Click the photo link below to check out a recent sermon of mine at Calvary Baptist Church in Elgin, Illinois.
What do Christmas and war have to do with one another?
We don’t live in a peaceful world do we? Every day we see evidence of hostility, hate, war, and animosity on the news and in our own lives. There is no part of our lives untouched by hostility. Our world is not and never has been truly at peace. War is stifled in one place only to reappear in another. We experience strife, enmity, and hostility in our own lives in a very personal way too. I’m sure you can think of a handful people right off the top of your head with whom you would say you are not at peace – maybe a coworker or a boss, a sibling or a parent, a friend or even a spouse. Our world is at war.
The Bible tells us that we are at war with one another – that mankind is constantly engaged in hostility and hate driven battle with one another. But the Bible also teaches that there is a greater battle going on – mankind’s war with God.
But what does this have to do with Christmas?
Christmas is all about Jesus, the Son of God, entering into our world as one of us, a human, to be Immanuel (God with us), to live the perfect live, die the perfect death, and be resurrected so that we can share in his new life. Christmas reminds just how far God, who is incredibly loving and unfathomably merciful, went in order to be with us, to make us right with him, to bring us peace.
Isaiah 9:6 calls Jesus the “prince of peace” and when the angels appeared to the shepherds on the first Christmas 2,000 years ago, they said, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” Jesus came into our world in order to establish peace where there was only war and hostility. He came to befriend his enemies, to bring his enemies into his own kingdom and family. He came to establish peace between all people.
Based on the truths of Ephesians 2, here are some basic biblical truths about Jesus our peace to dwell on as we approach Christmas:
1. Without Jesus, we remain dead in our sin as enemies of God.
Our natural state as human beings is one of conformity with the world and the devil and opposition to God. Every single person spends their whole life and strength devoted to following themselves, their desires, and their passions – which go directly in the opposite direction of where God wants people to go. By ourselves, we remain enemies of God – not just neutrally indifferent, but directly opposed to him. Because of this, the end result of our lives spent warring with God is ultimately destruction and death.
2. Because of Jesus, we can now have peace with God.
Life without Christ is still one of conformity with evil. But because Jesus came to the world as a baby and eventually died on the cross in our place, bearing the judgment that all enemies of God must bear, we can have peace with God. All the judgment that God’s enemies are supposed to face was faced by Jesus on the cross on our behalf. What incredible mercy, love, and grace – that God himself would die so that we could have peace with him.
3. Because of Jesus, we can now live the way God wants us to.
In our natural state of enmity with God, we could never live as we were supposed to. We only had eyes for ourselves and so we lived in conformity with evil. But now, because Jesus brought us peace with God, we can now live the lives of holiness and Godliness that he always wanted us to live. Because God made us right with him, we can now live good and pleasing lives to him, no longer living for ourselves, but for him.
4. Because of Jesus, we can now have peace with one another.
Jesus didn’t only bring us peace with God, but peace with one another. When people are made right with God, they become united in their life in Christ as one. People who used to hate each other or be at odds with one another can now be united together with Jesus. He modeled on the cross how to achieve peace with an enemy – by laying down oneself for the sake of peace with another. Where there is enmity in your life, with a co-worker, friend, sibling, parent, spouse, or anyone else – peace with them can only be achieved if one or both parties are willing to live the way God wants us to, by laying down our pride, anger, and unforgiveness for the sake of bringing peace and relational harmony. Because of what Jesus did for us and modeled for us, we can have peace with one another.
5. Jesus killed hostility so that we could have peace with him and one another.
This is a summary truth – both of this article and of the gospel message in the Bible. Jesus tore down all hate, animosity, anger, malice, unforgiveness, hostility, war, strife, division, etc. When he died on the cross and laid himself down so that we could have relational rightness with God, all of those evils died with him and stayed dead. But Jesus didn’t stay dead. He came back to life, leaving all the barriers to relational harmony in the grave. Now, because of Christmas and because of the shed blood of Christ, we can experience peace with God and peace with one another.
