition, when you are sick and go to the doctor, he or she may take a swab and apply it to the back of your throat to take a “culture” to see what kind of bacteria may be developing in your body. So, when we talk about a “Culture War,” what kind of culture are we talking about and is that even the proper term that we ought to be throwing about?

Typically, when speaking of a “Culture War,” we are referring (as do sociologists) to those shared norms, ethics, linguistic expressions, histories, folk-stories, values, and beliefs that bind a group of people together. We might talk broadly of the “Western” culture that has been dominated by the thought of the Greek Philosophers and Latin thinkers, the European Renaissance, and the Christian religion (as this was the dominant influence in the development of Europe for well over 1,000 years.

We might narrow the discussion down further and talk about the “American” culture or even about the evangelical sub-culture within America, but bottom line, it still gets back to these shared beliefs and histories that bind a people together. But how do these beliefs get propagated? Certainly they are not innate as cultural expression varies widely throughout the world. They are taught then, by one generation to the next, either intentionally or unintentionally, by those who hold said beliefs. And unless one makes a deliberate effort to “break out” of a cultural norm, that culture will continue into another generation.

Interestingly enough, the word “culture” comes from that Latin term colere, which means “to cultivate or tend,” and was originally used to describe the way that a farmer would work the ground and tend to the crops that he has planted. This is a valuable note because there is nothing unintentional about the way a field is cultivated. The farmer chooses how he prepares and fertilizes the plot of land, the kinds of seeds that are sown, and the way those plants are tended and harvested. Similarly, culture is created by those within the community.

Yet, if culture is created by those within the community, does the idea of a “culture war” really make any sense at all? It presents a picture of workers in a field warring over which seeds to plant — one side fighting to plant corn and the other fighting to plant wheat. Does it not make more sense to focus on changing the hearts of the planters?

Prejudice is one of the things that people have been trying hard to change in our culture (and rightly so). And in many areas, the work has been very successful. But what is bringing the most success? Is it laws that are written outlawing prejudice or is it people’s hearts being changed and choosing not to propagate the prejudices of their parents in the lives of their children? I would suggest that the latter is the tactic being used with success. I would also suggest that the families where people marry across ethnic lines is where you will see the most pronounced removal of the prejudices because hearts change when people are in fellowship with one another.

Does this mean that Christians should not engage the culture? Of course not, we are called to tear down the strongholds of Satan in this world (2 Corinthians 10:3-6). As Christians, we should express the faith that we hold in every area of life. That being said, we will not fulfill the Great Commission by once again having Christian thought and principles dominate the cultural norm; the Great Commission needs to be fulfilled by discipling people. And for people to be discipled, their hearts must first be changed by the power of the Gospel.

One final note on this line of thinking from the five years that I taught Bible in a Christian Academy. It was amazing how often I had students who could answer all of the questions correctly on a Bible or a Worldview test but when left on their own, would live as an unbeliever. The culture at the Christian School was intentionally Christian. The curriculum was also designed to foster a Christian worldview. As teachers and administrators, we had won the “Culture War” at our school (at least on the surface). Yet, we had many kids who could live in the Christian culture, yet were not being discipled because the Christian culture was not the culture that they had embraced as their own. The solution for the school environment was not to institute more rules or to offer more Christian “cultural” experiences. The solution is to get to the heart of the student and apply the Gospel in the hopes and prayers that God would regenerate their dead hearts and give them life.

The school tends to be a microcosm of the community and the Christian school is a microcosm of a community that is dominated by Christian culture. If we aim to change hearts by changing the visible culture, we will likely lose both. Yet, when hearts are changed, the culture will be changed by default. The “Culture War” as described is at best a crusade that will change small pockets of life — we may take the promised land by force, but for how long will it be held? Instead, let us wage war against the powers and principalities of Satan, seeking to evangelize the hearts of men, for this will be the “Holy War” that will bring long-lasting and spiritual fruit.