What a joy it is to remember at Christmas time just how awful our lives would be if Jesus never came – if he never entered our world – if he never died on the cross – if he never brought us peace.
But he has. Perfect peace. Spend this Christmas season captivated by the love of God displayed to us through Jesus Christ.
Too many Christians have potty mouths. WAY too many. The number of Christians I know who curse with regularity and apparent unashamedness astonishes me. I’ve been guilty of it in the past. You probably have too. Maybe you’re the kind of Christian that could hang out with sailors and keep up with the best of them. Maybe you’re the kind of Christian that fits right in with locker room talk or back of the bus conversation, if you consider such obscenity to be actual conversation.
Christians need to stop swearing. It is as simple as that.
Do we have tremendous freedom in Christ concerning language? Of course. Should we verbally condemn non Christians for using foul language? Probably not. But generally speaking, this issue doesn’t need a huge theological explanation and it doesn’t need any more explanation than the Bible itself gives. Scripture speaks a surprisingly great amount about the words that come out of our mouths (Click here for a fairly complete list).
Based on these Scriptures, here are 10 compelling and Biblical reasons for Christians to just plain stop swearing.
1. Our words are powerful. (James 3:8)
Our words wield great power. The famous saying, “The pen is mightier than the sword” is Biblically true. James compares our words to the bit in a horse’s mouth and the rudder of a ship – both seemingly small things that can change the entire direction of something larger. Our lives will be steered and directed by the way we use our words. Just like every gift or ability that God has entrusted to us, we ought to use our powerful words in a way that pleases God.
2. Freshwater springs don’t pour out saltwater. (James 3:11-13)
As Christians who have been washed clean by the blood of Christ, we have had the water of our hearts purified. Therefore, it shouldn’t be in our nature to spew nasty saltwater like we did prior to encountering Christ. Christians ought to pour out and exude pure, clean, and fresh words – not filthy, stagnant, useless saltwater. Our words ought to produce life in others, like freshwater, not dehydrate and sicken people like saltwater.
3. The religion of people who refuse to bridle their tongue is worthless (James 1:26)
True Christianity is one that lives out the commands and word of God. We have been commanded to be self-controlled and use our words wisely. We have been commanded to put away all filthy talk and actions from our lives now that we are in Christ. James boldly declares that Christians who refuse to bridle their tongues have deceived their own hearts, and their religion is worthless.
4. Our words should give grace and build up, not corrupt others. (Ephesians 4:29)
In his instructions for how to live a new life in Christ, Paul includes verse 29. Just two verses earlier he said, “Give no opportunity to the devil.” Christians are called to use their words differently than they did before they were Christians. If you use the same kind of language as non-believers do or as you did prior to being in Christ, you are giving opportunity to the devil, corrupting the hearts and minds of yourself and those around you, and withholding the blessing, grace, and upbuilding that comes from Godly speech.
5. We will give an account for every careless word we speak on judgment day (Matthew 12:36-37)
In the context of “a tree is known by its fruit”, Jesus uses language as a prime example of how our external behavior reveals the content of our hearts. He then warns us that on judgment day, each one of us will give an account for every careless word we speak. He also says, “For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” Swearing and crude speech isn’t meaningless to God. It is blatant sin and you will give an account for every nasty word you have ever spoken on judgment day.
6. When we swear and curse with the same mouth we praise God and bless others with, we become hypocrites. (James 3:10)
Hypocrisy (putting on a show of religion and holiness without actually living like it) is one of the primary sins of Christian people and always has been. To sing in church and read God’s word on a Sunday only to go home or on social media and start dropping swear words without hesitation is the definition of hypocrisy. If this is you, every time you swear you are revealing just how little you value God and his desire that his people live holy lives and speak holy words.
7. God considers swearing and crude joking filthy, out of place, and foolish (Ephesians 5:4)
A little swear here and a crude joke there may not seem like a big deal, but Christians ought to consider it a big deal that God sees such things as filthy, out of place, and foolish. If we really love God and want to please him with our words, we will eradicate such speech from our lives.