The Ethic of Authenticity

“You are the light of the world; it is not possible for a city established on a mountaintop to hide.  Nor does one light a lamp and set it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, thus it illuminates the whole house.  In this way, shine your light before mankind so they might see your good works and glorify your Father who is in Heaven.”

(Matthew 5:14-16)

When we talk about ethics, usually questions of morality come to mind.  The dictionary defines ethics in terms of moral principles that guide a person’s or a group’s behavior.  It also refers to a study of the “rightness” or “wrongness” of any given action.  This rightness or wrongness ultimately is determined by a standard of some sort—for many, it is society (which leads to despotism) or their own preferences (which leads to chaos and anarchy), for the Christian, the standard is the Bible and specifically the Ten Commandments (along with Jesus’ summary of the 10 Commandments, that we are to love God with our whole being and to love our neighbor as ourselves).

As Christians, we are pretty used to hearing the language of moral norms and guidelines, though oftentimes, we approach them in practice more as practical suggestions than as absolute laws.  God commands us to make no idols, yet we idolize celebrities; we are called not to use the Lord’s name for vain purposes, yet many use church or their Christian profession simply as a way to generate more business.  We are called to keep the Sabbath holy, yet treat it as we would any other day.  We speak of a high moral calling in every area of life, yet often live it out half-heartedly and the world is watching us the whole time.  When a non-believer watches a Christian whose walk does not match his talk, there is a term that they rightfully use: “hypocrite.”

The English word, “authentic,” comes from two related Greek terms: aujqentiko/ß (authentikos), which means “original” or “genuine,” and aujqentikwvß (authentikos—with a long “o”), which refers to something that can be seen with perfect clarity (no blurry or grayed edges).  While neither word is found within the Biblical texts of either testament, the principle of being authentic is clearly portrayed.  Jesus says that we are to be lights to the world, guiding them through the darkness of this life and guiding them in such a way that the light is neither hidden nor distorted. We are to shine our light before men and in such a way that it clearly points to God and not to those doing the works.  In a very real sense, Jesus is calling us to be authentic in living out our faith.

While some would argue that the unbeliever is the real hypocrite and others would argue that churches really aren’t filled with hypocrisy, taking this tact of argumentation degenerates swiftly into an ad hominem argument and name calling is neither makes for effective evangelism nor is it the foundation for an honest relationship to be built upon.  If we as the church are to genuinely be a light that illuminates everything in the world and to do so with the aim of pointing people to God (the Great Commission), then as a church, we need to be ready to accept the honest criticism of unbelievers in this world and strive to live in an authentic way before watching eyes.  Rather than being defensive, let us strive toward authenticity in our faith, always seeking to live with integrity.  What the world wants to know is not whether our faith is better than the other alternatives this world has to offer; what the world wants to know is whether or not our faith is real and genuine.  They can live with some inconsistency; what they cannot abide with is inauthenticity.  Any Christian ethic that we might articulate will find itself entirely undermined unless it begins with the expectation that Christians live authentic—genuine—lives that are transparent and lived honestly (for good or for ill) before the world around us.  Until we live authentically and have authentic relationships with others in and out of the church, the watching world won’t be interested in what it is that we have to offer.

Sent into the World as Christ was sent into the World

“Just as you sent me into the world, I also send them into the world, and for them, I sanctify myself in order that they also might be sanctified in Truth.”

(John 17:18-19)

This statement that Christ makes is very simple to understand, but very difficult to apply and live out because of the ramifications that it means for those of us who are believers.  “Just as,” Jesus says, the Father sends the Son, so the Son sends the believers.  The simplest way to understand this is to see this as a call for us to evangelize the world.  Yet, there is much more to what Jesus is teaching, for we must ask in what way did Christ enter into the world?  In turn, how are we to live out being sent in the same way?