8. Crude words reveal what is really in our hearts, despite the religious show we put on. (Luke 6:45)
Our words reveal our hearts. We can be hypocrites all we want and put on a religious show of holiness and morality on Sundays at church, but the language we use shows us the true content of our hearts, “For out of the abundance of the heart, his mouth speaks.” Our words are the overflow of the content of our hearts and minds. If our speech is dominated by filthiness, so are our hearts.
9. We are ambassadors of Christ and his kingdom. (2 Corinthians 5:20)
Christians represent God and his kingdom to the world. Paul says that Christians are the means by which God makes his appeal to the world. If we represent Christ, we better live in such a way that accurately represents his heart and mind. Filthy talk does the opposite. Filthy language spewed from the mouth of a Christian will tarnish God’s name among unbelievers. There ought to be nothing more important in the life, heart, and mind of a believer than to accurately represent God to the world through words.
10. God says very clearly not to. (List of verses)
In summary, it is one of God’s simplest and plainest commands. If we claim Christ as our King, then we must obey him, which includes learning to control our tongues. Though it is difficult, all things are possible with God. So stop cursing, for all the reasons above, but mostly because God said to.
God, where are you? How could you let this happen? Do you even care?
In the wake of an unspeakable tragedy in Texas yesterday, some of these questions and thoughts might be haunting your heart and mind as you fight back tears of hurt, anger, and confusion. Perhaps, like me, you can’t even find the words to describe the emotions you’re feeling. You find yourself unable to wrap your mind around the vast horror and evil that has taken place. Lost in a foggy daze of confusion about what to think and feel. And how are we, as Christians who believe in a good and sovereign God, supposed to respond to such great tragedy. Is mourning enough? Is prayer enough? Is there any comfort to be found in the midst of such loss? Does God really have anything to say about this?
The Old Testament prophet Habakkuk asked some of these same questions several thousand years ago as unprecedented national destruction crept slowly but unavoidably upon the people of Israel. The Assyrian and Babylonian Empires posed great threat to God’s people. It is likely that for many years, Habakkuk witnessed the downward spiral of Israel’s morality and the corresponding threat of impending doom. Rebellion against God was at an all time high and evil plagued the nation like never before.
It is in the midst of this setting that Habakkuk (whose name means “Wrestler”) cried out to God in the same type of hurt, anger, and confusion that many of us are feeling today. Habakkuk is unique among the prophets in that he did not speak for God to Israel, but to God for Israel. Most of the book (only 3 chapters) consists of Habakkuk verbalizing and directing his pain, his confusion, and his questioning toward the God he believed had remained silent for too long.
In deep anguish, he cries out in Habakkuk 1:2-4, “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.”
Habakkuk found the words that many Christians today are seeking in order to express their hearts to God while wondering: How long will we cry out to God for help and none seems to come? How long will we be forced to witness and experience the horror and violence of mass shootings without any hope that things are getting better? God, why are you sitting idly around while children are being murdered? Things are only getting worse down here, God, and your law and your commands don’t seem to be helping. This isn’t fair, and the “justice” that you claim to be all about seems completely absent. Wickedness surrounds us and we have no hope anymore. We need you, so where are you? Where are you when we need you most?
The remainder of chapters 1-2 is basically a heated conversation that Habakkuk has with God as he pounds God with question after question about his apparent silence and absence in the midst of violence, evil, and corruption. Then, the book concludes with one of the most powerful passages in all of Scripture. Habakkuk’s prayer in chapter 3 displays faith and trust in God in its purest form as he forces himself to remember and believe the truth of God’s word – about who God really is and all that he has done for his people. He finishes his faithful prayer like this (Habakkuk 3:17-19):
Even though the fig trees have no blossoms,
and there are no grapes on the vines;
even though the olive crop fails,
and the fields lie empty and barren;
even though the flocks die in the fields,
and the cattle barns are empty,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord!
I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!
The Sovereign Lord is my strength!