Jesus came into the world in humility for the purpose not only of showing the people the Truth, but also to die—to be a sacrifice, holy and true, for sinful people.  Thus, Jesus sanctified himself so that he would be prepared to be a sacrifice for his people.  Thus, if we are to also be sent into the world as Christ was sent into the world, we need to be prepared to be sacrifices for the gospel, not living for ourselves or for selfish gain, but living humbly for the glory of God and to call others to Christ.  Thus, Paul calls us to become “living sacrifices” (Romans 12:1-2), being wholly committed to the sacrifice taking place (the Old Testament animal sacrifices kept nothing back, but were wholly committed to the altar—so too was Jesus, so too are we to be!).  Wealth, reputation, status, and privilege should not only be seen as God’s blessing to us, but also be seen as a tool toward advancing the end of the Gospel, not simply to make ourselves comfortable.

So, as you look at your life, how is it that you will sacrifice all for the Gospel?  What are the things that are holding you back from being sent into the world as Christ was sent into the world?  And how are you sanctifying yourself so that you can be a faithful and true living sacrifice to the glory of God?  These are dangerous questions for most of us to ask, because if we ask these questions honestly, God will call us to change in one way, shape, or form.  In addition, if we seek to live this out, God will call us to step outside of our comfort zones and stretch—but stretch to what end?  Think of things this way, Jesus called 12 Apostles (11 originals plus Paul) and those twelve men—wholly committed to the Gospel and to being led by the Holy Spirit—turned the world on its head.  Think of what God might do if confessing Christians today would be willing to be wholly committed to the claims of Christ that are upon them.  We would stop just “doing church,” but we would demolish the strongholds of this culture and turn this world on its head once again to the glory of Jesus Christ.  The church has largely embraced the devil’s temptation of comfort and has largely become impotent; let us see what would happen if we embrace Jesus’ prayer for us instead—the world, and our own lives, will never be the same.

Revealing God (John 17:6)

“I have made your name known to the people whom you gave me out of this world; they were yours, even so, you gave them and they have guarded your word.”

(John 17:6)

Jesus has made the Father’s name known.  What a remarkable statement this is!  Often we find agnostics speaking of their pursuit of God; philosophers of ages past have sought to understand the nature of the invisible God behind the universe—yet these always rely on their own strength.  God even goes as far as to pronounce that he will be hidden from his enemies (Genesis 4:14; Matthew 11:25), yet revealed in the Son alone.  Thus, John earlier records:

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the Path, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father except through me.’”

The Apostle Paul even goes as far as to write:

“To me, the least significant of the saints, this grace was given, to proclaim the good news of the incomprehensible riches of Christ to the nations, and to illuminate that which is the plan of the mystery which has been hidden from eternity in God who created all things in order that the multi-faceted wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and authorities in heavenly places.”

(Ephesians 3:8-10)

In other words, the plan of God to reveal himself in his Son has intentionally been kept hidden from the world until God revealed his Son, Jesus Christ.  In turn, God has also given the church the task of making this great truth known to a world that has been kept in darkness, awaiting the preaching of the Gospel.  No matter how hard the philosopher or the agnostic “searches” for God, he will not find God apart from the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  But for those who hear the word preached, there is eternal life.

“For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved, it is the power of God.”

(1 Corinthians 1:18)

Many are rather uncomfortable with just how “exclusive” the claims of Christ are—Jesus leaves us with no room to suggest that there is any other way to genuinely know God than through Him.  Now, it is true that God reveals enough about himself in the natural world as to leave mankind without an excuse (Romans 1:18-20).  Yet, as we have been discussing, He remains veiled apart from his Son, Jesus Christ.  It is like being caught in a maze.  The very existence of the maze points to a creator and the logic of the maze implies that there is an exit; yet the only exit door by which you may meet the Creator and enjoy life is the Creator’s Son, Jesus Christ.  Apart from him, you become more and more befuddled and feebleminded by the complexity and darkness of the maze.

Yet, loved ones, note the joy with which Paul proclaims that it has been given to him to preach the good news of the “incomprehensible riches of Christ” to the unbelieving nations.  This task, which we call the Great Commission, belongs to you and to me as well.  Let us indeed rejoice in this task, but let us also engage the world as we live out this great and wonderful responsibility, for Christ has revealed the Father to a world that is dark and filled with unbelief.  Let us reveal Christ so they might have light and hope.