He makes me as surefooted as a deer,
able to tread upon the heights.
The confused, angry, hurting, and honest prophet finally brings himself, through reminder of who God is (his love, glory, goodness, and power) to a place of trust. A place that says, “God, even though everything around me is dying and crumbling, I will still trust you, I will still rejoice.”
The wrestling prophet’s struggle and conclusion provides us with a map for how to navigate through these modern times of seemingly unfathomable tragedy. Here are 4 brief but incredibly important things we ought to take to heart from this book.
1. He wrestled honestly, waited faithfully, and welcomed reverently.
The prophet turned to God in prayer despite all of his pain and confusion. He cried out openly and honestly to his God as he searched for understanding and instruction on how to cope with and respond to unspeakable tragedies of his day. Then, he waited faithfully for God to respond, and reverently welcomed God’s response even though it wasn’t what he wanted to hear. In the midst of the tragedies of our day, we must mourn, we must weep, and we must turn to God and wrestle with him honestly, listen for his response, and trust in his wisdom more than our own.
2. Sometimes God withholds answers, but reveals himself.
Habakkuk didn’t get the answers he was looking for. In fact, God confirmed his greatest fears, that it was going to get worse before it got better. But he also said, “If it seems slow in coming, wait patiently, for it will surely take place. It will not be delayed.” Though more pain would come first, redemption and deliverance had been promised. We know now that it is only in Christ that such complete deliverance from death and sorrow is found. Oftentimes, rather than reveal all the answers and timelines and explanations to us, God simply reveals himself. He shows us who he is. He shows us how deeply he loves us. Knowing and believing who he is more fully is sometimes all that we need to find comfort in the midst of tragedy.
3. God doesn’t sit idly, he rules powerfully.
Multiple times Habakkuk accused God of distance, apathy, indifference, and idleness. God responded to the prophet’s confused and angry accusations by saying in 1:5, “Look around at the nations; look and be amazed! For I am doing something in your own day, something you wouldn’t believe even if someone told you about it.” God isn’t idle, he is deeply involved in the goings on of the world and is constantly in the process of working out something amazing beyond our comprehension. Reminding ourselves that God is immanent and involved, not only in world events and national tragedies, but in personal pain and brokenness as well, ought to help transition us slowly from confusion to trust.
4. God is not distant in tragedy, he is particularly present.
During tragedy, God tends to seem particularly distant, even to the most faithful of believers. But God reminds us time and time again that he is not as distant as we might think. In fact, he is not distant at all. He is intricately involved in our lives and struggles and wants more than anything to relieve his people of all suffering and pain. To do this, he reveals himself to us. He revealed his Son, Jesus to us. He let his Son endure the greatest tragedy possible on the cross so that he could put an end to suffering once and for all. God is not far off, he is very near. The Bible clearly shows us that God is especially close at hand to the suffering.
So what are we supposed to do? Where is God in the midst of tragedy? How are Christians supposed to respond? Like Habakkuk did. Mourn, weep, lament, cry out honestly to God and direct all of our confusion and anger at him. Wait faithfully for God to speak to us in response through his word and his Son. Remind ourselves that in the midst of tragedy, God is particularly present and involved in relieving the suffering of his people and revealing himself to us as one worthy of our trust. And we know that he is trustworthy because he himself endured ultimate suffering on the cross so that one day we might be completely set free from tragedy altogether.
Lord, reveal yourself to us. Make yourself known to our world. Comfort the afflicted. Heal brokenness. And draw us deeper into the healing power of knowing you.
Most Christians will ask themselves this question at some point in their lives. You might be asking yourself this very question right now. Maybe you just committed your life to God. Maybe you got a new job or went to college and moved to a new town. Maybe the 45-minute drive you have been making just isn’t possible anymore. Whatever the reason, you are looking for a new church to be a part of and aren’t really sure where to start or what to look for.
Part of the reason you’re unsure might be because there isn’t exactly a “how to know which church to join” passage in the Bible that answers all the questions you have and gives you step by step instructions on how to find the place where God is calling you. The reality is that during New Testament times, “how do I know which church to join?” wasn’t a question anyone was asking. Even in the larger cities like Galatia where we know there were multiple house churches meeting in the same city, we don’t ever see Paul write about what made certain people go to one house church instead of another. Most of the time, Paul writes more broadly to “the church of God that is in Corinth” or to “the saints who are in Ephesus”. We know that many early churches met in the homes of wealthier members but we know very little about exactly how many local churches there actually were in each city. For early Christians, “choosing a church” was a foreign concept. There weren’t dozens of churches of all varieties on every corner. There was likely only one group of believers to which a new Christian could possibly belong – the group of believers that was closest to them. Realizing this certainly helps us appreciate the doctrinal and relational struggles that arose within the early church, doesn’t it? Imagine if there was only one church for you and your family to join whether or not they had great kids programs, decent music, solid preaching, or even completely biblical doctrine (many of the NT churches didn’t, as we learn from Paul’s writings).
The reality is that there are hundreds of thousands of churches in America – way more than there were in Paul’s day. Another reality is that long distances that took hours or even days to walk back then now only require a brief car ride. The Internet and social media have also allowed the modern person to be significantly more aware of just how many options for churches there really are to choose from. Along with many other factors, these three modern realities have altered the way that people find a community of believers to join. Even a hundred years ago, the lack of Internet and transportation meant that families only had a few churches from which to choose. But the culture has changed; the world has changed; technology has changed; and with that the process for finding a church has changed. So in 21st century America, how do we know which church to join?
First, lets answer the question, “What does the Bible have to say about this?” Because of the historical realities of the early church, “choosing” a church wasn’t something that happened. Since most early churches met in houses and many were under the threat of persecution, times and locations of church gatherings were probably not posted on a huge sign somewhere. Churches were local gatherings of believers who sought to follow the commands of Jesus and the writings of Paul in community together. It is most likely that when early believers found a group of believers near them, they committed to that group for the rest of their lives. They probably had contact with other nearby churches, but weekly church life was limited to the one group of believers within walking distance. As a result, the Bible speaks little about “how to know which church to join”, but a great deal about how groups of random people who have nothing but their faith in Christ in common are supposed to function collectively as one, united body.
What is clear from Scripture is that it is impossible to follow the commands of Jesus and the writings of Paul without committing to a local, specific group of Christians. Church hopping or shopping is fine for a while as long as its purpose is to find the best group of believers to commit to. God’s desire for each child of his is that the Christian life be lived out in loving, committed relationship with Him through a local church.
But this doesn’t mean that the Bible is useless in helping us decide which church to go to. In fact, it is incredibly helpful. Much of the New Testament is made up of letters written by Paul, Peter, and other apostles to local churches about the kind of people and churches they are to be. As a result, the Bible gives us a very clear picture of what a healthy, Godly church should look like. That doesn’t mean any church is perfect, because no church is or ever will be this side of heaven. But there are healthy churches and there are unhealthy churches. Asking “How do I know which church to join?” is really asking the question, “How do I know which churches are healthy?”
Here are 10 characteristics of healthy churches. As you search for a church, see how many of these criteria are met.
- Doctrinally sound – Healthy churches are doctrinally sound. This means that the church is defined by a Bible and gospel focus and is Christ centered in every aspect of the church – from its finances to its teaching. They are clear and open about what they believe and every ounce of it is rooted in Scripture and the person of Jesus Christ. It means they don’t waver from God’s truth, even under the pressure of today’s culture. The church is clear about what it believes and holds firm to the sound doctrine of the Bible.
- Visible love – Healthy churches display, visible love for God, each other, their community, and the lost. You can tell from the moment you walk in that the people genuinely care about you, your family, and each other. But even more important than that is their visible love for God made evident through their worship and their encounters with one another. This love motivates them to spend their lives in service to God and one another.
- Strong, healthy leadership – Healthy churches have strong, healthy leaders. They don’t need to have PHDs or even seminary degrees. Of course they should be adequately prepared and biblically qualified to lead a church. But what makes a person qualified to be a church leader is less about education and natural ability and more about character and humility. Strong, healthy leaders meet the Bible’s standards for leadership, love their families, love their churches, and humbly obey the Lord.
- Wise, generous stewardship – Healthy churches uses the resources that God has blessed them with wisely. Many churches, simply put, are poor stewards of what God has given. Churches ought to be open about their budget, their finances, and how they spent the “talents” that they have been given. Healthy churches are almost always generous churches that use their resources wisely for the kingdom of God.
- Strong against sin, strong for holiness – Healthy churches do not tolerate sin and even practice church discipline when necessary. God has commanded his people to be holy like he is holy. Healthy churches teach what Paul called “what accords with sound doctrine”. In other words, they teach that Godly living always accompanies true faith. They don’t let sin reign in the lives of their members who have been set free by Christ, who now reigns instead of sin. They lovingly rebuke sin and strongly exhort one another to Godly living.
- Authentic God-worshippers – Throughout the Bible, the two things that are condemned in the people of God over and over again are idolatry and hypocrisy. Idolatry is loving and worshipping something other than God or in addition to God. Hypocrisy is fake, two-faced religion. People who put on a religious mask but then live completely contrary lives. Healthy churches are filled with people who don’t worship the common idols that plague churches today. They are also filled with genuine people whose entire lives reflect the truth of God they claim to believe.
- Disciple makers – The primary command of the Lord to his church is to go, make disciples, baptize, and teach. Healthy churches never lose sight of their primary objective as the body of Christ. They are mission minded and regularly support mission work throughout the world. They are constantly looking for new areas in need of ministry and consider starting new churches or second sites in order to bring the gospel to more people. Throughout their church programs like small groups, kids & youth programs, and Sunday schools, they emphasize discipleship and spiritual growth. Healthy churches always make disciples.
- Prayer reliant – Jesus himself was reliant on prayer as he sought to accomplish his mission on earth. So too Paul taught that churches should pray without ceasing. Prayer is the lifeblood of the Christian faith and healthy churches don’t lose sight of this truth. They pray regularly during services, small groups, and everything else that they do. They pray as individuals and with other people, rightly understanding that without prayer and the Lord’s direction, all our effort is in vain.
- Vibrant worship – Healthy churches are characterized by their vibrant life and joy. Their focus on Christ and the gospel message constantly drives them into exuberant worship of God Almighty. Their worship services are marked by loud singing (not necessarily loud music), smiles, and genuine, passionate love for their King. You can tell almost instantly when you walk into a church how alive they really are and how passionate their worship of God really is – not just in church services, but all the time.
- Self aware and forward looking – Healthy churches are not clueless about what lies around the corner. Of course God likes to take our plans and transform them into what they were originally supposed to be, but healthy churches spend time praying about and reflecting on what exactly God has called them to do and how he has called them to do it. They know their church identity and have developed a clear, concise mission statement that describes their specific purpose as a church. Likewise, they are constantly looking forward to whatever might be next. They have some sort of clear plan in place for how to get from point A (where they are) to point B (where God wants them to end up) and make known to the church where exactly point B is. They take an honest look at themselves and constantly evaluate, in order to keep all distractions aside and remain focused on being a healthy church.
There are many more important factors described throughout the New Testament about what makes a healthy church, but these stand out as particularly important. Paul’s letters to the Corinthians are particularly helpful for further reading, as Paul was focused on helping an unhealthy church become a healthy one as he wrote. So as you continue to search for a church and ask yourself which one you are supposed to join, look for a healthy church that possesses these 10 characteristics.
What would you add to the list? How do you identify a healthy church from an unhealthy church? What has helped you know which church to join?
How often do you think of yourself as a representative of King Jesus? How much of your life is spent on the mission that he has given to you?
Throughout the Bible we see many powerful metaphors to help us understand what it means to be the church and what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Some of the most common are the body of Christ, the bride of Christ, the family of God, the temple of God, etc. But one of the best and most unsung is the embassy of Christ.
An embassy is:
- A body of persons entrusted with a mission to a foreign government, especially an ambassador and his or her staff.
- A body of diplomatic representatives
And an ambassador is:
- An authorized messenger or representative.
- A diplomatic official of the highest rank, sent by one sovereign or state to another as its resident representative
Where is this in the Bible? Though this example is not nearly as common as some of the others, it is nonetheless very present in Scripture. Throughout Exodus and Deuteronomy the Israelites are “sojourners” in a foreign land. In Hebrews, the author reminds believers that they, like Israel in the time of Moses, are strangers in this world and their true home is the city God is preparing. In Philippians and Ephesians, Paul refers to himself as a “citizen” of heaven and an ambassador for Christ. And perhaps most clearly, in 2 Corinthians 5, Paul reminds the church that they too are ambassadors and that God is “making his appeal” to the world through the church.
God has called Christians to be his ambassadors, his authorized representatives; and he has called churches to be embassies; groups of ambassadors that all have the same objective. Churches ought to be little localized outposts of the kingdom of God. Churches are supposed to look like, act like, and function in the same way that the kingdom of God does. Christians, as ambassadors, are likewise called to live the same kind of lives that we will when out citizenship in the future kingdom becomes complete.
So what exactly does that mean for us? Who and what do we represent? Where is our “homeland”? How long are we on this mission? How are we supposed to go about it?
1. We represent a King and a kingdom
As Christians, we no longer live for ourselves but for Christ and his kingdom. We should look different, act different, speak different, and live different than the culture in which we live. We should be representing Christ’s character, his love, his commands, and his purposes to the world around us. We have been sent to the foreign land of this world in order to represent our King and our kingdom’s interests. The problem is that most of us look just like everyone else. We spend our money the same way, we dress the same way, we talk the same way. But that isn’t the way it is supposed to be. Just like you can tell when someone isn’t a native to where you live, the world should be able to look at Christians and say, “That person clearly isn’t from here. Where are they from?” Would people say that of you?
2. We have the King’s mission and message
In Matthew 28 and Mark 16 Jesus commissioned his disciples and believers everywhere of all time for a specific task – to go, baptize, teach, and declare the message of reconciliation to the world. Our mission is to declare the gospel message to the foreign land around us so that they too might become citizens of the kingdom. God has entrusted to us, as stewards, the treasure of the gospel that we are to share with the world. We are to be a city on a hill, a light in the darkness, drawing people toward Christ.
3. We have the King’s authority
Jesus sent his disciples out with his own power and authority in Luke 9. He has given the church the keys to the kingdom (Matthew 16) and told us that the gates of hell will not prevail against us and that it is through us that the “manifold wisdom of God” becomes known (Ephesians 2). He has gifted us with his Spirit so that we might possess his power and authority. He has not sent us out on this mission empty handed, for he has given us his very own authority.
4. We have the King’s protection
We have been granted asylum as refugees. We fled from our former lives of slavery to sin and to the kingdom of God where we were granted access because of Jesus’ love and sacrifice on the cross. We have been given protection through our citizenship. Though we may be afflicted in every way, perplexed, persecuted, ad struck down, we will never be crushed, driven to despair, forsaken, destroyed, or totally overcome. As citizens of heaven, no matter what happens in this life, we have been given the promise that God is with us and our citizenship is secure.
5. We are on temporary assignment
We are resident representatives, but only for a while. This foreign land is not our home, for our true homeland is the city that God is preparing for us while we are away on the mission. We are always waiting and longing for the return of our King and our entry into the completed kingdom of God. Because this is true, we shouldn’t get too comfortable in this life because we won’t be here for long. If you were going on vacation, you would pack light. In the same way, we should “pack light” in this life and instead store up for ourselves treasure in heaven. This treasure is accumulated through obedience to Christ’s mission and message.
6. We are not to isolate from culture
While the people of Israel were in Babylonian captivity, they were not called to isolate from culture but to seek the good of their neighbors and captors. Though we are called to represent Christ’s kingdom and interests in this world, that does not mean that we are to totally isolate from culture. We cannot possibly be successful ambassadors for Christ if we are not involved in, familiar with, and connected to the culture around us. We should understand, contribute to, and strive to better the culture while we are here in this land. We have a different King, a different mission, a different drive in life – but in order to represent our King and his kingdom, we must be a visible part of our culture.
7. Citizenship is only possible because of Jesus
Lastly, and most importantly, we must always remind ourselves that our citizenship is only possible because of Jesus. He is our passport; he is the one that vouches for us and grants us citizenship. And he is the only way into the kingdom. There will be a day when many who want to enter the kingdom will come and Jesus will say to them, “Depart from me, I never knew you.” Jesus is the only entrance, the only path to citizenship. Knowing the King himself is the only way in.
What does it mean to you to be an ambassador for Christ? How often do you embrace your role as an ambassador? Do you think you and your church do a good job of representing Christ and his kingdom to the world?
Jesus warned the church about false teachers. Paul warned the church about false teachers. Peter warned the church about false teachers. James warned the church about false teachers. Jude warned the church about false teachers. John warned the church about false teachers. I recently wrote about 10 warnings and characteristics of false teachers. But how should churches and Christians respond to false teachers?
1. Watch out for them (Romans 16:17, Matthew 7:15)
Expect them to come and be ready to respond when they do. We must be paying attention and “watching out” for false teachers. Christians and churches must keep their eyes open so that we are able to identify false teaching immediately. If we are going to combat false teaching in our churches, we must be aware of its presence among us and constantly keeping watch.
2. Avoid them (Romans 16:17)
After we identify false teachers, what do we do then? When they do come (and they will) we should give them no platform, no authority, no voice, and no way in. They should be avoided at all costs. The New Testament writers had no patience, tolerance, or kindness towards false teachers. We shouldn’t try to “nice” them to God – we should avoid them.
3. Test them (1 John 4:1)
See whether or not they are from God. If we are to refute false teaching, we must know true teaching well enough to identify it when we hear it. Test all teaching against Scripture in order to discern whether or not they are of the Lord.
4. Look for Godly fruit (Matthew 7:15-20)
If they are true believers and teachers, there will be fruit. False teachers give off a vibe and facade of fruitfulness, but once their lives and hearts are closely examined and exposed they are found to be fruitless. Examine the scriptures, know what Godly fruit is, and look for it in the lives of all teachers, especially those who might be false.
5. Focus on Christ, the gospel, and God’s word (Galatians 1:8, 1 Timothy 6:20-21, Acts 17:11)
If we are so familiar with and so knowledgeable about Christ, the gospel, and the Bible, false teaching will not be able to take root in our hearts. Through such focus, we will guard ourselves against false teaching. That way, even when we hear false teaching, we will be able to identify and refute it immediately.
6. Contend for the true faith, rebuke false teaching (Jude 1:3, Titus 1:9)
When false teaching does arise, we must combat it fiercely and contend for the true faith. Jesus, Paul, Peter, and John have stronger words against false teachers than we usually hear taught in churches today. We mustn’t be soft or gentle when it comes to fierce attacks on truth itself. We ought to fight for truth without fear or reserve.
7. Help prevent those close to the edge from “departing” from the truth (1 Timothy 4:1)
Teach and enforce sound doctrine. Correct small missteps when they occur. Disciple church members and people in your life into the truth. False teachers prey on the naive and weak in the faith. We have a responsibility to guide and direct new and young believers in truth and away from false teaching.
8. Focus on the truth, even when it is hard to hear (2 Timothy 4:3-4)
Paul warns Timothy that people will “accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions”. Some people look for teachers who will only tell them what they want to hear – we must avoid this in order to combat false teaching. Christians must focus on the truth and welcome the truth even when its harder to hear than the lies of false teachers.
What else would you add? What must churches and Christians do in order combat false teaching? Have you ever faced false teaching in your church? If so, how did you respond?